A Foul Wind Doth Blow Our Way

Returning home from our whirlwind weekend adventure to parts south had us grumpy and sweaty. Walking through a castle in central Spain during lunchtime heat will do that to you. We were tired and longed for a hot shower to wash the dusty road away.

In Lugo, as in Valencia, we have whole house instant hot water. Or we are supposed to after Diego and crew fixed it for us in the first week in May. But there was no water to be had on Sunday night before falling into bed. Exhausted.

I should have known. This is just like the Christmas we returned from Mexico after ten days, to a flooded basement in the middle of a snow storm. When we go away stuff tends to happen. It’s as if our homes punish us for leaving them behind.

‘A beach in Mexico, huh? Enjoy it, cause I have some fun planned for you upon your return.’

Ugh.

Jeff and I slept as far apart as we could so as to avoid cross contamination. I would have gone in the guest room but it wasn’t made up and I’ve been using it for storage. Needless to say, it was a restless night. Diego got a call from me at the first hour I felt it was reasonable to ring. They came right away. Left. Came back with different guys. Left, again. Finally, they brought a guy who, after many ‘Madre mias’ pulled out some burned wiring and handed it to me.

‘This is the problem.’ Diego told me. As though I needed the translation.

Two hours later and we had hot water. The guys left and Jeff hopped in the shower. Then it was my turn. And you can guess what happened next. No hot water. None. No matter how much I let it run, or how many incantations or curses or threats I uttered. Hot water was not to be had for me. And they had taken all day to fix it. Now, the shop was closed. Jeff looked very afraid in his clean clothes and freshly shaven face as I came down the stairs cursing. And rightly so.

It was another restless night of trying to avoid sleeping with myself. Ick. I awoke and called Diego. They couldn’t come out until the afternoon. I went out to the barn and dug through the camping gear looking for dry shampoo, but to no avail. I was not happy.

When the crew finally turned up in the afternoon, I looked like a madwoman. No amount of brushing would tame my unruly tresses. That nightmare Melide shag haircut didn’t look any better after days of no washing. I tried to stay outside and down wind from everyone. For all our sakes. They got the hot water working in less than an hour and I barely waited until the front door closed behind them, before racing up stairs and claiming what was rightfully mine. It was Tuesday. We’d come home Sunday evening. It’s been hot here. I was owed blessed cleanliness

And we had hot water. For a whole 24 hours. Until we didn’t. I called Diego this morning. Maybe a bit earlier than was strictly kind.

‘Kelli. I think we should replace the whole unit.’

Ya think?

They’ve been out to our house so many times, with so many guys this week – not counting the first week in May. If we can’t keep the water heater producing actual hot water for more than 24 hours at a time, without coaxing by Diego and crew, we need the nuclear option.

Today, the crew spent the day here. Sawing, grinding, pulling, sweating, Madre mia-ing, and generally loathing the cabinet where the devil resides. Jeff is very sure that having it installed inside a cabinet in the kitchen can not possibly be to code. I care, not at all.

Diego just came out carrying spare parts of a new chimney.

‘Almost done.’

Jeff is less than enthusiastic.

‘We are supposed to have a full budget to go with our full reno project plan by tomorrow. Something tells me there is not a chance in hell that is going to happen.’

And he is right. Diego already told me ‘There is going to be a small delay, Kelli’. But I don’t have the heart to tell Jeff. It’s been a long few days. I’ll just toddle out to the barn where the fridge with the cold beer and wine for guests resides. Since our kitchen fridge is currently Barbie Dream House sized. A couple of beers and a good distraction is all that is required. Tonight we will be clean. Tomorrow is a whole other ballgame.

Sometimes, It’s Best Not to Ask

Jeff is a gadget guy. Not gadgets for gadgets sake. He’s a problem solver at heart. And a researcher. When he finally locates the right solution for something he pulls the trigger.

It’s been several years since Jeff bought a recumbent trike. He’d wanted one for awhile, and while I spent the summer of 2017 in Spain, Jeff found the one he wanted 8 hours away in New Mexico. A road trip ensued and he figured out a way to stuff it into our Audi TT and drive it home. He sent me a photo of his smiling face out on a ride. Happy.

I had never ridden a recumbent trike, and didn’t feel the need to own one. I have a few bikes for various purposes. That was enough for me. But then we stopped by that trike shop in Portland while back in the US visiting my parents in September of 2018. And the owner took us out on a test ride. It was a blast!! But how to get it home? It doesn’t fit in a standard bike box and airlines don’t know what to make if it. Besides, I had other priorities at the time.

