6th October 2017 Day 2 Heiligenkreuz to just outside Kaumberg, Austria. On foot. The second half of Stage 2.
I rose very early for the first service of the day at Heiligenkreuz Monastery where I slept the night. In the chilly church, the Fathers must have been happy to have their white habits with wide sleeves to cosy their hands in. Some had additional black skull-caps; one his pointy hood pulled over his head.
Intoning their Gregorian chants, the 30 men from all around the world enacted their daily rituals, taking it in turns to start off the constituent parts. Sitting then standing, turning towards the altar then backing into their own wooden slot like well practiced horses, turning the pages of the great books propped up in front of them, they alternated being upright and bowing in reverence.
There were 6 of us congregation dotted about the pews, which was very different from the 200 strong crowd of the previous evening when a group of business people were there for a visit.
Breakfast consisted of fresh white bread rolls, yoghurt, cheese, some fresh and some tinned fruit, jams, honey on tap, and a broad array of drinks etc which set me up for the day.
Outside of Mass, the brethren were delightful, laughing, ruddy-faced and balding, making jokes with everyone and giving what looked like entertaining tours in English when required.
It was a windy day when I set out, and I gave thanks for the red and white horizontal striped way-markers because the Via Sacra yellow arrows were few and far between. Lost once more amongst the hills, the green chestnuts’ littered the paths with their shiny brown tokens. The walk was slow with fragrant white roses, gleaming red berries, the sun shining from behind the clouds and lighting up the almost luminous Autumn leaves. Although I felt urgency and some sort of competitive streak I wondered with whom and why for as I had no itinerary or deadlines to meet. In fact I had the luxury of no companion and no compunction to arrive at a particular place by a certain time, so I encouraged myself to stop and take notes, photos, write messages and bask in the sun.
Kestrels (or some such raptor) danced together on the thermals, six of them mimicking those which entranced me in the Basque country last year – piping and whistling they were.
Maria Reisenmarkt is a very pretty village with a steep climb out via a stony road (medium and tiny white rocks with tree roots, leaves, sometimes concrete, mud or grass). The beechwood was wonderfully quiet with occasional rustling, and there was a corresponding quiet inside me.
With pines interspersed, the sunshine is away up in the tallest canopy rather than on the ground allowing a cold wind to transport its Fall scents. Every now and then a golden leaf wafts down, and sometimes the trees catch most of the wind and I only experience a breeze. Once out in the open there was a tiny village with a huge gasthaus to serve me lunch.
After my welcome break, the path took me through Mayerling which I knew from Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet of that name. The full-length dance opens in Vienna and closes in the cemetery at Heiligenkreuz so its tragic trajectory mirrors my journey.
The last part of the day 2 walk was along a concrete cycle path which was hard on the feet so I did not make it right into Kaumberg. Instead I chanced my luck at Gasthof Renzenhof by the main road which is not one I would recommend at this time of year. The owner obviously did not expect anyone so the beds were as their previous inhabitants had left them and nothing was clean.
However the harvest was almost in, bottled or made into jam, and the breakfast was a delight. She even made me a boiled egg, bless her.
Via Sacra pdf leaflet to download but do not rely on this alone. Make sure you also use other maps and more detailed information to avoid getting lost.
5th October 2017 Day 1 Hinterbrühl to Heiligenkreuz, Austria. On foot, 5 hours.
The wonderful Sabine drove me from Andlersdorf to Hinterbrühl through Viennese traffic jams and what threatened to be an endless search for the start of my pilgrimage.
After asking several people it turns out that the yellow sign was like a street one at the crossroads, and that confusion over signage was to be the order of the day.
It started well with a downhill hike. A gentle man spotted me minus a boot and administering a plaster. He sympthised with my blister condition (though I was reminded at every turn, by the wayside Christ figures, that any suffering of mine was minor).
I was continually returned to my Spanish caminos, what with barking dogs, and chestnut hulls littering the paths with familiar earthy smells as they start to decompose. There were Canterbury bells and Chinese lanterns in the woods as I began to climb steeply, and golden and tan beech leaves in heaps by the paths.
It was very hot at the top when I eventually emerged from the trees, and I passed a few people along the way who did not know about the path I was searching for. I had followed yellow signs but they were different ones!
The forest was absolutely beautiful. The next day a monk was glad for me to have taken this route, pointing out that much of the way is by the main road.
If I had been so inclined I could have dined and drunk to my heart’s content at the 2 large ‘gasthaus’ in the middle of the forest.
I had departed at 9 am and finally arrived in Gaaden at 12 having taken a wrong turn early on it transpired, and and after adding 2.5hrs and 600 metres of very steep climb up and totter down.
Carrying my hefty back pack like that used up most of the day’s energy. I managed a little further after a 20 minute lunch break, but on getting lost again my spirits plumetted.
Once more in a forest without the requisite arrows, I sought advice from walkers with a big bag. They were mushroom hunters returning to their car with a grand haul, all smiles. Luckily for me they offered me a lift to the next village and I gratefully accepted as I was at the end of myself.
We passed the famous Heiligenkreuz Monastery and I asked to be put down there. As I entered for a look I wondered if they might allow pilgrims to stay, and once again I was lucky.
I rested in the sun beside the trickling fountain until 5.30 pizza, then attended both 6pm vespers and 7.50pm ‘komplet’ or compline. Traditionally the same three psalms are prayed each night: 4, 90 and 133. They contain clear references to the night, going to rest, dwelling in the shelter of the Most High, protection of the angels, etc., and so are perfect for the end of the day.
The Heiligenkreuz monks are renowned for their Gregorian chanting and so I was happy to hear them. Dressed in their white robes, half on one side and half on the other of the wooden choir stalls which were exactly the same colour as the beech leaves in the woods, their sound is both haunting and eerie.
The final service of the day consists of them first lighting candles, then extinguishing the altar lights. At the end the bells toll for 5 minutes, rolling through the valley, and the candles are blown out leaving us in near darkness while the Fathers begin their silent period 20hrs until 5hrs the next morning when we reconvened for the first prayers of the day.
