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…

Towns Along The Way – St Jean Pied de Port

I have left this series unattended for quite a while. In fact, the last post from this series was in January when I briefly spoke about towns beginning with the letter R. I have decided to jig things up with the remainder of towns from the Camino Frances. And there are many. I will start with the town furthest from Santiago and walk towards the Cathedral. One day I will get there. Maybe I should have done this from the off 🙂

So..we begin…

StJean

St Jean Pied de Port (map), or “Saint John at the Foot of the Pass” is in the Pyrénées department in Southwestern France close in the Pyrenean foothills. The town is also the old capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre. It is also the traditional starting point for the Camino Francés. If you start your Camino here, you are 8km from the Spanish border, however those 8km may as well be doubled if you factor the ascent. The town is made up of one long main street, crossing over the River Nive as you exit the town.

Getting to St Jean is not as easy as you think. You can either fly to Biarritz and catch a train from nearby Bayonne. It is the nearest city to St Jean and Ryanair offer regular flights. For those of you who live outside of Europe, you many have to fly to Barcelona or Paris. You can travel to St Jean directly from those places also. There are plenty of places to stay in St Jean once you arrive (Gronze). If you are planning to walk during peak season, it is advisable to book a room in advance as you are not guaranteed a bed on arrival. I have stayed in Gite Ultreia and highly recommend it, however Gite Beilari is well known and well liked. Many of the people you meet here will walk with you for much of your Camino.

stjeanpdp-pilgrimofficeThe old town of St Jean Pied de Port is really one old cobbled street, the rue de la Citadelle which runs down hill from the 15th century Porte St-Jacques to the Porte d’Espagne. The street crosses the River Nive on a old stone bridge and there are many pictures of these views strewn across the internet. Up above the town is the citadel which once held great importance in Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port. St Jean Pied de Port is very geared up for the pilgrims with restaurants offering pilgrim menus and shops selling anything you might have forgotten. A top tip is to visit the local Lidl to buy some snacks for the arduous walk the next day. The pilgrim office will either give you a credencial or stamp your own one, which you need in order to stay in the albergues along the way and also have maps and useful advice. Heed any advice the volunteers there give you, especially if you should cross the Napoleon pass or if you should walk via Val Carlos. The weather plays an important part in this decision.

Your next stop after leaving St Jean is Orisson after 8kms of uphill. But remember to enjoy the views 🙂

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 Francés 2017 – So Where Did I Stay?

I stayed in mostly albergues, but there was the odd hostal I booked before leaving Dublin. Some I enjoyed, some I didn’t.

Burgos – Hostal Evolución
I booked a single room here shortly before leaving home as I would be arriving late in Burgos. Hostal Evolución is central, it is clean however given the choice, I would stay in the main albergue in Calle Fernan Gonzalez. It’s a pilgrimage, after all.

Hontanas – Albergue El Puntido
There was never any doubt that I would stay in Hontanas after my first day’s walking. It’s a beautiful town. I’ve been here before twice preferring to stay in the municipal albergue at the end of the town. I preferred a change this time. Not only is El Puntido an albergue, but it boasts a restaurant, a bar and a tiny tienda at the back. Hontanas is not short of places to stay but El Puntido must be one of the better albergues on the Camino.

Boadilla del Camino – Albergue En El Camino
I can’t speak highly enough about En El Camino. Eduardo and his family will always be in my heart. I’ve been here three times and if you haven’t stopped off in En El Camino, I’d encourage you to do so. The pool is one of the many reasons I stay here!

Carrión de los Condes – Albergue Parroquial Santa Maria del Camino
When I arrived in Carrión de los Condes, I text a friend and she asked me “Is that the one with the singing nuns?”. Well, yes is the answer to that question but on the day I arrived, the nuns were on sabbatical leave. In their place were volunteers who made us all feel at home. I won’t say anymore, but if you do wish to stay in Carrión de los Condes, make sure you stop by Albergue Santa Maria. Staying there is an experience you won’t forget.

Terradillos de los Templarios – Hostel Los Templarios
I stayed in this albergue simply because I enjoyed my stay in 2013. Hostel Los Templarios is ultra-modern with a great restaurant. The perimeter fencing is like nothing you see on the Camino, however.

El Burgo Ranero – Albergue de peregrinos Domenico Laffi
Domenico Laffi is a donativo albergue. Myself and June arrived before midday after walking 30km. While it does not open it’s doors until 1pm, the volunteers decided to open at 12. I don’t go out of my way to stay in donativo albergues, preferring private ones instead, but the volunteers were super and more. It is pretty popular also, filling up quickly.

Arcahueja – Albergue La Torre
Calling Arcahueja a town is a stretch..maybe a village, as it contains nothing but a church, a shop, a playground and Albergue La Torre. It is 7km from Leon and if I had the energy, I would have walked on. That said, the owners here were very welcoming and the facilities are modern. I had a great night with new pilgrims friends with maybe a few too many drinks.

León – Hostal Madriguera
Booked before I left Dublin, Madriguera is an ultra-modern hostel 5 mins from the Cathedral. It is super modern and very pilgrim friendly. There are bunks as well as private rooms. There is a well equipped kitchen and a tv room to just chill, but there is enough to León to keep you occupied. If you are looking to stay out past the curfew in albergues, I would recommend here.

