After camping the night before in the rain in a small village outside of Burgos, I arrived early enough to wander the maze of streets in the old walled part of the city.
Between the outskirts of the city and the heart of it—where the glorious cathedral stands tall—is an ugly industrial zone that stretches for a couple miles. I saw Xavier, a pilgrim from Tazmania, standing at a bus stop after I had been walking through said industrial zone for a solid twenty minutes, and smartly joined him on the bus into the city. We found a bar next to the municipal albergue and drank the local wine, talked Hemingway, football (his family has roots in Newcastle), and the paucity of girls our own age—give or take about ten years–on the Camino.
Once the albergue opened an hour later, I took a shower, put on my decent city clothes, and set off to see the city and its glorious cathedral.
In my biased opinion, Burgos has the prettiest church on the Spanish side of the Camino de Santiago—no offense to Pamplona, Logrono, Santiago de la Calzada, but you can’t beat Gothic.
This is the only church I’ve paid to see since I saw Westminster Abbey in London, but it was cheap and huge and provided me with a few hours of wandering around.
Because Burgos was a powerhouse during the Spanish Reconquista, the city had enough cache to build a cathedral worthy of El Cid, the legendary knight who drove the Moors out of this part of Spain about 900 years ago. Perhaps this is also why the artwork adorning its myriad chapels is also of much greater quality than many other churches I have passed through in both France and Spain. One chapel featured a painting by the Italian painter Sebastiano del Piombo, a gifted Venetian pupil of the immensely talented but short-lived Giorgione.
Off of the church cloister was a chapel featuring nearly a dozen paintings by a contemporary Spanish artist. The subject was the Passion of Christ, and I found the works to be a haunting and beautifully humanizing meditation on the increasingly humanized Jesus of Nazareth.
I exited the cathedral and made my way into the nearby Plaza Mayor, where schoolchildren lounged during their midday breaks and businessmen ate pinchos for lunch on the outdoor terraces. I found a bookstore advertising English books for sale, but all they had was 50 Shades of Gray—not my type of reading, and not worth the 10 Euro they were charging even if it was.
Off of one side of the plaza is a massive gate leading to a river, and I ambled along a promenade that followed the river along the old city walls.
There were stalls selling crafts, food, and other local delicacies, and I picked up some delicious pickled olives stuffed with garlic and pimento.
I walked back into the city, and as the sun set I looked for a place to grab dinner. I found a Michelin-rated bar featuring affordable yet masterfully crafted plates, and had six pinchos plus a glass of wine for just 12 Euro.
As luck would have it, just as I was making my way back to the albergue to settle in for the night I ran into some fellow pilgrims I hadn’t seen in a few days, so I followed them to another bar nearby and had dinner, round two. That seems to be a recurring theme in Spain, and I’m not at all unhappy with it.
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