pilgrimgravy

Evolution

Irun to San Sebastián  — May 28, 2015

Irun to San Sebastián 

So…let’s catch you up on some critical history that will help you understand this post…

We have been spending time in the Basque Country. It spans a bit into France, but mainly makes up a large area of the northern Spanish coast. The natives of this area have fought many times to become their own country and they still long for a time when that might come to be, however it is unlikely they will be able to separate from Spain. The natives of the Basque Country also have their own language, Euskara. This make communication, as well as reading a bit challenging for English speaking travelers. Many menus have both Spanish and Euskara columns of text. Even cities often have two or three different names and can show up on maps with any of them.

Most of you know that we are hiking the Northern Way of the Camino de Santiago, know as the Norte’. This path to Santiago has only really been back in popular use since 2010. It only sees a fraction of the pilgrims that the popular Camino de Frances does. This means less accommodations that are further apart and a lack of English spoken in most places. Any books also warn of the rigorous hiking and lack of Camino signage. (Camino signage comes in many forms: metal plaques on city streets, wooden signs on poles, wooden blocks dug into the ground, yellow arrows, straight markings letting you know to continue, X’s letting you know not to take a path and finally L shaped markings dictating a turn.) We chose this route to stay close to the coast, see the mountains and enjoy the coastal towns.

   
     I know the above text may have your minds spinning with the hint of foreshadowing, but I felt these details should be laid out before I start the story of our first leg of hiking…

We start the day at a church in Irun obtaining our Credential and receiving our first stamp! We will have this document stamped in each town that we pass. Once we reach Santiago and show our Credential we will earn our Compestela honoring our completion of the journey.

  
  
Now that we are official we set off to the trail, picking up where we left off the day before. We hiked out of town and up into the mountains following the Camino signs and our handy Norte’ book. The next couple of hours we hiked up and down mountain hillsides finally arriving in a small town where we were able to refill our water (and refresh ourselves with the king of beers) and head back to the trail. The town’s people were very kind and a few even stopped to point us in the right direction.

Once we left the town we started in on several steep climbs rising higher and higher into the mountains. Then we would descend and start the journey up another mountain, weaving our way towards our end of day goal – arriving in Pasaia Donibane before continuing the journey to San Sebastián the following day.

   
             It’s hard to describe these climbs, but from my point of view they were intense. Like any more of a steep grade and we would have been on all fours. Sometimes it was a steep paved road, or gravel; or fighting our way through sticky plants and branches while scrambling over rocks and dirt. I never knew I would come to love my hiking poles so much! 4 legs are definitely better than 2!

After one of our longest, steepest climbs we reach a trail that can only be described as a mud pit. It seems tire paths started the ruts on this path and rain turned them into channels. So much mud! But we finally come to an official Camino marker stating to take a trail to the left. Once taken we end up in a nice camping area where we find a map posting and it seems we are only 7km from our destination. We continue to hike, following the Camino markings till we see another map posting leaving the camping area. We realize that if we continue on this path we will end up further into the mountains and away from the water. We turn around and retrace our steps. After much debate (thank God we have each other) we determine that the official Camino sign has been altered and we should go the opposite way. Excitingly we start to see the Camino markings and know we are back on track!!

  
Guess what, another steep incline around farms and up through more rocks and dirt. I have forgot to mention the number of dogs on these trails. Luckily they are chained or pinned, but that doesn’t stop them from barking to no end at us attempting to protect their land. Anyway, back to the upward trek. As we were nearing the top of this steep section something weird starts happening with my left knee. And then weird turns to pain, and then we have to stop.  

Michelle quickly identifies the problem as my IT Band (can’t beat having a doctor with you ;). We complete stretches and manage to get me going again. We have been hiking for 8 hours and would set up camp, however it is hard to find a place that is not adjacent to someone’s farm. We also are slightly frustrated by the fact we have not seen some of the landmarks mentioned in our handy book. We must move forward to figure out our location and hopefully find a place to camp.

Sadly this journey forward has a few sudden halts as I need to stretch and stop my knee pain. We happen upon an old apple orchard that has become a bit of a park. It is gorgeous space with beautiful views of the mountains and cities below.

   
 As we walk on we see another map posting. As we study this map we realize we are no where near where we thought we were. It seems we are deeper in the mountains, but not sure where. We turn around to see Camino markings pointing in opposite directions. What is going on???? I look out from atop the mountain at the cities below. Ok…I see a mountain, the ocean, a mountain, the ocean, a mountain – all with a city between. “Michelle, that’s San Sebastián” – WTF. It seems we have hiked all the way to San Sebastián, our goal for the end of day tomorrow! Without any clue as to what Camino trail we are on, we opt for the TJ/Michelle trail and head for that beautiful city.

I hate to say the steep downward incline from the top of the mountain to the city has my knee in even worst shape and Michelle’s feet are not doing well either. As we get closer to the city, I score a room. We barley reach it around 11:30pm at night ending a 12.5 hour hiking day. Definitely not our intention, but happy to get into a shower and raid a mini bar. As we nurse our wounds we determine that we have taken a less familiar Camino right that heads into the interior away from the coast. We also come to understand that we just completed 18 miles on our first day out. It is time for rest…

Waking up the next day it is quickly understood that I have a bit of a major injury on my hands. We also now completely understand that the warning of the signage on the trail is an understatement. We have seen beautiful mountains and great coastal cities. We consider that goal complete. We will rest and get to know this city and then head south to Pamplona and join the Camino de Frances. Other pilgrims, more English, shorter daily hikes…that will be our new trail to Santiago…

Love to all…

Irun, Spain!! — May 26, 2015

Irun, Spain!!

We have taken our first steps on the Camino!!! From the border of France into the town of Irun. Seeing the shell markings is more than exciting and has us itching to get fully started.   
     We found our final hotel before we dive into hostels and camping. Thankfully there were signs leading to it as there was little wifi and no cell service when we first arrived.

The lady at the front desk was beyond helpful filling us in on the town and beginning of the Camino. We wish we could put her in our pocket and have her as our translator and guide on the hike.  

We set out to explore the town and quickly realize what is ahead of us. Irun is not quite on the coast so it seems they see less tourists. Not much English spoken in these parts! This is the moment when procrastinating about learning Spanish proves to be a poor decision, LOL.

We were starving and walked into a restaurant advertising tapas. We got this, we go to tons of tapas bars in the states! Well, maybe not…the tapas are all spread out on the counter in a self service style. There are no plates. It’s too early for the locals to be eating, so no one is providing an example of what to do. We quietly slip back out and determine another location.

Ah! This place looks so cute and like a pub, we got this! We sit at the bar and order our wine. Then we are informed (through some challenging communication) that the kitchen has just closed and will not open till later. 

– so here business open in the morning, then close for a three hour break and then reopen –

Well wine it is then, after two glasses we head out to explore more of the town. By day’s end we are exhausted and starving and want an easy interaction. We go to the mall where there is a nice pizzeria and enjoy some thin crust – believe it our not it was a great end to the day! Also, who knew there was a Zara Home? Such a cute store!

   
       So we are resting up tonight and headed to bed early. Tomorrow we continue on the first stage of the Camino. This is the most difficult stage of our walk, hiking straight up a mountain and then back down into San Sebastián.

From this point forward wifi will be limited. I will post when I can, but not sure of how often. Pilgrims at last…

Love to all…

Biarritz, France!! —

Biarritz, France!!

The airport (including security) and the plane ride were flawless! America has some things to learn!!

This coastal town was everything we could have wanted it to be!! It was slightly chilly, slightly rainy and often cloudy – but these elements did not hinder it’s charm.

Our Villa was perfect! The owner was true Basque Country native, full of life and energy. He made us feel right at home.

The city is almost like a peninsula, so we walked the coastline from our villa all the way around to the opposite side. While the waves were not huge during our visit, these beaches boast some of the best surfing in all of Europe.

   
               We found a restaurant overlooking the beach and all the surfers. We quickly realized we are in need of editing our eating timeline. We showed up at 6pm and they were just opening. Through broken English we found out the kitchen didn’t even open till 7:30! The view was spectacular, so we decided to enjoy a bottle of wine and watch the waves till we had the best dinner yet! The menu was somewhat challenging, but thankfully Michelle has some French under her belt.

   
 After dinner we walked the city for a bit and enjoyed a heavy rain shower. Dipped back by the villa to dry and headed out to see the gay life in this town. (We have decide we are going to assess each countries gay community and complete a full assessment at the end of our journey 😉
   
 The first bar (Bo Bar) was empty. However we made great friends with the bartender Julien and loved teaching him some english while he helped us with our French. Then all of a sudden an American couple and two British couples came in (all straight, but we soon became quick friends and had the best time).

  
Our whole new crew headed to a club just up the street and found the nightlife. The American music was pumping and we danced the night away. I have to say we did this town right!

Love to all…

Camden!! — May 24, 2015

Camden!!

We had so much fun and absolutely fell in love with this area of London. Great streetscapes with stores and art. There is also a huge market that always seems crazy, wandering around those streets was a great way to spend the afternoon.

   

           

  

We did venture out to tackle two sights. First we headed to Paddington Station so Michelle could hang out with Paddington Bear! Then off to Abbey Road to walk that famous crosswalk and check out Abbey Road Studios. The crosswalk was super packed with sightseers and the road was busy with traffic. There is a camera that video records non stop and then you can pull your image from the website. The picture is blurry due to that process, but at least there is a photographic record!   


 

On Saturday night we decided to say goodbye to Camden (and London) by paying a visit to a great bar less than a block from our place. We had a blast hanging with the locals! They took us to another bar with a full swing band and we danced the night away. It definitely turned out to be a night we will not forget!!  

Now we are settled into our hotel room next to the airport and getting some rest before we fly to Biarritz, France. We missed taking note that the city is a beautiful coastal town and we ended up scoring a crazy deal on a room in a villa on the water! Super pumped to get to the ocean!

Love to all… 

London!! — May 23, 2015

London!!

Day 1:

So the red eye was ok, although 8 hours in a plane is a bit too much for our bodies.  The plane was amazing, brand new with mood lighting to support jet lag! However following that with the craziness of having our passports verified at the London airport, getting to London, and determine where we would be laying our heads was a bit exhausting.

Once the above tasks were completed we waved at the London Bridge from a distance and set off to figure out the underground transit.  We could not get out of the London Bridge area of town fast enough.  So many working men and women who all seem in the greatest hurry of a lifetime set a bit of a stressful tone.  I guess I could identify a plus in the fact that all the men are so fit with the best tailored suits, enough said…

Once the train was comprehensible we headed to Harrod’s, hit up a pub, then  walked through Hyde park.  We fell in love with the Prince Albert monument and noticed the amazing Royal Albert Hall! Oh, who is playing in 20 minutes – ERIC CLAPTON!!!! Damnit!!! Oh well, opportunity missed…guess we will just have to go to a wine bar called Bumpkin (not as country as you might think 😉

Loved our hotel, the Garden View Inn.  The keys were kinda crazy, a flat bar with holes that you stuck into the lock. An elevator too small for me Michelle and our packs. Oh, and no one warned me about the electrical sockets being completely different.  But it was great!

   
   

Day 2:

ActionPacked.com – woke up and headed straight for Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards! There were a million people, so we left early and walked all over the city to the multiple squares (including Trafalgar Square, which has become our frequent hub). Headed to Big Ben, Parliament, and the Westminster Abby to see the boy’s choir perform. The Cathedral and the service were amazing and our favorite part of the city.

   
        
                       
Then on to the London Eye to see the whole city from the sky. A great Indian dinner capped off a beautiful day where we completed so much more sight seeing than we could have ever imagined!!
   
  

   

  

  

  

 

   
 
Well…the story doesn’t end. A discussion sparks at the Indian restaurant about how it’s our last night in town and it would be great to check out the gay hood, better known as SoHo. Maybe getting home should have been the priority here…

We head to SoHo and go to the G-A-Y Bar (that’s the name, no lie). Michelle and I had fun dancing, but these gay boys would not engage a bit. Well except for one that swore Michelle was Swedish and that I was, who knows – but not American. We were pumped!!! A Brit likes us, they really do!!! The G-A-Y Bar was closing (FYI: in London it seems most gay bars close at 11pm and that’s when all the gay clubs open – I chalk it up to the community supporting each other). Anyway he asked if we would be at Heaven. What’s Heaven??? He describes it as one of the most mystical gay clubs one could ever grace. We are in!!!

He disappeared, but Michelle and I are on a mission. We head to the streets and meet a drunk fellow from Amsterdam that’s proposing to his girlfriend next month. He insits that he would love us to be his guests when we visit (score!). Now we are off, but where in the hell are we going? Luckily a pedi-cab pops up and knows the place. Directions and a ride! (score 2 – this is so the best day ever).

Hello Heaven! Wait, first we will need to pass through a medal detector, get frisked like an inmate and then every pocket of our belongings probed. Should we be scared??? No it was fine inside…loud music, tons of people – but Michelle and I still get no love. What’s a girl to do – DANCE! So much fun till we got tired of the scene and left.

The train is not running, no clue how the bus system works and the cabs need cash. Whoopsie! So a 5 mile walk follows with many exciting sights along the way (good trail prep right?). We were beyond excited to make it to our inn and call it a night!!

   
   

  

Day 3:

What happened, why do I feel this way, are my feet there, is Michelle here, what time is it…

Note taken, should have went home after dinner, but now we can say we tore the gay scene up in London and walked home 5 miles. Is that something to be proud of??? Let’s just say it is, because the story of day 3 is one hell of a tale…

We woke up too late to catch the ferry to France. We would have to be up at 6 and got home at 4, so obviously we were not being forward thinkers when we decided to descend into Heaven. Well we will just get on the next one, but it’s not till 10pm. Our current focus is getting packed and out of this room on time!

Done! Now let’s brunch it up to ease our woes. While we still have wifi at our Inn we determine a great spot and head off. No maps app for us, we just have paper maps these days. Well, I got us lost. Completely own it, I blame the Vodka from the night before. Anyway, Michelle is like we are in a locals only area looking like tourist hikers we gotta get outta here!!! We hop on a train (after walking 2 miles) and head to our trusted Trafalgar Square! 

Now we can finally have lunch after a bit of a stressful morning. We both have the same idea to see what a flight would be from London to start the trail and skip Paris. Enough big city life for us! Michelle finds a great deal and grabs the tix! Perfect! The process to get them was insane, but we are booked!

We run by an outdoor store to grab a couple more items and then stop by a Starbucks to grab coffee and wifi. The airport we fly out of is an hour away so I am looking up hotels and we will just head there, sleep and then board our plane to the trail!

Me: “Michelle! I found an amazing one that is so cheap! Ok, so check in May 22nd…”

Michelle: “Babe, it’s the 29th”

Me: checking my phone “nope, it’s the 22nd”

Michelle: eyes bulging “What Have I Done!!!!”

Yep folks, our flight leaves in a week and not tomorrow. After consoling each other and fancying a UK backpack adventure we get in touch with the airline. It took multiple calls and guess what, more walking. But we got the flight moved to this Monday.

Well now we have a weekend in London where we are over city life. I grab a cheap place just to have something and we head there…

It’s in Camden, north of the city. Complete Oasis (oh wait, we got our train exit wrong and walked another two miles, mark it up to more trail training). But we love it here and plan to spend the next two days in the burbs before we board that plane!
Love to all and stay tuned…

And we are off!!! — May 20, 2015

And we are off!!!

After an amazing month long journey around the states creating the best memories we are boarding the plane to Europe!!!

The past two weekends we attended back to back music festivals (shaky knees and hangout).  I could not imagine a better way for Michelle and myself to say goodbye to the states than with music and friends.  Especially since Sunday My Morning Jacket played.  They will also be the first band we see when we return. Jim James has wished us farewell and will welcome our return 😉

We hit London first where (you’ll never guess) we will kick off our journey with music!  Seeing Joywave and dancing with the Brits 😉

Then some sightseeing before moving on to Paris for a bit, then headed to start the hike!!!

I attached a picture of the items in my pack.  Thought some of you would get a kick out of the fact those are my only belongings for the next 3 months!

Love to All…  

The Journey to the Start — April 29, 2015

The Journey to the Start

So I achieved the initial goals..no husband, no dog, no house, no job.  Was the goal solidarity? Maybe? But it’s now reality.  Ok, good.  It’s good to achieve goals, even when they are the most difficult mountains to climb…

Now the future stands like a towering monument, ready to be understood and approached.  I tell myself that I am ready, I reaffirm every morning.  The past month on this most recent journey has proved to me that I am ready and the support behind my destiny is overwhelming.

The silence achieved by leaving my past life has been an overwhelming message that clarity is more important than noise.

The belief my family has provided in my mission has proved that love is better fuel than anything else…

The passion that is pouring out of my veins is nothing but the pure motivation to cross that ocean, conquer the most spiritual journey I will ever attempt and return a Man that will conquer the strength to achieve his destiny…

Here We Go! — March 29, 2015

Here We Go!

Yesterday marked my last day with an amazing company that has been part of my life for 12 years… This parting was on my terms, severing my old life to leap into a journey that will support my understanding of purpose and give me clarity to move forward. This site is my venue of documentation, the story of evolution in the modern day…