Walking without a donkey 14: Camino Frances, San Juan to Burgos

29.10.16 San Juan de Ortega to Burgos, on foot

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San Juan de Ortega

Why did I come back to the Camino? I think I had already fallen in love! Walking out into a day like this, who wouldn’t?

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Kissing the colours of Autumn, embracing the opportunities that waited for me; arriving in a new place, and exploring the unfamiliar streets, churches, shops and cafes; resting on my bunk simultaneously listening to music; exchanging stories in unfamiliar tongues. The looked-for love affair that took me out of myself, and at the same time dropped me right into the essence of my being.

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As well as resting places, the many crosses and cairns (the Scottish word for a pile of stones often found in the hills and along paths), serve as locations for carefully selected rocks, placed by walkers to mark the spot. We give thanks for what has come to us. That we are still on our feet and continuing to walk the beautiful Camino.

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In Scotland, in summer, we often say to each other how lovely that the warmth brings people out of their houses, out of their thick, protective clothing, and liberates their chatter and laughter. Here I was in a seemingly perpetual summer, sun on my bare arms and legs, with the energy flowing up from the ground I was pacing, liberating me, and lightening my heart.

‘..the call of the great outdoors…the need to provoke…transgressions, to give substance at last to folly and dreams’.                           p.5 A Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros.

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(Such a contrast to walking in Edinburgh in January! No-one smiles or gives a cheery ‘Buen Camino’as I stride past. My nostrils are full of exhaust fumes so I can barely notice the smells of the hedges and herbs in the gardens I walk past. If it wasn’t for last night’s snow highlighting the fields and hills of Fife over the water, which I can thankfully see through the skeleton trees at the end of the road, there would only be cars and rushing people.)

As I have seen Burgos, which is today’s destination, twice already, I walk through and out towards the other side. This way I avoid the crowds in the centre, and sashay along the glorious river bank, discovering the outskirts later that evening.

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Walking without a donkey 13: Camino Francés

Days 5 and 6. 28-29 October 2016. Nájera (Camino Francés) – Burgos – Cortiguera – Madrid – Aranjuez- San Juan de Ortega (back on the Camino)

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Pantano Reservoir, Logrono on the way to Najera 28 October 2016

 

I made a promise to visit Gill (who had already put me in touch with so many lovely Shiatsu people to stay with) in Aranjuez, which is 50km south of Madrid, before the end of October. So I left the Camino at Nájera, after only 5 days of walking (blog posts 9, 10, 11), and went there via Burgos (90km, 1.5 hours by bus), Cortiguera (blog post 12, 70km north of Burgos), and Madrid (250km, 2.5 hours back down south) – a very long way round!

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River Arlanzon, Burgos

I only spent a little time in Burgos, but the sun shone and the bus station is central, so I  was able to walk across the river, into Cathedral Square where I sat and ate my sandwiches

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walked around the adjoining streets, visited a cafe for a green tea and wifi, and photographed the famous pilgrim statue.

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before returning to get my link to Cortiguera to see Dirk and Charo. This was where I saw a group of vultures circling at eye level in front of majestic rocks above the slit of river far below.

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On the way to Cortiguera

I wrote in my diary on the bus: ‘This time the ‘bird’ I see as I approach the city is a silver plane rising in the blue sky. After the outdoorsy life I’ve been living in the country and small villages, I’m nervous about entering the capital city for the first time.’

I was right, it was a serious contrast, and I found travelling across Madrid a terrible strain. After calmly walking through the regions of La Rioja and Cantabria, with their expansive silence and disinterested wildlife, the thoughtful travellers at a regular pace, the noise, the numbers of people, the difficulty in negotiating the ticket machines at the underground stations – it was all an onslaught to my system – and I couldn’t take any photos.

On arrival at Aranjuez, I partook of a glass of wine and settled myself. Later I was treated to a pizza (urban food!), and taken to Gill’s amazing kitchen garden. Here she grows fruit and vegetables, and bakes delicious bread in an open oven which she shares with her neighbour. Alongside giving and teaching Shiatsu, hosting visiting tutors, leading chi gung classes, and generally keeping a large sector of the Spanish Shiatsu community connected, she delivers this fresh produce to people in the local area.

I had not bargained for the power of the Camino, and the next morning I overturned my plans to stay south for 5 days, and returned to the north, via Madrid and the bus station I was getting to know and love, back to Burgos and the Way. Thank you Gill and Jorge for being so understanding.

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Hostel at San Juan de Ortega

It turns out that getting to San Juan de Ortega in the evening is tricky. It was hard to get information and a taxi would have been extortionate, so I waited 4 hours (witnessing drunken fisticuffs in the street), before joining a local bus service which several people had told me would go there and for which I had a ticket. Needless to say I was the only foreigner. The large family group which made up the majority of the other passengers, were friendly and interested in me and why I was there. They chattered loudly, not seeming bothered by my pidgeon Spanish, offering to share their snacks with me, and laughing hilariously at my escapades up and down the country.

When I was the only one left, and we were driving through the pitch dark (by now three quarters of an hour late), the driver asked me where I was going and ‘Si, si’, he pointed into the distance. He told me all about his wife and kids, and where he was going on holiday, and eventually deposited me in front of the former monastery, where I was met by a kind, but rather worried, fellow walker. He had been told that the bus usually drops folk off at the previous village and was ready to come out and escort me in case I met wolves walking through the night forest. Apparently the bus had made a detour especially for me. Being so late meant there were no beds left, but this same kind man had negotiated an alternative – in the library – as well as having supper waiting for me. I always knew I would get there safely, but those around me were not so sure until I actually arrived!

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San Juan church

The next day we walked to Burgos!

Last 2 photos courtesy of A. Bec.

Walking without a donkey 12: Cortiguera 

26.10.16



Mirador del Ebro (a river viewing place), is a most stunning view that there are no words to properly describe. I had climbed up and up in the baking heat with my backpack (no donkey). It was silent except for the occasional car far away on the road where the bus had left me, and cicadas which fizzed and hopped around my feet. Finally the path flattened out and a sign pointed to the mirador. I walked to the edge and below was the canyon with the azure blue Rio Ebro deep in it’s fissure, amongst forested slopes, massive grand rocks, and a rainbow Autumn landscape.

Here, in the Castille and Leon region of Spain, I once again saw vultures abseiling downward and circling back up, except this time, as I stood at the Mirador del Ebro, I was above them – so close I could see every individual feather: the black, brown, and white sections of the great wing span, the hooked beak, and far-seeing eyes. They seemed to be simultaneously enjoying the physical experience of soaring on the air, and the business of spying prey on the rocky ledges way down below in the river gulley. And as if that still suspension wasn’t beautiful enough to watch, then they all came together in a sort of ornithological version of a tornado, spiralling around a column of air, a group of perhaps 9, round and round, up and up, before they started their next float back down.

The area where Shiatsu practitioners Charro and Dirk live, is one of the most astonishing places I have ever been. Gleaming yellow trees in the autumn sun; towering craggs of grey and yellow stone – nature’s co-ordinated colour scheme; a deep canyon through which the River Ebro courses; rich, young forests of 30 years, now that the scattered population (1 person on average per square meter, less in Cortiguera) have stopped burning the trees for carbon.

I stay less than 24 hours, but it’s enough to be treated to delicious Castillian soup with buckwheat, baked apples with cinnamon and walnuts from their garden, a private cottage for the night, stimulating conversation, and to be shown around their extraordinary home.

They have personally reinhabited a destitute village and created beautiful spaces for visitors (via Casa Rural), Shiatsu sessions, and workshops. The night sky alone is worth the journey -there’s none of the black space we see in Edinburgh, it’s a heavenly array of layer upon layer of stars and constellations. T’ai Chi in the misty morning garden was a delight, and the tour of the local Romanesque derelict church, which they are in the process of restoring for future generations, was astonishing.

Charro and Dirk offer Shiatsu treatments, courses, accommodation and more. This is their website http://www.talamo.es

Walking without a donkey 11: Camino Francés

Days 3 – 5. 23 – 25 October 2016

Sometimes I walk to get from a to b, sometimes because I am in training for a trip (eg when I was preparing to walk in the alps), and sometimes simply because the day is beautiful and I need to be outside.

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I have been taking walks here and there in Spain – between towns, along beaches, on plains, up hills, through forests – and now I am getting hooked on the Camino Francés (the best known) of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages, The Way of St. James.

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My day three takes me from Estella (Navarra) to Los Arcos; on day four I reach Logroño; and at the end of day five I sleep in Nájera (La Rioja), all in northern Spain, moving east to west.

For me the process of walking day-by-day engenders prosaic observations, deep thought, and empty mind. For example, it strikes me as I stride that once you have decided on your path you just have to keep going until you get there. And if you take a wrong turn you can either retrace your footsteps, or choose a new way. What you can’t do is make the end come sooner than it does. There just are that many miles between you and where you are going.

On the other hand, although walking along the flat is good, when there’s nothing for miles around it’s impossible to find somewhere to snuck down for a private pee.

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Because it’s hard not to look at the ground when you walk, you do get to see the little things which live down there. Flowers, butterflies, bugs, and an iguana basking on the dry, bleached path. People who know the hedgerows of Britain, my mother being the best amongst them, and from whom I learned most of what I know about flora and fauna, will recognise many of the flowers and bushes along this section of the Way: fennel, brambles, vetch, ragwort to name a few.

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Not far out of Estella we come to the Bodegas Irache with it’s free wine fountain from which, tradition has it, you fill a small bottle and carry it to Santiago de Compostella as an offering. Needless to say most people drink it there and then, and I share a laugh with the other peregrinos (pilgrims) at this alcoholic alternative.

Further along, outside the ancient Benedictine Capuchin monastery and church, there is a large group of all ages, from little ones who are carried on their father’s shoulders, to teenagers and parents, singing the old English folk song Greeensleeves. Apparently they are members of the same extended family who are doing part of the Camino every school holidays.

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There’s a strong wind today and I have more contact with others from all over the world, perhaps to take my mind off it – 2 strong American women with lots of experience; a Polish priest; a Frenchman who started on 4 September in Paris and has had barely a drop of rain in 6 weeks; a cigar seller from Alabama (a giant of a man with an impressive beard and booming voice); and many other interesting people who are all walking for their own individual, personal, and spiritual reasons.

Advice: If you fancy trying this, do remember to bring walking sticks to take some of the weight off your feet, waterproof footwear, and a cover for your back pack. I didn’t!

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This blog is dedicated to my friend Liz (who I have worked with for many years,  and who came into Edinburgh especially to lend me her book and share her Camino with me), and to Edie, who helped me keep the dream alive, although she was unable to accompany me.

Walking without a donkey 10: Camino Francés 

Day 2 – 22 October 2016

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I walked out of Puente la Reina, alone, before sun up. What a clean and well kept town. It was to be a day of minute observations, personal memories, and heightened awareness.

The conversations of the night before rang in my head. I had discovered a new language made up of words I could remember from school French, the 10 Spanish classes I took before I left Edinburgh, and ones I didn’t know I knew from long-ago Italian travels, novels and films. We all spoke a variation of that when we were together – the peregrinos’ hybrid.

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As the day lightened, I remembered a walking meditation I was taught, and tried to imagine I was kissing the ground with my feet, especially when they felt sore. I was trying to go softly through the landscape.  Little pains in my joints – left knee, right hip, left sole – reminded me to pay full attention to the way my feet met the soil and how my body weight was spread over them. There’s a Spanish phrase I learned early on: Poco a poco’, meaning that bit-by-bit something will happen, but you have to wait. It’s a good motto for the Camino: Take one mindful step at a time!

My mobile phone sat in my right hip pocket, and it seemed like I was carrying Tolkein’s ring or the locket horcrux in Harry Potter, but I decided I needed it to take photos and make quick notes of the many, wonderful things and places I was seeing.

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Beautiful tiles set into coarse stone benches – ideal for relieving an aching body.

I saw more vultures (ref. to my Cortiguera blog), which, I was told, are ‘passeurs’ in Buddhism, symbols of moving from one life to the next (though I can’t find any information about this). It wasn’t until much later that I realised what they seemed to represent for me on my own journey. This bird watches and waits for something to die so that it can live. When I decided to come to Spain, I knew I wanted to clean up my life, metaphorically, so that I could move forwards into the second half of it with clarity.  (Note: beware the Camino for prompting such deep thoughts!) These grand birds circle and float all around me at very regular intervals all along the way.

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Reds, browns, greens – layer upon fertile layer of landscape.

Village by village I trod my way on, sharing stories with others who fell into step with me, stopping for a moment before picking up their own pace. People in my line of work talk about places which, with the right sort of use, gain in energy and atmosphere over time. This path has been trodden by countless pilgrims for centuries, and the energy is palpable.

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 Fuente, a fountain for refilling my water bottle.

Today I noticed that my breathing was starting to deepen, and I was starting to smell the plants around me. Each time I put my hand in my pocket and tasted a salted almond or sweet cranberry which my friend Merce gave me, I recalled the care I have been shown over and over again in Spain, and was grateful.

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Before the day passed, I discovered Villatuerta town square with seven oak treees and that took me back to my home in Sevenoaks, Kent in England. This encouraged me to reflect that a number of things have been happening while I am in Spain, which are sort of taking me back through earlier times in my life. In Tarot there are Gate cards, meaning that if you meditate on them they allow you to move under and on to another state or stage. All along my way there are gates and archways, man-made and natural, which seem to invite me through. It is well known that the Camino can have this effect too.

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I walk into Estella with a companion, changing from Spanish to French. We pay 6 euros for our beds in a huge shared dormitory, and I am treated to a cooked dinner. There’s a great sense of well-being and peace after walking all day. It’s a simple pastime and, poco a poco, it slows down my thoughts .

Walking without a donkey 9: Camino Francés 

Day 1 – 21 October 2016

The famous shell, symbol of the Camino, the Way, which runs from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostella in north western Spain, with an optional extra wander to Finnistere. 

I could have started at the beginning and walked straight through to the end. After all I had the time, but it took a while for the fear that I wouldn’t manage the miles, and the weight of my rucksack, to be assailed. So I did some practices, left a lot of stuff with the delightful Carmen (Shiatsu practitioner) in Pamplona, travelled close to Uterga by bus, and began to walk from there.

I begin! 2pm Lagarda. 
I walked to Mucuzbal, all the way worrying, and then reassuring myself, that I would be ok, even though I didn’t know what was ahead. I was grateful that I had been practicing that for a while. The inevitable wrong turns reminded me of my habit of going back into the house a few times before leaving proper.

As I cross the first main road and cars zoom by, I am realise that I started my Spanish adventures on a boat, which is so much slower than going by air, and now I am taking an hour to get somewhere I could get to by car in a few minutes. I like it – that’s what I came here for!

Santa Maria de Eunate is perfectly blended into the landscape. It’s scorching hot and I was mighty glad to take my backpack off. 

I walk through olive groves, past almond trees, alongside acres of gleaming red peppers, and by slopes of maize. There are villages with their church spires on little hills in the distance, white wind turbines along the high edges between sky and forest, and fennel growing everywhere. The first taste of its seeds is of sweet aniseed, then green juiciness in my mouth, and finally the strong essential oil perforates my sinuses.

The end of summer leaves the routes bleached, with muted colours of brown, yellow and dusty green against the strong blue sky. 

I have of course internalised the donkey, and am starting to get used to the best way of tightening the straps of my rucksack and relieving back strain. Several little bubbles of happiness move from my centre (Hara in Shiatsu) upwards, a signal that I’m doing the right thing.

I arrive in Puente de la Reina, the monastery hostel for peregrinos (the name for people who walk the Camino) at 5pm, and pay 5€ for a dormitory bed. I shop and cook alongside the others, and before I know it I am giving foot Shiatsu to the lovely girl who offered to share her chickpeas with me. Guess what? Early to bed and only slightly footsore!

Walking without a donkey 8: Egileor, Vitoria-Gasteiz, San Sebastian, Pamplona

15-20.10.16

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Isabel, a Shiatsu practitioner and Free Dance teacher, who I didn’t know but had been put in contact with by the redoubtable Gil, met me off the bus in Salvatiera (Agurain in Basque) in hot, hot sun. She drove me to the nearby village of Egileor where she lives with her daughter and partner in their beautiful, own-built house and garden. Fields, countryside, and hills surround it, and watching the enormous, orange Autumn moon rising faster than I have ever before seen, seemed to fit the special atmosphere of the place.

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Throughout the property they have paid attention to detail, from the alabaster in the sitting room through which the sun shines (above); to the carefully placed sculptures; and the circular, garden dance space.

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Sculpture by Paco San Miguel pacosanmiguel.com

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We visited Feria, a local town celebrating it’s annual festival. It was full of animals (including donkeys) in hastily erected stalls in the streets; typical regional architecture…

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..groaning tables of produce from neighbouring towns; and families enjoying themselves in costume.

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Vitoria-Gastiez is the first Spanish municipality to be awarded the title of European Green City in 2012. Amongst the shopping streets were these drummers (just like the group I used to play with in Edinburgh)…

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supporting this cause (rebels against poverty).

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And beside La Florida park was this secret garden, photographed at night.

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The Jardin Secreto del Agua was created in 2006, with 29 varieties of plants which all require a low consumption of water. It is huge, situated on a patch of land measuring 3,100 Sq m.

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The view from the bedroom 

Other members of the family and friends were welcoming and I joined a traditional Sunday lunch of bacalao (salt cod). I was looked after so beautifully and so pleased to give Shiatsu to my hosts in return for their care.

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The first day-long walk up on the hills was behind Isabel’s house. What magnificent views! Sticky clay soil was underfoot, and heather, brown at the end of this year’s life, even occasional thistles, were on the slopes. Then 1, 2… 15 huge birds took off one at a time from the forested side of the mountain and abseiled down an air current before swirling around in an upwards pillar, slowly making their way back up. The vultures formed the shape of a handlebar moustache. I loved it all.

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A companion ran along beside me.

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San Sebastian, known as Donotia in Basque, is on the Bay of Biscay, with its sweet sands, stunning views, and English speakers.

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Rio Urumea

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Going up Monte Ugueldo on the narrow gauge railway allows one to see the Playa de la Concha stretched out below. At the same time as some people were swimming, there were women fully dressed in fur coats, smart with lipstick on.

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The zig-zag road back down is surely the place to go if you are a young man, have a car, and want to impress your girl, racing round the helter skelter hill.

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I walked back from Salvatiera station (6km) as a test to see if I could manage a few days of serious walking.

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The sun and beauty of nature by the roadside was enticing.

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A very welcome invitation to stay in Pamplona was received, and after my days in Egileor I went to Merce’s, another experienced Shiatsu practitioner.


Even in the rain this elegant city is worth seeing. There are the streets where the bulls famously run; the Câfé Iruña where Ernest Hemingway and other writers met and inspired each other to sip green tea in (below); and the city walls to take more photos from (above).
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The next morning I gave a Shiatsu, and packed a small bag of unnecessary and heavy belongings to be sent on to Madrid. I was given victuals which would last me the next 3 days (such kindness), and dropped off at the bus station, rucksack on my back, where 20 minutes later I at last joined the Camino Francés.

 

 

Walking without a donkey 7: Bilbao

14.10.16

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I took a Bla Bla Car from Oviedo to Bilbao. It’s a fantastic Spanish system where people advertise their upcoming car journeys on a special website, stating how many places they have free, and how much it costs. Then people who want a ride, book in.

To be honest the first half of the journey was a bit miserable. I sat in the back, a second, male passenger chatted to the driver in rapid Spanish, and neither of them addressed a single word to me. But then others joined us,  including a woman who had just attended the birth of her first grandchild. She told me all about it and showed me the photos. She was off to work in a hotel in Bilbao and asked me where I was sleeping. She looked up the place I said I had in mind because she was concerned about me. They were full, so she looked up another, phoned them to confirm my bed, looked up the route, and then came halfway across the city with me on the metro before sending me off in the right direction.

After receiving such kindness from this unknown person, I found my way to the first hostel I had stayed in in Spain, and it was characterless, clean, and warm, with a ‘great’ view (see above)!

The next morning I met a girl with smart new boots. She explained that she bought them to treat herself, after becoming injured on the Camino, and then being unable to continue. Maybe I thought then that I might put off starting. I’m not sure.

I teamed up with 2 backpackers: Athene from East Sussex, and Jonathan, a Chinese man living in Vancouver, and we walked into the city.

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It was extremely hot and sunny, and my rucksack was seriously heavy, but the time passed with interesting conversation – the most English I had spoken for a few weeks. The city along the river Nervión is stunning.

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I was here to visit the Guggenheim Museum and it didn’t disappoint.

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Plus I love the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois, and so it was fantastic to see one of her mother spiders in such a glorious setting.

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I also appreciated Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree and the Eye.

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The free wifi was useful, I said goodbye to my companion, and walked to the nearby Museo de Bellas Artes, (Museums of Fine Arts), where I had a welcome cold beer amongst the well-dressed arty sorts.

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I didn’t stay long, but couldn’t resist snapping this: it reads Escozia la Brava, (Scotland the Brave!)

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Walking without a donkey 6: Oviedo

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Carmen, a Shiatsu practitioner who lives in Oviedo, met me in Avilés and kindly offered me a bed and hospitality in return for Shiatsu. She also attended the workshop on the HT-Uterus meridian which I gave in Avilés.

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Once I had settled in, I set off uphill from her flat for my first walk. At the first junction I saw a donkey and knew I must be in the right place. I had come to see the chapels of San Miguel de Lilo built by King Ramiro I in 842 AD,

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and the pre-Romanesque, Santa Maria del Naranco.

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I spent a happy hour sketching in the sun. Drawing is a great way to understand the architecture of a building and allows time to appreciate its ambience.

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The Cathedral of the Holy Saviour is also a world heritage sight, but Gothic in style. This I saw on my first tour of the city in the rain, together with the unexpected pipers. The sound was familiar (like Scottish bagpipes), and the costumes entertaining.

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I love the colourful buildings I am starting to see all over the country. Scotland (where I live), with so much less sun, could definitely brighten itself up this way.

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Spain is renowned for its tiles, here seen decorating a regular stair (Scottish word for the communal part of a block of apartments).

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That night we took a drive to Monte Naranco, the highest point above the city and this impressive statue of Christ (that’s me at its foot!).

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There is a great deal of urban sculpture to see for free, including Woody Allen who is something of a poular figure in the city after winning an award at the film festival; a little, homeless dog, Rufo which attended political rallies; and of course at least one donkey.

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The Monumento de la Concordia by Esperanza d’Ors 1997 in Corbayon Square shows 7 androgynous, naked figures which caught my eye.

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The Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias is well worth a visit, with work by El Greco, Goya, Sorolla, Dali, and Picasso. Also look out for the clocks above the entrance desk on one side of the building with feathers as hands.

Descenso de Cristo al Limbo by Fernando Gallego 1493.

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Santa Úrsula con las once mil vírgenes by Pieter I Claeissens c1500.

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My host kindly took me to nearby Gijon where the sun shone. We walked barefoot on the beach and around the beautiful old town.
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Thanks to Carmen for delicious food, great hospitality, and friendship.

 

 

 

Walking without a donkey 5: Aviles 

9.10.16

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A middle sized city, Avilés is between Salinas on the northern coast of Spain, and Oviedo the capital of the Asturias region. It’s a national seaport with a significant industrial area.

I began by wandering around the city, choosing my way as places attracted me, and discovering green spaces between busy shopping streets.

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Ferrera Park

Then I happened across the Avilés estuary, beside residential properties and independent retailers.

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And, on the opposite bank, the rather futuristic arts centre.

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Centro Niemeyer

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Along the Ruta del acero are a series of sculptures made out of industrial materials found during the modernisation of the area.

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There were many men and women walking along this Ruta, many in sports gear. I first noticed just how many Spanish people engage in outdoor sports when I was in Salinas, but then saw this everywhere I went, up and down the country (especially walking and cycling).

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As the sun started to set, the water and crossing structures were shown to an attractive advantage.

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Well worth the time, the walks on both sides are very interesting and there are even public toilets if needed!

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I wound my way back to the câfé, past a red-brick building with shop and graffiti. 

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I was able to make a phone call and write my journal there because like most Spanish bars, you can sit for quite a while, using their wifi and only drinking one beer. Here I was once again given free tapas.

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https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avilés