Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back Home! Time to sign off...

I'm back home. HOME! HOME! HOME! As great as my (almost) year of traveling was, it's great to be home.

And since this is a Travel Blog, this will be my last entry for awhile. I'll pick up blogging again on my next international trip, but for now...this will be my last entry.



HURRAY FOR COMFORT!  HURRAY FOR SAMENESS!
One of the benefits of traveling abroad is that it creates renewed appreciation for your own surroundings. My first week back I was stunned anew at the beauty of the Wasatch mountains that lie just outside my front door. And I was utterly giddy over the thought of having my very own washing machine, a closet full of clothes, and a refrigerator and microwave. Living on the road--out of a backpack no less--for months on end surely does help you appreciate the little things in life.

MY NEW HOME
For those of you who have not been to Utah, it truly is beautiful here and I'm happy to report that I have decided to settle here for awhile. Below are some photos of the area (for all my new international friends). I live just minutes from the mouth of American Fork Canyon, and in an area with pockets of small grazing land (luckily all small scale...no stinky manure smells wafting around). There's horses, llamas, and sheep on small plots here and there, making a nice little diversion on my nightly walks with my sister.


MY FUTURE
I've spent the last year contemplating next steps, contemplating what a life without Warren could look like. And, I have come to a decision.

I love learning, and even more, I love sharing what I have learned. I think this world is fantastically, amazingly interesting, and the thought of sharing that wonder with others is very exciting to me. So, I've decided to teach.

I have enrolled in a one year program to get a MA in Education (since my MA in Geography gets me nowhere in this case. Argh!) Nerdy girl that I am, I can't wait for classes to start. But...they don't start until end of August, so in the meantime I have months of relaxation ahead of me. So many books, so little time. Scratch that. So many books, nothin' but time. :) Looks like the backyard lounge chair is gonna get a lot of use this summer.

Santiago

I have truly LOST the desire to blog, so some photo commentaries for the pilgrimage trip will be very short. Someday I might get the desire to go back and fill in the details.


Pilgrimage Monuments
On the hill just before entering Santiago de Compostella--in view of the spires of the church--there are two monuments to the pilgrims (above and right). This hill was a popular resting place throughout the centuries, an emotional spot where the exhausted pilgrims could finally see the cathedral and the end of their journey.

Santiago's Cathedral: End of the road
The destination of the pilgrimage is, of course, the beautiful 12th century Baroque cathedral, legendary home of the bones of the Apostle James. This cathedral and it's famous relic made Santiago de Compostella the third most important place of pilgrimage anywhere in the Christian world, after Jerusalem and Rome. Below are pictures of the exterior and interior of this important church.




At left is the tomb, reputed to hold the bones of the one and only James. It lies in the crypt beneath the altar in relatively simple setting (as compared to the ornate detailing in the main cathedral area above).

The Botafumeiro
On occasion, services in the cathedral are concluded with the swinging of a huge silver incense burner that is suspended from the ceiling in the center of the cathedral. Lucky for us, we were there just in time to catch it in action.

After the mass (in Spanish so a bit hard to follow) and then communion, eight priests pulled on the rope to make the huge contraption swing in a wide arc up and down the cathedral transept, spewing sweet-smelling smoke. At one point, it looked as if it would hit the ceiling, and the audience let out an audible gasp.

Supposedly the custom began in order to counteract the stench of the pilgrims, and legend has it that priests would enhance the good mood of the congregation--already giddy from having completed the camino--by adding a pinch of cannabis to the mixture. Huh...this cathedral is certainly full of legends.

(I especially like this picture above because the man in the foreground looks just like Warren.)


My last nun spotting
'Birders' get a special thrill to see an exotic bird in its natural habitat. I, on the other hand, like spotting nuns. Nuns and priests. Guess that makes me a 'nunner'. Seriously, Spain in the perfect place for viewing nuns and priests in their natural habitat. I was in heaven!

I am just mystified by them. I have so many unanswered questions. What is your life like? Do you get bored? What made you decide on this cloistered life? I am in awe at their dedication and sacrifice, bewildered by the whole experience. Someone hook me up with a nun, please. I'm busting with questions.

To feed my curiosity, I visited a convent one evening in Santiago to hear the nightly singing of praise by the nuns. I shamefully snapped this photo during the service (sin flash). I couldn't help myself.


And totally unrelated to the above...
Just before leaving Granada I bought this cheap plastic bag at Spain's version of a made-In-China $1 store. I needed a big bag that would hold my two carry-ons, as the budget internal Spanish flights only allow for one carry-on. I then shamelessly used the hideous thing for the entire camino trip, totally unaware that I was advertising my sinful nature. It wasn't until I got home that my sister pointed out that I was not Singing in the Rain with this bag, but Sining in the Rain. I love funny translations. :)

Although...perhaps it wasn't a translation mistake. Perhaps the bag's goofy tagline "I sometimes want a time when I can laugh" has more layers that I originally thought.

Back by popular demand: A FOOD entry

THE 'INTERESTING' STUFF
I ate a few interesting things while on the camino. Octopus (“pulpa”) is real delicacy in the Galicia region, with “pulperrias” in towns throughout the area. We stopped in one very crowded pulperria for lunch one day, and took a seat amongst the locals to sample our own plate o’ octopus.


Served steamed with a red spice drizzled on, it was definitely an odiferous meal. Did I like it? It was edible, pretty spongy. That is, unless you are eating the tail end of an arm. Then it’s crunchy…and not in a good way. I ate about a third of my plate, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy it. Frying it probably would have helped. Or soaking it in butter and garlic, like escargot. I loved escargot when I was in France, and realized then and there that I could eat a shoelace if it was soaked in butter and garlic.

Another delicacy in Spain is pig’s ear. This did not sound good to me, but I HAD to try it and so I did. Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you what it tastes like because I was so overcome with the texture issues. Just as you’d expect from any type of ear, biting into pig’s ear means getting a mushy, fleshy bit and a hard, structural bit (cartilage?) There is no escaping the knowledge of what you are eating. The texture is all ear. I didn’t even swallow the one bite that I took. I’m usually not terribly wimpy about this stuff. (In fact, I actually really enjoyed tucking into guinea pig in Peru). But this was just…wrong! It was all WRONG.

AND THE GOOD STUFF

I did have some absolutely delicious meals while in Galicia, however. I had the WORLD’S BEST omelet at some little refuge/cafĂ© along the camino. I have no idea what they did to that thing, but I ummmmmmmm’d my way through the entire thing. If this is the difference between farm fresh food and food that’s been hauled in the back of a truck for hundreds of miles…I’m moving to the country. This omelet was UNBELIEVABLE. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photo-document this meal until I was almost done, so the photo at right is a bit gross. But YUMMMMMM!

I also loved the kebabs in Spain. I had a favorite kebab spot while in Granada, which I ate at very frequently considering the price (cheap!), the atmosphere (with seats on a centuries old plaza) and the delicious food. I also ate kebabs in Madrid, Morocco, and other places, but nothing compared to the kebab shop in Santiago. (Sorry, I forgot the names of these places).

I am seriously tempted to buy a big spit and raise livestock in my backyard so that I can attempt to recreate this delicious meal at home. :)


GOODBYE SPANISH FOOD
In truth, I didn’t love Spanish food. There were some delicious dishes, and tapas bars are a lot of fun (bottom left: tapas bar in Santiago). But it’s very meaty, and that’s not my thing.

As usual, I did enjoy the culinary oddities, and Spain does have plenty of them. Santiago is known for a special type of cheese that they produce locally, and is very openly referred to as breasts because of their shape. In fact, the individual cones are usually topped with little nipples. Seriously! (The one I photographed doesn’t show this, but most do.) Very interesting.

And Santiago, being close to the ocean, is known for its seafood. When you eat in a nicer Santiago restaurant, you often are able to select your dinner from an assortment of live sea creatures (like you do with lobsters in the states). One of the more curious options was these little tube guys—pictured in the bottom right—which were squirming around like little blind worms. Yuck! I didn’t try it—I should have—but I did stare at them through the window for awhile. No idea what they are.

So that’s it for the food entries. In the end, Spanish food was interesting, at times good, but I wouldn’t count it in my top 10 locales for great food.

Cool stuff along the way

En route on the pilgrimage, we stayed at charming little villages, visited various religious sites, and explored castles, Roman walls, etc... Here's some examples:

O CEBREIRO
One trip highlight was staying in the unusual village of O Cebreiro, "a tiny wind battered settlement of stone houses high above a patchwork quilt of green valleys. The village is famous for its 'pallozas'--traditional circular thatched roof houses" (from the trip itinerary). Here are some photos of the village...

Structure after structure, entirely out of stone. Amazing.

It was cold and rainy, but still sorta cozy as we strolled around the village.

Surrounded O Cebreiro is a patchwork quilt of green valleys:



Staying at O Cebreiro has always been a 'reward' for pilgrims for completing the camino's highest elevation gain. On our itinerary, it was definitely the hardest hiking day--5 hours, all uphill, in the pouring rain.

And, uh, I must admit, I didn't quite earn the reward myself. Something about 5 hours, uphill, in the rain didn't sound fun to me. So, I rode with the luggage instead, arriving at O'Cebreiro in just 20 comfy minutes rather that 5 waterlogged hours, and spent the afternoon exploring the little village and reading in my warm, rustic room. I suppose I should be embarrassed by this clear display of laziness, especially since I was by far the youngest person on the trip, but eh...it's a vacation. And really, if I had hiked that day I wouldn't have my special memory of reading a great book over hearty, homemade stew in the atmospheric village restaurant (right).


SAMOS MONASTERY
One late afternoon, after a long day of walking, we visited the Samos Monastery, one of the most important monasteries in Galicia.

After a long wait in the monasteries gift shop (where I bought a CD of what I thought were Gregorian chants), we took a guided tour, and even spotted a few real live monks. :)

The monastery is architecturally stunning and so very peaceful.

It was so fascinating to be in a working, active monastery!


Although, I must say I don't know what this fountain is doing in the center of a monastery courtyard! Topless sea nymphs and celibate monks... that's not a natural pairing in most people's minds.

Like so many sites in Spain, the monastery has its share of religious relics, housed in the brown cabinets pictured on the left. However, since it took me so long to write this journal entry, I have zero recollection of what exactly the relics are. Oops.

Pictured on the right (below) is the guide discussing one of the MANY life size murals that line the courtyards of the monastery. Quite a sight to behold.

After the tour, we stayed around to catch the nightly chanting of prayers by the monks. I was VERY excited that we just serendipitously stumbled upon this experience. I love Gregorian chants.

We waited and waited, and then the monks filed in one by one and eventually began chanting. My first thought: "Man, I just paid 15 Euros on a CD by these guys." Not exactly a holy response to the experience. Um, let's just say the beauty of the experience was not to be had in the voices of the monks. But, once I shifted my focus away from the singing and instead started focusing on the sincerity of their praise and the sacrifice of their lives, it became more of the experience I was hoping for. But the singing...yikes.

I think I will still hope for a "catch a live performance of monks singing" experience. Despite catching the Samos performance, I don't think I've truly had that experience yet.

Below are photos of the interior of the cathedral where the monks sang (taken before they entered):



TEMPLAR CASTLE
En route we also visited a bona fide Templar castle. It makes sense that there'd be Templar sites along the pilgrimage route, since the Templars stated reason for existing was to protect the faithful on pilgrimages.

Since the group consisted of mostly Brits who live in a country brimming with fantastic castles, I was definitely the most excited about this castle. And actually, I was the only one who cared to explore inside, which was interesting but paled in comparison to the entrance area. Disney either borrowed heavily from this castle, or else someone has done a little creative restoration on this site because the entrance, the drawbridge, the moat...this is the most fantastically ideal castle entrance I have ever seen.

I think a lot of what is visible today was added on after the time of the Templars (as the castle changed hands through the centuries) but it was still neat to first my first Templar site nonetheless.