Tuesday, August 25, 2015

If you are looking for a place to getaway and relax...

Then, I have found it on my last day in Europe.  In France, right across the border from Spain. Still very much part of Basque Country.  

St Jean de Luz. 

What a gem!  There is no museum to go to here.  All you can do is relax by the sea.  Feast on the fine cuisine. Soak in the sun's rays. 

And go to a Jai Alai match.  This sport is very popular in Basques country.  Tonight will be my first time at a professional match. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Major takeaways (6)

A few stand out.  Fifth...

Finally, I became convinced that...

      Luck doesn't just happen. Your enthusiasm and love in your approach to life helps others, and that allows "miracles" to happen. 

Major takeaways (5)

A few stand out.  Fourth... 

And I figured out that...

      Enthusiasm is a critical component of being able to totally love and to give to others. 

Major takeaways (4)

A few stand out.  Third...

In the process I learned...

     You are most happy when you are giving to others, loving others and loving what you are doing. 

      Love can be expressed in different ways.  It can be between two people.  It can be between friends. It can be the way you approach daily life.  It can be transformative. 

Major takeaways (3)

A few stand out.  Second...

In addition I found that my constant continuous feeling every day was one of thinking of others, how can I be helpful, accepting each person as they are.  In short, good, positive thoughts. I learned...

     The simpler your daily life is the easier it is to give to and to love others. 

What are some of the major takeaways for me (1)

In two days I will be heading back to the States.  The El Camino and days following have had quite an impact. 

As I reflect on the pilgrimage a few thoughts come to the surface. 

In the next few blogs I will share them with you.  Your thoughts and comments are most welcome. 

What are some of the major takeaways for me (2)

A few stand out.  First...

Doing the El Camino de Santiago forces you to have a very simple daily life. I learned...

    That the extraordinary is always found in the ordinary.

    The simpler your daily life is the more opportunity for the extraordinary to occur. 

The Nuns and Neil

I promised to get back to you with more information about my night with the Nuns. 

Given that El Camino is a pilgrimage, it is not surprising that a few of the Albergues are run by Nuns. 

On my night in Leon, I stayed with the Benedictine nuns at the Santa Maria de Carbajal Convent.  

In terms of accommodations, not much different from the other Albergues that I have described in previous blogs. However, what was different is that at 9:30 pm you do not have to go very far to participate in the pilgrim benediction.

It was held at the convent's chapel.  The service was mostly chanting and praying to softly played background organ music. It was very relaxing and soothing.  Almost healing. 

Thirteen nuns appeared and took their assigned places in the choir stalls. What was striking was that 10 of the group had to be in their...  Let's just say, later years.  Most very tiny in stature, often hunched over.  

Three were under 50.  You wonder where are they are getting their novitiates from?  Sadly, it appears to be fading away. 

The service was, as I say, almost healing. The nuns were so sweet. They made me feel welcome. 

Thank you, I say to them. You can tell from the picture that we had a special connection. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

San Sebastián

I am now in San Sebastián, one of the famous playgrounds of Europe. 

In my spare time I checked out who the City of San Sebastián's sister city was in the United States.

Are you ready for this?  Really?  

It is Reno Nevada. 

This will be a test as to whether anyone is even reading my blog.  Please email me or post a comment on the blog as to what possible reason would there be for these two cities to be sister cities. 

I have not been able to come up with even one reason. 

The Spanish Basque coastline

In a word, gorgeous!

Just enjoy these pictures. 


Today I spent time in Guernica.  Everyone should.  

It is one of those moments in history that we have to make sure that we never forget, for reasons I outlined in a previous blog.  Just like the Holocaust.  

The museum in Guernica helps do that.  Of course another reminder is Picasso's famous painting Guernica, which hangs in the Prado in Madrid.

A third reminder is that Guernica continues to serve as the unofficial seat of power in the Basque region. The Basque leaders have always met under a particular oak tree to select their leadership and make important decisions. The oak tree is shown below. As is the beautiful stained glass ceiling of one of the rooms in the Basque assembly building. j

And party they did

The party that I blogged about last night never stopped.

It went on ALL night.  

The first picture below was taken at 3 am. 

The second was taken at 8 am. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Spaniards know how to party

I've already told you about how ALIVE Santiago is. 

Tonight I am in Bilbao, and, for some reason, there is a festival going on here.  Take a look at these pictures which are taken from my pension's room window.  This is occurring all over the city. 

I have asked several locals what the festival is celebrating.  No one seems to know. Any excuse for a good party. 

Unfortunately I am not able to be as much a part of this as I would like because something did not agree with me today.  I'm ok, but I have had the chance to visit several "servicios" today. 

More pictures of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao


The Guggenheim museum here is another of Frank Gehry's architectural attention grabbers. It clearly is the single architectural statement for this city.  

It's location on the river, opening up the city to the river. It's lines, very few of which are straight, flat, boxed, or perpendicular, are so languid, curving, and inviting. It's composite materials, titanium which gives it a sheen very similar to a fish's scales.  It's unorthodox shapes, which are not even describable, are so interesting that they invite reflection. 

As much as I am a fan of his willingness to try different ideas, forms, and materials, what impressed me more than anything were the size of the interior viewing galaries.  They are huge.  You never felt crowded.  You had plenty of space to contemplate an object, sculpture, painting, collage, or picture. So much better on this score than the Guggenheim in New York. 

The other really cool thing about this museum is the "sculpture" in front of the building. It is a Jeff Koons' 42 foot tall "Puppy" (a west highland terrier) which has 60,000 plants and flowers blossom through the steel mesh. It is just pure fun!  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Karen and Simon

Met a wonderful couple from Vancouver Canada yesterday standing in line to get our "credential" documenting our pilgrimage.  Karen and Simon. 

But then, as if by fate, this morning I stop in a coffee shop for a tea, and guess who is in there too?

The odds of this happening are pretty small given the tens of thousands of people here.  

We could have talked for hours, but what got my attention was that they just completed their 4th El Camino walk. They completed the French route which is the one I did years ago.  This year they did the Portuguese route. Every two years they come back for more. 

As Karen described it to me, she said that her job (stage production manager) has constant deadlines, the need for ultimate organizational skills.  This gives her a total break from that. 

The plan for the next few days

As you may be able to tell, I am struggling a little with "coming down" from the last 12 day ride/pilgrimage/experience. 

My plan is to chill for the next few days. Take it easy. 

Today, you know about from the three posts -- the body and the market, the noon mass, and travel to Fisterra.

Tomorrow, I plan to leave early to drive to Bilbao, some 8 hours away by car.  A lot of the drive will be along Spain's northern coastline, which should be interesting and beautiful. In Bilbao, can't wait to see Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao. 

The next day, plan to visit Guernica, which is so important a site for two reasons. One, it was the place where Basque leaders met through the ages to assure their people's freedom.  Second, it was the site of one of the worst war atrocities ever with the brutal bombing, leveling the town by Hitler/Italian air forces.  All, it is presumed, with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's OK. 

The next two days are planned for San Sebastián, a resort town in Spain but very close to the French border.  I can't quite picture myself laying on a beach all day, but who knows. 

On the 26 th, I get a plane from Biarritz France to Seattle, with a stop in Paris. 

The noon mass for the pilgrims

Pretty impressive. The cathedral is huge but there was not a spot that was not taken. There were as many standees as there were seated.  

What a moment. To witness all of these people from all over the world praying together at noon on a Friday.  The entire service was in Spanish, but that did not seem to bother anybody.  Everyone was just so grateful to be there.  

The gold alter in one of the pictures below has St. James in three different roles. The top one, he is the "master of the moors", riding his white horse to victory.  The middle one he is a Peregrino, a pilgrim just like the rest of us.  On the bottom, he is the Apostle, James.  

The first day after...

What has it been like?

A lot of different feelings...

For starters, I slept in.  All the way to 8am. Felt good

Then I tried to get out of bed.  My body was creaky and sore.  Small of the back hurts.  The right leg does not feel good at all. 

I have talked to some other pilgrims, and they say that your body lets down after such an effort.  I feel worse today than I did on any day of the ride. 

I took my daily dose of two Aleve in late morning, instead of at the end of a long hard day of cycling. It helped a little bit. 

Then I went to the Public Market where they have 100's of individual stalls selling everything from meat, chicken, veggies, bread, cheese, and fish. My interest was in the food from the sea.  Galicia is known in Spain for having the best seafood. 

In particular I was looking for some local delicacies. Cockles, which also is the symbol of the El Camino. Barnacles or Percebes, which are so expensive that many restaurants won't serve them. Octopus or Pulpo in Spanish which is terrific when tenderized, boiled and grilled.  

The other local dish which I have fallen in love with is grilled Pimientos de Padron. They have their own brand which is not hellishly hot.

After the market, I headed for the Cathedral. More about that in the next blog. 


The end of the earth.  Or so people thought for hundreds of years. 

This far most westerly point of land in Spain is a spot where some of the real crazies doing El Camino want to reach.  They then burn their clothes as part of the tradition. 

Well, I'm sorry, but there is no way that I am pedaling another 60 miles.  Santiago was my goal and Santiago it will be.

However, just for curiosity, I did rent a car and drive to Fisterra today in the afternoon, after the moving mid day mass. 

It was a gorgeous day for a drive. What surprised me the most was the unbelievably beautiful Atlantic coastline of Spain. It's very similar to the British Columbia coastline but with many more inlets and bays. Very interesting. This is a hidden jem. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Santiago is alive!!

This city is jumping!!

In addition to August being the European vacation time, the number of pilgrims is enormous. 

They swell in number as we get closer to Santiago. They come from six different routes, not just the French route which is the one I took. I met a couple this evening from Vancouver Canada who just completed the Portuguese route, and loved it.  It was the fourth route that they have done over the years. 

