Antonio and I, this year, again travelled the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.
He walked every step with his backpack – just like a perfect pilgrim. I am not the perfect pilgrim but thoroughly enjoyed my holiday, having my pack carried each day, walking reasonable daily distances and occasionally taking advantage of trains, buses, taxis and even bicycles.
“Not the Perfect Pilgrim” is a day to day photographic account of my holiday and includes a packing list and key notes of advice. It is the Perfect gift for someone contemplating the Camino, or for someone who has returned and wishes to continue to indulge in the beauty and adventure of the Camino trail.
It is also NOW available at AMAZON.COM !!!! Just search for Denise Mazzon or “Not the Perfect Pilgrim.”
The challenge below is to publish just 10 photos from the journey.
There are over 90 pages of photos in the book!!!! Enjoy & Buon Camino
Alhambra – an alluring, romantic and significant monument to the Arabic/Spanish historical tale. It’s not difficult to see why Alhambra is Spains most visited tourist attraction. In 1237 when the Arabic Sultan Muhammad I al-Hamar, decided to build his “village of palaces”, he hoped to create “paradise on earth.” We think he got pretty close. It is mind boggling to imagine the wealth required to build this monument and incredible to imagine the lives of the privileged few who were born with the right to live here.
Everywhere you look is a picture, a jewel! It whets our appetites and increases our excitement as we journey to an Islamic heartland – Morocco.
It’s definitely a case of letting the photos do the talking!
Who would have thought that the sight of couples taking a relaxed walk, or the gentle hum of group conversations, was actually a “torture chamber” for 24 Spanish victims of a Pueblos Ingles week of speaking and hearing English – only English.
Four and a half years ago I wanted to extend a week long business trip to Frankfurt, to lets face it, properly get over the jet lag before I flew home again. I had read in the Melbourne Saturday newspaper how to extend my stay in a European country I had never been to, get to know locals, enjoy typical cuisine and 4 star resort accommodation for free!!! Nothing, Nada, Siltch!
This years venue was the Hotel Coto Del Valle (www.hotelcotodelvalle.com), nestled in the valleys and ravines of the Parque Natural Sierras da Cazorla. A beautiful piece of Spain, birthplace of Spains second longest river, Rio Guadalquiver and very popular for holidays for the Spaniards keen on hiking and horse-riding and history.
Mind you, the program is a week long commitment for the English speaking volunteers, recruited from all corners of the globe. There is no such thing as a free lunch and all that! And it can be draining when you are not used to talking so much!!!! ………………… BUT it’s also fun, heartwarming and very worthwhile.
For the Spanish – challenging. They have 100 hours crammed into one week, speaking and hearing English only. Conversations start at breakfast at 9 am! Other than a couple of hours off in the middle of the day, the conversations continue in either one to ones, two to twos, phone calls, presentations or theatre, including during all meals, until around 10.30 pm each day. For those with stamina, the conversations can continue in the bar till the early hours of the morning. For Antonio and I it was tiring – for the Spanish it must be exhausting!
The most appealing thing for me to volunteer at a week like this is to really get to know 24 “dinky die” Spaniards; to learn about their lives and the key issues they face. Our “Spanish” holiday is enriched by this. Helping someone master the English language is also empowering and can impact upon their families, friends and colleagues in many subtle and positive ways.
Add to that, an extremely well managed schedule by the PI team, (Jason and Sabela), a lot of humour, a lot of good will, and hey presto! Its a great week…………. Thanks Pueblo Ingles! http://www.puebloingles.com
One of the most spectacular and memorable visits in our journey so far would have to be the Mezquita (Mosque) at Cordoba. It is difficult to exaggerate the impact of rows and rows of the red and white striped arches of the Prayer Hall. Stretching on, seemingly, forever; spectacular and grandiose.
The Mosques construction began in 785 on the site of a Catholic church. Built in accordance with Islamic design ideals it flourished for nearly 500 years. In 1236 the Christians reconquered Cordoba and reclaimed the site, transforming the Mosque in a very curious way. Having consecrated and purified the building, they made their mark by constructing a huge cathedral right inside the Mosque!!!! Fortunately, for all of us, they were actually able to maintain the beauty of the Mosque and surprisingly, the “cathedral” pales by comparison to the stunning dimensions of the space and the arches. Incongruent, yet somehow it works.
This fusion of Islam and Christianity is common in the south of Spain, being so close to their Moorish neighbours and ruled by them for nearly 800 (8th century to 16th century) years. Cordoba having been a Roman and a Moorish capital, at one time was thought to be the largest city in the known world; an intellectual, rich and sumptuous city that incorporated religious tolerance and co-operation between Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The stamp of these 3 religions still prevail in the city.
