Wednesday 24th May to Santiago

The other ladies in our little 4-bunk room got up early, and left very quietly. It is amazing how responsible peregrinos can do it with so little disturbance!

We were in no hurry; but packing up in our “own” room was so easy we were still on our way at 7.15; and less than an hour later we were in Arzua, with its narrow strip of high buildings and, again, lots of albergues. Ribadiso was so much nicer. We looked for where we'd had breakfast six years ago, and after a little backtracking found what was probably it, and had breakfast, There, I enquired abut where to catch the bus and found where it was.

So after breakfast we walked there, and fond we'd missed a bus by ~ 15 minutes, and it was two hours till the next one. Grrr! I'd spent a frustrating ½ hour yesterday on the internet trying and failing to get a schedule for this bus (they'd give it to me only in the other direction.) So we hung around, I had another coffee, we tried to hitch a ride... and eventually got on the bus, which took us in 45 minutes into Santiago.

Wednesday24th May Ourense

It was near midday; it was hot. Sunny and hot. We walked into the old city, first to San Martin Pinario hotel / hostel, where they had pilgrim rooms 6 years ago. Now – all booked out. C'est la vie, now. There were hordes of people in Santiago, and hordes of souvenir sellers as well. We walked through them looking for tourist info. Here, we were fortunate; we came across first Porto tourist info, who gave us maps of Porto; then Galicia tourist info, who gave us maps of Ourense; and finally Santiago tourist info, who told us there was a fiesta here the next four days and accommodation was very tight. Great! But the lady found a couple of places with vacancies today, and we went to one and were able to book in for the two nights we're back here, with the very nice proprietor, Tito.

Thus organised, we went to a nearby cafe he recommended for lunch, then headed out to the station. We bought return tickets to Ourense on the fast train, had our luggage screened on walking to the platform, waited; and then got on the train (which travelled at up to 220 km/hr) and 45 minutes later were in Ourense.

It was hotter here. We walked over the Roman bridge, found our hotel (Mino) and went to check in. Here, I had a flurry of worry; my passport, usually in my money belt which I never wear, was missing and the zip was open. Our credencials also weren't where they were meant to be. Credencials were found – but no passport. But then I found it! Phew!

We got to our room. Quite OK – and we'll be here for two nights! The longest in one place since before we started walking over a month ago.

We collapsed for a while. Then went for a walk into the old town; it was still very hot. The town is busy, but not in the over-the-top touristy way that Santiago was. It is very hilly, though. Through Plaza Mayor and down to the hot springs in town, with water flowing out at 67º and a free thermal pool above it. It would be more attractive on a cooler day.

But we were both getting hungry. We'd passed an “Italian” pizza shop and went there and bought two pizzas, adjourned to the nearby park, and ate them; then home via the supermarket where we bought lots of drinks; soda water, fruit juice, shandy... and home to our room.

It's 9.30pm now; peregrino bedtime; but we now have to adjust to the hours of ordinary people.

Thursday 25th May Ourense

We managed to sleep in till after 7am. This is doing well. And after breakfast from our cups in our room, we went out to see the cloisters at the Convent of San Francisco, which is on a high point in the town. Ourense is a very hilly town. We got there – but it was too early for it to open, We had a look in the archaeological museum there instead, then walked back through the far end of town. It was much cooler than yesterday and a much better walk, and we were much more in tune with each other.

We walked through the market, which was not very exciting; then had a coffee at a very nice dulceria in the walking mall. Then home; but on the way going and buying a bottle of unsweetened soda water. (This is hard to find; almost all the water sold as “gaseosa” has artificial sweeteners added and is very sweet to taste. Why?)

Then it was out again (borrowing an umbrella from the hotel, as it had begun to rain) – to the thermal pools, on the little “train” (on tyres) that goes there. We caught it in Plaza Mayor at 1pm; it took 45 minutes to travel the 5km to the thermal pools. But it was fun. It was raining lightly for a lot of the afternoon, but it was not a problem; we began with picnic in the lee of the change rooms, and then spent over an hour in the pools. We had them mostly to ourselves because of the rain.

