Walking into Burgos after Atapuerca, you’ll pass through enough change that you’ll wonder, “Where am I going??”: military zone, giant wooded cross, rings of stone, airport, railway tracks, and a 10km long industrial zone. Yes, this is the infamous Camino Frances industrial zone and you have three options: take a vaguely marked detour near the airport, take the bus once in the zone itself, or just trudge along. I did the third – I’m stubborn that way. I wanted to walk the whole Camino Frances, the good and the bad. Though this was one of the few times I did use my iPod. The walk was not awful but it wasn’t pleasant either. Lots of factories, weird buildings, and no pilgrims. And my feet were not too happy about the unrelenting trudge against the pavement. But that actually wasn’t the worst part. That honour goes to the Camino signage in the city. Arrows and shells were hard to find, too discreet, and awkwardly placed. I had to break out the Brierley book several times to use the map rather than rely on the seemingly non-existent markings – it really was like playing Where’s Waldo. And once in the old city, if you’re going to the Municipal Albergue near the Cathedral, don’t bother following the street signs boasting its name. Just use the map. I know I wasn’t the only one who seemingly circled the Cathedral several times looking for this albergue…
The thing about Burgos is that it is that I totally didn’t do justice. My main problem was that I relied on the Brierley book to inform me all there is to see – it didn’t. And now that I am home and I read up on the city, I keep finding out things I’d have loved to see. People always shake their heads at me for “over-researching” a trip – well, now I feel justified! So it’s official! The Rusty Method of travel includes research!
The history of Burgos area dates back about 800,000 years and apparently, the city itself was founded in 884 as a Christian outpost. I guess this area was far from the mother ship so satellite ships were deemed necessary. It is these two things that make Burgos interesting – its early human history and its religious history. The former you can learn about at the Museum of Human Evolution, based on the archeological site of Atapuerca located 20 km east of Burgos (where I stayed the night before). Unfortunately, I couldn’t visit the archeological site, though not for a lack of trying. Tickets were sold out. The site is apparently worth seeing as it contains caves, fossils, and stone tools – some of which you can see at the Museum in Burgos (again, I had no luck – I had to choose between the Cathedral and the Museum due to conflicting open/close times).
The Burgos Cathedral is primarily Gothic style and construction ranged from 1221 to the mid-1500s. To give you an idea on how architecturally spectacular this church is, it is the only Spanish cathedral named a UNESCO World Heritage Site without it being connected to the historic center of a city or to other buildings. Towers and spires galore, intricate carvings, columns, panels, fun statues, tapestries, colours, gold, marble, wood, stone, heraldry, angels, knights, El Cid…this Cathedral has it all. To view the Cathedral and its museum, it took me almost two hours – and that was me moving along at a brisk clip! It was all stunning, but by the end, the ostentatiousness of it all was grating on my nerves. Though, in terms disturbing embarrassment of riches, it wasn’t the worst one I’d seen along the Camino Frances*…
Do take the time to wander Burgos, especially the historic centre. There are lots of cool streets, buildings with remarkable façades, a bridge lined with statues, churches, green spaces, cafes and restaurants, and interesting people watching. There is also the Castillo. While the location of the castle means great views, the structure itself is not really worth a visit if you are unable to get a tour. I think it was too early in the year when I went (May 5) so I was unable to get a tour underground where the interesting bits are located. Above ground, the castle is in ruins and what is left is obvious reconstruction. Not really worth the overprice ticket (though that tour would have made all the difference!), especially if this won’t be your first European castle ruin.
Tip: Take a rest day in Burgos and explore it at your leisure. Visit the Museum of Human Evolution in the morning and/or the Monasterio de las Huelgas Reales, have a leisurely regional lunch and wander the town mid to late afternoon, and head over to the Cathedral by 4:30pm.
Has anyone been to the Book Museum in Burgos? I just heard about it and it sounds so cool – I may have to return to Burgos!