everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Capitol A for Amazing

I feel like I have seen a lot in my two days in Washington DC. Equally, I feel like I have seen hardly any of what’s possible to see in Washington DC. Suffice it to say, I hope to come back for more visits as I had a fantastic time. Even if it was super hot and humid weather!  

The Capitol. Adding to my collection of pics of landmarks under scaffolding when I visit.

 
Given my short trip, I knew I’d be happy if I got to spend time at Newseum (which I have been wanting to see for years), see some of the city, and maybe get to geek out at some other museums and historical places. Yesterday was a great day, but I’ll tell you more about that another time. 

Today was very interesting, with a case of (accidental) great timing leading to a pretty special experience. I was on the hop on-hop off city bus, and, given the furnace that awaited outside the air-conditioned bus, I definitely had to psych myself up to hop off at all. But of course I did, with less than a day left before I hopped on the train back to NYC.   

The Abraham Lincoln Memorial.

 

View from Lincoln Memorial to Washington Monument.

 
Great views, sure. But mostly, I wanted to see this big guy. And he was just as awesome as I’d hoped he’d be… 

Honest Abe.

 

And, for scale, here’s a normal-sized man next to President Lincoln… 

I shall name the other man Honest Gabe. Little pixie man that he is.

So that was all very interesting and in a stunning location. Then I headed down to the Korean War Memorial, and that’s where the magic happened. The memorial itself is incredible – 19 life-sized statues of men dressed in the heavy cold weather gear they would’ve worn during the war. Their faces are modeled on 19 actual US soldiers from that war, apparently. And they are set in a beautiful green garden. Very moving stuff – and proof that traditional art still works: you don’t always need a clever hologram or techno trickery to make your point.   

And then, I noticed a group of Korean gentlemen (mostly old timers, all in uniform) and one young Korean lady (in uniform) gathering, along with a couple of old American gentlemen with service medals and partly dressed in uniform.

I had happened across the beginning of a service of some sort. Some words were said (in Korean), a large wreath was laid, and they all saluted as the anthems of both countries were played. Then a bugler played (bugler, not burglar, to be clear) and everyone that was lurking and watching the scene like me was as quiet as a mouse. It was very moving.  

And a reminder that sometimes when you’re traveling, the unplanned experiences are the best.   

   

And after that, I went to the Museum of American History – yet another interesting museum, and so well designed and presented. These guys know how to do a good museum, that’s for sure. Too many cool things to mention, so I’ll just share this: Al Capone’s mug shot. Doesn’t he look like a nice young man, who would maybe serve you in a bookstore, or sit next to you on the bus to work? 

   

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Greetings from here 

Ah, the glamour of travel. Greetings from this place, which is not quite in Baltimore, but somewhere close, apparently. The train has been stopped for more than 30 minutes, which could be seen as an annoying thing, delaying our arrival at our destination.  

But I bet very few international (or domestic, for that matter) travelers have had such a close look at this exact place. As the sun sets on the last day of summer (that’s official, as it’s 31 August, that’s not me being romantic), it’s catching the yellowing leaves on the big trees here. 

The announcements from the poor lady running this train service are sounding increasingly desperate as the wait time for our unscheduled stop spirals out of control, with no end in sight. I suspect the passengers on this busy service aren’t as content with the delights of the ‘cafeteria car’ as she thinks they should be. 

Calm yourselves and look out the windows, people! There are things to be seen, I tell you. For example, I can see a caravan under covers and a car under covers in the backyard over the wire fence here. And a Jeep and a van. Who are these people? Doomsday preppers, maybe? 

Guess I shouldn’t mock, as we may need to call on them soon to ask for dinner or a shower or a bed if this delay continues…

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A bike ride in Paris

This morning, I went for a bike ride around Champ de Mars in Paris. It was a ride of about 4km and the scenery was lovely. I saw the Eiffel Tower up close (I think I even rode under it), some Parisian pups, lots of tourists, and fit looking people running through the park. I saw all this today*, I did…

Bonjour! Off to a nice start...

Bonjour! Off to a nice start…

Lots of lovely pathways, although it did feel a lot steeper than this appears...

Lots of lovely pathways, although it did feel a lot steeper than this appears…

Et voila.

Et voila.

People even appeared to be taking my photo of as I rode past. Obviously, the photo would have just been a blur...

People even appeared to be taking my photo of as I rode past. Obviously, the photo would have just been a blur…

Les runners et les walkers.

Les runners et les walkers.

