Sunday, 15 December 2019

Day 3 On The Camino: Palas De Rei To Arzua


Morning Has Broken


It is still dark at 7:20am when I join Jorge for breakfast. My night as the only guest at the villa went well, no Japanese spirits tried to kill me and I feel refreshed and ready for food.

This is my first breakfast since I left home and, for a pilgrim, this is a feast: there are different jams, fruit, cakes, orange juice, fresh hot croissants, hot chocolate, a whole cheese and meat platter and more. Will I manage to eat all of this? Have to!

Jorge joins me and shares his stories from the Camino including his own pilgrimages to Santiago. He's done it three times so far! I'm impressed and admire his pilgrim passports which are full of colourful sellos. Of course, Jorge stamps my passport to document my stay at his guesthouse.

I really enjoy breakfast and have a great view over the Camino which passes the villa and the first people are already on the hike! Sometimes this hike feels like a race. Before I leave the villa, Jorge has kindly organised a local luggage transfer for me. A bit skeptical, I leave my backpack behind. Fed, well-rested and a couple of kilos lighter I can start my day.  

With the sunrise at 8:30am, I'm ready to leave and as the day before, the Camino is busy. I join straight into a pack of chatty pilgrims and get carried away with them. The next two hours are very productive and I make great progress as the landscape is flat and allows a smooth hike.

camino frances pilgrim statue between palas de rei and arzua
camino frances outside melide

 Melide Calling


I pass through medieval villages, local chapels and cross arched stone bridges. After a hike through an autumnal forest, I take my first break in the outskirts of Melide. I help pilgrims with their pictures in front of the picturesque stone bridge in Furelos and meet a friendly Columbian, who travels with me for a short while.

pilgrim outside chapel on the camino frances
furelos bridge outside melide camino frances
furelos village on the camino frances

Furelos goes over into Melide which turns out to be a large town! It has to be as two routes, the Camino Frances (the busiest) and Camino Primitivo (the oldest), join together so the place is packed with pilgrims. The Camino leads straight into the centre past a Galician restaurant on the corner with a bald-headed guy who tries to sell me Octopus. I tell him politely that I can't have any seafood and could end up in hospital. Besides, I'm on a mission and need to keep going. I do see the Columbian and some other familiar pilgrim faces resting at the restaurant so his selling strategy does work. I could do with a little snack so for "lunch" I drop into a small supermarket and get some Mikado. The sugar from the chocolate is nice and I head straight to the church of St Peter. 

The church is open but there's no one to stamp my passport. Anyway, just when I enter the building, it starts pouring. It was forecasted, so I'm prepared and get my raincoat and trousers out of my tote bag. The church is quiet and warm, so I take a longer break in the hope the rain might stop. It doesn't and shortly after 12pm, I get restless and want to get moving.

Oh, It's A Rainy Day!


I leave Melide behind and the rain is a constant and even drizzle. The kind of drizzle you know won't stop for the rest of the day. It's ok, I've dressed appropriately and I march ahead. Outside of town the Camino splits and there's the choice between a shorter, but uphill route (Primitivo) or a longer but flat route (Frances). I decide for the first as it leads through the forest of Ficheiro and the highlight is to cross a stone bridge over the stream Catasol. Two Germans have been around me for a while - mother and daughter. We talk for a bit but I can sense they aren't to keen on having me around. They hike ahead fast and ditch me at the next opportunity.

forest of ficheiro and stone bridge over catasol camino frances

For the rest of the day, I travel alone. It rains silently and gradually. The Camino goes through leafy forests, and there are long periods in which I meet absolutely no one. Even the villages seem to be dead. There are a few hills up and down but not as challenging as the days before, or maybe I have the impression because I travel without a backpack and Carole's walking stick is a blessing. 

At around 1:30ish, I pass through Boente, a little village, and get told Arzua is only 8km - a 2h hike- away. Excellent! After that, the rain gets heavier though. I keep walking through the settlement Ribadiso which has a lovely Roman bridge. After that, it's uphill again.

village boente with chapel on the camino frances
Ribadiso with roman stone bridge on the camino frances

About an hour later, after managing that steep hill, I make a stop at a horrible cafe. There weren't many cafes around today so I make a very quick stop to have some ice cream. The place is a bit shabby, unfriendly and there's a loud group of pilgrims getting hammered on wine. As soon as I sit down I can feel it. I'm damp. My rain trousers are non-breathable so they've created this horrible sweaty climate in between my running leggings. I feel very uncomfortable.

The Low Point Is Here


Grumpy, I continue my hike. Unfortunately from here, it is pretty much all downhill for me. I can deal with rain, I can deal with challenging hills, I can survive my feet which have gone into stiff mode again - BUT there's nothing more in the world that I despise than being soaked. It gets worse with every step I move forward. I sly through a forest and I'm on the lookout for somewhere to sit. There's no stone fence or any other opportunity so at one point I sit down on the side of the forest ground which looks reasonably dry. Within seconds the rain trousers soak up the water and I'm wet through the trousers, my leggings, and my underwear. GREAT!

camino frances hike from palas de rei to arzua

Wet and cold, I drag myself along the final kilometers to Arzua. It is horrible. I'm so fed up it is best if I don't talk to anyone and end the day pretty much as soon as. Arzua is a long stretched settlement and it takes forever to reach the small tourist information in the centre. A few days ago I received a message on Expedia from my host tonight, but it's in Spanish and I really don't fancy to sort this out right now. Luckily the girl at the Tourist Information is super helpful and she translates for me and calls my host as instructed per his message.

Ending The Day At Casa Lucas


At 4pm, I get picked up by an elderly man called Lucas and he's very friendly. I try hard to get a conversation going but it doesn't help that I'm still soaked and cold. Lucas takes me to his guesthouse, again a beautiful converted Galician villa in the middle of nowhere, located by a lake with spectacular views. His guesthouse is a family-run business and his daughter deals with all the admin side. I'd say she's in her early 20s, super nice and she speaks fluent English. She checks me in and allocates a beautiful little room across the courtyard. Their dog, a huge shepherds mix, follows me around. I feel instantly safe and a bit better after having a cuddle. My backpack has also arrived and is waiting for me in my room.

casa lucas arzua camino de frances lakeside pension

I head straight for the shower and let the hot steaming water run over me for a good 20 minutes. It is sooo good. Afterward, I lie on my bed. It's only 5pm! The room is small but very pretty with lovely features that make the place homey. Lucas will drop me off in the morning in Arzua and I'm happy I'm staying again with friendly locals. A group of hikers which I've seen a few times on the Camino has also just arrived. They will join me in the morning for the trip back to Arzua.

I prepare for tomorrow's route and text Carole & Denise to check in if they are ok. Carole replies back they made it to Arzua and stay at the modern San Fransisco Albergue. We agree to meet up in the morning and travel together, which makes me happy and looking forward to tomorrow. It is early evening but I'm glad I'm no longer out on the Camino. It still pours down and will do so for the rest of the night. I'm warm and comfy, and feeling myself again, although earlier I had massive doubts about myself.

casa lucas arzua camino frances grounds

Back on the Camino when I was wet and grumpy, I felt this hike was a challenge too big for me, I was that fed up. I'm not trained in hiking at all. Sure, I do my occasional 10km runs in London and try to pick up ice skating again, but in general, I've never been a sporty girl so doing this pilgrimage is quite intense. 

Luckily I'm warm now and even my emergency pasta pot tastes rather nice. I hiked another 26km - well it was supposed to be 33km today if I hadn't "cheated" with yesterday's taxi ride to Jorge's guesthouse.

I have it comfy and I will see Carole & Denise tomorrow. 

I'm good now.

Thanks so much for reading.
Till next time,
Carolin
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Monday, 9 December 2019

A Perfect Day In Madrid

jorge-fernandez-salas-madrid skyline

On my way home after hiking the Camino de Santiago, I made a stopover in Madrid. Here I had less than 48h to spent so I filled my day with some quality sightseeing and culinary treats. Unlike sightseeing in Rome or my previous trip to Athens, I feel Madrid is not the "traditional" capital I would choose for a sightseeing heavy city break. However, there are a few things worth visiting as the city has an incredibly lively atmosphere with excellent food and interesting architecture. I had a great time and if I had to relive the day it would look as follows:

Morning In Madrid


9am: wake up at one of Madrid's überstylish hotels. Barceló Imagine, H10, the NH collection or Tryp are all great choices when staying in Spain's capital. A great hotel can make all the difference and excite you to start the day, plus all of these are located centrally and are in easy walking distance to all the actions in the city.

breakfast served at antipode australian cafe in madrid

My stop for breakfast would be the Australian cafe Antipode in Calle de San Bernardo Street for 10am. The cafe offers healthy vegan and classic breakfast options such as avocado on toasts with poached eggs, but there's also porridge, homemade granola, and pancakes. Literally, anything from the menu is a winner. I ordered a variety from the card such as their tropical oats and matcha pancakes. Add a berry smoothie and freshly pressed orange juice for a perfect start to the day.

