Saturday, 22 June 2013

Day 23: Villarente - León

Today was really the first rest day I've had since starting out from Lourdes over three weeks ago. We'd done over 30km yesterday to make sure that León was a very gentle stroll, and as a result we had a lie in, coupled with a lazy breakfast at the first cafe we came to at Arcahueja - the coffee was excellent, and came with home made cake that made for an excellent start to the day. Two hours later and we were checking into the covent in León.

The Santa María convent is located right in the centre of town, and Rupert mentioned it as the place he'd stayed at when he reached León. We were met by friendly Italian volunteers, before being pointed in the direction of the dormitories. Perhaps the biggest hint that this wasn't going to be the laid back sort of experience I've enjoyed with almost all the Camino's albergues came when Kim was ushered off into the women's dormitory - this was a strictly segregated place, with the front door locked at 9.30pm, and lights out an hour later. As I'm writing, a nun has just walked through the men's dormitory muttering something about the peligrinos - Rupert (my cousin from London, who arrived tonight to join me for the last 400km having already done the walk to Leon last month) and I have been discussing whether she was secretly hoping to see some exposed flesh / male beastliness. To add insult to injury, the square outside the convent is being used for the inaugural concert for León's summer festival - and yes, the windows have grilles over them to prevent any sneaking out to enjoy the festivities. What Rupert failed to mention was that when he stayed here it was an act of self-punishment, and we ended up dubbing the convent SS Experimental Love Camp, in honour of the Z-grade film of the same name. 

León is lovely. Much better than Burgos. I wandered into town with the Americans and we found a nice bar where we drank beer served by the most extraordinarily beautiful bargirl, and being accosted by African trinket hawkers. Connor had accidentally caught the eye of one of them, who gave up when Kurt failed to get excited by the small carved elephant he'd had thrust into his face - Kurt was similarly unexcited by the five pound hardwood carving of a baby being thrown into the air by a heavily breasted woman (or the small carved elephant that she also had in her palm...). Clearly these people don't realise that most pilgrims walking to Santiago carefully weigh everything that goes into their backpack!

['House of Jesus' lingerie store]

We had a delicious lunch in a bar off the beaten track, where I had a fantastic salad with goat's cheese croquettes, followed up by gelato - León has an awful lot of ice cream and gelato parlours. 

We walked around the cathedral, which has magnificent windows, and cloisters with an intricately detailed vaulted roof. 

After that I left my adopted Somerholter family to finish off my blog, write postcards and rendezvous with Rupert. The bar next to the convent had lovely beer on tap, and gave me a delicious slice of ham on bread with every glass bought. Rupert arrived on the dot at eight o'clock - it was so lovely to see him, and really exciting to think we've got the next three weeks of walking together!