Camino Frances 2018 – Viana to Ventosa

September 15th, 2018 – Day 4
Viana to Ventosa, 28km

Today I said goodbye to Navarra and hello to La Rioja as I ventured westward. It was due to be a hot day so I decided on an early start, just to be safe. I was pretty sure I made the right choice as the last few kilometres without shade made it harder.

I set off alone after 6am. The hospitaleros had set out a breakfast that I took advantage of. It’s essential that you have something to eat before you leave in the morning, and then you can have 2nd breakfast at your first stop, and so on! It was pitch black outside so I took it nice and slow. The next few kilometres to Logrono is far from attractive so I suppose early morning is the ideal time to walk it. I left with a full battery and with a full tank’s worth of coffee. The next town will top me up! I said goodbye to Viana and walked under its archway leading back on to the Camino.

 

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Instant darkness. I put the music away and turned the flashlight on full. I was urging the sun to rear her head over the horizon. I would have to wait another hour for that however. After the Camino brings you through some back roads, you are lead on to the main road. Here you can see the “Communidad de La Rioja” sign. I knew where I was now. But there is a good bit of industrial area to walk through before arriving at Logrono proper.

The sun rises in the background.  I stop for a moment or two. I say goodbye to Navarra and silently thank everyone whom I have met since I have been here. It’s this time of the day I cherish the most. Always happy to see another day.

 

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I arrive in the city close to an hour later. The party from the night before was just ending, the Fiesta de San Matteo. I spotted an Irish bar – Dublin Bar on Avenida Zaragoza. I know for next time. After the long walk up Calle Marqués de Murrieta, the Camino leads you to a number of parks and to the La Grajera where swans and other small animals are known to dwell. I have passed through here twice before so I look forward to seeing the swans. It is also the first time I see the Scottish pilgrim, Andrew. What strikes me is how fast he walks. He was out of sight in no time. I got to meet the Irish couple who were on the same flight as me. We agreed to meet up and talk again in Santo Domingo de la Calzada a few days later.

 

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Leaving the La Grajera park, you will pass a long-bearded man by the name of Marcellino who will offer you a sello. Be sure to take one, he is quite a famous peregrino! He was there that morning and was offering everyone a “Buen Camino”.  Once you leave Logrono, you arrive at the side of the main road and you are following that until you stop for the day. The sun was out and I could feel the heat on my neck already. But I had another 10 kilometres to go.

Navarrete was in the distance. Placed on a hill with many vineyards surrounding it, this town is a favourite for pilgrims. I stopped for a little while to soak up the atmosphere. All the cafes were full however so I declined a cafe con leche and had some fruit that I bought the day before, taking advantage of what little shade there was.

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Navarrete

This day was bringing back great memories of my Camino in 2013 when I walked from Logrono to Leon. I met so many good people that year, most I am in contact with to this day. I hoped this year would be just like 2013 but I didn’t want to compare. I wasn’t here to make friends, I was here for the experience.

The final 8kms to Ventosa were the toughest I have walked in a long time. The heat seemed to be increasing with each hour and this pale Irishman became this pink Irishman very quickly. There were pilgrims taking rests under trees and haystacks just to avoid the worst of the heat. I arrived at Ventosa at 1pm. It wasn’t opened yet but there was a queue. Patricia from Logrono had just walked her first day on her Camino and decided to finish here. She had good English but she was looking forward to her siesta!

After washing my clothes, I checked out the local restaurant and had the pilgrim meal. Not bad for €11. I met Madalina from Canada, the French part. She had walked from Logrono so I bought her a glass of wine for her efforts. I noticed she had a patch on her arm and asked: “Is this for Type 1, Diabetes?”. She said it was and I explained that I needed to carry a large supply of medication with me on Camino also. So it was nice to open up about our respective conditions. She said that she was aiming for Santo Domingo tomorrow, but there was no guarantee. After a few hours talking, we walked back to the albergue and prepared for the next day.

I met Karsten in the albergue that evening and myself, Patricia and Karsten arranged to walk tomorrow. Adelante!

 

Camino Frances 2018 – Los Arcos to Viana

September 14th, 2018 – Day 3
Los Arcos to Viana, 18km

Dark thirty. I wake to pilgrims gathering their belongings. I reach for my phone and see the time. 4.30am. Sigh. I then see that my phone had not charged during the night. Well, I will have no photos today. I decided to turn my phone off until later that evening. With those two pieces of unwelcome news, I turned over and tried to sleep for another hour.

