Thursday, May 26, 2016

Days 15 and 16: more Madrid and Coming Home

We had a lot of things to pack into one short day in Madrid; but we did an excellent job of getting in as much as we possibly could! 

We started our morning with a walk to Plaza Mayor. What is in Plaza Mayor, you ask? Well other than being the main square of Madrid full of shops and restaurants and apartments, it is also the designated spot in Madrid to place love locks. 

Some may not be familiar with the tradition of love locks, so if you aren't: love locks are padlocks used to symbolize a couple's love -- they are usually placed on bridges / permanent structures and locked their, the keys thrown into the water below showing that their love is forever. I fell in love with the concept of love locks the first time I ever saw them ... so when I knew CJ and I would be traveling abroad, I bought us one to place in Madrid. Usually I put pictures at the end, but -- 

Ahhhh!! It's just so cute!! 

And locked onto its spot in Plaza Mayor, Madrid to live forever. 😍

After spending a little time in Plaza Mayor, we went in search of breakfast: churos and hot chocolate. We people watched and ate our breakfast until about eleven when it was time four our walking tour. If you've never taken a free walking tour of a city that you are visiting for the first time (it wasn't my first time in Madrid, but it was CJ's), I highly recommend the free walking tour. They do work for tips, so you'll be hit up at the end, but usually five euros makes them happy and they are full of good tips and knowledge about the city. Not only do they know about the history of the building that you keep passing but have minuses what it is, they also know how to help you avoid tourist traps, recommend restaurants that are authentic and not crazily priced, and tell you how to get places on your map. Our tour guide was great as was the tour. 

We went to Sol (or its longer name: Plaza de Puerta de Sol, plaza of the gate of the sun) and learned that not only is it the home of the bear / tree that is so symbolic of Madrid but also the home of "little Big Ben" ANNNND the most popular place to protest in all of Madrid. The square is not that large, but in 2003 it held over 2.5 million protesters who came out to rally against Spainish troops participating in the war in Iraq. After Sol we went to the Opera House, built by Queen Isabel II. I have to admit, I didn't know too terribly much about the history of the monarchy of Spain; and I assume if you are reading this you do not either. So here is a little information about Queen Isabel II: first of all, she became queen when she was just three years old and began ruling the country in her own when she was twelve. TWELVE. Sheesh. At the age of nineteen she chose to marry ... her first cousin, who happily married her because he sought the power that came with being king ... but turned out to be gay, which did not go over well with the teenage queen. Being a teenager and prone to teenage tantrums, she threw an epic one and banished her "husband" from Madrid, only to be able to enter again with written permission sealed with the Royal stamp from Queen Isabel. She never gave him permission to come back to Madrid and he died without ever seeing Madrid again. She did shend him money from time to time, but only when he wrote letters begging for funds. (Maybe this is why we don't let teenagers run countries?) Queen Isabel was very progressive in her ruling of the country, however, and decided that Madrid needed an opera house; at the time the Catholic Church was not so sure this was a good idea ... but being the eccentric queen that she was, she said do it, and it was done. 

Next we went to the Royal palace -- not a super impressive building when it comes to beauty, but quite amazing when it comes to size. There are over three thousand rooms inside the palace. Can you imagine? And where does the royal family live now? Not there -- too big. They had another palace build a little ways away. We also saw the cathedral of Madrid; again -- not so pretty. It is said that the church was not to be prettier than the home of the monarchy, and since the palace is kind of plane, so must the church be. 

Those were the highlights of the tour -- we also saw a few other neighborhoods and went to lunch. On our tour we met a girl from California who is starting her Camino this week; she had lots of questions and we had lots of advice! We also met a lady from Israel and a girl from Brazil. 

After the tour and lunch, we went to the Prado to see my favorite paintings: those done by Grecco, Goya, and Velazquez. All of the paintings are beautiful for different reasons -- I really like the colors and proportions of the Grecco paintings; he has a four piece series of religious paintings of the annunciation, the assumption, the baptism of Christ, and the crucifixion -- he is always sure to include not only God as father and son in his paintings, but also as spirit in the form of a dove. Velazquez has a ton of paintings in the Prado, but my favorites of his are his depictions of mothers with their children -- usually portraits of children with their parents are very stiff and posed and no one looks happy or like they like each other at all; Velazquez portrays more realistic portraits -- the mothers look loving and the babies and children look happy and engaged; they are holding one another. He really captures the feelings of bonding and love. And then there is Goya -- though I am not a dark person, I really enjoy his dark paintings "the black paintings"; you most likely are familiar with his most famous painting Saturn Devouring his Son. They are all so eerie and full of angst and emotion -- I wouldn't want them hanging in my house, but I do enjoy viewing them when I go to the Prado. 

