Saturday, June 4, 2011

Villafranca del Bierzo

The walk from Ponferrada to Villafranca was quite enjoyable, although much longer than the quick stroll we were treated to the day before. After the nice rest we enjoyed in the bustling city of Ponferrada, where we enjoyed churros con chocolate (amazing!) and a fascinating tour of the castle, we were refreshed the next morning and ready for a hike through the vinyards of the Bierzo region. It was interesting to see the humble beginnings of the vino tinto that we so often enjoy with our menus del dia!

I walked with Gabrielle and Nadege for a long stretch towards Villafranca, and we stopped several times along the way to take in the fantastic views of the Bierzo landscape. We even passed an arrow formed with cherries on the road pointing us in the direction of our destination. Seems like a waste of the deliciously in-season snack! A bit later, over an energizing lunch of sandwiches and granola bars, we discussed our plans upon arrival at the hostel, most of which included a shower and siesta after a long hot day. I walked by myself for a bit afterwards before meeting up with Sarah, Vinny, Ada, Andy, Xavier, and Helena, and we all shared stories and laughter along the final stretch into Villafranca.

Finally, the Iglesia del Santiago came into view and we knew we had finally reached the town. This 12th century Romanesque church is home to the `Puerta del Perdon´, which is known along the Camino as the door at which pilgrims who become ill along the route and cannot continue may recieve the same absolution as they would in Santiago. This church, which appears more like a fortress with its thick stone walls and small, highly-situated windows, was founded by the bishop of Astorga in 1186. Inside, there is a small Baroque chapel decorated by various holy images, and upon seeing it in person I was awestruck by its beauty. We spent a few peaceful minutes in the church later in the afternoon, which gave me time to think about how grateful I am to have made it this far, and to have the opportunity to travel through beautiful medieval Spain where thousands of other pilgrims have walked for centuries past.

We also saw the Iglesia de San Francisco, which sits atop a somewhat threatening set of stairs, especially after a long day of hiking. This church, founded in 1214 by St. Francis himself on his own pilgrimage to Santiago, has a famously intricate ceiling decorated in the style of Mudejar, which involves complicated tiling patterns and elaborate brickwork. Unfortunately the church was closed so we couldn´t take a look inside, but I imagine the level of detail on the ceiling makes it hard to concentrate in Mass!

Later, the group split up for a while to wander the town, and I enjoyed a late afternoon ¨snack¨ of not one, but two delicious Hawaiian pizzas with Sarah, Nick, and Helena at a quaint restaurant in the plaza. After the first, we couldn´t help but order another. Hey, when in Spain! Then, after a tour of the town as a group, we all went to the supermercado and picked up materials for a potluck dinner (I know, more food!) Outside, Sarah got involved in what appeared to be a cutthroat game of monkey-in-the-middle with some children from the town, and finally we had to break it up so we could settle down for dinner in the town square. Our meal included vino, bread, chorizo, and LOTS of cheese. Yum! After dinner, we laughed over the nightly game of mafia before strolling back to our hostel to rest up for the grueling climb to O´Cebreiro the following day. Peter will tell you all about that!

Buen camino!

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