Saturday, December 31, 2011

The dailies on the farm

What's it like to live on a farm? Here's a few windows into what our daily lives look like on the farm and at home.

Rochelle. Stirring up some sourdough for our daily bread 
In our kitchen, making a batch of ravioli, bread and good conversation.
Wesley, Kayla and Rochelle.

Outdoor house cat, Lentil in the tree hiding from the dogs

All hands on deck as  the crew churns out a batch of pumpkin ravioli!

Clay's first batch of woodstove bread, waiting to be cooked

Emily and Mike, boiling the ravioli's

"This isn't a carrot" carrot pulled from my carrot patch.
I thought it was a weed, but much to my surprise when I pulled it out it was a mammoth carrot!

My carrot patch! On the right is a pea patch in the making....

Attentive listeners Clay and Brian tuning into lecture up at Bob's place

Our teacher and mentor, Bob Cannard

Amanda, enjoying a fresh tangerine picked right off the tree at Bob's place

The crew, getting a demo on composting

In the greenhouse, our first batch of germinating seeds. Each intern was given 4 flats to plant four different varieties of seeds during the weekend of the full moon.

Sprouting up! Salad bowl lettuce is beginning to grow

Early morning yoga as the sun rises over the hills, led by Cricket with appearances from Farley the farm dog

Our chickens

Getting up close and personal with a fine feathered friend. Thanks for the golden eggs every morning!

Amanda and Brian out collecting the greens for the chickens. The more greens they eat the more golden the yoke!

In the morning we go out to the fields to harvest the bounty for the farm store.
Pulling up beets and cutting red chard was this mornings venture.

A box of harvested beets ready to be washed. Yummm!

Beautiful beats drying in the sun after their harvest bath

Emily getting a box of goldies ready to take to the store

Mike, Clay and the beets

Wesley with the beet bunches

Colleen in the brussel sprout patch

A happy stalk of brussel sprouts, ready for harvesting

In the heart of the leafs hides a small head of green cabbage

Chip making signs for the farm store

Instead of snowmen, we build pumpkin people

Time to compost all those leftovers Rochelle

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Farm: week 1 in retrospect

Upon driving down the driveway into what would be called my home for the next three months, I was filled with a great excitement. Here I was, my first day at Green String Institute, an eager and keen person ready to learn and work on a farm. What to expect? My first impressions as I drove up was one of welcome. It was a golden sunny day, and was met with smiles and waves by the previous season of interns. They on their way out, back into the world and off on new adventures. In front of me stood a white house, nothing exceptional about the place, but this would be my home, shared with 11 other individuals. The largest amount of people I have ever lived with under one roof. Who would they be? Around the house were little gardens, at various stages of growth, from just beginning to sprout to needing a harvest and to be eaten. I looked around. Vineyards to my left and right, with buildings and gardens in the middle. Home. As the day slowly passed, more folks began to trickle in the awkward first greetings happening as we exchanged small stories of who we each were. In the evening, we met as a group, and got a formal introduction and a short tour of the farm. Afterwards, we shared our first group dinner, one of many, many, many. So glorious to share a hearty meal fresh from the garden, and with a great collection of people, who soon will morph from strangers to family.
The second day brought us to our first day of training. We were again taken through a daily routine of what each chore looked like and its process. We met the chickens. We wet out into the larger gardens and harvested beets. The colours so rich and vibrant. Some that we harvested would become our dinner that evening. In the afternoon, we met Bob Cannard, who would teach us over the next three months about farming and how to do it sustainably. Under this umbrella, we will learn about seeds, composting, retooling and sharpening, how to drive a tractor, metalworks, beekeeping, pest management, the business side of running a farm...the list goes on and on, and each day we tick one thing off the list, while storing into our books and minds a plethra of incredible and valuable information.  Bob, through years of his own personal experience has designed this program so that he can pass his knowledge on to future farmers who have the earth in mind. Throughout the week we as interns learnt the daily routine and each day it becomes just a part of our day as we master each task. We have taken on farmers hours, rising before the sun, and capping the day off around 9:30. Some brave souls have pushed past these hours, but more or less we're up early and in bed just as early to get a ready start on the next day.
Week one we learnt about selecting seeds, creating a good potting soil for germination, lunar cycles in regard to when to plant, and planting our first trays of seeds the day of the full moon.
At home, though there are 12 people living all together, it is surprising how uncrowded it feels. The kitchen is certainly the social hang out.  Always there is one or two folks cooking up a delicious meal for the crew, or delving into a food project like making home made yogurt or butter, sourdough bread, and olives. It is not uncommon to linger in the kitchen for a good conversation, or to keep warm by the glowing fire. Our rooms are the quiet places to retreat to, or out in our own personal gardens. I have undertaken a neglected carrot patch, overgrown with weeds or as Bob likes to call it "competition". At times it feels like an endless task going through the rows, trying to give the carrots room to breathe and grow. One area was promptly dug up, as there were very few carrots growing, and spend several days overturning the soil and planting peas. My first direct sewn seeds....I don't think there will peas while we are interns, but the next crew should get a nice harvest of them to enjoy.
As the first week drew to an end I again looked around and felt content. I look at each person that I am sharing this internship with and feel that I have known them far longer than a week.  Amazing how a little dirt can bring a whole bunch of people closer together!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Highlights, Common Sense and the open road

Ever have one of those solo road trips where around every turn there seems to be something that happens? Well I happened to have one of these such moments as I traveled westwards towards California.

1. Freezing rain and the art of a curvy road. Add in the speed limit and your car is sure to dance in a rather alarming and involuntary way. My car got daringly close to other far side of the road and the ditch below. Heart racing monitor from 1-10: 8.96.  What a way to start the trip.

2. Under a starry sky facing the thunderous waves of Lake Superiour. With wind howling, and waves crashing, I couldn't help but to lift my face to the sky and holler out for the sheer joy of the moment!

3. Cranked the passenger seat down as flat as it would go and nestled up for the night in the VW Golf hotel. May be cramped but its free. In the morning, I had to scrape the ice off the inside of the car. Woops.

4. 5 dogs, a hearty broccoli and rice dinner, a glass of strawberry rhubarb wine, A Christmas Story playing in the background and the company of one very dear friend. A magical and warming night, as we caught up and laughed and shared our stories.

5. Incredibly long journey across the plains. My secret for getting through this tedious section? A very thorough and awesome playlist of top 5 billion singable songs. Works everytime, but be sure to keep the list updated and fresh. Otherwise you're in for a lonnnng drive. Hoarse voice at the end may happen. Just roll with it.

6. Return to an old haunt and enjoy the adventure of visiting all your favourite places to roam. Catching up with my lovely roommate from last winter, and then sharing a delicious breakfast at the local breakfast cafe (the Nova Cafe!).

7. Visit the ole storage unit. How, I wonder, is it possible that I had forgotten that I had: a bike, boxes of books, pots and pans, a shelf and a giant sized bag of linens? Who else would forget all of this?

8.  On a well intentioned plan of taking a different road south, I learnt a valuable lesson, that different isn't always wise. Especially when it comes to selecting faint grey roads on the map. I found myself deep in the heart of ranch country in a snowstorm and managed to get myself stuck in the snow for a brief panicking moment before my luck kicked in, and was successfully able to turn around and return to the road more traveled. Phew!

9. Another night at the VW Golf hotel, nestled between the purring idles of giant transport trucks.

10. Sunrise in the high desert. Sheer beauty.

11. Arrival to Green String farm where I met 11 wonderful people who's hearts are all turned towards food and growth. Happy to be out of the car and fluff my bum cheeks, I explored my new home and dreamed of all the days ahead.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Taking a walk on the Bruce

Early this morning, I awoke and once again prepared to hit the trails.  On this particular morning, I would ride into Queenston Heights, where my dad and I would set out along the Bruce trail. Dad would only be able to join me for a few km in, and then I would be left to travel onwards while he returned home. The morning proved to have good weather, with the sun just starting to rise, and a slight breeze coming in from the south east.
It was so nice to get back onto a trail, with a full day ahead of me to walk at leisure.  The Bruce trail is nestled along the green belt, which goes from Niagara up to Tobermory. Its length is about 800km this time around, I would only cover the first 22km.  Dad and I have been putting our heads together, Trying to figure out a time next year to walk the Bruce in its entirety. Stay tuned!

Below is a collection of photographs from my day.

Start of the Bruce, Queenston Heights

Josie and I

About to descend a muddy little hill

Crossing into private property

Leaves crunching beneath my feet as I walked

Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Frittata

Golden and scrumptious frittata!

This week has brought me back into the kitchen.  It was time to re-don my apron, pull some ingredients together and make something delicious. The result? An extraordinary frittata.  It turned out so well, that the whole thing was gone within 30 minutes of it coming out of the oven! I've never received so many compliments, the highlight being that I could sell my frittata in a restaurant. Woop! It was my first time making caramelized onions, which isn't as daunting as I had thought, but does require a little extra time to make.

So here it is, to share with whoever comes across it.  I hope it is as delicious to you as it was for my family.

Caramelized onion and Mushroom Frittata

2 medium onions, sliced or chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil

8-10 (or more) mushrooms, washed
8-10 sundried tomatoes 
salt and pepper, to taste

8 eggs
1/4 - 1/2 cup aged cheddar, grated or cubed

Preheat oven to 375F.

Heat oil in a pan over medium-medium high heat.  Add in onions.  Make sure onions are all coated with the olive oil. Once onions are coated, spread them evenly over the bottom of the pan to let cook, stirring occasionally. After about 10 minutes of cooking, sprinkle on a little salt, and continue to let cook. (You may also add a pinch of sugar to help with the caramelization process, this is optional).  A good trick I learnt was to add a little water to the onions to help keep them moist.  Your onions will want to cook for about 30 minutes or more. Depending on how sweet/caramelized you want your onions will depend on how long you cook them for. As the onions proceed into caramelization, they will begin to stick to the pan, requiring you to scrape the pan more often. What you are looking for a rich brown colour in the onions. 

Once the onions have caramelized to your liking, add in the mushrooms. Stir occasionally. After about 5 minutes, the mushrooms should begin to soften and cook. At this time add in the sundried tomatoes. Cook until warm. Remove from heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 8 eggs. Add in the cheese. Add in the onion mixture.  Pour into a greased pie plate or pan. I used and 8x8 which I found to be a good size for this mixture. Place in oven for 30 minutes, or until top is golden and centre is solid.

Now comes the best part. Serve hot and enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Autumn moment

Open milkweed, Short Hills Ontario; October 2011

Thanksgiving. That time of year when the leaves begin to change from the bold greens of the summer into the vibrant colours of the fall. The days grow shorter and everyone goes out to their gardens one final time to pick the last of the tomatoes, greens and other autumn delights before putting their gardens to bed before winter. There is a lot to give thanks for.  I look around me and see that life is beautiful in every part.  As I walked through the house, the smells of our traditional thanksgiving dinner cooking in the over, was filling the house and hallways. How familiar and welcome those smells are, reminding me how much I have come to love these moments with my family.  Every year, we sit down together, our table filled with vibrant colours and vegetables with mom's famous stuffed mushrooms and the enchanted broccoli forest. For dessert, pumpkin pie warmed with a nice wallop of vanilla ice cream.  The traditional dessert of autumn. In a few short weeks, outside the colours will all have turned on the trees, eventually dropping to the ground leaving the branches bare. We will gather the fallen leaves, making great piles to jump into, letting the wind sweep them across the yard.  This is the time of year to pull out the wooly sweaters, heat some apple cider and take a long meandering walk in the woods. Why not kick up leaves with your feet? Though we may be grown, there is still room to stay young at heart. I love to watch the leaves soar up and rearrange themselfs on the sidewalk behind me. With every step a delightful crunching.  It's time to soak up those last warm sunny autumn days and to come together with friends and family. Take stock.  Appreciate the change of the seasons.  Let the nostalgia of the days linger on.

Forest Trail in the Adirondacks, October 2011

Family Thanksgiving dinner, looking oddly like the last supper.
In a way, it is our last supper at the house here in Niagara.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The end of the World-Cap Finesterre

Good greetings to you!
Here I sit in Finnesterre, my final destination for the Camino.  It has been a long but wonderful past two months covering 2000km across France and Spain, 57 days of surprises, trials, errors, excitment, and meeting many interesting and amazing people from all across the world. Here the trail opens people up, you pass people and say hello, where perhaps at home you´d just keep on walking by.  We´re all walking the same way, and at times I fell into stride with other pilgrims,  sharing the trail and learning of who they are.  It is amazing how much you can learn of a person just by walking with them. You don´t have to ask their name, nor what they do for a living, instead, almost instantly, you fall deeper into the conversation asking things like ¨how do you feel?¨or ¨why are you doing this?¨ there is no hesitation out here you just become bold and fearless.  In a way the camino teaches you to reach out to your neighbour and take the time to learn of them.  

My final weeks on the camino were both the loveliest and the hardest.  Hard not in the sense of terrain, but hard knowing that the distance to the end was drawing near. So much wanting the last days to last forever, taking in each moment. But also hard because there are SO MANY PEOPLE! No it isn´t the people but the change in objective.  Out here, we call them the tourist pilgrims.  They arrive 100km before Santiago...and many of them get up very very early (5am when not even a hint of the sun is in sight) and rush to the next albergue. Such is the way, but I must laugh, as in the towns I pass from around 11:30-1pm there are long lines of people roasting in the sun waiting for the albergue to open. What a way to spend the early afternoon....waiting in line, as if buying groceries.  But at these times, I continue to walk, and by 2pm in the afternoon, the trail is virtually empty, except for the crazy long-distance pilgrims.  We tolerate the heat, finding fountains along the way, celebrating the cool refreshing water before carrying on.  This is the life. Nothing else matters.  At night, when at last arriving to the albergue, shoes come off, and it is as though the feet smile to get some air and can stretch out, wiggling in the last hours daylight. You eat with other pilgrims, sharing experiences of the day, or of the other folks we have met along the path. Almost instantly, when your head hits the pillow, you fall into a deep sleep, sometimes being awoken by someone else in the room snoring...(or someones), but otherwise, a long day takes it right out of you.  Then true to the day, at 5am, someone stirs, a plastic bag is scrunched, and soon before realizing it, you are back on your feet, blinking in those first morning moments, eating a breakfast and commencing.  This I shall come to miss.  The routine and rhythm.  Each day yes, starts and finishes like the last, but it is never the same. 
Yesterday I arrived in Finnesterre.  What an incredible moment to first see the ocean and then to stand in front of it, look out and see the whole world drop away from sight as ocean turns to sky. Though I walked alone the past two days, I met up with a few friends I had made along the way once I had arrived in the town of Finesterre. Together, we made the final journey up to Cap Finnesterre to watch the sun set.  What a beautiful way to put an end to my camino. Though the day looked overcast and threatening, it had cleared in time to watch the sunset. A vibrant orange hue filled the sky.  Once the sun had passed below the horizon, we all cheered and clapped.  Other pilgrims and tourists then took their leave, making their way back to town.  The four of us stayed to watch the glow  slowly fade.  We all wanted to savour this moment.  As it grew dark, we sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean, listening to the tranquility of the waves below and the distant song of a sea bird. Each of us brought a piece of clothing we wore on the trail. As is tradition for many pilgrims, we stood together in a circle, said a small word to celebrate the distances we each had come and then lit our clothes on fire, letting the salt and moments on the camino float away into the evening sky. Before we left, we sat and talked about our journey home.  What would life be like now that we had finished? How do you take an experience like this and not lose the magic as you settle back into home life? Will it all feel a dream?  I looked at the faces of my friends. We each held a different experience.  The camino affected us all, maybe differently but we all could feel that things would be different. 
How strange it was to wake up this morning, knowing that I wouldn´t be walking far. Knowing that in the evening I would be on a new adventure, slowly making my way back to London, and then home. It´s a different camino now. A personal camino back into society. Where I will again have to learn and adjust to a new routine and rhythm. There is much reflection to come from this trip, and I feel that its unravelling will be slow. How does one wrap their head around such a grand adventure?
It has been an amazing journey. I don´t think I will ever be able to put into words this experience...some of it is too incredible to make sense. But many stories to tell and share, pictures to pour over and who know what else may come spilling out along the way!
Next stop: London and then on to home! I´m looking forward to a change of clothes (and maybe truly washing the ones I´ve been wearing, admittedly not once did my clothes make it into a washer!)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Onwards from the coast onto the Primativo.

