We began our second week with a hike to the medieval village of Sansol. The approach to these villages is intriguing, because I imagine medieval pilgrims may have approached them in a similar way, hiking through fields and seeing their destination up on a hill in the near distance, and wondering how long it would take them to reach safety and rest.
Our first night of the second week we spent in Viana. We had thick Spanish chocolate and churros for an afternoon snack as we sat at a cafe next to the Iglesia de Santa María.
Cesar (aka Cesare) Borgia is buried at the church. In spite of his Machiavellian reputation, he is a hero in Viana because he died fighting for the city when it was under siege. He was also quite the patron of the arts and supported, among others, Leonardo da Vinci. I read that da Vinci may have used Cesar’s image as a model for his paintings of Jesus.
The goal for our third day was Logroño. As we entered the outskirts of the city, we passed a woman at a table set up in front of her house. Her mother, Doña Felisa, used to man the table and dispense water, figs, and love to passing pilgrims. Now her daughter carries on the tradition. She very kindly stamped our credenciales.
As we came into the city, we walked through a park. There were storks flying overhead. Then we saw a tall wooden structure, sort of like a skinny windmill without the windmill at the top. Instead, there was a big nest of sticks and branches, and resting in it was another stork. I’d read about stork nests like that before, but it was the first time I’d seen one. Then we crossed the Río Ebro into the main part of Logroño.
Now it was time to make a decision. Because of our injuries, we were faced with the necessity of slowing our pace, but we knew we couldn’t make it to Santiago within the time we had left. So should we continue walking and try to catch up at the end or should we take a bus now and go slower afterwards? In the end, we decided to take the bus to León the next day. That would skip us over about 300 km of Camino and allow us to cut each day’s journey in half.
So the next day, we loaded our packs into the luggage compartment of the bus and got aboard. It was about a two hour drive to Burgos, where we changed buses.
Incidentally, we met a couple of other pilgrims whom we had talked to in Villamayor de Monjardín. One of them was experiencing some knee problems, so they were doing the same thing we did.
It was another two hours from Burgos to León. Most of the trip was through La Meseta – flat, shadeless farmland that would have taken us about a week to cross. So even though we felt bad about skipping forward, we felt less guilty when we saw what we were missing.
While in León, we visited the Catedral de Santa María. The cathedral has over 1800 sq meters of stained glass panels, and that is exceeded, I believe, only by Chartres Cathedral. The cathedral at León was begun in 1205 in a celebratory mood after the region was freed from the Moors, and took a mere 100 years to finish. Quite a speed record for a Gothic cathedral.
Aside from the stained glass, which was beautiful and artistically inspiring, there were many other features of interest. I was taken with the choir stalls with their carvings in front and back of the seats of Old Testament and Apocryphal individuals like Isaiah, Esther, Judas Maccabeus, Judith with the head of Holofernes, and so forth. Every one of them looked like a medieval person with their hairstyles and clothing.
After leaving the cathedral, we walked to Virgen del Camino, a suburb of León. It was only five miles, but it seemed longer because it was through a busy section of town, full of noise and traffic and exhaust.
On Sunday, the fifth day of our second week, we walked to Villar de Mazarife. About half of the route was along a highway, but not a busy one. All along the way, we walked through uncultivated fields of wildflowers.
Our albergue provided an excellent dinner: green salad, pumpkin soup, thick slices of crusty bread, vegetarian paella, and then a crêpe drizzled with chocolate sauce and a sliced strawberry for dessert. It was one of the better dinners we’ve had.
The next day, my right foot felt almost as bad as my left foot did a few days before, so we stopped after six miles in Villavante. It’s a small town with not much going on, but the albergue was comfortable and the staff was most helpful.
Our second week concluded the following day with a short walk to Hospital de Órbigo with its famous medieval bridge. Back in 1434, a knight named Don Suero de Quiñones was in love with Doña Leonor de Tovar. To prove his love, he put an iron collar around his neck and swore not to take it off until he had beaten 300 opponents in jousting. That is the kind of thing you are bound to get involved in if you are too far under the influence of courtly love. Don Suero challenged all comers at a tournament to be held at the bridge. Many knights came from all over Europe to host with him. After he broke 166 lances, someone decided he’d made his point, so he took the collar off and he and his attendants made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela where he donated a gold replica of his iron collar. The gold collar can still be seen at Santiago. Anyway, the next year he married Doña Leonor. And then, 24 years after that, one of the knights he jousted against came back and fought him and killed him.
After crossing the bridge, which is really long, I found a pharmacist who confirmed what I thought: I had tendinitis in my right foot, probably from favoring my left foot. I have to say here that I think Spanish pharmacists are wonderful people, kind and patient and helpful. I don’t know what I would have done without them. Anyway, she gave me some analgesic cream and fitted me with an ankle brace, and wished me buen camino. A very nice lady.
We took the bus to Astorga because I could no longer walk faster than half a mile an hour. As we walked toward the albergue in the old part of the city, we passed the remains of the 9th-century defensive walls. Astorga started out as a Celtic settlement, then the Romans came along. It was a major city at the crossroads of two important Roman roads, one of them the main road by which Spanish silver was transported to Rome. It was also an important city in early Christianity. Both St Paul and St James are supposed to have preached here.
There is a cathedral here that is supposed to have an awe-inspiring interior, but alas the church was closed. I was impressed with the outside, although it was a later style than Gothic, which is my favorite.
We finished the day with a visit to the Astorga Museum of Chocolate. They have been processing cacao here since Cortés brought some back in the 1600s or something. A long time, anyhow. The heyday of Astorgan chocolate was in the 1800s and 1900s. It was fascinating to see the process of turning cacao beans into chocolate. Some master artisans still do it all by hand.
Because of my continued foot problems, we concluded that tomorrow I will take the bus for Ponferrada and take a few days’ rest to recuperate while Ian continues on the Camino. We will rejoin each other three days later.
I am learning that the Camino, like life, doesn’t always go the way you want it to. If setbacks come along, then that is my Camino and I will deal with it the best I can.