The Curious Intersection Between a Beginning and an End

It’s a funny thing, isn’t it, when an ending feels like a beginning. With the help of new friends, Compeed blister pads, a lot more faith than I’m used to, and trusty three euro bocadillos- I have somehow managed to complete my version of the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage. I walked (ha, limped) the final few kilometres into Santiago de Compostela at around eleven o’clock in the morning on Sunday the tenth of November- crazy! As I gazed up at the iconic cathedral I had one of those reverant moments where your mind is ensnared purely by the spectacle in front of you, and where you just feel like stopping time for a few precious moments. Alas, the moment was broken by a fellow pilgrim hurrying us along to make it to mass, but it was beautiful nonetheless! It was the ending of my Camino adventure, and the beginning of, well, life without walking every day.

After my time at Taizé, I started walking again from Sarria. Sarria is just over one hundred kilometres from Santiago, and because you actually only need to walk one hundred kilometres to get your Compostela certificate, thousands of pilgrims choose just to do that section. It was a very strange experience indeed to start walking again. I’d been walking in lovely sunshine before, and this time it was pouring down with rain as I took my first steps from Sarria. So, it was time to pull out my pièce de la résistance; the heavy plastic rain poncho that my Nanny found buried in the back of her garden shed! This delightful fashion staple protected not only me from the rain, but my backpack as well, and required my lovely British friends to help me pull it on in a process that took about five minutes. Let me tell you, I was scared to stop anywhere for the rest of that first day, as I knew I’d have to take my poncho off and get fifty million people to help me put it back on again. But, it was a good lesson in learning to accept help more readily! Please enjoy the following photo, and try not to be too blinded by my beauty:

From Sarria, I walked twenty five kilometres to a beautiful riverside town with hundreds of whitewashed buildings called Portomarin. I didn’t actually plan to walk that far, but all of the other albergues leading up to it were closed so I guess I had no choice. But, it turned out nicely, as my knee behaved itself in its trusty knee brace, and I stayed at a gorgeous albergue ran by an older couple. The next day I walked to Palais de Rei; again in the rain, and again through beautiful forests and countryside. It was nice to spend these days walking mostly alone, and meeting some new people every now and again. At Palais de Rei I made a gourmet dinner of bread and tuna, and sat down with a lively bunch of fellow pilgrims. One guy, from the Netherlands, was basically John Krasinki’s doppelganger in personality and appearance. It was great to share stories and simply share in one another’s company!

We rejoiced the next day as it seemed sunny and rain-free, but the Galician region had other plans and sent down a massive downpour. In fact, it actually started to hail at one point! I remember trudging into my destination of Melide with blisters forming on my feet, my backpack digging into my hips, the hail pelting down, and, to top it all off, I was offered a free sample of what I didn’t realise was octopus (until I ate it) by a local restaurant owner- I loathe octopus. With a passion. What a day! But, to appreciate the sunshine, we need the rain hey. I just had to laugh! And, in the albergue at Melide, I met Italian Sara who cooked me risotto with some porcini mushrooms she’d picked up along the way. Sara grew up identifying and picking mushrooms with her Grandpa in the Italian mountains, and she made the most beautiful risotto for which I was very grateful!

From Melide, I walked a cruisy fifteen kilometres to a place called Arzua. I checked in to my albergue at around one pm, leaving me plenty of time to journal, relax, and get some washing done. And, in a wonderful turn of events, my German friend Kat caught up to me and stayed in the same albergue! It was such a treat to see her again, and enjoy a lovely pilgrims menu together with some other friends. At this point, my knee was doing okay, but I had twelve blisters on my feet from getting back into the swing of walking- including three on my little toe! But, our little group of Kat, Sara and German Alex decided to do a casual thirty five kilometres the next day to Montes de Gozo, so that on Sunday we only had to walk five kilometres into Santiago. I thought I may as well give it a try, and actually ended up completing the thirty five kilometres- my biggest day yet. I started at eight am and arrived at seven pm, hooley dooley! When I arrived I couldn’t spot any of our little group, and I thought they’d dogged me for a second. But as it turned out, I was just way too Speedy Gonzales and beat them all.

Then, I hobbled the last five kilometres into Santiago and thus completed my journey! Guess how many kilometres my official certificate says I completed? Three hundred and ninety eight– just a measly two kilometres short of four hundred! This factored in my break from the Camino, and added my distances from St Jean to Burgos, and then Sarria to Santiago. To get your certificate, you have to show them your Pilgrim’s Passport- the stamps on which prove you have walked at least one hundred kilometres. Here’s a photo of one side of mine:

I spent a wonderful two days in Santiago catching up with old and new friends, eating yummy tapas and churros, and taking some time to wind down and reflect. I truly do see the end of my Camino as a beginning, where I am hopefully able to see life in a more considered light! I’m so grateful for the lessons I learned and am still learning; both on the Camino and at Taizé. After Santiago, I took a bus to Lisbon in Portugal, where I am currently sitting in my cosy dorm room writing this blog. It’s so lovely to experience Lisbon for a little while before hopping on a plane to head home!

Love from Madeline xx

A Week at Taizé- The Wellspring of Faith

Quite frankly, I think I need a wellspring of words from which I can compose this blog. It’s so difficult to put my experience at Taizé into words, though I’ll try my darndest! Last time I wrote I was half-asleep on a night bus from Burgos in Spain to Lyon in France, and feeling rather excited about what my week at Taizé would entail. I arrived into Lyon at around 9am in the morning, and had the whole day to wander around with my pack on my back like an aimless turtle. Thank goodness Lyon is a stunning city, with lots of lovely cafes and massive museums (complete with Egyptian mummies, Monet paintings, and security guards who didn’t much like the fact I lugged my massive backpack into the museum to be stored) in which I could happily spend hours! My dear friend Corinna was arriving into Lyon that night, and from there we took a bla bla car (that, due to Corinna’s delayed bus, we managed to make with 10 seconds to spare) and a bus to Taizé. I first met Corinna in 2014, when she was a part of my Germany-Australia exchange program, and we met again in Germany last year when my exchange sister got married- it’s a long story! But a long story short, we were able to meet in the middle of Germany and Spain to spend the week together at Taizé, which was an absolute blessing.

Taizé is a Christian community located, quite surprisingly, in the small town of Taizé in France. The community was founded by Brother Roger in 1940, who had the vision to create a “community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything.” Brother Roger is also quoted saying that “God is love alone,” and Taizé thus tries to emulate that love in everyday life. There are brothers at Taizé from over forty different countries, all of whom participate in humanitarian work all around the world, help mentor the young people who come to Taizé, and live off of the funds they receive from the handicrafts they sell at a local shop. Over the years Taizé has become a place to which thousands of young people come either short term or long term, and participate in activities throughout the week to help them tap into their own wellspring of faith. Corinna spent a week at Taizé earlier this year, and loved it so much that we went back together!

I can honestly say I had no idea what to expect when Corinna and I arrived late Friday night! I think I was even picturing some kind of community like the Amity camp in that Divergent movie, where everyone is super peaceful and wears funky colourful clothing. We were welcomed by one of the long-term volunteers at Taizé, who assigned us a dorm room, gave us our meal tickets, and gave us the options of how much we could pay for the week. I know hey- how strange to be able to choose how much you pay for accomodation and food! Essentially, they have a chart that balances the amount of nights you stay and what country you are from, and then you choose your payment between two number values. We then got a little introduction to Taizé- with information like what the daily schedule entailed, where the first aid area was, and most importantly where the créperie and coffee shop was located. Every day there are three prayers- one at 8:15, one at 12:20, and one at 8:30. Nestled in between those prayers are Bible studies with a small group, work (yep, everyone is assigned a job at Taizé!), meals, and other activities like song practice and meetings with the brothers. We arrived in the midst of school holidays, so for the majority of our stay there were a casual 1800 young people at Taizé, and I was one of only two Australians.

On Saturday, Corinna and I decided to skip a few of the planned activites, and instead hike to and fro the charming nearby town of Cluny. It was so special to just spend the day catching up on each others lives and enjoying some beautiful sunshine! I also had my first experience of the daily prayers. Taizé is renowned for the fact that they sing their prayers in many different languages; with a Bible reading, a time of silence, and communion providing a break from the singing. The Taizé songbook had songs in English, French, German, Polish, Swedish, Khmer, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese and so many more, as they believe using different languages is a way of making everyone feel welcome and loved! It was an incredible experience to hear so many different languages in one short prayer time.

On Sunday we had our first work shift- our job was to set up for the evening meal, oversee the food distribution to make sure nothing ran out and the sneaky servers weren’t giving people too much food, and then to clean up afterwards. We got to wear super fashionable aprons and skull caps, and had the absolute privilege of working with an amazing team of around ten people! Our team leader, Bartosv, was from Poland, and we laughed constantly at his ability to change from his happy-go-lucky personality into work mode. He affectionately called us his minions, and always made sure we had extra food when we sat down to eat together when our work was done. It was so good to have work everyday, as it allowed me to have a semblance of normality and be grounded in my reality!

Corinna and I were in the same Bible study group, with about 5 other young women. I absolutely loved meeting them all and hearing their wisdom- we had so many conversations about God and topics like the meaning of love, and what it means to be human. Before we split off into our smaller groups, we were introduced to the Bible text by Brother Sebastian- who was from the Netherlands and could casually speak Dutch, French, English, German and Swedish! I loved how down to earth he was. He would introduce the text to us with many funny stories and a refreshing honesty that he, like us, struggles to comprehend just what Jesus is trying to say to us through the Bible. Actually, that’s one thing of many I loved about the brothers of Taizé! There was no sense of ‘us and them’, we were able to sit with them in prayers, to talk with them afterwards, and to make jokes to our hearts content.

I loved meeting so many inspiring and wonderful people from all over the world, and sharing our lives for just one week. The one other person from Australia, Charlotte, was in the same dorm as Corinna and I, and also came to the Australia meeting with us. Corinna decided to tag along to the meeting and see if she could do a convincing Aussie accent- but Brother Matthew (who facilitated the meeting) twigged that she was German after one sentence! In a moment of absolute wonder, Brother Matthew and I realised that his parents live in Gawler, only twenty kilometres from my house. And, even more unbelievable, he is close friends with a Christian woman in the Barossa who first told me about Taizé! In another example of the world being so small, Charlotte and I realised that her Grandpa was the Uniting church minister in the small Victorian town where my Mum grew up. And, in a crazy turn of events, her Grandpa MARRIED my Mum and Dad, and her Grandma hand made my Mum’s wedding dress- whhaaattt!

All in all, I feel incredibly revitalised after spending a week at Taizé. I’m so grateful for the reminder of what Christianity is all about, and also what community and love is all about. If you’re ever in France, I’d so recommend a stay there! It was quite a strange feeling to leave Taizé, hop on a nineteen hour bus to Spain, and get ready to walk the final one hundred and twenty kilometres to Santiago de Compostela. I am now in Portomarin, having walked twenty four kilometres from Sarria today in the pouring rain! I hope to arrive in Santiago in five days time. Until then,

Love from Madeline xx

‘Poco a Poco’ – Little by Little and Step by Step

If a Spanish local knows that you are a pilgrim- which, funnily enough, is a bit of a giveaway given the giant backpack and the elegant limp- they will often say to you ‘aha! Poco a poco!’ Translated loosely, this means little by little and step by step. Huh. It’s a rather wonderful little pearl of wisdom, often disguised for me by its simplicity and overuse. I think I can sometimes become overly enamored with making things more complicated than they need to be (evidenced, perhaps, by the fact I just tried to use the word ‘enamored’), and the Camino de Santiago has quite literally reinforced this idea of taking life step by step. I love the fact that step by step means we are always working towards something, that bad times will eventually turn to good, and we can go forth stronger because of it. Of course, it’s good to have some semblance of a bigger picture, but I’m finding there really is a beautiful freedom in simply being. Being with yourself, with God, with others, and with the world around us! I’m learning that taking life step by step still infers that I am mindful of my past and my future, but also that I am firmly grounded in the present.

