Tag Archives: Camino

Camino Adventure Part Two: Logrono – Najera

Leaving Logrono

It was cool and cloudy when we left Logrono at 9:45am which was quite late compared to some mornings.  We had breakfast in a little cafe called Estrella Galicia; coffee and croissant was absolute steal at only 2.20 euro.  The next town, Navarette, was 13 kms away so we stocked up on water and bought our usual fayre of bread and ham for lunch.

Estrella Galicia Estrella Galicia, Logrono

 

 

 

 

The path out of Logrono follows the edge of the Pantano de la Grajera reservoir through the La Grajera city park.  A beautiful space in nature where pilgrims and locals mingled together; cycling, walking, relaxing.  here are a lot more pilgrims cycling this part of the Camino Way.

Pantano de la Grajera La Grajera city park, Logrono

 

 

 

 

It was here we met Santa Claus’ double, Marcelino Lobato Castrillo.  He stamped our passports and for a donation we  bought some souvenirs.   Why is it when you are asked for a donation, you are more inclined to spend more than you would have originally intended.

Marcelino at La Grajera City Park, Logrono

Navarette

After leaving the park we walked for miles through more vineyards.  We were still in the La Rioja wine region and it put us in the mood for a glass of red.  We decided when we reached Naverette to buy a bottle to enjoy with our crusty ham rolls.  Sure why not?   It only cost 4 euro, and it tasted delicious.  It brought home to us how ripped off we are in Ireland, especially when it comes to wine.   Recently, in Dublin, one small glass  cost me 9.50 euro.  And it tasted bitter. Or maybe that was just me after being fleeced!

We ended up eating lunch, drinking wine and attending to blisters in a deserted play ground.  Ah living the high life.

In one of the photos below you can see the  Osborne bull standing on a hill in the distance.  There are 90 of these iconic billboards in Spain today.  From 1956 they were originally used by the Osborne sherry company to advertise alcohol.  A new law passed in 1988 prohibited advertising being visible from public highways and sought to have them removed.  However, the bulls had become such a part of the landscape, there was a public outcry and the bulls stayed, albeit with any evidence of alcohol branding covered up.

Wine Company, Navarette, Spain Navarette eating lunch in playground in Navarette, Spain view from Navarette map of Navarette Navarette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice, our mathematical brain, counted up our expenses and we have only spent 27 euro over the last 24 hours -that’s accommodation, and all our food and drink.  If you feel like a few days away and you’re on a budget – get yourself to the Camino – you will have the best experience (in my humble opinion) and spend very little money into the bargain.

We took a look around the Church of Assumption of Mary in Navarette.  There was a map of the world at the back of the church and you stick a pin into whatever country you are from and the congregation will pray for you at mass on Sunday.  It felt nice to think people we would never meet would hold us in their prayers and wish us well.

Church of Assumption of Mary, Navarette Church of the Assumption of Mary Church of the Assumption of Mary, Navarette

 

 

 

 

Najera

The journey from Navarette into Najera was flat and not too taxing, but this was a hard walk and our legs were aching by the time we reached Navarette at 6pm.  Eight hours walk today.

Navarette

Our accommodation for tonight was Puerto de Najera (10euro)– very beautiful and quaint.  http://alberguedenajera.com

Puerto de Najera

The lovely Mayvita was our host and she was very welcoming and helpful. It was 3 euro to wash and dry our clothes.  We left them in the laundry and Mayita took care of it.  We came back to all our clothes freshly laundered and in neat piles.  I can’t tell you, as a mother of five whose kitchen resembles the Magdalene Laundries on a good day, what it felt like to have someone else take care of my washing.

However, the only downside to this albergue was the interconnecting room we were sleeping in.  We had the middle room, and therefore we had to walk through another bedroom to get to where we were sleeping and other pilgrims had to walk through our room to get to their dormitory.  It felt like Charing Cross Station at times.   But at this stage on our travels, we know not to expect privacy.   Everything is part of the experience of the Camino. Even the pissed off French pilgrim who told us very politely to be quiet.  Although, we could tell by her face she wanted to tell us to  shut the hell up!

Dinner was the 13 euro pilgrim menu in La Merceria Restaurant which specialises in Riojan cuisine. It hit the spot. Delicious.

http://lamerceriarestaurante.com  

Its interior design was based on sewing decorations – perfect for our seamtress Annamarie who loves all things sewing and stitching and is fabulous at it.

La Merceria Restaurant La Merceria Restaurant

 

 

 

 

Read more:  www.saysisaysshe.com/day-two-st-jean-pied-de-port-orisson-refuge/

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From Ireland to Estella – Camino Adventure Part Two

           “Every adventure requires a first step.”                            The Cheshire Cat  

Best foot forward!
From Ireland to Estella!

