Best Moments of 2017

It’s that time of year again. Here goes, off the top of my head, and therefore in no particular order.

  1. The moment Michael proposed. Of course.  
  2. The moment I tried on my first wedding dress. I detest shopping. So my mother came down and we booked an appointment. In an hour I had tried on thirty dresses. The women at Candler Budget Bridal made it not painful at all! And, in fact, I got teary when I saw myself in the first one. Mom and I narrowed it to three. Two weeks later, I bought one — from the same place, but not one of those three!
  3. The moment I decided to end my fourth Camino. I didn’t know it was a good moment at the time. But aren’t some of your best moments only deemed such in hindsight? I had planned on walking another week. But 90 degree temps are not my ideal walking conditions. 
  4. The moment I saw San Antón in the distance. I had seen it twice before, but I don’t think it’ll ever get old. 
  5. The moment I saw my co-hospitalero (volunteer) at San Antón sitting at the picnic table writing in his journal. I’d met Stefano just two hours earlier, and we were to work together over the next eighteen days. I had never imagined I would be paired with someone with whom I wouldn’t get along. But I never imagined I’d be paired with someone who complemented me so well.
  6. Speaking of compliments, every moment Stefano paid me one. On my cooking. On my teaching. On my patience with pilgrims. And a million other things. Living without water and electricity is a hell of a lot easier when you have someone flooding you with compliments multiple times each day!
  7. The moment my school year was over. Not because it was over, but because it was my first year teaching full-time, and darn it, I did a pretty damn good job. Allow me to drop all modesty for a moment. The summer before I’d walked into a classroom stuffed to the gills with twenty years worth of stuff teachers thought worthwhile to save, yet no one deemed worth throwing out. That was the first of many challenges to overcome. I called in help when I needed it (in the form of other teachers, administrators, and my mother), cried plenty, watched a great many things go better than I thought they would, and long before the year was over, I was thinking, “Wow. I really like this.” (For those of you keeping track, when I finish my second year in May, this will become the longest full-time job I’ve ever held!)
  8. The moment I was in France and a paycheck got deposited in my account. This was the first summer  1) I didn’t have to quit a job in order to travel 2) I got paid while I was traveling and 3) I didn’t have to look for a job when I got back.
  9. The moment I realized Angela Watson’s calendar program and productivity course were answer to my prayers. Thanks to her, four months after I began my first year teaching, I was leaving my job every day on time, and didn’t have to show up early to get things done. Which, if you talk to most teachers, is unheard of in one’s first year. (And sadly, for some teachers, in their second, third, and tenth years as well!)
  10. The moment I walked into our house after the closing. I had only seen it twice before then, and both times it had someone else’s “stuff” in it. Now I walked into a empty canvas and thought, “Wow. This is a pretty darn good place to start!”
  11. The moment we booked our wedding venue. Five days after we got engaged, no less. I don’t much care for all this hullabaloo around weddings and wanted the stress of booking a place off my plate. Thankfully, the second place we saw was the one for us. 
  12. The moment I told Mom and Dad Michael proposed. They were as shocked as I was — because Michael did not ask my father first. Which reminds me of a Scandinavian woman I walked with on my first Camino who, when I mentioned this custom, said, “Wait. You really do that? I thought that was only in American movies.”
  13. In my classroom, the moment I re-used something I’d laminated last year. I thought, “Last year, I had to find this activity, print it, laminate it, cut it, code it, and figure out where to store it. This year, I just get to pull it out and use it!”
  14. The moment I told my students I was engaged. I give my students a quiz the first day of school. I love seeing their faces fall when I announce it. I wait a moment, then tell them it’s a quiz about me. One of this year’s questions was, “Why is the date June 16, 2018 important to Miss Gallo?” (Answer: c) It’s the day she’s getting married.)
  15. The moments spent meeting Michael’s cousins for the first time. What delightful people! And I get to see them all again in June:) (For the record, Michael’s immediate family are wonderful as well, but this wasn’t my first time meeting them, so I knew that already!)
  16. The moments spent laughing with Michael. 
  17. The moments spend laughing with friends. Especially at knitting nights. Which are really just an excuse for women to get together and talk (ideally with some snacks and wine in hand).
  18. The moments spent laughing with my students. One that stands out: Student says, “Can I ask a question? Two questions, actually.” Me: “Nope. Not two. You only get to ask one today.” Silence descends. Students stare at me, mouths agape, not knowing what to make of this. I wait a few more seconds, then I laugh. The tension is lifted and they all join in.
  19. The moments spent listening to Michael tell me of his ring-buying process. It was so funny to me, I wrote an entire blog post about it. Click here:)
  20. The Monday I came home to work to see all the furniture set up in my new house, all our dishes put away in the kitchen, and neighbors there to welcome us with dinner. And not just dinner, but plates, napkins, utensils, drinks, and dessert! All I can say is: I’m one lucky girl. How many other people have parents who WANT to come help you move? And a fiancé who coordinates it all while you’re at work?
  21. The moment Michael and I walked into our new home after being away for Christmas. “It’s great to be home,” has taken on a whole new meaning.
  22. Every moment, when I was in Europe, that someone commented on a blog post or picture. Yes, I love traveling. But on your own, away from anyone you know, it can certainly get lonely. And my spirits perked right up every time I read words from people I’d known for years, or just days. 

As is the case every year when I write this post, I could go on and on and on. And on. But I’ve got students to teach tomorrow. And you’ve already read 1000 words of mine. So I’ll stop there.

Here’s to hoping all of you have many moments in 2018. Moments of joy, moments of surprise, moments of hope, moments of peace. Thank you for taking time from your days to read about mine.

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Update: The Road to Italian Citizenship

In early 2017, after a two-year wait, I had my appointment with the Italian Consulate. I was told that I didn’t have enough proof that my great-grandfather never became a citizen of the United States. I had the letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services indicating they had no records of his naturalization, and I had a Certificate of Non-Existence of Record from the National Archives. However, I was told, “Just because they can’t find a record for him doesn’t mean he didn’t file for naturalization. There were multiple ways one could apply for citizenship in those days — locally or federally. You need to check locally also.”

The consulate also said that the best evidence would be a 1915 NY State Census record for Luigi. In those days, the census recorded if you were naturalized or an alien. If I could find that record and show that it lists him as an alien I’d be all set. The problem is I can’t find him on the 1915 NY State Census. I found his wife, living as a boarder with another family, but not him.

So I did some searching. Turns out Luigi Gallo arrived at Ellis Island twice. First in 1909, which I knew, and then again in 1913, which I didn’t. Up until this point, I thought the man headed from Ellis Island to Poughkeepsie and never looked back. Turns out I was wrong.

Luigi, at some point between Feb 28, 1909 and March 17, 1913 left the US and went back to Italy. When he returned, he told the immigration officers not that he was headed back to Poughkeepsie, but that he was going to a cousin’s place in New Castle, PA. This is the first I’d ever heard mention of one of my ancestors in this line leaving Dutchess County, NY.

So I looked into New Castle, PA. Turns out that in the 1890’s an Italian immigrant started a fireworks company there. Then a few of his employees took off and started fireworks companies of their own. Why is this significant? Because my great-grandfather worked with dynamite in Poughkeepsie. In fact, one day in 1913, he went to check on a piece of dynamite that didn’t explode. Unfortunately, someone tried it again while he was approaching, and he was hurt. He eventually succumbed to his injuries a few days later.

So why was my great-grandfather going out to New Castle, PA? Was he getting more training? Did he want to start his own company in New York? That will take some more digging. But the important piece here is that perhaps I can’t find him on the 1915 NY State Census because he was working in Pennsylvania at that time.

So I needed to get other proof. I consulted some genealogists.

“Technically, the consulate should have approved your application,” I was told. “What he said about people getting naturalized locally? Doesn’t matter. Because the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 required that all naturalizations be on record with the federal government. So the fact that you had a document from the federal government saying they couldn’t find him should have been enough.”

So here’s my lesson to you dual citizenship seekers: Learn some of the laws that might affect your application. Had I known about the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906, I can assure you I would have asked the consulate about it.

“And another thing,” the genealogist said. “Before 1922, if he was naturalized and then got married, his wife would automatically become naturalized. If you had a census record showing his wife was listed as an alien, that, too, proves he wasn’t naturalized.”

So the genealogist gave me a list of things I should obtain to bolster my case. The only problem was that we were one week away from the end of the school year. And three days after that, I was leaving for a seven week trip to Europe. I had a wild idea that I’d get it all done before I left. But I didn’t do any of it.

Then I thought I’d do it when I got back. But I got back just a week before school began. And on the day I returned, I got engaged. And then we decided why not do all the big expensive things at once? Let’s look into buying a house. So no, I didn’t get to that genealogy stuff.

“I think I’m just going to hire the genealogist and have him do it,” I told Michael last week. He thought that a good idea. But then came hurricane Irma.

Irma brought high winds and plenty of rain to my part of the country. This led to 25% of the buildings at school being without power. Which resulted in a day off. So after some lesson planning and some lunch, I got down to business.

What’s next? Once I get all of these letters and records (at least two of them will take 60-90 days to arrive), I have to resubmit all my paperwork to the consulate. (Thankfully I can do that by mail. I don’t have to wait another 2 years for an in-person appointment.) If they accept my application, it will take another year for them to process it. At which time they’ll send me a letter indicating I’m a citizen of Italy, and then I’ll figure out how to get my Italian passport:)

How to Buy A Ring: Michael Style

Let’s say your girlfriend of three-and-a-half years heads off to Europe for seven weeks–without you. You can’t believe she’d do such a thing. Again.

You heard all her jabs about getting married, and you’d really been considering it. Well, at least I’ll have seven weeks to find the right ring, you think. You want this to be a surprise, so not once did you ask her anything about what she would like. What’s the surprise if she picks the ring out herself? you think.

Lucky for you, your girlfriend is not one of those women who designs her ring on the Tiffany web site every once a while “for fun.” In fact, she hates shopping. The sheer number of options would paralyze her.

You, however, know exactly what you want. Oval diamond. Pear-shaped sapphires on either side. So you go on-line and begin your research. You learn about the four C’s. The bow-tie effect sometimes seen in oval diamonds. On Amazon.com, you buy a set of six tweezers with which to handle diamonds. On BlueNile.com you look at pictures, then videos of diamonds spinning around so you can see their sparkle. You order one.

The diamond arrives. You head into the bathroom, where there is the best light, to view it. Then realize handling a diamond on the counter beside a sink which doesn’t even have a stopper in it is probably not the best idea.

You go to four different jewelers to get their opinion on your diamond. You call Blue Nile and have them do a “vault analysis” whereby they pull oval diamonds from their vault and give them a bow tie rating.

You return the Blue Nile diamond. Thankfully, buying diamonds on BlueNile is like buying tools on Amazon. Not happy? Return it in thirty days for a refund.

You decide to go with Jimmy at John Laughter Jewelry. He orders one batch of diamonds for you. You are not satisfied with any of them. He patiently orders another batch. Then a third. And finally you find your diamond.

“What’s her ring size?” Jimmy asks. You have no idea. You go home to find some of her rings. You look in the bedroom. The closet. Her office. Nothing. Not a one.

“I’ve seen her wear rings before,” you tell Jimmy. “I have pictures of her with rings on. But I can’t find a ring anywhere in the house.”

“Send me the pictures,” he says. You send six pictures of her to Jimmy. “I’m pretty sure she’s a five-and-a-half,” he says. “But we’re going to make a six because you want it to fit on her finger when you propose.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You tell Jimmy exactly what you want. You email him pictures of ring designs, with arrows pointing to features you want to change, your instructions typed above the arrows.

 

 

On August first, five days before she’s due home, you pick up the ring. It’s exactly what you wanted. You thank Jimmy and that evening you head to Jargon, a new restaurant in town you’ve both liked. “I”m looking for a place to propose and I want to test the lighting at the table by the window,” you tell the hostess. There’s a couple sitting at that table, but that doesn’t phase you. You walk over and repeat your story. “Would you mind if I just pulled out the ring for a second?” They don’t. So you do. Nope. Not the right amount of sparkle.

Then you go downtown to Zambra’s, another favorite place of hers. “I’m looking for a place to propose to my girlfriend,” you tell the hostess. She brings you to a table she thinks is just right. Again you pull out the ring. Again there’s not enough sparkle. So you move to the seat on the other side of the table. Nope. She brings you to a second table. Then to the outside patio. Nope.

Over the next few nights you go to four more restaurants. At Rezaz, they bring you to the back, where a large ball of lights hangs down surrounded by six tables. “I can adjust it to however bright you want it,” they tell you. And you have them do just that. You sit at the table they recommend. Pull out the ring. Then you move to the other seat. And finally, you know where she will sit on the night you propose.

 

Pilgrims of San Antón

Flora and Antonio knew about San Antón. Maybe they had read about it in their guidebook. Ruins of a 14 century church. No electricity. No hot water. 12 beds. Dinner and breakfast included. Cost: by donation. Maybe friends who have done the Camino told them about it. Maybe they stayed at a place earlier in their Camino where the owner told them about it. I don’t know how they knew of it, but they walked through our gates at 11 AM and asked if there were still beds available. “You are our first pilgrims of the day,” I told them. They raised their eyebrows. “Really? We heard we had to get here early because it often filled up.”

“Yes, sometimes it does,” I said. “But we have been here for four days and have not had a full night yet.”

A pilgrim’s first view of San Antón

They looked around, mouths agape. It isn’t often that one gets to spend the night in a church that has been abandoned for 300 years. Stone walls towered above them. Birds flew in and out of windows that no longer held glass. They walked further into the structure, the stones crunching beneath their feet.

Hard to believe pilgrims get to spend the night in this amazing place. And I get to stay for two weeks!

I invited them into the kitchen, where I gave them water flavored with lemon and mint (from our herb garden). I learned Antonio only spoke Spanish. Flora, who didn’t know Spanish, spoke to him and her native Italian and they got along just fine. Thankfully, she also spoke English.

After writing their names, passport numbers, and countries of origin in our registry book, I told them dinner is served at seven. “We begin cooking at six and you are welcome to help if you would like, but it is not required.”

I showed them the dorm room: six sets of bunkbeds. Then I walked them over to the bathroom, explaining that we have limited water, so please don’t waste it. (Though since we have no hot water, pilgrims don’t usually spend too long in the shower.)

Just then, my co-hospitalero, Stefano, walked through the gates. He had just returned from a morning spent in the next town, 3 km (2 miles) away. (Every day one of us walks into town in the morning to purchase food for that evening’s meal. We have a butane powered refrigerator the size of a large microwave, so can’t store too much.)

Steffano making breadcrumbs with our stale bread.

I took our first guests down to the picnic table by the gates to meet Stefano. After exchanging pleasantries, Antonio asked if there was a place nearby to purchase food. Stefano explained that the only place to do so was in Castrojeriz, 3 km away. Antonio declared that he wanted to cook Spanish tortilla for us tonight. “We have eggs and potatoes,” Stefano said, knowing the ingredients of the popular dish.

“How many eggs?” Antonio asked. We all walked up to the kitchen. “Six,” we told him after checking our supply. (Thankfully, we don’t have to carry eggs back from town. The bread truck comes to us every day except Sundays. And it also has eggs and milk.)
Antonio thought for a minute and then asked about our potato supply. I slid back the curtain in front of our shelves and showed him the four potatoes sitting on the bottom shelf in a plastic crate. “And you have an onion,” he said, seeing it behind the potatoes. “That will be good. But I may need more eggs.” (Especially since, on any given night, we have no idea if we will have two pilgrims or twelve, or anywhere in between.) Despite the 90° temperature, Antonio shrugged his shoulders when Stefano reminded him it was 3 km further down the road. Antonio pulled a small day pack out of his larger backpack, and promptly took off.

Two hours later he returned, pulling his purchases out of his pack. A red pepper, green pepper, tomato, and then a half-carton of eggs dripping with the insides of the one that didn’t make it. We all laughed. And then Stefano and I asked him how much it cost so that we could pay for the ingredients. Antonio went on a long rant about how cheap things were in this part of Spain. And that this was his gift to us. Though Stefano and I had only been hospitaleros for two nights, and therefore had to cook only two dinners so far, we were still delighted to have someone else take over the cookhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vy9ulaolqcing duties.


For a video tour of the ruins at San Antòn, click here. 

Italian Men

“Maybe we should open the door a little bit, otherwise I think it will get way too hot in here tonight,” she said. Her roommate agreed, and she cracked open the door to the outside. She laid back down and felt a slight breeze wash over her, but she was still quite warm. And she was the one laying close to the door. Her roommate, she imagined, might not be feeling any of this.   

“Maybe we should open it up all the way,” she said. Her roommate agreed saying, “Whatever you want to do. My only concern is that YOU are comfortable.” She smiled. “I want you to be comfortable too,” she said. But she knew her roommate genuinely meant that his happiness was dependent on hers. After all, he was an Italian man. And she had learned a bit about Italian men in her travels.  

The first time she went to Italy, many people in the US warned our heroine about the forwardness of the men there, especially since she was a mere 23 years old and traveling alone. Indeed, she found them quite to be just that, but not in a way that she found offensive. It wasn’t as if they were making cat calls and whistling. It was mostly compliments. Still, she just smiled and said thank you despite their attempts to continue the conversation. Which she was amazed they did even after she told them she didn’t understand a word of their language. 

Six years later, our heroine found herself in Italy once more. This time she was with her 82-year-old grandmother, her brother, and two female cousins, the latter three all in their 20s as well. This time, it was put heroine’s turn to warn her cousins about the way Italian men approached women so easily and freely. But she was in for a surprise. She now knew to expect and accept the attention, but she didn’t realize that it would not be initially directed at her nor her cousins but at her grandmother. 

 Her grandmother wore her tour group name tag everywhere they went. In large capital letters it read “Angelina,” and then, in slightly smaller letters below that, it read, “Gallo.” Countless Italians stopped to talk to her– they knew the tag indicated she was in a tour group, but she had a very much Italian name. The grandmother, fluent in a dialect of Italian that is dying off with her generation, delighted everyone. And the men? They were smart. They saw she was traveling with three 20 something brunettes and thus they always began by complimenting Angelina on her beautiful granddaughters. Then, they would have further conversation with her, and only after charming her would they ask about the marital status of her three granddaughters.

Even when we were visiting Italian relatives, Grandma kept that name tag on!


 It was during this trip that our heroine realized that the Italian men were not forward just to pick up women. They had a genuine appreciation for the opposite sex. Like they were thrilled to death God had put them on the planet, and they wanted women to know just how thrilled they were. 

In 2005, our now 35-year-old heroine was walking the Camino to Santiago (a network of thousand-year-old pilgrimage trails across Europe). In one small village, she met a German man who was a diplomat in England. After their introductory conversations about their respective journeys, he complimented her on the dress she wore, but then quickly apologized. “I just remembered you are American. I was merely saying that you look nice in your dress, and I don’t mean anything more by it.” 

“I didn’t think you did, “she said. “And thank you.” 

“I’ve traveled enough to know that American women don’t like compliments from men because they always think men want something more,” he explained. They talked about how sad this was. And our heroine explained that she actually enjoyed how freely some European men complemented her.

The dress our heroine has worn on every Camino.


But when our heroine arrived at San Antón to begin two weeks of volunteering along the Camino de Santiago, she had forgotten all of this. She had initially been told that the other volunteer would be an Italian woman. But then learned it was actually a little unclear. Correspondence had been over the internet with someone with a woman’s name, but the picture identifying the person was that of a male. 

 So when put heroine walked into San Antón for the first time, she was surprised to see it was indeed a male volunteer she would be working with. She learned a female friend of his had set up the volunteering on his behalf. 

He was very kind, and in that magical way of things on the Camino, she knew they would work well together over the next two weeks. What she didn’t expect–or remember initially–was how many complements she would receive throughout the day. On her cooking. On her cleaning. On her ideas. And on that same dress she wore on our first Camino. 

Stefano (at the head of the table) and pilgrims preparing dinner at San Antón.


And she knew Stefano didn’t mean anything more by it. She freely talked about the wonderful things her boyfriend Michael did for her. She told Stefano about the surprise 40th birthday party he had thrown for her, and as they sat at the kitchen table Stefano said, “Tell me about it.” So she did. And then she showed Stefano a picture of the painting Michael had commissioned of her on the Camino. Stefano was certainly impressed. 

Her heroine’s 40th birthday gift from Michael.


 And then a pilgrim stopped by, and they went out to greet him. Stefano explained that they were the hospitaleros (volunteers). “I am from Italy, and she is from the United States,” Stefano said, pointing to our heroine. “And she’s the best hospitalera I could ask for.” 

Different Worlds

Keeping up her habit of getting into the cars of people she hardly knows, our heroine used Blablacar.com for the first time today. It’s basically Uber meets hitchhiking. Drivers post where they’re going, when, how much money they want, and how many spaces they have available. Riders search for someone going their way. Why? Because it’s cheaper and faster than public transportation. And you get to meet some locals.

Riders can check out the profile of their potential driver, which includes reviews, photos of the driver and their car, as well as a little info about the driver and their trip. Riders commit by paying via PayPal or credit card. 

Our heroine searched for a ride from Bayonne, France to Burgos, Spain. She found a 31-year-old woman heading from somewhere else further back in France, across Spain, and all the way to Portugal. But both of our heroine’s towns were on the way. They texted back-and-forth to set up a meeting place, and this morning our heroine took a bus to the IKEA in Bayonne to meet her ride. 

Riverfront in Bayonne, France


The car was filled nearly to the brim with people and bags. Our heroine was the sixth passenger. The rider in the backseat noticed the scallop shell on our heroine’s backpack (a universal symbol of the Camino routes and the pilgrims who walk them) and asked if our heroine was going to walk the Camino. “I was walking a route in France– from Le Puy to Figeac, and now I’m going to Spain to volunteer at a hostel along the Camino.” Turns out the rider in the backseat was headed to St Jean-de-Luz, a town on the Atlantic coast of France, to begin walking the Camino Del Norte. It was her first time doing a Camino, her first time doing anything physically challenging. And why? Because her father had died in January and she needed to clear some space in her head, she said.

Thirty minutes later the future pilgrim departed the car outside her destination. Our heroine noticed that she had a cardboard sign on which she had printed “Centre Ville,” the words that mean “center of the village” in France. Though the pilgrim had no Camino experience, she was obviously an experienced hitchhiker. Our heroine wished her “Buon Camino,” and then quickly realized that the new pilgrim had probably never heard the sentiment before, and didn’t know what it meant. But soon the pilgrim would hear it nearly every day from people wanting to wish her well on her journey.

 The group settled back in, and two hours later pulled off the highway for a lunch break. The only man in the car picked up some food at McDonald’s. They then drove to the small village they saw and set up a picnic in the park beside the church. Our heroine went to the nearby bar and had her first tortilla of this trip. (A tortilla in Spain is like a quiche without the crust. Except that it only has potatoes–and sometimes carmelized onions–in it.)

Another hour passed and they reached Burgos. Our heroine first noticed yellow arrows, and then pilgrims with their packs, and realized they were driving along the Camino route. Our heroine encouraged the driver to let her off 3 km (1.8 miles) from the historic district. All four of the other passengers were headed to Portugal and had another five hours ahead of them, and our heroine knew she could find her way to the Cathedral and the nearby municipal albergue (hostel) by following the yellow arrows.

Despite the 90° heat our heroine enjoyed being on the trail again. She was in the newer, modern part of the city and the large buildings shaded most of her way.

 A few blocks into her walk, a man in dress pants and a button-down shirt wished her a “Buon Camino” as he walked past. She said, “Merci,” not having yet adjusted to speaking Spanish instead of French. 

Forty-five minutes later, she arrived at the municipal albergue. The signs at the entrance said it was only for pilgrims. She wondered if they would accept her as technically she had really not walked very far that day. She tried to explain to the men at the front desk, who spoke no English, that she was going to be a hospitalera (volunteer) on Friday at San Antón, but they had no idea what she was trying to communicate. So she just showed them her Camino credential (a small book she had that showed stamps she had collected along the way thus proving her legitimacy as a pilgrim). The men confirmed that she wanted one bed, accepted her five Euros, and then pointed her in the direction of the elevators. 

Leave the Front door of the hostel, turn right, and there’s this!


Our heroine found her way to the sixth floor and to her assigned top bunk. Memories flooded back as she took in the scene before her. Twenty bunkbeds in one room. Towels hanging from the edge of them, pilgrims hoping they would dry by the next day. Sleeping bags spread on mattresses. The din of German, English, Spanish. She was certainly not on a French Camino route anymore. This was the start of a whole other experience. 

Sixth floor of municipal hostel in Burgos, Spain

Lots of laundry drying at the hostel in Burgos

Allergic to the Camino?

Each time she walks a Camino our heroine finds herself, at some point on her journey, with an itchy skin rash or bites. Her retired dermatologist friend says bedbugs, but no one she encounters in Spain seems to think so. This year, she finds the same sentiment exists in France.

On Saturday evening the only window in her room in Cahors opened into a busy street. The door opened into the communal bathroom. But closing one or the other would make the room stuffy. Then someone across the street started playing loud music. Closing the window didn’t help much. Then at 130 a.m. she started itching. She feared bedbugs and turned on her headlamp, but saw nothing. She finally fell asleep around 2 a.m.

The next morning she found bites on her arms, chest, and fingers. Then two more on her right thigh, and one on her belly for a grand total of 26 very itchy spots.

She shows them to her host who says they are not the bites of “punaise” (French for bedbugs). He says bedbug bites show up in groups of three. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. She has read this isn’t true but isn’t in a mood to argue. “Spider bites,” he tells her. “It’s an old house. They’re in the cracks in the stone walls.”

She applies the calamine lotion she received in Spain the last time this happened. She’s given up on caring how it looks to have dried pink lotion visible on much of her body. The lotion helps only for a few hours, but it’s better than nothing.

That afternoon Michel picks her up to drive toward Bayonne, and agrees they are not bedbugs. They arrive at The Alchemist pilgrim hostel in Navarrenx. Jean-Gerard, a self-proclaimed philosopher and her host for the evening, says the same and gives her lavender oil to apply to them. It helps a little and has the added benefit of making her smell nice. 

Navarrenx, France: Michel admiring the artwork outside the Alchemist pilgrim hostel


Our heroine had a room to herself in Navarrenx. However, she arrived at eight, and dinner didn’t get served until 9 pm so she didn’t get to enjoy her room until 11 PM!


The next morning she arrives in Bayonne at 9 a.m. and heads to the tourism office to book a room for the night. She is told there are no hostels here, but a woman next to her exclaims that there is one in her town, not too far away. They try to call, but then are informed that that one has gone out of business. The woman then invites our heroine to spend the evening at her home. Apparently our heroine looks and acts like a person who complete strangers can invite into their cars and homes without worry.

Our heroine accepts the offer. Why not? Her new hostess, Mairielle, brings her home for a much-needed shower and nap.

At some point, our heroine remembers reading something about dipping a spoon into warm water and applying it to mosquito bites to make the itching go away forever. So she tries it on two of her bites, and then applies the calamine again to the others. 

She and her hostess head to the Anglet tourism office so our heroine can use the Wi-Fi to call her boyfriend and parents. Then they take off for a long walk on the beach in Anglet, to the lighthouse overlooking Biarritz. At 8:45 PM, they run through the supermarket buying groceries for dinner before it closes at nine.

Anglet, France: our heroine and her hostess


When they arrive home, our heroine realizes that the two bites that she applied the spoon to have not bothered her. So she applies the same treatment to the other twenty-four. They finally sit down to dinner at 10 PM. 

At midnight, our heroine lays down on the porch cushion that her host has put on the floor for her. She covers herself in the down comforter, and has the best nights sleep of her entire trip. 

Earlier in the day, she had called her boyfriend. They agreed that the best way to avoid the bites next summer is to stay in the U.S.