Monthly Archives: October 2014

El Camino

El Camino is The Way of Saint James.

It’s St. James the Greater as apparently there was another James the not so Great. You can read all about him in the New Testament. He was killed in Jerusalem, but for some reason his body was brought to Spain. After that everybody forgot about it. Than (some eight centuries later)  they found his remains again and pilgrims started to flock to Santiago de Compostela, where he was reburied.

Chapel in Santo Domingo with my bicycle

Chapel in Santo Domingo with my bicycle

On the Camino I sleep in albergues which are run by the hospitaleros. You are kicked out by 8 am when it’s time for the God-fearing pilgrim to get on the move.
I stop by the side of the road to eat bread with Cabeza de Cerdo, and I get my dictionary out to see what that means. It means ‘pigs head’.
Later I stop again to pick some of the grapes. They are grown for making wine, they are small and very sweet. They taste delicious.
In the albergues, the pilgrims sleep in dormitories where the lights go out at 10 pm. Some pilgrims snore and I don’t expect they will go to heaven. Luckily I have earplugs.
Most pilgrims don’t sing hymns all night long (the reason I brought the earplugs in the first place) and won’t refuse a glass of wine.

In Logroño I cross the river Ebro. In Burgos I have a resting day to see the city. It is monumental. In a small restaurant, close to the cathedral, I eat the plato del dia. I check to make sure it isn’t macaroni.

After Burgos I cycle on the meseta. It’s very flat and I ride 130 kms from Burgos to Sahagún in one day. It don’t make any photo’s. I don’t know why. The albergue in Sahagún is an old building and looks decrepit from the outside, with pidgeons flying in and out of the crumbling walls. Once inside it looks a lot better. That evening I have dinner with some French pilgrims and we drink a few beers. The Spanish wine is awful, they say.

It’s hot for the time of the year and if my speed drops to around 10 km / hr, flies start buzzing around my head. Apparently 10 km / hr is their top speed.

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I become a pilgrim

As it appears I am an example of a so called map challenged cyclist, so I didn’t even bother with a map of Spain. Igor had explained to me how to cycle to Pamplona and so I headed out to the Via Verde, the Green Road, to Pamplona. It follows an old railway track which meant the grades were never very steep. It also meant there were tunnels and some of them were unlit, which gave rise to some hairy experiences, as I was walking with my dimly glowing torch (battery almost flat) with my bike in the middle of a 200 metre dark tunnel, when I heard a vehicle coming my way. A new experience for me.

tunnel

Not so scary tunnel

That evening it was cold and I prepared my dinner in the dark. By now I can make a decent macaroni dish even if I am blindfolded.The next day I was breaking camp in subzero conditions which was a slow and painful process because I had no gloves so I had to pack in the tent with numb fingers.

In Iurtzun I had a coffee in one of the many bars and I was amazed by the many drinkers enjoying an alcoholic beverage at this early hour.

On the road to Pamplona I broke my personal speed record when I touched 60 km / hour. The reason I am not giving a more precise number is that I didn’t dare look at my speedometer long enough, but I was sure I saw 58.9 when I was still accelerating.

In Spain it is compulsory to wear a helmet AT ALL TIMES, except:

– in urban areas
– when going uphill
– if one has a medical condition
– when it’s very hot
– if one is a professional cyclist
– if one happens to be Bruce Springsteen

In Pamplona I got my credencial, meaning I had become a certified pilgrim on the road to Santiago de Compostella.The credencial also grants access to the albergues, which makes the pilgrimage much more affordable.

This is my new 'pelegrino' look

This is my new ‘pelegrino’ look

I am not sure what the chicken is for. Pilgrims have want for eggs too, I suppose.

In my next  post I will tell more about life in the albergues.

