Our epic 2017 fall trip . . . first post

So, after a couple of years of not being able to take a big trip, the epic fall trip is here.  Because of bargain shopping, even though we had no intention of going to England this time around, we flew into London.  

Airplane tickets bought: round trip Atlanta to London and Dublin back to Atlanta; one way London to Milan, Milan to Edinburgh, and Edinburgh to Dublin.  We also bought Eurail passes for Italy. Total spent so far on transportation?  Right at $1,000 each for all that.  I love cheap travel!  (I am not saying that $1000 is not a lot of money; what I am saying is that when a round trip ticket within the states from, for example, Knoxville to Atlanta (35 minutes of flight) costs over $500, you can see why I feel that we scored some bargains.  We even paid a fee to check one bag on each of the one way flights, and that price is INCLUDED in the amount.

So, overnight Wednesday from Atlanta to London, via Toronto.  We arrived at Heathrow around 11 am London time.  By the time that we got through customs, immigration, baggage claim, and took a short bus ride to our hotel, we were beat.  We usuallly don’t take naps, but we were both beat.  So, nap, dinner, relax, and then bed.  Never left the hotel.

We had to be up this morning at 4:30 to get to the airport on time.  After a 2 hour British Air flight, a long train ride, and a transfer to the subway to finish up, we finally arrived at our bed and breakfast.  It is an apartment that has been converted, and there are four bedrooms with two shared baths total.  There is an elevator, which is good, because we are on the 5th floor.  The elevator is quirky, and cozy.  Without luggage, you would be lucky to get three people in it, and you would be intimately acquainted when you were done.

We went grocery shopping (again, saving money and economizing to make sure that we are able to make these trips) and had a late lunch/early dinner, and headed to a museum we wanted to check out.  The Pinacoteca Brera was founded by Napoleon, who wanted to make it the Louvre of Italy, and has Renaissance works of the Italian masters.  It was a nice museum, though I missed my Impressionists, lol.

We headed home in the subway; we are still working on figuring out the station nearest our B&B.  There are 15 exits, and we still can’t figure out from inside the station which one to take to exit closest to our lodging.

We are aging.  We are beat, lol.  We have done trips where we go for 12 – 15 hours nonstop.  Today, after all of our traveling, we were done after only one event.  We joked that we will be 70 and taking a trip, and after one outing, will need three days to recover to be able to go out and do something else.

Observations . . . one of the things that we have gotten to like is that over here, it is not uncommon for hotels to have a double room that has two twin beds.  They are smaller, but we are only in the room (usually) to sleep.  In London we stayed at a Radisson Park Inn, and had an adorable room with twins.  The B & B has two twin beds and shared bathrooms, and of course, breakfast is included.  We are right near downtown Milan, and our cost per night is 65 Euros. The other three rooms are occupied by folks from Lithuania, Portugal, and Spain.  

Public transportation is so easy in the larger cities here.  (I am sure that in many larger cities in the US, the same is true).  We paid 8 Euros each for public transportation passes.  We can take any bus, city train, and subway as many times as we want for the next 48 hours.  We debated renting a car here in Italy, and heard too many horror stories, so we ended up with Eurail passes instead.  

We plan to get a good night’s sleep.  I have put my nighty on the nightstand (I usually sleep . . . . um . . . . natural) for those middle of the night trips to the loo.  Tomorrow, the Duomo, which is the 2nd largest cathedral in the world.  It seats 40,000 people, and is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the world.
The loo in Heathrow

The view from our balcony in Milan

The library and some of the paintings in the Pinacoteca . . . 

I liked this detail at the bottom of one of the paintings.


The inside of a perfume shop.  I just loved the colors!

When you have to take your to kiddos somewhere . . . bikes and mopeds are EVERYWHERE!!


Fall Colors Galore!

Today I had the opportunity to go out in the mountains and enjoy the fall color.  I went with a friend, and we began with a hike up into Laurel Falls.  It is a relatively easy 1.3 miles up a paved path, but one is surrounded by nature all along the way.  The colors are at their peak right now, so the scenery was spectacular at times.

I took my trekking poles, I can’t imagine a hike without them now.  My knee has been acting up a bit (I still feel like I’m 30; my knees remind me that I am now 47), so the poles really came in handy.  The scenery reminded me very much of the scenery in the Pyrenees between St. Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles.  At one time, I caught a yellow lichen out of the corner of my eye, and for a nano-second I thought it was a yellow arrow.  Sigh . . . 

I thought that once I did the Camino, I would get it out of my system and be ready to move on to other trips.  I am ready for other trips (I recently traveled to Northern Michigan, Toronto and Niagara Falls, I’ll blog about that trip in a week or so), but I am definitely wanting to do the Camino again.  I would like to finish the section between Burgos and Leon that I skipped by bus, and I would also like to walk the stretch from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre.  Then, I think my next camino will be the Camino Portugues in the next four or five years.  It has gotten in my blood . . . . they warned me that it would.

Below are some of the photos of the fall colors that I took while I was out and about today.  After Laurel Falls, we drove up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest elevation in the Smokies.  It was cold, windy, and snowing buckets by the time we left.  We finished with a drive through the Roaring Forks Motor Trail.  All in all, a great day!




Catching up . . .

Well, today is Monday, May 6th.  Instead of trying to write long posts and stay behind, I am going to get all caught up.  I have access to an actual computer today, which makes it easier.  Blogging from the keyboard on my phone gets a bit tedious!

On Thursday, I walked from Zubiri to Pamplona.  It rained off and on all day.  I said goodbye to Maribel and Giovanni in the morning, and will likely not see them again.  I walked by myself for much of the day, as happens frequently.  I find that I am walking slower than the majority of people, and that is ok.  I can only do what I can do, and other than my feet (and at times my calves) hurting, it is pleasant.  I met Josef and Lena in the first town out of Zubiri.  He had left his wallet in the last albergue and was trying to find a way to contact them or get back to it.  I wished him luck and headed on.

The day passed mostly uneventfully.  I did have my first mis-step.  The Camino went along a river, but the path was above the river 10-15 feet on a little ridge.  I had met a couple of ladies from England walking in the opposite direction shortly before that, and they had advised me to walk down by the paved path next to the river.  When I got there, I wasn´t sure I would know when to go back up to the higher path, so I took the higher path, full of mud and muck, from the beginning.  I kept seeing tracks where people had gone down to the lower path, but they looked pretty slippery.  Finally I found a place where I felt I could make it down the hill on my feet.  I started down.  I was wrong.  My feet kept going, and I rolled a time or two.  (It was a very short drop, I was never worried I would be hurt).  I landed in some bushes, in a slight depression in the ground, face up.  Well, normally this would be no problem.  Not so this time.  Keep in mind that I have 20# on my back.  Have you ever seen a turtle that gets flipped over and can´t right himself?  Well, there I lay on my back, wet, muddy and slightly scratched from the bramble bush, laughing and flailing my arms and legs unable to do anything.  I finally gave a huge roll and managed to get on my side, and upright from there.  I brushed myself off, uninjured (except my pride, and that was only a little bruise), and went on.  Not 50 feet ahead of me was the path to go back up.  Sigh . . .

About 3 miles or so before Pamplona, I met up with Josef and Lena again.  A local man had given him a ride back to the albergue, and he arrived just as they were locking their doors.  He was able to go in and retrieve his wallet, all money, cards and documents intact, and get a ride back with the same local.  He only lost about 20 minutes.  Amazing how much territory you can cover in a car!  We walked together the rest of the way.  At one point they debated getting a bus to go the last few kilometers, I was tempted but decided to walk. They ended up walking too.

I couch surfed in Pamplona for two nights; Mario, the man I couchsurfed with, came and picked me up.  I arrived in Pamplona at 4;  both the private and municipial albergues were full and they were sending people to hostels.  That is the danger of arriving too late.  You have to walk even further or make alternate (often more expensive) plans for lodging for the night.

I slept well, and the next day (Friday) spent the day relaxing and exploring Pamplona.  Friday night I packed up my extra belongings that I would not be taking with me on the Camino (since I had been at Mario´s before going to SJPP, I had left them there).  There were the things that I would replenish my pack with, clothing and guide books for Ireland, and my sandals and netbook, which were just too heavy in my pack.  I boxed them up, and the next morning I took the box to the post office to send them ahead to myself in Leon.  The box weighed 6.5 kg, so I braced myself for shipping costs.  They must have a special shipping rate for pilgrim´s, because it only cost €6.5.

The apartment where I couchsurfed was actually in Burlada, which is before Pamplona on the Camino.  I walked right by it the day before, but wanted to get to Pamplona walking that day.  So, after depositing my parcel at the post office, I caught a bus to get back to Pamplona to begin walking where I left off.  I felt like a fraud!  Here I was with my backpack, my walking poles and my seashell, riding a bus!  I knew that I had already walked that part, but the people in the bus didn´t.  No one said anything, no one even seemed to be paying attention.  But that didn´t quell the desire to stand up and announce that I really had already walked that part and I wasn´t cheating.  I thought I was past the point in my life where I really cared what strangers thought of me.  I guess there is a little left in there after all . . .

I finally got on the road at 10:30 or so from Pamplona.  A portion of the Camino covers the campus of the University of Navarra, what a beautiful campus!  I walked onto the campus to get my pilgrim´s passport stamped.  The office I went into was actually the back of an auditorium, and there was a graduation ceremony for nursing students going on!  Lots and lots of people.

I only walked a few kilometers that day, as my calves were still hurting and I didn´t want to arrive to late at further cities and not be able to get a bed.  I stopped for the night in Cizur Menor.

The albergue I chose there was lovely!  It is operated by volunteers with the Cross of Malta organization, which has dedicated itself to helping pilgrims since the Middle Ages.  Francisco and his wife Maria Luisa were the volunteers on duty this month.  When I walked in, after getting my passport stamped, I was ushered into the kitchen and given coffee or tea (chose tea) and a little biscuit/cookie.   They were very hospitable.  That afternoon, I met a couple from South Korea.  She is 65, he is 69, and they are walking the Camino.  Their English was rudimentary, and their Spanish non-existent.  We talked a bit, and music came up.  Suddenly, she began to sing ¨besame, besame mucho¨ in perfect Spanish in a beautiful voice!  Turns out she loves Spanish music.  When she finished, he began to hum the thumping rythym of a tango.  What a couple!

Maria Luisa prepares a dinner each night for those who want to eat, and it is by donation.  Whatever pilgrims donate today provides food for pilgrims the next day.  Dinner was a lovely green salad (not getting nearly enough veggies, so this was my favorite part), pasta with mushrooms and ham, salami, bread, and one other thing, I can´t remember what.  There were five of us who ate: myself, Clements from Holland, Sarah from England, and Sabrina and her boyfriend (I didn´t catch his name) from Italy.  At the beginning of the meal Francisco announced that our meal was complements of yesterday´s pilgrims, and the wine complements of Maria Luisa, who had celebrated her birthday the day before.  We sang her happy birthday, and then she and Francisco left and we had dinner.  It was such a great moment!  The pilgrim´s meals cost €9, so I don´t partake of them.  I miss the comraderie, but it just isn´t in the budget.  This made up for it!

Went to bed early and got up the next day at six to begin again.

Pix to follow in separate post . . .

Puente de la Reina to Lorca May 6

Yesterday, I walked about 14 miles from Cizur Menor to Puente de la Reina.  It was a relatively uneventful day.  I walked part of the day with Madeline from Germany.  We had a lot in common, and we talked about our reasons for this trip.  It was spiritual for both, as neither participate in organized religion but both believe in a Higher Power.

The highlight of the day was when we went a few kilometers out of the way to Eunate.  There is an octagonal church there from the 12th century.  Many feel that, because of its shape, it was at one point affiliated with the Knights Templar.  I took several photos, got my passport stamped, and the lady told us how to bypass the next city and go directly to Puente La Reina.  We had already walked the kilometers, and we would have had to go up and down again, so we opted for the bypass.

We arrived at the albergue at 3:00, and the three people after me who signed in filled the last three beds.  I showered, did laundry, went into town to see the churches and get food.  It is interesting.  Sometimes when I walk into the churches, I feel a presence.  It feels like a place that is alive, where people who believe come to worship and celebrate, representing the very best aspect of the religion.  Other times, it just feels like a building.  I am not sure if it is my mood, the building, or a combination of both.  I try to say a prayer every day, but sometimes it just doesn´t feel like a place I want to pray.

I was asleep by 9 last night, up at six this morning to begin again.  Had my usual breakfast of high protein granola and yogurt, and was walking by 6:45.  I knew there would be ups and downs, but I guess I didn´t expect so many hills.  It wore me out early today.  I walked for 5 hours, covered 10 miles, and by 11:45 was ready to be done.  I think I could have forced another hour or so, but the problem is the next town was 3 hours away, and getting there after two, I ran the risk of not being able to get a bed and being forced to spend more money for a hotel or to keep walking.  I checked into a great place!  All of the albergues are nice; they are here to help the pilgrims complete there journey.  They are run by good, kind, friendly (usually) people.  But, some accomodations are nicer than others.  This one is nicer.  Most of the municipial albergues cost €5.  This one was seven.  My room only has four beds in it, and my bed has a real mattress!  And I have the bottom bunk!  And there´s a computer with free wifi!  And there is a wash machine!  I paid €2, soap was provided, and my clothes will all be dry by tonight and won´t smell like sweat tomorrow!  But first, when I got here, I laid down on my bed and woke up 90 minutes later.  This Camino is something that I know I can do.  I have no doubts that I will finish, no second thoughts about doing it.  But, it is the biggest physical challenge I have ever taken on.

I think it is a mental challenge as well.  I find that if I can focus my mind on other things, I don´t notice the pain in my feet and legs.  This is where having developed the practice of meditation would have come in handy!  I always intended to do it, I just never got around to it.  Maybe when I get back.

Tonight, I am in search of good healthy inexpensive protein.  I think I am not getting enough protein, as the cheap stuff is a little Spanish ham and cheese stuffed between two thick slabs of a baguette.  At least I try to get whole grain when available.  If nothing else, I will get eggs at the store and cook them here in the kitchenette.  Eggs and veggies.  I think that sounds delightful!  Until tomorrow!

Photos to follow in separate post . . .

Miles and eggs and the life list . . . .

I don’t remember when it started.  I don’t remember how it started.  But for as long as I can remember, I have had a fascination for the works of art created by Carl Fabergé, especially the eggs.

The Virginia Institute of Art has one of the best Fabergé collections in the country, and part of that collection is currently on exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art.  As my best friend is also a fan, we headed down to Detroit this weekend to take in the exhibit.  500+ miles, 24 hours, 6 eggs!  Sadly, no photography was allowed, so I have no pix to show you of the artwork.  If you check out this Wikipedia page, you can see examples.  Today, we saw both the Rose Trellis egg and the Peter the Great egg pictured there.

The craftsmanship is exquisite.  What his craftsman (at one point he had 1500 craftsmen working for him) were able to do with gems, precious metals and enamel boggles the mind. The history is fascinating as well.  He became a favorite of Tsar Alexander III of Russia, and as the official Goldsmith by special appointment of the crown, he was able to use the ruling family’s crest as part of his trademark.  The patronage of the ruling family continued with Nicholas II.  Though the Fabergé workshop was responsible for thousands of works of art, by far the best-known and most popular was the egg.  Each year, his craftsmen would work for an entire year to create a special egg for the Tsar to present to his mother or his wife, sometimes both.  Each egg was to have a surprise. It is said that he hand-delivered each egg, and his craftsmen would wait anxiously at the workshop all day for him to return and share the reaction that the Tsar and his family had to the egg.

Sadly, the Russian Revolution and the downfall of the Tsar and his family also spelled the end of the House of Fabergé.

It is believed that 50 Imperial eggs were created, but only 42 survived.  It is on my life list to see all 42.  Today, I saw 6.  I am going to be keeping a notebook, and I have no idea how I am going to be able to see the eggs that are held in private collections.  I just know that I am going to give it my best shot.  I might not make it happen, but I will sure have fun trying!  Who knows, maybe I’ll someday find in one of my thrift-store jaunts one of the 12 lost eggs!

Thoughts from a funeral

Yesterday, I attended a funeral.  It was a man I had never met, but I am friends with his daughter and her family, so to pay my respects to them, I attended.  This was an older man; he had children and grandchildren, had been in hospice for two years, so the death was not unexpected.  Some might go so far as to say that it was one of those deaths that was really a blessing.  It doesn’t make me like funerals any better.  They make me cry; I guess this is better than the alternative, because my other outlet for strong emotion is laughter, and that would be inappropriate in this situation.

The recently deceased was a family man, and a veteran who was very active in his community and veteran’s groups.  The funeral home was surrounded by and filled with men in uniform, many of them from “The Greatest Generation”. Once the funeral started, these men stood at the back of the room, silently paying tribute to their fallen comrade.  The pastor who gave the eulogy was the deceased’s brother-in-law, and the love and loss that he was feeling were evident in his voice – or lack thereof – at certain moments.  It was a touching tribute.  On a side note, I guess it is a sign of the times that we live in that there should now be an announcement to please turn off cell phones before the ceremony begins, as no less than four phones went off – and continued to go off until they rang themselves out – during the funeral.

I cried at the beginning, and then when the pastor got into the eulogy, I was able to control my emotions.  At the end of the ceremony, however, it was a two-tissue moment. Each of the veterans who attended walked up to the display (as this man had been cremated, there was no casket; there was an urn, a photo of him in his military uniform from his time in Korea or Vietnam, flowers, and a flag) stood at attention, and paid his final respects with one last salute.  Some of those salutes were as crisp as I would imagine a young recruit giving in basic training; others were soft and gentle, almost a wave contained in a salute.  All were precise.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

As family prepared to head out to the cemetery, I headed home.  I think that graveside ceremonies are intimate, the last chance for the family to say good-bye, and as such I don’t feel I belong unless I am a family member or close friend.  In this case I was neither.

As I think about the day, I begin to reflect on what it is about a funeral for a person that I never met that makes me cry.  Certain things frequently make me emotional, not always in a sad way, but they bring tears to my eyes.  Marching bands, high school graduations, the National Anthem, and videos of unexpected heroes are all on that list.  But the funeral?  Why did it make me sad if I never met the person.  Well, first of all there is the obvious: someone that I know has lost someone that they love, and that is sad.

But beyond that, it makes me think of the mortality of myself and those I love and hold dear.  I am in my mid-40’s, and though I feel that I have another 40+ years ahead of me, nothing is guaranteed.  I have a group of friends that is also of the same age, and I worry about them.  Lastly, this was a funeral that I attended because a friend lost a parent.  I lost my dad when I was 21; my mom is a three-time cancer survivor, and assuming she has the good outcome we expect from her current diagnosis, it will be four times that she has survived the big C.  I know that at some point, if things go the way nature intends, it will be me saying goodbye to a parent, but I just am not ready to think of that time yet.  I don’t know that any of us ever really is.

So, I make sure to say “I love you” to the people that matter to me, make memories that will last a lifetime, shed my tears when it hurts too much to hold them in, and laugh a lot to balance it all out.

Fair Time!

For the last ten days, I have had the privilege of working for the local fair.  There wasn’t a moment that passed or task that I took care of that didn’t bring joy and smiles to my day.  I shouldn’t be surprised; it’s in my blood.  My maternal grandfather (the Bohemian) was a carnie at one point in his life.  He was operating the double ferris wheel at the local fair, and that is where he met my grandmother.  She joined the carnival and left town with him, and they were married two weeks later; it was the height of the Great Depression, 1934.   I don’t know how long they worked the carnival together, but they were settled down in Detroit, Michigan three years later when my mother was born.

I have often attended the fair, but had no idea the amount of work that went on behind the scenes to pull this off for the community. (For clarification, I worked for the fair, not the company that operated the rides and midway.)  I began on a Friday; my friend Cyndie, who works for the fair, had contacted me a month prior to see if I would be interested.  Since I am working hard to earn the money for my Camino trip, and I love to try a variety of new things and experiences, I quickly said yes.  I went in for training, she said it would take a half hour or so.  That was at 9:00 am.  I left at 5:00 in the afternoon, having had just a glimpse of how hectic and crazy the next nine days would be!

My first task was data entry; as locals brought their crafts, canned goods, art, photos, and garden goodies in for judging, I entered their information into the computer and printed out their tags to attach to their items.  Wow, who knew you could can so many things?  Entries were limited to 75 per person, with no more than one entry in each category.  It was amazing to see how many husbands knitted, sewed, crocheted and canned the exact same things as their wives!  (Ahem).  My favorite moment from those first couple of days was meeting Tanner.  As we peeked through the blinds of our office, we saw a young boy that looked like he was holding a pet.  I am a sucker for animals, so of course I had to go out and investigate!

Here you see Tanner with the one-year-old monitor lizard he rescued from an abusive situation.

Tanner is an eleven-year-old boy who loves reptiles.  He has 22 of them at his house, most of them rescues.  He has been working to rescue and rehabilitate snakes, lizards, and all manner of reptilia since he was two.  His most recent mission of mercy involves the monitor lizard you see in these photos.  Its previous owners abused and burned him (Tanner assures me it is a “he”; I’ll take his word for it).  A local reptile center called Tanner to see if he could help.  The lizard, as yet unnamed, is one year old, and when full grown will be seven feet in length.  Tanner’s mom said that they were warned that the animal would be aggressive, but so far he is very docile.  As Tanner held him on the towel (to protect his arms from the sharp claws) and gently petted his cheek, the lizard turned in, put his head on Tanner’s chest, and closed its eyes.  I swear if it were a cat, it would have been purring!  Tanner is my hero of the day.

Here you can see the partially healed burn marks made by the previous owner.

I had the opportunity to accompany the mother and daughter team that judged the canned goods, and picked up some tips for future canning endeavors (in my spare time, of course, and in a future time when I actually have a garden).  Don’t fill the jars too full, make sure the jars are full enough, don’t use non-canning jars, color and consistency (when applicable) are important.  I also assisted the judge in the baked goods category.  I had entered two items.  When he tried my triple layer chocolate mint hazelnut bars (which were, by all accounts, delicious!), he wrinkled up his nose and said “They’re minty”.  (It was just a general bar category, no specific flavor required).  I had to bite my tongue and smile sweetly as he awarded them, the only bars in the category, the second place ribbon instead of the first.  Twit.  My carrot cake with the lemon cream cheese icing gave him the chance to redeem himself, and he did.  First place in a two person race!  My photos won one red and two white ribbons as well.

Once the fair started, I was able to operate one of the windows where folks made their first stop through the gate to buy their admission to the fair.  Only $5, one of the best prices in this area.  Still, there were those who tried to game the system.  It was sad to see people (albeit a VERY small minority) trying to find a way through any means necessary, from little white lies and misrepresentations to outright whoppers, to avoid paying that $5.  I like to have fun, so if it wasn’t too busy and the person at the window looked liked they had a good sense of humor, I told them it was $95 each, or two for $10 to get in.  Most folks laughed. There was the two(or ten)-sheets-to-the-wind man who began to pay the $95.  I had to push his hand back in his wallet to convince him it was only $5; then there was the other extreme as I had one man turn and bolt back out the gate.  His wife had to call him back, and assure him I was kidding.  Oops.  But, other than that, lots and lots of fun!

I had the opportunity to walk the midway the last evening, and took advantage of the moment to practice my action photography, as well as photograph the amazing post-storm clouds at dusk.

We had storms in the late afternoon-early evening, and the clouds afterward were beautiful!

Here are three rides in motion, all at the same time. In the foreground is a small kids roller coaster; in the background a ride that you stand in while it spins; in between the two is the boat ride that swings back and forth. I am a bit sad that it is all over, but am already looking forward to next year!