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?

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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.

Pastelería o repostería o confitería

added: Interestingly pastelería appears in the context of wine tasting terminology which is yet another meaning than I explored in my original version of this post. See at the bottom.

As you can see by my lack of posts I’ve been away. I was in Ohio on “personal business”, the same type of “business” Tom had in The Way. As such it wasn’t any kind of vacation but it still prevented me from research on my project and posting. At one point we thought we might be able to go to Barcelona, no not the wonderful city in Spain, but an interesting restaurant in Columbus Ohio. Based on its online menus it seems very similar to menus I’ve been studying in Spain (names of items in Spanish, descriptions in English): it has a fixed price menú del día; a chef’s tasting menu (degustación); and the standard dinner menu. Most of the terms of the menu would be a mystery to me if I had just dropped in but now most I know from my work here. Whether it is authentic tastes of Spain I don’t know, but I hope to go back some day under better circumstances.

Meanwhile I’ve returned to start doing my stationary exercise, biking and walking. After two weeks off I can tell I’ve lost some tone so it’s a bit hard to get back to my previous speed. Nonetheless I made enough miles on the treadmill to map onto my GPS track of the Camino de Santiago and thus move my “virtual” trek to Villalcázar de Sirga. Palencia. This town is large enough to show four restaurants on the Google map but none had online menus (or even web sites). One had a simple menu but it was graphical rather than text so I couldn’t extract it.

But continuing my hunt I did find an online menu, of sorts, for Confitería La Perla Alcazareña, aka, La Pastelería with the URL http://pasteleriavillasirga.com/. Just a bit of looking at this site quickly revealed Spanish words that have multiple meanings (each word) and are almost synonyms, i.e. pastelería, repostería, confitería. Any of these can be found in at least one dictionary as bakery or pastry shop or confectionery. So which is it?

Digging a bit more alos reveal additional overlapping terms (in the general theme of bakeries): panaderíadulcería, bollería, bizcochería and  galletería.

Now this easiest for me to distinguish is panaderíaWhen I did a long bicycle ride in Germany decades ago we quickly learned to distinguish bäckerei and konditorei. We stopped at our first konditorei at Eberbach on our first day out of Heidelberg. There we sat in a small park with brass sculpture ebers (boars) literally pigging out on delightful confectioneries. Later we stopped at the bäckerei to get rolls to make our lunch sandwiches and there were no sweets to be seen. In the US, if you can find a bakery at all, it probably does both, breads and sweets. And there are so many different baked sweets it’s hard to put them in categories. bollería may be a specialized panadería dealing in bollas (rolls or buns) so we won’t consider it any more.

Just for fun in this area what does pasta mean? Well it can refer to its common meaning in the USA, i.e. pasta or it can be cakes, biscuits (cookies in the UK sense) or general pastries (more often pastel (which can be cake or pie)) or even paste. No wonder these other bakery terms are confusing.

Searching multiple dictionaries and sources I arrive at the idea there are three different things that, at least pastelería and repostería can mean:

  1. the pastry (or sweet or confection) itself
  2. the place where these are produced and/or sold
  3. the process of producing these products

Oh great, covers all the bases which means one could encounter these terms in any context. But here’s my best guess (at it is a guess).

pastelería  primarily deals with cakes (pastel, torta; possibly bizcocho (sponge cakes or lady fingers – bizcochería  specializes in these) and cookies (galleta – galletería specialize in these).  repostería  primarily deals with various sweet pastries and confitería  primarily deals with filled (jam or fillings) pastries. But all of these would cover what one might find in dulcería or konditorei  in Germany or Austria.

Got that. I think it’s safe to say there is a lot of overlap but all would be easy to eat, if not overwhelmed by a sugar (azúcar) rush.

Now just for fun here’s a few things, as exercise for you Dear Reader, to figure out from the menu (really a list of productos  since this appears to be a wholesale place) at Confitería La Perla Alcazareñaalmendrados, tarta de hojaldre, amarguillos, ciegas, mantecadas, rosquillas de palo, rosquillas de baño, brazo de gitano. Only a couple of these have direct English equivalents. And you get extra credit if you can figure out the difference between rosquillas de palo and rosquillas de bañorosquillas, in general are what we’d call doughnuts/donuts here in USA, but what the difference between ‘stick’ and ‘bath’ donuts is, in Spain, remains a mystery. And then, of course, there are churros but that’s a different story.

