Tag Archives: Architecture

Camino Rest Day 3 – León

Sunday 10 September 2023 – As you will have read (you will have, won’t you? Good!), we arrived here yesterday. Walking through the city to our hotel gave us a chance at some of the sights. Since our hotel room was available and a Nice Lunch was forthcoming there, we needed a walk afterwards, and we also went out during the evening to see if any of the sights looked nice lit up. Today we took another walk around, so we’ve covered a few miles and seen quite a lot of what the city has to offer,  It’s-a nice-a place – the centre is very handsome and has such a cosmopolitan feel that I actually found it difficult on occasions to remember that I was in Spain.

This post is going to be mainly just a selection of the photos I took, and most of them are of the many religious buildings that litter the place.  If you’re content with that, please read on….

The City

León has a long history, having been founded as the military encampment of the Roman Legio VI Victrix around 29 BC. So the city’s name comes from the latin for Legion, and not from Lion, although you’d never guess from the number of Lion statues around the place

The lion has also been adopted as a local emblem for the Camino

though this is apparently not popular and I’ve heard some of these signs even feature bullet holes. I’m not surprised; it’s a rubbish idea, and demeans the Camino, the animal and the City all at once.

In 1188, the city hosted the first Parliament in European history under the reign of Alfonso IX, and this is why it was acknowledged as the “cradle of Parliamentarism”. Now, the Icelanders might have a thing or two to say about that, since the Althingi, established in 930 AD, is often regarded as the world’s oldest extant parliamentary institution. However, it’s essential to note that it was a very different kind of assembly from modern parliaments, being an outdoor gathering of chieftains, rather than a systematic process of representation from local burghers as well as noblemen and clergy. The city’s prominence began to decline in the early Middle Ages, partly due to the loss of independence after the union of the Leonese kingdom with the Crown of Castile, consolidated in 1301. This still rankles with the locals; all over the place you can find signposts where the “Castilla y” part of “Castilla y León” has been black spray painted over. The signpost above is one of the few I saw where this had not happened.

After a period of stagnation during the early modern age, it was one of the first cities to hold an uprising in the Spanish War of Independence, and some years later, in 1833, acquired the status of provincial capital.  This chequered but consequential history goes a long way to explain why it is such an important city.

Religious buildings

Apart from the cathedral, there are many churches and other religious buildings across the city.  Our hotel, the Hotel Real Colegiata San Isidoro, is part of the fabric of the Basilica of San Isidoro, which has a striking interior.

and also features a museum.   I took some unofficial photos in the museum.

Some of the books date from the 16th century

In the Pantheon part, they actually police the prohibition of taking photos, so I was reduced to buying a couple showing the Pantheon and some of the mural painting that has survived nearly a thousand years.

The Basilica has some lovely cloisters.

Somewhat away from the old town is the Convento de San Marcos, which has a splendid portico

and much of which is now a parador hotel (featured in the “The Way” film, apparently.

And of course, there is the cathedral.

In the 100 years after the Moors were defeated, 200 Christian cathedrals were built over Iberia. The three largest are Toledo, Burgos and, yes, León. It gives less of its interior over to the vast number of chapels that there are in the Burgos cathedral, so the inside space feels much larger.

It’s difficult to realise from the outside, but inside is one of the largest arrays of stained glass anywhere.

The choir is exquisitely carved.

The stained glass is so famous that people even use it as a garage door decoration.

The cathedral also has very grand cloisters.

There are, of course, other churches, such as the Iglesia de Santa María del Camino o del Mercado, on Plaza del Grano.

Thinking of which, there are lots of plazas, such as del Grano,

several smaller ones, inevitably with a selection of bars and restaurants,

the main one, of course, being the Plaza Mayor.

The plazas tend to feature buildings with cloisters or galleries under building overhangs,

All around the place you find statuary

The above is on a plaza outside a building designed by the famous Antoni Gaudi, whose buildings contribute to the unique feel of Barcelona. This one, by comparison is somewhat muted,

but still features an extravagant entrance.

There are other lovely architectural settings, too numerous to articulate in full.

but the tout ensemble makes the old town a very pleasant place to wander about. As we did so, it was nice to bump into some of our “Camino Family” – Molly and Mike from Minnesota, and Petra and Tom from Kõln. In the evenings, some places are lit up. This makes the cathedral even more impressive, for example.

and the shopping streets, which feature innumerable bars and restaurants, have a wonderful buzz about them.

