Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Sightseeing Saturday

Instead of sleeping in, a large number of students decided to get up early and join us for a sightseeing adventure throughout León (the region) yesterday. Although the cooler temperatures and rain threatened to cut our planned itinerary short, the students were determined to get in all they could and experience all that this beautiful region has to offer. 

Our first visits were in Astorga, a town located about 27 miles southwest of León. Astorga, apart from being a stop for many pilgrims along the French route of the Camino de Santiago, is also known for it's Palacio episcopal (designed by none other than famed Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, who many students recognize from his work on the Sagrada familia in Barcelona) and Museo de chocolate. 

Here is a view of the "heart" of Astorga, with the cathedral (constructed from the 14th century to the 18th, hence the varied styles) and Gaudí's Neo-medieval palace.
Although no pictures are allowed on the inside of a palace, the unique, imposing design of the exterior gives you an idea of what might be found beyond the sculpted gates. 

 Just beyond the palace is the cathedral, which was declared a national monument in 1931. 

Our next visit was at the Museo de chocolate, where students not only learned about the history of chocolate in the region but tasted it as well! Note: a good deal of chocolate was purchased here but I am not sure how much of it will make it back to Indiana in July. :)

After the Museo de chocolate, we made our way to the Plaza Mayor so the students could enjoy lunch and a short break from the walking and sightseeing. 

As we made our way back to the bus, we stopped for a moment at a nearby mirador, or look out point, to see the surrounding areas. The weather was luckily cooperating and allowed for a great picture of the group.

The next stop we made was in Castrillo de los Polvazares, located only about 5 kilometers from Astorga but from appearances, a world away. Castrillo is a true pueblo, that with the exception of cars, seems to  be relatively uninfluenced by the larger surrounding cities and towns. To give students a true experience of what living in such a place would be like, we were even invited to see the interior patio of one woman's typical stone home and to walk through one of several traditional restaurants.

 In keep with our unofficial theme of royal excursions, our last visit for the day was to the Templar Castle in Ponferrada.  

Situated along the Sil River in the Bierzo Valley, Ponferrada is the last major city along the French route of the Camino de Santiago. As the legend goes, the area the castle was constructed on was donated by the King Ferdinand II of León in exchange for the protection of pilgrims as they made their way toward Santiago de Compostela.

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