[My apologies if you received this already, but although it was posted, no regular recipient I spoke with had received it today. So I am re-posting in hopes that the auto-emails will work this time.]
Not only is the 17 km walk (10 miles) into Leon considered the “one place on the Camino where you might want to take the bus,” but precipitation was in the forecast. So my goal was simply to get to Leon as quickly as possible to avoid rain. As billed, the walk was ugly and industrial, but for some reason I was among a fairly large contingent headed into the cathedral city. I finally met a couple from Brazil, who I had seen almost every day for the prior week (and I would see almost every day until Santiago – and we finished within a couple of hours of each other). I hopscotched with three from Ireland and saw my two French buddies a few times during the otherwise uninteresting walk to Leon. (The Frenchmen had spent the night with be in Hontanas and I had seen them the next evening in Fromista and two days later in Mansilla – its just the way of the Camino).
Despite the forecast, by 9:30 it’s partly sunny. Trying to counteract the ugly walk along busy roads, I listened to a Tim Keller talk about the “fruit of the spirit” and a variety of tunes by Bruce Hornsby, James Taylor, and Alison Krauss. Although the walk was billed as flat there was one really good hill climb after 11 kilometers. As blessed as I am, the sun came out as I made my way to the city center. Arriving right around noon, I marveled at the cathedral as I stood before it in its large, entrance square. Thinking that I needed a photograph of me before the grand church I spotted a young man who looked American to me and asked if he’d mind taking my photograph. With that request I was introduced to David – a medical student from Michigan. (I did not see David again in Leon, but little did I know then that David would play a prominent role in a number of my future days on the Camino.)
I checked into Boccalino Hostel and cleaned up. I had a good half of a day to explore, which is just what I did. The city is believed to have been settled as early as 29 B.C. as part of the Romans efforts to protect the shipment of god out of Galicia to the west on its way to Italy. Leon has an interesting history of being run over and conquered and re-conquered by Muslims, Visagoths, Asturians and others. Just about the time that Santiago was being recognized as an important pilgrimage detention, Leon was rebuilt and became an important commercial center for the wool trade. That prosperity helped to fund the construction of a grand cathedral.
Leon Cathedral was begun in 1205 and finished in just under 100 years – apparently a record time. Guidebooks explain that its most noteworthy feature is its large stained glass windows, which emphasizes the use of light in the cathedral. One guidebook: “Without a flashy retablo, the cathedral lets the the streaming light steal the show.” There was an excellent audio self-tour that explained the history and architecture, including an extensive and risky, but ingenious renovation (that probably saved the cathedral from ruin) in the late 19th century. I also roamed the city and viewed its major historical and architectural highlights, including the 11th century Basilica de San Isidoro (“one of the premier Romanesque structures” in all of northern Spain, which was commissioned to house relics returned by Muslims after being defeated in the Reconquista), the more “modern” (19th century) Casa Los Botines, the Cathedral’s museum and Cloister, and the ancient city walls.
Incredibly, as I cut through a square to return to my hotel I heard “Bruce! Bruce! off to my right. And in typical, but amazing Camino style, there was Frida, Lynn and Jen finishing a late lunch at an outdoor café. I sat with them and caught up on everyone’s journeys – and I heard “the rest of the story” about George’s boots. (I had not seen Frida or Jen since the rainy morning after Hontanas and I last saw Lynn early in the morning at Carrion as we both stood by the front door to the hostel that was locked and keeping us from starting our day’s walk.) Jen had just replicated one of the events in The Way – the movie about the Camino de Santiago starring Martin Sheen. Like Sheen’s character in the movie, after growing tired of hostel living, Jen treated the three of them to a night or two in the Parador – a five-star luxury hotel just outside the city center and on the route as the Camino starts to leave Leon. (I would pass right by it very early the next morning as I started my trek to the next destination. I assumed Frida, Jen, and Lynn were sleeping in, so I dared not stop.)