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Camino – final weeks

Final part of the Camino written from my laptop, while I’m back home.

I did write this, but my phone crashed, and I lost the last part of my blog, so here goes. “When you say nothing at all” is Playing…

 

Right, so the last part of my blog ends with my rest day in Estella, I then walked to Los Arcos. I had a brilliant evening here, I met a group on the road and zoned out with them that evening. At one point a Dutch guy told a story about the church bells in Holland. He said they ring and he hummed a very slow version of a Christmas carol, we all caught on pretty soon and sang the carol out loud. One of the guys sat back “no, it’s April, no f*ck, shut the f*ck up” but we laughed and finished singing while the rest of the tables in the restaurant watched us. I enjoyed this group, but they had been walking together since day one, they had bonded, and I was new and so I made my own way the next night.

The next night I spent in Viana (pronounced Biana). I saw the group from the previous night, but I had dinner alone. I was rather hungry, but it was siesta and the only open place was the restaurant in the fancy hotel. I ordered tapas here, it was all they had, the already prepared tapas was available. I ordered a glass of wine and tapas and then more tapas, it’s really small and I was actually hungry.

I chatted with the rather cute waiter, my Spanish now at an acceptable level to comprehend if the other party spoke slowly. Justin Bieber’s “despacito” song kept playing in my mind, but not only mine. Pretty much every pilgrim had it playing mentally sometimes. Anyway, the cute waiter said something very quickly, I tried to remember how to say slowly. I put my fingers to my temple, saying “Justin Bieber. Despacito. Que?!” (Justin Bieber. Slowly. What?!) he laughed for an entire minute before saying what he wanted to say and pouring me another glass of wine.

Not sure where, I think in Viana I took a bus to Logrono and then to Burgos. I was behind on time and needed to skip a part of the trail. I didn’t check anything except the number of days I had to get to Santiago, others might have checked where the most beautiful landscape was or what the weather on different parts of the trail would be like, I did not. I counted the days and walked from Burgos.

When I arrived in Burgos with the bus, I hadn’t yet booked a bed, I was thirsty, in need to a toilet and perhaps a snack. I walked out of the bus station. On my right there was a bright orange sign saying “hostel”, on my left a faded blue sign read “bar” (this means café in Spain). If I got something to drink first the hostel might sell out, if I went to the bar I would use the loo. If I kept standing here I’d block the door. I walked right, ordered a coffee and went upstairs to the loo. Then I went to the hostel, yeah, they had a bed for me and after that I went to explore Burgos.

It was workers day; the cathedral was closed. It was a public holiday, only the touristy places were open. I checked for a bookstore on google maps, having finished Up on the bus. The bookstore had an English shelf. I picked up one of the thinnest books, In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira. I ended up fascinated by the story, falling in love with James, and thoroughly enjoying the tale.

I sat down chocolate and churros for the first time. The waitress placed a cup of thick hot chocolate and a plate of deep-fried churros in front of me, she spoke no English, but with broken Spanish and hand gestures I asked how I was to eat what I had ordered. She explained that I dip the churros into the chocolate and then eat it, I don’t drink the chocolate. It was delicious.

The following day I walked to Hornillos del Camino. The weather was cold, icy cold and the wind strong. I put on my gloves and then struggled to carry my stick my gloves making it slippery, but my fingers were icy without the gloves. I kept walking through the monotonous landscape of the Meseta. It didn’t feel as though I was moving at all. A sign appeared saying the next town was 5km away, then 2km, then I realized I was hungry and thirsty, the wind was annoying, and it wouldn’t be pleasant to sit down next to the road. Yet, I had water and a sandwich in my pack. The next sign said 500m, but I couldn’t see anything. Alright, if I couldn’t see the next village at the top of the hill in front I would pause next to the trail. And then something came into sight, a dome? A dome! A church, next to which there was a house and then there was the little village nestled in the small valley between the low hills.

The dip was steep and the lady walking ahead of me looked momentarily ridiculous until I realized what she was doing. She wasn’t’ walking the steep descent in a straight line. She walked a zig-zag trail down, steadying herself against the stone wall on the one side and the brick all on the other. I bent my legs and made my own descent. There was a café which was overly crowded. Due to the abysmal weather nobody was sitting outside, and all the pilgrims were crammed into the small indoor area. I went to the loo and saw that the dining room was completely empty.

I ordered a coffee and carried it to the dining room. I took out my book and started reading. I defrosted enough while drinking my coffee that when I returned my cup to the counter my mind registered the sign saying “chocolate and churros” I ordered this and a rum, straight up.

It was lovely, sitting there, hiding from the cold, enjoying a drink and something wintery and warming. After an hour I folded down the corner of my book, squashed it in behind my water bottle and went back to the reality of the trail.

I arrived at the village with my hostel. I walked into the first place, they had a loo. The man behind the counter looked at me, “primo, donde bango?” (first, where toilet?) he pointed to the left. After that I bought a 2L bottle of water. I was still really cold as I walked out and looked up, my hostel was right in front of me.

I checked in, took of my boots and crawled under my comforter. I set a 30-minute alarm on my phone and didn’t move until it went off. The hostel had a real wood-burning fire going and I thought about the lyrics “oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire inside is so delightful, let it snow, let it –” no, please no snow! For breakfast the next day I had a wonderful ham and goats cheese omelette and I ordered a sandwich for the road. I later found out it also contained goats cheese.

The next night I stayed in Castrojeriz, on the way I arrived at a dilapidated cathedral. I really wanted to rest, but there didn’t seem to be anything here except for the cathedral… and music? I followed the music and found a café. I sat down with a coffee and rested my body.

That night I unpacked my entire pack, questioning everything I still had with me. I donated quite a few things in the give and take basket. I rummaged through it to see if there was anything I needed.

I laced up my boots and was intending to walk to Fromista, my little toe had some blisters on it. If I kept moving it was a dull pain, once I’d rested, cooled down and started up again it throbbed horribly. But I kept walking. After breakfast my toe gave a nasty twinge, and I decided to ask for advice in a pharmacy in Fromista. I texted Mum and asked her to Google about popping blisters. Then I sat down, I was now not walking, but hobbling and my other muscles were starting to complain.

According to Google maps the next town was 1h 10m away, the place I had just left and could still see was 37m back. I looked ahead of me and saw a hill. I was turning back. I would walk the flat stretch back and just sleep here. On my way back, a tractor passed me. I waved for help and the driver and his wife nodded, gesturing me out of the way as they drove passed me and stopped. The lady reminded me of Dobby the House elf, she barely reached my chest.

I tapped my right leg saying “dolor” (pain) she rambled on in Spanish something about the town not having medical care and if I needed medicine I shouldn’t go back because there was no doctor and no pharmacy. I didn’t know how to say rest in Spanish, so I ended up saying “relax” this satisfied her, and I hopped onto the back of the tractor where she joined me.

I went to a café, carrying with me a needle and some antibiotic cream. I ordered two shots of vodka. I used one of them to sterilize the needle and drank a sip from the other. I got to work, sticking the needle into the blisters and finally draining my shot as the needle made painful contact with the raw flesh below.

The bloke who owned the hostel gave me a ride to the next stop the following morning, this way I could rest, but I didn’t lose more time on the trail. The name is written Villalcazar and pronounced “Biyalcathar” which created some confusion. I had single room here for a change and I loved it.

I sat outside in the town square watching the pilgrims arrive, some stopping for a coffee before continuing, some merely passing by, others happy to have reached their destination. I had lunch with a beautiful boy from South America, Zac.

After a lovely rest I continued with the trail. I was yet again out of cash. The Meseta stretching relentlessly on ahead of me. I walked and walked, someone mentioned it was a 17km stretch with nothing in it. I had booked a bed in the next village and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Odd snippets of songs playing in my mind, when I started walking I thought of the film, Elizabeth Town and of the song which played when the film journey started. At once, Elton John’s voice filled my head “from this day on I own my father’s gun…”

Elton John then meant that I thought of “the trail we blaze” and then “without question”. The songs played in my mind, then snippets from the Harry Potter audiobooks and random lines from the FRIENDS series. Odd memories, like the time I had studied for the wrong test back in the sixths grade and then the trail. The trail was beautiful, the landscape gorgeous despite being monotonous.

Where was the next village? I kept walking, “all of these lines across my face, tell you the story of where I’ve been … all of these stories don’t mean anything if you’ve got no one to tell them to, it’s true, I was made for you” the lyrics repeated in my mind. They had used this song for a car ad back in SA. Was it true? Did stories mean nothing if you couldn’t share them? I don’t think so, but then again maybe I’m wrong?

I wasn’t wearing sunscreen and there was no shade, just a continuing gravel road to follow. I wanted to stop, I couldn’t see the road ahead. Perhaps it turned or dipped or – is that a tower? I had reached civilization at last.  The road dipped slightly and between the two very low hills was, well, not a town, but a collection of houses. I was out of cash again and found only one place willing to accept credit cards. The waiter touched my ass, but I came back for breakfast, being unable to go anywhere else.

I stayed in a place called Sahagun that evening and continued the next day. My blisters had been fine, but they now reminded me of their existence. I sat down on a bench along The Way and two pilgrims passed me by on horseback. A car slowed to watch the horses and I waved at the lady driving it calling out “can I get a ride?”. She was a middle-aged woman from England and dropped me off in El Burgo. At the café I asked the waitress to call me a taxi and get me to Leon a day earlier.

I needed a new book, I needed small socks to prevent new blisters, I needed many things which only a big city could provide. My heart missed London as I checked into Hostel Covent Garden.

To my utter surprise that evening I ran into the two Canadian ladies I had met while resting my twisted ankle back in Orisson. I was standing at an ATM and I looked to my right, “Chris?” “whazzup?!” said the blue-eyed pretty boy from the west coast of America who had sung Christmas carols with me in Los Arcos!

I didn’t have dinner this evening as I was still doing the 5:2 diet. The big city vibe felt harsh. After quiet days and small towns, all the vibrant-ness of the city felt overwhelming. The hostel had a hot shower and I enjoyed the feeling of the water cleansing me.

The next day I walked through the outskirts of Leon, the nice city centre turning into residential areas and then car dealerships and mechanics and furniture stores. I kept walking losing track of time. I walked into a café and ordered food and a shot. The waiter looked at me with a slight smirk. And I looked at the clock, it wasn’t lunch time it was 9:30. I blinked, the busy energy of the city had made it feel as though much more time had passed.

