Yesterday we made it to the top of the mountain and crossed over into Galicia- it´s amazing how much easier it is to scale a mountain in the morning than in the late afternoon! On the way up we saw another cloud island, only this time there was another patch of clouds floating above the"island", with sun rays shining down through the clouds, making for an especially lovely, etherial scene. We´d read in the guide book that as soon as you enter Galicia you should expect an immediate change in the weather, and I swear, as soon as we stepped over the marker from Castilla to Galicia, we stepped from mild weather into cold blowing wind - just like that! (that guide book wasn´t joking!) Galicia is culturally distinct from the rest of Spain, as is Navarra, the first area we passed through on the Camino. But somehow Galicia shares a cultural heritage with the Celitic countries (the name Galicia comes from the word Gaelic) and the music we´ve been hearing in the bars and tiendas we´ve passed today has sounded like Irish flute or bagpipe or fiddle music, as opposed to what we´ve been hearing in those places up unitl now - American rock music! The countryside, the valleys below us and the mountains above us are so green (probably from the rain - it normally rains 60% of the time in Galicia) that I wonder if the region also bears a physical resemblance to the Emerald Isle, though I don´t know if Ireland has such high mountains as Galicia. I´ve been hoping to run into an Irish pilgrim so that I could ask them if Galicia reminded them of their home. Anyway, after we reached the mountain top the road continued to dip and climb, sometimes gently, sometimes steeply, sometimes really steeply, but strenously enough that by lunchtime we were shocked to discover that in the three and a half hours we´d been walking we´d only covered 7 kms! For lunch we stopped in the town of Hospital de la Condesa at a pretty, rustic little restaurant, rather dark inside, all stone and wood timbers, but warm and cozy and filled with pilgrims eating or just stopping for a beer break. There was a table full of friendly, beer-drinking Germans who were crunched for time to get to Santiago but, as one of them told us, "We walk fast and we drink fast!" We also chatted for a moment with a young Slovenian pilgrim who stopped for a beer to kill the pain of his shin splints. We stuck to lunch, though, and decided to veer from our standard yacht-sized ham and cheese sandwiches and ordered plates of penne pasta covered in tomatoes and beef ribs, so tender the meat fell off the bones. Was it good? Oh, you betcha! Then when tom paid the waitress whe absolutely refused a tip! Which begs the question: are the Galicians just more for stianding their ground than their fellow countrymen and have we been mortally offending all the Spanish servers we´ve been forcing tips on up until now? After lunch the road was up and down more steep hills and the sky, which had spared us all morning, began to look threatening, so we decided to stop after another 7 kms in the town of Fonfria. We reached the albergue "A Reboleira" just as the rain drops started, and within a few minutes those drops had turned to a downpour! This albergue looked like a stone mountain lodge, all light wood panelling inside, the wall across from the cozy sitting room lined with windows with a view of the mountains. It also had a bar with Celtic music playing - a nice, warm place to be on a cold rainy night in the mountains! By the early evening the albergue was full of pilgrims, so I think the rain must have led many of them there. Anyway, the dorm beds cost 8 euros per person, but there was a hostal part, too, and we decided to take another Camino Whatever and spring 26 euros for a double room. But we did take a peek at the dorm area - it was really nice, big, comfy-looking bunk beds in a spacious room. But anyway, once again we had a bathroom all to ourselves, and, added luxury, the shower stall had something that I´ve taken for granted all my life but never will again: a soap dish. You know, for setting the soap on so you don´t have to either hold it in your hand or set it on the floor while you shower. Dinner was served at a stone building down the road from the albergue, but since it was pouring ourside a taxi made several trips to take us all to the restaurant , then back again after dinner! Dinner was a 10-euro pilgrim meal served at a long community table, where we ate family-style. The first course was a tasty vegetable-spinach soup, the second course was a lamb (or maybe it was beef, none of us could agree!) stew over rice, also delicious, and for dessert a pastry called a Santiago cake, a coconut and almond torte sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was a meal of good food, good conversation, and, as always, good pilgrim fellowship! Later I laid in bed listening to the wind and rain - it sounded like a hurricane outrside, and I thught that must be why all the buioldings in these parts are made of stone and study wood - to keep them fromblowing down! I also thought about having to walk through rivers of mud the following day, and about the steep descent we have in store , maybe over wet rocks. I was feeling kind of scared, in fact, and had a hard time falling asleep. But this morning, after sharing breakfast with our cheerful fellow pilgrims who encouraged me and told me I´d be fine on the downward slope, I guess I now feel like I can probably hack it, mud, rain, bad rocks, and all. Tiem to go now, everyone have a wonderful day! Love, Patti
Yesterday we walked 15.9 kms from Trabadelo to the tiny village of Laguna de Castilla. The sun had finally come out after two days of rain, and gave us a beautiful day, blue skies and the air so clean and fresh, everything so green, a morning after a rain. We hiked over a road along the valley floor of the mountains through little villages with storybook stone houses and shops built up against the mountain, and with wrought iron balconies and window boxes full of flowers and pots of flowers on either side of the doors. On the other side of the road were meadows full of sheep, cows, or horses or gardens that sloped down to the foot of the opposite mountains. Between the towns we walked through forests beside crystal clear streams, sometimes waterfalls. It was a truely pleasant walk for the first seven hours (well, okay, subtract about two hours from that for blog and lunch breaks) , until we got to the town of Hererrias at the foot of a 1,300 meter mountain, the gateway to the mountains of Galecia, the province of Spain where we´ll be from now on until Santiago. As usual, Tom was far ahead of me, and as I stood looking up at the steep rise of the mountain before me a British lady who was spending the night in Herrerias came up to me and asked me how far I was going today. I told her we were headed for the top of the mountain to the town of O´Cebreiro. "But that´s three hours away," she said. Of course, three hours average pilgrim time is more like five hours my time, and it was already 3:30pm. "Well, good luck, darlin´", she said, giving my arm an encouraging squeeze. Then it got hard, and while up slugging up the steep rocky mountain I had one of those moments where I thought that if this whole thing wasn´t my own idea I don´t know how I´d make it! But I made it up to 1150 meters, and by that time it was well after 6pm so we stopped at Laguna de Castilla, a tiny village perched on the side of the mountain, where for 6 euros we stayed at the albergue "La Escuela." To get to our dorm room we had to walk up the steepest concrete ramp, I could barely do it with my walking sticks, so I don´t know how the porr little hospitaliera does it all day long - along with being the bartender, laundress, waitress, and taking care of her 15-month old son at the same time! But there was no one else in the albergue so we had the 7-bed dorm room all to ourselves, including the bathroom! It was a really cute, clean, comfy little place, and at one point we looked out the window of our room and saw a herd of cattle being led down the sloping village street, right under out window! (You can imagine the smell of manure that permeated the town!) There were actually two other people in the albergue, Sally and Jack, an older British couple who´ve been doing the Camino little sections at a time over the years. They took a private room, though - some albergues are an albergue/hostel, which means they offer private rooms as well as dorm rooms. So, along the Camino you can either stay at an albergue or a hostal (sometimes called a pensione) , a hostal being more like a hotel, with the room prices ranging from 30-60 euros, whereas the albergues range from 5-10 euros. We ate with Sally and Jack in the pretty little dining room of the albergue where we all had the 10 euro pilgrim meal. I started with a huge bowl of delicious octopus stew, followed by my usual favorite, steak and french fries with flan with whipped cream for dessert. Tom had vegetable soup which he really liked followed by ribs - good, but too much trouble to eat, as ribs can be. He also had the flan for dessert. While the waitress served us her little boy toddled along after her! Today we have to continue our steep climb up the mountain to O´Cebreiro, then about 540 meters back down, where we hope to land in the town of Triacastela 20 meters away. So it should be a hard day. And it´s supposed to rain again. But, hey, we´ll all keep the sunshine in our hearts, right? Everyone have a wonderful dunny day, whatever the weather! Love, Patti 8)
Sorry I haven´t posted for a couple of days, I´ve been having a heck of a time trying to find a cooperative computer. So I´ll try to catch up a little now:
Anyway, on Monday, October 14 we spent the night in the city of Ponferrada where for a donation we got a bed in the 200-person municipal mega-albergue. Our dorm was in the basement, long rows of metal bunkbeds lined up against either side of grey tile walls. "Just like the army," Tom chuckled. As in most municipal alberuges (as opposed to the private ones) there were no sheets or blankets, but the hospitaliera must have taken pity on our advanced age and dug up two blankets for us! The albergue really was full of young folks - about all you see on the Camino at this point, (unlike at the beginning) except for now and then when you´ll see some older folks who´ve started at Leon for a more leisurely Camino and are ing their luggage shipped from town to town. Anyway, Tom told the youngsters around our bunks that we were the house mother and father! We had the 10 euro pilgrim meal offered by the restaurant across the street from the albergue - it was so pretty inside, it reminded me of little Italian restaurant in New Albany, Ohio (the next suburb over from our suburb of Gahanna), I can´t remember the name of the restuarant, but (for all you locals) it´s the onein that shopping center off New Albany Road? Across the parking lot from the Giant Eagle? Anybody know which one I mean? Anyway, it looked like that little restaurant. The waiter spoke such perfectly clipped English that I aksed him if he was British, but no, he was a Spaniard who just spoke great English! Anyway, this restaurant also served a great Italian dish, the penne carbonara that I started off with, followed by garlic chicken, french fries and salad then flan for dessert. Tom started with a big plate of vegetable stew then what he´s declared to be the best fish he´s ever had, then ice cream for dessert. I haven´t been mentioning the water, big bread basket and bottle of wine that still accompanies every meal, but those are still givens! If the albergue seemed like an army barracks the might before, the next morning it seemed even more so, when all 200 of us had to line up to use the two stalls and three sinks. "Yep, just like the army," Tom repeated. There was a line of urinals, though, which the guys used while the ladies pretended to have blinders. As I´ve said before, if modesty is really your thing, might be best to avoid the albergues! But while I was waiting my turn amidst this conflagration, I remembered that on the top floor of the albergue where the computers were I´d found a secret bathroom. So I pussy-footed up there and, sure enough, it was a secret and I ended up having a leisurely bathroom experience all to myself! ( I do believe I´m developing bathroom-dar as well).Then we set off in the rain, though every time one of the local people would stop to lament that we had to walk the Camino in the rain, I would say, "the sun is shinig in my heart¨. I didn´t make that line up. Earlier that morning when I stuck my head out of the albergue and moaned over the rain one of my fellow pilgrims used that line on me and continued to use it for the rest of the day. But the sun really did rise in our hearts as we passed through a little town and my pastry-shop-dar must have been spinning a mile a minute as it led us to the most beautiful little pastry shop where we had what Tom declared the best pastry he´s ever had, whereas I was willing to go a step further and declare mine the best thing I´ve ever put in my mouth! Anyway, his was a chocolate eclare and mine was a vanilla eclare! I mean, a vanilla eclare! What a concept, I can´t believe it´s never been expanded beyond a tiny pastry shop in a little village in Spain! Oh well, just another hidden gem of the Camino! WE ended up walking 18.9 kms in the rain until we reached the tiny mountain village of Pieros, where we stayed at the only albergue in town, "El Serbal Y La Luna", which advertised in the guide books as having a washer, dryer, and a computer. Turns out it had only a washer (and a place outside to hang your wet clothes in the rain!) so we bit the bullet and after we had our showers got back into our dirty, wet, smelly clothes, not wanting to risk getting int0o our clean clothes yet in case we didn´t come upon a washer in the nex ttown or two. It also turned out that there was not a computer to use in the whole village. Still, it was a beautiful albergue, in the home of a young man who had his house redesigned into an albergue and had the interior totally redecorated in a rustic stone and wood timber motif with many pretty touches. For 5 euros we got a bed in one of the lovely, spotless, very comfortable bedrooms, though we decided to go with the package deal, 15.50 euros each for a bed, dinner, and breakfast. Dinner was a communal vegetarian meal prepared by the owner and a volunteer - manySapaniards, even foreigners, volunteer at the albergues, most of them veterans of the Camino themselve. I had no probelm with a vegetarian meal, since I´ve had many wonderful vegetarian dishes in Spain, and I myslef can whip tasty vegetarian fare. So at dinner time we pilgrims were seated together around a beautifully set long wodoen table wher ewe were served the first gross dinner I´ve had in Spain! ewere presented with a platter of boiled (extremely well-boiled) eggplant over a bed of couscous. No salt, no seasonings of any kind, jsut boiled eggplant and couscous. No, I stand corrected, the platter was garnished with a carrot, but I didn´t get it. I didn´t want it. I was content to shovel into my mouth just enough bland blobs of nourishment to carry me through to the morning. Dessert was yogurt werved with honey on the side which I passed on, but the other pilgrims had, drowning the yogurt in the honey! The next morning we sat down again to a beautifully set table where we were offered all the toast we wanted with the option of spreading with some margarine-esque substance in a bowl and some home-made apple sauce generously mixed with cinnamon but no sugar, presumably no one ever having educated the hospitaliero that cinnamon is an esstially bitter substance that picks up its charm from being mixed in a small amount with sugar. I spread my toast with the apple sauce, took a bite, then scraped it off and tried to do first-aid on my toast by schmearing it with more of the margariney stuff. Still, the young hospitaliero had a wonderful heart so we left him an extra 10 euros for the upkeep of his albergue. I was hoping he´s use the money to buy a cookbook. From Pieros we walked 16.3 kms on and off in the rain to the town of Trabadelo. On the way we passed through the beautiful mountain town of Villafranca Del Bierzo, where I wished we could stay the night, but it was too close to where we´d started. We´re back to pretty much hopscotching the big pigrimguidebook watering holes (one of which Villa franca Del Bierzo is)and staying at the little in-between towns. (MIguel- that also might be a reason you´re having a bit of a hard time finding some of our towns - some are really , really small!) From Villafranca there we two possible routes to continue on, one along the highway and one over the mountain, and, not liking traffic and had asphalt under out feet, we opted for the mountain. The mountain was very steep - we had to ascend then descend 930 meters - but not treacherous as the previous ones. Just steep. We met only one other pilgrim along theway, a young French kid who came upon us while were by the side of the road wresting with our rain gear as the rain had started again. As all we do when we come upon fellow pilgrims by the side of the road, he stopped to ask us if we were okay, then stayed to chat for just a minute, then he was on his way. The walk over the mountain, though it put me out of breath, was beautiful, thogu at one point passed through a vast chestnut grove where the path became elusinve and we sould have lost our way if an old Spanish man collecting chestnuts hadn´t set us in the right direction. When we finally made it into Trabadelo three young Germans stopped us in the street and asked us if we were the two Americans upon the mountain. The French boy we´d met was in their albergue and was telling everyone that he´d met two Americans up on the mountain and was worried that they might be lost. It really is the pilgrim spirit of concern for each other that makes the Camino. We spent the night at the 6 euro albergue "Crispeta" - we were singing the halleluja chorus over the washer and dryer! We had dinner at a restaurant in town where we had the 10 euro pilgrim meal. The menu was a alittle more original than at most places (though I´m not compmlaining about what we´ve had at most places!): we started with a chick-pea and spinach salad - delicious! Next I had the cream-cheese and spinach lasagne (going to try to make tha twhen I get back!) and Tom had fish and rice with a purple cabbage and carrot slaw on the side. For dessert Tom had yogurt with honey and walnuts and I had a baked apple with an orange sauce - wonderful! Now we are on our way, we´ve left Trabadelo to make it to the town of O´Cebreiro (not sure how many kms!)
