Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Best Things on My Camino

The door of Pardon at Villa Franca

Tunde, a friend from Hungary asked me today what the deepest or best moment was for me on the Camino. It's a difficult question and I don't have my answer yet but here are a few gems:
1. Laughter with people I have just met who open their heart to us.
2. Morning silence and sounds
3. The community of pilgrims
4. Being alone and never being lonely.
5. Being with people and never being lonely.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Beautiful Stones

Yesterday we left the plains of the Meseta and are now climbing slowly up into the mountains. We passed through Astorga where we visited the Cathedral and Gaudi's bishop's Palace. He really was a complete genius.

Now we are in a mountainous area with picturesque stone villages. I took a detour yesterday to see Castrillo de Los Polvazares one of the best preserved towns in the area, but they are all beautiful.

We continue to meet lots of wonderful people. Last night we had dinner with a lovely couple who met and fell in love on the Camino last year. (She is Slovenian and he is Portuguese.) Based on a sample size of three we have decided that Slovenians are the most beautiful people in the world.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gordon is Human

Well it took twenty one years to see any signs, but it seems Gordon is human after all. What... he broke his leg you ask? A sprained ankle ? Perhaps sunstroke and dehydration? No a muscle in his leg cramped. He actually took an ibuprofen, after limping the last 15 kilometers of a 38 kilometer day. He even momentarily considered riding my bike if I had been anywhere near. Instead I was at the Albergue singing and sharing a guitar with Jernij from Slovenia and two young Québécois .
Where is my compassion you ask? Of course I have lots, but after my own history of afflictions it's nice to know that he has limits too. We will make a shorter day tomorrow, and hopefully he will be just fine.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Leon: City of Godly Things

We entered Leon early so that we could have a full day exploring all the sights.

This is a place of Godly things. The Cathedral is a stunning 13th century one with more glass than stone. Another church, San Isidoro, is a 12th century Romanesque marvel. Our troubadour, Gildas from France, joined us in both places with his violin- playing Bach. It was so lovely and made the churches seem even more magical. Also attached to San Isodoro is a small chapel with a remarkable collection of unrestored but perfectly preserved 12th century frescoes.

And then there is the food. At La Cocina we dined on seafood stuffed red peppers, pork medallions in a blue cheese sauce, fantastic wine and homemade desserts that made Gord moan. So good in fact that we returned for a second meal in the evening. Probably the only day on the Camino that we ate more than we burned.

Location:Leon, Spain

Sunday, July 24, 2011

El dia de Santiago

It is 6:30 in the morning and Gord is off. I have the luxury of waiting for my 7:30 breakfast here at the Pension. We took an alternate route to this town, billed as the friendliest town on the Camino by our guidebook. It certainly is and the food here has been some of the best.

Here is Saint James in Le Puy en Velay - our original starting point on the Camino. He is often done up as a pilgrim or now that we are in Spain a Moor slayer; both images complete revisionism to suit the needs of the historical period. Santiago or St. James is the patron Saint of Spain, and today is his feast day.
St. James the Greater: one of the twelve apostles and the first to be martyred, is revered along the Camino with an intensity approaching that of the cult of the virgin.
Of course that's to be expected, this is a Pilgrimage to his remains.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Albergue Altruism

San Martin Fromista

Ok, as the queen of justification it's time for a word about las habitationes. There are several levels of accommodation along the Camino and the ones in highest demand are the refugios and albergues. These are generally bunk beds in dormitories that are either donativos, where you pay what you can, or albergues charging between 3 to 8€. At the higher end of the accommodation spectrum there are many private albergues and hostals where a double room is typically between 20-40€.

Because I am on bike we are staying away from the municipal albergues that give priority (as they should) to the walkers. As a humanitarian gesture and in response to hearing concerns from many pilgrims that the cheap places are filling up, I'm sacrificing myself to the more available higher end rooms.

I have heard from many people who walk the Camino that staying in the huge dormitories is a necessary part of the pilgrimage and I'm sure it is. I know in France some of our best connections were made in such places. However, every day Gord and I hear tales of the terrible nights experienced by people who are either kept awake by late night partiers, snoring, smelly boots or the 5 a.m. rustlers who are racing to the next place. In spite of what we might miss Gord and I are very comfortable with our sacrifice.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A State of Grace

If words could describe how I am feeling this morning I would say I am in a state of grace.

Mornings are just stunning on the meseta and riding slowly through this spectacular landscape is such a gift. The weather is sunny but unusually cool- perfect. I can't believe that this is the area most commonly bypassed by pilgrims on train. I think it is so lovely. Much more varied than the Prairies in Alberta, but like them, full of beautiful vistas and big sky. The towns are nestled into valleys or up on fortified points and more like the towns we saw in France.

This is a calm and quiet happiness that I would love to hold on to. I am enjoying my solitude so much more than I expected. It is great to plan my deviations from the walkers' route, to see other villages along the way. I'm never lonely, and If I ever was the bars along the Camino are full of new friends.
Today: 48km, three cars, one tractor.

We are now in Fromista where there is one of the best preserved Romanesque churches I have ever seen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Pension Acacia, Burgos
We had another wonderful day on the Camino today. I wanted to avoid the N 120 into Burgos so Gord and I headed off together even though I knew the first 4 km would be a rough track over a pass. I walked pushing my bike over the rutted and stoney track until at the very top we had to detach the trailer and take each piece separately. I pushed the bike while my chivalrous husband picked up and carried my trailer over the worst section. I think he was pleased that there were two Australians to witness his heroic
efforts. After a rough decent the trail became a gravel road, but the walking was nice for a change so I continued with Gord until we found a village to stop at for breakfast. After breakfast I rode ahead for a bit and then would loop back for Gord periodically.

By the time We reached the outskirts of Burgos I joined Gord again for the long 10km walk through an industrial area that could have been anywhere in North America. The walking felt great and pushing the bike and trailer was pretty easy too.

Gordon - We finally entered the old walled section of town and visited the Cathedral. It is magnificent. Constructed quickly in the early 13th century, it has a consistent early gothic design. One significant later addition is an extraordinary tower at the crossing, described by the king at the time as "more the work of angels than men". There are some real artistic treasures inside as well. We realized that, as compared to France, this may be because the cathedral was not subject to the damage suffered by the contents of French churches during the revolution.

Ruth had an athletic day today. She walked 20 km and cycled 15. I suggested she have a swim in the river and call it a triathlon. This would have been difficult even if she had been so inclined, because the mighty Rio Arlanzon is only 10 feet wide and 6 inches deep.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

El Menu del Dia

We were warned that we would tire of the pilgrim dinners, but so far they are working well for us. The choices always challenge the bounds of our Spanish vocabulary so it is usually somewhat of a surprise to see what we have actually ordered. Who knew that merguez is actually fish not sausage? The first course is usually a complete meal in itself with options like a hearty mixed salad with tuna or egg, spaghetti, paella or soup. This is followed by more meat options many involving pork. It is amazing how many different words there are for pork dishes. This is not a country for vegetarians, even our melon today was served with ham.

Gordon - Wine is served with every meal except breakfast (an untapped market?). When we order a menu del dia a bottle with the cork loosened is generally placed on the table with the bread and the water. Initially we took it upon ourselves to see that no wine was wasted, but after a number of meals we realized that consuming the entire bottle is merely a possibility. A partially consumed bottle is topped up and presented to the next group of diners. In the cheaper establishments we were actually charged a "supplement" if we drank more than a large glass each.

A quick update on our progress: we have covered 270 km in our first 9 days on the Camino. This pace is more than sufficient to get us not only to Santiago, but also Finisterra. We have been fortunate to not suffer any foot or other problems thus far, and day by day we are getting stronger.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Love on the Way

Pension Toni, Belorado, Spain
When a Pilgrim from Bulgaria heard that my name was Ruth she dug out her camera to show me a picture of my name made in stones surrounded by a heart. The work of Gord earlier in the day you ask???? Well... no, but I like to imagine that I have admirers out there. The next day Gord heard the full story from a Belgian woman. Apparently a Frech pilgrim walked for awhile with an Austrian named Ruth but he failed to exchange any contact information with her. Since their separation he has realized that he is madly in love with her. Frantic and unsure whether she is ahead or behind he is leaving love messages in stone and telling all pilgrims to look out for her.
It appears that a number of people hook up on the Camino. Flirtation is rampant here and my days are open with very little supervision. Come lunch time however, Gord and I usually meet for coffee or a snack in one of the little towns along the way. Love really is in the air. Today, while I was waiting for Gord I watched a father attempt to take a picture of his daughter and a young cat. As he was fraimg up the shot a tom  cat entered he scene and mounted her (the young cat not the girl).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fuente de Vino

Casa de Abuela
Today our route took us past a legendary point on the Camino - the Fuente del Vino. The monastery of Irache constructed a hospital for pilgrims in 1050, one of the earliest on the Camino. The monastery now operates a major winery and as their gift to the pilgrims they have placed a tap in a wall where free wine is available. Of course we had to raise a glass to Santiago, even though it was only 10 a.m. The wine was actually very good, or at the very least good value. There is also a webcam there which can be viewed at www. When I arrived at the Fuente there was a group of young Italians with a guitar performing for the camera. What could be more pleasant than a glass of wine and music on a beautiful day?

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Camino Moments

Auberge de Lorca, Lorca, Spain
Anyone who has made the pilgrimage to Santiago will tell you about their own Camino moments. These are the moments when just as adversity strikes things are magically resolved. Whether or not one attributes this to the workings of Santiago, magic or luck, Camino moments are truly an important part of this Pilgrimage.

Before leaving this morning our host invited us to watch the running of the bulls live. It was absolutely terrifying! At one point one of the bulls was briefly separated from the pack-an extremely dangerous situation. I watch in horror as several people were tossed or trampled. I really don't get it.
But I digress from today's Camino moments. After a four km climb and a gentle down hill my trailer hitch broke right at the point of attachment. Yesterday's off-road boulder experiment must have been too much for it. I was really hooped! Just as I was calling Gord however, a work truck stopped beside the road and one of the men found a clamp to tie the trailer to the bike. It actually worked really well, and I was able to continue coasting down the hill into Puente de Reina. Now, literally the first place in town was a machine repair shop! At first I wasn't very confident that it could be repaired but a man patiently drilled out the broken piece lodged in my bike and welded a new end onto my hitch pin and voila as good as new! He refused to accept any payment and wished me a buen Camino.

In Puente de Reina while I was waiting to meet Gord for lunch I met some Spanish cyclists that loved my bike and trailer so much that they took this photo and emailed it back to me. The bike and trailer have been very popular.At lunch we were reunited with Leighton so I again had company for the second half of the beautiful ride.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Death in the Afternoon

I am sitting just outside the Cathedral in Pamplona on the second last day of the San Fermin festival. During the festival the city bursts with about 1 million tourists and dare devils here for the running of the bulls.
I rode into Pamplona with a great guy from New Zealand. It was nice to have a companion for the ride into the city. We joined the Camino about 9km out and had a beautiful bike path the whole way in.
As we entered the city walls the smell of beer and urine hit us and we chose our route carefully through the broken glass. An American we met at dinner last night, who had visited Pamplona two days earlier, referred to the Vancouver riots as child's play by comparison.
The streets are terribly narrow for such a crazy event, and the barricades lining the route don't look like they would provide adequate protection for the spectators. The six bulls and six steers race through the kilometer route at speeds up to 24km/h!!!
Sitting in a square just a block off the main hub, is safe enough and great for people watching. I just talked to some Brits who ran with the bulls an hour earlier, and still looked very excited. They claimed it was safe as long as you stayed near the front... Right! The papers report however that between 200 and 300 people are injured each year. This year they have had 165 emergency services workers and 16 ambulances spread out over the route.Today, I guess was a relatively good day with only 7 people injured. A good day; unless your one of the bulls.

Casa Carpintero Astráin, Spain

We have settled into a 400 year old B&B on the square of this tiny town. We are slightly off the Camino which might account for our very warm welcome here. I think some of our hosts, like the Señora from Larrasona, are a wee bit pilgrim weary.

Gordon - This evening we learned what became of the six bulls involved in this morning's run. We arrived at the bar for dinner just as today's bull fights were beginning, live on national television. I don't believe they carry this on TSN. While undoubtedly cruel, the picador and bandilleros cause real injury to the bulls and copious amounts of blood flow, we were riveted to the screen for two hours. The outcome for the bull is certain, but there is also the possibility of real injury or death for the human participants. In fact, one matador was thrown and trampled, but he returned to fight his second bull. It is sad to watch an animal go from magnificent athleticism to death in 10 minutes, but it was a compelling watch. And for sensitive, new age guys, please note that the six steers that ran with the bulls this morning are still alive and well and looking forward to tomorrow.

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Location:Pamplona, Spain

Monday, July 11, 2011

On Top of the Pyrenees or at least at a low pass.

Hotel Roncesvalles
It was a tough first day but I made it up the 900 meter climb over the Pyrenees and it is a wonderful feeling to be here. Gord and I took different routes this morning; he on the much higher Route Napoleon and me on the Valcarlos route. Every trip there is usually one thing I get really anxious about and today's climb was it this time. Although I would have loved one more lower gear, it was quite manageable with lots of rest stops and a bit of pushing. Nothing like the 17km of pushing I read on someone's blog. Eeek!
We were very lucky with the weather; it has been quite wet here but today the sun broke through by noon. As this shot suggests; sun is a rare thing in Roncesvalles.

Gordon - It was a glorious day on the route de Napoleon, which is the trail taken by most pilgrims in fair weather. The route climbs steeply at times, eventually rising 4,000 feet above St. Jean Pied de Porte. Unlike mountains in Canada, the Pyrenees are alive with human activity. Houses are found most of the way up, and the peaks are wide open pasture land dotted with herds of shaggy, horned
sheep. There are also a surprising number of single lane roads twisting over the landscape. Shortly before I reached the Spanish border I encountered a van selling drinks and snacks. In an effort to get pilgrims to stop, the vendor asked each one which country they were from, which he then entered on a chalk board. About 60 pilgrims had already passed ahead of me. Half of them were from either France or Spain, but in all about a dozen countries were represented, including Korea (9 pilgrims) and Israel. I was the first Canadian of the day.
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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Camino Eve

Gite Ultreia, St.Jean Pied de Port
The last time we were here was a much sadder time because we had to leave the camino. This time it is a starting point rather than an end. Tomorrow we cross the Pyrenees into Spain!!!!!
The Gite I pre booked in Roncesvalles for tomorrow night lost our reservation but they are giving us a room at their four star hotel for the same price. See- St Jacques is already delivering the goods! Of course the last fancy place we stayed at we had bed bugs so who knows.

The town is as beautiful as ever even though it is swarming with summer crowds. Sort of like Banff in July but with better cheese.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011


Hotel des Arceaux , Bayonne

Bayonne is a beautiful place to recover from a long series of flights. Unfortunately, my synapses are firing in slow motion so I won't try to write much today.
After a brief period of lost baggage we are now all reunited with our stuff. Cycling without pedals and wheels for the trailer might have been tricky; not to mention the scandal I would created cycling without cycle shorts.

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