Posts Tagged ‘Antonio’

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene ii)

Years ago my brother Theo in London sent me some links to a famous butcher in Dorset called Balson, which happens to be the oldest business in England. No, I do not have any relation to the Balson family of Dorset. There is also an American author called Balson, and a few other Balsons around. Nope, no relation.

One of the hobbies my father picked up when he retired was genealogy. He set out to investigate his family’s origins, and he took it quite seriously. He took a course at the prestigious Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) and he proudly displayed his diploma and class picture on his home office wall.

He traveled around Spain visiting churches to gather data from birth, death and wedding certificates. He even went to Salt Lake City in Utah to research the Mormon genealogy vault / database where billions of family histories are stored – they denied him access. He still managed to research his family into the mid 18th Century before losing track. Not bad. His main findings were that the family originated in rural Lerida,

the area between Barcelona and Zaragoza. The original first name was Anton, which through the generations became Antonio – my grandad’s and uncle’s name. The family moved to Zaragoza by the 1800s and to Madrid by the early 20th Century, where my grandad settled and created a family.

So long story short: No butchers, no authors, but still an awesome family heritage.

  1. Sinin’s bar, La Torre, in a God forsaken village (Reliegos, León). A balm for my heart, cracking jokes while I iced my shin, charged my phone, and ate a delicious bocadillo de bonito while Duke Ellington blared on the speakers.
  2. Feeling bunches of grapes, their sensual weight, in the Rioja region.

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    Miles and miles of luscious (but green) grapes

  3. Speaking of the Rioja, crossing the Ebro River (the biggest river in Spain) on the old stone bridge.

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    Puente de Piedra, Logroño

  4. Swimming and having lunch at the refreshing public swimming pool at Zubiri.

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    The refreshing public pool in Zubiri

  5. Lunch at the Universidad de Navarra, when I had just gone in to get my stamp.

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    Universidad de Navarra, great for lunch and a stamp!!

  6. Freezing in Burgos.
  7. The Pilgrim’s Mass in Burgos.
  8. The smell of fig trees.

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    Baby figs!

  9. The chapel of Nuestra Señora de Monasterio in Rabé de la Calzada.

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    Sta. Maria de Monasterio

  10. The crystal clear, fresh water at Hontanas.
  11. Dipping my tendonitis inflamed leg in the cool, clear water in the Esla river at Mansilla de las Mulas – which, by the way, totally healed my leg!
  12. The barn turned albergue in Boadilla del Camino.
  13. Catching up to Krisztina in Villamayor de Monjardín, and again in Mansilla de las Mulas.
  14. The Pre-Romanesque chapel of San Miguel outside of Estella.

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    Ermita de San Miguel Arcángel

  15. Meeting Virgina one of my Dissertation Director’s best UVA friends in Leon, by chance!

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    Virginia is a friend of Irene, my Dissertation Director!!

  16. Meeting a baby cow in Santibañez de Valdeiglesias.20170708_112927
  17. Vespers with the nuns of St. Claire at their Convent of Carrión de los Condes.
  18. Seeing the rainbow outside of Leon.
  19. Vespers with the nuns in Sahagun.

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    Vespers in Sahagun

  20. The chapel at San Nicolas del Real Camino on the side of the Pisuerga River.
  21. The bumper cars in Nájera.
  22. Sitting on a bench the morning of my (forced) rest day reading the Book of Job in Carrión de los Condes and two gorgeous horses being walked down the street.
  23. A trailer bar set up in the middle of the parched fields a few miles before Los Arcos with the radio blasting and all sorts of refreshing goodies.

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    And in the middle of nowhere, an oasis!!

  24. An albergue in the middle of Palencia blasting Tchaikovsky, with geese in the garden, and native American tepees in the back yard.

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    You can sleep in there if you want!

  25. A fun, magical evening of love, drinks and tapas in Leon’s Barrio Húmedo and Barrio Romántico with my old colleague, Ana and her sister.

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    The fun and amazing Martinez sisters!

  26. Doing laundry every day.
  27. La Casa de los Dioses. A stop in the middle of a pine forest set up by David from Barcelona on an abandoned farm before Astorga. He had refreshing fruit, cool water from a botijo, and shade.
  28. The (free) wine fountain at Bodegas Irache.

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    The (free) wine fountain at Irache BTW there are plastic cups in the vending machine on the other side!

