Days forty-five to fifty: Getting to know Paris

Well, it is official. I am in love. With Paris. I have spent my days wandering through her streets, eating her food, and absorbing her atmosphere. And I am just smitten. In planning my time, I thoroughly expected that a month in Paris would give me a more balanced view of this city. I might get sick of the aspects of many big cities, like its pollution (noise, air, trash). I didn’t. It was there, as my first experience with cars banned from the streets evidenced, but I didn’t notice or care. I might get frustrated with navigating a busy city. I didn’t. I gladly took the long way if my navigation skills weakened, and discovered a new street, a new shop, a new perspective. I feared that the people in Paris would be less than kind to an American with a terrible accent and weak high school French skills. They weren’t. Most of the people I encountered were lovely. They quickly spoke English to me without making me feel like I was inconveniencing them. They engaged with me in the polite way that is their custom. I learned to say “Bonjour, Madame” when I entered a shop and “Au revoir merci” when I left. It has made me wish that we were that polite in the States, rather than thinking they were too formal or rigid.

At one point in my daily wanderings through the streets of Paris, I found myself walking down a block where, in 1991, I had once stayed in a boutique hotel on the Left Bank. As I walked in 2016, I looked at the apartments on that block, and remembered my thoughts 25 years ago as I looked at those same apartments. I had thought “What would it be like to live in an apartment in Paris? How would it feel? How would my experience of this city change or deepen?” And it struck me. I WAS living in an apartment in Paris for a month! I had created the experience that my younger self dreamed about. I was, in fact, “living my dream”! It was a wonderful feeling.

It is the feeling I want to continue to experience as I shape my life in my “bonus years”. What did I dream in my life that I can now make happen? How fortunate I am to even be in a position to consider this. Can I stay in that experience of gratitude, and, from there, create circumstances in my life that put me in the flow state that I so desire? As the man who coined the term, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi described in an interview withWired magazine, the state of flow is “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” I want THAT. I can create that for my next few decades, using my experience and insight from my lived life to craft my new life.

In the meantime, I am in Paris…

A bit of a pause…

So, last time I posted was in October, 2016. It is now (in what seems like a blink of an eye!) March, 2017. What happened?!? Well, a lot of wonderful things that I intend to continue to share. I will post the remainder of my three month trip to Europe over the next several days to continue to recount all that I experienced and discovered along the way.

But, really, what happened? It is a good question. I guess I still need to learn the lesson that I discussed in my blog on routine (Day 28). While walking the Camino, I fell into an easy rhythm. Wake up, walk for several hours, arrive and settle into my new hotel room. And then I had the remainder of the day and evening to fill, typically in remote Spanish towns with not much to do. Going to the computer and posting was a great routine. I was also motivated to keep friends and family updated so they knew I was still alive and well!

And then Paris happened. Full of beauty and enchantment for me. Time flew by as I enjoyed every minute there. And the routine just fell away.

But I want to continue to share my adventure and explore the bonus life concept and my own experiences as I take my next steps in my career and life. And see if I can stick to the routine!

Back to Europe! It will be fun to “go back” and relive those glorious days.

Days forty to forty-four: Enjoying Paris with my brother and then alone

My brother came to visit me in Paris. It was a surprise when he told me while I was in Ireland, so it was not an expected part of my sabbatical, but it was a welcome break from the solitary lifestyle I have been living. I must say that I am comfortable being alone, but I looked forward to his visit before he arrived, loved having him with me, and was sad when we said goodbye. Funny, though, how you can get back to the old way of being. Back to just being here in Paris alone. But with fresh eyes after sharing this city with someone whose opinion and perspective I admire.

Like me, my brother had no desire to be touristy, but wanted to fully enjoy the city and the food and wine. Perfect. We went on a bit of a pub crawl the first night around St. Germain des Pres. Our first stop was to an old bar where, down the stairs, you were in a stone lined cave with low ceilings and nooks and crannies where wifi could not find you. Next was a chic wine bar with a fireplace and beautiful people all around us where we ate delicious appetizers and shared a bottle of wine. After that, we went to the classic Cafe de Flore and did incredible people watching.

The next day, we wandered around the Marais area, full of interesting streets and people. We happened upon a flea market in one of the streets, visited our mom’s favorite park — Place des Vosges — and enjoyed the cafes and ambiance. Next, we went to the Musee Marmottan that is on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne and was a kind of hunting lodge many years ago. Now, it is a home that is so full of Monets it would make your head swim. I can now confidently point out a Monet painted in his earlier years, and one painted as he aged and his eyesight dimmed. Or at least going there made me THINK I can!

The last full day we rented our own boat and my brother piloted us through the canals in Paris, built by Napoleon to supply water to the city. A view of Paris that is like no other, sharing a basket of nuts and olives and sausage balls (!) with a bottle of wine on a sunny day with my brother. Tremendous. Then off to the famous Paris flea market. I have never seen so many knife rests before, in shapes of animals and birds, and toy jax… Would anyone know what to DO with a knife rest if you set your dinner table with it?

I ate well, drank a bit (including a visit to the Hemingway bar at the Ritz hotel where we mingled with the Fashion Week crowd), and just had a lovely time sharing my favorite city with my brother. Felt a bit like a host to “my” city so my aim to live like a local is coming true to a certain extent.

After he left, I was back to designing my days on my own. More wandering through new areas, had lunch at a former feminist bookstore, bought a book (I am missing physical books to read on this trip – a Kindle saves luggage, but there is something about a physical book…) at the famous Shakespeare and Company Book Store, visited an exhibition of Oscar Wilde at the Petit Palais, had tea on the terrace of the Grand Palais. It is an easy place, Paris, to be on your own. The beauty and the history and the magic can be good company. But nothing beats laughing and enjoying it with a dear brother…

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Days thirty-three to thirty-nine: From the Camino to Paris

I posted here each day of the Camino, as it was such a definite journey that seemed to warrant daily check ins. Now that I have moved on to Paris, my check ins will be less frequent.

I have decided to spend a month in Paris to live differently. To “try on” a new way of living to see what fits and what needs adjustments. Every Parisian woman knows to go to a tailor for their clothes so that they fit perfectly. So too with our lives, I feel. We need to tailor them, and adjust as necessary. That requires taking the time and the effort to do so. Many of us don’t spend the energy to size our lives up. We don’t feel we can afford it, or that it will make much of a difference. But in the end, if we don’t take the time and effort, we might end up feeling uncomfortable in our skin, not confident to walk out the door with purpose and energy, tugging at the usual irritations without stopping to fix what needs our attention.

I have spent my days so far wandering. I move through the streets of Paris without any agenda. I just walk and notice and observe. I enjoy and savor and relish in the beauty of a city that I fell in love with over 25 years ago. It still speaks to me of elegance in small details, of living fully, of distilling only the best, and leaving the rest behind. Of eating bread, but only the freshly baked, from your favorite boulangerie. Of drinking wine, but only something special. Of having coffee, but only a small glass of espresso that hits you with its energy with just a few small sips. Of going on errands, but on foot, not in a car, so that you see and feel and experience your surroundings more fully. Of window shopping, in small local shops with the owner’s personality and vision on display, and not big box retailers with a corporate vision. Cheese from the fromagerie, meat from the charcuterie, flowers from the florist, candles from a candle shop. Taking the time to discover what delights and enriches me.

On Sunday, Paris outlawed cars in the city for the day to help ease pollution. I walked down the middle of the Champs-Elysees with impunity. How fun! Taxis and buses still were on the street, but their buses are hybrid and much quieter than those back home. Why don’t we have hybrid buses???

