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Follow here my journey and stories around the World. 

 

Filtering by Tag: cycling

Going North: Day 5 Gernika - Portugalete

Ivan Blanco

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Having slept in a place full of history, art and symbols as Gernika is, the persistent Northern rain was going to be my companion this new day until the hills of another remarkable city...

Starting my 5th Camino day with a new Camino friend, Camille (see day 4 of my Northern Camino), we went together for one typical morning ritual, we indulged ourselves to one great breakfast:

Cycling breakfast!

Champion's breakfast!

Still raining heavily, I took the opportunity to ask Camille to do one of my Camino photo interviews (an ongoing project of pilgrims and locals of the different St James routes) to which she happily agreed.

With yet another glorious breakfast filling up my belly and with no signs of the rain easing, with 10:30am on the clock, I covered up my bags as best as possible to retake the road to Santiago. Wishing a good and well deserved rest day to Camille, I ventured my dear Orbea to some difficult pathways, putting her to an extreme muddy and very wet test.

Misty roads

5th Camino Cycling tip: specially with the Northern Camino, be sure to bag some rain cover, very probably you will need it at some point during your journey.
— June 10th, 2015

Sometimes big changes in life lie on decisions which seem to be insignificant

We Galicians (North West region of Spain), are known for our tenacity and stubbornness, so I pushed my equally determined Basque origin bicycle to its limits; read here the beautiful and unique history of the Orbea cycling brand in words of ex-pro cyclist Pedro Horrillo for Rouleur.

Proudly with both Basque and Galician persistence, I managed a personal heroic ascension that took me and my 25kg bike+bags weight to the hills of one of the most known and biggest cities of the Basque Country: the city of Bilbao! The rain very timely stopped allowing me to calmly satisfy my wanderlust with this striking landscape:

Bilbao!!!

Bilbao, mostly known for having amidst its architectural range the stunning Guggenheim Museum, has much more to offer than just that. It is the 10th city of Spain and although deeply marked by its industrial origin, it developed into a prosperous cosmopolitan style city that unites both cultural Basque heritage with a modern urban redevelopment. If you feel tempted discover more via Bilbao tourism.

Definitively, this city is well worth a visit if you travel to the Basque Country or as me, pilgrim through it. Not being a fan of too big cities and even less of big capacity pilgrim hostels they usually have, I headed forward to the next nearest Camino town, Portugalete (no, no need to ask, it has nothing to do with Portugal ;) ). Even though the Guggenheim is not all what there is, going to Bilbao without at least passing by, is like visiting Paris and miss the Eiffel Tower... Therefore, out of the established Northern route, I followed the Nervion river to reach Frank Gehry's unique architectural achievement; find out more about this unique artist, you can hear it from the man himself in this TED talk.

Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum

Quickly after a few shots of the iconic museum, a little off track from the original Northern Saint James Way, I continued by the river side with hopes of reaching a bridge... However, this didn't happen and I ended up in the middle of Bilbao's industrial area, one of the main pieces of Spain's industrial machinery:

Nevertheless, it got me up to speed and arrive to Portugalete, where, to my surprise wasn't any bridge available either, but I still made it to the other side... no no no, don't worry, I didn't test my and my bike's swimming skills nor did I ask the rowing guys for a ride. There was a rather uncommon way of bridging which I've never seen before and makes for Portugalete's most important construction, it is, the Vizcaya Bridge!

The Vizcaya Bridge!

What you see is a kind of ferry like cabin that transports cars, people, bikes and, like in my case, pilgrims over the Nervion River; it's also called the hanging bridge. Dating back to 1893, it was the idea of one of Gustave Eiffel's disciples, Alberto Palacio, who with the purpose of creating a way to cross the river, but allowing boats to pass easily and for a reasonable price, he came up with this very original idea. In fact, it's functionality and beauty make it Spain's only Industrial monument to be part of the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Airport style urban transport

After this lovely river jump I went on to find the town's pilgrim hostel, only to discover that it was... closed! In addition, the nearest pension was fully booked just 10 minutes before I arrived. Nonetheless, they were very helpful to indicate me other possibilities and even called some pensions directly to ask if they had availability. They did have and this took me to my next urban surprise. They told me that I just had to go uphill and I could use the moving ramps... really? I was kinda doubtful and finally guessed they meant to say elevators... but surprise surprise, the moving ramps are real! Not bad to have one's bike being carried from time to time.

Although the place I ended up had no pilgrims around, after my shower I went to discover this charming city, search for my favourite Galician beer (see my love for it here on day 3 on my French Camino) and ending up with one the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen! I've literally spent an hour taking pictures :)

Colour explosion!

Even amid storms, rain, mud and other inconveniences, don't despair, the Saint James Way is a journey of sacrifice but with rewarding discoveries that will awaken the explorer in you!

Stay tuned to my next Going North posts on Facebook, TwitterInstagram or Pinterest for more adventures!

Going North: Day 4 Zumaia - Guernika

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

When a picture speaks a thousand words...

Zumaia's amazing Flysch

With this beautiful view Ingmar, Don, Robert and I ended our previous journey the best way possible, with some delicious Basque cuisine as its finishing touch (see day 3 here).

Cyclist's Coffee

However, what's probably the biggest constant on any Camino, is that it's an adventure that pushes you to go forward day by day. Waking up for once at a more decent hour, I took advantage of my earlier start and asked Robert to do one of my photo interviews together with an energizing breakfast. After this good treat we wished each other Buen Camino and since time was for once on my side, I went back to the nunnery albergue and did the photo interview with our lovely host Mari too. With all my things packed, I decided to check my brakes, one of them was not working properly... alas, my mechanic talents were lower than expected and fiddling with disk brakes is definitely not my thing. Therefore I had to resort to something anyone should do before starting any big cycling journey:

4th Camino Cycling tip: if like me, the oil you come in touch with is rather olive oil for your salads, then better check your bicycle with a mechanic for a safer ride!
— June 9th 2015

One of the beauty elements of the Northern Camino: the sea!

Luckily enough, there was a bike shop in town and I just had to push my brakeless bicycle a few meters. If you're curious, disc brakes have a braking pad like rim brakes, but they have a kind of pusher and hydraulic liquid, that, when it has too much air or some sand blocks it, you basically end up with an all time braking bicycle... not the most ideal type of bicycle for a 900km journey. Thanks to Jose, the bike was fixed and ready in no time giving me the best bike check ever, it was one good cycling decision.

Ready to go again, most of my daily route was going to be on the road, but not before hitting some pathways where I suddenly came along a wild living horse family, I stopped to take a few pictures, which got them suddenly curious and nervously started to surround me... but I guess they were more interested in my dear Orbeiña...

Cycling love!

Prize to the happiest smiling pilgrims ever!

These kind of moments are the reason I prefer to take the most treacherous Camino paths, sometimes to such extremes that even walking pilgrims don't take my same pathways... you'll see in future posts. But on this occasion, it proved as the best decision since I crossed Don and Ingmar again, the happiest pilgrims I've ever met, as can be seen on this beautiful picture:

With this very happy start and two of my most beautiful Camino pictures, I ended up in Debia around lunch time, where I made a quick Tortilla and beer stop, with such coincidence that in there were some of the most friendly and talkative people. Curious about my journey and cameras, Marisa and Jose Alberto were the first ones with whom I chatted and it ended up being a very interesting cinematic conversation. They had visited Santiago some years ago for the shooting of Flor de Santidad, a story set in Galicia and based on a novel of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, which is one of our most celebrated playwright writers, to make yourself an idea, he could be considered as our Spanish Shakespeare equivalent.

Lime Kiln

Urasandi's Lime Kiln (click on the photo for more information)

On this artistic turn around of my journey, soon after Marisa and Jose Alberto left, I made another great acquaintance with Juan Bosco who kindly described me the routes around Debia and which ones I should take. Without underestimating other places' friendliness, Debia became one of the friendliest ones of my entire Camino, to such an extent that even leaving it I made another great encounter, Josema. Stopping for a small snack and facing a very very very uphill side road... a car stopped and the driver started to talk with me. Josema used to cycle around Debia and he recommended me to follow the seaside, since the rest of the road would be too muddy and uphill. Chance made it, that I was in front of an historic construction which I wouldn't even have noticed if it wasn't for him. It was an ancient Lime Kiln or lime oven where actually his grand parent used to work with, even a sign was there explaining how it used to work and look like. The lesson to bring home from this is that there are friends and stories behind every corner, which makes travelling such a unique experience, as long as you're willing to keep your eyes open.

 

Open eyes is always a good thing, specially if you're in Northern Spain, because what I was spared on my first days finally came, the so common Northern rain surprised me in the heart of the Basque Country. Taking shelter at a nearby house from the now pouring rain, I took advantage of it to refuel a bit and hit the road as soon as the rain lingered.

Cloudy times on the Camino

Almost like anticipating my arrival to one very symbolic city in Spain's history and arts... this rainy finish could be seen as a form of mourning to the sad truth of this days' final destination: Guernika.

Guernika-Lumo

What today is known as Guernika-Lumo is only a mere reflection of what was brutally used by the Nazis and the Spanish Fascist group as a test bombing site during the II World War. It was one of the first air strikes on a defenceless population, the consequences were devastating, the outrage and shock of the international community were widespread. Artists as well were deeply touched by this atrocious attack, inspiring works as symbolic as Picasso's famous Guernica painting, exposed at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. A 3m by 7m canvas that expressed in the artist's words is: 

In the panel on which I am working, which I shall call Guernica, and in all my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.
— Pablo Picasso

So it was that history, symbolism and weather we're receiving me in Guernika. My attempt to find a spare bed in the local albergue unfortunately didn't work out due to a big group of French students. Thanks to some helping pilgrims who had guides and numbers, another pilgrim and I managed to call a local pension which still had some spare beds. This was how I met Camille from France who had been walking since Irun. She was tired and almost went straight to bed, me I was quite hungry from my 70km ride of this day:

That's what I call filling up your belly!

I didn't go far to fill up my belly, just bellow the pension was a bar and what a glorious moment that was... one very tasty Codillo was on my menu with some good Basque white wine. I treated myself to one delicious oven cooked ham hock, or also known as pork knuckle, with potatoes and amazing Pimientos de Padron (=green peppers from Padron; a town in Northern Spain and typical product from my region).

Camino friends of all sorts and origins, good old Northern rain, history, symbols, art and a great dinner to top it all, that's one typical Camino de Santiago day, an experience that step by step never seizes to surprise and amaze.

If you want to see more of such moments, stay tuned to my next Going North posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

Going North: Day 3 Ulia - Zumaia

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

Arriving late the day before and adding another late departure on my counter, my motto was: I could be a morning person, if morning happened around noon ;)

Champion's breakfast!

I was yet again the last pilgrim to leave, but not before quickly greeting the Valencia pilgrims who had saved me from starving the previous night. I have though, to add in my defense, that with the spectacular views of this albergue, it was well worth to oversleep and enjoy this unique location.

 

Besides, this led me to start talking with Susana and Peio, who manage the pilgrims' hostel, prompting me to ask for another photo interview, to which Peio kindly agreed. The albergue's very beautiful dog decided to join us too, making this day of the week usually hated by most people...  one very beautiful Monday to start a pilgrim's journey.

San Sebastian's beauty!

Usually it's better to start a cycling day with an uphill; ending the previous day with a forthcoming climb is best, as your energy levels are higher. However, it is still a great ride to cruise downhill to a city as wonderful as San Sebastian. Once I reached the city centre I had to take care of one typical long journey cycling mistake... getting myself some sunscreen!

 
3rd Camino Cycling tip: on big rides, always always put on sunscreen, even when cloudy, it’s safer and... red legs and arms aren’t sexy ;)
— June 8th 2015
 

After some fruits and refreshment, I applied my highly needed sunscreen on this hot sunny day. Even if I didn't take a plunge in the very tempting Playa de la Concha, I spent quite a lot of time on San Sebastian's seaside enjoying its breeze and the city's charm. So much actually, that I didn't leave until 2pm... with such mishap, that when I was leaving an old friend came to visit me... Mr. Puncture! Being almost an expert now, I quickly changed it and went into the beautiful nature of Monte Igueldo. Going up I saw my first bike pilgrim on the Camino, but I soon lost him and wouldn't find him again. There I crossed a German pilgrim that was exhausted from walking all morning I asked if she needed anything and she only wanted to reach her day's destination. Wishing her the best, I continued and to my surprise I found the Valencia pilgrims that had saved me the day before with that providential piece of tortilla (check back on day 2). They were obviously having lunch, I joined them with a beer, and we talked about our current and past Caminos.

Mount Igueldo views!

My Valencian tortilla saviors!

Which way? Bumpy or smoothly?

With less than 20km on my counter, I still had to catch up some time from my late morning starts and continued up to Orio, where I wanted to find some information in the tourist office, but this is Spain, and during lunch time most shops and offices are closed (2pm to 4pm), specially in small towns like this. A bit hungry, thirsty and being almost 4pm, I grabbed some of my ham and water when I came along a French tourist who was waiting for the tourism office to open too. It was great to speak French again and I thought he was a pilgrim too, but not at all, he prefers surfing. We had a nice chat and when a local told me that the office woman might still be with her kid at the school, we both went our ways. Once I left Orio, I realised something that sooner or later had to occur... as on my last Camino when I almost lost my phone, I had to loose something again... my sunglasses! Good thing though, I never buy expensive ones and I had a second pair just in case, plus, I guess it gave a town kid or fellow neighbour one great surprise.

Bumpy it was!

The road ahead was just a pleasure to ride, the breathtaking views and towns you encounter bring the wanderlust levels to its highest point, as you can see with wonderful Getaria; mainly known for being Juan Sebástian Elcano's home town, who is famous for being the first adventurer to circumnavigate the World, what a great coincidence for someone crossing Northern Spain on a bike journey.

Elcano's hometown: Getaria!

Despite Getaria's historic and actual beauty, my final destination of the day was a bit further. After another short Camino day as you can see on my route below, I finally reached Zumaia to sleep in one very unique place...

With difficulties to find the town's albergue, when I asked around, some people told me there used to be one, but now it's closed. The municipal one however, should be open, but was closed last year at this same time... the difficulties were increasing exponentially and night was falling too... Fortunately, a local helped me out and it actually was just around the corner, where a very little door in the stoned wall led to the municipal albergue. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful I've been to, it used to be a nunnery; when the last nuns left, the town's council took it over and transformed it into a pilgrims' hostel. With wooden floor and doors, it even has a storage for bicycles, a common area to cook and play guitar, but best of all is the hospitality of Mari the hospitalera (=pilgrims' host). Her friendliness and helpful hand are gold and if you need it, she also offers a washing service for your clothes. It is the kind of albergue you wish to stay, with a mix of historic origin and great hospitality (more info about it here).

Zumaia!

Ingmar, Don, Robert and me!

But that wasn't the only good thing, I shared my room with a fellow German pilgrim, Robert, who chose the Northern path as his first Camino; while most people choose the French path, as I did myself last year (check it here). I also met two Danish pilgrims that did walk some days with Robert too, Ingmar and Don, father and son, who were doing the Camino North together as they did with the French one before. We quickly connected and as soon as I took my shower, we followed Mari's suggestion to walk to the Flysch area (next to the San Telmo chapel) on the other side of the town. No words can describe the emotions of such a beautiful landscape, which I reached after 3 days cycling and with some of the best pilgrim companions, there was only one thing missing... the beers, which were already ordered and on their way, leaving us with only one task, be amazed by this awe-inspiring landscape:

Zumaia's amazing Flysch

Patatas Alioli

After such a great experience, there's almost nothing that could stand up to the plate... Well, except maybe some delicious Basque cuisine which we indulged ourselves into: freshly poured txakoli (a typical Basque dry white wine), some potatoes with alioli (delicious, but it still didn't beat the best one I ever had, on my French Camino), tasty Keler beer and other delicacies, which made this a glorious dinner topped with amazing company. It was the perfect final touch to a pilgrim's journey!

Although the last step of the day was to go back to the nunnery and get a good rest, our lovely host awaited us. We talked a bit with her and discovered that at the bar where we ate is where Mari's sister works, she actually had called her to wait for us... and this is the big essence of the Camino, small things that people do to help out, making it so unique and special.

My 3rd day of the North Camino ended in the best company and in the best place, with some good rest ahead, my motivation levels were at its highest and I was looking forward to my next destinations. If you do too, stay tuned for my next Going North posts!