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Sunday, March 25, 2012


In the year 70, León was founded by the Romans to protect the Galician gold mines against the indigenous populations of Astures and Cantabros. Even though the Romans founded the city, no major Roman buildings have been found, except for the fortified city wall and some old baths underneath what is now the Cathedral.

Visigoths conquered León in 585.

Islamic invaders took the city from them in 712 and kept it until 846,
when it was taken by Ordoño of Asturias.

Muslims again occupied the city in 938,
leveling the city and kept it until Almanzor´s death.

Alfonso V rebuilt the fortifications.

The city flourished, much of the wealth coming from sheep.
The surrounding pasture lands supported great herds,
and soon León was hosting international wool fairs.

 According to Linda Kay Davidson´s The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago,
"shopkeepers, artisans, money changers, manufacturers, 
and traders of all sorts were drawn to León.
 Money rolled into the city.

By the mid-14th century, almost all of Andalucía was in Christian hands.
León was a bustling center of trade and commerce.

And then... the plague decimated the city and brought it to its knees.
Lasting from 1346 until 1350, in less than four years, Black Death carved a path of ruin through Asia, Italy, France, North Africa, Spain,
Normandy, Switzerland, and Hungary.
After a brief respite, the plague crossed the channel into England, Scotland, and Ireland, making its way into the northern countries of Norway, Sweden,
Denmark, Iceland and Greenland.
Although the death toll from region to region varied,
modern demographers agree with the casual remarks
of the medieval chronicler Froissart, who stated that "a third of the world died."

The Black Death changed the world,
religiously, economically, socially, scientifically, and politically.
The good to come from it was that it served as a catalyst for the Renaissance.


Las Medulas.
About the time of Christ, the largest gold mine in the Roman Empire existed near Ponferrada in Leon Province,Spain.The gold was mined using a technique based on hydraulic power. This type of mining used huge amounts of water to wash away the dirt.  Like Mr. Peabody's coal train in the John Denver song "Paradise," much of the landscape was washed away.

Pliny describes this process vividly

"What happens is far beyond the work of giants. The mountains are bored with corridors and galleries made by lamplight with a duration that is used to measure the shifts. For months, the miners cannot see the sunlight and many of them die inside the tunnels. This type of mine has been given the name of ruin montium. The cracks made in the entrails of the stone are so dangerous that it would be easier to find purpurine or pearls at the bottom of the sea than make scars in the rock. How dangerous we have made the Earth!"

After two centuries of working the deposits, the Romans withdrew, 
leaving a devastated, yet oddly beautiful landscape 
and if a person didn't know the history, 
it might appear to be one of nature's bizarre creations. 
It´s a sight to see!

Historians believe this area has been worked for its gold 
since the late Iron Age, long before the Romans occupied the area. 
They base their evidence on the wealth found in surround excavations 
of castros and cemeteries and their wealth of golden objects.

In the 2nd century AD, gold was devalued, with catastrophic results, 
especially for the Spanish mines. 
Gold production decreased,
 then finally came to an end in the opening decades of the 3rd century.

Hire a taxi to take you to see Las Medulas. 
Have him stop at one of the viewing points,
 then hike one of the shorter Medulas trails to see the enormous caves 
excavated by the Romans

Leon Cathedral
 Said to be one of the finest Gothic buildings in Spain, Santa María de León Cathedral was closely modeled on the Flamboyant Gothic royal cathedrals of France. 125 medieval stained glass windows illuminate a harmonious, fully French Gothic interior with three aisles, a short transept, a five-bay choir, and an ambulatory with radiating chapels. The effect of the pale stone combined with dazzling rays of sunlight filtering through the windows have given the cathedral the nickname "House of Light."

San Isidoro Basilica
San Isidoro Basilica, built in 966, is one of the most important Romanesque churches in Spain. It was demolished demolished by the Moorish King Almanzor in 988, then rebuilt by King Alfonso VI . There are three naves and a sanctuary with three apses.The church holds the Royal Pantheon, where the Kingdom of Leon's royal family was buried. Among those buried here are Alfonso I, Ramiro II, Alfonso V, Sancho I, Fernando II, Doña Sancha and Doña Urraca. There are a total of 23 kings and queens, 12 princes, and 9 counts. It has many beautiful Romanesque paintings on its ceiling, and is called the Sistine Chapel of Romanesque art. Experts have said these paintings are the best Romanesque paintings in all of Europe.The church museum has many interesting and beautiful treasures.

Hostal San Marcos - Parador de León
This magnificent building was originally a hostal built to shelter the pilgrims on the Santiago Way. In the 15th century it was converted into a monastery, in the 17th century it was used as a prison and during the Spanish Civil War served as an army barracks. Today it is one of Spain's most impressive hotels. Part of the building is the Archeological Museum of Leon, well worth a visit. Why not splurge for a beautiful dinner here?

Casa de Botines
Designed in the 19th Century by the famous Gaudí, the corner towers make this building look like a fairy story castle.

 MUSAC: Impressive modern art gallery with exhibitions of well-known Spanish and international artists. Worth a visit just to see the colorful building!

If you get hungry, Leon has some great tapas bars around the Plaza de San Martín. A few of the best ones (all within walking distance from the Plaza) are El Tizón (Cisneros, 3) - excellent meat and sausage tapas; Celso II (Zapaterías, 17) which specialises in Spanish omelettes; La Taberna (La Rúa, 19) specialising in seafood and shellfish; El Llar in the Plaza itself, with a wide variety of typical Leonese tapas.

