Sunday, 25 November 2012

Tel Aviv under fire

Missiles aimed at Tel Aviv
Thursday 15 November: I'm forced to return to Tel Aviv by train to, hopefully, get my laptop repaired.
Friday 16: The hard disk is beyond repair so I have bought a new laptop and spend the afternoon in the lounge area of the hostel engrossed in downloading programs. Suddenly, sirens sound and guests rush in off the streets to join me in this basement safe area. There is Hamas rocket fire from Gaza. Many of the youngsters are panicking so I try to reassure them. I worked in central London throughout IRA bombings in the 1980's, without injury, what are the chances? Finally I ignore all around and concentrate on upgrading my software.
Saturday 17: A siren sounds and a shuddering explosion clears Tel Aviv's beaches. It's more Hamas rocket fire but the received wisdom is that for any Gaza rocket to reach Tel Aviv it must have been stripped of much of it's payload to make room for the extra fuel required. It's sabre rattling grand scale. Fine by me.
Sunday 18:  More sirens and an explosion at 10:30am. I try again to reassure some weeping German girls before walking to the bus station, I'm off to Jerusalem. Out of the frying pan . . .

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Akko (Acre)

Crusader's Holy Land stronghold
Tuesday 13 November: Acre is all you'd expect of a Crusader stronghold on the shores of the Holy Land and more. The old town and port first fortified by the Knights Templar, then later by Ottoman Turks, is remarkably well preserved. For knights and pilgrims sailing from southern Europe, mostly via Cyprus, this would have been their first landfall in the Middle East and the Templar Hospitaller fortress and citadel is where they would have been welcomed.
Following 200 years of Christian rule the city fell to the Turks who, rather than demolishing the Crusader fortress, simply filled it in with earth and used the sturdy Knight's Hall pillars as foundations for their own city. Much of the old Crusader city has now been excavated and is open to view. Above the surface too, it's a wonderful place just to wander: streets & alleys, gateways, mosques, roofed walkways, towers, a lighthouse, forts, churches, market stalls or crashing waves, all just around the next corner.
My guidebook tells me that, because of the lack of accommodation, most people only visit for a day. It's worth much more and I'm staying in the newly opened IYHA Knights Templar guest house just inside the old city walls. Once again, I have a spacious US$126 room all to myself with a lavish breakfast for just US$30. The building is new, but is in keeping with it's surroundings, with the city's ancient aqueduct preserved in the guest house's open courtyards, great place to stay.
Slideshow of Akko (Acre). 

Saturday, 17 November 2012


Terraced gardens of the Bab
Sunday 11 November: It's been raining now for three days and more storms are forecast. I really don't want to face a wet and muddy two-day hike to the coast particularly as there is little to see en-route. So, a little reluctantly, I take the morning bus to Haifa.
When I arrive at the Port Inn in Downtown Haifa it's still raining but, after lunch, the clouds clear and I take the vernacular metro (91st mode of transport) to the ridge of Mt Carmel. The views over the port towards Akko are good but what I've really come to see here are The Baha'i Gardens. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the nineteen garden terraces grace the northern slope of Mt Carmel and serve to landscape the golden-domed shrine of Bab, the martyr-prophet of the Baha'i faith, who's remains were secretly smuggled here after he was executed in Iran in 1850.
Sadly access is limited as the wet paths are deemed too slippery for visitors, maybe  tomorrow.
Slideshow of Haifa.

Friday, 16 November 2012


Annunciation Church, built 1969
Wednesday 7 November: Kfar Kish to Nazareth - 15 miles (24km). My aching thigh an bum muscles resist climbing Mt Tabor, but I force them to work. From Shibli it's tough going on the rugged uphill trail, up and over rocky limestone crags. Clambering, at times on all-fours, it's a very steep incline that seems never ending. It takes me two hours to get to the summit and the 20th century Transfiguration Church built on the spot where Jesus is said to have had a fashion makeover and decided to recruit a permanent gang of followers. Down again, more limestone crags and conglomerate with cobbles as big as your fist in a limestone matrix, and the trail takes a big loop north, then up again, to the summit of Mt Devora with views back over Mt Tabor. After a picnic lunch I've found new strength and stride purposefully onwards to the village of Mashad and a short bus-ride, off trail, to Nazareth. It's late and I can't stop the lyrics of an old song by 'The Band' reverberating in my head:

I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead 
Just need to find a place where I can lay my head 
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?" 
He just grinned and shook my hand and, "No", was all he said
Thursday 8: Fauzi Azar Inn is a very atmospheric tumbled-down Christian-Arab Ottoman style mansion in the heart of old Nazareth. Rooms are set around the central ground-floor courtyard with another mezzanine lounge area above. Open arches, Ottoman-Christian painted ceilings (the winged-angels are a dead give-away) and Turkish marble floors make it a cool place to stay in every sense. Nazareth is an Arab city and the Arabic run Inn offers a free daily tour of the old city which includes the market, the White Mosque, carpentry workshops (of course), coffee traders, spice merchants, an old Crusader home, and juice vendors - lemonade and pomegranate, delicious. Falafel for lunch and in the evening I push the boat out by dining at the swish Tishreen restaurant: delicious chicken breast in lemon sauce with Goldstar 'dark lager beer', so far, the only ale to my taste. The 10% discount offered is soon wiped out by the hefty 17% government tax and 10% service charge added to the bill, ouch.
Friday 9: Few visitors stay in Nazareth. They are bused in, take a whistle-stop tour of three churches, then leave. It rains all morning but in the afternoon I stroll around the sights. First is the largest church in the Middle East, the unusual Basilica of the Annunciation, under which it is claimed that Mary first conceived of Jesus, well, perhaps just a twinkle in the eye of that angel Gabriel? Next, the Greek Orthodox Church at the top of the main street makes the same claim. There's not much to see at the Synagogue church where it's believed Jesus read from the Torah scroll. Finally, just before it rains again, I follow the 'Jesus trail' north out of the city centre for views back down over old Nazareth.
Saturday 10: It's still raining but after a wonderful lunch of hot humus topped with chick peas, olive oil, yogurt and red spicy sauce, the sun breaks through and I catch a bus to Kafr Cana. So, armed with a bottle of water, I head for Cana. "Will it turn turn to wine?" I ask myself, for this is regarded as the site of Jesus's first miracle - the wedding where water in opaque jars mysteriously turned into wine. The tour group hoards, mostly Nigerian, have beaten me to it. Many souvenir shops are selling 'Cana wedding wine' all with US dollar price tags and at US$17 a time they are piling high and selling it, well, high. I taste a little and, quite frankly, I'd prefer water. The bottles of 'Cana Chocolate Liquor' look interesting though. Well, if Jesus had produced chocolate in the Middle East, I too might believe in miracles. I wait for a bus back in the rain, plenty of water but no wine, or chocolate.
Slideshow of Nazareth: INT from Kfar Kish to Nazareth.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Sea of Galilee

