Thursday, October 22, 2009

Surprises Along the Camino

Pilgrim trekking is a pastime with more room for unpleasant surprises than the opposite. Such as waking up this morning covered with bites from bedbugs in the prestigious Hotel Paris. I guess it's hard to control the little beasts when many peregrinos stay in albergues – notorious for such infestations – for several nights, then rent a hotel room to wash laundry and themselves.
But then things got unexpectedly better. The weather, from several sources, was supposed to start out poorly and deteriorate to a cold rain. It was instead a bright sunny day, at least while walking. Second, the hotel for the night in Hospital de Órbigo decided it was closed for the season, but promised to honor our reservations by leaving a key with a neighbor. That boded badly for heat and hot water, which tend not to be turned on until eight o’clock even in “open” hotels. But the rooms in the Hotel Don Suero de Quiñones turned out to be not only warm but wildly more spacious than the slope-ceiling broom closet where I suffered last night in Leon.
The picture, taken from my hotel room, shows the 13th Century Puente de Órbigo, over the river of the same name, and the edge of the jousting field where the namesake of the hotel broke 300 lances in an extended, take-on-all-comers jousting match in 1434. The story is (what else is new?) confused, but it seems that Don Suero, scorned by a Lady (initial caps indicate chivalric terms of art), undertook to wear an iron collar to show he was nevertheless bound to her. When that failed to change her mind, and the collar proved a pain, he sought to be rid of it. But having taken a Vow, he couldn’t just change his mind, but needed a Dispensation. So Don Suero undertook to take on all Knights crossing the puente. This he did until he had broken the 300 lances required for his dispensation, whereupon he removed the collar and rode off to Santiago, where he deposited a golden bracelet at the cathedral as token of his release from the prison of love.
The final pleasant surprise of the day was walking uncertainly into an unpromising restaurante in search of lunch to find a large, skylighted courtyard with art noveau wood-carved windows and a number of locals getting the weekend off to an early start. Great meal. The lesson there is that, as in all of Spain, don’t judge by the street façade. The most barren outside may be an oasis inside.