May 4,2016 Monday. Walked 7.42 around the city of Leon
What a wonderful day it has been in Leon for me, a day of rest. I did not spend it with my foot elevated on. a rainy day like in Logron. I read in the forecast that it is going to rain on the Camino in a few days, but today in the city it is clear skies and maybe 70 degrees. Yesterday when I arrived I couldn’t explore the city even though there was plenty of day left. I needed to get my laundry done which can be a time consuming project in a busy albergue, and I needed to physically rest.
I didn’t need to be out of the albergue until 10 am so it was a late start, enjoying the good WIFI connection, finishing up laundry and having a lovely breakfast of strawberries and bread with Mary and and Sofie. Even though we are sharing a room with a bath tub in a private hostel tonight we will go our separate ways today.
I put my big backpack in a locker at the San Francisco AsIs albergue since we couldn’t check into the hostel until noon and left with map in hand to find the hostel and cathedral. I couldn’t believe it, within minutes from the albergue I was walking along side the ancient city wall.
I don’t have the time or space here, but if you are interested you can read about Leon and it’s significant history in medieval Spain. Much of that history is still evident in its cathedral, palaces, churches and other structures.
As I tried to match where I was going with the map I felt a little dyslexic, I didn’t know my east from my west and the map in my guide book was upside down compared to the map I was given at the albergue. Plus, and a real big plus, the city streets are not a square grid. They go in a spoke, but there is no center to the spoke that I could find, and there are so many corners on the intersections, it is hard to find what street you are on and then to stay on that street. There were many plazas and gardens and the streets seem to center around them, like many spokes with no central direction, lots of winding and zig zagging streets, which make it hard for a western grid type mind to follow a map, but totally charming. I knew where east was because it was early morning and I had the sun as my marker, but north, south, east and west were not on either map that I had.
By luck I found a street that looked like it went in the direction of the cathedral. I saw a sign for a tourist office and thought that would be a good place to get a better map. There were pilgrims everywhere and some I knew. We are so noticeable with our backpacks and hiking poles. I, however am dressed like a tourist today. Two pilgrims recognized me and pointed me in the direction of the tourist office, which was also right across from the cathedral. I am also getting pretty good at asking : “Donde esta . . .” however their directions Rhein Leon were often hard to follow when they would say go down there and turn right — there would be five or six rights!
When I came around the corner and saw the huge cathedral; I gasped. Like the one in Burgos it is a massive gothic structure that is amazing. The tourist office gave me. a better map and drew me directions to my hostel. I asked her to put the geographical directions on the map (the top of the map was east not north like I am used to). I knew I could somehow work it out now. From the cathedral our hostel was about a 4 minute walk. When I arrived I was told I could check in before noon, so off I went backto the albergue and to get my heavy backpack so I could really start being a touristl
On the way I noticed more historic buildings, another piece of the city wall you could walk up on and an ATM. I decided to get some more euros before getting back on the Camino. I was a little nervous about taking out a large sum of money on a busy urban street obviously looking like a tourist with a backpack and a camera, so I fumbled with sticking the money in a special hidden place quickly and moved on. Very nervous. Within a block I saw a phone store from the same company as my Spanish go-phone and went in to find out how many minutes I had left on my phone. Within the safety of the store I got my euros out to put them in the real safe place and I did not have my ATm card. In my haste to hide my money I had left it in the machine! I ran back to the bank immediately practically crossing against a red light and my card was not in the ATM machine. I tried to go into the bank, it had double doors and the second door was locked. Someone was behind me. I asked how to open it, I asked in English, too panicked to even try my Spanish and they showed me the button to that opened the door. I stood in line waiting my turn for a teller, heart pounding, panic setting in. Finally I am in front of the teller and trying to ask him calmly I if he speaks English. He assures me “a little.” I explain I left my ATM card in the machine a few minutes ago and I am traveling on the Camino and not sue what to do. He calmly asks me for my passport.
Even though I have been in this country for three weeks I am still not used to how often I have to show my passport and it feels like I am in trouble. He walks away and in two minutes returns with my ATM card. An honest Spanish citizen returned it immediately. I am beaming with joy and am actually jumping up and down a bit, and about to faint with relief. Yes, I have another back up ATM card, but didn’t want the hassle of losing that card in a foreign county. The other people in line are laughing at me and asking in Spanish what happened and someone who speaks English is explaining and everyone is beaming and I am saying thank you in Spanish over and over and thatI love Spain! My ATM card is from Pt Loma Federal Credit Union and the teller asks me what state am I from and when I tell him San Diego, he says the card, which as the Pt Loma Lighthouse on it, looks like it is from Boston or on the east coast. I tell him the Pacific coast has a lot of lighthouses too. He smiles and wishes me a “Buen Camino” Once again Iam saved from my own foolishness.
The next hour is less dramatic as I walk to the alberque, get my bag and put it in the room in the hostel. On the way I pass a farmacia and get a special band-aid that will protect the injury on my hand. All done in Spanish. These people are so kind and helpful.
After I get my bag in the room I am off again to fnd the post office and bus station and do some sight seeing. I am ailing a few things to the hotel in Santiago to lighten my backpack and I need to check the bus scheduled for tomorrow. Tomorrow I will takes bus out of the city as many pilgrims do.
On the way to the post office and bus station I interact with many Spanish citizens. I stop a little girl from running out in front of a car, I told an older woman on a bench that she was beautiful and took her picture, I took a picture of lovers kissing at a cafe, I walk through the parks and photograph statues, I go to the post office and figure out their beauacracy (always being treated so well with my few Spanish words), I treat myself to lunch in a cafe where they speak no English and end up getting a tuna sandwhich which I had to try and explain I couldn’t eat. I was so warm and happy walking around this charming city. I crossed the street the same time as an older Spanish woman and in my exuberance told her in SpanishI was on my way to the cathedral and she must of thought I asked for directions and took my arm and walked with me for 10 minutes toward the cathedral, the whole time talking Spanish and I really was trying to understand here. The Spanish is Spain,most of you know, does not sound the same as the Spanish we speak in California. On the way to the cathedral we passed a park with a well dressed young Spanish man, drunk, staggering around, going from person to person Asking them for something. This was my first time seeing someone drunk in public in Spain. He relieved himself in public and the older lady next to me laughed.
We said our goodbyes just before the cathedral and she gave me a big hug.
And then the cathedral – I was overjoyed to be taking a historic educational tour through the electronic phone handed to me. It explained so much. The beauty was majestic and I was allowed to photograph, just no flash. I was there for an hour, watching the late afternoon light change through the stained glass window. I could have stayed longer except it was so cold in the cathedral. When I walked out of the cathedral the tables that were so empty an hour before were filled with people. The entire street as I took the 5-10 minute walk to the hostel were filled with families and tourists and locals sitting outside, children playing and workers hustling to serve them. It Is a warm spring night, after 8:00 pm and I am ready to end a most wonderful day but the Spanish are just getting started with their dinner.
Tomorrow I will make use of the fact that I don’t have to check out til noon, see a few more things in Leon,, take a bus out of the city and be back on the Camino tomorrow, possibly in the rain.