Filing Our First Déclaration des Revenus (French Taxes)

Every May full-time residents of France are required to file la Déclaration des Revenus (Declaration of Earnings), the annual tax declaration equivalent to filing your 1040 tax form in the US.  Since France is our principal residence and we have lived here longer than a year, we are required to file a Déclaration des Revenus for the first time since moving to France.

So, how did we — with our rudimentary skills in speaking French — figure out how to file our Déclaration des Revenus?

In this case the Internet, Google Translate, expat discussion forums, and numerous professional websites were all major tools.  I’m often thankful that we have so much information available from the Internet. Neither of us can imagine the struggle of expats living abroad before such tools were readily available.  One key source for collecting information was the online English language newspaper, “The Local, France’s News in English” that reminded readers in April that a Déclaration des Revenus would be due in May.  The article listed the forms required, had advice from an expat tax expert, and listed links to La Direction Générale des Finances Publiquesthe French version of the US Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service.  The Finances Publiques’ web site allows you to download forms and even file your Déclaration des Revenus online.  (There are also expat tax preparation services in France, but ours was pretty straight forward.)

Center of Finances Publiques
Center of Finances Publiques

Due to my lack of confidence with online filing the Déclaration des Revenus in French, I elected to visit the local Centre de Finances Publiques (tax office) to pick up the needed forms.  Between my “shopping list” of forms, my very basic French, the helpful Finances Publiques’ representative’s basic English, I managed to pick-up the required forms.  Like our US Tax Return, the Déclaration des Revenus consists of several forms.  For us, we needed:

Formulaire 2042
The main tax form (like the US tax form 1040) listing our name, address, and global income.

Formulaire 2047
This form is for listing any income earned outside of France.  Our pensions are considered foreign income that must be declared on this form, as well as the total noted on the Formulaire 2042.

Formulaire 3916
On this form we list all bank accounts that are located outside of France.

Declaration  des Revenus Forms and Directions
Declaration des Revenus Forms and Directions

Filling out these three forms was actually simpler than completing many of my past US Tax Returns; but, of course, these forms and directions are written in French and I had to struggle with the language barrier.  Yes, French tax forms share with US tax forms the ability to create stress and give the preparer a total feeling of confusion and inadequacy.

Using an English-French dictionary, Google Translate, and a tax help guide from “The Connexion:  France’s English-Language Newspaper” written for British expats, it took about two days to (hopefully) correctly complete the documents.  Tracy double-checked the translations, Dollar-to-Euro conversions, directions, math, documents, and finally concurred that we had now had all the forms ready to submit.

The next big question was:  to whom or where do we submit Déclaration des Revenus?  Unlike US tax forms, there was no mailing address on any on the forms, nor directions for how to file.  So we gathered up all the completed forms and visited the local tax office again.  Tracy spotted a large mail box outside the office door with a sign marked for Déclaration des Revenus.  But first I visited with the Finances Publiques’ representative again and asked her to double-check that our Déclaration was complete.  (Thankfully the representative spoke some English, which was extremely helpful to me.) She asked me to include a copy of our 2013 rental contract with our Déclaration des Revenus and then the package would be complete.

We had a quick round trip back to the apartment, made a copy of our lease, and returned to speak with the same Finances Publiques’ representative for one last final review. The representative believed the package was complete now and officially accepted the Déclaration des Revenus. Yet another milestone first with living in France.

So what happens next?

Unlike the US, no payment is ever sent with the Déclaration des Revenus.  The Finances Publiques reviews the financial situation on the forms and later sends an Avis d’Imposition (a tax bill) or an Avis de Non-imposition (certificate of non-taxable income) usually around mid to late August for the amount of taxes due. Since it is our first filing, we are told that we could receive a response from the Finances Publique as late as November or December 

Now for the complexity.  The United States is one of the few countries that taxes on the basis of citizenship rather than residence.  The United States requires that US citizens file a yearly tax return with the US Internal Revenue Service as long as their income (earned in the US or earned abroad) is over $9,000. Americans working abroad are generally exempt from paying tax on their first $97,600 in foreign earned income, but they are still required to file a return. 

Tracy and I do not earn income in France and we previously filed our US tax return in April.  

To avoid double taxation for citizens living abroad, there is a tax treaty between the US and France, the “Convention Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the French Republic for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income and Capital (1994).”  The biggest issue for us addressed in the treaty is that pensions from a US source is taxed only by the United States and not by France.  So, in theory, we are only required to pay our US taxes, however, in actually application we may still receive a tax bill.  

This is our first time filing a Déclaration des Revenus with Franceso we are interested to see exactly how this will work out for us.  Every expat’s tax situation is unique unto itself.  So we may have no French Impôts sur le Revenu (income tax) liability, a small French income tax bill (for non-pension interest or dividends), or no income tax liability but a bill for social service fees (if you call it a “fee” it doesn’t fall under the “tax” exemption.)

We will tell you about the outcome sometime between August and November when we hear from La Direction Générale des Finances Publiques.  Keep your fingers crossed that we only get a Avis de Non-imposition (certificate of non-taxable income).

 

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The Meatless May Experiment

We decided to adopt a vegetarian menu for a month. Meatless May, we’ve been calling it. Not because we’ve taken up the cause, but because we both want to continue making healthier choices for ourselves. So far it’s been great. We’re getting more creative in the kitchen, which is always fun. Creating lots of new recipes, some of which have already made it into the recipe file that Tracy started recently. Some still need a little work.

This comes at a good time for us. We realized over the winter that some of our “go to” recipes were not the healthiest choices available. In large part due to having most of our favorite meals based on things that are readily available year-round in the States. Here in France foods only show up at the market if they are 1) in season and 2) still available. So, with spring fruits and vegetables being amongst our favorites and aplenty in the market the timing is good to get on the right path, dietetically speaking.

DSCN9865

We took in a major haul at the Saturday Market earlier today (above photo): 5 medium potatoes, 5 tomatoes on the vine, 1 red onion, 3 lemons, 2 limes, 3 oranges, 4 cantaloupe, 2 bananas, 3 avocado, 1 head of romaine lettuce. With just a few additional items from the grocery store (flour, eggs, goat cheese, butter). These groceries will be added to the Swiss chard and butter lettuce we picked up at last Thursday’s market. This constitutes a weeks’ worth of groceries during our Meatless May experiment!

DSCN9873

Our latest haul joins last weeks’ leftovers of 4 yellow onions, 5 green chili peppers, 4 carrots, 2 bulbs of garlic, 1 red chili pepper, and 1 pear. We also keep chickpeas, black and brown lentils, spaghetti, rice, tomato sauce, peanut butter, coconut milk, nuts (cashew, pecan, almond – whatever is available), sugar, coffee and tea on hand as staples year round. Last week we also picked up chocolate chips, the mini ones. Baguettes are purchased as needed every few days.

Tracy started making pita bread, getting very excited when they actually puff! It takes very little time, but are so yummy fresh out of the oven. The ones that don’t puff get called Naan and used for garlic bread or called Torillas and get used for her mashed lentil/potato tacos.

We plan to add black beans this week, and maybe another one if something catches our eye at the store. It will be interesting to see what we can whip up in the kitchen.

The added benefit we hadn’t realized at first was that all of the above items cost less than 25 Euro (roughly $34.50), not including the staples we keep. We used to spend more than this on one dinner dining out in Reno.

We’ll post an end of the month review on Meatless May sometime in early June!

Cartes de Séjour Arrived To Help Celebrate Our First Year In France

Following the Prefect Office’s instructions that we received after we submitted our applications to renew our Titres de Séjour (residency permits) [First Renewal of Our Residency Permit (Titre de Séjour)], we e-mailed the prefecture after 30 days to inquire whether our application has been approved and Cartes de Séjour (residency cards) issued.

So after an anxious 30 days (we expected the approval to be pro forma with the initial request in the US for a long-term visa being the most challenging, but it’s never good to make such a broad assumption of an automatic approval when immigration law and bureaucracy are involved) I translated an inquiry into French and e-mailed the Préfecture de l’Aude here in Carcassonne.  I immediately received an auto-response advising me that the message was received by the Prefecture and to expect an answer within 5 working days.  I put my “Type A” personality back in retirement mode and told myself, five more days to wait was not unreasonable.

However, I received back within two hours an e-mail response from an actual person telling me our request was in the hands of a real person and requested our 10 digit identification number from our Récépissés de Demande de Carte de Séjour (receipts of application for residency permit.)  I referred to our  Récépissés, located the ID numbers in the upper right corners where the e-mail said the numbers would be found, and e-mailed the information back to the Prefecture.

La Préfecture de l'Aude à Carcassonne
La Préfecture de l’Aude à Carcassonne

The following morning before 9:30 a.m. there was an e-mail from the Prefecture telling me that our application is approved, our new Cartes de Séjour are at the Prefecture, and to come and pick the cards up April 1. We were asked to bring with us our Récépissés de Demande de Carte de Séjour and current Titres de Séjour (residency permits) which are “sticker” documents affixed inside our US passports.

So April 1, Tracy and I were up early to be at the Prefecture at 9 a.m. when the doors open to the residency permit office. After a little bit confusion and language difficulties at the reception area we received a yellow “Post-It” note with the number “4” written on it and sent to the waiting area outside the residency permit office.  This was unusual because on previous visits at the prefecture, like at the DMV back in the States, we received a printed number tab to match the electronic number display next to the office door.  After waiting a couple of minutes the electronic display turned on and showed “500.”  That didn’t look right.  Having a number “4” in our hands we decided we misunderstood something in the French.  After checking back at the reception desk, the receptionist took us into the Estranger Passeport (foreign passport) office and created an informal line with us and other visitors also holding “Post-It” note numbers. We quickly moved up in the line short line and met with the friendly Prefect representative who accepted our Récépissés de Demande de Carte de Séjour and passports. The representative very efficiently had us sign a form accepting our new Cartes de Séjour and handed us our cards and a receipt for our records. We were in and out of the Prefecture in 20 minutes.

Cartes de Séjour
Cartes de Séjour

The Carte de Séjour is rather “High-Tech” with security features like a microchip with biometric information, a “watermark photo” that matches the subject’s photo, hologram, shifting colors, micro-printing, République Française watermarks on the laminate, the subject’s signature, and check digits.  It’s a very professional looking document, although a rather unattractive pastel pink and blue in color.  The card lists our French ID number, expiration date, nationality, place and date of birth, gender, and current address in France.

Reverse of Carte de Séjour
Reverse of Carte de Séjour

So we are starting our second year in France feeling fairly accomplished with successfully navigating French bureaucracy and obtaining our Cartes de Séjour without any snags. For our renewal next year we are planning the same strategy of starting early and being well prepared with all the documents required.

 

 

 

Carcassonne – Au Panthéon Photo Project

Tracy and I participated in the Au Panthéon Photo Project that is visiting 8 national monuments in France collecting portraits of visitors to later use as an art project of portraits covering the enormous scaffolding system that will be surrounding the Pantheon in Paris during its renovation this year.  The Centre des Monuments Nationaux commissioned contemporary artist JR to create a participatory work inspired by his Inside Out projects, “encapsulating the humanistic and universal values embodied by the Pantheon.”

Mobile Photo Booth for Inside Out Project
Mobile Photo Booth for Inside Out Project

From March 5 to 29, The Inside Out project’s unique mobile photo booth is visiting the Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis near Paris, home to the royal necropolis and its collection of 70 sculpted recumbent statues; the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne; Angers Castle, home of the Apocalypse tapestry, the largest known tapestry from the Middle Ages; the Carnac Megaliths near the Morbihan Gulf, the largest group of standing stones in the world, a key place in European prehistory; the three towers of La Rochelle, facing the Atlantic as some of the most important medieval maritime fortifications; the Palais du Tau in Reims, the royal and episcopal residence associated with the coronation of 32 French kings; the Savoye villa à Poissy and its modernist architecture by Le Corbusier; and returning to the Pantheon in Paris, the masterpiece of the architect Soufflot, located on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève.  People unable to come to one of these locations may still participate by taking a photo at home and uploading it to http://www.au-pantheon.fr/en/.

According to the Au Panthéon website, “The portraits that best represent the diversity of the contemporary world will be used to create a mosaic that will be visible around the drum beneath the dome, and on certain places within the monument. The aim is to use all of the portraits in the final work. It will be inaugurated on Tuesday 22 April 2014.”

During our visit the mobile photo both produced poster-sized prints of our images like a giant Polaroid camera.  We added out photos to the temporary mosaic of photos on the sidewalk outside the barbacane surrounding the Château in La Cite De Carcassonne.  Although there was a lengthy line to participate in the free process, we had a great time visiting with an American expats family from Oregon currently living outside Aix-en-Provence, our upstairs apartment neighbor and her friend also visiting from Oregon, and a French women recently returned from Miami where she was working for an US company.  Sami the MinPin enjoyed the attention from the crowd as well.

We were two of the 288 portraits taken during the day at Carcassonne.  The link to the Au Panthéon photo gallery is located at http://www.au-pantheon.fr/en/portraits/carcassonne/.

Some of the 288 portraits taken in Carcassonne, including ours.
Some of the 288 portraits taken in Carcassonne, including ours.
Tracy, Sami, and Alan photographed by the local newspaper, Midi Libre, at the Au Panthéon event.
Tracy, Sami, and Alan photographed by the local newspaper, Midi Libre, at the Au Panthéon event.

 

Since we have plans to be in Paris in June, we are looking forward to seeing the finished art project and possibly even our own images displayed at the Pantheon.

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Carcassonne: Children’s Carnival

DELAYED POST, I am catching up our blog after our blogging hiatus while recovering from walking the Camino de Santiago.

November 24, 2013

Children’s’ Carnival

Just before Thanksgiving, Carcassonne offered a week-long Children’s Carnival at the west side of the Bastide, the traditional “old town.”

The carnival just “popped up” out of the blue.  Carcassonne seems to be very much be like Reno, Nevada with special events nearly every weekend.  We used the fun to expose Sami, the mini-pin puppy, to the excitement and noise.  We keep working on socializing her well with people and background noise.  We had fun sipping vin chaud (hot spiced wine) and watching happy children.

Tracy and Sami at the Children's Carnival
Tracy and Sami at the Children’s Carnival

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Camino de Santiago: Equipment Review

Our original equipment lists updated with our after Camino review (in red). Suffice it to say that we did a fair amount of research in the beginning and were, for the most part, pleased with our choices.

If you would like to read more about our Camino experiences, see our Camino de Santiago page.

ALAN’S EQUIPMENT LIST

Clothing from the ground up:

before-after

Lightweight boots|  Quechua Chaussures Randonnée Homme Forclaz 500.  There are a lot of advocates for using running shoes and trail running shoes on the Camino on the Camino Forums, but since I’ve sprained my ankles numerous times, I wanted the ankle support of a boot.  These are waterproof, breathable, and about 2.23 pounds (1000 grams.)  We purchased boots early to thoroughly break the boots in before we arrive in Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port to start our Camino.  From Decathlon.

For fairly inexpensive boots, these worked wonderfully.  Often I resented having to take my boots off in an albergue because I really appreciated the support.  I did go through two pairs of bootlaces and would carry extras in the future.  

Chaussette Forclaz 500 High Quechua (From Decathlon Catalog)
Chaussette Forclaz 500 High Quechua
(From Decathlon Catalog)
Socks|  Four pairs, Quechua Chaussette Forclaz 500 High.  I was very skeptical of “High Tech” socks, but I wanted fast drying and moisture wicking socks and figured “It can’t hurt.”  This trip is “all about taking care of your feet.”  I’m planning to use the “Wear one, Wash one” method to keep weight and bulk down (with second pair if I need a mid-day sock change – “Wear two, Wash two”)   From Decathlon.

Great call with the “high tech” socks.  They were comfortable and wicked moisture well.  They dried after washing quickly.  The only problem I had was losing two of my four pairs when Tracy’s phone was stolen.  By the end of the Camino the remaining socks were starting to wear through with holes.

Underwear|  Synthetic fabric, fast drying and moisture wicking.  From Decathlon

The quick dying underwear were a good call.  Three pairs allowed me to always have clean underwear throughout the Camino.

Quechua Forclaz 100 Modul Pants
Quechua Forclaz 100 Modul Pants

Pants|  Two pairs, Quechua Forclaz 100 Modul Pants  (“Wear one, Wash one.”)  These are extremely lightweight synthetic fabric pants that are abrasion and tear resistant with water and stain resistance.  The pants allow an options to convert them into shorts by “zipping” off the legs (although I’m not really a “shorts” kind of guy.)  I wanted fast drying pants that would be comfortable in the heat.  Originally I was going wear the Blackhawk Tactical-NonTactical (TNT) pants that I had brought from the States.  They are designed for military/law enforcement contractors serving in the Middle East.  However, I have lost a fair amount of weight since moving to France and Tracy was concerned that the already loose pants wouldn’t fit at all by the end of the Camino.  From Decathlon.

The pants worked perfectly, they were comfortable and fast drying either after washing or from the rain.  The front zip pocket allowed me to always have my wallet with me.  While I never did shorts, the “zip-off” legs allowed me the wash them separately. The only thing I might do differently was wear one pair and have a pair of shorts for the albergue.

F.11 TDU Belt (5.11 Tactical Catalog)
F.11 TDU Belt
(5.11 Tactical Catalog)

Belt|  5.11 Tactical TDU nylon webbing belt – 1 1/2″ with Plastic Buckle.  Simple, lightweight, flat profile under my backpack’s waist belt.  Unlike a leather belt, this belt is fast drying if it gets wet.  From LA Police Gear.

Perfect: lightweight, functional, fast drying.

Quechua T-shirt TechFRESH 100 (Decathlon Catalog)
Quechua T-shirt TechFRESH 100
(Decathlon Catalog)

Shirts|  Two short sleeve, one long sleeve,  Quechua T-shirt TechFRESH 100.  Lightweight, fast drying, and wicking t-shirts.   “Wear one, Wash one” with an optional long sleeve shirt for sun or insect protection and greater warmth.   From Decathlon.

Worked very well.  The shirts were comfortable and breathe well.  The shirts dried very quickly.  The long sleeve shirt often served as an impromptu “sweater” layered over a short sleeve shirt. 

Bandanas|  Two bandanas, mainly intended to protect my neck on sunny days because all my shirts are all collar-less.

I wore one bandana to protect my neck from the sun.  Although 100% cotton it was always dry by the next morning.  I only needed one bandana.

Jacket Forclaz 700 Quechua (Decathlon Catalog)
Jacket Forclaz 700 Quechua
(Decathlon Catalog)

Rain shell/Jacket with removable liner:  Quechua Veste Forclaz 700.  “Three in one” jacket:  waterproof, breathable and ventilated. Has a removable quilted inner jacket.  My intention is to use this jacket as wind shell, raincoat with hood, and jacket in one item.  My backpack has a rain cover so I can avoid a flopping poncho to cover my pack.  Since we are starting at the end of August, I elected to leave the quilted liner at home.  If needed, I plan pick up a fleece jacket in Galicia when we approach the coast at the start of October rather than possibly carry the jacket liner for weeks without using it.  We will see if that’s turns out to be a good decision.  I also decided not to carry rain pants.  From Decathlon.

I liked the jacket, but under the backpack’s straps it retained a lot of heat.  From watching other pilgrim’s I know I would not have liked a poncho flapping in the wind.  I never felt I needed rain pants, and the jacket – without its liner – was plenty warm the few times I needed a jacket.  I did like the feel and  flexibility of Tracy’s jacket more, mine was noticeably stiffer.  I never used the hood, using my hat to ward off the rain.

Alan wearing Tilley T5MO  Hat
Alan wearing Tilley T5MO Hat

Hat|  Tilley T5MO Organic Cotton AIRFLO Hat.  I like a hat with a brim that can serve as a sun hat and can also double as a rain hat.  The hat is rated at UPF 50+ for sun protection and is water-resistant.  I’ve had great luck with Canadian-made Tilley hats in the past.  Tilley hats are well made and they are nearly indestructible.  I had to special order out of the UK to get the model I wanted because the choices in sun hats at Decathlon was so mediocre.  From Village Hats.

Loved my hat. I wore it everyday.  It was great in the sun, great in the rain.  I was perfect for my needs.  So glad I went with the Tilley instead of those terrible floppy hats at Decathlon or a baseball cap. 

On Person:

Ray-Ban Wayfarer, Seiko Black Monster, Hazard 4 Case
Ray-Ban Wayfarer, Seiko Black Monster, Hazard 4 Case

Sunglasses|  Ray-Ban Original Wayfarer sunglasses with prescription, polarized lenses with Chums glasses strap and a Hazard 4 Sub-Pod hard case.  I trade out my regular prescription eyeglasses with the sunglasses as the conditions warrants.

I wore my sunglasses nearly every day. I think the dark polarized lenses were a great call with so much time outdoors.  The hard case was useful and I never worried about my glasses getting crushed in my pack.

Watch|  Seiko “Black Monster” Automatic Watch.  Waterproof, self-winding with no battery, day and date indicator.

I constantly used my watch.  There would be church services, restaurant openings, and other times where having the watch was needed.  The “glow in the dark” function was important for the albergue – no watch light required.  The day-date function was helpful as it’s easy to lose track of time in the low-tech world of the Camino. 

Black Diamond 2012 Syncline Trekking Poles
Black Diamond 2012 Syncline Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles|  Pair, Black Diamond 2012 Syncline Trekking Poles with Quechua Nordic Hiking tips.  With being 6’04” I liked that the poles adjust up to 57″ (145 cm)  for long downhill stretches of trail.  I will also carry Quechua Nordic tips to have the option to cover the tips in places where the tip could damage the floor.    The pair weighs 1 lb 4 oz (580 g) with a collapsed length of a longish 38 in ( 96.5 cm.)  (Tracy’s trekking poles are “three-part” and collapse to a much more compact length.)  I’ve used a hiking stick in my youth, but trekking poles will be a new experience for me.  Experts say you can shift up to 25% of your weight to the poles, there’s that and the fact I’m just clumsy.  The poles may prevent a fall and injury too.  From Decathlon.

I never used trekking poles previously, but I am now the biggest fan.  I can’t guess how many time the poles saved me from a fall.  I do believe there is that weight transfer of the pack to the poles.  The trekking poles were an absolute must.  The only thing I would have done differently is get a 3-section rather than 2-section set of poles that would collapse into a smaller package.

Backpack:

Backpack Forclaz 40 Air Quechua (Decathlon Catalog)
Backpack Forclaz 40 Air Quechua
(Decathlon Catalog)

Backpack|  Quechua ac à Dos Forclaz 40 Air.  We wanted to travel as light as possible and wanted smaller backpack to enforce the limits of what we could carry with us.  However, with being 6’04” I wanted a bag with sufficient length to let me use the hip belt to help carry some of the weight.  With the 40 Air I believe I achieved those goals with having 41 litres of capacity,  3.5 pounds (1550 grams) total weight, with length adjustable shoulder straps.  The “Air” in the description is the mesh back to allow extra air flow and cooling.  A rain cover is supplied to keep the bag’s contents dry.  From Decathlon.

This pack was perfect for me.  The absolute right size, comfortable, I liked the “dry cool” webbing in the back, it was lightweight and everything stayed dry. I am so glad I didn’t have an older (and heavier) pack available so that had to buy one of the new high-tech packs. For comfort and fit the high-tech packs are the way to go.

Quechua Sac de Couchage Rando 15°C Light XL
Quechua Sac de Couchage Rando 15°C Light XL

Sleeping Bag|  Quechua Sac de Couchage Rando 15°C Light XL.  There is tons of debate in online Camino forums as to whether to bring a sleeping bag, or just a sleeping bag liner, or simply use blankets provided at the albergues.  Tracy and I selected light sleeping bags with matching left and right zippers that allows us to zip the bags together or use separately.  The lightweight sleeping bags have a 60 degree F. (15 degree C) comfort rating  and weigh about 1.7 pounds (760 grams) each.  From Decathlon.

Perfect for the trip.  While Tracy would have been happy with a sleeping bag liner, this was just warm enough for me on cool night and I slept on the top on warm nights.
Quechua Sandale Arpenaz 50 (Decathlon Catalog)
Quechua Sandale Arpenaz 50
(Decathlon Catalog)

Sandals|  Quechua Sandale Arpenaz 50.  After the day’s hike I wanted a lightweight option to allow me to get out of my boots.  These 1.3 pound (600 gram) sandals should offer a needed relief for my feet at the end of the hiking day.  I could have gone lighter with simple “flip-flops,” but I liked that there is some arch support in the sandals.  From Decathlon.

This was my BIGGEST mistake, I originally wanted some Teva-type hiking scandals which weren’t immediately available here.  I bought this inexpensive pair of sandals for around the albergue.  Never should have done that.  At the end of the day I looked forward to taking my boots off, but these sandals were so lacking in arch support that my boots were more comfortable.  We also didn’t realize how much walking (sightseeing, restaurants, shopping) would happen at the end of the day.  In hindsight I would have special ordered some sport sandals with substantial arch support or even carried the extra weight of athletic shoes.

Camera, iPhone, batteries, and chargers
Camera, iPhone, batteries, and chargers

Camera|  Olympus TG-820 Tough 12 MP Digital Camera , 5x Wide Optical Zoom, with extra battery and charger.  Ask anyone, I am a huge camera and photography guy, however I am embracing the fact I need to minimize weight and that I am performing a spiritual pilgrimage.  I am reverting to the basics of my earlier years of shooting a film camera and planning to carefully select meaningful images rather than shooting absolutely everything.  The DSLR camera is staying home this trip and I am using “rangefinder-style” camera techniques.

Great camera, but 90% of my photos were taken with the iPhone.  It was just faster and easier and I could upload photos to FaceBook.  In hindsight I wonder if I would bring it again.

iPhone and charger| I do not have a phone or data plan for Spain, but I intend to use the iPhone as a “palm top computer” when free Wi-Fi in available to check e-mail, post our progress and photos online.

This was a surprise, we carried the phones as a last minute addition and then used the phones as camera and wi-fi “mini tablet” to update on FaceBook and post photos.  We had access to wi-fi every night but two.  I think if I had known I would have brought an iPad mini and live blogged our progress on the Camino. 

Guidebooks and Streamlight Stylus Pro LED Flashlight
Guidebooks and Streamlight Stylus Pro LED Flashlight

Flashlight|  Streamlight Stylus Pro LED Flashlight.  A 5.3″ x .6″ (134 x 15 mm) mini flashlight weighting 1.64 oz (46.9 g) with 48 lumens  output and 6.25 hours runtime powered by two “AAA” alkaline batteries.  Most people in the Camino forum say that a flashlight is not necessary, but I wanted a light in the event of a long hiking day.  From LA Police Gear

Useful the few times we needed it (we were not part of the “up at 4:30 am stumbling through the albergue waking everyone up with their headlamps” pilgrims.)  For the few instances it was worthwhile, but if we had no flashlight we would not have suffered. 

Guidebooks|  A Pilgrim’s Guide To The Camino de Santiago, St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago and A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Finisterre, Santiago – Finisterre – Muxia by John Brierley.  Very comprehensive English language guide with directions, maps, history, advice, and even spiritual insights.   A marked difference from the amateurish and embarrassingly poorly edited Confraternity of Saint James’ Pilgrim Guide to Spain – 1 Camino France’ 2013 and the amateurish, poorly illustrated, and outdated Confraternity of Saint James’ Pilgrim Guides to Spain 3 Finisterre 2009.  There is also discussions in the Camino Forum about whether or not a guidebook is even needed on the well-marked Camiño Francés trails.  That’s a reasonable consideration since these two guidebooks weight about one pound total. There is a wonderfully concise Camino France’ “.pdf” guide you can download at  http://www.caminoguide.net/ to save weight and space over carrying a guidebook.

We actually met people without guidebooks,  apparently it was to either save weight or “we were told we wouldn’t need one.”  Those people were always at a disadvantage to planning their nest day’s route and several pilgrims mistakenly took a wrong branch of the trail or didn’t know where next albergue might be.  A good guidebook is essential.  

Klean Kateen
Klean Kateen
 –Water bottle|  A single Klean Kanteen  27 ounce (800 ml) capacity stainless steel water bottle.  Empty weight of the bottles is 8 ounces (227 grams.)  The filled bottle weighs 35 ounces – 1027 grams.  Many people in the discussion forums advocate just buying commercially available bottled water and refilling those thin bottles or using a bladder system like a CamelBak or Platypus saving at more than half the weight of the metal bottles.

This worked well for me.  There were I few long stretches of trails without fonts and I supplemented with buying a bottle of water and reusing the bottle for those instances.

-Knife and small cutting board | I have a small knife with a small, thin cutting board that will double as a shared plate for Tracy and I for picnic lunches of sausage, salami, cheese, bread, and fruit.

This was a surprisingly good idea that made picnic lunches much easier.  

Personal Items:

Passport, Camino credencial, cash, credit cards
Passport, Camino credencial, cash, credit cards

Passport, Camino credencial, cash, credit cards

It was easy to purchase a Camino credential in Saint Jean Peid-de-Port, so pre-purchasing a credential isn’t necessary.  My non-“Chip and Pin” ATM card and American Express card worked well on the trip.

Rosary

Tucked away and traveled well.

Toothbrush, toothpaste, anti-perspirant, disposable razor, fingernail/toenails clipper

All essentials, and we were able to replace items easily to get along the way.

Lush Shampoo Bar
Lush Shampoo Bar

Shampoo, soap|  Lush brand “Squeaky Green” shampoo bar and carrier tin.  I’m using the shampoo bar as both shampoo and body wash.  From Lush Comestics, UK.  The idea of a shampoo bar came from YouTube blogger Lindsey Cowie at http://www.youtube.com/user/bathedinridicule.

Great idea, didn’t work.  The bar dissolves four times faster than advertised.  I ended up using a combination shampoo/body wash purchased in an albergue.  I’d skip the shampoo bar in the future.

Sun block

Important to have, I used it nearly everyday.  No sunburns.

First aid kit with blister treatments, antiseptic, anti-diarrhea, pain pills, and lip balm

Compeed blister bandages are amazing and a MUST carry.  The pain killers were very much appreciated.  We never had call to use the anti-diarrhea meds.

Safety pins | For use as safety pins, for popping blisters, and serving as clothes pins.

Great tools, I should have carried at least a dozen with a dozen “baby diaper” sized.

Toilet Paper

This was a good call.  Amazing how often an albergue’s rest room would run out, especially the women’s restrooms.

Hair brush

Moleskine Reporter Notebook (Moleskine Catalog)
Moleskine Reporter Notebook
(Moleskine Catalog)

Moleskine ruled reporter’s notebook and two pens.  | 3.5″ x 5.5″ (9 x 14 cm).  I have never done real well with daily journaling, but I wanted to try to take comprehensive notes so I can write detailed posts of our experiences on the trail after we return.

Perfect for notes.  Glad I brought two pens since I lost one along the way.

Serviette randonnée Quechua
Serviette randonnée Quechua

Travel towel|  Quechua Serviette randonnée.  Compact  50″ x 16.5″ (120 cm x 42 cm) 3.7 ounce (106 grams) fast drying, microfiber towel.  From Decathlon

Loved this towel, very compact and absorbent, and always dry by the morning.  I wish I had clothes made out of this material.  Absolutely amazing. 

Additional items not previously mentioned

Laundry Soap Sheet– We stumbled into these at the grocery store in Carcassonne, sheets of laundry soap that were lightweight and stored easily in my backpack, they worked well and dissolved instantly.

Organization Cubes- Tracy used our old travel organization cubes from eBags.com – nylon mesh bags to contain our gear in an organized way.  It made life so much easier – in a crowded dimly light albergue dormitory to have “everything has a place and everything in it’s place” so you never forgot anything.  I only lost two spares of socks, but we were rushed and couldn’t follow our routine that morning because Tracy’s phone was stolen and we needed to get to an wifi zone to change passwords for important accounts.

Alan’s backpack at departure weighed in at 20.5 pounds (9.3 kilograms)

Thank goodness for a lightweight pack.  It is totally different carrying a backpack – day in, day out/ week after week – If I had to do it over, I would leave one pair of pants here and get sport sandals with good arch support.  My top 5 favorite items were 1.) my Tilley Hat, 2.) my trekking poles, 3.) my sunglasses, 4.) my iPhone camera, and 5.) travel towel (Thank you Douglas Adam, you are right!)

TRACY’S EQUIPMENT LIST

CLOTHING

 Forclaz 500 Novadry – Brown Hiking Boot by Quechua

Forclaz 500 Novadry – Brown Hiking Boot by Quechua

ShoesForclaz 500 Novadry – Brown Hiking Boot by Quechua

“For regular use while hiking in all-weather on trails with moderate gradients. Waterproof and breathable. Featuring numerous reinforced areas and a two-hook fastening system.” I wanted a boot rather than a trail shoe. Not knowing which conditions we’ll be facing in September and October, an all-weather boot made sense and I tend to twist ankles and knees so having additional support was also important. These boots are lightweight (they weigh less than my walking shoes). We bought them about 10 weeks before we were planning to leave on our Camino and have had plenty of time to break them in. I even really liked the color.

These boots were amazing, my feet stayed dry through all kinds of weather. I added some Dr. Scholl’s inserts for heel comfort before we left and for most days it really helped. However, in the beginning of our trek or any day after about 20 kilometers my feet didn’t hold up as well as the shoes.

Forclaz 300 Men's hiking jacket, Blue/Red by Quechua
Forclaz 300 Men’s hiking jacket, Blue/Red by Quechua

 Jacket | Forclaz 300 Men’s hiking jacket, Blue/Red by Quechua

I selected a men’s hiking jacket since the women’s jackets didn’t meet the same specs for rain and ventilation. These jackets are designed for long hikes and can withstand a great deal of rain. It’s also breathable and ventilated.

Although I thankfully didn’t need it often, this jacket was perfect for the two days we had a slight drizzle and the one day we had a downpour for about 25 minutes. I stayed dry and comfortable and the jacket was lightweight and easily rolled up to store in the backpack.

TMH5 Mash-Up Hat by Tilley

TMH5 Mash-Up Hat by Tilley

Hat | TMH5 Mash-Up Hat by Tilley

“This hat is made using recycled yarns from hemp and organic cotton fabrics, each hat has an array of different colors woven into it making each unique. Designed with a medium brim with ¾” ventilation mesh around the crown.” Alan has always liked the Tilley brand hats and I thought that I would like to have something to help block the sun that would be comfortable for all-day wear. We found this one on the US site, but it wasn’t available on the UK site, thankfully a very nice lady at the Tilley UK online store was able to ship one from Canada, then sell it to us after she received it. We were able to avoid a 30% duty tax and I now have my first Tilley hat that isn’t that god-awful greenish-tan color but a beautiful soft grey. I added a black and white polka dot scarf as a hat band so that it doesn’t look like a men’s hat and that I can easily remove to cover my shoulders if we are entering a church.

I can’t say enough about my Tilley hat. I absolutely love the thing. I wore it in rain and sun and it was perfect. I had ordered it slightly larger than suggested so that I could wear my hair up or down. The head straps even made it easy to clip to the backpack when I wasn’t wearing it!

Organic Cotton Capri by Domyos
Organic Cotton Capri by Domyos

Pants | Organic Cotton Capri by Domyos and McKinley convertible pants.

These yoga/pilates capri pants are comfortable, moisture-wicking and breathable. They are also soft, comfy and relatively quick-drying. I can use them as a pajama as well.

While these were comfortable, I ended up only using them as sleep wear, but a light weight, fast dry pair of shorts/capri would have been easier. Cotton just doesn’t line-dry as fast as other fabrics. 

Convertible Hiking Pant by McKinley
Convertible Hiking Pant by McKinley

The McKinley hiking pant converts to a short with zip off legs and is lightweight and fast drying. Since we’re looking at a wear-one, wash-one approach, I like the idea of having two pair of pants that have a range of usefulness – shorts, capris, long pants – this should be enough for both hot and cold days.

The McKinley hiking pant was the one I wore all day, every day. Easy to convert to shorts, lightweight and super, fast drying so cleaning them each day was quick and easy. But I need a new pair — after six weeks on the Camino this year, they don’t fit anymore!

Forclaz 500 High Socks, Hiking Socks, Light Grey/Green by Quechua
Forclaz 500 High Socks, Hiking Socks, Light Grey/Green by Quechua

Socks | Forclaz 500 High Socks, Hiking Socks, Light Grey/Green by Quechua

While I’ve never really paid much attention to socks, we’ve purchased and have been using these socks for our Camino training. They cost a bit more than I have EVER paid for a couple of pairs of socks, but they are exactly what they claim to be: Lightweight – perfect for summer hikes, Blister Reducing – I have yet to get a blister while wearing them and Breathable – my feet still get warm after 5 miles of hiking, but not nearly as bad as the socks I used before we bought these. I am curious to find out how they handle the Camino. Oddly enough the knitting is different in each part of the sock and each colored area is knitted in a different pattern so that they stay put, move well and have extra padding for the sides of the toes and the heel.

These ended up to be one of my favorite items. I did blister, but only one toe and that had more to do with my foot structure rather than anything else. I even liked wearing a pair to bed as the ribbed arch support massaged them a bit while I was sleeping.

Tops | Assorted

I haven’t really found a particularly great hiking top for women. The men’s shirts have too high of a collar and I have issues with things being around my neck. For comfort and quick dry capability, I selected a couple of tops from the yoga section of Decathlon. Both are by Domyos and are lightweight and moisture wicking. I plan to bring a third top, small strap with shelf bra for sleeping in.

While I hadn’t found any hiking tops and brought yoga wear, my only regret is not looking harder for hiking tops for their fast-dry ability. One of the tops was a cotton-blend and it never really did dry completely unless we were able to find an electric dryer — which wasn’t often, we line-dried things most of the time.

Flipflops | generic style from the grocery store

I wanted something to wear after hiking all day. These are lightweight, fast drying and can be used as a shower shoe if necessary.

These were my biggest mistake, they lasted about two weeks and fell apart, but I hadn’t considered what my feet would feel like after hiking 20 kilometers on variable terrain. I was able to find a nice pair of Teva-like sandals with great arch support and used those for the remainder of the trip. Good footwear is very, very important, especially in the evenings after hiking 15 to 30 kilometers. Shoes without arch support make it harder to keep moving day after day and I believe that my poor choice in footwear contributed to my tired and sore feet for the first two weeks.

HIKING GEAR

Forclaz 30 Air Hiking Backpack, Green by Quechua
Forclaz 30 Air Hiking Backpack, Green by Quechua

Backpack | Forclaz 30 Air Hiking Backpack, Green by Quechua

“For mountain and day hiking in all-weather (hot, rainy, etc.). Weight is distributed between the shoulder straps and belt. A well ventilated back (air cooling label), practical storage (with belt, water bladder and mesh pockets) and rain cover make this a complete hiking backpack. 30 liter volume / weight: 2.3 pounds / full pack dimensions: H 52cm x W 35cm x D 27cm. Load adjuster straps and chest strap. Pockets: 1 inner, 2 outer + mesh pockets, 1 on the belt and pole-carrier.”

After trying on several different sizes and styles, this one fit me the best and didn’t interfere with freedom of movement. We’ve done quite a few training hikes and although I’m still a bit concerned about weight, this pack is extremely comfortable and the ventilated back is very nice. I like the color too.

 This backpack performed perfectly. I love it! I was able to carry everything I needed and still kept cool due to the circulation system. The fit was perfect for my frame and it’s smaller size made minimizing a must which kept the weight from being more than I could comfortably carry. The addition of our organizing cubes (purchased years ago from eBags.com) helped to keep the pack weighted perfectly as well.
Forclaz 500 Light Soft Blue/White by Quechua
Forclaz 500 Light Soft Blue/White by Quechua

Hiking Poles | Forclaz 500 Light Soft Blue/White by Quechua

“Three section pole with a collapsed length of 58cm, maximum extended length of 129 cm. Weight: 230 grams. Foam grip. Lined neoprene adjustable loop. Tungsten carbide tips with summer and winter baskets. I opted for two as I have done little long distance hiking and most of the Camino blogs recommend two if you’re bringing them. I started practicing with them during our Camino training hikes about three weeks prior to departure. The poles have helped with a knee that is still sore from a fall a couple of months ago so I’m assuming that they will be a welcome addition on the trip.

I had some reservations about how much I really needed hiking poles and I almost didn’t bother to purchase them for our trip. That would have been the biggest mistake ever. These ended up to be the MOST IMPORTANT item I brought. They alleviate about 25% of the pack weight, keep your hands from getting too swollen and helped to keep three points of contact with Mother Earth for climbing up and down some pretty amazing hills and mountains. The only time that they were stashed in my pack was when we were on the train to and from home. A total lifesaver! The only thing I would do differently is opt for the slightly more expensive version with the cork grips, some days my hands got very sweaty in the heat and keeping my grip if I were to stumble was a worry.

Compact Hiking Towel, Green by Quechua
Compact Hiking Towel, Green by Quechua

Towel | Compact Hiking Towel, Green by Quechua

While just about any towel would do, this one is a lightweight microfiber that is only 42cm wide and 120cm long and weighs only 106 grams. It even came in it’s own stuff bag making it very easy to pack and carry.

At just 42cm wide and 120cm long it was just enough to get dried off with, but I couldn’t wrap my hair up with it. The best feature was that it would dry in less than an hour even when soaking wet. I might opt for a slightly larger one in the future, but only because I have long hair and it was difficult to wrap it in the towel while dressing.

15° Light Hiking Sleeping Bag, Blue by Quechua
15° Light Hiking Sleeping Bag, Blue by Quechua

Sleeping bag | 15° Light Hiking Sleeping Bag, Blue by Quechua

We opted for a lightweight bag with a right and left zip option. This particular one has a stuff bag that makes it very compact and storable in your pack. Since Kiara will be coming with us we plan to be camping more than most pilgrims since most albergues do not accept dogs in the hostel. Not really knowing what weather we may be facing over nearly 7 weeks of hiking we decided to get one that was not only light to carry but would keep us warm on a chilly night. My favorite thing about this sleeping bag is that it doesn’t have to be rolled up!!

We opted for a lightweight bag with a right and left zip option. However, we rarely got to see each other at night since we were often in bunk beds, Alan on top, me on bottom — I’m afraid of heights! Most often I only used mine as a blanket if I got cold, which wasn’t often. I think I may have done just as well with a sleeping bag liner, which is even lighter weight and should be perfect for the hot Spanish summer.

Forclaz 2L Water Bladder by Quechua
Forclaz 2L Water Bladder by Quechua

Water Bladder | Forclaz 2L Water Bladder by Quechua

Normally I would prefer my regular water bottle with the dual lined walls that keeps water cold for 30 hours in a hot car, but I opted to try a two-liter water bladder since I’m carrying water for both longer distances and for Kiara as well. I don’t have a lot of experience using a bladder but so far it’s been working for our training hikes and once I cleaned it up with some baking soda and fresh lemon juice the water tastes wonderful if just a bit warmer than I prefer, better than the plastic taste it had at first. This will be the heaviest thing in my pack, but when we know for sure that there are fountains on the trail I can carry less and of course it lightens the load as you use it.

It took a while to get used to the bladder, but I really loved having instant and easy access to water. This one held 2 liters and easily slipped into the front pocket of my backpack so that nothing inside the pack got wet.

HYGIENE

Lush Shampoo Bar
Lush Shampoo Bar

Shampoo bar | Irresistible Bliss by Lush      

“A dynamic pink shampoo bar for normal hair. To keep hair looking shiny and full of body, wash with this irresistible bar. The perfume is made with neroli (orange blossom) and jasmine to scent it with incredibly sensual florals throughout the day.” Not that I need to smell good, but I like the idea of a shampoo bar so that I’m not carrying liquids that could get messy in my pack. I have a mini microfiber towel for bathing and storing the shampoo bar, less mess, less weight.

Although Alan didn’t care for this product, I think that it actually worked great, it just didn’t last as long as I had expected. I would recommend buying twice what you think you’ll need and a container to keep it dry.

Silk Hydration Lotion Sunscreen by Hawaiian Tropic
Silk Hydration Lotion Sunscreen by Hawaiian Tropic

Sunblock Silk Hydration Lotion Sunscreen by Hawaiian Tropic

I started out with a bottle of Loreal but it had glitter in it. I’d rather smell like a coconut than sparkle all day. This has an SPF of 30, which is what my everyday makeup has, so it should do the trick.

This was my lifesaver! I had never experienced a Spanish summer and didn’t realize just how much hydration I would actually need. While this did a great job, I still ended up having to pickup an intensive cream lotion by Nivea for my hands and forearms which were very dry and flaky from too much sun and wouldn’t hydrate with just the sunblock.

Baby wipes | store brand

These are the generic store brand from Geant Casino, our local supermarket. We may not have access to a shower daily, but I still like to clean up after a long day of hiking.

Never even opened these!

Daily Hygiene Stuff | Just the everyday basics

Brush/comb/Hair ties/Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Deodorant/Disposable razor.

Thankfully we were able to replenish things like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and such when we went through big towns. Six weeks on the road is a long time and we had to bring enough for two — however, we did not realize that there would be places that separated men and women into different dorms or places where the men’s and women’s showers were in different buildings — we only brought one bottle of everything. But not a problem, we still managed to stay clean and fresh!

FIRST AID

Blister care | Compeed-style mix/cushioned bandages

Foot care, foot care, foot care. The single most important thing for our trip will be our feet. Blisters can cause an unexpected delay of several days so taking care of blisters when they start is very important.

Love, love, love the Compeed! I started the Camino with a blister on the back of each heel. One was slightly more sore than the other so I stuck a Compeed on it and left the other one to heal on it’s own. The heel with the Compeed healed faster and without any drying or scabbing, completely amazed by this stuff. But if you cannot find it before your Camino, it’s available at nearly every Farmacia along the way.

Basic care | Nail clippers/Nail file/Tweezers

Foot care is everything on a trip of this length, so I’m taking these along as a precaution so that toes and fingers stay healthy along the way.

These were basic essentials that, while not needed often, were of major importance for healthy feet.

Pain Reliever | store brand

Just a generic we brought from the US. We have no illusions that this trip will be easy, so I’m bringing a small bottle of Aleve-style pain reliever to reduce muscle ache and pain in case the wine doesn’t quite do it!

We used nearly an entire bottle of a store-brand version of Aleve, but those first couple of weeks we found more than one reason to use them, aches and pains in places that never, ever get sore. As a bonus we had some type of pain reliever to offer to others who were also suffering!

PERSONAL

Kiara’s Camino Collar

It is customary for pilgrims to tie a scallop shell on their packs to signify their pilgrimage. While Adam and Liz were here we had gone to Narbonne Plage, a nice beach on the Mediterranean and while there Liz found several small shells. She graciously allowed me to select one for Kiara, I selected the one that reminded me of the caramel stripe on Kiara’s face, and using the natural hole in the top of the shell I added a link and secured it to a faux pearl stretch bracelet to create a Camino Collar for Kiara. This has now been added to the back of my pack in remembrance of the little dog I love so much and who would have enjoyed this trip immensely.

Kiara’s collar made it there and back without damage to the shell. I would get comments from time to time, mostly someone mentioning that it was pretty, but it was important to me and I was glad that it made it all the way and back home in one piece.

Glasses/Notebook/Pens

I rarely journal but thought that this would be a great way to help jog the memory when I return home from 6 to 7 weeks of hiking so that I have a reference for when I create a digital journal/scrapbook with photos and insights of my Camino.

I used these every single day and really enjoyed journaling about our trip. You meet so many new people and go through so many beautiful cities, it’s nice to jot things down so you don’t forget.

Camera and Gear

Nikon AW100 camera
Nikon AW100 camera

–Camera | Nikon AW100

I’ve had this since before we moved. It’s rugged, waterproof (to 10 meters/33 feet), shockproof (to 1.5 meters/5 feet), freezeproof (to 14 degrees Farenheit). It is 16 megapixel, 5x zoom, can record full HD video and even has GPS with electronic compass. It’s basically perfect for any outdoor adventure.

While a really great camera, the only time I used it was after my iPhone was stolen. I thought I would use it far more than I actually did and won’t bother to bring it on my next hike, there are easier options available for a long trip like that one.

–Gear | Batteries/SD cards/Charger

I have three batteries, several SD cards (two 32GB, one 16GB, one 4GB and one 1GB) and a lightweight battery charger (with adaptor) that will make up the balance of my camera gear.

I  NEVER even unpacked them!

iPhone and charger

Just for staying in touch and updates to our progress. We do not have a data plan for the iPhones in France, but free wifi allows us to post updates to Facebook and our blog along the way. I haven’t decided whether or not this will make the final cut, Alan is planning to bring his and he can handle the updates and posts with his. I’m wondering if I could spend 7 weeks completely unplugged . . . hmmm. Since the death of my computer I’ve been given a rare opportunity to spend time without a lot of social networking, it may be a possibility.

This was the best option for photos on the fly. I used it more often because of the flexibility of posting photos to friends and family while on the Camino . . . at least until it was stolen!

IDENTIFICATION

Passport

Best to have with me, just in case! Rarely have had to show it, but my driver’s license won’t mean anything to French or Spanish authorities.

We brought them just in case we might need them, but turns out that most albergues ask for your passport number when checking you in, so it turned out to be a smart choice.

 Camino Credentials

This is a must for the Camino, it will need to be stored in a ziplock bag within easy reach, especially the last 100 kilometers, as it will need to be stamped twice daily. I am expecting to have more than one by the time we are finished — at least two for the Camino Frances, one for Finisterre and/or Muxia.

Managed to get all the way there with just one credential, it’s nearly full of stamps and is a nice souvenir of the trip. Additional ones are available along the way for one to two euro.

 ID

Drivers’ license, passport card, insurance ID.

I brought my Drivers’ license, passport card, and insurance ID and didn’t need any of them. My passport and Camino credential were all the identification I needed.

 Insurance Info

When we moved out of the country we purchased a year-long travel insurance that covers us wherever we travel. For most emergencies it has better coverage than our US medical insurance, so we’re bringing along the account information and contact numbers just in case we have an emergency.

Didn’t need this either — even if we had gotten ill it’s just easier to go to a pharmacist and tell them your symptoms and have him dispense the right medications — simple and easy and no doctor visit needed.

 Cards

This is really just as a backup, since Alan will have his – but we’d rather not be far from home without access to any of our bank accounts.

It was surprisingly easy to find ATM machines and we rarely charged anything other than a hotel room if the albergue was full, which happened only once.

Salami and Fruit

These two lunch staples will be easy to carry, easy to prepare, and easy to replace so we plan to keep a small amount with us for lunches while we hike. Most of our other meals will be available at cafes, bars and albergues along the way.

We managed more than a few lunches and a dinner or two, with green apples and chorizo and a few sweet rolls that we found in the local markets. Easy to bring along and the green apples stayed unbruised far longer than any other fruit.

Ziplock bags

Just a couple for keeping things contained and dry. I plan to rinse and reuse them for the trip so only taking a couple.

Brought a couple of extras, but never needed them. 

Tracy’s backpack weighed in at  15.4 pounds (7 kilograms.)

This was the perfect weight for me. During our initial training for the Camino, I had one day when my pack was at 20 pounds, the additional weight put so much pressure on my hips that I couldn’t get up on my own the next day. In addition to finding the right balance the use of the hiking poles was great at alleviating some of the weight. While some days I got that lighter-than-air feeling after taking it off, most days I didn’t notice it at all. Balance, for me this trip was all about balance.

Barcelona: La Pedrera, Cripta de la Colònia Güell, Sagrada Família, and Parc Güell

One of our goals for our trip to Barcelona was to explore the art and architecture of Antoni Gaudí.

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was born June 25, 1852 in Reus, in the Catalonian region of Spain.  Gaudi is renowned as the leader of Catalan Modernism.  A true free-thinker, Gaudi’s original and innovative style of art and architecture is concentrated in Barcelona, including his masterpiece, the Basílica y Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (Sagrada Familia), which is still under construction today.  Gaudi’s passions of religion and nature are reflected in all his works.

With limited time in Barcelona we made use of a tour company to have the service of a English-speaking tour guide and an air-conditioned bus to quickly reach several Gaudí locations.

Our first stop was Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera (the Quarry) located on Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona.  Built between 1906 and 1912, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1984.  La Pedrera is a famous example of the Modernista or Catalan Art Nouveau style and one of Gaudí’s most ambitious works. The facade is curving white limestone looking like undulating waves of the ocean with wrought iron balconies invoking an image of the spray at the tips of waves.  Gaudí designed the building as well as innovative furniture, fixtures, and textiles.

Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera. (Wikimedia Commons)
Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera.
(Wikimedia Commons)
Adam, Liz, and Tracy on the roof of Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera
Adam, Liz, and Tracy on the roof of Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera

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Our next example of Gaudí’s work involved a half-hour drive from Barcelona to Colònia Güell in the town of Santa Coloma de Cervelló, another UNESCO World Heritage site.  Colònia Güell was originally built in 1890 as a self-contained textile mill and “company town” complete with homes, schools, and stores. Gaudí was commissioned to build the town’s church.  By 1914, the lower nave of the church had been completed, but the Güell family facing business set-backs were forced to stop funding the construction before the church’s completion. The church, now known as Cripta de la Colònia Güell (Church of Colònia Güell), included many of Gaudí’s architectural innovations being used for the first time. The Church is designed with catenary arches, the outer walls and vaults in the shape of hyperbolic parabolas, decorative broken mosaic tiling called “trencadís”, and the use of re-purposed, recycled, and local natural materials. The bell tower was added later by the towns people who still use the church today.

The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí.
The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí.
The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí.
The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí.

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Our next exploration is considered to be the crowning glory of Gaudí’s achievements, the Basílica y Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (the Basilica of the Holy Family) or more commonly known simply as Sagrada Familia. The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage site and in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated Sagrada Familia and proclaimed it a minor basilica.

