Enjoy the ride while you can, my little Marillen on the Austrian team. This could get a bit bumpier.

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only using this photo for the red and white for Austria

This year’s UEFA European Championship, also referred to as Euro 2016, is already in full swing. I’ve been deliberating writing about this year’s hooligans, which I might still do, but at this point I’m spending so much time just watching as much of the football as I can manage.

Instead, I’m so inspired by how Austria has been doing, that I had to gush about it here. This is definitely a dark horse candidate of a team, if there ever was one. After a disappointing loss in their opening game against Hungary, I think the Austrian team could’ve easily folded under the pressure of playing what most would agree is a far superior Portuguese side.

Not only did they not crumble upon facing these world famous footballers, who I won’t bother mentioning by name, but the Austrians did it with class and panache. Scoreless through the first half, one easily got the feeling that the old world footballers were playing on borrowed time.

As the second half rolled on and the attack of the Portuguese came in successive waves, the lowly Austrian team just kept taking punch after counterpunch. Players were feigning injury and debilitating fouls left and right, which is one of those idiosyncrasies that non football fans love to ridicule. There was plenty of that here – plenty to malign and disparage.

Finally at one point, a penalty shot was awarded. The infamous peacock of a world footballer sauntered up to what the German’s refer to as an ‘Elfmeterschuss‘ (eleven metre shot or more commonly called a ‘penalty‘), and would you believe it? The birdman’s shot didn’t make it to the net, but instead hit the left post.

The style and panache with which the Austrians played this match was undeniably inspiring. There have been a handful of other instances of underdogs exceeding expectations already in this tournament. I’m thrilled I got to see this one as it happened.

Enjoy the ride while you can, my little Marillen. This could get a bit bumpier.

try to encapsulate the Camino in a few short moments of chit chat

a pilgrim daydreaming of the comfort of his armchair

 Not sure where I heard it, but it’s been said that you have a short window of opportunity in which people want to hear about your holidays. 

After ‘How was your break? You were in Spain weren’t you?‘, there’s a few moments where you can share generally, before the conversation moves on to what’s been going on in your absence. Or the news of the day or whatever you might normally talk about. 

Of course close friends might be different, and if you had some earth-shattering news to tell, people might perk up and give you a bit more leeway. However, when I think about what I was doing last week, and I try to encapsulate that in a few short moments of chit chat, I find myself sputtering out banalities. 

It was great,’ I reply. ‘Yes, Spain. Northern Spain – flew into Bilbao and then walked along the Camino de Santiago for a week. 

‘No, I didn’t do the whole thing. That’d take six weeks or so, and I just didn’t have that kind of time.’

Then back to daily life. That’s just how it is. To be expected, even. Life moves on. 

The thing is: I do have this blog and this is as good a place as any to leave my impressions from my limited time on the Camino. It wasn’t easy blogging while actually there, so I took photos and wrote down impressions as I was going. Fully intending to keep talking about it long after I returned. 

The photo above is a pilgrim imagining the comfort of home, which made me smile as I saw it while lugging my pack. That night as I was icing my swollen foot and uploading that photo, I was already quite aware that I was going to miss the simplicity of the Camino upon returning to the day to day. 

I walked around my adopted hometown today, as Munich came to life with the bustle of locals and tourists alike. Someone in Spain told me about his having walked the Jakobsweg, which is what the Germans call this pilgrimage – it’s German for the Way of St. James  – from somewhere in the former Yugoslavia. That’s purportedly the ancient way, from what he said. 

There’s a route that goes through the Bavarian Alps, as well. I’m already imagining taking a week sometime and following the way markers toward the French border. Maybe I’ll even take my dogs and see how manageable it is to find a place to stay along the way where they’d also be welcome. 

In the meantime, I’m looking at photos that remind me of some of my better moments following The Way and I’m doing my best to bring the best of that Spirit to my daily life here back at home. 

Here’s one of the only photos I have of me while I was out there:

And struggle in the darkness troubling my eyes

This left foot has been giving me trouble for days


Well, my week on the Camino de Santiago has sadly come to an end. I know I’ve gone on and on about my feet, but that’s what people on a pilgrimage talk about. It’s rather important, to be fair. 

poppies along The Way


This was one of the nicer photos from my last day of walking, and just looking at it makes me want to rearrange my flight from Bilbao and keep walking toward Santiago

waking with the roosters


If you get up with most of the other pilgrims, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeting the sun. Yet because you’re generally walking westwards, the sunlight is shining on your back. 

a selfie with me caring for my feet


Most days begin and end with obsessive foot maintenance. It’s on the mind of nearly everyone on the Camino. And a helpful tip for how to care for your doggies is on the tip of almost every pilgrim’s tongue. 

still one of my favourite shots of my time on the Camino


I can’t believe so much has happened in such a short week. The thought of continuing on all the way to Santiago makes me so envious of my fellow pilgrims who I’ve been walking with the last days. 

I’m reminded of one of Joni Mitchell‘s songs in which she ponders some of the same things I’ve been thinking about while pilgrimming.  

Hoping and hoping

As if by my weak faith

The spirit of this world

Would heal and rise

Vast are the shadows

That straddle and strafe

And struggle in the darkness

Troubling my eyes

From the song Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Getting your Credencial del Peregrino stamped and rolling with the punches

looking out across the Spanish landscape


Here’s a riddle for you:

What do call a false noodle?

Let me get one thing straight. I’m not walking the whole Camino de Santiago this time. I’d love to, but I only had a week. Making the most of my week, but this is a kind of a snapshot of what one might expect of this pilgrimage

Because I joined later on in the pilgrimage and am not walking all the way to Santiago, I’ve had to get over some feelings of being an imposter on this journey. One way I’ve done this is to simply immerse myself in each day of walking. 

People come on and get off the Camino all the time. Nobody’s got the time or wherewithal to judge what you’re doing, anyway. Too much else to busy one’s self with anyway. 

You get in from a day of walking and often by the time you’ve hand washed your sweaty clothes and figured out what to eat, you collapse on your bunk. 

For everyone who’s been here, the next part is now second nature, but for those of you following at home? I’d like to introduce you to the world of albergues

tonight’s albergue: Cuatro Cantones in Belorado


While you can call ahead and reserve a room in a hostel or even a hotel along the way – again: no judgement if that’s the way you choose to do this – however, most pilgrims choose to stay at an albergue.

Some are run by the municipal government in the villages along the way, while others are housed within the town’s monastery or a convent. 

In Santo Domingo de la Calzada last night, we slept with the nuns. Don’t take that the wrong way, though, because it’s the Cistercian nuns who run that albergue.

How do you get a bed at one of these places?

here’s my Credencial del Peregrino


First you’ve got to have a Credencial del Peregrino, which is a little passport like booklet each pilgrim starts out with. Upon arriving, and it’s a first come, first served basis (no reservations taken), you get your Credencial stamped with a decorative stamp. 

How do you know you have a bed in the next town before you get there? Well if you’re staying in albergues, you don’t. It’s possible you try a few places and finally a bed is available. If everything’s full, you might be walking on to the next village. Hasn’t happened to me so far, but I’ve heard plenty of stories of woe. 

a few nights ago in Nájera


It might sound a bit too improvisational for your taste. Here’s the thing, though: part of this whole experience is that there are some things quite simply out of your control. How one rolls with the punches could determine the quality of one’s entire journey.

Oh, back to how I started: 

What do call a false noodle?

An im-pasta!

Update: for reasons of factual accuracy, I feel I need to make it clearer about the different types of albergue

Here’s how a friend described it: 

The deal is this: there are municipal albergues, parochial albergues and private ones. Only at the private ones can you reserve in advance which some people do but it takes away from the spirit of the Camino which is essentially to walk as long as you can on any given day and then check in where you end up at the end of your walking day. That, of course, depends on what kind of condition you’re in and how far you can walk, which is something you can not necessarily predict in advance.

