Slow My Roll

I have spent the last ten days in Kraków, camped out on a couch at my aunt and uncles’, sleeping, reading and watching Netflix. Yes, after weeks of bouncing around from city to city, Seville to Córdoba to Granada to Barcelona to Warsaw to a wild wedding here, it was time to slow my roll.

The truth is that every once in a while we all need some TLC and to just chill out. For months, when I wasn’t traveling, I was at least planning my next travels. I was barely sleeping, insisting that I’ll sleep when I’m dead. And, I had half a dozen books on my kindle, untouched.

So here I am, attempting to do nothing. Quite honestly, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to. I don’t really remember how to do nothing. Binge-watching Netflix has no appeal to me, especially since I’ve already finished Orange is the New Black, and sleeping-in is overrated.

That’s why I’ve broken up my rest with exploring this gorgeous city, visiting it’s museums, taking walking tours of the historic neighborhoods and treating myself to ice cream.

I believe in something I call the hometown effect. It’s when you live in a city, or you’ve been to a place so often that you’ve never visited it. I’ve lived in Chicago all my life, and hadn’t gone up the Sears Tower up until a few years ago. And similarly, after visiting Kraków year after year to see family, I still couldn’t tell you the first thing about it. So, I found a free walking tour of the Old Town and another of the Jewish neighborhoods and I tagged along for the day, strolling through the cobblestone streets, checking out the castle and even learning about the former Jewish ghettos of Kraków.

I took myself to the chocolate drinker-y yesterday, the literal translation of “Pijalnia Czekolady.” Yes, that’s a thing. A gorgeous cafe in the city center dedicated to drinking hot (or cold!) chocolate. Not the powdered kind that you dissolve in milk, but the real melted down chocolate that is so thick that you’re actually a little sick after drinking it.

There you have it, that’s what I’ve been up to the last week or so. I am resting. I am on vacation.

But let’s be honest, I am me. I’ve got one eye on plane tickets, and one foot out the door. Only a matter of time until I’m off again!

 

Beautiful streets of Kraków

Wedding Belles

One of my best girlfriends, Kasia, is getting married this Saturday in Kraków, in one of Poland’s most historic and beautiful churches in what is essentially the wedding that fairy-tales, and Pinterest dreams alike, are made of.

The bridal party has spent the first half of the week strolling Warsaw, Poland’s capital, shopping, relaxing and fine dining. The fabulous bride and her lovely family have absolutely spoiled the bridesmaids, showing us the best that Poland has to offer, including private evening concerts from opera singers and tours of Warsaw’s royal gardens. I may actually be ruined after this trip because Mondays without kiwi-basil lemonades and delighting in freshly prepared beef tartar after a day at the spa are not Mondays I want to go back to.

Now, everyone is hanging out in Kraków, in the gorgeous old town square. Being back in the motherland is quite exciting and strange for me. I would spend every summer here, growing up, but it’s been two years since my last visit. It’s changed a little, but for the better. Poland is one of Europe’s most rapidly developing countries, and you can tell; there are more businesses, the infrastructure has improved, and the technology has advanced.

I’m slowly adjusting from speaking Spanish everyday, to speaking Polish. However, the easiest adjustment to make was the currency. Poland, although part of the European Union, still hasn’t adopted the Euro. One dollar is about four zloty, so basically I can live like a king for the next month. Okay, maybe not a king, but some kind of non-peasant.

I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Poland; maybe the entire month, maybe not. In the mean time, I have a Polish wedding to go to!

Please pray for my liver.

Off to Kraków with a few of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride!
Off to Kraków with a few of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride!

Sevilla and Bull

Here I am in Seville, marveling at the Moor influenced architecture, hopping from one tapas bar to the next and touring the city by horse drawn carriage, with a glass of white wine in my hand.

My adventure seems to be never ending, which is a good thing, of course, because the idea of leaving Spain is quite daunting. I’m at the point where I prefer speaking Spanish over English, eating dinner any time before 10 p.m. seems odd and “vale,” the Spanish equivalent of “okay,” has become an integrated part of my vocabulary. I’m making the most of the time I have left in the land of red wine and siestas and exploring the rest of this spectacular country.

Sevilla is a special kind of city; it beats with passion, and breathes fire.

The former because it pulses with the sensual movements of flamenco, the strum of a Spanish guitar and the valor of a bullfighter. The latter, because it’s hot.

Real hot.

Today was about 106 degrees. That’s 41 degrees for any of my friends who don’t live in the five countries in this world that use Fahrenheit.

Regardless, my companions and I visited Plaza de Toro today, the oldest bullfighting ring in the world, where I discovered  the fascinating world of bullfighting.

Although controversial, bullfighting is an art form, as well as a magnificent display of Spanish culture.

Hemingway, my main man, once said, “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”

You see, a bullfighter enters the ring fully knowing that they may die that day. They put their lives in the hand of fate and say a quick prayer, which I assume goes a little like, “Dear God, please just not a major artery today.”

All jokes aside, fear is a fascinating topic. Are these bullfighters fearless, or are they fully afraid? 

To be fully afraid and to go in the direction of your fear is a very brave thing to do. I believe that being fearless is easy; when we acknowledge our fears and charge towards them like a matador against a bull, that’s the moment we discover our true courage.

Maybe we should all be a little more like bullfighters.  

Colors of Sevilla, beautifully reflected in the ring
 

Not Ours to Keep

I’ve made a lot of close friends on the Camino, which called for some hard goodbyes. It all seemed rather unfair, to be blessed with wonderful new friends, yet have to part with them after only a few weeks, fulling knowing some of us may never see each other again. But, truth is, that’s life and there is a lesson in that.

People will pass through our lives. Some linger for a moment like a neighbor dropping in for tea, some weave in and out like race cars through traffic, and some are always there quietly in the background like music in a cafe. The form their presence takes does not matter. The important thing is that they are in our lives in the precise moment they are suppose to be.

I’ve spent the last three weeks of the Camino being an adopted daughter to a retired Swiss man, who never had a child of his own, and confiding in a new big sister, an Australian yogi who sold all her things to travel the world. These were just two, among the many incredible people, who touched my life during the Camino, and for whom I will forever be grateful for.

There are certain things that simply aren’t ours to decide. Our mothers and fathers will pass on one day, our brothers and sisters may move away and our friends may become distant, engrossed in the direction of their own lives.

The people we love are here in this moment; they are not ours to keep. With that said, the best we can do is love the shit out of them right now.

Barcelona, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and USA!

Day 16: Freefalling

My days on the Camino are filled with stories. That’s really what I do all day, I walk and I listen. I’ve listened to people grieve for the loved ones they have lost, teach me songs in French, tell me folktales from their home countries. I learn new things every day and, of course, I share a thing or two along the way. But most importantly, I have become a better listener than ever before. 

During an intense discussion on the road today, my dear friend Mundo, from Mexico, compared life to skydiving and it’s a thought I really wanted to share. 

Imagine you’re going skydiving. 

You’re in the airplane high above beautiful fields. The door opens and you feel the power of the wind as you stand at edge, ready to jump. 

You teeter for a moment, swaying in and out, until you finally decide to go for it and jump. 

You’re falling through the air, picking up speed, slightly terrified but absolutely exhilarated. The adrenaline is rushing through your body and you are free. You are happy. 

You’re nearing the ground and it’s time to pull open your parachute. You pull and you pull. 

Your parachute doesn’t open. 

You keep falling, terrified. But then you remember you have an emergency parachute. So you pull on the emergency parachute. 

It doesn’t open either. 

And there you are, falling. You are falling, and nothing will save you. 

You have a choice now. 
Do you spend your last moments kicking and screaming, blaming God and being angry? 

Or do you smile as enjoy the ride?

Either way the choice is yours. 
 

Somewhere in the woods along the Way
 

Day 15: Inhale, Exhale

Today I’m sitting in the mountains, drinking tea with schnapps, watching the rain over the green landscape. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to reflect on the last three days in. 

I think I have learned more about myself recently than I thought possible. 

I found peace on day 13, hiking in the mountains of Galicia through rain, fog and bursts of sunshine. I walked 40 kilometers that days, about 25 miles, because it felt inexplicably right. My body was energized by the luscious green forests and I was finally alone with my thoughts. 

About 30 kilometers in, I came upon a group meditating by a waterfall. I didn’t pass them up. Staying with them felt right, so there I was breathing in and out with a group of strangers. Letting go of the past, and being grateful for the present. 

The two Spaniards leading the meditation approached me further up the road, and told me that they had called me their “tinkerbell.” I was the mysterious blonde force, in a neon yellow jacket, that brought an intense amount of positive energy to their meditation practice. I tried to thank them for letting me share their beautiful moment, but they thanked me instead, because as much as I thought I needed them then, they needed me too. They asked my name, and told me that in Catalan, “pau,” from Pauline, means peace.

