I envy those living in northern Spain or anywhere in Portugal, they are always within an hour or so of a pilgrimage walk. I even envy those in the rest of Spain, or France, they can jump on a train or bus in the morning and be a pilgrim by the afternoon. Heck, even the rest of western Europe, a quick trip on a plane and they’re ready to go.
Not so for me.
I have to fly from San Antonio to a major international hub, usually Atlanta, then fly over the Atlantic for 8 hours or more, and then cobble together a travel plan that gets me to my starting point.
The most recent effort:
- Fly out of SAT at 5:30 am (tactical error # 1) to Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, an easy 2-hour trip.
- Endure a 9-hour layover (tactical error # 2). Regarding the tactical errors, apparently, I paid more attention to the $$$ signs than the travel itinerary.
- Finally, time for boarding and departure, on schedule.
- Sleep fitfully in 30-minute intervals, watch 3 movies, and 6 episodes of Parks and Recreation (my go-to show on the agonizing final hours of a long flight).
- Mercifully land in Madrid (MAD). I had booked a flight from MAD to Lisbon (LIS), leaving 2 hours after landing in Spain (tactical success # 1).
- Navigate the airport, make it through customs, and stop at the first café for coffee & napolitana de chocolate (tactical success # 2).
- Arrive at my LIS gate 30-minutes prior to boarding (tactical success # 3), only to learn my flight to LIS was delayed by 2.5 hours.
Fortunately, the flight from MAD to LIS is a little over an hour, so once we boarded and launched, it wasn’t long until we finished.
By the time we disembarked in LIS, I was fit to be tied…a full-blown (airplane) cabin fever. I had been in this unnatural and unnerving movement for over 24 hours. I had to break free.
I had studied a map of Lisbon and knew roughly where the airport was. I also had a general idea of the location of my first destination, the Sé Cathedral. It was a little less than 6-miles south of the airport, and I also knew the Tagus River was just a few blocks south of the cathedral (this is important because if I went in the river, I had gone too far). I am also very familiar with the cardinal directions.
The prudent plan would be to take a taxi or public bus. My plan – get the hell out of the confines of the airport and into the freedom of walking, natural travel. I blazed through the airport like Robert Stack in Airplane and quickly made it to the fresh air and open skies of Portugal! I looked to the sky, got my bearings, and then headed south. It would only take a couple of hours to cover the distance, natural travel in a new place!
Oh yeah, pilgrimage.
As I walked through Lisbon, I considered myself to be on pilgrimage – my course set and my belongings on my back. I arrived at the cathedral in just under two hours. As I walked up the final steep hill, I remembered that I was tired – poor sleep, jet-lagged, dehydrated, and malnourished. The Instagram crowd snapping selfies in front of the big church didn’t help, but I muscled my way to the mostly empty inside.
I paused at the beautiful stillness within – it was quiet and cool (temperature & design). I uttered a prayer of gratitude and then made my way to the Pilgrim Center in search of a credencíal and a new shell for my backpack. The church and the pilgrim symbols reminded me of the reason I was here and my goal – to learn to walk. I had forgotten in my exhaustion.
With a healthier attitude, I walked through the throngs of tourists and away from the cathedral. I needed to get into a less-touristy part of town for a sane meal. I found a plaza with a suitable café near the train station. I ordered a beer, a bottle of water, and a ham & cheese sande from a waiter that also helped me with basic Portuguese.
As I munched on my sandwich, sipped my beer, and guzzled the water, I saw a familiar face walking on the sidewalk towards me…my brother!
Best Laids Plans
The stars that had aligned for me to make this trip had also aligned for my younger brother. He was going to join me for a couple of weeks in Portugal and then head over to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port for a Camino of his own on the French route.
As we anticipated and planned our time in Portugal, we learned the way out of Lisbon by foot is a real slog and it takes a while to get out of the sprawling city. In the past, starting at Point A (Lisbon) and ending at Point B (Santiago de Compostela) would have been non-negotiable. I didn’t feel the need to do the purist/stoic route. Instead, why not take advantage of our time in Portugal and customize our way to Santiago?
- Take a train west of Lisbon to Sintra, spend a day hiking around the parks and palaces there.
- Walk from Sintra to Cabo da Roca, and from Cabo da Roca to Azenhas do Mar.
- From Azenhas do Mar, work our way up the coastline to Nazaré.
- From Nazaré, walk the Caminho de Fátima – Nazaré Way to Fátima
- From Fátima to Tomar, where we will pick up the Caminho Português, 5 days north of Lisbon.
This best laid plan started with a train ride out of Lisbon. I finished my meal, we walked to the train station, found a train to Sintra, boarded it, and 45 minutes later, found ourselves at our home for the next two nights. Sleep was well-deserved and came easy.
Tomorrow, we start walking.
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