* OK, so the tracking information in the first two pics, along with the Google watermarks, show that I wasn’t really in Paris this morning. I was in sunny Sydney, sweating it out on my exercise bike, which features a clever black box designed to trick the exerciser into thinking they’re having fun.

This little iFit device links my stationary bike to the ‘live feed’ Google map of the route I am riding, so I can watch the images on my ipad as they update (along with the incline/resistance on the bike) to simulate my progress on a ride on this actual track. Oui oui.

As a gadget geek, I am quite taken with this new toy – I have already ridden through a park in Spain and Central Park is on the schedule too. Of course, looking at photos on an iPad as I pedal doesn’t take away from the pain and discomfort, and it’s not even close to being there in real life (or IRL as the gamers say). And there’s no incentive in the form of a fresh baguette or pain au chocolat at the end of the ride.

But it’s definitely better than staring at this…

Old school.

Old school.

Au revoir!

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This time last year…

Sometimes I like to think back to this time last year/month/week and remember what I was doing. It’s hard to believe it, but this time last year, I was walking across Spain on the Camino Frances. My friend Steph and I were about one week into our journey and had already made some new life-long friends. These were the innocent days, before I got attacked (firstly by unidentified bugs and, shortly thereafter, by my own body trying to deal with the crazy looking bites). Ah yes, when all we had to worry about was being tired and a bit sore, the summer heat, blisters and washing our clothes by hand.

I do miss the guilt-free carb loading that came with 30 km days.

I do miss the guilt-free carb loading that came with 30 km days.

It has been nice to have a look back at my posts from this time. Such great days – beautiful places and people. And wine.

Sure, it wasn't always picturesque...

Sure, it wasn’t always picturesque… 

In case you’d like to reminisce about the Camino, or if you’re planning your own Camino adventure, I recommend this documentary by Drew Robinson: A Journey of the Mind. It brings back a lot of memories for me – undoubtedly, walking the Camino was one of the best things I’ve ever done. More for the people than for the bugs. But then the bugs showed me a different side of the people (myself included), so it really was all good.

We thought we'd need our rain gear for sure here. We didn't.

We thought we’d need our rain gear for sure walking into this. We didn’t.

The doco runs for 40 minutes, so maybe grab some sangria and tapas (bug spray is optional) before you settle down to watch it. Buen Camino!

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Life after the Camino

It’s so hard to believe, but it’s already one month since our Camino family arrived in Santiago. At that time, I think the magnitude of what we’d done was only just starting to sink in – I do remember wanting to blurt out to some of the day trippers crowding the streets of Santiago “HEY, I WALKED HERE FROM FRANCE”. It was such a great feeling to be fit and relaxed and happy after our month on the road.

A pretty spectacular finish line in Santiago de Compostela.

A pretty spectacular finish line in Santiago de Compostela.

And now I’m back at home and it’s been really lovely to catch up with my family and friends and tell them a bit about our great adventure. I have found it a bit tricky to explain though – it really is one of those ‘you just had to be there’ kind of situations. And the return to the pace of ‘the real world’ has been a challenge for me – every day, it seems there are so many different decisions to be made, timetables to follow, commitments to meet, things to do.

I miss the simplicity of just getting up when the alarm goes off, getting dressed in one of only two available options, packing up everything I have and walking, walking, walking. I haven’t forgotten about the heat, the bites, the flies, the tendinitis, the shower without a door – but even at the time, all of those things just felt like part of the Camino experience.

And an incredible experience it was too (captured in the following YouTube clip by our resident rapper, Idol C).

So now I am home and I feel a bit restless. My work situation as a consultant means that I didn’t have to rush back to an office or a workplace routine – I think that is both a blessing and a curse though, as it means that I have had a lot of time to think and try and work out what to do next. And I feel like I should do something BIG after doing the Camino, as I try to hold on to the things that I learned about myself and the world when I was walking. But I am not entirely sure what that is yet.

And I am reminded of when I first moved home after living overseas for a couple of years – it felt like everything here was pretty much the same, but I felt soooo different (not in a lah-di-dah, I-am-so-awesome kind of way) and there was definitely a transition period to work out how to fit back in to everything. Maybe it’s like a snow globe – things are settled and look a certain way, then when the globe gets a shake, everything turns upside down and gets covered in large white flakes – or preferably glitter – before it settles again.

Stepping out at the end of the earth - morning walk on the beach in Finisterre.

Stepping out at the end of the earth – morning walk on the beach in Finisterre.

