Monday Morning Musings

Posted on June 17, 2019 under Monday Morning Musings with no comments yet

Meet the Francesinha

 

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” Ruth Reichl

I am certainly no Anthony Bourdain. I have done a bit of traveling and have experimented with food from different countries but always return to the tried and true, even if it sometimes bores me to tears.

I love Indian food. Thai is high on my list. So are Chinese and Japanese. Genuine Spanish paella is quickly moving to the top of my all-time favourite dishes.

Many people suggest that from time to time, we conduct a cleanse where we rid our bodies of harmful elements, returning it to a state of purity… before we fail again and fall back into bad eating habits.

I’m having a particularly difficult time with what I call the “Camino Cleanse.” Part of it is psychological and part of it is physiological. My eating habits on my 713K walk across Spain can only be described as somewhere between erratic and abysmal. Eating a warm chocolate croissant every morning for a month washed down with strong black coffee and a glass of the freshest squeezed orange juice imaginable, was not the worst transgression.

A lunch of a baguette with chorizo and cheese, paired with a chilled glass of Estrella beer was the norm.

The evening “communal meal” was never gourmet but then again, that wasn’t the point of these repasts. The nourishment came primarily from the conversations with fellow travelers from every corner of the globe.

And so it was, on my visit to Porto, Portugal at the completion of my Camino, that I casually asked a waiter at one of the 10,000 (an exaggeration but it seemed like it) sidewalk cafes what one might eat that best represented Portugal. He pointed to something on the menu. It was in Portuguese but I am nothing but adventurous and gave him the two thumbs up as I sat with friends from Poland and Brazil, sipping wine on a warm spring evening.

I was about to experience Francesinha for the very first time.

Do you remember the “Double Down” sandwich that KFC was offering up several years ago? You know. It was the one where two deep fried chicken breasts replace the normal bun that one would find in a fast food restaurant. Wedged inside this is bacon, cheese and the Colonel’s special sauce. I did exhaustive research on Wikipedia (!) and was astonished to learn that this delicacy tips the scale at a modest 540 calories. Really? I’m thinking that a Senate investigation might be in order to confirm the veracity of this claim.

The warm evening and the glow of Portuegese port had me feeling quite mellow. That is, until the Francesinha was presented in all of its heart stopping glory. And what, pray tell are the ingredients in this artery clogging masterpiece?

I’ll start with a few that can only be considered benign at best. There’s some cornstarch to thicken the gravy, some tomato paste and a harmless bay leaf. There’s milk, chili flakes and salt. This is where things take a serious turn towards the emergency room. The other main ingredients of a Francesinha are bread (thankfully not two deep fried chicken breasts), roast beef, chorizo, smoked ham, Dutch cheese, beer, and port wine. Sitting atop this eighth wonder of the modern world is a fried egg. The sandwich is served with enough French fries to satisfy the palates of an entire class of kindergarten children.

I must admit that all 1300 calories (not including the fries) were very tasty but the revulsion going on inside my arteries took some of the fun out of tackling this monster. I reckoned that the strain on my heart might be akin to attaching chains to my back and trying to pull a bus 100 meters.

It was soon after consuming every morsel of this meal that I vowed to walk the Camino again. If I hadn’t had to return to Canada, I would have started the next day.

Have a great weekend.

 

 

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on June 13, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

Here’s a toast to walking!

 

“A vigorous five mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” Paul D. White

“Oh no,” you’re probably saying. “Is this guy going to talk again about the benefits of walking?”

Yup.

For a very long time, I have espoused the benefits of walking in this space. I will try my hardest not to be preachy but the longer I live and the more I walk, I happen to feel that it is the perfect form of exercise. You don’t need a personal trainer or a gym pass. You don’t need high tech gear. You just need to have the ability to put one foot in front of the other.

Do you want to lose 10 pounds in a month without starving yourself? It is not only possible but quite likely. There’s a small catch. You have to walk 700 kilometers. Part way through my Camino walk, I had to go down a notch on my belt. I found this rather surprising. Long distance walking requires an incredible amount of fuel. Solids and liquids.

I ate sensibly part of the time but I can’t remember a time when I shoved more garbage into my mouth than the Camino. I was eating Mars bars at 8:00 in the morning and beer late morning. When you walk 6-8 hours a day, you can’t seem to get enough food into your body. I did drink gallons of water which is crucial even on days when it wasn’t hot.

So, all of this sort of makes sense but something happened over 25 days which has left me shaking my head. I am aging (not very graciously) and am the proud owner of two fairly annoying arthritic conditions, back and neck. So ponder this. Does it make any sense for someone with a bad back to walk in excess of 700 kilometers carrying a 15 pound backpack to finish the journey with no back pain?

Over the past 7 years I have seen every conceivable medical practitioner. I have been poked and prodded. I have had acupuncture and cortisone shots. I have tried any number of medical marijuana and legal marijuana products and none have given me much relief.

I don’t have a plausible answer but somehow I think that being upright and moving the body regularly during the day has somehow changed the dynamics of my spine. Could it be that my core got stronger? Is it possible that other back sufferers could benefit from more walking and less drugs? I also think that with a backpack that is so perfectly designed, it actually forced me into better posture.

It’s all a great mystery but I plan to test my theory by increasing my daily mileage and avoid sitting for long periods of time.

Like anyone else who has experienced a big high, I am feeling the aftermath of the Camino. Reality is not nearly as fascinating as fantasy. I wouldn’t say that I feel low but the adrenaline has returned to normal levels. My one saving grace is that I now get to relive my great adventure by writing a book about it. I have started and normally that’s the hardest step.

I have also decided to learn Spanish so that if I decide to return to Spain next year (a distinct possibility), I will be able to communicate with Spanish speaking people who don’t speak English.

I’m a big fan of lifelong learning. And walking.

Arriba. Abajo. Al centro. Y para dentro!

Have a great weekend.

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on June 10, 2019 under Monday Morning Musings with 2 comments

All arrows point to Santiago de Compostela

 

Some final, random thoughts from my travels in Europe.

After 38 days on the road, my European adventure has come to a close. I have been messaging friends from different parts of the world since my return and predictably, there’s a bit of a letdown after such a unique experience such as the Camino. When you’ve walked together for days, slept together in crowded alburgues, administered care to a complete stranger’s blisters, dined together at communal meals and raised a glass or two at the end of a long day, you forge a common bond of fellowship.

It’s not all that surprising but the people I met on the Camino are ordinary folks but with extraordinary stories as you will find out when I publish my book. Just about everybody I met had come to Spain to do the walk with a specific purpose. Many were dealing with personal issues and needed time and space to collect their thoughts and sort things out. Some were recovering from serious illnesses and were celebrating a second chance at life. For others, it was a chance to walk with close friends. There were married couples, twin sisters, a mom, dad and their two young children, best buds and every other imaginable combination. The vast majority were walking alone but when you’re on the Camino, you’re never really alone.

This does not imply that the Camino is crowded although the last 100K IS very busy with many tourists who choose to do just the last few stages of the walk. There were many days, especially in the early morning darkness, where I didn’t meet a single walker for three hours. The beauty of the Camino is that you can be alone or be with others. It’s how you feel on any given day that determines whether you want tranquility or company. And even when you’re alone, there is nature all around you, speaking to you in soft whispers, if you take the time to listen.

Music is such an important and integral part of my life that it comes as no surprise that I enjoyed many beautiful musical moments on the Camino. Singing and playing guitar at the “hippie farm” in Montan was a hoot. There were many times on the trail that somebody ahead of me would be singing at the top of their lungs. On one of the days that I chose as a day of contemplation (no interviews or chatting on the trail), I was meandering along when I heard a man ahead of me singing the theme song from Romeo and Juliet. He was an older gentleman (my age!) from South Korea and his walking partner that day, a guy in his twenties from Spain. Such is the Camino that you see people of all ages and all countries meeting up randomly and walking awhile together.

As I passed them, I complimented the beautiful singing. I spontaneously broke into a verse of “Farewell to Nova Scotia” and then moved on.

Doing laundry one evening in the crowded main plaza in Pamplona, I sat outside a laundromat, sipping red wine and watching a performance by a troupe of flamenco dancers. Wine, laundry and flamenco dancers. You wouldn’t normally expect to find those three words in the same sentence!

I also witnessed for the first time, a performance of Fado music in Coimbra, Portugal. It was in an intimate setting with 30 people in attendance. The music was terrific and the two male soloists were exceptional.

I also caught a piano concert in Pamplona. The pianist was brilliant and the acoustics in the concert hall, world class. At the end of a piece, when the pianist took his fingers off the keys, the notes lingered in the air like a hummingbird at a feeder.

My walking mate for the final two days of the Camino was a lovely young lady from France. Virginie and I knew enough of each other’s mother tongue to communicate quite nicely. The day before reaching Santiago de Compostela, I started singing “We Are the Champions” and that became our anthem as we proudly marched into the city on May 28th.

The moment that still leaves me a bit misty eyed was the day I was walking with two young women from Poland, an incredible 43 year old Argentinian man and one of my best friends on the Camino, Jan from Heidelberg, Germany. (Their stories will be in my book) We were walking five abreast with much fellowship and laughter. The air was rarely still but at one point, I felt that a few verses of “The Happy Wanderer” were appropriate. When I finished, my Polish friends sang a rollicking tune from back home. This was followed by an Argentinian song and Jan finished up with a German classic.

Someone suggested that we try a song that we all knew so I started singing Happy Birthday. Everyone chimed in. It was only when we finished that we noticed that Jan was a bit emotional. It just so happened that it was his birthday that very day and it coincided with his father’s death a few years earlier. There was a group hug and many tears. The Camino has a way of doing that.

I chatted briefly on the weekend with a new friend from South Korea. Her personal story will appear in my book. I met her at about the halfway mark of the Camino and she was having serious pain issues in one of her legs. I watched her hobbling one day and was doubtful that she would make it all the way. Make it she did and I was there when she arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Like so many walkers, she worked through her discomfort because the destination was important to her.  We shared a warm embrace and a cold drink.

I asked her how she was feeling, now that she was back in South Korea, facing long days and much pressure at her place of work. “When I arrived in Korea a few days ago, it was not easy to accept that something I enjoyed so much was over. I couldn’t even sleep and I cried all night.”

On more than one occasion in this space, I have referred to the Camino as a traveling United Nations. You meet people from every walk of life and every country in the world. You eat, sleep and walk together. You share your life story with complete strangers. There is a high level of trust and camaraderie.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the late Anthony Bourdain regarding travel:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully you leave something good behind.”

If you want to experience one of life’s greatest adventures, take a hike.

Buen Camino!

Have a great week.

 

 

 

 

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