Dr. Hoffer's Travel Site This site was last updated 08/04/10
IBERIA2001 #49 León Castille
We took off in the rain at 4 PM and Marcia drove the 150 miles north east past Valladolid and then northwest to the grand city of León, one of the famous capitols of Castilla. We arrived at the Parador San Marcos at 6:30 PM. It was fortuitous that Manuel booked us in here because Fernando had specifically recommended that we stay here if we get to León. By the time we arrived, the rain lightened a little. The place was previously the Monasterio de San Marcos and it has been restored and maintained beautifully. This has got to be the grandest of all the Spanish Paradores; I liked it better than the one in Santiago di Compostela (Reyes Catolica). It was nice to be here a little earlier this time (like Cadiz) for time to relax and not sightseeing, so I moseyed around the hotel and took some pictures and finally gave in a bought a Parador shirt since this is the last one we would be in. I then went down to the lobby bar with my computer and had a cappuccino which was a real one. Marcia joined me then I went up and changed my shirt for dinner and then we had a glass of tinto. As I was looking through the Palm I noticed that I was supposed to get in touch with Jessica Hanscom who is spending time in Salamanca. Tom Hanscom, my friend and retinal colleague for over 20 years had emailed me when I was in Madrid that his daughter Jessica would be in Salamanca and it would be nice if we could see her. Well, in the hassle with the car window and also reading about Rush Limbaugh, I did not put that note as a repeating item in the Palm so it would come up each day. Therefore I did not see it until I went back to the Madrid days to look at my notes. Boy I felt bad because we had just left there and could have easily gotten to see her. So I called her on the mobile and reached her and we had a good chat. I told her not to worry about the current events and to go on with her life as normal but to be alert as she should be. By 10 PM we were not in the mood in this weather to go finding a restaurant so we did what we have done in the past, opted for the one at the Parador. What an excellent decision that was. The whole evening was wonderful. And we ate local dishes. We started with vino blanco (Guzmanes) and they brought us spuma quesa as a starter, which is a whipped local cheese - it was great (photo). Then Marcia had trout soup and I enjoyed a delicious "scallops stuffed fruit of the sea". Then they started to bring the appetizers "menu gestasian" which consisted of little tastes of local dishes like chorizo, pate, red peppers, mushrooms, potatoes with fish, sausage, etc. (photo); there were two servings. For entree Marcia had baked hake and I had pollo with figs and yams accompanied by yam chips. They were great. A little arrozo con leche and cava/lemon sorbet and we were finished except for my espresso. It was probably, over all, the best dining experience we have had on this trip. We were out of there by 11:40 and got to bed earlier than usual at 1 AM.
So as to beat the lunch closings of everything, I jumped up at 9:45 and by 11:30 I was in a cab alone to get to the Catedral. He took me through winding back streets to get there. As usual it was very large and the big thing about this church is the glorious stained glass windows (photo). Of course they prohibit any video or photos in everyplace in this town. I learned that even more as I went to tour the Catedral Museum. They only let you go in in groups with a guide (so she can keep an eye on you and see you take no pictures). I was late joining the group so she scowled at me for that and when she saw my camcorder, she said the obvious and I answered in kind. What was cute was that she only gave the tour in Spanish so I was so bored I kept going on ahead and looking at things instead of standing there in the group. She was so occupied with her spiel (very winded gal) that she gave me all the opportunities I needed. Inside are several paintings by a famous Spanish artist (Nicolás Francés, died 1468) (photo) and many other wonderful pieces including a special silver-clad burial box that was used for a child (photo). It is their prized piece. It has taken years for me to develop these photo techniques under these circumstances. After I had seen (and photoed) everything, I was done so I thought I could just sneak out but to my surprise she had locked the old church door from the inside and I had to sit there until she was done and came down to let me out. She was not very happy with me, but I didn’t understand anything she said. They certainly are very uptight in this town in their museums. I caught a cab back to the hotel and met Marcia so we could tour the Monastery Museo de Leon which is in the same building as the Parador. We can see the cloister (photo) from the lobby. We went through the museum and saw an interesting statue of a bishop kneeling as well as a strange crucifix made entirely of ivory form the Middle Ages. There were also pottery and objects from the Visigoths, the ones who conquered the Romans. After we left there, we checked out of the Parador and I went for my run down Gran Via de San Marcos through Plaza de la Immaculada on to Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza San Marcelo with its large fountain. As I kept going I discovered a gate and wall from the Roman era and while waiting to cross a street, I was backed up against a car. The girl in the back seat of the car saw my camera and begged me to take a picture of her. I think her Mom said (in Español) that it might break my camera. She loved the shot (photo). She was very cute about it. I'm glad I tied my light jacket around me because it was really getting chilly. I then dashed down to find the Casa Botines (photo) which is one of Gaudí’s (remember Barcelona) very first architectural projects before he really got wild and famous. The statue of St. George and the dragon and the ironwork are all his stuff; it is Banco España now and it is very nicely kept up. Across the street is the Palacio Guzmanes (Guzman Palace) which was built by the wealthy Guzman family in the 1500s (remember the name of the wine we had last night). The outside is not spectacular, but the interior is very nice (like a cloister). They wouldn't let me inside now because I had to be led by the nose by a guide and she wasn't back yet. So I went up the street to look for an Internet Cafe at a local hotel that I was told about. When I saw the pinball internet machine, I asked the hotel guy where a real internet place was and he directed me to 2 blocks away. He was right but the place was closed for lunch. So I hiked up to the Basilica de San Isidoro, a big saint in this region and went inside the church because the museum was also still closed until 4 PM. The basílica was built when they brought Isidoro’s bones here in 1080. Since it was already 3:00 by now, I figured I would have a cortado at Cafe Boccalino in a little hotel in the square, while I waited it out. The owner was very nice and spoke English very well and we talked about the NYC thing. After 2 cortados it was finally 4 PM so I left and went over to the Basilica Isidoro Museum which of course only had guided tours again. The first place they take you is to Panteón or burial chamber room where all the old kings (23) and queens of the Kingdom of León (which was very big) are buried. It was very dark so photos aren't very good. The frescos on the ceiling are from the 1100s and are in incredible condition (photos). There is no photography allowed at all and they were watching me like a hawk. You can tell how old they are by the themes of the paintings and the style of the caricatures. After you tour the cloister he then takes us all into the treasury room and then upstairs to the library where they have initial print books that date back to the middle ages, incredible. Since you are trapped until he lets you leave, he finally let me out. I then walked in the rain back to Palacio des Guzmanes and my guide was eagerly awaiting "the American she heard wanted a tour." She likes to practice her English and did she go on and on. She was very cute so I listened to all the fine details of the building. I won't do the same here but the Guzmanes wanted the most fabulous ceiling in town so they used wood shipped from America. To pay for it they taxed the citizens. Leon is the capitol of the province of Leon and this room (photo) is the Council Chambers for the officials. The name Leon means lion in Spanish but that is not where the name came form. The city was founded by the VIIth Roman Legion and it is a corruption of the original name Legio. She showed me the portraits of all the Council Presidents and pointed out that not one of them was a woman. She said that that is what machismo is and someday it will change. It is also interesting to note that Leon is only 70 miles south of Oviedo in Asturias where we were in August. I ran back over to the Internet place and they were now open so I was able to send Chapter 43 and check 248 emails. I took a cab back to the Parador and Marcia wasn't very pleased that I had taken so long. She didn't realize the "guided tours" take much longer than if I am on my own. It was one of our few unpleasant moments. I got changed and we got the car out from the garage, packed our bags and at 7:15 we headed out in the dark, cold and rain back south to Valladolid.
KJH Go To -> NEXT DIARIO #50
Kenneth J. Hoffer, MD
PHOTOS: 49LeonA 49LeonB
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