Camino Frances 2018 – Atapuerca 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, Karsten, 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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Camino Frances 2018 – Belorado to Atapuerca

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.

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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.

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Espinosa

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.

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 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.

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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.

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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 a river route. I have walked it in 2015 so I’ve been giving tips on how to avoid the mundanity of the industrial centre of Burgos.

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)
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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

Camino 2015 – Day 2 – Atapuerca to Burgos

So day 1 turned into day 2 and the little sleep I had during the night was enough excuse to get up early and start walking. By 6am my room was awake and I was out on the road by 6.30am. One Italian man in my room could wake up Ireland with his snoring and I found it funny when a Russian lady shushed him around 4am thereby waking the rest of us in the room.
Leaving Atapuerca was dark and I had a climb ahead of me to get to the Matagrande. I got there before sun rise. What a sight! Onwards I went passing Villafria with no bar open for breakfast. I was keeping an eye open for other peregrinos but it seemed to be just me on the trail this morning.
I stopped in Cardenuela Riopico for breakfast to be joined by Lisa and a German man (sorry I’m bad with names). I moved on after half an hour and met another German girl called Dorothy studying her Rother guide. There are two trails into Burgos once you reach the Burgos airport and now we had arrived here she was curious which was better. One is along the road and is considered ugly and the other is beside the Pico river and is more attractive. I definitely thought so anyway. I advised her which was the best option and moved on. I think she followed me I couldn’t tell by my pace.
I catch up with Suzanne from Sweden who I had shared the room with in Atapuerca. We walked at the same speed so decided to stick together. She has walked the Camino twice before and would have a little more knowledge than me.
The walk into Burgos is something else and would encourage you all to take the alternative route. I arrived in before the Municipal albergue opened and watched the pilgrims come in, a good few I had seen before in Atapuerca. I met Daniella from Germany and Alex from Spain who are laid up with injuries. Shame I won’t get to see them again.

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Camino 2015 – Day 1 – Belorado to Atapuerca

Ok ok..I’m one day behind on the blog already and I’m only two days in. The shame! So now that I’ve just finished my menu del dia and I’ve located some wifi, I’ll let you know how I got on yesterday.
I woke up before 6am ready to hit the road. The couple at Casa Waslala had been great but it was time to move on. It was still dark when I left and it wasn’t until 7am until the sun started to rise. Wow what a sunrise. I stood still waiting for the sun to pop up and gradually the temperatures rose. I stopped at Espinosa del Camino and had a coffee, croissant and Aquarius. Lovely. Lisa from Germany sat down and we had a chat for a half hour or so. I said goodbye shortly after as my pace picked up. I reached the truckstop town of Villafranca Montes de Oca and took another rest stop. Here the Camino takes a sharp incline and I struggled a bit trying to reach the top. I entered a wooded forest of pine trees at this stage and while it’s all well and good from a natural point of view,  12km of it is mundane. I had music so I was happy. I reached St Juan de Ortega before 11am. The church is undergoing work, long overdue in my book. Still can’t understand why JBB has Ortega has an end stage? I walked on still feeling fine and under no pain. I think Ages will be fine to stop, I thought to myself. Hmm..not to be. All the albergues were booked up, just like I had predicted. Onwards to the Unesco heritage village of Atapuerca where I was greeted by the same albergue I stayed in 2013.
El Peregrino was not open until 1pm so I had under an hour to kill. I looked for the other albergue without luck, so I ventured back to El Peregrino. It’s a flimsy,  pre fab with very little care for noise control. I think I got 4 hours sleep. That said I met some great people that I hope to meet again in the coming weeks. Lisa stayed there along with Tom and Caroline from Ireland. There was Franz from Germany and Tina from Denmark. I ate in the aptly named Como Sapiens.
All in all a tough day walk but at least the next day would be shorter.

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Camino 2013 – Day 5 – Atapuerca to Burgos

It’s only now I’m getting to write up something for the day so apologies for the delay. The severe lack of wifi is beginning to annoy me and I would have thought Burgos had some sort of access.
Anyway, I move on. I leave Atapuerca this morning before 6. I didn’t enjoy my time there mainly because the Albergue was flooded with Irish folk. My decision to move from Ages to Atapuerca was a good one as the majority of people I know stayed there. One or two others stayed in Ages and San Juan and they would meet up with us all in the large city.
Michel, Tanya, Franco and myself left before 6 to total darkness. Not a light in the air and no clear sky to guide us. So we used the light on my iPhone to lead us. There was a large hill to crest before we saw the lights of Burgos and it was a tough climb with little signage and light. Over the hill, the skies would light up thousands of flickers from industrial estates, trucks, and the airport. We were yet 15km from Burgos and I wished we could get it out of the way.
Tanya and myself walked ahead and we soon lost sight of Franco and Michel. Tanya is from Quebec who uses English as her second language, but we had great fun talking about languages, Gaelic football and her Camino. She started from Lourdes a month ago so had a lot more experience than myself. Chatting like this made the hours go by and it wasn’t long before we saw the Cathedral standing tall. The Albergue is at the back of it. I have to say the walk into Burgos is one of the most mind numbing sections on the Camino. Most people get a bus through the industrial buildings, residential estates and smog.
The walk was mostly on concrete and this hurt my feet. I feel a blister coming on and my lower back is aching. I don’t think this would happen on gravel or sand.
That said, I was delighted to get at the Albergue at 10am…a whole two hours before opening. Do I go further or stay and see more of Burgos? I was quite happy to stay put for the night.

2013-05-30 11.20.152013-05-30 11.31.42I met all the Irish folks from over the last week. Jimmy and Christine finished up today and were heading back to Dublin in the morning. I also met Niall from Monkstown who I had been told about but not met him. He had a few injuries and was taking things slow. He was doing what I had wanted to do and stay in the smaller hostels along the way; Azofra, Granon, Tosantos..and tomorrow San Bol which has no electricity. He was a great laugh but I can’t see him meeting me again.
I also met a WordPress follower who owns ‘Melanie’s life online’. I knew she was on the Camino but has no idea I would meet her. I recognised her face and asked if she was who she was. It was great to meet a blog follower.
Highlight of the day was meeting old friends from day 1 and 2.

2013-05-30 11.32.202013-05-30 11.49.10I’m up early again tomorrow and hopefully will reach Hontanas, a 31km trek through the start of the meseta. Let’s hope Wifi is available there but I seriously doubt it!

Camino 2013 – Day 4 – Belorado to Atapuerca

I had woken up earlier than planned today after a decent sleep. There was no shuffling and I was refreshed. It wasn’t raining either, so maybe..just maybe..I will be a good day. After a delicious meal last night, I had agreed with Femke that we would leave together at around 6 and after a little breakfast, we left in the dark.

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We left with Michel also who I had met the evening before. I enjoyed walking with them. Michel is from France and had pretty good English. He has been to Ireland also for a few months improving his English.

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Today, the plan was to walk to San Juan de Ortega and see if I can make it further depending on the time. We heard it wasn’t a great place and when I said there was a rat found there a few months back, I think the decision was made to walk on. Today was tough on the legs. It was flat most of time, but there was a section around Villafranca Montes de Oca where it gets high. This section is one of the more difficult parts of the Camino with a 12km trek through nothing but woods and clay to San Juan de Ortega. What made it worse was the clay was now mud after the recent rain.
There were a number of small quiet towns we passed through in the morning, Tosantos. Villambistia, Espinosa del Camino but we walked by ourselves once we got to Villafranca. I enjoyed that as it was a chance to meet some new people. I met two guys from the US who were taking their time. They told me to slow down but there was no stopping me today. I was in a good mood after the rains of the last few days. That said my tendons at the back of my leg were acting up and I had the beginnings of a coldsore. I always get coldsores when I go abroad. The same thing happened last year.

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Further on, I met Bartak from Poland. He was a strange guy. He was wearing shorts and was carrying a massive backpack. I was stunned by its size and he was clearly having problems with it. He had opinions about who should be entitled to a compostela. He believed that only those who walk the full Camino should receive it. Controversial to say the least. He also asked if I could give him a few euros until the next stop off point but I had no money myself. I later found out he asked everyone who passed him by. Strange. I didn’t stay long talking to him and moved on. I could see the red coat of Michel further on in the woods before San Juan and I did my best to catch up, jumping over the red coated silt on the path. This part was tough going. My boots are pretty much ruined from the walking through it.

I catch up with Michel eventually before San Juan de Ortega and we walk at a decent pace. It is only 11am at this stage and we had covered over 20km in 4 hours. After arriving at San Juan, we meet James from England and Tanya from Canada. I had met James in Ventosa on my first day and we all had an Estrella before setting off. The Albergue here wasn’t open at this stage so myself and Michel moved on. We could even make it to Atapuerca at this rate although my heart was set on Agés, the next stop off point. Atapuerca was another 6km away at this stage, 2 hours.
After talking to Michel about Ireland, the French way, and Le Puy route, we reach Agés. I decide to call it a day here and said I would catch Michel and Tanya (who had caught up with us) in Burgos, another 15km away. There are three Albergues here in this town and none were open until after 12. I sat here for ten minutes waiting for movement or other peregrinos but nothing was open, so I moved on. I was far too early. Atapuerca was another 2km so I moved on.
The albergue in Atapuerca was just opening and got a bottom bunk bed again. James stopped here along with Franco who I had met the evening before. He carried his bags in a trailer strapped to his sides. It was fairly unusual but it was second nature to him. Femke had stayed in Ages with a few others I was told.
So now I’m settled into my daily routine of washing clothes, shower, find something to eat and a glass of vino to drink and sleep early. It becomes second nature in time. There is some wifi here also so I can update the blog.
Tomorrow is a short trip (19km) to Burgos, so hopefully I will get there before 11am to see some of the city.
Oh and I have the beginnings of what is called a ‘camino family’. This is basically a group of people who meet at the end of a days walking. People from around the world; South Korea, UK, Hungary, Italy, Canada and Ireland. I seem to be staying in the same albergues as the crew from UCD. They are good fun though.
Now I am off for a bite to eat in the local cafe as there the kitchen here is tiny.