Tuesday, May 7, 2013 -- Valença to Redondela
It wasn’t yet raining and I desperately wanted to arrive in Tui, across the bridge separating Portugal from Spain before the skies opened up. I don’t think this was on the minds of my other companions as they were not ready to go when I was. The only other people ready to head out this morning were Charly and Tommy. Charly was ahead of everyone the entire day and I’m sure he had the right idea leaving so early since there was going to be a time change once we entered Spain and the distance we were supposed to travel today was exceedingly long. Tommy and I left a few minutes after Charly and took the alternative route through Valença promising everyone that we would wait for them on the bridge so we could cross together. It’s a shame the weather wasn’t more accommodating because Valença was such a beautiful town and I would have liked to spend some more time there wandering around. As it was, I still got a pretty good look at the city since it was early in the morning and there were no tourists crowding the cobblestone streets. Valença is surrounded by the ramparts and ruins of massive walls called the Fortaleza which is a 17th century fort built on top of two small hills and formed by two polygons. There are many places to visit within the city walls including the tiny Capela de São Sebastião. This is the Capela do Bom Jesus with the statue of Teotónio (Portugal’s first saint) in front. I was most impressed by the buildings that were covered in azulejos as well as the window and balcony decorations that were still up from the May Day celebrations. It is customary for people to decorate their homes with wildflowers on the first of May but it seems that some people like to take it to extremes as this floral-patterned butterfly attests. This is the 12th century Romanesque church of Santa Maria dos Anjos. Beyond it is the Baluarte do Socorro with its cannons facing Spain. From here there is a wonderful view over the Minho and in the distance, the Spanish city of Tui. Before crossing the Valença International Bridge, Tommy and I waited for the others. Of course, it began pouring down rain and we had to wait for it to stop before crossing. On the other side we all changed our watches to Spanish time and walked to the Catedral de Santa Maria de Tui in order to have our credencials stamped. The cathedral is from the 12th century and has a very ornate interior. I wanted to take some photos but there was a guy running around telling people that they were not allowed. I did manage to get this picture in the chapel dedicated to Santiago Matamoros. I was interested in visiting the treasury and the (reputedly) only remaining example of a medieval cathedral cloister in Galicia but I didn’t want to dish out five Euros. Besides, it was almost 10h00 and we had so many kilometres yet to walk. The cathedral is mostly known for its Gothic façade which dates from 1225 and was created by French stonemasons. Its sculptures depict scenes from the life of Christ and the life of the Virgin. Leaving town, we had to walk the Rua das Monxas or Nun’s Way past the Convento de Clarisas with its huge walls and grilled windows enclosing the order of nuns of St. Clare. Further on was the 14th century church of Santo Domingo. Like most places in Spain, you have to pay 1 Euro to have the lights illuminate the altars and of course, the machine ate my coin. While the others continued walking without me, I decided to explore the gardens behind the church. From here there was another stunning view over the Minho River. This is the 11th century Romanesque monastic church of San Bartoloméu de Rebordáns. I wanted to take a photograph of the very old fresco painting in the apse but a very angry lady stopped me before I had the chance to focus my camera. From here one leaves the town past the pilgrim statue and crosses the Ponte da Veiga over the rio Louro. The ancient Via Romana XIX winds through here and crosses over the new motorway. The rain began to pour again and I slowly made my way down the highway wondering if I was ever going to meet up again with my friends. This is the Cruceiro San Telmo with a cross marking the mournful spot where San Telmo (Blessed Peter González ) fell sick and died of a fever in 1251 on his way back from a pilgrimage to Santiago. I think it was around here that I started counting hórreos. These agricultural constructions are used to dry, cure and store corn and other cereals. They are quite unique to Galicia and consist of an oblong storage chamber with narrow spaces on the sides to allow air to pass through. They are raised off the ground to keep out small animals. The path is quite scenic for about five kilometres but before long the way leads to Porriño with its huge industrial park that one must traverse for more than six kilometres—it is truly one of the most awful places along the Camino Portugués—soulless and unsightly. I must have walked what seemed a lifetime while cars and trucks spewing carbon monoxide fumes drove past honking their horns or trying to run me down. From here on in there was absolutely nothing of interest to see along the camino. I caught up with Frank and we walked together in the hope that we would eventually catch up with Tommy and Andreas who were somewhere ahead of us. At this point, I