Camino Francés 2018

At the end of my recent Portuguese Coastal Camino into Santiago in May, I decided to return to Spain in September and walk a further 10 days of the Camino Frances. I get great joy meeting people on this route, no matter how many times I have walked it. I also made the effort in staying in towns and villages that I have not been in before.

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September 11th, 2018 – Day 0
Dublin to Puente la Reina via Bilbao

Another Camino in 2018…another chance to walk with others in Spain. I made the decision to return once I stepped into the Praza da Obradoiro in Santiago in May.  It just made sense. I booked flights to and from Bilbao, Spain, packed my pack and set out.

The road to Puente la Reina is long and I didn’t arrive until late in the evening. The flight with Aer Lingus was fine and it left me in Bilbao at 3pm with still much travel to do. From the airport, one must catch the A3247 Bizkaibus shuttle bus to Termibus in the city centre, which costs just €3.00. From there, I traveled on a Cuadrabus to Logroño, which took the bones of 90 minutes. On arrival in Logroño, I didn’t have long for a connecting La Estellesa which left me in the centre of Puente la Reina.

I wasn’t alone, mind you. A couple from Clare made the trip from Dublin and were traveling to Estella to start their Camino. They had walked from St. Jean to Estella last year. I enjoyed their company until we said our goodbyes at Estella. There were many others on the Logroño bus. The scenery from Bilbao to Logroño is beyond amazing. The bus chugs through valleys, giving you a first-hand view of the spectacular mountain scenery. The second trip was a little bit longer but it was fun to be driving alongside the Camino – passing towns I will meet in the next few days. Siesta had kicked in but we did pass the odd town with the next Lionel Messi working out how to score the winning goal in the 2028 World Cup.

Just after 8pm, I arrived in the Calle Mayor of Puente la Mayor. The streets were bustling with Spanish conversation and wine. Spanish dinner time. I took a walk to the Puente Románico before doubling back to my booked hostel, “Hostal la Plaza”. I had my first pilgrim meal while watching Spain play some football on TV. Sleep was in order, the next day (although short) had a number of steep climbs. Adelante!

September 12th, 2018 – Day 1
Puente la Reina to Estella, 22km

I was awake at 6am, which is late by my standards. I could hear the clacking of poles belonging to pilgrims passing the hostal so I decided it was as good a time to make a move. It was dark and still, save for the odd van passing through. I was ready to go! I had a good sleep. I was hoping to make it to Estella where I would meet my friends, L&R, who would start their own Camino the following day.

Underneath the arch, over the bridge and out of the town – Goodbye Puente la Reina. Such a fascinating town, rich in history. Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho III was the queen (Reina) who gave her name to the town and the bridge, also known as the Puente Románico. She built the six-arched Romanesque bridge over the River Arga for the use of pilgrims on their way to Santiago along the Camino de Santiago. And I was one of them.

Leaving town, I struck up a conversation with Doug from Canada. He commented on the size of my backpack and I explained that this was not my first time on the Camino. A pack of 7kg is more than enough, in my opinion. The road out of Puente la Reina is a tricky one and needs concentration. There are many ascents also. This was my St. Jean Pied de Port unfortunately as I embarrassed myself after a minute by stopping exhausted. Doug had walked through the Pyrenees. He walked on, enjoying this moment.

Looking back following my climb from Puente la Reina

I caught up eventually, and we passed through Maneru. Cirauqui is just another few kilometres in the distance and there was no rain forecast. Towns in Navarra have a habit of placing themselves on hills. I’m not sure if it is to make it difficult for pilgrims to walk through them. Joking aside, I have always liked Navarra. Its rolling hills seem to go on forever and the people living there are the best. A cafe con leche y una tostada later in Cirauqui, myself and Doug left this little town and marched on.

After Cirauqui, we arrived at the famed and fabled Roman bridge that have been serving pilgrims for hundreds of years. Some work was undertaken on it since I was here last but you really need to watch your step while crossing it.

Lorca (or Lorka) would be our next town. The trail is made of loose stone and it is very easy to lose your step and fall if you are not paying attention. That is exactly what happened to me! A fun day so far! I was a little bruised but I was on my way again. There is not much happening in Lorca, apart from the fact that it has 2 albergues and a cafe. We stopped for a rest. I had been looking for a walking pole since Puente la Reina and I picked up one here. It stayed with me until Burgos.

