Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Friday, February 24, 2012

What to See in Burgos

Burgos was founded in 884. It has played a significant political and military role in Spanish history ever since. Romans fortified the hill overlooking the Arlanzón River.  For a lot of great history on Burgos, see Linda Kay Davidson’s book The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago

 El Cid is famous in Burgos. 
Spain’s medieval epic, the Poema de mío Cid tells how Cid raised money to provision his army by borrowing from Burgos’s Jewish moneylenders.
He then tricked them by offering a chest full of stones as security 
while requiring their oath not to look into the chest for a year!  
Would you agree???
Well, the Jews provided the gold, which Cid never repaid.
 He later rode into Burgos to pray at the Cathedral, before crossing the river to camp.
Maybe he was praying for forgiveness...

Burgos grew very wealthy from the wool trade. 
The wool from merino sheep have a very soft, fine, crimped staple.
It makes lovely soft wool fabric.
Burgos' wool wealth financed much of the great art and architecture 
seen in the city today.

No Spanish town had more pilgrim hospices than Burgos. 
In the late 15th century, there were 32. 
Some were founded by royalty, some by private citizens, 
some by merchant guilds, and some by religious and military orders. 

Because of its strategic location on the Camino de Santiago 
and the main Madrid-France highway,
 Burgos got (and still gets) its fair share of tourists.

Burgos is not a town to rush through, as Davidson says. 
It contains a staggering wealth of art,
 more than any other city along the road. 
It’s worth staying an extra day to see the wonders offered. 
Here is a list of some things to see while in Burgos:

The Cathedral was founded in 1221 by Bishop Maruicio under Fernando III.
This is Spain’s third-largest cathedral. 
The ground plan is a Latin cross. 
It was constructed in several stages over 3 centuries and involved 
many of the greatest artists and architects in Europe. 
The style is almost completely Gothic. 
Plan on spending anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to see completely. 
It is chock full of beauty! 
Here are a few photos I took in the Cathedral:

 Davidson’s book has several pages dedicated to the art contained in this cathedral.

Retablo at Iglesia de San Nicolás Bari
 Iglesia de San Nicolás Bari contains a superb altarpiece by Simon of Cologne (1505) 
The carvings depict scenes from the life of St. Nicholas. 
This church was a showpiece of the merchant guilds.
Arco de Fernán González
 The Arco de Fernán González is a Renaissance commemorative arch (1592)
Photo by R.S. Antonio
The Castillo de Burgos is erected over the ruins of a Roman fortification. 

The Iglesia de San Esteban has a museum displaying 18 retablos 
from the 15th through the 18th century collected from churches
 in the province of Burgos.

Old postcard of Arco de San Esteban in Burgos
 Arco de San Esteban: 12th Century entrance showing Mudéjar characteristics.

Santa Agueda (Agatha) carries her breasts on a plate
  Iglesia de Santa Agueda
This is where El Cid made King Alfonso VI swear he played no part
 in the murder of his Elder brother, King Sancho II.

Casa de Miranda
 Casa de Miranda and Archaeological Museum

Museu de Burgos has finds from the Roman city of Clunia

 Arco de Santa María
This was the rincipal gate of the city in the 14th Century.
It is carved with statues of various local personalities

Statue of El Cid
Named for his heroism, El Cid was a charismatic man of great courage. 
The tombs of El Cid and his wife are in Burgos Cathedral. 

Casa del Cordón and Capitanía General:
A 15th century palace with a Franciscan cord motif carved over the portal. This is the spot where the Catholic Monarchs welcomed Columbus on his return in 1497 from his second voyage to the Americas. 

 Iglesia de San Lesmés honors the patrón of Burgos, San Lesmés.

 Cartuja de Miraflores is a Carthusian monastery founded during the 15th century.  
The church includes tombs containing Juan II and Isabel of Portugal 
(the parents of Isabel the Catholic) and her brother, Prince Alfonso. 
Also here is the multicolored altarpiece by Gil de Siloé, 
allegedly gilded with the first gold brought to Spain from the New World. 