Villavante – Albergue Santa Lucía
If you walk the alternative route after Leon, Villavante is the next town after Vilar de Mazarife. I’ve been here before, in 2015, and loved it, so I decided to stop off again. Make sure you say hello to Coco, it’s mascot parrot.

Santibáñez de Valdeiglesias – Albergue Camino Francés
12 km from Astorga, Albergue Camino Francés is in a tiny village. It is attached to a bar and it seems to be run by a family. They were constantly run off their feet but very friendly at the same time. Prices were pretty good, but if you are looking for extra special service, this might not be for you. I was quite happy to stay there however.

Astorga – Albergue de peregrinos Siervas de María
One of the better albergues on the Camino, it has good facilities, it is clean, and you receive super treatment by the volunteers. You don’t have many crammed in a room. I love the terrace over looking Astorga, where you can eat and chill.

Santiago de Compostela – Hospedería San Martín Pinario
I have always stayed here when in Santiago, but if you wish to do the same, make sure you book in advance. A renovated building, which belonged to the cathedral, it is now a hotel. Rooms generally cost €50, however, the 4th floor provides pilgrim accommodation for €23 bed and breakfast. Be sure to e-mail reservas@sanmartinpinario.eu asking for a pilgrim room. You can find cheaper accommodation in Santiago, but none are as close to the Cathedral as this one.

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 11 & 12 – Astorga to Santiago de Compostela and home

Camino 2017 – Day 11 & 12 – Astorga to Santiago de Compostela and home – September 15th & 16th
A bus trip to my 2nd home…and then back to Dublin.

My final two days in Spain contain little to no walking unfortunately. A quick caveat. September 15th: my Camino this year is over and alls that is left is to return home. My blisters were fading, I had caught up on sleep and I had finished checking into albergues for one more year. Bittersweet was the word. That said, I have a good sleep in Maria de Siervas albergue and I have much to look forward to. I get up early and stroll over to Astorga’s bus station. My bus arrives at 7.30am for the trip to Santiago de Compostela. An early morning, but not Camino early!

The bus station is located behind the Cathedral in Astorga. Everything is sleeping as I make my way there. The station is just opening but I have a super breakfast in the cafe right beside it. Cafe with toast…now we are slowing making our way back to normality! The trip to Santiago is over 5 hours by bus as we take a detour to A Coruna and south to our destination. I spent most of the trip looking out the window and thinking of next year’s Camino. Where will I go? Will I go alone? At what time of the year? Will this be the last time I wander on the Camino Frances? Arriving at A Coruna was a highlight also. I hope to walk from here in the next few years. From what I saw, it’s a beautiful town. Next stop, Santiago.

The weather had deteriorated on arriving in Galicia. You’re always going to get rain once you reach this part of the world. Just like in Ireland, their Celtic cousin. The clouds rolled in and arriving in Santiago, I wore my rain jacket for the first time since arriving in Spain. I was glad to bring it. I arrived into the Estación de Autobuses around 2pm and took the local bus to Praza Galicia. A quick 10 minute walk brought me to Hospederia San Martin Pinario and to my pilgrim room. Luxury for €23. It wasn’t long before I was walking the streets of Santiago. I seem to know this town so well. I paid a visit to the Terra Nova Pilgrim House on Rúa Nova and had a chat with the volunteers. Unfortunately, I missed Faith and Nate, who look after the Pilgrim House so brilliantly. Maybe next year. Café Casino is still well intact, I paid a visit and had a quick café con leche. I made my way to Praza do Obradoiro and just sit. I sit and stare. There are many doing the same, lost in their thoughts. I look at the Cathedral, covered in scaffolding but with a heart beating away inside. I listen to the music while pilgrims enter the Praza. It’s a busy square with many tourist groups. It’s hard to think so I head back to the Hospederia and write my journal for the day. Later that evening, I had some food in O Gato Negro and return to have an early night.

While in Astorga, I received a text from author and veteran pilgrim JohnnieWalker, asking if I would meet him while in Santiago. We agreed to do so on the Saturday, the day I leave. I awake at 8am and make way for breakfast in the Hospederia. I love the breakfast they put on here…you receive a mixture of everything, fruits, cereals, breads, toast, juices. I had a healthy breakfast, let’s just say. Afterward I had packed and checked out, I made my way to Iglesia de San Agustin, a Jesuit church, where Johnnie would be on organ duty for Mass at 12 o clock. I sat at the back and listened on. “Palchabel’s Canon in D Major” rang throughout the iglesia as the congregation grew larger. The Mass was entirely in Spanish and I was lost in places but the music quickly brought me home. I hear “Down by the Sally Gardens” and as the Mass ended, the music took a more Irish feel. Johnny played Amhran na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem, as bemused Mass-goers left the church. We shook hands afterwards. It was great to finally meet after being in Santiago so often over the years. I could barely hold my laughter in, after hearing the final piece of music.

We went for a cafe and some tapas before I collected my bag and headed for the airport. The Aer Lingus flight was full, mostly with returning pilgrims, and the journey was quick. I was home within 2 hours. The many questions I had before I left were mostly answered. It’s good to return to simplicity for a few weeks, and I enjoyed my time walking the meseta. I had many memories and my friends were in my mind as they continued their Caminos to Santiago.

However, I had one question left on arriving back in Dublin….”Where will my next Camino be?”

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A Busy Week…and some Spanish lessons

If you live in Ireland, or even in Europe, you will know of the weather we have had over the last week. As I type, Storm Brian is passing over this part of the world blowing winds and delivering rain to parts of southern Ireland.

However, Storm Brian’s predecessor, Ex-Hurricane Ophelia was far more destructive. Parts of Cork and Kerry are still without power and water and trees have fallen in almost every county in Ireland. You can read more about the damage here and here. But perhaps the worst news to come from Ophelia on Monday was news of three deaths as a result of the winds. This is something you don’t hear about in Ireland. Transport throughout the country was severely affected and most companies closed before the storm hit on Monday morning.

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credit – rte.ie

Now, where do I come into it?

I work for a property claims company and have been here since 2012. Since the start of the year, we have been very quiet and I have actually moved roles away from claims notifications as for that reason. I have enjoyed my new role and have been learning as I go. However, as the calls came in on Tuesday morning notifying us of damage, my services were needed and we, as a team, have been non-stop since then. The weekend came at the right time. I have put everything, including the over-seeing off the renovation of my apartment, on the back burner since Monday. It has also been frustrating as I am still in training mode in my new role. Ophelia and Brian has put paid to that until mid-week I gather.

Today was also an early start as I restarted Spanish language lessons. It’s been so long since I took classes. I stopped because the last class I took was through Spanish, which frightened me a little. Camino Society Ireland have organised classes for its members. Once I overcome this fear and learn to use the vocabulary that I know I have, I should be driving in the right direction. Espero que si!

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 10 – Santibañez de Valdeiglesias to Astorga

Camino 2017 – Day 10 – Santibañez de Valdeiglesias to Astorga – September 14th
All good things come to an end..

So the day has come. My last walking day. A short stroll into Astorga ended my Camino for another year. And it was a great walk with a few little ups and a walk down to finish off.

 

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My morning started at 7am, they get later every day! After a quick breakfast, I am on the road and almost immediately meet Naomi from Canada. We both casually strolled westward from that point. She had stayed in Villares de Orbigo and couldn’t praise the albergue’s hospitalera, Christina, high enough. It was one of her highlights from her ongoing Camino. I missed out so! She was bound for Santa Catalina or further, so I would say goodbye to her at Astorga.

Daybreak was looming as the sun was peeking over the horizon. However, I enjoyed the conversation with Naomi so much that I did the inevitable and got lost. With no working light, there was no arrows to see and it was my companion that turned to me and said “when was the last time we saw an arrow?”. I have walked these parts twice before but I still have the ability to lose direction. Backwards we go until we see other pilgrims. Luckily, it wasn’t too far..

It wasn’t long before we arrived at Casa de los Dioses and David’s humble abode. He was sleeping in his shelter but his stall was out for all pilgrims. He is a legend of the Camino and I thought we had lost him last year when he posted a video online saying he would be leaving. I took some fruit, leaving a donation, preferring to leave David sleep.

I said goodbye to Naomi and to Casa de los Dioses and wandered on, Astorga being less than 10 km away. It was only half 8 at this stage and the end was coming closer. Thoughts of the flight home and the office popped into my head. But I had another 2 days to the flight so I pushed them back for a little while.

I passed the Cruz de Santo Toribio at the entrance of San Justo de la Vega, a suburb of Astorga. I had another hour or so before arrival. San Justo is a sprawling street mixed with properties, both residential and industrial. During the summer months, there is a gentleman with a guitar at the Cruz who sings to pilgrims. All he asks for is something from your country.

You are well and truly in Astorga when you pass a large warehouse. I walk in the shade and catch a glimpse of the Cathedral. I have just the railroad bridge to negotiate before I make my final climb into the city. Surely there is an easier way to walk into the city? The albergue on Plaza San Fransisco was closed, as expected but luckily enough one of the hospitaleros was cleaning the outside while I passed. He suggested that I leave my bag in the albergue while I go for a coffee and a 2nd breakfast. All was well. I walked into the town, past the main plaza as far as the Cathedral. I took a few photos of it and Gaudi’s Palace. Walking back I spotted Naomi making a pitstop. She was with some friends and I asked if I could join her. One cafe con leche por favor. Possibly one of my last for this year.

Ten minutes or so later, I strolled back to the albergue and there was a queue forming. It was 9.30am. The albergue was to open at 11am. I got to meet some pilgrims while waiting, one who was in pain and was forced to get a taxi from her previous night’s stay. I stayed here previously in 2015 and loved it, although I’m not a fan of large albergues. There is a great terrace for eating cooked food, however there are many restaurants in the town.

The day passes quickly and I gather my things for an early start the following morning. My bus to Santiago was at 7.30am and I wanted to be a little bit early so I could have some breakfast beforehand. One more sleep…

 

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