100 Posts–A Tribute to La Línea

In honor of my 100th post, I have decided to showcase some lovely photos of La Línea.  Before we left to do the Camino, E went around the town with his nice DSLR camera to take photos of some of our favorite places.

I really loved living in La Línea, and for the rest of my life I am sure I will look back fondly on the year I spent there.  It was a simple town, but the wonderful people I met infused it with life.

So, without further ado, here is a little glimpse of the town that holds such a special place in my heart.

IMG_7103{Hello gorgeous church! Just looking at this photo gives me chills–aren’t the colors amazing?! Who would have thought this tiny little town that was so dark and grey when I arrived late September of last year, would become so lively and vibrant in the Summer?}

IMG_7101{Las 3 Gracias, The 3 Graces monument in front of the church in honor of the mujeres linenses, the women of La Línea.}

IMG_7092{Café Modelo was ALWAYS bumpin’! It was my favorite place to have a drink with friends, or just relax with a café con leche and read.}

IMG_7091{There were always families out in the plazas, and I love this one lined with palm trees.}

IMG_7086{Color, color everywhere! Although this plaza was peaceful in the day, it really came to life late at night, with bars and dance clubs.}

IMG_7087{Patagónica was an Argentinian grill with AMAZING steak sandwiches. Molly Bloom’s to the left was our go-to pub for a beer on the weekends.}

IMG_7110{Calle del Sol, just a typical street in La Línea.}

IMG_7085{Plaza de la Constitución}

IMG_7083{Plaza de la Constitución, facing the rock}

IMG_7080{Avenida del Ejército, the entrance to La Línea}

IMG_7061{A plane takes off in front of the Rock of Gibraltar, as seen from La Línea.}

IMG_7030{Summer day on the beach.}

IMG_7024{Playa Levante comes to life when the summer sun comes out.}

IMG_7023{These chiringuitos are like pop-up bars that appear on the beach around May.}

IMG_7038{There wasn’t a circus in La Línea when I was there, but still love the sign.}

IMG_7019{E’s school was conveniently located between our apartment and the beach!}

IMG_7016{Run-down, yet charming store fronts.}

IMG_7121{An old cine sign.}

IMG_7123{Last but not least, our lovely corner apartment just above Super Euro.}

I certainly miss La Línea and the people that live there.  I feel very lucky to have spent a year enjoying all that it has to offer.  I hope to see you again someday, La Línea! Until then, ¡hasta luego!

ps. Thank you E for the amazing photos!

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Crossing the Pyrenees

As I mentioned in my last post, I was very, VERY nervous before starting the Camino de Santiago.  I didn’t sleep well at all during my first night in an albergue, but mostly I was afraid of the unknown.  How would I adjust to a pilgrim’s life of walking 15 miles a day and only having the belongings in my backpack? Afraid or not, it was 6:30am on June 6th, and it was time to start walking.  As I look back at these pictures, I must have been expecting a cold day…Also, I looked like the chubby boy from “Up” decked out in his boy scout attire.

P1030564Russell1{I decided to leave all of my patches at home to save carrying the extra weight.}

Look at how nice and clean my shoes were!  And I think this was the only day I wore pants.  I learned my lesson that no matter what, hiking for 6 or 7 hours creates a lot of body heat and my legs didn’t need to be so covered.

As soon as we reached the end of the main road in town, there was this little sign indicating the two routes to get to Roncesvalles.  The main route is called the Napoleon Route and goes up and over the Pyrenees, with a climb of 1,400 meters (4,600 ft.) in elevation.  There is also the Valcarlos route, which goes around the Pyrenees, with a much smaller climb.  Often times, if there is bad weather, the volunteers at the pilgrim office will advise pilgrims to take the Valcarlos route for safety.  Unfortunately, there have been many deaths on the route over the Pyrenees.  In fact, in March of this year there was a Canadian man that died when he fell off of a cliff on this leg of the Camino.  Good thing I didn’t hear about this until AFTER I finished the hike!

Lucky for us, the weather forecast was good and we were ready to take on the most strenuous day!

P1030570The hike started out reeeeally steep.  It certainly put our bodies to the test!  It may have only been 8am, but I was already sweating and tired!

P1030573Luckily, every time we turned around, we were rewarded with beautiful views and a reminder of how much we had already accomplished in the first two hours!

P1030572

Up and up and up we went.  We eventually made it to the Vierge de Orissona statue of the Virgin Mary.  This was the first of many Mary statues we would see along the Camino.  They always seemed to come at a good time–a reminder to stop, take a break, and think about my personal reasons for doing the Camino.

P1030582P1030583P1030585I remember thinking we had to be AT LEAST half way done by this point.  We had walked for a few hours and I felt like we were making great time!  So, E whipped out our guidebook to see where the Virgin statue fell on our map.

Not even one-third of the way done!!  Are you kidding me?!?

Luckily, we started to see more animals, which distracted me from the shock of how much climbing we still had to do.

P1030591P1030595Look at the size of those horses!!  I mean, those guys were HUGE!  And by this point, we were pretty high up on the mountains, and there weren’t any farms or anything around.  How did they get there?  Are they used for anything?  Do they belong to someone?  They must, right?  Do I have any rope with me to make a lasso and ride one of these Clydesdales the rest of the way?  Well, these were all of my questions as we hiked, and hiked and hiked up the Pyrenees.

Eventually, the landscape changed a bit, and we were on the other side of the mountain, in a beautiful, shady forest of gorgeous, green trees!  This was one of my favorite parts of the day, because there was such a thick layer of dead leaves on the path, it felt like I was walking on clouds!  And trust me, after 5 hours of hiking, my feet were VERY happy to have a break from the hard dirt path!

P1030602Eventually, we had walked for over 6 hours, and I decided I was ready for the day’s hike to be over.  My feet were aching and my legs felt very, very tired.  We made it to the highest point of the day, and I sat down to take a break and eat my sandwich.  The view was just incredible!

P1030607P1030608Okay, we have to be close!  We should start our descent soon!  We turned the corner and there was a sign!

P1030610Roncesvalles, 3.6km.  Alright! That doesn’t sound too bad!  But then I turned and saw the steepness that awaited me…

P1030611

Noooooo, I’m tiiirrredddd….And boy, was it steep!!!  Our guidebook had warned to maintain focus on this dangerous part of the stage, especially with our tired minds and bodies.  It was a valid warning.  I had a hard time navigating myself around the loose rocks.  I slipped and nearly rolled my ankle twice.  At one point I slipped and just fell down hard on my butt.  I didn’t even have a chance to try and catch myself.  I was too tired, and my pack was too heavy.  We went slow, so it took two hours before we finally, finally saw the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen in my life:

P1030612The albergue in Roncesvalles!!  We survived our first day!  It was now 3:30pm, which meant we had been walking for 9 hours.  It was a true initiation into the Camino, but we made it.  We survived the most strenuous day.  We survived Day One!

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Pre-Camino Jitters

I know I already finished the Camino de Santiago, but I hope you’re not tired of reading about it.  Now that I am home, I can share more in-depth stories, along with photos from my camera, instead of just E’s iPhone!  Isn’t that great?!

I won’t recap the whole 36-day adventure.  I will, however, talk about arriving to St. Jean Pied-de-Port before it all began…

Man oh man, was I nervous.

It all started when we took the train into France.  We had our passports checked and got stopped because of some confusion with our Spanish residency card.  It ended up being fine, but it took a few minutes and technically it was MAYBE possible that we should have already been out of Spain, and back in the US.  But, they let us into France…because I think they were just as unsure as we were about when we were supposed to be back in the states.

P1030523{Yay! We made it into France!}

P1030528{I was a little nervous, bust mostly very excited!}

Next up was another train to Bayonne, where we would then take a bus to St. Jean.  Well, we sat in the Bayonne station for a bit, waiting for our bus, and…who comes up to us?  Secret police!  That’s right!  This man and woman in regular clothes come up to us and ask for our passports.  Just as I’m about to say “Yeah right, I’m not falling for this scam!” they show us their fancy police badges, and I get very scared.

They flip through my passport for several minutes.  They are shaking their heads.  I hand them my residency card.  They shake their heads some more.  They point to the expiration date.  Details shmetails!  We’re only in France for ONE MORE DAY and then I promise we’re walking right out of it!!  But, I was still nervous.  I didn’t think we would have any problems with our passport or residency cards, and now we have gotten pegged TWICE in the same day!!

I was told we still had 90 days, I kept telling them. Luckily, once again, they let us go…probably because no one REALLY knows how the Visa and Residency Card expiration works.

So, even though we weren’t kicked out of the EU, I was starting to get nervous.  “Are we going to have a hard time getting back INTO Spain?” I asked E.  “I don’t think they have anyone checking at the top of the Pyrenees,” he assured me.

…or would they?

Anyway, finally it was time to get on the bus that would take us to St. Jean Pied-de-Port!  I looked around at my fellow pilgrims.  Yay pilgrims!!!

P1030529{Chariot, take me to St. Jean!}

About an hour later, we had arrived!  All of the pilgrims headed straight for the pilgrim office to get our official pilgrim passport.  It was so exciting!  But my nervousness continued to grow…Here we go, the Camino is about to begin!

P1030533{At the pilgrim office, still excited, but getting more nervous.}

“Tomorrow you will walk for 8 hours to cross the Pyrenees,” the volunteer at the pilgrim office told us, “You need to take plenty of food and water, there isn’t any food along the way.”  Oh geeze, this is going to be so scary!

She handed us a map, and a list of the albergues along the Camino.  We filled out the information on our pilgrim passport, and she showed us where we could pick a scallop shell to hang on our backpacks.  The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrim, and most pilgrims wear a shell on their backpack.  Then she directed us to an albergue where we would sleep that night.

The knot in my stomach started to grow.  Eight hours to cross the Pyrenees??!! Did we train enough? I don’t think we trained enough…Do we have enough food?  I need a lot of food, and I don’t want to get low blood-sugar on the top of the Pyrenees with no food around!

We stopped into a “Pilgrim Boutique” to pick out walking sticks.  I decided to get a collapsable walking pole, while E went for a more traditional wooden stick.

P1030540{Testing out my new walking pole on the streets of St. Jean!}

We went to dinner, and E said he could see in my face how nervous I was.  He tried to reassure me that everything would be fine.  We had read a lot of forums online about the Camino, but I still felt unprepared.  What are we supposed to do when we get to the albergue tomorrow?  Wash our clothes first?  Shower first?  We can’t forget to look for more food!  We are going to need more food for the next day’s walk!! Are you SURE there aren’t police on the top of the Pyrenees checking passports?!

After dinner we went back to our albergue to get ready for bed.

P1030558{At €13 for a bed, it was the most expensive albergue we stayed in.}

I unrolled my sleeping bag, brushed my teeth, and climbed into the top-bunk bed.  I tossed and turned, unable to sleep as I thought of the difficult climb ahead of me.  I wonder how many hours will be uphill?  4 hours? That would make sense…4 hours up, 4 hours down.  Dang, I can’t walk uphill for 4 hours!! I can’t walk uphill for 3 hours, or even 2!  How am I going to survive….?

Little did I know that the 4-hour uphill climb was a big underestimation of what was to come on Day One.

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San Sebastian–Spain’s Fanciest City

San Sebastian is really fancy.

Before starting the Camino de Santiago, E and I decided it would be nice to have a mini-vacation somewhere in northern Spain, before heading over to France to start our pilgrimage.

San Sebastian is a city on the northern coast of Spain in Basque Country, right next to France.  Many people that have visited have told me it is their all-time favorite city in Spain.

Map2

{A fancy depiction of our start and finish from La Línea to San Sebastian}

We officially finished our teaching jobs, packed up our little apartment, and said adios to our home away from home.  With only our Camino gear in hand, we flew up to Bilbao then took a bus to the lovely, beach city of San Sebastian.  I didn’t have any makeup.  I didn’t have any cute clothes.  I didn’t even have a bathing suit!  I felt like a sloppy troll when I arrived in my hiking clothes and everyone else was in beautiful sundresses and bikinis.

But boy oh boy, was it a beautiful city!  And have I mentioned it’s very fancy?!

P1030377{The bridges are fancy!}

P1030378{The buildings on the water are fancy!}

P1030389{This little rock island sits close to the shore, cute and fancy!}

P1030383{Even the public restrooms were fancy! And that NEVER happens in Spain!}

We headed over to Playa de la Concha (Shell Beach) named for it’s curved shape.  Everything was so beautiful!  The water and sky were both so blue, and the cool ocean breeze was so inviting!  We passed a dock with lots of charming little fishing boats.

