Feeling The Pain

Some things are best left unsaid.

Some remarks are best left ignored.

Some disappointments best dismissed.

So let the heart bleed. 💔

At the end of the day

You’ve done your duty

Shared your blessings

And feel much pain. 💔

Expect not. Just do.

Let questions remain unanswered.

For the world keeps revolving.

But some go unchanging. 💔

Yet again, surprises spring

When you realize it’s not a dream

Undeserved, but rendered

Unto you, who hardly mattered 💔

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Goofing With Cervantes

My childhood friends arrived in Madrid. A couple for the first time; another couple for the second time. Then there’s my sister visiting for the first time too, and my niece who’s based here but has not made the day trip to Alcala de Henares, birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes of Don Quixote fame. 





I like this university town. Earlier, I blogged about Alcala de Henares and knew I’d be back sometime soon to share this discovery. While the town gained fame because of Miguel de Cervantes, I grew fond of it because of the community of storks to be found here. Every spire, tower, church windows and rooftops seem to have storks who’ve taken permanent residence there. Huge storks, comfy with their huge nests!






We checked out the Universidad de Alcala where we found a tienda with many interesting stuff. Don Quixote immortalized in many forms! Then there’s the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes and the lovely Plaza Cervantes itself. The Museo comes with free admission and the Plaza has no tourist crowd. How refreshing! And this town is only 35 kilometers from the center of Madrid. Just a short Cercanias train ride from Atocha or Nuevo Ministerios.





If you wish to simply spend time away from the city yet still immerse yourself in Spain’s art, architecture and culture, visit Alcala De Henares. The university youth even runs plays nearly year-round so check that one out as well. We even found pastelerias (try the rosquillas), tapas bars and restaurants with reasonably-priced set menus. Really a great day destination without burning a hole in your pocket.





 




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Beyond Gildas & Pintxos En Donostia-San Sebastián 

Donostia-San Sebastián. I knew I’d be back for more of you. Those pintxos lure me, and your txakoli and gildas keep me craving for more. I may upset some friends who think I travel for food alone, forgetting or dismissing the real character of the land, its culture, traditions and people. Well, too bad. I won’t be bothered by how they think I should travel. Neither would I explain that my interests are not exclusively on matters of “taste”.  Take San Sebastián. Proud of its Basque cuisine, and equally proud of its landscape and seascape. Pais Vasco to the core. 








Playa de la Concha. There were sunny breaks though by and large, it’s a chilly, windy and cloudy day. We heard mass at Buen Pastor Cathedral then walked straight towards Yglesia de Santa Maria in Parte Vieja (Old Town). These 2 landmarks stand across each other at each end of Kalea Mayor. At Santa Maria Church, you either commit yourself to a serious txikiteo or Pintxo bar crawl or turn left, away from the bars and towards the water or Playa de la Concha. Here you’ll find the lovely Ayuntamiento and in spring, enjoy the blooms in the garden park.  Trace this paseo from here to the other Playa Ondaretta — passing Don Quixote’s brass sculpture, the century-old Hotel Londres, the Miramar Palace and another sculpture to honor Dr. Fleming — where it ends with the iconic Peine Del Viento sculptures. If you’re lucky, you can go nearer when the surf’s not so fierce. 






At the end of this Paseo, you may take the Funicular to go up Mount Igueldo. Don’t miss this. The view from the top is magnificent! The funicular ride is only €3 ida y vuelta (round trip) so conserve your energy and skip the hike! 







Now, some of you may wish to “punish” yourselves by climbing Mt. Urgull for another magnificent view of beautiful San Sebastián’s skyline and seascape. Go! And for those not exactly keen doing the 5-6 km walk from the Yglesia de Santa Maria/Ayuntamiento end to the Peine Del Viento on the other end,  I have good news for you. You can simply walk over to the grand Maria Cristina Hotel area near the riverbank and look for a Choo Choo train that’ll whisk you from there through all these sites for about 35 minutes for only €5. Best to do this after partaking some pintxos at Parte Vieja or checking out Mercado La Bretxa. Now, why didn’t I tell you that much earlier? 





All done? Time to resume your txikiteo then. Y’know, that world-famous bar crawl in Pais Vasco! Love those skewers and pintxos! From the Yglesia, check out Atari Gastroteka right across at the corner of Kalea Nagusta and 31 Agosto. Very near it is Casa Alcalde with those huge Jamones hanging near its bar. Then walk right along 31 Agosto away from the Yglesia/Playa towards Dela Trinidad Plaza.  Here you’ll find Txuleton for that best cider house steak. Further down, you’ll reach a corner where San Telmo Museum appears on the left side. You take that left where you also find a beautiful water fountain by the corner wall and a maiden statue.  La Cuchara de San Telmo is where the crowd is, elbowing their way to the bar of pintxos. Really good choices of pintxos and gildas here, and some great raciones too. Now, get back to 31 Agosto to check out La Cepa for its Jamon Jabugo and Pimientos de Guernika. Then further down, La Viña’s cheesecake. That should make a good first night! 





For your second night, get deeper into Parte Vieja starting with Bar Zeruko along Pescaderia. Not too far away are Borda Berri, Casa Bartolo, Bar Nestor.  If you prefer to burn some cash, check out Casa Urola, Bodegon Alejandro and Restaurante Ubarrechena (for seafood paella). Of course, if there’s tons of cash to burn …. go pick up that phone and make reservations at any of those restos with Michelin stars! Buen Provecho. Enjoy Donostia-San Sebastián. 


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LOURDES for the 6th Time

The first time I visited was all planned but nearly got shelved because of a major surgery. Then my surgeon said I could go a month after the surgery. I went. With a dear friend and a nephew. Three years in a row, I went. My brand of thanksgiving involved solo trips and even driving all the way from Paris to Lourdes. Each visit, more meaningful. 





A nephew. A niece. A friend. This time, my sister. It’s now just the 2 of us. Our parents and a middle sister are long gone. It’s my birthday gift for her. Still too early for the Marian Season. No procession till April, but we’ve done the Mass, Confession, Baths and Station of the Cross. All these 4 you can do starting from 9 am till noon. As for the procession, you can circle the entire Basilica complex saying the rosary and your personal prayers. We took to heart the homily said by the priest NOT to pray for ourselves or personal intentions. Rather, we should pray for others. And we did. 





The day we arrived here, it rained and it hailed. It was also difficult to find dining places after 5pm as most shops are closed till April or closed early. But we were rewarded with the bluest sky ever. No crowds. No lines. So peaceful. I remember the times I was here by myself. 





Our hotel balcony presented a perfect view of the castle. It’s closed too but it’s enough to view it from a distance with a very azure skyline. 





Upon leaving Lourdes, the sky was still overcast but we didn’t feel any gloom. Our hearts are warmed by the solitude and spiritual experience. It’s another life episode we’d treasure forever. 🙏🏻




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Murallas de Pamplona

Mi apologia. But I can’t leave the subject of “Hemingway’s Pamplona” without mentioning the well-preserved murallas or walls of Pamplona. This fortified city may boast of the Encierro (the running of the bull) which is quite a spectacle like no other. Taking place from the 7th to 14th of July, the bulls are made to run from the corral in Calle Santo Domingo along Calle Estafeta into the bullring. Before them charging bulls are men and a few women who dared run nearly 1 kilometer for a brief 3-4 minutes at the risk of their lives. It’s insane. No wonder Ernest Hemingway was so enchanted. But what about its Cathedral, Plazuelas and murallas? 



 

 

We took time to walk in and around Pamplona, weaving through its tiny streets and alleys. What impressed me most was how well- preserved its 16th to 18th century walls are. The moat and sentry towers are still intact and the fortifications remind one of Pamplona’s deep history and importance as the capital of Navarra. All of 5 kilometers, it’s a good walk right up to Parque Taconera. Indeed, a National Monument and Treasure! 



 

From the Rincon Del Caballo Blanco, we made the uphill climb to Plazuela San Jose.  Very impressive! More so as one strolls all the way to Pamplona Cathedral. We paid the small admission fee to enter this Cathedral and visit its cloisters. There was a lot of construction repairs going on at the time we visited, but that didn’t take away the beauty of this religious monument . 





If you’re visiting Pamplona, don’t forget it has so much more to offer other than the Encierro and Hemingway’s fav haunts. Flex those limbs and trace these medieval walls, ending up in La Taconera  Park. The Park presents majestic views of the river and some deer and other animals. Best visited at sunset! Come nightfall, you can walk back to Plaza Del Castillo and meet up with Ernest 😜



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Valcarlos to Roncesvalles

Or should I say Luzaide to Orreaga? In this region, one place bears 3 names. Like it’s Roncesvalles in Spanish, Roncesvaux in French and Orreaga in Basque. Oh, I have to give it to the Basque to insist on its own language, traditions, culture and cuisine. After all, they claim to be the oldest European language, and culture. Basque pride has its basis. And I’m not one to argue on this. 





Very close to Valcarlos is the town of Arneguy. Having walked your first 8 kilometers from Saint Jean Pied de Port towards Luzaide, one is delighted to find Arneguy and its supermercado. Some stop here for the night or just for coffee and more. I had my desayuno (breakfast here), as well as my pee break. Arneguy is also the place where one passes from France to Spain, though one will hardly notice that. What I noticed was more farm activity and livestock. Aside from the sheep grazing in many fields before here, I found cattle and free range chicken in the backyard of village homes. 






I may have seen more village activity if I didn’t miss the village route  and instead took the busier road. Just the same, I reached Valcarlos, signaling I’ve crossed from France and into Spain. The village Church and many albergues will tell you many pilgrims stop here for the night. The number of bed vacancies confirm it’s not the season yet. I’m not surprised, having only met 2 other pilgrims as I walked, and a couple more upon reaching Valcarlos. 




The volunteers in Saint Jean Pied de Port reminded me that there are no cafes nor stores between here and Roncesvalles. So one needs to carry his supplies — water, food — from here until the next town. Pee breaks only in the bush. So mind your cafe or skip it entirely! The walking guides speak of uphill climbs, and then some switching between walking near the road and some dirt paths. Because it rained, I expected the muddy tracks. And slippery rocks.  Especially in paths following the river. My eyes were trained to check the yellow arrows and red & white markers, making sure I don’t take any wrong turns.





Four hours later, the muddy tracks and dirt paths spill into country roads leading to Orreaga, the Basque name of Roncesvalles. One has a variety of dining and sleeping options here. Also, there are many pilgrims who’ve chosen to start their Camino Frances from Roncesvalles towards Santiago de Compostela. It’s a much livelier crowd here, where peregrinos discuss whether to stop in Zubiri or Espinal or some other Basque town in Spain towards Pamplona. For sure, I’d be back to resume this walk from Roncesvalles and then revisit Pamplona, which I enjoyed much days earlier. 






Meanwhile, let me hang my hiking boots to dry. Buen Camino!




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The Little French Basque Village At The Foot of the Pass (Saint Jean Pied de Port)

The most popular route when doing the Camino de Santiago Compostela is the Camino Frances. And it starts in this tiny but enchanting Basque village in the south of France. Saint Jean Pied de Port or SJPP literally translates to “Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass”. That mountain is the Pyrénées. Pilgrims or peregrinos congregate here and many small inns and albergues accommodate them. The Pilgrims Center gives out camino route maps and the village parish priest blesses pilgrims who attend mass services. But SJPP is really more than just the starting point for a camino or pilgrimage walk. And one need not be a pilgrim to appreciate this village called Donibane Garazi in Basque. 





There’s the old bridge over the River Nive in this old capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre. Within the “walled area”, one can walk on the ramparts or go up and down the charming streets called Rue de France, Rue de Espagne and Rue de la Citadelle. The cobblestoned streets are lined with shops and restaurants. The Pilgrims Center is located in here, along the path towards the Citadelle. Some deli and pastry shops have balconies or windows overlooking the river and the old bridge. 






I’ve seen many locals and a few tourists (it’s still early for the Camino season) go up the Citadelle from where a panoramic view of the village outside the walls can be glimpsed.  In Place de Trinquet, there are more inns and dining places to choose from. It’s lovely just walking up and down these streets, within and outside the walls. The atmosphere is also very congenial as many solo camino walkers are open to making friends and gaining camino buddies. One can never be alone here in SJPP. Saying “Buen Camino” has become the norm. In the village church near the clock tower, the parishioners engaged me in an animated chat seeing I’m “solo” and from the Philippines, which I think is a rarity. Many pilgrims come from France and Spain. 








SJPP is lovely, even with an overcast sky or even if it rained the late afternoons and evenings we were here. There’s wine to partake to while away cold evenings and the tiny chocolate shops can be tempting. When the sun’s out in the morning, it can still be freezing cold but a good walk is not a bad idea. You can even trace the start of the camino if you like by simply going all the way through the Rue de Espagne and then following the camino signs. Try the first three (3) kilometers venturing out of the village  if you like.  In no time, you’d find bleating sheep and dogs let loose on country roads. 








So how about it? Ready for a walk? Be sure to wear comfy shoes to navigate the cobblestoned paths and a windbreaker to shield you from the wind especially as you hike up the Citadel. Buen Camino! 





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