lost all hope of ever reaching Redondela. This is the Capela da Virxe da Guía somewhere along the road going through Porriño. After a few wrong turns, we stopped at a bakery and bought some cookies that we planned on sharing with the others once we caught up with them. Once we reached the Casa Consistorial, the ornately decorated town hall built in 1924 and designed by Antonio Palacio (the statue in front of the building), we got a phone call from the others asking us to find a taxi and pick them up. I guess there was no way in hell we were going to finish the next 12 kilometers to Redondela on foot—we were all so tired and the chances of finding a bed at the albergue were quite slim. Apparently, even in May the beds fill up fast since accommodation in Redondela is questionable. I would have felt guilty for taking a taxi but this wasn’t like my camino last year where I insisted on doing everything by the book and walking every inch of the way. Not far from the Fonte do Cristo we hopped a taxi and used our few words of Spanish to tell him that we wanted him to pick up our friends and drive us all the way to Redondela. It was a tight fit but we all managed to fit inside. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING good to say about Redondela except that it has roads that lead OUT of it—this way you can leave if you want to. My God, did I want to!!! Redondela is a dump without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. There is nothing to see and nowhere to eat a nice meal. Once we reached the albergue, Tommy went inside to secure our beds but was turned away since they were already full. Fortunately, our guidebook said there was another place we could try called the Albergue el Camino. Once we found it, we had to call the owner and see if he could let us in. He said that he had some beds left but that we had to wait until he arrived before we could rest our weary bones. While we were sitting in the stairwell waiting for him to arrive, another group of pilgrims arrived and they insisted on letting them pass by so they could get to their room. I was in no mood to argue with them but Frank wasn’t about to let them skirt the rules and told them that they had to wait just like everyone else. Of course a huge argument ensued and I was afraid that fists were going to start flying. I must say that Frank was in the right but I think we made an enemy and staying in the same albergue wasn’t going to make our night enjoyable. The rooms were cramped with barely any room between bunks to store our belongings or to even move around but we were all pretty happy that we could stay together in one room. Charly finally arrived (doing the entire distance on his own by foot) around 18h30. Once I had my shower, I collected everyone’s dirty clothes and sought out a laundromat. The lady was nice enough to do our clothes but I would have to come back and pick everything up later in the evening. I was pretty disappointed when one of my shirts came back covered in rust stains. As we were leaving the albergue to find a place to eat, we came across a guy from Lithuania travelling on bicycle who was trying to find a place to stay the night. It seems our albergue was now full and the only option left to him was to find a fire station or gymnasium. I hope that he found something! Finding a place to eat was a complete nightmare. The town is full of cafes and bars but none of them served inexpensive pilgrim meals. We did find an Italian restaurant but the hostess refused to let us all sit together at one large table. There was no one in the entire place so we started to put tables together but this only upset her even more. At this point, I wasn’t about to sit and have some pushy, impolite waitress (who obviously didn’t want our business) to ruin my meal. We all agreed to leave and find something else. After some thought, I guess she had every reason to be uptight. When you go to any other country, you need to conform to their unwritten rules of restaurant behaviour. Here we were rearranging tables and chairs to suit our needs. What a terrible day. What a terrible evening. What a terrible town…everyone’s feathers were a bit ruffled I guess. We ended up eating slop from a menu that none of us could interpret. Even the waiter was clueless. He showed us that we could order hamburgers and fries but when we got our plates we did not have anything resembling a hamburger. After we ate, we found a place to have a few drinks then Tommy and I went back to the room while the others decided to hit the town and find some more places to drink. Our room had three new pilgrims who weren’t there when we left for dinner and they were all wet from biking in the rain. They snored all night long. Stay away from Redondela if you ever plan on walking the Camino Portugués. Without any regrets, I am warning future pilgrims of this unsightly and ungodly horror NOW. This place is the armpit of Spain—something they should truly be ashamed of in every way. Most people would say that if I couldn’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say it at all but that would mean that future pilgrims reading this would not be completely informed about what they are getting themselves into. If just one person heeds my warnings about how truly awful Redondela is, then I’ve done my duty.