CP14 Recce D3

I must have been tired.

Got to Tui, had a beautiful home cooked style lunch, had some wine, went to the room, and woke up eleven hours later!

Slept from 5pm to now – 4am.

I never do that.

So that’s the reason this blog is late. Sorry about that!

Now I’ve got to remember what happened yesterday… oh yes, that’s right – drove out of Caldas de Reis in the rain. Sorry Steve, would like to tell you the rain stopped, but yesterday the rain was pretty damn consistent.

The hotel we stayed in by the way was situated right beside the stream that cuts through CdR, and had a glorious view.

Caldas de Rais stream

Drove south, checking out the hotels we’ll be staying in along the way. Stopped at a gigantic supermarket and brought some groceries. I love wandering through Spanish supermarkets – with the hams hanging and the gigantic fish on display as thought they’ve been plucked straight from the sea.

Got to Tui and our little hotel nestled right beside the Cathedral in the old town. The Cathedral was very dark inside, with pre-recorded hymns whispering through hidden speakers.

Tui sculpture

The Cathedral is quite unique in that it looks like a fortress, with it’s crenellated towers – Tui looks across the Mino River to Valenca, in Portugal, and it was a fortress when it was first consecrated in the 13th century.

Tui cathedral

Had lunch in one of those places where from the outside, the restaurant looks dowdy and unbecoming, but the prices are good. Walked inside and the joint was bustling with locals.

The food was like mama’s cooking – a local pasta soup, then spare ribs in a stew, surrounded by boiled potatoes that melted in your mouth, followed by an extremely yummy home made desert that was part flan, part tart. Beautiful.

All for the princely sum of €9.

Oh, and I also had a bottle of Rioja. Well, not quite a bottle, but I did give it a bit of a nudge. That’s what put me to sleep. And pure exhaustion from the flight over.

Today we’re heading into Portugal, and will be staying overnight in a wonderful casa rurale in Rubiaes.

Oh and Steve, it’s stopped raining!

Tui Church window

CP14 Recce D2

First full day in Santiago.

woman outside Cathedral wall

The rain eased off overnight, and the streets and back lanes of Santiago were glistening as Jennifer and I made our way to our favourite brekkie spot, Cafe Agarimo – not far from the hotel.

Cafe Agarimo ext

The hotel by the way – the Literario San Bieito – was wonderful. We’ll be staying there when we return at the end of the tour. The hotelier, Amadeo, could not have been more helpful – and the room we had was simply beautiful.

Breakfast was coffee and ham/cheese/tomato toast, done the way only the Spanish can do it –

coffee Cafe Agarimo Cafe Agarimo tostada

We then did a quick sortie to the Pilgrim’s Office, to pick up the Credentials for our group – plus we bought some goodies for the Pilgrim’s Pack. Then we walked a brisk 5kms to the outskirts of town to the Cortez Ingles – the big department store. I needed to get a bracket for my Garmin GPS – I’d forgotten to bring it from Australia.

Back then to the Cathedral. We hadn’t had a chance to go inside the previous evening. It was almost empty when we walked in – and after a contemplative time, allowing the energies of that extraordinary place to seep into me, I began to take some shots of the Botafumeiro all trussed up.

Botafumerio hanging Botafumerio rope Botafumerio pulley

Then off to lunch with Johnnie Walker – the doyen of the Camino.

john Walker

A beautiful restaurant, San Clemente – but what made it special was getting to know John a little more. He’s a fascinating man. I asked him how many Caminos he’d walked and he looked at me blankly and smiled – he genuinely didn’t know, he’d walked so many!

john Walker Jen and me

He very kindly picked up the tab – insisting – so I insisted on reciprocating after the tour. We plan a big lunch after Easter, at a special place he knows out of town that does steaks that are reputedly the best in the world.

I can’t wait.

After lunch we drove off to Padron.

trees at Padron


I noticed the name of a town – Valga. I chirped to Jennifer that the town was like me. She said it was very sad I would say such a thing.

The next sign for a town appeared. The town was called Cuntis. I chirped to Jennifer that I would not make a comment on that one. She replied dryly that I just had…

We stopped at Padron and walked into the old quarter. A man appeared at the door of a bar. He yelled out: Are you pilgrims?

I hesitated, not sure how to reply. Was I a pilgrim yet, even though the walk hadn’t started? Or was I still a pilgrim from my last Camino? I really wasn’t sure. So I kind of nodded meekly.

That was enough for this man. Come in, come in – he said, gesticulating wildly for us to step inside into his bar.

shaking hands

We did – and immediately I realised the bar was a shrine to the Camino, with photos and Camino memorabilia all over the walls. The man – his name was Peepe (yes, correct spelling) – asked me to sign a book. He raced into a back room, and rushed back out flourishing a book full of comments from past pilgrims.

While I was figuring out what to write, he raced back into the back room and returned with about ten more such books, each of them filled with comments from passing pilgrims.


After I wrote my little missive, he then insisted on taking photos – first Jennifer and myself behind the bar, then photos of me with him, then Jennifer with him. Photos done, he then began to dance wildly around the bar, punching the air with excitement and laughing.

with jen punching air

Strange man.

