Last 100km + some menu translations

It’s been a while since I’ve made any posts related to the primary purpose of this blog, which is analyzing menus in Spain in order to construct a translation application.  So now I’ll do a quick return to that kind of post.

In order to explore restaurants in Spain (and as an incentive to keep churning out miles on my treadmill in the basement) I’m converting exercise miles into locations along the Camino de Santiago and today I’ve reached the very last place you can start a trek and still qualify (need at least 100km) for a Compostela which looks to me to imply starting the Portomarín, at least along the route of Camino Frances and that’s where I just arrived after my 436.1 miles of virtual trek. Actually I think this remaining distance is probably some of the better real trek even if it is only a few days.

And there, in this relatively small town I also found a good restaurant, in Portomarín to consider for understanding menus and then relating a couple of points to you, Dear Reader. So I have to honor copyright and not put other people’s pictures in my posts I strongly suggest you go to maps.google.com and use this search “O Mirador, Portomarín, Spain”. Not to be plugging this restaurant but there are over a thousand photos accessible through the Google Maps site and lots of pictures of zamburiñas which Google Translate doesn’t understand, despite these being very common and popular in Galicia as well as an icon of the entire Camino pilgrimage.

Now the main way I study menus is to extract them into some working documents I created and then get the Google Translation. Generally GT does fairly well but it also misses or botches some terms. That then sends me into my research, using various dictionaries and food sites and just plain old searches to get clues to figure out a better (as needed) translation of the menu items. So for instance, zamburiñas which Google Translate doesn’t know Google search can easily find and even reference a Wikipedia article for ‘variegated scallop’. First in my search results is an article in Spanish, Diferencias entre vieiras y zamburiñas, which is quite helpful.

When I started this project over a year ago I actually knew no Spanish. I ignored advice to actually learn Spanish since I was convinced I could succeed without doing that. But as I admitted in earlier posts I realized the advice was right and so I’ve actually been plowing through learning the language, so in fact, I could mostly translation this key sentence (from the article above): Las zamburiñas son de unas dimensiones más reducidas comparado con las vieiras. Which of course doesn’t mean much unless you know (in addition to the other words) that vieira is the conventional term of ‘scallop’, that is the typical standard size (and the source of the shells on all the peregrino’s packs or on the trail signs).  So in case you can’t read the sentence (even though it’s got a lot of cognates to English) it just means that zamburiñas are much smaller vieiras. What that doesn’t tell is that these are quite popular (and widely available) in Galician and the ones shown in the photos connected with O Mirador make it clear (and persuasively looking delicious as well).

Now let’s consider the restaurant’s name. One of the menu items, Parrillada O Mirador, which Google translates as ‘Grill O Lookout’ is the typical highly literal translation GT does, without paying any contextual attention to the discourse, i.e. O Mirador is the name of the restaurant and parrillada is a diminutive term you more frequently see, which is parrilla, which is one of several terms that gets loosely translated as ‘grilled’ (usually with a la preceding it). In contrast with a la plancha which is also usually translated as ‘grilled’, plancha is usually an iron flat (i.e. the flattop grill in many restaurants) and parrilla is an actually grate over a wood or charcoal fire and thus what most of us home cooks would consider “grilled”.

Fine, but what about mirador being translated as ‘lookout’. This is why I want you to do the Google search and see the photos. spanishdict.com translates mirador as either ‘enclosed balcony’ or ‘lookout’ which it turns out, from photos, both equally apply. This restaurant is at the top of a hill overlooking the river and adjacent valley, but it also has a wraparound enclosed balcony for dinners. Looks like a fun place.

I had planned on covering some more interesting bits from the menu but I’m out of time (other duties call) and so I close with the promise that I’ll get back to writing about menus (yeah, sure).

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Still plugging along

Despite a lack of posts recently I’m still around and plugging along on my virtual trek. I seem to have injured my left toes so I had to back off on intensity of workouts. So to get roughly the same amount of calories burned I have to go a longer distance so actually my pace has picked up a bit. So I’ve reach 427.0 miles and seem to be near the tiny village of Peruscallo heading to Morgade. The Camino, since Ponferrada seems to have nicer facilities and certainly has nicer scenery. The comparable here would be like going east where it has more precipitation. Instead of looking like western Nebraska now this part of Galicia looks a lot like northern Missouri, the natural environment that is since the human part looks nothing like anything around here.

So in keeping with the thread of this post I’ll add a few more trail pictures of an area that is radically different than anything you’d find on the Camino.

First up, here’s the trail (this one I’ve actually walked):

This is the St. Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park in Texas. You can see a few people on the trail headed into the canyon. The trail only goes a relatively short distance before a deadend but is a spectacular hike. Often you can also see many canoes on the river, which just happens to the the Rio Grande. IOW, the left side of the picture is Mexico. If the insane and ugly wall ever got built they couldn’t put it in the middle of the river so instead this trail would be lost forever (or have a gate in the wall so tourists can visit but then what’s the point of a wall with a hole in it).

So here’s an image of where the cars go (you could hike that road but I wouldn’t advise it).

Same river and you’re looking north, the USA side. Now try to imagine where you’d put a wall there. And no one would ever get to enjoy this spectacular sight-seeing drive in Texas.

Now the previous two pictures are along the river where there is a lot of greenery. But just a bit further north (and in this case also west) this is more what this area looks like:

I never really cared for or appreciated deserts until I visited the Big Bend area but it can be quite spectacular. At this time of year there are few flowers but on my first visit it had been an unusually wet winter and the wildflowers were overwhelming and gorgeous. Many places you can just walk out in the desert (outside the US National Park and the Texas State Park it’s all private land and not advisable to walk as locals don’t care for strangers and everyone has guns). But you have to be really careful and watch your step, first to avoid damaging the quite fragile growing things, but also, since almost every growing thing has thorns to avoid damaging yourself!

BTW: In case you’re wondering about my learning Spanish and studying menus in Spain, yes, I’m still doing it. In fact I’ve reached level 22 in Spanish at Duolingo.

More trail photos; < 100 miles to go

I was close in the previous post when I declared I’d crossed the border into to Galicia, but now I do have less than 100 miles to go on my virtual hike. At the slow pace I’m doing on machines that is a couple of months.

