The warm Mediterranean sun hung low above the western horizon. Our bus slowed and turned into a parking lot. Our pilgrimage director announced, “We’ve arrived at Fatima. Before going to our hotel, we are stopping so you can shop for souvenirs.”
I looked at the building next to the parking lot and commented to my daughter Tammie, “This is different. Usually there are dozens of small souvenir stores near pilgrimage sites. All I see is one huge store.”
Following the others off the bus, I entered the store and discovered why there was only one building. It was set up like a department store devoted to all things religious and in particular, objects showing they came from Fatima, Portugal.
As I made a circular tour of the store I came across luggage, which I reasoned was for pilgrim trips, veils and shawls to wear in church, statues of every size up to full scale, medals, biographies of saints, prayer books, bibles, rosaries and rosary-making supplies. The variety of each item was staggering. I felt like a child in a candy store. Continue reading
In the waning evening light, I spotted the crenulated city walls of Avila. I tiredly thought without any enthusiasm, “Oh, another castle. How nice.” When a person is tired, it is hard to get excited even when seeing something beautiful and amazing.
My fellow pilgrims and I had slept in a castle the night before. Since then we had traveled through Spain by bus for many hours. We had driven through Madrid and on to Segovia. There, we had shopped, visited the cathedral and toured the famous Alcazar castle. That would have been more than enough to do in one day, yet we traveled on.
As our tour bus approached Avila, I sleepily noticed huge gray boulders along the way reminding me of our fishing trips to Canada. The difference was no water surrounded these monster, barn-sized rocks.
The big tour bus was unable to maneuver to the hotel inside the city walls, so we pilgrims carried our luggage the rest of the way up the hill on cobblestone streets. Fortunately, the effort fully woke me up. A four-course dinner awaited us in the dining room. We finished dining at 11 p.m. Continue reading
Our pilgrim bus pulled to a stop near Segovia’s main marketplace. My daughter Tammie and I looked forward to visiting the many shops along the streets radiating out from the plaza. Gray clouds hung low overhead. I pondered whether to take my sweater, or to leave it on the bus. Shrugging, I decided to leave it on the bus. I’d probably end up carrying it instead of wearing it.
Tammie said, “When I spent a semester in Valladolid during college, I visited Segovia. Gypsies sold things under the arches of the aqueduct. I don’t see any there today.”
I eagerly eyed the famous Roman aqueduct that ran through the plaza and the rest of the city. At its tallest point, it soared as tall as a nine-story building. Not content to simply build a utilitarian trough to carry water from the Rio Frio, a mountain stream more than ten miles away, the Romans artfully designed 167 arches into the structure.
Tammie joined me on the cobblestone street. She asked, “Did you know the Romans didn’t use any mortar to hold the granite stones together on the aqueduct?”
Admiring the way the stones were wedged together around the arches, I marveled, “It was built at the end of the first century, they used no mortar, yet the structure is still standing and it continues to work!” Continue reading
After ordering, I leaned back and looked around the Canadian café. It looked like the hundreds of American cafés my husband and I had visited through the years. A bell on the door jingled whenever someone came in. The pages of a local calendar on a nearby community board fluttered in the hot breeze coming from the sweltering street.
Arnie, the couple we were traveling with and I had ordered hamburgers and French fries.
Thelma and Gene had arrived at four this morning at our house to get an early start. We put off stopping for breakfast, opting for an early lunch instead. As the men began to talk about fishing, Thelma leaned forward and said, “It’s a good thing I put a big bag of ice in the cooler. As hot as it is today, the food we’re bringing would spoil before we reached the cabin.”
I nodded and hopefully suggested, “Maybe we can put everything in the cabin’s refrigerator while Arnie and Gene put the boats in the water. Then we can cool off by going out to fish this evening.”
Seeing our waitress step up to the kitchen transom where plates were waiting, I announced, “Here comes our food.” A few moments later I woefully stared down at the plate placed before me. All the lovely French fries next to the hamburger were wilting under a thick brown gravy.
In the late 1950’s, a province in Canada developed poutine, a dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. Looking back, I don’t recall there being cheese curds. All I remember was soggy fries. Although I had been looking forward to crispy ones, I ate them anyway. Continue reading
Chilled from spending two hours in the shadowed Our Lady of the Pillar Basilica, I stepped into the sun-filled cobble-stoned market square. I wasn’t sure of the time, but my belly told me it was time to eat. A group of fellow pilgrims walked past Tammie and me. One of them motioned to us, “Come on, Juan is taking us to a restaurant where there’s a buffet for 14.95 euros.”
My daughter grumped, “There’ll be too much food at a buffet and I don’t want to pay that much for lunch.”
Not wanting to do what everyone else was doing, I confided, “I have to agree with you, Tammie. What would you rather do?”
Brightening up, she said, “Let’s go into the restaurant, but order food from the counter and eat it outside.” Food samples lined the counter for visitors. Tammie picked tortilla espanol; I ordered a basket of calamari and two skewers of large shrimp and olives topped with a creamy dressing.
We sat at a table in the shade and tucked into our generous servings. A cheeky sparrow landed near our feet and hunted for crumbs to eat. The shrimp and olives were fresh and delicious, but my big basket of calamari surprised me. I’d never had calamari before that didn’t have at least one rubber band running the length of each piece. I pointed that out to Tammie and concluded, “I guess that’s the difference between ordering calamari in Spain, rather than in Wisconsin.” Continue reading
I had joked with my daughter Tammie, on the bus about the next city we were visiting in Spain. Its name could be spelled either Zaragoza or Saragossa. I’d told her the second spelling made me think of the Harry Potter stories, commenting with a chuckle, “I can see Hermine in a Spells and Incantation class doing it right…giving her wand a pert flip and twitch and clearly enunciating, ‘Sara-goes-AH!’”
Our pilgrimage bus finally pulled to a stop and we filed off. A warm breeze playfully fluttered the name tag on the lanyard around my neck. Adjusting the travel purse on my shoulder, I glanced around, taking stock of where we were. My sense of direction told me we were on the north bank of Rio Ebro. Our pilgrimage visit for today was the Basilica de la Senora del Pilar. I saw the huge church on the south bank of the River Ebro. The numerous spires of the massive building were impressive.
Walking across the bridge, Tammie stopped mid-way to take a picture of the basilica. I stopped and waited, pondering its history, which extends back to just several years after the death of Jesus.
James, one of the twelve apostles who followed Jesus during His three years of public life. He, along with the other eleven men, had the Holy Spirit descend upon him at Pentecost. They all followed Jesus’ command to go out and, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The country James went to was Spain. Continue reading
In the hotel dining room, I surveyed the deluxe breakfast laid out for us, croissants, sweet rolls, several types of sausage, eggs, bacon, ham, cereal, fruit, juices, various cheeses and coffee. I felt hungry, but wondered if eating a hearty meal was wise.
Today we were leaving Lourdes and crossing the Pyrenees Mountains to enter Spain. I had been dreading this part of the trip, since I suffer from motion sickness. Would the zig-zag route through mountain passes trigger awful, potentially messy symptoms? Reaching up, I lightly touched the anti-nausea patch behind my left ear to reassure myself.
In the lobby, Juan, the owner and manager of Mater Dei pilgrimages commanded in a loud voice, “Before getting on the bus, make sure you see your luggage being loaded. I don’t want anyone missing their luggage when we arrive at our destination.” I spotted Tammie’s and my suitcases among the sea of other suitcases. Continue reading