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The Way of Saint James - continued
In addition to the Cathedral's windows, the cloisters are a major feature of the church, and we visit these when access is granted at 4pm, but only after stopping for more drinks, ice creams, and chocolate. With the sun out all today, the temperature has now reached about 35C.
 
On the way back to the Parador we shop at a supermarket for water and coke to keep in our rooms' fridges. Getting to the hotel at 5pm, we have a rest before exploring the Parador with the aid of the hotel's guide leaflet. The highlights are the cloisters and the choir of the church. We then cross the bridge over the Bernesga river next to the Parador before returning to our rooms to shower before dinner.
The Parador (Convento  de San Marcos) is one of the architectural jewels of Leon, together with three other buildings we have seen today: the Cathedral; the Basilica of San Isidoro; and Gaudi's Casa Botines.
 
Our stay at the Parador, and our self-guided tour, have enabled us to appreciate the history of the monastery. This includes the darkest period in the last five centuries of its  existence  that was concentrated in just four years. During the course of the Spanish Civil War cells, rooms, stables, cloisters, church, choir, museum and every last corner of the building were transformed into impromptu dungeons or jailers' offices. Between July 1936 and the end of 1940, up to 7,000 men and 300 women were imprisoned at the same time.
This evening we meet in the hotel's bar at 7:45pm for glasses of kalimotxo and glasses of tonic water. We play RACKO before having another excellent meal. The appetizer is a cold soup, and this is followed by a garlic soup whose strength of garlic seems to vary considerably judging by the comments of the diners. Both the brochette and crepes are very good. The wine we choose this evening is both appropriate and pleasant: a white Peregrino.
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Monday, June 19th
 
Another very hot day, but we have less sunshine, as we travel from Leon to Vilalba, with our first stop at  Hospital de Orbigo.
Hospital de Orbigo is a medieval village named for a hospital built to assist pilgrims. The great landmark of the village, however, is the 13th-Century bridge over the River Orbigo. We cross the 19-arch, well preserved bridge, accompanied by several pilgrims. The long bridge crosses a mostly dry area, with water courses at each end. We see several fish jumping in the wider of the streams and there are many storks in the area. After about 45-minutes at the bridge, we drive to Astorga, seeing more pilgrims on The Way as it parallels our route.
 
As well as being on the French route of The Way to Santiago de Compostela, Astorga is on the Ruta de la Plata, or 'Silver Route' which passes from Seville in the south to Gijon on the northern coast.
 
In Astorga, we find the second Gaudi designed building of our trip.
This is the Palacio Episcopal - an incongruous construction of grey granite.
 
We have coffee at the appropriately named Gaudi Restaurant before visiting the Cathedral.
Astorga's Cathedral is close to the Episcopal Palace, but stylistically is a world apart.
 It's a mixture of architecture styles reflecting the fact that it was mainly  built between 1471 and 1693.
The main entrance is in the flamboyant Gothic style and is exceptionally beautiful, abundantly decorated with plants and cherubs.
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