A Series of Fortunate Events

The great Lemony Snicket may have originally written ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, but I’m going to plagiarise his genius and name my blog the opposite- because I’m at a moment in my life where I’m learning to see unfortunate events as somewhat fortunate events. Which means, perhaps sadly, that this blog won’t include any villainous cretins named Count Olaf, nor will it include any octopus-shaped submarines or unreasonably intelligent babies (apologies if you never read his literary genius as a child, as this will make zero sense). But, what it will include is the tale of a twenty year old Australian traipsing the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, multitudes of Spanish cats, and a touch of subtle whinging about a knee injury. If that tickles your fancy, by all means, read on!

Last time I wrote, I was sitting on my bunk bed in a lovely little albergue at Puente la Reina, about a week ago. This time, I’m sitting at a table at a Spanish café in Nájera, a teensy one hundred kilometres and five hundred metres further along the Camino! I’m constantly overwhelmed with gratitude that I’m here on this adventure. From Puente la Reina, I had the brilliant idea to walk thirty-three kilometres to a tiny village called Villemayor- though it actually did turn out to be a brilliant idea, because I met beautiful people along the way, and stayed at a homey little Christian albergue! To give you a little idea of how hospitable the volunteers were at this albergue, they gave us an Epsom salts foot bath on arrival as well as little glasses of cold water with lemon. How lovely is that?! God was cradling me in his arms, I think, as I stayed at this albergue that provided us with a home cooked meal, a Jesus meditation session, and brekky in the morning that included the utter luxury of muesli and yoghurt!

In other news, that day I’d felt a few funny twinges in my knee- that escalated to the point of my limping my way around the albergue that night. The next day, my knee decided to really let me know it was unhappy, and continued to hurt like a very bad word for the next two stages of the Camino. In the midst of this pain, however, were so many moments of beauty. I walked with a French nurse at one point, who gave me some anti-inflammatory cream and sound advice, and stayed at a fun little albergue where the host gave me an icepack and escorted me down the stairs to dinner! I ended up going to the doctors surgery in Logroño a few days later, where they told me I’ve likely damaged/torn my meniscus cartilage from continuous walking- a diagnosis that my surgeon back home agrees with. In fact, I had surgery for the same injury on the same knee a few years back, and it will likely need surgery again to repair it! I limped out of the doctors with tears running down my face, and feeling rather angry with everything and everyone- mostly my knee, for throwing a spanner in the works of a journey that I feel I’ve given up a lot to be on.

But, in the spirit of turning unfortunate events to fortunate ones, I needed to remind myself of my original purpose for doing the Camino. Was it simply to walk a crazy amount of kilometres? No. Was it to have time to refresh and refuel? Yes! I’m thus trying to purposefully find the good in the situation- the situation being that I needed to have three rest days in Logroño, to try walking for another few days with a knee brace and painkillers, and if the pain still remained, to stop walking all together. And, there really have been so many good things!! On my rest days, I met a girl from Israel and we went out for lunch together, I had a chance to journal and reflect, I was able to stay in one place for more than a day, and none other than my Swedish pal from day one, Dave, waltzed through the door of my hostel, and a group of us went out for tapas together! I then eased myself back into the rhythm of walking, and have walked two short days now.

Last night I stayed in little Navarette, a medieval town with the most awe-inspiring church I’ve seen so far. And, I stayed at a family run albergue, that owned no less than five cats! One of them was a beautiful black Spanish cat called Leo, and funnily enough, I have a beautiful black non-Spanish cat at home called Leo, so there you have it. The rest of this blog could be about these cats, but perhaps your eyes are already glazing over, so I’ll spare you the glorious details. I will say, however, that today I walked sixteen kilometes from Navarette to Nájera with wonderful company. I walked partway with a lady from Taiwan and a lady from South Korea, who call themselves the ‘snail sisters’ because they walk so slow! They adopted me into their little group and we had lots of laughs and good chats- what a blessing.

The issue with my knee and these two days of walking have helped me to make a decision- and decision making does not come easily for me! Before and during my walk, many people have suggested that I visit the Taizé Christian community in France, but I didn’t have enough time. Taizé, from what I understand, is a community that offers space for reflection, fellowship, and spiritual growth- encompassing many of my reasons for doing the Camino- and now that I suddenly have some time, and I’m very close to France, I think I will pause my Camino to go there, and return to the Camino for the final one hundred kilometres! Gosh, how plans can change.

My experience so far has been overwhelmingly humbling, and I’m slowly continuing to be reminded of the importance of seeing the good in situations that at first seem wholly bad. And, that concludes my series of fortunate events. For now x

Love from Madeline xx

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Camino de Santiago- Starting a Journey of Body and Soul

Where do I even begin? I guess the start would be rather apt! On Monday the 7th October, I took my first steps on my approx 790km Camino de Santiago journey- from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.

The Camino is well signed the entire way, with signs ranging from historic stone monuments to wonky yellow arrows simply spray-painted on the road! And, there are hundreds of towns along the way that support pilgrims- whether with an Albergue (hostel) to stay at, a cheap and wholesome pilgrims menu to enjoy, or with an open church in which pilgrims can reflect and pray. All we need to do as pilgrims is decide how many kilometres we want to walk each day, and where to stop along the way! I’ve given myself thirty five days in which to complete my walk, and I have a wonderful little guidebook that helps me figure out my distances and possible albergues.

On my first day I walked twenty five kilometres from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Roncevalles in Spain- talk about a baptism of fire! Over half of the walk was a steep uphill climb, and as my new pal Dave from Sweden so gracefully says, it was ‘bloody hard work.’ I started at 7:45am, buoyed by kind words of advice from new friends at my albergue, and arrived in to Ronscevalles at about 3:30pm. No matter how hard the climb was, I was filled with a sense of absolute wonder! Here I was crossing the Pyrenees mountains on foot, meeting people from all over the world, and carrying my own little world on my shoulders in the form of my backpack. I wasn’t sure how I’d go about meeting people on the Camino, but I soon realised that there is a beautiful sense of comraderie- with people passing you and yelling ‘Buen Camino’ (have a good walk!), and people asking where you’re from and why you’re doing the Camino. Which, I’ve realised, is very difficult to put into words.

The best piece of advice I’ve received so far about the Camino is that it is my own, and that my Camino is no better or worse than anyone elses. I’ve been walking at my own pace; sometimes walking alone, and sometimes walking with others. I’ve met some amazing people- with conversation topics ranging from spirituality and religion, to travel experiences, to how many blisters we have, to America’s various signature foods, to Eurovision, to European politics, to dangerous Aussie animals, to how much of a ‘baby’ I am at twenty years old, and so much more! I’ve met people from Germany (my German has been getting a workout!), South Korea, Brazil, the Philippines, America, Hungary, South Africa, Japan, Sweden, Slovakia, Australia, Indonesia, France, Spain and more. And, I really have had a lot of time on my own, which is just as important. I’m slowly learning the beauty of solo travel, and especially the beauty of walking the Camino trail solo- time to think, to pray, and to appreciate the small details of the landscape around me. My thoughts range from being somewhat profound to being totally random- for example, I had Guy Sebastian’s Like a Drum stuck in my head for a whole day, and then that Ants go Marching nursery rhyme for another whole day!

On my second day, I walked twenty seven kilometres from Ronscevalles to Larrasoana- and by the end of that stage I (and everyone else) was hobbling around my albergue nursing blisters on my little toes and heels! Thankfully there was a stunning little river close by, and I soaked my poor feet in the freezing cold water. On the third day, I slowly walked twenty kilometres from Larrasoana to Cizur Menor- with around eight kilometres being through the major city of Pamplona, where I saw the set up from the Running of the Bulls! I guess that would be a good tactic to get me walking faster. And finally, today I walked an EASY nineteen kilometres to beautiful little Puente de la Reina- where I’ve relaxed and journalled while enjoying my one euro microwave lunch from the local supermarket! It’s nice to have a few hours in the afternoon to simply journal, snooze, visit a church or two, and be in bed by nine pm ish.

My feet are slowly on the mend and getting used to walking such long distances, and I’m feeling very grateful for my experiences so far. Buen Camino!

Love from Madeline xx

Three Days in Paris

Ah Paris- the city of lights, the city of love, and the city I never thought I’d be visiting.

