First post of 2018..

I haven’t left you, you’ll be glad to hear.

I can’t believe it’s nearly a month since I last wrote here. Time flies so fast. I keep thinking of writing however. I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year.

I think about my upcoming Camino everyday. Some days I have concerns, some days I feel everything will be ok. I leave for Vigo in just over 100 days with my brother and we make our way to Santiago. That is May, however, and so much has happened in the meantime.

I have been busy assisting with the brand new online e-zine for Camino Society Ireland members. Members should have received instructions on how to view the e-zine yesterday. It is packed with articles and I must thank the contributors for their work. April 2018 and the Celtic Camino Festival is next on the radar. If you wish to subscribe to this new e-zine, you can become a member at www.caminosociety.ie. You get so much more other than the e-zine, just to let you know.

So that explains my short term absence. I will be posting a lot more as the time draws closer to my departure to Spain.

One other thing, I am hoping to meeting the author of The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain on Thursday, the 25th. Victor Prince has written an excellent book, and while I have not completed it yet, it is different to your average book on the Camino.  It is a combination of a travel guide and an invaluable set of lessons for success in life at home and at work. I’m looking forward to meeting him for a chat.

 

Camino Society Photo Exhibition – Picture Perfect!

For the last number of the months, the Camino Society of Ireland has been promoting their inaugural photo contest. People from all around the world have been submitting photos of their time on the Camino. There were a number of categories and prizes for each category. All in all, just over 300 photographs were received from photos of rising suns to delicious tapas. As a volunteer of the Society, I was on hand in the morning to put the final touches in place. Getting up was a struggle however as I had a night on on Friday. We were all set up at St. James’ Parish Hall for 11am and after a minor setback with blue tack (my fault!) there were 45 photographs ready and on display. Some were truly exceptional.

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A solitary arrow at St. James Church in Dublin

The winners were chosen by independent photographers with excellent credentials. While none of my submitted entries were marked as winning, I had one photo down for display for the day. A surprise! And it was none other than the photo taken just before Ledigos with my good friend June last September (below). I often wonder who takes the time to put together these waymarks, stone by stone. I remember that day so well.

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First prize overall went to Andrew Suzuki from Australia who has a YouTube channel Beyond The Way. Of course, he was not there to accept his prize or talk about his photo, but many others were. I met new faces also – folks who had been on the Camino Portuguese. I had many questions, but little time. My personal favourite was one which was taken between O Cebreiro and Triacastela (below). It is like the sun was shining a ray of light on the couple walking ahead of the photographer. Magic.

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It’s a joy to look at various pictures from the Camino but when you hear someone talk about why they took it or the story behind it, that’s special. The photos will be displayed on the Camino Society instagram account over the next few months so I would suggest you subscribe. I’d like to thank Oihana and all the team for putting the Photo Contest together from scratch. I look forward to the next event.

 

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2018

As 2017 draws to a close, it’s only natural to think of the future. 2017 has been good but it’s a year I’d like to park to one side. 2018 has so much potential as it will be a year of firsts for me. As I have recently posted, I have bought a new apartment and will be moving in shortly. All renovations have been carried out and it’s just a matter of gathering up my stuff and moving it. Not an easy task.

2018

I am also due to walk the Camino Portuguese Coastal Route from A Guarda. An 8 day 159 km wander to Santiago will result in my first Compostela since 2011. I walk with my brother and this will be the first time I travel with another person to the Camino. I have no idea how it will turn out but if he gets bored of my very being-there, he can stroll ahead with some new found peregrino friends. That’s the beauty of the Camino. There are no rules. You just walk….

However, I somehow felt that I had another Camino in me for 2018. A short 150 kms isn’t enough. So I will go back in September and walk from A Coruna to complete the Celtic Camino. A short 4 day 75 km trek to Santiago will provide me with a second Compostela for the year. But it’s not about Compostelas at the end of the day. It’s about the meeting of lifelong friends and the sharing of stories, it’s about getting away from the stresses and strains of daily life and away to simplicity, and it’s about Spanish culture and meeting locals. I cherish that.

I will return in 2019 also, unless I am physically unable to go. I want to walk a longer route, possibly 3-4 weeks of walking. But I will see how 2018 plays out. Buen Camino!

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…

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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 🙂

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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