Going from this…
…sometimes in the space of half a day, certainly comes as a bit of a culture shock, although it’s also becoming increasingly clear that such stark contrasts are a part and parcel of El Camino del Norte.
But there are also some more subtle indications that you are moving between different territories.
Take today’s header photo.
Trying to find my way out of Gijon this morning I became increasingly frustrated because although I was very sure of the way out of the city, I could find no sign whatsoever of those little yellow arrows daubed on every surface imaginable that I’ve have come to rely on as the pretty much the sole means of guiding me across Northern Spain.
When I finally asked a local for directions, he had a little laugh to himself and told me to look down at my feet, which is when I finally noticed the new signage on the pavement – a rather more polished version of the Santiago Way scallop shells I’ve become familiar with in the countryside.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, these shell symbols hark back to distant days when, as a matter of course, peregrinos would carry on walking past Santiagio to Cape Finisterre, a peninsula on the coast of Galicia, to collect a scallop shell as a memento and proof of the extent of their journey. You’ll often see people today walking The Way with shells strapped to their rucksacks.
And today’s brass shells on the pavement guided me very efficiently for a couple of kilometres out of town, until what seemed like the very moment I hit the city outskirts, when I was returned to familiar directional territory.
I still find it hilarious that these signs to Santiago crop up utterly randomly (remember the spray-painted one in the cornfield at Guemes?), bearing no relevance to the distance yet to travel (I’m still the best part of 200 miles away from Santiago), and pointing you in a completely arbitrary direction. Minutes after following this sign I found myself looking at this:
Thankfully, the urban stretch gave way quite quickly to prettier Asturian landscape, and with a gentle breeze to accompany today’s 22.km walk across almost completely flat terrain to Aviles, I had every reason to believe that I was in for a bit of light relief from the exertions of the past couple of days.
I’ll buy anyone a drink when I get back who can spot the right way to go within 30 seconds of looking at this:
But as this completely un-staged photograph below might suggest (good old time-delay), I’m much happier devolving responsibility to a third party.
But sometimes, as the last stretch of today’s walk proved, poor signage can be misleading in an altogether more satisfactory way.
You’ve got to admit that the frontage of this bar that I found on the roadside with another 8km to walk into Aviles through some serious industrial surroundings doesn’t look too promising:
But as soon as I walked in and ordered a pint of beer, which was served in a proper pint jug – something I’ve rarely seen round here and which was iced to boot – I was almost force fed plate after plate of tapas: tuna with diced potatoes tossed in mayonnaise, slithers of chorizo and ham on slices of fresh baguette, mussels garnished with diced onion and peppers, melon wrapped in wafer thin Iberian jamon…
…All completely free (well, apart from the beer).
I know free bar snacks aren’t unheard of in the UK, but you’ve got to admit that a few roast taters chopped into bite-sized chunks in your local on a Sunday afternoon don’t quite cut the mustard by comparison.
And that’s the spirit in which I’ve decided to make penance for my extravagant ways and get back to the good old Albergues:
It might not look like much, but it does start to make a lot more sense if I tell you that my bed for tonight, access to a washing machine (and the sun to properly dry my clothes in), and a four course meal off the pelegrino’s menu in a local restaurant, only cost me marginally more than the tip I paid to get stitched up by a waiter in a posh hotel.
I’ll tell you tomorrow whether I have decided to change my feckless ways for good.
Earplugs at the ready.