In this leg of our journey we abandoned the busy Spanish highways for the gorgeous countryside, filled with verdant wildflowers, poplar groves (in which I found for myself a sturdy walking stick), and fields of hops and wheat. I wish I could describe it in greater and more poetic detail. The skies remained completely clear all day. Spirits ran high after we crested our first few hills. For most of the trip I walked with Kevin C, Kevin S, Katie B, Katie J, Emilee, and Elizabeth, and as all of us are avid Tolkien fans we passed most of our time cracking jokes about the many similarities between the Spanish countryside and the Shire. After we crested our first few hills we saw again the great snow-capped mountain range looming in the distance, which we also fit into our Lord of the Rings schema (its identity alternated between the Misty Mountains and Mount Doom). As the mountain grows ever closer I wonder if I'll be able to walk over or around it--I guess we'll find out in the next few days if I am successful!
One memory that stands out as particularly symbolic of the Camino came in the last couple of hours in our trip, when we were all starting to get a bit tired and sore. We were walking up a rather large hill that was blanketed in wheat. As I was grabbing a drink from my Nalgene, I slipped and spilled the rest of my water all over the ground. It was starting to get pretty hot, so I was a bit upset to be without any water at all--especially since Astorga was the next source of water and was a good two hours away. As we crested the hill, the land turned into a wide, flat plateau of wheat, and not far ahead we saw a booth plastered in little hearts. The booth, it turned out, was filled with water, juice, fruits, and other snacks that were completely free for pilgrims. It was run on donations by a Spanish man who was very talkative and friendly. I thought it rather impressive that he was able to maintain this stand miles from any town. I was extremely thankful for a bit of refreshment, and we added this episode to a growing list of tiny Camino miracles. Truly there is a very different way of doing things on the Camino, from which I think we can learn a lot.
After a long and grueling trek up Astorga´s steep streets, we finally made it to our hostel in the center of of the city, not two blocks away from its magnificent cathedral. I wish I wasn't so tired from walking, as Astorga has a very rich past and plenty of sites to visit. The town itself dates back to the first century BCE, when it was founded as a camp for the Tenth Roman Legion under Caesar Augustus. Walls from the Roman days still encircle the city center, though they were slightly modified in 1242. Archaeologists have discovered, amongst other things, the ruins of Roman baths, a temple to Augustus, the domus (home) of a wealthy family, two sets of baths, and sewers. The Catedral de Santa María, which dominates the city's skyline, has a long history itself. It was begun in 1444 but not completed until 1708, so it represents a variety of styles. The east end where construction began is distinctly Gothic, replete with Gothic arches and flying buttresses. As you move west, however, the cathedral's style changes until you arrive at an ornate and pink Baroque façade that clashes with the austere, gray east end. The interior also contains the remains of the original Romanesque church (built in the 11th century) and a Renaissance altarpiece, but unfortunately we were unable to go inside because it is Monday, and everything is closed on Mondays. This was the case for the Episcopal Palace designed by Antoni Gaudí, which was built in a neo-Gothic style (think Gothic columns and arches, but on a bishop's house instead of a church). I'm disappointed that we can't go inside, but it isn't the last cathedral we'll see.
All of us are terribly tired after our second day, but still excited to see what lies ahead. Tomorrow we journey again into the countryside and into the tiny village of Rabanal.