All posts by Keyman

Camino Portugués de Costa – Spain – Days 10, 11 & 12

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

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Day 10 – Pontevedra to Caldas De Reis – Spain – 21.3km
Today the trail was quite straightforward following the road out of Pontevedra. As usual, I was on the lookout for breakfast and found a cafe popular with peregrinos. But there I ran into a dutch lady I’d met in the Porto Albergue the night before I’d begun my Camino. It was refreshing to hear English being spoken fluently again and not the occasional forced second or third language.

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While the Camino Portugués has some views, much of the experience is cultural or spiritual, and it’s known for the camaraderie between pilgrims. However, due to COVID, few English speakers were tempted to this side of Europe. This and Americans not already resident in the EU weren’t allowed at all. This has led my Camino to be a contemplative and somewhat solitary experience.

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Once out of Pontevedra it was a quick march through country roads before several kilometres of slow climbing on a dirt path before heading back into villages. The trail led me past fields of grapevines, and even taking me under some.

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There were few views today on the way to Caldas de Reis, and tonight I have a room to myself in a hostel. Caldas de Reis is a town known for its hot springs. In many places along the trail, there are washing pools with running water for pilgrims to clean their clothes or rest weary feet in the cool water. In Caldas de Reis, however, I found a pool filled from a hot spring. It was heaven and great for the leg muscles. I saw others using it too, some stripping down to their underwear and getting right in.

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Day 11 – Caldas De Reis to Padrón – Spain – 18.9km

After eating the breakfast left for me by my hosts, I headed out across Caldas del Reis on quiet streets as it’s Domingo – Sunday.

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I found a coffee and took it with me as I headed out of town, tossing the cup in the last bin I saw. For the next few kilometres, the path climbed 150m, although it wasn’t intense, and in the cool wind, the climbing kept me warm. Today, the first part of the trail is mainly dirt and runs through forest, so not a lot to see.

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I passed a rest stop hankering for a coffee, but it was so full of waiting pilgrims I decided to push on. The path weaved across a highway before running beside a motorway until Valga where it began to descend through villages with fields of grapevines, corn and other crops.

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Still hankering for a coffee, I stopped at a cafe in San Miguel de Valga. While I was there, a Dutch guy arrived, and we got talking. After having an early lunch, we left the cafe and chatted for the last few kilometres before arriving in the outskirts of Padrón, barely remembering the walk. There was a large Sunday market going on in town and masses of people everywhere. With the current COVID threat in Spain, this made me nervous, so and I suggested we take a less direct route through town. At the end of the market areas, we went out separate ways, and I located my hostel before heading out to explore.

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Padrón is a classic little town with a central old town like many places across Europe. In my exploration, I ran into the Dutch guy once more, and we sat for a beer and some food before he headed off to his hostel outside of town.

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Day 12 – Padrón to Santiago de Compostela – Spain – 25.6km

On the final day on this latest adventure, I headed out from the hostel and along the dark streets of Padrón. Today, I’d read, would be one of the less interesting days, as the trail begins the slow climb into Santiago de Compostela and right from the beginning the urban sprawl began. After five kilometres, I arrived at A Escravitude, where I found this Igrexa.

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For the next 15 or so kilometres, I walked through leafy suburbs on thin roads making my way uphill towards the centre of the city.

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From here there are few views, and those are mainly of low hills and tree-covered suburbs.

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When I entered the main built-up area of the city, the path led me along the main drag. With more stone buildings around, the heat rose, and I found a vending station to buy a drink. The road then led me up to the Central Park, which in turn led me into Cidade Vella – Old Town in Galician. Cidade Vella in Santiago is rather large and is a spiderweb of walkways with many shops, restaurants and cafes. I found my way to the official ending point of the walk and emerged in the grand square to perhaps 20 groups of pilgrims spread out in front of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela.

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I found a shady spot at the back of the square and sat down for a rest, watching pilgrims in the square languish about taking photos as more groups arrived. After my break, I located the pilgrim office, filled out the relevant online form and collected my official certificates of completion. I then located my hostel and checked in before returning to find lunch. Later, I got a late afternoon photo of the cathedral.

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I then ran into a Spanish girl who I’d seen walking and discovered she spoke English. I sat down for some beers with her and another Spanish guy. Later that evening, we gathered a group of Spanish people, some who could speak English, and went for dinner and more beers. Much fun was had.

I spent the next day wandering around the old town of Santiago and eating local food. While it’s served many places, I located a suitable place to try to Pulpo – Octopus – which I rather enjoyed.

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Final Impressions of Camino Portugués de Costa

I have completed two hikes this year, and this would have been my first had COVID not caused it be moved after the Tour du Mont Blanc. This was a long-distance, low altitude, cultural experience with some views, while the TMB was a challenging, high peak climbing, massive mountain hike with amazing views. While I very much enjoyed the cultural experience of the Camino, it would have been better to do it first as the TMB took away some of its grandeur. That and with many English speakers avoiding the region meant fewer friendships were made and more of a lonely experience.

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But, in the spirit of the Camino, it was still an enjoyable cultural experience. It opened my eyes to the beauty of northern Portugal, and allowed me to experience Spain. The food in both countries was amazing and the people friendly and understanding of my low level of Spanish. I have studied the language to a beginner level and it was enough to survive, but it has pushed me to reach the next level before I head to Spain for my next Camino, the Camino Frances in a year.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Spain Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 3, 4 & 5

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Day 6 – Villadesuso to Baiona – Spain – 14.6km

I left the Albergue looking for coffee and breakfast as I walked through the Villadesuso with nice views of the coast. I then ran into a Portuguese couple I’ve seen for the past two days and walked with them to Mougás, 2km away, where I found a cafe. After eating, I continued on along the side of the road, occasionally dipping down to the seaside before climbing back again. I met a carver outside his shop who was very friendly and offered me a stamp for my credential. We chatted for a bit, and I bought a Camino shell from him for my pack.

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I continued along the coast, and when I reached the village of As Mariñas, with its small lighthouse, the trail climbed a hill. It was again nice to climb something, but it wasn’t difficult.

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On the other side, the trail led down into the edge of a built-up area with views out onto the bay.

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Further along and found the Portuguese couple at a pilgrim rest area. We walked on together for 3km before arriving into Baiona, a large tourist town on the beach. They continued on while I located my Albergue and showered before heading into town for lunch and a beer.

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Afterward, I explored the tight streets, investigated the front of the castle on the peninsula, including the beaches on each side. I then went for a walk to the end of the bay, where I climbed a hill to the statue of the Virgin Mary – Virgen de la Roca.

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The height also gave me great views across the bay.

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Day 7 – Baiona to Vigo – Spain – 30km

As much of today will be a slow process of walking into increasingly built-up urban sprawl, I was prepared for a boring day. I walked out of my hostel, and along the road to a local cafe for coffee, before finding a panaderia for some fresh baked goods. I then walked down the coastline road to the end of the shops before following it inland and up the hill towards A Ramallosa. After several kilometres through back streets, I came to Nigrán and, on the far side of a roundabout, found the statue of a pilgrim.

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After Nigrán, the path began to climb but remained in the sprawl. As before, the height offered some views, this time across the bay of Ría de Vigo to two large islands, Illa de San Martiño and Illa de Monteagudo.

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The path continued along, giving more views of the islands, but grew more steadily built up. I rounded the edge of the bay and entered the main built-up areas after Coruxo and began to see tall buildings in the distance. For much of the rest of the day, I walked through busy central city streets and roads. There is a fair amount to explore in Vigo, but it was hot, and I was footsore from all the pavement, so didn’t hang around. I then discovered my hostel was in the old town, a fair way away from the trail, so put my head down and marched on. I eventually arrived to find my hostel in what appeared to be a run-down area with plenty of graffiti and empty buildings. But after checking into the hostel and showering, I went for a wander. I turned a corner and came out on an open area filled with cafes, and on the far side, it opened into a large commercial area.

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I hung around the area, chilling out at a restaurant, enjoying people watching and seeing the culture of the area as I drank beer. When darkness fell, other bars and restaurants opened, including a pizza place. I have enjoyed local food but had a hankering I just had to sate.

Day 8 – Vigo to Redondela – Spain – 17.5km

After breakfast in a local cafe, I headed a couple of kilometres up the hill back to the main path and continued on. The heat started early today, but it’s only a short day, so I wasn’t in a hurry. Over the next couple of kilometres, the path climbed up to about 150m and stayed there for much of the rest of the day, allowing me to enjoy the views along the way.

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The trail and the views continued as I walked through the higher urban areas.

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The pavement joined Senda de Agua – water track – a dirt path through the forest, past a small waterfall, and this painted rock.

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After several hundred meters, the track came out into the suburbs again, giving a view of Ponte de Rande before disappearing back into the forest.

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I began descending and emerged at another urban area near a church – the Igrexa parroquial de Santo André de Cedeira – with another view across the harbour.

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From there, it was all downhill into Redondela, which is the official end to the Portuguese Coastal Camino. But this isn’t the end of my walk, the Central Route from Porto also stops here, and this is the trail I’ll follow the rest of the way to Santiago. The heat is apparent, and so is the fact the two trails have connected, as there are many more pilgrims on the streets and in cafes.

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After finding my Albergue, I showered and headed back into town, where I found the Celtic Lead Irish Bar and enjoyed lunch and a couple of beers. I then met up with a Portuguese couple I’d crossed paths with since Esposende, and we wandered the hot streets before finding our way back to the Celtic Luad for more beer.

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Day 9 – Redondela to Pontevedra – Spain – 19.7km

As I prepared for today’s walk, I watched several groups of pilgrims go past in the dark outside the hostel. I’m up early today as it’s going to be another hot one. And now I’m on the Central Route, the number of pilgrims has noticeably increased. I head out and follow the cobbled town roads on my way out of town. After passing several peregrinos, I stopped on the main road for breakfast and a coffee. I then raced on along the road for a short time before coming to a street vendor selling fruit and drinks, but more importantly, offering stamps. I stopped for another coffee before heading off again, passing a group of five Spanish girls on the side of a busy highway. The path then led through a small village with a pair of Albergues and yet more pilgrims. The hard road turned to a dirt road surrounded by trees and began climbing slowly as it made its way around the end of the Ria de Vigo bay.

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The trail headed back into a built-up area before heading down a steep downhill to the main road. At the end of the bay, I came into the village of Arcade and crossed the river that fed into the bay.

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On the bridge, I ran into the Portuguese couple. I walked with them for the rest of the day following the road through several villages as we made our way to Pontevedra, the capital city of Galicia. We stayed in the same Albergue and after showering we walked around the city to see its sights, two grand churches…

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…a bridge, a convent, and the ruins of an ancient church.

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Next, Days 10, 11 & 12, where I finish my pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Portugal & Spain – Days 3, 4 & 5

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 0, 1 & 2

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Day 3 – Esposende to Viana Do Castelo – Portugal – 28.5km

With yet another hot day coming, I headed out from the hostel and quickly found a coffee and breakfast. I then headed to the beach and followed the wooden boardwalk along the seaside. It was just early enough for holidaymakers to begin making their way down to the beach. But, it would also be the last beach I’d see for the rest of the day as the path cut inland through suburban roads to the town of Marinhas.

I then followed backroads through several villages, with only the occasional view of the ocean. I came through the township of Belinho and crossed the main road, heading between two buildings with interesting stonework. The houses here are all very different, many are covered in patterned tiles or stonework. I’m told the tiling is very common in Northern Portugal.

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I continued on for another couple of kilometres making my way to the Rio Neiva after which there is a stiff climb, the first on this hike. However, a recent flood had wiped out the bridge, so a detour took me well down towards the coast to another one. On the other side, the path led me back up the hill where I passed the Italian walkers I’d met the day before. I then climbed a hill near Castelo do Neiva, a church with a fair view along the coast and ocean.

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The trail then led me up over a small peak – 155m – then through a eucalyptus forest where a sign pointed me to a house and a stamp. On the other side of the hill, I came to a large old monastery, Mosterio de São Romão de Neiva, where I stopped at a pilgrim’s stop for some water. There are many Pilgrim stops along the trail, with stone seats, water fonts, and sometimes pools to wash clothes or dip hot feet into.

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Then, after the township of Chafé, I climbed a steep set of roads and came down with a view of Viana do Castelo across the Rio Lima, including the church on the hill, Santuário de Santá Luzia.

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And a closer look…

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I crossed Ponte Eiffel, a bridge built by Gustave Eiffel, I’m sure I don’t need to mention any of his other projects. The bridge is near a kilometre long with a thin walkway on either side. My accommodation was right on the other side, so I got a good shot of it from the other side, including the bay.

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At the hostel, I had originally booked a bed in a 20-bed room, but due to COVID, they had closed it, upgrading me for free to a room with four beds, which I had all to myself.

