Mai 2016, Irun – Santiago de Compostela. The final.
850 Km in 14 days on the coastal way with mountain bikes, also called Camino del Norte or Camino de la Costa. Even more kilometers and altitude than last year. We know that there are actually too many elevation meters and kilometers for two weeks, but the arrival with the bikes has become so complicated that we want to make it this time, even if we have to bite at the one or other section. On the other hand, we look forward to the final, and expect a scenic-, cultural-, historical and sporting highlight.
Good that you can not know everything in advance …..
Map by (c) 4UMaps.com
850 Km, 17000 Hm and with arrival and departure a maximum of 15 days, which makes a maximum of 12 days, if we include a day off. Arrival and departure by car from Germany can be forgotten, because from Santiago back to Irun by train and the bike it takes too long. So remains only a flight or train. In the end it is a combination of both:
Return Saturday from Santiago to Zurich with Swiss (Sundays is unfortunately not affordable in this direction), continue by train to southern Germany. The bikes have to be put in bike boxes in Santiago, more on that later.
The arrival is scheduled on Saturday from Strasbourg by train. The winter train schedule offers a TGV with bicycle transport that drives directly to Bordeaux. After one train change one is in Hendaye on the French / Spanish border and must cycle only 3 km to Irun. A rest day is scheduled in Gijon, the sections are planned, accommodation booked, only the train can not be booked in March. End of April, it is time to book the train ticket, but the train is no more!
Flying there is not an option, it is more than twice as expensive and trough the the necessary plane change at the end not even faster. There is only one train with 90 minutes connecting time in Paris, but accepts no bicycles. Another search yields but that bicycles are not allowed, but work as travel luggage after all. The bikes must therefore be disassembled so that they are luggage, but leave to assemble quickly in Paris for the bike ride to Paris Gare Montparnasse. There again disassemble and continue on the next train. Everything very cumbersome. We paid € 380 for 2 people and the train ticket works only on this train at this day.
I interpret the subject Bike as luggage so that the front wheel is removed, the handlebar is rotated and fixed, pedals are unmounted and the front wheel is again fixed to the frame. The whole thing can trail behind, the rear wheel rotates freely.Everything wrapped in bubble wrap and finished:
This constitutes a very narrow, lighter suitcases with own wheel and a lot of air in between. only weighs 13Kg …
The arrival, a drama
Relaxed start at the central station at 9:00 am with an InterRegio to Kaiserslautern and there change to the ICE to Paris Gare de l’Est. In Kaiserslautern the ICE does not arrive at the announced track, we have to change tracks just before arrival of the ICE.
As soon as we are in our wagon the conductor comes and wants us to leave the train, because bicycles are not permitted in the ICE. I explain to her that this are no bikes but luggage that takes away even less space than a corresponding bike carton that would be allowed again. She does not retune. I refuse to leave, because this bursts the whole trip and all bookings. The ICE stands and waits, and the train manager arrives, a big, strong guy. I explain the situation, and that I let myself be removed only by force off the train (I consider myself demonstratively fixed at a handhold). Meanwhile, the train has already 7 minutes delay. He is considering the call to the station police or border guards. They could remove me from the handrail, but it will take time and the delay increases. As a compromise, I propose that the rear wheels are also removed so that the package is even smaller. He agrees and brings a few garbage bags with which we must cover the design. Once you can no longer recognize that it is a bicycle, it is suddenly luggage ….
This looks like this, unfortunately blurred as recorded at 250 km/h:
All passengers and an off-duty conductor are wondering already at the upper solution what is the problem and are on our side. After a while a French conductor comes along who has heard of the drama and asks where it should go for it. He believes that also in our booked TGV this is also allowed.
We decide to buy in an Paris supermarket garbage bags, and to cover the bikes even more, now is becomes stressful.
With a few minutes delay we arrive in Paris East, assemble the bikes (air foil stay tuned and grinds just a little) and cycle the 9Km on a fortunately prepared gps route to Montparnasse station always in search of an open store. When assembling Annette cuts her left finger bleeding heavily, and we can not get in the stress for a plaster…. The journey takes through the traffic and the lights much longer than planned. Just before the station we can buy garbage bags, and 15 minutes before departure, we are facing the station. It has several levels and until we are at the head of the train, there are only 10 minutes and the bikes have to be disassembled and packaged. This must happen now very fast, the rear wheel stays inside, the pedals mounted and the front wheel is fixed provisionally only with tape and the bags over it. 5 minutes before departure we are ready, but the next problem: It are 2 coupled TGVs and our wagon is at the end of the 2. So towing all the crap and our backpacks 400m along the whole train. We are completely done and make it just a minute before the doors are closed.
The train is overbooked and because of the bikes we have to stick to the exit and can not use our seats. There are at least jump seats. The conductor rams immediately after the start his tibia and the new pants in my Syntace Flat pedal with steel pins that can not be seen under the bag. To compensate for this he wants to see not tickets tickets at all and does not disturb at the bikes:
To Bordeaux it is only 3 hours, but for the remaining 150km the train takes another 3 hours. Shortly before the arrival we assemble the bikes in the train, as nearly all passengers are already exited. Outside it is now beginning to rain. The team motivation reaches its absolute peak. At about 9 pm we are in Hendaye and cycle over the Spanish border to Irun to the hotel. The dinner turns out, we do not need anything more, what an act!
Day 1 Irun – Zumaia. At 7 am, wakes us strong downpour. The weather forecast for the next days is really good, today it should clear up around 10 am. We take a long breakfast and fill in the missing calories from the previous day. At breakfast a pilgrim tells us about his tour from Porto to Santiago, he had two weeks rain …
With full rain gear on we cycle Hondarribia, which is not exactly on the pilgrim path, but is well worth the detour. A great old town surrounded by ramparts overlooking the Atlantic.
Then it goes steeply uphill on a ridge towards west. To the right the sea, the sun comes out, we relax a little. Already the first day is a scenic highlight. Before San Sebastian is the bay of Pasai one has to cross by a ferry. Here I have discovered another highlight that lies off the pilgrim track, a single track on a ridge, to the right the Atlantic:
This section looked fabulous on Google Earth and the pictures promised driving pleasure, which also is true in the beginning, but later there are climbing ropes in the wall and narrow crevices. Un rideable in the final half, but great scenery. On the original route we would have been in 15 minutes at the port, so we need 2 1/2 hours. Only 12 Km cycled and already 2:30 pm!
Again straight up on the last ridge before San Sebastian. Again, there are some nice trails. Due to time constraints, we cut on the descent to San Sebastian on the street somewhat.
San Sebastian is located in a great bay with a small island in the middle, when the sun comes out this gives almost Caribbean feeling. Again up on the ridge and subsequently trails and service roads. A few more times down to the sea and up again, and another piece of coastal road and up again.
Annette is on the gums : 07:20 pm, 2000 Hm and 63 Km.
The property is located a little off, we let ourselves deliver Pizza and fall into bed.
Day 2 Zumaia – Gernika-Lumo We expect another demanding day, the way leaves the coast towards Bilbao, turning a few loops through the back country. Zumaia is nice located at a river mouth. We buy at the bakery a few pastries and then go: steep upward. Down to Deva with glowing brake discs, shopping, and then across the river again steeply upward. Everything is muddy by the rains of recent days, the uphills are difficult to cycle. The landscape is a mixture of Switzerland crossed the German Black Forest. Forested hills with farms, cows in the pasture. Having a little eucalyptus forest or bamboo at hand you can sprinkle. Finished.
At half past 3, we are finally back to 500m altitude, from now on it goes more or less down. The single trail down to Markina-Xemein is initially only wet and steep, later it becomes muddy and slippery so that we nearly fell walking without bikes yet. Frustrating that one can not ride the downhills. Once at the bottom, it is already 4:30 pm, and still 25Km to ride! The bikes are washed poorly at a fountain, then we cycle on a road parallel to the Way of St. James over another pass to Guernica.
Arrival with abbreviation of the rear third 6:30 pm 2100 Hm and 64 Km
The hotel is located in the city center, very simple but clean. The check is over the street in a coin laundry. Very convenient because everything is full of mud, we carry the bike clothes after showering just across the street and before dinner, everything is clean and dry. The bikes stay in front of the room on a balcony on the 3rd floor.
Day 3 Gernika-Lumo – Muskiz, The Chicken day with Chicken ways
After 4000 altitude meters in 2 days Annette is totally exhausted. My job today is to bring her with as little altitude as soon as possible to the next hotel in Muskiz, so she can get the longest possible rest period = Chicken ways. This is achieved by bypassing the first climb on a small road. On the pass we reach the Camino which we follow for a while. To save time we ride on the road into the next valley and are in Larrabetzu for the second breakfast.
To reach Bilbao we must again climb a hill, I tweak again a little, to cycle it is nevertheless sometimes too steep. From the top we can now see Bilbao, but this is very disappointing, new buildings only, nothing historical. The St. James way is now following for some time the right bank in Bilbao, which is even by bike unattractive. Lots of traffic and ugly. In the end, there waits a transporter bridge to the exhausted pilgrims, the crossing is very gentle and brief.
Again up on a only 100m high hill and down to the hotel in Muskiz. Promptly at 3:00 pm as promised and only 1100Hm and 60 Km we arrive. The Hotel Palacio Muñatones in Muskitz is really first class renovated, the only drawback: One looks at a large refinery.
The owner recommended us a restaurant 2 Km on the beach. There we walk in the evening for the dinner. Just stupid that everything is closed except the Bar Restaurante Itxaspe. A listless waiter greets us stressed in an empty dining room on plastic chairs. He talks Spanish only, and there is no internet connection to translate the menu. He urges us to chicken with fries. That matches the day, why not. The mixed salad was probably already prepared in the morning the fries are slouchy and the chicken died completely for nothing, or not, you will not find it under the breading. The room slowly fills with pilgrims from the near Gite and all feel the same, the food is really bad.
Day 4 Muskiz – Noja
In the morning we cycle again to the beach, passing again the culinary depression Bar Restaurante Itxaspe, brrr ….. Then we need to push the bikes a long stair before we can cycle quite pretty directly at the Atlantic Ocean.
In earlier times they mined iron directly from the coastal rocks, and equally loaded it on ships. The old mining trail runs now completely flat along the Atlantic Ocean. Until Castro Urdiales the Camino del Norte follows the coastal road. Because of the near highway there is here fortunately almost no traffic.
Castro Urdiales is quite a nice lido with a nice harbor. Shopping, load calories and continuing on the coast. A few nice trails are also interspersed, and again great views of the coast. When the sun comes through the water shimmers turquoise. Long empty beaches, clean water, very pretty.
Laredo, the next town has a huge sandy beach with private dunes right outside the front door. The houses are built up directly on the promenade, but many homes are for sale, the cityscape is a bit grim. At least it rolls on the boardwalk very loosely to the end of the headland from where it passes over a small ferry to Santoña.
To Noja, the next property, it is now not far off. The path would actually still perform a little right along the beach, but is completely overgrown with bushes, so yet again on the road to the finish.
Noja is a retort village which spreads over a large area. Thousands of houses, Holiday / condos and all empty. All shutters are down, all dead. Accordingly, it is difficult to find a restaurant for dinner. TripAdvisor displays a lot of restaurants, but everything is closed. Finally, we find just before we give up, a restaurant which serves to compensate for very good burgers. 60 Km, 1500 Hm.
Day 5 Noja – Cóbreces
The morning greets us with a heavy downpour, the motivation reached unprecedented heights. A picture is worth a thousand words:
The Camino del Norte uses towards Santander actually a very nice a beach path. Because of the weather we renounce the pleasure. On the ferry to Santander, we meet a mountain biker which did not want to miss -> horse and rider are totally silted. It’s raining so hard that my actually waterproof cell phone reboots a few times and I have to plug it from the handlebars in a jacket pocket.
Behind Santander, which can be missed, at least the rain leaves, and we ride on small country roads to Cóbreces. The room booked is actually rather an apartment at a bargain price. Enough space to wash and clean everything. In front of the only restaurant in town the natives play a kind of open-air bowling tournament with wooden balls on a clay court. 1200Hm 72Km.
Day 6 Cóbreces – Ovio
Finally the sun is back, blue skies. Just opposite is the Monasterio de Cóbreces in the morning sun.
We follow the original Pilgrim way as much as possible and are rewarded, finally naturally grown old villages and towns along the way, not only the newly built empty retort villages.
After 80Km and 1550Hm we arrive at our hotel in Ovio. A 2km walk brings us to Nueva for the dinner in a quaint village pub. Because of the near sea I order calamari. Unfortunately, a bit is superimposed and tastes like ammonia. Fortunately it becomes no fish poisoning, but Calamari I can no longer see since.
Day 7 Ovio – Gijón
Again there is a long section of 84km, in the afternoon rain is announced. We push therefor on the street and make it just so to Villaviciosa as it begins to drip. In the mountains there are now severe thunderstorms. For safety, we remain on the national road, which runs more to the north, and manage it just not to get wet to Gijón. 84km 2100Hm
Day 8 Gijón, day off
Unfortunately Gijón is not worth seeing. The most historic buildings have been replaced by ugly new buildings as in all towns along the coast. Only a small waterfront district has opposed the construction mania.
A lucky that we did not have to drive today, a strong wind blows from the wrong direction. The last days we discovered the tracks of a narrow-gauge railway that runs along the coast. At the station there are unfortunately no timetables to go, but we can at least take a picture of a.
Day 9 Gijón – Cadavedo
Today we decide to push a little in the afternoon with the Feve narrow-gauge railway. This allows us to cycle as much possible at original Camino without stress. After Gijón there is initially a lot of industry and steel mills, later there is then more nature and a few trails down to El Castillo. There we see our only castle on Camino del Norte.
The plan for today is to bike about 60km to La Magdalena on the Camino, and then push the last 25Km by train to save power for the next few days. Around 3 pm we are at the station. Shortly after 4, a train was supposed to come, but waiting 25 minutes still nothing is in sight. According to the Feve smart phone app comes just today ?? no train. What a bummer because we want to cheat the first time ever! So we continue, this time on the road, since we are now even 1.5 hours later than planned. Luckily the weather cleans up, tailwind, blue sky, perfect street biking. At 6:30 pm we are finally there, again 2100Hm and 86km. Our host in Cadavedo is genuine, and serves us a delicious menu. The wine bottle is completely emptied.
Day 9 Cadavedo – Ribadeo
The last day on the coast on the Camino del Norte. We ask the host about the Feve train. The locals don’t use it as it is not on time and slow. But is carries bicycles. After it did not work yesterday, we want to know it today. At the train station there are still 3 Spaniards pedaling the Camino on the road and want to cheat a little today. With 45 minutes delay, the train comes after all. In sunshine we get in, 2 hours later, we exit in Navia in the drizzle. The Spaniards are smart and stay in the train to Ribadeo. We put on the rain gear 🙁 . Around noon it clears up and we are looking for a nice lunch spot.
Just when everything is unpacked, it starts strongly again to rain. We move in a bus shelter and eat there.
After this time only 35Km and 600Hm (less as never before 🙂 ) we arrive in Ribadeo. The hotel is a beauty, the town quite nice.
Day 9 Ribadeo – Vilalba
Now the Camino leaves the the coast and moves to the southwest into the interior. The morning greets us sunny and friendly after it has been raining all night through.
Today there is again a hard section on the program. As soon as we leave Ribadeo it becomes dark on the horizon, and the cars coming towards us with spotlights. Rain gear on.
Sun, rain clothes off. Rain.
It goes through the foothills 500 meters high, down again and again up. Again and again rain, usually only a few minutes. Mostly we find a tree or a bus shelter.
About 4 pm we finally reach the last plateau. Again, it starts to pour and we save again in a bus shelter. 2 Spaniards on bikes join us and put their rain gear on. Still 25Km on a perfectly straight road with headwind and rain: Completely disgusting. 80Km 2100Hm In the evening, we meet the two Spaniards again in the hotel:. As we, also they have butt hurt 🙂
Day 10 Vilalba – A Pena Dense fog in the morning at 8:30 am, all shops and bakeries are still closed. The fog is so dense that we must use rain wear. The first 20km we push on the street, then we move finally back into the terrain. After some time the sun burns away the fog, there are single trails and small natural villages with only dew new construction.
The stage is finally really pretty and nice to bike. 80Km 1400Hm
Day 11 The final : A Pena – Santiago de Compostela
Our hotel is already on the Camino Frances, the Camino de la Norte and the Camino Frances unite in Arzúa. With a garden hose, we can wash the bikes in the morning to some extent, and after 300m cycline we meet the Camino Frances. Here the pilgrim traffic starts. The sun is shining, and all are cheerful and friendly. We cycle slowly to not scare the walkers. Behind Arzúa it becomes crowded. The locals have adapted here to the masses, and everywhere there are cafes full of pilgrims. Sometimes it is too full for biking, and the pilgrims move like a large flock by the hundreds to Santiago. We back out on the road. Well, and at some point we are on the last hill before the city, the Monte do Gozo:
A forest obscures the view to the city, also it begins to rain, again. A long line of pilgrims wallows in the city and blocks the streets. Santiago has a historical very pretty city center. It has so many churches that must ask to find the right one.
On the the square in front of the cathedral now constantly arrive new pilgrims and cyclists. Some hold banners up how many kilometers they ran. This is a great event here, and everyone has to tell a unique story. 44 Km 900 Hm. We check into our hotel, and then push the bikes to a bike shop from which they packed for the flight back tomorrow.
Now that we are already here, we visit the cathedral as well. Everything is optimized here, the confessionals have lights that indicate if they are free. The eternal lights are no more candles, but flickering timed LEDs, and everywhere you can donate to something. Oh well.
After a long breakfast we go to the bike shop. There the Litevilles were packed into flight boxes, and a large taxi takes us to the airport. There is, incidentally, also a bike packing station where one can buy cartons and all packaging itself. On departure it rains again very strong. In Zurich our bike cartons are more or less undamaged, others have not been so lucky, whose boxes are softened, have been broken and lost parts. With one bike box on a luggage cart we go through the airport to the train station, then change to a Deutsche Bahn ICE. It is not coming (not surprisingly!) and with a replacement train without air conditioning we drive to Basel, change there again and go home. Done!
How was it now on the Camino del Norte? As you can see on the pictures, here and there, very nice indeed. However, it falls in comparison to the pilgrimage route in Switzerland or in France very strongly. We missed most the great cities and villages of Switzerland and France with the old buildings, fortifications, monasteries, palaces and castles. Most towns and villages in northern Spain consist of new buildings, the villages are often ghost villages are inhabited only in summer for 4 weeks. The way is well signposted, and there is a good infrastructure. In addition, the Feve coastal tram is nice, with which you can go if you have a weak day. There are also pilgrims, but not really many. After Gijon it becomes lonely, some move probably to the Camino Primitivo.