Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Distance: 20.4 km
7:45 – I stood at the front desk of La Posada Regia while the day clerk stamped my pilgrim’s passport. Another girl came out of a back room, put her hands on her hips and asked in a snooty tone if I had “stolen” anything from the mini bar. When I said no, she snapped: “Because I can send Manuel up to check, you know.” We both had a good laugh. (If you don’t get this, or a reference in yesterday’s post, then head over to Netflix and search for “Fawlty Towers.” It’s unquestionably the best TV show that only lasted 12 episodes. In fact, in 2000 the British Film Institute named it the best British television series of all time!)
8:33 – I don’t know where it would rank on a list of my ‘Top 10 Sins’ but I’m sure someone would notice if I spent 36 hours in León and didn’t make it to the Santa María de León Cathedral. The problem is that I’m already off to a late start and the church doesn’t open until 9:30. No problem, said my inner voice. Just head next door and spend an hour at the bar.
In this case the bar was called ‘The Dickens’ (not to be confused with one of my old haunts in Milton, Ontario) but it was so much more than a faux British pub. In fact, the building was likely used as a bar long before Charles Dickens’ time.
The bartender immediately introduced himself as Pedro and proposed the house specialty: cafe con leche, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a warm chocolate croissant. This is typical breakfast fare in northern Spain but in this case all three items were exceptional. Of course it didn’t hurt that it was delivered with a smile by a young art student who had a showing of his illustrations in the bar.
After I devoured the croissant, Pedro asked if I would like some torrijas. Not having a clue what torrijas was, I obviously said yes. Torrijas turned out to be similar to bread pudding and served warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon. So good!
10:45 – One hour and 10 minutes later, I’m still at the church. I don’t know how it compares to the great cathedrals of France and the U.K. but as a structure it’s perhaps a bit more impressive than the United Church in Stouffville, Ontario. As a kid I attended Cubs in the United Church basement and would often sneak off with Steven Alberti or Andy Redshaw to explore secret passages used by the choir and the many nooks and crannies that most parishioners would never see. This cathedral would have a few more nooks and crannies – probably by a power of 100!
• The design is attributed to the French architect Enrique.
• While formally known as Santa María de León Cathedral, it is also known as Pulchra Leonina (the Beauty of Leon) and The Church of Light.
• Construction started in the 13th century and wasn’t completed until well into the 16th century.
• It’s actually the third cathedral built on a site that originally housed Roman baths in the second century!
• Santa Maria is considered to be the most French of the great Spanish cathedrals as it was modelled on the cathedral of Champagne.
• There are nearly 1,800 square meters of stained glass windows, the majority of which date from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. This is a rarity among medieval gothic churches.
• An adjacent museum contains over 1,500 sacred relics, including 50 Romanesque sculptures of the Virgin, dating from pre-historic times to the 18th century.
11:00 – Several friends have recommended that I take a bus from León to the next town and avoid a half day walk through bleak industrial suburbs. “There’s “nothing of interest until you hit the countryside,” they all say. Most people who have walked the Camino will also say something like: “It’s your Camino” or “You’re free to do it whatever way you wish.” Well, I wish to walk it! At least that’s the plan until it changes. I haven’t ridden in a vehicle since April 7 and it could be June 7 before I do!
12:30 – You know you’re transitioning to a sketchy part of town when the sidewalk vending machines (which are common in Spain) are stocked with Coke, water, chocolate bars, and sex toys. It’s all downhill from here (except when it’s an uphill ramp to get to the other side of the tracks).
12:37 – She was moving too fast for me to sneak a photo but I just passed a woman of at least 70 who was wearing Daisy Duke shorts and high top Doc Martin boots that had been painted gold. I kid you not!
13:30 – I have passed a dozen auto body shops, an aluminum stamping plant, a massive cement plant, and countless warehouses. Most of the businesses are open and appear to be thriving. This is in stark contrast to the shuttered businesses that one sees in rural Spain. It’s good to see that some business is still being done here.
15:20 – I stopped at a “cafeteria” in La Virgen del Camino and had a coffee and a cheese sandwich. While both the sandwich and the town are easily forgotten, I do have one question: If they serve coffee in a cafeteria, what do they serve in a ferreteria?
16:02 – There are several very nice looking hotels on the eastern approach to Villadangos and they all have rooms available.”. I resisted the urge to take the first option and instead trudged on to the centre of town. The first albergue that I tried was full. Same for the second place. And the third. I was about to turn back and spring for a semi-expensive hotel when I noticed a sign advertising cheap rooms over a bar. The bar was full of seniors playing cards. If they’re like the other seniors I’ve come across in Spain, they’ll be home in bed at 7:30 and the place should be peaceful. I took a room with a private bath, large TV, small balcony and twin beds for 25€. I may stay for two nights if it’s raining in the morning as forecast.
22:00 – The 10€ Pilgrim’s Dinner in the bar was about the same as the last dozen or so Pilgrim’s Dinners. The hand printed menu listed three starters and three mains. There’s was a choice of creamed vegetables, pasta with chorizo or pasta with chorizo (who knows?) followed by “cook hake,” “chichhen” or “beel cheeks.” I ordered pasta with chorizo as a starter (the waitress didn’t ask which one) and “beel cheeks” as my main. What I got was the “creamed vegetables” (which would be known as “soup” where I’m from) with a nice garnish of ham.
I’m still not sure what “beel cheeks” actually were as the meat was much darker than any veal I’ve ever had. It crossed my mind that they might feed the little critters red wine rather than milk. Like most places that offer a Pilgrim’s Menu, the homemade flan was the highlight.