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Dorothee Fleck

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Against the Camino de Santiago

Before I left Santiago again, I thought, the legendary photo of my bike with the cathedral still has to be taken.

That early in the morning I had the whole place almost for myself.
At first I wanted to avoid the Camino de Santiago, finally I decided to cycle a part of the Camino in the 'wrong' direction.

The Camino leaded in the direction I wanted to go and all the places I wanted to see were included too.
However, I was expecting some difficulties, as the pilgrimage route is marked only in one direction, to Santiago. Who is going a pilgrimage back? Pilgrims are no commuters.
For the most part, I had no problems finding the way. Even there is not yet a traffic jam on the Camino, but there are only a few meters between the groups. If you cannot see anybody at a crossing, you only have to wait not more than 2 minutes until the next one appear to show you the direction.

Lucky me, they all came towards me. they saw me, if they had not lost too much in thoughts, were busy with phone calls or writing text messages. Mainly I only stayed short distances on the "original" Camino.

Although it was sometimes very beautiful, it was far too crowded.
If there was a road nearby, I prefered the road. It was mostly empty.
At least you always can have a conversation, if you like it or not.
At noon the flow of pilgrims suddenly stopped. I then had my difficulties to find the path. Most couldn´t continue after, they stayed in pubs

Otherwise, it was quite hilly. All day long I had the feeling I'm cycling uphill. The greatest happiness and pleasure was when at the end of the day the last 12 kilometers only went downhill.

In the meantime, I was told how cheap the pilgrim hostels are. However, I was startled by the idea to sleep with so many people in a room. I rather build up my tent and sleep in the fresh air and nature.

Also the roads became more and moree challenging, cause of the steep uphills. The fact that many cyclists also on the pilgrmage could be seen on the signs.

On the empty roads I easily could cycle up the mountains by zickzacking, up to 1330m.

the Passo de Poio. With this wonderful views the climb was not too hard.

Up there, there are a few mountain villages, they are (unfortunately) also popular tourist destinations. Each stone house is made new, the tour buses lined up along the road to.

It was a great pleasur for me again, at the end of the day some kilometers downhill. When I arrived in Vega de Valcarce the bottom of the mountain, where, according to my map, should be a campsite, I was told that this isn't the case. But there is a pilgrim hostel. Thank you. Anyway I went there, perhaps I can get more information. As always, the lady of the hostel was very friendly and said I could camp in the village by the stream. Happily I left, got some food and settled down by the stream. The disadvantage was it was almost the middle of the village, I had some difficulties with the toilet. I had to wait until it was dark, which was very late.

The night was freezing cold. The next morning there was ice on my tent. Although the finger got almost frozen while I was packing the tent, I was happy, because I felt so alive. During the winter in Germany, I got really floppy now I realized I still can stand a lot which is wonderful! I do not think anyone understands me.

The first few kilometers it went gently downhill, not exactly ideal for getting warm, until the road climbed in switchbacks up in dizzying heights.

On this day, even higher than the day before. It was a great feeling to leave slowly everything not only behind but also below yourself.

Still there were from time to time the small mountain villages. It was Sunday, quite some excursionist were around.

Although it was long and sometimes very steep uphill, I knew that I could do it. Anyway, I had no other chance. Once again I focused more on the beautiful landscape

and the flowering bushes

than on the steep uphill. The legs can do it automatically. Then, finally, I was at the top at the Iron Cross.

Considering the ice on my tent, I did not necessarily want to sleep at 1500m outside and since I was quite exhausted, I had again a look at the hostel. Again, I immediately turned back. I cannot imagin I ever will be so tired that I could sleep in such a dormitory. With the certainty that I would find something to sleep, but had no idea what, I rode a bit further. And suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, after about 6km, and a few meters deeper I stood in front of a campsite. I could not believe my eyes. Immediately I went into the place, asked if it really would be a campsite here and I if could really camp. They just laughed and said of course and then talked straight on in German. A young couples, she Spanish, he German, opened campground here a year ago. As remote as that was, I was the only guest. Probably that was the reason I've been spoiled so much. After a hot shower I had a huge great salad.

