Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

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When preparing for the Camino, we read again and again about the signs that point “The Way” to Santiago. While we scoured maps and perused apps, the signage along the Camino always pointed us in the right direction during our daily travels.

The most iconic symbol of the Camino is the scallop shell. As with any longstanding symbol, its origins are unclear; however, there is agreement that the stylized shell image symbolizes the many routes that end in the common destination. Over our three weeks’ walk through Spain, we came to delight in (and often depend on) the golden shells and arrows pointing our way. In addition to these mainstays, we found plenty of local signage to encourage peregrinos and that reflected regional differences.

We took some snaps along the way (The Way) to document how peregrinos navigate the trails to Santiago.

 

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Ten Things Learned on the Camino

We have only been back from our adventure on the Camino Primitivo for just over a week and the experiences are still settling in around us. But from some jot notes hastily scribbled on the road, in no particular order, here are ten of the many things learned on the Camino.

  1. Uphill is better than downhill.
  2. A guard goose can be as menacing as its canine counterpart.
  3. Sometimes all you can do it put one foot in front of the other.
  4. A little cloud cover can go a long way.
  5. Always pack much more water than you think you will need. And then pack some more.
  6. Where English and Spanish words fail, French just might be the solution.
  7. Siesta is a highly underrated concept in North American society.
  8. Accepting your limitations is not the same as admitting defeat.
  9. The smallest among us can emerge as the mightiest.
  10. What you don’t walk today, you will walk tomorrow.

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Discovering Deadman’s Bay

IMG_1014As part of our preparation for the Camino, we hiked several parts of the East Coast Trail. Our first venture was the Deadman’s Bay Path, which runs from Fort Amherst on the south side of St. John’s to Blackhead, which is a small community close to Cape Spear (the most easterly point in North America). The trail is rated difficult and is 10.6km long – estimated 4 to 7 hours of walking (it took us 5 hours at a fairly easy pace with one short stop for a snack).

We had hiked this trail ten years before and so were familiar with both its steep inclines and its breathtaking views (the reward for all those hills!) But it was a first for our 8-year old, and we thought it would be a good way to see how he handled a longish and fairly strenuous hike (spoiler alert: he finished the trail, got home, and immediately went out for a bike ride! So no worries there.)

The trail begins on the south side at the mouth of St. John’s Harbour with picturesque views of the Battery.

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From there, it’s a bit of a scramble up the incline at Fort Amherst to the top. But the paths are well-marked, easy to navigate, are mostly wooded and feel secluded (even though the road is never that far away) and you are given unobstructed views of the spectacular landscape throughout the hike.

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The trail has a lot of ups and downs, taking you through the hills, along a lovely pebble beach, and into the tiny coastal community of Blackhead. From there, it is a short drive or another 3.7km (rated moderate) to hike further to Cape Spear.

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Here we are along the trail with Signal Hill in the background.

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How this trail and the others we have completed compare to the Camino Primitivo, we don’t yet know! But preparing for the Camino has been a great excuse to get to know the amazing trails that can be found both in the city of St. John’s (known as the Grand Concourse) and along the east coast of NL.

 

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The Road to the Camino

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Our first Camino prep walk, around Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s in March

This time last year we started toying with the idea of walking the Camino. The Camino of Santiago is also known as St. James’s Way and is a network of walking routes that begin from various starting points and end in Santiago do Compostela, where the remains of St. James are said to be buried.

Some walk the Camino as a religious pilgrimage, others for a cultural adventure, still others as a hiking vacation. Participants are known as pilgrims regardless of their reason for walking.

Although the Cathedral in Santiago is the ultimate destination, the walk is the goal.

There are a number of routes that are considered part of the Camino; after long deliberation and extensive research, we settled on the Camino Primitivo, which translates to the “Original Way” (not “primitive” as you might first think). It ticked all our boxes: as one of the less popular routes, it would not be crowded. However, it joins up with the Camino Frances (the best known and most travelled route) on the last few days, which means that we would get the quintessential Camino experience as well as the quieter one. Since this route goes through a mountainous region of Spain, it would mean a more temperate climate (a little more rain, less scorching heat). And with its 320km distance to cover, we could complete our Camino in the three-week time frame we had allotted (with a few days for relaxation and sightseeing at various points along the route). Plus, it is an opportunity to experience rural Spain at a leisurely pace – whatever pace we choose.

Although we have often travelled before to unusual destinations, this is our first trip where the point of the trip is the process of getting to the destination. Questions have plagued us, mostly in terms of how to prepare. In the end, we decided to complete a few local hikes (on the fabulous East Coast Trail, which includes a number of challenging hikes that we anticipate equal or surpass what we will encounter in Spain), invest in good shoes, pack light, and keep an open mind.

We leave later this week for this adventure not knowing what it will bring. But there will be something unique about waking up each morning with a singular purpose for the day, the journey ahead.

Buen Camino!

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Is this the best panoramic view and Star Wars movie place? You be the judge.

On a leisurely drive through the Ilhara Valley in Turkey’s Cappadocia region, just past the village of Selime we happened upon this sign.

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Intrigued, we wandered over to the nearby rock perch and were greeted to this sight.

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It is truly a gorgeous panoramic view, but a later google search concluded that, despite rumours to the contrary, none of the Star Wars movies was filmed in Cappadocia…although if you let your imagination wander, you could easily imagine a young Luke Skywalker emerging from the Tatooine-esque landscape.

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Sky Luxe Hotel, Astana

We were in Astana for a full week for a conference/vacation. We knew nothing about the city and chose Sky Luxe based on its location.

The hotel is a bit pricey but it is on par with others in the city at the same level of service. And we were so well taken care of by Diana and the rest of the staff, that it was well-worth the cost.

We arrived in Astana at 3am and were picked up by a taxi arranged by the hotel. We were exhausted and ready for bed, but agreed to a cup of tea when it was offered. In addition to the tea, Diana brought us a full spread of pancakes, jam and other treats. After a long trip it was very welcome.

The next morning, we slept through breakfast but they kept it for us until we woke at noon. Breakfast was an enormous spread of Kazakh and western foods (including caviar if that is your taste!)

We found the staff at the hotel to be excellent. They arranged taxis, confirmed rates, made a number of calls and made sightseeing suggestions. They were also wonderful with our 7 year old.

The room was plenty roomy and all amenities were good.

The hotel is supposed to charge per piece for laundry, but they agreed to do several loads for us at a greatly reduced rate.

The location of the hotel is in the new part of the city, very walkable to all sights and activities. There are a number of restaurants nearby as well.

All in all, Sky Luxe is a great option if you find yourself in Astana. You can get a good price through Booking.com

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Photo of the Day: Montreal, Québec

Ready to watch some world-class tennis!

Ready to watch some world-class tennis!

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