Hand-Feeding Deer

Wednesday, August 31, 2011  at 6:58 AM
The town that we are volunteering in has the oddest attraction at its center--a huge, fenced field, home to a small herd of deer.  Furthermore, there is a small vending machine where you can buy boxes of 'approved deer food' to hand feed to these deer.  The deer are so used to this that whenever the money clinks into the machine, their ears prick up and they start sauntering towards the fence!  Of course, I had virtually limitless joy in feeding, petting and playing with these unusual domesticated animals.

stag closeup by Danalynn C
This was the first time I had ever been so close to a deer!

danalynn feeding deer by Danalynn C
Obviously this was an exciting experience for me.

Hand Feeding Deer by Danalynn C
This was our view of the deer as they eagerly ate the cracked corn and grains we fed them.

Petting a Deer by Danalynn C
They looked rather like overgrown stuffed animals, but they were real! 

Feeding Deer by Danalynn C
The deer came right up to the fence, which was fantastic.

family feeding deer by Danalynn C
This was obviously a popular family activity.

Closeup of a Deer Eating by Danalynn C
Ears perking up as more deer realized they were missing out on being fed. 
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Featured Artist: David Scheirer

Tuesday, August 30, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Welcome to the latest installment of my Featured Artist series, where I share some of my favorite artists from around the world.   It's fun seeing the different ways people view the places they go! 

I admire the artwork of David Scheirer, who manages to create artwork that is both whimsical and breathtaking.  Working primarily with watercolors and India ink, he creates stunningly realistic watercolor paintings as well as quirky watercolor illustrations.  His love for the outdoors and for maritime scenery is expressed directly in his paintings.

I was able to interview David and find out a bit more about the behind the scenes process.

Sharks at Coral Reef by David Scheirer

Is your preliminary sketching process similar for your illustrations and for your realistic paintings?
     It’s funny, my preliminary sketches for the illustrations are much more involved. They look similar to the final pieces – I like to have all the different elements down on paper before I start. My sketches for my realistic paintings are very quick just to map out composition, often I don’t sketch at all. Not exactly sure why this is.

Puffin by David Scheirer

Do you travel at all?  If you do, is there a particular subject that you tend to paint while traveling?

     I do, it is very inspiring. I like to paint small objects I find when traveling – usually things found in nature like feathers, acorns, seaweed, plants, etc. I also recently got back into some landscape painting, after my visit to Maine this summer. I prefer painting small watercolors, which luckily lends itself well to travel.

Fishing Lures by David Scheirer

What is your favorite animal to draw?
     I recently started drawing some sharks, they are very fun. Owls are fairly annoying to draw (one of my favorite animals). I just began a project of 100 owl illustrations, maybe towards the end they will become easier.

(Note: You can see David's 100 owl illustration series here)
Owl Feathers by David Scheirer

Do you most enjoy sketching from your imagination, from a reference photo, or from life?  Which one do you do the most?
     I’m not opposed any of these methods, but I enjoy painting from life very much, and do so whenever possible. Drawing and doodling from my imagination is a nice change of pace. It can be a lot of fun – which I probably why I started drawing the more whimsical illustrations. 

Salmon and Bear by David Scheirer

Last, but certainly not least...

What is your favorite snack to eat while sketching?
     I’m partial to Graham crackers with peanut butter and chocolate milk.

Seals and Whale by David Scheirer

Thank you David for the lovely interview!  David's website, Studio Tuesday, is filled with plenty more illustrations for you to enjoy.

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Chris' Gear List

Monday, August 29, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by: Chris Coulon
After much postponement and delay I have finally taken the time to put my packing list down in print.  Here is the collection of items that I have brought along on our trip to compliment what Danalynn already has in her own pack.

packing contents
Here are the contents of my pack before leaving the States

-          Quick-dry Travel Pants
-          Cargo Shorts
-          Long-sleeved shirts (3)—Two of these are synthetic quick-dry and light, the third is cotton so that I can soak it in water to keep me cool in hot places.
-          Wool socks both thick and thin (3)
-          Wool underpants (3)
-          Under Armor pants and shirt in case I get caught sleeping outside when it’s wet or to use as an additional thermal layer.
-          Hiking boots, light and comfortable for long distance hikes on dirt and concrete
-          Vibram five-fingers, very light and packable secondary shoes
-          Synthetic Sweatshirt (Mammut’s Ultimate Hoody)
-          Down Jacket