To Spain

In Biarritz I enjoyed two days of doing nothing. The second day I went to the beach and went for a swim which was rather challenging given the thrashing waves. It was for the first time this journey that I got my swimming trunks wet in salt water conditions and after I left the water they were filled with sand. This is how the beach looked:

Biarritz

Biarritz beachside

After two days in Biarritz, I knew very little about the city, except that it is in the French part of the Basque Country and that surfers love the place. Staying in the auberge de jeunesse was a great way of meeting other travellers: surfers, hikers and fellow cyclists. It was not a great place to update my blog. Very little work was done…

basque

Basque license plate

The next day I packed my luggage on my bicycle and started pushing the pedals again. I still followed the Velodyssee and the scenery was very picturesque:

stjean

St. Jean-de-Luz

In Hendaye I crossed the border to Spain, but not before getting lost one final time in France. From the border I cycled to Errenterria along the Nacional Uno, which was not a great introduction to Spain, but that was made good by the warm welcome I received from my hosts Igor and Natalia, and their two wonderful daughters.

Apart from gorging on great food, I tried to explain to them of my troubles with route finding. I thought it was best made clear with the following drawing:

drawing

Route finding

Anyway, a big THANK YOU to Igor and Natalia.

In my next post I will relate how I’ve become a pilgrim.

Summer’s not over yet

From Rochefort I followed the signposted Velodysee route to the south. On the way I saw some birds which I identified as ibises. Last time I had seen one, it was mummified and it had been dead for several thousands of years. An Egyptian boy had put it in my hands when I visited Hermopolis where in pharaonic times great numbers of these dead birds had been mummified to baffle later Egyptologists.

Ibis

Some birds

The campsite in Hourtin was in the forest and the deer were bellowing. Later in the night I heard noises not unlike someone throwing a couple of broomsticks on the floor. I wasn’t sure what that meant. Maybe it was just someone throwing broomsticks on the floor.

In the afternoon the wind picked up and I had trouble crossing a bridge because the wind kept pushing me to the sides, making it difficult for me to keep up speed and balance.
The next day I crossed the Gironde Estuary by ferry, on which I met Stephan and Corinne, a French couple on a short cycling tour. It was nice to talk to someone and they were also instrumental in the making of this photograph:

ferry

The ferry to Le Verdon

The third day I decided to have an easy day and cycled a mere fifty kilometers to Ares. It was a wonderful day and I enjoyed it very much. The campsite had a swimming pool and since I was the only guest I could make full use of it. First time I had to unpack my swimming trunks.

The fourth day I made it to Saint-Eulalie-sur-Barn. Cyclists were passing by me and we yelled bonjour! They left me in a smell of washing powder. I occasionally rinse my clothes, but only if they get really dirty do I wash them with shampoo. In the evening there was more throwing with broomsticks..

The fifth day I cycled to Messanges. In the morning it started to drizzle and after an hour or so, it started to rain heavily. Later in the afternoon it cleared up and got quite warm. In Messanges I found a campsite that was closed but the manager let  me pitch my tent for free. He warned me there was no hot water available, but it being balmy weather, I thought I’d brave a cold shower, which I did. From Messanges I cycled to the Atlantic Ocean and admired the might and roar of the breaking waves.

The sixth day I continued to Biarritz. Following the Velodyssee  didn’t mean I didn’t get lost anymore. Every once  in a while I missed a sign and cycled happily in the wrong direction. I asked directions of an elderly couple and the man explained I had to return to Souston plage, miming  a swimming person to emphasise he meant beach. In Biarritz I checked in into the auberge de jeunesse. I thought it would be nice to sit on a chair for a while.

The seventh day is another rest day. As I’m writing this blog the temperature is 28 degrees Celsius. Summer’s  not over yet.

Approaching the Atlantic

One of my favourite new words: Boulodrome.

After another three days in the saddle, I reached Rochefort.

The first day I cycled from Chatellerault to Parthenay. It was a hard day. First some steep hills and rain. The latter came mostly from above, but some lorry drivers added some variety by spraying me from the side, leaving me with flapping raingear and wet glasses. Then the weather improved, but I started suffering from a strong headwind. I won’t easily forget the D738: a road disappearing to the horizon where I couldn’t manage more than 9 or 10 km / hour. With aching legs…

In Parthenay it started to rain as I was erecting my tent, but I managed quite well and kept most of my things dry. After doing so I cycled into town to get some groceries. On the way back I was overtaken by a devastating deluge which left me drenched. As I came to the campsite, I feared for my tent but it had withstood the downpour miraculously. In the toilet blocks I startled an elderly couple when I was standing in my underwear, laying out my dripping clothes to dry.

