We started off from Villadangos at 7:25am after enjoying a nice hot coffee at the ajoining bar/café. We were hoping to stop into the bakery for fresh bread or for a fresh croissant, but the only bakery in town didn’t open until 9:30am. So, off we went through the green landscape and rolling hills. For most of the day we had rain and wind, interspersed with sun. At 11:00am, we stopped in Puente de Orbigo, the scene of the knight who for 30 days challenged every knight who wanted to cross the bridge. Why? He wanted to break the chains of love. Apparently, he was in love with a lady of the town. After fighting every knight for 30 days, they all rode to Santiago and he gave his lady’s bracelet to the Saint.
Puente de Orbigo was very friendly and nice. There were a constant stream of pilgrims walking through the town. It was clean and tidy, very medieval town with stone houses. Just before crossing the bridge, there was an area set up for jousting. The past week there had been a celebration on one side of the bridge and on the other, the festival of the patron saint was about to start.
An older gentleman, who seemed to be ever-present in front of city hall, was happy to tell us all about the town. We spent 30 minutes or so enjoying rustic bread, ham and roasted peppers. We were feeling pretty happy and estimated that we’d arrive at our destination of Astorga at 2:30 or 3:00pm.
As we walked and stopped for water or to sit for a moment, pilgrims would pass us. Later down the road, we’d see the same folks again and we’d pass them. Throughout the day there was one young tiny blonde woman who seemed to be sprinting from place to place. We would pass her as she sat drinking water in the town plaza. Then, 10 minutes later she’d pass us with a big bulky pack on her back, walking effortlessly up and down the hills. How did she catch up with us so fast? We decided her name was “The German Sprinter,” even though we had no idea where she was from. After she passed us the last time, disappearing over a hill in the distance, we took bets as to her nationality. Dave bet on German, Tony bet Finnish and I wavered between German and Belgian. As we were buying St. James pins, she was in front of us in line at the cathedral in Astorga. We told her she was very fast walker, and seemed to fly. She said that when it was not raining, she had to take advantage of that and “run”. We asked her where she was from and she answered Finland. Then, we explained we had bet on her nationality. She seemed surprised that she was the subject of conversation for us. She probably thought we were nuts.
As we continued on, the rain stopped and the skies seemed less menacing. The road started to climb a bit. By 2:00pm, we were already in the midst of our ascent. The road turned to rocks, washed-out gullies. It continued to get steeper. We broke out our walking sticks and continued to walk. According to our guide book, there were 8 km between xx and xxx. We never saw xxx, but we were sure that we had passed it. Dave shared some incredible orange gummy protein candy, which gave me quite a boost, at least for a while.
After a difficult climb of 30 minutes or more, we saw a roof and had hope that we had arrived on the outskirts of Astorga. We were disappointed when we got closer and saw that it was simply a barn. When we arrived at the barn, there was a small stand set up where a man had set up a juice, tea and water stand. It was donation-only and the stand and building were covered with “peace and love” messages. The stand owner seemed to be very happy to attend to his stand out in the middle of nowhere for a year. We nodded our heads as he told us about how other pilgrims who had passed before us were the ones who permitted him to offer the juice, etc. We asked how far to Astorga, thinking it would be less than 4 km. When he said 6km to Astorga, I was very upset inside. Onward…
Up over the next rise, we saw Astorga on the valley floor and the two large towers of the cathedral. As we started our descent into Astorga, we thought it would take another 30-45 minutes to arrive at our hotel. Sadly, this was not the case. We walked and walked and walked some more. We walked up and over an electric railroad, through fields, and alongside the old town walls. Watching the street numbers ascend and descend, I was beginning to be very annoyed. Isn’t this Calle Leon? How many times can be numbers start in the single digits, get to 25 or 30 and then start again?! Should we simply blow off the reservation and check into one of the hostals or hotels that lined this main street? No, we were looking for Hostal San Narciso.
Finally, we arrived at our destination. It was on the far side of town, next to a gas station. We entered the bar and checked in right at the bar! The bartender indicated that our rooms were upstairs on the first floor and gave us keys and TV remotes. We trudged up the stairs, a bit suspicious of this little hotel. We began to feel uncomfortable when we discovered that there was no light on in the hallway and it was so dark that we could not read the room numbers on the doors. Three of us were searching for the light switch, but never found it. I opened the blinds and there was enough light that we found the rooms and fumbled with the keys. Once inside we wondered if we should stay. The bathrooms were so small that there was no room to turn around. The door just cleared the toilet. It looked like an old 1930’s road house – like a truck stop motel. It was clean and had the necessities. However, the copper water pipes were outside the walls – on top of the tile. We got a bit of hand washing done and showered.
We changed and showered and walked to the cathedral, which was beautiful. We then visited the Bishop’s Palace, designed by Gaudi and finished by another architect. The artwork and architecture of the palace were phenomenal. It was hard to believe that the stone palace was started in the late 1800’s and finally finished in 1913.
After wandering around looking for somewhere to eat, we settled on a cafeteria in front of the cathedral. The food was not great, although the cheese was wonderful. We watched some of the Mundial and walked back to the hostal. Exhaustion, sore legs, hips and knees and feet were conquering us. Today was a brutal day and we must start earlier tomorrow. Meet downstairs at 6:00am to have coffee and pastry. Asleep by 10:30.
What is that noise? It’s beeping in a feeble, inconsistent way. It’s Tony’s alarm on the watch. It is 6:25am, which means we are late. We quickly wash our faces, pack up and head downstairs to have hot coffee and take off. It’s Sunday and the skies are clear and blue. It’s crisp and there is a light breeze. We start off down a country road toward our next destination is Foncebadon.