Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Burgos 18 May

Still as cold as Christmas!. When I left the hotel at 9.15 it was 7 degrees and when I returned at 1.30 p.m. it had only risen to 10 degrees! I decided to pay another visit to Real Monasterio de Huelgas, a Cistercian convent, which had impressed me 2 years ago. As I walked there along the river bank an amazing thing happened. I met American Mary on her way to the bus station, complete with backpack! It had finally arrived at Ortega at 2.30 p.m. on the day I left her at about 1.30. She was able to return my pyjama top which I had never expected to see again! She was going to Leon by bus to meet her husband and they were going to walk to Santiago together.

Huelgas was just as fascinating as before, especially the exhibition of early medieval costumes. Inside the church, I was able to sneak a couple of illicit photos while lagging behind a big Spanish group. (We were not allowed to go round the place on our own, and twice I had not been lucky enough to encounter an English speaking group). After the tour I was this time able to purchase a guide book in English. Atapuerca should take note! I took lots of notes of my own and also a few sketches of the costumes, the like of which I had never seen anywhere in the world. They are in such good condition and are being preserved in dim light.

The convent itself was founded by Alfonso VIII (1156-1214) and his wife Eleanor of England. It was to become the burial place of the monarchs. There is one section of the church containing 16 elaborately carved stone tombs. All except one of these were opened and robbed by Napoleon's troops.

Alfonso also founded the nearby King's Hospital to provide care and accommodation for all the pilgrims going to Santiago. The buildings are now part of the University of Burgos. This was my next stop before walking back to Burgos through the park.

I had a long siesta back at the hotel. Then I watched the BBC World Service in bed for a couple of hours. Suddenly I noticed outside the window a storm had blown up, with huge hailstones falling on the balcony, followed by heavy rain. Later that night the local TV News showed pilgrims out in the blizzard up at Ortega contrasted with tourists sunning themselves on the beach at Alicante. This was my last day on the Camino, till I come back next year to do some more...

Monasterio de las Huelgas

Painting of the Battle of Navas de Tolosa (1212) on the screen separating the nave from the choir

Hospital del Rey

Carved door into the hospital church, depicting the Pilgrims' Gate

Stamps on my Credencial: there is space for more next year

Shells point the way on the pavement out of Burgos


Monday, October 28, 2013

Burgos 17 May

After breakfast I rested for an hour before crossing the bridge over the fast flowing river to the Museum of Human Evolution, a magnificent new building. I spent two hours having a thorough look at everything, getting a better understanding of what I had seen at Atapuerca. In the bookshop, I was astonished to find not a single publication in English. Outside the museum is a larger than life bronze statue of a Homo Antecessor Man and his child, based on the theory that this extinct human species was indeed bigger than we are. The discovery of this new species and its implications is described in Reassessing the age of Atapuerca-TD6 (Spain): new paleomagnetic results. Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol 40, issue 12, Dec 2013, pp 4586-4595.

My hotel was in the same street as a new big public library, with free Internet access and a large periodicals room, so I was able to occupy myself for an hour or so, out of the cold. I also walked all round the outside of the magnificent Burgos Cathedral, where I had witnessed a posh wedding, complete with firecrackers, on my last visit. Later, I poked my nose into the large and popular municipal albergue, where late in the afternoon they were turning people away.

That evening, I wanted to try local delicacies at the 100 year old Restaurant Ojeda, which was in walking distance of the hotel. Menu: Asparagus a la Plancha; Cordero lecho asado; Vino de Casa Tempranillo 2007. The fresh asparagus was beautiful, but the roast suckling lamb was tough and stringy. It must have been warmed up a second time in the microwave. This needs a write-up on Trip Advisor. It is obviously a tourist trap, charging big $$$. My meal was 50 Euros, more than I’ve paid anywhere in Spain. I will eat in the hotel tomorrow. Suckling lamb is supposed to be so tender, you can cut it with the side of a plate.

Burgos Cathedral from the Museum of Human Evolution

Homo Antecessor

Monday, October 21, 2013

Atapuerca to Burgos (20 Kms). 16 May

An absolutely freezing day! You would not know you were in Spain! I was determined to walk to Burgos, as this was the only way to keep warm. Firstly it was up and up, on a nice moorland track as far as a cross, where two Spanish ladies who had been at the albergue asked me to take their photos and then did the same for me. This was the Alto de Atapuerca (1070 m.), affording our first view of Burgos in the distance, some 12 or 13 kms away. I fancied the cathedral was just visible in the middle of multiple urban developments. In medieval times, the huge cathedral would have stood out plainly and given encouragement to weary travellers.

All pilgrims were stopping a bit later for refreshment at a busy café in Cardanuela Rio Pico, where I just fancied (even that early) a vino tinto and a slice of Spanish omelette. Delicious!

It was quite a long drag into Burgos, especially on such a freezing cold day where I had to stop every 5 minutes to blow my nose! We had to skirt around Burgos airport on a deserted bit of landscape, before entering Castanares, where I met an American girl looking for a bus to take her into Burgos, bypassing all the industrial suburbs. I was determined to find the so-called “alternative route” along the river, which I remembered from my previous visit to Burgos. This proved quite hard, because of all the motorway flyover, with too many choices listed in the guide book and yellow arrows going in different directions; eventually I succeeded and walked the last 4 kms into Burgos, feet protesting against the hard ground! The river route was surely much more pleasant, but maybe the shopkeepers of Burgos wanted to keep the other route open to encourage business.

Entering town, I saw across the river the Hotel Silken Gran Teatro, my destination for 2 days’ rest in a luxurious hotel! I was given a room on the 4th floor and later had dinner in the hotel, with an interesting starter of mushrooms and a poached egg sitting in a savoury cream, served up by a nice Rumanian waiter.

Flock of sheep near the Alto
The two Spanish ladies: note their small backpacks!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Villafranca to Atapuerca (18 kms). 15 May

Next morning the receptionist tried but failed to rouse on the telephone the hotel in San Juan de Ortega where I really wanted to spend the next night, so I set off on the track regardless.

An eventful day! Snow! I left the hotel after 9.00 a.m. and immediately heard from several people that it was snowing on top.. I met a young couple coming down the steep track wearing capes and shorts that were already wet with sleet. They said they were going to catch the bus into Burgos! I had on all my waterproof gear, including pants, so I pressed on higher and higher to the first landmark: “Fountain for wetting bread” and a small covered rest area.

Monument to the Fallen

I got out my camera for some wintry shots. The snow on the pine trees looked amazing. It was like walking through a winter wonderland. I hadn’t seen any snow for years! I passed a monument to the Fallen of 1936, then on and on through the pine woods, snow falling steadily for 2 hours, then gradually stopping.

On reaching San Juan de Ortega at around 12.30 p.m., I discovered that the Hotel (with only 10 rooms) full – booked out by a party of Irish. I met Mary, the American whose luggage from Sto Domingo had still not arrived after 2 days. She was despairing of seeing it again, having agreed with a smaller lesser known company to deliver it. I had already given her my pyjama top the day before and didn’t want to part with anything else as it was really cold! Her mini day pack was not waterproof and she was trying to dry her gear around a puny little fire in the bar. I gave her one of my sleeping pills so that she could get a good night’s rest and told her to wait till the bar was quiet and get the barman to help with phone calls. I had observed a queue of pilgrims waiting for the albergue to open at 1. 00 p.m., and didn’t fancy staying there, so I pressed on to the next village (downhill, now).

Heather in the snow

The albergue at Ages had no more private rooms available, so after a beer I went on to Atapuerca. This proved to be an extremely good move. I found the new Albergue El Peregrino with dorms on one side of the garden and private rooms on the other, each side with a small kitchen. After a cup of tea and half a bar of choc from my emergency rations, I went to wait for the special minibus that took visitors to the Atapuerca archaeological site at 4.40 p.m. every day.

With a young and enthusiastic English speaking guide, who switched rapidly from English to Spanish, we went to a site where human remains from 1 million years ago had been discovered in layers of sediment that had been washed down by the river system, as well as remains of many wild animals including lions and rhinos; also evidence of cannibalism of children whose bones had been scaped clean with hand axes. The site had been discovered when an English company had cut a railway line to an iron ore mine. This was never developed because it was uneconomic, but the subsequent archaeological finds were amazing, and proved the existence of humans in Europe much earlier than had previously been thought.

Atapuerca archaeological site: a UNESCO World Heritage site

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Viloria to Villafranca Montes de Oca (22 Kms) 14 May

I reached Belorado by about 10 a.m. and had a lovely second breakfast in the sunny square: a big coffee, Danish pastry and freshly squeezed orange juice. Then off to the pharmacy to buy tissues and an ATM to draw out 200 Euros. I had intended to stay the night in Belorado, but at 11.00 a.m. it seemed too soon to stop walking. It proved to be a beautiful sunny day walking through fields of wheat, with a few veggies on one side: spinach, peas, leeks all coming up well. No more asparagus, though! Occasionally the trail went very near to the busy N-120, which had huge trucks thiundering past. It was very scary when they seemed to come too close.

I had a nice beer at Tosantos and asked the friendly bar lady to phone up and reserve a room for me at the Hotel San Anton Abad in Villafranca Montes de Oca. I had a quick lunch of cheese and dates at Villambistia, where I saw a man pull up in a Prius just opposite and told him I had the same car at home in Australia. I had a short lie down in the sun on a park bench, before continuing on the last uphill stretch.

My single room in the hotel (which also owns the adjoining albergue) is small, but the shower/loo is fine. Also, it is quiet – can’t hear the lorries thundering by 100 m. away. Had dinner with a couple from Norway in the hotel dining room: asparagus salad, pork w. chips, fruit salad.

Church at Viloria

Sunny square at Belorado

Ancient cave dwellings near Belorado

Gateway of my hotel in Villafranca

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Santo Domingo to Viloria de la Rioja (14 Kms). 13 May

Pilgrim monument outside the Parador Bernardo de Fresneda

Bridge going out of Sto. Domingo

I didn’t leave town till 8.30 a.m., as I wanted to enjoy the final Parador breakfast. It was a perfect morning: quite crisp, but a cloudless blue sky and sun shining on the mountain peaks on both sides as we crossed the bridge out of town, a little snow still visible on the highest ones. Today’s 14 kms did not appear to be too demanding, and I felt relaxed now that I was sure of a bed in my chosen private Albergue, which I had booked over the phone.

I stopped for a picnic lunch at Redecilla del Camino and chatted to a man in a Prius, telling him I had the same car at home. It was warm and sunny so I had a mini siesta on a park bench. The small town was very quiet. I went into the church and took a photo of a 12th century baptismal font.

I arrived here at the Albergue of Acacio and Orietta with its Brazilian connections, at about 2.00 p.m., had a shower and did a bit of washing since it was such a good drying day. Everyone was fighting for space on the 2 clothes airers out in the sun. Inside a wood burning stove had already been lit, so they must be expecting a cold night. Here it is a mere €5 for a bed in a 10-bed dorm, with a suggested €10 donation for dinner and breakfast.

Dinner was leek and potato soup, bean stew (with tiny bits of chorizo in it and thick with lentils, and a bought-in chocolate dessert. The other guests were either Brazilian or French, so it was difficult to have a good conversation with any of them. It appeared that the writer Paul Coelho was somehow a sponsor of the Albergue, as they were selling his books and there was a wall hanging of knitted hearts by Paul’s wife. It was very cosy in the evening with the wood fire going. The stove actually burned tiny pellets of compressed wood, and needed no attention all evening as every so often a few more would shoot down into the fire.

Breakfast was not so hot, just coffee, bread and jam and a hard boiled egg. I slept well in the 10-man dorm. It was absolutely pitch black in the middle of the night when I got up to go to the loo! I had to feel the way back to my bed. Everyone had to be out by 8.00 a.m. Orietta said I was carrying too much: 6 or 7 kilos would be enough for me, she said! Orietta is Italian and said she and Acacio had met on the Camino and decided to stay.

Motto on their wall: “Tourists demand; pilgrims ask”.

Sketch of the Albergue done by a pilgrim

My photo of the Albergue. Which one is nicer?