I took a brief dusk walk beside the deer to find the full moon and commune with my sisters, but it was not to be seen behind the rain clouds. Instead I climbed along the path of the 12 stations of the cross and watched the remnants of the sun turn the sky a bruised orange.
Private accommodation in a simple room with 2 beds and sink cost 26 euros including evening meal, lunch and breakfast and copious mugs of tea to rehydrate myself before a very early night.
Walking Donaustadtbrüke to Schönau an der Donau. 30 kms.
I took the U2 metro line to Donaustadtbrüke which means the bridge over the river Donau (Danube), from the town side to the island.
I had the pleasure of some unexpected company in the form of 3 pals from the European Shiatsu Congress I had lately attended. They even carried my heavy rucksack for me in relays for the first hour and a half. That’s what friends are for! We sung Lets Go Fly a Kite from the film Mary Poppins and we fair swung along together.
It was great to be out of the city after a hectic and action packed week. It is a wide waterway with extensive tributaries making for divers intermediary land masses with little to distinguish them except that they are basically green and not built-up.
Having left nearly 2 hours later than planned, we crossed to the southern bank earlier than the map showed. There were toilets there and what looked like a good place to eat and drink.
The sun was still shining with a strong wind when I struck out alone and having hugged my goodbyes.
What with new boots (which broke slightly when I put them on that morning) and it being my first long walk with a back pack since June, it took me a while to get into my stride. When I did, big deep sigh, I rediscovered the joy!
I was on green paths beside flowing blue waves, amidst wild flowers of purple, pink, blue, white and yellow with butterflies to match. They seemed to appear by magic from the ground they were camouflaged by as I trod on it.
I had to negotiate the oil refinery which smelled very unpleasant complete with loud machinery. Up until now I was on cycle paths with the bikes tinkling their bells or skimming past, but once clear of the industrial area, dragonflies played around me, walnut shells crackled underfoot (reminiscent of the Camino Francés), there were ducks, swans and swathes of happiness.
The path moves through a Natural Park and there are attractive wooden dwellings on stilt legs at regular intervals. Many of them have the same bucket fishing nets I saw along the coast of Brittany in France in May.
It was beautifully quiet and I caught myself exhaling again. A heron took off from the pool’s surface, dragging its webbed feet out of the water with sheer determination on the way to a better spot.
Having changed to sandals to give my new blister some air, I enjoyed the soft white sand between my toes.
There were 2 men on the opposite bank when I stopped for my picnic. Other than that I saw no walkers until I changed back into my boots several hours. I I was sitting by a pool on the bleached stones when a couple of experienced looking hikers came by and were able to point me in the right direction for what turned out to be the final half hour.
I thought I was three quarters of the way there and would have to just stop in order to avoid being on the path when it got dark, and so I stopped at the pleasant looking cafe to ask the way to the nearest town. Someone overheard me and said I could get a bus. I had 5 euros on me so had to forgo a cup of desperately needed tea when I spotted the sign Schönau an der Donau. Wow I had made it to the end of the walk without (a donkey) without even knowing it! I was elated and full of sun.
In fact I needed 2 buses which collectively came to more money than I had, but the second driver waved me on anyway. What a great sense of achievement I felt!
Schönau has pretty, pastel-coloured bungalows, a church and fire station amidst flat and fertile farm land full of serious farm machinery as it is harvest time. The post bus was full of giggly school girls and posturing boys tossing back their fringes and feigning disinterest.
It is a flat, easy walk. The map looks like an ancient one, but the walk is simpler to follow than you might expect. There are hardly any arrows or signs (just one or 2 red and white horizontally striped ones after you cross the river), but as long as you stay close to, and on the right side of the Donau (Danube) you can take the footpaths with confidence. Skirting around the oil refinery is the least enjoyable stage, however what follows is glorious.
Beware of Google maps! It does not cater for hikers, taking us on main roads and over busy junctions. It is great for getting your bearings, for orientating yourself when lost, but not for footpaths and tracks.
Both the map and Google need Internet. I have not yet found a suitable offline map but am working on it and will share when I find it.
A second blog about Vienna – photos, food, safety for women, tourist services and more.
I was visiting this elegant, dolls-house city for the first time for the purposes of attending the largest European Shiatsu Congress ever held. There were over 600 participants from very many countries including Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Scotland, England, Germany, Switzerland and of course Austria.
It was truly wonderful to meet up with friends I made in France and Spain during the last year; spend time with colleagues from previous meet-ups; and forge new acquaintances.
In the same way that Gill, fellow practitioner, helped me find friends and hosts in Spain, Sabine was my guide and support here. I am grateful to her, her mother and Ursula for their kindness, generosity and friendship.
Trying to find the Tourist Information I was drawn to a certain loudness which turned out to be a slightly pop version of Gloria In Excelsis Deo. On October 31 1517 Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the gates to the Wittenberg Castle Church. Thus began the Reformation whose 500th anniversary was this year. I had stumbled across the preparations for this event.
Useful facts: The ITI Tourist Information in Schmerlingpl. 3 is not the one you want, despite what Google maps tells you. Find the website for the right place and follow the link from there. And note that they cannot tell you anything about anywhere outside Vienna, including treks which leave the city or well-known pilgrimages.
There are a lot of men in statue form standing high on rooves looking down at us mortals.
She was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma.
I walked all over the city day and night and believe it is safe for solo women. I even made one very early walk alongside the metro line U6 which is raised up above the road level, and there were many men who looked ‘down at heel’, but no-one bothered me at all.
The Viennese speak great English which made it tricky to try my schoolgirl German. There are 1000s of tourists so most people you stop to ask the way have no better idea than you!
Camley Street Natural Park; St Pancreas Parish church and gardens; and Goldington Crescent Gardens, Camden London.
As I wander through European cities I find myself attracted time and again to the green spaces. Indeed a few days ago, at the advice of my walking guru, I traversed most of Paris from the Bois (woods) de Boulogne in the far east, to the Pont (bridge) Bercy. I did not manage all the way the the Bois de Vincennes in the west due to time constraints.
Today I arrived off the Eurostar at St Pancreas London, weary in body and of spirit but the sun shone so I googled parks and gardens in the area. I made my way to the St Pancreas gardens, narrowly avoiding being run over by a London taxi due to the lack of a pavement, and came across a community garden I had tried to enter twice before, Camley Street Natural Park – this time it was open.
A slice of sylvan pleasure between railway, canal, and high rise buildings, I discovered that this London Wildlife Trust funded oasis is an ideal place to picnic. Flower beds are constructed from railway sleepers and hunks of stone with bordered pathways lined with bark pieces.
There is an extensive pond with a green membrane pierced by rushes, and a wild flower meadow with rose bay willow herb. It constitutes a very brief, windy way to the other side if you use it, as many suit-clad workers obviously do, as a thoroughfare; but you may also make a circuit and take in the bug-finding, log-pile place; the ‘fairy glade’ (where if I was not mistaken a counselling session was happening); and pond-dipping where a quiet volunteer was carefully cleaning the sign.
There are rustic benches in private nooks, and luckily a few tables in the cafe clearing because it was so densely wooded that there was almost no sun this September noon.
Bring your little ones and they will have hours of down-to-earth fun – inside if the weather is inclement (there is an activities room and exhibition with nests and pine cones) or out, learning about bats and birds, recycling and natural landscaping. I saw willow, birch, brambles and cherry, and there were tourists in the Visitor Centre being helped by the member of staff.
This old coal yard is located by the waterway which once transported the fuel to Yorkshire, where incidentally the next-door sliver of a bridge was formed before being placed in its current position in 2016. Unlike the Park’s paths which absorb any sound (do not try with buggies, bikes nor suitcases), the bridge’s smooth surface resonates with and amplifies joggers’ footfall and cycle wheels.
Just down the road is the St Pancreas old church and gardens, today shining in the sun and showing off its higgledy-piggleddy stones, working mortuary, royal blue water fountain (at least I think that is what it is), and unusual monument “especially dedicated to the memory of those whose graves are now unseen or the records of whose names may be …(could not read this word) obliterated”.
They have done a great job of bringing interesting facts and people to our attention in the wee church: the relationship of Thomas Hardy to the ‘consecrated burial ground’, and memorials to Mary Wollenstonecraft, female activist, and John Soane, architect of the Bank of England whose main residence is in the area and whose ‘country’ house in Ealing (Pitzhanger Manor, see above) I coincidentally visited last week.
Under the trees sit study groups, lunching pairs and individuals reading or on their phones. What a contrast with the welcome smell of warm wax which filled the holy interior. I enjoyed the plaque ‘in memory of my dear husband Earnest Wiggins d 1975’ before drifting into my third bout of 60 winks sitting on a proud wooden chair at the back listening to the ponderous ticking of an unseen clock.
Making my way towards Mornington Crescent tube station, with its faint hints of Mary Poppins and WW2 popular songs, I come across Goldington Crescent Gardens. In the Autumn sun, causing the fallen leaves to glow and throwing strong olive green and top-hat grey shadows on the grass, there is a public sculpture. It is in three parts: one resembles a silver pile of unmentionable; the second an ant eater with its snout in the ground; and the third I know not what. It stands out starkly beside the pink and red brick 1903 Goldington Buildings opposite, its edges elegantly wrapping around whatever is in its heart. Interesting fact: in Vienna they have a word for these buildings which conceal a space behind the facade which is ‘Hof’.
I flew from Edinburgh at lunch time without any incidents, and had time to spare in Stanstead where I have never seen so many people in short shorts in such a small place!
My plane was arriving in Alicante at 9.30pm and I needed to be in Valencia by the morning. I had researched many different ways to make the transfer, and as previous readers of my blog will know, I have had adventures with Bla Bla Car in the past, so I went with that option. However, this time it backfired: the driver cancelled a few minutes before boarding for Spain and that left me without any way to make the journey that night as the final bus between the cities leaves at 9.30pm.
I remembered how people have turned up to help me when I have had challenges before, so when I was in my seat before take-off I asked the woman, Ana, in the next chair if she could check my Spanish translation, and she was a honey! As we were delayed on the runway (yes, Ryanair), she was invaluable in helping me search and book an Air bnb, as well as an early morning bus, so by the time I was in the air I had plans. Then we had time for stories of family and travel, cake decorating, and common kindness. The sun set like an inside out blood orange.
Of course arriving in Spain in July, even in the late evening is a hot thing to do. But I managed the bus into town smoothly (2 euros 70) and made the journey on foot to Pilar’s. Oh, to exist was to be covered in a smooth, thick, sheen of sweat!
I had not brushed up on my Spanish before leaving as I meant to, and so was rather pleased to hear myself finding accessible vocabulary which I thought I had forgotten. Pilar and I swapped walking stories and tales of a knee which won’t allow her to climb. I managed about 5 hours sleep.
Walking through dark Alicante at 4am I marveled at the ink black sky and waning moon. Bored Guardia Civil were on their phones, and divers back packers on the edge of the pavement or draped over rucksacks with black eye masks. Me? this time I had a suitcase and smaller rucksack so I did not belong to that itinerant group.
I managed to dissuade a random man from linking up with me, and on the bus Spanish radio voices rattled away, and girls made excited phone calls as I drifted in and out of sleep. I was so tired that a stiff neck and hips did not deter me.
And in no time at all there was Valencia, its sun rising in pastel colours of baby blue and pink with old gold at the edges and it was already 25 degrees at 7am. I had been warned!
And so I arrived in Olocau, and the market was in full swing as we drove through the village (see previous blog).
The first thing I noticed was the wonderful aroma of lemony pine. I was welcomed by the dogs Pollo (chicken in Spanish) and Louis who were to be my companions for the next three weeks.
First I had free range eggs from their chickens for breakfast, and later I was shown how to feed and care for them.
There was sort of surround sound, a constant zzzzz, that might be mistaken for electricity but was of course cicadas.
Inside there was the sound of trickling water from the goldfish tank, outside the swimming pool jets, and occasional renting of the peace by the dogs’ warning barks.