Ancient shores, Sea of Galilee
Thursday 1 November: Safad to Tiberias - 15 miles (24km). It's all downhill today to the old Roman town named after the emperor of the day, Tiberias. It's a small but lively lakeside resort and I've decided to base myself here for a few days to explore the area. There's not much left of old Tiberias, just the remains of the ancient wall, a few old buildings and a short promenade built by the British, as a flood defence, following a devastating storm in May 1934. Evening entertainment is a nightly sound & light show of colourful ever-changing water fountains, complete with inflatable palm trees, accompanied by a musical narration which tells the story of the town.
Friday 2: Catching a bus north, part-ways around the lake, I get off at Capernaum, the latter-day home of Jesus of Nazareth. Again, there's not much to see of the original lakeside village or the house, or later church, of St Peter. The nearby Greek Orthodox church remains in working order.
Walking back, along the 'gospel route' towards Tiberias, I stop for lunch at Tabgha. It's buzzing with tour-bus groups but surprisingly there's little food, just a small stall selling snacks: chocolate, nuts and ice-cream mostly. This is especially surprising as this is where Jesus is fabled to have fed the multitude with five loaves and two fishes. I suspect that in reality most folk brought their own food (wish I had!) and were persuaded to share it with those who had none. The alter of the monastery sits above a stone, marked with a mosaic, which is said to have held the meagre portions that fed hungry mob. I'm starving, and buses in Israel stop running mid-afternoon on Fridays, so I head back to Tiberias for a late lunch - falafel (deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas served with humus and salad in a pita envelope). 'St Peter's fish & chips' are expensive hereabouts.
Monday 5: Tiberias to Poriya - 7 miles (11km). It's a steep road walk up and out of Tiberias but I'm glad to be above sea-level again with the Sea of Galilee and the river Jordan 700 or so feet (212m) below. It's a short morning but there are great vistas over the lake and back to Tiberias, shame it's so hazy. I'm staying in the IYHA guest house in Poriya which I booked via the HI website and, once again, I get a comfortable en-suite room with all the trimmings, TV, balcony with lake views and breakfast, all for the price of three-bed dorm (about US$30), ideal. As an added bonus is that access to their missile shelter is included in the price, bargain.
Tuesday 6: Poriya to Kfar Kish - 21 miles (33km). Great walk above the lake, then down to Kinneret where I briefly pop into Yardenit, the baptismal site on the river Jordan, where white-gowned fools immerse themselves in the murky waters. It's a tourist trap with prices quoted only in US dollars (rather than New Israeli Shekels), a small bottle of water is $2.5 and it's $3 to spend a penny. Barely a shallow stream, I follow the litter-strewn Jordan to Rob Roy Canoes, a trail angel corner offering free water, tea and coffee to hikers. I top-up my supplies, I'll need all of my three litres of water, it will be a long hot day.
From the Jordan it's up along various gullys then up, up, up over coarse limestone crags to Eilot Observation Point and the military listening post beyond, scanning the Jordan valley for danger. No sooner does the Sea of Galilee disappear to the east when the unmistakable hump of Mt Tabor appears to the west, it's on the horizon and a long way off. When I arrive at Kfar Kish at the foot of the mountain it's dark. Clearly knackered, Sarah at Tabor Land guesthouse kindly cooks me an omelet and I'm asleep by 9:30pm.
Slideshow around the Sea of Galilee: INT from Safad to Kfar Kish.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Upper Galilee

