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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

VDLP Almaden de la Plata


Shayne on the long hot road from Castilblanco
Castilblanco to Almaden de la Plata 30kms 
Day 3

Monday 19th September 2011

Martha the owner of Hospederia de la Plata was up at 7am to make breakfast for us before she did
the school run with her two daughters. She chatted as she cooked us a hot breakfast. With 16 kilometres on asphalt coming up Martha told us that we would be passing the enormous finca belonging to José Ortega Cano the bullfighter. Still a controversial case, the Guardia Civil's report established he had been driving too fast in  the accident I mentioned yesterday and was three times over the legal alcohol limit.  A well known personality, once married to the legendary singer Rocio Jurado  he is an important figure locally. With powerful friends would justice be done we wondered?

By 7.20am we were walking through the dark village. A few bars were open. Men nursed coffees or their first drink of the day. We headed towards the cool glow in the east then swung north walking in single file. Wearing a white shirt I walked ahead on the narrow verge and then as the day lightened, Shayne wearing a red shirt walked in front I timed us against the kilometre posts. We were walking at a steady 5km an hour. We passed the imposing entrance to the bull fighter's ranch Finca Dehesa Yerbabuena   Take a break, click through and you'll see the great man, glimpse his fighting bulls and his imposing spread. Take note of the countryside for your Camino!

After three steady hours on the black road, the last hour really dragged. The hard asphalt was relentless, the soles of my feet hurt. We leapfrogged an Italian couple  few times. She was in her fifties, the man in his seventies. She strode ahead, waited for him and then set off again when he caught up. Ahead of us on the highest point on the SE 185 road we could see a gigantic antenna, part of a regional communications project. Hours later we would peer back to find it and and marvel at how far we had walked

Not a moment too soon we turned off at the entrance to the Parque Nacional de los Berrocales. A taxi pulled up next to us. The Germans got out, they looked fresh. They had started the morning by posting excess baggage back to Germany from the Castilblanco post office and then hired a taxi to carry them over the 16 long kilometres of asphalt. They must have seen Shayne and I looking sideways at each other. Pilgrims in taxis? They explained that they had already walked the Camino Frances, some 870km and felt they had earned the right to travel in a taxi when they felt like it. New pilgrims ourselves, Shayne and I did not argue with them. It gave us something to talk about during what was now an endless winding walk through the redbarked national cork oak forest.  
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We walked from far beyond the horizon



Almaden de la Plata - great little village
 We passed the Casa Forestal and a garaged yellow fire truck. A lake appeared down to our right, it looked tempting. We checked out the long abandoned buildings of the Pueblo de los Berrocales. The day was hot. Ahead of us we could see a low range of hills. It was the Cerro del Calvario marking 27.5km along our route. We laboured up a climb of 130 metres on a steep, stony  track. From the lookout at the top we had a first glimpse of Almaden de la Plata below us. Looking back we could see coloured shirts on the track we had just come up. They were cyclists. Suddenly they were upon us, three sweating, muscular young men on mountain bikes. They would be in Santiago de Compostela in five days. Before nightfall they would have cycled 170kms. Shayne and I looked at each again.

Our descent into Almaden de la Plata was slow, the track was rough and our feet hurt. We startled two enormous fat hogs who leapt from their cooling mud bath. We found Hostal el Romeral easily. It was locked. Shayne rang the number on the door and José appeared from around the corner. He gave us the keys to the hostal and said he would be back in the morning. Our downstairs room on the corner was cooled by a welcome through breeze.  It was a large bedroom with an equally large bathroom and the water was hot and plentiful. We were happy and very satisfied with our performance, after showering we changed, rested and then set out to check on the village.

Meet the Germans

We found the German couple in one of the plazas in Almadena de la Plata, a village we were becoming very fond of. They had walked into the village, asked for the albergue and an elderly man had offered them a bedroom in his house for a few euros. We chatted to them before dining at Casa Concha. The meat is highly recommended, we had barbecued secreto and ribs. I'm not a great pork eater but even allowing for my hunger this was the best tasting pork I have had in Spain. It had been a long, hot, tiring day and to accompany our dinner we rehydrated with ice cold beers and ice filled glasses of Patcharan. We were in bed by 10.30pm. There was no traffic at all in the village and it was a very silent night with the gentle breeze blowing softly on our faces all night long.

Almaden de la Plata to Real de la Jara Day 3
Back to Guillena to Castilblanco Day 2


Saturday, 14 April 2012

Via de la Plata Guillena to Castilblanco

Via de la Plata  Guillena to Castilblanco Day 2

Sunday 18th September 2011

Shayne - our track stretching away.
With our backpacks ready to go upstairs we were breakfasting on the terrace by 8.30am. I was carrying oat flakes to bulk out my  coffee and roll breakfast and asked Patricia for cold milk, a bowl and a spoon. I got hot milk, a large cup and a teaspoon. We spoke to the cyclists from the day before as they prepared their bikes. Cycling 70kms a day, they were aiming to arrive in Salamanca the following Saturday. Halfway through the day depending on where they had got to, they would phone ahead to reserve accommodation.

The German pilgrims from the day before made an appearance on the breakfast terrace and sat at the next table. Shayne is a fluent German speaker and we were relieved to learn that when the woman hadn't felt well enough to continue in the relentless heat,  her husband had walked back to Santiponce to get a taxi which had leapfrogged them on to Guillena. They were going to take three weeks to reach Santiago de Compostela.

Laden with enormous tortilla rolls prepared and wrapped in the Hotel Francés kitchen we set off at 9.30. Crossing the Huelva river on the town outskirts we headed north on the A 464. The yellow arrows had disappeared. A kindly motorist, perhaps sensing our uncertainty, stopped and pointed us towards a Polígono in the distance from where our path would leave the road. Overhead microlight planes circled.

Easy walking under the cork oaks

It was a relief to leave the road and walk through olive groves and fruit tree plantations. For an hour we climbed steadily, breathing deeply and purifying ourselves physically and mentally. Saturday cyclists passed us on our track, calling out friendly greetings and warning us of how many more of the group were still to come. The signs had picked up again and we praised the local association of Friends of the Camino for their good work. It was getting hotter but from our experiences of the day before we had decided to remain hydrated and drink at regular intervals and most certainly before we got thirsty. The olive groves gave way to Mediterranean pines and oak trees.

Mike - map and communications check.
We stopped to eat our giant carbohydrate packed Hostal Frances bocadillos near a tall Milario, a mile stone marked Camino de Santiago - Via de la Plata. I put a stone on for my good friend Philip. Despite the heat we were going strongly and after leaving our dusty country road and joining the A 8002, we built up speed walking on the narrow asphalt verge. Once, approaching a sharp curve we had to step smartly into the ditch when two cars approached each other both well over the speed limit. After our blissful earlier 7km stroll through the olive groves and oak forests this stretch was not so enjoyable. Two kilometres before Castilblanco we were able to walk safely on a parallel side road.

Our hostal Hospedería de la Plata was practically at the entrance to  Castilblanco. From the outside it looked definitely more upmarket than the previous night's accommodation. In our planning, Shayne had researched hostals along the route before we set off and I had made the reservations.

On entry I was greeted by name which I liked, perhaps there weren't too many other father and daughter pilgrims arriving that day? Of course we had a celebratory cold beer before going up to our room. Reading the day's newspaper I was struck by a photo of the Guardia Civil taking measurements on a section of road we had just walked along. In a sensational accident which gripped Spain four months earlier, the Spanish rancher and bullfighter José Ortega Cano had been returning to his nearby ranch at night and collided with an oncoming car, killing the other driver. Our barman explained that the accident had taken place at Km 28 on the approaches to the urbanisation La Colina just outside Castilblanco at the very spot where we had jumped off the road.

The Pilgrim on our hostal wall. 
Our room  was very comfortable as hostals go in Spain, excellent value in fact. In the groove now, we showered, washed our smalls and hung them near the window discreetly to dry and went downstairs again for more beers mixed with 7 Up and delicious barbecued chicken wings from the Hospederia  de la Plata's chalked menu.  There is a TV in every good bar in Spain and we watched Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding. The temperature had dropped by 7pm so we walked into Castilblanco. After looking  around an photographic exhibition of churches in the village theatre we chatted to the curator who was sitting outside on a bench fanning herself. Near the square we found an ultramarinos  to buy more Aquarius and water for the next day. We calculated we were needing half a litre of liquid every thirty minutes walking in the late September heat of the middle day.

Before returning to the Hospederia de la Plata hostal we checked out our exit from Castillblanco so that we could find our pilgrims' way easily in the dark of the morning. Our friendly barman Eduardo  had advised an early start for the next day's 30km stretch. It turned out to be excellent advice.

Keeping up the tradition established two nights earlier in Seville, we had a very large glass of Pilgrims Pacharán with ice as a night cap before retiring. The night was cool and peaceful and we slept like tops.

Castilblanco to Almaden de la Plata  Day 3
Back: Via de la Plata Seville to Guillena Day 1












Monday, 9 April 2012

Via de la Plata Seville to Guillena

Via de la Plata Seville to Guillena Day 1

Saturday 17th September 2011

The Giralda Tower behind us.
Seville to Guillena 22.3kms.  After having our pilgrims' passports stamped in the Giralda cathedral we set off. I had printed Google maps of the location of our hostals along our route and memorised that to get out of Seville we needed to cross the Guadalquivir river twice then turn right and follow the river. In this picture you can see the towers of the Giralda cathedral in the distance behind Shayne.

It was a short walk to cross the Puente de Isabel III bridge and in Calle San Jorge we were happy to find our first viera. After that we simply looked out for yellow arrows, there were plenty of them, in fact the signing on the first day was excellent. We followed Calle Castilla north as far as the Calle Odiel bridge over our second river crossing and just over the river, dropped down to walk north again along river path next to the Guadalquivir.

It was a Saturday morning and there were lots of cyclists and walkers out along the river path, we were feeling very bright, shiny and new and so were very happy to be wished - ¡Buen Camino! by a passing cyclist - less than an hour into our walk. Across the river to our right we could  see the 1992 Expo buildings, to our left, the litter, junk and debris of abandoned buildings that mark the outskirts of so many towns and cities in Spain. We swung away from the Guadalquivir and debated having our first coffee stop at a rural paintball and shooting range but decided it wasn't a restful place to  stop and definitely not in keeping with our pilgrims' mission. We were pleased to leave the rattle of small arms fire behind us. We were now out in dry rolling farm lands with dried sunflower heads on wizened stalks and cotton plants on either side of our gravel road. A baby rabbit hopped in a dried out ditch, easy prey to any predators.

Reaching Santiponce 11kms along the road we stopped off at the first filling station at the town entrance to stock up on cold Aquarius and top up water bottles. I had seen the Ruinas Romanas de Italica marked on our Euroski guide but hadn't planned to stop off. I'm very glad we did. The custodian kindly locked our backpacks in his office and with nothing more than a waterbottle in our hands we virtually floated around the immaculately preserved ruins. From the highest point we were able to peer into the heat haze towards where we thought Guillena was. This is a great place to take an hour's break.Immediately opposite Italica's entrance is a lovely shady little venta. Shayne and I had a cooling gazpacho soup, ideal for the hot walking conditions before setting off again. She pointed out two other pilgrims, Germans. The man had a large beer glass in front of him. We wondered how he could drink and walk in that heat.

A few hundred metres past Santiponce's industrial site with only a narrow verge to walk on and a white line between us and passing traffic, we crossed under the A65, Autovia de la Plata then turned left to begin the four hour walk along a dirt road through the rolling, shadeless brown fields that lay between us and Guillena. Two days ago on Easter Saturday returning from a trip to Las Minas de Rio Tinto with my grandson, I stopped to take this photo of a seemingly peaceful scene marking the beginning of the long trek to Guillena. On that first hot day five months earlier, under those same eucalyptus trees we had witnessed a group of low life, unshaven, beer bottle holding young men obviously up to no good with five skeletal looking greyhounds. In other circumstances we might have intervened but I was grateful  that Shayne could contain her anger long enough to move on along our track without bloodshed. To win our campaign, we had to lose  this battle.

An hour into this stretch we saw the German woman sitting in the shade of a water tower. We could see two packs, there was no sign of the man. Had he collapsed? She waved us cheerily past. Perhaps he was having a nap behind the tower. We peered back but couldn't see him. Should we go back? She had not called for help. We went on.

Our rural track could well have been a Roman road, almost 4kms without a bend before we got to the first shade under canes in the Arroyo de los Molinos which after the summer was virtually dry. On the rare occasions that the water level reaches the still  visible high water marks it would be impossible to cross, needing a return to the A65. With Guillena visible in the distance, we had another 3.5km to walk still in a straight line and under the burning sun. Somewhere along that unbending road on the first day we became pilgrims. There was one more river crossing to make, the Arroyo del Rivera de Huelva. By 5pm we were in the outskirts of a baking hot,  absolutely deserted village.

 We had booked the night in the Hostal Frances. The bar downstairs was open and we sank two cold beers each almost without talking. The TV showed temperatures of 35º for our area, we could well believe it. Patricia took us up to our room. The only window opened onto an interior passage. It smelled as if a smoker had just left. My daughter simply shook her head. "I can't breathe here," she said. Patricia gave us a room at the front. It had a window overlooking the still empty street outside. In comparison to the other room, this wasa view of the Caribbean. We washed our smalls and hung them over the window sill to dry. A siesta was  calling.

Shayne and I were up and out again by 7pm. The heat was abating and passersby were starting to fill the street. We walked back down to a pharmacy we had seen on the way in to buy ointment and plasters for a blister. Speaking through an intercom from the pavement we could see the pharmacist at the end of a small square tunnel behind thick protective glass. Was Guillena full of drug addicts or serial pharmacy robbers I wondered?  Back to the Hostal Frances for more rehydrating beers and dinner and then a large Patcherán with ice out on the terrace. Five cyclists arrived. We watched with interest as they unpacked their gear on the street in front of us and then wheeled their bikes into a back  room. Our dinner cost around €7.00 each. We were in bed by 10.30, it had been a long day.

The street in front of the Hostal was now alive with pedestrians, cars and scooters. Diners were arriving at the restaurant below us. The good villagers of Guillena had emerged from behind their shutters to enjoy the cool of the long evening. It was going to be a noisy night but we were grateful for the fresh air and pleased that our washing hung out over the window sill over the entrance to the hostal was already dry for the next day.

Back: Starting the Via de la Plata in Seville
Via de la Plata  Guillena to Castilblanco Day 2

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Road Trip to Munich!

Hotel Riscal in Murcia
DAY 1 - Friday 30th March

Our plan for today was to reach Castellon. It took us 9 hours to make the trip. Following the National highway with exception of the new carretera de peaje (toll road) between Torremolinos and Sierra Nevada which is well worth your money as it cuts off half an hour from your trip.
We stopped off for a quick bite to eat at a brightly coloured hotel called Hotel Riscal, found in the province of Murcia at the entrance of Llorca. My parents always stop at this hotel for lunch on their many trips back and forth from Munich and are always pleased with the service and quality of food. You can't miss the hotel as its looks like it dropped out of Legoland boasting a fun and quirky design. We enjoyed a lovely lunch, my mother and I opting for a salad and my father for the three course meal, although I happily volunteered to take his dessert a yummy natilla casera, hmmmmm! Fed and watered we continued our way to Castellon continuing on the National Highway, and found our way to our hotel for the night, Hotel Bag, a three star hotel, clean, comfortable and relatively easy to find.
DAY 2 - Saturday 31st of March
Before continuing, we stopped by to visit some family friends, friends of my parents whom I hadn’t seen since I was 12 years old. They live in Benicassim a 10 minute car ride from our hotel. It was wonderful to see them again and to share a couple of hours in their company. They have the luxury of spending their time between Madrid and the Azahar Coast and have a fabulous apartment which looks out to the beach and sea, making you feel as if you're hovering above the Mediterranean.
Cycle path along Benicassim Paseo Marítimo
In the light of day the first thing I noticed about Benicassim was that all along the beach and paseo maritimo there’s an extra path dedicated to bike riders. Now if you’ve been to Germany or any Nordic country you will know that this is the norm, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in Spain. With the wonderful weather we enjoy along the coast it’s a shame that other towns haven’t picked up on this healthy and environmentally friendly idea. One of the most famous things that Benicassim is known for is the FIB - Benicàssim's International Festival, Spain’s biggest festival. It's definitely a place I want to re-visit and spend more quality time in.
At noon we said our goodbyes and continued on our way via the National 340 towards the carreterra de peaje in the direction of Tarragona, skirting Barcelona via Gerona, Costa Brava and eventually arriving at the Spanish/French Border. Last stop for reasonably priced gasoline is La Jonquera, so make sure to stop there. We continued through the South of France until Lyon, Bron where we stayed at a Novotel Hotel. In total (stops included) the trip took us almost 11 hours, after which we all gratefully nodded off before facing the last part of our journey!
DAY 3 - Sunday 1st of April
Novotel Hotel in Bron, Lyon
I tend to judge a hotel by what it has to offer at breakfast and this ticked almost all my essential needs:
-Fresh orange juice (check)
- A large assortment of bread, muffins and croissants (check)
- Good coffee (check)
Good tea (check ) and impressed as this is where they usually find their downfall.
-Generous spread of hot food (fail)
Four out of five, not bad, adding to that the service was good, hotel rooms fresh and clean and they offer reasonable prices, I would certainly recommend this hotel if you are going on a similar trip.
Our next stretch of tarmac was Lyon- Zurich via Geneva, Lausanne, Bern to Zurich. If you're planning to go through Switzerland, keep in mind that upon entering you are required to buy a ticket for roughly 35 Euros which lasts the entire year in order, to use their highways. The highways in Switzerland are marked in green whereas in the rest of Europe they are marked in blue.
Lake Zürich
We stopped for lunch at Tibits found in the center of Zurich next to the Opera and close to the lake. Whenever in town we always make a point of eating a meal here as its our favourite vegetarian restaurant. Set out in a buffet style you choose from various international vegetarian dishes, pile it all on your plate and then pay the weight of your culinary delights! If you do have a chance to eat here (I hear one has opened in London) make sure to try their lemonade with crushed ice, they mix in some ginger and its simply devine. Taking advantage of the sunshine and before heading off direction Munich, we took a stroll around the lake, taking in its serene beauty and the impressive architecture surrounding it. It seems like most of Zurich had the same idea!
Snow topped peaks in Austria


Zurich – Munich (4hours) via Bregenz Austria, alongside Lake Constance. This was the last hurdle and also offered the most beautiful views, I must admit I did nod off a couple of times but when I did wake up the scenery had a beautiful tranquility to it and was framed for the most part of the journey by snow topped peaks. We arrived in Munich (my 2nd home) at around 9pm and now I have a week's holiday to enjoy! Happy Easter!