But now it’s 2021. The past three years have felt like dog-years. So much has happened in such a short period of time. After all that, we are finally settled. Recovering from Covid has been a long, slow process. It is happening. But it’s time to start looking forward and at getting back in shape. Not just using home gym equipment and a yoga mat. Now that we are 50% vaccinated, it’s time to stop being afraid and get back outside.

We are Twins! Mine is on the right.

Jeff is all-in on supporting me in this quest to regain endurance and cardiovascular health. To that end, he’s been doing what he does best – research. It turns out recumbent trikes are a great way to get, and stay in shape. And they are a lot of fun, too. So sticking with a program as I go along will be much easier. We can do it together and Jeff can keep an eye on me.

But finding a recumbent trike in Spain, or even Europe, is not as easy as in the US. Especially, not as easy as in Portland, where there are multiple places who sell trikes on the Eastside, and bike-shops like Starbucks. People in Valencia used to gawk as Jeff rode by on his in the Turia. So you know these machines are very rare here. And even if we did find a shop that sells them in Spain, finding one that has all of Jeff’s requirements is a needle in a haystack. But Jeff started sifting through the straw, and he didn’t give up.

Sometimes, Jeff is not as communicative on his purchases as one might expect.

‘I need to meet a guy to buy something.’ Has been a common regrain for the past 20 years. ‘You can come along, if you want.’

Much of the time I have no idea what he is picking up. He doesn’t volunteer this information, and often I don’t bother to ask. Rarely am I interested, until the final results of whatever he’s cooking up.

This was his modus operandi for our trip to Cordoba. Jeff had found a guy who had a trike he bought from a company in the US. It was in pristine condition, had every bell and whistle on Jeff’s long list of required bells and whistles, and was hanging, unused, in the dude’s garage in Andalusia. Jeff had been communicating with him since February. But provincial border closures, curfews, and sundry other regional and national Covid restrictions kept them from meeting up when we lived much closer in Valencia. The guy lives in a small village south of Cordoba, through narrow streets that challenged our car’s ability to squeeze between buildings. As Jeff drove, I did a lot of my only look through one eye, hold your breath, lift your right leg, lean away from the door and surely we won’t scrape the sides of the car thingy. It’s a scientific strategy. It works every time.

We met the guy and he was super cool. He even threw in all the spare parts, extra tires, etc. I promised to send him of photo of me riding it on one adventure another. And Jeff was prepared with tools to take it apart just enough to fit in the Audi.

Jeff had already ordered some parts to modify her, and they were delivered today. He got to work immediately and the trike was ready for my first shakedown cruise to the local village and back this afternoon. He treated me to an Aquarious water at the cafe for my efforts.

And now, I’m the proud owner of a trainer so I can ride on the patio to build up my endurance. Riding a trike involves different muscles than a traditional bike. Muscles my body has forgotten it possesses since March of 2020. So I have some work to do. But it goes fast down our little lane and is a lot of fun! Even the neighbors approve. The old lady on the corner, sitting on her stoop dressed in black, is a one-woman neighborhood-watch program. We turned her head going by. On the way home I got a smile and a wave. I’m pretty sure we made her week and could almost hear the voice in her head – ‘What are those crazy Americans up to now?’

So the 36 hour trip to Cordoba was worth the surprise. Our reputation in the neighborhood as perpetually strange is fully intact. And, thanks to el Jefe, I have one more tool in my recovery tool box.

The Alcázar – Sweet Segovia

We drove up to Madrid from Cordoba and stayed on Plaza de España for one night in the city. The drive north from Cordoba on the A4 shows just how connected Spain still is to it’s Muslim past. Many signs, both road signs and in rest-areas, were in Arabic.

It was nice to see the easy melding of cultures in every day life after all the stories in the news recently about the conflicts with the Moroccan government and Spain over the migrants in Cueta in North Africa. And the rise of far-right ant-immigration Vox party in Andalucía. The truth of Spain and it’s rich history as a cultural crossroads is far more complex that political slogans and shouted rhetoric. The layers run deep, both literally and figuratively.

Leaving Madrid yesterday we headed up the A6. It was insane trying to get out of the city during a road race celebrating Corpus Cristi. Corpus Cristi marks 60 days since Easter and everywhere there are massive processions and celebration throughout Spain that include the first communion for children. Except this year, like last year, Covid has put a stop to most activities around this important holiday. That is why we were so surprised when we became trapped by barricades and police as throngs of runners ran in front of our car. No matter which detour we took, we could not find our way out. And sat nav was no help. Finally, I figured we should just drive down any open road until we hit one of the many ring roads circling the city. After 45 minutes, we hit paydirt. Or pavement, actually. We were on our way North.

There are many places on the drive from Madrid to Lugo I would like to stop and see. I commented on this on our way to Cordoba. But we are always rushing to some place else when we drive thru that stretch. Trying to ‘make good time’, as my Dad used to say.