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A couple of days ago on the Camino a pilgrim walking next to us stopped suddenly, gasped, and put his hand over his mouth, then cried, "I forgot to pay for breakfast! I´ve got to go back and pay for breakfast!" But the town was 10 km behind us already. "But I´m not the kind of person who would do that!" Though none of us knew this man, who turned out to be from Portland, Oregon, we all agreed that of course he wasn´t the kind of person who would do that. "It´s just so hard to pay here," he sighed, and we all agreed with him on that, too. The Spanish food service workers are the hardest workers we´ve ever seen, and we´ve seen one person in a cafe or bar working as waiter, cook, busperson, and cashier. They just seem too busy to worry about getting paid! Typically, you´ll order your food at the bar, then when it arrives at the bar, you´d be glad to carry it to your table, but the over-worked waiter insists on carrying it to your table for you. You try to pay as soon as you´ve recieved your food but the waiter won´t have it, saying, "despues, despues!" (Later, later!). He or she will never bring you a bill,when you´re done you have to go back to the bar and try to get his or her attention, then tell him or her what you had, then he or she will add it up and tell you what you owe. If you try to leave a tip they´ll think you´re a confused foreigner who´s overpaying and they´ll try to set you straight. I´ve learned to force the tip issue in Spanish! So then last night we stayed halfway down the mountain in the town of Acebo, where we stayed at El Meson Acebo for 5 euros each. It was a small albergue with 18 beds pushed close togehter in a small room, but, unlike the night before, this time the room felt crowded as opposed to cozy! But the friendly and very considerate pilgrims made it all good. And the albergue had a nice bar and restaurant downstairs, so that was good, too. The only thing was, the hallway between the dorm and the bar (the bar also served as reception area) was kind of turny and confusing, so when I was trying ot return to the bar from the dorm with a bag of dirty laundry to give to the hospitaliera/waitress/bartender/cook/laundress I got confused, and as I was standing in this hall way wondering which way to go the aforementioned lady came rushing by me with an armful of wet laundry. As she rushed by she told me to just leave my laundry there, she´d take care of it. I called after her, asking if I should pay now. "Despues, despues!" she called back. A little later while once again wandering cluelessly aorund the building I happend to pass the laundry room where she was shoving some laundry into a washer. I asked her if I should leave the money for the laundry service at the bar. Without looking over her shoulder she cried, "Tranquila! Tranquila!" (Relax! Relax!) I could just hear her thinking, "Geez, what´s with this annoying OCD American lady? All she ever wants to do is pay me!" Tom and I ate the 10-euro pilgrim meal at the restaurant that evening. We both started with the trout soup - huge delicious bowls of soup that we swore had a whole cut-up trout in each bowl! After I´d mopped up the last drop with two pieces of bread I was too stuffed to move, talk, even think, let alone eat one bite of the steak and fries I´d ordered for the next course - unti lI saw the steak! It was rare and juicy, and the friench fries cried out to be dipped in the juice from the meat. So of course I had to eat every bite, and even rose to the occasion to finish off the vanilla pudding for dessert. Tom´s second course was trout and ham: a whole trout, head, bones, and all, stuffed with a piece of ham, which got rave reviews from Tom. He finished off with strawberry ice cream. But here´s the punchline, which actually happened at the beginning of the meal, when the same laundry-lady came to take our order: she placed a hand gently on my shoulder and before she took our order said, kindly and patienly as you would to a child: "Now don´t worry, you can pay for your laundry when you pay for your meal." I felt like the sheepish-est pilgrim on the Camino. Until the next morning, when a soft-spoken, middle-aged pilgrim from Massachusetts tried to pay for her breakfast when it was set on the bar in front of her. The same waitress/everything else shooed her over to a table then grabbed the woman´s food before the woman dared to try to bring it to her table herself, thus committing the faux-pas of trying to save the worker a few moments and a few steps. The Massachusetts woman, duely chastized, turned to me and said, "It´s just that I like to pay for the food as soon as I get it." I agreed sypathetically. Yesterday climbing up and down the mountain the views were spectacular, mountains beyond mountains beyond mountains, but today while finishing our climb down the mountain we saw a phenomenon that I´d read about in the guide book: cloud islands. This happens when the tops of the mountains appear above a vast cloud cover, so it looks as if the mountain tops are volcanic islands in a white, foamy sea. It was spectacular! Other sections of the downhill climb were very treacherous (for me, at least), over sheer rock, and at another part the path was so narrow with the bushes so close along the path that, with the velvet-green mountians rising up on the right and in front of us, I imagined that we were trekking through a mountain jungle - if there existed a jungle with 50-degree weather! Anyway, we did make it to the bottom of the mountain and walked a total of 17 km to the industrial city of Ponferrada where we´re staying in the only albergue in the city, the San Nicholas de Flue, where for a donation(we gave 10 euros) we have a room in the basement, which would be all right if all the bathrooms weren´t on the first floor! But I guess it´s all right anyway. Everyone have a wonderful day! Love, Patti 8)
So yesterday we spent the night in Rabal Del Camino, a little mountain town that looked like a place out of a fairy tale: cobblestone streets, stone archways, walls, and houses, and sheep grazing off on the hillsides. We stayed at the 5-euro alberge "La Senda", where the dorm room, though the bunks were very close, felt more cozy than crowded, in part because we shared the half-full room with only four other English-speaking pilgrims, but mostly because Tom, in his usual way, got the conversation going and the conviviality cooking. One middle -aged German woman said, "See? This is what the Americans do, just introduce themselves and start talking. A German would never do that. Americans do it all the time!" I asked her whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. "It´s a great thing," she replied. "It makes everything so much easier! We Germans have to start doing it, too!" This was not the first time I´d heard that lament from German pilgrims, though, frankly, I´d always found the Germans as friendly as any other nationality. I guess they just need some americans to get the ball rolling! On the second floor of the albergue there was a wood-burning stove and wooden tables and chairs which some of us gathered around after dinner, also quite cozy. For dinner Tom and I went to the bar next door to the albergue where we had the 9 euro pilgrim meal, good as always. Tom started with his usual favorite, the suna-topped salad while I had the hot, mop-it-up-with-bread-delicious lentil soup. Next Tom had the bacon and eggs with fires. The bacon was more like ham, though, while what´s called ham here seems more like bacon. Gastronomic differences, I guess. I had the fried calamari with fries. I kept thinking the calimari tasted like something I´d had before but I couldn´t remember what it was. Then it occurred tio me that maybe it was calamari. for dessert a nice brick of vanilla-chocolate-french vanilla ice cream. This morning as everybody was leaving the albergue I noticed that one of our dorm mates, a little German girl who looked in her late teens or early twenties was fiddlin over much with her feet. Finally she asked me if I knew how to drain a blister. (Of course, I didn´t think you were supposed to drain blisters, but that seems to be the treatment for blisters around here.). Very quickly there were severl pilgrms hovering over her trying to help, but it looked like a really bad, infected blister on her baby toe. Then she showed Tom her other foot, where there was a monster blister that covered her whole heel. He helped her tape it but Tom and I both agreed that she needed medical care. But here she was in a tiny town that didn´t even have a pharmacy, let alone a doctor! By now everyone else had left, and I had no idea what to do for her, though I couldn´t stand leaving here there alone, like leaving a child in need. But what could I do? So I just stayed and talked to her for a while. Her name was Clara and she hoped to be accepted into nursing school in April. She´d just started the Camino a few days ago in Leon and was planning on walking all the way to Cordoba, over 1,000 km away, to visit her bother who lived there. Like so many other pilgrims, young and old, her backpack weighed a ton and she´d been walking too far her first few days. Finally I suggested that she take a taxi back to the big city of Astorga to get some medical treatment. Tom suggested that she go to the town´s monastery to see if the monks might help her. Then we left her and went next door for breakfast. After breakfast we returned to the albergue to check on her but she was gone, we figured having taken one or the other pieces of our advice. So we walked for about 5 km to the next little town where we stopped for a break and there was little Clara! She´d toughed it out and continued on! One more member of the Camino walking wounded. But sometimes pilgrims´ wounds heal and they make it. Sometimes not. Which is probably why the numbers on the Camino have been steadily falling since the beginning, and it is a much quieter walk than it was weeks ago. But this population fall is only temporary. We´ve heard that now the numbers will start picking up and the Camino will get very crowded as we get closer to Santiago, as one only needs to walk 100 km to receive the Compostela, the certificate of completion, and many pilgrims jump on at the end. We´ll see. And....I reached the top of the mountain! The highest point of the Camino is the Cruz de ferro, the big cross at the top of a pile of stones where pilgrims toss on a stone to represent their prayer, thought, or spiritual goal for the Camino. (Martin Sheen and his friends did this in "The Way"). It really wasn´t that hard getting up to the top because, though I didn´t realize it until we were at the top, we´d actually been ascending for days. Unfortunately, though, what goes up slowly sometimes comes down much more quickly and steeply, and this was the case with this mountain, where the descent to the other side was quite scary and, for me, treacherous. Anyway, we decided to stop at a town about halfway down the mountian, Acebo, about 17 km from where we started this morning. And that´s where we are now, happpily settled into our 5 euro albergue, El Meson de Acebo, and thinking about dinner. May any mountains you may be facing today turn out to be totally doable! Love, Patti 8)
This morning we left beautiful Astorga, but never mind that city´s plazas, architecture, and historic sites; Astorga has got to be the candy capital of Spain! Maybe of the whole world! The whole city seems drenched in chocolate, and I swear every other store is a candy store or a too-fancy-to-eat pastry shop. I was imagining that, just as people go bar-hopping on Friday and Saturday nights in other places, in Astorga people come to candy and pastry shop-hop. Astorga is one sweet city! But somehow we were able to negotiate our way through all the sugar to find a restaurant where we had a good (have we ever had any other kind?) 10-euro meal. Tom started with a fresh, crisp salad (some are fresher and crisper than others, but this one really was!) while I had the fish soup, full or fish, clams, shrimp, even a crayfish floating around, eyes, antennae, and all! For the next course Tom had fish baked in a sauce with a sunny-side egg on the side. I went with the more conventional pork filet and french fries. The ice cream for dessert was truely a cut above: two slices of vanilla, each with a chocolate ice cream heart and each slice topped with a pecan in a chunk of milk chocolate. A presentation even a non-chocolate-lover can admire! The only problem with Astorga was that I didn´t see the little running man. In every large Spanish city we´ve been in so far we´ve seen the little running man: at many of the urban pedestrian street crossings the "walk" signal is a little green stick man with long feet and a little hat. When it´s time to cross he starts walking with a sort of 1970´s "keep on trucking" style. As the seconds run out he walks faster, and by the time there are only a few seconds left he´s running. Then he turns red and stops, which means the walkers have to, too. I love the little running man. Anyway, when we left this morning the sun was shining but it was miserably freezing cold, and as I slogged along in my four top layers, two pairs of pants, and wool socks over gloves, I found myself longing for the 85 degree weather of a few weeks ago. But as the day went on it got warmer, the layers were peeled and the scoutmaster´s wife stopped kvetching to the scoutmaster about the cold, and we made our way across 22 km´s of lovely, hiils and trees ( we´ve left behind the Meseta with it´s flat, repetitive landscape) to the town of Rabanal Del Camino. We´re in a cute little albergue, very rustic, with a wood burning stove in the sitting room. I know some people say they have radar, or gaydar, or whatever, but I´m thinking I must have laundry-service-dar, since I´ve been on a real roll lately! Anyway, this place has it and this nice computer, too. Tomorrow we´ll have to climb the highest mountain on the Camino, 5,000 feet - turns out that mountain at the beginning was only the second-highest mountain. Everybody says this second mountain, though it´s higher than the first, is somehow easier than the first. I´m still a little nervous about it. But anyway tomorrow at this time I´ll be on the other side. Or I won´t. Keep your fingers crossed for me and stay tuned. And may you conquer any challenges you may face today. Love, Patti 8)
A couple nights ago at the albergue San Antonio de Padua I got into a conversation with one of our dorm mates, a young German actor, Andreas Buntscheck. He told me he´s been acting in theater, TV and film since he was a child (he was in a TV show with Christopher Waltz - "Iglorious Basterds" and "Django" ) and gave me the name of several German movies he´s been in: "Tannod", "Greuzveshehr", and "Ludwig II". (Anybody want to try netflixing these?). I told him I´m a film buff and we talked about German and American movies we like, and then, since I was interested, he told me little about his job as an actor. One thing he told me about was some of the techniques they use on actors to make them cry. He said for one film they kept re-shooting his crying scene all day, so he had to keep crying all day, and by the end of the day they didn´t even have to do anything, he could just cry on his own! (He said crying all day long is exhausting and emotionally draining, even if you´re only acting!). So we spent last night in Hospital de Orbigo, a really cute town with the oldest bridges in Spain. You know, after you´ve pledged your love for one albergue it´s really had to stay faithful...because, much as we loved San Antonio de Padua in Villar de Mazarife, we loved the albergue "Encino" in Hospital de Orbigo, too! It was just built last year and has a restaurant and bar, and for 9 euros was more like a hotel than an albergue. We had our own private room with a key! To a door that we could actually lock! A first on the Camino! We had our own bathroom and now we have to say that it has to be the best bathroom in all Caminodom! It was modern, spotless, had a soap dispenser not only by the sink but in the shower stall as well! There was was even a clothes rack in the bathroom that got warm when the heat came on so you could hand your towels over it to dry. Actually, maybe it was a heating element and not really a clothes rack, but it was great! Now, when I said we had a private room, perhaps I should specify that it was a private room that we were expected to share with two other strangers. That´s as close to a private room as you´ll get in an albergue, except for that so-called room we had in the Benedictine Monastery, but I´m not sure what that four-walled space actually was. Anyway, we ended up sharing our room with only one other person and not a stranger but a young Irish woman, Sinead, whom we knew from albergues past. She works in Costa Rica with a sea turtle rescue organization. (Reminded me of you, Claire, and you, Maria, back when you worked for Save The Harbor, Save The Bay in Boston. ) The 9 euro pilgrim meal at the Encino was so good. Mostly. Tom started with the salad and I had prawn and vegetable noodle soup. Awesome! Next Tom had steak and I had a very juicy pork chop and we each had a side of that same kind of chip we had at Patatin Patatan Hamburgeria, ultra thin, potato chip-esque fried potatoes. Dessert was a cultural experience. I ordered the cheese cake, wanting to see how Spanish cheesecake stacked up against the Cheesecake Factory. But the server told me they did´t have any cheese cake today and asked me if I´d like coffee cake instead. "Sure," said I, wondering if it would be more like cinnamon streusel or cherry danish. What the server brought me was a jiggly squarish shape in two shades of brown that resembled some kind of jello dessert made of coffee. I looked at the thing for a minute or two, then slide it over to Tom, who gallantly offered me the rmains of his delicious vanilla custard flan in exchange. He said the coffee jello thing was good, but then he does like a coffee after dinner. Too bad for me they didn´t have tea cake! This morning we left Hospital de Orbigo to walk 15 km to the beautiful city of Astorga, with it´s churches, museums, and cathedral. We just checked into the San Javier albergue, charming, looks like a hunting lodge with a big, wood-burning fireplace surrounded by comfy-looking sofas and comfy-looking pilgrims sitting on the sofas. Our dorm room has stone walls and rustic wooden floors and wood-beamed ceilings, and Tom says it´s a dead-ringer for a boy scout camp cabin, all that is required is a bunch of giggling kids to make bodily function noises after lights out. We´ll see if the pilgrims opt to rise to the occasion! May you all have occasion to smile today! Love, Patti 8)
Miguel: That´s right, you are getting married at St. Anthony of Padua Church! I´m so glad because somehow I feel it´s a good omen, because San Antonio De Padua in Villar de Mazarife is our absolute favorite albergue so far! It´s not just that it was a nice albergue, it was the welcoming, happy feel of the place. (Just like the happy feel one gets being around you and Claire together!). Anyway, how did we love San Antonio De Padua? Well, let me count the ways: When we were a good kilometer outside the town Carlos, the owner of San Antonio, came walking towards us. He then introduced himself and told us a bit about his albergue. When we reached his albergue we were charmed by the front yard: full of flowers and trellises with lavender growing along the path to the building. In the front yard were tables where already-settled-in pilgrims sat and chatted, looking relaxed and happy as piligrims do after they´ve dropped their backpacks, taken off their boots and showered. The front yard faced a corn field and the backdrop behind the albergue was a beautiful range of mountains. As the sun was setting the lights from the highway below the mountain gave the whole scene a kind of magical feel. Tom and I opted for the bed, dinner , and breakfast package for 21 euros each. The dorm room was big and spacious yet had a homey, cozy feel because of the light wood panelling hung with photos of the Camino. There were segregated bathrooms with containers of hand soap on the sinks (almost unheard of in albergues - it´s always bring your own soap and everything else!). And there were my constant favorites, laundry service and a working computer, where I was sitting when Carlos came up to me and offered me the chocolates, which I declined, not being a die-hard chocolate fan, which is too bad, as chocolate seems to be a motif at this place. But the best think about San Antonio was, hands down, the food! The family must have been chefs, or just really good cooks with a flair for presentation. At 7 pm on the dot Carlos´s wife called us all to the dining room, which had the decor of an upscale country-garden restaurant. (As best as I can describe it!). There was a long wooden table, beautifully decorated, with a beautiful salad already set at each place. Each salad was like a hand-crafted work of art, with a fig vinaigrette dressing (hey, don´t knock it ´til you´ve tried it!) attractively encircling the plate so you could push as much or as little dressing as you wanted onto your salad, or if you couldn´t bring yourself to believe in fig dressing, there was oil and vinegar instead. The second course was gaspache, soooo tasty I felt like I could have scarfed down the whole pot! Then came a vegetarian paella, made by the familiy in a huge, 3-foot pan, the way paella is suppposed to be made, or so I´ve been told , so that all the ingredients can properly mixed. Delicious! Carlos brought out the big pan with the left-overs so we could help ourselves if we wanted more. (Tom and I did!) Dessert was crepes with a fruit filling garnished with whipped cream and slices of kiwi and, sadly for me but happily for Tom because I gave him mine, drizzled with a dark chocolate sauce. The chocolate-lovers raved! You know, when an albergue is not particularly comfy (like at the Bendictines) the pilgrims tend to be up and at ém by 6 am, but when a it´s a really nice, relaxing place like San Antonio the snorring can go on well past 7am! As you can imagine, it did this morning, still the pilgrims eventually managed to come shuffling into breakfast. And what a breakfast! Once again the table was beautifully set for us, and we were served thick slices of hot toast that the hospitaliero kept bringing out, butter, jam, several kinds of cereal and milk, crackers, sausage and cheese served in the shape of a flower, churros and hot chocolate (again with the chocolate!) which I´m told is considered a specialty of Spain, though, Miguel, am I correct to say that I think that combo is also considered a Mexican specialty? We also were welcome to all the coffee, tea, and OJ we wanted. (Most places it´s one cup per!) The only down side was that we pilgrims were all enjoying the breakfast so much that we stayed around the table talking for too long and so were all late getting out on the Camino today! But I think we all thought it was worth it. So anyway, after our very pleasant stay at San Antonio we headed back out onto the Meseta and walked a short 15 km to the town of Hospital de Orbigo where we justs check in to the albergeu "Encino". I´m sorry to admit, that this afternoon along the way I had a few non-spirit- of- the- Camino thoughts. Tom and stopped for a picnic lunch at the tiny village of Villavante, where a group of pilgrims were sitting at the cafe for lunch. I ran into the cafe for a soda and left my walking sticks outside the cafe then forgot about them until after we´d eaten. Short version: a middle-aged American pilgrim saw my sticks, figured they were left behind, took them and offered them to a young lady pilgrim who didn´t have any sticks. The lady, luckily, was staying over at Hospital de Orbigo, same as us, so...well, let´s just say that by luck and coincidence and the concerned eagle eyes of other pilgrims we got my sticks back, for which I´m very grateful. But here´s a little post script to the story: after I recovered my sticks I heard the guy who took my sticks teliing the lady he gave the sticks too that she could use his girlfriend´s sticks, since she never used them. Interpret this story as you will. And then have a wonderful day! Love, Patti 8)
Yesterday we spent the day touring around Leon and seeing the sights, including the famous Santa Maria cathedral and my favorite, the Plaza San Marcos, site of the old San Marcos monastery built in the middle ages to care for sick and injured pilgrims. the monastery was beautifully rebuilt in the 1500´s and it´s massive, , the size of a city block! - okay, maybe a small city block, but it is huge! The buildnig is no longer a monastery but is now a very upscale tourist hotel called the San Marcos Parador. (That´s where Martin Sheen and his friends spent a night in¨"The Way"). One other place of interest in Leon is the Patatin Patatan Hamburgeria, a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we ate lunch. We ordered the Number 4: two sunny-side-up eggs (my favorite style of egg!), a pile of fried polish-style sausage and the specialty of the house, fried potatoes as thin as potato chips (maybe they were potato chips). While we waited for our food the restaurant owner threw in some appetizers, razor-thin pieces of Spanish ham (not like US ham) sliced from a big ham-bone sitting behind the counter and served on thick slices of crusty bread. We washed this feast down with two beers for Tom and two diet cokes for me and the meal was awesome! - until a few hours later when I started to wonder if