|We've done a couple of cycling trips in Spain and really enjoyed them. The last one was through a company called "Iberocycle" and we enjoyed it so much we decided to book another trip with them. We prefer solo trips to group trips and Iberocycle offers a number of different self-guided, "luggage assisted" trips. Essentially, they book your hotels, provide you with a bike and a route map and send you on your way. You are on your own except that your luggage is waiting at the next hotel each day when you arrive. We chose the "Way of Saint James" trip because it started in León and finished in Santiago de Compostela, 2 cities that we have wanted to visit that also happen to be on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. If you're unfamiliar with the Camino, check out the movie "The Way", a great movie that will give you a good idea of what the Camino is all about and why people do it. We chose the "Parador" hotel option with our trip which means that 3 of the 6 hotels we stay in will be part of the national, government owned Parador chain. We've stayed in these before and have always been thrilled with the quality, history and location of the buildings. We were not disappointed when we arrived at the first Parador in León, the Hostal de San Marcos! It is an amazing historical building, a hotel and museum in one. And we stayed for 3 nights so we had lots of time to explore León before we hit the saddles. Our friends Barb and Don were travelling in Europe at the same time as us and arranged to meet us in León for the week of cycling. They arrived shortly after us and after settling into our lovely rooms at the Parador, we set out to explore the city. It has been a great 3 days! León is a wonderful city with interesting architecture and a great, energetic vibe. The Catedral de León is a spectacular Gothic structure with flying buttresses and over 1800 sq. metres of stained glass windows. There is some restoration work being done on the Cathedral and they allow visitors to climb up on the scaffolding which means you can get up close and personal with the stained glass - spectacular! The old town of León is a maze of narrow streets that open up into lively squares lined with cafes and restaurants. Saturday night in León was an amazing experience with the narrow lanes packed full of families enjoying a meal or drink and socializing with friends. The exterior of the Cathedral was even more spectacular at night and there was a very clever and well done sound and light show that illustrated the history of León as a projection on another historic building, the Basilica de San Isidoro. We also took a stroll to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, a splashy modern building with coloured glass windows, a sleek interior and even some very cool bathrooms. Equally as cool was the modern shopping mall that we cut through on our way home. The shops were all closed as it was Sunday but the building was open so we did a little snooping around. Tomorrow we start on our cycling trip. We're a bit disappointed because Iberocycle has subcontracted this trip out to another company, Bike Spain, and it doesn't look like we'll have the same personalized service. The bikes were left at the Parador for us but they don't appear to be well maintained and our "contact" doesn't seem too interested in talking to us. But we've got the route descriptions and maps and the trip looks great! While we knew we would be going in the same general direction as the Camino de Santiago, we didn't realize until we looked at the detailed route descriptions that we will actually be cycling THE Camino de Santiago. The route either follows the same path as the walking pilgrims or goes along the roads that run parallel to it. We also found out that cycling is an "official" method of completing the pilgrimage (along with walking or horse back riding) and that you just have to complete the last 100km to get the official certificate saying you've done the pilgrimage. We'll be cycling over 300km so even though we thought we'd just be doing a normal cycling trip, we've jumped on the band wagon and gotten our "Pilgrim Passport" or Credencial del Peregrino which we will get stamped along the way and then present at the end to prove we completed the pilgrimage. We've got our first official stamps and these 4 Peregrinos are ready to hit the road tomorrow. First stop, Astorga. Looks to be a fairly easy 50km ride.