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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!


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!


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!

Move-in Special

1 Aug

I am happy to write to you from our new apartment!

Over the past few weeks we got things prepared to move from our first apartment in Paris to some new digs just outside of Paris. Moving is not a new sport to AJ and I and you could almost say it is like a hobby of ours. We have moved almost once a year for the past nine years.

Moving AptV

We have moving down to an art. Basically AJ and I pack our stuff and the household things separately and don’t go back through the other person’s packing; create a donation bag; move; and cap off with the final (and most important) touch — the kitties! This time we did things a little differently. We moved everything except for the cats and our food stuffs in one day in three trips on the metro and fogged the apartment for bedbug prevention. (Do you remember our nasty bout with bedbugs the first few weeks we arrived in Paris? Refresh your memory here.) Finally, AJ always always cleans the old place while I stay at the new place and begin a thorough cleaning and organization showdown… except for the kitchen (that is AJ’s domain).

We are quite happy with how things are feeling more like chez Johnson. AJ loves the full kitchen. All four of us love the terrace. I love the multiple seating areas (because honestly, I missed sitting on a couch to read and to watch movies).

The best part about it? We are all together.

Check it out:

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French Visa Renewal: Success!

26 Jul

Attention, People. I have very shocking and unexpected news.


You have guessed correctly because I gave it away in this post’s title. I was true to my word and after obtaining a visa appointment for AJ, I did not further mess with anything. Kinda.

Just to refresh you of where we left off– I had turned in all of my documentation to my school’s immigration department after much teeth pulling on my part and rudeness on their part. For AJ’s visa, we had been to two different offices and called countless times to get his visa changed over for next year before actually obtaining the appointment that was scheduled for today.

My visa was processed and I received a lovely email from school telling me that I had to show up to the Prefecture de Police to get my fingerprints taken. (Thankfully another student from my school was also in the same situation, so it allowed me to vent with him on Facebook and not here). I showed up and after some unclear administration something or other, I got my récipisée (a piece of paper that confirms my visa has been processed and I can come pick it up on x date) and my convocation that says what I need to bring back: convocation, passport, fingerprint confirmation slip, and 49 euros of tax stamps. This, dear friends, grants you the holy “Carte de Séjour.” They give you a few weeks to pick up your coveted card. Success. (There was some unpleasant back and forth with my school to get my 49 euros worth of tax stamps returned, but my condolence was that I would never have to use them ever again and I prefer to delete that from memory).

As for AJ once we got the information for his appointment and the highlighted list of necessary documents, I set to work getting all that was needed: passport and civil status proof for the both of us; housing info (we used a letter from our landlord saying that we were living in her rented apartment, her passport copy, the apartment contract, and housing insurance); banking info; medical insurance; AJ’s diploma and letter saying that I was still in school and that although he finished his program he wanted to stay with me in France until the end of my studies.

Today was the special day. Visa Appointment Day. We woke up early and after coffee, headed to the Prefecture de Police, Bureau 6. AJ forecasted that it would take us three and a half hours to complete the visa appointment. I hoped less. He was right.

Things started differently. We walked in and were instantaneously greeted and asked how they could help. Holy cow, were we in the right place? Next a very helpful man helped us get our documents in order and joked, “Johnson and Johnson. I always think of shower gel when I hear that!”

Then the magic happened. We got a nice lady. She knew exactly why we were there because, Oh my word, it made sense to her! She asked a few questions, asked if we had translation of one document (No), and said that she would present the application to see if it would be accepted. We waited again in the area, then this happened (en français):

Agent: “Do you have another marriage license?

Me: “No.

A: “Well, this says you’re not married.

M: “… !!! …”

A: “It says here that you have to file this license up to 30 days after the date of marriage.

M: “Oh, right. If you look here on the SECOND PAGE you can see the date of marriage, the date that it was filed, and the signature of the county clerk.

A: “Ok. Just needed clarification.

M: “Whew.”

AJ: “So what happened with the translation?”

M: “Oh, they were just telling me that we weren’t married… but I told them to look on the second page of our marriage license.”

Happily, we are married (yay!) We were surprised that that was the only document that they contested. We were called back and the lady spoke the most beautiful words ever uttered, “I can grant you your visa.” She told us not to even worry about the translation of the one document because we “could do it next year.”  (Lord, help me!)

Then she told us something totally crazy, “Mr. Johnson your visa is now attached to Mrs. Johnson’s visa and will always be linked to the date of her visa).” No way, we are attached?! Wonders, of wonders!

Sarcasm aside, we were happy and were very grateful to her.

We danced out and went home to celebrate!

One word, People. One word: Patience.

A little bit of Preparation J on your (back)side doesn’t hurt either….


Hiking Fontainbleau: Prepping for the Camino

22 Jul

Last week we took a break from hiking because it was the Fourteenth of July, France’s Independence Day. We had some house guests for a few days, so it was nice to have something to do and somewhere to go. Plus is has been HOT HOT HOT in Paris this past week.

We went out to Fontainbleau Forest this weekend. The forest is world renowned for its boulders and rocks as well as hiking trails, etc. This was our second week with our fully loaded packs and full gear. The previous hike we did almost 30km because after hiking the forest around the Versailles castle, the actual gardens of the chateau were closed… so we had to walk 5km more to get around it. Makes you realize how big a castle really is.

Fontainbleau castel’s gardens were open and our goal was to walk from the Fontainbleau-Avon train station on a 17km trail and back again. A total of approximately 25km. The trails were good for us since they offered some sand, rocks, ups and downs, and nice tree cover. Definitely wear pants because there are a lot of raspberry and thorn bushes and bring plenty of water as there are no fountains to refill your water packs. (The trail is on Wikiloc under Fontainbleau, if you’re interested).

We are happy to report that the hike did not tire us out too badly. Our feet and legs were sore. Our backs and hips were not sore, so I was impressed.

I have to admit that at the end of the day I came down with heat exhaustion because we ran out of water the last few kilometers and the metros were like ovens! I developed a headache and fatigue. In the morning I woke up feeling hung over. Good practice to know what your body can and can’t take.

Next week we are going to to a shorter hike since it is hot and we want to make sure we can get out of the forest when it is cooler. We will shoot for about 15km from the train station Bois-le-Roi, to the forest, and around to another train station, Fontaine-le-Port.

We are getting prepped and excited for the Camino. T-minus 4 weeks and counting!

Photo credit: Foret Fotainbleau Boulder Rock Climbing, France.

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