travel, Uncategorized

A Return to Spain

A little more than three years ago, I posted about how I planned to spend my quiet time on the Camino de Santiago–in prayer. Walking is a meditation in itself, I’ve found. The steady gait of feet and earth, the land quiet all around, the sky above wide and open. It’s the perfect time for reflection, and when that’s not productive, repetition of prayers. Repetition can be soothing–just strike up a steady drumbeat if you doubt that. There’s something in our blood that responds to rhythm.

jakobsweg-283912_640
Photo courtesy of rggroning.

Some of the prayers I thought would be appropriate on my last Camino didn’t resonate with me, but others were like the lyrics of a beautiful song. My husband and I will be walking from Tui, Spain, 117 kilometers northward to Santiago de Compostela. We’ve allotted seven days for the trip, which is hopefully just the right amount of time.

Below are the prayers I’ve chosen for this pilgrimage. Do you have a mantra or favorite prayer? Please share it in the comments if you do.

God be with thee in every pass, Jesus be with thee on every hill
Spirit be with thee on every stream, headland and ridge and lawn;
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow,
Each lying down, each rising up,
In the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows,
Each step of the journey thou goest.
Carmina Gadelica

~~

Be thou a bright flame before me,
Be thou a guiding star above me,
Be thou a smooth path below me,
Be thou a kindly shepherd behind me,
Today, tonight and forever.
St Columba

~~

Psalm 23 King James Version

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

~~

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me.
God’s might to uphold me. God’s wisdom to guide me. God’s eye to see before me.
God’s ear to hear me. God’s word to speak for me. God’s hand to guard me.
God’s way to lie before me. God’s shield to protect me.
God’s host to secure me against the snares of devils —
against temptations and vices, against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd …

Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me.
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit.
Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of very man who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me.
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

~~

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm,
be there at our sleeping and give us we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

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hiking, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

The Spanish Countryside in 10 Photos

happy-new-year-2018-vector

Happy New Year! What a blessing to watch the calendar flip to a new page yet again. May your 2018 be filled with peace, protection, prosperity, and all good things …

Like travel.

Two and a half years ago I walked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain ending at the city of Santiago de Compostela. There the cathedral is said to contain the bones of James the Apostle of Jesus Christ, who is thought to have come to Spain to live out the last of his life.

The traditional beginning of a pilgrimage in the Middle Ages was to leave from one’s front door and walk toward Santiago de Compostela. This led to a network of paths all across Europe. One of those is the French Way, which starts in northeast Spain and continues across the country for about 550 miles. In recent decades, this pilgrimage route has regained popularity. Today, around 200,000 people walk it each year.

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In 2015, I was one. Though time constraints and unexpected injury constrained me to completing only 350 of those miles, I did more than enough to receive the certificate of completion–the compostela. I’m proud of my achievement. Peregrinos–pilgrims–like to say that when you walk the Camino once you will be compelled to return. Indeed, it is so. In March my husband Dave and I will walk from Portugal to Santiago, a distance of 117 kilometers.

March is not that far away and we are both getting nervous about the trip. We’ll be increasing our activity considerably from now until then. And we’ll see that Dave is properly equipped, since I already have my gear. But there’s more to do–house arrangements and work deadlines and spiritual preparation. 

Below are the top ten pictures of my 2015 Camino. They serve as inspiration when our nerves get the better of us. Perhaps they might inspire you as well?

10. For grain storage. Much nicer looking than a silo.

no 4 grain

9. View of one of the countless beautiful villages you pass on the Way.

overlook

8. Idyllic scenes abound.

no 14

7.  As do magnificent ones like the cathedral at Burgos.

cathedral

6. Always with the great views.

framed

5. And reminders of how far you need to go.

ages

4. Fields and hills and simple village churches.

inthedistance

3. But glory is inside some of these churches, though plain from the outside.

altar

2. Along the way you find acknowledgement of your journey, like this medieval pilgrim, with wide-brimmed hat to stave off the sun, walking stick to assist, and water flask for thirsty times (almost every village has a free fountain filled with sweet, clean water).

sculpture

  1. And my favorite photo – storm clouds threatening but light all around them and color before them – beautiful fields of mustard.

Matthew 17:20 – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

mustard

Perhaps one day I will meet you on the Road?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized, writing

A Walk on the Wild Side … of Spain – 217-229/300 Camino Photos

It was early May, and I continued to walk the Santiago de Compostela, bloodied but unbowed. Well, all right. Not bloodied. And only slightly bowed. My feet, however, hurt. When I would sit for a rest I was all right – until it was time to get up again. That’s when the grunting and groaning began. I wasn’t the only one with such afflictions, and commiserating with fellow pilgrims helped somewhat. So did views like this:

Galicia Spain panorama

Galicia Spain panorama

Galicia Spain panorama

Before I left on the Camino, I daydreamed about how wonderful it would be to have a donkey as a companion on the road. Not only would he keep me company, but he could tote my cumbersome backpack as well. It soon became clear that such an endeavor would take more logistical energy than I had – where would the animal sleep, how would I feet it, where would I get it, what would I do with it when I finished my journey. I decided to let that dream go. Instead, I felt certain that God would bring a donkey into my Camino in some way. Sure enough, he did. I passed this duo on the way:

The donkey, perhaps, had much to eat along the way.

