Monday, September 29, 2014

Day 6 (9/28) - Jaca to Arres (26.2km)

Had coffee and pastries in the albergue's kitchen and hit the trail about 8:30am. Getting out of town took a bit longer that the way in and we walked through more suburbs but still not bad. The path was nice and usually a wide gravel track but was often close to the road. Other times we were on a trail along the hillside or the river Aragon. We snacked along the trail and then stopped after 12km at Hotel Aragon for lunch (coffee plus we shared a omelette sandwich). Santa Cilia village was after 16km and we had another snack in the town square and continued another 10km to Arrez. The last 4km was a trail up a hillside through scrub oaks, etc. and with a nice view of the river valley. The albergue is a "donativo" and run by volunteers and you "pay what you can". Arres is a small hillside village that had been in ruins unti about 20 years ago and now is being restored. Not too much here but we did find a nice bar for our usual "clara con limon" - beer plus lemonade and is quite refreshing. Dinner was communal, with the other 6 pilgrims and the 2 hospitalleros. It was a nice beef stew plus stuffed eggs, bread, wine and a fruit salad for desert. At 8pm they unlocked the old church and we had a brief service.

Typical trail for much of the morning

We will see many depictions of Saint James (aka Santiago) as a pilgrim along the camino route.

Pilgrims are fond of stacking stones into piles - go figure.

Finally arriving at Arres - a very welcome sight!

Perhaps a third of the houses have been renovated and are now occupied.

Hospitalleros (volunteers who act as hosts) awaiting pilgrims' arrivals

Communal dinner. 8 pilgrims including us - 2 from Argentina (currently living in Madrid), 2 Spanish guys, a couple from Budapest and one of the hospitalleros.

Location:Arres, Spain

Day 5 (9/27) - Villanua to Jaca (14.5km)

Another short day but very nice hiking weather again and nice pathways. The trail was along or nearby the Aragon river and we arrived shortly after noon. Jaca is a fairly large town but at least was easy to enter on foot. It has a long history and interesting old town and cathedral. The main (only?) pilgrim albergue did not open until 3pm so we loitered around and hit a couple of tapas bars. Had wild mushrooms (boletus) sauteed in olive oil with garlic and herbs and boletus risotto at one place alone with a nice red wine. Wandered around the old town and checked in to the albergue when it opened. As of 5pm we were the only pilgrims and by evening there were only 8 pilgrims. We went out for dinner and there were lots of people walking the old town's streets. We hit two tapas bars. They follow the pleasant tradition of giving you a small tapas when you buy a drink -- we had two drinks at each spot plus shared one raccionne so that was a nice light dinner.

Early morning walking through farmlands

Typical "trail" for the day. Beautiful weather - a bit chilly but great for walking!

Wild mushrooms (king boletus) sauteed in olive oil. Yummy with bread and nice red wine.

Basket in the restaurant.

Tapas - "matrimonial" top left (two kinds of sardines) and the other two are sauteed wild mushrooms. We so missed this type of food!

Location:Jaca, Spain

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Day 4 (9/26) - Col du Somport to Villanua (16.1km)

We slept in a bit and got a late start for what we expect to be an "easy" day of 16km or so. The day was clear and crisp with traces of frost in spots - really a great day for walking and the Pyrenees were beautiful. The trail downward from the col was very good and not as steep as yesterday. In most of the steep places there were steps. We passed thru a nearby ski resort that was pretty much deserted. For the next few days we will be following the Aragon river valley. We passed through Canfranc Estacion which opened in 1928 at the entrance to the tunnel through the Pyrenees and was at that time the second largest train station in Europe. The tunnel is now used for vehicular traffic and the town has rejuvenated itself as a vacation town but this is definitely the off season. Next came Canfranc city which was smaller. Finally we stopped in Villanua and got a room at Hotel Alto Aragon (receipt says "Estancia Hostal") with a pilgrims discount. As all of the towns, this is pretty sleepy and seems like a winter/summer vacation area. We had a great dinner back at our hotel. The 12 euro menu included a nice bottle of local wine (2007 Granache from Aragon) and three course. We each had a different salad and they were among the best we have had in Spain. Second course was rabbit for me and sardines for Cindy and for desert I had apple torte and she had pear.

