Reflections on the Camino

I was honored when Laurie, of The Camino Provides, asked me to write about what “the Camino provides” meant to me.

In all honesty, I put this task off for a long time. I didn’t believe that I could actually put pen to paper and articulate how much the Camino provided me. But, when I sat down to think about it, and reflected on my life in the half year since the Camino, I knew that I finally had the answer.

It has been exactly six months since I started my Camino. Notice, I anchor to my start date, because I don’t believe that my Camino has ever really stopped.

I began on June 1st, 2015. My Camino took me from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela in 18 days. In those 18 days, I walked and I talked, I laughed and I sobbed.

I sweated through the Meseta, and shivered in the rain in Galicia. I drank too much red wine, and ate too many Spanish tortillas.

I got lots of blisters, and I made lots of friends. 

I cried too many times to count. I also smiled too many times to count.

I pushed myself to my limits, both mentally and physically, and all along the way, the Camino provided me with all of the tools I needed to keep going.

The Camino provided me with open hearts to connect with every day, and open minds to share stories with.

The Camino provided me with the comfort of community, and a sense of purpose, in knowing that I was never alone along The Way. It gave me peace, in the form of the nature and beautiful landscapes that surrounded me, especially in the mountains of Galicia.

It provided me with shoulders to lean on when I limped, and the hands of complete strangers to bandage my blistered feet.

It provided me friendships with incredible people from all over the world. The Camino gifted me Peter, Nadja, Mundo and Austin, among many others, who all now hold a very special place in my heart.

But, the Camino doesn’t stop providing when a peregrino reaches Santiago. Instead, during the months after your journey, it slowly molds you until you realize that you, at your core, have somehow become a better version of yourself.

Since my Camino, I have become more patient, I love more openly than ever before, and I have developed an incredible amount of faith in myself and my capabilities, as well as in the kindness of others.

Most importantly, the Camino provided me with the conviction that I am the creator of my own path, my own happiness. By pushing me to my physical and mental limits, the Camino taught me that my state of mind is not merely a product of my environment, but rather, can be whatever I choose for it to be. We cannot be defeated, we simply choose to feel defeated. Likewise, we can choose to be happy.

And just like that, these last six months of my life have been the happiest I have ever been. I know the Camino played a part in that.

To everyone who has already completed their Camino, and is now on the Camino of life, I hope my words brought back beautiful memories.

And to those peregrinos, like Laurie, who are looking forward to their journey, my heart warms at the thought of all the things the Camino will provide you.

Buen Camino,

Pauline

Camino
Santiago de Compostela with my Camino family

Readjustment

It’s been a week since I’ve been back. I intended to write earlier, I really did. But I suppose it took me longer than I expected to process everything. That, and there is just so much to do when you come home after seven months.

I’ve moved back in and unpacked, which is a production in itself. Then I hibernated a few days, just relishing in the “mine-ness” of things, my own real bed, my lap dog, a real closet and a fridge already stocked with groceries. I’ve caught up with some of the people I missed the most, and I’ve just been taking it easy.

I keep getting asked, “how was it?”

Frankly, I never know what to say. I mean really, how do you say, “itwasthebestthingthateverhappenedtomeandimissitalreadyandeverythingwasbeautifulandeasyandicant explainitbecauseitsafeelingthattheenglishlanguagecannotexplainandyouwouldntunderstandbutthankyou forasking.”

I also get asked about what I missed the most while abroad. That’s a hard one too, because I’m not sure that I missed anything in particular. I didn’t daydream about Chipotle, I learned how to live without a closet full of clothes I don’t wear and I actually preferred not having internet on my phone at all times. I missed people, certain people, but not things.

That being said, I am glad to be back. It’s nice having a certain sense of routine and stability, even if it’s only for a few weeks. And, after a month of the triple B diet in Poland (beer, bread and butter), it’s good to be back home with a garden full of produce, healthy, non-traveler meals and my favorite yoga instructor at my local studio.

My blog has been on my mind lately, because I suppose I have been avoiding the question, “now what?”

I began PaulineFlewAway to chronicle my adventures abroad, and have attained more success with my website than originally anticipated. Even though those adventures have technically come to an end, I have decided to maintain my blog. I love writing, always will, and I still have many stories to share from my time abroad. Plus, I have many adventures still ahead in the next few months as I dive into my incredible fall internship, exploring American cities throughout the fall, a winter full of tropical travels, and a senior spring semester of five day weekends!

I am not done.

Home sweet home

I’m Coming Home

After seven months of living abroad, it’s time for me to go home.

So cheers.

