Another country menu; Tour de France

I’ve picked up my treadmill pace (and thus my miles on my “virtual” Camino trek) and so I’ve reached Frómista in Palencia province of Castile and León autonomous community. There I found four different eating establishments with online menus so I have a lot of raw source material to translate, analyze and feed into my corpus.

It’s been easier to get more miles on my stationary exercise equipment because now I’ve got the Tour de France on TV to inspire me (more than usual daytime TV shows). While I’ve mentioned I’ve now done 222.5 miles on treadmill I’ve also done 3665.6 miles on my stationary bike in the same time period. When I lived in California, counting biking to work, I usually did about 5000 miles a year so my boring stationary riding is about the comparable distance to what I used to do 25 years ago. But even with boring bike commuting it was a lot more fun riding real roads (especially in the San Francisco Bay Area which has some excellent biking routes) so at least with the Tour on TV I can make that my vicarious experience. So in the sprint to the finish in Stage 6 I managed to do 1.3 miles in the same time the racers did 1.5 miles – not bad, except they were climbing a very steep hill! I once got to participate in warmup laps with professional riders so I have a pretty good idea how much better they are than I am. I was going full out and just barely keeping up with the pros (well below Tour level, just local California pros) who were just loafing along. So I have no illusions of ever being capable of racing and certainly not at 72. But still it’s satisfying to “ride along” with the peleton.

But back to Spanish food and deciphering menus. Of the four possible in Frómista I’m reporting on the first, Villa De Fromista.  At first I thought Google Translate badly botched a few items but on further investigation I believe GT’s problem was due to the unusual HTML structure that made it difficult to tell boundaries between items and so Spanish words were “run together” in the text that Google translated. Since GT claims to use “context” (or sometimes described as using all words as a group rather than individual word-by-word translation) parsing the menu items incorrectly is bound to create confusion for it. But this is yet another cautionary warning to readers who might think in today’s high tech world a smartphone, with machine translation, is sufficient to decipher menus in a foreign language. So machine translation still has a ways to go and so my project to build a superior translation, keyed to the actual structure of menus in restaurants in Spain, still (if I succeed) could be more useful.

So, a few items of interest and I’ll get to the other three restaurants in another post. The restaurant has a MENÚ DEL PEREGRINO (Pilgrim’s Menu) for a mere 11’50€ and the MENÚ ESPECIAL for 19’50 €. It also offers GUARDA BICICLETAS which Google translates as ‘KEEPING BIKES’ and Microsoft translates as the more obvious ‘Bike Guard’ (presumably the same as a bike rack as called in USA) and this fits into my focus on the Tour. As I’ve studied the Camino in detail I have wondered about biking it instead of walking. I did do a long (escorted) ride in Germany and Austria once and I found biking to be a very pleasing pace for touring: not too fast and miss everything like with a car, but not as slow as walking and thus little change in scenery during the day. Since I’m averaging 26.2 miles/day on my stationary bike maybe working back up to 50 miles/day (which was my Germany pace) and thus completing the Camino in less than two weeks should be my focus (plus the possibility of going miles off the Camino to find better food or accommodations, plus fewer crowds).

Anyway back to the menu. The biggest mistake in translation which I don’t think is due to parsing the HTML is:


Battered cod with french fries

where Microsoft’s translation (in green) is much better (certainly more useful). How bacalao became ‘coco’ is a real mystery. rebozado we’ve encountered before and is just a conjugation of the very rebozar (to coat with batter). So this really is a fairly simple item to translate.

And this is kinda funny but obviously a poor translation


Mushroom Scramble

because we’ve covered revuelto already in this blog and ‘revolted’ isn’t even close.

LECHAZO ASADO (‘roasted lamb’, Microsoft got the animal right but missed this is one of the standard references to suckling (unweaned) lamb) and COCHINILLO ASADO (roast suckling pig) were totally botched by Google but it’s so bad it has to be due to parsing issues in the HTML.  Google displayed lettuce (actually lechuga) and chicken (actually pollo or gallina), neither of which is even close. Several times A LA PLANCHA becomes ‘to the plate’ which is a nominally correct literal translation but as we’ve covered in other posts this really means ‘grilled’ (as on iron griddle or skillet). ‘to the plate’ would be confusing it you didn’t know the more useful translation.

And this is an amusing translation that is actually more correct than it first seems:

ENTRECOT DE GANADO (lit: cattle or live stock) MAYOR (lit: older)

In other words this is just an aged Beef Entrecote where entrecôte (the French spelling) would mostly translate to ribeye. To a steak lover what isn’t in the menu is whether this is dry-aged or wet-aged. Unless the steak is tiny having this priced at 19’50 € (for all three courses) is either a very good deal or unlikely to be equivalent to this item in a premium steakhouse in the USA.

So, as usual, a more careful translation of the menu reveals a bit different view on what one might choose. Soon I’ll cover the other three restaurants in Frómista (that have online menus) as I trudge further west on my virtual Camino trek.





Left Burgos …

… the province, not the city which I left a long time ago.

Like most Americans I have limited sense of geopolitical subdivisions of Spain. Several years ago I learned about the autonomous community divisions and probably know most of them. But these are in turn (sometimes) divided into provinces which don’t really correspond (most of the time) to states in USA or provinces in Canada.

Thus I didn’t really expect to be crossing into a new province, Palencia in Castilla y León autonomous community (the largest in Spain). I discovered this from converting my basement treadmill “hiking” miles along a GPS track of the Camino de Santiago. The best I can do for now is then look at satellite or streetviews on Google Maps to get a clue of what it might be like to be at that spot along the Camino.

So I noticed the Puente Fitero which looks like a relatively new (and attractive) bridge over the rio Pisuerga. That’s approximately the boundary of Burgos and Palencia provinces and my accumulated treadmill “hiking” of 213.8 miles puts me just past Itero de la Vega.  After Palencia it looks like León province comes next before finally crossing into Galicia.

Since my previous look at the route of the Camino was from the movie The Way I was unaware of how much of the Camino passes through Castilla y León, which, frankly looks pretty boring.  The movie had far more scenes from Navarra or Galicia, both of which are a lot more interesting (and green and/or hilly). In fact a lot of views I get in Castilla y León look closer to the Central Valley of California or in some cases even the Cowboy Trail here in Nebraska. I’d certainly not be very interesting in hiking those, especially in summer trail, so this part of my “virtual” trek has dampened my enthusiasm for doing the Camino. Maybe only the short western segment (minimum to qualify) would be better.

But I’ll keep doing my basement miles and converting them to my virtual trek as it remains a good incentive for the boredom of exercise.

Still moving, even if slowly

May and June have had a lot of deviations, for me, from my daily routine. As a consequence I haven’t done much work on this project nor much in terms of my virtual trek. I’m using a GPS trace of the Camino de Santiago to map my workouts on a stationary treadmill in the basement, as an incentive to keep up my miles. With the interference I’ve had in the last two months I’ve fallen quite a bit.

For the first five months of my virtual trek I average about 25.5 miles/month. Not much when compared to an actual trek (typical distance of 1.5-2 days). But I’ve also averaged 537 miles/month on a stationary bike so overall my exercise is fairly high. However during May-June I’ve only averaged about 14 miles/month, more due to missing days than shorter days. Hopefully I’ll get back on track.

But all this has brought me, as of yesterday, 208.1 miles on my virtual Camino, which is probably more than most do on the real pilgrimage which is now mostly tourists joining the fad on short guided trips. So where does that put me?  Just a bit beyond Castrojeriz, still in Burgos Province in the autonomous community of Castile and León. Actually Castrojeriz is the biggest town I’ve passed through in some time and there are enough tourist/pilgrim accommodations to “visit” numerous albergues and restaurants, one of which has an online menu.

So that means I get to look at another menu for any interesting details beyond the simple (nearly-)literal translation Google does for webpages. (Google claims to be context-oriented but I think that’s an overblown claim as I’ve previously documented in older posts). Reading menus (with some smartphone app) is the long-range goal of my project and finding menus (critical from Spain, not just in Spanish) and translating them and researching eccentricities in translation will produce raw material for my corpus of dual Spanish-English entries on which to base my app.

So, let’s look at Casa Cordón’s carta (menu) in Castrojeriz, Burgos, Spain. It has two sections of entrantes (starters), frío (cold) and caliente (hot), a section of primeros (first) and a section of segundos (seconds), a fairly typical menu listing.  [Note: usually carta is equivalent to a la carte in USA versus menu which is usually some limited set of choices for a particular price, i.e. equivalent of prix fixe in USA] The entrantes have few surprises (in translation) but here are a couple of interest:

cecina de León Lion smoked beef

While cecina might indeed be beef it is usually translated as just ‘cured meat’ and thus might be from any animal and some people might care which. At least ‘cured meat’ is, at minimum, a more useful translation.

I also note three different “meanings” of de (simply of):  1) queso de oveja (sheep) or queso de cabra (goat): in this case de describes which animal’s milk is used to produce the cheese; 2) variedad de setas (literally: ‘variety of mushrooms’, more correctly means an “assortment” of mushrooms, not a particular variety as per the literal translation): in this case de is used in the conventional manner of a preposition; and, 3) morcilla de Burgos (which Google didn’t “translate” as all): in this case de means a particular type of morcilla (blood sausage) typical of the Burgos area (not made out of bits of burgoses). Now some visitors might know what morcilla is (it is common and often found) but again some people might actual want to know it is a sausage with blood in the mix. So these translations, at minimum, could be a bit more helpful than what Google (or probably any smartphone translation) would provide.

There are a couple of other interesting failures in translation that a little research (hard to do while a server is waiting for you to order or if you don’t have an Internet connection to do searches).

Crema Castellana Cream Castellana

This is a named dish (in the style of Castile, aka Castilian) for which there are multiple recetas (recipes). Translating crema to creme can be literally correct but also often refers to a cream-based soup. In most of the recipes for this item ‘puree’ would be a more accurate translation (the key ingredients are garlic, eggs and old bread). This is a typical case where a really good menu translation would require a description of the item not just a literal translation.

Tallarines con tomate Noodles with tomato

Now some type of noodles with some type of tomato sauce is probably all you need to know but ‘noodle’ is fairly vague (although the literal translation from Oxford for the singular (and accented) tallarín). Somehow Google search connects this to a Wikipedia entry on tagliatelle (this is a mysterious process I’ve previously reported) but I can’t confirm any definition connection of tallarín as tagliatelle,  so simply ‘noodles’ will have to suffice. Often in photos I’ve seen penne more commonly with simple tomato sauce, but probably pasta is just pasta to a hungry peregrino.

Lechazo de Castilla y León Lechazo de Castilla y León

Somehow Google missed this (I’ve seen it get it right, maybe the “context” of de Castilla y León confused it despite the fact any trekker would know they’re in Castilla y León and thus this is just a regional designation. Remember leche is milk would help but really knowing lechazo is one of several terms for ‘suckling’ (not weaned young animal) is better. But this term is used for both piglets and lambs, so the menu alone, even translated better, might not be sufficient to decide to order this item and thus conversation would be needed.

Perdiz de Monte escabechada Pickled Monte Partridge

Here learning perdiz (correctly translated as partridge) is helpful and escabechada is derived from the verb escabechar (to pickle, to souse) is fairly literal, but what about monte – is this some additional (and relevant?) qualification of partridge.  monte normally would mean ‘mountain’ but it can also mean ‘woodland’. This was a bit difficult to track down but it does appear to be a particular wild partridge that is now fairly rare although there is a farmed version that is similar. But searches also revealed a tinned pâté of this bird so it’s still unclear exactly what this menu item might be.

And finally, lubina a la espalda or dorada a la espalda. lubina is correctly translated by Google as ‘sea bass’ but, as I’ve usually seen dorada is translated (literally, but wrong in this context) to ‘gold’ or ‘golden’. In fact it’s a particular type of fish with some dispute whether it is ‘gilt-head bream’ (more likely as this is a Mediterranean fish) or ‘dolphin [fish]’, aka, ‘mahi-mahi’ which is less likely as this is not commonly found in Spain. I’ve had mahi-mahi (and like it) but never gilt-head bream so it would be a bit of adventure to order this (and given the typical blandness of fish could I even tell which it is).

But items then use a la espalda as further description but what does this mean? Google did a literal translation of ‘on the back’ but that’s not helpful. Often on menus for fish there is a qualifier of which part of the fish, e.g. cheek, belly, filet so is ‘back’ something like this? No, as best I can tell from photos in search results it simply looks like a cooking method where the entire fish is split and flattened and then fried with skin (back) side down, i.e. a fairly simple preparation. I can’t confirm this so this is one of those terms I’ll add to my corpus, provisionally, with a lower confidence value.

So hopefully I can pick up my pace, both trekking and posting, but at least one of the issues that has reduced my activity will continue for a while so posts may be less common.

A simple country menu

I happened to notice this small restaurant (see menu below) as I was examining the small town of Hornillos del Camino in Burgos Province as I just passed through on my virtual trek, now at a distance of 193.8 miles. It’s a rather inconspicuous place (in fact, somewhat hard to find) but has some interesting info in its Google listing. So here’s it’s simple menu (hand copied from photo, translated by Microsoft) and you can see a couple of the dishes (shown in blue in menu) in the photos on Google maps. This one is fairly easy to translate with just modest amount of learning Spanish; I only missed remolacha (beet, not a favorite for me) from memory.

Based on the photos I think I’d need more food after walking all day. As much as the Camino fascinates me, frankly, this part of it is really boring and this small town is uninteresting. But that may be part of the trip, plenty of opportunity to be contemplative here rather than exciting sight-seeing tourism.

Note: In case you’re not using to using Google Maps go to in your browser and then search for Hornillos del Camino, Burgos, Spain. You’ll see the Green Tree as a POI indicator – click on that to bring up the information page with photos.

Neson    4.8    ⊗⊗⊗⊗⊗


Calle San Pedro, 30, 09230 Hornillos del Camino, Burgos, Spain


Menu del día           9.5₡

Primero: First
Sopa del día Soup of the Day
Ensalada de queso de cabra con fresas y remolacha Goat cheese salad with strawberries and beetroot
Hummus de la casa con verdura y pan Hummus of the House with vegetables and bread
Segundo: Second
Currie de verduras Currie of Vegetables
Risotto de Espárragos Asparagus Risotto
Kimchi con Albondigas o Tofu Kimchi with meatballs or Tofu
Postre: Dessert
Postre de día Day Dessert
Pudín de pan y mantequilla Bread pudding and butter
Yogur con fruta y miel Yogurt with fruit and honey

A few random bits

Rather than a focused post I’ll just catch up on a few disparate items.

First I’m recording another milestone along my virtual trek which is arriving in Burgos. Burgos was one of the main locations in the movie The Way (where Tom’s pack was stolen) and its main feature is the cathedral. A virtual trek, (i.e. actually exercising on a treadmill in the basement and transferred the accumulated miles onto a GPS trace of the Camino de Santiago) may seem silly but it serves two purposes for me: 1) walking on a treadmill is really boring so I need to have some goal and sense of accomplishment, since I need the treadmill exercise (esp. during the winter here) so I’m in shape to do some real outside walking, and, 2) the slow pace gives me a chance to fairly thoroughly investigate the route (using satellite views, Google StreetView (often available on the Camino and I see lots of peregrinos) and Points of Interest (so I look at photos of albergues and restaurants, plus sometimes find menus). It’s certainly not the same as the real thing but better than nothing.

Before reaching Burgos I’d not found any online menus in other small towns on my virtual trek since Logroño so I had begun to extract terms from a couple of glossaries I’d previously found. I’d already spent a long time (previously reported) on the GallinaBlanca online dictionary so I was also interested in seeing whether the two other lengthy lists I’d found would just be redundant. So that led me back to a bit of coding (haven’t done that for a while) in order to automate the comparison (each extract I’d done was in an incompatible format so first my code had to generate a canonical extract to compare). During that process one of my lists just disappeared (I was only about 1/4 done with it). That’s disappointing since it was a good list and had many terms I hadn’t previously found. Crunching through dictionaries or glossaries is very tedious and nowhere nearly as interesting as looking at menus (which is the purpose of my project here). But it’s a different way to get a sufficiently large corpus to feed into the menu translator I’m building.

So with Burgos on the horizon I began, once again, to focus on restaurant menus. In the small towns I find the restaurants directly as Google Maps POI’s which are clickable to get some info (esp. user contributed photos) and perhaps then linked to a website. Those with websites (fairly uncommon on the small places in small towns) might have a textual menu (many just have photos) and that allows me to generate side-by-side Spanish and English (usually translated by Google Translate, sometimes other ways) terms that I’ll feed into my corpus. Without all the fancy deep learning AI Google uses to train their translator I’ll be using a more algorithmic process to train mine, but mostly to spot Spanish terms that have multiple translations and try to determine the best (more on that below).

So for Burgos the area is quite large (you have to zoom in a lot on Google Maps for the POIs to appear) so I used a different approach. There are numerous rating services for restaurants (I only partly trust them here in USA, so no clue whether they work well in Spain) so just because it has a convenient format I used the Trip Advisor list, which has a total of 376 restaurants. I’ve only looked through the first 40 or so. Less than half of these have websites and probably only about half of those have text I can scrap off the website (often the menu is a photo or some other type of document where the browser can’t select any text that I can then paste in my working document). So with this vast amount of material I’ve been quite busy with menus, having now crunched through six already (with some stories to tell). And I’ve got enough more to finish to keep me busy as in fact my virtual trek has already left Burgos.

But as a random tidbit, tied to the notion of producing entries for my corpus, is the variable translation of the term ración. And I do mean translation (not definition) and usually by Google. The simplest (and most frequent) literal translation is ‘ration’ but even seeing exactly the same word (although sometimes modified with 1/2) on the same page Google translates it differently and also as ‘portion’ or ‘serving’. That’s a bit of a mystery to me why there is the inconsistency but of course Google claims (in its limited online explanations of how Google Translate works) that it is “context-sensitive” in doing translations (IOW, Google also had a large corpus, mostly of translated material in the United Nations, that their AI analyzed to decide both the translation and the “context”). But within a single website, all about food, one would think the context would always be the same. But it’s not the webpage that represents “context” (I realized) it’s the source corpus where “context” is being deduced. So the notion of using “context” to improve translation doesn’t mean quite what one would think.

Now instead of translation here’s what Oxford has as definitions:

1 Cantidad de alimento que se da en una comida a una persona o animal. Amount of food that is given in a meal to a person or animal.
2 Porción unitaria de algo que puede dividirse en varias partes iguales. Unitary portion of something that can be divided into several equal parts.
3 Cantidad determinada de alimento que se toma como aperitivo entre varias personas o comida informal; suele tomarse como acompañamiento de una bebida en un establecimiento público. Quantity of food that is taken as an aperitif among several people or informal food; It is usually taken as an accompaniment to a drink in a public establishment.
4 Cantidad suficiente de algo, generalmente la que se consume en un solo día o a intervalos regulares por una persona o animal. Sufficient quantity of something, usually that which is consumed in a single day or at regular intervals by a person or animal.

Since porción is literally portion it makes some sense to have that as a translation (along with ‘helping’ and ‘serving’) the part of the definition that seems to make the most sense in the context of a restaurant menu is #3 (also #2) more than the sense of the literal ‘ration’ (as in #1 or #4, more a military term). But it is also a quantity designation (more than pincho) even if it is only consumed by one person. Now deciding how much a 1/2 or 1/4 ración is yet another challenge but it appears most restaurants do price a 1/2 at more than 50% of the price of a whole, so if you want a whole order it as two 1/2’s will cost a lot more. IOW, you probably need to be able to discuss this with your server, once again evidence that a menu translator (vs fluency in Spanish) is not going to be sufficient.

Finally as yet another random tidbit one dessert item that didn’t translate (as I’ve described before, it just is what it is) was mantecado. It wasn’t heard to find this (I thought it might be a brand but it’s just the name of a cookie) with an interesting description (here) where it is described as being similar to polvorón which has its own Wikipedia page (here) that also that mentions mantecados and says they are not the same as polvorón (you could fool me looking at the pictures in that page).

From that same menu (here) for the item espárragos cojonudos Google Translate doesn’t have English for cojonudos (espárragos is asparagus in case you’re wondering). Tracking down cojonudos with search quickly led to the connection to cojones which is a term many Americans know as part of slang but it’s not clear how ‘ballsy’ would apply to asparagus . But this article assures us the slang meaning is not the relevant one and the more respectable is ‘awesome’ or ‘outstanding’. Furthermore a particular asparagus from Navarra chooses to label itself with cojonudos  so I guess the connection to cojones doesn’t bother them (or maybe they’re not aware of the etymology of cojonudos).


Menú peregrino

This post was going to start as one of my milestones on my virtual trek but along the way I found something more interesting. In terms of milestones I just passed through the small village of Villambistia and while doing my usual search and investigation of either restaurants or albergues/hotels I found this delightful place: Casa de los deseos (I guess the literal translation of ‘home of the wishes’ could make sense, but deseo has a few other meanings). A search for it in will get you information or you can use this coordinate as the search in Google maps: 42°24’15.6″N 3°15’37.1″W.

On the satellite view it appears to be an empty lot (a bit ambiguous on the Street View) but the photos that Google has associated with Casa de los deseos show a charming place that looks quite new, so perhaps it has been built since the last satellite photo of this village. In one of the photos the following menu for peregrinos (pilgrims) is clearly visible and I’ve copied it for here. It’s a simple menu which is typical of the fairly cheap, but hardy food options for trekkers.

* Espaguetis – Macarrones

con tomate – carbonara

* Legumbres

Garbanzos, alubias, lentejas

* Ensalada Mixta

Tomate, lechuga, maiz, zanahoria

* Lasaña

* Filetes de lomo con pimientos

* Pechuga de pollo con pimientos

* Huevos fritos

* Tortilla francesa

* Pollo asado

* Panini

Pan, agua o Vino



Despite having no fluency in Spanish I did recognize most of this, either simply as cognates to English or as a consequence of short-term memory acquisition of some food terms in Spain doing these blog posts and my project. zanahoria (carrot) and lentejas (lentils) are the two items I couldn’t remember. A ELEGIR is not obvious but I’ve mentioned this in other posts (to choose). lomo, the subject of one of my earlier posts is probably the cured meat, not the loin of some unmentioned animal, but this is probably something one would want to ask (or see at some other table).

I was a bit mystified by Tortilla francesa. As I’ve mentioned just the plain term tortilla is seriously different in Spain (potato and egg dish) than anywhere in the western hemisphere (masa flatbread). It’s often qualified as tortilla española but it’s such a common dish on the Camino it is usually seen on menus just as tortilla. This blog post and this blog post, here at, have a  nice explanation of these two egg dishes and the difference. I suppose I should have done the ah-ha moment and thought francesa might be the omelet.

For me I think I’d be hungry enough I’d go for 2 PLATOS and choose Pollo asado (probably simple grilled chicken, I’m guessing dark meat since chicken breast (pechuga de pollo) is a different item) and the Ensalada Mixta.  If the Legumbres dish had included chorizo I’d go for that as the usual hearty meal for trekkers, but I think they’d mention that if it did. And, for me, not much of a tossup between agua o Vino. (The bar in this place looked fun to so I suspect they’d have some decent ordinary vino.) cerveza I’d skip in any of these places since that’s one area where I’m spoiled with great craft beer in the USA (nearby Iowa has the most breweries per capita of any state) and it’s almost always watery lager found in Spain.

8,95€ isn’t cheap but it’s hard to find an actual sit-down restaurant in small towns we visit while geodashing in USA that would be much less. But this is one very appealing part of the Camino, the support found in these tiny villages, such as Villambistia. There is a trail here in Nebraska, the Cowboy Trail, that doesn’t look much different (than the Camino) in terms of the walking but it’s around 30-50 miles between towns that even have a restaurant and even further between towns with overnight accommodations. So trekker there can only work if you have a support team with a car (also, needless to say, there is no public transportation to take you to some town). So finding not just the usual albergue but this very nice one would almost make it worth visiting Villambistia.


Left La Rioja

These “progress” reports of my virtual trek on the Camino are probably the least interesting posts I make here, but bear with me. But I want to record this progress as a kind of journal. I’ll attempt to spice up these posts with some personal story.

In this case today, with my increased mileage on my basement treadmill, I passed through the town of Redecilla del Camino. As I always do I used Google maps to “explore” any POI (points of interest) Google notes. These include both the restaurants I find to use as source material for my Spain food terms corpus, but also lodging, stores, etc. So when I was looking at an albergue in Redecilla del Camino I noticed the address indicated Burgos.

At first I was confused by this. I am familiar (from a distance) of the city of Burgos as an important place on the Camino but I’m still some distance from there. So digging around a bit I also learned, today, that Burgos is a province, part of the autonomous community of Castile and León. Looking back at the Google map I discovered the boundary between La Rioja and  Castile and León is between Redecilla del Camino and Grañón, the milestone of my last post, so I realized I had crossed this border. I wonder if there is even a sign had I been actually walking.

When I became fascinated with Spain several years ago I attempted to learn the geography and the political entities. Thus I learned a bit about the  autonomous communities as the major divisions of Spain. I tried to memorize what all these were and where they were. Later I learned some of these are then divided in provinces. La Rioja was both province and autonomous community (as well as a regional designation not exactly aligned on the political entities, somewhat like Nebraska is part of the “Great Plains” region of the USA). So it didn’t take very long to “walk” through La Rioja after leaving Navarra.

All this would be familiar to a resident or actual traveler but as someone who has never been to Spain it’s all new. As Sarah Palin once was ridiculed for saying she could see Russia from her home (she’d have to go way west in the Aleutian Islands for that to be true) I “saw” Spain while touring the Algarve in Portugal. I thought about driving a few more hours and at least crossing the border, so I could claim I had at least been in Spain, but that would have been a silly trip (somewhat like I can claim I’ve been in UK/England since I went through an airport there on the way to Portugal). Having merely crossed a border is not the same as an actual visit so I’ll have to wait until I really can visit Spain to claim I’ve been there.

Castile and León appears to be the largest autonomous community and since the Camino seems to cross most of it this will be a long trek. My impression is this area is far enough from the coast to be primarily the hot and dry part of Spain, less influenced by the cooler and wetter weather along the northern coast. My comments in the last post about the appearance of the countryside (not much different than western Nebraska or the Central Valley of California) suggest to me this is probably the least interesting part of the Camino. At least it appears fairly flat and so less strenuous walking but the lack of shade makes me wonder why so many people do the Camino in summer – do they know about this?

Without actually visiting a country it’s hard for an outsider to know much about geography. I’ve been in almost every province of Canada (and 49 of USA states) so I can relate to those from personal memory. But merely looking at maps is no substitute to try to really learn geography of a country by visiting. What I do know is that there is both a strong cultural difference and also gastronomical difference between the autonomous communities covered by the Camino, which, of course, is one of the appealing points, both to visit or just virtually visit as I’m doing.

So while this is not a “real” milestone it is a significant one for my journey. It feels about like going to Texas in the USA. I was born in Texas but left as a child and actually never expected to return. To my surprise I’ve returned a number of times. You can drive long days and still not be out of Texas so I suspect my virtual experience in  Castile and León (even just Burgos province) will be even longer.

So with this post out of the way I can return to my main topics. FOOD!

Moving faster, again

I’ve previously mentioned that in order to encourage myself to burn up miles on a treadmill in my basement I transfer that mileage to a GPS track I have of the Camino de Santiago. Thus I can track “progress” (also find new restaurants to virtually explore) and so at least have the virtual experience keeping alive my dream of someday having  the real experience.

Anyway a few weeks ago I suddenly started having severe enough pains in my toes to decide to rest a bit and then reduce my workouts. Recently, as mysteriously and quickly as the pain came on now it appears to be gone. Bodies are sometimes a real mystery.

So cautiously I went back to my mid-intensity workouts. My machine records a lot of data and I analyze that in spreadsheets. My recent low intensity workouts require about 120 calories burned per mile (this is zero slope and 2.0 mph). My medium intensity is more like 170 calories burned per mile (5.5 degree slope and 2.5mph). The high intensity that I was doing just prior to toe pain is a bit more erratic in the data since I boost the slope to 15 degrees and 2.8mph as long as I can stand (usually just a couple of minutes) and then back off to recover (in essence, simulating interval training which is superior for cardiovascular benefits than endurance training). So my high intensity was running about 215 calories burned per mile. When I was much younger I did significant amount of backpacking, in rugged terrain (mostly Sierra Nevada mountains, the ones in California, not Spain) with heavy pack and that effort felt like workout load between the medium and high intensity I’m doing now, without the bugs (of course I’m also 40 years older, so who knows).

So as a result of higher pace (I did only 6 miles in about 3 weeks while nursing my angry toe) I’ve now made 139 miles (from St Jean) and so my GPS track shows me just past the town Grañón (which is west of the bigger town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada).

So I’ll stick with the medium intensity and see if I can catch up the gap I created (from my previous regression trendline) and hope the toe pain does not return but I’ll skip the high intensity. I suspect the Camino intensity would be a bit less than my medium intensity workouts.

Doing training in a basement is helpful for tuning the body but is really boring. So in a few weeks the weather will allow hitting the trails some. Fortunately we have two reasonable outdoor trails within an hour’s drive: the Wabash in Iowa and the MoPac in Nebraska. These are trails built on top of abandoned railroads. The railroads were built long ago and thus were coal-burning locomotives so to protect crops from burning embers the railroad right-of-way was fairly wide. Today, with the trains long gone, the right-of-way is mostly woods and thus the trails are fairly well shaded. Which is good because it gets hot here in direct sun. The downside, however, is the humidity is higher along the trail than elsewhere. Two years ago when I was actually training for the Camino I began to push up my distance on those trails, with my maximum (and really only a half day) at 16 miles so I was getting close to the required distance.

But I know day-after-day is a lot different than a single day. I used to average about 20 miles a day on my bicycle and could easily do 40-50/day on weekends and then an occasional Century. But, when I did a (escorted) bike tour of Germany and Austria with about 50 miles every day it steadily wore me down to be going every day. So I suspect the Camino is like that, being able to do the daily distance, for just one day, is nowhere near the same as day-after-day. Plus I returned to my home and standard meals thus not facing the occasional dubious albergue and/or dubious restaurante.

So in doing my “virtual” Camino trek I use the images collected by Google on Streetview. Much of the route my GPS track shows has been covered by the Google cars. In fact, often looking at the street view I see the trekkers. So I’ve seen the route, steadily since leaving the Pyrenees go from green and wooded to brown, flat, dry and plain. Even going further west in La Rioja has lost most of the vineyards. So the Camino is dusty and flat. At one point it was just a dirt path alongside a divided highway.

In short the “boring” trails (say compared to mountain trails on either USA coast) here are still better. At least they have shade and a good walking surface. During summer they are a green tunnel, a lot like the Appalachian Trail (the Pacific Crest is much more exposed, like the segment of the Camino I’m now on). And the walking itself looks iffy. The two trails here are covered with crushed limestone which makes for fairly smooth (easy on the feet) walking. In contrast all the rural roads nearby are crushed stone and look just like the ones in Spain in this section of the Camino. Once I took a shortcut and went a couple of miles on the rural roads and that gravel is rough on the feet (also takes more muscle effort due to some slipping on unstable surface).

So frankly, yuck! The Camino between Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Grañón doesn’t look fun at all. Now there is the concept that peregrinos must suffer and on this stretch of the route they will (or at least their feet, plus sunburn (wearing sunscreen when it’s very hot and you’re sweating is seriously not fun)). But this is a silly kind of suffering. It’s like when I did a lot of biking – working hard to go up a mountain had the reward of accomplished the top but I hated biking into headwinds, just an invisible force holding me back. So I see the route in this stretch that way – not really a challenge but just a slog with little point except, hopefully, to reach better outdoors further west. If I wanted a walk like I’m seeing I actually could do it here. Another rails-to-trails project, the Cowboy trail does go as far as the required Camino distance to get the compostela and it too is completely exposed and is parallel to a major highway. I’ve never chosen to do any of that trail, even on a bike, much less the slower pace of walking – too hot, too dry, too boring (and here with lots of insect pests).

But, fortunately, on a virtual trek, I get to avoid that and merely face the boredom of stationary exercise.



Delayed, but still moving

Various issues have interfered with my virtual trek along the Camino. The main issue is some sufficiently unpleasant pains in a toe to discourage my walking on machines or even the streets (it’s beginning to be spring so some walking outside is feasible). I’m disappointed by my lack of progress, just 5.81 miles in just less than a month.

So I have now made it to Santo Domingo de la Calzada which is big enough to have a lot of places to stay and restaurants, even a couple with websites and online menus. It’s surprising (and not so often mentioned in peregrino lore) that most of the country getting here is really boring dry farm county.

OTOH, since it’s been pleasant outside, for a few days, I have about 7 miles of real walking. But this is all nothing. To do the Camino one must be able to cover some significant mileage, each day, and day after day. All that is part of the point of even doing the Camino, the effort, the exertion, the pain.

My situation is a bit different. If I were actually on the Camino “going for it” is part of the point, push through any pain. But I’m in the midwest USA, doing miles on a treadmill in a basement. Rather than pushing through the pain it’s appropriate to “give it a rest”. But it seems like a rest isn’t cutting it.

I’m nearly 72YO. I’m in good shape but meanwhile have sustained a few minor injuries in my life. I don’t like wearing shoes (my southern US background) so, of course, every now and then I’ve banged a toe or part of a foot into some stationary unmoveable object. Those bashes to my body add up. I can’t recall if my current pain, minor but inconvenient, results from such an event, but it does add up.

I figure that I’m lucky. I have both good health and decent fitness (age adjusted). I could do the Camino, maybe a bit slower than others, but I’d get there. The maximum walk I’ve ever taken is about 60 miles on a backpacking trip in Canada. But backpacking is a bit tougher than the Camino.

Once I had the situation where I was working for a small Silicon Valley startup that fell short of funds, so I had a couple of unpaid weeks off (that or lose my job all together). So late in the season I hoped on my bike and rode down the west coast of California (with a ride to get me to starting point, you always ride south along the Pacific coast). I made it all the way, and enjoyed the stops every night. California reserved a spot for all bicyclists, so all of us were forced into the same spot every night. I had a gas lantern and that became the focal point of all the other cyclists. So I get the whole “brief” companionship that occurs on the Camino.

Anyway my visit is still virtual. Who knows if I can actually do it for real. And so my short distances don’t really matter. Weeks to cover a daily distance I can ignore, in virtual. But I wonder what would happen for real.

A la Riojana

My virtual trek has now taken me just past Nájera in La Rioja and there is one restaurant there, Los Parrales, that offers the following menu (plus individual items with a la Riojana as a modifier): [Note: translations are from Google Translate of webpages]

Menú Típico Riojano Typical Riojano Menu
Los sabores más tradicionales de La Rioja The most traditional flavors of La Rioja
Descubre la gastronomía riojana de la mano de nuestro menú típico riojano. Discover the Riojan gastronomy hand in hand with our typical Riojan menu.

If you’ve ever gotten wine from Spain you’ve heard of Rioja. This is the best-known and probably premier wine growing area. Like Napa (which is a region, county and town) La Rioja is a political entity, an autonomous community of Spain, consisting of a single province. The capital is Logroño which was my previous stop on the Camino. The wine region of Rioja is not exactly the same area as the political entity but roughly aligns with it. And Riojana is the demonym of people and things from this region. A la Riojana is a designation, used with food, to indicate the preparation is the one typical used in Rioja. This is similar to Italian practice, e.g. a la Bolognese (a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna).

But what is it?

For me to answer, neither being there in person nor an expert in either Spanish language or cuisine of Spain is a bit of a stretch, so I suggest you find other sources (I’ll be providing some), especially from anyone who is describing their personal experience with a la Riojana.

This article, while in Spanish, has a better description than I can provide. Teresa Barrenechea lumps La Rioja together with Navarra and Aragón, emphasizing the connection to La Ribera del Ebro (the second major river of the entire Iberian Peninsula; ribera is its riverbank, the obvious fertile area for growing crops). While wine is the hallmark of Rioja it is not used, directly, in the cuisine. Instead the cuisine is dominated by vegetables which grow well in the same conditions as vineyards. The cuisine uses less of the fresh seafood of further north but a bit more lamb and beef. It is simple and hearty.

Perhaps the most classic dish is:

Patatas a la Riojana Potatoes Riojana’s style

This is a fairly simple stew (description and typical recipe) of potatoes and chorizo (riojana version) seasoned with ample paprika. It definitely seems to meet the simple and hardy description that is characteristic of much of a la Riojana. It’s amusing that one of the links (for receta) I provided actually uses patatasriojana as the domain name (I guess someone thinks it’s famous).

In terms of fish this also seems to be a classic (description and typical recipe):

Bacalao a la Riojana Cod to the Riojana

I ate numerous cod dishes in Portugal (from desalted salt cod, interesting to see huge piles of it in markets) and, well, it’s pretty blah. The tomato sauce and at least some hint of pepper might elevate this dish above blah levels, but it seems hard to get excited about it.

A more interesting meat dish (again that seems to be a Riojana classic, although not on the menu of this restaurant is las chuletas al sarmiento (chops with the vine shoot, description) which is roast lamb but using the trimmings for grape vines as the smoking wood. The restaurant did have a special menu focused on this dish:

Menú Típico Riojano Especial Lechazo Typical Rioja Special Lechazo (lit: suckling lamb) Menu
Lechazo de Cameros Recién (lit: newly or recently) Asado Newly Roasted Cameros
A elegir de los primeros platos y postres del Menú Típico Riojano Choose from the first dishes and desserts of the Riojano Typical Menu

Now lechazo is a preparation (English link, Spanish link) [and also an alternative term] of cordero lechal . cordero is a lamb (in general), and lechal (derived from leche (milk)) imply a very young and unweaned lamb. So this menu is a variation (at this restaurant and therefore for a certain price) of their Menú Típico Riojano where the lechazo is the required segundo plato.

But it took some looking to finally conclude (as best I can) that the de Cameros (tough to search since a car gets most hits) refers to a geographical area within Rioja, i.e. in and around the Sierra de Cameros in in the south center of La Rioja (in the region of La Rioja Media). Presumably the sheep from this area must be special enough that they’d be labeled on the menu. But this is another typical challenge of deciphering menus.

And then there was this item on the menu:

Revuelto Riojano Scrambled Riojano

I’ve actually mentioned revuelto is a previous post but the images and recipes I find for this seem to be showing off the vegetables that also characterize Riojana. Here is a recipe focused on a version emphasizing peppers. And another recipe that seems to have a bit of everything in a big pile which seems to be merging revuelto and pisto (I love this translation of pisto, hotchpotch, or more conventionally ratatouille).

So that’s our brief tour of La Rioja. Too bad it’s only words since sights and smells and tastes, in real life, would be some much better.

Note: This post took me so long to get it published I’ve passed Nájera and blown into the next town, Azofra. It has a couple of restaurants labeled on the Google map but none (thus far) that appear to have websites to extract their menus. But as a recommendation, Dear Reader, it’s handy to look at these places on Google maps because they collect many photos of food for each restaurant that is a POI. Here is a good interactive map with a GPS trace of the Camino de Santiago.