Thursday, January 31, 2008

El Camino

Well, here we are. Day Three of the Camino... and we are not ashamed to say this is hard work. It can be pretty hard battling up hill in the wind for the last 4 km of 29 when you know you could just get in a car and get there in less than 10 minutes. But this is the Camino, and this is what it´s all about and we´re praying that God uses each one of these determined steps.

So today was a shorter day (to be kind to our bodies... especially our feetsies). We travelled 16 km from our last refugio. And that follows day one of 29 km and day two of 28 km.

The stories we heard about the generosity of fellow pilgrims and the hospitaleros... those aren´t rumours. That´s true. I think we will both say that last night in Granon was our favourite stop... we stayed in the upper annex of a 14th century church. When we arrived and, following the directions of our guide book, walked up the stairs adjacent to the church, we were a little confused to reach an empty, dusty room. But we heard sounds from upstairs and, with a climb up a dark, stone stairway, we opened the door to, seemingly, heaven. A friendly, "hola!" and we were ushered into what looked like a chalet. The volunteers there made us tea, showed us to the showers (as if we stink...), and told us they would be making supper for us. We stayed with a great group of people (they snore but they are still great) and we shared an evening in front of the fire among friends. Sounds pretty perfect? Well, we still had to walk almost 60 km to get there.

Health wise... David is treating some nasty blisters and Gillian´s knee is achy-breaky. But overall we are good, having good conversations on the road (and some good silences... especially when we´re powering up the hills). Tomorrow is a very hilly day so... David will be carrying Gillian.

Day one... about to start our first 29 km. Newbies.

Some dangerous terrain in Spain. They let those bulls wander everywhere.

Eating our supper with the Brazilian pilgrims... seven gnocchi standing up on the 29th of the month means money is coming your way... and then we got to sit down to eat the rest.

VIDEO - the beginning of Day Two

Wait a second... is this Spain or Saskatchewan? For a second I thought I was Over West.

Ahhhh... this Camino stuff is hard.

Our night in Granon... a wonderful, wonderful night.

Our hospitaleros in Granon... Rafael and Evia. Lovely people and Great cooks!

A beautiful sunrise from the bell tower of the Church of St. John the Baptist.

Even in just 3 days, we have passed so much varied terrain... from vineyards to suburban neighbourhoods to red, clumpy earth, to this farmland. It´s all beautiful. (And, Matt, there are more John Deere tractors than Case ones.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Steps into the past

We're now back in Dueren (getting prepared for the Camino) after a few days of visiting places and friends from David's volleyball playing days in Belgium. Rewind one day ...

After being welcomed so warmly into the Moore family home during our stay in Brussels, we bid them farewell on Thursday morning and drove to Puurs, a small town between Brussels and Antwerp, where David played volleyball in 1997-98. We were able to find David's old house and church (below) and walked around the town a bit. Gillian is fitting right in with the locals ... her "Ja, dat is goed" is coming along nicely.

A peaceful walk through the rosary gardens behind David's former church in Puurs.

After Puurs, we drove over to the nearby Fort Breendonk, a former Nazi prison camp that is basically as it was in WWII. It was a sobering experience and gave us a glimpse into the horrible things that happened here in Europe during the war ... so difficult for us North Americans to understand but so good for us to see. As we finished the tour of the Fort, it fittingly started raining.

We then sped off in our borrowed Ford to Antwerp. (Thank you, Steven, for lending us your car!)

Despite the rain, we enjoyed the feeling of Antwerp ... smaller than Brussels, many beautiful buildings, cute shops and restaurants.

A self-portrait in the Grote Markt (main square) in Antwerp on the first rainy day since we arrived in Europe 10 days ago.

We then met up with Steven and Katrien at their house for a typical Belgian dinner ... mussels and Belgian fries (delicious and not to be mistaken with the inferior French fries). Unfortunately, it is near the end of mussel season, and the mussels were not up to par, so we enjoyed another typical Belgian dinner ... steak and fries.

Another former Puurs teammate of David's, Gert, joined us after dinner.

David, Steven, Katrien and Gert and ...

... Gillian, the photographer also made her way into a photo.

During the course of the evening, a lot of old stories were recounted and laughs shared. David thoroughly enjoyed being back with his teammates, and it gave Gillian a chance to see how crazy David was before she met him.

Crazy, indeed.

Friday morning, we parted company with Steven and Katrien with hugs and kisses (thank you for your generosity and kindness!), and hopped on the train back to Dueren. What normally would have been a 3.5 hour trip took over 7 hours because railway workers in Liege, a city we had to go through, were on strike. This made us rip-roaring mad ...

... not really, we just thought it would be fun to take this picture.

We would have had to suffer through a 5 hour bus ride if it weren't for our good friend Georg (David's former landlord in Dueren) who saved the day by coming to pick us up and driving us back to Dueren ... then took us out to dinner with Sylva his wife to Burritos, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Dueren, run by some Morrocan fellows ... a good end to a long day.

Tomorrow, we pack up our backpacks and take the train to Paris, where we will board a sleeper train down to Lourdes. This will be the place we prepare spiritually and get psyched up for our month-long Camino, which will begin from Logrono, Spain on Tuesday, January 29. Updating the blog may not happen as often along the way... we'll see where we can find internet!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Beer and Chocolate

... are great contributions Belgium makes to the world. Among many other things, including good friends and nice churches and delicious waffles.

That's where we are now - Belgium. Brussels as we write this, and yesterday Oostende and Brugge. So let me back up and write this in order...

January 21 was our last day in Paris. We did a lot of ambling that day... back to Notre Dame, through some little streets and lovely shops, to Rue Mouffetard for cheese fondue (hurray! finally!) and then a race back to our hotel to pick up our bags and then get on the high speed train to Belgium - Antwerp, to be exact, where we were met by a former v-ball teammate of David's, Steven. He took us to his house, where we met the (lovely) Katrien and the (sleeping) Mick and Lander. They have graciously lent us their second car so, after a good night's sleep, we loaded up our backpacks and headed off on the E17. An under-the-weather Gillian napped in the car and woke up in Oostende on the Atlantic coast. And why not? The beach is beautiful (though not suntan-able) at any time of the year.

Then onward to Brugge, an enchanting town of Mediaeval buildings and cobblestone. Building after building, street after street... it's just really very pretty. We walked and I took a krazillion pictures. Supper for us that night... Gillian enjoyed "Beef Stew, Belgian Style" and David ordered "Rabbit, in a Flemish Manner" (that's how is was presented in the menu... David neither ordered nor ate the rabbit in a Flemish manner). Even though it looked very rabbit-like on the plate, David thought it was very good.

That night, we drove to Brussels and (after much confusion in the city centre... including following a taxi in a very Amazing Race-esque "you drive there and we will follow you" kind of way) we made it to the home of the Moore family (sister-in-law of David's cousin - thank you, Tracy, for connecting us!!). They gave us a bed, breakfast, and great direction so that today (Jan 23) we could get into Brussels and enjoy the old city. And tonight, we enjoyed watching High School Musical with the girls and sharing a meal with Shawn and Leah.

Tomorrow we are off to Puurs, then back to Antwerp. Gillian is a big sick-o right now with a head cold, so hopefully a good rest will mean feeling better and being less cranky (it's okay... Gillian is the one writing this... David would never be so mean to say that).
Some precision tree-trimming in Paris.

Notre Dame

A beautiful day for the beach.

The tide comes in quite quickly.

LuluLemon and Quick are two very different things.

Welcome to Brugge! Population: many swans.

Begijnhof - of course that means the convent of the Begijn nuns. Also in Brugge.

More Brugge. I wonder if it's hard living in the most beautiful place in the world.

Alas, we are never to find out. David is way too tall for this town.

Cheers from Belgium!
(Sorry, Michelle. Another photo with drinking. Please edit before showing to your children.)

David eating his rabbit in a Flemish manner. That bunny just sat there and stared at him the whole time. Awkward.

David in the main square in Brussels. It's basically a 360 of buildings that look like this.

Gillian and a smurf. Sorry, Mom, we could find no celebrations of the 150th anniversary of smurfs. Apparently it's a bigger deal on CJSN 1490 than it is in Belgium.

Would you care for a waffle? They are quite delicious.

The Moore Family, who shared their home with us in Brussels. Thank you!!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Vive le Paris!

We are at the end of our second full day in Paris, and we are joyfully exhausted.

Since our arrival on Friday evening, we have enjoyed strolling through many of the districts near the centre of the city, taking in the different atmosphere each has to offer ... cute shops, displays of meats, cheeses, wines, and baked goods and an abundance of restaurants.

Thanks to some recommendations and just plain luck, we have been served some delicious meals and, of course, tasted some great wines. We also enjoyed a picnic of cheese, tomato, wine, baguette and chocolate with a view of the Eiffel Tower.

