The Italian Via Francigena – Scenery and Stages

It’s all systems go as I count down for my next long distance walk. This time stepping out on the Italian leg of the Via Francigena.

If I was really committed (or should that be, “I should be committed”!) I would start at the very beginning of the Via Francigena with my first steps from Canterbury Cathedral in England. But No, I will have to be satisfied with a simple Italian stroll instead. Continue reading

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Melbourne – It’s A Walk in the Park

When visiting a large city, it is easy to sometimes feel a bit removed from Nature and find yourself trapped in high rises and on hard surfaces.

Whilst that can be both interesting and entertaining, I find myself hankering for a break from the man-made uniformity of concrete and steel, even if it is just for a quick recharge before diving back into the hustle and bustle once more.

I posted a few weeks ago about a walking tour of Melbourne’s historic arcades. This time our walk takes us away from the streets and onto the leafy paths of the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens.

Continue reading

Which Camino Should You Walk? My Top Three Recommendations

Of late, my thoughts has been focussed on all things walking and I can’t help but fondly remember my three Spanish caminos. I am hoping my next adventure, the Italian leg of the Via Francigena, will be just as enjoyable, or perhaps, ‘same, same but different’.

As I follow in other bloggers ‘virtual footsteps throughout the Iberian peninsula, I thought it may be useful to some would-be pilgrims to share my own experience and to compare and contrast the three separate walks I have completed to date. Hopefully this will help people choose the one that suits them best. Continue reading

Walking Poles. Love ‘em or Hate ‘em?

The use of walking poles is a popular topic of discussion for walkers of all persuasions.

If you find that your eyes are starting to glaze over already, then this post is not for you!

Hit the DELETE key now!

For the novice walkers or those considering including this piece of equipment in your hiking kit, then read on…

Continue reading

Looking Up In Melbourne

Melbourne is a shopper’s Paradise.

Or a nightmare for the non-shoppers amongst us!

The one good thing about Melbourne’s shops is that often they are housed in the most stunningly elegant and historic arcades.

Continue reading

Girl Power and the World of Walking!

Remember herWhy is it that as we age, our sense of adventure often dims, and our expectations of what we can achieve, or what is appropriate behaviour, changes?

Thankfully I think society now views 50 as the new 30 and 60 as the new 40, so the only limitations we are controlled, or driven by, are the ones we place on ourselves.

Continue reading

Walk Adelaide – Part 2

Nothing beats a pleasant stroll in the Winter sunshine. The stroll is enough in itself, but when you have something interesting to look at, AND you learn something at the same time, more the better.

And a walk through the historic, wide Adelaide streets fits the bill nicely.

Continue reading

Adelaide in Running Shoes – Part 1

Being locked in a conference room for two days is not my idea of ‘fun’, especially when the conference is held in a new and tantalising city. I am also not good at sitting still at the best of times, and know I benefit from some early morning exercise before being locked away for the day.

I had a cunning plan though.

As I had been to Adelaide once before on a very short visit, I knew that the Torrens River was the perfect area to stretch my reluctant legs.

Continue reading

Now this is a bloody long walk…

Book Title: Slow Journey South. Walking to Africa – A Year in Footsteps

Author: Paula Constant

Book.jpgPromotional Blurb: Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time. When Paula Constant and her husband, Gary, attempt to break away from the conventional 9-to-5 routine, a few weeks lazing in a resort or packed in a tour bus is not what they have in mind. What starts out as an idle daydream to embark on ‘a travel to end all travels’ turns into something far greater: an epic year-long 5000-kilometre walk from Trafalgar Square in London to Morocco and the threshold of the Sahara Desert. Quite an ambition for an unfit woman who favours sharing cigarettes and a few bottles of wine with friends over logging time on the treadmill. But if the sheer arduousness of walking over 25 kilometres a day through the landscapes and cultural labyrinths of France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco – without a support vehicle – is overlooked in her excitement, then so too is the unexpected journey of self-discovery and awakening that lies beyond every bend. Both the companions she meets on the road and the road itself provide what no university can offer: a chance to experience life’s simple truths face to face. Paula’s transformation from an urban primary school teacher into a successful expeditioner is a true tale of an ordinary woman achieving something extraordinary. It is a journey that begins with one footstep.

