All of Craig and Linda’s 2012 adventures compiled into one, handy, enormous post. Read about the Indie Travel adventures of 2012!
After three months at home in Auckland, we’re off on the road again. Our plan is to walk the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, arriving on our wedding anniversary at the end of April. After that, we’ll spend a few months to a year in Spain; I’ve got a working holiday visa and hope to find some English-teaching work.
But first, of course, we have to get there. We’re not the kind to do anything directly, so our trip to Seville includes stops in Christchurch, Kuala Lumpur and London. We’ll get there eventually, though!
Saturday 25/2: Since our flight wasn’t until 1:30pm, we didn’t have to rush things on Saturday morning, our last morning in Auckland. It was a good thing too; I’d worked right up until the last possible minute and we’d had a great goodbye party the night before — where we’d also passed our car on to its new owner. However, we did still have to pack and clean so we couldn’t sleep in too late. We said goodbye to Chris and Sarah and Craig’s mum took us to the airport, with a stop at my mum’s place to leave our extra stuff in her spare-room cupboard.
The flight was uneventful but slightly delayed and Anne was waiting when we arrived. We also ran into a couple of old school friends of mine at the airport, which was cool.
Norrie and Anne took us into Rangiora for a drink in the afternoon, and we went into Kaiapoi for dinner in the evening. The food at the Three Cows, where we ate, was amazing, but the service could have done with a fair bit of work.
Sunday 26/2: We made a lateish start for a drive to Hamner Springs with Norrie and Anne, where we had lunch in a cafe and enjoyed the hot pools for a couple of hours before driving back to Kaiapoi for a relaxed evening at home.
Monday 27/2: Norrie and Anne both had to work, and we decided to too. We spent most of the day at home apart from a walk into town to visit the supermarket, and had Vietnamese summer rolls for dinner.
Tuesday 28/2: Although we visited Christchurch last January, after its first earthquake, we hadn’t seen what damage the February 22 earthquake had done. We decided to drive into the city for lunch and had a walk around; It was sobering to see how much of Christchurch is off-limits. However, we were impressed with the Re:start complex of shops and cafés built out of shipping containers — I think it should stay that way, even after the city is rebuilt, it’s a really nice setup.
We had coffee with my friend Oscar, who has moved to Christchurch from Auckland — it was good to see him, although finding him was a bit of a mission, since he got a bit lost trying to get around the red zone. After we said goodbye to him, we had a shawarma from a food caravan that’s operating in the Re:start area, not far from the restaurant’s red-stickered ex-premises.
In the afternoon we went for a walk with Anne, Norrie and Brodie the dog then had a casual dinner at home.
Wednesday 29/2: Our last full day in the country was not without its issues. We were spending the morning trying to finish some last-minute work, when I suddenly had a problem with my eyes — I couldn’t see clearly out of one of them and got really stressed about it. Craig called my optometrist and made an appointment for me to see one in Rangiora as well.
While this was all happening, my sister Anna arrived for lunch with her husband Mat, Henry the baby and Marcus the au pair. The weather was great so we sat outside, but I probably wasn’t the best company because I was so stressed out!
The others headed into town for the afternoon while I went to the optometrist to be reassured that my eyes were fine and that it was probably just a migraine — I certainly had a headache by that point! They came back in the evening for a casual barbecue, which was very pleasant. Henry entertained us all by playing peekaboo behind the table, and charmed everyone by doling out sloppy kisses — Anne was won over almost immediately!
Thursday 1/3: Craig got up super-early in the hope of getting a full day’s work done before we left the country, and I joined him at a more reasonable hour to do some work and data-shuffling. Both Anne and Norrie had had to work, but Anne came home at around 1pm and cooked us Eggs Benedict (yum) for lunch before driving us to the airport. We had to make a quick detour to a courier company to drop off Craig’s Kindle, which had broken the day before in a classic case of terrible timing. What’s worse is that we couldn’t have the replacement sent to England or Spain, so Craig will be bookless for a while. Hopefully he’ll get the new one before we start the Camino, though!
We had a coffee at the airport and I spent some time in the bathroom drying out the contents of my small backpack after a water-bottle leak — I was hoping this was the last of the bad luck: it comes in threes, right? And I seem to have been right — after that everything went well. We got on the flight with no problems and I had a great seatmate on my other side: a Kiwi girl starting a nomadic journey. We chatted for a couple of hours then she went in hunt of spare seats to lie down on, leaving me with an empty seat beside me. The food was really expensive so Craig and I decided to just get one meal between us, but by the time the attendants got to us, they’d run out! However, we got to see Air Asia’s great service in action — someone who had ordered a meal didn’t want it, so a hostie offered it to us (to buy, of course). We also got to enjoy the rendition of “Happy Birthday” which the captain asked all the passengers to sing to a guy just across the aisle from Craig. It was a little surreal.
The flight was early and a shuttle was just about to leave when we came out of the airport, so we got into the city a lot earlier than we expected. The luck continued when we arrived at our hotel to find that there were no dorm beds available, so they upgraded us to a private room for free — win! We were knackered after the long day, so we went straight to bed.
Friday 2/3: After a good sleep, we woke up before nine and took advantage of the free coffee and toast on offer before heading out to explore the area near the hostel. We saw Times Square, the Pagoda Mall, and the Petronas Towers as well as wandering through some interesting-looking back streets. We had to check out at 12, so we packed up, had a coffee, then went to Chinatown for a tasty lunch and a look through the markets. After that, we visited the Central Market and had coffee at Old Town White Coffee before making our way to Kepong to meet our Couchsurfing hosts Dexter and Natalie. They picked us up from the station and took us back to their place, where we chatted for a couple of hours before heading out in the driving rain — they had to go to a meeting so they dropped us off at a nearby restaurant, where we had three dishes and a large beer for $NZ16. The rain let off enough for us to get home in relative dryness, and we watched an episode of QI before bed.
Saturday 3/3: We rose at a reasonable hour and headed to the Kepong morning markets with Dexter, Natalie, and their flatmate, Ice. The markets were crowded and sprawling with all sorts of fresh produce on offer — we bought what we needed for lunch and Dexter and Natalie plied us with tasty treats.
Back at home, I taught Natalie and Ice how to make causa rellena and pebre, but made the mistake of deseeding the chillies with my fingers — and my hands stung for the rest of the day. I spent several hours nursing a bowl of ice water.
After a restful (and painful, in my case) afternoon, we all headed out for an evening of singing in Sanskrit (there was a bit of dancing too), followed by dinner and tailoring in Little India.
Sunday 4/3: We started the day a little later than planned, with a traditional Chinese Malaysian breakfast of dimsum and rice porridge. It was tasty, and unlike anything we’d ever had for breakfast before! After that, we said goodbye to Dexter and Natalie and Ice drove us to KLCC, where we caught the subway back to our hostel.
We’d been hoping to spend three nights with Dexter and Natalie, but on closer inspection of our itinerary and their address, we realised it wouldn’t be possible. We have to be at the airport by 6am on Monday morning, and it’s a 90-minute bus trip from the city. Even if we took the faster option, train, we still wouldn’t be able to get from Dexter and Natalie’s place to the train station at that time of the morning. So we’ve booked back into the hostel where we stayed the first night.
After checking in, we recorded a podcast then headed out to the aquarium in KLCC. It was great — full of interesting fish and a fair few non-aquatic animals. Later we met up with Gerard and Kieu from GQ Trippin for a street food dinner and good conversation before hitting the sack early in preparation for a loooong travel day the next day.
Monday 5/3: The day started early, with an alarm waking us at 3:50. We dressed quickly and arrived at the bus stop in time to catch the first bus to the airport, arriving there at around 5:30am. Since we already had our boarding passes, we just had to have our documents checked then walk the gauntlet of baggage-weighers — none of whom weighed ours, thank goodness, since our bags were certainly over the allowed carry-on weight of 7kg.
The flight was delayed; we spent an extra half-hour in the airport and another half-hour in the plane before it took off. When it did, we were heading to Dubai rather than straight to London, since a mechanical problem meant that the only plane available was too small to fly direct and needed a refuelling stop. The extra time on the plane was bad enough, but no provision had been made to load extra food on board, and the meals ran out extremely quickly. They even ran out of water! If I’d known that the flight was going to be so long, I would have pre-booked a meal, but we only found out about the change the night before.
Once in London, a succession of trains took us (shivering) to Chertsey, where we were welcomed with a glass of wine, hugs, and a hot meal. It’s always good to see Gail and Kevin, but I don’t think we were the best of company that first night because we’d been awake for about 25 hours. Bed called, and we listened.
Tuesday 6/3: We spent most of the day inside, working, but wandered into Chertsey town to see what had changed in the 20 months or so since we were there last. Later, we spent the evening at home with Gail and Kevin, flicking through their wedding album and watching the video as well.
Wednesday 7/3: After a worky morning, we caught the train to Brighton, where we had lunch then met up with Dave (a friend of a friend), who lives there. He graciously played tour guide, showing us around the lanes and apologising for the weather, and we all wandered around the incredible Royal Pavilion. The building is impressive from the outside, but inside it’s breathtaking — each room decorated in a different version of opulence. The audio guide was great, it helped us understand what we were seeing without being overdone — on the whole, the pavilion was well worth the visit.
Later we walked along the beach to the marina, then headed back to Dave’s house for dinner. He cooked up a Thai feast and we enjoyed chatting with him and his fiancée Faye while their dog tried industriously to hump our legs.
Thursday 8/3: We started the day with a bit of work, then headed into London. After a light lunch, we visited the Museum of London, which we really enjoyed; there are several separate exhibits, each focusing on one era of London’s history. While we were there, there was a free guided tour of the Roman room, so we joined in — and really enjoyed it. The guide was informed and animated, and being able to listen rather than just read warded off museum fatigue.
We probably would have stayed longer, but we’d arranged to meet some ITP listeners and other travel bloggers at a a bar not far away. We had a few beers with listener Claire, Chris, Isabelle, Paul, Justin, Jayne and our mate Kyle, who showed up a bit later on. We’d planned to go out to dinner together, but ended up just eating in the bar (it was a bit of an adventure actually, involving a pager, several flights of narrow steps, and a fair bit of crowd navigation.)
Friday 9/3: The sleep-in might not have been the best idea — we planned to get a lot of work done and didn’t quite manage it. Ah well, we’re taking the microphone with us, hopefully we’ll be able to record podcasts during the walk. Craig at least managed to record an interview and I edited a couple of articles, so it wasn’t a complete write-off.
In the afternoon we headed into Chertsey to do some last-minute shopping, after which Gail took us out to Bracknell to see their new house, which isn’t quite finished. It’s awesome, though, and a lot bigger than the cute Chertsey house.
We swung home to pick up Kevin then headed out to a very nice Greek restaurant in a nearby town. The food was delicious and the company fantastic — what more could we want for out last evening in England?
Saturday 10/3: All four of us spent the morning packing and cleaning — Craig and I because we were leaving, and Gail and Kevin because some people were coming to view the house in the late morning — but they cancelled.
We had lunch together then Kevin dropped us at Gatwick Airport, where we had our documents checked, had a coffee then made our way to the gate. Despite the fact that the flight took off half an hour early, we still arrived “on time” and had to endure the trumpet fanfare that Ryanair plays to celebrate an on-time arrival. It’s not surprising that they have such a good record if they pad the flight times so much that a half-hour delay has no effect on a two-hour flight!
We had to wait about 40 minutes for the bus to the centre of Seville, from where we walked to the house of Alfonso and Ana, our Couchsurfing hosts. They are genuinely lovely people who did everything imaginable to make us feel at home (including cooking a delicious meal) and their kids Alfoncito and Anita were amazingly welcoming and, well, cute.
Sunday 11/3: We got up at a reasonable hour to find the kids were well ahead of us, but they welcomed us into their games for the rest of the morning, with a brief stop for breakfast. Anita has some fantastic interactive books with magnets and figures — I know they’re designed for four-year-olds but I enjoyed them too.
At about midday, Alfonso took the kids, Craig, and me for a walk around the neighbourhood. We visited the oldest church in Seville, saw people fishing in the river, admired all the azulejos (ceramic tilework), and visited the monument that commemorates the first circumnavigation of the globe, which started from here.
After that, the family headed off for lunch with the grandparents, and Craig and I went into town. We had a rough plan of places to visit but we basically just wandered around, enjoying walking through the narrow cobblestone streets and green gardens as much as the destinations.
The sites to see were pretty amazing, though. First up was Plaza de España, a square surrounded by a moat and backed by an intricate semicircular building that has a tower at either end. Along its length are azulejo paintings representing each region of Spain — it was truly impressive.
We had a tasty tapas lunch before heading the Metropol Parasol, a new four-level construction that includes a museum, a market, an open space, a restaurant, and an impressive undulating cover with a walkway that offers panoramic views of the city. We went up and followed the walkway around, then had a coffee before going back down.
Our slow walk back home was broken by a quick stop for a beer — ah, it’s so great to be able to get a beer for less than $2! We spent the evening hanging out with the family.
Monday 12/3: We made the most of what will probably be our last opportunity to do so for some time, and slept in. Then we spent the rest of the day running errands: first we booked tickets for Craig to go back to England to pick up the rest of our gear, and sent some Couchsurfing requests for A Coruna. Then we headed into the city to get our pilgrim passports (not from the cathedral, as it turns out, but from Hotel Simón nearby). We stopped by the police station to see about getting me an identity card, but the line was so long we decided to give up on it and go shopping instead.
Craig’s tiny backpack was just too small for all the stuff he needs for the Camino, so he wanted to get a new one. We had to catch a bus out to Camas and spent some time looking through the Decathlon store, eventually buying not only a bag, but also a new shirt for Craig and a pocket knife. We headed home after visiting the supermarket and having a coffee, and I rested while Craig played with the kids.
In the evening we introduced Ana and Alfonso to Vietnamese summer rolls, and had a nice evening chatting with them and drinking fine wine — Craig had managed to find a bottle of Ayala champagne for only €10, so we celebrated our impending departure in true style.
Tuesday 13/3: Alfonso told us there was a mass for pilgrims at 8:30 in the cathedral, and since we thought this would be a perfect start to our journey, we decided to go. We said a sad goodbye to Alfonso and the kids, and made it to the cathedral just on time, but there didn’t seem to be anything going on in the chapel where the mass was supposed to be. No matter; we wandered around the dark cavern of the cathedral until we found a service that had already started, and sat at the back with our bags beside us. As we were leaving, another mass in another alcove caught our attention, so we went to that one too.
Next, we needed to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports from the cathedral. This was going to pose a problem since the office where you get them opens at 11, and it was only 9am. Luckily though, as we approached the gates to the office, they opened to let a car out. We asked the woman who was opening them about the stamps, and she said she could help us. She ushered us into the office, stamped the passports, then let us out, locking the gates behind us.
The first part of the journey was uneventful. We got a little off-track when leaving Seville, but found our stride on the other side of the river. We walked through Camas, passing not far from the Decathlon we’d visited the day before, then continued on to Santiponce, where we had a coffee then explored the Roman ruins. There’s a theatre, thermal baths, and a huge complex of houses and an amphitheatre that was stunning to see. Although the house walls were not very high, there were several mosaic floors in very good condition.
We continued on, deciding to have lunch when we arrived in Guillena, our final stop for the day. Most of the route there was a straight line along a wide dirt track, so it was quite easy going. We were still exhausted by the time we arrived, though, and were grateful for the help offered by a woman who saw us looking lost at the police station (we weren’t, but the gesture was nice all the same).
We settled into the albergue then headed out to the supermarket before a well-deserved rest. In the evening we went for a walk around town then met the other pilgrims at church for another mass. After the formal part of the service the priest asked us to come forward to give us a blessing and a little card with the church’s favourite Virgin Mary statue on it. Afterwards we all had a beer together in the local bar, along with the hospitalero (albergue host), Jacqueline. Because of the nature of this Camino, we’ll probably see most or all of the other pilgrims most nights for the next few weeks. There were seven of us that first night: a French couple, a Spanish man, an Italian woman and a Russian woman (all in their fifties or sixties), and Craig and me — who have already become “los jóvenes” (the young ones).
Wednesday 14/3: The others had all left when we got up at 7:30. We had a breakfast of coffee and magdalenas and were out the door just before 8:30, starting a short day of only 19km. Of course, since it was day two we were a bit slow to start, since our bodies were complaining about what we’d made them do the day before. We found a rhythm though, and enjoyed a pleasant walk along a dirt track with trees on either side. We saw rabbits and butterflies, and the birds were singing. For a while we had to walk along a road, which was hard on our feet, but soon a track appeared beside it — a lot more pleasant.
All five other pilgrims had already arrived when we made it to the albergue in Castilblanco, two of them welcomed us from the second-floor porch. We showered, laundered, shopped and lunched then gave in and had a nap — in good company though, everyone else was doing the same.
I managed to cut myself with the new, sharp, pocket knife while trying to put dinner together, but otherwise the evening was uneventful and we all turned in early.
Thursday 15/3: Once again, everyone was gone by the time we got up, and we packed quickly and left without making coffee. It was a hard start to the day, made harder by Craig’s blisters, my cold, and 16km of walking along a road. A Dutch couple pulled their car over and got out for a chat with us while we were having a break; they’re planning on doing the Via de la Plata next year and are scoping it out. It was a good conversation until I scared them off with a coughing fit.
Things improved once we got off the road and entered the national park, which was full of cork trees. It was an undulating, pleasant walk… Right up until the end when we had to climb up and down a steep, rocky hillside. Luckily the town of Almadén de la Plata was at the foot of it! We went in with the other pilgrims for dinner; Mina (the Italian) cooked delicious pasta and chicken and we were joined by another Spanish guy who’s cycling the Camino.
Friday 16/3: Day four was certainly more pleasant than day three. We started off at about 8:25, and two minutes after walking out the door it started to rain. The rain continued off and on for the next few hours, with varying intensity but luckily not in complete downpours.
The walk itself was lovely, along a nice, soft, wide track that wound through a lightly forested national park. There was one serious climb about two-thirds of the way through, which Craig had problems with because of his blisters, but otherwise it was very easy going.
We met up with the other three when we arrived in El Real de la Jara, and all checked into a private albergue. There were three rooms and five of us (the French couple having continued on to the next town) so Craig and I had a room to ourselves — luxury!
We headed out to get lunch and buy some hayfever medicine as well as some blister plasters, then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the wifi connection before having dinner with the other pilgrims — Cipri (the Spaniard) had cooked a traditional garlic soup and rather forcefully invited us to share it. Saying no was not an option, but luckily it was absolutely delicious.
Saturday 17/3: Day five was another pleasant one, just 20km along a wide dirt road that wound through farmland. We crossed the border from Andalusia into Extremadura, saw two castles, and were barked at for about 15 minutes by a dog who didn’t like the fact we were walking alongside her paddock.
The last few kilometres were a bit of a struggle. On reaching the top of the hill just before our destination of Monasterio, we decided to take an extended break and have lunch at the picnic tables that seemed to be placed there for exactly that purpose. We chatted with a guy who’d pulled over in his car for a break and also with a pilgrim who’d come all the way from Almadén, where we’d stopped two nights before — he’s obviously in better condition than us!
In town, we visited the albergue, where we saw our three fellows as well as three or four other pilgrims. In the end though, we decided to stay in a guesthouse we’d seen advertised for the same price as the albergue. There was no kitchen or wifi but we got a private room with our own bathroom, instead of two bunks in a dorm. It felt like complete luxury!
After a shower and a rest, we decided to explore the town a little bit. We visited an old (fifteenth-century) church, and went to a mini-museum dedicated to the Via de la Plata, where we learned all sorts of things about our route and were given a map.
On the way back through town, we finally managed to buy Craig some jandals. He was extremely excited, since it isn’t much fun to put walking shoes back onto blistered feet if there’s another option.
In the evening, we went to the bar below our accommodation and had our first menú del día of the trip — starter, main, dessert and a drink for €8 each. Win.
Sunday 18/3: The day started with a victory: we managed to leave by 8:05. Of course, losing the way about a kilometre down the road wasn’t so much of a win. We realised that we’d gone the wrong way but decided to keep on going instead of retracing our steps, and it worked out fine. We had a lovely walk along a stonewalled lane and hopped across a brook before coming to a road and trying to work out which way to go. We’d just decided to go left, when a car trundled down the road and pulled to a stop, both the driver and the passenger falling over themselves to inform us the we just had to turn left and we’d soon be back on the right path.
The right path wasn’t as pretty as the one we’d just left, but it was fairly straight and wide and we made good time. After a while we came out onto an open plain where the wind was fierce. I found it tough going but Craig had found victory over his blisters (almost) and has a windproof jacket, and really enjoyed himself.
We made it to Fuente de Cantos at around 1:30 and found a shop selling bread on the way to the albergue, which is located in an old convent– it’s airy and modern on the inside, and old and historical on the outside. Plus, it has wifi — which is how I’m able to post this travel diary!
After a rest, we went for a wander around town then visited the other half of the convent, which is now a museum-like space dedicated to the life and works of a local seventeenth-century artist. The guide was animated and informed and we spent an hour there without noticing it go by.
Monday 19/3: After the ferocious wind of the day before, we were glad that things had died down a bit! We left at about 8:05 and got off-track almost immediately — a trend that was to continue throughout the day. In our first stop, a small town called Calzadilla de Los Barros, we wandered around a fair bit before finding a cafe, and in our final destination, Zafra, our handy yellow arrows disappeared and we went the long way around to find the albergue.
The walk itself was lovely though, a wide path gently winding through fields planted with cereals. I can imagine it would be tough on a hot summer’s day as there was no shade, but today was freezing cold — we both left our jackets on all day, and I had my gloves on until noon.
We took a long break at Puebla de Sancho Pérez, only 4km from Zafra, where we enjoyed a beer and the free snack that came with it — in this case, chips and pieces of pork. The gastronomy continued when we had a ración of patatas con morcilla for a late lunch, and Dave the Englishman cooked paella for dinner.
My shoes have bitten the dust, despite my attempts to repair them — a hole in the right sole is getting bigger and is causing blisters. So we went shopping and I bought a new pair of shoes, which I now have the fun of breaking in! Yay!
Tuesday 20/3: Tuesday was a difficult day for both of us, despite being a short day of walking at only 19km. The first four kilometres or so to Los Santos de Maimona were fine, and the town was lovely to walk through. The church was beautifully decorated, with an incredibly ornate door that we stopped to look at.
I changed back into my old shoes at our first break after 7km of walking, and my feet started to ache and didn’t stop. Craig’s blisters were giving him grief as well, so by the time we made it to Villafranca de los Barros, we were both about ready to fall over. Since there is no pilgrim albergue in the town, we made our way to the address of a pension we had the details of… But it was closed. We hobbled back to where we’d turned off and struggled up the hill to the other option, which at €18 each for the night wasn’t our first choice. As it turned out though, no other pilgrims arrived to share our room, so we had a private room with ensuite. And no bunks for a change!
After a rest, we caught up on some work using the wifi then headed out to do some shopping for dinner. We ended up having lentils on rice, it was surprisingly good.
Wednesday 21/3: Although a longer walk (27km), we both finished the day in a much better mood than the day before. Perhaps we’re finally finding our stride?
We set off at 7:50 and made good time, taking our first break after about 8km. We didn’t walk through any towns (though we did pass within a few kilometres of one) and the way was straight and flat — it really felt like we were walking the Roman road. Sometimes we could see flattish stones under the dirt of the road, which I’m pretty sure the Romans put there 2000 years ago. Crazy!
We arrived in town footsore but coping, and checked into the first albergue we saw. Unfortunately it turns out that the other one would have probably been the better option since it is located in an old castle, but you win some, you lose some. At least we ended up with a private room again — only one other pilgrim was staying in the albergue.
After a shower and a rest, we headed out to explore Torremejía, but as it’s quite tiny there wasn’t a lot to see. We had coffee in a really cool cafe/bar, where we also tried teculamecula — a cake made from an old recipe, with the principal ingredients being almonds, eggs and sugar. It was delicious.
We had a cold dinner, since the albergue didn’t have a kitchen, and went to bed early — wearing all our thermals and swathed in blankets to protect against the 0 degree temperatures.
Thursday 22/3: Since we had 33km of walking ahead of us, we decided to make an early start, stepping out the door into the freezing-cold wind at 7:30. The first stage wasn’t much fun, with the wind chilling me to the bone and making my nose run, but I felt a lot better after the break.
We arrived in Merida at about 11 o’clock, and sat by the river admiring the Roman bridge for a while. As we were walking through town, we ran into “our group” (Marina, Mima, Cipri and Ernesto), who gave us directions to the albergue and seemed very disappointed in us that we weren’t planning to stay there and see more of Merida. We said our goodbyes, since we probably wouldn’t see them for a while, and continued on.
After passing the impressive aqueduct Los Milagros, we stopped for a coffee and tapas in a small bar, then headed on to Proserpina dam, which was also built by the Romans. Water from this dam flowed along the aqueduct we’d seen earlier to supply the city of Merida in Roman times.
After a short rest by the water, we pushed on again, walking along a road for a while then finally turning onto a dirt track through sparse forest. We had a late lunch of salami, brie and pickled-pepper sandwiches, then continued on to our final destination of Aljucén, where we checked into the albergue with relief before visiting the church and having a two-course dinner: couscous at the albergue and hamburgers at the bar.
Friday 23/3: As always, we were the last to leave the albergue (at 7:55) but we soon passed a group of French walkers who’d been staying in the albergue too. We made extremely good time along the wide, flat paths through farms and sparse forest, and arrived in Alcuéscar before 1pm.
After a trip into town to get some groceries, I spent a lot of time washing all my clothes, and then we had lunch and a long rest. In the evening, the hospitaleros Pilar and Alfredo took us on a tour of the building and explained its history, and then we all went to a special mass where the priest read aloud a blessing in Spanish and kept losing his place as he added thoughts of his own. After that, we had dinner together in a dining room hidden in the depths of the monastery, and the conversation was a little stilted as the only other pilgrim, a Dutch woman, didn’t speak Spanish and Alfredo didn’t speak English (or Dutch, but then neither did the rest of us).
Saturday 24/3: After re-examining the map, we decided to change our plans for the next couple of days, in order to avoid staying in Valdesalor, where the refugio on offer is on the floor of the sports club’s changing rooms. Oddly, they’ve built a new albergue, and it’s ready to go — except it hasn’t been inaugurated.
Instead of walking 28km there the first day followed by 23km the next, we decided to have a short day today and a longer one tomorrow: 17 and 34, breaking our journey at Aldea del Cano.
We left late and walked for about 5km, neither of us in the best of moods. After a short break, though, things improved, and they improved even more after we detoured off the Camino at a small town and found an open bar to have a coffee in.
Along the way, which was pleasantly flat, we saw two cool Roman bridges and four milestones marking the Roman mile of about 1.5km. The albergue was open when we arrived in Aldea del Cano, and we freshened up before heading out to the shop before it shut at 2pm. I sat outside for awhile, chatting with the customers of the bar next door (exclusively men, it seemed). As we were just starting lunch, we were pleasantly surprised when first Cipri, then Mima and Marina walked in. They’d come all the way from Aljucén, where we’d stayed two nights before.
We had a lazy, even a little boring, afternoon and ate microwave lasagne for dinner before having a drink in the bar and heading to bed.
Sunday 25/3: Since daylight savings was starting, we made an intentionally late start so as not to be walking in the dark. Even leaving at 8:20, though, we managed to see the sunrise — a first for this walk!
Our first long stop was in Valdesalor, which we learned is a planned town that was built in the sixties. We found the bar and had a coffee, then continued on up and over the hill behind the town. We were both tired when we reached Cáceres 12km later, so we stopped in the first cafe we saw for another coffee, before abandoning our route in order to see a bit of the city. Marina had once again been disapproving that we weren’t going to stay in Cáceres and explore during the afternoon, but I don’t think an afternoon would do it justice, so perhaps it’s better not to try. A quick glimpse through the old town was at least enough to see how awesome and historical it is.
However, this wander through the old town was quite exhausting (it’s on a steep hill), and by the time we were out of the city centre we were tired and footsore. We found a cafe/bar for lunch, where we ate paella and bull meat and rested for some time.
The route from Cáceres to our final stop, Casar de Cáceres, included 3km of walking on the shoulder of a highway, followed by an interminable if shallow hill. We made it though, and almost immediately ran into Cipri, who had left Marina and Mima behind in Cáceres and come on alone.
After buying some of the famous cheese that’s made here, we found the albergue and chatted with a German couple who was already there, then showered and relaxed for a bit. Dinner was a menu del día at the bar across the road with Cipri and Marc (a pilgrim who’s travelling by bike), and I finished the evening by chatting to a French/Spanish couple who were also staying in the albergue (with their dog), and who we’d seen and chatted with several times throughout the day.
Monday 26/3: The week started as it meant to continue, with well-meant plans coming to nothing. Craig was in a bad mood because of his blisters, which rubbed off on me, and we trudged along in silence for most of the walk, which was pretty much all along the side of a road.
We’d been planning to head to Cañaveral, but as we walked further, the idea of a short day looked more and more appealing. We’d seen an ad in a previous albergue for Hostal Lindamar, which offered a dinner, breakfast and accommodation package for €14 — it sounded perfect and we’d decided to take them up on it; the only problem was that Hostal Lindamar was closed.
It was very lucky for us that the nearby albergue was open, because there was nothing else around for 10km in any direction, and it was also lucky that the albergue had pre-cooked food for sale — this was important, since we didn’t have enough food with us, having planned to shop in Cañaveral.
We spent the afternoon resting in the modern albergue and had a tasty dinner of pizza, salad and wine.
Tuesday 27/3:Another day of changed plans. We left the albergue at Embalse de Alcantara at about 8:20, and followed the advice of a couple we’d met a few days previously, following the lake and then the road, rather than the marked Camino. This saved us some time and meant that we got to check out a cool Roman bridge.
We had a coffee and bought lunch food in Cañaveral, then continued onwards through light forest until we reached the turnoff to Grimaldo, where we planned to stop. But we both had so much energy and it was still quite early in the day, so we decided to continue on to Galisteo, 20km away.
The first 10km or so were fine but we were flagging for the last 10, and that was when things got difficult. At two points along the way, we had to be very alert, as the markers are erased or deliberately misleading. We made it through though, and even made it to Galisteo, where we found Cipri, Marina and Mimma (and some Germans, but they didn’t talk to us). The shops were shut, since we’d arrived after 8pm, so we had a tasty dinner of hamburgers and chips in the closest bar.
Wednesday 28/3: All of these changes of plans left us with a short day of just 11km — a holiday! We slept in, the walked up into the walled town to explore and do some shopping: me for snacks, Craig for blister plasters, and we both had separate, lovely encounters with the people serving us.
The walk to Carcaboso was all alongside the road, but was pleasantly broken up by a random man giving us a brochure for an albergue and explaining its location by repeating the word “carretera” (highway) several times, with appropriate hand gestures.
After checking in (to a private room with a double bed! Luxury!), we relaxed, had lunch, explored the town a little, then had dinner and turned in.
Thursday 29/3: Today was always going to be a long day, since there are no towns on the 39km stretch between Carcaboso and Aldeanueva del Camino. You can break up the journey by walking off-route, or by taking a taxi to a nearby hotel, but we decided just to do the whole leg.
We left early and walked through farmland for 10km before our first break, then continued on, reaching Cárparra at around 1:20. This old Roman city boasts a famous arch which the Junta de Extremadura has appropriated as the symbol of the Via de la Plata, and it appears on all the waymarkers — so it was great to see it in real life! We detoured down to the visitors’ centre, where we bought some water and had lunch before being kicked off the property, as it was 2pm and the centre was being closed for the afternoon.
The third stage was the most pleasant of the day, since we were refreshed after our break, but the fourth was more difficult. Just after our last mini-break, where I finally left behind my old black boots, we reached a point where we thought we could choose to walk alongside the road or follow the arrows in a more roundabout way. We chose the road way, and followed first a gravel road and then a well-defined track. Unfotunately, eventually the track disappeared into nothing and we found ourselves bushwhacking through long grass. After ten minutes of this, a tunnel under the motorway led us back to the provincial highway, which we followed all the way to Aldeanueva del Camino. There, we settled into the albergue before getting our pilgrim passports stamped at a small bookshop (and getting a free drink into the bargain) and having a menu del día at the Hogar del Pensionista bar.
Friday 30/3: Neither of us slept very well, in part because of the extremely soft beds, and in part because the Japanese pilgrim sharing our room got up loudly in the middle of the night and early in the morning. We ended up leaving Aldeanueva quite early (8:20, before sunrise) and followed the road to the equally-charming Baños del Montemayor. Craig’s blisters weren’t letting up, so he switched to jandals halfway there, and we packed his shoes into our bags while having coffee in a fantastic bar in Baños. It had a well inside! And a sheer rock wall!
The relatively flat terrain we’d been enjoying came to an end in Baños, and for the rest of the walk we rose steadily, then descended steeply before rising again to reach La Calzada de Béjar, where we stayed in a private albergue.
Just before the previous town (Puerto de Béjar), we left the region of Extremadura and entered Castilla y Leon. We already miss the perfectly-sized mojones (waymarkers) that we sat on for the last few hundred kilometres, but we felt that Puerto de Béjar had made a real effort to welcome us to the new region. There was an abundance of arrows and signposts with distances, a map of notable cities along the route, and a little fenced garden with seats, a bike rack, and a water fountain just for pilgrims! The water was tasty, too.
After arriving, we had a patched-together lunch of salami sandwiches then washed our clothes and rested for the rest of the afternoon before a light dinner and bed.
Saturday 31/3: Our departure was delayed since we got talking with the hospitalera, but once we got started we made good time. Our first break was in the next town of Valdacasa, where we enjoyed a coffee and free wifi in a bar called “El Peregrino”. The next town had a shop where we stocked up on lunch supplies, including half a skinny salami and some hard cheese.
The last leg, to Fuenterroble, was a pleasant walk, and we were welcomed into the albergue by three Germans (Holger, Steffi and Gunter) who we’ve seen a lot of this week, since they stayed in the same albergues as us since Thursday. Craig finally felt like we were on the Camino when all five of us were sitting around, looking after our feet and complaining about blisters.
In the evening, Holger, Steffi and I cooked dinner together and we all ate in the dining room, where we were later joined by Toro (the Japanese guy) and José, a late-arriving pilgrim who’d walked almost 50km in one day.
Sunday 1/4: The day started well, with a communal breakfast put on by the hospitaleros. Toro and José had already left, but the Germans and a group of cyclists were still around.
The path was wide and flat, passing farms and crossing though open fields, and we didn’t need a real break until we had walked for about 14km and reached the top of a hill — a momentous occasion! This peak was not only the highest point of our journey, it also was one of many half-way points for us: halfway through our day and halfway through our Camino in terms of days.
After an early lunch of salami, cheese and pickled-pepper bocadillos, we continued onwards and downwards, until we reached the town of San Pedro de Rozados. There, we ducked into a bar for a (pricy) beer and to decide if we were going to stay there or go on to the next town of Morille, 4.3km down the road. The encroaching storm, Craig’s feet, and the desire to arrive early in Salamanca the next day were all considered; we chose to continue.
The walk was easy, along a dirt road, but the darkening skies kept threatening to open on us, spitting occasionally to remind us that rain was on its way. Luckily, we beat it to Morcille, and even found an albergue (our various guides had been remarkably contradictory on the subject), where Toro was already established.
Monday 2/4: What we thought would be a nice, easy start to the week (just 20km to Salamanca), turned out to be the complete opposite. The first stage was a haze of pain for both of us, as Craig continued with his blisters and I discovered just how painful they could really be. The light on the horizon was the town halfway between Morille and Salamanca, Miranda de Azán, where we planned to stop for coffee. It was about 200m off the route, but we made the detour, lured by signs advertising a bar AND a restaurant. But no luck. The restaurant had closed down several months previously and the bar was closed on Mondays.
Craig collapsed on the side of the road while I headed to the lone shop to see what I could find. The shopkeeper didn’t sell coffee, nor did he have any hot water, but — moved by my plight — he called his son and asked him to bring the pot of coffee from his own kitchen bench, and then wouldn’t hear of taking any money for it. It was a real Camino moment, of someone going out of their way to help out (or at least making their son go out of his way).
After coffee, the world was a better place and both of us were able to walk, stride even, to Salamanca. There, we ran into the hospitaleros just outside the albergue, who opened it up for us to let us drop off our bags, despite us arriving well after the cut-off time. We headed out to find lunch, which was a textbook example of bad service, and which put me in a bad mood for the next hour or so — a state that was only alleviated by coffee and churros.
After checking into the albergue when it reopened at 4pm, we had a rest then headed out again to try to find a solution to Craig’s feet issues. The local sports shop yielded two answers: a pair of decent-looking socks, and a whole new pair of shoes, halfway between sandals and closed shoes. We bought them both and added a towel to replace the one Craig lost last week.
Back in the albergue, we cooked dinner and spent the evening chatting with the hospitaleros, José the crazy Spaniard, and our old friends Mimma and Marina. Mimma was heading back to Milan so we said our goodbyes; I gave her a hug and she stroked my cheek and said sweet things in Italian.
Tuesday 3/4: After a refreshing sleep in a room with no other pilgrims (thanks, Trevor), we had breakfast and headed out the door only five minutes late, at 8:05. It was an early start for us, but it worked out well, since it gave us extra time walking in the dry — Tuesday’s key words were certainly “wet” and “long”.
Our attempt to have a coffee in the first town was foiled by the bar being shut; luckily this wasn’t the case in the second town, since by then we were soaked through. The rain let up a little after our coffee, but we still stopped for another at the next town (Calzada de Valdunciel), where we also ate our lunch in the lobby of a building which houses the old folks’ club and the library.
Our destination, El Cubo de Tierra del Vino, was 20km further on with no towns along the way to break the journey. Luckily the path was flat and wide, mostly following the road, but we were both footsore by the time we arrived. Craig’s new shoes held up extremely well, given that he walked almost 40km in them; he had a couple of sore points but a lot fewer than you might expect.
We were surprised to find so many pilgrims at the albergue, among them José, Toro, and Gunter. Craig and I had wanted to cook but the local shop didn’t have a wide selection on offer, and what there was was overpriced. Instead, we joined a group of the others for the menu del día at the local bar, where the waitress/chef seemed really put out that we wanted to spend money in her establishment.
Wednesday 4/4: Things seem a lot stricter in Castilla y Leon than they were in the previous region of Extremadura; most albergues have a rule that you have to leave before 8am, which is about 20 minutes before sunrise. This was the case in El Cubo del Vino as well, so we left dead on 8:00 (okay, 8:05) and had a pleasant first stage of around 13km to Villanueva de Campeán, where we ran into three pilgrims we’d met the night before, who were also having a coffee in the bar. Getting into the town took a bit of time, though — an old man stopped to greet us at the entrance and ended up telling us all about the nice Kiwi girl who works in the winery, the Semana Santa processions in Zamora and what he and his entire family think about them, and the politics of having two pilgrim albergues in the same small town. It was awesome.
We decided to make a slight detour off the marked way to have another coffee and a bocadillo in San Marcial, which gave us the energy we needed for the next 13km or so to Zamora.
After walking alongside the road for about 3km, the city came into view and it only took us about three hours to reach it across the flat plain. It was worth the effort though, the city is beautiful. It’s situated on a river, has an unbelievable amount of churches, and also has a town wall. The albergue was modern and well-appointed, and we were put into a room with a Dutch couple we’d met in Cubo del Vino.
I left Craig behind to frantically try to catch up on some work and headed to the supermarket. I ended up at one a lot further away than I’d planned to go, but found everything I needed for an enormous meal, which we cooked back in the albergue. While I was out, I saw a lot of people in procession costumes heading towards the cathedral — we planned to watch the procession but it was called off (for the first time since the thirties) because of rain.
Thursday 5/4: We headed out the door after a filling breakfast put on by the albergue, and made good time to the first town about 6km away, where we took a break and ate some candied almonds that you can only get a Easter-time.
The next leg (12km) to Montamarta was similarly successful, and we found a bar on the way out of town which furnished us with the coffee we needed. We had lunch in the square before heading on… And somehow managed to lose our way. We’d just slogged through 600m of sticky mud when a couple of farmers (working on a holiday, crazy) told us we were going the wrong way. Luckily we didn’t have to go back the way we came, a slightly less-muddy access road took us back to the highway, but on reaching the road we promptly went the wrong way again. Luckily Craig checked the map at the next intersection and there was a shortcut back to the road we actually wanted, and halfway along the shortcut we found Camino markers. All went well for awhile, until the markers took us along a very roundabout path to avoid walking along the highway — we decided to give up on the arrows and just follow the road. And just as well, too, because the bar we’d been hanging out for was on the side of the highway, but a good kilometre from the marked track.
After a drink there, we only had 4km to go to our destination of Riego del Camino. Halfway there, it started to rain. Luckily it was only a light shower, and we were a lot better off than Toro, who had got caught in a hailstorm.
When we finally arrived at our albergue, we found the whole gang there: Toro, Gunter, Steffi, Holger and José. After a not-very-long rest, we all ventured out into the rain to Bar Pepe — José very kindly invited us all out for dinner.
Friday 6/4: Since we weren’t going to be kicked out at 8am, we stayed in bed a little later and rose to find that it was raining. This let up after a while, but this wasn’t the good news you might expect; it was replaced by snow. Actual snow. José ventured out first, followed by Toro (with plastic-bag gloves); the rest of us stayed behind to have a leisurely breakfast — luckily the hot water from the tap was warm enough to make coffee with.
Craig and I eventually left shortly after 9, and by the time we arrived at the next town 6km later, we were completely wet. Craig’s jacket seemed to have lost its waterproofing, and while mine is doing well, it doesn’t stop my legs from getting drenched.
We spent over an hour in the bar at Granja, examining an hour-by-hour weather report. It seemed to indicate that things would improve, though we weren’t sure we’d made the right decision (to continue) when there was a relatively heavy squall about 15 minutes down the road. Luckily, that was it; apart from a few sprinkles we were dry for the rest of the day. We could even sit down for lunch when we arrived at the bridge (8km after Granja) that was our waymark.
The wind was icy but we made good time on the 10km to Faramontanos de Tábara, where we planned to stay. Unfortunately, the refugio was being used for something to do with Easter (it being Good Friday, after all) so we couldn’t stay there. Instead, we had to continue for another 6km to Tábara, where we discovered that the albergue is located really really far away from the town centre.
Since the supermarket was shut, we didn’t have much option but to eat in the bar (back in town, a long long way from the albergue). Back in the albergue, everyone was so knackered that we turned the lights out at 9:30.
Saturday 7/4: After a pleasant sleep-in (broken only by Toro crashing around), we left the albergue at around 9am and stopped at the supermarket on the way out of town. Unfortunately the light rain got heavier and heavier until it felt like icy needles, but it let off and the sun even came out to dry us off.
After 10km or so, we had to choose between two routes; we chose the one that would take us to coffee. 4km further along, we stopped in a bar for half an hour or so then had a bocadillo lunch on the side of the road out of town. After that, it wasn’t too far to Santa Marta de Tera, where we stopped for the night. The only other pilgrim was another Spaniard called José, who we’d met the night before; the others had stayed in a private albergue a kilometre back along the road — and with good reason, since the low temperatures meant that the very basic refugio on offer wasn’t very pleasant.
In the afternoon we visited an eleventh-century church which features the oldest statue of Santiago the pilgrim, and drank cheap wine with José in a local bar.
Sunday 8/4: Easter Sunday was perhaps the most perfect day on the Camino so far. It didn’t start auspiciously — the albergue was freezing cold so we dressed hurriedly, and the bar where we’d planned to have our morning coffee was closed.
We set off into the frosty landscape, and although we walked fast, the time seemed to drag. We finally made it to Olleros de Tera at midday with coffee on our mind, but the church bells were ringing and we decided to go to mass instead.
Our attempts to hide at the back were foiled by the need for everyone to leave in a procession — the men walked around the church one way following a man holding a large crucifix, and the women walked the other behind a statue of the Virgin Mary. We all met up halfway and returned to the church together.
It was interesting that two women led the mass, something that we hadn’t seen before. A kind lady explained to us later that the priest had come the day before; he’s probably the one who has seven churches to look after, who is also in charge of the church we visited in Santa Marta the day before.
After mass, we found a bar (after asking around a bit), where we had our long-anticipated coffee and some very tasty tapas. I had my cheek stroked again by an older woman wishing us a “buen camino”, and we made our way out of town.
Not only did we have more energy after coffee and a snack, we also had great weather. After leaving the albergue bundled up in almost all our clothes (for example, I was wearing a T-shirt, two merino tops, a fleece, a jacket with the hood up to keep my ears warm, and a scarf fashioned out of my merino longjohns), it was exciting to get down to just a T-shirt and feel the sun on our arms.
The walk was great too; a narrow bushwalk of a couple of kilometres took us to a dam, and after we crossed it we walked alongside the reservoir for a few more kilometres.
Our guide said there wasn’t anything in Vilar de Farfón, the last town before our destination of Rionegro, but shortly before arriving there we saw a yellow coffee cup painted on the rock and got very excited. The cup didn’t represent a cafe, though; it was the house of a South African missionary family who had set up a tiny albergue with a welcoming porch/kitchen area where you could enjoy an instant coffee and a chat with the host. As we were leaving an older couple arrived who recognised us from mass and we were given apples to eat on our way.
The albergue at Rionegro is new and fantastic, equipped with a washing machine and dryer. We put all our clothes on to wash and headed out to the bar for wine and more tapas. However, disaster struck when we returned; someone had changed the setting on the washing machine and it had stopped partway through a long cycle without having finished washing our clothes. After reading the instruction manual carefully, we managed to put it on again, and stayed up late cycling the clothes through the dryer — we’d planned to hang them out for awhile but it wasn’t to be.
Monday 9/4: Monday had a lot to live up to after our wonderful Easter Sunday, and it made a pretty good effort. We made a late start after a pleasant sleep-in in the warm dorm room, and made sure to have a coffee with breakfast to give us a kick start.
Luckily the temperatures were a lot more pleasant than the day before, and the first leg (to Mombuey) was only 9km. We had a coffee there and stocked up on food for lunch, which we ate 8km down the road in Cernadilla. After that, it was only another 10km or so to Asturianos, where we were thinking about stopping but decided not to, though we did have a truly excellent glass of wine each at the bar beside the albergue.
Instead, we trekked on another three or four kilometres to Palacios de Sanabria (naughtily not following the detour and being told off by a roadworks foreman), where we got a private room and spent the evening in first one, then the other, local bar.
Tuesday 10/4: It was a cold morning, which made getting up a little difficult. We managed it though, and headed out the door at 8:40, running into José outside the bar where he’d just had breakfast. The walk was pleasant, through forests and tiny towns, and it only rained lightly. We arrived in Puebla de Sanabria at about 11:30 and got coffee and a light snack in a bar — except that the two tapas Craig ordered turned out to be enormous. We decided to call it lunch.
Further along, we visited three ATMs before being able to withdraw cash, and although we finally managed we were left wondering what the problem was. Surely our bank hasn’t blocked our cards again?
The next 12km or so to Requejo were full of beautiful views and painful feet, and we were happy to arrive and have a long afternoon stretching in front of us. There were two albergues on offer: the basic, cheap one and a private one with all sorts of mod cons for €12 — which we chose so that Craig could get some work done using the wifi.
After a merienda (okay, second lunch), we worked for awhile then headed out to find wine and tapas in a local bar.
Wednesday 11/4: It was a latish start, as we enjoyed the warmth of the albergue before heading into the cold wind and relentless drizzle that awaited us. The road led us along the highway for awhile, and we decided to continue along it rather than take the marked route into the forest, as it would have added another kilometre or two to our journey — this was proved by the fact that we had been installed in the bar in the first town for a good twenty minutes when a French woman, who had stayed in the albergue and left at least 45 minutes before us, arrived.
We used the iPhone to check the weather and make an informed decision about when to leave the warm bar, which had been very nice to us in terms of coffee and food (mmm morcilla and tortilla). The next leg was a lot less windy and quite a lot less rainy, but we still arrived in Lubián soaked through.
We’d only walked 17km by that point, so although the albergue was warm and well-equipped, we decided to brave the second ascent of the day and head to Vilavella, where a new albergue was waiting for us.
This stretch, between Lubián and Vilavella, was without doubt our favourite section of the walk so far. The route was interesting and a bit challenging, with narrow paths, stream navigation and a pretty steep ascent to handle; but the weather was fantastic (no wind, only a little rain on the way into Vilavella) and we saw corzos (a type of deer). It was very exciting!
However, despite a bevy of signs pointing us out of town towards the old railway station, it transpired that the albergue was closed for repairs. When we were told this (in the town grocery store) we were literally speechless, and the shop attendant took pity on us and called the guesthouse to see if she could get us a good deal. Well, €30 is a lot more than we’d planned to pay, but at least we got a place to sleep out of the (by then quite heavy) rain. The menu del día on offer was tasty and we ate in a romantic corner of the otherwise-empty dining room. On the whole, a win of a day.
Thursday 12/4: The forecast seemed to think the weather would improve after 9am, so we slept in and left at about 9:30, after coffee in the bar downstairs. The wind was pretty fierce and the drizzle came and went, but it was a lovely walk through a rocky and barren landscape. We’d decided to have a short day, just 14km to A Gudiña, so although Craig was still having problems with his leg, it felt like a holiday. We took a break for coffee at O Cañizo, then only had an hour or so to go to get to A Gudiña, arriving at 1pm. Being the first to arrive, we had to call the hospitalero to let us in; Craig waited for him while I went to find bread for lunch, which we ate outside.
Friday 13/4: Looking out the window of the albergue in the morning, I saw nothing but blue skies. Unfortunately, out the other side was a wall of cloud — a juxtaposition which neatly summarises our day. We had to climb up into the clouds then walked along a ridgeline in the bright sunshine, enjoying the views of rolling hills covered in heather, a lake to the left, and the occasional glimpse of snow-topped mountains. A rainbow appeared and accompanied us for an hour or so, and we walked through several tiny villages — one had sheep being driven through it, another had a picnic area where we took a quick break.
Our goal was Campobecerros, a small town where most of the other pilgrims were planning to stay for the night but didn’t. We saw Gunter and Paco (a Spanish guy) in the bar, where we ate a delicious vegetable soup for lunch.
Very soon after we set off, the rain set in, quickly drenching us then hanging around as drizzle to keep us miserable. After three or four kilometres of climbing, the rest of the walk was a steady downhill on a secondary road — not particularly exciting, and with the low cloud hiding everything from view, not particularly visually stimulating either.
We arrived in our destination, Laza, at about 5:30, and checked in with the Civil Defence. The hot water wasn’t working so I headed out to find dinner instead of taking a shower — and it turned out to be a mission. The small shops didn’t offer much in the way of variety and the bakery remained steadfastly closed despite my three separate attempts (with the help of far too many locals) to find a way to buy bread. Eventually there was success and we had a tasty dinner of green beans with garlic and sausage, a vegetable omelette, and bread with olive oil. And wine, of course.
Saturday 14/4: The weather was fine when we set out at about 8:45, but it didn’t stay that way for long. As we started to climb the hill that dominated the terrain, the light rain got heavier and heavier until we were both soaked through. We had half an hour of respite before our break in Albergueria, where we had coffee in El Rincón del Peregrino, where the walls are covered in scallop shells bearing the names of other pilgrims who have passed there.
We were drenched again by the time we got to Vilar do Barrio, where José and the Germans stopped for the night. Craig and I had soup and coffee for €2.50 each in a buffet restaurant, then headed out into blue skies. We passed through several small villages and were in the middle of a long boring stretch of secondary road when the thunder clapped off to our right (to the left was blue), and the hail hit. Luckily our jackets are pretty robust, so we just kept on going; it felt more like an adventure than a tragedy. It was, however, inconvenient to be wet through again.
We arrived in our final destination of Xunqueira at about 5pm, as some more hail started to fall. Luckily the albergue was open, so we had a short rest there before heading into town to buy food for dinner. It was a much more successful trip than the day before; we managed to buy everything we needed (including bread) in the first shop we came to.
Dinner was oil on bread, followed by soup, then pasta with chicken and veges in tomato sauce. Pretty good, actually.
Sunday 15/4: Once again, the day started with good weather, but this time it decided to stay that way — there was just a bit of drizzle now and then to break the boredom.
The walk wasn’t particularly interesting, being along the road for most of the way. We had a break in one of the chain of small towns, the first that offered an open bar (after about 9km). The next break was within sight of another bar — we ate our lunch on a park bench then had a glass of wine inside. It wasn’t until after we’d eaten that we realised that we could have had pulpo (octopus) from the temporary pulpo stand across the road… We decided to have some anyway and negotiated a small serving. It was tasty.
The rest of the walk, through an industrial estate and into Orense, was unremarkable except for the small town of Seix Albo, which was charming. We reached the albergue shortly before 4pm and the hospitalero kindly let us check in early, which was good because we were ready to collapse. Luckily the beds were comfortable because we spent the afternoon lying in them.
Monday 16/4: Since there was a hospitalero on-site, we made an early start to avoid being forcibly kicked out of the albergue — for the previous few days nobody had been around to care if we left half an hour after the official time of 8am. Unfortunately, Orense is a sprawling town, and we spent over an hour walking alongside a busy highway, followed by half an hour up a steep secondary road. Luckily, things improved after that, except that the bar we’d been looking forward to was closed; the track entered a forest and we left the sound of cars behind us.
We finally got our coffee at kilometre 16, and after that there was only seven kilometres to go to our destination of Cea. The track continued to be interesting, passing through small villages, over a cute bridge, and through more forest.
On arrival in Cea, we checked into the albergue then had lunch in a bakery/cafe, where we relaxed for an extra hour or so while waiting for the supermarket to open at 4.30pm. We spent the rest of the day back at the albergue, resting and chatting with the group of French teenagers who were also staying there.
Tuesday 17/4: It was drizzling slightly when we left Cea at 8:45, carefully taking the short route (14km) to Castro-Dozon rather than the one that detours past a monastery and adds 8km to the total.
Although the weather cleared and the conversation was pleasant, we were both ready for a cafe to appear at about kilometre ten. Unfortunately we had to wait until Castro, where we had a coffee and tried to decide whether to stay in the albergue there or go on to Laxe. Our various guides gave us all sorts of contradictory information, and we’d just decided to stay when we checked the weather forecast for Wednesday — rain. We decided to go on, having a long day on Tuesday and a shorter one the next day. The supermarket provided lunch food and some vegetables for dinner, and we ate sandwiches in the square before setting off again.
Sadly, despite the fact that the GPS had indicated that our destination lay at least 18km away, Craig still trusted the hostel ad that said that it was only 15km from Castro, and was bitterly disappointed when he realised he’d have to walk a fair bit more. He made this discovery in Xestas, where our guide had said there was a bar but all we could find was a tobacco shop with a table and chairs in it. I asked the owner if it was possible to buy wine, and he looked confused for a minute before disappearing out the back and returning with a bottle of red and a questioning look. We smiled and nodded and asked if we could drink it there, which was apparently fine; he found some glasses and we proceeded to drink the whole bottle.
This made the next leg of the walk quite enjoyable, despite it being the wettest part of the day. We’d dried off by the time we finally reached Laxe, anyway. We pottered around the empty albergue until about 7:30, when we cooked dinner and a group of three Portuguese pilgrims we’d seen in Orense arrived. We thought it would just be the five of us, but the hospitalera arrived at 8pm with bad news — a large group of school kids would be staying in the albergue too.
They arrived at nine and spent the next half-hour making as much noise as possible, then headed out for dinner, returning loudly at 11:40. It was annoying that the rule about being inside and silent by ten didn’t seem to apply to them, and even more annoying that the lights in the bedroom that we were sharing with the Portuguese were on a sensor, so that anytime someone got up or moved around in bed, the lights went on. These annoyances, and the fact that the beautiful kitchen was equipped with only a small pot, three spoons and a rusty pan, meant that we weren’t overly impressed with the albergue. But at least it was warm and we ended up sleeping well.
Wednesday 18/4: Since the normal rules didn’t seem to apply, we stayed in bed until after we heard the school kids leave at about 8:45, then had a leisurely breakfast in the kitchen before making a move at around 9:30. Since we’d changed our plan, we only had about 10km to walk, which was great because the weather was as dire as the forecast had predicted. We were both wet through within two kilometres, but the fact that it was a pleasant walk and the idea that it was going to be a short one kept our spirits up.
We arrived in Silleda at around midday and checked into a pension that had been over-advertised for the past hundred kilometres or so. Apparently its two parts are owned by different people: a man, who is responsible for the aggressive advertising, and a woman, who does the work of checking people in. Since we didn’t have a booking we chose to stay on the woman’s side, which was a good choice since there was only one other guest.
A quick trip to the supermarket stocked us up for the rest of the day, which we spent inside, in the warm, watching the rain fall and being happy not to be out in it. Craig cooked a tasty dinner and we watched a movie on the laptop before bed.
Thursday 19/4: The weather had improved dramatically from the day before, and our first leg of 7km was almost completely dry. We took a break in a cafe/bakery in Bandeiro, where we paid very little for coffee and a whole array of pastry snacks.
The next leg of the walk was unfortunately a lot wetter, with a sudden downfall soaking us in minutes. We waited out the second half of the squall in an oddly-placed bus shelter, and had completely dried off by the time we arrived in Seixo for our second break. We chatted for awhile with the Portuguese (who were already there) and just as we were about to go, our old friend Marina arrived. We put off our departure for a quick catch-up; it was interesting to hear what she’d been up to for the previous two weeks.
The last leg of the day was broken in half by a stop at the Ponte Ulla supermarket, since the town where the albergue is located doesn’t have a shop. After that the walk seemed like a bit of an effort, with the alternating sun, wind and rain making our clothing uncomfortable no matter what we did. But we made it, and had a tasty (if late) lunch in the well-equipped albergue, then relaxed before a pleasant (and also late) dinner.
Friday 20/4: We had to make an earlyish start if we wanted to make it to Santiago in time for the pilgrim mass at midday, so we set off at 8:05 and made good time until our first break an hour and a half later.
It hadn’t rained during the first leg, but the skies opened during the second section, and once again we were wet through. Luckily the drizzle eventually stopped and the sun came out to dry us off, and we made it to Santiago by 11:30. After the compulsory photos and videos were taken, we headed inside the cathedral for mass; it was totally packed and we had to stand at the back. It was a beautiful service; a nun sang and the sermon was good (it was strange to be able to understand it, such a contrast to our arrival four years ago), and at the end they swung the botafumeiro — a huge incense burner that is only brought out on special occasions or when someone pays €250 for it. I was very, very excited.
After mass we headed to the pilgrim office to get our certificates then had a menu del día in a cafe we’d seen on the way into town. Then we headed to our flash hotel, where we were told we’d been given the best room on account of it being our anniversary. It was the only room on the fourth floor, with gorgeous stone walls and sloping ceiling, plus views of both the old town and the outskirts of the city.
Since we didn’t have any suitable clothes for the nice dinner we planned to have to further celebrate our anniversary, we headed out to the shopping area to get some clothes. A couple of painful hours trawling the shops yielded some jeans, a shirt and a belt for Craig, and shoes, stockings and a blazer for me.
We’d been given a voucher for a drink and a tapa in a restaurant that’s part of the same group as the hotel, so after relaxing in comfortable surroundings for a few hours, we headed out to avail ourselves of it, and ended up having dinner there too — it was all delicious!
Saturday 21/4: All alarms were turned off, and we slept in as late as possible before heading out for a simple breakfast in a nearby cafe. Leaving there at about 11:30, we decided to wander past the parador to see if there was any places left for the pilgrim lunch, and we were in luck.
The parador hotel used to be a pilgrim hospital, and offers a free breakfast, lunch and dinner for ten pilgrims at each meal, which you can get on the first three days after having arrived in Santiago. When we arrived outside the garage, which is the meeting place, eight others were already waiting, so we had arrived at the perfect time.
A porter checked our certificates and wrote our names and ID card numbers in a book before writing out a coupon for us to give to the chef. Then we made our way through the hotel to the kitchen, where the chef served us up a generous meal of soup, meat and chickpeas, bread, fruit and wine — the same food that is given to the staff of the hotel. We ate in a small dining room on the first floor which is decorated with hand-drawn representations of the different Caminos, and it was a really enjoyable experience sharing a meal with other pilgrims, who all had different stories to tell about their pilgrimage.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the city; apart from looking at souvenir shops, we also visited the modern art museum and I had a look around the fresh-food market while Craig headed back to the hotel for a rest.
In the evening, we visited the pilgrim museum (which was, oddly, all in Galician), then met up with Marina and two other pilgrims (Liz and Christine) and had a beer with them. After that, we all headed to Manolo’s for dinner, where we ran into the Germans and a father and son from Belgium who were friends of Liz’s. It was a pleasant evening, but sad to say goodbye to people we’d seen a lot of over the past few weeks — especially Marina, since we actually started the walk on the same day as her.
Back at the hotel, we continued the Camino theme by watching The Way, a movie about a father who walks the Camino Frances after his son dies shortly after starting it. It was fun to recognise some uniquely pilgrim moments, although it didn’t all ring true.
Sunday 22/4: Sadly, our preferred breakfast cafe was closed and we had to wander a little to find another, after which we packed up and checked out of our lovely hotel. We stopped by the cathedral to see the botafumeiro swing again, then had hot chocolate and churros in the Valor cafe, then collected our bags and walked to the train station.
The journey to A Coruna was swift and pleasant, and we had a snack in the station cafeteria before being picked up by our Couchsurfing host Yolanda. She took us on a tour of the city, showing us the important sights and explaining not to try to use the sea as a navigating tool. Since the city is shaped like a T protruding into the ocean, this makes a lot of sense!
We spent the evening chatting with Yoli and her flatmate Amy, then headed out for a walk around the area and a light dinner of hamburgers.
Monday 23/4: Since it was our first day in our new city, we decided to take an extensive wander around, keeping our eyes open for apartments for rent. Although our Couchsurfing host Yolanda had told us that it would be better to organise it all privately, we stopped into a couple of property agencies, which were spectacularly unhelpful.
Instead, we took photos of the many ads plastered on walls and lampposts, and sent text messages to the advertisers in the evening, after returning from a walk of at least 15km — and we thought the long walks were over! We had a menu del día lunch in the old town and visited one of the schools I’ve been in touch with about work. Plus I had an interview with the other one in the evening, which seemed to go well (especially since they offered me a part-time job a couple of days later). In the evening we made guacamole and pebre for a light dinner and chatted with Yolanda before bed.
Tuesday 24/4: Despite all of our work sending texts and making phone calls, we only had one positive response from our flat-hunting efforts. For some reason, none of the landlords are interested in a three-month let, they’d prefer to leave their flats empty while waiting for someone to sign up for a longer contract. We arranged to see our sole option, and spent half an hour looking around and chatting with the landlords before heading back to Yolanda’s place to think about it. The price was more than we’d hoped to pay, but still a lot less than New Zealand prices. We decided to go for it, and went back to talk to the landlords again.
Later, I met up with Fiona, the owner of Masterclass, for a chat about job possibilities. Although it looks like I won’t be able to work with her at the moment, she might have some work for me over the summer.
In the evening, I finally got to meet Oliva, my language-exchange partner, and we had hot chocolate and pastries in a friendly cafe. We’ve been friends for over a year and it only occurred to her recently to tell me that her name wasn’t actually Maria, as it appears in her Skype account — now I’ve got to get used to calling her Oliva! She’s just as lovely and funny in person as she is online, and I’m looking forward to spending lots of time with her over the next three months.
We had kebabs for dinner on the way home, and I had another long chat with Yolanda.
Wednesday 25/4: The day started with another visit to the new landlords, who took our passport details and told us where the supermarkets were. While I was talking to them, Craig had an adventure trying to print off his boarding pass, and eventually had success after enlisting the help of almost everyone in the shop.
We walked together to the bus stop, and Craig caught the bus to the airport, where he arrived ridiculously early for his flight to England. The flight was very pleasant, and Kevin picked him up from Heathrow and took him back to his and Gail’s flash new house, where they had delicious home-made curry for dinner.
I, on the other hand, got to have fun with bureaucracy. First I visited the immigration office, where I waited for an hour or so before being called to talk to a typically dragon-like clerk. I explained that I had a visa that allowed me to stay in Spain for a year and was told that that simply wasn’t possible. She disappeared with my passport for quarter of an hour, and returned to tell me to come back the next day.
On the way home I joined the library, and I spent the afternoon reading and getting a bit of work done before having dinner with Yolanda.
Thursday 26/4: My day started back in the immigration office, where the clerk seemed quite happy to see me. She disappeared with my passport again before returning to tell me that yes, Spain has agreements with New Zealand and Canada, and that all I needed to do was get a job contract for three months and fill in a few forms — a process which might actually be a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.
I visited the bank to find out what documents I need to get an account then went in to see my new bosses, who were happy to give me a contract but said it would take a while to get, since we are in Spain after all. The guy I’m taking over from, James, showed me around the school and explained what to do in each of the classes, so that was good. I spent the afternoon reading and chatting with Amy (Yolanda’s flatmate), then headed to the airport to meet Craig.
He’d spent the day at Heathrow, since Kevin could drop him off there before work, and taking public transport would have wasted a good couple of hours. At the airport, he got a bit of work done then met his sister Christina for lunch — she recently moved to London and seems to be enjoying herself. The flight back to A Coruna was delayed by half an hour or so because of high winds, but he made it out of security just in time for us to catch the 8:15 bus back to the city.
After a light dinner, we headed to my new work, where the bosses (Ben and Jimmy) were throwing a goodbye party for James. It was great to meet all my new colleagues, who I’m sure I’ll see a lot of; they all seem really nice.
Friday 27/4: After a bit of a sleep-in, we packed up all our worldly possessions and walked the kilometre or so to our new apartment. The landlords showed us around, explaining in detail how things work, and we signed a contract and were given the keys.
We needed provisions, so we spent the afternoon visiting the various supermarkets in the area to get everything we needed. Of course we somehow managed to get lost, but that was okay because we stumbled across a well-decorated bar that had a great opening special: a drink and half-portion of food for €3.50. We decided that that would do for lunch and spent the next hour or so there, before returning to our place to prepare for our housewarming party.
We’d invited all our friends (Oliva, Yolanda and Amy) and they all came bearing tasty gifts. After giving them the grand tour of the apartment, we spent the evening chatting and snacking.
Saturday 28/4: Although the forecast was for rain, the day dawned bright and sunny — a fact we were alerted to by a text from Oliva, who suggested an excursion. We agreed readily, and breakfasted rapidly before meeting her at her place (a five-minute walk away) and hopping in her car. She’d planned a fantastic itinerary, and we visited various beaches and ports, as well as a castle, before ending up in Sada, where we had a tasty lunch and stopped in at the market.
After a rest in the afternoon, we met up with Oliva again in the evening, to discover the wonderful world of A Coruñian tapas. We were joined by her boyfriend Guille (who I’ve heard a lot about) and her friend Alba, and had a great evening visiting a couple of the most popular tapas bars. The boys both bailed early on, but Oliva, Alba and I headed to Valor for hot chocolate and good conversation before calling it a night.
Sunday 29/4: After the early mornings of the Camino, a sleep-in is always welcome, but we took it to an extreme today! We had a light lunch of salad and lentils then got a bit of work done before heading out for a long walk on the beach. On our return, we recorded our first podcast in ages, then had a snack of cheese and crackers.
I headed out to meet Oliva and Alba in the afternoon, and we went for a drive to Caión, where there is a really nice paseo maritimo or seaside walk. We also drove to a couple of other beaches, and managed to get lost in a tiny Galician town on the way back to A Coruna — it was a real adventure.
Monday 30/4: Since Tuesday was a holiday, we decided to do a few errands, such as getting me a sim card for the phone Oliva had given me. Unfortunately though, after waiting in line for twenty minutes and going through the interminable process of registering the sim (in Craig’s name, apparently I’d already bought too many sims), it turned out the phone was locked to another company.
Next, we headed to the library to pick up my library card (yay!) and enjoy the free wifi. Unfortunately, though, so many sites were blocked as to make the connection completely useless.
Instead, we went on a hunt for cafés with wifi and found one not far from home, where we worked for a couple of hours until our computer batteries were flat. After a bit of shopping and choripan for lunch, we found a bar just around the corner from our flat, where we spent another couple of hours.
In the evening, Oliva came around and we had burritos for dinner.
Monday 7/5: I had to make a couple of phone calls, first to make an appointment at the immigration office, and then to return a call we’d received from DHL the previous Friday. Neither went well. I called the number I had for the immigration office, and was told I had to call another number, and was told I had to call the first number. I eventually managed to make the appointment, but the woman at the other end of the line sounded doubtful that that was the right thing to have done.
DHL was worse. I couldn’t call using Skype because the number was blocked, so I called expensively on Craig’s cellphone; of course I was put on hold for ages. I was finally transferred to the correct person, who told me that a package had arrived for us (Craig’s replacement Kindle) and that we had to pay €110 in taxes on it. That’s 60% of its value. I was literally dumbstruck, and when I could speak again I couldn’t marshal good enough Spanish to argue with the woman, who wasn’t interested in understanding me anyway. I hung up and got very angry and very upset, and decided to go for a walk to calm down.
I visited the library and did the shopping, and after lunch Craig and I recorded the podcast and worked on the ebooks. I had to head to school for the afternoon, but we had a pleasant evening reading and watching TV.
Tuesday 8/5: I seemed to get out of bed on the clumsy side, and spent the day dropping things, knocking things over, and walking into walls. My classes went well though, and lunch was tasty, but after I finished cooking we noticed that the sink was blocked. Craig searched online to try to learn how to unblock it and we tried all sorts of things, but to no avail. Eventually he texted the landlord (who lives downstairs), who fixed it the next day.
We headed out for a walk along the beach and through the city, and spent the afternoon working before blobbing in front of the TV. At least we were watching something in Spanish — Españoles en el Mundo. It’s about Spanish people living in different parts of the world, in this case first Philadelphia then Kenya.
Wednesday 9/5: While chatting with my Chilean friend Moroni, who’s now living in the Czech Republic, he told me that as the wife of an EU citizen I have the right to residency here in Spain. I couldn’t believe it — first that he hadn’t mentioned this earlier, second that I didn’t know. I’d assumed that I’d have to get residency in the UK to be able to benefit from Craig’s citizenship, which is a long painful process, but apparently it’s a lot easier here. I was incredibly frustrated — had I wasted a lot of time and money getting my working holiday visa? At least having it has taken the stress out of the application process, but arghhhh!
After a quick visit to school, where I met the last of my students, a lovely woman called Ana, I headed to the immigration office with Craig to hand in the documents for my work permit and ask about this new residence possibility. The poor woman who was helping us had to get up twice to go and ask someone else what the story was (a running theme, it seems), but she eventually gave me my all-important NIE number and a copy of my application and pointed us in the direction of the comisaria to register Craig as a resident. We couldn’t find it and were incredibly hungry, so we admitted defeat and headed to the shopping centre for kebabs for lunch.
I spent the next hour or so looking into residency options (and learned a lot) then headed back to school briefly, coming back with strawberries for a snack. In the evening, we walked along to Kiu Bar, off the Paseo Maritimo, to join a language exchange group that Amy is part of. Unfortunately there were six English speakers and only one Spaniard, but it was a pleasant (if sightly expensive) experience.
Thursday 10/5: As if to compensate for our spectacularly bad week, the weather finally sorted itself out, and Thursday was warm and clear; when we went for our walk on the beach in the afternoon, we both got down to just t-shirts — very exciting!
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful, except for the landlord coming to visit to let us know that the water would be turned off from 10pm. Accordingly, at 9:30, Craig went to fill up a bucket and some water bottles… but it had already been cut off! And of course we didn’t have any water available. Craig wasn’t too bothered (he drank wine instead), but I really didn’t want to have to brush my teeth with orange juice — I managed to get a little out of the shower hose.
Friday 11/5: I was dozing in bed when I suddenly heard the sound of running water close by; I’d forgotten to turn off the shower the night before, and the water had come back on. Not the best start to the day, but at least I heard it come on and hadn’t wasted too much water.
