Day 22 - Rest Day in Leon

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Flag of Spain  , Castile-León,
Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reflection: "If temperatures have dropped to 10 degrees celsius, winds are strong and its raining hard, anyone wearing flip flops must be a pilgrim". Leon was packed with pilgrims walking around trying to keep warm.

I knew I had a probability of sleeping through the breakfast at the hotel if I didn't wake up, so for the first time for weeks I put my alarm clock on for 9am.

The hotel staff are very friendly so it was a very homely affair having my breakfast downstairs and reading the Sunday newspaper for a good long hour.

It had been raining most of the morning and the television showed a strong storm called "Nadine" ripping through some of the areas of Spain. That included most of Galicia where pilgrims were interviewed and were saying how tough it was to walk there with the winds.

I packed my rucksack and said goodbye to the spa pool (it will be dearly missed). The other hotel I had booked a month in advance was just five minutes walk around the maze of streets of Leon.

I wasn't really sure if I was in the right place as it looked like a luxury hotel or parador. I walk in, and they were expecting me. For the first time this trip I felt very under-dressed for the place I was entering, and guilty about walking around in shorts and dirty boots. I was soon joined by other tramps (I mean pilgrims) which made me feel slightly less smeggy.

The Colegiata de San Isidoro is an old monastery converted into a hotel on one of the sides, but still a church and museum on the other. Little did I know I was going to sleep in a 12th century building with an immense history and significance for Spain and el Camino. And all for 40 euros including buffet breakfast! Apparently its restaurant is also very popular, but I wouldn't find out as it was all booked for lunch and dinner.

As I was early and the rooms had not been cleaned yet, I visited the Church of San Isidoro and its museum on the other side. One of the entrances to the church is the "Puerta del Perdon" (Gate of Forgiveness) which was used by pilgrims in too bad a state to arrive all the way to Santiago. I guess that is not allowed nowadays as it was firmly closed.

The museum was full of tourists so I joined a guided tour (5 euros). The visit consists of three rooms.

The first one with antique objects such as the decorated box where the remains of San Isidoro were brought from Seville to Leon, a cup with roman decoration and material with more than two thousand years of age, and othe objects related to the crusades and el Camino.

The second room was the Library, with over two thousand books of religious nature, including a huge handwritten bible dated in 960 a.d. (that's well before the State of Ohio was discovered!).

The third room is the Royal Pantheon with tombs of dozens of Kings, Queens, Princes and alike of Leon. However the top attraction was the frescos on the ceiling. Painted in the 12th Century they have not been restored (only cleaned once). They relate the story of Jesus and have other interesting sections such as the agricultural calendar with each month and its tradition. All together is named by guide books as the "Sistine Chapel of Romanic times".

It was a great visit, and one that makes me want to read much more on several historical issues when I get back. It was tempting to buy a couple of books already, but I decided against it given there are still over 300 kilometres to go.

I'm not sure about others, but learning makes me hungry, so after checking into the hotel I hopped over to the restaurant "Casa Cuervo" which was just round the corner. There, I managed to stuff into my stomach their Sunday menu:
- Ensalada de cecina (which apart from the name is not really a salad but a good racion of cecina ham, red peppers, manchego cheese and olives)
- filetitos al cabrales (three small steaks with Cabrales cheese sauce and fries)
- natillas
- a bottle of gaseosa
- bread
- coffee
All for 10 euros and delicious.

After that celebration of food Leon style, I had a strong urge to walk some of the calories off. I made my way to the Parador de San Marcos which is a similar hotel to the one I'm staying but with even more exaggerated luxury (at least 150 euros per night if booked well in advance).

There I crossed the bridge leaving Leon and strolled my way along a park and a long street. By the time I reached a sign it was the town next to Leon (Las Virgen del Camino). I had a coffee at a cafe and seeing that there were public buses passing on their way to Leon thought that it might be a good idea to eliminate some of the most horrible city kilometres today and without a rucksack.

A bit like Forrest Gump in the film when he started running and didn't stop until he was in the middle of no where, I kept going until I got to a town with a silly name "Chozas de Abajo" (Huts of Below). There I had a drink and took the bus back!

That "authorises" me to take the same bus back tomorrow and start off with 15 kms less, and a horrible walk also - all city road, noisy, and with no interesting sights apart from a few bodegas.

I noticed two things during my unplanned walk today:

a- my boots have lost some stitches on the sides. They look tired but should survive the next three weeks. I hope they do as its going to be the wettest part. I have nearly done one thousand miles with these over a six month period so happy if they just last out until Santiago.

b- I walked 15 kilometres with only one sock on! I did this on purpose at the start of the day as it put less pressure on the injured ankle / shin. However I wasn't planning to do any sort of distance! Surprisingly its very comfortable.

I got back to Leon Cathedral just before 8pm. I sat there reading for a while and "doing the Don" (i.e. Having a drink, reading the papers and watching life go by).

The terrible thing about travelling alone is that tough decisions need to be taken at dinner time. Being one person, I can only order one racion of food or two half raciones. If it were a group we could try all the tapas types. How tough is life - unfair all along! The solution doesn't lie in going with another pilgrim as I have found that most either stick to supermarket food to be cheap, or pilgrim menu to be eternally boring, or can't digest the spanish specialities. What is wrong with blood pudding, pigs ears, tripe and bull's testicles?

Anyway, I walked around the Barrio Humedo and decided on a media racion of "Picadillo". Luckily I didn't order a full one as I struggled to eat the small version.

All these places offer a free litre of beer or a bottle of wine with each racion. It used to be the other way round. They are obviously competing for business Vegas style. A group of four ordering four raciones would get four bottles of wine! Enough to wine and dine for 24 euros in total.

The whole area was empty and silent when I arrived at 9pm. Being a Sunday it was to be expected. However when I left at 10pm it was as packed as yesterday!
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