Railways are irresistible bazaars, snaking along perfectly level no matter what the landscape, improving your mood with speed, and never upsetting your drink.
There are too many spoons, forks and knives laid on the table before me. For a moment, I cannot remember which cutlery to use for which course, perhaps because I am so famished. On my left, two glasses are on standby–one for wine, and the other for water. On my right, a crusty piece of bread is waiting to be wrestled with. The train’s steady humming as it speeds on the tracks is almost inaudible, drowned out by the clinking of silver against dinner plates and the soft murmur of people conversing. It is now nine in the evening, yet the sun is just about to set. From the window, I can see the growing dusk changing colours as we pass…from yellow to orange to pink and back.
I am about to have my first dinner onboard the Al Andalus, one of the best luxury trains in the world. Right across me sits Therese, a writer for the Philippine Star and my travel buddy for the next few days.
Twenty-two other journalists from all over the world surround us: Luigi from Italy, Johan from Sweden, Angel from Venezuela, and the gorgeous couple Andrew and Rafa from Spain, among others. We are all on the maiden voyage of Al Andalus’ newest route called the ‘St. James Itinerary’. This journey will take us across Northern Spain: from Zaragosa all the way to A Coruña.
The Way of St. James itinerary, Zaragoza to A Coruña.
The itinerary includes visits to La Rioja, world-renowned Rioja; Burgos – with its Roman and Moorish history and architecture; Astorga - founded by the Romans in 14BC, famous for pastries and chocolate; Santiago de Compostela – destination of pilgrims walking the St. James Way ‘El Camino de Santiago’ at the Cathedral where the apostle Saint James is buried; Pontevedra with typical Galician mansions (pazos) and shellfish cuisine accompanied by the local Albariño wine; Vigo – a long and often turbulent history reflected in its architecture and culture; A Coruña – an important sea port for centuries, that played a key role in the Napoleonic Wars in the early 18th century.
Like winning the lotto
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’d know that I’ve been harping on about walking the Camino de Santiago for the past three years now. Somehow, Spain Tourism Board’s Regional Market Analyst Vien Cortes got wind of all the Camino talk on Pinay Traveller and contacted me two years ago. She expressed her desire to help me walk The Way. And after what seemed like endless months of exploring possibilities, I’ve finally partnered with STB last April. But what I thought was a typical Camino Walk turned out to be a 5-star journey! It’s almost like winning the lotto!
Same grace, different package
To be honest, I was actually hesitant to join this trip at first. For one thing, Hubby wasn’t going to be with me as there were only two slots available for Philippine press. For another, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of doing the Camino aboard a luxury train. But Hubby insisted that I go, pointing out that this kind of opportunity comes very rarely. And my very wise graphic artist, M, eased my discomfort by saying, “It’s the same grace, only in a different package.”
And it’s true, isn’t it? God moves in mysterious ways. The Camino is different for each person. Perhaps this is how I was meant to do MY CAMINO … in a relaxed, comfortable and unhurried fashion. It’s as if God is telling me ‘Take it easy. You’ve been through a lot of rough patches in the past. You deserve this.”
So here I am, trying my best not to get too excited over our first dinner onboard. But who wouldn’t be when one is presented with these?
Taking the salad fork in one hand, and the salad knife in the other, I dig in.
And so, the journey begins.
This post is part of my series on my recent trip to Spain aboard the Al Andalus. Read my other posts here:
This trip was made possible by: