It is necessary to go out
Now it’s clearly that we will not leave for the USA this year.
It would be possible with a departure at the end of October 2023, but we do not like to start that season and so we will suspend our trip to the USA for a year.
We can’t travel because quite a bit needs to be done on the facades of our house and this work will start around May 2023.
When construction work starts Dick thinks it’s better that I am not there and I agree. So in May I am going on a pilgrimage. This time I will walk the Camino del Norte, the pilgrimage route that follows the north coast of Spain.
That means that I want to take a closer look at these regions, so in January 2023 we plan a trip with our motorhome to the north coast of Spain. Not really the best time of the year to look around in this area but, given our other appointments, we have no choice.
January 12th 2023 early morning Dick gets the motorhome out of the storage. He parks behind our house and we load everything we will need. We have plenty of time. Before leaving we first have an appointment about the floor insulation of our house. It’s going well, our floor will also be insulated and end of the afternoon we leave. We drive to Vijfhuizen, under the smoke of Amsterdam, because tomorrow we have to go to our IVECO/FIAT garage first.
This morning the weather was still reasonable, gray but dry, now it is raining hard and the wind is blowing.
To prevent sinking into the mud, we are advised not to park on the grass but on the path between. There are few motorhomes so that is not a problem and early evening we have a place. Although the Frankia shakes back and forth due to the heavy gusts of wind and rain (we hope the motorhome rinses clean) we sleep deeply.
It is a bit disappointing when the next morning our alarm clock wakes us up at 5.30 am. After a quick breakfast we leave this motorhome parking that we only saw in the dark. At the truck garage, mechanic Jeremy tells us what he is going to do about the fact that we are unable to fill up our diesel tank completely and then we wait, but with good coffee. Unfortunately there is more work involved than expected so after an hour we leave again. When we get back in March, the motorhome will be taken care of. We drive to Bergen op Zoom where we enjoy the wild inland sea and a faint sunshine for the rest of the afternoon. It’s storming now. I walk to some shops, the non-alcoholic wine is on sale and Dick works on the inventory count of the dive shop. That has to happen as well.
You notice that the weather plays a role in going out because we are all alone on the boulevard.
Because it is raining quite hard on Saturday January 14th, Dick drives the Frankia closer to the supermarket so I can buy croissants and will not get wet. After breakfast and dumping our gray and black water we leave. We cannot fill up with clean water because the water tap is closed due to the frost, something that we will encounter more often on our route.
It’s pretty quiet on the road. There are not even traffic jams at Antwerp. The sky is uniformly grey, it storms and rain falls regularly. The thermometer hits just 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not weather to go out.
As soon as we set foot on French soil, we exchange our empty propane-tank and then continue our trip along the Côte Opale to St. Martin de Boulogne. We will spend the night in the parking lot of an Auchan. An ideal place because it offers me a chance to look around the supermarket. After the motorhome is parked, with the front to the wind, I walk inside. And I am lucky, there is a sale of towels, they are 70% discounted and Dick just complained about our almost threadbare, 10 year old towels.
For a long time I search between the piles of towels. They are constantly replenished and finally I leave with six new, thick towels. In the near future we won’t have to rub our bodies dry. Although the storm continues, it clears up end of the afternoon, but since neither of us want to go out, we stay inside. We read, cook a simple meal and watch the news before going to bed. Apparently we have contracted a virus because the handkerchiefs cannot be dragged on and so is the case with the cough syrup. Although the latter is well overdue, it still helps.
At night we are not bothered by the big lights in the parking lot because after closing time all lights are turned off and it becomes pitch dark outside.
Sunday January 25th it rains incessantly, there is still a very strong wind and it is only 40 degrees. After our breakfast with a delicious fresh baguette we drive south. At the Pont de Bretonne we cross the Seine. I love this because with the current weather conditions it is not really wise to take the Pont de Normandy, high above the Seine.
We arrive in Honfleur at 3 pm. There is hardly anyone on the parking lot and soon we find a nice spot. The weather doesn’t tempt us to go outside at all, so we read, heat up a can of sauerkraut and watch the news. We sleep like marmots.
On Monday it is still raining and there are strong gusts of wind, but with the motorhome as a barrier against the wind, we manage to fill our water tank completely. Then we leave. At 11 am the sky finally breaks open and the sun shows itself for a while, but unfortunately not for long because when we approach Fougeres it rains again. Unfortunately, we cannot park at the motorhome parking I selected. That car park is only accessible to passenger cars, so we take a look at our app and quickly find a spot in Liffre, again in the parking of a supermarket.
Fortunately end of the afternoon it clears up and we bask in the nice warm sun before it disappears behind the buildings on this industrial area.
In the evening we buy a burger at Mc.Donalds. It’s edible, but we’ve had better. In this car park the lights are also turned off after closing time and we sleep deeply and undisturbed.
Tuesday January 17th it is considerably colder and the thermometer shows only 35 degrees. After a breakfast with fresh croissants we leave. It is not busy on the road so around noon we arrive in Cholet. There is a large parking lot with sufficient space not far from the center of town, but we decide to drive for another half hour and park our Frankia in Les Herbiers. Here we are greeted by the sun.
On the outskirts of town I saw a Decathlon so after a cup of coffee I walk there. Dick don’t want to walk along and stays in the motorhome. Although it’s more fun to walk together, it’s nice to be alone when wandering around this sporting goods store. It offers more possibilities to sniff around extensively. And not without results because I find super lightweight pants (and discounted). They will be great to wear on my pilgrimage. This purchase is partly due to Dick calling me and saying that I have to stay in the store because the weather is bad. Rain and hail is pouring down.
When the weather has cleared and its dry, I leave the store with my purchase, look for another geocache in a beautiful park nearby and then come home where I proudly show Dick my new pants. We spend the rest of the evening reading and cooking a meal.
Wednesday we don’t wake up until 9 am. It is a good thing that we placed our insulation mat in front of the window because last night it froze hard. The sun is shining and despite the cold it is nice to be outside so I don’t mind walking to the boulangerie. A little later we enjoy our breakfast with an egg cooked by Dick. Here the water is also shut off, but we still have enough clean water in our tank.
We arrive in Rochefort at 12.30 pm. The parking lot has changed but there is still space to park.
Because we stay close to a marina, there is a laundromat where we want to go after we collect our laundry. While I supervise the washing- and drying process, Dick walks to the Capitainerie (harbor office). Here is a dump station and a working water tap. Great, tomorrow morning we can get rid of our dirty water and fill up with clean water. When our clean clothes are put away, I walk to the Lidl. I only have to walk 1,5 miles and am pleased to do so for our dinner, after all there is no restaurant in the area. After a simple meal of baked potatoes, with lettuce, cucumber, tomato and meatballs, we watch TV before going to bed. Now our insulation mat is placed on the windscreen every evening and night because the freezing cold remains.
Thursday, January 19th we dump and fill water at the Capitainerie and then drive further south. The farmlands around us are flooded, due to the heavy rain. On the outskirts of Bordeaux, next to an old Romanesque church, we want to spend the night, but it is raining steadily, so after a short walk we continue and finally we stop at 5 pm in Villeneuve de Marsan. There are already 4 other motorhomes parked and we go to the remaining spot. Then I walk into town.
There are geocaches hidden at some “Lavoirs” (medieval washing places) and I like to find them. The walk is not very pleasant because it is water cold and it is also drizzling. But I find the geocache and admire the lavoir behind the old church. Early in the evening the wind picks up, it blows so hard that our satellite cannot find any channels, so we read instead of watching TV.
Friday January 20th we are awakened by the sun at 9 am. So it is not a punishment to walk to the supermarket and get a baguette. After our breakfast, dumping and filling water (yes, that is available) we leave.
The most southern part of West France looks attractive, also because the sun is shining brightly, but the parking for motorhomes in the middle of Saint Jean de Luz is unfortunately too short for our Frankia, so we drive on to Hendaye. When we get there, the parking lot is completely empty. Probably the result of the fact that recently a group of illegal immigrants wanted to break into a motorhome. So we drive on, pass the station where I arrive by train in May, cross an invisible border and stop at a supermercado in Irun to buy bread. We are back in Spain. And, more important, from the motorhome I was able to view the road I have to walk to get to the albergue in Irun, Spain after arriving by train in Hendaye, France.
We are looking for our way into the mountains. That is not so easy. The road gets narrower and narrower and we have to drive backwards. After studying the roads again on our Hakuna, we see another road that is suitable for our motorhome and a little later we climb higher and higher into the mountains to the Sanctuario Guadelupe. Here is a large parking lot where we can spend the night. On my first walking stage I will climb up here, so we look around, visit the old church, take a picture at the large scallop shell (the symbol of the pilgrims to Santiago) and admire the view over the city of Irun, deep below us.
My first stage on the Camino del Norte is truly a mountain stage, what a climb up.
The parking lot is very deserted, so after we look at everything carefully and I also heard from a local farmer how to continue my walk further up the mountain, we leave. In Irun we pass the still closed Albergue and then we drive on to San Sebastian. There we spend the night in the parking lot of a large football stadium. There are quite a few motorhomes and we have a chat with one of our neighbors. Because it is now 4 pm we don’t go out anymore. Tomorrow we will stay another day and then we will explore Donostia, the Basque name for San Sebastian. We already found out that in this part of Spain you don’t get along very well with Spanish. Everything here is mentioned in the Basque language.
It is only 34 degree when we wake up at 9 am on Saturday morning. We sleep a lot in our motorhome. Although there are still a lot of clouds, we also see some blue sky and it is getting warmer by the hour. Although there should be a bus connection to the center, we walk down. That means going down many, many stairs, but when we arrive at the stadium, we can walk a normal road. On our way we look for some geocaches. One of them takes us to an elevator, hidden in the façade, to a beautiful viewpoint over the city and the cathedral.
Of course we visit the church a little later and then we head for the promenade of Donostia. It’s pleasantly busy here. Everyone gets a breath of fresh air along the bay. Fortunately there is no wind and the sun breaks through the clouds so the temperature even rises to 47 degrees. It’s great to walk around here and I facetime with Hannah. After all, this city is her favorite destination. Then a geocache leads us to the old town of Donostia, consisting of narrow streets. Here is also the Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro, the oldest church in the city that looks impressive. Again we look around inside this church. It’s nice also because of the music being played. End of the afternoon we walk back, again there is no escaping the more than 150 steps up. Tired but satisfied, we end this wonderful day by raising our glasses. This is a really a city to return to.
Sunday January 22 the sun is shining again and after breakfast and dumping of gray and black water we drive further west. Soon we enter the mountains on a narrow road where from the height of 1650 feet thick packs of snow lie along the side. But the road itself is clean and its sunny weather so we continue our way over the many mountain ranges. Fortunately there is no traffic at all because the width of the road does not make it easy for two cars to pass. After endless climbing and descending we finally arrive in lower regions and the road also becomes a bit wider. Now we are dealing with countless numbers of cyclists who regard the road as their own. So there is no rushing.
After passing the big city of Bilbao we arrive in Santander. We have to drive through some narrow and very steep streets to the motorhome parking. It is quite busy but there are still some places available. Before the steep descent we saw a supermarket where I first buy some food and then I like to look for some geocaches in the park in front of us. Dick is not coming because he wants to clean our windows and the back of our motorhome. That’s necessary. Due to the bad weather of the past few days, the backside isn’t white anymore and we can hardly see through the windows. It is 48 degrees, there is no wind and the sun is shining, real weather to be busy outside.
Unfortunately, the weather changed completely on Monday January 23th. The sky is gray and regularly there is some drizzle. A good time to do our laundry. Dick takes me to the laundromat and then drives back because there is no parking space in this narrow street. When the laundry is clean and dry I put everything in the laundry bags and walk back in the drizzling rain.
It is more descending than walking because the parking is in the valley and the laundromat on the mountain. I am back just in time because now it starts to rain seriously.
Despite the unappealing weather, it is 45 degrees, windy and raining, we put on our rain jackets and after coffee we walk to the center of Santander. That is a special experience because to get to the center we first have to climb a mountain after which we can descend to the harbor. To please people, the walking paths uphill consist of escalators and on very steep parts elevators are available. Of course we try what it is like to walk up or down the steep streets, in comparison the streets of San Francisco fade.
At the harbor we take a look at the Ferry. I will use this on my pilgrimage to cross the bay. Unfortunately the weather is too unpleasant otherwise we would probably have sailed back and forth. Now we reward ourselves after a lot of climbing with coffee and delicious cake. There are not many people in the harbor area, only those waiting for the ferry and a few fishermen who actually hooked a fish. Finally we climb back to the motorhome. Our Frankia Titan has been joined by another Frankia Titan. Inside our Frankia we have a chat with Frans and Hennie. It is nice to exchange experiences.
The next morning, Tuesday January 24th, the sky is gray and it rains, the temperature does not rise above 45 degrees. Because of the heavy rain here I decide to bring my rainjacket in addition to my poncho on my trip. Fortunately, after breakfast the rain stops so we can dump and fill up with water and don’t get soaked. Then we drive further west along the north coast. Regularly I check my camino app and see how the path of the Camino del Norte winds along the coast. We even see one brave pilgrim walking with a very heavy backpack. Probably unavoidable in this cold season.
We only drive 75 miles and end of the morning we arrive in Ribadesella. Next to the “Cuevas de Tito Bustillo” is a parking spot. It’s low tide so the river in front is dry. Unfortunately, the Cuevas are being renovated and are therefore closed. A pity because this cave with paintings of more than 14,000 years old must be worth a visit. So we will definitely return here. In the afternoon, when it is only drizzling, we walk to the beach to get a breath of fresh air.
After we are back I am not tired and I walk to the town where unfortunately everything is closed. So I climb to the high cliff at the end of town and enjoy the view of the raging sea below as well as the steeply rising cliffs. It’s a good thing Dick didn’t come because the path up is quite steep and uneven due to the many chunks of stone. After taking a lot of pictures and of course phoning Dick, I descend again.
My way is shown by scallops, after all the Camino del Norte runs through this town. At home we drink coffee and again I update my diary and write down our expenses. It starts to rain heavily. In the evening the river is filled with water (high tide) and the lights of the district on the other side reflect beautifully.
Wednesday, January 25th, it is fortunately dry and the high mountains stand out clearly against the sky. They are covered in snow. The Camino Primitivo passes through this mountain range but I will continue to follow the Camino del Norte and cross the mountains further west.
After breakfast, we have again Oroweat bread, we leave and continue to follow the coast. On my phone I regularly see the path I hope to walk. The route to Aviles is not attractive because of large industrial areas where orange flames can be seen from afar. This heavy industry surrounds the historic city center which dates back to the 12th century.
We stop at a busy parking lot on the edge of the center. Fortunately there are still two places for motorhomes available and we park our Frankia. Then we walk into town. Using geocaches we find our way. It is cold but dry and every now and then the sun comes out.
Aviles is a pleasant old town with surprising streets and squares and beautiful old houses. We enjoy. Because of all that wandering around, we get hungry so when we see an eatery on the Plaza Major we soon enjoy a burger and chips. On the way back we stop at a bakery where we can’t resist the tempting pastries. They turn out to taste delicious.
At 5 pm I walk back to the center. In a shop window we saw this afternoon a beautiful beanie with neckie, irresistible. The store was closed but is now open and I walk back with my new purchase. Of course I also take a look at the nearby Albergue. Only the hospitaleros (hosts) are present, no pilgrim is to be seen and I am allowed to look around. In my faltering Spanish I ask about the crowds in May. Then it’s still low season so reservations will not be necessary. I say goodbye, see you in May and get a friendly wave. Back in the motorhome I tell Dick about my experiences, show my purchase and then I walk to the other side of the square, to a China Bazaar. In a city I don’t get much rest.
It’s a nice looking store and although I don’t buy anything, it’s fun to walk through. At least for me because Dick sees things differently and if possible he won’t come along.
It remains busy in this car park and all parking spaces for motorhomes fill up.
The next morning we have to knock on the side of a van for some time to wake up the owner. He is parked at the dump site and before we leave we want to get rid of our dirty water. Fortunately, after some time there is some movement and another 10 minutes later the van leaves and we can empty and fill our tanks. Again we drive through a very hilly landscape where my app indicates that the Camino del Norte winds along the road.
After Ribadeo we leave the coast and climb higher and higher inland. The sky closes, fog surrounds us and visibility drops to 4 feet. But when we descend blue skies and sun appear. It is therefore good to arrive in Betanzos. Last year we were here too, but then we arrived with rain and stayed in a different parking lot. Now we are parked on a large sandy plain near an Eroski supermarket between the passenger cars. It is quiet in the city but also boring. How different it was last May when we arrived on a Gallic holiday. Everyone walked around, enjoying the music played in the square or sitting on an outside terrace with a drink while the rain poured down from the sky.
Still, it’s nice to wander around and get some fresh air. On our way back we walk to the Eroski to buy food. We see many pig heads at the butcher and wonder who is buying this. We limit ourselves to a meal salad and bread. Of course we call Hannah to hear how things went today. In the park where Henk and Hannah have their holiday home, the boundary markers have been hammered to indicate their terrain. They got more land. We eat simple, German bratwurst, cheese and baguette and it tastes great.
Friday January 27th we leave at 8.30 am and drive straight through beautiful Galicia. Everywhere are Eucalyptus trees, the landscape is green and very hilly. A lone pilgrim has to push his bicycle up the hill, it’s too steep to cycle up.
At 12 pm we arrive in Muxia. The ocean is in front of us, the sun is shining brightly and the sky is getting bluer. It is 52 degrees but there is a strong wind. In the middle of the center, between the parked buses, we find the parking lot where we can spend the night. Our Frankia gets a spot here.
Soon we leave the narrow streets of the small town and walk along the jagged coastline to the “Nosa Senora de Barca”, a stone’s throw away. This church, which was completely destroyed by a fire in 2013 but has since been restored. It appears to be closed, but we can take a look inside through a window.
Of course we climb over the rock-covered plain towards the waterline where the waves crash on the rocks. Here we find two rocks: the Pedra dos Cadris, a sail-like rock and the Pedra de Abelar, the boat-like rock.
Of course we take pictures and because I read somewhere that you have to crawl under the Pedra dos Cadris 7 times, I do that. Later I read that you have to go under it 9 times and it does not give a blessing to your pilgrimage but is good for back pain. Not really logical because you have to wriggle in strange turns to get under the rock. But I get a second chance to crawl under when I arrive here as a pilgrim.
On our way back we pass the monument “A Ferida” a cracked, high rising stone. The crack in the stone symbolizes the wound caused by the terrible oil spill caused by the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige in 2002.
After a moment of reflection, we climb the hill next to the church from where we have a magnificent view of Muxia and the Costa del Morte.
At the highest point on the hill stands a stone cross and close to it is also a geocache hidden en we also search this one. Luckily we do find this geocache. It is striking to see that every available spot towards the coastline is used for vegetable gardens. Finally we are back at the motorhome. We warm ourselves with a cup of hot chocolate because despite the lovely sun it is quite cold due to the strong wind. Because the weather is so nice, I want to walk to Fisterre tomorrow. In earlier times people thought it was the end of the world, it’s a distance of 18 miles. To prove that Muxia is my starting point, I walk to the Albergue Municipal where I get a stamp. Then I pack my backpack. I am ready to walk tomorrow.
Unfortunately it starts to rain late in the evening and early morning there is still rain so instead of getting up at 6 am I stay in bed. The walk to Fisterre will have to take place at another time, hopefully in June. At 8.30 am Saturday morning the sun is shining again, but the temperature dropped to 43 degrees, so my intention not to walk today does not change. After breakfast we leave Muxia and head for Santiago de Compostela. We decide to continue to Lugo. Our journey takes us along the Camino Frances through the towns of A Salceda, Arzua and Melide, places that I still vividly remember. It is therefore very wise that in May I will walk another Camino.
After the motorhome has found a place in the parking lot in Lugo, we walk to the center via endless steps. We are warmly wrapped because despite a bright sun, the temperature feels like 36 degrees. It’s freezing cold and I’m glad I didn’t go for a walk to Fisterre. After walking past the imposing city walls, we enter the center through one of the city gates, where we enjoy wandering around. It is quiet but with the current temperatures that is not surprising. To warm up we have lunch in the restaurant of a Hyper Froid. The menu consist of vegetables with egg, a burger, rice with bell pepper and Tiramisu. It’s tasty but it’s a lot of food, so it is good that we walk around some time after this meal. We are not back until 5 pm. Immediately we install the insulation mat in front of the window and set the vehicle heater to a high temperature to warm up again. I don’t have to prepare a meal anymore, we ate enough this afternoon.
After a frosty night we get up at 8.30 am on Sunday January 29th. The sky is steel blue and clouds are gone. The thermometer shows 30 degrees. To our surprise this parking lot has water. We fill up our tank and then we leave. The road is quiet and the snow covers the high mountains we drive through. Even on the high mountain passes, the tallest is 4000 feet, there is no snow on the road.
At 11.50 am we arrive in Astorga. No one is parked in the area between the apartment buildings, so we continue to a laundromat where I unload our laundry. Unfortunately I can’t start washing immediately because all machines are occupied. I wait inside, finally load two machines and supervise the drying process.
Meanwhile Dick is vacuuming our motorhome. He does that considerably more precisely than I do. When his chores are done he arrives with a pot of coffee, I am spoiled. I don’t know how he can time it so precisely, but if the laundry can be taken out of the dryer and needs to be folded, he is back again and soon we walk back with all the folded laundry. A moment later we stand in our favorite spot.
It’s time to walk around Astorga. It is much more pleasant than yesterday with a temperature of 47 degrees and plenty of sun. After checking the albergue de peregrinos (it’s still there and Dick hears all the stories again) we walk over the city walls and enjoy the sun and a view of the wide surroundings and the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Then we walk back to the main square. When it is warmer, there are terraces everywhere, but now the square is empty. A little further on is an Irish Pub where we can eat. The many tourists and pilgrims may have influenced the mealtimes. We have a good meal and the glass of wine is delicious after the walk. Unfortunately we cannot buy cheese on our walk back.
The supermercado is closed and the outdoorshop is even closed until March. Although the plan was to visit a few towns on the camino Frances (I want to show Dick as much as possible), we decide different because the narrow roads through the wild mountain area are better to explore in the summer.
We change our route for the umpteenth time and after breakfast on Monday January 30th we drive to Vitoria Gasteiz, the capital of Spanish Basque Country. It has frozen, last night it was only 22 degrees and you feel that, our heating is on all night. The insulation mat is frozen stiff, it is almost impossible to roll it up and I am glad I manage to store it in the empty crate.
Moments later we ride the camino in the opposite direction.
Time and time again I see places where I walked. Again Dick is overloaded with stories about my camino experiences. Everything comes back to life.
Soon we pass Leon and we drive up the Meseta, the at least 125 miles long high plateau with endless agricultural fields and of course the camino follows this plain. The view is a bit monotonous but the sun is shining brightly in a steel blue sky and I only see memories. In Burgos we leave the meseta, drink a coffee and then drive on. After endless tunnels through rugged rocky areas we arrive in Vitoria Gasteiz. The parking here is much more pleasant to spend the night than in Burgos. The large Eroski supermercado on the edge of the car park is a pleasure to see. I have never seen such a beautiful vegetable department. We walk between the vegetables and finally know what to choose for our meal and then walk back. We are too late to walk to the center and now that the sun disappears behind the buildings, the temperature drops to 37 degrees. But inside it is pleasantly warm, especially after placing our isolation mat, and we enjoy the evening.
On the last day of January we get up at 8 am. The sky is completely cloudy but it is dry and there is no wind. Fortunately, the clouds disappear quickly and when we drive to Pamplona we see some blue sky and the sun appears. Fortunately, because now we can take the mountainpass at Roncesvalles on our way to Saint Jan Pied de Port in France. After filling up in Spain where the diesel is really cheaper than in France, we start climbing the mountains.
We pass the albergue in Zumiri and a little later we stop in the mountains. Here the camino crosses the mountain road.
This road is clear of snow but the surrounding landscape is covered with it and a little later I am standing in the snow on the camino.
This is completely different from the path I walked in August. It’s no wonder that the pilgrims we see now all walk along the edge of the road instead of taking the snow-covered trails.
Later at the pilgrimsoffice in St Jean I hear that many trails are even completely closed in winter. The higher we get the narrower the road becomes. Especially in the small villages the road is so narrow because of the many snow that has pushed away and I am glad there is no oncoming traffic.
In Roncesvalles it snows and we drive into a thick fog. Now you should not be here as a pilgrim.
But it is beautiful outside, the frost has frozen the fog on the branches and the landscape turned into a winter wonderland. The long descent towards France is slow because there are regularly slabs of snow on the road and we must descend carefully. The snow and fog disappears when we are at the height of 1300 feet. Blue sky appears and so does the sun. The parking in St Jean Pied de Port is quiet (there are only two other motorhomes) and we park the Frankia in the full sun. Then we walk into town. Unfortunately everything is closed, not only because of the lunch break but also because many shops, under which our “Boutique de Pelerin” are closed for months. They open again in March. It’s a pity because I would love to look inside.
The church is open so of course we light a candle (out of gratitude) and then we walk at our leisure the medieval street and enjoy the sun and the warmth. Unlike Roncesvalles, where it was winter, here it feels like spring. It is 50 degrees. With these low temperatures it goes fast with our propanetank and already a few days ago our French tank indicated to be empty, so we walk to the adjacent supermarket where we exchange it for a full tank.
Late in the afternoon I walk to the Bureau de Peregrinos to get a new credential (Pilgrim’s passport). I need this for my new pilgrimage. The sky is still steel blue and the reflection in the river of the church, surrounded by old houses, is beautiful. No wonder you fall in love with this town.
On Wednesday, February 1st, the sun shines early and because there is no wind, the thermometer shows 46 degrees. We are back in France so we have breakfast with a fresh baguette and then leave. We drive east along the imposing, snow-capped mountain range of the Pyrenees. At 1.30 pm we arrive in Lourdes where we park our motorhome in the center and walk to the “Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes”.
In 1858 Holy Mary appeared in a cave to the girl Bernadette and those apparitions kept repeating themselves several times. Since then, Lourdes has been a leading Catholic sanctuary, visited by at least 6 million people every year. Visitors caress the walls of the cave, place candles and drink the water from the fountains, which are said to have medicinal effects. However, it is too cold at this time of year, so when we arrive at the Sanctuary, only a few people walk around. That’s why we can admire in peace the two basilicas that dominate the large entrance square. Of course we walk into the churches and climb many stairs because one basilica is built on top of the other. There are many images of Mary to be seen.
The Mary content is too high for us. We prefer the Spanish cathedrals with a single Mary and other statues, such as Apostle Santiago. We have more with that. We don’t light a candle because the prices are absurdly high and we can’t drink the water, it is shut off because of the frost. So we walk along the walls of the small cave, which I vaguely remember.
About 40 years ago we visited this cave, but I don’t remember anything about the imposing square and the basilicas. After two hours we have seen enough and walk back through the town. It is clear that the season has not yet started, because almost the entire street is dead, the shops are closed with shutters and only a single souvenir stall is open.
Back at the motorhome we decide not to stay and after looking for a destination further north we leave Lourdes. At 4 pm we park our Frankia in Arzacq. A small town with beautiful arcades. When we drove away this morning we left the cable in the electrical box, causing the cable to break. It’s clear we are not used to be connected. While Dick repairs this cable, I walk around town to look for a geocache. Despite the steel blue sky and bright sun it is cold but the walk to another lavoir is fun.
In the evening we have dinner in a small restaurant across the street. The food is good.
After another freezing cold night, we have breakfast with, of course, a fresh baquette and then continue our journey to the north. We drive inter-village on quiet country roads through the region Les Landes. A beautiful road where farmlands are interspersed with dense forests.
In Artigues pres Bordeaux we park next to a Romanesque church, drink coffee and then go out. There are some nice geocaches in the area.
The weather is good because there is not a breath of wind and in the afternoon the temperature rises to 59 degrees. The hike is fun and the geocaches require me to climb trees several times. Always fun, especially if you manage to get hold of the hidden geocache. At the end of the afternoon we are back.
Friday, February 3rd, we wake up at 8 am by the bells of the Romanesque church. The sky is still steel blue and the sun is shining brightly. The temperature is only 34 degrees, last night it froze hard.
After a breakfast with old Spanish bread we leave and drive over the Route du Vin through the Bordeaux region. Unfortunately, the vines are still in winter outfit and we only see bare branches.
When we arrive in Rochefort, we can’t park at our usual parking, the place is cordoned off because work is in progress, so we drive to a parking near the shipyard where there is plenty of space. Unfortunately, the steel blue sky and sun disappear behind a thick cloud cover, so the temperature now does not exceed 45 degrees. But nevertheless we walk around this nice town on the banks of the Charente and famous for its maritime past. Not only were ropes made here for the Royal Navy, the Ecole de Medicine Navale was also founded in Rochefort. Here, for the first time in the world, surgeons were trained to go on warships. Today, a museum has been set up in this school, unfortunately it’s still closed.
Of course I walk to the Lidl at the end of the afternoon where I buy green beans and cordon bleu, we have dinner tonight. It remains quiet at this place, we stay here with three motorhomes. It may even be a better spot than the one between the apartment buildings. While the full moon shines on the motorhome, we sleep deeply.
Saturday, February 4th, the sky is gray and the temperature does not rise above 41 degrees. We dump and fill up our clean water tank and then set off. Before noon we arrive in Vouvant, a small village with a large Romanesque church, founded in the 11th century. Time has stood still here. Medieval streets are connected by squares and alleys and the impressive tower and fortress walls take you back to times gone by. Fortunately, there are some geocaches hidden in the most special places so that we can explore the village properly. We enjoy wandering around. Special is the Romanesque church with an imposing portal.
Above the doors are representations of both the Last Supper and the Ascension. Thanks to the film running in the crypt, we are alerted to this. Of course we also come to a lavoir. This time one where water was heated in large cauldrons. These lavoirs were public washing places that had to be paid for. Actually only the rich paid for its use, the poor could wash their clothes for free but….they had to wash in the dirt water of the rich.
End of the afternoon we are back at our motorhome, parked on the outskirts of the town. We don’t stay long because half past six we walk back to the town. To get to the restaurant Maitre Panetier, we climb the steep steps carved into the rock to the Melusine Tower from where we have a magnificent view of the river meandering below us. We enjoy a delicious meal in the only restaurant that is open and enjoy the French cuisine. Returning to the motorhome in the dark, we avoid the rocky steps and walk down the road. A little safer with the wine we had.
We do not wake up until half past eight on Sunday morning. We slept deeply. It is therefore dead quiet at this parking where only one other motorhome stays. To get a baguette I climb the rock steps to the high tower. This is considerably shorter than taking the normal road and after a good breakfast (Dick once again boiled an egg) we drive away. Unfortunately the sky is still gray but as the morning progresses more and more blue skies appear and the sun breaks through.
We drive further north on dead quiet roads and park our Frankia in the Breton village of Grand Fougeray. The sun is shining brightly now and so we put on our hiking boots and let ourselves be guided by the geocaches hidden here.
We are not disappointed because we see the nice places in the town and enjoy a wonderful walk in the woods. Also in this village is a big tower. Unfortunately everything is closed so we can’t eat out but the quiche with meatballs tastes too.
We are not in a quiet spot because from 5 am the next morning it is very busy due to passing cars. It has frozen hard again last night and with difficulty we roll up the insulation mat. After breakfast we drive away. After 62 miles we arrive in Pontorson. Time to do laundry so after the motorhome is parked next to the supermarket I collect our laundry.
When Dick has fetched a shopping cart, we load everything and walk to the laundromat in the front. All machines are available and the washing machines are loaded and after 2.5 hours we have a clean bed and everything is stored in the cupboards again. In the afternoon we walk through Pontorson, well packed because despite the radiant sun there is a chilly wind. But if we can shelter from the wind it is pleasantly warm. After 2.5 hours we are back, do some shopping at the supermarket and Dick puts the geocaches in the computer.
In the evening we hear on TV that there has been a huge earthquake in Turkey. A big contrast because we enjoy an undisturbed trip. The night is clear and it freezes hard.
Tuesday February 7th we don’t wake up until half past eight. The supermarket is already open and I can buy a baguette. Again the sun is shining but it is icy cold. After our breakfast we leave and after one last look at Le Mont St Michel we drive into Normandy. We will visit the Mont when it is warmer.
It is not busy on the road, but a passing car manages to throw up a stone which, again, creates a star in our windscreen. Already the third on this trip.
It seems as if we are driving in Alaska where we could not avoid thrown stones hitting our window. When we arrive in Cherbourg at half past twelve there is nowhere to park. Beside the French motorhomes parked for the winter, every available spot is occupied with passenger cars. Even at the dump site cars are parked. There must be something going on in “La Cité de la Mer”. It’s a maritime museum in the cruise terminal of Cherbourg, built in 1933.
Fortunately two passenger cars leave so that we can park our Frankia and after having a coffee, a better spot becomes available and we quickly park our Frankia. It is only 36 degrees but the sun is shining so a little later we walk into Cherbourg.
It’s a town we can never get enough of. Whatever the time of year, there is always something to discover in the narrow streets of the old center. Previously we discovered here Parc Liais with its exotic plant species and huge ferns. End of the afternoon we are back and we warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. At 6.30 pm we walk back to the center and we have dinner in restaurant Khao Thai. We are the only guests but the curry is excellent so next time we are in Cherbourg we will return. On our walk back we enjoy the reflection of the lights in the harbor before we go to bed.
Wednesday February 8th we are wake up at 8 am. It is 27 degrees and we are happy with our insulation mat. After finally leaving the traffic chaos in Cherbourg, we drive on country roads to Honfleur. Hardly anyone stays on the motorhome parking. It is already 34 degrees and there is no wind, the sky is steel blue and the sun is shining so we quickly walk to the center of Honfleur. It’s not really busy, only on the terraces that are full in the sun, all seats are occupied. Drinking a cup of coffee is therefore not an option. So we walk on and enjoy. We are back at the end of the afternoon. My shoes appear to be smeared with dog poop so I first spend some time cleaning my soles with twigs and later some water. At times like this, dogs are not my best friends. In the evening, of course, I buy us a Turkish meal, kebab with fries. After our walk in the cold outdoors it tastes great.
Thursday February 9th it is still freezing in the morning. Even the water of the inner harbor is frozen, but we enjoy a beautiful sunrise.
After a nice breakfast and filling our watertank, we leave Honfleur and drive along the Seine to Rouen where we can cross the river.
At 12.30 pm we are in Beauvais and walk into the city center. Because in 1940 two-thirds of the city center went up in flames as a result of a bombing raid, very little remains of the ancient houses from the Middle Ages. Fortunately, the impressive cathedrale St Pierre was spared. Of course we walk in but don’t stay there very long.
It is so incredibly cold inside that we are numb to our bones. It is a relief when we are outside again where the temperature is really not higher than 36 degrees. Before we walk back to the motorhome, we buy some food at the large supermarket and I walk to a geocache that is hidden further down the road. In the evening we have stew of Chinese cabbage with sausages. It tastes great and suits the current temperatures. Due to the low temperatures, our propane tank is empty again, so we can exchange it before we leave France.
When Dick wakes up the next morning he thinks it’s 8 am and we get up. After showering it is still very dark outside. Then it turns out that it is an hour earlier, the alarm clock is not set properly or Dick has not looked at it properly. The supermarket is still closed so we eat old bread from Spain and leave for Paris. At 10 am we pass Charles de Gaulle airport and a little later we leave the motorway and continue on small country roads.
At 1 pm we arrive in L’Epine. Because the clouds have dissipated and the sun is shining brightly, we go out. We have found some geocaches before, but apparently never put them in the computer, so we look for them again and have a nice walk. No punishment with the admittedly cold, but radiant weather.
Again we enter the imposing church. I like to be here. It is a place to express your gratitude and to drink the ice cold water from the water source. There is also a statue of St Jacques (St James).
We see a prayer. It’s moving so I’m sending it to my fellow pilgrims. Immediately I get an app back from Danielle from Brasil, my walking buddy. Back in the motorhome I have to clean our soles again. Apparently when we walked the Stations of the Cross we hit clay soil because a thick layer sticks under our shoes and is difficult to remove. Only after rooting with twigs do I manage to get our soles clean again. In the evening the cathedrale is beautifully lit, but I don’t feel like walking there anymore. I will do that at a time of year when it no longer freezes so hard.
Saturday, February 11th, it is still freezing when we get up and we see the sun appear as a red sphere above the horizon. The bakery is nearby and open at 5 am so I buy bread and then we leave L’Epine. We drive to Verdun where we exchange our French propane tank for a full one. Then we continue our way to Dudelange in Luxembourg. We haven’t been able to fill up with water since Honfleur and we found out that in Dudelange is water. Here we also refuel cheaply and because we are on our way to Mettlach, Germany, this is hardly a detour. With a full tank of clean water, a full diesel tank and empty waste watertanks we drive the last part to Mettlach through a hilly area on a narrow road between the woods. Every now and then we can catch a glimpse of the river Saar meandering below us. No one is parked in the parking lot of the Abtei Brau van Mettlach, so we have plenty of choice where we want to stay.
Then I walk to the tourist information in town to pay for the parking lot, it’s 5 euro. Dick stays in the motorhome. Again he will clean the windows. Not a luxury because they are filthy and he continues to work on the inventory of the dive shop. Because it’s early afternoon and I didn’t walk much for a few days, I keep walking from the village to a few shops further away. Here I look around before walking back home. The weather is significantly less than the last few days. The grey sky is not really inspiring, but there is no wind and with 41 degrees it is good walking weather.
When I get home around 4 pm, Dick has already installed the insulation mat for the window and cleaned everything. Of course I talk Dick’s head off, he needs to know what I ‘ve been through ad then write down my experiences. Suddenly it is 6.30 pm and time to walk to the Abtei Brau. After all, the reason to go to Mettlach is the delicious food here. And we are not disappointed. The steak (for Dick) and the schnitzel (for me) and the freshly tapped brewery beer are excellent again.
Sunday February 12th we wake up at 7 am. That’s the result when you get up at this time two days in a row. The supermarket is closed on Sundays and it is dead quiet in the parking lot. The drinking water is still shut off, but because we filled up in Dudelange yesterday, we don’t need water anymore. Along the banks of the Saar we drive to Trier and then we get on the autobahn. That’s why we’re making progress because within 4 hours we’ve driven 164 miles and we arrive in Bruggen, Germany.
There are quite a lot of motorhomes parked, but there is still room. Soon we walk to the center of Bruggen. Although everything is closed, many people walk around to get some fresh air. Despite the fact that the sky is gray, it doesn’t really feel cold outside. Because there is not a breath of wind, it is around 48 degrees. After walking around the town, we discover that a number of geocaches are hidden in the forest 2 miles away. Dick doesn’t feel like going out again, but I still have too much energy and I have to practice walking, so I want to go out again.
Dick loads the geocaches into my GPS and then I set off. It turns out to be a nice forest walk. I don’t meet anyone and walk all alone. Apparently people limit their walk to the town.
When twilight is not so long in coming, I’ve found all the geocaches and after some calculation I also found the place where the bonus cache is hidden and I walk back. Just before dark I am home. In the evening I buy Turkish food across the road. It tastes delicious as always and I enjoy not having to cook. Being outside so long makes me feel rozy so I am in bed before 10 pm. Dick stays up longer, but he gets by with less sleep.
A complex of houses is being built next to the parking lot so it’s not an option to sleep long in the morning. At 7 am we are awakened by the sounds on the construction site. We still have some old croissants from Spain and eat them for breakfast and after we have handed in a few German bottles and collected the deposit we are on our way. We drive on narrow country roads and arrive in Winterswijk, Netherlands at 11.30 am
Because our Dutch propane tank is also empty, we fill it at gas filling station Wilmerink. The filling here is much cheaper than in Rotterdam. Then we drive to Obelink (an outdoorshop) where we walk around and because our restaurant Enzovoort in Varsseveld is closed on Mondays, we also have lunch there.
Thereafter we drive to Varsseveld where we park the motorhome in front of the sports hall. We have a nice chat with the owners of the butterfly dogs that we often meet when we are here.
Because the sun has dispelled the gray sky and it is not really cold, I walk through the town in the afternoon, find a geocache and at Dick’s insistence I make an appointment at the hairdresser for tomorrow morning. It’s time because my hair is so long now that it flutters in my eyes. In the evening we only have a sandwich, read a book and watch the news.
The next morning, after breakfast, I walk to the hairdresser where I get my haircut at 9 am. What a wonderful start of Valentine’s Day. Then we drive back home. The weather is radiant. That’s nice because now we can unload everything properly at home.
After the motorhome is empty and everything is piled up in house, I start cleaning the roof of the Frankia. Not a tedious chore when the weather is so nice. It feels like spring. When the roof is clean I start cleaning everything inside while Dick continues to clean the outside of the camper. We are not in a hurry because tomorrow we will bring the motorhome to the garage in Amsterdam so we can do everything at ease. Fortunately, there is a place behind our house to park.
While Dick brings the Frankia to Amsterdam the next day, I scrub our carpet in the garden. It can dry well because the sun is shining. Rain is expected again after tomorrow.
We drove 3725 miles, the E-bikes didn’t leave the garage during this trip and despite the very cold weather we walked 112 miles.
In the following days, Dick books a train ticket from Paris to Hendaye early May. Before that we will spend two more days together in Paris.
So Dick can wave me goodbye from the trainstation in Paris.
My second pilgrimage will become reality.
Although my memories of the first pilgrimage are still very fresh in my mind and I think back on it a lot, the best remedy for nostalgia for a pilgrimage is to walk one again.