Waiting for a bus is never much fun. In Astorga however you get to wait in a cafe that looks out to the Roman walls, the Cathedral and Gaudi’s palace. That’s not a bad way to start a bus journey. The bus to Sarria has to go via the city of Lugo so the 3 1/2 hour bus journey becomes a 5 hour bus journey. Not too arduous especially considering some of the bus journeys from hell that I’ve been on in India and Nepal. I remember one particular twelve hour journey that went for 36 hours and felt like it lasted a week. A week on a train is fun and something I’ve done before (twice on the trans-Siberian which is another story) but day and a half bus journey’s through South Asia that feel like they go for a week are not fun. In contrast Spain’s buses are an absolute pleasure, comfortable, cheap, fast and the well located bus stations make for easy travel.
Sarria is a Camino town. The scallop shell can be found on everything from centuries old buildings to guard rails to garbage bins. It’s from here, approximately, 115km from Santiago that many people start their Camino. It’s this part that is recognised by as fulfilling the 1,000 year old pilgrimage. It’s also the start of one of the most beautiful legs of the Camino through the rolling hills, green fields and stony buildings of Celtic Galicia. In fact this is where the Celts originated.
Sarria is a medium sized town and we’re staying on the outskirts of it in a Hotel alongside the Camino. Tomorrow we start our walk again. Where we end up will depend on accommodation being available as this the busiest part of the Camino. We plan a day of about 10-15 km’s. Our plan is short knees so as not to strain Cheeky’s knees too much but also to try end up in Santiago before the 25th July. On this day Santiago celebrates as it is Saint James’s day and whom the city is named after as the last resting place of the Saint. If we can do all of this it will be a fitting end to our Camino.
The Albergue in Villares offered a great respite on the way to Astorga. We made ourselves a great dinner in the little kitchen before a sleep interrupted by a rude couple who felt it ok to turn dorm lights on whenever it suited them.
We woke up to the sound of rain clattering down on the roof and the sound of thunder rolling in. It’s not the most inspiring of sounds when you know you have a day of walking ahead of you. We dragged ourselves out of bed and over breakfast cheered each other up. We were soon laughing as there seemed little point in starting our day’s hike in a despondent mood.
Raincoats on we sloshes through town, up rivers of water streaming down the path ( and through my shoes) past farms with cows and roads with cow manure and soon we were somewhat less perky than when we had started out. Cheeky’s knees didn’t like the cold and our pace began to slow but Cheeky persevered. Every now and then she’d spy a plum or apple tree and her face would break out in a grin of delight. Cheeky loves fruit, as you may have gathered, but she also plants plum trees. Everynow and then she’ll put a plum or plum pit in the ground for future peregrinos to enjoy the fruit of.
The day never really lightened up and the rain began to lash down harder 3km into Astorga. So we stooped in a bar for the best tortilla we’ve had in Spain and the obligatory cafe con leche. Then, spirits lifted, we ambled into Astorga looking forward to staying in a nice hotel room.
And a beautiful room it is to. It overlooks the main square and from our balcony we can see bundles of activity everywhere. Just before the hour people face towards the 18th century Town Hall and wait for the two figurines on the bell tower to strike the hours. The male and female figure rotate to strike the bell and have been doing so since 1748. Our view in Astorga can not be beaten. We’ve been very lucky with our hotel rooms in Spain getting to enjoy sone unique, cosy establishments in great parts of the towns we’ve stayed in.
Astorga’s a beautiful little town. It’s fantasy Gaudi designed palace juxtapposed against the 17th century Cathedral and flanked by Roman walls makes for a intriguing architectural mix. The little town square, meandering calle’s and chocolate shops makes for a pleasant stroll. It’s easy to see why this is a popular starting point for the Camino de Santiago.
Our plans from here. Head to Sarria for a couple of days and then walk the 115km from Sarria in Santiago de Compostela. Cheeky’s knees ache but we will break the last section into easy stages and hopefully we’ll be able to finish the walk and claim our Compostela’s. Cheeky especially will deserve this as she’s just had to grind it out at times. If we finish this will mean our total km’s walked will be around 300km no mean feat 🙂
Onto Sarria tomorrow. Can’t wait for Galicia – the walking there, while crowded, is quite beautiful.
The early morning expectation, bags packed, feet vaselined and/or taped – whatever method has been chosen by that particular peregrino to escape the scourge of blisters. Knee braces applied, legs strapped. Nervous energy being walked off as peregrinos wait for walking partners. Some peregrinos louder than others, forgetting that some choose to try sleep in, the morning bustles with expectation as we all get ready to walk into the day about to form. We left early, about 6:30, after a poor sleep that is often a feature of overcrowded Municipal Albergues. Our destination of Villarres de Orbigo was 16km away.
Today we walked through Cheeky’s jigsaw puzzle. Cheeky’s favourite iPad app is a puzzle game in which the puzzles are the artwork of Manet. Many of his artworks feature fields of wildflowers and today we walked through wild flower fields reminiscent of Manet’s work. It felt like walking through Cheeky’s jigsaws.
You can add cherry thief to my crimes after today’s walk. I’ve begun to detect a pattern here I think. Cheeky spots fruit, she has an uncanny knack for this, i’m then persuaded to collect such fruit, Cheeky then consumes the fruit. Today’s bounty was cherries. I don’t think there’s any fruit that grows on trees here that I haven’t yet plucked, except perhaps for the still ripening grapes and figs we see.
The day’s walk took us through the picturesque town Hospital de Orbigo with it’s ultra long medieval bridge and it’s adjoining jousting fields. The town made famous by the undefeated Knight who fought fellow Knights from all over Europe on this little field, remaining undefeated and only retiring after 60 odd days of jousting in a row.
Our obligatory coffee over the jousting fields done we marched into our last stage of the day. The weather was hot and whilst the walk was pleasant through barley fields and rows of budding cornfields Cheeky’s knees began to feel the pain. We arrived in the paved and mudwalled town of Villarres de Orbigo to find a gloriously clean, small, friendly and off the beaten path Albergue. A fine end to a good day’s walking. Tomorrow we walk into the chocolate town of Astorga about 14km away. That will be the finish of our 45km test of Cheeky’s knees. We’ve booked a hotel there and will stay for two days before heading onto Sarria by bus for the final 115km stretch.
Yay! Back to walking we go, hi ho, hi ho, hi ho. Hi ho, hi ho it’s off to walk we go, with stick and a shuffle, hi ho, hi ho, hi ho. As you can see I have little people on the mind. There is a reason for this, which I’ll get to in a minute. Firstly though, we’re back to walking the Camino initially to test Cheeky’s still aching, but potentially walkable, knees.
The stretch beyond Leon leading to the little chocolate town of Astorga is perhaps not, except for the bit around Hospital de Orbigo, the prettiest of walks but it is pretty flat and at only 45 km from Leon to Astorga a good test of walking ability. The plan was to break that 45km into 4 easy stretches over 4 days. If Cheeky’s knees do ok here then we will move onto Sarria, which at about 114km is the final, most important stretch, that is recognised by the Catholic church as fulfilling the requirements for the pilgrimage to Santiago. Cheeky really wants to do this section. I know from last time that it’s a beautiful, albeit relatively crowded walk, but it does contain a few ups and downs that will test Cheeky’s knees and her resolve.
So today we started with the intention to walk about 10km. The walk out of Leon is slightly dull but flat. So we walked and walked expecting to find many a coffee shop open. This was Leon we reckoned, a major town, not a sleepy rural village where nothing ever seemed open. Hah! At 8am nothing stirred, at 9am nothing stirred, at 10am one coffee shop stirred but I suspect the owner was breaking an unwritten rule. The one that forbids people doing business. I love Spain, and I especially love that it has a work/life balance the only thing is it often seems this country has forgotten the idea of ‘balance’ in favour of life. Not a bad proposition personally but perhaps not so sound economically. Shops don’t deign to open before 10am and even then don’t seem to care to much about matching the opening time on theirs doors. Post siesta they open again for a few hours but in reality shops seems open for very few hours a day. On the Camino a couple of hundred thirsty, hungry peregrinos pass a day. In Vietnam there’d be a thousand businesses taking advantage of the money walking by. Here in Spain you’re sometimes hard pressed to find a place to sell you coffee. I imagine big cities like Madrid and Barcelona are not like this but walking through rural Spain I’m not overly surprised by Spain’s current economic malaise.
However Spain’s economic malaise is not on my thoughts for long. What I do think about is that the Hobbit House Walk’s hobbit houses have been spruced up a bit since I last walked by. It actually looks like they’re lived in now – perhaps Bilbo’s back in town. In any case I enjoy the little cluster of hobbit houses as they break up the dull suburbia through which we walk.
A few hours walking and we find ourselves in Villa Virgen del Camino – one of our potential first night stops. It’s taken just less than 2 hours to get here. Our pace is good and so we stop for a fantastically large coffee, thankfully I remember the Spanish word for large, thanks to Starbucks we all know it, it’s grande.
At our coffee stop Cheeky declares she feels good so we decide to press on for another 4km’s or do to the next town and Albergue. We’re both feeling good and walking well. I’m especially revelling in the sun shining on my back and doing some excercise with a pack on my back. We finally arrive at the next town to find no one in the Albergue. We think about a hostal or pension but Cheeky says she’s ok to walk on. The next town is 9km on and would make our day a 22km day. An easy enough day on the Camino but double the test we wanted to put Cheeky’s knees to.
We put on some tunes, sunlotioned up, cocked our hats at the appropriate angle (slightly jaunty angle, facing down if you must ask) and strode off toward Villadango del Paramos. The walk was sort of along the roadside si relatively flat. It wasn’t completely unappealing as we managed to purloin some more plums and apples along the way. The plum trees especially seem to grow wild here. And then it happened … Cheeky began to grimace. Then she stopped, rubbed the knee and hobbled on. She stopped again, bit her lip, rubbed the knee and hobbled on. Stop, bite, hobble, you get the idea, this went on for a few km’s and then Cheeky just put the pain aside and walked. And so we arrived in this full little Albergue with it’s very loud American (from the USA so as not to diss all the other North and South Americans out there) peregrino’s. Cheeky says she’s ok. The knees ache but after a little snooze she’s feeling ok. Tomorrow we plan to walk to the picturesque town of Hospital de Orbigo. 12km’s of flat walking. That should be ok for the knee’s – let’s see.
As for me in terms of body – i’m ok, a few muscles aches and a sore’ish right knee but nothing major. I kinda like feeling a bit sore, it makes me realise i’m doing something not overly easy. So far we’ve walked close to 150km I I have no blisters (touch wood). I think that’s due in part to the budding but also because my huge blisters last time caused me to spend sometime researching. Moisture it seems is the key problem. So I used light shoes with ventilation (Geox), light runner’s socks not made of cotton and tons of Vaseline each morning before the walk. It works a wonder – the feet are dry at the end of the day and, so far, blister free.
The fields whizz by and the terrain gradually flattens as we leave Burgos. The two hour bus journey makes light of the Camino across the mesetas. I remember two years ago struggling across the wide, hot, wheat fielded expanse. These are the sections of the Camino that test the body’s spirit to keep going. We had no such ardour to endure – I think I may even have slept on the bus. Oh the life of a touragrino, not quite tourist, not quite peregrino. At least we had the decency not to take hard won beds in Albergues.
Leon is a great city with a distinctly different feel to Burgos. The Cathedral, though perhaps not as grandious, feels suitably imposing and yet peaceful. The small streets pull away from the cathedral in numerous directions like strands of wool pulled away by errant kittens. The streets are a strange, eclectic but ultimately workable mix of old and new buildings. We stop to view the world passing and enjoy more Vino Tinto. Watching the world pass by i’m reminded of the guy in the van we met while on our first day’s arduous hike through the Pyrenees. When I’d asked him why he worked on the mountain he said look at the view, at which we both laughed as the rain and mist obscured everything beyond a five metre radius. He then went onto say that when he went to work the world passed by his door and as if to prove his point he pointed to his van door enscribed with that day’s peregrino’s … French and Koreans lead the count but at least 24 other nationalities had passed his door that day.
Leon also saw us try Spanish Chinese dim sum. Nice, slightly familiar but somewhat strange – like a Chinese meal in a David Lynch film. Twin Peaks dim sum if you wil. We enjoyed Leon and our eclectic little hotel Quindos on the edge of the historical area was a pleasant place to fritter away the siesta hours.
Next stop somewhere on the Camino. The plan is to try a little walking towards Astorga, 45km away. Cheeky’s knees are still dodgy but she feels ready to try again thanks to Dr’s Panadol & Ibuprofen.
The early morning walk to the bus station in Logrono was just a hobble. Cheeky’s knees are still taking sometime to heal so in the meantime we hobble.
Taking a bus through Spain is quite a simple proposition. Find the bus station (the iPhone helps with this) buy ticket, wait for bus, board bus, watch beautiful scenery whizz by. On this particular bus journey we watched the Camino whizz by. Vineyards and rolling hills, wheatfields and straight paths. And then we heard it … Kkrrr… kkrrr… CrunCH! … Kkrrr… kkrrr… CrunCH! … Kkrrr… kkrrr… CrunCH! … Kkrrr… kkrrr… CrunCH! … Kkrrr… kkrrr… CrunCH! This went on for a good hour as the thoughtless couple two sears behind did an impression of birds cracking open sunflower seads on concrete floors. No amount of dirty looks from fellow passengers dissuaded them from their task of getting through that 300kg bag of birdseed in one hour’s bus journey. Aaah, thank god for the iPod.
Finally arrived at Burgos and, after commiserating with the seed eater for how hungry they must have felt (they didn’t get my sense of humour – go figure), we headed into town. We’d booked the 19th century Hotel Norte y Londres on the edge of the old town of Burgos. An inspired choice thanks to tripadvisor. The hotel’s creaky wooden floors and character filled rooms made us feel right at home. Our room looked over the calle heading toward the Cathedral and was the perfect European hotel.
We rested awhile then went out for pinchos. Fantastic food and bellies filled with beer and wine. Sun shining warmly we headed off to visit the cathedral. Perhaps the most stupendous of churches in Europe each of the nooks or crannies in the enormous cathedral could be a fine church in their own right.
That’s how we spent the two days in Burgos. Wining, dining and me pining, if only a little, for the Camino. We’re enjoying our relaxed sojourn through Northern Spain and I’m certainly enjoying seeing more of the cities that I had little time in two years ago.
As for the Camino? Cheeky is keen to do the last 100km from Sarria. We have decided to test her knees after a few days in Leon (our next stop) by walking slowly from Leon to Astorga. It’s not the prettiest of walks but it’s level and a good place to test if we can still walk. From Astorga, if the legs are good we will bus through several stage before setting out from Sarria. The first 100km and the last 100km. That would encompass the hardest part of the Camino and the most important part of the Camino. Bookmarks to our more relaxed bussed Camino in the middle.
I palpable wave of sadness washed through my body a few minutes after the bus moved off. I looked at the side of the road for the camino and it’s walkers and felt my whole body fill with a sense of loss. Walking to the bus, having breakfast planning our next move, buying stuff for lunch had all been fine until the moment I started to head toward Santiago by bus. I felt like I’d given up, that somehow I was cheating, that I wouldn’t get to feel the intense experience that comes with walking the camino. I tried to reconcile matters by saying we had no choice in the matter but it was hard to shake this feeling of loss.
As the bus drove on I found myself searching the countryside for signs of the Camino but also dreading seeing it. Like an addict having to give up an addiction I was finding this bus ride hard. It became harder still when some German peregrino’s we’d met in Orbanos boarded the bus. I didn’t begrudge them taking the bus, how could I when we were, but they seemed to take the bus so easily, as if it were an easy matter not to walk. Then they joked about staying in the albergue when they arrived in Logroño, perhaps even taking the last beds before tired walkers arrived. I know they were joking but I found it hard to take. I dreaded meeting fellow peregrinos. I felt fake taking the bus, somehow sullied by not walking. Very strange to feel this way because I don’t begrudge anyone taking a bus or bicycle, car or even doing the Camino with a tour guide – it’s just that for me the Camino was always about walking.
Be that as it may I tried to put a brave face on it. The Camino was not an option for the time being. Instead Cheeky and I would get the opportunity to bus through done beautiful parts of Spain, staying in little Pensions in ages old cities. As this idea began to seep in I began to reconcile myself with our new style of Camino and I began to enjoy the day.
In Logroño we found a little Pension in the old city with wide open windows looking onto the busy Calle’s below. We headed out for pinchos (tapas) and vino tinto (red wine) and generally just enjoyed the day in each other’s company. Cheeky was in good spirits although her knees still bothered her and the steps of the Pension proved challenging.
We spent the afternoon walking the old town thoroughly enjoying our European experience. I’d obviously been the Europe before but for Cheeky all this was new and I was seeing it all anew through her eyes. Today was a really enjoyable day. I still miss not walking but that hasn’t, and won’t, stop me from enjoying the trip.
Logrono’s old town is quite small but the little Calle’s are filled with great tapas bars which are washed down with the excellent local Riojan wine. How could I not enjoy holidaying here?