Redecilla del Camino

 Coat of arms on the wall of a house

12th century baptismal font

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Santo Domingo. 12 May

Santo Domingo festival procession

My bed in the Parador

I decided to stay an extra night in Santo Domingo and use the Sunday (Mothers Day) for a well-earned rest in the Parador. I enjoyed a good breakfast and then a laze in my nice warm room. I ventured into town at 11.00 a.m. It was still freezing. I wore hat and gloves and lots of layers. I caught the end of the Cistercian Nuns’ Singing Mass, had a coffee and then emerging from the bar, I found the procession starting for the Sto. Domingo festivities. There were incense swingers, boys dancing, brass band and finally the statue of the Saint himself and the chickens of the legend being paraded through the town. All the locals were dressed up to the nines, as if attending a wedding. I took lots of photos. The police contingent, also in Sunday best uniforms, were trying to keep people away from the procession route along the narrow main street. It was a wonderful chance opportunity to be in Sto. Domingo on this feast day.

Sitting in the sunny cloister back at my own Parador in the late afternoon, I met Carol Damm who described her quilting and dyeing projects in her granddaughter’s school in the U.S. and showed me photos of these on her iPhone. She had spent last night in the Cistercian Nuns’ Albergue in rather cramped one star conditions, and had now moved to the four star Parador as a Mothers Day treat to herself! She had contrasting photos of the two sets of accommodation.

Then, we went back to the main Parador for dinner: Cannelloni stuffed with spinach and salmon, Merluza en Papillote with leek and green asparagus, Agua con gas and David Moreno blanco. There were complimentary appetisers of soup in a shot glass, pate and hummus on the side. The wait staff were walking around the dining room very fast and the service extremely efficient.

Merluza en papillote
Dining room in the Parador

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Najera to Santo Domingo (21 Kms). 11 May

Only 571 Kms to go!

Another extremely cold day. Could this really be Spain in the middle of May? After one and a half hours, I arrived in Azofra to a warm welcoming cafeteria for a café con leche and a chocolate croissant. The long days walk through fields of wheat and rows of vines was not really hard going, but the 21 kms seemed long, especially with insipient blisters coming. The sun came out in the afternoon which was nice after all the low cloud. I met Wendy from London at a rest area and walked with her for the last 5 kms into Sto Domingo. We passed through the suburb of Ciruena, which now has the nickname Sevende (for sale!), due to rows and rows of new houses which have never sold because of the recession.

Wendy was going to stay at the Albergue of the Cistercian Nuns, so I left her to walk another 600 m. to the far end of town where I had a booking at the second Parador in Sto .Domingo (Parador De Bernado de Fresneda, a new addition to the Parador chain). Years ago, I had stayed at the main Parador in the town centre, but they did not answer the phone when I attempted to book this time round. I later realised that by chance I had arrived for the fiesta weekend, so there were a lot of people in town.

After a hot bath and a long lie down, I went out late-ish into town, i.e. at 6.45 p.m. I was sitting down in the lounge of the main Parador when I met Maria and Ian, 2 Brits who have a property near Alicante. They had been walking the Camino for just a week, and I had dined with them and a group of pilgrims in Navarette two nights ago. A neighbour of theirs had come to pick them up from Sto. Domingo in his car. He was from Nottingham and had a house in their village in Spain. He was enjoying speaking Spanish, drinking the best wines and staying in as many Paradors as he could. He was about to go on a cruise to Rio, he said. What a life! He had gone to learn Spainsh at uni on his retirement. I enjoyed dinner with them (verduras, cordero asado & vino tinto de la casa for €40) in the busy Parador dining room which opened at 8.45 p.m.

