after a relaxing couple of days of pampering in gijon, i return to valdedios to begin walking again. this time, i have clear instructions on how to take care of my left knee. start using a walking stick to take pressure off my knee. apply heat in the morning, cold in the evenings. take anti-inflammatory pills twice a day with food. magnesium tablets. knee support. perhaps i am overdoing it, worrying about it too much, but i really don’t want to cause unnecessary damage…..
i spend the night at the (slightly spooky) albergue in valdedios situated in a monastery where, for quite some time, there have been no monks living. it is a ghost monastery. nobody is there to receive me, so i get my bed set up and go across the road to the bar, where there are five or six other pilgrims eating and drinking. we get into a conversation, and it occurs to me that i am excited to be walking again the following day. i have become addicted to using my body to get myself from here to there. i miss following the arrows, and the satisfaction of reaching my destination, sweaty, hungry and happy……two days in the city has dragged me away from the simplicity that i now feel has become a necessity.
the following day arrives and i eagerly step out into the early morning sunshine and begin. the first task today is to get up and over a mountain. as i move, i stop and look back every now and again, enjoying the light mist that is creeping up from the ground and burning off as the sun’s heat gains momentum. i work up quite a sweat as i walk upwards, initially grappling with the walking stick, which kind of feels like a strange third leg… it takes me a while to find a new rhythm with the stick, but once i get going i can see that it is going to help a lot. my knee really appreciates that extra support.
the walk that day takes me through little villages and shining green forests, where i half expect elves to gleefully come leaping out from behind trees…. along the way i converse with different people that i find on the path, mostly locals, all out enjoying the sunshine on this beautiful day. i make it into pola de siero, and, after devouring a massive bocadillo, i decide to give the albergue a miss and check into a cheap hotel so i can get a good night’s sleep. the town is a bit of a non-event, an everyday town with lots of people going about everyday business. i spend the afternoon/evening relaxing, reading, thinking……..
the following day, at breakfast, i run into another australian pilgrim (andy~from airlie beach) who i had last seen leaving santander. we end up walking together to oviedo, immersed in conversation practically the whole way. the walk passes by in a blur and before i know it, we are walking into oviedo following the arrows as well as the tower of the cathedral off in the distance, rising above the line of apartment buildings. situated on the original pilgrim’s route, it is often said that the cathedral in oviedo is the master, while the cathedral in santiago is the servant. consequently, visiting the cathedral in oviedo is a must for the pilgrim….
andy invites me to crash at his swanky hotel room in oviedo and i accept his most generous offer. this will give me the opportunity to do very un-pilgrimlike activities like take a bath, wash my hair, and give myself a pedicure. it also means that i can visit the cathedral and have a bit of a wander around the city…
oviedo is spain’s cleanest city. this is not just my opinion, the city actually won a national competition, and it is true ~unlike just about every other city in spain, you don’t see a single bit of garbage carelessly thrown on the street. parks are perfectly manicured. everywhere you walk there are life-size statues on the street. i also see a botero in one of the plazas that i wander through……the many fountains dotted around the city centre are all pumping bright blue water ~an homage to the local football team~ and the streets are pumping with life. everywhere i look there are people gathered, eating and drinking with gusto. andy and i visit calle gascona, a street lined with sidreria’s and restaurants ~a must for everyone who comes to oviedo. we choose a place and very soon a waiter is pouring out the sidra for us. lifting the bottle high in the air and keeping his eyes focused on a point in the distance, he pours the sidra from the bottle where it hits the side of the glass and fizzes. he pours a little in the bottom of the glass, hands it to me and waits for me to drink it all in one go before pouring a similar measure for andy. it is the crisp and natural taste of green apples with a merry and very enjoyable buzz that comes on slowly……to balance out the buzz, we eat croquetas de jamon with a sherry reduction (yum!), pastel the cabracho ~a seafood terrine (yum!yum!) and a portion of queso cabrales (yum!yum!yum!). like galicia, it is almost impossible to eat badly in asturias……..after stuffing ourselves and drinking way too much sidra, we (well, i) limp back to the hotel for some restorative sleep.
in one plaza we find a group of young musicians and dancers who are performing traditional music (featuring gaitas ~a type of bagpipe, large tambourines and drums) as well as dances from the region. we sit to listen and the very first tune that they play is one that i am very familiar with. it takes me back to an old cassette tape that my father would sometimes play at home when i was younger……i sit, listening to this music, awash with the sensation of being in a place where memories are hiding around every corner, waiting to spring out and take me back to forgotten times in the past……