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Got the Travel Bug?

Like many, I have struggled with the lack of opportunity to travel during this pandemic. I can only dream of the day when we will be able to board a flight and fly off to someplace exotic.

Who says we can’t travel? (If only in our heads and hearts.)

Ways to feed that travel bug during the pandemic:

  1. Attend a virtual tour – learning about other cultures and customs has always been interesting to me. Here is one provider that satisfies the intellectually curious. Context Travel
  2. Read a book about a location you dream of traveling to
  3. Start learning the language of your destination
  4. Research your next trip.
  5. Google maps allow you to drop a pin in the map and walk around
  6. Cook a dish from a country you want to visit

Why not start dreaming and planning for that next trip. Where do you want to go?

I would love to hear how you are coping with your travel bug. Drop a note in the comments below.

Chicago, I love you!

This morning was a little rough! My voice is hoarse and I’m a little tired. You see Shannon is a night owl and this girl doesn’t know how to sleep in. I was up at 7:30 am. We took our time this morning. I did some blogging and checked up on the rest of the world. Our check out is noon, so after we packed up our things and did some tidying up we decided to go full circle and close out the weekend with another trip to the taqueria. We ordered take out and brought it back to the flat where we reminisced and giggled about the previous night. The Kingston Mines blues club was awesome! We both loved Claudette Miller.

The weekend has come to a close and other than my waistline and liver there has been little damage. This was to be expected and well-worth it.  I’m thrilled to have been able to experience Chicago with a fellow foodie.

Some observations:

  1. Chicago is a beautiful city day with its towering buildings, a lovely waterfront and friendly people.
  2. Latinos have surpassed other minorities in Chicago, including African Americans. This was quite evident when we stayed in West Town (considered a Ukrainian village). Not one pierogi, bakery or deli in site but the best darn tacos I’ve tasted.
  3. Chicago like many large cities has it’s issues with the disadvantaged, but I would consider it similar to Toronto for getting around as well as the look and feel, minus a river.
  4. The Architectural river tour is a terrific way to see the city from a different vantage point.
  5. Whether single or a couple, visit the Signature Lounge for a cocktail in the John Hancock building. You won’t be disappointed.

Travelling with my cousin Shannon (Shanon) was a hoot. This was our first time traveling together. I love her spirit. Thanks for everything Shannon! We have so many stories we can still tell, and I’m sure they will come out eventually. It is now back to reality. I might need a few days to recover! I will need to get my body prepared for the next trip, Mexico!

Thanks to everyone for following along and sending us messages. It makes writing this blog worthwhile. I love you Chicago and hope I can return again. Cheers!

Pork Belly and the Blues

If you thought Day 1 and 2 were busy and full of good eats, Day 3 is for champions!

Up early with a cup of hot coffee, reheated deep dish and jalepeno poppers. I mean you couldn’t throw it out! We lazed around for a little bit. This down time was welcomed because we knew what was ahead. Time to ready ourselves to greet the day. The weather has been fab! We had a big storm last evening while sleeping as evidenced by large puddles but inclement weather has not interfered with our plans. For the most part we have been sticking to the itinerary.

The Uber drivers have also been mostly friendly and informative. The system seems more efficient than in Toronto. One driver pronounced Shannon’s name sha-non. Lots of giggles over that one. Roana and Shanon headed to Logan Square to a place called Fat Rice. It looked a little sketchy from the outside but Shannon said this was on recommendation. Reservations were at 11:00 and we were sure to have a great meal. I’m not really sure what it was supposed to be. It was a little confusing and it had a cool, hipster vibe. Flowers painted on the exterior window panes, tables close together, an open kitchen with a lunch counter and lots of beards. Teas and drinks with optional CBD oil boosters.

Definitely an interesting menu to be shared.  We started off with a carafe of mango mimosas and took the server’s lead on dishes to order. Portuguese sardines served in a can with Chinese mustard, a spicy pickle and nori wraps. Shannon wasn’t sure about that dish but soon found herself digging in. Next was the melted cheese, potatoes and bread, the pork and ginger dumplings and the the Lacasse noodles. Very intense flavours and a menu mixed with Portuguese and Macau, China dishes. It was pretty dang good!

 

After brunch we needed to walk off the food so we made our way over to the 606 that was to be similar to the High Line in NYC. We walked for 30 minutes until sweat was rolling and found an air conditioned Uber back to the flat. Not sure if we started at the wrong end, but I didn’t find it to be anything too exciting. It was pleasant enough with places to chat, some art installations and rubberized walking paths.

No one tried to recruit us – phew!

Time to cool down, and prepare ourselves for our final evening in Chicago. Nap time!! LOL

Before heading to the Fulton Market where the chef competition was to be held. we walked the street under where the train passes taking photos of beautiful street art. The colours were vibrant and rich. Here were some of my faves.

The detail was incredible and artists were represented from many different nationalities. I loved this.

Before finding the location of the competition, we walked past various filmmakers and models posing for cameras. One had grey smoke billowing from a flare to create a post-apocalyptic experience.

At 5:02 pm, we arrived at our destination. The lineup isn’t too bad and we are grateful for some air conditioning because we were melting from the walk. It is extremely humid today.

For those unfamiliar with the Grand Cochon, it is an underground Heritage pork competition. Chefs have been competing across North America and today is the finale where 9 chefs will compete for the top prize. There are also sommeliers and mixologist competitions.

With VIP tickets in hand, we entered the facility not really sure what to expect. We picked up our wine glass and walked into the hall where on the perimeter were food stations by 9 competing chefs and their teams, wine stations, scotch, rye and bourbon stations and other stations held by sponsors. This was all inclusive, no limits! Music pumped up the excitement, photographers flashed bulbs and people moved from station to station. First stop the VIP Oyster Bar, the Whispering Angels French rosé stall and then a visit to the Roka Akor tartare station. With our voting chip in hand, we scoped out the room and proceeded to try interesting dishes. Each chef must present 3 dishes. 9×3=27 – OMG!!! That’s just the competitors and doesn’t include the sponsors sharing their wares.

There was even an entry from Banff, AB Who had a ham stew that was rich and full of flavour! We also loved his maple and bacon candy floss.

My personal favourite was Brian Redzikowski from LA

His food was creative and so delicious. His pork belly bao bun was incredible and his whiskey-infused jellies shaped as little piglets were adorbs. You know the gelatin was made from pork parts.

By time we made it round to the Canadian entry we were pretty full so we took a breather and freshened up our wine glasses.

As we progressed through the stations some of the dishes were getting a little more interesting. Whipped lardon, trotters, snout and my personal favourite head cheese!

This little ball of magic was crunchy on the outside and had head cheese inside that had an amazing mouth feel. Bliss in a ball!

At 8:00 pm the winner was announced – Brian from LA and so well-deserved!

It was a well-run event and I’m so pleased I was able to witness it with Shannon. I honestly don’t know anyone else who would have had the stamina or appreciation for the Grand Cochon! Thanks cuz!!!

What do 2 gals do at 9:00 pm on a Sunday evening in Chicago? You hit a blues club!!

Off to the Kingston Mines for some drinks and good music! The place was packed and lively. The bands and audience rotate between rooms every hour and the bands play 3 sets to 4:00 am. We quickly got into the spirit and I was playing air guitar in mo time at all.

The mood was so fun and let me say that although we didn’t make it to 4:00 am, we made a good dent in the post-midnight time clock. We laughed, danced and sang until hoarse before making our way back to West Town.

Good night Chicago!

Roana eats her way through Chicago

Today is full of activity. You have to make the best use of the time you have for an extended weekend.

The Starbucks lady butchered my name and when they called Roana, we howled. For the rest of the day I had Rosanna replaced with Roana as an ear worm.

First up was the architectural boat cruise along the Chicago River. The guide providing us with the facts was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and a sheer pleasure to listen to. The buildings tower to the river’s edge and some are just beautiful.

The sky was brilliantly blue with barely a cloud in the sky. A perfect backdrop for these giants. 90 mins floating on the water, passing under bridges, learning about different ages of architecture and we were ready for the next activity – lunch at Al’s Beef.

There is nothing ladylike about eating an Italian Beef sandwich. It was an amazing meal and sloppy as hell but worth every drip of gravy. The melted provolone cheese topped with a spicy giardiniera mixture, a pile of beef on a fresh bun and then dipped in gravy. Wet and wild! Wowzers! It was unbelievable!

After that meal we needed to walk it off and headed to Millenium park where as you enter, you see this sign.

We are not in Canada anymore! Do you really have to put up a sign?’!!! Crazy!

The place has many art installations but this one was cool with faces on columns that spouted water for adults and kids to cool off.

Oh and a trip to Millenium Park is not complete without a visit to the Bean!

Back to the flat we went to rest up for the next item on our itinerary Chicago deep dish pizza.

Back into the Uber we head to Pequod’s as recommended by our drivers. Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s were also discussed but they are both chain restaurants. We wanted authentic. We rolled up to Pequod’s in the Lincoln Park to a lineup between 90 and 150 minutes; standing room only at 7:30 pm. People were spilling on to the street. This is definitely the place to be.

We were all in, and not leaving Chicago without trying this. We put our name in as Roana (giggling like school girls) and went in search of a beverage to wait for our phones to ring.

Walking past abandoned buildings and closed gyms we found this place call Kibbitznest Books Brew & Blarney. People were playing games, sitting at the bar reading books. It was so quiet until we arrived. LOL Very quirky place and a wifi-free zone. It also sold ice cream. Did I say quirky?

2 hours later we find our way to a table at Pequod’s and we were told pizza would be another 45 minutes. We were starving so we ordered some appetizers and a beverage. You know when you go past the point of hungry, well that was us. The pizza arrived with all its flourish, we had a slice and took the rest to go. 10:15 pm we headed back to the flat.

Was it worth the wait? – let’s just say we waited, we ate it and we conquered!

Taking Chicago by storm

We hit Chicago at rush hour so the trip was a little longer than planned but overall quite pleasant.

As we sat in traffic, we cheerfully chatted with Syed, our driver, and glanced at the downtown skyline framed with blue skies and cirrus clouds. We are here Chicago! This is going to be fun!

Made it to our condo which is beautifully decorated in a cross between shabby chic and industrial with exposed bricks and pipes. Time to get some supplies and explore the neighbourhood.

Not surprisingly we found the liquor store/friendly neighbourhood bar in no time. We discovered that what we thought was going to be a Ukrainian part of town was very Spanish/Hispanic/Latino which if you have followed my past adventures is right up my alley.

Our tummies were rumbling and we needed something to tie us over to dinner and found this cute #taqueriatraspasada where we mowed down on fresh tacos that hit the spot.

With the hangries held at bay we decided to grab a cocktail back at the flat and rest for short while before our evening.

We Ubered (now a verb) it downtown to the John Hancock building and flew to the 96th floor to be rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. Couples lined the window edge seats and bathed in candlelight as they enjoyed cocktails. What a romantic place to take your date.

Martinis in hand, we vied for one of those tables and found ourselves seated by the window enjoying the lights of Chicago.

We had reservations for dinner at 9:00 pm at Elske and do off we went.

Dinner did not disappoint. We sat outside under the stars in a bricked courtyard with twinkly lights, trees and a log fire. Elske means love in Danish and the ambiance definitely supported the definition. Warm blankets, love seats and a cozy fire. The food was mind blowing.

Can’t wait for Saturday and the architectural river cruise, Al’s Beef, Millenial Park and “The Bean” and a blues club. Good night Chicago.

Chicago, Chicago!

Months ago I came across an advert for an underground cooking competition that wraps up in Chicago. 5 chefs will compete to receive the Grand Cochon trophy.

Calling up my foodie cousin Shannon to see if there was any interest, she jumped on the bandwagon and here we are flying off to Chicago. Shannon the food blogger, and Donna the travel blogger are going to take Chicago by storm! Look out Chi-town these girls mean business!

For a change, someone other than me is planning the itinerary, and what a treat.

I hope you will follow along on our adventure and interact with us.