I didn’t feel as thought I had left Leon when I arrived at my next stop, La Virgen del Camino. The outskirts of Leon seem to morph into the next village and I sat down at a café. I ordered a hamburger, the waiter asked me what kind I wanted, and I said “tu favorito” (your favourite) it was so good!

My afternoons now had a rhythm. After arriving at a place, I set a 30minute alarm and lay down, after “waking up” I would take a shower, change into my dress (if it was warm enough) or some clean clothes. Then I would do laundry and head to a café. I lived on red wine. I sometimes ordered a bottle of red (if it didn’t come with the meal) and zoned out at the café. I tried to move as little as possible in the afternoon. I would sip my wine and read my book and talk to other pilgrims and blog and people watch until it was time to order dinner.

Every morning my feet seemed to have recovered, but my left shoulder hurt. It would start twinging earlier every day until it wouldn’t stop hurting at the airport when I was heading back.

Can’t remember where this happened, but it was before Hospital del Orbigo. My feet were tired, and I walked into an albergue, they had a bed and I unbuckled my pack before dropping down into a seat. I booked two nights, my body needed a rest.

The next morning, I woke up and vacated the room, so the girl had time to clean the other beds in the dorm before the next pilgrims arrived. The first laundry of the day was drying in the slight breeze. As I walked out of the room to the loo, my sleeping mask pushed up into my hair, wearing yesterday’s dirty t-shirt and my underwear, the lady who owns the hostel looked up and smiled “buenas dias, guapa” (good morning, pretty girl) “I like it here I thought” as I returned to my room to get dressed.

That evening I sat next to a man from France and a group of Koreans. I got lectured about elegance by the French man and learned how to say cheers in Korean. I was amazed, we spoke English and French and Korean and we didn’t feel isolated. My throat was starting to hurt.

Before going to bed I rummaged through my bag and extracted the little box containing antibiotics. I took two, but still woke up with a horribly sore throat. I checked Google maps, there was a pharmacy in the next village. I had antibiotics, but nothing else. I walked to Hospital de Orbigo. It was Sunday, and everything was closed.

I booked a single room for the night; the village was so cheap I could afford it. The door didn’t have a lock and during the night I could hear the man in the next room snoring.

The lady at the pharmacy spoke English when I got there the next day and gave me what I needed. I waited at the bus stop hoping to make up for lost time, but the other pilgrim standing there said she had been waiting for the bus for 2 hours. We chatted for a few minutes and decided to share a taxi to Astorga.

I was dropped at the train station and she went to the city centre. I just refused to walk while taking antibiotics. I got a train to Ponferrada and again I got a single room. I stared at it, it hadn’t cost me more then the previous night, but I was looking at a room with two beds, a tv, a private bathroom – this meant a shower as hot and as long as I wanted. In shared bathrooms, I always respect that other people also want to have a warm shower at least.

I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower on my phone’s Netflix. I walked to the nearest place that got good reviews on Google Maps and had lunch, I came back here for dinner and asked the waiter to bring me his favourite, just no blood sausage. He had a glint in his eyes as he talked me through what I would be eating. I ended up having an octopus started, turkey and cheese with salad for the main course and ice cream cake for desert. As usual there was a bottle of red wine on the table and a basket of gorgeous bread.

I wanted to be back on the trail! I took my last antibiotics and closed the blinds, I slept beautifully and started walking. I had started drinking a shot early-ish in the day. I spoke to a British guy about this and he explained that alcohol opened your arteries, so if you want your blood to start moving it helps. The American hikers I met carried a flask with them thinking this totally normal.

I walked into a café and ordered a shot, the elderly lady behind the counter made me think of professor McGonagall giving me a stern disapproving look before pouring my shot.

That night was wonderful, I walked to Pereje and met two American hikers and a Spanish guy from Madrid. I had a good evening with them. This was the bonfire night. After dinner the four of us and the big Spanish group headed back to the only hostel in the town carrying with us the wine and beers we hadn’t finished at dinner. We were singing “Buen Camino” based on the Despacito melody, I had a bottle of wine in one hand and hooked in to the Spanish guy’s arm and the group made its way happily back to the hostel.

We made a lovely bonfire and later the group decided that more wine would be good. I said I’d go and the Spanish guy offered to help me carry. We walked back to the only restaurant in the village. The proprietor and the Spanish guy talked for what seemed a long time, finally the crucial part was translated “there’s no more wine” I blinked at the man behind the counter and he walked into the back, he came back with one bottle and 4 beers. They had obviously planned on providing for the pilgrims during dinner, but nothing more. We literally drank the town dry that evening.

I sat next to the Spanish guy closing my eyes, my body still recovering. One of the American guys suggested I go to bed, but I was having fun sitting between people.

I arrived at O Cebreiro the next afternoon and checked into the municipal albergue, glad they still had a bed and to my pleasant surprise I found the big Spanish group, the Spanish guy from Madrid and the two American’s there as well. One of the American guys hadn’t been able to get a bed and I snuck him in later, he slept in his sleeping bag on the floor at the foot of my bed.

Earlier that evening we had hiked up one of the hills with a bottle of traditional Spanish coffee liquor to watch the sunset with a Korean guy. The American guy turned on a south African song I had never heard of “I fink you’re freeky and I like you a lot” they liked it I thought it cringe worthy.

But then the three of us started dancing and it didn’t matter that it was good or bad or that we had blisters, we had walked here and had shared this and were watching a glorious scene and we were together today and the music changed and the guy sang “jump, motherf*cker, jump” and we jumped, waving our fists in the air and then it was over and we laughed and once we started it was hard to stop.

The other American guy came to join us later, when we saw him we changed the Buen Camino song based on the Despacito melody to “Hola Luka, hola luka” singing until he joined us. We sipped the coffee liquor out of a shared up and we talked and watched the sun and then I realized it was 9pm and I was hungry. I left them to their own devices and headed for dinner.

I saw the Spanish guy the next day in Triacastella, but he was more comfortable speaking Spanish and was sitting with the Spanish group. They were friendly to me, but I couldn’t understand them, and I went for dinner alone. Chatting with a mother and son from Denmark who were doing the Camino together.

On my way to Sarria I saw a Dutch guy I had met a while ago walking with his girlfriend, whom I hadn’t been introduced to. They walked together as though they had decided to wlak the Camino together and not like two strangers who had met on the say I watched them and into my mind came Fiddler on the roof “they look so natural together…” which was randomly followed by The Turtles singing “I can’t see me loving no body but you for all my life…” I thought of Beth saying she understood why I didn’t walk with my headphones and I chuckled as I kept walking.

I hadn’t planned on staying in Sarria, but when I arrived there I didn’t want to walk any further, I could have if there was no bed, but I just didn’t want to. I walked into the first hostel and asked for a bed, no they only had single rooms left. I took it my feet were hurting and my shoulder throbbing.

I now had blisters between my big toe and the next, wearing my comfy flipflops hurt sometimes. I met a Camino tour guide and stared at him. “Can’t they just follow the yellow arrows?” I asked, the Camino is an easy, well-marked trail. Who needs a guide here? He said, “Camino is business”. He books the hotels (not dorm beds), arranges for luggage to be transported, though doing this yourself is easy, points out the good restaurants in the town. It’s his job, so despite me wanting to laugh we had a good time each of us enjoying an ice cream.

If I could get to Santiago by Wednesday 12h I would see the amazing Botafumeiro ceremony, held only 7 times a year. Ok, I’ll try, I took a taxi to Ferreiros which was 10km away, then I had to walk 25km each day and I would be there. Somewhere this logic stopped making sense and I arrived in Santiago Thursday afternoon unable to skip anymore of the trail.

As I entered Portomarin I saw the American guy who had slept at the foot of my bed a few days ago. He was shirtless and after I hugged him I realized he was … “why are you wet?” “I jumped in” he said as two other pilgrims joined us. “You what?” “I jumped into the middle” he said pointing at the massive river behind me. One of the other hikers who had joined us asked “did you swim out?” my friend looked at him slightly amused, but I answered, “What? Do you think Neptune pushed him out?” my friend now looked at me “Neptune? The planet?” “no, the god of the sea?” “I thought that’s Poseidon” this is when the fourth hiker, a Spanish speaker chimed in adding in Spanish that Neptune and Poseidon were the same gods belonging to different mythologies.

Eventually we all went our separate ways and as I passed an ATM I paused, I still had cash, but I had now learned how annoying it could be.

A few days later I stayed in Rabadiso. I took a shower washing my hair for a change and texting a German girl I had met on the trail we exchanged a few texts and then I boasted “I have clean hair” to which she replied “I can see Santiago” now there was no way for me to compete. I’d gladly have dirty hair and a view of Santiago, or would I? I liked the trail I was getting closer to my goal, but I wasn’t sure I wanted it to end just yet. I spent a fun evening chatting with an elder British gentleman.

The next night I stayed in a place called Pedrouzo, the trail was forest-like. Every day I walked among trees enjoying the shade. I had bought a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower back in Ponferrada, when I wasn’t walking or chatting I would read or sit in silence. I stick clicked as I walked. Every time I saw a Camino sigh, I would double click it. Click-click on stone, crunch-crunch on the gravel thunk-crunch as I walked over a wooden bridge onto a gravel road.

Eventually there was a collection of red roof tops in the distance, Santiago? I checked google maps, I was an hour from Santiago, so yes, those rooftops must belong to the city which was my destiny, the place I had walked to for the passed 5 weeks. I was finally here! In my head I heard David Bowie singing “I, I will be King, And you, you will be Queen … we can be heroes just for one day” arriving in Santiago would make you a hero just for a day. I had done it, climbed the Pyrenees and had my ass touched by a weird waiter and danced on the hills with other pilgrims and had drunk red wine and ate octopus and learned Spanish and rode on the back of a tractor and walked 800km to the very end.

I checked into my hostel, my shoulder aching, I had intended arriving at the cathedral wearing my hiking clothes and my pack, but my shoulder hurt. I put down my pack and took a shower then I headed for the Cathedral, here I knelt at the grave of St. James. I had made it. I was in Santiago de Compostella (St. James of the field of stars).