The rest of the morning was spent in bureaucracy. First we went to the town hall to do the empadronamiento, or register as residents of A Coruña. We took a number and waited our turn, and were given forms to fill out. The clerk took the forms, our passports and the apartment contract, and was starting to make copies and do the data entry when she realised that the contract didn’t have the house number written on it. The street name, yes, and the apartment number as well, but the house number was noticeably missing. We all stared at each other in disbelief for a few seconds, Craig and I envisioning an extra hour of stuffing around, when the clerk asked if we had the landlords’ phone number. After a quick call to them, the problem was resolved by the clerk neatly writing the number in the space left for it on the contract; we got our copies of the application, and we could go.
After that, we walked to the bank that Amy recommended, but as the person who helped her wasn’t at her desk, I talked to another employee instead. I didn’t envision any problems with opening an account as I had all the documentation I needed: a job contract and the all-important NIE number. Apparently not; she wanted an NIE number card. This was the first I’d heard of such a thing, and I learned later that they aren’t being issued anymore. Despite the teller talking to two or three of her colleagues, it couldn’t be resolved; she’d have to talk to someone higher up and I could come back on Monday.
Next, we headed to the comisaria, where we had a longer wait and another failure to achieve anything. As a citizen of the European Union, Craig has the right to residency, but has to register with the police within three months of arrival. He should get a certificate, which I use for my application — which also has to be submitted within three months of entering the country. Unfortunately, the immigration laws for EU citizens changed two weeks ago and now nobody knows exactly what’s going on, and they aren’t issuing any certificates. The clerk suggested that we fill in the application form for the certificate and use that in my application — it probably wouldn’t work, she said, but we just needed to submit something before the three months were up.
So we went back to the immigration office, and talked to a very grumpy official, who gave us the forms we needed and wrote a list of the four documents I need to submit to get residency: the unobtainable certificate, an actualised copy of our marriage certificate (such a thing does not exist), a photocopy of my entire passport (possible), and the empadronamiento certificate (hypothetically on its way). Not very promising really, but we’ll give it a go with the approximations that we have.
I was at school for most of the afternoon, and in the evening Oliva and Guille came over for dinner.
Saturday 12/5: Being the weekend, we were free from bureaucracy, and we headed out of the city to enjoy our freedom. Sadly, Oliva caught our bad luck — first she got a parking ticket, later she almost lost her SD card, and finally Guille dropped her phone and scratched it.
This didn’t stop us having an awesome day though. Alba had planned a fantastic route for the five of us, which took us even further north than we already were. We started our journey by wandering along the sand dunes and admiring the lagoon at Valdoviño, then checked out a couple of viewpoints before stopping for lunch in the wind in Cedeira.
After that, we visited the monastery of San Andrés de Teixido, which has a really interesting architectural style and which is obviously a tourist attraction because it abounds with stalls selling souvenirs, bread and honey. There’s a saying that everyone in the world will visit San Andrés, if not alive then dead, and if not dead, then reincarnated — probably as a snake or lizard.
Next, we visited Cabo Ortegal to see its lighthouse and the division between the Atlantic and the Cantabrian seas, before driving on to Punto Estaca de Bares to walk out to the northernmost point in Spain. The wind was fierce and the cliff high; the others piked out 50m before the end of the path and watched worriedly as Craig and I continued as far out onto the promontory as possible. (It was a wide path, not dangerous at all, really.)
We we all cold after the chilly wind on the point, so we decided to make our next stop a cafe. We got a little lost finding one, but eventually parked in Viveiro and wandered its charming streets until we found a bar, where we squeezed into a back table to drink our hot chocolates (well, us girls had hot chocolates, Craig and Guille wanted to be different).
After that, all that remained was to drive the hour and a half back to A Coruña, where Oliva dropped off Alba and Guille and completely failed to find a park near her house (it really wasn’t her day). Luckily, the walk back was along the waterfront, which is always pleasant.
Sunday 13/5: We’d planned to head out on another excursion (to walk a bit of the Camino Inglés) but were tired after our big day the day before. Instead, we slept in, Craig brought me breakfast in bed, and we spent the day relaxing. I chatted with Oscar for a while, read my book, and did some research into working visas; Craig played games on his phone and read a bit too. We only left the house for lunch; we had a menu del día lunch in a cafe near our place, which was delicious and incredibly filling, much better than last week’s offering.
Our fourth week in A Coruna was certainly an improvement on the third. But we are in Spain, after all, so it still contained a fair bit of bureaucracy.
Monday 14/5: After a couple of hours of ITP work, I headed out to the supermarket and library, then made hamburgers for lunch. We both got so caught up with work that we almost forgot to go for our post-lunch walk, and only had time for a short one before I had to go to school.
I’d been planning to come home between classes, but as I left the first one, the secretary told me (dramatically) that I needed to get a Social Security number, and that it was urgent. I asked her where to go to get it and she spent the next 25 minutes trying to find out by searching online, roping in a student’s mother to help her. Eventually the address was found and I could leave, only half an hour after I’d wanted to!
In the evening, Oliva came around for a language exchange — Craig hid in the guest room and worked while she and I chatted.
Tuesday 15/5: Despite the secretary’s vehemence the day before, I didn’t go to the social security office — it’s only open in the morning and I had to be at school from 10-12:30. And it’s a half-hour walk away.
Monday 21/5: Our work day started late (we slept in), but having Dave around made for a lovely communal work atmosphere. After lunch Craig and I hid ourselves in our room to record the podcast, and I headed to school for a few hours while the boys kept working.
After dinner, I headed to Olivia’s place for a language exchange and she told me about her awesome weekend away with Guille — it sounded fantastic, full of quad biking and other adventures.
Tuesday 22/5: Another work day, broken up nicely by a walk on the beach and a visit from Oliva in the afternoon. We’d asked her to help us with the Kindle issue: DHL was asking us for €110 in taxes on Craig’s replacement Kindle, which we didn’t want to pay. So Oliva kindly rang DHL and repeated the same story three times before finally being told that the issue was moot anyway: the Kindle was on its way back to NZ because it hadn’t been claimed. Sigh.
Dave, Craig and I had a relaxed evening in, which we mostly spent chatting — excellent.
Wednesday 23/5: Since it was Dave’s last day with us, we decided to try to make the most of it. We all spent the morning working, then headed out to find a nice-looking place for lunch. We totally succeeded: our €7.50 menu del día included wine, coffee and dessert as well as the entree and main, and it was all tasty. Dave and I both had fresh delicious fish that wasn’t full of bones, and Craig chose zorza (very slightly spicy pork).
The restaurant was halfway between our place and the Tower of Hercules, so we wandered that way so that Dave could see it up close and take a few more photos of A Coruñian views.
In the evening we had a tapas dinner, starting at the super-popular La Bombilla and going on to another place about five minutes’ walk away — where we finally tried pimientos de Padrón (small green delicious peppers).
Thursday 24/5: Dave’s only viable train option left at 8:50, so he had to leave the house by 7:30 to be sure of getting to the station on time. Craig accompanied him on the bus, and they managed to arrive with heaps of time to spare; they had a coffee then said a tearful goodbye (okay, I might be making that last bit up).
Monday 28/5: We seem to have lost our sleep pattern; I slept in (snooze is a dangerous option) then spent the morning working and talking to Chileans. We somehow didn’t find time for a long walk, but we managed a short one before I had to go to school. In the evening, Oliva came over for a language exchange and I succeeded in convincing her to spend even more time with us later in the week.
Tuesday 29/5: Today really felt like summer — when we went for our walk after lunch, the beach was full of sunbathers, and Craig even considered taking his shirt off. Otherwise, it was a work day — I was at school for three hours and worked on ITP for the rest of the day, and Craig finished building a very pretty website related to board games.
Wednesday 30/5: For some reason, I woke up in a bad mood, so decided to clean the house — it’s a good strategy for working through frustration because you end up with a clean house! After lunch we went for a long walk towards the tower, and discovered a sculpture garden, menhirs, and two tiny beaches. A Coruna continues to surprise us in delightful ways.
On the way home we stopped at the supermarket to pick up a bag of lettuce and ended up buying caipirinha ingredients too, which we put to good use later in the day (delicious!). We also mapped out a possible plan for the next few months and years, which is looking very exciting!
Thursday 31/5: After a morning at school and lunch at home, Craig and I headed down to one of the small beaches on the other side of the isthmus. It’s a lot more protected from the wind than the large beach we normally walk along, so the water was calm and the sand packed with people enjoying the heat. Craig braved the iciness of the water but I limited myself to a short paddle.
In the afternoon I experimented with microwave cakes for dessert the following day (we don’t have an oven) and failed miserably to produce anything worth eating. At least the strawberry caipirinhas were good.
When I got back from my evening class, the Internet had died — we’ve been sharing wifi with our neighbours across the hall, but they were moving out and cancelling the Internet subscription. We’d decided on a company to use but hadn’t gotten around to calling, and when Craig tried to set up the account over the phone he hit a wall: you need a NIE to do anything in this country, and Craig doesn’t have one. Not for lack of trying, I should point out. I, however, do have one, so I had the honour of talking to various call-centre operators for 45 minutes or so when they called back. Unfortunately, this was when Oliva was over for a language exchange — I definitely got to practice my Spanish during that time, just not with her.
Friday 1/6: Not having Internet works for me — I don’t get distracted into talking to people! Instead, I got quite a lot of editing done before heading to school for the afternoon. After that, I made a much more-successful microwave cake (banana) and some more strawberry caipirinhas, then relaxed for a couple of hours before Oliva and Guille came over for a Vietnamese summer roll dinner. They’d brought us back some tasty cheese and cider from their trip to Asturias, and entertained us by demonstrating the correct technique for pouring the cider into the glass (they also showed us the wrong technique; a mop was required).
Saturday 2/6: Ah, laziness. We spent most of the day doing not much at all: Craig played computer games and listened to audiobooks, I read and went to the supermarket. We went for a short walk into the old town after lunch, and were invited into a small exhibition in a large stone building — it turned out to be an exhibition of military miniatures. Some of them were really well done, and the exhibition was beautifully laid out.
In the evening, we met Oliva and Guille and their friends Mauri, Javier and Alba for some tapas — we tried to go to the same place as last week but it was full. Instead we went to Tapa Negra, where the raxo was great and the croquetas disappointing. Afterwards we headed to 8 Luces for a cocktail, after which Oliva tried to convince us to go dancing — we managed to extricate ourselves, though.
Sunday 3/6: Another lazy day. We slept in, Craig brought me breakfast in bed, and we both read for a while before heading out for lunch. We’d seen a place we’d liked the look of, but it was closed on Sunday and we had to continue for 20 metres or so down the road to find another restaurant. It was an experience — we were looked after by a grumpy old man who could only have been the owner, and who looked extremely unimpressed when he saw we’d left some of the enormous quantity of meat we’d been served. I think I won him over when I asked if we could have it to go, though — my dessert seemed larger than normal and he brought over an extra fork for Craig with a smile.
In the afternoon we lazed at home, though I headed out the a cafe for a coffee and to attempt to publish this travel diary — no luck though. The server was down and I ended up spending all my time speaking to Luis the Chilean. Seems like the week wanted to end how it started!
After a tasty dinner (mmm cold roast beeeeef) we watched Julie and Julia, and really enjoyed it.
Monday 4/6: Knowing how efficient Spain tends to be (that is, not at all efficient), we’d expected to have to wait a couple of weeks for our internet to be connected. However, the phone rang first thing on Monday morning, and it was a Telefonica worker who wanted to come over to connect the phone line. He didn’t have the router (it was being sent separately) so we couldn’t get online, but it was amazing that it all happened so quickly — just one working day after we’d made the phone call to organise the contract.
The rest of the day was mostly work; we did a lot of editing and recorded the podcast, and I went to school in the evening. I got paid, too, which was very exciting — now I might actually be able to get an ATM card.
Tuesday 5/6: I headed to school and the supermarket in the morning, and when I came home Craig was very happy — the router had arrived and we were back online! It was truly incredible how quickly it had all happened, and the internet speeds are good too.
After lunch and our walk I headed back to school for an evening class, and we spent the evening doing not much at all.
Wednesday 6/6: We both got quite a lot of work done, which was awesome, and had time for a walk along the beach before my lone hour of teaching at 4pm.
Oliva came over for a language exchange in the evening, with news: she’s organised a trip for us, Mauri, her and Guille. Her grandparents have a house in a small town near Toledo and we’re going to spend a week or so there next month, visiting Toledo and Madrid and going on all sorts of excursions. It’s going to be great!
Thursday 7/6: I had a big day — four and a half hours of classes, but all with adults thank goodness. Oliva came over again in the evening, after which Craig and I watched Have I Got News for you online. Classic.
Friday 8/6: My school schedule was nice and short — just two hours in the afternoon — so I decided to get a bit of ITP work done. Instead, though, I ended up talking to Moroni for an hour and a half, then cooked lunch and made a start on dinner. Oh, well. Craig had a lazy morning and stayed in bed until after midday, occasionally calling on my coffee-making services.
Guille and Oliva came over for dinner, and brought a tasty Spanish omelette and a hazelnut truffle dessert to add to our South American-themed evening. We started with strawberry caipirinhas and ate causa rellena and pebre, and later I made them try Fernet and Coke. As always, we had a great time, although the conversation did get a bit sciency at one point, when Craig explained why the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have opposite seasons, with the aid of a salt shaker and a fork.
Saturday 9/6: I think the science lesson took it out of him, so Craig decided not to join Oliva and me when we went to the Science museum on Saturday afternoon. It was great, there was an incubator where you could watch chicks hatch out of their eggs, and lots of hands-on exhibits. Oliva was especially excited by the one where you could play with white and coloured lights. She teaches Drawing in English, and during our language exchanges we’ve been editing some of her handouts — which is a little difficult for me since I don’t really understand some of the concepts she’s talking about. We’ve spent a fair bit of time on a handout about light and colour, so the display was really useful.
Later we went upstairs to watch a movie in the Digital Planetarium — the building has a domed roof, and they project movies onto the ceiling. It was quite fun, and I even learned a bit about astronomy.
On the way out we spent a few minutes watching a chick trying to get out of its shell, then met Guille and Mauri and went to a cerveceria for a beer and tasty croquetas. We mostly talked about the Toledo trip, trying to convince Guille (who isn’t a fan of hot temperatures) that the longer we stay, the better. Later on we met Javier and went to another nice tapas bar before heading to a great cafe for smoothies.
Sunday 10/6: We decided not to go out for lunch since we have a guest arriving tomorrow and will probably eat out a fair bit while he’s here. Instead, we slept in considerably then had a tasty British-looking lunch of mashed potatoes, peas, and rabbit. Yum.
We did head out for a walk, but the steady drizzle kept it short. Instead we just had a good coffee in Bar Habana, then spent the afternoon and evening relaxing at home.
Monday 11/6: The week didn’t start too well for me, I didn’t sleep well and got up on the wrong side of bed. After having breakfast and going to the supermarket and library, I decided to go back to bed. Craig brought me croissants for a snack and I felt a lot better in the afternoon.
Craig went to the station to collect his friend Philip, who was coming to visit for a couple of days, and I headed to work. I’ve got a new student for four one-hour classes a week, and unfortunately the class is at 9pm on the other side of the city. Olly drove me over and showed me around the other school, and the class went well. Afterwards, I met Craig and Philip for a tapas dinner in the centre of town.
Tuesday 12/6: Craig really shouldn’t have had to work on his birthday, and to tell the truth he only got a little bit done before his mum called. They ended up talking for over an hour and had just hung up when Philip got back from his walk and I came home after my morning class. We headed to the pulpería in the Plaza de España for an incredibly tasty lunch of octopus, potatoes and pimientos de Padrón, and I was lucky enough to finally get a hot one! It was very exciting, but I felt a bit sad that Craig hadn’t got it — it was his birthday, after all.
After lunch we walked around the coast to the lighthouse, passing the menhirs and cute little beaches on that side of the isthmus. I had to head back to work for an hour or so, but when I came home we had a tasty merienda of chocolate-covered coffee beans (Craig’s birthday present), pineapple lumps and strawberry caipirinhas, as well as some delicious birthday muffins Philip had bought for Craig.
In the evening, Philip and Craig walked with me as far as the Parque de Santa Margarita, then headed off for a beer while I taught my evening class. We met up later for a delicious tapas dinner.
Wednesday 13/6: Craig and I got a little ITP work done in the morning, then headed out with Philip for a very long walk — along the beach and around the coast to the obelisk, past the octopus statue and up the hill on the panoramic elevator. After a coffee, we went back down the other side of the hill and tried to find a bus home, which was a little difficult, though we did eventually achieve it.
After lunch at home, I went to work and Philip headed to the train station to continue his trip. It was sad to say goodbye, since it had been fun having him stay with us. Not that we’d given him the best weather!
I met Oliva in the afternoon then walked to the other school for my evening class. In the evening Craig cooked up some pimientos de Padrón for dinner and this time he got his first hot one — very exciting!
Thursday 14/6: After my morning class and lunch, Craig and I walked to the bank to organise an ATM card for me. I had to sign another mountain of paperwork and didn’t even get the card — apparently it’ll arrive by post.
I had to work both in the afternoon and the evening, but in compensation I met Craig at a tapas bar for a tasty dinner.
Friday 15/6: Craig worked all day but I wasn’t in the mood, so I read my book for most of the afternoon. I did head out to the supermarket to pick up some salad, but Craig prepared lunch and most of dinner. I was feeling more energetic after my afternoon classes, which is good because we headed out after dinner to meet Oliva and Guille and their friends Alberto and Laura. It was raining heavily, the café we wanted to visit closed early, and it took us ages to find somewhere to have a quiet drink. Eventually we succeeded though, and had a really nice evening.
Saturday 16/6: My birthday was an absolutely fantastic day. It started with a long sleep-in and then Craig brought me a tasty breakfast in bed and gave me presents (a book and some new headphones). My dad called and we talked for a little while, and then my sister called on Skype and we spoke for over an hour. I eventually got out of bed and Oliva and Guille arrived at around 2pm. While they were in the kitchen cooking lunch, I talked to my mum for half an hour or so.
Guille and Oliva prepared an enormous quantity of pasta with blue-cheese sauce, which was delicious. Also delicious was the cake they’d made for us — layers of chocolate mousse and custard separated by layers of crushed biscuits soaked in coffee liqueur, topped with a hard chocolate coating and sprinkles.
Next up we headed to the bowling alley where Guille beat us all, but I managed to come second after trailing Craig the whole game. Then we drove to the Casa del Agua — Oliva and Guille are members and they’d given Craig and me entrances to the spa as a birthday present. It was awesome! There were heaps of different spa pools and saunas, as well as a huge main pool that has lots of different pressure jets and waterfalls. I particularly liked the whirlpool, which was relaxing if you floated with the current, and good exercise if you went against it.
After a few hours there, Craig and I ducked home so that I could get changed, and then we met the others again to go out for my birthday dinner. I’d said that I wanted to eat lamb, which was easier said than done, but Guille had found three places that would do it and Craig had visited them all, talked with managers and chefs, and organised it for me. The restaurant had an Argentinean-style parrilla, so we ordered chorizo and morcilla to start and I chose a Malbec from the (impressively extensive) wine menu. The meal was excellent and the company fantastic.
Afterwards we headed back to our place for more of the enormous cake Oliva and Guille had made. I went to bed late but very happy, after reading the many Facebook messages I’d received.
Sunday 17/6: We woke up to the sound of rain. It didn’t really seem worth it to get out of bed, though Craig did eventually — called by the coffee machine. This meant I got brought breakfast in bed, and — later — lunch, too. I spent most of the day reading, chatting, and playing games on my iPod, but did eventually get up — and was rewarded with cake.
Since we hadn’t been to the supermarket for a couple of days, there wasn’t a lot of food in the house apart from cake, so we went out for a slightly damp walk to find some tapas for dinner. Later, there was cake.
Monday 25/6: Craig and I got down to business in the morning while Gary went out for a walk, and we all had lunch together at home before a more-relaxed afternoon. I had to head to school in the evening, but I met Craig, Gary, Griffin and Valerie in O Recuncho de Mayte for a tapas dinner later on.
Tuesday 25/6: After another morning of work (Craig at home, me at school), Gary, Craig and I set out to find a restaurant my student had recommended. Our search was unsuccessful, though, so we had tapas at a cervecería that specialises in squid. Gary’s flight was in the evening, so Craig walked him down to the airport bus stop and we said a sad goodbye.
My evening class is on the other side of town, and the long walk gives me plenty of time to listen to podcasts, which is quite cool. It does mean that I get home quite late though, so we’ve become even more Spanish and have dinner at around 10.45. After dinner I watched a couple of episodes of Españoles en el Mundo (Spaniards in the World) on TV while Craig made a business Skype call, and then we both spoke to Janine for a while — it’s always good to catch up!
Wednesday 27/6: After a heavy morning of ITP work, we had lunch and went for a longish walk. I had one hour of class in the mid-afternoon then walked over to Guille’s place to meet Oliva for a language exchange. After our talk, Craig showed up and Guille prepared us all a tasty dinner of chicken San Jacobos (cordon bleu, more or less), which we ate while watching Spain beat Portugal in the semi-final of Euro 2012. I was supposed to be at a class, but as Oliva had predicted, my student cancelled because of the football.
Thursday 28/6: Griffin and Valerie have only been here a couple of weeks, but they’re starting to see how Spain likes to do things — i.e., in a very frustrating, difficult way. They wanted to buy train tickets online (which was much cheaper than purchasing them in person) and had repeatedly failed, despite trying on multiple computers and using multiple credit cards. We eventually established that the problem was two-fold — Renfe (Spain’s train company) doesn’t like Macs or foreign credit cards. So, after my morning class, I took Griffin in to work to use the PC there and my Spanish credit card, and we actually managed to buy tickets! It felt like a major victory.
After lunch Craig and I went for a walk to the port area, and passed by Siboney to buy some freshly ground coffee on the way home. This week, it’s Ethiopian and very tasty.
We both got a lot of work done, then headed across the hall to Griffin and Valerie’s place for a bit of Monopoly Deal. After that, I had a long evening of classes and Craig worked frantically on a website that was due to go live on July 1.
Friday 29/6: Another day of work, mostly ITP but I had to go to school for two hours in the afternoon. When I came home, we played a few rounds of Monopoly Deal with Griffin and Valerie, and they invited us over for Mexican food for dinner. It was delicious and we had a lovely evening.
Saturday 30/6: Since we’d stayed up late the night before, we decided to have a nice long lazy lie-in. Mine was even longer since Craig brought me breakfast in bed.
We then proceeded to have the most boring Saturday possible. I was doing a second edit of one of the guidebooks we’re planning to publish later this year, and Craig was making the final changes to the map and globe website he’s been working on (check it out, it’s really pretty!). We took a short break for dinner, but other than that, just kept working until bedtime. Fun times.
Sunday 1/7: After another sleep-in (I’d stayed up until 3am the night before, reading…) Craig made coffee and I finished the book I’d started the night before. At about 2pm we headed out for our traditional menu del día lunch, which was okay but not awesome.
On the way home we walked past the harbour to check out the beer festival we’d seen advertised — and were very disappointed. They had only six beers on offer, most of which I’d tried before — and I don’t even drink much beer! And the options were expensive, which explains why there was hardly anyone there. The bouncy castle looked like the most exciting thing happening.
Craig spent the afternoon working while I started to look into options for travelling around Portugal in September. Late in the afternoon Oliva texted — she had a plan!
She and Guille came over to watch Spain thrash Italy in the football final, and they cooked us hamburgers! It was awesome!
Monday 23/7: It was a glorious day, so spent the morning working and rewarded ourselves with a trip to the beach after lunch. The water was quite pleasant, although the tide was out, and we played frisbee for half an hour or so.
Later, I met Oliva and Laura on a different beach, then headed across town for my evening class.
Tuesday 24/7: Both of us had to work all day, though at least I got to leave the house for part of my workday, and head to school. After lunch we went for a walk through the old town, but otherwise it was just a bit of a boring one.
Wednesday 25/7: Although the rest of Galicia was on holiday celebrating the day of St James, our life continued as normal. I don’t have any classes on Wednesdays so there were none to miss, and we spent the day working on Indie Travel Podcast.
In the evening I watched The 12 Trials of Asterix, which Oliva had recommended to me because one of the trials is very similar to my experience with Spanish bureaucracy, while Craig made a few phone calls.
Thursday 26/7: Thursday is my busiest day for teaching (6.5 hours), but there’s a nice long lunch break in the middle. We made use of this time to visit a restaurant one of my students had recommended, which has a menu del día for only €6.30. We were pleasantly surprised by it — not only was the food tasty, we also had excellent sea views. The only problem is that the restaurant isn’t open on the weekend.
Friday 27/7: Ah, bureaucracy — it wouldn’t be a week in Spain without you. In the late morning we went to the police station to hand over the documents we’d been told we needed to register Craig as a resident, and after waiting 45 minutes we were told they weren’t valid. Apparently our travel insurance certificate doesn’t prove that we have health insurance, and our proof of funds didn’t have the right stamp on it. We decided to give up and withdraw the application, since we’ll only be in Spain for another month or so before we head north to visit a bit of the rest of Europe.
On the way home I decided to see if my bank account had been unblocked by using my debit card in an ATM; it got eaten. The clerk in the bank where I’d used the ATM (near our house) told me I’d have to go to my branch of the bank to find out why it had been withheld. This happened at 2pm, on a Friday, and since the banks close at 2.30, I had to head to my bank straight away to sort it out, if I wanted to be sure of being able to have my pay deposited in my account at the end of the month.
At the bank I was told that my account had been unblocked but had a zero balance; the money had been transferred to a holding account when mine was put on hold. The woman I was speaking to was able to get it all up and running again — though why this hadn’t already been done I have no idea. She also told me that my card had been cancelled and that I’d have to apply for a new one. This was surprisingly painless; I just had to explain my predicament to another friendly clerk and sign the 20 pages she gave me. And now I get to wait for the card to arrive by post.
In the evening, Oliva and Guille came over for dinner and to watch the Olympics opening ceremony. In an attempt to keep the theme, we cooked a British meal of bangers and mash with onion gravy — they seemed to like it, though the portions might have been a bit large.
Saturday 28/7: After a long sleep in and breakfast in bed, I talked to Oscar on Skype for a while then spent most of the rest of the day watching the Olympics and planning our life after A Coruna, while Craig chipped in when he could look up from his game. In the evening we watched Rushmore, which we both thought was quite good.
Sunday 29/7: We got up quite late, but still managed to have lunch before meeting Oliva, Guille and Alba and heading out of town to the show jumping. It was a beautiful afternoon and the competition was quite interesting, though none of us knew anything about it and we had to guess the rules while we were watching.
We spent the evening watching the Olympics before dinner and bed.
Monday 30/7: After a successful work day for both of us, I headed across town for my evening class. When I came home, Craig had dinner ready, but had made the error of eating just one pimiento de Padrón — it was the hottest one to date, at least a seven on our 1-10 scale. I didn’t believe him until I got an equally hot one later on — it was impressive. We spent most of the evening just trying to calm our mouths down.
Tuesday 31/7: Another work day, full of both Indie Travel and teaching work. We also spent some time thinking about our post-Coruna trip: at the moment it’s looking like a couple of months in Portugal, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, and a few other places.
Wednesday 1/8: I spent most of the day doing research for the post-Coruna trip while Craig worked. I also had a class with a lovely new student in the afternoon — I’d told one of my bosses that I was keen to have a few more hours, and he found me four new students. Two have just signed up for classes in August, which is perfect for me since it’s my last month here, and I’m taking over from other teachers who are on holiday for the other two.
Soon after I got home from work, Craig arrived from the train station with our friend Sabine, who is staying with us for a week — we’re so lucky! We had dinner, which included the other half of the spicy peppers (she got a hot one, but it can’t have been a 7/10 because she didn’t cry), then headed out to Maria Pita Square to see a bit of the La Oreja de Van Gogh concert. It seemed like everyone in the city was there — the square was packed and there were lots of people lining the stairs and low walls at the town hall end of the square. We only stayed for about half an hour, but it was enough time to enjoy the music and the atmosphere.
Thursday 2/8: My busy Thursdays have just got busier with the addition of three new students to my teaching schedule. Luckily I have a long break in the middle, which we used to go out for lunch at the Rectorado restaurant, which has cheap, tasty food and excellent views.
After lunch, Sabine and I played Set and then Phase 10, which she’d brought with her, and then I had to head off for another few hours of teaching. Sabine went to the beach and Craig worked, and in the evening we introduced Sabine to the Supersizers TV show.
Friday 3/8: We all split up for the morning: I had another new class, Craig worked, and Sabine went to the beach again (there are no beaches in Austria, so she’s making the most of our abundant supply). We had a light lunch, then walked around the paseo marítimo, past the millenium spike and octopus statue, and caught the elevator up the Monte de San Pedro. We had a coffee then wandered around the gardens; Sabine and I walked through the labyrinth as well.
After a relaxing afternoon that involved a couple of games of Phase 10 and Monopoly Deal, we met Oliva, Guille, Laura, and Alberto for tapas at O Recuncho de Mayte. Then we went for a wander around town, visiting an old wall and the Méndez Núñez gardens — where we saw the regional houses selling food from various different regions of Spain.
Saturday 4/8: We’d almost run out of coffee, so we went on a field trip to Siboney café to buy some and have breakfast at the same time. Afterwards, Craig went home to get some work done while Sabine and I headed to the Domus. We tried out all the exhibits, including the relaxation game — the attendant puts a brainwave reader around the heads of the two players, who sit on opposite sides of a table with a ball in the middle of it. If you have less brain activity than the other player, the ball moves away from you and you win when the ball reaches the other side of the table. (Sabine won.)
In the afternoon, we played a few rounds of Phase 10 and Monopoly Deal before meeting Oliva, Guille and Alba at O Recuncho de Mayte for dinner. After that, we headed down to Maria Pita Square for a concert by Ana Belen — one of Spain’s most-loved singers, and the singer of the famous Puerta de Alcalá song that we’ve heard so often. Sadly, she didn’t sing that one, since she performs it with her husband and he wasn’t there, but it was a great two-hour concert. Being there with Oliva made it even better because she was so excited; she also explained some of the background to the songs to me, which I then passed on to Sabine.
We got home at around 12.30 and weren’t really ready to sleep, so we played a few games before bed.
Sunday 5/8: The day started with a sleep-in for all of us, after which Craig cooked eggs for breakfast. The women’s marathon was on, so we watched that while Craig and I tapped away on our computers.
When Sabine got back from visiting the aquarium, the synchronised swimming was on — given full coverage because Spain is a medal contender. We watched it all the way through, creating our own scoring based on attractiveness of the outfits and how silly the pre-pool routine was. We also watched some gymnastics and athletics while playing Phase 10 and Monopoly Deal.
Monday 6/8: After a morning of ITP work, we had lentils for lunch and headed out for a walk around A Coruna’s old town, which Sabine hadn’t seen yet. The second phase of the synchronised swimming was on when we got back, so we watched a little — but were disappointed by the silliness levels, which seemed lower than the day before.
Craig and I recorded the podcast and then I had to head across town for my evening class, after which we introduced Sabine to the wonders of South American cuisine — she liked pebre best.
Tuesday 7/8: Since my boss had found me a whole lot more students to teach, I had a busy day at school — luckily with a nice long break for lunch. We made the most of it, introducing Sabine to Galician-style pulpo at our favourite pulpeira before walking around the cost to the menhirs.
When I got back from my last class, we had a simple dinner and watched an episode of the Supersizers before bed.
Wednesday 8/8: Sabine had to catch a train to the airport at 2pm, so we had one last morning with her. We decided to head down to the beach, and took Monopoly Deal and Phase 10 with us to play while we enjoyed the sun.
Somehow, though, we mistimed operations — I went home to prepare lunch and the others came back later than I’d expected, which meant that we had to eat quickly if Sabine wanted to catch her train. Although there were a few minute of stress while she gathered her things, we managed to get out of the house in time for the bus she needed to take to get to the station. Craig accompanied her and saw her onto the train; I stayed behind to clean the house.
We were both feeling lazy in the afternoon, but we got a bit of work done at least. In the evening we booked tickets from Portugal to Germany — one leg of our exciting post-Coruna trip!
Thursday 9/8: Thursdays are my crazy days for teaching — today I had eight hours of contact time between 9am and 10pm. After the first four hours I wasn’t feeling too keen to cook, so we had lunch at the Rectorado and watched one of the tall ships arrive for the Tall Ships festival that’s on this weekend.
I had a few errands to do before heading back to work; two-and-a-half hours in the school near my house followed by my last class ever on the other side of town! I’d just missed the bus when I left the school, so I decided to walk back along the beach — there was a free concert being held at one end of it. Sadly, when I arrived the first band was just packing up, so I decided to go home. Halfway there, I ran into Oliva, Guille, and Laura, who convinced me to turn around and go back to the concert with them.
The company was nice as always but the music wasn’t anything exciting; Laura and I decided to walk home together and leave Oliva and Guille to wait for the headline act.
Friday 10/8: I don’t have any scheduled classes on Fridays but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to work! I got an hour of editing done before heading out with Craig to Siboney café, where we buy our ground coffee. We took the opportunity to have a coffee and a snack, and I headed to the bank to activate my bank card, since my attempts to do it over the phone and in a different branch of the same bank had failed.
After lunch at home we headed to the beach for an hour or so, then sat down together to line-edit one of the books we’re working on. We were so caught up in it that we spent the entire evening working, and declined Oliva’s offer to go out for tapas and check out the tall ships. What a fun Friday night!
Saturday 11/8: After a bit of a sleep in, we pretty much just worked all day. We only left the house at about 8pm, when Craig went to the bakery to buy bread for dinner, and I met up with Oliva, Guille, Alba, and Oliva’s cousin and his girlfriend who are here from Madrid.
We wandered around the port checking out the tall ships, then had tapas at La Bombilla and drinks at Dux — which has a nice terrace overlooking the port. They were still going strong but I bowed out at about 1.15am and walked home.
Sunday 12/8: Another lazy day. I’d planned to head back to the port to see the airshow but just couldn’t gather the energy. Instead, we both spent the morning lazing in bed, reading or playing games, and finally left the house at about 2.30pm to find lunch of kebabs with a side of rhythmic gymnastics.
After lunch, I spent the afternoon trying to find times and prices for our post-Coruna trip — it was a successful but tiring search. Afterwards we watched the Olympics closing ceremony, which was awesome but somewhat marred by the Spanish commentators talking over the top of everything.
Monday 13/8: We started the week as we meant to continue, by holing ourselves away and working. In the afternoon we wandered down to the marina so that Craig could see the tall ships, but they’d all left.
Tuesday 14/8: I had to start teaching at 9am, which is an early day for us! Otherwise we both just worked on ITP stuff. In the evening we met Oliva, Guille, Iván and Ima to watch the “war-memorial war” (as my student had described it): a naval battle recreated with fireworks. It was awesome; the fireworks were launched from both sides of the bay, as if the two sides were fighting each other. We had a good view from where we were positioned on the maritime walkway about halfway along the beach.
Craig headed home but I set off with the others to find Alba, who we hadn’t managed to make contact with — probably because everyone in the city was out looking at the fireworks and trying to call their friends. The six of us stood in the rain for a while to watch the outdoor concert that was going on, but the rain increased in intensity from “light” to “serious” and we decided to go to a bar for a drink. However, all the bars were packed, and I gave up after half an hour to head home.
Wednesday 15/8: The fact that it was a public holiday made absolutely no difference to our day at all, except for that buying bread was a bit more difficult. I don’t have any scheduled classes on Wednesday, and Craig’s life isn’t affected by other people not going to work.
Instead, we got up at a reasonable hour and were interviewed by for a BBC radio show featuring podcasters. It’s going to air next week and I’ll be really interested to hear it.
After that, I sat down to do a full read-through of the 260-page masterpiece that is our Buenos Aires guide. This took all the rest of the day. Until 1am, actually. We only left the house once — to go for a walk on the beach and pick up bread — otherwise, it was a serious work day.
Thursday 16/8: Another work day. For a change, though, I headed to school for eight hours of contact time, including a new class in the evening. Craig stayed home and cleaned the house in preparation of the arrival of our Couchsurfing guest — who never showed up. We still haven’t heard from her and don’t know if she’s had problems or is just rude. At least we got a clean house out of it.
Friday 17/8: After a full morning and early afternoon of ITP work, we headed down to the beach at about 5pm. It was high tide at our beach of choice, Matadero, which means everyone was crushed into a tiny sliver of sand. We saw a space and grabbed it, but unfortunately the tide hadn’t finished coming in, and attacked us! We retreated, left our slightly soggy towels on the rocks, and played frisbee in the water for half an hour or so. Then we headed over to the next-door beach, Orzán, where we found a patch of sand far away from the water.
Saturday 18/8: More work. And we didn’t even go out in the evening.
Sunday 19/8: An excellent day. It didn’t start too well, as neither of us slept too well and Craig had to get up early for a phone call to New Zealand. But after that, it certainly improved. We met Alba and her friends Lucía and Jorge and drove to Mondoñedo, where we had a coffee in their gorgeous town square (and saw lots of pilgrims doing the same) then headed to the Rei Cintolo caves for a guided tour.
We were given helmets, gloves and disposable overalls, then walked through the bush for ten minutes from the carpark to the entrance to the cave. The guide very kindly switched from Galician to Spanish so that Craig and I could understand, and explained that we’d be sliding, crawling, climbing and lowering ourselves down slopes with the help of ropes. Which is exactly what we then did. It was awesome. We moved very slowly through the cave system, and the guide explained the history of the caves and how the formations were formed. We saw stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flags, as well as a small lake and a raindrop room.
I had a brown butt when we came out, as a result of choosing to slide down the major slope face-first rather than go abseiling-style. The flimsy disposable overall hadn’t been much help there! At least we’d all come prepared with a change of clothes, so we got changed then headed back to Mondoñedo for another coffee.
We got back to Coruna at about 5pm and all headed home. However, Craig and I didn’t stay in for long. At 7pm we went to the stairs outside the Domus museum to watch some folk dancing, which featured groups from Spain, Siberia, and Venezuela.
We dropped home for a quick dinner, then I left again to meet Oliva, Guille, Iván and Ima to watch a concert in Maria Pita square. The music was okay, but the flying acrobatics that were awesome.
Being Sunday, our favourite tapas bars were closed, so we chose one in the second league (as Oliva put it) and had tapas and a few drinks. The others headed to the port to continue the evening, but I bowed out early — I’d done well on less than four hours sleep, but it was certainly time for bed.
Monday 20/8: Monday always seems to be a busy day for work, and today was no different. We did get out of the house in the early afternoon, when we headed to Siboney to buy ground coffee. However, the in-and-out visit we had planned was disrupted when the owner overheard us speaking English when he was serving us (we were deciding what to order) and launched into a 20-minute explanation of his establishment, his recent buying trip and coffee in general. It was very educational.
Tuesday 21/8: We both worked, me at school at Craig at home.
Wednesday 22/8: Since I didn’t have any classes, we spent the morning working at home, and left the house for the first time at about 4pm, to go for a walk on the beach.
I headed to bed at around 1am, but Craig stayed up late to give a webinar in middle of night. It went really well and he got a lot of positive feedback from the participants.
Thursday 23/8: Once again, I had eight hours of classes, spread between 9am and 9.30pm. We used my four-hour lunch break well, with lunch at Puerta del Sol in the Plaza España.
In the evening, Yoli came over for dinner and we introduced her to Vietnamese summer rolls. She’s not a big fan of vegetables (which are an important component of summer rolls) but she seemed to really like the meal — and even ate a fair bit of avocado. It was great to catch up after not having seen her for a few weeks, and to hear about her recent trip to Malta.
Friday 24/8: Craig got up early to head to the airport to meet his sister Christina, who’s here to stay for five days. Sadly, his attempts to get out of bed quietly were not exactly successful — his iPhone fell under the bed (loudly) and he needed help retrieving it. At least his trip to the airport went smoothly.
After they got home, we chatted for a while, then had lunch and played a few games of Monopoly Deal (which Christina picked up very quickly). Craig and I had to get some work done in the afternoon, and the weather was shocking anyway, so we pretty much just stayed in until mid-evening.
Craig had to head back to the airport to collect his mother, and Christina and I visited the Mendez Nuñez gardens, where we ate churros, admired chorizo, and watched a bit of a busking performance for kids.
Craig and Mary arrived about an hour after we got home, and Christina and Mary made a Skype call to talk to Craig’s other sister and his stepdad. After that, we had a light dinner (involving pimientos de Padrón) and chatted for a while before bed.
Saturday 25/8: After a bit of a sleep-in and a light breakfast, we headed out for a long walk around the sculpture gardens to the Tower of Hercules. Craig and I had never been in, which is a bit shocking given that it’s A Coruna’s major symbol!
We had to wait in line for about 20 minutes, since only 30 people can be in the tower at a time, but it was worth it. The information panels scattered throughout the tower were useful, and the views from the top were awesome.
After that, we walked along the paseo marítimo, pausing outside the aquarium to see the seals, then continuing on to find a restaurant for a menu del día lunch. Then we spent a couple of hours in the Domus, learning about human beings in general and ourselves in particular — I learned that my blood pressure is very low and that Craig really knows how to relax.
After a couple of hours’ rest at home, we walked down to Maria Pita square. The symphony orchestra was playing a concert at 10pm, so we arrived at around 9pm to make sure we got good seats — we found some great ones right at the back. I ran down to La Bombilla to pick up some tapas, which we ate while we were waiting for the concert to start, to the envious looks of the people around us. The concert was really good, featuring a range of pieces from Gershwin to Mozart.
Sunday 26/8: We got up a little earlier and went for a long walk around the paseo marítimo — along the beach, past the Millenium spike and the octopus, to the Monte de San Pedro elevator. After riding up the elevator and taking some photos of the view, we had a drink and cake at the café at the top of the hill, then Craig took Mary and Christina into the labyrinth and abandoned them.
When they had found their way out, we wandered around the gardens then took the bus back to our area of town. Lunch was at our favourite pulpeira, where we ate a lot of octopus as well as finally trying navajas (razor clams).
Next, we walked down to the Mendez Nuñez gardens to check out the book fair. There were about 20 stalls, featuring a variety of new and second-hand books and comics. Obviously I wanted to buy almost everything, but managed to hold myself back. Mary and Christina bought a couple of things, though.
The comic exhibition was also open by the time we’d finished at the book fair, so we stopped in to check out the comics on display before picking up some bread and chorizo for dinner at two of the other stalls. On the way home we stopped at Manxares for afternoon tea, and Christina got to try a sample of their mini pastries as she’d been wanting to do almost since she arrived.
Monday 27/8: I couldn’t go, since I had to work, but Craig, Mary and Christina spent the day in Santiago de Compostela. They ended up having to catch a taxi to the train station instead of a bus, since they left the house a good 15 minutes behind schedule, but they caught the train on time and made it to Santiago without any other problems. After dropping into the cathedral and having a good look around, they had a menú del día lunch on a pleasant terrace then spent the rest of the day shopping.
I had the afternoon free, so used the time to get some errands done and to watch a documentary about what influences our purchasing decisions. So shopping was certainly the theme of the day.
Tuesday 28/8: Since he’d spent the previous three days sight-seeing, Craig really needed to get some work done, so he sent Christina and Mary off on their own to do some more shopping. They said they’d be home for lunch, but when they weren’t back by 2pm we called them — they’d gotten lost within three minutes of our place! Luckily they found themselves again and managed to get their shopping done.
In the evening we headed out for tapas, and visited all our favourite places like O Recuncho de Maite and La Bombilla. We also introduced Mary and Christina to Asturian cider at the sidería we’d been meaning to visit for ages — but they weren’t too enamoured with the flavour.
Wednesday 29/8: While I worked in the morning, Craig took the others to Calle Real to do some souvenir shopping. Pretty much as soon as I got home, we had to head out the door to take Mary and Christina to the airport, where they got away without any problems.
Back at home, we had a light lunch then did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day. Well, not nothing — I read an entire book cover to cover, and Craig got through a fair chunk of his own book.
Thursday 30/8: My last day of work! It was sad to say goodbye to my students, who have all been lovely. Classes went well, but when I came back in after lunch the whole place smelled like poo — the drains had gotten blocked up. Luckily they got fixed quickly and the air freshener and bleach got rid of the smell admirably.
Friday 31/8: It’s amazing how much there was to do on Friday. In the morning I had to drop my books back at the library, drop my keys back at work, pick up a few things at the supermarket, get some stamps from the post office, and check if my final pay had gone through. It hadn’t, but when I updated my bankbook I saw that I’d been charged €15 for my replacement ATM card — the one that I spent several hours getting and activating after they cancelled my previous one for no good reason; I should have known I couldn’t get away from A Coruna without another problem with the bank. I headed down to my branch (far far away), where my friendly inept customer services person told me that they’d have to cancel the card if I wanted my money back. So I cancelled the card — wasting about five hours of my time but gaining €15. Well, actually they only refunded €14.18 (don’t ask me why) but at least it was something. A recommendation: do not use Santander.
After I got home and did about ten small tasks, we went to the Rectorado for lunch. Craig had lamb and I had a delicious piece of fish — it was probably our best meal there to date. In the afternoon we both got haircuts, then spent several hours packing, cleaning, organising and throwing things away. It’s amazing how many pieces of paper we’ve accumulated in four months! It made us appreciate again how much you have to do to pack down a house and go travelling.
In the evening we met up with Oliva and Guille (who’d been in Mallorca for the last week or so) for tapas — our last visit to O Recuncho de Maite. Alba joined us just after we arrived and told us she’d hurt her leg, which didn’t bode well for the 75km hike we were going to start the next day. After Recuncho, we went to the Asturian cider place, where Craig and I were welcomed enthusiastically by the owner we’d talked with earlier in the week. We finished the night with a very tasty hot chocolate in the mall by the port.
Saturday 1/9: For a day that started at 7am, Saturday went quite well. After a coffee, we finished the cleaning we couldn’t do the day before, then I dropped off our extra bags at Oliva’s. Back at home, the (extremely trusting) landlords didn’t even want to come up to check for any damage we might have done to the house. They said they trusted us, that we’d been great tenants, and that they appreciated that we’d left windows open to keep the place aired. And Lola told me I shouldn’t keep onions in the fridge.
We met Alba on the steps of the church of Santiago and ate the pastry Oliva had given us as a present the day before — a very tasty start to our walk. The way wasn’t very well marked out of A Coruna, but we had a list of landmarks that we needed to pass, and Alba directed us perfectly. On the outskirts of town we met up with our other walking companion, Lucía, who had started from near her house, and we went on together.
We’d severely underestimated how long the walk was going to be, because the information online and in the brochures we’d picked up was contradictory, but we finally made it to Yolanda’s place in Hervés at around 8pm. It hadn’t been the most interesting walk, mostly city streets and alongside highways, but we’d seen some gorgeous churches and crosses.
Lucía took a dip in the pool and Yoli showed Craig and me around the garden before a very tasty dinner that Yoli and her mum had prepared for us: tortilla, tomato and onion salad, and croquettes, as well as home-made wine and a variety of liqueurs.
Sunday 2/9: We headed off at around 9.30am, and stopped in at a bakery to get a zorza empanada for lunch. We had to walk along the highway for a while, then turned left to try to join the camino again; we found it, but then promptly followed a misleading arrow down a farm track that dwindled into nothing. When we got back to the road, Alba said that she’d have to throw in the towel. She was going to have to leave us at the end of the day anyway, since her nasty boss wouldn’t give her Monday off, but she was exhausted and her sore leg wasn’t helping. So we headed to Mesón do Viento to meet her dad, who kindly invited us for a drink in a local bar.
After a sad goodbye to Alba, we re-joined the camino and walked past a lot of cornfields and along forest access roads, until we arrived in Sigüeiro — a 36km day! Dinner was in the restaurant under the hotel where we were staying, and we turned in pretty early.
Monday 3/9: Somehow we managed to get up, have breakfast, and head out the door by 9am — it was amazing. The walk was the best so far. In addition to being only 17km (a relief after the previous two long days), the route passed through shady groves of trees and the wide paths made it easy to talk or just wander along in companionable silence. After our break at kilometre 11, we entered the city limits and immediately noticed the change, as our feet complained about being on asphalt rather than a soft bed of pine needles.
We made it to Santiago at 12.45, and hoped to catch the end of mass but just missed it. At the pilgrim office we got our final stamps in our credenciales but didn’t get a certificate as we hadn’t walked 100km. Lucía’s boyfriend Jorge met us and walked with us back to the cathedral so we could hug St James’ statue and visit his tomb, then we had a nice lunch at Monolo’s. After that, we picked up Lucía’s sister Marta, and Jorge drove us all back to A Coruna.
After checking into our hotel, we visited Oliva to pick up our bags. We’d planned to go out for tapas, but she was sick and couldn’t go out, so we had to say our final goodbyes early — it was very sad! Well, it wasn’t that sad, because we plan to keep talking on Skype once a week or so, and apparently we have to come back to A Coruna in the next six months or else.
In the afternoon, we wrangled our possessions into our backpacks and did a few errands, then headed to La Bombilla to meet Alba for tapas. We ate at La Bombilla then tried to go to the Asturian cider place again, but couldn’t find it. When we retraced our steps, we realised that this was because it was closed. Instead, we had a drink in a nice bar before saying one more goodbye to Alba — who we’ll also see again soon.
We’ve really had a great time in A Coruna, and the wonderful people here have had a lot to do with that: thanks to Oliva, Guille, Alba, Yoli, and all our other awesome friends.
Monday 3/9: I talked about Monday in last week’s travel diary, but to sum up: we finished the Camino Inglés, had lunch with our walking companion Lucía and her boyfriend Jorge, then headed back to A Coruna to say goodbye to Oliva and have tapas with Alba. It was quite strange to stay in a hotel after living in the city for so long, I really felt like an outsider!
Tuesday 4/9: We had to check out of our hotel by midday, so we spent the morning running not-very-successful errands. After that, we packed our bags and headed to the library to get some work done (I finished the Camino Inglés video, see below), then had lunch in our local park. After a couple of hours at Siboney, we caught the bus to the train station and then hopped on a train to Pontevedra.
Our couchsurfing host, Alvaro, picked us up from the station and took us back to his awesomely bright apartment just on the edge of the old town. We had an earlyish night since he had to work the next day, but we did manage to get about three hours of chatting in.
Wednesday 5/9: Alvaro was gone by the time we got up, so we had a light breakfast then headed out to explore the town. The map we picked up from the info office included a walking route through the old town, so we followed that and visited all the main sights — some awesome squares and two spectacular churches. Craig preferred the basilica of Santa Maria, but I fell in love with the Iglesia de la Peregrina, which is shaped like a scallop shell and has the scallop motif throughout.
After a light lunch on the steps of another random church, we walked down to the river to see the sculpture park, located on a large island. There was a lot of nice work, but it seemed to be chosen more for durability than style. Back at home, we started to record the podcast, but Alvaro came back and we decided to hang out with him rather than work — he took us to his favourite square (la Plaza de las Verduras) for a glass of wine, then gave us the night-time tour of Pontevedra. Thanks Alvaro — you’re awesome!
In the evening, we had a South American-themed meal back at Alvaro’s house, then stayed up until after 2am just chatting.
Thursday 6/9: Alvaro had offered to take us to the station, which meant an early start — we headed out the door at 8.25am. Somehow we managed to catch the 8.40 train, which got us to Vigo by 9.15, where we wandered through the town to the information office then up to the bus station. Vigo was pretty enough, but I think we made the right decision in spending our time in Pontevedra; Vigo just didn’t captivate us.
We didn’t have any problems with buying tickets, but when it was time to board the bus, we hit a snag. The bus driver wouldn’t let us take our backpacks onto the bus with us; he wanted us to put them in the luggage area under the bus. This doesn’t sound like a big issue, but for us it was — we’ve spent years getting our luggage down to carry-on size precisely to avoid having to put our bags into storage areas. I prefer to have all my stuff with me at all times, so I don’t have to worry about it going missing, and I can access anything I might need right when I want it.
After arguing a little, we pulled out our computers and passports and took them with us, and stored the rest under the bus. All of this faffing around meant that the other passengers had boarded and there were no seats for us to sit together — for some reason the company didn’t have allocated seating. And this is why I prefer to travel by train.
Luckily, the bus station in Porto is conveniently located right by a metro station, so we worked out how to buy tickets and made our way to our hotel. Unfortunately, despite arriving half an hour after the check-in time, our room wasn’t ready for us, so we checked our emails then headed to the supermarket to find lunch.
In the evening, we headed to a bar in the city centre to meet some of the other people who were attending the conference. We met a whole lot of people for the first time, but I spent most of my time with Deb from The Planet D, who I already knew.
Friday 7/9: The conference was held at the Sheraton hotel, which isn’t exactly in the city centre, so we caught the metro across town rather than walking. There’s a nice café not far from the metro station on the Sheraton end, which looked set to become our local — 60-cent coffee for the win!
The conference itself didn’t start until Saturday, but on Friday we were heading off on a city tour. We hopped on a bus, which took us to Palacio da Bolsa, the old stock-exchange building. Our guide took us through the amazingly decorated rooms, explaining what each room was used for. We ended up in a ViniPortugal tasting room, where we all bought a few tastings of delicious Portuguese wines.
After that, we headed to the Lello & Irmão bookshop, which has a fantastic double-spiral staircase. The staff were pretty militant about not letting anyone take photos, but the video below will give you a pretty good idea of it.
On the way to the main square, Craig got stopped by the journalists who’d been on the tour with us, and they interviewed him for their piece. When he’d finished up there, we headed out for a business lunch with Leyla, the author of the Women on the Road book we’ve been working on for the past few months. It was great to finally meet her! Craig tried the famous Francesinha sandwich, while Leyla and I stuck to (very tasty) fish.
When we got back to the hotel, the staff told us that they’d organised a quieter room for us — I’d asked to move the day before because our room was on the first floor, right above the street. The new room was a floor higher up, facing backwards over the city rooftops. Awesome!
In the evening, we met the other conference attendees at the port, where we all hopped on boats for a quick river cruise. The boats dropped us off at a pousada for a cocktail party, where Craig and I met a whole bunch of other bloggers and drank a fair amount of port.
Saturday 8/9: I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference itself, since the last blogging conference we went to was a bit of a disappointment, but today went really well. Dave and Deb from The Planet D gave an inspiring opening address, and the sessions I went to in the afternoon gave me a lot to think about. After the conference, we had a beer with Cole from Four Jandals, and we decided that we didn’t really have time to go back to the hotel to get changed for dinner. Instead, we spent half an hour or so in the Sheraton, getting some work done, then caught the coach down to the port, where the “Travel Bloggy Awards” dinner was being held. The food was fantastic, and I hung out with a couple of lovely Costa Ricans who let me speak Spanish with them all night.
Sunday 9/9: Although we’d left the dinner earlier than most, getting up on Sunday morning was a bit of a mission. We eventually managed it, though, and even got to the conference on time — although this was mostly because our favourite café was closed.
We split up for the sessions, and I learned all sorts of things about press trips and how to improve what I write on the site. After lunch, Craig did a session as part of the unconference section, which had a good attendance considering it hadn’t really been advertised, and which went really well.
Monday 10/9: As part of the travel bloggers’ conference we attended last week, Turismo de Portugal and Porto e Norte organised a variety of press trips for the bloggers to go on. Craig and I (and 18 others) chose the Grapes and Sailors option, which took us to the Douro Valley, Guimarães, Braga, Ponte de Lima, and Viana do Castelo — it was a busy couple of days.
After a two-hour drive from our starting point in Porto, we arrived in Pinhão in the Douro Valley, where we hopped on a rabelo boat for a cruise down the river. These boats used to be used to transport port from the vineyards in the Douro Valley down to Gaia, where it was aged before being shipped from Porto.
Lunch was a delicious three-course affair at the Vintage House Hotel, after which we were given a tour of the hotel itself. From there it was a one-minute walk to the Pinhão train station, which is beautifully decorated with tile paintings depicting the winemaking process and traditional life in the Douro Valley.
Our next stop was supposed to be Guimarães, but the bus broke down about twenty minutes from our destination. Our fantastic guide Marta kept us all entertained while we waited for the replacement bus, and reorganised the schedule so that we wouldn’t miss out on anything. Instead of the tour then, we checked into our hotel, the Pousada de Santa Marinha da Costa. Pousadas are Portugal’s equivalent of Spain’s paradors, and are all unique buildings transformed into luxury hotels. This one in particular is a 12th-century convent, complete with cloisters.
At dinner (at Histórico by Papaboa in Guimarães) we got to know some of our tour mates a bit better — Lauren from Spanish Sabores told us about her Madrid food tours, and Dan, Flora, Craig and I got into a long conversation about all sorts of things.
Tuesday 11/9: Since we’d missed our Guimarães tour yesterday, we had to make an early start to squeeze it in. It’s an amazing city — not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s also European City of Culture for 2012. I really like the symbol they’ve chosen to celebrate this last achievement: it’s a heart with a L-shaped notch that looks like a keyhole. We visited the castle, the ducal palace, and the medieval city centre.
Next up was Braga, European Youth Capital in 2012. It’s the religious centre of the country, with a huge range of churches and sanctuaries. We visited Bom Jesus, the most famous of the sanctuaries, which is situated at the top of a large hill. To get there, you can choose to climb the 600 steps to the top or jump on a funicular railway. We did neither: the bus dropped us at the top and we walked down, past the impressive fountains on each level of the staircase.
The historic centre of Braga was nice too, as was lunch at Mar de Sinos next to the cathedral.
Marta gave us a bit of free time at our next stop, Ponte de Lima. Craig and I used the time to make a video, explore the church, check out the 14th-century bridge, and have a beer.
Our final stop was Viana, where we saw a bright-green bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel, visited the church, and enjoyed the atmosphere of the small town.
Did I say that was our final stop? It wasn’t. Up on the hill behind the town is the sanctuary of Santa Luzia, which is a copy of Paris’s Sacre Coeur. Marta let us have just 15 minutes to explore it, which wasn’t enough! When Craig and I went in, there were two or three people already in there — and one was a nun taking photos. I figured if she was happy to do that, I could too.
Our accommodation for the night was another pousada, situated just uphill from the sanctuary. We had the most amazing view from our bedroom window, and were welcomed to the hotel with a glass of the region’s specialty, Vinho Verde wine. (Cheers, Dad!)
Dinner was at Camelo Restaurant, back down the hill in Santa Marta de Portuzelo. The friendly staff plied us with traditional delicacies such as about 12 different tapas, including tripe. I’ve always shied away from tripe, thinking that there was NO WAY that I could ever like something that looked like that — but it was delicious. So was the “pork-blood rice” (I think Marta could have translated the name a little more delicately), which I managed to convince four people to try.
Wednesday 12/9: After breakfast with the best view ever, our tour was all but over. Our driver Bruno dropped some people off at Porto airport, then took the rest of us to the city centre for a very short interview with a local TV channel.
Craig had a coffee with Lauren while I headed off to buy a new t-shirt, then she went to the airport and we walked to the bus station. I know our trip is called IndieRail, but the bus was a lot cheaper — but possibly not the best option in this case.
We bought our tickets for “the next bus” at about 1:05pm, and the time on the ticket was 1pm! When we boarded, our allocated seats were taken, so rather than causing a fuss we sat at the back between a Portuguese couple and a single guy. There was only one stop, at Fatima, and I got off to use the toilet and buy some food. When I got back, an Asian guy was sitting in the Portuguese girl’s seat; she looked stunned when she saw him there. It turns out that there was a problem with the computer and the bus was overbooked, leaving one person (the Portuguese guy) without a seat. We only managed to get away from Fatima after a fair bit of discussion and shuffling around.
We arrived in Lisbon at 5pm with no place to stay and a 7pm appointment — not ideal. We used our Droam to get online, and got a couple of addresses of cheap hotels in the area. After a walking in the exact wrong direction for a few minutes, we bagged the last room in a pensão right on Rossio Square. We just had time to shower before heading out the door again to join our tour — and we even arrived on time!
The tour was the Urban Adventures Fado and Tapas tour, and it was really good. The guide was friendly and knowledgeable and we got excellent seats at the fado bar despite showing up 20 minutes late. I found the fado experience very similar to the boliche we went to in Buenos Aires to listen to tango — it was a tiny bar, packed with people, and the musicians squeezed themselves into a corner and played with passion. I loved it when the barmaids joined in for one song, and the second male singer really worked the crowd: the tune he made us sing is still kicking around in my head. Plus, our tour mates were awesome, there were some really interesting people on it.
Thursday 13/9: Since checkout was at 12, we took the opportunity to have a sleep in for the first time in ages. We left our bags in the hotel and found a cafe to get a bit of work done — the last few days have been so crazy busy that we haven’t done anything. In fact, we now have a lot more to do, since we want to write about our experiences while they’re still fresh in our minds.
After a couple of hours of work, we had a simple lunch in a different cafe then picked up our bags and went back to the first cafe to do a bit more work. Our couchsurfing host, Jorge, had asked us to meet him in Martim Monez square, which is not far from Rossio Square, and it was a really nice place to spend half an hour or so — it’s filled with fountains and we sat on the edge of one and watched people walking, cycling and playing through another one.
Jorge picked us up and took us back to his place, which has awesome views over the city and the river. He suggested we have dinner in a local restaurant, which he said had average food at a good price — lies! It was great food at an amazing price. We paid less than €15 for all of us to have a full meal and a drink, and coffee afterwards. And it was tasty.
Friday 14/9: Jorge had to work, and we planned to do the same during the morning. However, Craig got a message from Paul (who we’d met at TBU) inviting us to go on a free walking tour with him and and his wife Angie… In half an hour. We packed up quickly and ran down to the nearest metro stop, but we had to wait seven minutes for the next train. Eventually we arrived though, only ten minutes late, and joined the tour just before it left its starting point. The tour took us through Barrio Alto and the downtown area of Lisbon, and the guide taught us a lot about the history of the city.
She left us in the Praça do Comercio, conveniently near the ViniPortugal, where we could do a free wine tasting, which of course we did. After that, Craig, Paul, Angie and I walked back through Rossio and Restauradores squares to a cafe Craig and I had seen on Thursday, that did a good menu del día for €4.
Angie was feeling tired and thinking about heading back to the hostel, but through gentle peer pressure we managed to convince her to come with us to Belem to try the famous pastéis de nata. The tram trip took about 40 minutes, but it was worth it for the delicious delicious pastries we got as a reward at the other end. We ate them in a park across the road from the bakery to get away from the crowds of tourists and hordes of volunteers soliciting donations to save the animals.
Craig and I had promised Jorge that we’d make dinner, so we didn’t have time to explore Belem. Instead, we all hopped on a bus back to the central city, where we said goodbye to Paul and Angie. We stayed on the bus until we found a supermarket, then headed home to cook our signature South American meal, featuring pebre and causa rellena. Jorge liked the pebre so much that he even drank the juice left over at the end of the bowl after we’d finished the solid bits.
After dinner, Jorge took us for a short walk around his area, and we ended up having a drink in a cafe in a nice garden called the Campo de Santa Clara.
Saturday 15/9: We’d planned to spend the day exploring, but we were foiled by the heat. We did head out for a couple of hours, to visit a huge flea market called the Feira da Ladra, but we went home for lunch.
In the afternoon, Jorge invited us to accompany him to the opening of his sister’s art exhibition in Torres Vedras, a small town about 45 minutes’ drive from Lisbon. It’s a pretty little town, as we discovered after parking by the wrong town hall building (there are two) and having to walk through the town centre to the exhibition space. We met Jorge’s sister, Isabel, then wandered around to look at her beautiful ceramic sculptures. I really liked how she’d combined elements of old wooden furniture with bright ceramic pieces.
After a couple of hours enjoying the work and picking away at the tasty snacks Isabel had organised, we headed back to Lisbon, with a stop at a hilltop cafe for beer with a view along the way. Craig stayed up late to get some work done; I finished up a couple of videos then turned in.
Sunday 16/9: We left the house later than we’d planned and headed straight to the National Pantheon, which is housed in a beautiful ex-church and which is free to enter before 2pm on Sundays. We admired the architecture, visited the tomb of fado singer Amália Rodrigues, and checked out the views from the top. Next we walked downhill in the general direction of the centre of town, and stumbled across the Fado Museum — also free to enter on Sunday mornings. We spent a pleasant half hour learning about fado, then had a simple lunch in a small bar before wandering around Barrio Alto. We had to go downhill then severely uphill again to reach the castle, which we decided not to enter. Instead, we walked back to the Pantheon, where we’d seen a folklore festival being set up earlier in the day. We watched a few numbers after waiting half an hour or so for the action to start, but it wasn’t as impressive as we’d hoped — the sound guy really massacred the sound, for one thing.
Next, we recorded part of the podcast in the Santa Clara gardens, but the folk music and screeching kids made it a little difficult. Plus the microphone batteries ran out — on the whole, not a win.
Monday 17/9: We had to make an early start in order to get to the station in time to catch a 10.30 train, but our host Jorge kindly sped up our journey by giving us a lift to the station.
The trip to Faro was shorter than we’d expected, but we both managed to get a fair amount of work done — trains are a lot easier to work on than buses! On arrival in Faro, we hopped on a bus heading in the direction we wanted, but the driver told us we’d be better off catching a minibus rather than his large one, because the minibus was cheaper. It was true: €0.65 versus €1.90 per person. Strange, though.
Since we hadn’t been able to find a couchsurfing host, we decided to try AirBnB for the first time — it’s similar to couchsurfing in that you stay with a local, but you pay for it. Our host, Kateryna, welcomed us and showed us around the place, then went to her room to study.
After a couple of hours’ work, we headed out to explore the town, heading first to Carmo Church, where there’s a chapel decorated with human bones. It was a lot smaller than the one we saw several years ago in Kutna Hora, in the Czech Republic, and sadly not as well cared-for. However, it was definitely worth a visit and the €1 entrance fee; the skulls higher up the walls were well preserved and on the whole it was a striking sight.
We wandered around town a bit then headed home via the supermarket, and got a fair bit of work done before a light dinner and bed.
Tuesday 18/9: Both of us needed to get some work done, so we spent the morning at home before heading out in search of lunch. We came across a small but popular restaurant offering a menu del día with a choice of meat or fish, we chose one of each then watched in amazement as plate after plate of food arrived. First we were given olives, the bread and oil. A large salad and a plate of potatoes was delivered next, followed by my two whole fish. Craig was given a platter containing two large pieces of meat, plus rice, chips, and a tomato garnish; and a carafe of wine was levered into the middle of it all. We’d just made a start when the waitress came back with two more entire fish and two more pieces of meat — we loosened our belts and settled in for the long haul. When we’d finally finished (after the restaurant was closed), we were given coffee and cake — and all this for €7.50 each.
After passing by the port, we headed to the cathedral. For €3 each, we climbed the bell tower for a good view of the city, then visited the cathedral itself and the cathedral museum as well. Outside, beside a small chapel, we found Faro’s other “bone church”, though this one was really more of a small altar, and was in very bad condition. Not one of the thirty or so skulls was whole, and it looked as if people had been stealing pieces of bone for some time.
We spent the afternoon back at Kateryna’s place, working: I managed to finish and upload the seven videos I’d made about Portugal, and Craig did all sorts of things.
In the evening Craig kept working but I took a break to speak to my friends Luis and Julian on Skype. It was great to catch up with them again; Juli and I realised that we hadn’t spoken for nine months.
Wednesday 19/9: It was another early start; we had to leave the house at 9am to get to the marina in time for the start of our tour with Formosamar, a guided walk of the nature park just out of town. The guide, Barbara, gave us all binoculars and explained the history of the area and how the process of harvesting salt works. We saw an incredible amount of birds and learned a lot about the area.
The other couple on our tour, Rachel and Nick, invited us to join them for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant they’d found in their guidebook, so we chose an outdoor table and enjoyed the buffet of soup, salad, and various hot dishes.
After lunch we visited the municipal museum, which is housed in an old monastery, complete with cloisters. The exhibits varied from a modern art display to a feature about Muslim women, it was all very interesting.
There wasn’t really time to head home after the museum so we found a cafe, where we had coffee and a slice of carob cake — delicious. Our final activity of the day was a traditional boat trip, with the same company we’d gone on the guided walk with in the morning. It was nice to be out on the water, but with a name like “the walls of the old city” we’d expected a bit more commentary. In fact, when asked how old the walls were, the guide replied, “I don’t know, but they’re definitely old.” Not particularly insightful.
Back home, we packed up and started thinking about our next destination: Düsseldorf, and failed to go to bed at a reasonable hour in preparation for our early flight the next day.
Thursday 20/9: The alarm went off at 5.45am, which is an hour I never like to see. Despite our drowsiness, we managed to get up, get packed, and get into the taxi within 50 minutes, which is very impressive for us.
Since it was a Ryanair flight, we spent a lot of time standing in line, but apart from that things went extremely smoothly, and we arrived in Weeze airport right on time ten minutes late — just long enough to avoid the ire-raising “we’ve arrived on time!” announcement Ryanair likes to inflict on its passengers.
Luckily, we were in time to catch the 1.15pm bus to Düsseldorf city; the next bus wouldn’t leave for two hours and Weeze airport didn’t look like it offered much in the way of entertainment.
On arrival in Düsseldorf, we stopped into the tourist office to pick up the information pack that our contact Stephanie had kindly put together for us, then grabbed a sandwich for lunch and caught a train to our accommodation. We were couchsurfing with a lovely couple called Mina and Kerstin, and Mina welcomed us in and chatted with us until Kerstin came home a couple of hours later. We were talking about going out after our tasty vegetarian pizza dinner, but instead decided to stay in and chat, and we all went to bed quite early.
Friday 21/9: The girls both had to start work super-early in the morning, but we stayed in bed until a more reasonable hour and did some admin before leaving the house at about 11am. We managed to misjudge which stop to get off the tram, which meant we had to walk through a nice park to get into the Old Town, where we started the City Rally.
The City Rally is a city-centre treasure hunt that the tourist office has organised. You wander around the city finding the answers to questions printed in a small brochure, then use the indicated letters to complete a word puzzle. It takes about an hour and a half, and since we only had an hour before our appointment with Stephanie, we didn’t quite finish it before lunch. It was fun, though; we learned all sorts of things about Düsseldorf and even got to try mustard.
Stephanie took us out for lunch at a popular local restaurant that focuses on soups and salads; we chatted about travel and Düsseldorf while eating our delicious soups. After lunch, she walked us back to the old town tourist office, where we joined a walking tour.
The guide took us around some of the main sights in the old town, explaining the monuments and telling some of the stories behind what we were seeing. Since most of the participants were German speakers, the guide mostly spoke German, and gave us an abbreviated version later — I wish I could have understood the German version!
Part of the tour was a boat trip along the Rhine, with commentary in German and English. The best part was seeing the awesome Media Harbour complex, three buildings by architect Frank Gehry.
After the boat trip, we quickly finished the city rally and stopped in at the market in Carlsplatz to get some vegetables for dinner. We’d arranged to meet Mina at the Burgplatz steps, so we headed there next before going to the first of our brewery-bars for the night.
Düsseldorf is famous for its altbier (“old beer”) that is brewed at the pubs themselves. Apparently there are five or six of these pubs in the city, but Stephanie had recommended three of them to us, and we decided to visit them all.
The beer at the first (“the Fox”) was my favourite, but the service left a bit to be desired. Maybe it was because we sat inside and had a bite to eat rather than spilling into the road like the other patrons. We learned our lesson, and after picking up Kerstin from the U-bahn station, we headed to the Key and made sure to stand outside. The beer wasn’t as good, but the service was fantastic — our enthusiastic server kept placing new glasses of beer in front of us, which we sometimes managed to refuse.
Our last stop was at Uerige, where the beer was the strongest of the three, and the pub seems to be the most popular — it takes up two large shop spaces and has spread across the road, where there’s an outdoor terrace.
We were feeling pretty hungry by this point, so we decided to eat out rather than go home and cook, and headed to a Japanese restaurant. I chose sushi and spinach, but Craig picked a “Japanese curry” which tasted a lot more German than Japanese. It was tasty, but certainly not like any Japanese food we’ve ever eaten.
Next, we stopped in at a kiosk to buy something to drink on the steps (more altbier for me and Craig) and Mina and Kerstin explained how to read the digital clock on the Rhinetour tower.
Our final stop of the day was at Show Off, an exhibition of Rankin’s photography. There was some really stunning work, mostly of celebrities but also of ordinary people.
We were pretty tired after such a busy day, so we headed home via underground and bus, and went straight to bed.
Saturday 22/9: Stephanie had organised us some Düsseldorf city passes, and we’d been using them for public transport, but we hadn’t been to any of the museums included in the pass. So we got up early and hopped on a bus to the city, checking opening times as we travelled. Unfortunately, two of the museums we were interested in weren’t going to be open at all on a Saturday morning, and the only one open at all at 10am was the aquarium. We hadn’t planned to go, but it was that or nothing! Luckily the public transport connection was excellent: the bus dropped us at the U-bahn station and the U-bahn dropped us right at the entrance of the aquarium.
We spent about half an hour wandering around admiring the displays. As we entered there was a penguin enclosure, and later on there was a mini jungle complete with caymans. I really liked the exhibit which showed when certain creatures appeared on the earth.
Next, we caught the U-bahn back to the central city and visited the film museum, which featured costumes, displays of shadow theatre, and lots of old cameras. We could have spent hours there but I wanted to drop into the ceramics museum next door before meeting Mina and Kerstin for lunch.
Lunch was a vegan buffet which I found delicious and filling, but Craig wasn’t quite satisfied. After lunch we hopped on the train to Schloss Benrath, where we wandered around the grounds doing a geocaching challenge. It was really well prepared, we had to visit several locations and answer questions, and the answers led us to three more caches, which directed us to the final one. Unfortunately the coordinates of the final cache had changed, and we all got very frustrated before we noticed a note on the site giving us new directions. And then we discovered that we didn’t have a pen and couldn’t write in the log book! It was quite annoying.
After that, we headed home for dinner then went out to a Couchsurfing party not far from home. Craig and I bailed after about three hours since we needed to pack and sleep in preparation for our journey the next day, but the girls stayed for a little longer.
Sunday 23/9: We managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 7.30ish, and left the house an hour later. Our train wasn’t until 9.50 but we needed to get our Eurail passes validated and we didn’t know how long the lines would be at the station. However, it turned out that our passes were already validated — we’d suspected so but hadn’t wanted to run the risk of hopping on a train with an invalid ticket.
The trip went well, though we were annoyed to realise (on scanning the Eurail timetable booklet) that the German rail website hadn’t told us all the train options available to us, and that we’d taken a slower connection than was necessary. It was all right though, we both got a lot of work done and we made it to Berlin at around 3.15pm.
We’d arranged to meet a listener of ours, Tina, at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, as she had spent the weekend in Berlin and was leaving by train at around 5.30. We spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting and eating ice cream before waving her off and trying to work out how to get to Frankie’s place, where we are staying while we’re in Berlin.
Since we had the Eurail passes, we didn’t want to pay for a bus, and the ticket attendant suggested a roundabout route. However, we worked out that we could take the regional train to its first stop, then catch the S-bahn back in the direction we’d just come, and we’d be exactly where we wanted to be. It actually worked, and we made it to Frankie’s within half an hour.
We met Frankie on the Stray Asia hop-on hop-off bus trip we did a couple of years ago, and we got on really well. So well that she invited us to stay with her. And it seems that we still get on well, because we spent the next five hours chatting, with just a short break to eat tasty order-in pizza.
Monday 24/9: When we were at TBU a few weeks ago, we met Nadja, who works for Visit Berlin. She was keen to help us get as much out of our stay as possible, and we met her for a coffee early on Monday morning. She’d prepared a thick folder full of maps, press releases and brochures, and she talked us through them while we sipped our drinks.
After Nadja left, Craig and I cobbled together a plan for the next few days — the main idea was to do as much in the morning as possible and work in the afternoon. Even so, a lot was going to be left undone.
Nadja had given us a couple of Welcome Cards, which gave us unlimited use of the public transport system, and we immediately hopped on an underground train to the suburb of Charlottenburg. There, we wandered around for a couple of hours, enjoying the contrast of old and new buildings and monuments.
Back home in the afternoon, we got a bit of work done, then helped Frankie prepare a truly delicious potato soup for dinner. Frankie’s boyfriend Mark was also over, and we had a fantastic evening of food, conversation, silly games, and perhaps just a little too much wine.
Tuesday 25/9: It was another earlyish start, since our Urban Adventures tour started at ten, and we didn’t want to be late like we had been the day before (not our fault! The ticket machine ate our money and didn’t print a ticket). Of course this meant we arrived half an hour early.
Berlin’s history is very noticable in the current city, but I had only a weak grasp on it. So, it was a great idea to do the Storyline of Berlin tour. Our guide, Greta, was an archaeologist and beekeeper, and she added a personal touch to the well-planned tour by occasionally discussing the archaeological aspects of what we were seeing — though, oddly, she didn’t do the same about bees. Craig and I both really enjoyed the tour, and we certainly know a lot more about Berlin’s history than we did before!
After tasty kebabs for lunch, we headed home to work. Well, Craig worked and I sent couchsurfing requests. In the evening we met our friends Claudia and Holger, who we first met in 2006 on the West Highland Way. We saw Claudia on our last visit to Berlin, but we hadn’t seen Holger since Christmas 2007 — it was great to hang out with him again! We were joined by their friend Carmen, and we headed out for a tasty dinner at a restaurant before going back to Claudia’s place for a glass of wine.
Wednesday 26/9: Frankie had recommended we take a tour of Berlin’s underground passageways, so the three of us caught the S-bahn to Gesundbrunnen to join a Berlin Unterwelten tour. There were so many people that the guides had to split us into two groups, and as we were in the second group, we had to wait a little for the trip to start. The company has six different tours on offer, but we chose the one that took us through a bunker that dated from the Second World War. The guide’s dry sense of humour, as well as her acknowledgment of a personal connection to what we were seeing, made this a really worthwhile tour — and we got a discount with our Welcome Cards!
Back at home, Frankie made us a delicious lunch (we love you, Frankie), then Craig and I headed out to do a bit more sightseeing.
Nadja had organised us tickets for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city, which is something we wouldn’t ordinarily do, but I found it really useful. The pre-recorded commentary explained what we were seeing, and even delved into a bit of history. I was annoyed that we hadn’t done this on our first day, but at the same time it was good to re-see things we’d already seen, and to hear a sometimes quite contradictory account of them compared to what Greta and some of our friends had told us.
Rather than hop on and off, we stayed on the bus for its full circuit, which took around three hours. At the end, I felt like I had a much better grasp of the geography of the city, though I would have preferred to have avoided the gaggle of shrieking Scottish women who were seated just behind us. Oh well.
Frankie was out for the evening, so we just had a light dinner and did a bit of work before bed.
Thursday 27/9: We’d been told that we couldn’t miss Potsdam, which is a small town about 25 minutes from Berlin’s main train station, and which is accessible by S-bahn. But it was raining heavily when we woke up, and the washing machine took longer than we’d expected to finish its cycle. We finally managed to leave the house at around 12.30, and arrived in Potsdam an hour later.
First we headed to the Sansoucci Park, which is part of a World Heritage Site comprising many gardens and parks in Berlin and Potsdam. It’s enormous and full of palaces and other monuments; we spent a couple of hours there admiring the architecture and greenery, but really wished we’d hired bikes for the day!
Instead, we caught a bus to Alexandrowka (the Russian quarter) then another to the Dutch quarter, and we admired the distinctive architecture of each area. We’d left lunch quite late, so we just picked up a couple of kebabs before heading to the film museum. Sadly, though, we’d run out of time — the museum was going to close in less than an hour, and we’d really need two hours to do it justice.
It definitely feels like we’ve got a lot left to do when we come back to Berlin — good thing we’ve got plans to return next summer!
Friday 28/9: Frankie had been out the night before, so we spent half an hour or so with her in the morning, talking about her plans for her trip to South America. Too soon, though, it was time to leave: we had to be at the main station by 10.30. Luckily we had no problems along the way, and we soon found ourselves en route to Prague.
The journey was comfortable and fast, and we arrived in Prague at around 3.30pm. After deciding not to change money at the station because of the 25% charge, we texted Moroni and Petr to let them know we’d arrived. Moroni (my language-learning friend who we travelled around Chile with two years ago) now lives in Prague with his Slovakian girlfriend Mirka, and they came to meet us for a quick drink before we took off again (Moroni paid, we were broke due to the conversion issue). Petr, an Indie Travel Podcast listener, arrived about ten minutes later and we chatted for half an hour or so before hopping on a train and saying goodbye to Moroni and Mirka.
Petr had invited us to stay the night at his parents’ village, promising us tasty home cooking and delicious wine. We, of course, accepted. It took about an hour and a half to get to the tiny village of Ra?ice, and we were enthusiastically welcomed by Petr’s parents, who promptly sat us down and fed us goulash. It was delicious, as was the two-colour cake that came next. I naively thought that since we’d had dessert, the meal was over, but no. We moved into the lounge, where we found an array of toasted sandwiches, cheeses, dried meat, and vegetables from Petr’s mum’s garden. And then the wine came out…
Petr’s friend Lenka arrived by car and stayed for a couple of hours, and we all talked and ate, and talked and ate some more. Petr was kind enough to act as translator between us and his parents, who thought that we were lovely but a bad influence on their son — after all, he might want to do what we’re doing and take off travelling.
Saturday 29/9: After a slight sleep in, we went downstairs for breakfast, where I won the favour of Petr’s mum by actually eating something. Then Petr took us for a short walk around the village, showing us his favourite viewpoints across the valley — it’s a really pretty place.
When we got back, lunch was ready — soup followed by roast pork, potato dumplings and cabbage. All very traditional and very very delicious. By the time we finished the large portions we’d been served (they called them “small”!) we were ready to do absolutely nothing for a while, so we sat around in the lounge and talked about travel.
After a final coffee and cake, it was time to go, so Petr and his parents showered us with gifts and Petr walked us down (quite steeply down) to the train station, where we caught the first of our two trains back to Prague.
We’re staying at Fusion Hotel, a new luxury hostel very conveniently located about ten minutes’ walk from the main station. Our room is a “high-bed” room — when set up for two people, it’s got the two top bunks aligned together, but no bottom bunks. Instead, there’s a sofa below, which can be converted into another bed when the room’s being used as a four-bed dorm. The decoration is pretty cool, and the bed is comfortable, but some of the installations seem to be having teething issues.
Sunday 30/9: After a delicious breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we recorded the podcast then headed across town to Moroni and Mirka’s place. In keeping with his family system, Moroni promptly put me into the kitchen to prepare lunch… well, I did the easy stuff and Moroni and Mirka took over when it got hard. We had a delicious dish of potato dumplings mixed with a cheesy sauce and topped with bacon — yum.
After lunch we walked to the Vysehrad Gardens, where we admired the view and checked out the cemetery before having a beer or two in Moroni’s favourite outdoor bar, which also had a fantastic view of the city. We finished the day with dinner back at Moroni and Mirka’s place.
Monday 1/10: One of the problems (and benefits) of returning somewhere is that you’ve often seen most of the tourist attractions, and don’t really need to them again. This was the case for us in Prague; we didn’t want to go up any of the towers, nor did we have any desire to cross Charles Bridge again. However, we did do a walking tour with Urban Adventures, which took us to some familiar places as well as introducing us to new ones. Our guide, Teresa, met us at the astronomical clock and explained its many devices, then took us through the Old Town to the Jewish Quarter, then into the New Town. She explained the history of what we were seeing, and we came to appreciate how important Charles IV had been for the city. She gave us a lot of homework, though — we were supposed to visit a lot of important buildings on the other side of the river that weren’t included in our tour, and like naughty schoolchildren, we did none of it.
The tour finished with a beer at about 2pm, and by this time we were quite hungry. We headed to a canteen restaurant that had been recommended on the IndieRail page, and gorged ourselves on typical Czech fare.
After a stop at home, we split up: Craig headed next door to the Mucha museum while I walked across town to meet Moroni and Mirka. We caught a tram up to the castle complex, and ducked into the cathedral before heading back down the hill to Moroni’s other favourite bar. They had dinner but as I was still full from lunch, I just had an enormous beer instead.
My route home took me across Charles Bridge (so I didn’t miss it after all), and Craig and I headed out in the light rain for a light dinner.
Tuesday 2/10: After a great breakfast at our hotel, we walked the ten minutes or so to the main train station, where we caught a train to Plzen. We didn’t have time to visit the beer museum, but Craig really wanted to have a pilsner in Plzen. Perhaps fortunately, there were no bars near the station, and our wandering took us right to the factory, where we enjoyed a beer and a ham platter before returning to the station for our trip to Linz.
This journey was smooth and uneventful apart from a change at Ceske Budejovice, and we were met at Linz Hauptbahnhof by our awesome friend Sabine. Because we had to be in Vienna before 9pm, we had only two hours to spend with her, but we spent them well. We caught up over a game of Phase 10 (Sabine thrashed us), then ate a very tasty meal that she had prepared: dumplings stuffed with bacon, sauerkraut, and homemade strudel. It was so great to spend even a little time with her, it really pulled me out of the bad mood I’d been in for most of the day.
We had to change trains once to make sure we arrived at the Sudbahnhof and not another of Vienna’s many many train stations, and we found our apartment (which was kindly provided by Oh Vienna) without any problems. The owner gave us a tour and explained everything very clearly, in German. We somehow missed an important point though, because we couldn’t get the heating going.
Wednesday 3/10: Our day started with a 20-minute walk into town, where we visited the tourist office to pick up an information pack that the tourism board had been kind enough to put together for us. We browsed the information over coffee in a nearby cafe, then activated our Vienna Cards on one of the trams that travel around the central ring road. We hopped on and off the trams, admiring the awesome architecture, until we found ourselves more or less back where we’d started.
After lunch in the Hofburg gardens, we wandered through Museumsquartier then caught a tram back home, where we stayed until it was time for a dinner of Wiener schnitzel in a nearby restaurant.
Thursday 4/10: We were both in need of a virtual weekend, so we slept in then lazed about during the morning and early afternoon. Craig got us kebabs for lunch, and soon after eating we headed out to explore a bit more of Vienna. First, we stopped by the Hundertwasser Village where, oddly, we did not see reference to the Kawakawa toilets. Next, we had coffee and sachertorte at Demel cafe, which had been recommended on the IndieRail page. Finally, we headed to the Naschmarkt, which we always visit when we’re in Vienna, for tasty Asian food. In the past we’ve often had Japanese bento boxes, but this time we had sushi and noodles at a place called Mr Li.
We decided not to make a late night of it and headed home, and just after we’d poured ourselves a drink, it started to rain: talk about good timing!
Friday 5/10: We’d planned to leave the house at 10am, but with one thing and another (ie me sleeping in) we didn’t manage it until midday. Since it’s Design Week in Vienna, we decided to visit MAK, a design museum on the Ring road we’d explored on our first day. There were a lot of interesting things to see, from sculpted ceilings and inlaid sideboards to Apple products and sex toys.
We had lunch at Der Wiener Deewan, a pay-what-you-want Indian restaurant on the other side of the Ring, as recommended on the IndieRail page; the food was delicious and the place was packed.
Next, we wandered through town to the tourist information office to pick up some vouchers we’d seen mentioned in a brochure, but they’d run out. Instead of making use of the vouchers, then, we caught the U-bahn to my favourite clothes shop in the world, the C&A on Mariahilferstraße, which has always been a treasure trove for me. Sadly, this time it was not to be and I left empty-handed.
By this point we were both pretty tired, so we headed home for a rest and then a bit of work. Soon, though, it was time to head out again — to a heuriger. These farm restaurants are one of Craig’s favourite places to eat, as they serve food prepared on the premises as well as local wine. We visited two; the first for a glass of wine and the second for dinner. You can order off a menu as at a regular restaurant, or choose cold meat and cheeses from a buffet and pay by weight. We chose the second option and were a bit surprised by how expensive it was — but very tasty. We also got a free half-glass of wine with our Vienna card, which was nice.
Saturday 6/10: Since we didn’t have to check out of our apartment until 11, we slept in then did a bit of work before heading across town to catch our bus. We made it to the station where the bus leaves from without incident, but just couldn’t find the bus stop. We looked at all the signs, asked at two information offices and even talked to bus drivers, but to no avail. We eventually found it after an hour of looking (and after the scheduled departure time), and it turned out the stop had moved somewhere else — somewhere we’d looked, and which certainly wasn’t marked. Luckily, the Droam came to our rescue as we could get online to find an alternative route, and we made it to Orth an der Donau only an hour or so late.
We’d been invited to stay by Birgit and Felix, who had recently bought a rambling farmhouse and are currently doing it up. We spent the first couple of hours in their enormous garden, enjoying the sun and sharing travel stories — they have some awesome ones, I was quite jealous.
Dinner was a communal affair — I made pebre and guacamole and they prepared rosemary potatoes and roast pumpkin, which we combined with canned dolmades, olives, and a fair amount of wine.
Sunday 7/10: The steady rain kept us inside for the whole day, but that was no problem — actually, it was kind of nice. After breakfast, we had a project: to assemble the Ikea bed that had finally been delivered at midnight the night before. It was my first experience with Ikea products, and I think it went pretty well overall; though I did manage to destroy a screw (sorry guys).
Birgit threw together a potato and pumpkin strudel for lunch, and we’d just finished eating when the lights suddenly went out: adventure! Apparently a power pylon somewhere had been blown over by heavy winds and the outages were quite widespread. It was no problem for us though; we lit candles and played Monopoly Deal and Uno.
Luckily, the lights came on within an hour or so, so we could cook dinner: Curry and rice would probably have been difficult to prepare over an open fire, even with Craig’s fire-making skills.
Monday 8/10: Felix and Birgit had to leave for work at 7.30am, and it made sense for us to go with them. So we piled into their car, then hopped on a bus, and took two U-bahn trains to Vienna Meidling station, saying goodbye to Birgit at one subway station and to Felix at another.
We had to wait an hour or so for our train to Graz, and the journey there was comfortable and beautiful — I love the Austrian countryside! On arrival in Graz, we picked up some tourist brochures, stored our bags in the large lockers that are available in the station, and walked into town.
We’d had short stops in Graz before, but it was never enough time to see much of the city. This time, though, we had almost four hours to fill, and we did quite a good job of filling them. First up was lunch in an inexpensive and popular restaurant, and after that we followed the walking instructions on our brochure to do a tour of the city. We saw beautiful open courtyards, stylish architecture, a hidden church, a double-spiral staircase, and a glockenspiel — it was all very impressive. On the way back to the train station we crossed the River Mur at the Murinsel and saw the Kunsthaus, which were both constructed when Graz was European Capital of Culture in 2003.
Two short train journeys later we arrived in Maribor, where we had the address of our couchsurfing host but didn’t know which bus we had to catch nor where to get off. Luckily we stumbled upon the bus station and a friendly clerk explained the bus system to us, and we made it to Asja’s house without too much hassle. Asja and her parents made us really welcome, first feeding us freshly baked muffins and later on a full dinner.
Tuesday 9/10: We made a bit of a late start, and spent the first part of the morning chatting with Asja and her friend. By the time we arrived in town by bus it was already 12.30, but we managed to see a lot — the map we’d picked up the day before had ten important sights to visit, and we saw eight of them as well as wandering through the town park and climbing Piramida hill for a good view of the city.
Stop number three on our walk was the VINAG wine cellar, and we arrived at 1.15pm, quarter of an hour after the start of the cellar tour. Luckily, though, the attendant saw us looking sadly at the sign and told us we weren’t too late — so we joined the group and got to see the old wooden barrels and stainless steel vats of the cellar, as well as their archive stores.
After that it was time for lunch, and we had traditional Slovenian fare and green beer at a restaurant called Stajerc, which Asja had recommended to us.
We decided to walk home, and arrived to find dinner waiting — Asja’s parents were so good to us! We spent the evening chatting with them as Asja was out, and turned in relatively early.
Wednesday 10/10: As our train wasn’t until 1pm, we had a relaxed morning and left the house at around 12.30. The only hiccup on the journey was that our connecting train from Zdani Most was delayed by half an hour and it was a cold wait.
We arrived in Zagreb at 5.40pm and changed our leftover Czech crowns to kuna at a fair rate — the 1.5% commission was much more acceptable to me than the 19.5% equivalent at Prague main station. Next, we bought tram tickets and hopped on a tram to the end of the line, where our couchsurfing host Marina had said she’d meet us if we sent her a text. But we ran into problems — Craig’s phone wasn’t working and we couldn’t get the Droam to connect either. Eventually we bought a cheap phone card and used a phone box to call her, but we’d been starting to run out of options!
Marina took us back to her place, introduced us to her husband Damir and her three sons Ivan, Domy, and Mislav, and fed us tasty Croatian food. We spent the evening chatting about travel and how awesome couchsurfing is.
Thursday 11/10: The weather forecast was not great for the next few days, so we decided to get as much outdoor sightseeing done on Thursday (which was only cloudy) as possible. Of course, we made a late start and only left the house at 11.30, and then our tram was diverted and delayed. When we finally made it to town, we were starving, so we had lunch in a grill restaurant near the market — and in keeping with the theme of the day, we had to wait an hour for our (very tasty) order.
After lunch we completed the two walking tours indicated on our map, the first of the upper town and the second of the lower town. We saw a whole lot of churches, one with an awesome roof and another with a great ceiling, and walked through a stone gate which also has a small chapel inside.
After a short wander through the botanical gardens, we found ourselves at the Archaeology Museum, and spent a good couple of hours exploring the exhibits –which seemed to cover everything from currency to mummies. By the time we came out, it was time to go home — we walked part of the way, stopping in supermarkets occasionally.
Friday 12/10: We were a bit more successful in leaving the house at a reasonable hour, and made it into the city by 11.30. There, we promptly installed ourselves in a cafe and worked solidly for three hours, fuelled by multiple cups of coffee.
Our afternoon activity was to visit the famous Museum of Broken Relationships, which was interesting, well-curated, and quite sad. Each of the objects on display represents a relationship that’s ended, and most of them had some sort of explanation — which of course was the sad part. We were both a little sombre when we left.
Back home, we cooked nachos for dinner then watched an important football game between Croatia and Macedonia — luckily, Croatia won.
Saturday 13/10: In a repeat of Friday, we spent several hours working in a cafe, and didn’t manage to leave until after 4pm. By this time we were very hungry, so we found a bakery and ate our burek in the main square before catching a tram to Jarun, where there’s a large artificial lake. We wandered alongside the lake, talking about the future, and stopped in one of the lakeside bars for a drink.
Sunday 14/10: We hadn’t really considered the fact that it was Sunday when planning our onwards journey, and had to take a later bus into the city than we would have liked. We just missed one connecting tram, which stressed us out a little, but the one we eventually took got us to Zagreb main station with plenty of time to catch our train — which was delayed! It also turned out to be very busy, the entire first class section was full — not surprising really, given that the “first class section” comprised half a carriage. There were no power points and Craig’s laptop ran out of battery, so he couldn’t work; I didn’t want to work anyway, the views were so incredible. It was a spectacularly beautiful journey.
Our couchsurfing host Marjana picked us up at Bohinj station and took us back to her place not far away; we spent the evening chatting and eating the burek we’d picked up during our one train change — we’d failed to find an open supermarket, otherwise we’d have bought wine.
Monday 15/10: Our plan to go hiking during our one full day in Bohinj, Slovenia, was foiled by the torrential rain that we woke up to. We headed out anyway; our couchsurfing host Marjana drove us to the lake and we took a short damp walk around it, checking out the picturesque bridge and admiring the lake.
She had to go to work for the afternoon and we decided to do the same; we both got quite a lot done, which is always a good thing. We did go for a short walk around the town during a break in the rain, but were forced into a cafe by a sudden downpour. Marjana came back around midnight and we had a glass or two of wine and a chat together before bed.
Tuesday 16/10: The weather had improved significantly so we decided to head back to the lake for a drier walk; but first we watched the first showing of a music video that had been filmed in the hotel where Marjana works.
After a short hike, Marjana dropped us at the train station, where we hopped on a tran to the border between Slovenia and Italy. Unfortunately to get from one side to the other you have to get off the train at Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and catch a bus to the station in nearby Gorizia. This achieved, we hopped on another train in the direction of Venice, but got off in Udine for a lunch of pizza, chicken and salad. We’ve spent quite a lot of time in Udine, so it was nice to see it again, albeit briefly.
Two trains later we arrived in Padova, where we wandered around for awhile then caught a tram towards our couchsurfing host’s place. I’d sent her a message and hadn’t got a reply, and it wasn’t until we got off the tram and got online using the Droam that I realised that the number I’d saved into my phone was missing a digit. Duh!
Laura, our host, picked us up from the tram stop and took us back to her place, where she prepared a delicious dinner of soup, salad (made from home-grown vegetables) and prosciutto. We also met Laura’s flatmates Wendy, from the Dominican Republic, and Nevena from Serbia, and the evening was a mishmash of languages: Laura spoke to us in English and to Wendy in Spanish, who spoke to Nevena in French, who spoke to Laura in Italian. It was awesome.
Wednesday 17/10: In the morning Laura took us to see both of her gardens. The first was right by the house, but the second was an allotment a fair way out of town. We checked out the lake and the animals that also form part of the complex, and smiled at the small children feeding the birds and eating corn, then harvested some of Laura’s produce, including an impressively large zucchini.
Since Laura’s parents lived nearby, we stopped in to visit, and her mum fed us tasty tarts. Next, Laura dropped us in the centre of Padova, and we explored a little on the way to the train station. It’s a beautiful city, full of amazing architecture and pleasant squares; we realised that we had completely underestimated what it had to offer and that three nights was certainly not going to be enough to do it justice… Especially because we were spending one of our evenings in Venice.
The journey there took just half an hour and cost €3.50, and we arrived at around 3pm, a good couple of hours before the start of our tour. So, we took our time wandering through the city streets, crossing bridges and admiring the canals. Although we didn’t have a proper map (the tourist office charges €3 for them!) we didn’t get lost, as the way from the train station to Rialto Bridge, and from there to St Mark’s Square, was clearly signed. It felt great to be back in Venice, even if it was with several thousand other tourists.
The thing which has always struck us about Venice is how expensive food and drink is, and how shameless the establishments are about charging cover fees for everything imaginable. So, we decided to do Urban Adventures Cicchetti of Venice tour, partly to learn how to get a good feed without getting ripped off, and partly just to get a good feed!
Our guide, Cecilia, was friendly and informative, and expertly instructed us how to find the locals’ bars which serve tapas-like snacks called cicchetti. The accompanying wine was delicious, and it was fun to cross the Grand Canal in a traghetto.
At the end of the tour, one of the other guys bought a bottle of wine for us all to share, so we stood around talking for a bit longer, then headed back to the train station to return to Padova. Once again, the way was signposted, and we were following the signs when we came across a group of lost Americans. They hadn’t seen one of the signs and were about to turn back when I pointed it out to them; they gratefully followed us all the way back to the station.
Despite this demonstration of travel skills, we’d unfortunately misread the timetable and the next train wasn’t for another half-hour; we bought a slice of pizza and sat on the station steps admiring the Grand Canal.
Thursday 18/10: Laura headed out to work in the co-operative gardens and we caught the tram into town to see a little more of Padova. We started in Prato della Valle, an oval garden surrounded by a moat and adorned by 78 statues of famous men. Next, we checked out St Antony’s basilica, where we were stunned by the quantity and quality of the artwork adorning its walls, and a bit repulsed by the reliquary chapel.
We’d hoped to see a little of the university but found ourselves in the hospital grounds instead, and then we had a long wait for a bus to get us home.
Laura prepared a tasty risotto for lunch, then took us and Wendy into the hills to go hiking. The weather was great for a walk: cool and clear, and we collected tiny chestnuts along the way.
Back at home, we had a multi-course dinner of crackers and salsa, chestnuts, a pastry bake donated by Laura’s friend Matteo, and pasta with chicken.
Friday 19/10: Although we’ve been travelling a lot recently, we’ve generally been visiting places we’ve been before. Today, though, we were heading for our first new country of 2012: San Marino. Our journey took us through Bologna, where we stopped for a couple of hours to admire the redness of the city and its impressive architecture, and Rimini, where we caught a bus to our final destination.
We managed to miss our stop and had to find our way back down the hill to our couchsurfing hosts’ place, but we managed eventually. After getting to know our hosts Francesca and Michele a little, I headed out with Francesca to visit the laundromat (there was a small adventure involving a sofa cover) and the supermarket (where I thought it was my duty to buy some local beer).
Back at home, Francesca and Michele cooked us a delicious dinner of pasta with home-made ragu sauce, followed by a dish that was kind of like chicken nuggets with peas, courtesy of Michele’s mum.
Francesca’s mum came over soon after we finished eating, and gave us advice about what we should see and do during our time in San Marino, which was extremely useful.
Saturday 20/10: Francesca had to work and Michele had to work on his thesis, so we headed uphill alone. I hadn’t realised how hilly San Marino is, but it’s impressively steep — the city is perched on the summit of a craggy mountain. We had the choice of catching the cable car up to the city or walking through the galerias (old train tunnels); we chose the latter and visited the cemetery along the way.
Although it was a cool day, we felt quite warm by the time we reached the top of the hill. We entered the city by one of the many gates in the old town wall, and spent an hour or so just wandering around before heading to the towers.
The three towers along the ridge of the mountain are San Marino’s symbol, and are easily seen from almost everywhere in the country. We visited all three, though only the first two can be entered, and the views from the tower tops were awesome. The first tower had some information panels explaining the towers’ history and the second tower featured a weapons museum, but I was more interested in exploring the little nooks, walking along the ramparts, and climbing the steep ladders to the highest points.
The third tower is a little isolated from the city itself, and our route back took us through a small stretch of forest. When we emerged, we soon found a small restaurant for a light lunch of piadines, which we’d been told were typical of the region. They were certainly delicious — tortilla-like flatbreads filled with tasty fillings like prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella.
After lunch we wandered around a bit more then started heading downhill along another footpath that Francesca and her mum had recommended. As we were turning a corner, a woman emerged from a door in front of us and walked on a few steps before turning around and motioning to us to follow her… So we did. She led us down a path, unlocked a small door, and indicated that we should enter. It was a tiny cave, with a wooden bench in the centre of it. She commented on how beautiful it was, then smiled and disappeared. We looked at each other in some confusion, but dutifully sat and enjoyed the cave for a few minutes before leaving in search of an explanation. Apparently it was a space for prayer.
Our walk downhill was a lot faster than the ascent, and we stopped in at a fruit shop to pick up groceries for dinner. I wanted to make a Spanish tortilla, but I managed to forget to buy potatoes, which is a pretty important ingredient. Luckily Michele and Francesca were happy to supply us with some.
They were out for the evening, so we worked and relaxed until they came back at around 11.30. When they returned, we drank the beer I’d bought the day before, and ate the delicious panna cotta they’d prepared for us. The Francesca suggested we see San Marino by night, and drove us to the top of the mountain and enjoyed the fantastic views.
Sunday 21/10: We wanted to make a pretty early start to get to Florence in the mid-afternoon, so we said goodbye to Francesca at 9.20 and caught the 9.30 bus to Rimini. There we hopped on a train to Faenza, where we had to wait for almost an hour for our connection to Florence.
When we arrived, we made our way across town to check into our Go with Oh apartment, which was absolutely stunning. The bedroom has a comfortable double bed, the bathroom was overstocked with towels, and the lounge features a sofa-bed and the cutest cupboard kitchen you can imagine.
We spent the afternoon working (or in my case, putting off working) then headed out again to meet our friend Julie at the train station. She’s in Europe for a couple of weeks to visit A) friends and B) Paris, and we managed to convince her to shave a day off the latter to spend more time with the former (us). After a bit of catching up and planning, we went next door to the only open restaurant in a 1km radius, where we had pizza, chips, salad and wine, then finished the evening with grappa and chocolate back in the apartment.
Monday 22/10: Our friend Julie had only two nights in Florence with us, and since she wanted to make the most of her time, we made an earlier start than usual. Unfortunately most of the state museums are closed on Mondays, so we were a little limited as to options… But we still managed to find more than enough to do.
First, we caught the tram into the city and visited the tourist office to pick up an information pack the tourist board had been kind enough to put together for us, then headed straight to the cathedral. It was thronged with tourists but we got a good look before going downstairs to check out the crypt — which was interesting enough but not really worth the €3 entrance fee.
The Duomo museum, though, was definitely worth the price. It’s filled with religious art, much of it old decorations of the cathedral itself. After a bit of a wander through the city, including a visit to the Piazza della Signoria and a stroll through the Palazzo Vecchio, we found a small but very popular hole-in-the-wall sandwich place for lunch. The food was delicious but I somehow managed to drip oil all over my clothes.
We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and took a short break outside the Pitti Palace, then headed off to find the entrance to the Boboli Gardens — we could have entered through the palace, but that would have been too easy! The gardens are immense and beautiful, and it was a relief to be away from all that art — I think we all had a touch of Florence Syndrome!
Before we left the gardens, we stopped in at the costume museum, then decided to head home for the evening via the supermarket. Our Go with Oh apartment was furnished with the most awesome kitchen ever — hidden away in a cupboard — so we were able to cook a tasty pasta and salad dinner, which of course was accompanied by too much wine.
Tuesday 23/10: Julie had to be on a bus to the airport by 2pm, so we were in a bit of a rush to do everything she wanted to do before she left. We pared it down to just two essentials: the Accademia and the Ufizzi, but as we were on the tram to the former we saw a market which we decided to visit.
We hadn’t counted on the long lines at the gallery, but we managed to get in quite quickly by getting Julie a ticket with a reservation time. We then proceeded to ignore the reservation time completely and walk straight in… The ticket checkers didn’t seem to mind at all.
The gallery was great but smaller than I’d expected. The most famous piece, Michaelangelo’s David, was surrounded by throngs of people, many of them taking surreptitious photos, but the other exhibits weren’t so crowded. I enjoyed the workroom of Bartolini, filled with plaster busts of much of his work, but it was also overwhelming to consider how many statues he had made.
There was also an interesting video about the process of gilding paintings, which gave me a new appreciation for that style of work — Julie and I had just been saying that it wasn’t our favourite style, but we found a lot more to like in it once we knew more about it.
After a stop at the Ponte Vecchio and a quick bite to eat, we visited the Ufizzi Gallery — which was incredible. There was so much to see and so little time! We wandered through the upper floors relatively sedately, enjoying both the artwork and the views from the windows and balcony. However, at about 12.55 we realised that we’d have to make a run for it if we wanted to get home, collect Julie’s bags, and get her to the airport on time. Luckily, we managed — we left Craig in town to pick up the tickets while Julie and I caught the tram home and back again, and we arrived at the bus station with at least three minutes to spare. We waved a sad goodbye to Julie (who arrived in Paris safely, but her suitcase didn’t), and headed home.
Florence is a pretty popular spot at the moment for travel bloggers — there were at least six others here at the same time as us: Erica and Shaun from Over Yonderlust, Randy and Beth from Beers and Beans, and Juno and Steve from Runaway Juno. So, we decided to have a small party, and invited them all to our place for drinks. Well, we all had a lot to say and apparently we were saying it a bit too loudly, so we got a call from the reception desk asking us to tone it down. We tried, but it didn’t work too well, so we decided to take the party elsewhere and walked to a nearby piazza for another glass of wine.
Wednesday 24/10: Because we’d been spending so much time sightseeing, we were both quite behind on work — so we spent the day inside, trying to catch up. I walked to the supermarket in the evening to pick up what we needed for chicken piadines, and after dinner we watched a couple of episodes of QI.
Thursday 25/10: Since it was our last day in Florence, we wanted to see as much as possible while still having time to get some work done. So, we caught the tram into town and visited first the Medici Chapel (which was nice but overpriced) and then the Archaeology Museum. We couldn’t find it at first, as the entrance was not where it was marked on the map, but we eventually got in. The top and bottom floors were excellent, full of interesting displays that were well curated, but the second floor was quite disappointing — most of the time we had no idea what we were looking at as there were no information boards.
After a tasty lunch at a cafe near the Archaeology Museum, we visited the Ufizzi again, this time more slowly. We passed quickly through the upper floors, as we’d seen them quite well on Tuesday, but took our time over the foreign paintings and sculptures on the lower floor.
Our walk home took us past a food stall, where we picked up a lampredotto sandwich. Someone had recommended this delicacy (it’s tripe) on the IndieRail page, so I thought we’d better give it a go — and it wasn’t bad. Quite tasty actually, with the chili sauce the seller had added.
We both got quite a lot of work done in the afternoon, and had piadines again for dinner — this time with bacon.
Friday 26/10: We’re not very good at early mornings, but we really wanted to stop in Pisa on our way to Nice, so we had to leave the apartment before 8am. It was a bit of a mad rush getting up, packed, out the door, and to the tram stop, but we managed, and even got to the train station six minutes before our train departed — victory!
The tourist information officer in Pisa gave us a map and directions through the city to the cathedral and famous tower, where we spent half an hour or so before hopping on a bus back to the train station. The tower was impressive, as were the other buildings in the complex but I thought the most entertaining thing was watching the other tourists pretend to hold the tower up. It was quite amusing.
Soon after we got back on the train, the rain started. Since we were warm and dry, this didn’t bother us at all… Until we got off the train in Nice, where it was seriously pelting down. We were both drenched through by the time we made it to to tram stop, and the trams didn’t appear to be running. We gave up after waiting about 15 minutes, and had a kebab.
Luckily the trams had started running again by the time we emerged, and we got to our hostel with no further problems. We’d found a fantastic deal on booking.com (data-entry error, I think), and when we arrived at Villa Saint Exupery hostel the receptionist couldn’t find our booking in the system. Eventually he found it, but it hadn’t been processed properly and there was no room for us in the hostel. What followed was a textbook case of truly excellent customer service. The manager came down and explained what had happened, and offered us a private room in their other hostel across town. He gave us money for the tram, walked us to the tram stop, organised a transfer at the other end, and promised us a free meal and drink when we arrived.
The receptionist at the other hostel was just as apologetic and friendly, as was the bartender when we went to get our meals — which were delicious. The room was quiet with a private bathroom, the beds were comfortable, and breakfast was included the next morning. All in all, we had a fantastic time and can certainly recommend them.
Saturday 27/10: It was still raining when we woke up, but by the time we’d finished breakfast the sun had broken through and it turned into a stunning day. We made our way back to the hostel we’d been going to stay in (as it was more central) and left our bags in their secure luggage area, then wandered along to catch the bus to Monaco. This journey, with was much cheaper than the train at only €1, was a spectacularly scenic trip — I’m so glad we found out about it!
In Monaco, we walked around the port admiring the yachts, then headed towards the casino. It was closed until 2pm, so we continued on to the beautiful Japanese gardens before returning to the casino. Since we wanted to be able to say we had gambled in Monte Carlo, we fed €5 into one of the machines and lost it all within about 15 minutes — as expected. Not many people were playing, but I did watch a little Blackjack… and saw people lose a lot more than €5 in a lot shorter time.
After a quick lunch of kebabs in the funfair at the port, we headed up to Monaco Ville, where we saw the Prince’s Palace and the Oceanographic Museum from the outside, and ducked inside the Cathedral. We were thinking about going to the Exotic Gardens but we were starting to run out of time, so we stopped into the supermarket to buy a drink, then caught the bus back to Nice.
There, we collected our bags, bought supplies at the supermarket, and headed to the train station for our overnight train to Toulouse. We had upper berths in a 4-bed couchette compartment, and the conductor told us the other occupants would be getting on at around 11pm. Which they did — but there were three of them, a father and his two kids. After a bit of stressing out, it was organised that they’d all move to a different compartment, and we had ours all to ourselves! Luxury!
Sunday 28/10: Unfortunately we had to get off the train at 5.15, which wasn’t too luxurious really, and neither was spending two groggy hours in Toulouse station. The next leg of the trip, to L’Hospitalet, was comfortable, and we managed to get seats on the connecting bus to Pas de la Casa in Andorra. It was a beautiful journey, interrupted by a border stop that involved the man behind us being taken off for a drug search after the sniffer dog took an interest in him. It was also very very cold: -7!
When we arrived in Pas de la Casa, we picked up some brochures at the information office and had a coffee before hopping on the bus to Andorra la Vella. The 45-minute trip covered about two-thirds of the country, and the views were spectacular.
On arrival, we used the Droam to get to our Couchsurfing host’s place, where our host, Anna, welcomed us in and gave us a bit of advice about what to do in town. Craig and I spent a couple of hours walking around, visiting a feria, the river, and a couple of shops, before heading home for dinner with Anna.
Monday 29/10: Since it was so cold outside and so warm inside, we spent most of the day at home, working. At around 3pm, we finally headed out, and made our way to Andorra’s tiny, but picturesque, old town.
There was a small exhibition honouring the country’s 57 Olympians, so we dropped in to visit that before hunting out the path our couchsurfing host Anna had told us about. It was a pleasant, flat walk, once we got to it, but getting there was the hard part — it seemed to be halfway up the mountain.
The path, and some stairs back down again, took us into the main part of town, where we took some photos and did some shopping before heading home. Anna had to head out to teach a class in the evening, but we had a couple of hours together before bed. We spent them eating and comparing our favourite bands — yay for Spotify!
Tuesday 30/10: We didn’t realise that two companies run buses to Barcelona, and thought that the only suitable bus for us left at 3pm. We were wrong, but by the time we realised it was too late to change our plans. Anyway, another morning at home getting work done was certainly welcome. I did head out in the late morning, to try to buy bus tickets and to pick up some lunch, but otherwise we had quite a boring start to the day.
The first part of the bus trip was stunningly beautiful — Andorra really is a lovely country. The three hours on the bus passed quickly; I listened to podcasts and stared out the window, and Craig played a game on his phone. It was dark by the time we arrived in Barcelona, but we knew where we were going and got there without any problems.
We were staying with Ruben, who was our couchsurfing host the last time we were in the city. He’d moved house and didn’t really have the space to host anymore, but he had gone on a mission to get an air bed and blankets so that we could stay with him — it was really sweet! After a quick trip to the supermarket, I made caipirinhas and Ruben cooked a tasty dinner of pimientos de Padrón followed by spaghetti with blue cheese sauce. Yum.
Wednesday 31/10: Ruben disappeared for half an hour and came back with a spectacular breakfast of croissants, toast, sausage and ham. After eating, we headed to a nearby market, which was mostly deserted because of the rain. A metro ride and a walk later, we arrived at another market, La Boqueria, which was full of people and — more importantly — covered. We didn’t spend long there; it was time for a coffee. Ruben took us to his favourite cafe, where we had a drink and chatted for awhile, but too soon he had to go to work.
We also needed to work; Women on the Road was going to be launched the next day and there was a fair amount to get done for everything to be ready. So we ended up spending most of our day right there in the cafe.
Thursday 1/11: We needed another work day, so we headed back to the bar near home that we’d spent the evening in the night before, and got down to it. However, we did do a little sightseeing in the afternoon — we walked to the Sagrada Familia, past the plaza de toros and down to the marina.
While at the marina, we were approached by an Argentinian guy who’s doing an art project called 100 World Kisses; he’s collecting photos of people kissing in various parts of the city and wanted to take a photo of us making out. We didn’t have a problem with that!
Ruben was home in the evening and the weather was a lot better than it had been, so we had a barbecue out on the terrace.
Friday 2/11: The problem with using a Eurail pass in Spain is that almost all of the trains require a (quite expensive) seat reservation. However, I had managed to find one direct regional train between Barcelona and Zaragoza, which left at 9.03, and in the interest of saving money, we caught that. Since we left Ruben’s a little late, getting to the station was a bit of a stress, but we arrived right on time with five minutes to spare.
The journey was beautiful and uneventful, but we misread the Zaragoza map and ended up taking a roundabout route to our couchsurfing host’s house. Ah well. On the way there we stopped for a menu del día lunch in a Chinese restaurant, and got four courses plus wine and coffee for €8 each — amazing.
Our host, Blanca, welcomed us in and then took us for a walk around Zaragoza — it’s full of awesome buildings and great street art. We went into the Pilar basilica and saw the tiny Virgin statue that the church is named for, as well as the pillar she stands on — apparently it is normally covered up. We also saw Roman ruins and a Roman bridge as well as a lot of mudéjar architecture and a wide variety of towers.
Back home, we had a light dinner and then sat around playing games on Craig’s phone for a couple of hours before bed.
Saturday 3/11: After working for an hour or so, we headed out to do some errands like top up our phones and send some post. Of course, being Spain this turned into an exercise in frustration (although it must be said that the woman who sold us phone credit was friendly and competent — we were stunned). Luckily lunch, in an Ecuadorean restaurant, was delicious.
We wanted to visit Zaragoza’s castle, the Aljaferia, but it was closed for siesta, so we went home for an hour or so and headed back when it opened for the afternoon. It was incredible, with a mix of architectural styles and many many fantastic ceilings. And it was well priced — just €5 each, or €1 for students.
After a brief stop in a bar for a glass of wine, we went home to pack and say goodbye to Blanca, then headed to the airport. Luckily we found took the direct route to the train station this time!
I’m not sure why, but we had the toughest security check I’ve experienced in some time — we even had to take off our shoes. As always, we avoided the crush of people trying to get onto the plane and were among the last to board — and there were no seats left! Well, the first three rows were empty, but they were blocked off. I eventually took the one last seat left and Craig and a few others were allowed to sit in the second row. All the overhead cabins were packed full, so I had to put my bag under the seat in front — and it really didn’t fit. Par for the course for Ryanair, I suppose — what can you expect for €25?
After standing in the EU passport line in London Stansted airport for 20 minutes, the border guard told us we’d have to go to the other line since I have a New Zealand passport and required a stamp for entry — and he didn’t have one. I was seriously annoyed because we had to go to the back of the other queue and wait for another 45 minutes — and we’d been told by other border guards that we could use the EU passport line. What a waste of an hour of our lives.
I think this is why I dislike going to the UK so much — first, just getting past border control is an ordeal, and when you’re through you’re not even anywhere near the city. We caught a Terravision bus to Liverpool St, and then found shared a night bus with a hundred drunk people to our hostel, where they couldn’t find us in the system. Eventually, though, we made it to our room and finally got to sleep at around 3am.
Sunday 4/11: Breakfast ends at 9am, so we headed downstairs at 8.30 and tucked into juice and tasty croissants. Unfortunately so many people were using the internet that we couldn’t get on, and the one coffee machine they had running had a line of about 15 people behind it. This hostel is comfortable and pleasant, but failing on coffee and wifi wasn’t a good start.
After doing a bit of work, we walked down the road to the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, where Craig got a haircut in Spanish and I bought us travelcards so that we could get around. Unfortunately, I had to walk back to the hostel to get passport-sized photos for the photocard that has to accompany the type of travelcard we wanted, and later I realised that the tickets I’d bought didn’t cover zone 3, which is where the event center we’re going to is located. Luckily the ticket agent was happy to change them for us.
We both also bought new trousers, since none of our clothes are suitable for a business conference, and then we headed across town to check out the event centre (ExCel) and print off our passes. We didn’t stay long, but our brief visit was enough for us to start to get our heads around the event, which is absolutely enormous.
It was already getting dark when we left ExCel, despite being only 4.45pm — it’s definitely winter! So we took a twilight stroll along Southbank, which is one of our favourite places in the city, there’s always something on! This time there was a tea and coffee festival, and we managed to catch the last half of the last presentation of the event… about tea, unfortunately, rather than coffee, but still very interesting.
Monday 5/11: We’d gone to London to attend World Travel Market, the biggest travel trade conference in the world, and were hoping to make contacts, meet up with other bloggers, and get information about the countries we plan to visit in 2013. The event officially opened at 10am, but we decided to get there early to avoid the crowds on the public transport system and to attend the press breakfast.
There were ten of us bloggers staying at Safestay Hostel in Elephant and Castle, and most of us set off to the Tube stop at the same time. Our journey across town to the ExCel exhibition centre was shared by thousands of well-dressed business people, and I felt like we were having a cultural experience in being part of London’s morning commute.