This site is my Camino blog, but check out my Tour du Mont Blanc Blog and my Vietnam Blog.

I’m headed out tomorrow to Paris, Geneva and then to Chamonix to do the Tour du Mont Blanc.  This is a 170km walk, counterclockwise around Mont Blanc.  It involves gaining and losing approximately 33,000 feet of altitude!  If you’d like to follow along, the blog will be at Tangonomadtmb.wordpress.com.

Here’s my Vietnam blog:  https://tangonomadvnm.wordpress.com

Madrid

Madrid

Date: 09/22/2015

Got into Madrid after a long train ride from Bilbao yesterday.  Left Bilbao around 9:30am and got in around 2:40pm.  Amazing, though, train travel doesn’t leave you feeling wiped out like air travel.  I checked into the Hostal Persal, which was a bit of a rude awakening after the fancy Carlton in Bilbao.  Basic room, two twins, nothing on the walls, but aggressively clean.  Well located and two nights are cheaper than one at the other place.  Went to my favorite Mercado de San Miguel for lunch.  It has a huge market of tapas and you just walk around and buy little nibbles.  Lots of fun.  Madrid also has Celiacoso, a Gluten free bakery that is a pleasant place to hang out.  Did a round of tapas crawling with Nancy Reynolds from The Camino Experience and then called it a night.  Today, I got to the Prado, managed to dodge the line by using my ipad to buy a ticket online while waiting.  As I got in the museum, a lady approached me an offered me a guided tour.  I decided to do it and was glad I did.  In an hour she took me to the most important paintings and explained the history and what to look for.  Really worth it.  Goya, Velasquez, Tintoretto, Rubens, Greco, Bosch.  Wow, what a place.  Checked in for my flight, or at least partially since I got a KLM boarding pass but not a Delta one.  Oh well, sort that out tomorrrow.  Airport bus from Plaza Cibeles to the airport is 5E.  Always a mixture of emotions returning from these kind of trips.  I’m acutely aware that Europe gets lots of things right, that we don’t even perceive that we are missing.  Also notice things they clearly don’t get right, for instance full fluorescent restroom style lighting in fancy restaurants.  Wine and food prices seem quite reasonable to outright inexpensive compared to the USA.  Lots more people smoke cigarettes here, and any outdoor terrace or restaurant is considered fair game.  Spain, at least, seems to have plenty of public restrooms, and you don’t see a lot of homeless people as compared to Seattle, SF or Honolulu.

Santiago to Burgos to Bilbao

Bilbao, day two.

09/20/2015

Got up at a reasonable hour and headed to the Guggenheim so I’d be there just before it opened.  It’s a short walk for where I’m staying and I found a cafe that would make me some breakfast “Sin Gluten.”  The building for the museum is spectacular, but I literally saw almost nothing of any real interest within it.  I admit that I’ve seen the Jeff Koons stuff before in Versaille, so that wasn’t new to me.  Do I really need to travel to Spain to see a bunch of vacuum cleaners mounted on the wall?  Basketballs floating in half full aquarium?  (I’m not kidding, Koons must be laughing really hard)  The Basquiat stuff seem to consist mainly of pictures of the artist defacing things with graffiti in New York in the ’80s.  Ughhh.  The ground floor had artistically laid out rusted metal.  Come on folks, this is supposed to be one of the premier museums in the world, the building shouldn’t completely overshadow the art.  Oh well.  Took the Euskotran as far as it went in one direction, and then back to the central market.  After much walking around and a few pintxos, I picked a place for a nice prix fixe lunch.  After lunch, climbed massive amounts of steps to the Virgen del Begona church, which was locked up tight.  Back down to Plaza nueva for a glass of wine and some blog work.  Tomorrow I have a 6 hour train ride to Madrid, somehow way more pleasant and easy than the equivalent airplane ride.

Bilbao

09/19/2015

Yesterday ended up being a long train ride.  Because there was some kind of rolling strike I booked as 2 different tickets.  That worked in my favor in that I had 3 hours in Burgos, a town I’ve been to twice before.  I hopped a bus into town and went to my favorite restaurant, just in time for a late lunch.  After a delicious lunch I had time to stroll around before taking the same bus back to the train station and another 3 hours to Bilbao.  Bilbao was very booked up as was San Sebastian, and I ended up booking into a fancier hotel than I would normally choose.  Have to say it’s nice!  Firm bed, decent air handling and best of all, lots of space and FAST wifi!  I got up in time to do the morning walking tour offered by the local TI.  After that checked out the local market, which happens on Saturday mornings.  Then tracked down some lunch in the old town district, and took the funicular to the top of town.  Tomorrow will go to the Guggenheim.  Last night’s attempt to go tango turned into the usual out of town, go to the address listed, show it to everyone, never heard of it affair.  This was slightly unusual in that I didn’t even see an appropriate space.  Oh well…  So, Bilbao is pretty much the home of Pintxos and so they distinguish them from tapas.  Here’s the word I got:  With tapas, they are generally given free with a drink, whereas a Pintxo is charged for separately.  A Pintxo generally has a toothpick holding it together, and can be a fairly elaborate construction of various items.  In the old days a tapas was often served as a cover on a glass of wine, whereas a pinxto is usually a skewer of some sort.

Side note:  Picture above was of Emi and Ian whom I shared dinner with in Samos.  We all had the same instinct, which was to find the best restaurant in town and have a great meal.  That involved walking to the end of town, but it was worth it.  Ian and I took turns choosing wine, and we had a nice mixture of food.  I heard about 3 days later that he had passed away.  I don’t know anymore details, but, he had walked the Camino many times and was well liked.  Remember life is short, don’t wait too long to try things, do things or follow your calling!

Samos

Villafranca del Bierzo to Samos, 60km.

Date: 09/12/2015

Really long day.  Left Villafranca just as the sun came up, and fairly shortly ended up on a huge climb.  Think Ualakaa St. for 5-7 miles and you have the idea.  Did lots of pushing the bike up the hill.  Just over the top is a lovely stone village called O’Cebreiro, unfortunately a little overwhelmed in Bus tourists.  Since it was a pretty good descent from there, I decided I could go on for awhile, and enjoyed a rocking many mile full out highspeed coast down the hill.  After a few ups and downs, called it a night in Samos.  Famous for a huge monastery, the church was occupied by a big local wedding with everyone turned out in their finery.  I met Ian, a former pub owner from England, retired, and Emily, a French banker, and we located the best place in town to have dinner and proceeded to eat quite well.

Back to Leon, Leon to Sahagun and back.

Leon to Sahagun and back to Leon

Date: 09/07/2015

Today started really early.  I ran into a bicyclist yesterday who told me that I could assuredly get the bike onto the 7:00am train, and almost certainly not on the later train.  He was right, but it got me going really early.  30 minute ride to Sahagun, then a coffee and then off riding.  It’s amazing that as you get older the ergonomics of things matter much more than performance numbers.  The bike unfortunately had handle bars lower than where I needed the seat to be.  That put a terrific strain on my neck.  Somehow, though, the miles cranked out, 70km/43miles,  and I was back in Leon around 2:00pm, very sore. Luckily last trip I’d located a bike shop and they had the needed handle bar riser.  I called Tournride, and it turned out this shop was one of there partners, so no charge for the whole thing.  We’ll see tomorrow how that goes.  Met lot’s of pilgrims, as with the bike I don’t feel in any great rush.  The nice thing is the downhills allow you to just cruise, sometimes at a pretty good pace. Today was still the meseta, the flat wheat fields, kind of bleak and long distance between towns, so the bike was good for the job.  For the foodies, I had lunch on the cathedral square yesterday, 3 courses including lots of roast lamb, and wine included, 17Euros!  Nice….

Story
Title: Seattle to Leon

Date: 09/06/2015

2:00am, Woke up in the dark, took a minute or two to figure out where I was.  I’m sure every traveler has those moments, and I know that every Pilgrims does.  You wake up and try to remember where you are and what the layout of the room is.  Then, there’s the moment of “what am I doing?” Why did I sign up for this when I could be safely at home?  Those are things that each pilgrim will have to figure out for themselves.  And, in a way we are all pilgrims, whether or not we realize it.  I wonder about those things every day, but sometimes I think that this traveling and exploring is done not only to encourage other people to do it, but, also so that those who just can’t can feel as though they are along for the journey.  Side note, apparently 54,000 people got compostelas in August, this means that they walked the last 100kms of the Camino.  (therefore, there were probably more people out there in total) The attraction to a simple existence seems to be growing.  Friday Sept. 4th, I left Seattle, with an easy flight to Amsterdam, although we left an hour late, we landed on time.  Thankfully as I had a 53 minute connection to my flight to Madrid.  Made it in time, but with almost immediate boarding.  Was pleased that I had no problem boarding with my 48L pack, which is technically a little too big for carry on. I was able to pick up an additional SIM card from the Lebara people and then use my long distance ticket to get a free Cercancias ticket to the main station.  (Download RENFE app to phone, follow RENFE signs, not Metro, in T4.)  Arrived back in lovely Leon after mildly delayed train ride.  It’s hard to explain to people in the USA just how great a good train system is, I won’t try.  Leon has a great river promenade, and then a wonderful old town largely devoid of cars, with many cafes and restaurants.  Almost all have tables in the street, and in the evening thousands of people are out and about visiting and eating.  The normal procedure is to order a glass of wine, usually its pretty good, but small by American standards.  With that comes a small munchy “tapas” and all is typically 2 euros.  After a good hot shower, did the tapas circuit, and used my Spanish cell phone to call the local tango.  The once or twice a month dance was happening, and they were super friendly and hospitable.  Managed to dance quite a few tandas before returning to the hotel to sleep.  Then the 2:00am wake up, jetlag kicks in.  Bicycle was delivered in a big bike box, and I put the pedals on and straightened the handle bars.  I think it’s going to be a challenge to distribute all of the stuff I brought with me onto the bike, but I’m sure I’ll figure out something.  Tomorrow, the plan is to take the bike on the train and return to Sahagun where I left off walking and then bike back to Leon.  About 64km.  Today managed to catch a tour of the Parador of Leon, well known from the the movie “The Way.”  Beautiful, sunny and about 65 degrees out so far.

Madrid

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

04/02/2015

Thursday April 2, 2015
Sitting at Plaza Mayor, trying to reflect on the trip as it comes to an end.  What are the lessons?  What part is the Camino or, is it all the Camino.  It certainly didn’t go as expected.  I was rather enjoying being able to crank out 30km days without undue stress, and then all of a sudden, pain in an unexpected place and way.  I would have thought about toughing it out, but it was clear that it would get worse, and that I could risk more permanent damage.  Oh well, the Camino has been there for more than 1200 years and will still be there in the future.  The plus was getting to spend a meaningful length of time in Sevilla.  The Semana Santa was an added bonus, but, truthfully, Seville is way nicer without all of the crowds.  Even if you do your homework and are a very efficient traveler, I’m convinced that in many places, there is no substitute for wandering around for a week or so.  Rich and I have made repeated trips to San Francisco and we are still discovering new things, but our feel for the city has really increased over the many trips.  One of the things that I learned from this is that flexibility is the hallmark of good travel.  I generally don’t like to be locked into things anyway, but the Camino really teaches you that you have to be able to change it up if necessary.  For example, I ran into some kids who had walked way too far and done some damage to their feet.  They ended up renting bicycles in Burgos to do the Meseta part.  I spent a few days in Leon, and ran down various options, different boots?  Nothing to be found in my size.  Rent a bike?  Not available at the store in Leon.  Plan to head home early, but then the only flight available on my miles ticket wouldn’t have gotten me home more than a few days early and wasn’t worth the change fees.  As it was, my hassle with Air Bnb resulted in saving a lot of money as I found the rental agency.  A couple of days in Madrid has given me a whole different feel for this city, which actually seems calm after Semana Santa in Seville.  Last I was here was with a Rick Steves Tour in 2009 for two nights, and I never got the feel for the city.  Rick believes in giving you lots of museums, I believe that more than a brief morning dose is too much.  Better to go to local markets!  I should write a Non Rick Steves tour…Although Rick gets a lot right.  Especially his Travel light philosophy; I’m sure everyone reading this has heard me rant about that.  For those of you planning to travel or do the Camino, I can’t stress enough how the ability to access information can help you when things change.  Get yourself on a good roaming plan and/or buy a local SIM with lots of data.  These things will more than pay for themselves in daily use, but if things change, they will be worth their weight in gold.  I literally made the arrangements for the Apt. in Seville while on the train going over 100mph using my 10 euro SIM in the ipad mini.  I constantly use google maps on the phone when “lost” in a city.  TripAdvisor and Yelp are also ready companions.  Train schedules, bus schedule, in city navigation, hours of tourist sites etc. all easily found on the web.  Local milongas:  To paraphrase Mark Twain “I’ve been to a lot milongas in Spain, most of which never happened.”  Anyway, if you are thinking of going to Europe and want a more economical alternative to Italy or France, definitely think about Spain.  Good food, friendly people, reasonable prices, good transport, it’s all there.  Tomorrow, British Airways to LHR and then straight to SEA.

