Santiago de Compostela and my own pilgrimage

Hello…it has been awhile since I have posted anything and it is definitely not for the lack of content. I think I’ve been trying to understand my place in this blog and what I can bring not only to readers of this blog but to myself as well. So after two months, here I go and see what words spill out during our journey.

I will continuously update the missing links of our trip up until our present location later on. To summarize a little of what happened since I last wrote, we spent July exploring the north of Brittany from St Malo until Brest where we prepared to cross the Bay of Biscay (Golfe de Gascogne in French, Golfo de Vizcaya in Spanish). We successfully arrived in Spain in the rias Muros. I can’t say enough how impressed I am by how well Yves managed single-handedly our 4 day crossing. I think his praises deserve a whole post so more about that later.

One of the best things about being in Spain other than eating delicious seafood and local delicacies like tarta de Santiago and pimientos del Padròn, is to be able to explore places that I had read about and seeing it in person. One of the many places that I had often heard about is the famous city Santiago de Compostela (in French, St Jacques de Compostelle) which just happens to be an hour away (by bus of course!) from the port of Portosin. In the 3 months that we started traveling, I haven’t really explored places that were far from the port and by myself. Well, there is a first for everything!

So, I packed my backpack (who knows what goodies I might want to pick up in Santiago?!), counted my change for the bus ticket and headed out to the bus stop. Portosin is a very small port with only one bus stop with no sign indicating that it is truly a bus stop. Fortunately, Yves and I had previously taken the bus to go to a neighboring village so I was sure that I wouldn’t miss the bus. Once the bus arrived, I was able to ask for a ticket in my embarrassingly limited smattering of Spanish. I had to change buses at Noia (the neighboring village) and from there, the bus ride took approximately one hour. During this ride, who would have guessed that there would be any other tourists heading to Santiago. I figured that I would be the only one on the bus…anybody else would do the typical thing and walk to the mecca city. Interestingly enough, during the bus ride, a couple boarded the bus and sat right in front of me. As I took in the beautiful Galician countryside, I couldn’t help but overhear French. French?! What?!? I was pretty excited at the thought of being able to converse more fluidly than my grade school Spanish. But I stopped myself…how annoying would it be that someone would just come up and say “hello! I speak your language!”. Yet, as we approached closer to the periphery of Santiago, a Spanish woman addressed the French speaking couple asking them if they were planning on going to the famous cathedral. The woman replied back informing the Spanish lady that they only spoke in French. Ding! The little voice in my head urged me to offer my translation services. I decided to make sure that I was indeed heading to the right place (i.e., this famous cathedral that the Spanish woman was inquiring to the French couple) so I mustered up some courage and timidly asked to the Spanish lady if the bus would take us to the cathedral. I was so touched by her reaction with her face lighting up at the chance to help somebody out. She excitedly replied that she would direct me. As the bus entered into the city, I realized how long it had been since I was in a city (well, technically the last city we were in was Brest, but we were no where NEAR the city). You may ask me how did I realize that I was in an actual city? Simple. If you see an Apple store and I do NOT mean a store that sells apples!

Anyhoo, the Spanish lady gesticulated to me that we arrived at the correct bus stop and I surprised the French couple when I informed them if they wanted to get off to see the cathedral, I was heading in the same direction. We all got off and started following this complete stranger who graciously spent 20 minutes of her time so that 3 tourists could discover what was so great about Santiago. She directed us to a main street that would take us directly to the cathedral and the old town. I thanked her for her help and the French couple and I started trekking up the street. I must specify however that the French couple were not French but Belgian. I told them that I knew Belgium since we had lived right next to the border (Dunkirk) and the man retorted “Dunkirk is in France!” I thought to myself…duh! But we were 10 minutes away from the border! We exchanged pleasantries during the walk up and I started thinking to myself…euh, what do we do when we get there? Now that we started talking, does this mean we are going to spend the ENTIRE day together? how do I say goodbye?!? As we arrived into the old town, we oohed and ahhed over the various shops and restaurants that displayed typical and delicious looking Galician delicacies.

I have to say that when we arrived at the cathedral, it was very impressive. The gothic architecture and details reminded me a lot of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. I wished the Belgian couple a good day and wondered whether or not we would cross each other on the return trip.

