To pilgrims and hospitaleros,
To my companions,
But above all,
As a kind of a moral compensation,
I dedicate this story
To a friend of mine, who got robbed (by me) in Grandas de Salime.
This story (as many other stories these days) started in the World Wide Web: from a few lines of a stranger’s blog. I don’t know what exactly put that spell on me back then, but the very idea of walking an ancient pilgrim route in Northern Spain got deep into my soul. A year later, three of my good Russian friends and I embarked on a pilgrimage of our own.
Step by step, mile after mile, even our names soaked in the vivid country surrounding us: for those 14 days we became Pedro, Alejandro, Elena and Maria.
5th of April, 2013. Moscow — Oviedo.
It’s 6:00 AM after a sleepless night, Moscow-Barcelona flight. I am struck by a sudden discovery: the Spanish are amazingly beautiful. Raven black hair and pleasantly crooked noses: graphic, dark, exotic, masculine beauty. Never before, had I been so shamelessly feasting my eyes on stewards and stewardesses.
I am not afraid of flying. Taking off is one of my favorite sensations. Another one is the moment when the airplane below you drops down while everything inside you jumps up in anxious anticipation. I want to see the sunset — I am sitting by the window, and the view is breathtaking! — but as our plane gains altitude, I feel like I can’t fight sleep any longer.
My first vivid visions of Spain, glimpsed through the ALSA bus window: neat houses with tiled roofs, scattered on the green carpet of grass; thick brambles along the roadside and forests of tall, strange trees with slender, smooth trunks. I haven’t seen so many eucalyptuses at once in all my life.
We leave the bus at the bus station in Oviedo. It starts raining immediately. Brushing the raindrops off the screen, I am trying to determine the direction with my GPS: our first mission is to find the Cathedral and get our pilgrim passports — without these we won’t be let in the albergue — a pilgrim hostel — for the night. I am starving and feel like I could sleep for the whole day, but that does not stop me from admiring the city. I liked Oviedo from the first sight. Ancient houses, ancient pavements — and the newer ones don’t disagree with them. In the town center, there is a green park with birds and fountains, neat enough not to seem too cared for, wild enough to be cosy. We wander around for a some time and finally go out to the square before the San Salvador Cathedral.
It’s dark and cool inside; candles are burning, smell of incense is in the air. Pedro and Alejandro are not too interested in cathedrals: they get the papers and go out to talk and smoke. I stay inside for a little while: put my pack down and sit down on a polished wooden bench, trying to calm down my sleepy swarm of thoughts and grasp this moment in full.
Our albergue is a little two-storey yellow house in Calle Adolfo Posada. We knock on the door; it is opened by a gray-haired Spanish man who hardly speaks any English at all. As we struggle to fill in our credentials (all the instructions are in Spanish as well), we half expect to meet an unsurpassable language barrier on our way to dinner, but are lucky enough to run into a Spanish-speaking man from Germany who is staying in the same albergue. He has already finished his pilgrimage and is coming back to Bilbao. He immediately takes patronage over us: today he is our free translator and guide.
Cafes in Oviedo wake up from their long and dreamy siesta only around 8-9 PM. By that time, town’s folk finish their work, get home, take a shower or a nap and meet their friends over a merry dinner. Our guide tells us that there is a whole “Cider street” and a “Wine street” in Oviedo. We’ve heard lots about the wonders of local cider so we pick a small restaurant in the first one.
The moment we walk through the door, the sour smell of fermented apples hits me in the nose. Having studied the menu, we all order a mysterious “cider special” dish for 12 euro. The scene that follows is no surprise for the German guy, but all three of us Russians — mouth open wide — watch the Asturian way of serving cider. Poker-faced, the waiter holds the bottle high up in the air, in an outstretched hand, while holding tilted glass at the height of his hip. Thin trickle of cider drops down and hits the glass, becoming enriched with hundreds of tiniest air bubbles. This kind of aeration doesn’t last long: one should drink his cider in one go.
While we enjoy the view, our cider specials appear before us. There’s a Russian expression “morskie gady”, formally meaning octopuses and such, literally meaning “ugly things who live under the sea”. This could never feel more literal than when we faced our dinner. Just imagine that you are brought a grand plate of things you don’t even know the names of… And a pair of tongs like those used for chopping nuts. By the time the meal is over, our table looks as if a seafood factory have blown up nearby.
Utterly happy and horribly full, we head back to the albergue.