Month: March 2015

Plane, Trains and Automobiles

March 31, 2015


We have been up and moving for more than 26 hours walking at airports, in the train station, sitting in cars, trains and planes the rest of the time. If you include the time difference we are looking at more than 28 hours.

We just finished a late night dinner at Lukkup restaurant at St. Jean Pied de Port. Three of us had axoa of pork, a local specialty of ground pork in a tomato sauce with peppers and onions. Margaret had a fluffy cod omelette. All of us staggered away from the table sated.

We had plenty of time to catch the 10:16 AM train. We even tried to exchange our tickets for the 8:19 AM train thaT was 20 minutes late but the ticket collector firmly said, “non!”

We dozed more on the four hour train trip to Bordeaux than on the seven hour flight. The train was much quieter and the gentle movement soothing.

Eliane was waiting for us in Bordeaux. It took us a few minutes to find one another, but then we hurried through the drizzle to Eliane’s car and were soon on the autoroute.

Brian, Margaret and I nodded off several times. Three hours later we were in St. Jean Pied de Port. In the last half hour before our arrival we were admiring some significantly steep hills and thinking of our impending walk. Challenging comes to mind.

St. Jean is an amazing medieval walled town with four arched gateways, beautiful old stone buildings lovingly maintained, with tall doors, many bearing knockers in the shape of a hand.

We are happy with our room at Villa Esponda on the main street. With high ceilings, wood plank floors, wooden shutters, a double bed and bunk beds, private bath and kitchen counter with fridge, it is a sweet deal at 71 euros.

Brian just duelled with a Rogers rep and succeeded in getting our Cuba phone plan switched to Europe. We never asked for Cuba!!

Time for sweet dreams!


And so we begin

We are relaxing at Pearson before our flight, due to board in thirty minutes: Brian with Wellington Lager, Margaret with red wine and I am sagely sipping water. We already wolfed down a pizza. Brian is distributing sedatives for later.

Discoveries today….I don’t have my earphones with me even though I know they were something I set out when I first started my packing routine. Brian left his iPad in the car when Jim dropped us off. My dear brother offered to drive back to deliver it, but as we had advanced almost to the head of the security line, Brian decided he would not go into withdrawal without his iPad. We are truly going to rough it on the Camino. Only a cell phone to share! No word chum games to play!

Although Margaret has flaunted her “o so small bag”, she almost had to check it since it was too thick to fit in the container measurer. She had to remove items to make her bag measure small enough. My bag, ” big as it is”, fit! Brian checked his as he had his Swiss Army knife, our three sets of poles, maple butter for Eliane and a too large tubes of sunscreen. Yes, we are hopeful!



March 29, 2015

Tomorrow is departure day for Paris and the Camino. It is also my father-in-law’s 93rd birthday. We are in Niagara this weekend celebrating that. I made a chocolate layer cake for the occasion. I used a different recipe and was disappointed to see the two pancake thin layers that I produced. I made extra icing and put sliced strawberries in the middle to make the cake look taller. Fortunately looks are not everything. The cake was very moist and chocolatey and tasted good, and there is plenty left for a few more desserts.


Happy 93rd, Dad!

Happy 93rd, Dad!

We left home yesterday where all was white. Even our snowdrops which were visible for a day were buried in snow. By the time we got to Hamilton, the only snow visible was on north-facing slopes and tired old piles.

Although the sun shone brightly into Our Lady of the Scapular Church for 7:30 AM Palm Sunday mass, the outdoor temperature is only -7C and colder where the wind blows. Roma treated us to breakfast at The Queens with Rosemary and Margaret joining us. We arrived in time to find a table for six. There was a lineup at the door the whole time we dined.

I checked out Margaret’s backpack contents last night. She was doing her final laundering before packing again. I am still reconsidering my list. Brian and I will dump our packs today and reassess our contents one more time.

We are delighted with the many good wishes from friends and family far and near. We are ever hopeful that we will have a “buen camino”.

Less Than A Week To Go!

March 24, 2015

We had a very fruitful treasure hunt today. We found 38 golf balls in the rough along the 18th fairway, some of them peeking out from the snow. The crusty surface made a great cleanser for dirty golf balls and our backpacks provided adequate pockets in which to carry them. Fortunately most of the balls were Titleists or Taylormades; so, Brian deemed them worth carrying. Naturally I filled his pockets first!

Brian just delivered my cappuccino to me. He’s getting more and more creative each day with his swirly toppings.

I am planning on leaving my iPad behind. I am ambivalent about that: a freeing experience and one of loss. My iPad is twice as heavy as Brian’s, because it is an older model and has a heavier case. Brian will be taking his iPad and I will use it to blog about our journey. Brian may regret having to share his iPad but I am sure a cerveza will cheer him up. I will not have any books to read but will still have audible books on our iPhone. I will practice reading Spanish. Brian purchased a package from Rogers so that we will be able to send and receive texts and have enough phone time to call ahead to reserve our next night’s lodging. Hopefully my Spanish will be up to this challenge and we will end up with comfy beds for the three of us and a private bath. We will stay in some of the hostels but are planning on supporting the local economy by staying in pensions (B and Bs) or small hotels. A motivating factor in doing so is a good night’s sleep!

I am  still undecided on one of the layers I want to take with me. I don’t want to carry more than I need but I do want to be warm enough. Brian has been checking the weather in northern Spain daily and everything looks as if we should be getting up into the 15 to 20 C range with lows of about 8C. That sounds tropical compared to the winter we have had. Maybe I only need shorts and a tank top! I can feel Margaret shaking her head even though she is a four hour drive away!

Margaret and company climbed the 1500 Hamilton stairs six times yesterday. Her walking friends feted this final training day with champagne. Had I known, I am sure I could have driven down to Hamilton on Mondays to join them! Maybe not! We will be able to take turns having Margaret carry our backpacks as well as her own because she will need an extra challenge on the Camino just to match her training schedule.

We hiked to Indian Falls on Sunday. We crunched across the frozen snow surface avoiding deep footprints where others had walked on warmer days. A field of dried corn glistened in the sun. The deer did not appear to have ventured far into this field. Only the cobs from the edge of the field had disappeared.

Indian Falls from the brink

Indian Falls from the brink

Indian Falls

Indian Falls

Brian pretending to be a deer

Brian pretending to be a deer

Happy collector!

Happy collector!

Indian River was flowing furiously, but there were still mountains of ice around the base of the falls. The parking lot to the falls had been blocked by the conservation authority for a few days as conditions were softer and there was concern that people would be falling into the icy river.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

It is only 4C and there is a bitter 40 kilometre/hour north wind, but the good news is that the sun is shining brilliantly, the sky is totally blue and there is no St. Patrick’s Day storm! Yeah! Spring is coming!

Can you not imagine the daffodils hiding under the snow?

Can you not imagine the daffodils hiding under the snow?

We see shrubs!

We see shrubs!

Still some slow melting banks of snow

Still some slow melting banks of snow

The roads are bare and mostly dry!

The roads are bare and mostly dry!

The ant will soon be free!

The ant will soon be free!

The steps are clearing.

The steps are clearing. Soon there will be snowdrops!

Mapa del Camino de Santiago

Some of you have asked which way we are going. Here is a map of the Camino Frances. We will be headed west across the north of Spain. The map does not show St. Jean Pied de Port which is where we will begin walking. St. Jean is in France, across the Pyrenees, 26 kilometres north of Roncesvalles. This will give you an idea of distances between towns and villages we will pass through. Some are very small places! Roncesvalles, which should be our first night after St. Jean only has a population of 25, many more as pilgrims/hikes go through. There is a monastery there that is used as a albergue or hostel.


Two weeks from now we will be on a plane headed over the Atlantic!

In this past week, I worked at school as a supply principal for a day and a half, then officially retired from the College of Ontario Teachers; therefore, my supplying days are over! We helped a friend tapping trees in his maple bush to begin this season’s sap run. We skied and walked carrying our newly loaded backpacks. They now contain what we plan on taking with us. We golfed on the simulator, but did not wear our backpacks to do so; only to walk down to the clubhouse.

Spring is beginning to appear in Grey County. Although the ice still covers Georgian Bay, it is beginning to look slushy in many places. The hills on the golf course are showing more green even though we were still able to ski around them. We saw our first robin singing its heart out in front of the Inn as it munched on Chanticleer Pear fruit still hanging in the trees after a very cold winter. We heard the first killdeer of spring as we walked. And as we walked we did not always need hat nor gloves. In fact as we skied, we shed clothing until we only had one long sleeved shirt on, with sleeves pushed up. Spring is coming!

Three Weeks to Takeoff!

Three weeks from now, Margaret, Brian and I should be in the Toronto airport and lining up to get on our Air France jet. Are we excited??? I leave that to your imagination!

