Friday, July 31, 2015


Dépaysement (n.): The feeling stemming from not being in one's native country; culture shock; disorientation. (French)

I'm afraid I'm a bit overdue for a new post, but I have an excellent excuse: I've been cloistered. Since we last spoke I've gone on arduously long hikes, spent almost 24 hours in various Spanish bus stations, avoided seafood almost successfully, and listened to an absurd amount of the Harry Potter series on tape (narrated by Jim Dale, 150,000 out of 10: would highly recommend.)

I left off in Zaragoza. Which, now that I think of it, feels like ages ago. Happy month-iversary, by the way! July is now a thing of the past (at least in this time zone) which also means that all of the other Watsons have now departed for their respective years of discovery. Bon voyage, future friends! I'll see you in a year.

So, to sum it up: Zaragoza was hot. Some highlights: wading pools in the center of the city, excellent for keeping your ankles lukewarm and looking like a silly tourist. Goya everywhere. The most impressive collection of medieval tapestries in Europe. Limon congelado, the best frozen lemonade to ever grace the earth. The Diocesan Museum of Zaragoza (which is one of the coolest museums I've ever been to, and I've been to a lot. Walls that slide away as doors, fantastic lighting and audiovisuals, and a great collection built into an archaeological excavation site. Not too shabby at all, and I had it all to myself.) Also a store that claimed to sell "All things America." They had Cheetos and Jolly Ranchers, so... nailed it.

I journeyed from Zaragoza to Pamplona by bus, and then to Aurizberri where I stayed in a hostel outside of Roncesvalles. I went to Roncesvalles to see a monastery, but I was flouted at almost every turn. Here my story, ye readers, and despair. And then get over it and keep moving. That's what I did, anyway.

The trip started with a major perk, in that I am almost certain the guy at the desk gave me the key to the wrong room. I had booked a bunk in an 8-person mixed dorm and was feeling incredibly anxious at the prospect of having so many roommates, but I opened the door onto a neatly appointed room with a full-sized bed and an ensuite just for me. No sharing, hurrah! And a bathtub.

The major draw of the hostel was that it said on the website that it was 3 km from the monastery at Roncesvalles, and I figured it would be a simple enough commute. I saved my directions on my iPod, shrugging at Google's silly calculation of an hour and a half walking time (what do they know? ohoho, I'm so smart and superior). I left the hostel at 9 am, ready for a brisk walk and a visit to some treasure at the top of the hill.

Turns out it takes the better part of three hours to get to Roncesvalles from Aurizberri. And walking on the side of the road is a Very Bad Idea. Suffice it to say I survived, and thank all my lucky stars it was a cool day with beautiful countryside, but I was rather discouraged when I got to Roncesvalles much later and much more tired than I had anticipated. Oh well, I thought. At least there will be so many things to see and investigate here!

Oh, my sweet summer child.

The museum and collections were only available through a very expensive tour not offered when I was there. I could walk through the church and a part of the cloister on my own, but that was it. I asked around for guidance from the staff, but most of them are pilgrim-hospitality oriented and not well-versed in the site. So that was a bit of a bummer.

It was, however, my first real encounter with the Camino de Santiago, a centuries-old and incredibly revered pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela. People come from all corners of the world and all walks of life, to undertake the pilgrimage. Since Roncesvalles, I have been (more or less) following the pilgrimage route towards Santiago de Compostela, and I plan to end up there in a few weeks. From Roncesvalles, it is 790 km as the crow flies to Santiago de Compostela, and quite a daunting walk; I've seen more peregrinos boarding buses with Camino-related injuries than I can count. But I do value the five hours I spent on the Camino route; it gave me a small glimpse into what it is like to undertake the pilgrimage. Maybe I'll come back and do it for real sometime--I certainly can't do it now. I'd like to see someone undertake it with the amount of luggage I have and survive. In any case, even though the monastery itself didn't yield much in terms of objects, the walk did wonders. I experienced a renewed passion for the objects and places that people are willing to put their bodies through so much to see.

I walked home in a lightning storm, which just made sense given the day I had. All bah-humbuggery aside, I really liked Aurizberri. It's one of those villages where if you sneeze as you drive through it you'll miss it, but the view can't be beat. What can I say? I'm a sucker for mountains.

I'm still playing a bit of catch-up, since I'm in Leon now, but I was in Burgos for a week and my time there gave me a lot to think about. Next time, Burgos!

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