Via Gebennensis

Via Gebennensis
Via Gebennensis

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Porto. June 6, 2016

Earth has not anything to show more fair


Porto, as seen from across the river, is surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I am staying again at the Hotel Leca da Palmeira, across the mighty bridge from Matosinhos and the metro stop Mercade. I recommend this friendly hotel, but if you are walking the Camino Portuguese, ask for the pilgrim rate of 30 €.

On the bus down from Santiago yesterday, I chatted with a young Portugese girl who was travelling on to Lisbon. I asked her how she learned to speak English so well. "From watching English and American films," she said. "The films have subtitles, but are not dubbed. In Spain they are. That's why we speak English and they don't." Interesting! This means, of course, that countries such as Spain and France that dub American films as a means of preserving their own language are depriving their citizens of an easy way of acquiring English as a second language.

The Porto metro is half train, half tram. In places, the city centre, for example, it runs underground, quite fast and stopping at subway stations, but then it comes up for air and runs slowly above ground as a streetcar, turning and twisting around right angle bends. Trindade is the important station to aim for, either to transfer to another line, or to get off, as I did this morning, to stroll down the Av. dos Aliodos towards the river and the Cathedral.

I strolled around the city all day delighting in its open places and the little streets which zigzagged their way downhill.

I visited a couple of churches, one of which, the Igreja das Carmelitas, would appeal to lovers of Baroque Excess. Here, there was barely a square inch of stone left unadorned. I was reminded of a woman with tatoos on every inch of her body.


But chacun a son gout. One tourist was lying prone taking a panamamic shot of Christ in his tomb. And others were taking shots of simply everything.

What a difference digital cameras have made with their huge storage capacity! They wouldn't have been clicking away with such abandon with a 36-shot reel of film.

More appealing to me was the railway station, which is famous for the scenes of Portugese life on ceramic tiles on the its walls. The upper scene shows methods of transportation, with what looks like a copy of Stevenson's Rocket on the left.


I also visited the Livraria Lello, one of the most famous bookshops in the world. Unfortunately, it is a victim of its own fame. Probably because it is associated with J. K. Rowlings, who frequented it when she lived in Portugal, and perhaps because it may have been the inspiration for her Harry Potter series, it has become one of the most popular tourist sites in Porto. So much so that they were charging three euros just to enter, although that was refunded if you bought a book. Dozens of phones and cameras were out and clicking, and of course, access to the upper storey was temporarily blocked by a couple of women taking photos of each other on the stairs. 


Why would a serious book buyer come here when the shop was crowded with tourists? Why would a book lover come here to browse when it costs three euros to enter? But no matter, the shop is now making more money from tourism than it ever made from selling books.

But to my mind, the most beautiful aspect of Porto is the city itself, seen from the other side. Tall, narrow houses with their orange roofs and facades of many colours look out across the river, the skyline interrupted by the occasional church spire.


All in all, I spent a wonderful day in Porto.

And now I have a confession to make -- to my embarrassment, but perhaps to your amusement. Henceforth, you will think of me as an oddity, an oddbod, an oddfellow, the odd man out. You see, I inadvertently told a lie, or rather a half-truth, at the beginning of this walk. I said that I was wearing a pair of Zamberlan boots.

In fact, I was wearing one Zamberlan and one Asolo. In my haste to get to the airport at four o'clock in the morning, I grabbed an odd pair of boots, and didn't realize until the end of my first day's walking what I had done. You can imagine my horror as I noticed that the boots didn't match. And it was the appearance, and not the fit, that revealed my error. So, there you are. Perhaps I'm the first person to walk the Camino in odd boots.

The trouble is, I may have worn out two pairs of boots at once, unless I wear the other pair on my next Camino. And not another word about boots, I promise.



Thursday, 2 June 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 12. June 3, 2016. Padron to Santiago. 24 kms

How little thought the octopus
Gives to humans such as us
When swimming in his inky sea
Awash in octopedal glee!

"Although I am an octopus, 
Certes," he said, "I'm not a wuss.
It's hardly my fault, meo culpo,
I lie before you, dressed as pulpo."