I was overwhelmed with emotion when they told me they felt my energy, because it was so beautiful to feel so deeply connected to complete strangers. It was inexplicable and exhilarating all at once.

Days 14 and 15 were flooded with thoughts about who I was and who I wanted to be. I opened my heart to everyone I met on the road, and tried to be present in every single moment. I learned more about God, and what faith meant to me. I inhaled and exhaled deeply throughout the trail, hoping that maybe, just maybe, it was possible to absorb the feeling of being in the mountains, so that it would never leave me. 

I have grown so much, and I’m still growing. And for that, I am grateful to the Camino.

I found peace. It was waiting for me in the mountains of Galicia.

On Getting into Cars with Strangers 

When telling the story of how I had to take a break because of my wounds, I brushed over how exactly I got myself from the small town of to the city of León. I’m coming back to it because, well, it’s quite funny if I say so myself. 

The nearest town that I limped my way to, was small and didn’t have transportation to the city, so I had to take a taxi to Sahagún, one town over. The “taxi” was really just some guy with a car who didn’t have much to do that morning and offered to drive me for 20€.
His name was Roberto, and he himself had done the Camino six times. He spoke to me reassuringly, telling me that I was going to be okay, complimenting me on my Spanish and saying that I radiated positive energy-probably the best compliment I had ever received. 

He dropped me off at the train station, but the next train wasn’t for another five hours. I couldn’t risk leaving my skin festering in gauze and tape for that long so I limped through town looking hoping to find a bus. 
A blonde wearing a neon yellow jacket limping through a small Spanish town at eight in the morning isn’t the most common sight, so within minutes I had a few people ask if I was alright. 
One of these people, was a man making dairy deliveries off a big Presidenté truck. He asked if I was doing okay, and I asked if he was going to León by chance. He wasn’t, but he was going to Mansilla de las Molas, which was only a short cab ride away from the city. 

That was good enough for me, so I hopped into the cab of his truck. 

Xavi, the driver, took me on two more deliveries that were on the way, but I didn’t mind. I was going to get to the city much earlier than a train would have gotten me there, anyways. 

I was dozing off the entire ride, but I knew better than to fall asleep. Xavi was getting touchy with me and I didn’t trust him. When we finally arrived in town and I spotted a taxi, he opened the back of his truck and I noticed that Xavi put my backpack in the end of the truck, meaning I would have to enter the cooler truck. He asked me to hop in, so that I could “see how cold it was inside.”

Now, I may get into cars with strangers, but I’m not about to hop into the back of a freezer truck, which conveniently was soundproof and locked from the outside.

I stood my ground and asked him to retrieve my backpack for me, because I was too tired for this man’s bullshit. And, I really don’t have the time to be kidnapped.

Xavi finally gave up and, seemingly defeated, gave me my backpack and I scurried off on my merry way in the direction of León.

Sometimes you do what you have to do, to get where you need to go. But I really ought to stop getting into cars with strangers, yeah?

My “please dont kill me” smile

Day 4: Limits

Peter, Nadja and I began our day at three in the morning, so that we could walk in the light of the full moon. It was quiet and dark, and beautiful. We ran into a group that was doing the same, but was resting at the side of the road, and picked up Austin who was eager to keep walking. 

After 17 kilometers, around 6 in the morning once the sun had risen, I felt a sharp pain and knew the skin on my left pinky toe had finally given out. I hesitated to say anything, thinking that if I kept walking, the pain would magically go away. 

It didn’t, so I asked everyone to go on without me while I checked out my foot. Peter was the first to firmly say, “I’m staying here with you,” and Austin, who had only known me a few hours, and Nadja joined, as if it were silly of me to think they would have done otherwise. I sat down on my mat and rolled off my sock. The bandage I had on my toe has slid off to reveal that the skin on my entire pinky toe was missing, and completely raw. Peter and Nadja looked over, and said what we were all thinking, but I did not want to admit. 

I had to stop. 

I began fighting tears, because I was so determined to walk nonstop. That’s not what the Camino is about, though. People take days, or even a week off. They catch buses to the next town if they’re tired, or if it’s a particularly boring stretch between two towns. The Camino is something you do at your own pace, and taking breaks is normal. But, it was my pride that was giving me trouble. Somehow, not walking a few days felt like failing. 

Nadja sat next to me and told me a Nepalese story: 

There was an old man who had a horse on his farm, his only source of income. One day, the horse ran away through a whole in the fence. The villagers all said to him, “what bad luck!” 