(There are a number of these hot pools spread along a stretch of river; we went to the furthest ones, which we'd been told were the biggest and best. They certainly are nice, right beside the rapidly flowing river.)

Then it was a relaxed slow walk back along the other side of the river – seeing lots of fish jumping (?spawning) and otters as well. There is a lot of flow in the river and it looks very healthy. We crossed back over the Millennium bridge, which looks magnificent and which once you could walk up to the tops of. The entry to it now is all blocked off, with no reason given and no time frame either. A pity.

And then we got home again. It has been a lovely day here and I am really impressed with Ourense, and very glad we came instead of doing the usual finish on the camino. But now we are going to go out to eat, which in Spain never happens early!

We went to Taberna de Meigallo, but we were too early. We had a walk around, returned at 8.45pm, and had a good meal of raciones and wine. Home just before dusk. Bed not till after 11pm, when I had finally managed to buy tickets to Lohengin in August.

Friday 26th May Santiago

We were woken by thunder and lightning, and heavy rain. So there was no hurry. After becoming awake I turned on the computer and tried looking up accommodation in Madrid. After the best part of an hour I was being driven mad by it, and turned it off again. Breakfast / shower / pack everything up again, and we checked out at 11.30am, leaving our bags.

We slowly walked up the see the cloisters of San Francisco, which were now open; they are being restored. Then a slow meander through town, which we now know quite well; lunch at the nice cafe we found yesterday. Then – it was still an hour early, but we retrieved our bags, sat in the cafe there, and tried more Madrid stuff with no better result.

While sitting there, the heavens opened. We were waiting for it to stop by 2.30pm, when we had to leave for the station – but it didn't. So I spoke to the hotel receptionist and ascertained that we could take a bus from outside the hotel – which we did, though as it was a different number than the one she'd suggested I had some initial misgivings. But it got us there, dry, in plenty of time for our 3.30pm train back to Santiago.

Santiago's weather was much better, and we were able to walk “home” to La Carballines hostel without needing the map. After unloading, we arranged to meet Fran & Rick, who'd arrived here today. This took a bit of to and fro messaging, but in the end it worked; we had a coffee and some food, then went in to the cathedral where there was a mass starting. We tired of this, though, and went out; they to a pilgrim meal at the Parador, and we found a concert about to start – the Real Philharmonia of Galicia. They were giving out free tickets; we took a couple. It was very good! A Galician piece followed by Scheherazade.

By the time it finished, though – about 9,30pm – were were both cold and hungry. The concert had taken us by surprise. We walked home (interrupted by hearing shouts of “Simon!” and finding Stavros and Regina) to put on more clothes, then went for food. We thought we'd seen a kebab place on the way into town, and went looking; and eventually found it, and had a good dinner of donor kebab and salad. I was hungrier than I had thought. Then home.

Saturday 27th May Santiago

We started out today with a visit to the market; very close to here, with a lot of good fruit and vegies and an incredible range of fish. We walked home with some fruit and some bread, and then headed out to the supermarket. We went to tourist info, who advised us of a very good place for coffee; then, we went for a walk. And we came upon the Banda de Lalin, an excellent band – with not only brass and drums, but also flutes, clarinets, oboes, piccolo, and cellos! I sat and listened to them for a while and Alison went off for a walk. She returned; Fran and Rick showed up, so we had second coffee with them in the same cafe. And then went home for lunch. This involved the raisin bread we'd bought at the market and was delicious.

We tried the internet. Difficult to connect at first; and then we got frustrated by it. Me by slow email download, Alison by looking up Madrid hotels. We turned it off again.

It had got colder. I even put on long pants and my puffer jacket, and we went out. First to the big municipal albergue looking for left hand cycle gloves (unsuccessfully); then to the Museo de Pobo Galego, where the triple spiral staircase is; we looked at some of the other exhibits, then left. Ouside the crowds were gathering for the next festival attraction, “Star Wars” stormtroopers. We saw some, but then left – we were due on the Cathedral rooftop tour. This was really good – we wandered all over the stone roof of the cathedral, with a tour guide who spoke Spanish, but quite clearly, and was happy to answer questions in English. Quite different to the tour of the railway trench in Atapuerca.

Back down, we went out to dinner with Fran and Rick, who are leaving for home tomorrow. Alison had found some “early opening” (i.e. by 7.30pm) eateries, and we used one. It was disappointing – pretentious and repetitive food. But – we did get fed early.

Then home, to get ready to pack up for the bus to Porto tomorrow.

Today, we saw not a soul we know walking around Santiago.

Sunday 28th May Porto

We woke before the alarm, and were early in leaving Tito's place. There was light rain – not enough to cover up in though. We walked out along the camino way in, passing arriving peregrinos; then branched off for the bus station. Here, we were still early, with a wait for an hour.

Then it was onto a full bus for the four-hour trip to Portugal. We were first there, and I managed to get front seats (I usually leave this to Alison, but I am more imposing – and I think it counts.) There was a toilet stop for 10 minutes two hours into the trip; Portugal appears significantly poorer than Spain.

We stopped at the Casa de Musica bus station. Got out our Porto map and started walking. It was ~ ½ hour walk into the area of town where we are booked; without the map it would have been impossible. With the map it was just quite difficult; the inner part of Porto is a real rabbit warren of streets, with some of them not being named. We were both a bit headachey. We went to No.38, to find it didn't exist; we looked at our instructions and found it was No. 138. We went there, used the code to get in, went up to the 1st floor; nothing to put a code into there! Back down; up in the lift to the 1st floor, which we found was a floor above the 1st floor we'd walked to.

We got in. The place is very nice; lots of private bedrooms, with large shared areas, a good kitchen, a number of bathrooms. And we are here for 3 nights! We went out for a coffee, at a very nice place we'd seen nearby walking here; then went around the block but found a supermarket, and bought food and wine for dinner.

Then took everything home and had a coffee here. I turned on the internet and started looking at Airbnb places for Madrid; it took a long time, but as it had started raining there was no desire to go out for a walk any more. At least the wifi here works reasonably well.

Later, we wanted to be more active. We went out for a walk again, but it started to rain; so we came home and cooked dinner. It was good to have food cooked by ourselves (I really mean Alison) again.

Now we're quite tired after a day of relative inactivity.

Monday 29th May Porto

Today has not been the best day. It should have been better – but I got into a bad mood as a result of sharing a bathroom with Alison and comments made. Misinterpretation, of course; but it put me out of sorts. It was not helped by Porto, almost always sunny and warm, being cold and drizzly raining all morning – despite the weather forecast giving only a 5% chance of rain. And it was cold! When we went out, I wore long pants, a jumper, and socks inside my crocs.

We walked around a bit, as we do. After managing to find the tourist info near here (no mean feat), one of the first places we went was the market; here, we bought an umbrella. And used it a lot. We continued on down to the river and across the top level of the Ponte Luis1, next to the metro trains which run on the top level separated from the pedestrians only by a row of short posts. We carried on back and across to the Palacio de Bolsa; we stopped for lunch of a “francesinha” - a sort of ham and sausage sandwich coated in melted cheese, a Porto specialty. It was not as bad as we'd thought but I don't need to have another.

We came home for some fruit and a coffee. Alison went out, afterwards, for an hour hile I did some internet things – including getting our boarding passes for the Ryanair flight on Wednesday on the mobile phone, thus avoiding the €50 charge for checking in at the airport.

We went out for another coffee and Xmas cake (which they make every day, and is delicious) at our nice local cafe; then went across to see about a tour of a Port cave. Back across the bridge and a convoluted walk (of course) in the end getting to where we wanted and finding they'd closed. Never mind – the walk was good.

We returned across the bottom level of the bridge, along the riverbank through touristville, and back inland. We were looking for somewhere for dinner. We looked and looked, with no luck; Porto has lots of cafes with good food cheaper than Spain, but the restaurants are all more expensive. In the end we gave up and went to the supermarket for some food to cook at home – and then found the most appropriate restaurant we've found across the road from where we are staying! But we cooked at home anyway, and it was good. My mood has slowly improved.

We have arranged walking tours of Porto for both tomorrow and Wednesday.

Tuesday 30th May Porto

It is noisy here at night, with noise mostly from the bus stop across the road; I put in ear plugs and slept well.

The day went better than yesterday. We walked across to Placa de Gomes Teixeira to joinn our “free” walking tour, run by Eugenia. It was... so-so. Not the best we've been on. We visited the Livreria Lello, which is now so famous for its staircase being an inspiration for Harry Potter that it charges €4 admission to the shop. Despite this there was a long queue waiting to get in before it opened. Then we walked on through town, mostly through areas we'd walked through yesterday; we did learn something of Portuguese history in the process. But it was not such an interesting tour; near the end, after coffee, we went into the guitar shop and then the cork shop. We finished up down on the river, in touristville, at 1.30pm.

And we were not sorry it was over. We walked home, bought some rolls, and had lunch.

After I'd worked out where we were staying in Madrid after lunch, and found that we need to be out of here by 11am tomorrow, we went out to Trinidad metro station to see about luggage lockers. OK. Then about tickets to get to the airport; very confusing. Bt it will probably work. Then we continued down and across the river to see about a tour of a Port cellar. (Alison had looked some up on the internet; most tours used to be free but now have varying charges, up to €12.) We walked to the info centre there, where they were able to produce a sheet showing how much each cellar charged – information we'd been unable to find.

We went first to Vasconcellos, but they were not doing tours now. Then to Offley, where we were able to get on the last tour for the day, in English! It was quite interesting and I am glad we did it. We finished up with a port tasting talking to a Chinese girl, an architect working in Munich.

We walked home and went straight to the restaurant across the road, O Buraco, where we had a good and reasonably priced dinner. And back home.

Wednesday 31st May Madrid

We got up at leisure, had breakfast, packed up, and left our nice room / apartment. Destination Trinidad metro station, where we crammed most of our bags into a luggage locker; then bought a metro card each (only €0.60 here) and loaded on credit for a bus trip back from the beach at the mouth of the Douro river. And then we set off for there, on foot, of course.

We didn't use the map at all, just headed off in the general direction and downhill; and by following the tram tracks we descended to the bank of the river, and walked along it. It was, of course, reasonably built up; but a pleasant walk. When we got near the mouth we stopped for a coffee – away from the beach, in some gardens. The coffee was OK, but the price surprised us! We worked out later that the whole area there is touristville. C'est la vie.

We walked out the breakwater at the mouth – strangely built very close to an old breakwater with a lighthouse on the end, but not connected at all. People were fishing; some sunning themselves; one was in the water. We continued north, along the beach. The first section was notable for its line of washed-up – not shells, but rubbish! Rather sad. The next bit had been cleaned up, but (to us) the sand was not so nice; there were people lying on it (a couple looking really pale, and heading for bad sunburn, I think) and some swimming. Inland, it was all built up; not very attractive to us, so we went to the bus stop and caught a (double decker) bus back to town.

We went to our usual nice cafe for lunch, then wandered up to Marques – the sqare where we were to meet Pedro, who runs the “worst tours”. We wondered how we would meet him – but we did. After a little talk about our relationship sitting on a bench there. Pedro's tour, with six tourists, was excellent! So different to yesterday's; he is an architect, and had details of many buildings and areas; he took us out to the east side of the city, the poorer side, where we had not been; showed us some “islas” where people lived in tiny houses of 16 sq m; down the east side of the river; interesting, informative, and no time for coffee – everyone said no, let's continue the tour.

