On my last day of exploring the Camino de Santiago as it travels through Galica, Spain, I felt like I really began to see the Galicia that I had imagined: the misty, green country that hugs a rugged Atlantic coastline. And stone hórreos everywhere — those built-for-all-time granaries that I had also longed to see. This one was at one of our first stops of the morning, Ponte Maceira, where there was also an ancient stone arch bridge marked with the scallop shells that show the pilgrims the way.

Another hórreo in the Galician countryside:

And then we came to the Atlantic. The Nosa Señora da Barca (Our Lady of the Boat) Church in Muxia has to be one of the most spectacularly situated buildings I’ve ever encountered. On days of rough seas I was told that the surf actually crashes through the church’s doors.

This is my kind of coastline. I know most prefer a sunny beach, but this is the kind of place that I could spend hours. But we had one more stop — Cape Finisterre, “the end of the world,” and the 0-mile mark for those pilgrims that continued on past the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. You can’t continue further west from here on foot, that’s for certain.

Many of the images that have appeared in my recent posts on the Camino — and many not shown here — appear in my latest addition to the “Journals of a Travel Photographer” book series, “Spain 6: Six days exploring Galica and the Way of St. James.” Here are a few snapshots of the book. You can see a larger preview and order copies over at my Blurb bookstore. I hope you enjoyed the journey!

Not all pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago (or St. James’ Way) are coming from France, there are several routes including one that works its way north from Portugal. Situated on the Minho River, Tui is the first town encountered upon entering Spain and the fortress-like Cathedral of St. Mary makes quite the first impression.

Where the Minho meets the Atlantic, there are ruins of an ancient Celtic Castro — a fortified settlement dating back to the 6th century BC.

Evidence of the Celtic influence is still seen. Here a man plays Gaita galega, or Galician bagpipes in Vigo:

Further up the Atlantic coast at Baiona, there is a Parador with some stunning views:

But coming back to the Camino, one of the highlights for me was the flower-filled town of Pontevedra and the Chapel of the Pilgrims, built in 1778.

More on the route from Santiago de Compostela to Cape Finisterre in the next post.

In my last few posts, I’ve been exploring the French Way – one of the pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago – through Galicia. Now it’s time to take a look at where all those pilgrims have been headed: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

While some pilgrims continue on to Finisterre, the “end of the world,” this plaza is essentially mile 0 for the trek to see to the shrine of the apostle St. James. Many pause for photos in front of the Cathedral spires, others lie on their backs on the cobblestones and reflect on their journey.

It’s a stunning cathedral on the inside and it is said to be the largest Romanesque church in Spain and one of the largest in Europe.

There are plenty of side chapels to explore and tours are even given to the roof, where you can take in some amazing views of the surrounding town.

My tour of the cathedral ended with an opportunity to see the swinging of the Botafumeiro – a large incense burner made in 1851. A description of this on Wikipedia states, “eight red-robed tiraboleiros pull the ropes and bring it into a swinging motion almost to the roof of the transept, reaching speeds of 80 km/h.” It’s an incredible sight to see, for certain.

In the next posts, I’ll share some photos from another Camino route in Galicia – the one beginning in Portugal – and the route on west to Cape Finisterre.

This rustic door welcomed us to another important and impressive site along the French Way in Galicia, Spain: the Church of Vilar de Donas, built in the 12th century.

Inside, gothic frescos showed the passage of time. It was a cool respite from a day that was rapidly growing warmer, but we were soon out on the Camino again, following yellow arrows and shell markers on our way toward Santiago de Compostela.

This simple stone bridge was a great surprise. I had walked such a short section of the Camino that I can only imagine what other similar surprises it holds.

Arriving at the Albergue de Ribadiso da Baixo, we had a chance to see how the pilgrims cooled off on such a warm day. This swimming hole was adjacent to affordable lodging and restaurants for the weary travelers who were nearing their final destination.

Monte do Gozo, the Hill of Joy, is the spot where pilgrims on the French Way get their first view of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This statue commemorates that moment and you can see the three spires of the Cathedral just to the left of the figures. In the next post, we’ll explore the Cathedral itself and see what awaits the pilgrims at the end of this epic journey.

After exploring Samos, it was on to Sarria, Spain, as I followed the route of the Camino de Santiago as it crosses Galicia. Above is the cruceiro, or stone cross, in Sarria — one of many that mark the route to Santiago de Compostela.

It was lightly raining when I arrived in Sarria, but I still took advantage of the opportunity to walk the Camino for a short distance to get a better feel for the route at a human scale.

The rain was coming down a bit harder as we arrived at the next stop, the Church of San Xoán (or Saint John) in Portomarín. This fortress-like church was moved piece by piece to higher ground when the Belesar reservoir was built in the 1960s so that it wouldn’t be lost when the waters rose.

The following morning we continued along the route, making our first stop at the 14th century Pambre Castle, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Galicia. It is currently being restored.

In the next post, we’ll explore the last stretch of the French Way and visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

My first full day in Spain’s Galicia region began where pilgrims first enter Galicia when taking the French Way route of the Camino de Santiago. If they started on the French side of the Pyrenees mountains, they have already walked (or biked, or ridden horseback) hundreds of miles. The view from the entry point at O Cebreiro is quite a reward:

The small village is home to the Church of Santa María la Real (above) and provides services for pilgrims to rest, grab a sandwich, spend the night, and just enjoy the welcoming view of this green corner of Spain.

Next stop for me was the Monastery of St Julian of Samos. The building burned in 1558 and again in 1951 but was rebuilt both times and remains an active Benedictine monastery.

The hallways are covered in murals painted in a variety of styles and the gardens, at the time of my visit in July, were filled with blooming hydrangeas.

In the next posts, we’ll visit the town of Sarria and several other important sites the road toward Santiago de Compostela.

I had a fairly busy year of travel photography in 2016 and I’m still trying to get caught up with processing everything and keeping my stock agencies fed. I’ve also been working on another of my “Journals of a Travel Photographer” books — this one on my trip to Galicia, Spain, in July of last year. It’s nearly finished up, but I thought I’d share a few images while I’m going through proofing, etc. Not all of these images will be in the book. Some are ones I ran across while doing the initial edits and I just didn’t have room for them. Case and point, the image above of my hotel for the first few nights, the Parador de Santiago de Compostela.

The shot above is from the chapel located within the Parador and the one following is a scene from one of the squares that surrounds the Cathedral, located adjacent to the hotel.

And that’s one of the massive front doors to the Parador. These are a few images I made just after arriving in Santiago de Compostela. In the following days I would explore the Galician sections of several pilgrimage routes known as the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. It was an amazing trip to a part of Spain I’d been wanting to visit for quite a while. I’ll share more in the next few posts, starting with the French Way as it crosses the border of Galicia and makes its way toward Santiago de Compostela.

I last posted about my birding experience in the Extremadura region of Spain this past March, but it wasn’t all birds. Leave it to historic architecture and amazing colors to distract me. Here are a few more of the sights I saw in Extremadura, when not looking up at birds:

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I was picked up in Trujillo and driven through the dehesa’s carpet of blooms to my first hotel, Hospederia Monfrague.

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I got to make my second visit to the Roman ruins in Merida, Spain, but it was my first chance to walk the length of the Roman bridge there — said to be the world’s longest surviving bridge from ancient times.

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An overnight in Zafra gave me a chance to photograph another Spanish Parador and other sites, including a beautifully tiled pharmacy building.

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On through the rolling countryside and to another charming town, Llerena

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And, after an impromptu goat and sheep encounter, the town of Alange, situated on the Alange Reservoir. Color and tile work are to be found at every turn.

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I also was able to bookend this trip with nights in one of my favorite towns in Extremadura, Trujillo, but I’ll save those images for a future post.

Spain is a great place for anyone with an interest in birds and Extremadura’s birdwatching fair, FIO, will be held from February 24 through 26 this year. I was fortunate enough to get to attend the 2016 event last March and I had a great time. While I’m no bird expert, I do enjoy photographing a wide range of subjects — birds included — and it’s always great to hang around with a bunch of people who are passionate about something. Plus, spending a great deal of time in the Extremaduran countryside ain’t bad either. For those unfamiliar, Extremadura is a beautifully wild region of Spain lying west of Madrid and east of Portugal.

We started our bird-watching experience at the Castillo de Monfrague in Monfrague National Park, which offers panoramic views and a great platform for watching the large raptors that inhabit the area.

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Much of the surrounding landscape is what is called “dehesa,” a kind of pastureland with widely dispersed trees — typically oak. The overhead view provided by the Castillo’s high perch helps illustrate what it looks like:

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As the air begins to warm in the morning, various large raptors — including Griffon Vultures — begin riding the thermals. Again, the castle provides a perfect viewing platform as they spiral upward and overhead. I had the opportunity to photograph them from below, from eye-level, and from above as they would swoop back down to their nests in the cliffs below.

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As large and close as these birds were, I was still happy to be testing out the then-new Tamron 150-600mm lens. A second generation has since been released, but I found little to fault with my original version and I especially appreciated the Vibration Control that allowed me to hand-hold all of these shots.

Down in the valley, we also spotted Black Storks. I can’t think of many creatures I’ve seen that look more prehistoric than these colorful birds.

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And, of course, we would see plenty of White Storks as well. These inhabit nests found on many of the rooftops and chimneys in Extremadura and are hard to miss due to the clattering sound they make with their bills.

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Not all of the birds were large. There were also plenty of smaller varieties, too. Below are a Thekla Lark, a pair of Crag Martins, and a European Goldfinch. I hope I have these names right — if not, it’s no reflection on my very knowledgable guides but my own inability to retain information!:

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To be honest, the smaller birds were much harder to capture at the pace at which we were traveling. Their movements were much swifter and it is really best to wait out in a spot and let them come perch near you. Still, we managed to log quite a few different species as we roamed the countryside.

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That’s a few of our gang of birders, photographers, and birding tour operators on the lookout for the next bird-of-interest. I truly enjoyed hanging out with these folks and learning more about the birding opportunities in Extremadura. The fair (FIO) comprises a sort of “tent village” with stands that feature information about birding in the area, gear for birders and even birding-related arts and crafts. There was a very impressive show of bird photography as well. It’s a great event for those with such an interest.

I’ll never see the landscape of Extremadura in the same way again, now that I know that it is home to so many diverse species of birds. I now notice that the sky is seldom empty in this part of Spain and my eyes will continue to glance upward to see who is overhead. I’ll leave you with one more landscape shot of the region we were exploring, and I’ll follow with a post about some of the villages we encountered along the way.

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The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, is an incredible collection of modern architecture set into what was once a riverbed. In an attempt to prevent future destructive flooding, the city re-routed the Turia River and developed its previous course into a series of gardens, punctuated by these futuristic structures that house concert halls, science museums, and more. While I would normally think that re-routing a river couldn’t possibly be a good idea, here it seems to work. A visit to the City of Arts and Sciences is like a visit to the future. In fact, it is often used as a backdrop for movies and television commercials.

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Many of the building’s surfaces are covered in a mosaic of glittering, white tile. The reflecting pools multiply the effect and provide a calm setting for the geometric shapes. Many times I’ve seen attempts at creating spaces like this go horribly wrong and they are vacant of humans, but here I saw people walking, biking, sitting to enjoy lunch, etc. It actually is a very inviting public space.

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Michael C. Snell photography

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