Sept. 17 – 22: Gijón
When we detect some swelling in his foot, we realize Michael’s blisters are still an issue. We decide to take a longer break and bus to Gijón. One of Spain’s largest cities, it’s double the size of Santander and another urban beach/lively promenade town. If you have to rest, this seems like just the place. The Hotel Hernan Cortés is a bit older, but has the lovely patina of a time gone by and is in a great location.
Not wanting to walk too far, we notice people sitting on a stone wall with drinks, waiting for a band to begin to play. It’s a lovely spot with a view of the harbor, but we opt for a table instead. Just when I’m wondering what I can do to cheer Michael up, the band’s van pulls up right in front of us:
We have a good laugh at the band’s name and from then on, it seems as if, once again, The Camino Provides, bringing the amusement right to us, so we don’t have to walk far. First, there’s the Asturias Cheese Festival (the province we’re in) with plenty of tastes. Then, a street demonstration of gladiator techniques performed by men in costume. Impromptu street parades and the sound of bagpipes are everywhere. Sitting on a bench and people watching on the promenade is a favorite Spanish pastime.
On Sundays, the stores are closed, but the plaza is lively, full of friends and families gathering together. It’s baptism day at the church we’re sitting outside of and we watch as families, dressed in their finest, visit and take photos of their beautiful babies.
We walk on the beach, hoping the salt water will help heal Michael’s foot. I bury his feet in the cool sand, telling him it’s an old Spanish tradition. I can’t determine if the water’s too cold, but the waves always decide for me, knocking me over and tossing me around until I’m all salty, sandy and happy. With eyes closed, we lay on the beach breathing in the salty air. In the distance, we hear a flamenco guitarist playing alongside the sound of the crashing waves. I come up with a new mantra: “Monta las olas” (Ride the waves).
We are able to take advantage of the Menu Del Dia served from 1 – 4 p.m., rather than waiting for dinner, which doesn’t start until 8 p.m. For anywhere from €12€ – €19. it includes three courses, bread, water and a half bottle of wine, per person (usually you are charged for bread and water). My favorite is Fabada, a stew made of beans, Spanish sausage, potatoes and kale. Michael loves the Bacalao Viscaina, salted codfish stew cooked in tomatoes. While we pass so many homes with gardens each day, vegetables are rarely seen on menus, so we usually order a Salada Mixta, a big salad served with tuna.
One of the more unique restaurants we dine in is called Toro. It’s an upscale Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurant. For €14 you can choose from 100 small plates. You check off your choices on a form and hand it to the waiter, with one caveat: you will be charged €3f for every plate that you don’t finish!
Michael has been wearing his boots a portion of each day and the insoles he bought have really helped. He says he’s ready to go again! On our last night, I make a toast: “Para sus ampollas!” (to your blisters!). If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have gotten to know beautiful Gijón.
Sept. 23: Aviles – 18 miles
The long walk out of Gijón reminds me what a large city it really is. The route through an industrial area is is anything but scenic. The sounds of the pebbles crunching under our shoes and the cars on the nearby expressway have a certain rhythm that becomes the background to my thoughts.
The dilapidated stone buildings on the farm road we’re walking on don’t look inhabited, until I notice their TV antennas and electricity connections. In the middle of nowhere, we come upon a basket of broken tiles and markers The mountain of tiles has been created by Pilgrims, who have left a tribute to someone they are thinking of/praying for; very touching.
Luckily, there’s a wide shoulder on the road we’re walking on and it finally leads us into town. It’s is so old and unattractive, until we turn the corner. The plaza is a registered historic district and the best preserved in the region. It looks like a movie set!
The Hotel 40 Nudos is older and quite plain, with very clean rooms. It becomes one of our favorites when they serve us complimentary tapas with our wine- a treat for hungry pilgrims counting the minutes until 8 p.m.
We dine at a pulperia and choose to have our octopus grilled, rather than boiled- it’s delicious! In the province of Galicia, the octopus is revered. Everything stops in order to celebrate everything octopus at their annual Pulperia Festival. We order a “jarra” (pitcher) of Galician wine served from a tap and realize we better forgo our usual toast and use two hands to pick up our bowls/glasses.