Goodbyes, Trains, Hostels, Amigos and Chocolate
Hola, amigos, I’m writing this post in California at 10:30 a.m. Spanish time. Jet lag is productive! How can I compose this blog without crying, laughing and dreaming, all at the same time? Once, I dreaded farewells; what good could possibly come from endings? Today I can report that experience and possibly age changed that emotion. Happy to be home, see family and friends. And thinking of the questions, “Why did you go on the Camino?” and “What does it mean?” Yet, it’s not past tense; the Camino is a continuing journey.
We left Santiago de Compostela in the dark, not on foot, but in a cab that transported us less than two miles to the Estación de Tren de Santiago, with the work of construction and maintenance detouring us on a roundabout route. We watched the fare on the meter spin to double digits and make a 4:30 a.m. pickup worthwhile to the driver. Lucky for me, I shared the waiting and the fun, with Julio and Manuel, a good start to the last two days on my Camino.
This ending of a quick visit to Santiago didn’t feel like a final goodbye, like last year, but a continuation of this 2017 journey of magic and mystery, which it has been. Now I’m remembering and reflecting and hoping to convey events and even more, connect with the emotions of change, geographical and emotional.
This five hour and eight minutes 5:15 a.m. Direct Train might not be too popular, but to travel 487 miles in a cushy window seat for less than 23€, called my name. And my name means PEACE, Julio and Manuel reminded me. It was meant to be that we traveled together.
By sunrise we were half way to the surprises of Madrid. Like magic we arrived in this amazing Capital city.
Now I was saying goodbye to long distance train trips and finding my way to the Metro for the end of my time in Spain. Train signs with icons and arrows, universal METRO, made this fairly easy. The station was busy with travelers and commuters, and there always seems to be an attendant on duty or a resident or traveler for assistance. The machines are similar to those in train and metro stations I’ve visited around the world. It does help, though, to be able to read Spanish in Spain. Really. No problem this mañana, with directions in hand and experience asking questions, I bought a ticket, found my train, and I was on my way.
Soon we were in the Heart of Madrid and the historical district, the Barrio La Latina, leaving the Metro Tirso Molina station. I followed the online directions, entering a square and then winding, narrow streets, and traffic, vying for sidewalk space with crowds of residents and travelers, in a hurry or like me, now not distinguishable from pilgrim or tourist. (Except I wore a backpack with a scallop shell hanging from my pack).
Looking for Calle Juanelo, 24, the OK Hostel Madrid, highly recommended by pilgrim friends and named The World’s Second Best hostel for travelers.
A hostel when I’m over 50? YES! Here’s everything I need. First the welcome desk that’s waiting for me, because I have a reservation and I was lucky to book in advance. I was too early to go to my dorm room, three bunks and a private bathroom and shower, bottom bunk, lovely white sheets and a duvet, a rented towel, and personal storage, so I left my backpack in the baggage room and wandered around. Later I returned and washed and dried my clothing, already planning to bring a few more things, not less, next year.
Before lunch, the friendly and patient staff gave me a brief orientation about hostel rules and amenities and a city map showing me where I am (note to myself: there are no yellow arrows to guide me. Oh, how I love those arrows).
The professionals at the front desk speak Spanish, English and other languages, as do so many people I’ve met in my travels. I confess that I’m basically monolingual, just able to cobble together basic college and survival Spanish to get by. I have walked with countless people, all ages, from other countries who speak at least their mother tongue and one other language, often English, maybe three or four languages, learned in school and sometimes on their own. I know I can still take a class or workshop, but for our future, I’m all for adding a second language to school curriculum starting in kindergarten or earlier. NOW! Let’s join the rest of the world, where many languages besides English are spoken. And, it’s good for learning and the brain.
While I checked in, a couple from Australia, my vintage, walked by and offered to walk with me to the cafe and show me around the area. Over the next two days, we became friends. It’s the way of the Camino.
Trish and Greg from Australia, and I spent a bit of siesta time enjoying drinks and tapas at a corner restaurant. Great stories, fun and so much to share in our short time.
What’s to love about hostels and albergues? So much! A hostel isn’t a hotel, but a type of accommodation that is relatively inexpensive and welcomes young people, travelers on a budget and others, often solo travelers, who know it’s an easy place to meet up with people from all over the world. Albergues are similar to hostels, but usually for Pilgrims only.
I consider OK a life-saver for me in Madrid. It’s taken me a long time to get over my self-consciousness and share space with strangers. Each hostel or albergue is different and I’m describing OK, but there are similarities. Here the shared group spaces can be noisy and busy at times, especially at night and Madrid has a vibrant nightlife. There are quiet areas in the sleeping sections and lots of space for personal and group connections, a snack and beverage bar, a kitchen and laundry, stairs and elevator. Plus breakfast and dinner and activities in the city.
The rooms are away from the action, but for a dorm and sleep, I recommend earplugs and an eye mask, a sense of humor, trading your modesty and desire for privacy for the benefits of a hostel. Some albergues and hostels also have private rooms. Or find a private room occasionally along your Camimo. Just a suggestion to mix it up.
COMING to Madrid and OK HOSTEL, this time was quite a contrast from last year’s visit, when I stayed at a hostal, a small hotel on a super-noisy street off of Gran Via, Madrid’s center of nightlife and shopping. At OK, there were lots of people to meet and things to do. I finally checked into my room, bottom bunk, yes! At the time, Paula from Argentina was in the room, and eventually the dorm was filled with four more women, one from Brazil and three from South Korea. All here for different reasons: travel, moving to Spain or Madrid for school or a job, or just passing through. And, I slept all night!
I met more hostelers at the group dinner and breakfast the next morning. Dinner was different each night. I loved the vegetarian selection.
Paul from Romania and Allegra from Argentina.
One of my favorite benefits of staying in a hostel or albergue is that travelers and pilgrims of all ages are mixed together. We have a bright future if the young travelers have a voice. I was surprised to find, all during my journey, that many young people enjoyed traveling with mature pilgrims and travelers and that mixed age groups were not only fun, but rewarding. The interaction between ages is enlightening. The group tour was great for mutually sharing questions, knowledge and experiences.
During breakfast with Grace from USA, I learned more about the walking tour I had hoped to take at 11:00. We had a lot in common, and . . . we both wanted to sample Madrid’s “best” chocolate and churros. Ah, a favorite part of my Camino. Believing I should be on time for the walking tour, I was happy to be guided by my new friend, who, by the way, is an experienced traveler and navigator and promised I would be back in time. And I was. For food, there’s nothing like a picture.
Here’s our mini-excursion to the number one legendary, chocolate and churros establishment in Madrid, San Gines, Chocolateria, established 1894 and open 24 /7! Only 4€ and enough for two, but we each sat with our own order and a question: who could possibly eat 6 churros? ¡Delicioso y decadente!
We walked through Plaza Mayor to the Chocolateria.
This is the fast moving line for San Ginés famed Chocolateria
World famous and amazing, but in my not-humble opinion, it has competition in A Coruña from Bonilla a la Vista. The Best! But today’s decadence rivals Bonilla’s and the ambience and history might make up for A Coruña’s memory.
I returned with time to spare and ready for the Madrid Walking Tour. Thank you, OK Hostel and tour guide, Viviana.
Check out the next posts for our tour and the end of my Journey. Camino never ends.
To be continued…