The Joy of Blogging: Grandma and the Camino

Before my parents took off for the weekend, they asked if I could do them a favor and drop something off at my grandmother’s house.  I agreed – not just to maintain my #1 Daughter status, but also because I was moving in less than a week and visiting Grandma was something I needed to do before I left.

Time with Grandma, however, wasn’t on my checklist. I had to pack for my move.  Call the editor of Busted Halo with a decision as to if I would again blog for them. Answer the fifty e-mails sitting in my in-box in my quest to get down to zero before I left. 

Instead of doing any of that, I sat on the internet looking up delicious-sounding vegetarian dishes.  I switched over to BustedHalo.com.  I perused the other articles, trying to figure out how/if I could fit in and what angle I would take.  I went to the posts I had written earlier, and that’s when it hit me.

I started to print all the posts I’d written about the Camino (on white paper) and the comments (on yellow paper).  When I was finished, I called Mom and Dad to find where they stored a three-hole-punch.  I punched all the pages and put them in a black one-inch thick binder.  Then, I headed to Grandma’s.

As I walked toward the front of her building, I saw her and one of her friends heading out.  “Where you going?” I asked.

“Oh – I completely forgot you were coming!” Grandma said.  “We’re going to pick up Chinese.  Why don’t you come?”

Getting in a car driven by my 88-year-old grandmother wasn’t something I was looking forward to.  I was a little slow on the uptake and agreed – later wondering why I didn’t just offer to drive. Off we went.  I tried to look out the side windows, or at the speedometer hoping she wouldn’t go too much faster than I would have.

The drive wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Probably because the Chinese food place was less than a mile away and only required right turns. We brought the food back to her house and sat down to eat.  I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life I’ve eaten anything other than Italian food at my grandmother’s home.  I felt a little like I was in another dimension.

She asked about my trip and, as happened frequently since I’ve returned, I stumbled over where to start, what to say.  But I had a book of words I had written along The Way.  I don’t think Grandma fully understood what the binder was when I handed it to her, but she promised to look at it before I came back two days later for the traditional Sunday meatballs.  (Note: Sunday would be the first time I headed to Grandma’s and would not eat meatballs as I’d become a vegetarian three months earlier, but I wasn’t going to get into that yet.)

That evening, back at Mom and Dad’s, the phone rang.  I don’t usually answer their phone as I don’t really live there and the calls are not usually for me.  But the caller ID said it was Grandma, so I picked it up.

“I just had to call,” she said.  “I’m three-quarters of the way through your book and I just can’t put it down!”  Well, apparently she could since she had to put it down in order to call me…but that’s beside the point. “This is just so amazing.  I feel like I’m right there with you. I can’t believe you did this.”

Though I had printed out the comments more for me to relish in later than anything, Grandma loved those too. She was amazed, like I was, that total strangers wrote responses to my posts.

During this conversation, it struck me that the best part of writing for Busted Halo while I was on the Camino was this: that I had a book my grandmother could read to understand a bit more about what I had just accomplished.

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Epilogue:

On Sunday, I went to Grandma’s and turned down meatballs explaining I was a vegetarian.

“Well, at least have some of the sauce,” she said.

“I can’t eat that either.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because you cooked the meatballs in the sauce.”

“Really?” She scrunched up her face, thoroughly mystified.

She scoured the refrigerator.  Like any Italian grandmother would have, there were plenty of other choices in there. She breathed a great sigh of relief when I accepted her offer of roasted red peppers.

A Down Day

Walking the Camino, like walking any other path in life,can sometimes have its “down” days. Today was one of those days. I just didn’t feel like walking anymore. I opened my pedometer to see I’d only walked 200 steps since last I checked it. The route was descending steeply and full of rocks. It took not only physical but mental energy as I had to focus on each individual step. I walked with others, but even their company didn’t help — I was just ready to be finished. For the day. Or with the Camino? I wasn’t sure.

Click here to read more.

On Walking

As we walked toward Piazza Venezia, I flipped open the pedometer on my belt.

“How much?” Daniel asked.

“Nine miles.”  I’d made a mistake earlier of telling him that I set a personal record ten days ago when my sister Jessica and I walked seventeen miles one day in Rome.  He, of course, wanted to beat that.  Not competitive by nature, I had no desire.  But as we roamed the city, the miles started adding up.  Villa Borghese Gardens, the Dali Exhibit, gelato at the Cremeria.  By the time we got back to our hostel, I’d clocked 15 miles – my second highest day yet.  (To his credit, we would have probably beat the record if I didn’t have us take a bus back to the hostel that night.)

