Indecision…

My 2017 Camino has come in many different shapes and sizes. First, I was to walk from Porto to Santiago. Then, I decided on the Camino Ingles from Ferrol. And finally I returned to familiarity and the Camino Frances. I suppose I have a special friendship with the French Way, but in time, I will dip my toes in other routes.

After deciding on a start from Astorga, I longed for the meseta and moved my starting position to Logrono. Yes!..Logrono was to be my final starting place. No more changes. I’ll stick to my guns. Weeeelll, that didn’t last long as I have pushed forward my first steps to Burgos. With the 11-12 days I have, I should see Astorga, or even further depending on the weather. Once I made my mind up, I cancelled my bus to Logrono from Barajas T4 and booked a bus to Burgos. I’ve reserved a litera in Albergue Hostel Burgos, on Calle Miranda, literally less than a minute away from the estación de autobuses. Day One will begin early the following day as I make way for Hontanas, another favourite stop of mine.

The countdown continues in earnest, but I just hope I don’t change my mind again!

Astorga becomes Logrono….

I’m not naturally unpredictable but after a few days thinking, I have thrown a curveball at my plans for September. Alas, I have decided to shift the starting point of September Camino to La Rioja and Logrono. Logrono is a lovely city and like Astorga, there is plenty to see and do. I will have ten days of walking and I hope to reach Sahagun by the tenth day. From there, I will take a train to Santiago where I will meet my good friend, St. James. I have walked through the provinces of La Rioja and Castilla y Leon on a number of occasions and have really enjoyed my times there. So much so that I will postpone my walking through Galicia for another time. My flight to Madrid on the 4th of September still stands, and from there I catch an ALSA bus to Logrono. I’m half-tempted to walk to Navarette once I arrive but for the time being, I have reserved a bunk-bed in Albergue Albas

I get to pass through favourite towns of mine – Belorado (with it’s highly recommended Cuatro Cantones albergue), Azofra, Burgos, Boadilla del Camino, and Villalcázar de Sirga. The meseta has only been good to me when I walked through it, so I look forward to September. Many dislike this stretch, so much so that they catch a bus to Leon or Astorga. I’m not sure why. I suppose living so close to the Camino allows me to make these sudden changes and I’m grateful for that. I do apologise to any of my readers who were looking forward to my posts from Galicia but I will make it up to you.

Buen Camino amigos!

Ps – My post on my recent walk around the Bog of Frogs last Saturday has been posted on Camino Society Ireland’s new website.

Thinking ahead…

September will see me on the Camino Frances for a seventh time. Eek! If you told me back in 2011 I would return to Spain for the following six years, I would look at you with wild disbelief! But yet, here I am and my mind is set on a return; this time walking from the Gaudi town of Astorga to Compostela.

With every year and every upcoming Camino, I spend a little time thinking of how I’d like to approach this trip and how I can make it a little different or unique to the last. Sometimes, these ideas just fade away once I find the first yellow arrow (and cerveza!), but other times I end up sticking to what I had planned. Each of my times on the Camino have been different in some shape or form, which is a good thing I suppose.

 

So, for September, here’s how I hope my time will go:

  • Sarria – There are many books written about the amount of pilgrims on the trail on reaching Sarria, which is the last point where you can start your Camino in order to obtain a compostela. Due to the increased numbers, there is always a strain on accommodation. So, I have decided to pre-book albergues in a number of towns before Santiago. I have never been one to pre-book and if I was walking from, let’s say, St. Jean to Burgos, I wouldn’t do so. But I feel that if I am to enjoy my walk this time around, I may as well reserve. I now will have a little bit of weight taken off my shoulders and I can take my time. Booking.com is a great website to make these reservations. I haven’t made any bookings from Astorga to Sarria as there is no need!
  • Less is more – In September 2016, while walking to Finistere, my pack weighed 7 kg. I reckon I can bring that down a little more. I have bought an Osprey 30 litre pack and am pretty happy with it. The less I bring, the less I have to worry about and my back won’t have any niggling pains! Now if only I could leave the smartphone at home!
  • Brierley’s end stages – So many people religiously follow Brierley’s guidebook, thereby missing the great towns in between. Towns like Cacabelos, El Acebo, Las Herrerias, and Ribadiso are all passed daily by legions of pilgrims. I aim to stay in these towns. It will be a welcome change as I haven’t stayed there before, save for stopping for a cerveza. Oh, and I’m leaving a guidebook at home 🙂 The arrows can guide me.
  • Pacerpoles – For the last few years I’ve walked with either a wooden stick bought before I start, or with a single carbon pole. I’ve always found them a hinderance however as I like to have my hands free to take photos, and reach for water etc. However, this year I will be making the climb to O Cebreiro so I’ve decided to bring along a set of pacerpoles that I bought before Christmas. It will make things a little easier and I won’t have those niggling back pains that I usually have (I hope!).  I have tried them a few times here in Ireland and they are pretty easy to get used to. I reckon they will be a help. Plus, I have been recommended them by a number of camigos! That said, I am usually the one who complains about the click-clacking of poles!
  • Take my time – In years gone by, I have been told by a number of people that I am a “speedster”..whatever that is!? My typical day starts at 6am and I like to check into an albergue before 1pm. That leaves me with the majority of the day to wash, rest, have some food in the evening and get to meet my fellow pilgrims! Sometimes, I don’t realise how fast I walk. In September, I hope to stretch the day out, slow down, start a little later, stop a little more, have numerous coffee breaks. Who knows, this may be the last time I walk the Camino Frances for some time! I’m in no hurry.
  • Visit local churches – It’s very easy to forget that the Camino is a pilgrimage. I’m not particularly religious but I’ve always wanted to set aside 20 minutes a day while on the Camino to drop into a church and say a quick prayer. However, after walking 25kms each day, it is difficult to find the time.
  • Use my knowledge of Spanish a little more – Creo que tengo buen español. Me gustaría hablar más a la gente local, sólo un poco! I guess this comes with confidence. Ordering a cafe con leche is second nature; speaking to someone from Spain is a challenge, but I’m up for it.

So, there is my wish-list for my September Camino. I may stick with the above, but then again, I may choose to do what I have done all along….let the Camino tell me what to do!

April becomes September..

So I posted before before Christmas that I had planned to walk from Leon to Santiago. I couldn’t wait to heal up after my broken wrist, so I booked my flights and bought any other gear that I needed. There was much anticipation which is usually the case when I think about returning to Spain. I had decided on April as a good time as it’s not too warm and it’s not that busy at that time of the year.

Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, I felt it would be better to postpone and cut short my Camino. I have a number of things that I need to give my attention to over the next 3-4 months and unfortunately, a trip to Spain isn’t high on that list. So I am putting it aside until September 4th when I fly to Madrid and catch a bus to Astorga. I have made a booking in Hotel Gaudi which I am looking forward to. The next morning I hope to march on to who knows where! I had to grin and bear the charge for changing flights but that’s a small sacrifice! I look forward to the Leon hills, the Cruz de Ferro, the Bierzo valley and of course, the climb to O Cebreiro!

 

Looking Back – Camino Frances 2012 #2

Day two. Astorga.

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

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

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

More from the throwback series can be found here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

La Casa de los Dioses & David Vidal

Around 7 kilometres outside of the town of Astorga is La Casa de los Dioses,  the Home of the Gods. It is not a hotel, an albergue or anything fancy, but quite the opposite. It is a small piece of property owned by David Vidal (link to google maps). This was the most interesting donativo (donation only) that I have encountered on the Camino Frances. This building is the definition of simplicity and he was offering drinks and fruit while not asking for money. Each morning, he travels the short distance to Astorga, buys what he needs and gives what he has to pilgrims that pass. He is what the Camino should be about, keeping it simple and giving what we have to help our fellow pilgrims. Money doesn’t mean much to David. I admire that.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On passing his humble abode in 2012, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it but there were many people stopping to ask him why he was doing this. Something must have hit him to give up a working life and to live on the Camino. He said to me that he believes that it is all about sharing. That’s a strong reason, no doubt! Last year, 2015, David had moved his building slightly and had started to build a garden to grow. He loves to talk, and is really happy to have pilgrims stop by for a while. The below video shows you La Casa de los Dioses and David talks for a while. Don’t forget to take a few pictures when you pass as the Camino will miss him if or when he goes.

Towns Along The Way – “A”

Did you know that there are 158 towns along the Camino de Santiago? Probably not. Anyway, the aim of this series is to talk briefly about these towns you will pass through while making your way along the Camino Frances. Many are so small you will not think twice about their history but some are significant. I am going to talk about them alphabetically rather than geographically, so if you are only interested in Zubiri you may wish to check back in a few weeks 🙂

El Acebo (map)
el acebo

El Acebo (or to give it it’s full name, El Acebo de San Miguel) is a small mountain village in the province of Leon. It has a population of roughly 40, and depends solely on the Camino. You will encounter it after reaching the Cruz de Ferro and is a blessing in disguise as the descent from the Leon hills can be tough. It’s English translation is “The Holly”. In terms of the Camino de Santiago, the previous town is Manjarin (with a population of just 1) and the next is Riego de Ambros, some 3.5km further down the hills. A lot of pilgrims choose to stay here and there is a wealth of accommodation (www.gronze.com). However, in 2012 and 2015, I chose to keep walking, preferring to stay in Molinaseca at the foothills of  the mountain. However, it serves as a great pit-stop for weary pilgrims. The sun chairs at “La Casa del Peregrino” are amazing!

Agés (map)

ages_municipio

From the foothills of the Leon mountains, we travel to the outskirts of Burgos metropolis, in fact 22km from Burgos. Agés is a small town in the province of Burgos. With a population of approximately 60, it is also dependent on the Camino. Like El Acebo, there are plenty of restaurantes, casa rurales and albergues (www.gronze.com). I have always chosen to walk the 3km extra to the next town of Atapuerca, which leaves me with a short days walk into Burgos the following day. Agés is a popular town however, and it is not unusual to find it’s albergues booked up a week in advance.

Ambasmestas (map)

ambasmestas_512x384

I have yet to meet anyone or read any blogs by people who have stayed in this little town. The reason could be that it is so close to the major Camino towns of Villafranca el Bierzo and O Cebreiro. Ambasmestas is a village in the Valcarce region and in the Leon province. It has a population of roughly 60 people and you pass through it as you make your way to O Cebreiro. My only memory of this town is from 2012. I took the low road route from Villafranca el Bierzo and Ambasmestas offers a nice reprieve from noise of the busy N6 motorway. On leaving the town, you make your way to Vega del Valcarce and begin to climb in Ruitelan. Ambasmestas does offer albergues and casa rurales for pilgrims also (www.gronze.com).

Arcahueja (map)

18063973

Another town you may not have heard about. It lies 8km from the hustle and bustle of Leon. Most pilgrims, including myself, would not think twice about stopping to look at this town, instead pushing on to Leon. Funnily enough, Arcahueja has an albergue and a casa rural (www.gronze.com) and a playground which gave me a little bit of light relief during my 2015 Camino 🙂 The town, with a population of 200 people, lives beside the main road into Leon and is the last little bit of civilization until you reach Leon (you will also pass through a tiny village called Valdelafuente).

Arzúa (map)

Picture164You know your Camino is coming to an end when you reach the municipal of Arzúa. It is around 40km from Santiago which is a day or so walk. I have come across people who have walked the 40km in one day, while others have split it into two. Arzúa is in the province of La Coruna and has a population of over 6,000 people. It is a major Camino town and has a wealth of albergues, hotels and pensions (www.gronze.com). I passed through this large town in 2011 and stayed in Pension O Retiro. Should you wish to avoid the hustle and bustle of this particular town, you could finish your day in Ribadixo da Baixo some 3km beforehand, or in Salceda 5km ahead. There are plenty of pulperias in Arzúa (well, you are in Galicia) and should you wish to drink some Queimada, here is the perfect place to taste some. Although I didn’t particularly like it, it was good to try it. Your time in Arzúa will be spent reminiscing over your last few weeks and trying to stretch out the little time left. Plans will also be hatched to return 🙂

Astorga (map)

2015-05-16 14.07.50Moving eastward some 250km and the next town in the A category, we come to the large university town of Astorga. Personally, I love Astorga as it is vibrant and comes to life after the siesta. Restaurants and cafes line up in the main plaza and there is a great buzz about the place. It lies in the province of Leon and holds a population of over 12,000. It is most well known for the Catedral de Santa María de Astorga, the Palacio Episcopal, designed by Antoni Gaudí, the Town Hall and it’s bells, it’s Roman archaeological remains, and last but not least, the Chocolate museum!! :). Unfortunately, I have not seen the chocolate museum yet as it was closed when I arrived into the town after a long day’s walking. As with all large towns, there are plenty of options for accommodation (www.gronze.com). I have stayed in both albergues but prefer the Albergue de peregrinos Siervas de María at the entrance of the town, even though it is a little bit out of main plaza. Also, if you are starting your Camino here, you can’t go wrong with Hotel Gaudi.

Atapuerca (map)

2015-05-06 12.03.40Moving further eastward by another 200km, we arrive back to the province of Burgos and Atapuerca. This part of Spain is steeped in history. Not far from this town is the Sierra de Atapuerca, an archaeological site. It contains several caves where fossils and stone tools of the earliest known humans in western Europe have been found. Naturally, it’s visitor centre is very busy. All of this is away from the Camino however. The town of Atapuerca is quiet and has a population of just over 150. It doesn’t seem to have reaped the rewards of the excavation site as visitors come to and from Burgos. Atapuerca is only 19km from Burgos itself and I have stayed here twice before. I have never had a problem with accomodation myself as most people choose on staying in either San Juan de Ortega or Ages.There are two albergues and two casa rurales (www.gronze.com). Also, I would recommend that you eat in Restaurante Como Sapiens (see what they did with the name!!), it is fab!!.

Ayegui (map)

0004743Ayegui is a town in Navarra and is deeply rooted in the Basque tradition, It is some 45km to the west of Pamplona. You may not have heard of the town itself as it is so close to Estella. Some people actually mistake it for being part of Estella. It has a population of roughly 2,000 people and this is increasing as it is a suburb of Estella. I have stayed here in 2014 staying in it’s only albergue (Albergue de peregrinos San Cipriano). The town is very close to the Bodegas Irache..the fountain of wine. If you are looking to eat out, you may as well walk back into Estella as there is very little to offer here. Oh..on a side note, the footballer Javi Martinez was born here. He plays for Bayern Munich. I suppose that’s the town’s claim to fame!

Azofra (map)

2013-05-27 07.07.45Azofra has all the hallmarks of a Camino town. I wonder what effect a diversion of the route would have on this town of 200 people. Azofra is based 8km from Najera and the Camino passes straight through the town. It has a number of shops, cafes and bars. The municipal albergue, which was build recently, is outstanding. It is highly recommended but there are also two pensions in the town (www.gronze.com). I passed through the town in 2013 while it was raining torrentially. I don’t have many fond memories of that day as a result. However, I stayed in the municipal albergue in 2014. My time there was quite the opposite to the previous year. The sun shone and the owner of the town’s shop opened up for me during siesta. I had no food otherwise. The town is also situated in La Rioja, wine country..so there is no shortage of wine!

The next instalment will feature towns beginning with B including favourites of mine Belorado and Boadilla de Real Camino. If you have stayed in or have any comments about the above towns, please comment below.