Homer's Travels: 2023

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Happy Autumn!!!

Today is the autumnal equinox ... the first day of fall.  Fall is my favorite season.  Daylight and nighttime are roughly equal.  A very balanced day.

I hope you all have a balanced day and a pumpkin spiced fall season!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Goodbye To My Favorite Uncle

Early yesterday evening my Uncle Jimmy passed away.  Mom and I visited him in the hospital just a few hours before.  He wasn't vocal at the time but he was aware and I am happy we had a chance to say our goodbyes.

Jimmy was, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite Uncle.  While this was often said as a joke, in his case it was true.  My regret is not spending more time with him and my cousins.  As one of my cousins said, it seems we only get together when bad things happen.  That has got to change.

May he Rest in Peace.

Rome 2023 - Why We're Going ... What We Will Be Doing

Our next adventure, starting tomorrow, is a week in Rome, Italy.  This trip is a bit different for us in that it was not a long term planned event as most of our travel is.  This started in July (I think) when the Wife received an invitation to a former student's ordination as a deacon at the Vatican.  Within a month of receiving the invitation we'd decided to attend, booked flights and a hotel (a B&B actually), and put together an itinerary of things to do prior to attending the ordination.  We're both retired so why wouldn't we?

That is why we are going.  What will we be doing?  We have an itinerary which starts late in the afternoon on the day we arrive (we arrive in Rome at 8:00am) and continues all the way until it's time to go home.  We will see/do the following in roughly this order:

The last two days will be ordination events, Mass, and dinner with the family.

We will be getting around on foot or mass transit (bus or train).  Our hotel is a block from the Vatican Museum, half a mile from the entrance of Saint Peter's Square, and a couple of blocks from train and bus stops.  Our hotel will provide travel to and from the airport.  This is the first time we are travelling internationally just for one city.  Hopefully navigating the rather compact area of central Rome will not be too difficult.

I'm not sure when I will post about this trip.  When we get back it will be less than two weeks before we go to southeast asia.  I will have everything I'll need to post while in Rome but experience has shown this to be a hard thing to do.  I hope I get something posted before November rolls around.

On an aside, I was hoping to meet with one of my gamer friends who lives in Italy but, unfortunately, real life got in the way and our meeting will have to be on some future trip.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Book: Adrian Tchaikovsky's "Children Of Time"

My fifteenth book of the year was a return to the space opera genre.   Adrian Tchaikovsky's "Children of Time" was one of the better books I've read this year so far.

The book is hard to summarize as it doesn't follow a standard path but I'll give it a go.  At the height of humanities technological progress they are terraforming planets to make new homes for humans and, in this case, to create new humans.  Soon after, a massive attack by luddite, non-expansionists start a war that nearly destroys the human race.  During the first shots of the war, an attempt to introduce primates onto a newly terraformed planet goes wrong.  The primates do not make it to the planet but the nano-viruses, made to rapidly evolve the primates, do make it to the surface.

Jump ahead several hundred years and the remnants of humanity leave a dying Earth in an ark ship carrying thousands of humans in stasis.  Following terraforming maps discovered in the wreckage of the old empire the ark ship arrives at the terraformed planet.

There they discover that the nano-virus has evolved spiders and ants to sentience.  The rest of the book is a  struggle between the survival of humanity and the survival of the spiders.  The book comes to an interesting and unexpected conclusion which felt satisfying.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  There are two more books ... more sequels I believe ... that continue the story.  I enjoyed this book enough I expect I will be reading these books too. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #70

 We are less than a week from our Rome trip and things are getting real.

  • Yesterday we went to the Wife's Nieces place to celebrate the birthday of their one year old.   Lots of kids ... lots of chaos ... lots of fun.  Happy Birthday!
  • I walked three times this week.  I would have walked four times but the weather got in the way on Friday.  The three walks I did do were fairly long totalling 25.6 miles (41.2 km).  I even did my first hike over ten miles since our Camino section in May.  That ten miles wore the heck out of me.  The spotty  rain on Friday probably saved me by giving me a day of rest.
  • I started the paperwork for our Vietnam Visa.  I have come to the conclusion that about 80% of all online forms are confusing and ambiguous.  The Vietnam Visa website would fail to display buttons or refuse to download PDF versions of the forms.  It took multiple tries to get our application forms completed with, I assume, the proper information.
  • While filling out the Visa paperwork I have come to the conclusion the next time I see my doctor I should ask about an anti-anxiety treatment.  I get spun up way too easily and it is getting harder for me to just relax.
  • Continuing on the health front I got my Flu shot yesterday.  I was hoping to get my COVID booster but Sam's Club didn't have them yet.  Hopefully I will be able to get it before we leave for southeast asia.
  • My new junk TV show is "UFO", a British show that aired for one season in 1970-71.  It's trippy and a bit psychedelic.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #69

  • This week I had lots of opportunities to walk but ended up only taking two.  On Labor Day I hoped to get a longer walk in but I decided the holiday would be a good time to clean the kitchen and bathrooms.  On Wednesday when I had another chance for a longer walk I stayed home due to the smoke from the canadian wildfires that made going outside hazardous to my allergies.  I stayed home and streamed some shows instead.  I finally went for walks on Thursday and Friday doing a total of 14.1 miles (22.6 km).  The smoke had diminished greatly and the temperatures were approaching fall-like so the walking was delightful.
  • This week I caught up on some shows and watched a few movies.  I started with Marvel's "Secret invasion".  It was ok but they obviously tried to do this on the cheap and it felt a bit like a throw away filler.

    Yesterday, while the Wife watched football, I watched a few movies.  The first was "The Menu".  It was an interesting horror, thriller, comedy that didn't quite hit the mark.  Next was "Dungeon & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves".  This was a perfectly fine action, adventure, comedy.  Not great but about what I'd expected.  Finally I went towards the weird.  "Three Thousand Years of Longing" is a modern fairy tale where a literary scholar, specializing in how science is supplanting mythology, encounters a Djinn.  The movie is a commentary on storytelling and the modern world.  In the end you have to decide if what she encountered was real or if it was all a story told in a hallucination.  It was interestingly quirky in an understated way.  All in all, the movies I watched yesterday were ... ok.
  • Tomorrow is September 11th.  In the past I would often dedicate a whole post on remembering the day.  I am done with that.  The events on that day could have been the catalyst for positive change in the world.  We could have turned an act of hate into an act of global unity.  Instead that act of hate has metastasized into division, bigotry, and idiocy.  I will not dedicate a whole post to September 11th until this world of ours has regained its sanity.  I just hope to be alive to see it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Book: TJ Klune's "In The Lives Of Puppets"

Happy National Read A Book Day! Unfortunately my latest book, number fourteen of the year, was not the greatest book I've read.  TJ Klune's "In the Lives of Puppets" starts with a lot of potential that is squandered by the end of the book.

In many stories about lone robots trying to survive in a world of humans, this book turns the story on its head.  The story takes place over a hundred years after the last human has been killed by the robots and a robot civilization flourishes.  In this world a robot designed to be creative - creative in ways to kill humans - has a change of heart and creates a living human child who he raises in the isolation of the forest.

There are so many possibilities in this flipped storyline but they are wasted.  What happens is not interesting and is often mired in emotional histrionics.  The robot civilization is too ... human.  This makes no sense since the robots had determined that the humans were destroying the environment.  Why, after destroying the humans, would the robots parrot the civilization they destroyed?  It didn't make sense to me.

I gave this book three stars out of five on Goodreads.  It ranked this high because of the potential in the book, not on its execution.  I was disappointed.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #68

I used to enjoy writing posts.  It wasn't always easy to come up with something to write about.  Back in the early years of Homer's Travels I think it was easier for some reason.  I liked what I wrote and I had a small audience of semi-loyal readers (primarily family).  Over the years  my audience has moved on to other things and at times it feels like I am talking to the void.  I wonder why I still do this.  I think these Weekly Ephemera posts have become my excuse not to write more while at the same time they keep me writing ... something.

With that said, here is what I've been up to the past week:

  • A temporary statue
    at Memorial Park.
    On Monday the Wife and I took my Mom to Nebraska Furniture Mart and picked out a lift chair.  It will be delivered this week.  Mom got a good deal on a close out chair that will make it easier for her to get into and out of her chair.  It will be delivered this coming week.
  • I went to the dentist this week to get a crown fitted on the root canaled tooth.  I left the office with a temporary crown which lasted a whopping twenty-four hours before it cracked in half.  Fortunately the root canal completely deadens the tooth so it is totally pain free.  I could go back and get another temporary but I don't think it's worth it.  The permanent crown will be put in on 11 September.  I think I'll just wait for that.
  • I went for four walks this week for a total distance of 24.8 miles (39.9 km).  After a week of not walking it felt good to get out.

    On one of the walks I explored the newly reopened Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing.  The small lake/large pond that was there has been reduced in size opening up space for more green space, a bocce ball field, sand volleyball courts, playgrounds, and a roller skate rink.  This last one is a mystery for me.  There are only one or two roller rinks in the Omaha area.  It really isn't that popular of an activity here so I don't understand who this is for?  If it had an attached skate board park it would make sense since these are popular in Omaha but a roller skate park?  Not sure about that.

    A heron and some ducks in the smaller Heartland of America lake/pond.
    The playgrounds are beyond description.  If I were a kid I would be in paradise.  I didn't take any pictures which I should have done since they are hard to describe and I won't even attempt to.  They are just really cool.

    On a longer walk later in the week I walked around Memorial Park where the 'sailor kissing a nurse' statue is being displayed.  It is a temporary installation that will be in Omaha for six months.  It's pretty cool and fits in with all the war monuments in Memorial Park.
  • This week Nebraska broke a record for the highest attendance at a women's sporting event.  92,003 spectators went to Lincoln, Nebraska to watch a volleyball match between University of Nebraska - Lincoln and University of Nebraska - Omaha.  The Wife taught two of the players - one on each team.  One of them will be playing on the US team at the Paris Olympics.  For a brief period we considered attending the Olympics to watch her play (along with a bronze medal wrestler who is also a graduate of the Wife's school).  The planning ended when we saw the hotel prices ($500 to well over $1,000 a day).  Talk about price gouging.
  • Speaking of travel, we finally finalized our Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia trip.  We had to convert the Vietnam portion into a private tour when our travel company canceled the small group tour (due to lack of interest I guess).  I prefer the small group tours as you have people to share experiences with and you always get different perspectives.  On the other hand private tours are more flexible and you can often fit in a few more things that can't be done with a group.
  • My first retirement annuity payment (i.e. government pension) was deposited on Friday.  It's nice to have some steady, though modest, income again.
  • This weekend, while the Wife reveled in the return of college football, I caught up on "Doctor Who" specials.  Apparently I missed several from fifteen years ago.
Happy Labor Day everyone!!!

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #67

  • Mom got a pain shot in her back and she had an 80% reduction in her back pain ... for twenty-four hours.  After that it was nearly the same as it was before the shot.  There have been a few changes to the positive though.  The pain, instead of being across her entire lower back, is now localised to around her spine.  She no longer wakes up with a sore back and she is sleeping better.  It seems to me and the occupation therapist that she stands up from her chair better.   Unfortunately when she walks it still bothers her.  We will be going back to the pain specialist next month to explore her options.
  • I got my root canal on Monday.  I really like the endodontist.  I felt no pain the entire time.  The tooth sensitivity is gone.  I only had some aching in my gums which has since faded away.  This week I will go to my regular dentist to get a crown over the tooth to finish it up.
  • On Wednesday I took my car in to replace a leaking water pump, leaking radiator hose, missing hubcap, and to have the money drained out of my car.  Between the car and my tooth I am bleeding green.
  • I skipped the Republican debate last week to protect my mental health.  It's bad enough that I've had to endure all the highlights.  Since I would never be caught dead voting Republican it really doesn't matter if I watched it or not.
  • Our local news was dominated by the heatwave we experienced over the week.  With heat indexes over 110℉ (43℃) everyday I decided not to walk this week.  By the end of the week I noticed I was more tired and irritable than I usually am.  I guess walking is helping my mood.  This contradicts what I experienced on the appalachian trail where my mood got worse the further north I went.