In this quiteness, I slept fantastic despite the cold. The next day first of all I scratched the ice from my tent, like car drivers in the winter.

Breakfast was no problem anymore, the sun came out already and it quickly became warm.

In Astegra I was once again in the cathedral. Again I got confirmed, I like the buildings much more from the outside than inside. The castle-like palace next door would have interested me more

Palacio de Gaudi. Not because it is the Museum of the Camino, but because the building looked very impressive. Only it was Monday and I think around the world, museums are closed on Mondays.

Further on the road was lined with very weary pilgrims.

Some made it even easier and used dunkies as pack animals.

So I have finally reached Leon, where the pilgrims already got their monument.

Like all major cities it was also croweded with tourists here in addition to all the pilgrims. There was no reason for me to stay longer, I moved on to Mansilla. This stretch was not very nice, mostly along a large road. There has been a campsite, but it was still closed, no idea why. I met two Dutch cyclists also with more baggage to camp. Actually I wanted to convince them, to camp in the beautiful park. But they wanted a hot shower and wanted to go to the pilgrims hostel and ask if they could camp there. Since this could be a nice experience, I joined them.

Of course the hostel was already packed. Initially they offered us mattresses in the dormitory, never in my life. I think the real challenge of St. James is not the walking, but to survive the hostels. However, it is always very clean there

Because of the overcrowding our wish to camp in the garden was welcomed. It was then a really nice evening with a bottle of pilgrim's wine

Never before I was sitting so early on the bike. The first pilgrims started at 6:00am. The two Dutchmen were heading to Santiago and I, as usual, in the opposite direction.
It continued on a small empty road. The pilgrimage route next to the road was very busy again. Nevertheless, some cyclists had to weave between walkers, I cannot understand this.
Today I had counted 78 cyclists, plus a group with at least 30 cyclists. Hikers are innumerable, I do not want to know how it looks like here in June, July and August.
If I wouldn't have my bike, I'd miss it every second. The Camino was often just straight along a road where you could wonderful cycling, walking sometimes seemms to be endless.
In Carion de los Condes, I met a pensioner from London. Since he lived practically for the last 9 years at the Camino in his campervan he knows it by heart. He was able to tell me exactly, which part I could cycle and where I should stay on the road.
Just before Castorjeriz where the Camino is very steep and lots of big rocks, a cyclist  just got into an ambulance. Some cyclists have nothing under control, but must ride on the Camino every inch under all circumstances, incomprehensible to me.
Despite a headwind I was again cycling more than 120km on this day. The Dutch cyclists meant there is a good campground. It was not that nice, but as full as no other since a long time, not only caravans but also cyclists with tents.

The next day was marked by headwind. Since I only wanted to cycle to Burgos, I was not in a hurry at all. That's why I stayed almost the whole part on the Camino, a beautiful day almost exclusively on dirt tracks, at least to Burgos. Although it was cold and rainy, I was in a very good mood. Shortly before Burgos still got a few pretty villages.

and with very little traffic it continued to Burgos.

A very nice city. First, I thought, here I could stay for a while, I even had a look at the cathedral from the inside, a very monumental building. No chance to get the whole cathedral on one photo.

After cycling around a bit in the center of city, I had enough again and because it was very early, I've decided to go further.

The way out of the city was less pleasant than to get into it. Also, the Camino lead here over kilometers along the Routa Nationale. Also, the headwind was stronger again in the afternoon, but amazingly it bothered my only a little. I knew the wind will change again.

After I turned of in a small road, it was suddenly totally quiet again, no traffic.
It was very interesting to see the villages a few kilometers left and right of the Camino . They don't profit of the pilgrimage tourism, are totally destitute, although even there some beautiful churches from the 12th Century can be seen.