60km down and 858km to go -- we probably won't have time to finish this year since this route is quite a bit longer. We will see how things work and might skip a bit or stop before Santiago.

Typical views for the day.

At lower elevations we were in the Aragon river valley.

Three courses each and a bottle of wine included for $15 each.

I had rabbit and Cindy had sardines.

We stayed at Hostal Alto Aragon in Villanua.

Location:Villanua, Spain

Friday, September 26, 2014

Day 3 (9/25) - Etsaut to Col du Somport (18.6):

Today was a BIG DAY. Net elevation gain was 3300' but since there were also some downhill sections, the total ascent was nearly a mile! The summit of the Col du Somport is 1640m. There were 8 pilgrims setting out from Etsaut at 8am and we didn't walk together very much but it was nice to see them from time to time and know we were on the right path. Early on several we sections followed the main road (N134) and there were some heavy vehicles and narrow roads. However, those sections weren't as bad as the books had suggested. Most of the day was on trails and small tracks away from traffic and it was beautiful. The weather could not have been better with cool and sunny skies. There were some quite steep trails and we walked fairly slowly. Our destination was Albergue Aysa right on the summit of the col du Somport with amazing views of the pyrenees. I felt pretty exhausted! The albergue also has a bar and restaurant serving the tourists passing through but this time of year is pretty quiet. We enjoyed watching a large flock of sheep on a steep slope across the valley.

Typical back roads. Trails also passed through farmlands but mostly steep and shady areas that did not photograph well - but were very comfortable for walking.

At higher elevation we walked along hillsides

views of the Pyrenees

Arrival at the summit and crossover into Spain.

Our Albergue for tonight - on the Col du Somport and at 1640m elevation.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Day 2 - Sarrance to Etsaut (22.5km)

We met 3 english speaking pilgrims last night and, unlike us, they also spoke French. One made a reservation for us at the same place they will stay so we have a bit more confidence in things working properly today!

We left town with the other pilgrims and got onto the correct patherway. Following it along the river and often on a steep hillside/cliff was scenic but there ware lots of "ups and downs". We passed through several villages, sometime leaving the riverside to walk through pastures and through tree or hedge lined paths. Weather was cool and pleasant. We arrived Etsaut and found our gite without problem - "Gite d'Etape" is a pilgrim's hostel. It is privately run so different that yesterday. Our group from yesterday are all staying here at Gite d'Etape la Garbure along with a few others. It seems like a nice place and we will stay "demi pensionne" (meaning with dinner and breakfast) so will be eating communally. They have a stable and donkeys so were were "entertained" by hee-haws.

We are following a river valley towards the pass across the pyrenees.

typical trail.

beautiful fields and scenery

Beginning to see significant peaks along the route


Day 1 - Oloron Ste Marie to Sarrance (23.4km)

Yesterday we travelled by train from Carcassonne to Oloron Ste Marie (connections in Toulouse and Pau) and stayed in Oloron Ste Marie. We were unable to contact the hotel we wanted (Hotel Bristol) in advance and found that it was fully booked. They recommended the Hotel de la Paix where we got the last room. We walked to the old cathedral and around this cute town getting our bearings. The marker near the cathedral says it is 948km to Santiago!!

Day 1 (9/23) - Oloron Ste Marie to Sarrance (23.4 km): What a day! We knew we were poorly organized and that this route would be much different than last year's Camino Frances but not this different. Getting out of town wasn't too bad but we were still learning how/where the way would be marked. We don't have a good map (i.e. one showing the trail) and the instructions that I downloaded aren't too clear. We made a small side-step but got back on the road and found the place where the trail first leaves the road. The markings are pretty good but a bit sparse. There are red and white stripes indicating the French GR653 (usually) alongside the familiar yellow scallop shell symbol. The villages were pretty small and we found no open cafes or bars. The path was through forests and on small roads. We had a picnic lunch of baguette, soft cheese and olives and continued on. The distance ended up being a bit more than expected by 1.4km and the end-point of Sarrance was described as a "sleepy village" and that was an understatement. There should have been two small hotels and we only noticed one and it was closed. The pilgrim's hostel run by the monastery was nowhere to be found. I was very worried and while Cindy was waiting for me to find a room, found a bus stop with a schedule bus passing through in a few minutes so ran back and got Cindy, We were discussing taking the bus into Spain and two people walked by. They did not speak english but I indicated by sign language we wanted a place to sleep. They asked if we were "Pelerins" (French for Pilgrims) and we said, "oui" and they led us back to the monastery and showed us how to enter. It looked abandoned but we found someone (who spoke english) and he showed us the pelerin area. There were about 9 people counting us and several were english speakers. We are now settled in after a great shower and things are looking up! It was a very stressful experience and seemed like we might have nowhere to stay! Had a nice visit with the Canadian pilgrims and they called ahead to make reservations for us at the sam Gite d'etape where they will stay tomorrow. We wandered around looking for the refectory and found it -- dinner was interesting. There are two priests here, one is 88 years old and the "young one" must be nearly 70. Other than the priests, there were ~10 pilgrims and a local couple. Food was nothing special but the whole experience was quite nice.

We will only be walking in France for 3 days so thought things would be easier. However, speaking French and making advance reservations, even in a monastery, seem more than a bit important!

948km to Santiago de Compestela! We may run out of time but are setting off to see how far we can/will go.

Waymarks that we will follow. In France the camino is also way-marked as GR653.

Oloron Ste Marie

Countryside on day one.

Most of the trail was not this rugged.

This sign was on one of the monastery entrances (pelerins is French for pilgrims) but we did see this doorway until we left.

Departing Sarrance the next morning - "sleepy village"!


September 11-21

We are off for our Fall Adventures! In summary: We will spend 10 days with friends (Nancy & Hiko Tokita from Tokyo and Nick and Rumi Ringshall from London) in France boating along the Canal du Midi and then Cindy and I will begin walking from Oloron Ste Marie, France along a variant of the pilgrimage route (Camino de Santiago), hopefully reaching our destination in early November.

We flew into Toulouse and then took the train to Carcasssone where we met our friends. The next morning we travelled 33km to Homps where we picked up the boat. The boat is 11m long with 3 bedrooms, 3 very small marine toilets with shower. It should be interesting.

Headed off after breakfast on the boat. Working our way through the numerous canal locks was more difficult and intimidating than we had expected. On our first day, we covered 29km and went through 14 locks and we were on the canal from 9pm until 6pm. Dinner was on a canal-side restaurant, La Poissonerie Moderne, family run and with excellent fish.

A typical day included breakfast (fresh pastries) on the boat and then leaving around 9am (that's when the locks open). We tied up along shore for lunch (locks close for lunch hour) and then more boating. We ate all of our dinners at nice canal-side restaurants, Pretty tough! We boated 3 days upstream and then turned around to return the boat at Homps. The total was 60 km and 58 locks!

Boating on Canal du Midi in southern France.

Heading "upstream" - first you enter the lock, throw lines ashore, the gates close behind and the water RUSHES in. The two people ashore hang on to prevent the boat from moving.

When the water level matches the upstream side the lock gate will open.

We passed through nearly 60 locks on our 6 day trip so not too much time for sitting around.

Grilled tuna steak - simply prepared and wonderful!

Our last dinner while on the canal du midi.

Carcassonne's historic walled city.

Location:Canal du Midi and Carcassonne, France