Monthly Archives: May 2022

This pilgrim is home

This pilgrim is home early. After all, a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago who cannot walk is a fairly immobile oxymoron. It was a scramble to get out of rural Galicia and return to the Bay area. By and large, I don’t think much of wheel chair access for solo travelers after this experience. Air France at SFO did okay, but in Europe not so much.

I’m jet lagged and have started a minor medical mystery tour: although so far antibiotics aren’t doing much, I think basically the blisters are infected, and once the pus has been drained my foot will get better fast. I hope so.

They were always waiting © Harold Davis

What’s great is that the garden is here has lovely flowers to photograph, and Phyllis and my son Nicholas helped me with the mechanics of photographing this arrangement. Nicholas made the exposure sequence for me, because I physically couldn’t climb up to get in the right position.

Posted in Photography

Bad Pilgrim

So I guess I am a bad pilgrim. On account of my blisters, I am staying off my feet, as they advised me at the Pilgrim’s service at Queens Hospital in Ponferrada (as told here). This means taking a taxi from place to place, and staying off my feet is relative. The nurse told me I could start being a pilgrim again when it didn’t hurt to put weight on my foot. I think that means a day or two more. The dressing they put on in the hospital is very professional, and better than anything I will come up with on my own.

In the meantime, not walking means missing the point of the pilgrimage. Bad pilgrim Harold, bad, bad!

Astorga Cathedral © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

Blistered Feet

For days after the 33km march in the broiling sun out of Leon I had been nursing a big blister on the bottom pad of my left foot. It was painful to walk, and wasn’t getting any better. After each night, it was a little better, but by the end of a day trekking it was just as bad as it had been the previous day. After a long day on the trail, in Rabanal del Camino in the Cantabrian Mountains, I finally said that enough was enough. 

Camino © Harold Davis

Instead of walking, the next morning I took a taxi into Ponferrada, a reasonably-sized place and my next destination. Luis, the taxi driver, assessed the situation, and suggested I visit the nearby Queen’s hospital, where they have a free clinic for credentialed pilgrims.

This seemed like great advice, and I hobbled over to the emergency room. The pilgrim’s clinic didn’t open for a few hours, so I sat down to wait. Some ‘life experience credits” were earned for observing an emergency room in rural Spain. Mostly, I saw kindness, and babies being helped.

Eventually, I was called in, and the doctor interviewed me. His English was non-existent, and surely my Spanish is worse, but once I took off my boot, he got the picture, had me lie down, and called the nurse.

The nurse yanked the moleskin, told me it wasn’t infected, and gave my blister a proper dressing. There was some pain involved in this process. Then she told me to stay off it until it stopped hurting, probably two or three days. Easier said than done in the circumstances. Once it stopped hurting when I walked, I was good to go.

Camino and Heather © Harold Davis

There’s obviously a disconnect between walking in immense pain and some of the scenes of tranquil beauty along the Camino. I’m not sure what to say about this, except that part of the point of the pilgrimage is to endure privation. In olden times, in one example, notables humbled themselves and climbed to the sanctuary at Rocamdour on their bloody knees. 

How this applies to me I cannot really say, and it is frustrating to be here in Ponferrada a few blocks from a mammoth Templar castle, and not really to be able to explore it (as the nurse told me, if I want this to heal, I must stay off it).

Life is sometimes very strange—with ironies that are unanticipated!

Posted in Photography

Palace of Gaudí, Astorga

On the main trunk route of the Camino de Santiago, the Camino Frances, Astorga is a small city that sits on a hill. When Celtic culture dominated the area, there was an Astorga. The Greeks came here. An important Roman city, Christianity was adopted a bit earlier than in most of the empire. There’s a somewhat dubious myth that the knights of Astorga wanted to voyage to the holy lands with the purpose of bringing back the Virgin Mary to spend her retirement years in Astorga. Well fortified naturally, the junction of long-haul trail routes helped make Astorga important in Roman times, and more so with the advent of the Catholic church.

Gaudí’s Palace, Astorga © Harold Davis

I’m staying in a hotel on the main tradional square of Astorga. The square is surrounded by arcades. When it begins to get cool in the evening, the cafes open up, everyone comes out and the square bustles. A mechanical figure high above city hall strikes a clock, tolling the hours. Dinner starts about 8:30. It’s a different way of living.