But 6pm came around, and we had to go. Up to Trinidad, charge our cards for thevtrip to the airport, retrieve our bags – and go. Ryanair. I had had my doubts about Ryanair, but they were unfounded; we had a 15kg allowance to check in – my backpack started at 18.7kg, we took it away and reduced it to 16.5kg; and they said that's no problem. Off it went. Off we went; in the queue to board the plane for a long time, then I went to 5B while Alison went to 31B, because we had refused to pay extra for seat selection. As it turned out, we both had an empty window seat beside us. The seat was fine, with good legroom, and so was the flight. Only an hour and we landed in Madrid.

We retrieved the backpack, waited for the shuttle to the hotel – not so quick – and found we'd been upgraded to a little suite. Nice. But it was after midnight. The receptionist showed us where there were bars open nearby, and we went and got some food.

Then bed. But not till after 1am.

Thursday 1st June Madrid

We woke early. Why? Overtired? It was a moderately noisy room, despite the double glazing. We got up, and went to get some breakfast; after last night's weird lack of dinner because we were flying Alison was hungry. I was too, though as is sometimes the case I didn't really realise it. Luckily we found the hotel, though on the edge of the airport, is in a suburb with the usual suburban shops, and we found a bar to serve us coffee and tostada for breakfast.

Fed, we returned to the hotel and checked out, and then waited for the shuttle back to the airport. This time, we got off at Terminal 4, where – after a little searching – we found the RENFE train station, which got us into Atocha station in the middle of Madrid for €2.60 each. (The Metro also goes to the airport, but it is slower, involves changes of lines, and costs €5.00. Weird.) From Atocha station it was a 10 minute walk to Almaden No. 5, our airbnb address. We were early, so we adjourned to a nice unfussy bar for a coffee.

Back at Almaden No.5, there was still no answer. I had to text the lady's contact number; her husband was there and came down. So we have a very little 3rd floor flat, with bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and living room. It is old, and none of the floors are quite horizontal, but it is very adequate for us. And its location is excellent. And we are here for three days. After dumping our stuff we went for a walk around the block; bought some food; came home and had lunch. We turned on the computers and looked at some things to do, then went out. It was hot – 31º, I think. We headed over to the Parque de Retiro, over to the Crystal Palace, past the pond with ducks and tortoises, then past the square lake full of people rowing around it in boats; down to the corner, and the Puerto de Alcala; down Calle Alcala, a very swish street, with a stop at an impressive council building sort of looking for a use, to Puerta de Sol. This was touristville. We made our way over to Plaza Mayor, but this was worse; time to head for home, down Calle Atocha. We found a Dia supermarket on the way and bought food for dinner.

Tonight, for a change, I cooked. And then we put on the washing; there is a washing machine here! It's a warm night and we're sitting around with nothing on waiting for the cycle to finish before going to bed at a more reasonable hour than last night.

Friday 2nd June Madrid

Remarkably, here in central Madrid, our tiny apartment is very quiet. As a result we both slept really well. We set off for Atocha RENFE station to get tickets for the 9.20 train to Toledo. Completo. Full. The ticket man advised taking the metro to Plaza Elliptica and taking a bus. No alternative, really. So off we went and it was no trouble at all; the bus took 10 minutes longer and was cheaper and more convenient. So by 11am we were in the hill town (surrounded by suburbs to a degree) and had a coffee at a cafe outside the walls.

This was a good idea; this is a very touristy town too, and nice places for a drink inside are hard to find. (Ordinary ones are all over the place.) We walked in, with our map; we thought Porto was a rabbit warren, but Toledo is worse. I don't think it has two parallel streets or any right-angle corners. But we got across to the view from the gardens in the Jewish quarter; clambeered down to a Roman wall outcrop / relic; and then found our way to the library. Tourist info had said there were good views from the cafe there, so up we went. The next floor up, so we used the stairs. But what they failed to mention was that between this floor and the cafe's floor were four floors of military museum which you couldn't enter; it was along climb. The views were good; we were peckish but there was nothing much to eat. I had some tortilla, which puts food in your stomach but is very bland and I wonder why anyone bothers to eat it.

