Preparation for the Camino

It’s just over 3 weeks until we head off to Spain to walk the last 115km of the ‘French Way’ of the Camino.

As the date approaches fast, I’m getting a bit worried about my physical ability to do this walking. We’re not planning on pushing it too hard on the walk, but we are hoping to do 15-20km a day, but it’s something I’m not used to doing.

Two things have got me obsessed in the last few weeks:

  1. Do I have all the right kit? I’ve been reading loads of ‘Camino Packing Lists’ on the web to make sure I have all the right ‘stuff’ to take with me. And with all of this helpful (if not always consistent) advice online it means that I’ve been obsessing about whether I have the right shoes, the right backpack, and right socks, the right underwear, and so on. My obsession has also manifested itself in large spending sprees buying ‘technical’ sports clothing that I’ve never worn before, including wicking and lightweight t-shirts and shorts!
  2. Can I walk that far? In preparation for going away, I’ve been trying to do a lot more walking than normal. I’m a fairly active person, but my main form of transport every day is cycling rather than walking. As such I’ve been forcing myself to get out and walk a bit more in preparation. For the last couple of weeks I’ve taken to walking in to work twice a week wearing all the gear: the socks, shoes, clothes, and backpack that I plan to use for the Camino. It’s about 7km from my home to the office, which is maybe 40-50% of the distance we’ll be doing each day on the Camino.

The ‘right kit’ obsession manifested itself again today as I spent a good 20 minutes on Amazon checking out all the blister treatment and prevention options. Which then led me to looking at walking socks – even though I already have good ones.

If I’m not careful I’ll bankrupt myself buying walking stuff before I even make it to Spain!

I also need to convince myself to think past the Camino about the rest of the holiday we’ve planned after the walk. So far I haven’t given it a moment’s thought. But the idea is that we’re travelling on to a beach resort near to Barcelona, presumably to lie on the beach and compare our blisters!

Maybe I should also consider this ‘apres walk’ part of the holiday, because no doubt by then I’ll be sick of all the technical walking gear, and I’ll just need a pair of swimming shorts and a couple of t-shirts!

We have this plan to walk the Camino

Ever since I watched the Martin Sheen movie ‘The Way‘, about a man who walks the Camino (or The Way of St James) to Santiago de Compostela, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of walking it myself.

I’m not driven by some deep religious longing to go on a devotional pilgrimage, but rather I’m drawn by the idea of doing something that’s vaguely healthy and might also be a very interesting experience.

There are many different routes that people take, and some of them are as much as 800 km long! I’m not sure I have the time or stamina to do something that long. However it seems to be entirely feasible and a popular option to do the last 100 km in about a week.

The idea is that we would walk this last section into Santiago, and then maybe fly on somewhere afterwards to spend a second week lying on the beach – no doubt tending to my bashed and bruised feet.

Nothing’s booked yet, but we’re thinking of doing it in September. The weather will still be nice (but hopefully not too hot) and it’ll be past the peak holiday season, and so not as expensive.

Initial Preparations

It may be five months until we go, but that doesn’t mean the initial preparations can’t start now.

For me that doesn’t mean practising walking. No, it means starting to obsess about the size of my rucksack!

Do I get a medium-sized one, or a small one? We’re planning to stay in hotels along the route (I didn’t do shared hostel rooms in my youth, so I’m not going to start now), so we don’t need to carry any camping gear or bedding.

So in theory, if I packed light, I could carry everything I need with me. After all, what does a modern-day traveller need these days except for a change of clothes, a smartphone and charger, and a credit card? Actually, maybe a few more things, but I’ll worry about that nearer the time.

If I do decide to bring a lot of stuff then there are services available to transfer bags between hotels on the route, so I won’t need to carry it all if I don’t want to. During the day I could make do with a good pair of shoes and a water bottle, and meet the rest of my stuff at the next hotel.

My mind is also undecided about whether to use walking poles. Some people advocate their use as they can reduce the strain on the legs, while others say they are more of a hindrance than a help.

The problem, I guess, is that there are seemingly hundreds of websites offering camino walking advice to newbies and experienced hikers alike, and it’s difficult to know what to believe when they often contradict each other! Certainly the suggested packing lists can seem quite daunting, and I worry that it might get quite expensive to buy all the specialist gear they recommend.

The Essentials

At the moment I think I probably need new walking shoes. I have some existing ones, but they’re quite cheap and a bit old and battered, and also quite heavy – so I worry my feet might suffer in them over the long distance.

I also think I probably need some proper walking socks. I had a bad experience a couple of years ago walking 26 km in one day and getting huge blisters on both feet, and I think it was entirely down to the socks. They were cotton, and they got sweaty and stayed sweaty and then started rubbing. So good socks are a definite.

I’ll park the decision about the rucksack and walking polls for now, and perhaps obsess about hydration instead. They say you should carry around 2 litres of water with you each day. I don’t like those hydration bladder things, as the whole experience of sucking on the rubber tube to get a drink is just horrible! So I think I might need to invest in a nice water bottle. After all they’re very useful in normal life as well – whereas you’d look a fool walking around the office with a water bladder strapped to your back!

I’m sure there’s a whole load of other stuff that I’m going to need as well, and I think I should start compiling a list. Otherwise I know that I’m going to end up panic-buying high priced outdoor gear at the last minute.

Using taxi hailing apps at Dublin Airport

There’s been some discussion recently about whether taxis should be forced to accept card payments.

When arriving at an airport you would have thought it would be especially important that taxis accept credit and debit cards – but it seems there’s no requirement on the taxis licensed to pick up at Dublin airport to take cards.

Here’s a recent tweet from the Dublin Airport twitter account in response to a question on the matter:

One obvious way to ensure you can pay by card is to book a taxi using one of the hailing apps such as myTaxi. But there doesn’t appear to be anywhere in Dublin Airport for passengers to get picked up by app-hailed taxis.

Only certain pre-approved taxis are allowed to join the official airport taxi rank, and so app-hailed pickups often take place at other random parts of the airport – at the departures drop-off area, at the bus stops, or on some random side-street. The taxis aren’t allowed to wait in these areas, so they circle the airport until their passengers are in position and then swoop in collect them.

I tweeted Dublin Airport to ask them if they had a designated area for pre-booked taxis to pick up passengers, but they never replied to me. I guess their answer would be that they would prefer that taxis park up in the short-term car park, and come into the terminal to collect passengers – but they would say that, because they generate a lot of revenue from their car parks!

Also as a passenger I don’t really want to pay the additional parking fees for my taxi.

So what’s the solution?

Maybe Dublin Airport needs to think about providing a designated area (perhaps where all the buses park up and wait) in the airport for app-hailed taxi pickups – one that allows taxis to wait for a few minutes for their passengers to arrive.

Is Ireland facing a transportation crisis?

It seems that not a week goes by these days without another news story about our transportation network.

A few weeks ago we had a three-week strike by Bus Eireann drivers. Over the last few days there was a call for increased road capacity on the N11 as it is so severely congested, and at the same time four people die every day in Ireland as a result of air pollution, about half of which is attributed to traffic emissions.

Certainly there’s a problem with transportation in this country, particularly in our cities. Our over-reliance on cars to get about is only going to get worse over time. Particularly when 44% have a perception that public transport is difficult to use.

The answer is definitely not to build more roads. That’s not going to ease congestion or reduce pollution – it will just encourage more people to drive, and make the situation worse. The only answer is to get people out of their cars, and get them using more sustainable transport options – public transport, cycling and walking.

But how do you convince people to leave the car at home?

We need a mind-shift in Ireland. We need a change in attitude amongst the people that this needs to be tackled. And we need to decide, once and for all, whether we want a properly-funded and sustainable transport network.

That means putting proper investment into trains, busses (including Bus Eireann), trams, cycle lanes, and footpaths – to make our cities into places where its safe and easy to get about without a car. It’s only then, once we’ve made the investment, that people will finally (and willingly) leave their cars behind and we will see lasting reductions in congestion and pollution.

Unfortunately the political will at the moment seems to be leaning in a different direction. Instead of the carrot approach of making sustainable travel appealing, they are making noises about the stick approach of increasing taxation on diesel cars – through increasing fuel duties and tolls. These are the same diesel cars that the government of 10-15 years ago were trying to persuade people to buy, in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

Commute time war stories

I don't know about you, but in my office over the last week or two, there has been loads of discussion amongst my colleagues about the worsening traffic congestion in Dublin. In fact, they seem to find some kind of comfort over the bonding exercise of sharing their horrific commute times war stories.

One colleague has recently gone from a 25 minute drive over the summer to a 2-hour drive now that the schools/colleges are back. That's a long time in anyone's day to be stuck in traffic!

Another colleague realised that, after sitting in traffic queues for an hour, she would have been much quicker leaving the car at home and walking to work.

From listening to the numerous conversations, it's hard for me to comprehend these long commute times, because my journey to work on the bike hasn't changed at all. I can certainly see that the roads have gotten a lot busier, and that previous free-flowing traffic has been replaced with long queues, but they don't really affect me that much.

As a cyclist I can skip past most of the queues. There are one or two narrow sections of roads where there's not enough space for me to get past the cars. I don't want to mount the pavement, as some cyclists do, so I take my place in the queue and wait – but it only ever adds about 1 or 2 minutes to my journey.

If I were to commute by car across south Dublin, the accepted wisdom seems to be that I would need to set off from home before 7.30am in order to guarantee that I would be in before 9.00am. Even a few minutes after 7.30, apparently, and the traffic would be so bad that I wouldn't get in till about 9.30.

Leaving home before 7.30am is a bit of a mental stretch for me. I'm a fairly early riser, but that seems especially early to me. I'm normally still in the shower at that point of the day.

And while I acknowledge that there are some conveniences to using a car, these commute times would be a serious deal-breaker.

I think I'll stick with the bike, and my current departure time of just after 8.00am. I can get into the office in about 20-minutes, regardless of the time of year.

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