I started my own tour of the old town beginning with the tour of the cathedral. I sometimes joke “if you see one church, you’ve seen them all”. This was not the case here in Santiago. The interior of the church was just as majestic as the exterior if not all the more sumptuous! There was an extremely long line of people waiting to enter inside the altar area in order to examine more closely the ornate decorations. As much as I admired the decorations, I decided that it wasn’t necessary to see it up close.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela - front view

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – front view

After the cathedral, I started meandering in the surrounding old town. The streets are paved in cobblestone and traces of past were everywhere. I am not posting ALL of the photos that I took…here are some and the rest you can find in the gallery “Santiago de Compostela”.

DSC_0388DSC_0382DSC_0381After walking around, I started getting a bit hungry and decided to look for a place to eat. I am not a huge fan of eating alone but the need to eat something and even more, drinking sangria!! I came across a restaurant with quite extraordinary wooden details.

DSC_0392 DSC_0393The sangria was up to par and the croquetas were exactly what my stomach needed!

DSC_0396During my meal, I realized I was just across the office of Pilgrims. For the non-Catholics who don’t know the significance of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago is the endpoint of many many possible pilgrimages that Catholics (and any trekking aficionados) embark on. For example, one can take the French route which starts at St Jean le Pied, France and takes about 33 days to arrive at Santiago. Once you arrive at Santiago, you receive a stamp that validates the journey. Of course, you are not at all obliged to do so but many do. I arrived at Santiago mid-morning and I saw some “pilgrims” but after my lunch mid-afternoon, the cobblestone streets were filling up with more and more backpackers.

Pilgrims waiting in line at the Office of Pilgrimage

Pilgrims waiting in line at the Office of Pilgrimage

Observing these backpackers, a strange sensation came over me looking at their relieved and joyful faces…relieved to be able to finally take off their hot and stuffy hiking boots, happy to finally arrive at their destination, proud of their achievement. You can even do a pilgrimage to Santiago from the neighboring village of where we were, needless to say, I decided NOT to do this. So…this strange sensation gradually grew into a sort of guilt…I came on a bus…I didn’t walk miles and miles…what am I doing here?! Then, a sort of epiphany hit. My own pilgrimage isn’t happening on foot…but on water. I heard many stories of pilgrimages to Santiago where people were ready to quit at any moment during their trek or questioning themselves why the hell did they decide to take on such a journey. I realized that this journey I embarked on…with Yves…with La Nomade…well, this is my own pilgrimage. There are good things (surviving the Bay of Biscay) and bad things (trying to endure the rolling swells)…and I discover and learn day by day things about myself (I do not become used to the sea after 48 hrs nonstop at sea), about Yves (he doesn’t mind cooking and doing the dishes when sailing), about La Nomade (we need at least two automatic pilots if we sail more than 24 hrs)…

I ended my day at Santiago picking up a couple of local delicacies…mainly sweet stuff before heading back to Portosin. As much as I loved visiting Santiago de Compostela, the best part of this day trip was the epiphany of my own pilgrimage aboard La Nomade.

 

St Peter

Guernsey is one of the Channel islands located in the English Channel between Normandy, France and England. We decided to dock at Beaucette marina which is located northeast of the island. The principal two ports are located at the biggest “city” of Guernsey, St Peter’s Port. Even though we are a bit far away from St Peter, Beaucette is surrounded by quaint little stone cottages with stone hedges. It was really interesting, aside from the quaint houses, there are a lot of greenhouses scattered about. Thanks to these greenhouses, on every other corner of the “ruette” (little road), there are little wooden crates propped up on the stone hedge called “hedge veg”. In these crates, you can find vegetables, strawberries, fresh eggs…lots and lots of potatoes!

The day after we arrived at Beaucette, we decided to explore the coast and walk to St Peter. It was a good hike down to St Peter where we passed an ancient castle (Vale castle) on the way. As we walked, I was reminded that we were definitely NOT in France as cars whizzed by on the left side of the road with the driver on the right side of the wheel.

St Peter is really a lovely port, not very big but what lacks in size, made up well for it in charm. We moseyed around the main streets, ate some delicious ice cream, and then tried to burn those calories by walking of flights and flights of stairs that gave way to a beautiful view of St Peter and the seaside.

St Peter was worth the excursion but it was nice go back to Beaucette marina.

St-Vaast-la-Houge


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Our next stop from Ouistreham was St-Vaast-la-Houge. We had heard plenty about St-Vaast-la-Houge from various people that we had met during our sails. Both of us had separate but definite desires to go to this place. For Yves, it would be our first opportunity to be able to moor La Nomade (1er mouillage) and not have to dock at a marina. For me, well, on two different occasions, I was told that not only could one eat one of the best fish and chips (especially if we decide to anchor our boat and save on marina fees) but that oysters at St-Vaast-la-Houge were just out.of.this.world delicious! How could I NOT want to go here?!

