Guinness Storehouse

as a fan of craft brews, and living less than 10 miles from one of the most popular microbreweries in the state, I’ve taken a brewery tour or two (or dozen) over the years. from DIY affairs, to ones where the brewmaster takes you back among the tanks to explain the finer scientific points of beer brewing, to very limited, controlled situations where the script never deviates from the one all “tour guides” are compelled to memorize, the experience at the Guinness Storehouse is just that — an Experience.

with annual sales topping more than 1.8 billion U.S. pints, it shouldn’t have surprised me how thoroughly and expertly produced the “tour” at St. James’ might prove. in the dozen years since the Storehouse opened as a self-guided tour and attraction, over four million people have visited. the site, St. James’ Gate, was initially leased to Arthur Guinness in 1759 for the amount of 45 GBP each year for the duration of 9,000-year lease. (the company has since expanded outside its initial footprint and ultimately bought the land outright. a copy of that original lease is displayed under glass in the floor of the atrium.

the building that houses the Storehouse was constructed in 1902 as a fermentation plant for the brewery. it served as this capacity until a new fermentation plant was built along the River Liffey in 1988. the attraction is laid out over seven floors in what was, at the time it was built, the largest steel-framed structure in Ireland. the atrium is rather cornily designed to resemble the shape of a pint glass. the first floor introduces visitors to the four ingredients of beer – water, barley, hops, and yeast — and the general brewing process. after years of intimate and in-depth tours of craft and microbreweries, the polish of production surprised me a bit with projections of boiling tubs of wort and ovens of roasting barley, but seemed expertly and deftly done. you can’t actually see Guinness being brewed anywhere along the tour, but you can see the buildings at which various steps of the process take place! on the whole, the exhibits presenting other information interested us more. we saw examples of their famous marketing campaigns – My goodness! My Guinness! – Guinness advertisements on television throughout the decades (with cheesily appointed rooms identifiable by decade),  the famous harp seen in the logo encased in glass at the top of one escalator.

the most interesting part, by a stretch, however, was the exhibit on the cooperage. at the height of barrel production (for transporting the black stuff) in the 20th century, Guinness employed hundreds of coopers. within a few decades, as aluminum kegs came into use after 1946, the number dropped precipitously — from some 300 in the war years to 70 in 1961. the last wooden cask was filled at St. James’ Gate in 1963. the exhibit featured all the tools of the trade, as well as fascinating footage from the 1930s or so of men at work – clearly decked out in their Sunday best to show off their work to the camera – working through the entire process of making a barrel. after that exhibit it was mostly down to figuring out where we’d like to enjoy our “complimentary” pint of Guinness. (we opted for the Gravity Bar at the top of the “pint glass” with panoramic views of the city.)

I had absolutely no idea of this: according to Wikipedia, St. James’ Gate traditionally served as the starting point for Irish peregrinos heading to Santiago de Compostela. they could get their credencials stamped in the brewery before catching a boat to Spain; the nearby church will still stamp them for you.

Cathedral at night

for the first time on the Camino, the night we arrived in Santiago, we got to enjoy the twilight and experience Spain as it ought to be experienced — when everyone else is out and about.

for much of our time in Spain we, along with the other peregrinos, operated on a clock wholly our own — up before sunrise and on the road, lunch between 11 and 1 and dinner between 6 and 8, at the latest. most of the time this proved a non-issue; most of the places we traveled through operated on peregrino time as the main industry of many of the towns was serving peregrinos. in the big cities it wasn’t problematic, but it did mean we missed some of the more exciting things Spain had on offer. staying at an albergue the day after León, we met some Australians who’d gone out with friends while in the city and regaled us with stories of the music and food and nightlife they got to experience while there. we, on the other hand, were back in our hotel, enjoying a bottle of wine on the balcony, watching the Eurovison song contest until the satellite cable went out and we went to bed. before 9:00 p.m. I can’t imagine being out late on any night of the Camino, then getting up to walk the next day in any state of fatigue beyond what we already put up with. in Santiago, we had lunch so “absurdly” early (around 1:30p.m., after the end of the Mass) that the restaurant wasn’t prepared to seat us right away. we had the dining room to ourselves for a short while, but a group of English-speaking tourists in town for shopping filled up a large table after a while.

