10 Must See Places To Visit In Italy (That Aren’t Rome, Florence or Cinque Terre)

The Roman Colosseum, The Sistine Chapel, Mt Vesuvius, Cinque Terre and Florence were places I always thought of when I dreamed of visiting Italy. Looking back at the 5,000 km I walked through Italy in 2017, I found that visiting these sites will leave you somewhat unfulfilled. A visitor doesn’t really learn very much about Italy or its people by visiting them. They are not quintessential “Italian” experiences in my mind. They tend to be crowded and filled with American tourists.  Your senses are assaulted by street vendors, cheap trinkets and occasionally, scams.  As great as these places were, I left thirsty for a truly Italian experience.

With this in mind, I have made a list the “Best of Italy”. These are the places that I enjoyed in my time in Italia, that others might consider when planning a vacation.

1. Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso:  Gran Sasso, not the Alps, is where the finest hiking in Italy is found. Far less crowded than the Dolomites, Gran Sasso in Abruzzo, features hiking trails with beautiful ridge walking, clear trails, and stunning sunsets. It’s a very rural area, so finding authentic and cost effective food isn’t too difficult. Italy is home to the largest wolf population in Western Europe and if you are going to see one, this might be the place.

2. The Dolomites: In northeastern Italy are the most visually striking mountains in Europe. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it features phenomenal trails, cheap accommodation, and lots of tourists. The food culture is not as satisfying to my palate than what you might find in the south, but still somewhat interesting.  German language can be heard as often as Italian among the inhabitants of this region.

3. Amalfi (Sorrentine Peninsula): Definitely a tourist destination, it spares you of the tackiness and unseemly commercialism of Cinque Terre. We hiked into the Sorrentine Peninsula from the north and arrived in Sorrento, on the Gulf of Naples. Sorrento was surprisingly “local” and affordable. We hiked over the mountains to the Gulf of Salerno and connected to the Path of the Gods which dropped us into the charming Nocelle and the swanky Positano.

4. Siena: In the heart of Tuscany, Siena is a charming city with plenty to see, especially the Cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo. Similar to Florence, but more easily consumed in a short period of time.

5. Passo Stelvio: In Northern Italy, along the border to Switzerland and Austria, Passo Stelvio climbs to above 9,000 feet (2,700m) and is a scenic playground for hikers, bikers and cyclists.

6. Appennino Tosco Emiliano National Park: Beautiful mountain ridges, cheap accommodations in various mountain huts, and locally sourced food. This park features above the tree line hiking and deep forest rambles.

7. Tuscany, Along The Via Francigena: The little villages and small cities along the S2 highway on the Italian Camino are clips from travel brochures; San Gimignano, San Miniato, Monteriggione, Radicofani, Buonconvento and Lucca are mostly walled cities upon a hill, surrounded by rolling vineyards and farms. Great food and wine, and welcoming hosts used to seeing tourists.

8. Umbria: Mountains and hills similar to Tuscany, but much quieter and more remote. Some beautiful cities in the region such as Assisi and Perugia.

9. Selvaggio Blu (Sardinia): Sardinia is very rural but you will find people along the east coast in the mountains that hug the Tyrrhenian Sea. The most remarkable blue ocean is found here and the best hiking in southern Italy.

10. Venice: Beautiful architecture, Rialto Market, The Grand Canal, and reasonably consumable in a couple of days. Visually eye popping, but it’s filled with tourist traps, and it’s harder to find great food than you might find in the south.

 

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The Trail Haters Blog: Trail Days Is A Pageant of Failure

I love it when hikers quit the Appalachian Trail. Not every hiker, of course. I love seeing people succeed in this endeavor and watching possibilities and dreams unfold is delightful. I should take greater satisfaction in this but I don’t. I follow the progress of the drunkards, the party animals, the guitar picking, yellow blazing, undisciplined donkeys that litter the southern AT, glorifying their hedonistic and cheating ways and culling unsuspecting but potentially successful thruhikers into their cult of failure.

Victory is sweet, but it feels a whole lot better standing on the back of a vanquished competitor. This week we have Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia. It’s a hiker convention of sorts, where a couple hundred thruhikers and several thousand yellow blazers convene to tell a host of lies and brag about imagined exploits. There will be vendors there to sell gear that very few people need, produced by a 13 year old Bangladeshian girl and her mother for combined $825 a month.
Beer vendors do very well. Hiker trash, (once a term of endearment for those seeking a minimalist lifestyle) descend upon Damascus to find other like minded hedonists who share their affinity for age inappropriate behavior.

