lunch and lounging in León

after a good look around the cathedral we went in search of tolerable rest-day sustenance. one downside to the larger towns: you pay more for mediocre food and, in most of the areas we found ourselves, really good food proved elusive. couldn’t complain about the food, exactly; it wasn’t any worse than your average bocadillo or bar sandwich — it just cost more.

but, as in León, people watching tended to be more interesting — fewer of our fellow peregrinos whom we’d seen every day for the last 20. in fact, after our day off in León we didn’t see many of the people we started off with ever again. they didn’t take a rest day, arrived in Santiago earlier than we did and, presumably, headed off home. anyway, we found a decent cafe and sat outside with our small cervezas and bocadillas to watch people — Saturday shoppers, families coming or going from weddings, crazy homeless people (and I say “crazy” as a person who regularly sees non-crazy homeless people out and about in town), American college students just wrapping up their semester or just starting their mini-terms or summers abroad. lots of dogs. more dogs than I recalled seeing in any other city we’d passed through yet. and fewer babies. saw lots of babies in Pamplona but fewer in Burgos and León. perhaps different population demographics, perhaps all the Leonese babies were at home sleeping.

our second evening in León, after enjoying some wine and reading on our balcony, I discovered the Eurovision song contest on one of the television channels available in our room. I’d seen a fair number of adverts with the Spanish entry but didn’t realize how imminent the competition was until I happened upon it that Saturday night in León. watched about half of it before the signal went out including the eventual winner, Loreen from Sweden (as I discovered the following morning). we also saw Russia’s entry (Buranovskiye Babushki) and, after discovering that he’d never heard of Lordi much less seen or heard their entry, made Andy watch their 2006 Eurovision-winning performance of Hard Rock Hallelujah (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend doing so). in the process of looking up the Lordi video, I also learned that Celine Dion won the contest in the mid-90s as did ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo.” Ireland’s won the contest more than any other country and I can’t say that surprises me.

anyway — León offered a bit of history, a bit of contrast, plenty of rest and reading, and a little bit of crazy nationalistic European song contest.

arriving in León — complete with psych hospital

the arrival into León, while also following a busy highway and DIY stores that seemed to go on for ages, was a vast improvement over that into Burgos (though still couldn’t compare to arriving in Pamplona); pedestrian overpasses that gave us our first glimpses of the city. we passed the headquarters of the Caja Espana and took a breather on a bench at the end of the bus line — next to a psychiatric hospital.

 we resisted the temptation to climb aboard the air conditioned bus, which rolled up to the stop for the driver’s smoke break just as we plopped down to rest our feet. even officially within the city limits we had a goodly walk to reach our destination but — I don’t know if I can stress this enough — it was so much more pleasant and interesting than trudging into Burgos. the Camino followed the twisting, older side streets, over a pedestrian bridge and past remnants of the city walls. the sidewalk followed broad, sunny avenues, lined by an array of stores, restaurants, and businesses. the closer we got to the heart of the city, the more character emerged. the Camino followed a somewhat circuitous route — through the heart of the old city, past the cathedral and all the major sights — to our hotel outside the old city walls. not a problem when you’re walking straight through León and on to some farther destination, the sights for which León is known are worth the detour — while it pales somewhat in comparison to the impressive size and detail of the Burgos cathedral, the one in  León is truly remarkable (and about which more later). we arrived on a Friday at lunchtime (early afternoon) and the yellow arrows took us through one of the more remarkable pedestrian-oriented center-city shopping areas, down narrow alleys, past trendy and touristy bars alike, abandoned buildings and ones in the midst of remodeling. but when you’ve already come nearly 19km on a sweaty day on calves that still twinge and feet that are again uncomfortably sore … the sights could have waited until the following day when we took the time to sleep in, relax and soak up the character of the city — a shortcut wouldn’t have gone amiss. but once we finally made it to the Plaza San Marcos and got our first glimpse of our lodgings for two nights … the detour was worth it!