Category Archives: Camino

Spanish White Bean Stew with Chorizo

Fabada – A Hearty Spanish Stew fit for the Winter!

I wanted to start the New Year with a dish from one of my favourite gastronomic countries in the world, Spain! I got married in Spain many years ago and been there almost dozen times. During the time I walked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain last September, many times I was served a white bean stew with chorizo (cured Spanish sausage) called Fabada.  It comes from the province of Austurias next to Galicia where it has the coast line on Bay of Basque. Spain has a rich gastronomic history that dates back centuries ago where people traveled to certain provinces just to taste certain dishes including traveling to Burgos for their blood sausage called Morcilla – made with pork blood, rice and spices that came from Moors influence. After Christopher Columbus traveled to the new world he brought back paprika to Spain. Soon chorizo took on a different take with spices from the new world. Today Spanish chorizo can be purchased in your local supermarkets as the food scene around the world has changed, thanks to food TV shows and internet for spreading the word.

 

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I’ve seen variations of this dish either made with chorizo or clams. I fell in love with both versions as the stew made with chorizo has a smoky hearty taste due to the paprika and beef stock perfect for cold fall/winter nights sipping medium to full bodied red wines. I prefer the stew with clams for spring/summer made with chicken broth as it has a slight salty taste like the sea, perfect with sipping white wines.   

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Chef’s note:  *After soaking the beans cooking them separately  for 5 minutes, drain and using them for the recipe gives less or no gas. **I’ve also added kale to this recipe as some regions incorporates them when they are in season.

Prep time 15 min                              Cooking time 90 min                       Serves 8

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Ingredients

4 cups low salt beef stock

3 cups white beans (navy beans) soaked overnight or soaked 8 hours & cooked 5 min & drained

300g sliced chorizo or *(dry cured sausage, you’ll need to add 1 tsp paprika)

3 cups chopped, washed and drained kale

2 cups chopped yellow onions

2 cups chopped carrots

2 cups chopped celery

1 large red pepper, chopped

4 gloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp grape seed oil or extra light olive oil

3 large plum tomatoes, chopped

3 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup red wine

1 tsp chili flakes

1 large cinnamon stick

2 bay leafs

½ tsp saffron threads (optional)

2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme or 1 tbsp dry thyme

1 tsp ground pepper

2 tbsp flour

Salt for tasting

Method

  1. In a small cup add saffron threads and tbsp of water and let it steep (better infusion of saffron)
  2. In a large dutch oven heat oil in medium heat and sauté the chorizo. *If you don’t have chorizo sauté dry cured sausage and add 1 tsp of smoked paprika when sautéing the onion
  3. Add onion, carrots and celery and sauté few minutes and add garlic, red pepper, cinnamon, bay leafs, chili and sauté well and add cup of wine and bring to boil
  4. Add white beans and mix well and add tomatoes, tomato paste and mix well
  5. Add thyme, kale and stock and bring to a boil
  6.  Add saffron threads, ground pepper and bring it low heat
  7. Cover and cook for about 90 minutes until kale and beans are tender
  8. Add flour and mix well as it will help thicken the stew
  9. Serve hot with crusty bread
  10. Optional: * a glass of Rioja or other medium-full bodied red wine

Nutritional Analysis: 1 serving = 2 cups (480 ml): Calories 375; Carb 34 g; Fibre 8 g; Fat 16 g;  Sat. F 6 g; Sugar 7 g; Protein 20 g; Sodium 780mg;  Iron 4 mg, Potassium 1165 mg; Calcium 111 mg; Vitamin C 66 mg; Vitamin A 514

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Roncesvalles to Zubri

Chapter 10 – To Zubri (Day 2 of Camino)

After a long day of climbing the Pyrenees, you really feel all your muscles greeting you the next day “good morning” loud and clear – but in the same time we were ready to finish the Pyrenees and tackle something new.

Sign in Roncesvalles

Sign in Roncesvalles

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end ― Ernest Hemingway

We couldn’t convince our Innkeeper to give us breakfast early and she convinced us to stay for the grand breakfast. So we had to settle for breakfast at 8 am with items like Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelet) ham, cheese and cakes. I guess I wait was worth it even though it put us an hour behind? It was also Sunday, the first day of “Running of the Bulls” part of San Fermin festival in Pamplona. So the bar was crowded with people watching the TV.

Gothic Pilgrims Cross 14thC

Gothic Pilgrims Cross 14thC

We were told by the Innkeeper that our walk would so much easier since it was flat. Roncesvalles has a rich history. Roland was a French military leader under Charlemagne during 8th century and led the war against the Basques across Roncesvaux pass and lost. On the way to Zubri through the forest you’ll see a gothic “Cross of the Pilgrims” representing King Sancho from 14th century.

Within 5 km you’ll come to the medieval village of Burguete – where its economy in the Middle Ages was based on pilgrim trade, shoe makers and barbers. 14th century most the town burned down.This Navarra region’s Sorginaritzaga Forest that we passed was called “Oakwood of Witches” was also famous for witchcraft in the 16th century and women were burned at the stake.

The writer Ernest Hemingway visited this village few times 1923-1959 and stayed at Hotel Burguete that still has his signature on the piano. He was inspired to write about the Navarra forests and San Fermin festival that influenced his book “The Sun also raises”.

We came across many villagers that were dressed in white and red clothing, returning from San Fermin festival at Pamplona only 20 km away. Walking through many villages the path was a steady and a quick ascend to Alto de Mezquiriz 955m and quick descend to Viskarret 750m where you have to be careful as the path was a slick paved concrete road. Without walking sticks you could tumble down and dangerous when wet. We stopped at Viskarret for lunch and tried the Navarran sausage bocadillo which was spicy with smoky paprika, delicious.

Village Burguete

Village Burguete

Valley

Valley

Steep down

Steep down

 

 

 

 

 

 

My temp basel at -50% was working like charm as I tested every hour during our walk and bolused 50% for my lunch. After lunch it was hard work – straight descend to 500m. The path was narrow and full of large boulders and rocks almost reminded me of dried up water bed – it was not easy to maneuver without actually stopping and taking few steps forward and stopping etc. Walking sticks or no walking sticks, this road down was downright brutal, one of the most dangerous descend, lot harder than yesterday as it was narrow and down.

At the bottom of the path we were pleasantly surprised to come to the village of Zubri – in Basque it means “Town of the Bridge” where everyone is greeted by the medieval bridge over river Agra.

Bocadillos

Bocadillos

Water break

Water break

Bridge Arga at Zubri

Bridge Arga at Zubri

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you walk past the bridge you come to the tiny old town where there is not much except couple of alburges. We had to walk extra 1.5 km out of town to get to our hotel as the travel company that we had booked with wanted us to have a private room. Our hotel was a nondescript hotel but was pleasantly surprised at the Innkeepers lovely greetings and his complementary Cider drink from the bar cheered our tired body. He happily stamped our passports and even took our luggage to our room as most Innkeepers don’t.

Fish Soup

Fish Soup

Cordero al chilindron

Cordero al chilindron

Flan

Flan

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our shower we had no energy to walk back to the town so we decided to eat the bar of the hotel. Most of the people at the bar were all dressed in red/white were from San Fermin festival in Pamplona and were glued to the television looking at the festival highlights. For the first course we had Fish soup (endless ladles) followed by (lamb stew) slightly different style than yesterday’s and for dessert homemade Flan (Crème caramel)  with Apple Cider wine – who knew it was a gastro pub, unforgettable! We counted our luck and slept like a baby.

Thought of the day: Totally loving being outdoors with nature all day feels like a dream.

Buen Camino!

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Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncevaux

Chapter 9 – Getting to Roncesvalles (Day 1 of Camino)

Early morning we could see the early morning mist blanketed over the Pyrenees like it was waiting for the sunlight to unveil it.

I set my temp Basel to -50% (reduced the Basel insulin (slow acting insulin) to a temporary setting to -50% for a set time in my insulin pump) since the whole day will be “one long physical activity”. I set it for 12 hours as we heard it would take minimum 8 hours to reach Roncesvalles from the tourist office. I estimated from speaking to many people and Camino Forum it that would be minimum 10 hours – I just wanted the extra two hours for meal and blood sugar testing breaks. The full dosage of Basel insulin per hour would result in many low sugars and it could get dangerous to walk the mountain with the strenuous activity of climbing without proper training, snacks etc. This is what my whole training in Toronto was all about and this Basel setting has helped me knowing “my numbers” as Sebastien Sasseville talked about.

IMG_1799We stepped out of the hotel like warriors armed with our packs and walking poles like we were ready to tackle the mountain – totally exciting feeling. As we walked out of SJPP we could hear the church bell ringing 8 times as it was waving goodbye to us. We walked through the medieval “Gate of Spain” towards our “Route de Napoleon” and it really helped that we had walked few hundred meters yesterday so we were familiar with our path. Right away we could tell that it wasn’t going to be easy, within 400 meters out of town we climbed a steep hill that was so vertical it took us by surprise and we were out of breath. We found ourselves quickly out of town and walking by many farms. Our focus was to get to Orisson 11 km and if we could get there in 3 hours (giving us 3 hrs per km) as the climb was quite steep and hard.  We passed many pilgrims along the way and met a whole group of Canadians and many students from Europe all with big backpacks as we sported our small day packs.

Orisson

Orisson

Mountain view

Mountain view

Manech sheep

Manech sheep

 

 

 

 

If the Pyrenees could talk …

The climb was hard and invigorating in many ways; we stopped frequently to take a sip of water and Gatorade (to replace salt, carb and electrolytes) and snacked on fig-newtons (prescribed by many athletes as a snack of choice).  As we climbed the scenery kept getting grander and beautiful, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The only down side was that we had to keep climbing but we took few moments to enjoy the breathtaking view of the mountains and cows roaming the field as we could see SJPP disappear.  We met so many travelers at the water fountain after the village of Hunto as we all exchanged stories and wished Buen Camino to each other and climbed the mountain.  We anticipated how Orisson would look like? To our surprise Orisson snuck into us quite as a mouse, two buildings on the middle of the mountain road, that’s it – wow! We made it less than 3 hours to Orisson and we shouted in joy as we knew we were going to conquer the Pyrenees by end of the evening, no problem.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes ― Marcel Proust

Like seasoned traveler we unloaded our pack on the eating area and filled our water bottles, made more Gatorade (we took Gatorade crystals) and packed on Bocadillo Chorizo (Spanish sausage sandwich) and said hello to few pilgrims and high tailed to the mountain as we knew we had a hard day head of us as we were only finished 1/3 of the climb.

Pyreneean chamois

Pyreneean chamois

Glorious lunch spot

Glorious lunch spot

Roland's Fountain

Roland’s Fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone reading this blog and wants to do the Camino there is no question, you must try the Route de Napoleon – the mountain and the view is incredible. Flocks of Griffon Vultures, Hawks and Falcons soared over hot air pockets looking for easy preys along the mountains as it was midday. You could see flocks of black faced sheep roaming the high pasture as they are called Manech for their exquisite milk producing Ossau Iraty cheese in Navarre. Many kinds of flora along the way – too many to mention and took pictures as we could as they blanketed the mountains. As we were in higher elevation about 1200m (about 15 km) we decided to take a lunch break in one of the prettiest spot along the road. We passed many pilgrims but none were close to each other as we were only one at this area and it was our castle for the time being. We sat on the rock and watched the sheep calling each other from one mountain to the other as they were singing. We could see at a distance Pyreneean chamois (wild horse) grazing the mountain pasture. I gave 50% bolus insulin for my lunch since the sandwich was so heavy in carb (so much bread).

Border France & Spain

Border France & Spain

Birch forest

Birch forest

Mistry mountain climb

Misty mountain climb

 

 

 

 

 

 

We could totally see us coming back to this climb once more in our life time as the serenity, the magic, the beauty in this mountain that I’ve never seen anywhere before. We packed up and walked toward to the summit as we still had another 5km to climb. The climb was harder than we thought as it became rocky with big boulders and you had to watch every step forward. Closer to 3pm still no sight of the summit as we didn’t see anyone for quite some time except at the distance the young Korean woman that we had met earlier who was walking slow and steady.

We got to the fountain of Roland and ran into a German traveler where he had been walking since April from Frankfurt by foot. It was quite inspiring to hear his story. After 2km we could reach the summit where there were many pilgrims resting and enjoying a snack. We fell to the ground in joy. We asked ourselves, where did all these pilgrims come from as most didn’t pass us? This was my first successful mountain climb to the summit the feeling was indescribable.  We met other travelers and exchanged stories as the German traveler said in all his journey climbing the Pyrenees was the longest and toughest. His comment somehow made us feel good as we thought it was only us who thought it was a tough climb taking 8 hrs to climb it.

Roman ruin (Mesala & Agrippa's win 27-38 BC)

Roman ruin (Mesala & Agrippa’s win 27-38 BC)

Bunker from 1936-39 Spanish Civil War

Bunker from 1936-39 Spanish Civil War

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a choice in descend paths as well as we were advised to take the steep 5 km path down to Roncesvalles rather than through a thistle path which was dangerous.  I am not sure which was dangerous but our path was straight down with large boulders and stones and every step had to be cautious, one false move could result in injury or falling forward.  The descend down was arduous and steep as well as we were going through thick forest and not knowing how far we had come down. Finally we could hear people, church bells not far away, as usual Roncesvalles at 950m snuck into us so quickly it was anticlimactic. It took us in total 10 hours from beginning to end including our breaks, not bad I thought, it was the longest day in our week journey.

Top of the summit  at 1450m

Top of the summit at 1450m

Our hotel was right on the path of the Camino and our suitcases were waiting. We got our second stamp and unloaded our packs as we were very curious to the famous church in town before it closed at 8pm.

Roncesvalles is a small town filled with a Romanesque church, a monetary and couple of albergues and a hotel, nothing more, not even a grocery shop or shop of any kind. So bring extra supplies until you hit the next town. We were happy to meet other travelers at the bar of our hotel which was quite famous (the only one) and exchanged stories while having a beer.

Church of Santiago 13thC

Church of Santiago 13thC

Monastery

Monastery

New church & Alburge

New church & Alburge

 

 

 

 

 

 

It felt like everyone knew each other. We were introduced to other Canadians who walked that day as people got the wind that we were from Canada and that we might know each other. It’s quite funny actually but it was nice to connect and hear everyone’s stories.

Roasted piquillo peppers

Roasted piquillo peppers

Cordero al chilindron

Cordero al chilindron

Cod with potato

Cod with potato

 

 

 

 

 

 

For dinner we had the regional food from Navarra which was exquisite and had the same wine Irouleguy that we had in SJPP. If you are in Navarra you must try the cordero al chilindron (Lamb stew), its outstanding made with local wine. After dinner we passed out in bliss contemplating how our next day’s long trek to Zubri was going to go.

Thought of the day: I can really do this!

Buen Camino!

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Preparation at Saint Jean Pied de Port

Chapter 8 – Getting things ready for the Camino (Day 0)

When we decided to do the first part of the Camino (until Logrono) we had decided to book our hotels and arrange for a baggage pickup through a British travel company.  Before starting the walk, we were just finishing a business trip/vacation from Europe so it made sense to have our suitcases moved and carry a daypack with necessary things for the day.  Having pre-booked our hotels didn’t mean that we would be driven around; it was our responsibility to get to each stop at the end of the day and check into the accommodation that was set months ago.

At the tourist office

At the tourist office

The maps from the travel company were identical to the main Camino route that every pilgrim undertakes.  Since I was going back to the Camino in late summer this was a trial to see if I could do this all on my own as I was a bit nervous traveling by myself as a person with type1 diabetes. Not that I needed hand holding but for low sugars, emergencies as I was pretty nervous about climbing the Pyrenees alone as I heard it’s pretty hard and so it made sense for me to have my partner with me just in case. He was happy and willing and he also felt that he hadn’t done a walking holiday in many years and he felt it was time to do one together.

Our adventure started together – see Chapter 5 (Getting to Saint Jean Pied de Port). Once we got to Saint Jean Pied de Port (SJPP) the trick was to find out hotel with our massive suitcase dragging through the street as there were taxis.  We asked for our hotel name and we ran into a lady who spoke very good English and pointed to the old town. Perhaps they are used to people with big backpacks not massive suitcases like we were moving into an apartment, it did look funny. The heat in the midday was exhausting but not more than a kilometer in the old part of the town we found our beautiful hotel and our room had an amazing balcony overlooking the village and the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Leaving the luggage in the room we took the opportunity to have lunch in the town as it was closer to 2pm. There were travelers from all over Europe, some walking the Camino and some with family taking few days off to do bit of hike and enjoy the village. We decided to try the Pilgrim menu as most bars, restaurants, alburges along the Camino serve a set course meal with appetizer, main course with dessert and some include a glass of wine or beverage of your choice all under 10 euro. We were recommended to try the Irouleguy rose wine which was produced locally. The wine was light and crisp, refreshing with perfect with our stewed chicken with mushrooms, delicious!

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Irouleguy, a local wine – Irouleguy was already being produced in the 14th and 15th centuries by canons in Roncevaux (Roncesvalles). The vineyards extend over 120 hectares and across some twenty communes, producing both reds and roses. This Basque wine obtained “appellation d’origine” status in 1970.

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After lunch we went to the tourist office to get our passports. It was hard to explain the feelings inside as I was about to embark on something totally different and my life after this experience would change forever. The tourist office is run by many volunteers who are so happy to see you and their first question was what language we spoke so they could direct us to the right table. A lovely gentleman greeted us so kindly and asked us few questions like where we had come from as it was also for data collection and was happy to see so many Canadians had come through, none that day. We signed our name on the register, explained about two existing paths to get to Roncesvalles and he prepared our passports.

When I started my Camino training in March I decided that I was going to climb the Pyrenees – it was something that I always wanted to do, conquer a summit in my life. And when I heard there were two paths, one through the mountain called Route de Napolean 25.1 km (adjusted for climb 32 km) summit 1450m and another route called Route Valcarlos 24 km (adjusted for climb 29 km) summit 900m there was no question. I’ve heard the scenery is spectacular despite the arduous climb.

I also thought it was automatic that you would get your Camino shell after you register but it’s not a requisite that everyone carries one. It was a personal decision for everyone. So we decided to carry one so we donated some money in a basket and select our own shell. It was quite special for me.

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This shell would walk the entire trip with me and share all my burden, happiness, all the beauty along the way. So I just didn’t pick the one on the top but found one that would be my companion.  It was already threaded so I all I had to do was to tie to securely on my pack when I got back to the room.

After our trip to the tourist office we explored the town – see chapter 6 (Camino Santiago Passports, Stamps & Symbols). We also decided go for a walk to familiarize ourselves to see the Camino path and where to pick up Route de Napoleon so that we wouldn’t miss it the next day with all the excitement. It was quite and non descript but the hair on my back still stoop up as I was would be on that path in the next 12 hours and my exciting journey would start.

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Went back to the room and got our packs and boots ready for the morning as our plan was to start as early as possible.  After another amazing dinner at our hotel overlooking the mountains we retired to our room setting the alaram for 6am.

Thought of the day: All this preparation, I am on autopilot!

Buen Camino!

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Saint Jean Pied de Port

Chapter 7 – History of Saint Jean Pied de Port

A capital at base of Navarra

Legend dates founding of the town to the king of Pamplona, Garcia Ximenez in the year 716. However it was only in the end of 12th century that the name San Juan del Pie de Portus officially appeared as the most important town of the Merindad d’Ultrapuertos following the signing of a deed by king Sancho VII the Strong, the king of Navarre. Saint Jean Pied de Port owes its name to its geographical location at the foot of the ports or passes of the Pyrenees and its subsequent protectors firstly St. John the Evangelist and then St. Jean the Baptist.

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The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page – Augustine of Hippo

Historical post at the base of Pyrenees

As a stronghold, a frontier and a commercial crossroads at the foot of the Pyrenees, Saint Jean Pied de Port has always been an important staging post on one of Europe’s oldest routes between France and Spain.  Since the 12th century when the pilgrimages were at the peak thousands of pilgrims have flocked to the Basque country along from three major French routes. These pilgrims came from all over Europe to worship the tomb of Apostle Saint James at the further most tip of Galicia in North West Spain. Seen as a “peregrination” for those wishing to save their souls and redeem their sins the pilgrim’s ways converge at the village of Ostabat to form a single route to Saint Jean le Vieux and then on to Saint Jean Pied de Port, otherwise known as the “gateway to the Cize passes” the last stage before the daunting climb over the Pyrenees. Over the centuries the “ports de Cize” routes in this area have been used as a transhumance path, a Roman road, an invasion route, a pilgrims way to Santiago de Compostela, a military thoroughfare as well as a popular destination for modern day hikers.

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The Citadel  at Saint Jean Pied de Port

At the beginning of 16th Century the medieval style castle built on the hillside was severely damaged by Spaniards troops after a siege. The context of permanent wars between Spain and France, determined to make the decision of Saint Jean Pied de Port a “defensive stronghold” between Pamplona and Bayonne. It is in the decades 1620 that “the citadel” took shape. The city became a strategic military headquarters for French troops enabling them to emerge from the citadel to attack Spanish forces. Through many centuries Citadel has been a military convoy. Having lots its status as a military building in 1920 it’s classified as Historical Monument in 1963, now houses a school.

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Most pilgrims arrive to Saint Jean Pied de Port and go to the tourist office to get their passport and leave right away to conquer the Pyrenees or arrive with little time to enjoy as it’s a tricky place to get to. If you arrive to Saint Jean Pied de Port give yourself few hours to enjoy the village as it’s beautiful and it was an important place in throughout history.

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We were so happy to arrive here in the mid afternoon to get our passports done, gather food & water supply for the next day so that we could enjoy the village and rest for the night before tackling the Pyrenees. The is SJPP is filled with pilgrim albergues, souvenior shops and even water fountains containing the Camino shell symbol.

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Buen Camino!

*Excerpts from Verbissimo, Jean-Paul  LaCourt, Marquette Lionel  Guilliorit

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Camino Santiago Passports, Stamps & Symbols

Chapter 6 – Camino Santiago Symbols, what are they about?

Travel brings power and love back into your life – Rumi

I’ve talked about much of my preparation for the Camino but I haven’t really talked about the process of the Camino, how one walks the Camino path. When I heard about the Camino I started to research about it – I could find tons of website and blogs and there was a symbol that kept showing up over and over again – it was the scallop shell. The scallop shell signifies rebirth and it’s the symbol of Camino and the apostle Saint James and the French call it Coquilles Saint Jacques (Scallops of Saint James/Jacob)

Legend of the Santiago de Compostela

Who was Saint James? Why did so many of his followers or pilgrims take the road to Compostela as early as year 1000? According to the bible James the Greater was one of Christ’s first apostles who died in Jerusalem in the year 44 AD. He said to be been beheaded by order of King Herod Agrippa, who was apposed to the new religion. Legend has it two disciples brought his body back by boat to Galicia where the tomb was discovered by 9th century by a hermit who was led to it by a star. Relic worship was widespread at the time and the site rapidly took on its vocation as a major pilgrimage center comparable with Jerusalem and Rome. Campus Stellae or “filed of stars” became Santiago de Compostela and this town tip of Galicia soon built a Romanesque church that was to become one of the most imposing Gothic Cathedrals in Europe.

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From all the pictures of the Camino the directional sign to Santiago were all directed by the shell using it as a walkway symbol or a yellow arrow sign pointing to a direction to walk ahead. From my trip I’ve seen the yellow arrow on rocks, roads, trees and trust me you will be happy to see it on your path so that you don’t miss your path. The scallop shell is also modified like a sunburst used sideways signifying many paths around Europe leading to one meeting point, Santiago! How cool is that!

When the pilgrims start the Camino everyone gets a passport called “credentials” from the tourist office at the starting point (in my case at St. Jean PP) a passport where each pilgrim will register their personal information. Once a pilgrim obtains a passport then they can collect stamps to indicate that they have passed the proper Camino path through various villages. The passport is used as a credential to get accommodations at albergues (Hostel, Pension). When you reach Santiago, to get the Compostela (the Camino certificate) the passport is examined at the Tourist office to make sure all the necessary stamps,  the last 100 km have been walked by the pilgrim. So these stamps are given out in most albergues, churches and municipal offices – they are unique to each place. But all the stamps are verified and the certificates are given out to everyone who walks the Camino to Santiago.

My passport, my first stamp from SJPP and Camino Shell

My passport, my first stamp from SJPP and Camino Shell

You are also asked a question at the Tourist office why you walked the Camino – this is not a test question that one must pass but to let one reflect on the whole journey and answer why they did the walk and then you are given the certificate. I have a degree in Computer Science, Diploma for Culinary Arts, many awards and certificates but I think this one will be very special to me. This certificate is not easy to get – and it’s not about how fast or how many days it took to finish rather how one did the walk and the quality of it. This is truly a reflection of oneself how you want to do the Camino walk.

Santiago de Compostela for me!

I’ve given permission to myself to do something totally different where my body and soul hope to work in synch without being too hard and judgemental about myself. I also hope to find a balance in my life, balance my blood sugar with the heavy physical activity and to achieve a taste/test of walking close to 880 km where I’ve done this similar distance by plans, trains and automobiles but never by foot and that’s some achievement I can do and be proud of. Especially with type1 diabetes (T1D), I’ve never challenged myself to long physical activity where I can really speak to so many others challenged by diabetes who limit themselves to travel or long distance physical activity that they can with proper planning and training.

Buen Camino!

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Getting to Saint Jean Pied de Port

Chapter 5 – Planes, Trains & Automobiles (Buses & Taxis) to Saint Jean Pied de Port

Adventure is worthwhile – Amelia Earhart

Getting to St Jean PP (SJPP) is not easy – it’s a tiny town in the French border at the foot of the Pyrenees. When we did the research for SJPP – there were many forums that talked about how tricky it was to get there. Not a single time I found an easy or a consistant answer. Everyone had a different path and link to get there – but none I found easy. It involves many switches, combination of buses and trains. There were forums about a special schedule for the summer with more trains and buses – but again none I found fruitful.

San Sebastian station (Amara)

San Sebastian station (Amara)

Getting to Stockholm was easy (Zurich to Stockholme) but getting to our starting destination for my Camino was still a question mark. We knew the easiest way to approach this was by getting to Spain since we have been to Bilbao and San Sebastian in February so we are putting all our attempts with getting to SJPP from Spain.

We got to Bilbao airport from Stockholm then took an airport bus directly from to San Sebastian right away – ok not right away since the first bus from Bilbao was full not too many people from the plane were able to get on. So we had to wait for the next bus an hour later at 2:45pm so we waited an hour but we knew we would be first one to get in since were the first in line. Not bad we had to pay 16 euro one way to San Sebastian – being exhausted we slept the whole way since we were up at 5am in Stockholm to get to the airport for 6:30pm.

 

Spanish & French border (Blue & Pink train stations)

Spanish & French border (Blue & Pink train stations)

Bayonne Station

Bayonne Station

St. Jean Pied de Port station

St. Jean Pied de Port station

 

 

 

 

 

 

We tried to book a hotel by the main bus terminal at San Sebastian a month ago – where we would catch the bus to Bayonne, France but the hotel was full so we found a hotel 2 km away inside the city.

The hotel was right across from the river Urumea and it had WIFI so we took it. Getting to Bayonne was the mystery – a French border town where we would catch the train to SJPP – even though our Pension was next to the local train station we needed the commuter train station since we needed to go to France. Train seemed like a good option for us as the bus system is unreliable in Spain. You can’t buy tickets in advance, if your bus leaves at 9pm, you can only buy ticket at 8pm – its first come first served and no online purchasing. I also heard the ticket is only good for 2 hours and if you don’t use it then its voided so you have to be careful not to buy it advance, totally different from our system where you can buy tickets in advanced or online.

We asked the hotel by the bus terminal if they have seen lot of Camino travellers or backpackers and they couldn’t give an answer but the bus would leave San Sebastian at 9am and reach Bayonne at 10:30 am. Unfortunately that was not a good option since the train to SJPP leaves Bayonne at 10:48 am you could miss the train if the bus was late and you are stuck for 4 hrs until the next one at 2:30 pm. The train and bus station were not close to each other so you could miss the train to SJPP. So it was pota-to or pot-tato and since would need to line up at 8 am at the bus terminal or earlier to get a ticket given out at 8:45 to catch the 9am bus to Bayonne.

We didn’t think it was an option since we wanted to be in SJPP by 1pm so we could have a lunch and get our things together for the Camino the next day and to enjoy SJPP a little since we won’t have any time since we would be leaving for the Camino at 7 am. After talking to many people we found out that the commuter train station (not the station beside our hotel) but the one 2 km away goes to Handaia everyday every 30 minutes, the French border town where we could take a train to Bayonne.

No, this is not possible?? Fantastic to investigate it further we went to the train station from our hotel. Yup every 30 minutes in the morning it leaves for Handaia and we could reach Bayonne but if we took it early enough we could catch the train to SJPP at 10:48 from Bayonne, this would make all the connections possible. That seemed to be the perfect solution for us.  Instead of waiting for an hour by the bus station where it might be crowded with pilgrims going to Bayonne and possibly miss the connection in Bayonne (if the bus was late) didn’t seem like a solution for us.

Once we figured it out – we celebrated our victory in San Sebastian with a lovely around the beach and old town with various Pintoxs and got to our room to get an early rise.

Next morning we caught the train from San Sebastian (Donostia-Amara) to Hendaia at 7:15 am and that got us in Bayonne at 8:05am. This train station at Hendaia at the Spanish and French border is very famous. This is the train station Hitler and Franco had a meeting and Franco decided not to participate in the war but to be a sympathizer instead. The old station doesn’t exist as new one is built but it’s the same place – the Spanish and French train station are side by side at the same parking lot sharing the border so you just take you baggage and cross the parking lot to get to the French side.

We were so happy to get to Handaia early and bought tickets to Bayonne and SJPP ad were able to make the connection by 45 min apart where we had ample time in Bayonne to change platform to catch the train to SJPP.

St. Jean Pied de Port - Pyrenees view from my room

St. Jean Pied de Port – Pyrenees view from my room

We expected a lot of people in the train station but were surprised to see very little packers. When you get to Bayonne make sure you have all your papers (passport with you), if you are non-white chances are you are going to be asked for documentation as I was surprised to see the police asking only non-white passengers in the train station. If you need to use the washroom use the washroom from the café across the street as the washrooms are not clean at the train station or in the train.

St. Jean Pied de Port is a beautiful small town and as it deserves its own blog as our journey continues..

Buen Camino!

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Camino Fitness Notes from Bodensee

Chapter 4 – Diabetes Blood-glucose planning from Germany

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tzu

While I was describing the beauty of Singen Hohentwiel in chapter 2 I forgot to talk about my diabetes blood sugar prep work for my hike for the hilly 23 km walk. There is a lot of prep work involved before taking such task as walking for more than 4 hours since blood sugar really depends on the energy available, insulin taken and the difficulty of the path (hilly terrain).

Wild forest

Wild forest

I had a good German breakfast – muesli w/ low fat milk (complex carb) cold cuts, cheese and a boiled egg (protein, fat) and low fat yogurt – about 60 g CHO (carb) and I Bolused for 50% of CHO and set temp Basel for 8 hrs in case I run out as I have in the past. Average walk for me is about 5 km for an hour and 23 km shouldn’t take me long but then again we are talking about walking around Hohentwiel with steep hills and the beauty of the wild forest and the native animals that come to say hello, so it took longer.

We started at 10 am and we got back at 4pm – that’s 6 hrs and we took two long breaks each being over 30 min plus stopping to take pictures, just stopping to enjoy the beauty of the land. So 6 hours for as predicted.

Many snails crossing

Many snails crossing

Young Deer

Young Deer

Rabbit enjoying grass

Rabbit enjoying grass

 

 

 

 

 

 

My blood sugar was perfect the whole trip as I sipped mostly Gatorade and water every half hour as I was sweating a lot to replenish my salt (electrolytes) and hydration. I also found fruit bars in Singen as they didn’t have granola bars and they were good without too much sugar as each piece was about 6g CHO. Gatorade, fruit bars substituted as my fuel for every hour – since there were few parts of the path that were very steep and challenging. Bigger snack – here it goes pretzel broken into 4 pieces and I ate it throughout, couple of apples, and a sandwich filled with ham and cheese. So all in all it was a true Camino training walk – walking through the forest covered in mosquitos, ticks, snails, deers, rabbits and wild birds – beauty all around.

Frog crossing sign (during migration)

Frog crossing sign (during migration)

When I finished my walk my blood sugar was 7.2 mmol – perfect and my temp Basel was almost running out. I had to be careful that I wouldn’t have a low sugar within the next hour so it was important for me to have a protein, sugar drink after I got back to the room so had something similar to Boost. I had a lake pickerel with roast potatoes and a large salad and I Bolused only 90% and my blood sugar was perfect before bed as it was 7.6

Awesome day indeed and looking forward to the Camino doing this every day and hope my blood sugar will be okay as it was this day but testing is key for every hour if possible and not push but taking the time. Camino is not about how quick you can do the walk but the quality of the walk – indeed it’s the Camino after all.

Buen Camino!

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Camino Training in Germany

Chapter 3 – My Camino continues in Bodensee …

I’ve been coming to Bodensee for almost 12 years as I started my chef training (practical) here in the Southern part of Germany at the border of Switzerland. The area is called Bodensee (in German) or Lake of Constance in English, where one of the largest lake in Europe is surrounded by Germany, Austria and Switzerland and one of the most picturesque places in the world – Grimm Brothers who lived in the next state (Essen) got lot of their inspiration from this enchanting lake and gingerbread homes that influenced his fairy tales.

If you would know the road ahead, ask someone who has traveled it – Chinese Proverb

 

Hohentwiel

Hohentwiel

 

History of Singen Hohentwiel

When I visit Bodensee every year I usually stay in a small city called Singen (in the sate of Baden-Wuerttemberg) where most of my friends live including my godchild. It’s an industrial town surrounded by many pretty villages, the Lake of Constance and unique volcanic mountains that were formed 70 million years ago and one of them is called Hohentwiel.

Hohentwiel is unique as it has a large castle on top which was built in 10th century by Duke of Swabia (Stuttgart) Burchard III and in the middle ages many royal families lived here including the family of Von Singen-Tweil and also invaded by Napoleon where he kept his army. Today Hohentwiel is the largest castle ruin in Germany.

Whether you arrive by car or train you won’t miss the sight of Hohentwiel as its huge presence will dominate as it will greet you. There is a restaurant and a winery on the mountain as grape varieties Weissburgunder (White Burgundy) Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Grauburgunder (Gray Burgundy) and Müller-Thurgau grows on the mountain. The wines are outstanding and made in small quantity as they are rare and sell out quickly.

3 of the 5 volcanic mountains behind me

3 of the 5 volcanic mountains behind me

Hegau Cross

Hegau Cross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It made only sense that I also train for my Camino here (my 2nd home) before I set sail to Spain. So I found a great hiking path that would combine all 5 volcanic mountains near Singen on a long hike including trekking to the Hegau Cross – large stone cross near one of the volcanic mountain Maegdeberg.

Over looking at wheat fields

Over looking at wheat fields

My friend and I hiked by all 5 mountains (Hoehntwiel, Hohenkraehen, Hohenhwen, Maegdeberg, and Hohenstoffeln) as it was enchanting going through many farms, apple orchards, wild forest sighing deer, rabbits and hawks. I will never forget this day as we sat over the ridge of one of the mountain eating our lunch and looking at the land formed by volcanos and glacier millions of years ago.

