House Tour

Before my Camino trip, I settled into my new house for the year!

I arrived in Brighton on the 12th of September and moved in the next morning. Once everyone was at the house, the agent walked us through the house and explained how to do inventory. Everything in the house looked (relatively) okay (for a student house) except my bed: I was expecting to have a single bed (I even bought sheets and everything at this point), but the bed in my room was a double and dominated the already small room. I inquired about changing my bed to a smaller one with the landlord, but after a few days of slow progress, I decided to keep the bed I have now. It’s brand new and really comfortable and heaven knows what they’d give me instead if I switched. Unfortunately, I couldn’t return my single-sized duvet, so it looks a bit goofy on my double bed.

Once the agent left, it was crunch time. The lot of us hurried around town buying things we needed for the house and making repairs. After a few full days of shopping, we finally got everything we needed. The next few days, we all got to know each other (besides Diego who waited a few more weeks to move in) and had a great time playing card games and drinking (some of us more than others…) (okay, that might have been me).

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Lessons Learned on the Camino

Going into my pilgrimage more or less blind, I came out learning a few things:

  • Signposting: I really should have known this before I left, but yes, the Way is posted! Once you know what the signs look like and you have that search image, it’s really hard to get lost. Also look for the signs on cafes, hostels and restaurants, they may offer a pilgrim discount!
  • Stamps and certificate: I also should have known the rules of the stamps before I set off, but the completion certificate wasn’t exactly my endgame. You can read about it more in detail here, but for walkers, you need at least two stamps a day for the last 100 kilometers to earn a completion certificate in Santiago. Your best bet for stamps are tourist offices and hostels, but even restaurants, cafes and bars might dish them out, especially the closer you get to Santiago de Compostela.
  • Start early: The earlier you start, the earlier you get you pick of hostels at your destination for the day. Plus, with breaks for lunch, admiring the view, walking around town or simply fatigue, walking is going to take you longer than you expect.
  • Not so fast…: As the uncultured American I am, before this trip, I have never eaten grapes with seeds in them or fish with bones in. If you’re not familar with the local food, take small bites at first, you never know what you’ll find.
  • Don’t look and walk: If the view is nice, stop and then have a look around, don’t keep walking. It’s not worth a twisted ankle.
  • Snacks galore: In some areas, food is hard to come by. Some days, I would have to walk miles still at peak meal times to get to the next village that had a food shop. Pack snacks, but not too much so that it adds an uncomfortable weight to your bag. I usually only carried around a few pieces of fruit and granola at a time.
  • Crossing water: On my Way, I had to cross into Spain by ferry. What I hadn’t even considered was the tide that could effect ferry times. Thankfully, I got to the port at high tide so I could cross immediately, but don’t rely on my luck. Do your own research about tides if you have to cross water.
  • Don’t stop at the first place you see: I know you’ve had a long day of walking, and so do the locals of towns through which the Camino crosses. I reckon on the outskirts of town, the prices are especially high as weary travelers would be willing to pay most anyting to lay their head down. My general rule of thumb was to skip the first few lodging places and go into the proceeding few and stick with the cheapest option of those.
  • Don’t dock hotels: While pilgrim hostels (albergues) are cheap and a good way to meet fellow peregrinos, hotels can be a nice break to have a big, comfortable bed and private bathroom for a small cost more. The hostels I stayed in were about €15 per night, where a simple hotel room was about €25. Not a big difference for the upgrade of value!
  • Don’t keep up with anyone: While getting to know other pilgrims on the Way is exciting, I don’t recommend walking with them. Everyone has their own pace and to make your Camino most enjoyable, you shouldn’t have to answer to anyone else’s. The best place to talk is in the hostel at the end of the day while you’re all relaxing!
  • “It’s your Camino”: This is what I was told when I was caught jamming to my music out loud by a walker that snuck up on me. I apologized, embarrassed, but she simply told me, “But comfortable, it’s your Camino.” Do whatever makes your walk most enjoyable.
  • Don’t set a break time: With the gears constantly going in my head, I was always concerned about when and where would be a good place to rest; I would try to set times or distances to aim for. While keeping up a good pace is a good goal, listing to your body is more important. It’s simple: take a break when you want to, walk when you want to.
  • Plan for days off: You’re going to need it.
  • What I wish I brought: In my preparation post, I talked about what I packed. Additionally, I wish I packed an umbrella or rain poncho, a casual outfit, flip flops, light blanket (some hostels only give out a fitted sheet to lay on), no cotton (I brought exactly one cotton shirt and I sweat through it in a matter of minutes, stick with lighter material), a few pens and cell phone service (I was originally going to go without service, but my U.K. provider includes service in the E.U. for free. I don’t know what I would have done without it).
  • Training: With my training, my objectives were to break in my shoes and build stamina. Clearly, my shoes weren’t broken into enough (or simply not of high quality) as I had to stop my Way early due to horrible blisters. My training was so small and infrequent I’m not sure how much of a difference it made. When I train next time, my main objective will be to understand what causes my blisters and how best to take care of them seeing as they were my biggest problem on this Camino.
  • What to research: While winging it worked more or less for me, here are a few things I wish I would have known: alternatives to get to your destination if you get hurt or tired (I used the Rome2Rio app on the road), different stretches to relieve pain you experience in training, different types of accommodation and perhaps a brief history about the places you’ll be staying and passing through.

 

Camino de Santiago: Portuguese Coastal Way

I will start off with a small disclaimer: I didn’t finish. My blisters became too much and on top of that, I fell ill with a whooping cough and was unable to continue. I pushed my body too hard in such a short amount of time and I wish I had done things a little differently (read about how I prepared here), but I had a great time seeing what I could on my 80-mile pilgrimage up the coast of Portugal and Spain. I will write a more in-depth reflection piece in the days to come, but until then, enjoy the bones of my journey!

Saturday, 16 September: My flight to Porto left at 5AM, so needless to say, I had to be up really early (about 2AM) to get the coach to the airport. By the time I got to my hostel and looked up things to do, I found a walking tour that was leaving promptly, so I ran to make it. The walking tour gave us a taste of the city’s interesting history. My personal favorite parts were the Santa Clara church, cathedral (which is actually the original starting point of the Camino, so I started my Camino passport with a stamp from that cathedral) (for those who don’t know, you get a certificate of completion for you get stamps twice a day from hostels, churches, tourist offices, etc. along the last 100 kilometers of your walk) and the riverside. With the early start I had, I took a nap, ate dinner, blogged (the hostel had some desktops computers from which I wrote this bit of the post), read and got an early night.

Sunday, 17 September: I took a train from Porto to Vila do Conde to save myself an extra 16 miles (25.6 kilometers). The first part of the day took me along the beach, then through small rural villages inland leading me to the seaside village of Esposende, where I stopped for the day. The hostel I found was full, but thy let me sleep on the sleeper sofa in reception area for a discounted price, which was surprisingly comfortable. Then again, after the walk I had, I could have slept comfortably on a slab of stone.

  • Walked: 18.2 miles (23.3 kilometers)
  • Highlight: A few miles along the coast, I found a bar where I got my first stamp and encountered my first distinct signposting, what a relief!
  • Lowlight: The language barrier. I don’t understand a lick of Portuguese which is really difficult in villages where English is hard to come by.

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Long Haul Flights

Since September 2015, I’ve made the transatlantic flight from the United States to the United Kingdom six times. That’s a lot of time to kill.

Here are some of my best tips to surviving such flights:

Booking: The first step in surviving long flights is to book your flight to make it as easy on yourself as possible. The best value flights to me are the ones with only one layover (I actually prefer one layover to none on such long flights because it gives me a chance to look at something that isn’t the back of the seat in front of me and walk around). I also prefer layovers that are about two hours long. Finally, I prefer to land later in the day to avoid jet lag. I compare these parameters with price to choose the best flight for me. If you are taller, you might want to consider an exit row seat or otherwise premium seat for the extra leg room.

What to wear: For such long flights, I try to dress as comfortable as possible. I usually wear a t-shirt, leggings, long socks and a light jacket with a hood. I make sure that every inch of my body (except my hands and face) are covered because there is nothing more uncomfortable than a small sliver of skin being blasted with the airplane air conditioner.

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Music Monday: Favorite Albums of the Year

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you know that I do months in review posts religiously. In these, I include new material I’ve watched, read and listened to, with my favorites in bold.