I chose to fly to Paris because it’s one of the closest main airports to St Jean Pied de Port (the start point for the Camino de Santiago), and because my dear friend from Adelaide is now living in Paris! And yes, I never thought I’d be going to Paris. If ever I travel, I like to try visit places that are off the beaten track- and funnily enough, Paris most certainly isn’t! But, I have to admit, I’ve loved my three days here.

When I first arrived, I caught two trains from the airport to my hostel- and somehow arrived in one piece! I was running on about four hours sleep from the past thirty-six hours- but as it was still daylight in Paris I pushed myself to go for a little wander around my neighbourhood. I’d managed to book myself a hostel in a beautiful area of downtown Paris; full of families, cute older couples, and billions of patisseries and boulangeries (bakeries). I wandered around in my uber-fashionable Teva sandals, and couldn’t resist snaffling up a croissant from a nearby patisserie- and it was indescribably good! I followed my croissant with a five star meal from my local supermarket- yoghurt, muesli and juice, before falling into BED!

Day One:

I literally slept from 7pm until 7am without waking up- even when my fellow dormmates came back to the room and got up in the morning! I was sharing my four person dorm with two French girls from Dijon, and a mystery lady who always came in after I was asleep and left before I woke up. My friend Mel suggested I meet her at the French Opera House, so I figured out which two metro trains I’d take to get there, and strolled to my closest metro station: Plaisance. I am so in awe of the metro system- it’s literally like a very well-organised rabbit hole! You take the stairs underground and then follow all the directions to the right line, and the platform for the train going in your direction. And gosh, it is hot down there, which is the strangest feeling considering it was a fresh 14 degrees outside!

Mel and I spent the most magical day together- it was so special to see her smiling face in a sea of unfamiliar Parisiens! It felt like we spent the whole day simply catching up, and that the beauty of Paris was just an added bonus. We wandered down the Madeleine Boulevard on our way to catch a Seine lunch cruise- and the quay was directly in front of the Eiffel Tower! Now, not to sound like one of those tourists, but the Eiffel Tower is kinda small in real life! But, I did get that fluttery feeling inside when I was finally standing in front of it- it’s incredible to behold. Then, Mel and I the most beautiful time crusing down the Seine river- catching up on the past few months, and seeing beautiful sights like the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Place de la Concorde. After that we made our way by bus to St Germain des Pres, a cutesy neighbourhood with an abundance of churches, art galleries and cafes- and even a vintage clothing store! What a day!

Day Two:

Today Mel was back at work, so I spent the day sightseeing (with lots of tips from Mel) on my own before meeting her for lunch and dinner. I’d roughly planned my day the night before, and was on the metro before 9am- with a pain au chocolat in hand from the patisserie down the road! I headed straight for the Arc de Triomphe, which loomed up in front as soon as you exit the metro station. I tell you what, I could NEVER drive in France, there were like 5 million exits from the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe! I then wandered down the Champs de Elysees Avenue, where I contemplated having a squiz at Louis Vuitton- but some stern looks from the security guards sent me packing.

I then headed to the Sacre Couer Basilica- and made a bit of a Paris metro faux pas by trying to take a photo of the Madeline metro station while simultaneously blocking the exit for some poor French women! She got out just fine, but not before politely mumbling ‘excusev-moi’ about twenty times- they really are friendly, French people. I don’t think I met a single unfriendly person- they all accomodated my poor French, and were so lovely! The Sacre Coeur is in the Montmarte district, and is situated on a hill that overlooks the whole of Paris. I chose to climb an extra three hundred steps to the top of the dome- the pain in my legs was worth it for the amazing view! To make up for all the walking and climbing that morning, I then spent the next two hours in the most amazing vintage store I’ve ever encountered- Mamie Blue. It was like a treasure box full of curated items from all the different decades- and the lovely French lady who owns it sources most of her clothes from French labels, as well as some international ones. She helped me decide which items to purchase, and gave some brilliant fashion advice! Then, after having lunch with lovely Mel- I checked out the Louvre, before taking a lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower in time for the golden hour, and dinner again with Mel.

Day Three:

Today I had a super cruisy morning, before lugging my backpack via the metro to the Gare Montparnasse train station. I’m now sitting on the 11:47 TGV fast train to Bayonne- which is the most fancy train I’ve ever been on, and which travels a casual 313km/h!! I arrive in Bayonne around 4pm, and then I’ll take a regional train to St Jean Pied de Port- the starting point for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

Love from Madeline xx