Posted in Travel sparks

Camino adventures – Day 1

Here’s an update on the Camino, day 1. We started in the beautiful little French village of St Jean Pied de Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees. A great atmosphere in the busy town – it’s the popular starting point of the Camino Frances. We met some lovely people in our hostel and got some time to wander around the town before heading off early the next morning (around 7am, so still a bit dark) to begin our first day.

And what a day it was – I found it incredibly tough, as did a lot of the people we spoke to after we’d made it through alive. Nothing like an extreme physical challenge to form strong bonds with fantastic people from all over the world! The strangeness of the backpack + the very steep mountain climbs (and equally difficult – or maybe more so – declines) + ferocious winds + long distance and then the summer sun made for quite a challenge. But the breathtaking views, cows & sheep & horses provided a good distraction from the pain!

So satisfying to finish the day & share a beer with new friends in Ronvesvalles. A fantastic modern hostel in another great little village.












Posted in Food sparks, Travel sparks

The Camino Diet

As I’ve mentioned, it’s only around a month til my friend Steph and I leave for the Camino. A lot of well-meaning peeps have been giving us tips and hints, as well as remarking on how they can’t wait to see how fit and thin we are on our return. (Not that we are super unfit and ginormous now, I might add.) I remind those people that one of my favourite lunches on my last trip to Spain was a potato omelette on a giant bread roll – now that’s carb loading. And then there’s the wine – I am sure that it’s culturally insensitive to refuse.

So, we really don’t know what impact the 800km will have on us. Sure, it’s a lot more walking than we’d normally do each day in our office jobs, but then there are the delicious (and not always healthy) foods along the way, undoubtedly an important part of the journey. So maybe it’ll just even out and we’ll come back looking EXACTLY THE SAME. Just warning you now – it’s definitely a possibility.

One of the many books that I’m reading is ‘Guide to the Camino’ by an Australian lady, Trish Clark. Trish includes local delicacies in her book – food and drink that walkers should try in each town. As I read the list for one town, I felt the weight stacking on:

Fried bread with garlic and ham? Yes please!
Fried bread with garlic and ham? Caramelised custard & sponge cake? Yes please!

And then I read about another town and realised that – at least for me on my bull-free diet – this stop might be a lean one:

Cinnamon pancakes it is.
Cinnamon pancakes it is.

So, looks like there will be lots of exercise and lots of fried bread and pancakes (and bull hoof stew) – life is all about balance, right?!

Posted in Travel sparks

Countdown to the Camino

I am excited. REALLY EXCITED. I have just booked my flights for a European trip later this year. But it’s not just any European holiday – no sunning it up in the Greek Islands, no David Hasselhoff gigs in Berlin, no Portugese tarts in…um, Portugal. Not this time. Not for me and my friend Steph (you may recall her as one of the Color Run Stephs). We are going to walk the Camino de Santiago – starting in France, popping over the Pyrenees and then trekkin’ across northern Spain. Because, why not?

The modern sign of the Camino - this shell marks the path. It's hard to get lost, they say. We'll see.
The modern sign of the Camino – this shell marks the path. It’s hard to get lost, they say. We’ll see.

If you’re not down with the Camino (a.k.a. the Way of Saint James), it was a super-important medieval pilgrimage – with many different ways to walk (as in different paths, not different walking styles) to reach the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James are reported to be buried. Apparently, the route was very popular in the middle ages, but numbers dropped due to things like the outbreak of the Black Death pandemic and the Protestant Reformation. Pesky little things like that.

But in the late 1980s, the Camino was declared one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and the tourists came back – undoubtedly a lot of religious and spiritual pilgrims, but also a lot of people looking for a unique physical and psychological challenge. Apparently tens of thousands of peeps walk the Camino every year (with an increasing number of cyclists too), generally starting from somewhere in France, Portugal or Spain. If you walk at least 100km (or cycle at least 200km) of the Camino, as evidenced by stamps collected in your Camino passport along the way, you get a special certificate when you reach Santiago de Compostela.

The spectacular Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Also known as THE FINISH LINE.
The spectacular Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Also known as THE FINISH LINE.