Day 4 – Viana Do Castelo to Caminha – Portugal – 28.4km

After breakfast at the hostel, I headed out through town following the high route, which passed below the Santuário. After a couple of kilometres on the same kind of road with only the occasional view, I decided to detour down to the beachfront, where I passed the remnants of several windmills. With the wind off the ocean, it was cooler than on the higher path.

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Then after an hour, I climbed the hill at Carreço back to the higher road for another impending climb. As the Camino has few ascents, I treasured any climbs as they usually come with views.

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On the other side of the hill, I walked into the town of Âncora and then to the beach – Praia de Âncora. With the heat continuing to rise, I again enjoyed the cool ocean breeze.

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I followed the trail along the beach for a couple of kilometres into Moledo where I had my first sight of Spain and Monte de Santa Tregá.

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I followed the road around and into town where I spied the word “stamp” in yellow on the ground along with an arrow pointing to a balcony. On it, a strange man was smiling at me and offered me a stamp which he assured me was free. We chatted for a bit before I again headed on. The remaining 5km into Caminha was a flat and straight road. That evening I ate a cheese and sausage platter for dinner – why not – before going for some beers with an Italian guy I’d run into a couple of times. But, like many others I’d met in Portugal, he wasn’t crossing into Spain due to the much higher COVID rate.

Day 5 – Caminha to Villadesuso – Spain – 20.2km

As it’s Monday, the ferry to Spain doesn’t run, but the guy at the Albergue told me I could catch a water taxi from 8 AM. I went down to the harbour at 9 AM, but no-one was there.

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I went for a coffee, and when I came back, other pilgrims were also waiting – two Spanish guys and a Swiss girl. Eventually, the four of us were able to catch a water taxi across the harbour.

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We arrived in the sleepy town of Camposancos, where the path took us up the hill. It didn’t climb too far before heading us down again to A Guarda, a seaside town with plenty of charm. Now I’m in Spain, the clocks have gone forward an hour, and it’s already lunchtime. But by the time I got to the end of the town, I’d neglected to get anything so decided to get something at the next village. I left A Guarda passing a beach with some topless ladies, something I discovered is common in Spain.

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There is no longer wooden boardwalks, the trail is now along a rocky path. Also, Spain has a more strict mask-wearing policy, so I have to be more vigilant. The trail led me along beside the sea for sometime before climbing up to the road, then a couple of kilometres further on returned me back to the beach.

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After 6km I came to Portecelo, but there were no shops in the village, so I kept walking. After another 6km I arrived in Oia where there were 2 restaurants, but as it was only mid-afternoon, I grabbed a bag of potato chips and a coke. 4km further on was my stop for the night, Villadesuso and I got settled into the Albergue.

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Compared to Portugal, the Spanish speak less English, so it was time to put my Spanish lessons to the test. I found a restaurant in a hotel with special peregrinos rates: €15 for 4 courses, including a drink. However, the waitress spoke no English, but I managed to get by with my limited vocabulary and even managed a short conversation. Then it was back to the hostel and bed.

Next, Days 6, 7, 8 & 9, where I drink at an Irish bar Spanish style and reach the capital of Galicia.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Portugal – Days 0, 1 & 2

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I flew to Portugal to begin the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. The route I chose begins in the city of Porto and runs along the coast to the border of Spain, where it makes its way slowly inland to Santiago de Compostela.

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The total length of the route is 280km, which I plan to complete over 12 days. Unlike the Tour du Mont Blanc, which I completed recently, Camino Portugués do Costa is fairly flat, so it will be more of a daily hike for distance than massive climbs. And, before water, my pack will be between 9kg and 10kg. Except for the first day, the trail is well marked, either with the symbol of the shell with an arrow or just a yellow arrow.

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Day 0 – Porto Arrival
I arrived in Porto the day before the hike and was collected by a regional workmate. From the airport, he took me on a tour of the city, showing me several sights, including this temple in Gaia north of the city. The haze is actually fog.

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We then stopped at a top seafood restaurant for some local delicacies, cod patties, squid, and sardines asadas. Amazing. My workmate then dropped me off at my Albergue. After booking in, I went for a walk and found this church – Igreja do Carmo – with its tiled facade.

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That evening, I hung out with a slowly growing group of employees, new pilgrims, and other recent arrivals. We drank beer and waited as an asada – BBQ – was prepared with salted beef. Then, a dozen of us crowded around a table and enjoyed a great dinner. Afterwards, a fire was stoked, and we sat around drinking more beer while an American guy played guitar.

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Overall a great experience, and this even before I’d started walking.

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Day 1 – Porto to Vila do Conde – Portugal – 33.2km

As I went to bed later than expected, I woke late – 7 AM – and went down to pack. I’m usually more prepared at night, so it takes less time in the morning, but last night was fun. By 8, I was ready to head out. As I’m walking the coastal track – Senda Litoral – along the river to the beach and along the beachfront to Vila do Conde, my official start point is the Cathedral. I walked downhill to the Cathedral, adding an extra 2.7km to my route, stopping on the way for breakfast and a coffee. The below Monument to Bishop Pedro Pitões is at the front of the 12th-century religious site.

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I then found my way down to the river and followed the road around to and past the Ponte da Arrábida bridge watching some old fashion streetcars run back and forth along the tracks.

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After 6.3km, I arrived at Foz do Douro, where the river meets the sea, and followed the boardwalk along the waterfront in front of houses and the Parque da Cidade. Next to the port, I spied the first beach. On the other side of the port, I passed the industrial part of the city, another beach, and a massive refinery. Then, after walking 20km, I finally left the confines of Porto city at Boa Nova Lighthouse and stopped for lunch at a local restaurant.

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For the rest of the day, I walked along wooden boardwalks above the sand, slowly making my way north. From time to time, I passed small quaint seaside villages in classic Northern Portuguese style, the outer walls of the houses covered with tiles.

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At one point, a fog rolled in blocking views out to sea and further along the beach. There’s a cold current running along this region of Portugal, and on a hot day, the fog rolls up the beach. It’s odd, as I associate fog with cold days, but the sunbathers don’t seem to mind, although there’s not much swimming going on.

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I eventually headed inland and crossed a bridge into Vila do Conde, where I quickly found the hostel. After 37.5km, I was footsore and ready for a shower. A few buildings down I relaxed with a large beer before going for a brief walk around town. It didn’t take me long to realise walking more after today’s long walk was just silly, so I headed back to rest and prepare tomorrow.

