2018

As 2017 draws to a close, it’s only natural to think of the future. 2017 has been good but it’s a year I’d like to park to one side. 2018 has so much potential as it will be a year of firsts for me. As I have recently posted, I have bought a new apartment and will be moving in shortly. All renovations have been carried out and it’s just a matter of gathering up my stuff and moving it. Not an easy task.

2018

I am also due to walk the Camino Portuguese Coastal Route from A Guarda. An 8 day 159 km wander to Santiago will result in my first Compostela since 2011. I walk with my brother and this will be the first time I travel with another person to the Camino. I have no idea how it will turn out but if he gets bored of my very being-there, he can stroll ahead with some new found peregrino friends. That’s the beauty of the Camino. There are no rules. You just walk….

However, I somehow felt that I had another Camino in me for 2018. A short 150 kms isn’t enough. So I will go back in September and walk from A Coruna to complete the Celtic Camino. A short 4 day 75 km trek to Santiago will provide me with a second Compostela for the year. But it’s not about Compostelas at the end of the day. It’s about the meeting of lifelong friends and the sharing of stories, it’s about getting away from the stresses and strains of daily life and away to simplicity, and it’s about Spanish culture and meeting locals. I cherish that.

I will return in 2019 also, unless I am physically unable to go. I want to walk a longer route, possibly 3-4 weeks of walking. But I will see how 2018 plays out. Buen Camino!

Towns Along the Way – Navarra #2

We continue on our journey…

Uterga (map) – 710 kms to Santiago.

utergaUterga is the first town you arrive at after descending the Alto de Perdón. The descent can be perilous at times, especially during bad weather. I remember walking into the village in September 2014 and initially spotting its large town hall. It must be the tidiest village I have seen. It is home to 2 albergues and a hostal (Gronze). Albergue Camino del Perdón is perfect for a stop off after the tough climb and descent. However, many choose to walk on to Puente la Reina, another fine town.

 

Villatuerta (map) – 685 kms to Santiago

Villatuerta is a town of just under 1000 residents located 4 km outside of Estella. Although probably of Roman origin, the greatest development of Villatuerta occurred in medieval times and, as a consequence of the Camino de Santiago. Since then it has retained its Romanesque bridge over the river Iranzu, the river that that divides the town into two neighbourhoods. The parish church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, also of Roman origin, it had to be rebuilt in the 15th century. There is the one albergue here, Casa Magica (Gronze), which is well recommended.

Villamayor de Monjardín (map) – 653 kms to Santiago

VillamayorDMonjardinIn 2014 I encountered this village in Navarra. I had stayed just outside of Estella the previous night and had left early that morning. Unfortunately, there were no cafes open in Villamayor when I passed so I had to make do with the wine I picked up in Irache earlier. I wasn’t complaining :). Villamayor de Monjardín is a small town located at the foot of the Castle of San Esteban of Deyo. The fortress walls are well conserved. The main site visited is the Romanesque church of San Andrés, from the 12th century. You should have no problem finding somewhere to stay here (Gronze).

Torres del Río (map) – 636 kms to Santiago

TorresdelRio

Torres del Rio is one of the final towns you will pass before entering La Rioja. This small village, located at the side of a hill, hosts of one of the most characteristic monuments of Romanesque architecture in Navarre, an octagonal church of the Santo Sepulcro. I was unlucky not to witness the inside of this church as it was closed the day I passed through Torres del Río. There are three albergues here (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in Casa Mariela. The following clip shows you the church of the Santo Sepulcro.

 

Viana (map) – 625 kms to Santiago

Viana is a town that will surprise pilgrims for its rich architecture, wine cellars and, above all, for its extensive history. The last town in Navarre is situated just seven kilometres from Logroño. It has a fortified square, surrounded by a medieval wall, which served as a defensive stronghold during the Middle Ages against the ancient Kingdom of Castile. Its narrow streets, many monuments, and the majestic church of Santa Maria are highlights. The importance of the Camino on the evolution of Viana is evident by the six refuges for pilgrims, of which several traces still remain. Viana often hosts fiestas and is known to have a ‘running of the bulls’.

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Outside the Iglesia de Santa Maria in Viana

Leaving Viana brings us to Logrono and the new province of La Rioja…

 

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 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.

DaySix

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 3 – Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes

Camino 2017 – Day 3 – Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes – September 7th
A gentle breeze, a long senda and a blessing at night.

An amazing sleep was disturbed at 5pm by the zipping of sleeping bags. Another day on the Camino had started. I gathered up my things and headed for the bathroom. Breakfast was at 7am but I chose not to wait. I had some fruit and yoghurt from Day 1 left over. I looked out the door – darkness. I was not first on the trail this morning however. An Italian couple were up and ready and out by 5.30. I took it a little easier and started at 6am. It was still dark but I was used to it by this stage.

DayTwo

DayThree

Leaving Boadilla, I walked along the Canal de Castilla until Frómista, another 6km westward. It was an easy stroll, however my foot was still paining me after the previous day’s discovery of blister no. 1. My headlamp had failed me so I was using my phone to guide me while I waited for the sun to rise. All was quiet. I could hear small animals move in the reeds along the canal. My attention was then turned to the sky. It was clear. Not a cloud could be seen and the moon illuminated the sky. Ah..if only we could see the sky like this back in Dublin.