Back in my own Parador, the festivities in town were getting louder, even at my end of town. I was unable to get to sleep, even with earplugs, and eventually had to go down to Reception to ask for a room overlooking the internal courtyard. This was a “superior room" with a separate lounge area, so I was able to sleep beautifully at last!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Navarette to Najera (17 Kms) 10 May

Monastery of Santa Maria de la Real in Najera

A very cold day. I noticed it had only reached 14 ° on entering Najera at lunchtime. I stood on the bridge over the river for a while, to get my bearings. The town was busy and the hotels were full, including my chosen 4 star one! (Duques de Najera). My second choice (San Fernando) had closed down. I had to settle for a dorm in the attic of the Ciudad de Najera, poor value with 9 beds and one bathroom: €20 with sheets, towels and dormer style windows in the roof. The hotel appeared to have private rooms on several floors, which did not seem to be in use, for some reason. Many of the town’s visitors seem to have come by car i.e. not walking the Camino. I got no real siesta because of 3 Germans chatting. The remaining beds were reserved for a group of cyclists.

Outside it was even colder. I found the prime historic site of the town, the Monastery of Sta. Maria de la Real, with many royal tombs, including the 18 year old Bianca of Navarre, who died in childbirth in 1134. There were also said to be interesting choir stalls with pilgrim motifs carved into the seats, but I couldn’t find these.

Inside the royal Pantheon

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Viana to Navarette (13 Kms). 9 May

Inside the ruins of San Pedro, Viana

I was up early for a quick breakfast in the hotel dining room, including a fried egg and little sausages. I decided to avoid walking through 9 kms of boring industrial suburbs of Logrono, by taking the 8.20 a.m. bus into town. It proved to be a lovely comfy ride! The bus dropped me off near the Cathedral, from where I was able to quickly re-orientate myself and pick up the Camino. Inside the Cathedral, I saw another pilgrim sitting and contemplating his surroundings: he was the 80-some year old from Berlin, whom I’d seen 2 days ago walking at snails pace. How come he had managed to overtake me?

Walking out of town on a new long concrete pathway, I met loads of keep-fit Logrono ladies coming back from their morning walk. Then, I crossed over the embankment wall of a big reservoir where all the men were fishing. After a quick coffee there, I noticed it was coming onto rain, falling more and more heavily for about 2 hours. I got soaked, having failed to put on my backpack cover, which I had been unable to locate quickly. It is quite miserable walking through a never-ending downpour, as I had learnt on my training trek in Tasmania in March. I didn’t take a single photo on this stage of the Camino.

On arriving in Navarette, I again checked into the best hotel in town: the Rey Sancho (€50). It appeared dead, as if the town’s action was elsewhere. I got out of my wet clothes and turned on the heating to dry everything, then went in search of a bar. I saw 2 other ladies, pilgrims I had seen before, consuming big bowls of garlic soup. Perfect for such a poor day! The landlord showed me his dining room and encouraged me to return for dinner at 7.00 p.m. (At least he was clued up as to pilgrims’ desired eating times!) I am now suffering from a bad cold which is threatening to get the better of me. I found a public library again for internet access and a sit down, amidst kids doing their homework.
At 7.00 p.m., I enjoyed an excellent pilgrims meal: vegetable soup; “special of the day” peppers stuffed with prawns served in a sauce of squids ink & rice; fresh pineapple for dessert.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Los Arcos to Viana (19 kms) 8 May

Leaving Los Arcos at the crack of dawn

I am now installed in the Palacio de Pujadas, a haven of luxury “at the top end of the market and top end of town” (literally), but only €50 for a beautiful room overlooking the ruins of San Pedro. It is a restored former stately home, a bit like a small Parador. 9 kms short of Logrono. I have done about 19 kms today, so I am making good time on the Camino.

One tiny blister has appeared in spite of Claire’s excellent socks. I have just filled up the bath with bubbles, flung in all my clothes and jumped in myself! Bliss! The room is in Spanish style; in fact, the whole hotel is beautifully renovated.

It was another good day for walking, with total cloud cover. There were lots of wildflowers again, including many orchids, but European orchids are very smtall so you need to be observant. Poppies were everywhere and rows of grapevines just shooting. En route, I visited another octagonal church at Torres del Rio, very similar to the one at Eunate.

Santo Sepulchro Church at Torres del Rio

I had a look round the San Pedro ruins: a 13th century fortified church, partially destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. On the other side is a terrace with fantastic views of Logrono and the Ebro Valley. The guide book tells me that Viana was a major pilgrim halt in the 15th century, and was also noteworthy because Cesare Borgia died there defending Viana in the siege of 1507.