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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Reliving old memories

Well today's walk from Navarrete to Logrono was in sharp contrast to any days walking we have so far experienced on the Camino Ignatian. After breakfast in a little cafe beside the old church we walked through the still sleeping town and soon found the orange arrows that symbolise this walk. The orange arrow was in directional opposition to the familiar yellow arrow of the Camino Santiago going from Logrono through Navarrete to Najera. We were retracing past familiar ground. The scenery was bright, colourful and of course Rioja was celebrated in the abundance of vines and bodegas. Whereas we have become accustomed to having the way to ourselves today there was a constant stream of other pilgrims but they were walking in the opposite direction to us. The once familiar sounds of Buen Camino echoed along our progress and several times kindly pilgrims stopped us to point us in the direction of Santiago. No we are not lost, we might be mad, but our Camino goes to Barcelona. Soon after passing the San Juan de Acre pilgrims hospital, established in 1185 we entered the Parc de la Grajera and we could see down below us the famous and picturesque lakes of Logrono. Rounding a bend and there he was, the long haired, grey bearded hermit looking man who sits in a wooden shelter selling Camino trinkets and stamping your passbooks. Memories flooded back, was it really only three years ago that Mary and I stopped here with our friends, Austin and Pauline Patterson, on our way to Santiago from SJPDP, and here we are again getting the same stamp only walking in the opposite direction and with our daughter, Aisling. We had a very pleasant and easy walk through the park paths until we arrived at the lakeside cafe where we sat and chatted with three other pilgrims.  Micky Ravins from Tipperary had teamed up with Jocelyn Muscarelband and Misty Vogtritter, both from Arizona, and all three were making their way to Santiago.. After a lengthy stop, talking and then watching the swans and their cygnets we made the final 4 or 5K into Logrono and our accommodation. Because we had made such good time today we were able to spend time exploring the city. It seems that Logrono in common with many Spanish cities has a vibrant cafe culture and numerous parks where people can just sit and watch the world pass by. Today we took the opportunity to join them and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon sitting in a park just watching people. A visit to the cathedral was a must and dinner in the old part of the city was equally relaxing before we enjoyed an open air jazz concert. Well tomorrow is another day.
Well today's walk from Navarrete to Logrono was in sharp contrast to any days walking we have so far experienced on the Camino Ignatian. After breakfast in a little cafe beside the old church we walked through the still sleeping town and soon found the orange arrows that symbolise this walk. The orange arrow was in directional opposition to the familiar yellow arrow of the Camino Santiago going from Logrono through Navarrete to Najera. We were retracing past familiar ground. The scenery was bright, colourful and of course Rioja was celebrated in the abundance of vines and bodegas. Whereas we have become accustomed to having the way to ourselves today there was a constant stream of other pilgrims but they were walking in the opposite direction to us. The once familiar sounds of Buen Camino echoed along our progress and several times kindly pilgrims stopped us to point us in the direction of Santiago. No we are not lost, we might be mad, but our Camino goes to Barcelona. Soon after passing the San Juan de Acre pilgrims hospital, established in 1185 we entered the Parc de la Grajera and we could see down below us the famous and picturesque lakes of Logrono. Rounding a bend and there he was, the long haired, grey bearded hermit looking man who sits in a wooden shelter selling Camino trinkets and stamping your passbooks. Memories flooded back, was it really only three years ago that Mary and I stopped here with our friends, Austin and Pauline Patterson, on our way to Santiago from SJPDP, and here we are again getting the same stamp only walking in the opposite direction and with our daughter, Aisling. We had a very pleasant and easy walk through the park paths until we arrived at the lakeside cafe where we sat and chatted with three other pilgrims.  Micky Ravins from Tipp had teamed up with Jocelyn Muscarelband and Misty Vogtritter, both from Arizona, and all three were making their way to Santiago.. After a lengthy stop, talking and then watching the swans and their cygnets we made the final 4 or 5K into Logrono and our accommodation. Because we had made such good time today we were able to spend time exploring the city. It seems that Logrono in common with many Spanish cities has a vibrant cafe culture and numerous parks where people can just sit and watch the world pass by. Today we took the opportunity to join them and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon sitting in a park just watching people. A visit to the cathedral was a must and dinner in the old part of the city was equally relaxing before we enjoyed an open air jazz concert. Well tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A great days walking which finished with good company

