Day 21 (San Martino del Camino to Astorga - 22 km): Decided to take a shorter day today as well sine in the next few days we will be climbing some massive mountains. Astorga is a beautiful city, and home to yet another famous building by Gaudi (Episcopal Palance of Astorga) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astorga,_Spain) and an ancient Cathedral. The city has its roots in the Roman era, and there are many Roman ruins throughout the city. They have taken care to preserve and mark all ruins and historic sites. We have truly seen some beautiful sites and have loved exploring the small towns and larger cities along the Camino.
Day 20 (Leon to San Martino del Camino - 24 km): Long stretch leaving the city...mostly through the suburbs and industrial area of León. However, it is always neat to see the architecture and various neighborhoods. Once out of León, we were in a land of fields and aquaducts (sp??) again. We have never seen such an intricate and advanced agricultural water system in our lives. It is truly impressive. Ended up in San Martino del Camino...nothing too exciting. Not even a public telephone. Or a restaurant. Just two bars. Enough said.
Day 19 (Mansilla de las Mulas to León - 20 km): Short walk to Leon (a beautiful, historic city and capital of León). We climbed our first hills today after a lengthy 6 day stretch of flatness. However, from the top of the last "hill" we were able to see León in the distance. We reached León at approximately 10:30 am, and were able to check into a hotel and have a leisurly look around in León. We explored the Cathedral, Basilica of San Isidoro, and Casa Botines (a palace constructed by the Catalan architect Antonin Gaudi). The Cathedral is one of the most impressive structures I have ever seen in my life and is truly a sight. The ratio of stone to stained glass is almost 50-50 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le%C3%B3n_Cathedral). After a "touristy" day, Mom and I went back to the hotel, went to the hotel spa (free!) and soaked our tired little feet. Quite a pleasant day.
Day 18 (El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas - 26.3 km): Undoubtedly one of the hottest walking days so far. We continued along lengthy stretches of fields without any shade, and miles and miles of flatness. To our surprise, the Camino has followed or actually been directly on the road/highway. The countryside is still beautiful, but the road traffic does slightly detract from the whole experience. We stayed in a not-so-nice albergue in Mansilla de las Mulas. It was beautiful from the outside, and fairly clean...however, all showers and toilets were downstairs and outside. Absolutely no privacy. But, then again, we are quite accustomed to that by now.
....on a different note...we are starting to wonder if we will ever eat bread, ham, chicken or eggs again. Most restaurants and bars have what is called a "Pilgrims Menu" which is supposed to be a cheaper option for pilgrims, but frankly we think it is a fabulous way to take advantage of pilgrims. It is getting quite pricey, and we eat the same things daily...even though we make an effort to find other things. But, such is the life of a pilgrim, right?