For dinner last night, I treated myself to a superb meal of pulpo, which came with another bowl of the "blushful Hippocrene" in a quantity that exceeded the specified capacity to the same extent that advertised distances to bars or gites exceed the actual distance. In Galicia they serve the vino tinto cold. And I have to say, it's not bad. Having raved so much about pulpo, I thought I should show you what it looks like on the plate. The chunks are symmetrically arranged and the tentacle ends strung aesthetically on top.

I am surprised that it's not a delicacy around the word. After all, the seas abound with octopi. Last year on the Camino I asked some Aussies whether they ate pulpo down there. "Octo-bloody-pus? No bloody way, mate. All it's bloody good for is bloody fish bait."


These are the instructions I had to follow in the bathroom. I was intrigued by the potential traffic jams on the sewer highways but wiill spare you my crude speculations.

My roommates at the bunk hotel were early risers, so I too set out at a bonne heure. It was an uneventful day on minor roads with short stretches on the highway. The day grew warmer, but this scarecrow was not suffering in the heat.




Only the last part was frustrating as it took forever to walk through the suburbs of Santiago, up and down, over and under motorways and ring roads. It was a long 24 kms, even with this encouragement.



And at last I arrived in the old city!

What a madding crowd! Colourful humanity in all its shapes and forms, from grubby hippies to elderly couples, walking, talking in a Babel of tongues, drinking, dining on the plazas, largely oblivious to the local inhabitants who try to make a living out of them: the jugglers, the comedians, the silver-painted ladies posing as statues along with Santiago and a visibly pregnant angel (you've to keep working), the jazz guitarists and classical trios and Galician bagpipers who like to play in the tunnels where their pipes are even more strident, the ladies in white with samples of cakes and the hawkers in black who try to entice you into their restaurant, the street vendors with all their Jacobean paraphanalia, the girls handing out pamphlets advertising excursions to Finisterra for those whose feet won't take them there, and of course, the beggars.

And in the great Praza de Obradoiro, people throng: on one side, with their backs against the arcade of the town hall, pilgrims sit and gaze in silent contemplation at the cathedral. Others, exhausted, lie flat on their backs on the stones. Individuals cheer as they recognize their friends. A cyclist arrives to be greeted by his family, and his baby recognizes him with a smile. On crippling blisters, a lady hobbles at a snail's pace, and a couple of nuns stroll across the square, a vanishing species. And all the while, the wail of Galician pipes. 




Camino Portugues. Day 11. June 2, 2016. Caldas de Reis to Padron. 20kms

Strange are the ways of woodland flowers.
They make their home where nature calls,
In sunny glades or shady bowers
Or even on the stony walls.

And there the humble celandine
Seeks out a place that others shun,
An indentation barely seen,
And grows in the warm Galician sun.

And so she lies, a treasure trove
Of greenery on rugged quartz,
Until one day a simple cove
Seeks out the balm for his ugly warts.



Sorry, I am noticing it everywhere now, this little yellow flower. How it thrives on barren stone! Nor does it have to take root in a hollow where soil has started to form. It comes to life in the tiniest indentation.

As I left the albergue this morning, there was a commotion behind me. A pilgrim was gesticulating in Spanish, and behind him appeared a van driven by the genial host of the albergue, his hand outstretched through the window. In it was my camera.

I pondered on this simple gesture, another one of those "little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness"' and thought, not for the first time, about the natural goodness in us all, and the evil of the doctrine of original sin which had to deny this goodness to create the need for redemption. Jesus must have turned in his grave at this revisionism!

How Wordsworth must have angered the religious establishment with his insistence that we come from heaven, not tainted, but "trailing clouds of glory".

After that little bit of philosophising, I walked on towards town. 

One of the scarecrows in the neighbouring field seemed to be wearing a Tilley hat. He wasn't as well outfitted in his other garments, however.

Along the way, I met a fellow who directed me to a cafe, the Esperon. "Tell them Julio sent you," he said. I decided to pay on the good deed, as they say, so I left money for my coffee, and for a beer for Julio. I then learned that Julio was a relative of the patron, so he probably earned two beers, one from me, and the other from the patron for sending a customer.

