Olentzero – A Basque Christmas Tradition

Over the last number of years, I have let my understanding of the Spanish language subside, mainly due to not using it. So I decided I would give it one more shot and see where it took me. I recently attended a conversational Spanish class in a busy Dublin city centre. The profesora gave us the challenge of talking about how we usually celebrate Christmas and what traditions we have, and we would present this to the class. All well and good. 

Now I need to mention that the profesora has lived in the Basque region of Bilbao for quite some time before moving to Dublin so when it was her time to talk about how she and her family celebrate Christmas, my eyes lit up! There are so many differences to how the Irish celebrate the few days, however, everything is centred around the family. Which is the right way, I suppose.

One of the biggest surprises for me is the Basque tradition of Olentzero – 
the equivalent of Santa Claus in the Basque Country. Olentzero lives or lived (depending on what you believe) in the mountains, is a coal miner and descends to town to give presents to the children on Christmas Eve. He smokes a pipe, is normally dressed in traditional costumes and wears a Basque beret. If you are bad, it is believed that you receive a piece of coal from Olentzero. Better than a Playstation 4 so! 
In modern celebrations during the Christmas season, children dress in traditional peasant garb and parade through the streets with an adult-sized representation of Olentzero while singing humorous songs written in the mythical figure’s honor. It’s also a fairly common practice to hand out candy and treats to the costumed children, similar to the manner in which Halloween is celebrated. 

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May 2019: Walking in Medieval Pilgrims footsteps

I attended a talk given by Dr. Bernadette Cunningham last night at Lismullen Conference Centre, near Tara. It was such an appropriate place to hold the talk as the area is steeped in history..the hill of Tara, and not too far from Newgrange. The talk was on medieval pilgrimage from Ireland to Santiago de Compostela. Bernadette is due to have her book published shortly on the same subject, one that she has been researching since 2014.

 The book launch will be on December 6th in Kevin Street Library in Dublin and there is great excitement leading up to it. 

The book, along with the release of the Camino Voyage documentary in Irish cinemas today, highlights the evidence of how Irish pilgrims made their way to Santiago during the 14th and 15th centuries. I guess we will know more when the book comes out. 

I will be attending the cinema release of the Camino Voyage this evening (my third viewing). It’s been great watching it grow to what it is now. In 2019, it is hoped that it will be released on DVD worldwide.

And back to my plans and the Camino. I have booked flights for the 7th of May to Santiago de Compostela. I travel with my brother, not on a merchant ship but on Aer Lingus economy class. I then travel to Ferrol and walk for a few days to Betanzos. From there, we will catch a bus to A Coruna and walk to Santiago. If there is time, we will walk to the coast and watch the sunset at Finisterre. It will be magic!

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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A New Camino, and a return to Galicia

I thoroughly enjoyed my ramble through Navarra and La Rioja in September. The weather was fine, many people were met but the days spent there trickled away all too quickly. I hope to keep in touch with my new found friends electronically, and maybe we will meet in the months and years to come. On arriving in Burgos, I sat in the municipal albergue and had a few moments to myself. I thought about the next one, the next footstep to Santiago, or even if there was to be one!

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The majority of my Caminos since 2011 have been on the French Way, and I don’t see that changing as my main Camino in the near future. My feet are safe there. I will dip in and out and walk a week here and there. I’ve grown to like the people of La Rioja and Castilla y Leon and made friends in Burgos and Belorado. I get great joy from meeting people, staying in different villages, wandering through the meseta especially. But I have unfinished business.

On the 18th of June 2017, I walked from Bray to St. James Church (32km), the first part of the Celtic Camino and on the 19th of May this year,  I walked St Kevin’s way to Glendalough. So I have a Celtic Camino Compostela for the short distance walked in Ireland. The next stage is to walk the remainder (75km) to Santiago from A Coruña – hopefully, May 2019. This should take 3-4 days. This is a little too short for my liking so I will extend it by walking to Finisterre, another 3-4 days.

I hope I can bring my brother with me. It would mean a lot if he is available for the trip. He has the Celtic Camino Compostela also, having walked from Bray to St. James Church on two occasions.

For more information about the Celtic Camino and the Camino Ingles in general, check out the below links:

Information on the Celtic Camino on Camino Society Ireland
Guidebook to the Celtic Camino
Camino Ingles on Eroski

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Breogán and the Tower of Hercules / Source: Wikipedia

With a little Help from my Friends…

Hello friends and happy weekend.

It has been a busy time since I returned from Burgos. I see little daytime and I return home from the office with another day to look forward to. If only things were as simple as they are on the Camino. Every step made is one less to your destination, but it’s the journey that matters more.

