Looking Back – Camino Frances 2012 #2

Day two. Astorga.

I remember being woken suddenly by super-eager peregrinos in the albergue in Astorga. It was as if a fire had started and they needed to leave. Gah! The sun hadn’t even risen yet. I suppose it’s par of the course in albergue life however..sigh! After gathering my things together, I made my way out of the albergue and walked westwards. It was just after 7am. After a number of hours, I met Louisa from Spain. We got talking until we hit Santa Catalina de la Somoza. I stopped here for a second breakfast. The sun was out now and it was getting warm. After 2o minutes or so, I walked on. I reached El Ganso and it’s one-bar-town. The Cowboy Bar really intrigued me.

The walking wasn’t difficult and the scenery wasn’t anything to write home about. However, it wasn’t flat like it was the previous day. I enjoyed walking solo, just me and my music. Another few hours passed and I reached the climb to Rabanal del Camino. It was tough going, I suppose I could have done with a pole. The decorations on the fence walking up made it all more worthwhile. Rabanal del Camino was in the distance. I had walked 21 kms in 5 hours. Just a little too fast I suppose. Time for a rest. The heat had got to me and I was out of water. I checked in at Albergue NS Pilar and had a choice of bunks. I showered and rested in the sun with a cerveza. Rabanal was a fantastic little town.

The following day was the Cruz de Ferro and the Leon Hills. I was a little apprehensive and unsure if I was going to manage it. Maybe it was just my mind. I went to vespers in the Benadictine church which was an amazing experience. I’m not particularly religious but this music and harmony blew me away. Afterwards, I met a guy from Denmark and we had dinner in El Refugio. Nice place. I had an early night and got ready for a steep climb the next morning.

More from the throwback series can be found here.

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Towns Along The Way – “R” – Part 2

Today I will finish talking about towns beginning with R. There are a few left and you will meet the first town after nearly 550 kms from St Jean.

Rabanal del Camino (map)

4663201770_db72abf84d21 kms from Astorga, you will arrive at Rabanal del Camino, the last stop before the up and over of the Leon hills. Many choose to stay here for the night as a result (thanks Brierley!) In the Middle Ages, the knights templar built several hospitals and churches here for passing pilgrims before the journey over the hills. For such a small town, it has a real relaxed vibe about it and I have stayed here myself a number of times. Albergue Gaucelmo is run by the CSJ and the Albergue NS de Pilar is a popular. Today, all economic activity of the village revolves around services for pilgrims, with up to four good albergues and hotels. It would be wrong of me not to mention the Benedictine Monastery, “San Salvador del Monte Irago“, set up in 2001, which is popular among pilgrims. Sleep well, as the next day can be tough on the legs as you climb to the Cruz de Ferro and descend to Molinaseca.

Riego de Ambrós (map)

Less than 4 kms after El Acebo, you will arrive at another small village – Riego de Ambrós. I have passed this 35235025town on 2 occasions and because my mind was so fixed on where my feet were, I didn’t take in where I was. Here the village lies on a curvy and steep descent, between El Acebo and Molinaseca. You have two albergues to choose from also, but if you are interested in breaking up the descent into 2 days, my advice is to stay in El Acebo beforehand as there are more facilities and more albergues. You may also prefer to finish the descent entirely and walk to Molinaseca (my favourite) or Ponferrada (where all the history is!) 

Ruitelán (map)

ruitelanAnother blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village, Ruitelán is situated in the El Bierzo valley between Villafranca del Bierzo and O Cebreiro. Many choose to walk from Villafranca to O Cebreiro over a day which is close to 30 kms. That’s pretty tough going. However, some like to stop just before the ascent kicks in (Ruitelán, Las Herrarias or La Faba) and leave it until the next day to move on. Could be a wise choice! Ruitelán has a recommended albergue that offers a communal meal – Albergue Pequeño Potala. I might try it out!

Rivadiso (map)

You have climbed O Cebreiro, you have entered Galicia, passed Sarria and are on the home 118390056stretch. On your 3rd or 4th last day before Santiago, you will pass Ribadiso (or Rivadiso to the Galicians).  It is not so much a town but rather a hamlet, and is home to the Rio Iso, a medieval bridge built over it and 2 albergues. All invite pilgrims to take a break. The old Xunta albergue, just past the bridge, used to be an old hospital restored from the fifteenth century. Ribadiso is 3 kms from Arzua and many a pilgrim has been tempted by the river to stay at these albergues rhan move on into the larger town.

Towns Along The Way – “R” – Part 1

Today, I’d like to make a start and talk to you about the towns along the Way starting with R. And there are a lot of them. The first of these towns is the first you will meet after leaving St. Jean Pied de Port.

Roncesvalles (map)

posada-de-roncesvallesRoncesvalles (or Orreaga in Basque) is a small village in Navarre. It has a population of 50 people and is situated about 21 kms from the French border. This town is the start of the Camino Frances in Spain. The first day is probably the toughest day, after an ascent of over 1400 metres over the Pyrenees, but the descent to Roncesvalles can be equally challenging. On arriving at your end point, pilgrims are rewarded by their stay at possibly one of the best albergues on the Camino Frances. The albergue here is a renovated monastery with over 180 beds. There are other accommodation here to choose from. Ensure you visit its Gothic “Iglesia de Santiago” for pilgrim mass before having your first pilgrim meal in either of the town’s restaurants.

Redecilla del Camino (map)

Some 190 kms westward and 8 to 9 days later, we arrive at our next destination, Redecilla 12261del Camino. It wouldn’t surprise me if you know little about this town as the majority of guidebooks gloss over it. That said, I have stayed here in 2014 and have enjoyed my time here, regardless of the size. Redecilla is located in the province of Burgos and has a population of 140 people. Those who have already walked the Camino will remember Redecilla as being the first town after the large sign saying you are now in Castille y Leon. There isn’t a whole lot to do here but I did enjoy my stay in Albergue San Lazaro. There is also a hotel here that serves fine food drinks and in 2016, a new albergue opened.

Rabé de las Calzadas (map)

2015-05-08-09-27-46A further 70 km to the west, we arrive in Rabé de las Calzadas. Again, this town is in Burgos and has a population of 150 people. Rabé marks the start of a new “phase” of the Camino, however. Now, pilgrims enter the meseta which is the the central plateau of Spain from Burgos to Astorga. While Rabé is roughly 10 kms from Burgos and most pilgrims tend to walk to either Hornillos or Hontanas, there are a number of albergues here. The town is sleepy with a main plaza and fountain and would attract pilgrims who prefer not to stay in Burgos. On leaving the town, you will pass the Ermita de Rabe de Calzadas.

Reliegos (map)

Between the towns of El Burgo Ranero and Mansilla de la Mulas, we arrive at Reliegos. 1914Here we have a sleepy village with a population of 300 people. The journey to Reliegos is relatively uneventful with a long paved road to walk on and a long line of trees to your left hand side. The trees seem to go on for hours. You reach Reliegos eventually to be greeted by a number of huts on hills which are used as bodegas. Further on there is a Bar Elvis (right) owned by an eccentric but delightful character. You need to stop by there. There is plenty of accommodation in Reliegos. I have stayed in Albergue La Parada to the rear of the town in 2015. After walking 32 kms from Sahagun, we were glad to stay there. On leaving this town, you have 25 kms to Leon and the terrain will change from then on from the flat meseta you are currently on.

Looking Back – Camino Frances 2012 #1

June 2011. I had arrived back in Dublin and had a sneaking suspicion that I would see Spanish soil again. I had no idea when. I made sure to write down our guide’s email address before I left and I was glad as he gave me the kick to return. He also gave me some sweet recommendations of albergues in where to stay. First thing I needed to do was buy a guidebook and a backpack; Amazon for Brierley and Aldi for the backpack. Oh wow..looking back, it was a dingy thing that practically fell apart when I returned home. I sourced a list of what to bring and what not to bring from an online forum.