Anna and Oliver

Good greetings to you from Oviedo, Spain.  Here I sit, in a fairly large library in the old part of this city, waiting until 5pm for when the pilgrim hostel opens! Outside is market day, where little kiosks are set up with clothes and umbrellas with very cheap prices enticing the tourists to look for a good bargain. My eyes glances a few times, but what do I need? I am just a pilgrim, with my home on my back, life is simple, only carrying what I need.  It´s beautiful in its simplicity, though my trail shirt is slowly thinning, I feel that it will carry me through to the end.
 What a week it´s been, travelling alongside the coast of the Atlantic ocean, trails that at times wound along the beach (yes on sand even) up on cliffs to overlook the ocean and reaveal phenomenal bluffs, sea birds, boats and all kinds of exciting beach life. True to the beach lifestyle, folks begin to set their chairs out in the early morning sun, lazing on the sand, and occassionally going into the salty water to cool their skin, before returning to their lounge chairs for more bronzing. I got my perfect opportunity in SantoƱa, to take a refreshing swim in the ocean, after a long hot sunny day of walking.  But the trail has been exciting.  Twice, I have had to take a boat to cross the water in order to meet back up with the trail, and another day, was required to take the train, one stop in order to cross a large river.  Kind of exciting to shake up the day a little.  I loved the boat rides, being able to sit and watch the surfers in the waves, paragliders flying about off shore and the coastal winds rushing through my hair as I took it all in! Phew! Yesterday, after much ho-humming, I hopped a bus from Llanes to Oviedo.
This past section along the north coast, has certainly been one of beauty and have felt like I am on a lovely holiday, but I was beginning to feel the strain of too many cities and too many paved roads.  It was hard to make the decision to skip a portion of trail especially this far into the journey, but there were two reasons why I made this decision! First, my trip up until now, has been filled with very long days and distances, and second my time is running out.  I want to savour the last 2 weeks on the trail, drink in the experiences and landscape and make it to Finnesterre. For me, walking to Finnesterre holds more importance than being along the coast. I want to see the end of the world and feel like I have reached where I set out to go.   So I move away from the northern coast, which was lovely, but now I turn to the mountains and then  will join with the main route to Santiago before setting out to the end of the world! This route (the primitivo) is an old pilgrimage trail that winds through the Asturian mountains.  The trail I have heard is more rugged (compared to the highways and paved roads of the past week, this will be a relief for my feet!), with camino winding up, down, over and through the mountains, revealing small villages containing a more rustic vision of Spain.  The Camino del Norte, goes through a lot of larger towns and cities, making it challenging to feel like you are on a great journey, and not just walking from one big place to the next. But the journey continues to be amazing. It is just different and I find that I miss the heart of the camino....there was something to be said to walking through the small quiet villages. 
 Over the past three days, I made some new friends and had the pleasure to travel with them.  Both were from Germany, Oliver and Anna.  I only got to walk with Oliver for one day, before he fell back due to an overwhelmingly heavy bag and foot problems caused by said bag. Anna and I continued on together for another two days before splitting in Oviedo, as she wanted to drop down onto the traditional Camino Frances. We plan to meet again, in 10 days time, when the two trails join, taking us to Santiago. Pretty neat. If it all works out, I look forward to be able to have a familiar face to finish with in the end, and share of our two very different trail experiences! 
Today, my final rest day of this trip, has been one of transition, preparing for the last leg. I can now feel that Santiago and my time on the trail is winding down. It´s crazy.  Spain is certainly very different from France.  I have found that there are very few who speak English.  The spanish, it is clear to see, are proud of their country and their language!  It doesn´t matter if I tell them I cannot understand, they just wave their hand as if to say, that doesn´t bother me, and continues on speaking in spanish, happy to share information, stories, directions.  Me not able to really understand any of it, though I try. Body language as it turns out is very effective when it comes to communication. So long as hand wave in an orderly fashion indicating details, I would say my spanish comprehension is improving! A good story to follow-up is while walking along the highway.  I had lost the trail, as the markers tend to be sporadic. As I was walking, a police car came driving down the road going the opposite direction.  When it saw me, it put its lights on, as the window rolled down with an arm jutting out beckoning me to go over. As approached the car, there sat two cops.  The driver began speaking to me in Spanish, looking at me with determined eyes. I looked at him as any foreign tourist would, shook my head and said "non etiendo". He kept on speaking. Five minutes passed and eventually I nodded my head, at last I understood and we were both relieved. Before they left, the driver gave me a high-five. From what I could gather, he was concerned for my safety and insisted that I walk on the other side of the road where I could see the cars and be less likely to be run over. The spanish don't care if you don't understand.  They have the time and will converse with you endlessly in hopes that they can reach out to you. I have gotten good use out of my little phrasebook, stumbling over small simple phrases.  Downside, is ask a question in Spanish its hard to know what the answer is for lack of language skills.
Everyone is so kind along the way, pilgrims and spaniards alike.  Everywhere, an excited face greets you in recognition of being a pilgrim.  I love how along the trail, you can meet other pilgrims and easily stop to talk, or join together walking for a short bit and share experiences, thoughts, ideas or give information to the town ahead. I feel lucky to share the trail with so many interesting people!  I met my second group of Canadians over a week ago.  A group from Lethbridge, Alberta actually and we happily fell into conversation about our homeland.  There was 6 of them, and this was their 8th year on the Camino, doing small two week sections. Next year, they hope to reach Santiago.  Can you believe that?! Eight years, flying across the pond, picking up where you left off?! Inspirational and head and heart always seems to be filled with the stories and feelings of amazement.
So, as I move into the last weeks out here, I am excited to see and walk through the mountains, to have days where I can just savour the time on the trail and not have to rush through the day, and to see the end of the world will be a moment that I feel will bring tears to my eyes! To each of you, you are always in my thoughts, I feel the pull towards home drawing closer and am looking forward to the visits that will be had and the stories to share.  Enjoy the sunshine, the fresh fruits of August (its peach and berry season!!!! not to mention pie season!)

Until the next, big hugs and cheers!
The trail winding along the cliff with an incredible view of the atlantic
Anna and I on our last day by the ocean

Monday, July 25, 2011

"We Made It!"

Hello and good greetings to you from St. Jean Pied-de-Port!!  
This is the big mid-way mark of my trip.  Though, in reality, I crossed my mid-way mileage two days ago in Sauvelade, St. Jean has been the decided marker to say, that my trip is now beginning its slow descent into final.  800km remain, one pair of shoes and hundreds of pilgrims yet to meet.  Today, is a day off, where my feet get a deserved rest, I wash my clothes ala machine and plan my route through Spain.  Wait you might be thinking, don't you already have this detail sorted? Well yes. Yes I did but as everything in life, plans change, or have the capability to change.  Through talking to many of the pilgrims, I have been considering taking a different route, abandoning the Camino Frances, which is the traditional route, and instead take the Camino del Norte. Both are roughly the same distances, but the the north route follows the coast, offering a coastal landscape and more importantly cooler weather. I have been in great thought the last few days trying to decide which route to take, but today, after much research, I am feeling more excited to take the northern route. Nearing the end of the Camino del Norte, I will drop south picking up the Camino Primitivo, which is another older route to Santiago (as well as more difficult as it crosses through the Asturian mountains...but what's a little adventure and push before reaching the end?). So in all, I will add 13 extra km to my route, and I am excited to see some water.

