BootsnAll Travel Network

The Blog Is Back!

Dear readers,

I am sorry to say that I have neglected this blog for a bit too long. Part of this was due to just needing a break (having become a bit of a blog slave!), and part of this was just too..sort of losing my momentum regarding writing in general.

However, the blog is back!

General Updates:

The photos from the Camino de Santiago should be up any day now. I’m afraid some of you will find them a bit dull, as its lots of pictures of the Camino itself and old crumbling houses and green scenery. But for those of you who who have the desire to do the Camino someday yourself, the photos will give you a pretty good idea of what you are in for.

After the Camino, I met up with my boyfriend in Spain and we toured around for a bit.

Unfortunately I was robbed in Madrid( me, and apparently everyone else) of passport and money and so on, and so that colored the start of my vacation with him a bit. Although I liked the Prado and spent several days there, I was not big fan of Madrid-and not just because I was robbed. It seemed very flashy and ..somewhat seedy.

We headed for the city of Palencia after that, which was beautiful, safe, and walkable-full of old city squares and a very beautiful Cathedral. We were really the only tourists in the cathedral, and the guide took a liking to us, so we got an extended all day tour.

After Palencia, we headed back to an area I had walked thru on the Camino de Santiago and had a fondness for- Castrojeriz.

You may recall that it was in this small village I ate pastry, wandered around all day, met some lovely nuns, and in general had my peak experiences on my Camino. So we returned there and ended up spending just short of a week there, doing many of the same things I had done before.

We also walked up to the castle ruins , which overlook the city (spectacular-but don’t look down, unless you want to get some serious vertigo!) , walked tp the ruins of the San Anton Convent outside of town, and made some new friends.

After Castrojeriz, we headed to Santo Domingo de Silo, to hear some monks sing Gregorian chant. The monks there are famous for their singing, and it was worth the trip.

We stayed at this strange hotel run by a very odd family. The wife in particular was very memorable-she was very friendly and yet disagreeable at the same time, if such a thing is possible. She wore flowered dresses, sat in the bar blowing her nose, watching game shows and eating piles of buttered toast. She seemed to begin drinking wine very early in the day…

Santo Domigo de Silos also had a festival going on while we were there, devoted to Mary of the Market, their patron. The main feature of the festival seemed to be all the children of the village, who were marching and dancing backwards up the road to the church several times a day to the sound of a few simple instruments. In spite of the fact that they were small children, they repeated this dance thruout the day for two days, at regular intervals. The children were decked out in frocks (even the boys) with ribbons and white lacy pants underneath. The dancing was at first pretty cool, but after a few days of it I have to admit, I shut the window to block out the music, whose same tune over and over had begun to get on my nerves!

We ended up in Burgos after that-and spent an entire day looking at the famous Cathedral there. Do you think we were getting Cathedral overload by that point? Why yes, we were. It was getting to the point (particularly for me, because I’d just spent weeks walking from Cathedral to Cathedral!) that I couldn’t even think of going into another church… I was so overloaded on religious art.

Burgos, and its inhabitants(particularly women) seemd born to shop. Shopping in fact, seemed to be the main pastime of the residents, other than smoking, drinking coffee, and walking aound visitng tapas places. I am being serious here when I say that Burgos people literally seem to shop all day long, and have their own sense of style that seems different than other areas of Spain, sort of lots of patterns and little suits and every woman wears heels, and is, of course, accompanied by shopping bags.

Burgos also had a big yearly festival going on while we were there.

Actually, it seemed to be festival time no matter where we were in Spain during those three weeks..

But their festival had these enormous plastic and paper people walking around, operated by these guys who had to get inside of them. It was quite interesting to watch them parade around. Unfortuantely, the festivals also seem to be accompanied by loud parties in the streets until all hours, so I’m afraid we did not sleep well while in Burgos!

After Burgos, we headed for another area entirely-The city of Taragona, which is near Barcelona. We went to see the Roman ruins, and ended up being surprised by how much we enjoyed the city’s relaxed, mediteranean vibe-us, and tons of other tourists who had obviously come for exactly the same thing.

The Roman ruins were really amazing-what was most interesting to me was how they were just sort of wedged in here and there, amongst apartment buildings and people hanging their laundry. Inside, they were creepy and dark, and surprisingly in very good condition. Some of them were in such good condition that they were used as prisons in Spain until quite recently!

We ended our time in Spain with a few days in Barcelona, which has to be the most worthwhile city in Spain to visit. It has a great relaxed vibe, and feels like Spain, but is in flavor. We stayed in a beautiful place, ate some delicious food, and spent our last few days in the country looking at Gaudi.

Gaudi was a a rather strange guy who created some very interesting buildings and public areas in Spain-the best of which are in Barcelona.

It’s a bit difficult to describe his work, except to say when you look at it, your immediate reaction is somewhat incredulous, as it’s so many different textures and materials all it once it’s hard to believe someone imagined it at all, let alone figured out how to build it. His buildings are…organic..sort of dripping, melting, fluid creations of stone, cement and mosaic.

We spent one day looking at the Sagrada Familia, his enormous Cathedral. It was started but never completed, and work continues to this day. In fact, going there, you don’t feel like you are in a church, but rather a huge construction site, a craftsmans workshop, a sculpters studio…walking into it, the entire center area is filled to the brim with workmen and scaffolding and mold makers and so on. Of course the down side is that it is also filled with tourists and vending machines-I wonder what Gaudi would have thought of that.

The Park Guell is another Gaudi creation we spent some time at. A enormous park overlooking the city, it too was never finished due to a lack of money? interest? and so on..the last work done on it by Gaudi was in 1915. Yet, in spite of this, it is a breathtaking park, full of his typical dripping, fluid, otherworldly stone and cement creations. Some areas feel quite church like, in fact.

The mosaics there are really spectacular-and being a mosaic artist myself, it’s like going to a holy site of something like that! I had seen the mosaics there in pictures, but nothing really does it justice in a photo-you just can’t get the effect, the scale of it, and the organic quality of it until you see it in person.

Unfortunately, people actually were sitting all over the sculptures and getting in the way of really being able to see them the way they were meant to be seen. In fact, there were so many tourists there that it was incredible..lots of school outings, lots of teenagers, lots of tour groups…if I hadn’t been looking at Gaudi, it wouldn’t have been all that enjoyable!

In Barcelona, my boyfriend and I said a tearful and hearftfelt goodbye. For now, anyway. As the trip continues on, I know we will meet up somewhere else along the way. Still, it is hard, saying goodbye until then. It may be some time before we are able to see each other again , and I think we were both really aware of that fact on that last morning together. yet, I think we both think the trip is a good thing. The fact is, it’s just something I have to do, in spite of the fact that it makes some things in life really challenging.

From Barcelona, I flew to London, where I barely got into the country! Apparently England is a strange country about who they let in and who they don’t-strange in the sense that they are very picky with alot of rules. So I remained in customs for 2 hours while they debated my fate.

It all had something to do with my destination, as I had told them I was going on a spiritual retreat to this Buddhist monastery, and then they asked me if I would be doing any work there, and I said (albiet, somewhat stupidly) yes. I didn’t eloborate too much, just siad I might do a bit of gardening or something, but this put them into a panic and they began considering me in a different light.

Finally, they let me in, as I had them look up that I had a ticket out of the country on September 3rd, so I would be on my way soon enough, thank you very much!

I was let go with the following specific instructions, ” That it will overlooked , any volunteer work that I undertake, at said monastery, due to it being a spiritual retreat. However, they will be keeping an eye on me, and looking out for any possibility that I might take up volunteer work elsewhere. Additionally, I am absolutely forbidden to volunteer anywhere else at any time in the country, and if this is discovered, I will be deported immediately.”

I actually have a document that says all that. How ridiculous. So even if someone needs something, I can’t help them, at all. What is the world coming to?

Leaving not easy. Getting to the monastery..even harder. Luckiliy for me, English men are the nicest, sweetest men I have ever met, everyone of them a gentleman, and excellent with giving directions, as well as insistent on waiting around for your train and then making sure you are well situated, with another person to help you along. I think this happened to me at least 3 or 4 times on my way to Derby, so that by the time I had arrived in Derby, I had no ill will or resentment lingering from the grumpy and difficult officers in the airport, and had instead decided that they were an exception and that English people in general are the nicest people in the entire world!

Arrival at the monastery was strange-I ended up taking a taxi there, and when I got out and went in thru the front door, there was no one around, so I sat around for awhile. It turned out everyone was in some sort of meditation retreat, and I finally found someone who directed me to my room upstairs, where I went and promptly feel asleep until the next morning.

I’ve been here now for a week.

My feelings for the place have changed day by day. Sometimes I like it very much, other times I feel like its too remote. I actually haven’t even left the grounds(it’s 38 acres) yet, and there is only a small village nearby, so there is not much reason to go anywhere.

My first few days I did alot of differnt jobs, from toilet cleaning to furniture moving..but now things have taken a differnt turn and I am assigned the front garden for the entire length of my stay!

As I am a gardener, this is delight.

Let me say also that the grounds here are spectacular, the things of dreams. For a person who loves to garden, to be able to be here working on these gardens is simply amazing, as much of the plantings are quite old, and one gets to work with alot of classic plants like peonies and so on.

However, none of the residents here garden. In fact, they have not had a gardener for more than 5 years. This means that the gardens that are such a delight are overgrown and overrun with weeds and alot of invasive plants. Whole sections have to be dug up and replanted. Althougth the classic English garden looks simple, in truth, it’s not. It’s a lot of work to get it to look that way.

So, my job is to get it beautiful again, which is very exciting, and I am finding this particular job to be very interesting and rewarding. And-certainly very different than anything else I have done so far! I definitely feel like it is meeting the purpose of the trip, to be of service, as since the people here have no gardening experience, they need someone here to take care of things rather desperately.

I also have been to a course on Buddhism, since my arrival happened to be around the same time as a weekend long course on the subject. I am surprised about what I have learned so far, and it seems to be much different in practice than what I assumed it to be in the past. Perhaps this is because in the USA , we have many people who say they are Buddhist, but they aren’t really practioners-they just like certain ideas perhaps, and leave the rest. I’ve also been learning how many types of Buddhism there are-there are loads!

I am stuggling with the English accents, as depending on where a person is from, their accent can sometimes be quite broad, or can turn into sort of a mumble. There are a few people who can’t understand me, either. I truly do feel like I am in a foreign land!

Tea drinking is an important custom that happens thruout the day, and every few hours, no matter what you are doing, you stop and have a cup of tea. tea making is a fine art, and I of course, got it all wrong from the start, but I think I am getting the hang of it. People here take their tea extremely seriously-but coffee just seems to be an afterthought… too bad, as I am a coffee drinker.  I’m trying to get into  the tea-thing, and who knows, I may develop an obsession for it myself.

As for how to treat writing about this place, the beliefs the people hold here, and the experience in general, I’ve been debating about this all week. I’ve finally decided to treat the whole thing in the same manner I treated the Ngobe in Panama-write from the perspective of someone living with a strange tribe, with strange and new customs.

It’s pretty much true, isn’t it? I mean, the language is different, the custioms are different, the religion is different, the food is different, the attitudes towards everything..all different.

So, thats it for now. Today is my first day off from this place, so I’m going to go to a nearby town and try to find some secondhand shops to buy some work clothes for the garden and go try some English food and a pint of something or other…



9 responses to “The Blog Is Back!”

  1. michele whitnack says:

    Dear Gigi,
    I’m glad that you had a nice relaxing vacation.
    Enjoy the garden.
    Take care,

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