after our celebratory lunch, we wandered around the Old Town — designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the fifth of our trip. the town was destroyed in the 10th century and entirely rebuilt in Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque styles; the Cathedral anchors the old town and is one of the oldest sites in the city. that majestic Cathedral helped make Santiago the third most popular medieval pilgrimage site, after Rome and Jerusalem. the streets, not surprisingly, wind erratically and take you unexpected places. if you try and follow the may to get from one point to another, you will likely prove unsuccessful; once we got a sense for landmarks, though, it wasn’t too hard to get where we intended.

we headed back to the hotel after a good wander, nabbing snacks from a corner store just at the edge of Old Town, and spent the remainder of the afternoon and much of the evening relaxing, reading, and watching Euro 2012 matches. when we ventured forth again, twilight was settling, and I wanted to see what the Cathedral looked like in a different light.

under the balcony of the Pazo de Raxoi (Palacio de Rajo, the seat of Galician government) a string quintet (sextet? quartet?) was performing and had drawn a group. not as atmospheric as the gaita gallego as we entered the Praza de Obradoiro the first couple of times, but pleasant all the same. the building was commissioned by the archbishop of Santiago in 1766 as a seminary for confessors. it previously housed a prison and the western wall of the city and ownership of the proposed building was disputed by several parties, all of whom had an interest in the land and its future uses. the facade is graced by a depiction of the Battle of Clavijo, topped by a sculpture of Santiago Matamoros, and plays a pivotal role in the conclusion of  Sharpe’s Rifles.

in the middle of the plaza, serenaded by the strings, stood a group of cyclists having their triumphal photo taken. it’s staggering to think they’d just arrived in the city — it was after 10:00 p.m. — but they had all their gear on and had that elated, just-arrived air. quite a dramatic time to arrive, though on the whole I’m partial to an earlier arrival that allows more time to contemplate what you’ve just achieved and soak in the ambiance.

first glimpse of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

once we regained the usual Camino, we made our way through a series of towns clearly devoted to serving peregrino purposes. for the first time I saw a sign indicating facilities were for guests or customers only. slightly off-putting considering the generally warm welcome we received virtually everywhere else along the Camino; but then, a lot more people travel this stretch of the Camino. busloads of people; people who might not have spent the previous month trying to be good stewards and respectful travelers.

in any case, just before we stopped before breakfast at a lovely stone casa rural (where the proprietor was cleaning up after the previous night’s guests and not quite ready for those inclined towards breakfast) we passed through Lavacolla where medieval peregrinos stopped to wash and purify themselves before making the final trek into Santiago. in the Middle Ages, average Christians bathed infrequently and peregrinos pretty much not at all. whether mandated or a matter of personal preference, peregrinos used the stream to bathe. apparently, purification practices differed in their complexity and thoroughness, from washing only portions of the body to cleansing all the dirt from the journey and changing clothes. (both the modern name and Latin name of the town refer to simply washing ones privates. I’ll leave it to the truly interested to translate Lavamentula [Latin] and Lavacolla [medieval Romance].) those peregrinos were often accosted by advance men for taverns, inns, restaurants, and other services in Santiago, warned of the scarcity of lodgings in the city and encouraged to hand over a deposit or full night’s payment to secure a bed. unscrupulous tavern shills offered samples of wine that never tasted quite as good in Santiago.

Cathedral spires!!

after Lavacolla, we passed the studios for TV Galicia (the highest point of this day’s hike, as lamented by our now-derided guidebook) and ascended the Monte de Gozo (Mount Joy), so named for the euphoria peregrinos experienced as they reached the summit and looked down on Santiago de Compostela. eager to get to the city, we kept going and got into a leap-frogging pattern with a group of day-trip Germans until just outside the walls of the old city. and just before we caught our first glimpse of the Cathedral at the heart of the city …

real ice cream in Arca

last stop before Santiago. day thirty-three. our soggiest day by far, with a steady drizzle through the first half of the morning. it was an uneventful hike, though there was the now-common influx of shorter-trek peregrinos. all the cafes we passed were packed with the weary and foot-sore; more Spaniards than earlier on the Camino though just as many Germans. met up with a young American college graduate who’d just concluded a year of teaching and working in Galicia. she was hiking the Galician leg of the Camino to wrap up her experience before (she hoped) moving on to teach in Andalusia. she was quite chatty and I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps it was refreshing to speak with native English-speakers or Americans. maybe I’m projecting; even with a compatible companion there comes a point when alternative conversational partners are a treat.