What a thrill it is to just be here ... to contemplate Rodin's The Thinker, to walk the Champs Elysees, to go to mass at Notre Dame, to stroll along the banks of the Seine, to drink a cup of real "chocolat", to take in the architecture, to eat crepes, to look out over Paris from the dome of Sacre Coeur by day or the top of a ferris wheel by night, to people watch, to experience markets and buskers and to hear the poetic France French (not that Quebecois is not poetic ... in fact, one of our waiters said he loves Quebecois and could listen to it all day).

This city just oozes atmosphere and romance and character and history, and we will soak up the last of it tomorrow before heading on the bullet train to Antwerp, where we will begin our short tour of Belgium.
Adieu, Paris.

Our first meal in Paris, at the restaurant just across the street from our hotel. It was tres yummy.

You know, I was thinking about something... this is The Thinker, taking some "me time" to consider life in the Rodin Museum.

An observation of Gillian's... Paris is a big schmoocharoo fest. Lovey-dovey couples everywhere, strolling around, stopping to kiss in public. Even in the Rodin Museum.

Our picnic lunch. We had cheese, bread, and a tomato in front of the Eiffel Tower. And why, yes, that is a bottle of wine. We bought it at the grocery store for two euros and drank it out of the bottle in public. (It's okay... that's allowed.)

Gillian (left) and the Eiffel Tower (right).

In Gillian's head, this is how the conversation went that morning... "Hey guys. It's Saturday. Want to go down to the Eiffel Tower and do our choreographed boy band dance moves?" (What's particularly funny is that they were dancing to only the music in their heads... no one else could hear.)

Marche Bastille, a very nice market northeast of city centre. For future travellers, you're not allowed to take pictures there. This is the one contraban photo in existence.

A cup of chocolate = good (but also = sugar headache). At Cafe de Flore.

Gillian picked up a few things at Louis Vuitton on the Champs Elysees. We're shipping it home by cargo boat.

Sacre Coeur.

David takes in the view from dome of Sacre Coeur (many trillion stairs from the bottom of the church... but very much worth the climb).

And Gillian's first ride on a ferris wheel... this one located by the Louvre and overlooking the Champs Elysees and (in the distance) the Eiffel Tower. It was very, very high.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Updating our blog

Look. We have free internet ("weefee") in our hotel room. Right here. In this corner.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Papa!!

In honour of your day, we post this picture of (what we think is) a French grainery. Taken from the window of our fast-as-lightening high-speed train.

We hope you have a super-duper day Dad, and we miss you in Paris.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Here we are!!

This is us, squished on a plane... we've made it across the ocean and are jetlagged after a loooonnngg day of travel. But after changing planes (and airports) in London, flying to Frankfurt, taking a train to Cologne, and then another to Dueren - all the while beating any luggage restrictions - we were greeted by a lovely welcoming committee at the Dueren train station. George, Anni, and Thomas, all friends of David's from his time here playing volleyball, gave us big hugs and swept us off to a pub for our first German beer and a bite to eat.

After a long and welcome sleep, David and I toured around Dueren on Wednesday. Our first day included a cup of chocolate with George, lunch with the Lersch family, and a trip to Moers (one hour from Dueren) to watch a volleyball game - Moers vs. Berlin - which gave me a glimpse of what David used to experience as a pro volleyball player and made David miss playing. Moers won, 3-0, much to the excitement of our Canadian flag-waving contingent, who was supporting a former Dueren teammate of David's, Calgarian Jeremy Wilcox.

The next morning - January 17 - and we are up at 4:30 to catch a train to Muenster to visit Uncle Werner and Auntie Francine. We had a wonderful day of eating delicious German food stretched out before us, and David and I also managed to visit the city for a few hours in between meals. Muenster is a beautiful city - very quaint, very clean. This is a university town and, as far as I can tell, all 100,000 citizens have bikes and had parked them on various streets today for the benefit of tourists like us.

The stop in Muenster is a short one for us. We have just come upstairs from an evening of watching old slides of the Kantors... little David and his golden locks and chubby cheeks... and will leave at 6 a.m. tomorrow on a train to Paris. This will be our home for the weekend and we're very excited to eat cheese fondue and do other Parisian-type things. Oh la la.

We're cheering for black... but orange #3 is from Lucky Lake, SK. I put this up here for his parents, who will no doubt see it because of the international popularity of this blog.

David, George, Jeremy

Muenster - lunch with Auntie Francine and Uncle Werner (this small lunch was soup, leg of lamb, potatoes au gratin, beans, and pudding, with wine... you know... the usual)

A sideways picture of Gillian in Muenster city centre. It will stay sideways until I figure out how to fix that.

Bicycles in Muenster (again, sideways... sorry about that)

David with Auntie Francine and Uncle Werner, in front of their Christmas tree, which has real candles lit on it.