Sunday, June 09, 2019

El Camino de Santiago in the Sunshine

Some of our days hiking, I have wondered why I'm walking this dusty, rocky trail.
But yesterday morning, after a couple of days not hiking, spending time in clinics and emergency rooms (everyone is fine), I felt the joy of the sun on my face and my feet steady on the path.



I saw things I would never see from a car and interacted with people from all over the world as we walked along the path.
Cypress trees and a bell tower
So hiking through a country gives you a different viewpoint. And I highly recommend it. But maybe some shorter hikes. I think 10-12 miles a day would be plenty for me. Instead, we've hiked about 15 miles every day. Those last few miles are killers on my feet.
I try to keep my gaze upward so I don't think about my feet.
The poppies are still in bloom here, though I think they're finished in our part of France
Some highlights from yesterday's 15-mile hike from Estella to Los Arcos. A wine fountain.
Earl had a taste. 
A man at his forge making Santiago crosses and shells. I bought a small metal shell on a leather rope.
Seems like hot work in the Spanish sun
The views continued to be amazing throughout the hike.
Earl soldiered on once the doctor confirmed his leg wasn't broken. I'll never understand men.
We arrived in Los Arcos
The church in Los Arcos
to find out there was a "Running of the bulls." I thought it would be like in Pamplona with the bulls chasing people through the streets.
Instead, they let out one or two bulls at a time in the square and guys tried to get them to run at them. It felt mean to the cows. And, of course, as an American, I was routing for the cows.
They just wanted to go back to their corral at either end of the street.
We got to experience it then climbed over the closing at the Medieval gate to go to our hotel.
So we spent a couple of hours after our hike waiting to see the bulls, and a lot of it was standing.
I began to feel like my calves were sunburnt. When we got to the hotel, I learned that it wasn't sunburn but hikers' rash. It was the worst on my lower legs, but also on my thighs, my back and my stomach, so obviously not sun poisoning, although that's what it looks like.
It has something to do with circulation and heat and walking. I didn't think yesterday was particularly hot. I didn't get sunburned on my arms or neck and I didn't even sweat very much because there was a nice breeze throughout.
But today, with an angry rash, I'm not walking. Instead, I'm searching for a pharmacy that's open to try some antihistamines or whatever the pharmacist suggests.


Thursday, June 06, 2019

Trip-ups Along the Trail

When I decided not to walk on the third day of our trip, I envisioned a morning grading papers followed by a drive to Pamplona and an afternoon of enjoying the city.


This is the first Spanish city I've really felt drawn to. But I couldn't have predicted how complicated things would get.
The hotel where we had reservations was overbooked so they sent us to apartments in the old city. That in itself was fine as our car bumped along the cobblestones of what looked like a pedestrian walkway. We guilty shrugged as walkers moved out of our way. A man with a cane for the blind clung to a nearby apartment. Another guy with two crutches hobbles to the side. Yikes. Were we actually allowed to drive here?
We passed a Burger King and Linda knew where we were. Apparently, all of her directions throughout Pamplona were based on the location of the Burger King, but it worked.
Near the Burger King was this mural with the Running of the Bulls. Maybe that's what Linda remembered
Even as we drove seemingly aimless circles, we knew we were better off than our husbands who were wet and cold somewhere out on the trail. We found the apartments, unloaded our bags and set off to find the parking garage that was prepaid. We drove and drove, around Plaza del Castillo, the main square in the old town, around the outside of the city and back in, always keeping the cathedral in mind since that was near our apartment. 
What a charming street leading to the cathedral
As we went for another pass toward the parking garage, we got a call to pick up Maurice who had blazed his own trail and taken a loop, ending up far from Pamplona.
Like a James Bond movie, we could hear the clock ticking in our heads as we raced toward the pin he dropped us, knowing his phone was dying and if it did, then we couldn't contact him or find him.
Meanwhile, Earl had arrived in Pamplona, wet, muddy boots tracking along the cobblestones, and he found our apartment but didn't have the codes to get in the building. We'd sent the codes but they arrived in an unreadable email since his phone had gotten damp on the trail.
Both of our hikers texted and called as we tracked them down.
We finally returned to Pamplona, searching for the parking garage, and after a couple of hours we parked and walked across the old city.
We decided to do laundry, and luckily, a bar just outside the laundromat gave us the entertainment we needed. Sangria and clean clothes.
Rain clouds still threatened as we did laundry

