Chronicles

Trip reviews and journal entries.

A King’s Day in Amsterdam

Stephanie and I were walking through Vondelpark on our way into the City Center of Amsterdam. It was noon on King’s Day; the sun was shinning but it wasn’t hot. Occasionally, a song would come into clarity, but after a few seconds it too would join the white noise of indistinct music that hovered in the air. Smiles were worn on the faces of Dutch children who, along with the leafy fauna, lined the interconnecting walkways of the park. If you are hungry, they have your sugar fix. Every 25 meters another stand sells fluffy, golden brown homemade pancakes that smell like Saturday morning. Or maybe you would like to win a prize. Creative games like a live version of Angry birds or “slice a sausage” are here too. They also sell their once loved toys that have fallen out of favor. And they are musicians, dancers and face painters as well. Part of King’s Day tradition are the large flea markets that dot the city. In Vondelpark, the market has a definite family feel to it. We stopped briefly so Stephanie could tip one of the only non-smilers – a drummer not more than three years old, that was lost in concentration on a full functioning drum set. Instead of walking, we could have taken the tram, but it wouldn’t have gotten us very far. During the festival, Amsterdam swells by one million people, making public transport inside the city center impossible. In any case, the park was much more exciting than the inside of a tram. As we neared the end of the park, a carnival game where you...

Camino Epilogue: Santiago to Brussels

If you give yourself 15 minutes to do something, it usually takes all day. But if you give yourself all day, well then, a lot of times it only takes fifteen minutes. This was a quote from a video that Stephanie, my girlfriend, was showing me inside our luxurious hotel room in Santiago de Compostela. Luxurious, mind you, because of its comparison to sleeping in albergues with up to 40 people  – 10 percent of which are always heavy snorers – for the last 32 days. The video was about training horses, but not in the traditional way of training them which involves aggressiveness and “breaking them”. This was the famous and ever so soft “horse whisperer”, not unlike the character played by Robert Redford with the same name. He was talking about going slow, not forcing the horse to develop trust, but providing the framework conducive to that state. This especially rang true for me on the Camino. I have constantly wanted things “now”, the impulse only being diluted by fulfillment. I thought about slowing down on the airplane ride home to Brussels as well. I used to love boarding an airplane, where you could check not only your physical luggage, but your work and social baggage as well. The heyday of flying, if you ask me, was when you couldn’t be reached by anyone in the world that wasn’t on the same plane as you. But we are hungry for outside stimulation; we slop to it like a pig through mud to his trough. Now, even planes are equipped with Wifi and our worries can easily reach up...

31st Day: Azura to Santiago de Compostela

If you expect a brass band to be playing when you arrive in Santiago exulting your most excellent achievement, you will be sadly disappointed. I didn’t necessarily expect that, but I expected some knowing looks from people as I passed them on the street, or maybe a head nod of respect from a shopkeeper as a I made the final walk through the side-walked outskirts of Santiago. I guess it’s a case of my hubris again, but I was a bit miffed that I didn’t at least get a solid Buen Camino during the last 3k. Most likely it has something to do with the fact that 200 thousand pilgrims receive a compostela every year, so giving out nods left and right might get a little cumbersome after a while. Originally I hadn’t planned on making it to Santiago yesterday evening. When I left in the morning, I planned on stopping in O Pedrouzo, about 20 kilometers away from my starting point of Azura and then walking into Santiago the next day. I was determined to take my time. I had spent the last two days clicking my poles on the ground at a hurried pace to outrun the other pilgrims to the Alberuges (hostels) by the end of the day. They say that the real Camino starts when you get home; meaning all the lessons you have learned along the way need to actually be implemented. I would be damned to forget to slow down before I even got to Santiago. Matt, Sven and I arrived in O Pedrouzo around 2 pm for a late lunch, or right...

30th Day: Palas del Rei to Arzua

The Camino is winding down. Santiago is only 43 kilometers away. Many people are looking back on their experience, trying to put all the pieces together from the last 30 days. Most people, including myself, use the Camino primarily for a self serving purpose – to get away, to enjoy being outside of a hectic life and to be, to some degree, inward looking. The Camino is a great place for those purposes. As I passed by all the crosses and graves behind an old church in the hamlet of San Xulian do Camino, I remembered what Dag said yesterday – that cemeteries remind us that we won’t live forever. Matt knows that better than most. I caught up with him today a bit outside of Melide, which by the way, is known for the best Pulpo in Spain (Pulperia Exequiel is excellent!). It wasn’t the first time we had met each other. For the last five days we have ended up in the same village at the end of the day, often having dinner or a pint together. He’s a natural leader, (he owns five businesses) and at dinner time, you can often find an international crowd around Matt’s table. A while back, Matt’s mom had lung cancer. It metastasized into brain cancer. She pulled through, amazingly, perhaps partly due to Macmillan Cancer Support. They provide nurses, mostly in a hospice role, that help care for cancer patients. Matt shared a statistic with me today, right before reaching Azura, the last big town of the Camino – 80 percent of their patients die. Matt was struck by the...