March 5, 2007

The Triple Gem


Pick three of the most holy sites in European Christendom, and you might list Santiago de Compostello in Spain, Canterbury in England, and Italy's Rome. What better way to meet Europe on an intimate level than by walking along country roads and trails following in the footsteps of a thousand years worth of pilgrims to these places.

While each of these were popular destinations for pilgrims of the Middle Ages, many 'foot' routes simply faded away with the birth of the 'modern' world. The thought of taking extended time away from home, job and family in search of contemplation, solitude, and rekindling of one's own spirituality seemed to be pushed aside with the growth of technology and increased education.

But European Pilgrimage routes have made a resurgence in the last twenty years. Because of this growing interest in pilgrimages, many groups, organizations and governments are reviving the routes. I plan to connect many of these 'footpaths' as I can in my quest to tie the 'triple gem' together.

First, before putting feet to pavement, I'll spend some time in Almansa with my friends Santi and Amparo, at their school Aula sin Fronteres, studying Spanish. I hope to stop in Mardrid to visit friends Cesar and Sonia, on my way to Santiago. It will be refreshing to start where I finished in 2002, only going east this time, walking through the Spanish countryside during the spring. Once I get to the French border, I'll take a side trip to visit my cousin Cindy and her husband Jean Yves in Toulouse, along with one of my fellow Malaga students, Lea.

From Toulouse, I'll head back to the Camino, to continue where I left off, following the Via Lemonvicensis route towards Vezelay. If all goes according to plan, I want to take a short retreat at Plum Village, the French home of Noble Peace Prize recipient Reverend Thich Nhat Hanh. From there I'll move more north along the French coast on my way to Mont St Michel, crossing the English Channel at Cherbourg.

I can follow the Pilgrims' Trail from Portsmouth to Winchester, where I can then pick up Saint Swithun's Way to Farnham. From there I will continue along the South Downs Way all the way to Canterbury. Somewhere along that path, I'll take another break to visit my cousin Jeff and his wife Teresa in London.

After reaching Canterbury, the second gem, I change directions completely heading south towards Rome along the Via Francigena, a recently revived pilgrimage route. At Dover I'll cross the Channel again landing at Calais. From there I follow the eastern French border till I reach Switzerland. I am so excited to finally get to visit my friends Daniel and Ariane in Bern, and also to see friends Thomas and Rahel. That gets me to the final leg through Italy. Just one more break to visit my pilgrim friend, Marta near Verona, before heading into Rome.

My best estimates are about 6 months of walking, taking advantage of the seasons and weather through each country. I'll be staying at pilgrim hostels, visiting friends and family, occasionally tenting, meeting people through and, and sometimes even staying at pensiones or hotels. I'll be packing for lightweight but still more like a backpacking trip, just in case, meaning I'll tent if I have to and be able to cook if I need to. I'll be posting updates to this blog using my PocketMail along with keeping in touch through email. Pictures will be posted when I can get time but that could only be a few times during the whole trip.

A friend asked me what my purpose was for doing this trip. I've been asking myself the same thing and it changes every day it seems. At first it was going to be a Spanish 'test' for my language skills, but decided I was putting too much pressure on myself about that, taking all the fun out of it.

I think now it's more about opening up myself to the 'unknown' and to let the world come to me as I walk every day. I'm fairly 'anal retentive' about my trip planning and this trip has a lot of un-plan-able parts. At first that stressed me out a lot, but now I'm more accepting of that. It is just about trusting life to unfold as it's going to unfold. And I will enjoy seeing my cousins and friends along the way, and meeting new folks too.

So, I have my plane tickets, but still a lot of packing to do. And don't forget I need to study my Spanish more before I leave.