The adventure continues and we are enroute to Estella in Spain to continue our walk along The Camino Way.  To celebrate Fiona and Alice produced two bottles of Prosecco and six plastic cups in the taxi on our way to the airport.  We can always depend on them to provide the beverages!  Although, I wouldn’t count on them for water.

Celebrating with Prosecco
Celebrating the start of another adventure!

We popped the corks and made a toast to Camino….stage two!  This year we have a new addition to the group, Annamarie, let’s hope she doesn’t regret her decision to join us.  She had a little sip of Prosecco, even though she is a teetotaller, (well she was until this trip!), and she likes it.

We flew with Aer Lingus, (always more relaxing than Ryanair), and arrived into Bilbao at 4:30pm.  The sun was shining but the temperature was mild.  Not quite the heat wave we had been told to expect.

We had a taxi bus booked with Caminofacil  to take us onto Estella.  Caminofacil also do luggage transfer services along the Camino for pilgrims who do not want to carry their bag.  ( I dealt with Sergio whom I found to be very efficient and helpful.)  We relayed most of our messages to him through WhatsApp.

Caminofacil.net or Telephone: +34 610 798 138

The journey not the arrival matters.                                        T. S. Elliot

The taxi journey from Bilbao to Estella cost 200 euro, pricey if only one or two travelling, but as there were six of us, the cost was approximately 33 euro per head.  The bus journey would have cost us about 20 euro each, but we thought the taxi was worth the extra money.  There is no direct bus between Bilbao and Estella, so taking the taxi saved us having to take two buses and wait around between each one.  The bus journey also takes around 3 hours to get to Estella and the taxi would be a lot quicker than that.

Or so we thought!

The taxi driver got lost, and the journey took us about 3 hours anyway.  We knew there was a problem when we started passing signs taking us back to Bilbao.

In any event we arrived in Estella, a lot later than we had intended, and then drove around for what seemed like an eternity trying to find our hostel.

Estella, Spain

Estella, Camino Way

 

 

 

 

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” Erol Ozan

Satnav or Google Maps anyone???

Technology was not our friend today.

Agora Hostel, Camino de Santiago          Agora Hostel, Camino de Santiago

We eventually found Agora Hostel, which Alice had booked a few weeks in advance of our trip.  This place was brilliant and the customer service was first class. It was clean and modern with individual pods to sleep in. I love these sort of albergues, as it’s like sleeping in my own little room where I can pull the curtain and shut everyone else out.    The price of 20 euro included a continental breakfast which we made ourselves in the shared kitchen.

You can information on Agora hostel – info@dormirenestella.com or

Tel: +34 948 546 574

There are over 15,000 fiestas and festivals held in Spanish towns and villages every year, so we weren’t surprised when we arrived in Estella in the middle of one such celebration.  Although, it was surprising, in a town buzzing with people, that most businesses were closed.

Restaurants were not serving the pilgrim menu and we didn’t want to start blowing our budget before we had even set off walking.  We managed to find a restaurant, (cannot remember the name), not far from our hostel which was serving pizza for 7 euro.  Not bad at all.  And the wine was only 1.50 a glass.

Let’s call it a night!

Agora closes at 10pm but we had a key to let ourselves in if we wished to stay out later.  We didn’t, as it had been a long day.

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.  Helen Keller

We are walking to Los Arcos tomorrow and the lovely hostess of Agora did her utmost to help us find a place to stay there.  We couldn’t get a bed in any of the albergues, but we did find accomodation in a pensions.  Pensions are more luxurious than an albergue, and therefore more expensive.  Let’s be clear, we are not talking five star hotel luxurious here; but single beds rather than  bunk beds and two people to a bedroom instead of ten!

“Allow yourself to walk your                                           Camino in your own way.”       Discoverthecamino.com

Four of us have organised to transfer our bags on with Caminofacil, the same taxi company we had used earlier.  The deal with Caminofacil to transfer bags is 5 euro each, however, if they are transferring more than five bags in a group the price comes down to 4 euro each.  Annamarie and Fiona are choosing to carry their bags.

I couldn’t fault Agora hostel, although I wouldn’t have minded sound proofed walls, as the fiesta went on until about 5am!

But hey, on a different night, that could be us.

Read more: www.saysisaysshe.com/day-two-st-jean-pied-de-port-orisson-refuge/

 

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Day 4 – Roncesvalles to Zubiri – 22 kms

walking the camino de santiago

Zubiri here we come!

Only 790 km to go!  It’s only going to take us another four years.

We took this photo as we left Roncesvalles to continue our walk to Zubiri.  Full of the joys of spring, little did we know, how tough the walk ahead of us would be.

This will give you an idea of the gradient.  The image is from the Rother Walking Guide, which I found to be one of the most informative guides for walking the Camino de Santiago.

distance from roncesvalles to zubiri

Meeting the locals
walking from roncesvalles to zubiri
A little send off from one of the locals at Zubiri
walking from Roncesvalles Monastery to Zubiri
He liked some of us more than others

We walked a distance of 22kms today, up and down, in intense heat.  We had hit the road early hoping to get as far as we could before the sun would be at its hottest.  It was predominately forest paths and farm tracks, but we still had quite a way to go on open paths with no shade.

the road from Roncesvalles monastery to Zubiri
Beautiful countryside on the way from Roncesvalles to Zubiri
walking from Roncesvalles monastery to Zubiri
Seeking Shade!

It was heaven when we would eventually come to trees and stand beneath them to escape the relentless heat of the sun. Hats and sun block were a must.

We passed through small towns such as Burguete, (where the writer Ernest Hemingway stayed in 1924), Espinal and Linzoain. 

walking into Burguete on the road from Roncesvalles to Zubiri
Walking into Burguete

Enjoying the countryside on the way to Zubiri on the Camino de Santiago

Between Linzoain and Zubiri we passed a memorial to a 64 year old Japanese man who died in 2002 while walking the Camino.  

Roncesvalles to Zubiri memorial to a Japanese pilgrim who died on the Camino de Santiago
Memorial to a Japanese pilgrim

When we reached Alto Erro, which is 3.70 km from Zubiri, we stopped at a food truck which provides snacks and drinks all year round to pilgrims.  We were also able to get our pilgrim passport stamped here.

Magic Works!

Anyone looking for a husband or wife – take note of the sign at the food truck.  Apparently in years gone by the owner of the food truck put out a basket to collect unwanted items from pilgrims for charity.  One year a pilgrim left her uncomfortable underwear in the basket, (girls you need the comfy knickers!), and shortly after she met the love of her life on the Camino.  In fact, they ended up getting married on the Camino.

So as the sign says….’magic works’.  Or maybe it had more to do with the fact she wasn’t wearing any underwear!

sign at food truck at Zubiri
Magic Works!

Two Irish guys, Gary and Denis,  were having a break at the food truck.  We began chatting; or more accurately, Gary chatted while Denis made it obvious he did not want to talk. That’s his prerogative, not everyone can find us scintillating company!!

“It’s okay if you don’t like me.  Not everyone has good taste.”  (No idea who said this, but I like it!)

Gary looked like a young guy without a care in the world.  We later found out that he had been the sole carer of his mother for five years, while she battled Motor neurone disease.  She had only died six months earlier and walking the Camino was a way of dealing with his grief.  And once again, we were reminded, despite the fun and laughs, sadness and heartbreak accompanies so many pilgrims on their journey.

Zubiri

After walking about eight hours, we eventually came to Zubiri.  It was steep on the way down and the last hour of walking was very hard on the knees.  Smiling here, but exhausted.

arriving at Zubiri village on the Camino de Santiago
Zubiri at last!

Our friend, Heather, whom we met in the Orisson, was still walking with us.  No, we hadn’t scared her off.  She must have the patience of a saint!

approaching Zubiri and the Rabies Bridge on the Camino de Santiago
Zubiri – Village of the Bridge

Approaching the bridge into Zubiri across the river Arga.  Zubiri is a tiny village of approximately 400 people and its name means, ‘village of the bridge’.  The bridge itself is known as, The Rabies Bridge, and legend has it that any animal passing under its arches can be cured of any illness, including rabies.

As soon as we arrived in Zubiri, our first misson was to find somewhere to sleep.  The first two places we tried were full; we began to feel a bit like Mary and Joseph….no room for us at the inn.  This was our first experience of having nowhere to stay, and being tired, hot and grumpy,  anxiety levels were rising.  Our easy going, ‘we are laid back, just take it as it comes’ attitude, went right out the window!  Apart from Fiona, who lay on the grass and declared she would sleep there for the night, as she couldn’t walk another step!

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.”  Anthony Burgess

We tried the Albergue Municipal, very cheap at only 8 euro for the night, and if we had been a crowd of teenagers, it would’ve been fine.  But it was crowded and chaotic and in Alice’s words,  ‘yes, we are roughing it, but we don’t want to rough it that much!’