My Thoughts:  I am going to have to stop reading these walking books. All they do is to fill me with an urgent wanderlust. I could pack and leave home tonight.

Paula and Gary Constant come up with the idea that they want to walk across the Sahara desert. This dream expands to walking from London to the Sahara, and they finally settle on walking from London to Cape Town!! And I thought I was a bit partial to a long stroll! All these dreams and plans are delayed and postponed, as they work up the courage to finally put one foot in front of the other and actually start walking.

I can’t believe how ill-prepared they were with virtually no training or fitness to speak of, AND carrying a pack the size and weight of which makes my back pack look like a day pack! I am surprised they even made it out of England let alone across France, Spain, Portugal and on to Morocco.

Although like me during my walks, they had some incredibly tough times, they also shared immense joy – especially with the people they met along the way.

There is so much that resounded with me in this book and Paula’s voice is honest and amusing. An entertaining read for walkers, dreamers and would-be adventurers.

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Paula Constant

Author bio: Paula Constant began walking from Trafalgar Square in 2004. Since then, she has walked over 12000km through eight countries: England, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. From 2005-2007, Paula walked over 7000km through the Sahara, until she was halted by civil war in Niger. Her first book, Slow Journey South, was released by Random House in 2008. Her second, Sahara, was released in October 2009. Paula is currently planning another walk, and lives in rural Victoria.

Author blog or website: http://www.constanttrek.com/

Pages: 300

Published: April 2008

Publisher: Bantam

Available from: Book Depository ($24.99), australia.kinokuniya.com ($30)

Tell Me Where To Go!! The Travel Bucket List.

For those people who don’t know me well, I am a planner and an organiser. Yes, I would like to be more chilled and ‘go-with-the-flowish’, but after 50-odd years on this earth, I have found that approach just doesn’t work for me. I need goals and I need exciting things on my horizon to keep me motivated and interested.

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Aya Sofya, Istanbul, Turkey. Source: xpatnation.com

Many years ago I developed an aversion to birthdays. Not that I despised getting older, although who wouldn’t want to turn the clock back a tad, it was just that I would look back on the previous 12 months and wonder, ‘where did that go’ and ‘what did I achieve’?

Most times I felt like I had accomplished a big, fat nothing. This was inaccurate and no way to think about my life, so I decided to change. Each birthday I would sit down and set myself some small challenges for the next 12 months. Then, I would stick this list, big and bold, on my fridge door. This provided no end of amusement for visitors to my house, but more importantly it kept me honest and kept me focused. Subsequent birthdays were greeted with slightly less trepidation, and a degree of excitement, as I set myself even more ambitious goals.

Without wishing to be morbid, I am now at a stage in life with more years behind me than in front, and it is time to really ‘up the ante’ on the goal-setting front.

Yes, the list is back on the fridge door, and as a sign of the times, it is now termed a ‘Bucket List’. Perhaps this is a poor choice of words, and I do not plan on going anywhere soon, except to remarkable, exotic overseas and Australian destinations.

I am always open to suggestions and here, in no particular order, is the Bucket List so far:

  • mississippi-river-trail-map_655317

    Map of the Mississippi River Trail, USA

    The Mississippi River Trail: A cycle route that starts in Lake Itascain Minnesota, USA, and finishes near the mouth of the river in Venice, Louisiana. It covers 3 600miles (5 794km), using the Mississippi River as the common theme or motif. In the past, the USA was never really high on my travel wish list mainly because the cultural contrast was not significant enough. However, this trip has captured my imagination because of the many states we will pass through – their different climate, architecture, history, scenery and accents. Yes, it will take us around three months, but what a way to experience a country.

  • Trans-Siberian Railway: This adventure has been on The Brave Man’s* wish list for quite some time. Not as energetic as the first bucket list entry, but no less fascinating. I understand the best ways to tackle this one are to either book on a guided/organised tour or get some assistance with booking tickets and accommodation. Happy to take suggestions on the best ways to approach this adventure.
  • Flower market, Guwahati.

    The vibrant colours of India. Source: incredibleindia.org

    India: How do they cram so much chaos, colour and culture into one five-letter word? The thought of the scale of the population in India frightens the pants off me, but I am busting to get there to experience such their vibrant culture. I am not brave enough to do this solo or via independent touring so I am currently researching cost-effective and well-regarded tours that will give me a small insight into this country. Fingers crossed, I get to tick this one off the list in 2017.

