Category: Europe


A Day At The Museum(s)


The Louvre. Our young artist can’t miss this. Both the Louvre and the Pompidou Center. It’s been on her list, but I made sure she likewise didn’t miss Sainte-Chapelle, which is a good walk from our Paris crib. I guessed right. She swooned over this royal chapel’s stained glass windows. Her keen interest showed when she grabbed some literature and started reading on the Biblical stories expressed in the lovely stained glass collection. In her words, “if I have any expectation of how heaven looks, it’s this”.

From Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame, we went to Louvre where we spent the next 4 hours. Yes, 4 hours! After 2.5 hours, I found a stone bench by the staircase where apo left me to see her Mona Lisa a 2nd time. Then, a 3rd time. Moving from one hall to the next, negotiating the staircases and standing most of the time took its toll on poor moí. But not this young lady who had so much energy she even retraced her steps to view her “favorites” a second time before it was time for us to leave.

Too tired to step out for lunch, we settled for our quiche, ham and salad lunch in the Carrousel du Louvre. It was definitely NOT our best meal but it’s 4pm and we’re hungry. We also paid too much for a mediocre meal. Without going out of the Louvre complex, we then took the metro towards Center Pompidou. Oh, we did search for Jef Aérosol’s Chut — that famous, iconic street art mural near the Center. A few minutes of appreciation and we were in line to enter Center Pompidou. The young lady with me was dripping with excitement.

Going up to the 5th floor to view the Center’s Modern Art collections, we stepped out to a balcony pathway where Tour Eiffel stood in full view, illuminated. Good view but if you have altitude issues, it’s not a brilliant (pun intended) idea. But Matisse was waiting for my young artist. And Picasso. And Joan Miro. Dali. Basquiat. Warhol. Clearly, she prefers modern art more than the classics. Excited to see their works after reading up on them, she swooned and said “this is the best place ever”. How can I argue with that? Clearly, she finds modern & contemporary art more exciting. She does count many favorites though among the classics.

Once more, I settled on a (more comfortable) chair here while she happily bounced between and among the collections. She likes Matisse but found a new favorite. Jean Michel Basquiat. Yup, that’s Andy Warhol’s good friend and Madonna’s ex who died of heroin overdose in 1988 at the young age of 27 when both were at the cusp of growing fame. The relationship ended badly, where Bacquiat demanded the return of all the paintings he gave Madonna and painted them all black. A pity because one of his art pieces fetched £85.4 million 29 years since his death — the highest-ever paid in an auction for an American work. Below is his work, and the Basquiat portrait was done by my young artist. So with the last 2 artworks shown here.

Four hours in Louvre. Another four in Center Pompidou. Now, I can imagine how she’d react when I bring her to Madrid’s Museo de Reina Sofia, or to Barcelona to view Gaudi’s works. You know what? I’m getting excited myself!

(More works done by “apo” below)

Taking Paris Frame By Frame


I couldn’t wait to show our young artist around Paris. The City of Lights (and Love) lives up to its name and more so this December. Air’s crisp and cold. Sky’s cloudy and threatening to pour. My young adult is looking for Santa’s Villages and Art Booths while her grandma is on the lookout for a vin chaud (hot wine). Temps dip, it grows cold, wet and even icy, it can be dark and gloomy but our spirits soar with Christmas glee.

With only 4 days and 3 nights here, with early sundowns, we need to plan well. But this is Paris! The bohemian in us would rather walk aimlessly, linger where it feels warm and inspiring, and just go where the heart takes us. But I can’t let my first-time Paris visitor miss the iconic landmarks. And so, the “mandatory tour” begins: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Moulin Rouge, Champ Elysees, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Tuileries, Montmartre, Madeleine, Place de Concorde, Sainte-Chapelle.

