Week 1-   30-8-2019 

 

Travel requires lots of early mornings. Today, we woke at 430 to get a ride at 530 AM for a 10 AM flight. The flights went better than expected because the international flight had OK food and was on time.  From the long overnight flight, we gathered our bags and waited in the circus line that is most of the world’s customs and border patrol check-in lines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 From there we stumbled to the next challenge, SNCF. The trains in France are interesting and confused, much like the people riding them. When our train came, we tried to board it, but the line for our car was a mess. Young families with way too many bags, old people that couldn’t or wouldn’t get into the dang car as conductors started yelling at us in one of the many languages I don’t speak or understand.  To speed things up, we were forced into a different car and the train sputtered to life with us in the wrong car.  We rode in the wrong seats until the rightful owner showed up. We expressed our confusion and sadness and tried to get to our proper seats, but discovered a man and 2 kids that seemed to refuse to move and would only point at his phone.  Stymied, we went to the first class section and waited to get yelled at yet again. This never happened and we arrived in Hendaye without having to relocate.

 

Hendaye is a small town that sits on the French side of the French-Spanish border. We got off the French train and bought 2 tickets using our bag of Euro change leftover from a trip 2 years before. Next was a short 100 meter walk to the Spanish train located in the Spanish-side town of Irun.

 

The train to San Sabastian was smooth and only took 30 minutes. We found the station that our Airbnb host instructed us to take and started walking. A short walk took us to the correct neighborhood, but no amount of calls, texts, human sacrifices, Airbnb messages, Google map searches, 3 laps around the neighborhood dragging our oversized bags and screaming at the heavens could help us find the proper house. With my phone battery dying, and both of us at wit’s end, our host drove up and picked us up. We had walked in front of our host’s house at least 3 times, but she hadn’t described the house well or how the Basque Regions like to have 2 street signs for each street. One in Basque and one in Spanish. Since they consider themselves Basque first and Spanish, the Basque signs were large and well located.

The next day, we pack our stuff up in our backpacks and walked the length of the beaches to the apartment we would be staying at for our week of Spanish school. The path there was easy and pretty.

 

Monday (2-9-2019) was the first day of Spanish. It was just me in the “moron level” Spanish class until an Aussie gal named Melissa showed up. She was also on a gap-year, but had run afoul on her passage from Turkey to San Sabastian. She ended up taking several buses to get there.

 

The rest of the week was a bit of a blur. Each evening we had meetups to practice Spanish. Most were lost on me as my base level didn’t allow me to add anything to the conversation, but I could usually follow along. The best trip was to the Basqueland Brewing Project. It is by far the best beer we tried in Spain for our 2 months there and on par with many US microbreweries.

Friday completed our week of Spanish class and we packed to start hiking the Camino de Santiago (del Norte).

 

Week 3 – Guernica

 

Guernica is an interesting city. We visited the Assembly House with its ancient tree (and new replacement) and its beautiful stained glass ceiling. We gazed upon a wall mural of Picasso’s Guernica that was made to raise awareness to the fact that Franco had convinced his buddy Hitler to bomb Franco’s own city to prevent it from seceding from Spain.

 

                From Guernica, we walked through forests and hills to make it to Lezama to wait in the baking sun for two of the 20 beds. First come first serve has highs and lows…the high was not walking another 10 kilometers into Bilboa, but the low was sitting in the sun in +30 C temps. We got a room, but then the fight for food was on. The little town didn’t open anything till 730 or 8 PM. Dinner in Spain can be tough. The next morning, we hiked on in mist and rain into Bilboa. Lots on interesting routes and people. We met on guy handing out pins to the people on the Camino. I appreciated his give small gifts to strangers. In Bilboa we walked the river-front and saw the famous museum from the outside. The thought of standing and slowly walking in the museum made us continue on to out hostel. From the hostel we stumbled back into town and found one of the few restaurants open on a Sunday evening –Doner Kabob.

                

From Bilboa, we walked passed the famous Vizcaya Bridge. The bridge is like a hanging tram that cars and people can ride from one side of a river to the other. Very strange.  We stopped in Portugalete for the night and had a great time chatting with 2 Italians and 2 Bulgarians over dinner and wine.

 

 

              

  

An early morning departure from Portugalete was needed to make the 30 kilometers doable in time to get lunch before the restaurants closed and the heat got too bad.  In Castro, we had the view of a church-castle thing, a cool bridge, and a jetty. Great view for which my description does not do justice. We jumped in the water on the beach side, watched kids jump off the bridge into a tiny lagoon and enjoyed a sunset on the jetty.

                

From Castro we headed to Laredo at around 20 miles of walking, the pain in my feet was bad. We stopped in a small town for lunch, but discovered that they weren’t serving that day. Cheese and bread at the only open grocery store became our feast. We also met a German shepherd that acted oddly towards me. He came up and rested his nose to my boot. When he lifted his mouth, a small pebble had been placed on top of my toe. He wanted to play fetch with the pebble! So cute!

                2 mountains later, we crawled into Laredo. They had a renaissance festival in full swing, but we only wanted food. Burgers and beer were found in a US themed restaurant (so bizarre).

                We woke the next morning with sore throats, we thought from the chain-smoking host, but later found out it was just a cold.  We packed and hustled to catch the early boat across the harbor. Before you think we are cheating in our long walk, this is the route that the original pilgrims took. The old route used a small ferry; the new one uses a slightly larger ferry with a motor.  After the ferry, we walked for a few hours and only got slightly lost once or twice. We made to our albergue in San Miguel De Meruelo and did our routine of showering and laundry.  Over dinner, we met Leo from the Nederland. He quickly became a friend. His constant smile, ability to speak more languages than I can count, being 72, and being a freaky fast hiker made him super easy to get along with.  He play translator between 2 French people (one spoke only French) and us who spoke English and broken Spanish.  Good times!

 

We woke and made our way to Irun via train by 11 AM. We tried to find someone/business/church that was open and would stamp our pilgrim’s passport to show we started in Irun, but after much walking and annoyance, we gave up and started walking.  We decided to take the route over the mountain as it was shorter and supposedly prettier. We saw towers built in the early 1800’s for the Carlist War (e.g. Torre V de Jaizkibel) . The cool little towers were dotted along the trail and could be climbed or entered by those with tie and energy. We had neither. We made it to Pasai Donibane, but the albergue was full.  We hiked on to the weird 10 Tribes Albergue it seemed much farther than the 5 kilometers that the guy at Pasai Donibane suggested. The hill was very steep and the way long. The albergue was close to full when we arrived around 6 PM. It was late to be arriving, so we were happy that they could put us in a tent for the night.  Dinner and conversation went well until it started to rain around 9. The rain continued through the night as a rock concert and cannon blasts could be heard from San Sabastian’s celebration of a regatta that was going on the weekend. The rain lightened to a constant misting by morning, so we walked with our new friends Ted and Linda (Aussies). The rain let up as we made it to San Sabastian proper.  We stopped in Orio for lunch and Laura discovered her least favorite salad, the “Esalada Rusa”. It is a Spanish salad made of potato salad topped with tuna and a hardboiled egg. I swapped my yummy looking seafood rice so we would both have something to eat.  We kept on going until we reached Zarautz

        

        We walked with Ted and Linda down an ancient Roman road. It took no effort to see the footsteps of man, beast, and carts that had been worn into the rock.

        The following day we walked with Phil (Brit) and Mark (Netherlands) for a few hours.  Mark stopped early due to injury and Phil stomped with us all the way to Debah. The coast was pretty and rugged. In Debah, Laura was tired and sore, so I grabbed the passports and went to the tourist office to try and get 2 beds for the night. We managed to get the last 2 at the municipal albergue; the guy behind me in line looked crestfallen to say the least. After checking in and realizing the time, we went to try and get lunch/dinner before things shutdown and barely got lunch. The waitress was su

per nice and took our order as the kitchen closed.

                We had another long day (~30 kilometers of rough terrain and no facilities) on our trek from Debah to Markina. To add to the fun, it rained off and on all day. We tried to keep a good pace, coupled with an early start, we made it to Markina around 2 PM. We checked out the San Miguel de Arrechinaga Church. It is a medium sized open cathedral that houses 3 huge megaliths (big rocks) that form a shelter over an altar. It is a neat place, but it had no food, so on we went.

