Camino Francés 2018 – So Where Did I Stay?

There is one final post I want to write about before I move on to something new, and it is the issue of accommodation.

There is a wealth of accommodation on the Camino Francés. Every couple of kilometres you will find a town with a number of albergues, hostals, and hotels. The greatest distance between two towns is 17 kilometres but most pilgrims plan for this days in advance. For me, I had no issues with accommodation.  I mostly stayed in albergues, but there was the odd hostal I booked before leaving Dublin for the start and end of my Camino.

Puente la Reina – Hostal la Plaza
I booked a single room here shortly before leaving home as my flight would be arriving into Bilbao late. Hostal la Plaza is on the Camino and has a restaurant beside it. The price is reasonable and the staff are very friendly. A handy tip: if you think you are going to be late – call the hostal and let them know. You may not have a room to go to when you arrive.

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Estella – Agora Hostal 
The standard of albergues on the Camino Frances is getting better and better and those providing their time are giving something extra special back. The Agora Hostal is something special. The outside of the hostel looks less than remarkable but inside is clean, and welcoming. In the hands of Adrianna and Alphonso, I am told that this is my home for the night. Breakfast is included. The beds are comfortable. It isn’t far from the Camino. Recommended.

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Los Arcos – Albergue Casa de la Abuela
I got into Los Arcos quite early so I was before the throngs of pilgrims. I was quite lucky as there was no room in any of the albergues in this town later in the day. That is the Camino Frances for you. I was the first in the door, only to be greeted by a sprawling pile of mochilas left from Jacotrans. Again, this is the nature of the beast. Casa de la Abuela is a fine albergue and had all I needed. The hospitalera offered to wash my clothes for a tiny fee and I accepted. I could have walked on to the next town, Torres del Rio, a further 12km. But I was in no hurry. I met my friends for a meal and drinks in the plaza later that evening.

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Viana – Albergue Izar
A short day from Los Arcos I decided on stopping in Viana. Mainly because I had not stayed here before but I would see my friends for the last time before they embarked on their Camino. The first albergue you encounter once you reach Viana is brightly coloured Albergue Izar. While not opened until 12 midday, I decided to walk up the grueling hill into the town for a cafe and snack and see who else I would find. While the albergue is away from all the action (ie the church, the main plaza), the owners are friendly and the facilities are great. I met a bunch of new pilgrims here before I decided on walking a long day to Ventosa.

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Ventosa – Albergue San Saturnino
A long day. And I was glad to arrive here. Ventosa used to be on the Camino Frances but over time, the powers that be have moved the arrows so now it is kind of left out in the cold. But it is not too far away. Just 1 km away from the trail is Albergue San Saturnino. There are two cafes in this town also. Stay long enough in your bed and you will be woken by classical music. It has all the facilities and I was glad to meet more pilgrim friends here.

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Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Albergue de la Cofradía del Santo
Super organised, well run and a great place in general. My second time there. The only thing I didn’t like was the walk up the stairs to the 2nd floor on arrival! But, with over 200 beds and 3 floors, you can be sure to find a bed in Santo Domingo. And then you can visit the chickens in the Cathedral afterward. Shout out to the hospitaleros also for doing a super job!

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Belorado – Albergue Cuatro Cantones
Nothing but good things to say about the albergue here in Belorado. There are more than one albergue in this small town but this one stands out. I have stayed here more than once and enjoyed my stay. Jana and her family have been looking after pilgrims for 15 years now. There is a restaurant attached to the albergue and there is no harm trying the food. Also, if the sun is out, the pool in the back is perfect. There is a yoga session also for those interested. Recommended.

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Atapuerca – Albergue El Peregrino
Chosen purely for convenience rather than comfort. Having stayed in this albergue 3 times before, I know a fair bit about it, including its weaknesses. That said, it is handy to stay there as it is just a mere 18 km to Burgos. Top tip: try El Palomar for the Pilgrim Menu.

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Burgos – Albergue de peregrinos Casa del Cubo y de los Lerma (municipal) – night one / Hostal Manjon – night two.
My Camino ended with a stay in the municipal in Burgos, with its 180 beds. While I have always enjoyed my stays here, I didn’t this time. I had a bad case of a head cold going home to Ireland and had little sleep here.

I had an extra day to hand before I made my way to Bilbao and back to Ireland. I checked into Hostal Manjon, a budget hostal about 5 minutes from the Cathedral. It was just ok but I managed to claw back some of the sleep I was owed.

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Camino Frances 2018 – Puente la Reina to Estella

September 12th, 2018 – Day 1
Puente la Reina to Estella, 22km

I was awake at 6am, which is late by my standards. I could hear the clacking of poles belonging to pilgrims passing the hostal so I decided it was as good a time to make a move. It was dark and still, save for the odd van passing through. I was ready to go! I had a good sleep. I was hoping to make it to Estella where I would meet my friends, L&R, who would start their own Camino the following day.

Underneath the arch, over the bridge and out of the town – Goodbye Puente la Reina. Such a fascinating town, rich in history. Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho III was the queen (Reina) who gave her name to the town and the bridge, also known as the Puente Románico. She built the six-arched Romanesque bridge over the River Arga for the use of pilgrims on their way to Santiago along the Camino de Santiago. And I was one of them.

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Leaving Puente la Reina

Leaving town, I struck up a conversation with Doug from Canada. He commented on the size of my backpack and I explained that this was not my first time on the Camino. A pack of 7kg is more than enough, in my opinion. The road out of Puente la Reina is a tricky one and needs concentration. There are many ascents also. This was my St. Jean Pied de Port unfortunately as I embarrassed myself after a minute by stopping exhausted. Doug had walked through the Pyrenees. He walked on, enjoying this moment.

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Looking back following my climb from Puente la Reina

I caught up eventually, and we passed through Maneru. Cirauqui is just another few kilometres in the distance and there was no rain forecast. Towns in Navarra have a habit of placing themselves on hills. I’m not sure if it is to make it difficult for pilgrims to walk through them. Joking aside, I have always liked Navarra. Its rolling hills seem to go on forever and the people living there are the best. A cafe con leche y una tostada later in Cirauqui, myself and Doug left this little town and marched on.

After Cirauqui, we arrived at the famed and fabled Roman bridge that have been serving pilgrims for hundreds of years. Some work was undertaken on it since I was here last but you really need to watch your step while crossing it.

 

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Lorca (or Lorka) would be our next town. The trail is made of loose stone and it is very easy to lose your step and fall if you are not paying attention. That is exactly what happened to me! A fun day so far! I was a little bruised but I was on my way again. There is not much happening in Lorca, apart from the fact that it has 2 albergues and a cafe. We stopped for a rest. I had been looking for a walking pole since Puente la Reina and I picked up one here. It stayed with me until Burgos.

Doug had decided to stop in the following town, Villatuerta, for some lunch, so we said our goodbyes and I marched on to Estella. Little did I know we would meet the following day.

It wasn’t long before I was in Estella. It was before noon but the sun was out. “Where was that farmacia?” I stopped at the excellent Agora Hostel for the night. I cannot stay enough about Adrianna and Alfonso and the service they provide. If you are in Estella and are looking to stay somewhere, just go there! I also met Guilhermo from Barcelona, someone who I would meet on and off until Burgos. A gentlesoul.

I would later meet my friends, L&R, for drinks and tapas in the Plaza Mayor until it was time to prepare for the next day. All three of us agreed to meet in Los Arcos the following day.

 

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Camino 2014 – Day 5 – Puente la Reina to Ayegui

September 8th 2014 – Day 5
Puente la Reina to Ayegui, 24km

Another early day was on the cards as we were forecast sun, and most importantly, humidity. I was beginning to get used to the heat and started to wear a scarf around my neck. It didn’t stop my bald spot on my head turning a bright shade of red however!! But we were doing a good proportion of our walking in the early morning so there was no need for panic. We left shortly after 6am today. We being Dave, Anna and myself. Bob and Leslie would follow us. Our agreed stopping point was Ayegui, which is just beyond Estella. A large municipal albergue awaits us which many people speak highly of. On the plus side, we were off the dreaded recommended stages but on the negative side, I had passed through two major Camino towns without properly investigating them.

I actually had a good sleep in Puente la Reina and we were the first to leave. The rains had stopped shortly after midnight and there was little sign of the downpours on the roads when we left. Again, we chose to wait until our first stop for some breakfast. It was pitch black, save for the stars in the sky. There were a few other peregrinos out and about and you could see them by the bobbing light of their respective flashlights. The terrain was set to be tricky today. All the towns we pass through are based on hills, so once you climb up and into the town, you need to make a big descent to leave it. The first town we pass was Maneru which was still sleeping. It was 7am and nothing was moving. The lights were on in the town and showed us the way out.

Another 45 minutes down the line after a descent and another climb, we reach Cirauqui. I had read a lot of this town and it’s Roman bridge which is actually part of the Camino. It is worn out after a thousand years of trampling on but it was great to see a piece of history. Unfortunately, this had to be the day the battery on my phone died and I was unable to take some photos but here is a link (http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/65997854.jpg). I had hoped on staying there but I will leave that for another time.

Throughout, the morning and early afternoon, we passed mile after mile of vineyards. We were not quite in La Rioja yet, but you could tell that we were in wine country in Spain. Dave, who works in the wine industry in Australia, could tell you the exact type of wine by looking at the grape. “Vino Tinto” was good enough for me! Lorca was the next town, a further 5km onwards. It was close to 9am at this stage and the sun was up a good while. Due to the tough climb into Lorca, we stopped off for a bit to relax. Luckily enough, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so there wasn’t going to be a repeat of last night’s downpour.

Villatuerta is the next town, a further 5km onward. Villatuerta has a very popular albergue “La Casa Magica” which is privately owned and while we had no plans on staying there, there were people outside already. It is close to 11am at this stage. Villatuerta is, for a change, situated in a valley, and there is a nice steady climb once you leave it. My hip started to act up on me at this point. Time for some Camino candy (ibuprofen, if you haven’t walked the Camino before!!)

The great joy of walking the Camino is being able to walk by yourself for a while, or if you want to have company, you can have it. It is your choice. I walked the final stretch into Estella by myself, over mostly flatlands. Estella has a good few suburbs to pass through but not as many as Pamplona. The Rio Ega cuts the town in half and there are many bridges you need to cross. Some are wooden, some are made of stone. The first bridge is wooden and after the previous night’s rains, it was slippy. I knew there would be an accident if I wasn’t careful and yes! I was the first to realise it when my ass hit the deck. It was painful but the only thing dented was my ego as I watched pilgrims pass me by.

We arrive into Estella (it is also called Lizarra in Navarra) and are greeted by it’s church of San Pedro. Camino tourists litter the pathways taking photos of the sights. I spot Natty from Canada, the first time I see her in 3 days. She looks lost and is behind schedule she says. I wish her a Buen Camino and move on. I wonder how she got on. We pass through Estella and on to Ayegui, 2km westwards. It’s albergue hasn’t opened yet and we are in plenty of time. When I arrive with Dave, Anna is there with a Belgian called Phillipe. Phillipe has walked from Le Puy in France. He has very little English but great Spanish and we have enough to communicate, although my Spanish has been found out big time during the 5 or so days here. Anna and Phillipe are first in the queue of 2!! Bob and Leslie arrive shortly after. We didn’t see many other familiar faces after the usual crew. It’s a large albergue and I’m just glad to have found somewhere to sit down. I automatically think of food..like I do most days! This place serves meals but we wanted to visit the town and check out San Pedro church closer.

After washing my clothes, and powering up my phone, I am ready to see Estella. The food was top class and it was very cheap. 10pm was closing time in the albergue and we were 10 minutes short from being locked out. The run back was fun!

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Camino 2014 – Day 4 – Pamplona to Puente la Reina

September 7th 2014 – Day 4
Pamplona to Puente la Reina, 24km

Dave, Anna and myself had agreed to wake and start early so we could tackle the Alto del Perdon before it got too hot. This is a 300m climb that starts once we leave the albergue and peaks after 8km. Climbing it apparently resolves you of all your sins. We shall see. Leaving later was not an option as the temperatures were set to be high and the humidity levels were through the roof over the last few days. I was glad to leave early as I thrive in the early morning. We decided to aim for Puente la Reina and more specifically, the albergue on the outskirts of the town which had it’s own pool and served meals. Bob and Leslie were more than happy to follow us and they agreed to meet us there. I woke up at 4am after a fairly restless sleep. There seemed to be an all night party on the streets of Pamplona. I’m not sure if this was due to the match or if it was typical Saturday-night revellry. Dave and Anna had little sleep too. I didn’t have a great experience in Pamplona and decided that I would pass through if I was to walk this section again.

We left Pamplona in darkness close to 5am, with the same kind of anticipation we had in St Jean, to reach the top of the Alto del Perdon and view the iron cast models. You need to be fully alert leaving Pamplona however and if you lost sight of the arrows or signs, you could end up far away from the Camino. That’s what happened to us. We got lost. One minute, arrows were in full view and the next, not one was to be seen. We turned back, we consulted maps, and tried to find a someone to ask what directions to take. But this was Sunday morning, no one was was out. In the end, a young man in a car pointed us in the right direction. When we saw arrows again, we came across other pilgrims who made the same mistake as us. So it isn’t that rare for pilgrims to become lost in Pamplona?

After an hour, we reached Cizur Menor, a suburb of Pamplona. I had originally planned on staying here. There was a fiesta in full swing while we passed through it. The local bar was still open thumping music and serving drink. Drunk locals were on the street shouting as we passed by. I was pretty happy not to have stayed there. We swiftly passed this town. It was just after 7am and the sun was starting to rise. The climb was getting more and more gradual..it was all uphill for the next few hours. The back of my legs felt it and we were stopping for breath more frequently than before. I seemed to enjoy the ascent more than Dave and Anna and always left them behind. They didn’t seem to mind as it was I who had great difficulties on the descent and usually took forever to negotiate the drop. The terrain is barren, mostly empty fields after the harvest. The only word to use is golden. Save for the odd green tree, everything is brown or golden. Crops won’t grow here until after winter. I would love to see this scenery in May. I try to picture it in my head..different kind of greens, yellows and colours of flowers. A vast difference.

We arrive at the next town, Zariquiegui after 8am, halfway through our climb. I personally can’t wait to get to a cafe for some breakfast. My feet need to be checked as the ball of my right foot is hurting. The nearest cafe is buzzing and I am glad to find a seat to sit down. I order a cafe con leche, tostada, some fruit and can of coke. My feet seem to be fine. I recognise most of the faces from the cafe, including an Irishman, Ciaran. I joke about the town name, saying that it could win a game of Scrabble for you. The town itself is quiet, save for the cafe. No one is awake as I venture to fill up my water bottle from the fountain. We decide to move on. Next stop: Alto del Perdon and a further 100m climb in the next 2km. The sun is up now and we can see the climb ahead. I could see the row of electric windmills, some working, some not. The road cuts between fields and ends beside the far end of the row of mills. The track is rugged but manageable. We agree to walk at our own pace until we reach the top and to wait for each other when we get there. On I go, happy enough to plow on. Going up is no problem but I am nervous for the descent.

I meet Ciaran from Ireland further ahead and walk with him for a bit. He is walking a section like myself and finishes up in Logrono in a few days. The Camino has been tough for him he says but he is taking his time. I move on, again on my own. Being so high, you can see for miles around you. I see the last two towns I have passed. I can only assume that when I reach the top that I will see the next number of towns ahead of me also. I reach the top at last and just want to sit down and catch my breathe. I haven’t taken in what I have climbed, I need to take in some water first. The first things I notice are the many iron cast statues dedicated to all pilgrims.  There is an inscription on one in Spanish “donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas” which in English means “where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars”. There are tens of people taking photos, others just sitting in the hot sun and others who just decide to descend the alto once they reach the top.

I take a few photographs myself and wait for Dave and Anna to appear so we can start the walk down to Puente la Reina. I wasn’t waiting long before they arrived and we took a few photographs together. Anna is an aspiring photographer who brought along a nice expensive camera. It is pretty heavy to carry but she didn’t mind. Every so often she would disappear to take an obscure photo or to get a good position but she would return a few minutes later. On the Alto, a van appeared from the Albergue Apostol Santiago in Puente la Reina. We were hoping to stay there. I guess they were there to advertise themselves as they are based on the outskirts of the city and are not the first albergue or hostel you would pass. Speaking to the owner, she mentioned that the albergue has been full for the last weeks.

Eventually, we start to descend from the hill. It is steep and a little too uncomfortable for my liking. Here is me, the grown man, taking small steps, while Anna and Dave march down, trying not to run. It is a breeze to them! I am close to shouting “see you at the first town” but they wait for me. Good one! I have always been delicate on the descent ever since I was 12. Gravity beat me in a battle of wits while going down a mountain, leaving me with a broken collar-bone and a bruised ego. Ever since I have been taking downhills pretty seriously. I gain confidence as the descent flattens out over the course of 5km. We pass the beautiful almost-too-clean Uterga. The only sign of life is coming from the albergue which is close to full at this stage. We stop for water and to take photos.

Within the next 45 minutes, we pass two small towns, Muruzabal and Obanos. Obanos is located on a hill so we have another climb to deal with but it is nowhere near as harsh as the climb in the morning. Both towns were dead save for their local cafes and fountains. By this stage, the sun is out in full flow and the temp is close to 30c. We had another 6km before Puente la Reina and the Apostol Santiago albergue and my legs were weary. Mainly due to the descent earlier in the day. On the plus side, it was great to get to know Anna and Dave. Anna used to live in Spain before moving back to Estonia and had great knowledge of Spanish. Every so often, we would lose her while she took photos and she would catch up with us ten minutes later. That said, she was a pretty fast walker, loved the ups and the downs!

We reached Puente la Reina just before 1pm, the town is large and was starting to fill with pilgrims when we arrived in. We passed the parochial albergue and first private albergue and made way for the bridge over the rio Arga, which is on the way out of the town. Once you reach the pilgrims bridge, you can see the albergue at the top of a hill with a sign “Albergue 300metres”, Our faces dropped when we found out that the 300metres is all uphill!! What owner would place an albergue in such an awkward place?? Our legs took us there somehow and we checked in. I took a bottom bunk. The albergue has 100 beds which filled up pretty quickly. It wasn’t long before mats were used as overflow however.

Bob and Leslie arrived about an hour after us and I was delighted to see them again. They always made me smile. We were joined shortly after by the Irish gang, including Ciaran and two of the German guys that I had met outside of Pamplona the day before. So there was a close family being built up. The only person I had missed was Andrea, who had met a good crowd of people who walked at the same pace. I hoped to see her before I left for home. We all agreed however that this was probably the worst albergue we had stayed in. The people working there constantly sighing under their breaths and I didn’t get a pilgrim vibe from it. Call me choosy but I do appreciate owners who have a feeling what we pilgrims have undertaken.

The night was capped off by an epic thunderstorm, I mean epic! A band of clouds came in from the west and covered the albergue. The winds picked up and rain bucketed from the skies. I was so glad to be indoors. Water even started to breach through the ceiling of the albergue and I noticed a nice puddle gather right beside my bunk, So..it was an fairly busy day! I hoped to get some sleep tonight. I had come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t reach Burgos by the 15th. Plan B had kicked in at this point and I had hoped to finish up in Belorado. I was a little sad. I enjoyed Burgos last year and wanted to cap the trip off by visiting the cathedral. I would leave it to another time.

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