‘My idea of “roughing it” is when room service is late.’  Unknown

 Luckily, we managed to find a bed at a private albergue; El palo de avellano, ( 29 euro for bed and breakfast with three course meal, wine included!)                                                           More information at www.elpalodeavellano.com.

Both of the above photos  are from their website:  http://elpalodeavellano.com/en/home as they looked much better than my own.

I would definitely recommend this place.  The staff couldn’t do enough for us and it was very clean. There were six bunks to a room and I ended up with a handsome French man under me; that will probably be the only time in my life I shall be able to say that.

There was a communal games room and garden area to chill out and relax in.  A few of us met up with a Spanish lady in the garden while trying out some yoga moves.   She joined in, and before we knew it, we were all doing the downward dog together!  Sorry there are no photos of this lovely sight.

However, I have to say I drew the line at lying on the grass, as there were a couple of cats running about and I wasn’t quite sure where they had last relieved themselves.  Last thing I needed was cat s*** in my hair or anywhere else for that matter.

You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.                 Paul Prudhomme

We ate our delicious meal in the communal dining room, which was another opportunity to meet fellow pilgrims and share stories.  Mi-yong, a very young looking South Korean lady sat with us for dinner.  She was in her forties with a grown up family and she was walking the Camino on her own.  She looked about 25!  We want to know the Korean’s secret to looking young?  Please tell us!

As the wine flowed, we talked like old friends. The best remedy for breaking down the language barrier…….red wine!

“Wine and friends are a great blend.”                                  Ernest Hemingway

Communal dinner at El palo de avellano Zubiri
Laughter is the best medicine…..and wine!

Before she left the next morning, and while we were at breakfast, she left each of us a lucky charm on our pillows.  How lovely was she?  We hoped we would bump into her again somewhere along our journey.

a lucky charm from our Korean friend in Zubiri on the Camino de Santiago
Lucky Charm!

Leaving early the next morning.

group of friends leaving Zubiri on the Camino de Santiago
Pamplona here we come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 3 – Orisson to Roncesvalles – 17.4 kms


Early Mornings

It’s an early start on the Camino and we woke about 6am.  Early, but worth it to catch sight of the beautiful sunrise.  We were staying at the Roncesvalles Monastery next, and as we didn’t have it booked, we wanted to get there as early as we could.   We were advised it gets very busy from late afternoon and we wanted to avoid the long queues of pilgrims checking in.

I managed to get dressed for the day without leaving my bunk.  It pays to organise whatever you need for the following morning the night before.  It also means you are less noisy getting ready, especially as there may be other pilgrims still sleeping.  And in the case of our group, we’ve been told to be quiet more than enough so far on this trip – and it’s only three days in.

He who would travel happily must travel light.    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

My routine on the Camino was to wash what I wore after a day’s walk, and change into what I would wear the following day. The weather was hot, so there was no problem getting clothes dried on the line.  Sometimes  I wore my shorts to bed to speed up time the following morning.  It’s not a fashion show on the Camino and no one cares what you look like.  I also organised my tee-shirt and socks on the bottom of my bed for handiness to change into.  This meant I was more or less ready before I’d even put a foot on the floor.   Everything I had in my bed could be rolled up into my sleeping bag liner and easily transferred into my rucksack.

Comfy knickers makes it all better!

Breakfast in the Orisson was basic compared to the dinner we had the night before.   We had hoped for cereal when we saw bowls on the tables, but no such luck.  The bowls were for drinking our coffee/tea from.  Unusual, but as the saying goes, “when in Rome”.  Of course for the coffee lovers among us, it was a dream come true.

When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.  St Ambrose

So after a bowlful of coffee and bread and jam, we filled our water bottles/camel packs and started out on the 16 km walk to Roncesvalles.

Roncesvalles here we come!

Rucksack

To carry or not to carry?

Most of us, again, decided not to carry our big rucksacks, and sent them on to Roncesvalles. The girl on reception at Orisson gave us an envelope on which we wrote our next destination.  We placed the fee of 8 euro (the fee became cheaper when we crossed the border into Spain) for this service in the same envelope and attached it to our rucksacks. Our bags were left in the reception area to be picked up and transferred to Roncesvalles.  Hopefully to arrive before we would!  Obviously, the important stuff, like passports and money we kept with us in our daypacks.

And hats off to Sharon and Fiona –  here they are bringing up the rear and soldiering on with their big rucksacks.