But this time, Jeff made a detour for me in Segovia. And it was amazing. I mean, what’s a 36 hour 1100 mile impromptu road trip through the length of Spain without a stop at a second UNESCO World Heritage site?

Segovia is a city founded by the Romans, then ruled by the Christians, conquered by the Muslims, and finally, recaptured by the Christians during the reconquista. Just like Cordoba. All this makes for an architectural lasagna that is still visible today. And it is stunning.

Starting with our drive into town, the site takes you a bit by surprise. The fully intact Roman aqua duct is what you see first coming around a corner from the more modern part of town. This supplied water to the hilltop fortress two thousand years ago.

Smaller homes and villages lay at the feet of the wall. Including a Templar church on the other side of the river.

We entered the gate to park the car. Segovia has the parking thing down. It’s very easy to access the many parking garages within the walls.

Walking the warren of streets on Corpus Cristi, people were out enjoying the sunshine in their Sunday best. Like a mini Easter. Women in ultra high heels on cobblestones. Braver souls than I.

It’s easy to get turned around in Segovia and we got a little lost on some blind alleys. But eventually we made our way to the Castle as the church bells peeled.

Approaching the site, the Alcazar looks more like a fairytale castle in France than a Castelo in central Spain. Jeff commented that it looked like the architects from Carcassonne had made this little model before building their massive Cathar one in Southern France. I quite agree.

The facade is very unusual, with roundish sandstone and pocked with lava rock. It looked like a massive rock climbing wall with hand holds.

Inside, it is smaller than it looks from the outside. King Enrique IV is responsible for most of the internal decorations. And you know this because he paid homage to himself in very flowery language in gold writing on the walls.

This room is created by the most exalted and smartest person to ever walk the face of the earth, Enrique IV, son of Juan l. Ordained by Almighty God. Oh yeah, and he is really handsome, too.

You get what I’m saying. No ego there. I bet he was 4ft 11. And his wife was 5ft 6. The golden scrolling script rings the ceilings, many like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The golden pinecones symbolize fertility. You will have to excuse me as there are many photos pointing up.

The castle is well preserved, and work to maintain it has not been neglected due to the pandemic. So much so, some of the weathered old charm is a bit lost in places. But it is still gorgeous. And the priceless tapestries are to die for.

The views of the surrounding area from the top are spectacular, too.

Like any castle in Europe, there is always an armory with homage to war and siege. This one is no different.

A full day in Segovia is what is truly required. We didn’t have that kind of time. So after a quick bite we were on the road home.

Our 36 hour weekend adventure across the length of Spain is over. After 12 hours of sleep, Jeff is still snoring. A well deserved rest after indulging my voracious appetite for history.

We Just Popped Down to Cordoba

Jeff needed to head to Cordoba to pick something up. Something that couldn’t be shipped. And he asked me if I wanted to tag along. Heck yeah! Being an American, and that long road trips are in our DNA, I had my bag packed in 5 minutes and was waiting by the front door at 5am this morning.

It was still dark. Never mind that from our house to Cordoba is 1100 miles and 18 hours roundtrip. Piece of cake. I’d even brought road snacks.

The drive from Lugo to Madrid, we could do it in our sleep. We have done it so many times the A6 is an old friend. But usually, we head off from the M50 outer ring road of Madrid towards Valencia on the A3. This time, we made a different turn.

Madrid is the center of the Spanish motor way universe. Its the hub to the spokes that fan out to all points in the autonomous communities and provinces across Spain. We were heading to Andalucía where Cordoba is located. On the A4 that goes from Madrid to Cadiz.

Each autovia in Spain has unique characteristics. The A3 has miles of sunflowers soaking up the rays. The A6 has poppy fields in red and white. The A4 was a whole different experience. It starts out grapes. Then transitions to miles of gentlemen’s (strip) clubs. Finally, its millions of olive trees. And when I say ‘millions’ I mean tens of millions. The farther south you go there is hardly a surface, excluding the roadway, not covered in olive trees for as far as the eye can see. Spain is the largest olive oil producer in the world by nearly double that of the next country, Greece. And I believe it. It’s why olive oil is cheaper than petrol here and you can purchase it in large drums. Even for home use.

Leaving Palas de Rei so early in the morning meant we had time to kill in Cordoba before Jeff met the guy to get what he came for. So, I decided we would visit the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba.

The building is just what the name suggests. The site was a Roman temple. When the Muslims conquered the Iberian Península in the 8th century they took what the Romans and the Christians left behind and created a mosque that was at the heart of the new capital of the Muslim world in Europe.

A few years back, after moving to Valencia, I took a 22 week lecture series to learn all about the history of my adopted country, and the stories surrounding Al Andaluz captured my imagination. Perhaps its my history with the Arabic language and time spent in the Middle East. The culture and food I love so much. It’s intersection with Spain is irresistible, and walking into this city, and this building I felt instantly at home.

Cordoba and it’s architecture tick all the boxes for me. We took a private tour and walked the city that held so much of the knowledge in the known world at that time, that people traveled from all over to experience it – no matter their faith. They came to study at the mosque that was filled with one of the largest collections of manuscripts ever gathered in one place. The Caliph, Abdul Rahman I , encouraged study by starting the first university. And opening schools all over Spain to educate common people.

Grief is a powerful motivation and, like the Taj Mahal in India, this mosque was build in the 8th century as a reflection of the Caliph’s grief, as the lone survivor of the massacre of his entire family. In exile, he missed his home in Syria, the palace where he grew up with his family, and the mosque where they worshipped together. So he created the world he came from in Al Andaluz (Andalucia). Abdul Rahman came to Spain as a young man of vast wealth. And he poured it all into Al Adaluz. Cordoba was his chosen capital and the beauty of the city is a reflection of his vision and is his legacy. It wasn’t only Muslim stone masons crafting this marvel. Christians and Jews were also hired and they left their marks in the stones they carved.

After 700 years of Muslim rule in Spain, it all ended in the 1200’s. When the reconquista drove Muslims and Jews out of Spain, much of the rich culture they had brought to the peninsula was wiped away. And their architectural marvels destroyed. But not the mosque of Cordoba. It was mostly kept intact, protected by the local inhabitants of Cordoba (although coopted by the Catholic church) until Charles I. When he mistakenly allowed a much maligned bishop to redecorate part if it.

Walking the streets in the old city, you can still feel what it might have been like a millennium ago. And entering the courtyard that used to house fountains for worshippers to wash before prayers is like stepping back in time.

But it’s the interior that is breathtaking in its geometry and artistry. The pictures won’t do it justice but I tried to capture the moments that impressed me most.

We hardly scratched the surface with so little time on the ground in Cordoba. Its a city that deserves a trip dedicated to discovering all her secrets. We will come back again, very soon.

The Camino De Santiago is Open for Business

Holy Mackerel! The flood gates are flung wide open. The Pilgrims are out and marching at pace to Santiago, passing our gate from early morning through the afternoon. And Melide is filling up with them, too. The energy of the town has a bit of a spring in her step.

It’s Friday. There are not supposed to be many Peregrinos on Fridays. We had been told this by others. But our next door neighbor, Carmen, came by to deliver produce from her garden this afternoon. When I asked her about it she scoffed.

<translated from Spanish> ‘Those people don’t know anything. We live here. We can see them with our own eyes.’ As she gestured to a group of ten just passing right in front of us.

And Carmen is correct. Hundreds of walkers, hoards of fully loaded bicycles, and even multiple groups on horseback have gone past the house today. In three days time (the distance from here to Santiago de Compostela on foot) I would be interested to see the numbers from the Pilgrims office on Santiago. If this is what it’s like on Fridays now, the rest of the week will start to be wall to wall Pilgrims.

We drove through the village on our way back from town. Tour buses from Valencia were letting people off to sample the local wares and enjoy a coffee. We have seen these before in other years. The casual Pilgrim who booked a tour, where walking a stage or two supported by a motor coach gives the less adventurous a taste of the Camino experience. To each his own.

The local businesses who had yet to reopen have spent the last week with their windows flung wide to the fresh air, the brooms on over-drive, and the dust flying. Today those same establishments are all filled with Pilgrims, umbrellas open and tables packed. It’s wonderful to see.

Having a coffee up the road at our local cafe comes with a cacophony of languages now. All European. But its a start.

And more and more people stop and wave at the gate as I try to get my fill of Vitamin D in the morning. Jeff was weed-wacking around the grape vines and was being closely observed in his efforts. Today, I looked up and a group was watching me eat my lunch on the porch. Sometimes, I feel a bit like an animal in a zoo.

Who is this curious creature on the other side of the gate? And what is she eating? Will she share?

I will admit it’s exciting to have them back. I don’t really mind the interruption if it means life is returning to normal.

This year will be nothing like 2019, when >350,000 Pilgrims made their way to Santiago from 150 countries. But, as we contemplate our own business venture for next season for the double Xacabeo year, and watch the numbers begin to surge, it’s good to see that even in the pandemic the Camino endures. How the seeker will never allow obstacles deter them. Because, no matter what, the pull of the pilgrimage is just too strong. And the Peregrinos to Santiago will always return to the Way.