Terrain: paved road, some dirt trail. Very steep, some 12-18% I’m sure.
Weather: cool mixed sun and cloud
Time: 2 1/2 hrs – 9:15 to 11:45am
I have to keep this brief because it’s hard to blog on an iPhone.
We arrived in SJPDP around 3pm Sunday afternoon after sharing a shuttle ride with a woman from Calgary. It seemed much easier than bussing and taking the train. We checked into our room at Gite Ultreia (very nice with lots of room and our own bath) around 4:30pm. I’ve been sick so Erik went for a walk and I slept. We had a pilgrim meal at the restaurant at across the street and went to bed around 11:30.
We got up around 7:30 and got our suitcases ready for pickup before 8am then had breakfast downstairs with two women from Brazil – Ana Isobel and Ana Lucia. My cold is almost gone but my gut is still acting up so I was slow leaving because I kept needing to use the bathroom. There are no bathrooms along the way… We finally left town about 9:15 and were on our way!
SJPDP is a pretty little town in its own right and if I were to do it again, I would have stayed in town for a couple of nights. The road let town quickly and followed a narrow road all the way up, through gorgeous green farms and forests. Erik was in his glory to finally be on his way while I was simply hunkered inward, just trying to survive the day. I hadn’t eaten more than 500-600 calories a day for past 2-3 days and had very little energy in addition to the intestinal bug. Hiking with a backpack was going to be interesting.
The last 4 km were VERY steep so we went quite slowly but the time passed quickly and all of a sudden we had arrived at our destination!
The Orisson Refuge stands all alone in the middle of the countryside so the accommodations included a group dinner and breakfast. During the day, many pilgrims stop there for coffee or lunch before there climb the mountain.
I had a bowl of soup right away while we waited to have our beds assigned. It was mixed sun and cloud but quite chilly out, especially after we had cooled down and the sweaty clothes started to feel cold and clingy. We were all getting quite cold inside and out.
We were assigned to room 1, with a top and bottom bunk, shared with two women from Victoria (Sam and April), and a couple from Quebec (Dennis and Lise). I had a shower and went to bed because I was absolutely freezing and still feeling crappy. I took 3 immodium and slept off and on all afternoon. Erik spent the afternoon getting to know people up in the main dining room. By dinner time I felt well enough to eat a piece of chicken for supper which was served family style – soup, chicken, veggies, Basque tart, and wine. We sat across from a NZ couple (Lawrence and Rawen), and next to a family from Cali (Steve, Cathy, Storm, and Rowen). After dinner, we each stood and introduced ourselves. Canadians were the biggest group interestingly enough!
We were in bed by 9 and asleep by 10 and thankfully the heat had finally been turned on. I had the top bunk which is a pain to get in and out of but since I don’t get up to pee at night, I drew the short straw. We were lucky that no one in our room snored so Erik and I both had a fairly decent sleep.
This touristy seaside city won’t get the full attention it probably deserves because I’ve been sick with bad cold since I got here. However, I will give you the highlights and a few photos.
We drove from Beynac in about five hours, staying off the toll highways more for fun than price (but still saved ourselves about 30 euros I think). The further south we came, the less interesting the scenery. It began to look a lot more like home actually. Biarritz is a much bigger city than I imagined but we had a nice hotel just a block from the beach and it was central to everything. Although it’s only April, it was really hard to find a parking spot so we had to sit and wait for about 15 minutes until someone left. In fact, we dropped off the car a day early we didn’t have to repark after our drive down the coast.
The Hotel Palym is a family run boutique style place with only about 15-20 rooms and for most of the time, I think we were almost the only ones here. They upgraded our room to a view room with a small balcony looking over the main street on the 3rd floor. It was clean, comfortable and nicely updated.
For the most part, we just hung out in and around our hotel, but we did spend one day driving south to St Jean de Luz and Hendaye, and even over the border into Irun in Spain but personally, I was unimpressed with all of these places – yes, there are some pretty beaches, but mostly it’s just a big crowded city with a lot of traffic. My lack of enthusiasm could stem from the fact that I felt like crap on the entire drive so maybe I should ask Erik for his opinion….. nope, he agrees with me. We much prefer small villages…
That being said I think this could be a great place to be if you are a surfer (every second store is a surf shop) or you were here in the shoulder season, but still warm enough for beach weather (nor April). And if you gots lots of dollars, there are some super schmancy places to stay. Oh la la!
Nevertheless, we were not disappointed. We knew what to expect and we always planned on Biarritz being a staging point for the Camino, not a destination point in itself. We managed to get in contact with another pilgrim who is flying in from Madrid on Sunday and we are sharing a ride to St Jean Pied de Port with her on Sunday at 1:30pm. The trains don’t run as frequently on Sundays so we were going to have to wait until 3:00 for a train. This works out much better.
Being sick on vacation: This is the first time I’ve had a bad cold while travelling and it SUCKS big time. I want my own bed, my own bathroom, my own food and my own meds. Ugh. The other downside was that our hotel room did not have any kitchen appliances and when you’re sick and don’t want to go out to restaurants, it makes things challenging. We found a grocery store and I ate bananas, yogurt, ham, oranges, juice, and I even found some chicken noodle soup (that I had to eat cold unfortunately).
Travel Tip: You cannot buy any kind of medication in a grocery store in France – you must go to a Pharmacie. Ibuprofen is still Ibuprofen (with a French accent), Acetaminophen is called Paracetamol in France, and I got some HUMEXLib which seems to be similar to Neocitran except you mix it with cold water. It has Vit C, Paracetamol, and Pheniramine in it. I looked up the info in English online before I went into the pharmacie so that I could show them what I needed. They are very helpful in the pharmacies but they don’t always speak English so it a good idea to read up before you go.
So – next up St Jean Pied de Port for one night, and then the Camino on Monday morning! We should already be in Orisson when you read this. Fingers crossed the worst of my cold is over by then!
Since I spent much of my Biarritz time in bed, hacking and sneezing, I don’t have as many photos to share today but here ya go.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Erik and I have spent many hours discussing, reading blogs and purchasing clothing and gear for our Camino, then packing and weighing, repacking and weighing again. And still we are uncertain. So much depends on personal preference and the weather. There is no single one-size-fits-all packing list for a pilgrim and the debates are many.
Boots or trail shoes? Rain coat or poncho? 1 pair of pants or two? Rain pants or not?
And for every question, there is a seasoned or newbie pilgrim, ready to dole out advice.
Ultimately, you must decide what is right for you – what is most comfortable, what can you afford, what you can carry – and then live with that decision. (And even then, you can always buy things along the way, donate things you wish you hadn’t brought, or mail things off to Santiago if you decide want them back at the end of your journey.)
You also need to consider the weather for the month you are walking. Do your research. Look for common themes when reading the blogs of other pilgrims. Find people who are similar to you in age/fitness/weight etc, who are walking at the same time of year, and see if their suggestions make sense to you.
So – here is my list. And it is MY list. I’m not suggesting my list is right for others. I’m just saying it is what I think is right for me, at this point in my life. And after our trip, I have absolutely NO doubt, that I will revise this list.
But first, I’m going to explain why I have made some of the decisions I did.
Shoes – 2 pairs of Saucony Peregrine 5 trail shoes (yes two pairs) and flip flops
I have hard-to-fit feet. I struggle to find any kind of shoe that is comfortable for me. I have tried several kinds of hiking boots but can’t stand them. I waffled back and forth on Gortex shoes but finally decided against them primarily because the waterproof version of my shoes were not comfortable, plus I don’t like the idea of sweaty feet in Gortex when it is warm out. I have worn this brand and style of trail shoes for at least 3 years. I have worn the current 2 pairs just enough to ensure they are comfy, but not enough to start wearing them out. I have tested them on all terrains, in all weather, and know I can walk long distances in these shoes.
Many pilgrims, except the true minimalists, suggest having a back up pair of shoes or sandals to wear once you arrive at your destination. This gives your regular shoes a chance to dry out and your feet a chance to rest. I have a pair of excellent Ecco sandals that I’ve done a lot of walking in and I seriously considered taking them along. However, they weigh over 600 grams, heavier than my trail shoes. Therefore, I have decided to take a second identical pair of trail shoes instead of the sandals. Also, since my trail shoes are not waterproof, it might be nice to be able to switch shoes mid day. Added bonus – Erik has offered to carry my extra shoes, saving me a little over a pound of weight. Thanks honey!
I’m also taking a pair of lightweight flip flops for wearing around the hostels and/or in the shower.
Socks – I tried many kinds of socks over the past year – some expensive, some cheap. Ultimately, I am going with a Merino wool blend sock that I got for a great deal at Costco. I’ve worn them all winter and they are super comfy. I tried doing the double sock thing but it just feels uncomfortable to me.
Rain gear – I’m going with a Marmot Precip Jacket but no rain pants or poncho. The rain pants seem like they would only be needed if it was really hard, sideways driving rain, day after day and I don’t like the idea of being sweaty under them. My RAB Helix pants are ‘weather resistant’ and when I’ve walked in the rain, the water seems to just roll off. I figured if they do get wet, I can always switch out and put on my other pair. And if it’s warm enough, I might just wear my capris and let my legs get wet. I’ve also decided that if I can always buy a pair of rain pants or a poncho along the way if I find I’m really missing them.
And for those of you who think I don’t need to be carrying two pairs of pants AND my capris, I plan to mail the extra pair to Santiago if I find I’m just not using them. However, since I’m saving weight by not carrying rain pants and a poncho, I don’t think the extra 245 grams for the 2nd pair of pants is all that much to carry.
Finally – I’ve made a personal decision to carry my vitamins, toothpaste, conditioner and face wash. It is more weight than I really need and I know I can pick up similar kinds of products along the way, but I don’t want to. I want my own stuff – and I need a special brand of toothpaste that I may not be able to find on the Camino. The good news, my back pack will get lighter as I use them up, right? 😉
So here is the list, and at below that is a photo of everything.
My loaded backpack with 500 ml of water, less the clothes I am wearing and my 2nd pair of shoes that Erik is carrying for me, will weigh about 13.3 lbs when I start. My goal was 13 lbs so overall I’m pretty happy.
Before Erik and I leave for any trip, we always talk about the places or activities that we are most looking forward to, as well as any concerns or worries that we might have. After the trip, we come up with our list of superlatives – our favourite meal, our favourite town, our greatest surprise, our biggest disappointment, our most memorable moment, our lowest point etc. For some, we are very much in agreement and for others, not so much, but it always leads to a great deal of discussion and we get a big kick out of rehashing our trips.
Today I thought we would create and respond to a list of questions that describe our expectations of the Camino. We each wrote out our answers privately, without discussing it with each other, so it was interesting for us to see how each other responded.
In addition, I asked my friends on social media for their questions and I posted our responses at the end. After the trip, we will do a similar post and see how reality differed from our expectations.
What are your pre-Camino stats?
Barb: Age 56, 5’3″, 134 lbs, relatively fit but not really “race-ready”, carrying about 13 lbs on my back. Gear includes a Deuter Futura 30L pack, 2 pairs of Peregrine 5 trail shoes, and Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z collapsable Trekking Poles.
Erik: Age 66, 6’1″, 178 lbs, fit and healthy, carrying about 17 lbs on my back. Gear includes an Osprey Kestrel 38 L pack, 1 pair North Face gortex trail shoes and 1 pair of Vasque Juxt trail shoes, and Black Diamond FLZ trekking poles.
Why do you want to do the Camino and what do you hope to get out of it?
Barb: I’m looking forward to the mental and physical challenge and seeing how hard I can push my body. I’m looking forward to meeting new people. I’m curious, and maybe secretly hoping to see if I get caught up in the spiritual side of the Camino.
Erik: I want to do the Camino because I want to know what type of an effect this walk will have on me physically, mentally and spiritually. One would think that once you’re a “senior citizen” you would know what the answers are. Well, I don’t know. Maybe I might discover some of the answers by escaping my normal life for a bit. At the very least I may find out what some of the questions are.
What are you looking forward to the most about doing the Camino?
Barb: Meeting people from all over the world, and meeting the locals. Trying to speak Spanish. Testing my endurance.
Erik: Walking out of St. Jean Pied de Port and starting the walk up to Orrison. I have been planning this for 2 or 3 years and finally being on “The Way” will be super special. That departure will initiate 35 to 40 days of walking, eating, sleeping, and meeting new friends, as well as abandoning the lifestyle with which I am so comfortable and familiar.
What is your greatest worry or major concern about doing the Camino?
Barb: I guess my biggest fear is having gut issues from eating unusual foods – stress and fatigue and strange food can really bother me and I’m afraid of it affecting me to the point that I might need to hang around a bathroom for a few hours instead of walking. (TMI? ;)) I am also afraid of walking alone and/or getting lost if Erik goes on ahead of me at some point. I can sometimes have moments of irrational panic when I’m alone so that is always a big fear for me. Those two fears combine to cause worry.
Erik: The first three or four days will greatly help to clarify the unknown: how will my body hold up?, will the possible discomfort of situations make me long to be somewhere else?,…..all those things that I really won’t know until I’m there and experiencing it.
What city or location are you looking forward to the most?
Barb: Not sure – Erik has spent more time looking at all the locations than I have. I know there are a few cities/towns with beautiful gothic churches and I love visiting beautiful old churches, even thought I’m not religious at all, and hardly even consider myself “spiritual.” Nevertheless, there is something very emotional that happens to me when I have the opportunity to stand alone and quiet in an ancient structure and let the waves of history wash over me – it brings tears to my eyes every time.
Erik: Really hard to answer this one. I think Cruz de Ferro could be a special place. While there I will leave something that I have carried with me throughout the entire walk. Throughout the walk I believe that I will attach a special significance to the object as a result of my thoughts, and leaving it will be difficult, yet very meaningful.
What do you think is going to be the hardest section of the Camino?
Barb: Climbing mountains for the cardio challenge and going down steep hills because it’s hard on my knees.
Erik: I think the most challenging part may be the last 3 or 4 days when we are getting close to Santiago. More pilgrims (the 100 mile kind) than usual may be a bit of an irritant and may prove distracting to the overall journey. Maybe I won’t be “ready” for it to end. Whether the ending is overall happy or overall sad, I believe it will be challenging.
What piece of equipment did you get that you think will be most useful?
Barb: My poles. I am really happy I was able to find super lightweight carbon poles. I find they really help with stability and support as well as take a certain amount of pressure off my legs.
Erik: I think my hiking poles will prove to be priceless as far as walking comfort is concerned. Also if we are ever set upon by any animals or other life forms they could prove to be handy.
What are you taking that you’re not sure you will really need?
Barb: My 2nd pair of pants. I have some capris (not shorts) as well as tights for bed. Not sure I really need the extra 245 grams of weight. However, I’m not planning to take rain pants so an extra pair might come in handy.
Erik: I’m trying not to take anything that I won’t need…..but…..I think it unlikely that I will use my poncho as I anticipate that my Marmot Precip jacket and backpack rain cover will suffice…… But you never know, the poncho may turnout to be my most valued item. Another item that I’m still not sure whether I will take is a head lamp. I really don’t think we will ever start out early enough to need it.
What do you think will be the most challenging for you – the physical or mental aspects?
Barb: Physical for sure. The mental part doesn’t frighten me.
Erik: I think the physical ones will initially be the most challenging as I am not certain as to how my body will respond to walking 800 km. After a few days, after I am tuned into my body and realize that it will be fine, I think the mental part will begin to take over. Over the course of the whole journey I believe that the mental aspects will be more challenging. I anticipate that this could become more of an internal journey than a walk through the countryside.
What are you going to do to manage physical challenges?
Barb: Go slow. Take my time. Stretch frequently. Take rest days. I’m just crossing my fingers that nothing serious crops up, but Erik and I have both talked about how we expect to handle unforeseen challenges or injuries. Our line of defence is avoidance, then rest, then sherpa service, then bussing to next destination, in that order. Our plan is primarily to stick together although there is always a chance that one of us will walk a section alone and the other will take a bus and meet at the next destination.
Erik: This is a question that invites an extended answer, but the key point is that I plan to always listen to my body and maintain whatever comfortable pace is suggested by the terrain and weather. In attempting to keep my body happy I will be wearing an ankle brace, and also plan on using my trekking poles all the time. I honestly believe that the only time I could run into physical difficulties is if I don’t listen to what my body is saying.
What are you going to do to manage mental challenges?
Barb: I’m less concerned about the mental challenges because I see this entire trip as a challenge much like some of the long distance races I’ve done in the past. I know for a fact that I am capable of putting one foot in front of another and continuing to move forward no matter how I feel so I have no doubt I can do it. I’m not really one to get bored from similar environments but I suppose if I’m really sick of the view, I can listen to invigorating music from time to time. I also find listening to audio books helpful. Most of the time I am hoping to be near other people which will keep my mind free from boredom or from dwelling on pain.
Erik: Probably have another glass of wine. Seriously? …hopefully talk to Barb about the challenges I’m facing, as well as talking to other people I meet along the way (while having a glass of wine). That way I can look at the challenges (whatever they might be) through different lenses. I think that the mental challenges are likely to be more significant than the physical ones cause the physical ones are often easier to analyze and therefore remedy.
What is the longest distance you anticipate walking in one day, and why?
Barb: Probably 30+km because we got lost or we just felt like moving on to the next town for better accommodations. We are giving ourselves up to 40 days to do the Camino and expect to stay in some towns for an extra night about once a week on average. That means about 20km per day. But we plan to start out slow and then perhaps do longer days when we are both feeling strong and there aren’t many hills. Our longest day on the Cotswold Way was about 26-28km I think and that was a lot of climbing. I was bagged.
Erik: I think we may hit around 30 k during a day on the Meseta because the landscape (from what I understand) can be a bit flat and monotonous. In this type of setting you could get caught up in your mind and maybe even lose track of distance and time. Of course, another reason we may travel that distance is that we feel, for some reason, that we have to make up for lost time.
What are you going to miss while you’re on the Camino?
Barb: Cooking. I love to cook and there are probably some foods I’ll miss. I’m going to miss my family and friends as well, but hope to keep in touch via messaging from time to time.
Erik: Most likely the guarantee of a nice comfortable quiet bed at the end of each day, and not knowing where the bathroom is in the middle of the night.
How do you anticipate you will respond to belligerent pushy pilgrim at the end of a hard day?
Barb: I’ll ignore them and then likely talk or write about them later.
Erik: If I am in a positive state of mind ideally I would like to find out why this person is behaving like this. Would be great if by some magical means we could just sorta sit down, have a drink or two, and talk. These potentially negative type situations could be the best spiritual type episodes that could happen on the Camino. On the other hand, if I’m not in a fabulous state of mind I might just be very up front with this person and give him/her a piece of my mind….. and then calmly walk away.
Are you worried about bedbugs in the albergues?
Barb: Not really. I will do what I can to avoid them and I’ve read a lot about what do if you get infested. I know the Hospitaleros are generally good at helping pilgrims.
Erik: Honestly…..no. We will be spending more time in hotels/pensions than albergues, and consequently will be less likely to encounter them. Certainly there is always the possibility, but I’m not going to worry about them.
I asked my friends on social media if they had any questions they wanted us to respond to and my friend Liz asked the following questions:
Are you taking anything sentimental/funny/luxurious that isn’t at all “must have”?
Barb: I am taking 150 gr of my favourite conditioner (but no shampoo) because I am picky. Also I’m allergic to sodium laurel sulphate which is an ingredient in most toothpaste so I am bringing a full size tube that is safe for me. The good news is that these will get lighter throughout the hike. I am also carrying my makeup (only 50 grams) which I clearly don’t need, but I suspect there may be a day or two when I just want to look better than I feel.
Erik: Nothing I can think of at this point.
Is there a Sherpa service or are you carrying everything on your back?
Barb and Erik: There are Sherpa services, such as taxis etc, but we aren’t planning to use them unless we are injured or sick. Doing the Camino is quite different from regular “backpacking” though. You try to carry as little as possible and you don’t need to carry a tent, food, or cooking gear. We aren’t even carrying a sleeping bag although some Pilgrims do. We are both trying to keep our weight down to about 10% of our body weight – my current pack weight including 500ml water is about 13 lbs and Erik’s is around 17 lbs I think. Erik is going to carry about 1 1/2 lbs of my stuff for me.
How many pairs of socks? (ha!)
Barb and Erik: 3 pairs each – A merino wool blend from Costco.
Do you speak Spanish?
Barb and Erik: We’ve both been using Duolingo, free app very much like Rosetta Stone, for a few months now. Barb is at level 10 (supposedly 41% fluency) and Erik is at Level 14 (55% fluency). Truthfully, we are now familiar with the structure of the language and have a basic vocabulary but we’ve never really put it into practice. I suspect I will be able to read it better than orally comprehend it, but most importantly, we will be making an effort to communicate!
As as aside, I have also been learning Italian (level 11 now) and reviewing French (level 12). Erik has been doing the same but he’s been focussing on Spanish only since Christmas.
Are you planning to wear a shirt that says “I’m Canadian not American, so don’t blame me for Trump?”
Haha, no but we both have Canadian flags sewn onto our backpacks. We learned that trick when we first started travelling. 😉
In less than a month, Erik and I will be on a plane ready to begin our 3 month adventure in Europe and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. There are so many things happening at the same time – cleaning and packing up my classroom, making goodbye gifts for my kids, meeting with the new teacher and planning the last week, last minute shopping and organizing gear for our trip, all kinds of paperwork things to deal with when leaving the country for 3 months, cleaning and organizing the house for my daughter who is moving in, trying to get in some seriously long hikes as often as possible – the control freak in me is feeling a little stressed. I am sooooo looking forward to sitting in a cafe in France with a glass of wine in my hand!
Saying Goodbye to Teaching (sniff, sniff)
I am on Spring Break right now and then I go back to work for the last three days of March. As weird as it seems, it’s kind of nice to know I get to go back for a couple of days to say goodbye.
During the break, I’ve been busy at school cleaning and packing up a lot of my room. I have 24 years of stuff that I’ve accumulated and it’s hard to decide what to keep, what to give away, and what to toss.
The teacher who is taking over my class came in to meet the kids one day before the break and I think they are going to love her, so now I’m feeling more at ease. Most of my parents have been supportive and understanding of my decision to leave before the end of the year, but a few were concerned about how the transition will affect their children. I think I’ve put their minds at ease and they’ve adjusted to the idea now, but it is always very stressful when a parent is unhappy.
The new teacher and I also met this week to look through my room and decide on what things she’d like to use and which things I should take out of the room now. The rest, I’ll pack up when I get back in July. I need to write a whole post about early retirement because I have a lot more to say about it.
Camino Training Update
Yeah, so training did not go as planned back at the beginning of January. On my first day walking home from school, I fell on the ice and sprained my wrist. Before my wrist had fully healed, I had yet another very bad cold that kept me home from work for over a week, and I continued coughing heavily for another 2 weeks after that. By the time I felt healthy enough to resume training, I was too busy at work with report cards and finishing up the term to be able to get out for regular exercise. The lingering fatigue from back-to-back illnesses didn’t help.
However, in the middle of February Erik and I started getting out on weekends for long walks with full backpacks. We started with 8-10 km per day (Saturday and Sunday) and worked our way up to 14 km per day. We’ve done slow hilly climbs and fast flat walks on all kinds of surfaces (dirt trail, gravel, mud, and pavement) and so far my legs are feeling great. Both of us have noticed we hardly feel the backpacks any more. I’ve been carrying 12-13 lbs each trip and I’m hoping my pack won’t be much heavier than that when we are on the Camino.
Finalizing Our Trip Plans
I know we originally said we’d “wing it” for the France portion of our trip but we ended up planning it all out anyway. I guess we are really just not “winging it” kind of travellers. 🙂 Plus we’ll have plenty of winging-it time on the Camino anyway, right? We started looking at places we wanted to visit in southern France, and then at accommodations, and soon we found ourselves booking places. We are really excited about this first leg of our trip though, most of which will be in the beautiful Dordogne area, between Avignon and Bordeaux. We chose smaller medieval villages and tried to book apartments instead of hotels as often as we could, staying in each place 3-4 nights so we have plenty of R&R time.
Here’s the rough plan of all 3 legs of our trip.
Leg One – France – April 9-24
April 9 – We fly to Paris, via Toronto, and immediately take the train to Avignon
Avignon – 2 nights to relax and get over jet lag. We’ve been to Avignon several times during the super busy Theatre Festival time in July, so it’ll be nice to stay right in the old town and hang out when it’s much quieter. Sites to see: Pont D’Avignon (from the song “Sur le Pont, D’Avignon…”) and the Palais des Papes – where the Pope(s) lived for about 60 years in the mid 1300’s because it was too dangerous in Rome at the time. Our apartment was booked through AirBnB.
On April 12, we will rent a car and start the driving portion of our trip
Carcassonne – 2 nights at a hotel right next to one of the gates to the ancient medieval fortified city where we will spend a day or so checking out this well known city steeped in 2500 years of history.
Albi – 3 nights about 90 minutes north west of Carcassonne. This town is famous for the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum as well as its cathedral, which is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We may do a day trip into the nearby city of Toulouse while we are here. We found our apartment through booking.com.
Beynac-et-Cazenac – 4 nights in this picturesque village on the Dordogne River, an hour or so north west of Albi. It is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. We booked our apartment through AirBnB and plan to do day trips to some of the many other beautiful villages nearby. We may also take a boat tour or visit the Lascaux Caves.
Biarritz – 3 nights in this luxurious touristy city right on the border of Spain for a few days on the beach. Here we will get our backpacks ready, drop off the rental car, and hop a train ride to St Jean Pied de Port to begin the next leg of our adventure!
Leg Two – Spain – April 25- June 3
When we arrive in St Jean, we will pare down to our backpacks to only the bare essentials and then use a transfer/storage company to send our suitcases off to Santiago. (Watch for a future post with my packing list for the Camino if you are interested.)
We have given ourselves 40 days to walk the 800km to Santiago de Compostela. We plan to average about 20-25 km per day and are giving ourselves about one rest day per week. We are hoping to get to Santiago around June 1 or 2 and then if we have time, we may take a bus to Finisterre on the coast to see the ocean, before our flight to Rome on June 4.
Leg Three – Italy – June 5 – July 5
We will be staying in an apartment in Orvieto, Italy where we will live like Italians for a month and hope to decompress and reflect upon our walk. If we aren’t in a zen-like state by the time we return to Kelowna on July 6, I’ll be surprised.
So – it’s getting real – retirement, our trip, all of it! I am hoping to update my blog as we go – I’ll have my laptop in France and Italy, but I’ll have to do a simpler, minimalist job on my iPhone
while we are on the Camino, so you may have to be a little patient.
You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Spreaker, or iTunes. Just click the links on your right to find me!
2016 will be a HUGE year of change for me. I plan to retire on March 31, and then on April 9, my husband Erik and I will embark on a three month trip to Europe that will include approximately 40 days walking 800 km on the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Taking on the challenge of walking 20-30km per day for over a month requires some planning and preparation. I have run 5 half marathons, one full marathon, and completed three half ironman races, and Erik and I backpacked for 4 days on the Cotswold Way in July 2014, so I know I have the endurance capability to do the Camino, but maintaining a daily 20-25km for 40 days is a different kind of challenge and I will require good general fitness and core strength if I hope to enjoy the walk.
I was a bit lazy exercising in 2015, but I don’t think I will have any trouble getting myself fit and healthy again if I train consistently for the next 3 months. What I really need to do is build up my general cardio fitness so I’m not huffing and puffing along the way, work on my strength and core training so I do not fatigue so easily when carrying a load, and get used to walking longer distances with a 12-15 lb backpack.
I’ve read many books and blogs about people’s varied experiences on the Camino and the preparations they made before setting off. I’ve considered their advice about what worked and what didn’t, paying particular attention to the stories from people who are similar to me in age and fitness level. I think I know my body well enough to have a pretty good understanding of what I need to do now to prepare.
So here is my training plan for January 1 – April 9, 2016.
Walk home from school (3-5 km) at least 4 days a week.
Do core work 3 times a week (15-30 min).
Do 30 min strength training at the gym twice a week.
Walk 5-10 km on weekends, slowly building up to 15-20 km as the weather warms up. Include some back-to-back days.
Do other forms of cardio once or twice a week such as snow shoeing, running, cycling, rowing, or elliptical.
Eat healthfully and lose at least 5 lbs.
Do yoga or Qi Gong as often as I can.
Over the next three months, I will post regular updates on how my training is going, as well as posts about our other preparations for the trip.
Erik’s training plan is to continue what he has been doing for the last two months – hit the gym every second day and do 30 minutes of cardio (usually running) plus a complete strength training circuit. He also plans to do increasingly longer walks, usually with me on the weekends.
When we arrive in Paris on April 10, we will spend 2 weeks in Southern France, and will do as much walking as possible in order to maintain our fitness. Our plan is to begin the Camino on Monday, April 25, 2016 and arrive in Santiago no later than June 3rd.
If you want to follow along with my training more closely, you can find me on Daily Mile or Facebook.
If you have questions or you’ve done the Camino and have info to share, please leave a comment below!
PS Here’s a link to my podcast where Erik and I walk about our preparations for the Camino.
There are as many ways to walk the Camino as there are Peregrinos. Each person has a different purpose for doing the walk, a different time frame, a different financial situation. Some people walk alone, some walk with a partner, some walk in groups. Some arrive in St Jean Pied de Port with a backpack and only a rough idea of what is ahead of them, and others hire tour companies to carry their bags and arrange 4-5 star hotels all along the way. The possibilities are limitless.
There is no ‘right way’ – as the guidebooks say – you must “walk your own Camino”. And just as there is no one right kind of Peregrino, there is no one right kind of accommodation.
The most traditional, and least expensive bed to sleep in each night can be found in the albergues or refugios (called an Auberge or Refuge in France). They are basically hostels with dorm style sleeping arrangements, usually bunk beds in close quarters in a large room with shared bathroom facilities. Most have sinks for doing laundry and some have kitchens or additional amenities such as wifi or computers. The prices range from a suggested donation to 15 euros per person.
With the exception of the private albergues, most are filled on a first-come-first-served basis and have strict opening and closing hours. Generally only Peregrinos are allowed to stay here, and even then, for only one night. In most cases, it’s lights out (doors locked) at 10pm and you are expected to vacate by 8am.
Types of Albergues
Municipalalbergues are usually the least expensive, and from what I’ve read, can be quite inconsistent. Some are wonderful and others, not so much. It’s probably a good idea to read reviews of municipal albergues before staying in them.
Religious albergues are operated by churches, monasteries, or convents. They often charge by donation or a small fee. They may not offer many amenities but the volunteers who run them tend to be quite caring. You do not have to belong to the church to stay here.
Some albergues are run by camino associations and the volunteers who run them have often done the camino themselves. They often charge by donation as well.
In addition, there are privately run albergues. They tend to have more amenities (kitchens, laundry facilities, some private rooms, wifi etc). There is generally a higher charge for these facilities.
Pensiones(called casa de huespedes and marked with CH)
These offer rooms in privately run B&Bs, some with private, but most with shared bath. Most offer breakfast and there can be a range of amenities and prices. They are usually a step up from an albergue. They can often be booked ahead.
Hotels (signs usually marked with H)
There are a wide variety of 2-5 star hotels along the Camino, particularly in the larger towns and cities. Most can be booked ahead and like most hotels, they have a wide range of amenities, prices, and quality.
These are state-owned 5 star luxury hotels, often in preserved historical buildings. There are several Paradors along the way, including this one, which is found at the end of your journey, in Santiago de Compostela. They are definitely more expensive but I’ve heard that some offer a “pilgrim rate” so I guess it’s always worth asking. I would love to stay in a Parador at least once…
These are private B&Bs that are found in rural areas, frequently a working family farm supplementing their income. Like pensiones, they range in quality, amenities, and price.
We have done quite a bit of travelling, including self-supported cycle tours in France and hiking part of the Cotswold Way in the UK last summer, so we have a reasonable idea of what to expect when carrying a backpack for 20-30 km per day.
Because developing the camaraderie of our fellow pilgrims is so important to us, we intend on staying in the albergues at least a third of the time, maybe even more. There will be times when a hostel is the only option, and there are a few hostels that come highly recommended so we hope to track those ones down for sure. Other times, we intend to sample some of the other kinds of accommodation listed above. Here are some of the reasons why we don’t think we will stay in albergues every night.
* We don’t want to have the pressure of getting to the next town as quickly as possible to ensure we find a bed at the albergue. We want to take our time and enjoy the trip, without worrying too much about where we still sleep that night.
* We both find we need a really good (quiet) sleep and appreciate our privacy (at least some of the time).
* We are not on a super-tight budget and can afford hotels once in awhile.
* We are interested in staying with Spanish families in small B&Bs and Casa Rurales.
Of course, we really don’t know how things will turn out. We recognize that the Camino can be a life-changing experience and we are ready and willing to adjust our plans along the way.
If you’ve done the Camino, feel free to comment about your own experiences below!
Edited to add (Feb 13, 2016): I was recently chatting online with a lady who walked the Camino last spring, and is walking it again this April. She let me know that there are really quite a few albergues that offer private rooms and many have private bathrooms, so with any luck, Erik and I will be able to stay in most albergues than we had originally planned. Here’s a link to her blog post. The Camino Provides: Walking the Camino as a Couple
It was about three years ago when Erik and I first heard about the Camino de Santiago and we were both intrigued with the idea. Later, when we watched Martin Sheen’s movie The Way for the first time, we told ourselves that someday we would do the walk. Well that time is finally in sight – May 2016.
A Little Background
The Camino has long been touted as a Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Christians have been travelling the route since the 8th or 9th century when the remains of the apostle, St. James, were first “discovered” in Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that his body, or at least parts of it, was brought to Santiago from Jerusalem, where he had been beheaded in 44AD, and since that time, Christians have been making the trek to visit his remains where they rest in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The route was very popular throughout the middle ages, but gradually declined in the 16th century. By the 1980’s, only a few pilgrims were completing the walk each year, but interest was soon renewed when the Council of Europe named it a European Cultural Route in 1987, and it was eventually declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Since then, the number of pilgrims completing the walk has increased dramatically each year, with almost 240,000 people walking it in 2014. In holy years, when St. James Day (July 25) lands on a Sunday, the numbers are even greater.
Despite being best known as a Catholic pilgrimage, the route actually has older Pagan roots. It is said that over 1000 years before Christ, the Celts were walking the route across Northern Spain to Finisterre (literally “Land’s End” or “End of the World”) which is just a few days’ walk past Santiago on the Atlantic coast. There they would perform rituals such as burning their clothes by the water’s edge as an offering to the gods. Many modern day Pilgrims continue their walk to Finisterre after reaching the cathedral in Santiago.
Because pilgrimages generally start from home, there are many routes to Santiago, some of which can be seen on this map. In addition, there are routes from other points in Spain, as well as from Portugal. The most popular route is the Camino Frances which, for most pilgrims, begins in St Jean Pied de Port, just over the border in France.
From that starting point, pilgrims obtain their Credencial or camino “passport” which they will have stamped at each stopping point along the way. This passport allows the Pilgrims, or Peregrinos as they are called in Spanish, to access inexpensive hostel-type accommodation in the many albergues along the route, as well as special Pilgrim meals in the hostels or local restaurants. When Pilgrims arrive in Santiago with the Credencial, they receive their Compostela, a certificate showing that they have completed the walk. Technically, Pilgrims only need to walk the last 100km to receive a Compostela, but many people walk the entire 800 km, and some walk even further.
The route is well marked with signposts, yellow arrows, and scallop shells – the symbol of the Camino, and the route includes trails, dirt or gravel roads, and pavement.
Many memoirs and informational books have been written about the Camino, as well as a number of movies and documentaries. I recommend watching The Wayif you want a general Hollywood version of the walk, and there is an excellent documentary that came out in 2014 called Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. My favourite short video that gives an overall picture of the Camino was posted on Vimeo by George Torrey.
Erik and I have begun planning and preparing for our trip and with only nine months to go, our excitement is palpable. Over the next few months, I will write about our personal reasons for doing the Camino, our physical and mental preparations, and the equipment we plan to take with us. Join us as we prepare for the trip of a lifetime!
Click here to listen to Episode #2 of my podcast “Kelownagurl’s Adventures: Travel and Fitness into Retirement” to hear Erik and I talk about the Camino.