contact ME

Use the form on the right to contact me.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right.



Venice by beyuve HR-5951.jpg


Follow here my journey and stories around the World. 


Filtering by Tag: Ulia

Going North: Day 3 Ulia - Zumaia

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

Arriving late the day before and adding another late departure on my counter, my motto was: I could be a morning person, if morning happened around noon ;)

Champion's breakfast!

I was yet again the last pilgrim to leave, but not before quickly greeting the Valencia pilgrims who had saved me from starving the previous night. I have though, to add in my defense, that with the spectacular views of this albergue, it was well worth to oversleep and enjoy this unique location.


Besides, this led me to start talking with Susana and Peio, who manage the pilgrims' hostel, prompting me to ask for another photo interview, to which Peio kindly agreed. The albergue's very beautiful dog decided to join us too, making this day of the week usually hated by most people...  one very beautiful Monday to start a pilgrim's journey.

San Sebastian's beauty!

Usually it's better to start a cycling day with an uphill; ending the previous day with a forthcoming climb is best, as your energy levels are higher. However, it is still a great ride to cruise downhill to a city as wonderful as San Sebastian. Once I reached the city centre I had to take care of one typical long journey cycling mistake... getting myself some sunscreen!

3rd Camino Cycling tip: on big rides, always always put on sunscreen, even when cloudy, it’s safer and... red legs and arms aren’t sexy ;)
— June 8th 2015

After some fruits and refreshment, I applied my highly needed sunscreen on this hot sunny day. Even if I didn't take a plunge in the very tempting Playa de la Concha, I spent quite a lot of time on San Sebastian's seaside enjoying its breeze and the city's charm. So much actually, that I didn't leave until 2pm... with such mishap, that when I was leaving an old friend came to visit me... Mr. Puncture! Being almost an expert now, I quickly changed it and went into the beautiful nature of Monte Igueldo. Going up I saw my first bike pilgrim on the Camino, but I soon lost him and wouldn't find him again. There I crossed a German pilgrim that was exhausted from walking all morning I asked if she needed anything and she only wanted to reach her day's destination. Wishing her the best, I continued and to my surprise I found the Valencia pilgrims that had saved me the day before with that providential piece of tortilla (check back on day 2). They were obviously having lunch, I joined them with a beer, and we talked about our current and past Caminos.

Mount Igueldo views!

My Valencian tortilla saviors!

Which way? Bumpy or smoothly?

With less than 20km on my counter, I still had to catch up some time from my late morning starts and continued up to Orio, where I wanted to find some information in the tourist office, but this is Spain, and during lunch time most shops and offices are closed (2pm to 4pm), specially in small towns like this. A bit hungry, thirsty and being almost 4pm, I grabbed some of my ham and water when I came along a French tourist who was waiting for the tourism office to open too. It was great to speak French again and I thought he was a pilgrim too, but not at all, he prefers surfing. We had a nice chat and when a local told me that the office woman might still be with her kid at the school, we both went our ways. Once I left Orio, I realised something that sooner or later had to occur... as on my last Camino when I almost lost my phone, I had to loose something again... my sunglasses! Good thing though, I never buy expensive ones and I had a second pair just in case, plus, I guess it gave a town kid or fellow neighbour one great surprise.

Bumpy it was!

The road ahead was just a pleasure to ride, the breathtaking views and towns you encounter bring the wanderlust levels to its highest point, as you can see with wonderful Getaria; mainly known for being Juan Sebástian Elcano's home town, who is famous for being the first adventurer to circumnavigate the World, what a great coincidence for someone crossing Northern Spain on a bike journey.

Elcano's hometown: Getaria!

Despite Getaria's historic and actual beauty, my final destination of the day was a bit further. After another short Camino day as you can see on my route below, I finally reached Zumaia to sleep in one very unique place...

With difficulties to find the town's albergue, when I asked around, some people told me there used to be one, but now it's closed. The municipal one however, should be open, but was closed last year at this same time... the difficulties were increasing exponentially and night was falling too... Fortunately, a local helped me out and it actually was just around the corner, where a very little door in the stoned wall led to the municipal albergue. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful I've been to, it used to be a nunnery; when the last nuns left, the town's council took it over and transformed it into a pilgrims' hostel. With wooden floor and doors, it even has a storage for bicycles, a common area to cook and play guitar, but best of all is the hospitality of Mari the hospitalera (=pilgrims' host). Her friendliness and helpful hand are gold and if you need it, she also offers a washing service for your clothes. It is the kind of albergue you wish to stay, with a mix of historic origin and great hospitality (more info about it here).


Ingmar, Don, Robert and me!

But that wasn't the only good thing, I shared my room with a fellow German pilgrim, Robert, who chose the Northern path as his first Camino; while most people choose the French path, as I did myself last year (check it here). I also met two Danish pilgrims that did walk some days with Robert too, Ingmar and Don, father and son, who were doing the Camino North together as they did with the French one before. We quickly connected and as soon as I took my shower, we followed Mari's suggestion to walk to the Flysch area (next to the San Telmo chapel) on the other side of the town. No words can describe the emotions of such a beautiful landscape, which I reached after 3 days cycling and with some of the best pilgrim companions, there was only one thing missing... the beers, which were already ordered and on their way, leaving us with only one task, be amazed by this awe-inspiring landscape:

Zumaia's amazing Flysch

Patatas Alioli

After such a great experience, there's almost nothing that could stand up to the plate... Well, except maybe some delicious Basque cuisine which we indulged ourselves into: freshly poured txakoli (a typical Basque dry white wine), some potatoes with alioli (delicious, but it still didn't beat the best one I ever had, on my French Camino), tasty Keler beer and other delicacies, which made this a glorious dinner topped with amazing company. It was the perfect final touch to a pilgrim's journey!

Although the last step of the day was to go back to the nunnery and get a good rest, our lovely host awaited us. We talked a bit with her and discovered that at the bar where we ate is where Mari's sister works, she actually had called her to wait for us... and this is the big essence of the Camino, small things that people do to help out, making it so unique and special.

My 3rd day of the North Camino ended in the best company and in the best place, with some good rest ahead, my motivation levels were at its highest and I was looking forward to my next destinations. If you do too, stay tuned for my next Going North posts!

Going North: Day 2 St. Jean de Luz - Ulia

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

On your first day of holidays, there's nothing better than wake up from a good night's rest in a very comfortable bed and indulge into the wide and great breakfast buffet that most hotels offer... Well, that was going to be the first and last time I would have such a rest on this Northern Saint James Way pilgrimage.

It truly was one great day to continue my journey and enter my dear home country: beautiful Spain! Sunday, brightly blue lit sky and bustling Saint Jean de Luz was anticipating a day full of pleasant surprises.

First pleasant surprise? Breakfast!

Champion's breakfast

With typical French pastry and products, this first meal of the day was a glorious one. Bonne Maman marmalade, French bread and toasts, mmmm Nutella, freshly pressed orange juice, fruits and the king fruit for cyclists and Minions... bananas! It was one great treat to myself after one hard month of work; the F1 is obviously the busiest time in Monaco (my place of work, check back on day 0). Besides, it's always good to fill up your belly and specially so before any long day cycling as you will see later on...

Second pleasant surprise? Without even leaving St. Jean de Luz, on another attempt to find a Camino credential (see day 1) at the town's church, music was in the air and when I approached, there was a very peculiar dance of sticks and jumps going on. A group of about 10 dancers in typical Basque region fashion were bickering sticks and jumping from one side to another, the energy and mood were fantastic and like the txikoli from the day before, it dived me again into Basque Country's culture.

2nd surprise: Paloteadores

However, going on to look for my credential, sadly the church was closed, but I found a priest just leaving it. I asked him if he had one, but he didn't, though, it was enough to start a conversation and make it the third pleasant surprise of the day!

3rd surprise: Dominique

Father Dominique who is in charge of the impressive Church Saint Jean Baptiste, kindly invited me over to his nearby house to at least get a stamp on a blank page. His kindness and positivity made me continue with him a photo project I started on my first Saint James Way; my photo-interviews of pilgrims and locals that I came across.

Having slept until quite late, this great encounter and the mesmerizing beauty of Saint Jean de Luz made me run late even more. After a detour to the lighthouse and the port, I quickly entered again into wild nature of thin thin paths, threatening cliffs and... punctures! Every cyclist's most annoying issue didn't wait long and it wasn't going to be the last one... but with the Basque Country's landscapes, even punctures are a great thing.

With views like this... even punctures are a good thing!

When I managed to get some traction, I got to cross the border to my dear Spain and reach its first town, Irún. This Basque town is usually the starting point for the several Northern Saint James Ways, which is reflected on the services and signs of the Camino. With the help of some fellow cyclist, that had engaged all his family for a Sunday ride, I entered the town easily. On my way out, there was only one route and it took me at least 10km inland and away from any coast, when I suddenly realized that I had taken the wrong Camino and was following the Basque Camino.

You can check out my rerouting below:

A little discomforted from my accidental detour, my fourth pleasant surprise was right in time with the sun starting to set down. I arrived to Pasai Donibane which had a great mood and energy in every corner. The orange colours of the settling sun, the children playing everywhere, families and friends enjoying a beautiful Sunday evening was the best thing I could wish for ending yet another cycling day. 

But pleasant surprise number five was heading towards me while I was looking over to the seaside next to the town's church. Many teenagers were queuing in front of it and wearing some kind of uniform... then they entered, and on 3 to 4 minutes intervals, applauses were heard from inside... after the third time, curiosity struck me, so I locked my bike and went in... it was full of people, no sitting place available and one of my best experiences was about to happen! Ranging from age 10 to 18, these kids were singing in chorus from some rather ecclesiastical songs up to some more commercial ones like Robbie Williams' "Angels". Nonetheless, the highest emotional point was reached when they started to sing "Caminante no hay camino" (=Wanderer, there's no path), based on a poem from Spanish writer Antonio Machado from the 19th century. It is not only a symbol for any Saint James Pilgrim, it can actually be considered one of our anthems!

Here's the moment:

5th pleasant surprise

If this wasn't enough to make me want to stay in this wonderful town, only one thing could... the town's fully booked albuergue (=pilgrim hostel)! Thus, the choice only was to continue my route... however, an inconvenient or... rather, pleasant surprise number six was on its way: I had to cross the town's estuary by boat, there's even an arrow hinting to that! 

Excited to literally embark my dear Orbeiña (see day 0 for reference) to go over-seas, I first did a quick pit stop to have some delicious tortilla (=Spanish omelette; one of our national dishes) and a beer. While fuelling up my engine a curious local approached me, Miguel. I told him about all my stories and journeys, and he told me where I could find the next albergue. We actually still keep in touch and I discovered he likes photography too. He told me some peculiarities of this little town, but I'll better just let his words speak about it:

Mascarón de "La casa de Iriberri" - © Miguel Artola

"In a small book about Pasai Donibane, when it starts to talk about the houses of important lineage, it states this: 'The house of Iriberri - One of its walls corresponds to the church's portico side. Its kitchen used to be right next to the parish which nowadays is the door that leads up to the cemetery. On the left side of this door, there's still a mascaron with no clues of its provenance. This house belonged to Alonso Villaviciosa."

He also made me aware that there is a shipyard nearby where they create vintage boats like the one shown in this beautiful photo he shared with me:

Boats from Pasai Donibana - © Miguel Artola

Very sadly, with the sun already hiding on the nearby hills, I had to leave Pasai Donibane which automatically became one of my preferred towns on the whole North Saint James Way, and it was just day two. However, as we say in Spanish No hay mal que por bien no venga (=Every cloud has a silver lining), it made me climb up to Mount Ulia where I shot one of my best pictures and it still gives me goosebumps when I remember being up there and seeing this:


After such a journey, with the clock ticking 10pm (pilgrim's usual going to sleep time...) I arrived to the only albergue up there just in time before they were closing. The restaurant guys had just left and unfortunately, the nearest restaurant had closed too, and the vending machines weren't working... I was there, hungry, tired and left with just one apple! It pretty much looked like one hard starving night and one of the best eaten apples I ever had.

Nevertheless, the stunning views over the night lit San Sebastian and fellow Valencia pilgrims with whom I started to talk were worth it. So much, that providence, destiny or just my seventh pleasant surprise of the day made that, they weren't hungry anymore and left a slice of tortilla and some crackers, which they kindly offered me. 

This truly was another example of the beauty doing the Saint James Pilgrimages have and specially, all the amazing, kind and helpful people you find along the Way. 

2nd Camino cycling tip: always carry a meal’s worth of food, you never know when you’ll need it most.
— June 7th 2015

Start and end of this day were all about our most basic need, food, but all what happened in the middle made this another unforgettable Camino experience!

If you wish to see more, stay tuned for amazing people and stories on my next Going North posts ;)