Arrival in Santiago de Compostela – June 2016

19-June-2016

I’ve arrived!

After 7 days of walking about ~227 km (give or take one or two ;)) beginning in the outskirts of Porto, Portugal, I reached the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain at about 11:30 this morning. Excitement mounting within and wanting to arrive in time for the pilgrim mass at noon, it was my fastest day of walking. As I made my way into the city and realized that I would make it in time, I slowed down my pace, actually savouring every step, every foot forward knowing that I would soon be at the main plaza in front of the cathedral.

And then I was there. And then tears. Mine. Subdued tears of gratitude for arriving safely in good health, good mindset, and good spirits after 7 days of pilgrimage. Tears of happiness for being able to arrive here once again, under a different set of circumstances and experiences but no less memorable.

I only thought about embarking on this pilgrimage 15 days ago – I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur and as we were descending into Bangkok, I looked out the window and felt a pull to go to Santiago. I can’t really explain it in words – the feeling was just there, and there was an inner urgency about it. And now that I’m here, it’s like every beat of the heart spreads immense joy through my veins. I’m simply elated to be here again, reminiscing my time here last and just marvelling at the beauty of life.

Tomorrow, I will head back to Portugal (by bus, not walking!) but this pilgrimage won’t be in vain. From here, I will treasure the lessons of patience, determination, and perseverance, and take with me more faith, hope, and love than I started with.

Life is filled with obstacles and challenges, but no matter how difficult or insurmountable they might seem, they can be overcome – one step at a time 🙂

Buen Camino!

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Countdown to Zero: Day 29

I’m behind! I know! It’s a combination of spotty wifi in Albania and Greece, very busy travel itineraries, and a bit of laziness thrown in there as well. But I’ve been constantly thinking about more highlights from the last year and a half, and this one is certainly among them…

Today’s throwback: Festa de São João in Porto, Portugal, June 2013

Probably the country’s biggest party, the Festa de São João in the northern Portuguese city of Porto takes place every year on the 23rd of June in honour of Saint John the Baptist, and my travel plans happened to take me here at precisely this time.

On this day and the days leading up to it, the inescapable aroma of grilled sardines fills the air of Porto, and a traditional courtship ritual to hit one’s prospective romantic interest with garlic flowers becomes a free for all with inflatable plastic hammers! Everyone floods the streets to watch the midnight fireworks, and lanterns are set off into the sky from the Rio Douro. The party continues into the night in the city’s bars and clubs. It was easily one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had!

3 months of travel, almost 3 left

Today marks 3 months of travel for me – 92 days away from home! I left my life as I knew it in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada on the 1st of May, and am currently the only living being in the “common room” in the only hostel in the city of Jajce, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, celebrating the 3-month milestone of my travels by enjoying a Nikšićko beer. Perhaps not optimal, but I think three months around Europe deserves at least a beer, no?

During the past three months, I’ve been to Spain, France, Spain again, Portugal, Morocco, Spain again, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, and Bosnia. And just to remind you (as much as myself) where I’ll be headed to the next few months, I plan on touching ground in Serbia, England, Germany, Belgium, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Serbia again, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

Highlights?

When I meet people and tell them how long I’m travelling and how long I’ve been travelling, they naturally ask about my favourite moments and experiences. And I’m unable to provide answers. Seriously? Yes! How am I to narrow down and select from the many blessings over the past three months? Every day is amazing, every time I set foot in a place that I haven’t been before is amazing, every time I’ve had the fortune of revisiting a place for the xth time is amazing, every time I’m among natural beauty is amazing, every time I meet a fellow human being in this world who contributes something to my way of thinking is amazing…

Case in point: Today, I took a day trip to the town of Travnik, about an hour and a half from Jajce by bus. After leisurely visiting the hilltop fortress, I met a souvenir vendor who made conversation with me. We ended up talking for half an hour, about where I was from, my life in Canada, what I studied in university, where I was travelling, my last job, his previous job, the War in the 1990s, the political situation in Bosnia (presently and historically), religion in Bosnia, and why ćevapi in Travnik is unique and the most delicious ćevapi in Bosnia…