Camping Morocco
 One of my makeshift campsites on a roof in a Moroccan village, Atlas Mountains

Miscellaneous Items:
-          Down Sleeping bag, this is rated for cold temperatures in case we find ourselves outside in cold places.
-          Poncho, nylon cord in 4’ sections (5), Tent steaks (5).  This 5’X8’ poncho serves to cover me and my backpack in the rain but also can be used as a make-shift shelter.
-          Liquid Stove, Pot, lighter, spare stove parts and fuel.
-          Wide brimmed cowboy hat, this proved most useful during our HelpX work and especially on the Camino.
-          Decent sunglasses
-          Compass
-          Deodorant
-          1 Litre Water Bottle
-          3 Litre CamelBak, this is often not fully filled to save on weight but it is nice to have the option of carrying 4 litres of potable water at one time.
-          Journal and Two Pens
-          Shaving Razor
-          Toilette Paper
-          Toothbrush, Toothpaste and Floss
-          First-Aid Kit loaded with roller gauze, sterile gauze, band-aids of varying sizes and shapes including butterflies, Mole Skin, Anti-biotic paste, Ibprofen, Aspirin, tweezers, Bismuth Subsalicylate tablets, Loperamide pills, roll of athletic tape, 6’ of duct tape wrapped around a pencil, electrolyte tablets and disinfectant wipes.
-          Travel documents including Passport, Copy of Passport, Proof of Yellow Fever Vaccination, Two Credit Cards (visa and Mastercard), ATM Card, Student ID, Drivers license (as a secondary identification card).
-          4 Litre drysac for holding Kindle, Journal and important documents.
-          Bandana, this can be soaked in water and then worn in hot locations as well as a pre-filter for very turbid water and finally, it can become a makeshift cravat (triangular).
-          Sleeping pad, I used this quite a bit while camping in Morocco, Switzerland and the UK, but abandoned it in London because it made my backpack too large for carry-on luggage.

Down Sleeping Bag
 Kebba, one of my good friends, testing out my sleeping bag, Lugano Switzerland

-          Steri-pen.  This is a lightweight re-usable means to sterilize water, I have chosen a steri-pen that takes AA batteries so that they can be replaced anywhere in the world.
-          Headlamp also taking AA batteries.
-          Kindle loaded with over 400 books we would like to read.
-          Watch with an alarm clock.
-          Camera, battery charger and small screwdriver for dismantling/repairing camera.
-          Adapters for foreign outlets.

Laundry Day
 Laundry Day in the village of Imouzzer Marmoucha, Northern Morocco

After everything is packed and I am wearing one set of clothes and my boots, the dry weight of the bag is roughly 23lbs or 10kg and just fits the carry-on restrictions for most airlines, including Easyjet and RyanAir.  So far I have made use of everything that I packed, however some of the items are superfluous for most travelers.  These items include: Camping stove and its accessories, 0 degree sleeping bag as well as the tent stakes are some of my heaviest items and are unnecessary if you are not planning on camping.  If I were not planning to be in cold locations at any point I would pack a much smaller and lighter bag.  In addition, the Steri-pen is, for the most part, an unnecessary item if you are planning on being around stores as you can easily and cheaply purchase bottled water.

Thus far I have been very happy with what we’ve packed and if given the opportunity I would repack all the same items again.  We’ll see how we fare with our packing choices once we reach Africa! 
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Watercolor Laundry

Sunday, August 28, 2011  at 6:58 AM
It seems that there is always an endless mountain of laundry to do!  This was a happy afternoon, with all of the laundry hung to dry in the bright afternoon sun, no more piles appearing mysteriously in one corner or another.

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Travel Sketches of Apples

Saturday, August 27, 2011  at 1:32 AM
 apple sketch watercolor by Danalynn C

For Illustration Friday this week; When I grow tired of sketching larger landscapes and scenery, I love to focus my attention on something small.  Here, my love of snacks is ill-disguised as a 'character study' of this apple!
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Best Banks for Travelers and Nomads

Friday, August 26, 2011  at 6:58 AM
When Chris and I were planning on traveling abroad, many of the main technical questions we had were about banking.  Which banks were the most travel-friendly?  How many cards should we carry with us?  How could we avoid the majority of fees?  After a ton of research and two months of field testing, here is what we have found.

St Blasien Cathedral by Danalynn C
A beautiful cathedral in the nearby Sankt Blasien, in the Black Forest, Germany

How many cards do I need?

    We have two different debit cards and two different credit cards.  We have two copies of each, except one of the debit cards (we ran out of time in the States to have a second card sent to us). 


    We decided to have two types each of debit and credit cards because in the past we have had a card shut off (a problem with the bank, no fault of ours), which left us in a tight spot at the time.  Because we knew that we would use both debit and credit cards, we opted to have two different cards of each to prevent this exact scenario.

     We tried to get two copies of each card whenever we could so that we would have a spare in case a machine ate our card, a card was lost, or some other calamity occurred.  Our cards are spread fairly evenly between our bags (not all of our eggs are in the same basket) in case a bag is stolen or lost.

What kind of credit card should I get?  Are there any specific points to consider?

    We have made it a point to have both a Mastercard (debit) and a Visa (credit), in addition to our Capitol One credit card.  If possible, try to get a credit card with a chip in it.  Always remember to get the PIN for your cards--even for your credit cards.


    We varied the type of card so we would have multiple options and we would have a lower chance of being in a situation when we wouldn't have a card that could be accepted.  Mastercard (debit) and Visa (credit) are both brands that are widely accepted, while Capitol One is our preferred credit card because it has no foreign transaction fees.

    Most credit cards in the US do not have a chip, but unfortunately many card readers internationally (especially in Europe) cannot read 'swipe' credit cards and can only read cards with a chip.  This is a huge inconvenience especially with automated machines, such as train ticket machines, as they often only accept credit cards and will not accept any other type of payment.  If you do not have a card with a chip in it, you cannot use the machine and you may be out of luck.
    While debit cards always come with a PIN, you usually must call in and request your credit card PIN.  Many countries require you to input a PIN when using a credit card, just like you usually must do for a debit card

What banks are the most travel friendly?

    We have two bank accounts: one with BECU (Boeing Employee Credit Union, although no longer only for Boeing employees) and one with First Republic Bank.  We also have a credit card through Capitol One.


    Currently, our BECU account is functioning as a backup account while our First Republic Bank account is our primary.  The fees associated with international travel with BECU are present but not extraordinarily spendy.   We keep this account because we have both banked with BECU for several years and we appreciate their small-bank feel, their quality customer service, the ease of online banking and the lack of fees while in the USA.

    When researching the best banks for travel, however, I was incredibly impressed with First Republic Bank.  This bank is based in California, but after a phone call to a very lovely representative I was able to open an account over the phone.  The necessary paperwork was overnighted to me, in addition to First Republic chocolates, an umbrella, a notepad and a handwritten card (hey, they had me at chocolate!).

    Not only is their customer service exemplary--they have won several awards for it, and whenever I call I am immediately greeted by a live person instead of an automated system--but they charge zero transaction fees internationally.  Not only that, but they will refund all ATM fees, internationally, and there is no limit to the number of ATM transactions per month.

    The catch?  You must have $5,000 in your checking account at all times, or they will charge you $18/month.  No problem, Chris and I now use it as our primary bank account and we have had zero problems with withdrawing money from any ATM that accepts VISA (pretty much all ATMS we have come across).

    Our Capitol One credit card is our day-to-day credit card while traveling, as it has zero charges for international use.  It also lets us accrue miles--we've never done anything with them, but we've heard that collecting miles can be a good thing!  

St Blasien Cathedral Roof by Danalynn C
The ceiling of the Sankt Blasien cathedral was perfectly sculpted and very precise--the play of light on the marble was amazing.

Ok, I have my bank accounts and my cards.  Is there anything else I should do before I leave the country?

    You must call your bank and let them know that you will be traveling abroad.  Usually, you will have to list the countries you will be in and the time period you will be gone, although some banks will let you unlock your card internationally.  If you do not do this, your card will be flagged for suspected fraudulent activity and activity will be suspended.  For every one of our cards, I called not only once, but twice.


    A few years ago, Chris and I were in Paris and our credit card was suspended for suspected fraudulent activity.  The main problem?  Before we left, we had called to let them know we would be out of the country, but apparently the entry had not made it into the system.  To make matters worse, this happened the afternoon of Wednesday, December 23rd--the bank would be closed the following two days for Christmas Eve and Christmas, plus the next two days for the weekend, plus most of the following week for New Years Eve and New Years Day.  Long story short, we were not happy campers and we had a keen sense of vindication when Washington Mutual Bank went out of business.

    Moral of the story?  Call the bank to let them know you will be traveling, then call again several days (or weeks) later to make sure the account was marked as such.  When preparing for this trip, it was a good thing I had called twice as the international travel note had not been saved into the system for one of our cards.

What are some steps I can take for safer banking when traveling?

    Besides keeping our cards in a safe place, Chris and I have the card numbers written down in a (different) safe location, plus we have a family member in the US who is authorized to access one of our accounts and has all of our card information.  Finally, all of our banking is done via online banking.


    Where we keep our cards varies from location to location.  Generally, we split the cards up so they are not all in one place.  Sometimes we keep them in an interior pocket of our backpacks, sometimes we keep them on our person and sometimes we leave them in another secure location (such as an apartment).  This is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but do keep in mind that there are some places where you should not carry a credit or debit card on your person.

    We have all of the card numbers with us in case a card is lost or stolen--this will make canceling the card much easier and faster.  We decided that it was a good idea to have a family member at home with this information for the same reason, plus that person is authorized to access one of our accounts in case we get into some unforeseen trouble.

    Online banking is the easiest option and, for us, seems the least risky way to keep track of our money while traveling.  The best thing we can do is try to prevent any problems (hence keeping our cards in safe places, as well as not keeping all of the cards together), but we want to be prepared in case anything happens.

Has anyone come across any great strategies for dealing with money while traveling?  Any other horror stories involving money while you were on a trip?
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Living in a Vintage Bus

Thursday, August 25, 2011  at 6:58 AM
No, Chris and I haven't decided to live in a bus--but Cherie and Chris (a different Chris!) from Technomadia have!  Lately I have been enjoying the blog Technomadia, where Cherie and Chris have been documenting their adventures of living as nomads since 2006.  They love living in an RV and lately have been working on their project of revamping a vintage bus, soon-to-be amazing mobile apartment.

I particularly enjoyed their post Nomadic ≠ Minimalist, where they discuss their nomadic lifestyle and how they have made that lifestyle work for them.  I love how technical their blog can be and how they don't balk at geeking out and showing how passionate (and knowledgeable!) they are about RVs, vintage buses, and serious DIY endeavors.  

Bug On Flower by Danalynn C
Taking a break while hiking in the Black Forest
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7 Things I Learned at a German Helpx

Wednesday, August 24, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Working as hotel staff in a guesthouse in Germany has taught me some interesting lessons.  Here are a few of the most memorable!

1. Cleaning hotel rooms is a surprisingly detail-oriented job.  If one smudge is left behind, the entire guest house can be viewed in a negative light!

2. The key to a shiny finish on ceramic or metal is to buff the surface with a dry cloth after cleaning it.  Buffing it will remove the wipe marks and leave a perfectly smooth surface.

3. Behind the calm exterior of a hotel is an eternally buzzing center--there is always something to do.

4. Even just one room can generate huge amounts of laundry; when many guests are leaving, running laundry alone can take all day!

5. Small businesses buy their products at the same places that regular people buy theirs.  There are not any  secret huge discount stores for businesses where food and cleaning supplies are sold for pennies!  (at least not in the Black Forest)

6. An English bed has an iron frame and one large mattress, while a German bed has a wooden frame and two smaller mattresses.  The wooden frame in a German bed is split down the middle, from head to food, and can clip together or can come apart to create two mirror image twin-sized beds (think 50s sitcom style beds).

7. Despite the business, there is always time for tea--whether it's breakfast tea, lunch tea, afternoon tea or evening tea! 

Black Forest Trees by Danalynn C
What's the Black Forest if not a whole lot of trees?
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Destination: Seattle

Tuesday, August 23, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Welcome to the first installment of my Destination: Home series!  In this series, guest bloggers will present the place they call home as a tourist destination.  We often overlook the most interesting places just because they happen to be nearby (I know that I'm guilty of this!), so hopefully this series will not only spark your travel lust but will also encourage you to look in your own backyard for fun and unusual experiences.

As this is the first of the series, I wanted to start off with my own post--Destination: Seattle!

Where is home for you?
Despite my current status as a nomad and despite having moved at least once a year for the past five years, I like to call the Pacific Northwest my home.  Seattle is the city that I tell people I’m from when I’m shaking hands and air-kissing new people ‘hello.’ 

What is this place known for?
Seattle is generally known for being a large city filled with evergreen trees, hippies, computer geeks and massive amounts of coffee.  In actuality…this is more or less true.

Seattle Space Needle by Danalynn C
The reflection of the Space Needle in the polished side of the EMP building (a music museum).

Which popular tourist destinations should I visit?
Tourists are generally recommended to visit Pikes Place Market, an open-air market on the waterfront in the heart of downtown Seattle, where you can buy everything from fresh-caught fish, to bouquets of sunflowers, to locally hand-blown glass. 

The city is best known for the Space Needle, an iconic tower built for the 1962 World Fair, now home to an over-priced restaurant and a stunning 360-degree view of the Puget Sound. 

However, I think the most unique tourist activity is the Seattle Underground Tour, where tourists are led through a tour of Old Seattle, which is underneath the streets of the current city.  How is this possible?  After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, the new buildings were built literally on top of the remains of the old buildings.  This raised the entire city, including the streets, up by at least one story, and the Seattle Underground Tour leads visitors through this abandoned underground.

Red Beach Crab
While beaches in Seattle don't boast gleaming white sand, they are home to a variety of fantastic sea life including a multitude of small rock crabs.

What should I do for the best non-traditional tourist experience?
If you are looking to avoid tourists, I highly recommend exploring the myriad of outdoors activities that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.  There is a wide-spanning trail system that connects cities and spreads into the mountains and National Parks. 

If you are an avid hiker, Mailbox Peak is a fantastic (although very challenging) climb, about 35 miles west of Seattle.  The top of Mailbox Peak yields a stunning panorama of the Puget Sound area, but, more unusually, the top of the peak is also the home to several mailboxes that were airlifted into place.  Inside these mailboxes are journals, log-books and, occasionally, beer or snacks that previous hikers have left behind.

Pacific Northwest Mushrooms by Danalynn C
Tiny mushrooms that I found on a hike in the Cascade mountain range.

Is there one event that I shouldn’t miss?
The one event that can’t be missed is the Puyallup State Fair, a huge fair that happens at the beginning of September.  At this fair you can gorge yourself on elephant ears (crispy pieces of fried dough, sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar), ogle the prize-winning livestock, see the demonstrations of all the new tech gizmos and made-for-TV inventions, plus ride the Ferris wheel.

What kitschy souvenirs should I walk away with?
When you leave Seattle, your suitcase should be heavier with a Space Needle snow globe, a box of smoked salmon and tote bag with a Native American-style raven emblazoned across the front.

Seattle Sunset
The end of a lovely Seattle day.

If you would like to be featured in the Destination: Home series, please send me an email!
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Backpacking in Strasbourg

Monday, August 22, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Gargoyle Strasbourg by Danalynn 
Gargoyle on the cathedral in Strasbourg.

Chris and I started our day in the South of France, heading towards Strasbourg but doubtful we would travel any farther than Bordeaux in a day of hitch-hiking.  After more than an hour with no prospective rides (and, indeed, mostly quizzical looks from the drivers) our spirits were a bit low.  We were excited when a car pulled over to the side of the rode--a ride!  Anywhere would be better than here!--but that excitement turned to astonishment and glee as we learned that the driver was driving through France to Austria, and would be passing through Strasbourg.  We exuberantly thanked the driver (thank you again, Stephen!) and settled in for our first truly long-distance hitch-hike in Europe.  One extremely lucky 13-hour hitchhike left us in Strasbourg that night. 

Strasbourg Art College
The art college in Strasbourg.

Strasbourg is a very unique town--it is the capitol of the Alsace region in France and is the official home of the European Parliament.  Strasbourg sits in France right next to the French/German border and the region has historically been German-speaking.  A distinct German flair is readily apparent in the architecture, food and even the language.

Strasbourg Houses
The houses were quite German-looking.

During our time in Strasbourg, Chris and I Couchsurfed with a very nice local and alo met up with another lovely Couchsurfer to have coffee.  We were shown around the Strasbourg downtown and had a chance to try Tarte Flambée, a traditional Alsatian meal (similar to a thin-crust pizza).  By far, however, our favorite location was the cathedral. 

Strasbourg Church Door
The door to the cathedral in Strasbourg.

The cathedral in Strasbourg is known as one of the best examples of late Gothic architecture and the detailed work was stunning.  Most of the supports on the outside of the cathedral were sculpted in precise detail to resemble miniature cathedrals themselves.  There were also countless sculptures of important religious figures, gargoyles, and biblical scenes decorating the cathedral as far up as the eye could see.

