It's 50 km from Logrono over the rich, red earth of La Rioja to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. We split the journey by spending a night in the new albergue municipal at Nájera. For me too much of the 30 km stretch to Nájera was frustratingly close to the busy N-120 highway. But it helped that every so often truck drivers would sound their horns in greeting and encouragement. On a wire fence - perhaps 1km long - above the road, passing pilgrims had attached thousands upon thousands of crosses which they had woven from grass and fashioned from bark and twigs. Laurent was fascinated by the fact that one pilgrim must have placed the very 1st cross at some point - and someone had placed the next one, and someone the next, until thousands of successive pilgrims had run with the idea and taken part in the ritual, continuing what had become a tradition. He remarked what an extraordinary leap of faith that very 1st pilgrim must have had. A bit like planting the first acorn of a future oak forest. This fence-frieze of crosses meant something much more than the sum of its collective parts. It was an example of how something big and important could grow from tiny, individual acts.
The next day we took a detour in Azofra to visit the Cistertian abbey of Santa Maria at Canas. This was founded in 1170 and then, as now, was occupied by an order of nuns. Unusually, natural light flooded the building through high alabaster (rather than stained glass) windows. Laurent, an expert in medieval stone work and ecclesiastical history, held us spellbound with his accounts of monastic life and his unravelling of religious symbolism in the paintings and treasures displayed in the abbey's museum. Unfortunately I've now forgotten a lot of what he said - and it was difficult for me to understand everything at the time, as I had to keep translating complex architectural terms from the French. We spent a couple of absorbing hours there in the Abadia Cisterciense. But finally the biting cold drove us into the friendly bar-restaurant opposite. Laurent put on his most flirtatious expression and cheekily asked the waitress if we could eat our packed lunch in the bar. Of course, she let us. Well, he was French! After more quiet country roads and wide straight farm tracks we arrived in Santo Domingo later that afternoon.