camino de santiago: top 10 most memorable

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It’s almost been a year since we embarked on the journey of a lifetime.

Before we started the Way of St James (also known as The Way or the Camino de Santiago), we had no idea what impact it would have on us; almost 365 days on, we can tell you.

Each and every day since we returned, we still think about our time walking the 790-odd km from the south of France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Anything related to the Camino still pulls at our heartstrings and stirs up the urge for us to return.

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We may have completed it but it never leaves us, not even for a moment. Today we read an article over at Camino Adventures where the author shared his top 10 things about the Camino de Santiago. And maybe it’s because we are almost celebrating our Camino anniversary that we shed a tear.

We were inspired by that post to share our 10 most memorable things:

  1. Fellow pilgrims – hands down – our Number 1 most memorable! Being on the Camino is like being on an alternate world. A world where kindness is normal and so is sharing blister stories. The camaraderie along the way is like nothing we have experienced before. People do the Camino for all sorts of reasons, come from all different backgrounds and have different beliefs and values yet on the Camino everyone can get along. The tales of friendships and generosity are not myths.
  1. Sunrises – waking up and starting the walk before the sun came up meant we were able to witness some striking sunrises. We were always sunset fans but after the 40 days of walking, sunrises mean so much more to us.

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  1. Crossing numerous medieval bridges to enter and leave the villages – we are big FANS of anything historical so to enter a village looking for the basics, usually food and water, we felt like pilgrims from back in the day. It truly felt like we had been sucked into a time warp. The bridges also proved to be stunning structures for photographs.

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  1. Burgos and Leon Cathedral – as we pass through so many villages and towns, we see plenty of churches. Most are part of small villages or towns and are rather modest. Burgos and Leon Cathedral, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. They are lavish and are the centre pieces of their cities. The constructions of these cathedrals would be a history lesson in themselves. Plus the added bonus of seeing Burgos Cathedral on our wedding anniversary is a memory for us for always.

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  1. Beautiful countryside – not a day went by where we weren’t in awe with the scenery around us. Every single day we would soak up everything around us. We captured what we could on camera so we could relive it afterwards. We do that often still to this day. There were mountains, rolling hills, green fields, fields of sunflowers and vineyards. There was NEVER nothing to look at.

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  1. Feeling free and humbled – it was just us and the path. Our biggest concern was when we would eat next. Other than that, we had no worries and nothing to stress about. We did a lot of soul searching and reflecting. We learned a lot about ourselves and about life. We were so humbled to think that we were walking in the footsteps of millions of pilgrims from hundreds of years before us. We were also walking on ancient Roman roads. It really put lots of things into perspective.
  1. Little surprises along the way – we went rather unprepared for the Camino. We trained little and we read very little because we didn’t want to experience the Camino before the Camino. When we stumbled across fiestas, we were excited. When we stumbled across the many different snails, we were excited. When we stumbled across a yellow rubber ducky race, we were excited. There was plenty along the way that we will never forget. Camino12Camino3
  2. Clam shells and arrows – these were creatively displayed along the way to point out where we were to go. Sometimes they were found in the most unassuming places. Seeing a shell or arrow during our lives before this long walk meant nothing, but seeing them nowadays means a completely different thing. It immediately serves as a reminder of our time on the Camino; that we are never lost and that we should always look for the signs, that we should have faith in ourselves and what we are capable of doing.

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  1. The hills – crossing the Pyrenees was meant to be the hardest day of all the Camino; 20-something km all uphill on Day 1. It was unforgiving and brutal but we would do it again in a heartbeat. You see the Camino does this to those who have walked it. It keeps drawing us back no matter how hard it felt. Every day felt like we had a hill to climb up or down with varying gradients. They’re not all hard but they did test our endurance! But yes, we will go back to climb every one again.

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  1. Entering Santiago de Compostela – after 40-odd days of walking through dramatic scenery, a maze of streets, roads and “civilisation” welcomes us. It’s nothing like we imagined where the clouds open up and sing “Hallelujah”. The feeling of arriving at our destination; the cathedral of St James is one we can never truly describe. It was one of sheer disbelief that we walked almost 800 km. It was one of pure happiness and such a sense of achievement. It was also a feeling of the reality that our journey had come to an end. With this much overwhelming emotion, what does one do? One cries! And that is what we did: we hugged each other and cried!

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This journey helped us grow in so many unimaginable ways. We are different because of it! We see life and the world through different eyes. We will go as far as to declare it our BEST travel experience ever. We will walk it again some day.

If you are interested to see any more of our photos from the Camino, check out our photo essays: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Have you walked the Camino? What would your top 10 be?

Leave us your comments.

tearooms at vaucluse house: review

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Nestled in the lush, green gardens of Vaucluse House is the Tearooms.  The quaint and stylish eatery on the estate provides a tranquil setting to enjoy a lovely lunch, brunch or high tea.

Seeing as we were in the “neighbourhood” following our climb of 100 steps up then down in Macquarie Lighthouse (which really is hardly anything), we were famished for a hearty lunch.

Upon arriving at the Tearooms, the staff politely and promptly greeted and seated us. We couldn’t help but admire the layout of the room and the table settings. What stood out were the fluorescent pink light shades above the tables – definitely didn’t blend with the rest of the room but somehow seemed to work!

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We ordered right on midday which was when the lunch kitchen opens and the food arrived fairly quickly.

The lunch menu wasn’t expansive but there was enough variety to choose from. Le chose the vegetarian pasta: fettucine with mushrooms and artichoke. It was full of flavour and the pasta was cooked perfectly. The portobello mushrooms were so juicy and flavoursome.