Cheers to walking 250 miles across the north of Spain. To sleeping under the stars in the Sahara desert. To watching Les Miserables live in London. To hugging my best friend under the Eiffel Tower. To wandering the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. To toasting to my 21st birthday with my mama in Malta. To doing yoga with GRiZ in Switzerland. To trekking throughout Northern Italy alone. To being next to the pope for Easter in the Vatican. To cruising in a convertible on a Spanish island. To fairytale weddings in Poland. To spontaneous visits to Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. To hitting 16,000 views from 5,000 visitors on a blog I thought no one, aside from my mama would read. To the to 30 flights, 15 trains, 3 ferries, 3 strangers’ vehicles, 1 camel and a whole lot of walking, that got me safely where I needed to go. And last but not least, to living in the most beautiful city in the world, Barcelona.

This journey was filled with immense life lessons. I have experienced great joy, excitement, clarity and contentment. I learned what it means to be alone, and sometimes afraid. I made friends from all over the world, as well as a few from my own backyard that I cannot wait to see when I’m back.

It’s so cliché to say, but this experience changed my life. I mean, can anyone go live abroad for months and not change? That would be impossible, or at least a stubborn demonstration requiring Herculean effort.

I have welcome every beautiful moment of it. I don’t yet know how I’ve changed, hopefully for the better, but I suppose that will come out in time. 

One thing is for sure, I can wait in line for hours without getting frustrated. Seriously, I’ve developed the patience of a monk from traveling.

 Thank you Europe for the ride of a lifetime. I loved waking up every single day thinking, “what is my life?” Now it’s time to continue this adventure I call a life, interning with Google in Ann Arbor in the fall! 

In the mean time, are you ready for me Chicago?!

  

Let’s Go!
  
Joy selfie!
 

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!

Onward

After a week long trip with my brother and his girlfriend to Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada, I’m finally back in Barcelona. 

Today is my last day in this vibrant city I call home, and it feels rather strange to be leaving. However, life only moves in one direction, and that’s forward. It’s certainly time to move on, but there’s a certain uncertainty that always comes along with change. 

While most people who have studied abroad have already made their return flights to the States, I have another month of traveling Europe ahead of me. But now there is one big difference: there’s no place to call home. 

Barcelona has been home since January. Although I was traveling often, coming back to my apartment and feeling the coolness of the vintage green tiles beneath my feet, and lying down on my own bed to stare out my balcony, at the church across the street, always brought me comfort and peace. 

And now there is no home base, just a collection of unfamiliar pillows and tiles to discover. I have no dresser or drawer to open, just a suitcase to unzip and a backpack to unhook. No wide-eyed, half-naked Argentinian artist/roommate will roam the hallways, telling me to slow my roll. No waitress in the bistro next door knowing my order before I ask, “Un cortado y un yogur.” My safety net is gone, and all at once things have gotten a little more daunting and a lot more exciting.

The next stop is Warsaw, and then Kraków for one of my best girlfriend’s fabulous wedding. Essentially, an entire week of joy and celebrations.

After that, I’ll be with family in a little Polish village. And then for my last two weeks, who knows? Maybe Mozart in Vienna, or maybe exploring Iceland. Maybe learning how to meditate with monks, or maybe working on my tan in Zakinthos. 

It’s been one incredible adventure, and it’s crazy to think there is only a month left. Let’s do this. 

Looking towards the future, how very deep.

Guest Post: The Pauline Travel Experience by Jessica C.

I am currently showing my brother and his girlfriend, Jessica, around Spain, and Jess, being the talented writer that she is, wrote a guest blog post about what it’s like to travel with me. I’m very flattered by post and grateful to Jessica for putting up with my tempo and travel dictatorship, I didn’t even need to make any edits! I’ll let her take it from here:

As you must know by now, Pauline is quite the established traveler. Her wanderlust leads her to all corners of the world, inspiring her to see over 50 cities and towns in six months and walking 250 miles on the Camino de Santiago.

She invited Alex (her brother) and I (his girlfriend) to visit her in Barcelona with only a few days to rest in between. Pauline met us at the airport, her tanned face and blindingly bright smile hard to miss in the crowd. Alex and I considered for a moment that we would meet a new, calm and mellow Pauline after all of her recent soul searching. However, after a tight hug and Pauline giggles, she pulls out an itinerary she drafted on the plane and starts talking business.

She’s an energetic, ambitious superhuman and I’m here to tell you about the Pauline Travel Experience.

Sleeping in is never a part of the itinerary. At 6:30am on our first day, Pauline barged into our hotel room after finishing a run around the city and said, “I thought it’d be more lively in here.” She waited for us in the dark to wake up, all the while explaining the details of her plan for the day.

Bring your walking shoes…and mental strength. Pauline walks everywhere at a rigorous speed and measures distance by her new unit of Camino kilometers. Whatever distance you think you’re going, just double it. She would tell us that our next destination was only ten blocks away, no problem. And her Camino stamina didn’t understand how we could possibly be tired of walking, ever.

Trust in the system. Armed with her inner compass/travel guide, Pauline always finds the best places to go, orders the best food and knows where she is going. You have to trust her and let caution go to the wind. When you do, you stumble upon bullfighting stadiums and secret, underground Flamenco shows.

Learn to laugh with her. When Pauline says, “Guys, want to hear a funny story?” It means you’re lost and you’ll be walking in circles for another ten Camino kilometers. Just laugh it off because she’ll eventually get you home.

The Pauline Travel Experience is all about you. You don’t make the decisions, but know that they’ve all been made for your best interest. Even when the situation is dire, when you’ve realized you’ve lost Pauline on her organized bike tour because she never really looked back to see you fell behind, she patiently waits for you to figure it out because she has full confidence in your ability. Find some wi-fi and pull yourself together. That’s your chance to make her proud.

Not to mention, she announces Fun Facts along the way so that you don’t miss out on learning about Dali’s sexual fetishes and Picasso’s five wives.

The gang is in Granada!

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!

I’m Going on an Adventure 

“What the hell am I doing.” 

These words played over and over in my head this morning as I drifted in and out of sleep on a seven hour train ride from Barcelona to Burgos, a city in the north of Spain. 

You see, I have decided to do the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of St. James are, allegedly, buried. 

In the next 21 days, I will walk over 300 miles. I have only my backpack, thrown together last night, with an extra change of clothes, some documents and a few other essentials. 

I’ve known for months that I was going to undertake the Camino, but this morning it started to really hit me. I had gotten home at 6 am and had to be up at 7:30 am to catch my train. I laid in my bed this morning thinking about who the hell I thought I was, to just hop on a train I booked only yesterday, without any idea where I would even sleep tonight or how exactly to go about starting the Camino. Also, I couldn’t figure out why I thought it was a good idea to go dancing in five inch heels for eight hours the night before such a hike. Although I do look as adorable as Reese Witherspoon with her backpack in The Wild, real life isn’t a movie and 300 miles is quite the stroll. 

Then, a beautiful thing happened when I arrived in Burgos. Any anxieties I had, immediately dissipated. 

I hopped on the first bus I saw outside of the train station, strolled into town, got a hotel room and had some frozen yogurt. I entered the Gothic cathedral in Burgos, and immediately felt at peace inside its intricate walls. 

The town was bursting with life and everyone was dressed in their weekend best. There was a book festival in the main square, a wedding being held at the church and little Spanish girls pranced around in white dresses after having their first communion today.

After I visited the cathedral I went to the city’s pilgrims office to pick up my pilgrim passport, where I was helped by two little old men, who encouraged me and told me that I was going to be okay. I felt as though I could explode from joy, because I knew a great adventure was about to begin. 

Their last words to me, were also the very first and most important of my journey, 

“Buen Camino.”

 

Everything I have for the next 21 days
  
The cathedral in Burgos
 

When People Visit

Visitors are exhausting.

You walk around all day, spend more money than you normally would on entrance fees and metro passes and you eat constantly, and I mean constantly, just so that they can have the best possible experience in Barcelona.

Over the last few weeks, I have had three visitors. I have re-visited all of Barcelona’s major sights, from Sagrada Familia to Park Güell, I can recite Antoni Gaudí’s life story by heart and I have perfected a Barcelona sightseeing itinerary, which I am more than happy to share. Also, I have been to Brunch & Cake, a local bistro, four times this week with my visitors. That means I have eaten brunch four times in a week.

That is not okay.

Well maybe it is okay, because as tiring as it’s been, I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up my semester.

You see, visitors are actually the best.

They allow you to experience your city in a fresh way, as if you were discovering it for the first time.

Once you’ve been living somewhere awhile you tend to forget the city’s magic. You walk past the same things every day and they become mundane even if they are really special. Parisians walk past the Eiffel Tower daily, unfazed, and Romans apathetically speed past the Colosseum. And here I am, strolling down Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, absolutely oblivious to Gaudí’s Casa Batlló or Casa Milà because I see them practically every day.

The joy of  showing someone around is that you can actually look at what you’ve been seeing this whole time; you pause and you think,

“Whoa. How lucky am I to be surrounded by something this beautiful?”

Showing Kristi around Park Güell
Showing Kristi around Park Güell