Frómista was within sight after an hour and I felt peckish. I stopped by Bar El Manchego and ordered a café con leche and a tostada con queso – my customary desayuno these days. It got cold as I was eating and I was eager to get moving again. Frómista is a large town but it is not one I have stayed in before. Boadilla has won my heart. When I had finished, I wished the bar owner a healthy Buenos Dias and gathered my hat and pole. Adelante!

It wasn’t long until I reached the main highway and crossroads. I became a little lost at this point, mainly due to the lack of light however once I saw the cut out statue on the overpass, I was sure of the right way. The sun was peaking over the horizon and it became brighter. I reached Poblacion del Camino and it was sleeping while I walked through. It was then that I met my old foe – the P-980 and the Senda del Peregrino. For the next 18kms, I would be walking along the side of a busy road. Hardly ideal, but you take the good with the bad. On the whole, the road was quiet but every so often, a large truck or lorry would speed by disturbing my train of thought. Peaceful, it wasn’t. I had the option of taking a diversion through Villovieco to Villalcazar de Sirga but this made the day longer. The road would be my companion for the day. I had not met any other pilgrims. no matter how slow I walked. My Buen Caminos were given to cyclists as they sped past. I had not decided where I was to stop this evening – Villalcazar de Sirga with it’s large church or the pilgrim town of Carrion de los Condes. Stopping at Villalcazar meant I had walked 19km while ending in Carrion made it a 26km day. My feet felt good and it was only 10.30. So I decided to leave the decision to Villalcazar and a cold glass of Coke, con hielo of course.

Arriving in Villalcazar brought back some good memories. I had stayed here in 2015 with some good people. I was really tempted to stop here so I had a drink and a think but ultimately decided it was too early.  I stopped by the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca but it was closed. Onwards to Carrión de los Condes so.

I had 6kms more along the road before I reached the largest town on the Camino since Burgos. Carrion de los Condes has 3 large albergues – all run by religious orders. There are many pensions and hotels here as well. The Church of Santa Maria in Carrion could be seen from 3km outside the town. The albergue I was aiming for is conjoined to it and is normally run by nuns. However, the Albergue de Santa Maria’s nuns were on leave for the first 2 weeks of September and were replaced by volunteers. It was not open until midday and I arrived to a queue of backpacks at 11.30. I tried to sit down but it was futile. I wasn’t in pain, I just needed to stretch first. A group of Brazilians headed the queue, speaking Portuguese much to my dismay. Next in line was a Galician, who had worked for a number of Irish firms in Cork. He just didn’t know English. And after him was a pale sore Irishman – me. I was joined then by June from San Diego who offered me an apple that she bought in the local market. I would get to become friends with her over the next few days.

I knew others who arrived later – the German sister and brother, 2 friends from the US and a large Korean contingent. When checking in, the hospitalero told us that at 7pm we were invited to sing, at 8pm, we were invited to mass next door and finally at 9pm, there would be a community meal. We were asked to go to the supermarket and buy what we wished. The volunteers would then make a meal with what was provided. It was strange, but I was looking forward to it. I loved it here from the off.

While looking for an ATM machine, I met Jo-Jo again and asked how she was getting on. I saw one of the Swedish girls also who was staying in another albergue. She told me that her friend had caught a bus to Leon and was going home. It would be the last time I saw them. I remember fondly the fun we had in Boadilla. I went to the local Dia supermercado and bought a few odds and ends – anything nutritious for dinner. I then bought some lunch as I was in no mood to wait until 9pm for dinner! Back in the albergue, I managed to catch some rest and tend to my feet. I also saw Adam from my first day who arrived to a full albergue. He was granted a mattress on a floor. A lucky man, as the next town is 17km away.

7pm arrived and about 20 pilgrims gathered tentatively in the courtyard. One of the volunteers had a guitar while others had bongos and shakers. Handouts were given to each pilgrim with spanish and english lyrics of well known songs. The first song was sung and we were urged to clap to the chorus (below). We were then asked one by one to introduce ourselves and say why we are walking the Camino. Now..bear in mind that those of us sitting here spoke English, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, German. You can imagine how long it took to translate! 🙂 It was a fun get together however and we got to know each other a little more. I got talking to Patricia from the US afterward. She had met an Irish man who wrote a Camino song to the tune of Molly Malone. At the time of talking to her, he had sung it in Orisson and Roncesvalles. I await for Patricia to complete her Camino when she will send me video of him singing it.

We attended mass shortly after, spoken in Spanish. My second mass of this Camino. At the end of the mass, the priest called all pilgrims to the altar, which is standard. He proceeded to ask if anyone was from Spain? from Italy? from USA? and so on. When I heard, “¿Hay alguien de Irlanda?”, my arm raised up slowly and I looked around to see if there were others. Unfortunately not. Adam, from the UK, was the nearest to my home. We all got a blessing and were given a small paper star given to symbolise our time in this albergue. I will cherish it. It was a pretty special few moments and I’ll make sure to visit this albergue next time. After mass, we attended dinner in the courtyard. I was taken aback by how much food was bought by those staying in the albergue. Pasta, meats, fish, tuna, fruits, wine, ice cream – it all made a filling meal.

It was 10pm and late for us pilgrims, I gathered my things and thought about the next day. June had asked me earlier if we could walk together. I said sure! She had no one place in mind but I was hoping to reach either Ledigos or Terradillos de los Templarios, which has very little evidence of the Templars left. A 24km or 27km day so. Today was a special day, I wonder if tomorrow would be the same.

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