There is great information on sending rucksacks ahead on www.theroadtosantiago.com/sending-your-backpack-ahead.html

Stunning Views along the way – channelling Stretch Armstrong

Sometime after leaving Orisson,  we could hear the sound of a folk song wafting through the air to greet us, as we reached Biakorre at a height of 1095 metres.  A group of pilgrims were playing guitars and singing, (even Max had got involved with his ukuele and we couldn’t help noticing Ga Ga was still with him.)   Maybe a romance was on the cards?  Or maybe, the cynic inside me thought, the poor girl  just couldn’t shake him!  He was stuck to her like a barnacle to the bottom of a boat.

A statue of the Vierge de Biakorri (Virgin Mary) stands here and many pilgrims adorn it with rosary beads, memory cards and other mementoes.  There is a touch of sadness when you read the memory cards and get a glimpse of the sadness behind another’s walk.

With the stunning views all around, and the sound of sheep bells tinkling, we felt like we were in a scene from The Sound of Music.  So much so, Oonagh,  broke out into her version of Edelwiss!  It became something of anthem for the rest of our trip.  Yes, we could’ve picked any song, but that’s middle-aged women for you.

Like all good Catholic women we said our prayers to Our Lady, (please no blisters), and then bade her adieu as we continued on.  We walked across open pasture, passing sheep grazing on each side.  In the middle of nowhere we were able to buy coffee, tea, hot chocolate and snacks from a food truck set up on the side of the path.   This was also the last point in France where we got our Camino passport stamped.  We continued up to Col Lepoeder at 1430 metres, which was the highest point of our entire trip.  From here Roncesvalles and the region of Navarra came into view.

Battle of Roncesvalles 1813

As we began our descent to Roncesvalles we had a choice of two routes; a steep incline through the forest or take the trail to the right which was easier, but 800 metres longer along a tarmac road.  We decided to take the forest trail as the weather was good, and we thought it would be more interesting.  If it had been raining, we would probably have chosen the safer option.

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker  Garth Nix

The path we chose was very steep and stony at the start, and hard on the old knees.  We were extra careful, as we were heart afraid of a twisted ankle or a broken bone bringing our Camino adventure to an end.  A couple of us did end up on our bums on the way down, but we women are made of strong stuff and a bruised ass wasn’t going to stop us.

The Camino is like a metaphor for life; we get weary, we fall down, but we get back up and keep putting up foot in front of the other to get where we need to be.  And in the end perseverance wins out.

The walk through the forest was nothing short of magical….the photograph can show you in a way no words can.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.   Robert Frost

Roncesvalles Monastery just around the corner!

Fotografía del Albergue de peregrinos de Roncesvalles

We had a few worries about rolling off the edge of the bed, especially after a couple of glasses of vino!

The monastery was beautiful and it only cost 10 euro to stay here for the night.  Excellent value for money.  We managed to get beds in the new renovated part which once used to house the old youth hostel.  It was very clean and comfortable, and although we were sharing a dormitory with over 60 people, the bunks were organised into sections of four, which means it was more private than you would imagine.  But still noisy!

Each pilgrim has a locker with key and power outlet.  Our rucksacks were waiting for us and after getting showered and changed we took a wander around the area.  We were glad we had arrived early as on our way out we could see the queues of pilgrims beginning to form.

For information on staying here you can email them at : info@alberguederoncesvalles.com

Getting organised

A couple of us bumped into Daniel from the Orisson and we went with him to the pilgrim mass in the Colegiata de Santia Maria.   In the cool, serene surroundings of the church, as the boys’ choir sang like angels, (when puberty kicks in those angelic voices will be lost forever), we had a chance to sit back and be still.  At the end of the mass, the priest bestowed on us a pilgrim blessing which was very special.  After all, we need all the help we can get!   And it didn’t matter that the mass was in a language we didn’t understand.  It just added to the uniqueness of the experience.

I was so glad I didn’t miss this, which is more than can be said for the pilgrim meal!

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria de Roncesvalles per dins Rafel Miro via Compfight

We ate our pilgrim meal in the café/restaurant across the way from the monastery.  It cost 12 euro for a three course dinner.  Of course, it included wine and thank God for that, as it was the only good thing about this particular dining experience!

The place was chaotic and crowded with pilgrims.  We were there for the first sitting and the staff made no secret of the fact that they were in a rush to get us out in time for the second sitting of pilgrims.  The meal was average and the waiter told us there was no time to serve us dessert.  Well as strong, confident women, we weren’t prepared to accept that. We complained we weren’t leaving without the apple crumble which was on the menu.  Off the waiter went and we congratulated ourselves on being assertive and getting what we paid for.   Two minutes later, the waiter came back, and with a charming smile, sat a bowl of apples on our table.  He told us we  could take it or leave it…..we left it.

OK, we may not have had dessert, but at least we did have a good laugh!  And that beats taking ourselves too seriously.

The person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused                                                Shirley McLaine

That’s another thing you need to pack for the Camino, a sense of humour, you are going to need it.

Girls….lights out!!!

Lights out in the monastery was at 10pm, but we were more than ready for bed at that stage.  This was a strict policy here and if you weren’t in,  you were locked out.  As we prepared for bed, an irate German man roared from across the dormitory at someone to shut up…..he couldn’t have meant us, could he??

On another note, I had thermal long johns with me (because I am the type of person who would be freezing in the Sahara), and I was glad of them in the monastery.  It became very cold in the middle of the night, even though it was summer.  So it is something you may want to throw into your rucksack.  Yes, I know, thermal long johns in the the middle of July, I’m a sad case!

Another piece of advice; forget about plastic bags for separating your luggage.  There was nothing worse than a bag rustler at 3am!  I swear to God the noise of it can pierce the eardrums as good as a fire alarm.  Earplugs are top of my shopping list for walking the Camino next year.

And for all you bag rustlers out there, (no names, but you know who you are) – you can buy cloth travel drawstring bag sets on Amazon and Ebay for less than £6.  And I have to say a gag would also have been useful for the whisperers in the middle of the night!

As for breakfast, I would advise you to forget about it here.  We had to queue and the service and food didn’t improve from the night before.  We would have been better off walking on to a café at the next village.

Not worth the wait!

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.                                                                   Virginia Woolf

Zubiri here we come!

 

 

 

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Day Two: St Jean Pied de Port to Orisson Refuge

                                               St Jean Pied de Port to Orisson – 8 kilometres

Climbing the Pass

We woke to a gorgeous sunny morning.  Most of us had slept OK, beds were comfy and there wasn’t too much snoring.  Unless you are a deep sleeper, earplugs are a must on the Camino, and not the cheap ones I had with me.  They were useless and blocked nothing out.  Some people sounded like Mount Vesuvius erupting!  (Of course, I’m not referring to any of my companions!)  I would advise anyone planning on doing this trip to invest in a good pair.  They will be worth their weight in sleep.

After having breakfast in a small patisserie we set off about 9am to walk to Orisson Refuge.  We had been warned walking the pass from St Jean Pied de Port in France through the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles in Spain would be the steepest and most difficult of our journey.   Not wanting to kill ourselves we decided to split the journey and stay at the Orisson.  We booked it a few months in advance of our trip as it does not hold a huge capacity and we wanted to be sure of a place.  Only two brave souls from our group, Pauline and Fiona, decided they would carry their rucksacks.  The rest of us weaker (and wiser!) souls decided to send them on to the Orisson.  This cost roughly 5 euro and for me, personally, I thought it was well worth it.  I had a smaller day rucksack to carry the essentials for the day.

Stunning Views

Taking a moment to breathe!

The pass was very steep but we were walking on tarmac country roads so the terrain was not difficult.  We took our time and kept reminding ourselves that this was not a race and we would get there when we got there.  We also had the added luxury of knowing we were sure of a bed at the Orisson.   Our legs ached from climbing the steep inclines but on the plus side we were rewarded with stunning views unfurling beneath us.  My guide-book describes it as Paradise…. it is.   There is nothing but valleys of green fields and mountains rolling out for miles below us.   Every few steps we stopped to take photographs, as each view seemed nicer than the last, but no photograph could do justice to the stunning scenery.

No strangers here, only friends

Joonho, a 21-year-old South Korean boy, (I say boy when technically he is a man but he looked all of sixteen,) who hoped to walk the entire 769 km in 40 days, walked with us until the Orisson.  After his trip he was going home to do national service.  He looked so young to be out there on his own, never mind to go into an army.  I couldn’t help thinking of my own sons and the freedom they take for granted.

Up and Up!

We stopped after a couple of hours and sat on a grassy verge to eat our lunch of crusty bread, Parma ham and water.  This also gave us a chance to get our shoes and socks off and let our feet breathe.  The food was simple, but eating it in such beautiful surroundings, with the sun shining down on us, it tasted nicer than any gourmet meal served up in a fancy restaurant.  And we had the privilege of sharing our lunch with a young lad from the other side of the world.  Despite the language barrier, (and that was our fault, not his, as he had some English, whereas we didn’t have any Korean), we chatted about his family, and what he hoped to do when his national service was over; teaching as it happens.

“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”  Ibn Battuta

This is the beauty of the Camino, regardless of  differences in age, gender, nationality, we all have the common bond of being a pilgrim on this journey.  It connects us to people we wouldn’t normally get to have a conversation with.  And everyone has a story to share.

Orisson Refuge

Orisson Refuge

We were relieved to see the Orisson come into view, because although we had only walked about 8km to get there, it had been a strenuous climb to reach it.  We were even more relieved to see it was as quaint and charming in reality as it looked in photographs.   We loved it!  It was converted from an ancient shepherd’s house in 2004 and it has a capacity of 28 beds in dormitories of 6 and 10 beds.  Bed, breakfast and three course dinner with wine costs 36 euro.  The priciest of all the places we stayed but worth it. They will also pack you a lunch the next morning before you leave for 4 or 5 euro.

We wished Joonho good luck and said goodbye as he continued on to Roncesvalles.  I think he had been glad of our company for this part of his journey.  Or maybe I am deluded and he was glad to see the back of us! Either way, I felt he struck a lonely figure as he walked on, but maybe that was just the Irish mammy in me being over protective.

“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.”  Francis Bacon

We had arrived quite early and everyone had a chance to disperse and do their own thing. Showers work on a coin system which allows you five minutes to wash.  This was to ensure that despite the limited availability of hot water in the mountains, there was sufficient water for everyone and no one hogged the cubicle!  I’ve read complaints on Trip Advisor about this system, but I thought it was fine.  After all, we were not staying in a five-star hotel and I didn’t expect luxury.  The Camino is about doing with less, not having more.  We washed out our clothes and hung them to dry on the clothes line in the garden of the refuge.  That is the advantage of travelling during summer, as there is no problem in getting gear dried.

 “Don’t listen to what they say.  Go see.”         Chinese Proverb

We ate our three course pilgrim meal around 6pm with the entire group of people staying at the Orisson.  They had come from the four corners of the globe to walk the Camino;   Heather from England who has lived in Greece for the last 30 years, (in fact she lives on the island where the movie Mama Mia was made, apparently Pearse Brosnan was the friendliest of the lot),   Ga Ga from China, (yes, that was her real name), Max from Germany who played the ukulele (he definitely fancied  Gaga), grandparents Debbie and Mike from Texas who were walking their second Camino, grandfather and granddaughter duo, Tom and Brianna from Pennsylvania, Tammy and Oshie from Japan and lovely Daniel from Quebec.  They are just some of the names which spring to mind.  But there were others from South America, Chile and New York.

Yes the wine was that good!

We were the only Irish contingent there.  The food was delicious and homemade wine was included.  I have never tasted wine like it before or since.  I tell you the Orisson is worth staying at if only to taste the wine.  We had also asked for water but we were told we could have one or the other….strange!  Well, what can I say; we had no choice but to choose the wine.

“Wine is food, and food is life, and life is about the connections we make.”  Evan Dawson 

The bar man encouraged each of us to stand up and say where we were from and why we were doing the Camino.   I usually hate doing that sort of thing but in the spirit of this place it didn’t seem so daunting.  Or maybe, the wine had loosened my inhibitions.  (I swear I am not a raging alcoholic in case all the references to wine makes me appear so.)

Of course, being Irish it wasn’t long before one of our group started to sing.  Obviously not myself, as I think people would prefer snoring to my singing!  But no such worries for our friend, Fiona.  Coming from a long line of traditional Irish musicians, she broke out into a ‘diddley aye’ piece called, ‘Loving Hannah’.  I have never heard it before, nor indeed, have I ever heard her sing before, so it was an experience all of itself.  It kick started a sing-song and before we knew everyone was singing a party piece.  It was a brilliant atmosphere of relaxation and friendliness.

“Where words fail, music speaks.”  Hans Christian Anderson

And you know the saying….one drink is one too many and ten is not enough.  OK, we didn’t go that far but we did enjoy the wine and we asked the bar man to sell us another bottle.   He did, reluctantly, but told us to take it outside and to keep the noise down, as most people were retiring to bed.   And it is worth pointing out that most of the hostels and alburgues do not allow any noise after 10/11pm.

So we took our glasses of red outside, and wrapped up against the evening chill, we sat in the fading light, having the craic.  What more could you want on a beautiful evening in France?    I’m afraid to say the bar man did have to tell us to quieten down, (we thought we were whispering) and then he got quite rude.  Maybe our laughs did get a bit too loud.  So we gathered ourselves up and were tucked up in our bunk-beds before 11pm.  Ga Ga was sound asleep by the time we got in.  No night owls here.  Hopefully she had good ear plugs!

For me staying at the Orisson was one of the highlights of the trip.  Some pilgrims walk the whole way from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, without stopping, but I think they are missing out on a unique experience.  We felt a great sense of camaraderie and it was a lovely way to get to know everyone.  The  connections made with fellow pilgrims in the Orisson helped us to feel we were part of a community.  And hopefully we would bump into them again along our route.

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Day One: Camino de Santiago – we are on our way – Ireland to St Jean Pied de Port

Gonzalo Iza via Compfight

Day One:  14th July
Buen Camino!

Camino de Santiago – here we come!   We left home just after dawn with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  We felt like a group of teenagers going off on our first holiday, but also feeling  a little bit of, ‘what the hell have we let ourselves in for??’  Would we survive, not only the Camino, but also each other?

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” Mark Twain

We arrived into Biarritz airport at approximately 12.30 to a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon.  Prior to leaving Ireland we had arranged for the Express Bourricot taxi company to be waiting to take us the 90 minute journey to St Jean Pied de Port.  We had dealt with Caroline Aspherrches from the company and found her to be very helpful. The fare cost 19 euro each and was worth every penny as it saved us the hassle and confusion of arranging transport when we stepped off the plane.

 “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”  W B Yeats

We shared our taxi with Heidi from Austria and felt our first taste of the infamous Camino camaraderie we’ve heard of.  We weren’t strangers, but fellow travellers, all in this madness together.   Heidi, fresh out of college, and full of enthusiasm, wasn’t hanging around in St Jean Pied de Port, but walking on the 23 km to Roncesvalles. She was going to be walking for at least seven hours.  We admired her guts, and we knew we would have similar distances to cover in the days ahead, but we were relieved it wasn’t today.  We needed time to build ourselves up to that.  And after all we had, at least, twenty years on Heidi!

Exploring the narrow streets of St Jean Pied de Port – no need for hiking shoes yet

A picturesque market town in the heart of Basque country, St Jean Pied de Port is the traditional starting point of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostelo.  It is located in South West France and lies at the foothills of an important pass through the Pyrenees Mountains, between France and Spain; hence the name of the town means, ‘at the foot of the pass.’  As we had decided to stay here one night we had plenty of time to explore; meaning we walked around a little and then found a café to put our feet up and have a couple of drinks.

Just chillin!

Before setting out on the Camino Way, you must have the all-important Pilgrim Passport to prove you are a pilgrim and to gain access to the albergues, hostels and to avail of the pilgrim menus in restaurants.  We received our Pilgrim Passports from the Camino Society in Dublin before we left Ireland but if not we could have picked them up at the Pilgrim Office at 39 Rue de la Citadell in St Jean.  The Pilgrim Passport must be produced every time you arrive at a new place and it is stamped to prove you have walked that day.  The office also provides the iconic scallop shells which has long been a symbol of the Camino de Santiago.

Follow the Shell, El Camino de Santiago, March 2017

The yellow shell is a familiar sight on posts and signs along the Camino Way guiding pilgrims in the right direction.   There are different myths about why the shell is so important to the pilgrimage but my favourite is this one; after St James death, the disciples were transporting his body back to Santiago when the ship they were travelling in encountered a storm and the body was lost to sea.  However, after some time St James’ body washed up on shore, undamaged but covered in scallops.

Of course, it could also be the very practical reason of pilgrims long ago using the shell for getting water to drink which has more truth to it, but the former tale requires more faith to believe and I like that.  It’s what the Camino is all about.   Pilgrims carry the shell with them as they travel along and we attached ours to our rucksacks, displaying our bond with fellow travellers.

Learning as we go!

St Jean is a beautiful place but on reflection, as we were there early enough and still feeling quite energetic at this stage, we should have planned to travel on to Orisson, which was only 8km away.  It meant we added an extra day to our trip and had to factor in extra accommodation and food costs.  I’d budgeted for about 40 euro a day but spent more than that in St Jean, with the majority of it going on our restaurant meal alone.  We booked into a restaurant for our evening meal but not as pilgrims and therefore did not avail of pilgrim menu or prices.  But this trip is all about learning as we go!

Regardless, the craic was great so I suppose you can’t put a price on that.   We stayed in a beautiful old town house on the main street, ( not a great image of it below and unfortunately we can’t remember the name of it!!).  It was basic but clean, and to gain access we collected the key from a bar and let ourselves in.  There were self-catering facilities if we had wished to cook, which we didn’t.  We do enough of that at home.  Seven of us were divided between two rooms and apart from two other walkers; we had the whole place to ourselves.

Time for bed

There was some kind of street party in the evening and we wandered around it for a while. While the rest headed off to bed, Fiona, Alice and I decided to finish off the evening with a couple of glasses of red in a little bar just off the main street.  The bar was empty apart from ourselves.  Maybe they heard we were coming!

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