Travels - Links to each trip

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Camino Day 7 - Viana to Ventosa

Same routine as usual, up at 6:00 after a noisy night with the French snorers! We hope we won't meet them again. We had ordered breakfast the night before and so far it always been excellent. When we got downstairs we found coffee that had been made the night before, dirty and clean plates on the table, a packet of toast bread next to a toaster and a jug of milk. No one to clear the plates or make fresh coffee and we ate almost the last toast so very disappointing.
It was pouring with rain and we debated whether to set out or wait since we had planned only 23 km (14 miles) for today, but it did not look like stopping soon so we set out. My back felt better and I took my backpack with me and my new poncho.
The trail went out of Viana and down to one of the main highways, fairly flat and on farm roads. Most were fine but there were some places where the tractors had churned up the mud where it was very messy.
We passed a sign saying that we had now left Navarra and were entering the province of La Rioja. This is the most famous wine growing region of Spain and if the wine is even better than the wine we have enjoyed in Navarra we are in for a treat.
On our way into the city we saw a storks nest up on a tower. It looked rather forlorn in the rain.
We pushed on in the rain through the vineyards until we got to the outskirts of Logroño. This is the only the second city we have encountered in a week of walking and it feels almost strange to be walking through a city with the people hurrying about their business. By now the rain had almost stopped and we could see that the hills around we're covered in fresh snow. The temperature was still in the 40's F at our level so must have been below freezing higher up.
We walked through some rather industrial areas on our way into the town. We passed the cathedral and stopped to look inside. I was feeling much better today but it was quiet in the church with a smell of incense which made me very much aware of the reason for this pilgrimage, thanks for all the blessings I have received over 70 years and asked for continued strength on our journey.
Outside the church there are inlaid pictures of various religious themes done in stone. Here a few samples.
We had been on the road for about 2 hours and ready for a coffee at the next café. It came soon and we had a coffee and a snack to keep us going. By the time we came out the rain had stopped and we were able to take off our rain gear.
We kept walking through the city finding the Camino signs most of the time but occasionally being put right by local people before we even realized we had missed a sign, just like in Pamplona. I suppose they have been doing it for over 1,000 years and we are immediately recognizable.
Some nice statues of pilgrims in a local square.
As we left the city we walked through a park area - a fuente - a drinking fountain. We find these everywhere in different designs and configurations. We have been told that they are safe to drink but I have not trusted it yet. I always start the day with enough water to last me for the day but it has to be carried and a full days supply on the hot days adds quite a lot of weight to carry. So far I have only run out once but most of the days have been cool. Our backpacks on the bench behind
As we continued on the trail alongside the freeway people had made crosses and attached them to the fence next to a wood processing factory.
We passed a vineyard with this pile of no not potatoes but stones in a corner! As I looked closer I saw that the soil was full of round stones like these. I am not a geologist and I would be interested to know how they are formed - glaciers during an ice age or water perhaps?
Our goal for the day was a town called Navarette to make a total for the day of 23 km (14 miles). On our way in to the town we passed the ruins of an old pilgrim hospital named "St Joan of Arc".
The town is built on the side of a hill and surrounded by vineyards.
We climbed up to the top of the town looking for an Albergue for the night. It was still only 12:30 and the Albergue did not open until 2:00pm. Next door was a café and they offered omelette and similar food which caught our appetites. It is the first time that we have actually had more than a sandwich for lunch and we enjoyed it. As we discussed our plans we agreed to go further today. We all felt fit and the next Albergue was in about 11 km (7 miles) so I made a phone call to make sure we could spend the night there since it was then too far to go to the one after that if they were full. The man who answered then phone only spoke French and Spanish so I had to dig deep for my French learned more than 50 years ago and he confirmed they would keep space for us.

This is one of the signs in the pavement showing the Camino trail. You follow the nose of the shell unless there is an arrow pointing the other way - all very obvious!
Off we went and after passing a graveyard with a very fancy entrance we left the town of Navarette and in about 2 hours were in Ventosa. We got to the Albergue just as they were starting to turn people away since they were full so it was good that I had called and reserved. At that moment the noisy snoring Frenchmen were just checking in and we were afraid that we would end up in the same room as them again, but fortunately we have a different room for tonight.
It is a nice Albergue with a friendly common room and heating so we will be comfortable even if the beds are close together without much space to put anything in between and no proper ladders to the upper bunks which we all have.
Since I wrote the above we have discovered that many of the " pilgrims" here are "tourist pilgrims" who have their luggage transported every day and take the bus from Albergue to Albergue. The Peregrinos dinner is usually a community meal, even if it is in a restaurant, at big tables all eating at the same time. Tonight it was at tables of two or four and many of the tourists showed up as late as 8:00 pm for the 6:30 meal! Also they were allocated all the lower bunks "on request" when it is first come basis for normal pilgrims. We hope we don't encounter this again!
Here is our room for tonight. 8 people and almost no room to put anything. The tourists have the lower bunks, we are all upper without a ladder!
The building from the back. We have the room upstairs with 2 windows
Dinner included a bottle of good Rioja wine. It was not really enough for the three of us so I asked how much a second bottle would cost. €4. In a restaurant? It must have come from the Fuente de Vino, but it was delicious.
Both Werner and Josef have bad colds from the weather and the unheated Albergues but the weather is supposed to improve over the next few days and we will stop at a pharmacy in Nájera tomorrow on our way through to get some medicine. It will be May 1 holiday but we were told one of the three would be open.
Today's total of 30 km brings us to 189 km total or 19 miles and a total of 123 miles, all on foot in the last 7 days. We think it is pretty good since much of it was in the Pyrenees. We are slightly ahead of our schedule so are very pleased with out progress so far.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Camino Day 6 - Vilamayor de Montjardin to Viana

Woke at 6:00, breakfast ready to leave at 7:15. I left my backpack outside the Albergue with an envelope attached with the delivery address and €7 inside. I hope I will see it again this afternoon! The pendulum trick from yesterday does not seem to have helped so I am glad I decided to do this.
A cold morning again, temperature in the low 40's F and a cold wind in our backs. We continued on the trail following the excellent signs which are at every intersection. We rarely have to walk on the road, and then only for short distances before we set off through fields and woods. The trail goes though many villages which are usually on the top of hills or down in the valley by a river or stream so a lot of up and down hill walking needed. We pass through vine yards where the vines are starting to show some new growth and past large fields of crops that look like wheat and barley. The blackberries in the hedges are in flower along with poppies and some yellow flowers. Heather or something similar and lilac is also out. Overall very pretty but it would be even better if it was not so cold.

Soon the sky starts to clear and the sun rises behind us. Just over the brow of the hill on the right we can see some mountains with snow on top but they are not on our trail today.
After about 2 hours we come to the town of Los Arcos and stop for a cup of coffee and a croissant. It is still early and not many people except pilgrims around.
Then back on the trail

We continued on up and down hills and into steep valleys coming to the village of Torres del Rio. We passed a restaurant and went for a beer since was about lunch time and we had been walking for more than 4 hours.
Then the last 13 km over more hills and valleys until we arrived at our destination for today in Viana at about 2:30 pm. We checked into an Albergue and decided to pay an extra €2 for beds in a room with only 8 people instead of a larger room. Less chance of snorers but no certainty of course!
I go and collect my luggage from another Albergue and am pleased to find that it has been delivered safely. Back at our Albergue we sit in the common room where there is wifi and catch up on email and my blog. However it is too cold there and we go to the bedroom where it is much warmer and we can use our sleeping bags if necessary
Josef and I walk into the town to try and find something to eat since we have not eaten since 9:30 this morning and it is now 4:00pm. It is Spain however and everything is closed until 6:00 but we find a small store selling candy etc. and I get some potato chips and he gets some chocolate. I also see there is a sports shop where I will try later to get better rain gear. When I took off my jacket after the rain in Pamplona a few days ago I found everything inside was wet. I can't handle that again. On the way we looked into the XIIIth century church where a children's choir was rehearsing.
It is so cold that we quickly go back to the Albergue and I work on completing blogs. It is not easy to remember what has happened since 3 days ago. It is also cold downstairs so up to the bedroom where we seem to have some heat.
At about 7:00 we go back into town (5mins walk) and I get a new poncho at the sports shop. It is raining now and heavy rain forecast for tomorrow so it will get a good test. We find a restaurant offering a peregrino meal which turns out to be excellent and for 3 courses and wine €9 each. Back to the hotel at about 8:30 and to bed where it is warm to finish email and blogs.
The 5 Frenchmen in our room have arrived back from dinner so I will stop for today. Tomorrow we plan about 23 km
If I have calculated it right we have covered 168Km or 104 miles. The first major milestone!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Camino Day 5 - Mañeru to Villamayor de Montjardin

