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 🙂

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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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 7 – Arcahueja to Leon

Camino 2017 – Day 7 – Arcahueja to Leon – September 11th
A short stroll to Leon

The shortest day I have walked on any Camino. Barely 8 km was walked before we reached the walls of Leon. But I wasn’t alone. Aga and the Australian women strolled along with me, and boy! did we take our time.

DaySix

We left Albergue La Torre just before 7am. The sun was rising behind us as we sauntered into the city. We started to climb for a kilometre or two before it was all descent into Leon. We reached a large bridge and on crossing, you can see the cathedral in the city. We kind of knew that it wasn’t long before we reached the town.

The main albergue wasn’t due to open until 10.30am however I had arranged to stay in La Madriguera hostel about 5 minutes from the Cathedral. We had plenty of time on our hands so we decided on having some breakfast before parting ways. The Australian women were so much fun. I had met them initially in Boadilla del Camino but had bumped into them on and off until the previous night. I got to know them a little bit better over the evening beforehand. Aga, I had met in Boadilla also and it wouldn’t be the last I would see of her.

On reaching Leon, it was 10am, and the church bells were ringing from the Cathedral. We took in the atmosphere and aimed for Cafe Valor. I ordered Churros and Chocolate and it was delicious. Along came June also, who received my message that we had arrived. She was staying in the municipal albergue and was allowed to stay for one more night. We also met Robert and Rosa from the previous night in Arcahueja and a number of others who had met along the way. It was a great morning and plenty of hugs were exchanged.

11am came and some decided to make way to the Albergue. It is a popular albergue and fills up quick. I had received an email that my bed would not be ready until midday so I stuck around with Robert and Rosa who had decided to walk to La Virgen del Camino, the next town. June stayed also. I wanted to buy a few bits and pieces for lunch back in the hostel and went to shop across from Cafe Valor.

12am came and I decided to walk across to the hostal. I realised that I wouldn’t see many again, but I didn’t say goodbye. I simply said “See you on the trail”. I would email June later in the day to see if she would like to walk the following day.

La Madriguera is a fine hostel and I was greeted by Alba who has previously walked the Camino Frances to Finistere. Proof is hanging on the wall upstairs. She has the interests of pilgrims at heart so I would recommend this hostel if you would like a private room.

The rest of the day was spent sleeping and debating where I would stop the following day. I didn’t have alot of kms to walk before Astorga however I had a good few days.

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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 5 – Terradillos de los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero

Camino 2017 – Day 4 – Terradillos de los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero – September 9th
A song at the start of the day, a donativo and a last supper…

Another early start. I was used to it at this stage and gathered my pack and left through the back door. The albergue was still sleeping as I left. I was hoping that I would meet my friend June again but she was 2 towns ahead, so the hope was small. It was dark but the sky was lit by the large moon still hanging in the sky. I enjoyed my stay in Terradillos and met some new pilgrims, some of which I would meet again.

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On leaving the albergue, the Camino takes you along the main road until you reach the town of Terradillos. The town was quiet and as it was also dark, I struggled to find any arrow or sign to lead me in the right direction. I use the Wise Pilgrim app and I am on my way soon after. The 2nd albergue in Terradillos, St Jacque de Molay, which is based in the town itself, is quiet. I have another 2 or so kms until I arrive at Moratinos, a small town, however it holds 2 large albergues. I’m walking along back roads now, my phone’s torch guiding me. I reach Moratinos and see some familiar pilgrims who had stayed the night in the main albergue here. They were lost and were looking for a way out of the town. My phone app came to the rescue and before long we were walking out of the town, their walking poles breaking the silence. One pilgrim was Irish and I laughed on hearing his words of greeting…”oh not this Dublin lad again!”. People from rural Ireland have a thing with us from Dublin!. It was all a private joke however, and we marched on together, Santiago-bound.

I felt good this morning. My feet were in good stead and I was eager to meet new pilgrims. If I met June, it would be a bonus! I had no particular town in mind to set up base however I had good memories of Bercianos del Real Camino. It was home to a donativo Parochial albergue and my time there in 2013 was special. However, I wouldn’t rule out walking an extra 5kms to the next town, El Burgo Ranero. I decided to say goodbye to my fellow Irish pilgrim and his friends, preferring to walk unafraid into the dark.

I have another 8 km before Sahagun, a large town along the Camino. The evening before, there was much discussion between fellow pilgrims that Sahagun marked the halfway point to Santiago. There is a monument erected at the Ermita de Virgen del Puente just before Sahagun that states this. But many pilgrims have pointed out that they had passed the halfway point before arriving at Terradillos. However over dinner the evening before, I noted out that the monument marks the halfway point from the French border and not from St. Jean Pied de Port. I was glad to clear this argument up!

I hadn’t listened to music in quite a while since I arrived. I felt no need to. I had company, or I needed to concentrate on my footing without getting lost. This morning felt like a good time to turn on some music. One song that I kept playing was “Scare away the dark” by Passenger. The lyrics below seem to hit home and made me replay the song once finished. I felt unbreakable on hearing those words. There are times when, sitting in front of a screen in an office, you just want to pick up your coat and walk out. There is so much more to achieve in life and I have so much more to give. I kept asking myself the question “what’s holding me back??”. Fear, possibly.

We should run through the forests
We should swim in the streams
We should laugh, we should cry
We should love, we should dream
We should stare at the stars and not just the screens
You should hear what I’m saying and know what it means

To sing, sing at the top of your voice
Love without fear in your heart
Feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

The sun rose as I entered Sahagun and I met an American lady called Denise. She was leaving a cafe and was lost. I had also taken a wrong turn and was temporarily lost, but on seeing a yellow arrow, we both found our way. Onwards! I turned another corner only to see June. I was delighted and marched on westward out of Sahagun. We had another 10km to Bercianos del Real Camino, I felt good and the day was young. It was close to 8am at this point and I had walked 12km already. I topped up my water bottle before moving on. June had stayed in San Nicolás del Real Camino the evening before. She mentioned that the 2 large albergues in Moratinos were completo when she passed them however Albergue Laganares was less than half full. This morning, she had walked around 8km. I had a feeling she would walk further than me so I was preparing for her departure at some stage.

The walk from Sahagun to Bercianos del Real Camino is on a senda along a main road. You have, of course, the option to walk the Roman road via Calzadilla de los Hermanillos and join the Camino Frances in Mansilla de las Mulas. I had decided to avoid this however I was still confused by the sign posting advising pilgrims of which was the right way to Bercianos. After much thinking and reminiscing, I chose the correct road and we were back on track. We met an English pilgrim at various stages and said Buen Camino to him more than once. We would see him further on again. We also saw two German girls who had wanted to walk the Roman road but had missed the turn-off. Slightly disappointed, they made do with the 2nd option and kept walking.

I asked June had she seen some pilgrims that I had met previously. A number had stayed in the 2nd albergue in Terradillos. A few others had stayed in Moratinos and others had ventured as far as Sahagun. The chain was getting longer and longer but somehow we were keeping in touch. I was keeping in touch with Patti after meeting her first in Carrion de los Condes and I was meeting my fellow Irish pilgrim and his friends the odd time. I had seen Carol and her friend from Australia a number of times and Aga from Poland. We all had our own ways of walking but we managed to see each other or receive news of how we all are from other pilgrims. June was planning ahead and had a date in mind when she would reach Santiago. I thought “wow!”. I reminded her to enjoy each moment and not walk too fast because she will pick up an injury or whatever!

The 10kms seem to go by in no time. During the few hours, we started talking about American healthcare and politics, something I try to avoid while on Camino. Anything but politics!! I changed the subject quickly and talked about the hills of León and O Cebreiro. Most of the pilgrims I had talked to were getting bored of the monotony of the meseta and were crying out for an ascent….something more varied I guess. They wouldn’t have long to wait as León approached within 2-3 days.

Bercianos was approaching. Not too long beforehand, we passed the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Perales, a church no longer in use. Bercianos greeted us with a new cafe “Bercianos 1900”. We decided to stop here for a drink and a rest. My feet were starting to play up on me again and I took some Ibuprofen to ease the pain. I met our old English pilgrim friend again. I asked him how he was getting on today and where he intends to stay when he is finished walking. He was thinking about staying in Hostal Rivero, another relatively new albergue in Bercianos, however he may walk the extra 7km to El Burgo Ranero. He mentioned..”when you walk from Paris, where you end each day is a trivial matter!”…From Paris?!…I asked him how far does he typically walk each day. “10-15km each day”. Wow…so why so little?? “Well when I finish I need to start painting the house when I return home to London. Well he does have a point!

We said goodbye to John, the UK pilgrim and moved on. We had 7km of straight road ahead of us, with blue skies and a gentle wind. It was 10.30am and we had plenty of time. For most of the remainder of the morning, there were no other pilgrims in sight. Cyclists passed us by shouting Buen Camino and we returned the compliment. There were periods of silence also when myself and June just walked. June, by far the faster, led the way and I followed. It wasn’t long before we reached El Burgo Ranero, a small hamlet with a number of albergues and pensions. It is chosen as an end stage in Brierley’s book, however, it has a well respected donativo, “Domenico Laffi”. It opens at midday and already there were people lined up outside. I walked through the town to see if there were other albergues opened, however, all 3 others had a midday opening. I saw a group of Irish walkers with tiny bags leave a cafe after a pitstop. It seemed that they were from the west of Ireland. I asked them how they were getting on? One said “All good, we are walking the Camino a different way”. He went to great lengths to note the differences in how I and their group walk their Camino. Not to worry. We are all pilgrims. I venture back to the albergue, noting where the shop was. The hospitalero had opened up for us before midday.

I showered, washed my clothes before June and myself decided to go to the shop to buy some food for lunch. In a gesture of real kindness, June told me to come back in 45 minutes and she will have lunch ready. So I went off for a snooze and left her to her own devices. From what we had bought, I was expecting a meal fit for royalty. We had wine too. It was something special also and I was full for the day. All I could do afterwards was wash up! Later on, I met the UK pilgrim – he was staying in another albergue in the same village. I also met Adam from the UK, my fellow Irish friend with his friends who were in the same albergue. Today I had walked 30km. I had 88 km left to walk in 5 days. The next 5 days were going to be slow and short. June wanted to walk to Leon the next day (38km) and asked if I would join her. I said I would start the day with her but I wouldn’t walk to Leon. This evening was a special one. We finished the bottle of wine with other pilgrims.

Tonight would be the start of the goodbyes.

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Camino 2017 – Day 0 – Dublin to Burgos

September 4th 2017 – Day 0
Dublin to Burgos via Madrid

A beautiful day in which I passed through 2 large cities. My flight was to leave at 6.30am. Yawning, I woke at 4am with an eagerness I had not seen since last September. My pack was barely 7kg light and I was out the door after a quick breakfast and my last cup of tea for two weeks.

Dublin Airport Terminal 1 was bustling, even for this time of the morning. Many were still wearing GAA jerseys after the All Ireland Hurling final the evening before. I checked my pack in and headed for the gate, eager to get on the plane and reach Spain. My Camino had begun with gusto.

The flight took off and within 2 and a half hours I had arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport – a sprawling metropolis of 4 terminals compared to Dublin’s 2. I collected my baggage and headed for the feeder bus. This little nipper arrives every 5 minutes and carries passengers from Terminal 1 to 4 within 20 minutes. It’s a joy to ride on, compared to walking. I was in T4 in no time waiting for the Alsa bus for Burgos. Luckily enough, the bus station in T4 is just adjacent to a cafe (and a McDonalds). I had a quick snack while waiting for the bus arriving at 11.15 Spanish time. The sun was shining bright and I was glad to be in the shade while waiting.

The bus arrived on time and a gruff Spanish driver ticked my name off a rugged piece of paper. “Dahveed?”..”Si”, I replied, as he opened the baggage door at the side of the large bus. The bus was full in no time. Burgos was not it’s only stop today, as it would make it’s way for Irun. I sat beside the window hoping that I would sleep but before I knew it, a tall gentleman sat beside me. He was also wearing cargo-pants, instantly identifying himself as a pilgrim.

“Are you on the way the Camino?”, I asked.

“Yes indeed, Burgos”, he replied.

“Excellent!, where have you come from?”…I asked, keen to strike up a conversation with anyone headed to the French Way.

He had come from Salt Lake City, via Newark Airport. His accent gave his origin away to be fair but the question was the ideal icebreaker. Robert, was just retired from the military and was keen to experience at least 10 days from Burgos. We talked for the majority of the trip, mainly about trails in Ireland and in the US. He looked super-fit so I didn’t think the Camino would be a problem for him, however, he was going to take it slow and steady from the start. A wise decision. I had hoped to see Robert again, but this was to be the only time I would see him, and on reaching Burgos, I wished him a Buen Camino. I made the point of saying “I won’t say goodbye, but I’ll see you on the way”.

At 1.30pm, we reached the Estación de Autobuses in Burgos on Calle Miranda, about 5 minutes away from the Catedral de Burgos. I was glad to be here and walked to my hostel that I had booked – Hostal Evolución. At €35, it wasn’t bad for a one bed room, including shower. I had plans for the evening so I decided that 2 hours or so sleep would be wise. A friend of mine told me that he has a friend living in Burgos who would be happy to show me around and have some tapas. Now, I’m not going to say no to tapas! So, sleep, refresh and tapas…sounds like a good plan!

Later on, I met Patricia outside the hostal after 6pm, just when the town was waking up from siesta. We walked over the Río Arlanzón and under the Arco del Cid to reveal Burgos Cathedral standing tall. She looked better than I saw her last in 2015. We walked around it, past the Albergue and on to our first tapas bar. One vino de ribeiro and a tapa, por favor! After 7pm, Burgos turns into a rich tapestry of bars and restaurants. The Plaza Mayor was full of families and kids giving their best shot at being Messi or Ronaldo. It was a joy!

After our 3rd vino de ribeiro, Patricia saw her mother and we decided to take a seat at one of the many bars. I tried another tapa – some bread with an anchovy drenched in oil. Beautiful. Her mother had no English and I had little Spanish and it was funny as Patricia was translating our conversation. It took time!

But time flew and 8pm became 9pm. I wanted to make an early start the next morning so I said my goodbyes. It was a great evening and I promised to say hello to everyone the next time I was in Burgos. While walking back to the hostal, I bought a walking pole to keep me company for the 10 or so days. I arrived at the hostal and got ready for the next morning. I hoped to reach Hontanas, but it was promised to be warm.

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Destino Santiago

Fancy walking vicariously with some peregrin@s all the way to Santiago? Now you can. A pair of Galician musicians are ten days into their Camino and it is being broadcast in real time online by TVG, the Galician TV service. Currently, they are en route to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. You can watch the stream over on www.destinosantiagotvg.gal. They also provide regular updates on Twitter and Facebook. Enjoy!