Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Camino’

Kitchen equipment of an old churchThe experience for a vegan eating out in restaurants in Spain can range from being daunting (not knowing what the dishes and especially the sauces contain) to verging on the rather monotonous, for reasons explained below. (See my blog here about what I packed for the Camino di Santiago – clothes and food.)

The country is completely self-sufficient by growing every imaginable crop (tropical fruit may come from the Canary Islands), and the markets are brimming with the bounty of the land. Depending on the area, a 3 – 4 page menu will mostly offer meat, fish (if it’s near the coast) and cheese dishes. In our experience after travelling around Spain for 3 months and visiting hundreds of villages for morning snacks, lunches, afternoon snacks, tapas and dinners, you may expect a few truly vegan dishes at some establishments, for example: grilled, plain red bell peppers in garlic and olive oil; pan-fried “Pimientos de Padron” (small, sweet green bell peppers in olive oil and salt; “Escalivada” (grilled mixed vegetables); “Gazpacho” (raw tomato soup) and salads: some would be downright soulless consisting of a plate of iceberg lettuce, tomato quarters, olives (if you ask for them), corn (if you’re lucky, bottled), asparagus (bottled, even when in season); while others are wonderfully satisfying with up to 12 different vegetables in them.

Grilled vegetables - a standard menu item

Grilled vegetables – a standard menu item

RESTAURANTS

Fried broad beans, baked chickpeas and fried giant corn kernels

Fried broad beans, baked chickpeas and fried giant corn kernels

So, to make one’s dishes more interesting, and to take the stress away when you eat out with visiting family or friends, COME PREPARED. Bring your own protein source, for example hotel room-sprouted quinoa or mung beans), plastic container of cooked lentils; little bag of lightly salted almonds and toasted cashews; huge maze kernels found at the markets; small tin or jar of chickpeas/peas/beans, opened and rinsed out in your room; vegan cheese or spread; packet of marinated tofu; slices of tempeh; slices of vegan cold ‘meats’, etc. At the Paradors, there is a separate vegetarian menu with at least 3 or 4 vegan choices with each course. These dishes are outstanding, varies according to the season and the region, are balanced and delicious (they’ve been drawn up by the Vegetarian Society of Spain).

Interestingly, where I have been disappointed (outraged!) a number of times with the food and service was not at the regular restaurants, but at the Vegetarian ones. They will insist on adding cheese or eggs to your dish, even after asking expressively to omit these (we spoke English and Spanish). My advice is to either go to purely vegan eateries (they are doing a fantastic job), or go to the regular restaurants. I found the waiters extremely knowledgable about vegan food, they were helpful steering me around the menu or suggesting how they will be able to veganize a meal.

THE CAMINO

Baskets of dried pulses - a vegan's delight

Baskets of dried pulses – a vegan’s delight

If you stay in accommodation that has a kitchen, it is very easy to eat vegan. Dried pulses are light to carry and provide an easy protein. On the Camino are various shops: some selling only fresh vegetables and fruit; others stock produce, dried pulses and nuts apart from the usual cheese and meat. There are also tiny supermarket-style delis offering jars of preserved vegetables (such as asparagus, beans, chickpeas etc), chocolates (lots of dark, vegan options), dried mushrooms and olive oil. Dried beans take too long to cook, and you will be too tired! Couscous, millet, buckwheat and quinoa are quick to prepare, add a tin of cooked pulses and vegetables. Bake your own vegan biscuits before you go on the Camino to take with you.

In my experience, it’s actually easier to be raw vegan on the Camino. Then there’s no expectation of finding vegetable patties or tofu anywhere! Take your nut milk bag with you, soak mung beans, chickpeas or lentils (available all along the way) overnight in a mug or bowl, then sprout. Supplement further with bliss balls (roughly grind together dates, raw cashews and cinnamon – all available along the Camino – to make your own bliss balls along the way), nuts, fresh vegetables, fruit and dried fruit; buy glass jars or ring-pulled tins with asparagus, mushrooms, chestnuts etc.; take with you little bags of spirulina powder and raw protein powder for your protein needs. There are lovely picnic spots in the towns’ parks or at the entrances of villages. Recycling bins are usually close-by.

Bliss balls: raw cashews, dates, cacao and cinnamon

Bliss balls: raw cashews, dates, cacao and cinnamon

Santiago- on old doorKeep in mind that for siesta, the shops all close at either 12 or 1pm, to open again only at 4:30 or 5pm.

