Ponferrada is but 6 kilometers away from Molinaseca. I imagine I could have pushed onto this small city yesterday, but when you set a goal – Molinaseca – and the effort took most of what you’ve got stored up, you relax in the accomplishment of the goal.
As it worked out, for my feet, I found Ponferrada so pleasing that I decided to stay the night at a local hostal; La Virgin de Encina. It is located directly opposite the amazingly large, medieval castle, “Castillo de los Templarios, a Templar castle which covers approximately 16,000 square meters. In 1178, Ferdinand II of Leon donated the city to the Templar order for protecting the pilgrims on the Way of St. James who passed through El Bierzo on their road to Santiago de Compostela.” WIKI
Ponferrada is a mix of ancient and modern, with the modern being a dirty disguise for human efforts, while the ancient is clearly the superior of the two architectures. Now, I say this not to denigrate Ponferrada, for in truth I can say the same of Burgos, Leon, and Astorga; the other, larger cities along the Camino de Santiago. Actually, this is pretty much how all the larger towns/cities shake out here in northern Spain. The modern is poorly designed, built, and maintained. While the ancient-city has endured, the rust on the modern barrios is clearly evident. Unfortunately for the peregrinos, we have to walk through the relative waste of human pride in order to find the absolute, humble grandeur of God’ gifts to mankind. This is the inevitable result of a secular society being responsible for the care and welfare of humanity.
Please don’t take this as a reason not to visit Ponferrada. In truth, I would suggest to anyone to set up a travel itinerary whereby one proceeds at their own pace from town to town, city to city across northern Spain. Reservations are not necessary unless one wants to reside in luxury in the better hotels, but then why come to northern Spain to begin with if all you want is an air-conditioned room and a jaded view of the true character of northern Spain. Stay home and watch the Discovery Channel; it’s cheaper, and the cold beer is in the refrigerator.
It’s in the larger towns/cities where one finds the better food too. I ate at a pizzeria last night, and found the fried squid to be deliciously light, and the pizza, Quattro Stagioni – cured ham, mushrooms, black olives, and anchovies – to be excellent. The crust was as thin as paper, the mozzarella creamy. I drizzled extra-virgin olive oil all over the pizza and went to town on it. Hey! After walking it out for a few days between civilizations, I deserve some pleasures.
So I left Ponferrada this morning by 6:45am. What occupied my vision for some time were the small towns that daisy-linked themselves, like suburbs, for some kilometers beyond Ponferrada. These small towns were marked by their clear dependence upon the “garden” farmers who lined the roadsides, and raised a wide variety of crops. There was this constant intermingling between town structure and the carefully-tended gardens. Once I got beyond these towns, the views opened up to a grander scale; predominated by cherry groves and vineyards. Much of the cherries had just been picked, but I saw frequent evidence of pickers out in the groves and up on ladders.
This very rural landscape continued until I reached Cacabellos, and from this town on to Villafranca del Bierzo I began to notice a distinct change in the culture and the architecture. Yes, there are still the ancient-city portions of the towns I passed through, but even more so, it appeared that this region of northern Spain is currently going through some form of cultural growth, investment, and care of the existing towns; a sophistication of things evident. The modern efforts here are unquestionably more recent, and still in good working order. As a designer I can even venture my opinion in saying that the architectural decision-making has, for the most part, been more careful in its expression, and more significant in its recognition by those who fairly judge architecture these days. Though Villafranca del Bierzo is quite ancient in its nature, I will note the Audi dealer, and the Porsche Cayenne that pulled up in front of the busy, outdoor café I had my lunch at. And this is all just before we pilgrims venture from this town and up and into the world of Galicia, with its unique, ethnic identity that permeates all things Galician. I am walking truly through a contrast of worlds that finds themselves far apart.
Enjoy the photos. I enjoyed taking them.
Tomorrow is the “big day” for pilgrims (peregrinos). We engage a dramatic ascent to O’Cebreiro, and the Galician region of Spain; that region whose capital city is Santiago de Compostela. I’ll need my rest tonight.
Love and God Bless – Reese