Yesterday morning we left Itero del Castillo without breakfast, as the only bar in town was the one run by the young, hard-working hospitaliera and it didn't open until 9 am., a good hour and a half later than most pilgrims are well on their way for another day of walking the Camino. If this little off-the-beaten-track town has aspirations for becoming a pilgrim stop-over the lack of a breakfast spot will have to be addressed, as we pilgrims need our tostada - toasted baguette - with butter and jam and our coffee or tea to get our walking engines going in the morning.
So we walked from Itero del Castillo back to the Camino then on a couple of kilometers to the next town of Itero de la Vega, where we saw a sign in front of an albergue saying that breakfast was served there. I asked the friendly hospitaliero if it would be any trouble for him to fix s some food. He replied, "Of course not! You're pilgrims!"
So he led us to a lovely little dining room.
...and brought us slices of tortilla with bread, coffee, tea and orange juice,
...which really hit the spot.
Then it was back out onto the hot, gnatty, buggy, endless Meseta,
...to finish up the rest of the 18 k's - about 11 miles - we had left before we reached our planned destination, the town of Fromista.
Now, I am, without a doubt, the slowest pilgrim on the Camino; Tom, by extension, is likewise forced to be the slowest pilgrim on the Camino. Because of this Tom came up with the idea that we should have our own stamp, to stamp the pilgrim passports of all the pilgrims who pass us by, of a turtle with a head coming out of each end of it's shell and each head is trying to go in the opposite direction of the other.
Our two-headed turtleness tends to come out when we're in a town where we're having a hard time finding a bed and roaming around, two bundles of anxiety, wondering where to look next.
Such was the case yesterday afternoon when we entered the town of Fromista.
The first albergue we tried was full. There was one more albergue in town, a municipal, but we couldn't seem to figure out the directions to the place given in the guidebook or the directions given to us by the hospitaliero of the albegue.that was full. We knew that the municipal was behind the church of San Martin. But there were about 15 major churches in this town -well, okay, there were about three - which one was San Martin?
As we wandered what we assumed was the main drag of Fromista looking for the church of San Martin or the municipal albergue, the two-headed turtle popped up.
ME: Why don't we just stay at that hotel over there?
TOM: Let's try to find the albergue first.
ME: What if the albergue's full?
TOM: Well, let's just try it.
ME: I think we should bag the albergue and go to the hotel.
TOM: Well, I don't know where that albergue is. Let's just go back to that hotel.
ME: Wait, we must be getting close to the albergue by now. Let's just walk a little more.
TOM: But what if the albergue's full?
ME: There it is! The church of San Martin! And look! Over there's the albergue!
(Entering the albergue courtyard):
TOM: Look at all those pilgrims! And all that laundry! I think this place is full.
ME: I know this place is full!
(a few minutes later)
HOSPITALIERA: Hay muchas camas! (There are lots of beds!)
And so the turtle pulled both its heads back into its shell and we ended up in a really nice dorm room in this really nice municipal albergue.
And, as we were right behind San Martin we took the opportunity to visit this 11th century church, with its plain stone interior and altar set up as it would have been when people worshiped there over a thousand years ago.
I found this ancient church far more beautiful than the Cathedral of Burgos.
Holly commented that 18.50€- $20.75- seemed an awesome price for a bed, dinner, and breakfast. That's actually about the average cost of an albergue bed with a huge pilgrim meal dinner and breakfast. For example, at El Puntido, where we stayed in Hontanas the day before yesterday, we paid 5€ each for a bed, then 9.50€ each for the pilgrim meal, then a breakfast of toasted baguette slices with butter and jam and coffee or tea cost 1.90€, for a total of 16.40€, or about $17.82. Yesterday however, the municipal albergue we stayed in charged only 10€ - about $11.50 - for a bed and dinner.
We figure we usually spend somewhere between $36 and $50 each per day, or between $72 and $100 a day for both of us together, except on those days when we haven'r been able to get albergue beds and so had to spend more for a hostel or hotel room. Of course one could spend less than we do by not springing 7 bucks a day for laundry service, as we do whenever laundry service is available.. I suppose one could also find a cheaper dinner alternative to the pilgrim meal, though not for the amount of food you get, and when you're hiking all day long you do need some decent nourishment.
Yesterday it was back out to the Meseta, where we walked 20k's -about 12 miles - from Hontanas to the Itero del Castillo
We ran into several expressions of pilgrim graffiti along the way.
The above made us laugh, as what pilgrim young or old, exhausted at the end of the day, feet blistered and aching, would have the energy for dancing, let alone romance?
Then there was this one, which also made us laugh:
...as it was written on a bench in a shelter at the top of a long, hot slog up a steep mountain trail.
We were intending to walk to the town of Itero de la Vega, but along the way a guy on a motorcycle came zooming up to us and handed us an add for the municipal albergue in the town of Itero del Castillo, which is about one and a half kilometers off the Camino. We paused. We were a little concerned about finding a bed in Itero de la Vega as many other pilgrims were also headed to that town. A little while back I'd talked to a couple of women, Danish pilgrims who were planning to stay at Itero de la Vega.
"There are three albergues there so there's bound to be enough beds for everybody," I said hopefully.
"We've booked ahead, so no worries," replied one of the women.
Hmmm, thought I.
So we decided to try our luck off the beaten path, which we hoped would turn out to be be the road less travelled.
The road to Itero del Castillo.
Itero del Castillo
We arrived at the Itero del Castillo albergue to find a note on the door that said to go to the bar down the block.
When we, two pilgrims looking for beds, arrived at the bar, a crowded, lively place,
...it was like the "Be Our Guest" scene from "Beauty And The Beast": "Peregrinos! (pilgrims)" called one customer, "Si, si, hay camas! (yes, we have beds!) called another. Then someone led up to the bar to the bartender/hospitaliera, a young lady who looked maybe in her early 30's, who registered us and verified that the price of a bed and dinner was, indeed, only 10€. Then she had us follow her as she left the bar and hurried up the street to albergue.
She let us into the albergue, gave us a quick tour and told us she'd be back to serve us dinner at 8 pm. Then she hurried back to the bar.
The albergue looked as if no one had ever been in it before. It was charming.
The WIFI was lightening-fast and the bathrooms were gender-segregated with awesome showers.
The view from our room:
. And we had the whole place to ourselves. That is, until two more pilgrims arrived, a couple of nice young Australian ladies, but that was fine, as it's always nice to meet someone new and have have some company.
The Australian ladies were as charmed as we were by the place until a little later after we were all settled in. That's when we started to notice what was wrong with this albergue: it wasn't actually all that clean. The trash cans hadn't been emptied. There was an empty water bottle left under a bed. And worst of all, the floors looked as if they hadn't been swept or mopped any time in recent history. There were crumbs from some past meal under one of the dining room tables.
Now, on only one other occasion had we been in an albergue that wasn't spotlessly clean. This was on our last Camino when we stayed in a convent in Leon full of elderly nuns whom we figured must have been to frail to keep up with the cleaning.
And we would soon find out the reason why this albergue was lagging in cleanliness.
At around 7:40 our young hospitaliera returned to the albergue to fix our dinner in the albergue kitchen. She had her two little daughters in tow, a 7-year-old and an 18-month old. She then proceeded to attempt that daunting task so dismally familiar to every mother: trying to make dinner while caring for a clingy, cranky toddler.
Tom and I tried to entertain the baby while her mother labored in the kitchen, but the child wanted her mama. At one point the woman was holding her baby on one hip while stirring a pot over the stove. Been there, done that, thought I.
After our hospitaliera got our dinner on the table, the best she could manage under the circumstances, and fine by us - a salad, a plate of pasta topped with canned sauce , I'm sure, a loaf of bread and oranges for dessert - she told us to just leave our dishes on the table, she'd come back and clean them later. Then she told us she had to get back to the bar, she had to finish up the evening, close and clean the bar, then go home and make dinner for her family. The she grabbed her kids and hurried out the door.
Now we knew why the albergue hadn't been cleaned. The poor young hospitaliera was overwhelmed. She just didn't have time.
The Australian ladies decided that they wanted to wake up early the next morning and, to help out the hospitaliera, mop the floors and give the albergue a good cleaning, But they couldn't find a bucket and mop or any cleaning supplies.
The idea was tossed around to have me, the only one among us with enough Spanish for the task, go down to the bar and ask the hospitaliera for a mop and bucket and some cleaning supplies. But then we realized that interrupting the harried hospitalera at work and asking her to stop what she was doing to rustle up cleaning supplies wasn't really such a good idea and might be taken as something other than the kind offer it was meant to be.
"Well" I said, "maybe tomorrow she'll have time to come over and clean the place up.."
Yes, everyone agreed, maybe tomorrow she would
Yesterday we stepped out of the town of Rabé de las Calzadas onto the Meseta, the vast plateau region of Spain. The Camino as it crosses over the Meseta is a dusty (or muddy, if it rains), stony, flat-to- hilly path through rolling brown fields as far as the eye can see. This section of the Camino is a treeless, shade-less walk where the vista is always the same all day, every day, for the week or so it takes to cross it.
The days on the Meseta feel long but, having crossed much of this stretch two years ago in driving rain and boot-sucking mud, I can attest that it's better to cross the Meseta in the hot sun, as we did yesterday, than in the rain.
We walked 18 kilometers - about 11 miles - yesterday from Rabé de las Calzadas to the town of Hontanas.
As one approaches Hontanas one sees a sign advertising an albergue in the town 2 kilometers away. Upon seeing this sign one is hit with two reactions:
1. Is it possible that the town is still another 2 kilometers away? And,
2. If the town is only 2 k's away, why can't I see it somewhere out on this flat, endless horizon?
But you keep walking, keep looking, keep hoping something resembling a town will soon come into view.
Eventually you come to another sign advertising the same albergue, but this sign tells you the town is now 1 kilometer away. You still can't see it.
Finally you reach a big, showy sign announcing that the albergue is 500 meters away. But where the heck's the town?! You scan the scene before you and all you see is:
But you keep walking - what else can you do? - and then thirty seconds later you suddenly see:
Like an oasis - or maybe a mirage? - in the middle of the high desert, up has popped Hontanas, the El Dorado of the Meseta, the Las Vegas of the Camino.
Well, mayhaps I hyperbolate just a weence.
