Unpacking the Camino: Arrows in Segovia Parts I, II, III


Here’s the Arrow: Camino Scallop Shell in the Old City of Segovia  

Hola, Amigos. I am back home, reflecting, Unpacking and catching up on all that waits while we are away.  So much to consider: gratitude for kindness and relationships, with peregrinos (at home and on the Camino), hospitaleros and the many people we encounter everyday. . . gratitude for the opportunity to walk this Way in this decade of my life.

Today, a recap of my last days in Spain and a visit to Segovia, before the return home with a backpack full of memories, questions and dreams of my next Walk.

Walking the Camino, for me and maybe for you,  is a way to see life in broader perspective. What does the Way and pilgrimage mean to us beyond Santiago?  Spain’s rich history  provides opportunity to connect the past with the present and future. IMG_1193

Today’s reflection is like a long day on the Way. You think you will stay in one village, but no, the sign on the Albergue reads, COMPLETO. What can you do, but continue walking? Lace up your boots, friends. Be sure to take breaks, look where you have been, where you’re going and what it all means to you. Or just move on. It’s your Camino.


Above:  Where did we walk and where to next?

This picture, which could be yours, represents steps on the Camino, and a sample of sellos, (stamps) credentials and Compostelas. We supply the memories. The Credencials del Peregrino, a credential (Pilgrim Passport) with sellos authenticate the walk. We fulfill specific requirements to earn a Compostela in Santiago after walking at least the last 100 kms., (200 kms. by bike} on a Camino route.   Ending or Beginning? What do all these numbers mean?

 Part I   Camino as Life


Adiós, Muxia, a return to Santiago de Compostela, and a two day stay at the Albergue Seminario Menor. Then. . . a reserved ticket for a 6:00 a.m. train to Madrid, with a transfer to Segovia, where I would stay  before making my way home.

After walking on three different Camino routes, 2016, 2017, 2018: Francés, Portuguese, Finisterre-Muxia,  (and there are many more), I am exploring how  the Camino extends through history, culture, geography, art and architecture in Spain and beyond:   landmarks, cities, villages and towns that relate to our past as well as the future.

My history teacher, (in another century) taught students to consider history as a road,  like the Camino. His lesson on reading the signs is valuable today. Even then, I got those metaphors!  Meaning was key to how we would live our future.  Mr. Bryan would be honored that I connected history lessons (with the quote by Jorge Santayana, a Spanish philosopher!) to real life.

Jorge Santayana, born in Madrid (1863-1952):  Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. All along the Camino, we discover legends, myths, stories, history, art, architecture and history. What an incredible opportunity to revisit and remember history. And know when not to repeat it!

The day before I departed I checked out the route to the Santiago de Compostela Estación de Tren,  with map in hand.  Of course, there are few arrows or markers to guide me, but a very kind woman, about my age, walked with me, arm in arm, all the way to the station.

She pointed out landmarks in Spanish, of course (we are in Spain!), with me listening and feeling grateful. Arriving at our destination, we hugged and said goodbye. Kindness. Ready for departure!

Next morning, I dozed a short time during the five-hour train journey to Madrid. Then my seat mate, Maria and I began a conversation, and even with my basic español, we communicated, sharing photos of our children and talking about the world. I’m always asked where I’m from. I say California. Then America, as I have so many times on this trip. I felt a sudden wave of sadness and a need to apologize as many pilgrims have responded with negative comments, very unlike August 2016 when pilgrims  were excited to tell me they wanted to visit the USA.

My apology:  policies– national and international– especially immigration and children  separated from parents. Where are the voices that could have prevented this continuing heartbreaking policy?  Maria put her arms around me, and we hugged, speaking the compassionate language of the heart.

This is the Camino, even on the train to Madrid. When we parted I said goodbye to a friend.


What I love about the train system in Spain is that it’s easy to navigate and move around the country. Signs and helpful attendants, as well as other travelers are reliable guides.  Once I arrived in Madrid, I found my way to the ticket counter and purchased a two euro billete de tren to the Segovia Estación de Guiomar for a train that would leave in about 15 minutes; soon I began the less than 30 minute, 90 kms. trip to Segovia. This might be a miracle at home, but here it’s called the fast train.

