Our plan for the next two days would be to stay in a hotel each night in Burgos and Leon. Outside of their respective cathedrals, neither town had much more to see and for a bit more than the cost of camping, we could take in the sights, make time, and gain a day in our schedule, a bonus we could employ later during our travels in Spain
I rode the bike path into Pamplona that morning from Camping Ezcaba without a problem but as is to be expected, missed the turn I should have taken and spent a frustrating 20 minutes or so trying to figure out where I was, as I’d pedal a block or two, look at the map, try to find a street sign, and then pedal on. I eventually met up with Joanna on the road out of town, thinking I’d have clear sailing according to the St. James Way by bike book we’re been referencing.
The bike book made it sound easy (The Way of St. James by John Higginson), just follow the signs for highway N-111 and the road would be good to the town of Puente La Reina, about 25 miles away, where Joanna and I would meet again. After not much distance, the signage became confusing and lo and behold, I was off the track, with my Garmin Edge (bike GPS) pinging out contradictory instructions. As luck would have it, or so I thought, I ran across a small park that happened to lead onto the Camino. I stopped for a minute or so next to some Peregrinos who were taking a break, then pushed on.
Not long up the road the Camino turned to dirt, and would remain that way for quite some time. At first the track was smooth and I made good time, but then, as it started to climb some pretty steep grades it became rocky and eroded, more than my rudimentary bike handling skills could handle. So I ended up walking a mile or two, pushing my bike up hill and dale in the quite warm afternoon sun. After what seemed like an interminable time, I finally reached a summit that led into a small village with handy water fountain right at its entrance, and a short block further a little kiosk where I picked up a cold Coke Zero.
The easy and ready availability of diet soft drinks, with the Coke the dominant brand, has been a minor revelation on this trip, far different than even our last visit in 2007, where finding a light beverage was a chore. I’ll comment more on this as we go along, but indeed the impact of the global economy has infiltrated Europe just like at home. As we’ve been camping in the suburbs, gone are the days of hitting many different markets to buy your dinner ingredients. So far, we’ve just made one visit to a large supermarket, say Carrefour or Dia, and shopped much as if we were in Charlotte. Food quality is still excellent though. Produce far fresher and riper, meats and cheeses more abundant.
I finished hydrating and set the Garmin for the next town that we’d agreed to meet in, Uterga, and proceeded down a monstrous downhill on a nicely paved road. Through the roundabout at the bottom and then up a long, steep climb, hard work for someone who hasn’t been climbing much of late. I eventually reached the summit and a short distance downhill was the turnoff to Uterga, which I missed, riding a couple of hundreds yard further before turning around.
Joanna and I had been texting each other, but I hadn’t sent her one in some time and in her concern she decided to come and find me. Imagine my delight as I was pedaling back up the hill to the turnoff to see her coming along, and then my dismay at watching her turn right, head up the hill and disappear over the summit, heedless to my shouting and arm waving.
Well, that didn’t work out as planned. I sat down in the shade for fifteen minutes or so to see if she would return, then climbed back on the bike and rode the final couple of miles into Uterga. No sooner did I arrive in the town square and get off the bike than Joanna pulled up in the car. We put my bike on the car, glad to see each other; both agreeing that my various detours had thrown us off schedule and it was best if we just pressed on, Joanna losing her chance at a crack at the Camino.
We stopped briefly in Puente La Reina to view its cathedral, then its medieval bridge (a wonder of the 11th century, built so that it would withstand the flooding river), before pressing on to the former 12th century Benedictine monastery at Irache for a stop at its fountain of free wine.
The wine making monks supply the wine, of passing quality, to the pilgrims passing through and if you like it, you can buy a better vintage of the product in the gift shop. We bought two bottles.
We’d made a reservation for the night in Burgos, at Hotel Las Terrazas just outside of town. Unfortunately, neither the hotel nor its address registered with the GPS forcing us to go into the center of town to the TI to get directions. The downside of this is that in most of the older Spanish towns the TI is located in the historic, pedestrian only, center of town and gaining access is a frustrating quest. After what seemed like an endless period of going in circles, much like that time in Budapest in 1992, Joanna finally double parked just outside the wall in a bus zone, flashers on, while I walked as fast as I could the quarter mile or so to the TI.
