Homer's Travels: July 2023

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.


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.


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 - Agés To Burgos ... To Santiago De Compostela ... To Home.

After doing 14.8 miles (23.8 km) to Agés, 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 río Arlanzón.  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 Mesón 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.


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).


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 León, 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.


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.


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).