The Camino of St. James

The Camino of St. James describes a series of pilgrimage routes with starting points throughout Europe, all ending at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Since the middle ages, pilgrims have traveled the path to the burial place of St. James the Great hoping to earn the special blessings promised to those who complete the pilgrimage.

The Camino serves as the backdrop for the 2010 movie, The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen.

Camino old marker

Three years ago, our college friend, Ellen, walked The Camino with a few pals. Upon her return, Ellen shared the story of her experience with our group.

One by one, everyone chimed in saying, “We should do that.”

Before we knew it we had a date, a plan, and reservations with a tour company.

We were going to walk The Camino.

First sign of the Camino

The first and most important thing we did to prepare for the trip was to hire the super fabulous tour company, Spanish Steps. This was the same company that Ellen used for her first trip.

I can not say enough wonderful things about Spanish Steps or about our super amazing, rock star guides, Monica and Olga.

Spanish Steps Camino Guides Monica and Olga

Monica and Olga – Guides Extraordinaire

Many people who take on The Camino walk hundreds of miles over weeks and weeks, staying in hostels or albergues. For those of us interested in more of a “glamping” experience, a tour company is the way to go.

Our group of 13 pilgrims (nine of our Notre Dame pals, the sister and brother-in-law of one of these folks and our Glenview friends Nora and G), was expertly cared for every step of the way.

Spanish Steps arranged our lodging for each night including a private breakfast and dinner and provided a bus to take us to and from the trail each day. The bus also met us at several checkpoints throughout the day to replenish our water and snacks and, if necessary, give us a ride to the next checkpoint.

Most importantly, Spanish Steps blessed us with Olga and Monica.

Our plan with Spanish Steps was to walk the final 110km of The Camino over five days, ending in Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of St. James. (By the way, Spanish Steps now does the trip in 7 days.)

Pilgrims must walk at least 100km to earn the Compostela or certificate of accomplishment.

On day one, we all donned our team shirts and were ready to go.  Olga and Monica gave each of us a shell, a pilgrim’s passport and a map of the day’s journey.

Camino passport and shell

The scallop shell is the symbol of The Camino. There are many stories about the role of the shell in The Camino’s history – from mythology surrounding the death of St. James to the shell’s practical use as a water scoop for pilgrims. The shell symbol can be found on all of The Camino markers along the way.

 

Camino day one

Ellen and Byff show off our team t-shirts

In order to receive a Compostela at the end of The Camino, pilgrims must “prove” that they walked along the path for at least the required 100km. This proof comes in the form of stamps in one’s pilgrim passport.

Stamps in pilgrim passport on The Camino

Stamps can be attained in bars and churches along the way. As you can see, we spent a great deal of time in bars and churches. Mostly bars. More on that later.

Our maps showed the part of the trail we would cover each day including locations of the checkpoints where the bus would be waiting, mileage from point to point so we could keep track of our progress, a description of the sights and scenery we would see along the way and where to find the ever so important bars and churches.

And the even more important “facilities”.

Camino facilities

The spirit of The Camino dictates that each person must do it for their own reasons, at their own pace, and in their own way.

Right from the start, our group of 13 transitioned into two groups: the fast group and the slow group.

Monica and Olga took turns walking with each group so they could get to know us as individuals. Almost immediately they understood our capabilities and needs and used this insight to make sure that each of us got the very most we could out of our experience.

Olga and Monica encouraged us, translated for us, shared lots of stories and lots of laughs with us. Their presence was the secret sauce that made our time on The Camino extra special and we will be forever grateful for that.

Camino group

Our Camino group receiving a send-off by our innkeeper, José.

Each day we walked up to 15 miles. The terrain varied from paths through farmland to rocky, muddy trails to streets through tiny or not so tiny towns.

Camino path through farmland

 

Camino muddy trail

 

Camino walking through town

Along the way we would stop for lunch – almost always including some wine and beer.

Camino lunch

Because of the area’s proximity to the coast and the bounty of available fresh seafood, we enjoyed lots of treats like scallops

Camino scallops at Casa Tia Dolores

and more pulpo (octopus) than you can imagine.

Camino octopus stand

Sometimes we would enjoy leisurely sit-down lunches and other times we would make a quick stop in a bar for a snack or sandwich and always to get a passport stamp.

One day we popped into a bar for what was intended to be a quick stop and ran into our innkeeper, José.

José insisted on treating us to a bottle of wine so that particular stop turned out to be more leisurely than originally planned.

All part of going with the flow on The Camino.

At the insistence of Olga and Monica, we stopped at Casa Tia Dolores to take part in the beer ceremony, something not to be missed.Camino beer ceremony at Casa Tia Dolores

We came across another bar in which hung hundreds of t-shirts left by pilgrims over the years. At the end of our stay, we all signed one of our blue shirts which our guides are going to drop off at the bar on their next tour.

Camino bar with t-shirts

At the end of each day, the slow group would finally catch up with the fast group and we would head to our B&B for the night. After freshening up and changing out of our dusty trail clothes, we would meet for cocktail hour

Camino cocktail hour

before sitting down to a delicious dinner.

Camino Toasting

One night, Monica treated us to a presentation of the Queimada ritual of the region.

Camino Monica's Queimada

After sleeping soundly, we were up every morning and off on the trail again.

Along The Camino, we saw many beautiful churches both big and small.

Camino church

Most of the smaller churches were not open but when they were we took the opportunity to collect another stamp in our pilgrim passport.

Camino collecting passport stamp in church

We walked through the woods, across rivers and among the local people carrying on their day to day life.

Camino through the woods

 

Camino scenery

 

Camino cows on the street

We met people from dozens and dozens of different countries. Families and long-time friends. College students and senior citizens. Some who were “glamping” like us and many who had already been on the trail for a month having started their pilgrimage in the Pyrenees.

Along the way, we greeted fellow pilgrims with the call of The Camino.

“Buen Camino”

That wish for a “Good Camino” was the universal language of the trail, uniting and inspiring all of us.

Our friends, Byff and Ernie, were particularly good at striking up conversations with once-strangers-now-friends. They taught a group of Spanish students the good old camp song, On Top of Spaghetti.

Camino singing on the trail

The students repaid the kindness  by performing the Macarena for us.

Love and a feeling of community were everywhere.

Camino Free hugs

On the final day, we ascended to Monte del Gozo (Mount of Joy), so named because it is the point at which pilgrims get their first glimpse of the city of Santiago.

Camino Monte del Gozo

We were on the home stretch.

Completing the final 4.5 km, we reached our destination: Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of St. James.

Camono Cathedral of St. JamesThe feeling of relief, accomplishment, camaraderie, and sheer joy was overwhelming.

After five days and well over 100 km, we had earned our Compostela.

Camino Compostela

Upon returning home, and talking incessantly about our experience, the question most people ask is, “How hard was it to walk The Camino?”

The answer is that The Camino is hard but doable.

Doable, especially if you have the support of Spanish Steps, guidance by the incredible Olga and Monica, and the loving encouragement of this team.

The end of the CaminoIt was a Buen Camino, indeed.

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The First Answer Is: Bordeaux

Hi, folks!

Last time I shared that I would be on an adventure and I gave these two pictures as clues:

clues to my adventure

What could these mean?

Well, no big surprise – part one of the adventure involved wine tasting.

In Bordeaux! More on that in a minute.

Part two of the adventure, symbolized by the scallop shell, had us hiking the Camino of St. James, a pilgrimage trail through France and Spain. Truly a once in a lifetime experience, the Camino needs its very own post so I will share that story soon.

But first, beautiful, fabulous Bordeaux.

Welcome to Bordeaux

Our group of 7 hired a private guide, Claude, who came highly recommended. We corresponded with him for months and months and were giddy with excitement, anticipating our tour of Bordeaux.

Peter and I were the first to arrive at the Bordeaux airport. We grabbed our bags then started looking around for Claude.

We looked and looked, but no Claude.

Instead we saw an adorable French woman holding a sign with our name on it. She introduced herself as Claude’s wife, Ghislaine (GG for short).

It seems that Claude had undergone emergency surgery a few days earlier and would not be able to join us. Claude and GG didn’t let us know before our arrival because they didn’t want us to be alarmed.

The trip would go on just as planned but GG would be our guide instead of Claude. GG’s brother, Jean Pierre (JP for short), would be our driver.

GG and JP

We are a pretty intrepid group (plus, at that point we really didn’t have a back up plan) so we just went with the flow and let GG and JP lead the way.

And we had the time of our lives.

Following the spectacular itinerary set up by GG and Claude, we were pampered and delighted at every corner.

Have you ever been on a trip during which you feel totally cared for, like you don’t have to think about a single detail?

That was this trip.

For starters, we stayed in this gorgeous place, the Château de La Rivière.

Chateau de La Riviere

Château de La Rivière

We had the place all to ourselves, occupying 4 of the 6 rooms in the chateau. The innkeeper, Natalie, provided us with a delicious breakfast every morning

Château de La Rivière breakfast

and a fabulous multi-course dinner on our last evening. These appetizers were as yummy as they are beautiful.

Château de La Rivière appetizers

Each morning GG and JP would arrive to whisk us off for the day’s adventure.

We enjoyed tours and wine tasting at chateau after chateau, including:

Château Pape Clément which was named after its most famous resident, Pope Clement V.  It is one of the oldest vineyards in Bordeaux – first planted in 1252.

Château Pape Clément

Château Carbonnieux which also dates back to the 13th century.

Château Carbonnieux

Our very own Thomas Jefferson visited Château Carbonnieux during his wine tasting trip through Bordeaux in 1786. According to his diary, he was a fan of the wines produced by the Benedictine Monks who owned the vineyard at that time.

These same clever and enterprising monks produced an almost clear white wine that they marketed as “mineral water” to sell in places that prohibited or heavily taxed alcohol. The story goes that a Turkish prince at the time said, “I don’t know why the French bother making wine when their mineral water tastes so good.”

We visited Château Troplong Mondot in the Saint-Émilion appellation.

Chateau Troplong Mondot

And traveled by ferry across the Gironde to visit Château Lynch-Bages where we had the opportunity to see the team at work.

Chateau Lynch Bages

We took a tour of the wine cellars at the Château de La Rivière at which we were staying.

Château de La Rivière wine cellar

There are over 7 acres of cellars under the Château. During World War II, Jewish families and members of the French Resistance hid in these cellars while Germans lived in the chateau above, oblivious to the existence of the caves below.

We toured the picturesque town of Saint-Émilion, including the world’s largest monolithic church, a gigantic structure “built” by digging out the side of a cliff.

Saint-Émilion

View from above Saint-Émilion

After our time in Bordeaux, GG and JP drove us to Lugo, Spain where the Bordeaux 7 would meet up with the rest of the Camino group.

Along the way to Lugo we stopped at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes where we attended Mass (in French), collected holy water and lit candles.

Basilica at Lourdes

close up view of Basilica at Lourdes

inside the Basilica at Lourdes

candle lighting at Lourdes

The next day, we stopped at the Sanctuary of Loyola in Spain, the home of St. Ignatius of Loyola. We visited the gorgeous Basilica, attended Mass (in Spanish) in the Conversion Chapel and toured exhibits chronicling the life of St. Ignatius and the history of the Jesuits.

Basilica at Loyola Sanctuary

Inside of Basilica at Loyola Santuary

Loyola Sanctuary Conversion Chapel

Finally, we were on the road to Lugo and saw the first sign of next part of our adventure: The Camino de Santiago. Stay tuned for that story…

First sign of the Camino

I have to be honest, I had a tough time writing this post. It has taken me weeks and weeks to get it done.

Not only was the volume of photos to show and stories to tell overwhelming, but, more importantly, I had no idea how to put into words the sheer magic of this part of our trip. It’s impossible.

And it was all thanks to JP, Claude and GG.

JP is a Frenchman right out of central casting. Handsome, charming and a bit mischievous. He kept us in stitches the whole time, even though he doesn’t speak a bit of English. As a lifelong resident of Bordeaux, JP knew all the shortcuts, history and secrets of the place. As a former vineyard owner, he knew everything about wine making in the region. He even gave us a couple of bottles of his wine from his personal cellar. We will never forget him!

One of the truly unexpected treats of our time in Bordeaux was when we stopped for a short visit with Claude as he recuperated from surgery. We were thrilled by the opportunity to meet him in person.

And then there’s Ghislaine, GG.

This amazing gal took such exceptional care of us. She made sure we got the most out of every single experience and every single moment.

GG indulged our collective sweet tooth with frequent stops at boulangeries along the way, brought us to the most fabulous French wine shops, kept us well supplied with treats, showed us places that only the locals know about and made sure that we immersed ourselves in the food and wine of her beloved homeland. She is an angel, for sure.

Absolutely nothing was impossible for this team.

And they blessed our group with memories that will last a lifetime.

Bordeaux 7 with GG and JP

Merci beaucoup!

 

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Air Travel Etiquette

I love to travel but it can be stressful. Air travel, in particular, can be fraught with challenges. But, if we all follow a few dos and don’ts of air travel etiquette, we can peacefully coexist while hurtling through the air at 30,000 feet.

Air Travel Etiquette

Do know the TSA rules: Liquids in 3-ounce or smaller containers all packed into one quart sized zipper bag and placed on the conveyor belt. Computer out of your bag and on the belt. Shoes and coat off; nothing in your pockets.

Don’t steal all of the bins and bowls. Being considerate in the security line means sharing and not dawdling.

TSA Precheck

Transportation Security Administration

Do consider signing up for TSA PreCheck. At $85 for five years, it’s a pretty good deal. And, you can keep all of your goodies in your bag and your shoes on your feet.

Do feel free to pack concisely into the allowed number and size of carry-on luggage.

Don’t think that anyone is amused by you carrying on a suitcase and a backpack and a giant purse and a giant shopping bag and a bag full of magazines and snacks and a banjo.

Each of us is allowed one carry-on bag and one small personal item. This means you, too, Barbie.

Mocadeaux - Carry-on luggage etiquette

Do take advantage of the loophole that airlines provide which allows passengers to avoid a checked bag fee.

If your suitcase is small enough to meet the carry-on standards, you can “gate check” your bag with the agents at your gate for free. This is a good idea if you just don’t want to be bothered stowing your bag in the overhead bin, are in one of the later boarding groups or have legendarily poor arm strength like me.

Do line up and board the aircraft with your assigned boarding group. Please have your boarding pass out and available for scanning or have your mobile boarding pass pulled up on your telephone and the screen lit up.

Don’t hold up the boarding process by standing in the aisle unloading every last item you think you might want for the flight before stashing your bag in the overhead bin.

Do be compassionate toward your fellow passengers. If asked by a frantic mom or dad if you can switch seats so that their family can be seated together, consider doing so. In my opinion, this act of kindness brings more good karma than almost anything else.

Mocadeaux - Bank of Karma

Don’t fall asleep on other passengers. My shoulders are reserved for my loved ones and not for perfect strangers who keep nodding off and slumping over toward me in my seat. (Seriously, guy in 11B? How many times do I have to elbow you in the ribs before you get the message?)

Do peruse the menu of “buy on board” food and drink items so that you are ready to order when the flight attendants reach your row.

Don’t order wine in a can. Trust me on this one.

Wine in a can

Do remember to use headphones while listening to music or movies. Just as you have the right to listen to heavy metal music or to watch Mad Max Fury Road, I have the right peaceful quiet.

Don’t judge your seatmates for the in-flight entertainment they choose to watch. Just because someone streams hours of Real Housewives on a coast to coast flight, doesn’t mean that they don’t also watch hours of the History Channel at home.

Do strike up a conversation with your seat mate if the spirit moves you. Take the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories.

Don’t make a nuisance of yourself. If your seatmate pretends that they are completely engrossed in their reading, are asleep or don’t speak English, it might be a subtle hint that they are not interested in chatting.

And finally, when you have reached your destination…

Do retrieve your carry-on luggage as quickly as possible without trampling your fellow passengers and exit the airplane in an orderly manner.

Don’t do what these flight attendants did. It is rude, will likely get you arrested and will cost you thousands of dollars in fines. A high price to pay to be the first one off of the plane.

By the way, the reenactment animation in this video is priceless.

What are your pet peeves about flying? What would you add to the air travel etiquette dos and don’ts?

Wishing you all happy and safe travels, always!

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Wine And Wisdom In Salt Lake City

Hi folks! I’ve just returned from a weekend in lovely Salt Lake City where I attended the Build Your Blog Conference. My head is spinning and my to-do list is a mile long.

Build Your Blog Conference

The very, very best part of the trip was sharing it with my fabulous pals, Katie Clooney (Preppy Empty Nester) and Kelly McKenzie. Each of these ladies has written their take on the conference. After you finish enjoying my post, head over to Katie’s and Kelly’s for their story.

My assignment for the trip was to scope out restaurants. The sole criteria set forth by the gals was: a good wine list.