In one of the places it should have been a campground. I asked one of the older women, where the campground is. She only laughed, camping here? I should cycle to San Juan, where all the pilgrims are and a hostel as well.

In San Juan there is a monastery church, an old monastery where the hostel is now, a bar and further on a few houses. On a lawn in front of the church, I could pitch my tent.

Unbelievable how much noise can be in a place with only 27 inhabitants, late in the evening. In addition there are a couple of times as many pilgrims.

Although the first were passing my tent at 6:30 am, I took my time. When I wanted to use the toilet in the hostel at 8:15am again, everything was closed, the last pilgrims had to have breakfast in front of the door.

On the first part I was still on the Camino, beautiful through the woods, but then changed to the road, because, then a wonderful descent came some kilometers long. After that I stayed on the road because of the pilgrimage route was simply too full. Only after 6 pm when most of the pilgrims hung around in bars or dorms, I was on the Camino again through the Rioja region

to Logrono. Here they were very smart and signposted the pilgrimage route just in the different direction as a cycling path into the city.
Before I went to the campsite, I had a look around in the city. In front of the cathedral was a demonstration. I had a conversation with a man wearing a nice T-shirt with a bicycle on it. That's how I first heard about the riots in Spain. The fact is that the country is doing very badly and there is much poverty, you can it see as soon as you go a little bit off the Camino. A Spaniard told me, in the region of Leon there are 25% unemployed in the winter months when the hostels are closed and no pilgrims are around other shops and restaurants are closing too, then the unemployment rate is even higher. The majority is deeply in debt.
Now they were demonstrating against the policies and wanted to get rid of all politicians.

At the university, where there is a bicycle repair shop of a bicycle initiative, I could clean and grease my chain. That was very needed. Not only to support this initiative I bought a bright orange T-shirt, got buttons and stickers.

Then I came to the worst and most expensive campsite. Here, too, was a Dutch cyclist, so it was still quite nice.

Next day I cycled nearly always on narrow streets. Meanwhile, I was already in the Basque country. The towns had two names, the road signs were partially bilingual. Amazing how completly different the Basque language is, it seems it has nothing to do with the other Roman languages.
I just wanted to cycle around Lizarra / Estella. The towns here are all very beautiful and old, but after seeing so many, I had enough. Then I discovered at a church was a lift down to the old town. It was so funny that I absolutely had to try it. It has once again paid off, Lizarra / Estella is a nice old town. Also here you could barely take a photo without a pilgrim walking into it.

Before Pamplona there was a not very high, but steep road, I just could ride it. An older racing cyclist pushed his bike just behind me. He was not slower than me, but it must have been a funny view. In general I'm too lazy to push and I find it much harder. Moreover it was the first time the sole of my cycling shoes were broken in parts.

The trip to Pamplona was relatively simple. In the paths were shells, the sign of the Camino, you only had to follow them, and you were in the city. For cyclists, they have painted shells on the bike paths.

After all the cathedrals bullfighting here was a really nice change.

In the streets were signs where the bulls had to go through the bulls. I don't think bulls can read them, at least they were red.

Since I was told, the campsite would be only 7 km out of the city, I thought I had enough time to have a nice look around the historic center.
When I was out of the city center, already a few kilometers away , I was in the supermarket buying a lot. I thought it is not that far anymore. So I was fully packed when I was suddenly in front of a tunnel! There was a big sign: prohibited for cyclists. Something you really could not accidentally overlook. Anyway, I don't like tunnels. .

I stopped two cyclistsand and asked how I can get to the Eusa where the camp is. They told me I had to go all around the mountain, it would be still quite far, at least 8 km. Great. It was late and my bike was packed with all the food I just bought. The lady from the tourist office should have known, on a bike it's a little bit further. Do not despair, just continue cycling. At the end it was not that hard and far, but very late. I only wanted to have a shower, eat and sleep.

