Tuesday, September 30, 2008

El Camino de Santiago pilgrim blessings

Tomorrow is St. Dominga de Calzada (where I am now the oldest pilgrim refugio dating back to the 11th C.) to Belorado 23 km x .6 = 13.8 miles. There is an interesting story about this place that my Walk to Emmaus friends would like. CENTURIES AGO, a boy walked to Santiago with his pilgrim parents. When they got here, they stayed in a refugio run by a family with a girl. When he rejected her advances, she hid some treasure in his bag and then reported the treasure stolen. Sounds like the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Does the right thing and then is accused of wrong-doing by the woman scorned...

As the story goes... the boy was hung for the crime he did not commit. Miraculously he did not die at the gallows, but hug there for quite sometime. The parents went to the mayor of St Dominga de Calzada to petition that he be cut down. The mayor who was eating a succulent chicken dinner laughed. ``Only if this roast chicken jumped up off the table and crowed would I release your devilish son!´´ With that the roast galina jumped off the mayor´s dinner plate and crowed - probably three times.

The boy was released, and of course redeemed, and to this day the cathedral keeps two cackling while hens (galinas) in the sancuary. Your El Camino pilgrimage will be blessed if one crows while you are there.

It is quite interesting being in a very large pilgrimage cathedral with soaring ceilings, hearing the hushed voices of tourists and pilgrims looking at the artwork with the soft, soothing sound of classical music in the background - the cultured sounds of an art museum - and then hearing the harsh, back-to-nature sound of a chicken crowing. Almost a conundrum, makes me want to break out in song: ``De Colores son visten los campos en la primavera!´´ But then I did hear the hen crow, so my El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage has its special blessing. Maybe this cold will be slept out by tomorrow morning. Thanks for your prayers.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blister Care on El Camino de Santiago

There is a fighting contention going on about the care of my feet here in Spain. Jacque, the coronel from the French Army who led troups in Zaire for 20 years says no `Compede´ which is a fake skin-type bandaide that stays adhered to the foot for days. `No´ because of the blood ... I have bloody blisters. But the ski dude, Michael, from Austria says, ``That´s not right!´´

Now the woman doctor, Dr. Eli, 28-ish from Pamplona looks at my out-stretched foot while I write this, and says Col. Jacque did a good job of the bandage. (French Army bandage gauze with hi-tech tape.) Great controversy on how to treat blisters. Roger from Brazil threads a needle, pierces the blister and leaves the thread in the blister to drain the liquid overnight.

Pilgrim dinner tonight. All is well except this last day´s leg was VERY draining muchas calor (very hot) and dry. I thought I was trekking in Camp Verde, AZ all day. It looks the same - cottonwood trees, pinon trees, yucca plants, buff-colored rock - only no motor noise. Buon Camino!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pamplona, Spain

Hola from Pamplona, Espana. No I am not "running with the bulls" in my white Elvis jumpsuit and red bandanna around my neck... that happens in July to celebrate St Fermin's feast day...

A 'lay-over day' in terms of the 1970s backpacking days was a day to relax at the campsite, put your feet up and let the blisters dry out. Today is my 'lay-over day' in Pamplona. However, it has been anything but relaxing. Too many tasks to complete. I scheduled the morning time for answering and responding to my business email. Unfortunately my Pamplona "office" was not as keen as my St Jean Pied du Port café.

I learned from Jane, a fellow pilgrim, that the bus station at Pamplona has WiFi and a place to have coffee, so I booked down to the bus station from the Jesus y Maria Refugio this morning. The station is tres modern: stainless steel and glass, not anything like what we would think of a smelly bus depot in the US. However, it was underground, so no sunlight for the first four hours of my day. (I should mention that the station has a fantastic green roof going in on the street level. The depth of earth material is so extraordinary that they are turning the soil with two agricultural-sized tractors. No sod yet. It promises to be lovely.)

Unfortunately my experience so far in Europe has been that it very difficult to find WiFi. (Internet cafes are common - you can use THEIR computers to access the internet. Because of my MS Outlook business email account, I need to use my own computer; therefore Wi-Fi is an important resource at least once every three days.) And so it seems that whenever I finally find Wi-Fi, there is no outlet to access electricity so I must run on battery power, Of course, my battery power does not last long, and I end up plugging into the Ladies' Room outlet or some such other out of the way spot. And Wi-Fi is impossible to access in an out of the way spot. C'est la vie… patience!

Money from Heaven

Speaking of patience, one of my tasks today was to find a place that would cash an American Express check. It seems a simple task. However, after tries at five different banks so far, I am beginning to understand that Travelers Checks are a thing of the past. Probably because of the advent of ATM machines, what 20 years ago… The travelers' checks that I am carrying are from years ago. Almost seems like 'FREE' money, they are so old. But a $100 AmX Travelers check doesn't go very far against the Euro. At the sixth banque, I got $67.00 and then charged an additional nine Euros for a service fee.

I asked the manager, "Un autre pregunta, por favor." Another question, please. Then I laid out on the bank counter 100,000 pesetas. He picked them up and examined them as if they were foreign currency. Pesetas were the Spanish currency before switching to the Euro. "Not here," he said in Spanish after finally recognizing the old bills. "Go across the street to the left to La Banque de Epana."

Across the street is the Pamplona Post Office, so I stop there first. Another chore for the day is to send back some ropa (clothing) and a small book that I am DONE with carrying in my all too heavy backpack. Did I mention patience earlier in this article? I was at the post office for over an hour… waiting in line. It is the Spanish way. Everything is slower here. I am hoping to learn the pace. They can spot me a mile a way: An American walking so fast down the sidewalk on to her next task! Got the package wrapped and mailed with the help of the nice postal workers.

Then onto el Banque de Epana. Could these old bills really be worth something? I turned left and went to the end of the block. I was SURE this is what he said. But no sign on the huge, squatty building made of ochre colored sandstone. There were two impressive flags flying above the broad doors five steps above the street level, wanted posters picturing good-looking Basque fugitives, and lots of electronic security at the entrance. This must be the place.

I walked up the steps and pressed the black button for admission. The green button lit, a buzzer sounded and the bronze and glass door opened to let me into the vestibule. The door in front of me remained locked until the door behind swung shut. I pressed the next black button, feeling like I was in an episode of Get Smart. The second green light finally lit - good thing I don't have claustrophobia - and I pushed the second heavy portal forward. The room I then entered into reminded me of photos of old time banks I'd seen at my local Flagstaff, AZ Wells Fargo. A big room surrounded with glassed-in teller windows. Of the 12-16 windows, only one was manned - by a woman.

"Eso es el Banque de Espana?" I asked. I couldn't believe it when she said, "Si/Yes." This was a blessing too good to be true! On the same street, and only ½ a block away from the post office. "Pesetas," I said. "Pesetas cela," she said pointing to the corner window where a man suddenly appeared. I had no idea that I could still exchange this old money, I brought it with me just on happen stance that I could. I was totally amazed as he filled out the paperwork after examining the bills. 65.10 Euros or $90!

It is money from heaven. Thank you, God! I probably bought these pesetas in my first trip to Spain in 1996, when I was rich. I didn't realize that I had them when I went back to Barcelona with Dan in 2000. I think we were on Euros by then… The Spanish currency went unremembered on my first El Camino journey to Santiago de Compostela in 2005. The pesetas have been a hidden treasure until now -- when I really needed them. God provides in mysterious ways.

I saw an Italian pilgrim, Francesco, with a familiar design on the back of his T-shirt. I made some excuse to stand behind him to look closer. Sure enough, in small print, it said the artwork was done by a Hopi artist. I was so excited to see Hopi on the back of an Italian in northern Spain!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

French cafe - St Jean Pied du Port

A foamy cappuccino, a buttery croissant and FREE WiFi - what more could you ask for? Today I begin my walk from St Jean Pied du Port, France over the Pyrenees. The French Canadian couple at the refugio (sleeping place for pilgrims)grimaced when they lifted my backpack. They had made a portion of the trek yesterday as a daytrip- without backpacks.

Yesterday was the EuroStar from London to Paris. Here's my writing from yesterday's Parisian experience:

Paris: Le Monde headline today: Septembre noir pour Wall Street

Last Thursday there was a huge fire in the Chunnel - the route my EuroStar train takes from London to Paris. In Paris I took the Metro from Gare Nord "North Station" where I disembarked from the EuroStar and caught a Metro to Montparnasse where I catch my connection to Bayonne, France and then a local train to Ste. Jean Pied du Port, my final rail destination in France. After spending a week with the highly efficient - if not obsessively orderly - Brits, it is quit a culture shock to arrive in Paris with the aggressive, butting in line French. The train that I was on was a combination of the 8:32 am train and the 9:40 am train. Because of a huge chemical fire in the Chunnel, there was limited service. The 8:32 train - my train was cancelled and put on the later train. However, anyone with connecting trains in Paris has to stand in a mile-long cue, to get their French tickets re-issued. I stood and stood and stood. Okay the line wasn't really a mile long, it was 1.6 km long.

My tickets have been re-issued, but I will arrive in SJPP two hours après dinner… hope the door is still open. I would email them from Paris, but no free WiFi in this central station… and where I can find a plug to charge my battery, there is no pay-for WiFi. (I could get it behind this wall at this café petite, but not at this electrical plug site. Tant pis!) I used up my battery on the EuroStar from London - no WiFi, no electric outlet on that voyage.

The train trip to York yesterday had both free WiFi and electric access, but I did not think to bring my computer. Feeling rather poorly about not thinking to bring it, and looking across the isle at Keith tapping away at his work on his computer, Harry from the British Library consoled me. "Keith brings his computer EVERYWHERE."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Champagne Reception at the British Museum

The International Association of Museum Facility Administrators kicked off their annual conference in London this week with a champagne reception in the King's Library at the British Museum. Munching delightful appetizers served on bottom-lit trays and tapping to jazz music, members renewed acquaintances with FM museum folk from all over the world.

I am here helping facilitate the facilities benchmarking workshop. For more information go to: http://www.facilityissues.com/

Not a drop of rain since we arrived. Londoners are celebrating the Arizona sunshine!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Controled burns in Flagstaff forests today

Controlled burns in Flagstaff today

After the drenching thunderstorms of the last 48 hours, the Mormon Lake Hotshots were out lighting slash piles this morning. The Mormon Lake Hotshots are an elite group of Coconino National Forest fire fighters based 10 miles east of our Munds Park home. Smokey clouds were billowing out of the Ponderosa Pine forests as Dan drove me to the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. "If the fires get out of control this morning, they'll be flooded by the monsoons later this afternoon," I said looking up at the tall, swirling white plumes.

From my 3F window seat on the small aircraft that flew me out of the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, it was a thrill to look down at the tops of those mushroom-shaped clouds of smoke dotting the forest below.

I followed my own advice from a former blog posting - "4 Tips on How to Travel Light" (see below). The US Airways reps at check-in were seemingly amazed at the (un)weight of my bags -- checked all the way to London. I was 25-pounds under the 50-pound per bag limit imposed by the airline. I packed my lightest clothes, went back and took out 20% of everything -- including my Ibuprophen tablets! Yes, I did count them out, and remove 20%. I'm a light-packing maniac!

Happy surprise at check-in: no luggage charge for two bags on international flights! (US Air charges $15/bag on domestic flights.)Checked the super-light backpack (for my El Camino pilgrimage in Spain), and a "carry-on" sized bag for the ballroom gown, business suit, etc for biz in London.

Did you know that now two airlines serve the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport? US Airways from their Phoenix hub and Horizon Air/Alaska Airlines from LAX.
Posted from the US Airways Lounge, Phoenix, AZ.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

How to travel from northern Spain to Madrid

My flight home from Spain leaves Madrid Barajas International Airport (MAD) on 11:00 am October 7. My plan is to walk east to west from St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Fromista in northern Spain. Why Fromista? I'm excited to experience Fromista's Iglesia (Church) San Martin. I've heard that it is an extraordinary example of Romanesque architecture, and it's famous for the 315 stone-sculpted figures encircling the church's exterior. But once my pilgrimage ends in Fromista, I need to hurry to Madrid for that flight.