all those fried eggs, fried sausages and fried potato chips were planning on taking up permanent residence in my stomach. When we returned to the Santa Maria Benedictine Monastery where we were staying I had to lay down and missed the 7:00 service where the nuns of the moonastery sing vespers. Tom went, though, and when I asked him how the singing was he said, "Well...there were only about 15 nuns, most of them very elderly, so..." He let the rest go without saying, but I knew what he meant. When we arrived at the monastery earlier in the day we were intending to stay in the regular 5 euro albergue with our brother and sister pilgrims until we learned that the brother pilgrims had to stay on one floor and the sister pilgrims on another! So we opted to pay 30 euros for the one double room in the monastery which turned out to be a tiny, spare, two-single-bed room behind a door off the men´s dorm. This ended up creating kind of an awkward situ for me since, the genders being separated, the guys seem to be letting it all hang out in the dorm even more than usual. So I tried to look straight ahead and pretend I had blinders on while walking through the dorm to get in and out of our room. But we did have our own tiny bathroom and shower, though the water was cold and the shower leaked all over the 50-year-old linoleum in the bathroom and even creepd a little into the 50-year-old linoleum in our bedroom, which is probably why we were given several extra towels, all of them faded and frayed . Though you couldn´t say the floor of our room was clean enough to eat off of, still it appeared that somebody had anyway, since I found a fruit stem on the floor. Our beds caved in the middle and I figured the bed sheets were okay once after I´d brushed off a few hairs and crumbs. Still, at least Tom and I had sheets and blankets, which was more than the pilgrims in the dorms had. No sheets and blankets is pretty standard in many of the municipal albergues, though pretty unheard of in the private albergues - except at this one! But maybe it´s just as well there were no sheets and blankets on the dorm beds here, since soon after we arrived we saw the little old nun who runs the albergue hurrying after a woman with a clip board and a large magnifying glass dressed in a white lab coat, plastic gloves and a headlamp. It didn´t take three guess to figure out what the woman was looking for when she started shining her headlamp along the sides of the mattresses and carefully looking through her magnifying glass. Still, when I asked the elderly ladies manning the reception desk what the lady with the headlamp was doing they said they had no idea. (Yeah, right!) Still, there are three areas where I have to give the Santa Maria Benedictine Monastery snaps: 1. The sisters may be past their prime when it comes to singing and housekeeping, but they do run a knock-up laundry service. 2. The computers actually worked, and they were fast, and they gave you an extra 10 minutes for your euro. 3. The 9 euro pilgrim meal was as good as any we´ve had anywhere - which is very good! So, though I expected to wake up in the middle of the night to an itch-fest, we left the mmonastery this morning miraculously bite-free! Then we set off from beautiful Leon and walked several hours through city and suburb until we finally were back on the Meseta where we walked until we reached our destination 22.2 kms later, the small village of Villar de Mazarife where we are staying at a lovely, friendly, CLEAN 8 euro albergue, the "San Antonio de Padua", where the owner came by a moment ago while I´m typing this to offer me a chocolate! Whatever your destinations today, may you all end up in a happy place!
One of the really great things about being on the the Camino is seeing how people from different countries and cultures come together and connect, and realizing, whatever out backgrounds and life experiences, how much we have in common. For example, the day before yesterday in the albergue in Sahagun I overheard a pilgrim conversation between an old American ex-patriot now living in Denmark and a retired Belgian finacier turn from politics and culture to the American teaching the Belgian, "Beans, Beans, They´re Good For Your Heart," which the Belgian financier thoroughly enjoyed! See? It really is a small world after all! Tom´s popularity continues to grow among the English-speaking (and sometimes even the non-English-speaking) pilgrim community. It was also the day before yesterday that a British pilgrim said to me, "Tom is quite wonderful, you know...like...Lincoln!" (While I agree that Tom is quite wonderful, I think he´s got a better smile than LIncoln). We really enjoyed our first day in Leon yesterday. Claire: Well, no, I´d have to say that Leon, Spain,doesn´t much resemble Leon, Nicaragua - on so many levels! Except, I guess, that Spanish is spoken in both cities. We haven´t yet toured Leon´s gem, it´s beautiful cathedral, because, I must guiltily admit, we spent most of our day sightseeing at El Corte Ingles, Leon´s huge 6-story department store, like vertical mega-mall. (As I said, this Leon doesn´t quite resemble Leon, NIcaragua. Agreed, Claire?) We did walk around the town some, it´s really lovely. We really like our hotel, "il Boccalino", but, yes, Maria, (our adapter-finder!) we are going to try and get beds with the Bendictine sisters tonight, and hopefully we´ll get to hear them sing vespers. Yesterday our eating schedule was all over the place, we added up that we stopped at five different cafes and restaurants through out the day (including the one at El Cotre Ingles)! Today we hope to get in some reputable sightseeing, (and more organized eating!) including the cathedral and the museum, then get ready to return to the Camino tomorrow after our two days of playing Camino Hookey. (Another occasional Camino Whatever!). Everyone have a wonderful day! Love, Patti 8)
My husband Tom and I will be walking the 490.7-mile Camino de Santiago from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, to Santiago, Spain. We leave Columbus 9/11/13 and return 10/30/13. God willing.
The sequel to "Equal and Opposite Reactions" in which a woman discovers the naked truth about herself.
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon:
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Kindle:
or in print:
The Book Loft
of German Village,
Or check it out at the Columbus Metropolitan Library