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.

Avoiding Car Hire Additional Charges

With online booking comparison sites (I like to use CarTrawler) and increased competition in the car hire market, there are some great bargains to be had. But when you turn up to hire the car, you can often be stung for some very expensive extras.

Earlier this month, we hired a ‘compact’ car in Salerno from Budget Car Rental, and it cost us €242 for a week, which is a pretty decent price. However, when we turned up to collect the car, the agent tried to sell a whole load of additional things.

First off, he informed us that our rental only included ‘basic’ insurance, which has a damage excess of €1,500. This means that if we were involved in any accident, we would be charged an additonal €1,500 to fix the car – and with the stories we’d heard of Italian drivers, we though an accident was more likely than not! And if the car was stolen the excess to pay would be a staggering €2,299!

He encourages us to reduce these excesses to zero, by upgrading the insurance cover to the ‘complete cover’ option for the price of €21.78 per day – that’s an additional €154! And to add in Personal Accident Insurance (which arguably might not be needed if you already have travel insurance) it would be another €12.10 per day – or €85 for the week. That’s a total of €239, which almost doubles the price of the rental.

Luckily, we had been forewarned of this insurance scam by a friend of ours that rents cars quite often. She put us on to Car Hire Excess Insurance, which can be used to provide the same protection against huge excess payments, but for significantly less money. Within Europe they charge just €2.99 per day to reduce your excess to zero, and if you hire a lot of cars you can get an annual policy for €49.99, which is still a third of the price the rental agent was going to charge us.

In addition, I noted that these were the prices for the other ‘optional extras’:

  • Under age driver (21-25 years old) – €18.15 per day
  • Additional driver – €5.00 per day
  • Booster seat – €7.26 per day
  • Toddler seat – €24.81 per day
  • Infant seat – €24.81 per day
  • GPS – €14.52 per day

If you had a bunch of young children with you, it would cost an absolute fortune!  In fact I’m sure it would be cheaper to bring child seats with you on holiday, even as excess luggage on a flight, rather than pay these prices.

I did consider whether we might need a GPS to get around, but at €102 for the week, it was cheaper and easier to use the navigation functions on our smartphones, even if it did incur mobile data roaming charges.

We’re all going on a…

Yesterday was the end of term, and the cathedral choir are now on summer holiday for the next 8 weeks.

Not that it feels like summer. It’s been throwing it down with rain for weeks on end, and it’s also unseasonably cold and windy. And there appears to be little sign of an improvement in weather conditions in the near future.

But weather aside, it’s good to know that we have some time off from our singing duties. I can reclaim my weekends, and do all the jobs I’ve been putting off over the last term. Although, having said that, I’m just as likely to miss the singing as well. During the recent half-term break, I ended up getting very bored, and I only had to survive a week without music.

It doesn’t help, as well, that almost my entire social life seems to revolve around the choir people. And without them, I would appear to be a bit of a ‘Billy no-mates’. So I can only hope that at least some of them are going to stick around in the city over the summer.

A few folk – sadly – will not be around, as they’re leaving the choir to go on and do bigger and better things. And we took the opportunity to say goodbye to them after evensong yesterday. The director of music made a bit of a speech, leaving presents were handed out, and quite a lot of alcohol was consumed.

Of course, come the start of next year in September, we’ll be welcoming a bunch of new people to replace the folk that left: a new organ scholar, and various different singers. One much-heralded arrival, however, looks like it might not happen. Rumour has it that one of our new tenors may have received a ‘better offer’ and is currently trying to back out of his contract. Which would be a shame, as we were all rather looking forward to having a full-strength tenor line again.

Even so, the choir still has many exciting things to look forward to at the start of next term, including two live BBC broadcasts, three concerts, a combined service with another cathedral choir, and three carol services just before Christmas. It’s going to be a fun term. Can’t wait!

Term Times and Holidays

It may be interesting for some people not involved in cathedral music to learn that choirs normally operate around academic terms.

The involvement of children as boy and girl trebles, and also of young adults as choral scholars, means that choirs very often have to work in sync with schools and universities. The autumn (Michaelmas) term will, however, be extended up to Christmas Day. And similarly the winter term from mid-January onwards is extended up until Easter Day. A week or two of holiday is then often given both after Christmas and Easter. During the summer, a break of about eight weeks is pretty much the norm – usually during July and August (again fitting in with school/university holidays).

When the choir is on holiday, there may not be any music in church, and services may instead be said. This is often a disappointment for visitors on holiday themselves, who may have come along specially to hear the choir. However, during these holiday periods other visiting choirs may take over the duty of singing the regular services in the cathedral. However, it is best to check in advance, to avoid disappointment. The more high-profile cathedrals will mostly have a full schedule of visiting choirs, but other more parochial cathedrals will have gaps in their musical services.

During the holiday periods, the cathedral choir itself may go on tour either nationally or abroad; often fulfilling the duties of a visiting choir in one or more other cathedrals. University and college chapels will often go on tour as well, as well as some parish church choirs.

Appointments to cathedral music jobs often also fit in with academic year pattern. Vacancies for new directors, organists, and layclerks are advertised throughout the year, but the majority of new appointments are made from September onwards.

Similarly places offered to trebles, choral scholars, and organ scholars are based upon academic years – from September to June. However, auditions for these roles can often happen many months in advance – with applications required towards the end of the proceeding calendar year.

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