                We did experience our first Camino miracle I Markina. The Pellegrino Menu. It is a 3 course meal and a full bottle of wine for two. We had it twice in one day and it was marvelous.  Laura’s knee was bothering her and so we decided to make the next day shorter. We only went 5 kilometers to Bolíbar. Bolíbar is a super-cute old town. Lots of history and a museum and fountain dedicated to Simón Bolíbar.  There we met a Senegalese man that carved wonderful shells (the symbol for the Camino de Santiago) and other works of art. He spoke French, so we just bought and gawked at his skills.  From there we backtracked to the hostel where we would be reduced to eating ramen noodles out of a vending machine. It turns out has only one functional bar/restaurant and it doesn’t like outsiders…and by outsiders, I mean even Spanish outsiders. It was one of the reasons the Basque are called insular.

                We got out of tow ASAP in the morning and met up with our friend Ted and Linda. We all walked some distance and chatted. We were reintroduced to Patrick and Dianne (Canada). All of us stayed in the same albergue. While those 4 went to Guernica to check out the museum and cultural center commemorating the Franco having his own people bombed, Laura, Jane (Irish doctor), and I went to a local bar to have a good IPA and wait for dinner.

                On Friday the 13th AND a full moon, we got up and walked the 6 miles to Guernica. We walked across Roman bridges and by more ancient churches and black berry bushes. We checked into a weird Pension (hotel or boarding house, usually with common bathroom or other oddity). Guernica is a town steeped with Basque history.  We relaxed and tried to prepare for the long hike (20+ kilometers) the next day.

Day 34 – 17/8/2019

 

On the start of our day, we visited briefly the The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The names of all of the fallen officers are engraved on the memorial.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
When your dress uniform get extra starch.

Our friend Sean has not only been a gracious host, but he took is to the International Spy Museum!!  If you are like me and just a wrinkled 16 year old boy, this place is for you. It is a fun combination of facts and fun things to do. While I hear the old museum was better, I can totally see taking a child to this and spending a day roaming the halls.

 

After a quick lunch, we went to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. If you get a chance, the videos on how people are using old school ways of making iron tools and art is insane. Hours of fanning and working ore into actual tools and art.

Detailed metal work in African art
Detailed metal work in African art -2

 

To cap our tour of Smithsonian museums, we went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. 

After the museum, wee walked back through China Town to our friend’s home.

Dinosaurs!
Jar Jar Binks in an early cameo
Washington DC’s China Town

Day 33-  16/8/2019 

Air and Space Museum created a symbol that can only stand for Thunder Snow!

We made it to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum! I have been trying to make it here for years. Sadly, about 25% of the building is torn up and/or closed. We did get to wander through several great exhibits.

We started in the navigation section and learned a bit about how ancient seafarers plotted their way around the world. Much different from the techniques I was briefly taught in the Navy, but some old methods are still in use.

Part of the USS Alabama’s BBQ-4 nav system. I guess this has been declassified?

From there, we moved on to  early flight. Looking at the original Wright Brothers air plane was great, but reading about the many difficulties and iterations of the planes and various parts was far more interesting. The tenacity to make bunches of versions and then test them with their own bodies is a commitment that few have.  The only thing they did better was copyright the heck out of their plane and their design. They wouldn’t let others touch or see it until AFTER it had a copyright. 

Wright flyer

 We also got to see one of Amelia Earhart’s airplanes. She had a few. She was a complete bad ass as a flyer.  

 

Amelia Earhart’s plane. Not the one she was lost in.

Day 32 – 15/8/2019

 

We were up early to get tickets to the latest Smithsonian Museum – The National Museum of African American History and Culture. It has a wait, so if you don’t get tickets early, you don’t get in. Laura scored 11:30 entry time, so we decided to get a run on the National Mall before breakfast and then a shower.  Thursday was super humid and warm at 8 AM. We ran 3+ miles and then grabbed a shower. The walk to the Museum was slightly less than an hour, but the walk in the museum seemed to go on forever. The museum starts you on the third level down and then you walk up from there. 

 

I probably don’t need to say it, but the history of Africans, slavery, and the systemic oppression of minorities in the US are dark and saddening. And lest we think that the West is free of this vile history, I am including a slice of Colorado’s laws. 

 

At the end of the day, we walked to the REI  to pick up a package and then next door to the Red Bear brewery. The IPAs were good and LGBTQ friendly. I highly recommend the “51st State” IPA.  

 

Colorado’s shameful past.

Day 31 – 14/08/2019

 

Like any relationship, the leaving is never easy. Traffic was thick and aggressive…kind of like a 1950’s movie. We made it safely to Washington DC and to our friend’s house. He lives 10-15 minutes walk from the National Mall. Prime sightseeing and  walking country.

 

We ate dinner at a Peruvian place that had wonderful chicken, but the real treat was ripe plantains. Yum!  Some Dogfish Head IPAs rounded out the evening as we caught up on the lost years.

Day 30- 13/8/2019

 

Laura’s aunt was having issues updating her Honda Pilot to the latest Navigation software. While I had never updated a car’s software, how hard could it be? First we gathered a few items: laptop, 32gb thumb drive, power cords, the usual voodoo dolls and sacrificial animals, and headed to her house. The process went fairly smoothly. We hung out and worked on various things while our laundry processed through her washer and dryer. It seemed a fair trade. After that, we retired to the apartment to relax with a beer after our day of relaxing at our aunt’s house. 

Day 29 – 12/8/2019

 

We woke up and decided to get a New York bagel. I mapped a highly rated bagel shop with Google maps and we set out. It was 1 mile, but hey, better than driving. The first hint I had screwed the pooch was when I turned away from the direction I thought wee were taking. Fast forward 30 – 45 minutes late, we are both agitated to find Google took us the exact opposite direction from EVERY BAGEL SHOP IN NYC. How is that even possible? We settled for a crappy bagel at Dunkin’ Donuts and started back. We stopped and got real bagels when we got closer to the apartment. 

 

We then wanted to go check out the High Line, which is a converted elevated train track that is now a walkway and art show. Laura didn’t want the stress of riding the bus, so we walked the mile or so to the first train station. We caught the subway to the 14th street station.  The area is busy and interesting.  We headed straight to the High Line after getting me more caffeine in the form of coffee.

 

The High Line is cool and fun. lots of people to watch and art to check out. The entire project uses reclaimed bits and bops from the old train system with plants and art to make it more pleasant and interesting. 

 

After a walk, we ate some New York pizza and then headed home. We had an appointment to see Laura’s grandmother and maybe get dinner afterwards with Laura’s aunt and cousin.

 

Art on 14th Street
Future building
After the fall of man, wee made a cool monument.
Banksy art installation
Name that tree!
Empire State building, Mother Teresa & Gandhi, and quote
This sidewalk has a dry side and a wet side. Fun for the hot days of summer.
Grandma wishes all safe travels.

Day 28-  11/8/2019

 

We left Cape Cod at a leisurely hour. The roads weren’t as plugged as the broken bus in the blocked off HOV lane, but they weren’t light either. We cruised through Connecticut and Rhode Island and Providence Plantation (when we these guys shorten their state’s name to something that fits on a driver’s license?).  We hadn’t taken the “No Tolls” setting off the Google Maps, so the ride was really interesting. Side streets and possible alleyways weren’t the half of it. At one point we were directed (and took!) a road up onto what felt like a sidewalk attached to the outside of a bridge. It WAS a road, but oh hell it felt like a drunken afterthought. (Edit: I think it was the Queensboro bridge. If you look at the Wikipedia photo, you can see the single lane of cars OUTSIDE of the main bridge. WTF NYC?)

Wikipedia photo. Please note the kludged lane on the side of the bridge.

 

Arriving in NYC at Laura’s aunt was a relief. We kind of twitched and shook for a bit until we relaxed. Then is was to our other cousin’s apartment (she’s living out of state, so we had to be let in). We followed our aunt and cousin #1 to the other cousin’s apartment. This was interesting. Keeping up with our cousin #1 was like inadvertently entering a rally car race. I ran no less than 3 red lights and took our lil’ Honda through its paces to keep cousin #1. I guess living in NYC makes a gal a fast driver. 

 

We got a shower and situated and then went out to dinner with cousin #1 and Laura’s aunt. Mexican food!! I finally got my tomales. Mmmmmm.