The Road to Santiago.

October 17, 2004

Albergue of La Isla

La Isla to Gijón

In the morning I had a decision to make. The dinner in the bar at Torres had been almost twice what I usually pay, so by now I had almost run out of cash. And I doubted that the pueblo of Sebrayo would have an ATM because, on the map, it looked to be even smaller than La Isla. Any restaurant in a place that small probably wouldn’t take a credit card.

There was a bus schedule on the wall of the albergue. It showed the Saturday and Sunday schedules, which doesn’t include the 12:00 bus which I had waited for. I wished I had known that yesterday: it would have saved me an hour in the rain. I decided that I could take a bus to Villaviciosa to look for an ATM, and then walk back to Sebrayo for the albergue.

Photo of Teatro in Villaviciosa.
Teatro in Villaviciosa

So, I went to Villaviciosa, found a cash machine, and then found a nice restaurant which had a reasonably priced menu. While waiting for my food to arrive, I was reading from a Michelin guidebook and found the answer to a question that had been bothering me — the origin of the name Villaviciosa, which translates into English as the Vicious Village. Who would give their town such a nasty name?

Emperor Carlos V, that’s who! Carlos is known as Karl in German or Charles in France. For, you see, Carlos wasn’t Spanish. In fact he was Austrian — from the Hapsburg dynasty. (To even confuse you more, he was known as Carlos the First, King of Spain, but also as Carlos the Fifth, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.)

Although he was a grandchild of los Reyes Catolicas (the Catholic Kings) — as Ferdinand and Isabella were known — he was not a direct heir to the throne. The Spanish line ended when the daughter of los Reyes Catolicas died without any surviving offspring. She was named Juana and, because she had mental problems, she was commonly know as Juana la Loca (Joan the Crazy). But I’m digressing.

Carlos was supposed to land at Santander, but due to a miscalculation by his brilliant admiral, his ship entered this harbor instead. To celebrate his arrival, the town declared a fiesta and had several corridas (bullfights) and a carnival, which was normal for Spanish folk but considered bawdy by the Austrian stuffed shirts. Carlos was not amused and called it a town of vice (the correct meaning of vicious is: full of vice) To this day the inhabitants consider the name a badge of pride.

After I began asking for directions for going back to Sebrayo to look for that albergue, I learned that there was nothing in that village — no restaurants, no bars. Since it was Sunday, there were also no grocery shops open where I could buy food. Since I was planning to take sometime off in Gijón, I didn’t want to stay in Villaviciosa. So, I decided to go back to the bus station and catch a late afternoon bus to Gijón.

Gijón (pronounced HeeHawn) is not the capital of the Asturias (rather Oviedo is) but it is one of the larger cities, if not the largest.

Fabas Asturianas (Asturian Beans) drying in a Hórreo

On the first night of my camino in the fall of 2002, I had met a man named Manolo who worked at a hospital in Gijón. We had shared the same dormitory room and had had dinner together with some other pilgrims. I later learned that he was actually a cardiologist at el hospital de Cabuenes, the largest medical center in Northern Spain.

He hadn’t walked the entire route due to time constraints. So when he got back to the hospital, he and his colleagues in the depart­ments of cardiology and endocrinology (the area that treats diabetes) followed my trek on the Internet. His email messages to me later were very positive motivators as I went along. Now I wanted to see him again and to thank him.

My first stop was a place described in the guidebook as a “reasonable pension.” But I don’t consider 30 euros ($37.50) per night to be reasonable. I asked the woman if there was un otra pension mas barata (another pension more inexpensive). She suggested one down the street. The one down the street wouldn’t rent to me because I was solo (one person). She suggested that there was another pension downstairs in the same building on el piso primero (the first floor). I got all the way down to the ground floor before I remembered that the first floor in Spanish buildings is not on the street level. I suppose that’s due to the fact that, with most buildings, the ground floor consists of shops or tiendas. It always seems strange to me to see the ground floor indicated on the elevator with a zero.

On el piso primero was the Pension Gonzalez. I rang the doorbell and Mrs. Gonzalez, a petite woman of about 45, let me in. Yes, she had a room — 12 euros ($15) per noche (per night). I suspected that I wasn’t going to find anything cheaper, so I took it.

It was a small room, barely big enough for the double bed and an armoire. There was a sink in the room, but the bathroom was next door. There was no desk to use my computer on, just a chair, which would be my office for the next day or so.

After I settled in, I went out into the city looking for the tourist office. I went past the Plaza del Marqués, which is the beginning of the Casca Vieja (the old section), and entered the very new modern marina where the kiosk was located.

Plaza del Maquis in Gijon
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