So, after the Camino-shake, I am sort of upside down and covered in large white flakes (metaphorically, not from another Camino skin condition, I assure you). I am more active, walking a lot and even completing my first timed 5k run last Saturday (more on that in another post) and trying not to get sucked back in to the rush of doing all of the things. I watch less TV and I do less shopping – after carrying every single thing I required in a bag on my back for a month, I definitely have a different perception of how much stuff I really need.

In the Phoenix Park kitchen garden, Dublin.

In the Phoenix Park kitchen garden, Dublin.

But I don’t want to make it sound as though I’m now all woo-woo-woo herbal and alternative and changing my name to Starchild – I am not a totally different person and am sure that most people don’t notice any change at all. Maybe the snow globe has just settled in a slightly different way this time. And I am sure there are countless scientific studies that agree it’s a good thing to have your snow globe shaken every now and again, just to see what happens.

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The road to Santiago

Here are some pics from these past two days as we come to the end of our journey. We revised our plan a bit – instead of cruising into Santiago on Saturday, we have added some km and will arrive on Friday instead. The 30km trek today felt quite long (tho the eucalyptus trees were a welcome touch of home), but tomorrow should be less than 25km for the final stretch to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
Mixed feelings now – after 31 days of walking, it will be so strange to fall out of this routine (5.45am wake up; 6.30am departure; stop in the first town for cafe con leche and toast or a chocolate napolitana; walk til 1.30pm or thereabouts; find a bed; shower; wash clothes; eat lunch; find a supermarket for supplies; fill in time til early dinner; bed at around 9pm – usually later in the earlier days, sometimes earlier in the latter days).
I have met some wonderful people, seen some truly beautiful sights, eaten some delicious food, drunk some nice wines (once even mixed with Coke, a Spanish taste sensation, and often chilled reds with Lift and ice to make a refreshing sangria-style number). I have walked more than 800km, carrying a backpack that weighed around 8kg. I have laughed a lot, thought a lot, prayed a bit and enjoyed my time away from everything in the real world.
Without wanting to get too sappy, this experience has been a real gift and I am so grateful to my peeps at home for their love, support and encouragement; to my Camino family for their extraordinary friendship and incredible care (especially Steph, Susana and Dave); to all the people we have met along the Way who have shared this awesome experience; to the Boss who arranged for perfect weather, great people, beautiful sunrises & sunsets and a safe journey; to the slightly crabby Doctor who jabbed me with two healing injections; to the people of France & Spain who have welcomed us into their towns and baked delicious pastries; and of course, to Steph – my blister sister – without whom I would never have gone on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
And to YOU: if you get the chance, or can make the chance, to take part in a little or a lot of this epic ride, I wish you a super dooper Buen Camino. Xo

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Gorgeous Galicia

We had a shorter day today – around 22km to arrive in the small village of Ventas de Naron. It seems that the ‘hood consists of two private albergues (each with its own bar/cafe/restaurant – possibly a bit OTT when you could reach one from the other in less than 10 steps), a lot of farmland and that’s pretty much it. So, the perfect place to chillax and enjoy a siesta…and a Magnum ice cream and some Milka chocolate.
There were some pretty scenes today as we reached Portomarin under a blanket of cloud. Spain, your Galicia is especially beautiful – so many truly breathtaking views (and hills, but that’s another matter) – it has been my favourite part of the Way. The lush green hills, the fat & happy cattle, the yappy dogs that seem to greet us in each village, the extraordinary starry skies that look like movie sets, the atmospheric foggy mornings. Love it.
Now there are a lot more people on the Way – a lot of tourists travelling on coach tours, carrying tiny day packs and completing the final stage to Santiago in style. A different feeling to the early weeks, when the sense of community was so strong as we all faced this intense experience together. Now it often feels like we old-time pilgrims have merged with some perky holiday campers and the sense of pilgrimage is very different. But there are many ways to walk the Camino, so good on them for being here. And if they experience even a small part of the wonderful journey we have had, they will be very lucky too!

