Summer Plans Part 1 (or San Antón Part 2)

This summer marks the first year I will be able to travel for multiple weeks in Europe without having to:

  1. Quit my job.
  2. Find a job upon my return.
  3. Live off my savings.

Why? Because I did a most stunning thing one year ago: I accepted a full-time teaching position.

I’ve been on the planet long enough and among enough teachers to know that you don’t take a teaching job for the vacation. But let’s be honest here: it’s quite a perk.

  • Eight full weeks every summer.
  • A week at Thanksgiving.
  • Two weeks at Christmas.
  • One week for Spring Break.
  • Plus a myriad of other holidays.

Oh — and they pay me over the entire year. In other words, while I am walking across France this summer, money will get deposited into my bank account. Twice.

Walk across France? Well, not exactly. Across 300 miles of it. Beginning in Le Puy-en-Velay.

I first heard of Le Puy-en-Velay in 2012 on my first day of my first walk along the Camino de Santiago. Complete strangers would begin conversations with me and inevitably ask where I started my walk. “St. Jean Pied-de-Port,” I said, thinking that was the only starting point. Nope. Turns out people walk out their doors in Toulouse, Paris, Geneva and head towards Santiago. I met more than a few people who started in Le Puy and said the scenery was stunning and the food was amazing. “One day, I want to walk that route,” I thought.

Note: I did not think that on the first day of my first Camino. On that day I carried mostly things I’d  borrowed or bought used because, I told myself,  I’m only doing this once, so no need to invest in gear and clothing I’ll never use again. Ha.

I also thought I’d never be a classroom teacher. But for the vacation, and a few other more noble reasons, I accepted that position. And within minutes, I began plotting my summer.

Mission one: contact Rebekah Scott. Why? Well, that’s a bit of a story . . .

There were two things I knew after I completed my first Camino:

  1. I wanted to do it again.
  2. I wanted to be a hospitalera.

A hospitalera is a volunteer who spends two weeks caring for pilgrims at a hostel along the Camino de Santiago. This means, on any given day, I could be a listening ear, a counselor, a cook, a cleaning lady, a tour guide, a first responder, a leader of evening reflection, or all of the above.

Tosantos, 2012: Our hospitalero is at the head of the table. To my left: new friends from Germany, US, and France. Across the table: another French friend and the four Italians who helped out the hospitalero by cooking us dinner that night.

I had the pleasure and luck of being under the care of more than a few incredible hospitaleros over the course of my Caminos–including one man who literally gave me his own shirt to wear when I thought everything I owned was infested with bedbugs. He also washed the entire contents of my backpack. And when his generosity overwhelmed me, and the tears started flowing out of my rash-covered body, he hugged and consoled me.

I never got his name. But I will never forget him. And I wanted to, in some way, pay it forward.

In September, 2015, I–quite unexpectedly–got my chance.

My friend Lois and I were walking the Camino Francés (wish #1: check). It was her first Camino (and only Camino, she promised me), and I was accompanying her not just as a friend but as her travel agent, walking coach and translator.

Long before we left on our trip, one of the places I told Lois I wanted to stay was the ruins at San Antón: an albergue (hostel) in the ruins of a 16th century church. No hot water. No electricity. And therefore certainly not someplace Lois would have chosen. “Anytime we can stay in a place that has sheets and towels, we’re going to do that,” she’d told me. Electricity was kind of implied.

But she also said she wanted to “experience it all,” so though I offered that she could stay elsewhere while I spent a night at San Anton, she insisted that wasn’t necessary.

Soon after arriving at San Antón on September 26, 2015, we registered to spend the night and chose our bunks. Then I went to do some research. San Antón is run by hospitaleros and I wanted to know all about their experiences. Sylvia (from South Africa) patiently answered all of my questions. She stopped sometimes to register new pilgrims, or I stopped sometimes to chat with pilgrim friends as they came in.

Sylvia (L) and Lois inside San Antón.

Michael and Lisa — a couple from Atlanta who became our best friends along the Camino route — walked in and over the course of our conversation the idea of volunteering came up. “I could do it at a place like this,” Lois said.

“Without power or hot water?” I asked.

“Yep. I would.”

A few hours later Rebekah Scott came by. I’d read her blog and knew her the moment I saw her. She was the woman in charge of coordinating volunteers for San Antón, I introduced myself and told her one day I’d love to volunteer here. It was then that I learned they, in fact, needed some volunteers. Tomorrow night.

From l to r: Patrick (Rebekah’s husband) Rebekah, and me

Usually there are two or three volunteers, and they stay for two week periods. For reasons I’m still not sure of (scheduling issues I think), after that night, there would only be one. One person to care for twelve pilgrims. Check them in. Make them dinner. And breakfast. Listen to them. Console them. Care for them. Clean the kitchen, bunk room, and bathroom after they all left. And welcome all the other pilgrims that just stop in to see the ruins throughout the day.

I saw my chance, but then thought of Lois, and watched my chance float on by. There was no way Lois would stay here another night. So when they asked me if I’d like to volunteer for a couple nights, I said I would love to if I was on my own, but I was traveling with a friend . . .

But then I remembered Lois’ earlier comments. And her saying to me, over and over, “This is your trip, too. So if there’s something you want to do, you just say so.”

I found Lois sitting on a bench in what used to be the nave of the church . “Hey Lois?” I started.

“What’s up, kid?”

“Well . . . ” my words tumbled out quickly before I lost the courage to ask them. “They’re going to be short a volunteer the next couple of nights and they asked if I wanted to do it, but I said I couldn’t because I was with you, but then I thought maybe–”

“Of course!” Her face lit up. Not, I think, because she wanted to stay two more nights but because she genuinely wanted me to be happy.

“Really?” I asked.

“Absolutely, kid. You’ve wanted to do this for years. And this is why we planned so much time for our walk–so if things came up and we wanted to spend more time some place, we could.”

I hugged her and we went back to share the news with the volunteers. Rebekah declared, “Tonight, you two will stay here as pilgrims. Then, tomorrow morning, after breakfast, you’ll be hospitaleras.”

After asking Sylvia a million questions about the life of a hospitalera, she handed me the hospitalero guide. Here I am reading it cover to cover.

——————

To be continued . . . 

Note: If you would like to contribute to the care and upkeep of the pilgrim hostel at San Antón, please visit here to purchase a fascinating little book about its history.

 

 

Advertisements

How to get to Europe for $183.53

If you want to go to Europe and think flights are too expensive, stop saying that. Here’s how I paid a grand total of $183.53 for a flight from Newark to Madrid (via Dublin) and returning to JFK (via Dublin).

  1. Apply for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. There’s no annual fee for the first year, and it’s a $95 fee per year after that–but you can just cancel the card before the year is up if you don’t want a fee-based credit card.
  2. Charge $4000 on the card in the first three months. I don’t usually spend that kind of money in three months. But I learned I could pay my rent via credit card, and in previous years when doing this I’ve contacted family members for help. One sister charged her new appliances to my card, another charged her LASIK surgery to my card, Dad charged some business equipment he needed, etc. (I don’t recommend this unless you have nice family members like mine who promptly paid me back.) Also note you can link your card to your Amazon account and to Paypal so anything you buy with those will help you get your points.
  3. Set up on-line access to your Chase account (you’ll need this later).
  4. Sign up for an Avios account (that’s British Airways frequent flyer program).
  5. Once you charge your $4000, in 4-6 weeks you’ll have 54,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (4000 for each dollar you spent, and a 50,000 point bonus for doing it in 3 months). Actually, you’ll have more than that–they give you double points for every dollar you spend on travel and food purchases.
  6. Now call British Airways. (Yes, call–their web site told me it’s not possible to do this online right now.)
  7. Find out if they have seats available on the days you want to go (I booked 4 months in advance). Do not look for flights on British Airways or Iberia — the additional taxes are ridiculous ($1000 on the flights I initially wanted). Instead, ask them to look at your flight options on Aer Lingus (as of December, 2016, British Airways can book Aer Lingus flights). You’ll have to get to mainland Europe via Dublin, but for $183.53 I’m sure you can handle a layover. (While you’re there, get something you can put butter on. Their butter is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted!)
  8. Once you know your flights are available, go online and transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Avios points (that’s the British Airways frequent flyer program you signed up for in Step 4). You can make this transfer in about 45 seconds while you’re on the phone with British Airways. The transfer happens immediately.
  9. Book your flight. Pay your $183.53 in taxes.
  10. Brag to your friends.
  11. Get in touch with me and tell me about the awesome trip you just booked.

I’d recommend getting your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card through this link, because the guy who taught me how to use British Airways points on non-BA flights (Brad at RichmondSavers.com) will get a little money if you do, at no extra cost to you. It’s the least I can do for him. Oh, and if you want to get to get your whole family to Disney World for free, he’s your guy.

You can also learn a whole lot more about earning miles without leaving the ground by heading over to Chris Guillebeau’s site. His site is where I first learned about this concept (called Travel Hacking) many years ago. And it’s thanks to his site, travelhacking.org, that I earned over 200,000 miles the first year I tried all this.

A Camino Surprise

“When you think of the Camino, what’s the typical scene you see in your head?” Michael asked me. We had been talking about walking the Camino de Santiago together next summer and Michael, true to form, was beginning his research. Or so I thought.

“Well, there are lots of different scenes. It depends on which part of the trail you’re on. In the Basque country there’s more woods than on the Maseta. Sometimes you’re walking on dirt farm roads, sometimes on trails . . . ”

“Yeah, but if you had to pick just one scene you would say gives the best picture of what it’s like–”

“Well, I guess I’d say the scenes from the Maeseta. It’s flat — but not like Kansas-flat. There are some hills, and you can see the path stretching out into the distance. And there’s usually a church steeple in sight–that’s the next town. And of course you can see other pilgrims on the trail ahead of you–sometimes way ahead of you.”

We continued on and I didn’t think anything more of Michael’s question until my surprise birthday party. As I greeted guests in the living room, I walked by our bedroom, then did a double take. What was that on our bed? Yes, coats were piled all over it, but at the top of the bed, leaning against the wall, was a three by four foot painting. I recognized the style and the scene right away and tears sprung to my eyes. I knew instantly: Michael had somehow tracked down my friend Jane, a painter who had walked the Camino, and commissioned her to do a painting of the scene I’d described to him. There were the hills. The pilgrims on the path ahead, the church steeple in the distance. And in the front left corner, sitting on the side of the trail writing, was me.

My 40th birthday gift from Michael

How he found Jane I wasn’t sure. He’d never met her. At the Farmer’s Market a few months earlier we’d run into my friend Janet and I remember telling Michael, “She and her partner Jane walked the Camino.” And I must have mentioned that Jane painted scenes of it while she was there.

I later learned that Michael tried to find Jane on my Facebook page, but had no luck (she’s not on Facebook). Then he started Googling: Jane, Camino, painter, Asheville. And eventually he found a web site that might be hers. He looked through her work, and when he found paintings done of the Camino he knew he’d found the right person.

A couple weeks after my birthday party, Michael, Janet and Jane explained to me how it all happened. “I went to meet Jane at the Asheville Gallery of Art ,” Michael said, “to see her stuff and talk about what I wanted. ” Jane recalls Michael said he was thinking of something about “three by four.” She thought he meant inches. “And I thought, wow, that’s really small. How am I going to do that? Then he said ‘feet’ and I thought, Wow, that’s really big! How am I going to do that?”

Then he said he wanted me in it. “But in an abstract kind of way. She’s a writer, a blogger, maybe have her writing.”

Jane began her own research. She asked Janet to go on Facebook and find pictures of me on the Camino. Jane also pulled out the pictures from her own journey along The Way. She decided on colors. She sent Michael four possible poses for me. There are details only I would recognize. The orange stripe on my backpack. The red-orange shirt I wore almost every day. My green guidebook sticking out of the side pocket of my pack. Yet anyone who’s walked the trail will recognize the scene.

Jane and her masterpiece:)

Jane and her masterpiece:)

Whereas I wrote while on my first Camino, Jane sketched and painted. I’ve loved the idea of having a journal in which I could also sketch the images I see. The only problem is: I can’t draw. But Jane tells me anyone can learn to draw–and she teaches people how. So every Thursday evening in February, Michael and I and a few of our friends will become Jane’s students. And maybe one day I’ll be able to post not just my words on this blog, but maybe some of my sketches.


To see more of Jane’s work, visit JaneSnyderArt.com.

A New Year’s Valentine’s Day Gift (How We Met: Part 4)

My second date with Michael (or the third, depending on which of us you’re talking to) was one of those marathon dates newly-dating people do. We began mid-morning with a trip to Good Will to find sweaters for an Ugly Sweater Christmas party that night. After fifteen minutes, we had our choices. We put them on the scale (this Good Will Outlet charges by the pound) and Michael plopped down $3.18.

Bags in hand, we headed to a costume shop to hunt down matching costumes for a themed New Year’s Eve party the following weekend. Michael wouldn’t let me pay for those either.

New Year's Costumes

New Year’s Costumes

Hungry and not yet sick of each other, we shared a late lunch at my favorite restaurant downtown, and then took a walk around Asheville.

During the walk, Michael asked if I collected any art.

“Not really, but I’d like to start. I actually have my eye on a piece in a gallery here.”

“Oh yeah? What is it?”

“It’s a ceramic boat. But on top of it is a scene that looks straight out of the Camino. There’s an old church, a path running in front of it, a little bridge crossing a creek. And you know what’s really funny? The piece is called, ‘The Pilgrimage.'”

Why I hadn’t bought it yet, I wasn’t sure. Or so I told him.

The following weekend Michael came to pick me up for the first of two New Year’s Eve parties we would be attending. I opened the door to my back porch to find him standing with a wrapped box in his hands. This was the third time he’d brought me a wrapped gift in as many weeks.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“Well, it’s your Valentine’s Day gift, but I couldn’t wait that long to give it to you.”

Valentine’s Day was not even on my radar, let alone the thought that Michael and I would still be dating by then. Not that I didn’t think it possible, I just wasn’t in the habit of planning six weeks into the future when you’ve been dating for less than four.

I invited him in. He put the box down on a table while I finished getting ready for the party. I opened the door to leave and he said, “You’re not going to open it?”

“I thought you said it was for Valentine’s Day.” 

“It is. But I want you to open it now.” I peeled off the paper, opened the box, and moved tissue paper aside to find The Pilgrimage. I stood there speechless, mouth agape, looking from him to the box and back again.

“I can’t believe you did this,” I said to him. “How did you . . . I didn’t even tell you what gallery it was in.”

“Yeah, that took some searching.”

In the car on the way to the party, Michael told me how he remembered the name of the piece, and what it looked like, so he Googled it.  Eventually he found a blog post I had written about it–a blog post that included the name of the gallery. 

He went to the gallery, but didn’t see it. When he then asked, he was told it had been moved into storage downstairs, so they went to get it for him. He plopped down his credit card and, four hundred dollars later, it was his. And now mine.

The Pilgrimage

The Pilgrimage

And that’s why I hadn’t bought it yet. I couldn’t justify spending that much money on myself. All in one place. And on just one thing–a thing that served no other purpose than to remind me of one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  Michael, however, thought I was worth it.

Best Moments of 2015

I did this last year, and had such a good time doing it, I thought I’d do it again. So voila: the best moment of 2015 (in no particular order). With apologies for everything I forgot. It was an eventful year!

  1. The moment I booked my flight to Nicaragua. (That was a Monday. I left three days later.)
  2. The many moments I spent speaking Spanish to my masseuse/nail tech in Nicaragua–a mere two days after I started learning the language.
  3. Every moment I spent speaking Spanish in Spain–on my first Camino I promised myself the next time I walk the Camino, I’m going to know Spanish so I can talk to the locals. Mission accomplished.

    I waved, he stopped the tractor, got out, and (from what I could gather with my limited Spanish) invited me to come back later for a glass of wine. I declined.

    I waved, he stopped the tractor, got out, and (from what I could gather with my limited Spanish) invited me to come back later for a glass of wine. I declined.

  4. Every moment I conversed in French on the Camino. Especially the night I stayed in San Anton–when everyone else staying there could speak English except one man. He only spoke French. I conversed with him the whole afternoon, and translated the dinner conversation for him that night. Which brings me to:
  5. The moment someone at the dinner table in San Anton thanked me for playing translator, and asked me to, “tell him I’ve seen him many times on the Camino and am happy to finally know some things about him.”

    Thanks to my French teachers (Ms. Calenti and Mrs. Gold) I didn't just watch this guy go by. I got his story. He and his donkey (Le Roi--"The King") left their home in France on June 29. They got to Santiago and then TURNED AROUND and were headed home when Lois and I met them on Sept 6, 2015.

    Thanks to my French teachers (Ms. Calenti and Mrs. Gold) I didn’t just watch this guy go by. I got his story. He and his donkey (Le Roi–“The King”) left their home in France on June 29. They got to Santiago and then TURNED AROUND and were headed home when Lois and I met them on Sept 6, 2015.

  6. Every moment a fellow Camino pilgrim shared their story with me.
  7. The moment I saw Lois’ face when we got to Muxia–having walked over 500 miles together over the previous 47 days.

     Age: 73 Miles: 500+

    Age: 73. Miles: 500+.

  8. The moment I saw Michael again, after having been separated from him for three months (due to aforementioned Camino.)

    Together again:)

    Together again:)

  9. Every moment Lois’ daughter, other family, and friends thanked me for accompanying her on her Camino.
  10. Every moment Lois thanked me for accompanying her on the Camino. Sometimes she thanked me with words, sometimes by paying for things, sometimes simply with a smile.
  11. Every moment Lois and I strolled into a town and found our new friends Lisa and Michael seated at a table, drinks in one hand, cigarettes in the other, and big welcomes for us.

    Michael was also great at making sandwiches:)

    Michael was also great at making sandwiches:)

  12. Every moment spent on a ride in Disneyland with Michael. I can’t remember the last time I went on roller coasters. I’ll need more of that in 2016.
  13. The moment I finished the last stitch on the mermaid blankets for my nieces–three days before Christmas. I’ve never finished that early. IMG_4097
  14. The moment my nieces opened their aforementioned Christmas gifts. IMG_4096
  15. Every moment spent watching Michael play his trumpet at open mic nights at Witherbee’s in Schroon Lake.
  16. Every moment I learned one of my students did well on a test or final exam.
  17. The moments Michael spent telling me about the houses he was scoping out for us in Asheville (while I was in Spain).
  18. The moments Lois and I spent laughing over the videos Michael sent of the aforementioned places. (The places weren’t funny–but Michael’s commentary was.)
  19. Every moment I saw someone comment on a Camino picture I posted on Facebook.
  20. The moment I read Lois’ e-mail that said she was taking me up on my offer to accompany her on a Camino. And that, as a thank you, she’d gift me $1000. And not only that– that she preferred sheets and towels to sleeping bags and microtowels, so anytime we could get a private room (as opposed to a hostel), she’d pay for it.

    I rarely saw a bunk bed on this Camino--VERY different from my first, when I slept on a top bunk almost every night.

    I rarely saw a bunk bed on this Camino–VERY different from my first, when I slept on a top bunk almost every night.

  21. Every moment Lois pulled out her credit card to pay for aforementioned rooms. It was like she was saying, “Thank you,” all over again, and a great reminder to me to accept the generosity of others.
  22. Every moment Lois and I opened the door to our private room, unsure if this one would be worse or better than the last.
  23. The moments Lois and I spent laughing about our bright orange room with a double bed pushed into one side and barely enough room to walk or put our packs down. “It will make us appreciate the good rooms that much more,” said Lois. (Oh how I wish I had a picture of that room!)
  24. Every moment on the Camino when I fretted over something not going well and Lois said, “This is what makes it a good story.”
  25. Every moment I slid my tiny daypack onto my shoulders. Everyone should walk the Camino at least one day without their pack. Just for the joy.IMG_0962
  26. The moment a woman walked up to me on the Camino and said, “You’re Rebecca!” How’d she know? She read all my blogs about my first Camino, and knew I was doing it again. Why was she there? In part because of me. Apparently she e-mailed me a couple years ago and asked how to know when she’d be ready to walk the Camino. I told her to just book the darn ticket. And there she was:)

    Because who wouldn't want to walk across the Pyrenees?

    Because who wouldn’t want to walk across the Pyrenees?

  27. The moment not one, but two other women told me they’d also read my blog posts in preparation for their Camino.
  28. The moment Lois and I touched down in Ireland and said to each other, “Oh thank God! We’re back in a country where everyone speaks English!”
  29. The moment I got my first taste of real Irish butter. OMG. Butter will never be the same. I will never be the same.
  30. Every moment I bit into yet another delicious piece of Spanish bread. What I wouldn’t give for an American bakery that could produce bread like the Europeans.
  31. The moment I walked into the home Michael found for us–it was perfect. And I didn’t have to do a stitch of searching, calling, setting up appointments, or walk-throughs.
  32. The moment the neighbor girl opened her door, saw my bloodied palms, and took me in. (I had scraped the skin off both palms trying to keep Meg’s dog from chasing some wildlife. Note to self: when a dog starts running, let go of the leash.)
  33. The moment my sister Liz answered my call and said yes, she would stop what she was doing to take me to the doctor. (I couldn’t drive because of aforementioned missing skin.)

    He's cute--but strong enough to pull me over.

    He’s cute–but strong enough to pull me over.

  34. Every moment I stopped in to Mary Jane’s and saw my youngest sister Meg there–in her element: A busy but proud new business owner.
  35. Every moment spent eating the delicious veggie burgers at Mary Jane’s. (Their first ingredient is mushrooms. Need I say more?)
  36. Every moment spent making brownies for Meg’s new business.
  37. Every moment spent helping Meg move (out of her condo, temporarily into my parent’s house, then into her new home.)
  38. Every moment the former owners of Mary Jane’s  said how impressed they were with how everyone in the family showed up to help Meg. Yeah. We Gallo’s are good like that.

    These are my first cousins. And some of their kids. And some of my aunts and uncles. And my siblings and nieces. 95% of whom live within 15 miles of each other.

    These are my first cousins. And some of their kids. And some of my aunts and uncles. And my siblings and nieces. 95% of these people live within 15 miles of each other. If you’re in Dutchess County and need a Gallo, there’s probably one in shouting distance.

  39. The moment I learned I was accepted to a week-long all-expense-paid writing workshop.
  40. Every moment spent on our writing retreat in Franklin. Writing. Drinking good wine and eating good food with wonderful friends. All while being completely snowed in.
  41. The moment the guy showed up to drive me up the mountain to the writing retreat (which was preceded by moments spent crying wondering how I would climb up the snow-covered mile-long driveway with all my stuff, as it was clear my VW Bug wasn’t going to get me up there.).
  42. Every moment my parents helped to make our new house into a home. (Dear Mom and Dad: Sorry I was so stressed out and snarky during all that. Note to self: No more than two big box stores in one day. Note to self: Remember to down a glass of wine before getting in a car driven by Dad.)
  43. The look on Dad’s face the moment Michael sent him off to pick up a craigslist kitchen island saying, “Oh–the woman has a retired police dog. And he’s not friendly. So don’t get out of the car until you call her, so she can bring him in.”
  44. The moment I met two Irishmen on the road outside the ruins at San Anton. When they told me their 85-year-old father was behind them with another brother we all waited for them. When they arrived, I asked the father to stop in for a glass of water. He hesitated until I added, “with a pretty young woman.” It worked.

    This inspirational 85-year-old man walks 100 km (60 miles) on the Camino each year. Was happy he chose to spend some moments with Lois and I at San Anton.

    This inspirational 85-year-old man walks 100 km (60 miles) on the Camino each year. Was happy he chose to spend some moments with Lois and I at San Anton.

  45. Every time I booked a flight with frequent flyer miles –most of which I earned while on the ground. (My flights to Nicaragua, to my writing retreat, to California–twice, and flights for Mom, Dad, and Meg to Miami.)
  46. Every moment I told Lois something about the Camino and she said, “Now how would I know that if you weren’t here? It’s a good think you’re with me!”
  47. The moment I heard my brother and sister-in-law were headed to Paris to celebrate their first anniversary. And the moment, after booking their first AirBnB place, Jeffrey said to me, “I thought it would be a lot more expensive to spend a week in Paris.” I wanted to scream, “Duh!?! What have I been saying for years??!” but instead I said, “Yep.” And was thrilled when they said, “Maybe we should spend every anniversary in Europe.”

    Bethany and Jeff. She titled this one, "Louvre and Love." Aren't they so darn cute?

    Bethany and Jeff. She titled this one, “Louvre and Love.” Aren’t they so darn cute?

  48. Every moment Michael made me laugh.
  49. The moment my sister Jess got offered a new job. (Not that she didn’t like the old one. But change is good. I should know.)
  50. The moment I told Dad I was going to walk the Camino again, and he said, “Why?” and I didn’t take any offense. (When I said, “Lois is paying for our rooms and giving me $1000,” he was a bit more understanding.)
  51. The moment I ran the idea by Michael of me leaving him for a couple months (again) to go walk the Camino with Lois and he didn’t hesitate–told me to go for it.
  52. The moment, a few days later, when I felt bad for leaving Michael (again) and e-mailed him as much, and he wrote back, “…but this is something you want to do. I say go for it. Life is way too short. You have my blessings.”
  53. The moment Lois and I walked into Viana, Spain to find the Camino route completed closed off by fences, and the people sitting on top of those fences told us, “You’ll be able to get through in a few minutes–after the running of the bulls.” 12003239_10205262244818506_2797637238139038418_n
  54. The moment the hotel owner told us (in Spanish!) that we were the only guests that night because it was festival time, and they were too busy in the restaurant below to take any more guests. (“We are SO not in the U.S.” Lois and I said to each other.) “And the bulls run again tonight at 7,” he told us. Right past our hotel.

    This is as close as I got:)

    This is as close as I got:)

  55. Every moment I stopped to take a picture–knowing that, as far as Lois was concerned, I could take as much time as I wanted. Because a) it would give her time to catch up to me and/or b) it would give her time to take her own pictures. 11216845_10205193558501391_5678843200262570507_n
  56. Every moment I was able to secure another document I need for my Italian citizenship application.

I could go on. But it’s midnight. And I’ve been working on this post for quite a while. Special thanks to Lois Bertram, Michael Weston, and Jessica Gallo for some of these photos. And FYI: as much as I loved the traveling of 2015, I’m very much looking forward to nesting in 2016:)

And one more thing: writing this post reminds me, once again, how lucky I am to have such great friends, such a great family, such a great boyfriend, and such a great life. My only hope is that everyone else is blessed in this way in 2016.

In Case of Fire . . .

I have committed to living one year in a home I have not yet stepped foot in. I have seen it only in pictures and videos, narrated by the man who found the space: my boyfriend Michael.

There may be some women’s lib people out there who are a bit stunned or put off by this. But for this woman, it was kind of wonderful to not have to do any of the searching nor visiting nor negotiating.

Not to say Michael picked this place without my input. We had, earlier, talked about the “must-haves” for each of us. I wanted a place where I could head out my front door and  go for a walk. Which Michael said was pretty much any place. “Yeah, but I don’t want to walk down the side of a highway,” I explained. My dream was to be within easy walking distance of restaurants and coffee shops and a supermarket. “And what do you consider ‘easy walking distance’ these days?” Michael asked. A valid question considering I was, at that moment, walking 12 miles per day across Spain. “Fifteen or twenty minutes,” I said, “Less than a mile.”

I later called Michael and told him I wanted my own space as well. A place where I could close the door. That meant we were now looking for a three bedroom home: One room to sleep in, and one room each to call our own.

file4871266154688After much researching, Michael presented me with two options. One was just a few minutes walk from the main drag in town, had a porch swing, built-in bookshelves on either side of the fireplace,  and oodles of charm. But it also had one big problem: one of the offices had no real windows–only a skylight. In other words, were there to be a fire, it would be a deathtrap. I know not everyone considers these things, but I’m the daughter of a fire commissioner. A man who, upon visiting the Asheville bar that sits out on a fire escape 8 floors above the city asked me, “How far down does this go?” “Three levels I think.” “It better NOT go only three levels,” he said, “It’s a fire escape for the building.” He left me standing there as he went to investigate. A few minutes later he came back out on the top level. “So you made it all the way down,” I said. “Yeah, I had to jump down from the last part, but there’s a ladder there. It’s good. People could get out of this place.”