I’ve gained a few pounds just looking at images in my searching!


As a background task for several weeks now I’ve been researching the extensive terminology (jargon) associated with vino in Spanish.  So briefly after I finished this post I encountered this addition meaning of pastelería.

It is a sweet and toasty aroma with certain features of vanilla and caramelized sugar characteristic of the freshly baked pastry. It appears in the wines of long ageing in oak wood, generally sweet, fruit of its oxidative evolution and of the contribution of the Odoríficos compounds (vanillin) of the oak containers.

This certainly is an obvious extension under the wine terminology of GLOSARIO DE TÉRMINOS RELATIVOS AL AROMA in this source.

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:

BACALAO REBOZADO CON PATATAS FRITAS COCO REBOZADO WITH FRIED POTATOES

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

REVUELTO DE SETAS REVOLTED MUSHROOMS

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)
  (MADURADO MAS DE 25 DIAS)
ENTRECOT OF LARGEST LIVESTOCK
(MATURED MORE THAN 25 DAYS)

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.

Spanish Food in Walla Walla, Washington (USA) !!

Hi, I’m back. 5100 miles of driving from Nebraska to Oregon and back, via Black Hills, Devils Tower, the Columbia gorge, Yellowstone and the Bighorn Mountains. Tiring but beautiful country especially at this time of year when everything is very green. Higher than usual snow in the mountains and suddenly warm days made for some very high water in all the rivers. And we got sick of bison. We first encountered them in Custer State Park in South Dakota. They ignore cars and stand in the highway as long as they like. It took an hour to go just a few miles. But it was worse in Yellowstone as the humans now had to admire the bison and so it was human traffic jams on top of large animals in the road. But I suppose we deserve some payback from them since we consumed some of their cousins as well as some elk.

But we had a real surprise in Walla Walla, Washington. I haven’t been there for at least 50 years and so didn’t remember anything. Walla Walla was not one of our planned destinations, just a midway point between Sandy Oregon and Boise Idaho. So we were surprised to see the profusion of wineries, at least 40 in the valley. Being from California naturally I can’t imagine wine in a cold state but the Walla Walla valley has mild weather so all types of fine grapes can grow there but it seems Syrah is what does the best.

But the real find was a restaurant, Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. Often any region that has wineries will also attract interesting restaurants and there were several in Walla Walla. We chose this one because it had some menu items typical of Spain (as well as other parts of the Mediterranean).  Here’s their menu, easy to read (at least for me as it’s in English, but with a few terms from Spain. On all this trip we tended to get too much food, which we then hate wasting (or accumulating as new fat) so my initial choice of patatas bravas gave way to wood grilled octopus instead. While patatas bravas is a fairly simple dish it is quite tricky to get the crunch just right so I wanted to see if Saffron could do it right. But my wife wanted the octopus and, actually, I’ve mostly avoided it but as it’s common in Spain decided to try. It was delicious. My main course was the Green Garlic Pappardelle and it was terrific, great lamb so while not particularly a dish from Spain at least a common ingredient used there. I’ll have to find out some day how Walla Walla compares to some comparable restaurant along the Camino, but for now this is the closest I’m getting to Spain.

While I didn’t get my patatas bravas I did get a great potato fix at Boise Fry, a place that says it serves burgers as a “side” to their fries. Being Idaho naturally the potatoes we saw growing in vast fields end up as a specialty item. I had a special that day (unfortunately I forget its name) that ended up with the second frying of my hand cut fries in duck fat. Talk about crisp. More sauces to try than I’ve seen anywhere else. We toured the Basque Market (a couple of blocks with Basque flags everywhere) but had already eaten so we didn’t get a chance to try more Spanish food there.

And I have to give a shout-out to Mama Inez in Pocatello Idaho where my wife, an aficionado of chile rellenos said she had the best she’d ever had.  And a shout-out too for Sanfords Grub and Pub in Spearfish South Dakota, really funky but delicious. So good we timed our day’s drive to stop there on the way back after discovering it on the way west.  So definitely some good eats on this trip.

And now back to the heat and humidity of Nebraska (after refreshing mountain weather on most of our trip) and the daily routine.

A blogging dilemma

I’m using this blog (partially) to “document” interesting tidbits I encounter while doing research for my anticipated smartphone app to translate menus in Spain. That app needs to have a comprehensive and accurate dataset to use in the translation, not just the equivalent English term (which doesn’t always exist) but also some description. For example, what is sobrasada? Yes, it’s ‘sausage’ but saying that (or even ‘spicy pork sausage’) doesn’t tell you very much.

So I’m using various sources to build up a “big data” corpus which will have translation errors and other errors. But algorithmically I can extract from that corpus what I’ll need to power the app. But I have to build that corpus manually, often exploring “puzzles” I find in trying to figure out a proper equivalent in English for some culinary item I find in Spain (btw, I am focusing on Iberian Spanish and trying to prevent terms only found (or used differently) in the New World from defocusing my corpus).

So I’m doing several things with these posts. First they are a kind of journal (or lab notebook) for various translation/description puzzles I try to solve. While I have many MSWord files with the raw work the blog posts highlight some interesting (at least to me) bits. Second by writing for potential readers I have to work a bit harder to try to have my posts accurate and at least somewhat coherent (instead of the real-time stream-of-consciousness in my raw material). This more careful writing makes the posts better but does have a real downside – it’s SLOW. It might not seem like it to you, Dear Reader, but I probably spend more time writing a post about something interesting in a menu than it took me to decipher the entire menu. So at some point the blogging gets in the way of my work.

But the real “dilemma”  I have is that I just don’t get the posts done, at anywhere near the rate I’m discovering the tidbits I want to write about. And days later when I go back over my raw data I often can’t recreate my thoughts or discover I forget to include links or definitions or whatever and don’t much feel like repeating my work.

My posts are fairly long which is good and bad. It’s good because I try to weave multiple points into a post, often with some background research. It’s bad, because the posts are probably too long for most readers’ attention spans and because I don’t get them done.

So every now I’m tempted to do short posts, literally for each situation I encounter, rather than trying to organize multiple examples into a single post.

For instance, I’ve started looking at a new source. Previously I’d used menus I could extract from restaurant websites along the course of the Camino de Santiago, and several online glossaries and dictionaries. But I’d also stumbled on many sites (focused on Spain and entirely in Spanish) for recetas (recipes). These are more tedious to process but often contain information I don’t find elsewhere and therefore can stuff in my corpus so potentially less frequently used (in menus) terms are still incorporated.

So I just started a small trial to look at this recipe site. Under its recetas tab it has 14 categories, and under Pasta y Arroz (pasta and rice) there are 15 webpages with about 12-16 recetas per page. IOW, this is a lot. And every receta is presented on the webpage as a caption (to a photo) where I can use Google Translate and then manually produce a side-by-side Spanish and English pair, such as:

Ñoquis de calabaza y boniato con salsa de gorgonzola Pumpkin and sweet potato gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce

For this I’d extract for my corpus ñoquis (gnocchi ), calabaza (pumpkin), boniato (sweet potato), salsa (sauce), and gorgonzola (gorgonzola). If I double check these term associations by looking in the Oxford dictionary or the DLE (more authoritative, but harder to use than Oxford) I  could add these associations to my corpus with higher confidence levels. IOW, mistakes are bound to get into the corpus without a lot of checking, but I’m also hoping the “big data” type filtering will eliminate the spurious pairs.

But what I just described as the process in this post took me quite a bit more time than it did for me to extract the side-by-side pair (still tedious but relatively quick) and do a quick visual parsing (really looking for any terms that require more research). Note that while I have no fluency in Spanish I do know a bit about the grammar and thus know how to spot parts-of-speech and change the word order used in Spanish to my normal English and thus find the term-by-term association. This entry was simple to do and the only (slightly) interesting part is that the original ‘gnocchi’ does have a different word in Spanish but ‘gorgonzola’ doesn’t (and as a somewhat interesting question, are these “Italian” words or now so incorporated in English, at least by foodies, to consider them English words (known linguistically as ‘loanwords’).

So of the first webpage of pastas this was the most interesting puzzle:

Escudella con sopa de galets, el plato estrella de la Navidad catalana Escudella (in Oxford as -dilla, but some searches appeared with this spelling; is it a typo? here? and on web?) with soup of galets (is this short for galettas?), the star dish of Catalan Christmas

but Oxford has it with a definition (didn’t have translation) in which case it was a specific dish

no, galets appears to be a type of pasta (shells) https://www.tienda.com/products/galets-nadal-pasta-sandro-desii-su-40.html

This is my raw entry. Since escudella and galets appear in the Google Translate as same word in English (i.e. not translated or perhaps there is no translation) this is the type of thing I look for to do more research. When I merely asked Oxford for the translation of  escudella it said that was missing. What it does show (helpfully) is close matches which in this case I tried its suggestion of escudilla (which is bowl and kinda seems to fit this recipe name). So you see the note I made to myself (in Oxford as -dilla, but some searches appeared with this spelling; is it a typo? here? and on web?) but that’s just a start. Since I’ve done this a lot I immediately used the Oxford a different way; instead of asking for translation I asked for definition (of escudella ) and it had this in Spanish (then with Google’s English:

Plato que consiste en un caldo de carne y hortalizas, colado, en el que se cuece arroz, fideos u otro tipo de pasta; es un plato típico de Cataluña, comunidad autónoma de España. Plate consisting of a broth of meat and vegetables, strained, in which rice, noodles or other type of pasta are cooked; It is a typical dish of Catalonia, autonomous community of Spain.

Now I could immediately point out that Google’s translation of plato as ‘plate’ is not correct as plato also means ‘dish’ which fits better but that’s the typical kind of digression I get into that just makes posts take even longer.

Now meanwhile I thought I recognized galets. I did a previous post about the menu from a store selling cookies (as a bit of diversity from just restaurant menus). So I double checked by asking Oxford for the Spanish translation of ‘cookie’ (which is lists also as biscuit in British English) and it has galletas (as I thought I recalled). So I thought this might be some colloquial term for cookie.

But now my “translation” ‘bowl with soup of cookies’ is pretty obvious nonsense and so no better than the untranslated correspondence. So, since this is a new source and I’d already discovered I could click on each receta and get a full page explanation (intro to the disk, ingredients, preparation) I began to see the flaws in my attempt to unravel this puzzle. As the recipe page itself is entirely in Spanish I have the same kind of puzzle, i.e. Google again botched some of the translation. But there is enough text and importantly a picture that I could try some searching and I found galets as an item I can buy online (I’ve often used this source in this project). These look like (in both the recipe picture and the tienda picture as fairly ordinary pasta shells (I don’t see what’s special about them) but pasta shells are pasta shells (except maybe tiny details) so now I’d know what I am getting if I’d picked this off a menu in a restaurant.

So finally I know both these words don’t have English translations so I’d want a different kind of entry in my corpus of a short description and then potentially a longer one. Thus a diner using my app could learn about this dish.

So there, you see what I mean. This post has taken me far longer than the original analysis. Yet it’s good (for my purposes, hopefully somewhat interesting to you, Dear Reader) to have this more complete explanation (I can re-read this post someday when I’ve completely forgotten this and have to resolve something in my app). But if I’d simply written this one item in the most brief form (to jog my memory later, plus at least some glue prose to make it read better than my raw notes) I would have gotten this done.

But it also means I’d probably have many more posts which is mixed benefit as well. So, IOW, there really isn’t a great answer.

So I have a solution. I can use categories to distinguish the posts that are really minimal and that I create almost immediately after doing the work for the corpus. These will really be post “fragments” but at least I get more recorded.

For instance, I was looking at a menu on Friday and its Menu del Dia was for Mother’s Day so I had in mind a post to create on the 5th. But instead I spent most of the day cooking for our Cinco de Mayo feast (and drinking a few too many margaritas). So I never did that post and now the “joke” of it is gone as its timeliness is past.

So I’ll continue to struggle with this, fragmentary and terse posts, or (sometimes too long) complete posts.

Where did I go?

I was generating fairly regular posts but then dropped out of sight for almost two weeks – what happened? Well I’ve been out of town and thus mostly offline, south to Oklahoma. It’s not that Oklahoma doesn’t have the Net – I was just busy and my work on food terms in Spain is on a computer back home so I had nothing new to post.

Oklahoma is a long and not very interesting drive from Nebraska with most of the distance in Kansas. To most people the variation is scenery is so slight they’d say it all looks the same (and it has some of the same dusty and dry character of the part of Spain now along my virtual trek on the Camino). But to those of us starved for something to see there is a difference, even several regional variations (e.g. the Flint Hills) on the drive and it is easier to make that drive with brief excursions off the main route.

I was doing the trip to meet with a new attorney to finally start the process in Oklahoma to transfer my mother’s estate to her heirs. Her/our family has had a farm there for four generations. The farm isn’t much, as a farm. It served, many decades ago, as a subsistence farm for the family with most of its production for the family’s own consumption. Some cream and eggs got sold for cash to buy things. But industrialized agriculture, in the USA, has largely driven this type of farm out of operation. Today it serves just as grazing land for a tenant rancher. Much of the land in the immediate area is abandoned for agriculture.

But today the land grows something else – energy. On our 1/8th section (80 acres, sounds large but that is small in USA) there is one wind turbine from a fairly large wind farm (just like the turbines one sees along the Camino as Spain is more advanced in use of wind power than the USA). It was chugging away most of the time we were there (this is the windy and stormy time of year) and every revolution puts some cash in the pocket of landowners. Wind is new, oil and natural gas are old. The new and sometimes controversial technology of horizontal drilling and fracking has drastically increased production. So there is a new well, over a mile away on the surface, that has sent out its horizontal shafts under our land. And these horizontal wells, with a much large collection area (than a vertical shaft) is also a nice income.

That is, if I can ever get the deeds settled. Back when the land was just for low value farming the legal standards of ownership records were less. Today there is more at stake and so the standards are higher. Probably in any multigenerational ownership story, almost anywhere, there are gaps – some probate was never filed with the county clerk, some conveyance deed was properly signed or dated, or some change in marital status wasn’t recorded, or whatever. Everyone (local) knows Person X owns the land but challenged these claims may not stand up. So therefore I will have substantial legal bills and years of chasing lost documents to ever establish ownership (by my mother) which no one challenges. What fun!

Meanwhile the drive, as I mentioned, is fairly boring so we try to spice it up a bit with geodashing. Once upon a time there was no GPS (at all, then for a while it was only massively expensive military technology). I happened to work next door to Trimble who developed the first civilian GPS technology, later made more affordable and so learned of GPS before most people. So when commercial GPS was new and just barely available to the public it was a novelty and a number of “games” evolved using GPS. geocaching is the best known. For a while everyone wanted to rush out to those spots on the globe, known as confluences, where the GPS would read XX.0000 and YY.0000.

There are only so many of those and all that could be found have been. So geodashing  was developed to create artificial and thus sustainable purely random locations to find. And to make a game out of the search. Why? For fun. What is there? geocaching goes to some place, for sure, that another person has been (they left the cache there) but geodashing goes to a completely unknown (to outsiders, obviously locals know it) location. The game insists on not violating trespassing so often the location is not reachable (we must get with 100 meters). So each month when the new dashpoints are published we silly folks doing this game put them on maps and figure out whether they can be reached via public right-of-ways and then, more importantly, if there is any pattern that can allow reaching the most dashpoints with the least driving.

OTOH, when one has a long drive we look for something to break up the monotony by locating nearby dashpoints along the route. The drive from Nebraska to Oklahoma can be done purely on freeways (really limited access multilane highways as one part, the Kansas Turnpike is definitely not “free”). It’s really boring to just see 550 miles of pavement. Tourists drive through the midwestern “fly-over” USA states, especially along I-80 in Iowa or Nebraska hoping to get to the interesting tourist destinations further west, so I-80 looks really monotonous (and is).

But get off the main route, designed for speed, even if a non-tourist part of USA interesting things can be found. Before the Interstate highway system drivers were on two-lane roads that deliberately went into every town along the way. Frankly this is a lot like what I see on the Camino, a route that reaches a new small town every few miles. As in the USA there is some parallel route high-speed highway to go from the major spots, i.e. Logroño to Burgos that bypasses all these towns. But the Camino walking moves at a different pace and that is exactly the point.

And it is the same point with geodashing. There is no there-there at a random longitude and latitude (sometimes there actually is). It is the JOURNEY, not the destination. The slogan of geodashing is “getting there is all the fun” and that’s why we crazy people do this. There are surprises everywhere and interesting things one never even knew existed. Sure everyone knows about Yellowstone or Glacier or Grand Canyon or Yosemite but what is in Templeton Iowa or Arthur Nebraska? Scale is everything and that is part of the appeal, to me, of the Camino. When you zip by at 120kph in a car everything outside is a blur, but passing on foot at 5kph (and easy to stop and look around) the world is different. And driving on a farm road (which here look much like most of the Camino route) at 50kph and being able to stop anywhere since it might be hours before another car comes by is a very different way to see the world.

So the route from Nebraska to Oklahoma is really boring, unless you can get off the main road, if only for a bit, and see something you never expected by going to someplace entirely random. There may be huge historical differences between geodashing and a pilgrimage on the Camino but there is also a lot of similarity.

 

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.