BRING WITH FROM ORGANIC SHOPS IN BIGGER TOWNS:

High protein grains, such as quinoa (which cooks quickly and can be sprouted), millet or amaranth are not readily available in the smaller towns, so bring your own in a small bag. White rice is available but sometimes not brown. I brought along savoury and sweet vegan biscuits; vegan spreads made from sunflower seed; few tablespoons of nut butter spooned into a tiny plastic jar; TVP which is super light in weight and cooks in minutes; vegan chorizo and tofu sausages; sugar-free protein powder (even better if it contains probiotics).

SUPPLEMENTS TO TAKE ON THE CAMINO
Vitamins: CoQ10 (for energy); B12 and iron; probiotics that don’t need refrigeration (with these you can also ferment your nut milks overnight to make yoghurt).

SNACKS

Bottled hazelnuts and spelt savoury biscuits

Bottled hazelnuts and spelt savoury biscuits

I baked my own rusks beforehand when I had an oven (with lots of dried fruit, nuts and protein powder for a solid snack); dried fruit (especially figs for calcium, raisins (not sultanas) for iron, goji berries (for calcium and iron), apricots and dates (for magnesium and energy); nuts and seeds for energy and some protein. Buy these at the produce shops in the towns you’ll be passing through. Vegan chocolate is available everywhere (the higher percentage the less likely to melt easily in the heat) – I buy 85%. Vegan, sugar-free protein energy bars: in my experience sugar depletes your energy levels very fast. Look for items sweetened with date paste or raisins.

LIQUIDS

There are water fountains all along the route, but it’s best to consult a good map to see where they are indicated. We carried a filter water bottle to fill at the many fountains to cut down on buying plastic water bottles. I brought along a couple of small boxes of rice/soy/oat milk to vary my diet. I’d open these in the evenings, add probiotic powder and leave at room temperature to ferment, making my own yoghurt for the morning. I took a small one cup plastic bottle of Kombucha fermented tea with me: these are very high in Vitamin B (which gets depleted with excessive exercise), probiotics (a good protection should you encounter a stomach bug) and it gives loads of energy.

OTHER SMALL ITEMS

I took along small bags of salt; herbs; blend of cumin and coriander; ground black pepper; dried mushrooms and a zip-lock bag with interesting herbal teas. I also brought my own muesli which is sugar-free and one small half-cup plastic container of soy sugar-free dessert with added probiotics as a treat for one of the days.

Dry mushrooms, licorice sticks and dried fruits

Dry mushrooms, licorice sticks and dried fruits

Some VEGAN menu items you may encounter in cafés and restaurants:

You may want to get out of the midday sun or pelting rain by going inside an eatery for a spot of lunch. For vegan options, it’s best to order side dishes and starters. Supplement with the items listed above. These are traditionally always vegan:

VEGETABLES:

“Escalivada” – grilled eggplant, onion, and bell pepper

“Aceitunas” – olives 

“Champiñones al ajillo” – garlic-sauteed mushrooms 

“Alcachofas al ajillo” – garlic-sauteed artichokes

“Pimientos asados” – roasted bell peppers

“Pan con tomate” or “Pa amb tomaquet” – bread rubbed with ripe tomato, olive oil, salt, garlic, ASK IF IT COMES WITH MEAT (HAM, BACON)

“Berenjena con miel” – fried eggplant strips drizzled with honey
, ASK TO OMIT HONEY “Zarangollo” – zucchini and onion stew

SALADS

“Amanida catalana” – mixed salad : ASK NO tuna / egg / mayo / bacon
“Espinacs a la catalana” – spinach (or sometimes chard “bledes”) with pine nuts, raisins and ham – ASK NO HAM

SOUPS
” Gazpachio” or “Gaspatxo” – cold soup of blended raw tomato, breadcrumbs, oil, garlic, onions, cucumber and bell pepper
“Ajo blanco” or “Sopa de almendras” – cold soup of blended skinned almonds, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt and breadcrumbs), served with grapes and sliced apple – ASK NO CHICKEN STOCK and NO EGG
“Sopa de col” – cabbage soup – ASK NO CHICKEN STOCK

SAUCES

“Sofregit” – reduction of caramelised onions, fresh tomatoes and herbs
“Samfaina” – the above sauce plus roast eggplant, courgette, peppers
“Picada” – spicy, usually breadcrumbs, garlic, almonds, saffron and pine nuts
“All i oli” – garlicky, mayo-like, but egg-less

DESSERT

“Postre de músic” – bowl of mixed nuts and dried fruit

Spain - a country that blends the ancient with the modern effortlessly

Spain – a country that blends the ancient with the modern effortlessly

Read Full Post »

