Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Santiago de Compostela

Sean set off to walk the Camino in mid May. The Camino is a walking Pilgrimage across France or Spain to Santiago, which is the Spanish word for St James the Apostle. Sean flew to Santander then travelled to Leon and he started his long 320km walk from there.

He walked through very rural areas across the Pyrenees. It was lonely and isolated for much of the way and sometimes all he saw were farmers driving tractors in the distance. He was caught in a sudden mountain thunderstorm and narrowly escaped being hit by a lightning bolt by about 50 metres, and he found that very unnerving. He depended on text messages and conversations with me to sustain him. Camino sites often advise Pilgrims to leave their mobile phones at home. I didn't think he would use it as he is technophobic but I wanted him to take it so he could call for help if he needed to. I suppose people should choose for themselves whether it would be right or wrong for them to take things like that with them. The thing is, if you are walking in a mostly unpopulated area and you break a leg, it could be a long time before someone finds you.

On 31 May, I flew from Stansted to Santiago de Compostela to meet him at the Parador dos Reyos Catolicos, or the Hospital of the Catholic Monarchs. The Monarchs were Ferdinand and Isabella, and they had the hospital built to exacting specifications in 1499, and it boasts that it is the oldest hotel in the world. I went to our very comfortable and quiet room off one of the cloisters and slept as I had been up at 4am to be at the airport by 5am. It is a 5 star hotel and I usually don't feel comfortable in them. I often feel like they are museums and afraid to sit down in case I wrinkle a cushion, but this hotel is most certainly not like that. Its just wonderfully comfortable and relaxing, and we would both like to go back there again.

Sean thought he would arrive at about 6pm, and I was in the square waiting for him to come down those famous steps. I was so excited and so very proud of him, and absolutely overwhelmed with joy. He was happy but exhausted, and we had a lovely meal in the hotel's restaurant. then a good night's sleep.

Naturally, getting his Pilgrim's Passport stamped and receiving his official Certificate was a high moment. Its an extraordinary achievement for anybody, but Sean is a 72yr old office worker!

The streets of Santiago are very wheelchair friendly. There are a lot of hills and no public transport in the narrow ancient streets of the old part of town, so if you need a wheelchair sometimes, I advise you to take it with you. The newer part of town is much like new towns anywhere and the public transport is good there. We went on a tour in a white bus that looks like a train and when we went past a Disability shop I saw wheelchairs but no scooters in the window.

I would not have coped without my small Revo scooter, and I would have held Sean back. I wouldn't have been able to cope with those inclines and distances and he would not have wanted to leave me at the hotel to go off exploring on his own. On our way home we flew from Santiago to Madrid, where we had wheelchair assistance booked. We arrived in Terminal One and were met by the Assistance Staff who whisked us through all the official checks and took us to Terminal Two for our connecting flight to Stansted. The Revo does walking speed of 4mph, and from the time we were met to the time we were handed over to the Assistance staff in Terminal Two, we had been doing walking speed for an hour. I would have collapsed if I had tried to do it on foot.

Airlines will carry scooters free of charge, courtesy of EU rules - even Ryanair. They have to measure no more than 1200 x 700mm and must have sealed batteries approved by the IATA. You also have to hand over the battery charger for inspection because, I suppose, it would be easy to put a bomb in one.

I saw no other scooters in Santiago at all, and had some envying looks from some older people, and a lot of curiosity from children. When my mother went to Benidorm she was able to hire a scooter, so they are not unknown in all parts of Spain.

Underneath here is a picture. Click on it and you can see the web-album online. There are some of the hotel and surrounding areas and a photo of the little white bus that looks like a train.

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