REMEMBERING THE WAY TO SANTIAGO #5 | BIKING TO REIMS

There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! The past months I’ve been looking back through a series of stories.

In the fourth part of this series, I’ve talked about the Via Monastica – the Camino de Santiago route through Belgium that I’ve taken, as well as my decision to attempt to continue my pilgrimage by bike for a bit. My extremely strenuous bike ride to Reims will be the topic of this week.

up and down

found my way to the “official” Camino de Santiago route, which happened to be on a highway

I kept thinking that my trip with Barry would be easy as, but I never could’ve been more wrong. I don’t recommend anyone to travel through Southern Belgium and the North of France on a city bike – it happens to be a little different than pedalling through the Netherlands. Why? It’s not flat! Days filled with endless repetitions of getting off my bike, pushing Barry, my bag and me up the hill, jump on the bike and swoosh down… the only fun part of it.

perpetually lost

I didn’t really think about the whole bike-pilgrimage thing. Secretly, I’d hope my navigation app would know send me in the right direction. Unfortunately, the app was just as lost as I was. Disoriented was a daily state-of-being, when biking to Reims. “…I’d never expected to arrive.” was a sentence I’ve written down in my notebook more than once.

a little bit scary, passing this rock with a bike and pack

On my way to Givet, I mysteriously ended up on the wrong side of the river. Barry and I bounced further on what I thought was a mountain-bike track, but ended up being a hiking trail. At a certain moment, I pushed myself, Barry and my pack past a rock on a very tiny path next to the water just to discover the path ended there. Bad luck. Between Givet and Rocroi, I got lost in a monstrously big and dark forest where the muddy truck tracks were so frozen, I couldn’t bike. I walked for hours without a phone signal, thinking I’d never make it out of the forest. On day four Barry got stuck in a muddy creek, on day five I was stuck… and not just in the mud.

warming up in a nursery home

Arriving in Rocroi, I locked Barry somewhere. I had to wait an hour before my accommodation opened. It was freezing cold and it was Sunday, so everything was closed. I was sliding through the frozen streets of Rocroi, just to keep moving. It was so cold, I couldn’t feel my toes anymore. Afraid they’d fall off if I would remain outside for another hour, I was looking for a place that was open. I saw a building where the lights were on, and went inside.

while I was defrosting, they tried to escape the building

I explained in broken French that I was on my way to Santiago and had to wait for my sleeping spot… can I wait inside? I could. I even got a cup of coffee. I ended up sitting in the hallway of a home for elderly people with dementia whom – while I was sitting there with my cup of coffee defrosting – tried to escape, hit each other and played with the elevator.

a new plan

With an immense feeling of relief, I’ve arrived in Reims. After 21 days of pilgrimage I concluded that cycling through the cold wasn’t for me. I longed to walk again! It was sunny in Southern France, and there too happened to be a beautiful route to Santiago: the Via Tolosana. In Reims I thus decided to catch a train to Arles. This became a new beginning – the next stage of my Camino de Santiago.

See you next time!

Love,

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REMEMBERING THE WAY TO SANTIAGO #4 | VIA MONASTICA

There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! Time to look back, which I’ll do through a series of stories.

In the third part of this series, I’ve shared my experiences of the first days walking through the Netherlands. This week, I’ll narrate about the Camino de Santiago route I walked through Belgium: the so-called Via Monastica.

gone with the guidebook

Armed with a beautiful guidebook, I continued my way on the Via Monastica: a Camino route that stretches from Den Bosch to Rocroi. After five minutes, I’d already lost all my confidence and concluded me and guidebooks just do not work together. Standing still to read a description and looking for clues like “the bridge” or “the fence” didn’t just require a lot of time, I also walked into the wrong direction a couple of times. Under the guise of “saves weight” I thanked and discarded my guidebook and continued wayfaring with my gps-app. An arrow pointing the way is challenging enough 😉

the Postel abbey

the Postel abbey

On my journey, I met several people and experienced certain places that have become very dear to me. The Postel abbey is one of such places. The abbey’s location was truly magical and the subsequent welcome of the Father was so warm and kind that I felt at home immediately. The union and safety that I felt within the walls of the abbey, were something extraordinary.

To soak up that feeling entirely, I stayed at the abbey for two nights. During my short time there, I walked through the gardens, went to a few services and conversed with one of the guest about divine love and loving yourself. The next day I had to continue my journey. With my pockets stuffed with food for thought, my heart full of gratitude and my eyes filled with tears, I carried on to my next destination.

“Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you.”

Matthew 7:7

featured in the newspaper

That next destination was Westerlo, a place I reached after a full day of walking in the rain without any breaks. As I was soaked, cold and tired, I decided to drink something warm first before heading to the Youth Hostel. I saw a bar and went inside. My perhaps rather strange appearance (a drenched figure with a large backpack) was immediately noticed by all of the bar guests.

“I’d like a coffee please.”

beer included

By chance, I’d walked into the bar of a fellow Dutchman in Belgium. And it became an unforgettable experience. I talked to everyone, told them about my journey, drank beer and, to top it all of, a journalist rocked up to make a picture for the local newspaper. Despite the buzzing atmosphere, I had to go on. I thanked everyone and grabbed my backpack. The owner quieted the guest and said: “Ladies and gentleman. This girl is walking to Spain!” With an applause and a grand smile on my face, I left the bar and walked on (slightly drunk). Sure thing, s couple of days later there was indeed a tiny article in the local newspaper.

a new accomplice

Barry besides the hut in Diest

My body was already protesting after the first week. My knees, my back, it was all hurting so much I didn’t know what to do with it. When I arrived in Diest, I rented a super cute trekking hut on a beautiful terrain. I decided to take an extra resting day to think about a possible solution for my bodily discomfort.

My internal dialogue went something like this: Why can’t you just bike a little bit? – No! I cannot do such thing. I can’t just bike, I would walk, that was the plan! – But if you bike then you can carry on and the eventual goal is the journey not the walking? It’s still a pilgrimage if you bike. – Hm. – And if you don’t like it, you can always decide to walk again. Maybe it’s just for a little while, just to give your body some rest. – Yeah, I guess it’ll allow me to proceed. Hm. Yes. Ok. Where is the nearest bike shop?

Once I arrived at the bike shop, I immediately fell in love. This is the one, I thought, this steel steed is going to accompany me from now on. Full of new energy and courage I went back to my hut, together with my new accomplice Barry.

Little did I know that the following week would be one of the hardest yet. More about that next time!

Love,

REMEMBERING THE WAY TO SANTIAGO #3 | THROUGH THE NETHERLANDS

There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! Time to look back, which I’ll do through a series of stories.

After last week’s post on the beginning and preparations of my pilgrimage, it is now time for the actual start: the first nine days of walking through the Netherlands.

extreme cold

Sooooo cold!

There was a cutting wind blowing, and my eyes were teary. My journey through the Netherlands predominantly cold, extremely cold. Frozen streams, stiff fingers, finding shelter somewhere warm, or just continue walking in a steady pace in the absence of such a place. I was wearing all my layers at once, ate mountains of food and only regained my normal body temperature at the end of day when taking a hot shower.

“Perhaps you’ve left a little early on in the year?” was a comment I frequently heard. Probably, I thought, but I couldn’t have waited a month longer. Cold or not, I had to go in March, afraid that I would make up my mind if I didn’t. And those hardships, they just make you stronger.

every day at home

Almost every night, I stayed at a guest family and every day I was pleasantly surprised by a warm welcome. Fun conversations, sincere interest, tea and biscuits, life stories… A world was opening up to me. I resided in small attic rooms looking out over the meadows, slept in a bed with pink plush blankets and received carefully prepared breakfasts. Wherever I was, every day I felt a little at home.

Breakfast made with love

In my travel journal, I found a poem of Antonio Machado. One of the hostesses had looked up it before my arrival and placed it in my room for me to read. It was a very special poem. Machado’s words reminded me that this was my journey. The way I would decide to walk didn’t matter, and neither did the destination of my journey.

Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.

Antonio Machado

pain

When reaching day five I could barely walk. The pain in my back was unbearable and my knee was giving me massive grief. I booked a hotel to give myself some extra comfort and rest. Upon arrival I was shattered.

Wasn’t feeling fantastic after camping with temperatures below zero

After a shower and a massive meal, I sat on the bed. I realised that my bruised ribs had prevented me from training with a backpack and that my pack was too heavy to begin with. Furthermore, I had underestimated the effort it was costing me to cover the long distances. Although I wanted to continue, I decided to take an extra day to give my body some rest and go through the contents of my backpack.

Armoured with a knee brace and a backpack that was two kilos lighter (you’ve got no idea what you actually don’t need), I resumed my way through the Netherlands. Someone invited me for coffee when I was walking through a massive downpour, I was encouraged by a passing cyclist and didn’t sleep a single second when camping for the first time with temperatures below zero.

Belief it or not, but I made it after all: Belgium. More soon!

Love,

REMEMBERING THE WAY TO SANTIAGO #2 | PROJECT PILGRIMAGE

There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! Time to look back, which I’ll do through a series of stories. Today will be all about the beginning and the preparation of my pilgrimage.

how it all began

Pilgrimage. I’ve always found it fascinating. Whilst studying Religious Studies, I gained lots of knowledge regarding this form of travel. Spiritually motivated or not, aware or unaware, journeying to something brings about a certain goal, hope or expectation. This can be the journey itself, the destination or, perhaps, the return.

During my university studies I’ve researched pilgrimage and read a wide array of pilgrim narratives. My admiration for pilgrims was growing. With endless perseverance, strength, patience and belief they fulfilled that which they initially faced with excitement and, sometimes, with fear. No road was too long, no mountain to high, no day too hot.

In interviews I read that, upon return, pilgrims frequently report that they’ve changed; that something happened which allows them to see things from a different perspective, they regard life differently. After I obtained my master’s degree, I found I’d read enough: time to experience the act of pilgrimage myself.

a pilgrimage, but where to?

The decision was made: I’m going on a pilgrimage. But where to? As I graduated on the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj) I would’ve loved to go to Mecca. Unfortunately, as I’m not a Muslim, this wasn’t a possibility so I had to come up with something else. Something in Europe perhaps, something I can do by myself, and doesn’t cost a fortune… And then it popped into my mind! I was going to walk the Camino de Santiago.

A month of walking seemed so short (don’t ask) and I thought it would be cool to cross a border whilst walking (not sure why), so I decided directly that I would depart from the Netherlands. The decision was made, Project Pilgrimage was real, so I started with the preparations immediately.

the preparatory work

Looking for routes, finding places to sleep, taking the tent or not, buying the right gear. Looking back, I probably should’ve spent a little more time preparing this trip, but the circumstances didn’t makes things very easy either. Three months before I left, I fell and bruised my ribs. I could walk but training with a backpack was impossible. It will be alright, I thought.

And then it was the end of February. I didn’t have time for expectations, as I was too busy preparing the last things before I left. And that moment came faster than I’d expected.

Door closed. See you later. On my way to Santiago.

Love,

REMEMBERING THE WAY TO SANTIAGO #1 | ONE YEAR AFTER MY CAMINO DE SANTIAGO COMMENCED

There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. It is almost unreal, but today marks a year since I commenced my journey!

The ritual of pilgrimage is being embraced by many. Also the Dutch are surrendering more often to such temporary wayfarer’s existence. Time to look back on my journey, which I’ll do through a series of stories. Unlike many of my articles about the Camino de Santiago, I want to capture this remembrance in Dutch at first. In this way, I hope to move toward the experience more closely and, perhaps, inspire other pilgrims or provide them with the final push they need to embark on this beautiful journey.

Stay tuned!

Love,