On the map, I can see a railroad line going through Fromista - a small town. Unfortunately http://www.renfe.es/ , the official website for Spain's train system tells me there is no ticket available from Fromista to Madrid. Thanks to one of my favorite guides, Rick Steves, I read about a remarkable German website that gives exacting details of train schedules for all over Europe. This page takes you to Spanish trains: http://bahn.hafas.de/bin/query.exe/en. I can see the schedule for this leg of my trip, but unfortunately the site does not allow me to buy tickets online. Maybe that route is seasonal. None of the on-line bus (coach) companies serve the Fromista region. Pre-planning transportation out of this very remote area is becoming a frustrating knot.

Plan B

Burgos, Spain is a university town with many daily trains to Madrid. It is a three-day walk east of Fromista. That means I will have to end my pilgrimage three days earlier than I anticipated. I'm really disappointed in this outcome until I convert the kilometers into miles that I will walk from St. Jean Pied de Port to Burgos. 194.3 miles - I think that is enough! I don't need to hurry my trip to see the 315 stone-sculpted figures at the church in Fromista. But who's counting? I bet I will have seen more than enough Romanesque exteriors by the time I arrive in Burgos. I'll let you know.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

4 Smart Tips on How to Travel Light

Last week I began my initial packing for my trip to London and Spain. The tricky business about this pack job is that after my business trip to London a la ballroom gown and business attire, I will be hoisting my backpack and trekking across Northern Spain. What to do with the high heeled-shoes and strapless accouterments to the formal evening wear?

I checked prices with UPS, DHL, FedEx and a boutique luggage handling company for shipping the biz clothes home. FedEx offers the lowest estimated price, but the actual price will be determined by the weight of my returning bag. Therefore, I need to pack as light as possible. Here are a few tips on How to Pack Light that I've learned over the years:

1.) Make a calendar of the days you'll be gone. Write down the outfit you plan to wear for the morning- for me that's work, and more formal - and then the evening, more casual. Include every item that you'll need. What color shoes? Do you need a belt? Which one? What from the first outfit can you wear two days later? Perhaps the top you wear under your suit can double for a work-out T later on. I plan to first use a piece for business when it is crisp and clean, and then use it a second or third time in a more casual venue. Once you have everything written down, you can start to edit. Do you really need black, brown and navy shoes? Re-plan your wardrobe so you only need one pair of dress shoes, and one pair of comfortable, casual shoes. What from Day 4 can you wear again on Day 6? Mix and match. Get rid of anything that you can't use at least twice. Once you've reworked your list, pack only the clothes on the list. Not one item more!

2.) Try on everything before you pack it. You may need to run it to the dry cleaner. By trying on that backless evening dress, you'll remember the special foundation that you bought to go along with it. How does it fit since the last time wore it? Take your shoes out for a 'dry run'. Will you really be able to comfortably walk around Europe - or wherever - in the shoes you are planning to bring?

3.) Pack everything in the luggage that you plan to take several days before you leave. Feel how heavy your bags are. Do you REALLY want to be schlepping this much weight around the airport, the train station or the quaint bed and breakfast that you picked out on the internet - that has no elevator? Re-open you bag and take out 20% - or more - of what you already packed.
- How do you get rid of 20% of your packed panties? Get rid of 50% by using panty liners. Day 1 use fresh underwear with pantyliner. Day 2 - throw away panty liner.
- Get rid of the extra hair products. Put cosmetics in small containers, don't bother with your pretty, but heavy, designer cosmetic bags. Ziplock bags are light and functional. Repack. NOW will you be able to lift your carry-on bag over your head to put in the overhead compartment without dropping it on the head of the person below? If not, start again from the top.

4.) Tear out the pages that you need from tour books and leave the rest at home. Books are heavy. Duct tape is much lighter to 're-bind' the book into a smaller version. Clear packing tape works well, too.

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