After two days and nights in Santiago de Compostela, we headed off to León by bus, with a stop for a bus change in Ponferrada (say it with all the trilly r’s).
The scenery between Santiago and Ponferrada was fabulous. I think we went straight east on the N-547 to Lugo, and then the A-6 (bigger highway) to Ponferrada.
We didn’t have any time to explore Ponferrada, but we did note that they have a 24-hour car wash… something we’ve never seen!
At the bus stop I noticed an older woman dropped off by a taxi, along with a big sack of potatoes (25kg/50lbs) . She couldn’t carry them, and asked somebody (who I thought she knew) to help her. I went up and told her that I was happy to help, and she declined, and then I told her that I could carry the bag, please give it to me, and so she gave up her half and the other woman and I quickly took it where it needed to go.
After a few minutes she came over and chatted with us… Amelia has a sister (or sister-in-law, I forget) in Washington DC, where are we from?, why are we in Spain?, why do I speak Spanish? where did I learn it?, what do we do?… And then she said why are you going to León?, come to my house! (in Toreno, about 15 miles to the north). We felt like we had to get to where we were expected, but I have some regrets that we didn’t make it to Amelia’s in Toreno… it’s a smallish village, ~10,000 people, maybe I’ll send a letter and it will find her.
The Spanish landscape from the bus intrigued me. Old villages and small farms and not much else. Except that the landscape around León was frankly a bit boring. Think Ohio. But drier.
While we were walking around that night we heard a little squeaking noise. I told Ginny it sounded like a bat. And then… There! Flitting about the plaza… el murciélago/the bat… isn’t that a fabulous word???
And some amazing treasure and old, old books. Of course we couldn’t take photos. But if you are a researcher, you can go to these old libraries and actually look at these books that are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old.
Ginny says the Roman column we saw in León is probably the oldest thing we saw on the trip. I’ll believe her. It’s dedicated to Marcus Aurelius. There was a stork nest on top of this, and we saw the stork in it!
Did I mention we were in Spain during Semana Santa (Holy Week)? We saw a bit of a procession (think parade) one night, and the next night was a wonderful Holy Thursday Procession…
We learned that the band practices all year for this! Ginny thought one of the drummers was having simply too much fun. He was rather enthusiastic with his booming (you can hear him here).
Apparently, these floats (pasos) are usually carried by people (costaleros or penitents) hidden by a cover. I rather liked seeing everybody. They are heavy! The pasos can weigh up to 2 tons! Some of the penitents walked the procession barefoot. The silvery paso is carried by women and appears not to be as heavy as the one with Jesus (and presumably Joseph of Arimathea, who gave him the tomb)… only because there are fewer people carrying it.
Each float had somebody who would guide it (important for the curvy streets) and who would indicate when they should stop. This person also pushed back the crowds as needed (this happened on one of the sharp street corners). One of the photos shows one of the floats stopped… it sits on legs and the costaleros take a break and walk around.
We thought we arranged for two nights in our hostal, but when we arrived, Fernando (who had one hand with black painted fingernails) told us that it was only for one night. He said also that where his hostal was wasn’t really a hopping place for evening life. But when we looked out from our balcony, it was like looking down into a mosh pit. He arranged for us to get another hostal, but out of the old part of the city, for the next night. León is pretty small, so it was only a 15 minute walk away.
We had the absolute worst meal of the trip in León. I also ate tripe (at a different place) as a tapa.
Callos? Sure… (again with the food words being hard, and being willing to try whatever they were serving). They were apparently pushing the tripe. It was actually fine, but not something I’d look for in the future.
León also has a Parador. Think about it if you ever go there, though it is more expensive than the one in Santiago.
It sits on the Rio Bernesga, which in real life didn’t look like much of a river, but it does look better in the photos.
In addition to the bra/baby things/lacey junk shops, we saw a real knitting store, which was closed for siesta. Katia… nothing that looked interesting to us!
And I bought a 2 Euro scarf at this other flea market just before we left (on another bus, to Bilbao).