Friday, February 25, 2011

We Say Good Bye to León, Our Favorite Camino City

In front of the León Cathedral, from left: Sandy (thin from
miles of walking), Bart, Mr. Steves, John. Bottom: Jackie.
It's hard to think of an America city to compare with León, Spain. For one thing, very few Americans cities have an old city center like European cities, that medieval core that often was encircled by high, stone walls for protection from roving armies and bandits. The old walls shelter old buildings, separated by narrow streets with cozy shops. But for another thing, few American cities have anything like the European paseo, the leisurely evening stroll designed for light shopping and people-watching. Add to that the Spanish custom of eating a very late (9:00 p.m. to midnight) supper and you can see why León is such a fun town: it buzzes with people in the evening.

Mid-13th century Cathedral de Santa Maria de León,
one of Europe's finest examples of High Gothic
On our first night in León we needed rest, which was a fine thing since our albergue, run by the local Catholic nuns, had a curfew of 9:30 p.m. That meant we were fed, watered and prayed over before bed, but it also meant we missed what was going on outside the convent's walls. The next night we stayed at the Posada Regia which opened up León's amazing night life.

The night started at 9:00 with tapas at a series of bars just below the amazing cathedral (more on that later). The streets were already filling with families, grandparents, and small groupings of young people. After a relaxing couple of hours snacking on tapas, we began to worry about whether anything would be open for dinner. We decided to head to head to the Plaza Mayor and discovered that the restaurants were only just now opening. We enjoyed an even more relaxed dinner of menu del peregrino, and by midnight were surprised to discover that the streets were becoming even more crowded! Doors in some of the narrowest alleys now were opening, to expose bar after bar, club after club, disco after disco. The age group in the streets now consisted mostly of people in their 20's and 30's and clearly we were in party central

There was no curfew at our hotel and, since your pilgrimage guide was of course the first one back to his room, he has no idea when the others made it in. Except that Alison, Jackie, Jeanne, and John had a pretty tough time getting up the next day for our tours of local churches!

11th century Basilica of San Isidoro, whose frescoes are
one of Spain's medieval treasures
After a stiff cafe con leche or two the next morning we were ready for sightseeing. Our first stop was the beautiful Cathedral de León, one of the most elegant cathedrals in all of Europe. We witnessed a wedding inside one of the side chapels, with the bride in a beautiful and flowing white dress and the handsome, dark-haired Spanish men in black tuxedos. Afterward it was off to the Basilica de San Isidoro, whose frescoes are some of the best examples of Romanesque art in all of Europe. We opted for a lunch of luxury at the Parador de León, a medieval pilgrim hostel that has been made over into a hotel of the government-owned chain of Paradors.

After lunch we sat at a cafe near the cathedral and began to plot the next stages of our journey. After León we recognize that we were set for about 8 kms of walking through bleak suburbs to get back into the countryside. We agreed that our goal is to walk the whole Camino, so no buses or cabs for us. We'd brave the entire walk no matter how grim. We looked ahead in our guidebooks to the next big city -- Astorga, and identified this as our next likely overnight. At Astorga we would begin the climb over our final mountain range, the Montañas de Leon.
(Congrats to our walkers, whose totals now have allowed us another 120 kilometers, meaning this week we'll be just short of Galicia, the semi-autonomous jurisdiction of which Santiago de Compostela is capitol. Team Charles is leading the way with a total of 348 miles with Team John pulling up the rear with 314).

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad we opted to stay at the Posada Regia the second night. I don't do well with 9:30 pm curfews, I mean it is practically still light out at that time! Jeanne was the one that convinced us to stay out super late if you can believe that! Alison and I weren't complaining though, there were some super cute guys out in the Plaza Mayor. Poor John had to put up with our nonsense! I hope he still had fun hanging out with us! We ran into Rick Steves again. He gave us some more tips for our visit next to Astorga.