I came across the quote from Mark Twain in a Parisian window and agree with what he says about travel. It says “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I passed Winston Churchill’s statue on my way home last night. It is titled “We Shall Never Surrender”. This was a man who never did. Who created a bonus life for himself when his country and the world needed a voice to stand up to Hitler. Who seemed to have completed his adult career at the age of 55 when his conservative party lost the election in 1929 and Churchill was out of favor with his party, spending much of the 1930s in the countryside at his home Chartwell. These years were called his “wilderness years” and he spent that time writing and staying active. But he also reconsidered many of his positions, and made changes to his views, which allowed him to be ready when the opportunities presented themselves late in the 1930s. What would the world look like if Churchill retired at the age of 65 in 1939?

What would the world look like if we don’t take time to consider what is possible for our bonus years?

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Day thirty-two: Neutral time

Spent the day relaxing and walking around the town. It must be difficult to live in a town like this. For centuries it has been the “tourist” town it is now – with pilgrims showing up daily and overtaking the bars, restaurants, etc. while shops cater to their need for souvenirs of their walk. But it is a beautiful town, with a university nearby giving it a youthful energy, while the old streets exude charm. There is a park nearby with lovely fountains and paths, and even my hotel has a wonderful courtyard to enjoy. There are tourists who never walked the Camino, along with pilgrims that keep arriving. Several times you encounter them meeting up with long lost friends that they met along the path that they now see again at the destination. The joy and emotions run high.

Attended the evening pilgrim mass with the incense burner I mentioned yesterday. Arrived at the cathedral thirty minutes early to encounter incredibly long lines to get into the mass! Seeing the lines, I doubted I would make it in, but the cathedral is massive enough that somehow there was room for me! The mass was in Spanish, but the surroundings, and seeing the swinging of the incense was worthwhile. So many people with so many reasons for being there. And more coming into town every minute. Quite incredible.

At a transition time in my journey. Finished the Camino and moving on to Paris, which will of course be a very different experience. How to best handle transitions? As William Bridges writes in his classic book on transitions, it is important to have a neutral time to acknowledge the ending and begin to prepare for the new beginning. Today was a good neutral day.

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Day thirty-one: Camino is in my rear view mirror

Today I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. No drama. No great difficulties overcome. No great fanfare. The cathedral is sprawling and confusing and full of scaffolding so I had no idea where I was supposed to go or how to get there. The usual entrance is closed for restoration, and there was a long line when I finally figured out where I was supposed to go to see St. James’ statue and casket. So I didn’t arrive in a typical pilgrim manner, getting to the cathedral and having a grand spiritual moment. But no matter. I have tomorrow to rest and explore the city, which looks to be really lovely. Lots of old buildings, tiny streets, unexpected plazas, lively atmosphere. Maybe some spiritual time as well.

I will go to the pilgrim’s mass tomorrow night when they will use the Botafumeiro, a large incense burner that requires many people to operate, and apparently quite the sight to see. I saw it hanging in the cathedral, and the cathedral is so massive it looked rather small in context. The reason for the large incense was, as most Catholic traditions turn out to be, quite practical, as the ancient pilgrims were quite odiferous and full of disease! I ran into a few of those types along the way, but many more pilgrims with high end backpacks, shoes, hiking boots and good looking athletic wear. I was the one lowering the bar with my plain cotton t-shirts and shorts! But I hope I never smelled!!

I went to the pilgrim’s office and received my official certificate of completion, in Latin of course. My first name in Latin was something I’ve never seen before… Waited in line for almost two hours. Luckily I had a book to read on my phone.  Said hello to a few familiar faces along the way.

So. Destination reached. But this wasn’t really about the destination for me. It was about the journey itself. The man who gave me my certificate said I was the only American woman who walked alone that he had seen. We talked about the value of doing this walk alone. I found it to be really worthwhile. It gave me so much time to think, to face some hard facts, to feel peace, love, and gratitude. To trust and to learn that all is well. Taking this journey one step at a time, while a cliche, reminded me that is the only way forward. Each day, more progress. More opportunities to be grateful and to follow love and peace. Not a bad way to spend a few weeks…

As Paulo Coelho writes in his book “The Pilgrimage”, about his walk on the Camino:

“Life always teaches us more than the Road to Santiago does. But we don’t have much faith in what life teaches us…. Life teaches us lessons every minute, and the secret is to accept that only in our daily lives can we show ourselves to be as wise as Solomon and as powerful as Alexander the Great. But we become aware of this only when we are forced to teach others and to participate in adventures as extravagant as this one has been.”

Now to Paris, where the t-shirt and shorts look will NOT do!

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Day thirty: All the signs along the way

Tomorrow is my last day on the Camino. Since I mentioned the crowds on day twenty-seven, there really haven’t been too many crowds since. I have spent a good amount of time in the last three days, and especially today, virtually alone many times. However, tomorrow I expect another busy day as I approach the final destination of the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. And with the crowds, you really don’t need all the way markers along the path to guide you. But over the past 12 days, those signs have been comforting, essential and not always there when you need ’em! The official and unofficial pointers have been my compass and I have enjoyed not needing a map, which I am not always the best at following.

I have taken some pictures of what I have seen over the last two weeks. The last picture may be hard to see but it made me laugh. At the top is a sign of a pilgrim walking, with a phone number for a taxi service below it! I can’t say the thought hasn’t traveled through my mind, but other than the “cheating” I did on my second day (when my hotel was further along the way and I was driven there), I have walked the entire time. No blisters, no injuries, no sunburn even. Unscarred. Amazing!! Oops, I still have a day left to walk. Hope my luck holds out!

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Day twenty-nine: The end is near

Only two days left after today on the Camino. So thrilled to have made it this far and hoping that I will arrive in Santiago de Compostela in one piece. So far so good!

The Camino has over the years been a spiritual journey for many who embark on it. I have stopped frequently along the way and have asked “What would you have me know?” And I have received answers! Now, you can believe whatever suits you in terms of where the answers come from, but they have come easily to me and have felt very real and powerful. One day was a sense of complete peace. Another of love. Another of gratitude.

Today’s message was a difficult one. It warned that I am mortal and that my time here may be quite limited. Facing mortality is something we all must do, and today I did in a way I hadn’t before. It was not a fun walk, nor was it something I should be immune to facing. But it was a powerful day and one that I won’t soon forget.

It is wonderful to plan, expect to experience and actually live our bonus lives. But we also must plan and expect and live as if life could be taken from us at any moment.

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Day twenty-eight: The gift of a routine

I have rebelled against routine most of my life. As a child, my mom was big on routines. Thursday morning at 10:00? She would be in the Jewel grocery store. Every week. Saturday dinner? Steak and home-made french fries with green beans. Another day was dedicated to waxing the floor, another for laundry. Unvarying. You could set your clock on my mom and her routines.

I wanted none of that. And it has been to my detriment. “When did I change the furnace filter?” “Do I need to go to the grocery store today or can it wait?” “Oh no, that bill is due today!” I have created unnecessary drama in my life, been less efficient, wasted money and dropped the ball too often to count. But the idea of a routine felt too stifling to me.

Here on the Camino I have fallen into a comfortable and peaceful routine. Every day, I get up, do the usual tooth brushing and contact wearing, put the same things in my back pack and in my luggage, fill my water bladder in my back pack, have breakfast, strap my back pack on, put my phone in my pocket for easy access for picture taking, have my map and pilgrim credential in my hand and pop my ibuprofen pills. And I walk. I don’t stop until I have reached my destination, except for a few rare times to take a bathroom break or once to have a drink. Otherwise, my days have a steady rhythm and routine.

There is a routine to the walks as well. The familiar roads of small and large stone, of hard ground and ground softened with needles, of asphalt and mud (all while maneuvering around the cow and horse manure). The sounds of cows mooing, the bells around their necks, of roosters crowing all day long, dogs barking, horses neighing, tractors working, pilgrims chatting in various languages and accents. The sights of bars full of pilgrims having what seems like parties along the way, of turning into villages with the familiar stone barns, homes and albergues, of women in scarves and men in work clothes. The smells of manure, flowers, cooking. Corn stalks, sunflowers, hydrangeas of every possible hue, ivy and moss on stone fences, ferns and eucalyptus trees, stone bridges, canopied walks under tress giving blissful shade. Everyday I have encountered all of this. It is part of the daily experience of the Camino.

I find that these routines have been quite freeing. And comforting and safe. No decisions to make, no drama, no surprises. The day is laid out for me, I have a destination to reach, and that is what I have done for ten days. The rhythm, the familiarity had become expected, part of my life.

As I wrap up my time on the Camino, the prospect of the days ahead in Paris and elsewhere make me a bit tense. I need to make decisions about what to do each day. I won’t have my routine anymore! What if I don’t optimize my time in Paris? How will I structure my days? I will miss the sights, sounds and smells I have had on the Camino. Except probably the manure.

How different from the person who rebelled at routines. Maybe I will shop for groceries every Thursday morning in Paris…

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Day twenty-seven: Mucho

Today I began the last leg of the Camino. This section, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, is the minimum distance that a pilgrim can take and get a credential that they walked the Camino. Before I began the Camino, I expected that there would be quite a few people traveling with me. The Camino has gotten quite popular recently, and the weather in September is usually perfect. The huge crowds of the summer have dissipated, but nevertheless I expected that this time of year would have decent sized crowds. To date, however, while I was never totally alone on the trip, there were many times when there was no one in sight.

Today, what a difference! Perhaps because it is a Sunday, perhaps because of the glorious weather… Whatever the reason, there were crowds of people on the walk today. The morning started with a climb up the stairs in Sarria, called Escalinata Maior. The number of people at 8;30 am!!!  (see picture below!) At one point later in the day, as we were descending a rather steep hill, I felt like we were cattle — complete with loud “hoof” beats, as our feet hit the ground. It was quite comical. Thankfully, there were some moments when, somehow, I was alone on the path as well. It was not a problem but it was quite the change in mood. There was a group of four that I encountered frequently where one of them had a boom box blaring! Buses were on the road, picking up and dropping off groups… I have entered a new Camino.

All the distractions forced me to stay focused. I tried not to judge (there have been pilgrims on the Camino since France – I am an arriviste too!!) and tried not to let the added noise and different sounds of the walk take me too far away from my purpose and staying in the present. I tried to remember that peace comes from within. And that focusing on the abundance that nature was providing, rather than the abundance of people on the path, was a way to peace as well. And there was so much abundance! The sky was a beautiful blue, the landscape continued to amaze and the cows still made eye contact with me!

This part of Spain is Celtic. One thing that reminds me of the Ireland I just left is the same stone fences throughout the countryside. Apparently bagpipes play here, although, unlike in Ireland, I have not been out to the bars and pubs to witness this myself at night. Hopefully one night I will…

A bountiful day – both with my fellow pilgrims and with what nature provided.

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Day twenty-six: Trying to savor the present

I realized today that my days walking the Camino are now fewer ahead of me than behind me. While I can’t say that I don’t want this to end (!) I can say that the days are passing far too swiftly. As they always seem to do at this time in my life. What seemed like a long time to be walking has now turned into more of a memory than an anticipation.

So today I resolved to be more present as I walked. I had a shorter distance to cover today, and the whole day in front of me without concern for too much heat in the afternoon, or a threat of rain. So I took my time. Stopped more often. Walked more slowly. Looked behind me more often to see what I left instead of focusing on what I still needed to accomplish. I found myself noticing the scents more today.  Of course, much of the scent in this farm country is of manure. But occasionally, as I was walking through a beautiful forested area, there were some tantalizing scents that I had never smelled before. I stopped and just breathed deeply and enjoyed the fragrance. I made a lot of eye contact with the huge local population of cows on my walk, was forced to be present as I navigated some rocky and muddy downhill sections, and was grateful for seeing a blue sky once again.

When I arrived in Sarria, I was given a restaurant recommendation for the local specialty, octopus. When I entered the restaurant, the first thing I encountered was a man pulling out huge legs (?) of octopus out of a boiling kettle and slicing them up. The restaurant consisted of a bunch of picnic tables and no menus. And all locals. A great sign. So I had the specialty. Just boiled, sliced, with a sprinkling of salt, olive oil and paprika. With a few glasses of Vino Tinto (the house red, given to you as a bottle that I think you can take as much out of as you want!!) and a slice of crusty bread. It may not be for everyone, but I loved it! I wandered the streets and really noticed how quiet this busy city is during siesta time. Another time to pause and be present…

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Day twenty-five: In the mist

Well, I’ll never really know what the town of O’Cebreiro looks like! I left this morning with the same mist and cold and wind from the night before. A bit daunting heading out in the morning in those conditions. While I was safe and had no trouble following the way marked path of the Camino, it felt a bit threatening for some reason. All morning I couldn’t see much of what was ahead of me or surrounding me. No distractions of beautiful scenery or cows (which I could hear, as they wear old fashioned bells around their necks!) or other wildlife. Just me alone with my thoughts. I tried to take advantage of the lofty physical heights to think lofty dreams and thoughts about what I might be able to do in the future. Not sure if any of what came to me will work out, but it was fun to take the time to take a wider perspective, while my physical perspective was so limited.

I was jarred back to reality by a lovely moment. As I walked through one of the previous towns, I was just thinking how sick of seeing us pilgrims the townspeople must be. The busiest time on the Camino is the summer, and now that the season has wound down, they must be ready for some peace and quiet. Well, in the next town (!) I was passing by a barn full of cows, and a Spanish woman with her hair covered with a scarf was standing there with a plate of food. As I passed, in some universal language of body language and words, she offered me the food! That will teach me to assume others’ thoughts and perspectives! How kind. Should I have taken her up on the offer? I now wish I had in a way. Perhaps I would have gotten to know her a bit. Still, I will not forget her gracious generosity to one of the thousands she sees each year…

The mist began to lift and there were spots of blue sky as I ended my walk. Like the day I entered Villafranca to a parade, I entered Triacastela (there once were three castles here, now gone) in time to witness another parade — of cows. How they keep their hoofs from slipping on the wet rocks is a marvel. Another worthwhile spectacle welcoming me into town!

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Day twenty-four: Challenges

I knew today would be another challenging day. Up another mountain, 18 miles of walking. As I got to the top of the mountain and began the real ascent of the day, rain began to come down and the wind was whipping. But it was a beautiful day, as I said good bye to Villafranca over the mountains and saw breathtaking scenery. Arrived in O’Cebreiro with the mist surrounding me. Couldn’t really make out what the town looked like or where I was. Found my room for the night. No wifi! None in the town except for one hotel — with a bar and restaurant. So I HAD to have a drink of wine while I let my family know I was safe for the night. Back to my room amid wilder weather, with fierce winds and an even more impenetrable fog. A good night to sit by a fire with a book. I’ll settle for my iPad and a book on Kindle…

As I set out to face my challenging day, I was given some stark reminders that my challenges are nothing. I learned just the day before that a wonderful, healthy, strong, active, positive and fun friend has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her strength and health will get her through this, but I am heartbroken that she has the challenge of facing chemo and all that such a diagnosis brings. Another friend told me that same day that her sister in law was hit by a semi and died, leaving a husband and daughter still grieving the loss of another daughter who died ten years before. My friend is considering leaving her new business she worked so hard to build to be with her family. Other friends have faced surgeries, lost parents, see children who are struggling, marriages that are ending. And there are people I will never know who face challenges. Refugees walking more miles each day than I do without any warm, friendly support and the promise of a bed and a meal that I take for granted. Firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors, all bravely facing trauma every day. I thought of all of them yesterday. The real brave ones who face challenges they did not ask to face. I am not one of them. I just decided to go for a long walk. Here’s to the really courageous. My thoughts and prayers were with you today.

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Day twenty-three: Bacchus

As days on the Camino go, this was a pretty joyful one. After a full day of rest yesterday, I was off with fresh legs and an easy journey ahead of me. No mountains to climb, only 14 miles to cover, all through beautiful scenery. Even the threatened rain held off, and what came down was barely a sprinkle and no trouble. I even got a rainbow!

This is wine country, and my path was lined frequently with grapes, bodegas, wine tastings, etc. Somehow I resisted the urge to partake of the offerings, it being 10:00 am or so when I passed them, but the urge was there. The Roman god Bacchus is the god of agriculture and wine, and is often associated with revelry. Well, I was reveling in the day, and the ease with which I was traipsing through the countryside. I want to be sure to bring more joy into this time, rather than worrying about getting to the destination in one piece!

As I approached my destination, Villafranca del Bierzo, I heard what sounded like gunshots, or explosions or very loud fireworks (at 1:00 in the afternoon). I saw the smoke rising ahead of me from the frequent bursts of sound. Once I entered town, I realized it was fireworks of some kind as a parade passed right in front of me. There were tall masked characters dancing, a band playing, and a large crucifixtion carried by a group of men. Quite the eclectic parade, with solemn townspeople dressed up and following along. When I checked into my hotel I asked the reason for the celebration. Expecting some religious holiday that had escaped my memory, I was informed that it was a celebration of the first day of the harvest. Bacchus would be pleased.

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Day twenty-two: Rest and Rain

I am pre-booked at all my hotels on the Camino, so this day was preordained as a rest day. Perfect. After the “big day” yesterday, I was ready to let my knees recover (downhill is worse than uphill for them, I’m afraid — there is no winning on either side of the mountain!!) and get some laundry done. I realized I haven’t had the time to read a book or catch up on the news.

I wandered Ponferrada. The Templar Castle is quite striking – like having the Tower of London right smack dab in the middle of a small town. Stocked up on more ibuprofen (those knees – luckily the Spanish word is very similar) and tried the local delicacy botillo. Can’t say I recommend it but it was fine. Lots of rain today. Uh oh. Looks like my luck may be running out on the weather. That poncho from REI will get used after all!

The towns along the way have been charming, lively, full of history. I catch what I can but I must say that I don’t feel like a sightseer right now. It is good to see what I can see, but if I miss something I am not at all concerned. Saving my energy for these next nine days without a rest I guess. And bracing myself for rain. This trip isn’t about seeing sights. But I am definitely absorbing everything around me.

One thing that I have noticed quite a bit that struck me today is the conversations the locals have on the street. This may happen in smaller towns in the States, but where I live you rarely see people stopped on the street just talking and visiting. Too much time in cars, too rushed to take the time, not knowing our neighbors very well? I don’t know the reason, but it seems a shame. I don’t understand what they are saying, but whatever it is, the conversations seem to be lively, animated and full of interesting information. A nice way to make errands a bit more fun and interesting, and keep up with your neighbors. Another thing I can try to do at home…

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Day twenty-one: Burdens

This was the big day: the most miles I will walk on any one day, and going up and down mountains. It is also the day pilgrims pass the Cruz de Ferro, where one is to put down some symbol of the burden(s) we carry and thus lighten our load. It is basically a big pole with a cross at the top and lots of rocks at the base where pilgrims have left their “burdens”.

I set off as the sun was rising for this long day. I have nothing to complain about. The weather was hot but dry and breezes and shade all along the way. Today was probably the most beautiful scenery. Well, it should be since I’m climbing and descending a mountain!! Did you catch the tone there? Yes, it was quite a long day. Somehow (see “Preparedness” post!) I didn’t realize I would be climbing and descending mountains on this walk — I avoided crossing the Pyrenees, the traditional beginning of the Camino after all. Nor did I expect that once I made the ascent and decline that there would be MORE ups and downs along the trail. Of course there were. But it made for a long day… I kept singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” in my head. I don’t know how that Von Trapp family did it. I hope Friedrich was a big help and that Maria wasn’t pregnant! Those are the kinds of things you think about walking 20 miles alone…

I did meet and talk to a man early in the day. He is taking a gap year “or more”. Walking the Camino, traveling to Cambodia to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, doing lots of biking trips. Not retirement yet – he will go back to work at some point – but taking the time to do some things that he wants to do. I expressed my concern about finding a job after my gap of three months, and he said a wise thing. That the trust and experimentation that we are experiencing now can be just as easily applied to the job search. He is hoping for one or two more careers in his future — he’s probably in his 50s or so. I would like the same. More opportunities to try new things. Learn something new everyday. Explore, experiment, trust. Our bonus lives don’t have to be experienced as some set time “after” the main career. Like the man I met on the Camino, it can be done in stages, with a few gap years or months thrown in for good measure. It takes trust that there will be employment at the end of the gap, but so does going to bed and trusting we will wake up!! Of course we all have our own circumstances and obligations to meet, but it is something to consider — sprinkling these new ways of living experiments within our lives instead of waiting for a typical retirement time frame.

The biggest burden I let go of today? The fear of not getting to my destination! But I arrived in Ponferrada in plenty of time, even after a nice long glass of wine and water in the town just before — Molinaseca. A perfect metaphor for my journey. I will get to my destination, and I will enjoy it more without the worry. I will find a job when I return. And it will be a better choice if I trust and take my time finding the right one.

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Day twenty: Preparedness

I didn’t really prepare myself for the Camino. Sure, I hit the REI sale and stocked up on my hiking boots, poncho (haven’t needed it so far thank goodness!), backpack and something called “Body Glide” (which I haven’t needed yet either!). I did a bit of walking on vacation (thanks for the walks Lari and Joe) to break in those boots. (I read “Wild”. I was NOT going to lose all my toenails on this trip!!) I tried to fit in walking in Ireland too, and I am so glad I got to experience the magnificence of that scenery. But if I REALLY prepared, I would have walked 13 miles a few times. With a heavy backpack. Two days in a row even.

My lack of preparedness hit me yesterday. I have dislocated my left knee a few times — once in high school and again when I was pregnant for the second time. You’d think I’d be concerned about that. But no, I was more concerned about blisters on my feet. So when my knee was in pain after my walk yesterday I was worried. Had my lack of preparedness left me risking the completion of the Camino?  Luckily, I have plenty of time after walking. I have hit my destinations each day around 1:30 or so. So yesterday my knee was on ice (as was my right ankle. What?!?!) and I woke up today with some pain and stiffness. Would I make it?

Well, I did. The first hour was stiff and painful and then the aspirin and the movement kicked in and I was virtually pain free for the Camino today. Actually, the pain was not the problem. It was the fear of getting my knee dislocated that really threw me. I am so thankful, as today was the easiest and the loveliest so far. I think the mountains make it more spectacular. Except I need to cross one of them I think. Tomorrow. Resting the knee again today!!

