In loving memory…………………………

GUGGENHEIM BILBAO

Before the pandemic I had started my own little tradition of taking early morning walks in all the cities where I sleep. I love the peace and the silence at this time of day. Each city has a unique feel when it is empty, and it takes on a different personality. A few weeks ago I went for a long walk through the empty streets of Bilbao. There was hardly a soul on the street and none of the bars or cafeterias were open yet. It was so pleasant that I walked for much longer than I had planned.

Memorial near the Doña Casilda Park

As I walked that morning I was bombarded with different memories from my countless visits to this city. My thoughts included nights out with friends in the Casco Antiguo, walking to the Guggenheim for dinner with my groups, getting a cast put on my leg in the local hospital, drinking Txakoli with colleagues and sharing my love for this part of Spain with so many people.

La Puerta de los Honorables……… in honor of the socialist, Ramón Rubial

I have been blessed to travel with many people who have touched my heart in different ways. Many have repeated tours with me or have come back to visit. We communicate through email and I receive holiday cards from them by snail mail. Several have become close friends and I think of them often. Throughout the pandemic so many of these people went beyond what it means to be caring and generous and it brought me to tears on occasions. I have thought about my guests and prayed that they have were healthy and safe throughout the past two years and I get worried when I don’t hear from them.

Las Sirgueras – dedicated to the women who worked along the Nervión Estuary

In Spring 2016 I had a mini group within one of my groups. During the welcome dinner in Lisbon they came up and asked me to guess which of the six of them were blood related. From that moment on we had a permanent connection. On one of our free nights in Bilbao they invited me to dinner at one of the Michelin star restaurants, Extanobe. Unforgettable doesn’t even begin to describe that evening filled with laughter, friendship, storytelling and amazing food. There are some guests that seem to emotionally adopt you and you are connected for life.

Statue of John Adams, Gran Via de Lopez de Haro

After each tour is over I receive many emails from my guests. This email is from one of those amazing people who I shared dinner with in Bilbao.

Margaret,
None of us will ever forget you. Nancy and I had been to Spain four times to Spain before that trip.  Yet you took a wonderful trip and made it the trip against which we we measure not just trips to spain but all others. So to us, you are unforgettable. We all hope to see you, your husband, and beautiful daughter someday in San Antonio.
Nancy says she gets hungry every time she reads one of your stories.
Con abrazos,Al and Nancy Karam
P.S.  I still remember the first words I said to you, “I already don’t like you because you live in Granada and I don’t!”

Plaza Moyua

On my birthday last week I received a message that Al had passed away. My heart broke in two as I took myself back to the memories of his kind smile, laughter and all of the stories that he shared with me. We had a special connection.

“Margaret, here’s a little thing you may find interesting.  We first arrived in the evening in Granada on our first trip to Spain summer 1994, our 25 anniversary . Since it was our  anniversary, we had a room in the Hotel Alhambra…uh…what was the working class Leb. boy doing in this hotel? Since we were just relaxing we went to the grounds and started walking around for about an hour or so.  There was hardly a soul there.  We later learned that the place was closed and how were we able to sneak in?  No sneaking, just walk into, I think, the Fatima gate. Ah… to be young and unknowing.” Al Karam

I will never forget you dear Al.

In loving memory.

My Group with Al in Bilbao

The predecessor to Salmorejo…….

Minaret or Bell tower of the Mosque in Córdoba

A small miracle occurred in the month of July! I actually had the opportunity to organise and accompany a group throughout Andalucia. It is hard to explain how good it felt to plan visits and excursions to the places I love. Calling my local guides (friends) to let them know I would need them for a visit was absolutely the best! I am so grateful for this opportunity after all of this time “off” the road.

View of the Mosque/Cathedral from the Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Guadalquivir River

One of my favourite parts of traveling with others is sharing the local foods. Gastronomical history is my passion. Through this history we learn about the people and their lives and customs. I love receiving emails from guests who have travelled with me that contain photos of the dishes they learned about while we traveled together. They get to relive beautiful experiences by preparing these dishes at home!

Gazpacho’s cousins……

Historically refreshing……

A Glimpse of Antequera, Spain

My colleague and I went to lunch in Córdoba the other day. I took her to one of my favorite places, Casa Rubio. I always have a hard time deciding on a place to eat in Cordoba because there are so many amazing bats and restaurants.

Casa Rubio………it was full later on.

Córdoba is known for salmorejo! You can read about it in the attached biog posts above. I love salmorejo and I prepare it a lot at home. But, when I’m in Córdoba I have to order MAZAMORRA, especially if I am with someone who has never tasted it before.

Mazamorra at Casa Rubio

Long before the tomato arrived to Europe, people were preparing dishes that involved the mashing or creaming of many products, like almonds and bread. The word mazamorra either comes from Arabic or the Greek “mâza” just like in the word mazapán (marzipan). Amasar in Castilian Spanish means to mash or to knead. Different types of mazamorra are also prepared in different South and Central American countries. It can be a salty dish, dessert or a drink depending on the country. The mazamorra cordobesa is completely different from these. In Córdoba, it is a cold cream served with bread or sesame breadsticks. It is simply prepared with almonds, olive oil, salt, and garlic. There are also different variations. More than likely this dish dates back to the Roman times when a dish was made using bread. It is a cousin to “ajo blanco”, “porra” and “salmorejo”. Please read about these in the attached posts above.

The preparation at Casa Rubio is perfect. It is very light in garlic (although I prefer it with more), and it is garnished with almonds, apples, and raisins. The texture is smooth as silk.

Córdoba was very quiet but it was nice to see some people traveling again. I am so grateful that I was able to be on the road for a few days! We need to stay safe and take care of each other to keep moving forward.

My favorite places in Spain (Basque Country)….Bodega Berroja

Hondarrabi Zuri Ready for Harvest

Some places just feel like home from the very first moment you arrive. I always say that I have many different homes across Spain and Portugal. They are places that I can walk into year after year and and always feel greeted with warmth and friendship. In the Basque Country, up in the hills and looking over the Cantabrian Sea there is a small boutique winery that captured my heart from the very first moment that I arrived over 8 years ago. A winding road takes you up to this magical place that is not visible until you are at its doorstep, not unlike the Guggenheim Museum upon your arrival in Bilbao.

In this paradise, smack in the middle of the Urdabai Biosphere, this boutique winery produces Txakoli. This is the wine unique to the Basque Country, along with its own language, culture, food and sports. It is a wine that has been produced for centuries in the Basque Country. The wine was originally made by and for the families, a yearly production to be enjoyed with the local food. It was produced in Baserris, or farmsteads. The grape, Hondarrabi Zuri, is indigenous to the Basque Country. Txakoli should be served cold, always a short pour and maintaining the correct temperature. It pairs perfectly with seafood and especially a nice cheese such as the Idiazabal cheese, made from the local sheep. It also pairs well with the heavy dishes in this area prepared with ingredients like the local pinto beans from Tolosa. Txakoli cleanses your palate and invites you to indulge more and more, while enjoying the next pintxo that calls your attention! If you really want to enjoy the perfect pairing with a cold glass of Txakoli, you should prepare Bacalao al Pil Pil to accompany. Salt cod with garlic and chili peppers. It is the ideal combination.

Vineyards Bodega Berroja

Bodega Berroja is a short drive from Bilbao, and here you will meet José Ángel, the owner of the winery. I find myself at a loss for words to describe José Ángel. Those of you who have been lucky enough to meet him already know what I mean, and those of you who will be fortunate enough to visit in the future will be endeared by his kindness and authenticity. There are few people in this world like him and he has always encouraged me to live my dreams, just as he has, since the moment that we met.

