Europe

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.

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YAY for ephesus

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We don’t normally capitalise our headings but for this one, we had to! To be inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage List is no easy feat.

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Following a vote on July 5, Ephesus was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List and so this called for us to cheer!!

A visit to Turkey is usually bound to include a visit to Ephesus. And for us, UNESCO collectors, it was no different except the fact that back in 2013, Ephesus was NOT on the list yet. This came as a great surprise to us back then as to how it could not already be.

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Every year, it brings in about 2 million visitors and seriously on the day we were there, we were sure half of that number was there. There were apparently three cruise liners in for the day at Kusadasi, which explained the crowd numbers. Maybe it’s always like that but for us, it felt like we were at a theme park.

The sun was up and there was little shade so apart from the crowd and the heat, we had nothing to “truly” complaint about.

We were wow-ed from the start when we could see the ruins of the pillars and amphitheatres.

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Then to walk the old stone streets, see the mosaic art, admire the different sculptures and structures all the while weaving past the wandering local cats.

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The most famous structure and probably the epitome of Ephesus is the Library of Celsus. We could see it from the distance and we couldn’t wait to stand below and gawk at it!

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And gawk at it we did…

Congratulations to Turkey for getting Ephesus recognised as a UNESCO Heritage Site 🙂

Ephesus was listed as a UNESCO Heritage site in 2015.

To see the other UNESCO sites we have visited, visit our unofficial bucket list

Leave us a comment here

the chateau series: chenonceau

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This is our final instalment for the series and we are featuring:

Chateau de Chenonceau

Possibly one of, if not, the most famous chateau in the region. We didn’t purposefully save it for last, it was in fact the last one we saw.

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Back in 2006, Chenonceau was the only one we were able to see so on our return trip, we wanted to make sure to see some others but also come back to the one that started it all for us.

So what is so special about it?

It is built over the River Cher – literally and had also had some rather famous inhabitants. And not to mention that it is rather a treat to explore.

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Easily the busiest one we visited as well.

Let’s revisit a bit of what we mentioned in the Chaumont post about this one.

Diane de Poitiers lived in Chenonceau. Catherine de Medici lived in Chaumont. Catherine de Medici traded houses with Diane de Poitiers.

Each of the ladies contributed to the architecture work that can be seen on the house today.

A quick tour of the place will see us taking you to …

* Diane de Portier’s bedroom – with the symbolic 4-poster bed and 2 large tapestries from the 16th Century. Oddly enough, her room is where the portrait of Catherine De Medici is housed, hung above the fireplace.

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* the Gallery – located in the bridge that you see in the above picture. The end of the gallery are two fireplaces on either side of the South door which opened to the left bank of River Cher.

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Wise Monkey Trivia – During the First World War, the chateau was set up as a hospital (by its owner), the gallery was an access point. During the Second World War, the River Cher was the “line of demarcation” as such, the gallery was used to pass large numbers of people into the free zone.

* the kitchens – built in the bases forming the first two piers built in the bed of the River Cher. Looking out the window, we see the “arch legs of the chateau” and the River Cher below.

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* Louis XIV’s Drawing Room – another ornate fireplace with the Salamander of Francois I (as previously shown in Chambord) and a Stoat for Queen Claude of France.

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* Catherine de Medici’s bedroom – with the finely carved 4-poster bed and furniture. The tapestries housed in this room are rare and fascinating. The borders of the tapestries are filled with animals symbolising proverbs and fables.

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And from the first floor, look out the windows! To the left, we see Catherine’s garden.

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To our right, we see Diane’s garden.

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Yet another unique and extravagant chateau with such jaw-dropping architecture.  As we often say, we would love to be a fly on the wall back in the day – simply so we could see how every day life was and to see the historical figures in action!

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That winds up our 8-part series of the Chateaux we saw in the Loire Valley; 8 of a vast amount in the region (not all of which are open to the public though).

Now that we have showcased the 8 in a bit more detail and you’ve glimpsed the inside….

Do you have a favourite chateau?

If you commented on the original post, have you changed your mind?

Feel free to leave us a comment.

the chateau series: chaumont

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Second last chateau for the series:

Chateau de Chaumont-Sur-Loire

So what can we say about this chateau? The gardens are magnificent and large enough to host rather extravagant floral shows, one of which we were able to witness while we were there. It was a mixture of some modern art and some clever landscaping. “Different” is probably how we would describe it.

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The chateau itself is grand and the architecture is as memorable as the others we have shared. Standing outside prior to entering and all we see is this dreamily romantic and fairy tale-like castle from the outside.

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This chateau has a soap opera story to go with.

Queen Catherine de Medici bought the chateau in 1550.

Legend tells that due to her superstitions and “predictions” of a possible dynasty downfall from her astrologers; Nostradamus and Cosimo Ruggieri, she wanted to exchange homes with Diane de Poitiers, her husband’s former mistress who lived in Chateau de Chenonceau*, a slightly more modest home.

In 1562, Diane de Poitiers took possession of Chaumont. And the chateau owes its current appearance to her.

She also had her initials and emblems added into the designs around the place. (Look above the fireplace in the picture below – the Greek letter delta and the three circles).

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All the historical apartments adorned with the period furnishings and furniture. Although similar style to the other chateaux we visited, there was something slightly more warming and welcoming about this one. Quite possible that it was actually someone’s home, so lived in and therefore decorated with a little more care.

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But what we found most interesting about this chateau were the horse stables, apparently one of the best preserved horse stables of the 19th Century. It really was such a fascinating time in history.

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*Chateau de Chenonceau will be featured in our next and final instalment of the series which will be after this one.
Chaumont is approximately 43 km east of Tours.

Have you visited Chaumont? 

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