  29. The aperitivo before Sunday mass at Viana with Marie Helene and Krisztina.
  30. Drinks at the Drunken Duck pub in Logroño.
  31. Residencia Universitaria Miguel de Unamuno, León.
  32. Stopping for orange juice at La Morena, possibly the hippest albergue of the Camino, but definitely the best orange juice!
  33. Babia, across the street from the Burgos albergue, one of the best breakfasts on the Camino.
  34. Angel’s shop, Amari, in Larrasoaña, blaring the Blues Brothers on vinyl.

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    Amari in Larrasoaña is a great, fun, convenience store

  35. The chapel of San Esteban outside Pamplona where you can ring the bell (if you climb the bell tower).

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    San Esteban

  36. The coffee spoon at Mesón El Yugo in Valverde de la Virgen, it was s shaped so it rested vertically on the cup.
  37. Starting to walk in the pre-dawn darkness a few days.
  38. The river crabs being fished out of the Canal de Castilla near Frómista.

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    Delicious river crabs from the Canal de Castilla

  39. Putzing around Belorado for the better part of a morning: getting coffee, buying assorted supplies, visiting the pharmacy and the post office.
  40. Buying cherries in Pamplona from a rude sales guy that did not enjoy washing the cherries.
  41. Walking by Villava, birthplace and home of Miguel Indurain, my cycling hero.

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    Villava, home of the great Miguel Indurain, winner of 5 consecutive Tour de France!

  42. Translating the tour of Roncesvalles from Father Vicentín to English and French.
  43. Watching the San Fermin bull runs on TV in the mornings getting breakfast at bars along the Camino.
  44. Santa María de Eunate.

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    Sta. Maria de Eunate

  45. The massive medieval bridge at Hospital de Órbigo.
  46. Doing yoga on the lawn at Roncesvalles with James.
  47. A fire just outside the albergue in Cizur Menor.
  48. Watching the sun rise over the Pyrenees.

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    Sunrise over the Pyrenees

  49. The Romanesque cloister at the Cathedral of Estella.

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    The Romanessque cloister at the Cathedral of Estella

  50. The chickens at the Cathedral in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

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    Legend has it that a chicken on the judge’s plate came to life to prove a pilgrim innocent, since then there are chickens in the Cathedral

Many of my fans preparing for the Camino have asked me about my gear (ok, maybe just a couple of people). There are many Internet spots that explain what and how to pack, but here are my two cents, as Americans would say:

Walking 500 miles (give or take) in a month (give or take) carrying your backpack is an exercise in minimalism, physically, mentally and spiritually reducing clutter. By reducing stuff in your backpack, you also reduce it in your mental/spiritual backpack. I hope to soon be able to write about the emotional and mental process of the Camino. For now I will leave you with this quote from Richard Rohr, and write about the material gear that goes in your backpack.

The German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260—c. 1328) preached, “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” [2] But in the capitalistic West, we think very differently. We all keep trying to climb higher up the ladder of success in any form. We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. All we can really do is get out-of-the-way. The spiritual life is often more about unlearning than learning, letting go of illusions more than studying the Bible or the catechism.

There are a few things to keep in mind when packing for the Camino: a. you are never more than a few hours away from civilization, with supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, and anything else you might need. b. there are laundry facilities at all albergues, so you do not need to pack many clothes, and c. basically all you do on the Camino is walk, eat and sleep. Having said all that, this was my packing list:

Shoes are probably the first thing to think of. If you are walking in the summer you do not need hiking boots. I saw plenty of people struggling with heavy hiking boots in the hot 30+ C° weather, plenty of abandoned boots, and plenty of feet like steak tartare. Good, broken in hiking shoes are perfect. Some people wear running sneakers, they are probably fine, although maybe a bit too lightweight for you and your pack, in my opinion. I packed a pair of cheap Flip-Flops for showering and a pair of water sandals for the apres-walking evenings.

You basically only need the clothes you are wearing and the ones that are washing/drying. Of course this depends on the season, but in the summer that means T-shirt, underwear, shorts and socks. As I mentioned before, as I am a snob, I carried three changes.

Since your feet are doing basically all the work on the Camino, and account for 25% of the bones in your body, you really should pamper them with the best socks you can get. Ideally hiking specific socks in a wool blend without seams. The higher up the leg they are, the less dust and grit is going to get into your feet.

Although everybody recommends hi-tech, moisture wicking, breathing fibers, for your T-shirts, I chose old school 100% cotton long sleeve shirts. The cotton because I am a snob and don’t like the feel of synthetic fibers, and the long sleeves because I also hate sunscreen and long sleeves meant I could avoid creams (and packing them).

For a second I considered athletic underwear, but ended up going with my Brooks Brothers boxer shorts. Some things just like hanging the way they always do!

I carried two cargo shorts. The side pocket was extremely handy for my guidebook/map as I used it constantly.

It was never too cold for me until the approach to Burgos. That day I wore two long sleeve shirts all day long. That evening I surrendered to the cold and bought a hooded sweatshirt at the souvenir shop, the only shop open in Burgos that day, as they were celebrating their festivities!

For my bald head I alternated bandanas (which I would tie around my neck in the morning) in different configurations depending on the sun: a la Marco Pantani, Il Pirata, or a la Tupac Shakur, and a  “crunchy” boonie, or giggle hat that I could soak at fountains to keep me cool.

Unless you are going to camp or bivouac (which I saw plenty by the side of the Camino) you are going to sleep indoors, so a summer weight sleeping bag is fine. I chose to have one of my favorite cotton sheets folded in half (lengthwise, duh) and sown to create a sleeping bag. It might have been a bit heavier than the synthetic bags, but it was oh so comfy. Most albergues have blankets, so on cool nights I pulled a blanket over my sheet/bag. I did carry a pillowcase since the albergues all have pillows, in retrospect I could have used one of my three T-shirts.

Your minimal dopp kit with your bathroom supplies. I used Marseille soap – Jabón Lagarto – in Spain as I could use it for my laundry and my body, and my bald head, hahaha!

A lot of thought was given to what to read on the Camino, something meaningful but light. The library at the albergue in Roncesvalles, the first stop, is full of donated/abandoned Bibles… I ended up choosing The Book of Job and I do not regret it. I did finish it early and donated it to the Convent of Saint Claire where I was staying at Carrión de los Condes. I also packed a notebook and writing material to keep a diary and a daily Scripture reading for inspiration.  I carried two guidebooks: The Michelin Guide for quick reference on the go, and the Anaya “El Camino de Santiago en tu mochila” for more detailed reference.

Small flashlight – critical for reading and moving around the albergue after lights out. Mine has a wrist band which means I could hang it from the boards of the bunk above me, great for reading.

For towel I used a lightweight microfiber from Decathlon, it is not the most luxurious item, but it works. I must confess I was very jealous when James pulled out this exotic, gorgeous, printed Indian sheet. It is very refreshing to see flashes of glamour on the drab, technical, weight obsessed Camino equipment.

Water bottle, and make sure you have a comfortable, handy spot to carry it, I struggled carrying mine around in different locations until I settled on a hip strap. Although you are never too far from a fountain, there are a few long (over 10 km.) stretches without water. Also, you should always be drinking anyway, so even if you do not fill it up, always carry water. It is also handy to wash fruit, hands, etc. Some people carry water “bladders” but these seem tricky to fill up mid hike and are apparently expensive.

Basic first aid kit with whatever you think you might need – hopefully you will not use anything.

Bathing suit!

Trail mix, it is nice to have s snack without having to wait for the next bar.

Phone and charger.

Bug spray – I did not use it.

Sharpie, critical for marking stuff and writing on stones at mileposts.

Safety pins in case your clothes have not dried overnight and you need to “hang” them outside your pack.

Poncho that covers your backpack. Keep it handy in case of sudden storms.

Most albergues have laundry facilities for manual laundry. The bigger ones have washer/driers. Some of them will even treat you to detergent, so I packed a few of the liquid plastic pods in a zip-lock bag.

Pilgrims swear by the hiking sticks (that look like ski poles), I carried one of my dad’s old walking sticks that an old friend had given him. It was useful on technical climbs and descents and to poke at things.

Last, but not least a pocket knife is critical. You might only use it to make bocadillos, but it is always handy to have. I found an old Swiss Army knife that I had given my little sister years ago and that for some reason was in my dad’s desk drawer.

Buen Camino!

  1. Rolf, an inquisitive young Swiss carpenter.
  2. Katrina, a German girl who booked it past Roncesvalles on her first day!
  3. Two Spanish retirees. One climbing the Pyrenees, one that led us into Burgos.
  4. James, a lovely, funny, tall young Englishman with whom I chatted about beech forests and Hemingway.
  5. Diego, a young restless Italian architect with a huge heart.
  6. Alain, an eloquent French meteorologist turned priest.
  7. Manolo, a physical therapist from Zaragoza. I met him on the descent to Roncesvalles. A veteran pilgrim who became my teacher of the Camino.
  8. Frank, a retired Warner Bros music executive from New Mexico.
  9. Tillman, a young nurse from Hamburg who broke his ankle on the first day of the Coastal Route and switched to the French Route. He was very generous with his advice on my tendonitis.
  10. Jessi, an Australian lawyer walking out of a street and into my needy arms in Villatuerta. She gave me vital girl advice and treated me (probably unknowingly) to breakfast in Estella.
  11. Lindsey, a gutsy Yale grad whose graduation present to herself was walking the Camino.
  12. Emily, a University of Virginia MBA student.
  13. A University of North Carolina Urban Planning MA student with her boyfriend. Go Heels!!
  14. Bo, a young Korean accountant with whom I co-founded the Camino Chapter of the Eddy Kim Fan Club.
  15. Bo, a Korean girl who celebrated her 22 birthday in Carrión de los Condes, I was invited to the festivities in the albergue kitchen! Follow her on Instagram at bom.in_703
  16. Two Mexican girls. I lent my soap to one of them and she forgot it on the laundry sink… good thing I saw it when I was returning from dinner.
  17. Two Mexican boys, one of whom played club tennis at University of Virginia.
  18. Marie Helene, a feisty French lady who started her Camino in the Alsace-Lorraine (where the quiche comes from). I met her my first night at St. Jean de Pied-de-Port and bumped into her my whole Camino, she became a nice friend.
  19. José Antonio, a funny lad from Gran Canaria
  20. Amy and Jess, two young teachers from Austin Texas.
  21. A stylish pilgrim from St. Louis Missouri. She wore her scarf and sun hat like a Hollywood star adding much-needed glamour to the Camino.
  22. A happy Irish boy with two friends: an Australian and a Brazilian, we had fun on the bumper cars in Nájera.
  23. A French and an Australian girl, I had dinner with them in Roncesvalles and bumped into them the first few days of the Camino.
  24. Bart from Barcelona, who was either racing down the Camino, drinking beer, or sleeping, (or getting a ride in a car from a friend to a remote village in Burgos).
  25. Christof from Berlin, some sort of wunderkind with a tech startup and feet destroyed by blisters.
  26. Katia from the Czech Republic who walked around the albergue in her leopard print knickers.
  27. Bob a hilarious Cuban-Venezuelan-German fellow.
  28. Delia from Salvador de Bahia, a bigger heart would be difficult to find.
  29. A big hunk American fellow who hiked at night and looked like Hulk Hogan.
  30. Adolfo, a retired 63-year-old bank employee from Zaragoza who ran marathons.
  31. Kika, an Italian living in Germany who falls off beds, this is a problem when you have the top bunk in the albergue
  32. Iñigo, a nice Basque environmental science teacher.
  33. Gert, a pilgrim from Hannover who only speaks German (very brief conversation).
  34. Claire, a lovely English girl with Birkenstocks, and her boyfriend.
  35. Stephanie, a super tall Dutch girl who got tendonitis just like me.
  36. Ramona, a lovely Bavarian girl with all sorts of tattoos and sexy scars.
  37. Jessica, a lady from LA on her first trip abroad. Talk about culture shock.
  38. A girl from Valencia walking with her English boyfriend? Husband? At any rate, a bit pushy.
  39. A friendly American cyclist from California living in France.
  40. Raúl, a snoring cyclist from Teruel. He did the Camino walking once, but now his holiday time does not allow him to walk.
  41. Krisztina, a generous, beautiful old soul from Budapest.
  42. Two librarians from Pamplona, one of whom used to work with my friend Maria Alecha from the University of Navarra.
  43. An American girl in Boadilla del Camino who pointed out to me that my moisturizer was in fact shaving cream.
  44. A skinny Belgian fellow that slept like a champ.
  45. An Austrian guy from Vienna who got bed bugs.
  46. Two American women, one of whom had a daughter at the Columbine shooting and now has a foundation. The other one is a Lower School Principal in Minnesota.
  47. Paul, a Brit living in San Francisco. My guess is that he is some sort of Silicon Valley tech guru.
  48. Two Polish girls camping the Camino!
  49. Tino, a retired industrial engineer who booked 40 km a day.
  50. Kevin, the Flying Dutchman. A crazy, funny fellow.

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Everything you have ever heard about the Camino is true: it is a spiritual journey, it is a life changing experience, you make deep bonds with people you meet, the hiking and the views are gorgeous, and so on. Yes, all that is true, but it is so much more, so much more.

My trip started with a quick bus ride to the Atocha station in Madrid, a train ride to Pamplona where I met up for lunch with an old colleague from UNC, and from there, a breathtaking bus ride up and down the Pyrenees to St. Jean de Pied-de-Port in France. As part of my experience I did not make any sleeping arrangements, so I really did not know what to expect. Getting out of the bus, I walked around exploring the cute little village. I wandered into the Pilgrim’s mass, which ended with a very warm Pilgrim’s blessing, then stumbled into the Pilgrim’s Office where I got my all-important “Credencial”, the passport that you get stamped along the way as proof of your pilgrimage. Then it was time to figure out where I would sleep. I asked at a couple of albergues (hostels), which were full. Third time lucky as Eric at the Chemin Vers L’Etoile generously welcomed me. We had a wonderful group dinner of couscous and sautéed pork at a long table where I met all sorts of pilgrims: a young woman who started walking from her front door in Belgium, Marie Helene who had been walking from Alsace-Lorraine – and who I would bump into for the rest of my Camino -, a young man from Taiwan, etc. The first humanizing experience of the Camino are the sleeping quarters in the albergues: a room full of bunk beds. I had not slept in a room with total strangers in 30 years, (since the summer of ’87 when I had to sleep in a youth hostel in Geneva as my apartment in a university dorm was still occupied). I say humanizing because on the Camino we are all equals, it does not matter how much money you have, what kind of car you drive, how big your house is. You have committed to walk to Santiago and that is really the only thing that matters. I was a bit surprised that everybody headed to bed after dinner. I needed a bit of a walk to settle dinner, so I explored the cute village and by the time I got to bed I was the last one in.

Not wanting to make any noise getting into bed, I did not rummage through my backpack to look for my earplugs, big mistake. In the hot summer night I could hear all the heavy breathing and snoring. Around five I heard rumblings, and when I opened my eyes everybody was getting ready to go! At ten past six, after a quick breakfast of toast and bad coffee I was walking out of the village, in time to see the sunrise over the Pyrenees. The first two hours are brutally steep. Eventually you reach a nice auberge at Orisson, it is a perfect place for a nice rest and charge up. They have fantastic orange juice, tortilla, coffee, and they will make you a sandwich to go. The climb continues at a gentler grade for hours, with brief stops at an image of the virgin (Vierge de Biakorri), a cross (La Croix Thibaut), a trailer selling snacks, and eventually a fountain, the Fountain of Roland, which marks the border of France and Spain. After some time cresting with largest remaining beech forest in Europe on either side, you start the descent into Roncesvalles. There are two options: a dangerously rocky steep path, and a bit longer but easier winding mountain path. Having heard horror stories about the first, I took the second option.

The connection to nature is one of the first things that hit any hiker, on the Camino it is a never-ending wonder. Crossing the Pyrenees you encounter basque ponies and woolly basque sheep, brown vultures, and cows, of which you will see every breed of on the Camino. You will stare in awe at the flight of the falcon and wonder if it knows how cool it is soaring the sky. In the cool mornings you must be careful not to step on the hundreds of snails. In a field in Burgos we were surrounded by butterflies, hundreds, thousands of different butterflies playing with us. I saw two deer jumping through fields of gold (as Sting would say), storks, deafening cicadas, and every type of farm animal, including geese. Special mention to the cat at a crossroads outside of Los Arcos who just sat there waiting for pilgrims to pet it, it was a smart Siamese mix, and it was nice to hang out with it for a moment.

Roncesvalles is not really a village, it is a medieval colegiata, a notch down from a monastery, which hosts the albergue and a posh hotel, a church with a nice cloister, crypt, and a chapter hall where Sancho el Fuerte, an old king of Navarre is buried. There are also a couple of inns.

After the day’s walk, one must shower away the dust incrusted dry sweat, give the old feet a loving massage, and do the day’s laundry, after which there is time off to have a siesta, roam around, eat or explore the village. Roncesvalles had a lush lawn, so I enjoyed a few minutes of yoga with young Englishman James, with whom I would make a brief bond, talking about Hemingway’s time in Pamplona. I bought some cherries from a travelling fruit seller’s van and walked around. Dinner was with James, after which we rushed to the Pilgrim’s mass and blessing. Father Vicentin offered to give us a tour of the church if someone translated, at which point somebody that had heard about my job, literally pushed me forward. So I enjoyed translating to English and French all the explanations of the church, crypt, cloister, chapter hall, and Sancho el Fuerte who was over six feet tall.

