Monday, May 27, 2013

Keep Calm and Camino On

So our feet feel about ready to fall off, but we are doing well.  We are apparently becoming a bit famous.  Kepa gets his picture taken 7 to 12 times a day (not exaggerating), and upon arriving at one town an Australian woman came running at us all excited yelling ¨finally I get to see the baby!  I´ve been hearing about him for days!¨.  I find it ironic that we have become this famous, because children on the Camino aren´t actually all that rare, but they are just rare enough that we are the only people in our group (basically you keep re-meeting the same people who are within the range of 20 km before or after you, day after day) so we are a novelty to our group.  We have heard, through the grapevine, that other children are currently on the route.  Apparently there is a four month old two or three weeks ahead of us (that shocked even me).  Also a family of 2 adults and 3 children ranging in ages from 2 to 11, accompanied by 3 donkeys, apparently has finised the Camino Norte and is currently walking back (!!!!) on the Camino Frances.  I think they may already be North of us, but if not then we may pass them.  The Spanish guidebook has an entire section on traveling with children, and none of the people running the places to stay have been the least bit shocked (though many of them have been very, very helpful and tried to help us book reservations a day or two ahead).....and most of the Spaniards are excited to see a baby (see the previous post about the Spanish obsession with babies....which has proven to be even more extreme than we joked about), but not too particularly "phased".  The Americans, Japanese, Brasilians, Aussies, Brits, and others, however, apparently find us to be QUITE the novelty.  I´m sure Kepa is now all over stranger´s Facebook pages now.

The Camino has proven quite tiring on our bodies, especially considering our expectations seeing as we walk 4 miles every day, and have been taking practice walks for up to 16.  Apparently you can´t replecate a mountain nor an uneven Roman road.  That said, in spite of the sore bodies, we are having the time of our lives.   Kepa´s mama thing is continuing (though worst at night when tired), but otherwise he is crazy happy.  In fact that seems to be what shocks the other peregrinos the most.....how happy he seems all of the time.  It makes me want to ask, do you think we would have tried this with a baby who wasn´t so easy going and laid back?  I wouldn´t have, that is for sure!

May 24 Estella to Torres del Rio (29.1 km)

Long, long day.  We took the high road (by choice) and it paid off.  Yes it was more climbing but it cut off a 1.5 km, and it also was a more gentle climb over soft dirt paths under the shade of a forest.  Everyone we know who took the lower route took longer and looked more tired.  After climbing that mountain it was a long descent through a pretty city called Los Arcos, then on to Torres Del Rio......a tiny medieval town on a tall hill above a river.  It´s name means Towers on the River.  The town had 2 hotels and 1 bar, but we had a really good time. Very memorable.

There are public water fountains provided everywhere on the Camino, but just outside
of Estella there is a particularly unique one.....the spout on the right is water indeed, but the
spout on the left is vino tinto, or red wine.  A sign to the right asks you not to fill takeaway bottles
with the wine, so Brittany had to improvise.
A beautiful day coming off the mountain in Monjardin

May 25 Torres Del Rio to Logrono (La Rioja) (20.1 km)

Today we left the Basque region crossing into the great wine region La Rioja (see our post on Places We´´ll Go, Things We´ll See).  Shorter, but our most tiring day yet.  Logrono is beautiful but very sleek and modern.  Logrono,as well as most of Rioja, was pretty well bombed out in the Spanish Civil War. Logronians had the money to rebuild pretty, but still rebuilt.

We saw a rainbow as the sun started to drive away the morning rain.


In Viana we happened to be there for a Basque festival.  Lots of
boys and girls in traditional Navarese dress.  Bands too.  Purty cool!



















May 26 Logrono to Najera (29.4 km)

The opening 10 km was around a beautiful lake.  Then 10 killer km across an open wine desert.  But then a beautiful 10 km over a small mountain and descending to the rivertown of Najera (pretty next to the river, dirty otherwise.....whole spanish civil war meets poor area type of thing).  We stopped at a lovely bar for sandwhiches and cerveza before the final 10 km.  After the killer day we broke down and ate pizza in Najera.  We rarely eat inauthentic while in Europe, but after 30 km we NEEDED it :)

This man walked with his self-built pull cart starting from his home in Italy.  He speaks no English
but we saw him and conversed with him most every morning for a week, then he disapeared. He either got out
ahead of us or fell behind us.  Hopefully he didn't have to abandon.  I'm very skeptical of carts for the Camino, but
this was the most practical and best built one we saw.  If any could make it, this could.

Rioja is COVERED with wine regions, in the flats and the mountains alike.
May 27 Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada (21 km---supposedly)

We awoke to drizzle, checked the weather app, and thought we had a chance to chase some sun.  Kepa was well covered (we have a whole thing to cover his pack, plus his rain jacket) but the plan didn´t work out so well for the rest of us.  In the first 6 km the drizzle turned to downpour and all of the adults got drenched even in our raingear.  We took shelter in a cafe in Azofra (pretty, tiny town), drank hot chocolates, ate, warmed up, and then took a taxi to Santo Domingo de la Calzado.  We feel like we were cheating a bit, but we just didn´t want to do anything stupid with a baby.  And I don´t think St. James will blame us for 9 little miles :) :)   Now in Santo Domingo, sun now shining (of course), doing laundry and about to go see the chickens!!!!!

Walking toward Santo Domingo de la Calzada (before the rain)

Kepa finds this all very exhausting
The square in Santo Domingo

On the left you can see the inside of the cathedral,
the live chickens are in the bright area to the left.
Above you see our chocolate chicken.  Yum!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Finally......We Camino!!!

So we´ve been walking three days now.  We´ve only covered about 40 km, partly because of weather and partly because of getting our sea legs.  But we are having the time of our lives.  Kepa is doing amazingly well.  Happy, flirting with everyone, watching waitors (his favorite past time), eating all kinds of new foods (he is quite the fan of Basque piquillo peppers, which we of course only let him have in small doses....Kepa has always liked his chicken spicy---Seinfeld reference people!).  We feel much, much better about things, though our legs and shoulders are definately plenty tired.  Things going well.  Hoping for a couple of longer days the next two days.  It is supposed to warm up a bit. Thank goodness.

 May 20, Iruna (Pamplona) Basqueland/Spain

We started feeling better this day.  We had good weather in Pamplona (Iruna in Basque), did laundry, walked around the city, ate a great meal of pinxtos (second day in a row), and got our bags packed for the next morning´s walk.

The Plaza de la Castillians in Iruna.  A very pretty main square.

Just off the main square.  The Hemingway Pizza and Doner Kebab shop.  Really? Reallys?!?!?  I mean I love a couple of Hemingway´s novels, I love doner kebabs when I´m in a junk food binge, and a well done pizza is a thing of beauty.....but what do the three have to do with each other?



The interior of the Cafe Iruna, a well preserved and elegant 1920s bar on the main square. You can drink here with dignity.  And Jake Barnes did in The Sun Also Rises.

 May 21, Iruna to Uterga (17 km)

It was surreal to be walking out of Pamplona.  We walked up a gentle slope for several hours (finally turning steep) as we ascended a major hill (mountain?)....the ascent was through mustard fields and wheat fields, opening up on a beautiful cemetary next to a loan tree (where we ate lunch).  At the top there were neat cutout statues, then a descent.  Met a lot of awesome peregrinos, and several hangers on (whom we managed to ditch haha).  Kepa is quite the hit and averages 5 to 8 photographs a day.  And the spanish won´t finish pinching his cheeks.  Not kidding.
Bri, Kepa, and Mary Ann walk through beautiful fields before climbing a really steep mountain.  Everything was beautiful

Cervantes style cutouts on top of the mountain (under modern windmills).  Is is supposed to be a stunning view (up to 100 km) but we had drizzle and clouds.  But still a pretty view.  And either way, the day was warm enough and no real rain, so no complaints.
Todd, Brittany, and Kepa on the descent
 May 22, Uterga to Lorca (18.5 km plus a 4 km sidetrip to see a octagonal church)

A stunningly beautiful day.  We went out of our way to stop an an octagonal church.  A beautiful lunch in Puenta de la Reina along the river, and we walked through the wonderfully preserved medieval hilltop town of Ciraqui (Google it, you´ll be glad you did).
The route out of Uterga

The octagonal church in Eunate
video

Todd and Mary Ann walking toward Ciraqui

A cross along the way of St James

May 23, Lorca to Estella (9km)

A short day because it is cold and threatening to rain.  But a wonderful day and a nice meal in Estella.  And tomorrow we plan to walk 27 km to a beautiful medieval town.