Strasbourg Cathedral Statues
Statues on the cathedral in Strasbourg.

We roamed around Strasbourg for two days before we left France for Germany.   Being plain old tourists for a change was a nice break from all of the traveling we had been doing! 

Strasbourg Ducks
We did not see any storks in Strasbourg (storks are the symbol of the region Alsace), we did happen upon this mother duck and her ducklings!

Danalynn Strasbourg
Despite the fact that Strasbourg was much cooler than Spain, it was still very warm!
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Watercolor Sketch in the Black Forest

Sunday, August 21, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Watercolor Sketch of Coal Stove by Danalynn C
 I love this old coal stove that sits in the front room of the guest house Chris and I are working at in the Black Forest, Germany. 

Sketched with my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen--I'm running through those ink cartridges more quickly than expected, which caused me to speedily place an order so I will get it before Chris and I leave Europe!  The color was added with my customized pocket watercolor set, with self-made half pans of Daniel Smith watercolor paints.  I added the paint using my Niji waterbrush, as always!

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San Sebastián and Our Return to France

Friday, August 19, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by: Chris Coulon

We arrived in San Sebastián around noon after a relatively easy morning of hitch-hiking.  We were very excited, the decision had been made to cough up the 30€ for a room at a hostel!  Quite the step for us, as we are perhaps the most frugal travelers I have ever seen.  We were, however, finally in the Spanish Basque and looking forward to a relaxing day or two on the beach.  

Walking in France by Danalynn 
A large portion of time hitch-hiking is usually spent walking along the side of a road--at least you feel like you are going somewhere!

San Sebastián is one of the most renowned cities in Western Europe; it is the most Basque of all the large cities in Northern Spain and boasts several white sandy beaches on the Atlantic.  The city is renowned for its magnificent architecture and is competing with Warsaw, Poland for the cultural capital of Europe 2011.  Things were looking up for us, the hostels had great reviews and we had even planned three back-up options, all with wi-fi, in case there were any problems.  Yes, San Sebastián was going to be the nice break we needed after five days on the Camino and even more days of hitch-hiking before and after that.

Unfortunately, it was never meant to be.  One of the downsides to nearly always avoiding tourist hot spots and steering off the beaten track is that you are utterly unaware of what most would credit as perfectly obvious vacationing common knowledge.  More specifically, that one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, during one of the most popular vacationing months for the world equals pandemonium.  As soon as we arrived downtown we saw that the streets were packed; every kind of tourist you can imagine was present. 

Back to San Sebastián, even after seeing the masses in the streets, we were still naïve and believed that this was simply what all tourist towns looked like.  This belief lasted until we started the search for our hostel.  We discovered one after another, all fully booked, not a vacancy to be found.  Once we had exhausted our list we ducked our heads into one of the many surrounding bars, bought a 3€ bottle of coke and used the internet that came along with it to find another seven hostels/cheap hotels in the area and began the hunt anew.

Seven full hostels later, we did the only sensible thing left to us.  We bought some fruit, a loaf of bread and some cheese, found a grassy knoll next to the beach and enjoyed lunch.  While dining it was decided that San Sebastián would have to wait for another, less crowded, month.  We grabbed up our packs and, even less rested than we had been when we arrived, again set out Northward. 

For reasons that we will hit on in a future post, regarding the strategies of effective hitchhiking, we were forced to continue out of town on foot looking for a suitable location to get picked up.  About seven kilometers outside of town, and still no decent place yet spotted, we decide to check in with a nearby rail station.  Upon hearing that it was only 1.40€ to catch the next regional to the first town in France (roughly 17km), we bought the tickets and for the first time in our trip we were excited to simply sit and relax on the platform during the fifteen minutes wait for our train. 

We arrived in the small coastal French town of Hendaye around 19:45 just as the sun was preparing to begin its daily decent over the horizon.  Hendaye, as it turned out, was a very nice town, clean enough to make even the Swiss blush and filled with very nice people to boot.  Unfortunately we stayed only as long as it took us to walk through; however, this did take us through some nice neighborhoods and along the beach with the sun setting to our West across the Atlantic. 

