Happy (belated) Blogiversary to me :)

Once again I have been neglecting my blog and now the 1 year anniversary from my first published post has been and gone – oops!  In my defence I have been rather busy doing things like study, socialise, volunteer with St John, make stuff to sell at markets and things and, of course, not being able to leave the house due to symptom flare-ups.  So all in all a productive month I think!  The dysautonomia stuff is being its usual lovely roller coaster but I am in a much better place with it than I was this time last year.  My medications seem to be helping stabilise it a bit and my cardiologist is, as always, amazing.  I have an exercise physiology session once a week with an awesome group of POTS girls which has proved to be entertaining so far – we have more classes that don’t end in hospital visits than ones that do and there is usually a fair amount of giggling and chattering during exercise.  I know the general theory is if you can talk you’re not exercising hard enough but it’s not that kind of exercise – it’s more pilates based using a reformer and other nifty machines.

But enough of now, this is the time for reflection, for looking back to 1 year ago and seeing where I was, what I was doing and how far I have come from there.  Well I think we can safely say I have travelled quite a distance.  Just over a year ago I read a book, a very inspiring book – a book that made me want to travel across the globe and walk in the footsteps of thousands upon thousands of others throughout the course of history.  In just over one month it will be a year since I got on that plane at Tullamarine bound for Europe and glory in the form of the Camino.  I had no idea what to expect, what wonderful (or otherwise) things would happen, what I would see and experience, what I would learn about both life and myself or who I would meet on the way.  I had been to Paris before so that wasn’t a huge leap, I was meeting up with family so it wasn’t really outside my comfort zone and I had a basic grasp of French (degraded over years of neglect from an intermediate grasp of French!).  The bit that came after would be the challenge.  I was so caught up with the excitement and magnitude of what I was about to attempt that I didn’t really think about what would happen when I was finally on my own – out in the world, in a foreign country whose language (beyond ‘Hola’, ‘Grazias’, ‘Buen Camino’ and ‘donde esta cajero automatico’) I didn’t know.  And how in the hell was I going to walk that far every day?

Some days now I don’t know how I did it, when I can hardly move from fatigue or when I can hardly stand because my heart runs a marathon and my blood pressure slowly gives in to the pull of gravity when I do it seems a bit surreal.  Did I imagine the whole thing?  But no, I was there, I have the mark on my arm and my name on a certificate that I can’t read to prove it.  Prove it to myself and the world so I never forget what I can do, what I have done and trust me, with something as crappy as a chronic illness like dysautonomia you need it.  And I really need to go back to the studio and get it touched up!  Oh, and I also have this picture!

The Camino was life condensed.  You could live a decade in one day – I am still not completely sure how or why but it happened.  You almost need a day of rest and reflection after every day of walking just to take it all in and do it justice.  And for anyone wanting to get a taste of the Camino without leaving home then the movie ‘The Way’ has just come to Australia.  Directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen it is a beautiful story about loss, grief, and really finding yourself in the most unexpected place.  I highly recommend it 🙂
Even though the part that I walked doesn’t actually feature in the movie – it’s been completely skipped over which is frustrating!  And sad as Galicia was beautiful in the spring, but I guess when you have over 800km to chose from you can’t have it all in the movie!

Better get back to work – I have a stall at an awesome market tomorrow and need to get some stuff finished!  It’s ‘Worn Wild’ – the alternative fashion market that comes to Melbourne twice a year.  I am so excited to be part of it this year!  Here’s a flyer – check it out!  And if you’re interested here is the link to my facebook page for my accessories company – Cherry Pie Accessories – which will hopefully be a company soon instead of a hobby!

That’s all from me today
Buen Camino everyone 🙂

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Top 10 destinations for affordable fashion in Europe and the UK

Like many other girls (and boys) in the world I love to shop, particularly when you find something so amazingly perfect and cute you just HAVE to have it and also when there’s a chance that nobody at home will have what you find.  But it would be rather ungenerous of me not to share what is now my list of top 10 favourite shops in Paris, Spain and London – believe me, I will be visiting all these again and found some wonderful things in all of them.  Another awesome thing about shopping there is the price, but that is a recurring theme once you leave Australia – everything seems so much less expensive in Europe and the UK (apart from accommodation).  Maybe because we need to get things shipped in, I don’t know, but it’s a terrible crime how expensive fashion is over here.  And another fantastic things about many of these stores is; if you can’t get there they can get it here!

  1. Amichi – Spain.  At the top of my list for a very good reason.  Amichi is Spain’s first fashion franchise; since its opening in 1985 it has gone international (not far but still international) and can also apparently be found all over Spain.  If you love scarves (which is something the Spanish and I most definitely have in common) you will be in heaven.  Also, if you love cute bathers, gorgeous (not simpering) floral prints, sassy knits, up to date European fashion that anyone can wear, shoes and bags then this is certainly the place for you.  Unfortunately I was limited in the amount I could purchase by my hiking pack size – although I also found a handy carry-on bag in the store which I quickly filled.
  2. Primark – UK and Europe.  Hold on to your handbags girls because this store is like nothing we have in Aus.  Actually if you take Target, K-mart, Myer and Best and less you might sort of get the right idea but you’d still be missing out.  They have everything you could possibly dream of fashion-wise from the incredibly trashy and tacky to clothes that could be found on the international catwalk and for very little.  Think end of season sales prices only all year and slightly better.  For example, printed T-shirts for 2 Pounds, Full size umbrella’s with cute prints for 3 pounds etc.  Yes, this is a shop to go nuts in and with sizes ranging from 6 to 20 they fit more people than the average store at home.  With several floors in one huge building at the Oxford St Store all this is very easily accomplished – with a store this large and so much on offer anyone can find something fabulous.
  3. Topshop – UK and USA.  More upmarket than Primark (well, that’s a little bit of an understatement) Topshop is sort of like a department store for more well known and expensive designers.  It is similar to Myer and David Jones only far more funky and tailored to the younger end of the shopping spectrum – and they offer student discounts!  They are also one of the London stockists of handbags by my favourite UK designer NICA.  It was a tough decision but I only went home with 2 new handbags.  NICA are also available at David Jones but there are only a few designs available and their online store does not ship to Australia – Topshop does!
  4. Etam – France.  Every time I go to Paris I come home with at least one thing from Etam.  They have normal women’s clothing stores and a separate lingerie and bathers store.  Yes girls and boys, French Lingerie and bathers and for a rather reasonable cost.  I bought a gorgeous turquoise bikini for 28 Euros, usually a pair of bathers in Australia can cost upwards of $80 (don’t be surprised to pay over $100) so naturally I was rather excited.
  5. Sephora – Apparently most places other than Australia.  Sephora is THE place to go for inexpensive and reasonably decent quality make-up, perfume and body care products.  They stock everything from classic essentials to whatever is in vogue and a lot of it (apart from the perfume) is exclusive to the store – check out Tokidoki, so incredibly cute I could have bought every eyeshadow set.  They also offer workshops, classes and makeovers.
  6. Claire’s – Europe, USA, Canada and UK.  If you love your accessories this is the place for you.  They have things that suit pretty much any taste from the prissy princess to the goth or punk rocker in us all.  If I hadn’t bought so many scarves already I would have come home with a lot more pairs of earrings, necklaces and all sorts of other things than I did.  And if I hadn’t done most of my present shopping previously I would have been able to find something for everyone in this store.
  7. Zara – most places (including Europe, UK, USA, Australia).  While not exactly expensive there are things out there that are similar and cheaper BUT you have to look for them.  Zara makes European fashion more affordable for the masses.  The only problem is that due to the differences in fashion dictated by the powers that be you can’t find the exact same things in each Zara between countries.  So if you see something you like in one, grab it, because chances are you wont see it again.
  8. Marks and Spencer – UK.  Marks and Spencer is far more upmarket than the likes of Primark.  It is similar to David Jones in Australia, so slightly more posh than Myer but by no means exclusive.  Like Primark and most stores in the UK there is much more range in normally available sizes than we have in Australia – ranging from size 6-20 (or above if you’re lucky).  I bought the most gorgeous watermelon coloured trench at M&S which is very exciting as winter in Melbourne tends to bring out the black, charcoal grey, grey and (on a really rare and crazy day) beige in everyone’s wardrobes.  I hate blending in with the crowd in Winter, why make yourself feel drab and cold and boring along with everyone else when you can bring a little sunshine in with a bright coat.  But like all good department stores M&S have everything, not just coats, and they stock it all year round as I found when I turned a corner near the coats and found myself in amongst the bathers.
  9. C&A – Europe and UK.  C&A’s mass produced fashion is more suited to the more sophisticated taste.  That is if you can find anything.  It’s pretty hit and miss in here although at first glance it appears that there is more than enough variety.  It is as if the clothing department from Target was removed from a store (minus the incredibly trendy younger section) and given its own store.  Don’t get me wrong, I found some beautiful coats in the store but not much else.  The size range is still broad here but there was little in the way of classic pieces and what I could see that was on offer trended more towards style en masse.  But hey, it might have just been the store I was in and there were still some good things to find amongst the dross and the prices were very reasonable.
  10. H&M – Europe, UK, USA and the Middle East.  H&M is like the younger, funkier sibling of C&A.  If I could compare it to anything we have in Australia it would be a mixture of Supre and the funkier section of Target.  It’s cheap and if you’re not careful it can trend towards the slightly tacky but there are gems to be found if you can be bothered looking hard enough through the masses of similarly styled and coloured clothes that wouldn’t really suit anyone over the age of 18, over a size 10 or if you aren’t overly choosy.
  11. I know I said 10 but Harrods really does deserve a mention even if it’s only for their gift department that have everything Harrods and London themed that you could possibly imagine.  The Knightsbridge store is HUGE and tres posh.  They have bathroom attendants and special bathrooms exclusively for the use of people who have spent over a certain amount.  Their sales are rather spectacular and the perfume and makeup departments are a thing of beauty (if you can get through the clouds of scent and sales attendants politely trying to spray you with so-and-so’s latest).  If you only visit one store in London and have no intention of doing any actual shopping (which kinda defeats the purpose of my post) it should be this one just to visit the gift department and say hello to the incredibly gorgeous life-sized bears

10 things to love about Spain

There are probably about a billion reasons to love Spain but here are the top 10 things that left a lasting impression in my heart on my recent trip.

  1. The people.  I’ve said it before (and posted this picture before) but Spain runs on a different wavelength and at a different pace to the rest of the world.  It is quiet, relaxing, beautiful and quaint whilst being at the same time loud, hectic, frustrating and full of life.  This is not a place for the obsessive compulsive among us, who have to have every minute of their day planned to the second because Spain has an uncanny ability to change plans at the drop of a hat.  The people are loud, everything they do is loud and their soap operas are ridiculously melodramatic.  They are also incredibly helpful and friendly and will help you understand (through excessive repetition, hand gestures and occasionally call over a friend or five to do the same thing) what they are trying to say even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish.
  2. The scenery.  For such a small country (when compared to Australia most countries are) it boasts a bit of everything and all of it is beautiful in its own way.  From old stone town centres to quaint fishing villages and the vast stretches of land in between it is a land that stirs the imagination.  As the younger generations move in to the cities leaving behind the traditional family homes that lacked what we think of as the basics like plumbing and electricity or build new houses on the property the old ones are left to fall down over the years adding their own kind of beauty.  Old stone fences that have seen better days and now guard nothing track through the countryside and make you wonder what they once held, sometimes they contain the remnants of a garden that now grows wild.
  3. Food.  It had to come in somewhere!  Tapas, tapas, pinchos, more tapas, chorizo, croquettes, calamares, tapas, everything!! And everything comes with bread whether you want it or not – the Spanish love their bread, it’s not a real meal unless there is bread and they get concerned if you don’t eat it and the serving sizes for meals are huge – you can’t leave your appetite behind when you go to Spain.  Every region in Spain has is speciality and Galicia is no exception.  Galician restaurants and bars are well known for their seafood, particularly Pulpo (octopus) and Paella.  But I found the cheese to be particularly delightful – I’m not a huge seafood fan though I could appreciate the variety available.  If I could have taken 5 wheels of Galician cheese home with me I would have but our customs restrictions are too tough – oh well it just meant that one wheel had to be consumed within 4 days.
  4. Wine.  Normally I’m not a huge red wine drinker but it’s different in Europe.  The red wine there is a joy to drink, so smooth and well-rounded and cheap!  Even a 5 Euro bottle is highly drinkable which is lucky when you’re carrying all your possessions on your back each day and don’t have much in the way of funds to spare.  And one of the best things about bars in Spain is that most drinks no matter what or where you are are accompanied by tapas (or pinchos depending on where you are) that range from peanuts to olives, slices of chorizo, bread and more adventurous things like pigs ear.
  5. Fashion.  The Spanish love scarves and so do I.  Ok, there are also lots of other things to buy and many, many wonderful shops to buy them in but come on – scarves!!  They’re everywhere!  Everyone wears them, it is very Spanish and because there is such a great variety it is the perfect place to buy them.  Not even Paris (famous for its fashion) comes close to Spain when it comes to scarves.  Did I mention I love scarves?!
  6. Architecture.  Chances are that when you go into a larger town in Spain it will have an old part.  That is where the magic is.  That is where you will find your old stone cathedrals with spectacular stained glass windows and enough angels and cherubs inside to make you never want to see another pair of wings in your life.  You will also find all manner of charming old buildings often with stone carvings and magnificent doors that just ooze history.  The streets are paved with huge stone blocks that take a lot of maintenance and get a bit slippery when it rains but hey, if you were several hundred years old and had several million people walking over you in that time I’m sure you would be too.  It is hard not to appreciate such beauty and history particularly coming from Australia where 100 years is considered old.
  7. Culture and History.  Every region of Spain has its own culture and I was lucky enough to experience some of the Galician culture and history.  There is a fantastic little museum in Melide along the Camino de Santiago that can trace the history of the region back to the time when people lived in dwellings in the ground with a stone slab for a roof.  It was one of the best collections I’ve seen – maybe because the museum was smaller and it only focused on the lives of people so everything was carefully selected because of limited space (ie no overkill).  Galicia is the area of Spain most like Ireland in its culture and climate.  It has an Irish heritage and much of its culture is similar to that of Ireland, right down to the traditional Galician bagpipes.
  8. Music.  Spanish music is like Spain; loud and full of life.  It provokes toe tapping and hip wiggling in even the most uncoordinated, so even if you can’t salsa I challenge you to hold back!  Just a warning, most Spanish people appear to be quite good dancers, thankfully they don’t hold it agains those of us who aren’t so fortunate!
  9. Festivals.  Spain throws some ripper festivals and I was lucky enough to be there at the right time for the medieval festival at Hospitale de Orbigio.  The bridge  into town has been rebuilt/fixed several times but it is supposedly the site where the story that inspired Don Quixote unfolded.  A knight spurned by his lover vowed to prevent anyone from crossing the bridge until he had broken 300 lances (jousting) in his way of getting over her.  Knights came from far and wide to take up the challenge and when he had finished he completed the pilgrimage to Santiago.  In honour of that story that makes the small town famous they hold a festival on the first weekend of June every year and it is a sight to see.  Everyone dresses up in medieval garb and there are all sorts of entertainers and activities for people of all ages to participate in.
  10. The Camino de Santiago.  This has to have a mention as it was my reason for going to Spain.  You don’t have to be religious to want to walk a pilgrimage, I’m not and I met many along the way who shared my views.  There are countless reasons to attempt this walk through history and the Spanish countryside that countless thousands have walked before you.  It is an experience the like of which you will not find anywhere else on earth and completely worth it if you are so inclined.  But I would do it sooner rather than later if you are able – it is getting more and more popular by the day (for good reason).  As they say; Santiago will always be there (but now there are more people trying to get there).

