Point Zero

26 Aug

Point Zero is a bronze medallion set in the cobblestone courtyard of the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. The medallion is officially the point where distances to different places are measured from Paris.

It is also the point of departure for pilgrims following the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle (the Camino de Santiago) from Paris.

It is our departure point. It is our Point Zero for the Camino.

Point Zero Notre Dame

As we prepare to follow the Camino, I want to take a moment and lay out where I find myself at Point Zero.

I am excited and don’t even try to fathom what to expect. I expect both pure joy and pure frustration.

It seems that in almost every documentary or interview people always ask each pilgrim, “Why are you doing this?” I don’t know why we even bother to ask anymore as we all have the same reply, “Because.”

I am not religious. I definitely believe in God. I do not believe in Jesus (like much of the Earth’s population). I do believe that there are people who are blessed with coming closer with God, like Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, etc.  I am not walking the Camino for any one religious reason, however I am doing a pilgrimage and there is a sense of reverence that is present in my mind and heart. For me, I will walk the Camino in honor of my grandparents Cunningham who have both passed away. My grandmother was quite religious and very dedicated to The Virgin Mary, Notre Dame. I hope in some way that Mary will be my guide along the Camino.

The other reason for doing the Camino is that I am doing it for me. It is wonderful to have the time and means to just walk for five weeks with my husband/life partner/best friend.

What I am looking forward to the most is the reflect back and see the change from Point Zero to Point Santiago. Buen Camino!


Eglise and La Tour de St. Jacques de la Boucherie

25 Aug

La Tour de St. Jacques, or the Tower of St. James, is the former bell tower for the Eglise de St. Jaques de la Boucherie which was built during the 16th century.

The tower, which is located in Paris’ 4th arrondissement near Châtelet, recently opened in the summer of 2013 after being closed for 10 years during complete renovations. It is called “La Boucherie” because at the time there were a lot of églises St. Jacques. This one was located on the street where the butchers lived (la boucherie). Around it were the streets for soap (using animal fat) and parchment (using animal skins). The butchers were quite formidable because they were “armed” with knives (as the tour guide put it). The butchers were also very rich and had money to blow. So they funded the construction the church and bell tower… Because that would assure the salvation of their souls in heaven. The tower is the only thing that remains after the church was destroyed and the bells melted during the French Revolution. It has since served as a lookout post, a bullet foundry, the place of scientific experiments and a Faucault’s pendulum, and most recently in the 19th and 20th centuries, as a meteorology lab.

Since St. Jacques de Compostelle (St. James or Santiago) is the patron saint of the Camino, I was determined to visit.

We had stopped by the gardens randomly and seen that the “Full” sign was already posted in the afternoon. I decided to investigate a little more. Reservations are required.The tower gives guided tours on each hour and only gives reservations away in person on a first-come-first-served basis. Each person present can only purchase a maximum of two tickets. Tickets cost 6€ or 3€ for students, seniors, or out of work people. The tower opens at 9am and gives it’s first tour at 10am. Tours are given Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Yet, it is not that easy. It requires stamina– in multiple ways. I was told to arrive early, about 8am, in order to get a reservation because there is HUGE line. On Friday we arrived at about 8:30 and the reservations were already sold out… (Mind you, the tower opens at 9am). We were told that the first people arrived at 6:30 and the last reservations were taken by people arriving at 8:15.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at 6:50am and were already about 20 people deep in line. There were people with coffee thermoses and picnic blankets. And a lot of people brought books. We finally got in and made reservations for 11am (Group 2).

Why is it so hard to get in? Because they only serve about 15-20 people at a time for each hourly tour. About 140 people daily.

It was SO worth the wait!

The tower is 64 meters high and has about 350 steps (no elevator). It has a spectacular view! Montparnasse, the Sacré Coeur, and the Eiffel Tower have great vistas, but are too far away or too high to see Paris’ notable landmarks clearly. The Tower of St. James gets it just right.

There is one thing that the tour guide mentioned that added one more stop on my list– La Tour de St. Jacques is NOT the pilgrimage departure point. The departure point is from the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral just across the Seine.

Join me tomorrow to read about the St. Jacques medallion and departure from Notre Dame.









Pilgrim Passports, Part 2: Where do I get my credentials?

21 Aug

In Part 1 of Pilgrim Passports we learned a little more about what the Credencial is and its importance.

First thing’s first. Where do I even get a Credencial, a pilgrim passport?

I recommend that you do some research to find out what kind of “Friends of the Camino” group is in your area. For us, there were a few different groups but we were scared off because on the website it said that you had to become a member of the group to get a passport from them. We did some more research and found out we could pick up passports at the local university in Pamplona. We decided that we would go that route.

But, but, but. Curiosity got the best of me. Plus I wanted to spend some time exploring Pamplona and not just exploring the inside of the pilgrim passport office. Again, after some research of what was available in Paris we decided to head down to La Société Française des Amies de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, on 8, rue des Canettes 75006 Paris (close to the Saint Sulpice church). When we arrived, there was no sign or anything to indicate we had arrived in the right place. Also, we has arrived 30 minutes early before their 2pm opening time.

Quick internet research showed that there was another pilgrim office in the 4th arrondissement about a 30 minute walk away. Here we found Compostelle 2000, L’Association d’Ile de France au service du pèlerin on 26 rue de Sévigné 75004 (close to the Saint Paul church in the Marais). Walking up we saw a sign post with a pilgrim silhouette and a scallop shell. We had arrived!

St Paul Cathedral

St Paul Cathedral

rue de Sevigne

rue de Sevigne

Pelerin in Paris!

Pelerin in Paris!

Compostelle 2000

Compostelle 2000

We walked right in and met a gentleman named François. He was a volunteer there and invited us to sit down and talk about the Camino. He asked us about our plans for the pilgrimage and he gave us some information about the group and membership. He asked when we were leaving, how heavy our packs were, etc. He imparted only one piece of advice, “Stay hydrated. Drink a LOT of water.” He was also reassuring and said that we would be fine. I asked him how he got started working at the office and he explained that when he retired he was really bored, did some internet research, and kept becoming more and more involved in the group. I asked about the activities and they not only offer fun stuff, but one of the coolest by far is that every year they go as a group and take handicapped pilgrims. They use a one wheeled “wheelchair” to push and pull their fellow pilgrim. They closely follow the rules of being pilgrims. But, they do camp and they have a man come with his truck behind them to cater some meals. Super awesome!

In the end, we donated 80 euros for the family membership and four pilgrim passports (one each for me, AJ, and my aunt and uncle). As new members of the group it includes activities like once a month diner meeting to talk about going or coming back from the Camino, workshops for packing a backpack, writing, or general questions. There are also group hikes that are planned year-round. This was pure magic.

We were beyond pleased with the down-to-earth friendly service and help with any questions we had. It is just a shame that we found them only a few days before we left!

We are set. I am eager to watch the passport slowly fill up and to see the final result. So, come along and watch as my pilgrim passport adds one stamp after another!

Pilgrim Passports, Part 1: What is a Pilgrim Passport?

20 Aug

Becoming a pilgrim is a different journey for each and every one of us. For some it requires long, methodical planning and training, for others the Camino is fueled by spontaneity. However, no matter how you arrive at the beginning, there is something that all pilgrims must complete to have their diploma (in Latin!), the Compostella, bestowed up them upon reaching the end at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela — a pilgrim passport. The Credential, in Spanish. The pilgrim passport is your credentials to prove you are a pilgrim.

The passport has important reminders noted on the back:

The Passport is only for pilgrims traveling by foot, by bicycle, or by horse, who choose to conduct their pilgrimage in a spiritual manner. It’s objective is to identify the holder as a pilgrim and does not give any rights. Pilgrims are afforded the two benefits of:
1: Access to pilgrim accommodation refuges. Refuges are not free, and for those who ask no payment, it is best to donate something.
2: Obtaining the authentification of the Compostella, or the pilgrim diploma at the Cathedral de Santiago.
Note: Pilgrims who travel by foot are generally given priority. Those who travel the Camino via car (or other vehicle) must seek out separate accommodation.

Along the way stamps are collected at each point of accommodation or dining and is a record, as well as reminder, of the path the pilgrim took. At the end, the passport should be filled to the max with stamps from different places they stopped at along the way. It will look something like this:



But, most importantly where do I get a pilgrim passport and what does it look like… blank? Follow tomorrow for Pilgrim Passports, Part 2.

Fruitful Training for the Camino

18 Aug

Our departure for the Camino is in just a matter of days.

A few months back I began regaling you with information about Camino gear and training. I now laugh how I though 15,000 steps was a lot (it was a great place to start!). On average, there are about 25,000 steps for 20 kilometers.

Two of the best things that we have done up to now, in my opinion, are getting some really great socks and hiking 15-20 km with full gear once or twice a week for about 2 months. Good socks could be chalked up to no blisters thus far and building up each week’s hike has shown how remarkably your body adjusts after giving it time to recover.

Our training for the Camino has been fruitful and we feel ready and excited.

Walking to the Fontainebleau Château

Walking to the Fontainebleau Château

Vista in the Forêt de Fontainebleau

Vista in the Forêt de Fontainebleau

This weekend was a long holiday in France so we headed out to Fontainebleau for what could potentially be our last hike before arriving in Pamplona, Spain. We hiked along a path that started at a point we had hiked before. Over the past months I have been watching the blackberries go from being green little buds to a few sprinkled in every now and then to finally getting full blown blackberry heaven this week. Pulling out a fabric grocery bag from my pack, we decided that we would pick enough to make a blackberry tarte. Forty-five minutes or so later, we had 500 grams of black gold! But, after hiking 19km, the berries began to leak juice and squish each other with their weight… my bag was tinged purple. In the end, our blackberry babies were turned into confiture. Or what I like to call, blackberry caviar.

If training has been anything other than beneficial, it has been fun and given us a reason to get outside of Paris every week. I also hope it is a sign of the Camino to come!

Backberry Caviar

Espeaking Espanish

14 Aug

I have my gear, we have maps, we have trained, what is missing? They say that part of preparing for the Camino is to know at least a little Spanish. ¿Donde estan los baños? ¡Una mas cerveza, por favor! Cuidado, piso mojado.

I grew up on the border of Mexico and the USA, that should be enough, right?

Let me think.

Vote for Pedro


I have not espoken espaneesh in a long time. Probably since I left Austin, Texas. Which makes … since 2008. Five years is plenty of time to forget almost all of the intermediate Spanish I thought I once knew. I really like Spanish and took it as my elective classes in college. What I like about it, versus French, is that your pronounce every letter you see. “Cama” is Ka-ma. Unlike French, “Lit” is Lee. Or something even more fun, “Ils parlent” is Eel parl.

I downloaded a few free apps on my phone to get started. Or restarted. I got one that is like a kids game and I can slow down or speed up the spoken phrase (complete with a little button with a turtle on it). I also got a more mature “Learn Spanish” app. I have to admit, I have not tried that one out. The kiddie one proved to be a lot of fun, especially with the category of romance.

Me: Eres guapo.

AJ: …

Me: Eres sexy.

AJ: …

Me: Siento algo por ti. Te quiero. ¿Puedo besarte? ¡Dame un beso! … Wow, this relationship sure is moving fast! ¿Tienes novia?

AJ: Si.

Me: ¿Tienes email?

AJ: No.

Me: ¿Puede darme su número?

AJ: No.

Me: ¿Está casado?

AJ: Yes.

Me: Estoy viuda.

AJ: !!!

This was followed by no less than 45 minutes of me going through EVERY phrase and repeating it numerous times. AJ was muy irritado. The hardest part was the Spanish (NOT Mexican) accent. The c’s as “th” and the “tch” sounds are prevalent and harder for me to pronounce that regular ol’ Mexican Spanish. I have a new project and I’m going to try to work on it over the next week and a half.

I know I won’t be much more of a novice, but my goal is to come back from the Camino with more Spanish fluency than I started with.

A good phrase to start out with?

Buen Camino!

The Camino Weigh-in

12 Aug

Departure for the Camino is coming up quickly.

Before we leave, I wanted to do a once-over of all our gear and make the final decision of what stays in my pack and what doesn’t. My last decision will be, Take flip flops or Birkenstocks as second shoes? (Flip flops are lighter and can be worn in the shower. Birkenstocks are 300 grams heavier but are super comfortable at the end of the day and can be worn with socks if the evenings gets cool).

We were pretty critical about what gear made it. We are sharing many toiletries, so this avoids extra weight.

Here is the final weigh-in:

Karin (without gear, totally): 55.1 kilos or about 121 pounds

Karin (with ALL gear, clothing, and shoes. No water): 60.1 kilos or about 132 pounds

My gear weighs about 4 kilos, or about 12 pounds, which is about 10% of my body weight. My clothing and boots which I’ll be wearing weigh about 1.5 kilos. I will also be carrying about 4 kilos of food/water.

I want to make a point here. We have read through many Camino forums, blogs, etc, etc, etc and they recommend only carrying about 10% of your body weight. But, this poses a problem. Let’s imagine this: One girl who weighs approximately 120 pounds. According to sources she should only carry 10% of her body weight during the Camino to be happy and healthy. This comes out to about 12 pounds or 5.5 kilos. Her pack weighs 1 kilo, plus ~4 kilos of food/water. Which leaves us how many kilos for gear and clothing? Bing, bing, bing! ZERO.

I think this is dumb. If I have come to stand behind one mantra for the Camino, it is: “Everyone will have their own Camino.” Fin.

Since I will be leading my own Camino I decided that I will carry about 4 kilos and carry a little extra for food and water, because physiologically you need that stuff.

As our departure quickly approaches, I feel solid with my gear, especially my shoes and socks. After weekly trainings, my body has also adjusted to walking 20 kilometers without any pain… albeit at the end of the day I’m tired and a long, hard sleep is exactly what I look forward to.

They say that the Camino has three stages: the physical, the body adjusting to the gear and the sheer endurance of 20+km per day; the emotional, the mind working through many emotions and thoughts; and the spiritual, reaching some sort of transcendence.

I am ready. I suppose as you follow along on this journey, you’ll be on your own sort of Camino with me. So, Buen Camino, fellow Pilgrim!


An Oven

10 Aug

We have been settling in our new apartment outside of Paris.

One of the reasons we chose this place is because it has a “full kitchen” (in Paris standards). I’ll tell you what. You never realize how thankful you are for something until you go without it for quite a while. In the US you expect your apartment to have a pool, a workout room, granite countertops, a garden tub in the MASTER!! bathroom, not to mention everyday appliances like a washer AND dryer or an oven.

We have moved up in the world because we have an OVEN.

Do you know how happy it makes a chef to have a four burner range and an oven? Like a kid.

In the past week AJ has made: poulet roti with roasted potatoes, tomato/basil tartes, breakfast tartes, a strawberry and cream tarte, french fries, baguettes… Shall I go on? Today his project is to make a fermented baguette (poolish) and pains au chocolat. 

I made some outstanding chocolate chip cookies with some fleur de sel on top. My project is to make another batch of cookies (sans sel) to give to our neighbors and a loaf of banana bread.

I wish I could post a slide show of all the wonderful things we’ve been eating…. but they get eaten too quickly for a picture.

chocolate chip cookies

The Immigration and Visa Saga… Continues?