Mind you, occasionally things take a slightly more rowdy turn, such as when we came across this bachelor party celebration in one of those plazas.

León has provided a wonderful break from walking the Camino, but we have to get back on it tomorrow.  We will retrace our steps to the convent and cross the Roman San Marcos bridge

as we make our way towards Villar del Mazerife, about 23km away – a medium-distance walk which we hope will get us back into the swing of progressing along The Way. We’re hoping for decent weather, of course, as we start this next segment of the Camino. Do please keep in touch so you can find out how it all works out, eh?

Three days in Boston

Tuesday 13 to Thursday 15 June 2023 – Both Jane and I have visited Boston before, but some three decades ago, and then, in my case, for a very short visit. Although short, it established Boston as one of my favourite American cities.  It’s compact enough to explore on foot, has considerable charm and, of course, a huge place in the history of the United States of America. (As an Englishman, I’m not bitter. Not at all. No, really.)

So we were both interested to visit and revisit the city, and it turns out that three days is a good length of time to spend exploring all the parts that are within walking distance of the centre.  One could actually spend more time there and still find new and interesting things to see and to do, but three days is all we had. So, we went for a walk. Obviously. Well, several walks, covering about 30 miles in total.

One of the great charms of the place is its architecture. It’s full of handsome and historic buildings, such as the state capitol, Massachusetts State House, one of the oldest state capitols in use,

and the Old State House.

The balcony is  where the Declaration of Independence was first read, on July 18, 1776, by Colonel Thomas Crafts. The declaration is read out every year on July 4th from the same spot.

Elsewhere, there are other fine buildings

with fine exteriors and, indeed, interiors.  Possibly the finest of these was something we saw courtesy of a photo tour, an offering from https://photowalks.com/  – the courtyard and interior of the Boston Public Library.

The library is on Copley Square, which offers various points of interest, at least to me.  The Old South Church pictured above is a wonderful building – Victorian Gothic with some inspiration from Venice. Its interior is a good match, too.

It features a wonderful display of stained glass.

The other significant church on Copley Square is Trinity Church.

Above is a photo of it reflected in the glassware that sheaths the Hancock Tower – still Boston’s tallest building, even after nearly 50 years – more of which later.  The church itself gives an opportunity for some nerdish photographical musing.  I took a photo with my Nikon Z6 and also with my Samsung Galaxy phone. The picture is towards the light, which makes it tricky to capture, as it’s very high-contrast.

The Nikon version is processed from a RAW image, which theoretically gives the best chance to get a top quality final version. Corrected verticals aside, the Samsung image is direct from the phone.  It’s a great demonstration of how advanced computational photography is becoming, as it’s coped very gracefully with a high-contrast situation and presented a very attractive image.

Anyway, we went inside.  This church also has a striking interior.

and another very fine display of stained glass.

The Hancock Tower gave me an opportunity to try to recreate a photo that I had taken on my previous visit in 1990.  Back then, the Hancock Tower was relatively new, having been completed in 1976.  That is, eventually completed in 1976, after teething problems which delayed it by five years.  One of the tower’s USPs is that it’s sheathed entirely in blue glass.  Therein lies a tale, because during construction several of the huge (500-lb, 4ft x 11ft) panes of glass actually fell from the building, and all 10,344 panes had to be replaced.  I bet the insurers were livid. More details can be found in the tower’s Wiki entry.

It’s always been A Thing to take a photo of the tower using reflection to create the illusion of the edge of the tower disappearing.  So Jane and I spent a non-trivial amount of time loitering on the pavement whilst we waited for the sun to shine and the bloody buses and other traffic to get out of the way to enable a second shot to compare with the one from 1990.  Here are the two versions, side by side.

I was a little luckier with the weather three decades ago, but it was a fun experiment to try again – and the new photo shows some of the development that has gone on in central Boston over the years.

Copley Square is at the periphery of an area of Boston called Back Bay, which is actually land reclaimed from the Charles River. It borders another area called Beacon Hill.  Both areas have a great deal of charm, and we spent much time, both on the photo tour and on other occasions, walking around these pleasant bits of Boston.

The whole area, basically south of the Charles River, is a pleasure to walk around, with riverside scenes,

and miscellaneous other vignettes.

The other main thing we had to in this area was to visit View Boston, a chance to ascend the 52 stories of the Prudential Building and see the city from the top floor. As you can imagine, there are some great views.

