Tag Archives: Burgos

Favourite Places in Spain, Bárcena Mayor and Carmona in Cantabria

Carmona Cantabria Spain

I am sharing with you some of my favourite places in Spain; I started with Santillana del Mar in Cantabria and close by are the mountain villages of Bárcena Mayor and Carmona.

After an hour or so we left the main road and took a minor route into the mountains where the fields became smaller, the grass became greener and the sky seemed a great deal closer as we drove past verges of wild flowers sheltering under the dry stone walls, soaring buzzards and occasional herds of the horses of Cantabria as we climbed high into the clouds, way above the snow line with strips of ice clinging defiantly to the crevices where the sun didn’t reach.

Bárcena Mayor is said to be the oldest town in Cantabria and was declared a historic-artistic site in 1979.  Because of this designation it is now one of the most visited places in Cantabria as tour buses fill the road and the edge of town car park but it was quiet enough today and we walked through the pretty medieval stone streets and houses with wooden balconies and washing lines in a hanging mist which added to the character and the charm of the place.

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Road Trip – A Motoring Offence in Spain and the Guardia Civil

The Guardia Civil…

“I had already learned to be wary of the Civil Guard, who were the poison dwarfs of Spain.  They would suddenly ride down upon you on their sleek black horses, far out in the open country and crowd around you all leather and guns and put you through a bullying interrogation.”  – Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Sunny Morning’

There was still a very long way to go so we planned for another very early start.

When we woke in the morning there was no power anywhere in the hotel and we had to pack in pitch darkness so goodness knows how much stuff we left behind.  We met in the car park and then we had our first problem of the day – the car wouldn’t start!

It was wet and miserable and the electrics were damp and it was probably still trying to get over yesterday’s long drive because this journey was one of the sort of improbable things that these days Jeremy Clarkson does on ‘Top Gear’!

We couldn’t bump start it because it was an automatic so Richard, who understood how cars work,  lifted the bonnet and fiddled with the leads and poked around a bit and the rest of us, who didn’t, stood around and kicked the tyres.  We were all impressed when Richard got the poor thing going and we set off on the road for Burgos on the way to France.

Richard was driving and by the time it got light we were making good progress north along a main highway that, because it was Saturday, was not especially busy this morning.  To this day I still dispute the designation ‘motorway’ because it was single carriageway, had no emergency lane, no lights and as it happens no road markings either.  Richard was driving sensibly and only overtaking when it was safe to do so but then, after about sixty kilometres, we had our next problem.

And this was serious!

All of a sudden the interior of the car was flooded with blue flashing lights from behind as though it had been struck by lightning and a Spanish highway patrol vehicle was pulling us over.  Richard complied and we all left the vehicle to be confronted by two Guardia Civil policemen in their olive-green uniforms, black boots, creaking leather belts and straps and those black tricorn hats that they used to wear, getting out of their green and white patrol car and looking very serious and menacing.

We weren’t absolutely sure why they had asked us to stop and when we asked for explanation one of them drew a diagram that seemed to indicate that we had overtaken on a single bold white line.  White lines!  What line?  It may have been there twenty years previously but it certainly wasn’t there now.  There were two of them and the older one started to write out a ticket for a fine for twelve thousand pesetas, which was about £60 (about £300 at today values) and seemed like a lot of money to us, especially bearing in mind that we didn’t have any pesetas left anyway.

Anthony was minded to argue but, although we didn’t know it,  this would have been a very foolish thing to do because these guys were not exactly the friendly village bobby or the laughing policeman.

The Guardia Civil were left overs from the previous fascist regime who on the whole found the transition to democracy and civil liberties difficult to come to terms with.  Everyone in Spain was frightened of them, they patrolled in twos, bullying and picking on people and were mockingly called ‘parejas’ – married couples.  The younger one tapped his fingers on the holster of his pistol and readjusted his cosh in his belt in a threatening sort of way and the rest of us took that as a sign that we should just shut up and pay up.

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This didn’t get over the problem of having no cash but the two highwaymen had a solution to that and made us follow them to a garage where they supervised the cashier as he exchanged everything that we had got into pesetas and the policemen gleefully took possession of it.

He took all of our French Francs, UK Sterling and what few Portuguese Escudos we had left, and actually we had more of those between us than we thought because Tony had been holding back on a bit of a stash concealed in the back of his wallet that he hadn’t owned up to and the rest of us were all a bit upset about that.  It turns out that Tony would rather juggle gelignite or jump from an aeroplane without a parachute than spend his cash!

We had been thoroughly mugged and as we waved goodbye to the two policemen Anthony shouted a rather unpleasant accusation of dishonesty and an invitation to thoroughly enjoy our contribution to the Guardia Civil Christmas party fund, which thankfully they didn’t hear.  He may have been closer to the truth than he realised because someone told me later that this was a regular way that the Guardia Civil would supplement their wages.

When we got back home I wrote to the Spanish Embassy in London to complain about this and to request a refund and although they replied and sympathised they explained that they had no authority over the police and therefore couldn’t do anything to help.  It was a nice letter though!

Richard was rather upset about the incident and sulked for the next hour or so while we drove past Burgos and stopped at a little town at just about breakfast time and found a bank where we could get enough cash to buy some fuel to get us out of Spain.  We carried on out of Castilla y León and into the green mountains of the Basque Country, past Bilbaó and San Sebastián and then headed east towards the Pyrenees and then the last Spanish town of Irun at the border with France, which we finally reached about twenty hours behind schedule.

Have you ever been in trouble with the police in a foreign country?

Travels in Spain – Statues

Francesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura SpainBurgos Weary PilgrimDon Quixote Alcala de HenaresEl Cid Burgos SpainAntequera King FedinandPhilip IV and the Palacio Real

Travels in Spain – Cathedrals

“And so to the great Cathedrals of Spain, Romanesque, Traditional, Gothic or Renaissance, which are the flower of the Spanish constructions and which for the world outside generally epitomises the Spanish presence,  As the Skyscrapers are to New York, the Cathedrals are to Spain”  – Jan Morris, ‘Spain’

Granada Cathedral

Granada, Andalucia

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Segovia, Castilla y Leon

Palencia Cathedral

Palencia, Castilla y Leon

Burgos Cathedral

Burgos, Castilla y Leon

Siguenza Central Spain

Siguenza, Castilla-la Mancha

Cordoba Andalusia Spain

Cordoba, Andalucia 

Girona Catalonia Spain Cathedral

Girona, Catalonia

Santiago Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia

Andalusia 196 Seville Cathedral

Seville, Andalucia

Leon cathedral Spain

León, Castilla y Leon

Asturias Cathedral

Oviedo, Asturias

Malaga Cathedral

Malaga, Andalucia

Madrid Cathedral Exterior

Madrid

Travels in Spain – Wall Tiles

Spain Wall Tiles 01Spain Merida Wall TilesSpain Wall TilesTalavera de la Reina Spain wall TilesSpain Wall Tiles 02Spain Wall Tiles 03Ronda Tiles Picture

Travels in Spain – The City of Burgos

Burgos Cathedral

“Upon the gates of Burgos there is a dim scratch, in the shadow of the arch, which romantics variously interpret as indicating the length of the Cid’s sword” – Jan Morris

It was late afternoon when we arrived in Burgos and we located the hotel without too much difficulty and checked in.  I had chosen the Meson Del Cid because of its location and because the hotel web site boasted about the panoramic views of the Cathedral.

Unfortunately our room didn’t have a panoramic view of the Cathedral or its celebrated ornate front door as we were allocated a room at the rear with a view of a tiny courtyard and the back door of an adjacent church and I immediately decided (perhaps unfairly) that this was most likely going to adversely affect my customer review scoring.

I was especially keen to visit Burgos because the first time I was there in 1985 I dashed through with indecent haste on a road trip from the Algarve to the English Channel and at that point we were seriously behind our schedule and didn’t have time to stop but mostly because this is the spiritual home of my Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar, better known as El Cid.

There was time for a brief excursion into the city but with a full day ahead in Burgos we ignored the sights right now and looked instead for a likely restaurant for later.  The one that we selected served a nice evening meal, but not the best that we had had this week and our mistake was not to have the menu del dia which was being served up by the plateful to the pilgrims who made their way inside.

El Cid Alvar Fanez Burgos

My way of getting our own back on the hotel for the disappointing room was to boycott their expensive breakfast at €11 each and instead found a good alternative at only €4 each just around the corner in a place with the tempting aromas of the first meal of the day, pungent coffee, sizzling eggs, newly fried churros and the faint hint of charred toast.

It was a miserable cold morning and immovable grey clouds filled the sky, the walkers were all wearing their warmest clothes and most people on the street were taking the sensible precaution of carrying an umbrella.  We walked first to the Plaza Mayor which isn’t going to get into my favourites list because although it was large and colourful the place was spoilt by the inappropriate placement of recycling containers where, in my opinion, there should have been pavement tables.

From the Plaza we walked to the river through one of the original city gates, the Arco de Santa Maria, and then along a boulevard, Paseo del Espolón, lined with trees like lines of Greek dancers each with their hands on their partners shoulders and then towards the Plaza del Cid.

Greek Dancer Trees Burgos

Once over the river we crossed a bridge lined with statues depicting the heroes of the Reconquesta and then, there he was – El Cid, looking fearsome with his grizzled beard, wild cloak flowing madly, his sword La Tizona, too big for an ordinary mortal, extended ahead of him, his eyes fixed ferociously on an enemy army as he led a charge against the Moors sat on his magnificent famous white horse Babieca.

Only one other statue is the equal of this one in all of Spain – that of Francisco Pizarro more than five hundred kilometres away in the Plaza Mayor in the city of Trujillo  in Extremadura.

El Cid and Babieca

The weather stubbornly refused to improve so we decided that it was time to visit the Cathedral, the third largest in Spain after Seville and Toledo and we walked to the great Gothic construction with its balustraded turrets, needle-pointed pinnacles, statues of the Saints and steel grey filigree lace towers soaring above us, went inside and grudgingly paid the €7 entrance fee.

Actually this turned out to be very good value for money because I would agree with the travel writer Jan Morris that this is perhaps the finest Cathedral that I have visited in Spain, better than both Seville and Toledo and with an audio guide thrown in.

It took some time to visit all of the chapels on both sides and eventually reach the centre of the building with its huge grey columns reaching up above us supporting a magnificent ribbed central dome where underneath in pride of place was the resting place and tomb of El Cid and his equally famous wife Doña Ximena Díaz  Actually I was expecting something a bit grander but the great National hero of Spain is buried under a rather simple marble gravestone.

Burgos Cathedral, Spain

Through the magnificent stained glass windows we could see that there were occasional shafts of sunlight so with the weather improving Kim began to get restless so we hurried our pace for the remainder of the visit but I did manage to slow her down long enough to visit the Cathedral museum where amongst the exhibits were the travel chest of El Cid, which I am fairly certain he wouldn’t be able to use as Ryanair cabin baggage and a blood thirsty statue of Saint James the Moor slayer.

These days we are a bit more sensitive about religious wars and killing each other in the name of God or Allah and in 2004 a similar statue in Santiago Cathedral showing St James slicing the heads off Moorish invaders was removed and replaced with a more benign image of him as a pilgrim to avoid causing offence to Muslims.

A Cathedral spokesman in a classic understatement explained that the Baroque image of a sword-wielding St James cutting the heads off Moors was not a very sensitive or evangelical image that can be easily reconciled to the teachings of Christ.  It might also be a case of political correctness.  In 1990 there were one hundred thousand Muslims living in Spain but by 2010 this had risen to over one million.

Saint James is in danger of becoming a bit of a Nigel Farage!  Burgos Cathedral on the other hand, for the time being anyway, appears not to be so sensitive.

Saint James at Santiago de Compostella

With the sun now shining we returned to the streets and walked along a steep path through pleasant woodland towards the castle of Burgos.  There was once a medieval castle on the site but the current fort was built by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808, was the only castle that the Duke of Wellington failed to capture and which was destroyed again by the French when they retreated and left in 1813.

It has been restored again now but opening hours seem to be very limited and today the iron gates were firmly closed and locked so we walked back to the city and returned to the river and walked in both directions before selecting a pavement bar on the Paseo del Espolón  and sat in the hot sunshine with a San Miguel.

I liked Burgos, probably most out of all the cities that we had visited this week and I was glad that we had chosen to spend a couple of nights here.  Later we found an alternative restaurant for evening meal where the food was excellent and we were in the good company of some Camino walkers and at the end of the day there was a walk back to the hotel through the quiet streets under the waxy glow of the iron street lamps casting their curious shadows into the corners of the Plazas and streets and overhead there was a clear sky which made us optimistic about the next day.

Plaza Major Burgos Spain

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

Burgos Pilgrims Weary

I have been giving some thought to perhaps tackling the Camino myself one day and have been looking at the various different routes.  I have to say that I may have a preference for the one that starts in Plymouth in the UK because that would seem to include rather a nice cruise on a P&O ferry across the Bay of Biscay and an evening in the duty free bar followed by a just short stroll from A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela.

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