I left Arcahueja at 7:30 a.m. to walk into León. I thought the walk would be as awful as it was going into Pamplona and Burgos, but it wasn’t that bad. I passed some industry — some defunct and some in full swing. As I walked upward to Alto del Portillo, I passed crosses woven into a chain fence over a busy highway.
The path was marked to take pilgrims off the main road. It was a bit confusing since the map didn’t reflect the detour.
I climbed up a hill through a neighborhood and then had a steep descent through a pine forest, through open fields and down into the city, all lit up before me in the morning sunlight. The spires of León’s cathedral glowed. After crossing a bridge over the main road, I came to the town of Puente del Castro.
Arcahueja to Puente del Castro (5.6 km)
I crossed over the stone footbridge over the río Torio into Puente del Castro and made my way up the wide main road, Alcalde Miguel Castaño into León. Avenues were broad and buildings modern and characterless. We pilgrims always looked for the narrow winding roads of the old town.
León, with its population of 130,000, was a military garrison and base for the VIIth Roman Legion, thus the name León for “Legion.” Later, it became the capital of the old kingdoms of Asturias and León. It was conquered by Visigoth, Moor and finally Christian forces. The ancient and modern parts of the city straddle the río Barnesega, with its patchwork of architectural styles, from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance to Plasteresque to neo-Gothic.
I passed the pretty yellow Iglesia de Santa Ana and Nuestra Señora del Mercado.
I finally arrived at Catedral de Santa María de León, also called The House of Light or the Pulchra Leonina. All around the Cathedral, in the Plaza Regal, were bustling fruit and vegetable vendors. I happened to arrive on market day.
Puente Castro to León Centro (1.9 km)
I arrived in León too early to check into my hostel, so as soon as I dropped my pack there, I went immediately to see the city’s magnificent late 13th-century Gothic Catedral de Santa María de León and museum. It was not as extensive as the Burgos cathedral and there was no pilgrim discount, unlike most other places along the way.
The cathedral is known for its stunning 125 stained glass windows set high in the walls, shedding mosaics of light into the interior. One consequence of all these windows is that the structural integrity of the building is suspect, especially after two cave-ins in the 17th and 19th centuries.
I did the audiotour, half listening and half taking photos.
After the museum tour, I walked to Plaza Santo Domingo, where I went to a BBVA ATM for cash. Then I went to the peregrino store, Armeria Castro, for a hat. The mornings were getting downright cold, and I needed some head warmth.
On Plaza de San Marcelo, I found Gaudi’s imposing architectural masterpiece, the neo-Gothic palace Museo Gaudi Casa de Botines, but it wasn’t open until 5:00. This was one of the first monumental buildings built with private funds as a secular, middle class structure. Before this, most buildings were funded by religious organizations or aristocracy. It’s still a medieval design with the slender towers and the image of St. George slaying the dragon above the main door.
The Plaza de San Marcelo is also commanded by the fabulous Ayuntamiento Viejo, or Old Town Hall.
I strolled through a sprawling crafts market; I was enticed by many goods but unable to buy.
I walked to Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, an 11th century Basilica Church located on the site of an ancient Roman temple. The remains of San Isidoro were brought here from Seville to be buried in Christian Spain as the south was still under Moorish control at that time. Isidoro had been archbishop of Seville and was the most celebrated academic and theologian of Visigothic Spain in the period preceding the Arab invasions.
I went into the church but not the museum. Later, Darina told me they required guests take a guided tour, one hour long and all in Spanish. She said it was fabulous. It turned out I missed it.
I returned to La Madriguera Hostel, where Alba checked me into a shared room with one young Spanish lady who was selling soap in the craft market. Each room only had two beds. As I was preparing to shower and do laundry, Darina wrote that she was sitting down to lunch at Plaza del Grano. I went to meet her at the café, where I enjoyed her company and a vegetable tortilla and beer in the square beside a closed church, Nuestra Señora del Mercado.
I finally returned to my hostel at 4:00, showered and did laundry. I was hoping to make it to one of the museums, but there was no time.
I met Darina for the pilgrim mass at 6:00. There was no laying on of hands at this mass. After mass, we were able to walk through the cloisters.
I was able to visit the cloisters on the north side of the Cathedral because I attended the pilgrim mass, but I wasn’t able to go into the museum.
After mass, we went to Mango to get two t-shirts and some gloves. Then we went to the tapas area, Barrio Húmedo (“wet quarter” as in alcohol), with its cluster of lively bars and restaurants.
We sought out La Bicha, a restaurant recommended by Darina’s Spanish friends. The place was packed and standing room only. Many tapas places don’t have tables or chairs. The specialty was morcilla, or blood sausage. We shared a huge plate, which we spread on bread, accompanied by beer. León didn’t seem to have the kinds of tapas we found in Pamplona, Logroño or Burgos, but we made do. Though it didn’t look very appetizing, it was actually quite tasty.
We chatted about many things. Darina told me she’d had a boyfriend for ten years, but they broke up because he was too boring. She commented that she didn’t think the movie, The Way, was realistic, especially the part about those four characters randomly meeting and then walking together the whole way. We agreed that such a scenario was unlikely. However, we did think of a few people we met that did join together for the duration, like Australian Karen and Taiwanese Chun-Yu.
After dinner at La Bicha, we had a beer outside another cafe. It was such a fun night altogether, as Darina has a great sense of humor; we always managed to find a lot to laugh about.
I walked back to my hostel late, and all night long I imagined bed bugs crawling all over me.
*Day 30: Wednesday, October 3, 2018*
*31,444 steps, or 13.33 miles: Arcahueja to León (8.2 km)*
You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:
On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.
This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk, but since Jo has been out of town for a while, she hasn’t done one in a while. 🙂