My trailside companions 
     Currently, I am in the foothills on the French side of the Pyrenees. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I will not really get to experience (visually) their magnificence this time around as the weather from when I arrived until after I leave will be cloudy and full of rain. But I get little glimpses from time to time, and in the tourist office for pilgrims here, there is a map of the trail from St. Jean to Roncevalles (in Spain) which goes across the Pyrenees, and am happy to report that it looks beautiful.  Even if I might not be able to see the views from below and atop, I am so excited for this part of the trip! It has been the one area, that I have been looking forward to most of all and will soak in (perhaps also literally with all the rain) all that I can while I am here. (I have a feeling that another trip sometime down the road is in store to experience these mountains in their entirety). The region here is Pays Basque, completely different from other areas of France that I have travelled through.  No longer are the houses made of old stones. Instead, the rooves are the traditional red terracotta, and the walls of the buildings are typically white, with a farm red for the trim and shutters. Though the buildings all look fresh and new as if built 60 years ago, it is surprising to pass them and see the dates, 1500's-1700's.  My jaw nearly dropped.  These places are in better condition after 600 years and continue to stand enlgish curiosity is certainly tickling, as I wish to just knock on the doors of some of these places and ask for a tour of the much history, it is incredible!  The last few days along the trail, more castle-like structures have been appearing, some just small crumblings left to nature, history hidden beneath vines. There are certainly times and places where it feels as though I am walking through time. A few villages, now ghost-towns, still stand, only the wooden doors and overgrown yards give away that it is empty. But you can really feel the ghosts of the past in these places, how at one time it was a vibrant little village and desired place to live for the views and now forgotten.  Last night, while treating myself to a small regional dinner, I picked up a magazine.  In the back was a small realestate section, for a few houses throughout the Basque region that were for sale. Did you know, you can purchase a stone house built in the 13th century for 140 000 euros? I know Euros are more expensive then our dollar, but that is truly inexpensive regardless...and from the 13th century! Isn't that crazy? 

     Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to France.  For the past month, every single day I have eaten Brie/Camembert, and feel that I have had my fill, looking forward to taking a break from the two. My feet, I think are taking on the smell of the stronger cheeses, and though I have washed my socks several times they continue to leak a toxic smell that makes me a little nervous while in public! But part of that is because for the past week, it has been rain on the trail. Rain in the morning, drizzle in the afternoon, clouds clouds clouds galore. But, with all the clouds there is a silver lining. For 9 days, I have travelled with a companion named Magdelana from Germany.  We met in Cahors, and realized that we were making the same journey, with long days due to the amount of time we had to work with. Almost immediately, it was decided that we would travel together to St. Jean and then see if it would be time to split or continue onwards together. We had a plan and the challenge lay ahead of us.  That challenge: getting to St. Jean in 9 days, travelling a total of 356.5 km which works out to be 39km roughly each day. When we shared our plan with other pilgrims, they looked at us with horror, and said very firmly: not possible. But when two minds are set anything is possible, even if it is ridiculous! And I am happy to say, we made it, feet and head still very much intact, and the two of us: good friends.  It has been fun to travel with another person, as now experiences can be shared, and is nice to have a friend throughout the day.  It is also an adjustment, as you are no longer of thinking for one. 
Magdalena on the move!
   Great moments of learning have been made and I am grateful for the experience because it taught me pieces of myself, that I wouldn't have learnt had I just been travelling solo. Though Magdelana and I will be doing the same route to the end, our time together draws to a close, as she is now joined by two friends. I shall miss my companion, but as the camino always is full of surprises, I have a feeling that somewhere along the way we will meet again!
      For now, I will sign off, find my lodgings for tonight, and continue wandering about St. Jean, savouring my final hours in France.  Maybe I will be luckily and the clouds will break for a moment so that I may catch a small glimpse of the Pyrenees.  Hope all is well back on the home front....thank-you for all the stories and tid bits from home.  Such a treat and have loved reading each one. Until the next, happy trails ahead, and big hugs from Pays Basque!

Fog in the Valley

Sun rising against a quiet chapel
Front of the line, Tour de France; Figeac, FR