Here I go...

Walking and Talking Across Spain

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Money on the Camino

When my friend arrived in Spain for the first time,
her fare was €2 and she "tipped" the taxi driver the "quarters"
which amounted to about €8!!

When I arrived in Portugal the first time,
I paid the taxi driver €20 for a €2 fare.

For many, learning to use Euros takes a few days.
The money looks different.

Why not do some studying BEFORE you leave for Europe.

Here are what Euros look like.


The bills are not too difficult. 
They are clearly marked and in colors! 
 When you take €300 from an ATM machine, 
you generally will get one €100, two €50, 
and five €20 bills. 

Albergues and tiny tiendas are not going to want to change your €100 bills, 
so try to get them exchanged in a large supermarket or bank.

Albergues and tiendas also will NOT take credit cards.
They operate on a cash-only basis.

Private albergues will sometimes take cards,
as will hotels.
So if you're booking hotels, 
a credit card is fine.


Here is a photo of American coins next to Euro coins.

As you can see, both the ONE EURO and the fifty cent EURO 
are approximately the same size as our American quarter.

The TWO EURO coin is larger.

The colors are different also, so pay attention.
Study these now so you don't make mistakes later.
The ONE EURO will become easy to recognize because it is two-toned.


It is good practice to have a friend stand with you while you take out your cash. 
Before you begin, study where the cash will come out and keep your hand ready
to retrieve both your card and your cash.
If anybody appears to be standing too close or to be watching you, be wary.
Also beware of locals who want to "help" you - they've been known to grab and run.
These are usually children or young people.
But I had an adult man try the "bird poop" scam on me in Barcelona,
so adults can also be culprits.

When you take your cash out of the ATM, 
Immediately go to a bathroom or to your room 
and put the cash into your money belt IN PRIVATE.
ATMs are watched closely by gypsies, 
especially in the larger cities. 
Not so much to worry about in smaller villages.

I never take cash from the ATM on a weekend.
I've seen cards get eaten 
and then the person is stuck until Monday, 
when the bank opens.

When possible, 
I use the ATMS where you go into a little private cubicle.

The week before you leave for Spain 
be sure to call your bank
and tell them you will be traveling in France (SJPP) and Spain. 
Otherwise, the first time you try to use your card, 
they will think someone has stolen it and will block it 
and you'll be stuck in a foreign country with no money.
 And considering the time change, 
calling your bank to straighten this out can be a huge problem.

ATM machines in Spain use the 4 digit NUMERAL system. 
If your pin uses letters, you will not be able to use most ATM machines in Spain.

Most ATM machines in Spain work just like the ones at home. 
You put in your card, type in your pin number, 
and choose the amount you want. 
Most have English options.

I did this the first time I walked the Camino but I never do this anymore.
I go to Spain every year, sometimes twice, and I never take Euros.
Every international airport will have ATM machines inside.
The Madrid airport has several on different floors.
I've never had a problem getting Euros.

If you DO want to take Euros, 
I suggest no more than €200-€300 to begin with.

That will last you a week on the Camino.


I use Charles Schwab online bank for my travel.
They issue me a card that I can use anywhere and 
If a bank in Europe charges a fee,
Charles Schwab reimburses me at the end of each month.

Bank fees can add up to hundreds of dollars.
So I suggest you do NOT use your regular ATM account 
unless your bank gives you a special rate.

Exhange Rates
Not only do the banks charge fees for using the ATM,
but they also charge a HIGHER EXCHANGE rate.
For example, 
if the regular exchange rate is 1.37, 
the bank might charge 1.50 or higher.
Those pennies along with ATM fees add up.
Call your bank and ask what exchange rate they charge
for international withdrawals.
They will talk around the bush
but eventually you will learn
that most charge a whopping fee
for exchanging cash in a foreign country.

Use a Travel Account.
It's a good idea to keep your travel money
separate from your regular bank account,
just in case your card is compromised.

I know Wells Fargo has a special travel account you can open
to keep your travel cash separate from your regular bank account.
They also offer a travel card that has no fees, so you can call them and check.

But I am in love with my Charles Schwab card.

And… since Schwab only gives you one ATM card,
I'm opening an account with my walking partner this year.
That way he will get a card also in case mine is lost or stolen.
If two of you are traveling, it is smart to have your walking partner carry 
your extra card, in case of problems.

I know I harp on this,
but be aware of girls with clipboards.
It is a scam, and a successful one!

Ok.. I guess that's it on cash.
Let me know if you have questions.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Figuring the Cost of the Camino

Pilgrim dinner at San Anton, one of my favorite stops! Donativo!
Today, someone asked on Facebook, "What does it cost to do the entire Camino?"
Answers varied from $1000 to $6000.
And honestly, that's right.
It just depends on you!

Are you a person who needs a private room every night?
Are you willing to sleep on a mat on the floor?
Are you willing to take a tent and sleep under the stars?
Must you eat restaurant food each night or could you picnic?
How often do you need a shower?

Are you already covered by medical insurance?
Are you a person who needs travel insurance?

These are all considerations when figuring the cost of the Camino.

I will cover travel insurance in another post, but it can come in handy. Last year while on the Camino, my sister in law died and I could not get home without paying a huge amount of money. You can often purchase travel insurance directly from the airlines when you purchase your ticket. Or check with AAA if you are in the USA.

Every year, I walk one of the routes of the Camino as well as taking a small group for 24 days.
I suggest you do a spreadsheet on Excel or even on paper and calculate your costs ahead of time.
Here are the things you need to consider:

AIRFARE.  First and foremost, consider flying out in shoulder season.  Before May 15 and after September 15, your tickets are going to be as much as 20%-50% less.  In tourist season, the fares shoot up! And honestly, it's nicer walking the Camino in early spring or late fall when there are fewer pilgrims.

I buy my airfare at least 150 days early. The earlier you buy the ticket, the less it is. So figure out when you can leave and get that ticket.

The closer you get to your departure date, the higher the fares will be.

Don't buy the first ticket you find.  Shop around.  I use CheapOAir and have found some exceptional deals. Despite what people say, airfare is a good value right now. I spent $970 on my round trip ticket to Madrid for this year.  In 1996, I flew to Portugal and the round trip ticket was over $700. That's almost 18 years ago! So I'm not complaining about airfare.

Try different airlines and different routes. Once I found a round trip ticket to Madrid on Aer Lingus (an Irish airline) and the only issue was it went through Dublin. If you can sleep anywhere, you can get really good fares if you're willing to make stops along the way.  Long layovers can be a blessing if you're flying from the West Coast of the US. They give you a chance to get out of your seat and walk around, find food, even get a hotel for the night or explore a US city you've never seen. Just budget it into your trip.

Try flying out of a SMALLER international airport. When I fly out of Fresno, California instead of Los Angeles, I can often save $200 !!  Why? The airport taxes are much less because they want to encourage people to use it.

If you plan even earlier, you can use mileage credit cards to help.  Sign up for a credit card that gives mileage, then use those to help on the cost of your ticket.

BUS OR TRAIN MADRID TO PAMPLONA.  No matter where you fly in, you'll have to get to St. Jean Pied de Port or to Roncesvalles. Experience has shown me that the BEST way for me to arrive from the USA is to fly into Madrid, then bus to Pamplona and catch a bus or taxi to St. Jean or Roncesvalles.

I love seeing Pamplona first for two reasons. I stay there a couple of days to adjust to the time change. Also, if you see Pamplona first, then when you're walking the Camino, you can just walk right through and stay in the very cool albergue at Trinidad de Arre (before Pamplona) or in Cizor Menor (after Pamplona). Getting to the point you walk "between" the stages in Brierley's book will get you out of the herd of pilgrims who follow the stages like a Bible, and into a place you don't have to rush for a bed each night!

There are buses all day long from the Madrid airport Terminal 4 (T4) to Pamplona.  You literally just have to walk outside the terminal to find the bus.  The bus is nothing like the nasty old Greyhound bus we have here in the USA. Spain has excellent, beautiful Mercedes buses with HUGE sightseeing windows. The trip to Pamplona is very comfortable and it will give you an opportunity to see the scenery.  The cost from the airport to Pamplona at this time runs around €30.  So add €30 to your costs.

I do not suggest the train unless you are planning on staying a night or two in Madrid. The train is more expensive and it's more difficult to catch. You must take the Cercanius (do a search on this blog) to the Atocha train station then catch a train to Pamplona from there. The bus goes directly from the airport to Pamplona.

PAMPLONA TO SJPP or Roncesvalles.  Book a hostal that first night in Pamplona. Add this to your costs. Go onto and find an inexpensive place in the old section of Pamplona and book it.  Look for a place near the bus station so you can just walk to the station from your hostal.  You will have to give a credit card number, but if you are careful, you can book a place that allows you to cancel up to 48 hours before the stay.  Add this cost to your spreadsheet. For a single room you will pay €25-50. If you're with a friend, you can almost always find lodging for €30-60 and split it!

During the season, there are buses that go directly from Pamplona to SJPP. They cost €20. Add this to your costs.

If there are several of you, consider booking a taxi. Up to 9 people can go in one taxi and the cost can be split. If you are interested in this option, email me for more information. Marapi taxi runs this service and up to 9 people can fit in a bus taxi.

Another option is to book at Gite Corazon Puro. For around €43, they will pick you up in Pamplona, take you to their Gite in France, feed you, give you a bed, and drive you into St. Jean next morning to begin your walk. That is a great price! I have not stayed there, but have heard it is a most excellent Gite!  More information at their website:
Corazon Puro

The First Night in SJPP or Orisson or Roncesvalles.  Whether I'm staying in SJPP or Orisson, I book my first night.  In SJPP and Orisson, you can expect to pay €18 for a bed. In Roncesvalles this year it is €10 for a single pilgrim at the albergue.  Groups can book, but not individuals, but don't worry. The Roncesvalles albergue is HUGE and there is plenty of room. There are also several nice hotels there  - you can find them online along with their fees.  Add this to your spreadsheet.

Orisson will book you a bed. They will also book "half-board." This means you get dinner, your bed, and breakfast next morning. Not a bad deal and remember, things will get less expensive as soon as you cross the border into Spain. The Camino in France is known for being spendy.

The next 32 days.  Figure out how many days you think you'll need private lodging (if any). A private room is a wonderful way to treat yourself. It's especially nice in the larger cities, where you can take a rest day and tourist around.  I often will find a fellow pilgrim and split the cost of a room in one of the larger cities. But you can find inexpensive private rooms in most villages and cities with no problem.  Figuring high, I'd multiply the number of days you want a private by €35. But if you're careful, you can find a private room for under €30 pretty easily.

Then multiply the remaining days by €10.  This is an average. Some days will be donative (which does not mean FREE, but means leaving a donation on €5-€10, depending on if they feed you. Some days might be more. But €10 will work out as a good average cost per night in albergues and refuges.

If you are willing to sleep out or carry a tent, you can save most of the lodging costs. You could stay in a donativo refugio every few days to shower. I have slept out under the stars on the Via de la Plata and it is a wonderful memory! Last year, I watched for camping spots and found that if a person is stealthy, you can camp along most of the Camino. Tip: Most of the good camping spots are AFTER the villages. That's a good thing. You can shop for your food or eat at a bar, then walk on to find a place to pitch the tent or lay your sleeping bag. Just please carry out your trash and leave no trace!

On the other hand, a night in a Parador can be quite spendy!
But it just might be worth it to treat yourself once on the trip…
On my first Camino, walking the meseta was a cold, windy experience and I was sick. I got into Santo Domingo frozen and weary and the albergue didn't open until 4 pm!!!  I made an on-the-spot decision to go to the Parador. I didn't even ask the price. I just laid down my credit card and sighed with relief at the big cushy white bed and REAL bathtub!  I took 3 hot baths that night and was treated to breakfast in bed next morning. When I got the bill back home, I almost had a heart attack, but you know what? It was worth every penny!

A night at the Parador with bathtub and this breakfast cost me $300!
FOOD.  My personal food budget is €20 per day and I manage fine. I have a coffee and pastry or a slice of tortilla in the morning. I find a Menu del Dia for lunch (a better value than the Pilgrim Plate dinner), buy or make a bocadilla, and I picnic often.
Joe enjoying a picnic
Menu del Dia is a 3 course meal and averages €8. Pilgrim Plates for dinner range from €6.50 to €12, depending on where you are. A picnic lunch can be as little as €3 for bread, cheese, meat, and wine or juice. I've made pasta, sauce, bread and wine for €3 with food left over to share. See my blog on food on the Camino.

Pilgrim meal for 2 =  €3
Many albergues have a kitchen where you can cook.  You can buy inexpensive food, like pasta and sauce or sandwich makings at the tiendas along the way.
A €5 bowl of caldo verde and a €1 glass of wine can go a long way in satisfying you!
Some of the best meals and the most FUN meals I've had have been in donativo refugios, where there are family style meals served. You can't beat the company, especially if there's wine and a guitar!

Anyway, decide what type of meals you would like, multiply it by the number of days and add this to your budget. But for me, €20 is a good average.

After dinner wine at San Nicholas

Paella with our host, Pepe
Lodging in Santiago.  You can find lodging in Santiago for €15 and up, depending on your tastes. If you are adventurous, you can walk into a bar OUT of the tourist area and ask if they know of rooms.  I found a wonderful room last year for €15 this way.

If you aren't that bold, I would book private lodging ahead here. If you want a pilgrim room at San Martin Pinario, you can book via email. The cost is €23 and it includes a huge buffet breakfast. The rooms are sweet, clean, simple, ensuite and the Hospederia is gorgeous!  Again, consider sharing a double or triple with other pilgrims and you can save quite a bit of cash.

Pilgrim room at SMP. Sometimes the window is much smaller, but the room is clean and ensuite!
Train or bus BACK to Madrid.  There are trains and buses from Santiago to Madrid each and every day.  I do not like the night train. It's noisy and uncomfortable, and I like to see the scenery.  But there is an afternoon train.  I prefer the lovely Mercedez Benz buses in Spain!  Find bus ticket costs on or on   Don't forget to add this cost in.

By the way, if you're booking bus tickets on ALSA, use Paypal. They don't like credit cards unless they are Spanish.

If you're flying out of Madrid, consider adding a day of touristing. Lots to see in Madrid and if you book early, you can get a hostal right near the Atocha station so you can just train back to the airport when you are ready to leave. Check for prices.

I add in a couple of hundred bucks for incidentals and that's it.
This budget can have a wide range, but this will get you started.

If you're really wanting to go SUPER inexpensively, do the following:

1) Shop around and buy airfare early
2) Buy gear at Goodwill or borrow it
3) Use what's in your closet - you do NOT need special gear
4) Eat picnic style
5) Carry a featherweight tent and camp
6) Research and stay in parochials when possible.

Remember, if the albergue or parochial feeds you, please leave a donation from your food budget as well as your sleeping budget. They don't run on air! Tomorrow's pilgrims will eat according to what you donate tonight - so please pay it forward.

If all of this overwhelms you, consider walking with one of our small groups.
We do "the best" of the Camino, in our opinion in 24 days.
Our 2014 trips are full, but we still have some spaces for 2015.
In 2015, we are taking two "women only" groups and one mixed group.
We are also taking 7 day groups from Sarria to Santiago and we provide a LOT of support,
including a walking companion.

Learn about that here:
Anniewalkers Camino

I know I haven't covered everything,
but this will sure get you started.

Have fun planning and BUEN CAMINO!
Feel free to post questions.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Beauty at a Cost

I pride myself in being low-maintenance.
I take showers and wash my hair.
I brush my teeth.
I use coconut oil when my skin is dry.
I keep my hair cut short.

Except for that - what you see is what you get.

A Facebook friend recently posted a photo of an old time permanent machine.
It sent my mind racing back into time and the bizarre things
we women (and men) do out of vanity.

Here is a treasury of memories…

Oh my!

Before Sun Screen we just covered up!

This machine measures your face for imperfections

Dusting a wig

How we got curls

These hairstyles would give me a headache!

RADIUM cream????!!

For puffy faces...

Removing freckles with CO2

If I were a child seeing this, I'd be traumatized!
Cures for baldness, including radiation!

Complexion Aid.

This and the one above were REALLY to increase bust size.
Here it is again...

 Pretty scary, huh?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Fallen Pilgrims

The latest pilgrim to fall on the Camino, a 30 year old healthy male who took the pass in snow.

Last year, while walking the Camino,
my friend, Methodist Pilgrim,
went to sleep in the albergue,
and never woke up.

All along the Camino, pilgrims will pass memorials
to those who have died on The Way
and to those who are being remembered back home.

Today, a Facebook Friend posted this poem,
and I thought it was beautiful,
and so I share it
in memory of those pilgrims we've lost.
* * *

A Poem for Grief by John O'Donohue

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

John O’Donohue