After the Prado we went to Retiro Park and enjoyed the quiet peacefulness for a while -- sometimes it is nice to just sit in silence and gather your thoughts and reflect. Finally we went to dinner -- tapas and sangria (we were still really full from lunch). Then it was time to pack our bags, set out our things for travel, and get some sleep. 

And now I am sitting in the airport after a morning of metro rides and security lines and coffee ready to board my plane home. 

A few photos ... 

Madrid street view. 

Our tour guide, Patricia. 

Queen Isabel II and the opera house. 

The royal palace -- well, part of it. It is really big. 

The cathedral. 

The bear !!! 

The Prado !!!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️

I am art! Also known as: I am so short I fit in the tiny statue holes in Retiro park ... 

Retiro Park -- you can't hear it (obviously) but there are two men playing trumpet and accordion behind us. 

Me and CJ in Sol. 

Mmmmm -- churos and hot chocolate. 

In plaza mayor 😍
Gah -- I just love the love locks! Also: the purple shell ring is holding the place of my engagement ring until I get home. I would have been pretty heartbroken is something happened to the real engagement ring while hiking. 

More love locks -- I just can't help it!! 

And this, my friends, sums up our trip: mi amante y mi perigrino. 

Buen Camino. ❤️

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Day 14: Madrid

Yesterday we said good bye to our fellow pilgrims, and this morning we said good bye to Santiago. Before heading to the train station, we went to the square in front of the cathedral -- not another soul was there. For a few minutes, the cathedral was just ours. I thanked St. James for keeping us safe throughout our pilgrimage and prayed for all the pilgrims who would arrive today; and lastly I asked for a good journey home. Leaving Santiago is always a little sad; but more adventures are yet to come. And I'm confident that I will return to Santiago on pilgrimage again -- there are so many routes I have not yet traveled! 

After good byes we walked to the train station and had some breakfast before getting on the train and heading towards Madrid. CJ has never been to Madrid, so there is much to explore! Sometimes taking the train is a little depressing -- what took me ten days to walk can be achieved in five hours on a train 😣 At least the ride from Santiago to Madrid is beautiful (if you can stay awake): mountains, mountains, and more mountains! The train even goes through a few tunnels right threw the middle of the mountains. haha On the train today there were many pilgrims, but one particular group was pretty entertaining. They switched seats with other passengers (CJ and I included) so that they could all eight be in the four seats that face each other; which would have made total sense ... if they didn't fall asleep the moment the train took off until the moment it reached Madrid. Actually, they woke up about ten minutes before Madrid, gasped and oohed and ahhed over the mountain views, and took tons of pictures. Sheesh. 

We got off at Charmatin train station and walked to the metro station. If you've never taken the metro in Madrid, it is a little bit of an experience. The metro in St. Louis has portions that are "under ground" -- but the metros in Madrid are WAAAAY underground. We're talking four and five full escalators down. When you stop and think of how deep you are under the earth it's a little intimidating. The number ten to the light blue line to Tirso de Molina brought us to our hostel: Las Musas. By the time we checked in and got up to our room (of course it is on the fifth floor -- of course) it was almost four. I know we didn't walk hardly at all today and that we spent most of our time on a train, but we were up early and are still tired from our days of extreme walking ... so after we settled in we took a nap. (When in Spain, do as the Spanish do: afternoon siesta and night time dinner!)

After our siesta we went out in search of dinner. We wandered to a plaza filled with cafes and flower stands. It was bustling with activity: families out for a walk, people on their way home from work, people walking dogs, people buying flowers, bikers, skate boarders, students, diners -- and us: tourists. We sat down for dinner, served in many courses. Sangria and tapas to start, main courses next (chicken with veggie rosotto and grilled red peppers and beef medallions with sesame sauce and potatoes), and finished with shared tarta de queso and cafe con leche. People watching is so interesting in such a busy place, and we sat for quite a while enjoying the sites and enjoying each other. We also planned out tomorrow, which will be busy fitting in everything we want to see (read as: everything I want to show CJ). 

And now we are back at the hostel, showered and in pajamas and ready to sleep. Tomorrow will be a packed day! 

A few photos ... 

Empty plaza for our farewells to Santiago. 

Last photo (for this trip) in front of the cathedral -- we entered Santiago after the sun had set and left before the sun could rise. We are pilgrim ninjas. 


Train time! We're both looking a little scruffy ... 

No, he has not been kidnapped. This is just another photo in the montage I like to call "CJ takes a nap" Perhaps now would be a good time to share the montage ... 

Five different naps, five different places -- the top right corner is in the square in front of the cathedral in Santiago; the bottom right corner is a stone wall in a field in the middle of nowhere, Portugal. Maybe I made him walk too much? haha He is such a good sport -- he deserves many naps ❤️

Mmmmm -- tapas and sangria. Someday I might just have to live in Spain. 

CJ and my dad can form a club and call it the "we don't care where we are or what the local specialty is, we will always order the (boring) chicken" club -- president and Vice President. haha At least they are always happy with their choice!! 

mmmmm -- tarta de queso y cafe con leche 

And now it is time for sleep -- more adventures to come tomorrow. 

Buen Camino. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Day Thirteen: (more) Santiago

So what does a pilgrim do when they do not have to rise with the sun, pack all their belongings, and walk to a new town? They sleep!!! 

We did more than just sleep today, but we did sleep in for quite a while before moseying down to breakfast with Collie, Itamal, and Katia. Then we packed up our stuff (we only were able to book one room in the hostel we were in) and took it down to the luggage hold and went to the noon pilgrim mass. I know many of you are thinking "again?", but when something is as beautiful as the pilgrim mass, you attend it every chance you get. 

It isn't just that the cathedral is gorgeous, although if all you did throughout the entire mass was examine all the nuances of the architecture and sculptures, you'd be there long after the mass had ended. And it isn't just about the swinging of the incense burner, though let's be honest: that is pretty amazing. The special draw is the gathering of pilgrims -- whether you walked 850 kilometers from St. Jean, 100 kilometers from Tui, or just 10 steps from your hotel, you are in Santiago, the ending point of the Way of St. James -- and you are a pilgrim. At mass today they announced all the pilgrims nationalities and starting points who received their Compostelas yesterday -- two proud American pilgrims here, beaming with accomplishment as they announced that pilgrims from Estados Unidos had arrived in Santiago from Oporto, Portugal. 

We did everything on the Compostela checklist to ensure you are granted the indulgence: we walked the way of St. James with the hearts of a pilgrim, attended the pilgrim mass, prayed before the holy relics of St. James for the intentions of the holy father (viva Pope Francis!!!!), and went to confession. We also toured the cathedral, lit canceled for loved ones, prayed in the pilgrim chapel, and placed our hands upon the shoulders of St. James and thanked him for a safe journey thus far. Quite the full day in the church!!

After all that, we picked up our bags and went in search for a new home for the night. We chose "the last stamp", the albergue that I slept in the last time I was in Santiago. What a perfect way to end this trip -- with a little tribute to my first Camino. Next we had lunch: seafood paella. Yum yum yum. I love Spanish paella!! Although the little crawfish that still have their eyes and legs could be left out of my dish next time ... After lunch was shopping -- we needed a few items to bring back home; although the Compostela and our pilgrim passports are really all the "souvenirs" we need. And finally it was time for .... a nap. haha Walking all day is exhausting, but not walking all day is even worse!! 

After a long rest, we went back to the plaza in front of the cathedral and watched other pilgrims arrive -- they always look so happy and relieved and triumphant. Collie met up with us there and we all went for dinner. And now we are back at the albergue ready to sleep. 

Some pictures ... 

St. James, the altar, and the Thurber -- so gorgeous. 

At the corner stone. 

One of many side chapels in the cathedral ... 

And another ... 

And another ... 

And another. 

Mmmmm -- paella. With sangria. Yum. 

Side entrance of the cathedral. 

Front entrance of the cathedral -- under renovation / restoration. The last time I was here, the other tower was covered. Now look how gorgeous it is!! 

Tonight we completed the difficult task of saying good bye to our fellow pilgrims. It is always hard to say good bye to the friends you make along the way; but this time is just a little bit easier since I'm taking my favorite pilgrim back home with me. 

Tomorrow morning we take a train to Madrid -- more adventures to come!! 

Buen Camino. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Day Twelve: SANTIAGO !!!

Okay -- let us start at the beginning. 

Day Eleven: We started our morning in Caldas de Reis; if you remember, the evening before we had gone to the hot springs and ate dinner with our usual pilgrim clan and then went back to our albergue to get some sleep, because the next day we were pushing to do about 28 kilometers (17.5 ish miles) so that the next day we would only be about fifteen kilometers from Santiago. Which should have been today. Should have been ... 

As planned, we got up early and started walking. Collie joined us, and in no time at all we were six kilometers in and eating breakfast. (Ronni, Itamal, and Katia were staying in Padron, only 18 kilometers, so they left a little later). Collie is such a quick walker; CJ and I prefer a steady pace -- it isn't a race, and we like to take in the sites; so within a few kilometers of breakfast, Collie was out of site. We figured we would see him in Teo (our destination for the night) and didn't worry too much. 

