Posts Tagged With: travel mistakes

Camino Santiago takes a turn for the …?

The Camino took an unexpected turn on the last day of April and led us to an unusual destination far outside our comfort zone.

Along with our German friend Gert, we took a detour near the end of our 12-mile day, marked by a steady light rain.

It led to Castrillo de Polvazares, which our guidebook called “a traditional Maragato village with a cobbled Main Street lined with stone buildings providing tourist bars, restaurants and rooms.”

Visually, the town is wonderful, but we soon discovered it was too early in the season for pilgrim accommodations. Then, a Spaniard stopped his car after seeing us in need. Luckily, Gert understands enough Spanish to find out the man was offering to open the small albergue so that we would have a place to sleep.

The albergue, top, and in bottom photo, left.

We were in luck!? He led us down a narrow alley, went up some stairs and banged on a door. After a rapid, loud conversation with a woman inside, he emerged with a key. He led us to a building, through an entry that exuded a rustic charm, and inside to a room that was a very basic kitchen/dining area. Then up the curved staircase to an eight-bed dorm room that would be ours for the night, for €4 each. He turned on the hot water heater (hot showers!), but there was no heater in the room (it was about 40 degrees outside and inside).

After some good laughs at our predicament, we settled in. I toured the village in search of food and drink. I found four restaurants, but they looked too fancy for backpackers. But, we had to eat (er, drink)!

We bathed in the heat of hot showers and headed out. The first place looked out of our league. The next place was closing. The next had just closed. Suddenly, an upstairs door in a nearby building opened and a woman (the same one who provided the key earlier) popped out, asking if we were pilgrims looking for “comida.”

She raced down and led us to the restaurant that was closing. She shouted orders that they must feed us right away. Minutes later, we were seated in a warm room with linen tablecloths drinking vino tinto and eating a superb four-course meal because the staff stayed late just for us.

It is 7:30 p.m. and we are back in our room, huddled in our sleeping bags.

But life on the Camino warms our hearts like we never anticipated.


Categories: Camino de Santiago | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

If You Are in the Neighborhood: Bon apéttit!

A series of posts from our travels.

Outdoor food courts in Beijing offer starfish and scorpions, among many other delicacies.

Would you eat grilled centipedes? How about haggis? Would you wash down your meal with some wine fermented in a bottle with three poisonous snakes?

For me, the answer to the first two questions was “no.” When walking along an outdoor food court in Beijing, some Chinese men offered me what looked like a grilled centipede from a stick. I turned them down and they laughed. In Scotland, during a wonderful Burns Supper evening at a friend's home, I could not bring myself to eat the haggis. Sue did!

On a return trip to China, I was offered snake wine during a Li River cruise and, remembering my regret at not grabbing a centipede from the young Chinese guys and tossing it in my mouth, I (very reluctantly) ordered a glass. It tasted like whiskey, made my tongue numb, and I surprised the Chinese hosts who were used to being turned down. We all had some great laughs when I tried to speak.

When we lived in Scotland, friends visiting from the U.S. brought canned pumpkin so we could make pies for Thanksgiving. I took a pie to work; some of the Scots tried it, but others would not. In fact, they were repulsed by the idea.

I hope I can become a more adventurous eater when I travel. Perhaps a bit more wine before a meal might help.

What is your favorite food story from your travels?


There was a surprise ending to this drink.


A Scottish tea room offered tea, fresh scones, clotted cream and jam. Along with our friends Doug and Kathy, we could not turn them down!



Categories: Neighborhood series | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning Any New Language Is Foreign to Us!

Conventional wisdom says travelers should learn a few basic words in the native language for convenience and to show respect. I think this is true, so here are some Italian terms we found useful:

First, I found many Italians spoke English as soon as I tried my Italian. My theory was that they were proud that they knew English. Sue disagreed; she thought they wanted to avoid hearing any further assault on their beloved tongue.

Unmini (men's room): Sue learned this on our last day, after-the-fact.