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

What a great feeling when we cycled into Santiago, after 6 days on the road! The whole day I felt rather energised, my tiredness faded and I had a lot of stamina, even on the uphills. We pushed the pace a little today, arriving in astonishing good time – not in the afternoon as we originally thought, but at midday. The cathedral’s massive bells were slowly ringing out in deep tones as we pushed our bikes over the cobblestones, elated to have reached our destination. Large numbers of pilgrims were also arriving on the square: some were shuffling along from either sheer exhaustion or from the seemingly heavy weight of their unnecessarily oversized rucksacks, others were limping along from inflamed joints; most are quite sun-burned while many men had a biblical appearance (having stopped shaving nearly 2 months ago). Most make their way to the large cathedral square that is lined with spectacular Gothic buildings. We went to the Pilgrims’ office to receive our last stamp and proudly collected our pilgrim certificates, with our names translated in Latin.
Pilgrim's stamps

Pilgrim’s stamps

Courtyard of our Parador Hotel

Courtyard of our Parador Hotel

It’s lovely to be able to relax in Santiago for 3 days. Our accommodation was the elegant Hostal dos Reis Católicos (translated as Hotel of two Catholic Kings), founded in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon, as a pilgrims’ hospice (now a Parador Hotel). This is the oldest hotel in Europe still serving its original purpose. The hotel is on the square facing the cathedral: the sight of this Spanish-Gothic building is utterly astounding.

Dinner, my first course

Dinner, my first course

After a lengthly shower and a good scrub we went to the splendidly appointed dining room for our lunch at our Parador. They have special vegetarian menus, of which half the items are in fact vegan (even a dessert!).
My second course

My second course

I had 3 courses: steamed vegetable skewers with sea lettuce sauce; and a stew made from white creamy beans, green asparagus and almonds. Just divine. Dessert straight off the menu was mango and papaya slices in fresh orange juice.

The afternoon, after a much deserved siesta we sauntered in the old town where I bought a few things from the organic shop, close to our hotel and the cathedral square. We went to tea and while my partner tucked into chestnut cake, I devoured 2 no-sugar vegan wholemeal biscuits from the above organic shop. Dinner was light: we shared a plate of pan-fried peppers, to which I added a tofu patty from the organic shop.

Narrowest street in Santiago

Narrowest street in Santiago

The buffet breakfast in the Parador is a generous one with loads of vegan choices (soy milk, cereals, various breads, hummus spread, grilled vegetables, cold tomato soup, raw vegetable sticks, mushrooms stir-fry and sea weed). We then went exploring. Narrow cobbled and granite slate lanes (one that is the narrowest in Santiago: barely shoulder width) spread out from the square like a cobweb. We came across so many beautiful chocolate shop-cafés: one of them (called Valor on Rua Preguntoiro, 9 Bajo
Cup of vegan hot chocolate

Cup of vegan hot chocolate

15782, specialises in thick, molten chocolate – a quintessential drink of the Spanish, served with deep-fried churros (long spiral doughnuts). There were 6 copper and glass containers churning the chocolate at 40 degrees Celcius: imagine my joy when I could have the choice of one of 4 flavoured 70% dark chocolate drinks that were dairy-free! We dipped our jet-black sweet cherries we’d just bought at the market in the thick, not too sweet dark chocolate – heavenly!
Hot chocolate at Valor

Hot chocolate at Valor

The language spoken here is not Spanish, but Galician which is closer to Portuguese. Most people are bilingual and would switch to Spanish. For a different dining experience, we went to a combined Thai-Turkish restaurant in the old town, called Cedros Restaurant on Rua do Vilar, 81 Bajo. We sat upstairs and we each enjoyed a vegan main course of stir-fried vegetables with soy sauce, and a red Thai vegetable curry with lychees and pineapple.

Mass in Santiago Cathedral

Mass in Santiago Cathedral

A pilgrims’ mass is held every day at noon in the cathedral: the cathedral’s construction started in 1075 and was finished in 1211. The building is a Romanesque structure with later Gothic and Baroque additions. The huge choir of statues and embellished architectural features looked like it was dipped in gold. At special times of the year, typically on festive days, (or, on the day we went for the mass – we were lucky there were visiting dignitaries in togas) a giant thurible is swung. The Santiago de Compostela “Botafumeiro” (thurible), is the largest censer in the world, weighing 80 kg and measuring 1.60 m in height. Eight red-robed men pull the ropes of the pulley-system and bring the censer into a swinging motion almost to the roof of the transept, reaching speeds of 80 km/h and dispensing thick clouds of incense. One explanation of this custom, which originated more than 700 years ago — although incense had already been used in Catholic ritual from the earliest times — is that it assisted in masking the stench emanating from hundreds of unwashed pilgrims.