But though Hontanas may be a one-street town, that street is lined with albergues and cafes, offering plenty of beds and food, which is about all the entertainment a weary pilgrim requires.
We were hoping to - and managed to - get beds at the same albergue we stayed at last time, El Puntido.
El Puntido is the coolest albergue on the Hontanas strip, and was one of our favorites on our last Camino.
It's got a nice bar,
...5€ beds in lovely dorm rooms,,
...and a little store that sells snacks and necessities. But the store is locked and if you want to enter it you have to ring the store's the door bell, after which the hospitaliera who is busy registering pilgrims, working the bar, and doing the pilgrims' laundry, will drop what she's doing and open the store for you.
The showers were about average.albergue showers.
There was plenty of hot water and a hook on the wall upon which to hang your clothes, which was nice, but made for a tricky situation since the showers were co-ed. This meant that you had to either hang your clean clothes over the stall door where the'd get wet from the already damp stall walls and the spray from your shower, or you could hang your clothes on the hook outside the stall where they'd stay dry, but then after your shower you'd have to hop outside the stall for a moment to grab your clothes and risk flashing some poor guy who might be waiting in line to use the shower.
I opted to hang my clothes on the hook and after my shower to crack the stall door and take a teeny peek outside to make sure there were no guys in the room, then zip out and grab my clothes and get dressed in the stall while holding my clothes, being careful not to drop them or let them touch the wet walls of the stall. It was a delicate operation but I pulled it off splendidly.
Dinner was a 9.50€ pilgrim meal served in the homey, rustic-looking albergue dining room.
The food was so good.
I ordered a seafood paella for starters,
...followed by the tastiest, tenderest beef stew with a side of fries to dip into the juice,
...and for desert I chose, of course, the rice pudding option.
Our very nice dinner partners were a Spanish university professor of languages and an Episcopalian priest who, unlike the Catholic diocesan priest we met a few days earlier on the Camino, felt no need to hike in his cassock.
To each his own Camino.
Romaine, you commented that you found the Ice Cream Man kind of creepy but I think he's only trying to help.
On our way out of Burgos yesterday we were passed by two pilgrims on bikes, Spanish girls, I think, who looked maybe in their 20's. A little while later we came upon the girls again. They had stopped and one of them was helping a very small, very old Spanish woman get across the street. The girl was tall so that she had to stoop so that the woman could lean on her arm and the girl walked very slowly with the woman.
Later when the girls came whizzing by us again I called in English after the girl who'd helped the woman that what she did was very nice and kind. "It's nothing," she called back with a laugh.
But for those pilgrims who witnessed her kind deed, it did all our hearts good.
Many pilgrims do the Camino by bike. Biker Dudes and Dudettes, I call them.
Dressed in spandex, their gear in saddle bags attached to either side of their bikes, the Biker Dudes and Dudettes come zipping past us walkers, weaving between us if we don't move aside in time, speeding downhill, flying over the jagged rocks, peddling to beat the band up the steep hills. When you hear behind you the "jing-jing" of their bike bells, you'd best move aside, fast. They almost always travel in packs, so when one Dude or Dudette comes zapping by you, you can be sure that a few more are close behind.
In the afternoons the Dudes and Dudettes come bouncing into the albergues, all sweaty and cheerful and peppy. They then bounce around the albergues in their undies, guys and gals alike, chatty bundles of energy next to us tired, draggy foot soldiers.
They're the first ones to hop into bed at night and in the morning they're gone with the first light.
Some of the walking pilgrims find the Biker Dudes and Dudettes annoying and a hazard on the Camino. Me, I like the bikers, but I sure as heck jump out of the way when I hear that "jing-jing".
Yesterday we walked 13.3 k's -almost 8 miles-
...from Burgos to the pretty little village of Rabé de las Calzadas.
We stayed at a homey little albergue called Liberanos Domine,
...owned by the sweetest hospitliera and her friendly husband, who gives each pilgrim upon their arrival a miraculous medal of Mary the Blessed Mother, the patron saint of the town's monastery. We took the "completo" bed-dinner-breakfast package, as we generally do at the albergues that offer one. The cost of the completo was 8€ for the bed, 8€ for dinner, and 2.50 € for a breakfast of toast and jam with coffee or tea for a total of 18.50€ -about $20.75 - each.
After we were showered, settled in, and had handed our laundry over to the hospitaliera to wash for us, we walked to the town bar, which is also owned by the hospitaliera and her husband and run by her husband.
We had lunch at the bar, our usual fare of tortillas and bread, then hung out for a while, enjoying how the sociable bar owner greeted each pilgrim who entered the bar, giving each one a miraculous medal, asking each where they were from, then showing them a wall hung with mementos and currencies left by pilgrims from different countries.
Dinner was a delicious meal prepared by the hospitaliera and served family-style.
The first course was a tasty noodle soup made with saffron; next was a pasta salald followed by a tortilla festively topped with red pimentos. Dessert was yogurt.
The hospitaliera told us that there would be vespers at 8 pm sung by the elderly nuns who live in the town's monastery, which these days is a hospital and retirement home for the nuns. About a dozen pilgrims including Tom went to the vespers service. They said it was very nice.
