Monthly Archives: September 2012

A quick flight and home again

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“It is not how much we give but how much love we put into giving”. Mother Teresa

At one point, after my family flew home, I considered returning to Romania before I realized just how far it is fromi Hondarribia in Northern Spain! I had thought I could take an overnight train and work in this mini side trip to visit with Mihaela, Dan, Coca and the little orphans of St. Nicholas Hospital …. However, Romania and Spain are as far from each other as just about any European countries can be!! … this side trip would require several different train lines, two days of travel or an incredibly expensive flight … not very practical I suppose … I reconsidered, given I had but a handful of days

before my own flight home. The children are well cared for, with many volunteers to love them on a regular enough basis. That is about as good as it can get for the children I grew to love in such a short time. Life is simply not fair for some in our world and all we can do is show love and kindness wherever we find ourselves, one day at a time, one child at a time. Helping children and primarily, orphans, will remain my focus for future volunteer postings …… a perfect fit combining two passions … the exploration of our amazing world in combination with helping children in whatever capacity I can, where I can … there is no finer feeling in the world, than experiencing a child, happy in your care … So, a goal? …. give to those most in need wherever that is …. this need extends to every country, every city, town or hospital in the world including Calgary, Alberta, Canada! …… Over the twenty years of volunteering in the various schools within Calgary, I seemed to be naturally drawn to those most in need of love and attention ….. the bullies, the trouble makers, the so-called slow learners, those diagnosed as “ADD” … It was painfully apparent they could all benefit from ‘one on one attention’, something possibly missing from their home lives. When Sarah was little more than a newborn, a friend, who had raised six children, shared something so sweet and valuable, it stayed with me as I raised my own children …… “just love them with an open, caring and loving heart and everything else will simply fall into place”. Something certainly to aspire to even though at times, I failed miserably. Overly simplistic advice? …. Over the years, I came to realize it was sage advice from a wise mother …. I share some pictures of special people and moments that celebrate love in my life ….

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Relentless Celebrations!

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One would think the ‘Thirty Year War’ with France had ended this weekend, rather than in 1638!! I am of course, totally jealous of this national enthusiasm and positive energy and savoring every moment. The Basque people are well known for their strong independent streak within Spain and in fact, regard themselves as Basque, not Spanish! That explains the fervor of this week’s celebrations! …. And how they love a good celebration! …. The streets were full to brimming all day yesterday … much of the pomp and circumstance portion was in the town square outside my parador window, allowing for good views of the square below ….. Politicians and beauty queens (yes, there is a festival queen for this celebration together with all her princesses) in full military regalia, astride very calm horses, postured for posterity, drummers drummed, flutists fluted, marchers marched, children laughed and played, drinkers drank, pipers piped, street buskers busked …. red and white were the colors of the day so, what the heck, I joined in, buying myself a rather dapper basque red cap, beads, scarf and espadrilles from a street vendor …. good fun day! …. Wish we had more of this patriotic kind of stuff in Canada instead of our rather somber, staid televised Ottawa celebrations on Canada Day for instance (although Stampede in Calgary qualifies to some degree, I suppose, but hmmmm, on reflection, not even a close candidate …. or even in the same ball park …. ) …. we lack the history for starters, being such a mishmash of cultures and heritage ….. tending more towards apology for our Canadian heritage than we are braggingly (gasp!) patriotic about it …. in all honesty, celebrating the victory of a war almost 400 years ago had probably less to do with winning that war, than it did with the Basque sense of pride and independence in general, and the love of ritual, tradition and a great party week with family and friends ….. happy little musings as I sit at my favorite outdoor town square cafe, peace and quiet once again restored, enjoying a glass of a local favorite drink, txakoli (a type of green/white wine that I have grown quite fond of) accompanied by a bowl of unbelievably delicious green olives…. and what is that?? …… a French croissant??? Lol … I scarfed the croissant before I took the picture πŸ™‚ All in all, a great week here in northern Spain, as I nurse my sore little feet ….. barefoot runners and the Camino … like oil and water …. still, oh so glad I did put feet to trail …. I figure, at 10 km a day …. I will generously allow myself lots of time, stretched out over this decade to complete the pilgrimage …. works for me πŸ™‚

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It Was Inevitable ….

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Undoubtedly my imagination was fired up almost two decades ago, after reading Shirley MacLaine’s “Camino”, her spiritual journey on the Santiago de Compostela! … and more recently …. A well known German comedienne, Hape Kerkeling’s “I’m Off Then”, a humorous and endearingly honest accounting of his experiences on the trail. As it turned out, synchronicity keeps finding me …. Hondarribia is a mere two km stroll from Irun, the starting point for the Northern Route of the Santiago de Compostela! A quick stroll to the Refugio in Irun, and I had my pilgrim’s passport and scallop shell (emblem of St. James) in hand! The trail is still called “The Way of St. James” by many and it is to his remains, buried at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, that people have payed homage for a thousand years.

It was an odd assortment of folks waiting for the doors to open at the Refugio in Irun when I arrived. Not too much of a stretch to realize that this is not your normal run of the mill sort who takes off for a month of pilgrimage hiking!! A fairly elderly, though very strong looking lady from a small town in Germany, a youngster from Prague, a swaggering friendly trio of young men from Rome, an American couple my age from North Carolina, a scattering of youngish Spanish men and a handful of solo lady travelers from various European countries … the ladies were not too forthcoming (could be they did not take me as a serious enough hiker to be in their league, given my attire, age etc. … correct assumption πŸ™‚ Everyone was well laden with rather heavy backpacks, sturdy hikers, poles, all the requisite gear (I hear that most start discarding, sometime into the third day) ….. and ahh yes, me, the sole Canadian, rounding out the motley crew, carrying a souvenir daypack, wearing tourist style barefoot runners and my trusty lulus … πŸ™‚ Was I being foolish? Oh yes, most certainly! However, I have always thought that beginnings hold a special kind of magic and can transcend obstacles and so it was for me …. I have now completed the first leg, ( albeit circuitously ) of 25 kms on the quest to one day complete, if not the whole 700 kms of the Camino, at least a hundred kms of it eventually, all that is apparently required to gain pilgrim status πŸ™‚ on the Santiago de Compostela, and preferably, that hundred would be comprised of the LAST hundred kilometers. My reverence for St. James and his buried bones at the end of the trail is a tad tenuous but I do enjoy the idea and ritual of a historical hike …. Pilgrims have trekked the various routes (there are about three or four different routes, and the markings are more often than not, nothing more than yellow arrows or white and red lines painted on rocks or trees, pointing the way … The first leg of the Northern Coastal Route that I chose, was reasonably well marked or in typical fashion for me, I would have been lost in no time! The focus of the pilgrimage has changed over the centuries and for many, it has simply become a personal spiritual quest if not a religious experience. Personally, I think they go hand in hand … I don’t differentiate much anymore. I have been told that more and more Spaniards who complete this hike, do so over several years, hiking a few days here and there …. works for me! … Six weeks of solid 20 – 45 km days? …. not so much.

It was a strange feeling to arrive once again, in San Sebastian on foot … I followed the coastline for the most part … albeit, in my own, rather piecemeal way, over three days! Irun … Hondarribia … San Sebastian … What a stunningly beautiful start to this long and winding Camino trail …. even though I felt every rock under those useless runners and sure missed my poles …. I was just so happy to finally set foot on this well worn path …..

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And a short distance from San Sebastian … Hondarribia!

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What I continue to love about travel … exploring a culture and its people … to learn and experience something new and unknown previously. As a tourist, that can be virtually impossible in certain cultures, although most people, if treated with respect, will open up and share a little of their lives …. and so it continues, here in Hondarribia, a quiet city abundant in medieval and marine history, home to fifteen or so thousand, as well as one of the most beautiful cities in the Cantabrian coast …. almost smack dab on the French/Spanish border. Although English is not spoken much at all here by the locals, and despite my limited Spanish, we still manage to communicate. I discover my arrival in Hondarribia coincides with yet another celebration and festival! I have always loved that sense of historical celebration the Europeans display at every opportunity! My accommodation? ….. a thousand year old castle perched on a hillock, (love this term for hillside) …. overlooking the harbor below!! …. known as a Paradore …. In fact, the name of the Inn is actually Parador …. fully restored on the inside but the outside walls appear much as they did hundreds of years ago, displaying signs of the many invasions that took place along these fortified castle walls, some successful, most not, including a failed attempt at one point by Napolean and his troops ….. While traveling through Portugal with Brian, Sarah and Tim almost a dozen years ago, we stayed in many similar places called posadas in Portugal …. restored monasteries, castles, former royal palaces, providing a wonderful historical component to our travels! If available, I would always opt to hang my hat in such places but they are far and few between. As in Portugal, Spain also has a network of historical accommodation and how fortunate I am, to find the only room available in this castle on one of their busiest summer weeks!! (albeit, it is most certainly a ‘small town busy’) I sit down for what I thought would be a quiet pintxos style dinner in the small town square right below the old castle walls. My afternoon had been spent exploring the many terraces and quiet corners along the cobbled streets of this historic and medieval old town quarter, with a late afternoon walk along it’s marine-flavored streets below. As I sit, soaking in this marvelous ambiance, the music of flutes, drums and the thunder of hundreds of marching feet slowly permeates the air! Within minutes, a parade of local town folk, young and old alike, all dressed in the basque colors of white, black, topped off with red caps and scarves, march right by my dinner table, rubbing elbows yet! …. amazing …. from my charming host at Parador, I learn that there will be a musical parade every evening until Saturday, September 8th, a date important in this region …. commemorating the important victory that ended the “Thirty Year War” with the French in 1638. It will all culminate in much celebrating on Saturday, with music, fireworks and general partying :). The victory over the French was attributed to the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Hondarribia, hence there will be a 5 km walk up a hillside to the Hermitage of Guadalupe located on the slopes of Mount Jaizkibel early Saturday morning … hundreds if not thousands will walk the streets to this church ….. I may join them! Some views outside my Paradore windows, inside the castle comprising the lobby and various museum style tapestry rooms available for guest viewing as well as a modern addition … Internet area with the red chairs πŸ™‚

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San Sebastian

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It was rather a hasty goodbye today in San Sebastian to Sarah, Rob and Aliana. I watch as they make a valiant attempt to stuff their luggage and themselves into a tiny cab, connecting via Bilboa to Frankfurt and home (they finally succeed after the taxi driver takes a wheel off the stroller!) ….. long journey with a baby … Lufthansa’s ongoing rotating strike looms in the background, so a bit of uncertainty there. The senior Overmanns and Hubbells boarded their Mediterranean cruise some days ago ….. and as for moi, aahh …. breathing my own air again … in all honesty, and despite already more than missing Aliana’s cheerful grins and general countenance, I was more than ready for some alone time. It has been a bit of a whirlwind trip thus far …. exhilarating and a thrill to be in Europe and it’s cafe culture again with Sarah et al, but boy, I am rather pooped …. My personal pace is more of a dawdle πŸ™‚ ! Hence, swapping the bustling seaport town of San Sebastian here in Northern Spain, not far from points of call on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail … for the even smaller fishing village of Hondarribia tomorrow, a half hour or so drive away. Quiet places seem to sooth my soul. The troops and I have been exploring this Basque region in Northern Spain the past week, indulging in the many tapas bars, devouring delicious pintxos (appetizers), tasty gelatos, fruity local wines, including the quintessential basque region guipuzoan cider, somewhat reminiscent of a mild sauvignon blanc. This is surely the gastronomical capital of Spain, harboring a bounty of culinary experiences within these tapas bar laden streets of old and new world architectural splendors. Just by chance, we are here for the annual Concha Cup long boat races that date back to 1879 … It is the largest boating event in the region, attracting 100,000 for the week of celebratory events …. the races are spaced over the first two Sundays of September …… witness the crowds gathered everywhere to watch the beginning race in pictures below …. even though the race was finished by the time Rob, Sarah, Aliana and I made it to the seaside, most people were still milling about, watching and waiting …. for what, we were not sure! Perhaps just enjoying the general ambiance as were we …. The stunning sea wall became a favorite daily walk, with a few forays to the lovely beaches in this Bay of Biscay (well, Sarah, Aliana and I, at any rate, dragging along a rather unenthusiastic and reluctant Rob πŸ™‚ … I found it rather strange the rest of our group were loathe to even dip their feet in the ocean … perhaps the bit of chill in the air contributed to that, or they are just not water people, although it certainly did not hinder little Aliana’s enjoyment of crawling about in the warm tidal pools ….. hmmm, different strokes for different folks. Watching my own “baby” introduce the beach and the ocean to her baby, has surely been a highlight …. Aliana’s laughter yesterday was pure joy personified! …. as was Sarah’s! Have I mentioned before, that I adore my daughter’s positive and enthusiastic attitude towards life πŸ™‚ Nowhere is it more evident than during travel to different countries, where Sarah’s smile and enthusiasm light up her whole demeanor! I never cease to feel thankful, blessed and grateful for the many opportunities I have had for exploring our beautiful world. Over almost forty years together, Brian and I have worked very hard to accomplish the ability to do so. There were many many years where travel was just not possible to swing financially so now, whenever we can jump on a plane, we are doubly thankful! It was always a hope that we passed along to our children, our own enthusiasm and open mindedness about the many cultures that make up our world. By all indications, it appears that we have and now, Sarah passes that trait along to her own daughter! ….. Aliana’s joyful attitude is just a delight to be around and intensifies the experiences a new country presents via it’s sights, sounds, smells, tastes ….. so much fun to see things through the eyes of a child again ….. and oh my, how that child is receptive to tasting most everything new!! …. Her favorite dish in Spain is a traditional basque omelet which is basically a potato, onion and egg tortilla … not even remotely a Mexican tortilla but more like a pie of scalloped potatoes? A tasty gelato is right in there too!

I am ahead of myself here in journalling …. I totally forgot to write much about our time in Paris or London, for that matter!! … too busy exploring I guess or too tired at night!! To top off our London jaunt, we had a fabulous evening at Russell and Christine’s home, (friends of Sarah and Rob from Sarah’s year of studies at Oxford) …. their home is a charming townhouse right along the Thames River, a stone’s throw from our hotel …. they grilled a feast fit for royalty for their Canadian guests … lovely, lovely people and a fitting finish to our London stay. Our time there, as in Paris, was short (or is it just me who likes to dally about more and more these days πŸ™‚ …. In Paris, I absolutely loved hanging out at the end of the day at Legends, the tiny boutique hotel Sarah dug up for us … a place to rub and rest our well used feet, while enjoying a nice glass of wine, after a busy day of exploring, be it the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Palace of Versailles or searching out a cafe for dinner …. Paris is a great walking city and we certainly did lots of that!! Posting a few pictures of our time there as well as here in San Sebastian …. Kind of a hodge lodge picture posting …..

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