Doug had decided to stop in the following town, Villatuerta, for some lunch, so we said our goodbyes and I marched on to Estella. Little did I know we would meet the following day.

It wasn’t long before I was in Estella. It was before noon but the sun was out. “Where was that farmacia?” I stopped at the excellent Agora Hostel for the night. I cannot stay enough about Adrianna and Alfonso and the service they provide. If you are in Estella and are looking to stay somewhere, just go there! I also met Guilhermo from Barcelona, someone who I would meet on and off until Burgos. A gentlesoul.

I would later meet my friends, L&R, for drinks and tapas in the Plaza Mayor until it was time to prepare for the next day. All three of us agreed to meet in Los Arcos the following day.

September 13th, 2018 – Day 2
Estella to Los Arcos, 21km

Another crisp dark morning without a cloud in the sky as I left the Agora Hostal in Estella. Again, thanks to our hosts for making my stay as amazing as it was. I shall be back! Leaving the hostel, I started talking with Guillermo from Burgos, who was choosing to walk part of the Camino for his 60th birthday. He was much faster than me, but then again, he is nearly 7 foot tall. He hoped to walk to Sansol today, slightly further than me.

You pass the church of San Pedro de la Rua on your way out of Estella. The many lights illuminate the stairs. Guillermo was always ahead of me and he was happy to be alone. We arrive at the much talked about Monasterio de Santa Maria de Irache which has a wine fountain.  I took a sip, it proved to be too sweet and I moved on. I’m sure some pilgrims will love it, just not this pilgrim.

Church of San Pedro in Estella

Somehow, I let the darkness take me for a walk and bring me on a wrong turn. I was off the Camino. But panic not as I turned a corner and I saw another yellow arrow, And shortly after that, I saw Doug from Canada again. All smiles.  The sun was rising over Navarra as we made our way to Villamayor de Monjardin.

After a gradual climb, we both arrived at Villamayor. There was a chap with a flying drone recording so you might be able to hear the buzzing in the video clip I took below. The main site visited is the Romanesque church of San Andrés, from the XII century. We stopped off here for a bit and had a snack from the Markiola tienda.

After leaving the town, there is a 12km stretch to Los Arcos so I was sure to have enough water and some fruit with me for the morning. Off we went.

The weather was super and once the sun came up, it started to get warm. And by warm I mean 15c in the shade and 20-25c in the sun. I quickly realised I had no sun cream so I was hoping there was a farmacia in Los Arcos or I would be the pink-skinned Irishman, from now on!

We arrived at Los Arcos, which would be my stop for the day. Doug had decided to walk some more. At the entrance to the town, there was a great tienda and we bought some fruits, drinks and cakes. All waiting for the albergue to open. Looking at my watch, I had quite a while yet. The fabulous Casa de la Abuela in Los Arcos is much revered so I thought I would check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. I said goodbye to Doug, knowing that we would meet again.

I met L&R later on in the evening in the main plaza for a pilgrim menu and some non-alcoholic drinks. The plaza was a full place that night, and all three restaurants were busy with pilgrims. The albergue was full too. I met a lady from Queens in New York who was walking with a Mexican guy. I also met 2 French Canadians with the most basic English but we communicated through Spanish. Which was fun. Tomorrow, I hope to walk to Viana and it will be my last day with L&R. I will walk on then.

Los Arcos at night

September 14th, 2018 – Day 3
Los Arcos to Viana, 18km

Dark thirty. I wake to pilgrims gathering their belongings. I reach for my phone and see the time. 4.30am. Sigh. I then see that my phone had not charged during the night. Well, I will have no photos today. I decided to turn my phone off until later that evening. With those two pieces of unwelcome news, I turned over and tried to sleep for another hour.

At 6am, I awake again and gather my pack and leave. The Quebecois duo had left, the American lady and Mexican man had both departed. However, I would hope to see all in Viana. I doubt I would see Doug today. So today would be a solo walk! Let’s go! Breakfast was served at 7am in Los Arcos main plaza which I accepted. There are not many stops for water and food along the route today, so it is worth filling up when you can. The Camino takes you past the Iglesia de Santa Maria and over the River Odron. It isn’t long before you are back in traditional Camino territory. But of course, it is still dark as we are expecting a hot day this day. I noticed the whirr of an electricity station on the outskirts of the town. Ok, now for music. I hadn’t had a chance to listen to any music since I started walking. Not that this is a bad thing. I’m in the zone when I walk alone and having some music helps me think, I suppose.