We discussed museums. We began with Alison's choice, a tapestry museum. It was very good, and we were the only people there. Amazing. (On the way out, they told us they'd had another couple in that morning. Four customers by 3pm!) Then we went to my museum, to find it was shut for siesta – its hours were different to the ones in the brochure we'd been given. So, that was that. We wandered back through Toledo, getting lost again as is normal here, and got back to the bus station and returned to Madrid.

It was hot. We were quite thirsty. We bought some food for dinner, came home, and downed lots of the non-sweetened soda water we've managed to find. And not done very much more – had a “Sunday” for the late afternoon / evening at least.

Saturday 3rd June Madrid

Today is our last day in Spain, where I feel I've been for ages. And a big unknown; we are being taken out by Juan Carlos and Jose Fernando, whose book was left on a plane in Australia, bought by me at the Virgin sale, and contacted by me by email when I found their details inside. But we've never met each other and know nothing about each other.

We were waiting outside in Calle Almaden at 9am, and Juan Carlos came up the street and took us to Jose's car. (A “Montero” - called in Australia a “Pajero”, but this is not appropriate in Spain!) And we drove out of Madrid, ~40km, to El Escorial – a palace built by King Philip 11 in the 1700's. It was a huge square granite building, but not particularly impressive – on the outside. Inside, it was another matter; it was an amazing building: residence, church, monastery, school, pantheon – all in one place. Huge rooms with different features – one with a ceiling like the Sistine chapel, but painted by one of Michelangelo's students because Michelangelo was too old to do the job, when it was built; paintings, tapesteries, and a large pantheon (crypt) with the remains of many of the former kings and queens of Spain, many of their close relatives, and a large crypt in the form of a birthday cake for the ramains of children who had died before their first communion (at age 7). Jose and Juan arranged for us all to go on a guided tour (in English) and it was excellent.

Then it was time to continue – on to Segovia, with its Roman aqueduct – and Cathedral, of course. But the first thing was to go and have lunch – of its specialty, suckling pig. It was here that we began to relise that we were moving on to Madrid time; lunch began at 2.30pm, and did not finish till after 4pm. It was a big lunch, so it was followed by a stroll around the town seeing its features, and then a stroll trying to find Jose's car because we'd forgotten where it was parked. Similar to losing ourselves in Toledo.

The next stop was at La Granja, a palace / hunting lodge built by Phillip's son. We didn't go inside the building, but the outside and the gardens, with masses of fountains (gravity fed, and turned on all together only 2 days per year) were very impressive. As well as hunting grounds here there is a large maze we walked into and eventually out of.

Then it was time to return to Madrid; we drove over the mountains past a ski resort (going out, we'd gone through a long tunnel under the mountain), through forest, and into Madrid and another amazing feature – it has a huge underground ring road, with outlets to various spots. We went and parked at Plaza Mayor (underground) then went and met Juan's sister, E.... We all went for a walk around the very busy Mercado Miguel – with lots of tapas and lots of people – before going to a cafe in Plaza Mayor for a drink and a little bit of food – we were not hungry after our large latish lunch. It was very pleasant and very social, and everyone got on well.

And then all returned to Jose's car – after a little difficulty finding the car park entrance – and they dropped us near our apartment. 12.30am, and we need to pack up to leave early tomorrow – not quite what we'd planned, but it was a good day, and there is little I would have altered.

We walked home through crowded and noisy streets – Real Madrid had just won a soccer match against an Italian team. And packed things up, and at 1am went to bed with the alarm set for 6.30am.

Sunday 4th June Leaving Spain

The alarm woke me; we were in plenty of time, walked through the quiet streets with the street cleaners hard at work after last night, to Atocha station 10 minutes away, and onto the RENFE train to the airport. Then off to Helsinki where we have a rental car and no other plans or ideas about what we're doing.