21 April 2015

God is smiling on our Camino

As we write it is clear to us that God must be smiling on our journey. Firstly he is smiling because in the night of Sunday Alan woke up and decided a couple of changes to his packing plan. He decided to take his aluminium water bottle instead of his plastic one. He felt the plastic one tasted funny. Then at the last minute he decided not to take his poncho and tent making kit, which weighed 1.2 kilos but his iPad instead. Well we are benefiting from this now as he has allowed us to write the blog. 
God  is also smiling on our Camino because on Monday as we made our way to MG main station we met a giant of a man who made Alan look like a dwarf. This man asked we we were pilgrims and when Alan replied in the affirmative he explained that he was Spanish and came from Santiago!!! As we parted he wished us Buen Camino, which is the traditional greeting and more or less means have a good journey.
On the train firstly to Aachen, Alan listened to his audio book, and then on the rather smart French train to Paris dozed off quite a lot while listening to it. 
On arrival in Paris North we took a taxi to Garde de Austerlitz. As luck would have it the driver was Tangierian and so Alan was able to practice some Arabic. He admitted privately to us later that he had clearly forgotten much.
On the overnight train to Bayonne we had a German, called Gert from Saarbr├╝cken, in the bunk under Alan and a Frenchman in the opposite bunk to Alan. Gert was also going on the Camino, but the Frenchman was just going hiking in the hills around St Jean Pied de Port.
These men didn't chat much for as soon as the train pulled out they just rolled over and went to sleep. In fact Alan didn't even notice that a fourth gentleman came and used the last bunk under the Frenchman in the night. This man had left by the time Alan surfaced to take his eye shades off and his earplugs out!
The train was now delayed a bit so Alan and Gert chatted to pass the time. The sun was out and there was not a cloud in the sky. Through the train window we could see in the distance snow topped mountains and began to wonder if the Pyrennees will also be snow capped. 
At Bayonne we had a couple of hours to wait for a bus to take us the rest of the way. Now we saw quite a few other pilgrims from various nations, Canada, Malaysia and France to name just the obvious ones.
The parting of the ways came at the station in St Jean. Gert was going to walk on to Orrison so needed to look for the Pilgrims office to get his pass stamped. Alan walked out of town in the opposite direction to his small and quaint pension. We have a nice large room, but must share the toilet and bathroom. Now With free WiFi Alan was quick to log on for us while he went and showered and washed his clothes. As the sun is shining still, he hung them out to dry. Shortly we think he will take a walk into the village to find a place to eat.
God is also smiling on us because the weather is so wonderful as the view from our window shows. It is forecast to stay this way too.

19 April 2015

We are ready for the Off!

We are as ready as we will ever be for the next grand adventure. Alan has said we cannot blog on a daily basis as he is only taking his phone and does not intend to spend lots of time in Internet Cafes either. This is probably why we are looking a bit sad at the moment. But that is all that's wrong with us.

Alan was invited to a Birthday Brunch Party today. He had a great time he said and came back telling us that he need not eat again until Paris!! Not that we believe him.

On the way back he went via the cemetery to pay his respects to a chap who had his funeral on Friday. As we all had to sit here waiting for "Send my bag.com" to collect our bags for the UK Alan could not attend the funeral. As luck would have it he met the widow at the grave side too.

He then went and sat with Hanna for quite a bit, as it will be some time before he can do so again.

Most of Friday was spent repacking the rucksack. Alan took the trouble to weigh each item again and deliberated was it necessary, could it also do two or more functions. So it was that he saved a few hundred grams overall. Enough he said, to justify taking some boot polish kit weighing 75 grams!!! Crazy bugger for we have not read any blogs where people have taken shoe polish stuff on the Camino. Many have taken shaving kit which he is not, but shoe polish?

His neighbours who are looking after the flat while he is away, even gave him a pair of trousers which were 75 grams lighter than the ones he had intended to take. So now we are packed up and weigh 13.5 kilos. This is one and a half kilos more than he had aimed for, but better than the 15 which we took on our first Pilgrims exercise.

One of the last things he did today was to down load an audio book on to his phone. George, who you may remember came with us to the USA, had given him last week a book by Paul Coelho, called the "Pilgrimage" in English, "Auf dem Jakobsweg" in German. The book was first published in 1987 is quite interesting Alan says and since he had not finished it, thought it might be fun to listen to it on the train journey through France tomorrow. Well he was late getting to the Brunch Party because of this and still didn't know how to get access to the book. Well V at the party gave him the clue how to do so, so you could say he is now a happy teddy bear.

He has also got a St James Bible App on the phone and  some Gregorian Chant too, to set the mood, he says, at the various shrines we will visit along the way. Alan also manufactured a set of three small laminated pilgrim prayer cards and says that by the time we get to Santiago we will all know them by heart!

Which is more than we can say for our French and Spanish which will be needed next, there are hardly any phrases we can remember in either language and Alan keeps wanting to break into Arabic instead. Still we believe that with a friendly smile we shall easily charm the pants off of everyone we meet.

We intend to Skype with Christopher, while we are away. Alan has practised with his mum yesterday. So if you can Skype do look us up. 

All that's left to say now is Buen Camino, till we meet again.

2 April 2015

Pilgrim's Progress!

