A Couple Days in Burgos, Spain.

The municipality of Burgos is located in the northeastern section of Spain. Burgos is the capital of the Burgos area, within the autonomous area of Castille, and It holds about 180,000 people.

The town is beautifully situated and has a charm equal with other medieval towns in Europe. In summer, when I was visiting, the weather was wonderful.

Getting There.

The city is located in the northern Basque Country of Spain. As near as I can figure, there are three good ways to get there. The first, and probably the most utilized, would be cars. Get yourself a rental and be on down the highway.

The second would be public transport. The city is serviced by both trains and buses that criss-cross the region. Depending upon time of day and starting destination, you’ll probably need a reservation for your train ride. Spanish rail has multiple runs a day that pass through the city. (I came and left on the train.)

Sitting in the Train Station, waiting on a connection to Madrid. Burgos, Spain, circa May 2019

The bus station is located centrally, on the south side of the river. I don’t know much about the bus schedules, but after talking with several people who came in to town that way it appears that there are also multiple bus times as well. You can check with the region bus transit website for more info.

Your third option, also quite popular, is waking. Burgos is another one of those towns with a prominent spot on the Camino Francis pilgrimage route. As such, it sees a large percentage of travelers enter and exit on foot each year.

The Burgos International Airport opened in 2008. I confess I don’t know much about this option either, but information should be available on the city’s webpage.

Getting Around Town.

The city is really two different cities. Like most all ancient tourist places, there’s is a historic old city and a new urban city. Burgo’s new section wraps itself around the eastern and southern sides predominantly. The old city is very walkable, and quite congested. If you coming to/from the train station on the north east side, a taxi would probably be best.

There was no marked bus system that I noticed, but there was a lot of bus traffic, so there very well may be one. This is also a big enough population where Uber or Lyft would do quite well. As I don’t use either, I don’t have any information to pass on.

Things To Do And See.

Here things become a contrast between the old and the new. The old is very old, and the new is very new.

The southern ramparts of the Burgos Castle. Or fortress, depending on how you look at it. Burgos, Spain, circa May 2019.

The Castillo de Burgos, on the north side of the river, is the medieval town fortress. Though today it’s a ruin, with ongoing archeological excavations still taking place, it’s well worth making the steep uphill climb to the top of the fortress mount overlooking the majority of the town. It offers great views, especially of the cathedral.

The Burgos Cathedral taken from the courtyard proceeding up to the fortress. Burgos, Spain, circa May 2019

The Burgos Cathedral is also on the north side of the Arlanzon River. It cannot be understated that the Burgos Cathedral is the spiritual and tourist center of the medieval city section. Legitimately, it should be called a cathedral complex. The area contains the cathedral, something like 5 other major churches, a couple museums, and a monetary. There isn’t a spot where you can take a photo of the whole cathedral area, even from the towers of the Castillo.

Started in 1221, the cathedral took several hundred years to build. The interior of the cathedral is overwhelming in its grandeur. I had seen a lot of ornate churches before getting to Burgos. I was glad I took the time to visit the cathedral. It is quite extraordinary.

The casket of El CID. Or, so the sign says. On display at the cathedral in Burgos, Spain. Circa May, 2019

It is also utterly overrun with tourists. The heavy load of tourists puts a strain on the otherwise nice church people. Plan ahead and get there early. This will help with the crowds of people somewhat.

A human skull. One of the many exhibits at the Museum of Human Evolution, in Burgos. Circa May, 2019

Where the old is very old, and World Heritage level, the new also has its draw. The Museum Of Human Evolution is a fully engaging and well curated modern museum. Along with all of the standard exhibits one would expect for a museum based on the growth of the human condition, it also covers several of the areas own archeological excavations.

Located on the south side of the Arlanzon River, it sits in a modern building built specifically for housing the museum. It gets lots of traffic, so expect lots of other people.

Thoughts.

with world-class attractions, good hotels, good restaurants, and a very cool vibe, Burgos is worth your time. It gets a lot of tourists, so you need to be prepared for that. Especially, if you’re coming off the tranquility of the Camino.

I’m glad I stopped. You will be too. Now … get out there. Go find cool new places and stuff!

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Looking At Pamplona A Second Time.

Back in the early 2000s, I took a trip over to Pamplona and ran with the bulls. (I don’t really remember the year without looking it up. Some of it was a bit of a blur.) The San Fermin Festival was a fantastic experience. However, I was drinking for most of it or running away from crazy bovines. I admit that I didn’t spend much time exploring the city.

So when I decided to take a shot at the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage this year, I couldn’t seem to find a better place to start it than Pamplona. The city is old and has a spot directly on the French Way. This starting point would give me a chance to see a city I was once at, but managed to miss out on.

1. Getting There.

Getting to the old city, buried deep in the Basque countryside of Northern Spain, is surprisingly easy. Spain has a well-established public transport system. Airlines, trains, and the bus system all service Pamplona. I caught a flight out of Madrid, for a short hop over to the city.

The city’s regional airport is small, but well maintained, and services several low cost carriers. It’s a two or three room building, with minimal amenities. It’s serviced on the arrivals side by some taxis and the local city bus.

2. Getting Around Town.

There is a central bus service that runs around Pamplona. It has several routes and you can purchase your ride ticket from the driver. After that, you can really walk the main city quite easily. The city is well signed and marked. The old city center isn’t excessively large, and is easy to navigate.

Pamplona city center, May of 2019. The rain in Spain doesn’t slow down the numerous people out walking around the city.

Most all of the must-see historic sights are located in the city’s old town center. Pamplona’s center is a collection of narrow streets connecting squares and plazas.

3. Places To Stay.

Pamplona is replete with good hotel choices. Since it has a university, they are almost a prerequisite. There is everything from hostels to the big chain hotels. I prefer the mom and pop places myself.

All of the major internet hotel sites cover the city. I found a great locally-run hotel with bar, in the middle of the old city center, on Booking.com with no problems.

As far as getting to your new hotel goes, I would say this. If your hotel is outside the city proper, a taxi is going to be a good option. If you’re in the city, the bus system will get you close enough to walk it. Pamplona is a well-established location for starting the Camino pilgrimage. As such, they are used to having big influxes of travelers showing up with baggage, and needing a way to their hotel. The bus is cheap and easy enough to navigate.

4. Things To See And Do.

Exterior of the cloister for the Pamplona Cathedral. Circa May, 2019. The picture was taken from the walkway which runs around the cathedral and city ramparts.

The city Cathedral, and the section of ramparts the secure its backside, are must-see items. There is also a lovely park below the rampart walls that is quite enjoyable, even on a rainy day.

There are numerous museums and old structures in the city that are worth your time. Most all guidebooks cover the must-see items. Even the Camino de Santiago guidebook that I used while there called out the A-list stops.

There are many small squares scattered around the old town center. All of them have some iteration of the outside cafe. They are excellent people watching areas. The squares. are also great places to stop and take a break. The city of Pamplona is built on a slight incline. You will burn some calories walking around all day.

To be honest, I spent a lot of my time walking around the warren of tightly woven street. Drinking in cafes, looking at stuff in shops, and generally absorbing the vibe.

5. Thoughts.

Small city square, located just to the west of the Pamplona Cathedral. A little wet from the rain, but very picturesque. Circa May, 2019.

I highly enjoyed my second run at the city. It has all of the charms you expect from a European city, and a sleepy Attitude that harkens back to its older days as a fortress town. I think you will enjoy a day or two wandering its streets and drinking a beer or a nice glass of the local wine. If you’re up in the Basque corner of Spain, do yourself a favor a check it out.

Now, get out there. Go see someplace new!

A second short story about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

My current part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage ends in Burgos, Spain. I’ve had many grand human encounters along the way. I recommend attempting the trek just for this reason. Talking to people from every conceivable part of the world, and listening to their stories, reaffirms your faith in the human condition. And after all, isn’t that what it’s really all about.

I confess, I’m stopping at this current point due to an extreme apathy. I just don’t know why I’m really doing it or what I thought I was going to get out of it. Even in this short run, I’m absolutely sure that I got more than I thought I would. There’s a truth in walking that you find along the way.

(A half-dozen other pilgrims waiting on a train out of Burgos. Doing a section of the Camino is quite fashionable.)

Now, In all practicality, I made a bunch of miss-steps. I hadn’t planned on the trails being what they were. When the guide books showed nice smooth gravel paths they were being overly kind. There are large section (especially downhill) where the trails is a loose scree of sharp gravel rock more akin to a outback mountain trail. The section of old Román road is particularly daunting! The percentage of paved path is optimistically high, and mainly applies to through-town section. The trail is legit.

I came equipped with a pair of Columbia walking shoes/trekking shoes. These were not the right choice. With the sharp gravel, you want something with a sturdy sole on it. Otherwise, the rocks start to push through, which they did. Also, I literally started to walk the stitching out of them. Tip …. don’t short your footwear!

My next major miss-step was weight. My pack was much too heavy for an extended excursion like the Camino. You definitely want your weight at the absolute minimum. I need to cut my weight by a good 5 pounds or more. That being said, I saw many people suffering along with packs obviously heavier than mine. I wish them Buen Camino!

On this baggage front, there are numerous companies that will transport your bags from town to town. And many pilgrims utilize this service. This seems (to me) missing the point of the Camino. If you want a leisurely walk through the country, there are other numerous options in both Europe and America. That’s just my opinion.

So, I sit at the train station. Sore feet on both sides. Right foot tore up from wearing my Tevas instead of my shoes. Left foot tore up from a blister in the middle of the ball of my foot (which I walked on for several days). My shoulder bones are sore from the pack (not the muscle, the bones), and I am running on low ambition.

Safe to say, I have learned a great deal about what not to do. These lessons were hard won, and won’t be dismissed any time soon.

I don’t think the Camino is done with me yet? I had trouble not putting my pack on and walking this morning. Still, I plan on waiting out any further attempt until I have better feet to carry me.

Lesson. Know when to concede. There is no shame in stopping. There is shame in injuring yourself being stupid. As I have said before; if James had of found a horse, he would have rode it!

Peace. Out.

A couple days into the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage.

Since I came up with the idea of becoming a pilgrim, and maybe finding out something new about myself in the process, the idea of the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage has changed and shifted in my mind. A simple walk across Spain, to potentially learn/experience something new. A chance to . . . Encounter faith. A way to experience new people and points of view. Exercise.

Where I have found every one of those things over the previous days, I have also learned some things about the Camino itself. Trust me when I say, the undertaking isn’t what you think it is.

(The parapet wall behind the cathedral in Pamplona. Tye architecture of the city is still amazing.)

If all you’ve seen about the undertaking has come from YouTube, I can say that’s those portrayals are all pretty accurate. They’re all a little tainted by personal opinion, as is mine, but their accurate enough.

I think the thing that’s most shocking about the whole affair is the lack of actual pilgrims. There are a lot of people walking along a path that is surprisingly well marked and vendor-laden, but I don’t think any of them are out looking for much more than a stamp in a booklet and a bed for the night.

(A realistic picture of the modern pilgrimage.)

To be fair, I’m one of those people. I’m not overflowing with spirituality. I assume this is because I understand too much about people and their motivations. Still, an actual pilgrim, now and again, that would add so much more to the experience.

The initial days under foot have all been ones of decision. The decision: to continue this craziness or stop and go to the beach? Everyday I quit. I’m going no farther. This was a bad idea. And everyday I end up having a conversation with someone I never expected to have which continues my persistence. I still want to quit. Right now. As I type this. But, I’ll get up in the morning and continue on toward Logroño, My pack on my sore shoulders.

(The alter area of Santa Maria, in Los Arcos. A reason, in-and-Of-itself, to walk the path.)

I may have another conversation there that will continue to push me on. I hope I do. That would be great! We’ll all just have to wait and see.

(Your pilgrim’s credential. Your access card to cheap rooms and cheap meals.)

On another note, some logistics. I flew into Pamplona from London, in Iberia. Got the one-way ticket off Expedia for a reasonable price. I stayed at the Hotel Castillo de Javier. Booked it on booking.com. It was centrally located in town, and quite accommodating, though a bit loud.

Since I stated my Camino in Pamplona, I picked up my pilgrim’s credential at the Bishop’s office next to the cathedral. It was either one or two euro. I honestly don’t remember.

More to follow, if my feet hold up.

(I don’t know what the flower is, but their everywhere along the way.)

Buen Camino!

Readying For Europe 2019

One of my two main goals when I departed Kuwait last year was to spend the summer in Europe. The other was to write a new book (which has already been accomplished), but is unimportant to this blog post.

As with the passing of the clock hands, time has cruised by, and it’s almost time to head out for a summer of backpacking and picture taking. The plan (which is rough at best) is to start by undertaking the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage across Spain. After that’s either accomplished or not, I’m going to be on a backpacking train/plane trip across Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Near East. I say it a little tongue-in-cheek because I’ve changed the route about a dozen times, so far. I have absolutely no doubt that it will also change while I’m doing it. The area has so many options that I’m sure I will get distracted. (Hence the title of this blog. HAHAHAHAHA!)

I’m going to start this “series” of post with some logistical information. First will be on plane tickets. I bought my intercontinental plane ticket in advance. I used Kayak.com to scan ticket prices for all airports in Europe, and purchased when I found a ticket that fit my needs. I am flying into London, England, because it was the first ticket that met my pricing requirements. From there, I’ll connect to the mainland by either train or plane.

The ticket search engines of choice for my trips are as follows: Kayak.com, Expedia.com, and Easyjet.com. I find that I like the kayak search engine, and that easyjet and expedia include the majority of low cost ticket options. I plan to use one-way plane flights to connect disparate parts of Europe, without wasting multiple days on the train. This concession to speedy travel is important, because an American tourist is only allowed 90 total days in the EU Zone within any 180 day period. To fit in maximum travel, I need to limit my wasted travel days. That’s why the internal flights are necessary.

Second is the necessity for general getting around. For this I use the train. The continent of Europe has a magnificent rail system. The different country rail systems are all interconnected, and laced together in the different rail timetables. I use EURail.com to purchase multi-country rail passes before I depart America. You’ll get a significantly better rate using a rail pass, as opposed to buying tickets one-at-a-time. I prefer trains to renting cars in Europe as it’s just more convenient. Once you’re in most European cities and towns, you really don’t need a car. I’ve used several different websites to purchase rail tickets over the years. I happen to like EURail.com best. They have good prices, a website that is easy to navigate, and an excellent mobile app to keep up with the train schedules.

Third is hotels and such. Normally I use hotels when in Europe. Mid-range hotels are realistically priced and clean. I use Booking.com for my hotel reservations planet-wide. I like the way the website is laid-out, and I find the mobile app works without issue everywhere I go. If I can book before departing, I do. With the unknown path and timing of this trip, I will be doing a lot of booking on-the-fly.

The initial part of the trip (the Camino pilgrimage) I’ll be utilizing Albergues and Pensiones, which are basically pilgrims hostels. The state-run units are first come, first served. So, it will all be a day-to-day hunt for a bed. (That should work out well.) For the city traveling that comes after that, I am going to try my hand at renting through Airbnb.com. It’s my first time utilizing them, and I’m excited to see how it turns out. If it’s a good experience I’ll definitely continue, as the prices are well-below hotel rates.

Fourth major task is packing. When going to Europe, I normally pack for a European Holiday. On this occasion, the bag will be somewhat different. With the pilgrimage planned for the beginning of my excursions, I’m packing specifically for the Camino. With the addition of a GoPro and some swim trunks, the packing list is Camino specific. When I’m done, I can change out the pack (Send home stuff I no longer need, and add stuff I find while traveling). I’ll be adding a complete list of my Camino packing in an upcoming post, as soon as I know what it’s finally going to be.

Right now, The planned country list goes something like; England, Spain (multiple stops), Holland, Germany (Multiple stops), Austria (Grand Prix weekend), Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland (multiple stops), Croatia (Ultra Europe weekend), Greece (multiple stops), Turkey, Israel (Multiple stops), Romania (multiple stops), Hungary, Switzerland, and then back to England. I’m sure that It’ll change along the way.

That’s the current plan. The next series of post will be coming from this summer’s European and Near Eastern (Turkey, Israel, maybe Lebanon) experiences. I hope you’ll enjoy the notes-from-the-road.

The continets of my Camino backpack. It’s camino specific, at this point.

That’s the basic logistics of the beginning. It should be a crazy trip. I hope you find some useful information that you can use in your own travels. If you have any ideas/suggestions, definitely let me know in the comments.

Now get out there! Go travel somewhere.