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Friday, September 22, 2017

For me, the best time...

to stroll around a city is the early morning. I'm not a Metropolitan kind of guy. The crowds, noise and constant tumult are an overload to my senses. That being said, I always enjoy waking up early to watch a municipality gets out of bed. This morning in Logrono, Spain, I did just that.

I had time on my hands. My Camino walk was a mere seven miles for the day. That's nada for Pilgrimage standards. 

As usual, I went looking for a few jolts of Java. I didn't have to search very far. Adjacent to my hotel was a cozy bar/cafe. I saddled up to the bar and ordered "dos cafe con leches. Por favor." The young man nodded and went into barista mode. The coffees were strong and tasty. The price is way below Starbuck standards. I'm happy to say, the Spanish do coffee right. The cafe's other patrons buried their heads in the morning newspapers, or their coffees and croissants. No one spoke. It was very peaceful and soothing.

After downing the two brews, I went looking for food and more coffee! Just say YO! to drugs on the Camino. Caffeine will get you through all those mindless miles of Spanish countryside.

I twitched my way into the Old Town and found a cozier bar/cafe. The owner even smiled at my awkward attempt to habla Espanol. Two more coffees were ordered along with a few egg and veggie sandwiches. I savored the whole scene. Once again, I thought to myself, ""I'm in Europe! How cool is this?" 

By this time, people were moving about. A steady stream of Pilgrims were starting their westward journey once again. I went back to my hotel and made ready for another day's walk.

Happy Jewish New Year. 5778. We are still around despite Pharaoh, Haman, Queen Isabella, Pogroms, Hitler, White Supremacists and Trump. The Hebrews are survivors. (Like me.)

Enjoy the photos of Logrono waking. 

Good night from Navarette,

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Yanks are Coming...

 The Yanks are coming!

When I walked my first Camino in 2006, Americans were an anomaly. The Pilgrims were overwhelmingly made up of Spanish and Italians, followed by French and Germans. As Yanks, we sort of stood out from the overall European mix. We were treated kindly for our uniqueness. That year the total number of Pilgrims for all the varieties of Camino's was a bit more than 100,000. (There's more than one way to get to Santiago, although most take the Frances Route.  (Like me). 

In 2013, Americans moved up the list to 5th place in the overall standings. Slightly over 10,000 people who spoke a funny language to the locals completed a Camino. In total, there were over 215,000 Pilgrims. I can't say I met many who could sing "The Star Spangled Banner." 

From the latest figures of 2016, Americans are now in 4th place with 15,000 plus taking this therapeutic walk. Overall there was an astounding 277,000 plus ambling through the Spanish countryside. It's  a safe assumption to say the Camino has been discovered.

I'm now on my Third Edition Camino, here's some of my astute observations:

Generally speaking, it's an older crowd. I'm seeing more beer bellies, wider beams and thicker ankles than in the past. More gents sport dapper gray beards and spectacles. There are more elderly couples. Young folks now stand out like Hare Krishnas among a congregation of Hasidic Jews. 

On this Camino I often hear the unmistakable sound of American English. 

Some Pilgrims are here for partial Camino's (one week wonders) and others (like me) are here for the long haul. All of us have our reasons. 

What hasn't changed is the Camino's manufacturing of cliques and couples. Pilgrims seem to want to belong to a larger group. Couples are forming for companionship or possible romance. So far, I'm going it alone. I've never been much of a joiner. I'll use a quote from Groucho Marx, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

I'm now in Logrono, where a wine festival is in full swing. It'll be a noisy, busy night. There's a Church with a bell next door too. OY!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

For whom the Church bell...

Tolls. It tolled for me with an unwanted wake up call at 3am. From then on every fifteen minutes, like clockwork, a chime rang. Sometimes more than one ringy-dingy. The bell was far more than annoying. Every quarter hour, I was reminded, "Hey Jeff! That's fifteen more minutes of sleep you've been deprived of!" By 7am, I called it and went in search of coffee. 

I put my legs on automatic pilot mode and set the timer for five hours of cruise control. Off I went on a bracing morning. Autumn is now giving Summer the bum's rush. The days are almost equally divided between light and night. Multicolored leaves are in free fall. I take my few breaks in full sun and race through the shady parts. Yet Spain is warmer than the feel of winter I experienced in Switzerland. The daily low temperatures here are the high temperatures in the Land of the Alps. My forecast looks brighter too. I'll take it.

It's been interesting to go from orderly, precise and proper Switzerland to gritty, graffitied and rough cut Spain in less than a day. Take a few steps off the Camino de Santiago's path and you'll be on a collision course with an impromptu latrine. I won't go any further on details. Let's just say, I never saw this on the Haute Route. 

An analogy of the two countries differences can be summed up by their rivers. 

Switzerland's rivers are born from glaciers. The water runs cold and clean with a sense of purpose. Spain's rivers meander along with a manana attitude. The Spanish tap water has a tang to it. I still drink it; once in awhile my stomach will gurgle. I'm sure I'll get used to it like I have in the past.