Breakfast at the Albergue and on the way at 7:00. The three of us made good progress and passed through Estella at about 10:00. which had been our original destination for tomorrow. It is a pretty town on the river Ega and I took quite a lot of pictures which will make up much of today's blog. We stopped for a cup of coffee and bought a sandwich for lunch. The path had been up and down through vineyards and fields and very pretty, on generally well maintained gravel trails. No mud!
A pilgrim had not been so lucky with their shoes!
A roadside fountain
We are still in Basque Country
It was a nice day, but a cold wind from the north west
Soon after Estella we passed a Fuente del Vino - the wine fountain. Across the road from an old monastery is a fountain with 2 taps. One gives water and the other red wine. All free and available for the passers-by. The wine is supplied by the wine processing plant next to it. We were happy to sample it and fill a bottle we had with us for consumption later. It was excellent. Soon after we stopped in a monastery garden and ate our sandwiches. There was a cold wind and the sun was sometimes behind the clouds so it was not very comfortable.
We soon set out again as our goal for tonight is Villamayor de Montjardin. The last section of the trail was fairly steep climb and I really struggled with it. My back was very painful but I finally made it. There was confusion trying to get a bed at the first Albergue so we asked at a second one and it was no problem. It is run by a Dutch foundation. The people are very friendly and we felt very much at home here. We arrived at about 2:15 pm after 27km today.
After settling in and unpacking on our beds I went down to a little shop I had passed on the way up to get some shower soap. The man in there was English, from Dorset. We chatted for a while and he asked how I was. I told him my back was killing me and he said he could fix it! I told him to go ahead. He got a pendulum and made me sit in a chair while he swung the pendulum with one hand and felt down my back with the other. He told me I had two pinched nerves and that he would manipulate them and correct them. I lay down on the floor of the shop and he pushed in a couple of places and told me he had taken care of it but to go back and lay down on the bed for a couple of hours which I did. I don't know if it worked but I have arranged to have my backpack transported to the place we plan to spend tomorrow night by a delivery service. It costs €7 and will give my back a chance to recover.
We had a wonderful dinner at the Albergue, family style with about 25 people. Three courses and wine as usual. They started with grace and at the end invited us to a Christian mediation at 8:30. Very appropriate for pilgrims, I will be interested to hear it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Camino Day 4 - Cizur Menor to Mañeru

Slept ok but there was a competition during the night between a snorer in our room and dogs barking outside. I don't know which was worse! I woke up at 6:00 and we got on the road at about 6:30. Yesterday, an Austrian - Josef had asked if he might walk with us. Of course we said yes so the three of us set out together. He is from near Vienna and doing the Camino on his own.
On our map we had seen that fairly early in the day we would climb a hill about 1,000 Ft and then descend the other side. It was raining off and on but not too badly. We came to a village and hoped to find a place for coffee and breakfast but no luck so we kept going up the hill. Then we encountered mud - deep clinging mud that stuck to our shoes and trousers. It was steep and slippery. We kept on this for about an hour making slow progress up the hill. Our guide book had said that there would be loose stones that could be slippery going down but nothing about the ascent! Finally we reached the top where there were rows of windmills all turning in the wind. They actually made quite a loud humming noise when we got near them. There was also a sculpture representing pilgrims leaning into the wind. By now the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to come out. We were able to take off our rain gear and set off down the mountain. It was stony and a bit slippery but so much better than the mud that we were happy with it. The weather got better and better as we continued.
No pictures of the mud, it was all we could do to stay upright without trying to take a picture, but I got some of the view and the windmills.
We then came to a small village and found a sign to coffee at an Albergue. It was about 9:30 and we were more than ready for our breakfast since we already been walking for 3 hours with nothing to eat. It seemed closed but as we decided what to do some people came and opened it up. We went in and had a good breakfast while we dried out and rested after struggling with the mud. On the way down we had crossed a small stream running across the road and been able to clean our shoes somewhat.
By now the sun was out and the clouds were much less threatening as we set off again on our trail. We continued on to Puenta La Reyna which was our planned stop for the day after 13 miles and we arrived there at about 11:30.

It is a pretty town with a lot of old buildings and a famous Pilgrim Bridge commanded to be built by the wife of Sancho III to support the increasing number of pilgrims traveling through the town. We realized that it was only 12:00 and decided to continue further. The weather had got nice despite a bad forecast and we all felt good. So we set out again and after climbing another hill we came to Mañeru, a small pretty village with a small Albergue (12 beds in one room) that looked inviting. We decided to stop here so we could wash the mud off our clothes and catch up on other washing. The sun was out and we would be able to get it to dry. They also have wifi.
We were the first and had great showers with hot water. The last 2 days the hot water was all gone before we got to the showers. We also got our washing done and hung out on the line to dry. Josef has proven to be a very good companion and we seem to get along well together.
They seem to have forgotten the wifi password and cannot get it work so that will have to wait until another day. In the meantime the Albergue has filled up with other pilgrims. It seems to be very cold as it was yesterday in the Albergue but with 12 people in the room tonight it will warm up I hope. Anyway my sleeping bag is great so I will be fine.
Dinner time
Life on the Camino in the Albergues makes me think of the "Canterbury Tales". People on a pilgrimage spending an evening together, all from different backgrounds, all with different tales to tell. I have not heard any as good as Chaucer's yet but there is still time! I don't regret one minute of the experience and feel we are really doing it the right way.
Two mornings ago I could not find my toothbrush and emptied every pocket of my backpack and every bag but it, together with toothpaste and razor were nowhere to be found. So that evening I went to the local " market" which is really a very small mini-market to buy another. I found packs of 2 and when I asked if they had single packs the man said no, but take two, they are so cheap! They were €4. I took them but almost said that when my bed for the night is only €6, €4 for a toothbrush is a lot. Anyway they are fine, except that the one I lost suddenly appeared again along with my razor and toothpaste! So today I could shave again and now I have 3 toothbrushes to carry. I had only planned to shave every few days anyway and the last time was Tuesday morning in Stansted but that seems like another world now.
The Spanish people are very friendly and welcoming, at least here in the Basque Country where we have been so far. When we ask for help or directions they are always very helpful and go out of their way to help even when they seldom speak English. In Pamplona we missed a turn once and people came running out to tell us where we should be going before we even knew we were on the wrong street. People with backpacks and hiking poles are easily identifiable as pilgrims in a big city but it is nice that they try to help. If we have not seen a sign for a while and ask if we are on the Camino, they don't just say yes, but proceed to give a long explanation of where to go. Since we cannot tell even if they are speaking Spanish or Basque it is lost on us but we appreciate their attempts to take time and be helpful.
I am also getting fitter and more used to the hills. Walking all day was not a problem but my thighs have not been happy with the climbing and steep descents. One Ibuprofen has been a great help but now we are out of the Pyrenees and the higher mountain areas for a while I feel fine, already after just 4 days on the Camino.
We spent a lazy afternoon and then had the pilgrim dinner here. It was a wonderful salad with tuna, asparagus and olives followed by Spanish omelette. It had potatoes, onions, in it and the Spanish guy sitting next to me said it was just like his grandmother used to make so I know what a real Spanish omelette tastes like in Spain! We also had local red wine (one bottle per 3 people) and a sweet quark dessert. Very good and not too heavy.
Not much going on so to bed at 9:30, breakfast set for 6:30 tomorrow. We want once again to do a bit more than plan and end up at Villamayor de Monjardin. Weather is supposed to be cloudy and cold but dry. Fine for Peregrinos walking.
It has been 3 days since I wrote this and now I have difficulty getting the pictures on the right days so I will stop and start the next day's blog