Today was a long day as you would imagine, covering the last 57 miles. Needless to say, it was all not downhill.  Up and on the bike at 6, and off it at 4. 

Since I arrived in Santiago, I have spent most of my time doing little "to do's". Returned my rental bike. Rented a car. Went to a laundermat and washed my clothes for the first time in two weeks. Took two Aleve and a long shower. Stood In line for an hour to get my certificate that documents having completed the pilgrimage. Checked into my room, which I am lucky to get.  Took 10 phone calls to get the last one. And the room is very basic -- 4th floor walk up, bed (not the floor), your own bathroom (which is so small that you cannot bend over and touch your toes), no phone, no meals, no laundry, no wifi, and no TV.  But it is mine for two nights in a row and one block from the Cathedral.  

I really have not relaxed or slowed down yet. I really have not taken all of this in yet. "All of this" being that I have just completed a twelve day experience riding a bike 500 miles. Not just any 500 miles but the pilgrimage that has attracted hundreds of thousands of people from all over the globe for many centuries. 

I can't imagine what tomorrow will be like. I am worried about withdrawal pains. 

Will I sleep in past 6?  Will I put Vaseline on my crotch?  Will I instinctively put on my cycling shorts and shirt?  

Not sure what tomorrow is going to be like?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It is getting very busy here in Spain

All of a sudden it is getting very busy.  With masses of people. Peregrinos, tourists, and Europeans closing up and taking their vacations. 

I am staying tonight in a non descript town of 2000 but it is packed.  I could not find a bed, much less a room. My only option, which I took without hesitation, was sleeping on the floor in the municipal Albergues. 

That is my stuff in the first picture. In the next few minutes that's where I will be. As you can see from the second picture I will not be alone.  

Sweet dreams!!

A long day

The good news is that I made the mountain. Not having my gear on the back of the bike helped. It took me 5 hours to go 20 miles. But I made it. 

The bad news is that I got off my bike 12 hours after I got on it. A long day!  Now that figure includes a lot of stops.  I covered 58 miles today. 

Not sure where this spurt of energy came from. Maybe the lack of riding yesterday afternoon. Maybe the massage. Maybe the lack of the heavy gear during the first 20 miles. Or maybe it is the "I can taste Santiago".  

I am now only 58 miles from Santiago.  I am determined to make it tomorrow, Thursday.  At least I won't have a mountain to climb tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

With any luck in three days I should be arriving in Santiago

It is hard to believe, but I am playing the 14th hole on the back nine, to use a golf analogy.

With any luck, I should be arriving in Santiago on Friday, culminating thirteen days of riding.

In order to do that I have a very challenging mountain to ascend tomorrow.  I am just entering the autonomous region of Galicia, which has four provinces.  Thought by many to be the area of Spain that reminds them of the Pacific Northwest in the States. 

Similar to the mountains of the Northwest and the Pacific Ocean, the mountains of Galicia are the first object in more than 3000 miles that westerly winds coming across the Atlantic hit.  So weather changes quickly with rain, wind and fog.

The mountains are not particularly dramatic or very high, but they must be crossed to get to Santiago. 
Tomorrow's is 4,363 feet high, and I will be starting at 1,738 feet.  I don't know what the grade is, but the distance that I have to accomplish this is approximately 5 miles.

The town at the top is O'Cebreiro, with a population of 50. 

Tonight I am staying in another Albergues, which are essentially hostels with metal bunk beds with no sheets or blankets. But showers and sometimes food.  And they are cheap.  Tonight cost me 5 euros or about $6.  Only peregrinos can stay in Albergues. 

But this one has two things most of them do not.  One, a massage.  I just had one and it hit the spot.

The second, is the padre - the father of the young entrepreneur that is running the Albergues. A delicious head of white hair, crumpled face reflecting years of toiling, walks with a cane, long nose, but eyes that are alive. He offers to take by car your clothes and gear that otherwise you have on the back of your bike in your panniers.  He will leave them in a bar in O'Cebreiro for you to pick up after you have scaled the mountain.  How is that for service?  Is there a cost? Yes, a total of 4 euros.  

I took him up on his kind offer without hesitation. 

Climbing hills has been very difficult for me. For a lot of reasons. 

It has never been my cycling strength (I am very good at going downhill!).  I am riding a mountain bike that is very heavy. The gear I am carrying in the panniers weigh something -- I don't know how much, but it is not light. Plus, I am carrying on my back a small backpack that is loaded with a bladder full of water plus four guide books. 

In addition, since my chain broke I have not been able to switch to either the lowest or the highest gears.  I am riding all the time with the chain on the middle of the three wheels. This is normally something I can live with, but it does mean that I can't get into the lowest of the lowest gears for hill climbing. 

They say 15% of the peregrinos ride a bike.  Of these, my estimate is that 50% of them are not carrying any gear with them on their bikes.  They have a sag wagon, someone who is following their journey and bringing their gear to them each night.  Or they are part of a tour that provides this service.
Needless to say, I had not had this luxury. 

So, tomorrow I have a mountain to climb!!