4/22/12: Me and Daniel at the Trevi Fountain in Rome - Mile 13

Italy was a great place to rack up miles for three weeks.  Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome.  Now that I think about it, though, every place I’ve been since I started training for the Camino in January has been “meant to be” – for both the walking conditions and the people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of walking.

Would I have started training in January were I not living through such a mild winter at Glenda’s house in Hayesville, NC?  Would I have not continued training had I not spent ten days on Kiawah Island with all it’s options: walking trails, bike trails, golf courses and beaches?  What about those unexpected ten days I got to go to Florida? Walking in 70 degree weather with Sarah and Russ surely beat the temps of winter in my home state of New York.

Speaking of Sarah and Russ, I was pleasantly surprised by all the friends who accepted my invitations to join me on a walk.   Leslie, Kate, and Dianna met me at different times on the Norrie/Mills Mansion Trail.  Stacey, Lois, and Lynne on Kiawah Island.  Sr. Peggy and John on the Walkway Over the Hudson.

“I don’t know if I can keep up with you,” my friend Dora lamented when we took off from her doorstep in Maryland.  I’d stopped there for an overnight visit on a drive between Asheville, NC and Hyde Park, NY.

“I’m not walking for speed – just distance.  I mostly stroll.  You’ll be fine.”  Indeed she was.  In fact, we walked a trail her husband has volunteered to maintain for their town.  Would I have known of his good work had Dora not agreed to take a walk with me?

Kate did my first mountain with me which happened to also be the first time I hiked in the snow.  I’m hoping I don’t have to repeat the snow experience in the Pyrenees.

4/1/12: Hiking Overlook Mountain in Woodstock, NY

Greg and Scott were patient as I lagged behind on the hundreds of steps up the hillsides of the Cinque Terre.

4/19/12: Greg and I on the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

Dad and Mom walked the Walkway Over the Hudson with me.

“How many more miles do you need to do today?” Dad asked.

“Eh – probably another two or three would be good.”

“This trail keeps going – Mom could turn around and get the car, then meet us further down the trail,” he suggested.  Mom did just that while Dad and I added more miles to my daily total.

I’ve done plenty of walking alone, as well.  Sometimes that was fine.  Other times, I needed the distraction of a phone call to keep me going.  So thanks to Dawn, Tara, Terry, Mom, Jessica, Meg, Liz, Jenn and Jeff for taking my calls.

A few weeks ago I made a list of everyone I’ve walked with since I started training.  My cousin Stephanie and I caught up on a walk around her neighborhood.  My Asheville friends Todd and David accompanied me on trails in North Carolina.  I’ve got a list of 19 people I’ve walked with since January.  And I’m pretty impressed I’m managed to mention every one of them in this post.  (If I left you out, please let me know!)

So thanks to all those who put foot to pavement with me.  And also thanks to those who were with me by phone on those days I needed someone to keep me going.  Know that you all helped to get me to this point: in thirteen days I’ll get to see all this training pay off.

Another Cinque Terre Tale

“This is ridiculous,” I called down to Scott, thirty feet below me on a trail of our own making.  “This is the kind of stuff you hear about on Dateline NBC.”

With that, he and I started to create the opening monologue of the program that would tell our tale and subsequent demise.

It was pouring rain when the three hikers decided to set out at 5pm to hike a steep, uneven trail overlooking Italy’s coastline.  The two men were in the military and on leave.  They wanted to make the most of their one day in Italy’s famed Cinque Terre region, so decided to set out despite the poor weather conditions.   The woman with them had only met them that morning on the train and decided to join them.  At their halfway point, unable to find the next trail marker, one of them forged ahead, down a rock path meant only for access to the water pipe that ran along it bringing water from one mountain town to the the town below it.

Scott and I laughed at our tale as Greg forged ahead of us, scoping out our descent.  “This is why I only tell my mother what I’m doing after I’ve done it.  And you know what? I left a note on my dresser as to where I’d be today in case I didn’t return, and we’re no where near that.”  I know this all could have had a bad outcome but – as the Dateline story would explain – I figured I was safe with two US Military-trained men.