August 1971

16071 days later

 I've been a bit remiss in keeping you all up to date for which I apologise. I had thought that I had written a blog about my pilgrimage to Kleve ages ago! Getting old and forgetful!

Well I did walk to Kleve from 15th February till 19th February and had a good time doing it. As luck would have it, the week before I set off I had sinusitis, which laid me low. So I was not as fit as I wanted when I set off. However the weather was kind and all the going was flat. The major drawback was that the route was mainly on cycle paths which followed the main roads. Continuous tarmac walking leads to blisters and I was no exception.

However, they are nothing new to an infantryman and if dealt with correctly are not a hindrance. It looks worse than it felt in the photo, but no one has died from a blister. Well unless they get infected, then you might I suppose.

I had chosen Kleve to walk to as I felt it could easily be managed in five days and along the way is Kevelaer which is North Rhine Westphalia's main pilgrim destination. Accommodation was in small hotels and this was in fact the main deciding factor about how far I walked each day. Being a walking pilgrim in modern built up Germany is not that simple or cheap to organise either. They had it easier in the Middle Ages I think.

My aim was to walk around 20 kilometres per day, it was generally less and to practice washing my clothes at the end of each day. Navigation planning was done on a cycle map  and the actual navigation was then done by Google Maps on my smart phone. I carried the phone in a sleeve pocket on my left arm, so it was near my ear and the female voice told me which way to go. Now those that know me, know that I do not like being told were to go by a woman, but I have not yet found out how to change the voice to a male one! The amusing thing was, that the woman (who speaks English as my phone's language is such) was totally unable to pronounce the German street names. This caused me much amusement, but also some confusion until I realised what she was trying to tell me. Imagine if you will, an old codger all on his own, with a pack on his back walking along the road and suddenly a soft woman's voice, out of nowhere, gives him directions and the old codger bursts out laughing, not knowing which way to turn!

Hanna and Jamie Bear came too.

I stopped at most way side crosses and shrines to offer up a prayer.

In Kevelaer, V came to have a meal with me. She knew Kevelaer better than I did and on our walk to the shrine we passed a Teddy Bear and Dolls shop! Well they had a "Pilgrim Bear" with a neckerchief saying so and a little rucksack on his back. Needless to say I went in and bought him to add to my collection, plus a neckerchief for Hanna Bear. They only had one left, but I ordered one for Jamie Bear too which they sent me a week later.


He now has a pilgrim hat too.

Hanna with her new scarf, proclaiming her to be a pilgrim.

The shrine to Mary in Kevelaer

The candle on the right I lit for Hanna.

Upon my return by train from Kleve I started to plan the next pilgrim's exercise which was to be to Aachen via Cologne. This being further was a little more ambitious, particularly the first leg which was 30 kilometres to Neuss.

Sadly fate intervened and I caught another cold and had a severe bout of sinusitis so that I was laid low one day before I was due to depart. There was no way I felt up to walking 30 kilometres the next day, so I capitulated, took to my bed for three days, only really surfacing to cancel all my booked accommodation. This time I had booked accommodation in German Youth Hostels, in Neuss, Cologne and Aachen. The fact that I had cancelled my planned trip laid my morale low too, for I do not normally give up. It has taken me a good week to get over this latest bout of sinusitis and a bit longer for my morale to return to its normal cheerful "gung ho" can do self.

Now I am in the final phase of preparation prior to departure for the Camino. I have revised my packing list and so have managed to get the pack down to around 13 kilos including a new small camera and lunch rations for the day. I have written a new Will and last letters, just in case. My only problem which is not quite solved is finding a suitable garage to store my car in. I viewed one today, but am not 100% happy with it, nor do I think the owners will let me rent it. They kept going on about receiving the rent in cash each month? Not something I shall be able to do.

I had brunch with V and A today, after which  they helped me to take the before and after photos you see above. What is really interesting is that in the 1971 photo I am carrying a Karrimor pack which at the time was the best thing for load carrying since sliced bread. It was loaded with kit for a trek in the Scottish mountains, which included cooking gear and rations for five days, the heavier part of a two man tent, a petrol cooker and a pint bottle of petrol. I did not weigh it at the time, but believe it was close to 30 kilos in all. Today's picture shows a pack which weighs 13 kilos. I for one will not be complaining about the weight of my pack while on the Camino!

I set off on 20 April by train to the South of France. Once I have walked via Santiago to Finis Terrae I shall take a bus to Santander and then a ferry to England to walk the Pilgrim's Way from Farnham to Canterbury. In France and Spain I shall not be Blogging often, but will post progress reports on Facebook and Twitter. 

You may remember from an earlier Blog that I am walking to Santiago not just for my own soul, but for that of Hanna, my dear departed. To this end I have two stones which I am taking on the journey. The first and larger stone I have inscribed with her name and comes from opposite the house where she was born. This I will leave on the Camino at the Cruz de Ferro which is atop of Monte Irago on the St James Way. The other smaller one which comes from her grave I will cast into the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Finisterrae. From where I will pick up a new one to return with.

Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage that I lay at the foot of the cross of the Saviour, one day weigh the balance in favour of my good deeds when the deeds of my life are judged. Let it be so.
(traditional pilgrim’s prayer at Cruz de Ferro)

Buen Camino