With the help of Open Table and a search for Notable Wine Lists in Salt Lake City, I came up with a couple of great places.

First up:

Martine Salt Lake City

The Martine Cafe, located at 22 East 100 South in downtown Salt Lake City, serves contemporary American food with influences from around the globe. The offerings range from bar bites and tapas to salads and entrees. The menu also includes a fixed price dinner of 3 or 4 courses.

The folks at Zagat called Martine Cafe the “best, most unique and innovative cooking in town” and called their wine list “imaginative”. 

The wine by the glass list is not terribly lengthy but there are some terrific wines to choose from.

I loved the 2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir from Oregon. Katie ordered the 2013 Poseidon Chardonnay from Carneros (Napa/Sonoma) and Kelly enjoyed the 2013 Zepaltas Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County in Northern California.

Something for everyone!

The food and wine were exactly what we were looking for. And, the restaurant was only a short walk from the Little America Hotel in which we were staying.

The next night we headed to what Open Table called the #1 wine spot in Salt Lake City.

BTG Wine Bar Salt Lake City

Excuse me, BTG Wine Bar

Does your sign say that you have OVER 80 wines available by the glass?!?!?!?!

Ummm… Can I live at your restaurant?

The BTG Wine Bar (located at 63 West 100 South in downtown Salt Lake City) does indeed have over 80 wines on their list. Every single one of these wines is offered in a 2 ounce pour, a 5 ounce pour and by the bottle. Check out the wine list on the restaurant’s website.

The wine list also includes approximately 25 flights to choose from.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a wine flight is a tasting of several wines (usually 3) in smaller pours. Flights are presented with the lightest wine on the left, progressing to the heaviest wine on the far right. They are a great way to try three different wines rather than committing to a full glass of one particular wine.

The beauty of BTG Wine Bar’s 2 ounce pour is that diners can create their very own flight, which is exactly what I did.

BTG Wine Bar make your own wine flight

My flight was made up of:

  • 2009 Soter Estate “White Label” Pinot Noir from the Yamhill-Carlton area of the Willamette Valley in Oregon
  • 2012 Duckhorn Merlot from Napa Valley
  • 2010 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon from the Howell Mountain area of Napa Valley

Win! Win! Win!

Katie and Kelly went with white wines: the 2014 Delaporte Sancerre from France and the 2013 Mer Soleil Gold Reserve Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands area of Monterey County, California.

The BTG Wine Bar offers a few small bites but diners can also order any of the scrumptious Italian dishes from their sister restaurant, Caffé Molise.

We spent hours playing hooky from the conference enjoying the BTG Wine Bar. It was a night to remember and one which we will think of each time we use our souvenir wine glasses.

BTG Wine Bar

Even the Lucky H Bar & Grille in the Little America Hotel had a decent wine list. We spent a lot an appropriate amount of time in the hotel bar. The wines of choice:

  • Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay from California
  • Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay from Sonoma
  • Fleur de California Pinot Noir

(Note that no vintages were listed. This usually means you are drinking the most recent vintage.)

Our one teeny, tiny wine fail from the weekend occurred on our final night at the HUGE EPIC AFTER-PARTY GALA.

At registration, we were each given one drink ticket to be used at this HUGE EPIC AFTER-PARTY GALA.

Katie, Kelly and I joked that we should collect tickets from the teetotalers in the crowd. No point in those tickets going unused…

dressed up for the Gala

A stop for a photo at the “step and repeat” and then we were off to the bar to redeem our tickets. We had worked hard and were ready for a little glass of celebration.

That’s when the ugly rumor started circulating the room.

“The drink ticket covers a glass of flavored soda. No wine is being served.”

Wait…What?!?!?!

Not good.

Immediately after dinner we scurried off to the comfort of the Lucky H Bar (not so much the Grill part, just the Bar), spending the rest of the evening celebrating and reviewing what we learned over the weekend. Joined by some new blogging pals, we toasted to a successful conference.

But alas, all good things must come to an end.

When the hotel bar staff starts to recognize you and greets you with, “Ladies, will you be having the usual?”, it might be time to pack up and head home.

Have no fear, Salt Lake City – we will be back! I’m especially talking to you, BTG Wine Bar!

How about you? Have you ever been to a place with such a large wine-by-the-glass menu? Do you like wine flights?

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