  • Turkey: Has always been lurking on the list since we had a short visit to the Marmaris region back in 2003. I loved the collision of Asian, European and Middle Eastern culture and history. We found the people incredibly friendly, and the architecture and arts fascinating. To be on the safe side, we will wait until the dust settles a bit in that region before venturing over. As an aside, there is a 509km walk called the Lycian Way that follows the Turkish coast line from Fethiye to Antalya. Perhaps we could incorporate that stroll into a visit?
  • tourism-laos

    Monks line up to collect alms. Source: Tourism Laos

    Trains Through Asia: I am not sure if you have come across The Man in Seat 61? He has to be world’s largest train nut, and what a wonderful resource he has created for rail-travel fans. The loose plan is to fly into Singapore and then train (and bus where necessary) north through Malaysia, Thailand and finishing in Luang Prabang, Laos. Again, a fantastic way to experience a variety of Asian cultures, move slowly through the changing countryside, and meet the locals.

  • Houseboat Trip on the Hawkesbury River: This one is much closer to home, and probably the shortest travel adventure. I have always thought a houseboat, a bit like the canal boats in England and France, would be a relaxing and different way to ‘play tourist’. The Hawkesbury River is one of the main rivers that forms a rough border on the northern side of the Sydney basin. Only three hours from home but a world away from the chaos of Sydney.
  • Camino del Norte: The Bucket List would not be complete without another camino
    del-norte

    The route of the Camino del Norte in Spain.

    thrown into the mix. This walk starts at Irun, near the border of France, and follows the Spanish coastline until you cross into the province of Galicia, then turning south-west towards Santiago de Compostela. This is a tough walk apparently, due to the mountainous terrain, so we had better start training now!

  • Overseas Volunteering: We also plan to spend some time giving back. With The Brave Man’s* extensive education skills, and my bag of tricks, perhaps we can make a small positive difference to someone’s life.

That is just a small sample of what’s currently on the list. I think it’s a nice mix of active, overseas, cultural and the Aussie, but I am more than happy to print out a longer list or buy a larger fridge to display it!

So, now it’s your turn. What is missing from our list? What cracker destinations must we add?

The Basics

lp-trans-book-depositWhat: The Bucket List is open to all suggestions. I figure once the appeal of sitting on a long haul flight fades, our focus will change and we will travel much closer to home.

Where: Anywhere.

When: Anytime, and any length of time.

Why: Who needs a reason to travel?

How: Planes, trains, automobiles plus by boat, on foot, by bicycle.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and anyone else up for adventure.

Related Posts: Watch this space

Related Blogs:

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Give Tasmania a Break! Part 2

Looking over the Franklin River from Donahey's Lookout

Looking over the Franklin River from Donahey’s Lookout

This post follows an earlier one about the ‘must-see’ built attractions we enjoyed in Tasmania. Now, I’d like to share our experiences of Tassie’s great outdoors.

If you are an Aussie, you would have to have spent your life under a rock not to have heard of the many famous Tasmanian walking destinations on offer, such as Cradle Mountain National Park. International readers, you are excused!

We didn’t have time to tick this park off the list, but we made the most of every other short walk opportunity we could find. These walks were the perfect way to break up the road trip, stretch our legs and let the bulk of the grey nomad traffic pass us by. Again, we were grateful to our Hobart friends, keen bushwalkers themselves, who gave us the heads-up about the best short walks in the areas we were visiting.

The Franklin River Nature Walk, Tasmania

The Franklin River Nature Walk, Tasmania

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, borders both sides of the Lyell Highway as the road crosses east-to-west Tasmania. This park is a good mix of soaring peaks, rough bushland and picture-perfect rivers and streams. It has a number of walks ranging from a short one-hour stroll along boardwalks, to a whole day climbing rugged paths and hiking through dense forest. Even though we didn’t get close to the Franklin River itself, the crystal clear creeks and surrounding wild forests made it abundantly clear that this region was definitely worth fighting for.

As background, in 1982 there was a major push by the Tasmanian Government to dam the Franklin River, and sections of the Gordon River, as part of a hydro-electricity scheme. Naturally, this was strongly opposed by the environmental movement and resulted in the largest conservation battle ever conducted in Australian history. Luckily for us, the ‘greenies’ won the day.