Part II Segovia and Connections to Past and Present

At the station, waiting buses transport visitors five kms. to the City Center and my hotel. What a relief that I would not be walking the hot, industrial route, with my backpack which had gained weight since I left Finisterre and returned to Santiago. Later, I walked kilometers and kilometers, exploring incredible Segovia. I found scallop shells on buildings and in squares, and the Cathedral offers a sello to pilgrims who present a credencial. I was still on a Camino.

Segovia is a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered a Tri-Cultural intersection of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as are many other areas, cities and towns in Spain. I stayed three days instead of one,  researching my roots, and learning about Spanish and world history. Not enough time! Oh, and drinking coffee con leche, eating ice cream and discovering the hidden treasures of Segovia.

Visitors come to see the Aqueduct, The Alcazar de Segovia, originally a Moorish stronghold in the seventh through ninth centuries and the Cathedral, just to start. After checking into my hotel, I walked the few blocks to the Old City and could see the Aqueduct as I rounded the corner. What a breathtaking moment! img_8536 I found out more history on a city tour the next day. Our knowledgeable guide, Javier, is a native of Segovia.



We climbed to the top of the Alcazar with Javier, our guide, for a 360 degree view of Segovia.

This English speaking tour included only myself and an Australian family of six, which made the day even more fun. I loved seeing the magnificence and the history through the eyes of the children, ages seven to seventeen.

Roman Aqueduct

The Aqueduct,  a work of art, architecture and engineering, transported water into the city until 1950. We learned that it was built by the Romans more than 2000 years ago, with a pulley system and without mortar. Oh, to be humbled by such grandeur! Before the tour I climbed to the end of the Aqueduct with a view of the city.

Our guide walked us all over and through winding streets and quarters of the city, telling stories, answering questions and showing us spots to see later when the tour ended. One more surprise: occasionally cars speed through the narrow streets and pedestrians must be on the lookout, as well as listen for what’s around the corner.

We visited the Segovia Cathedral, last Spanish Gothic Cathedral in Spain, built in a corner of the Plaza Mayor beginning around 1525. In the entry, a crowd lined up to buy tickets for a concert. No cameras allowed inside.

Segovia Cathedral in Plaza de Mayor

Later, on my own, I followed arrows that lead a walk all over the city, up and down stairs, lookouts, viewpoints and high up the steps to the Parapet Walk and the Wall that surrounds the city.


Segovia’s Office of Tourism and the Camino connect us with the The History of Spain and the Tri-Cultural history of Christians, Jews and Moors, which I find fascinating, tragic and enlightening. I hope that learning how we were once connected will bring us closer as friends, countries and allies.

We already have a start as pilgrims, when we make friends easily as we walk on our Camino, even when we may speak different languages and are from different countries or practice different faiths or none.

Javier pointed out that Iglesia de Corpus Christi was once a synagogue, the Alcazar was a Moor stronghold from many centuries past. Signs,  plaques and information are all part of the self-guided tours. We learned that other churches and structures had been mosques and synagogues that had been converted to churches,  cathedrals or other buildings,  before, during and after the the Inquisition, officially 1492,  in Spain and other parts of Europe, also. What a complicated world!

While we share many experiences on the Camino,  this pilgrimage is our own.  In addition to the spiritual and emotional discoveries Pilgrims find, we may link our own history to Camino.

I am searching for the connection of my Jewish heritage and the past on and off the Camino in Spain. My closest known relatives are from Eastern Europe, but earlier ancestors walked on the Iberian Peninsula. From my research, I learned that Jews lived in Spain for many centuries, divided by periods of peaceful co-existence and eventful, oppressive and violent periods, until the expulsion and the Alhambra Decree of 1492,  when they were forced to convert to Catholicism, or leave and live in exile or face death. I found a treasure trove of information at the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos, The Museum of Pilgrimage and Santiago and now, the Museum in Segovia and the Jewish Quarter Didactic Centre.

I’m grateful for the lessons in listening to understand each other.  Do we sometimes misinterpret another person’s words, even in the same language? It’s a life-long journey,  learning to listen and not make assumptions, but to search for meaning.

 I asked Javier about the Inquisition and persecution of  Non-Christians, Jews and Muslims. He said they were not persecuted,  because many converted to Christianity or could leave. I suddenly realized that translating complex concepts is probably the reason for the difference between our definitions of persecution, Spanish to English, English to Spanish,  because as we continued our discussion, Javier told us about the terrible choices and did acknowledge persecution.  Last year’s tour in Madrid expands on the lessons learned in Segovia.  