Hula Valley and the Golan Heights
Friday 26 October: Taking the train to Haifa's Lev Hamifratz station I walk south, through a shopping mall, to the bus station where all the timetables are in Hebrew, but eventually I work it out. It's Friday and I'm struck by the sheer number of young automatic-weapon totting soldiers going home for the weekend. Many of the girls look barely old enough give a decent blow-job, let alone taste the horrors of war, yet they are all trained to kill. Conscription here is compulsory for almost all (three years for boys, two for girls) so the whole population is a standing army ready to take up arms. Most people smoke heavily. This is a country living on it's nerves. Eventually I board a 501 bus to Kiryat Shemona and I'm joined by a well proportioned but skinny young blond girl who falls asleep next to me. As the bus bounces along slowly her shoulder-strap slides down her honey-skinned arm and the black muzzle of her assault-rifle, in places worn through to the shiny-metal beneath, comes to rest on my lap. This seems commonplace, I do hope the safety catch is on. 
When we arrive at Kiryat Shemona all the local buses have stopped running so I walk two miles up the hill to the IYHA guest house in Tel-Hai where I've booked myself a place in a three-bed dorm for two nights B&B. Imagine my delight when I'm given a spacious en-suite room with twin-bathroom, tea & coffee, fridge and TV for just 100NIS per night (about £16). I'd made this reservation via the Hosteling International (HI) website, the usual price is $75 per person, I must bear this in mind. The guest house has an intriguing feature that I've not seen in any hotel previously - a missile shelter. I don't remember seeing that in the brochure.
Saturday 27: Dan Kibbutz to Tel-Hai - 8 miles (12km). There are no buses today so I walk eight-miles by road to Dan Kibbutz, the trailhead of the INT, and then walk the same back along the trail to Tel-Hai. Once the obligatory photo is taken, it's a pleasant enough walk alongside orange groves with views north to Mt Hermon.
Sunday 28: Tel-Hai to Ramnot Naftali - 13 miles (20km). The route climbs up the east side of the Hula Valley, the northern extension of the Great Rift Valley, a deep trench running from Mozambique in the south, north to northern Syria. There are fine views from the craggy limestone hillside across the valley to the West Bank and the Golan heights. Clambering down, then up a wadi, or dry river bed, I reach Ramnot Naftali just before dusk. Here I meet Uri Agmon, a trail angel, who offers me one of 16 mattresses in his hiking hut, a converted detached school classroom. Later three Israeli hikers arrive, all pretty worn out. There's a shower, kitchen and it's free, though I do leave a courtesy gratuity (20NIS, about £3) when I leave.
Monday 29: Ramnot Naftali to Sasa Kibbutz - 19 miles (21km). Much of today is scrambling up the loose rounded boulders of Nahal Dishon wadi, slow going with a high risk of injury. When I stop for lunch a group of furry little creatures slowly appear on the nearby boulder-beds. Staying low and quiet I creep forward to take a picture. They are a family of Rock Hyrax basking in the sun, wonderful. I arrive at Mt Meron Field School Centre only to find that it's locked, so backtracking to Sasa Kibbutz I call a trail angel, Yoni Tzorzan, who shows me to a 6-bedded 'granny' flat attached to his large house. It's free with tea and coffee included and I have it all to myself. Again, the next morning, I leave a small gratuity.
Tuesday 30: Sasa Kibbutz to Safed - 13 miles (20km). Slowly the trail ascends Mt Neria, drops down slightly, then ascends again to the summit of Mt Meron, at 3,963 feet (1208m) it's Israel's highest peak, but it's hazy and the views are poor. From here it's down to the Nahal Amud river bed which gradually becomes wetter and more stream-like towards Sechevi Pools near Sefat. The town of Safat sits on top of the third highest mountain in Israel and it's a difficult climb up two steep gullys before a steep road walk up to the old citadel and city centre. I've reserved a room for two nights but there's really not that much to see, just scores of ultra-Orthodox Jews with hair-braids dangling from wide-brimmed black hats, wearing black suits and rushing to escape the heat.
Here I receive an automated Skype call on my laptop (surprising as few people know my number) telling me my computer is working slowly and that I should link to a website were all will be repaired. Quickly I run a virus scan and as it starts my screen turns bright blue, letters cascade down the screen like a rain drops, and everything goes blank. It's like something out of a science fiction movie. Fortunately the Safed Inn has free internet, giving me a temporary solution.
Slideshow of Upper Galilee: INT from Dan Kibbutz to Safed.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Israel National Trail (INT)

Israel National Trail
In Spain my kind friends from England delivered a book I'd been waiting for - a guide, in English, with 1:50,000 (about 1 inch to 1 mile) scale Survey of Israel mapping depicting the route of Israel's National Trail. A 600 mile (960km) or so hike from Dan Kibbutz, near the Lebanese frontier in the north, to the resort of Eilat, just short of the Egyptian border in the south. It's reasonably well written but, as the maps are in a separate section to the body of the book and the various types of accommodation are listed alphabetical, by unfamiliar place name, it's very difficult to use. So much so that I spent much of my time, both in Cyprus and in Tel Aviv, annotating the maps with yellow and green stickys indicating places to stay and water access points. There are various types of accommodation along the route: hotels, guest houses and B&B's, Israel Youth Hostel Association (IYHA) guest houses, independent (ILH) hostels , SPNI (Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel) field schools, caravansaries, campsites and 'trail angels' (individuals who offer accommodation, and often more, freely to INT hikers). Both where to stay and drinking water availability, particularly in the Negev Desert, are crucial factors in walking this route.
Unlike my previous hikes this one lends itself to exploring the whole country, so that's what I intend to do. I'll walk the trail and when I feel like it I'll take a few days off to explore places nearby that take my fancy. National Geographic lists this trail in the top ten of the world's greatest hikes. Over the next few weeks we'll find out if it is. From the SPNI offices in Tel Aviv I've picked-up a trail passport and I've downloaded a current list of trail angels, now I'm ready to go.
Slideshow of planning the Israel National Trail.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Israel: Tel Aviv & Jaffa

