Ponferrada

Walk:
From Molinaseca the walk takes roughly 1.5 hours. The Camino splits in two shortly after leaving Molinaseca. The right goes along a road and the left is slightly more scenic but also a bit longer. Each route includes numerous places to stop and get breakfast or cafe con leche. In order to enter the city you must cross a bridge.

Templar Castle:
IMG_6068Originally built by the Celts, the Castillo de low Templarios was expanded by the Romans, Templars, and Spanish land owners across seven centuries. The original towers mimic constellations, and the castle has one and two lines of fortifications with the Sil River bordering one side. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, more commonly called the Templars, took control of the castle in 1211 after Alfonso IX granted it to them. They expand d it to protest pilgrims walking the Camino. The castle currently sits along the stretch of the Camino passing through Ponferrada. The castle now contains roughly 1400 books in its Templar library. From the outside the Castle looms over the area around it, and serves as a fantastic back drop for pictures or a picnic. Unfortunately the inside does not live up to the outside. The structure seen from the street and the structure of the inside are hugely similar. The Castle is also closed on Mondays; look up the hours of any place you plan on visiting before you try to go there.

Roman Mines:
IMG_6176Las Medulas is a UNESCO heritage site and the best preserved mine from the Roman Empire. It was built in 1AD and was operated for approximately 250 years, during which 1.65 million kg of gold was extracted by 60,000 slaves per year. The hydraulic mining methods used by the Romans created a stark geologic contrast between the surrounding lush green mountaintops and the red tinted, jagged, and bare bedrock of the Las Medulas mines. This long-term environmental scarring was facillitated through the use of aqueducts, which supplied the water necessary for breaking down bedrock to reveal gold. The mine is about 25km from Ponferrada; only a thirty minute bus ride away. The ride is scenic although slightly nauseating due to the winding mountain pass and elevation. The first destination includes a lovely walk, which allows for leisurely exploration of the red tinged mines and tunnels. There are numerous paths and possibilities for adventurous exploration, if visitors are so inclined. It is strongly suggested that visitors wear boots, bring water, snacks, and a camera to capture the panoramic views. The second recommended destination includes an extra ten minute bus ride to the Mirador, one of the most spectacular views available in Northern Spain.

Frances and Hania

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

 

 

Spanish Beginnings: Greetings from Burgos

Unlike several other towns that we will pass through on our way to Santiago de Compostela, Burgos is not a town based on Roman foundations, but rather early medieval ones. It was a vital location during the long and bloody process of the Reconquista, during which the Catholic monarchs of Spain slowly pushed the borders of the Muslim-controlled kingdoms southward, culminating in the fall of Granada in the fifteenth century. Today, Burgos is a popular and lovely stop along the way.

Getting There
Burgos is between the major hubs of Logroño and León on the Camino de Santiago. You can also arrive by bus, or via train from Madrid, though the bus station is closer to the center of town. We came variously from Madrid, London, and Munich, and so missed out on the views of the Meseta on the way– the flat plain that stretches towards the mountains of Galicia in the west.

image.jpegThings to See
– Cathedral: The cathedral of Our Lady of Burgos is a wonderful mix of styles– built on the site of a much smaller Romanesque cathedral, the bulk of the current Gothic structure was completed in the 13th century, but has been enlarged and variously improved by each successive generation. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, we were amazed by the perforated star lights in the dome, the elaborate rococo chapels, the gilded reliquaries, and the many surviving medieval wall paintings. For fans of Spanish history, don’t miss the tomb of El Cid! The price of admission also gains you access to the cloister and a small museum.
– St. Nicolas: A Romanesque church, noted for its astonishing early plateresque altarpiece of 1505, which is the full height of the back wall and highlighted in gold leaf, and for its icon of the Virgin Bianca.
– St. Esteban, now the Museo de Retablo: Our second favorite site in Burgos, the Romanesque church of St. Esteban is home to a series of 15th and 16th c retablos… At ground level! You’ve never been able to examine altarpieces like this before. The church itself is a beautifully preserved example of Romanesque architecture, with a very rare surviving stone porch.
– The Castle: For fans of military history and amazing views. The castle is in ruins now, but there is a very nice wall walk, and the views down over the city and cathedral are breathtaking.
– The River/Arch of the Virgin: If you have time, take a walk along the small river that runs through the city, and take a look at the Arch of the Virgin, adorned with important early modern citizens of the city. Keep an eye out for the imposing statue of El Cid!

image.jpegThings to Eat/Drink:

There are many wonderful things you can say about Burgos, but the food is definitely worth an extensive mention. Like most towns along the Camino, there are many coffee shops, tapas bars and restaurants offering variations on the menu del dia. We, however, discovered two locations which are must visits. Both are near the Hotel de Norde y Londre and within walking distance of many other lodging options.

As any visitor to Spain will soon discover, the tapas bar is everywhere, which means it takes a very special place to stand out from the crowd. Donde Alberto is one. The beer and wine offerings are standard, but the tapas are fantastic. We were in Burgos for four days, and came here at least five times. The stack of tuna tartare with diced tomatoes and avocado, the goat cheese and golden raisin toast, and the toast with smoked herring, egg and goat cheese are fabulous, and only two Euro each.

For dinner, any visitor to Burgos will struggle to find better food than the features at Cuchillo de Palo. The interior is upscale, with a bar and tapas options, but the dining room is also lovely, and they didn’t seem to mind that we showed up in our pilgrim gear. Between the three of us, we tried a seared tuna filet with guacamole quenelles and soy sauce, poached Bacalao with pesto, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and arugula salad, and duck confit with chestnut purée and parmentier. For the quality, the price is almost criminal, and no visit to Burgos is complete without a meal here!

Today we’re taking a short break in Sahaguna, a small town which was very important during the Middle Ages. Tomorrow we leave for Leon, where we will meet up with our other Fordham Peregrinos.

Buen Camino!
Rachel Podd and Louisa Foroughi