More and more vineyards crop up as I walk westwards. Reaching out to grab a few grapes are so tempting, but a voice inside tells me otherwise. The sun rises as I spot Sansol and Torres del Rio in front of me. Both towns might as well be joint to the hip for they are so close. Torres is bigger and is established on a hill. It takes great energy to get to a cafe and have a 2nd breakfast. I’m sad to learn that Albergue Casa Mari is no longer open. I stayed here in 2014 and really enjoyed it. The Templar church looks magnificent as always.

Although the day starts at about 450 metres, the high point of the day is nearly 600 metres. It is a very hilly day with many rolling ups and downs, it is it not as easy as it may seem. I passed a few pilgrims who were having difficulty and I always said “take a rest, you deserve it, the hardest is behind you. It gets easier”. While others, and more agile than me, walked past me like I wasn’t there. So you get all sort of pilgrims. I enjoyed today, particularly watching the sunrise over the vineyards. Stopping where you are, turning around and watching the sun rise is just essential on the Camino.

I was aiming for Albergue Izar in Viana and I arrived just before midday. The albergue didn’t open until 1pm so I had some time for a drink and some lunch. I walked past the bullring, and down Calle Rua Santa Maria where the Church of Santa Maria stands tall. I took a moment or two just to take it in and then ordered a cafe con leche. I immediately saw some pilgrims who I had met before from Finland and Germany respectively so I joined them for a bit. They wanted to walk on to Logrono, another 10km. But the day is young. The wine festival of San Matteo was happening over that weekend so most pilgrims wanted to be there for the festivities. I, on the other hand, was aiming for Ventosa the following day. I’m not a fan of the big cities. I saw the Quebecois duo also, who were staying in the same albergue as myself. They were fun to be around.

The entrance to Viana

Albergue Isar is a good clean modern albergue with communal meal and breakfast. It has small rooms upstairs for just 6 or larger dorms on the ground floor. The only problem is that it is situated at the bottom of a short steep climb in the town.

Iglesia de Santa Maria Viana

I met L&R for the last time on this Camino for a final pilgrim meal and some drinks. The restaurant was on a side street so it was away from the crowds of Calle Rua Santa Maria. Back to the albergue I went after saying my goodbyes and thinking about tomorrow. Most were talking about walking to Navarrete, but my feet felt good, and I have walked before. I think I will make Ventosa. Adelante!

Nice meeting L&R for the last time. Until we meet again.

September 15th, 2018 – Day 4
Viana to Ventosa, 28km

Today I said goodbye to Navarra and hello to La Rioja as I ventured westward. It was due to be a hot day so I decided on an early start, just to be safe. I was pretty sure I made the right choice as the last few kilometres without shade made it harder.

I set off alone after 6am. The hospitaleros had set out a breakfast that I took advantage of. It’s essential that you have something to eat before you leave in the morning, and then you can have 2nd breakfast at your first stop, and so on! It was pitch black outside so I took it nice and slow. The next few kilometres to Logrono is far from attractive so I suppose early morning is the ideal time to walk it. I left with a full battery and with a full tank’s worth of coffee. The next town will top me up! I said goodbye to Viana and walked under its archway leading back on to the Camino.

Instant darkness. I put the music away and turned the flashlight on full. I was urging the sun to rear her head over the horizon. I would have to wait another hour for that however. After the Camino brings you through some back roads, you are lead on to the main road. Here you can see the “Communidad de La Rioja” sign. I knew where I was now. But there is a good bit of industrial area to walk through before arriving at Logrono proper.

The sun rises in the background.  I stop for a moment or two. I say goodbye to Navarra and silently thank everyone whom I have met since I have been here. It’s this time of the day I cherish the most. Always happy to see another day.

I arrive in the city close to an hour later. The party from the night before was just ending, the Fiesta de San Matteo. I spotted an Irish bar – Dublin Bar on Avenida Zaragoza. I know for next time. After the long walk up Calle Marqués de Murrieta, the Camino leads you to a number of parks and to the La Grajera where swans and other small animals are known to dwell. I have passed through here twice before so I look forward to seeing the swans. It is also the first time I see the Scottish pilgrim, Andrew. What strikes me is how fast he walks. He was out of sight in no time. I got to meet the Irish couple who were on the same flight as me. We agreed to meet up and talk again in Santo Domingo de la Calzada a few days later.