Saying we had to go, he went to kiss me on the lips but I quickly moved my head and he grazed my cheek, thankfully. We managed to escape, and took refuge in a cute little restaurant and had a plate of home grown (and very famous) Pimentos de Padron. Washed down with a beautiful glass of Rioja, it was sublime.

Pimentos de Padron

Off then to Caldas de Rais, and the hotel with the thermal baths. The baths are at water level (the hotel stands right over the thermal waters) and are truly spectacular. Hot, steaming, pressurised – I’d believe they’d cure the incurable.

Balneiro Acuna Hotel Thermal baths

The day ended with the all too familiar ordeal of trying to get SIM cards with well meaning Movistar staff who can’t speak English.

I think I might have taken out a data contract for two years…

Albergue in Padron





CP14 Recce D1

I should explain the title –

CP14 is Camino Portuguese 2014.

Recce is a reconnaissance. My wife Jennifer and I are doing a recce in preparation for the start of our tour in a week. This will be our third and final recce.

D1 is Day 1 of the recce.

We arrived in Santiago late yesterday, after one hell of a trip. I travel a lot, and this last trip would have to go down as the worst.

The plan was to fly Etihad from Sydney to Paris then connect with a Vuelig flight to Santiago. We would have a two and a half hour layover at Charles de Gaulle airport before the flight to SCQ – plenty of time to collect our bags (we couldn’t check them all the way through) then make our way over to the other terminal where the Vuelig flight would leave.

I’ve done this quite a few times before, not a problem.

(I should note here that we in the travel industry shorten Santiago de Compostela to SCQ. And Paris Charles de Gaulle is CDG. I will bedazzle you in the coming weeks with my use of travel jargon.)

I’ve flown Etihad before, and they’re recognised by business travellers as one of the top airlines in the world. And our flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi could not have been more pleasant.

But when we got to the transit lounge at AUH, (that’s Abu Dhabi to we travel insiders), I noticed on the Departures board that the connecting flight to CDG had been delayed two hours.

Two hours.

Two hours would mean we’d miss our onward flight to Santiago. Ooooops, I mean SCQ.

On the next sector (that too is travel lingo), I spoke to the Cabin Manager who told me that the delay had not been caused because of a malfunction with the aircraft – Etihad had decided to wait two hours to pick up a tour group of 35 passengers connecting on a late flight from Vietnam.

In other words, this two hour delay was totally discretionary on Etihad’s part. Presumably they were doing it to save money, so they didn’t have to put these people up in a hotel.

But by the end of my travel day, this delay would cost me more than $1000.

The Cabin Manager was very nice, particularly after I’d given him one of my newly minted business cards stating that I was a tour operator. He assured me that we would be met by one of his senior Ground Staff Guest Services agents, and everything would be ok.

I couldn’t see how everything would be ok. The estimated arrival time had been put back to 9:15am, and our flight to Santiago was due to depart at 9:25am. We’d have to collect our bags then go from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 and check in our bags on the new flight.

It wasn’t humanly possible to catch that flight.

The Etihad flight landed at 9:15am as predicted. And standing outside the aircraft, when we disembarked, was Etihad’s Guest Services Manager. He was a tall imposing Arabian man holding a clipboard imperiously, and I immediately thought of a palace guard with a scimitar. I suspected he was probably a eunuch too.

He was not a Guest Services Manager. Nor was he a de-balled Palace Guard.

He was an Etihad Troll.

His job was to deflect everything, deny all responsibility, and to make those who had just flown (and waited) more than twenty six hours as belittled and as powerless as possible.

And he did his job magnificently.

He Immediately told me that because the Vuelig flight was not a co-share with Etihad, (co-share being another travel term that I throw in here casually, as if I use this language all the time…) there was nothing the airline could do. That’s it.

I argued, talked about the airline’s responsibility, about it’s discretionary delay, I gave him my newly minted business card, but none of it worked. He raised his scimitar, I mean his clipboard, in a final act of dismissal, and I knew I would never get any joy from this man.

I wished him well, hoped he would sire many children, and we made our way to Terminal Three. By the time we got there it was 10:20am – almost an hour after the flight had gone.

The next flight to Santiago was same time next day. If we wanted to get that flight, we’d have to overnight in Paris. It would throw our recce schedule out the window. Plus we’d be up for accommodation in Paris, which I’m sure Etihad would not pick up.

I asked the lady on Information at T3 (here’s some more travel lingo for you) if there were any other flights to northern Spain – A Coruna for instance, only a short distance from Santiago. But there was nothing. The only flight that went anywhere near Santiago was an Eazy Jet flight to Porto, leaving in 2 hours. And that left from T2.

It had taken us twenty minutes to get from T2 to T3, so we went back to T2. We went to the Eazy Jet desk and yes, there were two seats remaining on the flight to Portugal. The last two seats. And they were €240 each.

The original Vuelig flights had cost €79 each.

I bought the tickets and we waited at the gate. We’d been told when we bought the tickets that Eazy Jet has a strict policy of only one item of hand baggage, and it has to fit into one of those bins that they put at the gates to show you how big your bag is allowed to be.

