Tag Archives: in memory of Michael

What fun to meet up with Keld, an exchange student from Denmark who stayed with us during his high school years. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Denmark Reunion

A childhood book and an exchange student brought me to Denmark. Since my childhood, I have wanted to travel to the Scandinavian countries.

That desire was triggered by a picture book, The Surprise Doll, a book I read over and over as a young girl. It tells the story of a little girl from Scandinavia whose father was a sea captain, and each time he returned home from the sea, he brought this little girl a doll from a foreign country. She had one doll for every day of the week but Sunday and she wanted just one more. She asked her father for another doll and he said no, six dolls were enough for any little girl. (Remember, this book was written sixty years ago.) The little girl wasn’t satisfied, so she put her six dolls in her doll carriage and off she went to the village to see the doll maker. He was kind and patient and told her to leave her six dolls with him for one week and then to come back. She went home and patiently marked off every day on her calendar and then returned to the doll maker. He had made a doll that looked just like her.

Throughout my life, different things besides the children’s book also increased my desire to travel, and almost 30 years ago, we hosted an exchange student from Denmark. I learned so much from Keld, our exchange student, that I wanted to go there. More importantly, I promised Keld that I would visit him and his family.

While he stayed with us, Keld integrated into our family. Our son and daughter were in high school at the same time, involved with the same sports and activities, and it was a great experience to have Keld with us. Keld played on the ski team and the soccer team, and he traveled with us to Disney World. Our son Michael went back with Keld and spent a summer at their summer home on a small island, sailing and enjoying life by the ocean. Two years later, they toured Europe together in the summer. Keld became a lifelong friend of the family.

Finally, I kept my promise and came to Denmark to see Keld and to meet his family for the first time.  I was very excited when I arrived at the airport near Copenhagen and Keld was there to greet me.

I was happy to see that Keld was the same fun, happy, energetic, bright man who lived with us while a senior in high school. It was evening when we reached his summer home in Assens, and I could have called it a day, but Keld had prepared a lovely dinner—something that was not among his talents when he was a young exchange student. We planned to catch up the next morning, since we had both taken long journeys: the day before, Keld had driven from Switzerland where he lives now and has a business, and I had traveled from above the Arctic Circle in Norway on three flights, with long drives to and from airports.

Keld thought it would be pleasant to walk about his coastal town of Assens, Denmark. A coastal path goes by his front door, so off we went in the morning. The ocean breeze blew in our faces. In the distance, we saw several sail boats, and at sea, a tanker or two coming and going to the nearby port. The path led into a large bird sanctuary. I was startled by a nesting swan that took flight as I walked along. Several other swans were swimming gracefully in an inlet pond.

These kolonihaves offer a gardening retreat in Denmark. Photo by Madelyn Given.

These kolonihaves offer a gardening retreat in Denmark.

Keld and I walked from the shoreline back though the old town of Assens. For centuries it had been an important port for ferries between Jutland and Funen; now there are bridges between the islands and Germany. We walked through lovely city parks and to an area of tiny miniature garden houses. Here in a gated area, people who own homes in the inner city have purchased a tiny plot where they build a kolonihave, a tiny garden house. They come here to tend their flower and vegetable garden and relax. The owners and families cannot live here—it is only for their day use.

Exploring an old section of Assens, Denmark. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Exploring an old section of Assens, Denmark.

We walked throughout Assens, taking time to stop at an art museum and later have a cup of tea. We walked through city streets and old sections of cobblestone squares, all the way to the harbor and past the marina, which had many sail boats and the ship yard. We made it back to Keld’s place after spending the day catching up, and at the same time, I had enjoyed a great walking tour of a beautiful place in Denmark.

(posted October 25, 2016)

One of many such statues along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail. Photograph by Madelyn Given.

El Camino: Santiago de Compostela

Santiago is a grand old Spanish city filled with ancient history. I was excited to walk there from St. Jean de Pied de Port, over 500 miles, during my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage—aka the Way of St. James—in fall 2014. Along the way, I had seen many statues of St. James, such as the one in my photo above; scallop shells are a sign of the Camino trail and St. James. Now that I was finally here in Santiago, my journey was completed, but I still had a few important things to do. I needed to go to the Oficina del Peregrino to receive my el Camino Compostela.

It was September 24th, my husband’s birthday, and I had started my day before dawn; leaving a country town, I had walked more than 20 kilometers and arrived in the big city of Santiago at 10:35 am. I had found a room for my bags, been to the special Pilgrim Mass at the cathedral, and had a double order of tapas. Now Paddy, an Irish pilgrim, and I walked the narrow cobblestone streets to the el Camino office. There we waited for two hours in a long line, with other anxious pilgrims, until it was our turn to enter the building.

One at a time, people were allowed to enter the office, and finally it was my turn. One of the busy but pleasant staff attended me, first checking my el Camino passport, and then asking information to decide if I was deserving of the compostela. Satisfied, the official signed and dated it, then carefully wrote my name with calligraphy script. He also documented the reason I had walked the el Camino, as I told him I walked in memory of my son Michael. I thanked the official, walked to the table across the counter, bought a document tube, and exited quickly, knowing many more people were waiting outside. It was a happy moment as I stood there with the precious document—further proof of another accomplishment—and finished my goal of completing the el Camino.

During the two hours of waiting, our hotel landlord Maria came by, so Paddy held my place in line, while I went to her building and paid for the room where our bags were stored. She was helpful in telling me where the nearest travel office was located.

After our official business, Paddy and I dropped off our documents in the room, and off I headed to the travel office to change my flight home and find a way to get to Portugal: by car, plane, or train. I told Paddy I would meet him in the room in an hour, but it took ages to get anything done. The agent was pleasant, but nothing was accomplished. She told me to come back in a few hours and she would have things ready.

Since the best way to get to Portugal was by train, I headed for the train booking office, which is next to the Oficina del Peregrino. In Spain, most businesses close from 2 to 5 pm. It had just opened, and a young Japanese girl was the first customer. It was a small place, with room only for one customer at a time, and the short line of 7 or 8 people waited outside on the narrow cobblestone street.

It took forever for this one customer! Finally, the ticket agent set her aside, to deal with her later, and he began processing others, one entering the office at a time. Ahead of me were three men, and who said they were traveling together, and insisted on going in together. Each time someone came in, the Japanese girl interrupted, and the agent would kindly tell her just a minute.

I was happy to get two tickets that would get me across the border to O Port, Portugal, even with no guarantee of getting a train the rest of the way to Lisbon. It was a different train system in Portugal, so the agent had no answers. I asked if the train station was within walking distance, and he said yes. I wanted to leave quickly, as the agent was distressed, the Japanese girl was ready for a tantrum, and I wanted no part of that scene.

I hurried to the room I had paid for, where Paddy was taking a nap. Next on our agenda was to go to the Franciscian Monestary. Paddy was more excited about going here than receiving the official el Camino certificate. We hurried to this large old complex and were greeted by three women sitting at tables, with a short waiting line of pilgrims. Earlier in the morning, while we were walking, Paddy had explained the significance of this certificate.

Eight hundred years ago, St. Francis of Assisi had walked the same trail in honor of St. James. This was an anniversary year. People would have to wait another 100 years before this anniversary comes around again. No wonder Paddy wanted to get here! When it was my turn, the woman seated across the table carefully signed, dated, and then wrote my name. She took time to ask how long it took me to walk the trail. Impressed, she stopped the other staff, and they all congratulated me.

Now that our official business was over, we could slow down and begin to enjoy the sights of this historic, world heritage city. As we were walking back through one of the main plazas, we were stopped by someone shouting Paddy’s name. It was the young hiker from Texas, who had walked with us early this morning. We were glad he had made it here safely. He introduced us to his sister, and he said he still felt ill, but planned to rest up before heading home.

There was a lot to be thankful for on this climactic day. I called home and wished my husband a happy birthday. He congratulated me on another successful adventure. As I was nearing the end of this long journey, I was thinking about home.

(posted July 14, 2015)

An apple orchard along the Camino de Santiago trail. Photograph by Madelyn Given.

El Camino: Final Day to Santiago, Part 1

Yesterday I watched the trail markers all day – now there is one for every kilometer. This was the final countdown from hundreds of miles on the Camino de Santiago trail. As I left the trail last night, the last one I saw said 20.5 km. I planned to start early again. I stayed in Arca, in a private albergue with my own room. I was tired but too excited to get a good night’s sleep. I kept waking thinking about getting off the trail after 29 straight days. Then I would enter a big city and make the transition, which would be quite a change from the countryside scenes, like the apple orchard I had passed (see my photo above).

Today is September 24th, my husband’s birthday. I am far from home, but it is a day I will remember. It is the last day of hiking the el Camino. I started in St Jean de Pied de Port, France, on my son’s anniversary—the reason for walking el Camino—so both days I will remember.

I was full of excitement that I could hardly wait to leave my room and tip toe out past the big bunkroom full of sleeping hikers. It was just before 6 am and dark except for the streetlights. No one was in sight. It was cool and calm as I walked up to the top of the hill, turned right, and walked almost out of town (Arca), where the sidewalk ended.

I carefully watched for the yellow el Camino arrows and spotted one across the main highway heading into the woods. I turned on my headlamp and walked only a few feet into the darkness when the light became so dim it was worthless. I dropped my bag and started looking for new batteries. By the time I changed batteries, a young man from Texas had appeared. He had no headlight. I tried my light and it still didn’t work. I was deciding whether to go back, when along came a group of young Italians I knew, so the two of us joined them.

This was a first for me, going without my own light, stumbling over rocks and roots, hurrying faster than my own pace, and depending on others. I felt welcome among these young Italians: I knew them from staying in the same albergues, talking with them, and hiking with them the past few days. I was determined to finish early today, or I would not have done this silly thing of walking without my own light. This group of happy-go-lucky young Italians were not the same group of hiking friends who I had spent so much time with for so many days. Those were all behind me or had fallen off the trail. So now I had met two groups. The Italians are unlike any other hikers I met—they like to hike in a group and are very social and friendly.

The Italians were at ease, laughing and happy to be finishing the trek today. They just seemed to glide over the rocks, holes, and streams, despite the darkness. After a while—what seemed a long time, but in reality was only a couple of kilometers—we came to a tiny bar and they stopped for a coffee.

I would have taken a break with them, but two older Swedish couples came along, also going at good clip, intent on making time. They stopped to say hello and I told them my light wasn’t working. It had been so dependable for all these days and the final day it had petered out! They said come with us. I told the Italians I would see them in Santiago, and off I went, in the middle of the huddle.

The Swedish couples were quite concerned about making it to Santiago by mid-morning, but they planned on having breakfast anyway, and after a while we came to another bar/café in the crock of the trail. This was their stop. Now I was by myself again: I could either continue with no light or take a break here. I was standing on the trail, making my decision, when along came Paddy, an Irishman, and the young guy from Texas was trailing him. I told Paddy my light had given out, and he said no matter, come along, and I did. Paddy had a good light and we moved along at a good clip, but every few hundred feet we would have to stop and wait for the young man, who was noticeably ill. He would stop and put on his jacket, then take it off again a few minutes later. He was perspiring, stumbling, and just plain sick. He said his sister was waiting in Santiago for him. Of course we felt bad for him, but we also wanted to get to Santiago by mid-morning. Paddy knew it was difficult to get a seat at the Cathedral for the 11:00 celebration. This now became our focus. I didn’t want to miss this and stay another day for just that reason.

We came to another bar/café and went in to get a rest and a drink. I ordered an orange juice. Along the trail, this is always made fresh, while the customer waits. After I finished my drink, I said I was going on, and left the two men sitting there. By now it was dawn and I could move along at my own steady pace. I really was relieved that I had made it though without any problems and not too much inconvenience. I was also thankful for such good people on the trail.

It was only a short while later, when I had stopped to take off my rain jacket, when Paddy came hurrying down the trail, trying to catch up with me. The young Texan was not with him. Paddy had been so patient with him, but left him sitting at the café. It was cool and pleasant, and we were both focused on walking, so that I cannot remember much about the places I passed.

I do remember the runway of the airport, as the path went along a fence beside it for the whole distance. More significant, after a rise in the path along a hillside, was the Monte del Gozo, Mount of Joy, because years ago, this was the first sight pilgrims had of the spires of Santiago de Compostela. Now tall buildings block the way. In 1993, the Holy Year, Pope John Paul II visited this site, and a monument marks the spot. It is visited by many people unable to walk the el Camino, so it is significant. It is about an hour’s walk from my final destination. After a quick stop there, Paddy and I hurried on at a steady pace, headed for the closest of the seven gates into the city, considered the third holiest Christian city in the world. My day was just beginning, and it would turn out to be a day to remember.

(posted June 30, 2015)