Camino: Days 16 & 17

Not the best scarecrow.
Not the best scarecrow.

Day 16, Carrion to Terradillos, 26.8km (by bus)
April 16, 2016
I am a bad pilgrim. I just could not face another day of hiking in the cold rain. Also, the pilgrims guidebook listed today’s walk as beside a highway (though along the old Roman road, Via Aquitaine!) There were no towns, cafes or even fountains for the first 17k, so it would have been a forced march with no break. My shoes have not been dry for four days and another mud puddle shuffle will not help. On top of all this, the dark skies have dampened my mood as well. I’ve taken today’s journey by bus. Tim, a better and more dedicated pilgrim than me, hiked on after breakfast. My bus didn’t leave until almost noon. I expected Tim and I to meet up again tomorrow, but shortly after I arrived in Terradillos, Tim walked into the hostel.

Tim said that some of the road crossings were submerged, with guards slowing the traffic in deep sections. He said there was lots of standing water and even some small rivers over the trail. He’d hoofed it, mostly to stay warm, since the temperatures were in the mid-40’s. On the bus ride, I saw submerged parks and parking lots. There was a recreational camp site with over a hundred campers. All will suffer with water damage. Every bridge we crossed had water almost touching the bottom of the structure. This is some serious flooding.

The water in the rivers is high!
The water in the rivers is high!

This break will allow my feet to dry a bit and improve them. They were wrinkly and white when I peeled off my liner socks last night. Days on end of wet feet are dangerous, leading to multiple sores and blisters. Most, though not all, of my clothes dried overnight and I’m hanging out everything that’s damp in hopes it will dry tonight.

I’ve given little history about the Camino, so this might be a good time for a few facts. This thousand year old pilgrims trail is known as the Camino Frances–the French Way. There are many paths to Santiago de Compostela (the last resting place of the remains of Saint James) but this is the most popular. Starting in San Jean, France, it’s 776km in length. We started in Pamplona, Spain to avoid the Pyrenees and about 67km. Over a quarter of a million pilgrims hiked the French Way in 2014 and more are expected in Holy Years, when St James’ (San Iago) Feast Day falls on a Sunday. July and August is high season, with half the pilgrims hiking during these months. Only about 11-12,000 hike during the month of April. Frankly, the hostels seem full enough to me now. I can’t imagine where everyone stays in August.

July and August seem just too hot for me. Most of the path is through fields with almost no shade. While towns have a fuente (fountain) for pilgrims it could be difficult to carry enough water in a few stretches. If I had it to do over, I’d probably choose fall. Cooler temperatures than summer and much less rain than spring.

imageI’m finding the path fairly well marked, though the assortment of markers and placement does keep you craning you neck in search of the right direction. Although there are some printed signs and a variety of scallop shells (the symbol of the Way of Saint James) we mostly look for fletcha ammarillos (yellow arrows), spray painted almost anywhere.

Most guidebooks lay out a schedule to complete the hike in 30-34 days. I scheduled 40 days, which seems more reasonable and allows for some rest days. I’m using the John Brierley guide, very popular in the states. He makes the assertion that “Any reasonably fit person can accomplish this journey without undue stress.” I’m not sure I agree with him as I’ve seen a fair number of knee injuries, bad blisters and some back aches. This is not for everyone. His schedule has you average over 20km per day which is difficult for most people.

That being said, there are easier ways to finish this trail. If you have the budget, you can stay in hotels or pensioners along the way. It’s easy to get a service to move your backpack forward each day so you don’t have to carry it. Costs are 5-10 Euros, depending on distance. You can hire a service to make reservations for you along the way.

I had a touch of food poisoning this evening. This morning’s ham tasted a bit off and I didn’t finish it. The “passage” was violent, but mercifully brief. I’m lucky it waited to hit after my arrival to the albergue. I skipped dinner and slept extra. Felt fine in the morning.image

Day 17, Terradillos to Bercianos del Real Camino, 23.5km
April 17, 2016
This morning was fog that didn’t lift for over an hour of walking. The path was fairly dry, though we rarely saw sun. The wind was calm until afternoon. Mary Ann hurt her back yesterday and at the first town, stopped at an albergue and arranged to have her pack moved forward by a service. Even without it, we could see she was walking with some pain and listing heavily to the left. She walked with us to Sahagun, about 13km. We had lunch, loaded hamburgers with a cana (short draft beer). Then we walked her to her accommodations for the night and found the monastery was closed and we couldn’t locate her backpack. Disaster! But then one of those miracles occurred. Just as we got one of the sisters to come to the door (we’d disturbed her during mass!) a man walked up behind us, “Mary Ann? Mochila? (Backpack?)”. Her pack was found! Tim carried it for her to the municipal albergue while i sat and waited with our packs, watching the skies get darker.