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Life changes & plotholes

Many stories I have been following suddenly seem to contain giant plot holes. Authors add life changes for the characters, but don’t really describe the effect. The authors never lived through drastic life changes and so they don’t really know how it feels to adapt  to an entirely new life or to live very free or in solitude or any of the things they try to convey.

In Twilight, Bella goes from a human girl who loves to cook to a Vampire who never misses cooking. She just automatically adapts, I get the feeling that Stephany Meyer never adapted to a new lifestyle.

In Bunheads, the main character is meant to be this free person who accedentally didn’t finish high school because she went traveling and got distracted and then ended up dancing as a show girl in Vegas. Now one of the girls in the village this showgirl is living in doesn’t want to move  away and instead of acting according to her craze free persnoality and telling the girl to leave and experience life, she just helps her to stay in this tiny little village. Also in Buheads one of the characters breaks up with her boyfrined after 7 or 8 years. This happens early in the season, but she never freaks out or cries or misses him or anything.

Then I watched Me Before You. I could feel the author had traveled and lived, she had experienced change and so she could describe it’s efffects accuretaly. At the end of the movie when the letter is read, the sentence “you’ll be sitting on one of those chairs that never sit quite level on the pavemen. I hope it’s still sunny” it made me feel I am in Paris, it was a tiny piece of info, but it added real-ness.

I have lived in many lifestyles, traveled to many countries and suddenly these small things skipped or added to stories become really noticible to me atleast.

 

Camino – first half

Conveyer belt part of the journey

I was picked up at midnight, Disney princess style and traveled for 11hours until I arrived in Madrid airport and, after losing my taxi driver and myself, I finally found my room.

I struggled a little to find my way around to a cellphone store and finally got a working SIM card so after that I’ve had Google maps and haven’t lost myself again.

I went to bed before 8 that first night exhausted by the day’s journey. The next morning only one fact was lodged in my mind – I had a bus at 10:45. I packed my backpack and ventured out for breakfast. I didn’t understand one word of the menu and ordered the only thing I recognized from another pilgrim’s blog tortilla de patatas (a potato omelette for lack of a better description)

I read Jojo Moyes on the bus and ripped out the first 140pages of the book once I got to Pamplona. I had lost track of time and days, just checking every step as I got to it. I checked my phone for the time telling myself regularly. It was 4pm as I kept trying to anchor myself in the new time zone.

In Pamplona there was a definite feeling of the Pilgrimage. I had arrived by bus, but Pamplona is on the Camino trail, so the others in the hostel had come after a day of hard walking and brought that energy with them.

I shared a laundry machine with two other hikers splitting the cost and having fresh clothes finally. This morning I woke up as the other hikers were leaving and smelled slightly burned toast as they opened and closed the dormitory door. I felt vaguely wrong-footed not being on the trail and then I suddenly realized that this was my last morning of sleeping in for a while tomorrow morning I would be on the trail. I sat bolt up right. I had totally lost track of time just living from bus to bus – tomorrow it would finally start. I snuggled back under my duvet and slept for another hour…

I also had some slightly burned toast for breakfast … and here I am waiting for lunch time, writing my blog, and then another bus.

Traveling with a mini keyboard that connects to my cellphone, so I can document my journey.

 

Camino part 2

I got to St. Jean Pied de Port, I was finally at the start! My bus drove passed my hostel and I froze trying to memorize the route from the bus station to the hostel. My phone wasn’t working, I had a Spanish SIM card with data and I was in France! I grabbed my bag and retraced the route arriving at a hostel called Gite Compostella. A nice house which has been adapted for a hostel. On the tiny patio there were 2 or 3 laundry drying racks. When I got to my pack I had lost my water bottle along the way. I went into town to get my Camino passport and a new water bottle.

The town was picturesque. Small cobbled stone streets filled with stores attempting to sell stuff to pilgrims. I found a water bottle with a clip which I could attach and then never lose it again.

My pack was and is still rather unfamiliar to me, so I unpacked it entirely every time I wanted something. Initially I had stashed my jacket at the bottom thinking I’d only remove it occasionally if it happened to be cold. I soon changed the order, being in the mountains during spring was too unpredictable.

I spent an awful lot of time packing my pack, suddenly remembering I had laundry drying outside and then unpacking and reorganizing and repacking until all my stuff fit.

I went into a cafe and ordered a coffee and a sandwich for the road. “Un sandwich, sil vous plait” I said almost surprised that I could remember some of my self-taught French. “Jambon?” (ham) the lady asked, “et fromage” I said after a pause, her words seemed to take time to register and make sense. “Burre?” (butter) she asked but I heard “bare” no I thought I’d like some butter or olive oil or something. After another beat we understood each other, “oui”. I left after a lovely strong coffee with a sandwich the size of half a baguette sticking out of the side of my pack next to my towel.

I was wearing long pants and a t-shirt early in the mornings while hiking in the foot hills of the Pyrenees mountains. I paused, took off my pack and reorganized. I zipped off the bottom part of my trouser legs and stashed them in my pack, thus turning my pants into shorts. I also put on the vividly pink fluffy inside part of my jacket and kept going.

The trail sloped up and up and up, I looked up and saw a man walking ahead of me, he’s calves also straining as he hiked up the mountain. I was climbing up a mountain which I hadn’t expected, I had only read that the first two days of the trail are the hardest. Soon the only sound I could hear was my own heavy breathing. If I stood still, then I experienced silence.

I walked passed amazing views and realized I was really hungry. I sat down on the first reasonable bolder I could find and had half of my sandwich. The view was spectacularly beautiful. Up, up, up we all walked, the paved road changing into a dirt road which became a muddy trail before turning rocky. I paused again, and again trying to catch my breath. Finally, at a level spot I sat down on a log. I checked the time on my phone, I would sit still for 5minutes before continuing. I had the rest of my sandwich, I felt a lot better and thought that this was a good idea but after walking for 30seconds I was back to breathing like I’d never stopped. At some point I arrived at a water fountain. I drained my entire water bottle and refilled it. I stared in disbelief as some hikers just emptied their “old water” onto the grass and refilled the bottles. I was parched.

Later I chatted with a personal trainer who said you shouldn’t sit down for a rest, just slow your pace. The thing is, your body takes time to get your heart rate up and when you sit down you cool down, so when you start again it takes more energy to get your muscles warm and your heart rate up again.

Suddenly, Orison was in front of me. Orison is what Cheryl Strayed might have referred to as “an outpost of civilization”. It’s nothing more than a hostel and a restaurant with a roaring trade. Here part way up the mountain you get to rest, buy a cup of coffee, some juice, fill up your water bottle buy food. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and a beer – I was done for the day even though it was only 11am and I had left my paperback book in my hostel that morning. Now the idea of carrying a light book didn’t seem so bad, but that morning I had no idea what the trail would be like and my bag had seemed too full already.

Every half hour a new batch of pilgrims would arrive. Me and some of the others were spending the night in Orison, but the others continued to Roncesvalles another 5-hour hike away.

I walked back to my hostel room, 800m before Orison, and at the gate I slipped as my ankle gave way and I landed hard on my knee with the weight of my pack crashing down on me. “Aaaah!” I exclaimed in surprise. I remembered the video of a guy who taught how to self-rescue when you fall through ice, give your body a moment to get over the shock, don’t act immediately he said. I adjusted my position into a sitting one. I sat there for a few minutes until the shock passed and I could think. I rested my weight on my scraped knee and my good ankle, pulling myself up with the help of my walking stick.

I had my lunch sandwich outside the hostel watching the mountains. After a lovely nap I had a cold shower and did my laundry. It’s usually impossible to stay in one place more than one night, but I told them that I had hurt myself and they said they’d help me somehow.

During the night I went to the bathroom my knee and my ankle both stiff as I climbed the stairs. How was I going to hike the trail if I couldn’t climb one floor of stairs? Would I have to go back home after only one day on the trail?

This morning I packed up and walked back to Orison, my ankle not hurting but not feeling “right”. I had my breakfast with another pilgrim who was a question asking person which I found rather tiring and pointless. I don’t think he cared at all what I said. But each question was followed by another.

I would be staying over near Orison another night which had two perks, I’d rest my ankle and the nosy pilgrim would head on without me.

I sat down at a table and fiddled around. It was a cold misty day outside, every batch of hikers arriving at Orison looked wet, it wasn’t raining, but the fog left them covered in droplets of water and everyone was attempting to pull a waterproof cover over their backpacks to keep the content dry. Since most of them had only started walking this morning, it didn’t happen naturally, it looked like a struggle. I was joined at my table by an elderly lady who continued her hike after a cup of coffee. Then a couple of really chubby girls who seemed to have bitten off more than they can chew. They left for their rooms soon after finishing their snack. After that a Frenchman sat down. We were polite as far as my limited French allowed us to be but mostly we sat in silence. He had a beer and a large plate of food while I typed and had another ham and cheese sandwich.

It’s now 1pm and I am surrounded by hikers who are flushed with their success of completing the first part of their journey while I am passing time waiting for a miracle to heal my ankle and partly wishing I was on the trail and minorly happy I’m not hiking in fog with a 10m visibility.

 

Camino part 3

Life on the Camino seems to contain so many stories

Yesterday I rested at Orison and by 3pm I got a free lift back to a hostel just outside St. Jean de port (a taxi would have cost almost 50 euro) – spent the night with an English lady from Oxford (I liked the fudge near Queen’s lane I said and she laughed “oh you went into the fudge shop?, knowing exactly where I had walked), a French couple traveling with their 14-year-old and two ladies from Canada.

Orison only accepted cash, which I didn’t expect. I ran out of money by lunch yesterday. I expected to be able to pay the hostel with a credit card, but they didn’t have a machine. The British lady came to my rescue, placing 40euros on the counter, paying for my bed, dinner, breakfast and a lunch sandwich for the next day. I blinked at her, said thank you and then added her on WhatsApp. I paid her back a few weeks later via PayPal, but she saved me that evening. I did draw money, more than usual, when I eventually found an ATM.

She also had medical training and I had her take a look at my ankle and my knee. “No, it’s not painful” “yes, it’s a little stiff” “can you wiggle all your toes?” nerve damage hadn’t even occurred to me, I tried, “yes, but I’m guessing I’m not climbing the rest of the mountain tomorrow?” “no, but if you can walk you can do the rest”.

In the morning the owner of the hostel gave me a lift to St. Jean where a transport would pick me up and I would be dropped off on the other side of the mountain where the easier part of the trail begins.