Speaking of being firmly grounded in the present, at this very moment I am sitting on a fourteen hour night-bus from Burgos in Spain to Lyon in France. Yes indeedy, a measly little fourteen hours on a bus! It’s rather a strange feeling to be travelling one hundred kilometres per hour while sitting down, after spending two weeks walking everywhere at a pace of about four kilometres an hour. But hey, poco a poco! I’ll arrive in Lyon early tomorrow morning, explore the city a little, and then travel a further two hours to the Taizé community in the evening with my dear friend from Germany. I’ll be staying at Taizé for a week, before heading back to Spain to complete the last leg of the Camino. This charming knee of mine is very grateful for the change of pace- after having walked a combined total of two hundred and eighty five kilometres! And, after a period of mourning for the loss of my full Camino journey, I too am feeling truly grateful for the opportunity to visit Taizé and very curious about the whole experience

Pilgrims on the Camino often say that the ‘Camino provides’, and I’ve truly been realising that over the last week or so. One of the hard parts about having three rest days was having to say goodbye to pretty much everyone I had been walking with for the last week, and encountering so many new people! But, it’s also turned out to be an absolute blessing. In fact, as I was walking from Najerá to Santo Domingo, I looked behind me and immediately thought I was dreaming. Though sure enough, it was the lovely Hilary from South Africa- who I’d met on my very first day in St Jean Pied de Port and hadn’t seen since! Because she had also had rest days, she caught up to me and it was so special to chat again. I really appreciate Hilary as she gives good advice and helps me out, but also knows that I am capable regardless of how young I am. And amidst meeting and learning from other new people, it so happened that three other young people travelling solo ended up at the same albergue as me in Villefranca Montes de Oca- Skylar from America, Axelle from Belgium and Kat from Germany! It was so special to spend time together, laughing and chatting about things both serious and not- like the fact that Skylar has seen the Jonas brothers at his local beach, Belgians really do have amazing waffles and chocolate, and that Germans sometimes pretend they can’t understand German on holidays so that they can practice their English.

And, I’ve also had a lot of time all on my lonesome, which has been so precious. It’s an amazing feeling to be walking in the crisp autumn weather, starting at 7:45am or so, and breathing in the fresh air while hearing the stones crunch beneath your feet! I’ve been walking shorter days with my knee, usually under twenty kilometres. This has meant I’ve stopped for the night at some very small towns which I love! One particular town, Atapuerca, had an albergue that dated back to 1506- with beautiful exposed woodwork and a cosy feel. It was not so cosy when it dropped into the minus degrees through the night but hey, you win some you lose some! On my final day for this first part of the Camino, I walked from Atapuerca to Burgos. It was a beautiful walk in the morning, before we hit the outskirts of Burgos and walked along the main highway for about ten kilometres! But, it was almost good in a way- because there wasn’t the gorgeous landscape to distract me, so I had lots of time to think! Burgos has over one hundred thousand inhabitants, and is actually one of the most charming cities I’ve ever seen. There is a very Ed Sheeran-esque castle on the hill, a ridiculously old and intricate cathedral, and delightful old houses with brightly coloured exteriors- a lovely spot for a few rest days!

It feels quite surreal to leave the Camino and travel to Taizé for a week, but it also feels completely and utterly like the right thing to do. I’m looking forward to having a week dedicated to reflection, community, and growth! And, I guess I’ll take it poco a poco, step by step.

Love from Madeline xx

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

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