Leaving the La Grajera park, you will pass a long-bearded man by the name of Marcellino who will offer you a sello. Be sure to take one, he is quite a famous peregrino! He was there that morning and was offering everyone a “Buen Camino”.  Once you leave Logrono, you arrive at the side of the main road and you are following that until you stop for the day. The sun was out and I could feel the heat on my neck already. But I had another 10 kilometres to go.

Navarrete was in the distance. Placed on a hill with many vineyards surrounding it, this town is a favourite for pilgrims. I stopped for a little while to soak up the atmosphere. All the cafes were full however so I declined a cafe con leche and had some fruit that I bought the day before, taking advantage of what little shade there was.

Navarette

This day was bringing back great memories of my Camino in 2013 when I walked from Logrono to Leon. I met so many good people that year, most I am in contact with to this day. I hoped this year would be just like 2013 but I didn’t want to compare. I wasn’t here to make friends, I was here for the experience.

The final 8kms to Ventosa were the toughest I have walked in a long time. The heat seemed to be increasing with each hour and this pale Irishman became this pink Irishman very quickly. There were pilgrims taking rests under trees and haystacks just to avoid the worst of the heat. I arrived at Ventosa at 1pm. It wasn’t opened yet but there was a queue. Patricia from Logrono had just walked her first day on her Camino and decided to finish here. She had good English but she was looking forward to her siesta!

After washing my clothes, I checked out the local restaurant and had the pilgrim meal. Not bad for €11. I met Madalina from Canada, the French part. She had walked from Logrono so I bought her a glass of wine for her efforts. I noticed she had a patch on her arm and asked: “Is this for Type 1, Diabetes?”. She said it was and I explained that I needed to carry a large supply of medication with me on Camino also. So it was nice to open up about our respective conditions. She said that she was aiming for Santo Domingo tomorrow, but there was no guarantee. After a few hours talking, we walked back to the albergue and prepared for the next day.

I met Carsten in the albergue that evening and myself, Patricia and Carsten arranged to walk tomorrow. Adelante!

September 16th, 2018 – Day 5
Ventosa to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 32km

A long day, but a day I met and walked with new faces. It was expected to be a hot day again, so I was prepared. It was a Sunday also. So we were prepared for that too. Sunday’s on the Camino are a different kettle of fish.

Patricia, from Logrono, and Carsten, from Germany, left Albergue San Saturnino in Ventosa after 6am after some breakfast. Well, some fruit and coffee, until Najera. We had 11kms to conquer before reaching the River Najerilla and it’s many cafes and albergues. Not that we had planned to stay there. My two companions had open minds, while I had my heart set on Santo Domingo and her two hens! Patricia had taken some time off from work to walk part of the Camino and hoped to walk to Burgos. So she was in no rush. From the off, I could see she was having great difficulty with her pack. Its settings were not right and its weight was on her lower back. And this was her 2nd day. We talked about her summer spent in Ireland while studying English, which seems to be the place to be if you are a Spanish student during the summer months. She had fun, but she did tell me that not a lot of English was learned! Karsten had walked part of the Camino, from Leon, so he knew the score. He liked the silence and only spoke when spoken to. But I enjoyed his sense of humour. This is strange for a German, right? However, we would walk together to Burgos. Little did I know that he had something in common with me and it was great to chat with him about it.

Najera, our first stop, is situated underneath a cliff face and there was an eerie silence about the place when we crossed the Najerilla. There is a great cafe to the left of the river and we stopped there for a 2nd breakfast. We met Jan, from Denmark and Andrew, from Scotland. They were both aiming for Santo Domingo. They were part of the 40k club. They could do big distances each day. I’m not sure I could join them. After our coffees had been finished and our tostadas had been eaten, we sauntered on. Azofra, 6km ahead, would be our next stop.

Patricia, Carsten and I arrive in Najera

The distance ahead was pretty straightforward but now the sun was front and centre.  The trail rambled over hills with rocks to one side and vineyards to the other. This is a winemakers heaven here! Plenty of arrows sprayed on the rocks, just in case we don’t take a wrong turn. Azofra is a one street town but it is pretty great. There are a number of cafes and we decided to stop for a bit because Patricia was struggling. I offered some bandage for a new blister. I told her about the municipal albergue here in Azofra, which has a swimming pool. She decided to stay at the cafe, when myself and Karsten reached for our packs. We didn’t meet again.

