What a couple of final days this has been. Yesterday the route into Medina de Rioseca was very straightforward including the first road walking of any significance. That continued today for a few km but the roads were quiet and a path was available adjacent to the road.
In Medina de Rioseca we visited the most stunning Church of Santiago I have ever seen. Now a national monument it bears witness to the old devotion to St James on this route.
From a temperate start the afternoon got hotter and in the town centre the thermometer clocked 34 degrees. We visited the Oficina de Turismo to collect information for the new guide and the lady there was very friendly.
The restaurants kept traditional Spanish hours and the earliest opening we could find was 9pm. The Menu was very ordinary but for 3 courses including wine and bread at 11 euros who could complain? But the indifferent food and service was the opposite of a couple of days before when we headed towards the noise in a little pueblo to find it came from the one room bar/social centre. It was full of older men chatting and playing cards. Two women behind the bar were obviously in charge.
We ordered a couple of ice cold cokes and glasses of water. "Do you have anything to eat?" We enquired. Starving. "Tenemos peregrinos'' (we have pilgrims) we heard an older man announce in a stage whisper.
The woman behind the bar asked, "what would you like to eat? We don't do food here?". "We'll have whatever you can do.". We replied.
"We have to wait for the bread." She said solemnly. We waited.
A boy emerged through the curtain which covered the doorway with sticks of bread in a sack. Within 10 mins we were presented with the softest, freshly baked bread filled with an omelette. I know hunger can determine these things but this was one of the best things I have ever tasted.
After the pedestrian fare in the restaurant we were asleep by 10.15! 9 hours later we rose to breakfast at 8am. The thermometer read 14 degrees. Cool.
Breakfast was a very quick coffee, orange juice and piece of cake and soon we were on the road.
The lady in the Tourist Office had given us a little map which indicated two routes out of town. Proudly she had advised that we should take the new route which follows the canal. It was slightly longer, but she said it was worth it.
This turned out to be an understatement. We turned to the canal and the view was beautiful. We could smell the cool of the morning as a breeze rippled the water. Birds sang in the trees which shaded the path. We strolled, carefree for 10 km beside the water. What a start to the day.
Along the way we met the young pilgrim from Madrid again. Pablo is 27 and was walking this route "because I live in Madrid". His rucksack was heavy and he was walking in his regular trainers and socks. "But I only have one blister", he reported in broken English. We had seen him before over the days and lost sight of him frequently. "That's because I take the siesta in the shade every afternoon before walking to the destination". He explained. He was finding this route quite tough with its longer stages and lack of drinking fountains but he was enjoying the solitude. We discussed the dangers of walking alone on these long etapas and he said that he texted home every morning when he set off and every night when he arrived. A sensible measure.
We left Pablo to sleep under a tree in the afternoon and pushed forward into town. It was 34 degrees.
After showering and beering we went for a stroll.
We found the church door open and we followed the sound of baroque organ music inside. The church is a huge and magnificent edifice and there was an organist rehearsing for an upcoming concert. Alas the music stopped when the Mass began at 8pm and we heard the organist leave.
The priest didn't mess around and he gave the final blessing 17 minutes after saying the opening prayer! He looked a forbidding character but we went to the Sacristy for the sello as usual. "Pilgrims!" "From Scotland!" He positively glowed with welcome. "Musicians!" he declared half way through the conversation. He shouted a few instructions and soon we were shown to the organ loft. There was a visiting group of young people from Burgos who followed us up the stairs. One or two were musicians and soon one after the other we were playing our party pieces.
We thanked the priest profusely as he handed back our stamped credenciales. He had turned out to be the opposite of my first impression.
A little later the same priest arrived in the bar with a few worthies. He beamed across at us and then continued on his way.
A little later we called for the bill. "The priest has paid" said the barman.
I'm not often taken completely by surprise these days but a priest paying the bill for a couple of strangers was memorable.
It was a fitting end to this stage of our trip exploring the route from Madrid. Later today we visit Rebekah in Moratinos.