Sunday, October 11, 2009

I'm home at last!

Took quite a bit of doing, but I am finally home! I have never had so much trouble with getting on the plane to go home as I did on Friday. It started off with Iberia, which for some bizarre reason, sends passengers to different gates FOR THE SAME FLIGHT! Fortunately, I was in a group of passengers that included an Iberia executive, so when the customer "service" rep started to tell us we were hosed even though it was their fault, he got on the phone & started forcefully talking to someone (he didn't yell, but his tone of voice suggested that he was saying "get us on this plane if you value your job"). So we were whisked by bus to the opposite end of the airport (we weren't even sent to the same terminal!) & told to walk up a flight of stairs at the back end of the plane. Since the door wasn't open, the woman in front of me knocked on it. "Avon calling!" Sheesh. And here I thought the emergency exits were supposed to be used to get OFF the plane. I'm sure quite a few people at Iberia & possibly Barajas Airport no longer have jobs there.....

So we were an hour late in getting Heathrow. No problem, thinks I, since I still have over an hour to change terminals & make my connection. Oh no, says the nice BA lady who checked my boarding card. You're too late. I'm sorry, what? I was at the airport at 6:00 a.m.! No, you have to be at Heathrow by a certain time to get on your flight home. Well, she was very nice (especially when I started crying...I really hate that about myself, but I was so tired & exhausted & wanted to go home so badly, the tears started flowing). She called the gate & asked them to hold it for me, but they couldn't, so she walked me over to customer service where 2 people spent about 30 minutes getting me a seat on the flight to Houston & then a flight home. (See, Iberia, it CAN be done without making the passenger feel like garbage.)

When I got to Houston, the line at Immigration & Customs was almost out the door, thank to a flight from Mexico that was more than 2 hours late in arriving AND the fact that Homeland "Security" only bothered to put 6 people (out of 18 kiosks) on the floor to let Americans back in their own country. These were not happy people, since almost all of them had missed their connections. It took me over 45 minutes to get through that mess, then on to collect my bag & find out how to get a new boarding pass & baggage tags since IAH is obviously not DFW, where I thought I was going when I checked in at 6:00 a.m. in Madrid.

I was told to go stand in a massive line at customer service, again helpfully staffed by only 3 people & a surly teen age son of one of the employees who was not quite nice when passengers came up & started asking him questions (Listen, dummy, if you're not an employee, what the heck are you doing not only sitting at the Continental desk, but being rude about it?????) Since all these people in line needed to be rebooked on new flights, I was obviously going to be wasting an inordinate amount of time standing in line. By this point, I'd been in the international arrivals area for almost 2 hours, so I started looking for an exit.

And there it was: the sign to Ground Transportation. I figured if I could somehow get a boarding pass & go through security at this terminal, I could get to the 9th Level of Hell, aka IAH Terminal B for free using the monorail. So, I left the long line downstairs & went through the doors & into the main terminal, up the escalator & to the Continental check-in desk. The woman there gave me my boarding pass & a new tag for my checked bag & off I went to security. Quickly got to Terminal B & it was a madhouse. All the flights were delayed or cancelled & the hallway to where my gate was smelled like a bathroom. No, seriously. Got to my gate, only to find out my flight was delayed for one hour, then 2. Finally got on board the plane (with the gate agent telling us with a straight face that this was an "on-time departure." No kidding. Got home close to midnight, thanks to my friend Estella who patiently waited for me through all the delays. The Zoo was happy to see me & went to sleep surrounded by furry, purring bodies & 2 happy dogs prancing around outside.

And the airlines wonder why people don't want to fly anymore.....

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Who was that on the Camino?

Here is a story told to me & others at our hotel by 2 women from Quebec who were walking the Camino Frances:

They were walking in the dark, about 6:30 in the morning. It was very dark & foggy (Galicia is like that) & they couldn´t see anything beyond the small lights cast by their head lamps. As far as they knew, they were the only ones walking the Camino.

All of a sudden, they smelled something like perfume (and believe me when I say that you would not mistake the usual smells of Galicia for anything resembling perfume). They couldn´t figure out where it was coming from.

Soon, they saw the figure of a man walking ahead of them. Was he a pilgrim? A local? A good person or bad? They didn´t know & began to worry. One woman said he was wearing a white shirt & had dark hair. They didn´t know whether to say anything to him, but as they began to pass him, he said "Buen Camino," as all pilgrims should do when greeting each other on the pathways. So they calmed down....he was a woman turned to say "Buen Camino" back to him & noticed that she couldn´t see his face.

They passed him & for several minutes were climbing a hill. When they got to the top, they noticed that the there were 2 paths to take & no markers to indicate which was the Camino & which wasn´t. They looked around for a waymark or a milestone for several minutes, but couldn´t find one, so they just stood there. Soon the man in the white shirt came up & lifted his right arm, indicating that they should take the path to the right. As they gathered their poles to begin walking again, they turned to say "Gracias," but the man & the perfume smell had disappeared.

They never saw him in a bar or an albergue & no other pilgrims said they saw a man meeting that description.

So, who was that on the Camino?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fly, Butafumiero, fly!!

Well, despite all the drama with the black eyes, I somehow lucked out yesterday at the Pilgrim´s Mass. The butafumiero, for which the cathedral is famous for, was lowered the night before, to let everyone know that it was going to be swung the next day.

I got to the Cathedral before 11:30 & it was already packed. I took one look at the rope & pulley, & guessed which way the butafumiero was going to fly. (So glad I was paying attention in science class that day....remember that, kiddies....never know when you´re going to have to use Newton´s Laws.....) Took my seat in one of the cross aisles (transept????) instead of the main aisle where everyone else was crowding, so I could see the thing fly. Shortly before the service started, the singing nun came out & did her best to teach us some of the responses. I have to admit I was pretty good with the Ave, Ave, Ave Mariiiiiaaaaa & Jesus Jesus Salvatore, but had to hum some of the other responses because they were too long & I didn´t recognize the words. No matter how half-heartedly we sang, the nun smiled sweetly at us & said "bueno bueno...con mucho corazon...todos, todos" & we´d start off again belting out our Ave Marias & Jesus Salvatores.

The Pilgrim´s Mass is a regular mass, but before it starts, we all stand while the priest reads off the countries the pilgrims from yesterday came from, which route they took, & how many. I was one of Los Peregrinos de los Estados Unidos who started at St Jean Pied du Port. There were also several others from Denmark, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, France, Finland, Brazil, & Germany.

The butafumiero didn´t fly until the end of the service. Instead of the usual benediction after communion, there was a commotion at the front of the altar as the butafumiero was lowered & the men responsible for it lit it, then raised it again. Priests & nuns brought several disabled & sick people forward so they could see & also be blessed by the smoke (I suppose). Everyone with a camera or cell phone started recording & taking photos (even though it´s not permitted, this is such a rare event in the Cathedral no one was stopped from recording it). The organs started blasting out music (I always think of the processional from the Sound of Music...they didn´t play that, but have that running in your heads while you read this part).

As the butafumiero was raised, smoke & incense were pouring from it...I could smell it all the way back where I was....the men began to haul on the rope, causing it to swing. First it swung low before the altar...then they pulled harder & it went up higher....and higher....and further back along the side way it was going to reach me, omg yes it did & :gasp: it almost hit the ceiling way above us!!!!!!!!!!!!! People on the side aisles were gasping, ooohing & aaaahing...those who took the seats in the front realized they were in the wrong place too late & only got to see it swing back & forth across the altar & in front of the statue of St. James....and just like that, it was absolutely amazing experience!