It was now coming close to midday and having walked 17km, we had a further 15km to go to our destination. The sun was relentless and there was little shade. The trail now changed from one with a lot of turns, to none. A walk for a long as your eye can see. It was time to dig deep. Carsten pushed ahead, just the motivation I needed. We barely talked until Ciruena but if you need an example in ‘let’s just get through this’, Carsten had it.

The long and winding road to Santo Domingo

Ciruena is in the unfortunate position to be beside a ghost town that was built beside a golf course. Both Carsten and I stopped for a cold drink here and we met my Irish buddy from the flight. His wife had picked up some nasty blisters and had taxied ahead. That’s the Camino unfortunately. I hoped to meet him later. Leaving Ciruena is like trying to escape from a bank. It can be tricky, to say the least. We eventually found the exit (even though I have passed through here before).

One long stretch, one hill, and one tricky descent before we could see Santo Domingo. I didn’t think I could make it. Karsten wanted to check into the albergue and see the two hens in the Catedral. I’m not sure the viewing of two hens is worth a couple of euro. I’m happier to meet other pilgrims.

With that, I saw Doug. He was talking to a Danish pilgrim who I hadn’t met before. I heard a loud shout “Irish Dave” across the hive of peregrinos – I think the Estrellas were talking! I knew I would catch up with him but not this early. There you go! I better check in and find a bed first.

Albergue in Santo Domingo de la Calzada

The municipal albergue hadn’t changed since I was in it first in 2013 – well, maybe the price! My bed was in “Azofra” on the 2nd floor – more steps to climb. While Karsten checked out the Catedral, I grabbed a mini siesta and then headed out for some money. I met Jan and Andrew whom we met in Najera, and they were with other folks. So I joined them. There were pilgrims from Australia, Sweden, Canada, Spain and another from Ireland. This Irish pilgrim was walking to Santiago and having a great time. Maybe one year, I’ll be able to do the same.

After numerous drinks and tapas, we started to think about a pilgrim meal. It was close to 7pm and everywhere looked full. Who is going to serve a group of 12? Luckily enough we found a great restaurant beside the Parador that provides pilgrim meals. It was a great evening but I have no photos to remember the night due to the battery dying. That is the Camino! Shout out to Andrew for organising the table!

As is the Camino, not everyone were going to walk the same distance the following day. I hoped to walk to Belorado and Cuatro Cantones albergue, while others hoped to walk to Villafranca and Tosantos. While this happens all the time, everyone meets up in the end and a big city like Burgos brings everyone back together again.

Until tomorrow.

September 17th, 2018 – Day 6
Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado, 24km

Not much sleep was had in the Cofradia in Santo Domingo. The bunks make enough noise to wake the dead. But I was looking forward to this day. Belorado is a place I have been to many a time and one I will hope to return to again. The albergue Cuatro Cantones is a special place run by Jana and her family. Do stay if you get the chance. I decided to stay this year.

I gathered my backpack and slowly walked to the kitchen in the Cofradia. There were a few pilgrims asleep on the sofas nearby – tired of the snoring maybe? After a quick cafe con leche and some fruit, I was ready to head out but I saw Karsten. I decided to wait. The forecast for the day was good with a slight chance of rain in the afternoon, but there was much talk of the swimming pool in Cuatro Cantones over the pilgrim meal the evening before. I have not yet seen the swimming pool in action so there is a first for everything.

We were on the road by 6.30am. Leaving Santo Domingo is nothing special. You walk along the main road until you arrive at Granon and it’s tall steeple church. We stop for another breakfast at the cafe “My Way Frances”. It has a very active presence on Instagram so it was nice to say hello and thank them for doing what they do. A short while later, we walk on.

It was also the day we left the La Rioja region and entered Castilla y Leon. Just after Granon, you arrive at a large sign which sets out your path for the next week or more. It was nice to see that again. We bumped into Andrew again and just enjoyed naming off some of the towns the gang will be walking through soon. I sat back and took a photo.

The scenery was gradually changing too. The vineyards of La Rioja were no more, only to be replaced by sunflowers, We speculated how the price of wine will be affected!

On our travels and somewhere before Belorado, we saw a chap in front of us with earphones plugged in, presumably listening to music. He was zoned out. However, a large truck was coming his way. Karsten ran toward him to warn him. Our newly-met pilgrim (Jim from the US) couldn’t thank us enough. We walked together to Belorado.