“Post here,” Scott said to me pointing to a rock wall.  I figured out that “post” meant “put your hand here for support.”  He graciously did that at all the tricky spots.  Thanks to these two men, I made it down safe and sound, though soaking wet.  And here I am able to tell you about it, so you won’t have to hear about it on Dateline.

Slip ‘N Slide

Maybe hiking a steep stone trail in the rain wasn’t my best idea.  But it was my first afternoon in the Cinque Terre, and I wanted to get out there.  So off I went climbing up and up and up towards the Madonna di Montenero Sanctuary high above Riomaggiore.

The light rain didn’t faze me.  I know there’s a chance I’ll have a wet day or two on the Camino, so I’ve gone out walking every day – rain or shine.  In any other year of my life, rainy days would find me curled up indoors with a good book.  I laughed to myself.  I was impressed with how much I’d changed my habits and myself in preparation for the Camino. There was another change that needed to take place though.  I needed some uphill practice.  Miles of walking on flat paved surfaces are not going to help me hike through the Pyrenees (which I must do on my first two days of the Camino).

So after settling into my hostel, I started up at 4:45pm.  I saw just two women coming down during my forty-five minute hike up.  They each had a pair of walking sticks.  That’s when it hit me.  I turned around and looked at the slick stones I’d just ascended.  That’s not going to be fun walking down, I thought, wishing I had some walking sticks.  I looked around but grapevines weren’t going to cut it.

I plugged ahead, deciding the walk would be worth it, and I was right.  If you think the views from the Cinque Terre are amazing, hike a little higher.  I’d post pictures, but am having some technical difficulties.

I took dainty baby steps on the descent.  Stairs were done one at time.  Watching only my feet, I thought of a few things to be thankful for:

  1. The residents of Riomaggiore who put railings between their property and the trail – something to hold onto!
  2. The patches of grass growing between the stones – much better to step there than to slide down the slick stones.
  3. The two girls who passed me as I was walking down.  At least if something happened to me, I knew there’d be two people coming back down the trail that I could call to.

When I reached the bottom, I walk also thankful to have all my parts intact.  No sprained ankle, no broken leg, not even a scratch.  It would be devastating to get injured on these trails.  Not only because I’m alone and far from home, but because then I wouldn’t be able to do the Camino.  I’ll be much more careful here on out.

**********

For those of you worried about my safety:

  • Before hiking, I leave a note in my room as to where I’m going and when I should be back.
  • If I can go with others from the hostel, I’ll consider it.  But I do like being on my own schedule.
  • The trails I’m taking are not back woods types of things.  They’re pretty commonly used by tourists.
  • The two trails that had the mudslide in October are closed.  I’m not a rule-breaker, so will not be climbing gates to get to them.
  • If I’m meant to die falling off a cliff into the ocean on the Italian coast, so be it.  It’s a hell of a way to go, no?

 

Serendipity – In a Train Station

I could feel him behind me.  He and I obviously didn’t have the same idea of  ‘personal space.’  As he got even closer, I wondered if this short, tanned, elderly Italian man was trying to cut in front of me?  I stood my ground in line for the automatic ticket machine.  He shifted behind me, looking over my shoulder to the woman in front of me, watching as she typed her selections into the machine.  He looked to the left at the man making his choices on the next machine.  He looked around the station, nervously shifting his weight, still too close.

The woman in front of me finished her transaction, gathered her ticket, and walked off.  I approached the machine and was thrilled to see the British flag indicating the machine spoke my language.  The man shifted behind me.  Was he actually looking over my shoulder?  I typed in Florence as my destination.

“Firenze? (Florence?)” he asked.  This was followed by a fluster of Italian while the man pointed from the paper in his hand to my screen to the trains.  All I understood was that there was a train in three minutes and he wanted me to be on it.  I looked at his ticket.  The destination?  Padova.  I had no idea where that was. 

“Non capisco italiano (I don’t understand Italian),” I told him.  He continued on anyway.  “Parla inglese? (Do you speak English?)” I asked.  Obviously not.  He finally pointed to a ticket agent and waved his hand for me to follow him.

