Astorga

We shared an early breakfast of dry oats, whole-grain breads, and milk substitutes at the beautiful “vegetarian- yoga” albergue of Hospidal de Órbiga. Our host, a singing bodhisattva named Mincho, bid us farewell as we walked towards the soft hills of the Leonese countryside. Our walk was mercifully short with frequent stops along the way, giving us ample opportunity to get to know each other better and meet other pilgrims. Giovanni, an older gentleman from Livorno, shared his ideas on Spanish coffee with us. We heard the joyful laughter of a Panamanian man named Alfonso echoing from every café we passed. Towards the end of the walk, Frances – the trained EMT of our group – shared her medical expertise with a couple of students from the University of Southern California by tending to their wounded feet. Finally, after passing over a winding steel bridge and climbing up a seemingly never-ending hill, we arrived in Astorga.

The municipal albergue greeted us at the entrance to the old city. After checking in and showering, a couple of us decided to do laundry. We inserted the three euros, added the soap, and pressed the button to begin the wash cycle. But nothing happened. We pressed every button on the machine about a dozen times before realizing that it was not going to happen for us, so we went to the front desk to ask for help. Pilar, our hostess, came down to try and figure out our problem. Still nothing. She must have seen how hungry and tired we were after a long day of walking because Pilar immediately offered to do our laundry for us in her own quarters. With her joyful generosity, Pilar became our hero of the day.
Several of us went out to eat at the main plaza of Astorga. It seemed like the whole town was out for a midday stroll – including one Astorgan wearing a Fordham t-shirt, though he did not attend. Every fifteen minutes, the bell on the baroque town hall rang. On the hour, two mechanized statues of a man and a woman in early-modern garb hit a larger central bell with hammers. Certainly the most interesting municipal building that we had encountered to that point. After our mid-afternoon meal, we went back to the albergue to wash up before the evening presentations. We planned to meet at the cathedral around 6:00. The Baroque altarpiece stood out as a worthwhile draw to the church. Afterwards, we explored Gaudi’s episcopal palace.

For groups with different food preferences Cerveceria Restaurante is a great place. They had several different choices of paella, which is very helpful for vegans in the group.  For us, though, the highlight of the evening was the nearby chocolate shop: Pastelerias Peñin. The chocolate was good, but the shopkeeper Lucy was even sweeter. She ended up taking pictures with us, giving a couple of us extra cookies and cakes, and asking us to pray for her when we reach Santiago. If future Fordham groups spend the night in Astorga, I highly recommend paying a visit to our friend Lucy. After a trip to the supermarket to prepare for the next morning, we decided to call it a night early.

Buen Camino!

Jacqueline Rzasa & Ian Schaefer

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When in León…

General Tips:

  • Coming into León from Madrid is best by train: if you can buy your ticket online in advance you can save yourself about 20 euros. Also, make sure to show up about 20 minutes early so that you can grab a four seater on the train with table, especially if you’re traveling with friends or planning to work.
  • Make friends, with the people in your group, but also with other pilgrims.
  • Spanish fluency is priceless, but you would be surprised how far you can go with “Hi, may I have that… Where is this (Gesture to your map)… How much is that… Don’t shoot” In Spanish these phrases are, “Hola, puedo tener eso… Donde esta este… Cuanto cuesta eso… no me dispares” respectively.
  • León is beautiful but it is particularly special in that it is a city that you get to be in for more than one day. Take advantage of that, as there is much to see and do.
  • The first day of walking from León is one of the longest on our camino… Go to bed early the night before, future you will thank you.

General History about Leon:

  • Originally a Roman city that was built to protect adjacent mining interest in Galicia from the local tribes from the north. Also, the name León comes from the Roman legion that protected the city.

Things to See:

  • The Cathedral de Santa Maria de León: Along with those at Burgos and Santiago de Compostela, it is among the most important cathedrals on the Camino de Santiago. The 13th century Gothic cathedral was built upon 2nd century Roman bath house. The main facade has two adjacent towers, three carved portals, and a gigantic rose window. The over 125 stained glass windows cover approximately 1,800 square meters. The cathedral itself is built from limestone to further brighten the exterior and interior of the cathedral. There is a 15th century altarpiece by Nicolas Frances. Silver urn containing some remains of San Froilan who is the patron saint of León.
  • The Cathedral Museum: Middle age paintings, Romanesque baptismal fonts, Relics, tabernacles, 13th and 14th century vellum volumes… Don’t forget to get a stamp for your credential.
  • Women’s Benedictine Monastery: Many of our group went here to receive a blessing from the nuns, but we ended up staying for mass. I spoke to one of the nuns who told us about their 9 euro dinner.

Places to Eat/Drink:

  • Meson La Perla: Great spot for smoked salmon and mixed salad
  • Valor: Small chocolate shop where I bought 1lb of milk chocolate truffles for 4 euros!
  • Barrio de Humedo: neighborhood whose streets are loaded with great tapas spots such as the Calle de azabacheria or the Calle de las carnicerias… Pick a restaurant, you can’t go wrong!
  • Vinoteca: restaurant near the Cathedral de León where I had tapas and wine. Try the steak tartar and the octopus.

-Dan Sullivan

Leon, Post 1: Panteon de los Reyes

Whether you begin your pilgrimage fresh in Leon or you stumble into the city after weeks of walking, the ancient Roman fortress is a wonderful place to spend a few days. Built as an outpost for the Roman legions used for the conquest of the Spanish Peninsula, Leon is a city dominated by its history. While walking past the medieval cathedral that dominates the city’s skyline, one stumbles upon a Roman pathway guarded by the city’s ancient walls.

Nowhere is the city’s long history more apparent than the burial place of the former Kings of Leon: the Panteon de los Reyes, which is located at the foot of the Basilica of San Isidoro. The Basilica, which was built over the ruins of a temple to the Roman god Mercury, became a royal burial place in 1063 when Queen Sancha of Leon persuaded her husband to transfer the remains of their ancestors to that place.

IMG_7883Visitors entering the Panteon are greeted by a beautifully preserved painted ceiling which has been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Romanesque art. The ceiling is painted in earth tones of red, brown, and green, and depicts both biblical scenes and calendars. The solemnity of the ceiling magnifies the sense of majesty created by the simple yet elegantly designed tombs.

After a visit to the Panteon, I would recommend a visit to Vinoteca Cervantes on Calle Cervantes for some delicious tapas: the ham croquettas and calamari are particularly good. Despite being a city rich in museums and history, Leon does not disappoint visitors looking for an exciting night life. The bartender at Molly Malone’s is particularly friendly and the bar turns into a discoteca after 9pm every day.

Buen Camino!

Dan Salerno