José Ángel
Tasting during the Harvest

Originally, Txakoli is and should be enjoyed as a young and sparkling wine. It will accompany your fantastic pintxos as you wander through the streets of Bilbao, Vitoria or Gernika. It is unusual to be able to enjoy a glass of Txakoli outside of the Basque Country unless you are lucky to be in a Basque bar in a city like Barcelona or are lucky enough to know of a great wine importer in your local area! Nowadays, wineries like Berroja also produce Txakoli that can be enjoyed with a long, sit down meal as well. They even produce a rose if that is what you fancy!

Txakoli Tasting with Idiazabal Cheese

Yesterday, March 19th was Father’s Day in Spain. It is also the day of San José. Happy Father´’s Day and Happy 80th Birthday to my Father who recently celebrated in February!! I hope you are enjoying that glass of Txakoli right now.

Read more about the Basque Country in these posts……………….

From Cod to Albacore….

Art, architecture and food art in Bilbao….

El txikiteo………………

Tourist, Remember!

Ultreia!

Finding your way through Navarra

My life and my heart have been tightly intertwined with the Camino de Santiago for 25 years. I did my first pilgrimage, the French Way, 25 years ago. Innocent and alone. After that month on the Way I knew that I would never be the same again. 10 years later I did my second pilgrimage, the Northern Way, with quite a bit more knowledge and more money in my pocket. The Camino didn’t fail to change me once again. Since then I have repeated the pilgrimage with many groups of students and adults. Each time has been it’s own precious experience. It has become one of the most sacred pieces of myself.

A “footprint’ near Pamplona

Today, July 25th, we celebrate the Day of St.James, the Apostle Santiago, James the Great. The Patron Saint of Spain. Every person can choose their own interpretation of the history and legends regarding the pilgrimage and Santiago himself. That is what makes it the Camino magical.

Follow me and I will take you to Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrims uplift and encourage each other saying, “Ultreia” translated as further..beyond…come now…come on!! The original saying was “E ultreia, e suseia, deus adjuva nos”. Simply translated as, let’s keep going further with God’s help. You can also just say, “Buen Camino!”

Camino Nascente, Portugal

We passed through a bit of two paths that run through Portugal on the way to Santiago in the past few days. I could feel my heart pulling my back to the Camino, back to Santiago de Compostela. My city of stars. A big part of my heart is always there and has been there especially for the past few months. See you soon Santiago, see you soon old friend!

Always on the Way

Hermano Peregrino……dedicated to Ismael Izquierdo.

Places in my heart……Burgos

elegance and quality on the Camino……..

things you find on the “camino”

Hermano Peregrino……dedicated to Ismael Izquierdo.

“We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.” “We always have a tendency to see those things that do not exist and to be blind to the great lessons that are right there before our eyes.” Paolo Coelho

The facade of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. October, 2020.

Six years ago when I started leading a 16 day bus tour across Northern Spain and Portugal I was reintroduced to a deep part of my being. It wasn’t that I hadn’t revisited the Camino since my own pilgrimages, because I had. Actually, many times to different places and in different situations. I had even walked portions of it with other groups in the past 20 years. But, this time it was different for me. We were not walking the pilgrimage and nor was it the name or theme of the trip. We would talk about the history of the Camino de Santiago, stay in the Paradores, Hostal dos Reis Católicos and San Marcos, visit the Cathedrals and see pilgrims all along the route. Being a two time pilgrim and greatly affected by both experiences I wanted to share the other side of the pilgrimage. So, on that very first tour I began to develop a bus chat that what I named “a day in the life of pilgrim.” I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received or even where it would lead to on that first trip. Surprisingly, my personal story rolled off my lips naturally as I shared the accounts of my two pilgrimages in detail; why I decided to walk 500 miles across Spain alone, what daily life is like on a pilgrimage, the miracles that happen along the way, important words and legends, the food I ate and people who I met and who touched me. I share the original books I had used for both walks and my pilgrim passports, a bit worn from their age. My voice cracks a few times as I share this piece of myself and when I look up from the microphone I can see tears in some of my guest’s eyes. The questions and comments are profound and true gifts for me. I’ve had some guests come to me with bits of my talk written down for me to “use when I write my book”. There were 10 years difference between my first and second Camino and 10 years from the second Camino until that first bus tour. A lot has changed in almost 30 years, especially myself.

There are many different words pilgrims use when walking the Camino de Santiago. One that I learned and experienced on my first walk was “Hermano Peregrino” or Brother/Sister Pilgrim. People do a pilgrimage for many different reasons. And these also provide different relationships. For religious people it can be shared between themselves and their God and religion. Other people are seeking to find themselves or have lived some type of trauma or need to make some personal decision. But, there is a third and very important relationship on a pilgrimage that is between yourself and those who walk beside you even if they do so in silence. They will become your Hermano/a Peregrino. An Hermano/a peregrino can also be someone who you meet later on in life that has also done the pilgrimage. You are somehow connected because of this shared experience.

On my first Camino. My “bota’ from Pamplona.

On my first pilgrimage I met so many different people. I was alone for most of the walk so people were constantly adopting and taking care of me. A young North American woman walking alone nowadays is quite common but on my first pilgrimage I was a rare bird or a green cat as a dear friend in Granada would have said. I still remember the people who I shared meals with, walked with for a few days and those that helped me with my blisters. OUCH! My Spanish Grandpas adopted me and fed me in many places along the road and we enjoyed a great meal in Santiago de Compostela with their wives who had met them there. However, at the end of the Camino I had two great Hermanos, Juan and Ismael. I had met both of them at the very beginning of the pilgrimage. Juan, 62 was from Madrid and retired. It was his 10th pilgrimage. He would wake me up every morning, “Margarita, son las 5:10”, and he taught me how to be a good pilgrim. He knew all the plants along the way, the monasteries we needed to visit and what to eat and where. Ismael was just 21, and living in Barcelona. He had started the pilgrimage with a friend who had to leave due to an emergency. His laughter was contagious and we probably had too much fun every once in a while. Like having to leave the massive refuge in a monastery at 1 am because we couldn’t stop laughing. Or sneaking into the refuge in the monastery in Santiago after our late night out, terrified we would be caught by the keepers. I remember having meals at the Parador of Santiago, the Hostal dos Reis Católicos because Juan taught us that the first 10 pilgrims who arrive each day could dine there for 3 days in a row. We ate in the Pilgrim’s dining room and were served with smiles and bottles of local wine. Little did I know that many years later this Parador would become like a second home to me and the people who work here would become dear friends.

Photo of Praza Obradoiro, taken from the Royal dining room of the Parador of Santigao de Compostela

Ismael and Juan became more than Hermanos Peregrinos for me. They were my protectors, my sun in a rainy day and two people who marked me for a lifetime. A relationship that develops after days together, sharing pain and laughter, each one on their own pilgrimage alone yet together is deep and remains forever.

Juan and I visited each other many times. A noble and dedicated family man who found and gifted to me a passion for the Camino de Santiago. He has since passed away. Ismael and I lost contact for a few years until one day he came to Granada and asked every person he could find near the plaza by my house if they knew Margaret, the American. That was Ismael Izquierdo. No social media back then and he had lost my address. He was dedicated to find his Hermana Peregrina. We went out for tapas and he took me to this hard rock bar in Granada. He was a fan of rock music and eventually opened a bar where he was living near Gibraltar. We lost touch again for a few years and on my very first 16 day tour six years ago right after I told our story to my group, I received a friend request from him on Facebook. We remained close ever since. There is a connection between us that no distance or time could tarnish. Except for one. For my heart at least.

My Pilgrim’s Passport from my first Camino. A couple of the many stamps and pages

Last week I received news that left me speechless and tore into my heart in a way that I cannot explain. My dear friend Ismael Izquierdo passed away at the age of 45, leaving two young sons behind. Another Hermano Peregrino has left this world. I’m sure he is laughing wherever he is and smiling down upon us. I will do the Camino again for you dear friend. That you can be sure of, Ismael.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, clouds and a bit of rain. How Santiago is in my heart.

“You don’t choose a life, Dad. You live one.” Emilio Estevez, The Way.

Places in my heart……Burgos

Certain cities will always make me feel like I’m home and Burgos is one of those. Maybe it is because the first time I visited I was a young and tired pilgrim looking for a simple bed and some decent food. The albuergue or pilgrim’s refuge used to be in a park on the outskirts of the city. It was quite rustic but I have fond memories of the communal sleeping area, the outdoor picnic tables and ice cold shower and I had returned with student groups many times to share the experience with them before it closed. There is a scene in the movie “The Way” where they walk up to the gates of this park and I am always rushed with emotion every time I see it. The municipal albuergue is now in a lovely building close to the Cathedral.

Santo Domingo De La Calzada

Burgos is elegance and humility in one. The people are kind yet not exuberant, the pedestrian areas and parks are classy and filled with statues representing the historical and cultural importance that the city holds. The local gastronomy is a mixture of comforting and hearty food with the elegance and detail of modern cuisine. It is a friendly city where one feels comfortable as a visitor or a pilgrim.

The statue of Santo Domingo de la Calzada near the roman bridge in Burgos represents this man known for the construction of bridges, a hospital, roads and a church to help the pilgrims whom he had observed from where he lived as a hermit in the 12th century. There is a town named after him in the same place where he passed away and it continues to be a sacred place for all who walk the French route of the pilgrimage.

The Santa Maria of Burgos Cathedral rises high over the city center. It’s poise and beauty honors hundreds of years of architectural geniuses from its groundbreaking in 1221 up until the 18th century. The main architect of the Cathedral in Granada , Diego de Siloé, was born in Burgos and is responsible for the gilded staircase in the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Burgos. We will also find here the remains of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, otherwise known as El Cid, along with his wife Jimena.

Last summer I was in Burgos with a group of students. I have been working with this school as long as I can remember. It was the Spanish day of sign language and the gate of Santa Maria was reflecting the color for this once the sun went down. One of the students in my group was losing her hearing due to an illness and had been learning sign language. We spent this amazing moment sharing with this lovely group of people from Burgos. They loved being with the students and teaching us new signs. It was one of those moments of gold that you never forget.

I’ve slept many times at a hotel that looks right out onto the Cathedral. The name is Meson del Cid and I loved waking up in the morning atnd having my first view be of this amazing Cathedral. I plan on sleeping there again very soon with a lucky group! It’s amazing how life is a circle.

young me at Meson del Cid, my favorite hotel in Burgos….

Burgos has an amazing gastronomical scene. There are certain things you need to eat when you are visiting such as Morcilla de Burgos (blood sausage with rice), Burgos fresh cheese, river crabs, trout, suckling pig and so much more! All washed down with amazing wine.

An albacore tuna with olives, anchovy and a vinaigrette that I ordered was out of this world. It ranked next to some of the best pintxos I’ve had in the Basque Country. We also had some grilled ribs with potatoes that were humble and flavorful at the same time. Followed by a martini glass layered with egg yolk, pork cheeks and spicy potatoes, we were good to go!

Everything we ate in Burgos this summer was absolutely amazing but one of my favorite memories was from this small bar next to the Cathedral. The tapa came with our wine and we enjoyed it thoroughly along with the great ambience of the bar on a summer evening. Thank you Burgos for reminding me how much I adore being close to you and that I need to bring people there very soon!! I have so many memories here and cannot wait to make more.

Best simple tapa of cured cheese, chorizo and salchichón.

Love in Burgos….

Changing colors….

“Mom, it is so green!” These are the words from my daughter’s mouth every time we land in Boston, Chicago, New Jersey. She walks on the grass everywhere we go, sidewalks no longer exist for her. Grass, green and lush under her feet. She relishes this feeling along with every single rainstorm, walking happily as the drops wet her face and arms.

