It’s February and as I settle back to my new home (long story!), I begin to look ahead on the next few months. 2019 brought a record number of pilgrims to Santiago and the expectation is that this year, the numbers of visitors to Santiago will be higher. But I am here to write about my own walks and how I enjoy them. And I do enjoy them. The fact that I return each year shows you that I get great love from my time in Spain or Portugal. If I could spend longer, I would, but that’s for another blog post. I will make do with two weeks and a few days in Santiago once I arrive there.
I suppose I have an affinity with the coast. I was born and bred along the coast. I have lived with the sea breeze. Walking the Portuguese Coastal Route is somewhat special to me. It may not be the “true” Camino but having walked from A Guarda in 2018, I knew I would be back again. Am I even going as far as saying that the Portuguese Camino is more enjoyable than the Camino Frances? I will leave that for you to decide but it can have it’s benefits. The French Way will always have much more infrastructure – because more people walk it. On the Portuguese Camino, especially in September/ October when I do walk it, there will be less pilgrims but some albergues will be open.
I’m still conflicted, however, as the French Way has a small place in my heart. All those years on the meseta have had an effect on me!
Speaking of tomorrow, I will help with our local Camino association at their annual information event in Dublin. I think this is the 3rd one I have attended in St James Church and each one has been packed! It just shows that each year interest in the Camino is growing and people are always curious looking for the right information. I will be there on deck helping future pilgrims. We seem to get a great response each year. I will post some photos in my next post. Talk to you later.
For those of you who know me, I have always been averse to organising a Camino in any shape or form. I’ve written about it before. In most of my Caminos, I prefer to pre-book a hostel or a private albergue at my starting point and if I am finishing in Santiago, e-mail the good people at the San Martin Pinario a few months in advance for a bed in their pilgrim section. I’ve been quite happy with listening to my body and putting up with the bed-race, no matter how irritating it has been getting of late. Walking from Lisbon, myself and my Camino buddy, Carsten, had the freedom to walk for as long as we wished and we still “had a room at the inn”. There were some days we arrived at a hostel at 3pm with a selection of beds. But this is the Camino from Lisbon and most pilgrims walk from Tui or even Porto on this route.
The annual figures from the Pilgrims Office in Santiago were released earlier this month and while part of me is not surprised by the increase, I am surprised by how popular the Camino has become since I walked first back in 2011. It is inevitable that the numbers will increase in 2020 and in 2021, the Holy Year in Santiago. The question is how high will the number be. It is worth pointing out that the number below are pilgrims who have collected their compostela in Santiago. There are others who do not value the compostela and feel happy to reach Santiago. So we may be over 350,000?
So to avoid all stress, I’ve decided to use Booking.com to prebook certain accommodation for this Camino. A wise move? I will let you know when I reach Santiago. I have two albergues yet to book as they are closed at the moment. On reaching Santiago, I look forward to spending 2 nights in the San Martin Pinario and meeting friends based in the town.
Having somewhere booked means I don’t have to start as early, I can take my time and I can capture some content with my Osmo. I will still carry my backpack however, I won’t lose sight of my kit! 🙂
Here is a draft itinerary from Porto:
Porto – metro to Matosinhos
Povoa do Varzim
Povoa do Varzim
Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo
Caldas de Reis
Caldas de Reis
Bus to Porto
Flight to Dublin
Some can walk in 10 days, I am hoping to complete it in 11 days. The only day that concerns me is the one from Viana do Castelo to A Guarda which is 30 kms long, 4 km of which is on a boat from Caminha in Portugal to A Guarda to Spain. I arrive in familiar territory at this point having walked the Coastal Camino with my brother 2 years ago. The distances get shorter once I arrive in Spain with some days less than 20km.
But we are in January. There is much to happen before I fly to Porto and take my first step. The Kerry Camino in May being one.
This is a short video promoting the Portuguese Coastal Camino and it does a great job. September can’t come soon enough. However, I can’t help noticing that this particular pilgrim walked inland to Valenca instead of crossing the River Mino at Caminha.
It’s that time of year… I’ve seen the first Christmas trees. The advertisements have been playing on radio and TV for the last few months and people have started to get in to that frame of mind.
Of course, my mind is a million miles away and I’d rather be following arrows than making shops that little bit richer. Careful now, someone might accuse me of not being in the Christmas spirit. Au contraire! Give me a few weeks until we are in December and I should have sufficient time to prepare.
So what have I have been doing since I last posted nearly one month ago?
Well, the Camino spirit has not left me entirely since I returned from Portugal. Since I last wrote, plans are ongoing to walk from Porto to Santiago in September. The one unanswered question is whether I walk the coastal route or the classic internal route. By walking along the coast, I am adding 2 days to my trip however the coast gives you the added bonus of the breeze until you move inland. This question will remain unanswered until I arrive in Porto, I guess, and I will let my feet do the talking.
I have been on two walks – one long, and one short. The first was on the Boyne Valley Camino which starts at St. Peters Church in Drogheda. I was actually meant to write a bit about this walk but time got in the way however below are some of my favourite photos from the day. My friend Oihana and I took the commuter train to Drogheda from Dublin and walked the 25 km looped walk. It is a good mixture of forest, road walking, walking along the River Boyne, with the added historical element too. This walk is part of the Celtic Camino series and you can pick up a nice certificate from Camino Society Ireland if you collect stamps during your walk. More information here: Boyne Valley Camino.
Thanks to Oihana (Facebook page) for providing some of her photos. We had a fun day. It’s always great to try out newer walks, especially ones that are closer to home. I would definitely recommend the walk and if you get the chance, do walk the full loop. It can be a bit challenging during the winter months but during the Summer it would be perfect, I would imagine. The Batttle of the Boyne site, Mellifont Abbey and Oldbridge house are interesting. We did manage to get lost however, due to some signage going missing. We were back on track before long.
The following week (the 16th November), I walked a short walk with Camino Society Ireland. Out to Howth Head we would go. It would be a morning of firsts. I am so used to the purple loop or bog of frogs but due to ongoing works, this path was closed so we opted for the Black Linn Loop, following the red arrows. I brought along my DSLR, Canon 750d and took a few photos. You can check them out on the Camino Society Ireland Facebook page. I am very much a beginner at photography so any tips are useful. I guess the number one tip is practice, practice, practice.
Well that’s all the news here. I hope you are all well. 310 days before I touch down in Portugal..ha! I will post soon!
I usually leave the flights or whatever until after Christmas but if you read my last post I had been doing a little bit of planning for next Camino. I have decided to walk from Porto along the Coastal Path and hopefully arrive in Santiago within 2 weeks.
I have booked a Ryanair flight to Porto on the 27th of September 2020. I have no idea what I will be doing around that time but I feel good locking in the flight. The plan is to walk to the cathedral in Porto, get my first sello and catch the metro to my hostel in Matasinhos, which is 12 km from the city. I will be avoiding the industrial part of the city and it makes a nicer start of a walk the following day. I will book a hostel in Matasinhos closer to the time.
I have no return flight booked yet but my intention is to book it before I leave. I have been looking at the guidebook briefly. All the stages seem relatively short and compared to the central route, it is not challenging. There are opportunties to take alternative routes, with all Caminos and I may take them to vary things.
However, we are looking too far into the future. What I need to do first is buy a new backpack as my current one is torn. So I will be shopping shortly. And I will be walking shortly too.
After my recent Camino Portugues from Lisbon, I arrived back to “the real world” and the only place I wanted to be was back on the Camino de Santiago. I’m sure you get what I’m saying? It’s only natural if you are like me and walk the Camino once a year. I changed on the Camino – everyone was walking for the same reason, my habits changed, the food I ate changed and I certainly didn’t talk about work or politics. Everything was simple. I woke up, walked for a bit, watched the most amazing sunrise, had a second breakfast, and walked until I reached the albergue at the end of the day. It’s like someone pressed reset on my body, mind, and soul.
However, once all the walking is done and you arrive home, “the real world” can come as a shock for some pilgrims. It did for me, I won’t lie. Your family or friends find it difficult to relate to what you’ve been through over the last few weeks. Try explaining that the nicest albergue was €18 and watch them figure out what ‘albergue’ means. So, it is an idea to keep thinking that you are always on Camino. Your Camino is never-ending.
So some tips to stretch out that Camino feeling:
Keep on walking at home
Write / Journal / Talk about your Camino
Keep in touch with your pilgrim family through email and social media
And planning my next Camino is something I have been doing. I have been looking at a few routes for next year BUT I have decided to walk later in the year. The reason for that are two-fold. Later in the year will result in fewer pilgrims and lower temperatures.
I also need to start looking after myself while on Camino. On many of my early Caminos, I loved to walk a 20-25 km day but from Lisbon, I was walking in excess of 30 km per day in 30+degree temperatures. The previous two Caminos were wake-up calls for me in a way. I have a rare form of focal epilepsy which is under control by medication while at home however heat and over-exertion can bring on episodes if I am not careful.
So, I will have two weeks. I will walk for shorter days. and I will be walking at a time when it is cooler. It can be done and I have a whole year to see what routes are suitable. It just won’t be the Camino Frances!
I typically use the below links for planning, which can be found in my Planning Links page:
Standouts for me were the albergues in Tomar, Alvaiázere and Rabacal. Most were small, offered meals or had a restaurant nearby. They catered to the pilgrim, very much like any of the albergues on the Camino Frances.
The accommodation in Lisbon and Porto were booked before I made the trip. I stayed in every other place on a whim. And this was a joy for me!
The plan on returning from Porto was to write a daily account until my final stage in Agueda. Well, as the inactivity on this blog can show, that clearly didn’t happen. I had one post written and my mind went on strike! It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the Camino. It was quite the opposite. I made the mistake of not writing a journal at the end of each day. But I can squeeze all of this in one post for your reading pleasure.
So I guess I will start with some of the reasons why I chose the Portugués Camino from Lisbon in the first place?
1. It is quiet…but, a little too quiet
If you have walked some of the more popular Caminos, I’m looking at you Camino Frances and Camino Portugues from Porto, you will notice quite a few pilgrims, especially in the summer months. In September, it is epically busy with queues outside the Pilgrims Office in Santiago and many private albergues booked up in advance. From Lisbon, there is none of this as you will be lucky to meet other pilgrims walking. That said, you will meet plenty of pilgrims in the albergues or hostels in the evenings. Some of you may be quite happy to walk alone for hours on end but for other pilgrims, the social side is a big part of the Camino. I was delighted to walk with Carsten, my German buddy, until I made my way home.
2. The History behind the towns add to the Camino
It really tells you something about the Camino when you have been walking for hours and then stumble upon a town that calls itself the Gothic capital. I mean, you don’t see that on the French Way? However, there are enough examples of Gothic buildings in the town to warrant that name. And then there is Golegã that considers itself to be the capital of the horse. Everywhere we went and every person we talked to talked with dedication about the horse, especially the National Horse Fair held every November. Tomar has a Knights Templar Castle sitting on a hill and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
Just south of Coimbra is Condeixa-a-Nova, we witnessed a superb sunrise here one morning. Leaving the town, I learned that there used to be a Roman settlement not far from this place in Conimbriga. We walked along a dried-up river on this day. That’s quite a difference.
And we can’t forget Porto. I didn’t stay long here as I needed to fly out the next day. But I did take a walk to the old town to get a stamp. The city was heaving with pilgrims and tourists. Something I had not been familiar with over the last two weeks.
3. The People
I can’t talk enough of the people we met along the Camino in Portugal. I had limited time in Lisbon but it is a tourist town. There is no pilgrim feel to the place and I was eager to get moving as soon as I arrived. The cathedral in Lisbon started the engine and the arrow pointed me in the right direction. Generally speaking, people in Portugal were very friendly and once they knew you were a pilgrim, they were kind of taken back that I had walked so far. Most young people had a good understanding of English and I made sure I knew enough phrases in Portuguese before I left. Bom Dia, esta bem?, obrigado / obrigada. Some words translate well from Spanish but others do not.
Walking into a packed pasteleria (bakery) in Mala was a highlight. The shop was full of locals drinking coffee and we had walked miles from Coimbra. All of the sugar was in front of us. We were tired. But the locals were helpful and kind. Another example was walking from Tomar to Alvaiázere. It was particularly hot and we were low on water. It was myself, my German friend and Kyo from Japan. A lady popped her head out of her house and asked “agua?” Without negotiation, we said, yes and she opened her gate. After 5 minutes of awkward conversation with her husband, she brought out tea and chocolate biscuits! I couldn’t say Obrigado enough!
The owners of the albergues and hostels work tirelessly day in and out for pilgrims. I will talk about the places I stayed elsewhere but I just want to talk about a highlight. That would be in Alvaiázere – Albergue Pinheiro. It is run by Carlos. Here there is no bed race, there are just 14 beds, actual beds. His sellos are by far the most decorative I have received in all the Caminos I have walked. He gives 3, not 1. Another piece of information is John Brierley stays there when he walks from Lisbon.
And finally, where else does the mayor meet and shake each and every pilgrim’s hand that enters his town? On reaching Golega, I was greeted by Mayor Manual Duarte who welcomed me and told me how special the horse is to Golega. Well, I’m just a pilgrim!
4. The Terrain
Before arriving in Lisbon, I wanted to know if this Camino would cause me any kind of difficulty but I didn’t do any kind of research until a week before leaving. This is probably the wrong thing to do, for many reasons. If you are to walk from Lisbon, this is a big undertaking and not something to take lightly. I guess the best way to describe it is walking the meseta for 2 weeks during the hottest part of Summer. Now, it is not all flat like the meseta on the Camino Frances. The first 3 days to Santarem start off flat. And it gets hilly from Santarem onward. That said, for anyone who has walked over the Pyrenees, you shouldn’t find walking from Lisbon an issue.
The Camino sticks to the River Tejo for the first week or so, so this is good company. Another companion is the rail line which connects Lisbon and Golega. The design of the train station is something else. I spent a few moments checking it out in Vila Franca de Xira. It is possible to walk a few kilometres from Lisbon, and catch a train back so you can see more of the city. Then the next day, it is possible to catch a train to where you stopped walking. Oh, and I need to mention that there is a good deal of road walking.
Like with all Caminos, it was so easy to meet other pilgrims. Day 1, we met no one. Day 2, we met an American couple and an Italian couple. And this is what I love about the world being small. The Italian couple lived and worked in Dublin. At the end of the day in Azambuja, we met pilgrims from Russia, Ivar, and Alexander, They had zero English but we managed to communicate. There was Alex from Hungary – the youngest of the lot of us and always writing in his journal. A wise thing to do! We met a pilgrim from New Zealand who had both her hips replaced and was walking to Santiago. An amazing achievement. Then there was Noel from Spain who offered me great tips on how to practice my Spanish. He was unable to understand English.
As the days went on, more pilgrims we met. Another pilgrim from Hungary, another Irish man at Coimbra, a New Zealand pilgrim who liked to sleep outdoors in his tent. There were Canadians, South African and French. All walking in the direction of Santiago. We also met some pilgrims walking to Lisbon and Fatima but these were few and far between.
Walking from Lisbon was a joy but it was not the Camino Frances. If you do have any plans on walking this, keep the following in mind:
1. Length of Stages
I walked from Lisbon to Agueda in 10 days – 345 km. According to Brierley’s guidebook, the stages can be long and it wasn’t until Day 8 until the stages shortened a bit. We walked each day at an easy-going pace and had most of the day free to go about pilgrimy things. Now you could argue that I didn’t have to walk those large distances and you may well be right. However, there is intermediate accommodation that you could stay at if you feel you can’t walk that far. If I was to walk from Lisbon again, I would reconsider the distances as some days were too long.
2. The Heat.
I quickly learned how hot it can be in Lisbon when I arrived. I had a t-shirt and walked from the hostel beside the Castelo to the Cathedral. I was covered in sweat. It was close to 30c. That first day I had 2 showers. But on the Camino, you have to adapt. On the first day, we started walking at 7.30 am. On the second day, we decided to leave earlier as it was much too warm for walking. By doing this we would have a good amount of walking done before the sun comes up and then we can relax going forward. It’s funny though, I didn’t feel these long days and I was at the albergue before I knew it. Maybe it was the company? Maybe it was the thought of meeting up with other peregrinos? Maybe it was easy walking? Who knows?
3. Lack of Services
There are many days where there are huge distances between towns. I can think of one instance on the Camino Frances – after Carrion de los Condes, 17 km and here there is somewhere to buy drinks. On the Camino Portuguese from Lisbon, it is not unusual to have distances from towns of 10 km. In this case, you will need to carry as much water as you can, especially when it is warm.
4. Signage leaving Lisbon
There is an arrow on the Cathedral in Lisbon, another beside it and after that, you are on your own. You need to really search for pale yellow painted arrows on walls, on lamp posts or on signs. If you walk in the morning, as we did, you will have great difficulty. We found our first real arrow about 2 km out. I suppose GPS helps. Once you leave the outskirts, signage is much better.
I’m glad I have had this two weeks to reflect. Overall this Camino has been good to me but I need to rethink a few things. Is the Camino all about walking 30 km every day? If so, it will have an effect on your health.
If you are prepared for the heat and you can handle long distances, then I give this Camino the thumbs up. Let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear from you!
I don’t know if it was the excitement or that French guy’s snoring, but I had little sleep before I left Lisbon. I had been looking forward to this day for some time now and it didn’t disappoint. Leaving Lisbon behind wasn’t a major cause of concern for me, I knew I would be back here again sometime.
Carsten and myself left the hostel early enough, we were the first out. It was still dark and people were on their way to work. We needed to find the Cathedral again to locate the first arrow. I had read that there were very few arrows to guide you from the city but I had a back-up gps “just in case”. We had breakfast before the Cathedral before taking a sharp right. We spotted a few Portuguese locals drinking alcohol while we were having our coffee. Maybe on their way home from work?
You really need to keep your eyes on the walls as signage is poor until you come to the coast. But I had an extra step in my walk and I was giddy with excitement. To the coast..
Arriving at the coast, we walk the Passeio do Tejo, a long stretch of boardwalk that goes way into the distance. There are pictures of people walking, pilgrims and families all lined the Passeio. The sun was starting to rise but we took our time. Further on, the former EXPO park at the Parque das Nações is still a hive of activity with many hotels and restaurants. Giant cable cars hang above our heads that usually bring tourists. This is a lovely part of the walk with many people out for their morning walks or runs enjoying the sunshine. We are the only pilgrims however.
A bit further on from the Parque das Nações is the Vasco da Gama Bridge which takes traffic over the River Tejo, which at 17.2 km is the longest bridge in Europe. I didn’t hang around too long however.
Not long after this, the Camino crosses the N10 motorway after Sacavem, and follows a dusty dry path for many kms so it is wise to be prepared. I had just enough water on me for this section until I reached Alpriate. From here on in, I made the decision to carry extra water.
We arrived at Alpriate early. It is a small village with a small snack bar and an albergue. It opens at 2pm. I was in no position to wait but having walked nearly 22 km, we stopped for a snack. I noticed one of the locals grill some meat on a home made barbeque. The smell filled the town. Shortly later we left.
Arriving at the Praia dos Pescadores was the highlight of the day but it was brutally hot. The Riverside Lounge gave us cold drinks before we took a walk along the boardwalk of the nature reserve. An hour or so before we reached the town of Alverca do Ribatejo. On arriving at the town, the Camino brings you over the train line. Any and all accommodation were on the outskirts of the town. We chose Alfa. It is not a place for pilgrims but as the hours went by, we saw a few more pilgrims come in. There were the French couple, and the Italian couple who we didn’t see again. Later on, there was a super menu for offer not to far from the hostal.
The forecast is for more sun. I look forward to it.
After a month of to-ing and fro-ing with the podiatrist, I wasn’t sure this Camino was going to happen. However, after getting the go-ahead from the podiatrist the week prior, my mind was put at ease. I still had over 300 km to walk.
The morning of the flight was an early one. I woke at 5 am, had a quick breakfast and was driven to Dublin airport. I didn’t need to check my bags in as I wanted them on the flight. All that was to be done was the dreaded security check! Why do I always panic when going through security? It’s not like I have anything to hide?
Anyway, the flight was perfect (for Ryanair!) and I arrived in Lisbon at 10.30 am. The sky was bright and it was quite warm. Lisbon Airport was bustling and my first instinct was to look for the metro station. The city centre is only 2 trips on a metro from the airport. The station was super easy to find – directly to the right once you leave from arrivals. What is great is that there is a large information desk if you are unsure. After a quick 10 minute trip to Alameda followed by a 20 minute trip to Martim Moniz, I arrived at my destination – the hostel.
I struggle to find the hostel initially, as the address is not correct. I find it eventually with a little help from my buddy Carsten who had arrived earlier in the morning. Time to settle in, have a shower and see some of the city.
Lisbon is heaving with tourists as we walk through the Alfama district to Sé Cathedral to receive our first sello in Portugal. While walking, numerous 28 Trams speed through the streets with little regard for those in their way. Tourists clamour to take photos as they pass. Tuk-tuk vans whizz by reminding me to stay on the footpath. The Camino calls me louder.
We arrive at Sé Cathedral and I’m blown away by the size of the building. Steps lead into the entrance of the cathedral and then darkness. Carsten has been here earlier in the day and received his sello so he is telling me where to go. Generally, there is a counter on the right-hand side of the entrance and it is manned for those looking for stamps or credentials. However as today was a Sunday, things were different. There was no one behind the counter and a small group was beginning to form outside the sacristy. In broken English, the sacristan was willing to provide sellos and credentials however he made it clear that this was not the norm.
On leaving the cathedral, I immediately could see the first arrow. It was placed on the bottom right-hand side at the entrance. Another can be seen to the right of that on some corrugated iron.
In the small group of pilgrims, we noticed some faces that we would meet in the coming days. There was the duo from Russia, the young man from Hungary and the elderly man from France. We would all know them by names after Lisbon.
For the remainder of the day, we decided to walk to the coast and the Praça do Comércio. It is situated along the Tagus river and with temperatures high in the 30s, the sea breeze was welcome. We took a walk to see the Santa Justa Lift but saw the queue and thought again! This was designed in 1901 by the French architect Raoul Mésnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel.
Food was always on my mind and there are many restaurants lining the many streets of Lisbon. Don’t forget to try the Pastel de nata.
It wasn’t long before we walked up the steep slope to the hostel beside the Castelo. Sleep came naturally but it would be an early start on our first day.
Clearskies Camino was born on returning from my second Camino de Santiago in June 2012. I had been writing a journal and had taken the odd photo while on the Camino Frances that it just made sense to write my thoughts online. 2012 became 2013 and my hobby became something more. Writing had never been part of my life but I guess the Camino gave me the inspiration to put finger to keyboard. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage but in my eyes, it is also a challenge. It is a great way of meeting people and a great way of getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life. There are many Caminos to Santiago from all across Europe, but my experiences have mainly been on Camino Frances; an ancient trail covering 800 kilometres across Spain starting in St Jean Pied de Port in the foothills of France and ending in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Clearskies Camino is everything Camino – I love writing and talking about the various Caminos to Santiago and if you are one of the many people who have walked these routes, you may well feel the same. I hope my talking about my times on the Camino helps you as you plan for yours. Feel free to browse and “like” any of my posts and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment.