Camino reflections


As we wait at the airport for the flight back to the US, I’m reflecting on walking the Camino and the memories made with the Dalas:

  • Staying at the Najera albergue and hospitalero Joy’s enthusiasm for placing the first Dala there.
  • Leaving a Dala at the Tosanto albergue’s chapel during the pilgrim service.
  • In Santa Domingo de Calzada, placing the third one at the Cisterian albergue and the fourth by Santa Domingo’s crypt.
  • Leaving the fifth at Convento San Anton’s ‘bread niches’ next to other mementos.
  • In Samos at the monastery, where Fr. Augustine promised the sixth would be put in a “special place.”
  • And placing the last Dala in Santiago at the cathedral near St. James’ reliquary.

Some of the many Camino experiences:

*  The excitement of arriving in St. Jean, registering our credentials, getting our first stamp, and putting our shells on our backpacks.
*  The first day walking through breathtaking scenery out of St. Jean, finding it hard to believe we were on our way!
*  Meeting a pilgrim community from around the world with everyone walking the Camino for different reasons.
*  Staying at the albergues with fellow pilgrims — bunk beds, clothes hanging to dry, sleeping bags spread out, hot (or cold) showers, communal meals, and wearing earplugs for the snoring.
*  The graciousness of the Spanish people, whose patience and understanding we appreciated with our limited Spanish speaking skills.
*  Walking through strains and pains, learning the Camino lesson to not push the body but keep the pace ‘slow and steady.’
*  Hearing hurting pilgrims say “I thought last night I would not be able to walk today” and then seeing them somehow, magically, able to continue onward.
*  The freshness of the early morning and strolling through off-the-beaten-landscapes seen only by foot.
*  Sharing the Camino with dad, whose strength and spirit were inspiring!

Dad and I are truly grateful to have had the opportunity to pay tribute on the Camino to mom, Aunt Arlene, and Aunt Ginny. Thank you to all who sent encouraging and supportive words. My hope is that everyone can experience a transforming journey, whether it’s the one we took or another path that calls.


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On our last day in Madrid we enjoyed both the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Sorolla, two very different museums. The Prado, a grand structure and one of the world’s great art museums, contains a collection that includes all the Spanish masters along with other art history gems. Goya, Greco, Velazquez are highlights, most notably Velazquez’s Las Meninas, a painting copied or translated by many other artists throughout history — it’s a stunner, in subject matter, composition, and technical mastery. The other painting I wanted to show dad was Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, whose surreal imagery seems twenty-first century rather than from the sixteenth century when it was painted. 20110720-004402.jpg DSCN6058 20110720-004254.jpg 20110720-004333.jpg 20110720-004323.jpg

After the crowds of the Prado, we took the Metro up to where the painter Joachin Sorolla’s house and studio are located. The building is now a museum of the artist’s work. Sorolla was a favorite painter of mine during art school days — his rich, lush brush strokes capture expression and movement so adeptly — every stroke counts. During my visit to Madrid eighteen years ago I’d wanted to see this museum, but it was closed for renovation then. To see it with dad has been one of the highlights of our Madrid visit. While looking at Sorolla’s art, I thought how much mom, Arlene, and Ginny would have enjoyed seeing his paintings and sculpture work — their uncle was a well-known portrait artist in Chicago and their dad an architect and builder. Creativity runs in the Charn family, with some of the sisters’ kids (including me) and grandkids involved in art or music. It’s fitting to end our ‘vacation’ time in Spain by looking at artwork.

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Madrid and Segovia

Yesterday afternoon we met Alfonso and his family at an historic restaurant, an old convent near the Palacios Real, the King of Spain’s residency. Afterwards Alphonso’s mother Anna invited us to her home for tea and coffee. It was fun seeing everyone — Alphonso, wife Gemma, and son Adrian are here until August and then will return to the Bay area where they currently live. I unfortunately left the camera at the hostel so dad took a few photos with his iPad. In the morning before meeting Alphonso we strolled in the Parque del Retiro, Madrid’s version of Central Park.






20110719-005756.jpgToday we took a train to Segovia, yet another beautiful Spanish city. The old section features a 1st century Roman aqueduct — a spectacular engineering marvel with no mortar used to build it. Other historical sites include a Gothic cathedral and the Alcazar, or fortress, which among other purposes housed Castilian monarchs during the Middle Ages.


Along with learning about the city’s fascinating history, we realized that Segovia is on the route of a southern Camino path that winds north to Santiago. It was good to see the familiar shell embedded in the street to guide pilgrims. The cathedral office stamped our credentials. Tomorrow’s plans include seeing the Prado Museum and painter Joaquin Sorolla’s house and studio. Our last day in Spain will be a day of art!

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To Madrid

Photos from the past couple days in Toledo, including a spectacular light show projected onto a building.