Today's walk didn't have a great start. We, quite literally, couldn't find our way out of the old, walled, town of Laguardia. Did I mention yesterday that a glass lift takes you from Laguardia down to the plains below? Well it does, quite scarily, and at the bottom we found that the start of today's walk coincided with the walk of the three Lagoons and then the Route de Vino. This will give you a clue about the walk.  Walking around the lagoons on a dusty path was to experience the bright, colourful, flora and fauna that is so characteristic of this region.The sun was shining as we then made our way through row after row of Riojan grapes with colourful roses at the head of each row. The bodegas were plentiful as we got a crash course on Riojan wine. Our first coffee stop on this idillic way was the small town of lapuebla, with its lovely, flowered plaza just down from the large, customary, baroque church. The scenic route, mostly along dusty paths, intertwining its way through vineyards, under a cloudless sky was a real joy. Crossing a railway line and following the equilivant of a senda we were directed to Feunmayor which we were expecting to be a small hamlet but turned out to be a vibrant town with a colourful square where coffee culture must have been invented. Hundreds of people, of all ages, sat around tables, under the shade of olive trees and enjoyed a lunchtime drink and the company of friends. For us it was a pleasure to watch this community spirit as we also enjoyed a cool refreshing drink. The last part of today's walk was about 5K along a dusty senda that ran flat and parallel to a main road before the customary climb into the town. After showering and changing into dry clothes we went to explore the town of Navarrete and found, by accident, what could claim to be the best Albergue on any of the Caminos. We first stopped to have a chat with a friendly Aussie, Matt, and when Aussies meet the Irish, yes, we sat and talked over a pint. Matt Marshall works in the Albergue Pilgrims, for his friend, Michael, the owner. Later in the evening we enjoyed our best pilgrim meal ever, washed down of course by some delicious wine. If anyone is ever in Navarrete, wants good food, good company and excellent accommodation then go to this Albergue. Did I mention that Matt has a painted a series of frescos, showing the religious figures in Camino history inside the Albergue and it is a must see.

Monday, 27 June 2016

A compromise that finished well

This morning we were all fit to resume our journey. Today would be different from any other walk we have done before since we would have to catch up on yesterday's stopover. After waving goodbye to our hostess we started the steep 10K downhill on a winding corkscrew road that would eventually take us to the delightfully beautiful old university town of Ornate. The University, Santi Spiritus, founded by the Bishop Rodrigo Mercado de Zuazola, has taught Theology, Law, and Medicine since 1542 and still plays an import role today. Clean, beautifully preserved, historic, a town you felt guilty leaving before you could explore it.  Our plan was to get to Victoria before lunch and then bus the rest of the way to Laguardia thus catching up on our schedule. The countryside to Vitoria was lush and fertile as it lay along the valley bed. Dusty paths crisscrossed through the crops and vines and the blue cloudless sky above was in stark contrast to the previous couple of days. On this side of the mountain range, in the Parque National De Aizkorri-Aratz, the summer had definitely arrived and we could feel the heat of the sun on our backs. What a contrast, four layers on when we left our mountain sanctuary, this morning, and now just a tee shirt. By lunchtime we had arrived at the outskirts of Vitoria-Gasteiz only to find that the village or small town we expected to see was indeed a vibrant and colourful city. I always marvel at my own ignorance. An ultra modern city tram ride brought us into a centre where old and modern had created a perfect marriage. The old, tan coloured sandstone buildings had become, with patience, kindness and love an environment where modern city life could live and flourish. Again it was with regret that we left and took our bus trip to the end of today's stage,Laguardia. Even without yesterdays problems this would have been a murderous stretch of the walk. Climbing vertically out of one valley, crossing a mountain, before descending on to the plains below. The bus struggled up the mountain road but fifty minutes later we were outside Laguardia. Now you must be getting fed up with me waxing lyrically about these towns but, honestly, Laguardia , is in a class of its own. A completely walled town with a maze of twisting stone streets and a wow factor at every stride. Because of the bad start to the walk we have splashed out on tonight's accommodation. When Laguardia describes this place as a castle they mean a real castle and all the luxury of five star including a Michelin star. We even have a sauna cabin, if that is the proper name, in our room. I could get used to this, pity about the walking.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Tummy bug in an interesting village.

This is now our seventh Camino type walk and we had always been blessed with injury free and illness free walking but our luck has deserted us on this one. We have been attacked by a very severe tummy bug which meant that today's walk had to be cancelled. I will not go into any details but suffice to say a toilet always had to be near. On the bright side if you have to be stuck anywhere remote then Arantzazu with its famous Sanctuary and the eagles soaring overhead isn't a bad place to be. I spent some time today discovering the basilica, the culture centre, the seminary and the surrounding village. I found out that Arantzazu has a special place on the Camino Ignatian since it is a fact that St. Ignatius of Loyola came to the Santuary of Arantzazu in 1522 where he thought a vigil would be beneficial for his pilgrimage to Montserrat. So if a rest or pit stop was good enough for the Saint, after climbing the Basque mountains, then it's good enough for us. The sanctuary over the centuries has been ravaged by three major fires with the last one in 1834 burning it to the ground so what now stands proudly on the steep cliff face was started in 1950 and is an example of Basque architecture and design. To someone like our Camino friend Shane this all might have significant meaning and symbolism but for me it was all very grey and dark. I actually found it to be quite maudlin. Later in the afternoon I stood on the terrace of the hotel and gazed transfixed as six large eagles gave an impressive display of grace and agility as they circled above. The small village, apart from the religious attraction of the Bascilia, is also a meeting place for ramblers and walkers who spend their weekends walking the hundreds of marked trails and then finish at one of the three tabernas for a relaxing drink. The name of the village, Arantzazu, comes from the Basque meaning a place surrounded by hawthorn bushes and this afternoon we watched as an elderly man sat on a bench for hours whittling hawthorn sticks into walking canes with intrigedly carved heads. Whatever we feel like tomorrow we have to move on and restart our journey where we should have been today. Because of time constraints we have to be in Laguardia. So here's hoping and praying.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The hardest Camino walk we have ever done and on my birthday.