 

Next day I got my first Camino stamp – I am not kidding, I will talk in detail about the Camino stamp, passport and certificate on my next post. Coincidently I was in Konstanz (head of Baden-Wuerttemberg) Cathedral listing to the choir practice and as I walked past the pews I saw a sign that said Camino Stamps – it was a unique rubber stamp printed paper from Konstanz Cathedral that was for the pilgrims to take for the Camino.

Konstanz Camino Stamp

Konstanz Camino Stamp

This looks like a good luck sign to me – not only I did the Camino training walk in Singen for 22 km but I also earned a Camino stamp for my walk the next day in Konstanz all in serendipity for my big trip.

Buen Camino!

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The Camino Training with Type1 Diabetes

Chapter 2 – My Camino started 3 months ago

In my previous post I had talked about the history of the Camino de Santiago and why I decided to take the challenge and in this post I will discuss how I got my training started.

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires great strength to decide on what to do” – Elbert Hubbard

It’s easier to make a decision to do anything but where it gets challenging is the execution of it. I had no idea how to start the training. Having type1 diabetes (T1D) I have insulin sensitivity, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) these are all common symptoms in my body on a regular basis. My biggest fear is low blood sugar. My legs become like noodle and unable to do anything until my body is recovered with glucose. I carry glucose tablets everywhere I go along with juice and snacks. Walking 30+ km a day is about 6 to 7 hours (5 km per 1 hr. estimating on flat surface, no hills) plus lunch and breaks. It’s a long day for the body to be put through that type of fitness regime if you haven’t done it before.

IMG_9832

How do Athletes train?

I asked my friend Michael who does marathons and Ironman and how he trains for it, his answer was “you don’t think about the whole race, you think about the next km and the next and so on and let the training guide you”. Motivational speaker, super athlete Sebastian Sasseville with T1D (climbed Mr. Everest summit and ran 250 km Sahara race) and Endocrinologist Dr. Perkins and the team from Mt. Sinai Diabetes Education Centre have been a huge help providing their insight and telling me to figure out “my numbers” before I get to Spain.

Sasseville said “figure out all your numbers before you get to Spain including plan A, plan B and plan C so that you are prepared for every kind of emergency and you go on autopilot when you get there”. Great advise because that’s exactly what I have to do, figure out my basel insulin setting (slow acting insulin intake) for the entire day including hourly intake during the walk.

Its all Numbers

I started my walk with 6km around my neighbourhood using an iPhone app called “MapMyWalk” which is great for walking (training) – and will keep track of your steps, km and calories burned plus the map of your path so you can save it for future use, tweet it/ facebook it for bragging rights. I started my walk every other day in early March, it was so cold and raining and I got sick. It took me 4 weeks to recover – recovering from cold/fever with diabetes takes longer. Then started training again in April – every other day and slowly increasing to 10, 12 14 km  … and eventually walking every day. By mid June I was walking 30 km with no problems. Hiking training few weekends with my husband was a huge payoff –  including going to Rattlesnake Point and Bruce Trail really helped with me the rough terrain, uneven surface plus it mimicked some parts of the Camino.

Its been tricky and hard to walk a full day of training with a major renovation going on in my house for the last 3 months and ignoring my personal life –  but I had to put my training as priority as I had committed to the Camino and booked the ticket. In some ways it was good to have a target and train for it and sticking to my commitment as it helped me to focus. Part of it was due to being just scared as I didn’t want to get into trouble in during my climb if I ran into trouble.

 “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide” Napoleon Bonaparte

As I said on my earlier post about the first day of Camino is to trek from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles 20 km straight up the Pyrenees and decent 5 km to Roncesvalles. The ancient Napoleon path goes through the middle of the mountain as there are other options of taking gravel roads with less strain. But the whole idea to train was to see the summit on top and to find out about my body.

Climbing straight up for 20 km on a tough terrain to maintain healthy blood sugar without having too high or too low sugar (chances are low sugar) as it’s a tough exercise is a challenge. So my training had to be 99.9% figuring out numbers (how much insulin to take for the day and during meals).

During my trainings I reduced my insulin to 40% to 50% during exercise and during rough terrain even reduced more and no insulin during meals which kept my blood sugar perfect. Of course I had many low sugars but it was all part of the training to tweak the numbers.

Here is a video from my hike at Rattlesnake point

The Plan, the plan

Well I think I have my numbers figured as I will post them later. In terms of snacks and energy Dr. Perkins, my dietitian and nurse at the hospital agree that I should be having a good snack and replenishing my fluids every hour.

Snack = .5 g of Carb (CHO) x total body weight in km for every hour

During my training I ate trail mix and drank coconut water (carb, salt – great electrolytes) but my dietitian indicated that nuts are great for day hikes but not for everyday 30 km hike, so I need to skip the nuts and go straight for the sugar and carb combo since it will give me more energy like Fig Newtons . And it would be difficult to find coconut water in Spain so I will settle for Gatorade (as I plan to carry Gatorade crystals and make them as I need them).

I am so eager to put all my training and things that I just learned the last few months into production as the days are getting closer to our trek, like my friend Melinda said “my training started 3 months ago here in Toronto”.

I am so excited to be sharing this with you and I hope you’ll join me on my journey as I will try to post our progress (internet permitting) of course!

Buen Camino!

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