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This morning we rode the train back to Madrid from Toledo for our final few days in Spain. Toledo’s train station is an architectural beauty in the Neo-Mudejar style as reflected in the wall tiles.


For our stay in Madrid we mistakenly booked a hostel on the outskirts so tomorrow a.m. will change to a more central area — Spain’s very efficient public transport has been helpful with transport back to the city —

The afternoon was spent at the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s contemporary art museum. I’d been there before on a study abroad trip and wanted to show Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica to dad. No photos were allowed. The painting’s anti-war message and imagery of oppression are powerful. A copy hangs in the United Nations — when Colin Powell made his WMD speech, the US requested the painting’s intimidating presence be covered. Tomorrow we’ll meet Alfonso and his family for lunch and then more sightseeing —

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A week of memories


This past week marked significant dates: July 10, the day we reached Santiago;  July 13, dad’s birthday; July 12, the one year mark of Aunt Ginny’s memorial. At the service the Swedish hymn, “Children of a Heavenly Father,” sung at both mom’s and Aunt Arlene’s services, was performed by cousin Kent. He sang the verses in both English and Swedish, honoring the Charn girls’ heritage and paying tribute to their father, Victor, whose memorial many years ago featured this song.

Yesterday in Toledo dad and I visited the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, a Franciscan monastery with Gothic and Mudejar (Moorish) architecture. Flower arrangements were placed in the altar area in preparation for a wedding last night. A flutist and a pianist practiced classical pieces as we enjoyed San Juan’s serene atmosphere. The tranquil setting was an appropriate place to conclude an eventful week with memories recently made on the trip and those of Aunt Ginny. Her bright spirit will forever be missed.






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Toledo’s charm


Toledo exudes layers of history, including its reign at one time as the capital of Spain and an important seat of papal power outside Rome. We learned more about the city during a tour of the magnificent French Gothic cathedral. For instance, the term “Holy Toledo” became common because of the area’s religious significance. Its sister city is Toledo, Ohio — not far from where I was born in Adrian, Michigan and where mom sang with the Toledo Choral Society. I remember going with her as a kid to choir practice and listening to the music. 20110715-001714.jpg







While on the tour, we discovered that a couple from Ramona were on the tour too — Randy and Connie Waitman — dad had given basketball lessons to Connie’s son Thomas. The second time in two days we ran into people connected to Ramona — it really is a small world. 20110715-001738.jpg The cathedral houses a collection of masterwork, including the Spanish painter El Greco (the Greek). Our tour guide stressed that to understand the painter El Greco, is to understand Spain. I was familiar with the painter’s dramatic, elongated figures — in one of my art history classes I’d analyzed an El Greco portraying St. Francis of Assisi. Toledo’s El Greco museum is a two-story compound on the grounds of the historical Jewish quarter. One room features paintings of the disciples, including St. James — the info card mentions his burial in Santiago.

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Reminders of the Camino follow us — at the Iglesia de Santo Tome there was a shell doorknob, and while walking around the streets, we saw a fellow pilgrim sporting a T-shirt with a yellow arrow. These shirts had been displayed in Santiago shops.

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In the early evening we bussed up to Toledo’s hilltop, which offers a panoramic view of the city. Tomorrow more sights before leaving for Madrid Saturday.


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Happy Birthday Dad in Toledo

Today, July 13, is dad’s 77th birthday!  We’re celebrating with a delicious dinner at a restaurant called La Abadia, located in a monastery from the 14th century and original stone walls intact.



We arrived in Toledo this afternoon via Madrid — stayed at a hostel there last night and then caught a train down today. Incredible cloud formations followed us along the ride.

20110714-001521.jpg 20110714-001533.jpgDuring the past couple days we’ve been meeting quite a few American tourists. While waiting in line at the Madrid Renfe station (Spain’s train system) we talked with a young man from Baltimore here on vacation visiting his brother studying in Madrid. He was on his way to Pamplona to run with the bulls tomorrow on the last day of the city’s festival of St. Fermin. Also, at Santiago’s train station were American high school students on a class trip. On a tour this afternoon there was a young woman who had lived in Ramona for a few years, and at dinner we sat next to couple from New Jersey who are retired teachers traveling with their grandson to celebrate his high school graduation.

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Toledo’s architecture is a blend of Spanish and Moorish influences, as observed at the train station pictured above.

Tomorrow is sightseeing around the city before returning to Madrid Friday. Only one more week in Spain until our flight back to the US. On the Camino all sense of time and days of the week get lost — just getting up and walking guides each day. You learn to measure time differently and to live in the moment. It’s about enjoying what’s in front of you and appreciating simple things, such as a warm shower. In the days ahead we’ll be transitioning towards the ‘normal’ way of life again.

* Unfortunately I could not upload the Botafumeiro video — will keep trying to find a way to do this —


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