And sure enough, there was another troll at check in, making sure that everyone had only one piece of carryon, and that it fitted in the bin.

Jennifer and I had flown from Sydney with a couple of pieces of carryon – she with a handbag and a wheelie Samsonite. Me with a wheelie Samsonite too, and a Camino bag holding my knee brace, a jacket and iPad.

This troll was unforgiving. Just like the previous troll with his clipboard like a scimitar, this troll was using his bin like the Pits of Hell. If your bag didn’t fit into that bin, then you were hurled into the Pits of Hell.

Eazy Jet’s version of hurling you into the Pits of Hell was to charge you €55 for an additional piece of hand baggage. Already I’d paid in Australian dollars nearly $700 for these fares. And do you think the troll would cut us any slack? Nope.

Jennifer stood her ground. She made a fuss. She kicked up a stink.

Jennifer is the sweetest gentlest kindest person I know, but when she gets her back up, watch out. It takes a lot to get her back up, but this troll managed to do it. And she went him like a ferocious dog.

I stood back and averted my gaze. And pretended I wasn’t travelling with her…

A young dark haired woman standing a bit apart in the line caught her eye, and gestured to her that she had plenty of room in her bag, and that she could put her handbag in her carryon.

This seemed like an elegant non-confrontational solution, even though I suspected that Jennifer was spoiling for a fight with the troll. So she put her handbag, containing her purse with all her credit cards, cash, drivers license – everything – into this woman’s bag.

As we went through check in we were told by the airline staff that the plane was now full of carryon – there was no more space – and so they would have to check our wheelie Samsonites in as freight.

Again we complained, but of course to no avail. By this time we’d been travelling more than forty hours. We were exhausted.

We boarded the flight, and then we realised what we’d done.

We’d given Jennifer’s handbag to a complete stranger. Someone standing near the line – not actually IN the line, had ingested that handbag into her bag.

We looked through the plane. The woman was not to be found. We looked at each late arriving passenger. The dark haired woman was not amongst them.

I walked over to where Jennifer was sitting. One of the last indignities of this flight was that because we were the last two seats to be sold, we were not sitting together. And no-one would move for us.

Jennifer went through everything that was in the bag. Everything was replaceable, except the credit and debit cards would have to be cancelled and reissued. And this at the start of our journey. Her credit/debit cards were linked to mine, which would mean we’d have no cards to withdraw cash or pay for our rental car or hotels.

Was this a scam, I began to wonder? An elaborate scam perpetrated at these check in gates? Taking advantage of a traveller’s exhaustion, desperation, the chaos and flurry of check in – an apparent act of kindness that could reap the thief rich rewards?

The flight was ready to depart. Still no sign of the women. Just as the airline staff went to close the doors she slipped in, walked quickly down the aisle and gave Jennifer her bag. They both laughed, and Jennifer gave her a hug.

Was it possible that our day could be any more stressful?

Yes, it was.

The rental car.

I’d pre-paid my rental car to get a good rate. Problem was, the pick-up was at Santiago airport, Spain. Not Porto airport, Portugal.

The Hertz lady, a very pleasant young woman, tried her hardest to make the computer bend to her will. She did genuinely want to help me. I think she felt sorry for me. But her computer was resolute. The voucher I’d purchased could not be switched over. Even though I hadn’t picked up the car in Santiago. Even though I hadn’t driven it. Even though I hadn’t even sat in it.

I’d pre-paid for pick up at Santiago airport, to return to Santiago city depot a week later – cost: $360. And that was that. She swiped my card – issued me new papers, and we took possession of a small Citroen.

We then had to drive 200kms to Santiago. And it was raining. No it wasn’t raining, it was deluging. It was Noah’s Ark raining.

I immediately thought of Steve and his reluctance – nay his abhorrence – of walking in the rain. I felt like taking a shot with my iPhone of the torrents of water streaming down the front windshield, and emailing it to him with the message – I bring the sunshine with me Steve. NOT. 

But I had one last issue to contend with. I’d forgotten to bring the bracket for my Garmin GPS. I was going to take the bracket off my car and put it in my carryon, but in all the hoo-ha leaving Sydney, I’d forgotten.

So Jennifer had to sit for two hours holding the Garmin up to the front windshield to get satellite reception, while I drove through pouring rain 200kms to get to Santiago.

We arrived just on dark, and do you think we could get a park?

Santiago late on a Sunday, for some reason, was packed. Was it Mother’s Day? Was there a special service on at the Cathedral? I didn’t know. But I finally found a spot about half a kilometre away from the hotel, and we trudged our luggage in the rain through the old cobblestone lanes until we arrived here, at this beautiful place.

San Bieito Hotel

Finally, after nearly 48 hours of traveling, we’d got to Santiago.

We had a quick shower and went straight to the Cathedral. I was surprised to see that the square was all but empty. I’d never seen it empty before. But it felt good to be here. Good in my bones.

Cathedral Square

Etihad’s discretionary delay had cost me probably $1200. I might get that back on travel insurance. I don’t know. But I’m just glad to be here, in this glorious city. About to start a wonderful adventure…

Cathedral Side door