I’m in Ponferrada! This is where I begin my pilgrimage tomorrow toward Santiago de Compostela! It’s cold and rainy and looks as though it might stay that way for the first couple of days of my walk, at least.
As could have been predicted, getting out of Bilbao was not as easy as I had hoped. I didn’t oversleep or anything (there aren’t any clocks in Spanish hotel rooms that I’ve been in so far), and I didn’t get lost. Something happened to the tracks coming in to Bilbao. Certain trains were making it in to the station, but for some reason, mine couldn’t. They packed all of us plus all those who were trying to get to Madrid, and packed us all onto buses and drove us out of town to a smaller station where the trains could reach us. It put me back only about an hour, travel time, but the train made up some time and I arrived just 30 minutes late here in Ponferrada. There were several pilgrims on the train. Several who began farther west and have decided they can’t continue for various reasons and so are taking the train to Santiago de Compostela. I hope I don’t have to do that, but I’m glad to know it’s an option. When I got to Ponferrada, I found my awesome hotel and had plenty of time to look around this city. The banks were closed by the time I arrived, though, so still no cash or attempts made at getting cash. Hopefully tomorrow? I don’t know what time the banks open here, but I’ll try to get into one tomorrow and ask about getting cash. I arrived during the closing part of the restaurants, too. I’m not accustomed to the late dinners here in Europe yet, so the fact that the restaurants don’t re-open for the evening until almost 8 pm or later has me wandering around and exploring the towns more than I might otherwise! This is great. I spent about a half an hour sitting on a bench under a portico in a major plaza tonight before the Italian restaurant that was recommended to me at the hotel opened. The receptionist at the hotel didn’t think I would have problems using my credit card. She said most places accept credit cards, so that’s good.
It’s All Saints Day today and there are several places not open today. The big templar castle that Ponferrada is known for is closed today so I couldn’t get in to see the inside, but I wandered around the outside and took some pictures. It’s definitely impressive!
I really like my hotel. It’s called El Castillo and is really conveniently located not far from the Camino and the historic center of the city. I’ve seen several pilgrims here making it into town. Two even asked me how to get to the center part of the city and I could tell them. And (!!!) the power sockets in this hotel are compatible with my international charger so I have re-connected to the USA and charged my camera. Plus, I had a fantastic dinner tonight of baked tortellini in a tomato and cream sauce in a restaurant in the older part of the city. It was so good and the first truly enjoyable meal I’ve had while here in Spain. It’s a bit dreary and rainy here tonight and on the chilly side. But this is a truly beautiful town. And the people are very nice here. I’ve met several helpful people and even when we have some difficulty communicating (everyone thinks I’m German and several have tried to speak to me in German, so far), we make it work. I went to the main cathedral to look around and sort of bumped into three elderly ladies leaving the chapel and one lady decided I needed to see the castle. She was very well-meaning and walked me all the way back down to the castle (which I had passed and photographed earlier), and she pointed out where the museum for the templar castle was, but that it and the castle are closed today but should open tomorrow around 10 AM. She was very wonderful and her companions were also very kind. All in all, I’m really enjoying my time here in Ponferrada, although it’s just for tonight. Here is the plaza in the old center of the city tonight. It’s pretty, even in the rain.
I’m wondering how I’m going to handle walking so far in a cold rain, but there’s only one way to find out. I’m happy to be starting this Camino. Bilbao was nice, but not really my cup of tea, on the whole. I have some postcards to mail and wanted to mail them in Bilbao, but the hotel receptionists couldn’t tell me where the post office was or where I could mail the postcards in Bilbao. It was strange that they couldn’t even point me toward a correo box or just post them for me. Between the weird smell of car exhaust (which is also here, I think it’s just European car exhaust), the noise at all hours in Bilbao, and the general annoyances I ran into there make me glad to finally be continuing my journey.
Onward to the Camino!