Sept 22, 2017 – Ellen and I finally arrive from London (via Madrid) on time at 10:30pm. We quickly hailed a taxi and were checked in and to our rooms by 12:00 midnight. Cecilia, my roomie, jumped up to greet me and it was such a lovely reception, especially so late at night. We chatted about our respective journeys and finally fell asleep around 1:00am!
Sept 23, 2017 – Just after 9:15am we gathered in the lobby with suitcases in hand, packed up the vans, and off to the airport to pick up Judy & Bill from Savannah, Georgia. The eight of us enjoyed a cup of coffee or water and chatted about the upcoming week.
The drive to Astorga (250 km east of Santiago) was very pleasant and the scenery was magnificent! From lush green fields, to eucalyptus forests, rolling hills, tunnels, amazingly high bridges, through the Bierzo valley (one of the popular wine regions) to the Leonese mountains, every turn was breathtaking.
By 1:45pm we arrived in Astorga at the Casa de Tepa, our home for the night. This is a beautiful Manor Home owned by the Earl of Tepa for 225 years. The present Earl lives in Madrid and is the Spanish Ambassador to the Pope. I had the pleasure of meeting his brother who spends most of his time here in Astorga.
All elements of the house are original and each room is unique in design, size, and furnishings, absolutely stunning. Lucky Paul was given the Napoleon room complete with his portrait adorning one the walls. Napoleon was a guest here in the 1800s and they honour his visit by naming a room after him. The room has a little sitting area that overlooks the courtyard with it’s inviting gardens and chairs.
Everyone has an equally lovely room in the house (they give priority to Walks in Spain guests which is wonderful). Cecilia & I have a great little room with huge doors and a balcony facing the street – and little is not an exaggeration, I think it is the smallest room in the house. We laughed so much as we are sharing a twin, and those in a room on their own have huge rooms.
Once settled, overcoming hunger becomes the next priority. The centre of town is a stones throw away and several patio restaurants surrounding the plaza and Ayuntamiento beckon (Town Hall – started in 1683 and finished in 1704). We chose the one that ‘spoke to us’ and sat down. Some of us had a snack at the rest stop so opted for a glass of wine only, while others had something a little more substantial.
After lunch we went in different directions depending on our interests. I walked over to the Gaudi church and museum and the Cathedral to take photos and took it easy until dinner time. Tammy & I sat in the lovely courtyard and chatted with those that came through, a lovely relaxing afternoon.
At 8:00pm, Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. briefed the group on what to expect over the coming week and gave us our Credencials (Pilgrim Passports). Over the course of the next week, we need to collect stamps at each of the establishments along the Camino in order to collect our Compostella or certificate in Santiago. These can consist of cafés, bars, restaurants, hotels and churches. The minimum requirement is 2 stamps per day, however the competition was on – who could collect the most stamps?
During the afternoon, Steve & Jett from Oklahoma and Luba & Gideon arrived to join the group – we are now a full contingent of 14.
Dinner was a “light” meal of salads, ham, cheese, bread and wine. Paul Sr. encouraged all of us to sit next to someone we didn’t know. This really helped to get to know each other and before long the conversation and laughter was flowing. There was so much food left over but we just couldn’t manage to eat it all. It was a great evening and we were all tucked in our beds by 11:00pm!