Once we walked just outside of town, we managed to catch a ride fairly quickly depositing us a few kilometers further up the coast where we found our campsite for the evening.  This campsite was located about 50m off the road, just past some bushes and costal foliage, opening up to a grassy spot on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.  We managed to catch the last glimpse of the sunset as we laid out our sleeping bags.  The stars began to appear across the sky as we drifted off to sleep to the sound of waves crashing below us.  The evening, especially the stroll through Hendaye, was an excellent end to a long day of wandering and we slept well even with the coastal dew that set upon us in the early hours of the morning.

Hendaye Camping View by Danalynn C 
The view from our campspot outside of Hendaye.
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Guest Post on Nomadic Chick

Wednesday, August 17, 2011  at 10:59 AM
My contribution to Nomadic Chick's Summer Chick Tales series is up today!  Read about my experience bungee jumping at at the Valley Verzasca Dam in Switzerland.  If you like that post, you can also check out my previous post about the experience here at Nomadic Vignette, Bungee Jumping at Verzasca.

iris pyrenees by Danalynn C
Wild iris flowers Chris and I found in the Pyrenees (I don't have any new pictures of the Alps!)
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Recipe: French Pasta Salad

  at 6:58 AM
Olive Oil Sketch by Danalynn 

When I was in the unrelenting Spanish heat, I craved this cool pasta salad!  It's not technically a French recipe, I just happened to learn the recipe from our Helpx host while Chris and I were in France.  It is both refreshing and filling, perfect for a warm summer day!

French Pasta Salad 

Recipe Sketch by Danalynn C 

Mixed lettuce
Two hard boiled eggs, halved
1/4-1/2 lb Thickly sliced ham, diced
2 Cups uncooked bow tie pasta
1 Cucumber, halved and sliced
1 Tomato, cut into wedges
Feta cheese, cubed
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

1. Place the mixed lettuce in a large bowl and set aside
2. Fry the diced ham in a bit of olive oil until warm and golden brown
3. Cook the pasta until al dente
4. Combine the ham, pasta, cucumber slices, tomato wedges and feta cheese in a medium-sized bowl.  Add balsamic vinegar as desired.  Top with the halved hard boiled eggs.
5. Serve!  Add lettuce to your plate, add some of the mixed toppings, and top with olive oil.  By keeping the toppings in a separate bowl, leftovers can be easily stored in the fridge without worrying about the lettuce becoming wilted.

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Siestas on the Camino de Santiago

Monday, August 15, 2011  at 6:58 AM
bright flower by Danalynn C
These pretty flowers were all over the fields in northern Spain!

The most memorable times on the Camino were our siestas.  While we often pushed through the scorching heat in order to arrive at the albergue in a timely manner, sometimes it was simply too hot to hike! 
When it was time to take a siesta, we searched out a cool, shaded place, put our feet up, and waited out the sun.

camino siesta animation by Danalynn C
Stopping for a break in a wooded area on the side of the path.

 camino old church by Danalynn C
Exploring the ruins of an old church just steps off of the Camino.

Some of our forays into nature were more out of necessity than desire, such as when we decided to camp instead of paying outrageous fees for an albergue.  However, such a lovely camping spot came out of that situation that I can't be too disappointed!

camping sauvage spain by Danalynn C
Our camping spot--it was very pretty!

flower field by Danalynn C
A field of flowers next to where we made camp.

camping spot in spain by Danalynn C
It was quite dry in this area of Spain; much of the flora reminded me of eastern Washington state, where I lived for several years.
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The Way

Friday, August 12, 2011  at 6:58 AM
**A note to the reader: This is the first in what I, Chris, (a.k.a. "The Husband") hope to be a succession of posts on Nomadic Vignette, a telling from my perspective on our story.  Danalynn would like me to inform you that she cannot... or will not be held accountable for any of my absurdities, irregularities or vulgarities that may arise in any of my "interpretations" (her words).  And now with all fine print behind us, let's begin and remember, be gentle it’s my first time.

Spanish Pyrenees By Danalynn C
Chris Crossing into Spain over the Pyrenées

Our standards for the Camino were set high after our first albergue, where we were provided dinner, clean showers, beds and very pleasant hosts.  All at the cost of donations from the pilgrims as they passed through.  Needless to say, our standards may have been a tad inflated but we started out the next morning around 7:00AM with boisterous spirits and a determination to plough through the days distance (roughly 29km). 