Dinner at an Italian restaurant

Dinner at an Italian restaurant

One day we went for tea in our Parador. While my partner had the highly praised “Tarta di Santiago” (Almond cake), I had my last sugar-free biscuit I brought along for the trip. This cake seems to be a more crumbly version than the Almond tart he had in San Sebastian. So a good vegan imitation could be: 2 cups ground plain almond flour, 1/2 cup ground then lightly oven-toasted almond flour, 4 Tbsp palm sugar, 2 Tbsp psyllium, ground, 1 ml baking soda, pinch salt, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 4 Tbsp rice milk. Make a loose, crumbly dough. Press into dish and bake. I will blog about the success of this recipe. We had the most incredibly flavoursome Rooibos teas on this trip: dried cherry with chocolate nibs, cinnamon bark and toasted cardamom; aniseed; basil and rosemary with wakame seaweed; dried figs with toasted almonds. For dinner we went to a modern Italian restaurant where I had a wonderful meal of stir-fried spinach, carrot, cabbage, mushrooms and then I added my own packet of dry-toasted broad beans for protein.

Read Full Post »

Camino markerSince we knew it would be another long cycle day with lots of pilgrims on the last stretch, we got up very early on our Day 6 at 6:15 am in order to get a head start. We had our own breakfast in the room of protein powder, cultured soy milk, home-made muesli with added nuts and Vitamin B12 powder.

We set off at 7:30 in dense, cold mist. It was magical to cycle with our lights on through the quiet countryside. We soon had to join one of the main roads to Santiago – the walking route was too rough and stoney for our bicycles. Although the traffic was not heavy, a few big trucks passed us making us a little nervous. Luckily we could turn off after an hour onto a narrow sealed walking and cycling route that meandered through aromatic eucalyptus forests and mature holm oaks. The pretty road went through small hamlets of neat stone houses, ancient churches (where we collected more stamps), delightful garden cafés of converted farm houses and fruit stalls next to the path. Countless fountains provide drinking water next to the Camino path, which was always well-signposted with the usual yellow arrow and engraved scallop shell on stone markers. For our early morning break at 9:30am we stopped at a café in a converted farm house festooned with flowers. I ordered chamomile tea, added my nettle tea bag (for my iron) and enjoyed it with a home-made rusk I dipped into the tea. I also had 2 dried figs and about 2 tablespoons of nuts and raisin mix. Suitably fortified I could easily tackle the long uphills that followed without feeling fatigued. After another hour and a half we stopped at a picnic spot off the road where tables and chairs were placed on the grass next to a fountain for pilgrims to use. There I ate my wholemeal and sunflower seed breadsticks which I spread with tofu-tomato pâté from a small tin – lip-smacking delicious.
Farm house café

Stone structure on farms - not sure if they are for drying wood

Stone structure on farms – not sure if they are for drying wood

This last cycling day was again a long one (55km), with its fair share of steep hills but also long downhills. The last part into Santiago was very crowded with pilgrims. We noticed a number of people that day who were also walking the Camino back to France (they’d be wearing the traditional scallop shell around their necks to indicate they’ve reached Santiago or even Finisterre, where the route actually ends, while pilgrims towards Santiago would tie the shell on the back of their rucksacks. It was the done Ancient Camino signthing in the 11th C to walk both ways. The whole route of over 800 km would take about 7 weeks each direction for a fit walker in modern, cushioned shoes. It was already a route of pilgrimage in the 11th century. Hostels, hospitals, bridges and churches were built along the way many of which are used by modern pilgrims of today. One can do the Camino de Santiago on foot, by bicycle or on horseback.

There was an amazing story in The Guardian Newspaper just the previous day about the Camino: Although pilgrims have been walking the St James’ Way since the 11th C (in Astorga we even stayed in an ‘Albergue’ that used to be a hospital for pilgrims for almost 1000 years!), according to the article, a quarter of the entire European population undertook this pilgrimage in the 14th C! After Jerusalem and Rome, Santiago is the third most important city for Christianity. The area of Santiago (meaning St James) de Compostela (meaning field of stars) was a Roman cemetery in the 4th century and was occupied by the Suebi in the early 400’s. The Suebi was a group of Germanic people who was first mentioned by Julius Caesar in 58 BC. These Germanic people, descendants of which occupy Bavaria, Switzerland and Swabia in Southern Germany (with their own language, Schwäbisch), established a kingdom in northern Spain which lasted for 170 years until its integration into the Visigothic Kingdom.