    Next week the temperature and humidity are forecast to be much lower and I look forward to walking more this week.
This picture has nothing to do with anything I did this week.  I just like how the Light shines
through it.  It's in the center of a wrought iron sun I have on the window sill in the den.



Sunday, August 20, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #66

  • A few health related things this week.  First I had a dentist visit this week.  I have a tooth that's been bothering me since the last week of our Camino last May.  Turns out it's time for root canal number three.  I do have the option of an extraction but I'm not ready for that yet ... if ever.  Nothing like another $1,000 bill ...ugh.

    Mom went to the pain doctor this week to get a shot in her lower spine.  We are all hoping for some relief for her back pain.
  • I received my federal retirement annuity account password this week.  This means my application for my Federal retirement annuity has been accepted.  Checks start getting deposited next month.  Yesterday I got a letter with the actual annuity amount.  The amount is a bit smaller than I expected but I didn't have the right numbers to calculate the annuity amount (shame on me for not keeping the fifteen year old records I needed) and my guesstimates were off.  Still a good amount and any amount of money is welcome.  For those who are curious, the annuity is one of three parts of my Federal retirement.  The other parts are a 401(K) and Social Security.
  • I walked three times this week.  I decided to do longer walks closer together.  I usually spread out longer hikes with either rest days or shorter, around the block, hikes in between.  This week I did a four mile followed by two eight mile hikes over three days.  It felt better doing it this way.  For the week I walked 21.4 miles (34.4 km).

    This coming week will be a hard one.  We are experiencing a five to six day heat wave with heat indexes over 100℉ (38℃).  Not sure it would be wise for me to walk in this weather.
  • We had some more visitors to our backyard this week.  The first was, what appears to be, a juvenile Blue Jay.  They are common around here but are rare in our backyard for some reason.

    A suspected juvenile Blue Jay.
    The second announced itself by ringing the chimes on our deck.  I looked outside to see if it was windy and saw a face looking back at me.  A raccoon had climbed up on the fountain on the deck and rang the chimes (I assume it thought it was a bird feeder).  I banged on the slider and it moved away a few feet.  I opened the door and yelled at it, trying to get it to get off our deck, but it didn't seem phased.  I then realized that it could run around me and get into the house so I went back in and closed the slider.  I watched it explore the chairs, chiminea, and chinese garden stools we have on our deck.  It eventually left the deck after satisfying its curiosity.

Rocky raccoon climbing out of the chiminea onto a deck chair.
  • We continued planning our Rome trip booking tours to the colosseum, catacombs, Vatican, and other places we want to see in the city.  We have most things nailed down.  We have a few things that do not need a tour, ticket, or guide that we haven't scheduled yet.  Those places will probably be fit in over the three days before the Wife's student's ordination events.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Book: Tim Marshall's "The Power Of Geography"

The thirteenth book of the year was an interesting book on geography and how it will influence world politics.

Tim Marshall's "The Power of Geography" covers ten different countries/areas that will be important in the future.  I have been to a few (Ethiopia, Turkey, Spain) and there are a few I hope to visit some day (Greece, the United Kingdom).  The book filled in a lot of historical gaps in my knowledge though it wasn't too detailed.  It was an interesting overview of most of the countries.

The one thing I didn't like was the last chapter: Space.  First, when I think of geography I think of places on Earth.  If you look up the definition (Merriam-Webster) it specifically says:
"a science that deals with the description, distribution, and interaction of the diverse physical, biological, and cultural features of the earth's surface."

Second, if the author is going to talk about Space he'd better get the terminology right.  He incorrectly used space terms several times.  For Example, he referred to the "Andromeda Constellation" when he meant to write "Andromeda Galaxy."

If the author had left off the last chapter on space it would have been better in my opinion,

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.   It probably should have been three and a half stars because of the Space chapter but I won't let one bad chapter hurt nine good chapters.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #65

  • Mom's visit to the bone doctor this week went very well.  He lifted all restrictions on using her broken arm.   Now it's the physical/occupational therapist's turn to get her arm working better.
  • I restarted my walking (for the umpteenth time) this week.  I'd thought my walking was exacerbating my health issue but I've come to the conclusion that it was just a coincidence.  The 19.9 miles (32 km) I walked this week without any issues seems to prove that.
  • During one of my walks I stopped at a camera place to pick up my professionally cleaned SLR camera.  It was a long time coming.  That camera had dust and grime from all over the world.  It's all ready for Rome now.
  • I finished "The Walking Dead".  Now I'm just finishing movies and limited series that have been in my Netflix list forever and a day.
  • Along with the odd weather we've been having I've noticed strange insects lately.   Earlier this week we were swarmed by dragonflies.  While they are native around here I've never seen so many buzzing around our house at once.  Also I saw a few lightning bugs the other night.  I usually associate them with June and maybe early July.  Seeing them in mid August is not what I'm used to. 

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #64

There were a few big things this week ... 

  • I finally got to my doctor's appointment.  He performed a Cystoscopy.  The results from that, along with all the other tests I had leading up to the doctor's appointment, ended up with the diagnosis that I had expected (though my brain often took me to the worse case scenario).  My issue is caused by my enlarged prostate that was diagnosed late last year.  The doctor  gave me three treatment options: drugs, surgery, or do nothing.  All three have issues and potential long term side effects but the surgery seems like the lesser of the evils.  I told him that I would do the surgery.  It's not an emergency so I asked to have it sometime in late November or December after our fall travels.   Still, I am going to request more information about the options from my doctor.  I doubt I will change my mind but it's probably a good thing to do my due diligence before saying "final answer".

    I need to have surgery anyway as I have a kidney stone that needs to be removed before it can become its own problem.  The stone removal and the prostate surgery can be done at the same time.
  • I mentioned the fall travels.  Until Thursday this was referencing our trip to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia in October/November.  As of this weekend it now includes a week-long stay in Rome, Italy.

    One of the Wife's students is being ordained a deacon on his way to becoming a Catholic priest.  The ordination will be at the Vatican and the Wife and I were invited to attend.  Included with the ordination will be a ticket to Pope Francis' monthly audience.  While an audience with the Pope sounds exciting it will be us and probably a thousand other people.  We are turning the three day event into a week-long visit to Rome to see some of the sights.  Flights have been booked ($$$) and a place to stay ten minutes walking from the main entrance to the Vatican (and a block from the Vatican Museum) and close to a metro station has been reserved.  The Wife is working on the itinerary.
  • I took my car in for a cooling system service that was advised the last time I got the car serviced.  I also wanted them to check on a slow leak I had in one of my tires.  After $300+ I discovered I had a leak in a radiator hose and a leaking water pump.  Oh ... and the front two tires needed to be replaced due to excessive wear.  The cost of the hose and water pump ... $1,500+.  The parts are on order.

    The crazy thing is the price for two tires ... $500+.  I said hell no to this and went to Sam's Club and ordered two tires there for $185 which includes installation and alignment.

    I gave the Toyota service three stars on their online survey.  I soon got a call asking why my rating was so low.  When I explained the excessive cost they apologized and gave me a $30 credit.  Yeah ... a 2% discount will really help. ­čîÁ
... and a few smaller things.
  • This week we resubscribed to Netflix for the month,  I started with the sixth season of "Black Mirror".  The anthology series is usually centered around science fiction and technology with some Twilight Zone-ish twists.  This season two of the five fit that theme but the other three are more horror/thriller themed which felt out of place in "Black Mirror".  The stories were interesting but just felt wrong for the show.

    After finishing "Black Mirror" I moved on to season eleven (the last season) of "The Walking Dead".  Even tho it's getting long in the tooth I still enjoy this series.  While some just consider it a zombie series it is more about the corruptibility and fragility of our civilization.
  • This week I think I'll restart my walking again.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Camino 2023 - Magnet Edition

While I bought magnets on my first and second Camino, there were a few places I stayed at where I didn't buy magnets.  The Wife and I started to correct this oversight.

We bought seven magnets this time around and they have been added to my 2006-2023 Travel Magnets Google Photos album. (They can also be accessed from the Travel Magnets tab at the top of Homer's Travels.

As Duas Marias.
My favorite is a miniature of the As Duas Marias statue in Alameda park in Santiago de Compostela.  The magnet was made by the same artist that did the original statue, Cesar Lambera.  Below is a photo of the original statue:

The original As Duas Marias.


Sunday, July 30, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #63

  • Public art at the new Gene Leahy mall.
    This weekend we went to the Wife's family reunion.  It was lots of fun.  Over fifty family members showed up.  The day of the reunion (Saturday) turned out to be a perfect day in Haverhill, IA.  The temperatures were comfortable and the humidity was relatively low compared to the rest of last week.  We ate good food, enjoyed great company, explored the historic blacksmith shop, and did some shopping in the eclectic town antique/junk store (which was opened just for us and we made it worth the owners while).  My only issue with the weekend was I ate too many carbs (totally my fault).
  • I walked twice this week.  I would have walked more except for the over 100℉ (38℃) heat index we had most of the week and my health issue.  I only walked 2.9 miles (4.7 km) but one of the walks was in the old market area of Omaha.  The Gene Leahy mall has been totally revamped and I walked around the new park to see how things have changed.  They've added a dog park, fire pits (waiting for that lawsuit when some kid sticks their hand in the fire), ping pong tables (the paddles and balls in the nearby box will probably vanish someday), and tons of seating (including tables and chairs that aren't tied down so will eventually start walking away in the middle of the night).  They added a lot of cool stuff.  The question I have is how long will some of this stuff last.
  • I was feeling better but my health issue flared up again.  I'm not sure if there is a connection between walking and my issue or if it's just a coincidence but I will stop walking again until my doctor's appointment next week.
  • I finished "Columbo".  Time for me to find some other weird thing to watch on the boob tube.  I will probably re-up Netflix and catch up with some of the stuff there.


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Book: M. R. Carey's "The Book Of Koli"

My next book was a return to post apocalypse sci-fi.  M.R. Carey's "The Book of Koli" takes place in a future Great Britain where tech has become rare and, in the eyes of survivors, magical.  Nature, on the other hand, is deadly and to be avoided.

We aren't totally sure what destroyed civilization but a war, climate change, and out of control bioengineering are all referenced.  In this world Koli, a young boy, gets embroiled in village politics and is kicked out into a very hostile world.

The book is narrated by Koli in a pigeon english that is not too hard to understand but gives the book some atmosphere.  The world is interesting.  This is the first book of a trilogy so I may have to read the other two since I like where this is going.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  It piqued my interest.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #62

  • This week, with the help of Mom's stepsons, we sold Mom's car.   It was probably the easiest thing we've ever had to do for Mom.  Things just fell into place.  She got a good price for her 2004 car with only 36,000 miles (57,936 km) on it.
  • I didn't walk this week due to the medical issues I mentioned last week.  I did go get a CT scan of my abdomen.  I am happy to say that there was no evidence of cancer or infections.  Still doesn't explain the issues I'm experiencing.

    Speaking of the CT scan.  When I was checking in at the hospital they gave me a quote of $1,988 - that's after insurance pays up.  This amount only covers the hospital facilities, not the radiologist who interprets the CT scan.  The receptionist checking me in asks me if I heard about getting a discount for paying in advance.  She texted me a link to a service the hospital contracts with that takes upfront payments in full.  How much was it?  $738.  Not only that but that amount covers the hospital facilities and the radiologist's interpretation.  WTF?!?  Insurance is such a ripoff.  The receptionist also suggested I call my insurance and try to apply the amount I paid to my deductible.  There is paperwork I have to fill out and I am assuming it will take so long to get the credit (IF I get it) that the deductible will roll over to next year.  The US medical system is totally FUBAR.
  • On Thursday I turned sixty (as you already know if you read Homer's Travels).  The Wife was the second person to wish me a happy birthday.  The first was the Radisson Blu Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  They have one hell of a customer service representative.

    We were visited by the Wife's niece and her two kids.  They brought me a bag of Chips Ahoy! cookies.  In the afternoon we went to one of the twenty plus splash pads in Omaha so the kids could play in the water.
  • We had a visitor on our back deck.  A squirrel.  It's been visiting our bird feeder for a while.  This time it was on our deck chewing on a clay pot.  Based on the missing pot rim I'd guess it's been doing so for a while.  I didn't know squirrels ate pots but I figure it may have a mineral deficiency.  I guess squirrels have something in common with some Peruvian people who mix clay in with some of their food as a mineral supplement.
  • I finished "Silo" this week.  It is a good adaptation of the books but, naturally, it deviates from the books a bit.  I think it's more for dramatic effect.  I'm looking forward to the second season.  Now I can get back to the last seven episodes of Columbo.


Thursday, July 20, 2023

What Are You Trying To Tell Me?

The big Six-Ohhhhh!

Today I turned sixty.  I thought this would bother me but I have to admit that sixty doesn't feel that old anymore.  The Wife and I have reached the point when we have to remember to ask for Senior discounts.  Yay!  We celebrated by going out for breakfast yesterday saying goodbye to the fifties.

The strange thing is I am now receiving junk mail about cremation services including offers of free food in exchange for listening to their cremation spiel.  Do they know something I don't know?  What are they trying to tell me?

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Camino 2023 - Similarities, Differences, Numbers, And The Future

This Camino was my third and, despite only completing a third of the way, I've learned a bit more about the Camino.  In the ten years since my second Camino some things have changed and some have remained the same.  

So how have things changed? The biggest change to the better is there is more support for the pilgrim.  There are now outfitters near the start in Saint Jean Pied de Port.  There are now food trucks spaced out along the way.  More bakeries and bars are opening up early for breakfast services.  On my first two Caminos if you didn't buy food the day before you walked, you had to wait until mid-morning before you could find an open store or bar.

I never really experienced a language barrier on my previous Caminos since I do know some spanish but I have to say that having a smartphone with Google Translate often made things a lot easier to navigate.  Pointing your phone camera at a menu and seeing what you are actually ordering was a nice change.  Strangely I never missed having a phone with me on my two Caminos.  I guess you can't miss what you've never had.

Speaking of smartphones, I carried a camera with me and I ended up never using it.  It was always easier to pull out my phone to take photos and the quality was as good if not better than my waterproof Nikon camera.  If we'd run into a lot more rain the camera might have been used more but the phone did a great job this Camino.  I also carried my tablet for editing photos which was also unnecessary.  I could have saved myself a few pounds leaving the camera, tablet, extra batteries, and chargers at home.

Not all the changes to the Camino experience were positive.  The crowds I'd seen on my second Camino (fueled by the movie "The Way") were still there and, in fact, were worse.  To avoid feeling like you were in a race you had to make reservations at the albergue at your destination.  You probably could walk the Camino without reservations but you would probably end up in the less desirable albergues or you had to hurry to beat the reserved crowds.  One thing that surprised me was municipal albergues were taking reservations too.  Ten years ago municipals were strictly a first come first served proposition. A good change here is that there were a lot more albergues along the Camino than there were ten years ago.

With the larger crowds there are more tourigrinos - tourist pilgrims that taxi their bags ahead and walk with just a day pack.  There has always been this type of pilgrim but they were traditionally either older, injured, or handicap people who couldn't carry a backpack for long distances.  On this latest Camino we saw a lot of able bodied people skipping the backpack carrying.  The Wife and I both were irritated with people, often ten to twenty years younger than us, carrying only a small day pack with water and snacks, complaining about how hard it was.  Strange how people who carried full packs everyday rarely complained.

There are a few options for doing the Camino other than walking.  Riding a horse or a bicycle are also 'acceptable' to get a Compostela certificate of completion.  In the last ten years electric bikes have made an appearance.  I find this a bit unfair ... especially to regular bike pilgrims who are doing a lot of work.  Every time a group of electric bikers rode by and yelled "Buen Camino!" the Wife and I would mutter FU under our breath.

While the crowds were big, the attitude of the pilgrims were much more positive than I experienced on my second Camino.  It felt like the pilgrims were there for the right reasons.  They knew what they were getting into and they understood that pilgrimage was not meant to be easy.  I think the negative attitudes I ran into last time were due to incorrect expectations created by seeing "The Way". 

Along with this more positive pilgrims came more of a Camino Family feel.  As the Wife and I met people we formed an intermittent family halfway between the more cohesive family I had on my first Camino and the more transient small groups I met on my second Camino.  I suspect if we had continued the Camino our family might have become more cohesive farther ahead.

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Now for a few numbers:

  • The Wife and I walked 184 miles (296 km) over fifteen days and averaged around 12.25 miles (19.7 km) per day.
  • We walked around 2 miles (3.2 km) per hour (this is the average including rest stops).
  • We climbed 19,800 feet (6,035 m) and descended 17,487 feet (5,330 m).
  • We stayed in thirteen albergues and two hotels between Orrison and Burgos.
  • We stopped in four towns where I'd never stopped before.
Our Camino from right to left.  Green pins are starts and red pins are ends.

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When we decided to stop in Burgos, I thought this would be the final chapter of my Camino story.  Since we've returned the Wife has suggested that we should go back and, over two or three years, finish walking her Camino.  I kind of like the idea of being a Camino section hiker.  I can't say we will eventually finish my third and the Wife's first Camino - no one, especially me, can predict the future - but another chapter is in the works.  How the story ends ... who knows? 

Photos can be found in my 2023 Camino de Santiago (The Wife's Camino) Google Photos album.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #61

  • Mom continues to recover.  We visited the bone doctor this week and they were happy with the rate of healing and told Mom she could start taking off the sling she'd been wearing since the accident.  She's both happy and a bit cautious with that.  It means the physical therapist can now start working on her arm which she is dreading.

    We finally set up someone affordable to come in a clean Mom's house every couple weeks.  This will help Mom a lot.

    We also set up a Life Alert like service ("I've fallen and I can't get up!").  She now has a necklace with a call button she can use if she falls and hurts herself again.  Gives us all a little peace of mind.
  • We, fortunately, are not under a heat dome at this moment.
    I didn't walk much this week.  A health issue popped up and I am still waiting on test results.  I will probably talk more about this once I get some answers.  I did manage to walk 10.9 miles (17.5 km) before I decided it was wise to let things settle out.
  • I finished "Severance".  A very interesting psychological thriller.  A second season is coming once the writers and actors get the contracts they deserve.

    I started watching the second season of "Foundation" before I realized it was episodic and only one episode was available (D'Oh) so I started watching "Silo".  After a couple episodes, I like it.  The more I watch TV adaptations of books I've read the more I realize my reading retention sucks.
  • I celebrated our wedding anniversary by making a dentist appointment for the Wife.  She said it was 'perfect'.  I did this as I had my check up.  I've been suffering from a sensitive tooth and I will be visiting a root canal specialist in a few weeks.  The tooth has a root canal that is twelve years old so I suspect either a crack or another bothersome root.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Camino 2023 - Ag├ęs To Burgos ... To Santiago De Compostela ... To Home.

After doing 14.8 miles (23.8 km) to Ag├ęs, we would be walking another 14.6 miles (23.5 km) to Burgos where we were going to take our first day off.

We stopped in Atapuerca for a pre-breakfast snack (namely a croissant) before we tackled the big hill of the day.  The hill was a lot longer and rockier than I remembered from my earlier Camino.  It would be a difficult start to an equally difficult day.

The sign at the top of the hill with views of Burgos in the distance.
(Photo taken by the Wife)
At the top of the hill there is a cross and a sign.  As the Wife reached the top you could tell she was struggling.  While the system of socks and shoes I'd come up with was very effective in reducing blisters, it was not ideal for the bunions the Wife had.  The tight shoe, a requirement to keep blisters from forming, irritated the bunions to no end.  Combine this with the uneven, rocky climb up the hill and the Wife was in a bad place by the time she reached the top.  Oh, and there was the ankle pain and stiffness she was experiencing that, to me, sounded a lot like the pain and stiffness I felt when I developed tendinitis on my first Camino.

The rest of the day was relatively downhill on smooth paths/roads which looked deceptively easy.  We stopped at the next town and, along with nearly every other pilgrim on the Camino, stood in line to buy some yummy breakfast sandwiches which we ate on a table outside the restaurant.

Going forward there are two ways to get to Burgos.  One takes you through a rather ugly commercial area of Burgos.  The other takes you on a longer path through a park along a river.  On my past two Caminos I'd missed the turn off to the park way.  This time everyone took the park way which appears to be the 'new' official Camino into Burgos.

After passing around the Burgos airport the Camino reached a town where we rested in the shade.  After a couple weeks of chilly weather, the temperatures were starting to warm up and we felt it as we walked along the dirt roads.

The cathedral view from our hotel suite.
(Photo taken by the Wife)
After leaving the town, and getting directions from a kind motorist, we followed the Camino through parks and trees until we joined a path following the r├şo Arlanz├│n.  The path became a paved walking trail that went for miles.  By the time we reached this part of the park, crowded full of Sunday strollers, we were exhausted.  The last couple of miles felt like they would never end.

After what felt like forever and a day we reached our hotel the Crisol Mes├│n del Cid.  I'd stayed at this hotel on my first Camino as I recuperated from my tendonitis.  It was located on the cathedral square - an incredible location.  The room we had reserved turned out to be in an annex off the square so we paid extra for a suite so we could stay near the cathedral.  The views from our hotel bedroom were amazing.

After showering we went into historic Burgos in search of food.  We found a place inside the Plaza Mayor.  We looked at each other across our table and I asked if we wanted to stop.  We both were exhausted, the Wife's foot was bothering her, and the past two days had been very long for us.  We decided to sleep on it and make a decision the next day.

As we waited for our food to come I made the mistake of looking at the train and bus schedules.  Next thing you know we decided we'd had enough and we just wanted to go home.  A few minutes later I'd bought bus tickets to Santiago de Compostela.  So much for sleeping on it.  I was the one who pushed us to quit.  The Wife agreed, and most likely if we'd waited a day the decision would have been the same, but I feel like I was the one who quit here, not the Wife.  I still feel a little guilty and we both felt a small bit of regret as we said goodbye to pilgrims we'd met as they left Burgos the next day.

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A merry-go-round in the Plaza Mayor.
(Photo taken by the Wife)
The next day we toured Burgos.  The Wife went to mass at the cathedral and we toured it afterwards.  We shopped for souvenirs and magnets.  We said goodbye to our informal pilgrim family as we met them on the street (including Le, Sa's mother who was leaving Burgos alone after her daughter went home).

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Our bus left Burgos just after 4:00AM.  The bus station was only about a five minute walk from the hotel.  The bus arrived on time but left a few minutes late.  It felt weird getting on the bus.  The bus made a few stops along the eight hour ride.  Strangely enough it followed the Camino relatively closely.  We passed Le├│n, Astorga, and Ponferrada - all stops along the Camino.  This didn't make quitting any easier for me.  I was so conflicted.  I kept thinking of what the Wife would miss.  In my opinion the best of the Camino comes after Burgos.  I really didn't want to stop but I really had to stop.  I can't remember feeling so desperate to get home on either of my Caminos.

The Cathedral of Santiago from Alameda park.
We arrived in Santiago de Compostela just after noon.  The city felt very different to me.  For one, the bus and train stations had been combined at a large, newer facility (They had been in separate locations ten years ago).  I had to pull out my phone to get directions to our hotel.  Our hotel here was not my first choice but when I searched for a room in Santiago de Compostela there were only a couple rooms available - one very expensive and the other relatively cheap.  We went for the cheaper room at the Hotel Oxford Suites.  The place wasn't fancy but it was above a bar/restaurant and was only a block from the Cathedral.  It was too early to check in so we left our packs and went exploring.

Pilgrim pole shell.
We had some on and off rain while we were in Santiago de Compostela.  We watched pilgrims arriving at the cathedral square and celebrating their accomplishment - often just sitting on the ground, looking at the cathedral, lost in thought.

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We went to the cathedral to book a roof tour but discovered all the tours were full for that day so we reserved one for the next day (our flight wasn't leaving until the late afternoon so we had the time).  We went to the pilgrim's mass and saw the swinging of the botafumeiro.  It appears that the botafumeiro is swung much more often now than they did ten years ago - the triumph of tourism (and the all mighty euro).

The rest of the day we explored the city, shopped the many shops, and enjoyed the food.  While I remembered a few places I had some difficulty orienting myself.  I did manage to find the best ice cream place that I discovered on my first Camino.

The Botafumeiro.
The Wife was a bit bummed that she didn't get a Compostela (a certificate of completion of the Camino).  Despite walking over 175 miles (282 km) she didn't qualify since you had to walk the last 62 miles (100 km) to get a Compostela.  Fortunately the Camino provides.  As we were visiting the Church of San Francisco a pilgrim told the Wife that the priest in the back of the church was giving out certificates for walking the Camino and visiting the church.  It wasn't a Compostela but it was something to commemorate her walk.

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On our last day in Spain we got up, left our bags at the hotel after checking out, and headed to the cathedral for our roof tour.  The roof tour gives you an interesting perspective and the view of the city is interesting.  It's well worth the time to tour.  This was my second time up on the cathedral roof but the first time it was pouring rain.  It was nice to see it on a dry sunny day.

We returned to our hotel, collected our bags, and walked the forty feet to the taxi station (our hotel was in a perfect location).  A taxi pulled up soon after and we went to the airport.  Our first flight took us to Frankfurt, Germany.

We had a thirteen hour layover in Frankfurt.  I hadn't noticed the layover length until after I purchased the ticket but I think it had the shortest layover anyway.  We ate dinner then moved over to the terminal we would be leaving from which entailed going through passport control for some reason.  At the other terminal we found a lounge area with lounge chairs and we claimed a couple for the night.  While the chairs were reclined and full body length they were not at the right angle for comfortable sleep.  Looking back I should have gone to one of the empty gate areas and laid down on a row of seats.

Our friend Albert in Frankfurt.
Neither the Wife nor I really slept that night.  I walked around the terminal ... at least I walked around the warm areas since parts were really cold ... and stared at the closed store fronts and restaurants.  Sometime during the night I checked our flight to see if an actual gate number had yet been posted (the gate number changed three or four times that night) and discovered our flight out of Frankfurt was going to be delayed by three hours.  I rebooked our flights but the new ones sucked so I looked again and rebooked again (each time I searched for flights the options would change).  I essentially rebooked back onto the delayed flight and picked a later connecting flight in Chicago.  The connection in Chicago would be close but doable.

The three hour delay of our flight to Chicago turned into four hours making our layover to nearly seventeen hours.  Since we stayed on the delayed flight the plane was nearly empty.  I moved to a center row and layed down.  I slept a little bit but not much.  We arrived in Chicago, waited for our checked bag (it took way too long to get off the plane), went through passport control and customs, rechecked our bag, and hustled to our gate in another terminal.  We arrived at our gate right when they started boarding.  We just had enough time to use the bathroom before getting on the plane but that was all.

Getting home from the airport was a breeze.  We were both tired from our crappy return flights and all the time spent in Frankfurt airport but we were happy to finally be home.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Camino de Santiago (The Wife's Camino) Google Photos album.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #60

It feels like I haven't been doing much lately.  I think this feeling comes from not finishing our Camino and taking time to help Mom get through her broken arm ordeal.  I just feel like my life is just in coast mode.  My only accomplishments this past week were:

  • Mom continues to get better but she fell again this week leaving her with a ugly bump on her forehead.  Fortunately her broken arm wasn't hurt again.  This coming week she goes to the bone doctor to see how it's healing.
  • I have a dentist appointment this week - it's a doctor visit kind of week I guess.
  • Finishing "For All Mankind" which turned out to be a show with good bones but mediocre musculature.  There were several story threads I would have dumped for being not necessary and, in some cases, cringy.  Other stories left me at the edge of my seat.  I guess you have to take the bad with the good.  This weekend I started "Severance".  After two episodes it hooked me I think.

    The Wife and I watched "Tetris" last night.  Who knew the story of Tetris involved so much intrigue? (I know ... it's just based on a true story, not a documentary. Definitely worth the watch.
  • I walked 15.1 miles (24.3 km) which was a bit shorter than I wanted due to bad weather on Friday.  I did manage to do some walking each day though so that's a victory.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #59

  • Mom is getting better.  She is getting more independent despite having access to only one arm.  We are still working to get her more services to help her at home.  Strangely the hardest service to get is house cleaning.  At least house cleaning at an affordable cost is hard to find.

    I contacted the American Veterans Aid who provides long term healthcare benefits to veterans and their spouses.  Mom's late husband was in the service (briefly) during World War II and she qualified through him.  Unfortunately she has to meet two of five criteria to receive aid.  Mom meets at least two of the criteria but, when her arm heals, several of them will no longer apply.  This aid only applies for long term (i.e. permanent) need for care.  They do not provide temporary aid.  My last email from the company essentially asked me to contact them when my Mom gets worse.  So, the bad news is Mom will not get any aid now but the good news is she will get aid when she needs it.  It is unfortunate we were not aware of this aid when her late husband was still alive and in need of aid himself.
  • I walked four times this week - two long ones and two short around-the-block walks.  I totaled 19.8 miles (31.8 km).  I should have walked a few more times but rain, and me being lazy, got in the way.
  • I am a bit behind in finishing my Camino posts.  I think I have two more posts to go to finish documenting the Wife's Camino.  To help kick start my writing I interrupted my Columbo viewing and subscribed to Apple TV+ and began watching "For All Mankind", "Severance", and "Silo".  I'm sure this will help get me writing soon (←This is sarcasm).

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Camino 2023 - Torres Del Rio To Ag├ęs

We left Torres del Rio heading toward our target of Logro├▒o.  The distance today would be of average length.  Average length for this Camino means 12.4 miles (20 km).

Sunrise.  Looking back east, the town of Sansol silhouetted in the morning sunlight.
The Camino was generally down this section but that didn't stop us from finding hills to climb.  We stopped in Viana at a pharmacist for more 'vitamin I' for me while the Wife visited the church across the street.

A rare horse pilgrim.
(Photo taken by the Wife)
By the time we reached Logro├▒o we were tired (an ongoing theme for this Camino).  We stopped at the same albergue I stayed at on my first Camino.  It was a big municipal albergue and a bit more run down than I remember but not terrible like the one in Pamplona.  The wife took a nap after doing her chores and having lunch.  I got a second wind and explored the historic downtown until I found a gelato place (chocolate and dulce de leche).

Dr was here nursing an aching ankle.  She was a fun lady and it was nice seeing someone you knew.

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The walk out of Logro├▒o is an unending slog along a park/bike path.  The straight flat path ends at a lake and park area.  We stopped at a little snack stand run by a famous pilgrim who walked in traditional pilgrim garb often with a donkey.  He talked with pilgrims about his multiple Caminos and the various paths.

A curious critter unsure about the passing pilgrims.
The path after the lake was not what I remembered.  I remember a dirt track along a fence.  The path is now paved.  Not sure this is new or just my crappy memory.

We stopped in Navarette (where I'd stopped for the night on both of my earlier Caminos) for breakfast, drink, and another church for the Wife.

The last four and a quarter miles past Navarette seemed to last forever.  I usually walked a bit ahead of the Wife.  When I found a place to rest I would wait for the Wife to catch up and sit down with me.  I found a place to sit and waited for her to catch up.  Not only did she catch up but she was so in the zone she walked right past me without seeing me despite being only five or 6 feet apart.

After another 12.4 mile (20 km) day we finally arrived at our target town of Ventosa.  This was a new stop for me.  We had a reservation since there was only one albergue in the small town (it filled up with someone sleeping on the dining room floor).  The albergue had a small store and a nice backyard garden.  Ventosa had two restaurants who divided up the clientele - one restaurant was open for breakfast and lunch, the other was open for lunch and dinner.

Dr was here too and joined us for dinner.  She didn't eat much as she had discovered the evil that are Principe cookies.  I purchased a tube of Principes here too - they are just as addictive as I remember.

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This day would be a shorter 10.2 miles (16.4 km) to the town of Azofra.  Since we really weren't in a hurry today we stopped for breakfast in Ventosa before we hit the Camino.

We weren't in a hurry because we had a reservation.  When I made our reservation I decided to make one at a very nice hotel in this tiny town of Azofra.  I kind of regret doing that.  The albergue in Azofra is very nice too with rooms with only two beds each.  Yes, it had a shared bathroom setup but it would have been nice enough and a heck of a lot cheaper than the hotel we stayed in.

The town has a nice bar/restaurant and a grocery store - everything a pilgrim needs.  Sa and her mom were here and we spent some time chatting with them.  Most of our time in the town was at this bar.

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Another sunrise along the Camino.
The target for the day was one of my favorite stops, Gra├▒on.  We had a short period of rain so we stopped in the city of N├íjera for a rest and snack to get out of the weather.  By the time we ate some sandwiches the rain had stopped.

Further along the way we spent some quality time in the city of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the home of the chicken church.  We had some lunch here, toured the cathedral (and saw the chickens) and the clock/bell tower.  The Wife tried to locate some tombs that looked interesting but the church where they were located was not open so we continued on the Camino.

Pilgrim shoes.
(Photo taken by the Wife)
We arrived in Gra├▒on and checked into the albergue in the old church.  Things have changed.  The old worn stone stairs had been repaired.  The volunteers running it this visit were a bit unorganized.  The place was crowded, noisy, and chaotic.  I'd hoped the Wife would have the wonderful experience I'd had on my two previous Caminos but the whole experience was depressing.  You can't go home again I guess.

Despite all this we met a lot of people we would continue to see for the next few days.  A group of Italians who had met on the Camino and were walking together, a few Koreans, some Japanese women.  I guess these people were the silver lining of the cloud over Gra├▒on.

The distance walked today was a long 13.9 miles (22.3 km).

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Our target was a place called Tosantos.  I had mixed feelings.  The parochial albergue was an unwelcome place ten years ago when we stopped there during our second Camino.  I was hoping to get beds in the newer albergue that wasn't there the last time I came through the town.

Ermita de la Virgen de la Pe├▒a - A cave hermitage above the town of Tosantos.
The Camino goes through several towns and it wasn't until the third town that we found a place to buy breakfast.  I was considering to stop for lunch at Belorado, the biggest city on today's section but we just walked through (with a brief stop at a church).

We arrived in Tosantos after a long 13.3 miles (21.5 km) and went to the newer albergue.  Unfortunately it was full. We ate lunch here before going over to the parochial albergue.  The hospitalero running the albergue turned out to be a very nice guy.  The whole atmosphere of the place was positive and welcoming.   I was very relieved.

We walked up to the Ermita de la Virgen de la Pe├▒a but it was locked up.  There was a guy cleaning up the area and it appears they are trying to keep it up which is nice to see.

The Italians, Koreans, and Japanese from Gra├▒on all showed up but the number of pilgrims at the albergue was smaller and less chaotic.  After dinner the hospitalero had people read letters and notes left by previous pilgrims.  While I didn't participate (I was tired and went to bed) the Wife said she had a very moving experience.  I guess the experience I'd hoped the Wife would have in Gra├▒on ended up happening at Tosantos.  No two Caminos are the same and the Camino always gives you what you need.

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The next two days were going to be long days.  We wanted to get to Burgos so that we could take a day off.  The first of these long days would be 14.8 miles (23.8 km) to the town of Ag├ęs.

The Wife with the sunrise at her back.
There were a few towns along this section and we stopped and had snacks or breakfast at nearly every one.  One part of this section is a climb up a hill and a long, straight slog that feels like it will take forever.  This section was bad my first Camino, not so bad during my second Camino, then came back with a vengeance during the third.

The country church of Ag├ęs.
(Photo taken by the Wife)
We survived the hard section and stopped at Cafe Marcela for some brunch and ice cream while we rested before walking the last part of the day.

In Ag├ęs the albergue I wanted to stop at was full so we stayed in the municipal albergue.  We were joined by the Italians (and possibly the Koreans and japanese ... I can't remember) here.  This place was pretty basic.

I was tired so spent most my time napping in my bed.  The Wife explored the town and visited the town church twice.  She liked how small and comfortable the church was.  She had an emotional moment with a dutch pilgrim who had been left at the altar.  The Camino is often walked by people who had encountered an unexpected change in their lives and needed time to process things.  This means many emotional times along the Camino.

In the evening we had dinner at a small restaurant that caters to the pilgrims.  The lady who does the cooking was hilarious.  The banter between her and her husband (who was doing drinks and serving the food) made us all smile.  The food was excellent.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Camino de Santiago (The Wife's Camino) Google Photos album.