Per favore (please), grazie (thank you).

Buon giorno (good morning, good day), buona sera (good evening). I had trouble here because I could not figure out when sera began. I once said something like buon giorno and was greeted with (I hope!) buona sera at 3 p.m.

In Italy, this pizza and calzone are each meant for one!

Arrivederci (goodbye), ciao (hello or so long, familiar)

Stazione (train station). Centrale (central). In big cities that have several stations, such as Florence, it helps to know which station is best for you. Stazione Centrale put us in the right place most of the time, but not in Florence.

Autobus (bus).

Parli Inglese? (Do you speak English?)

Prego (Our book says it means “you are welcome,” but it is used for more basics. Servers used it to tell us they were ready to take our order, for example.)

No need to know: Sono Americano (I am American.) They know that before you speak, whether you are in London, Beijing, or Rome.

Mi scuse (excuse me)

Si and no.

We didn't know many of these, but it would help to know some food words. Kinds of meat, sauces, vegetables, milk, juice, salad, etc. Or have them in your phone or on a cheat sheet. Many menus have English, but stores usually do not. Some menu items are not traditional American fare. Or, be adventurous! A few times, I wasn't sure, but it all tasted good.

Dov'e il bagno? (Where is the bathroom?) In cities, carry some change for public restrooms. Prices usually range from 50 cents to one euro.

You can see this is a very short list. We got by with these and often did not need to know them. We welcome your suggestions.

We try to remember to be ready to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes sense of humor is the most difficult thing to pack everywhere. We often tell each other that we will never see these people again, so it is alright to make mistakes. This did not work so well in Scotland because we have great friends there who remember our miscues, and they still get a good laugh at our expense! Don't worry, I won't mention any names, Trish!


Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Italian Lesson

Although there is graffiti everywhere, we feel safe in our comfy apartment.

One thing Reg and I have learned, in our somewhat limited international travels, is to always remember to pack our sense of humor. After failed attempts to learn some key Italian phrases, we were pleased to learn that the property manager of our rental apartment in Rome spoke English quite well. After a short tour and explanation of the two massive door keys (which look like something out of a fairy tale), we expressed our thanks and waved goodbye from the street.

Eager to settle in, we climbed the stairs to our fourth floor apartment. I inserted the key into the lock and spun it to the left as we had been instructed to do. Meeting with resistance, I continued to turn it both left and right, with Reg shouting encouragement over my shoulder. Suddenly, we heard an angry voice from behind the door. “How did that woman get into our apartment?” I wondered, followed immediately by the realization that I had miscalculated and we were standing on the third floor; one floor below our apartment door! As the door flew open, we were greeted by a string of unpleasant sounding Italian, surely not listed in our phrase book!


Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Clever son, distracted parents in China

On a trip to China a few years ago, we gave our sons money to bargain with street vendors for souvenirs. The buying turned into a competition to get the lowest prices. I thought it was a great deal when I got a Chinese army winter hat for 5 dollars. The boys laughed that Dad was a fool to pay that much. It was all in good fun, but the kids also got the last laugh.

I sampled some Chinese liquor one day and bought a few bottles to bring home. Back at the hotel, I put them in a backpack and we continued on our tour. When going through security at the Shanghai airport for our trip home, the officer at the x-ray machine shouted a few words in Chinese while pointing at my pack. I had forgotten about the bottles and had a choice: go back and put them in my checked bag, or leave them behind. Let's just say that some Chinese airport officers had a party at my expense.

But, as we found out just recently, one of our three teen-aged sons had even more fun. He had used the money we gave him to buy his own sampling of Chinese liquor. But, he had the smarts to put it in his checked luggage and the booze made it back without a hitch. I am sure he and his friends enjoyed every last drop.

On the same trip, another son almost learned a major travel lesson the hard way: never put your passport in your checked luggage. He had done just that. Our travel guide was able to find the bag at the last minute so he could board the flight. He now wears his passport in a case around his neck.


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