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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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.