Day Forty: Villafranca Montes de Oka to Burgos - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

May 6, 2017

Day Forty: Villafranca Montes de Oka to Burgos

We wanted to believe in the promise of the hostal owner that on this Saturday truck traffic would be minimal on N120. But the road was just outside our window, and though certainly there were not the one after another trucks, there were certainly enough. I had an extra minute during the packing up process and used it to check the Guestbook of this blog. It was a fortuitous step, because the most recent message was from Michael Tordoff, who had cycled the Camino last year. He was well aware of the traffic problem with N120 before Burgos and had some detailed suggestions for how we could get around it.

We go out our maps to see what he was talking about, and realized that instead of continuing on N120 in front of our hostal, we could effectively take a right, right there, and be on Michael's route. In fact, Michael's route was essentially the one recommended in the Bikeline guide, while N120 was preferred by Cicerone.

Salad at Villafranca, a now familiar combination with tuna, olives, onions, peppers and boiled eggs.
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In the early morning, we carefully transcribe Michael's suggested way of avoiding the N120.
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The trucks are already martialling, looking for Dodie.
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But we head north, up the Oca valley and away from it all
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The bypass route would add at least 10 km to the ride, and some extra climbing, but it turned out to be both beautiful and interesting. It began by following the Oka river (down!) past the towns of the Oka valley: Villolomez, Villanasur, Villabos, Villalmondar, and finally a turn toward Cerraton. These towns were essentially deserted. We saw scarcely a person, and no cars in front of any houses. Fine by us! Not so fine was the fact that the day started out at 7 or 8 degrees, and with an extremely stiff head wind. While the force of the wind obviously did not help our cause, it was the chill that caused the main grief. Even with hands in a fist inside gloves, the fingers quickly became painful and stiff. It was a real trial.

While the villages were not beautiful, the road was, and so too the surrounding fields. These were all grass hay and wer in great condition. It's a mystery because we saw only one tractor all day, and as I say, almost no people. Who planted all these fields and with what?

The quiet but freezing road to Cerraton and beyond
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Typical village in the Oca valley
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It is true the road climbed and it is true the headwind was brutal, but it's the fingers I think we both remember most. That is a sign that hills and winds are unlikely to hold us back in the remainder of the Camino. Dodie seems able to use creams, ibuprophen, and the knee brace to make the situation manageable if not comfortable.

We rolled in to the sanctuary town of San Juan de Ortega just at the time the walkers who had been with us at Villfranca arrived as well, by their more direct route.

One of the walkers recounted a dream she had had the night before. She dreamt of us - Dodie mainly. In the dream we had been sleeping in a dorm together and two Spanish men came to the door bearing some kind of gifts. Chief among these was a bouquet of roses for Dodie.

I didn't say anything, and besides do not believe in the supernatural, but I knew we would have to return to the N120 later in the day, and the idea of roses for Dodie made me very nervous. The fact that you are reading this now and all is fine means that of course there was nothing to it.

We also talked to two older people on electric assist mountain bikes at San Juan. They had started at Roncevalles and were following the walking trail - not really cricket. But they attested without the electrics they could not do this at all. They had motor in crank models and said that though their batteries were just 450 watt hours (a medium size) they were able to do 70-80 kms per day on them. Given the number of hills, that's impressive.

The church at San Juan is dedicated to San Juan, who was a disciple of Santo Domingo de Calzada, and who inherited the chores of assisting pilgrims launched by Santo Domingo. so the San Juan church features a statue of Santo Domingo, complete with the now famous chickens, shown at his feet.

At San Juan, electric assist mountain bikers
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The tomb of San Juan de Ortega
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Representation of Santo Domingo, with chickens
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At San Juan we had a look at the walker's trail and determined that to reach Burgos anytime soon we would need to go south and seriously consider the N120. We did that, and reluctantly took to the road. We found that most semi trailer drivers would pull out a bit, but of course never slow down. For ones that passed without much pullout the wind could given us a good shaking. So we started to watch our mirrors and call out "Truck!" when we spotted one, then stop and hang onto our brakes.

Back on the N120 shoulder
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This did not actually go on for very long. We soon came to a spot where a sign directed bikes onto a dirt one track by the road. We rejected that. But shortly the track turned to a wide and packed vertiable "route verte". We gratefully took to that, and it continued well into Burgos. This was something not mentioned by any of the guidebooks. (For that matter, the "Michael Tordoff" bypass turned out to also be an "official" bike route. There was an elaborate sign (at the top, in Spanish) touting it. Hey folks, how about a sign on N120 in some international language instead!)

A bike way appears on N120, but we do not take it right away
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At Burgos, the trucks are resting
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The bike path into Burgos. Also look at the industrial nature of the outskirts
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From the official "Burgos" sign to actually arriving at the cathedral was about 10 kms. That was 10 kms of industry and modern urban 10 story buildings. Our trusty path winked in and out, and finally out. But we used sidewalks and such and followed town centre signs to draw really close to the cathedral. We finally stopped to check the GPS, or something, because we were out of ideas. But Dodie's position on the sidewalk was fortunate - peeking around some building was the spire of the cathedral!

We had carefully chosen a hotel close to the cathedral, so that is where we aimed for. I am not yet clued in to this country, so I was a bit at loose ends to find the hotel comprising a regular sized and locked door. I was puzzling over the various buttons on the "enter code to open door" panel, when Dodie located the buzzer and buzzed it. Instantly a lady came and opened the door. She had been expecting us, since we had phoned yesterday to make sure there would be place for the bicycles.

The hotel is extremely narrow, making that front door about all that could reasonably fit. The lady asked us to lead our bikes though and into a small elevator. On the second floor was a small room where the bikes could stay. Then we descended to the first floor, where the office was - a minature room hanging just off the staircase. However, the lady spoke english and was very hospitable. Our room is adequate in size and modern in appearance. So fine.

The room has double doors that look out on the street that in 1/2 block arrives at the cathedral. As I write this, at 9:30, the street is packed with people. when we went out, at 5, it was empty.

Typical street in the outskirts of Burgos
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It's a big city, but these businesses are closed. They can't be out of business, must just be the 14:00-18:00 dead time.
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Just whhen we thought the whole city was absent, a marching band appeared to greet us
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Flamenco must be a southern Spain phenomenon, but here was a lone street guitarist.
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The view from our window
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Main square in Burgos. They are preparing a fitness fair
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We did go out as soon as possible after getting installed, because the famous Burgos cathedral is a must see.There is an admission charge, reduced to 4.50 for pilgrims. It is worth it. The cathedral is most reminiscent of the one in Milan, because of the insane amount of delicate stone carving both inside and out. It is also reminiscent of Notre Dame de Paris, except for the tall spires. The cathedral was started in the 13th century by French architects, and their version lacked spires, making it look like the Paris version. But in the 14th century German cathedral builders took over, and the thing now resembles the one in Koln.

That would be the outside. But the inside is just so stuffed with over the top stone carving, statues, paintings, wood carving, huge golden carved altar pieces, huge multicoloured altar pieces, sarcophagi with marble carved reclining dead people on top, tombs in the floor, showcases of precious objects, etc. it's mind boggling. We declined the audio guide devices on offer and went with Rick Steves' four page self guided tour out of his Spain book. We walked around and Dodie read out what was in the various huge chapels, halls, crypts, sacristies, cloisters, and whatnot. I only took a few representative photos. It would take years to get a good grip on all this place contains.

A hero of the cathedral is naturally St James (Santiago), who is portrayed as the "Moorslayer" in a major statue. Of course, James as not around to really be slaying moors, but he probably helped spiritually when there were actual moors about, around 1000 years later.

Even a bigger hero at the cathedral is "El Cid" - Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar - who lived 1040-1099. El cid was a military leader who seemed to fight for and against various members of the Castille royal family, as well as for and against various moors. He is this region's most celebrated national hero, not to mention the subject of the 1961 epic film El Cid starring Charlton Heston. The cathedral has his tomb (which has moved around Spain a bit but landed here in the early 20th century), a chest that was his, and a copy of the pre-nup agreement - something he pioneered for dealing with Mrs. Cid.

Another star of the cathedral is the "Fly Catcher", a statue that rests above a clock up near the ceiling. The statue is of the German maker of the clock. It's hinged mouth open and closed when the clock chimes, on the quarter hour, making it like a cuckoo clock. The tourists look up, presumably mouths also agape, when the clock rings.

The Burgo cathedral
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Doorway carving is typical for cathedrals
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On the facade, small detail, this lion looks awfully forelorn
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Many rooms housed sarcofagi
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The German clockmaker - high on a central wall
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Looking up
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One of several vestments on display - 14th century, finely hand woven
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A gothic altar showing the family tree of Jesus springing out of a reclining Jesse. The sculptor built himself in, see below
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The sculptor of the family tree altar put himself in it.
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A silve processional stand
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These stairs were designed by a Flemish Renaissance master who had studied under Michelangelo
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More detail from an altar carving
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Carved choir benches
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The tomb of El Cid
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Detail of wall carvings
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In the Chapel of the High Constable, Mr and Mrs lie side by side. The chapel was commissioned by Mrs. and features a lot of feminine touches/figures on heer side of the room.
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A very large song book used for chanting
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Colourful carving, lots of kids
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Looking up
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Looking up in the same area as above
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Just a few of the chalices on display. Could one be the holy grail? Remember the Indiana Jones scene? Choose wisely!
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Some of the bishops over the centuries
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A glittery golden "something" from 1927
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Cheesy painting of El Cid
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After a couple of hours of just scratching the surface of the cathedral, we needed to either find some restaurant food or deplete the supplies we have in our bags. The trouble seemed to be that at 6 it could still be way too early for restaurants to be serving meals. We killed a little time watching an actually very enjoyable zumba type event in the main square. Four leaders on stage were doing the dance moves, and a really lot of people had donned free tee shirts and were following along in the square. It was kind of a participatory fitness fair, and other installations had people doing other activities.

We found a restaurant willing to serve a meal and took our places in the empty dining room, or comidor. We see that the usual structure is for there to be a bar, where people can drink or eat tapas, and then the dining room is a separate space within, for serious eaters. Our 12 euro "menus" brought me another great salad, and Dodie asparagus in cheese. Dodie then had a beef stew and I ham and cheese stuffed chcken breast. These choices were similar to what we have seen and eaten on other "menus", but here the quality was a couple of steps higher. Similarly our dessert tiramisu and cheescake was of good quality. I also went crazy and paid 1.50 for one ounce of coffee.

Burgos gets a thumbs up from us. Not to mention we are tickeled to have made it here!

Back on the street
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Tapas - about which we know little
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Kids at fitness fair
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Very active zumba like session
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Another typical salad - this time adding asparagus
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Chicken and fries. Fries seem to accompany almost everything
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The street below our window at 9:30
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Today's ride: 50 km (31 miles)
Total: 1,750 km (1,087 miles)

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