London

London is very busy, it turns out. Hordes of people rushing to and fro, wearing suits and talking about business, defiantly not wearing suits and talking about some under-specified revolution. It’s a mad hurly burly of energy. And so big! I sort of knew that, but on Monday, walking from our hotel in Earl’s Court to Southbank, visiting the V&A, through Hyde Park, past the Houses of Parliament, it took a long time.

Yesterday we went for another long walk. We took the tube and then walked past UCL, one of my alma maters, to the British Museum.

The British Museum is one of my favorite places, and I had a lot of fun taking photos of more or less random things in their Classical collection, marvelling at the Elgin Marbles (from the Parthenon in Athens), failing to get anywhere near the Rosetta Stone, which was surrounded by school children, and admiring the Black Obelisk of Shalamazar (or something), which is the first time the Jews appear in the historical record. Besides the Bible, obviously.

Then we walked up to Camden Lock Market, where we had lunch from a stall, Anne went shopping, and I read in a cafe. Just like the old days! We went through phases where we went there pretty well every weekend, and it hasn’t really changed at all. Different individuals perhaps, but still the same mix of subculture shops (hippy, goth, travellery, etc) and tourist tshoskes.

Then we walked (oh my aching feet!) down past St Pauls, admiring the organized encampment of the Occupy movement. (Favourite sign: Don’t take photos, take action!), walking along, quite surprised to discover that Moot appear to have occupied one of the city churches, so we stuck our heads in the door, but nothing seemed to be going on, so we picked up some literature and kept going.

Finally, we arrived at the Water Poet, a very busy pub near Liverpool Street, and Anne and I spent a very rare evening apart as we caught up with different sets of friends (Matt Cretney, Andrew Elliott, Martin East, and Steve Evans in my case) and I finally got a curry, in Brick Lane, for added authenticity.

I’m very much enjoying my time here. Apparently I’ve been away long enough to lose my city face; I was asked for directions on three separate occasions, which is three times more than in my entire 9 years living here! I hope that’s a good thing. It would make it hard to get served at a busy bar though.

Altogether, it is making me feel quite nostalgic for my time here. I don’t regret leaving: it was the right time, but I seem to have nothing but good memories of London, which is cheering.

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Post-Camino Life

We finished the Camino over a week ago now. I’m going to write a few more entries about the Camino itself over the next little while, depending on time, and, perhaps more crucially, finding free wifi (which I suspect might be a little tricky in London.) For the meantime, this is what we have been doing since we finished.

On Sunday we hired a car and drove to Finisterre, a possible further extension of the Camino. It is where the Celts thought that Europe ended (which must have come as a bit of a shock to the Irish), and the sun, presumably, sank into the sea. Though, having said that, given that the Anicent Greeks knew that the world was round, and approximately how big it was, it seems entirely possible that the Celts also knew. Anyway, it was a beautiful sunny day, the sea glistened, and a brisk ocean breeze blew. It was all very picturesque, and made us sad to say goodbye to the Camino, seeing the few people who go that far trudging up the hill with their scallop shells. Pilgrims had become “them” rather than “us” – while we had become tourists, driving out to look at a thing, take a few pictures, and drive away.

We then thought it might be fun to drive to Bilbao. I will draw a veil over the experience, except to note that Spain is quite a big country, and, even though the road network is admirable, and the view as you drive past the Picos de Europa is impressive, it was not a fun way to spend the day. Also Spanish driving is absolutely terrible – they could pay off the deficit here in about a day if they installed speed cameras on the motorways, though on the other hand having half the population of Spain unable to drive might have other economic knock on effects.

Bilbao, it turns out, is lovely. Steep – it is built in a steep river valley, which makes driving in quite an adventure, especially in the middle of the night. There is quite a nice old town, people in proper city clothes, and, of course, the Guggenheim, which was the reason we came here.

The Guggenheim is far too famous for me to need to say much about it, except to add to the general chatter about what a wonderful space it is. To Melbournians I might add that it kind  of  reminded me of Fed Square, only made of shiny metal. If it was in Australia – or if, say the Sydney Opera House was made of that sort of material, you wouldn’t be able to look at it

, and it would probably be a threat to navigation, low flying aircraft, and indeed people trying to get into it without a welders mask on. However, in the dimmer light of Europe, it was beautiful.

I don’t feel that I know enough about modern art to have an intelligent opinion about the contents (though I am keen on Rothko), but I can’t help feeling that it is not entirely unlike the experience of downloading a Britney Spears song from the internet: i.e. the engineering which makes it possible is the worthy heir of over three thousand years of literate civilisation, in unfortunate contrast to the use to which it is being put.

Though, again, the level of engineering expertise in a Britney song is itself pretty impressive, which kind of makes the same point.

The other thing about Bilbao is that it is also on a Camino de Santiago – the northern route which climbs up and down the bays along the northern coastline. We passed numerous Camino signs as we drove, and saw pilgrims in the Cathedral square, which was a funny moment. We

were definitely “them” by that point, so Anne and I just observed, and reminisced about the good old days when we were doing the Camino last week.

Having spent a few days soaking up the urban delights, and the last few days of sunshine before we get back to Aus, we hopped on a plane, and were delivered to Manchester, where, unsurprisingly, it was wet. And quite cold.

From Manchester we hired our final car for the trip, and drove past Chester, and then down through almost the whole of Wales (which was also wet, though considerably more scenic), past Bets-y-Coed where we used to go for walking holidays when we lived in the UK, and finally to Pen-y-Groes, about 7 miles from Fishguard, where Anne’s brother Andrew and his partner Becci, and their two children Milo (7) and Alex (5) live.

We spent a pleasant few days doing family stuff, going on s, hort walks, sleeping on the living room floor, and generally hanging out with them, and with Anne’s parents, who came down on the weekend.

Yesterday (Monday) Margaret and Fraser (Anne’s parents) drove us to Haverfordwest, and we took the train for That London, where we currently are, in Earls Court, close to our old stomping ground of Kensington High Street. We had dinner at the Churchill Arms, one of our favourite pubs, went to the Ken High Street Waterstones, marvelled at the prices in the Whole Foods shop, did our actual shopping in Waitroses, and generally re-established a bit of contact with our old life.

On first inspection, not all that much has changed, though the rather cool cafe where I laughed so hard while reading Bill Bryson’s Australia that I snorted coffee out through my nose has now gone.

Today we are going to walk around town, and probably go to the British Museum, and generally behave like tourists, and have dinner with my old school friend Martin, who has been living here for the best part of twenty years now.

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Camino all over

It has been six days since we finished the Camino. We’ve been traveling pretty hard, and not finding any wifi, so the whole thing is starting to feel very distant. My feet still hurt, and I still limp a bit, but I’m gradually getting back to normal.

Didn’t lose any weight to speak of, but have become quite a lot thinner, presumably fat turning to muscle (which is denser.) I did a weigh in, and appear to have become an inch taller, which was nice, but quite surprising, given than I’m forty. My theory is that the terrific core body workout from carrying my 10 kilo pack 800 km across Spain has improved my posture, which is usually terrible.) Like doing pilates every day for a month.

Spiritually, which is perhaps more important, it’s hard to say. I’m still travelling, and hence out of my normal life. It was an amazingly intense experience – a total experience, where everything was directed to the one goal. Get up, pack, walk, unpack, shower, drink wine, bed. Repeat. It was hard to do anything outside that world, like making hotel bookings, or emailing friends.

Getting to Santiago was a bit anticlimactic, unsurprisingly. The cathedral was packed, lots of tourists, all in Spanish… I felt quite annoyed. Having said that, I reflected that whenever I’m feeling a strong emotion, it often seems to come out as annoyance, so perhaps that’s what was going on.

I miss it, now it’s over. I miss the simplicity of it, the easy camaraderie, the sense of doing myself some good. For me it was a grounding time, rather than something overtly spiritual. Perhaps this is because I spend a lot of my time living purposefully, orienting myself towards the source of all things (which isn’t to say that I couldn’t do it better), so it was less unusual for me. And there is something powerful about living so much within the body for someone who lives so much in the head. All that hand washing of clothes and careful footcare!

I might post some more Camino memories from time to time, but perhaps that’s enough for today

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Rabanal del Camino

Heading up into the mountains now. This town is being revivified by the Camino. The church has been refounded by a group of Dominican monks from Austria. We’re hoping to go to Compline tonight, if we can stay awake until 9:30.

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240 km to go!

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Aptly named hostel

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September 26, 2011 · 4:44 am

Alister + beard 2nd attempt

20110924-094546.jpg Taken in Mansilla de Los Mulas around 20/9/11

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A Few Pictures From The Road

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September 24, 2011 · 5:05 pm