Jaffa minaret overlooks Tel Aviv
Sunday 21 October: Arriving late at Ben Gurion Airport the helpful tourist office provides me with a map of Israel and a detailed plan of Tel Aviv. It's a half-hour wait for a train to Savidor station, the most central one for the city centre, but it's easy, announcements are in both Hebrew and English. It's a pleasantly warm evening when I embark so I decide to walk the two miles or so to the seafront, I want to get a feel for the place. What strikes me most is the colourful array of business cards scattered on street corner pavements: pictures of a busty girl, a phone number and a scribble in Hebrew. I guess someone picks them up, must be fun for the street cleaners.
Monday 22: I expected to hate Tel Aviv but actually I very much like the city. It's a lively, largely secular, place spread along an idyllic Mediterranean seafront of fine sandy beaches, spotlessly clean, not busy and free to all. A stroll south along the promenade takes me to the headland of Jaffa and great views back along the high-rise backed beaches, where even the balcony of my room in Hayarkon 84 Hostel has a sea view. Behind the sea frontage the straight lines and smooth curves of the Bauhaus architecture pepper the city centre. Banned by the Nazis in Germany, this social housing style proliferated in Tel Aviv as development expanded in the 1930s and 40s.
Israel is another country where the paper currency looks like toy money. All the bank notes are the same size. The reddish 200NIS (New Israeli Shekel) note is the most valuable (about £32) and the 20NIS note the least (about £3). Shekel coins are all silver, the 10NIS coin looks more like a euro, but it's worth two (about £1.60).
Tuesday 23: In need of some supplies I walk to the city's main shopping mall, the Dizengoff Centre and, unusually for Tel Aviv, it's a non-smoking complex. However, much to my amusement, there are little glass booths on each level where as many as three crazy people can cram in to puff on a cigarette. They are so thick with smoke that I dub them 'fumeatoriums' and move on.
Thursday 25: The city Art Museum is where I first see Israeli art. It's good but I'm more seduced by the European works, much of it having escaped pre-war Germany in the 1930s. Some of the donated North American pieces appeal too.
Slideshow of Tel Aviv & Jaffa.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Cyprus: Larnaka

Troodos Mountains in cloud
Thursday 18 October: To escape the dank, cold and wet winter in northern Europe (and all that comes with it: coughing, sneezing, coats and scarves, numb toes, snot, phlegm, blocked noses, sore throats and congestion) I had planned to cruise from Cyprus to overwinter in the Middle East but both ferry operators have suspended their services for 2012. However, the San Remo Hotel here has a good deal: double en-suite room with balcony overlooking the pool, plus a large and varied buffet breakfast (all for just 19 a night). I'm going to laze in Larnaka for a while. Today I take a gentle stroll north to the Roman aqueduct then around the salt lake, for which Larnaka was once famous, and I don't see a soul, great. The food is great too: Sea Bream with Greek salad, a little red wine and a sweet local desert to finish.
Saturday 20: Day trip to the divided city of Nicosia. The sturdy city walls are more impressive than photogenic. I've left my passport at the hotel so I'm unable to visit the Turkish sector, pity.
Photos of Cyprus.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