Actually there was plenty of quiet between it all for my meditation, and although in the Sierra Calderona at this time of day the sun was around and above, in the valley was a very green cool.
Above the house and village are grand cliffs and I half expected the heads of American presidents to morph out of them.
My first proper walk was wonderful for the first 3 hours, but then I became aware that the sun was still on my right (it was about 10.30am) and that therefore I was heading north. I should have curved around and started to head for home before this, so I must have missed the path. Eventually I discovered I was in Antigua Marines. The scale of the map was too small for me to find paths through the mountains, and the only way google showed me home was by road. That was when I discovered that the dogs were not traffic savvy and I could not control them. In the end I hit upon phoning Sue, a woman I had not even met yet, to be collected in the car. What a disaster!
Other walks I made during the following week were frequently in 30 degrees, with warm golden evening light, and I got lost a lot: I came across a fountain that way (photo at top of page); I admired the goats which were multi-coloured with twisted horns, bells tinkling, and ear tags – they were nervous of me but not of the dogs; and the magnificent variety of greens.
Today I removed a tiny bloated frog from the bottom of the pool, yesterday more than one whopping great spider, and the day before a courageous hedgehog. I do not know how long he had been there, and I know hedgehogs love to swim (so it says on the internet anyway), but then I saw him going under and so I hoiked him out with the dustpan which I had been using to clear the patio. He just stayed put on the grass for ages, breathing but not even hiding his snout. Eventually I wrapped him in a towel, put him in a box and placed the box in the flower bed. I thought he might be starving if he had been in the pool for hours (or even all night). An internet site suggested he might like scrambled eggs and green beans, but by the time they had cooked and cooled he had left.
An evening wander in pictures (with a few words). Tuesday 26th September 2017
It was a stroll really, around the Theresiengasse area of Vienna this balmy evening.
Amongst pastel shaded, elegant streets looking mellow in the last rays of the day’s sunshine.
Craning my neck to enjoy the skyline.
With a quiet mind. I realised it had something to do with the fact that the voices around me, the advertising posters and signs, were all in a language I can barely understand (although some German vocabulary is slowly coming back from O’ level days).
Mother and daughter on their phones, each walking a small dog, stop to untangle the leads.
I followed my nose, my only aim being to find flowers for my kind host Ursula, and tissues to stem my Autumn cold. I am reminded that these were my father’s last days 19 years ago.
Kids playing in floodlit playparks on street corners, people smoking inside bars, zebra crossings everywhere.
Night fell and I relied on my GPS to find my way back, still comfortable in sandals and shirt.
What to take with you (and more helpful info.) for beginners.
Just to give you an idea of the context: I walked the Camino Francés (Spain) in October/November 2016, two thirds of the camino Via de la Plata / Sanabrés (Spain) in December 2016 and May 2017, and some of the randonnée GR223 (Normandy, France) also in May 2017, so you will deduce that I have walked in temperatures ranging from 20 to 41 degrees, in a relatively small area of Europe. I am under 5 foot tall (1.524 metres) and 7-and-a-half to 8-and-a-half stone (50-55 kilos). Take into account that I am female, just over 50 years old, and pretty fit with no injuries.
The basic recommendation is 10 percent of your weight, but given that many women’s weight varies according to time of month / day etc, and that you will undoubtedly lose weight as you walk, this is just a general guideline. It does not include water (1 to 2 litres depending on the weather and the route), nor food (only snacks are really necessary for a basic 6 hour walking day, except on a Sunday).
What sort of rucksack? I took a 44 kilo one which is easily big enough. Buy the strongest and lightest one you can afford, and you will have to have a cover for it. (Some people travel with nothing, or a laptop case with a toothbrush, but that’s extremely unusual.)
‘Each object a person carries represents a particular fear: of injury, of discomfort, of boredom, of attack. The “last vestige” of fear that even the most minimalist hikers have trouble shedding, he said, was starvation. As a result, most people ended up carrying “way the hell too much food”. He did not even carry so much as an emergency candy bar.’ M.J.Eberhardt, see below for link to Nimblewill Nomad.
So these are the ‘I absolute cannot do without’ items:
Boots or shoes: I wore second hand boy’s boots which a kind friend gave to me because her son had grown out of them. I did have blisters for a week or so but after that my feet got used to the walking and I was mostly fine. They got very wet very soon after it began to rain, and took a long time to dry. For my second trip I bought light-weight, waterproof, Columbia shoes, and they were wonderful except that they went into holes after 3 months. Not a blister in sight.
Foot cream: maybe antiseptic or anti-fungal, but definitely creamy cream is an absolute must. I was taught by my guardian angel of a companion on the Camino Francés to massage my feet every day before putting on my socks and shoes, and to do it again and air them well at night or when I stopped along the way. Vital!
Plasters (for blisters): preferably the special ones for all parts of your feet (heel, toes, balls), and I recommend the brand ones as the others come off after one day. A needle and thread – yes you heard right. Here’s why: thread the cotton through the needle and pierce the blister carefully with the needle. Draw the thread through the blister releasing the fluid (sorry!) and leave it there, removing the needle. Then tie a small knot and it should remain for a few days. The build-up of the fluid is the painful part, and this way that drains away whilst the skin remains almost in tact, allowing a new layer to grow underneath with the minimum of discomfort.
Passport and/or identity card, health card (to get free treatment in the EU, make sure it is up-to-date), and money: you may want one credit or bank card for emergencies (see below). I took a post office money card which, once I had worked out how to do it, I was able to quickly top up on my phone with euros.I also used it in big supermarkets and to pay for things over the phone/by internet like travel tickets. Paypal is also very useful if you have money in your account. Once again you can pay in £s or other currency. There are lots of cash machines on the Camino Francés and some on the other caminos. Banks are tricky because you have to be there when they are open and usually you will be walking during the morning and exhausted / too hot in the afternoon if they are open then, which they are not always.
Money: the Spanish caminos are cheap compared with France: allow 10 euros per night if staying at a hostel; coffee and tea are 1 euro each; the pilgrim menu is 6-10 euros; and supermarkets are basically cheaper than the UK. You will probably visit the supermarket every day as you will not want to carry food unless you have to (except for Sundays when everything is shut), and they are mostly geared to sell you one piece of fruit, one piece of fish, even eggs one at a time (watch the clever way they twist paper to make a carrying flute!).
By comparison France is really pricey, particularly accommodation, with the ‘auberges de jeunesses’ (youth hostels) being the cheapest. The ‘randonnee’ I walked was divided into stages but, in my experience, there were no cheap places to stay at the ends of those stages, not for backpackers.
Useful tip 1: for hostels/hotels make sure you research in advance for France and Norway.
Useful tips 2 and 3: Do not change money at the airport as it is very expensive, so take some currency with you from home. Neither should you use your ordinary bank debit or credit card unless you have checked before you go that you do not have to pay exorbitant charges for withdrawing money or paying in local currency. Many Spanish hostels will only accept cash.
Something to carry your important things in: I had a bum bag and liked it, but when it poured with rain everything got wet. My friend had a thick, flat plastic pouch round his neck, under the outer layer, and that was safe and stayed dry.
A ‘credential’, otherwise known as a pilgrim passport, which you can have stamped at every stop and will then present to the authorities in Santiago de Compostella so you can get your certificate of completion, your ‘compostella’.
A smart phone: I would suggest that you get the best phone you possibly can. One that
fits in your pocket
has as much internet capacity as possible (in the UK see ‘3’ for international packages and beware other companies who offer similar but which are geared to ‘normal’ holidays so are only valid for a month at a time)
has the best camera you can afford (back up your photos eg with Google which is free and easy)
has a torch
has maps (also useful for bus and train times etc)
has lots of space for apps (think guidebook app instead of a heavy Lonely Planet book, or specialist maps, airplane boarding passes, bus and other tickets, booking Bla Bla cars or accommodation, getting you out of trouble, making contact with home (or rescuers, or even new lovers)
has a translation app
has the capacity for writing notes as long as it is backed up (I write notes as I walk because I would not remember if not, but have been known to delete by mistake which is terrible ). You think you will remember everything but you probably won’t and so a notebook and pen or phone version may be invaluable
has Spanish or other language lessons on it eg Duolingo
is ‘big’ enough for downloading a film or book if you want.
A smaller, cheaper, old-style phone: I recommend you also take one of these, especially if you don’t have a contract on your smart phone which allows you to communicate outside your own country. You can buy a SIM card wherever you are and this will enable you to phone or text within that place. Also, if you lose it it isn’t the end of the world. The only problem I encountered was that one shop wanted a local address so my friend who lived there used his which caused problems when I wanted to top up. I suspect this wouldn’t always be the case.
A charger: I have had a great deal of luck with people lending or giving me a spare charger, and not much in buying cheap ones. You can charge your phone at all albergues (hostels) but if it is busy there will be a great deal of competition for the sockets, and although they are often by the beds they can also be in the kitchen or hallway instead. This means that you either need to stand beside the phone or trust that no-one will steal it – I didn’t hear of anyone having their phone stolen.
Useful tip 4: In Madrid you can get phone accessories in vending machines so you do not have to wait for shops to open. The quality seems to be good.
Useful tip 5: Always set a password or pass pattern on your phone so that others cannot open it.
Useful tip 6: You can charge your phone while waiting at bus stations. The sockets are at elbow height in the semi-outdoor parts of the buildings. You can also charge and get wifi on all intercity Spanish buses (eg Alsa).
An adaptor for 2-pin plugs: depending on where you are coming from and are travelling to, there are expensive international adaptors which are good if you are going all around the world, otherwise it is cheaper to get a 3-to-2 pin. You will only need one if you only have one gadget!
A wrap: I would not be without this large pink piece of cloth which doubles as a scarf, something to sit on, something to wear when visiting churches or at the mass in Santiago out of respect, a pillow, a cover-up…invaluable.
A sleeping bag or sheet: it depends on the time of year you will be walking and where. In the summer on the Spanish caminos you will not need a sleeping bag, but do take a sheet bag (I doubled over a single sheet lengthways and sewed the edges together), or buy a silk one to stop you getting bitten in the hostels and to keep warm in the early hours or if the windows are open. In the late Autumn you will need a proper sleeping bag and if you can afford it, get a light-weight but warm one as they pack very small.
A light-weight travel towel: it dries really easily and is worth investing in if possible.
A torch: a head one is very useful if you walk in the dark, ie you might want to leave before sun-up in summer to avoid the heat of the day, and it leaves your hands free. You might manage with a phone torch to avoid the weight though.
Useful tip 7: You can buy replacement batteries easily, so don’t take them with you from home as they are very heavy. Or you could use an eco- wind-up one.
Camera: one person I know buys a cheap one before every trip so as not to carry a big heavy one or risk losing it or having it stolen. I would rather have one piece of equipment so my preference is to get a phone with the best camera I can afford, but I accept that often real cameras are better quality.
Pockets in my shorts: – one for water, one for phone and toilet paper. If you choose to have a water bottle attached to your rucksack with a tube to sook on, you would have a pocket free (see below). If you wear shorts without pockets, well, you decide, but if you take as many photos as me you will be wanting to have the camera on hand.
Useful tip 8: when you are on the path you will not want to keep taking your rucksack on and off unless you really have to because it is unwieldy You would have to undo and do up, and then probably readjust all the straps, and you do want your hands free for the baton(s) or to swing your arms to keep the circulation going, or to hold hands with someone special.
Poles, batons or walking sticks: I walked the whole Camino Francés without one. Then I was gifted one and used it for the more tricky terrain of the end of the Via de la Plata / Sanabrés and was very glad to have it. BUT. Then I lost it and although I bought another one for the next trip, I also lost that one. SO…
Useful tip 9: Tie your baton(s) to your rucksack or boots when you stop, and at night so you do not leave them anywhere. I bought a children’s one from Go Outdoors for £5 which was fantastic, but then again, I am very short.