Today Brian and I and most of the province of Ontario, or at least southern Ontario, are rejoicing in temperatures above zero. In fact, here at Cobble Beach, we reached an amazing 10C, not minus, plus 10C. How fabulous is that! We skied for nearly two hours, wearing our backpacks, ever training for the great walk.

We leave March 30th and arrive at Charles de Gaulle in Paris at 8AM on the 31st. We are hoping our flight will not be delayed in the least, as we have to catch a Train Grande Vitesse at CDG at 10:19AM for Bordeaux where Eliane will pick us up and drive us to St. Jean Pied de Port. How awesome is that! Merci, Eliane! Just in case, we paid the extra for an exchangeable train ticket, but we hope not to have to use that feature.

Margaret has been doing far more walking wearing her full backpack than we have, but hopefully Brian and I will be up to the challenge. Our daily crosscountry skiing has to be good for something. Eliane hopes to walk some of the way with us as well.

Some have asked, “Do you really plan on walking 800 kilometres in 34 days?” Yes, we do, but we accept all prayers and best wishes that we will succeed without blisters, without injuries, in great health and with a minimal amount of rain. Is that asking too much?? Actually we want to make it all the way to Finistera, on the Atlantic coast, another one hundred kilometers, but given our timeframe, that last bit may have to be by bus.

The only accommodations that we have booked are at St. Jean Pied de Port on March 31st and at the end at Santiago de Compostela on May 5th and at Barcelona on May 6th. Our flight leaves Barcelona for Paris-Toronto on May 7th and with the miracle of time change, we will arrive in Toronto on May 7th. No, we did not leave enough time to do Barcelona justice, and perhaps not a number of places in between, but we are looking forward to our grand adventure!

I have been reading about the Camino during the past six months and share these titles with your here, should you wish to see what others have had to say. I have listed them in the order that I liked them the most. All are memoirs.

All The Good Pilgrims by Robert Ward (Canadian) 2007 – I read this after his other title mentioned below. This one is about the people the author met on three different Camino pilgrimages. This author has a blog and another book is on its way. A feel good book, even when I cried about one of the stories.

The Way Is Made By Walking by Arthur Paul Boers (Dutch) 2007 – love the title, the book was lyrical, very enjoyable, a mixture of memoir and spiritual challenges by a Mennonite leader.

Walk in a Relaxed Manner by Joyce Rupp (American) (2005) The author shares her life lessons from the Camino. Even if you never plan on doing a lengthy hike anywhere, this is an inspirational book.

I’m Off Then by Hape Kerkeling (German) 2009 – a comedian, overweight and not very fit. If he can do this; so, can I! A travelogue that tells of the places along the way as well as his own self-discovery.

Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho (Brazilian) 2009 – if you have read any books by this author, you know you are in for a bizarre treat! A blend of engaging fantasy, memoir and humanist philosopy,

Spanish Steps, Travels with My Donkey 2005 by Tim Moore (British) – humorous and after reading this, I don’t know why anyone would do the trip with a donkey! Travelogue with historical tidbits.

What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim by Jane Christmas (American) 2007 – a humorous read. Margaret thought it a rather discouraging one. Certainly it made hostels sound pretty disgusting, especially the bathrooms. We have heard that there are some auberges that are better than others. Also insight into attempting to do this with a large group. Not a good idea!

Virgin Trails, A Secular Pilgrimage by Robert Ward (Canadian) 2002 – the longest chapter is devoted to the Camino, but many other European pilgrimages are described. I thank Kimiko for sharing this book. I really like the author’s style. Very readable. The only reason it is listed last is that only part of the book is about the Camino.

If you are looking for more info on the Camino, there are, of course, Facebook pages  blogs in abundance. An interesting blog is one written by a 75 year old woman who has just completed her tenth Camino in ten years. See Margaret Meredith’s:  Why she did the same Camino Frances year after year when there are so many other routes to choose from, and many of them in winter, is something I do not understand. Maybe I am about to learn!

A few websites to check out….   Info here at the Canadian Company of Pilgrims to order your scallop shell badge and Camino Credencial (Passport to be stamped to show you really travelled the Camino)  Of course there are many apps. We have this one on our IPad. There are many book versions. Margaret bought the Brierly Guide for the Camino Frances.

IMG_0805 IMG_0806

Training for the Camino at Cobble Beach on March 9, 2015. A balmy 10C but still plenty of snow!

Home Again

Cobble Beach

March 2, 2015

The sun is setting, casting gold upon the western horizon and hues of pink and blue over frozen Georgian Bay. A three quarter moon is brightening high over the bay in a cloudless sky.

We arrived home around 2PM after stopping for groceries in Owen Sound. The drive from Niagara was on mostly dry roads although we saw lots of blowing snow and skies that went from cloudy to threatening to a mix of blue and clouds as we got closer to home.

American Falls

American Falls

Beautiful ice tapestry

Beautiful ice tapestry

One of my favourite views of the the brink

One of my favourite views of the Falls…at the brink

Happy 90th, Mom!

Happy 90th, Mom!

Home again!

Home again!

A Warmer Sunday

Our birthday celebrations continued starting with Roma going to mass with us at Our Lady of The Scapular this morning. It has been very difficult for Roma to go to church since she broke her hip last June; so, this was a big deal.

Roma was happy to receive a number of phone calls. She also received two bouquets of flowers and two miniature orchids; now, the house is fragrant with flowers and colour. I made her a photobook, “Celebrating 90 Years of Roma”. The next time you are in the neighbourhood, stop in for a visit. Roma will be happy to show you her photobook.

Brian and I went for a walk along River Road, from the lower bridge to the falls and back. There sure are a lot of sidewalks covered in snow. With today’s milder temperature, -3C, that made for lumpy, bumpy, slushy sidewalks, and challenging walking. The American Falls have so many ridges of ice that there are smaller falls springing out of the main falls, cascading over, around and through the bluish green ice mounds. Thousands were walking between the American and Canadian falls photographing and making videos using every imaginable device, mostly digital, Go-Pros on sticks, IPads, IPhones, cameras of every size. Brian and I did not take any selfies, there were plenty of those happening. Brian remarked that there will be a generation with no photos, as all these digital photos will be lost in cyberspace rather than in photo albums or piled in drawers and chests.

We met Margaret and her walking crew by the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. They had walked in the opposite direction starting from Dufferin Islands.

We finished our day and our celebrations with a lamb dinner at Margaret and John’s. Margaret prepared appetizers: cream cheese stuffed mushrooms and nachos. Brian and I prepared the main course: leg of lamb, carrots, corn and mashed potatoes. Patrick brought Greek salad and Rosemary made her awesome carrot cake. Now we need to walk more!

In other parts of the world we are assured that spring is arriving. Near Shipston-on-Stour, Ian is golfing in the rain, possibly stumbling over new lambs. In Bournesmouth, Mike and Jill are collecting frog spawn and are going to name tadpoles after us. Next we will hear they have engaged a silversmith to make crowns for our froggy heads. In the UK and in France camellias and all manner of bulbs are blooming. The latest weather report from northern Spain shows +15C! Four weeks from today we fly to Paris….whether spring is in Ontario or not!

Celebrating Birthdays

We are in Niagara Falls this weekend celebrating Brian’s mother’s birthday. Roma is ninety on Sunday, March 1st. Her actual birth was also on a Sunday, born “full of grace” on her mother’s birthday. Meme Yvonne also enjoyed ninety birthday celebrations. Fine genes! Rona was born on the same day as the Charlevoix-Kamouraska earthquake, the tremblings of which were felt on the flats of Atholville, New Brunswick, in the family home where Roma was born.

Roma...90 years young

Roma…90 years young

Happy Birthday, Margaret!

Happy Birthday, Margaret!

Rosemary, Margaret, Rona Lynn, Patrick

Rosemary, Margaret, Rona Lynn, Patrick

We had lunch at Ravine Vineyards in St. David’s, where it was Winter-licious time. Three course menus were presented. Brian and I enjoyed the beet and goat cheese salad while John and Roma savoured the beef rib and vegetable soup. I went for the lighter trout on quinoa while the other three ordered the huge burger, with bacon and cheese, and a plate full of fries. Roma ate more of her plateful than John did. All of us asked to have our desserts boxed to go….two brownies and two almandine tarts with pear. Thanks, Rachel, for your good suggestion to dine at Ravine. We followed lunch with wine tastings in their tasting room next door.

Wine tasting

Wine tasting

Instead of eating our desserts from lunch, we went to Rosemary and Frank’s to celebrate Margaret’s birthday with cake at Rosemary’s. February 28th is Margaret’s birthday. Margaret was born on Dad’s birthday, that is, on his February 28th  birthday. He was actually born at midnight of February 29th, but it was more fun to celebrate his birthday every year rather than every four years.

Rosemary thought her delicious coffee cake was not elegant enough; so, she also made a platter of chocolate dipped strawberries, brought out Nanaimo bars and purchased a tray of cream-filled pastries. Thank you, Rosemary for decadent dessert!