Another lesson here of course. I “get away” with a lack of preparation more times than I care to remember. Minimum amount of studying in school to get the “A”. Not packing for trips until the last minute and thus always forgetting something. Waiting until the last possible minute to get this blog going. That kind of thing. And that lack of preparation robs me. It lessens the joy, fulfillment or success of the endeavor to which I don’t put the time in to be really ready to experience. I think in some ways I am hedging my bets. If I don’t prepare, I have a ready excuse for failure. But I don’t want that anymore. I realized yesterday I REALLY want to finish the Camino. And preparing would have given me more confidence that I will. I don’t need that flimsy excuse. I know it’s a sham. Shame on me for kidding myself for far too long!!

As I was walking and thinking about this, I saw an elderly couple in one of the remote towns (if you can even call it a town) on the Camino. They were busy gardening. It struck me that the work they were doing would most likely mean that they would have food on their table in the coming months. If something failed to grow, that something would not be on their plates. Another lesson on the value of foresight and preparation. And hard work.

Our bonus lives need preparation too. Better to do the self reflection, try out different things, before the nest empties or we are ready for the new job or we want to retire. Preparation for how we want to live these extra 20 or so years will mean that those years will be more fulfilling and richer than if they just happen without intention and planning.

On this September 11, I am reminded of how we can never be fully prepared for when our lives will end. But in the meantime, I can work hard to be ready when that day happens by living each day to its fullest. On the Camino today, there was a section of the walk with a fence that pilgrims have put makeshift crosses on made of sticks. It reminded me of the fences in New York with posters of missing family members. I thought of them as I passed those crosses.

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Day nineteen: Crossing the bridge

I kind of cheated today. I COULD have asked to get driven back to Mazarife to continue on the Camino this morning. But why put my host to so much trouble? (I’m so selfless, aren’t I? Not…) So I started out with about 9 km of walking that I didn’t do between Mazarife and Villavante. Saw what I missed while driving yesterday. Completely happy with my decision!

Another beautiful weather day. Hot but some breeze though not as much as yesterday. Flies were a bit of an annoyance throughout the day. Funny, I never notice them back home…

In Puente de Orbigo, there is a long bridge from the 13th century (first picture). On it, a knight was said to have defended his honor after losing the love of a beautiful maiden. He successfully jousted all the knights who challenged him on that bridge until the 300 lances he vowed to break were broken. He then travelled the Camino to Santiago to give thanks for his “freedom from the bonds of love”. This might have been the inspiration for Don Quixote. As I crossed the bridge I thought of my bonds of love. The bonds that are gone (my marriage) and the bonds that are shifting (as my children leave home to begin their adult lives) and the bond that I need to strengthen — loving myself. As they say, you can’t love another unless you love yourself. And I want to deepen my love towards others so that I can more fully live in service to others in this bonus life. This sabbatical and the Camino are a first step toward knowing and perhaps loving / appreciating myself. Many of us can learn to love ourselves a bit more — not in a selfish way, but in order to appropriately self reflect and know ourselves to do what’s best for ourselves and others.

I ended my walk in Astorga. A really lively, beautiful town with another Gaudi building (last picture). My hotel is right across the street!

 

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Day eighteen: Buen Camino

First day of the Camino. Backpack full and heavy and suitcase, that will be moved to my next hotel, is packed to the absolute limit. Magically got to two pieces of luggage after all (wearing those bulky hiking boots purchased at REI) but barely. Hopefully the backpack won’t be the death of me — or my back!

Thirteen miles from Leon to Mazarife. Passed through Leon, where I saw the beautiful Plaza San Marcos and the monastery with another gorgeous courtyard. Sculpture of a pilgrim outside and shells on the edifice. Through the suburbs of Leon, an industrial park and then on to a church with the 12 apostles (James looking out toward Santiago) and the Virgin Mary above them all in the town of La Virgin del Camino. Took a bit of a wrong turn based on the directions given to me but a nice man in a car beeped at me and gave me the “no no” wave of his finger and I followed the map in my book. Much better. Trust the map not people with good intentions who may not know what they are talking about!

On to more remote walking, down paths that never seem to end. Many go uphill, few seem to go down!  Past a few quaint villages. The way is well marked. Despite hearing how popular the Camino has become, I certainly see many on the path, but have many times when I am completely alone as far as the eye can see. Warm / hot weather, but there is a breeze that seems to arrive just when it is needed.

Feet are good (except for bunions — jeez I’m old), all is well except the back is a bit sore. Need to look up best backpack strategies for the back.

Arrive in Mazarife after 5 hours. Thirteen miles. Horribly slow. I blame the back tracking, but, really, I’m just slow and old. This isn’t a race, it is a marathon, and I am grateful for no blisters, finding my way and having the rest of the day to get this blog updated.

Church at Mazarife also has a pilgrim statue…

Picked up and driven to my hotel — an amazing hostess who carried my luggage up to my room and will serve us dinner!! Beautiful, large home. I am sitting on my balcony outside my room with the view on the last picture.

Not roughing it on the first day!! Buen Camino (as everyone says to you)

 

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Day seventeen: We need high speed trains in the States!

Drove to Dublin the night before after my last class at Ballymaloe for early morning flight to Madrid this morning. Took bus from airport to Atocha train station where I was able to store my luggage in a very cool luggage locker system. Walked around Madrid, catching a royal procession of some kind just pass right by me, after I stopped in a bar devoted to bull fighting. Ugh.

Back to train station, and took train to Madrid’s other train station where I took a high speed train to Leon. 2 1/2 hours (with 3 stops) versus 4 hours by bus. It was like being in a plane.

Leon is a fantastic city with cathedral, a building by Gaudi, and lovely courtyards in convents. My dinner of a cheese omelette was just such a let down after Ballymaloe!! Covered a lot of ground in one day!

To sleep in an old building. My room has exposed brick on the walls and beams on the ceiling and – thankfully – a lovely clean modern bath.

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Days fourteen, fifteen and sixteen: Cooking in Ireland with Darina Allen

Darina Allen is a force of nature. She is present doing a million different things at her cooking school. Helping, with her husband Tim, run a 100 acre farm. Writing cookbooks. Conducting classes. Overseeing the construction of a new amphitheater on the grounds. Overseeing the staff. Serving the food to the students. There isn’t a time during my visit that she wasn’t moving, discussing, helping, creating. In her late 60s (I think) and there for over 30 years. And still with the creative energy that she must have had at the beginning. How do you keep the passion alive? How do you keep the energy alive? Worth an interview someday.

Her husband Tim has shifted his life over those 30 years. The son of the owners of Ballymaloe, he grew up helping as his mom Myrtle started the school, and his father raised mushrooms and tomatoes. He taught at the school for 12 years, and then when he and Darina decided to grow what they cook, he took on the job of farming (now organically as well). It was a decision he says he has never regretted. From my conversation with him as he led a group of us on a tour of the property, it is a job full of experiments that often fail. Of constant attention, creativity and hard work. He too was ever present at the school, serving breakfast and overseeing every last detail. Little did I know at the time, but it was he who checked me into my room on Sunday night! No task is too little — or too big. The two of them have created a huge enterprise through no magic. Just hard work, fearlessness, and dedication. But how fortunate they both are. They found their passions right in their own “back yard”.

The school was amazing. Darina and her brother Rory O’Connell demonstrated SO many dishes. The days were just packed and then they would add even more dishes as they thought of new ideas. We ate everything they made and then on the last two mornings tried the cooking ourselves for one or two of the dishes each day. Just doing that was overwhelming and tiring! With everything pretty much measured and washed. We did do our own dishes, which I think is Darina’s style. Clean up your own mess!

Learned how to finally hold my knife properly (close to the blade, not in the middle of the handle) which made cutting much easier, will try an easy bread recipe at home for my son Danny who loves homemade bread (this only requires one rise and three ingredients!) and a few other dishes.

Met lovely people, including my cottage-mates. One night, Marie acted like I saw my family do in their kitchens. Put out a lovely tea with whatever was in the house — in this case fresh bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, tea and coffee. Others contributed cookies (“biscuits”) and it turned out to be a lovely spread. A real Irish talent….

What a wonderful experience!! Will never forget it..

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Day thirteen: Goodbye to Dingle

So sorry to say goodbye to Mary, my B&B host. A perfect host, who made sure I had great ideas on what to do each day, given the weather and my interests, and who ran a glorious B&B. She even had a great plaque on her wall about the ABCs of aging. She liked my ideas about the bonus life, and is thinking about what is next for her. Whatever she does, it will need to be with people as she has the gift…

Went to Mass in the church in Dingle next to the (hidden?) labyrinth, and the priest prayed that we find our vocations that use our gifts to serve others. The theme of the Bonus Life!! Also, celebrated the sainthood of Mother Teresa with this quote from her:  “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”

On to my cooking school at Ballymaloe. Stopped in Kenmare on the way to see easily accessible stone circle — a mini Stone Henge?

Arrived at Ballymaloe after maybe a few wrong turns. Lovely property with a french country feel. Staying in the Pink Cottage with 6 rooms and a shared living room/kitchen. Met a really nice couple from Dublin who got a fire going, gave me a glass of wine and introduced me to the wonders of the hot water bottle! Thank you Mary and Donogh!!!

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Day twelve: Spirituality and, yes, a night full of music (spiritual too…)

I didn’t plan to have a spiritual day, but it came to me and it was lovely.

First, I followed my instincts (don’t do that enough!!) and went into a convent garden next to the Catholic church in town. Came upon a labyrinth, something I love to walk anywhere I go. As I was walking the labyrinth, it really hit me that I, an American in 2016 with ties going back to Ireland on both sides, was here, in Ireland, walking on land of my ancestors on a labyrinth created who knows when by these nuns in Dingle. Sometimes, the enormity of the blessings of travel can just hit you. How amazing to be there, so far from home, and yet tied to those long ago ancestors….

Later, I went on another walk along Inch Beach, and on my way back saw that there was a castle tied to the Camino! Almost got myself lost getting to the castle and getting back to Dingle, but it was worth it. Above the ancient door of this castle that was decimated by Cornwall, was a shell, the symbol of the Camino. It seems that pilgrims would travel from there across the ocean to Spain to walk the Camino. And here was I about to do the same in a week’s time, albeit by flight not sails. Another special moment of connection….

And of course, in the evening, my last chance to enjoy Dingle’s music. This time I didn’t go to a pub but to a music school in Dingle that holds concerts.

I spoke to the owner of the store, Michael, earlier in the day. He is on his bonus life. Retired from teaching and spent a year “retired” — which drove him crazy. So he tried a bunch of things — taking courses on computers and working in that field, working as a sales person, and as a fisherman. Finally decided to be his own boss and opened the music store in Dingle. Moved and expanded into the current location, and added these concerts — starting small with just 8 or so people showing up and now there were over 40 people there the night I attended — capacity in his small shop. Sometimes, to find out what you want you need to try on a lot of hats…

The revelation of the experience of the concert in the store was the addition of the piano to the Irish music I have been hearing over the past weeks. Not too many pianos in pubs, so the opportunity to hear the richness that the piano adds to the music was marvelous. Great banter from a “dub” (what they call Dubliners) who joined on the guitar. I even got a personal serenade of “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen” by a wonderful tenor who once sang with The Chieftains!! A terrific end to my evenings of music in Dingle. (well, I did stop in a pub too!!!)

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Days ten and eleven: Even on sabbatical, errands and rainy days. Thinking I’m a local…

Nothing like a typical day at home, but time to do laundry, get gas, banking, post office, write thank you letters, catch up on travel journal, etc.  Also able to squeeze in a lovely walk along Dingle Bay between the rain. Rainy days for errands and getting things done and nights full of music.

One night, I went to another recommended pub for music. Pub begins to fill up with Americans and I get suspicious. Same guitarist from hardware store (Matt Griffin) walks in as one of the musicians. Am I with the tourist group again? Some look familiar and then…there is one of the tour leaders I’ve met! Oh Jaysus. Finish my pint and be gone. Why? Because I’m not a tourist??? In my mind…

Next pub had amazing music too. When there are four players, and a great singer, it is quite impressive (this time a violinist, a guitarist, an accordion and a woman who sang beautifully and played the pipe).

Overheard: “Bad luck.  Tommy’s back in the drink.”

Another night in a pub with crosses though out the room. One man on a cello (!) and the other who sang, played guitar, accordion, you name it. Oh, to have such talent!!img_4159

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Day nine: The magnificence of Ireland all in one day

Ireland to me is just beautiful. The famous green land, (or as they now say tongue in cheek “50 Shades of Green”) the coast line, the profusion of every color of hydrangea. But the other beauty lies with her people. Their music, their personalities, their poetry. Today, I got the best of all of it.

I had a day with sunny skies and no outlook for rain, which turned out to be rare in Dingle these days, so I grabbed it. Took two absolutely magnificent walks — one from Ballydavid along the cliffs and another around the Great Blasket Island Heritage Center. I was actually giggling to myself along the first cliff walk. This was just the epitome of stunning Irish scenery, complete with quaint farm cottages, sheep and cattle, ancient ruins, dramatic crashing of the waves against the cliffs, fishing boats in the water and many shades of green along the distant shores. The second walk had big shoes to fill after the first, but it was glorious as well. Saw my cliffs from another shore, and had the fun of climbing ladders (about 6 of them) over fences along the way. It was still wet from previous rain, and I was nervous about slipping on the thin rungs.

Returned back to B&B, showered and changed for the night. Had rack of lamb at a lovely restaurant, then came upon fantastic music at a hardware store that may or may not still sell hardware, but definitely sells plenty of alcohol. The music was courtesy of Theresa Hogan with guitarist Matt Griffin and a mandolin player whose name I didn’t catch. A big tour group or two came in as well (may have been arranged by one of the tour groups, operated by Rick Steves’ company). Got a laugh when an obvious local walked into the hardware store/pub, saw the crowd, said “Oh, Jaysus” and walked right out.

More music, more Irish conversations, more fun. Walked home under the same blanket of stars I see at home — the big dipper, Cassiopeia, etc. How funny to be so far away from home and see that same group of constellations. Must have been a comfort to travelers for centuries. A great day in Ireland and yet comforting to think of Home.

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Day eight: Salthill and Dingle

Am I losing my mind? I set off an alarm at the B&B this morning. I had started the shower and, I thought, just left the water going for a few seconds to heat up. When I went to get in, the water was super hot so I lowered the temperature and had my shower. After breakfast my host told me I set off the alarm due to the steam and heat coming from my bath. In addition to being mortified and sorry for the trouble I caused to my host and fellow guests, I had a real senior moment. Did I leave the water running longer than I thought? I MUST have to have set off an alarm!! Is this a warning sign???

Slunk out of B&B and took a wonderful walk along Galway’s Salthill Promenade. It is a holiday area for the Irish — family had recommended it. Walking along the coast and thoroughly enjoying the sights — both natural and people watching. Need to train for that Camino coming up! Remembered a book my parents had in our house growing up. It was an autobiography of a great old Irish actor named Pat O’Brien (famous for playing Knute Rockne alongside Ronald Reagan’s Gipper, but also a great character actor in many old films I love). The name of the book was “The Wind at my Back”. That is how I felt both literally and figuratively on that walk. So far, my life has been so blessed. The wind at my back. On this trip so far too…

Drove down to my “home” for the next five days — Dingle town on the Dingle Peninsula. An area that speaks Irish (Gaelic) and is just as beautiful as the more famous Ring of Kerry.

While driving I listen to the Irish station RTE 1. Great to hear talk shows discussing the Apple tax ruling, Gene Wilder, who just passed away, and his Irish connections (who knew?) and Pokemon Go hitting Ireland too… Fun way to drive — I can listen to those Irish accents (many different kinds across country) all day… And do! Lucky me!

My B&B host Mary showed me to a lovely room that I am thrilled to use for this extended time. Dinner walking down to town and then early to bed… I think the stress of driving hit me a bit…

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Day seven: Driving a rental car to Galway

I’ve done it several times before — driving on the left side of the road, that is. But somehow when I planned to do this as part of my traveling in Ireland I forgot the small detail that I always had a passenger or many in the car with me to navigate or just shout out “stay on the left” whenever I was taking a turn. No passengers makes it a bit more nerve wracking. I guess if you want to do something you just need to face the risks….

After a morning of visiting and saying good bye to family, I boarded a bus to the Dublin Airport and rented my car for the next 10 days. A tiny car (which is a must in Ireland given its notoriously skinny roads with little to no shoulders) with automatic transmission (can’t drive stick and even if I could, shifting with my left hand sounds even more intimidating). Still expensive, but I used miles to pay for it.

One thing I give the good ole U S of A credit for is the signage on our roads. In Ireland, you need to be on your toes for as soon as you see a sign for an exit, it is right there. Very little warning. Missed one exit on way to Galway but was able to turn around after some time and trouble.

Got into Galway and checked into my B&B. Happily left car parked at B&B and walked into Galway. Most streets in central area are closed to cars, so able to walk on lovely roads. Thought of Harry Potter and some town near Hogwarts, or Diagon Alley. Beautiful with music coming from both street musicians and out of most of the many pubs along the way. Stopped in many and ended up in Spanish Arch pub where four guys were rocking it. Irish music with a modern energy. A guy sitting on what looks like a box playing drums on it (second time I saw this), a guitarist and an accordion player. And the lead who played every type of pipe you can possibly imagine. And the Irish bagpipes (which have much more versatility and sound than the Scottish version, IMHO). He was a sight to see and they were fantastic to hear.

More pubs, more music. I can get used to this life…

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Days four, five and six: My visit “home” with my Irish relatives

When a stranger comes to Ireland to visit relatives, they frequently ask “How long will you be home?” The first time you hear it you are thrown off. You want to respond “I will be going home in a week” or whenever. But then you realize. You ARE home. They will always talk about when family comes home — comes back to visit the homeland. And it does feel like home. From the incredibly generous hospitality, to the lovely conversations, to the care and interest in the extended family trees (oh yes, I can tell you if someone is my second cousin twice removed and what that exactly means!), there is no place on earth other than my home in the Chicago area that feels like home. It is truly special.

I spent three days visiting family that I already knew, and met many more on the tree. And this is just the tree for my mom’s paternal family. I would like to research my mom’s maternal side, and connect with the Irish side if possible on my dad’s side. In the meantime, there is plenty of family already here that I have had the privilege to meet, sit in their kitchens and be served tea and food with such generous hospitality. Usually, you begin to sit with just a few in the kitchen and before you know it the room is full of people. The woman of the house keeps producing more food, more tea almost miraculously. It is a wonderful way of connecting that we don’t (or at least I don’t) do enough at home. Visiting. No elaborate reasons, or decorating, or meals. Just plenty of tea, and treats stashed away to be brought out.

When talking about family trees, there is also the need to pay respects to those no longer with us. The Irish really respect their graves, take care of them, bring flowers. I visited many graves on this trip, as I have in the past. Only this time, I knew some of them who are now gone. Very sad, but grateful that I had the opportunity to meet them.

Took a trip to meet a dairy farmer who is also running a microbrewery right next door. There’s an inspirational story of doing what is expected of you — keeping up the family dairy farm — while following your own dream and passion. Called Brehon Brewery. I liked the Killanny Red. May be coming to the States!

So fun to visit the family. Lots of laughs, pints, and music. What a gift to come home again.

Oh, in case you don’t believe in leprechauns…

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Day three: Good craic

Spent the day wandering Dublin. Not much accomplished but it was a nice day and I can get used to living like this. No stress. No possessions except what is in my three (hopefully down to two magically) bags. No errands to run. No obligations to anyone. I choose the day and have complete freedom. Not bad…

Went to the CORRECT O’Donoghue’s near the Shelbourne Hotel (where I stayed traveling with my brothers and their wives and a niece in 2009). Sat down very early for the 9:30 start of the music, but was lucky to be joined by two thoroughly enjoyable men. One was related to Aaron Burr (I believed it, don’t you?) and the other his customer who lives in Dundalk, the same town I am traveling to tomorrow to see family! We had a great conversation, or as the Irish say “good craic” (pronounced “crack” — a phrase that can get you in trouble if taken the wrong way!) which means a lively time of it. They seemed to like this bonus life idea. That new perspective on these extra years to view differently and with purpose. Fun. The music was wonderful.

An example of the dry Irish humor. After my new friends had left, I stayed to listen to more of the music. There was a man standing behind me that I hadn’t spoken to or even turned around to see. At one point in the night a young, handsome-and-knows-it man stood up, as is customary, to sing a cappella. He did a pretty good job but warbled through a bit of it. I must say it wasn’t a horrible thing to see him put in his place a bit. After he was done, with a perfect beat of timing, I hear from behind me “good rehearsal”. Well, that just cracked me up. When he saw me laughing, again with a dry straight delivery he said “time for Take Two”.

That night in Dublin was a good picture of how it seems to be here. Conversation in pubs is easy and friendly and often full of laughs as well as insight. Good craic. No one really out to pick up and get picked up, although of course that happens. Just there to enjoy the music and the conversation. I would love to have more nights like that in restaurants and bars in Chicago. Not just with my friends, but making new friends for the evening. Guess I need to put myself out there and make it happen myself. Take Two at home.

 

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Day two: A Day of Art in honor of my mom

My mom traveled at this stage in her life as well. After my dad died when she was 51, my mom took it upon herself to travel to Europe for the first time the following year. She did so at least annually almost until the time she suffered a stroke (through her 60’s). Along the way, she found a dear friend Barbara who traveled with her. The two of them were a match made in heaven. Barbara’s husband was still alive, but he had traveled internationally for work and had no desire to do so in his retirement. Both women loved the arts — a day in a museum was perfection for them. They laughed at the same things, knew history (particularly Catholic history which allowed them to understand all the art they saw in churches throughout Europe) and they both smoked. They were great travel friends until Barbara passed away. Such a joyful connection they had created.

My mom handled those bonus years well. She went to work (after being a stay at home mom for 25 years, she found a job when I was in high school and my two older brothers were adults on their own) and stayed working until she turned 65. She traveled, had season tickets to the opera, was involved with her grandchildren. I admire her independence, her elegance, her lack of complaint. She was a great woman.