But no clouds behind me and my sangria

My attempt at an artsy photo after Linda showed me how. 
After laundry, and a walk across town to complain at the hotel, we returned to a tapas bar. I have never been to a "real" tapas bar, which this apparently was. People crowded around the bar and scrunched into tables. The tapas choices were under glass all around the bar. But being on the short side, I couldn't see most of the offerings. Plus, I had no idea what any of them were. One was a sausage in a very puffy blanket of pastry. Another looked like a cup of au gratin potatoes but was actually crab and shrimp.
I asked for one and the bartender put it in the microwave, as he did all of the tapas when someone asked for it.
It just felt wrong to microwave tapas and carry it to the table. The entire place felt frenetic. People eating quickly, ordering quickly. I pictured a Spanish meal being laid back. I'd choose several tapas dishes and someone would bring it to my table. But that didn't happen.
Everyone else at our table was pleased with their choices. I didn't like the crab and shrimp dish because it tasted fishy, but Earl ate it and gave me something that looked like cornbread with potatoes and onions in it. I also ate a garlic mushroom that Linda ordered.
Overall, I was underwhelmed. And I didn't expect that the Frenchman in our group would consider that an adequate meal, but he did.
Afterward, Earl and I stopped for dessert, hot chocolate and churros. The chocolate is super thick - easier to eat with a spoon than drink. But it had a taste that reminded me of Atkins protein shakes back in the 80s, so I didn't finish the hot chocolate either.
Thick, thick hot chocolate
After a good night's sleep for me, I read about the upcoming trail today and decided not to hike it. It has a very steep, rocky descent that a number of hikers get hurt on. I would pass. Earl did not have a good night's sleep. He had a lot of tossing, turning and moaning and decided he needed to go to a clinic. He had a blister appear and pop on our very first long day of hiking. He's been treating it ever since.
Don't worry -- it's covered
He also took a hard blow to the shin yesterday. Apparently the trees were all hanging low, loaded down with the rain. A hiker in front of him shoved a branch out of the way with his pole and let it slam back into Earl's shin, which is now red and swollen.
So after breakfast at a Belle Epoque-style restaurant, 
Cafe Irina -- Linda posted a picture from inside
we went in search of a clinic. We stopped at a pharmacy first and they directed us. We asked two more people before we found it.
We stood in line while two women helped everyone waiting in line. Finally it was our turn. We speak no Spanish, remember, other than gracias. She filled out Earl's information then explained, on a phone translator, that we had to pay 36,58 euros for our appointment. No big deal. I pulled out our credit card while Earl dug out the cash. We were prepared.
No, we had to walk to a bank to pay then come back with the receipt from the bank.
I was baffled.
Since Earl was in pain, he sat in the waiting room and I would do the walking to the bank. When I came back, I would need to get in line again with the receipt.
And apparently, it didn't need to be any particular bank. Any bank would do. She drew a map for me that sent me in totally the wrong direction, but I eventually made my way to Plaza del Castillo again. She had said there were banks at either end of the plaza so I went to a big building with a name like Salamander that had lots of signs, but none of them looked like banco or banko. When I saw an ATM, I went inside anyway.
The security guard was also the keeper of the appointments. He gave me a number and I sat down on a couch, staring at a huge television screen and waiting for my number to be called. After about 15 minutes, my number appeared on the screen and I was allowed to pay cash for my doctor visit.
Like most doctor visits, it was delayed. To make a long story probably longer, Earl ended up with a 2nd degree friction burn on his foot where the blister was. She didn't xray his shin, but we're still keeping an eye on it. He's asleep beside me as I write this with his foot elevated.
Meanwhile, Linda and I went to get the car from the parking garage and again seemed to break many driving rules as we careened through the pedestrian streets. We parked in front of the apartment building and when we got inside, the codes for the apartments didn't work anymore. Check out time was 11 and it was after 11. Of course, we didn't know because there was no information in the apartments.
Anyway, our things were in the apartment and we were not.
Spanish, English, Spanish, English, phone calls, wrong turns.
Finally, we left Pamplona and drove to our next stop. Puente la Reina where the weather is beautiful and I'd better get some work done.

The 12th century church has real bells

The doorway is very elaborate

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Another Day Walking

Tuesday was another day of walking, although mostly down rather than up. The village of Roncevaux (or Roncesvalles as the Spanish call it) was barely a city, just a few hotels for "pilgrims" walking the trail.
A church in Roncevaux where they hold daily masses for the pilgrims
We had a 14-mile walk on Tuesday, following the 15-mile walk on Monday. My feet were not happy.
I plodded alone for most of the day, taking in the beautiful scenery, trying to figure out whether I should say bonjour or buenos dias when I passed people or people passed me.
This is in kilometers, but I'm still glad I'm not going all the way to Santiago

The trees made a tunnel at the beginning

This cross was to ward off the witches in the "Oakwood of witches" the main route in the 16th century
I met a lot of interesting people on the trail. Some of them I'd seen several times, others were new. Everyone is convivial, sharing life stories and reasons for the trail.
This trail passed along several villages and people were eager to stop for refreshments, even within the first hour of hiking.
A welcome for everyone
The cows outside the fence always make me a little nervous, but these didn't plan to get up

The scenery continued to be beautiful
I continued plodding, only stopping to use the bathroom at one bar, putting me feet in the cold water at a stream that ran over the trail and warning people not to walk on the moss covered concrete. Some bloody footprints nearby showed where an earlier hiker had tried to walk across and fallen, slicing her foot.
Don't let the painted toenails fool you, there's a blister on one foot and something called hikers' rash on both feet.
Finally, an hour from our destination, I sat for some limonada at a trailer that served drinks.  The limonada was super sour, but I drank it and moved on.
The last hour was very difficult as it headed down and was all rocks.
I tried to walk in ruts to avoid the tumbling rocks
I had to choose each placement of my foot. Also, although I didn't get a picture, the rock striations ran vertical or diagonal to the trail, so that made it even harder to walk.
Wildflowers and mountains

This looks more like a witches wood. I love the sunlight in the trees

I was so happy to reach Zubiri.
Linda reached here first and said the bridge is called rabies bridge. People were said to walk their animals under the bridge to heal or prevent rabies. Hopefully, they have updated methods now. 
 I sat and had a glass of sangria while waiting for Maurice and Earl to arrive -- they stopped several times for beers or coffee.
I know that I need to get through the walk and off my feet. Every time I stop, the odds of me getting up again diminish.
The Hosteria de Zubiri is lovely and we ate dinner and breakfast here as well, which limits the amount we have to walk. We walk like very old people, slowly, creakily, holding onto walls and rails.
My knee is shot from the downhill yesterday. Sometimes it feels like it is out of place, catching on something. It's better this morning so hopefully will continue to heal as I take a day off hiking.
Rain is predicted all day, so I am grading papers and then driving with Linda to Pampelona for our next stop.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Across the Pyrenees

On Monday, I walked from France to Spain across the Pyrenees. No big deal.
41,638 steps.
15 miles.
24 kilometers
I walked up the equivalent of 441 staircases according to my Fitbit. We climbed from 450 feet (137 meters) above sea level to 4600 feet (1402 meters).

We left St. Jean Pied de Port a little before nine. We carried water, an orange and a ham and cheese sandwich hastily made by the lady behind the bar. 
Maurice, Earl and me - optimistic and fresh
Cloud cover as we started kept the temperatures cool.
We walked through one of the city gates on our way out of town
The town really runs on tourism for the hikers of El Camino.
The ubiquitous camino sign -- along with hiking boots and a walking stick
As soon as we got out of town, we faced a very steep climb up.
It's hard to capture the steepness of a climb
A woman walking in front of us with two walking sticks had stopped twice on the incline before we passed her. I told her I didn't think it was all like this, but I might have given her false hope. It was a very tough day of hiking.
Of course, I run. And I had run 7.5 miles a couple of days the week before. I thought I could probably do 15 miles hiking. I did, but it was not easy.
A young man who hiked with us for awhile said in his British accent, "It's just walking, innit?" Just walking but in extreme conditions.

A sideways hay field
Even as we climbed higher, the farmers continued to plow fields on slopes, planting and harvesting despite the mountains.

