Practical : FAQs (Confraternity SJ)

 

                                   Confraternity of St James : Frequently Asked Questions  

                                                     http://www.csj.org.uk/faqs.htm

 

                                           This page updated by hn on 30/03/2010

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1. Presentation

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2. Before

 

Isn't it just for religious people ?

Are there facilities for the disabled ?

Will a disabled pilgrim using motorised transport or with back-up be given a Compostela?

I'm a diabetic ... (and other medical problems)

 

Which route should I choose ?

What is the path like?

How far is it?

I have limited time, so where should I start from ?

Is there a minimum distance ?

What about walking to Rome ?

 

When should I go ?

What about going in winter ?

Is the camino becoming too popular ?

What about going in a Holy Year ?

What is the weather like?

 

Taking a dog (including Guide and Service dogs)

What about cycling ?

I'd like to go on horseback, or maybe take a donkey

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3. Starting

 

What is the Pilgrim Record or credencial ?

What books and maps do I need ?

What about insurance ?

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4. On the way

 

How much does it cost, and how do I get money ?

What about accommodation ?

Are there places which offer a Christian welcome?

 

Is it safe for women travelling alone ?

What about dangerous dogs?

Bed bugs on the Camino

 

How about keeping in touch ?

Should I try to learn some French and/or Spanish beforehand ?

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5. Informations

 

Taking bikes on French trains

Can you supply GPS coordinates for the Camino?

Do you organise tours or group pilgrimages ?

Can I get help with transporting my luggage?

I'm a vegetarian ...

How can I find out mass times in advance?

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6.

What next ?

Any more help available?

Not found what you're looking for ?

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1. Presentation

- This page answers the first questions usually asked about making the pilgrimage to Santiago de

Compostela.

- Do also visit our Planning your Pilgrimage page http://www.csj.org.uk/planning.htm

, and the Pilgrimage to Santiago site http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/

, where you will find up-to-the minute news from Santiago and about the pilgrimage in general,

and a fertile discussion forum, http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/

http://www.caminodesantiago.me/board/

where there are discussion threads on general pilgrimage topics, and others devoted to the individual routes.

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 2. Before

 

Isn't the pilgrimage just for religious people ?

- By no means. You will in fact meet relatively few pilgrims with an expressly religious/catholic motivation, though you'll meet equally few who deny any interest in its spiritual side. Precisely because it is so broadly defined, it attracts seekers of many different kinds who, almost invariably, will be willing to exchange their life-stories for yours.

- Moreover, you'll come face-to-face with people from all over the world, whose approach to the pilgrimage may be radically different from yours. As a sample, we are including a French pilgrim's answer to this very question, virtually untranslatable into English. http://www.csj.org.uk/croyants.htm

- You may like to read two essays by our former chairman, Laurie Dennett (To be a pilgrim  http://www.csj.org.uk/spirit.htm ... and Gifts and Reflections http://www.csj.org.uk/gifts.htm ), which accurately reflect the present-day experience of the pilgrimage.

 

Are there facilities for the disabled ?

- www.ibermutuamur.es/camino_santiago/inicio/inicial.htm sets out to be a guide to the Camino francés for the disabled. Click on the heading "Resumen de etapas" for a colourcoded assessment of the feasibility of each stage.

- There's some information at www.chemindecompostelle.com

- In general, we'd like to include more information and advice about the pilgrimage for people with disabilities, and would welcome any thing you can offer us.

 

Will a disabled pilgrim using motorised transport or with back-up be given a Compostela?

- This question has been debated thoughtfully and thoroughly in the Pilgrim Office at Santiago. They do not have a hard-and-fast rule about disabled pilgrims and power-assisted modes of transport. They consider each case individually, giving particular attention to the person’s motivation and effort.

- Their view is that if the person makes their way albeit with assistance for 100 kms and collects sellos on a credencial they will issue a Compostela.

- They suggest that you ask the CSJ for a letter of introduction and (if possible) have the CSJ tell them by e mail when you are about to arrive.

 

I'm a diabetic ... (and other medical problems)

- For the experience and advice of a diabetic pilgrim who offered to share his experience with us: http://www.csj.org.uk/diabetics.htm

- For more advice for diabetics, go to the Forum, and put "Diabetes" into the Seach box.

- For medical problems in general, go to the Forum's discussion thread "Medical issues on the pilgrimage": http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/medical-issues-on-the-pilgrimage/

- Advice given to a pilgrim suffering from Sleep Apnoea: http://www.csj.org.uk/i-faqs.htm#electricity

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Which route should I choose ?

- Until fairly recently, only the Camino francés (running from Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees via Burgos and León to Santiago) in Spain - and for those with time and inclination to walk further, the route from le Puy in the rench massif central, via Cahors and Moissac, to the Pyrenees (GR65) - were sufficiently developed for pilgrims to follow; and they have, with the growing popularity of the pilgrimage, become correspondingly crowded (more on this below)

- The Via de la Plata (from Seville via Mérida and Salamanca) and the Caminos del Norte (from Irún along the north coast as far as Ribadeo, then turning south - but with several alternative possibilities) in Spain and the routes from Vézelay and Arles in France (although these feed into the Camino francés) are now well way-marked and have plenty of pilgrim accommodation, and all four are wonderful walks in their own right.

- The attraction of the "traditional" routes is understandable, and the alternatives have until now mostly been used by second-time pilgrims. But if the prospect of the crowds deters you, do give serious thought to taking the Via de la Plata or the Camino del Norte, or starting from Vézelay or Arles, even for your first pilgrimage.

- Follow these links for a general account of the routes to Santiago

http://www.csj.org.uk/routes.htm

and more detailed descriptions of the individual routes

http://www.csj.org.uk/route-overview-pages.htm

- Remember that Guides to all the routes are available through our on-line Bookshop.

 

What is the path like?

- All the routes are varied, from footpath to metalled highway. Some of the footpaths are gravelled, some remain deep mud, some are strewn with boulders. Some road stretches remain (though local authorities along the Camino francés have recently made big efforts to create separate pilgrim footpaths alongside the highway).

- The pass over the Pyrenees from St Jean-Pied-de-Port reaches 1,400 m, as do the Montes de León and the pass at O Cebreiro. For the height profiles of the le Puy route, the Paris route, the Camino Francés, and the Via de la Plata, http://www.godesalco.com/iphp/perfil.php

- The southern part of the Via de la Plata follows the old roman road from Seville to Astorga. Many sections of it are exposed; you cross several roman bridges, and the many of the roman mile-stones are still visible.

- The standard waymarks on all the Spanish routes are yellow arrows, painted on walls, trees, telegraph poles and rocks. They are generally plentiful, and it's hard to get lost.

 

How far is it?

- Roncesvalles to Santiago is about 800 km i.e. 4-5 weeks walking or 2 weeks by bike. Seville to Santiago, on the Via de la Plata, is 1000 km, walkable in about 6 weeks. Le Puy to Roncesvalles is about 5 weeks walking, Vézelay similar. Paris to Santiago is 2000 km. Arles to Puente la Reina is about 900 km. For descriptions of all the routes, click here.

 

I have limited time, so where should I start from ?

- Many people limited to more or less short holiday periods make the pilgrimage in stages, picking up each year where they ended the year before, and spreading the journey over as many as 10 years (though 6 periods of about a fortnight's walking, for example, would be enough to walk all the way from le Puy). This is a perfectly valid way to do it, though you should ensure that your last stage is long enough (see next question) to warrant the issue of the Compostela.

- If you don't want to commit so many years ahead, calculate your starting point by working back from Santiago. Walkers can make it in about a fortnight from León, and about three weeks from Burgos, though all such timings depend on your own pace and fitness.

http://www.csj.org.uk/planning.htm#start

- Remember, if you are planning a minimal pilgrimage, that it is quite catching. A number of people have walked the last stages, enjoyed it so much that they have returned the following year to walk the previous ones, and end up making the pilgrimage stage by stage, but in reverse !

- Pilgrims who have started from their own front door, joining one of the traditional routes at the nearest practical point, report that this has added meaning to their journey.

 

Is there a minimum distance ?

- To qualify for the Compostela, walkers and pilgrims on horseback must have covered (without a support vehicle) at least the last 100 km, and cyclists the last 200 km.

- For a fuller statement of the requirements made by the Cathedral authorities

http://www.csj.org.uk/don-jaime-letter.htm

- A certificado is available for those who arrive at Santiago as pilgrims, but not meeting the Cathedral's requirements for the compostela.

 

What about walking to Rome ?

- Not officially our patch, but we are aware of a growing interest in the Via Francigena, and have added an Overview page: http://www.csj.org.uk/route-viafrancigena.htm

and a couple of links to our list: http://www.csj.org.uk/other-websites.htm#rome

- However, a fellow association, the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome, came into being late in 2006: http://www.pilgrimstorome.org.uk/ . We extend them a warm welcome, and wish them buen camino. Contact them at info*pilgrimstorome.org.uk

- We also have a set of notes on images of St James to be found in Rome, in case any of our Santiago pilgrims should find themselves there ... http://www.csj.org.uk/rome.htm

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 When should I go ?

