Monday, October 29, 2012

Traveling From the Taize Community

We took the local bus from Taize to Macon Ville, through the incomparable Burgundy countryside, past Cluny, site of the oldest monastery in Europe, dating back to 910 CE.

 We spent  time wandering down a few streets, eating lunch and taking a few pictures with our soon-to-be-lost camera and some with our Ipad.  Macon's latest claim to fame was as a starting point for a leg of the 2012 Tour de France.  The bike theme was ubiquitous.

John enjoying bikes!

Carol enjoying window shopping!

We boarded the train in Macon Ville to take us through Paris and on to Brussels to meet Jody and Kevin.  During our stop over in Paris we had to schlep our bags through the subway from one station to the next. It was incredibly disconcering to see the station teeming with security police and big dogs as well as armed soldiers! Unnerving to be enjoying a cafe au lait and croissants while the soldiers with guns pointed walked by every few minutes.  We never learned whether this was prompted by a security concern or simply standard operating procedure. And it gave us some gratitude for our time in Botswana where we rarely saw an armed soldier or police officer.

Once in Brussels we had an evening to rest, in anticipation of picking Jody and Kevin up at the airport the next day for yet another travel adventure and the last chapter of our incredible time in Europe.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sojourning at the Taize Community

 July 9 --- on to the Taize Community located in the Burgundy region in southeastern France.  We have long been attracted to this community; Carol often participates a Taize-inspired service Sunday evenings in Portland. So to have the opportunity to spend time at where it all began was over-the-top incredible.
The concept of Taize came as an inspiration to a young Swiss, now known affectionately as Brother Roger, who in 1940 founded Taize as a reconciliation effort between Protestants and Catholics. The community of one hundred brothers comes from thirty different countries  to worship and work based on shared principles of peace, justice, reconciliation and hospitality.

Meal time, patient gathering in line for simple meals

And most amazingly, the brothers welcome thousands of pilgrims every year to join them in community life. More amazingly, the huge majority of these visitors --- especially in the summer when we were there ---- are young people from all around the world!
What vitality and energy we experienced --- that was over-the-top as well! (And thankfully we
discovered the quieter area for residence, meditation and study groups early on.)

We spent a week in community, which is the typical length of stay. Some pilgrims do remain for extended lengths of time. This is the path from the common areas of worship, gathering and dining to our lodging. John stayed with men from Germany, France, Austria, the UK and California; Carol slumbered in a lower bunk in her room joined by three very exuberant friends from Germany. Other than the challenge of sleeping through snoring sounds (not our own, of course!) it was a delightful experience.

A short walk down a wooded path led to this
beautiful lake, perfect for contemplation ---
and naps!

Our daily schedule included gathering
three times a day for worship
in meditation and song.

Our week at Taize came to an end, for it was time to meet Jody and Kevin. And though we left Taize, our memories of connection, worship and reflection in this amazing community will be with us forever.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lérida to Andorra

We arrived in Spain from Africa on May 27.  It is now July 4. Here is our journey (by bus, train and on foot) so far.....

The train trip from Madrid to Lleida was more like flying used to be. A screen in our coach gave the speed - and we reached 305 km/hour.  The ride was smooth - no clack-clacking rails.  The seats were spacious and comfortable.  The straight-as-an arrow track carried us through gorgeous countryside.  As much as we had heard about these trains, the experience of riding one was amazing, and we were grateful for it.  This is the station at Lérida.

Inside, everything sleek and new, and outside, a magnificent old train station a few blocks from our albergue.

In fact,  the word Lérida is not much in use;  maps, roadsigns, guidebooks use Lleida, which is the Catalan version of the city's name.  Like other local languages and dialects, Catalan was supressed during the dictatorship of "Generalissimo" Franco, and has surged back as a matter of pride since his death in 1975.  Most Spaniards in places like Catalonia and Galicia do speak Castilian, so it is not hard to navigate the town.  And interesting to learn a few phrases in these languages, too.

Here is the view from our room in the hotel overlooking the central plaza.

And a page from our daily journal.....

Lleida is  a beautiful ancient city, with yet another name --- Ilerda --- during the reign of Augustus.  It doesn't seem to be a place that attracts many tourists, which is itself an attraction.   There is an impressive castle complex at the top of the city (Lleida is built between the river, Rio Segre, and the hill).  An elevator is available to ride upwards from this square leading to a winding road at the entrance.

The romanesque cathedral, La Seu Vella, is impressive and completely unadorned. Everything that could be removed, viz stolen, disappeared long ago, and the building was used as a military garrison from the early 1700's.  John climbed the tower, 238 narrow winding steps all the way to the top, a challenge to his acrophobia, and well worth it.  Here is another page from Carol's journal.

And now from Lleida to Andorra through the spectacular Pyrennees Mountains.  The van driver recommended a hotel and dropped us at the front door.  As ever, a charming, simple and friendly place.  Along the way, we've been taking pictures from the window of our hostel/albergue/hotel so here is one that is in a class by itself, taken from our room in Andorra. 

Not to worry.  There was another window facing the street.

Andorra is an unusual country.  Independent since the 13thcentury, yet we met Europeans who had never even heard of it. Andorra is built along the highway that runs through the (incredibly steep) mountains.  Most of it is very new, very modern, very intensely urban.  A rapid mountain stream runs right through the middle of the cities of Escades-Engordany, where we stayed, and the adjacent capital, Andorra La Vella (adjacent for sure, you can't tell when you are walking from one to the other).  Modern:  here is the thermal spa center a few blocks from our hotel:

We took better pictures of this building, but, oh well....

The urban part of Andorra ends abruptly not far from the center of any town.  We wanted to do some walking --- we were still used to long walks from the Camino --- so we rode up to the town of Canillo, walked to the church of St. Michael's, Esglesia de Sant Miquel de Prats.  From the church, there is an 11 mile trail to another church,  Sant Miquel d'Engolasters.  The trail is steep and wooded, beautiful, yet never far from the highway, which is ocassionally visible from "on high".  The churches in Andorra are very old, very beautiful... and very small.  After all, even today, the country has a population of 80,000.  citizens.  There are a lot more people there in the ski season!

Here is another page from Carol's journal

The last stretch of the trail, a few kilometers, is developed as a sort of outdoor education site.  Along one side of the path are planted, and labeled, plants of the region.  Overall, it wasn't a difficult hike, albeit long, and here is where we ended up:

What we didn't know was how far it was down to the city.  We saw a bus stop, and hoped.  To our joy, a bus stopped a couple of minutes later and we rode down, for a couple of euros each, with a Japanese couple traveling for a few months.  

We were fortunate to see a small - Andorra is a small country - exhibit of the work of Joán Miró  at a bank in Escaldes.  There are so many small museums and exhibits, intimate, uncrowded, and inspiring.

All in all, Andorra was one of the most relaxing, easy-going places we've been.  Homes with beautiful flowers and tobacco growing in the most unusual places. The downside was the smoking inside, outside, just everywhere! 

We couldn't stay forever, so on to southern France, where we spent a night before traveling to our next destination, the Taize Community.  Here is the "view from our window" in Toulouse.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

From Salamanca to Madrid, Redux

Salamanca, new
Salamanca is awesome! This elegant and accessible city is home to the oldest university in Spain (founded in 1218 by Alfonso IX of León). A bit of history: in Europe, only the University of Bologna (1088) and Oxford University (1167) and the University of Paris (1150) are older.  And the Temple of Literature in Ha Noi has them all beat as the oldest university in southeast Asia, founded in 1070.

Salamanca, old
We arrived on July 1st looking like ragged Camino backpackers, again without a guidebook or clue where we would stay... 

A page from Carol's journal showing the whimsical 
astronaut carved on the facade of the Cathedral
Spontaneous travel as we are doing led us to meet an awesome Brazilian couple also in their 60's walking from the bus station to a small hotel in the center of the city. We visited on the walk as they seemed to know where they were going --- to the Pensión San José which also had a room available for us. Serendipity continued to be in our favor!

Our new Brazilian friends had come to walk same path on the Camino as we had walked, and after that to take a course in Spanish language.  Their spoken English was way better than our non-existent Portugese, so we got along quite well.  The four of us went to dinner on an old street of restaurants, all of which had televisions set up outside, because on this very evening Spain and Italy faced off in the finals of the Euro Cup. It was an exciting night as Spain not only won, but completely dominated Italy 4-0.

Salamanca is beautiful interesting, stimulating, a university town of the nth degree.  We will have to get to know it better next time, because after the game, and most of the next day wandering around the city, we headed back to Madrid.

July 2-4 back in Madrid, the wonderful bed and breakfast in which we previously stayed was rented and Yvonne was kind enough to find another place for us, in the apartment of her friend Paula, also from Argentina.  Nicer people cannot be found!     

This time in Madrid we went to the Prado.  As famous as it is, it was, to be honest, a little disconcerting.  Lots of huge Renaissance oils of royalty and battles.  Hard to find our way around, even with a map.  And of course, to see everything well would take days, not hours.    Carol was especially entranced by Fra Angelico’s Annunciation

In Barcelona, with Annie and Nick, we had seen an original Picasso study of Velasquez' La Menina.  Now at the Prado, we saw Velasquez' own painting.

And we both enjoyed a street guitarist outside the Prado....

More street folks --- fun “performers” like this wherever we went.

And, oh yes, recycling.  Here, the recycling bins dump everything into underground containers that can be accessed from below.  They don’t overflow, and there are no big trucks blocking traffic and making noise as they remove the trash.  Very cool!

Our last night in Madrid we had dinner at a wonderful, small restaurant, Villa Rosa, with front table seats at a fantastic flamenco performance.  A guitarist and three dancers, two women and a man, performed individually and spectacularly together.

The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast, we said goodbye to our friends Yvonne and Paula.  That's one of Yvonne's incredible chocolate/dulce de leche cakes in the upper right. Yes, chocolate for breakfast, mmmmm.

 Leaving Madrid on the bullet train on July 4 to Lleida, in Catalonia. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

From Santiago to the End of the Earth - Finisterre - and on to Portugal

In honor of the pilgrims' walk to the great Cathedral in Santiago we were given certificates of completion, which if you are fluent in Latin, you will be able to read above!   Just in case the print is too small and the language indecipherable: there are our names in Latin (Joannem and Carolam) and the date June 23, 2012. And although we felt the joy and relief of completing our time on the Camino, we knew that reaching Santiago was the beginning as well as an endpoint.  

Leaving Santiago, we realized that our path of adventure was continuing   Our days were open until July 17 when we were to meet Jody and Kevin in Brussels. On we journeyed to Finisterra (translated: end of the earth.) This time we traveled (and relaxed) on a beautiful bus,with our feet especially enjoying the scenery along the way!  

One of our awesome Aussie friends Penny recommended a funky little hostel run by a young man from Barcelona who fell in love and stayed in Finisterra.  At  O Albergue de Paz the acommodations were spartan, the people we met were memorable, and the price - 10 euro a night - was awesome.

Here's John at the actual medieval “end of the earth” --- a rocky outcrop into the Atlantic --- like so many others, with a bit more tourist shtick.  We loved Finisterra, time to chill out, swim, read and explore!

After our idyllic days in Finisterra, on June 27 we traveled on to Porto, Portugal.  As has been our (successful) mode on this adventure, we arrived with no plan on where to stay or what to do!  However sadly, not feeling all that well.  On the Camino neither of us took the time to get sick, but a bug, or several, caught up with us in Porto. Hot, tired, coughing -- and with no guidebook --- we found a hotel in the center of the city.  The narrow stairs from the street made the place look sketchy, at first, maybe because we were so tired and travel-worn.  In fact, the Hotel Aliados was charming, in the old European sense of the word.  If you get to Porto, we recommend it.

Here are some words that came to us as we journaled along the way:  watery (the city is built along the Duro River), blue tiles (old buildings with amazing facades)

and blue skies, long rifle (a soldier with a big gun told us that the Moorish Quarter was closed), best friend - that refers to each other -, good Chinese food - yes, in Porto - great ride on a boat, feeling better (Carol, trying to shake bronchitis, went to a doctor, had xrays and two consultations, without waiting, for $160.  (No "insurance" --- just being in a country that cares about the health of the people within its borders.)  And wonderfully, we enjoyed Fado music in the evenings!

A boat ride down the Duro River also improved our health and well being!

Porto is filled with always delightful street performance.  In every city, the range of talent and creativity presented in public spaces was incredible- opera, break dancing,  bubble blowing.  And this man below was fascinating.  We weren't sure at first that he was actually a person.  For a euro, he pounded a nail with the "hammer" in his right hand.  Other than that, he didn't move a muscle, remaining motionless even when his wife brought him a soda to drink through a straw!

Portugal, perhaps more than Spain, has suffered in the current economy.  It doesn't stop them from maintaining their infrastructure.  Not only roads and water mains, but esthetic infrastructure like this little park.  The maintenance of parks and open spaces was beautiful, wherever we went.  And it takes jobs to keep public spaces like these looking so good.

 It's hard to resist street musicians,


people watching,
relaxing in the beauty of antiquities,
and incredible gardens!

Our time in Portugal was so brief, yet we felt it was time to move on as we had adventures on hand before meeting Jody and Kevin in mid July!   So on July 1 we left for Salamanca, then a return to Madrid, where we would spend a few more days before going on to France via Lérida, in Cataluña, and Andorra.