Camino Day 20 – Mansilla to Leon

On the way out of Mansilla, we meet a few familiar faces. First, Alice and her mom, who have trucked on at the same pace as us despite the fact that Alice’s mom was nursing a sore foot the last time we saw them. We talk for a while, but they’re going slowly and we stat to drift ahead.

Just then Anthony (the guy from Sydney, who we met wayyy back on Day 1) greets us and we walk with him a while, grateful for the slightly faster pace. His beard has grown in, and he’s gathered a following of three young pilgrims, walking after him like baby ducks after their momma. The three little pilgrims. The followers drift ahead, while Anthony talks to us. He says he also spent a day in Burgos, where he was surprised by a cousin. While there, he took a bus out of the city to an outdoor shop to buy new sandals, which he said are difficult to find now that the season is changing. We tell him about our awful tourist train experience. He complains about an 18 year old American who stomped and slammed doors, we complain about snoring Italians. Dorcinda thinks he’s grown more judgmental, I’m not so sure.  He doesn’t introduce us to his pack though, and when he leaves us behind to catch up with them, he immediately retakes the lead and appears to be giving orders. We speculate that, as experienced pilgrims ourselves, we could be an unwelcome disruption to the pecking order – three parents is too many for a pilgrim family.

The way into Leon, although only 18 km, is harder than we expected. The scenery is at once dispiriting and fascinating. Don’t get me wrong – it’s ugly as hell. Strip malls, construction sites, industrial zones, highways. But after weeks of walking on country roads, through small towns, in cities built for walking, this is the first stretch of the way where walking is a truly alien activity. This land was shaped for cars. It is valuable as empty space to be filled, for storage and shipping, for its proximity to the city, but is not a place for people, not a place to linger.

Leon, once we get to it, is a great place for walking, with its narrow twisty medieval streets and charming little cafe-lined plazas. Where Burgos was open, grand, and bold, Leon is cozy, ancient, charming.

In Leon, we get a fancy lunch and skip dinner, eating at Becook, which has vague but almost-universally positive reviews. The place settings advise us to BeExperience and BeVanguard. It’s a fusion place, so it’s kind of hard to describe, which accounts for the vague reviews, but it IS good.  We have octopus ceviche, scallops in thai curry sauce (we try to keep two shells, but they don’t let us), and some roast duck. And a dessert called the “Dracula” which is Coca-Cola flavored ice cream, vanilla cream, and some truly vile strawberry candies that are so dry that they stick in your teeth and make your mouth hurt no matter how much liquid or ice cream is in your mouth to counteract it. It comes with a bowl of dry ice underneath, so it smokes attractively and mysteriously.

We meet Alice again at the Cathedral and are impressed by the sight. Our guidebooks weren’t kidding about there being a lot of stained glass windows. Somewhere, I read that there are too many windows, in fact – the stonework is structurally unsound and needs to be repaired far more often than other cathedrals. It’s worth the extra effort, though.  I tear up a little bit at the beauty of the building – one side effect of the Camino is a softening of the emotions, an inclination to sentimentality. And what better place than here?

The audioguide threatens to put me to sleep within seconds of turning it on – this woman’s voice is uniquely boring, and I think I’ve heard her before – maybe at Casa Battlo? I turn it off and wander the cathedral in ignorant bliss.

The cathedral’s museum  has a couple of relics, saints I don’t recognize. They’ve got a lot of statues of St Sebastian, arrowed, and I wonder if he has some local connection.

After the Cathedral, we go to the basilica, and find mass in progress. We sit, then stand, as appropriate. At the end, they invite the pilgrims up for a special prayer and a song, and we decide to do it. The priest points out that there are people who speak all different languages, and asks where people are from. He jokes gently with the spaniards – Valencianos understand Spanish, right? You’re Spanish, even though you’re from Cordoba. We are reunited with Brenda, who stared in rapt attention during the prayer.  She and her German friend Thomas follow us to a rooftop bar for a drink but the place is full up and we don’t have reservations. We decide to stay and have a drink and watch the sunset but Brenda and Thomas go to search out food. We send them to Becook.

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