- The pilgrimage season is from March (Easter) until October, with the pleasantest weather in May, June and September. The summer months can be extremely hot, especially on the meseta, the high and very exposed plain between Burgos and León on the Camino francés, and on the more southerly sections of the Via de la Plata.

 

What about going in winter ?

- If you are thinking of going in winter, remember that the meseta is on average 800m above sea level, and that the passes over the Pyrenees, the Montes de León and O Cebreiro on the Camino francés, and the passes of A Canda and Padornelo on the Via de la Plata all reach about 1,400m. It can be very cold, wet, and windy, and you can meet deep snow.

- Two pilgrims died when they were caught in blizzards during the crossing to Roncesvalles in January and April 2002; another died just above Roncesvalles in April 2007; and we have recently heard of a French woman pilgrim who died of exposure at the Col de Lepoeder in March 2009. In late March 2005 two pilgrims neglected local advice in St Jean Pied-de-Port and attempted to follow the Route Napoléon in snow. They very nearly died. We cannot emphasise too strongly: MOUNTAINS ARE DANGEROUS and LOCAL PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. Take local advice about weather conditions; disregard it at your peril.

- Experience suggests that the passage over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles, perfectly feasible and even enjoyable in good weather, can be particularly treacherous even in late spring (April), and - as in all mountainous areas - the weather can change very quickly. In any doubt, we recommend that you follow the less attractive road route rather than the highlevel route; avoid going alone if you possibly can; and tell people in St Jean what your plans are, arranging for them to call the emergency services if you haven't phoned back from Roncesvalles by an agreed time to report your safe arrival.

- Accommodation may be less plentiful in winter, since not all the refugios operate in the winter. Don't be altogether discouraged, but do be aware of the risks.

- A pilgrim who walked the first half of the Via de la Plata in January 2007 reported thick freezing fog on many mornings, lasting sometimes until middday. He was appropriately dressed, and carried a compass and a mobile phone, but he also took the precaution - it being a very lonely route at this time of year - of telling his hosts each morning where he was going and when he expected to arrive: if they had not heard from him by an agreed time, they undertook to contact the Guardia Civil. This seems wise.

  

Is the camino becoming too popular ?

- There are different views on this. Some regret the not-so-very-distant days of few pilgrims and rudimentary facilities; others welcome the emergence of a mass pilgrimage on foot in Europe to compare (albeit still feebly) with those to Mecca and Benares, pointing out that if you want a solitary walk, whether religious or otherwise, there are plenty of places left.

- Certainly the Camino francés has been promoted well beyond the capacity of the facilities available for pilgrims, and the refugios have been tending to fill up well before the usual high season. The summer's unseemly race between pilgrims who set off earlier and earlier each day to be sure of a bed in the next refuge, starts in the spring, and extends into the autumn as well. Similar difficulties are arising on the very popular le Puy Route in France.

- Perhaps this means that the original hardship of the camino, when there were few if any facilities for pilgrims, has been replaced by another type of hardship: the difficulty of maintaining one's simplicity and trust when in frank competition with so many others.

- If the crowds deter you, give serious thought to choosing the Via de la Plata (from Seville), even for your first pilgrimage, as an alternative route. It is perfectly feasible, very beautiful, and - so far - much less frequented. In France, consider the Vézelay or Arles routes.

 

What about going in a Holy Year ?

- Numbers arriving at Santiago have been rising steadily since 1986, with peaks in Holy Years (years in which St James's Day, 25 July, falls on a Sunday), and (usually) a return to the underlying pattern immediately after. However, the graph following the 1999 Holy Year shows a marked increase in the underlying trend.

- More than 150,000 Compostelas were issued in Holy Year 1999, and just under 180,000 in Holy Year 2004. In 2000, Santiago (as well as being a European City of Culture) participated in the general Jubilee, treating it as an exceptional Holy Year, and granting the plenary indulgence to those who qualified for it: 55,004 Compostelas were issued. Since 2001, not a special year in any sense, when numbers reached 61,418, the underlying trend

has continued to rise steadily; in 2006, numbers exceded 100,000, and in 2007 reached 114,000.

- 2010 is another Holy Year. There is every reason to expect more than 200,000 pilgrims to be on the roads to Santiago. Uunless you have a strong reason of your own for going in a Holy Year, you would be well advised to avoid it.

- Pilgrim Masses at Santiago in Holy Year 2010:

The Pilgrims Office have confirmed that the Pilgrims' Mass will be held every day at 10.00, 12.00, 18.00 and

19.30.

 

What is the weather like?

- The weather is unpredictable most of the year, so you should be prepared for rain (particularly in Galicia), day-time heat and cold nights, especially in the Pyrenees, and the high passes in Galicia.

- See above "What about going in winter?" for advice on crossing the mountains in winter weather.

- One of our members, Peter Robins, provides links from his website (mainly devoted to an account of the currently practicable European routes to Santiago) to the 5-day weather forecasts, and 30-year averages, for several places along the Camino.

http://www.peterrobins.co.uk/camino/weather.html

- See also: http://www.xacobeo.es

- and (for a truly formidable array of weather information covering most of Europe, though especially Spain)

http://groups.msn.com/ElCaminoSantiago/weather.msnw : as its designer says modestly: you can't change the weather, but you can dress accordingly.

- And visit the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum for up-to-the-minute exchanges about the weather

http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/weather-in-spain/

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Taking a dog (including Guide and Service dogs)

- Now that Passports for Pets are available in Britain, it's worth warning you that the refugios do not accept dogs. Bear in mind, too, if you are thinking of taking your dog, that however docile it is, it will still be seen as trespassing on the territory of the local ones, and could be attacked. On the whole, we don't recommend it.

- Guide and Service dogs are a different matter, and at the time of posting this FAQ (July 2009), the available information isn't clear-cut. Follow this link in the Forum:

http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/miscellaneous-topics/topic6482.html

- We strongly advise you NOT to take your own dog with you.

 

What about cycling ?

- Much of the advice given on this site, though mainly intended for walkers, applies to cyclists as well, but for more specific advice, try http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Santiago_Bicicleta or http://www.mundicamino.com

- We also have a very useful booklet in our Practical Pilgrims Notes series - The Cycling Pilgrim, 2nd ed, Feb 2006 - available through our our Bookshop.

- And visit the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum to join the current cyclists' conversation.

 

I'd like to go on horseback, or maybe take a donkey

- On the whole, animals seem to be more trouble than they're worth, but follow these links to find out more about going on horseback: http://www.csj.org.uk/horse.htm

and taking a donkey: http://www.csj.org.uk/other-websites.htm#donkey

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3. Starting

 

What is the Pilgrim Record or credencial?

- The Pilgrim Record (credencial in Spanish) is a certificate of bona fide pilgrim status, and is required for access to the refugios along all the routes in Spain. It is stamped at the beginning, and daily at churches, refugios, town halls (Ayuntamiento),bars etc along the way. Pilgrims present the completed card at the Pilgrim Office in Santiago, fill in a questionnaire about why they have made the pilgrimage and may then qualify for a Compostela certificate.

- The Confraternity issues Pilgrim Records free to members - but NOT to non-members. To find out more, go to our How and where to get a credencial page: http://www.csj.org.uk/how-to-get-a-credencial.htm

- Pilgrim records/credenciales are made available only to walkers, cyclists, and pilgrims on horseback who are travelling without vehicular backup.

- More about the Pilgrim Record: http://www.csj.org.uk/passport.htm

and about the Compostela: http://www.csj.org.uk/compostela.htm

 

What books and maps do I need ?

- The Confraternity's Pilgrim Guides are revised annually and have the best information available on routes, accommodation, distances etc. All are available through our Bookshop.http://www.csj.org.uk/bookshop.htm

- Updates, prepared between editions, are now held on this site: http://www.csj.org.uk/guides.htm

- Alison Raju's guides to the le Puy route, the Camino Francés, and the Via de la Plata are probably the best. They, and others, are available through our Bookshop.

William Melczer's book "The Pilgrim's Guide" is good for historical background. For full details, and other essential books, see our select Bibliography.

- As for maps, you won't really need them on the Camino francés, since the yellow arrows are so plentiful, and the strip-maps in the Spanish guides (eg the one by Millan Bravo Lozano) are quite adequate. In any case, Spanish maps tend to be well behind the current pace of EU-financed road-building.

- In France, the GR Topoguides include excellent maps, which, if you are really keen, you can supplement with the IGN Blue Series at 1:25,000 - but you'll need a lot of sheets (about €8 each) to get between le Puy and St Jean-Pied-de-Port.

- We don't sell maps through our Bookshop, but Stanfords of Long Acre do. On their website, go to Spain, and Thematic Tourist maps, for an overall map of the Camino francés; but don't expect to find your way with it! http://www.stanfords.co.uk/

- In the USA, a pilgrim has recommended:

Omni Resources, 1004 South Mebane Street, P.O.Box 2096, Burlington, NC 27216-2096, USA.