For the heathens among you, I’ll say hello to God on your behalf

follow the little man in the funny hat

Arrived yesterday, but didn’t feel comfortable talking about the Camino de Santiago, because I’d not even started it. Standing on the main square in front of the cathedral in Logroño

right in the middle of the middle of La Rioja


…listening to the pilgrims grinningly go on about their myriad of ailments, I felt so out of place. On the outside looking in, as it were. Many of them had been at this for upwards of a week or more. They were hobbling into town regaling one another with the status of their injuries, while I was chipper and ready to go.

While waiting impatiently for my start the following morning, I strolled around the capital of Rioja and mindfully appreciated my fresh and unchallenged legs and feet. ‘Enjoy this while you can,’ I reminded myself. ‘Soon enough you’ll have your own well-earned philosophies of proper foot care on the Camino.’

breakfast in Navarette

At an ungodly hour, I was out the door of the albergue and far from the only pilgrim already on the streets out of town. By leaving that early, there were few, if any, options for breakfast. Hoofing it the twelve kilometres to Navarette was certainly sweetened by the thought of a café con leche and pretty much anything they were offering in the way of food.

It might be a cliché that you appreciate the smallest things on such a trip, but there was nothing cliché about the taste of that coffee.

There was a church there, too, and if you’re one who gets easily bored of pictures of churches, you might consider not reading this blog for the next little while.

It’s pretty much guaranteed to be a mix between a lot of sweaty hikers and Spanish religious architecture from here on out. You’ve been adequately warned.

churchin’ it up in Navararette

For the heathens among you, I’ll say hello to God on your behalf.

Just waiting to go

packed and ready to go

The last blogpost about leaving for the Camino resulted in so much interest from both people on social media and folk with whom I interact in my daily life. I was thrilled by comments from people who’ve been on a pilgrimage or those who were curious what it was all about.

Some insisted that they wouldn’t feel safe walking alone, and my assurance that you’re never really alone on such a trip was met with incomprehension.

There are plenty of things I’ve read and heard about how people are protected and provided for as they’re walking the Camino. It all sounds a bit unbelievable at this point, but I’m doing my best to suspend disbelief and see what it’s like with my own eyes.

That’s the funny thing: I’ve read everything I can get my hands on. I’ve watched documentaries about pilgrimages in general and the Camino de Santiago in particular, but there’s one thing left that I’ve not done.

I’m packed.

The dogs have gone to the sitter.

I’ve cleaned out my fridge, so I don’t have to throw away any food upon my return.

There’s just one thing left that I haven’t done. I’ve not actually left yet. That’s it. I’m just waiting to go.

With all of this Vorfreude, which is this German word that means something like ‘the joy of anticipation‘. That’s exactly where I am now.

Just waiting to go.

heed that guy’s warning, would you?

 

getting geared up

 
I’ll admit it – I’m a little nervous about my feet. 

Blogs and online forums and even a few old-fashioned books I’ve been poring over have adequately warned me how important foot maintenance is when it comes to the kind of long-distance walking I’ll soon be doing. For those of you not hanging on my every word over here, I’ll catch you up quickly:

I’m soon leaving for Spain, where I’m walking a bit of the Camino de Santiago. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not walking the whole thing. I’m getting a taste for this pilgrimage and then, in all likelihood, I’ll be back at some future date for more of the same. 

The photo above is what I’ve already amassed in hopes of decent care of my hind paws. Again and again I hear and read about how the time you spend while on the Camino: you’re either walking or taking care of your feet. I’m sure I’ll  appreciate the scenery and the comeraderie of the other pilgrims, but right now I can only think of one thing: I’ve got this picture in my head of me coming home missing toenails and reminiscing fondly of a time back when I could still fully feel my extremities. 
You likely assume I’m exaggerating, and I’ve been accused of that sort of thing before. Comes with the territory, I suppose. Come back and talk to me in a few weeks, though, and we’ll see. I’ll be the old-timer hobbling along wagging his finger ominously. ‘Proper foot care, m’boy. It’s all about taking care of those five-toed wonders at the end of your legs.’ 

Somebody heed that guy’s warning, would you?