After I spent the night at an airport hotel, I headed back to Barajas and jumped on a charter bus headed to Pamplona, my starting point along The Way. It was about a four-hour drive. I arrived in Pamplona and took the afternoon to acclimate and to prepare for the walk the next morning.
The First Major City on the Camino: Pamplona, Spain
Pamplona is one of my favorite cities in Spain. It is beautiful and rich with history, not to mention it is full of Basque people! There is this unique font that is typically used on signs in Spain and France for the Basque language (‘Euskera’). When I see it I feel excited and connected to the community. As I entered Pamplona on the charter bus, I began to notice the signs inviting me, one of their long lost daughters from the new world, in to her gates.
The first time I ever visited Pamplona I was with my mom and had recently turned 21 years old. My mother regaled me with stories of visiting family and exploring her Basque heritage when she was around the same age in Pamplona and in other parts of Europe. I loved the idea of starting the Camino in this city that has significance to our family as well as to my mom and to me.
The first thing I did in Pamplona was to get settled at my hotel. I had a little room with French doors opening to a balcony on a side street off of plaza mayor. It struck me that this room must be an amazing location to see the running of the bulls in July! I laid out my Camino clothes on the bed for the next day and re-distributed my things between my backpack and luggage.
(For more advice on packing for the Camino, check out my post Here)
Once I felt settled in I headed out to a pilgrim shop to pick up a few crucial items for the Camino. The first item I needed was the scallop shell that most pilgrims hang from their bag. The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. There are many interpretations of what the scallop shell actually represents. Some say it is a pre-Christian symbol for fertility or for the setting sun in the west. Others believe the legend that a knight’s horse fell into the sea and emerged from the sea encased in scallop shells while carrying St. James’ remains from Jerusalem to Galicia.
Practically speaking, pilgrims used the scallop shell as a lightweight bowl to use for drinking water and eating meals along the Way of Saint James. Nowadays the shell is used as a way finder along the Camino and as a indication that you are a pilgrim. I picked the shell that spoke to my heart and tied it to my backpack.
Pilgrims also pick up a Credential before the walk begins. The credential is basically a paper passport pilgrims get stamped along The Way to use as proof of completing the Camino de Santiago. When a pilgrim reaches Santiago de Compostela, she presents her Credential to receive the Compostela or certificate issued by the church’s Pilgrim’s Office as a take-home memento of completing the pilgrimage. Additionally, if you plan to stay in albergues you must present your passport to gain admittance (private albergues are more lenient).
I received my credential in the mail before leaving the states. You can order your passport from your local Camino chapter online or in country. Just do a quick online search. For example, if I had needed to pick up the Credential in Pamplona I would have gone to Pamplona Municipal Albergue or University of Navarra, Pamplona’s pilgrim office.
The Last Supper (Or, Pilgrims need Michelin star rated restaurants, too)
After I completed my pilgrim errands and wandered around Pamplona for a few hours, I headed back to the hotel to get a recommendation for a nice restaurant. If you have ever trained a race, you know that you are supposed to load up on carbs the night before your race. I had a similar mindset, especially since I had no idea what to expect on the Camino, and wanted to eat a hearty meal.
Ironically, the hotel I chose had a Michelin star rated restaurant inside of it, called Restaurante Europa, founded by a prominent female Basque chef named Pilar Idoate. The magic of the Camino already in full effect, I was able to snag a same-day reservation and have one of the most decadent five course meals to inaugurate my journey! This really set the tone for my princess status on the Camino.
The food was incredible! The best word I can use to describe the cuisine is delicate. There was so much flavor infused in lightly crusted croquettes and in the colorful sauces atop perfectly cooked pork. And the wine pairing was divine! I went to bed that night ready to take on the Camino and dreaming of beautiful food prepared by an amazing Basque chef!
Let’s get moving! Next time la princesa del camino gets her toosh moving on The Way! I will tell you what it feels like on that first day, the people I met, and the amazing sights I saw. If you like this blog, please subscribe to my newsletter.