Those after class activities really can be I interesting. The one on tapas was one of those interesting ones. We learned that there are many types of tapas, only limited by the mind and imagination of the creator.

During this activity we were told of the tapas competition going on in the city. We were provided a map of the locations that have one or more tapas entered in the competition that also has pictures of the entries with symbols showing special features like gluten free or vegetarian.

Three of us, yes students at the school change on a regular basis, thought about going to  try at least one of tapas in the competition. Two of us, Sandra and I, went to try tapas. We rapidly learned that:

  1. Mid afternoon during what was considered siesta was not really a good time to go as some of the establishments were closed.
  2. The map was not really accurate but did list the name of the establishment with its address.
  3. It was raining so we really wanted to find a place quickly.
  4. Spotted some places that we had walked by after determining where we were on the map.
  5. And finally, it was raining!

We went into Cervantes Vinoteca. I had been in there before meeting the author and online acquaintance a few days ago. It is a nice quiet place. We sat down and I suspect that the waiter thought Sandra must be my granddaughter or something. He really hovered around her while we ordered vino blanca (white wine) and the competition tapas. Although we knew that when you order wine or some other drink you also receive something to eat, we were surprised just a little. The waiter brought our wine and a small plate with four tapas on it, two pulpo (octopus) croquets and two small pieces of bread with cheese and some type of jam on it. They were good. The tapas we ordered, Mexillion de Galicia con tres salsas or simply shellfish from Galicia with three salsas was delivered.


Wow, it was really good!


To the right in the photo, you can see the voting cards. We voted!

In my end of course review, I suggested that the tapas class be provided the first week and students be encouraged to go out in groups of two or three to try tapas. I had a blast as well as practiced a little Spanish.



The Botafumeiro at Mass


The Botafumeiro

I saw it swing during a Sunday mass on November 25, 2018. I had been told that it swings at the beginning of the service if is used as a part of the service. It swings at the end of service if someone has paid to have swing. The botafumeiro swung at the beginning of the service.

The botafumeiro, 53 kilograms, swings from a rope fastened to pulley’s near the ceiling. Burning incense is put in it before it is swung. To swing it, it takes a team of men who have been trained in how to do it. The story is that pilgrims in the old days, and probably now if they have come straight from the Camino de Santiago to mass, were somewhat odoriferous. The incense was to mask the smell. Regardless, it was awesome to see.

According to Wikipedia, the pulley system is from 1604 while the actual botafumeiro was made in 1851. For more information on the botafumeiro, check the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela at http://catedraldesantiago.es/liturgia/#botafumeiro or check out Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botafumeiro. They do differ, go figure.

Why I Chose Academia Iria Flavia

Tough decision, there are many language schools in Spain. Some in more popular tourist destinations, some on one coast or another or in other areas of Spain. Some for which I was not qualified – I couldn’t speak at the minimum proficiency level to enroll. Most were for 2 weeks or shorter. Most schools, such as those in tourist destinations or on the coast or both, were more expensive. All said they had some type of certification.



One of the Certifications

Academia Iria Flavia also stated that they were a certified language school. I noticed that they have a certification from Germany for those German speakers wanting to learn Spanish. They also had levels from beginner to advanced and for those who are teachers of Spanish seeking additional certification. There were two overriding issues. First was cost. I attended four weeks of language school, lived in a shared apartment either owned or operated by the school all for about 965 euros including my deposit. Second, I wasn’t categorized as an old guy. Sandra, my classmate was a 21-year-old statuesque blonde from Iceland. I also met a 20’s something young lady who was several weeks ahead of us from Finland. It was nice to just be accepted as another student shunted into some category. Class was small, just Sandra and I.


Dos Maria’s in park during walking tour after class. Standing are: Conchi, our instructor; Sandra from Iceland; Phil; and kneeling is Nicole from Germany.

Two or three times a week we had an out of class activity. This included a walking tour of the old part of town, first after dark in the evening and two weeks later in the afternoon. Two different instructors so two slightly different viewpoints. We went to museums, art exhibits, and played games with a language learning twist.

The school had a family feeling. The last day, hugs all around: Conchi, our first instructor; Amanda, our second instructor; Begonia, another instructor; and Lucia, the lady who I corresponded with via email when enrolling, who helped me find the right apartment, who scheduled maintenance in the apartment when needed, and helped with my transportation desires to other places.

I hope to return to learn more Spanish, ideally with Janet.

Finesterre or Fisterra?

