Friday 29 August 2014

Camino Portraits: Cesare

Cesare is one of the Italian guys we kept running into along the first third of the way towards Santiago de Compostela. We only walked together for a short while but he often appeared out of nowhere in the late afternoon and joined us for dinner.

He is a funny character and when he was around we were usually laughing our heads off in a matter of minutes. It was always funny to listen to his interpretation of events. He was able to make a hilarious story from any of his many everyday mishaps.

He also had a rather special attitude towards the Camino. Whenever he felt it was more convenient, he simply took a bus (usually this is the last resort for an ordinary pilgrim and most consider it cheating). He never felt bad about it and willingly shared it with everybody. I think he really enjoyed the look of disbelief on faces of other pilgrims.

Obviously he was on the Camino to above all enjoy the experience without the suffering that usually comes within the package. I really hope everything worked out for him and he was able to enjoy it to the very end.


Tuesday 5 August 2014

Days go by quickly in good company

This was day 5 of our almost one month long Camino de Santiago adventure. Click on the Camino de Santiago label to see all related posts.

Even with a pretty basic comfort level at the albergue, we slept well during the night. Floor mattress I had to use did not have any effect on my sleep whatsoever. Actually, I would choose it over a too soft, overused, wrapped-in-plastic top bunk bed any-time. Well, that was exactly what M. got last night but she also did not complain - she was just too tired to bother with details.

After a simple breakfast at the albergue (coffee with some cookies and toast) we left our donation for the stay and prepared our backpacks for the road. As I already mentioned in the previous post, the albergue we stayed in operates on donation basis. Bed, hot shower, breakfast and use of other services are available free of charge. In return pilgrims are asked to leave a donation in the morning before they leave. I am pretty sure the hospitalero collects a very decent amount every day.

Again the weather did not look too promising. There was a light drizzle when we met our Italian friends on the outskirts of Estella. A few meters after the Way turned from urban area into vineyard country, we just had to stop by the famous wine-fountain (fuente del vino) belonging to Bodegas Irache. Technically it is in Ayegui, the village just next to Estella.

On one of the outside walls of their huge cellar they have built a fountain from which, besides of water, also flows red wine. Unfortunately during our visit, the fountain was dry. This might have something to do with the fact we arrived pretty early in the morning.
Nonetheless I still managed to squeeze a few drops out of it. It seemed to be pretty low-quality stuff and I doubt I would have filled my water bottle with it anyway. An admirable marketing approach nonetheless.

We were happy to walk with the Italian group again - it was so much more fun and kilometres went by pretty quickly. Regardless of some age difference we have soon realised we had quite a few things in common.

Even the weather got better after a while and it turned out to be the second day in a row with only some light rain. We liked it that way.

Once again we mostly walked on a gravel road that led us through wide fields with huge stacks of hay bales. We began to appreciate gravel sections opposed to concrete and asphalt. It is interesting how on such a trip ones body can instantly feel the difference between soft and hard walking surfaces.

At midday we stopped at a refreshment stand by the road. It was just a simple trailer with some plastic tables and chairs set in front of it. It was sandwiches and beer for most of our group. I decided to go for a Spanish tortilla (Tortilla Española) and some freshly squeezed orange juice (Zumo de naranja natural).
A Spanish tortilla is quite different compared to its Mexican relative with the same name. It is a simple egg and potato omelette with some onions and sometimes also red pepper.

It seemed like none of us would mind sitting in the sun for an extra hour or so but we had to move on. Since we experienced some problems the day before with accommodation availability, we decided to place a reservation for the seven of us. After a hilarious (yet unsuccessful) try in Italian, we finally succeeded in English.

Even though we did not walk as far as the day before, we still managed to reach Torres del Rio. We walked 29 kilometres. The last hundred metre climb into the village proved to be quite a challenge for a part of our group.

Stretching and massage was something we could not afford to skip. Only after a glass of good red wine, of course.

By this time we were still in Navarra region, but also getting closer to Rioja. Good wine for a really low price was easy to come by. I tried quite a few wines and soon learned the meaning of Crianza. A Rioja Crianza is wine aged for at least two years, at least one of which it was inside an oak barrel. Usually Rioja Crianza is an indication of a fairly good wine and it often costed just over an Euro per glass. Now this is definitely a bargain in my book.
As I learned later on, I hardly took advantage of this enough while we were in and near Rioja.