the path crossed the busy N-547 numerous times, more frequently and more dangerously than on any other day. it’s one of the major highways leading into Santiago — not unlike walking across US 14 when it shifts back into two lanes when driving south from Madison. the peregrino paths were well maintained but not always cordoned off from vehicular traffic. though at one point there was a pretty nifty pedestrian tunnel with large stones planted mortared into the walls that went under a hidden bend in the road and down into a cluster of farming houses and outbuildings.

Arca was an interesting place; the path spilled us out next to a sport complex and had us double back towards the highway. the whole town, it seems, is devoted entirely to the service of peregrinos to even greater extent than any of our previous stops. the first two places we sought lodging were filled for the evening — despite our early arrival. our third stop proved more successful, even if it sat on the busy highway in the middle of town. the guy working the desk seemed somewhat chagrined that the only remaining room didn’t have an en suite but for the price and the time of day we were thrilled. once we got up to the room and plopped down for our standard afternoon naps, we were even more pleased — memory foam bed and extra, fluffy pillows! once I finally got to sleep, it was a glorious sleep.

after the standard shower/catnap we headed out for an underwhelming lunch … and the first real ice cream since leaving Wisconsin! we’d had plenty of tasty ice cream bars and sandwiches along the Camino, particularly after the hot, sweaty days trekking across Castilla and León but this … this was real ice cream sundaes with whipped cream, a combination of tasty flavors, and (most intriguingly) hot chocolate to top them off. as a died-in-the-wool Wisconsinite, I’ve had my share of fantastic ice cream but what we had in Arca stands high on the list.

a mere 21 kilometers to go — a now laughably-paltry distance. that change in perspective was one of the more remarkable things about the last days of the Camino; what had only a few weeks earlier seemed like a insane challenge now seemed not only feasible but downright leisurely (which it wasn’t, but more about that shortly)!

the ever-changing Camino

there isn’t much to say about Arzúa or our thirty-third day on the Camino. evidence suggests the town was heavily settled before the arrival of Rome; following the expulsion of the Moors, the people who resettled the area came from the Basque region. it sits in the middle of prime dairy land and we saw warnings for cows crossing the road in many places (as seen below). in recent years, however, increasing tracts of land once used for grazing have been given over to eucalyptus groves, which is harvested and used in furniture and paper production. this proved particularly evident in the hike from Arzúa to Arca. several species were imported from Australia in the 1860s and have proved demanding in the ways of all non-native species — without natural controls, they consume resources local species would otherwise use and suck up copious amounts of water.

fortunate for the plants forced to compete with the eucalyptus, water is in plentiful supply in Galicia — rain shadow and all. this particular day provided us with deceptively numerous ups and downs, dropping down and climbing out of narrow river valleys and crossing over creeks. outside one shop (perhaps attached to a tiny not-yet-open-for-the-season albergue) we saw one of the more unique pack transportation mechanisms of the Camino: someone had attached their bulging pack to a golf cart. there were lots of places earlier on the Camino where this modification would have been more of a hindrance than a help, but on the well-maintained sendas of Galicia it was probably immensely useful.

somewhere earlier on the Camino, when the terrain was still rugged (i.e. before getting into Castilla) we saw a guy with a waist harness that hooked up to a bike-sized trailer with kid-buggy size wheels. unlike the golf cart version, this guy didn’t have to tire his arms out by pulling his stuff behind him; he’d just shifted the weight he carried so it didn’t rest on his shoulders. we saw another, larger cart in a village just outside Astorga. a parent at a cafe saw the cart (painted red with slogans on the sides) and wanted to get a shot of his kid standing atop it. they hoisted the young one up and he let out a wail of dissatisfaction that echoed down the main road. 

