Tag Archives: Leon

10 & 11 July 2015 – heading South to Salamanca

It’s a bit odd cycling on my own again after around 10 days of riding with other people, but I need to make tracks down to Southern Spain, whereas Richard is continuing on to the end of the Camino de Frances. After that he’ll head down into Portugal and follow the coast around to Spain then France; who knows, maybe we’ll meet up again in Marseille, but more likely to be Cromer next year sometime!

Here are my routes and stats for the last couple of days:

–> 10 July – to Zamora
I was sad to part ways with Richard, however as I’ve already said I’m sure we’ll meet again. I’ve also heard from River who is still pedalling away somewhere behind us; not sure exactly where but he wants to try to finish the Camino de Frances, and get all the way to Santiago de Compestella before heading back to Korea then Japan – good for him.

I was up and ready to leave by 07.30, bidding Richard ‘Buen Camino’ then cycling off to find the road South. It turned out to be pretty easy getting out of Leon, riding West until I found the river then joining the main road that wasn’t the motorway.

Preparing to leave Hostal Boccalino in Leon

Preparing to leave Hostal Boccalino in Leon

Today mostly involved pedalling, a lot, in pretty hot and dry conditions. There wasn’t a lot to see apart from farmland, and at one point a glorious wide river. I wanted to get to Zamora, but could stop at Benavente if it proved to challenging. As it turned out my legs were in fine form after a rest day, and I covered around 165km; some of those weren’t entirely intentional!

Once out of Leon I took a side road to avoid the dual carriageway, and ended up riding through a field, but managed to get back on tarmac after a short scramble across a dried up-stream bed; added to the adventure. I also passed a large herd of sheep, the first I’ve seen in a while. Luckily their shepherd had them under control and they didn’t try to ambush me; lots of clanking from the bells they had on though.

I reached Benavente in good time, a pleasant but unremarkable town, and decided to carry on, taking another side route to avoid more dual carriageway, which probably added on 10 miles to the day’s ride; it was more interesting that the N630 though.

I pedalled past a lot of fields of sweet corn, with concrete irrigation channels keeping everything watered; there were hundreds of them, and water flowing everywhere. It  must be quite a challenge and result in quite a large water bill to keep everything growing. I also rode past acres of what I think were Mediterranean Oaks, and am wondering if they use the acorns from these to feed pigs. The area is famous for pig farming and the resulting bacon, or Spanish equivalent thereof; cured meat mostly, very tasty it is too. After a bit of a climb I rode over the River Esla, which had a pilgrim trail running alongside it. The river is pretty impressive, and reminded me of the scene from the Fellowship of the Rings where they’re all paddling, as opposed to pedalling, out Lothlorien.

After my roundabout route I rejoined the N630, which proved to be very quiet as all the traffic takes the newer motorway. It was mostly slightly downhill, with the occasional climb reminding me that riding in temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius is tricky; lots of water consumed. I made it to Zamora, heading through the town in search of the campsite on the other side of the city.

After pedalling down a lot of tracks, and meeting a Belgium couple doing the same but in a car,  and also failing to find the campsite, I had to retreat back to Zamora; the campsite, in fact two of them, must have closed. I was pretty hot and tired by this point, however with the assistance of Google I located the pilgrim hostel in the city and headed there. It was a relief to pull up and receive a warm welcome from the hosts; lovely old building next to church, and nice and cool due to thick stone walls.

The Aubergue in Zamora is a ‘Donativo’, which means as long as you have your pilgrim credentials (phew) you pay what you can afford. It’s always good to turn up somewhere and receive a friendly welcome, and this has been pretty much consistent with all the pilgrim hostels I’ve stayed in. The host showed me around, and where to put my stuff, and pointed out the thermometer in the shade which read 35 degrees Celsius. After some pasta salad, bread, cheese and Marmite that I prepared in the hostel kitchen, I took advantage of the guitar donated by a pilgrim in 2012. It was lovely playing again after a couple of months without my guitar, and the acoustics were great in the old stone building.

The hostel has a curfew of 22.00, so after chatting to a few of the other visitors I headed out for a quick look around Zamora, accompanied by Marcus who hails from the Reunion Islands. Marcus is 49 and has been on the road, walking constantly, for 23 years. He has visited loads of places including South America, most of the countries in Europe, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and many more; I had a look at his passport and the number of stamps was amazing. He seems to mostly rely on the kindness of strangers, but tries to take the odd bit of work for a meal or accommodation, or busks with his pipes. He had some great stories and seems to be in love with his lifestyle, shunning materialism and just trying to get along with everyone he meets (my laptop and photo taking antics amused him). He’s also on his way South, having started the Camino in St-Jean-Pied-de -Port and heading to Seville.

Zamora isn’t a big city, and didn’t take long to walk around (especially at Marcus’ pace), so we made it back to the hostel before curfew. The dormitory was full (10 beds), and everyone wanted to get to sleep early to be up by 06.00 in order to start walking or pedalling, to miss the worst of the days heat. I found it a little tricky to get to sleep, despite having cycled over 100 miles, due to the chorus of snoring going on; Marcus had the right idea of sleeping in the courtyard! I read for a bit but did eventually doze off.

Tomorrow it’s on to Salamanca; really looking forward to that.

–> 11 July – to Salamanca
Much shorter ride today; just 74km taking about four and a half hours. I hadn’t slept very well  due to the chorus of snoring, but at least it was cool in the Aubergue. I was up at 06.00, which is turning into the norm, had a bit of breakfast supplied by the hostel, and was on the road/cobbled street by 07.00.

The ride down to Salamanca was mostly unremarkable, however at least I avoided the heat of the day, arriving in the city at about 11.00.

I’m looking forward to getting through central Spain and down to the Mediterranean, as I think I prefer cycling next to the sea. It should be cooler with more shade opportunities for a start, and they’ll be more to see and experience.

My first stop in Salamanca was for a Panini, then I just had a wander about for a couple of hours, taking in the sights, of which there are many. I had thought I might make Salamanca for my birthday, however it was worth slowing down a bit on the Camino de Frances, and I’m only 6 days late; not sure I could have gone much faster on the Camino anyway, due to the rough terrain and heat.

The architecture in the city is amazing, and well worth a visit just to wander around the Old Town, taking in the University buildings and Cathedral, as well as lots of other churches and bits of the old city walls. Salamanca is the gateway to Northern Spain, or my gateway to the South, and is definitely a highlight. It’s the capital of the province of Castille & Leon, and one of the most important university towns in the country. The University was founded in 1134, and is the oldest in Spain, and one of the oldest in Europe.

The city was originally founded by a Celtic Tribe; the Vettones. Hannibal had a go at it, but once the Carthaginians were dealt with it prospered under Roman rule, and they build the road I’m following; Via de Plata, or Ruta de la Plata as it’s known now. After the Roman Empire declined the Visigoths arrived, then the Moors took it over in 712AD, but the Christians got it back in 939AD; Spain has seen a lot of fighting over the years, but I guess all of Europe has.

There was a big battle here in 1812, during the Napoleonic wars; pretty sure Sharpe was involved, but didn’t see any Sean Bean type statues around. The battle is notable as it was one of the first that resulted in a massive amount of carnage due to cannon fire; lots of people were killed.

Despite it being midday, and getting hot, the streets and plazas were bustling with people; mostly tourists, or locals selling to tourists. I passed a large group of nuns being shown around, a pilgrim towing a cart using a harness, and recognised accents and languages from all over the world; particularly a lot of Americans, so Salamanca must be on the European tour list.

I paused in the enormous Plaza Mayor to enjoy a Naranja flavoured slush puppy (very refreshing), admire the view, and just take in the atmosphere of this old city. The Plaza Mayor is a massive square, part of the Old Town but feels very much like the centre of the city. A cloister like walkway runs around the outside, lined with shops, restaurants and purveyors of ice-cream.

Having satisfied my sightseeing requirements, and taken far too many photos, I made my way out of the city to the campsite Regio, to the South East over the River Tormes. There’s a much more modern side to Salamanca, with all the usual shops you’d expect, but I’ll spare you any photos of that.

Camping Regio, in Santa Marta de Tormes, is a great campsite, with excellent wi-fi, and good toilet block, and plenty of shady spots to pitch your tent. I decided a siesta was in order before doing anything else, then set up my tent, washed Smaug using a handy car wash hose pipe area, did a bit of laundry, then found a local supermarket to buy some dinner. There a restaurant and small shop on site, but I’m trying to save a bit of money.

Having washed Smaug I noticed that the pedal click has eased up a bit; I’m wondering if it only happens when the bike get’s hot and metal expands. I’ll have to do a bit more tinkering to see if I can make it permanently go away. All in all Smaug is running pretty well still, although I need to keep an eye on the front tyre as it might have a very slow puncture. I’ll get a service done when I make it to Tarifa in any case.

After speaking to my brother, and Mum and Dad who made it back to the UK okay, I spent the evening doing some planning, starting to write this blog post (they take ages, I write too much!), and enjoying some Rose wine. There was a wedding in the hotel next door, and lots of music accompanying the outdoor ceremony which was nice. Also lots of bikers using the campsite, with some pretty impressive machines.

A few of points worth noting on Spain; it’s cheap if you avoid buying stuff in the tourist spots.  My dinner shop probably would have cost twice as much in the UK, and there are always bargains to be had. As with France the wine is very reasonable. Secondly the drivers so far have been really patient and careful around me on my bike, which is really encouraging to see as I wasn’t sure they would be. Thirdly the people are really friendly and hospitable, almost always saying hello, especially when you’re on the trail; I’m quite often asked if I’m alright and whether I need anything by road cyclists who pass me.

Longer day tomorrow as I head over the mountains and down to Plasencia, where there should be another campsite. After that it’ll be on to Carceres, and onwards on the Ruta de la Plata, or N630 as it’s called now, which is far less romantic. I’m a little worried about the heat, but seem to be coping fine as long as I start early (about 7.00), and drink a lot of water. I reckon I should be in Tarifa by the end of next week, if not before, which’ll mark the end of the ride down from Nordkapp, a real milestone, and the start of the next leg along the Mediterranean coast; really looking forward to that.

06 to 09 July 2015 – Camino de Santiago part 2, to Leon

I think I ought to slow down now I’m forty, maybe take it easy, kick back and relax…nah…maybe when I’m seventy.

Here are my routes and stats for the last few days.

I should probably be calling this route the Camino de Frances rather than the Camino de Santiago, as the latter refers to lots of different pilgrim routes that end up in Santiago de Compostela, as far as I can tell anyway. I’ll be following a different Camino de Santiago South to Seville, along the Ruta de la Plata.

–> 06 July – to Burgos
Just 68km covered today, to get to Burgos, taking 4 hours and 30 mins of pedalling.

My room in Santo Domingo dela Calzada - doesn't take long to make it messy!

My room in Santo Domingo dela Calzada – doesn’t take long to make it messy!

I paired up with Richard again for the day’s ride, and will do as far as Leon. After a brilliant night’s sleep and a wonderful birthday with Mum and Dad we set off in good time, keen to avoid as much of the heat as possible; the hottest part of the day tends to be from 15.00 to 18.00.

My parents had a lie in, but intended to follow us to Burgos before heading back towards the coast tomorrow. We bid them a temporary ‘adios’ and pedalled off, stopping in a small town 10km down the road for breakfast, along with several other walkers and cyclists with the same idea.

The espresso I had may have been decaf, but it definitely perked me up, as did the tortilla sandwich. The route took us west, passing gently through more small towns and villages, farmland and endless fields of corn. Unfortunately the N120 was much busier today as there was no motorway running alongside it, so the cycling wasn’t as fun; it reminded me a bit of the E04 in Sweden – not very relaxing.

Mum and Dad passed us just as we started a very long climb, up to over 3,500 feet according to my Garmin, which is higher than the pass over the Pyrenees to Roncevaux. The climb was tough, but this was mainly due to the traffic and heat. I did get a shout of ‘allez allez’ from workmen half way up which spurred me on.

We had a break at the top, and munched on some of the sweets and energy bars I got for my birthday (thanks Will & Louisa, Seb and Anna!). After another stretch we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a spot of lunch, and to get out of the annoying hot wind that had sprung up.

Lunch break - bring it on

Lunch break – bring it on

The road remained fairly high for the rest of the day, but at least it was mostly flat, and we were able to cycle next to it on the walkers trail for quite a while. We arrived at a campsite on the outskirts of Burgos at about 15.00. Mum and Dad had already arrived, post a visit to the cathedral in the city to see the tomb of El Cid, and had a cold beer waiting for us which was much appreciated; very hot day again.

My parents had to head South to another Parador after a little while, and are now on their way home, but it was great to see them; see you in a few months, if not before if you decide on another visit! I spent the rest of the afternoon having a siesta, reading, and chatting to Richard; typically the wifi was broken so no blog updates possible.

Just before 10 o’clock a friendly face appeared; River arrived having pedalled all the way from Santo Domingo dela Calzada, a great effort considering he only used the walker’s trail, which adds on several kilometres and has more steep sections, and he’d already been into and out of Burgos looking for the campsite. Needless to say he was shattered, so we fed him some beer to recuperate, and he cooked up some noodles he’d carried all the way from Wallmart in America.

Tomorrow we planned an early start, breakfast in Burgos and on to Carrion de los Condes.

–> 07 July – to Carrion de los Condes
I was expecting about an 85km ride today, but it turned out to be 93km, in about 6.5 hours of decent but hot riding.

Morning in Burgos

Morning in Burgos

We were up at 06.00, and it was still dark which was a novel experience for the morning, and pretty cool if not chill to start off with. We were just about ready to set off by 07.00, however after yesterday’s ride River was understandably a little tired, so we didn’t leave the campsite until closer to 07.30, pedalling the few kilometres down the road to Burgos for some breakfast.

The cathedral in Burgos is pretty impressive, as is the city itself. It would be good to have a proper look around it and visit the tomb of El Cid, however at this point we were more focussed on breakfast and getting some distance done before it got too hot. River joined us for breakfast, but then decided to go at his own pace and stop before Carrion de los Condes. Whilst in the cafe we saw pictures and film of some pf the bull running in Pamplona on TV. It looked pretty harsh, with masses of people running through the streets alongside, or being chased by frightened bulls.  We saw film of several people being trampled or bashed up against walls, and one person lying in a pool of blood, perhaps after being gored; not very pleasant but the Spanish seem to love it, even though people are killed every year.

It was sad to say goodbye to River, who flies back to Korea in 10 days before going on to Japan, but Richard and I had to get underway. Somehow I still expect him to pop up somewhere on the route, who knows!? I’ll definitely visit him in Korea should I make it out that way in the future. Thanks for the company River, and safe travels 🙂

We followed the Camino de Santiago walker’s trail for the first part of the ride, which proved to  be great riding, if a little bumpy and hilly, with great scenery. We had to be a little careful due to the large number of walkers, some in large groups, including a priest with a small flock; lots of opportunities for ‘Buen Camino’.

In Hontanos, another small but delightful Spainish town nestled in the hills, we stopped for an early lunch break at an Aubergue; I checked in via Twitter – you find wifi in the strangest of places.

Shortly after Huntanos we joined roads for the rest of the day, which were lovely and quiet and took us through some amazing scenery, passing old convents, castles and pretty villages.

The old buildings and scenery got me thinking about what it must have been like here centuries ago, perhaps not that different, with Lords and Ladies living in the castles, and people working in the fields. It’s nice riding with someone and being able to talk about such things; we wondered how much influence the Knight’s Templar had in the area, as you see mention of them in place names, and Templar symbols occasionally.

It was tough riding due to the heat again, and the hot wind that springs up in the afternoon that dries your mouth out and can leave you gasping. We stopped in a little town called Boadilla del Camino for a break from the heat, at the local pilgrim’s Aubergue; a bit of an oasis in the desert really.

Refreshed after a cold beer, and resisting temptation for another, we pressed on completing a hard last section to Carrion de los Condes. It proved a taxing ride, up a long but gradual ascent in the heat, passing lots of very tired looking walkers. Bananas, sweets and lots of water saw us through, although it was a close thing with both of us feeling a bit light-headed by the time we arrived at the campsite at about 17.00.

There followed a pleasant evening and meal, which included salad and not just the beer and gammon in the photos above! Richard and I chatted about touring route options; he’s on the road for a year and needs to decide where to go for winter. It’s a difficult decision, but there are lots of options; he could even stop for a while and take cheffing job for a few weeks, or head down to Marrakech and just chill out.

I’m still not completely decided on my route after Tarifa, but would like to go over to Morocco briefly (Ceuta probably), before heading back up the coast of Spain to France, then Italy. I don’t know at this stage whether I’ll have time to get to Istanbul and back to the UK for the beginning of November; I think so but might have to take a train for some of it, maybe through Germany on the way home – home, now there’s a slightly strange thought at this stage. I wonder how much the Orient Express from Istanbul costs? Probably really expensive.

Tomorrow we’re off to Leon, and hopefully it’ll be slightly cooler as it’s about a 100km ride.

Oh, and we heard from River via the medium of Facebook; he’d made it successfully to an Aubergue about 40km behind us, so that’s a relief.

–> 08 July – to Leon
Another 06.00 alarm call to try to avoid the heat had Richard and I on the road by 07.00. It actually felt quite cold first thing, as it was still overcast and initially dark. We stopped in Carrion de los Condes for breakfast before heading off properly, chatting to several walkers about to begin their day’s hike. A decaf and slightly stale pain-au-chocolate later I was ready to go, after watching hundreds of swallows swooping about the town square.

From Carrion de los Condes to Leon is a long way, but mostly flat and with a slight tailwind we made excellent time, covering 60km by midday.

As with previous days we passed a lot of walkers, as well as a few other cycle tourers. One group were travelling by mountain bike, with a support vehicle, and they got a bit irritating. They’d pedal like mad, especially one of them, between towns, then stop at their van and we’d catch up; this was repeated several times. We christened one of them mosquito man as it felt like he was buzzing around us in an annoying fashion. We spoke to another tourer at our lunch stop; he was from Barcelona and as with nearly everyone on this trail, was really nice.

We stopped for lunch in Mansilla de las Mulas, which must mean Mule Town or something similar. The town isn’t far from Leon but we were tired and hungry, and this was the third place we’d attempted to get something to eat. After a successful morning coffee stop we hadn’t had a lot of luck finding a place for lunch, and I don’t think our luck much improved in Mansilla. We were warned off the first place we stopped at by walkers, who said the food wasn’t cooked properly, the second place didn’t start lunch until 13.00, and the waitress just couldn’t be bothered in the third place, but we stopped there anyway as we were out of options.

Ice cream presentation a classic

Ice cream presentation a classic

We opted for the menu, more by accident than intention, so ended up having 3 courses with some wine on the side; glad we’d done most of the cycling already. The salad followed by pork was mostly fine, however the waitress kept dropping stuff, took ages to take our order, and almost threw the plates down on the table; was a bit like and episode of Fawlty Towers really. It as actually quite funny, and at least it wasn’t expensive (€10).

Before lunch I’d felt like I had a migraine coming on, probably due to the heat and maybe not drinking enough water, however stopping for a couple of hours thankfully solved this, so perhaps the waitress did me a favour. Stopping for a break in the heat of the day, if you haven’t already finished your ride, is pretty much a necessity at the moment.

The riding today was excellent, and at a quick pace, even if the landscape got a bit boring. Richard was really shifting and I had a bit trouble keeping up with him! We made it to Leon in good time, having covered 102km, and found a cheap hostel rather than an Aubergue for the night; dormitories are all well and good but sometimes it’s nice to have a room to yourself.

We elected to stay for two nights in the hostel, needing a bit of a recovery, planning and blog catch-up day. This meant it was a night for partying, and we hit the city for a few beers once it had cooled down.

As with all the Spanish cities I’ve seen so far Leon came alive at night, the empty streets filling up with people from around 20.00. On our meanderings we bumped into Gorka, who we’d met in Roncevaux, and who had also arrived today with two Irish girls and a Belgium guy in tow. We all joined up to go out for tapas and a few more beers, before heading to an Irish Bar, which wasn’t very Irish. The tapas was excellent, and it was good to have Gorka with us to ensure we experienced the local tapas culture properly; you order a quarter beer, and get free tapas with it – if you go round several bars you end up having a complete meal. It turned into a rather late and raucous evening; we didn’t make it back to the hostel until about 4am, so I was very glad of the planned day off!

–> 09 July – rest day in Leon
After the late night it was a somewhat slower start to the day; I didn’t get up until 10.00, a record for this tour. Feeling a little rough both Richard and I opted for a slow morning, with a quick visit to the bike shop to pick up a new spare inner tube. My right hand pedal/crank has developed an annoying click on each rotation, especially when I put pressure on it up hills. I don’t know what’s causing is but I’ll need to get it sorted at some point; not today though, too hungover. If anyone has any idea what can cause annoying pedal/crank clicks let me know; probably just need to give everything a thorough clean.

Post bike shop I caught up on my blog, had a snooze, then took a wander around the city. I was initially sceptical of Leon, but definitely warmed to it and would go back again; great architecture, friendly people and atmosphere. It’s also fun pilgrim spotting; there were lots of people limping about with various suspect tan lines etc.

I went up to the cathedral to try and catch the web cam for the folks at home, but unfortunately the timing is random and I missed the window of opportunity. In the evening we went out for a meal; €12 for the pilgrim’s menu at a restaurant, including wine, excellent. Richard was heading off further West to finish the Camino de Frances, and me South to Tarifa, so it was our last day on tour together, however I’m sure we’ll meet up again in future; he only lives down the road in Hunstanton so fish and chips in Cromer may be in order (fish and chips…now there’s a thought).  It’s been a great experience riding with other people, and Richard is very easy to get on with. Not sure where River is at now but I’m sure I’ll see him at some point in the future too.

Took a few more photos of Leon which I’ll end with.

Tomorrow I head off solo again, down to Zamora, then on to Salamanca the following day. Going to be weird cycling on my own again!