Nobody has it better than me on Trail Days week. Yup, I’m sitting pretty watching all these morally and financially bankrupt souls find rides off the trail to go Woofing in Portland or whatever other nonsense that sounds intriguing to their recalcitrant souls. It’s an absolute pageant of failure.

In all seriousness, my hope and prayer is that people learn from this experience and get their asses to Katahdin. I find those predators, disguised as friends or occasionally “trail angels”, as obstacles. They impede the progress of those who have a chance to get to Maine, by introducing distractions.
The Appalachian Trail is like life. You get what you give. It can predict your life and reflect your life. If you have the discipline, the mental toughness and the good fortune there’s a excellent chance you will walk 2,000 miles to Maine. If you are a weak person in life, who regularly makes excuses for failure, accepts half measures, then those traits are likely to reveal themselves on trail. You’ll have plenty of company. The trail is ripe with yellowblazers. Take this golden opportunity to see what you are made of and to chart a different course for your life. The road to success and fulfillment is littered with “easy” detours. Avoid those and choose the hard and solitary path. It’s a narrow path you walk on trail and in life. Best of luck class of 2017.

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Quick Hiking Guide to Italy’s GRANDE ESCURSIONE APPENNINICA

THE GEA
GRANDE ESCURSIONE APPENNINICA

Quick Guide and Waypoints

THE GEA is a 402.6 kilometer trail in the mostly Tuscany region of the Italian Apennine Mountain chain (which stretches 1,400 km along the spine of Italy from North to South. The Trail does dance the borders of Liguria, and Emilia-Romagna.

TRAIL DESCRIPTION

For Americans, the trail has been described as being similar to the Appalachian Trail regions in the Roan Highlands of Tennessee and The White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Trail follows a path that often goes up and over the mountain peak, with some of the more significant peaks being:
MONTE PRADO 2054m (6,738 ft)
MONTE RONDINAIO 1964m
MONTE MARMAGNA 1851m
MONTE ORSARO 1830m

The path is mostly single track country path and is remote by European standards. There are villages within a days walk along most of the trail but only very occasionally do they intersect. The communities surrounding the trail are most often very small. It can be a very steep trail and should be reserved as a thruhike for those in reasonable physical condition and some grasp of wilderness living.

ACCOMMODATION

The GEA has a fewer on trail accommodation than typical European treks. There are a few ways to tackle this trek but I would suggest a flexible approach incorporating wild backcountry camping with the other options:

Campeggio: official campgrounds on the GEA. There are a couple. $10-$20 seems the going rate for a campsite. Wild camping, of course is free.
Bivouac Huts: spartan wooden structures at high elevation that provide poor weather shelter for hunters and adventurers.
Guesthouses: a few of these are at the passes and more a few kilometers off trail.
Osteria: a few places offer simple meals/drink and a spartan room or bunk room. Expect to pay $40-$60 for a room and maybe a bit less for a bunk.
Rifugio: usually staffed by one person or more, these are designed for accommodating trekkers at high elevation. A meal or shower might be possible. These tend to be $40-$55 euro throughout Italy per adult.

 

WEATHER

The Apennine Mountains are marked by very cold winters with lots of snow, and very oppressively hot summers. Rainfall is greatest in April, May and June.

BEST TIME TO HIKE THE GEA

The best time to hike the GEA is June to September. Keep in mind that August is traditionally a holiday month in Italy, so there is a interesting dynamic where the trail is busier, but a lot of the services are closed as the proprietor is on vacation.

RESUPPLY

There are 7 or 8 possibilities to resupply on the GEA. It is important to note that virtually all are on the southern most portion of the trail. This may be due to much of the trail goes through two national parks:
-Parco Nazionale della Forest Casentinesi
-Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino Tosco Emiliano

 

WILDLIFE

Goats, deer, boar, eagles, marmots, wolves, foxes and badgers are among the more prominent species to be found on the GEA.

WAYPOINTS SOUTH TO NORTH
R REFUGIO
H HOTEL
A ALBURGUE/GUESTHOUSES/HOSTEL
G GROCERY
M MEALS AVAILABLE IN VILLAGE
$ ATM OR BANK
T TRAIN

0.0 Bocca Trabaria
13.0 Pian delle Campana R
19.0 Passo di Viamaggio H-5k
28.0 a Santo Stefano G H
36.5 Caprese Michelangelo G H
51.5 La Verna H G
54.0 Monte Calvano
60.0 Poggio Tre Vesconi
77.0 Badia Prataglia H M G R A
95.5 Citta di Forli R
98.0 Monte Falco
100.5 Rifugio Fontanelle R
109.0 Passo del Muraglione M
112.5 Eremo dei Toschi R
132.0 Colla di Casaglia A M
137.0 Refugio Diacci R
147.0 Casetta di Tara M
151.25 Badia Moscheta M A
154.5 Monte Altuzzo
159.25 Passo del Giorgio H
172.75 Passo della Futa C 2km-G M H
187.25 MontePiano H G M $
204.25 Refugio Pacino R
228.5 Pracchia H M G $ T
244.5 Lago Scaffaiolo R
255.0 Monte Rotondo
260.5 Boscolungo A H
265.5 Lago Nero HUT
276.0 Lago Santo Modenese A R
285.0 San Pellegrino G H A M
291.5 Passo della Radici H M G
302.5 Monte Prado
304.0 Exit detour to Rifugio Bargetana
314.5 Passo di Pradarena H M A
321.0 HUT Bivacco Rosario
326.0 Passo del Cerreto H M
334.5 Refugio Citta di Sarzana R
342.5 Prato Spilla R,
356.0 Lago Santo Parmense R, 6km -G
358.5 Monte Marmagna
366.0 Passo di Cirone M
376.0 Passo della Cisa G M H A
402.6 Passo due Santi M H

 

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How To Hike The Irish Coast To Coast Walk

I consider walking the Irish Coast to Coast one of my favorite experiences in the outdoors. It’s certainly one of the all time best long hikes I have ever done. It was a hike I was probably least prepared for and that ended up being one of the best parts of the hike. Eventually, I ended up changing on the fly, doing the hike as I wanted to do it.  I found myself needing help from strangers on the trek, and that ended up a blessing. It forced me to interact with the beautiful people of Ireland. They’re the true jewel of this journey.

 

THE IRISH COAST TO COAST

This trail is really several shorter trails strung together. The distance is roughly 550 kilometers. It depends on how you want to finish the trail in the west. The walk begins in Dublin and finishes in the western shore of Ireland in Kerry Co. (Bray Head).

HISTORY

The Wicklow Way wasn’t completed till 1982. Over the next 30 years the middle sections have been planned and connected so the Kerry Way is tied in the southwest, to Wicklow (in Dublin) in the east. This trail is new and relatively unknown. I didn’t meet one person in Ireland who had heard of The Irish Coast to Coast.

GETTING TO THE TRAIL

The Walk begins in Marley Park in Dublin. It is easily accessible by bus from almost anywhere in Dublin. Getting back to Dublin after the hike is fairly easy. If you choose to finish in Port Magee, which is supposedly how it’s designed, there are options. The Skellig Ring Hostel in Port Magee can help you make bus arrangements to return to Dublin. I hiked in the offseason so I had to hitchhike to a nearby town to catch a bus. Hitchhiking was not a problem in Ireland.

RESUPPLY

I didn’t need to filter water in Ireland. I filled up in town and it was enough to get to the next town. If you are a slower hiker, there are rivers, puddles, lakes all around. I had no problem ressupplying virtually everyday on the hike.  Hikers need to carry enough food to get through the Wicklow Way (131 kilometers). From there,  you can get supplies at one of two great stores at the very end of that. After Wicklow, I ran into a store virtually everyday. I didn’t need to plan it. It was necessary to hitchhike into town to get dry and food on the Dulhallow Way, which is somewhat remote. Usually I just walked into towns to resupply.

TERRAIN

The path is easy to follow most of the time. It gets tough when it leaves the woods and enters a paved road. Signage gets sparse at times and I got lost plenty. The path is not difficult. It’s clear, and the grade is gentle. It’s more difficult than the Camino Frances, but nowhere like the Appalachian Trail.

WEATHER

The weather I encountered was mild. I went in the offseason (October) and the temperatures were in the high 60’s (Fahrenheit). It will rain. Good rain gear is a must! I used a tarp and it was sufficient. It’s also possible to not camp at all on the trail. Even though it rained a lot of days, it was usually interrupted by hours of sunshine as well. The rain was more of a drizzle than a downpour.

ACCOMODATION

There are plenty of places to camp all along the Irish Coast to Coast, and one Adirondack style shelter on the Wicklow Way. I camped in pub parking lots and in village greens with enthusiastic support from townspeople. Most land in Ireland is privately owned, so it’s very different than here in the USA, where the trails are protected or owned by the public. If you need to camp and it looks like it’s someone’s property, ask permission.  A real treat of Ireland, though, is the bed and breakfasts. There is a comprehensive b&b rating system in Ireland, and it’s easy to get great accommodation and a full Irish breakfast for about $40 euro. Because it was October, I was often the only guest! On The Wicklow Way and The Kerry Way, bed and breakfast options are available each day. In the middle trails there is a greater distance between villages but it’s conceivable to stay in one every night. There is a popular hostel with a tremendous view on the Wicklow Way, in Knockree. Couchsurfing and Airbnb are useful tools along the route. When I mentioned that I was walking the Irish Coast to Coast, not one person had ever heard of it, yet they often went out of their way to help me get a ride into town, invite me into their homes, invite me to watch rugby and football matches with them. The people truly welcomed me into their community, and encouraged me to feel at home in their country. There are supposedly three adirondack shelters on the Wicklow Way. I wasn’t really looking for them and I was moving fast and often in the dark, so I only saw the one in Mucklagh.

 

 

THE WICKLOW WAY

It is great to break up the Wicklow Way in stages if you are looking for accommodation.  This is how I did it.

Day 1: Marley Park to Knockree(20.5 km) stay at Knockree Hostel

Day 2: Knockree to Glendalough (34km) possible accomodation at Roundwood 21km) and Glendalough (34km)

Day 3: Glendalough to Moyne (41 km) possible accommodation at Glenmalure Lodge (20km) and Moyne. There is Kyle’s Farmhouse in Moyne.    It’s supposedly a nice B&B.

Day 4: Moyne to Clonegal/Kildavin (49km) possible accomodation in Shillaleigh (30km) and Kildavin. Resupply and hot meals in Kildavin. This is the end of the Wicklow Way.

Leaving Marley Park it’s a significant climb for the first hour or so. It’s about a four to five hour hike to Knockree. Here you will find the Knockree Hostel. There is a cheap bed to be found here and some snacks via vending machine. There is a kitchen and some meals are offered. I found an excellent hiker box. No store. There was very little on the route to Knockree but definitely there was quite a few camping situations, if you are stealth.

On the second day leaving Knockree the route is the same. There are some roads on the Wicklow Way but not too many. The options at the ancient monastic city of Glendalough were plenty. There was Glendalough International Hostel which wasn’t great and a costly $45. There was some fine dining options and a few pricier bed and breakfast options. Glendalough is beautiful and has some interesting historical sights.

Glendalough has McCoys Petrol which is probably the best place to ressupply on the route. I was able to fully resupply here for the rest of Wicklow Way. There is hot meals and sandwiches to be had.

There isn’t a lot of resupply options after this, but there are some small villages that may or may not have something. None that I was able see as I hiked till Kildavin. The Wicklow Way is not as scenic in its final day or two. It leaves the woods and scenic vistas and follows minor roads and tracks.

 

Accomodation List:

Knockree Hostel

The Coach House Roundwood

Glendalough International Hostel

Glenmalure Lodge

Kyle’s Farmhouse In Moyne

Old Shillaleigh Stickhouse

Meadowside in Clonegal

For more accommodations check this link: http://www.wicklowway.com/accommodation/index.php

I camped on the route and had no issues. I asked permission for a spot in Kildavin.

SHELTERS ON THE WICKLOW WAY 

BRUSHERS SHELTER  Near Glendalough

MULLACOR SHELTER   Near Glenmalure

MUCKLAGH SHELTER between Glenmalure and Moyne.

SOUTH LEINSTER WAY

Distances from Wicklow Way and accomodation.

Kildavin 1km    Conway’s Pub (tenting).                                      
Borris: Brenda’s B&B
Step House
Graiguenamegh 30km
Brandonview House
Waterside Guest House
Instioge 53km
Woodstock Arms
Mullinavet 86km
The Rising Sun Guest House
Carrick-on-Suir 106km
Carraig Hotel
Nells Farm House

The South Leinster Way begins in Kildavin. The town has little to offer but I camped at Conway’s and picked up some food at a shop. I found the start of the SLW by the church. The tracks are hard to follow and there are some road walks that are confusing. Leinster Mountain is delightful as are the views of the Blackstairs Mountains. There is more sparse accomodation on the SLW but plenty of places to camp along the way if you set up late and leave early. I got lost quite a bit on the first half of the trail but I always got back on track no problem. The tread is easier than the Wicklow Way. The towns on the SLW are quite small, with Carrick-on-Suir being the exception. Ormonde Castle (1450), is in full view as you walk into that village at the end of the SLW. Signage is mostly good on the trail, but keep your head on a swivel. I was able to resupply in Kildavin, Graigeneumagh and Carrick-on-Suir, which has a nice grocery store and plenty of pubs.

EAST MUNSTER WAY

Carrick-on-Suir 0km
Clonmel 30km
Newcastle 51km
Clogheen 73km

On the way to Clonmel there is very limited options in Kilsheelan. I grabbed a tea at a cafe. Clonmel is the biggest town on the Irish Coast to Coast Walk and there is plenty of options for resupply and there is accomodation in town. There really isn’t any accomodation near trail in Newcastle but there is one a  few kilometers away, supposedly, but i never saw it. I camped without issue. Clogheen sports a campground, and a couple of B&B options, but little else. The Knockmealdown Mountains are a little more remote and this middle section is not crowded with hikers for sure. Even though these villages are small, the people are delightful and worth stopping in, even for just a short break. Grab a beer, a tea or a snack.

AVONDHU WAY
Clogheen 0km
Barnahown 20km
Kilworth 40km
Fermoy 47km
Ballyhooly 61km
Killavullen 72km
Bweeng 105km
The Avondhu Way like the latter half of the East Munster Way is fairly remote. Leaving Clogheen, it’ll be 20km before you arrive in Barnahown. There is very limited option for accomodation here, and a little bit more a few hours later at Mountain Barracks. There is some options for a bite to eat in Kilworth but nothing really substantial till Fermoy. Fermoy has plenty of accomodation and places to resupply. There are plenty of places to camp before you get there if it’s too far. Follow the set up late and leave early System and you’ll be ok. Ballyhooly is a small village with a B&B if you can’t make it to Killavullen. After Killavullen there is nothing till Bweeng, and there is nothing there and I hitched into the nearby town of Mallow that had all services.
A link to hold onto here is https://anoige.ie/hostels/ so u can find a place to stay if you need. Fermoy and Mallow are great resupply places. I stayed in a B&B in Mallow and recouped for a night and a morning. Accomodation might be hard to find in this section outside of these towns, and since I went in the offseason I didn’t notice much.
The track is the Knockmealdown mountains with small ascents. This is where you will begin to see more windfarm activity. The paths to these windmills can make your track confusing. Be alert. People are sparse but helpful. This trail is mostly open country path or mountain track. It was occasionally broken up by a road walk, a long one which occurs after Mountain Barracks Inn.

DULHALLOW WAY

Bweeng 0km
Millstreet 40km
Shrone 62km
Muckross 82km
Killarney National Park/Kerry Way 83km

The Dulhallow Way was the toughest part of the Irish Coast to Coast Walk for me. Bweeng has nothing as discussed in previous section. Shrone also has nothing of note. Millstreet is the only real services (it offers a few b&b’s and shops), on this trail. There is something in Muckross, but you will probably just cross the road at the end of the Dulhallow Way and see the path that leads you into Killarney National Park and The Kerry Way. Killarney is a beautiful city. Very touristy with a major train station. All services including high end hotel accomodation. I regret not spending a full day here. I struggled in this section because I dealt with downpours in the area. I ended up jumping off the trail for a night in Shrone and hitchhiking to the nearby town of Rathmore to dry out. If you get this far, you should be glad. This is the gateway to the Kerry Way, one of the jewels of long distance hiking in Europe. I had no problems finding places to tent along the route.

KERRY WAY

The Kerry Way is a 215 km circular trail that begins and ends in Killarney. It is spectacular! For Americans, the Irish Coast to Coast Walk parallels the Appalachian Trail. It’s pretty good in the beginning, and the middle is more mediocre, then you get to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and it’s the highlight of the trip. The Kerry Way is the highlight of this trip, like a Irish Riviera.

The hiker can choose to many options in Killarney; go the southern route to Port Magee, go the western route, or perhaps explore the Dingle on the Beara Way. If I were to do this again I would do the complete circle and finish in Killarney where I can simply hop on the train to Dublin. The more time on The Kerry Way, the better.

If I had two weeks to hike in Ireland, I would hike the Kerry Way and probably that’s it. I would take my time in each village and soak up the hospitality in the top notch b&b’s.

For the sake of this blog I will assume everyone will go the southern route and complete the circle around the full Ring of Kerry. I will break up the route into stages each ending in a village with plenty of accomodation. There is plenty of accomodation in these towns. Kerry Way is a tourist magnet. Despite this, I had no problem finding camp spots all along the path, but you will run into plenty of obvious private property situations.

Port Magee is the traditional end of the Irish Coast to Coast Walk at Bray Head.

Killarney 0km
Kenmare 25km
Sneem 30km
Cahirdaniel 19km
Waterville 28km
Cahirciveen 30km
Port Magee 25km (not entirely part of KW)
Glenbeigh 28km
Glencar 18km
Black Valley 20km
Killarney 22km

Port Magee is where you will find Valencia Island and Bray Head. This is the location of the first intercontinental cable communication. There is a small notation of that. It is beautiful . I climbed up to the empty light house here (braving 75mph winds).

 

KERRY WAY ACCOMODATION 

There is plenty of accomodation in each village of the KW. Keep in mind that it is a very popular tourist destination and you might want to make arrangements in advance.

A list of Kerry Way accomodation

 

BEER AND PUBS ON THE WALK

PUBS IN IRELAND

These are some popular choices along the route. IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT MANY IF NOT MOST PUBS OFFER SOME SORT OF ACCOMODATION! One stop shopping. The rooms are usually spartan, but doable depending on how much time you spend in the pub. Apparently gambling is quite popular, so there is a lot of horse/football type conversation and televised events in the pubs. There is usually great music to be found and friendly conversation. Within 2 km of the Irish Coast to Coast sits well over 100 pubs. Enjoy.

Dublin:
O’Donahue’s: live music and beer
Stag’s Head: traditional and classic Irish Pub

Clonegal
Osborne’s

Kildavin
Conway’s

Mullinavet:
The Rising Sun (rooms and great food too!)
Rod Iron
Carrick-on-Suir
O’Ceallachain’s
Figgerty’s
Powers Tullahought

Clonmel:
Railway Bar
Mulcahy’s

Fermoy:
The Grand Hotel (made like a billion friends in 5 minutes)
Forge
TJ Goodtymes

Mallow (From Bweeng):
Albert Lynch’s
Maureen’s Pub
The Gallery

Millstreet:
Corkery’s
Bridge Pub
Reardon’s

Killarney:
Courtney’s (popular whiskey bar)
The Shire (local beers)

Glenmare:
Pf McCarthy’s
O’Donnabhain’s

Waterville:
Fisherman’s Bar

Cahirsiveen:
Fertha
Sheebeen

Port Magee:
Fisherman’s Bar and Skellig House

RANDOM TIPS

 

1. If you are not into being alone it may not be the hike for you. I saw backpackers on the Wicklow Way for a few days out of Dublin then I never saw another one. Although you will see plenty of day hikers in Killarney area of the Kerry Way.

2. There is no problem finding a little spot to tent away from anyone’s eyes everyday . Be patient and the spot will present itself. Irish people are the friendliest on earth, I camped in parking lots of pubs, village greens and people’s yards.

3. You do not need to camp on the Irish Coast to Coast. If you are a very strong-hiker a village will come into sight every day across the whole route. But that will mean  25 miles plus on a few occasions.

4. You will get lost. I got lost a few times. It’s going to happen. Irish Coast to Coast Walk is more of a theoretical trail. I did not meet one Irish person who had ever heard of it. They all know the Wicklow Way and the Kerry Way.

5. There is one shelter on the Wicklow Way and one (Knockree Hostel.)  Air BNB is helpful and Ireland is famous for BNB’s . They usually cost me $40 ish and came with hearty breakfast. Irish will go the extra mile for you, and will ensure you have had enough to eat before you begin the days walk.  I stayed with families a few times. That was best. I highly recommend bed and breakfasts along the route if you can afford $40.

6. The Kerry Way is the most scenic section and I chose to finish on Valencia Island. You can choose your own finish point. The Kerry Way was the highlight of my walk across Europe. When you get to Killarney, choose how u want to go. Take your time here. Each village is spaced 12-15 miles apart so the days hike is easy to plan. Kenmare was a village I really enjoyed.

7. There is a guidebook by Paddy Dillon. It’s useless. I referenced only when lost, and I felt I got more lost. Phone numbers in it have not been updated as of my hike, and I ended up losing time checking on it.

8. I used rudimentary maps guides I found on IRISHTRAILS.IE from there I downloaded the PDF’s and used those as a general guide. Google Maps on a smartphone would be a great help. Word of mouth works in Ireland. These people love to talk, storytelling is a national pastime.

9. What worked for me is I followed the Yellow Arrows!!!!! It got lost quite a few times, but I always found those arrows again.

10. The Walk is really a series of shorter trails connected. They all connect point to point except Wicklow and The South Leinster Way which is like a mile apart. It’s easy to find though as you just follow Google map to walk toward Kildavin, a cute little village of maybe 100 people . (They have a Pub!). From there you will find the trail. Wicklow Way to South Leinster Way to East Munster Way to Avondhu Way to Dulhallow Way to Kerry Way.

Maps of all these I got at IRISHTRAILS.ie

 

 

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Ten Reasons To Stay Away From The Camino De Santiago

The Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James, is the most popular and beloved long distance trail in the world. I have walked this ancient path, and enjoyed my experience thoroughly. Before my “Camino”, I did all the research, purchased three different guidebooks, read some journals, and watched the films depicting a journey on the path from Pyrenees on the French border, to Santiago de Compestella. This is where the remains of the apostle St. James are interned according to legend. Virtually every account I read of The Camino, aside from a scathing review by long distance legend, Francis Tapon, were glowing. Most “pilgrims” seemed to have an meaningful experience, and fell in love with the people of northern Spain. I had a tremendous time as well, but there were some drawbacks to my pilgrimage. There were things I wish I had known before I arrived in Spain. Here are ten things to consider when planning a thruhike on the Camino de Santiago. In particular, planning for the most popular route, the Camino Frances.

1. It’s Overcrowded

I knew the Camino de Santiago was popular. Thirty years ago the Cathedral in Santiago welcomed roughly the same amount of long distance walkers as the sign on Mt. Katahdin, at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. A slew of books, documentaries and one popular Hollywood film have helped change that. Present day, over 250,000 pilgrims are expected to reach Santiago each year. The Camino’s path can easily handle the traffic, as it is usually a double track trail or a country road. If one chooses to walk the Camino in the busy season (June 15-September 15), expect to be to rise early and hike as fast as possible to your destination, to ensure a bed in a preferred alburgue (hostel). I saw many hikers turned away in towns, and forced to hike an additional ten to twenty kilometers at the end of the day in search of a bed. This creates a great deal of stress for the pilgrims, but ample opportunity to socialize with fellow walkers.

2. It’s Expensive

A typical Appalachian Trail thruhiker expects to spend between $1 and $3 per mile. On the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims spend between $5 and $10 per mile. A flight to mainland Europe will likely cost well over $1,000 round trip and then any additional bus, taxi and/or train travel getting to and from the Camino is expected to cost at least $200. Accommodations will cost between $6 and $25 per person each evening, depending on your need for certain amenities. The walk each day will bring the pilgrims past plenty of places to eat. Expect to spend roughly $6 euro for breakfast, $10 euro for lunch/ snacks and $12 euro for dinner and a drink. The pilgrims meal is available each night in popular alburgues and cafes and typically cost $10 euro. Typically, you will want your money back! The best bargain on the Camino is the baggage transport. See someone in the Pilgrims Office in France or Pamplona and your backpack will to be shuttled each day to their destination for roughly $75 euro for the entire trip! Sign me up for that one. The Camino runs directly into several villages a day, so purchases of gifts to commemorate your trip will be ever present.

3. The Food is Terrible

In my minds eye, I envisioned traditional Spanish meals in villages, with delicious and authentic versions of paella, stuffed peppers, and delicious tapas! Unless you want to pay triple the cost, in the bigger towns, what you will get is very poor American diner versions of these dishes. Canned vegetables and lots of ham (jamon) rule on the Camino. Food represents the worst value on the journey, and I often wished I had brought my backcountry stove and cooked my own meals from local grocers. One frustrating aspect of the Camino is walking past endless farms and pastures, yet very infrequently seeing that food on your plate at night. The economy on the Camino is at least 30 years behind the American system, and thus the distribution chain is very rudimentary. Fresh bread (half a euro) and wine ($2 euro a bottle) are tasty and a bargain. Near the end of your walk, Galician Broth will be available and it’s a tasty cousin of our own kale soup, made primarily of a tall collard green type vegetable called berza. The seafood is not as good as advertised, perhaps because the ocean temperatures there are simply not cold enough. Octopus is popular, and if someone tells you it’s kind of like lobster, don’t believe them.

4. Where are the Trees?

Deforestation isn’t only a Spanish problem, it’s a European issue. Once the Camino leaves Pamplona, in the east, trees become pretty sparse until you enter the final province of Galicia. Only 4% of Spain is covered in what’s known as “Primary Forests”. Primary forests are those in which there are native species covering an area with little or no human activity. Reforestation efforts are underway, and have been for some time. Previous attempts to repopulate trees have been fraught with ineptitude and corruption.