The Nelson Falls walk

The Nelson Falls walk

Driving further west, but still in the same National Park, we stopped again to stroll up to the Nelson Falls. I realise I have been known for doing a spot of extreme walking at times, but the walks we completed that day were mostly short and over relatively accessible terrain. It is hard to believe that so many people just whizz by in their vehicles and miss the majesty of this wilderness. We would have been just as ignorant if we hadn’t been tipped off. Note to self: pick local brains for the best things to see and do, and don’t only rely on tourist brochures.

Arriving in Strahan, we took the opportunity to explore the Gordon River via water rather than on foot. Yes, it was a typical touristy thing to do but sometimes I just have to swallow my pride if I want to access far-flung places.

The lighthouse at Hell's Gate, entrance to Macquarie Harbour

The lighthouse at Hell’s Gate, entrance to Macquarie Harbour

Our cruise took us around Macquarie Harbour and out to Hell’s Gate. As well as its timber and mining heritage, this region was home to one of Australia’s most harsh and bleak convict prisons. The worst and most dangerous convicts were sent to Sarah Island. On this island, convicts experienced severe deprivation and few lived to tell the tale. It is hard to picture such hardship when standing amongst exquisite surrounds on a peaceful Autumn day in the 21st century.

Mirror images on the Gordon River

Mirror images on the Gordon River

The cruise up the Gordon River was simply stunning. I kept shaking my head in wonder at the thought of the damage that could have been done to this unspoiled region, all in the name of progress. At every bend in the river there was another spectacular vista, clear, mirror-like water and impenetrable forest.

Back on land again, we fired up the little car and drove north-easterly, just skirting the edge of Cradle Mountain National Park. Without enough time or the appropriate walking gear, that would have to wait for our return visit one day.

The view down to Wineglass Bay at Freycinet National Park

The view down to Wineglass Bay at Freycinet National Park

Heading south, we swung into the Freycinet National Park. Unlike our other short walks, this park was heaving with day trippers and fellow walkers. Freycinet is an attractive blend of bush and beach. It also has well-developed camping, visitor centre and other facilities, so no wonder it was popular. Our objective was to take the track up to the lookout delivering the famous, postcard views of Wineglass Bay. After much puffing and panting, we arrived and immediately grabbed our cameras. The view was stunning and definitely worth the exertion. We were so tempted to keep walking and scramble down the other side of the mountain to the bay itself, but we had to turn away from the brilliant white beaches and yachts gently bobbing in the azure blue water. How does nature deliver such vibrant colours?

Edging ever closer to Hobart, the last park on our list to explore was a day on Maria Island. The island is a 45-minute ferry ride out from the small town of Triabunna, and the ferry is a handy way to rest your legs before, and after, a day of walking.

The Painted Cliffs, Maria Island

The Painted Cliffs, Maria Island

Maria Island was another penal settlement but not a very successful one. Even though it was an island, this did not deter convicts from making their escape. Escape attempts happened so frequently, and were so successful, that the penal colony was finally abandoned in favour of Port Arthur. Even if you are not into history, this island has enough natural beauty to keep anyone entertained. Armed with a map and interpretative guide, we started out on the coastal path and then back-tracked through the scrub. The walks were of varying lengths, and they moved us around the island, allowing us to take in the best views of bush, beach and convict ruins. The rocks and cliffs that edge the pebble beaches were particularly attractive with their layered colours and sculpture-like erosion.

I don’t believe you have to be a ‘hardened’ walker to enjoy the many incredible parks and trails in Tasmania, and I encourage everyone to get ‘off the beaten track’ if you can.

Short walks or long, Tasmania has too much natural beauty to ignore.

 

Tell me, what walks must we add to the ‘to do’ list when we head to Tassie again?

March 2011

The view from Sarah Island, Macquarie Habour

The view from Sarah Island, Macquarie Habour

The Basics

What: A valid park entry permit is required for entry to Tasmania’s national parks. A range of national park passes are available depending on the time you spend there. Visitors to the state have a number of different pass options available to them, the most cost-effective being the Holiday Pass range. This pass covers entry into all of Tasmania’s national parks for up to two months, and also provides free use of the Cradle Mountain shuttle bus – $60.

