The high plain of Castile levelled out at about eight hundred metres above sea level and then we entered a rather tedious section of road that took us to León via a rather circuitous ring road that looped around the south of the city before taking us back towards the centre. We found an underground car park at the Plaza Mayor and then took the steps from the subterranean basement into the penetrating sunshine.
The pastel coloured, honey colonnaded Plaza was curiously quiet with an absence of shops, bars or restaurants but too be fair, despite the sunshine, it was probably a little too cool to set out the pavement tables so with nothing to stop for we made our way towards the historical centre and the Gothic French style cathedral.
We had been travelling now for quite a while and it was way past lunch time so before we looked for the Cathedral we stopped in a busy square lined with pavement restaurants and selected one with uneven tables rocking on the cobbles in the sunshine and waited for service.
There was quite a nice menu but no tortilla even though we had seen one inside on the bar. When the waiter came to take our order we selected some items from the menu and told him that we would also like some omelette. He explained that tortilla was only available inside and that we should select from the menu. Kim tried to negotiate with him and to take him inside to show him what we wanted but he was very insistent, to the point of being down-right rude actually, that we couldn’t have the tortilla.
At this point I was minded to go inside and order a beer and a slice and then bring it outside to the table but after careful consideration it didn’t seem worth making a fuss. To be fair it wasn’t just about us and he was very even-handed about the issue when he was equally forceful about refusing it to a young local Spanish couple.
After our tortilla starved lunch we paid up without leaving a tip and moved off down a grubby side street with gaily coloured buildings with glass and elaborate timbered enclosed balconies until we arrived at another wide plaza with grand buildings. In one corner was a magnificent grey turreted building, the Casa Botines, that resembled a castle with a statue of St George slaying the dragon over the front door and this turned out to be a creation of the Catalan architectAntoni Gaudi and one of only a handful outside of his home city of Barcelona.
Actually, there were an awful lot of very grand buildings in this plaza and they all turned out to be the headquarters of the principal Spanish banks. Typical – the banks create the economic crisis across the Eurozone whilst at the same time ensuring that they own and occupy the best buildings in the city. I imagined that staff behind the windows were looking down and laughing themselves silly while they counted their bonuses!
And so we returned to the shabby narrow streets with run down shops and decrepit mansions as we made our way to the cathedral. My overall impression was that if Oviedo was neat and well maintained then León was untidy and in need of some tender loving care and a manicure. On every street corner there was disfiguring graffiti and the place felt run down, uncared for and generally less affluent and then we reached the Cathedral, a great Gothic sandstone structure in the French style and we walked to the main doors.
They were closed! This being Monday, León Cathedral seems to have caught the first day of the week closing habit which afflicts museums across Europe and so it seemed that we wouldn’t be able to see the interior of this fine place. I’d like to tell you about the famous stained glass windows, the cloisters and the high soaring roofs but sadly I cannot and because we didn’t really have time to hang around we left the Cathedral square and made our way back to the car.
We have made this mistake before – stopping off somewhere on route to a final destination and not having enough time in the place to do it justice so I am going to refrain from making a judgement about León except to say that even if I was to return I doubt very much that it would become one of my favourites or make it into my top ten of Spanish cities – it isn’t even a UNESCO World Heritage Site (now, there is an idea for a blog post).
We left León and continued south towards the Province and city of Zamora across the ironing-board landscape of the overwhelmingly flat high plain, through arable fields with snow capped mountains in the far distance and along roads with verges decorated with blood-red black-eyed poppies that swayed in the breeze.
I have flown many times over Castilla y León and looked down at the ribbons of roads, red roofed towns and villages, lakes and reservoirs sparkling in the sunshine but I have to say that down here at ground level it was not nearly so exciting as it appears from ten kilometres high in the sky!