Thursday 6 November 2014

Lightweight hiking for a day

It was another cold morning on the Camino. After breakfast at the albergue we left Hontanas behind and ventured into the cold. At half past seven it was a mere 5 degrees Celsius (41 ºF). We were not expecting such cold mornings at the end of May. Actually we were at approximately 870 metres above sea level at that time and such temperatures are probably pretty usual for the time of year.

This was day 12 of our almost one month long Camino de Santiago adventure. Click on the Camino de Santiago label to see all related posts.

Luckily when sun got up we felt its warmth pretty quickly. It did not take long for air to warm up and we were forced to loose a few layers in a matter of minutes.

I had high hopes for this day. Despite my tendinitis problems I was expecting a relatively easy day without the weight of my almost 10 kilogram backpack. As I already mentioned we decided to fill my backpack with all our heavy stuff (obviously not counting my camera) and send it from the albergue in Hontanas, 34 kilometres ahead to Fromista.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed at the beginning of our daily hike. I hardly felt any difference despite the lack of my heavy backpack. My leg was still far from OK and I felt a sharp pain with every step I took.

Our first stop was at the ruins of the fifteenth century monastery dedicated to Saint Anthony (Convento de San Antón). It was one of the first pilgrim hospitals. It had to be a magnificent building at that time.

Flat landscape with endless wheat fields continued for the most of the day. From time to time bright red poppy patches could be seen in the distance.

The only exception were a few lonely hills just after the town of Castrojeriz. The road lead us right over them. Surprisingly going up and down was a nice variegation after a few monotonous days.
We both enjoyed climbing up the hill and loved the view from the top. I did however have a few problems going downhill. My leg was killing me and I tried everything to make it better. After zigzagging down the hill I even tried walking backwards for a while. It helped a bit but it still hurt. It was pretty funny though.

Most of the afternoon we walked along an old channel (Canal de Castilla). It was built at the end of 18th century to ease the wheat grain transport from the province of Castilla to the northern harbours and to transport other cargo inland from the coast. It had to be a huge project back then.
Nowadays the channel is used for irrigation of nearby fields.

There are even remains of a system of water lock gates between different water levels near the town of Fromista.

When we were closing in on our destination for the day we were getting pretty tired. The lack of a heavy backpack proved to be a great advantage especially towards the end of our walk. With a little additional help from anti-inflammatory medications it made the 34 kilometres just doable.

Towards the end of the day I was not the only one in pain. M. also began to feel pain in her heels. She had to take a few short breaks, while I kept slowly limping forward. For me it was easier keeping a slow, steady pace. My pace was really slow and it did not take long for her to catch up.

When we got to the albergue (Albergue Canal de Castilla) in Fromista where my backpack was waiting for us, we realised it was situated right next to the train station.

We were not impressed by the looks of it. I guess those bunk beds have seen better days. In spite of everything we were just too tired to go searching for another place. The food however was pretty good and it came in generous portions.

We decided to check out the centre of the town despite the sorry state we were in. It was pretty nice - definitely way better compared to the train station area we were spending the night in.
We also took the opportunity to look for a pair of silicon-gel shoe heel pads for M. Luckily the local pharmacy was very well stocked. Obviously M. was not the first (nor the last) pilgrim with similar problems.


Monday 27 October 2014

Marvellous Menorca: Less Known Balearic Beauty

The Balearic islands of Majorca and Ibiza are some of the most famous resort destinations in Europe and host a significant number of Spain’s tourists each year. However for those looking for something slightly less intense, the lesser known Balearic beauty of Menorca is the perfect getaway.

Departing regularly from many major airports throughout Europe, flights to Menorca are frequent and flexible. Visitors will be nothing short of mesmerised after landing, eager to explore the 270 square mile island, all of which is a UNESCO biosphere. Here are a few of the island’s very best activities for visitors to magical Menorca.

Flora and fauna
The island was designated a UNESCO biosphere in 1993 thanks to its wildlife and landscapes. The forests, gorges, salt marshes, wetlands, lush rolling hills and of course pristine beaches all serve as important habitats for all variety of wild things. Much of the island is accessible by foot if not by single track roads with the piece de resistance of landscapes (or its Spanish equivalent) being Mount Toro, situated in the heart of the island and reaching some 258 meters above sea level. The peak reveals staggering panoramas of the island, views which extend all the way across the sea to Majorca on a clear day.

Menorca has been shaped over the years by a series of visiting colonisers ranging from Roman to North African to Turkish, British, French and of course, Spanish. As a result the island’s culture includes everything from prehistoric sites to Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. Once more, UNESCO recognized the importance of Menorca’s cultural history in 2004 when it extended a protective reach over historic sites, in effect prohibiting the development of any large-scale high-rise resort development. This allowed locals to establish rural hotels known as agroturismos which are the accommodation option of choice for travellers looking to experience authentic Menorca.

Idyllic island perks
While Majorca and Ibiza have beaches packed with tourists, Menorca’s shores are significantly less crowded but boast more beaches than its busy neighbouring islands combined. The shores of the island feature a seemingly endless series of gorgeous small bays and coves away from the main resorts that range in size from tiny to sprawling. Some visitors may wish to undertake unmarked trails to arrive at a deserted beach while others may choose to explore the coast by boat, taking in the terrain from the surrounding waters. There are sea caves to explore, sea creatures to observe and endless Spanish sunshine to soak up.

Menorca is a well-preserved colonial gem in a sea of highly developed resort tourism. Majorca and Ibiza may have gained international reputations for the club-loving jet-set, but Menorca flies blissfully under the radar of major Mediterranean resort development. The island’s various cultural influences and natural beauty make it truly one of a kind for those seeking a peaceful, authentic getaway.


Friday 24 October 2014

Camino Portraits: Slava & Irena

There were not many Slovenes we met on our way to Santiago. Only three of them to be exact. Actually since Slovenia is a pretty small country with a total population of only 2 million people, we were not expecting to run into many Slovene pilgrims anyway.

Slava and Irena are two friends who felt Camino might bring some variety into their retirement. They were also quite amused by responses from their loved ones. Everyone back home thought they have gone crazy and will not be able to make it to Santiago. This only fired them up more and off they went...

Apart from coming from Slovenia, there was one more thing we had in common - tendinitis. None of us was willing to quit the trip because of it and we just kept limping towards Santiago.

We ran into each-other for a few times within our second week and were always glad to hear our native language. Hopefully they were able to enjoy the rest of the way at least as much as we did.

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