But this post is mostly about photos in my continuing series of photos I’m finding in my personal archive of trails (or crude roads). As it’s said in the movie, “the road is among our oldest tropes”. There is some about a path that holds us, compels us to move forward on that path. So here’s the first of this series:

This is a short trail along a river we found on the way to the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. It was a pleasant walk through the woods. I don’t much like photos that include me but in this case I relented. But from behind it could be anybody.

So let’s get something a bit more visible:

This was an unexpected and quite beautiful hike in Guadalupe Mountains National Park just across the border of New Mexico into western Texas. While this photo doesn’t show the fantastic fall color we encountered, totally unexpected for just a dry place, it is one of the few pictures of me on the trail, taking photos of course. Here the trail crosses a dry riverbed that probably experiences the classic rapid flooding when there are rains. This is along the route through McKittrick Canyon which I can highly recommend, especially in the fall.

And as, I hope, the last time I do this here is another hike, this time across country on no trail at all:

This couldn’t be in a more different location. Here we’re hiking overland in the Big Snowy Mountains of Wyoming. I’ve visited this area multiple times (the nearest big mountains to my home in flat Nebraska). The interpretative signs there claim that at one point in Earth’s history these were the highest mountains on the planet.

This shot is late fall and there is even a bit of snow falling. The purpose of going cross country to to “nowhere” is indicated by the invisible object I’m holding, a Garmin eTrek GPSr. We’re headed to a “dashpoint”, a completely arbitrary coordinate on the earth to try to reach if you can. Usually we reach these points with a car but this was a case where the dashpoint was on public land and thus a place where we could hike.

Actually this was a tough hike because much of the area was even more rocky than you see in this photo. Without an actual trail scrambling over rocks can be very tiring. But we found the dashpoint and returned to the car (had to drive to civilization to file our reports) and escaped the snow that closes in just after we were there.

Looking at all the photos of the Camino, the closest I’ve come to actually trekking there, it’s very pleasant, but if one seeks some beautiful country off the beaten path it’s hard to beat the USA. This isn’t some patriotic chauvinism, just a simple statement of geography. When I see the area around the Camino and realize how long people have been there, with terrain altering technology, part of the beauty of the “nowhere” in USA (or even more so in our neighbor to the north) is simply that people, at least with much technology, have been here such a brief time and thus so much of the land is only slightly altered.

In the trail I showed in the previous post, a very symbol of “civilization” (the railroad) has retreated and disappeared and nature has reclaimed the narrow corridor where once steam prevailed with greenery and now fortunately a place of respite of trekkers.

So enjoy these photos because of the 30,000 I have (with a few worth posting) these are probably the only ones where I’ll be in the shot.

Made it to Galicia; Another trail picture

I’ve now pushed through 393.3 miles on my virtual Camino (i.e. treadmill in the basement) thus putting me just past O Cebreiro which is just over the border into Galicia, the last autonomous community before reaching Santiago in just about 100 miles. By “reached”, of course, I mean I’ve done the distance (from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port) along a GPS track of the Camino. I’d love to be doing this for real, but at least I get to “experience” some of what this trek is like, checking out restaurant menus along the way, which is the primary topic of this blog.

And at least I’ve gotten some idea of what the trek looks like. That is, converting treadmill miles into locations and then using Google Street View to “look around” I’s also decided that most of the trek is in pretty boring country, not much different than what is around here. However, since reaching Ponferrada from the East where the way begins to enter the mountains the country has been much prettier. But also, interestingly, it seem that lodging and restaurants are a bit higher quality as well. I deduce that’s because most of the escorted trips along the Camino occur in this area, as only about 100km are required in order to qualify for the compostelana (diploma) and so trekker who want a bit more luxury and a lot less walking start much closer to Santiago. Which, of course, is a “cheat” as getting there (as opposing to being there) is the whole point of the trek.

But here’s another of my trail photos, one of my favorite:

OK, so it’s pretty ordinary looking spot and not at all spectacular. So why is it one of my favorites?

Well, it’s accessible and pleasant walking, that’s why. This is one of many bridges on the Wabash Trail, which goes from the south side of Council Bluffs Iowa to the Missouri border. It’s a Rails-to-Trails recreation project which are sponsored all over the USA.

You see when railroads were first built in the US the land was granted by either the state or the Federal government, often with a provision that if the railroad is abandoned the land reverts back to government (thus public) ownership. Now Iowa is the most intensely farmed state in the USA which means very little land is in its natural condition (and it’s all private, so no access for recreation). So this tiny corridor of “wild” for the Wabash Trail is a real jewel.

Also, though it may just be urban legend, the original trains that used this route burned coal (or even wood) and so burning embers escaped their smokestack. As a result the railroad had a wide buffer of land to avoid setting stuff on fire. Today, given that entire right of way is abandoned woods have reclaimed that area, except for the trail itself.

SO, even though there are farms and houses everywhere along this trail it does a good job of pretending to be wilderness. And all that plant growth creates enough shade that the trail is much cooler for walking than out in the sun (one of the obvious drawbacks of so much of the Camino, exposed to intense sunshine).

This particular photo is where I stopped for a brief rest (that’s my stuff on the bridge). The bridges were for the trains and have been reclaimed and converted for foot and bicycle traffic, which is handy, not having to fork creeks. In addition to the buffer of woods along this trail, often it is cut into the hills so the train had a level grade and that also increases the isolation.

I’ve walked almost all of this trail, although only in intervals, never end-to-end. The problem, compared to the Camino, is there are no accommodations along this trail. Even on a bike it would be hard to cover all of it in a single day and walking is a multi-day trek. While there is so access to food and drink along the trail the only way to walk all of it would be to have someone drive to meet your and take you to some overnight lodging. That kinda defeats the point of it.

This bridge is on the longest stretch I’ve done in one trip, about 15 miles, where I had someone drop me off and then meet me in the town Malvern where we had a pleasant lunch with a couple of craft brews. I wanted to push for 20 miles but my ride wasn’t going to wait for another two hours, so this was the best I could do. Of course one other approach would be to get my ride to haul my bike down to my turnaround spot and so walk one way and bike back, but that’s a lot of trouble. So while I like hiking on this trail: a) having to drive 30 miles to get to it, and, then, b) the logistics are impossible as a long hike is part of the reason the Camino, just from the POV of hiking, is attractive.

When the rails were removed the rock bed under the rails was left and then covered with a crushed limestone aggregate. So actually the walking surface is quite pleasant. The trail is well drained so rarely muddy but it’s much “softer” walking than paved roads would be. Again, with all my StreetView studies of the Camino much of that route is NOT very good walking and certainly walking on streets and dodging cars is not my idea of a good trek.

So while this Wabash Trail may not have the history or significance or the experience of a different country I’m grateful it exists and provides some opportunity to move on foot outside instead always in the basement on a treadmill. Of course, right now it’s buried in snow and it’s nearly 0F outside so I’ve got a month or two before I set foot on this trail again.

Still chugging along the Camino, still learning Spanish

I’ve been so much buried in digressions I haven’t had any time to post. You might remember that my project, which is the primary subject of this blog, is to find as many menus as possible from restaurants in Spain, figure out what they “mean” (not just purely translate), build up a corpus of menu terminology to drive the creation of an application to translate menus.

So much for that, as I haven’t been doing any of that for about a month. In addition I continue to do stationary exercise in my basement to try to stay in shape and/or control my weight (lose a little ideally) and potentially build up to a real walk. So I take my mileage on a treadmill and convert it to a location along the Camino (the French route). While I’ve kept up exercise I’ve meanwhile been digressing into another area that has interfered with my primary goals.

But nonetheless I can report that I’m now at mile 368.9, having covered 21 miles thus far in January. That may not sound like much, given most peregrinos can do 12-20 miles/day but I’ve also done 480 miles in just January on stationary bike or the entire Camino.

So I had planned to do a post when I was around 344 miles, which is then near the cruz de ferro, which as Henri Sebastian (in the movie The Way) says is a place of much significance. For those of you who watched the movie or especially those of you who have actually walked the Camino you know cruz de ferro is a small iron cross at the top of tall wooden pole with a bunch of pebbles at the base. The idea is that pilgrims carry a stone from there starting location and then deposit it along with a prayer. The location happens to also be almost the highest point along the entire route.

It all looks very quaint in the movie but looking at that location via my “virtual” walk (i.e. looking at Google Maps, satellite views and the geotagged photos Google shows; you can search for ‘cruz de ferro’ and see what I’m talking about, I don’t reproduce photos from online sources due to implied copyright) it’s not quite the same as the image of the movie. The site is near a major road and is surrounded by parking lots and picnic areas. The cross itself is unimpressive so only interesting due to its historical perspective. Plus visitors leave a lot of mess at the site so again it’s not so quaint.

Also in the movie a collection of rustic signposts is shown. It turns out that’s just a short distance from the cross in the town of Manjarín (you can search for this to see). It appears to be part of a somewhat bizarre albergue/bar near all those signs, the Manjarín Encomienda Templaria.  That too is a bit less quaint than the movie made it look. So much for fiction.

And this raises an interesting point that I couple with other observations. A “virtual” walk certainly isn’t the same as a real one, but I’ve “seen” enough to get a much better understanding of what the Camino is like. And, frankly, a lot of it isn’t that great. The people who have the spiritual connection to the route don’t care, but for merely a “tourist” who’d like a more physical experience than riding tour buses I now question whether I’d really want to ever walk the Camino.

Or at least the classic (aka French) route. So now I’ve begun to focus on Camino del Norte route. What is still appealing to me is visiting the northern (Atlantic) coast of Spain, from France to Galacia. The country looks prettier (certainly greener) and I think the food would be better. Since my wife doesn’t want to do the walking as a compromise we’ll do part tourist stuff (driving, hitting hot spots like Bilboa) and then some more rural touring in the vicinity of the Camino del Norte and thus have some of the same experience.

But that’s in the future.  Now as to the digressions that are bogging me down.

My original idea was that I could merely focus on a mechanical aid to “translate” the written menus without actually learning Spanish. It’s not that I didn’t want to learn Spanish, I just saw that as too difficult. My sister (RIP) disagreed with my idea and said I should learn the language. So as I recently posted I’ve started to do that since I suspect some conversation with camareros  (waiters) would be required.

But I’m not going to fill this blog with many comments about my efforts. Any reader interested in that language has a lot better resources than I can provide. And my personal issues with it are mostly a digression so I don’t want to fill this blog with my adventures. But I’ll mention a bit.

As I previously posted I found what first appeared to be a good resource for learning a bit of conversational Spanish, which I do think I’d need to be able to order in restaurants. So I’m doing the Duolingo online study and have had decent results, thus far (up to about 600 words now, still struggling with verbs, of course). But as useful as Duolingo is I find that I fairly quickly master their “skills” (aka lessons) but then almost as fast forget most of what I learned. Without repeating some of the vocabulary (or having some other way to practice) I forget.

So, naturally, given an entire lifetime of developing software I began to think about building my own drills. I’ve done this before, several times in fact. Basically I’ve built software “flash cards” but with “intelligent” repetition, where I’ve developed some, not so good, algorithms to maximize drill on the vocabulary (or to some degree grammar) on what I’m not getting. Now learning vocabulary and grammar are helpful but speaking, and worse, hearing Spanish is tough. Duolingo helps a bit for hearing, but Spanish is a language my ear/brain simply don’t get. First of all, most Spanish speakers speak really quickly (this, I’ve found from online sources, is well known in comparison to other languages). And even with Duolingo, the full speed recorded sentences that I have to either translate or simply write what I hear, I miss lots of little bits. I have a terrible time hearing the gender or verb tenses which can be critical. I figure I can botch my pronunciation, as well as gender or conjugation, and probably still be understood, but hearing any response is really going to be tough. But the better I know the vocabulary, without a big mental delay to translate in my head, the more likely I can understand the spoken part. Fortunately there are many Spanish language TV channels in my cable subscription, often with good subtitling, so I have some opportunity, beyond Duolingo, to “practice” hearing, which will be more important to me than actually speaking well.