Tel: +1 336 227 8300 - Fax: +1 336 227 3748 - Email: custserv@omnimap.com

List of maps of Spain at Omni Resources:

http://www.omnimap.com/catalog/int/spain.htm#p11

For index maps of Spain at 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 see also:

http://www.omnimap.com/cgi/graphic.pl?sp50-1.jpg  (Northwest Spain)

http://www.omnimap.com/cgi/graphic.pl?sp50-2.jpg  (Northeast Spain)

http://www.omnimap.com/cgi/graphic.pl?sp50-3.jpg  (Southwest Spain)

http://www.omnimap.com/cgi/graphic.pl?sp50-4.jpg  (Southeast Spain)

For sets of maps available online, follow these links:

http://groups.msn.com/ElCaminoSantiago/downloads.msnw

http://groups.msn.com/ElCaminoSantiago/spainmaps.msnw

http://groups.msn.com/ElCaminoSantiago/flashmaps.msnw

- The city maps are likely to most useful, since they are hard to obtain elsewhere, and it's a great help in orientating yourself in a strange town to have a map before you struggle along to the Tourist Office!

  

What about insurance ?

- EU citizens should carry an E111 form (currently being replaced by the European Health Insurance Card - EHIC; the E111 will not be issued after 31 August 2005), which entitles you to basic healthcare in all members states. Medical care in Spain is free at the point of delivery (and good care is taken of pilgrims). In France you have to pay up front, then reclaim what you have spent from the DHSS. The E111/EHIC card does not cover the cost of emergency repatriation - and though you'd be very unlucky to need it, you should consider taking out private medical insurance.

- Unlike the E111, which was issued over the counter at Post Offices, the EHIC is sent by post, so be sure to allow longer. For more information about the EHIC: www.dh.gov.uk/travellers

- Non-EU citizens should certainly take out private medical cover.

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4. On the way

 

What about dangerous dogs?

This is less of a problem than it used to be, especially on the Camino Francés, where the local dogs are by now entirely used to seeing pilgrims pass. But in France generally, and on the other Spanish routes, where dogs are generally kept to protect farms and flocks, it is as well to be wary. This is one of the best reasons for carrying a stick, and showing it (not raising it in a threatening manner, which will only make matters worse) to an unfriendly dog is usually quite enough to keep it at bay. Some pilgrims carry an ultrasonic dog repeller

(enter this term into a search engine to find suppliers).

 

Is it safe for women travelling alone ?

- Yes. Be sensible of course, as you would be anywhere. But your kit - rucksack, boots, stick - identify you immediately as a pilgrim, and the local people still respect the pilgrims' motivation. In any case, on the le Puy route and the Camino francés, you're never really alone: there is a great sense of community among the pilgrims, and there will always be others close by to help you if you need it, and to walk with if you choose. And since, in the refugios, everyone shares a large common dormitory, there's safety in numbers ...

- We get occasional reports of flashing. It would be wise at least to walk within sight of others. And you will be helping other pilgrims by reporting all such incidents to the nearest hospitalero and the Guardia Civil.

- In September 2006 a female pilgrim reported unwanted sexual attentions when she was the only occupant of a refuge with no hospitalero in attendance. While, fortunately, such incidents are rare, we suggest that in such a situation you consider seeking more secure overnight accommodation, such as a small hotel.

- The same general advice would apply on the Via de la Plata and the Vézelay route, but you would be less sure of support from nearby pilgrims.

- The Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum has a discission thread on crime on the camino, with particular reference to this topic. http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/camino-crime-watch/

 

Are there places which offer a specifically Christian welcome?

- On the le Puy route, yes, an increasing number: http://www.webcompostella.com/chret/chrter_00.html

- We'd welcome information about the other French routes, and about Spain.

              

How much does it cost, and how do I get money ?

- Difficult to say how much it will cost, because needs/expectations vary so much, but we have included some guidance on our Planning your Pilgrimage page: http://www.csj.org.uk/planning.htm#cost

- Hole-in-the-wall cash dispensers, accepting all the standard credit and debit cards, are widely available in both France and Spain, generally giving you the choice of addressing them in English. You shouldn't ever need to carry more than a few days' worth of euros.

- The chip-and-PIN system is spreading: remember your PIN for your credit as well as your debit cards.

 

What about accommodation ? In France

- In France there are gites d'étape all along the le Puy route (which coincides with the national long-distance footpath, the GR65). They cost €10-12 a night, and are open to anyone. You get a bunk and blankets, so need only carry a sheet sleeping bag. There are hot showers, and generally offer cooking facilities. They accept reservations (which are advisable for the busy July-August season). There are fewer gites d'étape on the Arles route, but a growing number on the Vézelay route. All are listed in the Confraternity's Guides.

