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 10 – Santibañez de Valdeiglesias to Astorga

Camino 2017 – Day 10 – Santibañez de Valdeiglesias to Astorga – September 14th
All good things come to an end..

So the day has come. My last walking day. A short stroll into Astorga ended my Camino for another year. And it was a great walk with a few little ups and a walk down to finish off.

 

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My morning started at 7am, they get later every day! After a quick breakfast, I am on the road and almost immediately meet Naomi from Canada. We both casually strolled westward from that point. She had stayed in Villares de Orbigo and couldn’t praise the albergue’s hospitalera, Christina, high enough. It was one of her highlights from her ongoing Camino. I missed out so! She was bound for Santa Catalina or further, so I would say goodbye to her at Astorga.

Daybreak was looming as the sun was peeking over the horizon. However, I enjoyed the conversation with Naomi so much that I did the inevitable and got lost. With no working light, there was no arrows to see and it was my companion that turned to me and said “when was the last time we saw an arrow?”. I have walked these parts twice before but I still have the ability to lose direction. Backwards we go until we see other pilgrims. Luckily, it wasn’t too far..

It wasn’t long before we arrived at Casa de los Dioses and David’s humble abode. He was sleeping in his shelter but his stall was out for all pilgrims. He is a legend of the Camino and I thought we had lost him last year when he posted a video online saying he would be leaving. I took some fruit, leaving a donation, preferring to leave David sleep.

I said goodbye to Naomi and to Casa de los Dioses and wandered on, Astorga being less than 10 km away. It was only half 8 at this stage and the end was coming closer. Thoughts of the flight home and the office popped into my head. But I had another 2 days to the flight so I pushed them back for a little while.

I passed the Cruz de Santo Toribio at the entrance of San Justo de la Vega, a suburb of Astorga. I had another hour or so before arrival. San Justo is a sprawling street mixed with properties, both residential and industrial. During the summer months, there is a gentleman with a guitar at the Cruz who sings to pilgrims. All he asks for is something from your country.

You are well and truly in Astorga when you pass a large warehouse. I walk in the shade and catch a glimpse of the Cathedral. I have just the railroad bridge to negotiate before I make my final climb into the city. Surely there is an easier way to walk into the city? The albergue on Plaza San Fransisco was closed, as expected but luckily enough one of the hospitaleros was cleaning the outside while I passed. He suggested that I leave my bag in the albergue while I go for a coffee and a 2nd breakfast. All was well. I walked into the town, past the main plaza as far as the Cathedral. I took a few photos of it and Gaudi’s Palace. Walking back I spotted Naomi making a pitstop. She was with some friends and I asked if I could join her. One cafe con leche por favor. Possibly one of my last for this year.

Ten minutes or so later, I strolled back to the albergue and there was a queue forming. It was 9.30am. The albergue was to open at 11am. I got to meet some pilgrims while waiting, one who was in pain and was forced to get a taxi from her previous night’s stay. I stayed here previously in 2015 and loved it, although I’m not a fan of large albergues. There is a great terrace for eating cooked food, however there are many restaurants in the town.

The day passes quickly and I gather my things for an early start the following morning. My bus to Santiago was at 7.30am and I wanted to be a little bit early so I could have some breakfast beforehand. One more sleep…

 

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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 9 – Villavante to Santibañez de Valdeiglesias

Camino 2017 – Day 9 – Villavante to Santibañez de Valdeiglesias – September 13th
Penultimate day from one small town to another..

Second to last day of walking. It would be a short day as well. I had already began thinking of returning to work, which is a no-no while on Camino. Sigh. Anyway, moving on. I had yet to reach one of my favourite towns, Astorga, and of course, make my journey to Santiago.

The evening before I had no idea where the following day would end. Hospital de Orbigo was only 5km away. The next town after, Villares de Órbigo is just 8km while Astorga is a whopping 24km. Note my sarcasm there 🙂 So I would walk until my feet told me not to.

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I woke in Santa Lucia at 6.30am…a late start for me! I left the albergue at 7am, after some breakfast. Last night’s sleep was poor. I woke a number of times and at one stage, someone had the cheek to pinch my 5th toe, possibly due to my snoring. The one toe that had a blister on it! The blister didn’t cause me any bother walking however. I was joined by a German couple on leaving the albergue and despite their lack of English (or my lack of German) we still managed a conversation. The sun was rising as we left the small village and aimed for Hospital de Orbigo. En route to Orbigo, you cross train tracks, walk over a motorway before seeing the water tower at the entrance of the town. It was quiet enough at this time of the morning, however. I said goodbye to the German couple here as I wanted to see more of the town. Nothing was open, as expected. Even Albergue Verde, one place that was on my list of must-sees. Another time. I crossed the bridge and moved through the town. It is one long road but seems to go on forever. I’ve walked through here on three occasions; 2012, 2015 and this year. It never changes, that’s the beauty of it.

I arrived at the exit of Orbigo and saw Robert from Germany who I first met in Arcahueja. It was a surprise to see him again however I knew he was having shin-splint problems. I was quite happy to walk at his pace for the day. We chose to take the road to the right, avoiding the main road. Now, we were back on a meseta-type trail until arriving at Astorga. We arrived at Villares de Órbigo at 8.30am and were greeted by a Danish lady who had started her Camino in St Jean. All three of us continued slowly to Santibañez and arrived at 9am. We stopped for a cafe con leche and took in the morning until Robert and our new friend parted company. Their destination this day was Astorga. My destination would be the albergue attached to this bar I was resting at – Albergue Camino Frances, with 14 beds. €20 with 3 course meal included. It wouldn’t open until 11am however so I had another hour to spare. It made sense to stop here. If I continued to Astorga, I would need to find a bed for an extra night as my bus to Santiago was to leave the following day.

This albergue was one of the smaller albergues I have stayed in, but well run. It looked like it was family-run. While waiting for it to open, Riley from the US and her friend from South Africa passed by. I was delighted to see them again. They were also aiming for Astorga and were looking forward to the change of scenery after the meseta.

Checking in was quick and I had my clothes washed and hung out to dry in no time. With temps of 25c, it was a perfect time for it. Dinner was at 7pm and I ate by myself, although I had been keeping in touch with a number of pilgrim friends by email. I was looked forward to moving on the following day.

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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 1 – Burgos to Hontanas

Camino 2017 – Day 1 – Burgos to Hontanas – September 5th
An early start..and hot!

I asked the owner of Hostal Evolucion the evening before if it was possible to leave early in the morning. She said, in broken English, that there was no problem, but I needed to ring a little bell at the front desk. Hmm…I wonder if this was going to work in practice? Time will tell.

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DayOne2I had an amazing sleep and woke at 5am. Right on cue. My bag was ready, I had a few snacks for breakfast. All I needed was to find the first arrow. I rang the bell as agreed and at 5.30am, I was on the road with pack on bag and pole in hand. I walked toward the bridge over the River Arlanzon, in search of the first arrow, although I had an idea of the right way. My previous two times in Burgos had been brief but I felt I had seen the city in it’s glory, thanks to Patricia. My head was a little dull due to the vino de ribeiro, but a little walk would shake that off.

The walk out of Burgos is along the river and at this time, it was pitch black. I kept an eye out for the Universidad de Burgos so I knew I was on the right track. On seeing the first arrow, white and not yellow, my heart jumped. Onwards I walked until the road turned and the arrows were no more. A passer by shouted at me “¿Estás buscando el camino?”. I said “Si!!” with positivity and he directed me to a turn off 10 metres behind me. This was the way to Villalbilla de Burgos, and I saw arrows again. I was leaving Burgos and heading for the first village, Tardajos. There was no stopping me. My feet were dancing and I was eager to meet fellow pilgrims – but not at this hour, I laughed to myself!

It was pretty flat, and I was alone so far. The sun was beginning to rise at my back and I stopped for a few moments to take it in. It wouldn’t be the last sun rise I would witness but each one is special. You can immediately feel the heat at your back as the sun creeps over the horizon. “Beautiful”, I thought to myself. I arrived into Tardajos around 7am and had Cafe con leche y tostada con queso, my normal breakfast on the Camino. I bought some fruit to keep me going until at least Hornillos. Tardajos is a smashing town with a great albergue so there is an option if you want to bypass the hustle and bustle of Burgos. It is a further 10km however.

Rabe de Calzadas is a further 2km away and the entrance to the meseta. Another quiet village with a recommended albergue. After this point, you need to have enough water as you are in no-man’s land. It is another 8km to Hornillos del Camino and today the temps were rising. It is in the mid-20s at this stage and only morning. And I needed sun cream!!

Onwards I walked into the meseta and towards Hornillos. I never had much of a love for this town and have always walked toward Hontanas, a further 10km. I had my heart set on Hontanas again but it depended on how hot it got. I arrived at Alto de Meseta, a 150 metre climb and could see the next few hours ahead of me, most notably Hornillos, a barren town, but growing in size. It was two early so I decided to stop for a while and walk on. The last building at the end of town caught my eye. I walked in and asked for an Aquarius. The woman behind the bar asked me where I am from. I naturally say Dublin and she asks which part. She is also from Dublin and in the last few weeks has taken over the running of a Korean restaurant in Hornillos. It’s name is Neson. I could not believe it. Another Dublin man was there chilling out with a ukelele trying to sing “Fix You” by Coldplay. I give it a go but playing a ukelele is different to playing a guitar. I stay here for a half an hour chilling out and talking about our love of the Camino. She was brought here because of love and has a child now. I say my goodbyes and promise to look them up the next time I pass through. As I leave, I’m warned to carry lots of water as the next few hours will be tough going. They are right as temps were in the 30s until I reached Hontanas.

I feel like I made a mistake moving on to the next town. After Hornillos, there is a gradual climb and there is no shade. I stop three times out of breath and consider turning back. Somehow I gather the energy to move on, while brushing the dozens of flies from my face.

I meet two English pilgrims ahead of me – Adam and Robert. They had been chilling out in Hornillos and I had said hi to them then. I walked with both until we reached Hontanas and I am so glad I did. They gave me the energy to reach my destination and proved that conversation is a great distraction. We walked with purpose past the great San Bol Albergue in the middle of nowhere, and then on to Hontanas. Well…we first needed to find Hontanas. It is built in a valley and the first you see of this pilgrim town is the large steeple of it’s church. We wait for it to pop over the hill and boom! we descend into the village.

I decided to check into Albergue El Puntido, while Adam wants to keep walking to the refugio at San Anton 5 km further on. I was one of the first here and got my washing done. The sun would dry my clothes in no time. A community dinner was not until 7pm so I decided to rest until then.

The dinner was super. I ate with Denis and his wife from Florida who had walked from St Jean Pied de Port and were taking it nice and slow. 20kms a day is their maximum. I also met Tara from Salt Lake City who gave me the ultimate compliment and praised my Irish accent. She also gave me a bottle of sunscreen, proving that the Camino does provide. The only shop in this town had after sun which was of no help to me. I slept well here, even though the church bell would chime on the hour every hour throughout the night.

There was music in the form of a small guitar outside the albergue and we stayed out until close to 9pm. I was tired however and wanted another early start the next day. This day, I walked over 30 km..the following day, I hoped to reach Boadilla del Camino and Eduardo’s En El Camino Albergue. We expected sun and we expected to meet new pilgrims. It was going to be a fun day.

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Bray to St. James Church, Dublin – Stage One of The Celtic Camino

Early Friday morning I received a text from my friend Oihana asking if I was free to take a walk the following day. I said I did and the starting point was to be Bray in Wicklow. Bray is roughly an hour on the train from my home and about 30 km walk to Dublin city centre. The plan was to walk for 15 km or so and then we could catch the train or bus home. However I brought up the suggestion that we could walk to St. James Church and complete the first stage of the Celtic Camino. We were to bring our pilgrim passports and collect sellos just in the event that we do make it to the end point. I felt in good shape so there was no reason not to. If we made it and collected our certificates, we would then be entitled to a Compostela having walked from A Coruna, something I have been planning to do in March or April of 2018.

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We met on the train in Dublin city centre and continued on our way to Bray, which is a large seaside town in Wicklow. It has a large promenade and a great cliff walk that I have yet to try. We arrived close to 9am and looked for somewhere to receive our first sello. We were told by one of the staff that the information desk at Bray train station would provide us with one. We were delighted however we had much amusement changing the date on the stamp! We had proof that we were in Bray and we took a selfie just in case the powers that be had any doubts!

Onwards we went and walked northwards in the direction of Shankill, a large residential estate and town. It was a shame we moved away from the sea and I hope in time, it will be possible to walk closer to the coast in that direction. It took close to an hour to pass Shankill and we were delighted to meet a large church called Crinken Church. We hoped that it would be open and it was!! A music group were practising inside and welcomed us in. One had walked the Camino before and was delighted to hear of this new Camino. We asked if they had a sello and after much hesitation, he said he would look. He returned with a stamp of two footprints..very symbolic! We later learned that the name of the church is St. James’ of Shankill..win!

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We both felt good and with plenty of water we felt that we could complete the 30km. It was still early however the temperature was increasing. It was predicted to reach 27c in the afternoon and at 10.30, it was in the early 20’s, so we tried to stay in the shade as much as we could. Before leaving Shankill, we received another stamp at the Post Office. They were delighted also to hear of the new route and said that they were planning on walking in Spain soon. We also saw a man wearing a t-shirt with a large yellow arrow. 🙂 That could only mean one thing…he has been on the Camino! We wished him a Buen Camino and walked on!

From Shankill, our next stop was Killiney and we were back on the coast again!! The seaside breeze felt great. With the sun out for the day, dozens of people were making for the beach and the walkways were crowded with folks out for the day. I decided to take a little detour and walk through Killiney Hill. That means jumping up about 100 steps to reach the top of the Hill and the famous Obelisk statue. Phew..what a climb. And it was a perfect time to stop for a rest and to marvel at Dublin bay from a height. I could see where we both started and also where we both had hoped to finish. It is one of the highest places in Dublin and great for a walk. Killiney Hill is a large park and is very animal friendly. Plenty of dogs were out with their owners lapping up the sun.

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Adelante!! We left the park after that much needed rest, and rather than continue by the coast, we walked on a trail called The Metals straight to Dun Laoghaire. The Metals is a 3km straight walkway that was formerly a rail line from the quarry in Dalkey to Dun Laoghaire. It’s a lovely walk way but there are no opportunities to collect sellos. We might collect one or two in Dun Laoghaire, we hoped. And we did, as the local library was open. They were glad to assist.  Dun Laoghaire was bustling. It’s amazing what the sun can do. We continued on but not before we took the below pictures.

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From here we would walk along the coast until we reached Dublin Port and 3 Arena. It seemed like the entire population of Dublin were out by the beach, even though the tide was out! With time passing, I became more aware of a niggling pain in my foot but a 99er ice cream seemed to ease the pain for a while. We reached Dublin Port at 2.30pm, a full 5 and a half hours since we started. It was by far the best walk in Dublin I have taken, made special by the great company and the people we met along the way. From Dublin Port, it was a straight walk along the quays up to St. James’ Church which closes at 3.30 on Saturdays. I had slight doubts that we weren’t going to make it but Oihana is super-positive and assured me that we had all the time in the world. I was introduced to the Jeannie Johnson ship that is based along the port and EPIC, the Irish emigration musuem. Where have I been all these years??! Along the quays we walked until we came to Christchurch Cathedral and Vicar Street. Then the Guinness Storehouse and St. James’ Church. We arrived at the Camino Information Centre at 3.15pm and showed our credencials.

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Yes, I had sore feet, yes I had a farmers’ tan, but boy! what a walk?!

If you are interested in walking the Celtic Camino, this is a great route for your Irish leg. Alternatively, you can walk a pilgrim path, for example St Kevin’s Way or St. Declan’s Way. But for somewhere closer to home, this is ideal. If you are unable to walk it in one day, you can walk it over two days. You will be still entitled to a certificate from the Camino Society. So 5 out of 5! Now to look forward to A Coruna in 2018.

Are you a Pilgrim or a Walker?

It’s close to 10pm here in cold Dublin but wanted to share the below video with you all before I called it a night. It’s a pretty long video, coming in at close to 3 hours, so if you have a bit of time spare, it is well worth the watch. The maker of the video (sorry, I didn’t get a name but he goes by the username “Nalutia“) walked from St Jean Pied de Port to Fisterra in 2015 over 30-something days and I suppose this acted as a bit of a video diary. There are some great scenes of the Pyrenees and the meseta, with nice local music from Pamplona, La Rioja and Santiago.

During the video, he points out that, in his opinion, there are two types of people walking the Camino – pilgrims or trekkers / walkers. The vast majority of people say they are pilgrims but is the intention there to come home a better person than before? Do you visit a church, or take in the surroundings if you are not religious?

Or would you be a walker? Do you leave your accommodation before sunrise, ignore the amazing surroundings and attractions, and try to get to Santiago in the least amount of time? If you have walked the Camino before, the great “Bed Race” is an example of this, which I have been guilty of before!! This really defeats the purpose of the Camino in my opinion.

So if you are planning an upcoming Camino, listen to what the man in the below video has to say. Take your time, leave your earphones at home and experience what Spain has to offer. Go there with an open mind also, because, even if you don’t consider yourself a pilgrim now, you might learn something new about yourself while on the Way.

A tripod and expensive camera might be a little too much however… enjoy!

The Irish and the Camino..

Hi everyone, just some news that happened over the last week.

  • I went along to a talk given by Turlough of Donnell of the Irish Camino Society entitled “The Irish and the Camino de Santiago: 800 Years of History” as part of the Dublin History Festival. During the hour or so, Turlough talked about how Irish pilgrims made their way to Santiago through the ages, whether it be by horse or foot and more recently boat. There is also evidence of an old refugio used by medieval pilgrims in Dublin which is all news to me! I was motivated to look for more information online but I can’t seem to find it so far. I have emailed the Irish Camino Society for information on a book published by Leuvan University about the Irish and the Camino. I’d be really interested to read it. Turlough was interviewed by local radio station Near.fm about the talk on the 3rd of October. You can listen to this podcast here.
  • While looking for more information about the Camino and the Irish, I found this great article published by HistoryIreland.com from 1998 entitled “The Irish Medieval Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela“. You can read that in full here. It’s very interesting from an Irish point of view.
  • Who remembers writing a thesis in college? It’s one of those things we all have to do and it accounts for a large amount of your final score in your final year. I certainly remember mine..I’d rather forget it actually :). I have found a thesis on the subject of the Camino published online. The full title is “In Defence of the Realm : Mobility, Modernity and Community on the Camino de Santiagoand it’s fairly detailed. Have a read when you get some time. It was published in 2007 but may not as up to date as today.
  • And finally, I am taking my new rucksack out on her maiden voyage. Hopefully I will get to climb one of the many hills in Wicklow, depending on the weather that is. The more climbs I get before my Camino Ingles, the better.