Monasterio de las Huelgas – Access by guided tour only. 
A rural palace given over to a convent by Alfonso VIII. 
His goal, opposite of the Cistercian ideal, 
was to create the world’s most sumptuous convent, 
an opulent refuge for widowed nobility.  
 It contains the Museo de Ricas Telas, 
a textile museum containing ancient farics from the convent’s many royal tombs. 
 The Gothic cloister of San Fernando 
is decorated with Moorish designs of peacocks and stars.

 Sorrowful Mother in Iglesia de San Gil Abad

Iglesia de San Lorenzo has a beautiful Baroque ceiling.

Paseo de la Isla – a park created to reclaim the Arlanzón riverbank. 

 Hospital del Rey

If you have time, be sure to take the bus that carries you from the archaeological museum
 to the caves of the Sierra de Atapuerca. 
These caves contain a rich fossil record of the earliest human beings in Europe, 
from nearly one million years ago and extending up to the Common Era. 
They represent an exceptional reserve of data,
 the scientific study of which provides priceless information 
 about the appearance and the way of life of these remote human ancestors.

As you can see, Burgos is rich in culture and history.
Do yourself a favor and take a rest day here.
There are many inexpensive hostals and pensiones;
find one near the old town,
and enjoy the local cuisine from the wild fruit plates served at El Morito
 to the Patatas Bravas served in almost every bar
to the morcilla (blood sausage),
famous in Burgos
There are strange looking bars like Meson El Cid
and lovely dining rooms like this one at Hotel Ciudad
Try some churros y chocolate
which is more like a thick pudding
Or buy a pastry from one of the many wonderful pasty shops
Oh, and see the Cola Cao in the yellow packet above?
That is instant hot chocolate
and you can get it everywhere.
For those who don't drink coffee,
it's a great alternative.
As is the fresh squeezed orange juice you find in every restaurant.
Just ask for zumo naranja!

Oh yes, I almost forgot.
Don't forget to have your photo taken 
with the Naked Pilgrim!
Almost every Pilgrim has a photo of this fellow.

I think that's enough for today.

Buen Camino!

See my website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Pilgrimage Trails of Europe
Walking the Camino Santiago

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Prettying Up on the Camino

When people are packing their sundry bag for the Camino, they often find themselves wondering what to take and what to leave behind.  

I have one suggestion:  SIMPLIFY

One of the first things you will notice about Pilgrims is 
they are not beauty book material.
You won't see curling irons or pantyhose,
nor will you see eyeliner and mascara.
Nobody cares if their pants matches their shirt.

Most have chosen their clothing because of the WEIGHT 
rather than the looks.
Their shoes are not clean,
but mud-spattered and dusty.
Their socks are grey, not white.
Their hair is either chopped short for ease of washing (often in cold water)
and care, or twisted up inside a ballcap.

Nor do they bother with makeup and beauty routines.

Shower time on the Camino is short and very sweet.
A person lolligagging in the shower, using up all the hot water, 
while fellow pilgrims stand groaning in line, 
will soon find themselves confronted.

You get in, soap up, rinse, and get out.
And if the water is hot, you thank God and St. James.

You won't see pilgrims standing in front of a mirror at night 
doing a beauty routine.
They're too tired.
They've been on their feet for 6 to 8 hours.

Nor will you see primping in the morning. 
After the first one or two hospitaleras shoo you out of the building at dawn
with the wet cold cream still on your face... 

after your dripping sweat leaches your makeup into your eyes,
blinding you and leaving you resembling a zebra...
and once you realize that every single OUNCE you are carrying 
makes a huge difference in whether or not your feet 
are going to carry you through to Santiago
or blister up like a pig on a spit, 
you begin to get the picture.

The moment that light bulb goes off is a moment of freedom.
I've seen so many pilgrims reach this point.
They immediately begin unloading their pack
with no thought of cost or loss.
It's a defining moment on the Camino
when you realize just how much you can happily live without.

You not only gain precious hours, 
you gain a sense of who you REALLY are under the facade. 
As you drop weighty items, 
as you leave behind un-needed equipment and clothing, 
you find yourself also dropping routines you thought were important,
and trains of thought in which you were invested,
in favor of time spent being human, 
connecting with others, 
and living your life unfettered.

Here are some suggestions for prettying up on the Camino.
In the end, it's YOUR Camino,
and these are only suggestions,
not rules.
There are as many ways of doing a Camino
as there are pilgrims.
However, these ideas are what works for me.