After a pretty easy sail to St-Vaast-la-Houge, we arrived late afternoon into the area just in front of the entryway of the port. For our first try anchoring our boat, there were no complications and all went smoothly. After going back and forth to check with our GPS whether or not the boat moved with the anchor down (it did NOT move!), Yves breathed a happy sigh of relief and quickly set about to get our inflatable kayak to see what was around.

St-Vaast-la-Houge is part of the UNESCO heritage and is a very picturesque little port. You can see the neighboring small island of Tatihou which I have to say is quite cool to have in the background while we take our apéro as we watch the sun set. I apologize…we were too busy drinking rosé to take pictures but I will work on the picture taking especially since I received an AWESOME camera from my dear friends not too long ago! (Encore merci merci merci! 당신이 엄마 아빠 감사합니다!)

The next day, we took our kayak and went to visit the small town of St-Vaast. Although I am not the biggest fan of the kayak, I must admit that it was good to know (and feel!) that my muscles being used. We were able to “park” our kayak at the marina without having to pay fees (phew!). St-Vaast-la-Houge is another quaint little port with lots of charming rock cottages strewed all along the port. I could easily imagine renovating an old abandoned cottage and building a beautiful garden. For now, I am quite happy living on our “movable” home, La Nomade. One of the impressive things about St-Vaast-la-Houge is their oysters. The port is surrounded by oyster “parks” where oysters are very meticulously cultivated.

Oyster parks at low tide

Oyster parks at low tide

It was a long and lovely walk around the port but after four hours of walking, we decided to rest our feet at an old chapel just in front of the port. Lo and behold, we looked out into the sea where…our La Nomade was moored! Can you spot our boat?!

I spy...La Nomade!But the very best end to this day…definitely…without a doubt…had to be our dinner. There was no question, we were going to eat oysters AND fish and chips! I mean, if people go out of their way to point you to delicious food, are you not obliged to follow through?! We were both very very happy to be able to taste the famous “delicacy” of St-Vaast-la-Houge. However, before I make any judgment, I will have to taste many more oysters in Brittanny!

Miam miam! Yummy yummy!

Miam miam!
Yummy yummy!

After dinner, we kayaked back to the boat in record time and went promptly to sleep very full and VERY SATISFIED!

Voyage La Nomade Manche-27

What to do in Ouistreham

After a long and, at the very end, pretty scary sail into the port of Ouistreham, sunny warm weather convinced us to take a little break in Ouistreham before our next destination.

On Sunday, we had a lazy morning and not in a real rush to do any activity. However, I had a nice chat with one of the port agents who suggested that we rent bicycles and bike up to Caen, a fairly large city further in from the port of Ouistreham. After a little apprehension of maneuvering a bicycle once more, I quickly got my rhythm with my bike and we headed towards Caen. It was a wonderful ride and we passed by the château de Bénouville where the French president had world leaders for lunch on D-day. We then passed the famous Pegasus Bridge that had been liberated by the Allied forces. As a little souvenir of the historic event and more importantly, in the event of future difficult passages on the sea, I decided to buy this little flask that just might help calm my nerves.

Emergency use only!

Emergency use only!

We arrived at Caen where the skies started looking dark and ready to pop with rain at any moment so we decided not to explore Caen but headed back to the port before we would get caught in any rainstorm. Just as we were arriving to the port, we saw a HUGE and very royal looking boat with a sailor in uniform guarding the plank entry. I didn’t dare take a picture, but it was impressive! After a little fact-checking, we discovered that the boat belonged to the King of Norway who came to take part of the D-day commemoration.

Overall, I am pretty happy that I was able to continue biking in spite of my tendency to fall and discover a little bit of Ouistreham’s surroundings.

In search of seals

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Bay of Somme is famously reputed to have a whole flock of really adorable seals just swimming and lounging in their bay. As part of their tourism spiel, there are many ways to see these seals…by boat, by foot and by kayak. As soon as Yves found out that it’s possible to kayak in this bay without too much danger/trouble, he gleefully started to get our kayak out from the deep depths of our cockpit locker. Yes, we have an inflatable kayak. Most people with a sailboat have a dinghy and a small outboard engine in order to get from point A to point B when the boat is anchored down. Us? Well, I guess this is part of our fitness program?! Anyhoo, we have a really great sturdy kayak and I’m hoping to get really great arm muscles.