We stopped briefly on the last hill to admire the unfolding scene before us, like opening the pages of a giant pop-up storybook: dreamy spires, upright stone houses with white shutters, a web of narrow lanes and the huge cathedral complex with bell towers – Santiago at last!
Santiago

Read Full Post »

Camino road signWe had a small selection from the buffet breakfast the next day (our Day 5) – there was almost nothing for me at the 3 star hotel’s breakfast except for a passable kiwi fruit. Luckily I brought my own ripe banana, which I chopped into my bowl. I had already prepared in the room some raw protein powder to which I added a little sachet of Vitamin B12 and water in a small water bottle which I shook until smooth and creamy. I tossed this over my own muesli and had a feast (about 25g of protein in one session!). After my cup of nettle tea with chai tea bag, I was ready for another tough day in the saddle.

A farm house converted into a café

A farm house converted into a café


We swung our tired limbs over the saddle, and knowing some serious mountain passes awaited us, we eased into the first climb. Soon the track took us off the main road onto narrow sealed farm roads. Throngs of pilgrims were walking in long queues next to the cycle path, some singing, some chatting and others in quiet contemplation. Every now and then we passed a farm house that had been converted into a lovely café. At one of these we stopped to take a break where I drank my left-over dark red grape juice from dinner the previous night and blissfully ate one of the 6 rusks I brought with on the trip (from a batch I baked in Argüebanes), a few nuts and dried figs plus I ordered some chamomile tea. Although we were both very tired when we started cycling in the morning, we both somehow got a second wind: the 5 steep, long uphills that our Compostela cycling book warned about, we breezed up without even stopping.

Stone marker Melide
When we arrived early in Melide at 11:30am after cycling a fairly tough route even though it was only 41km, we were actually not that exhausted. Today’s route was pretty: a perfectly tarred narrow road with no cars through the forest, beautiful vistas from the steep passes and lots of Pilgrim statues and interesting stone crosses on the route. Melide is rather an ugly little town with no notable sights worth seeing. The large church was built in the unadorned Romanic style, while the small church where we had our books stamped by a soft-spoken young nun dressed in white, was built in 1949. At a green grocer we bought a peach and a greengage each, rinsed them off at one of the fountains and ate them there and then. We settled into our spartan hotel room and had a block of 80% dark chocolate I still bought in Roncesvalles.

Craving something different for lunch than my own items I bring into restaurants and having the choice of only 1 or 2 menu items, I was pleasantly surprised to find a modern, lovely decorated Döner Kebab café. I had the best falafel pita bread lunch in a very, very long time. I left the pita bread, because it’s white flour and it would be too filling, but I greedily tucked into the heap of salad leaves, tomato slices, corn, grated carrot, 3 falafels (flat ones which weren’t as rock hard as the usual offerings), drenched in delicious BBQ sauce. The friendly proprietor was so understanding of my vegan diet. Yum-yum-yum.

Day 4- departing PortomarinAfter a much needed siesta, we went for tea at a bar – strangely enough bars usually have a bigger tea selection with an interesting herbal tea menu whereas coffee cafés have only 2 choices: chamomile or mint. We ordered strawberry-cream flavoured herbal tea. I happily munched on another Green Energy bar and a sugar-free biscuit (third of 6 I took on the trip).

We then bought a few items at a decent supermarket to have dinner in our room again. There were different jars and cans of cooked lentils and chickpeas not laced with the usual row of E-numbers and added sugar. However, for my dinner I decided on wholemeal bread, my tofu, olive and bell pepper spread (9g protein), a jar of plain turnip tops (an excellent find, since these are very high in calcium) and a tiny can of mashed tomato. Can’t believe we’ll be sleeping in Santiago tomorrow!

Own dinner in our room

Own dinner in our room

Read Full Post »

Knowing the breakfast in our 3 star hotel would be mediocre (only €3.50), we had a breakfast in our room. I opened up my silicon collapsible bowl and placed chopped greengage and a peach in it. Then I poured the contents of my packet of raw protein powder (17g of protein), with the contents of a probiotic capsule and my Vitamin B12 in a small plastic water bottle. I added about a cupful of water and shook it until smooth, then poured into my bowl. I added about 4 tablespoons of my own muesli mix (oats, raisins, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, chia seeds – great omega 3 source, and hazelnuts. Divine!

