Looking forward..

Another weekend.

Another few days to catch up on sleep, but it’s not so bad. I’m just home from a very successful Spanish morning organised by Camino Society Ireland. I’ve left my knowledge of the Spanish language fall by the wayside a number of years ago. I have become fearful of making mistakes and to be honest, making mistakes is all part of learning any language. However, since the opportunity arose to dust down my skills and possibly improve them, I grabbed it with both hands.

I need to be taught in Spanish and that is exactly what our “profesora excelente” is doing. Hopefully, I will have less of the fear and more of the patience, to be speaking it before the lessons end. Who knows?

Next May is Camino #8, but who’s counting? Next I travel to Vigo and start walking a little further down in A Guarda on the Portuguese Coastal route. I should be in Santiago within 8-9 days as we are taking our time. I say “we”, as I am walking with my brother. I wonder if I will have the patience, and whether I will walk into Santiago with him. Keep an eye on this blog to find out, folks. He bought his backpack, a Lowe Alpine 35litre, and a few other essentials in the last few weeks, and our walks start soon. We are both constantly looking forward to the start date on May 6th and me being the “Camino expert” is being asked many a question. The real test will be taking the packs out for 2 consecutive days.

I walk into Santiago for the first time since June 2011. I’m not sure how to feel about this, and am hoping we get time to walk to the Coast. The Camino has been calling me big time since I returned from Astorga in September. I am getting more involved with the local Camino Society..and I enjoy it. For any other reason, I would be filled with trepidation.

I must return to my weekend now. More news later.

Camino Francés 2017 – So Where Did I Stay?

I stayed in mostly albergues, but there was the odd hostal I booked before leaving Dublin. Some I enjoyed, some I didn’t.

Burgos – Hostal Evolución
I booked a single room here shortly before leaving home as I would be arriving late in Burgos. Hostal Evolución is central, it is clean however given the choice, I would stay in the main albergue in Calle Fernan Gonzalez. It’s a pilgrimage, after all.

Hontanas – Albergue El Puntido
There was never any doubt that I would stay in Hontanas after my first day’s walking. It’s a beautiful town. I’ve been here before twice preferring to stay in the municipal albergue at the end of the town. I preferred a change this time. Not only is El Puntido an albergue, but it boasts a restaurant, a bar and a tiny tienda at the back. Hontanas is not short of places to stay but El Puntido must be one of the better albergues on the Camino.

Boadilla del Camino – Albergue En El Camino
I can’t speak highly enough about En El Camino. Eduardo and his family will always be in my heart. I’ve been here three times and if you haven’t stopped off in En El Camino, I’d encourage you to do so. The pool is one of the many reasons I stay here!

Carrión de los Condes – Albergue Parroquial Santa Maria del Camino
When I arrived in Carrión de los Condes, I text a friend and she asked me “Is that the one with the singing nuns?”. Well, yes is the answer to that question but on the day I arrived, the nuns were on sabbatical leave. In their place were volunteers who made us all feel at home. I won’t say anymore, but if you do wish to stay in Carrión de los Condes, make sure you stop by Albergue Santa Maria. Staying there is an experience you won’t forget.

Terradillos de los Templarios – Hostel Los Templarios
I stayed in this albergue simply because I enjoyed my stay in 2013. Hostel Los Templarios is ultra-modern with a great restaurant. The perimeter fencing is like nothing you see on the Camino, however.

El Burgo Ranero – Albergue de peregrinos Domenico Laffi
Domenico Laffi is a donativo albergue. Myself and June arrived before midday after walking 30km. While it does not open it’s doors until 1pm, the volunteers decided to open at 12. I don’t go out of my way to stay in donativo albergues, preferring private ones instead, but the volunteers were super and more. It is pretty popular also, filling up quickly.

Arcahueja – Albergue La Torre
Calling Arcahueja a town is a stretch..maybe a village, as it contains nothing but a church, a shop, a playground and Albergue La Torre. It is 7km from Leon and if I had the energy, I would have walked on. That said, the owners here were very welcoming and the facilities are modern. I had a great night with new pilgrims friends with maybe a few too many drinks.

León – Hostal Madriguera
Booked before I left Dublin, Madriguera is an ultra-modern hostel 5 mins from the Cathedral. It is super modern and very pilgrim friendly. There are bunks as well as private rooms. There is a well equipped kitchen and a tv room to just chill, but there is enough to León to keep you occupied. If you are looking to stay out past the curfew in albergues, I would recommend here.

Villavante – Albergue Santa Lucía
If you walk the alternative route after Leon, Villavante is the next town after Vilar de Mazarife. I’ve been here before, in 2015, and loved it, so I decided to stop off again. Make sure you say hello to Coco, it’s mascot parrot.

Santibáñez de Valdeiglesias – Albergue Camino Francés
12 km from Astorga, Albergue Camino Francés is in a tiny village. It is attached to a bar and it seems to be run by a family. They were constantly run off their feet but very friendly at the same time. Prices were pretty good, but if you are looking for extra special service, this might not be for you. I was quite happy to stay there however.

Astorga – Albergue de peregrinos Siervas de María
One of the better albergues on the Camino, it has good facilities, it is clean, and you receive super treatment by the volunteers. You don’t have many crammed in a room. I love the terrace over looking Astorga, where you can eat and chill.

Santiago de Compostela – Hospedería San Martín Pinario
I have always stayed here when in Santiago, but if you wish to do the same, make sure you book in advance. A renovated building, which belonged to the cathedral, it is now a hotel. Rooms generally cost €50, however, the 4th floor provides pilgrim accommodation for €23 bed and breakfast. Be sure to e-mail reservas@sanmartinpinario.eu asking for a pilgrim room. You can find cheaper accommodation in Santiago, but none are as close to the Cathedral as this one.

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 8 – León to Villavante

Camino 2017 – Day 8 – León to Villavante – September 12th
One last long day..and walking by myself again.

I had a good sleep in Hostal Madriguera. It’s somewhere I recommend if you want a good rest, and I did. The owner, Alba, who has walked the Camino, is very helpful and the hostel is situated pretty close to the main square. Give it a look-up. However, that said, I should have stopped by the albergue. The previous day would be the last time I would see the majority of those I had met. I would walk alone the next day. But that’s not a bad thing sometimes. I know most of whom I had met were aiming for Hospital de Orbigo, a 30+km day. If I could manage it, well and good – I would see my pilgrim buddies again. If not, so be it. There were plenty of pilgrims on the trail…even in mid-September.

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In 2015, I stayed in Albergue Santa Lucia in Villavante and fell in love with it. The hospitality, the owner going out of her way for you, but I need to mention Coco the parrot! She would put a smile on your face if she squawked while you washed your dirty clothes. I remember not being allowed to take photos so that was a little disappointing. So..I would aim for Orbigo but if all else fails, Villavante was there to welcome me. This means taking the less travelled alternative route on leaving León. You have two options: walk along the road passing through small towns en route to Orbigo, or walk on a meseta-type trail through two towns. This was my meseta-Camino, so I’d do what I could to draw it out. Not many walk the alternative route, but I encourage it. It’s quiet, there is a town to stop after 21km – Vilar de Mazarife with it’s 3 albergues and if you feel up to it, there is Villavante after 30km. I felt up to it today. Being alone, I wanted to record some video, and I did (below)

I left León after 5.30am. The darkness engulfed the city, just the way I like it. I stood in front of the cathedral saying my goodbyes knowing that it would be some time before I saw it again. I walked on..alone. It was cold this morning and predictions of rain abounded, but it was dry for the time being. I felt good but thoughts of an ending Camino weren’t too far away. It would be 2 further days before I arrived in Astorga, only hop-skip and jump down the road. I was going to stretch these two final days out – records will be broken. But first, one last long day.

There is nothing interesting to see as you leave León however you climb for a bit and reach a number of bodegas at Trobajo del Camino. Make sure you turn back here and watch the sun rise over the city behind you. I said my goodbyes and moved on into the new morning. The locals were waking up and going to work, I wished each a Buenos Días as I passed. There was no music today, just me and my thoughts. Thinking – it can be bad, but it can be good. Too much of it is a bad thing – I’d argue against that if you are on the Camino. Promises can be made and there were a few promises I made to myself since I left Burgos. I won’t go into them now. I reached Virgen del Camino and stopped for a breakfast coffee and tostado – a regular occurrence at this stage. The cafe was just opening and I chatted in broken Spanish to the owner. A few metres down the main road is the church – Santuario De La Virgen Del Camino. I spent a few minutes here to enjoy its design before I crossed the road and found the start of the alternative route.

It was still dark by 7am. My phone’s torch was brought to the rescue as I worked out where was where. Once I saw an arrow I was where I needed to be. I made my way across a main road and I was on meseta-like trail again. Perfect walking ground. I seemed to pass Chozas de Abajo and Oncina in no time. I arrived at Vilar de Mazarife at 9.30am. There was nothing open, as I expected. I didn’t seem to mind. I took off my pack and found a seat to lie back on. Fruit, a yoghurt and a drink – heaven! Simple pleasures. I had two choices – stay here for an hour or so until the albergue opened or walk 8km to Villavante. The answer was plain to me. Villavante it was.

The 8km walk was slow but not arduous. There was a deliberate lack of pace. I mean, I could aim for Orbigo, but what’s the point? It would make my next two days even more difficult 🙂 I kept looking behind me for pilgrims, but I didn’t see one. This is a great alternative to the busy road after Virgen del Camino. I enjoyed it. Many wouldn’t. I arrived at Villavante at 11am. I took a bottom bunk beside the window and waited for company. It wasn’t long before I was joined by Ian, from New Zealand. He was closely followed by two girls from the US and South Africa. We had dinner at 7pm and a drink after. The parrot got the last laugh however as my request for a photograph was again denied. Hmmph!

I had no idea what I would do the following day. Orbigo maybe? 5km? Records will again be broken.

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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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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 6 – El Burgo Ranero to Arcahueja

Camino 2017 – Day 6 – El Burgo Ranero to Arcahueja – September 10th
A long straight walk, another goodbye and a meeting of new friends…

Another day on the meseta, although we were nearing the end. Many of our fellow pilgrims were talking of walking a big walk today to reach Leon. Many whom I had met had walked longer days previously. From then on in, the terrain gets a little more varied. For me however, I was coming to the end of my Camino for this year and wanted to make the most of my time until I reached Astorga, my end point.

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It was an early morning and before leaving the albergue in El Burgo Ranero, June had made some lunch to keep us going for the day ahead. You genuinely meet good people on the Camino. June was one of them. To start the day, we had a 12 km walk to the next town, Reliegos, but we were in good spirits and we talked about what we would do on reaching Leon. That said, I didn’t think I would make it that far but chose to keep that to myself. 39km is a little too much for one day and I was in no rush. June on the other hand was eager to reach Santiago in 10 days. We were different in some ways. The walk out of El Burgo is long and straight and there is no much to inspire you. We chose to walk on the road rather than on the uneven senda, however the odd car would pass at speed. We were careful however deciding to use our torches on our phones to make the drivers aware of our existence. Within 2 and a half hours we had reached Reliegos, a small town close to Leon. I had stayed here in 2015 but there is not much to write home about, however Bar Elvis is still here. It was closed as we passed, choosing to stop for a few moments to take a photo. I told June about his quirkiness and his liking of Elvis music. A quirky man for a quirky town. A lot of pilgrims tend to walk on by here and aim for the much larger Mansilla de las Mulas. And we did too.

It was getting brighter and I felt good. The sun had made its daily appearance and I felt it on my head, having lost my cap a few days ago. I also lost my buff the previous day. I still had my wooden pole however, but I had lost the metal tip at the base of the pole. I grew to like its company over the days, no matter how battered it was. It is the small things that give you joy on the Camino. Another 6 km to Mansilla de las Mulas and you could sense that you were leaving the meseta…a motorway, more junctions, cars, industrial estates, it was busier. We stopped off at the first albergue in Mansilla for some breakfast..”El Jardin”. June wanted to buy me cafe. We had our sandwiches that she had made and just took in the morning. Mansilla was quiet. The albergue were opening up and we were met by many cyclists taking a pitstop.

The statue of the weary pilgrims is across the street before you enter the town of Mansilla. It is well known to those who have walked the Camino and depicts three tired pilgrims having clearly walked more than they can manage. We rested for a while and took a few photos. Walking through a lane brings you into the town. It is large and there were many locals wearing t shirts with the town’s name across it. There were also streamers hanging from buildings as if there was a fiesta due. I later learned that that evening there was a fiesta that continued to the early hours of the next day! Leaving the town, you can see signs of Mansilla’s Roman history. It was a walled town and the majority of the wall is still there. Keep an eye out for it as you pass through.

I told June that I wouldn’t be able to walk to Leon and would stay in either of the next two towns – Villarente or Arcahueja. Both are tiny, blink-and-you-will-miss-them, towns. June was determined to reach Leon and I knew she would make it, she is such a strong walker. My memory didn’t serve me well as I knew little about these two towns, but from my 2015 Camino, I passed an albergue in Arcahueja, a tiny town 8 kms from Leon. I decided to aim for here. I had no idea now good / bad / indifferent it was – I didn’t care. But we had another 5 kms to go before arriving there. Villarente was busy. I told June of the unfortunate death on the main road and the decision to re-route the Camino around the town as a result. The Camino enters a wood for a km or so before you are brought back on the main road. We stopped at Albergue Delfin for a cold drink and a rest before veering off the main road and aiming for Arcahueja. I arrived at Albergue La Torre at 1pm. I had walked 30km and I needed to rest. The sun had made it a harder day than usual.

It would be the last day that I walked with June. I chose not to say goodbye to her as she would be taking a rest day in Leon. We promised to meet up the following day and I wished her well for her remaining 8 km. Albergue La Torre didn’t look eye-catching and usually I would walk by a town like this. Arriving outside, the owners were busy serving lunch and said the rooms are being cleaned. I had no problem waiting. I had another drink and at 2pm, I was invited in. It’s a smashing little albergue and I was pleasantly surprised and how I was treated. Dinner was at 7pm so I had some lunch and before long I was greeted by Aga from Poland and the 2 Australian women. I had company. I also met Robert from Germany and Rosa from Mexico. Robert was suffering in a bad way with tendonitis and wasn’t walking a great deal each day. Slow and steady wins the race however. We all had a few drinks outside in the terrace sharing stories under the sun and waited for dinner.

It was a great night and we looked forward to the 8km walk into Leon the following morning.

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New – Camino Society Ireland Photo Contest

Today, Camino Society Ireland launched its inaugural Photo Contest. It is open to all people who have walked the Camino, including the Celtic Camino. Those of you who read my blog would have taken many a photo while on Camino so now is your chance to submit a photo or two if you feel they are worthy.

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There are a number of criteria that the picture must meet before you enter. There are 5 categories to choose from before entering 1) Landscape / sights 2) Traditional Food and Drinks 3) Camino marking 4) Culture and 5) Buildings & Architecture and each entry will be judged by 3 highly respected photographers from Dublin.

Winners will have their entries held on display in an exhibition and there are a number of prizes to be awarded for each category.

The great thing about this is pilgrims from outside of Ireland can enter so why not root through your Camino photo collection and consider entering.

Keep an eye on Camino Society Ireland on instagram for further information. Full terms and conditions and how you can enter can be found at www.caminosociety.com/photo-contest.

Thoughts on 2018….and a departure.

Heh…I haven’t laid a step on the Camino this year but I’ve already been quietly putting plans together for 2018. It’s constantly on my mind.

Three things are for certain, one other, not so much.

I move into my new humble abode “Casa Herrero” on returning from my meseta Camino in mid-September. With the added responsibility of bills, mortgage etc, from living there, I can’t see walking for more than a week being the right thing to do. I have spent quite a bit on decoration and refurbishment there, so a 2-3 week Camino is not viable. I “could” do it, but it would be far far from wise. So a short few days, no more than a week, is on the cards. Also, after hearing so much about the excellent new Celtic Camino, walking from A Coruna is ideal. So that’s the number one certainty.

Another certainty is I won’t be alone. My brother has been talking about walking a few days on the Camino with me and I’ve been putting him off for quite a while. I suppose because I like to walk alone. But he is persistent 🙂 and rather than introducing him to the Camino at Sarria, starting in A Coruna fits the bill. Short and sweet, and I just know he would be put off from returning if he was to walk from Sarria. He has been gathering all the gear slowly and walks quite a bit…nearly as much as me! Now I wonder if he will carry his pack..hmm…even if he prefers not to, jacotrans is there.

I would love to see the coast again..so I haven’t decided if I will spend a few extra days and walk to Muxia. I need to run that question by my brother also.

Another certainty is, after my meseta Camino in September, I will say goodbye to the Camino Frances for the unforeseen. There is so much of Spain I haven’t seen and so many routes left unwalked. Now is the time to gather information about them. The Celtic Camino is a great start and I will gain my first compostela since 2011, however this one will mean much more! The Camino Frances is a beautiful trail and I have great love for it but it no longer offers surprises, I know what is around each corner.

So I suppose that is 2018…more thoughts later.

Buen Camino amigos y amigas!