Actually I had planned to leave the Camino and stay on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees to the direction of Andorra. Then the next morning I got a call that my mum is not well at all. I decided to go back to Germany as quickly as possible.
In Spain, it is hardly possible to transport the bike on the train. Also, I did not want to get immediately on the train. That's why I stayed on the last stage of the Camino over the Pyrenees to St Jean Pied de Port, France. I knew there is a train station and because hundreds of pilgrims are starting from there every day, there must be frequent trains.

The road over the mountain was heavily frequented on Saturday, less with cars more with motorcyclists and cyclists, road cyclists, even in my direction. The walkers were a little bit aside.
In Roncesvalles which is on nearly 1000m, I had a break. The highest point of the Camino here is about 1400m. I could see from the map, the pass on the road is not that high.

At the break I've seen other versions of the pilgrims.

Unlikely he started walking in Scotland.

Well feeded I continued. Only 1-2 kilometers after Roncesvalles a cyclist stood next to a sign "Passo something 1030 m". I I asked the cyclist, when the real pass will come. He said this is already the real pass. From here on there is only downhill for about 26 km. I was almost disappointed, did not know why I had eaten so much.

At the end, it was not realy 26km downhill, maybe 10km, very nice along through the woods and along rocks.

Some cyclists came towards me pushing their bikes. My mother would have enjoyed the ride too.
I almost have overseen the border to France. It was almost at the bottom of the mountain. Then there were still about 16km almost flat.
The center of St Jean Pied was hard to miss, little alleys full of pilgrims who most likely wanted to start the pilgrimage the next day. I just wanted to buy something to drink, but everything was incredible overpriced.
Immediately I rode to the train station and actually shortly after a train arrived which brought even more pilgrims to the already packed town.

Almost empty, the train went back to Bayonne, where even more pilgrims were waiting. I took the night train to Paris, then the TGV to Strasbourg and by bike to Germany.

So fast everything can be over, at least for now. The only fear I got during this trip was the thought that I don't want to have another life than on the bike again. Overall, it was fantastic again, it's just life and liberty pure, go where you want, pitch up the tent where you want... However, I was very good lucky with the weather too and it was probably the most beautiful season.

Let's see when the next trip starts again. Also this journey was inspiring for many more tours.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hello from Santiago di Compostela

Like this everything started again:

Urse brought me with all the luggage and the giant bicycle box on a breakneck manner to the airport. The front head was sticking at the windshield screen.
At the checking my "luggage" was not accepted, because I put all my panniers in a garbage bag (extra strong). I had to get everything wrapped in plastic. Also my big red bag was included. It looked like a huge cocoon. Most important was, that it got accepted.

Everything arrived in time and save in Lisbon.

The advantage when you arrive at lunch time, you can take all the time you need. Very relaxed, in 42 minutes I had all assembled into a roadworthy bicycle.

and immediately I cycled into the city along the promenade.

I had a very nice welcome at Beate's and her families place. Due to the fact I've been in Lisbon a couple of years ago, have already seen all the highlights, and because I had itching legs, I took off again the next day.

Very nice along the river Tejo. There was a wonderful cycling path as well, which stopped suddenly and I had to find my path between the sandy beach and the railways until I found a subway. Going back was again no option.

Since I cycled to the far end of the Tejo's mouth, it was really quiet. There is nothing going on anymore. There were even enough space for a bicycle path again, although this wouldn't have been necessary. Further on it was more often the case, if there was nothing going on the road, there were the best bike paths. At least I was able to continue on the sea side of the road, a few meters better views.
Afterwards there were high cliffs, I had to climb long high mountains. This was not what I needed on my first day with all the luggage. Sometimes you have no choice. A young lady wanted to give me a lift in her Mini Cooper. I must have made a very slack impression, which was not so misguided.

Then I got to the pretty fishing village of Ericeira.

There was even a camp ground which was just as cheap as everything else here.