Onwards. Conversation makes time and kilometres shorter until we arrive at Belorado. Albergue A Santiago is all bells and whistles and opens at midday, however, Cuatro Cantones is situated in the centre of the town. We have another 30 minutes to wait. A queue is beginning to form already, and I expected that too. It is a popular albergue.  We walk to the main plaza where it is market day. We buy some fruit for tomorrow morning. I see Andrew also. He is walking to Villafranca Montes de Oca, a further 12km. I wouldn’t see him again.

After checking in, I grab a shower. The swimming pool is open with the temp being in the mid-20s. The sun doesn’t look like leaving us. There is a yoga session planned for before dinner so I decided to join that. First time for everything. Until then, we are relaxing in the back garden. I get called from another Irish pilgrim “David, come on in, the water is perfect”. The thing is I can’t swim, so that’s my excuse. I can paddle though!

I take off my zip offs and paddle like the best 5-year-old child. An hour passes and the rain that was promised arrives. I quickly jump from the pool and run for the washing line to gather my clothes. I just hope they dry for tomorrow morning. My zip off leggings are still in Belorado.

September 18th, 2018 – Day 7
Belorado to Atapuerca, 30km

This day had finally come. This has the least appealing scenery of the Camino, in my opinion. But it still needs to be walked. The night before, pilgrims were busy making reservations in Ages, one of the more popular towns. The bed race had begun. It didn’t seem to bother me. I had walked this etapa twice before and while it doesn’t stick out as a favourite, it is memorable. Is that saying something?

I had a bunk in the attic of Cuatro Cantones, which meant I had the dangerous task of walking down 3 flights of stairs to the kitchen. No bones broken. When I got there, I saw Karsten, a Korean couple and a number of other pilgrims. The morning was still young. This sign in the albergue caught my eye.

It was a super morning, the skies were clear but it was a bit chilly. We reached Tosantos in no time and we hoped that 2nd coffee could be found. Unfortunately, everything was closed. We arrived at Espinosa de la Camino with a little success. Some breakfast later and we had some energy. Now we were rocking. We met Guilhermo again walking in a casual way. He had stayed in Tosantos and was aiming for Ages and then finally Burgos the next day to end his Camino this year. I wished him well.

Espinosa del Camino

It was all fun and games and good conversation until we reached Villafranca Montes de Oca – a small town based on an incline into the Oca Hills. We stopped for refreshments and chatted to 2 young German (or so I was told) pilgrims, before making a start on the climb. It wasn’t steep but it went on for a while. So, we had 12km of ascent and descent before arriving at the next town San Juan de Ortega. And I was glad.

San Juan de Ortega holds nothing more than a monastery, an albergue, a hotel and a cafe. Most stop here after the long nothingness. The cafe is buzzing with cafe con leches flying out the door. Karsten buys me a coke and I sit down. I spot two very young pilgrims buzzing around with more energy than us all. I ask presumably their father if they are his children. He says yes and says they are 4 and 6 and have walked from St. Jean. This is their Day 16. I’m stunned and ask for a photo. It’s a great story to tell and what a great experience it will be for them when they complete it.

Karsten and I decide to walk on. We have another 4km to Ages and another 2km to Atapuerca after that. Our feet were fine but I had a bad case of the farmers’ tan now that the lower part of the trousers was missing. I needed the sun to move back under the cloud. Back into the woods we go for a few km before we arrive at Ages. Atapuerca is just 2km or 30 minutes away. I could walk it in my sleep at this rate.

We arrived just after midday. The albergue wasn’t due to open until 1pm. I left my back with Karsten and paid the tienda a visit. I knew Atapuerca well at this rate having been here in 2013 and 2015. But the people make the place you stay and I was waiting for the right people to show up. I had Karsten, he was good fun. While waiting, Jim from the USA and Ben from Israel appeared. We would get to know both well over the next few days. And then was Bruno and Blanka. I had met Bruno earlier on in the week briefly. But I didn’t get a chance to talk to him for long. Bruno had written a novel and had with him a number of his books. Later in the evening, he would give me a copy of his book to read when I returned from my Camino.

After a few light refreshments, Jim, Ben, Bruno and myself went for dinner in El Palomar. It was smashing and I was filled with energy for the walk to Burgos in the morning. I wasn’t looking forward to my last walking day but I was walking so fast I now had a rest day. So I could chill for a day before traveling to Bilbao and Dublin.

