Un finde en León

Here it is as promised (albeit a few weeks later than planned); blog post number 2. I’m currently sat here twiddling my thumbs on a 2 hour plane journey back to Ireland, so I thought I’d put the time to good use. Anyway, here it goes…

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So on the final weekend of Feburary/beginning of March I took myself up north to the beautiful wee city of León, just over a 2 hour bus journey from Salamanca. A little background info about the place: the 4th largest city in the comunidad autónoma of Castilla y León (behind Valladolid, Burgos & Salamanca – the region does not, in fact, have an official capital city), with a population of just over 130,000. The typical Leonese climate for this time of year is nothing to write home about, indeed the entire Saturday I was there was a complete washout. But hey, I’m Irish – I’m used to it.

I arrived late on the Friday afternoon, after a rather smooth bus journey despite my hangover. My local tour guide for the weekend (you know who you are :P) awaited my arrival at the bus station, before we headed off to drop our things off at the hotel we were staying in – The Hotel Rincón del Conde. If you ever find yourself in León then this is a really great place to stay. Anyway, after a quick disco nap and freshen up, we headed out to the town centre for the night. This weekend just happened to be carnival season in Spain – the week leading up to the beginning of Lent in which lavish street parades pass through the streets, lined with thousands of spectators all in fancy dress. It was a little surreal being there, coming from a country whose only traditions involve drinking as much as you possibly can until you can’t stand up any longer lol For dinner we decided to do a little mini tour of some bars around the Plaza San Martin, each specialising in a particular snack to accompany your drink. Be sure to check out the croquetas at El Rebote (Don’t however ask for “tres impresiones de jamón y queso” like I almost did – you will get laughed at), while the pizza at La Competencia is the probably the nicest margherita I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. The rest of the evening was spent mingling with my friend’s friends at various bars and nightclubs, before calling it a night at around 4am (or maybe 5 – Tequila plays havoc with my memory). All in all, an excellent start to the weekend.

It was no surprise then that it wasn’t until early afternoon on Saturday by the time we managed to make it out of the hotel and began our itinerary for the day. If you’re not fortunate enough like me 😀 to have a local show you around the place, then the sights below are a pretty good place to start…

  • Casa de los Botines

Built in 1893, it’s one of the few examples of Gaudí found outside of Barcelona. Nowadays serves as the headquarters for Caja España. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside that particular day, but ain’t it pretty? There’s me chilling with the man himself.

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  • Basílica de San Isidro

Basically it’s a really pretty, extremely well preserved Romanesque church-come-museum. If you only visit one place in León, make sure it’s here. We took the guided tour, which cost 5 euro each and lasted around an hour. The whole tour is given in Spanish, so unless you’re a decent speaker or have a translator handy, you’ll not understand very much. However the main highlight needs no explaining; the Panteón real. Sadly we weren’t permitted to take any photos (the tour guide keeps a beady eye let me tell you), but think of a low-ceilinged Sistine Chapel with great stone arches and tombs lining the floor, and that’s pretty much it. Just watch you don’t crick your neck like I did.

  • Convento/Parador de San Marcos

Yep, another church (such a good Catholic boy I am). As you can see from the photo below, it’s pretty damn huge – over 100m in fact. Built in the 12th century, it was originally built as a hospital for pilgrims on el camino de Santiago. Nowadays the majority of the building is a high end hotel or Parador, not accessible to non-guests (this didn’t stop us trying though – such rebels!). The adjoining chapel and cloister, to the east side of the building, are just breathtakingly beautiful AND, mostly importantly, free to enter 🙂

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  • Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC)

Our last visit of the day was to León’s contemporary art museum, or ‘the big gay building’ as I like to call it. Opened in 2005, its colourful facade is meant to be representative of the Cathedral’s stained glass windows and rainbow flag. I’m not usually one for art museums (I’m more of a science geek) but the exhibitions here were genuinely interesting and thought-provoking, and presented through a variety of mediums (oooh, get me!). But no seriously, very much worth the visit.

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Other points of interest include the aforementioned Cathedral, pictured below. While you’re there be sure to get a snap with the huge LEÓN sign, also demonstrated by my good self below  😀

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Suffice to say, after all that walking, as well as the previous night’s shenanigans, we were very much looking forward to taking it easy that night. A quick jaunt into town to have a look at the carnival celebrations, followed by a Chinese takeaway and board games at a friend’s house… it was a lovely end to a lovely weekend.

Doy las gracias especialmente a Arturo y a sus amigos por su hospitalidad 🙂 I’ll be back!

Hasta la próxima!

Conor

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In the words of Robert Burns…

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley”

If there ever was a quote that summed me up, this is it. Four whole months down the line since I created this blog, and only now am I bothering getting round to writing my first post. And here it is…

¡Hola chicos! ¿Qué tal?

It’s been a pretty worldwind few months so far, as any Erasmus student will tell you. Between 40+ hour weeks in the office, exploring the great wee city of Salamanca, meeting new people from all corners of the globe and weekend breaks away… not to mention trying to get to grips with the language and the food (especially the food. But that’s for another time).

This month has been the busiest so far (although probably more out of me trying to avoid starting my year abroad essay than anything else jaja). I bagged some cheap Ryanair flights in January and took myself off to the beautiful Barcelona at the start of the February. The highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly a trip Europe’s biggest football stadium, the Camp Nou. Here’s a shadowy pic of me with the lateral stand in the background (note to self; invest in a new camera)…

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If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, I’d strongly recommend taking one of the many city bus tours on offer. The prices may seem a little steep at the time, but it’s definitely worth the money. The route I took is probably the most typical, starting at the city’s ‘central hub’ Plaça de Catalunya, with stop offs including Gaudi’s breathtaking Segrada Familia and Parque Guell.

The weekend just past saw me head back to the Madrid for the third time. The capital is often overlooked when it comes to European breaks away, with more and more people seemingly opting for Barcelona. But I really don’t know why! Yes, Madrid may not have a beach, but in terms of everything else… the sights, food, hotels, nightlife, value for money… it’s all just as good if not better in my opinion. My favourite place to stay is in the Fuencarral/Chueca areas, which are within earshot of the main shopping street, Gran Vía, the vibrant nightlife of Puerta de Sol, and the awesome Parque del Retiro (the perfect spot to walk off the previous night’s hangover). It’s such an easy city to get around as well. Unlike the unbearably cramped and stuffy London Underground, Madrid’s metro is modern, spacious and, most importantly, it sports 3G coverage 😉 But seriously, it’s a brilliant city to visit and can be done on pretty much any budget. I’ll eventually get round to writing full review posts about all the places I visit/have visited 🙂

This weekend I’m heading up north to the city of León (my boss has actually just informed us interns that we can take this Friday off so… happy days!). I’ll try and post a write up with lots of lovely photos next week, although for those who know me know that it’ll be lucky to be done before Christmas jajaja

Hasta la prómixa, amigos! 🙂

Conor