Which is it, Finesterre or Fisterra? That depends. To most of us it is Finesterre while to Galicians, it is Fisterra. The difference is that Fisterra is the Galician name and spelling for this fishing village and a final destination for some pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago. Finesterre was considered the “end of the world” in medieval times as it was believed to be the point farthest west on the coast of Europe.


Part of the harbor at Finesterre

The harbor and surrounding part of town was interesting. I wanted to see the light house and the rocky coast. That was a walk of 3 to 4 kilometers up above town. No taxi for me, I’ve been exercising!


Whew! The path is uphill all the way.

The pathway beside the road is a called a senda. It is a place to walk without walking on the roadway.

The view from the top was interesting. What grabbed my attention was a white post stuck in the ground at what appeared to be one of the higher points in the area. Its message is captivating.


Yes, Peace on Earth!

Of course there were other things to look at. The sound and sight of waves crashing on the rocks below made me imagine what it would be like to be in a small boat along the coast.

Now the tough part, going back down. To me, that is more difficult than going up. Perhaps doesn’t result in deep breaths, okay just a little panting, or burning quads as I struggle up. It does put more stress on my muscles and knees. Still made it down and wandered the town a bit.

While wandering around town, I walked by a bar where Galician bagpipes, an acordian, base drum, a box drum, and a few other instruments were being played. The bar was filled with men, mostly more mature gentleman like me, one was dancing some dance that the rest seemed to know and appreciate, The bass drummer was lustily leading singing in a language I didn’t know (of course that could just about any language) but suspect to be Galego, a Galician language. Interesting and exciting to watch. No pictures as I was an outsider looking in on a local gathering. As my wandering continued, I heard a drum line in another part of town. Following the sound, I arrived just in time to see what appeared to be a school group with leaders packing up their drums. Wish I arrived sooner.

I was bushed, but most of the restaurants and bars don’t begin serving supper until about 8 pm so I wander back to my abode above the town. It seems that most everything is either up or down. Ate a snack in the kitchen and had a little vino tinto (red wine) as well as an Aquarius, a cold drink out of a machine. Then off to bed.

Morning came and I left the hotel to walk down into town for breakfast. This sunrise greeted me as I left.


Sunrise in Finesterre

Breakfast in the only place near the bus stop that was open. Same place I ate lunch yesterday. The mature couple running the place were multilingual. I heard them speaking Spanish, German, and English. Interesting place. Caught my bus back to Santiago. This is the last week of good weather for a while so I am glad I chose this weekend to visit the sea coast.

Spanish Language School

School begins. I’ve got to find a different route. It’s raining, steep downhill with steps, and steep uphill also with steps. Took about 40 to 45 minutes to walk. Glad for waterproof boots and a rain jacket, should have brought the umbrella today. I will tomorrow.

I have one classmate, Sandra from Iceland. She plans to take 7 weeks of language school and will begin a one on one intensive time with an instructor after class. Conchi is our instructor. Class is entirely in Spanish. Poor Conchi, she has to keep repeating herself, simplifying the wording, drawing pictures in the air, and when all else fails showing a picture on the computer screen. Seemed to work though. We had a school outing this evening walking through a part of town.

Met back at school for the outing. Begonia is our escort from the school. We walked into the old town with Begonia showing us different interesting things. One of those was the Parque da Alameda or Alameda Park. She showed us a statue of two women, As Duas Marias or the two Marias, sisters who lived during a time when women stayed home, cared for the home, children, and husband. Begonia explained how hard that was for them. We then walked further into the park and could see the Cathedral.

Cathedral at Night

Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela at night from Alameda Park.

We see other interesting things that evening. We ended in a bar for a glass of wine and tapas. Just so you know, a bar here is not like a bar in the U.S. It is a place where you can eat, bring your family, have coffee or soda, and even a glass of wine or a  beer.

All in all, a good start to school.

Santiago de Compostela

Anxious to arrive, okay, just a bit nervous. Here I am in a city that I’m going to live in until the end of the month. Don’t really know anyone but I have been here before for a few days. Everything will be okay. As we were landing, we passed through a layer of clouds to a wet world. Yep, it’s raining. As I left the airport, found the bus to the bus station with a long line of people waiting to board. I knew that it would take 3 euros. I had 20 euro bills and 2.90 euros in coins.  A lady from Uruguay said that I would probably need exact change. She graciously gave a 10 cent euro piece. While waiting, I learned that she and her sister are planning to walk the Camino and will travel to their starting point changing buses at the bus station. The bus was full, really full. Standing room only and I was standing in the aisle with my pack on. The lady from Uruguay let me know that my pack was bumping a lady sitting in a seat. She then said I was dangerous with my pack on. Guess she had been talking to Janet as she has told me that also.

I exited the bus at the bus station and headed outside. Once outside I took my phone off of airplane and opened Google maps. I had already saved the address for the apartment in my places. I then headed for the apartment wearing my rain jacket with a rain cover over my backpack. When I arrived at the location of my “shared” apartment, there were three buildings. Okay, I knew I was on the right street so I headed into the courtyard of the first building looking for 4, 1C. When I found a 1C, my key would not work in the door to the stairs. Odd I thought. I went around to all 8 stairwells and my key wouldn’t work in any of them. I double checked a couple, still no luck. I remembered one of the emails I received from the school had an emergency number on it. Thank goodness for smart phones. I looked up the number and called Ramon. Ramon asked if I was in the right place. Like many guys, I didn’t want to admit that I might be wrong so I told him I was in the right place. He said he would call Lucia, my email contact at the school, who was in the area to come and help me out. Ramon called back and said that Lucia is in the entry portal to my apartment building and I wasn’t there. I looked around and saw a lady waving at me. I crossed the street to the middle building. It was Lucia. Oops, guess I was wrong. Lucia used my keys to open the stairwell and the door to my apartment and told me to pick a room as I am the only one using the apartment at this time.

I was hungry and remembered from looking at the online map of a place to eat nearby. You guessed it, something familiar, pizza, Domino’s pizza. Had pizza for a late lunch or early dinner. Bought some bread, margarine, and orange jam for tomorrow at an open grocery store. Now back to the apartment.

Surprise, surprise, while trying to finish unpacking a lady let herself into the apartment. She was the cleaning lady and went about cleaning the kitchen and the last bedroom, the largest. She told me that I could move in there if I wanted to have the larger bed and room. I did move. She also cleaned the larger of the two bathrooms as well as some other areas in the apartment and then left.

In Front of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostella

Selfie in front of the Cathedral. Probably can’t see the rain drops on my glasses.

Good day! I’m in Santiago de Compostela. I’ve already made it to the Cathedral. Tried to get into the wrong apartment and had lunch. I’ve walked to the school back and will have to use the GPS stuff tomorrow to get there on time.

Tomorrow, the beginning of language school.

The Beginning

I’m sitting in the kitchen of an apartment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, wondering how to tell you all that has happened so far. I’ll just dive in and go.

In January 2018, we returned from serving as hospitaleros in Zamora, Spain. A wonderful experience. We decided to do it again so we applied and were offered a posting in Granon, Spain. Of course, we accepted. I have struggled to learn Spanish and know some words but have not successfully used what I know to have a conversation. So we started looking at different options for language schools. I chose Academia Iria Flavia in Santiago de Compostela as the best fit for me. In September, I waited expectantly for the arrival of a newsletter from the Spanish Federation of Friends of the Camino de Santiago Associations announcing the opening of sign ups for the annual gathering of hospitalero voluntarios simply called Encuentro. I applied and was accepted. At Janet’s urging, I also applied for and was accepted to a singing workshop in Ponferrada, Spain, and the end of language school.

Gear checked, new boots and new crocs I’m ready to go. Found out that not everything fit in the pack, oops. No problem, just grab another “conference bag” and go. I can get rid of it later.

Pack Contents

Backpack and Contents: Elmer Fudd hat with ear flaps is  near my boots.

So off I went. Had a long layover in Dallas. Nice airport. Visited the USO, also nice. Off to the gate where I decided to put my new boots on and carry my crocs on the plane. I can just put my crocs on after I get on the plane. While reorganizing my conference bag and pack, I took out a wonderfully comfortable pair of Darn Tough socks and my black flat cap. After the reorganization, boarded the plane and off to Madrid, Spain. After Madrid, next stop Santiago de Compostela for language school.

During the day and night in Madrid, I decided to go for a walk. Checked the conference bag for my socks and black hat. Couldn’t find them so I checked the backpack. Ended up taking everything out. Still no socks or hat. Oh well, they have stores in Spain and I can pick up additional socks if necessary. With me, I have my “Elmer Fudd” winter hat with goretex and turn down ear flaps so I probably won’t need another hat.

The next morning, off to the airport. Next stop, Santiago de Compostela.



The End of the Adventure, For Now…

Well, our last day at the Albergue was quiet. Too quiet as no hospitalero showed up to replace us. We had gone to church in the morning and stopped for a coffee and pastry on the way home. Then we walked back and waited, and waited, and waited. Not pilgrims and no hospitalero replacements.

You may recall my earlier prowess with telephone Spanish. Phil kept urging me to call our contact Sr. Manuel Oliva to get an update. Finally as it was growing dark, I picked up the phone and dialed. Guess what! Sr. Oliva speaks zero English, nada, zilch! He did understand that I was the hospitalera at the albergue and that I needed to leave on Monday to go to Madrid. He was able to communicate that someone was coming from Italy, but I was not able to understand when he would be there and what to do with the keys if he did not arrive before I needed to leave. With a heavy sigh, I said “Adios” and hung up the phone.

Phil and I went down to the kitchen where I began a supper I had planned with our replacements (pork sausage with apples and onions over rice) and Phil opened a “good” bottle of wine we had hoped to toast them with. The phone began to ring and because Phil’s knee won’t allow him to vault up two stories of steps, I shouted for him to watch the cooking food and ran up. Too late…the phone had stopped ringing. I went back down and resumed cooking and asked Phil to go up and wait in case it rang again. Sure enough it began to ring and I heard him switch on the PA system so he would know I needed to once again race up two stories to help talk to the person on the other end.

This time it was Ana, the woman who arranges all the hospitaleros for all the albergues for the Federation and she speaks English. She told Phil that the replacement would not be there until Monday afternoon sometime and for us to make the albergue ready for pilgrims and leave the keys on the desk when we were ready to head for Madrid. Phil told her how much we had enjoyed our time and she encouraged him to come back again to volunteer.

That night, New Year’s Eve, we were awakened first by the city’s midnight fireworks display over the river. Beautiful if you are not trying to sleep. Then again several times by the city’s youth who persisted in setting off fireworks and running through the streets shouting “wake up” from midnight to about 7 a.m. when it begins to get light. Phil and I got up, cleaned up the place for the last time, had breakfast, packed, and retrieved the car. We would have gotten out sooner if I had not put the washer on the regular cycle instead of “rapido” as we have been instructed to do. Those sheets took almost 2 hours!

Then we started back to Madrid. We stopped at a gas station to “top off” and couldn’t figure out how to make the self-service pump work. Because it was New Years Day, there was no one working to explain it. It was cold and windy and finally Phil gave up and got in the car saying “We’ll just drive till we run out of gas.” Not to worry as we found a station open on the Spanish equivalent of the interstate where a man pumped the gas for us. Later we stopped at possibly the only restaurant open for many miles to use a bathroom. The place was mobbed and I waited in line for the bathroom for quite some time. Surprisingly there was plenty of toilet paper, everything was clean, and there was soap in the soap dispenser to wash my hands!

We turned the car in at the airport and then went inside the terminal to dine on an airport food supper. I knew that our hotel would not have service tonight so I opted to split one of the worst hamburgers ever (hamburgesa here) with Phil. We also had some spicy fried potatoes (Patatas Bravas) which are usually my favorite, but the airport version didn’t measure up. Now we are tucked into our hotel room. We’ve checked in for our flight and Phil is longing for a scotch so I think we’ll go down for a cocktail and then up to bed. It has been a great trip. I feel very relaxed and feel like I can go back to work with a fresh perspective on Wednesday. For any of you out there contemplating something like “Walking the Camino” or volunteering in Spain, I can highly recommend both.


History lessons: Not enough time for them all this session

We had a pair of Dutch pilgrims last night. They are walking for about 3 weeks on their holidays. He is a psychiatric nurse who works with children. She was a special needs teacher. They were just slightly younger than me and they told me they hoped to save and spend a whole year walking the various Caminos. We enjoyed their visit.


Johannes (left) and Marijke (right) from the Netherlands

Today we made our last trip to the bakery store. The shop is closed on Sunday and on New Year’s Day. The grocery story is open tomorrow and also has bread if we run out. We did not go back to the fruit and vegetable story today as we only needed a head of lettuce which we got at the grocery. We finished off Phil’s lentil soup at noon and then went for a long walk around the castle and the cathedral. Yesterday I bought a book in English which tells about all the landmarks in the city. Should have bought it when we first arrived, but I did not find it until we were looking for Phil’s postcards yesterday.