The old man only replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who can tell?”

One morning, five wild horse appeared in the yard, having entered through the whole in the fence. The villagers all said to the man, “What good luck!”

Once again, the old man replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who can tell?”

That week his son was taming the new horses and fell off, breaking his leg. The villagers all said, “What bad luck!” 

And the man replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who can tell?”

A month later a war broke out and the government took all the able-bodied young men from the village, leaving only the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. The villagers all said to the man, “What good luck!” 

And finally, the man once again replied: 

“Good luck, bad luck. Who can tell?”

Nadja reminded me that everything happens for a reason. I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore because I knew she was right. The best thing for me to do was to go to León, the next large city, to rest and heal. Aside from the pain I was in, I was at risk of getting an infection, and limping could lead to knee pain, as well. I didn’t need a rest day, but my body did. Seeing that the two were connected, I needed to put my pride aside and take care of myself. 

I wrapped my toe up in gauze and tape, put my boots back on and slowly began walking. Austin carried my backpack for me, without me even asking him to. Peter gave me his arm and held on to me as I limped along another half a mile into the next town from where I made my way to León, where I am resting now.

I learned that I am not superhuman, and that is okay. I have limits; limits that I have never before reached, and by that reasoning I thought they did not exist. But I hit my limit and it was an amazing and eye opening experience. 

I saw just how far I can push myself both physically and mentally. I walked for 17 kilometers, over 10 miles, with injuries I had already had and felt with every step. In retrospect, it was silly of me, but that’s something I’m working on: knowing that it’s okay to stop and say I have reached my limit.

Everything happens for a reason. What happened was unfortunate, but now I get to hang out next to a gorgeous monastery for a few days, drinking wine and writing. How very lucky I am, indeed. 

My wounds are healing nicely and I’ll be back in my boots in a few days.

I am not done. 

The sun rising , long after we had already begun our day.

Day 1: Blisters, Beer and Yoga

I wasn’t planning to write every day during the Camino, but it’s what I love to do, so I really can’t help it. 

My first day was exhilarating and exhausting. I walked 30 kilometers (about 18 miles), downed five beers and then did yoga in Portuguese. 

I started out at 6:40 am and met Nadja, a tall and gorgeous Australian who sold all of her belongings to travel the world. She introduced me to Peter, a Swiss retiree from San Francisco, who became my adopted father for the day. Peter was a godsend, because he immediately told me I was wearing my backpack wrong, and that I would injure my back. He adjusted it for me, so that it lay on my hips and proceeded to lecture me on how to take care of my feet along The Way. 

I walked at a slower pace than everyone, still unaccustomed to walking miles and miles a day, so I walked alone most of the time, occasionally catching up to my new friends. 

We reached our final destination around 3 pm. Peter dressed yet another blister for me, and for the next few hours we drank our well deserved beers and did absolutely nothing. Later that evening, a Portuguese yoga instructor who was walking the Camino held a small yoga session on the lawn by a bar, so Nadja and I hopped in. 

I’m was never a big fan of Hatha yoga, I’m more of a Vinyasa Flow type of girl, but today I was a shining yoga star. I’ll attribute that to either my total exhaustion, the five beers I had or the fact that I don’t speak Portuguese.

Cheers to my first successful day on the Camino!

   

Dying on the inside, but always smiling
 
A fellow peregrino on the Camino
 

Conversations with Strangers: Pabloski from Wrocław

About him:  Paul, who goes by Pabloski because he is half Mexican and half Polish (Pablo-ski get it?), manages Funky Cycle, a rickshaw business in Barcelona. He has been living in Spain for about 16 years now, and his hidden talent is guessing what country people are from.

How we met: My friend, Kristi, is visiting from Istanbul and after a whole day of walking we decided to treat ourselves to a rickshaw ride. I came up to a group of rickshaw bikers and began fiercely negotiating when Pabloski approached me and began arguing with me about prices. Then, through a hot mess of English, Spanish and Polish we somehow ended up on his bike bonding and having a great time.

Coolest experience: The coolest thing Paul has ever done was move to Barcelona. He loves the people, the atmosphere, the climate and his lifestyle in general. But, can you blame him?

Life dream: Pabloski’s big dream is bike around the world. Aside from biking people around all day on rickshaws, he bikes competitively, so I think he could totally do it.

Just riding around with Pabloski
Just riding around with Pabloski