Tag Archives: UNESCO World Heritage

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills

Salas de Barrios to Villafranca del Bierzo
Wednesday 26 November

Rising from a comfortable sleep in our fifteenth century mansion alburgue, our charming and passionate host was preparing breakfast in the warm and ancient kitchen. Fruit smoothies, wholesome bread with homemade conserves, coffee. Conversation flowed, we could have stayed all day, but we had sights to see.

We first toured several small mountain villages. Our host had grown up in the area, and knew the ancient history as well as telling stories of his personal history. I was born here, my uncle lives there, a king owned this, this family is famous for that. He is an architect by trade, so could explain some of the ancient building techniques, illustrating the colourful stories from the area. Fascinating.

We ventured down to Ponferrada, walking around the twelfth century Templar castle. It looked like something Walt Disney would have dreamt up, the stuff of fairy tales. I searched for dragons. Our host pointed out a small hole and told tales of when he was a child crawling through that very hole to explore. I suddenly realised my necklace had broken, and I had lost my pendant. It’s a Balinese Hindu symbol, that I’ve had for several years, and am very fond of. I had recently added a small Camino symbol to the chain, however that had remained. I didn’t feel panicky or particularly upset, as I thought I might, but felt I would find it. We searched the surrounding area, and retraced our steps, then searched the car, but it was not to be found. I thought perhaps it had fallen off back at the alburgue. I was almost pleased that I would have an excuse or visit our host again.

We next drove to Las Medulas, the ancient Roman, UNESCO listed gold mines, and the reason for our Camino detour. We parked near a wooden platform on the edge of the cliff. Our view was obscured, until we climbed the platform. My jaw dropped. Giant red ancient anthills. A once towering mountain, now desolate, almost completely carved away. Spectacular barren landscape. We were then able to enter one of the Roman tunnels, but first we had to don hard hats. We descended into the dimly lit red passage. The first few meters were wide, but not very tall, so we had to duck. It then opened up, and we were able to stand. The shaft branched out into several tunnels, we followed one until the end, then backtracked along another. I marveled at the centuries old technology that had managed to carve out this mountain. Continuing through the tunnel system, it opened to a large abyss on the side of the mountain, through which we could view the anthill-like forms. My jaw dropped again.

It was time to go, and we were all a little hungry. We drove to Villafranca to look for a resturant. As I was getting out of the car, I saw something shinny wedged between the seats, it was my pendant! I will have to find another excuse to visit Salas de Barrios again. My American friend and I had planned to walk from near Ponferrada to Villafranca today, but as we were already there, we decided to forgo our Camino for another day it was getting late. She said the municipal Albergue would be too much of a shock for us after our luxurious mansion, so suggested a small hotel she knew. It was very reasonable and included breakfast in the price, so basically the cost of an alburgue, as we split the cost of a room.

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A Change of Plans

Foncebadon to El Acebo
Monday 24 November

I awoke and noticed there was no one in the next bed. I sat up, and saw that there was no one in any bed. I looked at the time – eight fourty five! I had slept in. I had had the best nights sleep on the Camino. No one had woken me to ask me to leave. I packed up, and went downstairs. There were still a couple of stragglers having breakfast, so I joined them. I was only planing on about twenty kilometers today, so no need to rush. I didn’t have to leave until eleven.

People started to arrive for coffee who had walked from the last village. The English musician arrive, and someone handed him a ukulele and he sung a lovely little ditty that he had written. I was getting ready to leave when an older American woman arrived. We chatted and I found her very interesting. She was seventy five, was an architect, had worked for UNESCO, and now ran a B & B in the Champagne region of France. She asked if I would like to walk with her for a while. I would. This was her tenth Camino. I asked if she had ever met our older Canadian friend, also on his tenth Camino, but she hadn’t. She told me that she was going to divert from the Camino for the next couple of days to visit an ancient Roman gold mine that was nearby and was a UNESCO World Heritage site. I thought that sounded interesting, and she said she would really like some company, so I agreed to join her. She was only walking to the next village today where she planned to stay the night. I was happy to shorten my planned walk to prolong my stay in this beautiful mountain area.

Today was the day we passed the Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross, an important landmark on the Camino. I had carefully chosen, and bought from home a small stone from Mt Batur, a holy mountainin Bail, with the intention of leaving it here, alongside many others who had done the same. The pile of stones reached several meters. Thousands of hopes, wishes, dreams, abandoned and discarded anguish, heartache and fears. I contemplated for a moment what my stone meant to me before casting it high, adding to mound.

I continued along the way chatting together with my older American friend for a while, then she pointed me in the direction along the Camino, as she found it easier to walk along the road.

I arrived at the bar we had arranged to meet, and she soon joined me. We ordered the menu del dia, and booked into the alburgue upstairs. It was warm, but the wifi was only available in the downstairs bar. So after showers and laundry, we retired there for the evening, both to write.

Not long later, my Dutch friend arrived. I was surprised to see him, and he me. He was staying in the other alburgue, but had come for a drink and dinner. He looked much happier than the last few days, and I was glad to learn he was feeling a lot better.

A couple of Spanish men and a Dutch girl arrived. My American friend chatted to the Spaniards, and the Dutch chatted. I was happily antisocial, writing. My American friend reported that one of the Spanish men owned an alburgue on our planned detour, and she had arrange that we stay there. The Dutch girl worked there doing massage. The Dutch girl and Spaniards left, and my American friend retired to bed. I stayed for a while conversing with my friend before we bid each other good night.

Human Evolution and Owls

Castanares to Burgos
Wednesday 12 November

Today, as planned we only had a short walk into Burgos. Instead of following the tradition pilgrim path, that went though what was now an industrial area, we followed the river into Burgos. The tree lined path was busy with groups of locals out for a morning stroll.

Arriving in Burgos, we crossed the river and entered the city gate, in front of the rather imposing cathedral. My Dutch friend headed towards a small cafe, and as has become the magic of the Camino, we were happily reunited with our other Camino friends, the young Irish lad, the Italian, and my Camino Angel. I was delighted to see them all again, and to have caught up. Our other Italian friend was in the Cathedral, so we would see her soon too.

I was looking forward to an easy day exploring the city. While enjoying a coffee with my friends, my brother went off in search of a hotel for us. My Dutch friend and my Camino angel decided to continue on to the next town, so we said goodby and I hoped we would and all be together for my Birthday on Friday.

My brother found a lovely place overlooking the Cathedral, so we stored our bags, and went into the rather ostentatious Cathedral. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and filled to saturation point with Renaissance and Baroque details. We spent several hours there, as there was so much to look at, and they provided an interesting audio tour. We were hungry, so we went in search of a cafe.

After lunch we went to the Museum of Human Evolution, which contains some of the most important human fossil finds in the world. A really interesting exhibition for a bunch of old bones. I learnt there that owls don’t poo, but regurgitate pellets. This it seems is common knowledge, but new information to me. They do however have bums, but hardly use them.

It was getting late, and we got a little disorientated getting back to the hotel. We had arranged to go to a pilgrims mass with our Irish and Italian friends, but were too late by the time we returned to the hotel. I sent them a message, but they appologised, and said they had left Burgos, continuing on with the others. Again I hoped we would meet on Friday. My brother and I decide to have a rest, then go out later, Spanish time, for some tapas and a vino tinto.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 15 – Beer in Bordeaux

Saint-Martin-Lacaussade to Bordeaux
Wednesday 22 October

It was market day in Blaye when I arrived with some time to spare before I caught the ferry across to Lamarque, so I went to explore. The first stall had about ten varieties of oysters, some as big as my hand… and another with mushrooms bigger than dinner plates, and the cheeses…. it was a wondrous collection of fresh produce. As I pushed my bike through the stalls, many people stopped and asked ‘Saint Jacque de Compostelle?’… I was well and truly on the pilgrims path here!

The ferry ride, was an option that would cut about 20km from my days journey, and took me through vineyards and chateaus, rather than, I was told, a boring industrial landscape. It was not cheating, as I’ve done well over 20km getting lost! I rode my bike onto the ferry for the twenty minute journey. On the other side, my maps, and google all directed me straight ahead, but there was a perfectly good path that ran along the river, which hopefully would take me to Bordeaux, so I took that instead. After about 8km, it came to a dead, so I backtracked for about 100m where there was a road leading up to some vineyards. I had a delightful few hours riding around the vineyards going from chateau to chateau in the Margaux area, one of the famous regions of Bordeaux. It was a little early for lunch, and I was hoping for a Resturant lunch today, so I continued on.

At one point I saw a small lake filled with ducks, but as I approached, saw the ducks were not real, but decoys… and soon saw two hunters with their guns. It was hunting season. I waved and made sure they saw me. Waved, not flapped.

I was starting to get hungry, but no Resturant in sight, in fact not much but fields, and the odd vineyard, so pulled off the road for some bread and cheese.

I was soon entering the suburbs of Bordeaux, which wasn’t the most pleasant of rides – strips of factories, and car yards. I was unprepared for how big and spread out Bordeaux was, and was a little overwhelmed. Eventually I rejoined the riverfront, and things started to improve as I approached the centre of the city. The sun was shinning, and as it was ‘childrens’ day’ – Wednesday afternoon, many families were out enjoying the esplanade along the river. There were skateboard rinks, BMX bikes, scooters, and a fountain the bubbled out from the path, creating a mist every few minuets. The city center behind was a marvelous sight – the centre of Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage site, I was again overwhelmed (but in a better way).

I was CouchSurfing again tonight, so called my host to let her know I’d arrived. She wasn’t going to be home until 7pm, but gave me her address to meet her later, and made some suggestions for things to do in the meantime. Unfortunately I didn’t have anywhere to leave my loaded bike safely, but had a very pleasant ride around the streets window shopping in the numerous small boutiques. I looked at churches, public squares, the opera house, fountains, and spent a lovely hour in the public gardens. After my initial apprehension, I was beginning to enjoy being in the big city of Bordeaux… a change from the small villages I’d been staying in.

Around seven, I headed to the area my host lived, and found a small park with a free exchange library booth – a small glass doored shelf with instructions to take or leave a free book. Not sitting for long, a woman came up to me, sitting beside me and handed me a book. It was a heavy volume old encyclopedia in French. I said I don’t speak French, but she was an English teacher, and was very interested in my trip. We chatted until my host called to say she was home. I declined the offer of the heavy volume.

Another fantastic home – a huge old apartment with a lovely large backyard to store my bike. My host apologized that she had a class that evening, and could go and have a drink with me now, but that would be the extent of her hosting. She and her boyfriend and I headed to a local bar. He had done the Camino a few months ago, and was very interested in my trip. We were in Bordeaux, so I asked for a glass of wine, but it was a beer bar! They had hundreds of varieties of beer – I asked for something local and was served a rather nice stout. My host ordered a few snacks, and then it was time for her to leave. I thought I would go out and eat somewhere, but my host had only one set of keys, and said she would be home very late… So she took me back to her place. I was rather hungry, but was tired, so just showered and went to bed.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 14 – I See the Sea

Chez Glorit to Saint-Martin-Lacaussade
Tuesday 21 October

I was unsure if the proprietor of the hostel meant I had to leave at 7.30 am, or pay before that ungodly hour, but he had said ‘7.30 verandah’. I rose, half packed and stumbled to the verandah by 7.30, only to be invited in to have breakfast with the family. He then invited me to show him where I lived on Google Earth, zooming in on my house in Bail, then spinning the globe, and zooming in on his house too. He was impressed that I had come such a long way.

The fog was thick, and it was cooler this morning, and didn’t start to lift until after 10. I was taking it slowly as my knees were not the most cooperative this morning. The ride was stunning, I was now in the Bordeaux region, passing vineyards, forested areas and tiny hamlets. The damp weather had produced crops of mushrooms overnight, and there were many people out along the path collecting them. Pity I don’t know my mushrooms well enough or I would have joined them.

After leaving the delightful country roads, I had to join a busy truck filled road for a couple of kilometers, before I could join a cycle path that took me for all the way to Saint-Martin-Lacaussade, my destination for today. Due to my early start, and that I wasn’t riding very far today, I arrived the earliest yet, about 1.30. I was again staying in a pilgrims’ hostel. It was easy to find and I called for the key when I arrived, as they were expecting someone with no French. The charming lady arrived and showed me all the facilities, and a big fat book with lots of information about the Camino. She explained the options for my ride tomorrow, and left me with the keys and instructions on how to lock up. Again I was the only guest, and only number 210 for the year in this quiet little town. I was only three kilometers along the cycle path from Blaye, where there is an ancient citadel, so unpacked my bike, and decided to go and explore.

The citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage site, built in the 15th century overlooking the 75 km long, 12 km wide Gironde Estuary – an important port in the Bordeaux area. Inside it was dotted with small craft shops and restaurants, I had a pleasant time wandering and gazing at the sea under stormy clouds.

I had a desire to cook, so went to the supermarket to get some supplies. I bought a small mixed box of fresh ‘soup ingredients’ – onions, leeks, turnips and carrots; some of those delicious small French lentils, and tried to find some herbs, but it seems fresh herbs aren’t available in the supermarkets, so settled for a bunch of ‘fresh dried’ thyme & laural (bay leaf?). There was not a chili in sight, so would have to be French style, not my usual Asian style. I also picked up a citron tart for dessert at the patisserie. The hostel had a well equipped kitchen, and I was soon chopping and simmering. The vegetables, herbs, and lentils all had a different flavor to what I am used to, much sweeter, and I cooked quite a tasty meal, quaffing a nice Bordeaux I had bought earlier, while playing some music on my iPad and dancing around the kitchen – just like no one was watching – such is my Joie de vivre!

Cycle Path Psychopath part 12 – Rolling Hills and Oysters

Aulnay to Saintes
Saturday 18 October

I was tired after a long ride the previous day, and another long ride ahead, so had a sleep in and didn’t wake up until 8.30. The other pilgrims were about to leave, and had kindly bought me bread and a cake at the local bakery. A slow morning too… meant I wasn’t on the road until almost 11.

I wanted to see the UNESCO World Heritage Roman church in the village before my journey to Saintes. Another stunning architectural marvel with magnificent carvings, surrounded by a very interesting graveyard.

The road today was no longer flat, but rolling hills. I liked the rolling, but the hills were sometimes a bit much. I was clicking 40 km per hour on the downhill. But sometimes as slow as 5 km per hour on the uphill – it was quicker to get off and push the bike a couple of times. I’m not fond of hills. The weather had also decided to heat up, as it felt about 26°, possibly warmer. I was wearing my all black merino ninja cycle outfit, which had been fine until now, but the heat combined with the hills I was feeling decidedly tired, and had consumed more than 3 liters of water. Six straight days of cycling without a rest day were beginning to take their toll.

I arrived in Saintes, and called my host, but no answer. I sent a message and sat down by the river to wait. It was nice to sit and enjoy the passing parade. I called again, but no answer, so began plan B, checking the internet for nearby hotels.

Soon after my host rang very apologetically, as she had left her phone charging and hadn’t heard my calls. We rode (another cyclist) to her nearby apartment in a wonderful old renovated building by the architect owner. My host was lovely and we got on immediately.

When we arrived at her apartment, she asked did I like oysters? OYSTERS? THEY ARE MY FAVORITE FOOD! Was this a mistranslation? Did she mean something else? I only get to eat oysters when I’m in Australia, which isn’t very often, it’s one of the things I miss from home. No, she pulled out a bag, and began to shuck the oysters, saying it was a tradition in her family that when they have guests they serve oysters, a tradition I heartily endorse. She was very pleased that liked oysters, as she said some of her guests don’t enjoy them. Well, I will happily make up for all those other ungrateful guests. She then cooked a tasty mushroom and cream dish and we had fromage and wine too. She may have sensed my fatigue, as she offered her hospitality for another evening. I readily accepted as I had more hills ahead and really needed a rest day, besides tomorrow was Sunday, the day of rest.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 11 – A Real Pilgrim Hostel

Lusignon to Aulnay
Friday 17 October

Again, I hadn’t procured accommodation for tonight, but had the phone number of a pilgrims’ hotel in Aulnay, only problem when I called, no one spoke English, and I couldn’t make myself understood in French. The very friendly Hotel manager in Lusignon offered to call for me, but there was no answer. She called the Marie in Aulnay, and got the details of where to get the key, and who to contact when I arrived. She also wrote down info for a couple of B&B’s if I had any trouble.

I wanted to avoid busy roads today, so planned a route following back roads to Melle, where I would stop to look at some churches, a very pleasant ride. I had wanted to find somewhere for lunch in Melle, but was a little late leaving Lusignon, so opted for the bread, cheese and wine option by the side of the road. A good plan, as I didn’t arrive into Melle until almost 2 pm, when everything was closed. I went to the tourist office to see if they could call ahead for my pilgrims’ accommodation in Alunay, they did, and it was arranged that I would stay. They also gave me a very nice stamp in my Crediencial.

I then when to look at a couple of churches in Melle, the first one was lovely, but no longer a functioning church, the second one was the sublime UNESCO World Heritage listed Saint Hilaire. I was photographing some magnificent carvings of a pilgrim on horseback, surrounded by scollop shells, when an elderly gentleman pointed that the door was open and I should go inside, as it as ‘nouveau’… It was sparsely renovated with a layered, almost topographical white marble alter, which I later learned was the work of French designer Mathieu Lehanneur, who has transformed and enhanced the Romanesque church into a contemporary minimalist masterpiece. It was beautiful and unexpected.

I had asked for directions to Aluny at the Tourist office, and had asked if the road marked in red on my map was particularly busy, as it was the most straightforward way to get there, the other routes would have added an hour or more to my journey. She said it would be fine on a bike. It wasn’t. After about 15 minutes avoiding big fast trucks, pulling over ever time I saw one In my mirror, I cranked up the Google machine to see if there was an alternative and a way to get off the busy road, even if I had to add two hours to my trip, it would be better. I had to continue another 30 minutes along the busy road before there was an exit, but such a relief when I found one.

It was a long ride, and I didn’t arrive in Aulnay until after six, but waiting near the corner of the hostel was the elderly lady who had the key. She was very sweet and with some charades and sign language gave me instructions for all the facilities at the hostel. And what a charming place it was! Light filled and comfortable with a fully equipped kitchen, washing machine, and dryer. There were two other guests – Pilgrims! A couple from Austria, doing their third Camino, walking from Amboise to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. They were kind and helpful – it was nice to chat to someone on the same path.

I showered, did some laundry, and went in search of dinner. There only seemed to be one Resturant open in town, and it didn’t have much on offer, just a set menu, which had a pork main. They offered to make me an omelette instead, so I sat down to the delicious buffet starter including all kinds of salads and quiche, the omelette and then a chocolate mousse for dessert. It was filling and tasty. I returned to the hostel and the other guests offered to share a bottle of red, which I happily obliged.