P1030398{Notice the contrast of the old fishing boats and the modern hotels? So fancy!}

P1030396{The worn fishing boats are like real-life vintage…Fancy!}

P1030443{Vespas in front of old buildings right on the fishing dock? Well that sounds fancy!}

P1030405{La Playa de La Concha is the fanciest beach I’ve ever seen!}

Image{Another view of Playa de la Concha…I know I know, so fancy!}

P1030403{Is your City Hall this fancy?}

All kidding aside, San Sebastian was a seriously beautiful city.  We walked along the beach, and the sand was like powdered sugar, it was so soft!!  I even unzipped the pant legs of my new zip-off hiking pants, so I could walk in the water a bit. Talk about being unfancy–zip-off pants!  I thought they were so lame…especially compared to all of the fancy people around me.

It felt like a real vacation, strolling along the crystal blue water and enjoying the perfect, sunny day.  When we passed a sign that said “Boat ride €7” we couldn’t decline!  So we took a boat to this little rocky island just off shore.  It was really fancy!

P1030453P1030459{Who needs a bikini or sundress when you have hiking clothes?…right?}

P1030481{Our boat ride’s destination.}

We didn’t plan on getting off at the little rocky “island” that our boat took us to. We just wanted to go on a little ride around the coast, and the island just looked like a big rock.  However, the captain assured us it was worth checking out.  Oh really? I thought, there must be something cool and hidden that we can’t see from here!

Wrong.  There was nothing cool on the rock.  We walked up a trail that led to a creepy abandoned house, with an aggressive seagull that was protecting her nest.  So, we had to sit around for an hour waiting for the next boat to come and take us back to shore.  Oh well.

We had dinner at a random restaurant, and E’s steak was so raw it still had a heartbeat.  It wasn’t a great meal, but the city was still fancy in my eyes.  We headed back to our not-so-fancy hostel, and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset on the way.

P1030504{Oooh…}

P1030518{Aaah…}

P1030501{Fancy…}

The next day we left the beautiful, honeymoon-worthy city of San Sebastian to start our 5-week pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France.  I’m not one for over-the-top luxury, and I certainly can’t afford it…but San Sebastian was a nice touch of fancy before a long journey of anything-but-fancy.

And those lame zip-off pants that I was so self-conscious about in San Sebastian? Well, I think they look pretty darn cool when I’m hiking up mountains and covering 25km a day. That’s all the fancy I need!

1372873958.jpg

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Camino Withdrawals

IMG_0018{Back in California!}

I’m back!  I’m home!  Yay!  Family!  Friends!  Delicious food!  My car!

Wait a second…where are the yellow arrows? How do I know where I’m supposed to go when I wake up at 5am ready to start my 25km walk?

I’m having Camino Withdrawals.

I’m sleeping in my sleeping bag…in a different bed in my house each night.

I’m getting dressed in the dark each morning, with my headlamp on.

I’m wearing the same clothes every day.

I’m taking 3 minute showers, and using a single bar of soap as my shampoo, body wash, and face wash, as well as laundry soap.

I’m walking circles around my house for six hours every day, looking for the yellow arrow.

Okay okay, that’s an exaggeration.  But in all honesty, it has been a difficult adjustment to “regular life” after being in “pilgrim life” for the past 5 weeks.  It was difficult to put on a pair of jeans for my flight home.  I still haven’t worn any makeup.  And it is hard not spending 6-7 hours each day in incredible Spanish countryside.  The life of a pilgrim was simple, but fulfilling.  It was cool not putting on makeup each morning or thinking about what to wear for the day.  It was rewarding to push myself to physical limits each day, and have a wonderful sense of accomplishment by 2pm.

But, those days are gone.  I am reluctant to start “regular life”.  I’m not very good at adjusting.  Well, I seem to be good at adjusting to moving abroad, but not coming home.

NONETHELESS, my first day back was filled with some delightful tidbits!  Here are some very unflattering photos of me (can you tell I was jet-lagged?) as I jumped back into the real world.

IMG_0014{The year-long wait is over, my friends!}

IMG_0013{There it is, the maple old-fashion donut of my dreams! But man, was it sugary! Talk about a tummy ache after that guy.}

IMG_0015

{Green smoothie with my beloved VitaMix blender!}

IMG_0017{Wow! Grocery stores in the US are HUGE!! And look at all of the perfect produce!}

IMG_0016{An enormous bag of Sour Patch Kids! God Bless America!}

It was certainly exciting to enjoy my favorite donut, and my favorite healthy smoothie.  It was fun to drive in my car (even though I am now a very nervous driver) and to see how enormous everything in the US is.  E and I also noticed how the light switches here are different (in Spain they’re more of a button) and the toilet flush is different (again, a button in Spain, instead of the handle we have here). It’s fun to notice the big and little differences between life here and there.

But, I do miss walking out of my little apartment in Spain, and seeing this every day:P1030290

Even though the adjustment to life back home will be tough, it only means one thing…

I had an incredible year abroad.

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The Camino: Day 36

**DAY 36–O Pedruozo to Santiago de Compostela [20.1 km]**

I HAVE ARRIVED!! And what an emotional arrival it was!

…but first I will give a quick recap of my final day walking into Santiago.

We left at 5am, with a goal to be in Santiago by 10:30 with plenty of time to get a seat for the pilgrims mass.

I was so excited for the entire walk. However, I did have some quiet moments to myself, to reflect on my journey.

Once we got into the city, I was just overjoyed!

When I eventually saw the towers of the cathedral in the distance, I felt a lump in my throat. I managed to hold back any tears as we got closer and closer.

Then, I saw the tunnel that I knew led to the cathedral. There was a man playing a Galician bagpipe there, just as I heard there would be. Again, I felt the lump in my throat and held back the tears.

Then, as I passed through the tunnel and looked up at the incredible cathedral, tears poured down my cheeks.

I cried as every emotion from the past 5 weeks seemed to rush out of me. I felt so happy and relieved to finally finish the journey! I felt as if the cathedral was wrapping it’s arms around me, telling me that I had made it, and everything would be okay.

I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I had so much love and support along the way. At the same time, I was so proud of myself for completing the pilgrimage. My feet. My legs. My backpack. I did it.

After sitting on the ground for 15 minutes, letting everything sink in, we entered the cathedral and attended the beautiful pilgrim’s mass.

It was an incredible feeling sitting in that cathedral, knowing that my pilgrimage was over. Tomorrow morning I will wake up early to visit the cathedral in peace and quiet. I will complete the pilgrim’s ritual of hugging the statue if St. James, thanking him for a safe journey.

I look forward to spending the next two days in Santiago, allowing the entire journey to sink in.

Thank you everyone so much for following me on my pilgrimage. I have experienced so much love and support, and I am forever grateful!

¡Buen Camino!

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The Camino: Day 35

**DAY 35–Ribadiso to O Pedrouzo [22.1 km]**

TOMORROW IS THE DAY!! I’m only 20km away from Santiago! Can you believe it?!?

Today was a nice and quick day. We woke up EARLY because we couldn’t reserve an albergue for the night. They were already all booked! That meant STARTING our walk at 5:30am! Woowee! If you told me I’d be getting up at 5am for 5 weeks, I would have said “no way Jose!” But here I am!

It was another misty, but warm morning. We passed some more beautiful flowers!

We walked quickly so that we could get in line for a bed at an albergue. Before the end of the day, we passed the 20km mark!

Luckily, we were early enough to get a bed! We only waited in line for about 30 minutes, at an albergue that does not take reservations. They feel reservations are unfair. They also reserve 15 extra beds ONLY for pilgrims that have gone at least 500km. It helps weed out the fresh pilgrims that have only started a few days ago, and gives priority to us tired pilgrims! The albergue is very nice!

Here I am with the girls! Orit, Andrea, and Lital. I also taped up another pilgrim’s knee! I’m getting a reputation as the blue tape girl, and am getting pretty darn good at taping knees!

Now, it’s 8:10pm and I will start to get my things prepared for tomorrow. I can’t believe we are only 20 km away! I am so excited for the “glory day” walking into Santiago. This journey has been so incredible, and I am looking forward to reflecting on it more in Santiago. ¡Buen Camino!

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