Rachel, a graduate assistant, poses at one of the Camino markers. Scallop shells lead the way to Saint James in Santiago.
EL Camino – Day 1
Past the grand cathedral of Leon, down city streets, and eventually to a dirt road, Day 1 of our Camino trek commenced at daylight. Twelve miles later, we arrived at the small village of Mezarife. Just outside of our destination, I took advantage of a welcoming water stop. The others, thrilled to see our aubergue, went ahead. I changed to sandals, sprawled across an inviting bench, closed my eyes, and mulled over the day. Moments later I was delightfully surprised by a farmer on a burro, leading a large herd of sheep across the Camino – shades of Plantation Road!
We have arrived in the beautiful town of Avila, which somewhat resembles an ancient fortress. There is a stone wall that surrounds the city and images are brought to mind of what this town was like back in the medieval times. As you arrive to Avila you are first aware that it is high up on a hill, most likely to keep watch for any invaders. The wall has five entrances serving to give limited access into the town, another method for protection to its inhabitants. Fortunately we were given the opportunity to “walk” the wall. I was a little confused of what this meant when this activity was first presented to us. However, I soon understood. We walked up the worn-down, steep stone steps and made it to the platform on top of the wall of the ancient town. The view was incredible! You could see the rolling green hills, the mountains, the other small villages that have sprung up in the last few hundred years, for several miles in the distance. It made me wonder how these people of Avila were able to construct such a massive stone wall with only man power, and not only was it made to perfection with such unique architecture, but also, it was such an effective method to protect the town. Within this border, you are able to find some cafes, restaurants, shops, and souvenir stores. However, the most impressive building I came upon was the cathedral of Avila. This building was very Gothic looking and the largest building within the town. It was apparent how important religion was to these people back in the day. As you entered the Cathedral, the arches, stained glass windows, and gold plated icons were astounding. Everything about this place was so amazing! Definitely my favorite part of Avila!!!
I cannot believe how much I have seen in just one week. I feel truly lucky to have been able to see the fast pace lifestyle of Madrid and the beautiful antiquity of Toledo and Avila- and this is just the beginning.
At this point, my favorite experience has been visiting the city of Toledo. The city is indescribably beautiful. As we walked around I found myself thinking, “Is this even real?” The architecture, people and just overall atmosphere was unforgetable.
You could see that the city had an intense history. Just walking around was like a museum tour. The city is surrounded by a wall that kept out invaders back in the day. And within the city, you can see that the layout was specifically designed to keep its inhabitants comfortable in a time of less advanced technology. The buildings are built close together to create more shade and therefore the streets are more narrow. This creates a small problem with car traffic, but people still get by.
I think that was what impressed me most. Although parts of Toledo are not conducive to modern day lifestyle, there is no renovation. The streets are narrow, the walls serve no real purpose anymore- but they are still there. I think it’s great that the city still holds on to its history. And it should, because Toledo is an amazing place.
Toledo was absolutely gorgeous. A quaint medieval town, when I walked through the narrow cobblestone streets I felt like I was traveling back through time. The cathedral, however, was what really brought the feeling on. When I walked through the giant and intricately carved doors, I could clearly visualize people hundreds of years in the past walking through them to attend Sunday Mass. Its incredible how much the original architecture has remained in place. Obviously restorations have been done, but they are not noticeable at all. The cathedral appears exactly as it must have been five hundred years ago.
When I walked inside I was immediately in awe at the absolute magnificence of its structure. The ceilings are so tall; my neck is sore from looking up for too long. The main altarpiece, however, was what truly stuck out to me. Floor to ceiling, the entire wall is covered in paintings and sculptures all covered in gold. With the splendor of the altarpiece and the size and design of the organ (biggest one I have ever seen) I can only imagine that attending services there are extremely intense and moving.
I think that the cathedral really is what made Toledo so special to me. The whole atmosphere of walking down the streets with its flying buttresses in view gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that only happens when something magnificent has struck me. I loved Toledo for that reason: the feeling of traveling back in time from the cathedral really was something magical.
Did you know this about today, May 21:
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in partnership with UNESCO and a wide coalition of partners from corporations to civil society is launching the world campaign “Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion,” aimed at engaging people around the world to Do One Thing to support Cultural Diversity and Inclusion.
This day raises awareness on the richness of world cultures and the opportunities that cultural diversity can bring to societies. This study abroad opportunity to the El Camino, offered by the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, is living this campaign to its fullest.
What have you done today?
…splashes vigorously at the Royal Palace in Madrid Saturday but what a glorious sky!