Apart from good wine, dinner was also delicious. For the main dish within the Menú peregrino I choose a beef steak and really enjoyed it. For me it was one of the best steaks on the whole trip.

We started noticing familiar faces during dinner time. Even if we could not find a common language with some fellow pilgrims, this did not stop us from having some conversation during main daily meals. These large dining halls often felt like they were set inside the tower of Babylon. Fifteen different nationalities in a room of forty people was not an uncommon thing at all. Add some wine into the mix and you get one loud bunch of pilgrims.

After dinner we were off to bed pretty quickly again. A perfect end of another beautiful day.

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.


Wednesday 23 July 2014

Over Alto de Perdón to Estella

This was day 4 of our almost one month long Camino de Santiago adventure. Click on the Camino de Santiago label to see all related posts.

The ability of our bodies to recover overnight is simply remarkable. Every evening I felt tired and muscles were aching, but in the mornings I was continuously waking up pretty fresh and full of energy.

What was even more remarkable, M. did not have problems waking up before 6 AM every morning. Actually she had the alarm set for every morning and was the one usually waking me up. Miracles really do happen on the Camino!

This whole waking up to an alarm, set on a wrist watch, thing is a bit funny. Since we were using earplugs almost every night, the alarm was usually beeping for someone else - we often did not hear it. However, if not before, we did wake up ten minutes after it stopped beeping. No one seemed to mind.

A sunny but quite fresh morning was a nice change. Before we left we took the opportunity for a quick breakfast. Good supper, freshly squeezed orange juice and a large selection of tea they offered at the bar made our stay in this albergue even more enjoyable.

The first part of hike included climbing up the only hill of the day. It is called Alto de Perdón (Mountain of Forgiveness) and is one of the famous landmarks on the Camino.
Actually it is more of a small hill than a mountain. Since it was still early and we were quite fresh and full of energy, we did not have any problems with the little climb. At the top there are metal sculptures dedicated to pilgrims and a nice view over nearby wind farms.

We stopped for a while to take a few photos. Since the wind was blowing really hard we did not linger around for too long. We continued downhill.

Puente la Reina was the most interesting town we went through during the day. It was named after Doña Mayor, wife of King Sancho III. She built the famous six-arched bridge over the Río Arga for the use of pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. It still stands today. Puente la Reina is the first town after the Aragonese Way (Camino Aragonés) joins with the French Way (Camino Francés). This means we will be seeing even more pilgrims from here on.

Our destination for the day was Estella. We were hoping to reach it in time to still get enough free space in one of the albergues. We were still travelling as a group and getting seven beds late in the afternoon was not to be taken for granted.

Since we had 35 kilometres planned for the day, we planned to arrive around 5 PM, which is pretty late. As we learned so far, most pilgrims seem to walk shorter distances and consequently they arrive at their daily destinations a few hours before us.

We had been lucky so far, so we had hoped our lucky streak would continue. It did not look too good when we tried our luck at the first albergue. When they turned us down in the second one, we were getting a bit worried.

The third albergue had just two spaces left and we asked the hospitalero (a guy taking care of an albergue) to call the last remaining albergue in town and inquire about the situation. He said there are just 5 places left and placed a reservation for a part of our group. I had a feeling he was taking advantage of the situation and simply wanted to fill the last two of his beds. In my opinion there were still seven or more beds available in the last albergue but since we were all already very tired I did not want to take chances and insult the guy.

So we split up and agreed to meet up again in the morning. M. and I stayed in Albergue Paroquial San Miguel. It operates as an albergue donativo - you donate as much as you feel it is suitable.

After the check-in formalities we were showed to our beds - a top bunk bed and a mattress on the floor. Beds were pretty basic - old mattresses with (not very clean) plastic sheets. They were all out of blankets. This is why a sleeping bag on the Camino is a must.
Bathroom looked nice and clean and there was plenty of hot water. It was all we really needed.

Apart from another "lost in translation" moment during dinner the evening was pretty uneventful - we chose Maracaibo Restaurante in a corner of the main town's square.
After dinner M. was really tired and just wanted to go to bed. Unfortunately it started raining cats and dogs just as we were finishing our meal. We decided to wait for it to pass before returning to our albergue. A very long half of an hour later we were finally off to bed.

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.

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