Here are some of my absolute favorite albums I listened to for the first time in the last year or so:

Icon for Hire by Icon for Hire: My brother got me into this lesser known rock band and we got to see them live together this past May! Their vocalist has one of my favorite voices of all-time and they write about important topics such as a woman’s place in the music industry and mental health. Top tracks: Cynics and Critics, Watch Me and Hope of Morning.

Puzzle by Biffy Clyro: Although I’ve been a fan of Biffy Clyro for about five years now, I never actively listened to Puzzle until a few months before I saw them live last March. It’s a bit more solemn than I care for, but it still has some amazing songs that make for easy listening. Top tracks: Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies, Saturday Superhouse and Get Fucked Stud.

The Artist In The Ambulance by Thrice: After getting into a few tracks, I decided to give the whole album a listen. Thrice is one of my favorite bands and this is my second favorite album of theirs after Beggars. Top tracks: Silhouette, Hoods on Peregrine and The Melting Point of Wax.

Favourite Worst Nightmare by Arctic Monkeys: I first got into Arctic Monkeys a few years ago with the release of arguably their most popular album AM. I loved AM for so long, it was hard to imagine I could like any of their work as much as that album, but Favourite Worst Nightmare takes the cake. Top tracks: D Is for Dangerous, 505 and Only Ones Who Know.

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Planning for the Camino de Santiago

Ever since I watched The Way in Spanish class in high school, I wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago. At first, I was really stressed about where to stay, how long it would take me, how to prepare physically, what to bring and more. But after speaking with someone who has hiked it themselves at says it’s not something you have to bend over backwards preparing for, I was put at ease. Regardless, I still did all the preparing I could to make this trip go as smoothly as possible:

Choosing my way: I don’t know how I came to decide on the Portuguese way, exactly. Perhaps because I’ve never been to Portugal and flights to Porto were cheap. Either way, upon looking at Camino ways starting in Porto, I had two options: the Coastal Way or the Central Way. I love the beach, so I went with the Coastal Way, even though it’s a couple miles longer, in hopes that a nice sea breeze will keep me cool on my trek.

Self-guided tour, guided tour or completely solo?: Upon looking for travel tips, I stumbled across a tour company called Camino Ways that offer a wide range of tours on several different Ways. The difference between guided and self-guided tours with this company are self-explanatory and with the company, you get to build your own package of hotel stays and create your itinerary with the option of dinner, airport transfer and luggage transfer between stops. For the Portuguese Coastal Way (last 100 kilometers only), the self-guided tours start at €550 for accommodation alone for five nights and the guided tours start at €1,000 for seven nights all inclusive (you don’t have the option to customize your trip like you can with the self-guided). Between the two, I would prefer the self-guided tour, but €100 per night just in accommodation seems quite expensive, even considering the “price” of convenience. So, I decided to book the whole thing from scratch using various websites and forums to answer any questions I had (I will list all resources I used at the bottom of this post).  

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From Exchange Student to Resident

After about a week of living in Brighton during my year abroad, I knew I wanted to move back. There’s no place like it in the world and since the day I left, I’ve dreamed of going back to stay. Now that I’m heading back this afternoon, it’s been quite a journey and not always an easy one. For anyone who wants to move out of the country, particularly from the United States to the United Kingdom, you have to really want it; it’s a lot of work, time, money and energy.

In this post, I will walk about the processes I went through for my move:

Entering the country: First, I had to figure out a way to enter the country legally upon graduation. My options were either to get a work sponsorship visa or a student visa and go on to my Master’s degree. For obvious reasons, my first choice was to try for a job.

I started looking at a job board for companies with vacancies that offer visa sponsorships in Brighton. On average, I applied for about a job a week, taking my time to write cover letters well for positions I was really interested in. In early December, I had a Skype interview with Frontier (a conservation non-government organization) for an unpaid internship. The good news is I got the position, but they could not supply me with a visa. So, back to square one…

Realizing that companies would probably only supply a visa for exceptional workers, I changed directions and started applying for a few graduate programs. The student visa will allow me to obtain a Master’s degree from a British institute, making me more fit for a job there upon graduation and allow me to work up to twenty hours a week during my degree. I applied for several different programs, but chose to accept my offer to study at the University of Sussex under a Master of Research in Conservation Biology program.

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