Camino 1613 (Copy)

Camino 1614 (Copy)

It was, doubtlessly, a blessing not to have to tug the poor creature away from such treats hour after hour.

Mileposts like these showed that my journey would soon be at an end.

Camino 1616 (Copy)

Reminders of a simpler life cropped up unexpectedly. I halted on the trail as a married couple herded their cattle past. They were old, and wearing ragged clothing and mud-slick boots. I spied a wound on one of the cattle, and a broken down dog wore a giant goiter around his neck. How awful it would be to eke out an existence in such poverty, with old age slowing your steps. What if I could not afford to take my animals to the vet when they needed it? I thanked God for the goodness I take for granted so often – my easy suburban life in sunny southern California.

Camino 1618 (Copy)

Between the little villages are peaceful places where nature reigns supreme.

Soon enough human habitations arise, made from stone, slick and mossy.

Camino 1623 (Copy)

Camino 1625 (Copy)

Little churches dot the wayside, like this one, Iglesia de Santa Maria de Leboreiro, built in the 14th century. It is simple and humble.

Camino 1632 (Copy)

And the torments of past terrors, such as the ones suffered by Saint Sebastian, are ever near.

Camino 1634 (Copy)

The Renaissance costumes betray a 16th century origin. Old to us. So old. Like the urge to walk onward, an instinct encoded in our genes from our days as nomads, wandering day by day.

My pilgrimage continues on in future pictures. Subscribe to see them, or backtrack, if it suits you, to other images in my 100 Spanish Photos series.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized, writing

Over the Misty Mountains – 202-216/300 Camino Photos

 

I was raised in the desert. I know heat, parched earth, scorching sun, and dry, dry air. The rain, when it comes, is either a light pitter patter or torrential floods. There is no in between, it seems. And so when I come to a place like the region of Spanish Galicia, “the country of a thousand rivers,” I find it irresistible. So much green! So much moisture. Misty and rain and moss. Mud and more. Gnarled trees and stone huts. All of them are here, and more.

Galician hills

Flat heavy stones are everywhere. Stacked to form walls, bridges, homes …

Galicia

Even charming old chapels.

Stone church

Grain is stored in these odd looking little huts to keep them safe from rodents. Every house seems to have one.

no 4 grain

Hills everywhere. An endless panorama of them.

no 5 hills

The sign beside it claims that this tree is 800 years old. Called a castaño, it produces chestnuts in the fall.

Camino 1492

I never tired of the overflowing streams, and the constant drip, drip, drop from above. I don’t melt, and my shoes are waterproof. What more did I need but a rain jacket and backpack cover?

no 7

It is in such places that I am constantly surprised about the many hues green takes.

no 8

Camino 1506

I took a longer route on this day’s walk, determined to visit the Benedictine monastery of Samos, founded in the 6th century.

no 10

Along with two Finnish women, we toured the cloisters with a monk who spoke only Spanish. He showed us the lovely frescoed walls with pride. The Botica interested me as well, a long ago pharmacy.

no 11 botica

The monk blushed when I asked to take his picture. What a lovely, humble man he was. A credit to his profession.

no 12

More streams, as I traveled on.

no 13 bridge

More idyllic scenes.

no 14

And another bridge, leading to the unknown.

no 15

Join me, if you like, as my pilgrimage continues on. Or backtrack, if it suits you, to other images in my 100 Spanish Photos series.

Until next time, enjoy the new year. Indeed, we are blessed to experience it, with its many highs and occasional lows.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized, writing

Up, Up, and Away! Trekking Across Spain – 179-201/200+ Camino Photos

I am drawing closer to another milestone with my 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 plus Spanish Photos!), and since it has been a while since I’ve posted, I am making this an extra long entry tonight. Last time I visited the fairy tale castle in Ponferrada. Onward I trekked, 18 kilometers from Ponferrada to Pieros, my feet hurting all the while. I ended my day early when I came to the lovely vegetarian albergue El Serbal y la Luna.

El Serbal y la Luna Albergue Spain

It is a large old home, made of bricks, mortar, and heavy wooden beams. I stayed in the room with four massive bunk beds and a view out the skylight to the starry night sky – truly one of my favorite stays. The communal meal was prepared by a chef who was next on her way to work for the summer on a Greek island. How romantic is that?

Two friends I knew from the trail showed up that afternoon – Antonia from California and Fiz from New Zealand or England, depending on the day. The albergue in the previous town, Cacabelos, was closed. As such, El Serbal y la Luna filled up quickly. However, in the late afternoon an older German couple showed up, huffing and puffing. Sweat running down his bald head, the husband proclaimed: “I am 72 years old. I will die if I cannot stay here!” We crowded in and made room lest he have to keep going.

Antonia and I headed off toward Trabedelo in the morning, taking a detour through cherry orchards and vineyards. The view was beautiful, I’m sure you will agree:

Vineyards near Pieros Spain

Vineyards near Pieros, Spain

Vineyards near Pieros Spain

Antonia and I parted ways, certain that we would see one another again soon – such is the way with companions on the Camino. One does not wait too long before pilgrims come by, although this group of fast-walking French people did not seem inclined to stop and chat:

tall bridge

I passed gushing streams:

gushing river

And little villages that looked a lot like American suburbs, minus the farm animals:

chickens and sheep

A few stops back, Scott from Georgia had told me a tale of his first Camino, when he had snagged a horseback ride up the long ascent to O Cebreiro. What could be better? I thought. When I saw this sign, I knew what to look for up ahead in Herrarias:

O Cebreiro horseback

There was much to hold my attention on the way:

overlook

And soon I arrived at the sleepy village of Herrerias:

pasture

Though it was closing on 11 am, I rousted Victor out of bed, and he kept me waiting until he rounded up four more riders to accompany us up the long hill to O Cebreiro. One young German girl who had never ridden before chain-smoked cigarettes. As she contemplated the ride ahead, she repeated, “Mein Gott! Mein Gott!” Presently, Victor appeared with our mounts:

horse wrangler

And off we went, up the spectacular heather-covered hills:

on the trail

The views were inspiring:

heather

heather2

Although the knotted muscles in my thighs protested loudly. I ignored the pain as we passed the winded pilgrims on foot. At last we came to the top of the world and the village of O Cebreiro, where winds blow cold and hard and the peasants lived in round stone huts:

hut

You may notice that there is no chimney. The hearth inside is always lit, but the smoke seeps out through the woven mat roof. We supped on octopus, a regional specialty which I found to be chewy. And the intact suckers creeped me out a bit. Fiz and Antonia both showed up, and together we visited the simple church with a talented organist:

inside church

candles

The panorama is magnificent, green hills all around:

panorama

 

framed

view

The albergue perches sturdy and tall near an edge. Its boot room sports the most magnificent view of any I encountered:

Phone Pictures 978

The wind howled all night, and continued on in the morning. Fog and rain were my companions as I trudged on like so many before mehat

~

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

Castles in the Air: Ponferrada, Spain – 170-178/200 Camino Photos

Much like a pilgrim stumping up a long, steep hill, I’ve slowed on my posting of 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 Spanish Photos!), but I have vowed to travel onward! Next stop? Ponferrada. The name means iron (ferrada) bridge (pon). Alas, the bridge was unremarkable. But the castle? Quite the opposite.

long view

It is called the Templar Castle, built in the 13th century atop the remains of a Visogothic fort. Underneath this Visogothic fort lay the Roman one, which overlay a pre-Roman castro.

It was such a perfect day for exploring.

perfect day

sunny blue skies

Looking out from the walls, you see the city below, and the thick bricks.

tower

looking down

keyhole

The road paralleling the wall leads to the church, standing proud and distinguished at the city center.

city view

What treasures do the towers and thick walls hold? The most valuable things of all.

book

Lavishly illustrated, this book is the Cosmography of Claudio Ptolomeo from the 15th century. It is on loan from Paris. What is next? What is always next, on the Camino de Santiago …

yellow shell

Searching for the yellow shell at every intersection, and walking onward.

~

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

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Topping the Misty Spanish Mountains – 159-169/200 Camino Photos

It’s been a little while since my last post in my 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 Spanish Photos!), but I have much more to share. This section of photos has me traveling from Astorga to Rabanal, then beyond to Molinseca, which was the most challenging part of my Camino.

What do you do when you are walking the Camino de Santiago and it is a rainy day? Well, you walk right on through it, trudging up, up, up the hills. At the crest, you find these makeshift crosses. They are a celebration of sorts, declaring for all: “We made it. Our devotion has brought us thus far, and will take us further still.”

Camino 1213 (Copy)

The hillside is beautiful with purple heather, and quiet mountains.

Camino 1271

In the folds of the mountains lie little Spanish towns.

Camino 1275 (Copy)

And as you walk in the footsteps of pilgrims throughout the ages, a saxophone player fills the land with beauty.

The strains of his song carry for hill after hill, accompanied by birdsong. Messages of love and generosity occur all along the Way.

At the top of a challenging hill, soaked by rain and chilled by cold, I reached the famed Cruz de Ferro, an iron monument sacred for many since Celtic times. The tradition is that you carry a stone with you during the whole Camino, symbolizing something you wish to give up. Then, prayerfully, you place it at the foot of the cross. Thus unburdened, you carry on with your Camino.

Camino 1253 (Copy)

If you are lucky you may see a pilgrim that carries a staff and wears a heavy wool cloak.

Camino 1252 (Copy)

Speaking of the past, atop a lonely hill near Manjarin I visited a handmade outpost occupied by Tomas, who claims to be the last of the Knights Templar. He gives pilgrims a dry bench to rest on, and offers a rather precarious outhouse with a stunning view of the valley below.

Camino 1259 (Copy)

Camino 1264 (Copy)

Camino 1260 (Copy)

Camino 1262 (Copy)

Heading onward to Molinseca I encountered the most difficult challenge of the way – wet slippery slate and large rocks underfoot, both of these made worse by sore feet and general exhaustion. Still, the beauty was undeniable, and I appreciated the vivid colors and grand views.

Camino 1281 (Copy)

Camino 1282 (Copy)

The peace and solitude may be glimpsed by this short video, which features a the call of a cuckoo bird.

 

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

Amazing Astorga, Spain – 148-158/200 Camino Photos

On April 23rd, 2015, I set out from Villaverde, Spain, on my way to Astorga. The hills, valleys, and red earth, were peaceful.

red earth

So peaceful that I decided to preserve the surroundings with shaky, dizzying video

Up I went to a squatter’s residence at the top of the hill, overlooking Astorga far below. David lives there in joy, peace, and simplicity. Here he is with my Camino friend Sarah.

Sarah and David

He maintains a little snack stand that is run off donations.

stand

On his free time, or during the slow seasons on the Camino, he makes esoteric art like this. He has made a humble home in the lean-to behind the tree on the left for six years.

swirl

Also atop a hill is one of the many crosses with mementos cluttering the base.

Camino 1123

In Astorga, a few Euros buys you admission to the cathedral, the museum, and the Gaudi house below.

gaudi

Inside, it is sacred, colorful, and playful. Signature Gaudi.

stained glass

inside

blue vines

The museum contained intricate, gorgeous illuminated manuscripts.

illuminated

beautiful

I could have stared at these manuscripts for hours. I had, instead, to get back to the albergue to wash my clothes and take a shower. A good night’s sleep and I continued on the Camino de Santiago.

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

Exploring the Splendor of the Past in Leon, Spain – 131-147/200 Camino Photos

Lest you think that León, Spain, a major stop along the Camino de Santiago, has only gorgeous Gothic stained glass windows to recommend it, let me assure you there is much more. Exquisitely fashioned bronze cathedral doors …

Cathedral doors Leon, Spain

Vaults upon vaults in the claustro (cloisters)

Claustro Leon, Spain

Claustro Leon, Spain

With incredible detail everywhere you look

Claustro Leon, Spain detail

And shrines in the most unlikely places. This one sat high above a city street, in the wall of an ancient building.

Shrine in Leon, Spain

Water features like this mesmerizing sculpture adorn the plazas

Then there was a visit to the incomparable Real Colegiato de San Isidoro. I could not take photos inside the Panteon de Reyes (pantheon of kings) that were painted in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Panteon de Reyes

Panteon de Reyes

frescoes detail2

The colors are as vibrant today as they were centuries past. This same building held a gorgeous illustrated bible from the Mozarabic period (Christian/Muslim period) from the Christian Dark Ages – 960 AD.

mozabaric

More walking, afterwards, took me past the ever-vigilant storks

Camino 1027 (Copy)

to the Museo de Leon and the gorgeous Paradore (state-run luxury hotel housed in castles)

Camino 1057 (Copy)

With beautiful details

Camino 1071 (Copy)

Camino 1072 (Copy)

And the image of a pilgrim looking on … or up, as it were. Notice the yellow arrow in front of it. Such arrows guided me on my journey, kilometer after kilometer.

leon

The splendor soon petered away, into city parks

Camino 1079 (Copy)

And bodegas (wine cellars built into the sides of hills, right off the streets)

Camino 1083 (Copy)

Camino 1084 (Copy)

I will leave Leon here, but my journey was not over yet. Stay tuned for more soon. If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

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Cathedral of Light in Leon, Spain – 108-130/200 Camino Photos

 

Little needs to be said about my visit to León, Spain as I walked the Camino de Santiago. As one of the largest cities along the French Way, it is a highlight of the trip. The cathedral in the old part of town is rather plain on the outside. But the inside! It is a marvel. I believe you will agree …

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~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.