The sun set early the day we arrived. As soon as we dropped our bags in the Saint Germain des Pres apartment we’ve booked, we set off for the Montmartre area. Moulin Rouge in illuminated version can’t be missed as soon as you step out of the Blanche Metro Station. From here, we could have walked to Place du Tertre but took the Metro back to Anvers to find a dinner place before the anticipated 10pm mass in Sacre Coeur. Le Consulat was our first choice but they only offered drinks as their kitchen closed early. Our 2nd choice turned out to be perfect for us hungry souls. Le Bonne Franquette is on the same cobble-stoned street, likewise old as the other centuries-old buildings in this old part of Paris. We imagined Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir et al enjoying their meals here. History aside, we actually enjoyed our dinner of french onion soup and pave de boeuf in Le Bonne Franquette. Oh sure, the vintage charm helped too.

Must be the freezing weather (0-3 Celsius) but Place du Tertre was stripped of the easels and actual/live paintings that fascinated me years back when I visited. I was eager to show her this art scene in the Butte Montmartre. Though a tad disappointed, excitement grew as she spotted a gallery of Dalí paintings. I hope the tiny, winding streets of Montmartre will inspire her to paint those quaint, centuries-old cafes and structures, images of which one finds in many postcards in France. So charming!

Versailles Palace was in our itinerary on our 2nd day in Paris. The chateau, the fountains, the gardens, the “fake” hamlet, the art pieces are way too much for my first-time visitor. The young artist was totally charmed. If it weren’t for her eagerness to see Tour Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe in daylight, we could have stayed in Versailles longer. And so we trooped back to the city for a couple more iconic landmarks plus a stroll through Champ Elysees towards Place Concorde. Yes, a long walk but we had a lovely break for a mussel dinner at Leon de Bruxelles. Still as crowded ss I remember it but we were early and easily found a table.

Tomorrow, we should be joining the lines for Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame and the Louvre. There may be time for Pompidou Center as my young artist has expressed her preference for modern art. Wish we can likewise throw in Musee d’ Orsay and Musee du Rodin, but I’m not hopeful. Lastly, I chose this apartment because of its proximity to Jardin du Luxembourg and the bohemian neighborhood of Saint German des Pres, but we have not even visited the gardens yet! Oh Paris. There’s so much to see and we have so limited time. But perhaps it’s best that way so our young artist’s heart continues to long for this city of lights and “finish the job”. I suspect though she’d be back, no way ever will the job get finished. Such is the allure of Paris. ❤️


Easily, you’d tick off: 




But there are smaller-sized, more manageable museums like: 


Museo Lazaro Galdiano

The museo housed in the Galdiano Mansion is actually where the childless Lazaro Galdiano lived with his Argentinian wife, Paula Florido. Along with the estate given over to the Government is Señor Galdiano’s impressive collection of paintings, sculpture and other works of art. This one generous intellectual obviously collected without regard for cost.

Sorolla Museum

This is the house where the great Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla lived with his lovely wife and muse Clotilde. This is where he painted in his spacious, lovely studio. Imagine the great painter here with his wife and 3 lovely children. And the gardens!



Museo Cerralbo

If you are in the area visiting Plaza de España and Templo de Debod, it’s a good pitstop (from the cold or all that sun) before proceeding towards Calle Bailén to view the Palacio Real or Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. 

Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

The mortal remains of Goya lie in this original 18th century Neo-classical church, while worship was transferred to the adjacent sister church. Both churches are tiny, with floors shaped like a Greek cross.

Monasteries de las Descalzas Reales

In this Convento, I have this feeling that the wealthy families of the barefoot royals donated what’s “BEST” from their own collections and treasures. I can only imagine them saying goodbye to a daughter or a sister and parting with a treasured work of art to keep the novice nun “company” and provide a source of joy.


For more photos and details, just click on the links/highlighted headings. 

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A fellow blogger once asked how many countries I have visited. A friend once “humble-bragged” by advising I should start planning to cover all 7 continents to “round up my travels”.  Unfortunately, I don’t keep count. Why do they, I wonder? Nor does it matter to me what others think I missed or should have done. I go where it pleases.  And beyond the sights, my memorable experiences are always characterized by the people I interacted with. That includes the people I traveled with. I have the good fortune of traveling with many, varied circles of friends outside of family. The foodies, the sightseers, the adventurers, the history buffs, the art and culture vultures, the hikers, as well as those who just long for some R & R. Not stuck with any single group, I relish the company of each. That includes a peculiar group I’d call the “losers” — people who don’t care getting LOST, seeing the ”mishap’ as another opportunity to explore! 






In Bhutan, I found a very admirable tour and hiking guide. My friend Beth and I “adopted” Sonam whom we referred to as our godson. We are still in touch, thanks to Facebook. We were updated with Sonam’s adventures from a young man to bridesgroom to young father, moving from Bhutan to Australia. I credit Sonam for making it possible for me to hike up to Taktshang Monastery aka Tiger’s Nest. The hike is quite dramatic considering you see the site high up in the mountain from the base where pilgrims and tourists commence the hike or horseback ride for the first 1 hour. I chose the latter to conserve my energy for the hike and met Tring, the old man whose horse is likewise called Tring. Don’t ask why. Meanwhile, I left my friend Beth with our driver who grew years older (again, don’t ask me why 🙄) accompanying my friend up to the Halfway Station. Tashi Delek!





Still on Bhutan, I have to say I’ve been so impressed with how kind and caring their people are. Whenever I stopped for oxygen breaks, there were locals eyeing me as if asking if I need some help. They’d only stop staring and got on with whatever they were doing when I smiled to reassure them I’m still alive 😊 Also, I never found a race so detached from material wealth as these Bhutanese. Sure there were poor people around, but I never once felt that money mattered most to them. I sure hope that didn’t change over the years since I’ve been there. 






Because I run a blog site, one of my followers learned I was staying in Madrid for nearly 3 months back in 2013. He messaged to invite me to a good Cocido de Madrileño lunch plus an afternoon tour of the city’s hidden gems. The best tour I ever had! Under the tourist radar sites included trespassing on strangers’ apartments to view better preserved medieval walls of Madrid. Well not exactly trespassing — Marco actually knocked on strangers’ apartment doors to view the walls from their porches!  And these locals were most accommodating. 




Because I made many solo trips in and around Spain, I met a lot of new friends and interacted with many locals. Before getting off a bus, I’d ask the driver which is the best way to reach the Plaza Mayor. Invariably, the bus driver will advise me he’d be back on that dropoff by a certain time for my ride back. Better than riding a cab! On that New Year’s Eve I was in Madrid, I jumped up and down with the locals,shared drinks with them, and even hugged them as the clock struck 12. My niece and them locals were family 😘




In Mongolia, my friends and I had a chance to visit a ger, eat an authentic lunch, and observe how a typical Mongolian family lead a nomadic lifestyle. I parted with my locally-crafted necklace to give to the “lady of the ger” who cooked and served us some dumplings and tea right inside the ger. We didn’t sleep in a ger. I don’t think I could unless one goes to the gers put up for tourists with modern conveniences 😜 






In Hanoi, I found children playing “sipa” which literally translates to kick. It’s a native game in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other Asian countries. I joined those kids for a game in my wedged sandals while carrying my bag. Beat that! Then in India, I strayed from our travel group and found ourselves in the kitchen of a Sikh Temple where they were preparing to feed a long line of devotees. The volunteer cooks looked tired but friendly. And locally? I remember spotting a fellow blogger in a Masskara festival in Bacolod City. I approached Enrico and here’s our photo before the parade started! Listen to the drum roll… 




For more photos and details, just click on the links/highlighted headings. 

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I have just read an article about how one shouldn’t miss out on this underrated place just a short 2 hour drive out of the more popular destination of Sevilla in Andalusia.  I wholeheartedly agree. There are many, many destinations around Spain worth a detour beyond the triumvirate of Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla. This blog hopes to help those visiting Spain to include a few must-see’s into their Spanish Itinerary. 




When in Andalusia:


Ronda


Sevilla & Cordoba


When in Madrid:


Cuenca


Alcala de Henares


Aranjuez
Chinchon


When in Vasco and Galicia:


San Sebastián


Getaria


Finesterre & Muxia


Pamplona


Santiago de Compostela


And There’s More:


Valencia


Burgos
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You can’t leave Donostia-San Sebastián without promising to be back. No, you’d actually be swearing and checking your calendar to mark off dates for your repeat txikiteo! How I love this Basque city and its txikiteo or Pintxo bar crawl. So lively, so crowded, so full of energy and if you don’t watch it, so full of calories. 






San Sebastián’s skyline, its coast, its Basque architecture, the mountains looking like bookends to the equally lovely playas, the many Pintxo bars and restaurante. How can you not be so enthralled by its magnificent beauty? You come here to swim, surf or just bake in the sun, toes digging into the sand. At night, you get ready to do the txikiteo and enjoy the gildas and pintxos and cheesecake and txakoli! Life is good in Donostia-San Sebastián. 






Whenever I’m asked which Pintxo bars to check out here, the following come top of mind: La Cuchara de San Telmo, La Viña (cheesecake, baby!), La Cepa (Jamon Jabugo), Bar Zeruko, Casa Urola, Atari Gastroteka, Borda Berri, all in Parte Vieja. All just a few steps apart. Plus Bar Azkena in Mercado La Bretxa.  There are more. But heading back, I had this list like it’s a mission. 😉










Last time, we stayed in an Airbnb apartment.  Plus a night in Pension Larrea right in Parte Vieja — so perfect for txikiteo nights when you take pub crawls real seriously! This time, I tried a very modern and hip hostel (they have private ensuite too) which I thought is very cool. My latest discovery here is A Room In The City. It actually costs more than a room right in Parte Vieja but it is more quiet here. Plus it is very near Buen Pastor Cathedral (which runs straight into Yglesia de Santa Maria in Old Town) and has a pretty neat sun deck and spacious dining hall and lounge. Next visit, I’d likely book here again. Perhaps spend more time in the deck or lounge. 




Check this out: http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/a-room-in-the-city-san-sebastian


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Well …… it’s a 7 hour layover and we’re enjoying the food, drinks and huge shower room (my favorite corner here) of Al Dhabi Lounge in Abu Dhabi while waiting for our connecting flight to Manila. Still, it’s a seriously long wait and what better thing to do? BLOG ! Yes, before those memories fade. 


Palacio Cristal in Parque de Retiro


Travels have a way of emptying one’s mind of day-to-day concerns. Perhaps to make room for our fond memories. There is that giddy anticipation over new places, flavors and experiences. I delight in the novelty, discovery as well as in the rediscovery of past delights. Cameras make great memory-keepers but our minds play out varied reactions  with each discovery and replay of happy thoughts. Priceless. When I was growing up “alone” (busy parents, older sisters in college), I learned to read a lot and write down my thoughts. I completed many diaries and even named them. Dear Betty. Dear Jane. Dear Henry. Dear Kevin. Whenever I feel seriously sad, I write. Whenever I feel happy, I write more. Life is a celebration. And it’s worth writing about. If only to remind me of the many things to be grateful for.  No handwritten diaries this time. Thank God for blogsites where I can store my journals in cyberspace while drinking my cortado!


Mi favorito, Cafe Cortado!




Mi hermana. Mi sobrina. Mi nieto. Mi amigos y amigas. All together in dear Madrid, which is home for 6 years to my dear sobrina. I have visited yearly for at least a month to nearly 3 months. Left alone in our Madrid crib in times past, I’ve learned to appreciate Madrid’s many quaint alleys, tiny squares, specialty museums, roadside taperias, and many off-the-beaten paths. No tocar (don’t touch) rule in mercados doesn’t apply in my favorite fruit and vegetable stall. There, this “suki” can enjoy touching the zucchini, potatoes, carrots, spinach, asparagus, naranja, mushrooms, etc. The vendor simply hands me a bowl or basket to fill with my chosen greens and fruits. And the cheese store where I get to taste slices of different quezos — “para probar” (to try). Or ask the fish vendor to clean the fish I buy. Mercado visits are no obligations here, they’re actually delightful adventures. And walking without maps, missing turns and getting lost? There’s always a cafe bar or Iglesia to relax in, meditate, or simply sit out and while away the time. If you chance upon a wedding in the church, it’s your good luck. Cheap thrills! 


Parroquia de San Jeronimo. Behind Museo Del Prado.


And so our Spanish Holiday with sidetrips to Lourdes and Saint John Pied de Port in France is over. Temps rise as our plane lands in Manila. Our hair still a tad limp and wet from the shower we took in the lounge. Our bellies still full from the buffet spread. Our hearts warm with the precious bonding moments. Our minds filled with happy memories. Our leg muscles reminding us we’re no longer spring chickens. And our pockets dry and burned out. Tee Hee. 😉 It would likely take a week to recover our energy to prep for another flight Down Under. From the last dregs of winter to early spring to the intense summer heat of Manila before we catch the onset of Autumn in Sydney. Phew! 


Nap Time En Parque Retiro 😴


Adios, España. Hasta luego.


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I’m nearing the end of my holiday. Just one more week. Had my sister and grandnephew with me with some friends visiting. I’ve posted blogs on my other sites to chronicle what kept us busy. Here goes. 





Madrid

Madrid is home. Have shown friends around and some a 2nd time. Always a pleasure. Each time, I can’t help pointing out some of our local heroes’ favorite haunts. Patriotic and curious? Maybe. 

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2017/03/13/lento-como-los-caracoles/

(Updated)

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2015/04/30/platea-madrid/ 





Pamplona

Friends know me well enough as a big fan of Rizal, Luna and …. Hemingway. Don’t ask me why. I just find something seriously intriguing about each of them. 

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-sun-also-rises-in-pamplona/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/murallas-de-pamplona/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/restaurant-irunazarra






San Sebastián

You can’t leave San Sebastián without swearing you’d be back again. The coast, the mountains, the shore, the food!!!

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/beyond-gildas-pintxos-en-donostia-san-sebastian/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/segunda-vez-en-bar-zeruko

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/la-vina-cheesecake-is

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2017/04/12/san-sebastian-lures-me-back/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/a-room-in-the-city-san-sebastian




Alcala de Henares

When touring Madrid, there’s that nagging idea of hopping on a train to be away from the city center yet still find the art, culture and character of Iberia. Here’s one just under an hour by local train. Only €6.80 yda y vuelta. 

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/goofing-with-cervantes/


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SLOW. Like Snails. 

Why not? It’s my 6th visit to Madrid and this time taking my oldest sister for a month-long holiday. The first day was hard for her, hardly sleeping on our long flight from Manila. We managed to go out on Day 2 but careful not to tire her out. The bus in front of our Madrid crib took us to Almudena Cathedral, right beside Palacio Real. The mandatory shots in front of the Royal Palace turned out alright. There was a long snaking line outside for those seeking admission into the Palace. We trooped to the nearby Cathedral instead where a mass was going on. Coming out, we turned right down the street to get inside La Crypta. For a €1 donativo, one finds solace in this Crypt underneath the Cathedral. An altar inside tells you that mass services must be held here too though I never heard one since I started frequenting the place. Why, you ask? I like how tranquil the place is. More so than in the Cathedral where the religious and the tourists comprise the crowd. One time, I sat beside a friendly priest visiting from Zimbabwe. We prayed quietly then. 




From La Crypta, we crossed the street to view portions of the ancient muralla (walls) before walking up along Calle Mayor. It’s a 1 kilometer walk from this corner to Puerta Del Sol. Many iconic landmarks and short detours along this main road. First off is my favorite tiny square called Plaza de la Villa. The old Town Hall can be found here. The oldest building, fully restored, in Madrid. Across it is the Tower where the French monarch Francois I was imprisoned for a year following their defeat in the Battle of Pavia. In the center of the square is a statue of a naval commander who led the Spanish Armada. Truly, a very interesting square.




Not very far, and still walking along Calle Mayor, you’d find Mercado de San Miguel. You can pick up a Sangria or a Tinto de Verano here, to go with a cone of fried calamares or octopus or boquerones. Great appetizers! The giant paelleras of greatlooking Paella Negra or Marinara may appeal to firsttimers like my sister. But I won’t be fooled a 2nd time 😜. From here, we walked just a few more steps, under one of 9 or so arched entrance ways, towards Plaza Mayor. Being a Saturday, it was way too crowded. 




Museo de Jamon. It’s a chain. Their tapas bar on the littered ground floor is packed with tourists. On the second floor, we found a table and this old waiter who fondly calls my niece La Niña. We took our seats, and ordered enough for our lunch here, and leftover dinner later! No problem having a meal replay of callos, pecaditos and boquerones. We didn’t bring home the pulpo, and we drank our sangria to the last drop. It won’t be our best meal and we’re really being touristy here, but hey, it’s my sister’s first time in Madrid. 




For dessert, we walked FASTER towards Chocolateria de San Gines. Churros con Chocolate for my sister and niece. Cafe for me. Refueled, we managed to do some shopping. Then some snapshots with the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue, an iconic landmark to be found in the Puerta Del Sol. Before taking the metro here going home, I wanted to get inside La Mallorquina for some napoleones and marron glacé but the place looked like it’s been invaded by tourists! 




Home is in Bravo Murillo. We heard anticipated mass in the Parroquia right next to our building. Estamos Felices! 




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I realize I can’t do this in one go. Not all of 800 kilometers (500 miles) in one go over a period of 6 weeks or so. But after walking my first camino spanning the last 114 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, I knew it would be the first of many. One year after, I did the last 100 kilometers from Viterbo to Rome — what’s called Via Francigena which is the Italian equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Both tracing pilgrimage hiking trails, one ending in the northwestern part of Spain, the other ending in Vatican City. 




The same year I walked from Viterbo to Rome, I likewise tried a short leg of the famed Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago to Nagiso in Japan. Like a preview or sampler of a longer hike sometime in the future. In Japan. But one idea continues to occupy my mind. The Camino Frances. From St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP) to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Not just a part of it. The whole 800 kilometers of it. Yet, how? The mere thought of crossing the Pyrenees freaks me out of my wits. 




First off, I accepted the reality that walking everyday for 5 to 6 weeks will make me miserable. Maybe I’d fail and go home limping, mad and frustrated with myself. So I’d settle for “mini successes”.  Like breaking up the 800-km hike into 8-9 adventures, each involving 100 kms or so over 5 or so walking days. I thought the following itineraries doable: 

St. Jean PdP to Pamplona (68kms)

      SJPP to Valcarlos (Done)

      Valcarlos to Roncesvalles (Done)

      Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Pamplona to Logroño (94 kms)

Logroño to Burgos (121 kms)

Burgos to Sahagún (124 kms)

Sahagún to Leon (56 kms)

Leon to Ponferrada (103 kms)

Ponferrada to Sarria (92 kms)

Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (114 kms) — DONE




Then, I read that the WORST, HARDEST, MOST PUNISHING walk is the first leg of Camino Frances. Specifically, the first walking day from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Literally across the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees area. No wonder most walking guides say most quitters do so on the first 2 days. My research taught me it’s also not as daunting as literally climbing up and down a mountain. Over time, this leg may have been “romanticized” as “crossing the Pyrenees” though that is not to say that it’s not difficult. Let’s just say there are ways to walk AROUND the mountains. 




Many break the SJPdP to Roncesvalles route into 2 walking days, either stopping and resting the night in Orisson or in Valcarlos. Others simply skip this route and start their camino past the border in Roncesvalles. I’m determined to start from St. Jean Pied de Port. I’m also realistic enough to set this goal only up to Roncesvalles so that my next camino would be entirely in Spain’s Basque Country towards Navarra and Galicia. Small victories, I reminded myself. Just go past that crucial border crossing!  




I hope to do this entire Camino Frances before I hit 71. Why 71? It’s the age I lost my old man and I just know that if he were around, he’d do this pilgrimage walk with me.  Perhaps even at a faster pace! So there. Seems like a good plan. Wish me luck. God bless me with good health and the spirit to do this. 


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