A map or guide book: well, it depends. The Camino Francés is very well signposted and whatever time of year you walk it there will be plenty of other people to help you find your way. Some people use theirs for a record, write notes in it and keep it for posterity. Others ceremoniously tear out the pages each night, as a sign of completion and to lighten their load. It is useful for albergues and other places to stay, and many are very well researched and have lots of interesting information. On the other hand there are also fantastic apps. Or you could wing it. As for the other caminos in Spain or elsewhere, in retrospect I would say get a book or app, but you will manage, especially if you speak some of the local language. People love to help even if they do not really know or understand you, so be prepared to be sent in the wrong direction sometimes!
Your specs and/or contact lenses and cleaning fluids if you use them. Sun glasses (whatever time of year).
2 x knickers or boxers (cotton, easy-dry material)
2 x bras if you wear them – it is nicer not to, many don’t
3 x socks double layer ones come highly recommended but they are expensive. Or wear one lovely soft, easy-dry pair underneath with a second pair on top which won’t need washing every night. You will need others in case your usual ones are still wet in the morning, and another pair if it is cooler in the evenings or for bed.
Useful tip 10: Do not wear wet socks!
1 x easy-dry T shirt and one other light top for evening that doesn’t need ironing and doesn’t crease.
1 x fleece, preferably light but warm with a hood to avoid the need for a warm hat. Note that walking by the coast along a linear walk (eg along the Normandy coast or the Camino Norte) means that there could be a strong breeze in one ear day after day.
1 x sun hat or cap (it is better to have a hat so that the back of your neck as well as your ears and face are shaded). Also a warm hat if you do not have a hood.
1 x light, easy-wash and -dry trousers if you don’t want to get sun burn, bitten or scratched. 1 x other pair of trousers – not jeans as they are normally heavy and even heavier if wet. A belt because you will get smaller!
Useful info: even if you don’t wear your jeans to walk in, your whole rucksack may get soaking wet and then you will still have to dry them and they take days.
1 x rain trousers and 1 x rain poncho / jacket. Make sure they are not just for light showers because if it rains all day everything will be wet through. Hopefully they will pack up very small.
Gloves: you might not need them but they are very small and light. I did wear them in the mornings in late November / December and once at night.
Useful reminder: if you are arriving by air and planning to take your rucksack on the plane, you can only take 100 ml per tube, bottle or pot, and all that has to fit in one very small plastic bag which seals, about the size of a small freezer bag. This includes all sorts of foodstuffs such as marmite and tahini. Neither can you take sharp things, so this also goes for nail clippers or scissors, pen knife and body hair razor.
You may also want:
a cream for between the buttocks /thighs or in the groin if you are male. All that chaffing…!
Sun tan lotion. Toilet paper or tissues. Toothbrush and toothpaste.
Condoms. The ‘pill’ if you are pre-menopausal and that’s what you usually use.
Hair ties are very small and light and you will probably want to keep your hair off your face if it’s hot.
Panty liners, sanitary towels etc. You can buy certain brands along the way.
Find a joint shampoo / conditioner / soap (there is rarely soap in hostels).
First aid: Antiseptic, sprain and bruise cream. I recommend natural calendula for cuts and rashes which also covers sun burn, and arnica (bruises, bumps), or Rescue Remedy cream for the same as arnica plus bites. Rescue Remedy for emergencies for you and others. Mosquito stuff. Any medications you usually take (order more before you leave home), and bring a repeat prescription just in case.
Utensils and food stuffs: A pan which doubles as a carrying pot, a tupperware for left-overs and freshness (bread, soft fruit, opened packets of biscuits, chocolate which might melt), knife/fork/spoon, salt/pepper/spices, water bottle(s), and green tea bags (obviously!).
Talking about rain, I happened to have a newspaper in the bottom of my rucksack (quite heavy in the scheme of things, but fortuitous) the day it rained and it soaked up the worst, whereas my friend’s things all got very wet.
A carrier bag or a small light rucksack: for shopping/evening or sightseeing when the big one is in the hostel but you still need something.
Notebook and pen: if you are not using your phone, and /or a sketch pad and pencil.
‘Shaving down one’s pack weight, he said, was a process of sloughing off one’s fears.’ M.J.Eberhardt, see below for Nimblewill Nomad link.
The thing I forgot and wish I hadn’t: a small plastic bottle to fill with delicious Spanish olive oil.
And you will probably be happy to have these with you:
Earplugs. Some dormitories are vast and in busy periods they are therefore noisy.
One of those half circular blow-up cushions for plane / bus / car journeys when you might want to shut your eyes. And some like an eye mask.
Clothes pegs – very light and easy to find little tiny spaces for.
A corkscrew (or just buy screw-top wine and ring-pull beer), and a cup.
A swimming costume – there were several times I wanted one. Even when I remembered it on my second trip, I sent it back and then wished I hadn’t!
Think very carefully if you really need these:
A book or kindle: It depends on you. Both weigh quite a bit and personally I have not read much while on the road or seen others read. Many hostels have shelves of free books which you can pick up, read and then swap for another further along the route.
Please note that I have no experience of tablets or other phone alternatives, but do try to keep the number of appliances to a minimum.
A wrist watch: your phone will probably do, and your tissues / flesh swells as you walk, plus there’s the sun and sweat. I found it was a nuisance.
Same with jewellery, especially rings – they all came off and then had to be stored carefully to make sure they didn’t get lost.
Make-up, hair straighteners, drier etc – I would say unnecessarily bulky and inappropriate but you know your self. If you need these things you might prefer to be in a private hostel as they have more amenitities for a slightly higher price.
1 x long skirt for walking: stops you getting your legs burned but I would recommend that you wear light shorts or boxers underneath. You will have to hitch it up for steep climbing eg Galicia on the Camino Francés.
A coat, jeans, woollen jumper or cardi: they are all heavy and hot (even if the weather isn’t great, you will get very hot when walking), they get sodden and are then extremely hard to dry, plus bulky in the rucksack.
Washing powder or liquid for clothes: you can easily use soap. And a clothes line.
You can send things home relatively cheaply, many people do: I met an English man who had bought his guitar to Spain with him, and he was on the way to the post office to send it home!