We really liked the Liberamos Domine albergue.. Except that we couldn't quite figure out the logic of the bathroom. Can you?
Two sinks, two showers and one potty?
Yesterday morning Tom woke up feeling, thank goodness, miraculously better. We’d booked one more recovery day at our hotel, but as Tom didn’t feel the need to spend another day lying in bed recovering, we spent the day visiting Burgos.
On our first Camino we passed through Burgos, spending one night in the municipal albergue and having just a quick peek at the cathedral on our way out of the city so we had no idea what a beautiful city Burgos is. Nor had we planned to spend an extra day visiting Burgos this time, either, but the fact that we weren’t able to get a room in the albergue and that Tom got sick then better ultimately turned out to be good fortune because, if all had gone according to our plan, we wouldn't have had the wonderful experiences of staying at the Hotel Norte Y Londres and visiting Burgos.
Anyway, we spent the morning strolling around the Centro, as this part of the city is called,
The building on the left is all part of the cathedral, but only part of the top of the building. The base of the building is in the plaza at the bottom of the steps.
....hanging around the square,
....and a crowded little pastry shop,
...that made me think of Panera, Spanish-style.
Fortunately for us, the Spanish people love their sweets as much as we do, maybe more, as every other shop in the cities seems to be a bakery or candy or ice cream store.
When lunch time rolled around we decided we'd like to return to the Italian place, called Pizza Y Competencia, were we'd liked the spaghetti so well the day before., We again ordered a small – read ginormous – very good mixed salad to share and this time decided to try a pizza. I ordered for us a wild porcine mushroom and leek pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella, figuring we’d get something close to a mushroom and onion cheese pizza.
However I learned that day that wild porcine mushrooms neither look nor taste anything like those little white round-topped things we slice and put on pizza in the States, nor are leeks just like onions. I can’t exactly say that the pizza was bad, as it did have a very nice thin and crispy crust. But it wasn’t exactly good, either. The taste was just so different, I couldn’t quite wrap my tongue around what it tasted like. So I’ll just say that the taste was different and be careful to avoid wild porcine mushroom and leek pizza in the future.
After lunch we made another stop at the pastry shop for some dessert to eat on a bench in the square, then we walked a few more turns around the city, then we decided to visit the cathedral.
The Cathedral of Burgos, the construction of which began in the 12th century, is an architectural wonder. It’s one of the largest cathedrals in the world and the second largest in Spain after the Cathedral of Seville (got that from the guide book).
In Spain there’s an entrance fee to visit the cathedrals, which makes sense as I expect the cost of maintaining them must be tremendous. Anyway, it costs 7€ to visit the Cathedral Of Burgos, though with our pilgrim discount we got in for half-price. One could spend a whole day touring the cathedral, though as there are no public restrooms in the whole cathedral I doubt many people do.
Though a wonder of human creation, the interior of the cathedral is all bars and walls and reminded me of a magnificent prison.
Maybe for some people it was.
As for me, I'd popped into a bakery shop on the way to the square and bought myself (my mate wasn't hungry, having finished his meal) an empanada, a large square of puff-pastry filled with melted cheese and bits of ham
....which I happily noshed on in the square,.
Afterwards I paid a visit to the Ice Cream Man,
....and I was one happy pilgrim.
The Spanish people are the nicest, most conscientious, helpful and hard-working people on the planet, and the staff at the Hotel Norte Y Londres is no exception.
The day before yesterday when Tom and I got the last room in the hotel I saw the receptionisto trying to help some pilgrims who came in after us find rooms by calling around to other hotels for them. Yesterday morning when I asked the receptionisto at the front desk if we could stay another two nights because my husband was sick he seemed concerned and sympathetic and said that, though he thought the hotel might be already completely booked for the second night, he'd leave a note for the manager to see what they could do to help us. A few hours later the manager let me know that they'd worked it out and that we could keep the room for another two nights. Once again, we were very grateful to have landed at this place.
Yesterday morning we slept in until 7:20, about an hour and a half later than usual, as most albergues want you out the door before 8 am and some want you out even earlier, so they can start cleaning and preparing for the next batch of pilgrims.
We moseyed on down - well, I moseyed, Tom more dragged down - to the hotel comedor - the breakfast room,
....which was full of older pilgrims. We talked to a few of them who had booked an extra day, a "rest day" as taking an extra day in one place is called,, to visit the city. In the big famous cities like Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon, the albergues will let you spend an extra day to visit the city. Otherwise you may stay only one night, though I think if a pilgrim were sick in a small village where there was no hotel or hostel to recover in the hospitaliero would probably let you stay in the albergue.
The breakfast, which was included in the 60€ cost of the room, was lovely, in a bready way, though there were also some apples and yogurt along with the rolls, muffins, and croissants:
After breakfast Tom went back to bed and I went down to the lobby to ask the receptionisto if there was a laundromat in the neighborhood. He gave me a map and showed me how to get to a laundry service called Vite-Sec, where you leave your clothes to be cleaned then delivered back to the hotel.
Tom pulled himself out of bed and we walked the several blocks and, with the help of the local folks, who stopped to ask if they could help us a couple of times when we stood on the side walk trying to figure out my map - the Spanish always stop to help if they think you look the least hesitant about where you're going - actually, I've found New Yorkers to be the same way, though not necessarily Parisians, at least not the last time I was in Paris 40 years ago - anyway, we finally found the Vite-Sec, a busy place full of customers and workers, including a woman ironing up a storm, working that iron a mile a minute.
As the friendly lady behind the counter took our clothes and processed our order she told me she spoke a little English and I told her I spoke a little Spanish, so she suggested we should practice on each other. So we practiced talking about the weather for a minute back and forth in English and Spanish. It was actually quite a chilly morning, I was wearing my sweater and my jacket, and the lady explained to me that Burgos was a cold place, colder than most of the rest of Spain because it was in the north. For being so busy, she was a really friendly lady.
Anyway, by 7 pm our clothes were back at the hotel, clean, dry, and smelling wonderful. It cost us 12€, about $13.80, but we didn't care, those were some gross clothes before they were washed.
On our way back from Vite-Sec to the hotel we passed a pastry shop selling the most divine-looking pastries,
.....including some treble-clef eclaires,
...which it would have been wrong not to buy, so we bought a couple and brought them back to the hotel for later consumption.
A few hours later when lunch time rolled around Tom, still lying in the hotel bed, was craving some warm comfort food, a plate of spaghetti or some paella. Just hearing Tom talk about spaghetti gave me a sudden jones for spaghetti, too.
So we returned to the streets of Burgos, Spain, to look for an Italian restaurant. We found one right around the corner from our hotel. We ordered a small salad (with tuna, of course) which turned out to be massive, which we spit and two plates of outstandingly delicious bolognese spaghetti of such gargantuan portions that one plate would have been more than enough for us both. I, a gold-star member of the clean-plate club, could, regretfully, finish only of half my fabulous spaghetti.
Of course, I guess I was subconsciously saving room for the pastries waiting back in our hotel room which we polished off for dessert after our spaghetti lunch.
After lunch - and in spite of how yummy our lunch had been - Tom was feeling worse from his cold so he crawled back into bed and I spent most of the afternoon in the hotel by the side of my my sick mate.
Around 6 pm I left the hotel for a little walk around the city,
...and around the cathedral,
....and to get a few shots of the Ice Cream Man.
The Ice Cream Man seems to pop up all over Burgos.
I love the Ice Cream Man.
When I returned to the hotel Tom was still in bed and not interested in eating dinner.
So I ventured out on my own to seek some nourishment, maybe some tapas, the small, appetizer-sized portions that the Spanish like to snack on.. The streets around our hotel were crowded with Tapas bars and people standing around the outdoor tables socializing and munching on plates of tapas.
I ended up going into a restaurant that was empty when I entered but jammed with people having tapas by the time I left, and ordered a plate of patatas bravas - roasted potatoes in sauce,
....which were quite good but not as good as the totally awesome patas bravas we had in another town along the Camino,
...for which the sauce was ketchup over mayonnaise - I know, I wouod never have thought of that combination, either but it made a really good patas bravas sauce.
I also ordered a mixed salad,
....the first salad I've eve had in Spain that lacked tuna fish. Somehow I didn't mind.
My sister Romaine asked in a comment referring, I think, to my commentary on room-reservers and day trippers, if the hostels were getting hostile.
Nah. Crowded to and sometimes beyond capacity, but never hostile. The pilgrim albergues are still friendly, welcoming refuges and the pilgrims, day trippers and backpackers alike, still all look out for each other and help each other.
Still, on a couple of occasions it's seemed to me that groups of older day trippers have arrived at an albergue with an air of expectation about them that the albergues would be more comfortable the they were; They were expecting more privacy, more amenities, more hot water, and they sure don't like to be given the top bunks. One time I heard one pilgrim say to another regarding the albergue staff, "Do you believe it? All they speak here is Spanish.."
But there are still plenty of back-packing pilgrims on the Camino,
...though even the young backpackers are calling ahead and reserving the rooms. I guess that's just how it is on the Camino these days.
Anyway, yesterday, fortified by an albergue breakfast that was a true celebration of bread,
- you consume more bread on the Camino than you will over the course of rest of your lifetime - gluten-free folks beware ! - we started out on the long 22 kilometer - 13 mile - trek from Agés to Burgos.
We started out walking in an ethereal misty fog,
....that lifted as the morning rolled on and the sun came out. Which was a good thing because for the first few miles the path was quite rocky.
At one point we had to negotiate a patch of solid uneven rock.
The road into Burgos is kind of a rough slog, for which reason many pilgrims, especially the older ones, of which there are quite few on the Camino, many more than last time we were here, hop a bus for the last 10 kilometers or so. There are actually two ways by which to enter Burgos. The standard way, the way most pilgrims take, requires walking on concrete sidewalks - hard on the feet while toting those backpacks! - along miles of industrial highway past the Burgos Airport, factories and big-box stores. After all the weeks of walking through mostly scenic and rural settings this environment is kind of a jarring dose of urban reality. You then must pass through a run-down part of town before finally reaching the pretty old part of town by the famous cathedral.
The other way of reaching Burgos is called the River Way The River Way is about 1 kilometer longer than the highway way, and goes through fields then along the river and through a city park and leads you to a nicer section of town close to the Cathedral area.
The reason more people don't take the River Way is because it's hard to find and confusing to figure out. On our first Camino we took the highway approach. but this time we managed - with some head-scratching and near misses - to figure out the River Way, which was a considerably more pleasant approach.
We reached the old city of Burgos at about 4:30 pm and were trudging up the hill towards the municipal albergue, which is located right next to the cathedral and is a big, modern, tightly-packed, tightly-run, 120-bed, 6€-per-bed facility hidden behind a 16th Century stone facade, when a group of young, weary-looking, still backpack-laden Asian pilgrims approached us from the opposite direction waving their arms in warning.
"All albergues full, all albergues full!", one of them cried, "no albergue beds! Hotel!"
We understood the dreary message and turned around to begin looking for a hotel or hostel.
A few minutes later we ran int two young American pilgrims who told us that, though they'd arrived early in the afternoon, it was only by the skin of their teeth that they managed to get beds in the municipal albergue, which was completely full by 2:30. Aside from a small religious albergue with a few beds, the municipal is the only pilgrim albergue in Burgos,
The first hotel we tried was full. Now, tired out from our 13-mile trek and bummed over not getting an albergue bed, we were also starting to feel slightly panicked in spite of our vow of faith in good Camino Karma, We were trudging aimlessly through the tourist-crowded streets looking for another hotel.when a middle-aged man, obviously a pilgrim, approached us and asked us in accented but very good English if we needed a hotel. When we told him yes he suggested we try the place where he'd found a room.
"Right over there," he said, pointing to a building not far behind us.
So we hurried to the hotel our fellow pilgrim, a Swiss man who's the doing the Camino by bike, pointed out to us.
Located in a pretty square, It turned out to be a lovely, kind of upscale-looking place called. Hotel Norte Y Londres.
View from the front of the Hotel Norte Y Londres:
Gross, sweaty, and none too hopeful, we dragged ourselves to the front desk and asked the receptionisto if he had a room.
"Si," he answered, but explained that all he had left was a triple for 60€ - about $69 - and that it was the last room left in the hotel.
Camino Karma, forgive me for doubting, thought I.
And though our room was cheery, comfortable and spacious,
View from the window of our room::
...we were still in the grip of exhaustion-fueled post-bed-anxiety coupled with the frustration of not getting an albergue bed, so that we didn't at first realize how extremely fortunate we were not to have snagged a coveted albergue bunk amidst a closely crowded sea of pilgrims and where we'd be shooed out the door at 8 am sharp.. It was only a little later, when Tom started to experience the sore throat, head ache and runny nose that herald the arrival of a cold, that we realized our luck to have landed in this quiet, comfortable room.
This morning Tom woke up achy,congested, and miserable from a restless sleep but nonetheless extremely grateful, as was I.
I booked the room for two more nights.
Burgos at night:
Yesterday we set out from Villafranca Montes de Oca and climbed the Montes de Oca, the Goose Mountains, a steep 650 feet to a height of 3600 feet.
It was a sunny, windy day, great for backpack-drying the clothes that didn't quite dry on the line yesterday.
We walked about 16 k's - about 9.5 miles -passing through a pasture full of friendly cows along the way,.
...until we reached the town of Agés
Now according to the guidebook Agés is a town with a population of 60 people, though the sign at the town entrance says population of 20.
The town has a church dating from the 16th century which, beautiful as it is, looks as if it could fall down any day now
Small as Agés is, though, it has the most awesome municipal albergue, with a great cafe on the first floor.
When we entered the albergue and approached the registration desk, the hospitaliero was busy with pilgrim before us, with whom he was in the midst of some long back-and-forth in Spanish that I couldn't follow.
When the pilgrim, who appeared to be a middle-aged man, was finally registered he sat on a chair across from the registration desk to take off his boots and put them on the boot shelf, as we pilgrims all do before entering the dorm area of an albergue.
Note the stacks of newspaper on the top shelf. The newspaper is for pilgrims to stuff into our boots to help dry out the insides of the boots if they get soaked in the rain.
Then it was our turn to register. I told the hospitaliero that we'd been at this albergue two years ago and had really liked it. He seemed pleased to hear that. He told us that just a bed was 8€ and he asked us if we wanted the "completo" package at 22€ each that included a bed, dinner, and breakfast.
When we said yes, we'd like the completo, the hospitaliero turned to the Spanish pilgrim who was still taking off his boots and joked in a mock-reproachful tone, "See? These people stayed here two years ago and when I asked them if they wanted the completo they said, yes, yes! right away!"
The Spanish pilgrim good-naturedly retorted that he didn't care, he still didn't want the completo. But after that the hospitaliero treated us like best friends for the rest of our stay. But maybe he treated everybody that way, he was such a friendly guy.
The dorm room had 36 beds, but the room was so spacious that we didn't feel at all crowded.
And once again we lucked out with gender-segregated bathrooms, though there was only one sink in each bathroom, which made for a bit of a crunch this morning. when we all wanted to brush our teeth, though all teeth eventually got brushed.. But the sink did have a soap dispenser and paper towels with which to dry our hands, amenities practically unheard of in the albergue bathrooms, where if you want to wash and dry your hands you have to cart along your own soap and towel.
Camino confession: Most of us don't bother. We just rinse our hands in the bathroom sink and shake them dry. On the trail I carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer for the job.
We had dinner in the pretty albergue dining room.
Now, I'm gonna put it right out there: that dinner was the best pilgrim meal I've ever had on the Camino. I know that's a tall order to prove considering that just about every pilgrim meal we've had could be tied for first place. But what made this dinner soar above the rest was not the salad, though it was certainly a work of edible art,
...nor was it the Cornetto I had for dessert,
....which was of course delicious and fulfilled my goal of while on the Camino having myself a Cornetto - a confection one can find in any bar along the Camino but not in the U.S. - in honor of "The Cornetto Trilogy", which you fine film buffs out there will understand
No, what made this meal so exceptional was the entree, the house specialty called Pork in Sauce. And what a sauce! And the meat was so tender, it just fell apart with the fork. I asked the hospitaliero how this meat was cooked and he said it was simmered in wine and a puree of vegetables. Boy, was it good.
At one point during dinner the hospitaliero, who spoke only Spanish, came into the dining room with a telephone in his hand and called out, "Is there a Polish pilgrim in here?" As I appeared to be the only one who understood what he was saying I called out the translation in English. An American pilgrim popped up from his seat and cried, "There's an Polish pilgrim at the albergue next door!"
When I translated for the hospitaliero the expression on his face seemed to say that this situation had risen o a level beyond his pay grade. He then shoved the phone at Tom and said, "Ingles", which means "English".
Tom took the phone from the hospitaliero and began speaking to the man at the other end of the line who spoke English with what sounded to Tom like a British accent. Turned out the man wasn't looking for a Polish pilgrim but for a reservation for the next night. So Tom told me and I told the hospitaliero, who waved his hand distainfully and said, "No, I don't accept reservations! No reservations at this albergue!
Now there's a hospitaliero after my own heart.
Yesterday morning we took off from Belorado with a mission: to get to the village of Villafranca Montes de Oca in time to snag a room in the Hotel San Anton Abad, which dates back to the 14th Century when it was built as a pilgrim hostel.
These days the San Anton Abad is upscale hotel,
... a section of which the owner still reserves as a pilgrim albergue.
The albergue entrance:
And what accommodations!
There are bunk beds for 5€, or for 10€, the option we chose, one could have a twin bed in a long, bright, cheerful room lined on either side with beds divided into compartments with one or two beds. We snagged a two-bed compartment.
View from the dorm room window:
There's also a lovely sitting room,
...and a kitchenette for pilgrim's who'd like to fix their own meals.
And - oh happy day! - the bathrooms were gender-separated so that you didn't have to drag your clean clothes into the shower stall with you where they get wet, but could leave them on a stool outside the stall. This, of course, involved a wee bit of parading around in the buff, but, believe me, that's better than wet clothes.
There was no washer but there were sinks in which to wash out your clothes and behind the albergue there was a meadow set up with clotheslines.
By the time we got to the albergue Tom and I were SOA - starved on arrival - so as soon as we tossed our packs next to our beds we headed down to the hotel cafe for tortilla sandwiches.
After lunch we returned to our albergue and showered - always the first thing you do, organized our space - always the second thing you do, washed and hung our laundry, then spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the hotel lobby or on the terrace chatting with the other pilgrims,
.....or strolling the grounds.
The 12€ evening pilgrim meal was served in the hotel dining room
I had the mixed salad, rabbit in a most delicious sauce with a side of fries, and for dessert a bowl of heavenly rice pudding with cinnamon. Tom had mixed salad, pork filet with fries, and ice cream for dessert, all of which he also pronounced delicious.
Our dinner partners were an Englishman and a Danish man, both around our age, both of whom, like us, had walked the Camino before. We discussed, among other things, politics, social issues, and how much the Camino has changed in the few years since we all last were here with the proliferation of the Day trippers, pilgrim lites, our British friend called them, the pilgrims who don't carry backpacks but have their luggage shipped each day to the albergues or hostels where they've reserved rooms. We wondered if pilgrims who walked all day with their packs on their backs and found food and lodging at day's end at the pilgrim albergues without a reservation would soon be a thing of the past.
This morning we started our day with the 8€ breakfast buffet offered by the hotel and served in the breakfast room.
....scrambled eggs, sausages, cold cuts, baguettes, cereal, fruit, OJ, coffee, tea, pastries.
How sweet it was!
Yesterday at the Casa de las Sonrisas, The House of Smiles, we met a 69-year-old German pilgrim who’s been walking the Camino non-stop for the past nine years.
Now, there are a dozen different Caminos that pilgrims can take to get to Santiago, starting from different points in Spain, France and Portugal, though in truth a pilgrim can start from anywhere they want; I’ve met at least three Dutch pilgrims who started walking their Camino from their home in the Netherlands.
But the most popular and most-walked Camino by far is the one Tom and I are walking, the Camino Frances, the French Camino, that starts in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
Anyway, this elderly pilgrim who’s been walking the Camino for nine straight years varies his Caminos, walking one, then the other, and when he reaches Santiago walking or sometimes taking a train back to another starting point.
I asked him what about his home and family? He answered that the Camino is his home and the pilgrims are his family.
"Don't you get tired?" I asked.
"When I get tired I stop," he replied. He told me the shortest distance he'd ever walked was 2 kilometers and the longest was 64 k's.
I asked him how heavy his backpack was and he told me 10 kilos-about 20 pounds - before water.
I asked him didn't his backpack feel heavy, didn't his back, feet, knees ever hurt from carrying it all the time?
He said he didn't even feel his backpack anymore.
"Do you ever get sick?" I asked him.
He answered that he never gets sick anymore, though when he was 12 years old he was always sick and was taken from doctor to doctor to doctor. But, he said, he hasn't seen a doctor since 1994 and takes no pills.
"Wow," I said, "you're going to live to a hundred and six, and you'll still be walking!"
He replied that he didn't care how long or short he lived as long as he was healthy to the end.
I didn't tell him that that's pretty much how we all feel except that it doesn't work out that way for most of us. Still I think that that pilgrim does have a leg up on most of us.
We walked 15.7 kilometers yesterday from Grañon to the town of Belorado, leaving the region of La Rioja and entering the region of Castilla y Leon.
Along the way we stopped for brunch at the albergue cafe in the village of Viloria de la Rioja. This cafe was the most charming little spot,
...where the hospitaliero whipped us up a delicious omelet sandwich,
...on the freshest baguette.
And there was a poster on the wall that I loved:
It says "Let's go to a quiet place to talk and try to reach an agreement".
When we reached Belorado about 3 hours later the town was, as has generally been the case, jammed with pilgrims seeking lodging.
I found myself feeling a weence doubtful about finding a bed in the albergue in Belorado which we had our hearts set on staying at, one of our favorites along the Camino, a place at the far end of town called Los Quatros Cantones, a pretty, rustic little albergue with 7€ beds and and an 8€ pilgrim meal run by the lovely Cantone family, three brothers and a sister who’s a chef by profession, so the food’s super-good.
However in truth I was feeling a weence doubtful about finding beds anywhere in this pilgrim-crowded town.
But Tom said not to worry, there were many albergues along the way through town before we'd reach Los Quatros Cantones so hopefully the herd would be 'way thinned by then.
And the pilgrim herd did, in fact, thin greatly the farther we walked through the town, until we turned a corner and saw that the line at Los Quatros Cantones was out the door.
"This doesn't look good," I said.
"Let's just try," said Tom.
So we stood in line, and at one point I thought I heard the hospitaliera, one of the Cantones who was also the chef, call out the door that now it was reservations only. But I wasn't completely sure.
"Let's just wait," said Tom.
Two ahead of us was a group of older Americans, day trippers with a reservation for six. Day trippers are my name for pilgrims who don't carry backpacks, but have their packs or luggage shipped from albergue to albergue (or hostel or hotel) at which they have, of course, reserved a room. Back when we walked the Camino two years ago you saw the occasional day tripper, usually a pilgrim who was injured or feeling sick or just needed to take it easy for a bit. But now the day trippers have greatly proliferated along the Camino, and some days appear to be as numerous along the way as the backpacking pilgrims.
Anyway, after this group with their reservation for six I figured our chance of getting beds was dead on arrival.
"Let's wait anyway," said Tom.
Directly ahead of us was an older Spanish couple without a reservation. I'm not sure exactly what their conversation with the hospitaliera entailed, but the exchange sounded quite heated, with the hospitaliera on the defensive.
Then into the reception area whisked one of the American party of six, a woman who looked about my age, totally indignant over the fact that half of their beds were top bunks when they wanted all bottom bunks, or something like that.
Between dealing with the ticked-off Spaniards and the ticked-off American, the harried hospitaliera looked up from the fray for a moment and our eyes met. I smiled sympathetically at her.
The Spanish couple huffed out of the albergue and it was our turn.
"This is hopeless," I muttered to Tom as we approached the reception desk.
"Let's see," he muttered back.
In sheepish Spanish I told the hospitaliera that we had no reservations, but.....
She told me she was sorry but there were no more beds unless we had a reservation, and didn't I hear her tell the people in line that it was reservations only?
She seemed upset that we'd stood in line so long for nothing, but we smiled and told her that it was all right, that she shouldn't worry about it, and we thanked her anyway and wished her a nice day.
We turned to leave and she said, "Wait, wait! Maybe I can help you! What time is it?"
It was 2:20 pm. She explained to us that they only guaranteed reservations until 2 pm. She looked through her book and called to the line, "Paolo! Sergio! Estan aqui? (are you here?)"
The call for Paolo and Sergio went down the line until it was determined that neither Paolo nor Sergio were present.
The hospitaiera hesitated a moment, sighed, the said in English, "What the the hell, I give you the beds!"
Now, I know we've been having a great run of Camino Karma, but this was downright spooky.
But in a good way, and it got even better when we saw our accommodatons in a beautiful first floor dorm room right off the bathroom:
....and we had the bottom bunks!
Later when we thanked the hospitaliera for giving us beds she said, "how could I resist you, standing there so nice?"
I kind of think we had the "two cute old folks" thing going on.
Los Quatros Cantones albergue:
....and there's a pool.
The beautiful town of Belorado
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Kindle:
or in print:
The Book Loft
of German Village,
Or check it out at the Columbus Metropolitan Library