This morning we left our hotel in Zumarrage in good spirits and looked forward to a nice 22k walk that would take us through some interesting towns and villages before summiting Arriurdin at 1273mts. The first section went as planned as we followed along the Calle Ipanarrieta towards Lepazpi and was indeed an interesting history of the areas deep tradition of steel works and engineering. Lepazpi was a beautiful small town but after a quick coffee stop we continued into the picturesque Mirandaola Park where surrounded by distant hills we followed small streams to the village of Telleriarte. Through the village and with darkening rain clouds overhead we started a steep climb on a small tarmac road to the beautifully tranquil Barrendiola reservoir. At the reservoir we marvelled at the scenic views across the still water and down into the valley below. The walk on the muddy path around the reservoir should have warned us of what might lie ahead.  This is where things got extreme as we cut up a narrow stone and mud path that would lead, 5K  later to a wet, cold, and very foggy summit. Climbing 1273 mts on slippy, muddy, stoney and very dangerous paths is no joke and indeed very dangerous. On any other Camino, in this condition, the path would have been closed. Since we were so close to the top and indeed past the point of return, when the thick fog rolled in, it would have been more dangerous to turn back, so our only option was to continue.. At the top visibility was down to about 50 mts as we looked for marker signs that would lead us to the downward path. Eventually, tired, cold and damp we came out of the fog on a steeply descending rocky path and felt that at least the worst was over but on a day like this anything can happen, and it did. The path had turned to a sea of mud which in turn had created a mud slide that was slithering its way down the mountain. Slipping, sliding and falling we continued down and eventually arrived at the Santuary of Arantzazu almost three hours after our scheduled arrival time. Wet, cold, covered in mud and totally exhausted we had finally arrived. The worst days hiking, ever, and on my birthday, what a bummer. One high point of the day was being able to witness, just after the summit, at least 12    enormous eagles fly up in front of us after having feasted on a dead deer. The sound of the beating wings was frightening but to watch them glide in circles above us was special. My advice to anyone doing this walk would be to skip stage 2. I could have said more about these extreme conditions but quite honestly the old body and mind are exhausted tonight so tomorrow is another day and hopefully better than today

Friday, 24 June 2016

candmcamino: Day 1 Camino Ignaciano. Loyola to Zumarraga.

candmcamino: Day 1 Camino Ignaciano. Loyola to Zumarraga.: It was an early start this morning to day one of the Camino Ignaciano which starts at the Basilica in Loyola and finishes about 20K later in...

Day 1 Camino Ignaciano. Loyola to Zumarraga.

It was an early start this morning to day one of the Camino Ignaciano which starts at the Basilica in Loyola and finishes about 20K later in the small town of Zumarraga. Before we even got to Loyola we had an hour bus journey from San Sebastián. After a breakfast in a cafe near the Basilicia, at 9.30 am, we shouldered our backpacks and took our first steps along the way that will eventually end at Montserrat. On this our first morning the weather was kind to us. The previous couple of days were very warm, sunny and with cloudless blue skies,weather for sunbathing, but not for walking, whereas today it was cloudy with a slight breeze and the threat of rain. The walk had a gentle start as we walked along a path following a river for about three kilometres and then it started to gently climb. This was a path that was covered on both sides by dense vegetation. The first town we passed through was Azkoitia, only about 4K from Loyola, which was an old historic market town with some very beautiful stone buildings and an impressive Basque Romanesque Church. Through the town we trudged and on the outskirts joined the Urola Greenway which is a disused and converted railway line  that climbs its way up the mountain towards Zumarraga. During this journey we walked through at least twelve old railway tunnels that had been hewn out of the rocks and in one marvelled at a large mural dedicated to the railway. The first three days of this walk is also known as the Route of the Three Temples starting with the Basilica in Loyola and the second one being the 14th century Basque Hermitage of La Antigua where the beautiful wooden ceiling gives it the name, the cathedral of shrines. When we eventually arrived at the beautiful hotel Etxeberri, with its famous restaurant, I had begun to reflect that this could be, for me, a very hard and fast walk. During today's walk Mary and Aisling kept disappearing into the distance and I walked slowly in their wake. You see, they don't realise how fast they are walking because it is non stop talking all the time. The walk today was outstanding for its beauty and if this is a sign of things to come then the Camino Ignaciano will be a real treat. The accommodation tonight is one of the best we have experienced on any of the walks. This is old charm, Spanish style and tonight's meal in the famous award winning restaurant should be worth all the effort used getting here.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

San Sebastián and Loyola.