This time I took my time with my bedtime preparations, including trying out the wax ears-plugs, they are awesome, I heard nothing!

The morning ritual includes slathering your feet in Vaseline, putting on socks and shoes, and a quick breakfast before hitting the road. The Camino through Navarra is beautiful, with ever-changing views, each one more breathtaking than the previous one. I enjoyed an enlightening conversation with Manolo from Zaragoza, the fellow I had descended the Pyrenees with the day before, after a snack stop I surged forward through forests and fields, up and down hills. From the top of a hill I saw a village below – with a gorgeous and inviting public pool calling out for me. I went straight to the pool for a refreshing swim and lunch. The last couple of hours hiking in the heat to my end of stage were tough, but the swim was worth it.

Larrasoaña, is a small village, it has a nice municipal albergue and a small convenience store run by crazy Angel who plays vinyl records and treats you to a glass of local wine. The next morning after breakfast with Angel’s victuals, I enjoyed the walk into Pamplona. I shared it with a young and restless Italian architect called Diego. Stops were few, but a remarkable one was at the small church of San Esteban where they have an incredible bell that rings beautifully, for over a minute. If you are willing to climb up the bell tower they let you ring it, once. It did have a nice ring. I did not stay in Pamplona, after visiting the Cathedral I continued across town to the first village out, Cizur Menor, where I stayed at an albergue run by the medieval order of the Knights of Malta. In fact, the beautiful fortified Romanesque church still stands on the compound. As I dropped off my backpack by my bed, the woman trying to sleep a siesta on the next bed, said “Hi” to me with the sweetest, warmest, smiling eyes.

One soon develops a rhythm to the Camino, the morning ritual, the stops at villages for constant snacks of pinchos de tortilla, bocadillos, empanada, whatever you can get your hands on. Stops at interesting chapels, churches, and cathedrals or other interesting sites, like the free wine fountain at Bodegas Irache. All along you can get your Credencial stamped, I found it a bit of a game to collect all the stamps wherever I stopped, as much for fun as for a memory aid of every stop. Technically you only need one per day until Sarria, and then 2 per day until Santiago. Still, one hears stories of people hitchhiking to the next town, taking taxis, whatever, it is your Camino.

Although there are recommended daily stages, every village on the Camino has albergues so you can set your own pace. The beauty of this is that sometimes you stop at tiny – one bar – charming villages where you might be the only pilgrim for the evening. I had a couple of such experiences where you can chat with the locals, etc.

The day after Pamplona you are faced with the Monte del Perdón. The climb has a nice manageable rhythm to it, and at the top between the massive electric windmills there is a small prayer pillar, a modern sculpture dedicated to the pilgrims and a Land Rover Defender 110 with a trailer selling all sorts of snacks! The descent is much tougher than the climb, with a few fairly technical bits. Remember to buy shoes a size larger than usual so your toes do not crumple with your shoe on these descents. Of course at the village at the end of the hour-long descent there is a nice place to grab a well-deserved second breakfast.

One of the many magical things about the Camino are the chapels and tiny churches, most of them dating back to medieval times, peppered along the way. In the angle formed by the merger of the Camino Aragonés coming from the Eastern Pyrenees with the Francés (which I was on), is the unique chapel of Santa María de Eunate. The placement of these chapels might appear fairly random, but one cannot help but notice a formidable energy, a presence, an intangible metaphysicallity, a sacredness in these places. Most of these thousand year old churches are in simple, elegant, minimalist Romanesque, and even Pre-Romanesque style. The wonderful hospitalaria (albergue keeper) at Cizur Menor had explained to me that Eunate was built over two underground streams that met right under the church. Never mind how old this church is, never mind the unequal (yes, unequal) eight sided construction, the feeling inside cannot be described in a blog, in words. This experience would be repeated with different intensity at San Miguel before Estella, at Nuestra señora del Monasterio in Rabé, where both Krisztina and I cried unconsolably for minutes, at San Nicolás on the Pisuerga river right before entering into Palencia, and at the chapels I have already mentioned.