Watching the skies get darker.
Watching the skies get darker.

According to the map, we only had 10km (6 miles) to go for our final destination of Bercianos del Real Camino, but I honestly think the walk was closer to 15. The skies were quite darker in the east and I threw my poncho over my rain jacket and pack cover. Tim is from Texas and I have lived there, too. If I’d seen a sky like that one in Texas, I’d have been running! Ten minutes before we arrived in our final stop, we were hit with tiny pellets of hail. Only the size of apple seeds, they stung when they hit your face and hands. Glad it only lasted for a couple minutes. Then the rain came and were were soaked. Several peligrinos (pilgrims) arrived at once and we carried water into the hostel with us. The two hospitalleros (hostel volunteers), Mario and Francisco, are very welcoming and kind. This is a donativo (by donation) albergue and has a kitchen and a warm dining area, but nothing is as warm as their hearts.

I had mistaken the two men for monks, but nothing could be further from the truth. Francisco is married, a recently retired pharmaceutical salesman. Both are atheists who have hiked the Camino and wanted to come back to serve the pilgrim community. I had a lovely, long discussion over tea with Francisco, a native Spaniard. His English is excellent. Mario is originally Italian, but has lived in Spain for 40 years. I only wish we shared a language. Both are here for 2 weeks and were required to take a hospitalleros course.

imageWatching two atheists lead a non-denominational, quasi-religious program before dinner was interesting, but they pulled it off well. Dinner was a simple salad, pasta with a small amount of sauce and fruit for dessert. We were treated to sangria, though. The hostel was chilly at night. None of the bunk rooms had heat, in fact only the kitchen had a single electric heater. It never got above 47F through the day, so I didn’t take a shower for fear I couldn’t get warm and dry. At night, the temperature was barely above freezing. I was happy for my down bag and a wool blanket thrown over it. Still, I slept fully clothed.imageimage

The House of Flowers, Belgrade

Our guide, Srdgan Ristic and Kathy hamming it up for the camera beneath a larger than life statue of Tito. Speaking of ham, I had pork for almost every meal in Belgrade. Oh bacon, I've missed you sooooo.....
Our guide, Srdgan Ristic and Kathy hamming it up for the camera beneath a larger than life statue of Tito. Speaking of ham, I had pork for almost every meal in Belgrade. Oh bacon, I’ve missed you sooooo…..

11/7/2015
Today, another post about Belgrade, which I visited last month. I met my dear friend, Kathy, there and she arranged for an all day tour of this wonderful city with guide Srdjan Ristic, owner of Explore Belgrade! One of the many sites he took us to was the House of Flowers, the mausoleum of Josip Broz, better known as Tito. He was the former head of Yugoslavia and can probably be best described as a benevolent dictator.

Entrance to the House of Flowers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Flowers_%28mausoleum%29
Entrance to the House of Flowers
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Flowers_%28mausoleum%29
I no longer take English signage for granted.
I no longer take English signage for granted.
These were gifts to Tito, used in symbolic relay races. They are on display at the House of Flowers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relay_of_Youth
These were gifts to Tito, used in symbolic relay races. They are on display at the House of Flowers.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relay_of_Youth
Here's one of his suits. He was surprisingly short.
Here’s one of his uniform. He was surprisingly short.
Tito's mausoleum is set in the middle of the house of flowers, below the skylight.
Tito’s mausoleum is set in the middle of the house of flowers, below the skylight.

Of course Yugoslavia is long gone, now broken into several countries–and the borders are still under dispute.

Later that evening, Kathy and I joined Mary Ann for a pasta dinner, something I've craved. Tasty food and good conversation make for a perfect evening.
Later that evening, Kathy and I joined Mary Ann for a pasta dinner, something I’ve craved. Tasty food and good conversation make for a perfect evening.
Our waitress did not let the language barrier get in the way--she brought us a chocolate mousse to share!
Our waitress did not let the language barrier get in the way–she brought us a chocolate mousse to share!
How can you resist this?
How can you resist this?

