20:00 Sun.
25 Oct, 2020

Last stage in Portugal

,
°C
12:00 am
12:00 am

We arrived to Pontes de Limas something past 8pm, again, we were luckily, the Alberuge there closes at 9. At first, we were really happy, at least we made it, but then we realized, we won’t be able to go out for dinner, since they will close the albergue in less than half an hour (literary they lock you in). So in the end, after a lot of persuasion, Jakob convinced me to run with him to the close by Liddle, that was still open, and just in the distance where we thought we could make it there and back in time. So after the whole day of walking, we conjured just enough strength for the 3 km run, and made it back in time with about 5 minutes to spare. I’m telling you, pasta never tasted so good than that day.

Ponte de lima. Not surprisingly, the town has a bridge.

The next day was supposed to be a hard leg of the journey, we were suppose to walk on a “hill”, so we played it safe and started early (well, early compared to previous and later days, at around 9). After navigating out of the city, we were soon faced with a picturesque, yet flooded path. It took us almost an hour to navigate through it. At first we were jumping over the rocks from edge to edge but then toward the end Aljoša and Jakob smartly took off their shoes and just walked through the water. I for some reason really wanted to find the “dry” path, so after about 15 minutes of trying I finally stepped ankles deep into the marsh, yeey, my socks and shoes were wet for the rest of the day.

After the initial ordeal with wet footwear  our spirits soon lifted as we started walking through beautiful landscape and slowly ascending the hill. The weather again was perfect and the hill was not steep (or high) at all. Somewhere in the middle, when we were resting an interesting old man, came to talk to us. He was very friendly, yet couldn’t speak a word in English nor Spanish (Jakob knows Spanish). Yet that didn’t bother him, he just kept talking. At one point we think he asked if I’m the son of Jakob, haha I guess that felt nice (for me at least), but we probably misinterpreted that part.

Wet socks? Not a problem, just dry them on the backpack.

Before noon we were already at the top of the hill, way ahead of the schedule. We took a short break, playing some cards and sunbathing on the warm winter sun. In the early afternoon we reached Albergue.

Since the day was quite easy, I decided to go for a quick run before dinner.

The following day was supposed to be an easy one, we were to make it either to Valenca (Portugal) or the neighboring city Tui (Spain). Since Spain is a bit more expensive than Portugal, and we were in no hurry we decided to stop at Valenca. Again we walked through picturesque forests and rural areas, the walk was especially easy, since it was mostly downhill. We reached the Albergue before 1pm, so we actually had to wait for it to be opened.

After we checked in Jakob and Aljoša decided to go explore the city a bit. Valenca is an old fort city, designed abit similarly as Palmanova (Italy), in a star shaped fortification, yet I believe it’s even more fortified as latter. I decided to go for a “quick” run on nearby hill, that towered above the city. While the run was quite intense, the hill was about 400m high, the view from the top was worth it. I could see as far as the sea, the sun was shinning and on top of the hill there were some horses running around (with no enclosure) munching on the grass.

Preparing for a run. Despite walking for several hours, it was extremely refreshing to go for a run a bit.

In the evening, all three of us took another walk through the old town, which was completely empty then (a bit scary) and then found a restaurant that served Pilgrim’s menu. We are actually not sure what we ate, it was some kind of fish (bacalao?) and potatoes, looked like they put the scraps of food that were left over from the day together and served it to us, but it was surprisingly good. I think this was one of the general idea of this kind of menus, kitchens just used some leftover ingredients and prepared some really low cost meals. With it, of course, we had some wine.

Wine in Portugal (as well Spain) needs another post all together, but I’ll try to squeeze it in here. It is so unbelievable cheap that it defies logic. You actually have a very decent choice of (local) wines in the supermarket that cost less than 2€ per bottle (yes, glass bottles with actual corque). I think I even saw one that was 0.80 € or something. I don’t understand, how this is, the glass, transport and water in it must cost more than a €. Anyway the prices of wine in the restaurants are not much higher. The cost was usually no more than 5€/bottle, or was even included in the meal price (which was 5-10€). I’m not some wine connoisseur, but the wine tasted quite ok, and even Aljoša and Jakob, who know much more about wine than I do, agreed that they are surprisingly good, not even for the price, but in general, they taste good.