City view, National Palace terrace
Thursday 11 October: The Spanish city of architecture and art. Top of my list is the most visited attraction in Spain, Antoni Gaudi's unfinished Basilica de la Sagrada Familla. Work started in 1891, be great when it's finished, but when will it all end? Further north, near my hotel, is Park Guell, another delightful Guadi creation. With a fairy-tale feel, there are magnificent views across the cityscape to the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
Friday 12: Today I buy the Art Pass and head to a museum dedicated to another one of the city's famous sons, Pablo Picasso. Truly fantastic images, including his blue period, but no photos (other than through the shop window and of the temporary Vilato Gent exhibition).
Saturday 13: Travelling east along the coast I meet friends Robin & Debie holidaying at Pieda de Mar from where we drive out to the Roman site at Empuries where, apart from a few well-kept mosaics, little remains. Back in Pieda there's a beer festival happening, rich dark ales from Portugal are the most flavoursome choice. Four-fifths to the wind I end up staying the night.
Sunday 14: Still fuzzy headed, I'm back in Barcelona early and visit two Gaudi designed apartment buildings: Casa Batilo and, my favourite, La Pedrera. A masterpiece of Modernism the light-well and roof terrace with decorated chimenys are a delight. Housed in the National Palace, the Museu National de'Art de Catalunya (non-flash photos permitted) has a fine collection but, for me, Picasso's Woman in Hat and Fur Collar epitomises his unique Modernist style. There are fantastic views from the museum terraces. Now, I'd like to visit the nearby Fundacio Joan Miro but it closes early on a Saturday, another time. So, instead I travel across town to the Centre de Cultura Contemporania where I discover how to recycle my old wine corks and LPs in a novel and creative fashion.
Bloody Ryan Air have brought my flight forward by seven hours so I now need to get to the airport in the middle of the night with no connecting public transport, the bast***s. But, a new country awaits . . .
Photos of Barcelona.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Picasso's The Rescue, Reina Sofia
Sunday 7 October: After Salamanca, apart from Madrid's grand Plaza Mayor, I'm completely underwhelmed by the capital's architecture, but there are three great art galleries to see.
The Museo del Prado is all about the old masters of European art and there are lots of them: Breugel, Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Caravaggio, Velazquez, Van Dyke, Rembrant and, of course, Goya, to name but a few. Classical and christian themes in abundance plus a few nudes that add a spicy secular appeal (but no photography allowed, just of the printed catalogue and in the shop).
Monday 8: The Museo Reina Sofia starts in the 1900's with the Avant-garde through Cubism, to Dada and Surrealism. The large jewel in the crown is Pablo Picasso's Guernica which everyone comes to see. An anti-war statement, it depicts the terror of war, particularly for the innocent, telling the story of a Basque village devastated by bombs from German and Italian war planes, at the request of the nationalist forces, during the Spanish civil war. I particularly like the range of works by Picasso, Dali and Juan Gris who, not surprisingly, are all well represented here. Great stuff (and non-flash photography is allowed in most of the galleries). I stay here the whole day, some of Picasso's work is just stunning.
Tuesday 9: Chronologically arranged, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza shows a selection of art from the 13th to the late 20th century. The major periods and pictorial schools of western art such as the Renaissance, Mannerism, the Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism and the art of the 19th and 20th centuries (which is more fully represented in the Reina Sofia) up to Pop Art are all represented here (again, no photos allowed).
I've a quiet room in the friendly family-run Las Murallas right in the heart of the city, in Calle de Fuencarral, just north of Gran Via.
Photos of Madrid.

Monday, 5 November 2012


Baroque splendour of Plaza Mayor
Friday 5 October: From Zamora it's a short bus ride to the beautiful old university city of Salamanca. An UNESCO World Heritage Site with twin cathedrals: Romanesque and Gothic (the new one!), a fine Roman bridge, expansive plazas and university buildings that rival those of Cambridge. The abundance of pretty young female students compliments the old city's appeal. Hostal Tormes, above C/Rua Mayor, couldn't be more central.
Photos of Salamanca.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


Zamora's watermills and cathedral
Wednesday 3 October: Winter is approaching in northern Europe, it's time to follow the sun. So, walking boots in backpack, I take the southbound train to the historic town of Zamora, near the Portuguese border. It feels good to be on the move again. Zamora's set on a rocky bluff above the Rio Duero with more Romanesque architecture than you can shake a semicircular arch at. A squat Medieval castle and cathedral overlook historic watermills that jut into the slow flowing river. A pleasant place for a stroll in the October sunshine.
Photos of Zamora.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Camino Norte

