Padron, Castles and Leon

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August 3rd 2010
Published: August 4th 2010
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The Viking Festival has ended and Mike and I have headed out of town on our way to our next evening in Leon. This route will take us three hours south back toward Madrid.

On our way, we stopped in a small quaint town called Padron. A local, non-touristy area, Padron had a unique charm all its own. Sidewalk cafés and cobblestone streets graced the tiny town center as Mike and I visited the grocery store to stock up for the trip.

Our next stop was 2 hours away in Ponferrada. There we would be able to see a large medieval castle built by the Templar Knights. It was impressive to say the least. Ponferrada was a cute town, modern with a hint of old until you see the large castle on the hill and are completely harkened back in time. The castle is massive and powerful and unfortunately closed on Mondays. We were however, able to walk around the outside and marvel at the size of the structure: we also didn’t realize we were wandering around in what once was the moat. Taking the Buddhist approach that we simply weren’t meant to see inside, we made our way back to the motorway and onto Leon.

Driving into Leon, I kept saying, “We can’t be staying HERE”. The entry into the city is quite commercial and smelled of a chemical I couldn’t quite put my finger on but was sure it was going to cause some sort of cancer if I breathed it much longer. Filled with multiple round-a-bouts (you can only hear the GPS guy say so many times, “make a left on the round-a-bout and take third exit, before it gets old), the city came to life the further in we drove. Within ten minutes we were in the middle of a typical clean city, chemical smell and commercial setting long behind us.

Pulling up to a light, I marveled at the huge structure out my driver’s side window. The palace that stood next to us was larger than life and simply breathtaking. You can imagine my surprise when Mike said, “oh my god, that’s our hotel!” I was floored.

Many years ago, the Spanish government took over many old monasteries, castles, historic buildings, etc., and turned them into hotels called Paradores. They are located all over the country, completely run by the government and absolutely magnificent. If you want to stay in a castle, this is the way to go. Very reasonably priced, the Hostal de San Marcos is truly a sight to see. I couldn’t believe we would be spending the night here.

We settled in, took our siesta and headed out on the town at about 11pm. Leon is an awesome town and one we could have spent more time in. The old part of the city is like walking back into medieval times. The high walls that surround this section create an atmosphere of stepping back centuries. The buildings and streets are magnificent and have a “Venice” feel as you weave in and out of small corridors that open up into large plazas.

Restaurants, shops and bars are side by side providing plenty to see and do here. We ended up at a Kurdish restaurant for dinner. We had no idea what to expect but the Greek type of meat kabobs in the window made us feel we couldn’t really go wrong. We ordered a chicken “durum” and waited to see what would come out. Let me just say, “Phenomenal”. The durum is a wrap filled with chicken, sauce, mayonnaise, lettuce, onion and goat cheese. It was absolutely amazing. We have no idea what the sauce was but it was quite mild: not spicy at all, perhaps a bit tomato based but honestly, we couldn’t really tell. It was however, mouthwatering - so good, we ordered another one!

Another perfect end to a great day. We’ll explore the city more tomorrow.

Additional photos below
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4th August 2010

How wonderfully clean
The streets all look immaculate. Can't wait to see the rest of the pictures especially the hotel. Glad to hear that the ethnic food is all good so far.

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