19:00 Sun.
25 Oct, 2020

Uf, my legs hurt?

,
°C
12:00 am
12:00 am

We arrived to Porto in the late evening and were in our hostel in around 11PM. To ease into the hiking culture, we decided to make a ho(s)tel reservation for the first night, with a private room for the three of us.

Last checkup on my gear in the hostel, on the morning of first stage.

Next day (Sunday), we got up at 9, went to the main cathedral in Porto, where we got our pilgrim’s credentials. With the credentials you get the “ability” to sleep in special hostels called Albergues, that are open only for the pilgrims and are very cheap 6€ in Portugal and 8€ in Spain, that is at least for the state run ones. Of course, you can go into the private ones that give you more amenities but are much more expensive. The problem is, however, as the February is the least touristy month of the year – it’s supposed to be the rainiest month in Portugal/Spain of the year, most of the privately owned Albergues are closed, so the only choice are the state ones.

 

Last photo, before walking to the start point.

After getting our credentials, the journey started, we were at km 0.

0 km, 240 km to go.

In general the way is well-marked with the yellow arrows, and blue seashells – emblem of the pilgrimage., despite it, it can be a bit confusing in some places, so not long after starting we got lost a bit but with today’s phones it was not too hard to find our way back on track. Ah, one more thing I should mention, on the last day, we found out a great app for the pilgrims, that shows you the different paths you can take, information about albergues and such – Kamino Ninja.

There are 3 ways to reach Santiago from Porto, Costal, spiritual and central path – because of the month we were travelling we took the central path, as it is the most popular, so basically the only one where even the state Albergues are open (more or less). Although from the information we read the coastal one might be the most interesting/beautiful.

On the first day we walked for about 26km, so when we arrived at the monastery in Vairao, it was already dark. We were lucky, as we found the woman, who was taking care of the Albergue – in this case monastery, already preparing to go home. As it turned out, we were the only ones sleeping there for that night. It was an interesting experience all in all. The monastery was not heated, the walls were thick at least 2 m, so it was cold and moist inside. It was actually warmer outside, so we let the window open during the night, but I was really really happy I had my warm sleeping bag with me.

So how to Albergues even work? This mainly applies to the state  ones, although the private ones do not differ much. You can only stay in them for 1 night, you get a stamp in your pilgrims credentials and then you have to move on. They are basically a stripped version of ho(s)tels, normally with bare beds, so you have to have sleeping bag with you, and the majority of them have kitchenet with kitchen utensils (however, this does not apply to the first couple of them in Spain, as there are some laws that prohibit them from having kitchens utensils in hostels – something about people not cleaning after themselves and then getting sick). During the summer, in the most popular months they get full quickly, so people usually get up in the middle of the night, so they can arrive at the next albergue before 14.00, when they usually open. It is impossible to make a reservation in advance so if it’s full you are basically left with not much choice but to continue until the next town (which can be 10s of km away) or go into a private one – if they still have some room. Luckily in our case we were at most 10 people, usually even less. And despite having to sleep with total strangers, it doesn’t feel that weird or bad, you are all there with the same reason – pilgrimage, so it’s easy to talk to others, meet new people and you don’t feel like someone is going to murder or rob you in the middle of the night .

After surviving our first freezing night we continued to Barcelos. The path took us over some picturesque bridges and villages, but the vast majority was done on the roads through some urban areas. After about 28h we arrived to Barcelos, where it was dark again. Due to some miscommunication, or maybe because we were tired, who knows, we decided to just find the first Albergue we could and sleep there – as it turned out this was a privately owned on. It cost 10€ / night and I can’t really say it was much better than the state owned ones. Here we also met with another pilgrim, Nina, from Germany, with whom we basically synchronized our walking stages almost until Santiago, but more on this later. Since it was late, we went out for a quick bite and then quickly fallen asleep. Waking the whole day really tires you and the next day was supposed to be a hard one.

The path on the third day was a bit more convoluted thorough side roads and paths, so it was nice to walk, as opposed to walking the whole day on the main road. What I really liked about it was how the natives were used to the pilgrims and everyone you saw greeted you with “Bon Camino”. Some even left some fruit / water in their yards for the pilgrims and there were plenty of orange, tangerine and lemon trees along the road, full of ripe fruit, just asking for the taking. During the first days, we must have eaten kilos of oranges and tangerines.

We continued walking for the better part of the day, until we reached Vitorino dos Piaes, where the next albergue was supposed to be. We must have read the information wrongly, as the town only had privately owned albergue, which was closed on that day. So with terror, at 5pm, we realized we need to make it to the next town – Ponte de Lima, about 15 km further and over a hill. This was by far the hardest day we did, for the last 2 hours we were walking in the dark, luckily we had some flashlights with us. We barely reached the albergue, again, just before it closed, and I must say my legs really really hurt after the whole day of walking, I can’t imagine how Aljoša and Jakob must have felt, not to brag- but I was by far in the best shape of the three of us. In total, we were on our legs for about 13 hours and did about 36 km.

The hardest part of the Camino was behind us – or so we thought.

17:00 Sun.
25 Oct, 2020

Portugal Edition

,
°C
12:00 am
12:00 am

I have been thinking about going on an adventure, go somewhere and don’t plan the whole trip well in advance. See how you feel each day and find hostel/hotel in the city you are at the end of the day.

Luckily such an opportunity presented to me at the beginning of January, when two friends, Jakob and Aljoša asked me if I want to join them on their hike – the famous Camino de Santiago – Portugal edition.  Everything happened so suddenly, after three days we already bought plane tickets and in two weeks, we were off to Porto, Portugal. I have never done anything so spontaneously like this before, but I was really excited about it. To me, it felt like the perfect thing to do, a new experience, a new me, journey to my 4th decade. As it happened, I have turned 30 on the day of our departure.

The last days before the departure were a bit frantic. We were all scrambling to buy the last of the supplies, we thought we would need. Some waterproof  water-resistant pants, rain jackets, this and that, the list goes on. The hard part was balancing what is really needed and should be brought with us and what we could live without. In the end, I ended up with full to bursting 30l backpack, the majority of space was taken by the sleeping bag. In total, I took with me 4 underpants, 3 pairs of socks, 1 running pants, 1 hiking (water-resisting) pants (which I wore most of the time), 3 long and 3 short sports shirts, quick dry towel, chargers, kindle, headphones and a bit of food for the first day of walking – Sunday, since we expected the stores would be closed. In retrospect, I think I could also manage with 2 pairs of underpants, but in total, I don’t think I brought much more than I needed. I don’t think there was an item in the pack I didn’t use – if I don’t count the first aid kit.

Luckily we had couple of sleeping bags at home, so I could pick up the right one, which required some extensive testing, nights before departure.

The 1st of February came soon enough, and I barely manage to have a nice meal with my parents and a piece of cake. This year, I made it myself, wanted to experiment a bit with red velvet cake with lemon filling, it turned out quite ok, but next time, I really need to go back to my favorite type of cakes – fruit cakes. It was nice chatting with my parents, they bought me a new Garmin watch, and I was truly happy about it. I’ve been doing much more sports lately, and the FitBit Charge 3, I had for the last year just didn’t cut it anymore.

Together with my parents, one last time.

So on Saturday afternoon, my ride was ready, I picked up my backpack, boarded GoOpti (popular shuttle service in Slovenia) and I was on my way to the adventure of my life. Because of the birthday(s) (fun fact, Jakob also has a birthday on the same day as I do) we decided that we were going to meet at the airport, since we wanted to spend some time with our families, on our birthdays.

We arrived at  Treviso airport in the early evening, went through the security and were excitedly waiting to board our plane. Our first destination was Porto, Portugal, from where we would start our journey and hike around 240 km, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. We were planning to do it in roughly 10 days, and if weather would permit, we would continue to the Finistère at the Atlantic coast, about 90 km from Santiago.

Me, Aljoša and Jakob, meeting at the airport.

Waiting at the airport went by quickly in the good company and soon we were in the air, the adventure awaited us. But not before extending our birthday, for 1 more hour (yes, Portugal is in UTC+0 time zone).

20:15 Sun.
11 Oct, 2020

This time after christmas.

,
°C
12:00 am
12:00 am

In the middle of the January, I had a meeting in Vienna for another project. This was a second time I had a meeting in Viena, surprisingly both times it was around Christmas. I was surprised that the city center was still decorated and there was a bit of the Christmas spirit in the air, although the markets were missing and still it was a far cry from the last time, when I went in mid December.

This time I went with my boss. The meeting was about the project, we just started, so not much work, at least for us. I just needed to present our team and then for the rest of the time it was more about getting to know other partners in project.

As usually of late, I did a few walks around the city, went and saw some of the facades of famous buildings, haha, still haven’t made it inside, although to be fair, in Vienna I’ve also been already several times and in on of those times I did go see some of the palaces and the natural history museum.

As it seems of late, that I always post something about the food, I should not make an exception this time. We had Viena snichel, of course, and strudel and cakes and everything that goes with it. A bit more surprising could be that first night boss and I went to some Hindu restaurant near hotel, I don’t think I ever ate Indian before, it wasn’t bad at all and we also had some gigantic flat bread to go with it.

It was a nice trip, but nothing to special, I’m just putting it here, since I want to make a map of countries I’ve visited in the future.

19:00 Sun.
11 Oct, 2020

Finally visited all neighboring countries!

,
°C
12:00 am
12:00 am

Can’t believe, that I’ve visited most of the Europe before being to Hungary once. Finally, the black spot on my atlas was fixed last Christmas and I can finally say I’ve been to all the Slovenian neighbouring countries! So when deciding where to go for Christmas holidays, there wasn’t much deliberation, Budapest it is.

Hungarian parliament.

Budapest is about 450 km away from Ljubljana, so after checking the (bad) options for going with public transport, we decided to just drive. I think this was my longest drive in one go since Finland way, way back in 2013.  Not only, was this the first time that I visited Hungary, it was also the first time that instead of going staying in a hotel (through booking.com), we reserved a small apartment near the city center through AirBnB. To be honest, the experience wasn’t much different then the one a year before at Malta. We got the key to the apartment through a “lock box” and again didn’t even saw the owner.  The apartment was nice and cozy and not that expensive considering proximity to the center and Christmas time.

They projected a show/architecture to the facade of the church, it looked super awesome.

The whole trip was very nice,  we avoided any museums or other landmarks where you have to go inside. I’m not entirely sure why I do this, I think I have a feeling that I’m going to find them super boring, I guess I should try to actually go inside from time to time, maybe I’m in those years that I’ll find it interesting again. But walked around the city and visited all the bridges, castles, statues and the rest, we even went running couple of laps around the island in the middle of Donava.

The city center  was nicely decorated although not as much as Paris.

So what else did we do, beside walking, running and sightseeing? Well eating of course! Haha, I haven’t eaten so much food in a long, long time, probably since Pierogis in Warsaw, haha. Anyway, we tried to lean toward traditional Hungarian food. To be honest, I had no idea what it was, before googling, I had a feeling that goulash has to be somewhere, but I kind of get the vibe that goulash is traditional everywhere in Eastern Europe.  So yea, each day we tried to find an interesting restaurant and go eat something there, in the evenings (yea right, just evenings haha), we grabbed some delicious chimneys from the stalls and all over the day we tried some small pastries that could be found in metro stations, for some reason.

So yea, the trip was short, an extended weekend, but very fun, not even sure if there is much more that one can do, if you do not wish to go visit the therms, catacombs or some of the museums. It was a bit chilly, but I think around the Chrismas must be the best time of the year for visit, as there is so much going on all around. The prices are also not that bad, it’s even a bit cheaper than Ljubljana and for some reason wine is very very cheap in the stores. You can find several  bottles of (ok) wine for under 3€.