A short day to Burgos in the morning. Everyone is talking about the river route. I have walked it in 2015 so I’ve been giving tips on how to avoid the mundanity of the entrance to Burgos.

September 19th, 2018 – Day 8
Atapuerca to Burgos, 18km

Another early morning. Most of the albergue was awake having their breakfast in some shape or form. Bruno, Jim, Carsten, Ben and Blanka were all eager to reach Burgos. But it was quite a cold morning. Fog had descended during the night and there was danger it would still be in the hills if we left too early. We had the stars to guide us so. Jim decided to hold back and walk with Ben so I walked on with Karsten, Bruno and Blanka. We would meet in Burgos, however.

Leaving Atapauerca, we had a short climb ahead of us to get to the Matagrande. Onwards I went passing Villafria with no bar open for breakfast. The road was quiet and there was almost an eerie sense with the low fog and the stars out. We stopped for a bit when we reached the Sierra de Atapuerca and looked back at the climb we achieved. The sun was peeking over the horizon but it wasn’t ready to make an appearance just yet.

There was plenty of chat among us and I was happy to learn that a friend of Bruno’s family had entered and contested the Rose of Tralee. So he was Irish in my books. I had his novel in my backpack and I was looking forward to diving into it headfirst once I returned home. We stopped at Cardenuela Riopico for some breakfast, however, Blanka decided her foot would feel better if she walked on and did not stop. We would meet again in Burgos. I witnessed my final sunrise on this Camino – it was magical, while having a croissant and cafe con leche. After a while, the 3 amigos, Bruno, Karsten and myself walked on to Burgos. The sun was up but there was still a chill in the air.

We still had a good 2 hours yet before we reached the albergue. There was much talk about an alternative route, to avoid the slog through the industrial area into Burgos. The alternative meant following the River Pico into the city – it is somewhat more scenic. This diversion is laid out on a sign at the side of the road and it gives pilgrims directions into Burgos. Most guidebooks would have this alternative listed.

We were in Burgos by midday and at the albergue shortly after. The albergue is close by the gothic cathedral standing tall in the main square. There is already a queue as we arrive and we sit in the cafe to wait. There is no hurry. This albergue has many beds! Soon, I see Jim and Ben and Blanka and I meet new faces. I decide to visit the Cathedral the following day as I have a day spare. All I have to do now is check-in and find somewhere to eat!

Burgos Cathedral
Albergue at Burgos
Group shot! Camino family!

Shortly, I saw Doug again. It’s amazing how the big cities bring everyone together again. Later that evening, Karsten, Doug and I went for a meal in Burgos. It was pretty filling. We went back to the cafe outside the albergue and chatted to our fellow pilgrims. It was sad not to be walking with them. But some would be taking a rest day so I would enjoy their company the following day before I travelled to Bilbao.

September 20th & 21st, 2018 – Day 9 & 10
Burgos

It was an early morning. Truth be told I should have stayed in a private room and got a few hours more sleep. The albergue wanted everyone to leave before 8am. Poor me! So I got up, packed and had breakfast in the cafe across from the albergue. I was delighted to be joined by Jim who decided to take a day’s rest. He was having some foot problems and wanted to rest before tackling the meseta. I also met 2 Argentinian pilgrims – Marcos and Santiago. They had pretty good English but I encouraged them to speak Spanish to me so I can improve on that front.

Jim, Marcos and Santiago

After breakfast, we all agreed to visit the Cathedral. Bringing your credential gets you a pilgrim rate, so that’s handy. Even though I’ve been in the Cathedral twice before, I am blown away by the work. It is always full of tourists so early morning is a good time. You get an audio tour too. The following image was posted on Instagram and has been shared by the Spanish tourist board.

The rear of Burgos Cathedral

And some photos of the interior of the Cathedral…

Afterward, I checked in to a hostal that I had booked before arriving in Burgos. I left my bag there and walked back to the cafe outside the albergue. Jim was there and there was already a healthy queue forming with pilgrims for the albergue. The beat goes on. It was good to see some people that I met along the Way and I lost touch. We shared stories over a drink and swapped contact details.

Later that evening, I visited a friend who lives in Burgos and afterward I went back to the hostal to pack for the bus to Bilbao. My Camino was closing to an end but the many people I had met had weeks to go yet, I hoped to follow them to Santiago.

Until next year.

So Where Did I Stay?

There is a wealth of accommodation on the Camino Francés. Every couple of kilometres you will find a town with a number of albergues, hostals, and hotels. The greatest distance between two towns is 17 kilometres but most pilgrims plan for this days in advance. For me, I had no issues with accommodation.  I mostly stayed in albergues, but there was the odd hostal I booked before leaving Dublin for the start and end of my Camino.

Puente la Reina – Hostal la Plaza
I booked a single room here shortly before leaving home as my flight would be arriving into Bilbao late. Hostal la Plaza is on the Camino and has a restaurant beside it. The price is reasonable and the staff are very friendly. A handy tip: if you think you are going to be late – call the hostal and let them know. You may not have a room to go to when you arrive.

Hostal La Plaza

Estella – Agora Hostal 
The standard of albergues on the Camino Frances is getting better and better and those providing their time are giving something extra special back. The Agora Hostal is something special. The outside of the hostel looks less than remarkable but inside is clean, and welcoming. In the hands of Adrianna and Alphonso, I am told that this is my home for the night. Breakfast is included. The beds are comfortable. It isn’t far from the Camino. Recommended.

Los Arcos – Albergue Casa de la Abuela
I got into Los Arcos quite early so I was before the throngs of pilgrims. I was quite lucky as there was no room in any of the albergues in this town later in the day. That is the Camino Frances for you. I was the first in the door, only to be greeted by a sprawling pile of mochilas left from Jacotrans. Again, this is the nature of the beast. Casa de la Abuela is a fine albergue and had all I needed. The hospitalera offered to wash my clothes for a tiny fee and I accepted. I could have walked on to the next town, Torres del Rio, a further 12km. But I was in no hurry. I met my friends for a meal and drinks in the plaza later that evening.

Viana – Albergue Izar
A short day from Los Arcos I decided on stopping in Viana. Mainly because I had not stayed here before but I would see my friends for the last time before they embarked on their Camino. The first albergue you encounter once you reach Viana is brightly coloured Albergue Izar. While not opened until 12 midday, I decided to walk up the grueling hill into the town for a cafe and snack and see who else I would find. While the albergue is away from all the action (ie the church, the main plaza), the owners are friendly and the facilities are great. I met a bunch of new pilgrims here before I decided on walking a long day to Ventosa.

Ventosa – Albergue San Saturnino
A long day. And I was glad to arrive here. Ventosa used to be on the Camino Frances but over time, the powers that be have moved the arrows so now it is kind of left out in the cold. But it is not too far away. Just 1 km away from the trail is Albergue San Saturnino. There are two cafes in this town also. Stay long enough in your bed and you will be woken by classical music. It has all the facilities and I was glad to meet more pilgrim friends here.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Albergue de la Cofradía del Santo
Super organised, well run and a great place in general. My second time there. The only thing I didn’t like was the walk up the stairs to the 2nd floor on arrival! But, with over 200 beds and 3 floors, you can be sure to find a bed in Santo Domingo. And then you can visit the chickens in the Cathedral afterward. Shout out to the hospitaleros also for doing a super job!

Belorado – Albergue Cuatro Cantones
Nothing but good things to say about the albergue here in Belorado. There are more than one albergue in this small town but this one stands out. I have stayed here more than once and enjoyed my stay. Jana and her family have been looking after pilgrims for 15 years now. There is a restaurant attached to the albergue and there is no harm trying the food. Also, if the sun is out, the pool in the back is perfect. There is a yoga session also for those interested. Recommended.

Atapuerca – Albergue El Peregrino
Chosen purely for convenience rather than comfort. Having stayed in this albergue 3 times before, I know a fair bit about it, including its weaknesses. That said, it is handy to stay there as it is just a mere 18 km to Burgos. Top tip: try El Palomar for the Pilgrim Menu.

Burgos – Albergue de peregrinos Casa del Cubo y de los Lerma (municipal)– night one / Hostal Manjon – night two.
My Camino ended with a stay in the municipal in Burgos, with its 180 beds. While I have always enjoyed my stays here, I didn’t this time. I had a bad case of a head cold going home to Ireland and had little sleep here.

I had an extra day to hand before I made my way to Bilbao and back to Ireland. I checked into Hostal Manjon, a budget hostal about 5 minutes from the Cathedral. It was just ok but I managed to claw back some of the sleep I was owed.

Municipal Albergue Burgos

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