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 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.

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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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Your Stories, Your Camino – Bozidar & Marjanca from Slovenia

During my recent Camino, I received an email from Bozidar & Marjanca who wished to tell their story about their Camino. Thank you for getting in touch!

I don’t remember when I first heard about Camino de Santiago – but since then, I very much wished to walk the Way. My dream came true in the summer of 2013, when my wife and I walked from León to Santiago de Compostela. The following year we walked from Saint Jean Pied de Port to León. We returned in 2016 and walked to the end of the world, to Cape Finisterre. Those summers still hold the most beautiful memories for us.

Before we left for our first Camino, we thought we were prepared, because we walked on many trails and hills around our home town, but on the Way we got blisters, as many others did. It was easier to handle them as the way leads you through beautiful landscapes, many beautiful villages and cities with rich history. However, the Camino sometimes takes you through industrial suburbs and abandoned villages, and of course sometimes blisters and muscles also hurt more. Many people say that Camino is a lot like life: it not only includes happiness and beautiful things, but also pain and tough times. There are many opportunities for conversation along the Way, but also time for silence and reflection.

During the walk we can recall already forgotten events, beautiful moments as well as sad memories. On the other hand, we started thinking about plans for the future. Many people also say that Camino does not only purify the body while walking but also the soul. As a result, our feelings were not only wonderful when we arrived at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela – at the same time we were sad, because the journey was over… and we realise that the best thing we can do after our Camino is that we try to continue our Camino each day of our lives.

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Bozidar and Marjanca Rustja, Slovenia

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 4 – Carrión de los Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios

Camino 2017 – Day 4 – Carrión de los Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios – September 8th
A long road at morning and a goodbye

5am…my silent alarm wakes me. Automatically, I wake June who is sleeping in the bunk beside me. We gather our things and quietly make our way to the kitchen for some breakfast. Officially, the albergue was not due to open until 7am but we noticed their was a back door open so we were in luck. June and myself were joined by the Brazilian contingent who were feasting on a healthy breakfast. I finished off my last yoghurt and started to pack what food I had in the top of my pack.

Today’s walk was a major talking point among pilgrims for days. It was no secret that this stage is one of the toughest. There are no steep climbs or large descents. There are no off-putting cities that we need to pass through. Quite the opposite actually, as the next town is 17kms away – Calzadilla de la Cueza. Now, we walk the flat Vía Aquitania without stop. Both myself and June were eager to get going however and we left the albergue just after 5.30am. We were expecting the same heat as the last few days so we prepared. I had plenty of water and some fruit to tide me over until the first town.

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It was dark and, save for a few street lights in Carrion, there was no light. We struggled to find the way but once we saw the San Zoilo Hotel and the Rio Carrion, we knew were going the right way. I was delighted to be joined by June. Any company makes the journey easier, but it was different with June. She was talkative and really interested in what was ahead of her. As I had walked to Santiago, I was glad to answer any questions she had. She had a great pace also which matched mine, despite the pains in my feet. The morning was quiet, we saw a few other pilgrims as we left the town. We wished them a Buen Camino as we passed them by. There was an eerie fog that had fallen over Carrion and we knew that it would be that way until the sun rose. That was to be the case. We literally saw nothing. It was dark and insanely foggy. It was the perfect time to be walking with someone else. The mist was dripping from the trees from each side of the trail. I considered putting on my jacket at one stage. It wasn’t cold either.

The Vía Aquitania is one long stretch and it was impossible to stray from it. We constantly joked with each other saying that the next visible object was a building in Calzadilla, only to be a haystack. I enjoyed the morning and by the time we reached the first time, I had felt that I knew June. It was 9.30 as we saw the municipal albergue and we cheered like it was Santiago itself. The last few pilgrims leaving this albergue questioned if we had got a taxi from Carrion! It was some achievement but it had consequences. My 5th toe on my left foot had been hurting for some time and I thought it was time to slow down. I had been taking ibuprofen for a few days also. I enjoyed walking with new people but needed to constantly remind myself that they had been walking for 2 weeks prior to meeting myself. They had their own limits – some greater than mine. I had met folks who frequently walked 40km days, while there were others walking 15km per day. There are no rules and we can walk according to our strengths. However, when you meet people whose company you enjoy, you try and stay with them no matter how you feel.

I enjoyed my cafe con leche and tostado and did some stretches before throwing my pack back on. We were ready but I had a feeling that I would be saying “see you on the trail” to June soon. As predicted, the sun had washed away the fog to reveal the way in it’s glory. We left Calzadilla de la Cueza close to 10am and walked alongside the N-120 – a quieter version of the road I had walked beside the day before. Sometimes, we walked on the road, while other times we preferred the senda to it’s side. Either way, June wasn’t far ahead of me. We kept passing large arrows made of individual stones and wondered how long it took to make these. There was one impressive one of an arrow leading to a heart, closer to Ledigos.

I had decided on staying in either Ledigos or Terradillos, the evening before. The next town beyond Terradillos was Moratinos, which would have made it a 30km day. I began thinking that I really needed to slow down as I didn’t want to walk further than Astorga. I had plenty of days left, but the more big days I had, the more I would have to consider having rest days!! Ledigos is next to nothing, size wise. June commented that it smelled like a farm…which is probably correct. Good luck in Galicia, I said to her! I decided to move on as neither albergue was open and Terradillos held good memories for me. Leaving Ledigos, you can actually see Terradillos. It is that close. It is pretty confusing leaving this small town also, as there are two ways to get to Terradillos. We chose the road as I didn’t want to get lost (again!) by walking on the trail through the fields.

After 2km, I saw Albergue los Templarios and decided to stay here. It was 12am and the sun was at it’s highest. June had more energy left and wanted to walk on. The time had come to say goodbye…although I never say goodbye on the Camino. “I’ll see you on the trail”, I said while giving her a hug. She walked to San Nicolás de Real Camino that afternoon. We exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch.

Not surprisingly, I was the first to grab a bunk here, although most of the beds had been reserved in advance. The Camino is changing. I had stayed here in 2013 and remember the fun times I had with a great Camino family I met then. The place hadn’t changed, everything has remained in it’s place. The couple from Perth arrived in shortly later on bikes. They were travelling the meseta on bikes and then taking up walking at Leon. I sat outside on the terrace and watched people check in. Most I didn’t know, while some I knew stopped to say they were walking on to the next town. Within 2 hours, this albergue was completo – and the other albergue in the town of Terradillos was full shortly after.

I got some rest and woke for dinner at 7pm. I had dinner with a large group who had arranged their Camino through a travel agency. They were walking the Camino their way, they said. Sleep came early tonight as I promised to get up early and aim for El Burgo Ranero – a town I have not stayed in. I wonder could I do it. If I could, the remaining 5 days would be short. I suppose that’s something to look forward to. It was to be another hot day the following day – I would be prepared.

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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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Camino Information Centre – First day proper….

I had such a great time today and the time I was there flew by. I could have stayed much longer, you know?

Today was my first day in Camino Society Ireland’s Information Centre in St. James’ Church. The centre is open from Thursday to Saturday from 10.30am to 3.30pm but I can only take on Saturday due to work. There was myself and another volunteer there for the day and we are there to try help any visitor who had queries about the various Caminos to Santiago. We also sell pilgrim passports, guidebooks and badges for backpacks.

We had a whole host of visitors today. Some walking from Sarria to Santiago, others starting in Astorga and a few taking on the Northern and Portuguese ways. I find that the Portuguese Way has increased it’s popularity.

One future pilgrim is taking her child with her on the Camino del Norte, starting from Bilbao and they hope to walk to Santander. Short and sweet. The little girl must not be over 10. I think that’s brilliant if she is used to walking.

Another future pilgrim is walking from Le Puy in France all the way to Spain and will then continue on the Camino del Norte to Santiago. Once that route has been completed, the plan is to walk from Lisbon to Santiago. This is all for a worthwhile charity – to help Syrian refugees. Truly amazing! I have no idea how long that will take but I’d love to take it on someday. Unfortunately, I have a mortgage now and my pilgrimages will be much shorter for a little while to come.

We finished up at 3.30 and I am back again in the Information Centre in August. I look forward to it and I look forward to continuing to give something back in whatever way that may be.

Weekend Watch #23 – One Minute Camino

Now that Christmas and New Year is over, I have finally arrived back to normality. I seemed to have let the Weekend Watch series drop for the last while so the first video of 2016 is from a guy who has been uploading one minute videos from his Camino. This is unique. What I like about the video is there is no talking, we just get the sights. At the moment, the uploader has 7 videos on YouTube, his first one is below: