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Thursday, 11 June 2015

We made it

This morning we shouldered our backpacks, for the last time , on this journey to Santiago, and it was with some apprehension that we started our walk. The last ten kilometres of the Portuguese Camino, as it winds its way towards the Cathedral in Santiago, is a steep climb to reach the city atop the hill. We climbed steeply, along a country road lined on either side with eucalyptus trees until we reached Agro dos Monteiros and there for the first time on our journey we saw, above the trees, the ornate spires of the Cathedral. Could our long and at times very hot journey be coming to an end? That was our main thought as we slowly descended to cross over a railway line and from our previous Portuguese Camino experiences we should have known better. This Camino had a final sting in its tail as it rose almost vertically for about two kilometres and irony of ironies as we gasped our way up we passed the main Santiago hospital. Soon we were walking through the shopping streets and then suddenly we recognised Rua Franco and within minutes we were standing in the square before the Cathedral. After two previous Caminoes to Santiago I was surprised by the release of emotion we experienced as we stood in the square surrounded by pilgrims from across the globe. It wasn't like 2012 or 2013. This was different, every Camino is unique and each journey sets out its own challenges and delivers its own rewards. We had arrived and true to the recent history of this Camino we were an hour earlier than planned. In the cathedral we were fortunate to be seated on the pilgrim reserved front row and had the pleasure of sharing the first two pews with the people we had shared our journey with. The circle was complete. At the sign of peace it was genuine hugs from our friends from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland and Holland. We had endured many moments of the journey together and now we celebrated the finish. Tomorrow is another day and hopefully we will be more energised to celebrate but for tonight it was tapas with local cider and an early night.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

candmcamino: Almost

candmcamino: Almost: Last night I had the famously delicious Padron Peppers at the Restaurante O' Pementeiro, sitting in the open air, under a cloudless sky,...


Last night I had the famously delicious Padron Peppers at the Restaurante O' Pementeiro, sitting in the open air, under a cloudless sky, but in reality the night will be memorable less for the peppers but more for the people we shared this meal with. Don't get me wrong, the peppers were everything I anticipated and more, but, sharing a meal ( not my peppers) with four lovely people, Gil and Brenda from Canada, and Ekaterina and her daughter, Xenia, from Moscow, was the perfect, quiet and friendly night we needed to prepare ourselves for the final push towards Santiago. Coming near the end of a Camino is always a time of mixed emotions, wanting it to finish, dreading the parting from new friends and looking forward to getting back home to family and friends. So it was last night with Brenda and Mary sharing photographs of their precious grandchildren and talking about our experiences and happenings during this walk. This morning, after an early breakfast in our hotel, Mary and I, walked out of Padron and started a days walking that would take us to within touching distance of Santiago Cathedral. Like yesterday the weather was almost perfect for walking, the temperature had dropped to the twenties and we had a lovely light refreshing breeze. The first few hours walking was along idyllic, twisting, narrow country roads that passed through a series of picturesque hamlets where time has stood still. Quintana, Rueiro, Cambela, and Vilar all had a peaceful quietness and an almost timeless atmosphere as we navigated their narrow streets of stone buildings. The route then left this peaceful dream and joined the main N550 road for a short stretch but even this had its positives as we stopped for refreshments and met up with Gil and Brenda with three other women pilgrims. Suitably refreshed both physically and mentally we set off to make the two sharp climbs that were in today's schedule. Walking through and along forest paths we descended into the colourful Tinto valley before heading upwards to the Ermita de San Martino and the Cruceiro  do Francos where we joined the ancient pilgrim way, Rua de Francos. Going through this old Franciscan hamlet there was an atmosphere of quiet meditation and indeed we saw a person in a trance like state as he prayed before a Franciscan icon. The rest of today's walk was uneventful and soon we had reached Milladoiro, where we had booked an apartment, and by Gods guidance, good luck or more likely the guidance of our guardian angel we quickly found the right street and are now relaxing in luxury. One of the main luxuries is a washing machine which has been working overtime since we arrived. Tomorrow morning at about 11am we will enter the square in front of Santiago Cathedral and attend the Pilgrims Mass at 12 noon.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

For whom the bell tolls and the hot chilli.

Today's 23K walk from Caldas de Reis to Padron was, and I hesitate to say it, as near the perfect walk as you can get. Twenty three kilometres of sheer bliss as we went from dirt track to forest paths to rural roads and only with the shortest of road walking. The early morning started well when the hotel gave us a really nice packed lunch of bread, cheese, ham, bananas and water. This was something unexpected and a lovely touch from a very friendly staff. The walk through the twisting and winding streets of old Caldas was like walking through history and several times my curiosity almost caused me to fall as I tripped on the cobble stones. Then we were out of the city and walking along a pathway, through dense vegetation, where the sounds of nature awakening and the sight of early morning farm workers gave me the feeling that we were trespassing and I hoped that our present pilgrim journey would not, in the future, become something that would change this beautiful equilibrium that has withstood the test of time. Footsteps behind us indicated a fellow pilgrim but I didn't expect to be greeted by Marchal, from Holland, a fellow walker from the early Lisbon stage, but whom I hadn't seen for about ten days. At this point in time a bell, a single bell, started to ring out from a distant church and continued to peel for about half an hour. When we approached the medieval church, Santa Marina de Carrecedo, there standing outside was an elderly man pulling slowly and rythmically on a single rope that went high up into the bell tower and outside was the black hearse. As we walked slowly and quietly up the road it was a sobering thought to think that for someone this was the last toll of the bell as it echoed eerily across the valley. These sobering thoughts soon changed when we joined Marchal and two young Italian girls at the cafe Esperon for a nice mug of Cafe con Leche. The owner who is also a camino walker has a side room, painted white, where pilgrims can write their message on the wall and also in a large ledger. Even the climb up to Corgullon seemed relatively easy today. This easy walking could be because the temperature was below 30 for the first time since I left Lisbon, in fact this was the first time I have seen a single cloud in the sky, or it could be because we are so close to the finish. Whatever the reason it was a good feeling that the both of us are going strongly and enjoying the magnificent scenery and the multitude of historical treasures this Portuguese Camino unfurls before us. Just before the village of San Miguel, on a bridge and viewpoint, that looked over the Rio Valga, a local official asked us where we were from and entered this in a large ledger and rewarded us by stamping our Camino passbooks with a lovely stamp. Soon we were in the outskirts of Padron, crossing a stone bridge, with a large statue of Santiago leaning on his staff. We also passed the iconic and elaborate drinking fountain, Fonte do Carme XVIth c, which displays the arrival of St James. You always enter these towns by crossing a bridge and Padron is no exception. Bridge crossed and we were in Padron a town I have waited for and thought about for several weeks and the reason, Padron peppers. I developed a taste for these gorgeous little fried peppers a few years ago and to be in Padron eating a plate of Pemento de Padron, well life couldn't get better. These peppers, first imported by the Franciscan monks, are deliciously sweet with a piquant flesh but with the twist that one in every 30 is chilli hot.The word specialist restaurant for these peppers is Restaurante O Pementeiro in Plaza do Castro so we are making a bee line to it. Almost forgot to say we are now only one day from Santiago, officially stage 23 and final day of the walk, but because we are indeed two days ahead of schedule we are going to break the 28k last stage into two days. This means we arrive in Santiago on Thursday instead of our previously scheduled Friday but fortunately the hotel could give us the extra day. Tomorrow I'll let you know if we got one of the hot chillies or not.

Monday, 8 June 2015

The traditional route

Last night we had a gathering of nations in a delightful plaza in Pontevedra and all enjoyed a fabulous meal and each other's company. We were in the company of Xenia and Ekaterina (Russia), Gill and Brenda (Canada), Clement (Germany), Donna (Canada), Ansje (Holland), Wolfgang (Germany), Jasmin (Germany) and our now oldest Camino friend Karen. This was a very enjoyable and fun occasion that was kept alive by the energy and wit of Jasmin. Earlier we had a good laugh with Kitty and AndrĂ©s from Tenerife and arranged to meet them the next night on the bridge at Caldas de Reis. This morning after a typical Spanish breakfast we left our hotel and walked through the twisting and atmospheric streets of the old city soon emerging into the outer suburbs where we were  joined by Jasmin. The three of us walked together for about three kilometres until we came to a parting of the paths where the traditional route went one way and another lesser known Camino headed in to the higher hills. Oh for the enthusiasm of the young but coming from N.I we were compelled to march the traditional route. This was a very calm walk as it made its way through eucalyptus woods and then along the floor of the valley. The path crossed over the main railway line and climbed to the small hamlet of San Amor where we stopped for drinks. It had been a steep climb but in the coolness of the early morning it went very quickly. After refreshing drinks we continued the climb to the summit, before the little hamlet of Barro, where the Camino passes the ancient Cruceiro de Amonisa and the carving of St James, staff in hand, just like us, is looking towards Santiago. The country lanes and the dusty paths were a recurring theme as we walked through peaceful countryside and sleepy hamlets until we joined the main road but not before spying a small cafe and stopping for a drink. At this point we were informed by a large road sign that we were only 40K to Santiago. Before we entered Calas de Reis we stopped for water at an Albergue and got into conversation with a young man, Keith Fox from Dublin and his Polish partner Ania Golaska. It was so good to hear Irish voices that a two minute stop to refill water bottles turned into twenty minutes and if it hadn't been for the heat could have lasted longer. Soon it was time to start walking and at 2pm we reached the bridge that crosses into Calas de Reis. We didn't have far to look for the hotel as it is on the bridge overlooking the river Bermana.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The long hot Sunday

This morning it was with great willpower and a combined team effort that we dragged ourselves away, kicking and screaming, from the beautiful setting of  Playa de Cesantes, where we both could have ended our Camino and spent the rest of the week on the beach, drinking local wine. The journey continued in a relaxed mood until we left the seafront and started the long climb that would eventually take us to the top of Alto da Lomba where we collapsed at a local cafe and enjoyed coffee and toast. The views going up the hill looking down onto the bay, dotted with boats and outlined with several marinas was, I am led to believe, something special, but all I saw was the road as I leaned over and struggled to make the top. Sometimes on these journeys beauty and culture have to be abandoned for pure survival. The downhill stretch did give me the opportunity to soak in the beauty of the coastline and before us unfurled the outline of a narrow stone bridge leading into the old fishing village of Arcade and there sitting at tables, in a most picturesque setting, were several fellow walkers enjoying a drink and a well earned break. It would have been rude and indeed could maybe have caused an International incident if we had walked on so we joined, Irmi and Jasmin (Germany), Shirley (NZ), and Karen (Aust), for a refreshing drink and a chat. After a prolonged break we started the steep climb out of the village that led us up through the forests and eventually topped the Alto da Canicouva. This was brutal climbing and it was an exhausted group that finally made it to the top and took a well earned rest. Mary and I parted company with the others as we headed on down the hill through the trees to the old Capela da Sta. Marta where we took a few minutes respite from the hot, burning sun.  During a short stretch of walking on the busy road we met Greg, an in between jobs, Pastor from California,and it would have been nice to really have time talking to this interesting man but the busy road and the hot, burning sun wouldn't allow that. For the same reason we took the alternative route from Tio Tomeza to Pontevedra because it followed a river as it meandered through a forest and would offer shade from the burning sun even though it was slightly longer than the normal route. During this quiet peaceful walk as we were regaining our composure from the tough hot walking in the hot sun footsteps behind us indicated that we were not alone and the Aussie accent told us we had met up again with our Camino friend , Karen. It was too hot and too close to the finish to stop for a chat so we arranged to meet later for dinner. This was a really wonderful four kilometre path that had an abundance of wildlife and the sound of birds and the sighting of fish was preferable to noisy smelly cars speeding past on a main road. By 3pm we had made our destination in Pontevedra and were sitting down to a well deserved beer.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Life is a beach.

Today the Camino and the excellent advice of our friend Davinia Brennan led us to an idyllic paradise, Playa de Cesantes and the Hotel Antolin, where the golden sand stretches as far as the eye can see and the blue clear sea shimmers in the bright strong sunlight. Paradise has to be earned and our journey today started with coffee shared, at around 7am, with our German friends Adrian and his father Peter. Our flexible planning had been changed yesterday when we walked through Valenca and Tui to the Hotel Alfonso about another four or five kilometres further along the Camino. Our original thought was to stay in Valenca yesterday and then do the short trip over the river and border into Tui today but we spent an hour in each centre and since we were walking so well decided to keep on going. Today's walk of approximately 31K was varied but without the walk we would not have reached our final destination and have the experience of swimming in the warm sea. I will quickly gloss over the first twelve kilometres into Porrino since at least half of it into the town was through heavy industrial estates and on main roads. The stretch of path from the San Telmo bridge of fevers along a woodland path to the little hamlet of Magdalena and the medieval stone bridge was in stark contrast to what lay ahead as we entered Porrino. We didn't stop in the industrial town but were soon walking along small rural roads that at times joined the Romana XIX which took us to our first stop at the Albergue Santa Anna where we had the traditional breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, toast with jam and for me coffee con Leche. Suitably fortified we started the hard ascent through the beautiful village of Mos, where Mary watched as a florist arranged the displays in the local church. I must say that the displays were excellent but certainly not up to the standards that Mary has scaled. Onwards and upwards we climbed and as we got higher along the road met several walkers finding the gradient tough. Finally at Parque we made the summit and breathed a sigh of relief that the climbing , for today, was over. As we walked through Parque there was a Saturday market and this gave us the opportunity to take a time out and wander, as tourists, through the various stalls. The route then took us along several large forest trails where we saw large numbers of local mountain bikers out on their Saturday morning runs as they sped quickly along the narrow paths. Unfortunately our now leisurely stroll was about to change as we were faced with the steepest and longest downhill stretch I have ever experienced, so it was with shaking, wobbling, legs that almost thirty minutes later, we finally made the relatively flat valley floor. The walk from here into the town of Redondela was fairly uneventful. Redondela was a lovely busy town with beautiful buildings and many interesting monuments and far exceeded our initial expectations. The only blot on the landscape was a large iron railway bridge that not only spanned the valley but passed directly over the town. We were not staying in Rodondela but were doing the extra three kilometres to the Hotel Antolin of course not knowing that we were heading for a little piece of heaven. So here I am ,writing the blog, sitting in lovely sunshine after having had a swim, a stroll along the beach, a few beers and soon to go for an outdoor dinner. Can life get any better?

Friday, 5 June 2015

Spain and the first Cafe con Leche

Last night we stayed in one of the best accommodations on the Portuguese Camino, Quinta das Leiras, where Anna our host couldn't be kind enough. The breakfast at 7am was by far the most extensive and indeed colourful one we have had and to share it in the company of Karen, Andrew and his father Peter was a very enjoyable start to the day. After breakfast we packed our bags but were forbidden to leave until we had hugs from Anna and photographs had to be taken. If yesterday's climbing was painful and exhausting then today made up for it by giving us a very pleasant and beautiful walk. The first early morning stretch was along country lanes that crossed several old Roman bridges and the early morning mists gave a very mystical appearance to the country scene unfolding before us. The only climb of the day was to the top of Sao Bento da Porta Alberta and after yesterday to call this a climb would be an exaggeration that even I would be unwilling to say. We did enjoy extensive views over the Minho valley and then had a delightful descent along woodland paths that were encased by pine, eucalyptus, holm oak and cork trees and the aromas were strong and refreshing. Our first coffee stop was sitting outside the cafe Central opposite the pilgrim plaque. Invigorated from our short rest we quickly made our way through more forest paths to the Ponte Romana da Pedreira where the well preserved Roman bridge crosses the fast flowing waters. Walking today was a joy as we relished a slight breeze that kept us fresh and our spirits up. After about another hour we came to another small village and this time the cafe and balcony in front of it was crowded with about a dozen other walkers. This was about the first time we have seen so many walkers at any one time and if Karen had been with us she would have started a rant about "tourist pilgrims". Apart from two elderly German ladies and a Portuguese couple the rest of them had no backpacks. They were wearing small, light, day packs which carried only their lunch and all looked as if they had just left a sports shop. Dressed in expensive, clean walking gear and most with wooden staffs they were unlike "us" real walkers with all our earthly belongings on our backs looking dusty and worn. At one point today, coming into the historic walled town of Valenca Mary's competitive spirit took over as she refused to be passed by several of the lightweight walkers and indeed quickened the pace that led to us passing several others. Initially our plan was to walk to the last town in Portugal, Valenca and cross over into Spain tomorrow but the walking was going so well we kept on going and walked over the long, very high International iron bridge in to Spain. This was a real landmark in our journey as we reached the Cathedral de Santa Maria in the ancient eccelastical town of Tui.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Toughest climb yet but the swim was great

Last night in Ponte de Lima was special as we sat outside the Taberna and enjoyed a lovely meal. Ponte de Lima is the oldest town in Portugal and it has an atmosphere that oozes class. This was highlighted this morning on the walk to the famous medieval bridge that would lead us over the Rio Lima and out for another days walk. As I walked along I could faintly hear Mozarts Oboe Concerto playing in the background and couldn't quite work out where the music was coming from. After another hundred meters and still hearing Motzart quietly in the background I was beginning to convince myself that the hot sun had really done me some permanent damage and that I had totally lost my mind. Half way across the long medieval bridge and still hearing the Oboe Concerto I noticed that there were small speakers on the lampposts and the music was coming from these. At the time I thought this was very cultural but now I'm beginning to suspect that it's a little Stepford Wives for my liking. The first five kilometres was a delightful walk on a variety of dusty paths that meandered through the fertile countryside and was mostly flanked by stone walls. After about an hour the first stop was at the opening day of a new restaurant sitting on the banks of a river. Later there was a meeting with two couples from London who were out experiencing a sample of the Camino. Under the bypass for a motorway and things took a dramatic turn as the path started its climb to the highest point Alto da Portela Grande. Now Mary and I have walked three other caminoes and have indeed climbed higher mountains but today going from almost sea level to 1300 feet in the course of about two kilometre was the toughest challenge of any of these walks. This was rock scrambling where at times you were using hands and feet as you clambered up the almost vertical wall of stone. Almost two hours later with aching thighs and joints the summit was reached and a well earned rest enjoyed. The only way I could describe this effort was that it was the equivalent of doing alternating step ups on to a chair and that isn't something I would often do. What goes up must come down and the descent over rocks,pebbles and dust was a real exercise on concentration but eventually the bottom was reached and the rural residence we had booked came into view. We were enthusiastically greeted by the owner and I must say my eyes lit up when I saw the swimming pool. Now this afternoon, two men from Gran Canaria, a father and son from Germany, Karen our Aussie friend and Mary all sat at the side of the pool dangling their tired and sore feet in the cool clear blue water. Only yours truly, the mad Irishman, took to the water and it was heavenly. I really enjoyed that swim and with each length the aches and pains evaporated with the heat from the afternoon sun. This evening we were transported to a local cafe where we met up with our two friends from Tenerife. It really is beyond understanding that the hardships, the aches and pains, of the days walk are soon forgotten in good company, good food and good Portuguese wine.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Germans,heat and a dog

Today's 38K  walk from Barcelos to Ponte de Lima, in 36 degrees, with two very steep and long climbs, was extreme walking that would take anyone to their  limits both mentally and physically. This was the longest distance and the most extreme conditions that Mary has ever attempted and to say she came through with flying colours would be an understatement.. We left the beautiful and colourful city of Barcelos at 5.20am as the faint rays of the sun attempted to break through the darkened sky. By the time we had left the suburbs and joined the path that meandered through several small villages the sun had broken through and was already drying the damp grass. The extremely steep four kilometres climb to the top of Alto de Portela had our lungs gasping for breath and our legs aching as we made the summit and started the long descent. By 9.30 we had reached Aborim where we stopped for a well deserved breakfast. and a short pit stop. Most of today's walking was on dusty dirt roads that wound their way through vineyards and small hamlets. This was a fairly lonely and isolated stage of the Camino and it was nice to have Mary's companionship rather than going solo. We did, however, encounter something that I think is typically Camino. Just before we arrived at the Ponte case Tabuas, a 12th Century bridge over the Rio Neiva, we came upon a German couple and he was carrying a dog, as well as his backpack. I thought this was odd but their explanation and consequent actions were even odder. They had found the dog earlier on the trail and even though it didn't appear to be in any pain or stress had what looked like a broken hind leg. Taking pity on the poor animal they were going to carry it the 15K to Ponte de Lima to get a Vet. Depending on the outcome of the Vet they were willing to sacrifice their Camino and take the dog back to Germany. For fear of being asked to carry the mutt we wished them all the best and moved on. About an hour later we came upon a well deserved cafe in Vitorino where we spent some time in discussion with Ian from Wales and Bernd from Germany. When our United Nations dialogue had ended we put on our backpacks and knowing we had only another 12K to go moved off with gusto. As we rounded the first bend our enthusiasm was shattered as we saw the almost vertical climb that stretched out in front of us to the top of Portela. In the ever increasing heat this was a real effort to reach the top but working together and with constant mutual encouragement we finally made it and collapsed at a stone cross with the image of Saint James. After several litres of water we started the long descent through the hamlets of Anta, Bouca, Paco, Periera and Barros. The last kilometres to Ponte de Lima seemed to take an eternity but suddenly we could see the new bridge and then the iconic medieval bridge that both straddle the Rio Lima. We had arrived in the oldest town in Portugal, Ponte de Lima.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Braga the beautiful

Today was to be a sightseeing day in the city of Braga and I had been looking forward to this from the beginning of the journey. Sometimes the description or name of a place catches your imagination and that is what happened between me and Braga. It just sounded so wonderful and indeed inspiring that I had to go there. Reality, at times, can be a real let down but certainly not today. Braga was everything, and more, that I hoped it would be. Braga is a city with an abundance of spectacular monuments and is often referred as the "Rome of Portugal" but this title does it an injustice. Braga is not a copy of anywhere else, it has its own character and soul, which combine to make it a very unique and outstanding place. This is living history and all enclosed within a comfortable walking distance. You can trace the handprints of the Celts, Romans, Visigoths and Moors as they left their stamp on the town and added to this the Gothic and Baroque embellishments mingling with Art Deco and modern architecture and you have the magic and uniqueness that is Braga. It is also a city with a cafe culture and a relaxed calm atmosphere that lends itself to sitting in the main square watching the water fountains dance up and down in the bright sunshine,and people watch. Or you could walk round the many churches and cathedral that are elaborate and beautiful. The cathedral is an 11th Century Romanesque building that was built on the foundation of a former mosque built by the occupying Moors. Braga is the countries ecclesiastical capital and there are proliferation of statues, fountains, squares and monuments dedicated to past Cardinals, Bishops or Saints. High on a hill overlooking the city is Portugals most visited tourist site, Bom Jesus do Monte, a religious santuary with a monumental Baroque stairway that climbs up 381feet. This is a very special place and has been a pilgrimage site since about the 14th Century. After all the walking and climbing today it was nice to get to our hotel where we enjoyed a lovely meal. Tomorrow is an early start and with temperatures predicted to be about 34 degrees we hope to leave by 5am on the 37k walk to Ponte De Lima.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Snakes and Natterjacks win the day

Last nights stay in the castle, Hotel Forte de Sao Joao Baptista, was a memory lasting experience and the meal was of Michelin standards. After a luxury breakfast it was time to face the stark reality of a 34K walk to our next destination, Barcelos. The first ten kilometres along the river, passing the Convento de Santa Clara was very pleasant in the early morning light as we watched colourful fishing boats return to their berths. Soon we were walking country roads through Touguinho and Junqueira. At Junqueira we passed under the bunting and colourful arches that signified a festival and arrived at the Church Monastery with its famous statue of the Santiago Pilgrim. Our first stop, after about ten kilometres, was at the small hamlet of Arcos where we stopped for coffee and were soon joined by our Australian Camino friend Karen who before she stormed off into the distance agreed to meet us at 7pm for drinks and dinner. A large percentage of today's walking was along Roman roads with their individual stone insets that are difficult to walk on and are very damaging to the heels and soles of the feet. We did have a long, very relaxing walk through the eucalyptus forest with its strong scents mingling with the visual stunning sight of large areas of wild lilies. As we walked along a quiet country lane we noticed a fellow walker in the distance who seemed to be standing, in statuesque fashion on the path. Heather, a mature English woman, was still standing transfixed when we arrived. She asked if we were Colin and Mary and explained that the path was blocked by snakes, yes snakes, because there in front of us were two fairly large snakes and they were entwined, almost standing, and looked none too friendly. Now St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland but this Irishman was not going to tangle with two mating snakes as they twisted and curled in their coupling ritual. Puzzled how Heather knew our names the answer was that she had been told by Karen that we would be behind her. Anyway after about five minutes the amorous snakes had had enough and slithered back off the path and into the undergrowth. All was well with the world and we were able to  continue with our walking. Our next encounter with nature was the noise made by a pond of Natterjack Toads. At first we thought the loud noise was being caused by ducks but upon leaving the path we discovered a pond that was populated by an orchestra of these toads who were in full voice. From this point it was a long, hard slog to the finish and at about 4pm we were crossing the picturesque medieval bridge that crosses the river Cavado into Barcelos. Tonight at seven we met up with Karen and after walking through the town picked a small restaurant for dinner where the two ladies feasted on steaks and I had hake and all washed down with a bottle of local white and a bottle of red wine. The craic was great and we met up with two German girls, Christina and Stephanie, from Berlin. So another day done and another day closer to Santiago.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Mary's first day

Well today was Mary's first walk on the Portuguese Camino and she sure picked a baptism of fire with the 30+K coastal stage from Porto to Vila do Conde but in true spirit she coped really well and finished strongly. The morning started with a thick fog rolling in of the sea and shrouding the coast line. We had left our hotel at around 7.00 and at that early part of the day it felt cold and damp from the fog as we made our way over the iconic lifting bridge and walked through the Porto docks until we joined the coastal way. At about 10.00 the sun broke through the fog and within minutes the beautiful and rugged coastline revealed itself to us. This was heavenly walking on a wooden boardwalk that snaked its way majestically through the sand-dunes and the scenery added that extra dimension. At one point I stopped to read what appeared to be a memorial that was written in both Portuguese and English and you can imagine my surprise when I discovered it was about an English steamer, out of Liverpool, that had sank in 1913 and guess what? The good boat Veronese was built in Belfast, yes Belfast. Is this yet another great boat built by the skilled craftsmen of Belfast and sunk by an Englishman? We made several drink stops and quite honestly, during the first 20K, there was a holiday feeling about this walk even though we were carrying our heavy backpacks and knew we still had a long walk in front of us. During one of these stops we met Karen from Australia so it became a longer than usual break, as I had met Karen on the earlier stages, this gave Mary an opportunity to meet another Camino friend. Sorry but I forgot to say that we both met Tammy last night after she had made her final walk into Porto. The marking on this stage can be quite confusing but we made our way through the colourful and atmospheric fishing villages of Vila Cha and Parque de Champismo which were a riot of colour and amazing aromas from the local fish restaurants. Vila do Conde was soon in sight but in true Camino fashion got further away with each step so it was around 4.00 when we arrived but it took at least another hour to find our hotel. You will never guess it but our hotel is an actual, real castle so we are doing the Camino like real knights of old. Tomorrow we leave the coast and head inland where I'm sure we will miss today's coastal breeze. I will post photographs on FB.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Being a tourist in Porto

Today's blog is short because it isn't about walking. Last night Mary arrived in Porto and it was great to be reunited once more. Until last night I hadn't really realised the solitude of solo walking but for the next stage from Porto to Santiago it will be wonderful to share the experience with Mary. Today we relaxed in the magical city of Porto. We did everything touristy, we even took the red tour bus and sat back and observed the beautiful architecture whilst listening to the informative commentary. Porto is a very vibrant city and to experience the waterfront cultural scene with its open air cafes, restaurants and music was a break from walking. Tonight we met with Tammy, who along with another English girl Bella, finished this stage of the walk today. Our final ritual in Porto tonight was to have a glass of vintage port and toast the hopeful completion of stage two of the walk which should finish in Santiago on the 12th June. I said it would be a short blog since tomorrow is an early start to walk the 28K coastal route to Villa do Conde.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

End of a stage at Porto Cathedral

When I left Madeira at 6.30 this morning there was a feeling that today my Camino would reach its climax. The solo and at times lonely walking would finish at the end of this stage. The first three hours in the coolness of the morning was spent walking uphill and this had a real draining effect both mentally and physically. This was then followed by a stretch on the busy N1 where the constant stream of cars and lorries made this part of the walk very polluted, noisy and with no footpath, dangerous. After about 12k of walking I turned off the main road and followed a small rural road through the tiny villages of Souto, Redondo, Carvalhosa, Monte Grande and Lourosa. During this part of the walk, along a road made from  square stones laid side by side, I witnessed some spectacular washing. At two different villages there appeared to be a communal clothes washing facility. The Roman looking open air wash houses were full of older women doing the washing by hand. I couldn't work this out since I observed that the houses had electricity so why were these women doing the washing in this ancient and physical manner? Soon I was in Grijo with its famous Italian monestry and parkland and it was here that I met up with a Dutch walker and we both stopped for a coffee and a bite to eat. Today's walk of 38k was made easier with a slight breeze that was coming from the coast. The walk through the residential suburbs of Porto is best not mentioned and is  now blocked from my memory. The part of road along the run da Senhora do Monte which has no pavements and where fast moving cars are practically touching you should be detoured before someone is badly hurt. When you arrive at Jardim O Moro you see Porto and the river Douro with its famous iron bridge in panoramic glory stretching out in front of you. To reach the Cathedral and the end of the walk you walk over the the upper level of the famous Ponte de Dom Luis iron bridge and then proceed up past the statue of Vimara Peres to the Cathedral. The journey was over, 380K in 12 days, and the blisters to prove it. Tomorrow the rest of Team Boylan arrive in Porto and with our combined efforts we will make Santiago by the 12th June. Even with all the physical demands, mainly caused by the exceptional heat, I have enjoyed the challenge of this stage of the Portuguese Camino. This evening I wandered down to the waterfront where I met up with Fred from Holland and we sat having a drink and something to eat whilst at the same time watching the locals dance in the square.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A mixed day

Today, for me, was a strange day on the Portuguese Camino, where I experienced some absolutely beautiful walking, some vertical sections that challenged you to breaking point, met some interesting people and said goodbye to friends I will possibly never see again. It all started at 6.30 this morning when I strided out of Albergaria on my way to Sao Joao da Madeira. The morning was bright and the first three hours were absolutely fantastic taking me along a mixture of quiet country roads, forest paths and old Roman roads. The scenery took you into an inner world where the walking became almost robotic and the kilometres just flashed past.At 10.15 I went into a nice cafe in Pinheiro da Bemposta where I emailed family and enjoyed a breakfast of coffee and croissants. Leaving the cafe I came to a bend in the road with a smaller road forking off to the left. As I looked for the directional arrow a woman came up and pointed to the right hand side and told me "Santiago", I smiled and thanked her and as I turned away she called "pilgrim", came up to me and took my hat out from the mesh at the back of backpack, hit me with it and put it on my head whilst at the same time wagging her finger. We both broke out laughing and she allowed me to take her photograph. Later as I approached Oliveira two old woman, standing under the shade of a tree, again greeted me with the term pilgrim and when I stopped they wanted to know where I was from and after telling them they gave me a handful of freshly picked cherries. Things were going well as I walked through the fairly big and prosperous market town and with only about 12K to go had visions of an early finish. It's at times like this that the Camino bites back and today in the scorching heat she nearly delivered a knockout punch. Those last 10K were almost vertical and with the energy sapping heat combined to provide an experience that took body and mind to near breaking point. With three kilometres to go I saw the road bend and level out but a small stone path kept going up and up. At the bend there was a restaurant, Abertura, and even though it was closed the owner brought me in and gave me a glass of coke. This kindness from a stranger is what the Camino is all about and with his perfect English he told me he owned a restaurant in Oliveira and had just recently opened this one. Refreshed from the short stop and the coke I climbed the last 2k into the suburbs of Sao Joao da Madeira but it was another hour before I found tonight's accommodation. This afternoon I met up again with the Italians, Andrew and Tony, and six of us had a lovely dinner tonight. There was a tinge of sadness tonight because most, if not all of us, will never meet again. I will be staying in Porto until Sunday whilst most of them will be leaving Porto on Friday. The good news is that Mary arrives on Friday but before that I have about 38K to walk tomorrow that will get me to Porto.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Contrasting Bridges

The Albergue last night was the best I've ever stayed in on any of these mad walks. Six of us sent out for meals and then with three euro bottles of local wine sat out on the veranda and had a feast. Like all things Camino the evening entertainment stops early, usually before nine, since everyone needs to get packed and have a good rest for an early start. The start this morning was early in order to try and get finished before the intense heat of the afternoon sun.  This was to be the shortest day with a distance of only 23 kilometres. Most of it with the exception of a short forest part near the end was on roads, either rural or national road, N 1. The first five kilometres was on the N1 and I was glad that the early start meant less traffic even though it was busy enough. I walked through several villages today and in one in particular, Mourisca do Vouga, was amazed at the number of large mansions that were obviously built in a more prosperous past but with some now appearing derelict and in poor repair. Two of the highlights today were bridge crossings. First there was the Roman bridge at Ponte de Marnel where you walked along an old Roman road and then walked onto the bridge beside a lake and there was a peaceful tranquility. You felt that nature, history and mans endeavours had all joined together to create this masterpiece of beauty. In contrast the walk over the fairly new Ponte, A 25, over the Rio Marnel, is frightening, dangerous and noisy. You walk on a small path on the new motorway bridge that crosses over the valley below. It is ridiculously high, windy and the traffic thunders past alarmingly close.Not a good experience. There were also some climbs which even the book described as very steep and with a red ! mark. These were long and steep but you have no choice but to keep your head down and plod on. It was with a feeling of relief that I walked into yet another beautiful town Albergaria-A-Velha only to find that the local Albergue wasn't open for another two hours. I met four other walkers in the town square who were waiting for the Albergue to open but I left them and got a cheap but clean room above a restaurant. The day now is about resting up, doing repairs to the feet and getting ready for the final push to Porto. So far I have done about 320K and the next two days of 32 and 38 will see me arrive in Porto on Thursday afternoon. I'll sign off now with a Happy Birthday to Aisling.

Monday, 25 May 2015


Well today was a thirty kilometre walk to the town of Agueda and I will spare you the boring details of missed signs and sore feet. The early morning walk was along small  scenic country roads but soon deteriotated into road walking on the main road which is unsafe and soul destroying. Today is the birthday of our special angel, Rachel, who always had the gift of bringing happiness and joy into our lives. With this in mind I was thinking of her as I walked along half expecting something special to happen and wasn't disappointed. I had made a wrong decision somewhere and ended up on the main dual carriageway until I reached the town of Avelas de Caminho where I was able to pick up the yellow arrows and rejoin the correct route through several small villages. I passed by the headquarters of the Sao Joao Bodega with its famous Bairrada grape and noticing that the door to what appeared to be a museum was open so I stepped in to look and photograph the beautiful ceramic murals that were at the entrance. Hearing voices I decided to leave but before I could a gentleman appeared and greeted me as a pilgrim. I explained that I only wanted to photograph the beautiful murals and he invited me in. When he led me into a large room I was surprised to see a gathering of about twelve equally well dressed people who appeared to be having some sort of reception. I was introduced to everyone, including the Mayor of the region, and offered wine and a plate of snacks. Things got better when a woman informed me that in the 1980s she had been in Belfast for a week at a European Union convention on Peace and Reconciliation. My host Manuel Jose Costa invited me to stay for lunch which he explained was to thank the local dignitaries for another successful year for the Bodega. When I declined he insisted we had photographs and on my leaving gave me his card and asked that I contact him at the end of my journey. Two glasses of wine and hot sun don't add up to perfect walking conditions but I made the final ten kilometres, still deep in my thoughts and memories, and arrived at the best Albergue ever. My thoughts today are with everyone at home. I have posted photographs on Facebook.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The hospitality of a lovely couple

Last nights stay in the Hotel Astoria was a bit of old charm luxury but the morning brought with it the reality that another days walking was in front of me. The morning got of to a great start with breakfast in the hotel where I stocked up on food and fruit to last the day. Saying my goodbyes to Dave and Fairlie I shouldered my backpack and started my march. The first thing I had to do was walk past the train station and quite honestly there was a strong compulsion to walk in, I could actually see two red trains waiting at the platforms, since the train would get me to Mealhada in about 30 minutes. Anyway the walk along the side of the river in the freshness of the early morning was soul lifting although recently it's the soles of my feet that need lifting, but that's another story. For the first two hours I walked along small twisting country roads that meandered through prime farming land. The small village of Cruce Ademia da Baixo was quickly passed through and then the steep two kilometres climb through Cioga to Trouxemil where I went into the local church and joined the locals at their Sunday Mass. After being refreshed both in a spiritual and physical way from this unscheduled stop I then made my way up through Adoes and into the small hamlet of  Sargento Mor where I stopped to consult with the guide book and check where the Camino yellow arrow was. At this point an elderly lady was getting out of her car and in perfect English asked me where I was from. We chatted for a few minutes and her husband opened their door and I was invited in for coffee. I stayed for about twenty minutes enjoying both their company and their excellent coffee. They had both worked in London and their English was perfect so it was an opportunity to at least talk to the locals but unfortunately when I asked for a photograph they said no. After this enlightening and uplifting encounter the rest of the days walking was a nightmare. Along the main N1 dual carriageway with cars and lorries passing so close they nearly blew you into the ditch and all of this in 34 degrees of heat. I was hot and tired when I arrived at the roundabout that leads into Mealhada and looking forward to a nice hot shower. The guide book was sort of misleading. There was another five kilometres or so to the Albergue. When I finally arrived at tonight's resting place I was pleasantly surprised to find it full of fellow travellers. I wasn't alone on this walk, I had been behind all of these people and then awhile later in came my friends Dave and Fairlie.  This evening the three of us along with Clare Cunningham (Ireland), Gerrie van der Velde ( Holland), and Karen Robinson (Australia), all enjoyed a lovely meal at a nearby restaurant.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Roman Masterpiece

Last nights stay in the Residencial was basic but clean and I had a great nights sleep. I left early this morning because I wanted to spend time in Conimbriga at the Roman site. The sun was shining as I walked along the small country roads and I had soon reached Zambujal with the, now being painted, church and was quickly into Fonte Coberta with an image of Santiago above its door. The route now took to a small path that made its way through the countryside and the stillness of the early morning was only enhanced by the sounds of nature. Through the tiny and still sleeping hamlet of Poco and I made the climb into a small wood before dropping steeply to a bridge over a stream and then up to the Roman site. I had arrived early and had a wait until it opened at ten. The complex was very impressive with museum,conference facilities, and restaurant and as I sat outside on the wall of an ornate fountain I met a South African couple who are also doing the walk. It soon turned into a pilgrims convention when we were joined by my American friends Fairlie and Dave. When it opened the ticket person made my day. I would have walked barefoot to have this experience. When I asked for a 65+ concession ticket he asked to see my passport. The Roman ruins were mind blowing and as I walked around the various houses and baths I was amazed at the standard of building and the technical expertise. These monuments to Roman achievement are still standing after centuries and yet because of bad design and inferior building techniques we are knocking down buildings built in the 1960s. I could and indeed wanted to stay longer in this magical environment but there were still 22K to be walked before I could find somewhere to stay. With a heavy heart I left Conimbriga and made my way along the small rural roads to the next village Orelhudo where I stopped for a coffee. If I'm honest I should admit to an incident along this part of the road. For days now I have seen hundreds of orange trees bowing down under the weight of their fruit and indeed the oranges are on the ground rotting. Well today I gave into temptation and plucked two oranges from a tree and they were the juiciest, sweetest oranges I have ever tasted. This could turn in to a major incident with Interpol looking for the Portuguese orange thief. The rest of the days walk was heavy going with several steep climbs and all was made worst by the feeling that Coimbra, my final destination, was getting further away instead of getting nearer. The final five kilometres in to the old part of the city, through the new town with its high rise modern buildings was a soul destroying and spiritless walk until I finally came to the very attractive and ornate Ponte de Santa Clara crossing over the mighty Mondego river to the old town. At this point I was doing a very good impression of Dustin Hoffman walking over the bridge in the Midnight Cowboy. The old city of Coimbra is very buitiful with its ornate buildings and my hotel, the Astoria, has been preserved in the grandure of the 1940s

Friday, 22 May 2015

Grump beats gruff

It was a real drag to leave behind the warm hospitality of Carlos but at 7.45 I gave my farewells and walked out of the little town of  Alvaiazere and started the long haul to Rabacal. The sun was still shining and the steep climb out of the town made the start hard. This part of the walk was on small winding roads and the lungs were feeling the pressure by the time I reached the hamlet of Laranjjeiras where I had hoped to make my first coffee stop but the cafe and small shop were closed. Upwards and onwards for another four kilometres and the walk in to Venda do Negra and still no sign of a coffee break. The rest of the walk this morning was on a wide variety of surfaces as the path changed from small rural road, to dusty dirt track, old Roman rocky paths, and forest trail as it meandered through a series of hamlets including Gramatinha and Casais Maduros and still no sign of a coffee stop. Coming out of the forest after Casal do Soeiro I had an encounter with several locals but in my coffee starved state they had no chance as Ireland put Portugal to the sword. There in true Billy Goat Gruff style stood three large beasts blocking the path. We had a stand of. We eyeballed each other and still not an inch. Then in true Celtic warrior fashion I withdrew one of my walking poles and charged. Those goats didn't like to see the glint of steel flashing so they turned and made a run for it. Northern Ireland Football team aren't the only ones who can beat Portugal. After that, even with blisters burning, I strode downhill as a true Celtic warrior to claim my cup of coffee in the large market town of Ansiao. To call Ansiao a market town is an injustice to it. I have never seen a town so clean, it was gleaming in the sun. White marble and polished white sandstone sparkled and the pavements were so clean you literally could eat your dinner from them. I came to the conclusion this must be the capital of OCD and as Mary will understand I felt a true bond and affinity with the town, I was amongst my own. In the town hall I met a real character who not only had spent time in Belfast but knew Carrickfergus and started singing the song. She had been a student in Belfast in the late 70's and I really enjoyed her company but it took her 20 minutes to stamp my passbook. The rest of today's stage into Rabacal was just about keeping your head down on the climbs and taking it easy on the downhill stretches. The highlight of the afternoon was reaching the lovely little hilltop village of Alvorge where I broke with custom and had a cool glass of beer. Reaching Rabacal was a bit of a disappointment since it was so run down looking so I decided to walk an extra five kilometres to find better accommodation. Tomorrow takes me to Conimbriga which is one of the best and most preserved Roman monuments so the extra few kilometre today will give me time to explore it.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Did you ever get one of those days that start brilliantly and then descend into near tragedy? The early walk through the beautiful streets of Tomar and across the old Ponte Velha bridge was glorious. The route then led on to the most beautiful and uplifting walk I have ever experienced. The small dusty, stoney and windy path followed the Rio Nabao through dense vegetation that was a riot of colour. The smell of the wild white roses mingled with the wild garlic to produce a fragrance that only nature can bring to life and this along with the music from the cascading river joining in harmony with the birdsong and the bass notes of the frogs was a perfect example of natures ability to produce pure brilliance. Half way along the valley path I came across mans monument to civilisation, a large motorway bridge crossing  over the valley and producing a thundering roar that drowned out the simple beauty of nature. I left the sounds of heavy traffic and the path behind me and walked through the villages of Casals and Soianda where I stopped for a coffee and visit a pharmacist to get cream for my feet. At this point it was extremely warm and the terrain was very undulating and by this I mean the road went straight down to go straight back up again. The road really was undulating and at one point had a ten percent incline that lasted about half a mile and almost separated body from soul. At this point, in the intense heat, I really felt a deep desire to call a total halt to the whole thing. Finally the yellow arrows took me in to a eucalyptus and pine forest where the shade of the trees offered a protection from the sun but the stone path kept on going up and then down. I walked this forest trail for over an hour and finally it turned into a country road that led to a village, but no arrows. Confused and slightly concerned because the village name, Pias, didn't appear on the map I entered a cafe for information and advice. I really didn't want to hear what the woman told me about missing a turn in the forest and now being fifteen kilometres from Alvaiazere instead of about six. There was only one thing to do and that was walk the main road for the fifteen kilometres. Hot, tired, angry,dusty, thirsty and hungry I finally arrived at Albergaria Pinheiro to be greeted by Carlos Pimheiro, the owner, who takes great pride in being the perfect host. I met up with Marcel from Holland, Pierre from France and two Finnish ladies Anne and Sinikka and we all enjoyed being offered a glass of ten year old port from Carlos and watch him take great pride in stamping our passbooks in the old way with melted wax. Then Dave and Fairlie Kinnecom my two American friends arrived and their tragic tale of missed paths in the forest at least made me fell that I wasn't the only one who could get lost. This evening the seven of us enjoyed a very tasteful meal in a local restaurant and on our return had another port with Carlos. This is one of the best albergues I have ever stayed in and Carlos is a great example of the perfect host.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Reaching the Templar City

Last nights stay in Golega was fairly uneventful except that none of the restaurants or cafes were open so dinner consisted of  bread and cheese. This morning the owner of the Casa provided a beautiful breakfast so I joined her other guests, the two American walkers and a young woman from Devon called Tammy. After our substantial breakfast we said our farewells and each of us went to pack our bags and start the days walk. Now Golega, the city of the horse, is a beautiful place but trying at 8.00am to find your way on to the Camino is virtually impossible. I walked for ages and couldn't find any of the customary yellow arrows. It was then at a roundabout that I met up with Tammy who like me was confused and somewhat lost. After consulting with the guide bible that is Brierly we decided on the road to take and started our walk towards Tomar. We had walked for about thirty minutes when a car stopped and a woman asked us if we were doing the Camino and after informing her that we were she told us to get in the car because we were on the wrong road and going in the wrong direction. She owned an Albergue in a village about 30 minutes walk out of Golega so she drove us to her Albergue where we were able to pick up the right path. At this point Tammy and I decided to walk together for the rest of the day. She had a very bad experience yesterday with a motorist and was feeling vulnerable and as I said yesterday having company makes the journey seem quicker. Most of today's walking was the climb that leaves behind the flat plains associated with the Rio Tejo as we headed uphill into the wooded countryside and passed through several villages associated with the Knights Templars. It was steep climbs on rugged paths with spectacular scenery. Our first stop for coffee was Atalaia where we met up with a French walker and two very friendly Spanish cyclists. After the stop it was hard getting started as I had stiffened up and the blisters ached but soon we were in our stride and had made the almost vertical climb to Grou. This was extreme walking and the steepness wasn't helped by the dust and the slipping stones. At this point we were walking through a dense eucalyptus forrest. After Grou it was a steep descent and then a treacherous road walk for about 10K in to Tomar. All the walking has been worth it just to see Tomar. Tomar is the best preserved example of  Templar architecture and layout to survive to this day and it is mind blowing. Would love to spend several days here but tomorrow is another walk.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The City of the Horse

After yesterday's unplanned marathon I was expecting the worst when I got up this morning but actually I was ok or at least no worst than when I try to get down the stairs first thing in the morning at home. The early morning walk out of Santarem let me see what a beautiful city it is as I made my way through the winding cobbled streets to the St. James Gate. A ten minute downhill path was quite treacherous but the colour of wild nasturtiums cascading down the bank was a composition only nature can do. Then it was on to the dirt paths that take you through acres and acres of vines both tomato and grape. The path was very dry, rutted and stoney which meant that you had to concentrate for fear of falling. It was also sore on the soles of the feet. This lasted for about 12K and just when I was despairing of see a village Vale da Figueira came into view and offered the perfect spot for a coffee and croissant. At the other side of the village the path started again only this time the crops changed and now it was vegetables and fruit. When I turned a corner I came upon a very old stone bridge where two fellow walkers were having a short rest. This American couple, you called him Dave but his wife's name escapes me, are also walking to Santiago. It really is noticeable that when you are walking and talking with others the miles just pass in a flash. Soon we entered the village of Azinhaga which was a riot of colour and a hive of activity. Row after row of lighted arches crossed over the streets, all the lampposts were wrapped in blue and white, every house was being painted and an enormous floral rosary hung from the church tower. The village was getting ready for their annual festival to Mary. At this point the American couple decided to stay and I set of on the 12K road march  to today's destination Golega which proudly boasts to being the City of the Horse. This is affluent countryside. The town and its architecture is rich in class and the people are well dressed and drive expensive cars. Today's modest accommodation is a beautiful casa with private rooms which I need as I set of on some repair jobs to the battered feet. The pharmacist was visited and compeed plasters purchased. Tomorrow I leave the rich fertile plains and start climbing, that'll be fun. So far I have covered between 125 and 130K

Monday, 18 May 2015

No rooms for hire

The Hotel Flora in Vilafranca  was excellent last night, basic but clean, and even with all the celebrations I had a sound sleep. This morning was an early start in order to get the bulk of the walking done before the intense heat of the afternoon. The 19K walk from Vila Franca to Azambuja was horrible. It was along the busy N3 road and the traffic whizzed by. By 10 am I was in a small cafe in the main plaza enjoying breakfast. Because Azambuja is the end of stage two I had a decision to make. Stay in Azambuja or do some of tomorrow's walk. I decided to walk until about 2pm and then look for somewhere to stay. If the walk on the main roads in to Azambuja  was horrible  the walk out of it was stunning. A small tree lined road turned down on to a delightful path that  crossed over a canal which in turn led on to a wide farm track that went the whole way to  Aerodromo. The scenery was so colourful with wild flowers in abundance. At this point I met the two German girls from yesterday and we took a time out for a chat. Soon it was time to go so I left them and made my way to the small village of  Reguengo where I stopped for a coffee. I enquired at the cafe if there were any hotels or hostels nearby and was told that they didn't know of any. At this point the alarm bells should have been ringing. I left the village and the path again was really special with the river on one side and the vast fields of tomatoes and grapes on the other side. The walk was really enjoyable and I looked forward to reaching the riverside village of Valada where I was convinced I would get a room. The same story only this time in a different cafe. At this point it was about 3.30 and all I could do was accept the fact that I would have to do the long 20K in to the large town of  Santarem where I would get accommodation. The next 9K are described as a sand track that meanders through a rich agricultural landscape. All that is true but when you are walking in the intense heat with a wind whipping up the dust  you really are not looking at the scenery. At a small stone bridge I came across a walker from Munich who was very concerned that he would have to make the long walk to Santarem in order to get accommodation. I left him moaning and made my way through the dust. Eventually at about 7pm I came upon the sign informing me that I had reached the boundary of my destination. What it didn't say was that it was a steep uphill 4K climb in to the centre of the town.  Battered and bruised I finally found a good hostel and after a shower and something to eat I have recovered.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

I hope Benfica don't ruin a good nights sleep.

This morning I was at the door of Lisbon Cathedral at 7.15 and took my first steps on the road to Santiago. The first way marking symbol appears to the right of the Cathedral steps, so in true Camino tradition I touched it and started walking.The first 9K went fairly quickly, in the cool bright morning sunshine, as I walked pass and indeed through some of the cities historical sights until I joined the walkway through the Linear Park, with  its line of bronze statues as it runs parallel to the rio Tejo, and all the time the impressive 17km long Vasco da Gama bridge was getting closer and closer. After this pleasant start it was a shock to have to walk along a busy road for about 4K but then I turned right on to a path that took me through beautiful countryside. It was at this point I met two Italian walkers Tony and Andrew who are also heading to Santiago.
By now the temperature was rising as we walked through vine fields and row upon row of poppies. I even stopped to take a picture of a man gathering lemons and not a gin in sight. After about 20k we stopped for drinks at a small cafe in Alpriarte and met two German girls who are walking to Porto. At this point I had to leave them and start walking, or be sick, as Andrew started lancing the biggest blood blister I have ever seen. The next six or so kilometres was me and Van the Man walking in tandem along a dusty path through  corn fields as the sun got hotter. The path then deviated through a wetland nature reserve and the noise from the wild life was deafening as I walked along a boardwalk for about five kilometres . The final four kilometres into Alverca were along main roads again and I must admit that in the heat of the sun I found these difficult. I met up with the Italians in Alverca. I was sitting enjoying a large coke when they arrived so we took a time out from walking. The problem with time outs is that you stiffen up and the next kilometre or so was quite painful. The three of us had decided to walk through  Alverca even though it was the end of the stage one walk. The Italians stopped near Alhandra but I decided to do the extra 7K into Vilafranca and this stretch with its new path that passes through several marinas  and boat clubs on the Rio Tejo was stunning. I must say that by the time I reached Vilafranca I was hungry, thirsty, in need of a shower and looking forward to a quiet night after walking 42K. When I get it wrong I usually do it big style. The drink, the food, and the shower all went as planned but then Benfica FC won the Portuguese league and the whole town is going nuts. I couldn't even talk to Mary with the noise of car horns as they drive around the streets waving their red flags. I hope the celebrations don't last all night.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The beauty of Lisbon

Well it has been a long day. Mary and I left Carrick this morning at 7am and as is usual when you have an early start we didn't sleep well last night for fear of sleeping in. Arrived in Dublin airport at 9am and everything went as clockwork. Totally stress free and for me with airports that is something. Even though the plane landed in Lisbon at 2.15 it was about 3 by the time I got out of the airport. Four different coloured metro lines later I arrived at the hotel. This afternoon I went into Lisbon to get the first Camino stamp in the Cathedral and another one at the church where St. Anthony is buried. I don't know what I expected but Lisbon is a really beautiful city and Mary and I will certainly plan a future city break. I only got a glimpse but I was really impressed. Well I've had a good feed of pasta in preparation for tomorrow's walk which is just over 40K. Forgot to say, it is very sunny and warm. I'm having a little problem getting my phone charged but hopefully that will be sorted. Will post again tomorrow. Colin.

Monday, 11 May 2015

A new walk

Just to let you know that the candmcamino blog will be resurrected this weekend. The walk this time is the Portuguese Camino from Lisbon to Santiago. I will be starting from Lisbon on Sunday 17th May and will arrive in Porto on Friday 29th. Mary is joining me in Porto on the 29th and we will then walk to Santiago where we will arrive 12th June. I will be writing a daily blog which will be posted on