Fortunately they spoke a bit of English and gave me what seemed like simple to follow directions to the hotel. Just follow the river, turn right at this street on the map that doesn’t have a name listed and go a little distance and you’ll find it. Right. We drove around for some time until I finally figured out, thanks to a directional sign, how to plug the name of the hotel’s suburb into the GPS, which then guided us close enough to the site so that we could see the hotel’s sign and pull into the parking lot, safe for the day.
Rated as a bargain in Trip Advisor, it indeed was at 40 Euros a night. More like a truck stop, the room was clean and modestly appointed, a nice bathroom and best of all, pretty good wireless. Tired from a long day of riding and getting lost, we walked over to the gas station, bought a package each of ham and cheese and made sandwiches for dinner on the Orowheat 12 Grain Bread we’d bought at Dia a day or so before, accompanied by one of the bottles of wine we’d purchased at the monastery.
We drove into town the next morning, parked across the river from the cathedral and then strolled over to take the tour. On the way we stopped at a café and had a café con leche apiece and two pieces of what they call a tortilla there, but is actually a type of pre-made omelet in pie form. One had ham and potato and the other was just potato. Also, Churros with Chocolate. Total for the tab was a shade under 11 Euros, about 15 dollars. A bit high, but we were deep in the heart of tourist territory.
We toured the cathedral, an impressive edifice started in the mid 1200’s and then added on to throughout the centuries, with the bulk of the renovation occurring in the 1500’s. Admission included a comprehensive audio guide in English so the time spent was engaging. We left Burgos and drove on to Leon with the same plan in mind, that is find a place to stay and tour its cathedral in the morning.
We parked close to the center, walked to the TI and collected some basic information about places to stay, but this particular TI did not appear inclined to make reservations. Picking one of the recommendations out of the Steves guide we walked a few blocks to Boccalino Hostal (not like a youth hostel, more a two star hotel), where we booked a room for 50 Euros a night and they allowed us to store our bikes in a small courtyard off the lobby. Smaller than our room in Burgos, it had the advantage of being located inside the city walls, so it was much more convenient for enjoying the ambience of the city. One downside was that we had to park the car a few blocks away, as none was available near the hostal, a minor inconvenience made easier as although it was a pay parking area, the meters were off until 10am the next morning.
Located on a square directly across from the Basilica of San Isidoro, which is known for its outstanding collection of 12th century painted murals that are in an exceptional state of preservation. They portray New Testament subjects along with scenes of contemporary rural life. We would try to see them on our way out of town, but would run out of time after our tour of the Leon Cathedral and be forced to move on down the road.
We refreshed ourselves with a beer and sangria at the hotel bar, and then made our way to the area around the cathedral to catch a bit of the street life. We were delighted to discover that a large street fair was in progress, with numerous booths featuring an array of merchandise, including local foods, leather goods, organic remedies and the like. A majority of the folks staffing the booths were dressed in period costume, so we assumed the fair had a theme, but not one I could discern. As it was Sunday and most of the recommended restaurants were closed, we settled for a big slice of pizza and a vegetable crepe from one of the street vendors, both quite good and what we needed to end the day.
We arose the next morning and proceeded with our tour of the Leon Cathedral. It’s claim to fame is that it was completed in a short time frame, less than fifty years and has not had numerous additions, so that it is of once piece. Unfortunately, it’s foundation was built on top of old Roman baths and the quality of the stone used to construct was poor, so that many interventions have had to occur in centuries past to preserve its structural integrity.
We drove on to the town of Lugo for a brief stop to view its Roman Walls, as it is the only city in the world to be surrounded completely by walls still intact. It had begun to rain though and we were running a bit behind schedule, so we snapped a couple of pictures and drove the rest of the way to Santiago de Compostela to check into our home for the next few nights, Camping As Cancelas. Our whirlwind couple of days had bought us an extra day of travel in our proposed itinerary, a time bonus we figure we’ll cash in later in Spain. We set up camp looking forward to completing our St. James Way experience the next day in town. What wonders might it bring?
Monastery of Irache: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monastery_of_Irache
Hotel Las Terrazas: http://lasterrazashotel.com/
Burgos Cathedral: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/316
Boccalino Hostal: http://www.hotelboccalino.es/
Leon Cathedral: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le%C3%B3n_Cathedral
The Basilica of San Isidoro: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_San_Isidoro