But in going through her things after she died in 2009, it struck me. All that knowledge she acquired, about opera, and art and history and the insights she gained in her travels. Where did that go? It was gone. There were her well organized notes on her travels and the operas she attended. But then what? What remains? Thinking of that, I want to somehow do more than learn and enjoy my bonus years. I want to somehow make an impact (outside of my family of course). Make the time I spend learning and traveling, which I too love to do, somehow of service, somehow a productive, lasting gift to others. Now, make no mistake. I have NO CLUE how to accomplish that. But it was a lesson my mom left me. (She would disagree of course — being a mom and grandmother is plenty and she is right.  Just not for me perhaps)

In honor of my mom on what would have been her 84th birthday (The two of us were here in Ireland 20 years ago almost to the day!!!), I went to two free museums in Dublin. The  National Art Gallery had a wonderful Vermeer that was really moving to see. And I was able to see a watercolor that is only on view for one hour two days a week to keep it from being damaged. And I happened to get there in time to see it. Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederic William Burton (1816-1900). Very romantic and beautiful. Liked the quote there from George Bernard Shaw in the picture below.

Also went to Hugh Lane Gallery north of Parnell Square. Again, all free, as museums are in Ireland apparently! Saw a painting of a woman aviatrix I had never heard of before — Lady Heath (below). Had just re-read West with the Night by Beryl Markham who was another female aviator around the same time (same as Amelia Earhart too). Looked into her. Another fascinating person and a real pioneer with a tragic end and beginning to her life (witnessed her father beat her mother to death as a toddler; died an alcoholic at a young age). But during her life she championed women’s rights to fly as pilots and was a real character.

Also visited another character’s sculpture on a rock in Merrion Park — Oscar Wilde. Had an Irish coffee at the Jameson Distillery, and Guinness pint at Cobblestone pub, where there was a great traditional music session and met some lovely Irish characters.

Happy Birthday Mom!! As Oscar Wilde said “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

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Day one: Traveling to Dublin

Here is my itinerary:

August 22-25 Dublin Ireland

August 26-28 Dundalk Ireland visiting family

August 29 Galway Ireland

August 30-September 3 Dingle Ireland

September 4-6 Ballymaloe Cookery School

September 7-23 Walking a portion of the French way on the Camino Santiago de Compostela

September 24 – October 21 Paris.  Because, as Audrey Hepburn once said “Paris is always a good idea”

October 22 – October 30 Cambridge UK for Ideas Festival

October 31 – November 2 Edinburgh Scotland

November 3 – 5 Amsterdam

November 6 – 17 Who Knows?!?

November 18 London

November 19 home

On the trip I plan to spend the 12 weeks following the 12 weeks of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. She came out just this year (coincidence?  you decide…) with a version that covers these bonus years called “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again — Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond”. Follow along with me if you’d like!

Last day at work Friday, August 19 (had to maximize my income!) and flying out Monday, August 22.  Whirlwind of goodbye lunches, dinners, coffees, drinks (and plenty of procrastination) left me with little time to do the last minute preparations that I had put off. Saturday I visited my youngest son at his new college. Sunday night my older two took me out to our favorite Italian restaurant for all our classic favorites. Including two bottles of a delicious chianti. A perfect sendoff. Last pedicure, last hair color, before being away for three months. Somehow it all got done. What was to be two pieces of luggage for 3 months — a domestic carry on piece of luggage and my backpack purchased for the Camino — become 3 with a tote bag added at last minute. I am hoping to shed things as I travel in Ireland to consolidate to two. Wishful thinking I’m sure.

Wonderful trip on American coach. Thank you Tom for taking care of me with my aisle seat and no one next to me! Heaven!

Landed in Dublin on dreary grey day. Took bus into city center near St. Stephen’s Green and walked to B&B. Of course room not ready yet, but had coffee at nearby cafe and room was available earlier than expected. Took (uncharacteristic for me) long nap. Usually I power through the first day to get on the new time zone’s schedule. Uncharacteristically, I was just too tired, despite sleeping a bit on the flight. Was it the grey day? All the work to get out the door? All the emotions of saying goodbye? All of the above I’m sure. Luckily I booked myself to a touristy Musical Pub Crawl that was recommended by the travel writer Rick Steves. It got me out and hearing Irish music in pubs. Heaven for me. Learned a lot, got recommendations for pubs in Galway and Dingle as well as Dublin and enjoyed it. Stopped in the wrong O’Donoghue’s for a pint (music at a microphone not in a corner of the pub) before back to bed.

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My first steps towards my bonus life: A 3 month sabbatical

I have been intrigued by the gift of a bonus life since I first heard of it in 2009. I had gone to see the Dalai Lama speak on a panel. But my memory wasn’t what that revered man said. Instead, it was what a woman seated on his panel said.

Her name was Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America at the time. To paraphrase, she said that never in history and nowhere else on the planet today, do people have about 20 ADDITIONAL years of life that we do!

On average, of course. But still. 20 extra bonus years?!? That is almost an extra adulthood. And it is unique to us today here in the developed world. And the better news? Not only is our life span increasing, but so is what the medical community is now calling our “health span” – the amount of healthy years.

Wouldn’t it make sense that I would think of my adulthood differently? Not “plan to save more for retirement” but plan to LIVE more in adulthood? And couldn’t that extra 10-20 years be leveraged to really make a difference?

What will we do with that extra life??

In the ensuing years after that panel with the Dalai Lama, I tucked that concept away. I was focused on what I was going to do with my life. I needed and wanted to work. But I knew I wanted some fulfillment. I wanted to know my strengths, gifts, talents, and then use them in service of something that was meaningful to me. Small goals right? But I was determined. Why NOT go after work that won’t feel like work? Why not explore what my North Star is? It seemed important. I took classes at various venues in Chicago, such as the Women’s Exchange in Winnetka. Life Planning was a great start. Learning about Enneagram and Myers Briggs. Taking a class on the Artist’s Way. Meeting Joan Anderson, who explores this concept, and taking a one day workshop with her. Working with life coaches, career advisors. Traveling to the Omega Institute in New York and to Kripalu in Massachusetts and the Sophia Institute in Charleston. All this and more. All were in service of learning. About who I was. About mindfulness. About living creatively.
And then it dawned on me. What I was trying to do could be the purpose I was searching for. Engaging with people like me who want to approach this “bonus life” in the way I want to approach it. With intention, purpose and the freedom to craft it without some constraints we face when we are younger.

It is a journey to mindfulness, meaning and purpose that can lead to fulfillment.

Well, here I am. My youngest son just left for college and my nest is (relatively) empty. Time to stop thinking and wondering and learning. Time to start doing.

So I quit my job. It was a great job. I worked for a large family foundation that made an enormous impact in Chicago and throughout the world. My colleagues were smart, dedicated and a joy to see every day. But it just wasn’t “it” for me.

I wanted to take a sabbatical. Time to really reflect on what I can do that will be of service to the world and provide fulfillment and meaning to me in a profound way.

So I am off. On a three month trip alone to Europe. To immerse myself in different ways of living. To learn to trust myself.

I’m taking a big risk. I have tuition bills still to pay. I need to work. I need to get a job as soon as I get back. But I believe that this bonus life is real and it requires time, intention and commitment to discover what it can be. I am on an adventure of discovery. A treasure hunt.

As Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune published, and my friend Marlene also passed along, the following poem seems to sum it up:

When you travel, you find yourself alone in a different way, more attentive now to the self you bring along, Your more subtle eye watching you abroad; and how what meets you touches that part of the heart that lies low at home.