Day 33 – Herrarias to Fonfria

Posted from Pedrafita do Cebreiro, Galicia, Spain.

I woke to the rustling today and figured it was 5:30. I checked my watch and it was 7:35!! Breakfast was 7:30 to 8:00, It was quiet in the room so I rushed down thinking I’d be first and there were already 3 people. I’d really been sleeping. It was a nice breakfast.

At 8:30 I headed out. As I went through town I heard chickens clucking in an old house. Since I sent Carolyn cat pictures yesterday I figured I’d send Phillip a chicken picture.

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Today was a nice climb to O’Cebreiro. A 600 m climb. The entire walk today was on nice paths. The path was steep at times but the views were well worth it.

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It was a very clear day and the views off in all directions was grand.

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About half way up was the entry into Galicia the final region along the camino.

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Finally at the top the wind picked up and it turned cool.

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The little village of O’Cebreiro was cute. It had several traditional Galician huts with thatch roofs.

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At the top the path continued pretty level through several villages but still magnificent views. I arrived in the small village of Fonfria. The albergue was very modern. It has a living room with a wall of windows out on to the mountains. The place isn’t very crowded most people have a bottom bunk and several bunks are empty. The Camino is certainly slowing down.

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Tonight was a communal meal (defined as a meal with no options). It was very good. A traditional Galician soup (fresh vegetables), a dish of beef, mushrooms, peas, potatoes, a nice tart, good bread and lots of wine.

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I’m back in the nice living room and there are 3 Canadian filmmakers that have been along the camino that are filming in the next room. They are either producing the next movie of the camino or are they are trying to pick up girls. I’m not sure which. Probably both.

I sat next to a South African woman at dinner tonight. She is some sort of writer based in New York. She was very well traveled and raved about New Zealand.

I’ve looked at my schedule and I think I’m one week from Santiago. Hard to believe. I’ll try to not think about the destination but focus on the remaining journey.

Day 32 – Villafranca to Herrerias

Posted from Vega de Valcarce, Castile and León, Spain.

I walked into town this morning for breakfast, as I finished it began to rain. It was dark and the street lights were reflecting off the wet streets.

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I took an alternate path today that climbed into the mountains. The path immediately started to climb. It was steep but the rain stopped and the started peeking through the clouds. For just a few moments a rainbow appeared.

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As I got higher I could look back and see backward two or three days. The sun rays were breaking through the clouds.

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As I climbed I came up to a group of Canadians. They had been walking the camino since September 4 (I started on the 17th). They didn’t carry there bags but they were in there 70s. They moved fast. Very impressive.

The views were great and interspersed were great looking gardens. One was full of very large pumpkins.

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The mountain trails were really nice.

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Once the trail came back to the valley bottom it was nice but often was along a road (with very little traffic). I walked for a while with a South Korean guy. He’d been to Texas and his comment was there were lots of very big people. His take was there were too many donut shops. He said there are donut shops everywhere. He said more of these people needed to do the camino. Hilarious.

Down in the valley was interesting. Small villages, a river, farms….however above all of this the big high way crisscrosses in the sky. The speed life vs the slower camino life.

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Martin (of Martin and Jane) had texted me about a nice albergue, so I headed that way. It was a great find. Small, only 13 beds and offered a vegetarian meal. There were only four of us at the meal. A wonderful pumpkin soup, two big toasts with humus, a salad, delicious desert and wine. The room, dinner and breakfast €15. A bargain.

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High above the village was a very old church.

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It’s funny yesterday I was at the albergue and didn’t know anyone. I had slipped back into a different pilgrim group. Today, I was at the bar and chatted with two pilgrims I’d passed on the road. At dinner there was Edward from Australia that I’ve chatted with occasionally, a woman I met last night and a young German girl truly looking for her way. It’s odd to connect so quickly with a new group but really nice.

Day 31 – Ponferrada to Villafranca

Posted from Villafranca del Bierzo, Castile and León, Spain.

Well today I was back on the camino. It’s always interesting leaving a large city. I start on large streets, walk through business neighborhoods, apartments and houses. I cross highways but it always seems the city suddenly ends and I’m in the country. True to form that happened today. I thought this countryside was particularly attractive.

