Sixteen Miles and one blister — welcome back to pilgrim life


Pilgrim chic — road ready at 6:45 a.m.

When I got up this morning I wasn’t really sure I wanted to leave my bed, it being a national holiday and all that. But I’d already told Graciella and Luigi that I’d be heading out at 6:30 and I knew they’d think I was a slacker if I didn’t go. So…..out the door I went at about 6:45 for a day of adventure.

Today’s goal, of course, was to research this pilgrimage walking stage — Perugia to Assisi — for my upcoming book. That meant that I’d be walking and dictating in my iPhone while taking photographs and trying not to get lost.

Matter of fact, I didn’t get lost at all, mostly thanks to my GPS. I did discover, though, that I have much more to learn before I’ll be able to figure out the intricacies of this amazing little device. A big thanks to the folks at First Church Seattle who gave this to me as a going away present. I learned too that it’s a different way of walking when you’re walking as a pilgrim guidebook author rather than simply a pilgrim.

Anyway, I made it to Assisi by about 3:00. It’s a great town, truly beautiful. I’ll be back in mid-July to research and write my chapter on Assisi, so for now it was just get some photos and get back home.

Rather than entrust myself to the train schedule on a national holiday I opted to take a spendy ride back to Perugia by cab. As I was driven back to my temporary Perugian home I had time to reflect on the difference between walking 16 miles and riding the same distance in a car. The walk to Assisi was about smells and colors and discoveries and miniature hardships and thoughts of St. Francis who walked this way 800 years ago. The trip back to Perugia by car was mindless. And completely insulated from the world, which I sped through while gazing out the window.

Below: Photos of today’s walk

Emerging from a Self-Induced Travel Coma

As I sat with Don Crawley at Sea-Tac Airport on my way to Italy he said, “Wow, you’ve had a lot going on in your life.” Don’s right, and it’s clear I haven’t had a lot of time to sort through it all. The after-effects of the many changes appeared at different times yesterday.

The most obvious change, of course, was leaving Seattle to go to Italy. My arms felt like they were glued to Theresa as we hugged at the Departures driveway at SeaTac Airport. I didn’t want to let this great woman go. She’s become very important to me since we met on October 31st last year and I’m really not ready to put our relationship on hold with so much yet to discover. This whole Italy plan was hatched before we met and I’m not sure I could’ve passed up a summer with Theresa if I’d known about the possibility as I got the wheels rolling for this Italian guidebook adventure.

With Don at Gate S12 at SeaTac Airport - day of departure.

With Don at Gate S12 at SeaTac Airport – day of departure.

After passing through security, my friend Don Crawley was waiting for me with a cheerful smile. He had noted via Facebook that we’d be at the airport at around the same time — Don going to Los Angeles on business. while I headed to Italy. We sat together over coffee and a pleasant chat while we awaited my plane which would be the first to leave. We began plotting a future rendezvous — Don is cooking up a holiday in France this summer while his wife, Janet, is teaching a class near there and we’ll meet in Florence for a guys’ holiday in the city of Michelangelo.

As we talked, Don may have noted that I had already started to succumb to what I’ve come to call my “travel coma.” My speech starts to slow down, my eyes take on this drowsy look, and my brain begins to operate at partial capacity. It’s something like going into shock after an injury, but a travel coma for me is an odd deadening of senses that somehow helps me deal with the discomforts of being jammed into a small seat for hours at a time while changing time zones, languages, currency and cultures.

Inside the Reykjavik airport.

Inside the Reykjavik airport.

After saying goodbye to Don the coma began to take hold. The flight to Iceland took off at 4:30pm Seattle time and arrived at 5:30am Reykjavik time, but somehow there was never a sunset. Our jet took us north quickly enough that we squeezed dusk and dawn together somewhere above the Arctic Circle. By the time I got to Iceland I’d slept just a touch. I grabbed a sandwich, and orange and some chocolate milk for what I guess was breakfast and then stepped right onto my London flight. The couple next to me must’ve enjoyed watching my head bob up and down as I drifted into and out of sleep in the window seat.

I briefly emerged from my coma as I arrived in London and I realized right at Passport Control that due to the lack of a pen I hadn’t filled in my Arrival Card. I borrowed a pen in line and quickly filled it out with a quick scan and some scribbled responses. Then, when I arrived at the passport desk, the immigration officer asked one of those innocuous but deeply meaningful questions.

“What is your occupation? You left the space blank.”

How could I tell her that I wasn’t sure anymore? I’d just retired after 34 years of ministry as a pastor and was heading to Italy to study Italian and write a guidebook. Not only that, but I hadn’t had time to consider all the consequences and was in a jumble of feelings in the purgatory between the past and present.

“I’m self-employed,” I blurted out.

“Self-employed doing what?” she said in her British accent.

I thought for a long second and then said, “I’m writing a guidebook.”

“OK, you could just put down, ‘writer,'” she said as she filled in my occupation for me and stamped my passport.

And there it is. If anyone asks, I’m a writer. The lady at the desk said so, and I’m not going to argue with her. The vocational transition occurred in a 10-second conversation. Goodbye, pastoring. Hello authoring. The pastoring took four years of seminary, a handful of interviews, psychological testing, much fervent prayer, and the laying on of the hands of two bishops. Becoming a writer took a book contract and the quick decision of an Immigration Officer. Both were conferred on me by others, came after a period of waiting and involved paperwork. So my new vocation sounds official and, at least for now, the appellation will have to do.


Inside Terminal 5 at Heathrow after being ordained a writer.

After being ordained a writer I stumbled my way between Terminal 1 and Terminal 5 of Heathrow and boarded British Airways for Rome. Following more dozing in the window seat, bathed in the sunlight-that-should-be-nighttime we landed at Fiumicino Airport. Italy at last.

I boarded the train for Termini Station where I’d reserved a B&B for the night and am pretty sure I had a pleasant conversation through the drowsiness of my coma in French, Spanish and English with a retired couple from Montreal in the seats across from me. Then I made my stupid mistake.

I was on the curb outside Termini Station, still partially comatose, when I suddenly realized I didn’t know where my B&B was located. I vaguely remembered it was close to Termini, but without an Italian cell phone plan, my usual guide — Google Maps — was unavailable. A man yelled “Taxi!” and I ignored him, but then impulsively turned around, threw my bags into his car, and told him where I was headed. He took me on a whirlwind drive for about 10 blocks — right back to a point at the train station about 2 blocks from where we’d started. Then he demanded 25 Euros.

Hotel Girandola Bed and Breakfast. Just a block from Termini Station.

Hotel Girandola Bed and Breakfast. Just a block from Termini Station.

I just laughed. Then I said “No,” and handed him a 5 Euro note and some change. He complained loudly in Italian. I smiled and  politely stood my ground — I wasn’t going to pay this scoundrel another cent. After he drove off in a cloud of probable profanity (speaking words I may not learn in my upcoming Italian studies) I wandered a couple of blocks away and found my B&B — right across from the train station, not a block from where I had picked up the cab.

I buzzed the door at the B&B, found my simple, cozy room, had dinner nearby, and headed to bed to sleep off my coma and begin my Italian adventure as a writer. Ciao, Seattle. Bongiorno, Italia.

June 13, 2011 Palas de Rei to Melide

Left late after talking with Sebastian on Jacqueline’s phone at panaderia across from albergue. They are to be in Palas de Rei tonight, so texted them later that I would taxi back with Jacqueline and meet them for dinner there. Walked quickly to Melide for lunch there with Stefan of South Africa and his friend.

At pulperia in Melide Stefan shared full spiritual concepts he had been developing since reading Eckhardt Tolle. He has some extremely good ideas. I suggested he read Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh and Anthony de Mello. I hope he will write his story in order to publicize these great ideas.

After lunch got a room at same hotel where Gail and I had stayed in 2008, just across from the albergue. Looking this afternoon for peluqueria for haircut after shower. Then taxi to Palas de Rei. Nice hotel room – Chiquitin is the hotel.

As opened door to taxi in Palas de Rei all pilgrim family was there to cheer and hug. Dinner at same restaurant as last night. Many stories, much joking and round of arujo on me. At dinner was whole gang, less Bea. Beautiful pilgrim family moment.

After dinner asked restaurant to call taxi for return trip to Melide, but no taxi available. Waiter drove us back instead. Paid him 20€ for his kindness and gave many thanks. Though he and the restaurant staff had been a little gruff with our pilgrim family, he turned out to be very gracious in getting us back to Melide.

May 30 – June 2, 2008 Santo Domingo to Copenhagen and back

May 30: I left Santo Domingo at dawn in a white taxi and watched out the window as future camino miles whizzed past. I saw several pilgrims braving the wind and light rain of this day, and once again I was amazed at the colors of the springtime grain fields.

I arrived at Burgos in plenty of time for my train and waited at a cafe as one of the oddest sights of the camino unfolded before my eyes. A group of young Spaniards escorted one of their friends into the train station. He was blindfolded and wearing a bright wig and ballet tutu. He had some kind of sock around his male appendage and it became clear he was getting married this weekend and his friends were giving him a pre-nuptial hazing. He took it “like a man” and the whole episode evinced chuckles from the assembled train goers.

I boarded the train to Burgos, looking ahead to a five-hour journey and enjoyed every moment of this trip to Bilbao. Through fields and forests and across rivers — this was an introduction to the beauty of Northern Spain and I was glad for the opportunity to see this beautiful region. I arrived at the train station in Bilbao and spotted the gorgeous stained glass window above the train gates. Then I caught a taxi for Bilbao’s airport and my flight to Copenhagen.

My wife, Gail, an anesthesiologist and professor of bio-medical ethics, was to speak to the European Society of Anesthesiologists that weekend. It was a big event and her first European speech. When I arrived in Denmark I soon realized there were two Sheraton Hotels and I wasn’t certain at which one Gail was staying. I guessed which one and when I arrived at the lobby I asked the desk to call her room. Gail answered the phone and asked the odd question, “Where are you?” I told her, “I’m down in the lobby,” and she was ecstatic. Her friend, Pam, had joined her for her Copenhagen visit and for a couple of weeks of sightseeing between there and Rome, so the three of us spent the next days enjoying this amazing city and listening as Gail shared his outstanding speech with the European Society.

Since Gail is a doctor I asked if she’d be willing to take a look at the blisters on my feet. “No!” she said, “They’d be too gross!” Even without the support of My Own Private Physician the days away from the camino brought healing to my feet and by the time of my return to Spain I felt much better. My only regret was that I’d left my favorite baseball cap back at the hotel in Santo Domingo and I expected I’d never see it again.

June 2: After a great weekend in Copenhagen I said goodbye to Gail and Pam and headed back via plane to Bilbao. My friend Stefan had suggested that I needed a cell phone so he could send me SMS texts, so I obliged and purchased a cheap cell phone and some minutes as I waited at the Bilbao train station. I boarded the train back to Burgos and caught a taxi to Santo Domingo. As I checked in at the Parador I asked about my hat and, sure enough, they’d kept it safe for me. From then on I’d have a fondness for this hotel and the great Parador chain.