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David ordered a 10-hour slow cooked lamb pie which was served with potato puree with roast parsnips. The potato puree was more like mashed potatoes and the roast parsnips were like hot chips (and we are NOT complaining). It was all delicious. In comparison, David’s lunch was a lot heavier than Le’s.

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The rest of the party that joined us for lunch were all very satisfied with what they ordered.

A beef burger:

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Fish and chips with pea mash:

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Atlantic salmon:

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The serving sizes were ideal for lunch and filled us up perfectly – the only shame was that we couldn’t try any of the dessert menu :(

While we enjoyed our lunch, a group of ladies sitting nearby were having high tea… we couldn’t help but get a little food envy!

Missing out on dessert and high tea was too much for us, so we settled our bill and went to burn off lunch by walking around the well-kept grounds of the estate.

This is definitely a lovely spot on a beautiful day to eat and explore a part of Sydney’s history. Visiting here made us feel like we had a “little getaway” from the hustle bustle of Sydney.

 

 

 

a visit to australia’s oldest lighthouse

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It would be tough to pick that it was winter from the blue skies, the sun shining and the 21 degree Celsius day. It was perfect conditions to visit a lighthouse; Australia’s oldest lighthouse, Macquarie Lighthouse. IMG_0070IMG_0069

From Macquarie Lighthouse situated in the eastern suburb of Vaucluse, there is a stunning view of Sydney Harbour and of the Opera House, especially on a clear sunny day like today.

Apparently from the Opera House, the lighthouse can be seen – we will have to check it out next time we are that way.

Every 2 months, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust runs 20-minute guided tours (with lovely and entertaining volunteer guides) to go up the lighthouse. Today happened to be one of those open days!

We booked the tickets 2 weeks ago to ensure we got the time slot we wanted. And for $5 per person, it was well worth it to be able to climb the 100 steps for a magnificent view of the ocean and of Sydney Harbour…IMG_0092 IMG_0097 IMG_0098… and also learn a little more about lighthouses and Sydney history.IMG_0104

Hope you all had a lovely weekend, we sure did! 

 

taste cultural food tours: global explorer

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About 30km west of Sydney CBD is a suburb called Fairfield. A suburb that has opened its arms to people of 139 cultural backgrounds…. The most culturally diverse place in the world.

We know of the suburb, we know approximately where it is but we really have never explored it. So when Taste Food Tours advertised its Global Explorer in Fairfield, we signed up without hesitation.

The concept behind the food tours was to break down barriers between different cultural backgrounds and bridging the gap. And where do great social opportunities and happy memories normally happen? When there is food! It is a very innovative and fun way to bring people together.

It’s not physically possible to explore 6 countries in several continents in one day AND return home… but it is possible to explore flavours from that many countries in one day.

We drove to Fairfield with no idea what to expect; it was our first ever “food tour”… “food safari”… “walking food tour” (whatever one likes to refer to such a tour).

In a bit over 4 hours, together with 12 other food explorers, we tasted a bit of Bosnia, Italy, Argentina, Lebanon, Iraq and China.

We ate and we walked and we ate and we chatted and we ate and we shopped. Did we mention we ate?

First off the rank was trying Bosnian Cevapi – grilled mince meat in a shape of a frankfurt, served with some flatbread, sour cream, raw onions and a cabbage salad. The verdict…. DELICIOUS!IMG_0001Next was a visit to an Italian deli, where the shelves were stocked with an array of imported foods from Europe, all of which one day we hope to try. And at the counter, there were cold meats and cheeses to our hearts content. The owner prepared a little platter for us to try and the most memorable was the provolone cheese…. YUM!

IMG_0008An Argentinian cake shop was next on the cards and we were fed very well there. We tasted beef empanadas, dulce de leche croissants, quince croissants and 3-layered Argentinian sandwiches (the bread sliced at 3mm thick, buttered and mayo-ed with a various other fillings).

And what did we think? Dulce de leche says enough, don’t you think?IMG_0012 IMG_0015 IMG_0016 IMG_0020A Middle Eastern nuts shop which was brimming with sweets, nuts, dried fruits, and imported foods of all sorts is just the place for foodies. The varieties were endless. The owners here prepared a platter with a few dips, nuts and olives for us to taste.IMG_0024Onto a Lebanese butcher, followed by an Iraqi bakery and lastly a northern Chinese luncheon which was a feast! IMG_0028 IMG_0031We only snapped the dumplings because we were so overwhelmed with the amount and variety that kept coming out, we totally forgot to photograph the rest of the feast. But… in our defence, we needed to save some mystery for anyone else who might decide to do this tour one day.

At all the shops and restaurants we went, we met the owners, some with stories to tell while others were a little more reserved.

So it was NOT only about food, we learned a bit about the countries, cultures, family histories and how the different families started their businesses in Australia.

It was a lovely day trip. It was a great way to meet new people. It was a fantastic way to explore a suburb to gain the confidence to come back again.

As with trying anything new, go with an open mind and you are sure not to be disappointed!

We’d like to make a special mention to our guide, Nevzeta who was so friendly, warm and welcoming. She is full of enthusiasm and knowledge. It is easy to see she is passionate about what she does.IMG_0030For more information about Taste Food Tours and the tours offered, see their website.

Disclaimer: We were provided with a discount for this tour however there was no obligation or arrangement for us to write or promote Taste Food Tours. The opinions expressed throughout this piece is entirely that of Wise Monkeys Abroad.

Which food tour have you done (anywhere in the world) that you would recommend to us?

Leave your comments here.