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There were many vineyards, it appeared the harvest had already happened. The grapevine leaves were changing color from green to yellow and orange.

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The temperatures seemed warmer today. The skies were partly cloudy and there was a little mist in the hills. For the first time in days I wore shorts and a short sleeve shirt. My blister was much improved. Walking felt good. I stopped at a pharmacy and bought done additional antiseptic recommended by my camino doctor.

As I passed through one small village I came across a cute group of kittens and took their photo for Carolyn (and Tom and LD).

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It’s been very interesting all through Spain to see the condition of some of the buildings. These towns have been around for centuries but many are in a real state of decline. There will be buildings clearly inhabited (though I rarely see people, especially young people) but right next door will be a building totally in ruin.

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On the advice of my camino doctor I kept my walk relatively short today. I walked about four hours mostly in wonderful hilly terrain. I arrived on the outskirts of Villafranche and stopped at the municipal albergue. It was in a nice building looking out on the village. The room on the 2nd floor even had a door out onto a balcony. I did my clothes and hung them to dry.

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I wandered into town. There was an old castle, several really great churches and a nice old town. I bought some groceries (stuff sure is heavy) and sat in the square for a beer. It was a nice town.

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Because of my delay with the blister I’m in a new group of pilgrims. I’ve only seen one person I know. On top of that I’m staying at a municipal albergue so it’s a different group then at the private ones. They are younger and mostly European.

I’m in a room of only 8 beds. When I arrived there were two young guys there. They seemed rather clean, nice things and lots of stuff. We chatted. They were from Barcelona. One asked where I had started from. I replied St Jean 30 days ago. He seemed amazed. I asked where he started. He said “this morning from Ponferrada”. Newbies, they have much to learn.

As the camino approaches Santiago more and more new people start so it will be interesting to see how things change. I will intentionally now stay off the recommended stopping points from the book but will pick intermediate places to hopefully avoid the larger crowds.

The camino now enters Galatia. It is mire mountainous, more rainy (hopefully not too much) and have more forests. It is suppose to be some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip.

Day 30 – Ponferrada to Ponferrada

Posted from Ponferrada, Castile and León, Spain.

I am still in Ponferrada taking a rest day. A blister on my right foot that I got several days ago took a turn for the worse. After confirming with my pilgrim doctor (the amazing tele-doctor Dr. John Douglas) I took a day to care for my foot. It seems much better and I will monitor its progress carefully in the days to come.

Since I had no pictures or stories today I have posted something I wrote several weeks ago.

I have discovered as I walk the camino that there are many types of pilgrims. As pilgrims we are suppose to not judge one another but sometimes that is difficult. Below is my description of the various pilgrims, the names are mine and not common language along the way.

Real Pilgrims
Of course this is the group I fall into. We started in St. Jean, we hiked over the Pyrenees carrying our own stuff. We stay in albergues, eat pilgrim meals and talk about our feet a lot. We smell our clothes to determine what is clean and we don’t worry about walking around in our underwear.

Uber Pilgrims
These are a special group of real pilgrims. They fall into 2 categories. Some have started at their homes in Europe and walked much further. One pilgrim that falls into his category is s French woman that started in Le Puy France. She is pushing her 4 year old son in a heavy duty stroller. She has calves that look like coconuts. The other group are pilgrims that are headed back from Santiago (Julia calls these yoyo pilgrims). They walked there, now they are walking back. It is suppose to be very difficult to walk back, the way is difficult to find in reverse. It is hard to spot these pilgrims (I’ve only seen one) because lost pilgrims are often going the wrong way.

Bicycle Pilgrims
These pilgrims ride their bikes with their packs either on their backs or as saddles on the back. Going uphill they look tough, going downhill they look happy just coasting along. Some are very nice ring a bell to note their arrival and say Buen Camino, others expect you to get out of their way. I spent a night with 3 of them in Castrojerez. They were from Holland and very nice. They said they biked 80-120km per day. 4-7 days for me.