So, of course I started working on my own software to supplement Duolingo. That does have advantages over just using online courses. To write software one really has to understand some of the structure of the language (“teaching” something to a computer is a good way to find out what I do and don’t understand). So, for instance, I just finished, after considerable study and coding, how to do all the conjugations of regular verbs. And I’ve extracted all the vocabulary I’m learning in Duolingo to put into drills as well. So, IOW, I’ve switched from learning about menus to learning the language to writing code to help me learn the language. Hence, the “digressions” that have diverted my time from my original goal.

But I’m beginning to see the light at the end of that tunnel (plus my coding skills were rusty, so doing my menu translation app will now be a bit easier) and maybe I can get back to my original plan and more, hopefully, interesting posts about menus, instead of my experience with learning Spanish or writing programs.

So stay tuned when I get back on track.

 

A simple hostal menu

I picked up my virtual trek pace a bit and so zoomed out of León. The GPS trace I found online splits just west of León and merges again at Hospital de Órbigo, about 20 miles from middle of León. I “took” the northern route and so passed through Villadangos del Paramo. There I found Hostal (guesthouse or hostel) Libertad (freedom or liberty) which has an embedded restaurant. While there was no website or online menu there was a photo of the menu on a chalkboard. I decided it would be interesting if I could translate it myself without the aid of any machine translation. However it was a bit of a ‘cheat’ because the menu had some minimal English translation also written in.

I don’t normally reproduce images in my posts that I find via Google Maps. But this is a simple image and I’m not appropriating any intellectual property by posting it. Furthermore if any of you Dear Readers happen to pass through Villadangos del Paramo I’m probably the Hostal Libertad, which I assume they won’t mind.

Somehow, after running this image through Photoshop and then WordPress it’s not as clear as I saw, but it gets the point across. It’s a bit difficult to read the handwritten script under the best of cases. But also I had a tough time distinguishing a’s for e’s. So the point is, really, that one needs to know the words internally so an ambiguous writing of the word still gets through.

So anyway here’s the fairly simple menu:

Menú del día    10€

That’s not too bad if the portions are large to feed a hungry pilgrim who’s just walked 25km.

(Pan, bebida, postre y café)

Great, I wonder what the drink (bebida) and postre (dessert) really are.

Horario: 13:00-16:00 / 19:00-23:00 h

Interesting, late lunch and late supper.

OK, in the table below is the Spanish (my transcription from the chalkboard, with a few spell checks against Spanish dictionaries), this restaurant’s terse English and my translation (machine and human) and some comments:

Lentejas estofades Lentils stew of lentils (I suppose I can’t imagine lentils anyway except a stew)
Ensalada mixte Mixed Salad mixed salad
Puerros con vinagreta Leeks vinaigrette leeks with vinaigrette
Espagueti con atún Espeguetti with tuna (the writer doesn’t know spaghetti is the translation) spaghetti with tuna
     
Merluza en salsa Hake in sauce hake in sauce
Lacón con pimientos pork (illegible, not visible on chalkboard) pork shoulder
Huevos fritos con salchicha Fried eggs with sausage fried eggs with sausage
Fritos de pescado Fried eggs (illegible, all not visible on chalkboard, but what I can see is wrong) fried fish

These are all quite ordinary items so I’d choose:  Espagueti con atún (a bit of carbo loading if doing long walk) and Lacón con pimientos. I suppose this is all filling enough to make up for a moderate calorie burn of 200cals/mile and 15 miles. But think about, typical human needs about 2000 calories/day just to stay alive, so this meal is not going to provide enough of the daily + exercise requirements.

Hey Joost (from the movie The Way) what else did you eat and not lose any weight.

 

 

 

Quick progress note: Passed León

I haven’t found time to do any posts (nor much menu research) but I have managed to keep plodding away on virtual trek and thus have “zipped” (a highly relative term) past León without commenting on a single restaurant. So 298.8 miles on foot and 6832.2 on bike (unfortunately exercise equipment not the more fun real thing).

My initial research to develop a list of restaurants with online menus was disappointing. My simplistic notion was that León was a large and sophisticated city and thus more likely to have upscale restaurants than previous cities along the Camino. But the initial results proved that assumption wrong.

I’ve developed a new technique, at least for cities, to find online menus. Instead of using Google Maps (works for smaller towns with just a few restaurants) I now use one of the crowdsource rating sites (to avoid a plug I won’t mention which). While I’ve had enough experience with rankings in USA restaurants I can visit to be skeptical of rankings they generally correlate. However, better ranked restaurants are not necessarily more likely to have websites or especially online menus.

So combining all the factors my list of menus to investigate, for León, is no larger than my list from Palencia (source of my previous posts). This is surprising since León is about three times the population. That said, León has less population than the second largest city in my midwest flyover state (Lincoln, Nebraska) and significantly smaller than my home city (or Columbus Ohio where I recently dined and have yet to post). So perhaps it’s not too surprising León doesn’t have that many larger restaurants that have online menus.

Now a question might be, what good does it do a restaurant to bother with an online menu? I think that in the USA it’s quite important but apparently that belief isn’t (at least fully) shared in Spain. This suggests to me comensales (guests) are more likely local and don’t decide where to eat based on websites. For my purpose it’s disappointing because I don’t get more diverse source material. What I have already learned is that restaurant food terminology is highly variable, by region or location, in Spain and thus to obtain the best corpus to generate my translator needs content from a geographically broad selection. But, obviously restaurants don’t have (or not have) online menus for that purpose.

So I have just begun to look at the León restaurant menus I did find. I’ve started in ranking order and thus hit two expensive and more sophisticated restaurants right away. Both have a strong showing in what would be labeled either as molecular gastronomy or modernist cuisine. So, despite a huge number of photos of a large number of dishes both of the top three restaurants only have a degustacion (tasting) menu online thus providing only a limited amount of raw data for my analysis and corpus.

So I can relate a few interesting translation issues (again this means where the machine translation, usually Google, doesn’t make the best choices, at least in menu context, or the terms on the menu don’t actually have a translation).

Menú seminal Weekly menu

This is the first time I’ve seen this on any menu even though it’s basically the same as degustacion (tasting) but with a time of year context, as they explain:

Nuestra oferta se compone exclusivamente de este menú degustación, que define la sensibilidad por la cocina y el respeto hacia el producto.

El ritmo frenético del mercado, propicia que en este menú entren y salgan productos constantemente, lo que impide en ocasiones que este siempre actualizado.

Our offer consists exclusively of this tasting menu, which defines the sensitivity for cooking and respect for the product.

The frenetic pace of the market, encourages this menu to constantly enter and exit products, which sometimes prevents it from being updated.

Note: Generally I’ve found that Google actually translates full sentence prose more effectively than the one line items on menus. Perhaps this does indicate their claim of using context actually does help.

So here are two items from this menu (the only restaurant in León with a Michelin star) that required more research than simple translation:

ciervo asado con castañas, patata y trompetas de los Muertos roasted deer with chestnuts, potatoes and trumpets of the dead
queso de El Palacio con brevas El Palacio cheese (artisan sheep cheese) with figs

In the first item ‘trumpets of the dead’ is actually a good translation but unhelpful. It turns out this is a particular type of mushroom (Craterellus cornucopioides) whose name stems from the fact that the edible one resembles a lethal one so I suppose this is a bit like eating fugu in Japan (which I’ve done and it was another bland white fish with a tiny bit of tingle). OTOH, queso de El Palacio is just a particular cheese that is a local specialty of León.

From another menu of the top-ranked restaurant, with more traditional Spain offerings rather than the Spain influenced modernist cuisine had a few carta (a la carte menu) and thus more content. Here are a couple of examples:

PISTO CASERO

con huevo frito y pimentón

PISTO

with fried egg and paprika

Pisto is just the name of a dish and thus one of those items, like gazpacho or paella, that really doesn’t have any kind of translation and thus one must know what it is. It is a vegetable stew (or thick sauce) that resembles ratatouille.

And

CACHOPO

“como en Asturias”

CACHOPO

“as in Asturias”

is another example of a particular dish, cachopo, that you just have to know what it is (Two large veal fillets and includes ham and cheese. The dish is eaten fried and hot after being breaded in eggs and breadcrumbs) before you decide to order it or not. Like most dishes there are multiple recetas (recipes) so often Google searches for a term like this will result in finding a receta instead of a description but if you’re a foodie that may be more helpful anyway.

LENGUA CURADA con lascas de queso y aceite de pimentón CURED LANGUAGE with cheese flakes and paprika oil

lengua is one of those words where the most probable literal translation is wrong in this context. In fact the most “obvious” literal translation is correct, i.e. ‘tongue’ which then can mean ‘language’. For menus it is ‘tongue’.

CREMA DE NÉCORAS

con langostinos

CREAM OF NÉCORAS

with prawns

Here Google had no translation but Google searches quickly revealed ‘velvet crab, Necora puber‘. As an informal observation, especially in regards to seafood, I’ve noticed that the Spanish term often is directly derived from the scientific (Latin) name of the creature. So as a hint this might be a good place to start searching.

And this one was probably the worst (least helpful) translation:

ALBÓNDIGAS DE VENADO

al Prieto Picudo

DEVICE BEDS

to Prieto Picudo

I can’t even quite decide why the poor translation occurs as there is little literal connection. albóndigas is fairly common on menus (plus a cognate of its Italian counterpart) so one I immediately recognized as ‘meatballs’, although in some menus in Spain it may be an item closer to ‘meatloaf’. Nothing about it translates to either ‘device’ or ‘beds’. Likewise venado has a simple (and presumably correct in this context) literal translation of ‘deer’ or as also listed as a culinary sense, ‘venison’. So literal translation would be much more useful, in this case. But Prieto Picudo has no translation but is easily found via searches as a particular type of grape local to  Castile and León (DO Tierra de Leon).

And finally a term I’ve often seen that doesn’t appear in dictionaries but can be deduced if one knows about rules in Spanish for making diminutives from base words:

CHULETILLAS

de conejo

CHULETILLAS

rabbit

Google failed to translation chuletillas but this I’ve previously found as the diminutive of chuleta (rib) so one can conclude these are simply small ribs, which would obviously be true when found a rabbit, but often this term is also used for very young (unweaned) lambs (lechazo or cordero lechal) or pigs (cochinillo or lechón) where leche (milk) is the key part of these terms.

So while I’ve fallen behind in posts at least I can provide a bit of information about food terms from León.

Entered León Province

I’m finally out of Palencia province and now in León province in autonomous community of Castile and León. “in”, of course, is to be taken figuratively, not literally, as I just finished enough miles on treadmill in the basement to reach Sahagún, the first town along the Camino on east side of León province. 259.98 miles from the start. That’s not many miles for ten months but I’ll also hit another milestone of 6000 miles on stationary bicycle which isn’t too shabby, in fact, more than I used to do for real when I lived in California and real biking outside was feasible.

Now my “progress” on the virtual trek is boring content so I’d hoped to bring you some new tidbits of information about menus, but, alas I couldn’t find any. Between Trip Advisor and Google I had nearly 20 candidate establishments who have food but none have any online menus. Thus I have no source material to examine. And while the pictures (from the few web sites) or geo-located on Google show plenty of food there are no words. This is disappointing since all the small towns all through Palencia haven’t had menus to translate. I didn’t even see a photo of the blackboards outside restaurants that frequently are menus. And the only photo I found of a menu was the English menu and thus not interesting.

So rather than leave you with nothing about translations I also found the 15 most interesting things to do in Sahagún (effectively all related to religion) and so extracted a few words. Silly me for not knowing Iglesia since it is rather common.

Arte Sacro Sacred Art
Castillo Castle
Iglesia Church
Carcel Jail
Monasterio Monastery
Museo Museum
Oficina Office
Palacio Palace
Puente Bridge
Ruta Route
Santuario Sanctuary
Semana Santa Holy Week
Turismo Tourism

So the trek across Castile is still rather boring so I’m actually glad I’m only doing the virtual version.

Virtual trek landscape observations

This isn’t a Spain food post but is my observations, via remote means, about my virtual trek along the Camino. I’ve mentioned that, as an incentive to exercise, I convert miles I do on the treadmill in the basement to position along the GPS track I have of the Camino de Santiago. I then use Google’s Streetview and satellite images to try to “see” what the trek actually looks at where I’m “at”.

What triggered this post was my searching for restaurants along the trek that have online menus. I’ve reached Ledigos in Palencia province of Castilla y León  autonomous community. I’ve been trekking across Palencia for over a month now (an actual trek would be a few weeks). Ledigos has a few places to eat but nothing online I can analyze.  That’s been true of all the various towns along this stretch of the Camino.

In my previous post I talked about extracting Spanish food terms from various online lists. This is useful for expanding the corpus I’m building to then have code extract an extensive vocabulary that would be useful in interpreting menus in Spain and deciding what to (or not to) order. Lists are helpful but not very interesting to process. The Spanish terms with English definitions/translations are just mindless mechanical work (automating processing these lists is very difficult). I don’t mind tedium of this kind of processing but I don’t learn much. The dictionaries or glossaries that are entirely in Spanish are a bit more interesting since I use machine translation of the Spanish to English and often these translations require additional investigation to find out what the terms really mean. That’s a bit more interesting and helps me learn a bit (not just mindlessly accumulate raw data).

But restaurant menus are far more interesting. They often use terms that defy machine translation and thus require a lot of investigation. Thus I learn a lot from these. So being a bit bored with processing lists and not finding any online menus along this stretch of the Camino I used Google maps to find larger towns that are more likely to have menus to see. In the province of Palencia there are not many of these towns; in fact, only the city of Palencia is large enough to provide some online material. And that’s what I’m working on in my food terms part of my adventure and will have some posts on those menus.

So searching the map of Palencia revealed even more of the landscape than I’ve “seen” along my virtual trek. And, frankly, what I see is hot, dry, dusty and boring countryside with sleepy little nondescript towns. A real trek on this stretch would not be very interesting.

Here in Nebraska I have access to three trekking trails that are rural and would require more than a day to walk. First is the nearby MoPac, a rails-to-trails conversion that starts about 20 miles west of Lincoln and goes into the city. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this concept the right-of-way that was granted to build railroads often reverts back to state when the railroad is abandoned. While the railroad was operating the route was transformed to level with gentle curves, either filling in depressions or cutting grades through hills. Here there are numerous small streams so the railroad required bridges and those can be refurbished to provide the walking path. So the MoPac (and others) make for easy and sometimes pleasant walking. Since many of these railroad routes were built when train engines still burned coal (or even wood) there is usually additional area along the side of the tracks so embers didn’t ignite crops or houses. So today the MoPac is overgrown with “wild” brush and trees, often 50m or so on both sides of the trail. As a result hiking is often in the shade, something definitely not the case in Palencia. But there are non-shady stretches along the MoPac that can be seriously hot in summer with intense sun.

A second trail is the Wabash, another rails-to-trails in Iowa. It starts on the south edge of Council Bluffs and continues all the way to Missouri, nearly 70 miles, so more than a day hike. This trails is even more overgrown and shaded than the MoPac. So despite being surrounded by farms, usually within 50m of the trail, it feels more like wilderness. The Wabash goes through a number of towns and a few of those now have refreshment (but not overnight lodging) for trekkers. Doing the entire length of Wabash would take multiple days (possibly doable in one day on a bike, although biking speed on the unpaved trail is much lower than paved road biking, so doing the entire Wabash is harder than doing a Century ride). Thus a trekker would need vehicle support at the end of each day to find lodging. This contrasts with the Camino which has lodging, water and food at convenient daily hiking intervals, undoubtedly one of the main appeals of the Camino, all the infrastructure to support peregrinos.

In segments (and recording with my GPSr) I’ve done the full length of both of these trails and very much appreciate that the states chose to use the abandoned right-of-way for recreation. But in some ways I view these trails as practice (or an appetizer) for a real long-distance trek.

So now I’ll tie this together with Palencia. A third long-distance trail is the Cowboy Trail. Nominally (except it’s unfinished) it could be the longest trekking trail in the US. It’s a bit longer drive for me to reach it (I can get to MoPac or Wabash in an hour) so I don’t normally consider hiking any of it. But the Cowboy Trail is right next to a highway I driven multiple times. So it turns out the Cowboy Trail is very similar to the Camino, at least the long stretch in Castilla y León and especially Palencia province. It has little shade and so also is hot and dry and flat and passes through either monotonous fields of corn or soybeans and further west (even drier) through pasture land. It looks a LOT like the Palencia stretch of the Camino.

In my other hobby I do an online recreation called Geodashing.  This involves trying to reach completely random “dashpoints”, just a latitude and longitude. Geodashing requires getting within 100m of the coordinates without trespassing on private land so I take each month’s new set of dashpoint (about 30,000 each month, worldwide) and analyze if I can reach them (i.e. drive close, often on very remote and sometimes poor roads). As a consequence, having done this for over 10 years, I’m pretty good at analyzing countryside by satellite photos and sometimes Google Streetviews. Looking down from space on features on the ground takes some practice to imagine what there is at ground level. So I’ve had lots of practice with this and thus far doing the same for the Camino route I think I have a good idea of what is around the Camino route. For the Camino there are actually far more Streetview paths (the Google cars seem to have gone on all the little roads in Spain, more so than here in the Great Plains). I’m sure it would be difference to experience it for real but I think I have a good idea about the landscape.

I first learned of the Camino de Santiago from the movie The Way. Later I learned there are actually many branches of the Camino and so more correctly the part of the Camino I’m following is The French Way, aka, Camino Francés. While this is a very ancient pilgrimage route it was closed during the Moorish occupation of Spain but now is the most popular route. The movie makes the Camino far more visually appealing since it mostly shows scenes in Navarra and Galacia; both of these are wetter (thus greener and often wooded, more like wilderness backpacking trails) and have significant topography (i.e. the Pyrenees). But the bulk of the French Way is actually in flat and boring farm country. While the crops in Spain are different than the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska farmland is farmland and not the appealing scenery of other parts of the Camino.

But wrapping this long post up I want to comment on another interesting feature. That is the relative lack of human habitation outside the small towns.

Several decades ago I did an organized bicycle trip through southern Germany and Austria. Many people on that ride were from the midwest US so we discussed differences between rural areas in Germany vs the US. A very pronounced and obvious difference was the lack of farmhouses out among the fields. It seemed, since on a bike we notice hills, that all the farmers lived in small towns on hills and only crops are present in the bottomlands. At first we speculated this was a historical defensive choice as farming is many centuries older than in the US and Europe had a whole flock of wars. But we later learned the more obvious answer was that hills are drained and dry and so not very good for crops so houses were built there leaving the better-watered areas just for crops.

So that is another very noticeable difference between the three tails I described here in Nebraska and the Camino. When you can see beyond tree cover there are farmhouses everywhere on the Nebraska trails. And from the satellite and Streetview images there are almost none in Spain, just like Germany. The other really noticeable difference (which is correlated with lack of farmhouses) is that fields here are much larger and usually quite regular. This is a consequence of the land policies in the US where the government acquired vast tracts of “empty” land (as the sarcasm goes, “stolen fair and square” from the original peoples) and made these easily available to homesteaders. Thus, at least west of Ohio, most of the farm country in midwest US has a grid of roads (many now abandoned but still visible in satviews) on one mile spacing, aka, “section lines”. A section in the US is 640 acres or one square mile. In fact, an completely different geographical reference system is used, known a township/range and section than longitude or latitude.

The homestead act allow people to acquire a quarter section (160 acres) often free or at least very cheaply. So often each square mile had four farm houses, now with many abandoned. Unlike the irregular patchwork quilt of fields I see in Palencia fields here are almost entirely regular (not true in the older parts of the US, i.e. the eastern states).

In the US those original homesteads have mostly been consolidated into larger blocks of land. With automation it’s entirely feasible (and economically necessary) to farm at least an entire section if not several sections. At the time when this land was originally opened (19th century) such large farms were not feasible.

I happen to know all this as I am in the process of obtaining title to a “small” farm in Oklahoma where my mother’s family lived. That farm is a mere 80 acres, 1/2 of the original tract of the typical quarter section of land grants. Before WWII it was feasible for a family to live on such a small farm, raising some crops for income and others for personal consumption. The titles to the land I will inherit are a mess, stretching back to the early 20th century. But one feature of land ownership, now reversed with “corporate” farming, was original tracts get divided through inheritance. So my little 80 acre farm will have three owners (once all the legal process is completed). My father’s family farm was divided among 14 owners. So in the US there are these two competing trends, dividing larger tracts into smaller ones and then (usually through sale by heirs who don’t want the farm or small farmers who can’t economically farm such a small tract) into much larger tracts.

Now looking at the aerial view of Palencia it’s clear the process of subdividing land has been going on a very long time and thus creates the patchwork quilt of small tracts. When I toured Portugal two decades ago, especially in the area south of Lisbon the “modern” trend typical here in the US was occurring. Small farms were not economically viable once Portugal joined the EU so small tracts were being consolidated into larger ones. Much of the farm country south of Lisbon looks a lot like the midwest US. In fact, I was surprised to see the center pivot irrigation systems sprouting up with equipment that was produced in Nebraska (the origin of the invention of center pivot irrigation, now home to most of the producers of that system). Palencia seems to have escaped this consolidation process but I suspect some of the competitive economic pressures of the EU will lead to more consolidation in Spain as well.

So the lack of farmhouses actually out on the land is, I speculate, primarily economic (not defense). Land is simply too valuable to waste by building even just farmhouses on it. So the farmers live in the small villages in a more urban land use pattern. Since the farms are still small in Palencia there are many villages, as there were in Germany as I found one my bike ride there.

Having so many villages, often just a few kilometers apart, was very handy for our ride in Germany. Most of the towns had at least a gasthaus and often a market and/or a bakery. This made obtaining food and water easy. If a town didn’t have what we needed the next town was 20 minutes away. But that’s on a bike. Walking the towns are a couple of hours apart and of course that’s what I’m seeing on the Camino. Most of the small towns on that route have one or more albergues. It wouldn’t surprise me that on peak days peregrinos out number the local citizens. When I was looking off the Camino in Palencia the amount of lodging and restaurants, in the villages, declined, for the obvious reason they wouldn’t have many customers.

Now this is where I can make another comparison observation. Through geodashing I’ve been through a large number of small villages, mostly here in the Great Plains. And these villages are wasting away. If they were big enough to have some shops the now nearby Walmart (outside the taxing authority of the town) has driven those out of business (now Amazon is helping finish the job as seeing delivery trucks in the middle of nowhere is now much more common than when I first started geodashing). So these towns are dying. As a result they have few resources, either food or lodging for travelers. So along the three trails I described here long-distance self-supported trekking is basically impossible.

So what does all this mean? For me it has reduced my interest in doing the Camino. Too much of the route is this boring and hot/dry countryside with boring little towns (from Streetview also with many abandoned buildings like towns here in the midwest). Simply not very interesting.

Now the Camino was really not for recreational tourism. Its origin was the religious notion of pilgrimage. Where the route was interesting or the towns were interesting is mostly irrelevant from the classical pilgrimage POV. But all those little towns with resources for trekkers has meant most modern pilgrims are largely doing recreational tourism. And that would have been my focus. In my younger days I did quite a bit of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. Well my days of sleeping on the ground and eating freeze-dried food are over, my old bones want a bed and hot food. So a long hike on wilderness trails in the US was not on my agenda. So seeing the movie, The Way, I thought the Camino looked like a great alternative. Also with lodging and food the backpack can be a lot lighter than my wilderness backpacking. So it looked attractive.

But now, after my virtual trek, it looks less interesting. Spain is still appealing but I suspect I’d do my conventional tourism (with a car and mostly cities) if I get the chance to go. So I might see bits of the Camino (as I have the Cowboy Trail here) but I doubt I’ll walk it. This is disappointing to me to see the reality of the Camino as rather different than the romanticized view of the movie. The Camino can still be great, certainly as religious or spiritual pilgrimage or as a way to meet a lot of people with the many hours of trekking as an opportunity for conversation. But I was looking at it more like doing the Appalachian Trail but with beds and restaurants. And I think that’s what I’ve learned – too much of the trail would be just hot and dusty and tiring. Many people find the Appalachian Trail fairly boring, often called the “green tunnel”. While there is some spectacular scenery much of the AT is just walking through dense trees with no sights visible. The Pacific Crest Trail, OTOH, is much higher and much of it (at least the California stretch where I’ve backpacked) is dry and so there are some grand vistas.

So it’s all a question of what goals one has for a walk. I liked the Pacific Crest Trail but am now too old to do that. And now it looks like the Camino is out too.

So where do I look now?

Still moving, sadly

I used some of this title line back in a post on June 27 where I described that slowdown in both work on the vocabulary and my physical exertions.  However this month, August, was even worse both in terms of my progress, posting and personal life.

I’m not mugging for sympathy but last Saturday I was attending services for my sister, my only sibling, who died from pancreatic cancer on August 22nd.  There is a connection between her and my work on Spanish culinary terms which I’ll explain. Fortunately I was able to visit her while she was still lucid for her last (77th) birthday. Her death the day after my birthday was a shock. It was all very sudden. She loved her life and was looking forward to more of it – it’s not fair.

My sister loved travel. She had recently covered two places in the world she’d missed, Russia and India. She really only had one place left on her bucket list, Peru. Unlike me she’d been in Spain multiple times. IIRC her first visit was as a chaperone, cheerleader and tutor for her college’s football team, on one of those goodwill type visits of US sports teams to play exhibition games with European teams.

The reason my sister applies to this blog is that I had discussed with her my interest in learning to read restaurant menus in Spain, under the assumption that some day I would be doing it in person. She thought my idea was wrong; instead she advocated learning conversational Spanish so I could query the servers about the food. Her idea was one she had lived. She was more interested in food in Mexico but also learning Spanish. She made three trips, either to a Spanish-only cooking school or to live with families as process of learning “native” Spanish. She worked very hard at it (it was her fifth language). She even found Spanish speakers in her hometown in Ohio and shared cross-teaching where she’d help them with English and they’d help her with Spanish. In addition to Mexico she traveled to Puerto Rico primarily for restaurant visits but also she’d been to Guatemala (again with food but primarily art interest) and was learning Venezuelan cuisine from her friends in Ohio.

So she did what she advocated for me. But I never told her an anecdote about her Spanish. I have a sister-in-law who works on educational materials for ESL (English as a Second Language). She knows some Spanish but isn’t fluent. But her work brings her in contact with many native speakers. And she has a ear for languages. She had gone on a group trip to Oaxaca that my sister had organized and so observed her speaking to the locals. She joked that my sister’s accent was so bad she was barely understandable to native speakers. My sister had a PhD in English Literature and was very academically inclined, so naturally she had mastered grammar and vocabulary. But when it came to speaking she wasn’t great.

Now this anecdote also had a bearing on me. Just before I left California 20 years ago I had enrolled in Spanish classes. I’d gotten some books, a couple of DVDs and had tried to learn Spanish on my own. It was a complete failure. Having some conversational ability in Spanish, in California and some other parts of the USA is a survival skill. Most of the people I might hire as skilled labor for projects around my home had minimal English knowledge and so my being somewhat fluent in Spanish would have been helpful to discuss the work. Also on various bike rides I ended up in towns where the only language spoken was Spanish. But alas I have no talent for languages. I did learn some French and some German and could barely get by (using French in Quebec and German in Germany and Austria). But I just could never either hear or speak the sounds needed for Spanish. I sometimes watch Spanish TV programs here and the words go by so fast I catch almost nothing. It’s a hard language for me. OTOH, the written part is not so bad. Frankly it’s easier than either French or German and so I can do the “book learning” part of Spanish, much like my sister. But I suspect my accent would be far worse than hers and no one would understand me. So I’ll persist in my project focused on written materials, i.e. restaurant menus.

So that’s enough on that subject, why then am I labeling this post about my progress on my virtual trek. Despite spending most of August either driving or at my sister’s house I did manage to get some miles in.  As I mentioned in my previous post I was doing around 25 miles/month in the early months of the year but had fallen to about 14 miles/month. So in August I did manage 17.55 miles. Of course this is nothing compared to the requirements of pilgrimage on the Camino, literally my monthly amounts being around the requirement PER DAY! to complete the Camino in the standard time. But to my defense I also did 355 miles on stationary bike even in the few days I was at my home with my exercise equipment. And August was the end of my most recent year of records and so I’ve done 5698 miles of biking which isn’t too bad. In California where I regularly did recreational rides as well as commuting to work on a bike I only did about 4000 miles a year and that was 25 years younger than now.

In fact, even though walking seems the best way to do the Camino I am reconsidering whether I might try it on a bike instead. I once did a two week escorted trip in Germany where we averaged about 50 miles a day. But there the overnight stops were arranged and luggage was carried in the sag wagon. For the Camino it’s a bit tougher, both to find lodging (and even food) and carry cargo. I have done one bike camping trip along the California coast, again in the 50 mile/day range. Having all my camping gear on the bike made the riding more challenging (even requiring walking too very steep hills despite my low gears that had always worked, even in the Sierra Nevada climbs). It was quite a bit harder than an escorted trip. Of course all sorts of escorted trips exist for the Camino so maybe I’ll be realistic and do one of those.

So on the last day of August I did reach another destination along the Camino at 245.63 miles, the small town of Calzadilla de la Cueza. There are a couple of albergues (and some private rooms) and perhaps one restaurant (no online menu to translate). But what was a bit interesting was the previous stop with lodging and food was 10 miles earlier. On a bike that’s no big deal but on foot, if one had arrived at Carrión de los Condes and discovered there were no spaces continuing on to Calzadilla de la Cueza would be difficult. That is one of the challenges I see with my doing the Camino solo. I’m not quite as flexible as I was 50 years ago and so being relatively certain I have a reasonable place for overnight is pretty critical. So this gap I covered in August is the longest I’ve encountered thus far.

And this is one of the appeals of the Camino. It’s so popular there is a lot of infrastructure to support trekkers. In contrast the California coast (or even worse the trip across America) can have vast distances with little facilities, even water can be a challenge. OTOH, biking in Germany was fine as the distances between towns was a easy ride and there were many towns. BUT local customs matter – Germany had weekday ruhetags (rest days) and arriving in a town on that day, forget staying in the local gasthof. So a solo traveler can find themselves in a bit of a jam.

So again I may have to consider an escorted trip as my days of solo travel may be past.

So I hope to do a bit better this month on both my treadmill and biking distances. The visits to my sister interrupted my schedule but at least the last one where she was alive I will cherish and be happy I wasn’t on the Camino and unable to see her one last time. I will be glad to be home and exercising rather than that very sad traveling.