Sunday, June 10, 2012

El Camino de Santiago

Friday, June 8 I started hiking the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James. I set out from Saint Jean Pied du Port, France and began the 500 mile journey across northern Spain to Santiago de Compestela. The remains of Saint James are buried there and for centuries Catholics from all over Europe have walked there, mostly to pray and be healed. Though there is no officially starting point, most hikers, or pilgrims start just over the border in france, in Saint Jean Pied du Port. The first day is the hardest single day along the entire Camino, according to guide books.

I hiked the first half of the 17 mile day with three Spanish guys, then set off on my own. I didn't want to lug my hiking poles around Europe so I was without them on some really hilly farmland terrain full of sheep, horses and cattle. I stopped at a van and bought some goat cheese because I didn't have any food with me. It was delicious! By noon I was at my destination, roncevalles, Spain. Restaurants near the Camino usually have a pilgrim menu consisting of bread, appetizer, entree, dessert, and wine for around 10€. after dinner I went to church and all the pilgrims were blessed. I barely understood anything though with the mumbling and echoing and the fact it was in Spanish. About 180 pilgrims stayed in Roncevalles that night! There are lots of albergues and refugios along the trail that offer basic bunkbeds for 6-10€

Saturday I was hiking by 630am and hiked with a guy from Sweeden. We missed the turn coming out of a town and ended up walking the road to the next town to meet up with the trail again haha. Again I was at my destination, Zuburi before noon. I decided I need to hike longer miles or I just drink beer all afternoon!

Today I hiked by myself to Pamplona, arriving at 1045am. I explored the famous town and saw the plaza del toros where the running of the bulls finishes. Then we watched the Euro Cup soccer Spain v Italy game. The entire town stopped to watch the game it seems.

Tomorrow I'm going to try to make some big miles! We will see!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A whirlwind week around Spain and Morocco!

The past week and a half have flown by. My mom was visiting so obviously we had to make the most of every minute! It had been over 40 years since my mom had been to Europe.

Monday, May 28-Friday June 1st we were in Granada while I took Spanish classes. We ate lots of tapas, delicous paella, and the best sangria I´ve ever had! We watched Flamenco dancers two nights in a row in Sacramonte- the ancient part of the town of Granada where the Muslims first settled. It's high on a hill and the houses were built into the mountain, caves, so they stay cool. Eventually the upper class Muslims moved to the neighboring hill and built the Alhambra- walled in city of about 6,000 of the upper class. In here is where the palace was built and when Isabel and Ferdanando reconquered Granada they lived part of the year.
Flamenco dancers in a cave

Wednesday we went to the Alhambra and it was amazing. The gardens, the palace with gold on the walls and ceilings, fountains, pools, the view of the city, the tower where the soldiers kept watch for the Christians, jail cells, etc. It was awesome what the Muslims accomplished way back in the 1400´s.

                                                                          The Alhambra

Friday we set out for Morocco with my school! The big ferry rocked and people screamed and puked as the huge boat was tossed around. I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't hungover, but alas, hindsight is 20/20 and at least I didn't puke. We got to Tetouan late and had dinner at the hotel and went to bed.

Saturday our guide took us into Tetouan's "medina," the old part of the city. There were markets full of fresh fruit and also "pick your own live chicken and we will butcher and clean it for you" places. We also got to try on the funny outfits that the farm ladies who live in the hills where. Here was the opposite of the Alhambra, because the Spanish had inhabited Morocco until just 55 years ago (or so I don't remember). After we stuffed ourselves on cous cous, we headed to the industrialized city of Tanger. We checked out their medina, and instead of fruit, they sold fake Louis V bags everywhere lol. To make us feel even more touristy, we paid 1€ to ride a camel!! There were baby camels too, and a baby donkey. The boy said the donkey wasn't for sale so instead I bought a camel leather belt and a fez hat.

                                                    Tetouan and Tanger, Morocco

Sunday we went to Chechaouen, a small town in the mountains where all the houses were painted a lovely sky blue, the color for Allah. I learned to weave a rug and we bought a little one. We took the ferry back to Spain and on the way got pretty close to the Rock of Gibraltar (only place in europe with monkeys!).

                                    Chechaoen, Morocco and making a rug!

                                                 Tetouan and the Rock of Gibralter

Monday we flew to Barcelona and Tuesday we saw Gaudi´s funky but detailed architecture- including his most famous and still work in progress, the Segrada Familia. We also saw where Pablo Picasso studied art and learned some cool stories about St George and his dragon and about how Catalonians don´t want to be part of Spain.

     Gaudi´s funky architeture in Barcelona and La Sagrada Familia

Wednesday we flew to Madrid and took a high speed train to Toledo. I think it´s my favorite town so far. Surrounded by a river and set on a hill, the little town had a cozy feel. They were also celebrating Corpus Christi day which is the biggest day they have all year! It kicked off with a parade and at midnight they shot of fireworks. The square was FULL at midnight- babies to grandparents, it´s clearly a holiday celebrated by all.

Mom left back to Maine today, and I´m at the bus station in Pamplona hoping to make it to Saint Jean Pied du Port tonight to start the Camino de Santiago Saturday. If you haven't heard of the hike, rent The Way with Martin Sheen. It´s about 500 miles long and will take about a month. Piece of cake! (I hope)