Tourist
These are groups not really going to Santiago and so aren’t really pilgrims. They are just hitting some of the highlights, walking short sections. They were very prevalent early on but have all but disappeared. I guess this part of the camino isn’t exciting enough for them. I’m sure they’ll pick up again at the end.

Tourist Pilgrims
Like the previous group they are more like tourist but are actually going to Santiago, though mostly by bus. Walking up a steep hill last week I was in a group of pilgrims and was chatting about the difficult climb. As we reached the top one of the group said “oh, there is our bus to take us back to the hotel”. This group has also disappeared probably bused across the meseta to continue their camino.

Intermittent Pilgrims
These are actually a subset of real pilgrims. This group only walks for a couple of weeks at a time. They start walk for the time they have then go home. When they have more time they come back. I have appreciation for this group since I remember only having limited time to travel. This group is usually European since the travel back and forth is manageable.

Skipping Pilgrims
Not really a subset of real pilgrims this group takes buses and taxis to skip over the parts they don’t like. Also in this group are pilgrims that for one reason or another are taking buses/taxis from time to time. Maybe their hurt, tired, think they can’t make it. Some have really good reasons others I’m not so sure.

Light Weight Pilgrims
These are pilgrims that are not carrying their own packs. Each day the arrange for a service to take their pack on to the next place they will stay. Again sometimes there are very valid reasons for this but not always.

Of course there are many variations on all of these types.

Day 29 – Acebo to Ponferrada

Posted from Ponferrada, Castile and León, Spain.

It was a misty morning when j headed out. No breakfast at my albergue so j went back up the hill and found another cute albergue open. I had my breakfast sitting by a fire. Very nice. I headed back down passing my albergue in the mist.

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There were clouds above but also below. The mountains peaked out through the mist.

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The trail was leading down out of the mountains. It was wonderful. One of my favorite walks of the trip. Interesting rocks, interesting terrain and interesting views.

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I came down into s little village long serving the pilgrims along the way. The gardens were beautiful and the leaves were showing signs of fall.

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I finally got to Ponferrada where there is a castle built in the 1500’s by the Knights Templar. They helped protect pilgrims on there way to Santiago. I felt I should go inside. Lo and behold it was free on Wednesday, lucky pilgrim.

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The view from across the river was nice.

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Day 28 – Santa Catalina to Acebo

Posted from .

Today I had a rare wildlife sighting. A lizard with a red line down its back. As I lined up the photo I was hoping it wasn’t a leaping poisonous lizard.

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I walked longer than usual today and stopped along the way for lunch. Potatoes chips, nut and a granola bar. Pilgrims can’t be choosy.

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As the path climbed higher the clouds settled and a fine mist hovered over the trail.

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All along the camino you see stones stacked on the way posts, monuments, sometimes just on the ground like cairns. I believe that people place the stones to represent and remember people, reasons for walking, prayers etc. it’s always nice to see them. La Cruz de Ferro is kind of the culmination of all those stacked stones. Cruz de Ferro means iron cross. It is a small cross on the top of a very large post. It is surrounded by the stones that people have left behind.

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I knew this time was coming before I left for the camino. On the day I left I went to mother’s and selected a stone from her garden by her bedroom. I went dad’s and selected a stone from the side of his house. I’ve been carting them along for 1 month across Spain. Today the route climbed into the mountains. Cruz de Ferro is the highest point in my camino. The mist was hanging low on the ground. When I got to the cross I was alone. I took off my pack and dug out my two stones. I held them in my hand and thought about mother and dad.

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I thought about how they had guided me along the way for 50+ years so that I had this amazing opportunity to journey along the camino. I set the stones representing mother and dad down amongst all of the other.

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I moved them out into the collection of stones. Now a part of the my memories of mother and dad are located along this camino. They will be here forever.

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I continued on my way. The mist started to rise and I saw wonderful green mountain views.

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After climbing for several hours the path started down. I could see a village in the distance, my destination. A cute little mountain village.

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I selected a nice little albergue with a very local feeling bar.

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I snagged a prime bed. I’ll sleep well until the rustlers begin.

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I had the pilgrims dinner tonight. I’d say better than most a great soup of potatoes, garlic, spinach. A sautéed white fish with fries and a a great vanilla cream pudding (and of course wine and bread). I ate with a mother daughter couple from British Columbia. The mother was a hoot. Drinking, laughing telling stories. The daughter was more subdued but still good at setting her mother up for punch lines. Pretty funny.

Day 27 – Villares de Orbigo to Santa Catalina

Posted from Astorga, Castile and León, Spain.

I woke up late (in my private wing). It was colder last night. I had my sleeping bag liner, fiberfill sleeping bag and a blanket. It was actually very nice.

We had a nice breakfast with some delicious Japan and I set off. As I left town I came to a an unusual pilgrim statue.

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The day was nice and the path was on a trail. It was very pretty country.

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After several km I came to a place with donativo juices and snacks. This hilarious guy was there. He said he did this for the pilgrims, to give back. Hd had no electricity no running water and slept there outside in a lean to. He said he had been doing it for five years after walking his first camino. He was amazing.

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The trail continued on to outside of Astorga.

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Asturga looked like a cool city. Lots of old churches, Roman ruins and even a building by Goudy.

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However, today was a national holiday and everything was closed. My foot was bothered by a new heel blister so I kept moving. It was a late arrival (I was walking slow) at around 4:00. I rested, showered and went for a beer. At 7:00 I sat with a woman I knew from Toronto and we were joined by a French girl and an American living in New Zealand. I only had a salad mixta and wine tonight. The NZ girl was great and gave me ideas for a possible visit including her email so I could try to connect with her.

I’m pretty tired tonight so off to bed early. There are 20 people in the room tonight.

25.3 km
38511 steps

Day 26 – Mazarife to Villares de Orbigo

Posted from Villares de Órbigo, Castile and León, Spain.

The rustlers started early today, 5:45. I stayed in bed and watched them until 7:15. I had breakfast and got ready. It’s another rainy day. The rain was a little harder today. I only had a short sleeve shirt under my rain jacket and was a little cold.

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Because of the rain I don’t have many pictures along the way today. However it was a good walk. I stopped for a coffee to warm up then headed on. I did pass an impressive bridge, the longest along the camino.

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I’ve mapped my days to the end and am trying to stay off the main stages to enjoy quieter places. In my book I marked the place in Villares de Orbigo as “charming”. I mentioned this to a few others…Lisa from Minnesota and Loraine and Helen from outside of Toronto. Well they all listened to my good advice and came here also. In an Albergue for 24 people it was the four of us and 3 older Spanish ladies. This is the best place so far I think.

The owner of this albergue is a Flemish woman. She went back to school to become a teacher at 50. When she finished school the government raised the retirement age for teachers so none were leaving and she couldn’t get a job. She had walked various caminoes several times and saw this albergue on the Internet and decided to buy it. She purchased it just two months ago. Her husband is still in Belgium working (because they raised his retirement age).

The albergue was very clean and cute.

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I was in a wing to myself. There was a room of 2, a room of 4 and a room of 6 and just me (the women were in a different area).

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Dinner was at 6:30 so at 5:30 I went to the bar for a beer. It’s Sunday night and the place was full of old local men playing cards. I bought my beer and stood at the bar watching.

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At one point the bar tender and an old man came over to talk to me (in Spanish). I sent Carolyn the following text.

I’m in the bar. The bartender and an old man came up to talk to me. Maybe about how tall I am. Maybe about how much money Americans have. Maybe about Miami. Maybe about Dallas….we laughed and laughed.

At 6:30 I went back for dinner. The Spanish ladies didn’t eat so it was just the four of and the owner who joined us.

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The dinner was great. Everything was fresh and homemade. The owner told us how she’d tromped out into the fields to pick lettuce and pumpkins. The menu was pumpkin soup (wonderful), a great fresh salad, a stew of potatoes, carrots and chorizo, chocolate pudding, bread and wine. The wine had no label. She said it was the excess from the vineyards that was over there quota. They couldn’t label it but was the same wine for 1/4 the price.

Later the Spanish ladies came down and there was an hilarious conversation (they didn’t speak English) of their travels.

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I can sleep in tomorrow. I’m alone and breakfast isn’t until 7:30. The owner promised homemade orange marmalade.

This is certainly another example of the road less traveled.

Day 25 – Leon to Mazarife

Posted from Villadangos del Páramo, Castile and León, Spain.

I woke up, enjoyed my buffet breakfast and started out of Leon. I approached the Parador (a fancy hotel in old monetary). I saw some pilgrims I knew and one took a picture of me by a great pilgrim statue.

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The Parador is a great looking (expensive) hotel. It is the one in the movie The Way where the pilgrims stayed.

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Right after the Parador was a great old bridge.

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So then I headed out of town. It was an interesting slog through the fancy shopping section, the new apartments, the old apartments, the car dealerships, the warehouse section …. Kind of like walking out of Arlington.

After a while the path reached the end of town. And a choice. Just last night mother sent me a reminder of the poem by Robert Frost. I had actually thought of the poem often when I reached a choice but couldn’t remember the poem. Mother sent me the poem.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

by Robert Frost

So I stopped, read the poem and knowing what mother would have me do I choose the road less traveled. Of course a good decision.

The way entered a small village with another nice pilgrim statue.

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As I walked along I came upon another pilgrim I knew from New Zealand, she was just laying there swinging in a playground.

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We talked and I continued. I ended up in a small village for the night. I checked in, selected to have dinner, breakfast and my clothes washed and dried for me. All for €27. The albergue had a great front lawn so I sat out and had lunch.

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While I sat there Martin (of Martin and Jane) came by. Unfortunately Jane has had a foot problem requiring a hospital visit. She had been told to keep off her feet for 5 days. She is busing ahead while Martin continues to walk. They are trying to move more quickly so I may not see them again until Santiago. I’ll miss them. They are really nice people.

I walked into the small town and as usual they had a cute little church with stork nests on top.

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As I sat there I saw the German woman (Helga, Heidi, ????) that is in the bunk above me tonight. We talked and she gave me a big black plastic bag to put my backpack in when sitting on the floor to avoid bed bugs. She seemed concerned.

I headed back to the albergue for dinner. It was delicious, better than most pilgrim dinners.

An especially good salad, cold pumpkin soup, vegetable paella, chocolate crepe, great bread and wine.

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I’m now sitting in the only bar in town. I’m charging my phone and blogging. I’m sitting under the TV and an old woman is watching some American show in Spanish.

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The road less traveled. Always a good choice. Thank you mother for sending me the poem. I will use it every chance I get and think of you as I take that road.

Day 24 – Leon to Leon

Posted from León, Castile and León, Spain.

Today was my rest day in Leon and I received a comment from Kathleen to be wary of temptations, I realize this is good advice but maybe received to late.

– I slept until 8:45, it was light outside when I woke up!!!

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– I went to the buffet breakfast. A huge assortment of pastries, cheese, meat, yogurt, cereal. More than a pilgrim would normally see in a week.
– I got a massage. It was wonderful.

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– I took a long hot bath….in a bathtub!!!
– I took a nap in a room by myself
– I went for a drink and got free tapas

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– I had a nice bottle of cava

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– I ate a wonderful cream filled desert

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This pilgrim has indulged and bowed to temptation. I must leave Leon. I will head out in the morning (after one more buffet breakfast, I can’t resist). I estimate I will arrive in Santiago de Compostela in 15 days.

Today I also visited the cathedral in Leon. It was very beautiful. It was much different from the Burgos cathedral. It was far less ornate. High ceilings, simpler with great light through the stained glass windows

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One more thing. My massage today was great. The masseur was David (a one man show). I told him I had pain in my right thigh. He focused on that area and really made a difference. At the end of the massage his said a prayer to give me strength to get to Santiago and when I got there to say a prayer for him. He told me the camino is divided into thirds St. Jean to Burgos was for initiation. Burgos to Leon is for introspection (the wide open meseta) and Leon to Finnestra for elevation (to reach for something). I’m looking forward to the next phase.