Kepa enjoys a swing in downtown Lorca before we begin

Lots of political graffiti.  This one originall said You Are Not in Spain. Then changed to You Are Not Alone in The Old Spain. Then changed to You are Nothing in Spain. Then changed to simply You Are in Spain.
We thought this interesting in relation to the warring graffiti above. A pro Basque statement written around a yellow arrow marking the way of St. James. Anyone who says (like me in a prvious post) that the Basques in Navarra are less nationalistic or that the French Basques are not as Basque, is slightly misrepresenting things. I´ve never seen an area more self identified as Basque as I did in St Jean Pied de Port, and I continue to see Basque political statements all around Navarra.  And most menus are in Basque first, Castillian second.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Things Not Going as Planned, We´ll See

So we had a great flight, although Kepa did really fight going to sleep on the second plane (and was embarrasingly loud).  I mean, compared to a lot of babies on a plane he did well, but not quite our typical well behaved, take me anywhere traveler.  We had a great day walking around Madrid
The ¨Museum of Ham¨in Madrid. Not Kidding

Kepa and Mary Ann on the Metro
On Friday we took the train to the beautiful Basque village of St. Jean Pied du Port, where we got our compestellas (pìlgrim´s passports) and scallop shells (traditional signs of the pilgrims).  The plan was to spend the day Saturday resting up and preparing, then walking into Spain (and beginning our journey) on Sunday (our Anniversary) 



Kepa on the train

St. Jean Pied de Port


But things did not go as planned.  First, it rained all day. Second, it snowed in the mountains. Third it was miserable even just being in town like a tourist, let alone imagining a walk. Fourth, we were already getting depressed because Kepa chose this minute, the beginning of this trip, to become a mama´s boy.  He has never shown any preference, always happy to be passed around (even to strangers to him), always happy. But when we got to Virginia he was scared of Mary Ann.  We didnt think much of it, but since we´ve gotten to Europe it has gotten more extreme.  Hes totally happy in the pack or crawling on the ground, and is excited and happy to interact with Mary Ann and Todd in such ways, but in every other scenario he´ll only let Brittany hold him.  Basically, Brittany has gotten mauled by him for four days and has become the primary care giver (when the whole plan was that with three of us, we could trade off).  Luckily he will ride in the pack on Mary Anns back, but the second we hit a hotel or a restaurant or a train....Mama, mama, mama.  So that, on top of the weather, on top of the looks of little old Basque ladies like ÿou brought a baby? made us really, really down and seriously, seriously considering abandoning the camino, salvaging what funds we could, and returning home.  Finding out that the weather is supposed to stay in place for at least a week did nothing to lift the spirits.  And before you start saying, didn´t you think of this before you go? I´d have to respond yes! yes we did!  We researched average weather for may (typically ranging from a tad chilly to warm, some rain but not a rainy season)....and we fully expected to have to sit some days out in the rain because of the baby.  But we didnt expect super cold, set in rain (for up to a week no less), and in St Jean, the town where it is the MOST difficult to bus ahead from (because of the mountains and the national border).  heck, this weather is so freakish it was the headline in the paper

Where is the Spring Time?
 So this time Saturday we were 90 percent thinking of bagging this, feeling stupid, feeling like horrible parents, and returning home.  And that is still in play.  But we are a bit more optimistic.  We are halfway through a long train day to get back around the mountains to Pamplona, where there is supposed to be sun and a bit more warmth. Such a move moves us three days ahead on the Camino and means we miss most of the areas that were the most ¨Basque¨on the trip, but it allows us to get ahead and into the sun.  We stopped in Hendaye for some Basque cakes to make us all happier as well

¨Gateau Basque.....cherry or cream?  Yes please!
We will lose one of those 3 days in transit, and another by taking tomorrow off to do laundry, rest, see how Kepa is reacting to all of the travel (trains can be tough on the little guy)....as well as to monitor the weather.  If things go bleak, then this might all go south.  On the other hand, Kepa has been happy today, especially when we have been walking with the pack, the skies are sunny, and we have hope.  Maybe this will prove to be not such a bad idea after all.  We also met some nice Scottish people who did this with their child a few years back, so we aren´t alone.  But the route through the Pyranees, with this non typical weather, would have been too much.  We wont do that to our little guy.  Hopèfully we get better luck as we move forward.  If not, we´ll hang our heads in shame and head home :)    But we remain optimistic.  Sunshine an basque cake does that

Saturday, May 18, 2013

And we are off!

This computer doesnt allow pictures [also diff to type on french keyboard].  Kepa was great on the first flight, not so good on the second.  Had a great day walking around Madrid, then a long day on trains getting to St Jean Pied du Port.  Today was supposed to be the rest day then start walking tomorrow, but it is cold, rainy, and supposed to rain here for a week [surprise front set in].  Likely will bus ahead to Pamplona missing much of the Basque region :[  But dont want to be stupid with the baby.  There is more sun in Pamplona.  Feel really down, like we are stupid for doing this, but will probably [hopefully?] feel better if we can find some sun and start walking.  Bad parents are we {we feel right now} but trying to make the best of it. Silly weather :{   Kepa is a supertrooper so far.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Here We Go! (Oh and a Chili Bowl)

Yesterday we had a family friend drive us to Northern Virginia and drop us at the hotel.  We got here at about 330 and proceeded to make a strange pilgrimage to Ben's Chili Bowl, one of our favorite mom-and-pop food eateries in the USA.  We talked about hamburgers recently, and I love them, but I'd easily prefer Ben's for his half smokes toped with chili, or Willa Mae's Scotch House in NOLA for the best fried chicken in the world, or Duke's BBQ in Orangeburg SC for some amazing BBQ, or if you want more amazing hot dogs then Dat Dog in NOLA.

The public transportation to and from Ben's was 90 minutes each way. A hotel shuttle followed by a bus followed by two subway rides. But the food was amazing. Unfortunately, we forgot our camera at the hotel so we don't have pictures of the Half Smokes (covered with onions and chili) nor the chili cheese fries nor Kepa chowing down and (literally) dancing in his seat in time to James Brown. The best we can do is a single stolen picture:


This place has been there since 1953 on U Street and the food is amazing (and I'm not a huge chili eater). In the 80s the neighborhood got so bad they couldn't let customers in the store (passing food out the window). Ben Ali (the owner) was offered big money to move to a safer neighborhood. He refused to abandon his neighborhood. By the late 90s the neighborhood had become the Greenwhich Village of DC. It is safe, property values are sky high, and Ben's is a landmark of the community. Made famous in part by Bill Cosby (who talks about Ben's every time he is on Letterman) and by Barack Obama's visit in 2008, the restaurant is one of "the" places for people from all over the city.  Well worth a pilgimage. The food was super cheap as always (this is our third trip to Ben's in our lifetimes), but the metro crazy expensive.  Check out a halfsmoke:


As for our REAL pilgrimage, we fly at 250 PM today, arriving in Madrid tomorrow morning at 9 AM (via Miami). We have some worries as the bloggers are claiming that this is the busiest May anyone can remember on the Camino--making races for beds--and Brittany has been having a bit of a shoulder/nerve thingie for a week--not caused by carrying anything, she hasn't, but from sleeping on it wrong. That said, our hotel in DC was much nice so we are taking it as a sign of good things to come. Away we go!

PS: Pardon any typos in this post, or henceforth.......typing with limited time on a hotel computer.  And expect less and less text and more and more pictures in future posts (which will be sporadic, computer avaliability depending)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Carry Us Back to Ol' Virginie

Our title borrows from Old Crow Medicine Show's song "Carry Me Back to Virginia." OCMS was an absolutely epic band till they kicked out their co-frontman Willie Watson a year ago, and their music always reminds us of Todd's home region.....the great Valley of Virginia. But we digress. What, this blog digress? Never.

We left NOLA on Saturday at 5 AM and drove 14 hours to Lexington, Virginia. Kepa was a champ until the last 2 hours when he just about lost it. We were lucky and didn't hit much rain. This picture marks the precise distance (driven) from our front door that we will walk on the Camino de Santiago if we manage to complete the entire walk.....downtown Chattanooga, TN. Yowzas.

Mile marker 180 in downtown Chattanooga.
Sunday was mostly spent helping my mom move her stuff into storage, grading (Bri and I are both still finishing up grading exams/final grades), running last minute Camino errands, etc etc etc.  We did take 2 1/2 hours out in the afternoon to walk the Chessie Trail, a 6 mile walk laid out on an old railroad bed between Lexington and Buena Vista (pronounced "Bewna."  I'm not kidding. Unfortunately). We didn't really have the time but we needed to get out of the house and Mary Ann wanted to see how heavy Kepa felt on her back after all of these months. Apparently, he didn't feel "all that heavy":

A beautiful day along the north branch of the James
Today was more moving, more grading, and more errands.....including a pedicure for Brittany to get the callouses off her feet before we start. Apparently the K-man found this all very exhausting.

Kepa sleeping while Bri pedicures
For those who don't know, Todd's hometown is stunning to look at both in terms of historical architecture and its natural setting in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 2009, CNN named it one of America's "Ten Coolest Small Towns." But we really haven't had much time to do anything. But we have managed to eat (two nights in a row! and again tomorrow for brunch) at one of our favorite mom-and-pop dives....Lexington Restaurant.

May not look like much, but that is usually a good sign in our world
A lot of their food is overly fried, overly grilled, average run-of-the-mill Americana diner food. But a couple of things blow you away. They have chicken tenders here that actually taste like chicken--just about the only chicken fingers we ever deign to eat--and their is one of our personal top-four, low-end burgers in the U.S.

Check out the ol-school stools in the background.
Kepa is in the process of polishing off a plate of green beans. 
The burgers are relatively small, and nothing fancy. But they use high quality ground beef from a local farmer, their beef is never frozen, and there is an amazing simplicity to this burger. If I had to choose one meal before death this would be on my top-ten list. It just takes me back to a good place. Other top mom-and-pop burgers in our world can also be found here, here, and here.

We had a crisis last night trying on and weighing our packs. It all added up to more than we imagined. We have now cut out a lot of things.......All three adults lost our jackets (better hope a fleece does the trick!), Brittany's makeup, the iPod, a pair of socks each, MAH's journal, one hairbrush, and various other items all had to go.

Our final grades are getting turned in by noon tomorrow and then we are on our way to Washington, DC. We'll spend the night at a hotel then Away we Go!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Five Gifts

"Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote......"   Well.  Geoffrey Chaucer was only about a month off.  These pilgrims are leaving for Virginia tomorrow.

So we can't really believe that anyone is still around reading this drivel. Yet our "hits" keep expanding (using that word makes me feel so high tech!). What does that say about the plight of American culture? Not good Tonto, not good.

I'm sure we'll post something from Virginia about the ride up and the start of the trip and all of that jazz, but the good news is that our long-winded ramblings are probably just about over because this blog will soon begin its transition toward more pictures and less text--->>if you think we are writing long posts when we could be enjoying Spain, well haha on you!

So we figured this might be a good moment to thank any of our probably-not-so-loyal readers who may have been putting up with all of our meanderings and musings the last few weeks. So we present you with five "gifts." Five things that might be likely to make the type of person who actually reads a blog like this happy. They are our gifts to you. Or "virtual" gifts anyway.

Gift #1

The last time we traveled to Paris we found this hole-in-the-wall restaurant run by a married couple in their late 80s named Robert and Louise. You get seated at a table with strangers and order your favorite cut of meat cooked however you want it. They then cook it in an open wood fire oven in the main dining room and serve it on a wood platter with rivets to catch any loose juices. Side dishes you ask? Potatoes cooked in the steak juices. And everyone is French and either really old or really hip (or both.....but thankfully never hipster). Did I mention that the restaurant has a house cat and a house dog? Well they do. The restaurant is aptly named Robert et Louise. When Brittany had a student go to Paris over spring break, she recommended this restaurant to the student who then sent her a picture from her iThingie. It is a beautiful picture that made me happy to simply stare at it for a week. I hope you enjoy staring at it too, because it is your first gift:


Gift #2

This may be the greatest three minutes in television history. It comes from the end of the very first episode of Anthony Bourdain's now defunct No Reservations. His first location was Paris, and his self-stated thesis was to prove "Why the French Don't Suck." These three minutes pretty much articulate my entire world view better than I could ever express it myself. This is the perfect thing to watch during your lunch at work in order to feel better about life. Enjoy.

video

Gift #3

If there is one thing everyone knows Todd is obsessed with besides food and Tulane football, it is Sofia Coppola. Yes, it is an academic pursuit--my most major academic article was on her first three films--but the love goes much deeper. I find her to be just about the most under-apreciated filmmaker of her (or any) generation. She is the Queen not just of style, but of subtlety. And her camera's eye is unmatched in contemporary Hollywood IMO. Heck, our guest bedroom is Sofia Coppola themed. Need I say more? Yet, somehow, I have apparently displeased God, because in spite of the fact that she only releases a new film every 3-4 years, her next film, The Bling Ring, releases in the U.S. on June 14. Yes, while we camino (!). So my gift to you is to let you see this film and taunt me about having seen it in theaters mercilessly.  Somehow, I don't think it's gonna still be out in July (unless the teenie-boppers miss the subtle social critique and actually think the movie is pro-them).


Gift #4

Did you ever drink a frozen, watered down Daiquiri and wonder, surely, there must have been a classy cocktail in here somewhere long before the packaged tourism and cruise culture messed with it?  I mean, surely?!? Well, there was. The Daiquiri was actually a pretty interesting cocktail back in the days. Slightly sweet but certainly not sickly so. Not particularly sugary. Has an actual flavor. Something you could sit at a bar and drink with dignity. A worthy summer drink. Do yourself a favor and enjoy one. Like now. Right now. Why are you still reading? Anyway, here is our favorite variation of the "Hemingway Daiquiri":

2 oz white rum (preferably Old New Orleans Rum)
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz marsh grapefruit (regular grapefruit will do, you heathen)
1.5 oz simple syrup
2-3 dashes of maraschino liquor (this is the only thing that will set you back $, but it'll last you a lifetime)


Gift #5

AmericanaramA. This summer, while we are gone and can't go (and then when we are back and too broke to travel) Bob Dylan is touring outdoor venues along with a mostly-acoustic Wilco, My Morning Jacket (whom I don't know all that super much about, but I have loved their covers on tribute albums for Dylan, John Prine, and even little ol' John Denver), and a rotating series of old-time string bands. Did I mention that there will be cheap hot dogs and beer? Or how about that Bob Dylan is almost 80 and could die soon. See him while you can. He is probably the most important artistic or literary figure of the past century. Even if you don't like his stuff, why miss the chance to see him. I mean, even if you hate Shakespeare, wouldn't you be interested in meeting him in person if you still could? Well Dylan > the Bard (that was just dropped to get Alan B.'s goat) so therefore if you aren't at AmericanaramA you are wrong. If you can't afford the time or money to walk the Camino this summer, then you might as well enjoy a slice of AmericanaramA while it is still there to be had.
Hope you enjoyed one or two of our "gifts."  ¡Buen Camino!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

But....what about The Piv?

So. We also have a dog. And not just any dog, but an insanely intelligent border collie who is used to doing everything with us. He goes to the bar with us. The coffee shop. Picnics. He waits in the car while we grocery shop (not in summer). And he has been taking all of our practice walks with us. In fact, there are few things in life he likes more than walking and meeting new people. Well except for Kepa, who is his best mate. Our dog is 20 months old (8 months older than Kepa) and his name is Pivo. Meet Pivo:

"Can we keep him?" Pivo meeting Kepa.
Yes. His name is weird too. But it wasn't planned that way. Or, Pivo's was, but it wasn't supposed to be a double whammy. Pivo is Czech for "beer." Actually, it is Eastern European for beer, as "pivo" (or, in a couple of languages, "piva") means beer in at least Czech, Polish, Russian, and almost all of the Slavic languages. Probably more countries than just that. You see, our last big trip, a couple of years ago, was around Eastern Europe with Mary Ann. We went to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, and St. Petersburg Russia. The entire trip was an amazing, eye-opening experience, but few places were more impressive than the Czech Republic. An all-around amazing culture, we were absolutely stunned to find just how good Czech cuisine is. Think of the down-home simplicity of Germany or Italy with the sophistication of France or Basqueland. It was amazing. Did you know that Austrian pastries are basically stolen from the Czechs? Or that most German food is a watered down knock off of Czech dishes (Czech food puts German food to shame btw)? How about the fact that the Czechs invented Pilsner? You think you've had beer. You think you have an opinion about lagers. We thought we did too. Then we had Czech beer. I can't even describe it. In a small town called Český Krumlov we toured a brewery that is UNESCO funded in order to continue to make their Eggenberg Beer literally the exact same way they have since the Middle Ages. At the end of the tour, you each get two free liters (one dark, one light). Never. Had. Beer. That. Approaches. It.  In Prague, we went to Pivovarský Club, which is like a hipster beer mecca without the hipsters (thank God). Pivovarsky means "beer maker," and they keep six rural, unfiltered Czech micro-pivos on tap at all times, and they rotate them as soon as they run out. All three of us went one evening and shared and tried all six. Every one was better than the last. Even the raspberry one was good, and we would typically consider fruit beer a crime against nature. Here is a picture of Todd and Brittany at Pivovarský Club:

The picture is blurry. That seems appropriate.
In Prague, there is also this amazing mom-and-pop restaurant (Medvídkü) that, besides amazing pork knuckle and wild boar, makes an amazing beer cheese. Yes, you read correctly. Beer cheese. I can't even describe it it is so amazing. Our friends Pat and Cat have had it too, and they can vouch for it. Here is Todd about to take a bite....and you can see the remnants on the plate to the left as well as the remnants of a pig's knuckle in the center:

I can't begin to describe how good this was. Do, however, avoid the beer ice cream.
If mom-and-pop ain't doing it for you (though at Medvídkü, it should) then Prague has an amazing high end place too (like top five meals of our lives good), but I digress. Actually, we've really digressed. The point was we came back really, really enamored with Eastern European culture, and we named our amazing dog Pivo. Sometimes called "The Piv" or "The Pivanator." Basically, we named our dog "Beer."

So, when we first decided to do the camino, Pivo was one of many big question marks. We thought of taking him with us. People do walk the Camino with dogs, but it is generally frowned upon for many reasons. The most important one is that, while people hike 15 miles and more with their dogs, there is a different reality to doing that every single day. Most dogs can't handle it. Universally, however, people assert that "working" breeds (i.e., border collies) can. Could he handle it? Probably, but he could get hurt. Meanwhile, we'll also be in prime sheep herding country in Spain, and we've got a good looking sheep dog. I'm worried someone would steal him while we ate dinner (he would wait outside for us when we go in places). We would certainly have to camp with him sometimes, which we can't do with the baby (OK, let's be honest, we ain't camping--see previous posts). 

All of this adds up to not taking the Piv--and it kills me for many reasons. The biggest one is that while many people leave their dogs to go on vacation, not all do it to go on a big walk, making me feel like a big asshole. Also, Pivo has done all our training with us, and this is very much something we're doing to look back on the last year, to celebrate being a family. Pivo has VERY much been a part of this past year as his puppy butt snuggled my baby bump, and he waited in the car while we visited Kepa in the hospital. It kills me to leave him behind, but leave him we will.

So, where is The Piv going, you ask? Pivo will be staying with one of my students, C., and her three roommates this summer. We had weighed lots of ideas when C approached us about taking him, and we think he is going to have a GREAT time. Basically, he gets to continue his dog city life here like we never left. Pivo is a New Orleanian. He has a regular bar; tourists love him (seriously, we don't get it); and while he doesn't seem to get why peeing in public is a big no-no in NOLA, the NOPD hasn't busted us yet. Plus, C. has a Fiat, which is this family's dream car, meaning it is only appropriate that Piv get to ride in style while we're gone.   
Cruising down the street, real slow, while the fellas be yellin' FIAT!
So, that answers the next question people seem to have. Or at least Alan B., who apparently has been hitting "refresh" on his keyboard for over a month now. Pivo is going to be OK. I just have to keep telling myself that so I don't ugly cry when we drop him off next week.

Oh, I forgot to mention. We have a cat. An irreverent cat. He doesn't care one iota that we're going on the Camino (he has no interest in walking anywhere, or moving for that matter). He'll be staying with Brittany's mother.