Seville to Madrid

04/01/2015

April 1st, 2015
Took the highspeed train from Sevilla to Madrid yesterday.  Wonderful things, comfortable and take you city center to city center.  In this case a little over 2 hours at speeds of over 150mph.  Really nice.  Believe it or not, Madrid seems relatively calm compared to Seville during Semana Santa.  There are lots of people here, but not the same density of crowding going on.  I’m staying at a small hotel on one of the Tapas oriented streets called Cava Baja.  It’s a few blocks from the Plaza Mayor, so very central.  Aiming for a visit to the famed Guernica painting as well as to the Royal Palace today.  As usual last nights attempt to go to a milonga resulted in nothing, change of ownership at the place.  Fortunately it wasn’t far from the hotel, but it really does make you wonder how many of the milongas listed on the web are still going. Tapas in Madrid are not pursued with quite the same vigor as they are in Seville or Leon.  At least on Cava Baja, there isn’t any outdoor seating, so that puts a damper on things.

LEON

Leon to Sevilla

03/24/2015

Tuesday March 24th, 2015
Leon is certainly a pleasant city, but I was unable to find a rental bike and so, as is typical in travel, it’s time to change and adapt the plan. It’s been very chilly, so, seems like heading south would be nice.  Got a train ticket to Sevilla, which is pretty much an all day trip of about 7 hours from Leon.  No need to change trains though, so that part is easy.  Being from the USA we forget how great a good train system is, and Spain does have a good system.  Spent a frustrating amount of time trying to get an Airbnb apartment in Seville.  The part that really bothered me was that everything was done and then they wanted further verification steps after charging the card.  Unable to do them, unable to reach anyone really helpful and left in limbo with a message that the reservation would be cancelled if they weren’t done, I ended up canceling them on my own so that at least I knew where I was.  Found the apartment listed on the agencies website, so we’ll see if I can get it that way.  It has a private terrace and is just across the river in the Triana neighborhood, alleged to be where Flamenco started.  Weather in Seville should get into the 70s this week, so that’s promising.

Been thinking a lot about a Richard Branson quote I read which was something to the effect of “If your dreams don’t scare you a bit then you’re not dreaming big enough.”  Definitely an interesting thought about when to play it safe and when to take risks.  Failure is also something I think about a lot, but it is the flip side of success.  Also, it may just be a result, the term “failure” being a value judgement that we assign to a result.  In some ways I feel that I’ve “Failed” at everything I’ve done, but in other ways I know that I lead an enviable lifestyle and have done many interesting things that I wouldn’t have done if I had “successfully” stayed in one job.  Not being able to finish even this modest part of the camino brings up all of the failure scrips for me.  On the other hand, it’s a self imposed goal, so what does it matter?  Maybe the learning is in the flexibility and the letting go of the preconceived goal.  I know that plenty of people push on through the pain, but to me, the short term achievement would not be worth causing possible lasting injury.  Eg. always better to retire from a battle you can’t win, so that you can do it on another day.   Is “failure” sometimes a better result than success?  Probably falls into the “be careful what you wish for, you might get it” area.

Leon

03/22/2015

Sunday March 22, 2015
Bohdan was right, Leon is tapas madness at a whole new level!  Thousands of people out last night!  I think I may have found a way to continue this thing.  Bicycle shop in Leon that rents bikes.  Not open today as it is Sunday, but fingers crossed that it will work out for tomorrow.