Archive for the ‘Life Is A Spell’ Category

Día de Castilla y León

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Parade in LEon for Castilla y Leon Day

Total luck that we would be in León for Castilla y León Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Villalar, in which Castilian rebels called Comuneros were dealt a crushing defeat by the royalist forces of King Charles I in the Revolt of the Comuneros on April 23, 1521. It coincides with Saint George’s Day and this whole area celebrates with a day off, parades and feasting.

We ran into the couple from Tasmania the other night, the ones we met three weeks ago at the Spain/French border. They’re doing this portion (Burgos to Leon) of the Camino on bikes. It looks like cheating to us but we didn’t say as much. And we saw a few familiar pilgrams, fellow Camino travelers, here in León. This is a perfectly livable city. It is 75 degrees today and we just had the best salad of our lives. Of course it was augmented with Jamón Ibérico, atún, walnuts, raisins, white asparagus, anchovies and drenched in olive oil.

There is a Gaudí building here, something he built for a fabric merchant and there’s a church on every block in the city center where the Roman walls surround us. We had coffee in a café called “Converso” where the sugar packets had a quote from Juan Manuel Serrat that read:
“De vez en cuando la vida
Toma conmigo café
Y es tan bonita que da gusto verla …”

Santiago Matamoros

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Entering the city of Leon on the Camino de Santiago in Spain

A couple from Cairo, an oil guy and his wife, were leaving the hotel in Mansilla de Las Mulas at the same time we were, somewhere around seven. They were doing the Camino too, or at least part of it, and they wanted a cup of coffee before hitting the road, just like us. There was not much open on a Sunday morning but we found a place where it looked like the same scene had played out there everyday for the last century. Regulars at the bar and others stopping for a cup, tostada and conversation. A woman came in with the day’s papers and set the stack on the bar, one copy of four different newspapers (one devoted to sports), copies that patrons would share throughout the day.

The Cario couple had their coffee outside on the patio because the woman smoked. They left the same time as we did and the guy informed us that we had a 200 meter climb ahead of us before we reached Leon. That’s nothing really but he said we had been spoiled by the flat trail the last few days.

We walked through the old Roman wall, across the river, and out of town. We passed through Villamoros (village of the Moors) and climbed some hills that led into the woods before our dramatic decent into Leon. An outdoor mass was taking place in front of the Cathedral in front of a statue of Santiago. So why did Spain adapt Santiago as their patron Saint? There is another facet to this story, the Santiago Matamoros legend.

The apostle Jamesa appears as a miraculous figure at the legendary Battle of Clavijo, helping the Christians conquer the Muslim Moors. The story was invented centuries after the alleged battle took place but it provided one of the strongest ideological icons in the Spanish national identity.

Teresa of Ávila, the mystic, was a worthy contender for patron saint but the Santiaguistas won the debate. Santiago Matamoros or Saint James the Moor-slayer it is. Onward.

Calzada Romana

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Fresh potatoes being harvested in countryside, Spain

This was our second day on the alternate Camino. We followed an original Roman road, the largest stretch of Roman road left in Spain, built in 100 BC to haul gold and other riches from Galicia back to Rome. It was incredibly quiet and rural with very few pilgrims.

We left at sunrise, too early for coffee, and walked eleven miles before stopping in the tiny town of Reliegos for our first cup. The place was called the Elvis Bar and reminded us of the Bug Jar. It was painted bright blue and they let customers write on the walls. They were playing early rock and roll.

We rejoined the mainstream Camino in Reliegos and walked on to Mansilla de Las Mulas where we stopped for a second cup, one served in a small glass with no handle, just as we like it. We found a hotel and had an early dinner before strolling around the town. Most of the original stone wall that surrounded the city is still intact. Tomorrow we reach Leon.

2nd Bar

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Shadow in small town in the early morning

We walked right by the hotel we were looking for last night in Terradillos de los Templarios. It was at the very beginning of the town and we walked through it before realizing we had missed it. Leaving this morning was just as tricky. We got up earlier than we had before. We set the alarm at six and got on the road at 6:30 in total darkness. Peggi had the flashlight on her phone on. We were unable to get out of the hotel the way we came in. A big metal gate was closed and I coildn’t get it open. We finally found an exit and watched the sun come up behind us as we made some headway before the 70 degree sun set in. We have had a variety of weather. Snow, cold, wind, rain and now full sun.

As we approached our first town we saw a sign enocouraging us to stop at the 2nd bar because it was cooler. The tendency for Pilgram’s is to stop at the first place after the long haul. We took our chances and stopped at the second place. It was indeed an oasis with gypsy music and great coffee.

We came to a fork in the Camino after Sahagun, an alternate Camino option on an old Roman road, a few kilometers longer but prettier. No question, the road less traveled. Calzadilla de Los Hermanillos, the town where we stopped and Casa el Cura, the hotel we are staying in is paradise. A natural spring, the town’s water supply, is out back. The hotel is a former priest’s house. The proprietor told us the priest lived here with a woman and a little girl. She said “In Spain everyone calls the priest “father” except the sons and daughters. They call the priest “uncle.”

Singing Nun

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Old man in small town in Spain

We are half way to Santiago, the city that is named after Saint James, the patron saint of Spain. He’s the patron saint of Portugal too but there they call him São Tiago, derived from the Hebrew name Jacob (Ya’akov). There are images of Santiago everywhere along the Camino. The church in Villalcazar de Sirga, where we stopped for lunch, had an alter devoted to him with a statue surrounded by a nine paintings depicting the legend of his life.

He was one of the 12 apostles. He came to the Iberian peninsula to preach the gospel and the Virgin Mary appeared to him here. When he returned to Jeruslahem he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa and his body was taken up by angels, and sailed in a rudderless, unattended boat back to Spain where a massive rock closed around his relics. The relics were discovered in the ninth century and moved to Santiago de Compostela.

We arrived early in Carrión de Los Condes with enough energy left to stroll around town. We walked by an Albergue where nuns were singing to a group of pilgrims. One of the nuns gave each of us a blessing while making a small sign of the cross on our foreheads. We are good to go.


Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Weigh station along road to Boadilla, Spain

Peggi recorded twenty seven point eight miles today on her “Move” app, walking from Honillas to Boadilla. It takes a while to do walk that far. We set the alarm for six thirty, had breakfast and got on the Camino at 7:45. We didn’t get here until seven tonight and we grabbed the last room at a hotel where shower stall looks like the thing the bass player in Spinal Tap got stuck in. They served a Pilgram’s dinner in the dining room of bean soup, potato soup, pan fried Hake and some flan with wine.

We had stopped a few times along the way for coffee, juice and apples. I had some aged sheep cheese in my backpack and it was all sweaty and stinky. It went great with the rest of the day old bread that was in there.

We’re now in the Meseta region, wide open, rolling hills and a few mountains to climb over, all in full sun. The snow covered Picos de Europa are visible to the right, the north, and we had no cell service for most of the day. That was kind of nice.

Along the way we stopped at an old Pilgram’s hospital called San Nicolás. An elderly man was tending the place and he told us it was run by the Knights of Malta, the old police force of the Camino. He asked where we from (in Spanish) and we said, “Nuevo York.” He said, “Americanos.” And then added, “Troomp,” with a laugh. Peggi said, “Payaso,” (clown in Spanish) and the guy laughed heartily.

Cruz de Caravaca

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Chairs in Hotel Corona de Castilla in Burgos

Hotel Corona de Castilla in Burgos was full of art, mostly prints but a few one of a kind assemblages. There was even a Francis Bacon print on the primer piso, a contorted male figure in a dramatic spacial environment. It was signed and numbered in Roman numerals. We were only a few blocks from the cathedral so we left our bags in the room and walked back there this morning to see if the little religious shop we had seen last night was open. It wasn’t, so we had coffee and Tortilla and went back to check out.

Our route out of Burgos took us back toward the cathedral and that small shop and we struck gold on our third visit. I bought seventeen holy cards for thirty centavos each and Maureen bought a small Cruz de Caravaca from Murcia.

We took a couple of wrong turns on the way out of town and we’re quickly directed back on course by locals. Pilgrims stick out here with their muddy shoes and backpacks. The Camino is like a giant park, as wide as a path, and stretched out, east to west, across the entire country of Spain. Walking it from town to town through gorgeous countryside is like an incredibly long, dreamy movie.

We had vegetable soup and a salad at our hotel in Hornillos (population 68 inhabitants) and we met a couple who said they were staying down the street in the same room Martin Sheen stayed in when his son Emilio Estevez was filming “The Way,” their movie about the Camino. The owner of the hotel there told the couple that Emilio’s son met their daughter during the filming. They married and are living in LA.


Walk On The Wild Side

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

Sheep along the path to Burgos, Spain

It was raining when we set out this morning for Burgos and we walked seven kilometers on a slippery, rocky path before stoping in the first town for café con leche y uno pincho de Tortilla Espanola. Unlike the first week of our Camino the towns are now mostly in valleys. The towns near the Pyrenees were all built on hills for medieval, defensive reasons. As we climbed out of town we came across a shepherd with an umbrella and a dog tending this huge herd of sheep. Peggi made an audio recording of their cowbells.

The way into Burgos was a bit of a slog, a long industrial stretch with nowhere to duck behind a bush for relief. The old section of the city though is very pretty with a bounty of cafes and restaurants. We had Pulpo y ensalada mixta con Valdeón y queso de cabra. Walk on the Wild Side was playing on the sound system.

The Cathedral in Burgos is astounding, a millennium’s worth of craftsmanship and over the top devotion. It completely drained us. Maureen stayed for the seven-thirty Pilgram’s mass and she was surprised to be the only pilgrim in the house.

Plenary Indulgence

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

Bunkbeds in Albergue in Atapuerca, Spain

We never set the alarm at home, not even when we were working, so it’s a little strange to be startled by an alarm every day of our vacation. But if you’re gonna walk all day you might as well get going early.

We find ourselves entirely loopy after walking all day. Can’t think straight, walk right or even converse. There were quite a few climbs today and we clocked twenty three miles before stopping in Atapuerca, a town of 206 residents.

There are only a few hotels here and they are all full so we are staying in an Albergue, something like a youth hostel. It is a big room with maybe twenty bunk beds, no sheets or pillow cases and no heat. Blankets were provided but they look like they have been around the block. The proprietor pointed to a wood pile and told us we could start a fire in their wood stove if we wanted to. The cost is cinco Euros por la noche.

Spaniards eat their main meal in the early afternoon and we got here too late for that. We had to wait for the restaurants to open again at seven before sitting down for a meal and you can imagine how how hungry you are after walking all day.

Tomorrow we should be in Burgos. There are quicker ways to get there but none more rewarding.

Pay To Pray

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Mesa in Castillo y Leon along the Camino de Santiago

Let’s see. What are we going to do today? Walk.

We walked out of the Rioja region and into Castillo y Leon, our third providence in Spain. The countryside has shifted from vineyards to wide open rolling hills full of wheat. Maureen, my cousin and our walking partner, is a farm girl from Dundee, New York, Starkeys Corners to be precise, on Seneca Lake. She has been pointing out all the geeky farm minutiae, the same stuff her father did on their farm.

I lost my second glove today. Just as well, it’ll lighten my load. I probably put it under my arm when I stopped to take a photo and then let it go.

I’m still thinking about the ghost town we walked through yesterday. It took about a half an hour, the same length as the early Twilight Zone episodes. A town in the country with rows and rows of new apartments or condominiums, all empty with “En Venta” signs in the windows. Spain had a housing bubble worse than ours. Surrealism at its finest sticks with you.

So many of the churches we’ve been in along the Camino charge a Euro to put the lights on. They are unattended and in near darkness until you drop a Euro “por la luz.” The statues and altars, the retablos, the stations of the cross and paintings all come to life. A real bargain!

Santo Domingo

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Rape growing in carefully tended pastures in Spain

Our ninth day on the Camino was an easy one. Not that it is getting any easier, just that it was a shorter haul. Rain was forecast but we didn’t see any. When we arrived in Santo Domingo we sat on a bench at the outskirts of town and looked up hotels. There are two Paradors here and we were ready to live large so we chose the one named after the Saint, located next door to the cathedral named after Santo Domingo.

We had an early main meal, Spanish style, at a place across the square from our hotel. It was a two fork restaurant (whatever that means), and we ordered local dishes, salted Cod and lamb with a bottle Rioja that came from a vineyard four kilometers outside of town. We asked the waitress what the beautiful flowering yellow crop we saw on the way into town was and she told it was rape.

After dinner we toured the cathedral where the Saint lies in a tomb. They’ve kept live chickens in the cathedral since the fifteenth century in tribute to a miracle Santo Domingo performed, a miracle that is too crazy to retell here.

We stopped in small bakery and bought cookies shaped like chickens. The bakery was run by a woman who looked like she stepped out of a Bolero painting.

Buen Camino

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018


We have our own descriptions of the fellow pilgrims, the ones we see every couple of days. We are no where near high season so we go long stretches without seeing anyone at all but we’ll get into a town and run into a familiar face or two every time. If these fellow travelers have nicknames for us I would be “the guy with one glove.” I lost the right hand one on day three so I’ve been keeping that hand in my pocket.

Today’s trek was twenty miles in cold rain. And there were, not snow capped mountains like up in the Pyrenees, but snow covered moutains on both sides of the path. Zaragoza, to the south of us, got a shovelable amount and made the news. We are in the Rioja region now. Navarra is behind us. The soil is red and the path is muddy. You soldier on and act like this is your cross to bear. When we see the Asian couple again we’ll smile and say, “Buen Camino.”

El Altar De La Milagrosa

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

White paint on graffiti in small town in Spain

Not wanting to spoil this adventure I did very little in the way of preparation for the Camino, kinda like the way I approached high school. I didn’t read any of the guide books. Maybe that’s why we walked right by a “must see” monastery today.

Peggi read a few books and I followed her lead. Of course we did a lot of physical prep work, walking to Charlotte and building up to our walk around Irondequoit Bay. But I didn’t realize until we got here that about ninety five percent of the Camino is on dirt, stone and gravel paths over mountains, through woods and pastures and gorgeous little towns. At least this first week has been that way.

We did 23.4 miles today, most of it in the rain. We were pretty well prepared for that with the gear Olga picked out for us at REI. The base layer, fleece and outer shell pieces all performed perfectly. The pants, some sort of miracle fabric that wicks water and drys quickly, work but it was raining hard enough to roll down the backs of my legs and into my shoes. I guess that is where gators come in but we don’t have any.

Osprey makes great backpacks but their design depatrtmnt has overreached. You see a lot of them on the Camino and each year’s model has a bigger logo. We turned our rain covers inside out so as not to look so much like a billboard and we were surprised to see others who have done the same.

But considering how old this pilgrim route is, so many centuries old, it is striking how uncommercial and unspoiled the Camino is.

Otra Iglesia

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Walking to town of Cirauqui Spain

Living out of the pack on your back is entirely possible. Other than the clothes all you really need is a camera, an internet device and your charge card. And the similarity to a monk’s existence is driven home here at Albergue de Capuchinos in Estella, a former monastery, where we were given one towel and a stack of linen to make our own beds.

We walked in rain and mud today and in between we stopped at churches in every town we passed through. We have discovered that we’ve met our match and then some when it comes to visiting churches. The iconography, the religious myths, the relics, the ritual, the architecture and history and in my Irish cousin’s case, the faith itself are all a magnetic force. We are thrilled to be traveling with Maureen. She spotted the twelfth century church of Santa Catalina in Cirauqui when we were still a mile out of town.


Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Locals talking over drinks in Pamplona bar

Pamplona is in the Navarre region of Spain, just above the Rioja region, but it is also in Basque country. It’s Basque name is Iruña. We took the train here from Madrid and plan to take a bus up to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (literally “Saint John [at the] Foot of [the] Pass) tomorrow to begin our walk.

Rick Steve’s would call Pamplona a “workaday” city. We live in a workaday City and happen to like them so we love it here. We walked around the old section, circled the bull ring, had tapas in two different places and came back to our hotel room with two cans of San Miguel cerveza. We cold settle down in Iruña.

We Did It

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Pray sign in Webster on Bay Road

You could pray for anything. Right? My mother, somewhat of an activist, would say, “I wish they would stop praying and do something.” We walked by this sign on Bay Road in Webster this afternoon and I thought of her.

Each day for the last month Peggi has plotted a loop for us to walk. If we are out somewhere in the car we’ll start from there but most often we start at our house. And we like to head out in one direction and come back via a different route. We have been inching our way up over ten miles a day and hit twelve the last few. We’ve gone down every road on this side of the bay. The roads reach the bay and then either dead end or come back up again. There is no road that runs continuously around the bay and we have been dreaming about walking around the bay but it just didn’t seem possible.

Today, Peggi suggested that we do it. Goggle plotted us straight down Culver to Empire, across the top of the bay and up the hill into Penfield to Bay Road. We stopped at Flaherty’s Three Flags Inn and split a pint of “Space Kitty,” a local IPA. A little further down the road we saw a sign sign that said, “Welcome to Webster Where Life Is Worth Living.” The sign was in the exact spot where the sidewalk ran out. Bay Road is is two lanes in either direction and it is decidedly not pedestrian friendly. We walked against traffic on the shoulder and kept jumping up in the snow to get out of the way.

Things settled down once we hit Lake Road and the walk across the spit of land between the lake and bay was beautiful at sunset. We stopped again at Shamrock Jack’s and had a pint of Ithaca’s “Flower Power” to celebrate our successful fourteen mile circumference. FC Salzburg vs Borussia Dortmund was on the screen behind the bar and the score was 0-0.

Down In The Flats

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Sign from down in the Flats near the Genesee River

I took a quick look at the route Peggi had plotted for today. She had Google Maps open on her iMac and the route was plotted in Satellite view. I could see the bay to the left of our starting point and the lakeshore was stretched out across the top of her screen. The river was also visible on the right hand side and our route went right along it for a stretch. I was struck by how much geography there was on the map and then by the notion that we could possibly cover that much ground on foot.

Our street was still somewhat icy so we started with our Yaktrax on but took them off at the cemetery. Those roads are some of the cleanest in the county due to the roster of public service workers with nothing to do. We turned right on Titus and walked to the House of Guitars where we turned north on Cooper just as Irondequoit High was letting out. Cooper meets Saint Paul and from there we began our descent to the river level, a place called “The Flats.” Irondequoit people talk about this place in almost mythical tones and I can see why.

There are wide open spaces between the houses, old barns and fields, undoubtably fertile fields judging by the standing water. It feels like you are out in the country but we just walked here. It was like a dream. We continued north along Saint Joseph which changes names to Van Voorhis and takes you up out of The Flats.

We checked the mileage and we were somewhere near six miles, about ready to begin the return leg. Since we don’t like retracing our steps we headed north on Saint Paul to the lake and walked along the lakeshore, up Zoo Road in the Park and on home.

Church And State

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

Charlotte lighthouse in winter

I’m hoping we’ll pick up an additional tenth of a mile just walking around the house tonight because I really want to see that 13 mile tally on our Moves app.

We got a late start because we had a funeral to go to for our sister in law’s father. It was a patriotically themed event as well it should have been. The man served in all three branches of the military! Flag pins were attached to the red, white and blue programs. A trumpet player played taps while we took our seats and then guns went off outside the Baptist Church in Greece. The hymn was “America the Beautiful,” all four verses. Free Masons, wearing white beanies in the front row, presented white roses to the remains. State Senator Joseph Robach gave the remembrance. And a piano player, a seasoned lounge player, played Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and a great version of Frank’s “My Way.”

We changed clothes and headed out through the park and along the lake all the way to the river. We thought we might be able to work our way along the river to Silk O’Loughlin’s, which had just opened for the season, but we couldn’t get around the gates of a shipyard. I took this photo in front of Shumway’s Marina and we turned around. With the temperature right around freezing we walked on a variety of surfaces. Some crusty, icy snow, some black ice, some mud, some soft sand along the lake and a few good sized puddles on the sidewalk.

Getting Real

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Drum set in the snow in Rochester New York

The Emirates Group sponsors both teams. Qatar Sports Investments owns Paris Saint-Germain and they spent a fortune on players like Neymar. Real Madrid is owned by their club supporters, hundreds of people called socios and they too spent a fortune on players like Ronaldo. The word Real, Spanish for Royal, was bestowed on the club by King Alfonso XIII and our friend Matthew advised us that if we’re going to cheer for a Madrid team it ought to be Atlético because Real still has cultural ties to the fascists. But we can’t help ourselves, we’ve been rooting for Real in the Champions League and we were ecstatic watching them defeat PSG, both at home and in Madrid. We wouldn’t root for Real against Barcelona, of course. They are on another plane.

Ronaldo is an over-the-top star. Like Trump, you can’t take your eyes off him as he sucks all the air out of the room. Madrid has Sergio Ramos, the captain of the ship. They have Marcello, a back who is an ever threat to score. They have Bale, on the bench with his man-bun. They have the smart, agile Croatian, Luka Modrić, in midfield. And they have Zinedine Zidane in the ever so sharp coach’s suit. They are a real team and a joy to watch.

8 Mile

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

Snow ice scape along Lake Ontario

We are sort of in limbo with with this white stuff. The big snowfall we had last week is just sitting there. The sidewalks are clear. People aren’t wearing hats or gloves anymore. We have all moved on but the snow lingers. There was so much of it the sidewalk and street plows shoved it into the other’s paths. And it was so heavy and wet when it came down it is now clumped into hard-core sculptural formations on the edges of the sidewalk.

Our route today took us in an eight mile loop with stops. Starbucks, where we had a sandwich and a medium Flat White, the post office where we mailed off (for scanning) 700 35mm slides that my sister culled from my father’s slides, and Dunkin Donuts where we used the bathroom.

We saw “Shape of Water” this evening and I loved it. An old fashioned straight up love story done with loving respect for the medium. I was a skeptic and wanted Greta to get all the awards for “Ladybird” but I was wrong. This was beautiful.