At 6am, I awake again and gather my pack and leave. The Quebecois duo had left, the American lady and Mexican man had both departed. However, I would hope to see all in Viana. I doubt I would see Doug today. So today would be a solo walk! Let’s go! Breakfast was served at 7am in Los Arcos main plaza which I accepted. There are not many stops for water and food along the route today, so it is worth filling up when you can. The Camino takes you past the Iglesia de Santa Maria and over the River Odron. It isn’t long before you are back in traditional Camino territory. But of course, it is still dark as we are expecting a hot day this day. I noticed the whirr of an electricity station on the outskirts of the town. Ok, now for music. I hadn’t had a chance to listen to any music since I started walking. Not that this is a bad thing. I’m in the zone when I walk alone and having some music helps me think, I suppose.

More and more vineyards crop up as I walk westwards. Reaching out to grab a few grapes are so tempting, but a voice inside tells me otherwise. The sun rises as I spot Sansol and Torres del Rio in front of me. Both towns might as well be joint to the hip for they are so close. Torres is bigger and is established on a hill. It takes great energy to get to a cafe and have a 2nd breakfast. I’m sad to learn that Albergue Casa Mari is no longer open. I stayed here in 2014 and really enjoyed it. The Templar church looks magnificent as always.

Although the day starts at about 450 metres, the high point of the day is nearly 600 metres. It is a very hilly day with many rolling ups and downs, it is it not as easy as it may seem. I passed a few pilgrims who were having difficulty and I always said “take a rest, you deserve it, the hardest is behind you. It gets easier”. While others, and more agile than me, walked past me like I wasn’t there. So you get all sort of pilgrims. I enjoyed today, particularly watching the sunrise over the vineyards. Stopping where you are, turning around and watching the sun rise is just essential on the Camino.

I was aiming for Albergue Izar in Viana and I arrived just before midday. The albergue didn’t open until 1pm so I had some time for a drink and some lunch. I walked past the bullring, and down Calle Rua Santa Maria where the Church of Santa Maria stands tall. I took a moment or two just to take it in and then ordered a cafe con leche. I immediately saw some pilgrims who I had met before from Finland and Germany respectively so I joined them for a bit. They wanted to walk on to Logrono, another 10km. But the day is young. The wine festival of San Matteo was happening over that weekend so most pilgrims wanted to be there for the festivities. I, on the other hand, was aiming for Ventosa the following day. I’m not a fan of the big cities. I saw the Quebecois duo also, who were staying in the same albergue as myself. They were fun to be around.

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The entrance to Viana

Albergue Isar is a good clean modern albergue with communal meal and breakfast. It has small rooms upstairs for just 6 or larger dorms on the ground floor. The only problem is that it is situated at the bottom of a short steep climb in the town.

Iglesia de Santa Maria de Viana. In the heart of Viana. ...#caminodesantiago #caminosocietyireland #caminofrances #viana #navarra #spain🇪🇸 #peregrino #elcaminopeople

Iglesia Santa Maria de Viana

I met L&R for the last time on this Camino for a final pilgrim meal and some drinks. The restaurant was on a side street so it was away from the crowds of Calle Rua Santa Maria. Back to the albergue I went after saying my goodbyes and thinking about tomorrow. Most were talking about walking to Navarrete, but my feet felt good, and I have walked before. I think I will make Ventosa. Adelante!

So nice meeting up with L from @somewhereslowly and her husband over the last 3 days as they start their Camino. Tomorrow we part ways. But we will see each other again...#camin

Myself, L&R meeting for our final meal before they continue on their Camin

Camino Frances 2018 – Estella to Los Arcos

September 13th, 2018 – Day 2
Estella to Los Arcos, 21km

Another crisp dark morning without a cloud in the sky as I left the Agora Hostal in Estella. Again, thanks to our hosts for making my stay as amazing as it was. I shall be back! Leaving the hostel, I started talking with Guillermo from Burgos, who was choosing to walk part of the Camino for his 60th birthday. He was much faster than me, but then again, he is nearly 7 foot tall. He hoped to walk to Sansol today, slightly further than me.

You pass the church of San Pedro de la Rua on your way out of Estella. The many lights illuminate the stairs. Guillermo was always ahead of me and he was happy to be alone. We arrive at the much talked about Monasterio de Santa Maria de Irache which has a wine fountain.  I took a sip, it proved to be too sweet and I moved on. I’m sure some pilgrims will love it, just not this pilgrim.

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Church of San Pedro in Estella

Somehow, I let the darkness take me for a walk and bring me on a wrong turn. I was off the Camino. But panic not as I turned a corner and I saw another yellow arrow, And shortly after that, I saw Doug from Canada again. All smiles.  The sun was rising over Navarra as we made our way to Villamayor de Monjardin.

After a gradual climb, we both arrived at Villamayor. There was a chap with a flying drone recording so you might be able to hear the buzzing in the video clip I took below. The main site visited is the Romanesque church of San Andrés, from the XII century. We stopped off here for a bit and had a snack from the Markiola tienda.

After leaving the town, there is a 12km stretch to Los Arcos so I was sure to have enough water and some fruit with me for the morning. Off we went.

The weather was super and once the sun came up, it started to get warm. And by warm I mean 15c in the shade and 20-25c in the sun. I quickly realised I had no sun cream so I was hoping there was a farmacia in Los Arcos or I would be the pink-skinned Irishman, from now on!

 

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We arrived at Los Arcos, which would be my stop for the day. Doug had decided to walk some more. At the entrance to the town, there was a great tienda and we bought some fruits, drinks and cakes. All waiting for the albergue to open. Looking at my watch, I had quite a while yet. The fabulous Casa de la Abuela in Los Arcos is much revered so I thought I would check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. I said goodbye to Doug, knowing that we would meet again.

I met L&R later on in the evening in the main plaza for a pilgrim menu and some non-alcoholic drinks. The plaza was a full place that night, and all three restaurants were busy with pilgrims. The albergue was full too. I met a lady from Queens in New York who was walking with a Mexican guy. I also met 2 French Canadians with the most basic English but we communicated through Spanish. Which was fun. Tomorrow, I hope to walk to Viana and it will be my last day with L&R. I will walk on then.

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Los Arcos at night

Camino Frances 2018 – Puente la Reina to Estella

September 12th, 2018 – Day 1
Puente la Reina to Estella, 22km

I was awake at 6am, which is late by my standards. I could hear the clacking of poles belonging to pilgrims passing the hostal so I decided it was as good a time to make a move. It was dark and still, save for the odd van passing through. I was ready to go! I had a good sleep. I was hoping to make it to Estella where I would meet my friends, L&R, who would start their own Camino the following day.

Underneath the arch, over the bridge and out of the town – Goodbye Puente la Reina. Such a fascinating town, rich in history. Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho III was the queen (Reina) who gave her name to the town and the bridge, also known as the Puente Románico. She built the six-arched Romanesque bridge over the River Arga for the use of pilgrims on their way to Santiago along the Camino de Santiago. And I was one of them.

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Leaving Puente la Reina

Leaving town, I struck up a conversation with Doug from Canada. He commented on the size of my backpack and I explained that this was not my first time on the Camino. A pack of 7kg is more than enough, in my opinion. The road out of Puente la Reina is a tricky one and needs concentration. There are many ascents also. This was my St. Jean Pied de Port unfortunately as I embarrassed myself after a minute by stopping exhausted. Doug had walked through the Pyrenees. He walked on, enjoying this moment.

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Looking back following my climb from Puente la Reina

I caught up eventually, and we passed through Maneru. Cirauqui is just another few kilometres in the distance and there was no rain forecast. Towns in Navarra have a habit of placing themselves on hills. I’m not sure if it is to make it difficult for pilgrims to walk through them. Joking aside, I have always liked Navarra. Its rolling hills seem to go on forever and the people living there are the best. A cafe con leche y una tostada later in Cirauqui, myself and Doug left this little town and marched on.

After Cirauqui, we arrived at the famed and fabled Roman bridge that have been serving pilgrims for hundreds of years. Some work was undertaken on it since I was here last but you really need to watch your step while crossing it.

 

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Lorca (or Lorka) would be our next town. The trail is made of loose stone and it is very easy to lose your step and fall if you are not paying attention. That is exactly what happened to me! A fun day so far! I was a little bruised but I was on my way again. There is not much happening in Lorca, apart from the fact that it has 2 albergues and a cafe. We stopped for a rest. I had been looking for a walking pole since Puente la Reina and I picked up one here. It stayed with me until Burgos.

Doug had decided to stop in the following town, Villatuerta, for some lunch, so we said our goodbyes and I marched on to Estella. Little did I know we would meet the following day.

It wasn’t long before I was in Estella. It was before noon but the sun was out. “Where was that farmacia?” I stopped at the excellent Agora Hostel for the night. I cannot stay enough about Adrianna and Alfonso and the service they provide. If you are in Estella and are looking to stay somewhere, just go there! I also met Guilhermo from Barcelona, someone who I would meet on and off until Burgos. A gentlesoul.

I would later meet my friends, L&R, for drinks and tapas in the Plaza Mayor until it was time to prepare for the next day. All three of us agreed to meet in Los Arcos the following day.

 

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Camino 2018 – Day 8 – Padrón to Santiago de Compostela

May 14th, 2018 – Day 8
Padrón to Santiago de Compostela

One of our longer days on this Camino at 29 kilometres made longer by an error in the distance markers at O Milladoiro. We set off early from Padrón with the sun yet to rise on a wet and drizzly morning. But hey! we were in Galicia! Our minds were set on Santiago and arriving in the Praza!

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The first interesting village of today is Iria Flavia. This was an important Celtic settlement. Later the Romans gave it municipal rank as a Roman road passed through it. The Collegiate Church of Iria Flavia was built between the 12th and the 17th century over an old church that dates back to the 1st century. This was the first cathedral in Galicia.

The path meandered through villages, rural areas, and some lovely woodland paths. We stopped at a cafe just off a main road in A Escravitude. The owner treated us to large tostadas and cafe con leche at quite a reasonable price. Well done there! Across the road from the cafe is a large church. Unfortunately, it was not open at the time and we walk on. We walk away from the main road for a while until we reach Picarana.

From here to Santiago, the Way is most asphalt, a mix of pathway and cobblestone. We arrive at Milladoiro and the route in is straightforward. Our pace quickens as we are eager to reach Santiago. We arrive in via the south and not under the archway. The Praza is buzzing with pilgrims. We check into San Martin Pinario before catching our collective breaths. It was Ray’s first time in Santiago and found the whole time extremely positive. We decided to wait until the following day to collect our credentials. It left me with some time to meet some people in Santiago – especially Nate and Faith in Pilgrim House. 

The following day, we attended the English Mass in the Capilla del Pilar. I was happy to be asked to read at this Mass. Back at the Pinario, we reluctantly packed and made way for the airport. I’m not sure what Ray’s plans are for the return to Santiago, but I will be back next year.

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Camino 2018 – Day 2 – Oia to Nigrán

May 8th, 2018 – Day 2
Oia to Nigrán

Our 2nd day on the trail and it was almost a shame to be leaving Oia. I would love to go back there again, there is such a sense of community about it. But we are on Camino!

Today, we walked to Nigrán, just over 22kms north of Oia and a little bit closer to Santiago. We would walk along the coast for the first hour or so, but we would be faced with a decision later on – either walk up and over a hill to reach Baiona or walk along the coast, the Senda Litoral. You can make the choice to continue on the PO-552 to create your own Way. It is much longer than shortcutting over the mountain, but you won’t have to climb the hill.

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At Pedra Rubia, there is a chance to get a sello from a chap at the side of the road, so we didn’t hesitate there. You are faced with that choice at As Marinas – either move up and over the hill or stick to the coast. It was still early morning and bright and we were in no hurry so we followed the ocean until we arrived into Baiona. We would be following green arrows, if any. It was so strange to be off the Camino, and even watching pilgrims walk up the hill made me want to change my mind. But I think I made the right choice.

We were in Baiona in an hour and we stopped off for a stamp in the tourist office. Fun fact for the day: the coastal route was made official in 2016. We chilled out by a cafe and had some tapas, watching life go by. I love the castle in Baiona and I suppose if I had time I would go visit it. It reminded me of Ponferrada.

We wouldn’t be finishing here however as Nigrán would be our destination – another 2 hours. It was worth noting we had been walking on pavement all day and there was no hint of a trail away from a road. I suppose that’s one of the criticisms of the Portuguese Way. We had no injuries anyway so far. We kept ourselves amused by looking for arrows and while there was a distinct lack of them up to Baiona, they became more prominent from now on.

We manage to find the puente romanico in A Ramalloso, which was built in the 13th century. We ventured back on the PO-552 to walk into Nigrán and found our room for the night. Tomorrow we would be walking to Vigo and getting to know the sea a little bit more.

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Camino 2018 – Day 1 – A Guarda to Oia

May 7th, 2018 – Day 1
A Guarda to Oia

Our first day would be a short day. 14km to be precise. And you would be right in saying that we didn’t wake too early either. We left the hotel just after 7am. It was a bright, clear, sunny Monday morning. Pilgrims were leaving the solitary albergue located in the town. but there were not too many of them. The Portuguese Coastal route is a quiet route. We noticed that on our first day. It was just the two of us for the first few hours until we reached Oia.

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For the first hour after leaving A Guarda, we walked along the coast. The sea guided us. There was no need for arrows. The ocean was our soundtrack for the morning. I remember saying to myself it is better than the constant chatter of eager pilgrims and clacking of walking poles. Solidarity! We pass one or two fishermen on our way. That would be it. Occasionally, the trail takes you away from the sea and towards the main road. The PO-552 is a busy road and we watch ourselves as cars pass at speed. So when the Camino veers back to the coast, I am glad.

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We arrive in Oia at the very early time of 11am. Crazy, right? Just in time for second breakfast! Oia is a fantastic little town right on the Atlantic Ocean. It has a golden beach below it and overlooking the own is the Monastery de Santa Maria. We see there is a tourist office here also and ask where we can find a pilgrim menu. Thank you to Ana in the tourist office in Oia. She was a great help. So first, we checked in at Casa Puertas, a smashing place in the village. Then headed off for second breakfast. Next, we must have walked a further 5km to track down a store and a pharmacy for the next day’s walking.

The evening was spent chilling by the sea, having a pilgrim menu and meeting fellow pilgrims, before packing up before the next day. Tomorrow would be longer, but not by much.