Puente la Reina is aptly named for the awesome five arched medieval bridge that crosses the local river. Although that is a recommended daily end of stage, I pressed on with Rolf, the young Swiss carpenter I had met a few days earlier. Mañeru is one of those lovely villages with only one bar. The albergue run by Mayte has massive stone walls that act as natural air conditioning and it was nice and cool inside. Ditto for the patio, where I did my laundry and read and wrote for the evening.

A curious phenom of the Camino is the ebb and flow of pilgrims. People you thought long overtaken appear at villages well ahead of where you left them and vice-versa, you catch up to people who overtook you hours or days earlier. This was the case with the young woman I had met at the albergue outside of Pamplona. I had overtaken her early in the day’s walk and yet she was well ahead of me the next time I saw her the next day. I finished that day at Los Arcos, at an albergue run by Austrian volunteers who happened to be German.

Logroño is the second big city you reach on the Camino. To enter the city proper you have to cross the Ebro river, the biggest river in Spain, that alone is an experience. The albergue is an old palazzo restored to accommodate the dusty and sweaty pilgrims. You are now in the heart of wine country and all you see for days are vineyards.

Another thing I found happened to me on the Camino is that my senses awakened. I thought my sense of touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing worked fine, until I was a few days into the Camino and realized my senses had automatically fine-tuned. Walking in the Rioja region I could not resist every once in a while just holding bunches of green grapes in my hand, their weight, their sensual skin, was just a very rich, rewarding feeling. Same goes of hearing birds chirping, or total silence, or for the views, or for smelling every sort of plant and tree you walk by – my favorite where the fig trees – although the fruit was still far from ripe, grrr.

It was freezing in Burgos, and they were celebrating their local patron saint festivities, so everybody was out partying. The walk into the city is tedious and boring, bordering industrial estates and the airport before hitting a massive park that takes you into the city. The albergue is a really cool restored palazzo right behind and across the street from the awesome gothic cathedral where they had a pilgrim’s mass in one of the side chapels. That night Manolo was ending his Camino for the year, so he invited a group of us to a nice dinner. Leaving Burgos is much nicer than entering, as you leave by the university campus. It was drizzling that morning, but it soon stopped.

And so the kilometers and the days pass, village after village, occasionally a town, and eventually a city will meet you. The only thing you have to do every day is get up, put on your shoes and walk, and walk, and walk. This is really quite liberating, the only non-walking action that happens is in your mind, so in the pre-dawn walking I could meditate in the cool darkness, later I thought about anything and everything, or not. Sometimes in the total solitude of the Camino I sang at the top of my lungs, certain that there really was nobody for miles around. I sang mostly old Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, even The Police.

Between Burgos and Leon lies Palencia (yes, with a P, not Valencia), a flat, arid land where the walking is tedious, but not any less rewarding. The earth is very clayey so it holds on to moisture well which is perfect for the acre upon acre of cereal grown there. At Carrion de los Condes we stayed at an albergue in the Convent of Saint Claire. Evening vespers with the nuns was one of the more moving experiences I have had in memory. The walk from Carrion to the next village is 17km., one of the longest, over three hours, without any stops or fountains.

The lack of technology is one of the most freeing feelings on the Camino. Other than taking photos, you really do not need any technology. In the evening, if the albergue has WiFi you can catch up a bit on the old social networks, email, etc. Personally I did not miss the technology a single bit, although I did post a highly curated daily Instagram pic for my fans. (Follow me at tonxob)

Living out of a backpack means you have two sets of clothes, the one you are wearing and the one you washed the night before – I am a snob, so I had three t-shirts, boxer shorts and socks. This might be boring, but it is also terribly liberating, you do not have to worry about what to wear, how to match. You also do not have to worry about your things, because you have very few things on the Camino: your dopp kit, your clothes, sleeping bag, some reading and writing material, a guide, phone with charger, a pocket knife, and little else.

León follows Burgos on the big city stops, and what a place it is. It has a beautiful pedestrian downtown, an amazing cathedral, and massive free tapas with every drink you order. There is no municipal albergue in León, so we stayed in a university dorm that doubles as an albergue in the summer, when there are no students. It also had double rooms with bathrooms, which was a nice break from the albergue life for a night. In Leon I caught up with Ana, an old colleague from Milton High School in Boston, we had a great evening with her sister and Krisztina.

When was the last time you played with your own shadow? When was the last time you even noticed your own shadow? On the Camino which is a fairly straight East to West walk, you see your own shadow forming every morning when the sun comes up! It is little things like these that make the Camino a journey of self re-discovery, of renewal, it gives you time to forgive, to let go, to forget.

At Astorga, a great little town with an awesome cathedral and the Bishop’s house built by Antoni Gaudí (of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona fame) I had to finish my Camino in order to go get the country house ready for mom, sisters, brothers in law, and nieces and nephew who were on their yearly holiday in Mallorca. It was heartbreaking to say my goodbyes and wait for hours for the long and boring train ride to Madrid.

Needless to say I cannot wait to finish the last third of my Camino next summer. Stay tuned.

Notes: I walked over 520 km (325 miles) in 19 days (with one rest day for a pesky shin tendonitis).

 

 

After two days of faculty meetings and an apparently endless number of  year-end parties I can finally say my academic year is over, and what a year it has been. Granted, the first year at any job is always going to be hard. Add to that coaching two varsity level sports, editing my dissertation for publishing, a new town, a new state, and more importantly a new climate zone – Sub Tropical, and it was quite an experience.

Naples is the southernmost town on the West Coast, the Gulf Coast of Florida. The city did not really develop until the second half of the XX C with the advent of air conditioning. To this day it is still very much a resort town which booms in size from December to May with rich northerners, mostly from the Mid-West spending the “season” here. They have beautiful homes and cars, go to overrated and overpriced restaurants, and play golf, lots of golf. There are 80 golf courses in Naples, apparently the highest concentration of golf courses per capita in the US. The beach, did I mention there is a beach? The beach is miles of silky while sand, and since it is protected by the Gulf, it has quiet waters with small waves. It is a beautiful town with palm lined streets and gorgeous homes. The municipal tennis courts around the corner from my apartment have decadent clay surfaces. There are cute coffee shops, bars, cigar bars, and even some interesting restaurants. Half an hour driving and you are in the Everglades, the world’s largest Sub-Tropical jungle, infested with alligators, Florida panthers, etc.

In my June 2016 post The Job Search Part II, looking for jobs in secondary schools, I write how what attracted me to Naples was Seacrest’s educational philosophy. With time I will reflect on my teaching experience, on coaching girl’s varsity soccer and tennis, on living in Naples and so many other thoughts that I need to marinate.

The way the weather breaks down is that June to September is hot, humid, rainy and stormy. But the rest of the year it is “Endless Summer” always the perfect weather to enjoy the outdoors. I enjoyed riding my bicycle, running, walking on the beach, as well as riding Rocinante to work every day.

One of the highlights of my first year here has been discovering Artis Naples. Artis Naples is the home of the Baker Museum, a cute, little museum with some interesting pieces, and of the Naples Philharmonic and their fantastic concert hall. One of my fears coming to this remote corner of the world was that I was not going to find the cultural stimulation I had in Boston, Madrid or Chapel Hill. I was mostly wrong. Someone had told me that if I wanted to enjoy any culture I had to drive two hours across Alligator Alley to Miami, when in fact, groups like Miami City Ballet, or the Vienna Philharmonic come to Naples!

The season started with some nice amuse-bouche chamber music concerts in the museum. But the real season started with Elgar’s moving  Cello Concerto. After that it was Grimaud playing Brahms, Joshua Bell playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Opera Naples performing Turandot in the Fall and The Magic Flute in the Spring, Handel’s Messiah, Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, Abbado conducting Beethoven and Wagner, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the ballet Giselle –which is one of my favorites. Some concerts, like Anne-Sophie Mutter I had to miss due to coaching. Fortunately the folks at Artis are very nice and you can call in and change your tickets if you need.

On top of that the museum has a free late night on the last Wednesday of the month, so you can just go walk around, something I did most months!

A lesser known cultural gem in Naples is Opera Naples. They operate out of a refurbished warehouse in a bit sketchy industrial area of town. The artistic director is Ramon Tebar one of those wunderkinds who was conducting orchestras at 12 years old. He is a hot-shot from Valencia, another reason to love him! On top of the two operas performed at Artis, they did a few events at their home. Master classes and recitals with mezzo-soprano Renata Scotto, recitals by Gregory Kunde…

Sadly, there does not appear to be much more to choose from beyond this. The locals seem more interested in the size of their homes and their cars to be really culturally restless. Also, since the town lacks a university there are not many young people. There seems to be mostly families with young children or older folks, but little age diversity.

With my busy schedule, I had little time to explore the area, so that is one of the many things I am looking forward to.

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Teaching at Seacrest Country Day School

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