Towns Along the Way – Navarra #1

You have left St Jean and make the climb up and over the Pyrenees. You have met your first pilgrim friends and experienced albergues for the first time. All part of pilgrim life. A simple life.

Now to briefly talk about some small towns in Navarra, that I have not talked about before. Some are so small that you and your companions will have passed them without looking back. Others not so.

Viscarret (map) – 759 kms to Santiago

Viscarret

Viscarret, or to give it it’s full name Viscarret-Guerendiain is situated in northern eastern Navarra and has a population of just under 100 people. It is 31km from Pamplona. For a town so small and not being a traditional end of stage town, there are a number of options for places to stay (Gronze). The always popular Corazon Puro has unfortunately closed since March 2017. Next stop is Zubiri – where many rest for the night.

Zubiri (map) – 750 kms to Santiago

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For a town of just over 400 residents, during peak Camino season, the population nearly doubles. It is an important stop on your road to Santiago. Most guidebooks list Zubiri as an end stage. In 2014, there were 3 known albergues here, however with increased demand, a number of new albergues and pensions have opened since I have been here last (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in Albergue Zaldiko, especially after the difficult descent from the Alto de Erro. Zubiri is Basque for “by the bridge” and one of the town’s features is the Puente de la Rabia over the River Arga. Walking under the bridge was meant to have healing qualities in medieval times. The next day brings you to Pamplona, your first major city on the French Way.

Zabaldika (map) – 735 kms to Santiago

Before you reach Pamplona, however, you will reach a signpost pointing you in the direction of Zabaldika. Not a town, but a parochial albergue in Iglesia San Estaban.

 

Zariquiegui (map) – 716 kms to Santiago

Zariquiegui

Zariquiegui not only wins you 200 points in Scrabble, but it is the last town before you make the ascent to Alto de Perdón. You can read a post I wrote dedicated to this particular Alto here. A sleepy village of less than 50 residents, Zariquiegui has the one albergue (Gronze). In 2014, I had stayed in Pamplona and found this town as a perfect place for a second breakfast. Walking to Puente la Reina can be tough as not only are you gradually climb from Pamplona, you also have the demanding descent from the Alto de Perdón.

Next town, Uterga…

Looking forward..

Another weekend.

Another few days to catch up on sleep, but it’s not so bad. I’m just home from a very successful Spanish morning organised by Camino Society Ireland. I’ve left my knowledge of the Spanish language fall by the wayside a number of years ago. I have become fearful of making mistakes and to be honest, making mistakes is all part of learning any language. However, since the opportunity arose to dust down my skills and possibly improve them, I grabbed it with both hands.

I need to be taught in Spanish and that is exactly what our “profesora excelente” is doing. Hopefully, I will have less of the fear and more of the patience, to be speaking it before the lessons end. Who knows?

Next May is Camino #8, but who’s counting? Next I travel to Vigo and start walking a little further down in A Guarda on the Portuguese Coastal route. I should be in Santiago within 8-9 days as we are taking our time. I say “we”, as I am walking with my brother. I wonder if I will have the patience, and whether I will walk into Santiago with him. Keep an eye on this blog to find out, folks. He bought his backpack, a Lowe Alpine 35litre, and a few other essentials in the last few weeks, and our walks start soon. We are both constantly looking forward to the start date on May 6th and me being the “Camino expert” is being asked many a question. The real test will be taking the packs out for 2 consecutive days.

I walk into Santiago for the first time since June 2011. I’m not sure how to feel about this, and am hoping we get time to walk to the Coast. The Camino has been calling me big time since I returned from Astorga in September. I am getting more involved with the local Camino Society..and I enjoy it. For any other reason, I would be filled with trepidation.

I must return to my weekend now. More news later.

Camino By Sea / Camino Na Saile

February 19th sees the start of a new series on Irish TV called Camino na Saile (or Camino by Sea in English). It will be shown on our Irish language TV channel over the course of 3 weeks. It documents the journey of 5 men who sailed from the south of Ireland to A Coruna over the course of 4 years. For 800 years, people have sailed from Ireland to A Coruña in Northern Spain and walked to Santiago de Compostela from there. These men have done their own version of this historical voyage in a Naomhóg (or a currach) they built themselves in this Modern day Celtic Odyssey. Stage 1 of the journey follows the crew on a journey across the Irish Sea and the English Channel to reach Brittany in Northern France.

 

Now I understand that the majority of my readers live outside of Ireland, and will be unable to watch it, however you can do so online on www.tg4.ie/en/player/home or via the Mobdro smartphone app. If you download the app at www.mobdro.com on your phone and search for TG4, you will have no problems viewing the series.

It starts at 8.30pm GMT on the 19th of February and continues each Sunday after that. Happy watching!