Sagrada Familia.  View of the Passion Façade (Western side) in September 2009 (cranes digitally removed) (Wikimedia Commons)
Sagrada Familia. View of the Passion Façade (Western side) in September 2009
(cranes digitally removed)
(Wikimedia Commons)
Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Tracy, Liz, and Adam in front of Sagrada Familia
Tracy, Liz, and Adam in front of Sagrada Familia

Although the construction of Sagrada Família had already started in 1882, Gaudí took over leadership of the project in 1883, combining Gothic and his own unique curvilinear Catalan Art Nouveau style.  Gaudí supervised the construction until his sudden death at age 73 in 1926.  Less than 25% of the Basilica was completed at the time of Gaudí’s death. The construction of Sagrada Família’s has progresses slowly due to its reliance solely on private donations and construction was stopped completely during the Spanish Civil War.  The current anticipated completion date is 2026, the centennial anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

Tracy and I have wanted to visit Sagrada Família for years and Adam and Liz had studied Sagrada Família in their Spanish classes and were anxious to finally see the Basilica in person.  It did not disappoint.   Sagrada Família was absolutely astonishing and breathtaking.  Its size, unique organic elements, colors, innovative architecture was stunning.  Our only regret was our limited time.  A person could spend days picking out and appreciating all the details in the Basilica’s design and construction.

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On our final day in Barcelona, Adam led us to Parc Güell (Park Güell) in the Gràcia district.  We took a quick ride on the subway with a pleasant stop at a Barcelona dog park for Kiara.

Liz, Adam, Tracy, and Kiara at the Dog Park
Liz, Adam, Tracy, and Kiara at the Dog Park

Parc Güell was built between 1900 and 1914 by Gaudí’s frequent patron Count Eusebi Güell in an effort to duplicate the English garden city movement for a housing development.  Today the park is a public municipal park and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colorful and whimsical, Gaudí’s work here is reminiscent of a synthesis of Dr. Seuss and Disneyland.

Liz and Adam pose with "El Drac" Gaudí's multicolored mosaic salamander
Liz and Adam pose with “El Drac” Gaudí’s multicolored mosaic salamander
Alan, Tracy, Adam, Liz, and Kiara at the entrance stairs of Park Güell
Alan, Tracy, Adam, Liz, and Kiara at the entrance stairs of Park Güell

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As our whirlwind trip concluded I realized I only shared a small part of our experience in Barcelona.  There were beautiful neighborhoods, excellent Sangria (and more Sangria), tapas, Adam and Liz demonstrated amazing Spanish language skills from their college Spanish studies, Kiara the Chihuahua continues to make new friends where ever she goes, Adam and Liz – our vegetarians- found some amazingly delicious vegetarian and Hindu restaurants in the midst of a meat loving culture – Adam even had a chance to try vegetarian paella, and there were many wonderfully friendly people.

We had a taste of Barcelona, which created the desire to return in the future and experience more.  There is so much more to see and do in this vibrant city.

Liz, Adam, and Tracy on the Barcelona subway
Liz, Adam, and Tracy on the Barcelona subway

Barcelona: Parc del Laberint, Passeig de Gràcia, Plaça de Catalunya, and La Rambla

One reason we wanted to retire to Europe was to have a central place from which to “springboard” to explore many different cities in Europe.  With Adam and Liz visiting we decided to do just that and spent a few days in Barcelona, Spain.  We found that Adam and Liz share our interest the work of Antoni Gaudí so it was time to make some hotel and train reservations and head to Barcelona. It is only about a three-hour train ride to Barcelona from Carcassonne.  The TER (Transport Express Régional) to Narbonne, the high-speed TVG (Train à Grande Vitesse) to the Figueres Vilafant train station (just inside the Spanish border) to switch into a RENFE (ReNacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles – Spanish National Railway Network) high-speed AVE (Alta Velocidad Española – Spanish High Speed) train.  The RENFE train was beautiful and we enjoyed the use of the club car for ice-cold Spanish beer.

Adam and Liz on the TER train out of Carcassonne.
Adam and Liz on the TER train out of Carcassonne.
Tracy, Alan, and Kiara on the TGV enroute to Spain.
Tracy, Alan, and Kiara on the TGV enroute to Spain.
A Spanish RENFE AVE Siemens Velaro (left) and a French SNCF TGV Duplex (right) at Figueres-Vilafant Station (Wikimedia Commons)
A Spanish RENFE AVE Siemens Velaro (left) and a French SNCF TGV Duplex (right) at Figueres-Vilafant Station
(Wikimedia Commons)

In very little time we were in Barcelona, sharing a pitcher (or two) of sangria.  Sitting on the Mediterranean Sea with about five million residents, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, the sixth most populated urban area in the European Union.

A panoramic view of Barcelona (Wikimedia Commons)
A panoramic view of Barcelona
(Wikimedia Commons)

We decided that while Paris is beautiful, Barcelona is gorgeous.  Stunningly gorgeous.

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Adam led us to Parc del Laberint d’Horta (Labyrinth Park of Horta) in the Horta-Guinardó district in Barcelona.  The park is the oldest of its kind in the city. Located in the former estate of the Desvalls family, next to the Serra de Collserola ridge, the park combines an 18th century neoclassical garden and a 19th century romantic garden.  In 1967 the Desvalls family donated the park to the city of Barcelona, who opened to the public in 1971.  Liz had always wanted to explore a maze and was looking forward to exploring the labyrinth, so we lined up behind her and had her lead the way.

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Returning to our hotel room and realizing that it wasn’t cooling off very quickly, we decided to take an evening walk through Passeig de Gràcia, Plaça de Catalunya, and La Rambla.  Passeig de Gràcia is one of the major avenues in Barcelona, it is compared to the Champs-Élysées, Fifth Avenue, and Rodeo Drive and is one of  the most important shopping and business areas of Barcelona containing many of the city’s most celebrated pieces of architecture. Passeig de Gràcia is regarded as the most expensive street in Barcelona and in Spain.

Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) is Barcelona’s large city square and is considered to be the city center and the place where the old city and the modern city meet.

La Rambla is located off Plaça de Catalunya.  The tree-lined pedestrian mall stretches for 1.2 kilometers between Barri Gòtic and El Raval, connecting Plaça de Catalunya with the Monumento a Colón (Christopher Columbus Monument) at Port Vell (the Old Harbor.)  Even in the middle of the week there is tremendous energy and activity in the “Heart of Barcelona.”

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The following day was all about exploring Gaudi’s art and architecture and his contributions to Barcelona.

Narbonne Plage: Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea

With the temperatures reaching up into the 90s, we wanted to visit the Mediterranean with Adam and Liz.  We tried to facilitate a SCUBA dive, but had difficulties getting connected to dive shops in Narbonne.  So it was off to the beach for old-fashioned “sun and surf.”

The Narbonne Plage (Narbonne Beach) is one of several Mediterranean Sea beaches in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  Narbonne Plage is well west of the Côte d’Azur (known in English as the French Riviera) on the Mediterranean coastline in the southwest corner of France.  The beach is 5 km of wide, fine sandy beach with a marina and restaurants.  It is a public “locals’ beach,” or rather the “poor man’s” Riviera, with all the beauty of the Med without the extravagant cost of the Côte d’Azur.  

We caught the regional TER (transport express régionaltrain from Carcassonne to Narbonne and then took one of the special summer buses to the beach. There were many other beach-goers on the bus with us.  Surprisingly, Narbonne Plage is 25 minutes away from the train station, with a scenic view of central Narbonne and the Montagne de la Clape mountain range along the way.

Adam and Liz enjoying the Mediterranean Sea at Narbonne Plage
Adam and Liz enjoying the Mediterranean Sea at Narbonne Plage

Fortifying ourselves with food and sangria (and a bit more sangria) we ventured out into the water.  Beautiful sandy beach, very minimal crowds despite the full bus, warm water with a beautiful gradient of color from green to deep blue as the water gets deeper.  There were lifeguard stations, lifeguards in Zodiac boats, and a police presence with swimsuit-wearing officers from the CRS Police (Direction Centrale des Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité – Central Directorate of the Republican Security Companies; DCCRS).

While Tracy and I contented ourselves with wading, Adam and Liz splashed right into the sea for a swim.  Wonderful day of water, walking the beach, investigating the marina, collecting shells, watching the surf fishermen, SCUBA divers (we knew there had to be divers there), and sailboats.

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We took a different bus back toward the train station that normally stops several blocks away from the station.  However, our driver very kindly drove us all the way to the bus stop at the train station.