The “old” part of Cordoba is pretty and interesting to walk around, yet the cheeriness of the flowerboxed, white housed streets and the awesomeness of the ancient roman bridge are marred somewhat by the social problems of today. Whilst Spains unemployment rate has skyrocket in the last 3 years from 7 % to 22 %, Cordobas unemployment rate is 34%! The tension feels palpable. Groups of clearly unemployed men cluster together, talking, edgy. Romanian women offer sprigs of rosemary for one Euro. Unemployment benefits last for two years! The “Economic Crisis” began 3 years ago. We don’t stay long, not keen to leave Cubby for long after an off duty policeman advised us not to park where we were first going to. He demonstrates someone taking a rock and smashing the window. “Mal” he says, we know, is “Bad!”
Seville, yet another elegant, almost graceful Spanish city. More than 2000 years old, the Capital of the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, is said to be the quintessential Spanish city – a vibrant blend Islamic splendour and Catholic extravagance . Typically, the centerpoint of the city is the Cathedral, one of the largest in the world.
Our first encounter was with La Maestranza Bullring. We took the tour and perhaps the only way I would get to see inside a Bullring – when there is no bullfight. It’s a cruel but fascinating sport, with historical origins dating back to the 1700 hundreds, the bulls were originally killed to provide entertainment, and to feed the poor. 25 minutes and 3 capes later a Matador hopes to end the fight with one sword spear, through the back of the neck, directly into the heart to kill the bull instantly! This is the theory. In the meantime the bull, arriving straight from the farm with no previous experience of any of this, is provoked and cajoled, firstly with lances from horse back, and secondly with smaller spikes from other very annoying humans on the ground. Finally, the Matador does his work! The Bullring has a vibrant feeling and the traditions of the Bullfight are set deeply in history. The Matadors, of course, celebrities! The Seville Bullring, not the largest in Spain, hosts 40 (sold out) shows a year and sits around 12000 spectators. Doorways and gates have very specific purposes, as does the hospital and the chapel (for superstitious Matadors). The spectacle must be amazing. If a Matador pleases the crowd they crazily wave white handkerchiefs to the attention of the judge who will then decide if the Matador should be rewarded a trophy. This will entail an ear of the bull to the Matador. The highest honour to the very best Matador, 3 trophies in one fight – Two ears and the Tail!!!
We loved Seville. A beautiful, classic city to cycle around, we spent a lazy, sunny Sunday winding through narrow, cobbled streets, to encounter one of many plazas filled with orange trees and colourful Spanish tourist shops. A twist or a turn in a tucked away lane may also lead you to a major boulevard as easily as an art fair under some Jacaranda trees, or buskers blowing bubbles for children. A city full of delightful surprises.
Seeing there had been SOOO many people at Segovia, we expected a quiet Sunday afternoon arrival into Madrid, time to drop Jo to her hotel, find a park and go for some lunch! Not so! The city was busy – populated with pedestrians, taxis and cars; it was all we could do to tip Jo out in the general direction and drive 4 kms out of town until we found a very comfy Cubby park on the Madrid River, Rio Manzanares.
Still, we had 3 days left with Jo and we intended to make the most of it.
We decided to ride the bikes in to meet Jo which was a good idea until we hit the hill that leads to the labyrinth of the old city from the river. Some streets tiny, curved and narrow, others are massive and broad. Madrid is a city of monuments and monumental boulevards, fountains and flamenco. Most neighbourhoods and streets have their historic charm preserved and its a lovely city to walk through.
Gardens flank either side of this ancient network of streets, all connected by an incredible underground metro system. To think this city is less than twice the size of Melbourne. Its embarrassing to think we have trouble getting a ticketing system right, let alone such a punctual and convenient form of transport as this metro.
Within the city there are a total of 8 palaces marked on the central city map!!! The art galleries, including the 3 galleries comprising the Paseo del Prado, are world class and entice art lovers of classic and modern art from all over the world. Even the shopping can resemble an Art Gallery. One of the shops I visited felt like an architecturally designed gallery museum. Unfortunately more staff than customers on my visit, but still, to me, a gracious opening from the doorman! Throw in some stunning stately buildings, a Basilica, Cathedral and Templo, and all tastes are catered for.
If fashion in Australia still follows fashion from Europe, girls, this is what to expect. Gum boots are growing in favour (and why not! Such sensible winter footwear!) An androgynous horsey look is in. A bit of fur will go a long way, especially as a vest or on a boot! Tight skinny jeans that accentuate the bum are IT and a pair of high heeled ankle boots finish the look and help the said bum to have just the right strut!
Most memorable for each of us will be our night at Villa Rosa – Flamenco. (www.villa-rosa.es). I have come to the conclusion that everyone must have at least one night of good Flamenco in their lives. I have also come to the conclusion that you could never have too much of it.
Flamenco – a lot of hand wringing, gut wrenching, vocal cawing and passionate body slapping, feet stomping angst. The drumming of the dancers feet on the timber floored stage was thrilling and HOT! We would not have missed it for the world. As Jo said , that alone was pretty well worth coming to Spain for.
Leaving the show on a high, we were sobered by the cool air of the night streets and the fact that tomorrow we would put Jo on the VERY fast train to Barcelona. We will miss her company and our bit of home she brings with her! We thank her for resharing our Camino, in Portugal and Spain and being such a good sport as the 3rd wheel in Cubby. Bye bye Jo Jo. We will see you again soon.