Sheep on the move
I loved watching a farmer move a flock of sheep down the road from one pasture to another. He drove his truck ahead of them (a little white van) and the sheep dog came behind, keeping all the sheep in line. Then we had to be careful where we stepped because of little black sheep pellets all over the road.
So apparently, I'm doing this again today, so I'll just leave you with some pictures.

Yikes. I got sweaty

Foxglove

In need of a trim

The edge of the world


Monday, June 03, 2019

El Camino


Yesterday we drove about four hours from our region in France to St Jean Pied de Port, one of the most frequent places for hikers or pilgrims to begin El Camino de Santiago. This is a pilgrimage to the church in Santiago along the Atlantic. But there are many paths across France and other places in Europe that lead here. 

Last year we hiked part of the Way in France. 
If you’re unfamiliar with it, there’s a great movie starring Martin Sheen called The Way. As a matter of fact, it starts right in this town. 
The entire hike from here is about 500 miles or 800 km. We’re only hiking for a week, about 100 miles. 
It was great to meet up with Linda and Maurice so we can hike and enjoy each other’s friendship. 

Maurice does all the planning of hotels and hiking paths. It’s like being on a tour. We just show up. So nice. 


Last night we walked around town a bit. This is a medieval village, but only because the nearby town of the same name was razed by Richard the Lionhearted in 1177 and they had to rebuild in the Middle Ages. So strange to think I’m in a place with that history.

Earl and Maurice ready for their hike

Clock tower and city wall



This T-shirt made me laugh. Obviously a take off of the Beatles Abbey Road, but as pilgrims on the trail 

Wish us luck. Or as they say here Bonne Camino. 

Sunday, June 02, 2019

A New Home

For the past 18 months, Earl and I have been homeless.
It's a chosen path, selling our house and moving to France, wandering from housesits to rentals to friends’ homes to housesits, but it does wear on a person, especially my husband who did the heavy lifting -- literally -- carrying the suitcases up narrow French staircases. And, slowly, our belongings have started to expand, six glasses, then 12 glasses, sheets, towels, wine openers, cheese slicers, cutting boards. It's only normal.
When the apartment we thought we'd rented for the year didn't work out because of slow wifi, we knew we needed to make a change so we started looking for houses to buy. So we started looking in Quillan, the town we settled in last May.
Housing is inexpensive in Quillan. It used to be a more bustling town but the population is down now that the Formica plant is closed and it relies more on tourism than other industry.
Our requirements for a house were not many. We wanted a couple of bedrooms, good wifi and some outdoor space. It turns out that the really inexpensive houses, think 25,000 - 40,000 euros don't have outdoor space because they are in the middle of town -- those traditional French houses built touching the wall of the house next to them.
We looked at a few houses. Thought about going for an auction house as we scrambled to transfer money and get our documents in order, but then we instead chose a house just across the railroad tracks (the train doesn't run here anymore) with a small garden and a terrace.
It can use a little powerwashing

The terrace is just off the office where I'll teach
The house felt good inside, lots of light. Two bedrooms, an office. We looked at it with a builder friend who wisely advised that a utility room be turned into a kitchen/dining room, 


Our future kitchen
giving us a living room with a fireplace,


This red marble is very common in our area
 and a bonus room with a giant fireplace.
We'll probably put a wood burning stove in here. 
It used to be the kitchen, but the French take everything with them when they move, leaving only a sink and a fireplace. I figure it can be the summer bar area since the door leads out to the patio. But I also picture putting a pull-out couch there where it can be a cozy room in the winter - a fire in the woodburner we'll install, the door closed as we read on the couch.
See the linoleum floor running into the fireplace? We lifted it up and guess what is underneath it?


These gorgeous tiles are beneath the linoleum
I hope the tile work is in good shape throughout the entire room.
We have a twist wooden staircase that is pretty spacious for a French house.

Charming
The master bedroom gets plenty of light too.
Just need to put our stamp on it. 
Right now, it's all imaginings in my head, but come August, the house should be ours, and we'll be in Massachusetts instead of here. But friends will begin working on it, so in the fall, after we've returned to France, we'll have a full-time home.
It's an exciting new step.

Flying Home

An Australian friend recently said he tricked me I to saying “home” when talking about the States. Even though we own a house in France, the...