León is an amazingly beautiful city located in north central Spain. Its great importance in present-day Spain plus its historical value make it the ideal place to study for Honors Program students. There are so many places to go and things to see in León, but every one of them is within a considerably reasonable distance. During my stay in León we attended classes at the Universidad de León, which is only a ten- to fifteen-minute walk from the downtown area. The breathtaking Catedral de León is only ten minutes from the university and is an amazing representation of Gothic architecture that you can visit for free. Or nearby, you could drink a cup of coffee at Café Europa with the most amazing backdrop in all of the city. From the cathedral you can walk down the Calle Ancha to the Plaza de Santo Domingo, passing La Casa de los Botínes, designed by the highly-renowned architect Gaudí, and the old Ayuntamiento on the way.
From the Plaza de Santo Domingo, Honors Program students can walk to just about anywhere in the city. Or students can take a bus, because all of the buses in the city stop there. The only question is where to go: perhaps to the store El Corte Inglés, or to the Basílica de San Isidoro, which stands on the former site of a Roman temple and has the best-preserved and most renowned Romanesque fresco in all of Europe. One could even stop by the former prison and present-day hotel, San Marcos.
There is even more to see and experience in León itself, especially during the end of June through July. The rebajas, or sales, take place at this time, and you can go to the local mall, Espacio León, to take advantage of them. Every Saturday in the Plaza Mayor, a farmers’ market takes place where you can purchase produce and other artisan products. And if you don’t want to spend any money, you can easily walk to the Rio Bernesga and sit in a park or simply on the river’s shore.
Although there is so much to see in León, Honors Program students also take several excursions to other cities. The first of these is a trip to Burgos, northeast of León. The city itself is often frequented by pilgrims traveling the Camino de Santiago, on their way to Santiago de Compostela, and has an outstanding Gothic cathedral and main street. The next excursion is to Salamanca, a famous university city with two cathedrals. One of these cathedrals has a façade with a frog hidden in it, which is always fun to try to find. There is also another very famous building called la Casa de las Conchas, which is adorned with stone shells. A legend about la Casa de las Conchas says that a shell of pure gold lies behind one of the stone shells, and the building has damaged shells from the pursuit thereof. The last excursion from León for our group was in the area of Gijón, where we went to the Playa Salinas and saw a lot of artwork on a nearby rock formation that stretched into the sea.
After the stay in León, the group heads to Madrid and also to spend a day in Toledo. In Madrid we saw the world-renowned museums of La Reina Sofía and El Museo del Prado. In Toledo there is so much fascinating Arabic architecture to see and souvenirs to buy! The entire trip to Spain itself was so great and fascinating, and it gave me such an extensive idea of Spain as a country and culture. Not only did I learn a great deal about the language, culture, geography, history, and literature, but also a great deal about myself. I am personally biased in saying that León is the best city for the Honors Program because I loved it so much, and because of its kind people (who can be witnessed all throughout Spain), its vast history, its dialect or pure Castilian accent, and its wonderfully mild climate. León was the perfect fit for me because of all of these factors and I hope that future Honors Program students will enjoy it as much as I did!