no-so-helpful maps of Galicia. where are we on that?

celebrating a milestone

while we didn’t take the opportunity to stop and take a photo with the 100 km marker, we did make a pit stop and snagged a banana at the first cafe after the marker. along with, it seemed, everyone who’d set out from Sarria that same morning. people lined their packs and walking sticks up along the stone wall across the road from the cafe, which reminded me of The Way but without the threat of potential snatch-and-runs. no peregrino would want to carry more than they already had and this village was far enough from anything as to deter would-be thieves from making the trek.
after our regular afternoon nap upon arrival in Portomarin, we headed out to find food and to enjoy a pint of the local brew — Estella Galicia.


what I remember best from Portomarin is the group of Spanish gents at the table next to us at our dinner in perfect weather under the colonnades singing a Camino-based drinking song. they asked us to take their picture and were all wearing close-but-not-quite-matching hiking gear. the food was pretty good, if somewhat pricier than what we’d grown accustomed to during the portion of our Camino that occurred prior to Sarria. after so many bland bocadillos “sustaining” me through Castilla and León a tasty Galician soup went a long way towards satisfaction.

as with all the other small towns through which the Camino winds in Galicia, the hike from Sarria to Portomarin wended through hamlets consisting of no more than three or four houses each. one village, in which we stopped for a bite to eat at an albergue with at least three employees, had a registered population of one. more people worked at the cafe adjoining this one albergue than officially lived in the village!

of course, the most notable thing about this stretch of the Camino was passing 100 kilometer mark; some peregrinos (whom we didn’t recognize from our preceding weeks on the road) stopped to pose with the marker which, because of adjustments to the route, doesn’t actually mark the true distance from Santiago. as with the 0 mile marker in Key West in February, we didn’t feel compelled to stop and get a picture but rather pressed on to the next town, took a pit stop, grabbed a banana, and took a photo of the 99km stone. one benefit of the increased number of peregrinos became apparent just before the 100 km mark; whereas before we might have had to trudge through the shallow water of a inconsequentially-small creek or forge ahead unsteadily on stepping stones, the number and nature of peregrinos heading out from Sarria merited path improvements that separated and raised the pedestrian path from the water.

the bridge crossing the rio Minho has proven crucial to the development of the town since Roman times; it bolstered the importance of the village on the east-west route across northern Spain as well as a waypoint for peregrinos during the height of the Camino in medieval times. its strategic importance meant it was usually garrisoned — and mentioned in nearly every medieval and Renaissance-age itinerary through this part of Spain — and thus a useful stopping point for weary travelers of the Camino. even before Alfonso IX (he who died on his way to Santiago) granted control of the town to his preferred religious order, several hospices tended to the needs of the faithful passing through Portomarin.

this strategic importance changed drastically in the 19th and 20th centuries as motorized vehicles and the roads on which such things traveled favored the town of Lugo, some 30 kilometers to the north, rather than this historically significant and aquatically-situated town. in the 1950s, the town again came to prominence as location as an important source of hydroelectric power; the new reservoir ultimately drown the old town though important artifacts were removed block by block for reconstruction in the new town at higher elevation. apparently when the reservoir loses depth, either for draining or due to drought, evidence of the old town and its original Roman bridge emerge from the muddy lake bottom.

other interesting facts about Portomarin: while the main roads leading up from the river (and the one that transected the main road and led to the main albergue slightly uphill) contained an array of spiffy, tourist-oriented shops, just a block to either side told a different (though not depressing) story. the main drag, catering to peregrinos and other tourists, were quaintly constructed and clean — the picture with the colonnade looks back towards the river and the direction in which the Camino continues. the Post Office was one of the nicer ones I’d seen (though nearly all were more majestic than the one I usually go to at home, which occupies space designed to house a McDonald’s). walk to the other side of the building, or one block off the neat and clean main drag and you’d find a tractor parked, ready to head home after its owner conducted his (or, perhaps more likely, “her”) business in town.


as the title of my last post about Spain alluded to, the one-hundred kilometer threshold holds significance on the Camino. for those of us who set out from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port or farther afield, it serves as a somewhat awe-inducing reminder of how far you’ve come and how a once-staggering distance (i.e. the last 100 kilometers) now seems all but inconsequential. for many, though, Sarria marks a convenient location with lots of lodging and dining amenities from which to start an abbreviated but Compostela-earning Camino. in other words, you can walk from Sarria and still receive a certificate of your achievement upon reaching Santiago. some quarter of of all those who complete the Camino and wait in line to receive their Compostela start in Sarria.

while archaeological evidence points to pre-Roman settlement of Sarria, better evidence dates from the 6th century when a Bishop spearheaded resettlement after a Moorish invasion. early noble Galician families viewed the town as their seat and later Alfonso IX died in Sarria while on his pilgrimage to Santiago; the hotel in which we stayed right next to the rio Sarria was named in his honor.

during the 15th century, disgruntled peasants revolted in Galicia and destroyed the castles and holdings of nobles in Melide, Arcos, and Sarria. after its destruction, a bishiop reconstructed the castle in Sarria, but it didn’t last very long before deteriorating and falling apart. all that remains of the former residence of the counts of Lemos is one reconstructed tower.

in an effort to reach our next destination in time to secure some sort of tolerable lodging in Portomarin, we left Sarria as the sun rose. the view from atop the hill above the city as the sunrise burned off the fog was wonderful. just after crossing the medieval Ponte Apsera over the rio Celerio we had a close encounter with an early-morning commuter train. not unpleasantly close, giddily close. it was an interesting reminder of how long it had been since we’d been on any means of motorized transportation … and how we had another week on foot before reacquainting ourselves with such speedy movement.

down the hill into the rain shadow

the hike down from O’Cebreiro proved dramatically different than the ascent the previous day. it was overcast and windy in the passes and stayed much cooler well into the middle of the day. (once we got to Triacastela and the day washed off, I was a bit wishful for a warmer pair of clean pants.) the main roadway down from O’Cebreiro cuts over a 1,264 meter pass at Alto San Roque, where there’s a large statue of a peregrino gripping his hat and bracing against the wind. (of course we had to cross the road and pose with it.) the bronze Monumento do Peregrino stands atop the peak near an old hermitage of the same name. the first record of the hermitage dates from the early 17th century and is known for its unique architecture and wooden facade.

not long after posing with the statue, we stopped for a quick bite at a small cafe in Padornelo where a hopeful, speckled rooster hovered around our table, hoping for flakes to drop off our bocadillo. it wasn’t the last close-encounter we had with livestock or wildlife in Galicia which, similar to western portions of Ireland, has a disproportionate human-to-livestock ratio. because the Camino often follows farm tracks and narrow back-roads, we encountered lots of evidence of cows or sheep heading from their lodging in one of the tiny farming hamlets that led to Triacastela off to their pasture for the day. on one memorable occasion, we encountered a herd of lovely caramel-colored cattle heading uphill rather late in the morning. two younger Spanish women (maybe college-age) walking just ahead of us seemed fascinated by the cows … in a way that made it seem obvious they must live someplace where one doesn’t run into cows very often. or ever. one of them walked right up to one of the cows to pose for a picture; the cow, obviously freaked out by this strange person approaching her, stopped and halted the progress of the herd up the hill. the farmer, who was leading them to pasture, came storming up at the rear of the herd and ripped into both of them for stopping the cows. I couldn’t understand precisely what either side was saying (as it was in Spanish) but the sentiment needed no translation.

for much of the descent, as the guide book alerted us (correctly and reasonably for once), was through clouds — visibility wasn’t more than a few hundred meters at best for quite a ways. it was a nice change from the heat of the previous days, even if my hair did some wacky curling. the increased precipitation meant an array of new flora, including blue lilies, wild roses, blackberries, hawthorn, broom, gorse … as well as more fauna. likely because of the smaller human population, there’s a diverse wildlife population in Galicia, too. apparently, if we’d been observant, we might have seen evidence of wolves, harriers, short-toed eagles, martens, wild boar, sparrow hawks, and ermine. if I’d been Galician wildlife, though, I’d have gotten as far away from the tromping peregrinos as possible and leave no trace of myself behind!

