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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela from Seville - Vía de la Plata

I am sure most of you know of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, although the most popular route and the one most known, is the Camino Francés.  There are in fact many Caminos, and taking a quick look at the map below will show you where many have started from over the centuries.  Basically it starts from your doorstep, but this map shows just how many of the documented routes cross Europe.
This is not about how to do it, what to take and how to prepare - there are many websites that will give you that information, but I wanted to share our ideas and the fact that both Michael and I plan to undertake this journey.  I will list below some of the sites that you might like to visit should you wish to walk the Camino yourselves.  Everyone I have contacted has gone out of their way to help and provide information quickly and easily.  Within Spain there is a connection between all those who have walked it and even those who have set the intention.

The map above is taken from one of the sites that I would thoroughly recommend -  They are the Confraternity of St James and the website provides books, maps, information on what to take and how to prepare, history, advice about getting to/back from start and finish points, healthcare, distances per day, what to expect and much, much more.  For those who wish to become members of the CSJ, they issue Pilgrim's Passports (Credenciales) and have a library service of books and DVD's.  However, it is also possible to obtain the passports from various start points, churches and accommodation.  Within Spain, the Spanish can apply from some local town councils and government offices, police stations and so on.  We have applied for ours through the Asociación Amigos Camino Santiago CV (Valencia Community) and there are a number of these through Spain who provide lots of help and advice and some information in English.  There are translations of the sites, but for those wishing to walk from Valencia or from Seville it is preferable to have a working knowledge of Spanish.  One piece of advice that seems to come up on most sites however is that Pilgrims should ideally get their passport well in advance - especially if they are traveling from overseas.  They also warn that the Camino Francés is getting as busy as it was in the Middle Ages (!) and that it can be a tad overcrowded.  They all advise that the Seville Camino should not put off first time Pilgrims and that it is a good route to take and it allows time for reflection and meditation, peace and a way of experiencing the rhythms of life.

We are walking daily and building distance and today did around half a day's walk.  The first book of maps and directions should arrive this week and then I hope to do some practice around Xàtiva on the Valencian route - day and two day walks to get the idea of distances and how it feels in the climate here - the humidity here is so much higher than in RSA and that makes a big difference when walking.  Once we have the feel of that, then the same will be repeated with back packs.  The nice thing about both M and I planning to do it supporting each other is that we will walk alone (with one dog) and the other will have the support vehicle to carry dog food (weight one might not wish to add to the back pack!) and offer a place for the dog to stay where hostels won't accept them.  The plan is that both the younger dogs will do it (also often with a back pack) - one week for one, one week for the other and so on.  The distance is 1000 km and usually takes over 7 weeks.  Many Spanish people walk the route over a number of years, walking sections of it during their holidays and it is not unusual for Pilgrims to even take 6 or more years to complete a Camino.  Many also walk it several times in their lifetimes!

We are not sure how timing and so on will work out yet - especially in relation to guests and busy times here - but ideally we would walk in two week stretches.  The problem comes when one gets further from Seville as the drive time to the start point gets longer!  Even from here to Seville is 7 hours and 21 minutes by car.  The other limiting factor is "when to go" as the best times for sensible walking temperatures, good weather and good daylight hours is April/May and Sept/October.  There is not a website I have found that has not warned of the perils of trying to walk in July or August - so "don't do it"!!  Just breathing during these months is quite a challenge - let alone doing anything active!  Any walks we do need to be from around 07.15 to 09.30 latest and for those back in RSA who suggest we go earlier - it's pitch dark here before 07.00, remember the daylight is at the other end of the day up here in the Northern Hemisphere!  Walking in the evening is quite pleasant - after about 20.00 and so for practice purposes and once the bicycle arrives we will be training with that too so that we can get the dogs moving out a bit faster.

Today we did around 7.5km (4.6 miles) in an hour and a half and not walking at a ridiculous pace - and this is about a third of a daily Camino walk.  Sometimes there are longer distances between overnight stops, but this is about average.  There are a few 25 to 30km walks around Xàtiva so that will be good practice and there are a few hills around here so that will help with fitness.  The Camino as it heads into Galicia it becomes more hilly with some challenging elevations - but hopefully by the time we get there we will be ready for them.

Anyway, check out the various links and I will post more here as time goes on, but this is the start.

The Vía de la Plata is the longest of the pilgrim routes in Spain, starting from Seville in Andalucia, and running northwards through the proviinces of Extremadura and Castilla y Leon to Salamanca and Zamora. 

After Zamora, the pilgirm has to make a choice - whether to continue on the Via de la Plata in the same northerly direction to Astorga, and then to join up with the Camino Francés to continue to Santiago, or to go directly to Santiago along a route known as the Galician variant or the Camino Sanbrés which turns to the north-west and goes through Ourense to Santiago. Both routes are around 1,000 km. in length.  

The route is very rich in Roman remains (the milario milestones, aqueducts and bridges especially) and in churches and monasteries. The larger cities such as Merida, Caceres, Salamanca, and Zamora have much to offer including excellent museums and are well worth a rest day if you have the time.

(Information taken from the following site which is dedicated to this route - what is lovely about it is that it also lists each stage of the route and includes a photo journey of it)

Lots of good advice and nice information and journey reports from someone who has done it!

And the inspiration for going with a Ridgeback - or two... beautiful YouTube clip, well worth the watch.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Moros y Cristianos

The last two weeks have been filled with Chella Festivities - folk dancing, paella contests, fireworks, 5km walks at midnight, Foam Fiesta (yes - foam!) and finally last night the Moors and Christian's parade celebrating the history of the area.  They take place mainly in the southern Valencian Communities and according to popular tradition the festivals commemorate the battles, combats and fights between Moors and Christians during the period known as Reconquista (from the 8th century through the 15th century)...

According to Wikipedia the term "Moors" has referred to several historic and modern populations of Berber, Black African and Arab descent from Northern Africa, who came to conquer, occupy and rule the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years.  At that time they were Muslim, although earlier the people had followed other religions. They called the territory Al Andalus, comprising most of what is now Spain and Portugal.

The Moors' rule stretched at times as far as modern-day Mauritania, West African countries, and the Senegal River which explains why most of the Moorish costumes in the parades are very African - with tall head dresses and African Warrior spears, shields and masks.

Pictures and some video clips from the parade are below and it gives you a bit of a feel for the atmosphere of the evening.  Everyone lines the streets in a very social event.  Every event is well supported and the whole town comes out to join in - often celebrating until after 03.00 in the morning.

Folk Dancing was held in a little area at the end of where the market starts in the "Paseo" and where a small square can be formed in the street to allow room for the dancers.  Everyone brings chairs and sits ready for the entertainment and all the bars serve refreshments and also put out seats.

Start of the Parade for Chella
Stilt walkers and African Masks

The scary "rear view"!!
For some reason, pirates seem to be a very popular part of the parade?!

 These dancers were amazing - they had a whole routine that they did all along the street and as soon as they finished one section they would start again.  On a hot and humid night they did a great job and they had put together a good routine.  They can be seen "in action" below!

Folk Dancing in Chella....

One of the choreographed dances in the Moors and Christians parade...

One of the drummed "marches" through the town in full costume...

Beautiful Spot for a picnic or to walk with the dogs...

We also found a fabulous little walk at a local dam in Navarrés, two villages along from us.  There are a few wonderful spots where the dogs can get in the dam for a swim and they run, play, roll and chase

 each other through the water.  Throw in a treat and they will swim right out and with the bouncing in the shallows it's a good work out for them.  The colour of the water is just amazing, I can only think that there must be some copper or some such that helps produce the amazing green hue.



Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Exploring a bit further afield

Well, it's now August 1st and we are into the two weeks of fiesta celebrations in Chella.  All around different events are taking place.  Tonight there is a paella making contest which we plan to call in on and last night there was a "Foam" evening.  However, with Michael busy on a project and all the work we are doing here, we did not have the energy to attend (this year) as everything starts at 22.00 or later... last night's events starting only at 00.30.

The town looks lovely all decked out in lights and usually there is something going on - even if it is just a practice session and we have encountered marching bands, fireworks and firecrackers - being on the hill we get a beautiful view of any displays.  I am "so" glad that I got the dogs used to fireworks as puppies as this would be a nightmare for them otherwise.  Ndzilo was a little worried at first but we then just made it all into a game - hear a firework and we play games, do tricks and get treats - so now fireworks means "yummy things arrive to eat".  In fact by last night she was so used to them - she just slept on through.  Saturday and Sunday will see the "Moors and Christians" parade - celebrating the history of the area and the lights reflect this in their design.

We also had a bit more of an explore around Xàtiva but only when taking M to get his hair cut.  There are some wonderful narrow old streets, I can't wait to get out there on foot and have a wander round - and that's the plan once the guests are settled at the casita.  Yes, we have guests due!  The guy who was renting has moved to a place nearer his children's school and so the casita is open for business again.  It has been a mad week cleaning and getting it ready - but now it is sparkling like a new pin.  There is still a little work to do - a bit of weeding and a final lick and polish, but we are all systems go.   You can see the general idea of the layout below - it's very cute.

There is one double room and a twin and a little dining area with a view onto the pool.  The room is open plan and there is a table and chairs outside with loungers and various air-beds and noodles for pool play time!

The caravan which is being used for the additional guests (there are 7 total coming in) is a lovely luxury one too.  I'd be quite cosy in there!  Cleo of course wants to go visiting all the time and the dogs wandered from one place to the next, watching and waiting while I cleaned.  Anyway, back to the exploring... the castle is stunning and this is one place we have on our "to do" list in the next couple of weeks.  The thought of how the walls were constructed so many centuries ago - clinging to the cliffs is quite something.  It dominates the town and one can see how it would have been quite formidable in its day.

This is not even the most spectacular view, that is from the other side, but sadly I did not have my camera with me when I walked with Kaishi along the roads below the castle while M was having his hair cut.  I will take more next time and include more pics of our visit when we go.  We also plan a day in Valencia as a birthday trip and this will give us a chance to explore the trains and the timetable.  It's approx. 41 mins.

We have been doing our own construction, although not on the grand scale of a castle - but as they say, an Englishman's home is his castle and in this case "A Ridgeback's home..."  here is their new home - in progress - and it will also house the running machine.  They will divide their time between their country estate (here) and our house - :-)

It's a good size and we will be able to get a few other things inside and hang up skis etc.  Here Bryan is helping M work out what goes where.  The job was super fast with his help and he brought along Rose, the dog's poodle friend, to hang out for the afternoon.  We have had some lovely walks with Rose it's nice to have a visiting canine.  She got the chance to curl up on the sofa during the Grand Prix M and Bryan's reward for shed building!  Cleo also likes to take part in things - although being a cat she surveys from on high of course!  It is hilarious watching her climbing the ladder - she does it just like a person!

Here are all the girls together - in the best place of course, under the shade while us humans toil in the heat of the sun!  A nice shandy after the work is most welcome though and it is so great to be able to eat out every day.  Not that we didn't have the weather at Paardeberg House of course, but there was always such a strong wind!  I'm glad it is not so windy here but on the other hand, it is so still, we'd be glad of the odd breeze now and again - that's not something I thought I would hear myself say in a hurry!

Sunday afternoon, week before last, we decided to take a picnic up to the olive grove.  It was so peaceful and the perfect setting.  We sat under a carob tree and after lunch, including a nice bottle of red of course (!) we all dozed - dogs and humans together.  The dogs were the stars as they carried our picnic for us (love them) and their water.  We also had the chance to use the fabulous fold up water bowl that Liesl bought us before we left.  It even just about manages to fit three RR heads!

I too got my hair cut - a LOT shorter.  I love it.  Very light and comfortable as it is more humid here.  The lady did a good job and I sent pics to my friend Debbie who always did my hair for approval.  She was great as she sent full instructions along with the wonderful gift of 6 months colour when I left RSA.  It all worked out perfectly.  A big hug for Debbie when she reads this xxx.  Here is the new "short" haired me along with a wonderful bunch of our own grapes - growing on the wall below the house.  Oooooh they are so sweet!  Delicious!

Finally we also have our NIE (registering with the local government basically) and also we have registered with the local council - so all is in order.  It all involves a lot of paperwork and back and forth, waiting in police stations and so on - but we had a very helpful lawyer who got it all done in 2 days rather than 3 or more weeks!

On our way to do it (in a place called Oliva and very close to the
sea) we passed the most stunning monastery.  It's now privately owned and
open to the public on certain days when they give a historical tour.  I am looking forward to going as it's in a beautiful setting.  Apparently we are on
the "Monastery Route" - M thinks this is rather amusing considering we used to be on the "Wine Route"...   but rather appropriate methinks!  I have added a picture of the monastery here also - you will see what I mean.

Coffee with Akina - at a local cafe
Well, that's about all the latest news.  I've finally cracked the mystery of baking with local flour and my cakes are rising - good news as I will need to put one into the casita for the guests.  I have also been working on some fun ideas to do with guests and dogs if they fancy a morning of play (more on that another time) and I have met a lady who runs a small holiday kennel for dogs and who also helps out with a rescue charity.  I'm thrilled as I wanted to find one to get involved with and I can register as a "Foster Home" like we did in RSA and help with the rehab.  Also, once the furniture is in and we have all our immediate urgent jobs out of the way I also plan to volunteer to help in their shop half a day per week on the rotation with other volunteers.  More on that too - as and when!