I hope to travel to Spain more than once next year so I really want to push ahead and take that extra step with my writing. Some have said that I should write a book based on my many Caminos but the confidence (and the contacts) isn’t there yet. In the future, I may take up the offer. For the time being, however,  I want to increase my followers and viewers here. My viewing figures for my last number of posts have been so low that it is really discouraging. I do like to write but not for 20 people.

So, friends, if you do like my posts, please like and share them. I am in the process of publishing the quarterly newsletter for the Camino Society of Ireland, which should be ready to view shortly. I would ask you to read those stories too.  I will post that link when it is ready.

Buen Camino a todos / todas!

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A pilgrim friend walking through La Rioja

 

Camino Frances 2018 – A 2nd day in Burgos, Burgos Cathedral and Home

September 20th & 21st, 2018 – Day 9 & 10
Burgos

It was an early morning. Truth be told I should have stayed in a private room and got a few hours more sleep. The albergue wanted everyone to leave before 8am. Poor me! So I got up, packed and had breakfast in the cafe across from the albergue. I was delighted to be joined by Jim who decided to take a day’s rest. He was having some foot problems and wanted to rest before tackling the meseta. I also met 2 Argentinian pilgrims – Marcos and Santiago. They had pretty good English but I encouraged them to speak Spanish to me so I can improve on that front.

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Jim, Marcos and Santiago, on no walking days

After breakfast, we all agreed to visit the Cathedral. Bringing your credential gets you a pilgrim rate, so that’s handy. Even though I’ve been in the Cathedral twice before, I am blown away by the work. It is always full with tourists so early morning is a good time. You get an audio tour too. The following image was posted on Instagram and has been shared by the Spanish tourist board.

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The rear of Burgos Cathedral

And some photos of the interior of the Cathedral…

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Afterward, I checked in to a Hostal that I had booked before arriving in Burgos. I left my bag there and walked back to the cafe outside the albergue. Jim was there and there was already a healthy queue forming with pilgrims for the albergue. The beat goes on. It was good to see some people that I met along the Way and I lost touch. We shared stories over a drink and swapped contact details.

Later that evening, I visited a friend who lives in Burgos and afterward I went back to the hostal to pack for the bus to Bilbao. My Camino was closing to an end but the many people I had met had weeks to go yet, I hoped to follow them to Santiago.

Until next year.

Camino Frances 2018 – Atapuerca to Burgos

September 19th, 2018 – Day 8
Atapuerca to Burgos, 18km

Another early morning. Most of the albergue was awake having their breakfast in some shape or form. Bruno, Jim, Karsten, Ben and Blanka were all eager to reach Burgos. But it was quite a cold morning. Fog had descended during the night and there was danger it would still be in the hills if we left too early. We had the stars to guide us so. Jim decided to hold back and walk with Ben so I walked on with Karsten, Bruno and Blanka. We would meet in Burgos, however.

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Leaving Atapauerca, we had a short climb ahead of us to get to the Matagrande. Onwards I went passing Villafria with no bar open for breakfast. The road was quiet and there was almost an eerie sense with the low fog and the stars out. We stopped for a bit when we reached the Sierra de Atapuerca and looked back at the climb we achieved. The sun was peeking over the horizon but it wasn’t ready to make an appearance just yet.

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There was plenty of chat among us and I was happy to learn that a friend of Bruno’s family had entered and contested the Rose of Tralee. So he was Irish in my books. I had his novel in my backpack and I was looking forward to diving into it headfirst once I returned home. We stopped at Cardenuela Riopico for some breakfast, however, Blanka decided her foot would feel better if she walked on and did not stop. We would meet again in Burgos. I witnessed my final sunrise on this Camino – it was magical, while having a croissant and cafe con leche. After a while, the 3 amigos, Bruno, Karsten and myself walked on to Burgos. The sun was up but there was still a chill in the air.

We still had a good 2 hours yet before we reached the albergue. There was much talk about an alternative route, to avoid the slog through the industrial area into Burgos. The alternative meant following the River Pico into the city – it is somewhat more scenic. This diversion is laid out on a sign at the side of the road and it gives pilgrims directions into Burgos. Most guidebooks would have this alternative listed.

We were in Burgos by midday and at the albergue shortly after. The albergue is close by the gothic cathedral standing tall in the main square. There is already a queue as we arrive and we sit in the cafe to wait. There is no hurry. This albergue has many beds! Soon, I see Jim and Ben and Blanka and I meet new faces. I decide to visit the Cathedral the following day as I have a day spare. All I have to do now is check-in and find somewhere to eat!

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Shortly, I saw Doug again. It’s amazing how the big cities bring everyone together again. Later that evening, Karsten, Doug and I went for a meal in Burgos. It was pretty filling. We went back to the cafe outside the albergue and chatted to our fellow pilgrims. It was sad not to be walking with them. But some would be taking a rest day so I would enjoy their company the following day before I travelled to Bilbao.