I feel a bit like an alien dropped here, with the city (the hotel desk clerk told me this is really a town, not a city) doing things the way they’ve been done since before the dawn of recorded history. I’ve enjoyed a day off to explore Astorga; this will hopefully allow some blisters to heal up a bit before I resume walking tomorrow.

Gaudí’s Palace interior, Astorga © Harold Davis

A standout attraction in Astorga is Gaudí’s Palace. Antoni Gaudí was commissioned by the local bishop (who was a friend) to design the Episcopal Palace of Astorga. This is the only Gaudí building outside Catalonia. The style is neo-Gothic, with Gaudí experimenting with the Gothic idiom to make it his own in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

I enjoyed this building quite a bit, although they wouldn’t let me take my tripod inside. Gaudí’s Palace houses a museum with artifacts related to the Camino de Santiago, and was included in the original application to give the Camino its Unesco world heritage designation.

Gaudí’s Palace entrance, Astorga © Harold Davis

Posted in Spain

Dr Caligari’s House

The rooster crows at the break of day,

I have had my cafe au lait,

and I am on my way!

Hip, hip, hooray!

It’s true that I woke just before dawn to the crowing of a rooster, grabbed some coffee and toast, and headed out into the cool of the morning. You never know what you’ll find, and on this day I found (among other things) a twisted reflection of a house in a traffic mirror.

Dr Caligari’s House © Harold Davis

If you don’t recognize the Dr Caligari reference, click here.

Posted in Photography

Putting the Lion in Leon

Castilla y León is a semi-autonomous region in Spain, like Galicia or Catalonia. The city of León, spelled like my middle name “Leon” but with an accent aigu over the ‘o’, is the capital of the province of León that makes up the León half of Castilla y León. In any language, “Leon” or “León” means the animal, the lion. That’s my middle name, hear me roar, and folks around here like those checking my passport at hotels are very appreciative of  it. Harold Leon Davis. Anyhow…

The city of León is proud of its leonine status, as you can see in this beloved-by-children statue of a lion climbing out of a storm drain in León’s central square (below). And, if you need to post a letter in León, it is quite possible you might need to “feed the lion” (bottom image).

Putting the lion in Leon © Harold Davis

Aslan’s post © Harold Davis

Posted in Spain

Ready Pilgrim One

At the outset I must stipulate that a spacious room in a luxury 5-star hotel is a great place to organize for a longish walk on the Camino de Santiago. The Parador at the Convent of San Marcos in León, Spain, where I stayed before I began my Camino, meets this description of “luxury”. I stipulate to this luxury a bit abashed: the concept of a pilgrimage and the life of ease don’t mesh together so well. Traditionally, a pilgrimage involves penitence and pain—the blisters currently on my feet satisfy this requirement, alas.

According to the Wikipedia, the “convent of San Marcos is one of the great architectural jewels of the Spanish city of León.” It’s featured as the luxury stop the protagonist treats his Camino cohort to in The Way, the Martin Sheen and Emilio Estévez film that has brought so many pilgrims to the Camino de Santiago.

The Convent of San Marcos has been (as the name implies) a convent, a monastery, a hospital, and a way-station for pilgrims. My photograph of one of the interior cloisters is shown below.

Lower Cloisters, Convent of San Marcos © Harold Davis

In its current incarnation as a newly renovated luxury hotel, part of the Parador chain, there is something tawdry and abominable about the place. It’s geared for the luxury bus tourist trade. Easy listening American standards are piped via a too-high volume sound system into all the public spaces. They’ve gutted the classical atrium and replaced it with a modern interior structure, justifying this colossal design inanity with an exhibition of modernist Spanish art.

One can have second thoughts about privatizing a great historical structure for the benefit of well-to-do tourists. No second thoughts are possible about the awful design choices that were made during this renovation.

So, ready pilgrim one! Onward to the simpler life as a pilgrim-with-a-camera walking the Camino.

Posted in Monochrome, Spain

Cordes-sur-Ciel at Sunset

Thanks to methodical planning, good luck with the weather, and helpful guides my photography group was able to photograph the ancient town of Cordes-sur-Ciel from across the valley at sunset. Thanks everyone for your patience and understanding!

I made a photograph from the same viewpoint many years ago at sunrise (it is shown beneath the recent vista).

Cordes-sur-Ciel at Sunset © Harold Davis

Cordes sur Ciel at Dawn © Harold Davis

Posted in France, Landscape