Buy a bar of soap. Cut it in half. 
Give half away (extra weight). 
Use it for washing your body and your hair. 
If you live near a health-food store like Whole Foods, buy handmade soap... 
or order it on Etsy. 
Hand made soap is great for both body and hair washing.

One of my favorite body/hair washing soaps is Liggets Shampoo Bar.  

This bar is small, lightly scented, and lathers well in cold as well as warm water.
It leaves your body and hair feeling clean. 
It's lightweight, and will last the 6 weeks of the Camino 
if you keep it dry between showers.
You can find it online.

You also could simply bring your favorite soap or buy a bar in Spain. 
A mesh bag that can be safety-pinned to the outside of your backpack
will allow the soap to air out and dry between showers.
(Don't forget safety pins)

Don't bother bringing a hair-dryer.
Figure out a way to do without.  
Remember, any electric appliance you bring will not only mean more weight,
but it will mean bringing plug adaptors and carrying them
and hoping there is a plug somewhere near your bed.
Many of the places you will stay are older buildings,
some erected before electricity was common.
Not all will be able to feed your need for electrical outlets.
I always cut my hair in a short pixie before walking. 
That way I don't even need to bring a comb!
I just wash, dry, and go.

 To dry yourself, don't bother with expensive micro travel towels. 
They smear the water all over you instead of sopping it up. 
Instead, consider an old worn cotton dish drying towel.  
Or cut an old terrycloth towel into thirds and take 1/3 to dry your body.

DEODORANT.  Buy a travel size and pick up more in Spain if you run out.

PERFUME.  Please don't bring it.
First, it's heavy.
Second, it's unnecessary.
Nobody wants to smell it except maybe you.

Instead, smell the smell of the wildflowers,
the forest, and the clean morning air. 

Perfume gives some people a migraine, leaving them very cranky...
It feels like an assault to people who have allergies.
In an albergue room full of pilgrims,
one person slathered in perfume
can really make the rest of us suffer.
Generally, those who DO wear fragrance don't realize how strong it is.
Please, leave the fragrance at home.

Much of the laundry you will be doing on the Camino will be by hand.
Unlike the USA, there are not convenient laundromats in every neighborhood 
or even in every village. 
Self service laundry is pretty well unknown in Spain. 
Most people either do their own laundry 
or take it to the laundry to be washed for them.

Most of the laundry you will be doing on the Camino will be in COLD water.
Regular laundry detergent is not safe to carry in your backpack. 
If the bottle opens, you have a mess.
It's also not always made for cold water washing. 

The best product I've found is Fels Naptha soap. 
It is MADE for cold water hand washing. 
It comes in a large bar that can be cut into thirds or fourths and shared. 
It lasts a long time.
It gets clothes clean, 
and you'll learn to use and love it.  
You can buy it in St. Jean Pied de Port at the hardware store 
or in just about any tienda in Spain.
It will cost under 3 euros.

This soap has a long history, and I love looking at the old advertisements. 
Ask your great-grandmother what she used to do her laundry!

Most albergues provide a place to hang your clothes - 
usually a folding rack.
I always take a little elastic clothesline or rope, just in case. 
You can pick them up in travel stores like Rick Steves online, 
or you can make your own.

These also come in handy when you want privacy in your bunkbed...
just hang them between the bedposts, hang some clothes, 
and voila! 
Instant privacy!

Don't bother with an electric toothbrush. 
Just bring the old fashioned kind, and a small travel tube of paste.
It's lightweight, easy to replace, requires no electricity,
and you can pick up more toothpaste in Spain if you run out.
Add a comb and you're ready for pilgrimage!

If you have exceptionally dry skin, 
you can pick up lotion in Spain.
You can try bringing a small tube of your own, 
but you may have difficulty getting it through security unless it's a very small size.  

You can also get any first aid supplies you may need on your first day in Spain.
St. Jean Pied de Port has a nice farmacia, as do most larger towns.

That's it.
That's all you need.
It should all fit into a 1 quart ziplock bag.

I challenge you to try it.

I can't say it enough:
Buen Camino!

See my website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Pilgrimage Trails of Europe
Walking the Camino Santiago