Madison Travel Blog

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Hello wary new reader, and welcome to the official blog of me, Rachael Parker, age 22 in this, the Year of our Lord, 2009. Soon enough I shall leave all I know behind me and bravely don the guise of international student and world traveler. Previous roles include student of medieval European history at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, stage manager of various plays chiefly with the illustrious University Theatre, as well as friend, daughter, drinking buddy, sous chef, classic movie fanatic, sun-worshipper, amateur pianist and polka-dancer, Office addict, and planner of random theme parties.

My purpose in writing this blog is primarily to provide readers, who will indubitably flock to my page in e-droves, easy access to all things Rachael-centric in the exciting months to come. And if they don't, well I will certainly have enjoyed creating it, because lord knows this travelogue will not resemble the modest adventures of Rick Steves, respectable yet tame PBS adventurer of little renown, but instead--in the style of my bff and mentor Anthony Bourdain--I will inevitably fail at keeping the topics purely travel and culture-oriented but will instead often wax poetical, philosophical, intellectual, emotional, medieval, comical, neurotical, and melodramatical. And not necessarily in that order. Because that is how I roll.

First, a word of explanation. Come February 16th, I shall leave this wild New World for a semester in Europe. Many of you know that Europe is my girlfriend. She and I have been navigating a passionate long-distance relationship for about 10 years now, but come mid-February we shall finally consummate our union as I shall be spending the semester in her true-heart, the city of love, that is, Paris. Details surrounding this period from Mid-February to Mid-June are hazy and speculative as of yet: first, because obtaining the proper paperwork in order to achieve a French Visa is nearly impossible, and second because I am too nervous about my French speaking skills to fantasize about life à côté de the Eiffel Tower just yet. Nevertheless--for those of you out there who feel the need to reassure me that I will be alright, let me reassure you: I know. I know all I really need to be happy is a cup of coffee and a chair, a book, and a few visits to the Louvre... the rest is just a gift. I mean, it's Paris.

Following ces aventures en France, I intend to hike across Northern Spain from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic on the 1000+ year old pilgrimage trail the Camino de Santiago. Anyone who wants to come along, again, you are invited. The Camino begins in the town of St. Jean-pied-de-port and leads out of the mountains, through Basque country, across various plains, mountains, cities, farmland, and forests to Compostella, the holy city built to honor the relics of St. James. James, known in Spain as Santiago (read: Saint Iago, short for Iacob, Latin for James), was a close friend and disciple of Christ himself. How he got to be hanging out and fighting Saracens in North-Western Iberia is another story fit for campfire retellings, not blogs, but his resting place there came to be the third most popular pilgrimage site for Western Christians--second only to Jerusalem and Rome. The journey is long (approx. 4 weeks) but inexpensive, with hostels costing less than $8/night, and all along the way are authentic sights to behold: architecture and art, medieval parish churches, Roman roads, pilgrims of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds, food, farms, local people... Europe at its rarest and finest.

Why Compostella? Why not? I discovered the pilgrimage's existence in my medieval history seminar this semester, and I was immediately struck with having finally found something that they did in the middle ages that people still do now and find just as meaningful. Then, one day as I was walking to Latin with my friend Jacob, I realized... I can do this. Europe will already be at my fingertips. So no, I don't speak Spanish, and no I'm not technically a Catholic in the papally-accepted way, but I do see this as a spiritual journey. I'll have to get fit (or at least fitt-er) to do it (which means I should probably lay off the sour patch kids I've been munching this whole time), and that means both mental and physical training. I'll have to survive in a rural part of Spain, possibly on my own, without phone or Internet or anything. What matters most to me, though, is seeing Europe on the ground level. There are years and years to see other European sights--The Globe Theatre will be just as interesting when I'm 65, and the Pantheon can wait another 30 years for me to venture towards it--but backpacking on foot is a sport for the young and sprightly, or at least the temporarily unattached and willing, which is me.

In the meantime, however, I remain in Madison, attempting to consolidate my American life so I can soon set out for places unknown in the proper fashion: nervous but upright, willing, and calm. It hasn't been easy so far. I've had to say many goodbyes already, each harder than the last. First, to my Danish friends, then to Karen who's off to Australia. Next to Allie-my-love, interning for the semester in Chicago, and then to Casey, my best and oldest friend, forever the dearest person to my heart, who will most likely soon be frozen to death in the cold expanses of his mother Russia. Then, when I leave it will be another goodbye--to Tony, who may be off to grad school god knows where by the time I return. And that's not even counting the people I have to bid adieu temporarily... Katherine, Chris, my family... everyone! The lot of us are spreading across the globe, and it is all very exciting, very important, and very, very sad. Frankly, I resent it all... having to tear yourself away from those you love in order to "grow"? Is it really as necessary as we make it out to be? Only time will tell.

What do we do to alleviate the pain? Write our neighbors ransom notes, of course:

Until next time!
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photo by: DaveSwede