After mass, I stood in line to "give Jimmy a hug," as we say. You line up & walk up some stairs behind the main altar, then you are in a little place behind the statue of St. James that overlooks the cathedral. You can put your hands or arms around him & say thanks, or touch or kiss the shell on his back. You don´t get too long to do this & you are NOT permitted to take a picture here...too personal & private, then it´s down the stairs & to the left, down more stairs to the crypt where you visit the tomb of St. James & 2 of his followers who brought his body to Spain. Whether those are his bones or not, I don´t care. It´s quite a heady experience to be looking at the tomb of someone who knew Jesus, who talked with Him & was there at the Crucifixion & Resurrection.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Woke up this morning in Monte de Gozo feeling last night in an albergue, so of course I had to get the room with would stop & then the other would kick in....walked down to the place where they let the "albergue" pilgrims eat (as opposed to the turigrinos who take the bus who got to eat in the nice place with table service) & had a coffee with Desiree & Maria before they set off...see you in an hour or so!

Never caught up to them, but didn´t expect to. Made it into Santiago, all whopping 4 clicks, in about an hour & a half. Stood there in Plaza Obradoiro & couldn´t believe I was actually there. Got lost trying to find the pilgrim´s office (some yellow arrows might help---hint hint). The line wasn´t so long so I thought everyone had gotten their compostela already. There was some discussion about how to write my first name in Latin (Being a completely Irish name, it has no Latin variation), then "Congratulations," loads of tears, & then back out the door to figure out what the heck do I do now?

Went out in search of a hotel & found one, then got directions to the hospital where a doctor looked me over & sent me on my way. Fitzgeralds have hard heads, apparently.

Then back to the hotel & OMG, it´s Mark & Tracy from New Zealand!!!!!!!!!!! YAY!!! I´m running in to all kinds of people now. Can´t wait for tomorrow when I go get the stuff I mailed to myself back in August, then off to the Cathedral for the Pilgrim´s Mass & to buy my train ticket to Madrid.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Yup, I made a spectacular face plant yesterday. Tripped over a rock & arms flailing everywhere....not fun at all. Some Spanish pilgrims dusted me off, bandaged me up & said no worries. Got a nice size lump on my forehead & now a couple of shiners, maybe, so it´s off to the hospital tomorrow once I get to Santiago. Only 5 km to go...not quitting now.....

Friday, October 2, 2009

Made it to Arzua

Three more nights on the Camino & then I´m done. I´m in Arzua tonight, maybe Sta Irene tomorrow, Monte de Gozo on Sunday, & Santiago on Monday. And this time next week, I´ll be on my way home.

The kilometers are flying by now....seemed almost impossible weeks ago that I was getting closer to I´m close to KM stones in the single

Thursday, October 1, 2009

And well worth it, Uncle Burnham

An old family story goes like this: A poor relation came to stay with Uncle Burnham. One morning at breakfast, she was seen buttering both sides of her bread. A bit upset about this, Uncle Burnham loudly announced "Are you aware, Niece, that butter is 5 cents a pound?" Niece Whoever, in true Fitzgerald fashion, took a bite of her bread, then looked him in the eye as she responded "And well worth it, Uncle Burnham."

That´s about how I feel today. A shorter walk, but still enough to make my feet scream, and I get tossed up at some place called Cafeteria Atenas in Melide. Most pilgrims avoid Melide because the albergue has a reputation for being absolutely filthy & besides has mixed, open showers. Oh hell no. So when I asked about rooms here at this place (a sign says they can obtain rooms, not that they actually have them), the gentleman at the bar asked Con bano o sin bano? The difference is 5 Euro, so I took a habitacion con bano.

The room is spartan (ironic if you know anything about Greek mythology), but the mattress is practically new & has real sheets AND is a double, not a single, the room is spotlessly clean & the bathroom is phenomenal (compared to what I´ve been using since Leon.) No one to bang on the door 2 minutes after I lock it, claiming I´ve been in there hours & hours. No one to whine that I used all the hot fact my shower lasted 10 minutes, not 3. Ja Ja Ja. No one keeping me awake by snoring or arm wrestling plastic bags......ahhhhhh.....all this for 30 Euros?

Well worth it, Uncle Burnham.