Holiday Images
The Way of Saint James - continued
The town's main square, the Plaza Mayor, and its town hall are also very attractive with the latter having a finely carved Coat of Arms. We have our lunch at the
Hotel Ciudad de Astorga, where we order tapas from a menu and share toasted bread with ham and tomato, plus portions of chips. All washed down with a jug of Sangria.
On the coach from Astorga to Vilalba, Bob advises us of the position regarding a possible bus drivers' strike that will mean we will lose our driver, David. If the strike goes ahead, our itinerary will be badly affected. We proceed westwards on the A6 motorway, passing north of Ponferrada and crossing the Monts de Leon mountains. Near Villafranca del Bierzo it briefly rains - shortly afterwards we cross from Castile and Leon into Galicia. The motorway is spectacular in parts with the two carriageways widely split both vertically and horizontally. Near Lugo, we make a 20-minute stop and have tonic water and a custard tart. Leaving here at 4pm, we soon turn north onto Road LU-541 and reach Vilalba at 4:15pm.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria in Astorga contains numerous works of art, including the large high altar by Gaspar Becerra, which is considered a masterpiece of the Spanish Renaissance. The altarpiece is octagonal in order to fit it into the shape of the apse. The Cathedral has a great feeling of lightness and elegance with its soaring columns and classical vaulting. The artwork includes a statue of Saint James as a pilgrim (right) in a chapel of the same name. After visiting the Cathedral's interesting museum, we explore the church's interior with the aid of an audio guide.
As well as being a significant location on El Camino (including a 'top shop' for pilgrims (left) and the Ruta de la Plata), Astorga is the European birthplace of chocolate, and in 1914 there were 49 manufacturers in the town, as commemorated by a large mural (left). We are able to buy some tasty examples.
Vilalba is located on a northern arm of the Way of Saint James. Here there is a fortified tower (left), a legacy of medieval Galicia. Today it forms part of the Parador where we will spend two nights. The fortified tower contains six bedrooms, but our group is in an adjacent stone built, modern building, where many of us find problems with door locks and air conditioning units.
There is not a lot to see in the town, but it does have the distinction of having given its name to a tree - a white maple - and there is a large specimen near the Parador (right).
We visit the nearby church of Santa Maria where the parishioners are working at the altar.
The main course at our evening meal consists of grilled chicken, but several are sent back as not properly cooked.
We now know that the bus strike means that the scheduled trip to Coruna has been cancelled. Instead, we will spend the day in Vilalba. To compensate, Titan have provided wine at dinner.
Tuesday, June 20th
There is a small market in Vilalba this morning, part of it near the Santa Maria church. After looking at this, John and Janet explore the town, whilst David and Jeanette look for a ladies' hairdresser. The hairdresser is eventually found and they provide a lengthy but excellent value service. We meet up for lunch, but finding that food will not be served in the Parador until 1:30pm, go to the Cristal bar in the main square. Here we have excellent (free) tapas with our drinks. In the afternoon, we have a very enjoyable walk along a section of El Camino near the town - meeting two British pilgrims on the way. The route takes us to a path that follows the peaceful River Ladra and the site of an old mill. We see a heron as we stroll along.
(above left): market stalls near to the Church of Santa Maria
(above centre): Jeanette outside an Albergue Turistico - hostel accommodation for pilgrims
(near right): on a section of El Camino near Vilalba
(far right): the distance to Santiago de Compostella is 118-kilometres