Camino cycle wayThis was Day 4 of our Camino cycling, and we started the ice-cold morning with a nice downhill before 15km of strenuous hill climbing. Three times we had to take a breather in the shade. We had gorgeous views to far-flung villages, surrounded by a patchwork of farms and deep green mountains clad in dense forests. Going over farm land, through dense forests and tiny hamlets, the Camino (St James walkway), varies a lot: from packed stones by monks from the 10th century, to loose stones and compacted dust roads and even sealed pathways. Viewed from a distance, the walkway looked like a white ribbon lying in the fields, stretching over hills and eventually over mountains. Walkers are bearing their backpacks like snails their shells.

Picnic spot along CaminoAlong the way we stopped at a café in the village Sarria. I ordered a glass of fresh orange juice (and ate my raisins with it – the Vitamin C is excellent for the absorption of iron in the raisins) and a cup of ’tila’ (lime blossom) herbal tea, which I had with one of my home-made rusks. We cycled a gruelling 5km up a mountain pass before stopping in a tiny village for water. Since we carry our own water filter bottles to cut down on plastic, it’s very easy to get water all along the way at fountains. At our resting spot I ate 2 dried figs and about 1 and a half tablespoons of my mix of corn kernels, sunflower seeds, Greek currants and almonds. We were beginning to get seriously fatigued so after doing only another 5 km uphill we stopped in the shade next to the road where I ate 1 date.

We arrived totally exhausted in Portomarin. The town was shifted up the hill in the 1960’s when the river was flooded to build a reservoir: the massive Romanesque church was moved stone for stone, but the houses were newly built but in the old style of the area, with covered arcades around the shops on the square. When the water level is low – as it was then – one can see the ruins of the stone houses, towers and walls that are at times submerged under water. We stopped on the long bridge looking at the eerie sight.

Pedestrian street in Portomarin

Pedestrian street in Portomarin

We refreshed ourselves in our room before setting out to find a restaurant. We eventually found a plain, quiet restaurant that will serve lunch straight away – most only start serving after 1:30pm. While my partner had his usual 3 course pilgrims’ menu, I managed to order plain white asparagus over which I poured a little olive oil and as a second course I had my favourite, the ‘Pimientos de Padron’. When we walked into the café, I spotted across the counter all sorts of nuts they were selling. So I had a whole packet of 75 g (!) lightly salted, toasted cashew nuts as my protein. For after, I had 4 blocks of dark 80% vegan chocolate from my bag. After lunch we just collapsed on our beds for a few hours – the exhaustion is accumulating and we are starting to feel very tired. Luckily I brought most of my vegan protein supplies along, or I would have definitely struggled. I tried to keep my energy and iron levels high by having dates, raisins, goji berries, nuts, dark chocolate and packets of protein powder.

After siesta time we walked to the church: San Pedro is a huge block of a building, resembling both a church and a fort. There we had our Pilgrim Books stamped. At that moment one of the Pilgrims in the church stood up from the pews, walked to the front of the church and sang, unaccompanied in her strong, trained voice two moving arias. We all sat transfixed in the cool church with its simple grey interior. By the late afternoon the little town was flooded with pilgrims who intended to overnight there: so many of them were limping from weeks of exhaustion, most of those had a bandage over one or both knees and a few even had plasters over their knees or elbows from slipping on cobblestones worn smooth from millions of feet through the ages.

Church in Portomarin

Church in Portomarin

Views from our hotel veranda in Portomarin

Views from our hotel veranda in Portomarin

After buying food for our own dinner at the small supermarket we returned to our room. We washed out a few laundry items and hung them out in the sun. We also cleaned our bicycles and oiled the chains. The roads are very dusty! At 5pm we ordered some hot water to be brought to our room to which we added our own almond-honey Honeybush tea bag. I had a small bliss ball and a vegan sugar-free biscuit (number 2 of 6 I brought along). We had our own dinner on our veranda with stunning views over the distant farms. I had wholewheat breadsticks with olive oil and Marmite (excellent source of B Vitamins and iron), soy bean sprouts from a glass jar we had just bought, olives, a whole fresh red bell pepper and about 2 tablespoons of remaining air-dried chickpeas. I had a glass of pure red grape juice and 2 glasses of soy milk. I emptied a probiotic capsule into the remaining soy milk in the box, and left it to cultivate at room temperature. At 9 o’clock I was ready for bed!

Read Full Post »

The breakfast room of our accommodation looked like it was designed by Laura Ashley. While lycra-clad teams of cyclists were getting ready to set off at 7 am, we sat down to a small breakfast buffet of sweet, fresh orange juice, my overnight-cultivated rice milk, mixed in a sachet of Vitamin B12 and Raw protein powder, used the fruit from the buffet (kiwi, half a banana, piece of watermelon), topped with my own muesli and toasted almonds. I asked for hot water to brew my bag of nettle tea, to which I added a bag of chai tea. Isn’t this a feast!

Castle of Villafranca del Bierzo

Castle of Villafranca del Bierzo

The route from Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreio (our third day) is the toughest on the Camino for both walkers and cyclists. We set off at 7:30. It was bitterly cold at only 5 degrees Celcius – my fingers barely wanted to co-operate to take a beautiful photo of the square castle with round turrets on the corners and the huge cathedral behind, on the outskirts of Villafranca del Bierzo. After a relatively easy 15 km cycle, we stopped at an artisan bakery in the quiet farming community Vega de Valcarce where I had Rooibos tea and my partner had an espresso. I had a dried fig and some nuts while he tucked into a raisin-walnut bread roll. Then it was a gruelling 10km that was incredibly steep uphill all the way – we had to push the bicycles at intervals which was also exhausting. Once, I had to stop to stuff a date in my mouth for extra energy. The path was a sealed road through forests and along farms with only 2 cars that passed us (taxis taking people to the top for whom the climb is just too demanding). Eventually we reached the top (we climbed from 500m in Villafranca del Bierzo where we started the day to 1300m). We took a welcome break at a farmhouse in La Laguna de Castile, converted into a lovely café. We were not surprised that the café played Celtic music: Celtic traditions are still very strong from when these parts of Spain were originally Celtic settlements centuries ago. Curio shops also sell Celtic jewellery. I restored my energy with dates, biscuits I bought earlier at an organic shop, raisins and goji berries.
Day 3- O Cebreiro, pre-historic style houses

From there it was another long steady climb of only 2.2km, which took us nearly forty minutes, to O Cebreiro. We had our Camino books stamped at a church, parts of which remained from the 9th century! In the coolness of the church (it was then in the 30 degrees) we listened to soothing Latin music while appreciating the more simplistic Romanic-style interior, different from the elaborate Gothic we’ve been seeing lately. The town’s buildings – only about 6 – were built along a pre-historic pattern unique to this area: a circular building in stone with a low door, heavy lintel, almost no windows and a slate or thatched conical roof. It was then 2:30, so we sat down for a two course lunch (late for us, but the Spanish lunch is from 2-3pm). I ordered only a plate of sliced tomatoes and olives, to which I added my own packaged sunflower seed wholemeal breadsticks and tofu-sunflower seed spread. So delicious and satisfying!

Church in O Cebreiro

Church in O Cebreiro

Pimentos de pedronAfter whizzing down a nerve-wrackingly steep road, we arrived in Triacastela for late afternoon snack-lunch (yes, I know, our second lunch!). While my partner devoured two courses from the ‘menu del dia’, I asked for only a plateful of “Pimientos del Padron” (pan-fried baby green bell pepper tossed in salt – actually a good meal to replace salt lost from sweating. This is a common vegan menu item. I supplemented this with about 2 tablespoons each of a dried mix of giant corn kernels, peanuts and sunflower seeds; dried chickpeas and raisin-goji mix.

My giant corn kernels, nuts and goji berry snack

My giant corn kernels, nuts and goji berry snack

It was then an easy 10km cycle to Samos, our destination which we reached at 4pm (having cycled since 7:30 that morning, making it 5 hours in the saddle, 64km of cycling). I barely had my bike folded up before stuffing my face with a Green energy bar I brought with me all the way from NZ and opened my small bottle of Kombucha I bought in Pamplona at the organic shop, specially for this trip. Even though this was a heavy item to carry until now, I saved it for this longest day: with strenuous exercise your body leaches Vitamin B’s, making Kombucha an excellent nutritious drink.
Samos- 15th C cathedral

We then strolled to the town square to a local café to enjoy some green tea. Dinner was in our room again: a jar of Chinese vegetables (no sugar, no preservatives), a raw red bell pepper, and, in a tea pot with boiling water I requested, I placed 2 tablespoons of TVP, about 6 large flat green beans and dried porcini mushrooms I brought with. This softened nicely, which I drizzled with a tiny bottle of olive oil, which contains only 1 tablespoon of oil, I also brought with. Just before bedtime I had a cup of Rooibos tea with a biscuit (I brought only 6 along) from an organic shop purchased before the trip.