In rapid-fire Italian he explained his dilemma to the bi-lingual woman.  She then explained it to me: His ticket was for a train leaving in a few minutes.  He bought it discounted on-line but needs to take a later train.  He can’t get a refund so he’s trying to sell it to me.  Florence -my destination- is on the way to Padova.  She told me the ticket to Florence is normally 45 Euros and I could work out with him whatever I wanted. 

I handed over 40 Euros and the man escorted me to my train saying over and over again, “Grazie, grazie.” (Thank you.)

With that, I was on my way to Florence. Or so I thought.   

I stowed my backpack and secured my seat.  I had no reservation for a place to stay in Florence.  I had followed my intuition and not booked anything for my first night in Italy.  This alarmed me only the day before I left.  But the feeling passed.  Now I knew why.  I was due to meet my sister in Venice the next day.  My rough plan had been to stop in Florence, spend the night, and hop a train the next day to Venice.  In my hands was a ticket all the way to Padova – a mere half-hour from Venice.   My five Euro savings increased to 18.  I took the train all the way to Padova, found myself a place to stay, and the next day continued on. 

 

Pack Lightly

I know it went out to the masses, but I feel like he wrote it just for me.  And I wanted to share it with you.  Here’s a recent post by Leo Babauta.  I get inspiration from a lot of people and places.  Leo is one of my favorites from the blogosphere:)


Empty-Handed, Full-Hearted

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 04:49 PM PDT

Post written by Leo Babauta.

We often load ourselves up when we travel, because we want to be prepared for various situations. This burden of being prepared leaves us with our arms full, unable to receive whatever is there when we arrive.

It leaves us tired from carrying, so that we are not happy when we meet someone new on our travels.

What if we traveled with empty hands, ready to embrace new experiences, receive new foods, touch new people?

We might feel less prepared when we leave, but the preparedness is an illusion. Stuff doesn’t make us prepared. Having empty hands but a heart that is full of love leaves us prepared for anything.

This doesn’t just apply to taking a trip, but to living each day. Each day is a journey, and we load ourselves up with material possessions, with tasks and projects, with things to read and write, with meetings and calls and texts. Our hands are full, not ready for anything new.

Drop everything, be open to everything.

Enter each day empty-handed, and full-hearted.

Another Serendipity Story

Not a hair was out of place.  Her skin was flawless.  On her face was just the right amount of makeup to accentuate her already impeccable visage.  Her suit, her shoes – she was everything I pictured a corporate America consultant to be.  Next to her, I looked like the newbie I was.  But she didn’t make me feel that way.  The first accented words she spoke (she was from Grenada) made me laugh and put me at ease.  I would come to hear her infectious laugh plenty over our next year working together, and it lifted my spirits in that dreary job plenty of times.

Over the kitchen table at her grand Victorian vacation home, we talked about our dreams.  Hers was to open a clothing boutique in Brooklyn.  Years later, she was doing just that.  We kept in touch, but it’d been years since last we spoke.

Two weeks ago, our paths crossed again – in a way I never would have imagined.

I had two thousand more frequent flyer miles to collect before I’d have enough for my trip to Spain.  I had a plan for getting those miles.  It was complicated, but in two weeks I’d be able to book my flight to Spain.  So I announced the following on Facebook: the countdown begins: Two weeks from today I’ll have enough Frequent Flyer miles to book my flights for the Camino. Let’s hope Delta still has openings on the flights I need! 🙂

Two hours later, my old friend responded: How are you Rebecca? Am I allowed to transfer some of my miles to you? I will happily do so and live vicariously through you!

Really? I literally jumped out of my seat and started jumping around the living room.  Then, I calmed myself down and looked at my frequent flyer account again.  Oh dear.  It wasn’t 2000 miles that I needed.  It was 12,000.  I called her anyway.  As a former traveling consultant, 12,000 miles was no problem for her.  Not only that: she also offered to pay the fee associated with the transaction.  She explained, “A while back you came down to my house to help me get organized.  This is my way of paying you back.”  Tears filled my eyes.  “You have no idea how much this means to me!” I said.

An hour after we hung up, she e-mailed me to say she had completed the transaction.  I would have my miles in 24 hours.  The next day, I booked my flights.

But it wasn’t just this friend who helped me get miles.  Thanks to travelhacking.com, I learned which credit cards give you the best sign-on bonuses: thousands of miles just for opening a new card.  But some gave me thousands more if I charged $4000 in 4 months.  I don’t spend that kind of money so the call went out to my family.  My sister’s Lasik surgery?  Put it on my card!  Appliances for another sister’s new house?  Put them on my card!  New equipment for Dad’s business?  Here’s my card number!

