Wednesday, February 19, 2020

El Camino Inglés

In June 2019 we set off to walk the Camino Inglés or the English Way, one of the paths of the Camino de Santiago. It begins in the Galician port city of Ferrol and runs south to the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela, a total of 118kms. Since watching the brilliant movie The Way, Susy and I had always wanted to walk The Camino and when I mentioned this to my sister and her partner they were both on board so a plan was hatched.

After overnighting in Santiago we took a coach to Ferrol where we spent a couple of nights before departing on our first stretch of The Camino. I'd recommend spending a day here before starting your trek as it's a nice city worth sampling before heading on your way. When you sign up to walk a stage or all of The Way you are issued with a Pilgrim Passport which you need to get stamped at each of the places you stay. You need to get two stamps a day and as most of the cafes along your route will have their own stamp you'll find that this isn't hard at all.

The marina at Ferrol
Below is a screen shot of our route which also details the hotels or B&Bs that we stayed at along the route. They were all pretty good, in a couple of cases quite functional but all that you need for a nights stay.

Before starting I was a bit anxious about getting lost along our route and had a full copy of the route instructions issues by our travel company. We quickly discovered that at least on the Camino Inglés you don't have to worry as the signage along the way was brilliant. All along your route you'll see either a yellow arrow or both it and the Scallop tile, the logo of The Camino, as you see below. 

Happy faces leaving Ferrol
As this was our first experience of The Camino and we didn't feel the need to suffer we booked the option of having our luggage picked up each morning and transferred to our accommodation for that evening. This worked like a dream and meant that all we had to carry was our day pack and not worry about any unneeded additional weight. The other recommendation is to purchase some walking poles. If you've not used them before they may feel a little odd and not necessary but trust me, midway through the first day we were using ours and they stayed in use until we reached Santiago.

Our first days walking was in many ways the hardest. It was the longest, not the steepest but perhaps the most challenging because of the unknown. What we quickly learnt was:
  • As mentioned finding our way wouldn't be a problem,
  • Using your walking poles really helps
  • It's not a race, taking your time and enjoying the walking is what the whole experience is about
  • That every time a local or a fellow walker says 'Buen Camino' it makes you feel great
  • When you arrive at your destination, down tools and enjoy a drink was you've really earned it!

One of the many great thinks about walking The Camino is the feeling of camaraderie, everyone is there for the same purpose so there is a real sense of community and fun along the way. You also meet a great diversity of people in terms of nationality, age and background which makes for some interesting conversations along the way. For some reason you keep bumping into the same people which helps build relationships and banter as you walk.

One of the other things I loved about the experience was enjoying the great food, some hearty and huge sandwiches for lunch and some tasty meals in the evening. Having walked for between 4 and 6 hours during the course of the day, there is no need to feel guilty as you've earned it.

Our last days walking was the shortest of the five at just over 20kms. Despite that I was happy so see the city of Santiago de Compostela approaching as I had a huge blister on my right sole which wasn't going away. The close you get to the city you start to feel the emotion of what you've experienced, what you've done and achieved building inside you. Arriving in the main square is an unforgettable experience, you need to take the time to enjoy the moment and everything that is going on around you. It truly is unforgettable and we plan to return to walk another stage of The Camino and hopefully one day all of it. 

We did it!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Bilbao, February 2019, Andy's 50th Birthday

It comes to us all sooner or later and for me (Andy) it was a couple of weeks ago. Susy surprised me with a long weekend in Bilbao to celebrate my 50th Birthday which conveniently fell on a Sunday. We flew from London Heathrow on a BA flight, which at just under two hours is ideal for a weekend break away when you don't want to spend too long on a plane. Having left London at 08:20 we were at our hotel, Hotel Carlton in the centre of the city by midday and lucky for us we were able to get into our room straight away. Situated bang in the city centre on Federico Moyúa Plaza, Hotel Carlton is ideal for exploring the city. We based ourselves there for almost 3 days and never found the need to take a taxi anywhere, we walked a lot.....

Federico Moyúa Plaza

After hastily unpacking we emerged from the hotel, map in hand kindly given to us by our taxi driver with one goal, that being to make our way to the old town. After a slight detour in the wrong direction we got back on track and made our way down Gran Vía to the Casco Viejo or Old Town. One of the things we both love about Spain is the cafe lifestyle and the old town in Bilbao is a wonderful place to sample this and enjoy the food. Typical to this part of Spain is the Pintxo, rather than me try and explain what they are, I'll leave the photos to explain. All I need to say is that they are delicious.

Mercado De La Ribera 

By chance when we were exploring the old town after our first Pintxo in a bar called Berton which we returned to on Sunday evening, we came across the amazing Mercado De La Ribera. This is a must if you visit Bilbao, it's a food market which also has the most fabulous gallery of booths selling the most visually stunning and delicious Pintxos. Time for some photos.....

The following morning we started the day in a relatively healthy manner having enjoyed more great Spanish food the night before, we went for a short run in Parque de Doña Casilda Iturrizar which is about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

Parque de Doña Casilda Iturrizar
Quite by chance we came across the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum at what I'd call the "top corner of the park" and we returned later in the day to have a look around. We weren't really sure what to expect however enjoyed what Tripadvisor describes as a "collection of Basque, Spanish and European art from the Middle Ages to Contemporary". You'll see a few samples of what's in store for you below.

Art....not an accident

After leaving the museum we walked back towards the centre and enjoyed some time in the shops. You'll find a lot of nice independent shops as well as a vast El Corte Inglés, the Spanish department store which seems to be a feature of most Spanish cities. Later that evening as many of the restaurants are closed on Sunday evenings Susy booked a table at a well known Bilbao restaurant, Zortziko for my Birthday meal. By now you'll be thinking "they" ate quite a lot which is true however in our defence I have to point out that we walked on average close to 14kms per day while we were there. The meal, a ten course tasting menu was delicious and we had a lovely evening. 

The following morning we allowed ourselves a sleep in as Susy had booked tickets for us to visit the world renowned Guggenheim Museum at midday. The museum  is walkable from the hotel in about half an hour maximum. The Guggenheim is breathtaking inside and outside, it truly is a stunning building which my limited vocabulary can't do justice to so again I'll leave that to some photos. It's enough to say that a visit to the Guggenheim is something I'll never forget and I'm extremely lucky to have enjoyed it on my 50th Birthday.

Approaching the Guggenheim

We were lucky to see two great visiting exhibitions as well as the permanent displays, one which featured the work of Alberto Giacometti and the second titled Van Gogh to Picasso: The Thannhauser Legacy, featured an impressive collection from the Old Masters.

 By the time we left the museum it was mid afternoon and as the sun was shining we decided to follow our noses back to the old town and enjoy our own Pintxo trail. The weather was lovely and we enjoyed a mixture of sitting indoors and outside combining a spot of people watching and gastronomic delights. It won't surprise you that after a siesta that evening we returned for more. That brought to an end our fabulous weekend in Bilbao and a Birthday celebration that I'll never forget, gracias Susy, I loved it xxx. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Connemara July 2018

We've recently returned from a fun and relaxing week in Ireland, we spent the best part of five days in the west of Ireland in Connemara.  Before heading off to the west we enjoyed a couple of days with family in Dublin. During that time we spent some time on the beach at Brittas Bay in County Wicklow. If you're staying in Dublin and fancy escaping to the beach, Brittas is only about an hours drive away.

Brittas Bay

Our destination in Connemara was Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel situated as the name suggests on the shore of Lough Inagh. It's a relatively easy drive to get there, roughly two hours from Dublin to Galway then another hour and a half to Lough Inagh. Once you get to the other side of Galway the scenery changes as you enter the beautiful surroundings of Connemara. 

Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel

View from the front of the hotel - who needs the Italian lakes!
The hotel was originally a fishing lodge before being transformed into a relaxing boutique hotel where very quickly thanks to the lovely sister and brother who run it, you are made to feel at home. If you want some ideas about what to do each day, either Maire or Dominic will give you lots of options  One of the added attractions for us is that the hotel is dog friendly, your pets are welcomed in all rooms apart from, understandably the restaurant and the bar area, the latter only when guests are eating. 

If you fancy having a day with no driving there are a number of good walks which you can start from the door of the hotel. The photos above were taken on one of these walks, you can pick up a booklet from the hotel reception which has details of the walks recommended by the hotel. Alternatively if you're a keen angler, the team at the hotel can arrange some top class fishing for you with a ghillie to make sure you get the most from your day.

Diamond Hill
If you enjoy spectacular scenery it's really worth visiting the Connemara National Park. You'll find the main park entrance situated in the nearby town of Letterfrack. There are a number of short walks ranging from just 0.5km through to the Upper Diamond Hill walk which is just under 4 kms. There is no charge for parking nor entrance into the park so in terms of value for money you can't beat it.

If you fancy a rest after stretching your legs on a mountain walk, the coastline of Connemara offers a choice of lovely white sandy beaches surrounded by the beautiful clean blue Atlantic ocean. We visited  Glassilaun and Roundstone beaches, both are lovely with Glassilaun edging it in terms of it's impressive location. 

Glassilaun Beach

Roundstone beach

Part of the fun of visiting Connemara is enjoying the great food that is on offer especially the seafood. We had a couple of great lunches in Veldons in Letterfrack and Beola at the top of the mainstreet in Roundstone. 

Veldons sea food trio - delicious
View from Beola on Roundstone's mainstreet

On our last full day which coincided with our wedding anniversary we felt like a walk was in order. So after a little research Susy came across Ballynahinch Castle which is the words of their website is "one of Ireland's finest luxury castle hotels". Set in a 700 acre estate there are a number of walks in the beautiful grounds which are open to non residents, if you ask at the hotel reception they'll give you a map. We chose the 6k route which takes in part of the Connemara Greenway. The going is easy, the scenery lovely and as the castle is around 20 minutes from Lough Inagh it's well worth a visit.

Ballynahinch Castle
After the walk we drove to the fishing village of Cleggan for lunch, we'd stayed close by during a previous visit to Connemara and wanted to revisit Oliver's Bar where you are guaranteed a tasty lunch. After which we returned to Lough Inagh to relax, drink a toast to our anniversary before enjoying a beautifully presented, delicious three course meal that evening in the hotel's restaurant.

The following morning after a hearty breakfast, yes we did enjoy the food at Lough Inagh a lot, we drove to Kylemore Abby. Perhaps one of Connemara's most iconic attractions, Kylemore Abbey is a must visit. Entrance for adults is €13, which we saw as good value as you can easily spend a whole day there. As well as visiting the Abbey you can enjoy a walk in the grounds including the impressive walled gardens and if you're feeling flush you can visit the well stocked shop or have a bite to eat. 

Kylemore Abbey

Farewell from Connemara
From Kylemore we drove back to Dubin for our last evening before heading home the following afternoon. The week flew by, a clear sign of a great holiday, looking forward to the next one. To read more about Connemara and our first visit in 2014 just click here.