Thursday, December 10, 2009

Leon, Spain

Last week Kirk had to work in Madrid for the week. Oh poo. Smile.
Connor and I tagged along to mooch off the free place to stay!
But before Kirk got down to business at the office we flew in early and traveled through Northern Spain. Our first stop was an overnight in Leon, Spain. Leon (pronounced lay-OWN) has an enjoyable small-town atmosphere. But most importantly, it has a pair of sights that serve as a textbook for medieval European art styles:
Romanesque (the San Isidoro Monastery, with astonishingly well-preserved frescoes) and
Gothic (the cathedral, with the best stained glass outside of France). Young children in a new hotel room---they have an uncanny way of waking up early on Saturday mornings. So we were out and about in Leon before the sun. That was okay since we had an ambitious travel day on tap! And Leon was most beautiful with the night lights fading and dawn approaching.
The Saturday produce market was setting up in the Plaza Mayor. There were the biggest peppers and onions I have seen!We grabbed breakfast in a warm, cozy coffee house and headed to the cathedral. Had to wait til the sun woke up to go so we could see the famous stained glass do its thing!This bank - Casa de Botines - is one of Antoni Gaudi's few architectural works outside of Barcelona. I just love Gaudi!We trotted on over to the San Isidoro Museum. There we had the great privilege of seeing the vivid frescoes in the monastery. Created in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, these frescoes have never been repainted - they're incredibly well-preserved. While most Romanesque frescoes have been moved to museums, this is a rare opportunity to see them in situ (where they were originally intended).The frescoes trace the life of Christ. This one, below, is the Adoration of the Shepherds...see the angel telling them of the babe's birth?The room was very special. You could feel it!

Having checked off the two main Leon places we hopped in the car and got out of town. Heading south towards Salamanca. The intriguing part is for the first hour we followed the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage trail leading to Santiago de Compestela. The hallowed trail was right beside us. We didn't see any pilgrims hiking though - guess December isn't exactly the high season!
We have a friend who recently hiked the entire trail (900 km in 30 days). It sounds challenging and a definite life accomplishment. What a journey to follow in the footsteps of the Apostle St. James! You can see on the two maps here how the city of Leon is a direct intersection along the path.
Maybe we will have to do this one day. The commitment of endurance and faith to make this trek gives me goosebumps to think about!
Shells such as these mark the Camino de Santiago. We had fun finding them along our way and reflecting on the dedication of pilgrims past and present making this journey.Next stop, the university hub of Salamanca, Spain!

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