A Pilgrim from the 2013 graduating Camino class gently reminded me that Saint James always provides. She's right! I'm now using to score rooms along the way. Still the towns and hotels are packed. I'm hoping there's a drop off of Princes and Princesses on this Pilgrimage. It was so much easier when most of the Pilgrims stayed in the Albergues. (Dorms).

Now this Jewish Prince is tucked into a cozy room and bed at an early hour. So far so good. I don't hear any Church bells. 

Good night from Estella, 

Monday, September 18, 2017

So it begins...

my Third Camino de Santiago. 

On a cool, spongy damp, uninviting morning I set out from Pamplona. 

It's been four years and a month since I last ambled these same streets, dirt roads and narrow trails while chasing yellow directional arrows through the Spanish countryside.  Now my pack is heavier and I'm weaker! Alas, cold weather gear weighs more than cotton tank tops and shorts. 

It was an easy thirteen mile day for my intro back. The mileage will increase from this point on. On some days, I'll walk a marathon distance. Most days the ground I cover will be somewhere in between a half and full marathon. That's heaps of steps.

My first impressions? 

The fields are now fallow. The farmers crops are in. The only thing sprouting up are Pilgrims along the trails.

The crowd is older, possesses disposable income and desires their own hotel rooms con bano! (private bathroom). In other words, I'm not the only Prince of the Camino. (Although I'm probably the only Jewish Prince). In Puenta la Reina,  I was saddened to see a "Completo!" (Full) sign in front of an appealing looking hotel. I guess older people are figuring out the aging process and its relationship to money. The best thing about growing older is that's one less year of savings you will need. Like me, these senior citizens are spending the €'s instead of handing it over to an assisted care living facility. 

My accommodations might prove challenging. 

Oh well, it's great to be back. 

I'm still thinking there's a potential First Lady out here for me. A legitimate Presidential Candidate needs a significant other to be taken seriously by the Electorate. 

This old posts will explain the Why I'm back in Espana for another Pilgrimage. 

Last photo: A very slow Pilgrim. 

Buen Camino! Time for a shower and then a cerveza grande.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

I Daydreamed my way...

through Switzerland as the Haute Route hike banged its gavel down upon me. 

OK! I'll admit it. I wasn't really sure on what I was getting into. I was TOO BUSY to research what those who came before me said about the Haute Route. I found out the hard way. Its freaking hard. All that high altitude training I did in Colorado seemed for naught. The HR made me feel as fit as an obese Walmart shopper wheeling around the superstore in an electric cart. It was truly humbling. 

Who knew early September meant the onslaught of winter? Complete with White Death on the evenings of the 2nd and 9th. I shivered in my shorts and flip-flops. 

This led me to Google the latitude of the Swiss Alps. Surely I must be up near the Article Circle with these wintry temperatures. Nope! I was almost dead on the 46th parallel North, lined up with the Oregon/Washington border, Wisconsin and Maine. States that wouldn't score White Death until a month or so later.

Clearly I had a lot to learn about Switzerland. 

Let's start with what I knew prior to my arrival in this mountainous country:

The Swiss make a cheese with holes in it. They don't charge extra for the airy gaps.

They make Army knives with heaps of nifty appliances. 

They make fine precision watches. "The name is Bond, James Bond" wears an Omega. 

The natives speak more than one common language. 

The Swiss had somehow managed to maintain a politically neutral position through both tumultuous World Wars.

The Alps take up a lot of the landmass of Switzerland.

That was most of my Swiss knowledge in a nutshell. Probably more than the average American but not enough to win a Jeopardy game. 

So I hit the books and my I Pad. Remember I'm more than a Wandering Hebrew, I Wonder too. Here's what I discovered:

Switzerland is almost the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. There's 8.4 million Swiss people.

They are not part of the European Union, therefore they have their own currency called the Swiss Franc.

The Swiss have a "standing Army" in order to maintain their armed neutrality status. Military service is mandatory. This policy must be working since their last international hubbub was back in 1815. 

As I already mentioned in an earlier post, there's four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. 

The Swiss maintain a high standard of living and wealth. Switzerland consistently ranks near the stratosphere on lists other countries aspire to be on. 

The Swiss are somewhat isolationists, the country didn't join the United Nations until 2002. Ironically, the Swiss follow an active foreign policy which includes being a broker of peaceful solutions between disagreeing nations around the world.

It's the birthplace of the International Red Cross. 

That's some of my book learning.
Here's what I noticed on the ground level as I dreamily walked the Haute Route from Chamonix, France (I was only in France for two nights) to Zermatt. 

The Swiss villages are tidy. I never saw trash, graffiti or any homeless or destitute looking people. (Other than me!) 

The locals are nice to strangers and each other. Voices are never raised in anger. Everyone acts mellower than the most relaxed Californian Dude. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Swiss don't speak as much English as I was led to believe. That's OK. We all managed.

I saw one police officer the entire hike. That was in Zermatt. This didn't bother me since I felt absolutely safe (other than the treacherous trails) at all times. I never peeked over my shoulder. 

Upon wandering through the few supermarkets I encountered, (you can learn a lot about the country you are in by this exercise). I found out the Swiss eat metric tons of cheese, mysterious-looking sausages of dubious origins and bread products. They love their desserts and ice cream. Who doesn't? I would stroll around a market for half an hour and only purchase a beer and some fruit. It was THAT interesting. 

I walked past countless mountainous hamlets where I half expected an ogre to pop out of the whimsical heavily timbered homes. I would see and smell smoke from chimneys., and other sure signs of humanity, yet I never saw a soul. It was like being on a Disney movie set entitled "This is Switzerland," when the actors and extras were on a break. Where were the inhabitants? 
Maybe they were out moving or milking the every present cows. 

The young people I encountered were hands down the most polite, respectful and helpful kids I've ever had the pleasure to deal with. I believe their parents instruct them in this manner. "Be nice to old people! One day, you too will be that doddering creaky person asking a simple-minded question." In other words, parents teach Good Karma and the Golden Rule simultaneously. Kudos to all. This Old Man appreciated these simple acts of kindness.

Swiss folks are, for the most part extremely fit and healthy looking. Even the smokers look good! (Approximately 25% of the Swiss inhale cancer sticks). On the average they outlive their US counterparts by 4.5 years. It must be the cheese and all that uphill walking. 

In Swiss summary: I will surely return to this Enchanting Country. I'll arrive earlier in the warmer months, and cherry-pick my way through the good stuff. I'll do my homework for a change. There's nothing neutral about the Good Vibes Switzerland exudes.

Presently, I'm a guest of Conrad and Bettina and their good natured children in a Zurich suburb. They are fattening me up for my upcoming Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage. Conrad took me for a plane ride. They are showing me the local sights. They patiently answer my endless stream of simple minded questions. They are pampering and spoiling me.  God Bless Them! 

One day, I hope they allow me to be their personal tour guide in America's Wild, Wild West. I don't believe they ever ate a breakfast burrito. We can start at the Durango Diner and work our way up from there. 

It's been a great experience so far. It's  cool to be in Europe.


In case you missed earlier posts

Sunday, September 10, 2017

An anticlimactic Finish...

to the Haute Route.

After the best breakfast buffet of my journey (eggs so exquisitely fried, I nearly took a photo of them for Facebook) I left my big comfortable hotel room in Grachen and headed up a lane. I wore the usual lightweight fleece shirt and shorts as I passed folks wearing jackets, wool hats and gloves. Those early raisers sort of looked at me funny. My day's destination was the Europahutte. (A mountain hut). 

The forecast was in my favor for the Europaweg. A dicey traverse along many kilometers of sketchy terrain. A route of landslides, avalanches, mudslides and don't look over the side cliff faces. A landscape which repels the intrusion of man made trails. 

My game plan was to get ahead of the main crowd going my way. I feared getting behind anxious Haute Route hikers. There would be few safe places to pass them. 

Eventually the gentle rise of the country lane gave way to another in-your-face climb. Fortunately I was highly fueled by four cafe ole's. I passed a peloton of folks I've come to recognize. I tossed out words of encouragement. Nothing wrong with handing out verbal claps on the back. I broke through the trees and the incredible big views of the Alps. This is why I came. This is why I spent big bucks and effort to be here at this moment. I shot appreciative photos. 

The uphill continued, as I wondered where does the watch-your-step part begin. I didn't have to ponder this much longer. I looked across a very exposed wide rocky gully. I squinted my eyes. Is that the trail? At this point, I'll let the photos tell the story.
First photo: somewhere out there is The Europaweg. 

The first hour of the traverse was interesting. The next few hours became physically and mentally taxing. In total, it took me six plus hours of near constant motion with few fuss breaks to get to the Hut. I was damned happy to be there. I needed a sandwich, shower and a beer and not necessarily in that order. 

Other Haute Route hikers staggered in. Some appeared shell shocked from the ordeal. Overall there was a sense of relief. We managed to get through an unforgiving make-no-mistake stretch. The wine, beer and war stories flowed.

Overnight the fickle Alps weather took a turn for the worse. Clouds, cooler temperatures and fog replaced those take a long look blue skies. Full on rain was imminent. 

After another humble bread and cheese breakfast washed down with three cups of instant coffee. I bolted for the door. I wasn't the only one. 

I chose to put a fork in my Haute Route Journey. I was done. I jounced across the World's longest pedestrian suspension bridge. It's a bouncy 1,620' long and 213' above lots of hard objects. A tumble would require more than a kiss from Mama to make the Boo-Boo feel better. I was grateful for Swiss engineering during my jog across.

 Now, this suspension bridge is a major Zermatt tourist attraction. Bevies of Weekend Warriors were making the pilgrimage to this new Bucket List destination. I noticed them as I made my way steadily downhill to the town of Randa and a train to Zermatt. 

It started raining the minute I boarded the train and hasn't stopped yet. Snow is in the forecast too. 

Somewhere out there is the Matterhorn, but I have only seen it on postcards!

I saw it today!

Final two photos: Mind your step. Landslides happen.

Chillin' in Le Petit Hotel
There's a Swiss IPA (Yay!) yodeling my name!