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Day 2 – Vila do Conde to Esposende – Portugal – 24.4km

Well rested, I headed out in the morning, following a side road to a cafe where I stopped for breakfast and a coffee. I then followed a road towards the ocean, crossed at a tiled mural began along the beachfront.

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Much of the coastline in front of Vila do Conde is a beach, but when the town ends, so does the sand.

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The rocky coastline continued for several kilometres before the trail took me inland. I followed a series of back roads through farmed fields and long white greenhouses with only the occasional view of the sea. Without the constant breeze from the Atlantic Ocean, the heat became more apparent. For the second day, it was clear blue skies and sunshine, weather that would last for the duration of my time on the Iberian Peninsula. The road continued on through the township of Apúlia, where I discovered a break room for pilgrims. It was simply a small room with a pair of vending machines, some seats, and the all-important stamp. To officially complete the hike, I need to get 2 stamps a day in my credential – also known as the pilgrim passport, so any opportunity to get stamps is welcomed.

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And in one of the vending machines, I was surprised to see beer, but I bought snacks and coke instead. While I was there, a large group of Italian pilgrims arrived. They seemed suddenly interested when they discovered there was a stamp and, ignoring social distancing, crowded inside. I chatted for a bit with some English speakers before heading off. As the pilgrimage was initially a religious experience, the trail wends its way past numerous churches every day.

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The trail then led me through a forest on a dirt road before coming to the small township of Fão where I crossed Rio Cávado. On the other side, I followed a side road into Esposende, where I found my hostel wasn’t open for another 2 hours. I hung around in town, had lunch, and enjoyed the weather down near the river. For dinner, I tried something I’d been told about called Francesinha Especial.

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This feast is a triple-decker sandwich made with a meat paddy, steak, ham, beef sausage, and chorizo, lavished with melted cheese and topped with a fried egg. The entire thing is smothered in a special sauce and served with fries.

Next, Days 3, 4 & 5, where I see a church on a hill and cross into Spain.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 9 & 10.
Back to days 7 & 8.

Day 9 – La Peuty to Tré la Champ – Switzerland to France – 12km

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After the storm overnight, the morning was fresh but everything outside was wet. This means I’ll be carrying at least an extra kilogram or more of rainwater as I won’t be able to dry the tent. After breakfast, and with a heavy feeling pack, I set out from the campground and following the sign, began the climb up the hill. My legs feel fine, even after the hard downhill yesterday. The trail soon cut up into the forest with steep switchbacks and the occasional view back to La Peuty.

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After more than 20 switchbacks, I emerged from the forest to see Chalet du Col de Balme above me marking the border with France and the return of my phone coverage. I slogged on up the hill towards the 2200m height that would be the ceiling for today’s climbs. I came over the crest to the chalet and the brilliant views. Switzerland has plenty of views, but it’s not until you see the massif that you remember what you’ve been missing.

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At the chalet, I took the opportunity to drop the pack and ordered a crepe and a soft drink. The only way to dry things after a stormy night is to hang it from my pack. So, I took out my still sopping tent and slung part of it over my pack before setting out again.

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In the sun, I walked down the hill on grassy switchbacks to Col des Posettes then climbed again the 200m of elevation to Aiguillette des Posettes.

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The second peak was made of layered ridges of rock and jagged outcrops, a different kind of rock to that seen anywhere else on this trip. The wind picked up, and I climbed carefully, not wanting the breeze to catch my tent and drag me off. When I reached the top I found a large flat grassy area and 360º views. I dropped my pack and took some photos.

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I then unpacked my tent and lay it out in the sun to fully dry. I also took the opportunity to get out of my boots. When everything was dry, I packed and began my descent.

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I followed the trail to the end of the flat area before the climb down grew steeper with several switchbacks and wooden stairs. I stopped at a large rock for a view down into the valley and a small hamlet under a glacier.

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The rest of the descent was in the forest. An hour later, I emerged then a short walk to Tré le Champ and the campground. The 2 Dutch couples were there, along with the Dutch guy and Dutch girl, although we had separate sittings for dinner, so didn’t hang out. After dinner, the rain continued and I dove into my tent to sleep.

Day 10 – Tré le Champ to Chamonix – France – 12km

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The forecast for today was not good and when I awoke the clouds were down to near ground level.

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Climbing in the mountains is not advised in the rain, or even a deep cloud cover such as this. I decided to have breakfast and wait to see if any changes were coming. But when more rain came, I decided not to risk the mountain and instead walk the 12km low route direct to my hostel in Chamonix. The route I mapped had very minimal climbing, indeed, a 350m descent over the course of the walk. When the rain stopped, I headed out, following a dirt trail beside a stream.

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I followed it for a couple of kilometres until it came to the township of Argentiere where I stopped for a morning snack. I pushed on at a march alongside the river with cyclists and day walkers enjoying the walk before the rain.

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After about 9km I walked alongside a golf course, crossing through it at one point to a Les Praz de Chamonix. But with 2km to go, it began to pour. I found a tree and stood under it waiting for the rain to pass, but it just kept on falling. After 30 minutes, I set out again and thirty minutes later, dry inside my waterproof jacket, I arrived at the hostel. I showered and set out my tent to dry in the dining room before heading down into town for a drink and some lunch. Later I would have dinner and drinks with many of the people I’d met over the last few days, The British couple, the 2 American couples, the 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl. Even the Polish girl from the 2nd day of the hike made an appearance. It was a fitting end to a great hike which turned out to be more than just a walk in some rather tall mountains.

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Overall Impression on the Tour du Mont Blanc
While I’ve had harder days on other hikes, overall, the TMB was the most difficult hike I’ve completed. It started out as just one of my hikes for the year and became something I’ll always remember. The landscape and the massif itself is up there in the most beautiful regions on earth I’ve experienced. As I walked this hike during Coronavirus infested 2020 there were far fewer people than normal, but it still turned out for the best. Maybe better because of less crowds.

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And, while I began alone as always, I didn’t finish that way. Part of the hike was the people I met and shared this experience with, thanks to those people for being part of this experience. And, as always, this hike wasn’t just an external experience, but an internal one. During the long meditative days, great insights into my life were had. I hope to see them come to fruition in the future.

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Would I suggest others do this walk? Definitely, but it will take courage, good health and a certain level of fitness.

Next, my adventures take me to another part of Europe I’ve yet to visit – Portugal and Spain, for a partial Camino de Santiago.

Until then,
The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 7 & 8.
Back to days 5 & 6.

Day 7 – La Fouly to Champex – Switzerland – 14km

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After a conversation with yet another Dutch couple at the campground, I discovered the last part of today’s leg will be a bit of a slog. The wife walked it alone last year, and so they are planning to skip the last half of the day by catching the bus from Issert. I certainly wasn’t going to take the bus, but I took note. I walked out of the campground and headed along an open field towards the woods where I would follow an easy slowly descending trail. It was still warm, even early in the day, so I was glad for the shade for the first few kilometres.

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While the views from the Swiss portion are not as good as the other sides, the mountains are still beautiful.

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After a brief climb, the trail hugged the lower slopes of the mountain on a thin path, and one section even had a chain to hold onto, just in case. The trail then headed through the forest, and it felt as if I was walking along a long thin tree-lined avenue – a 1.5km long section of very straight trail with only two bends.

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When I came out, the trail headed onto grassy fields past a Swiss hamlet. It then worked its way towards the village of Praz-de-Fort where I went looking for a cafe and a cold drink. I found the Dutch guy at one also having a drink, so I stopped for a chat.

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I headed off a few minutes after him and came around onto another road with a quaint village ahead where I stopped to retrieve my lunch from my pack. I was preparing to leave when the Dutch girl came along after me. We walked together for a bit, but she stopped in the next village for a break, while I pushed on to Issert.

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A hundred metres after the village the trail cut up a hill made more difficult by the summer heat. Issert sits at 1040m above sea level and my target Champex is at 1500m, not a huge climb compared to other days. The trail went into the forest for shade, but forests have their own humidity, so it is warm either way. As I had been warned, the climb was a slog, with little along the way to see. Someone, however, had carved various animals into tree stumps to give us something to see. There’s a viewpoint along the route, and well worth the wait.

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And another 20m further on there is a water fountain, something common along the trail, with potable water and another view.

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Four kilometres after Issert, I came out of the forest and climbed around the streets of Champex until I found myself above Lac de Champex. I walked to and along it for a kilometre until I reached my campground.

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After pitching my tent, I headed back to the lake, where I ran into the Dutch guy. We found the English couple and the young Dutch couple from the night before, along with (yet) another Dutch couple, the girls from each Dutch couple being sisters. Yes, the Dutch invaded my TMB, but no complaints from me. A large portion of walkers are French who speak various levels of English. The few Italians along the way were similar. The Dutch I met, to a person, were fluent in English, which made it easy to connect with them. Later, after eating with the Dutch guy, everyone got together to play cards, along with an American couple — all good company.

Day 8 – Champex to La Peuty – Switzerland – 14.5km

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The official route today via Alp Bovine is supposed to be a forest walk with some spectacular views. However, there’s a variant, more challenging and with a climb above 2600m, the highest point of my TMB, with unmatched views. Leaving the campground, I followed a path away from the road then turned sharply and followed an irrigation channel. The trail climbed into the forest-covered valley for 1.5km until it came out at the chalets of Relain d’Arpette where I ran into the British couple from the past two evenings. I walked with them for a short time as we slowly climbed through wildflower meadows. They were faster walkers that I, so I wished them well and set my own pace into the grand view ahead.

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After 2km, the trail grew flatter, and I followed the line of mountains up the valley. I eventually saw the point I would be climbing to, the lowest point of the mountainscape to the right of the photo’s centre.

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The trail turned steeper and rockier, and I clicked back into the pace I had perfected over the past 8 days. With my legs used to the effort, the steep climb seemed fairly easy, although the sweat continued to drip from me. Looking back the way I’d come…

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The climb is quite varied, and after a time the trail cut through a massive boulder field. Bouldering is fun, trying to balance while skipping from one to the next. Some find it hard, but it didn’t take me long to work my way past it. There were some snow patches on the mountain and one right on the trail. On the far side a very steep zigzagging path to the crossing point – Fenêtre d’Arpette.

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This last part of the climb was the most difficult, and I stopped after each short zigzag to catch my breath. But still, it didn’t take me long to make it to the top and cast my eye back.

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And of course, the sight you wait for while climbing… the other side. At 2665m, I sat to eat lunch and enjoy the view.

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The greatest problem with climbing something tall is climbing back down again. The trail was quite thin, and after my break, I headed down, slowly. While my legs seemed used to climbing up, they still hadn’t gotten used to the down part. I descended beside the Glacier du Trient, the slick rock below it having once been covered by the glacier. As I continued down, my knees starting letting me know how much fun they were having. And, again annoying to see trail runners bounding down these slopes like they’re running down a short hill.

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The trail hugged the edge of the mountain for a time on a thin trail before zig-zagging down the centre. I continued down for an hour before reaching an old hut where some people had stopped. The person before me was trying the water fountain, but it was only running warm, so I pushed on. Thankfully I found a glacial stream and drank my fill of the sweet cool water. I continued my descent for some time before the trail cut into the forest where I got a good view back up the mountain to the glacier.

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Another hour and I came out at a cafe where several trails met and ran into the American couple from last night. As I’d just run out of my water, I bought a couple of soft drinks and sat with them for a chat. Then with dark clouds looming I headed off. The trail was now flat and had been purposely cut around the side of the mountain as a tourist walk. After 1.5km, I came to a downslope and to the annoyance of my legs, followed it down a zigzag path. Halfway down, I heard thunder and it began to rain lightly. I made it to the campground at La Peuty, not too wet, and ran into some of the others. In the gentle rain, I put up my tent with their help. After a shower, I booked dinner and ended up with the whole group again – British couple, 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl sitting around the table in a large teepee, eating burgers and drinking whiskey.

Tomorrow I head back into France where I will finish this epic trek. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 5 & 6.
Back to days 3 & 4.

Day 5 – Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti – Italy – 11km

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After a good night’s sleep and a massive breakfast at my Airbnb, I head down into the town for last-minute supplies. I stopped to take a photo of where I’d climbed down from yesterday.

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From Courmayeur, the trail follows a steadily climbing road for about 3km before cutting into the forest. Thankfully, my Airbnb at 1250m elevation was halfway along this road, cutting a bit of climbing off my day. At the end of the day, I pushed into the forest and up a fairly steep set of zig-zagging paths. With little to see but trees, I found my zone and got on with the climbing. I eventually came out of the trees at 1850m to great views across Courmayeur.

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A further 100m climb and I stopped briefly at Refugio Giorgio Bertone for a cold drink then climbed the hill above where I stopped for lunch. After eating, I had the difficult decision of whether to take the official route or the higher, harder, variant. After being told by my host’s son last night that the walk into Switzerland would be a hard one, I decided to follow everyone else along the easier route. The trail skirted around the side of the valley at about 2000m and stayed that way for about 5km. Always in its stunning beauty, across the valley, the wall of the massif.

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The trail pushed into the forest and rounded into a gully where Torrente d’Arminaz, a wide and fast-flowing stream ran down the mountainside with a bridge crossing it. As it had been another hot day in the mountains, I found a great spot, got my feet out of my boots and into the icy water. No doubt the sound of my pleasure reverberated along the valley. With no hurry to push on the last couple of kilometres to my rifugio, I hung out at the spot for some time. As I did, other walkers came by, and they too took the opportunity to cool off in the water. Of course, it wouldn’t be right without one of my Dutch companions, this time the Dutch guy, who also got his feet into the water. After a while, we dried off, booted up and headed out.

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The last couple of kilometres were an easy walk, and we came past another Dutch trio, a couple and their son, who I chatted to as we came to final 50m climb up to the Rifugio. It was still early afternoon, and the Rifugio didn’t open until 4pm, so as a group we hung out around the tables chatting in the heat. Because of Coronavirus, the rifugio was only accepting prebookings, so the Dutch guy continued on to find a wild camping spot. After a shower, I hung out with the Dutch family. We drank beer and ate Italian sausage while talking about the trek and admiring the view.

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The father, about my age, had walked this route a couple of times. He had also climbed many of the peaks along the massif. I hung with them during dinner, which was full vegetarian, and then a couple more beers before retiring to bed early in preparation for the coming day.

Day 6 – Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly – Italy to Switzerland – 17km

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As yesterday was not as hard a day as I’d read, today is supposed to make up for it, with an intense descent, a hard ascent and another long descent. After breakfast, I bid farewell to the Dutch family, another group I wouldn’t see again and headed out around the back of the Refugio. Over the next 3km, there would be some minor climbs and descents, but the massive wall of the massif across the valley stopped me from caring, the beauty and immensity of it.

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I arrived at a farmhouse and saw that the trail cut down the mountain on switchbacks, although nothing too steep or difficult.

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I followed the trail, descending 250m to Chalet Val Ferret, where I stopped for a cold drink. The weather again was warm, but storms were on the forecast later in the day. I followed the river for a short time until I came to the beginning of the first climb, which was crowded with cows. Looking for an alternative route, I followed the road around for a bit before climbing the steep grassy slope, a 350m climb before it flattened out. A short sharp climb took me to Rifugio Elena, which is closed this season. I stopped for a break and a bite to eat before the big climb to come. The view opposite…

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The first signs of dark clouds could be seen as I climbed the at times steep path zigzagging its way up the mountain for another 475m of elevation.

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Since I’ve been climbing for five days, while the sweat is still pouring off me, my legs have grown used to the effort, and again I don’t seem to notice the hardship as much. As I topped Col Val Ferret and the border of Switzerland, I stopped for lunch and to enjoy the view, putting on a jacket in the cooler breeze.

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After eating, and at the first signs of rain, I headed down the other side into Switzerland. The trail flowed gently down into the valley, and I stopped as a Marmot ran across the trail.

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Not long after, the rain came briefly before the heat again rose. I followed the trail down before it zig-zagged a couple of times and came out at a farm, Alpage de la Puele, where I stopped for a cold beer. I continued on down on a green hill that felt reminiscent of everything I’ve ever seen of Switzerland, heading steadily down to a river. I crossed and following a road around into a forest.

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After passing a quaint Swiss village, I cut down to the river again, where I found many piles of stones. I followed the river for some time, then after a short steep climb, I was deposited in La Fouly, a classic looking Swiss village. After pitching my tent at the campground, I headed into town for a beer and dinner.

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I sat alone enjoying a drink on a table next a young British couple and a younger Dutch couple. I was reading my guide book when who should appear but the Dutch girl, who’d already met the two couples. We joined them and began talking about food when an American couple appeared, shortly followed by my friend, the Dutch guy. A good evening was had with the larger group, ending with 4 of us in another bar playing cards. Unfortunately, just as we were leaving, the sky opened in full storm, leaving two of us ran back to the campground.

Next, two more days in Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 3 & 4.
Back to days 1 & 2.

Day 3 – Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta – France to Italy – 13.5km

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Today I cross the mountain border into Italy, and the bonjours will change to Buongiornos. From Les Chapieux there’s a bus that cuts out the first 1.5 hours flat walk to La Ville des Glaciers, a small hamlet just before the first climb. My companions from yesterday afternoon went with this option, and that was the last I saw of them. I decided to walk, but before I left, I ran into someone who seemed familiar… the Dutch girl from the beginning of the first day. She was walking with a Polish girl and invited me to tag along.

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The initial part of the trail was only flat for some of the way, but it was fresh walking in the shade of the mountains. From time to time as we walked, we watched a bus running along the road above as it carried people to La Ville des Glaciers.

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About a kilometre past the hamlet the climbing began with many steep switchbacks. We were part way up when we heard an orchestra of bells on the slopes opposite. We watched a herd of cows trotting along the road to the farm as a bus tried to get past. Our climb continued, not as steep as before, but hot under the beating sun. The three of us took several breaks, stopping to drink from glacial springs whenever they appeared. It’s best to drink at higher altitudes, where it hasn’t been polluted by cow dung. The water was fresh, cool and rather moreish.

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We crossed the border at Col de la Seigne (2515m), taking but a short break in the cool breeze, before setting off down the other side, where small patches of snow still clung to the ground.

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The trail down was not painful or strenuous, and we took our time. We passed what appeared to be a museum of sorts, but didn’t stop.

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The gentle slope continued for another hour down to 2165m, where the valley flattened out with tall peaks to either side. The beauty and magnificence is everywhere, all to the soundtrack from the Sound of Music. After a kilometre and a half, we walked past a ruin to see Refugio Elisabetta hung on the mountain above and climbed to it. While this was my stop for the night, the girls stopped for refreshments, but were continuing on.

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Once they’d departed, I showering and hung out in the common room where I got talking to a Dutch guy….

Day 4 – Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur – Italy – 18km

TMB Stage 4

With no huge climb today, I was hopeful of an easier day. After breakfast and coffee with the Dutch guy, the entire Refugio packed up and cleared out like an exodus. We picked our way down the path to the dirt road that would lead us out of the valley. While it was early, the beating sun caused a sweat even though it was a slow descent along the 2.5km of the valley.