Finally back to sleep in a tent, it was like coming home.
Even if it was not wild camping. Cause of the many bush fires it is not allowed here.

Next day I continued over the cliff.

because of the view and because everything flourished so brightened, it was quite bearable.

Although it was very quiet this time of year yet, I tried to avoid the Route Nationale. Thus, even this not very spectacular cycling in Europe was a bit exciting.
At first the shortcut have chosen, was quite OK. It was a narrow road with many stones, then there were parts with sand, always a 100m long pushing stage.

and as usual, if it is already bad, it gets even worse. Suddenly I was standing in front of a puddle / mud hole

Looked really interesting. After 1-2 meters I was lucky enough to turn into the bushes.
It took quite a while, until I reached a little town only a few kilometers further. However, it was a wonderful track, where I was bitten by mosquitoes, at least it was a touch of adventure.

Then just up the hill again and off on luxury good bike paths that were just as empty as the road aside.

It was almost idyllic how it went through the caoutchouc forests.

The villages were getting prepared for the big rush in a few weeks, new cycle paths are created and sprayed red.
It's not a very populated area here and the tourism seems the only source of income. Therefore it's also worthwhile to prepare the nice villages. Costa Nova, for example, all houses are striped lengthwise.

And it went further north. Shortly before I arrived in Porto, I met the first 'real' cyclists, Petro and Catia from Portugal. They were cycling "only" in Portugal, but are very interested and appropriately equipped to ride longer tours. They have already told me that there is a great bike path to Porto. So a little later, after quite a pleasant ride I was standing in front of the bridge of Luis IV

Then I was immediately in the historic center of Porto

A couple of years ago I've been already here and again I liked it very much. I could have sworn that we had been in Porto at a campground, but the lady in the tourist office said there is no camping. Well then, she should know it, no contradiction. Too bad I couldn't stay here very long, didn't matter very much with the bike you've seen everything very quickly.

Catia and Pedro had already told me also that after Porto there is as well a beautiful bike path and that you are allowed to ride on the timber paths.

That was really great, so that the dunes are protected, there are over kilometers this way.

Unfortunately at one time this was over again, and I had to go over 30-40km on cobble stone, pretty annoying. There is no possibility to ride fast on it. Then a headwind came up, I had problems with my stove, which I wanted to solve finally, and Pedro has meant Viano do Castello is a beautiful city. So I decided to finish the day in this city, not bothering the rapid drop of my average number of kilometers. :-)
It was a good decision, because even if you are "only" cycling there are always plenty of other things to do.

At the next day I was faster than expected at the border to Spain. With a ferry I could easily cross the river. Luckily I still had to wait half an hour so I could write the last postcard with a Portuguese postage stamp.

Unbelievable how the landscape changed on the other side of the river in Spain. For the first kilometers it was over with sandy beaches only cliffs, beautiful and picturesque.

Quickly I was in Baiona, a small seaside town, which I liked quite well.

Behind the port there were the first serious mountains. They probably already belong to the Pyrenees.
Over these and some others, I had to ride, not very far, and I was in Santiago de Compostela!

It was quite late in the evening when I arrived there. The daylight  is very long , you don't notice how late it actually is. At some point, you are just so tired that you only want a place to sleep, as it was the case here.

For now, my interest in the cathedral was very limited, simply a place to sleep was more needed. At first I walked through the narrow streets

to the tourist info, there I've quickly decided to spoil me with a hotel in the city.

The next day I had a closer look to the historic center. At 11am the cathedral was already packed full, more than at Christmas at home. Everywere there were backpacks laying around.

The city was full of pilgrims,

young and old,

but each made a really happy impression, that they reached this holy place. In front of the place they could get their certificate they had to queue up for hours. I imagined already that it looks like this along the whole Camino.
Santiago is a beautiful and interesting city, but with all the pilgrims I had enough after one day. On Friday the 13th May further I went further.