June 13, 2012
I’m a little late for the 5 o’clock club and meet Kyeongsoo in the kitchen having breakfast. Normally, all I like to have is a piece of fruit before leaving, but I shared my orange and received in return some yogurt and some bread. I left when he was finishing. I’m on my way to Astorga.
The sun is coming up and I run into my new Italian friend, Amedeo. He’s listening to a Camino guide on his iPod, which includes music of the period as well. We stop for coffee and start talking. He’s a retired engineer from Bergamo, north of Milan, and has really done his research. He’s created an Excel spreadsheet with each town that has an albergue and/or a cafe, with the amount of kilometers between each town, and what to see in each place. I’m impressed. We pass by one of the many rest spots with some funky art and I take a small break.
Up the hill to the high plain and see a shack in the distance. Closer, there’s a sign advertising organic juice. Organic! Under a tree we meet David, who offers 12 different kind of juice (organic), coffee, some bread, nutella, peanut butter, and some fruit, including beautiful red cherries. There’s no costs posted, only a donation requested. Turns out he lives here – his bed is just to the right of the stand. He tells us that his mission is to serve the pilgrims. Each morning he walks his portion of the trail to pick up any trash. He walks the 8km to Astorga to order these snacks to be delivered to his wilderness home/pilgrim rest stop.
A little farther along the plain, we come to the cross that marks the descent to Astorga, or Asturica Augusta as it was known in Roman times. Through the gate of this walled city is an interesting combination of churches, a lovely cathedral, Roman ruins, and a building designed by Antonio Gaudi. Amedeo also adds that he wants to try the local specialty, cocido maragato, basically a plate with 10 kinds of meat, plus potatoes and vegetables, and would I like to join him. A fellow foodie!
The ruins are amazing, the cathedral awe-inspiring, the Bishop’s Palace designed by Gaudi filled with gorgeous glass windows. We stop for a coffee (which is my personal code word for needing to use the bathroom – but I get coffee, too) and ask the waitress if she can recommend the best restaurant for cocido maragato, since just about every restaurant we passed has it on the menu. She says that there is one in town, but a better one is 5km out. They serve from 1pm to 4pm, and it’s 1:30pm now, so we can be eating meat in a quaint village in about an hour. It’s tempting to stay in Astorga and visit the chocolate museum, but I’m ready to get moving, so off we go.
The village of Castrillo is a reconstructed version of the crumbled stone villages that we have been passing through and although the particular restaurant we were looking for is closed, the one next door is open. Dinner is the biggest plate of meat, potatoes, omelet, and cabbage you’ve ever seen. I eat until I’m about ready to burst, too tired to walk to the next village. There’s a local family entertaining relatives from South America here, so it’s not just for tourists. Thankfully, there’s an albergue there and I get a bottom bunk. The usual program, shower, rest, a cup of tea, a small walk around the village. Not hungry for dinner. Sleeping at 9pm.