Monthly Archives: May 2020

Istanbul 2

It was the last few days of Ramadan. The public call to prayer that we heard 5 times daily was truly beautiful and unforgettable. Broadcast from loud speakers on tall minarets around Istanbul, there was often an echo you would hear from farther away, adding to the overall mystery. The Koran when chanted like this is very beautiful. But let’s back up a bit.

I bet you knew that Istanbul used to be called Constantinople, but did you know it was called Byzantium before that? Byzas, a figure in Greek mythology, is said to have founded the city named after him, on the Golden Horn in 667 BC. Byzantium became a trading city located strategically between Europe to the west, Asia to the east, the Sea of Marmora and Mediterranean to the south and the Black Sea to the north. The city was taken by the Persians in 513 BC and then by the Greeks in 411 BC.

In 196 AD the Romans overran Byzantium and desecrated it. In 330 AD Roman Emperor Constantine built a palace there after having legitimized Christianity. The city was renamed Constantinople after his death and became the capital of the culturally rich Byzantine Empire which flourished from the 4th to the 15th century AD.

Despite its Roman beginnings, Constantinople remained oriented to the Greek culture and the Eastern Orthodox Church. By the 12th century it was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe, well known for its artwork and culture. Sadly, Constantinople was delivered a mortal blow in 1204 AD when it was sacked in the Fourth Crusade.

Left: Christ Pantocrator mosaic from the Hagia Sofia, circa 1261, courtesy Wikipedia

Since the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks had been making steady progress in conquering Anatolia, just across the Bosphorus from Constantinople. Later, the Byzantine-Ottoman Wars would bring about the end of the Byzantine Empire. In 1453, Constaninople fell to the 21 year old Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. Sunni Islam was now the state religion and the city was renamed Istanbul.

Right: Mehmed II the Conqueror’s entry into Constantinople, by Fausto Zanaro, courtesy Wikipedia.

Fast forward to the 20th century. Field Marshal Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern Republic of Turkey from the ashes of the defeated Ottoman Empire after the First World War. He implemented a series of cultural, economic and political reforms that transformed Turkey into a modern secular nation state. He died in Istanbul in 1938 hailed as a great leader against colonialism and imperialism. The current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has denied that he wishes to reimpose Islam in favour of the secular state. However, his authoritarian style has been criticized both within and outside of the country. This short tour of Istanbul’s history sets the context for the mashup of architecture, art, history, religious, culinary and cultural experiences and activities we were about to enjoy there on our 3 day sojourn. The city of 16 million awaits us.

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Istanbul – 1

In September 2008, we were fortunate enough to visit Istanbul. We were with a group of friends from church and about to embarque on a 2 week eastern Med cruise. We were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and had just payed off our mortgage!! Freedom 58!

Our ship the Oceania Nautica awaits us

It was the second trip with these friends so we were accustomed to travelling together. We invited a travel agent specializing in group travel to help plan our trip: Magda Newman of New Wave Travel. Magda did a great job. We had a group information and sign up session. Then she provided all the tickets and documents needed. We had chosen Oceania Cruises as I had heard great things about them and they offered smaller ships.

It was a good time to go. Istanbul was considered to be a relatively safe place then for tourists. Since then there have been some terrorist incidents targeted at visitors but I believe calm has been restored again by President Recep Erdogan. Istanbul is where East meets West. It is therefore a very culturally exciting place to experience if you ever have the chance.

Gulgun (back row 2nd from right) with some of our group at Ortakoy Square

Another key element. We had prearranged for a 2.5 day private tour of Istanbul led by Gulgun Asutay, a highly rated local tour guide. We were not to be disappointed. She is very knowledgeable and is still in business today. Here is a link to a recent video she made of Istanbul. You may not understand the Turkish but you will understand the beauty that we saw there.


So the stage was set. We had done the planning, paid the bill and were ready for another great trip with friends. We flew Air Canada from Ottawa to Franfurt and then Turkish Air on to Istanbul. All went well.

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Camino 2010 – Santiago at Last (Day 29)

Our hearts leaped when we saw this sign
It had been a cold night in Lavacolla – there was no heat in our room. Undaunted we set out early at 7:30 AM. We walked for 2 hours before stopping for breakfast. Dave, his usual impatient self wanted to race. Marie was more patient as usual. The suburbs of Santiago were rather uninspiring – just another busy city (pop. 90,000). Then we rounded a corner and there in the distance we saw the spire of the Santiago Cathedral built over the tomb of the Apostle St. James. We found our hotel on the edge of the old city overlooking a monastery. It was huge, old and interesting. Our other bags were already there (cruise suitcase and Marie’s backpack we had shipped from Burgos). We then walked 10 minutes to the cathedral. There was lot’s of hugging and congratulations going on with everyone. We were hoping to hear Stephanie the opera singer from Germany sing the Ave Maria in the church. Dave got us our Compostella certificates at the little office nearby. We went to the noon pilgrim Mass and confession. Later that afternoon we went shopping for some new clothes. Wow, that felt good!
Words fail to capture the exhilaration we were feeling! Dave remembers feeling so excited and racing ahead for that first glimpse of the cathedral spire! When we finally walked into our hotel lobby on the edge of the old city, he remembers saying to himself, “Holy cow, we walked across Spain to get here!” When we went to Mass with the hundreds of other pilgrims it was a special moment we will not soon forget. There was a collective feeling of pride and accomplishment but also of remembrance for those who had to turn back along the way for health or other reason. We were taking part in a sacred tradition that had been going on for 1200 years!
Strangers no more
Words fail to capture our emotions and feelings at that moment: we wanted the Camino to end and we didn’t want it to end! We were happy it was over yet we were sad the journey was at its end. We’d had enough, but we wanted more. We were exhausted yet energized. How could we ever go back to “normal” after this experience? It was a singular moment – we felt connected – to each other, to everyone else, to creation, to God in a deeper way than before. We did not want this feeling to ever end.
The Apostle St. James
St James peers out behind the altar – we hugged him in the pilgrim tradition
Lisa and Carla from Norway
Constructed in 1122!
In our new Camino jeans – they still fit!
We celebrated with a menu del dia and white wine. The old city is very interesting with plenty of restaurants and shops. It was thronged with fellow pilgrims. Next day we went back to the pilgrim Mass again. This time we saw a few more people we knew and exchanged contact info. The Koreans Kim and Mr. “O” were there, Ainsley from Edmonton, Henning and Randi from Denmark – all smiles.
Naomi and Ainsley
Henning and Randi
During Mass they call out the individual names and nationality of those pilgrims who were issued their Compostella the previous day. So we heard our names called out. And today they hauled up the famous botafumeiro – one of the largest incense burners in the world. We were amazed at the speed and height it soared to.
And that ends our beautiful journey on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella. Stay tuned for the lessons learned. Thanks for your accompaniment along the way.


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Camino 2010 – Sunglasses Found (Days 27-28)

We knew we were getting closer to the coast when we saw this fresh boiled octopus called pulpo in Spain. Dave had tried a few pieces with pasta a few days back and quite liked its mild almost beef like flavour. It’s very tender and not at all rubbery. This was a big one that he hauled out of pot for us to photo as we passed through Melide pop. 8000. Melide specializes in pulpo a la Gallega. It was too early in the day to stop and have some! We had started our third last day on this pilgrimage in good spirits, well rested from the private room accommodation in Palas de Rei. So rested I think we now decided, no more refugios – too many people, no privacy, noise, etc.. Our goal today would be Arzua, some 26 km away. We would cross 5 river valleys and walk on peaceful woodland pathways. The sun was peaking out again. The purpose of those curious elevated structures in the gallery above we were told was to allow harvested crops to dry. It must rain here a lot we surmised. It was surprisingly uncrowded on the path today. It was a very peaceful. However when we stopped in a bar restaurant for lunch, a very funny thing happened.
Truly a picturesque walk today
Wayside pilgrim refreshment stand on honour system
Marie and forgotten her sunglasses the previous day at another restaurant stop. Suddenly she spots a man wearing them. When she pointed this out to him, he immediately took the glasses off and gave them to her saying “I was bringing them to you.” Such is the Camino!  We continued on walking 20 km today and took the bus the last 6 km to Arzua pop. 7000. We checked into the Hotel Suiza. It was a real treat staying in a hotel with maid service and a restaurant.
Hat trick
Our room
We awoke the next day and walked about 20 km through eucalyptus shaded paths with palm trees and fresh blooming flowers. We then hopped the bus for 18 km and stopped for the night in Lavacolla, just 9 km from our destination. We spent that night at the Hostal Restaurante San Paio. We had the Galician style menu del dia with wine for dinner. It was delicious and a very good deal.
As we drifted off to sleep we wondered what it would be like walking into Santiago de Compostella tomorrow. Nothing could stop us now we prayed.

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Camino 2010 – Progress in Galicia (Days 25 – 26)

We were now into the last days of our journey. Sarria is the jumping off point for many on the Camino de Santiago as it is the shortest distance that qualifies you for the Compostella – the official certificate saying you hiked the Camino. Brierley has Santiago as 118.2 km from Sarria.

The pathway went right up this little stream

When we arose, it was raining so we dawned our rain gear. The scenery had changed. Galicia looks more like the terrain back home in Canada – forest, streams, open pastures, farms, all very green in Spring. A smell of manure and dung was everywhere. It is a rain forest – very different from the earlier scenery on our tour.

We of course were carrying our packs on our backs. There is a commercial service available that would pick up your pack and deliver it to your next planned destination, relieving you of all that weight. One would then only have to carry a light day pack with lunch, water, TP etc. Not to demean those who use the service, Dave would use it in France 3 years later, we called these pilgrims “day trippers”.

No day trippers here

A note on TP. Dave carried a small roll of TP in his pack as you never know when nature calls. For some reason it was often pink in colour in Spain. When you had to go you would wander off the trail and do your business behind a tree. However you will recall there were long sections of the Camino with no trees. Hence it was not uncommon to come upon someone doing their business out in the open – men and women alike. The polite thing to do is look the other way. And that is what everyone did, still it was somewhat trying. Most refugios had separate bathrooms for men and women. However we recall one that had a single unisex bathroom that took us by surprise.

It was getting crowded now. The closer you get to Santiago, the more pressure to ensure you would get a bed each night without reservations. The refugios get bigger and bigger. We hiked the 23 km to Portomarin pop. 2000 and hiked up all those stairs. Rather than check into the 160 bed Xunta Alburgue, we found a private room in the Pension Portamino. It was clean, quiet and dry. Dave was feeling much better and Marie was managing her blisters as best she could.

The next morning we set our sights on Palas de Rei pop. 4500, another 26 km. The rain had stopped, it was cool and we made good time despite the 400m elevation climb. We took a cab the last 5 km. We checked into a small alburgue and shared our room with Henny and Randi who we had met on the train to Leon and seen on the trail several times. We went out to dinner and had a nice evening together. Dave is still connected with Henny on Facebook – he is skipper of a fishing trawler in Denmark and they live on an island. Love Denmark!

Coming out of Portomarin over the Embalse de Belesar reservoir
Randi left, Henny middle


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Camino 2010 – Finding truth in Sarria (Day 24)

So Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”                                                              John 8:31-32
Monastery of San Xulian de Samos
As we planned we met Pastor Dick at the Triacastela bus stop and bussed it 12 km forward to Samos, site of the famous Benedictine monastery. I think we nievely knocked on the front door thinking they would open it but there was no answer. There were several other doors but no signs inviting one to enter. Reluctantly we decided to cross the street and have a café con laite. Dave was not feeling well and having difficulty swallowing. Both Marie and Dick counselled him to get his throat checked out.
Rio Oribio Palms
So that is what we did. Dick walked on while Dave and Marie stopped at a convenient clinic a block away. After checking my OHIP card and asking me to fill in a form, I was ushered into a doctor’s room. Trouble was I did not speak Spanish and the doctor did not speak English. Luckily the nurse spoke French and Spanish. I was able to answer their questions in French with the nurse doing the 2-way translating. It was strep throat. The female doctor issued me prescriptions for 2 kinds of antibiotics. We found a pharmacia and purchased the drugs. We were on our way again in less than an hour! The cost was minimal and Dave would soon be feeling better. So off we walked the remaining 13 km to Sarria. It was a bit of a grind and we had not stopped to buy any snacks for later. We arrived in Sarria and checked into the Los Blasones refugio. Dave went to sleep for 2 hours. When we went out again about 6 PM we were very hungry. All restaurants and food stores were closed – cerado, cerado, cerado – until 8PM! So we decided to go to the 7 PM pilgrim Mass at the Santa Marina church just down the street.
King Alfonso IX died here in 1230 while making a pilgrimage to Santiago
Dave remembers being so hungry and weak, he almost toppled over during Mass. However he experienced a special revelation there. Feeling light headed, I remember gazing around the church at it’s art work, the cross, the statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Priest and wondering if it is all true? i.e. is Christianity and the Church’s witness really true, or just a nice story that we have come to believe in? Momentarily… the answer came back to me, from God himself it seemed, that yes it is indeed all true! That was an epiphany I will never forget. It was a transforming moment! After Mass we stumbled out, found the nearest restaurant and had a meal in appreciation of the day. Sarria is a special place that we will not soon forget. We would like to go back to this church someday and give thanks.
Church of Santa Marina in Sarria

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Camino 2010 – O’Cebreiro (Day 23)

The sum of the whole is this: walk to be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with purpose.  Dickens

Well today would be more than a walk – it was a 30 km long climb up 700 m elevation with and an up and down in the middle as you can see below. So we opted for the bus at least part way.

Camino de Santiago J. Brierley c. 2009
Waiting for the bus in Villafranca

We knew that today would be difficult. In the refugio last night we started seeing a different group of people. They were extremely athletic looking. Men and women from the Tyrol in Austria, others from Norway. When we asked why they were here they said that they liked hiking in mountains and had skipped the flat parts of the Camino. Interesting we thought!

We took the bus about 30 km on the highway to where the green road connects into O’Cebriero, top right in the adjacent map. We still had about a 4 km hike up a winding highway several hundred vertical feet. It took an hour and we were getting hot again. We made it in good spirits although Dave’s sore throat was making it difficult for him again today. We had met 2 nurses from Ireland at the bus stop and they tagged along too. We could not believe how most others hiked the 30 km and survived to tell about it!  We were now in Galicia – the province that Santiago de Compostella is in.

It was quite windy and fog or clouds would roll in and obscure the view quickly – just like Newfoundland remarked Marie. We had breakfast, looked around a gift shop and relaxed a bit before pushing on again.

Dave’s friend Pekka sent him this pose

We continued hiking on a flat plain for about 10 km stopping often to enjoy some gorgeous views. There were lots of small farmyards that we walked right through. As in England, public hiking trails have existed since antiquity. Farmers cannot bar the public from hiking through their land – even when the path goes right by their barn it seems.

Then it was steeply downhill again. After about 15 km we took a cab for the last few km and checked into the private 27 bed Refugio El Oribio in Triacastela. The first person we run into there is Pastor Dick from Arkansas. We spent a pleasant evening catching up while recouperating from the strenuous day. We also met a nice lady from New Zealand. Plans were made to meet up with Dick in the morning. Dave did not sleep that well and he was still coughing a bit.

Pastor Dick

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