Today I took a break from walking and spent the day in Ponferrada. It was glorious to sleep in my own room, with my own bathroom, and in a bed with real linens. I slept in until 8:30 a.m., and took my sweet time getting ready.
I started out the day with a coffee at a café just around the corner from my hotel. The café looked out on to a plaza that was along the Camino, and I watched pilgrims as they started the next leg of their journey. Although, I was glad to have a day of rest, I felt a little pang of disappointment I wasn’t out there walking myself. I had started to enjoy my daily walks.
Susan and Kyle, two ladies from Yakima, Washington I met in Mazarife, walked by and I waved them over to say hello. We chatted for a little while, and they informed me that the Templar Castle was free on this day (Wednesday). That was great news! They headed off to the Castle, as they were also hoping to get a little walking in on the Camino later.
I went back to my coffee, and continued to enjoy my lazy morning.
A few minutes later, a few gentlemen saw my Camino guidebook, and asked if I was a pilgrim. I confirmed I was and that I was taking a break from walking today. They said they were doing the same. They sat with me for a little while and we talked about our Camino adventures, thus far. Unfortunately, I don’t remember their names, but I do remember that they were from the States. East coast, I think. I do remember that they were walking for personal reasons. One gentleman, said that he reason was “complicated” and didn’t go in to further detail. Not wanting to be overly nosy, I let it be. The other gentleman, was walking as a sort of “grateful repayment” for his wife’s cancer going in to remission. He himself called it a “miracle”, and felt that walking the Camino was a good way to show his gratitude.
They left a few minutes later to begin their day of sightseeing, and I thanked them for their company and for sharing their stories with me. I LOVE that part of the Camino!
After I finished my coffee, I headed over to the tourist office to get a map of the city and to inquire about the Templar Castle being free. The woman confirmed that this was true, and added that the Bierzo Museum was also free that day.
I headed over the Templar Castle to check it out. Here is some background and fun facts about the Castle, taken from Wikipedia.
The “Castillo de los Templarios”, is a Templar castle which covers approximately 16,000 square meters. It houses the Templars’ Library and the Ponferrada Investigation and Study Centre, which contains almost 1,400 books including facsimile editions of works by Leonardo da Vinci.
In 1178, Ferdinand II of León donated the city to the Templar order for protecting the pilgrims on the Way of St. James who passed through El Bierzo on their road to Santiago de Compostela.
The castle hosted the Knights Templar’s Grand Master of Castille. However, the Templars were only able to enjoy the use of their fortress for about twenty years before the order was disbanded and its properties confiscated in 1311. Several noble houses fought over the assets until Alfonso XI alloted them to the Count of Lemos in 1340. Finally the Catholic Monarchs incorporated Ponferrada and its castle into the Crown in 1486. As with many other historical sites in Europe, many of the blocks that at one point formed the walls of the castle were removed and used in local construction projects. Extensive restoration works are ongoing.
As I wandered through the castle, I met a young couple from Hawaii. Ryan and Tiffany were visiting friends in Europe, and had decided to walk the Camino on a whim. They were both Christians and chose to walk the Camino, relying solely on God’s provision. It was awesome to hear how God provided sleeping bags, coats, packs, food, and shelter during their journey.
After we walked through the Castle, I asked if I could take them to lunch, as I wanted to hear more of their story. They were on their way, eventually, to Thailand to work with a ministry called SHE Thailand. S.H.E., is an acronym for “Self Help and Empowerment”. The ministry helps girls who are in the sex industry, get out by training them in a trade so that can earn money elsewhere. Tiffany is a hairstylist and hopes to pass on some of her knowledge to the girls so that they have a chance at a better life. Tiffany and Ryan shared more of their story with me. It was only in the last 2-3 years that they had made a serious choice to follow Christ, and it was amazing to see God’s hand in their lives leading up to then and now.
I really enjoyed talking with Tiffany and Ryan. They were an incredibly cute couple and I wished them all the best in their Camino and life adventure.
I spent the rest of the day, wandering around the city and checking out the Bierzo Museum.
The Bierzo Museum showcases artifacts and history of Ponferrada and El Bierzo region. The museum starts in the Paleolithic era with displays of some cultural material objects. Panels describing the Roman settlement and the Las Médulas (one of the most important gold mines in the Roman Empire), the Visigothic Period, the active monastic life in the Valley of Oza, and Ponferrada Castle were located throughout the museum. There was also an impressive collection of gold and silver coins dating from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. (data taken from the ponferrada.org website)
I finished out my day with a delicious pizza dinner in an Italian restaurant. I enjoyed my rest day, but am glad to be getting back out on the Camino.Click here to see pictures of the Templar Castle.