Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 20th, Day 19: Reliegos de las Matas to Leon

Bar Elvis, Sahagun.
Sin Sin of Bar Elvis.

Reliegos is just coming to life as we are leaving and we happen upon Bar Elvis, where we meet Sin Sin. This is the barista/bartender who  wears a beret, chain smokes and makes his cafe con leche with half coffee and half whiskey. I’m wondering how interesting one of his coffees would make our morning walk, but we have too many kilometers to cover today to even entertain the idea.

We set out from Reliegos bound for Leon, a day that will total about 25 kilometers. The day is typical of the meseta – hot, dry and long…very, very long. Past pilgrims’ warnings of the boring meseta were not so true at the beginning, but after almost a week of long, flat stretches of road parallel to main roads, I’m ready for a change in elevation, landscape and vegetation.

We walk 16 kilometers straight, only stopping to fill up our water bottles when necessary, and to squat in fields when necessary. We feel like we’ve hit the jackpot when we finally reach Arcahueja, and we decide to sit down for a very long lunch. I order inside – ensalata mista, sandwiches, and ice cream, and the man working the bar, Louis, complements me on my Spanish. I didn’t realize just how much of the language I have picked up in the three weeks I have been in Spain.

 

Catedral de Leon at night.

We sit at a patio table, and shortly after we arrive, Ale arrives with Paul, a German guy that she’s been walking with. They sit down at the table next to us and Ale orders a tinto de verano. This mix of vino tinto and lemonade is her drink and we order a couple, delaying our departure to Leon, avoiding the remaining 8 kilometers we have to face.
After our delicious tinto de veranos, we set out to cover the afternoon walk. We are literally on the outskirts of Leon shortly after leaving Arcahueja, but the city sprawl is impressive. In the distance, we can see the cathedral, but it still takes close to two hours to reach it.

My legs and feet are talking to me – more so than days prior. I need a rest and I need to get out of my hiking boots. The last kilometer is trying, but we pass Paul as we’re approaching the municipal albergue. He has already arrived, checked in and saved us a room! We walk the last few meters to the albergue.

 

A traditional festival outside the cathedral.

San Francisco d’Assisi, is an old convent. The building is huge, old and non-descript and feels more like an old hospital ward than an albergue. We get checked in and climb the stairs up to our room on the fourth floor. This feels like some form of cruel punishment, having to climb flights of stairs after walking 25 kilometers, but we are here!

We walk to the end of the hall, and open the door to our room. We have 2 bunkbeds, a cupboard, desk, nightstand, and a private shower. We throw some laundry on, and set out to have a small snack and some vino tinto, staying close to the albergue while we finish laundry. Tammy realizes she has washed her ipod,and we put it on the windowsill to dry out as we head out for an evening in Leon.

 

Our monstrous cheese plate.

Leon has the energy of a city and is filled with residents, tourists and pilgrims alike. We venture over to the Cathedral and pass Russ (from Atlanta). We haven’t seen him since Castrojeriz, so we visit with him before finding a spot for dinner. The later it gets, the more lively the city becomes. A festival is taking place outside the cathedral, which we stop to watch, and then we walk down a side street looking for dinner.

After a few pit stops at tapas joints, we realize we haven’t really had anything of substance. It is proving difficult to find anything other than tapas, and it’s now getting late. We find a bar on the beginning of the walk back home, and a few people are still drinking inside, so we head in to scope out what they have.

We end up with a cheese plate, large enough to feed everyone in the bar. Over a couple of vino tintos and endless amounts of cheese, we begin talking to an old man by the name of Espromceda Paramos . He tells us of his Caminos past and insists we go to Pontevedra, a town on the coast, after the Camino. Randomly, The Pogues, ‘A Fairy Tale Christmas’ plays in the background. Our new friend wishes us a Buen Camino, we finish our cheese and vino, and we head back to our albergue. I like Leon, and we debate taking a rest day here. We make no plans of going anywhere early. We will sleep and then decide.

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