The day we visited was billed as the opening day of View Boston and we were very excited to be able to pay for the privilege of going to the top of the Prudential Center.  However, it was sparsely attended, which we hadn’t expected, and when I proudly shared some photos on social media, various friends mentioned that they, too, had seen the exact same views, so the occasion wasn’t as exclusive as I had thought.  However, View Boston did have a couple of treats for us.  One was a cocktail in the 50th floor cocktail bar, enhanced somewhat by the availability of Gunpowder Gin; and the other was a very impressive 3D model, which is brought to life with projected illuminations of various sorts, illustrating the days, or the seasons, or other features of the city, such as the Boston Marathon or the success of the Red Sox.

If you refer back to the map at the top of this post (you don’t have to – I’ll explain here), you’ll see that although we spent a fair proportion of our mileage around Back Bay and Beacon Hill, we did venture further afield.

One of the Things One Simply Must Do Whilst In Boston is, of course, to walk the Freedom Trail. a 2.5-mile path past a collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution. It’s marked out in the pavements, typically as a narrow line of bricks. It starts at the Massachusetts State House (which gives the opportunity for a schoolboy snigger),

runs through Boston Common

passes the Old State House (see above) and the Old City Hall

and ends at the Bunker Hill memorial obelisk.  On the way, one can learn about Paul Revere and his famous (indeed, revered) ride (and see his house), see Benjamin Franklin’s final resting place, and hear other famous names associated with the War of Independence, such as Samuel Adams.  No, not that Samuel Adams, he of the excellent local beer, but his son, who was an excellent political activist – a founding father of the United States, no less – but a rotten businessman, as the brewery went bust under his stewardship.

Walking the path, past streets of interesting-looking houses,

on the way to Bunker Hill, we passed USS Constitution,

which is nicknamed “Old Ironsides” despite the hull being constructed of wood, because an incoming cannonball bounced off. Entry is free and one can go below decks which is interesting and slightly challenging for anyone over about 5′ 9″.

We also diverted a little to take a look inside the Liberty Hotel.

The interesting part of the hotel is housed in the slight forbidding-looking grey building, which used to be the city prison, hence the ironic naming of it as the Liberty Hotel, and enabling the management to have bars inside it called “Clink” and “Alibi”.  The atrium is very ritzy.

Tempting as it was to stop for a drink, we pressed on and actually had a coffee in the very pleasant Beacon Hill Books and Café, which, like the Liberty Hotel atrium, was a recommendation from Saba, who runs the Photo Tour we did.

The other area of Boston we explored was around the seaport and harbour, which is a worthwhile expedition, leading as it does past some interesting sights.

We walked past what was clearly an artwork, but which wasn’t immediately engaging.

It’s by David von Schlegell and is called “Untitled Landscape”, which doesn’t give much of a clue, and consists of four large pieces of stainless steel facing each other at obtuse angles. Schlegell (I quote someone else’s blurb here) “intended to create objects of such a scale that could relate buildings, bridges, and other large objects”. Go figure.

However, I accidentally took a mobile phone photo of it directly from the side and all of a sudden

it was rather more interesting.

In our peregrinations around the city we saw a lot more, as it’s a very rewarding place to walk around.  But I didn’t want to inflict nearly 600 photos on you, so I hope this distillation gives you a good feeling for the parts of the city we covered, even if it’s not comprehensive.

I’m writing this from the depths of the New Hampshire countryside (seriously – if out walking we have been advised to stick to the roads, because Bears) and when we move on from here we’ll head to Cape Cod, a place I’ve heard much about but never visited.  If you keep your eye on these pages, you can follow us and I hope to see you again in due course.


Thursday 22 September 2022 – The only thing we had to do today was to get ourselves from Québec to Montréal; all else would be (a) bunce and (b) unplanned.  It involved a rather early start, since our train departed at 0810; however, we were business class, obvs, and would thus get breakfast on the train, which gave us back a little time.  Québec Station’s main entrance is rather grander in appearance than the windswept construction site that houses the taxi rank of unhappy memory from our arrival.

Nonetheless, if you look closely, you can see that the whole place is suffering from not having been well looked after recently. It’s sadly in need of a lick of paint; also, the coffee machine in the business class lounge wasn’t able to dispense actual coffee.  However, we were only there for about five minutes before it was time to board the train, so our souls didn’t suffer too badly.  Our carriage was similar to the one in which we travelled to Ottawa – indeed, we had the same seat allocation.  It also meant that our baggage travelled with us (so often the case in life) and there was room in the overhead locker for all our bits including my ludicrously heavy backpack.

The journey was unremarkable and quite short – enough to serve us a palatable breakfast and some coffee – and so we arrived in Montréal before midday.  Jane had done her research and so we knew that Montréal has an underground city similar to, although not so tightly networked as, that of Toronto; Montréal’s is called RÉSO and it looked like we could get from the station to our hotel, the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, using its network. So it proved.  Of course, arriving that early meant that our room wasn’t ready and we spurned the chance to spend an extra 100 dollars a night (minimum) on getting an upgraded room that was available.

The weather outlook was for heavy showers so we decided to use the time until our room became available to go back into the RÉSO and explore a bit, on the basis that this carried the minimum risk of getting soaked. Back underground we went, and found, to no real surprise, that it was very similar to Toronto’s PATH: corridors and walkways;

eateries in profusion;

occasional glimpses of the outside world;

shops and shopping centres;

some interesting architecture;

and some quirky touches.

These two escalators were unusual in that they were both working.  In many other cases, one of the escalators was not.  This seems so systematic across the bits of the city we’ve passed through that I can only assume it’s because of routine maintenance in preparation for the forthcoming winter, rather than the kind of tight-fisted neglect which leaves so many UK escalators nonfunctional.

Having found ourselves in the Eaton Centre, a temple to consumerism that was of no interest to us, we realised that we were quite close to the city’s Christ Church cathedral, so we popped in for a look.

There’s a nice almost-cloister round the back, too.

We decided to walk back towards the hotel – not one of Fairmont’s more sumptuous establishments –

and mooch around near it until we were alerted that our room was available.  Our friend Ian Burley, whose Canadian recommendations have been very helpful as we work our way across the country, describes the area around the hotel as “charmless”.  He’s right; but that doesn’t mean it’s uninteresting.  Opposite the hotel, for example, is the newly installed 30m diameter steel Ring at the entrance to downtown’s Place Ville Marie

(sorry about the C2 crap in the way of a decent image); and next door to the hotel is the huge Basilica of Mary Queen of the World,

so we popped in there, too.  It’s rather different from Christ Church….

…one can easily tell which is the Protestant and which is the Catholic church.  Outside, this cathedral is architecturally complex in a similar manner to that of Sainte Anne de Beaupré.

Whilst walking around, we also saw this extraordinary building.

which looks like a bastion but is actually the Gare Windsor,

formerly the city’s Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) station, and which served as the headquarters of CPR from 1889 to 1996.  It’s now mainly office space, and has a wonderful atrium.

We walked out into the courtyard outside, and spotted what we thought was our first piece of street art (something that’s very big in Montréal).  Actually it wasn’t really; this was the Place des Canadiens who are

Montréal’s hockey team.  There’s a kind of Hall of Fame by this big billboard.

Our room was by this time available, so we put our bags into it and then almost immediately headed out to see another of Ian’s recommendations and something that Jane particularly wanted to see –

the Leonard Cohen mural.  I should point out that this takes up 13 storeys on the side of a 21-storey building. I have used image manipulation to straighten the photo above.  To give you an idea of the context, this is how it looked:

The route we walked there took us through streets that weren’t all that pleasant, with many homeless and/or otherwise troubled people in evidence, and there was a powerful whiff of weed almost everywhere.  We walked back a slightly different route, which was less oppressive and in doing so spotted our first piece of real street art,

a mural so big that it was not possible to fit it all into a single image, but I’ve done my best here.  The general area around our hotel is pretty much a business district and so one wouldn’t expect it to have lots of charm. There are one or two odds and bits of interest

although I haven’t a clue what any of them are about; and there’s some interesting modern architecture, which I’ve attempted to convey in an arty shot here.

Many of the tall modern buildings hereabouts are quite interestingly architected, with modern takes on art deco and so forth, so it’s not without interest.

It was nice to have a chance to explore a little of the area in preparation for two days of currently unplanned wanderings.  Apart from anything else, it made us realise that we would need to get equipped with ticket for the metro in order to get to the areas we want to explore – it would take too long to walk. I’m sure that by the time we get to tomorrow, Jane will have worked out what we should be getting up to, and I bet it involves looking for street art among other things.  You’ll have to stay in touch with these pages to find out, won’t you? I hope you think this is a reasonable idea.