Day 16: San Martín del Camino to Astorga 

After the early-onset food comas due to copious amounts of paella at dinner last night, Frank and Mikey got some much needed sleep and an early start this morning. Still, the going was rough due to monotonous terrain. Sure, we had a wooded walk at times, but the majority of our first 6km was alongside the highway. No bueno.


Yes, it looks nice, but the dew wet our boots (luckily waterproof) and Mikey cleared the trail of spider webs with his face. Enough complaining, though – we are on an epic journey! Let’s allow Mikey to share another Camino tale which took place some time ago:

Once upon a time, there was a knight who fell in love with a young maiden. After publicly professing his love and formally requesting her hand in marriage, it came as quite a blow to his ego and honor when she declined his matrimonial offer.

Our spurned knight could no longer appear at court much less ask for another maiden’s hand in marriage. Thus, he quit his town and rode off in search of adventure and an opportunity to reinstate his honor.

One day, he happened upon an unguarded Templar bridge at the entrance to a city. Positioning himself midway across, under the guise of guaranteeing the safe passage of pilgrims and townspeople alike, he began challenging any passing knights to a duel.

This continued for quite a while and after breaking some 300 lances on (and thereby defeating) his opponents, it was decided that his honor was no longer in question and he could leave the bridge. While it must have been a relief for the township to now have its bridge cleared of said “knight errant,” our penitent and clearly oblivious friend rode on to Santiago de Compestella to give thanks for his restored honor.

 Mikey kept his trekking poles holstered, but at the ready, as he made his way across the Puente del Rio Orbigo.
Actually, the worst part of crossing the bridge was lack of an open breakfast spot on the other side! Hence, sirs Frank and Mikey tarried for 2 more kilometers on empty stomachs.

 

At long last, their hunger was satiated with a ham and egg scramble, toast, oj, and coffee. Trust us, this is a feast in Spain!

 Still, all good things must come to an end and we found ourselves back in the Meseta in no time.

 Weather in the high plains is very unpredictable. We walked on dry, cracked  ground for quite some time only to come across a muddy pond and bogged down roads within a kilometer.

 Oh to be a farm animal!

 Speaking of which, Frank started sweet-talking some heifers on a farm through which we walked.

Meanwhile, Mikey made friends with this little calf. She was quite spirited, so he named her Elvis!


We trudged on for many miles before reaching this cross marker on a hilltop overlooking Astorga.

 Mikey and a fellow pilgrim celebrated with a swig of Brita-filtered Spanish H2O!

 Frank crossing a bridge into the city.

And, BAM! There’s your medieval cathedral. We were quite interested in the variety of stone used in the facade.

 The altar was much simpler than other examples we have seen from this period. Still, the sheer mass of stone and open space was fascinating.

These stained glass windows were from a later period when light and airy colors were more appreciated.


Ok, that’s kinda creepy!

The world-renowned architect Antoni Gaudi is famous for his Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church) and many other buildings in Cataluña, Spain. In fact, there exist only two of his major constructions outside of that region. The Bishop’s Palace in Astorga is one of the two. It was completed in the first quarter of the 20th century.

 Some of the rooms seem very Oxfordesque or maybe even akin to Hogwarts.

 This is inside the bishops’ private chapel.

 A collection of Santiago-themed art is currently housed at the (renamed) Gaudi Museum. This is a 17th century statue of Santiago.

  This 15th century oil on wooden panel depicts Santiago and Saint Peter. Oh, and Mikey totally wants that hat!


This is the city hall building. It was erected at the end of the 17th century and has some pretty rad bell-ringer figures.
After all that walking, we had some local dishes for dinner:


Local Cod with garbanzo beans and rice in a tomato sauce.  
Steak in a mushroom sauce with white rice.  Oven-roasted chicken quarter with red peppers and potatoes.
Astorga was fun, but we filled almost every free moment with touristy things. While this was a very informative and culturally enlightening stopover, we hope that a quieter evening tomorrow will offer more rest. Buenas noches.

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Day 15: Leon to San Martín del Camino

After much rest (well, rest from carrying our packs) in Leon, we got back onto the trail this morning. In what seems to be an ever recurring theme, Frank and Mikey exited the city via a bridge (Puente rio Bernesga). Still, we had some 7km of suburbs to cover before officially leaving Leon.

Mikey’s theory is that the larger the city, the longer it takes to enter and exit. Too bad😔

At least the water levels in Leon have receded. Having been plagued by extreme rains and unseasonably cold weather, we were happy to see some reprieve in this.

 The Iglesia de San Froulan sports modern bronze statues of the 12 apostles and the virgin floating above them. Apparently many miracles have been performed here since the 16th century.

 Talk about creepy lawn ornaments! We came across this treasure and were a little freaked out. Let’s just say that Mikey crossed the road with a quickness.


At least this Camino Gnome was patriotic.

 We often pass by abandoned churches in equally abandoned towns. But today in the hamlet of San Miguel del Camino, Frank noticed that this church was very much inhabited by a small parish of cranes.

 Back on the Meseta, the theme is utter desolation. Frank laughed at Mikey for taking this picture, but it captured perfectly the vast emptiness we endured for hours today. Thankfully, we will be leaving the Meseta soon!

Mikey has entitled this picture, “Missed Opportunity.”

This gem, however, was not lost on either of us! True, the French bread was a bit hard to manage and neither Mikey nor Frank could actually eat their burgers without the aid of fork and knife, but it was a gastronomical adventure. Yay for Spanish N-120 truck stop diners!

“Back to reality…” Walking after a meal is often nice, but Frank charged on with two direct goals: to find a bed and shower.

We checked into a very nice private albergue called Santa Ana de San Martín del Camino. Frank and Mikey decided to spring for a private room as the large dormitories of snoring pilgrims can often be unbearable. As such, we each kept a shoe nearby to launch at one another in the event of similar disturbance.

The highlight of this albergue was the paella. The hospitaleros (a husband and wife team) were most accommodating hosts. Considering the ease of checking in, laundry service, sommelier guide, and one being the best paella chef in the north of Spain, these two rock! A word about paella: Frank has had a hankering for it since crossing the Pyrenees. Unfortunately, this is a typically southern-Spanish dish hailing from Seville and various parts south of Madrid. Yes, one can find it in the north, but it is much less authentic.

Tonight broke all rules. Our host made the batch you see above. It took several hours, but that pan fed 10 people with many (Frank included) having second helpings. BTW, there was still a lot left after all had eaten.

Unlike many southern paellas, this one was made with heaps of fresh vegetables from our hosts’ garden. Sure, it had pork for protein, but the highlight was the plethora of organically grown veggies. In a country that believes solely in meat, bread, and potatoes, this was off the charts rad!

Oh, and Mikey got to try an amazing 2011 Rioja Reserve. That was his highlight, but he claims he can write it off as a business expense. If all could be as lucky!

We must leave you now and return to the mundanity of folding laundry. Our goal is to leave early and arrive in the town of Astorga by lunchtime. Lots of pictures to follow on that one! Adios.

Rest Day 3: Leon

Frank and Mikey definitely took advantage of our close location to the old town while in Leon. We started off the day with coffee, juice, and some sub-par sandwiches. Still, the view was well worth the 3€ each for a Spanish breakfast.   

 Mikey’d eat canned tuna any day for that vista! 

 So we did get to tour the cathedral (between services) and it was really amazing. An audio guide was included with admission, so Mikey and Frank are now experts on 12th century architecture (FYI). 

(And just in case you’re reading this, here’s a shoutout to you: Mikey found your seats):

Names aside, the choir stalls were pretty rad. 
   The cathedral in Leon holds one of Europe’s finest treasure troves of medieval stained glass. In fact, they were careful enough to box everything up for the better part of 60 years while redoing the stone work (talk about a crazy jigsaw puzzle when they were reinstalled!)
  Mikey had to pose with the (other) saints in the cathedral’s cloister. 

This 14th century coat of arms shows the union of the kingdoms of Castile and Leon. The Spanish seal would later add the kingdom of Aragon (with the marriage of Isabelle & Ferdinand – hello, Columbus and stuff) and Navarra. 
 

Following our tour of the cathedral, we wandered around the streets on a beautiful Sunday morning and happened upon this:

  It was basically a folk procession leading to the Basilica of San Isidro. Cool thing was that we recognized one of the “fife” players – he was our server from the prior evening!     And these were the big shots who participated in the ceremony. Notice the military guys’ funny hats. 

There was a LOT to see in Leon. While we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of the Basilica Museum, Frank and Mikey saw the Holy Grail and the Royal Pantheon where 23 kings and queens of Spain are burried. The celing was decorated in a kind of Romanesque version of the Sistine Chapel (only 300 years older!) 

Later, we walked down to the former monastery of San Marcos. 

 
A view from the plaza of San Marcos.

Frank has happily found a park bench on which to rest and reflect. 

  In addition to the religious Museum of Leon, San Marcos still maintains a chapel which holds regular masses. We quickly snapped a photo before anyone noticed our presence. 

Not sure if it’s true, but we think the church is raising funds by selling off half of the monastery to the Hotel Parador. This is the other wing of San Marcos. Kind of swanky for a former monastery-turned hotel! 

 

After all that walking, Frank needed to relax and do some laundry. Let’s just say that there are two things Mikey can be sure of: 1) the sun will rise in the east and 2) if it exists, Mikey will find craft beer. 

Four Lions is kind of amazing. It features American-style beers made on premise. Great sliders and “gliders” (mini hotdogs) with wonderful ales to wash ’em down. Check it out if ever in Leon!

 Post nap, Frank and Mikey happened upon Leon’s Iwa Jima?! Kind of odd, but worth the picture, yo!

 And for you art fans out there, we made sure to visit MUSAC – the contemporary art museum of Leon. (Mikey thought his shirt might match a block or two!)

 Although it wasn’t exactly Frank’s cup of té, Mikey really enjoyed Pamen Pereira’s “The Second Wind,” among others. 

 But one cannot omit the edible art we both enjoyed! In background is chorizo on bread, but the foreground masterpiece is a Spanish “pig in a blanket!” Yeah, real win with both of us!

This was Mikey’s technicolor salad!

 We even took time to get haircuts, although Frank was a bit apprehensive due to the language barrier. Still, all ended well & they were only 7€ each!

 But, Mikey had to look good for his parliamentary address! 

  The turnout was low, but very attentive! 

  We took a walk around the medieval city walls…

  And went to the Plaza Mayor. This building dates back to the 17th century.  

 Ok, so it wasn’t very Spanish, but we found the American Cafe and had some barbecue ribs! USA! USA!

We definitely had a good stay in the city and got to see much more than time or Mikey’s patience allow us to post. Leon is the last city of size before we reach Santiago de Compestella in a couple of weeks. On the road again…

Day 14: Reliegos to Leon

Frank and Mikey woke early to begin the 25km march to Leon. The morning began with a beautiful sunrise before totally drenching us later in the day. Oh, well. Due to weather, Mikey was conservative with the camera. Still, we have a rest day in Leon, so maybe a few more pictures next time. 

The morning sky leaving Reliegos. 

 Frank in front of the city walls in Mansilla de las Mulas.  

For whatever reason, this emergency call box sign REALLY disturbed Mikey.  

Impromptu markers like this are common on the Camino. Either someone died or retired their boots here some time ago. Frank and Mikey kept going. 

  We kept going, that is, until reaching a footbridge with most detailed instructions for passage. Frank’s still not sure if we executed our crossing correctly and Mikey has since vowed to swim across rivers when at all possible. 

A little confused, we stopped halfway across to snap a picture of our efforts. 

 After miles of rainy weather, we were happy to see this overwhelmed bridge at the entrance to Leon.  
    
We dried out a bit before going to the cathedral square for a late night dinner and a few pictures. The cathedral was closed for Saint George’s Day, but we will tour it tomorrow and will have some shots from the interior. G’ nite!

Day 13: Sahagun to Reliegos

In haste to bring you the latest and greatest news from the Camino, Frank and Mikey forgot to mention two very important things: we have already entered the Meseta (or high plains) stage and are officially halfway to Santiago!! 

  
Unfortunately, the confetti cannon and bells were a bit too heavy for Mikey’s pack, so Frank snapped a slightly subdued celebratory picture of him in front of the marker on  our way out of Sahagun.

  
Still, with 22 miles to travel today, Frank was eager to get on the road! Once again, all towns seem to have that special bridge. 

  Along the way, we passed the 17th century “Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Perales” (Our Lady of the Pear Trees Hermitage). 

Let’s pause to explain a bit about the Meseta. Spanning much of central Spain, the Meseta is a high plateau surrounded by mountains that we both have and will climb. In theory, this sounds picturesque. In actuality, the feeling wears off quickly and one is left with only an unending and bleak flatness in all directions. (Think of traversing the plains of Kansas on foot!)

There are three basic stages of the Camino: 1) Physical: this primary stage begins with a hike over the Pyrenees and continues with other mountains within the first week and a half. 2) Mental: this second stage is a bit less physically challenging, yet many give up or avoid it due to sheer monotony and lack of visual stimuli. 3) Spiritual: perhaps this is the last chance to reflect on ones journey along the way and the greater journey to which he will return. We will enter this stage in about a week’s time. 

Meanwhile, below is an example of the “second stage” phenomenon known as the Meseta. Very beautiful, but very vast and unchanging. 

 We began the day with lots of threatening clouds and a chance of showers. While Mikey and Frank are (by now) no strangers to inclement weather, the Meseta further complicates walking due to its utter lack of shelter. Thus, the sun beats down with no chance of shade and a sudden thunderstorm could turn unsuspecting pilgrims into Camino lightening rods. 

  
Luckily, the rain held off and we enjoyed some clear skies later in the afternoon. Note the rather ornate Camino marker in this picture. It is yet another example of how varied our guideposts can be. (By the way, this picture was taken some 18 miles after the previous one. The Meseta can really be that monotonous!)

  Every now and then, the Meseta surprises us with its sheer simple beauty. 

However, this can change in a heartbeat.  Mikey and Frank were chased from their restaurant (building on right) this evening by said freak storm. 

Oh, you must be wondering about that dinner, right?! By popular demand, we are unashamedly posting pictures of our daily meals now. The new rule is: Mikey translates the menu and Frank reminds him to photograph whatever shows up on the table. This system could easily break down, so apologies in advance!

Anywho, this is a garbanzo bean stew with pork jowls. (Think chickpeas and Nixon’s face. 😬) Actually, we had (by default) a private chef who recommended this and the following dish. 
 
Oven-roasted rabbit with potatoes. Sorry Thumper, you’re as good as dead … Excuse me … you taste good!
And in Camino lore, there exists the popular Bar Elvis. It was hard, but Mikey resisted the open opportunity to make his spray painted mark on this fine establishment. 

That was about all for Reliegos. We did some laundry and headed out early the next morning for Leon. Much to come about rain and another rest day in the city. Adios!

Day 12: Burgos to Sahagun

After resting in Burgos, it was good to get back on the open road. Still, as you can see, the weather has not been very cooperative. Frank and Mikey spent the day alternating between jackets and short sleeves.

Uncertain skies lay ahead.


These hobbit-looking dugouts were pretty awesome. We happened upon the hamlet of Moratino where these “bodegas” have been used to store wines, cheeses, and dry goods for over 2000 years! We ate lunch in one of the larger ones.

Frank taking a well-deserved break.

Just before the town of Sahagun, we saw the ruins of the 12th century Hermitage of the Virgin and a pretty cool bridge.

Looks like we made it! Sahagun is a medieval town that was once closely related to the Knights Templar.

 This 12th century church (Iglesia de San Lorenzo) would have had much templar influence.

Just hanging out with the Jesus of Nazareth Fraternity brothers. (Kinda creepy.)

But, Sahagun is a magical town where you can even find jelly beans in your bar nuts!

Frank and Mikey worked up an appetite walking around the ruins of the San Facundo Monastery.

The town gate (Arco de San Benito) was pretty impressive too.

That’s about it for Sahagun. Weather permitting, we’ll be hard-charging tomorrow and will hopefully cover some 30km+. With this pace, we plan to spend the weekend in Leon before our final two week push to Santiago! Hasta pronto.

Rest Day 2: Burgos

Frank and Mikey started off by visiting the cathedral. An ever developing work since the 11th century, it is one of Spain and the Church’s crown jewels.   Yep, it’s HUGE!

 The Escalera Dorada – total setting for a wedding or Mikey’s grand entrance!

 The main altar. Unlike in many other cathedrals, the main altar, choir loft, and seating is very small. At least two chapels are larger in seating capacity. 

 The choir loft. 

 
  Just a random ceiling shot 😉

The cloister. Lots of bishops are interred along the walls.  

 Frank checking out the courtyard view. 

 A stained glass window. 

Ok, so things got a bit out of hand. One might say silly, even. Burgos happens to be the home to many interesting outdoor statues and Mikey requires minimal pressure to act out in public. This, combined with a visit to a free military museum and one on human evolution, resulted in the following images. We have purposefully omitted captions as we are confident that you will invent much better ones for yourselves. 

  
  
    
      

Ok, so we also focused our attentions on food. Mikey and Frank really put down some grub this time. Yes, mother, this was over the course of 2 days! Mikey figures that we can eat pretty much anything during this trip as long as we don’t expect to lose weight. He thinks of it as the equality diet: eat a lot; walk a lot. 

 Fried calamari – sorry SoCal, Spain had it first! Red lentil soup with blood sausage. Yeah, look that one up – if you dare!

Pork ribs with BBQ sauce and french fries.
Mixed greens with tomato, olives, tuna, shrimp, and baby eel. Check your ranch dressing at the door, Spain’s got olive oil and red wine vinegar only! Delish!!

 Steak slider with crispy fries!
 Raspberry cheesecake. This was all Frank!

Chocolate con churros. If you don’t know what this is, you might need to drop everything and visit Spain. It will change your life! For those who have tried this delicacy, you will see that it passed the “spoon test.” (Good chocolate – into which one dips his churros – should be thick enough to support the weight of a spoon resting on top.) 

Ok, that’s all for Burgos. We’ll be back in a day or two to bring you more Camino happenings. Until then, good night and good luck.