Where: Have a look at the Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania website for a map locating – and giving background information about – all parks throughout the state.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.

Why: If you love the great outdoors, choose Tasmania.

How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to access the parks.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and tonnes of other happy campers.

Related Posts: When we weren’t walking, we were driving and here is a link to the fantastic man-made attractions we visited.

Related Blogs: I think you would wait a long time before you found a more passionate Tasmanian hiker than Denis. For really detailed and comprehensive information about a whole range of hiking opportunities in south east Tasmania, have a look at his blog at: http://hikinginsetasmania.blogspot.com.au/

 

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Mérida – More Roman History than Rome!

You would think that walking from Seville in southern Spain to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain would be MORE than enough walking, but there has never been a better city to explore on foot than the UNESCO World Heritage city of Mérida.

Mérida is around 200km due north of Seville, or eight days walk. I entered the city over the bridge built in 25BC, made up of 60 perfect consecutive arches, and I knew I was in for something special.

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Storks make themselves at home, Plaza de Espana, Merida Spain

In desperate need of coffee, I followed winding, cobbled streets and emerged into Plaza de España to be greeted by not only copious amounts of tasty and reviving coffee, but the heart of the city. The plaza was just coming to life – yes, it was pretty early, but the throng grew and it became a hub of chatter and gossip. Even the ubiquitous Spanish storks thought it was the best place to reside.

I think that Australia has a lot to learn from countries such as Spain. Either by good luck, good management or tradition, towns, cities and even the smallest villages in Spain have incorporated central spaces for people to meet and socialise. This has to be good for the soul as well as building a strong sense of community. It also gives the areas a warm, bubbling vibe. It attracts tourists like me and we stay and spend money. What is not to love?

Anyway, back to the history…

Mérida was established in the first century BC as Emérita Augusta, the capital of Roman Lusitania. It occupies a prominent position on the Silver Route (Ruta de la Plata), the main transport route for moving goods (especially silver) from southern Spain to the north, and is the basis for the 1000km-long Camino Via de la Plata trail. The Romans left behind lasting reminders of their occupation which are a feast for both the eyes and minds of amateur historians like me.

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A few of the locals having a chat, Merida Spain

With only one and a half rest days in Mérida, I had to be selective about how I was going to spend my time. There is so much history, I simple couldn’t see it all.

The Tourist Office in Plaza de España sells tickets that include entry to many of the archaeological sites. For €12 you can access the Theatre and Amphitheatre, the Alcazaba, Circus and more. It comes with a handy map which shows you how to navigate the city to reach these sites.

My first stop was the Amphitheatre, a stage where burly gladiators wrestled with beasts. This building preserves some of its original elements, like the grandstands, the box and the gallery. I could almost hear the roar of both the audience and the ferocious animals fighting for their lives.

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Part of the Teatro Romano, Merida Spain

The Teatro Romano right next door to the Amphitheatre was erected between 15 and 16BC and can seat 6000 people. The original stage area is dominated by two rows of columns, decorated with the remains of sculptures of deities and imperial figures. When I visited, workers were busily constructing temporary stages and sound systems. I am not sure what performance was planned but I suspect it was opera. How cool would it be to watch any show against such a historic backdrop? Each Summer they hold the Mérida Classical Theatre Festival, apparently one of the most important of its kind in Spain. Now that would be something to see and a perfect excuse for me to return.

On the same site are a number of gardens and excavations revealing detailed friezes and parts of Roman buildings. It must be a nightmare to build anything in this city. As soon as you start digging a footing or similar, you find yet another Roman, Visigoth or Moorish relic. What I don’t get is where all the dirt comes from that hides the generations of construction? These are big buildings, how do they get buried so deep underground? Obviously more research is required on my part.

Back to the map again and off to the Roman Circus. Again, my imagination ran wild with the roars of the crowd and the pounding of the horse’s hooves. This is one of the best preserved circuses to be found and also one of the largest at 403m long and 96m wide. The stands could hold 30 000 spectators. What a sound they would have made when their charioteer was winning.

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What a feast for the senses. The Aqueduct of the Miracles, Merida Spain.

The Aqueduct of the Milagros is simply gobsmacking. How something so large and so old can remain standing for so long, I will never know. It is commonly known as ‘Los Milagros’, or the miracles, because of its ability to withstand the tests of time. More than 800metres of the aqueduct have been preserved and some sections are 27m high.

