June 12, 2008 Mansilla de las Mulas to León

Today I learned why many people suggest taking the bus into Leon. The long walk through suburban/exurban estates sucked the life out of the spirit, but as León became more dense the city started to breathe. On entering the old city it became clear León is a gem of Spain. Its walled city contains hidden plazas and winding streets full of restaurants, pubs and, at night, party-goers. The center of it all is the cathedral, which on Saturday overflows with brides and grooms readying themselves for the wedding vows. I could tell I would love this place.

I found my hotel, the Posada Regia, and then sat at a table on the Calle Ancha, where I discovered a great vantage point for pilgrim-watching. One after another I saw pilgrim friends and acquaintances walk by and share  waves, hugs, and “buen caminos.” Stefan called to say he’d like to meet me here to tour me through the nightlife of the town, so I prepared for an extra day for rest and to gather strength for a party night with Stefan. I hung out through the day with Maria Paluselli of California and scouted out a masseuse to ease our tired muscles and relaxed next to the constant stream of pilgrims on Calle Ancha.

Next day: I visited the cathedral and the church of St. Isadore, along with many of the nooks and crannies of the old city. In the evening I met Stefan, greeting the one remnant of my original camino family with many hugs, stories and laughter. Stefan is a force of nature and one just has to try to keep one’s footing while being around him. He’s full of ideas, muscular charm, an eye for pretty girls and the South African equivalent of the gift of Blarney. We headed out for a night of great food, great conversation, and several types of the mysterious liquor absinthe, a curiosity of mine that at the time could not be sold in America. Thanks to the persistence of Stefan, who after much searching and much sampling, found this rare liquor at one tiny bar that didn’t open until after midnight.

By 1:00 a.m. I had had my quota of 4 drinks in one day, so I carefully and a little nauseously walked back to the hotel and dropped on the bed to get some sleep in advance of a long walk tomorrow to Hospital de Orbigo. It was great to see Stefan and I had a blast with him in one of the true “party nights” of my straight-laced life.

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