Read Full Post »

Astorga Roman city walls

Astorga Roman city walls

We made the decision not to tackle the bone-crunching steep mountain of Montes de León the next morning, because the following day would be our toughest having to cross over an even higher mountain. Our leisurely breakfast buffet was enjoyed in the restful garden (I had my subtly cultured soy yoghurt, own blend of sugar-free muesli, the fruit from the buffet, sprinkled over my Vitamin B12 and steeped my nettle tea, which contains lots of iron). This would usually be enough food for me, but since we’re doing tough cycling, I decided to also have a slice of sourdough bread from the buffet, poured over a little olive oil and added a slice of sweet tomato. We then went sightseeing around the town, walking along the Roman walls. Astorga used to be a Celtic settlement before the Romans founded the city here of Asturica in 14 BC. The city walls near the church are in pristine condition!! Even the Roman baths (from 1-3 AD), sewers and original military camp can be viewed.

Chocolate galore

Chocolate galore

There were so many chocolate shops! Most sell only very dark, dairy-free chocolate, so I had a feast. We went for tea at a lovely tea shop, which had a tea menu of 6 pages with all their different teas. (“Té Rojo’ is Pu-er tea, sometimes translated as Red tea; Rooibos keeps its name while “Té Azul” is Oolong). I had a tea made from olive blossoms, and my partner had one made from cacao nibs, vanilla, cardamom and raisins. There is a lovely organic shop, on the town’s square, called Edybel (18-19 Plaza Santo Cildes). It has a fridge section, cosmetics, teas, pulses, grains and healthy packaged foods.

We then took the bus (what a joy fold-up bicycles are!), to Ponferrada. An ugly mining town, we intended only to have lunch on the square before continuing our journey. We opted for an Italian restaurant – the only place that was serving at 12 already – and I had their vegetarian pizza without the cheese. I again experienced the local people’s generosity: when I stood admiring the town’s only worthwhile attraction, the 12th C impressively large and restored castle of the Knights Templar, a man walking past eating white cherries, saw I was a pilgrim and gave me his entire bag of white cherries! (To show one is doing the Camino – that one is a pilgrim – a scallop shell is tied to one’s bag/rucksack.)

Ponferrada cycle route
Our cycle route for the afternoon was mostly on quiet back routes for walkers and cyclists, going through small farming communities. Rows of wooden houses are built canter-levered style on the second level. After cycling 20km we stopped for afternoon teas: I had another 2 bliss balls, my left-over white cherries and a few raisins with my fruit tea. Soon we stopped again, at one of the pilgrims’ churches to have our Pilgrim’s Book stamped and dated – already our books boast a number of interesting pictorial stamps. The elderly woman who stamped my book, took me around the church explaining some of the paintings and stained glass windows, in Spanish. I could only catch snippets of information. All the while a group of young studying priests were chanting in unison in an informal group in the pews. The woman kissed me on both cheeks and pressed a card into my hand on which was written the well-known words of the Pilgrim’s Prayer.
Stork nests

Although we only had 27km to do, we had a number of very steep hills. We were rather relieved when we finally spotted the spires of the 3 churches of our destination not too far away. We had cycled against a dreadfully strong wind in our first really hot day in ten days on the north. We headed for the square where we shared a pot of herbal-flavoured Rooibos tea while munching on mixed nuts (hazelnuts and almonds) from a nearby shop, plus I had 2 blocks of very dark chocolate (one was sweetened with stevia, the other flavoured with hazelnut pieces) and a Greens energy bar.

Our night’s accommodation in Villafranca del Bierzo was in a renovated boutique hotel, decorated in calming whites and creams throughout. Notable about this village, and others we cycled through, was that the houses’ roofs are not tiled in terracotta but instead semi-circular black slate tiles are used. Another peculiarity of this wine-growing area of Bierzo, is that wine is drunk from saucers instead of glasses!

Our room in Villafranca boutique hotel

Our room in Villafranca boutique hotel

We again had our own early dinner in our room, consisting of a large jar of 5 different vegetables, a tin of grilled red bell pepper (“pimientos”), I also had a handful of packaged chickpeas (cooked, then air-dried and unsalted – the protein is a whopping 22.1g per 100g) and left-over sourdough bread bought earlier in the day. Just before bedtime we had Rooibos tea brought to us on a tray, which we enjoyed with my home-made rusks (baked a couple of weeks ago, for the Camino when I wouldn’t have an oven). I also added a probiotic capsule to my small box of rice milk I packed in, to cultivate my own yoghurt for the next morning.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »