When we boarded the bus from Muxía the next morning, it was the first time in 52 days that we moved faster than walking speed. Everything felt so fast.
We took the bus back to Santiago (which only took an hour and a half) and found our way to our albergue for the night. As we were walking in to get checked in, we heard a very familiar accent. A fellow Oklahoman! She was from Norman, only about 30 minutes away from where lived, and had just finished her own Camino in the last day or two. We had a great talk in our bunks that night and were able to process a little more of the experience together.
We picked up the boxes that we shipped ahead at the beginning of the Camino. It felt like Christmas, tearing open the package and remembering all the things we had crammed inside. But we realized we definitely needed to downsize for the next part of our travels.
The Camino showed us how little we needed to get by. Many of the items in the shipped-ahead box were things that would bring us some sort of comfort, but we didn’t actually need them on a daily basis.
For example, I got rid of my hairbrush because I hadn’t used it in weeks. Since I had chopped about 18” off my hair before we left, it was much easier to manage. I prefer the wild, wavy, windswept style for my hair, anyway.
We got rid of/donated several more items but we were still about 8-10 lbs above what we were hoping for. We hoped that we would be able to figure out how to ship ahead for the next long hike.
You see, we had decided to embark on another pilgrimage, this time across Sweden and Norway, called St. Olav’s Way.
St. Olav’s Way or St. Olavsleden is the northernmost pilgrimage trail in the world. It follows the path thought to be taken by exiled Norwegian King Olav when he marched across Sweden/Norway to Trondheim to reclaim his throne. Before reaching Trondheim, King Olav was killed in the Battle of Stiklestad. Shortly after there were reports of several miracles surrounding Olav. He was canonized as St. Olav and interred in the Nidaros Cathedral of Trondheim. As the patron saint of Norway, his shrine in Nidaros became one of Northern Europe’s most important pilgrimage sites. Today modern day pilgrims follow the various routes to Trondheim similar to the popular Camino de Santiago in Spain.
We had learned about St. Olav’s Way on a Camino forum that we were following before our trip. Andy and I reacted the same way: wait, you mean we could also walk across Sweden and Norway?
Let’s do it!
As we were nearing the end of our Camino, we decided we may as well go ahead and walk Olav’s next. We were in decent physical shape at that point and we wanted to do it before the cold weather hit in the north.
We made our plans to leave Santiago the next morning, headed for our next stop.
Stopover in Madrid
We took an early morning train from Santiago to Madrid to rest up for a few days and see the sights. I settled back into my seat and let the gentle rocking of the train lull me to sleep.
When we got to our Airbnb, we dropped off our gear and went off exploring the city. We found a TexMex place and I was so happy I thought I might cry. I had been missing spicy food like crazy, rationing the Taco Bell sauce packets that my sister had sent with me. The hairbrush I could live without. But hot sauce was non-negotiable.
We meandered around Madrid seeing as many sights as we could for the day: Plaza Mayor, Plaza de España, Royal Palace, and Puerta Del Sol. Then we went to San Ginés for churros and chocolate, one of the richest things I had tasted in ages, before heading up to Temple de Debod to watch the sunset.
As we were leaving the park, it started raining on us, so we had a wet walk back to the apartment. But after being pilgrims in the elements for so many days on end, we couldn’t be bothered by a little rainfall.
The next day we packed in a few more points of interest: Retiro Park, Palacio de Cristal, another TexMex meal, and Barrio de Las Letras, the Literary Quarter which is where Miguel de Cervantes was born and died.
We ended the day at Mercado de San Miguel. It was a magical place that was a sensory overload. Every stall had something fresh, beautiful, and delicious to offer: produce, spices, flowers, meat, cheese, and wine. Every vendor vying for an opportunity to be deemed the best.
We made several circuits, hunting for the best dessert. I selected a violet and mango cake that looked like a piece of art. It was almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
We were satisfied with how we spent our short stopover in Madrid and were ready to move on to the next adventure.
Whistlestop in Brussels
We left Madrid for an early morning flight to Stockholm with a layover in Brussels.
What to do with a 5-hour layover in Brussels? Hit the highlights:
St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, the Royal Palaces of Brussels, Mont des Arts, Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis, Delirium tap house (the red ale was our absolute favorite!), pommes frites, and Belgian waffles.
It wasn’t easy, but we maxed out the opportunity and added another country and capital city to our list. We still had a nice buzz from our second glass of Delirium as we boarded the flight to Stockholm.
As our plane ascended, we bid a temporary farewell to mainland Europe.