Steph and I are walking the Camino Frances, which starts on the French side of the Pyrenees. Reports vary, but from start to finish, it’s approximately 800km. We’re hoping to walk it in around 30 days. Which means getting up and walking every day with our backpacks, regardless of the weather, regardless of our mood, regardless of our aches and pains. Needless to say, I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m really excited about the challenge ahead. We will get into training shortly and I’m looking forward to getting my walking poles and hiking boots like a real trekker. Well, like a real trekker or like the 250 year old man who uses walking poles to walk along the path near my home. The countdown has begun!

Posted in Sparks in the wild, Sydney sparks

Diner en Blanc in Sydney

On what was a beautiful Saturday evening this past weekend, we were greeted by a strange sight as we waited for the ferry to the city. The wharf was packed with over 50 people all dressed in white. Our first thought was – wedding. Then we realised that EVERYONE was in white and they appeared to be carrying their own chairs and tables and bags and boxes, so that would be quite a peculiar wedding. I’ll be honest, my hope was for something rather more exciting than a wedding – I was thinking cult members or maybe an alien invasion.

It seems that fashion is a huge part of Diner en Blanc. This pic on the Diner en Blanc Sydney Facebook page was for inspiration, I think. I did not see any hats like this around Circular Quay on Saturday. Which is a good thing, as the place was packed.

Alas, the real world again failed to live up to my imagination – when those of us dressed in darker colours dared to approach the white folk and ask WTF they were doing, we were let in on the secret. To quote the pretty north shore dolly that I heard explaining the concept: “Well, it’s called Diner en Blanc and it’s, like, a flash mob dinner thing, like, this French idea where you, like, have to wear white and you turn up to a secret location and, like, eat your dinner with a bunch of randoms and then pack up and go home.” Of course, she had me at FLASH MOB DINNER THING.

Pic from the Diner en Blanc Sydney Facebook page.

Disappointed though I was that they were not cult members or preparing for an alien invasion (at least, not that they were prepared to admit), I was impressed when the ferry turned up at Circular Quay and the public space in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art appeared to have been taken over by hundreds and hundreds of whiteys (technically, blanc-ys, I guess). As we later found out, there were almost 1500 people enjoying this flash mob dining experience under the stars alongside Sydney harbour. Of course, as a curious cat I wanted to know more about this phenomenon, so here is what I found out…

The first secret dinner was held, naturally, in Paris. Over 20 years ago, the concept started out on a relatively small scale, but now sees 15,000 people occupying a public space for their evening picnic at this annual event. How does it work? I’ll let the official website tell the story: At the last minute, the location is given to thousands of friends and acquaintances who have been patiently waiting to learn the “Dîner en Blanc’s” secret place. Thousand of people, dressed all in white, and conducting themselves with the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette, all meet for a mass “chic picnic” in a public space.

Yum. A hamper by JOHNANDPETER for Diner en Blanc in Sydney (also from the event’s Facebook page).

That last sentence made me think that perhaps this wasn’t quite my cup of tea, after all. It sounds like quite a brilliant feat of organisation though – there are table leaders who are responsible for organising their troops prior to the event, and the whole event is set up and then packed up by the guests (with the intention of not leaving a trace of their occupation behind). According to the official website, the select guest list are automatically re-invited the following year, unless of course they have “transgressed the rules or desisted at the last moment, deterred by ominous clouds”, in which case ” their name and email will be put on a black list, prohibiting them from registering for future editions.” Ooh la la.

I like the idea, but my ideal flash mob dinner thing would feature a more casual dress code (though probably with compulsory wigs or hats) and a less formal setup. Actually, you may already know my flash mob dinner thing as a casual summer picnic with friends. Maybe I should try it on a larger scale though, sending out a cryptic message via this blog for a Pique-nique en EverydaySparks. We could eat and drink and speak nonsense for an evening. Allons-y! (I think that is ‘let’s go’, from my high school French classes – apologies to Madame de Reland if that is incorrect.)

You can check out more about this amazing event on Facebook here or the official website here.