This is also the same man who attended a performance of Blue Man Group with me and my mother in Boston. At the end of the show devices that looked like paper towel holders above our heads automatically spewed lines and lines of paper out over the audience. “This stuff better not be flammable,” said my father. He tore a piece off and when we got back to my apartment he put a flame to it. We were all relieved to see it was not flammable. Mom and I breathed a great sigh of relief. My father on the phone yelling at the Boston Fire Department was not something either of us wanted to witness.

So no, there was no way my office would be in a room from which there was only one true exit. I, with much love, told Michael he could take that room . . . “So basically, we have a room in this house that neither one of us would use,” he said. Yep. Onto the next house.

The next one didn’t have the same charm–no porch swing, no built-in bookshelves, no fireplace. It was also a little further from the main street. (Eleven minutes, to be exact. Because Michael had timed it for me.) But what it did have was a full basement, a two car garage, and–most importantly–three bedrooms all of which had at least two exits.

Mom and Dad are coming down to visit the week after I move in. Mom has good nesting instincts and has made every house I’ve lived in a “home.” I have no doubt my father will, not too long after he walks in, assess the house from every angle. He was a plumber. And a general contractor. He has bought and sold all sorts of houses. I don’t know what he’ll think of the furnace or the hot water heater, but I’m 100% sure he’ll find the place meets the basic minimums for fire safety.

Judgement Days–Or Lack Thereof

Prior to my first Camino I spoke with a woman who had spent a week walking The Way. She stayed in hotels the entire time and had her pack ported from town to town. She was the first one to tell me that “Everyone does their own Camino.”

During my Camino, I wrote an entire blog post on that very topic. Upon my return, I contacted the  woman who had shared her wisdom with me. She had read the blog post  and wanted to tell me why she had her pack ported: she had a family member with special needs. Every day she felt like she was carrying more weight than she could bear. The Camino was her chance to let someone else shoulder her burden.

Her words stuck with me and I hoped to carry that lesson for the rest of my life. Who was I to judge? Rarely do we have the whole story, and even if we do, what good does my judgement do anyone?

Of course, living this lesson is easier said than done. Such was the case on day 3 of our Camino, when I walked up to the front door of the Corazon Puro, at which we had a reservation. The owners looked down on me and in very few words dismissed me: I had been told to arrive by 3 p.m. and it was 3:15. They informed me they’d given our room away.

I freely admit I had forgotten they had told me to arrive by 3 p.m. But four pilgrims who had stayed at this place had raved about how wonderful the owners were, and their curt dismissal left me stunned.

As I told Lois what they said to me, tears sprung to my eyes. I knew there must be some explanation for their attitude. But at that moment I couldn’t get over it.  Lois and I found a bench and sat down to talk about our next steps. We decided we’d go back to the bar we passed and call a taxi to take us back to Burguete, a town we walked through that we thought looked like a wonderful place to spend a night. On the way to the bar, however, we saw a handwritten sign that said, “Rooms.” Nearby another sign indicated the name of the place: La Posada Nueva. I recognized it from our guidebook and we decided to take a look.

I inquired in my broken Spanish, and asked the woman if we could see a room. She indicated that would be fine, but asked kindly for us to leave our hiking shoes in the space under the stairs. I was spent and flopped onto the couch. “You go look,” I told Lois. “I’m still too flustered to make any decisions.” Let alone climb any stairs.

A few minutes later I heard Lois exclaim and start laughing. She returned with a thumbs up, telling me two friends we’d met earlier in our trip were staying in the room next to ours. I breathed a deep sigh, unlaced my shoes, and hauled my bag upstairs.

That evening, over a meal home-cooked by the proprietor, we dined with our friends Mandy and Bill, another Rebecca we’d met the day before,  and a couple from–of all places–Asheville, NC. We shared our stories over our first course of  perfectly seasoned garden-grown tomatoes and cucumbers. We shared our greatest challenges during the main course of pasta with blue cheese, rabbit, and tortilla. The wine and laughter continued to pour forth as we devoured our apple cake for dessert.

The next day, friends that spent the previous night at Corazon Pura told us they were unsure why we were turned away–there were only three pilgrims in the entire place. I will never know, and have decided to let it go. Who am I to judge?