Belgrade, Church of Saint Sava

The outer structure of of the impressive white church is complete, but there is still much work to be done. It stands on a hill, in a Belgrade neighborhood. I felt honored to have such an amazing tour guide show me this work of art. Srdjan Ristic is the owner of Explore Belgrade and my dear friend Kathy had arranged for a private, all day tour with him. This was near the end of the tour and we felt like old friends by then.
The outer structure of the impressive white church is complete, but there is still much work to be done. It stands on a hill, in a Belgrade neighborhood. I felt honored to have such an amazing tour guide show me this work of art. Srdjan Ristic is the owner of Explore Belgrade and my dear friend Kathy had arranged for a private, all day tour with him. This was near the end of the tour and we felt like old friends by then.

11/6/2015
I’ve been battling illness for almost a week. I had a few drugs, which helped a lot, but ran out yesterday. Today I went to a pharmacy. Supplied with the correct Turkish words I asked for medicine for diarrhea and also something for a headache. I mimed the last part by holding my head, but the pharmacist repeated the words in English for me (I take it that my Turkish pronunciations were pretty bad). Then he whisked behind the counter to get the medications. While I was waiting, a woman who worked there asked, in broken English, to help me. She had seen me mime a headache. “Hair loss?” She says.

Wow. How sick do I look?

Seriously, I’m not in bad shape. It’s all new bugs and viruses when you travel and my immune system occasionally gets overwhelmed. This too shall pass. Pun intended, Michael.

I’m posting a few more photos of Belgrade, which I visited last month.
This is the Church of Saint Sava. According to Wikipedia:

In 1594, Serbs rose up against Ottoman rule in Banat, during the Long War (1591–1606) …….though the uprising was quickly suppressed. The rebels had, in the character of a holy war, carried war flags with the icon of Saint Sava. …. Ottoman Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha ordered that the sarcophagus and relics of Saint Sava located in the Mileševa monastery be brought by military convoy to Belgrade. ….The relics were publicly incinerated by the Ottomans on a pyre on the Vračar plateau, and the ashes scattered, on April 27, 1595.

The Serbs never forgot the humiliation. This amazing church now stands on that same plateau, dominating Belgrade’s cityscape, but it wasn’t an easy rise.

Srdgan was a very personable and funny guide, but he was very serious about the Church of Saint Sava. He was raised and continues to live in the neighborhood of the church. As a child, he played in the construction site, which was virtually abandoned at the time and full of trees and bushes. Now, though still under construction, it is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world and ranks among the largest church buildings in the world.
Srdgan was a very personable and funny guide, but he was very serious about the Church of Saint Sava. He was raised and continues to live in the neighborhood of the church. As a child, he played in the construction site, which was virtually abandoned at the time and full of trees and bushes. Now, though still under construction, it is one of the largest Orthodox churches and ranks among the largest church buildings in the world.
Inside, is still mostly concrete, but it is permeated with the smell of incense. The church is dedicated to Saint Sava, the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church. According to Wikipedia: "In 1895, three hundred years after the burning of Saint Sava's remains, the Society for the Construction of the Church of Saint Sava on Vračar was founded in Belgrade. Its goal was to build a cathedral on the place of the burning. A small church was built at the future place of the Cathedral, and it was later moved so the construction of the Cathedral could begin. In 1905, a public contest was launched to design the church; all five applications received were rejected as not being good enough. Soon, the breakout of the First Balkan War in 1912, and subsequent Second Balkan War and First World War stopped all activities on the construction of the church. After the war, in 1919, the Society was re-established. New appeals for designs were made in 1926; this time, it received 22 submissions. Though the first and third prize were not awarded, the second-place project, made by architect Aleksandar Deroko, was chosen for the building of the Cathedral."
Inside, is still mostly concrete, but it is permeated with the smell of incense. The church is dedicated to Saint Sava, the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
According to Wikipedia: “In 1895, three hundred years after the burning of Saint Sava’s remains, the Society for the Construction of the Church of Saint Sava on Vračar was founded in Belgrade. Its goal was to build a cathedral on the place of the burning. A small church was built at the future place of the Cathedral, and it was later moved so the construction of the Cathedral could begin. In 1905, a public contest was launched to design the church; all five applications received were rejected as not being good enough. Soon, the breakout of the First Balkan War in 1912, and subsequent Second Balkan War and First World War stopped all activities on the construction of the church. After the war, in 1919, the Society was re-established. New appeals for designs were made in 1926; this time, it received 22 submissions. Though the first and third prize were not awarded, the second-place project, made by architect Aleksandar Deroko, was chosen for the building of the Cathedral.”

Forty years after the initial idea, construction of the church began on May 10, 1935, 340 years after the burning of Saint Sava’s remains. Construction was interrupted by WWII. The occupying German army used the unfinished church as a parking lot. The Red Army later did the same. The Society for Building of the Cathedral ceased to exist. But the idea did not die and finally in 1984 Branko Pešić was chosen as new architect.  He redesigned the church to use new materials and building techniques. Construction of the building began again on August 12, 1985. The walls were erected to full height of 40 meters. The greatest achievement was lifting of the 4,000 ton central dome. It was first built on the ground and lifted onto the walls, which took forty days.

The building of the church structure is being financed exclusively by donations. Seen here is a table selling candles. You can see huge sheets of plastic behind to protect the ornately carved marble. The carvings remind me of the Haiga Sophia. One of the men behind the table with his hands outstretched, seemed to know our guide. They exchanged looks and I suddenly saw the man nod his head to the side with a questioning look. Our guide smiled and nodded yes. We were let to a cordoned off stairway, The polished marble stairs down to the basement were intricate and lovely. I thought we were just being shown the stairs. I was surprised when we were allowed to descend!
The building of the church structure is being financed exclusively by donations. Seen here is a table selling candles. You can see huge sheets of plastic behind to protect the ornately carved marble. The carvings remind me of the Haiga Sophia.
One of the men behind the table with his hands outstretched, seemed to know our guide. They exchanged looks and I suddenly saw the man motion his head to the side with a questioning look. Our guide smiled and nodded yes. We were let to a cordoned off stairway. The polished marble stairs down to the basement were intricate and lovely. I thought we were just being shown the stairs. I was surprised when we were allowed to descend!
The photos can't do it justice. It was dark in the basement of Saint Sava, but everything is marble and gold. The chandeliers are huge. The final decorations are in progress--a kind of new type of fresco on the ceiling.
The photos can’t do it justice. It was dark in the basement of Saint Sava, but everything is marble and gold. The chandeliers are huge. The final decorations are in progress–a new type of fresco on the ceiling, plus gold leaf and a few mosaics.
Srdjan says he remembers, from his childhood, that there is an under-basement, perhaps a place for a crypt.
Srdjan says he remembers, from his childhood, that there is an under-basement, perhaps a place for a crypt.

Belgrade, St. Sava, Oct 2015, 14 Belgrade, St. Sava, Oct 2015, 15

There was scaffolding for the artists working on the ceiling. I thought of Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
There was scaffolding for the artists working on the ceiling. I thought of Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Belgrade, St. Sava, Oct 2015, 17

You can see some of the strips hanging for the edges of the painting--part of the process in painting the ceiling. It's described as a new style of fresco.
You can see some of the strips hanging for the edges of the painting–part of the process in painting the ceiling. It’s described as a new style of fresco.

My first day in Belgrade

Last week I traveled to Belgrade, Serbia to visit my dear friend, Kathy from New York. I stayed with her when I got off the Appalachian Trail, so I owe her in ways I can never repay. I really needed to see a friendly face and she made my month! Here are some photos from the first day. Kathy had been on a group tour and Belgrade was her final city, so I was lucky that my school schedule allowed me to  join her there.