So to all those who helped me get the frequent flyer miles I needed to get to Spain, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Seek and Ye Shall Find

“Do you have a hat yet?” she asked.

“No, but that’s on my list of things I want to bring.”

“I have one if you want to borrow it – a hat just for hiking.  And the best thing about it?”  She cupped her hands like she was holding a balloon, then brought them closer together.  “You can squish it up and put it in your bag.”

This seems to happen to me nearly every day.  Things, people, opportunities come to me.  They come to you, too,  if you start looking out for them – and believe that they exist.

The hat?  That was my friend Elizabeth Anne who offered it.  Remember the hike I wrote about yesterday?  Well, did you wonder how I got from the end of my hike back to my car?  Elizabeth Anne.  She and a couple friends from my writing group just so happened to be taking a tour at Val-kill that day.  They invited me to join them.  I declined but said, “Hey – if I walk over there, would you mind bringing me back to my car after you’re done with your tour?’  They didn’t mind at all.

They picked me up and Madeline said, “I’ve got a lot of food at my house – leftovers from yesterday.  Would you all like to come back and eat some of it?”  Well yes.  After walking nearly 8 miles, I’d love to!  And also have the opportunity to spend more time with these lovely folks?  My how I’m blessed!

I’m not usually one to quote the Bible.  Nothing wrong with doing so, it’s just not something I find myself doing very often.  But there’s some good stuff in there.

What this all brings to mind is Matthew 7:7 which says something along the lines of, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Those words always appear in my head in a song I sang a lot when I used to go to church.  It’s a lovely tune by Karen Laffery.

“You get what you put out there,” people have said to me lately when I tell them of all my serendipitous moments.  “The universe sends you what you need.”  Indeed it does.  Open your heart to it.  See what comes to you.  I’d love to hear about it:)

 

Three Pillows

I nestled myself into bed, head sinking into the pillow.  I turned onto my side, reached for a second pillow, and stuffed it between my knees.  Then, I grabbed a third pillow to wrap my arms around.  Perfectly comfortable, I closed my eyes and a little old lady’s voice came into my head.  “Travel when you’re young.  And when you have no money.  Because you can sleep anywhere and not feel it the next morning.”

Those words fueled my travels for many years.  I first heard them when I was eighteen years old, standing in the Reception Hall at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.  Bedecked in my Park Ranger uniform, it was my job to greet visitors entering the home.  After checking their tickets, I then told them all the things they couldn’t do: chew gum, take flash pictures, touch anything.  When there was a lull at the front door, I’d eavesdrop on people’s conversations.  If they said, “I wonder who that is?” while looking at the bust in the foyer, I’d pipe in,  “We think that’s Zeus – but we don’t know for sure because there’s no documentation about it.”  Most of the time that’s all it took for visitors to realize I wasn’t there solely to enforce the rules.  I actually knew about this place and could tell them some pretty interesting stuff.

Bus groups were my favorite.  First, because I loved when it was busy.  And in my first season as a Park Ranger, we could have as many as five buses of tourists some days.  Secondly, bus groups were mostly senior citizens and I love those folks.  They’re usually funny and wise, and I got equal parts of laughter and wisdom in my conversations with them.  I didn’t realize it then, but now I know why I like working with them so much: we have the same outlook on life.  Do what you want now, because you’re not getting any younger.

I remember that little white-haired lady, name tag around her neck, dispensing her advice shortly into our conversation.  She lamented that she wasn’t walking so well today and blamed it on not being in her own bed the night before.  The crux of her advice was that, as a young person with little money, I could afford to stay in cheap places with crappy beds – and wouldn’t have to pay for it with aches the next day.  I remember telling my boyfriend (a Park Ranger on duty with me that day) what she said.  I remember we took her words to heart that summer. Though that relationship didn’t last, her words stuck around.

As I recalled her advice snuggled into my bed last night, I laughed to myself  thinking, “You know, Rebecca, you’re not going to have three pillows to sleep with on the Camino…”  Though then I thought, “Maybe I can bring a couple – pillows are light.”  I did just pull out my backpack yesterday and wonder what I would fill all that space with.