The day after

The day after the Camino

This morning I am rather hung over – whoever thought tequila shots were a good idea last night was crazy.  Tequila is never a good idea (particularly when it follows a lot of wine).  So after I got to my hotel, had a rest and a bath (yay full sized bath!), unpacked my pack, did some washing (and freaked out at the way my middle toe had doubled in size from a blister that would mean my toenail would eventually come off) I headed out to meet up with the girls for celebratory wine and tapas at a bar nearby.  When I was almost at the bar I rounded a corner and who should I see having Tapas at another bar? Zie Germans!  They had arrived in Santiago the previous day so it turns out they weren’t that far ahead of me after all, if I hadn’t stopped for a rest day we would have arrived on the same day but then I wouldn’t have met so many amazing people.

I met the girls at the tapas bar – they had managed a trip to Zara and a cosmetics store so looked gorgeous, I was in my spare clean hiking clothes accompanied by my hot pink teeva sandals and socks – yep, Camino fashion at its best!  We struck up a conversation with a bunch of students at the next table – well, when I say we I mean they chatted and my friends translated for me while I made up my own translation as we went.  It got more amusing after a glass of wine or two, particularly as their names were Nacho, Igo and Piker.  Then we joined them for some bar-hopping and us girls were treated to a few Galician delicacies including pigs ear, mussels and a strange cheesy, soapy and vaguely corn flavoured white wine.  Somewhere along the way we met the Santiago pilgrim – a guy who makes his living (or rather drinking) by dressing up as a pilgrim and wandering the streets of Santiago

 After stopping at most of the bars along the street (every door has a bar behind it) and trying a glass of wine or so at each we finally ended up at the bar that all the other pilgrims seemed to have found.  Then someone insisted on Tequila.  It was a blast, I saw quite a few other pilgrims I had crossed paths with along the way including supercaminoman and the general vibe in the bar was one of celebration and relief.

Later on a group of English and Russian tourists arrived and I was able to have a whole conversation in English for the first time that night only to realise that my brain could no longer speak proper English and was firmly stuck in basic easy-to-understand English which was accompanied by excessive hand gestures and not helped by the amount I had had to drink or how tired I was.

It’s funny how the Camino makes everything come together; how you see the same people at different times.  It is like an isolated pocket of destiny.  Life and just being are so much more intense than at home.  People are different, places are different, all experiences are somehow more acute and emotions are more powerful.  One thing, however, remains exactly the same – hangovers…

Camino Day 8, part 2 – the end of the beginning

Camino day 8 – Part 2

And on I walked.  The numbers on the wayside markers went down and down and the view was still awe inspiring at times.  I passed fields of wildflowers and groves of silver birch, oak, pine and eucalyptus.  The way went through a tunnel of green that went on for maybe 100m.  Perhaps the trail was carved by hand out of the ground, or maybe the feet of thousands of pilgrim wore away at the earth over time and this is the result.  Who knows, but I like to think it is the latter.
 After that I passed some dead shoes on a waymarker, they had been someone’s faithful companions for hundreds of kilometres and had walked as many steps as they could.
 I really wanted to take a photo of the 13km marker (I can’t remember why) but at around 13.5km the markers stop saying how far there is to go just as you get to the freeway near Lavacolla.  I later discovered that this is because the way was changed to go around the airport – so my book was right all along, not 4km or so out as I had thought.  This meant that my already tough walk of 18.5km was going to be 22.5 (or whatever) but the thought didn’t really hit home, I was on a roll and wouldn’t be stopping.

My feet and legs ached and I cried intermittently, overcome by the magnitude of what I was achieving and the significance of the day.  And the finally, there was Santiago in the distance with only Monte de Gozo in the way.  Not a particularly inspiring first impression but it was the end of the road and that was enough.

The end went on forever, twisting and turning.  First Santiago was to the left, then in front, then to the right, then to the front, then – ah you get the idea.  Finally I got to the bottom of Monte de Gozo and the end was in sight – well, the freeway sign marking the start of Santiago was in sight.  Now all I had to do was get to the cathedral.

At the other end of the freeway overpass I met up with a couple of girls I had met at Arzua (one hot American mama and one sexy Spanish senorita) walking with a (gorgeous german) girl I had met earlier in the day.  I joined them and we walked (or rather hobbled) through the streets of Santiago following the Camino as it twisted and turned on its way to the cathedral.  It seemed to take forever and we were all sore and going slowly – there was no need to hurry, we were in Santiago, we would make it to the end.

And then, finally, we were there!

The cathedral was huge with a magnificent carved stone facade towering above the plaza where the tents of the protesters were set up on the stone ground.  Inside we were surrounded by stone pillars and tourists, some were pilgrims, some not.  We dumped our packs in an alcove and sat, absorbing the atmosphere and reflecting on our journey’s and what had brought us to the Camino.  Hiking boots were swapped for comfortable sandals and we sat in companionable silence for quite a while.  We decided to go and rest in our respective hotels and meet up again for dinner, we thought the chances of finding the band were very slim as there were many plazas in Santiago and we had no idea what time to look.  So we collected our things and walked outside to find – the band!

We greeted them for the last time and listened for a while – there were plenty of hugs and photos.  My walking companion and her injured friend showed up after a little while – apparently the delightful Italian and Southern American lad had finished today as well and had only just passed through the plaza while we were in the Cathedral.  After saying goodbye for the final time the girls and I headed off to get our compostela’s – well, to join the incredibly long line to get out compostela’s and then off to our hotels for some much needed rest before meeting up for tapas later on.

It is easy to spot fellow pilgrims in the streets even without poles, packs and boots.  They usually have sandals with socks, not overly fashionable but practical clothes and often walking slowly and stiffly/sorely with a shuffle or hobble.  Many stop to say congratulations or share a smile as we pass like we know a secret that the other people in the street don’t know.

Today I made a decision.  If/when I am accepted to study medicine, when I finish I will walk the Camino again but this time it will be the whole thing from St Jean, all 800km of it.  The Camino takes a lot, every day you have to give it everything you have and in return it can give you exactly what you need (if not necessarily what you want).  So this time I have walked in hope, next time I walk with thanks.
Just to prove I was really there!

And I will go on to Finisterre, because for me that is the end of the journey.  I wont do it on foot, when I got to my hotel after leaving the cathedral I discovered a blister the size of Mars on my toe that means I will lose my toenail now, not to mention all the rest of the pain my poor body is producing!  Yes, it’s a bus for me – Onwards to the end of the world!!

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