There's shopping, coffee shops, pastry shops and just about anything you need in Leon.
Take a siesta in the afternoon, then spend the evening walking and people watching.
There are fountains and sculpture scattered throughout the city.
Be adventurous!
You're sure to find entertainment!

Buen Camino!

If you'd like to walk the Camino
but aren't quite ready to do it alone,
see my website:
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe

Monday, March 19, 2012

ULTREYA! Peregrinos... ULTREYA!

The word "Ultreia!" (French) or Ultreya (Spanish)
 is a word derived from the original Latin, meaning Onward!   
It is commonly use by pilgrims 
to greet and to encourage one another along the way.

Here is a song, 
often heard sung along the Camino.
This is the French version, sung by Bernard Dyharts, 
and posted by
Dale Calder in 2003.

French Lyrics:
Tous les matins nous prenons le chemin
tous les matins nous allons plus loin.
Jour après jour la route nous appelle
c'est la voix de Compostelle
Ultreia, ultreia
Et suseia
Deus adjuva nos!
Chemin de terre et chemin de foi,
voie millénaire de l'Europe,
la voie lactée de Charlemagne, 
ces le chemin de tous les jacquets.
Et tout là-bas au bout du continent,
messire Jacques nous attend
depuis toujours son sourire fixe
le soleil qui meurt au Finistère.
(letra y música: Jean Claude Bénazet)

My Lyrics:
Every morning we set off,
We hold the scallop shell.
The voice that calls us in the wind,
Is the voice of Compostelle.
Ultreïa! Ultreïa!
 From the dusty pilgrim path, 
He calls us to Him!

 Way of Earth and Way of Faith,
We've walked the thousand years.
The Milky Way of Charlemagne;
the Way of toil and tears.
Ultreïa! Ultreïa!
 From the dusty worldly path, 
He calls us to Him.

And as we near the journey's end,
Saint James is waiting there,
All the day his smile reflects
The sun of Finistère.
Ultreïa! Ultreïa!
From the dusty worldly way, 
He calls us to Him.

We draw closer with each step,
walking hand in hand.
The Way of Faith, the Way of Light
Below the starry band.
Ultreïa! Ultreïa!
From the dusty worldly way, 
He calls us to Him.

Won't you hear our call, St. James
Our song is in the air.
Guide us to your altar's foot,
Lead us safely there.
Ultreïa! Ultreïa!
From the dusty pilgrim path,
He calls us to Him.

I'd love to hear from someone who has alternative English lyrics!
The tune is just a tad different in my version.
I'll post it perhaps tomorrow.

If you'd like to walk the Camino
but aren't quite ready to do it alone,
see my website:
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Getting from Madrid to Pamplona

Here is some information for those of you flying into Madrid, and wanting to meet our group in Pamplona.  

From the Madrid airport, you can catch a city bus to the Avenida de Americas bus terminal, get off the bus, go upstairs and purchase bus tickets at the kiosk. It's under two euros to get to the bus terminal and they have free wifi on the bus!

If you are going to meet us in SJPP, you can check to see if the new shuttle is running from Pamplona to's a new shuttle bus they started running last year during busy season. It's cheaper than a taxi.

If you are trying to purchase train tickets and having problems, this is because you can only buy tickets online two months in advance for any Spanish train.   If you purchase the tickets when they first become available, you can save well over half of the regular price. For every train, there is a limited number of "web fares" (cheapest) and "estrella fares" (next cheapest).
One experienced pilgrim, Laurie, says tickets on the RENFE website is hit or miss. One thing you definitely want to do is call your credit card company before you try to book them, and that might eliminate the problems that many people have. She says many people  go all the way through the complicated site, make their reservations, only to find that the payment isn't accepted.

As of 2012, ticket brokers can now sell the cheap tickets themselves, but only within the two month window. So Raileurope,  Petrobax, and others will sell you the same cheap fares with their service fee (about $8 US). Or you can try it yourself on the RENFE site and save the service fee.

Yet another alternative is to buy the tickets when you arrive in Spain. If you're over 65 (or is it 60?), you can then buy a special card that allows you a discount off the fare.  For ALSA and Renfe you are a senior citizen at 60.

There is a Tarjeta Dorada" (Golden Card) offered in Spain. This provides discounts to those over 60.  It costs 5.05 euros, and is available in RENFE train stations, RENFE ticket offices, and travel. It's valid for one year.  The discounts are taken off the regular ticket price (not the web specials) and are as follows:

For the AVE (high speed). Monday, Tuesday, Wed., Thurs., 40% discount with advance purchase. Friday, Sat., Sunday, and all days without advance purchase, 25%.

For the AVANT (next fastest). 25% discount M-F; 40% discount Sat-Sun (I know this is the opposite of the discounts for the AVE, but I'm just reporting what the RENFE website says).

For the regular trains: 40% discount all the time

Cercanias: 40% discount all the time

If you can get the online web fares two months out, they are even cheaper, but if not, or if you plan on  purchasing tickets while in the country, the Tarjeta Dorada may be the way to go. 

I'll post updated information as I find it.
Thanks Laurie!

See my website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Pilgrimage Trails of Europe
Walking the Camino Santiago