Anyway, today we walked to a lot of the sites I’d read about. For example, El Cid whose real name was Ruy Diaz del Vivar, was raised here in Zamora and was pals with the Royalty of the 12th century. He was knighted here by King Fernando I. When Fernando I died he divided his kingdoms and left them to the various kids. He gave Zamora to his daughter, Princess Urraca. Brother Sancho II who became King got angry and tried to take back the kingdoms of his brothers and sisters. He and El Cid laid siege to Zamora. A knight loyal to Urraca killed Sancho II in a sneak attack. Urraca’s other brother Alfonso VI was named king and El Cid swore an oath to him. Urraca apparently felt like El Cid had jilted her for a peasant and was bitter about the whole incident. It really sounds like a huge medieval soap opera. There are movies about El Cid. He has quite a reputation here in Spain as both a hero and a mercenary.


House where El Cid grew up with the heirs of King Fernando I

We also walked around the inside of the castle. Interestingly enough, I saw a modern photo of the castle and it looked like it was still habitable with a regular roof, etc. However, the tour office lady clarified that it has been “restored” by removing any modern parts. The castle was originally designed in 890 by King Alfonso III, the Great. Apparently, this site was also used earlier than that because a Roman tomb also exists within the castle walls.


“Restored” castle means they took away any traces of the modern buildings that had been a part of the structure.

The “new” Roman bridge was built in 1167. There was an “old” bridge just down stream near where the flour mills are located. It was built in the 11th or 12th century, but collapsed around 1310. Even after all this time you can see one of the pier’s and breakwater. It was in working order at the same time the new bridge was being built. The new bridge led to the city gate and originally also had two towers. The city walls were originally just around the castle, cathedral, and a few houses and were built in 893 by King Alfonso III. What they call the first walled enclosure was around during the siege I spoke of earlier so 1037-1109 and was slightly larger than the one from 893. A second wall included most of the city hilltop and was built to protect the growing city (1157-1230). Finally, the royalty decided they needed to protect the people in the valley as well and extended the walls again this time down to the water’s edge (1325.)


Terrible photo of me, but you can see the “new” bridge in the background. It’s been around 1,000 years!

Anyway, there’s so much to see and do here, that I could spend several weeks and months seeing it all. Phil and I just feel lucky to have experienced what we have in the time we’ve been here. We’ve cleaned up our room and are now just waiting on both pilgrims and the new hospitalero team.

Raciones, not Tapas: Duck Pate and cheese plates with bread

Had a lovely evening with our pilgrim, Jorge. He arrived on his bike in the late afternoon covered in mud. His bike gears were not working properly and he was worrying about a steep climb he’d need to make in a few days at Cruz de Ferro. Phil took a look as he knows enough about bikes to be dangerous from his “bike cop” days at Ft Hays State University. He thought the gear cable was gummed up with mud and could not move properly. We looked up a bike shop address and our pilgrim made of off down the street to get it repaired. He returned about 8:15 with a fixed machine! We had supper together and Jorge brought some wine, cheese, and bread to contribute to Phil’s lentil soup and my salad. He is a Spanish actor who travels with a company here in Spain. His next show will be in Santiago on Jan. 5.


Jorge, the Spanish actor, with his newly repaired bike

Today we cleaned the “spare room” and put sheets on the bed for the replacement team we anticipate will arrive tomorrow.  We’ll clean our room well tomorrow and then do a touch up on it before we leave Sunday or Monday and the new hospitaleros move in. That room is the only room which has a locker with a key and we keep the money we collect in a pouch in there. We keep two kinds of ledgers. One is the daily registration of pilgrims and the other is an accounting of how many pilgrims come each day, how much money is donated, and now much we spend on food and cleaning supplies. We’ll hand that off to the new team in a few days and leave them some cash to purchase supplies.


This is the record of pilgrim number, income, and expenditures for our our stay.

Today we walked to a third tourist office and got some new information about the various Caminos for pilgrims in both Spanish and English. We stopped at the vegetable/fruit store to get more oranges because I gave Jorge our last one for a snack on the road. We stopped in and got coffee filters at the Express Market. After stopping at the albergue to drop off our treasures, we headed out again in the direction of the Cathedral and Castle. We stopped to buy post cards to send to Phil’s grandkids and then got sidetracked by hunger at a Tapas place. We ordered two raciones which are tapas for a crowd (instead of a one or two bite morsel). YUM!

Lunch-Duck pate and Zamoran Cheese

Instead of small tapas plates, Phil and I got the bigger racione plates to split. Above is the Zamoran Cheese on applesauce  and  of Duck pate in nuts on fruit syrup served with bread/toast.

Back at the albergue we greeted two Dutch pilgrims who will be with us tonight. Phil went off to mail his post cards and I am contemplating starting a new batch of Tomato-Potato-Basil soup for our last few days here.