A group of musicians in Pamplona A sculpture at Puente La Reina The main altar at Burghos
along the Pilgrims Way Cathedral
Recently I was lucky enough to be taken through North Spain from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela, via St Jean Pied-de-Port in France, the entry point for most pilgrim routes heading for from the rest of Europe.
No, I didn't walk the 800 kilometres; I just hadn't done the necessary training. Pilgrims walk 28 kilometres per day for a month to cover that distance! Instead I was driven along the pilgrim route.
The group I travelled with, like me, were intrigued by what such a trip might produce for them, if anything. There were people from all walks of life. All I can say was that they were not the same people by the end of the trip. They seemed more open to adventures of the day, less self-contained. For example, we met a huge group of Mexicans, Chileans and Colombians dining at neighbouring tables all singing "Happy Birthday" in several languages. My group decided to join them by singing the song in English. Then they invited us to enjoy a giant millefeuille birthday cake that had been ordered beforehand. This would not have happened at the start of the trip.
It was fascinating to see the towns in Navarre (Basque country) all the way to Galicia, of Celtic origin and the final destination. This green belt reminded me of the mountainous landscape in Switzerland. Some of the main towns I passed through were Pamplona, Puente La Reina, Estella, postcard-picturesque Laguardia in the Rioja wine-growing area, the large city of Burgos, and trendy Leon with a Gaudi townhouse. The hilly regions of the far north contrasted with the flat countryside around Burgos and Leon. Of course there were many monasteries to explore including one that served free wine to pilgrims - Monasterio de Irache.
It was the local food that was a treat at lunchtime. Imagine a large slice of baguette covered with 2 cm thick crab meat all topped with a large langoustine and dressing - and a glass of wine to go with it. Mouth watering. All for 2.50 euros. Perhaps the bars had pilgrims in mind, though what wine would do to their rigorous walking routines, I can't imagine. Restaurants all provided a menu of the day for pilgrims at more modest rates than their main Menu of the Day. During the breaks in our journey we would jostle to announce the cheapest rate for lunch that day.
I even joined in the spirit of the Camino ("the Way of St James") by leaving a perfectly good pair of shoes on one of the stalls en route which was festooned with notes with words of wisdom, colourful scarves, spare clothing and even books.
Perhaps the lesson of the journey was to live in the NOW - in the present moment - and live each day as if it was your last.
Gorgeous La Guardia in the Rioja Pilgrims from Austria arriving at the Compostela de Santiago
wine-growing area forecourt of the St James Cathedral
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Barbara M Webb graduated in English at Queensland University, St Lucia. She has lived in 7 of the 52 countries she has visited. and now lives in Cornwall in the UK.