This is was supposed to be my walk with my Scouse Spouse from Ferrol to Santiago, and then out to Finisterre. Sadly though, he had to pass on it and I had the choice between staying at home or quickly rebooking my accommodation to suit one instead of two. As it was, I decided to change the route as well, and save the walk for when he can come with me. Oh and I can never pass up Galicia in September, could you?
And when I looked at the ALSA bus routes from Santiago to Astorga, it turns out that the only bus that fit with my arrival at Santiago airport, went to Ponferrada, not Astorga. Well – to be fair, even if my eyes and my heart had been looking forward to that hill down from the Cruz de Ferro, my knees hadn’t, so why not skip that and start from the beautiful Templar town of Ponferrada? I booked the bus seat, rooms and beds, and then started the annual packing, unpacking, panicking, repacking and tinkering ritual.
One room I didn’t change was the one in Dublin, where I would arrive mid day, stay in the middle of Temple Bar – see the temple theme forming here? – then meet camigo David of Clearskiescamino blog for tapas and a chat about all things camino, and possibly, just possibly, a tiny nightcap at my local pub on the corner. I mean, when in Dublin, right?
After checking in I went to see The Bank pub which a good friend had recommended. David was still at work so I went in the actual former bank and had a good nose around, enjoying the fantastic interior and the copy of the Book of Kells – and the graffiti on the wall. “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots” – check. “Leave your jewels in the bank” – I would if I had any, but … “Buy a revolver”?
Then I met up with David and we had a lovely time treating ourselves to a selection of proper Spanish tapas before he had to head home again. I went to check out the corner pub, which was bouncing after dark – I have no earthly idea *how* the bartenders keep up with demand. I sat there for a while people watching, ended up chatting to some travelling Americans who were very excited to meet an actual pilgrim, and had a generally good craic. My flight was quite early the next day though so in the end I had to return to my tiny and yet VERY expensive room with no window – which as it happens was perfect for a quiet night’s sleep – and the first or last, depending on your view, packing of my September wander.
Next morning I went bright eyed and bushy tailed to reception, got a taxi on the receptionist’s suggestion and arrived at the airport good and early, just the way I like it. Plenty of time to have breakfast, get some snacks for the flight, and take photos of well travelled fellow pilgrims.
After landing in Santiago though, I asked an airport lady how long the bus would take into the bus station in town, and she kindly replied in English: 15 minutes. I thought. Or could it have been 50? No, she said 15, I even asked Quince? Uno y cinco? just to be on the safe side and she definitely said it would take a quarter of an hour, ish. Reader – it does not!
I counted 56 minutes before i jumped out of the airport shuttle and more or less ran towards the bus part of the Intermodal. Also beware that there is no little corner shop or kiosk there selling stuff you need for a long distance bus journey, like water. There are vending machines, but the one I tried was playing up and possibly took my money three times without parting with any goods. Thank god for my filter bottle, which I managed to fill from the tap in the ladies’ before I legged it towards the right bay. Five minutes later I was on the bus with 0.6 litres of tepid water and a small pack of Mini Cheddar crackers I found in my bag. But – I was on my way!
It is always strange to zoom past places from the guidebook on the motorway, looking down into Herrerias and seeing tiny pilgrims arriving to stay the night charging up for the walk up to O Cebreiro. Passing the big motel between Villafranca del Bierzo and Ambasmestas. And then, finally, arriving at Ponferrada bus station, where there was ONE taxi waiting, which I duly jumped into. I wanted to check into my hotel, dump the pack and get out to the pizza place on the square pronto! Four plus hours of tiny sips of tepid water and rationing mini crackers had had me dreaming about pizza, pasta, lasagna – in fact anything with melted cheese, and I wasn’t waiting any longer.
But when I got there – it was closed! Bottom lip dragging on the ground I found my key in the lockbox and entered the hotel. Then I spread my stuff, what little there was of it, in the room before I went out again to look for alternative food. But lo and behold – camino miracle #1 – the pizza place was just opening, so I got the first table outside, the first drink and the first food order of the day! I was so hungry I just went for the pizza they had named after the restaurant, that must be one they are particularly proud of, surely. And it was lovely, so I took a post-pizza photo of my arrival drink and the church tower and put it on Instagram to let people at home know I had arrived, and alert any followers suffering from camino withdrawal there would soon be more pics.
After a good meal and a rest just people and pilgrim watching and generally enjoying sitting outside feeling the pre-camino excitement, I went to get some cash out – another thing I hadn’t had time to do at the station – and get a few things for the walk the next day. I’ve never known where Pilgrim Central is in Ponferrada, I guess it’s somewhere closer to the municipal albergue, so with no pilgrims around – unless they were stealth ones with big suitcases and several civilian outfits available – I took myself back to the room for an early night. I had booked a bed in a dorm at the Albergue Leo in Villafranca for tomorrow, so thought I’d get the good sleep in while I could.