I was really taken by the flowers this morning on this sunny walk. So many yellows and whites! And profusions of fox gloves.



 But what happened to the green flowers, or the black? Did they disappear through natural non-selection? 

I was too late for a host of golden daffodils, but Wordsworth was still in my thoughts.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, 
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; 
And ’tis my faith that every flower 
Enjoys the air it breathes. 

And on the subject, can you identify this pretty flower from what is perhaps the most common plant in the world? There's a prize if you get it right: a free subscription to this blog.




On arriving at Padron, I had a narrow escape from hell. I checked in at an albergue on the advice of a Russian pilgrim. "Very nice," he said. I was given the last bed in a 48-bed dorm, upper bunk, of course, so to reach the servicios during the night, I would have had to descend, first to ground level, and then down another of couple of flights of stairs.

So I extricated myself, got my money back, and moved over to the Albergue Corredoiras, a bunk hotel, which is a fancier name for the compartmental sleeping arrangements which resemble storage lockers. For an extra ten euros, I'm living in luxury: half a dozen sleeping companions instead of forty-eight, hot water for there would have been none left at the albergue, a proper towel so I don't have to use my chamois, and sheets on the bed so I don't have to unpack my sleeping bag.

Padron is as much a part of the Santiago legend as the cathedral city itself. It takes its name from "pedron", Spanish for "stone", for it was here that disciples brought the decapitated body of James to Spain, tying their boat up at the stone which now lies behind the altar in the church. I rather liked this simple depiction of the event.


And there are other depictions of events in the legend, and the inevitable statue of Santiago Matamoros, the slayer of the moors.


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 10. June 1, 2016, Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis.18 kms

Hail to thee, O Humble Celandine!
Thy flower belies thy Properties unseen,
For from thy stem thy precious bane is sought,
Anathema to every Common Wart.

O Epidermal Pest! Wart thou never wert,
When once thou tasted but a tiny spurt
Of poison from the humble celandine.
Avaunt. Begone. Thou'lst not return, I ween.

(with apologies to Shelley)



It was Jacques who pointed it out to me, this ubiquitous little plant that grows on of stone walls. When you snap the stem a yellow liquid oozes out, a veritable wartsbane!

A friendly Spaniard showed me the way out of town, despite the arrows at regular intervals. He had spent some time studying in Ontario. Then I ran into the pilgrim parties again. A pious fellow told me in halting French that he was looking forward to the mass at the cathedral in Santiago. He belonged to one of the many groups who are walking the minimum 100 kilometres required to get their credential. Others are doing The Best of the Camino, discharged from minibuses at the edge of town and picked up again before the next industrial zone.



I met a man a-mowing the bracken.
I send to him, "But it doesn't need doin'.
He said to me, "It keeps us from ruin.
Sorry, mate, I've got to get crackin'."

Besides, it was hardly good for the environment: replacing all that vegetation with diesel fumes. On the other hand, I saw the local farmers hauling the bracken away with their little trailers, so it was serving some useful purpose.

I have seen many workers employed on jobs that didn't need doing, such as the group of men who were pulling up the weeds between the stones on the road. Some would say that is why the country is in such economic trouble. I would say that you have put people to work.

It was a lovely leafy stroll through the woods below the railway line, the autoroute off in the distance with the noise of traffic softened by the trees. Just when I was thinking that it was about time for a coffee, I met Trevor and Manzu coming in the other direction. Out of time, and with a train to catch from Pontevedra, they were walking ten kms out and back just to keep up in shape. They told me of the bar just over the rise at San Amaro, where, indeed, I had my coffee.

I continued on into the afternoon until Puente, where a bottle of Estrella sent me on my hazy waysy. A few kilometres further on, fearful of not finding a bed in town, I stopped at the Alberge Catro Canos, just before Caldas de Reis. A nice place, where later I was served a complimentary cake and liqueur.

I walked the petit kilometre into to town and ate at a bar overlooking the bridge where pilgrims were still crossing into town.