Before this encounter, this man was just another human among the 7 billion that inhabit this Earth. Now, although in all likelihood I’ll likely never see him again, he’s someone who shared a sincere conversation with me, whose face I’ll remember, who’ll be a highlight of my day on 31 July 2013…

But here are some highlights…

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Travel updates

Looks like I haven’t posted anything in two and a half months!  It’s not for lack of anything to write, that’s for sure.  Initially, I wanted to take some time out while on the Camino de Santiago, and then I didn’t know where to begin blogging again once I had finished my pilgrimage.  And from there, it was just one place after another, with me overwhelmed about doing my experiences justice by putting into words everything that I lived and sensed and immersed myself in.  This post is a humble attempt to summarize where I’ve been the past few months and where I’m going the next few.

The past that has passed

My trip through France was leading me from the centre of the country down to the southwest to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the starting point of the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances, Way of St. James).  It was a great ten days exploring different cities in a country that I’d wanted to visit for so long, especially learning French throughout school.

The Camino de Santiago was an intense, unrelenting, unforgettable journey of the spirit that took my body from the Pyrenees all across northern Spain, walking on average between 20-30 kilometers a day with a rucksack on my back through rain, shine, and wind over all sorts of terrain.  I very much hope to write more about this experience because I believe that it has been the most significant thing that I have done with my life, and these mere words right now cannot possibly explain everything that my body, mind, and soul encountered during this blessed time.

I spent a few days in Santiago de Compostela, afforded with the luxury of sleeping in the same bed for more than one night and walking the same streets daily, even having a cafe that I frequented.  After moving around every day for the past month, it was a welcome change!  Then, I headed into northern Portugal for six days.  Portugal is a country that will always be on my list of places I want to return because of the friendliness and sincerity of the people.  Of course, there’s also the food, the port, the cities, the landscape, the Mediterranean way of life…

From Portugal, I flew to Morocco where I spent thirteen days.  Morocco is an explosion for the senses where everything hits you unapologetically and makes you feel more alive!  Everything from the exquisite food, the calls of the vendors in the souqs and its related hustle and bustle, the oppressive desert heat – it’s overwhelming and intoxicating, but somehow leaves you wanting more… DSC00669

After Morocco, it was back to Europe where I relaxed for a couple days in Madrid, then a few hours exploring Zurich and a few days in Budapest, Hungary where I did a few things that I hadn’t done during previous visits, like ride a railway line run by kids!  The conductor, of course, was an adult, but the selling and validating of the tickets were undertaken by kids 10-14 years old…

From Budapest, I took a train to Vienna where I didn’t do nearly as much as I would’ve liked due to an illness that unfortunately had me staying at hostels more often than seeing the city.  After moving on to Salzburg, however, I got my groove back and did plenty of hiking, including a 1400-metre ascent up the Untersberg mountain (part of the Alps), the accomplishment of which highly lifted my spirits!DSC01957

And now, I write this post on a couch in the common room of a hostel in Bled, Slovenia, where I have spent the past four nights.  Bled and the surrounding area is a haven for nature and adventure enthusiasts, and I’ve thorougly enjoyed the past few days strolling around Lakes Bled and Bohinj, taking a dip in pristine waters, appreciating a lazy boat ride, and of course, hiking – to waterfalls, through gorges, through quaint, picturesque towns…

Foreseeable future

There’s just under three months left of travel for me, and I do have at least a rough idea of where I’m going.  I’ll be heading to Ljubljana in a couple days, then southeast to Bosnia and Herzegovina (possibly with a short stop in Croatia), down to Montenegro and the wonderful
Adriatic Sea, then up to Serbia where I’ll catch a flight in Belgrade to London.

I’ll spend a few days in England with family and friends, then fly into Dusseldorf where I’ll meet up with a friend for a couple days before going to Brussels to meet up with another friend.  From there, I’ll fly to Tbilisi, Georgia – the beginning of a one month itinerary in the Caucasus which will also include visits to Armenia, and hopefully Azerbaijan, if I can secure a visa.

After this month, I’ll fly back to Belgrade from Tbilisi, and from there, round out the Balkans with forays into Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bulgaria before heading into Turkey where I’ll spend my last week or two before heading home!

Anyone care to join me?