Don’t get attached to your belongings! You will probably leave things in the fridge, or forget them in cafés, or want to swap them for a bottle of wine. They are only things. Walking the caminos can help you with perspective.
Finally, always remember that you will not be very far from shops most of the time. Do some research of your route before you leave, but the caminos in Spain and the randonnées in France are near civilisation, at least every few day, so you can buy most things. You will be surprised what you can do without, source from other walkers, substitute, or find lying around.
23rd May 2017. Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Day 8: Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejía, in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Badajoz province. 26 kms which should take a minimum of 6 hours with breaks.
I left Villfranca at 5.50am and it was darker than ever before. Once I had found my way out of town I was in open scrub land. There was the dawn at the edge of the world; the sky was blue, red and orange. I heard the sound of a lone cockerel, saw a white horse just visible, and smelled the faint odour of farm fertiliser.
There were orange lights already in the distance, and tractors passed me under the tiny, thin crescent moon. Oh, the sweet, sweet feathered melodies!
As I found my stride, my state of mind calmed. My pack was extra heavy with provisions, and my feet already hot, but the air was cool and I gave thanks for that. The dusty path was occasionally lit up by one or two red tail lights. Then it went quiet. The flower buds were tightly shut.
The moment when the the sun finally rose was very exciting, and afterwards the opposite sky was a blank white.
‘(Pilgrimage is) … walking in search of something intangible..’ p. 45Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.
Some travellers write their blogs after getting home and I can see why; although the trekking itself does not take all day the mindset needed for that, together with the attendant tasks of looking after the BodyMind and dealing with practicalities, can do.
Indeed, I recently advised a prospective peregrino to leave books at home. That was partly due to the weight, but also because I do not read much when I am on a pilgrimage, and I do not see others reading around me. Fiction can transport you to another place, and many pilgrims believe that focussing on their spiritual goal is vital and do not want to be distracted.
‘…- and for pilgrims, walking is work.’ p. 45 Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.
On reflection, I ‘saw’ that I do tend to set myself extra and unnecessary tasks, and yesterday it transpired, I also did some needless work for the business back home thinking I was indispensible perhaps. As I put one foot in front of another I could take note of such patterns and habits of mine.
To the east were hills like different sized piles of manure you will clear up later. In the sky was an orange haze which seemed to be creating a white misty look between it and the land, whereas the other half of the globe was flat to the horizon, and the vineyards of the Ribeiro region a uniform blue. The arrows were easy to see, the backpack was no bother, but my feet were still calling my attention at times.
I enjoyed the immaculately ploughed red soil between rows of vines.
Olives, with their stumpy wiggly trunks, stretched into infinity. One patch had solar panels and an extra crop of what might have been green manure between the trees. The cordoned vines had thin little stems, perhaps because the wires were supporting them so they did not need to be stronger. I would like to know why some rows were planted north-south, and some east-west.
The sweet fennel and cow parsley smelled delicious. My skin remained cool, and it was brightening quickly. Other wild flowers competed with the blue of the sky, and there were pink His Master’s Voice horns of common bindweed by the path.
Before I left the hostel, breakfast looked better than usual so I had paid for it, and consequently I was full of sugary energy. My shadow was really tall; my alter ego which could reach things down from high shelves in the supermarket.
In the fields, today’s job was trimming the long tendrils, and other than those men, it was me myself I as far as I could see in both directions. Even the farmers were alone, although an occasional conversation reached me.
I liked the swirls in the earth at the ends of rows where the tractor had turned; hated the repetitive machinery noise to my left which source I could not see; and blocked my nose from the acrid, chemical smell I had been warned about.
I had also read that there was neither village nor water for the entire 26 kilometers and I could believe it. I only had one litre and so knew that I would have to be careful not to drink too much too soon. Sadly, as I took the signposted turning, the noise got louder.
The tireder I got, the less time had passed since I last looked at my watch. Chemicals smelling like paint were being sprayed so I tried to pick up pace, but my body had set its own rhythm. Tonight, I thought, I am drinking some wine!
By 8.40am I was no longer alone; there were four Italians in a group and another solitary man on the road. We moved at regular intervals from each other.
After almost 3 hours without a break, I was casting ahead for a tree throwing shade, but there was not one until 9.20! After a 15 minute break, and having eaten my orange because it was the heaviest and also full much needed fluids (delicious it was), I deduced that we were barmy, the lot of us, walking so far in this heat.
I then passed the hat-wearing man sitting on a wee waymarker, and he said he was muy cansado (very tired). He added that we were half way. On I went.
A town with unusual looking farm buildings appeared. Ah! maybe wine vats. It looked like the outside edges of a huge swimming pool and I imagined it was full of grapes with barefooted people trampling around it. Do they actually do that these days? It could of course be sewage, which would be less ‘romantic’.
Luckily, the actual smell was of newly cut branches and very fresh sap.
For some reason I suffered a lot of pains on and off, and I also started to feel the skin on my right arm and leg, the side where the sun was, getting that soon-to-be-burned feeling. To remedy it, I draped my magenta wrap over that side of me. That wrap sure does come in handy. (See my blog on what to pack in your rucksack).
Swifts zapped flies, zig-zagging across my sight. Were those cordoned olives? If they were, then that would make for many more plants per acre than the row system, so it would certainly make financial sense if the earth could sustain it.
I broke again at 10.45 for lunch under a tree, feet throbbing – it was so very hot. A pylon was crackling like a fire, indeed there was a smell of burning. As I ate I let my crumbs drop for the ants and watched one carry a huge piece away, picturing it arriving back home and saying ‘look what I got!’ It was a messy business for the bottom, sitting on the earth like that. I restarted at 11am and, yes, there were a lot of little inexplicable smouldering fires between the olive trees.
Towards the end of the day’s walk I spent a short period, only the second time in the past 8 days, talking to someone as we went along. He was from Barcelona and was doing the camino to get away from his demanding family, he said. He assured me that despite his exhaustion, of course he wanted to keep on walking until he reached Salamanca (a further 11 days). Such determination!
At 1pm in a 31 degree heat, after seven rather than six hours of walking, I arrived in Torremejía. (Put the accent on the final ee: toh-ray-mah-heee-ah).
