Day 22: Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga aka Food Coma
Woke up decently early and had coffee and orange juice before heading out from our albergue. We both agreed that this was the second cleanest albergue we had stayed in thus far. The waitress, who’s also the hospedería (most do both) is really sweet but I was saddened to see her go outside to smoke more than once, being 7 months pregnant and all. I’m used to everyone smoking in Europe, but not as much as I have seen in Northern Spain.
It was really cold this AM (getting higher in elevation), and it is obvious that the days are going to get even colder. However by midday, if the sun is shining, it can also get pretty warm-well into the 70’s (hence my awesome tan). So, layering is necessary. It is great to finally be out of the Meseta region. I equate it to the US's Midwest (no offense), in terms of the rolling hills and desolation. It was hands down my least favorite part of the Camino. Perhaps it’s there for us to appreciate the hills, mountains, rivers and streams when we finally reach them (not to mention the little to no rocks and lack of highways/roads that welcome us out of It).
On the way today, I noticed a sign that read ‘real pilgrims walk in silence.’ This was followed by a couple of rebuttals. I feel that everyone’s on their own Camino, and whatever they choose do or how they do it is their own right, their own pilgrimage. Kilometers after this thought provoking sign, we came across week old calves that were adorable. Had the mama cows not given me the stink eye, I would’ve definitely tried to cuddle up on them. At one point, walking along farmland, a farmer on a bike began riding parallel to me. He was a good 80-85 y/o and began chatting with me about the Camino. He says he bikes 25-40 km per day, and has never left northern Spain. I asked him about the acres of corn fields I have seen, but the lack of corn in Spanish cuisine. He said that is because of most of the corn is actually exported and not used within Spain. Food for thought, literally.
At the top of the hill (my guide didn’t mention a hill to climb!), there was a pop-up bar ran by an uber hippie couple, that appear to live in a shack right behind there. For donation, they had a ton of fruit, juice, rice cakes and other miscellaneous items to share. Prior to this, there were no water fountains. Not there was a fountain at this stop, but at least juice. Naturally, there were quite a few pilgrims hanging out and enjoying the fruits of their labor. I wonder if this couple still does this/lives there in the cold winter months? I didn’t ask.
Prior to heading down the hill and back up another hill, to the old Roman City of Astorga, we found a cross where pilgrims had left rocks they had carried along the way. Before the cross, we saw a priest kneeling and praying. We have seen him from time and time, always keeping to himself, and always in the same outfit (yellow shirt and 70’s rollerskating shorts). WWJW? What would Jesus wear? Walking down this hill, there was a man singing and playing his guitar as if welcoming us into the city. He asked if I had any souvenirs from the US to give him and was bummed to hear I did not. This seemed to have prompted a more melancholic tune on his guitar. At the bottom of the hill, we stopped by a coffee shop for some caffeine, knowing we’d have one last hill to climb for the day.
Astorga is completely downplayed and has been my favorite city on the Camino. Also, it’s the birthplace of chocolate in Europe. I was automically enamored as I entered it’s old Roman walls with the cathedral and Gaudi’s palace poking up ahead. Our 5-star hotel (Hotel Ciudad de Astorga) has been the fanciest we’ve stayed in, and only €70. With a Russian Spa in its basement and a view of the cathedral from the balcony, it was perfect. I would highly recommend staying here.
My app made it a must that we try Cocido Maragata and the receptionist at the hotel recommended a restaurant by the name of Las Termas that actually happened to be open at 1 PM. The owners were super sweet, and we had no idea such a feast awaited us… Luckily, we were on the hangrier side after walking 15 miles. Although, not usually a gluten-free or veg free meal, the owners understood dietary restrictions and had awesome substitutes. Usually this is how it goes: bread and tomato salad, followed by seven types of meat, then a garbanzo bean/cabbage dish (my fav), then a soup, then a custard, then a coffee and last but not least, an herbal wine, all for €20 each. Oh, and it’s buffet style. So they will bring you out as much of anything you’d like. This meal was amazing, and I’m starting to believe that the rumors of more variation and better cuisine past Leon are true. This restaurant is my second big recommendation in Astorga. Afterwards, food coma set in. Other than for stepping out for some tea and the ATM, we spent the majority of the night in our fancy shmancy room. I look forward to exploring the cathedral and Gaudi’s palace tomorrow. Kind of bummed we are not staying an extra night here, but there is always next time.