We set out on El Camino while the sky was still black. Christie led the way with her headlamp. We planned to have plenty of time for the 29km walk from Los Arcos to Logrono. This day, we moved from the Navarra to the La Rioja wine region. In Logrono, the annual San Mateo Festival (Wine Harvest) was in full swing. My knee tendonitis was severe, so the extra days’ rest was to be a huge bonus. It was nice to get a head start on the long day ahead. We couldn’t believe how many other pilgrims set out so early in the morning. The hardcore pilgrims race to each destination to ensure ccomodations. We anticipated today’s walk would take us 8 hours including short stops in Sansol, Torres del Rio and Viana.
We were shocked when we made the 19 kilometers to Viana in three and half hours, without stopping once. That meant we were walking five and half kilometers per hour. We stopped at a nice picnic bench to eat our late breakfast sandwiches. Viana is a charming town with the 11th century Gothic Iglesia de Santa Maria at its hilltop center. Quite randomly, a Google Maps vehicle appeared. I tried several times to get a snapshot, but it moved too fast. Finally, I was able to catch its back half with octagon-like panoramic top camera. We would have liked to spend more time there, however we had to move on to Logrono for the festival.
We arrived in Logrono mid-afternoon Thursday….. with just enough time to grab a hearty overpriced lunch. The Spanish day typically involves lunch between 2-4pm. At this time, all other shops close down for Siesta. Dinner is not available until like 7pm, which usually involves Tapas only. Luckily, we’re Pilgrims for a while and most restaurants have a “Pilgrim’s Menu” at 7pm. Everyone basically rushes to checkin at the hotel and have lunch before 4pm.
Logrono is the capital of the Rioja Wine Region with about 150,000 people. This weekend felt like there were 500,000. All 50 Taperias (Tapas Bar/Restaurants) and outdoor Cafe/Cerveceria’s were packed day and night. Christie smartly booked the Pension Logrono several weeks in advance. Nothing else was available. The Pension was interesting in that the manager was Brazilian and the layout was like a big penthouse apartment. We could hear everything within our room and the exterior corridor!
Our first night out consisted of Tapas Crawl on Calle de Laurel. Each Taperia specializes in a few dishes at about two euro each. Some favorites included Bacalao (Cod) and Champinones con Gambas (mushroom, shrimp). Laurus Tapas provided additonal entertainment as we met a happy couple from Chicago named Mike & Maggie. They were on a “culinary tour of Northern Spain.” We had some tasty “Crianza” or Reserve Wine from La Rioja while swapping travel stories. One takeaway was to book “Tickets Tapas” in Barcelona when we return late October. We passed by the main festival stage on they way home. It was disturbing Spanish Rock music.
We awoke a bit groggy and headed over to the Drunken Duck Irish Pub. Their greasy poached eggs, beans and patatas were perfecto! The day was young and ripe for the main festival activities. The fairgrounds were about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. There, the “stomping of the grapes” took place with the festival ceremonies. Between our poor height and thousands of eager onlookers, we couldn’t see much. Our walks around town were packed with festivites, Giants (los gigantes) and dancing Big Heads. The Gigantes represent figures of importance throughout Spanish history. I wondered where Saint Matthew fit into all this mayhem. I wondered if there were any official wine tastings. Every single Rioja wine was good and super cheap. Popular bottles in the market were between two and five euros. Vino was literally the same price as water and the Spaniards drink as such!
Our last night in Logrono took place at Meson Egues with Chef Fermin Lasa from Pamplona. Fermin greeted us at the door quickly making us feel at home. We requested water and received water plus good vino on the house. A popular debate here in Northern Spain is which fish we will eat. We couldn’t figure out what “Rape” was, but felt compelled to give a whirl. The fish came out with frog-like legs and a lobstereque meat texture. It turned out to be Monkfish, which is normally served as a fillet. Chef Fermin gracefully ended our experience with two glasses of homemade rasberry liquor on ice. I wish I had asked for its proper Spanish name. Hmmn?
My knee is starting to feel better. Our Pilgrimage is so spiritually and culturally amazing…… that the physical pain barely phases me. You walk all day free to listen to nature, music and whatever comes your way. Every Pilgrim limps around or rants about an ailment, but loves every second of the experience. Time to rest up, grin and bare another ouchy 29km scamper to Najera. There is a small town en route called Navarette known for its pottery tradition. Excited to see what they have!
Happy Birthday to Mike Lustberg!