Top Lance

Thursday, June 30, 2016
Villavante to Hospital de Orbigp
Day 30

From Villavante, the walk into Hospital de Orbigo was only three kilometers or so.  Once we checked into the hotel, we rested, and I read and worked on the blog. James’s foot has not improved at all. At dinner, we chatted with a German couple from Frankfurt. I had met the gentleman previously, after the Pilgrims’ Blessing in León.

Hospital de Orbigo is the site of a famous historical feat of arms. In the Middle Ages, knights from all across Europe came to Spain to protect pilgrims from raids by Moors and attacks by brigands. It seems that one Spanish knight, Suero de Quinones, became annoyed by other knights boasting that they were the bravest, or the strongest, or the best fighter along the Camino. He therefore challenged all comers “to put up or shut up” by meeting him in single combat at the bridge in Hospital de Orbigo.

Come they did, and Suero began jousting against them. After a while, nine other Spanish knights joined him, and they too took on all challengers. It seems that Suero was an outstanding fighter, and he won all of his jousts. Chroniclers  of the time reported that as many as 700 jousts occurred over a period of thirty days.

The Church finally stopped the jousting after one knight was accidentally killed (by his own lance  when it broke). After that, at least during Suero’s  lifetime, there was no more boasting by other knights along Suero’s stretch of the Camino.

From the balcony of our hotel, we overlooked the modern jousting field. Each year thousands pour into Hospital de Orbigo on June 1st to see a series of jousts held on the field pictured above to commemorate Suero’s feats of bravery. Suero was also madly in love with a lady, and wore an iron collar once a week to prove his love. What a knight!

I was torn about whether to post the jousting field or a good photo of the Roman bridge, but since I have already posted the Roman bridge at Puente La Reina and since the  story of Suero de Quinones  is so unique, I went with the jousting field.  You can see the Roman bridge on the left side of the photo above.

Steps Today: 11,367

For other photos, see the page for June 30:
June 30, 2016: Villavante to Hospital de Orbigo

Guess Who Is Coming to Breakfast?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Leon to Villar de Mazarife (Villavante)
Day 29

On our last morning in Leon, who should appear in the hotel’s breakfast room but Father Pascal, the priest who gave the Pilgrim’s Blessing the night before.  We chatted for a bit. He is one of eight priests at St. Isidoro’s.  That sounds like a lot, but a number of them go out and serve at rural parishes that have no resident priest.  In a last walk around Leon, I saw an ancient plaza whose cobblestones appear to be just the way they  were hundreds of years ago.  For additional photos, go to our page for June 29.

While  James rested, I took a last walk around the city to see a few places I hadn’t had a chance to see.  Then with James, we took a bus to Villar de Mazarife, where we had lunch, and which was our scheduled stopping point for the day.  Our hotel for the night was actually farther down the road, in Villavante.  The hotel owner picked us up and drove us to his place, a charming Rural Hotel.  There we had dinner family style with other  guests: a Spanish couple from Mallorca; a Mexican- American couple from California; and three Americans.  It was a very convivial evening, conducted in Spanish and English, with lots of jokes and stories.  The Mexican-American pilgrim is a dedicated marathoner, but he said that the Camino is taxing even his endurance, and his wife had outpaced him that day.  James’s foot is still hurting, and I told him that I think it is time to seek out a doctor, but he doesn’t want to.  (When we lunched with Veronica and Randy back in Reliegos, they each said that they had already been to the hospital twice.  Obviously pilgrims are giving doctors in northern Spain a lot of business, and in particular a lot of experience with foot problems!)

Steps: 13,998
There are additional photographs at:
June 29, 2016: Leon to Villar de Mazarife (Villavante)

The Chalice


Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Day 28

We had breakfast but then lazed around the hotel since James’s foot continues to hurt.  At noon we went down to go to the St Isidoro Museum and Pantheon and lucked into a guided tour in Spanish.  St. Isidoro in León is an amazing place. The church is lovely and houses the bones of this early Spanish saint. The pantheon has tombs of princes and nobility.

The museum is the home of the Holy Grail. Photos weren’t permitted in the museum, so I don’t have an original photo of the Grail. The one above is a photo from the book I am currently reading (yes, yet another book) about the Grail. The book recounts new research undertaken at the Al Azhar University archives in Cairo that strengthens the provenance of St. Isidoro’s chalice.

While there are contending chalices in some other countries, none is as well documented as this one, according to the authors. It is truly a beautiful piece, and it gives one goosebumps to think of being so close  to such a sacred object.

After lunch at a nearby restaurant, James rested while I went to a washateria and caught up on laundry.  That evening, there was a concert in the cloister of St. Isidoro. We went early and managed to snag chairs.

The most memorable piece, at least for me, was a reading of segments out of Don Quijote, accompanied by music specifically composed for those segments. As the beautifully voiced gentleman read the story of the Man of La Mancha and his trusty sidekick Sancho Panza, we heard the wind rustling through the fields and listened to the clip-clop of their steeds’ hooves.  It was a standing-room only audience.

After the concert, we had a late dinner in St. Isidoro Plaza, where a lot of the musicians dropped by for a post- concert drink and tapa.  This was the last night of León’s festival, and clearly music lovers from all over the city turned out for this concluding concert.

Steps Today: 10,962

I will post various photos of St. Isidoro, taken over our two days there, on our page for June 28:
June 28, 2018: León

Stained Glass Soaring to Heaven


Monday, June 27, 2016
Mansilla de Las Mulas to León
Day 27

After two days of long walks, we took the bus to León. The symbol of the former kingdom of León (current Spanish province of León) is of course the lion, and no doubt many assume that León has always been the name of this place. In fact, the name was a shortening of the name of one of the Roman legions, which was based here.

León is a lovely city, James’s favorite so far.  The cathedral  is so beautiful, with more stained glass than any other cathedral in Europe except for Chartres in France.  Our photos cannot capture the beauty of that glass, since the brilliant light  tends to bleed the color to just white. James Michener writes about the glowing cathedral glass in Iberia.  Indeed, the architects of the cathedral stretched the amount of wall given over to glass to the maximum, making an already unstable (due to being built over Roman baths and other pre-existing structures) building even more unstable. A cupola collapsed at one point, and there  was real fear that the whole cathedral would tumble down before  extensive renovations were carried out.

It is amazing to learn that this whole cathedral was built in just fifty years by a town with a population of only 5,000. Its  purity of line was no doubt helped  by that rapid building spree. The León Cathedral was built to compete with the Burgos Cathedral, and indeed it does. Both are magnificent, but they are very, very different. As it happens, León is in the middle of celebrating a week of festivities in honor of St. Peter and St. Paul, with many cultural activities around town.

Our hotel is part of St. Isidoro Monastery. We are so lucky to be staying in this historic and gorgeous place. Right after checking in, we and other hotel guests were treated to a tour of the monastery by the hotel manager. After lunch, we headed over to see the cathedral and its museum, then had sangria on the Plaza in front of the cathedral.  Spain had a soccer  game that evening in the European Cup, and young people draped in Spanish flags were all  over the plaza while loud rock music blared out from a party bus.  It was really a happening scene, though to walk out from the serenity of the cathedral to rock & roll was a bit jarring.

I posted a photo of us on the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) webpage, and we received lots of positive feedback from that. Then back to the hotel, where James rested while I went to the  Pilgrims’ mass at 7 pm. The quick mass was followed  by a Pilgrims’ Blessing. I was asked to translate Father Pascual’s words of welcome and blessing into English, which I did. It was a very beautiful blessing.

I gathered up James and we went to an Italian restaurant for a change of menu.  After that, we headed for an outdoor pop concert  being given as part of the festival. We stayed until the end, then back to the hotel at midnight.  James enjoyed the music.

Steps Today: 13,188

I took many, many photos of León, and I will post a selection. See the page for June 27:
June 27, 2016: Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon

Terrorists Everywhere


Sunday, June 26
El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de Las Mullas
Day 26

When I passed this sign for a flying school out in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t help but think about terrorism, the scourge of our time. It was an eerie foreshadowing of the next day’s news about the Istanbul airport bombing. Before I delayed my trip by a month, I had been scheduled to transit that airport around this date on my return trip home.

Having learned about the paucity of buses in general on the Meseta and the specific lack of buses on weekends, I did not even investigate the bus situation. We set out walking on what turned out to be another cool day with a good road surface. James lagged behind me, and when I stopped for lunch at Reliegos, it took him quite a while to catch up. I hadn’t realized how far behind he was. When he arrived, he said that his foot was hurting.

We met up with Veronica from Romania again, and had lunch with her and Randy from Miami. Veronica, it turns out, is walking the Camino to raise funds for a charity.  She explained that volunteerism and giving to charities is not well developed in Romania  due to its communist background, so that is a field she is working to develop. And Randy is a Foreign Service brat, so he and James had that in common. An interesting  lunch, then six more kilometers to our designated stopping place for the night.

Steps Today: 31,031

A few photos of this stretch of the Camino are posted on the page for June 26.
June 26, 2016: El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de Las Mullas


Peregrinos Who Have Passed


Saturday, June 25
Puerta de Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero
Day 25

It turned out our laundry wasn’t ready the previous night at 9:00 pm, as I thought had been promised, or even at 9:00 am the following morning. After we finally got the laundry back, we sorted and packed it as quickly as possible, but even so, for the first time during the trip, we had the  luggage delivery guy pounding on our door asking about our luggage.

Back on the road again, we had good walking conditions. A cool day, and a good road surface. Along the way, we met Veronica from Romania at a crossroads where we were puzzling out which of three roads to follow. We ran into her again at a cafe at lunchtime.

James is tired of always seeing the same options on the menu. Our “mixed salad” at lunch consisted of tuna, green olives, and tomatoes – no lettuce whatsoever.

On the Camino, there are plentiful reminders of pilgrims who have gone before us, and frequent reminders of our mortality.  I haven’t seen any statistics on how many pilgrims die while walking the Camino, but given how much it taxes everyone, even the physically fit, I am not surprised to come across memorial crosses like the one above. Of course, the movie The Way starts with a father trying to understand  how his son perished on the Camino and why the son so wanted to make this journey.

RIP Mr. Friedrich, and all the other peregrinos who have passed while on the Camino.

Steps Today: 30,452

For more photos of this stretch of the Camino, see our June 25 page:
June 25, 2016: Puerta de Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero

Laundry Day


Friday, June 24, 2016
Day 24

Right next to our hotel, this very old building stood. I didn’t see a plaque or any indication of why it had been allowed to continue standing.  It was a very visible reminder of old building styles in Spain, and looked quite different from all of the brick and stucco buildings around it.

When setting up my schedule, I built a “rest day” into it every week.  Besides rest, I planned to use the day to do laundry and other needed tasks.  Sahagun, though a somewhat larger town, foiled me. There was no laundromat in the town.

The hotel  receptionist suggested that I try using the machines in the aubergue across the street. That sounded like a good idea to me. I could go over and wash clothes early, before the next batch of pilgrims arrived in town.

So at 10 am, I was sitting on the steps of the aubergue with my laundry, waiting for it to open. Opening time was announced as 10 am on a large sign posted right by the front  door.) 10 am came and went. 10:30. 11:00.

By this time I was getting nervous. We could have the hotel wash our clothes, but it would be much more expensive and we had to turn the clothes in by noon. At 11:45, I gave up on the aubergue and went in and turned our clothes over to the hotel, which promised to have them done “by 9:00.”

The aubergue finally opened its door at around 12:15, while James and I were sitting on the terrace in front of our hotel having a drink. No one I asked seemed to know the  reason for the delay in opening. We saw lots of early arriving pilgrims from 10 am to noon shake their heads in bewilderment and then move on when they got no response to pounding on the door. At least we just had laundry troubles, not housing concerns!  Another lazy day for us.

Steps Today: 4,017

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights


Thursday, June 23, 2016
Calzadilla de la Cueza to Puerta de Sahagun
Day 23

Relative to the very small towns in which we had been staying, Sahagun was decent sized. Lots of public art, such as this pilgrim in metal.

We had booked a taxi to take us to Sahagun, but the driver didn’t show up at the agreed hour, so the hotel owner drove us there.

We were both tired. We had long siestas and then dinner.  James ordered spaghetti, but when it came it had egg in it, so he wouldn’t eat it. Amazingly, spaghetti–the so-typical dish of Italy–is almost always among the choices on the Pilgrim’s Menu for the first course. I guess it is there because it is inexpensive to make and filling, but perhaps also because it is a popular choice.

James orders it fairly frequently. He always asks what is in it first, but this time the waiter didn’t say that it came with visible boiled egg bits in it. The waiter graciously swapped out the spaghetti for a different dish.

These two acts of kindness by hotel staff along the way–one by the hotel owner offering to drive us himself and then the waiter swapping dishes–are representative  of the very nice staff we have met all through our journey.

I took almost no steps today, and my feet were happy.  Even so, I couldn’t help but hear the Freddy Fender classic running through my head, “Wasted days and wasted nights….”

Steps Today: 2,657

Faith and Farming


Wednesday, June  22, 2016
Carrion de los Condes  to Calzadilla de la Cueza
Day 22

After our long walk the previous day, we definitely wanted an easier day. Again no bus to where we wanted to go, but there was a bus to a town further along the Camino, so we took that. Although I don’t like backtracking, that is what we had to do. The bus didn’t leave until noon, so I used the morning for errands and to explore Carrion a bit.

I had to go to three ATMs, then eventually return back to the first one before  I could extract any funds. It was like a comedy of errors–ATM style. Nothing seemed to work in Carrion. I couldn’t buy our bus tickets on the first try, either. While waiting to be able to buy the tickets, I popped into a couple of small shops and took some photos. Eventually I was able to buy the bus tickets.  All the while James rested up; his feet have been bothering him.

Once we got to the further town, we had to find a taxi to take us back to Calzadilla, where we had reservations for the night.

In the town of Terradillos, we stopped at an aubergue for a drink and to catch a taxi. I thought the wall in the aubergue (see photo above) fairly well summed up what we had been seeing on the Meseta: agriculture combined with great religious  faith.

Steps Today: 6,141

For photos of Carrion, see June 22.


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Teepees, Geese, Donkeys, and the Almond Man


Tuesday June 21, 2016
Fromista to Carrion de los Condes
Day 21

This was a day with many unusual sights. We saw teepees, but never got an explanation as to why they were there. (They’re shown in one of my map books, so they have been there for a while.) We stopped to rehydrate at one albergue and found ourselves in a magical menagerie garden with geese, chickens, and even donkeys joining the pilgrims for a snack.

Walking down a long, straight stretch, we saw ahead a car parked  beside the road. As we got closer, we saw that a gentleman of advanced years was dispensing something to passing pilgrims. It was almonds. If he had time between pilgrims, he would crack  them for you. Otherwise, a handful of nuts for your pocket.

The girl ahead of me got a kiss  on the check. I got the kiss, both cracked and uncracked nuts, and a mini-muffin. James got uncracked nuts. Along the Camino you sometimes find spontaneous generosity and kindness like this.

Another day with no intermediate bus stop. We started out walking, thinking maybe to catch a taxi when we got too tired. In the end, we walked the full way, with two stops for drinks and a longish lunch break, during which we chatted with two Americans. It was a very hot day, but the road surface was great. All in all, an interesting day despite the sameness of the countryside.

Steps Today: 31,978

For photos, see June 21