Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Today I picked out my stone. I have a collection of stones that I have picked up along mountain passes and beaches thru my lifetime. Quite a few of them are from California. Many have fossils embedded in the ancient and hardened sand. That’s what I chose:  A small stone the color of blue grey with white flakes thru it…ancient shells embedded in sand that time hardened. It’s flat and round. 1.75 inches across and feels good in the hand. I picked it up on a beach in Northern California.

I will carry it now in my daypack. Carry it while I go on practice hikes here in Illinois and carry it on the plane when I head out to Southern France. I will carry it across the Pyrenees Mountains into Northern Spain. Than about 553 kilometers or 343.5 miles into the walk near Ponferrada at the highest point of El Camino in Spain, 1,530 meters above sea level (5,020 feet) I will be standing on the “Roof of the Way” in front of an iron cross perched on top of a 7 meter (23 ft ) wooden post that is surrounded by stones, stones that pilgrims (peregrinos) have left over the years.


The iron cross, Cruz de Fierro, sits upon a point in the Leon Mountains that once had an altar dedicated to the Roman god Mercury. Now it is where pilgrims come and leave a stone from their home. The stone can symbolize a deliverance from sin or protection from the dangers encountered along El Camino. It’s what one wants it to be. For me it symbolizes the release of unneeded weight that gets in the way in life. It’s an offering to all that have traveled this road thru the millenniums.


“When I let go of what I am,

I become what I might be.

When I let go of what I have,

I receive what I need.”

                                                                             — Lo Tzu

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned,

so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

                                                                                            — Joseph Campbell





Photograph of Cruz de Fierro by Guillermo Gutierrez, 2015

Ramos, Sergi.  Camino de Santiago. 2014



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The Blarney of Blarney Castle


When I began planning to go to Ireland the first thing that came to mind was that I MUST go to the Blarney Castle and kiss The Blarney Stone. As an oral storyteller this was a true pilgrimage. So I chose a day and booked myself on the Cork/Blarney Tour through Irish Day Tours and chose a Saturday to go. I had been in Ireland since Monday and it had rained on and off everyday. That’s really not a big deal if you are prepared for it but to climb up stone spiral stairs and walk along the upper battlement to lie on your back to kiss a stone while it’s raining—well can’t do anything about it.

As it turned out, Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day and now here I was looking up a spiral stairway with only a thick rope running down the center of it to hold onto. I slowly made my way up, stopping at the “Young Ladies Room” then the “Priest’s Chamber” above it and finally the kitchen. On the forth floor there are some modern stairs that take you to the battlements where the Blarney Stone is located on the south end. The interior of the castle has long rotted away so from this height you can see to the first floor of the main area as well as the countryside around it while you wait in line to The Blarney Stone. It’s a beautiful view.

Finally on my back, with my hands holding tightly onto two metal bars, a nice young man helped me lean all the way back to the area of The Blarney Stone for the kiss. The Blarney Stone was rather rough until you reached the part where you kiss it. There at the bottom lip it was smooth all across.

This intrigued me.
IMG_2021smallLater I asked a friend about it and was told that it was from all the kissing.   “Well,” I pointed out, “it was smooth all the way across not just where you kiss it. It’s like there was a lot of liquid that passed there at one time.”

“Oh,” she said, “I did hear that it is located where the toilet was.”

“Oh great.” I thought. “I kissed the arse of a stone lion in Girona, Spain so I will return there and now I kiss the bottom of a stone that was once a medieval toilet.”

I needed to find out the truth.   So I asked another friend and he told me that he had heard that the young men liked to climb up there at night after a good night’s worth of drinking and relieve themselves at The Blarney Stone.

Okay…this was all beginning to sound like a bit of Blarney to me so I did some research…Historical research.

The Blarney Stone that is kissed today is actually located on the south end and the medieval toilets or garderobe are located on the north end where the spiral stairs and rooms are. The Blarney Stone is actually a part of a machicolation, which is an opening where rocks, burning objects or hot liquids were thrown or poured down upon attackers. Ah, my lips are safe.

There is also a bit of confusion through history as to where The Blarney Stone is actually located. Some historical reports place it high up in the tower where it was rather difficult to reach, others place it on the highest north-east part of the castle, and still other reports place it on the face of the north-east wall.  All of which are difficult to reach. Wherever the true Blarney Stone is located, its magic of the gift of gab has permeated throughout the castle.

I should know.  I kissed it and that’s no blarney.


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The beginning of the 19th century was a turning point for Spain. Napoleon was able to get both King Charles IV and his son, Ferdinand, to surrender any legal claim to Spanish rule and placed his brother Joseph there in 1808. Believing that the Spanish people would want a change in their government, he soon found how wrong he was. If Spain had learned anything from the French revolution, they learned nationalism: They were a unique nation with their own diverse culture and history. France, though allies for many centuries with Spain, was not welcome in this new form of thought.

Meanwhile, Napoleon had his sights on Portugal. He saw it as the gateway to the rest of the world and his way to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great. He was also not pleased with the Portuguese trading with England and wanted England out of the Mediterranean. So he sent his troops over the Pyrenees mountain range, through Spain and on towards Lisbon. Along the way the French troops were to take over major cities throughout Spain.

The Spanish people revolted against the French. They were supported by the Spanish military; England who allied themselves with the Spanish rebel leaders; and the Catholic Church who had excommunicated Napoleon in June of 1809 where in retaliation Napoleon had had Pope Pius VII arrested and held him prisoner in his palace of Fontainebleau near Paris till early 1814. With this support, the Spanish rebels used guerrilla warfare against the French army.

All over Spain there were revolts against the French. Soldiers, farmers, tradesmen, women and children came to the call to defend their country and local towns. The Spanish painter, Goya, tired of how Napoleon would have his own personal painters create romantic scenes of battles, traveled through Spain and sketched drawings depicting the horrors of this war.

Small towns became strategic necessities for the French military. Girona, Spain, located on the Onyar River was one such town. Its location made it a key point from France to Barcelona. In June of 1808 when the French first tried to take control of Girona the military and citizens of this town were able to defeat them. There was a second siege from July 24 to August 16 with victory again going to Girona. It was the third siege though that Girona lost. Seven months from May 24 to December 11 of 1809 the citizens and military fought back the French. When it fell to the French there was a rallying call all through Spain that helped strengthened the Spanish resistance.

Every year, at the end of September, the town of Girona, Spain puts on a reenactment of the siege and battle between the French and citizens of Girona during the Peninsular War that finally ended in 1814 when the Spanish and English were able to push the French back over the Pyrenees mountain range and out of Spain.


Rothenberg, Gunther. The Napoleonic Wars. Cassell, London. 1999.

Streissguth, Thomas. The Napoleonic Wars: Defeat of the Grand Army. Lucent Books, MI. 2003

Howard, Emma. Spain. Compendium Publishing, London. 2007.




A warm thanks to the sponsors of the TBEX 2012 Costa Brava, Spain Convention and tours:

Costa Brava: Pirineu de Girona: Costa Brava Girona Tourism Board @ http://www.CostaBrava.com
Catalunya Tourist Board @ http://www.catalunya.com
Ajuntament de Girona @ http://www2.girona.cat/ca
Palau de Congressos de Girona @ http://www.auditorigirona.org/eng/pc.presentacio.php
Europe TBEX ’12 in Spain @ http://www.tbexcon.com (for more information on the Travel Blogger’s network, sponsors, and conferences)

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