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At the end of the valley, we found the path to the first and only climb of the day. Refugio Elisabetta is around 2200mm, with a dip down to 1950m at the end of the valley. The climb would take us up to about 2400m. The trail began steeply but became steadily more gentle as we went. After days of climbing, the muscles in the legs had grown used to the effort. This, along with muscle memory from years of hiking, and the climb didn’t seem so difficult.

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My Dutch companion and I climbed on before taking a rest at a hut. While we were there, I noted a lone figure climbing along the trail behind us and recognised her walk… the Dutch girl. Little did I know, but this was the beginning of the Dutch invasion of my TMB, not that I minded. We had a brief chat before heading off. It didn’t take us long to reach the high point of the trail and standing on the top of the small peak the view along the valley was amazing.

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After a brief rest, we again headed off. For the first hour, the trail followed an easy slope along the side of the mountains. We came to a green area overlooking a small lake and stopped for lunch. From here I thought it would be an easy descent into Courmayeur for the rest of the day. But I was wrong, very wrong.

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After lunch, our little group split, with the Dutch guy taking a different route, and the Dutch girl catching a ski lift. I climbed around past a pair of rifugios, before beginning my descent down the grassy ski fields. With the first sign of rain threatening since I began four days ago, I cut past the top of a ski lift with views of the town below.

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With the mountain behind me blocking the slight wind, the temperature went up, and as I cut into the forest, it grew muggy. I zigzagged down through the trees for the next 2 hours on a steep, dry and dusty path. When the rain finally came, it was glorious, for all of the minute it lasted. With aching knees, I finally reached the bottom a minute or two after the Dutch guy and stopped for a quick drink with him before heading off across Courmayeur to my Airbnb.

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I was thankful to arrive and chatted to my host’s son who could speak English. After the hot day, I drank buckets of water and was able to take a soaking bath. In the evening, I went down into the town for dinner – pizza, of course – and a beer.

Next, after one more day in Italy, I head into Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France – Days 1 & 2

Mont Blanc, nestled on the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland, is the tallest mountain in Western Europe. The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a 10-day hike circumnavigating the Mont Blanc Massif on a trail 168km long.

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On a slightly rainy day, I flew into Geneva and caught a bus for over an hour to Chamonix, the site of the first Winter Olympics. It would be from this township on the eastern border of France that I would start and finish the hike.

For the next 10 days, I plan to camp in established locations wherever I can, but with a lack of legal camping spots in Italy, I’ve opted for two Refugios and an Airbnb. My pack weight, including 2 litres of water, is around 20kg, while heavy, I’ve been known to carry more. And, as always, I’m hiking solo, however, from what I’d read, I’d likely meet other walkers along the way. It’s high season, but in the time of Coronavirus with many people unable to enter Europe, there should be a lot fewer people. My intended route…

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Day 1 – Les Houches to Les Contamines – France – 14km

TMB Stage 1

After last night’s rain, today began sunny. After a good breakfast, I made my way across Chamonix to the south bus station where I’d been dropped off the day before. The ski town of Chamonix is lively this morning with tourists and locals out and about.

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While there are other walkers on the bus, when it stopped at the arch, the official start point, only two of us got off, a Dutch girl and me. We walked the few minutes through the small village of Les Houches towards the cablecar where everyone else had gotten off. While I headed off with a group of French-speaking guys into the forest for the first climb, the Dutch girl took the cablecar. Over the next handful of kilometres, the steep climb zigzagged up the mountain before opening out with a great view back down the valley. It was a tough climb for the first day, made more difficult by the heat, the rain now a thing of the past.

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The trail continued climbing steeply towards the peak, Col De Voza, 600m above my starting point, passing the cablecar stops for another view.

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From Col de Voza, the trail descended on a wide trail through the forest, then out across rolling green meadows, weaving through several small hamlets on its way towards Le Champel. After midday, and with the heat rising steadily, I found a grassy meadow with a shade tree partway along the valley and took off my boots.

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A little sore from my first day’s rigorous climb, I continued down to Le Champel only to find a steep climb up the hill. I spied a sign to Les Contamines and followed the trail for several kilometres until it came out at the main road, which I followed around to the adventure village of Les Contamines. With my campsite a further 30 minutes along the road, I stopped at a cafe/bar for a couple of cold beers served by a lovely French girl. After my break and in the heat, I followed the path beside a river, through a large activity park for campers, to a massive campground full of holidaying families. I paid and located the TMB camping area which soon filled up. That evening, I walked back to Les Contamines for dinner and another beer.

Day 2 – Les Contamines to La Chapieux – France – 17km

The next morning I headed back to the village for breakfast and some last supplies before heading out from the campground. Little did I know, today would be one of the hardest days of the entire circuit.

TMB Stage 2

From the campground, I walked along the road to a full car park and plenty of day walkers. I passed a church – Notre dame de la Gorge – before following an old Roman road as it climbed into the forest. After yesterday’s hard climb, my legs weren’t happy with me, so I pulled out my walking poles and used them for the rest of the tour. After a moderate climb, I crossed a Roman bridge, peered down into a thin gorge before continuing. After another climb, the forest opened up, giving a brief respite with great views.

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But the respite was indeed short and after Chalet La Balme, began a long, arduous climb. As the days are long, and the weather warm, I took regular opportunities to rest my aching legs. There are plenty of walkers on the trail, and the usual greeting is a warm bonjour, with French being the most common language. But today, through all the French voices, I occasionally heard English spoken. Halfway up the steep valley, the day walkers split off, following a trail to Lacs Jovet, a mountain lake. I climbed on steadily to Col du Bonhomme at the height of 2300m and was hit by a blustery cold wind. I took a break tucked behind a hut with a view of the peak above, one of the Col des Fours.

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Les Contamines is at 1170m, meaning I’d climbed 1100m in elevation so far today, but it wasn’t over. While direct sunlight can drain you, I found the icy wind energising and easily continued the climb around a rocky ridge. I took a moment to peer back at the hut I’d huddled behind.

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I continued around the rocky path, only to see a Marmot scuttle across a rock. It was one of three I saw here.

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Then, after a climb up the side of a small waterfall, I reached Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, the highpoint of the day at 2479m, a total of 1300m climb today. As expected, the views were immense, this one down to the Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. I climbed down to the refuge for a well-deserved rest and ended up chatting with a group – a British guy, a Canadian couple and a German girl.

