When you walk in the woodlands, amidst scrub oak, heather and poplars, you also are serenaded by birds-- lots of birds. I wish I knew their names. Some I have never seen before. For days now we have also heard the call of the cuckoo, and I keep wondering if it is the same bird and he is following us -- telling us that we are "koo-koo" for doing this.
Our journey today took us along the mountain tops and down into the valleys where lots of wildflowers were in bloom. Instead of the purple heather of yesterday, we had a similar bushy plant with white flowers that seemed to cover the mountains. (Photo 1) There was also a proliferation of a yellow plant that looked as if it belonged to the pea family, and lots of poppies, (3) which I hadn't seen since the beginning of our trip. I had a great time photographing flowers today in hopes I can identify them later. And we were still framed in by snow-capped mountains on both sides of us all along the way.(photo 2)
The highlight of the day for me was a stop at Molinaseca, a very quaint medieval city which has had a rebirth due to its location in the mountains.(photo 4, 5) It appears to be a ski resort in the winter (we saw the ski slope) and an escape in the summer from the heat of Spain's southern cities. Situated on a small river, it was picture- perfect. I spent a midday hour walking around, shooting photos and hanging out with some fellow pilgrims in a cafe by the river.
From here it was only about 5 miles into Ponferrada (pop. 62,000), our destination for the day. I had a brief stop in Campo, where I saw the largest yellow irises I've ever seen. (photo 6) We arrived about 2 and checked into the 3-star El Castillo Hotel - 48€ for 2 with bath.
The main attraction here is the Castillo de los Templarios, a 12th century Templar castle which has been declared a national monument. (Photo 7) Ponferrada came under the protectorate of the Templar Order by decree of King Fernando II in 1178, but the order was outlawed by the church in 1312 because of its increasing power.
We did not get to see inside the castle or some of the related museums because it is Sunday, and everything is closed. Save it for another trip.
Tonight I had dinner with Phil from Holland, whom I met in Leon, and his companion Vetta from Denmark. We had a "tapas" meal where the kitchen served us small portions of lots of goodies. First was an anchovy and skin thin slice of salmon in a sauce on bib lettuce; a plate of meats and cheeses including tongue sausage ( a real treat); stuffed mushrooms; 3 meats including pork chop, veal and chorizo sausage with fries and salad, followed by 3 desserts including goat cheese in a fruit sauce, flan and wedges of a type of cheese cake. Then the waitress brought out 3 glasses and a bottle of herb liquor, which had a hint of basil. We helped ourselves, but you couldn't really drink too much.
I closed the evening with a walk past the Castle to see it lit at night.(photo 8)