Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Sunday, June 27, 2004 Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Slept in until 8 and then had a lovely breakfast at the hotel before leaving at 10 am. Skies are clear and no rain predicted for the next several days in the north of Spain. By noon it was about ninety degrees. The drive north to our next Parador Hotel in Santo Domingo de la Calzada took about three hours. We crossed a high mountain range and on the north side found ourselves in “Monument Valley”. Huge stone plateaus rising out of the pine forests like castles created by God. Soon we were in the Rioja Region famous for its superb wines. These vineyards were upright as opposed to the southern vineyards where the grapes laid on the ground.

Our new hotel is located directly across from the Cathedral; it was a former hospital for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in the fifteenth century. The bell tower is very close to our window. It rings on the hour twenty-four hours a day; should make an interesting night. The church is the resting place of St. Domingo. Also inside is a cage visible from the interior of the church that holds a rooster and a hen…yes, they are alive; has to do with an old story about St. Domingo.

The tale is about a young man who arrived as a pilgrim with his parents. A girl at the inn where they stayed fell in love with the youth, but he rebuffed her. She then hid some silver in his things and accused him of stealing. Under the law the punishment for stealing is death by hanging. St. Domingo saved his life by supporting his feet. When the Mayor of the city heard he was alive, he said scornfully that he was as alive as the roasted cock and hen he was about to eat. At that very moment the cock and hen leaped from the plate and began to crow. Since then, a live cock and hen, always white, are kept throughout the year in the church in a special niche built just for them. Yepp…we saw them both!

We explored the town and wandered through the magnificent hotel. During our walk we found about fifty storks nesting on the top of one old building. Ate an early dinner and watched the people in the plaza in front of the hotel from our room. (One of the things that we’d notice during our walk all afternoon were posters in the store windows. We finally looked at them carefully and realized they were notices of funeral services for two young men; one was 20 and the other 27.) Didn’t think too much more about it until suddenly we realized that the crowd in our plaza was really growing and then we saw the funeral hearse parked outside the church door. Soon the people started coming out of the church, there had to be nearly one thousand people attending the services for one of the boys.

Now we’re watching the Czech and Denmark Soccer Game…as we seem to do every night, but it keeps us entertained. The commentator is German, but one doesn’t need the running dialog to understand what is happening! We consider Portugal as our home team as our tour director was Portuguese.

Monday, June 28th: Villafranca Del Berizo

Woke up about every hour on the hour with the bells but managed to go back to sleep each time. But, I do have Jim’s cold this morning. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before starting out; overcast weather and actually had some very light sprinkles early in the morning but by 11 am the sun was shinning. We watched pilgrims leaving from St. Dominic de la Calzada by foot, bicycle and two with donkeys; all heading towards Santiago de Compostela.. Some had rather heavy backpacks and others only day packs. Some of the bike riders seem to have what we call a “sag wagon” with their gear. They store their bicycles inside the vans during the night.

We spent the day driving on the actual trail as much as possible. We passed hundreds of pilgrims on the road. Probably half of them were on bicycles. The pilgrims vary in age, some young people but mostly middle-aged men with a sprinkling of women. After three hours we decided to get onto the freeway and get to our destination of Villafranca Del Berizo; a small town in the mountains. The Parador here is a former country villa, very nice but nothing fancy. But it is located on the edge of the village and is QUIET.

After checking in we walked to the old part of town to see the castle and old churches. Also checked out the local Hostel where many of the pilgrims will spend the night. Outside we were able to pick up a shell on a string. That is the symbol of the pilgrim and is used to drink water with. They all have them tied to their backpacks. I told Jim that he’d definitely earned his shell with driving the trail today. It was tough work finding the road as it meandered across the mountains twisting in and out of the many villages. Most of the villages are a result of the support system that has developed over the centuries for the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Much different from our drive last Friday when we really had to look to find a village or town. Most of these villages are only shells of what they were in the middle ages.

On the road today we stopped in one of the towns and drove through its’ many streets. With the metal shutters down on most buildings it looks very deserted. But, we know that life happens within the walls. They love their shade. One interesting thing is that all of the churches and religious statutes face the west towards Santiago de Compostela. If you’re not familiar with this church; it’s the church of St. James the Greater(one of twelve apostles) brother of John. His body (without the head) is in this church. Santiago is Spanish for St. James. In the middle ages the church granted plenary indulgences (forgave their sins) for people who made a pilgrimage to this church. There are also many miracles connected to this church. Lots of history is connected with Santiago de Compostela. Here in Villafranca we had an opportunity to visit with a group of pilgrims that had just finished for the day. They were at the hostel we visited. Hearing English we asked where they were from. A small group of five on bicycles with more still on the trail; they were from the San Diego area of California. They were carrying their gear on their bikes and staying in Hostels or camping along the trail. We asked where they started and how long they’d been on the trail. They started in France and had been traveling for ten days. They were using walkie talkies to keep in touch with each other on the trail. They looked tired, hot and dirty. I don’t think finding the local historical places was high on their agenda for the evening!

No comments: