Most pilgrims have decided to skip the classic stop at Viana (19.5 km) and walk straight to Logrono (30 km). We are all preparing for a long walk in the rain. Another glorious day along the camino (sigh). I drag myself out of Los Arcos. After a few miles, a pilgrim comes along and introduces himself. His name is Carsten, a retired architect from Denmark with 5 Caminos under his belt. Small talk turns into a lengthy discussion about art, architecture and life. We both seem to share the same interests. In Torres del Rio, we take time to study the incredible cupola of the octagonal Church of the Holy Sepulture, a romanesque jewel from the 12th century. The cross ribbed vaults create a symmetric, stone tapestry, believed to be of Arab origin. Carsten decides to test the acoustics by letting out a Gregorian hymn. “I’m in a choir” he explains. “But I’m not religious" he quickly ads with a smile.
Meanwhile, the sun is back. A picturesque wine country unfolds. I totally forget my blisters as we keep chatting. It is truly an incredible encounter. 2 weeks back I was visiting the British Museum to study the rare remains of the Mausoleum of Halikarnos (today’s Bodrum in Turkey), one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World. Guess what? Carsten was part of the last Danish archeological expedition in 1972. His job was to measure the stones of the Mausoleum, that were later pimped to build the Bodrum castle. Seriously, what are the chances?
The kilometres are flying. We soon find ourselves in sunny Viana. Bach music is playing as we step through the monumental Renaissance portico of the Santa Maria Church. Bombastic altar pieces are killing the Gothic serenity. Carsten points out some remarkable details. Saint James is portrayed as a bloodthirsty slayer of Arabs, riding a fierce stallion. In another corner we find the tomb of another bad ass: Cesare Borgia (1475-1507), the ambitious son of Pope Alexandre IV, immortalised in Machiavelli’s ‘Il Principe.’ Carsten and me decide to have a lunch together, before splitting ways. Thanks for walking along, buddy.
The remaining 12 kilometres to Logrono are rather uneventful. The final stretch through industrial suburbia is depressing. After crossing the Ebro river, I settle for the first hostel: the modern, but sterile Albergue Santiago Apostle. I really need to take care of my feet. A few days ago, a French pilgrim - an ex-commando - warned me about Compeed plasters. "Monsieur, if I may be honest … Francement, c’est de la merde. That stuff gave me some serious infections. I spent 4 days at the hospital. No wonder, that sticky crap glues all the dirt together. Your skin can’t breathe.” The guy was an officer so I guess he knows a few things about long marches and foot care. He also showed me the correct remedy: sterile 10 x 8 cm compresses and disinfectant Betadine cream. I had the smart reflex to take pictures, saving me another Borat conversation at the local pharmacy. After a painful limp through Logrono, I can finally get to work. With tiny strokes, I manage to remove the sticky plasters. After disinfecting I put on the compresses. They feel much lighter and only have a tiny, sticky layer on the borders. I can feel the difference right away. It’s a miracle. I can walk! I can walk! Merci Chef.
Where to sleep in Logrono?
I don’t recommend the Albergue Santiago Apostle, Calle Ruavieja 42 - +34 941 256 976 - open all year, 6 am to 11 pm - 82 beds, 10 euro. It’s the first hostel when you enter Logrono, right before the Municipal. Santiago Apostle is modern but sterile. Avoid the 2 dorms on the ground floor, right next to the central sitting area. With many pilgrims bumping in industrial quantities of the local Rioja wine, you won’t get much sleep. My bed was right next to the door, horrible. Ask for a bed in the big dorm on the first floor.
In retrospective, I might have been better (and cheaper) off at the donativo Albergue Parroquial de Santiago.
Logrono is the capital of Rioja wine country. It’s a city mostly ignored by tourists preferring nearby Pamplona and Burgos. Their loss. The city is a Grand Cru of squares, churches and palaces. The robust Santa María de la Redonda cathedral presides over the Plaza del Mercado. The sleekly designed Centro de la Cultura del Rioja is a great opportunity to booze it up under the pretext of a museum visit. "No honey, I’m not an alcoholic. I just love local culture."
Next episode: ‘Day 7 to Najera - The Art Pilgrim'