By a little after noon we were in Padron, a total of eighteen kilometers so far. As we were entering the city, maybe about a kilometer away, we were passing a big gymnasium looking building when we heard musical instruments tuning ... and then they began to play -- "I've paid my dues ... time after time ... I've paid my sentence, but committed no crime ..." That's right; we entered the city to Queen's We Are the Champions. I think every city should play theme music as the pilgrims enter! haha When we arrived in Padron went into the church to pray for a while before getting lunch; they were getting ready to start a baptism, so we didn't have a lot of time. Sometimes I forget that these beautiful churches are not only places for pilgrims to come and worship, but also functioning parishes that many call their faith home. By this time it was about one; we told ourselves we could have an hour for lunch and then had to get moving: for one it was another almost eleven kilometers to go, and for two it was starting to look like it might storm. 

We had a really wonderful walk; I like walking with other pilgrims, but sometimes it is nice to just walk without the pressure of conversation. CJ and I talk quite a bit as we walk, but we also enjoy each other in silence. The trails were a little hilly, but nothing that we couldn't handle. Most of the trails today were forest paths, which are my favorite -- lots of lush green paths with tree trunks and boulders covered in moss, the dirt damp and fragrant, the water running down in little streams off the mountain into bigger streams leading to the river; just beautiful. We happened across a lot of animals today: sheep and goats and horses, chickens and baby ducks, and a beagle farm. Everything was really wonderful. 

About five kilometers from Teo, it began to drizzle. And then sprinkle. And then downpour. Dripping and squishing, we continued on. I have no idea why, but it is much easier to climb hills in the rain (probably because instead of thinking about the hill you are thinking about the water pelting your face). It was a little before Teo that I started to get a feeling that something wasn't right. The town wasn't as big as the guidebook made it seem. And there weren't two public albergues, there was one private and one public albergue -- the difference being that the private albergues allow reservations. We knew we were ahead of many pilgrims, because we had passed them on the trail and chatted with them as we went ... but many of them told us they had reservations at a private place. I figured we would be fine because there were two public albergues. But there weren't. And we were not fine. 

When we arrived at the public albergue, dripping and tired, at a little after four, we were met with sad faces from fellow pilgrims. The albergue was full; they wouldn't allow bed sharing (which many pilgrims offered to us) and they wouldn't allow us to sleep on the floor. All they could suggest is that we take a taxi to Santiago fifteen kilometers away and find accommodation there. 

A taxi? A TAXI?! We didn't walk over 250 kilometers to spend the last fifteen in a stupid taxi! As we contemplated our options, another pilgrim arrived: Josie from Germany. She too had started in Caldas de Reis that morning and was just as wet and tired as we; and her face was just as broken when she found out the albergue was full. Though we had many options, there was only one option in our minds: we would walk to Santiago. 

Collie tried to talk us out of it -- but once I have a goal, I'm a little stubborn. Of course if I had for a moment thought anything other than our feet were in danger or that the storm would turn into something more sinister or the temperatures would drop I would have conceded, but this was not a time to give up; it was a time to step up. And so we did. A little reluctantly at first, but in the end just as determined as we, we pulled Josie up with us. Before leaving Teo we had cafe con leche and dinner with Collie (who had a bed in the albergue for the night). Equipped with our rain gear, the number for the taxi (just in case) and more determination than ever before, we set out for Santiago. 

If I told you the walk was easy I would be lying. The rain was coming down in buckets, and it was chilly. It was already nearly six in the evening when we started out, and we had already walked a total of thirty one kilometers. We stopped twice: once in a covered bus stop to check the guidebook and make sure we're were in the right track, and once at a cafe to get some warm drinks and use the bathrooms. For the last five kilometer or so, all the kilometer marker stones among the path had the kilometers removed; so though they pointed us in the right direction, we didn't know how close we were. (The saying from TEC: "don't anticipate, participate" came into mind here -- don't count down the kilometers; live through each one and appreciate it for what it is.) 

Just a little shy of one kilometer before the cathedral, within the city of Santiago, we saw a tall hotel that read "Pilgrim's Hotel" -- like a beacon drawing us in. Soaked, shivering, and bending under the weight of our packs, at 11:15 pm, we marched into the lobby of the hotel; and all the pilgrims sitting within stood and applauded. I could have cried. We did it. Forty six kilometers (that's 66,744 steps, 28.6 miles) in the rain, in the mud, in the dark, we did it. I could not have been prouder of us. Any of us. Crazy pilgrims? Maybe. But Santiago never looked so beautiful. 

And that is how instead of walking fifteen kilometers into Santiago this morning we walked all of one kilometer straight to the square of the cathedral and rejoiced in our arrival. The lady in the pilgrim office who gave me my Compostela asked me if I had traveled alone -- with my fiancé, I told her. Her face lit up: oh, she said; if the two of you can survive a Camino together, I think your marriage will withstand anything. And I know she is right. My first Camino was about finding myself; this Camino was about finding ourselves. It was about learning to look at life as a we instead of a me; about learning how we work as a team and how to comfort and encourage each other when we are struggling; about figuring out how to compromise and bring out the best in each other. I really don't know what I did to deserve the blessings I've received, but I am forever grateful. 

After we did our victory dance in front of the cathedral, we went to find a place to stay for the night (even though it was barely ten o'clock -- we were taking zero chances). Though the hostel we chose was a little pricy (25 euros / night) we think we earned it. We dropped off our packs, ate a quick breakfast, and headed to the main event: the pilgrims mass. 

The cathedral is always packed for the pilgrim mass, so CJ and I were super lucky to find a seat. The readings at mass this morning could not have been more perfect: "and we boast in the hope of the glory of God; not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" Only the pilgrims glory in our sufferings; and it fills us with hope and perseverance -- and a whole lot of character! At the end of mass comes the moment that all pilgrims await: the swinging of the Thurber. The pipe organ blares and the aroma of the incense fills the cathedral. The Thurber swings slowly at first, then it jumps to life and falls into a steady, rather large arcing swing throughout the rafters of the cathedral. It is an event that is not done justice by words; you must experience it in person. 

After mass was over, we met Collie in the square and went down to the pilgrim office to get our Compostelas. Lunch and a little look around the souvenir shops came next; and then finally the last three of our little pilgrim posse arrived in Santiago (remember they had walked the twenty five kilometers from Padron this morning). Hugs and pictures followed -- and then everyone went back to their designated hostel for a much needed nap. We all met for dinner around ten pm and celebrated our journey, friendship, and arrival. 

And now it is after one am and I am completely exhausted. But good exhausted. Content exhausted. I'd be lying if I said my feet weren't sore. Or that I wasn't nursing a wicked cold. But my heart is so happy that nothing else matters. 

A few picture ... 

I know I shares this one yesterday, but it is worth repeating: cold and wet and triumphant. 

We made it!!! Our first photo at the cathedral, still in our packs. I love that we have this memory to share. 

Our Spanish friend made it, too! 

Waiting for mass to start -- we look a little rough, but hey: we're pilgrims! 

Ahhhhhhh!!!! We did it!!! Compostelas at the pilgrim office. Also: they gave us our credentials for our next Camino. That's right; there will be a next. ❤️

Happy feet!! 

The gang's all here!! Representing Portugal, Ireland, Israel, and the United States. 

More pictures to come tomorrow of the cathedral and Santiago -- but for now it is time to sleep the restful, blissful sleep of a pilgrim who has completed her pilgrimage. 

Buen Camino. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Day Eleven: Wander with a Purpose

Some days, the Camino reminds you that you are stronger than you thought you were; the trails test your limits and force you to rely on an inner strength (and sometimes an outer strength) that you didn't know you had. Today was one of those days. 

I want to tell everyone all about it, but to start at the beginning and go all the way through will take a while, and I can barely keep my eyes open. So here are the highlights and details will come tomorrow morning ... 

We walked a lot today. More than usual. More than we planned. More than anyone planned. In the rain. Lots of rain. We practically swam. And though this could have dampened our spirits and pulled us down, we rose to the occasion and even encouraged others to rise as well. And now we are safe and dry and warm and tucked into bed. 

Here are a few photos from today ... 


Me and my favorite pilgrim in a vineyard. Also known as the "when we were dry" photo ... 
This pilgrim lives in Santiago and completes a Camino every year -- he is a little crazy, but he sure has the spirit of the Camino!! 

Less than twenty kilometers to Santiago!! 

We channeled our inner duck today -- and these little guys were just adorable! 

This is the "now we are wet" photo ... also the "buck up soldier and carry on" photo. 

We are the strongest, stubbornest, wettest, tiredest pilgrims that ever did live. 

Warm and dry ... and in Santiago!!! 

When life gets hard in the future, I will look back to today and remember how strong we were, and how proud I was of both of us, and how God was sure to keep our guardian angels close. And when I wake, I will tell you all about today's adventure. 

Buen Camino. ❤️