Medieval port of Castro Urdiales
Saturday 4 August: Sad family affairs concluded, I stay in England for a spell to enjoy the London Olympics. There's a happy atmosphere in the city and the games are well executed - well done team GB.
Thursday 30 August: After walking a bit of the camino Frances, yes again, I finally find my way to Irun, the trailhead for the camino norte, a scenic but strenuous coastal route to Santiago. It's less popular than the camino Frances with fewer albergues and was only used by Christian pilgrims when Muslim domination of Spain extended northwards making the camino Frances difficult and dangerous. I'm looking forward to the challenge.
Albergue de Peregrinos (9), friendly association albergue in Irun.
Friday 31: Irun to San Sebastian - 15 miles (25km). It's a steeper climb than I'm used to but there are fine views back over Irun and beyond. A short ferry ride across an estuary and it's a flattish afternoon stroll to the dual beaches of San Sebastian with a hilltop statue of the saint between the two. The sprawling town is noted for it's pinchos, or 'tapas' in Spanish, and I dine on several variations washed down, of course, with vino tinto.
Albergue de la Association (10), bunks in local school hall. 
Saturday 1 September: San Sebastian to Zarautz - 13 miles (23km). A pleasant coastal stretch to Zarautz where I meet Welland, an American English teacher living in Madrid, and Gary, a German Frieslander, who represents his minority group internationally.
Albergue de Peregrinos (5), comfortable beds in an old shuttered building near the lively sea front.
Sunday 2: Zarautz to Deba - 13 miles (21km). I meet Gary and Welland again in the albergue in Deba, a work-a-day town in a steep-sided valley with outdoor lifts linking the various levels.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5), converted school classrooms with communal showers.
Monday 3: Deba to Markina - 19 miles (30km). Climbing above Markina I reach the Monastery of Zenarruza and stay at the expensive private albergue nearby. Gary, Welland and a Lithuanian couple we've met opt to stay free in the monastery. This involves mass, so I'm glad to give it a miss.
Albergue de Ziortza Beitia (€15), B&B and dorm to myself.
Tuesday 4: Markina to Gernika Lumo - 11 miles (17km). Walking for a while today with Gary and Wellend we reach Gernika where there are no albergues just an expensive youth hostel. We take a simple room in a pension, drink too much wine and oversleep the next day.
Pension Gernika (€17), shared triple room.
Wednesday 5: Gernika to Lesama - 13 miles (20km). Late start and short day. Gary has left his walking poles behind so I try to catch up but they are moving fairly quickly.
Association albergue (€5).
Thursday 6: Lesama to Posena - 27 miles (43km). Today I carry on through Bilbao, the others take a bus, so I arrive fairly late in the day and I become part of the overflow group, sleeping in a tent in the garden. This is fine - better than bunk-beds which I've grown to hate. Gary, Welland and the Lithuanians are here and we adjourn for a beer. Gary is overjoyed to get his poles back and I also meet Liverpudlian, Peter, a musician who lives in Malaga.
Association albergue (€5), large tent in garden.
Friday 7: Posena to Castro Urdiales -12 miles (20km). I'm impressed by the beach resort and old fortified seaport of Castro Urdules. It's church and castle lighthouse linked to the harbour by a fine Medieval bridge. The little orange albergue is cute too as are the two Czech girls we meet in the garden here.
Albergue Municipal (€5), small and a little cramped but with a spacious garden.
Saturday 8: Urdiales to Laredo - 16 miles (25km). Another day of cliff-top walking and I arrive in the streets of Laredo. Wellend is in the monastic albergue with the Czech girls but it's full and I stay in a quirky but friendly little albergue nearby.
El Buen Pastor (€13), room with beds.
Sunday 9: Laredo to Guemes - 15 miles (24km). A morning stroll along the promenade takes me to the ferry to Santona and onto the sweeping beach and a steep headland climb at Berria. I don't want to carry on as far as Santander so I stop in the joyous albergue at Guemes. I'm sharing a room with Wellend and a stunningly beautiful Spanish girl who Welland can't stop talking about. After a very good communal dinner Welland is still talking about the girl so just before bedtime I start a brief conversation:
Me: "Welland, the cute Spanish girl in our room has just asked me what your name is."
Welland: (jumping up and down and punching the air) "Yes, yes, yes!"
Me: "Yea, in your dreams." 
Laughter all round.
El Cagigal (20), dinner, B&B friendly and homely with good facilities.
Monday 10: Guemes to Quevada - 27 miles (44km). Down to the coast again and a ferry from Somo to Santander. Others take the bus but I continue walking out of town through dreary suburbs and onto the next albergue where Gary and the Lithuanians are staying. It's full, so I have little option but to continue to the larger one in Quevada, long day.
Albergue Arco Iris (€20), dinner B&B.
Tuesday 11: Quevada to Comillas - 16 miles (25km). This morning takes me downhill to the tourist hot spot and crumbling religious buildings of Santillana del Mar but the pink and white church, a little further on, in Cobreces is far more impressive.
La Penna albergue (€5), converted prison with comfortable beds above an open central courtyard.
Wednesday 12: Comillas to San Vincente de la Barquera - 8 miles (12km). It's raining today and I don't have any wet weather gear so I stop early. St Vincent's a pleasant castellated town perched on a headland above twin estuaries. The basic albergue seems expensive until I realise the price includes afternoon tea, dinner and breakfast.
Albergue de Peregrinos - El Galeon (€13), dinner, B&B.
Thursday 13: St Vincente to Llanes - 25 miles (40km). A rocky coastline once again and Llanes appears in the far distance but the ridge and path veer southwest away from the town, eventually I get there but it seems to take an age.
Albergue La Portilla (€15), dorm to myself in hotel complex.
Friday 14: Llanes to San Esteban - 24 miles (38km). Following under an impressive limestone cliff most of the morning I then cross the Rio Beddon which is teeming with fish before going up again and onto San Esteban.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5).
Saturday 15: San Estaban to La Isla -10 miles (16km). There's an long beach walk-in to La Isla so I slip off my boots and enjoy a gentle paddle into town.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5).
Sunday 16: La Isla to Villaviclose - 11 miles (16km). The path now turns inland and I ignore a basic albergue to reach pilgrim friendly hotel in the centre of town, luxury.
Hotel Carlos I (20), comfortable en-suite B&B.
Monday 17: Villaviclose to Pola de Siero - 18 miles (29km). More inland walking. It's getting colder here now and I have little in the way of cold weather gear.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5), liked this one.
Pola to Oviedo - 11 miles (17km). Stupidly I miss the turning to Gijon and arrive in Oveido on the remote and mountainous camino primitivo. I really don't have suitable gear for this route. I'll sleep on it.
Albergue de Peregrinos (5). As it's so cold now on the coast I decide to get the train to Leon and continue to Santiago on the warmer more southern camino Frances, yes that one again. 
Wednesday 19: Leon to Villar de Mazerife - 15 miles (22km). An early start and it's warm and sunny when my train arrives in Leon. I stride out once again on the camino Frances exactly where I left off earlier this summer.
Saturday 22: Three days walking and I'm in the comfortable twin-bedroom municipal albergue (€5). Don't know how I missed this one last time.
Monday 24: It's raining again so I stay two nights in Sarria. This will make it difficult for me to reach Santiago by Friday when I've agreed to meet Gary and Peter for a final celebratory drink.
Friday 28: Following two long 30 mile days I book into the comfortable pilgrim friendly Hospederia Seminairo Mayor in Santiago with it's church-like dinning room, en-suite B&B (€23). Washed and brushed up I join Gary and Peter for a few beers. We are surprised we all made it. I'll stay here for a few days before deciding where my travels will take me next.
Photos of the Camino Norte.