How Quickly Life Changes

It has been a few weeks since I made my last post. I thought it was the final one relating to the Camino trip but a life-changing event occurred that has prompted me to write one more entry.

It was the evening of June 7th, I was recovering in Mijas Pueblo, Spain. I had tossed and turned all night not knowing why. I had finished my Camino 3 days earlier and the quiet of the night was suddenly broken by the ringing of my cell phone. Answering quietly, I heard my sister-in-law Julie at the end of the line. Groggy as I was, I knew something was wrong. Dad was gone! He had had a sudden heart attack and was dead. How quickly life changes.

I remember an anguished guttural cry and suddenly being transported to when I was a little girl just wanting to hide in the safety of her mommy and daddy’s arms. Now they were both gone. My heart broke at that moment.

21 hours and 3 plane rides later had me dazed,  sleep-deprived and confused but back on Canadian soil. I never thought I would get back. Seeing my brother at Toronto Pearson International Airport was all I needed to allow the tears to flow. The next few days were a blur with arrangements, appointments, phone calls, and of course the visitation and funeral. I don’t remember much but the love of family and friends. The tributes were beautiful and it was obvious my dad, “Mr. Marvellous” was loved and respected by so many.

My brothers and sister-in-laws grabbed the reins and helped out until I could get there. Being the eldest and the only girl means that I am usually the first point of contact for assistance when it comes to dad.  With being out of the country, they took the lead and I can’t thank them enough for all they did.

Julie, my heart swells thinking of how difficult making that call to me must have been. You are an angel. I felt the love and empathy over the phone that horrible night.

Last picture of Dad and me
Dad and I before he drove me to the airport to take on el Camino! He was so proud and happy for me. I will miss you dad! xoxo

My beautiful sons Philip and Joel were by my side and we were together for the first time since my mom passed away 5 years ago. It was wonderful feeling their support at this difficult time. I am so proud of what they have accomplished but more for being good people.

I thank those that helped our family; for the random acts of kindness and for all your gentleness. It was appreciated.

My father, “Mr. Marvelous” was a treasure. He was my rock, my cheerleader, my mentor and a terrific father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle, brother and friend. If I said I wanted to do something, he encouraged me to try. If I was successful he would brag to anyone who would listen; if I was unsuccessful he was the soft voice and heart to help me find the lesson and encourage me to try again.

The Camino prepared me for this loss for that I am sure. Dad emailed me an hour before he died congratulating me on my Camino triumph, telling me he missed me and that we had a date for a Skype call the next morning at 11:00 am. He was tired from a long drive from up north and had a great time on his annual family fishing trip

I am so grateful to have had him as a father, a mentor and a friend. We spoke almost every day and now when the phone rings, my heart sinks knowing it won’t be his voice on the other end. I know it will get easier in time, and although he is no longer here in flesh, I know his spirit and legacy lives on in me, his family and those he influenced with his MARVELOUS outlook on life.

I pay homage to my dad by continuing to live fearlessly, travel, explore and challenge myself. Making memories is the key, and only keeping things around me that make me happy. Life is too short!  On June 7th, the world lost a good man. He is now singing with the angels and likely looking for the next big deal.

Thank you for everything dad!

Dedicated to my father Barry “Mr. Marvelous” Murphy who will forever be my life compass. I love you!

A Blessing 

Waking to the sound of the cathedral church bells was beautiful. Stretching my legs under fresh linen sheets – A simple pleasure? Knowing you don’t have to get up–awesome! LOL

There were three tasks I had to accomplish today:

1. Obtain my Compostela (certificate of completion)
2. Pick up my bag with extra clothes that I had shipped forward
3. Attend the Pilgrim’s mass at 12 o’clock

Yesterday, the wait for the compostela was three hours. Apparently 700+ pilgrims were arriving. Today I only stood for 15 minutes because I got there when it opened. Receiving my Compostela was definitely a highlight. It’s in a tube right now and I will take a picture of myself when I get home. I am particularly fond of my pilgrim passport with all the stamps showing where I visited.

Picking up my luggage was an easy task and before you know it I was out of my Camino uniform and into “civies” again. Boy, did it feel good not wearing pink and purple clothes. lol

I decided to head over to the cathedral around 1030. The line up was unbelievable; down the cathedral steps, around the fountain and past the corner of the street. That was just to get into the church. The 1030 mass was already in progress and was in Spanish. I walked through the doors, found a place to stand and at that moment the botafumiero began to be raised. This is the culmination of the entire journey seeing the swinging of the botafumiero. It is silver, 3 feet tall and takes 5 men to raise it. I cried and cried as it was so beautiful.

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​I decided to stay for the English mass also and the Bishop of Santiago delivered the mass with guest priests from different countries. First, I needed to hug the statue of St. James that sits behind the altar. I couldn’t take a photo as the mass was in progress. It was very special. Needless to say, there is a lot of gold in this cathedral!

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After hugging the statue, I came out on the opposite side of the altar and waving to me were the German sisters (Stephanie and Bianca. They motioned for me to come and sit with them and Colorado Tim. This time when the botafumiero swung, it was over our heads. A little prayer that the rope would hold up as uttered. What a beautiful sight. Bianca has the movie, so more to come.

After mass, I hugged Stephanie and Bianca and wished them a good trip home. They were renting a car and driving to Bilbao. I on the other hand was going to enjoy a final luxurious evening at the Parador and reflect on this experience of a lifetime.

I Skyped dad but we couldn’t connect. He had an early date at his favourite restaurant – Dundas Street Grill. He was also leaving on the 47th annual MGM fishing trip so we promised to connect when he got back. We love our Skype calls.

Reflecting on this experience, I realize just how blessed I am.

There were physically-challenged people in wheelchairs/strollers or those wearing full braces travelling the same road. I have two feet that carried me through this journey.

There were sight-impaired people being guided with assistance, I have two eyes that helped me see the beauty of the landscape and the people.

There were hearing-impaired people and I have two ears to listen to the cuckoo bird, or laughter as we shared stories of our lives.

My feet and knees hurt and I think of all those that travelled before me without shoes.

Too many blessings to count, but the biggest blessing was having the love and support of my family, friends and coworkers. You all encouraged me to keep walking and writing.

I am proud of what I did and how I did it. I encourage you to try it for yourself no matter your age or ability. It may not make you enjoy walking, but this enriching experience will teach you so much about what you can do, while learning about Spain, others and yourself.

Thank you for all your support and remember when life gets hard, put one foot in front of the other.

Donna

 

A dream fulfilled

Talk about excitement this morning! It was a bit of a fitful sleep with a belly of queimada and anticipation for the final leg of my  journey.

I would start in Amanal today and called a taxi to take me there. Funny enough, I had the same taxi driver as I did the night before. We joked about the fact that he never sleeps. He must have a pretty captive audience with all these peregrinos coming through town.

Fuelled and ready to go, I continue down the path with more eucalyptus groves. You can feel the excitement on the trail. People are laughing, people are smiling, people are high-fiving each other. The Camino spirit is alive and well.

Along the trail I meet these two lovely young ladies. We chatted about their experience. They had started in Sarria 120 km out. They said it was harder than they anticipated and were a little impressed this young lady started in France. More conversation and giggles and we discovered they were from Canada and went to the University of Guelph. They are twin sisters Katrina and Courtney. Since they were identical twins I was getting them mixed up which I’m sure they are used to. Anyways, Courtney is majoring in Chemistry and close to her Masters. My niece Torie was in Toxicilogy and working on her second Masters so thought perhaps their paths had crossed. What do you know, Torie presented a report and gave out samples of David’s Tea which Courtney fondly remembered. I showed them a pic of my beautiful niece and the puzzle came together. It really is a small world!

 You can probably see the tiredness in my eyes and baby, I am tired! It’s only 15 km to go and I have this in the bag. Believe it or not it seemed to be one of the longest days with the anticipation of arriving in Santiago.

I bumped into Cliff and Holly again and along the way, an occasional Brazilian cyclist that road by me a few times. He always blew me kisses on and we laughed each time. It’s the little things. 😉

At about 5 km out from Santiago, a group of us stopped for lunch and a beverage to fuel us for the final push. Music was playing and people were dancing. The energy was palpable.

 The streets began getting busier and more houses appeared in the distance. I could see the city of Santiago. As I drew closer, my eyes searched for the Cathedral. It searched for another 2 to 3 km. It felt like the road would never end. Then I saw the sign and all the days of walking, all the blisters, muscle strains, mediocre food and difficult sleeping conditions all melted away. I was here!

 Following the scallop shells embedded in the concrete the sign that you are still on the Camino, I kept walking. There was some commotion up ahead. An elderly gentleman had driven over a curb and his car was balancing on the undercarriage. Three peregrinos stopped to help the grateful gentleman.

​it was a proud moment to have witnessed.

Continuing my walk I turn the corner and hear bagpipes coming from a tunnel. This is the tunnel I had heard  so much about. The bagpipes welcomed me as I entered and followed other pilgrims into the light at the other end. My eyes adjusted to the daylight and I looked around at this immense square and standing proudly looming over the square was the famous Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

What a moment it was. I literally released my backpack and let it fall to the ground dropped my sticks and sat in the middle of the square just staring at it. I don’t know what I was to expect, There were no tears, no real emotion, just awe. This picture had been in my mind for so many years and to suddenly be standing in front of it after the journey I had taken, made me feel so proud and at peace.

It was fun watching other pilgrims enter the Square. Some were crying, some running across it when recognizing people they had met along on the way and some prayed. The scaffolding and netting did take a bit away from the outside view but I hear inside is pretty impressive. I missed the Pilgrim’s mass today but will catch it tomorrow – Pentecost Sunday.

First thing was to find a place to stay. If you have watched the movie The Way, Martin Sheen stays in the Parador hotel and sips champagne. The Parador in Santiago de Compostela is considered the oldest hotel in the world. Well, why not me too? I walked up to the front desk fully expecting it to be full and was delighted to hear they had a room for me. Yippee! I jumped on the bed and kicked my feet up in the air and off came the socks. You never saw anyone jump into a soaker tub so fast! My tired, aching knees, damaged toes and feet splashed and played until the water got cold. No more confining hiking boots for a while! 😜
I went in search of people to celebrate with and quickly found my flight attendant buddies. They got in around 11:30 and well into celebration mode and it didn’t stop. We headed to the Parador and I ordered a bottle of French bubbly to toast our success.  The evening continued with wine flowing and food filling plates. Although I had spent many days on my own, it was extra special spending this evening with good people celebrating our journey. It is funny how we have gravitated to each other over the past few weeks. Even as we were about to leave, Stephanie and Bianca (fondly known as the German sisters) and Colorado Tim walked into the restaurant. Out of all of the hundreds of restaurants in Santiago they chose that one. It was meant to be – the Camino provides.

Ribadiso

I left out Ribadiso because it was almost not worth mentioning except I met this lovely girl named Nausica from Italy. I’m sure I have misspelled her name but she was such a sweet, kind girl who reminded me of a taller version of Penelope Cruz. We chatted about my goal of 25 km and on my first day she clapped and high-fived me in congratulations.

She shared a love story with me that just melted my heart. She found love on the Camino with Derek from California. Derek is a handsome, brooding American writing hopeful who stopped and wrote in his journal as they went in their way. Nausica always seemed to be ahead of him.

We stayed in the same albergue that night and the owner was Italian. He bought the building 3 years ago and it was the old jail. The bars were still on the windows.

Nausica used her Italian smile to coherce the owner to give her a key so she and Derek could attend a music concert in the village. I, on the other hand, stayed back to nurse my sore muscles and shared a communal meal with my fellow bunk mates for 10 euro. The owner made us a spaghetti bolognese that would have made any Nona whip out the wooden spoon and beat you senseless for calling it that. It was edible however and the ensalada mixta was exceptional. It didn’t matter when you were that hungry. The vino tinto was pretty darn good also! 😉

I never heard the lovebirds come in and I expect it was late. Later she told me they went to the supermercado to pick up some food and wine and found a spot in an empty field with their blanket. Young love, sigh!

I hope it works out for them.

Two 25km days in a row!