A Thumb’s Width of Green

Day 15: Gijon to Aviles — To welcome him back to the Camino I suggested to Martin that we have dinner at Peggy Sue’s American Diner, just a couple of blocks from our hotel. Martin agreed and our American meal there was a true treat. From the burgers, fries, shakes, ketchup, music, lemonade to the Coke in glass bottles — everything was flawlessly reproduced from 1950’s vintage America. I was thrilled, and I think Martin was at least a little entertained by my joy at this little reminder of home.

Though Martin worried that his snoring might keep me up, in reality he was quiet as a clam last night and I think we both slept quite well. We were up and out by 8:00 under high clouds with a light but chilly wind. After a kilometer or two we stopped at a modern cafe and took an as yet unearned rest over cafe con leche and croissants.

The French guidebook warned that today’s stage is the worst of all stages on the Camino del Norte because of the industrial areas at the exit to Gijon and at the entrance to Aviles. As we left Gijon it became clear why. Martin, the optimist, looked ahead at the vast factory sprawled before us and the power lines above and pointed to the green hillside visible in the thumb’s width distance between the two. “Just ignore the top and the bottom and focus on the thin strip in the middle,” he wisely proposed.

And he was right. It’s very possible one could focus on the enormous smokestacks or the mounds of raw materials or the busy freeway full of roaring cars or the shoulderless highway that makes pilgrims compete with vehicles for space or the unspeakable odors emanating from the factories or the dust blown into one’s eyes by giant trucks kicking up clouds of dust.

Instead, why not focus on the thumb’s width of green? Indeed, in the middle of the day we spent at least two hours walking through quiet farmland. We came to a lovely church at Santa Eulalia and met a nice German pilgrim there. We dined at a truck stop with an American pilgrim named Julian and enjoyed a great lunch. We had a fine conversation about theology that I’m certain will be continued over wine during the next days. And we came to a town that is described as one of Northern Spain’s best examples of a medieval city. Tonight we’ll head out for dinner and try to discover why that is true.

So, as the Camino del Norte’s worst day, it didn’t seem half bad!

20120613-165557.jpgMartin, showing off his authentic American burger at Peggy Sue’s diner.

20120613-165706.jpgA big pipeline carries something to or from the big industrial site.

20120613-165848.jpgNice French women at the roadside pilgrim refreshment bar, set up by a kind local at the “Santiago 350 km” mark.

20120613-170056.jpgTruck stop cafe with a great lunch menu.

20120613-170206.jpgMore, dangerous roadside walking. Pilgrim beware.

20120613-170340.jpgExterior of Aviles albergue.

20120613-174227.jpgChurch at Santa Eulalia.

Gijon: A Pomegranate of a City

Rest day — From the outside, a pomegranate looks plain and ordinary, but open it and inside is compartment after compartment of shiny, jewel-like seeds. So it is with Gijon, a pomegranate of a city.

I decided that today, my second rest day in this seaside, industrial town, would be about finding new camp shoes. For the uninitiated, these are the shoes a caminoist brings along in his/her backpack for times other than hiking. They need to be super lightweight and extremely comfortable. A year ago I bought a pair which now, sadly, have started to come apart.

So I set out to shop Gijon, not expecting to enjoy this town I’d never heard of before the camino and that hadn’t impressed me yesterday.

What I found was another example of a livable, pretty and enjoyable European city. While its albeit ancient history precludes it from having the typical medieval, walled center, it has a combination of parks, beaches, retail areas, and outdoor cafes that make it a fun place to be. I discovered that each time I turned a corner I would find myself in another pomegranate-like compartment filled with jewels. The secret seems to be a series of parks and plazas sprinkled liberally around the town, often linked by pedestrian-only streets.

I took pictures, gawked like a tourist, wandered inside churches, watched people, fed pigeons, sampled the local cafe con leche, planned my dinner, and found some bright red camp shoes. On sale!

Best part of the day, though, was when Martin arrived. After he arrived after a bus ride from Logroño we started catching up on events since we last met and then planned dinner at Peggy Sue’s American Diner around the corner. Tomorrow we’ll walk through the industrial areas of Gijon to Aviles, apparently another delightful Spanish city.

20120612-123711.jpgGijon settles down for dinnertime.

20120612-123734.jpgPeggy Sue’s American diner — with Heinz Catsup in bottles.

20120612-124021.jpgAmazing church interior off Calle Begona.

20120612-124105.jpgPedestrian mall and park. Every town needs one of these to make it walkable.

20120612-124219.jpgStylish cafe with free WiFi and Parisian feel.

20120612-124310.jpgStreetscape — old and new delightfully joined together.

20120612-124404.jpgdos hamburguesas todas de vacuno, salsa especial, lechuga, queso, pepinillos y cebollas en un panecillo con semillas de sésamo.

20120612-124913.jpgI’d heard he and the other two men I admired most caught the last train for the coast. Got there and opened a bank?

20120612-125200.jpgMy new, ruby red slippers.

20120612-181726.jpgHola, Martin!

Spa Day!

Day Thirteen: Deba to Gijon — After three long and difficult days since Llanes I welcomed a short stage today. My plan was to get a hotel 4 km away in Gijon and wait there for Martin’s arrival tomorrow night. That gives two full days of rest. Ahhhhh.

As I look back now over the last three days I can see why I was complaining so much yesterday. My daily average of 31 km (21 miles) in the three days since Llanes is just too fast on this terrain. Last night I was drained of all energy and was starting to feel like this camino was a punishment, not a holiday.

So, spa day! After a 6-8 km walk from the campground/albergue at Deba through the suburbs to the old city center I found a nice hotel on the Plaza Mayor for not too much € (this is still offseason) that has a spa tub! I spread out my things in the spacious room, opened my window that faces the nearby beach, and luxuriated. Later on I walked the beach promenade, looked for lunch,(a challenge during siesta time) and basically hung out. Hooray!

I also took some time to take stock of this camino:

    13 days walking
    327 km (204 miles walked)
    Daily average of 24.8 km (15.5 miles)
    Almost exactly at the halfway point of the 700 km planned distance for this camino
    Looks like Santiago is achievable by the 26th or so, which works out great with my flight back home

Enough calculations and evaluations. Time to get back to my primary goal for the day: rest. Tomorrow’s plan will be finally to get in sync with Spanish mealtimes. For example, this lovely hotel’s restaurant opens for dinner at the very un-American hour of 9:00 pm, which about the time they close back home.

20120611-130648.jpgAbove from left: Jose of Madrid, Mone of Hungary, Karina of Austria. All fellow campers at Deba.

20120611-130706.jpgDeserted mansion before Gijon.

20120611-130720.jpgShells in Gijon’s sidewalks make it harder to get lost.

20120611-130733.jpgThe promenade along the eastern peninsula of Gijon’s old city.

20120611-130744.jpgView out the window of my pretty, spa day room.