San Pedro de Rozados to Salamanca
Wednesday September Thirty, 2020
The journey to Salamanca flew by in a strange blur, despite it being close to a thirty kilometre journey from San Pedro de Rozados. I seemed to just glide across the landscape, without any particular challenges to face as I went. I think that what helped was the fact that Salamanca itself was visible for so much of the journey, appearing on the horizon for pilgrims to see hours before they’re destined to arrive there. And rather than taunting me in the distance, the city seemed to encourage me instead, as if inviting me towards it with the promise of two days of rest and recreation.
I started the day less urgently than I had the day before. My mad dash from Fuenterroble de Salvatierra had been an act of escape, away from the cold of my cabin. Day Eighteen was begun with a civilised sit down breakfast instead, which hadn’t been a common occurrence for me along the Via. The option of having breakfast had been offered to me the evening before by my hostess, and so I’d accepted it with thanks. The fare on offer that morning was very basic – toast and honey with some orange juice – but it felt rather decadent nonetheless to be sitting in a chair, at a table, and navigating my breakfast with cutlery and a plate as opposed to jamming fruit and nuts into my mouth while I sat on my floor bandaging my blisters at the start of each day. And the honey itself was sensational. So dark and full of flavour, and most certainly sourced from somewhere very close by the village.
When I finally did set off for the day it was 8:30am, which was absolutely late by my standards. But the sun was still just sneaking up over the horizon at that point, and the village itself seemed to still be fast asleep, so it was clearly still early by Spanish standards.
The walk to Salamanca was remarkable for its unremarkable qualities, which quite possibly helped the day fly by the way it did. The path was very flat, and even underfoot, and it consisted of long straight lanes that stretched on forever through more flat, dry farmland. I accepted the monotony of it and stuck my headphones into my ears to liven up an otherwise nondescript journey.
The biggest joy to be had along the way was when Salamanca finally came into view, some two hours before I was due to reach it. It was the cathedral’s towers that were so clearly visible to me on the horizon – such is the scale of the cathedral itself – and I felt once more the agelessness of the Via de la Plata. I stood and wondered at the many thousands of fellow pilgrims who had shared the very same view as me throughout the ages, and felt glad to be one of many in that long line of pilgrims. Stretched out before me was a vast dry plain that seemed to roll on until it reached the very edges of the city itself. It was a bit of a tease really, to see the city so clearly from such a distance. But I wasn’t complaining. The fact that I could see the city from such a distance was largely due to the elevated position I found myself at, meaning that the vast majority of the afternoon’s walk involved a gentle descent down towards it.
Closer to Salamanca the path became livelier with mountain bikers, joggers and eventually dog walkers who had ventured out beyond the city limits. But the city itself still remained just on the horizon, leaping out of nowhere from the vast wasteland that seemed to surround it, the way the Emerald City appears in the distance as Dorothy and her fellowship skip along the Yellow Brick Road towards it. Even as I made my way onto paved streets within the city limits themselves I was still not entirely convinced I’d arrived anywhere. The streets were empty of everyone but the occasional street cleaner and nothing much seemed to suggest the lively, cosmopolitan city that I’d come to imagine.
As I made my way further into the city the streets finally livened up a little with traffic and pedestrians, as well as cafes, restaurants and retail stores. I decided to make a small detour to Decathlon, which was on the outskirts of the city, before I checked into my accommodation for my two day break. I felt like a kid in a candy store, tempted by so many bits and bobs that might come in handy along my journey. I refrained from getting too carried away however, as my pack was already full to the brim. I topped it up nonetheless with a new merino wool jumper, some thermal socks and a pair of walking sticks also. I also invested in a new pair of inner-soles for my shoes, owing to the fact that my current ones were almost shredded to pieces after nearly three weeks of solid walking. It all equated to more weight for my pack, but with much cooler days and nights ahead of me, as well the promise of more climbing ahead, I could tick off each item as essential. What wasn’t essential was the small wind-up hand-torch that grabbed my attention near the till and ended up with my purchases also. I convinced myself that I would find a use for it one day nonetheless (which I most certainly did).
With my shopping done I returned to the route of the Via and made my way along the banks of the Tormes river. The cathedral continued its elongated welcome of me into the city, perched as it is above its surroundings. I made my way to Puente Romano and completed my entrance into the city with blue skies above me and happiness within me. The setting was all very striking and dramatic, but attached to it was the slightly ominous edge that Covid had now provided. Where were the throngs of tourists on the bridge? Where were the camera happy busloads of visitors that would otherwise be ambling across my path? Where were the locals for that matter? No one seemed to be about in the streets. And while that added to the magnificence of the setting it certainly added to the strange energy also.
I climbed the winding path up into the city and marvelled at the beautiful peachy glow of the cathedral stone as it radiated in the afternoon sun. It gave off such a warm hue and provided a welcome that I hadn’t expected to receive. I sat beneath the North doors to catch my breath after the short climb and to take it all in. It was only 2pm, and I wasn’t due to check into my apartment until 4pm, but fortuitously I received a message as I sat saying that I could check in whenever I fancied, which I did. The apartment was less than ten minutes from the cathedral and so once I was checked in and shown the lay of the land I set about emptying my pack and beginning my laundry chores.
With a load of washing on I headed out onto the streets of Salamanca to explore. In the heart of the city there was certainly more hustle and bustle than I’d seen on the city’s fringes, even without the hordes of tourists that it was certainly used to. I found a restaurant just outside of the Plaza Mayor that had caught my eye. It had a very well-heeled clientele dining on its patio and so I threw caution to the wind and sat down amongst them, not caring about how much the meal might cost. I’d been spending €10 on three course meals for the better part of my journey, and no more than €25 a night on Guest Houses when the local albergues weren’t open, so I argued that I could afford to splurge every now and then. The entrees at this particular restaurant were all at least twice the price of a pilgrim’s three course Menu del Dia, but with that hefty price came a selection of flavours, textures and ingredients that weren’t otherwise available to me out on the Via.
I sipped on chilled white wine and indulged in a plate of Iberian pork followed by scallops with grilled cheese and a seaweed emulsion. It was all very decadent, but all very uplifting for my palette. And while I was at it I generally just soaked up the sun on the terrace while the well-heeled set wined and dined about me. The restaurant was full, but I couldn’t help but notice that the cheaper, more cheerful establishments in the surrounding area who otherwise relied on the tourist trade were noticeably less frequented.
At some point during my unpacking in the apartment I’d realised there was only one inner sole in the box that I’d just bought from Decathlon, which meant that a second visit to the store was necessary. So after lunch was completed I wandered the forty minutes back to the outskirts of the city to claim the second inner-sole. I typed my conundrum into a translation App on my phone and allowed the marvels of modern technology to then take over and translate it into Spanish for me. I showed the translated message to an attendant in the store and crossed my fingers that my long-winded explanation about only having one inner-sole in the box would be well received. She read the message, squinting only once at what was potentially a poor choice of wording on behalf of the App and then looked at me before replying in perfect English to explain that of course I could take a new box from the shelf. I thanked her for her help and replaced the inner-soles, but not before committing to a new down jacket that had caught my eye on the way into the store. Being filled with down I could count on it being light within my bag, as well as super warm on the now exceptionally chilly evenings. Oh, and it was green, meaning that it tied in with nearly every other green item in my wardrobe. And so I made yet another purchase to add to my already heaving backpack.
The sun was beginning its descent as I made my way back into the city through Parque de los Jesuítas. It was a wonderfully green space that seemed to have attracted half of the city into its confines to make the most of the cool evening air. It was alive with young families out on scooters and bikes, as well as the elderly taking evening strolls and using the space to play a myriad of games. Teenagers sat in groups and chatted amongst one another while others competed at basketball and others still strummed on guitars and sung to assembled crowds. The surroundings were certainly a popular neighbourhood hub, and the huge space was full of life, and laughter, and a thousand and one examples of normality that had been sorely missing in the past six months of Covid.
I returned to the apartment, cranked up the heating and turned on the television set. It felt good to be in a pseudo domestic setting once more, and with a city on my doorstep no less. But the city could wait – I had two more days to explore Salamanca properly. I’d bought some supplies at the local supermarket on my way back to the apartment and made sure that I was topped up with beer, wine, cheese, crisps and cured meats. Just the essentials really. And with them at hand I settled in on the couch and made my night all about Spanish television, laundry, catching up with friends online and generally just chilling the **** out.