 

 

A Brief Overview of Tapas

When you travel to Spain, you may encounter something that is known as tapas. This may be entirely new to you, if you haven’t been there before, so it’s best if I describe them to you. Tapas are a wide variety of snacks in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold (such as mixed olives or cheese) or hot (such as beef, squid, or pulpo). Tapas is all about sharing, and tapas are usually from between €1 – €2 each. Sometimes, you pay for a beer or for another drink and you get a complimentary dish for free. That’s why tapas are so popular in Spain. It is very common to see people moving from bar to bar ordering a drink and receiving a tapa.There are many Tapas trails in major cities in Spain, including Pamplona, Logrono and Madrid. The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation, because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them.They are also often eaten standing up.

Some of the more common Spanish tapas include:

  • Aceitunas: olives, sometimes with a filling of anchovies
  • Albóndigas: meatballs with sauce
  • Calamares: rings of battered squid
  • Chopitos: battered and fried tiny squid
  • Chorizo al vino: chorizo sausage slowly cooked in wine
  • Croquetas: a common sight in bar counters and homes across Spain, served as a tapa, a light lunch, or a dinner along with a salad
  • Empanadillas: large or small turnovers filled with meats and vegetables
  • Gambas: prawns in salsa negra (peppercorn sauce)
  • Patatas bravas or papas bravas: fried potato dices (sometimes parboiled and then fried, or simply boiled) served with salsa brava a spicy tomato sauce.
  • Pimientos de Padrón: small green peppers originally from Padrón (a municipality in the province of A Coruña) that are fried in olive oil or served raw, most are mild, but a few in each batch are quite spicy.
  • Pulpo a la gallega (Galician-style octopus) or polbo á feira (octopus in the trade fair style) in Galicia, is cooked in boiling water, and served hot in olive or vegetable oil. The octopus pieces are seasoned with substantial amounts of paprika, giving it its recognisable red color, and sea salt for texture and flavour.
  • Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) or tortilla española: a type of omelet containing fried chunks of potatoes and sometimes onion

In select bars in Spain, it is common to order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal.

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In Spain, dinner is usually served between 9 and 12pm, while Spaniards finish work between 5 and 6pm.  Therefore, food is only available in the form of tapas in the time between finishing work and having dinner. This is one of the downfalls of being a pilgrim!

Sometimes, especially in northern Spain, they are also called pinchos (pintxos in Basque) because many of them have a pincho or toothpick through them. The toothpick is used to keep whatever the snack is made of from falling off the slice of bread and to keep track of the number of tapas the customer has eaten. Differently priced tapas have different shapes or have toothpicks of different sizes.

If you are walking the Camino Frances, I’d encourage you to seek out some Pulpo in Melide, Galicia. It is one of the most common tapa in Spain and was voted one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Spanish Gastronomy’ in 2016. You can read up more about Pulpo here.

An idea of some tapas:

 

The Best of 2016

Hi folks! An apology is in order for the lack of posts here. A certain wrist is making that a little difficult, but I hope to be on the mend this side of Christmas. I am able to type with the cast on however, but I hope you don’t mention that to my doctor. The words “cast” “rest” and “upright position” were mentioned by him to me when I last visited him on the 28th. I return to him on the 19th of December to hopefully have the cast removed and physio can begin after Christmas. I write this with a positive tone however. I’d love to be able to eat Christmas dinner with both hands!

However, I have been keeping myself occupied over the last month and I have a number of things in the pipeline. I plan on writing a number of articles on “the best of 2016” Camino sites. I realise that it is impossible to give a top 5 or a top 10 as everyone’s opinion is different and there will be a number of websites I will leave out. However, it’s just my opinion. I hope to cover blogs (including forums), twitter, instagram, and youtube accounts. So I have a number of weeks to work on this which is plenty of time. However, I need your opinions, and I’m sure you have plenty! If there is a website / twitter account / instagram account that you feel does a great job promoting the Camino, please comment below.

I have mentioned also in the past of Andrew Suzuki’s project “Beyond The Way“. He has created 10 amazing videos after his time on the Camino in 2014. There isn’t a day that passes that I return to his website and watch one of his videos. Everything is independently produced which is pretty impressive. However, it’s not a series that discusses the sights and cities. Andrew talks to pilgrims and we hear their personal stories. It’s not often you get that in a Camino video. Anyway, after the last episode was released (so to speak), he put a call out that he was to make a second series. An Indiegogo campaign was started with a promise of goodies once a certain amount was contributed. To cut a long story short, Andrew completed the Camino Portuguese a number of weeks ago and I received a package of goodies via email and post. It certainly picked me up while in healing mode. I’d encourage you to “like” Beyond The Way’s page on Facebook as Andrew is in the process of creating a 2nd series for his most recent Camino.

 

And finally, the gears are well and truly in motion for a return to Spain in 2017. More news on that in the future!

 

I Have an Itch..an Itch to Return..

I am home less than three weeks now and naturally enough, I am beginning to think of where my feet will take me next year. I don’t expect next year’s Camino to be long, 2 weeks will be fine. A have a number of options:

  • St Jean Pied de Port and continue for 11 or so days – I haven’t walked from St. Jean since September 2014 and I miss the climb out and up to Orrison. However, the Camino Frances is usually extremely busy unless I walk in the off season.
  • Astorga – Santiago de Compostela – Another section that is due a visit. I love the walk from Rabanal to Molinaseca. I haven’t been beyond Sarria since 2011. However, along with it’s beauty comes it’s crowds.
  • The Camino Portuguese from Porto – This was a runner until last week. The coastal route, or Senda Litoral looks great. It is quiet, the route touches the ocean and it is short. However, there is a lack of municipal albergues and I would need to book my accommodation ahead. It is one for the future, and at that stage, there may be more albergues
  • Then, there was also my old favourite, the meseta, from Burgos to Leon. However, it would be my fourth time walking through it. I need a change.

In have decided to stay in Galicia and walk the Camino Ingles. The English Way originates in Ferrol or A Coruña. It was a medieval pilgrimage route for people from Britian or elsewhere in northern Europe, who arrived by ship to the ports of A Coruña and Ferrol.

I have no dates decided as of yet. On walking to Santiago, I will continue to the coast and visit Muxia. Today, the Camino Ingles starts in Ferrol or A Coruna and is just over 120km from Santiago. You will only be entitled to a compostela should you start in Ferrol as the distance from A Coruña does not exceed 100km. It is a much quieter route to Santiago with 2,174 pilgrims collecting compostelas in August 2016 compared to 14,936 pilgrims who walked from Sarria.

Walking alone for most of the day did seem to catch me off guard on the Camino Finisterre, so I guess I am prepared for much of the same on the Camino Ingles.

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However, the Camino Ingles is a tough trail, it is no walk in the park. It takes pilgrims on many climbs and descents. Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma, for example, has a steep climb of 500m in just over 5km. The Camino Ingles, according to many guidebooks, can be walked in 5 days, but I may walk it in 6 days, breaking the above stage into 2. But just like my recent walk to Finisterre, any plans made can be thrown out the window.

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Questions Whizzing Through my Head

Questions Whizzing Through my Head

16 days to go. Blimey!

Is it right to not be prepared with such little time? This is Camino #6 now so I should really be a veteran at this stage? I look at my rucksack….empty..and my gear lying on the floor. The said gear should be in the aforementioned rucksack. Also, I have a number of questions whizzing through my head. What should I do when I arrive in Santiago? Am I fit enough? Am I walking this for a particular reason? Meh..I’m a worrier..I always have been..maybe a few hours sitting in Muxia will sort that out, who knows?

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The flight leaves Dublin at 1.00pm and I arrive in Santiago at 4.20pm Spanish time (Damn you Europeans..why do you steal us Irish of an hour?!) A quick bus trip will leave me at Praza de Galicia and after a slow 5 minute walk, I arrive at my base for the first night, Hospideria San Martin Pinario (google maps). San Martin Pinario is an pretty unique albergue in the centre of Santiago. It caters for tourists and pilgrims alike. Pilgrims rooms cost €23 per person including breakfast. Plus, it is right next to the cathedral. Ideal.

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After I fling off my pack, I will take to the small winding streets of Santiago, while bagpipes play around me. Plaza de Obradoiro and the Cathedral is a must (google maps). If you hang around here for a while and take in the surrounding, you will meet pilgrims finish their own Caminos. There’s a great sense of joy and accomplishment when you reach Santiago. Many pilgrims will decide to return home to their respective countries the day following or soon after, while others will walk further westwards to the coast like myself. My next port of call will be Cafe Casino on Rua do Vilar (google maps), a place I have been to twice before. It serves a fab cerveza, vino or tapas. That said, there are so many different places to eat and drink in Santiago that you are spoilt for choice. Other recommendations include Café Literarios on Praza da Quintana de Vivos and A Taberna do Bispo on Rua Franco. The good thing about Hospideria San Martin Pinario is there is no curfew so there is no rush to return before the doors are closed (it has nearly happened before!!)

 

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I will be carrying 2 scallop shells with me this year. One is for Denise Thiem. While I won’t be walking the route for her, I will have her in my mind. You can drop in shells to The Pilgrim House on Rua Nova (google maps) where Faith & Nate can take it from you and deliver it to a monument outside of Astorga. The second shell is for my uncle who recently passed away. I hope to leave it in Muxia. He had great interest in my Caminos and often asked if I had plans to walk in the near future. So in a way, these few days will be dedicated to him. Other than that, I aim to better my Spanish and enjoy the culture, although in Galicia not many people speak Castilian Spanish.

The question of being fit enough has been answered long enough. No! I laugh when I say that. (hashtag lazy!) I don’t think I have walked more than 10kms since I returned from Molinaseca in May 2015. Actually, no…I walked 26kms in March of this year. That said, I am happy with my gear, especially with my shoes and once I get going, I should be fine. I love that optimistic attitude I have 🙂

I arrive back to Santiago on the 7th and hope to see a little more of the city, and meet some friends hopefully. The great Alameda Park (google maps) deserves a visit again, while there is a Mass in English in the Cathedral at 10.30am. That’s something that I may do. On the other hand, I may just return to my favourite haunt, the Cafe Casino and read up on Camino #7.