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But the worst was yet to come. Climbing can be hard work, but our legs are more designed for climbing than descending. The five of us began the long steady climb down the mountain towards Les Chapieux, a descent of around 1550m over 5km. Even with hiking poles, it was knee jarring, but the conversation helped take away some of the pain.

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The endless down was causing us all issues, especially when trail runners came galloping past like it was flat terrain. Trail runners often do the full trail over 3 days, and there are plenty of them. We stopped for a break to enjoy the afternoon and rest our knees.

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We finally reached Les Chapieux, and while I was camping, I stopped off at the group’s refuge for a beer but stayed for a four-course meal with them.

In France, it’s common for cows, sheep and goats to have bells that ring at the mere thought of movement. Throughout the night in my tent, my sleep was accompanied by an orchestra of farm animals in the hills.

Next, I head into Italy, Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Cardiff, Wales – Impressions

In late January 2020, I headed across to Cardiff for a concert and decided to stay for a couple of days to explore the city. As it’s winter, and Southern Wales, I was expecting rain, and I was not disappointed. But I’m waterproof, and a bit of drizzle wasn’t going to stop me enjoying my stay.

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Cardiff (Caerdydd in Welsh) is the largest city in Wales, but only the 11th largest in the UK. And, as it’s only a 2-hour train ride from London, it’s not that much of a trip. The first thing I noticed when arriving in the Welsh Capital is the number of covered arcades and malls. It’s a great way to explore the city without going out in the rain too often.

Motorpoint Arena
The point of coming to Cardiff was for a concert. Motorpoint Arena was first opened by Shirley Bassey in 1993. But my concert wasn’t as sedate, I was there to see Megadeth and Five Finger Death Punch. Metal, raw and loud. The venue was large, holding 5,500 on the floor. After a very long wait out in the icy conditions to get in the door, I eventually warmed up and enjoyed the concert. The venue, like most in the UK, is heavily sprinkled with alcohol sales points, although the crowds in London feel a little more raucous.

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Principality Stadium
Also known as Millennium Stadium, it is the home of the Welsh Rugby team and was built in 1999 to host the Rugby World Cup. The stadium in it’s latest form was constructed over another park which has a more sentimental note for me. When I was very young, I would sometimes get up at stupid times in the morning with my father to watch the All Blacks play at Cardiff Arms Park. The Six Nations Rugby was just beginning on the day I came back to London.

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Cardiff Castle
You can’t come to Cardiff and not visit Cardiff Castle, and the best was to see it is on a self-guided audio tour. Beneath the entrance and front wall is a small museum called Firing Line, showing the lives of Welsh Soldiers going all the way back to the Bronze Age. Next to the museum is a long bronze wall depicting scenes from Roman times opposite the actual remains of the Roman wall.

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Beneath the other walls are tunnels used during World War 2 as bomb shelters. They are long, dim-lit and eerie. On the far side of the grassy courtyard is the Norman keep surrounded by a moat. Climbing up to it, and then up its main tower gives excellent views across Cardiff.

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Then along one side of the castle grounds are the Castle Apartments and Clock Tower. The self-tour allows access to some of the rooms in this building to see their lavish designs.

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Roath Street Art
While Bristol is home to Banksy, Cardiff is also a hub of street art. With limited time, I chose to walk out to the suburb of Roath to check out the local street art. 2014 was apparently the big year in the suburb for street art. There are many pieces still evident on walls around the area (although some buildings have since been demolished and the artwork lost).

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But while walking the streets of Roath, I discovered hidden back alleys absolutely filled with the less creative street art. By less creative, I refer to large words in different fonts. Sure, it’s art, but is it that creative?

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The Animal Wall
Just along from Cardiff Castle and near the entrance to Bute park are a series of 15 stone animals ‘peering’ over a wall that has come to be known as the Animal Wall. They were based on drawings from the 1300s, were carved in London, and built into the wall in 1887.

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Bute Park
Once the grounds of Cardiff Castle, Bute Park is 130 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland. It runs from the castle at one end, along to Gabalfa Woods at the other. Scattered throughout the park are various sculptures, many made from tree trunks left just for that purpose. There’s also a rock circle just past the castle, the Gorsedd Stones which were placed for the National Eisteddfod (a bardic arts festival) in 1978.

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Welsh National War Memorial
Completed in 1928, the memorial stands in Alexandra Gardens and commemorates the servicemen who died in the First World War. A plaque was added in 1949 to commemorate those who died in World War 2 also. The memorial houses four bronze statues. The three around the base of the main plinth relate the three services, airforce, navy and army, while the figure on the plinth represents Victory.

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City Hall
To avoid the rain, I popped into the City Hall near the War Memorial and stayed to have a look around. I found my way up to the first-floor landing, which is known as the ‘Marble Hall’. Beyond the marble columns, there are nearly two dozen marble statues around the walls. Only one stands in the centre, the figure of Saint David. There are also various paintings around the halls, while most are landscapes, there is one of Prince Charles and another of Princess Diana.

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Cardiff Story Museum
Situated in the middle of the city centre in the old library building, the small museum tells the story of Cardiff. The museum contains more than 3000 donated objects relating to the life and times of Cardiff from its inception to current times. There’s much interesting information on the layout of the city over the years and a look into the lives of people who live there. While it’s small, it’s an excellent way to get to know the city on a rainy day, and it’s entirely free.

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National Museum and Art Gallery
Next to City Hall is the much larger National Museum and Art Gallery. Like the Cardiff Story Museum, it’s free and is something to do when it’s raining. With many large open halls, and several passageways between, there is plenty to see. The gallery holds many paintings by Claude Monet, along with several from Rodin, Van Gogh and several Welsh artists. The museum has an exhibition on the fossil swamps of over 300 million years ago. There are also photography exhibits from several different artists and a detailed history of the universe from the Big Bang to how Cardiff was formed. I managed to lose about three hours wandering around the halls, but at least I stayed dry.

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Cardiff Bay
With a couple hours to spare before my train back to London, I wound my way down to Cardiff Bay for lunch and a quick look around. Thankfully, today I was treated to the sun, a nice farewell for the trip. The bay area houses Mermaid Quay with its plentiful restaurants and cafes, along with the Millennium centre, The Senedd and the Red Dragon Centre, a movie theatre complex.

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Overall impressions
Cardiff is a great small city with just enough of a vibe to make it an enjoyable stay. There is plenty to do for a couple of days in summer or winter. There was more I could have investigated, but due to time and the rain, I didn’t get the chance.

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Next, I’m off to explore Liverpool at Easter,

The World Wanderer