pilgrimgravy

Evolution

Pamplona > Puente la Reina — June 1, 2015

Pamplona > Puente la Reina

This way is amazing!!! So happy! Sooo many signs, pilgrims, english, towns everywhere! Such a good decision to switch!  

  

  

  

  

  

I know you are waiting for the hook…

So I have decided that Michelle and I have this horrible annoying third wheel on our journey….my knee. He is so annoying!!! Always bitching, slowing us down, debbiedowner.com…

Sometimes I worry I may be talking more to him than her. Come on buddy, it’s not that steep. You can do it buddy! Listen bitch, if you don’t get it together I’m gonna cut you off!!!! I digress… 

We champion these 24km and land in a great hostel. Private rooms and showers, great dinner and a bar! Score! Back on track baby!

   
                   

Well, I wanted to be pretty for our dinner in the new hostel. I forgot to tell you I picked up the cutest button up at that Camino store! I feel like Crocodile Dundee, headed out to save the day. I mean, I have a half a beard going on, khaki button up and green shorts. You know I’m ready to get a gator. Anyway, we head off to a great dinner. Michelle tells me I look amazing. I gush…she continues to describe me as Jack Hanna. Is that a compliment, maybe….

You’ll never guess who we run into…the fornicators! Guess what, they are our new friends, too funny!

Anyway, great night! Loved our peeps in this new place and now we are making friends with pilgrims on the trail. This is how is should be…

Love to all…

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Pamplona!! —

Pamplona!!

Well we are just over a month shy of seeing the Bulls run, but I assure you with this knee I would be trampled, so good thing!

We took in the old part of town with great street views and checked out the cathedral. Next stop was the arena where all of the bull fights take place and the run begins, so cool!

    

      

 Afterwards we made our way to our firs Aubergue (hostel) and scored our beds for the night! It was in an old church just a block away from the beautiful cathedral and all of the night life one could want. We landed a bunk bed with Michelle on top and me on the bottom. There were three bunks in our section, however there were 114 beds total. The bathrooms are unisex which is quite a different experience. Open the door, hello ladies…what am I to do…brushing teeth should be acceptable. When will they leave??? I have other matters to tend to :/  

I guess I should pause and tell a story, one Michelle read to me from a blog while I was laid up in San Sebastián. These hikers had a new friend join their trek. He ran from his last partners due to the fact they were “drunk Germans”. These lads woke up drunk, got drunker at lunch and were snails on the trail. The hikers were happy to have their new found friend due to the German drunkenness. They also spoke of the rest of their troop who were two gays with a dog. Such a good family for the trail…

Anyway, we have scored our first beds in a hostel and we feel so proud! What does this city hold! We walk to a cafe that looks over the square and request vino. $2 a glass. WHAT! We must have found the promise land!!! We are so enthralled with the city and our ability to score a bed in a hostel. Then we see two men putting stilts on, YES! What are we about to see???? Nothing, the older couldn’t walk, the younger had to hold his hand, they went down a side street and disappeared…

We walk on, what is this? A pilgrim store? OMG! Everything we could have ever wanted in one place! Camino everything! After an amazing purchase we head back to our beds. I sew on my new Camino patch and we settle into bed, so happy.

Around 11pm (when the hostel closes) – our drunk roommates fall into our adjacent bunks. Loud laughter! WTF. Can they be quiet??? Ahhhh the one is snoring, annoying but at least they went down. Oh wait the other male and female feel the need to fornicate, aggressively, like shaking the floor (our bunk included). You lay there wondering how to capture the sleep you need. You wonder why the ear plugs will not work. Then you just pray to the gods they will finish! Damn the stamina of these two, should I find some water to throw on these tied up dogs??? Whew…they are asleep. I guess we found those Germans from the blog?? Now we enter what Michelle likes to call “one of the rings of hell” – snoring, farting, moaning, is that screaming?????? No sleep for the weary I guess…now where are those damn gays with the dog…

We are up and out early (you can understand why). And we are on our first stage of the Camino de Frances…let’s do this…

Love to all…

San Sebastián!! — May 28, 2015

San Sebastián!!

As mentioned before, I wake up a hot mess. Like tried to walk to the bathroom, made it halfway and couldn’t continue. Oh no, is this when Michelle and I have to cross this line??? I didn’t think it would be till we were at least 60. I focus on mind over matter and get the job done. Michelle heads out to a pharmacy and returns with everything I need and ice for my knee. I can not thank her enough for being my hero in this moment.

Soon I’m walking! Well, on flat surfaces. Inclines can go to… Anyway, we set off to explore San Sebastián – slowly, but surely… The Ocean offers immediate relief. The sight of it heals our souls immediately. We score our Credential stamp and check out the city streets lining the coast. We wrap the day on a terrace eating burgers!!! I can not believe I scored a veggie burger in Spain looking at this beautiful view. (as per previous posts you know we have not mastered this multiple language ordering process).

   
                  

                 The pic above is Michelle dipping her feet in those healing waters 🙂

Back to the hotel for more rest and to get ready for our journey to connect with the Camino de Frances!!!

Love to all…

Irun to San Sebastián  —

Irun to San Sebastián 

So…let’s catch you up on some critical history that will help you understand this post…

We have been spending time in the Basque Country. It spans a bit into France, but mainly makes up a large area of the northern Spanish coast. The natives of this area have fought many times to become their own country and they still long for a time when that might come to be, however it is unlikely they will be able to separate from Spain. The natives of the Basque Country also have their own language, Euskara. This make communication, as well as reading a bit challenging for English speaking travelers. Many menus have both Spanish and Euskara columns of text. Even cities often have two or three different names and can show up on maps with any of them.

Most of you know that we are hiking the Northern Way of the Camino de Santiago, know as the Norte’. This path to Santiago has only really been back in popular use since 2010. It only sees a fraction of the pilgrims that the popular Camino de Frances does. This means less accommodations that are further apart and a lack of English spoken in most places. Any books also warn of the rigorous hiking and lack of Camino signage. (Camino signage comes in many forms: metal plaques on city streets, wooden signs on poles, wooden blocks dug into the ground, yellow arrows, straight markings letting you know to continue, X’s letting you know not to take a path and finally L shaped markings dictating a turn.) We chose this route to stay close to the coast, see the mountains and enjoy the coastal towns.

   
     I know the above text may have your minds spinning with the hint of foreshadowing, but I felt these details should be laid out before I start the story of our first leg of hiking…

We start the day at a church in Irun obtaining our Credential and receiving our first stamp! We will have this document stamped in each town that we pass. Once we reach Santiago and show our Credential we will earn our Compestela honoring our completion of the journey.

  
  
Now that we are official we set off to the trail, picking up where we left off the day before. We hiked out of town and up into the mountains following the Camino signs and our handy Norte’ book. The next couple of hours we hiked up and down mountain hillsides finally arriving in a small town where we were able to refill our water (and refresh ourselves with the king of beers) and head back to the trail. The town’s people were very kind and a few even stopped to point us in the right direction.

Once we left the town we started in on several steep climbs rising higher and higher into the mountains. Then we would descend and start the journey up another mountain, weaving our way towards our end of day goal – arriving in Pasaia Donibane before continuing the journey to San Sebastián the following day.

   
             It’s hard to describe these climbs, but from my point of view they were intense. Like any more of a steep grade and we would have been on all fours. Sometimes it was a steep paved road, or gravel; or fighting our way through sticky plants and branches while scrambling over rocks and dirt. I never knew I would come to love my hiking poles so much! 4 legs are definitely better than 2!

After one of our longest, steepest climbs we reach a trail that can only be described as a mud pit. It seems tire paths started the ruts on this path and rain turned them into channels. So much mud! But we finally come to an official Camino marker stating to take a trail to the left. Once taken we end up in a nice camping area where we find a map posting and it seems we are only 7km from our destination. We continue to hike, following the Camino markings till we see another map posting leaving the camping area. We realize that if we continue on this path we will end up further into the mountains and away from the water. We turn around and retrace our steps. After much debate (thank God we have each other) we determine that the official Camino sign has been altered and we should go the opposite way. Excitingly we start to see the Camino markings and know we are back on track!!

  
Guess what, another steep incline around farms and up through more rocks and dirt. I have forgot to mention the number of dogs on these trails. Luckily they are chained or pinned, but that doesn’t stop them from barking to no end at us attempting to protect their land. Anyway, back to the upward trek. As we were nearing the top of this steep section something weird starts happening with my left knee. And then weird turns to pain, and then we have to stop.  

Michelle quickly identifies the problem as my IT Band (can’t beat having a doctor with you ;). We complete stretches and manage to get me going again. We have been hiking for 8 hours and would set up camp, however it is hard to find a place that is not adjacent to someone’s farm. We also are slightly frustrated by the fact we have not seen some of the landmarks mentioned in our handy book. We must move forward to figure out our location and hopefully find a place to camp.

Sadly this journey forward has a few sudden halts as I need to stretch and stop my knee pain. We happen upon an old apple orchard that has become a bit of a park. It is gorgeous space with beautiful views of the mountains and cities below.

   
 As we walk on we see another map posting. As we study this map we realize we are no where near where we thought we were. It seems we are deeper in the mountains, but not sure where. We turn around to see Camino markings pointing in opposite directions. What is going on???? I look out from atop the mountain at the cities below. Ok…I see a mountain, the ocean, a mountain, the ocean, a mountain – all with a city between. “Michelle, that’s San Sebastián” – WTF. It seems we have hiked all the way to San Sebastián, our goal for the end of day tomorrow! Without any clue as to what Camino trail we are on, we opt for the TJ/Michelle trail and head for that beautiful city.

I hate to say the steep downward incline from the top of the mountain to the city has my knee in even worst shape and Michelle’s feet are not doing well either. As we get closer to the city, I score a room. We barley reach it around 11:30pm at night ending a 12.5 hour hiking day. Definitely not our intention, but happy to get into a shower and raid a mini bar. As we nurse our wounds we determine that we have taken a less familiar Camino right that heads into the interior away from the coast. We also come to understand that we just completed 18 miles on our first day out. It is time for rest…

Waking up the next day it is quickly understood that I have a bit of a major injury on my hands. We also now completely understand that the warning of the signage on the trail is an understatement. We have seen beautiful mountains and great coastal cities. We consider that goal complete. We will rest and get to know this city and then head south to Pamplona and join the Camino de Frances. Other pilgrims, more English, shorter daily hikes…that will be our new trail to Santiago…

Love to all…

Irun, Spain!! — May 26, 2015

Irun, Spain!!

We have taken our first steps on the Camino!!! From the border of France into the town of Irun. Seeing the shell markings is more than exciting and has us itching to get fully started.   
     We found our final hotel before we dive into hostels and camping. Thankfully there were signs leading to it as there was little wifi and no cell service when we first arrived.

The lady at the front desk was beyond helpful filling us in on the town and beginning of the Camino. We wish we could put her in our pocket and have her as our translator and guide on the hike.  

We set out to explore the town and quickly realize what is ahead of us. Irun is not quite on the coast so it seems they see less tourists. Not much English spoken in these parts! This is the moment when procrastinating about learning Spanish proves to be a poor decision, LOL.

We were starving and walked into a restaurant advertising tapas. We got this, we go to tons of tapas bars in the states! Well, maybe not…the tapas are all spread out on the counter in a self service style. There are no plates. It’s too early for the locals to be eating, so no one is providing an example of what to do. We quietly slip back out and determine another location.

Ah! This place looks so cute and like a pub, we got this! We sit at the bar and order our wine. Then we are informed (through some challenging communication) that the kitchen has just closed and will not open till later. 

– so here business open in the morning, then close for a three hour break and then reopen –

Well wine it is then, after two glasses we head out to explore more of the town. By day’s end we are exhausted and starving and want an easy interaction. We go to the mall where there is a nice pizzeria and enjoy some thin crust – believe it our not it was a great end to the day! Also, who knew there was a Zara Home? Such a cute store!

   
       So we are resting up tonight and headed to bed early. Tomorrow we continue on the first stage of the Camino. This is the most difficult stage of our walk, hiking straight up a mountain and then back down into San Sebastián.

From this point forward wifi will be limited. I will post when I can, but not sure of how often. Pilgrims at last…

Love to all…

Biarritz, France!! —

Biarritz, France!!

The airport (including security) and the plane ride were flawless! America has some things to learn!!

This coastal town was everything we could have wanted it to be!! It was slightly chilly, slightly rainy and often cloudy – but these elements did not hinder it’s charm.

Our Villa was perfect! The owner was true Basque Country native, full of life and energy. He made us feel right at home.

The city is almost like a peninsula, so we walked the coastline from our villa all the way around to the opposite side. While the waves were not huge during our visit, these beaches boast some of the best surfing in all of Europe.

   
               We found a restaurant overlooking the beach and all the surfers. We quickly realized we are in need of editing our eating timeline. We showed up at 6pm and they were just opening. Through broken English we found out the kitchen didn’t even open till 7:30! The view was spectacular, so we decided to enjoy a bottle of wine and watch the waves till we had the best dinner yet! The menu was somewhat challenging, but thankfully Michelle has some French under her belt.

   
 After dinner we walked the city for a bit and enjoyed a heavy rain shower. Dipped back by the villa to dry and headed out to see the gay life in this town. (We have decide we are going to assess each countries gay community and complete a full assessment at the end of our journey 😉
   
 The first bar (Bo Bar) was empty. However we made great friends with the bartender Julien and loved teaching him some english while he helped us with our French. Then all of a sudden an American couple and two British couples came in (all straight, but we soon became quick friends and had the best time).

  
Our whole new crew headed to a club just up the street and found the nightlife. The American music was pumping and we danced the night away. I have to say we did this town right!

Love to all…

Camden!! — May 24, 2015

Camden!!

We had so much fun and absolutely fell in love with this area of London. Great streetscapes with stores and art. There is also a huge market that always seems crazy, wandering around those streets was a great way to spend the afternoon.

   

           

  

We did venture out to tackle two sights. First we headed to Paddington Station so Michelle could hang out with Paddington Bear! Then off to Abbey Road to walk that famous crosswalk and check out Abbey Road Studios. The crosswalk was super packed with sightseers and the road was busy with traffic. There is a camera that video records non stop and then you can pull your image from the website. The picture is blurry due to that process, but at least there is a photographic record!   


 

On Saturday night we decided to say goodbye to Camden (and London) by paying a visit to a great bar less than a block from our place. We had a blast hanging with the locals! They took us to another bar with a full swing band and we danced the night away. It definitely turned out to be a night we will not forget!!  

Now we are settled into our hotel room next to the airport and getting some rest before we fly to Biarritz, France. We missed taking note that the city is a beautiful coastal town and we ended up scoring a crazy deal on a room in a villa on the water! Super pumped to get to the ocean!

Love to all…