Aragones outside Ares By Danalynn C
Walking along the Valley Floor away from Arrés

Our newbie status made itself apparent however, as the hours of the morning waned on.  It was the day we discovered why pilgrims in August depart from Albergues in the wee hours of the morning, often before the sun has even had a chance to rise.  The sun peeked over the hills about 8:30 and with it the heat, by 10:00 we found the temperature in the 70s and rising quickly.  We trekked on until about 13:00 in the afternoon, where we took shelter under a cover by an old barn.  In the Spanish tradition, I whipped out my stove and we made lunch and siesta for a pleasant hour and a half.

Danalynn Pyrenees By Danalynn C
Danalynn crossing into Spain

By the time we departed from our siesta the temperature was well above 100 degrees and our path, much to our chagrin, changed course and we found ourselves upon asphalt for the next few kilometers.  In addition, we soon discovered why there were no signs of any other pilgrims.  While before noon the heat had been rising it had thankfully remained at our backs, but as physics would have it, now after 15:30, we found the full force of the heat in our faces as we continued westward. 

We managed to roll into the town of Ruesta around 17:30 that evening.  I use “town” only because that is how it is marked on the map, in actuality it is the ruins of an old town where some bright entrepreneur decided to start up an albergue 20km from any other albergue and then charge exorbitant prices.  Well, Danalynn and I, as tired as we were—also cramping, dehydrated, and needless to say less cheerful than we had been starting out that morning—said “no thank you,” filled up our water bottles and headed off towards the sunset in what sounds like a really cool end to a western flick.  But seriously, we picked our bags right back up and continued to march for another 2km till we found a cozy spot in the woods and made camp (camp=sleeping bag on ground), I again fired up my stove and we enjoyed rehydrated pasta Bolognese for dinner.

The next several days progressed in a similar fashion, although I am happy to report that we got wise and began leaving each albergue earlier and earlier to make our destination before 13:00 every day.  We were also charmed by the lively scenery that we passed along the way, which before 110 degrees-o’clock was nice with rolling fields of wheat, pine trees and many, many rocks.  Our path took us along the very river that the valley gained its namesake, the Aragón and, on occasion, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to jump in.  This served the dual purpose of cooling us off and also doing much of our laundry at the same time.  If we were lucky we would get to do it right before we arrived at an albergue in the evening to look (and smell) presentable to our pilgrim friends.  

Aregones Valley, Spain By Danalynn C
On the March through the Aragón

As luck would have it, August 1 was our anniversary and we were lucky enough to end up in an albergue with a fully functional kitchen.  We found the local Mercado, invested in a few ingredients and made pasta for ourselves as well as several of the other pilgrims on the route.  Kind Pietre provided substantial quantities of the finest wine 2€ a bottle can buy and we had a pleasant evening with great conversations, probably in about 4 or 5 different languages (although we each really only spoke 2 of them).

Monreal Albergue with Friends By Danalynn C
Our Anniversary with Pietre (Czech) and Pierro (Italian)

Our last day on the Camino was to be a grueling 32km from the town of Monreal to Puenta La Reina at which point the Camino Aragonés meets up with the main Camino Francés and all the people that come along with it.  We departed our albergue at 5:30 to get an early start and to cover our ground before inferno time (usually just after 13:00).  We even made great time—quite a feat considering the first hour was at night and we were notorious for losing the trail even in the day.  Rolling into Puenta La Reina at about 13:10 we already noticed a large increase in the numbers of pilgrims and were very disappointed to find that the albergue in the middle of town that charged only 4€ per person was already full (they sleep just over 75 people) so we continued another kilometer out of town to the next albergue which was twice the price and unlike the other one did not include dinner.  To say the least we were a little disappointed.  By 16:00 all three albergues were full with over 300 pilgrims.

Puenta La Reina, Spain By Danalynn C
Arriving at Puenta la Reina

The next morning we decided that we had had a great time on the Camino up till then and rather than tarnish the memory of it by continuing with all these people and racing each day to the next albergue, hoping to find an open bed (the heat was also a strong determining factor), we would call it quits and head north to strike our fortunes elsewhere.  We had after all completed the Aragonés leg of the journey and fulfilled all masochistic notions of hiking long hours in the blazing heat.  Needles to say we did have a great experience on the Camino and it was a great first trip to Spain, but next time we come back to continue it will be in months with less people and cooler temperatures.  San Sebastian here we come!

Arriving in France.  By Danalynn C
Arriving in France from San Sebastian

PS: If anyone is interested in more details on our leg of the Camino, this is a great day-to-day guide of the Camino de Santiago. We pretty much followed each of the recommended etapas as shown there.

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