Thursday, May 2, 2024

Spain's Camino Primitivo, Part 2: The Appeal of the Primitivo, and getting there

 After looking at multiple Camino routes in Spain, I ended up choosing the Camino Primitivo.  I could hike the entire route in the three weeks I would be in Spain, unlike several longer caminos.  It was a less crowded camino, with only about 4% of camino completers claiming to have arrived via that camino.  And several accounts listed the Primitivo as among the most beautiful, rural, and rugged routes.  Many sources discouraged first time pilgrims from this route, and it seemed that I would obtain a more authentic and less touristy Spain hiking this route.  

My friend Larry wanted to hike part of my route, and taking the Primitivo meant that we could meet in Lugo, which he could reach pretty easily from Madrid, and it would give him the 100 Km needed for a certificate.  And I really wanted to see Lugo, with its UNESCO World Heritage certified Roman wall, completely surrounding the old city.

Some examples of the opinions on this Camino are shown in screenshots below.

My flight from Virginia took me to Newark and then to Madrid, arriving at about 9:30AM local time.  From there, I made my way via subway to one of Madrid's two train stations before taking a high speed train to the city of Leon, where I would spend my first night.  (Train tip: Look at the difference in price between 1st Class and 2nd Class seats.  For this trip, it was about 20 euros, and going 1st Class meant that I had access to the lounge in the Madrid station - with free snacks, drinks, and beer, and had a much nicer seat with a power outlet and strong wifi. I could pick my seat. Plus I got a box meal on the train! I think they lost money on my upgrade.)

Leon is a large city for this part of Spain, with about 125,000 residents.  It is the capital of the provence of Leon and is a major stop on the Camino Frances.  

Although I was especially interested in seeing the cathedral in Leon, shown above, there were several additional buildings in this city that warrented a stop prior to reaching the start of my camino.

I stayed in my first hostel on the trip here in Leon and learned some good lessons about hostels.  I made the reservation while on the train a few hours before checking in.  But I failed to communicate when I would arrive at the hostel.  Many hostel owners/managers do not live on site (in fact, very few do), so I needed to coordinate my arrival in advance.  I showed up and the door was locked!  After texting back and forth, I killed an hour walking around the town center before checking in.  Neither the owner nor the only other guest that night knew much English, but we managed to get me checked in and understanding how things work.  I slept in a room with about 8 beds, and only one other bed was taken besides mine.  I never again saw the other woman staying there - she was a true Spaniard, staying out late and remaining asleep the next morning when I got up, packed, and left.  Some photos below show the hostel.

One nice thing about this hostel was a small balcony outside the door shown in the last photo above.  I could hang out there and watch the street activity.  There was always something going on!  And I discovered while out there that my accommodations that night were directly on the Camino Frances - there was a yellow arrow on the sidewalk in front of the hostel, shown in the photo below.

I explored Leon extensively the next morning, after sleeping very well.  I was afraid that I'd be jetlagged, but slept very little on the overnight, trans-Atlantic flight, so it was easy to adjust to the new time after staying awake all day from Madrid to Leon.  One thing I worked on was trying to follow the Camino through town - training my eye to look for arrows, metal shells in the sidewalk, and signs on buildings that guide peregrinos.

I made my way to the Convento de San Marcos, which was a convent but now operates as an ultra-luxury "parador" hotel.  If you have seen the movie "The Way," this is the luxury hotel the group stayed in while on their trek - the movie briefly shows the exterior with the main protagonists standing outside.

Next to that monestary was a church and a local museum that I toured, but I did not go into the parador.

The plaza in front of the parador is also where two caminos split - the Camino Frances, which heads west to Santiago, and the Camino del Salvador, which heads north to Ovideo - the start of the Camino Primitivo.

I met my first peregrino here, a Belgian woman who had started in France in late February.  I took her picture for her and talked with her for a little while about her experience.  And, just west of the parador, the Camino Frances crosses a river on a bridge built by the Romans.  That has to be one of the oldest structures I've ever witnessed.

After this, I walked back into the center of town and toured the Cathedral.  It was the most amazing cathedral I had ever seen!  It would be eclipsed later in the trip, but this was a jaw dropping experience.  Wikipedia says that this church has "one of the largest collections of midieval stained glass in the world," dating from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries.    

Witnessing the interior of this cathedral during the morning light was an amazing experience!

Also in Leon is an early example of architecture by famed Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, whose work I would experience again at the end of my trip - during a side journey to Barcelona.

But simply walking around the city and experiencing the narrow, pedestrian oriented streets kept me endlessly entertained prior to heading back to the train station to continue to Oviedo, on an early afternoon train.  I had some extra time before the train, so I stopped in a mobile phone shop and purchased a Spanish SIM card from a company called Orange.  For 20 euros, I replaced my Verizon SIM card with a Spanish one that also had plenty of data for me to send texts for the 3 weeks I would be in Spain.  Or so I thought...

I immediately lost my Verizon SIM card, which is the size of the fingernail on my pinky.  All of this would prove to be an issue later in my trip.

And, just before reaching the train station, I stopped in a grocery store to get some snacks.  I marveled at the price of wines!

I took 2nd class this time, just to see what that would be like.  (Predictably, it was not nearly as nice, but there is no lounge in Leon.)  I was excited for this leg of the trip because it follows the route of the Camino del Salvador.  I was excited to see some of the towns along this route, as I had researched this Camino prior to settling on the Primitivo.  What I discovered was miles and miles of tunnels through the most mountainous sections of the trip with only brief glimpses of the countryside.

It was a brief trip into Oviedo - a little over an hour.  And I arrived around 2 PM excited to explore that city before heading out on my pilgrimage the next morning.  

Oviedo is covered in my next post. Link.

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