Lunchtime In Madrid


For 12pm it is time to give my mind some "food". Museo Reina Sofia, the local art gallery with contemporary paintings and displays of Miro, Dali, and Picasso, would be my address. The museum is renowned for showcasing a fine collection of Surrealism and Cubism, two art movements which Spanish artists are well-known for. On Level 2 I would admire Picasso's Guernica or engage in Miro's sculptures in the museum's courtyard.

salvadore dali surrealism painting at museo reina sofia madrid
miro sculpture in the courtyard of museo reina sofia madrid

Spending 2h at the museum is enough time to see everything. Afterward, it is time to stroll along Calle de Bellevue and admire some beautiful architecture whilst aiming for the centre. There's some incredible architecture especially the countless old skool cinema buildings or the Telefonica building on Gran Via. The later was inspired by New York architecture and applies a world metropolitan touch to the city skyline. Pass by Playa Major the beating heart and Playa Sol to see Spain's geographical centre the Kilometre Zero. Then catch a first glimpse of the hustle and bustle of Gran Via, Madrid's major shopping street.

art nouveau cinema in madrid
kilometre cero in madrid in plaza del sol outside the post office
victor-streets of madrid

Spending The Afternoon In Madrid


It is an unwritten rule that one can't go to Spain without indulging in Churros. Churroria Chocolateria San Gines is THE address in Madrid. The place exists since 1894 and offers outdoor seating for people watching. I ordered a batch alongside the classic hot chocolate dip and a bottle of water and paid 6.50 € in total.

traditional curros served by san gines in madrid

For the late afternoon, I can recommend a sightseeing bus tour. The tour starts at Museo Prado and I found 4pm a great time in the day to do this little trip around town. For around 2h I enjoyed circling the city twice. You will not only love the ride in the sun but also spot major sights such as the Royal Palace, The Egyptian Temple of Debod, the Neptune Fountain or Plaza de Cibeles.... and bypass a couple of nice restaurants, too, which are worth checking out later for dinner.

in the heart of madrid city centre
eleni-afiontzi-madrid metro sign

A Memorable Night In Madrid


6:30pm - Time to head to the rooftop bar and take in those stunning views over the city. ME Madrid in Plaza Santa Ana is the right place if you, like me, love spectacular views and an easy-going atmosphere. I loved their mocktails which were all delicious whilst listening to chill out beach tunes. Good vibes, great conversations, excellent views, and interesting people.

rooftop terrace views from ME Madrid

Before dinner, I decided to hit the stores on the Gran Via for a short late evening shopping tour. At around 8:30pm most places are empty and easy to browse.

Dinner is rather late in Spain, so for around 9:30pm, I can recommend to check out Ôven Mozarella Bar - a quirky Italian at the end of Gran Via. Although the place is a small chain it charms with a calm and modern ambient and affordable prices. I tried their pasta bake and my dessert wasn't too bad either. I could easily spend the entire evening here, have casual chats or hang out with friends. It is a fantastic place with lovely food and a feel-good atmosphere.

The city is still alive at 11pm, so I would take a final stroll before bedtime and admire the buildings such as Banca Espana, which are all lit up now.

Thanks so much for reading,
Till next time,
Carolin
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Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Bruges Pre Christmas Is Always A Good Idea

olivier-depaep-bruges during christmas time

Pre-Christmas getaways are just as popular as the regular weekender and experiencing the Christmas spirit in another country is always a big winner to get into the festive mood even more for many. 

Having said that, coming from Germany I'm already spoilt by the traditional markets in Dresden in Leipzig which are beautiful, however, there's one more city which has Christmas written all over it and to me that is Bruges. Protected by the UNESCO World Heritage, this medieval 13th-century town has everything to give you all the festive feels: adorable fairytale buildings, chocolates galore, seasonal decorations, enchanting lights and a good portion of chilly winter weather. 

A visit to this fantastic little town is a treat trip extravaganza, so be prepared for lots of food, cosy cafes, and unforgettable food comas.

How To Get To Bruges & When Is The Best Time


The fastest and easiest way to get to charming Bruges from London is via Eurostar. Keep in mind the Eurostar train is not for the spontaneous as tickets are expensive on short notice. Therefore, start as early as possible to monitor for deals - as early as three months in advance and be flexible with dates. You can also gamble and wait for the BlackFriday Deals but better avoid the disappointment of missing out by checking prices regularly beforehand. 

I managed to get return tickets from St Pancras for £60 for a two-day trip in mid-December. A one night stay is just about the right amount of time to explore all the festive markets and roam the fairytale cobbled streets at night, which is an absolute must! 

vanveenjf-bruges at night

The journey to Bruges will take you all day, even though it's only 1h away from Brussels and the Eurostar journey from London to Brussels is a straightforward 2h trip. It can take and feel longer as there's the 1h time difference when crossing the Channel and it depends how quickly you can catch a connecting train in Brussels. So if you leave London shortly after lunch, you'll be there for dinner time.   

Christmas in Bruges - What To Expect


The town with its many medieval 12th and 13th century stone buildings and warehouses creates already a unique flair but decorated with whimsical twinkling Christmas lights, the city gets an added cosy charm which is enchanting and magical.

However, the markets in the grand market square are slightly underwhelming, though the smell of caramelised almonds, mulled wine and spicy gingerbread will linger from every house around. The town is decorated in its finest with light chains, Christmas stars and candles everywhere. After dark, it is a special experience just to roam and get lost in the labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets, enjoy Hot Chocolates to get warm again and admire the countless little independent shops. De Witte Pelikaan is a fantastic local Christmas shop with intricate decorations and there's also a small Käthe Wohlfahrt near the main market. Very bizarrely have a look at McDonald's which is located inside a medieval warehouse. The wooden constructions inside are spectacular!

In the daytime, you can take a canal tour which costs 8 EUR and you get to see Bruges from a different perspective. You'll learn The Church of our Lady area is extremely interesting as there used to be a medieval hospital and cloister. The Bonifacius Bridge nearby could be a setting straight out of The Lord of The Rings and has been used in various films. 

bonifacius bridge in bruges
canal tour in bruge passing historic buildings
medieval bruges explored by boat on a canal tour in december

The ride in one of the horse carriages costs now 50EUR and unless you can maybe split the costs with friends, it's not really worth it, if I'm honest. I've done the tour on my first visit in 2005, and it cost us a tenner each between my group of three. The ride itself lasts for about 30mins and takes you through most of the inner city which by then you'll have walked a few times yourself anyway.

And of course, don't miss out on the opportunity to sample all the chocolate shops. Every second shop is a chocolatier and there's a reason why Belgium chocolate is rated as the best in the world. I can recommend Dumon, which has three individual stores in the town centre and sells delicious chocolate-coated Florentines and confectionery.

Where To Eat & Drink In Bruges


When you visit Bruges in December, you do exactly two things: you'll head outside admiring the town and its festive decorations and then you get back inside to warm yourself up and eat - don't worry, you won't starve in Bruges, as the town is a treasure trove for food.

Most eateries are quite expensive, especially around the main market where it is super touristy. I found Ellis Gourmet Burger in the smaller market Stevinplein, a 5mins walk away, a nice and affordable alternative. It's a burger specialist with a very pretty and modern interior which is far from a typical fast-food style. 

Café-wise, BlackBird in the North of the city is worth a visit. The cute tea room is beautifully decorated and if you're lucky and manage to get seated by the window, you get excellent views over the canal. 

Black bird cafe inside in Bruges
christmas white hot chocolate served at black bird cafe in bruges
prime spot at black bird cafe in bruges

For the ultimate chocolate kick, you have to go to The Old Chocolate House at the entrance of the city. It is sooooo good if you love (hot) chocolate just as much as I do! There are hundreds of options to choose from including chocolates with 70% cocoa, waffles, confectionery and special branded chocolate options such as Oreo, M&Ms or Snickers.

the old chocolate house in bruges during christmas
snickers hot chocolate served at the old chocolate house in bruges
snickers hot chocolate from the old chocolate house in bruges

I ordered the Snickers one and received a bowl of steaming hot milk, a stirrer, and a massive Snickers cupcake, purely made of sugar, caramel, and hazelnuts. It was almost too sickly to eat but then I got the hint and dissolved the ENTIRE thing in the milk.

I'm still alive but one thing is for sure, you won't have to eat for a while and you might feel oversugared for the rest of your evening.

Thanks for reading.
Till next time,

Carolin
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