Kathy in front of a sweets shop. Belgrade was once part of the Ottoman empire, so many of the sweets are familiar to me.
Kathy in front of a sweets shop. Belgrade was once part of the Ottoman empire, so many of the sweets are familiar to me.
Exterior of hotel Astoria.
Exterior of hotel Astoria.
Front dining room of the hotel. Quite glamorous and much better than I'm used to!
Front dining room of the hotel. Quite glamorous and much better than I’m used to!
Kathy on the left. Charlie in the middle (who I didn't know) and Penny. I roomed with Penny on my trip to Egypt. Lobby of hotel.
Kathy on the left. Charlie in the middle (who I didn’t know) and Penny. I roomed with Penny on my trip to Egypt. Lobby of hotel.
Yes, the hotel was much nicer than I'm used to.
Yes, the hotel was much nicer than I’m used to.
My room was quite large. Kathy moved in with me for the last night. We even got truffles each day. Yum!
My room was quite large. Kathy moved in with me for the last night. We even got truffles each day. Yum!
Grocery across the street from hotel. I wonder what this meant to the person who wrote it. Still no faith?
Grocery across the street from hotel. I wonder what this meant to the person who wrote it. Still no faith?
Not sure, but he was colorful!
Not sure, but he was colorful!
Republic Square or Square of the Republic (Serbian: Трг Републике / Trg Republike) is one of the central town squares and an urban neighborhood of Belgrade, located in the Stari Grad municipality. It is the site of some of Belgrade's most recognizable public buildings, including the National Museum, the National Theatre and the statue of Prince Michael.
Republic Square or Square of the Republic (Serbian: Трг Републике / Trg Republike) is one of the central town squares and an urban neighborhood of Belgrade, located in the Stari Grad municipality. It is the site of some of Belgrade’s most recognizable public buildings, including the National Museum, the National Theatre and the statue of Prince Michael.

Belgrade, Oct 2015, 4

Pedestrian mall near Republic Square. The shopping was easy because so much was in English. I found a really good pair of hiking shoes and a few other items I've needed but couldn't find in Istanbul.
Pedestrian mall near Republic Square. The shopping was easy because so much was in English. I found a really good pair of hiking shoes and a few other items I’ve needed but couldn’t find in Istanbul.
Fountain near Republic square
Fountain near Republic square
Traditional dancers near Republic Square
Traditional dancers near Republic Square

Belgrade, Oct 2015, 10 Belgrade, Oct 2015, 8

Hotel Moscow. Very posh. We went inside for a cappuccino.
Hotel Moscow. Very posh. We went inside for a cappuccino.
View from a city street near the Hotel Moscow.
View from a city street near the Hotel Moscow.

Belgrade, Oct 2015, 12 Belgrade, Oct 2015, 15

The parks are full of statues and I'd love to learn the history of each.
The parks are full of statues and I’d love to learn the history of each.
Bohemian Quarter
Bohemian Quarter
The front of an inviting little cafe.
The front of an inviting little cafe.
Statue of Dura Jakšic famous Serbian poet painter writer in Belgrade.
Statue of Dura Jakšic famous Serbian poet painter writer in Belgrade.
This is just a painting, good trompe l'oeil. But we kept coming across the word "Alcatraz" in the Bohemian quarter. Odd.
This is just a painting, good trompe l’oeil. But we kept coming across the word “Alcatraz” in the Bohemian quarter. Odd.
The Travelling Actor. Bohemian quarter of Belgrade.
The Travelling Actor. Bohemian quarter of Belgrade.
This is in the Bohemian quarter of Belgrade. Probably a bit touristy, but nice.
This is in the Bohemian quarter of Belgrade. Probably a bit touristy, but nice.
Here's the whole gang at dinner. All of them had been on the Go Ahead tour together and I knew a few of them from previous tours. From left to right: Carol (who I know as Cousin Carol); Mary, Penny (who I met on a previous tour), Kathy (my dear friend who I came here to see). Mary Ann (so sweet and she hasn't aged a day since we met on a tour in 2008!) and Mary Ellen. It was a nice girls night out.
Here’s the whole gang at dinner. All of them had been on the Go Ahead tour together and I knew a few of them from previous tours. From left to right: Carol (who I know as Cousin Carol); Mary, Penny (who I met on a previous tour), Kathy (my dear friend who I came here to see). Mary Ann (so sweet and she hasn’t aged a day since we met on a tour in 2008!) and Mary Ellen. It was a nice girls night out.
I had pork for every meal. Making up for lost time? Definitely! I'm living in a Muslim country and there's no pig allowed! This pork shish kabob was tasty, but too much meat, even for the pork starved!
I had pork for every meal. Making up for lost time? Definitely! I’m living in a Muslim country and there’s no pig allowed! This pork shish kabob was tasty, but too much meat, even for the pork starved!
Kathy always chooses good, local wine. And this is tastier than it looks--thinly sliced pickled beets. Crisp, earthy, excellent.
Kathy always chooses good, local wines. And this is tastier than it looks–thinly sliced pickled beets. Crisp, earthy, excellent.

I so enjoyed my stay. So much history. This is a city I will serious consider living in. I enjoyed trying to figure out the Cyrillic Letters.