However, one can not just kayak around the bay whenever and wherever. This bay is pretty much dictated by the tides and tide currents. After many calculations, Yves explained that the best plan for us to kayak and hopefully observe the seals, we would have to leave early morning. With sleepy and groggy heads, we scrambled to get our gear and kayak into place and started paddling out of the marina…I think I lasted about 20 minutes before I started explaining (Yves would refute and say that I was complaining) to him that I felt the lactic acid burning in my bi/triceps. Were we there yet? How much longer? Where are the seals?!? Wait a second…

What’s that up ahead Yves?! Is that a seal??

YEAH!!

Hey…over there, is that another one there?!?

Uh, no Joanna…that’s a buoy.

(Just a sidenote, in respect of these poor seals who are subjected to being constantly gawked at by us tourists, we spoke in our loudest whisper voice possible as so not to disturb their morning siesta). We continued further out into the bay and I could see the lighthouse of Cap Hourdel where we biked to. Suddenly we saw one seal, then another, then another…then another…we hit jackpot! We started making our way to a sand bank all the while excitedly whispering how cute they were (hmm…that was more me than Yves). We brought the kayak ashore and Yves proceeded to take National Geographic quality pictures. Well, at least he looked like he did.

Yes yes..the seals are there.

Yes yes..the seals are there.

2014.06.02_sortie kayak phoques 320140602_123505

All in all, another great excursion and what was even more rewarding than seeing all the seals that we did was the fact that we could just jump in our own kayak and start paddling out. This was exactly the type of adventure I had imagined so it was definitely something to actually be able to do it. VERY. AWESOME.

Life is good!

Life is good!

Biking around the bay…

So…our first day here at the Bay of Somme…what to do, what to do? After we got ourselves and La Nomade settled in the marina, we set out on foot to discover St Valéry sur Somme. St Valéry sur Somme (not be confused with St Valéry en Caux which just might be our next stop…) is a quaint little village. They have a real steam-powered engine train running back and forth from St Valéry sur Somme to Crotoy, another quaint little village on the other side of the bay. For you history buffs, Jeanne d’Arc had passed through St Valéry sur Somme while on her way to her condamnation. As we meandered through the center of the village (aka one charming cobble-paved street), I noticed an artisanal ice cream shop. So, of course, we had to stop by and savor the many beautiful flavors on display. Yves declared that the blackcurrant flavor was the best that he ever tasted. All I know was that I was completely satisfied with my choices but it would be best if I came back to try some new ones… 😉

The next day, we were greeted with some sunshine, not something we see very often these days. We decided to rent some bikes and go to the Cap Hourdel which was about 8 km from the village. The last time I rode a bike was two years ago when Alex, Yves’ sister, and her family came to visit us in Dunkirk. Let’s just say that when they proposed to go on a bike excursion, well, I hadn’t placed my butt on a bike seat like in TEN years. So I was just a tad bit wobbly throughout our entire bike excursion. Fastforward to present day, I wondered whether or not I would be able to handle a bike ride considering my usual state of wobbliness.

However, much to my surprise and delight, I managed to weave my way through the throng of tourists walking in front of me without incurring any major accident! So off we went towards Cap Hourdel. Along the way, as we had learned the day before from the very nice lady who made the delicious ice cream, we saw sheep. Uhm, one can see sheep everywhere, you say? Supposedly these particular sheep have a wonderful and distinctive flavor thanks to the “salted” green marshes that they feed upon in the Bay. Unfortunately for me, to eat this Protected Designated Origin of meat, I have to be here from July to February…oh well. Yves was pretty happy to just take pictures of them.

Look! Sheep!

Look! Sheep!

Along the bike path towards Cap Hourdel, not only did we see sheep but I found myself being constantly attacked by horde of flies (probably ended up eating one or two…) and wondering if Yves wanted to some mountain biking with all the mud that we were in. Thankfully we came across a concrete path where I didn’t curse the mud, the bike…Yves every three seconds, and we arrived at the Cap. Since it was a holiday, there were plenty of tourists at Cap Hourdel either preparing to walk across the bay during the low tide or people-watching people who were looking for seals. It was a great excursion (despite the mud) and we were able to catch a glimpse of a colony of seals lounging around on a sand bank.

Cap Hourdel

Cap Hourdel

Looking for seals?

Looking for seals?

2014.05.29_balade vélo cap Hourdel 4