Friday, September 27, 2013 The bus from Leon is full of pilgrims, our backpacks on our laps or in the storage shelf above us. Larry, Jim, Patte and I sit near one another and make small talk for the ride. I actually didn’t check to see how long it takes us to get to Leon, but it seems short enough. It’s about 18 km., a bit more than 10 miles, so it doesn’t take long. We arrive at the main bus terminal and everyone disembarks, scattering like captured ants spilled out on the sidewalk.
Larry and Neal are staying at a hostal somewhere in the old city and I know I’m right near the Cathedral somewhere, so they accompany me through the maze of entrances and exits until we finally arrive at the street level. We can see the spire of the cathedral in the distance so we head for that, down the long Calle Ancha, the main “wide street”, half promenade for pedestrians, but also a very bustling shopping street, with retail and cafe storefronts lined on both sides without end. I drop off into a mountain equipment store to buy a replacement day pack for myself, and the other two go on to look for their rooms. Many of us are staying in Leon for two nights, and I’m sure we will all encounter one another here and there throughout the weekend.
After my backpack purchase, completed easily with the help of another one of those gorgeous Spanish men who speak excellent English, called out of the back room when a English-speaking customer arrives, I continue down Calle Ancha, which leads past this Gaudi building (one of the very few outside of Barcelona) and a few million stores, and right to the main Plaza and the Cathedral. It also, quite conveniently, leads to my little Hotel Albany (thank you, Rick Steves!).
I glance toward the Plaza and the beautiful Gothic cathedral and see Larry and Neal having coffee or rum, and they wave me over. I tell them I want to check into my room first and then I’ll have some food. The little room, my own private room with private bath, is another fancy nun’s room, but the hotel is lovely. Red tile everywhere and an efficient layout. So after I get settled, I return to the little Plaza coffee shop and find they have bagels and lox. Of course they don’t call them lox, but a smoked salmon by any other name . . .
I don’t tarry long at the little table, but wrap up half a bagel for later, and get a map from the information office. My first real order of business is to retrieve my packages from the Leon post office and bring them back to my little red room. One package has essentials for the next leg of my trip and the other one has my boots, which are going to get another chance to prove themselves tolerable. I accomplish this task easily and once back in the room, let my belongings spill all over this pristine single bed for sorting.
When I am finished with most of that task, I again go out onto the street, and see that I have a direct view to the busiest place in this old town.
I already know I will like Leon much better than Burgos, just as I know I like Florence much better than Rome. Heresy . . . so shoot me. Leon and Florence feel smaller, friendlier, more intimate somehow. than their bigger brothers.
The tourist information office gives me a brochure for the XXX Festival Internacional de Organo – Catedral de Leon – which lasts for a whole month. Free concerts in the Cathedral and in other venues around the area. One is scheduled for this evening and I plan to go. It’s a stone’s throw from my hotel and it’s free . . . any more questions?
The rest of the afternoon is spent wandering the streets, ducking back to the hotel during a drizzly siesta, writing, sorting, and realizing that it has begun to rain fairly hard, so I will need to acquire a cheap umbrella. Maybe it will even serve me on the Camino, since my rain gear disappeared on the second day.
Returning to a store that sells inexpensive travel umbrellas displayed outside their doorway, I pass this oxymoron. Elvis in front of a shop window full of glass snow ornaments, the kind you shake upside down.
Have to take a photo of this, but then I go next door to the plaid-umbrella store and make my purchase. I need it right now!
I wander to two historical sights, trying to be at least a bit cultural in the midst of my peregrino persona. The first is the 11th century San Isodoro Church, though the Museum attached to it is apparently the big attraction with its library, cloister, chapter house and a “pantheon” of royal tombs with exquisite Romanesque frescoes according to Rick Steves’ book.
But of course it is siesta in Leon, so that part is closed now, but the church is always open. I love sitting in churches, little atheist that I am, when the spaces are solemn, so very old, and no completely ostentatious. This one is quiet and peaceful, and I sit nearly in the dark for about 20 minutes. Then I take myself around the corner to a long section of the old Roman wall. Amazing that it is still standing.
As I make my way back to my little hotel, I see a book store . . . the kind that has handmade books, journals, and a little bindery in the back part of the shop. In the window is a leather journal that catches my attention, but of course it is still siesta, and this store doesn’t reopen until 6:00 p.m., quite a bit later than most. I will return to take a real live peek this evening. I do spot Yves and Janice, eating ice cream in the rain, and am happy to see them again. It won’t be the last time.
Then I see Christel, the German/Dutch woman I’ve met a few times in the last week. She and I have coffee and we both want to see the Cathedral as well as attend the free organ concert tonight. We make plans to go to dinner, and on the way, I step into the book-making store. This is my purchase. It is hand-stamped with old Spanish text, though who knows what it says or whether someone Spanish could read it. Sort of like the old DaVinci text on Italian journals I’ve purchased. I will send it on to Santiago by post tomorrow morning along with some other things I won’t need until then.
Christel and I go to dinner at an Italian restaurant, and then head for the Cathedral, which we had visited earlier. This Cathedral give me none of the misgivings I have in the Burgos Cathedral, though I’m sure the money it took to build this one could have fed the hoards as well, but somehow it feels so different. This one took 50 years to build and is truly Gothic, with tall, narrow stained glass windows that remind me of the Chartres Cathedral in France. The Burgos one took so many hundreds of years and the styles changed with each new section, it seemed to me . . . I’ve had pilgrim discussions about this very thing.
At any rate, now it’s night time, and we’re ready for the concert. We are about 30 minutes early, but see that we will stand in a line that is out the door, across the Plaza and around the Calle Ancha, which means we will not get a seat, but will sit on the floor, listening to Poulenc and Saint-Saens, neither of which are my favorites (another heresy!). But the organ is magnificent, and it is accompanied by a small orchestra in this dark and Gothic church, so we are happy.
We see that tomorrow night there will be another concert in Leon at the Cathedral, but I also notice that tomorrow there is also a different venue, whose location is still a mystery to me, but the program is all Bach sonatas, with a small organ and a viola da gamba. Now THAT is worth investigating, and Christel is curious and excited as well. We will get information tomorrow about how to get to this little place. Tonight, I’ve had enough, and am ready to crash.
Saturday, September 28, 2013 I wake up in my little red room, after tossing and turning until the wee hours, listening to a woman down two floors with the courtyard window open (and my window closed) screaming either at someone who is silent, or screaming into a telephone. She is quite angry, and her tirade goes on for at leas an hour. Sigh. This part is better in a municipal albergue with 100 beds. At least everyone has to be quiet after “lights out” at 10:00 p.m.!
Christel and I have agreed to meet at the upscale cafe across from the Cathedral, the bagel cafe, so I get dressed and intend to wander out to the plaza in a leisurely fashion, see what’s what, and be on time for my meeting with her. When I leave the hotel, since the plaza is in plain view, I’m surprised and delighted to find this awaiting me:
This street market is full of vendors with home grown fruit and vegetables, as well as olives, nuts, assorted cheeses and meats. Heaven! I wish I were staying for a week, with a full kitchen! I buy a few veggies and some cheese, hoping to eat in my room so I don’t have to carry more food with me tomorrow when I leave Leon for the next stops.
After asking around at my hotel, the cathedral, the tourist information center and beyond, we learn that the other music venue, the Monsterio de Carrizo de la Ribera, is in a little mountain village, about 30 km. from Leon and that no one, and I mean no one we spoke with in these established offices has a clue how we could get there. But we are determined, so we decide we will ask a taxi driver this afternoon. First I revisit the post office to send my little box of shuffled belongings to Santiago to await my arrival in a couple of weeks.
The taxi stand has a young man in the line who tells us he will take us to the monastery in the village 30 km from Leon, and return two hours later to bring us back to the city. He will charge 50 Euro, whether it is just two of us or more. I ask for his card and his cell phone #, and tell him we will let him know in an hour. After consulting our sensibilities, we advise him that we will meet him near the taxi stand at 6:30 for this 8:00 concert. After all, if the concert weren’t free, we might have to spend 25 Euro per ticket to attend.
What a wonderful decision we made! We get to this little village by 7:00, and no one seems to know why the doors aren’t open yet. At 7:30 we begin to get a bit concerned, but at 7:45, the old stone door to the convent/monasterio that looked as though it hadn’t been opened in 100 years finally creaks and swings wide, revealing a very small chapel, with a large organ at one end, a smaller one set up in the middle next to a chair we assume correctly was for the Viola da Gamba musician, and perhaps fifteen sets of pews for attendees. On the large carved seats lining the sides of the church between the organ and the audience are perhaps a dozen little nuns in white habits, waiting for the concert to begin.
The viola da gamba is a late 15th century instrument, which in descriptions says it’s not like a cello, but I liken it to that, one of my favorite instruments. Christel and I are in the second row so we can see very well, though I close my eyes to listen more clearly to Bach on old instruments. The evening is well worth the taxi fee, and despite our slight apprehensions, our driver does come back on time, delivering us to our original Plaza Santo Domingo in Leon. Christel and I split up, each headed to our respective hotels to prepare for walking again tomorrow. From the person at my hotel desk I request a large dinner plate, silverware, napkin, and salt shaker. Taking these up to my room, I uncover my goodies from the Farmers’ Market this morning and eat a late dinner before I organize my Camino belongings . Heaven!