- For a guide to gîtes d'étape throughout France (@€25), contact: Annick & Serge Mouraret, 74 Rue Albert Perdreaux, 78140 Vélizy France. E-mail:serge.mouraret*wanadoo.fr

- A recently-founded association, Les Haltes vers Compostelle, links people offering pilgrimsuitable accommodation, gîtes d'étape and other. Their members are well worth seeking out, since they offer a particularly pilgrim-friendly welcome; at present most of them are located on the le Puy route: the full list is here. Go to their website for a full list of members, and their locations. You can contact them at contact*haltesverscompostelle.fr

- On the subject of reserving place in gîtes d'étape: the mobile phone - which more and more people carry - makes it all too easy to make reservations "just in case", and then not to cancel those not taken up. This has resulted in recent years in many people in genuine need of a bed being turned away, when in fact there are places to spare. If you do reserve ahead, DON'T book more places than you need, and DO cancel in good time !

- For a list of places offering a Christian welcome along the le Puy route, visit the Webcompostella site, and follow the link "Chrétiens qui accueillent". http://www.webcompostella.com/

 

What about accommodation ? In Spain

- In Spain there are refugios all along the Camino francés, and a growing number on the Via de la Plata. They are similar to the gites d'étape, but are reserved for pilgrims carrying a Pilgrim Record or credencial, and without a support vehicle. Often - especially in summer - a volunteer warden (hospitalero/hospitalera) is in charge.

- You need a sleeping bag (and, at busy times, a sleeping mat). Most now have hot showers. They generally have cooking facilities and ask for a minimum charge or donation (€3 plus).

- All are listed in the Confraternity's Guides (which are frequently updated every year on the basis of feedback from pilgrims).

- Some are only available in school holidays; some close in the winter; camping is available often.

- There is no advance reservation, and beds are allocated on a first-come first-served basis. Don't be surprised to be offered space on the floor at peak times. Priority is given in the summer months to individual walking pilgrims with no vehicular support, and groups of more than 5 or 6, and cyclists, may be asked to wait for admission until early evening; at other times discretion will be used.

- Remember that the wardens are generally volunteers, and that your access to the refuges is a privilege, not a right. Help to keep the refuges clean; be as generous as you can with your donation; be gracious and helpful to the wardens.

- There are simple hotels all along the Camino francés, offering the occasional escape from the snorers in the refugio dormitories; and where there is no refugio on the Via de la Plata, there is generally a small hotel or other acceptable alternative.

 

How about keeping in touch ?

- A BT Chargecard makes phoning home at regular intervals extremely simple, and that's enough for many, who positively welcome their escape from more sophisticated methods of communication, and dislike the ever more intrusive mobile phone.

- But if you want to use email, for a list of cybercafés and other places offering Internet services along the Camino francés: http://www.intercom.es/mediaint/santiago/cibercafes.htm

- Getting letters from home is nice, though. In France, have people write to you Poste Restante, in Spain Lista de Correos. In each case, they should put your surname first, in capitals. When you go to collect mail, take your passport as ID; and to be sure, ask them to check under your first name as well as your surname. Here's a list of places along the Le Puy route and the Camino Francés, with postal codes, 2 or three days apart, which you might like to give to family and friends:

  Poste Restante:  

43000 le Puy-en-Velay / 48120 St Alban-sur Limagnole / 48260 Nasbinals / 12190 Estaing / 12320 Conques /

46100 Figeac / 46160 Marcilhac-sur-Célé / 46000 Cahors / 82200 Moissac / 32700 Lectoure / 32100 Condom

40800 Aire-sur-l'Adour / 64190 Navarrenx / 64220 St Jean Pied-de-Port

  Lista de Correos:

31080 Pamplona (Navarra) / 31100 Puenta la Reina (Navarra) / 26080 Logroño (La Rioja) / 09080 Burgos /

24080 León / 24700 Astorga (León) / 24400 Ponferrada (León) / 27600 Sarria (Lugo) /

15780 Santiago de Compostela (A Coruña)*

*(May 2007) The main postoffice in Santiago has been under repair for at least a year. The temporary office is in Rúa das Orfas; the post code is 15703. Please, someone, tell us when the main office opens again!

- In France, you'll be charged €0.46 (i.e. the cost of a standard stamp) per item that you collect from Poste Restante. Collection in Spain is free.

- Anyone willing to make similar lists for the other routes and send them to us?

 

Should I try to learn some French and/or Spanish before I set off ?

- You'll get by without, and plenty of people do, and though the lingua franca among the non-French and non-Spanish pilgrims is English, don't expect to meet many English-speaking Spaniards, pilgrim or otherwise. Your enjoyment of France and Spain and the people you meet will be greatly enhanced if you can find the time to learn, as a minimum, the rudiments of polite everyday exchanges. Similarly, it helps to know what to ask for in shops and restaurants.

- For emergencies of course it's even better to be able to explain your

problem, and to know what's going on around you. In any case, the more language you have, the more you will enjoy your trip.

- You can probably build on school French, and Spanish isn't difficult, and you'll pick up a certain amount as you go along: but time spent beforehand at an evening class, or with a teach-yourself book, and listening to French or Spanish radio or TV, will be time very well spent.

- We recommend the BBC Get By In ... (French, Spanish etc) series - small slim books in 5 chapters, with a single cassette, or the Talk ... (French, Spanish etc) series, an expanded version of the above.

- The Instituto Cervantes, 102 Eaton Square, London SW1W 9AN (020 7245 0621) offers Spanish language classes. Their website is www.londres.cervantes.es

- Or how about a Spanish language course at the University of Santiago itself? http://www.spanish-university.es/santiago-spanish-course.php

- The Univesity also offers Spanish-language courses which include a week on the Camino: http://www.csj.org.uk/tour-operators.htm#educ

 

Bed bugs

- Since 2006, there have been infections of bed bugs along the Camino Francés. By the end of that season, all refugios were aware of the problem, and many had been fumigated, but the problem was still not completely eliminated in 2008.

- Don't be deterred from going on this account, but be aware of the possibility that the infection will recur. Here's what to look out for http://www.csj.org.uk/bedbugs.pdf

and what to do if you should pick up a fellow-traveller or two.

- With reasonable precautions, namely shaking out your sleeping bag outside at regular intervals you should be able to prevent the worst problems. And perhaps most important: check your sleeping bag, clothes, and rucksack before leaving Spain, to avoid bringing any bed bugs back with you.

- If you are susceptible to bites it might be wise to carry anti-histamine pills with you.

- The Guardian had an article about dealing with bed bugs in Febnruary 2009 :

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/feb/09/bed-bug-extermination

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5. Informations

 

Taking bikes on French trains

This note from Richard Croft is so helpful that we're putting it up as we received it: many thanks!

- There are two sorts of train in France. There’s the high-speed TGV trains; and the regular trains. The difference is that you can’t take your cycle on the TGVs unless it’s packed in a bag; but you can on the regular trains.

- If you want to take your cycle apart and pack it in a bag which you use to carry the cycle, then you can use the TGV. In theory the bag must measure less than 120 x 80cm. The trouble is that it is difficult to carry the bag with the cycle in and your luggage as well. I have done this, using bags that my wife and I made using a Tarpaulin bought from B&Q for £5. We travelled by ferry to Calais and then picked up the TGV at Calais Fréthun station (NB -20km from the ferry port!) where we got off at Lyon, then another 2 trains to Le Puy-en-

Velay where we started the cycle pilgrimage to St Jean Pied-de-Port. We then had to lug them back to Bayonne, then Bordeaux where we picked up the TGV back to Calais and home.

- It is easier and better to use the regular trains. Plot your journey using the fantastic Deutsche Bahn website: http://www.bahn.de/international/view/en/index.shtml . You can click a box labeled ‘Carriage of bicycles required’ and it will then produce a list of trains that you can take that will carry your bicycle without having to take it apart. Print that out, then go to the SNCF website: http://www.sncf.fr/ and use that to book your trains. You have to book each journey separately, but it will confirm that you can take the cycle. You can then

have the tickets delivered to the UK. They arrive incredibly quickly.

- We did not experience any difficulty at all. We travelled Eurostar to Paris, then cycled across Paris to Paris Bercy station from where we travelled to Auxerre, then a local train to Sermizelles, then to Vézelay where we started out pilgrimage. The way back was more ‘fun’. St Jean to Bayonne to Bordeaux; then 5 changes back to Paris. But it worked.

- The trains usually have a carriage or two with hooks that you hang your cycle up on using the front wheel. If they are full, or there aren’t any, just put your bike on anyway. We had the experience of a group of French Girl Guides loading about 20 cycles on after we and 6 other cyclists had already used all the ‘available spaces’: they just put their cycles on anyhow and the Railway Inspector didn’t bat an eyelid.

- Eurostar will take your cycles for £20 each way which is a bit steep but works well.

 

Can you supply GPS coordinates for the Camino?

No, but Richard Hardwick is in the process of compiling them: go to http://users.skynet.be/watermael/gps/50358.html  to see what he has put together so far, and if you can contribute more data, get in touch with him directly via his site.

 

Do you organise tours or group pilgrimages ?

No, but here for a list of companies that do: http://www.csj.org.uk/tour-operators.htm

 

Can I get help with transporting my luggage?

- Bear in mind that if you make use of a support vehicle you may have difficulty in gaining access to some refugios, and/or in obtaining your compostela at the end.

We don't know of any organisation that covers the whole of the Camino Francés (or of any at all on the other routes), but this message from a 2006 pilgrim may help:

"I got in touch www.jacotrans.com  but they were very focused on total packages, even to the extent of hiring clothing and shoes as well as arranging and booking accommodation.

"At Najera I came across an organisation that was exactly what I needed and so used their services for the three stages between Santo Domingo and Burgos. Unfortunately they operate only between Pamplona and Burgos and trade under the name Globetrotter Transportes. They will carry bicycles as well as rucksacks and other equipment. Rucksacks cost €7 each per stage. Each Alburgue had envelopes supplied by Globetrotter. €7 inside, name and destination albergue on the outside - and it worked! The packs are delivered

right inside the door of the next albergue. Globetrotter has specific places in each albergue where they leave the packs.

"For information or reservations telephone 667 386 307 or 948 537 295. But be prepared to speak Spanish.

" Later again, near Santiago, we experienced taxi drivers with three and four rucksacks already in the cab when we got in."

 

I'm a vegetarian ...

We sympathise. It can be very difficult in France and Spain. http://www.csj.org.uk/veg.htm

 

How can I find out Mass times in advance?

- By clicking here: http://www.archicompostela.org/Peregrinos/Diocesis/archisantiago.htm

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6. Next

 

What next ?

- You've made your pilgrimage, you're still uncertain what it all means - but you're sure of one thing: you want to keep the experience alive, to share it with others, and maybe give something back. What can you do ? Keep up your membership of the Confraternity in any case, and join in our activities (not all of which are in central London!): http://www.csj.org.uk/events.htm

- These, and the Bulletin http://www.csj.org.uk/bulletin.htm , will keep you in touch with fellow-pilgrims. Moreover, your subscription will go towards the support of our work on behalf of future pilgrims (with rising London rents, we need all the help we can get !): every extra year that you maintain your membership will make a difference.

 

Warden

- Think also of serving as a warden at one of our refuges, at Rabanal del Camino or Miraz.

- To offer your services as a warden at another refuge in Spain, contact Fr. José Ignacio, who coordinates the volunteer wardens: mailto:hosvol@caminosantiago.org

- Or if you'd prefer a gentler introduction to the rewarding, though demanding, work of looking after pilgrims, consider volunteering for the Accueil St Jacques at St Jean-Pied-de-Port. More details here http://www.csj.org.uk/accueil.htm , and on the website of the Amis du Chemin de St Jacques des Pyrénées Atlantiques http://www.aucoeurduchemin.org/ , or contact one of our members who goes there regularly: mailto:howard@csj.org.uk

- The very active Vézelay Association has been developing refuges along that route, and is anxious to recruit wardens, for a fortnight at a time. Our recently-retired Chairman, William Griffiths, who serves as a Vézelay-route hospitalier each year, will be glad to give you more information: w.griffiths*ukonline.co.uk  

- For the possibilities of serving as a hospitalier elsewhere on the French routes, follow this link and this one to different pages on the Webcompostella site: http://www.webcompostella.com/apre/apre_04.html and http://www.webcompostella.com/zine/vc_1206a.htm

- The monastic community at Conques and the Hospitalité St-Jacques at Estaing work together not only to offer a Christian welcome to pilgrims, but also to foster a similar spirit elsewhere on the le Puy route. A loose federation of "Hôtes du Chemin" meet annually as "L'Eglise du Chemin", and undertake short communal pilgrimages. More information from William Griffiths, as above

- We hold an annual service for returned pilgrims. See our Programme of Events for details of this year's service: http://www.csj.org.uk/events.htm

- The Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum has a section devoted to conversations among hospitaleros: http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/chat-with-other-hospitaleros/

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Any more help available?

- We are pleased to put members in touch with others who have made the pilgrimage. We organise a series of Practical Pilgrim Days in different parts of the UK each spring: for this year's dates and places, see our programme: http://www.csj.org.uk/events.htm

- Our office and library are located in London SE1, just south of Southwark Bridge.

- Please contact us if you have any questions not covered on this website.

- How to find us: http://www.csj.org.uk/address.htm

 

Not found what you're looking for ?

Go to Infrequently Asked Questions:  http://www.csj.org.uk/i-faqs.htm

 

    

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                                                                       08/01/2011

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