Camino Postcard 26: Astorga to Santa Catalina de Somoza

6.5.19
Today, we were unashamedly lazy – we did not leave the Hostal Coruña until after eleven o’clock in the morning. We were very comfortable in our hotel room and did not want to leave!

Such a late departure time would not have been possible in an albergue: there, pilgrims are required to leave by 8:30 or nine o’clock: the hospitaleros have to get the beds ready for the pilgrims who will be arriving later on. At a hotel, though, the rules are different, and we were happy to obey them.

After hauling ourselves out of bed, we trotted downstairs to the little hotel café for breakfast. I nearly left without paying but the vigilant hotelier was wise to my games. She probably knew that I had form for nonsense. I once left a pub in Primrose Hill without paying for my food – the barman had to chase me outside. In Siena, I left my wallet on the seat after paying and the waiter had to chase after me to let me know.

After paying up, we headed out of Astorga. The walk today was mostly along the roadside or within a close distance of it. Snow peaked mountains dominated the horizon ahead of us and it was another hot day.

At Murias de Rechivaldo the Camino path split. The left hand path turned away from the road, while the righthand path continued to follow it. I cannot remember at all which one we took. In my journal, I have noted that it was possibly today that Ellena met another dog – friendly, of course, because she knew it’s language and was a friend to it.

I say possibly because, of course, I wrote today’s diary entry a few days later and sometimes events shift around in one’s memory.

We arrived in Santa Catalina de Somoza whenever it was that we arrived – probably in the mid-afternoon given our late departure time from Astorga and its distance from the same (10 km).

After walking down a side street or two with high walls and bushes, past a church with a by now very familiar arched top, we stopped at an albergue for a beer and to decide where to stay the night. Why not here? Well, indeed, why not; so, we did. Here was the Albergue El Caminante. It was a lovely albergue with the café and dining area and dormitories being set around a central courtyard, which had a flower filled fountain at its centre (Photo above). We decided to stay at the El Caminante mainly because we were there. I imagine it’s prices were not too different to the albergue up the road as well. At least, I hope so.

We checked in. Carolin went to sleep. Ellena and I returned to our table. Not long later, we heard an interesting chattering sound. At first, we couldn’t locate its source but before long the owner was revealed to be two storks who had taken up residence on top of the church opposite the albergue. It was lovely listening to them speak to one another.

It was a windy afternoon and while we sat at our table – I used the time to drink beer and write notes for my Nicola Fixx book – the breeze blew over the parasol on someone’s table, which was diverting for all concerned: especially the people at the affected table.

Pals

At six o’clock in the evening, we ate the pilgrim’s meal in the dining room. We were rather blessed as other people who turned up to eat not long after us were turned away until seven o’clock. Like most pilgrim meals, this one was much of a muchness. The best that can be said about it is that it was food to keep you going rather than to admire, which, for a pilgrim, is really about as much as he can – or probably should – ask for.

To round the day off: I hung my clothes up to dry in the back yard on a line next to a very rustic looking rear exit from the albergue. I met the albergue cat and unsuccessfully tried to photograph him. A helicopter – or aeroplane? – flew overhead. That was notable because it was very rare to see or hear either on the Camino. Before we arrived in Santiago (via the airport) the only other occasion I remember seeing anything other than a bird flying above us was a small plane flying across some fields of the meseta.

Our dorm was tightly packed with bunks so there wasn’t much room for our backpacks. I put mine against the wall and hoped for the best (which happened; it didn’t get in anyone’s way). The place was packed with pilgrims so I had to wait outside the bathroom to make sure I got to the one shower before anyone else. That evening, we relaxed, and then rested. It was good.

28th June 1901: Rome Beckons

At daybreak, Belloc reached Montefiascone. The path to Rome did not run through the city, however, so he ignored it.

Next, he came to Viterbo. The road didn’t go through this city, either, but after a brief debate with himself, Belloc decided to enter it. Viterbo was a famous place, after all; and on a more practical level, he needed ‘wine and food for the later day in the mountain’ (Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.427).

Viterbo was teeming with life but Belloc stayed only long enough to buy his provisions. He may have been a man who loved – needed – companionship but right now the call of Rome was stronger on his soul.

As the morning wore on, the heat increased but thankfully remained below the furnace-like levels of ‘the oven of the Garfagnana or in the deserts of Siena’ (The Path to Rome, p.429). Indeed, the air was so cool in the horse chestnut forest that Belloc walked through that it reminded him of home.

Upon leaving the forest, Belloc came to a ‘a bare heath’ (The Path to Rome, p.430). He started to sing. Two carabinieri passed him; they also were singing. The two parties saluted each other, friends in song.

Belloc stopped to eat at a house. A woman served him while an old man sitting nearby refused to speak to him. Belloc did not hold this unfriendliness against the man.

… I should dearly have liked to have talked to him in Lingua Franca, and to have heard him on the story of his mountain: where it was haunted, by what, and on which nights it was dangerous to be abroad.

The Path to Rome, p.430

In was still morning when Belloc arrived at the Campagna where – am I correct in saying this? – the armies of Rome once trained. He looked into the distance for city itself, the dome of St. Peter’s, but the Sabinian hills blocked his view. Something which he did see was Soracte.

… Soracte, of which I had read as a boy. It stood up like an acropolis, but it was a citadel for no city. It stood alone, like that soul which once haunted its recesses and prophesied the conquering advent of the northern kings.

The Path to Rome, p.433

Soracte, which played such a big part in the life of another famous English travel writer, perhaps the greatest, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

The Campagna seemed too small to be the place where the destinies of the world were worked out. Belloc could barely fathom this. He ate his food and drank his wine and did so in a reverie as he tried to make sense of what he had seen.

After eating, Belloc turned off the road and fell asleep. When he woke up, it was evening. He started walking and entered Ronciglione where he ate once more. He spoke to a lot of people – but about Rome.

Belloc kept walking. He passed Sette Vene – where he had intended to stop for the night. Nothing mattered now except Rome. Eventually, though, he did stop. And now, he stayed at an inn. Belloc flit ghost like between the tables before settling down at the end of one where he ate a good meal, and drank good wine. Belloc took strength from the atmosphere of the place.

Unfortunately, there was no room at this inn, either; the inn keeper kindly showed Belloc his granary. It would do for the last night of the pilgrimage to Rome.

25th June 1901: To Cut a Story By Telling a Story

Belloc neither started in Lucca nor finished In Siena today

Belloc walked through the night. He ‘saw nothing’ and refuses to tell us what he was thinking, even though

… my interior thoughts alone would have afforded matter for this part of the book]; but of these if you have not had enough in near six hundred miles of travel, you are a stouter fellow than I took you for.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome, p.389

As the sun rose, Belloc took his rest ‘under a tree of a kind I had never seen’ (The Path to Rome, p.390). He slept well and, as he thought, long but actually woke after just one hour. It sounds like Belloc had something of a power nap.

It was in a trattoria that Belloc found out the time (his watch had stopped working), and while there he counted his money – three francs and a few centimes. Not much, but money was waiting for him at the post office in Siena. Did he have enough to get there? Yes, if he took the train… And so, he did.

From the way he writes it doesn’t look like Belloc seriously considered walking. According to Google Maps, doing so would have taken between 21-23 hours – but that’s if he had started from Lucca. By the time he reached the trattoria, Belloc had walked all night. We don’t know how many miles he had done, but let’s say it was around 12 and he was now in or near Castelfranco di Sotto. Depending on the route, Siena would have been between 52-59 miles ahead. That would have taken Belloc two long days or three shorter ones to accomplish.

He could have walked that. But only if he had reigned in his spending. It was wise, therefore, of him to take the train, for as we saw between Como and Milan, reigning in his spending was not one of Belloc’s strong points.

In Siena, Belloc collected his money, heard Mass and left. He had spent less than an hour there,

“After all, my business is not with cities, and already I have seen far off the great hill whence one can see far off the hills that overhang Rome.”

The Path to Rome, p.394

Belloc now skips over the next 20 -30 miles of his journey by telling an amusing story about human attitudes to bureaucracy, authority, and the long arm of the law. He justifies not telling us about his journey by saying that it was made in the dark ‘the description of which would have plagued you worse than a swarm of hornets’ (The Path to Rome, p.400)

And that is the end of today’s entry. As you can see from the above quotation, we have reached the 400th page (for the sticklers among you, today’s entry actually ends on p.401). Only 48 to go. Will Belloc find friendship further on? More to the point, will he tell us if he does?