Everybody I have met thus far has been kind; while walking through a village today, I accidentally left the trail and walked into the village, an elderly Spanish lady directed me back onto the trail out of sheer kindness.

The only other pilgrim taking the transport over the mountain was an overly chatty and very excited new pilgrim who just would not stop talking the entire hour I spent with her. She would ask questions but seem insincere. She talked about her pack, her experiences in a non-stop flow of adrenaline induced excitement without seeming to care whether the driver or I was interested – perhaps just in my mind but still, I was glad to part ways.

I had understood I was staying in Roncesvalles, so when I checked Google maps and found I had 6km to walk I was rather surprised but pleased. It was a test run for my ankle and I was happy being back on the trail, though I reminded myself to check the distances of the hostels and not add an extra 6km to my day accidentally again.

I hadn’t dressed for hiking and after about 10minuts on the trail I realized I was wearing my soft bra, not something for the trail. I extracted my sport bra, looked around. I could hear cars, but the trees were hiding me. I put on the dri-fit Nike bra, manoeuvred myself out of the flimsy one and then put on my t-shirt again. Not long after that I remembered water and food. I hadn’t planned on hiking. I had a little water left in my bottle, but no food. I continued thinking I’d never do this again and then stopping at the first form of civilization I found. Stocking up just in case.

At some point there was a downward slope, I took off my backpack and my water bottle, which I had forgotten to clip on rolled down “no no no!” I started but it just rolled to a stop next to a bush and I vowed to clip it onto me bag every time after that.

I started typing this part of the blog last night but was joined by a Frenchman who spoke no English and later on by a Spanish chef and so blogging was paused. Even though we spoke 3 different languages and came from 3 different countries, magic happened, and we chatted and had dinner together and enjoyed each other’s company and stories. This didn’t always happen, sometimes you felt lonely or conversation was laboursome. You couldn’t communicate despite the person understanding English and you being able to speak French/ Italian/ Afrikaans (if they were Dutch)/ Spanish and the conversation would die away, and other nights magic happened, and we communicated and loved and laughed and shared beyond all the barriers or culture and age and language and whatever.

Today I got up in a single room and enjoyed packing without worrying I might wake someone. I had  slept fitfully but felt rested when I woke. I also found an English book at my hostel, Up by Patricia Ellis Her. When I took a shower, I found what I had read about, other pilgrims had left some cosmetics behind and I topped up my shampoo and conditioner before going on.

For breakfast I had to wait 10minutes for a cafe to open, I ordered a black coffee to start with, a sandwich with mozzarella, lettuce and tomato for the road and a plate of scrambled eggs with bacon on toast for breakfast.

A thin mist hung over the trees. As I understood it, I had left most of the forest and the worst part of the mountain decent behind when I took my bus journey to Roncesvalles. Today I didn’t think I wanted to know what “the worst part” had looked like the previous day. The trail I was descending was treacherous in places.

To avoid erosion those taking care of the trail had added rocks, which usually helped but, in some places, it had been trodden to gravel in others I stepped on lose stones. Then there was the decent on rocks, hard under my feet and causing my toes to complain.

The trail was beautiful. At one point I was plunged into a world of soft blight lime color. The trail was beautiful, but I took my time, descending slowly and due to this I was regularly passed by surer footed speedy hikers.

If I stopped moving the silence would be an amazing sound, but usually I would hear my own footsteps or my breathing in my ears.

On my way from Pamplona to St. Jean the bus had passed a truck next to the road where I saw many pilgrims sitting next to their packs taking a break; when I went to get my pilgrim passport in St Jean I was handed a map and the lady marked Food Truck on it as a point to stop and refill my water bottle. On my guide book app read about the basket of underwear next to the food truck. Today, after a long walk through the trees I found myself entering a clearing and then crossing a tar road across which was the food truck. I ordered Sangria for 1 euro (cheap) and sat down eating my sandwich, resting my feet from the trail and my shoulders from my pack.

An explanation of the basket of (clean) underwear next to the food truck: It was meant as a give and take basket for pilgrims. A lady discarded some uncomfy underwear there, fell in love and got married on the Camino – which lead to a tradition of leaving underwear in the basket, which now contains a sign reading “magic happens” in multiple languages.

I started hiking this morning at 8:30, after my breakfast and by 13:30 I was in my next hostel in Zubiri. I took a shower, hung my laundry, put on my dress and headed to a cafe where I’m sitting while typing this. I ordered the pilgrims menu which was said to come with water and wine. A basket of bread was placed on the table followed by a large jug of water and an entire bottle of wine. I looked at it and then began to nibble the bread. The pilgrims menu was a three-course meal, salad, meat, desert.

My afternoons don’t have a decent rhythm yet, rather I try to do everything that needs to be done after arriving in a new place.

 

Part 4

Just some unchronological snippets of life on the Camino

On the way to Orison there were lizards, small little heat loving geckos that run along the way. These annoyed an elderly lady I met who jokingly said even the lizards move quicker than she does along the Camino.

Then in the forest part after Zubiri (day 3) there were fat 2inch long black snails with spikey bodies oozing their way up trees or along the side of the forest path. I found a patch of water in my way and pocked at it with my walking stick, the stick clicked loudly on rock.

The forest gave way to green fields and farm lands which slowly started to turn into vineyards. The lizards and the snails vanished.

Along the sandy path I found patches of mud. I used my stick again, I pocked the mud and my stick sank inches into the squelchy wet brown earth. I stared at it. It was too wide to step over I was wearing shoes with fat soles that were water resistant or water proof or something, but not entirely, if I stepped into fluid I would at some point soak my shoes. I put my weight gingerly onto my foot which was in the mud it sank down, but I jumped the rest of the mud and continued easily on my way.

In the downhill parts a fellow pilgrim had advised me to bend my knees and it helped a lot. Walking in a slightly squatted position slowed my steps and put some of the weight on my quadriceps (thighs) instead of my calves.

Btw I am currently in Estella for a rest day, eating something so delicious: I pointed and received a cup containing custard topped with cream then a doughy cakey something and finally jam, apricot jam if I’m correct.

I spoke to a man along the way who has walked many different Caminos and arrived in Santiago about 15 different times. He dismissed all the “rules” saying that he has never arrived in Santiago to find someone received a medal and a trophy for doing it “right”. For walking fast or slow enough, for booking or not booking rooms, for having carried the right amount of things, for being spontaneous or adventurous enough. There is no right way to walk the Camino, you find your own way and that’s it!

Yesterday I attempted resting for an hour during lunch. I had a long leisurely lunch with a guy I met along the way thinking it might aid my feet in carrying me further. It did not work. In fact, I think it tired me out more, starting up again after lunch was hard, I walked all the way to Estella and then refused to move the next day, despite having met a lovely girl along the way whom I hoped to spend more time with.

It’s Sunday today and I am taking a rest day, I had initially planned on a rest day every week and this was my first. I packed up my bag since it’s not possible to stay in the same hostel two nights in a row and wandered around town. One elderly Spanish lady walked up to me and pointed in the opposite direction babbling in Spanish and telling me the Camino was in the opposite direction, finally I mentioned, in broken Spanish, to say “No Camino para mi” (no Camino for me). She let me go.

I found an open bakery and set up here for a few hours. I read my book, Up, and wrote my blog on my tiny portable keyboard and relaxed entirely. Through the window I could see the first pilgrims of the day arriving in the town.

 

Things I’ve trashed from my bag: I had read a few packing lists for the Camino. One guy had packed a laundry line saying it took no space (It did!) and that it wasn’t heavy (true) but it was unnecessary, thus far every place I’ve stayed in had a laundry line.

Someone else had suggested a cup, I bought a metal one along with a plate. These I discarded very soon, always in the way and always clanking. My water bottle was enough, and a cafe would always wrap your sandwich for you, so a plate wasn’t crucial.

Next to go was my wash cloth. I could get clean without it. And so, I will repack my bag today, I’ve been on the trail for a week, so this is a good time to reassess everything I’ve packed. Things that seemed like a good idea, the washing line, were entirely unnecessary and kept getting in my way.

That’s it for today I guess.

 

 

 

pre-camino life

And, so each day starts to find its own rhythm.

I am not studying this term, I have a few weeks off and then I’ll be going to hike the Camino de Santiago. Over the passed 6 months I have been cat watching, dog walking and babysitting. Each time earning just enough money to purchase one more item for the Camino until I finally have the backpack, extension cords, dri-fit shirts, hiking pants, quick dry underwear, Scrubba and all the other little things that currently seem like necessities. I’ll see which of it survives the hike – I’ve heard of people leaving things behind on the way.

While I am still in RAK I can’t say I have “nothing to do”. I have started training for the Camino, going down to the beach every morning for an hour long walk. I found a lovely low-carb-keto pancake recipe, so I come home and have a delicious breakfast with salami and cream cheese and hummus and whatever else I find. Then the day is still not scorching outside, and I go for a ride with my bicycle. I usually go to Spinneys to buy food or to the cellar to buy an unnecessary bottle of something; all I truly want to do is cycle – I don’t mind where I’m headed or what I buy usually.

I have things to sort out before the Camino – e.g. applying for a job, so each day I sit down and attempt to handle a few of the things that should be done before the Camino.

I am also back at the gym, can’t really explain why I ever stopped, but I’m back now. I found a nice, short 20-minute workout and whenever I can I go down and try to ensure that I have a strong body which is able to handle the trials of the trail.

I have met a new human, a guy from Germany, who I sometimes chill with. It’s nice to meet new people.  I also chit-chat with a South African bloke and a guy from Lebanon at the gym occasionally.

Just staying alive, eating good, cleaning, exercising it all takes time and energy and it’s odd to think that this is just one part of life. During the times I’m studying I am busy with a lot more than now and somehow it all still gets done.

My plane leaves 3 weeks from now and I am more excited than I have been in a while. After my hike I’ll be back here with a full study load finishing this part of this chapter of live.

A new lasagne recipe has been discovered, it takes 35 minutes, so I get to fall back in love with lasagne. Jamie Oliver’s lasagne takes 4 hours if made from scratch with fresh pasta. I have made this occasionally when I wanted to spend half the day doing mindless enjoyable work, but it’s too much time for a regular meal.

Bloem 2018 – part 2

Writing from photos – always a good option when you can’t remember what happened when.

So, I offered to cook dinner one evening for my host family. I made my chinese chicken fried rice and it turned out totally fine and actually quite yummy. We ate outside, with two oil lamps lighting the night.

I went back to my old home and had coffee with Oom Tommie, after that I climbed the tree out front. I sat on a branch I had sat on of years, I had spent time up there, with my scraped legs and the ands and the leaves the breeze the dark green cocoon. It was brilliant even through I scraped off the skin on my calf on my way up.

I moved on from Me Before You, excellent book, to After You. I went to Mimosa Mall again, I collected my stuff from HDL and finally my street market London ring fit my hand easily without it being frozen outside. I also bumped into some old church friends. Me and the daughter just stared at each other at first, our smiles growing broader until everybody looked up and did the now familiar double take before jumping and hugging me. I sat with them while waiting for my taxi, it was wonderful to see them again.

That evening I was back at the pizza place. The weather was delicious and I introduced my friend to Italian Spritz, we ordered a pizza with spinach (another pizza I am unable to find outside SA) and a bottle of red wine. We sat there for hours, talking, eating, drinking, laughing. The light faded and the pizza finished, the bottle emptied slowly, but surely. We talked about anything and everything. It was a good evening.

Later that night we went dancing. We drove to a club called Route 66 and we didn’t care what we looked like we jumped around dancing and when it was “sokkie dans” she, a regular at the club, found me a partner for two dances. After this she and I danced to the beat, laughing more than I have in a while.

The next day I woke up and headed to the Waterfront I needed to buy the third book, Still Me, I was almost done with the second and I needed something for the rest of my time there and for the plane home. After purchasing the book from Exclusive books, I wanted to sit outside and experience being in that wonderful weather. I sat down at a coffee shop and ordered a South African treat, Malva pudding, which came with a desert wine. I sat there savoring it. I read the last parts of the second book (After You) and ate a pudding I had known since I was a little girl and sipped a wine which suited it perfectly. It melted in my mouth with the custard. The blue sky and the white clouds over head the water glittering and the green trees slightly swaying in the breeze which I also felt on my face.

From the Waterfront I walked down 2nd Avenue to the pizza place yet again – I just wasnn’t ready to head home. I ordered an appatizer and waited for my best friend to join me. After some time had passed I ordered a bottle of red wine, I had a glass. Sipping it slowly, while reading and enjoying being outside. Suddenly, my friend sat down, it was lovely, but she burst my solo travelling bubble. She came, with conversation and pizza was added to the table, she poured a glass of wine and I was forced to abandon my fictional world for the beauty of the real world. We had another spinach pizza and a different type of red wine. and it was a good day.

Thsi was also the day I had snails for the first time. Firstly, let me say that after each of us eating almost half a pizza Havana oh-na-na started playing and despite feeling overly full we started dancing, slowly and it was good. After this I wanted to try snails, she liked them, so if I hated it she could enjoy the whole plate. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, I ate something fishy in a garlic butter sauce, but it wasn’t as gross as I had expected.

That night, my host family and I sat around the wooden kitchen table and chatted. It was fun, me and the man had a beer each, discussing our scars and enjoying each others stories.

The next morning I misread a text, I arrived at the waterfront coffee house at 11h to meet a friend. It was Friday, her text had said Saturday. I finished my sparkeling water and walked down 2nd Avenue. I went into the liquor store the waitress at teh pizza place had mentioned as the place selling the wine I loved.

There is a drought in SA, the wine I want couldn’t be purchased due to the drought. I stared around for a moment I didn’t know what to do with my day. My appointment was for the next day and I had finished everything on my “to-do-list”. I headed to the pizza place, out of habbit.

As I sat down I thought it was as though I had applied a part of my Rome rhythm here in Bloem. I nibbled a salad with blue cheese dressing and finished After You. I went home and had a nap, I walked to Spar, passing my primary school, Bloemies. At Spar I found the Simba cheese chips which I had ate continuously as my matric exams approached. I bought a bag in nostalgia and it, despite all the other changes in the city, these chips tasted the same.

One evening my friend picked me up and we went to buy pizza at Mystic Boer. I had heard of their pizzas 5 years ago and apparently the legendary pizzas still existed. We sat there watching the strangest assortment of people while waiting for our food. After this we headed to her place and had a chilling out girls night with pizza and a movie.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling weird. I had eaten more pizza in the last two weeks than in a  long time. I read somewhere about the chemicals used on SA grain, I hadn’t felt like this in Italy, maybe it wasn’t the wheat, maybe it was something else. I chilled out and later on I walked to Spar.

I loved my walks, and on my way back I smelled smoke and saw a man putting sosaties on the fire. I strolled around Spar a few times. It would me the last time I walked down streets I had walked down growing up. Passed the fire department, over the fire ants, passed the “veldjie”… then I bought some sosaties. It was delicious.

I felt sick, but happy in a way. It was my last day and I sat at home reading the first half off Still Me while drinking 5 Roses Tea, which I haven’t found here. It was great to be able to zone out. I had done everything on my to do list, seen almost all the people I wanted to and the places I had missed. If I wanted to spend time in a fictional world I could. That afternoon I saw oom Tommie for the last time and said goodbye to that particular walk.

After landing on JBH airport I called Jade, an old friend whom I was unable to see while in SA, with the last airtime on my phone. We talked for 45min straight and then I boarded for Dubai.

I devoured Still Me on the plane, being unable to sleep as there were three busy toddlers in my vicinity. and it was a good trip.

***

I can’t remember exactly when, but I also spent a day at the ministry of education trying to locate my high school certificate. Finally, I was helped by the nicest black man who gave me everything I needed to apply.

Rooikat taxis was my mode of transportation when I wasn’t walking. It felt sooo South African having the man who answers the phone inquiring how I was and why I was on the other side of the city; nice though…

Back to Bloem

Now we’re  back to the beginning, its just a feeling…”

It’s been 5 years since I’ve been back to Bloem

I booked an overnight flight from Dubai to Bloem. I slept and read Me Before You and arrived in JHB airport for a 2 hour stopover.

Suddenly I was flying over South Africa – homes with square gardens and trees and pools.

It was Sunday in Bloem warm and quiet and dry. My phone was sorted out and I bought a cupcake from The Bread Shop a place whose cupcakes I have long remembered.

I am living with some old friends of mine, they fill their home with lovely music. After arriving I walked from their home to my old house. Down familiar streets and passed long-forgotten memories. There are two routes from their home to my old place and then again two routes from my old house to Baysvillage. I would walk one route there and the other on the way back.

In front of my house I paused, I knew the people who lived there I could ring the bell and join them. “One thing at a time” said another voice in my head. First get to Bloem and sleep then go see people. I walked on, my feet still knowing the way.

Places had moved and closed, but it was essentially the same collection of shops. DVD stores still exist here, but Steer chips have changed.

Monday morning I went to my old house as planned. I attacked the boxes I had packed years ago. I seemed to have purged the house very decently yeas ago the things remaining in the boxes were mostly stuff I wanted to keep. I did throw out 2 trash bags, stuff that had seemed important years ago and now contained no more value.

I located some old treasures, half a trash bag full of them, and they are now packed safely into my suitcase which arrived almost empty here with the sole purpose of providing space to take things home to Dubai.

My bag wasn’t truly empty when I came, it was filled with lamps. Souvenirs for those people I was going to be seeing. These Arabic lamps were a much greater success than I could have imagined. They were real, not silly little things, but something that people actually enjoyed.

Monday afternoon I returned home to nap, but it was impossible. I called a taxi and went to Preller, sat down at my “regular” table at my old favourite restaurant, Coobah. I walked over the once familiar square, but due to construction I couldn’t place myself. Too much of the place was obscured and I felt dislocated. I crossed the road to the tattoo parlour to ask for a piercing, the place seems to be doing very well, since they now work only with appointments.

I walked over to the hardware store for some necessities and ran into an old friend. At the end of the day I was dropped off by a taxi.

Tuesday morning I went to Mimosa Mall, it had changed due to time and construction. Almost everything I wanted to do took less time than I imagined. I was still sleeping badly.

I met up with and old girlfriend for cocktails. While at the airport waiting for my flight I had ordered my first ever vodka martini and enjoyed it enough to order it again tonight. We had a good time together, it was as though we were meeting up for our old regular cocktail evenings.

Wednesday was pizza gorgeous glorious pizza, I had always ordered the avocado pizza in Bloem and never thought that I wouldn’t find it anywhere else in the world. Literally, from New York to Prague I haven’t found avocado and bacon on a pizza. I ordered it here and it was just as good as I had remembered. Here finally was something that hadn’t changed or diminished or been altered by time.

Thursday I spent time in Kloppers and the Waterfront mall, deciding that I should spend less time n shops. I got what I needed though, but malls are malls. Unless you really need something there’s no true point in wondering among shops, even if you do recognize the names.

I called a taxi, over the control I heard the guy say “gaan laai daai meisiekind op”. Later that afternoon I returned to Preller, to Coobah, I decided to walk home. It was a lovely 40min walk.

Later my friend picked me up and we went out for sushi which to my surprise was really good. Decent sushi has arrived in Bloem.

Most days I walk to Spar and back, not because I need anything, just because I enjoy walking. Trying to fit all my favourite haunts into the time I’m here without hurting my body.

Friday evening I went for dinner at some old friends. The boys I had known had turned into teenagers, but it was good to see them all again.

Saturday morning a taxi took me to the Boeremark. It was nice being surrounded by South African creativity again. The type of things SA people enjoy making. I had pannekoek and a sosatie. I walked around buying almost nothing in the end.

The weather was gorgeous and so I had the taxi drop me off at the hardware store and I walked back home. It would have been a 40min walk, but I walked slowly, then paused at Baysvillage, bought a  “boerewors rol”, passing by the park with the little train on my way home.

The times I spent at home I was reading Me Before You, taking short breaks from reality and enjoying myself.

This evening I went for pizza at Bella Casa, an old favourite. I was surprised to see Italian Spritz on the drinks menu. I ordered it and momentarily I could taste Rome. The pizza was good, but as south African’s would have it, there was a lot of cheese on top.

Sunday morning was the first time I set an alarm. I wanted to be sure I got to church on time. I only had one full non-jetlagged Sunday in the city. I got a lot of people who did a double-take when they saw me and even more so at the church. It was good to see them all again. I did a lot of growing up at that church.