5. No Wildlife

A land without trees isn’t going to have much in the way of wildlife. Deer are plentiful in the US, but are rarely seen throughout Western Europe. Trees and forests are a important food source for deer as it is for bears. Spain is one of the few places in Western Europe with a bear population, but you won’t see one. The Cantabrian Brown Bear, is barely hanging on, with a population of about 80 in all of Spain. The Pyrenean Brown Bear has a population of as many as 70, but they need forests and animals that live in the forest to continue to survive. The penalty for killing a bear in Spain is astronomical, so that’s good news.

6. Snorers

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a pilgrim like the sight of a overweight, middle aged male checking into an alburgue. Earplugs, headphones and heavy doses of state sponsored medication couldn’t defend sleepers against these nighttime pests. Alburgues tend to sleep between 12 and 200 pilgrims each night and I saw pilgrims carrying their mattresses into hallways, kitchens and even outdoors to escape power snorers. The problem got so bad that it became a blessing, as I began to seek out alternative accommodation. I found that for a little more money, I could rent an apartment with a kitchen or stay with a family, where we received good tasting, healthy meals that I envisioned when I began to plan the trip!

7. Siesta

For an outsider, siesta sounds like a cute cultural tradition, different from our pressurized American lives. In reality, it’s hindering economic growth and it’s bad for the Spanish worker. Typically, a pilgrims’ day begins around 7am and the walking finishes between 1pm and 3pm. Just when the pilgrim finishes their walk, they may need to visit a pharmacy, an outfitter, or a bank. No can do! Those businesses close each day for four to five hours for siesta. This deprives the pilgrims of some supplies, and also costs these businesses an opportunity to extract crucial tourist money, at a time when they are most free to spend it. Siesta is bad for the Spanish worker because it lengthens the day and makes their meal times awkward. There is a constant struggle between tradition and viability in the economy of Western Europe.

8. Service

I have never been more convinced that our American tradition of tipping is the best than when I backpacked across Europe. Do not construe this criticism of service in Spain as to mean they are not gracious and accommodating. Service is a learned ability. When to take an order, picking up cues from the customer, when to leave a check, refill water. Pressure on the waitress or waiter to preform, in turn leads to better performance from everyone in the restaurant especially the kitchen staff. A customer on the Camino has to be aggressive in placing an order in a busy restaurant and in receiving the bill. It took us a couple of weeks to figure out that we needed to push the issue. Each time, they kindly provided it, but there was not the concern you might get here in the States. I always left a tip, regardless, and while the service staff in Spain are not expected tips, the government does. Spain has 21% VAT.

9. Not The Endurance Test It Could Be

The great thing about finishing a thruhike in the United States is that if you complete one of the three triple crown trails, you have exhausted much of your strength and emotional resources to finish the journey. The Camino is easy. It’s mostly flat and the path is smooth and wide. The much ballyhooed climb over the Pyrenees on the first day is akin to climbing Blood Mountain in Georgia on the Appalachian Trail. It’s paved at least half the time on that climb. I exhausted more energy hiking the hilly 90 km Camino Finisterre, that extends from the Cathedral in Santiago to the Atlantic Ocean, than I did in all the 850 km of The Way of St. James.

10. Bacon

Didn’t I already touch on the topic of food? Yes, but bacon is so important it deserves its own place on this list. Breakfast is often complimentary at hotels or B & B’s and bacon is featured along with its fellow atrocity, blood sausage. European bacon evidently means a piece of dry ham with a sliver of fat beside it. It’s about half as good as the pathetic crap they call bacon in Canada. It’s not good, but don’t protest too loudly, as Spaniards are proud of their Jamon. Jamon and other cured pork products typically make up about 90% of a meat section in a larger grocery store. We met one woman, who considers herself a vegetarian, but eats jamon without pause, as if its its own category.

Despite these reasons to NOT walk the Camino de Santiago, I still encourage others to do so, with these things under advisement. I would hike it in an alternative season, or perhaps try the Camino del Norte, which is a bit more rigorous and less crowded. I’d definitely shuttle my bags ahead the whole way, and look for slightly more expensive accommodations, but with more privacy and a kitchen. I might consider taking a stove and a tent. I’d definitely take crackers with me. Snacks like Cheez Its, Goldfish, Triscuits or Ritz will not be available to you, (we went on many wild hunts for Goldfish that went nowhere.)
I’d focus on the hundreds of ancient churches, the majestic cathedrals, the beautiful people and the lovely cobblestone streets. I’d be honored to once again follow a path that millions of pilgrims have walked and died on before me.

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