The hostel host owns a bar as well, on Avenida Extremadura, but there was a family issue and it was closed that evening, so I sat in the one opposite and had a beer and wrote my notes. Useful info: the supermarket on the same street is shut for a long time between lunch and evening.
I did buy that bottle of wine I had promised myself, and I also invited the man in the above photo, plus a Dutch cyclist new on the scene, to join me. We had some surprisingly entertaining conversation, in divers languages, and it was very enjoyable to sit around the table with fellow travellers again as I had done so often on the Camino Frances.
For some reason the host kindly offered us a free breakfast when his bar reopened the next morning; it provided simple fare with generous portions and friendly service.
Tomorrow would be my last day on this leg of the 1000 kilometer Via de la Plata, so I would have to wait to see Salamanca another time.
Rojo-Plata bar. I had a free breakfast there but did not eat an evening meal https://www.tripadvisor.ie/Restaurant_Review-g7614464-d7986966-Reviews-Restaurante_Albergue_Rojo_Plata-Torremejia_Province_of_Badajoz_Extremadura.html
22nd May 2017. Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Day 7: Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros, in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Badajoz province. 19 kms.
It was already 22 degrees when I left at 6.45am with no breakfast or tea because I could not use the kitchen at the municipal hostel in Zafra. My body had had a good rest and felt better, but not my mind which was busy again trying to puzzle out why life offered me some things and then promptly took them away again.
I passed Spanish farmsteads in the flat brush land, exactly as I imagined Australian ranches. There was honeysuckle and abundant roses in deep pink, red and orange; puppies frolicking, watched and kept in line by the absolute authority of the papa; cats wary of a large bird nearby; and my way was uphill. It was the second cloudy day, although it had cleared late last night, and it was pleasant, cool on my skin. There was a smell of olives and thyme crushed under foot, and the scent of pine added to the pleasure. I saw an almond tree for the first time on this trek.
I compare the two aspects of my life: walking outdoors in this beautiful natural place, and working at home with family and friends in Edinburgh. I had spent the week basically alone, and this sort of retreat was continuing to raise things about being with others or not. I reminded myself I could stop any time.
In her discussion about religion and walking, in Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit describes, ‘…that non-believer’s paradise, nature…’. This rather densetome covers the origin of bipedalism right up to modern day pilgrimage.
There was activity all around me: wheeshts of sparrows, and wooden clagging of storks’ beaks as they stretched their throats and pointed at the sky. The sun was catching the tops of the grasses and there was a large town and farmland spread ahead, with a chemical factory spewing in the distance.
There was a satellite tower on the peak I had reached after the climb, and then I descended through pine trees with rabbits popping up all over, but still no deer. I was an hour from Los Santos de Maimona.
A new house with a solar panel heralded the place I was planning to replenish myself. Another commuter town to Zafra, I guessed, with its BMWs and smart houses. I seemed to have a dreadful tendency to be self-pitying at times. It is a good thing I am walking to balance my earth element which that is related to.
“A young German man expressed it this way: ‘In the experience of walking, each step is a thought, you can’t escape yourself.'” p. 51, Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit.
Thankfully I could not risk missing the signs so that bought me into the present. There was a double bell tower and the familiar, beautifully-kept town square.
Kids were off to school in skinny jeans and trainers, rucksacks and hoodies, with straightened hair, all so familiar from our Scottish children. But what a soulless place it was at 8am, and how very, very hard to find bar.
The search and service took a while, but the tea and tostada con tomate (basically toast with garlic and tomato paste) were good and the women very friendly. I left at 8.30am.
Black pigs were grooming each other which I had not seen before, but otherwise there was more of the same really, day after day walking forward with a pack on my back, trying to understand life, except I was ever fitter and feeling better about myself overall.
Walking is to ‘nourish a profound, fruitful relationship with the self.’ Taken from Christophe Andre’s La Vie Interieure in France Culture magazine.
Two men, each with multiple greyhounds passed me an hour apart.
A huge horse rolled over in the dust, and I was not that different, having to brush away metaphorical flies myself. Doing something repetitive helps you see the differences or similarities between things. Then again, sometimes even the most beautiful views, seen repeatedly, become commonplace.
I thought there were a few pilgrims gaining on me from behind, but it was a man on a tractor on his phone. And ten minutes later there he was again still on the mobile. At 10.30am my day’s destination was sighted, and I was resting under olive branches. Just me, the birds and that tractor.
I crossed the train tracks and a busy road, managing through a semi-rural urban environment, one dusty route in a long uphill haul in the heat. The French couple were there, he having insisted on walking 30 kilometers and she with blisters. I felt for her. Now that I did not have my baton, the woman I met a few days earlier was right, the blood does collect into my hands and they get swollen. I expect the heat does not help. Sometimes I also experienced really sharp pains in different parts of my body, mostly the inside edge of my right foot, but they passed.
‘Pilgrimages make it possible, through the exertions of ones body, step by step, toward those intangible spiritual goals that are otherwise so hard to grasp.’ p. 50 Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit.
I had read that there was a choice between two albergues and that the far one, the municipal hostel, only had one toilet for everyone, so when I arrived at the edge of the town and immediately found the private albergue, I stopped there.
The nineteen kms took just under 3.5 hours, 4.5 if you count the 1 x 45 and 1 x 15 minute detours/breaks, averaging 5.5 kms per hour, although noting that one is likely to go slower at the end and if it is very hot. If you were chatting that could slow you down too. Today I arrived at noon.
My advice: do not try to find the tourist office or follow the signs as no-one knows where it is but they do kindly guess, sending you off on a wild goose chase every time! In fact, I think it is usually, or used to be, behind the lovely apricot-coloured church next to the police station, and that place is worth visiting because it has good maps and they can stamp your credential (the pilgrim paper for collecting proof of stages attained).
Villafranca is a big, prosperous town with a smart new medical centre and a wide, dry river bed running through the middle. There are lots of shops which do of course shut in the afternoon.
The mercado (market) building rivals one in Madrid, and the bazaar shop has more things crammed into it than I have ever seen, except postcards which was what I was after.