I was finally sleeping better, and then it was Monday morning, today and other than having pizza for lunch I had no concrete plans for the day.

 

 

Life changes & plot holes

Many stories I have been following suddenly seem to contain giant plot holes. Authors add life changes for the characters, but don’t really describe the effect. The authors never lived through drastic life changes and so they don’t really know how it feels to adapt  to an entirely new life or to live very free or in solitude or any of the things they try to convey.

In Twilight, Bella goes from a human girl who loves to cook to a Vampire who never misses cooking. She just automatically adapts, I get the feeling that Stephanie Meyer never adapted to a new lifestyle.

In Bunheads, the main character is meant to be this free person who accidentally didn’t finish high school because she went traveling and got distracted and then ended up dancing as a show girl in Vegas. Now one of the girls in the village this showgirl is living in doesn’t want to move  away and instead of acting according to her craze free personality and telling the girl to leave and experience life, she just helps her to stay in this tiny little village. Also in Bunheads one of the characters breaks up with her boyfriend after 7 or 8 years. This happens early in the season, but she never freaks out or cries or misses him or anything.

Then I watched Me Before You. I could feel the author had traveled and lived, she had experienced change and so she could describe it’s effects accurately. At the end of the movie when the letter is read, the sentence “you’ll be sitting on one of those chairs that never sit quite level on the pavement. I hope it’s still sunny” it made me feel I am in Paris, it was a tiny piece of info, but it added real-ness.

I have lived in many lifestyles, traveled to many countries and suddenly these small things skipped or added to stories become really noticeable to me at least.

 

Life in Ras Al Khaimah

When I travel I “know” everything is exotic, but at everything seems to feel normal even though I see the tourists milling around and I know they have come to look at my realitiy.

I’ve lost count of the amount of days I’ve been out of South Africa. At first I would label my blog posts with days, it seems to be 1711 days since I have left, which is almost 5 years since moving to Dubai. I use to think that leaving Dubai and leaving the UAE was synonomous. Now I have left Dubai, only to live in RAK.

At first, I thought that I would try to live in RAK while I’m here, I know many people drive through to Dubai regularly, but I planned on trying to find home here. RAK still doesn’t feel like home to me, in the last 10 months I have only lived here for 6 months in total. I unpacked my boxes, repacked my bags and went to Denmark for almost 2 months. I came back, studied, and went to Rome for yet another almost 2month period. I have two more trips scheduled for the last 2 months of this year. So, my plan of “living in RAK”, even though it was a good idea, doesn’t’ seem to be very feasible with my lifestyle.

I recently took a day trip to Dubai Mall. I wanted to do some shopping and experience the city again. It was really nice, but as I walked through all the clothing stores, I realized that for a traveller my wardrobe is fine, owning a pair of cute boots or a plaid skirt would be nice if you lived somewhere the temperatures dropped during winter. I do wear some warm things during the UAE’s cooler season, but it never gets cold enough here to need a “winter wardrobe”.

My bicycle has finally been repaired. I found a new bicycle shop which replaced the tires, then I cycled to the store and back during which I noticed that the seat was loose. I borrowed a spanner from the British blokes on 3, cycled to the Cellar and back, and asked to borrow their muscles and spanner the next time. We exchanged one dish washing session for the repair of my bicycle seat. I can now cycle in peace and joy, I take my back pack and go to Al Hamra mall, change into a fresh non-sweat drenched shirt, do my shopping at Spinney’s and come home. It’s about an hour all together, but with the currently cooler temperatures it’s a lovely outing.

Al Hamra Village, the complex where we live, has a speed limit of 25km for cars. To help enforce this there are very many speed bumps. I dislike the very small ones, they jolt my bicycle, but sometimes there’s a little gap on the side where the wheel can go through. I quite like the big speed bumps, if you have some momentum on the bicycle it’s nice going over the big ones.

Last Saturday I took a taxi to the mall, but decided to walk home on account of the good weather. The UAE has two main seasons, the summer which can reach up to 50C and the cooler period which rarely goes below 20C, maybe 25C. So, when the weather is nice, I like being outside, because for many months of the year it’s almost impossible.

Right, so decided to walk home, it’s 45min walk. The security guard’s building is built in the style as the old Emirati watch towers, which is a beautiful way to honour the history. The homes and apartment buildings are also based on traditional Arabic architecture which is beautiful. Oddly, walking through the complex it was as if I got “bored” walking passed so many identical buildings. In Dubai each tower was different, in Rome many buildings are from different eras. Here I’m in a complex and I never noticed how monotonous it was until I walked through the whole place. Cycling through it takes about 15min, so then I just see the beauty.

It’s almost time for Halloween again, I have never participated in this holiday, but I have now become accustomed to seeing the decorations in the stores. During the time I was living in South Africa, Halloween was not that big a deal in the city I lived. Here it’s quite normal to get a Trick or Treat notice.

So, that’s my life here. It’s busy and full, I smoke shisha and cycle and go for Moroccan baths. I shop among women with fails over their faces and gloves covering their hands. I know people from so many different nationalities and cultures. Sometimes it’s fascinating and enjoyable and other times I want to cycle to the store all by myself and not have another interesting encounter with a taxi driver.

Yesterday I went to the salon, got a haircut, had my nails done and then met up with Mum. We went to the sheesha cafe, I had a cherry sheesha and she ordered Moroccan tea. I don’t think I’d ever had imagined that such an afternoon would happen or happen so naturally.

Roman adventures – part 3

Writing this from photos, almost every picture has its own story, so here goes.

I have just dropped off my laundry at the “Lavandaria” (laundry service). “If I ever leave this world alive” by Flogging Molly has been playing almost non-stop in my headset. Great song.

Came to the café where I usually have an evening drink, ordered a double espresso and what I think was an apple Danish. All the waitress could say was “apple” when I pointed. I’m planning on having a very quiet day today. My body is finally starting to complain about the ordeal I have been putting it through. Walking for 5 weeks and eating new food and always open to new adventures takes a lot out of you. So, today, music and series and pizza and beer and home. Well, not home, but my bed, which is pretty much my version of home here and it’s good.

 

Colosseum

I went in! It cost me most of the money I had left. It was interesting to experience it. I was 12 years old the first time I watched Gladiator, but that’s not why I wanted to go in. I was 7 when I first started learning the old Egyptian, Greek and Roman myths. I have studied archaeology and history and the horrors and wonders human kind have gone through during the ages. It was wonderful to go in, but maybe just because I had some background knowledge. I wouldn’t put it on a to-do list. It is amazing yes, but I hung out with the guide most of the time.

I was rather surprised, the tickets aren’t that cheap, the tour has 3 parts. The colosseum, the Palatine hill and the Roman forum. An entire Canadian-Indian family dropped out when the 5year old son felt sick. I could understand the boy and a parent leaving, but not everybody. After the Colosseum part a young couple left, saying they only wanted to see the colosseum. I was very surprised, tickets for the colosseum were about 85% cheaper than the tickets we had bought. I didn’t mind, I was just surprised at the way people use money and what they think is acceptable for them.

 

Artist friend

I have been hanging out with an artist from time to time. He sells watercolour paintings in the city centre. It’s flexible, but hard work. Many people look, some question, but few buy his work, even though it’s good stuff. Still, he says he gets buy and enjoys it.

One evening I was sitting with him on the church steps while he packed up his display. He tapped my shoulder and pointed. “Nonie” he said. A tiny old lady was standing in front of the green door of her apartment building. She was signalling to him “No”. I asked what was going on and he told me that he usually helps her walk to the church on the days she wishes to go. She’s rather old and partly deaf, so she cannot make the 200meters from her front door to the church alone. Tonight, she only came down with the elevator to stand in front of her door and enjoy the outside air. She waved at me a few times and I told her “Buono serra” but my friend reminded me that she couldn’t hear me.

One evening him and I went out for a beer. It was picture perfect, walking though the city in tiny streets next to a guy with an Italian accent who knew the city’s secret shortcuts. I was surprised to be taken to an Irish pub, but it was nice there.

He is learning English and I am learning Italian. He thinks it “cute” when I screw up and I have laughed myself silly at his pronunciation. The other day he asked me what you call a “bad lady” in English, I figured out he wanted to say “bitch”. I said this and he confused it with the “beach”. I used my hands, squashing them together to explain that the “i” sound in “bitch” was short, after that I used my index finger to draw a horizontal line in the air explaining that the “ea” sound in “beach” was longer. He confused the word “cup” and “cop” and “shadow” and “shower” as well. I know enough Italian and he knows enough English, we communicate well, but small jokes take a long time to transfer and sometimes stories are skipped because we just cannot understand each other. Or it takes to much energy ensuring the other party comprehends the story.

 

“Surprise me”

I have been saying “surprise me” very regularly here. I ordered drink the other evening and instead of choosing one, I was “surprised” by a “Sex on the Beach”. A really good drink though. I said, “surprise me” and pointed at the dessert menu, a delicious custard and berry thing was placed before it. I enjoy saying this, I’m not a picky eater and sometimes people choose something for you that you would not choose for yourself.

 

Food

Most days I eat one meal, usually lunch, in a café. I go out and make it my thing of the day. Order something nice, see some people listen to Italian and enjoy it. Then at night I have a different version of food. I have bought wine in a huge 3liter plastic bottle, I have some plastic cups and plates and I bought some cheese and salami wrapped in paper and sometimes mozzarella cheese. The only cutlery I currently have are plastic spoons.

I take my plastic cup and fill it with wine. Then I take my plate and put a few slices of salami, cheese and sometimes a ball of mozzarella on to it. I have mustard, but no knife, so my fingers suffice and there’s sometimes mayonnaise and a plastic spoon involved. One evening I added olives and sometimes tomatoes. It’s tasty food in a cheap setting, I eat it and I enjoy my music and my series and being alone in my room.

I had 2 boxes of left-over pasta in the fridge in my room. I mixed these and reheated them on the gas stove in the kitchen. It was the first time I had been in the kitchen. The son of the lady I rent from had to help me turn on the stove, it’s old school and has to be lit with a lighter. I tipped my food onto a plastic plate and borrowed a fork. After my food was done I Google translated the word for “clean” and asked if I could clean the pot I had used, but he said it wasn’t necessary.

This morning I chatted with one of the waiters at a cafe I’ve been to regularly. I asked him where the other waiter was today, he asked me who I was talking about. The guy I wanted to describe had a big beard and a shaved head. I explained this by running my hand over my head and saying “niente” (nothing) and then running my hand over my chin saying “grande” (big). “Aaah, Marco!” he exclaimed and proceeded to tell  me that Marco was on vacation. Marco had served me previously and we had chatted while I enjoyed my drink and “snacks”.

 

Transport

In South Africa, I never thought about public transport, here it’s a necessity. Without busses and trains and trams me and many other in Rome are stranded. The busses have been running irregularly, so I tend to walk instead of wait. I have the time and the physical strength which is nice. Yesterday I waited for a tram to come, re-checked google maps and found my destination, a flea market, was a 25min walk away. I enjoyed the walk much more than the market in the end. It was rather repetitive.

If public transport works its fantastic, you get to go wherever you want without a car or a license and it can help the environment. Instead of 20 people each taking a car somewhere, one bus takes all 20 people…

 

Piazza di Popolo

One day my artist friend packed up early and went for a “passagiata” (a nice walk). He brought me here and showed me around Villa Borghese gardens. He hummed Ed Sheeran’s version of “Galway” girl.

I love climbing up to see a city from an unfamiliar perspective and Piazza di Popolo did not disappoint. It reminded me a little of the view from the Vatican, a similar structure had been built here. At the top, it’s panoramic. I hopped up and sat down on the wall and he pointed out the different parts of the city to me, it was even possible to see the Pantheon.

 

My roommate

I have never had a roommate, I am an only child and my room has always been my own. Now I’m living with a girl who is so different from me. She’s a good roommate, but I don’t think we’ll ever be friends.

We are two very different people, with different ideas of what is appropriate and acceptable. She doesn’t steal my things or eat my food, she comes in late, when I’m sleeping and makes a bit of a racket and then goes to sleep. I get up early while she’s still sleeping, make almost no racket, dress silently and start my day while she’s still sleeping. She’s messy, but keeps the mess on her side of the small room we share.

One evening she invited me to join her for dinner, I comprehended that she and I would be spending time together and getting to know each other, but we ended up meeting her boyfriend and the two of them engaged in their own evening. I was curious about the food though so I stuck around.

At one point, I wanted to laugh and blush simultaneously. My roommate speaks no English, literally. Somehow the conversation turned to sex and she whispered something in my ear, in English. I gagged and laughed aloud and though of Chandler, “Can’t say hello, but she knows [sex position]?!” (FRIENDS). I was so surprised and amused and horrified. She took me to the place she had previously bought me dinner and now I finally knew where it was. I do not plan on hanging out with her in a friend type way again, but I have learned something. I have learned that you can live with someone who is not somebody you would want to befriend and it can be good.

 

Night at café

One evening I went out for a happy hour drink at a café just around the corner from my room. I asked the waiter for suggestions of what to do in Rome. He asked what I enjoy and I yet again used my “surprise me” phrase. A lesbian couple came in, but only the one girl could speak English and we didn’t want to exclude her girlfriend. The waiter told me to wait, his friend who speaks English would be coming by. I was so glad when an English-speaking human entered I greeted him with a kiss on each cheek, usually reserved for acquaintances and friends but he laughed. He and his friends spent the night scribbling suggestions for me on the back of the waiter’s notebook. We talked and laughed and ate and drank and started arguing about philosophy which is when I left, I was just too relaxed to care about different viewpoints by that time.

 

Sunrise

Every night I feel too lazy to set an alarm for 5am ensuring I get to see the sunrise. This morning I woke up at 5am all by myself and decided to go for it. I dressed and found one open café for an espresso. It was 5.3km to walk to Gianicolo hill, from there you see the whole of Rome in an eastern direction. It took me over an hour to get here. I loved the walk, it was dark and cold and quiet.

I was wearing shorts and a strap top, I threw on my shawl, but it was a cool morning. My open skin was cold, but the parts where my backpack and the shawl covered me were drenched in sweat. I moved my bad regularly trying to keep it from covering a large area.

At one point, I left the streets where the first cars and busses and cafes were starting and I climbed up some stairs entering a still sleeping residential area. At the top of the stairs I turned around to take a picture, the first light of the day was starting to touch the city. It was beautiful. I noticed an eastern looking man at the bottom of the stairs, maybe Filipino. He saw me but stood with his back against the wall smoking, I moved on. It was twilight and I kept walking.

Google maps said turn right. I turned and saw the young man walk down a parallel street. “Don’t be silly, his just moving in the same direction as you” I thought. All the same I put my backpack on securely, that way it couldn’t be snatched easily. But my phone vibrated, I had turned to soon, I had to double back and take another street. I turned around and gasped. He was standing next to a car watching me. I was lost and he knew it.

My sunglasses were in my hair and I lowered them, not wanting to make eye contact. I can whistle extremely loudly, but who would I summon? There was nobody else around, nothing was open. I walked purposefully trying to seem as if I knew where I was going. I passed an open gate and entered. I thought it might be a hotel, but it was a hospital. I tried to exit the complex from the other side but it was closed. I checked my phone for the time. I would wait here for a few minutes and then leave if he was still there I would tell the staff to help me.

By the time I left he had vanished, I wondered what he had wanted and why he had done it. Was he evil? Was he just curious? How did he see the scenario ending in his mind?

From the hospital to the sunrise spot was easy, just walk straight. There were a few other tourists there, I sat and watched the silhouettes of the mountains in the distance and the city in front of me, everything covered by beautiful light. Finally, the sun came over the ridge of the mountain and almost blinded me. I put on my sunglasses, but it changed the view too much, I took them off and decided to truly see the sunrise. The first few tourists left and a few new ones came. I sat and watched and enjoyed. I opened YouTube and listened to Lion King’s “Circle of Life” which plays as the sunrises in the film.

Eventually I hopped off the wall and walked to the Bridge of Angels and from there to Piazza Navona. It felt the way I remembered Rome 5 years ago. Quiet.

I sat down at my favourite café behind Piazza Navona. I tried to order an omelette, but they were yet again out of eggs (why are omelettes on the menu if they never have eggs?) I ended up having toast with cheese and tomato. I sat there and enjoyed it, I would have stayed longer but the waiter decided to turn on some music I just could not even try to enjoy. I left.

I saw my artist friend again, around 12h but he would not greet me with a kiss on each cheek today. My 5am hike had left me sticky and smelly. I laughed, and bought a “Pizza Romano” and a drink from the café next to the spot he works at. I sat next to him having my lunch and we talked and sat in silence. After lunch, I came home and washed. Somebody must have been in the bathroom before me, my shower was entirely cold. I hope I get to hike the Camino de Santiago someday.

 

That’s it for today, I think my laundry will also be done by now. Going to pack up, pick up my fresh clothes, get some pizza and head home. Today is my “do nothing” day.

Rome – Summer 2017 – part 2

Currently sitting at a small Italian café (the only open one I could find). I wanted to write my blog, but blogging about Italy while sitting in my room just seemed non-sensical. So, here I am, with a Spritz and some snacks, people around me are speaking Italian and a small street market run by a Bengali guy is selling clothes.

No body, literally nobody, believes me when I say I’m from south Africa. They stare in surprise when I tell them. It’s been 5 years and still people don’t always believe me. They ask from which country my parents come and ask where my family was originally from. Some times I explain that many people in SA are white, sometimes I laugh at their surprise.

Today I bought some pizza froma small pizzeria, walked home and had pizza and beer in my room while watching One Tree Hill. I just felt filled up with cultural experiences and interesting food.

 

  1. Central station = mall and other stuff

The central station is called the “Termimi” (terminal). I came here and the atmosphere was restless. People coming and going, jetlagged travellers arriving and hurried tourists leaving. It was unsettling. I found the shopping area later, but there wasn’t much there. It was small, I walked slowly through it, hoping to find something, a non-touristic souvernir. I couldn’t, I found a t-shirt that stated “Afraid of Nothing” and bought it. Fear is a killing force. I am cutious and I calculate risks, but I don’t want to be afraid. There are things I don’t like, e.g. spiders, but I refuse to be scared anymore.

 

  1. Boncompagni Ludovisi, a little-known museum dedicated to costumes, fashion and the decorative arts – termini area

Still can’t find it. I wanted to come here, sat down at the buss stop and waited after waiting for the bus for about 10 minutes my senses kicked in and I googled the museum hours. It was closed on the day I wanted to go and so I picked something else. I retried coming here a different time but yet again was thwarted by something. It must be interesting once you find it.

While I’m writing this, two Italian men are whistling trying to attract the attention of their friend on the other side of the road. The man finally crossed the road to join his companions, an old man with wispy grey hair, an electronic cigarette and glasses and a young man with a partly shaved head and a choker.

 

  1. Rione Monti: Monti is Rome’s oldest district and is best explored on foot

This was on my list, I finally googled what it was and found I had been here multiple times. This is where I have spent many of my days. It is the oldest part of the city, with the statues, bars, cafes, pizzarias and cathedrals around every corner.

Street artists sell their art and tourists mill around, real Italian people and startled tourist try to walk passed each other in the narrow alley ways.

In one street the tourists all gather, trying to walk to the next “sight”. Moving to the next alley way you are immediately alone in a quiet street with a  traditional Italian café. No tourist and incredibly beautiful buildings.

 

  1. Via del Corso and Via Condotti are shopping havens

Whom ever wrote this has a very diffent idea of shopping than me. The same franchises which line the Dubai Mall and Oxford Street in London and Fifth Avenue in New York are here. Why, oh why, would I travel to Rome to shop at Zara and H&M?

 

Yesterday I found a reason. Many places are closed, it’s summer holiday and at the place I’m renting the laundry machine broke. The laundy service is on vacation and so I went to H&M to buy new clothes. It seemed so American, buying instead of washing, but I literally didn’t have any other option. The laundry service will reopen in 5 days, I am literally counting my clothes, making sure I get to day 5 with something clean to wear while I wash the rest!

 

It’s the weekend of August 15th. Nobody warned me about this, but according to Roman Catholic religion, August 15 is the day that the Virgin Mary went to heaven. Every thing closes down and it feels almost like Christmas. Only the touristy places are open, but the real places shut down. In a non-touristed part, I found an open restaurant and asked for a table for one. They asked if I had a reservation, I starred at the guy non-plused. Only later I realized it was a public holiday. I sat there eating my food, while around me Italian families gathered together and joined each other, just like we do on Christmas day. There was a set menu which included water. I guzzled down the whole 2 litres before my food came. Walking in the heat takes a lot out of your body. Food was served. Fish, raw salmon which surprised me, I thought this was a Japanese tradition. The salmon was accompanied by an octopus and potato combination, shrimps and something fishy I didn’t know, but liked.

Then came the pasta, also with fish. Fresh pasta with a few prawns (still with the heads and shells on), mussels, in their shells and a gorgeous tomato sauce. In my mind, I thanked Jamie Oliver for the fact that I knew how to eat the food on my plate. I picked up the prawn and peeled them without thinking. I ate the mussels and remembered the first time I cooked a Jamie recipe which contained both, that day I had no idea what I was doing, today I did it naturally. And I enjoyed every single creamy bite of the pasta.

The pasta was followed by risotto. And then came the bill. I had to wait rather a long time, I sat there and for the first time in a long time I realized I was a solo traveller, all the families around me reminded me of that fact.

***

Some places reopened again today, but many are still closed. I googled where I could update my phone contract and walked 20min to find a closed store. I went into the nearest café and asked the guy working there in broken Italian where to go. I never found the place he sent me to, instead I found a food market. A local place to which no tourist has possibly ever come. This is the beauty of renting a room outside the tourist area. I wandered in there and found a stand selling salami and cheese. I needed food for the week and the prices were surprisingly cheaper than the supermarket. I bought 500g of salami and 500g of cheese along with some cherry tomatoes.

listened to some music.

I carried this home, realized that my shirt was drenched, but somehow not smelly. I hung it out the window to dry while I watched one OTH episode. After this I went to the supermarket. I got some other necessities, which included slippers for Dubai. I also found wine sold by the litre. I’d never done this, the wine was in a large metal container one stating “vino rosso” (red wine) and the other “vino bianco” (white wine). Below the barrels were bottles, 2 litre and 5 litre plastic bottles. I took a small 2 litre bottle, the wine was 1euro and 20 cent for a litre. This made me question the quality, I asked an Italian lady who was walking by “vino bene?” she corrected my pronunciation and removed my doubts in one “buono, buono, si”. (good, good, yes). She continued talking in italian, but I only caught snatches and understood single words. I gathered it would be worth in in the end. My experiment cost me about 3euros and turned out really good. Combining this with my salami and cheese I had a little feast in my room for dinner.

My roommate’s boyfriend just joined me for a few minutes. It was nice having somebody just sit down and share a few friendly words. Now back to blogging. I skyped with my best friend this morning, it felt odd to be in the same time zone.

***

Oh, here’s a moment I should write. While I was still living in Trastevere with Mum I went down the plaza with the guitar player and his friends once. It was rather late when I decided to walk home. I didn’t want to walk home alone. The streets were dark and deserted, I asked Max to walk with me, but he avoided me and suggested one of the older men. Rob, the man he suggested was one of the men I actually wanted to avoid and part of the reason I didn’t want to walk home alone. When I said no he insisted in broken English that Rob was a “good boy”. Rob was about 50 years old and rather tipsy on said evening. Max kept talking and I gathered that what he was trying to say was that Rob was a good person, but the words “good boy” were repeated and I wanted to laugh.

***

Another Max memory: One evening he asked me whether I change my English when I speak to him and I said yes, I adjust my tempo, my terminology and everything to ensure that he and the others on the plaza understand me. He replied, “thank you” rather slowly as though thinking about each sylabbe. I said, “you’re welcome” in the same tempo and he smiled.

The first time I met Max he tried to tell me that he and the guitarist, Fred, had been friends for almost 20 years, since they were boys. Max kept saying “loui” to which I would reply no, Fred, until finally I learned that “loui” means “him” in Italian.

***

I’m slowly, but surely making my way through Game of Thrones. I still don’t get all the hype but I keep reading. I usually respect books very much, but this one I am demolishing page by page. It’s rather heavy carrying 700 pages around every day, so the pages I’ve read I trash. I rip out a chunk at a time and read this, trash it when I’m done and carry on. I have never done this to a book, but at least I’m reading it. Man, the mosquitos are eating me while I’m writing this.

One eveing, while being very new here, my tram passed an incredible sight. The sun was setting, the sky was silver and purple. An old bridge crossed over the river and the lights from a street market lined the left side of the river. I got off the tram impulsively and stared. The bridge was perfectly reflected in the water along with the trees. The street market wasn’t what I expected, but I loved it because of the view. I passed a shisha stand and asked a guy who was smoking whether it was worth it. He looked up from his phone and shrugged, “it’s better in Germany”. I kept walking.

***

A friend told me to visit “Parco centrale del lago”. I came here and fell in love with it, there’s a river and on the opposite side tall pine trees stretch towards the heavens. People come here like they came to Central Park in NYC. They sit and walk and eat and jog. The second time I came here somebody was doing a fantasy photoshoot. He was photographic a girl from a comic I’d never heard of, but the scenery seemed to fit. It felt otherworldly to me as well.

I had a snack at a café near by and returned to the park. I sat down under a tree and two guys who spoke no Italian and barely spoke English shared their lunch with me. They were cousins who had packed a picnic and decided to share it with me. I got a pita bread with some cheese and ham, a few cherry tomatoes and a beer. I wasn’t hungry, but it was such a friendly gesture I accepted it and proceeded to chat with them in our limited language which just then didn’t seem to matter much.

***

So, Ive read about an Italian starter: stuffed zucchini flowers and it sounded romantic and delicious. I have ordered it twice and it’s not bad, but it’s not what I expected. Not sure if I’ve had it at the wrong places or if I just don’t like it, there must be a reason it’s well-known. In the end I’ve never tasted the “flowers”. They are breaded and stuffed with cheese and all I taste is deep fried batter stuffed with cheese, which, of course, isn’t bad, but it’s not romantic in any way.

***

One evening I went to a café, I ordered a Spritz and drank it standing at the counter (this is acceptable). I chatted with the waiter while he cleaned up the place. I asked him something and he started telling me about a motorcycle accident he had been it. What started out as a cute story turned into a hilarious Italian lesson during which I learned to cuss in Italian, so I can now say many “bad words”. I have wanted to come back this café, but they seem to be on holiday. It’s open in the morning, serving coffee and pastry, but it closes sometimes during the day and doesn’t reopens for evening drinks.

***

The toilet at my current accommodation has broken. It’s not that big a problem, but it’s not nice. I’m living in a house which reminds me of our home in South Africa. The broken laundry machine, the old toilet, the no AC. It’s all familiar and foreign at the same time.

I am loving it here, though. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a roommate and it’s not bad. We’re just two very different people. But that doesn’t have to be bad. It’s just new and different, but I thought about doing it again and realized that I wouldn’t want to change a thing.

***

After living in my room for about a week I suddenly realized one day that I hadn’t taken a decent shower in a few days. I had rinsed off every night, but the city and it’s opportunities made me hurry on to the next adventure. This evening I washed my hair and used conditioner and then soap on my body and I actually picked up a razor and used body lotion. I felt so squeaky clean. I was never dirty, but this was better.

***

I have fallen three times. Once while walking passed the Roman Forum I tripped over a step that was porbably important and old and special. To me it was just annoying and gave me a few bruised, then I slipped on the stairs while taking out the trash and stained my “Afraid of Nothing” t-shirt and then today I again slipped on the same stairs for no good reason.

***

The room I’m renting is on the fifth floor. There is a tiny and very slow elevator, but I usually just take the stairs. I was very happy to see the elevator the first day when I had my suitcase, but most of the time I don’t mind climbing the stairs. It’s fun. Here’s a name plak on the door of the third floor which always gives me an idea of where I am.

***

While sitting here blogging this, the café has filled up. A group of itallian men are chatting, beside them one man is sitting alone. Next to me a man and a woman have been chatting animatedly for the past 30minutes with a little chiwuawa excitedly watching them. A balding man wihta vespa helmet sat down at a table saw the couple and happily joined in their conversation. Sometimes I wonder what they talk about, other times I’m happy I don’t know, I get to enjoy the sound of the language without being part of their conversations. The young man with the shaved head follows almost every young and pretty girl with his eyes while now smoking what appears to be a small cigar.

***

That’s it for today I guess. I’ve typed for almost 2 hours, but I’m not sure what comes next for today. It’s 7:30 here and the sun is out and the light is nice, the temperature is pleasant and I’m not in the mood to head home.

I’m kind of out of ideas about what to do each day, I’ve done most of the things on the “lists”. I have done many things which are not on lists. I tend to use food to give my day direction, skip breakfast, have an early lunch around 12h and eat very slowly. Then around 2pm I head home and after a nap I stare at the rest of the afternoon and evening, unsure. Sometimes I go for an evening drink somewhere, something outside the apartment, but that also fills up only so much time.

I’m in this amazing city, but I’ve been here for a month and I’ve had free time which means I’ve had time to do a lot of different and wonderful things.

***

One Sunday I decided to go for mass at San Paulo Basilica. The communion was served and I went forward, I vividly remembered the time in Paris I had not known the correct response when receiving communion. The holy person giving it says, “the body of Christ” and then the correct response is “amen”. In Paris, l I had said “thanks”. I reminded myself to say “Amen”.

The lady at the start of the queue received the bread in her hands, the person in front of me went old school and opened his mouth for the reverend father to place the bread into it.  I took my round piece of communion bread in my hands, said “amen” and intended to return to my seat.

The reverend father chased after me “senora, senora!” then he started speaking Italian very rapidly, it ended up with him taking the bread out of my hand and placing it into my mouth. I stood there and swallowed the dry biscuit. One of the girls spoke English and explained that in Italy it’s expected to eat the communion bread in front of the alter. For a moment I burned with humiliation, intending to seize up my bag and leave. Then I realized that I had just participated in something sacred.

I sat down and thought about it, it was such a small moment, I had just broken a cultural rule, learned the correct way and now I knew how to take communion in Italy. Wasn’t that bigger than the momentarily weirdness I had experienced? I sat down and the service ended shortly after. By the time I left I saw the hilarity. It was funny being chased down by a priest and “force-fed” communion.

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Men here live on beer. I have rarely seen a man in the evening sitting without a beer, usually Peroni.