9 Aug

Will wonders never cease? Or should I rephrase, There is never a dull moment.

Just a week or two ago we successfully obtained both AJ and my visas. We thought the process was over. Yet, now the phrase that the immigration clerk uttered is now hanging in the air, “Next year.” It is not next year and we are already started the visa process… all over again.

Let me first preface this with a disclaimer– we are not gluttons for bureaucratic punishment. We are considering all of our options and trying to keep them open. AJ and I always live in the “what’s next?” Especially this past year living in France we have had to keep on our toes. We often have the same conversation week in and week out, “What are we going to do next?” In a nutshell, we decided that Plan A would be to return to the USA after my thesis is complete and resume normal professional work activity (but with a little French flare… like taking the entire month of August off). Plan B would be to stay in France for a little while longer and work on a contracted job (hopefully both of us in that case).

That begs the question, well Plan A or Plan B? We are at Plan Q, I suppose.

Just after we had completed the visa process, AJ was asked to come back to work at the bakery/pastry shop where he had been interning. He then found a position on-line for a sous-chef position at a well-known restaurant in the ritzy part of Paris. Finally he was asked back to a restaurant to interview for a sous-chef position, too. All within a few days after the visa process… Dang it.

After his interview with the executive chef at the third place, he was asked to contact an immigration/visa specialist (that the chef used personally and came recommended) in order to evaluate our current visa status and what the next steps were to get him a working visa in France.

So you thought the past visa process was complicated and painful? Well, this makes that seem like a paper cut. Yet, this time we have a specialist on our side. It could take up to 6 months and I will detail that process later. For now, we are waiting from the response from the restaurant to see if they accept the process and want to offer employment to AJ.

I know what you’re thinking. “What does that mean for Karin?” “How long would you stay?” “What about coming home?” “What about health insurance?” You sound exactly like us.

I can’t say for sure what will happen. You, like us, will be on the edge of our seats for the next few weeks.

Bon Courage!

The Non-Bucket List

4 Aug

I have been thinking recently about the phenomena of a “bucket list,” about failure, and about how my blog reflects my life of never ending projects.

Many of my fellow life-lovers and, very often, travel bloggers write about doing things that they have, or had, on their bucket list. It got me to thinking about mine. I’ve skydived. I’ve written a book. I’ve been to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I’ve been to Asia. I’m about to do the Camino de Santiago. I live in Paris. I have a strong, wonderful marriage. I’m happy.

But, back to this Bucket List thing.

I do not have one. I will never have one. Don’t want one. I get stuff done.

You may have noticed that I am interested in many things which is reflected in my numerous topics on KAC Johnson Books (Food & Bev, Furry Friends, Rin’s Reads (kids books); School and Work; and Wanderings and Wonderings. I will only say this once– I do not function well with little or nothing to do. I will create projects if I’m bored. Oh, wait. I’m never bored. I do acquiesce, there are things in life that I want to do. Like: go to Morocco; compete my thesis; get some of my kid’s books published; become a mother.

I do not count this as a bucket list. I want you to notice that my list is sensible, short, and something I can definitely attain within the next few years. Once something can be crossed off the list, it will soon replaced by something else.

Which brings me to failure. I was wondering if failure really exists. I mean, yeah, I did get a 36 on a geometry test in high school and I actually had to study to pass it when my teacher required me to retake it… along with much of the rest of the class. Like my bucket list, I don’t have failure, I hope to never have it, and I definitely don’t want it in my life. When I was younger I felt invincible and like no one would– or could– tell me No. I was told No a few times subsequently. It was not failure. It was because I had something that was right coming up for me. So my conclusion is there is no failure– it is simply disguised as success in a roundabout way.

With that being said it will be hard for me to unplug from all my projects while AJ and I are walking the 35 days of the Camino. I do give myself this, I will be doing something on the list, so sit back and let it lead me to my next thing. Buen Camino!

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