Today we explored the truly beautiful city of San Sebastián and decided that we must return in the near future. This is a fantastic place and if it's not on your bucket list then add it quickly. It is a classy city with a vibrant cafe culture and an abundance of Michelin starred restaurants. I could live on the tapas that are plentiful. The beaches and the promenades are the best and a stroll along the Ramblas is an experience.
During the afternoon we got a bus to Loyola where we visited the Basilica and obtained our passbooks for the walk. The whole atmosphere in Loyola was quiet and serene and there was a feeling that you were somewhere special. Since Loyola is a one hour trip from San Sebastián then we will have an early start tomorrow.
From all the formation we got today the first three days will be tough climbing and there will be few other walkers on the trail. Well this is only a short blog and the walking will start tomorrow.

Starting another walk. The Ignatian Way or Camino Ignaciano.

This morning Mary and I set out on a days travelling that would get us to San Sebastián and the start of another walk, the Ignatian Way. This walk will take us in the footsteps of St Ignatius of Loyola who in 1522 walked from his hometown to Montserrat overlooking the fabulous city of Barcelona. This is a walk that joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean crossing the mountainous Basque Country and then through deserts and plains  in Navarra, La Rioja, Aragon and Catalunya before finishing in Manresa. During the walk we will be joined by our daughter, Aisling, who is nearing the end of her one year world adventure. This will seem very tame to a girl who in the past twelve months has travelled through South America, Australia, India, and the Far East. To someone who has climbed Machu Picu, climbed Mount Everest, cycled down the Road of Death in Bolivia, trekked in jungles  and salt deserts to name just a few. Will walking with a slow pensioner like me ,who used his senior citizen card in order to get free transport to Dublin Airport, be a real bore? I have been told, purely for journalistic integrity, to point out that Mary had to pay for her bus journey to the airport since she does not possess a Senior Citizen card. On the bus I received an email from Karen Robinson our Portuguese Camino friend from Tasmania who at present in nearing the end of the extremely difficult St Olavs walk in Norway. Compared to the challenges this hiking legend has overcome, in wilderness conditions, our walk will be relatively tame. Mary and I would like to congratulate Karen on this wonderful achievement. It's getting to become quite boring sitting in the plane so I'm going to share with you a song that has been in my head all morning.
From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean we are going for a walk. This should be sung to the tune of Candystore by Dickie Rock. This will mean nothing to most of you reading this blog unless , like me, you have a Senior Citizen Travel card and of course a weird sense of humour. This last piece won't appear on the blog because Mary will veto it.

Starting another walk. The Ignatian Way or Camino Ignaciano.

This morning Mary and I set out on a days travelling that would get us to San Sebastián and the start of another walk, the Ignatian Way. This walk will take us in the footsteps of St Ignatius of Loyola who in 1522 walked from his hometown to Montserrat overlooking the fabulous city of Barcelona. This is a walk that joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean crossing the mountainous Basque Country and then through deserts and plains  in Navarra, La Rioja, Aragon and Catalunya before finishing in Manresa. During the walk we will be joined by our daughter, Aisling, who is nearing the end of her one year world adventure. This will seem very tame to a girl who in the past twelve months has travelled through South America, Australia, India, and the Far East. To someone who has climbed Machu Picu, climbed Mount Everest, cycled down the Road of Death in Bolivia, trekked in jungles  and salt deserts to name just a few. Will walking with a slow pensioner like me ,who used his senior citizen card in order to get free transport to Dublin Airport, be a real bore? I have been told, purely for journalistic integrity, to point out that Mary had to pay for her bus journey to the airport since she does not possess a Senior Citizen card. On the bus I received an email from Karen Robinson our Portuguese Camino friend from Tasmania who at present in nearing the end of the extremely difficult St Olavs walk in Norway. Compared to the challenges this hiking legend has overcome, in wilderness conditions, our walk will be relatively tame. Mary and I would like to congratulate Karen on this wonderful achievement. It's getting to become quite boring sitting in the plane so I'm going to share with you a song that has been in my head all morning.
From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean we are going for a walk. This should be sung to the tune of Candystore by Dickie Rock. This will mean nothing to most of you reading this blog unless , like me, you have a Senior Citizen Travel card and of course a weird sense of humour. This last piece won't appear on the blog because Mary will veto it.