I remembered her words clearly as we drove through the arid plains of Castille a few weeks ago. On our way to the Basque Country from Madrid we took a couple of stops along the way. Our first was just for lunch in the town of Turégano on a crossroad between Segovia and Sepúlveda. On a hot afternoon in August the town is quiet to say the least. But, like many towns that I have visited in this area it’s grand castle towers over the main square and we are reminded of the centuries of history that this now quiet town has witnessed. Fernando the Catholic stayed here on his way to marry Isabel in Segovia in 1474.

Romanesque Church of Santiago

Next to the church of Santiago we found a nice posada where we had lunch. Throughout history posadas have been a place for weary travelers and their horses to rest and eat. We arrived a bit late for Spanish lunch time but were treated graciously and fed well, as it should be at a decent posada. I have a weakness for “judiones” whenever I am in this area. Tender white beans stewed with different pieces of pork. At home I prepare them vegetarian but when in Turégano……

Judiones de la Granja

The traditional festivities of Turégano begin today. I spend a lot of time explaining the “encierro” or “running of the bulls” when I’m working in Pamplona. I remind my travelers that it is important to know that we have encierros throughout Spain and Turégano is a perfect example. The statue on the way out of town reminds us of this. The festivities here include three days running wth the bulls along with their other celebrations.

We always prefer the road less traveled and so we find ourselves on the national highways and passing through these beautiful towns wherever we might be. The colors change drastically from one place to another but it is easy to find the beauty and history along the way.

August in Castilla y León
Santiago

elegance and quality on the Camino……..

 

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From personal experience, this yellow arrow will always lead to somewhere magical. On one of our many excursions to Portugal we found ourselves on “La Via De La Plata Portugues”. This Midevil Route of the Path of St.James led us to the beautiful city of Braganza in the region of Tras os Montes, Portugal.  This city with human settlement dating back to the Paleolithic Age welcomed us with Christmas music played in speakers on the streets, an open fire in the plaza to warm our hands and its incredibly well preserved Castle dating from the 13h century.

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We spent the night in the Solar de Santa Maria, a small hotel placed in the old home of the chief of police from 1639.  The owner asked at what time we would like breakfast the following morning.   When we came down we found the best spread I have ever seen,  set up just for the two of us. Homemade jams, Christmas sweets, fresh fruit, rolls and a variety of local cheese.  We rate hotels by their breakfast and this is definitely sharing the number one spot!

Magical Mountain

There is a magical place up high in the Pyrenees if you have the patience to travel the narrow highways and to keep going just when you thought you were already at the end of the road.  In the province of Huesca you will find the National Park of Ordesa and Monte Perdido.  It is a protected area and home to species such as the primula aricula or bear´s ear, a precious purple flower that grows on the calcareous rocks of the canyon.

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If you follow one of the rivers with magic, the Cinca, it will take you to its headwaters at the Valley of Pineta.  In this breathetaking glacier valley you will find the waterfall that heads this river and one of the most peaceful places on earth.  The sound of cowbells and the river in the morning is a gift that is hard to replace. I have been blessed to sleep here many times in the past 16 months and I still can´t get enough of its greatness.

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At the end of the road you will find the beautiful Parador, a small hermitage dedicated to the Virgin of La Pineta, and a cross country ski area with a small refuge.  You can choose to hike up further into the Monte Perdido (lost mountain) or to just wander around with the cows and do cartwheels as I choose to do.

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Everytime I arrive I find the Valley in a different mood.  I have seen her covered in snow, flowing with waterfalls, cold and bare or lush green.  I never tire of discovering new parts of this magical place.  My love and I thought we discovered a “bar” once.  Well, we found a sign anyhow and were happy that we had brought our own wine.

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I look forward to returning in autumn and discovering more of the Lost Mountain.  To visit my friends, the cows and see how their babies have grown.  And to hopefully see my favorite of all, the chamois, a small goat that likes to hide from me lately.  Hasta Pronto, hasta la pròxima querido Monte Perdido.

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