The next portion of the Camino was going to be the “meseta”. The meseta is the name given to the large and expansive flat plains of central Spain. Beginning just after Burgos, and ending in Astorga, the Camino Frances travels through the northern point of the meseta for approximately 220km. It is renowned for it’s long stages, empty landscapes, and big skies, while often being very hot and dry in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.
I decided to skip it and bump ahead, first by bus to Burgos and then a train to Leon. This would give me time to explore two really interesting cities, and perhaps allow me to reach Santiago by mid-May.
The bus from Belorado got me there by 10:00am. Since my albergue didn’t open until 1:00, I used the time to get some breakfast and sit in the square. My poor shoes were absolutely caked with dried mud and I took the opportunity to clean them. I have a little credit-card sized tool I used to dig out the crevices. The shoe on the left is done, the one on the right is not! And so, I left some of the Camino in the main square.
The sun had come out and the square was bustling. I was in the Plaza Santa Maria, where the extraordinary 800-year old Cathedral stood.
After I got into my albergue, I got a proper lunch (wine included of course) and then a nap. There was only one other person in my dorm room – a girl from Belgium who was just finishing up 2 weeks on the Camino.
I wandered around the city for a while.
My feet were really tired, so I stepped inside the cathedral. The main part was closed but there was a little chapel off to the side that said (in Spanish) “No tours. For worship and prayer only.” I walked in and was astonished to see the most ornately decorated chapel. Cherubs popping out everywhere and symbolic depictions of various saints. And at the very top of the altarpiece was Jesus on a horse, wearing a turban, wielding a sword and crushing some unfortunate Moors.
It turned out they were just starting a Pilgrim’s Mass. So I stayed…and spent much of the time just taking in the intricate detail of the place.
Later that night two processions were scheduled. I saw one…a very solemn affair with brass bands, people dressed in the traditional costumes of the penitent (which look disturbingly like KKK robes but predate them by hundreds of years) and a depiction of the crucified Christ.
It was now 10:00pm, the latest I’d been up since I arrived in Spain! The Plaza was all lit up and the place was still bustling with activity.
I really wanted to see inside the main part of the Cathedral, so the next morning I attended an “Oficio de Lecturas y Laudes” – a service of lessons and songs. This time there was a booklet so I could follow along. It was very ritualized, as are most Catholic services. There were 10 officiants and none looked a day under 60 years old. A greying clergy. The inside of the main cathedral was stunning. (Note: I took these pictures after the service had concluded.)
I was determined to see the famous medieval castle, so after a little breakfast, I schlepped myself up the steep pathway. The origin of the castle dates to the Visigoths, and its oldest parts, to the Romans. Apparently it was last used by Napoleon. Some history here.
Amazing views from the top. The whole thing was very Lord of the Rings.
There was a little cafe there and I stopped for an Amstel with lemon. Weirdly, there was an old caboose. I asked the bartender ¿Por qué hay un vagón de ferrocarril aquí? (Why is there a railroad car here?). He shrugged. Best I could tell, his answer was something like “Nobody was using it anymore, so they put it here.”
I made my way down the hill and found a place serving lunch…the biggest hamburger I have ever encountered. Seriously, the thing was on a piece of focaccia about 6 inches square. I saved half for later haha.
And now, I go to find my train to Leon!