The Office of Tourism honors history and discovery,  by preserving, reconstructing and researching historical monuments and quarters, including The Jewish Quarter Didactic Centre (an education center) in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. There are gold Hebrew letters in the streets and in front of buildings that belonged to Jews.

Easy to get around with, yes, ARROWS, on signs pointing the way.  I spent an extra day searching around the quarter, the streets, the buildings.

To me, visiting other cities off the main Camino routes is part of understanding the Camino de Santiago, and its meaning to each of us. I was still on my Camino in Segovia and Madrid.

I was able to connect the past with real time. I found a friend’s surname on the list of Property Owners 1492 and Before, in the Jewish Quarter Didactic Centre. Amazing to me that records have been preserved with all the changes and conflict in our world. People who are not Spanish citizens and can prove they are descendants of Sephardic Jews who lived in Spain before the Inquisition and meet other requirements, are now offered citizenship in Spain. 

A Walk to the Old Graveyard    The center and community are now excavating and working on restoring the Old Graveyard, the Cementerio Judio.  Following a map, I walked to the Cemetery, which was far across the surrounding small pine forest, El Pinarillo and up and down ancient stairs. When Javier said it was through the San Andrés Gate, I imagined I would just cross a street and find it. However, it was a journey. I walked down steep stairs, through a park, long and winding path by the Río Clamores and more stairs, looking for a cemetery site with headstones.


I wasn’t thinking how time and weather change everything and that if there had been few or no Jews in Segovia since the Inquisition, the graveyard (also called a necropolis) might not be what I expected.   I found no headstones, but finally signs to the cemetery. I am sure, that on my own,  I didn’t see or fully understand the current restoration of the graveyard,  which is in active process of excavation and important to the continued recovery of Segovia’s Jewish past.  Archaeological excavations performed in 1886 recovered much of Segovia’s Jewish history.  Someday I would like to take a guided tour to learn more.


Last stop,  The Alcazar de Segovia,

IMG_8778    Dates and “ownership” of the Segovia Castle and other landmarks may go back to early Roman times.

Much of the castle was restored after a fire in the 19th century.  Everything that wasn’t destroyed is “original” from after the fire, including major parts of the structure. There is a rumor that Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle was inspired by this medieval fortress that once guarded Segovia.

History books and internet search engines might help with the research to make a timeline of power and influence, Roman, Islamic, Spanish, as well as offer conflicting or confusing “facts,” the way of the digital age and time. History is written by humans. 


The Alcazar de Segovia

Then, all too soon, a late evening wander through the city; good food, lively crowds, music and walking around the streets and squares, waiting for the July sunset at 22:15;  I didn’t want to leave.

III     The End or the Beginning?   

The return to Madrid was another fast train to Chamartin Station and a change to Madrid-Barajas Aeropuerto, all less than 90 minutes. Check-in, security, a few hitches, comfortable flights, easy, on-time connections and here I am, home and ready to go again. Global Entry shortened and simplified my return to the states.  (Note to self: next time check my poles).

Adiós, mis amigos. I’m home now. I dream I’m walking on the Way in my new boots with a lighter backpack. img_8465 And I want to return to learn more Camino lessons. But here is one for today: be in the present, even when studying the past.

From my place on this planet, Ultreia and thank you for walking with me. Look for more blog posts to come as I UNPACK my Camino, one day at a time.

Buen Camino y con Gratitud, Irene 

9 thoughts on “Unpacking the Camino: Arrows in Segovia Parts I, II, III

  1. Armchair travel is great through your fabulous narration and pictures and conveying your perspective in the manner in which only Cousin Irene can do so! Mazel Tov!


    1. Thank you, Betty Ann. Some of the walking reminded me of our hikes from long ago. We carried backpacks that were so much bigger and heavier. Remember “Women in the Wild”? What a different walk. Enjoy your journey and thank you for walking with me, mi amiga.


  2. Dear Irene, thank you for sharing. I too long to walk another path and it’s only been 3 months since we returned from the Portuguese route!


    1. Serena, Your walk in Portugal inspired me to choose that Camino, but now I want to go back and walk more on that route, too. I think I’m still in “re-entry” mode, as if I visited another planet and I’m back on earth, trying to figure it out. That must be a sign! Hope you return to the Camino soon. Ultreia to you and Sandra and Fabio.


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