Friday, November 6, 2009

Leon to Astorga

I'm really sorry to be leaving Leon its a wonderful lively city and one I hope to return to again. - It's a long pull from Leon to Hospital de Obrigo Advice if you're pushed for time take the bus to HdeO!

As soon as we turn off into Hospital del Obrigo we like it, feeling bouyed up Frances poses for comic shots on the bridge defended by the knight who became the inspiration for Don Quioxte. Have lunch and get bocadillos for later because the weather is great and we decide, full of braggadocio, to 'push on' to Astorga......we may regret that decision.

Frances being 'quixotic'-posing as as Sancho Panza (or maybe the donkey)

Well if you're going to defend a bridge against all comers you may as well pick a good one.

Its a nice walk up the hill beyond Hospital and though all the German pilgrims we met earlier have continued on the road I don't know why anyone would choose to go that way when this alternative is available unless they were aiming to stay beyond Astorga.
The countryside is pleasant with a timeless feel to it-just tracks through low growing woodland and very few buildings. We pass a sandbank full of nesting birds flying in and out all the time- I don't recognise the birds though-if only books weren't so heavy it would be great to have access to guide book for instances like this. I'm good on the flora and can generally get at least the family right.

Sandback full of nesting birds between Hospital D Obrigo and Astorga
A young lad walking on his own passes us and we notice he's wearing a 'vote for obama' wristband and we end up doing the 'pilgrim gavotte' with the young man-overtaking him when he stops for a break and then being overtaken by him when we have a 'boots off' break. 
On one of these overtakes he asks, us very politely in spanish, if we can take a photo.
Frances steps in as 'official photographer and he is delighted we speak english. Bill is American of about 19 and wants a picture for his "mom"- my goodness he pressed all the right buttons. He asks us "which is better with or without sunglasses?" and we both chorus in perfect time "without the glasses and the hat-she'll want to see your face". So the poor fellow finds himself being bossed around by two old ones who know exactly what shots his mom will like to see- 'My son Bill looking forward towards the towers of Astorga on his last day', 'My son Bill on the base of Cruceiro Santo Toribio','My son Bill in profile' etc etc etc! To his credit Bill takes all this in good spirits. I have a feeling this is not the first time he's has had to deal with middle aged ladies 'managing' him.
So Bills mom if you ever wonder why not only were the most photos of your son on his Camino taken on his last days walk into to Astorga but also the best- its down to Frances (and me doing the assistant photographer stuff) When he headed off Frances said "didn't she do a good job (meaning Bills Mom) he's a lovely kid" and indeed he was.
We have met and observed lots of young men aged between 15 -22 or 23 traveling solo or in small groups on our journey, and have found them, without exception, to be impressive engaging, interested and courteous youngsters. Perhaps the Camino allows boys the space to be/become the fine young men they are at heart without peer pressure to be 'laddish'? Think I'll try to get as many of my lot as possible to consider the Camino as an option in their summer vacs, gap years or holidays.....though my 'suggesting it' would probably the kiss of death for the notion so perhaps not.

We can see the towers of Astorga Cathedral from the cruceiro- reminiscent of the view of Burgos you get from the Punto De Vista on the hills before you descend and 'airport hell' kicks in....... and maybe that should have been a warning to us-it seemed so close. But for some reason the last stretch to Astorga, along the road and on the track which runs behind some kind of abandoned industrial buildings, kills us both. We stagger over a railway crossing and, when faced by a 'scenic pilgrim route' around and up through the town, damn near collapse. We must appear like a pair of stunned chickens just standing on the path staring straight ahead.
Then out of the blue Frances revolts-so we end up sacrilegiously ignoring the yellow signs and she trail blazes a shortcut to the heart of the town-Thank God. This incident gives me a strange 'breaking the rules' kind of thrill and I almost want to start walking East, South, North in fact anywhere but westwards-is this the sign of pilgrim 'burn out'?
Despite a less than auspicious intro to the town I love Astorga. It has a quiet, provincial market town 'getting along with its own business' feel- reminiscent of Mallow or Althone.
We are both Gaudi fans and so there is only one place to stay-the Hotel Gaudi with a bedroom view of the Bishops palace (which is good as the palace is its closed so we only get to see the outside) The palaces lovely pale green stained glass windows are colour as that in the windows of Leon cathedral.

Someone writing about this Gaudi building said it blocked the view of the Cathedral but I don't agree, I think it complements the older building-which is also pretty glorious especially when the sun makes it look like a spun sugar confection outlined against a stormy eastern sky.
Cathedral St Maria Astorga

We head to the Plaza Major and sit waiting for the famous clock with its Maragato figures to strike-now while this may not sound thrilling its just about right for our energy levels and we are so enthralled we sit in the evening sun and wait for it to happen all over again.
Anyway there is a lot to see in between strikes-kids on bikes, scooters and roller skates whizz around the square as the grown ups natter. Off to one side, under the arcade, a whole gaggle of little kids are so engrossed in the stories being read to them by a vivacious storyteller they are oblivious of the admiring audience of grannies and parents

Story telling in Astorga Plaza Major

Excitement in Astorga watching the clocks strike- its fun and you can do it sitting down!

We wander around and end up eating at a bar on Plaza major. Frances is not as enamored with the town as I am until she discovers the nature of the Astorgas primary exports- small square cakes, chocolate and the piece de resistance the best macaroons in the world.This decision was not made lightly and required an awful lot of qualitative testing but we are absolutely certain that they are the best.
I learn another new thing about my friend of 32 years not only does she have an ambition to drive a formula one racing car, has a now overt fascination with bullfighting she is also a macaroon junkie! Frances buys 'a few' macaroons for tomorrow. She says there's 4 in the bag but it has a more than 4 fulsomeness about it and I suspect that some macaroon hoarding is going on.

We eat in the hotel and its hushed atmosphere, white tablecloth and waiter service is lovely. There are quite a few pilgrims here and we see Bill has joined some of his walking buddies for a posh last supper in the hotel. One of the group, an woman our age, seems familiar but I'm not sure from where.
Later that night I'm sure I hear paper rustlings and crunching noises but when I turn over Frances appears to be fast asleep but I'll bet all the tea in china that if I check there will be macaroon crumbs in her bed in the morning.

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