Friday, October 23, 2009

León Trip, Day 1

As you can tell from the title of this post, we did so much stuff on my trip to León with AEGEE last weekend that I have decided to break it up to make it more manageable. The first day of the trip, the bus was scheduled to leave Oviedo at 9:30, but since AEGEE can't stick to a schedule, we didn't leave until around 10. I ended up sitting near the front next to a German guy named Charlie who doesn't speak much Spanish, but I mostly just listened to my iPod anyway. León is south of Oviedo so we had to cross some very tall mountains and go through quite a few tunnels to get out of Asturias, but once we got a little ways into the province of León you could really tell the difference, because it's much flatter.

Typical León scenery, I think you guys have seen enough pictures of Asturias to know it doesn't look like this

It took about two and a half hours to get to our first stop, Las Médulas, including a "two minute" (half hour) stop at a gas station so everyone could use the restroom and have a smoke. Ridiculous, if they would just get a bus with a bathroom we wouldn't have these delays. We had to cut our visit to Las Médulas short because we were running behind schedule, but it wasn't really a huge loss because we saw most of what there was to see there. Basically, thousands of years ago the Romans completely destroyed the landscape of this region by diverting rivers to wash away the soft earth and recover the gold it contained, and now that a lot of vegetation has come back it is a truly unique looking area. We walked for about a half hour to get to a giant cave that was created by the flowing water (but is somehow safe to go inside, despite the obvious instability of the dirt here) and then went back to the bus to go to nearby Ponferrada for lunch. Pictures of this moonscape follow.

Village church, first sighting of these strange spires

View from the entrance to the cave

The cave got pretty dusty with 50 foreigners walking around in it

Arsty shot from inside the cave

Venturing off the beaten path to find some cool views

Ponferrada is only about a half hour from Las Médulas, so we got there right around Spanish lunchtime (around 3:00 PM) and had an hour and a half or so to explore the city and find something to eat on our own. Ponferrada's main attraction is an imposing castle built by the Templars, and it was really one of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip. I had brought some pitas with ham and cheese, so I set out in that direction, only to find when I got there that the castle was closed for the siesta. Dammit Spain! I walked around the perimeter of the castle walls and found a place to eat my lunch with a view of the river and the new part of town. After lunch it was getting close to time to head back to the bus, when I noticed that there were people up on the tower of the castle! They had opened it back up like 5 minutes after I tried to go inside! I hurriedly paid my 2 euros and rushed through, trying to take pictures of all the interesting sites. After 10 minutes in the castle I figured it was time to leave and at the exit I found a big group of foreigners headed back to the bus, so I tagged along with them. And now for the part where I put up some pictures of Ponferrada.

Awesome photo from Ponferrada #1 (P.S. - this is a basilica)

Castle entrance, like something out of a fairy tale

Historic castle steps where I ate my lunch

Inside the castle, this is the oldest part

Awesome photo from Ponferrada #2, basilica framed in an arrow slit in the castle tower

View of the castle from the old tower

View of the new part of Ponferrada from the old tower

Me on the narrow tower steps

Castle layout

Our next stop after Ponferrada was Astorga, about an hour away, which has a very beautiful cathedral and an Episcopal Palace that was designed by Antoni Gaudí. We spent about a half hour in this town, not because we were off schedule but because after seeing these two places there isn't that much else to see. Unfortunately the Episcopal Palace was closing right as we arrived, so we didn't get to go inside, but the outside was also very impressive, as you can see in the photos below.

Back of the cathedral

Side view of the cathedral

Turn to the right and you see the Episcopal Palace

Episcopal Palace, from its gardens

Front of the cathedral

We left Astorga for León, where we stayed the night. It was another hour by bus and was starting to get dark when we got to the hostel, which was called the Pilgrim's Hostel because León is on the Camino de Santiago. It took a while to settle into the hostel since we had to split up into groups of 7, but I made friends with some Mexican guys and a guy and girl from Japan, and then a girl from Brazil joined us to round out our room. We had about an hour to shower and make our beds, with most people also changing into nicer clothes, before we walked the long distance into town for tapas. This was actually really fun, because you can order a small beer and a little snack (like cream cheese and ham on a piece of bread) for only one euro, and with the medication I am taking I got pretty toasted after 5 or 6 "cortos". We met back up with the group at 1 AM to go to a discoteca, but it was so crowded that I couldn't move and I don't even really like dancing anyway, so around 2 AM I asked my new friend Miguel if he remembered how to get back to the hostel. He was kind of ready to leave too so we set off, knowing we would find it eventually. An hour later we got back, meeting our very drunk Japanese roommates at the door, and we went straight to bed, since we were supposed to be ready to leave the hostel at 9:30 the next (that same) day to begin our tour of the city.

Goodnight, Cathedral of León!

1 comment:

  1. Surprised you didn't get dizzy and bust your butt on those steps! Cool pictures, like the artsy ones.