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.

Our grand anniversary adventure

It was our wedding anniversary at the weekend, and with nothing organised it seemed like a good idea to go away for the night to celebrate.

We had left it to the last minute to book, and so most of Ireland’s best hotels were fully booked. But here was this one particular hotel in Mullingar, Westmeath, that had availability – and more to the point, it bore the same name as us – the Bloomfield House Hotel.

The decision to go seemed obvious, if a little contrived. Our grand adventure would be for the Bloomfields to stay at Bloomfield House, and it would would be glamorous and hilarious – well that was the plan.

Sadly the Bloomfield House Hotel didn’t quite live up to its advertised 4-star billing, and our visit wasn’t nearly as glamorous and hilarious as we first imagined.

The hotel itself is the product of various expansions and extensions over time, and as such the layout is somewhat haphazard. To get to our room from reception, we needed to head along a corridor, through the entire length of the bar (dragging our suitcases behind us), passed the queue for the carvery, through a couple of doors, down a ramp, and then up the slowest lift on the planet.

The room itself was… OK… but quite dated. The food was… OK… but the chef clearly didn’t know how to cook a steak properly. The bed was uncomfortable. The hotel was over-run with noisy children who never seemed to go to bed (which admittedly is not the fault of the hotel). The adjoining door to the next room was paper-thin – so much so that we could hear what they were watching on TV. And the wifi? Oh My God – I’ve never used something so unreliable and slow.

All of which meant that our grand adventure wasn’t that grand, or glamorous, or hilarious after all.

But still, we managed to have a nice anniversary.

I’m just glad we didn’t book for the second night!

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