The Camino is never the fastest way to get from point A to point B.
So this is not a great picture but it is a great restaurant. It is called El Fondin and, after a morning spent seeing some heart-stoppingly beautiful sacred spaces, we arrived at its door, famished, at 1:30, precisely the time it said on the door it would be open. Inside the tiny (6 tables!) restaurant, the proprietor shook his head and said they would not be open until two.
We decided it looked good enough to wait and busied ourselves visiting the handily nearby tourist office to find out how to get out of town via the Camino Primitivo tomorrow. At two on the dot, my partner went in and was told that the restaurant would not be open until 2:15 or 2:30. We took this news very personally.
“Maybe he hates Americans.”
“Maybe he hates matching Patagonia vests.”
We investigated another restaurant and walked over to it, rehearsing exactly what we would say to the sweet girl at our hotel who had recommended El Fondin, saying it was her favorite in Oviedo. “She should really warn people that it does NOT open at 1:30!” Our second choice was closed for lunch. Oy.
We headed back to El Fontin, plotting our revenge via TripAdvisor.com as we walked. “if we don’t get a table, I’m going to write such a scathing review they’ll get bumped from number 7 to number 12!” We returned at 2:15 and the proprietor allowed us to sit, though he didn’t look exactly thrilled about it. He returned to studiously scratching something out of every menu and failed to bring us any of the bread that was already gracing the four other tables that had small “reservado” signs on them.
Also, the TV was blaring.
Right next to us.
Spanish (naturally) daytime news which bore a striking resemblance to E! News. Many shots of Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem at the San Sebastian film festival. When I motioned (politely!) toward the TV, hoping he would take the hint and turn it off, the proprietor put his thumb and index finger together and squeezed them a tiny bit closer together.
Clearly, the Off button was not in our future.
He did turn it down a bit though and proceeded to take our order. For me, fresh anchovies with crisp Iberian ham and for my partner, tomatoes with that same ham, uncooked. Both amazing. Our resentments began to melt away, helped along, I’ll admit it, by the sight of two impeccably dressed Spanish men being turned away and told the restaurant was “complet” even though we were the only people in it. 45 minutes after we started, the first of the regulars came in, taking their table quickly. They were followed by two more who entered, shaking the rain from their coats. Our bowl of fabada arrived, rich with beans and pork, sausage and, gulp, morchilla aka “black pudding.” It was….perfect, even the morchilla which I forced myself to try and found to be utterly delicious – downright luxurious on the tongue.
If you know what’s in it, please keep it to yourself.
By this time, the last of the regulars had arrived, one stopping to trade kisses with someone at another table. Suddenly, the TV didn’t seem so annoying. In fact, it blended in quite nicely with the chatter and general bonhomie. And as I finished the best of the many arroz con leches I have had in Spain, I realized that of course the proprietor would not want to fire up the kitchen for two strangers at the un-godly early hour of 1:30 when his civilized regulars wouldn’t begin arriving until 2:45. And of course, El Fondin is actually not a restaurant, but a home, and we were lucky indeed that the proprietor had relented and allowed two pesky Americans a table in his house. When we got up to leave, completely satisfied, a man at the neighboring table picked up the remote and changed the channel on the TV. I got the distinct impression that he had waited to make the change, politely, perhaps assuming that we had chosen Spanish E! News in the first place and had not wanted to intrude.
As we walked out onto the rain-slick cobblestones, I realized that during our brief respite in Oviedo, we had actually gone off the Camino. But the good news is that once you’ve been on it, no matter how far off it you go, the Camino finds a way to bring you back.
A hundred years ago, when we were in Pamplona and decided to switch from the “reminds-us-too-much-of-the-405-in-rush-hour” Camino Frances to the wild and rugged trails of the Camino del Norte, I realized I would have to significantly lighten my pack if I were going to be able to schlepp the requisite kilometers in any 24 hours’ worth of daylight. I created a pile of things I could do without in our room at the much-beloved Gran Hotel La Perla.
Some things I have not missed at all: a pair of capri hiking pants, a surprisingly heavy sports bra and some items from my maniacally over-stuffed first aid kit. Who needs a first aid kit in a country where there’s no such thing as a prescription?
Some things I have missed a little: my bathing suit and long underwear bottoms (the long underwear was subsequently and happily replaced and have come in very handy in our, shall we say, less generous establishments.) But the one thing I threw blithely into the pile thinking “Oh, I can just get this from the hotels and pensions we stay in” that I REALLY have missed (and this is just to show you how shallow I remain after over 100 miles of meditative walking on the Camino) is…..
Thinking of you …Peg.
Because you love a great hotel. The view from our balcony at the Hotel de la Reconquista.
Hey, did we tell you that in the hour we had to wait at the Bilbao bus station, we went to see the Guggenheim? Once we got there and saw how gorgeous and playful and utterly alive the building is AND that there were Richard Serra and David Hockney shows we felt like idiots – or at least I did – and berated myself for not allotting enough time to go inside.
When I realized it was Monday and the museum was closed anyway, I felt much better.