Saturday, May 4, 2019

Vairao to Barcelos

The monastery was very peaceful last night, and it was hard to get up this morning and leave its quiet solitude. When we finally left we found a beautiful morning outside, as we set out down the cobblestone lane. The birds were singing and the sunlight was shining horizontally through the trees.

A few minutes after leaving the monastery the trail crossed a highway and then took us down into a green area, under an old archway and then over a long, curved, Roman bridge. The early morning light on the river and in the surrounding fields was gorgeous.

We then climbed up the cobblestone road, between the stone walls, and into a series of picturesque villages. Many of the houses have grape vines, blooming flowers, and beautiful tiles in their gardens.

About an hour after we left we came to the town of S. Miguel, which has a beautiful church, town square, and cafe. We stopped for a coffee and pastel de nata. As we sat outside, next to a large wooden rabbit, Peter and Sue stopped by, as did several other English speaking pilgrims. Already by this point we had seen a lot of other pilgrims, which is something new.

The rest of the day seems to be a bit of a blur. Around noon it got pretty hot, and we found very little shade. However, the scenery was beautiful. We walked down cobblestone roads for most of the day, which was actually quite painful after a while. We saw many beautiful villages, gardens, and fields. We noticed that many farmers were harvesting their hay today, and we even got to watch one farmer wrapping his bales in plastic on the back of his harvester.

One thing that was very different l was the number of people walking, and the general vibe. We started to see multiple signs along the trail advertising albergues with competing services, like Wifi, swimming pools, and pilgrim menus. Every cafe we passed had a shell, a welcome sign in multiple languages, and many had Camino decor. The signs for towns now also list the albergues, hotels, and services. There is a definite feeling that the towns we pass through cater to pilgrims headed to Santiago. We only saw two pilgrims headed in the opposite direction today, presumably going to Fatima. I miss the feeling of visiting Portuguese towns that exist for their own purposes. On a positive note, it has the feel of the Camino Frances now I guess.

When we reached Barcelos we were pretty hot and tired, and the cobblestones had done our feet in. Somewhat to our dismay we found that a festival is in full swing, with a full fair, complete with rides, games, and fair food set up in the main stretch. Barcelos is a fairly large town, featuring a tourist strip that has many shops and a mall, and it is packed full for the festival of the cross.

We made our way to the donativo albergue, and checked in right behind an English lady that we saw on and off all day on the trail. Our room is tiny, with two bunks and a bed in it. The place was full of people, all trying to do the same thing at the same time. We skipped a shower since it too seemed to be communal affair.

Somewhat discouraged, we headed back into town. We visited several beautiful churches, the gallows at the edge of town, and cringed at the sight of many brightly colored chicken statues. Although the chickens in this town are based on the same story as the ones in Santo Domingo de Calzada, Spain we've found no explanation as to how two towns can claim the same miracle.  Despite the 'coincidence' however, the regional pride in the miracle is evident.

While exploring we found a €0.50 hat for me, and ran into Sue and Peter, who had the good sense to stay in a nicer set of accommodations. We then headed to the square for a cold beer and cheese plate.


Still hungry but unwilling to brave the crowds and pay the tourist prices for a full restaurant meal, we headed to the supermarcado and picked up some bread, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, almond cookies, and wine for dinner.

We returned to the albergue and sat in the covered, enclosed patio to consume our small feast. We were soon joined by Naomi from England, Pedro from Spain, Charlotte from Germany, and three other German pilgrims. One of the older German couples said they had walked from their hometown in Germany to Santiago over nine years. That must have been quite the journey.  Cookies, wine, and good conversation were shared until everyone headed to bed.

Accommodations: Cidade de Barcelos
Distance: 31.2 km

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