the second big hill

what I most remember about the day from Villafranca del Bierzo to O’Cebreiro was it being hot and sweaty. to be sure, we had our share of hot, sweaty, sunny, cloudless, thirsty, (sometimes) miserable days over the course of the Camino and more than a few of those words could apply to the day on which we ascended to O’Cebreiro and crossed into Galicia.

despite our departure before dawn (and well before the hotel began offering breakfast), we didn’t arrive at our destination until well into the afternoon. from the outset, the hike climbed gradually up the foothills and into the Cordillera Cantábrica that divides León from Galicia. it was an interesting walk, following what used to be the primary highway into Galicia as we left Villafranca. at some point, in an attempt to better protect the flow of peregrinos braving the oncoming traffic, the government erected a cement barrier to enclose the left-hand shoulder as a dedicated pedestrian lane. with all the hairpin twists and turns in the road, I was thankful for the barrier on more than one occasion, even though the flow of traffic wasn’t that heavy. the snaking two-lane road had been replaced by a six-lane autopista that cuts through a mountain below Villafranca and then continues on, towering over the valley floor, on viaducts and leaving the peregrinos slightly safer as they hike along the road. there were instances, however, when two highways intersected and the Camino took us across the highway through traffic and into tiny villages nestled on the other side of the road. sometimes there was a purpose to this crossing of the road (a cafe or fountain or albergue), but just as often we made our way through the town only to discover we had to re-cross the highway at the other side. as our guidebook pompously observed, the autopista dramatically altered village live for all the towns now bypassed by the “improved” means of transportation. for the most part, the Camino kept most of the villages alive though one has to wonder how the vagaries of tourism (and the status of the Spanish economy) might affect them in years to come. in one town several homes had remodeled basements or built additions to offer cafes or shops to cater to peregrinos; we stopped and had ice cream bars at one that had a stream running behind it. if only I knew then how much farther uphill we had yet to go!
generally, the diversion of road traffic afforded a more pleasant hiking experience. the villages felt older, more rural, more similar to all the small farming towns I’ve known living in south central Wisconsin. I enjoyed seeing a lot more cows grazing along this stretch, too, after weeks of hiking through primarily cultivated fields rather than grazing fields. these butterscotch-colored ones were my favorite.

the last, long, uphill stretch prompted a rather unnecessarily self-imposed challenge; just as we began the final ascent, we encountered a group of young people who had much fresher legs than us, were carrying less weight, and generally had less a sense of what ascending this mountain might mean. turns out they were students from the University of Minnesota traveling the Camino as part of a mini-term course they’d taken. (I found the blog chronicling their trip here: Hiking through History.) as I now know from reading their post about that day, their day started in Astorga — four days of hiking away for us — and only included 8 kilometers of hiking (albeit straight up the hill). it might come as no surprise that this group of twentysomethings just starting their day’s hiking had a bit more energy than us and took the uphill pace a bit faster than we did. or we should have, I should say. normally I’d been quite good about staying hydrated, usually drinking all of my water pack and then some in the course of a day, but as I adapted my pace to the collegians I burned through my water (and energy) faster than normal. we stopped to rest at a bar three or four kilometers from the peak (in La Lagua, if I recall correctly), just before a gaggle of the collegians arrived, for some much needed Aquarius to rehydrate. I felt badly for the proprietor of the bar/alberuge who had to deal with fifteen or twenty American students, most of whom didn’t buy anything but many of whom wanted to fill up water bottles and sit for a bit. I needed the second bottle of Aquarius we bought, thirsty and weary as I was, but even if I hadn’t I might have purchased a second one anyway to make up for any time I ever proved less-than-gracious to a proprietor during the travels of my younger years. that break proved useful in more ways than one; I got rehydrated, realized I’d been trying to keep pace with these collegians when I didn’t have the energy for it, and let some distance fall between us and them so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep up as we finished our climb.

despite the challenges, though, the sunny, spectacular view back towards León from whence we’d come proved worth the challenges and the view forward over Galicia promised new and different challenges. and a bit more rain.