Saturday, October 10, 2009

Leaving La Rioja

La Rioja is unfortunately the smallest province of Spain, and Castille y Leon the biggest (you remember Ferdinand and Isabelle, and the unification of the two kingdoms? I think that’s the Castille and Leon bit, but I’m working offline without Google to make me look smart). So we left La Rioja’s vineyards and olive groves this morning, to enter the wheatfields of Castille y Leon, aka “the breadbasket of Spain.” It’s an understatement to say that wheatfields are no substitute for grapes for a passing pilgrim (“peregrino pasante,” remember? it’ll be on the test). To a person, every pilgrim who’s tried chewing on a hay straw has gone back to those succulent grape bunches of La Rioja, or would if she could.
If wheat and huge teetering stacks of hay bales are the chief products of Castille y Leon, large flat fields are the landscape. They do have the advantage of allowing pilgrims to create their own shortcuts – such as that shown in the second picture, try that across a vineyard. But it’s a minimalist landscape, filled with fields of yellow-brown hay stubble (at this time of year) and fields tilled for the next planting season, studded with small villages with hues barely different from the hay-stubble and tilled earth (and, more importantly, no bars with espresso machines, I just don’t know why those also disappeared when we left La Rioja). Alas, after only a few brief miles of La Rioja, we can look forward to 5000 miles, well, actually 250 miles or so of the wheatfields in coming days.
My reward for doing my daily 15 miles before lunch was to allow me to eat myself into a stupor off Picis Restaurante’s menu del casa, served only on Sabado and Domingo. For sixteen euros, I had another variation on beans, this time Alubias de San Miguel (basically kidney beans with potatoes and bacon), chuletas de cordero (lamb chops), and yoghurt with honey. OK, we had a language problem with the desert and I ended up with the vanilla ice cream with chocolate, but I can accept reasonable alternatives.