Boom! I had a plan. The goal was to walk from Leon to Sarria. This was all new ground. Carrying all I owned for 7 or so days, I left Dublin on the 24th of May 2012. The next day I jumped on a bus to Hospital de Orbigo and walked to Astorga. I was so nervous. I instantly wanted to meet some one and say the obligatory “Buen Camino” but it was quiet. I got used to my own company, my shoes and my backpack. The blue sky and the orange fields were my company today. I walked 17km until Astorga and got acquainted with my first albergue. Albergue San Javier – a sparse affair. Nothing to write home about, but I wasn’t on holiday. I was happy to take everything as it came. I got some food in Hotel Gaudi next door and took in the main plaza. Stunning. Day 2 tomorrow.

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Another passion of mine…

I’ll let you into a little secret..

lyricsIn another lifetime..well, not too long ago, I used to enjoy putting one word after the other to create sentences. From the age of 12 right up to my mid-20’s, I got great enjoyment out of writing and playing guitar on a regular basis. It was a pretty fun thing to do and I was even in a band at one stage. Sure, every 20-something was! It was a rite of passage in life.

However, in time, life got in the way and writing reports and reaching deadlines replaced this little obsession of mine. I have still listened to music all along, but my two guitars are now gathering dust in the corner of my room and my collection of songs are in a box alongside them. I haven’t looked at them in years.

But tonight something happened that hasn’t happened in quite a while. I put pen to paper and wrote eight lines. It’s not much, but it could be the spark. My inspiration? The Camino, walking and its memories.

I’ll probably forget about it tomorrow and leave these few lines lying where they are but this whole thing surprised me. Will I kick on from here? I’d love to. If I can write a part of a song without music I’d be pretty happy. It’s all about being creative I suppose and this is a great way. I had also thought about buying a ukelele before Christmas as it is so easy to learn (plus they only have 4 strings).

 

Are you a Pilgrim or a Walker?

It’s close to 10pm here in cold Dublin but wanted to share the below video with you all before I called it a night. It’s a pretty long video, coming in at close to 3 hours, so if you have a bit of time spare, it is well worth the watch. The maker of the video (sorry, I didn’t get a name but he goes by the username “Nalutia“) walked from St Jean Pied de Port to Fisterra in 2015 over 30-something days and I suppose this acted as a bit of a video diary. There are some great scenes of the Pyrenees and the meseta, with nice local music from Pamplona, La Rioja and Santiago.

During the video, he points out that, in his opinion, there are two types of people walking the Camino – pilgrims or trekkers / walkers. The vast majority of people say they are pilgrims but is the intention there to come home a better person than before? Do you visit a church, or take in the surroundings if you are not religious?

Or would you be a walker? Do you leave your accommodation before sunrise, ignore the amazing surroundings and attractions, and try to get to Santiago in the least amount of time? If you have walked the Camino before, the great “Bed Race” is an example of this, which I have been guilty of before!! This really defeats the purpose of the Camino in my opinion.

So if you are planning an upcoming Camino, listen to what the man in the below video has to say. Take your time, leave your earphones at home and experience what Spain has to offer. Go there with an open mind also, because, even if you don’t consider yourself a pilgrim now, you might learn something new about yourself while on the Way.

A tripod and expensive camera might be a little too much however… enjoy!

Wise Pilgrim App soon to go to print

unnamedThe much-liked Wise Pilgrim series created by Michael Matynka is now going to print, nearly 5 years after the first mobile application for the Camino was published. The series is very popular among those who choose to walk the Camino without a physical guidebook. It can be downloaded  on iPhone and Android and an app is available for most routes. I use the Camino Frances app while in Spain and it is great for letting me know how near the next town is and what accommodation is available. However, a printed copy will be great news for those of us (sometimes myself) who tend to forget to charge their phones before walking the following day. The guidebook is not expected to be heavy. About 100 city maps are due to be included and other information normally found in other guidebooks have been deleted. I look forward to it.

An IndieGoGo campaign has been created with backers receiving the first edition hot off the press.

With all the above said, if you still prefer to keep your guides on your smart phone, I would recommend you downloading one of the Wise Pilgrim apps – here. And if you would like to help out the IndieGoGo campaign and receive one of the first copies of the guidebook, you can read all about it – here.