LOS DOS HERMANOS GORDOS DO EL NORTE: DAY FIVE- THE KINGS OF LEON
True to form, as we were about to leave Santiago, the skies cleared and the rains stopped. This gave us one more chance to take a walk and see a tiny bit of what this city obviously has to offer when it is not raining (for reference, The Footprint Guide says, not entirely tongue in cheek, that the next sunny day is scheduled for sometime in 2009)
We had time for one more coffee at El Marte before picking up our car and heading out of town.
All in all a disappointment of a visit. What we did see of the town was attractive but thronged with tour groups and, the meals apart, there was little to make me want to return in a hurry.
When, some years from now, I do walk the entire length of the pilgrim trail, I only hope God treats me better than the poor sodden saps who sploshed into town while we were there. The very definition of anti-climax.
Still, onwards and upwards and out of Galicia and to Castilla y Leon.
Although neither is the state capital, Leon and Burgos are the two most visited towns of this autonomous community. Both are very different. Leon represents the more liberal end of the community, more free spirited and with no great love for the Castillian towns with which they were merged. This spirit is ably represented in their offering of a pincho with every drink and the amiable nature of everyone you meet.
It was another long old drive, around three hours. But, with the aid of a toll road, we arrived in Leon a little after 2pm and found our way easily to the next hotel on the route. A mainstay of Leon and a real gem called Hotel Paris Leon. Slap bang on the main pedestrian drag of the old town.
And, what a town. For once the new town was not a range of mountainous breeze block constructions but, was quite elegant with horse chestnut tree lined boulevards and wide roads. There was an air of gentility about the place that was pervasive.
The cathedral was closed when we arrived in the early afternoon so we took a stroll around the old town and a number of the bars in the Barrio Humedo (literally, The Wet Barrio) named after the many bars in the area. Leon has as Robin put it "a well evolved bar culture" and we managed about six of them before heading back for a siesta. All were very good and in most cases our beer came with a little freebie even though we were deep into the injury time of the lunch break.
SIDE NOTE - however many different names there are for a small beer in Spain; Cana, Zorito or, here in Leon, Cortos one thing remains constant, the Spaniards inability (wilful, one could argue) to understand what you are trying to order. At different times during the trip and after giving it our "best Spanish shit" we were offered Coca Cola, coffee, Albarino and various other drinks all of which were not the small beer we craved. Amusing if annoying. At one point a man looked at me so horrified when I ordered I wondered if I had inadvertently asked to see pictures of his grandmother pleasuring herself with a sweet potato while Franco looked on.
After a much needed siesta, we were ready to hit the town. Before we toured the barrio again, we did a short stroll taking in both a new area for tapas near the Symphony auditorium and some of the small unassuming bars in the residential districts where a couple of Cortos or whatever the hell they were called cost as little as EU1.
We slowly worked our way back via two of the more celebrated bars one of which was a deli specialising in wine and food from the region where, along with our Jamon we tried a glass of red made with the local Mencia grape. Nothing to it as far as we could tell. Not unpleasant, but hardly challenging.
Then on to a bar which specialised in offal. While I went to point Percy at the porcelain, Robin managed to shoulder his way through the crowded bar and order two drinks with a plate of callos in a rich sauce. Very good indeed.
As we bar crawled, other highlights included some Morcilla de leon, very different from its Burgos colleague of the same name. This was, basically, Black Pudding in liquid form spread on toast. Robin declared it "black puddingy" and preferred if to the rice stuffed version. It was a little bit too sludgy for my tastes, I have to admit.
We also had a plate of Mollejas at another bar where the waiter, being officially the campest man in Northern Spain took great delight in giving us lessons in how to pronounce the word for sweetbreads.
I made the fatal mistake of finishing off the night with a large pour of Gran Duque d'Alba caliente (rich dark brandy served in a warmed glass covered to keep in the delicious fumes) fun at the time, but they don't half come back to haunt you in the morning. Robin was much more sensible with a Pacharan on ice.
And so, to bed.
The mighty cathedral at Leon
Sort of like a meal at El Bulli but with more jamon and a lot more beer (and less foam).