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A beautiful 30k day

Today was probably my favourite walking day so far – and that’s a very big call to make! We left by 6.30am and everything on the mountain was pitch black. A low fog hung around all morning, adding to the amazing atmosphere – especially as we first walked through a forest with only my torch app to guide us through the darkness. It was cold – the coldest I’ve been here – a refreshing wake up call til we stopped for coffee. There were also some steep inclines (albeit shorter than yesterday), which were a not-so-pleasant surprise – but given that there’s not really an alternative, the climbing mission was accomplished!
It felt as though we were the only ones out walking – at one stage, Andy and I saw what we thought was lightning up ahead…but it turned out to be two French dudes taking flash photos of a statue that we couldn’t really see, even with our torches.
We stopped for coffee and while we were in the tiny stone bar, the sun finally made its way up and everything became a lot brighter. Except the fog stayed low – making for some beautiful Celtic-style views as we walked through stunning countryside.
We took a different path to the guide book as we wanted to walk a longer day and get out of sync with the stages of the book (followed by approx 98% of pilgrims, I think) as we have generally had better experiences with towns and albergues that way. So, a 30km day took us to Samos – the view of the impressive monastery as we came down the hill made up for the tricky, rocky descent.
We’re expecting to make it to Santiago on Saturday – with two cushy, short days on Friday and Saturday to time our arrival for the morning. Tomorrow, we will pass through Sarria, the town that marks 100km to Santiago – and apparently the start of the mass pilgrimage, as it’s the shortest distance you can walk and still receive a Compostela (certificate) when you get to Santiago. Not looking forward to the expected crowds – we have been so fortunate to have had such a positive experience on our journey: hardly any pilgrim traffic jams as we walk or stop, always a place to stay and plenty of dining options. Hopefully, by staying off the guide book path we can hold on to this more intimate experience for a while longer!
With less than a week til our arrival in Santiago, everyone is starting to finalise their post-Camino plans. Steph, Andy and Chris will continue walking to Finisterre – an extra 3 days’ walk to the coast – which I would have loved to do, but the timing didn’t quite work as I am off to visit to my Dublin family for a week before heading home. I plan to catch the bus from Santiago to spend a day checking out Finisterre, to see what the ‘end of the earth’ actually looks like. Will be strange not to walk it, but that can wait til my next Camino!

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O’Cebreiro – welcome to Celtic Spain

Day 26 was a big challenge. Just as my clothes are getting a bit looser and I feel as though my strength and fitness are improving, the Camino throws in a hugely steep incline up to the cute medieval town of O’Cebreiro. Beautiful vistas through the woods (especially the early stages, with a smoky mist through the valley) and over the mountains, but a tough walk in the heat today and I was really focused on putting one foot in front of the other (as our friend Shane says of the Camino hills: ‘just don’t stop!’) as the sweat rolled down (in a sophisticated and ladylike manner, obviously). I was delighted to reach the top of the hill & the old walls of our first town in the region of Galicia.
Green, with changeable weather, beautiful farm land and lots of sheep and cows, the guide book says that this part of Spain has a very strong Celtic spirit – and judging by the music, scenery, design and vibe of this place, the book is right. To be sure, to be sure. Love it.
The albergue looks new – so new that they must have forgotten about the doors on the showers. Felt very European and liberated as I had no choice but to wash with only my short towel swinging from the empty curtain rail above me to give me some sense of cover. Those who know me well will appreciate what a big deal that was for me, as a conservative and private type: another Camino adventure!
The view from this albergue at the top of the hill more than makes up for it though – the pic below is from the common area, with the same view from bathroom and dorm room windows. It’s up there with the beauty of the scenery on the first days over the Pyrenees, for sure. Stunning.
Oh, and on the matter of looser clothes and improved fitness, people had suggested that we’d come home looking like waifs, but we’re so hungry after a day of walking that we’re eating quite a lot. I also like a pastry when we stop for coffee in the morning – a Napolitana is like the French pain au chocolat, only more chocolatey and much nicer – just to show my respect for the baking culture here, you understand. Snacks like chocolate, bread, cheese and potato chips are also on the agenda most afternoons as we chillax at our destination. Oh, and they have some very nice desserts too – and we pilgrims need our calcium for healthy walking bones! And not to forget the wine – delicious, cheap and refreshing chilled reds. It’s a holiday as well as a pilgrimage, after all!

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Our 25th Camino Day

Our day had an interesting beginning – walking behind two Italian men, leaving Ponferrada in the dark, an old lady in a pink tracksuit appeared and ran a bit to catch up with them. Speaking in rapid Spanish, she kept up and walked alongside them through the city streets. After a while, we realised that she was helping us find our way out of the city, taking short cuts here and there until we were safely out of town. Such a funny Camino experience – not sure if she turned back after we left to help the next batch of pilgrims get out of there!
We walked through some beautiful places today – vineyards, mountain views, stunning old towns, rivers & the ever-present bursts of colour from petunias and geraniums that brighten the streets – and ended around 30km in the hot sun, starting the big climb that we will finish tomorrow.
As Andy says every day (aside from the two-day stomach bug glitch), ‘today is a good day’. And it was.

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