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The Diana Temple, Merida Spain

The Diana Temple was similarly astounding. An awesome piece of architecture squeezed into the Mérida CBD. I love how such history is juxtaposed with modern buildings right next door.

If I had had more time I would have liked to visit the National Museum of Roman Art. With more than 36 000 artefacts – all of which were found in Mérida and its vicinity – apparently it is an excellent snapshot of the history of the city and its Roman legacy. Again, that will have to wait until next time.

As I explored the city, I bumped into a few of my fellow walkers. Andrea from Italy was equally impressed with Mérida and he thought it contained the best range of Roman ruins outside of Rome. High praise indeed.

There were arches and forums and Christian churches and bridges and Moslem citadels. My brain hurt, my feet hurt and I simply couldn’t take more in. I suspect it is possible to spend days in this magical city and still not feel like you have seen it all. Even with a flying visit to the Arab fortress, the Alcazaba, I felt I didn’t even start to get my head around that period of history which followed Roman occupation.

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Plaza de Espana, Merida Spain

Time and energy beat me, and with a flattened camera battery, I retreated to Plaza de España. Sitting there, I started to wonder what it would feel like to grow up and live, amongst such significant history. Would the locals become a bit blasé about it all as they stroll past yet another 4th BC dig site on their way to the supermarket?

How good would it be to go to school in Mérida and study ancient history at the same time? Not only could you study history but you would walk past it on your way to school. Or maybe I would be just another bored school kid, more interested in the playground and Pokemon Go than a pile of dusty stones.

More things to ponder as I shouldered my backpack and stepped out into the dawn, northbound once more …

 

September 2014

The Basics

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Worse for wear but atmospheric!

What: Mérida is a city of around 60 000 people strategically placed eight walking days north of Seville. I had a rest day there as part of the Camino Via de la Plata and stayed at a nice little hotel called Hostal Senero, tucked in a small street near Plaza de España.

Where: Mérida – is about 200km north of Seville.

When: A rest day, so two nights in September 2014. Cool mornings and beautiful blue sky days.

Why: I had done some research before leaving Australia and all the forums etc raved about Merida as a perfect place to rest and soak up some ancient history.

How: I walked into town but it is also accessible by train, regular buses, or you can fly into Badajoz (about 50 km to the west of Mérida).

Who: Myself, and two hardy and inspiring Canadians.

Related Posts: For more information about walking the Camino Via de la Plata, have a look at https://melsonebigadventure.wordpress.com/category/two-feet-walking/camino-via-de-la-plata-2014/

Related Blogs: For more photos of Roman ruins, have a look at: http://www.takingontheworld.net/world-travel-blog/spain/merida

Read About It: For background information and guidebooks on the Via de la Plata, have a look at Book Depository

Camino Via de la Plata – the Nuts and Bolts

This has to be my favourite Camino so far. The Via de la Plata makes the most of Spain’s wide open spaces as you walk through large expanses of farm land, wheat fields, grape vines and forests. All that space is sprinkled with magical cities like Merida and Salamanca, and each day you walk in the footsteps of Romans, Moors and generations of Spaniards.

Yes, it was also probably the most difficult of the three caminos I have completed, but it was the most rewarding. The difficulty relates to the large distances that must be covered some days, just to get from village to town.

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I can taste the cold beer from here. A town on the Via de la Plata at the end of a long day.

The Via de la Plata is definitely more remote than other caminos and that was what I enjoyed. It simply meant that I had to plan ahead, load up with snacks and carry plenty of water.

It is interesting how your perspective changes from camino to camino. On the Francés, 25km was considered a tough day, but on the Via that was ‘normal’ and 35km-days fell into the ‘tough’ category. Of course, there was always the option to catch a bus or taxi to minimise the long stretches but I simply kept putting one foot in front of the other.

So here are the basic logistics of this camino:

Start Day: Thursday 4 September 2014, from Seville, Spain

Finish Day: Tuesday 14 October 2014, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Route:

  • Via de la Plata: Seville (due north) to Granja de Moreruela (approx. 700km)
  • Sanabrés: Granja de Moreruela (north westerly) to Santiago de Compostela (approx. 300km)
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The blokes have left me behind, but that is OK

Distances:

  • Total: 1000km – give or take a few kilometres
  • Daily Average: 26.3km
  • Longest Day: 42km (by bad luck and poor management! A comedy of errors except I wasn’t laughing anymore!)
  • Shortest Day: 15.7km

Days:

  • Walking: 38
  • Rest: 3 (Merida, Salamanca, Ourense)

Times: Southern Spain can be hot! Even in Autumn, I did my best to avoid the heat of the day by starting early, often in the pre-dawn dark.

Terrain: Very mixed. This camino matches the Camino Frances for variety. There is everything from quaint villages and towns, to Roman roads, farm tracks and a bit of scary roadside walking. There were days and days of walking through the wide open countryside, but also a number of tough days slogging uphill for the best part of the day. It felt good to reach the top!

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Good Morning Spain. These sunrises make the early starts all worthwhile.

Weather: Glorious most days. Cool crisp mornings to start out (I did wear a beanie and gloves some mornings) but it would heat up from about 10a.m. onwards. Some days are very hot, so make sure you stay hydrated and wear sunscreen. A good hat is compulsory.

Maps & Guides: This was a real challenge.

  • I used Gerald Kelly’s – Walking Guide to the Via de la Plata and the Camino Sanabrés (Feb 2014). It was OK but I wouldn’t recommend it unless it has been comprehensively updated. Much of the content was out of date and many of the maps were seriously inaccurate – at times whole villages/towns were missing! (I have just checked and he has released a 2nd edition dated May 2016).
  • I used that book in conjunction with the website godesalco.com. This site is very handy as you can customise your route before leaving home, according to the distance you would prefer to walk each day. It will also let you know the types of accommodation available in each town and show the elevation of each leg of the walk.
  • Some walking companions had a copy of the guidebook printed by the Seville-based, Amigos del Camino de Santiago Via de la Plata. It was also not 100% accurate but, using our combined guides and maps, we seemed to muddle through OK. I would recommend using a couple of maps and/or guides just so you can cross-reference one with another.
  • Another useful website is the Spanish site – Gronze.com/via-plata. It is all in Spanish but the maps are useful, as are the accommodation lists.
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Into lush Galicia once more. My friend Lue sets a cracking pace.

Way-marking: varied from being fantastic to non-existent.

  • There were some serious road works going on when I walked and at times the path led me to the edge of a massive excavation/cutaway. One minute path, next minute nothing! That’s where logic and a good sense of direction were required as I navigated around and/or across these works to connect to the camino again.
  • Beware: leaving Zamora. We walked out in the early morning dark and mistakenly followed the arrows that took us north-west on the Camino de Santiago Portugués Via de la Plata! After about 5km of cross country walking we were back on track and heading due north again.

Accommodation: the locals on this camino really understand the economic potential of providing services and facilities for pilgrims.

  • Albergues are plentiful and mostly of excellent quality – both private and municipal.
  • There was some chatter about bed bugs along the route but luckily, I had no problems. If you are susceptible to these critters, I would go prepared.
  • Albergue costs varied from donativo (free) to €12, which included bedding, towels and breakfast.
  • Small, private hotels started at €20 (single).
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The coffee culture at Plaza de Espana, Merida, Spain.

Food: typical Spanish fare with lashings of ham, ham, and more ham.

  • Pilgrim’s menus or menu del dia were readily available.
  • If you are a caffeine addict then you need to plan carefully or bring your own makings as, on some days, there are NO cafes from sun-up to sun down. Yes, a true crisis I know!

This is not an easy camino but I would recommend it highly.

If I were to repeat a camino one day in the future, it would be this one. My mind and spirit opened up to match the wide open spaces and gave me the feeling that I was truly walking the world!

Buen camino.

Sept/Oct 2014

Read About It: For background information and guidebooks on the Via de la Plata, have a look at Book Depository

Porto Woos and Wins A Heart

I am a country girl at heart and an urban landscape has to be pretty special to hold my interest and attention. Porto, in northern Portugal, has not only captured my heart but it has carried it away.

It seemed to take forever to walk into the centre of the city. The Camhino Portugués, and its yellow arrows, took us through the Porto suburbs for hours but even in the outlying areas there was a subtle buzz. The hubble bubble reached a crescendo as my walking companions and I arrived at the spectacular steel bridge that connects Gaia on the southern side of the River Douro and Porto proper. We all uttered a clichéd ‘WOW’ and proceeded to snap far too many photos – just like all the other tourists.

Porto is a city of around 230 000 people and is an effective blend of the old and new. The centre of Porto is classified as World Heritage but there is room for innovation via graffiti art, murals and quirky sculpture. Porto is home to two particularly famous graffiti artists who are now contracted to complete murals on behalf of business and the community.

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A sample of Porto’s street art.

Maybe this is something we could be doing in Australia to harness the creative energy of taggers and other graffiti ‘vandals’?

You would think that when I arrive in a city I would have had enough of walking for a while but, after a little rest, I always try to join a walking tour. In Porto I signed up for the free walking tour. I love the initiative of the guides and you pay/tip what you think the tour is worth. Unfailingly their love of history and passion for their city is infectious and guarantees an enjoyable and value-for-money four hours.

My chosen walking tour really ticked off the highlights of this magical city. The old vs new contrast was showcased by the shopping centre UNDER the garden – Jardim da Cordoaria. The shopping centre is a three layer affair – underground carpark, split level shops and then a spacious garden and park built on the roof of the centre, complete with 50 year old olive trees. A clever use of space generally but the inclusion of green space is even more important in my book.

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A McDonalds like no other.

Another ‘new’ aspect was the McDonalds in the centre of town. Not that I am a McDonalds fan – however they have set up home in a glorious art deco café BUT they are not allowed to change a thing on or in the building. Picture a McDonalds with chandeliers and expanses of stained glass – trés chic even for a fast food outlet.

Porto is a very popular short-break destination and on the walking tour there were English, Polish, German and French tourists. I met a young Lithuanian cardiologist and GP couple, and did my best to recruit them to move to Mudgee! You can’t blame me for trying.

The old railway station is a hive of activity as visitors come and go but the station is a tourist attraction in itself. The foyer is covered with 20 000 hand-painted tiles telling the story of Portugal’s history as well as the development of transport in the country. Definitely worth a visit even if you aren’t going anywhere.

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The foyer of the main Porto railway station.

The tour continued through the old city back to the bridge that I originally walked over into Porto. The bridge itself has many stories, and interestingly it was designed by Gustave Eiffel’s company – yes, of Eiffel Tower fame.

We progressively wended our way through tiny back streets to arrive at the River Douro (River of Gold). Love it or hate it, this is probably the most touristy part of the city complete with multiple buskers and touts trying to lure tourists into their cafés and restaurants with promises of authentic Portuguese fare. This area – called Ribeira – has a vibrancy that needs to be seen and experienced to be believed. A constant flow of people, boats, music and hawkers. This is the main hop on/off point for river cruises – something I didn’t get time to do – and it would have been a picturesque way to fill in a couple of hours and get a different perspective on the city.

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Ribeira area

I am kicking myself but I also didn’t get time to visit any of the port wine lodges that fill the southern banks of the river. Obviously Porto gets its name from this historic and prolific industry, but the port lodges are actually located in the town (now suburb) of Vila Nova da Gaia, opposite Porto itself. It would be possible to spend days exploring the many different port lodges if you had the time and the stamina, but this will have to wait for my return trip.

My all-time highlight of the visit was the Livraria Lello book shop. I am a book nut from way back but this store is definitely worth the €3 entry fee. It is ranked in the top 10 most beautiful book stores in the world and JK Rowling supposedly based the library at Hogwarts on its interior. Established in 1906, it features sweeping timber staircases, floor to ceiling book shelves, and elaborate wood paneling and balustrades. It is possible to enjoy a coffee on the top floor but I was happy just to sit and be surrounded by the decadent abundance of literature. Yep, I am a book geek, but I believe there are worse vices.

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My photos simply do not do justice to this amazing book store!

My rest days in Porto were over all too soon and if I had my time again I would have allowed at least three full days to truly absorb all that the city has to offer. What I did plan well was my accommodation at Sao Bento Apartments – convenient, comfortable and private. Just what I needed after sharing rooms with 35 other pilgrims and their nocturnal noises for the previous 10 days.

Porto has converted this country girl and it continues to call my name.

 

May 2016

Read About It: For a copy of Brierley’s Guide to walking the Camino Portuguese, purchase it from Book Depository