The second day I travelled (the verb travelling, derives,  deservedly so, from travaille) from Parthenay to Coulon. I followed a signposted route for cyclists from Parthenay to Niort (which doesn’t sound very French) and it directed me over every spine breaking little hill they had. Just to show me a Roman church, or whatever they thought might be of interest, to the casual passer-by. Ever forgetting that some cyclists carry fully loaded panniers that are almost impossible to carry up those hills.

That night I camped at the Camping Municipal. It was deserted, and there was a notice at the entrance that said I could transfer money to their account if I made use of the municipal services. I didn’t understand.

The third day was a breeze. No rain. Nicely undulating hills. Lightly trafficked roads. Why couldn’t every day be like this?

In Rochefort I reached the first signposts of the Vélodyssée and enthusiastically started to follow them. Until it dawned  on me that I was following them in the wrong direction.

palmtrees

Climatic change

The photo above was taken in Rochefort, close to the Atlantic coast.

office

Another fridge serving as my office.

I decided to have a resting day.

Rainy days

In Tours I habitually visited the cathedral which took me longer than usual due to some excellent stained glass windows. Some panels were  erected for the visitor to elucidate the depicted scenes, which was just as well, because it was difficult to make out anything on these high placed windows. Before I had read the explanations, I thought I could clearly identify some bishops with metal detectors, which seemed an unlikely combination.

This, however, was not the cathedral where St. Martin, the one famous for giving away half his cloak to a beggar, was buried. I missed that one.

Just south of the cathedral was the Museum of Fine Arts and I decided to treat myself. It was the first Sunday of the month and for that reason the museum was free. It exhibited paintings of Rembrandt and Monet, it had creaky floors and a suspicious guard following me around. It was a real museum. It also left me more exhausted than if I had cycled for 80 kilometers….

The day after, I set out for Chatellerault, or something, but in the afternoon it started to rain. I also had to deal with a persistent headwind that made sure I got all the rain in my face. I put on my raingear, but in the end I was soaked. I had to make haste as it was getting late in the afternoon and I don’t carry lights, making cycling on the road in this weather a hazardous undertaking.

In the end everything turned out alright. The caretaker of the campsite put a small, albeit dishevelled, caravan at my disposal, so I could keep my bags dry. It could also serve as a dry place to cook. It was too dirty too sleep in, however, and so I pitched my tent nearby.

Later I cycled through the pouring rain to get some groceries. Then, after I had done all my chores, it stopped raining.

No pictures. I didn’t make any.

Tours

On the first day after Paris (October 1st), I found a campsite that was just wonderful. A little grass field with a picnic table and a walnut tree. It’s easiest to recognize a walnut tree by just stepping on one of its fruits with your bare feet, I found. The lady that owned the placet took me to a supermarket with her car. It was quite sensational to sit in a car and whizz by all the kilometers I had just cycled. I ate rice that evening. I was sick of macaroni.

From Villiers le-Morhier I cycled towards Chartres. It was beautiful. Chartres was nice. Just took me 10 minutes to see the cathedral. I am getting the idea that I’m visiting cathedrals on a daily basis now. After that I came through Illiers-Combray. This is the Combray from Proustian fame. It looked every bit as boring as it sounded from his novels (A la recherche du temps perdu). Another 20 kilometers brought me to Bonnevalle where I found a campsite.

Chartres cathedral

Another cathedral…

The day after I rode to Vendome. The first bit was fine, but after I crossed into Loir-et-Cher (?), another departement I was in the woods again, no sign whatsoever… I just followed the sun from there.

Vendome to Tours brought me to the Loire valley and it was the day I saw the first vineyards. My saddle pain has much reduced and the sun keeps shining… Life on the road is becoming routine: Getting up, make some breakfast, pack in the tent (always dripping wet), get cycling, later in the day try to find some tourist office for a map of the next departement (no gps, remember), riding a few kilometers the wrong way, cursing and turning around, going downhill, singing along with my mp3 player, going uphilll, some more cursing. Etc etc.