Day 11 - Meltdown in Burgos

Today, the Camino goes through the memory lane. I am so looking forward to Burgos. It was the first stop on my very first backpacking trip. Back in 1987 me and a friend set off on an epic Interrrail adventure. We were just 17 and in the pre-internet, pre-mobile and pre-Euro age, traveling through Spain was not as obvious. We only had a tiny Guide du Routard to give some vague directions. We made every rookie mistake in the book. We laughed our way to 22 cities in 30 days. We only fought when we were totally exhausted or lost, which was quickly settled over a beer. It was the ultimate, coming of age road trip. I would give an arm and a leg just to relive one day of that memorable journey.

Camino de Santiago - Near Burgos Airport

But first, I still need to walk 17 km. Fatigue’s been building up, it takes me forever to wake up. The albergue is deserted when I start walking unfashionably late at 9. After crossing the bridge over the Autovia del Norte, I get back into the field. The dirt track totally sucks. Literally. The heavy mud is so sticky, it takes effort to lift my feet, as if gravity was increased by 10. I’m not the only one struggling. Sultan, the fit Hungarian (see Day 9), is screaming every possible 4 letter word in broken English. The path gets slightly better near the Burgos Airport. The million dollar terminal is now a ghost town. One of those disastrous real-estate projects. Megalomania gone mad.

Camino de Santiago - approaching Burgos

After passing Castanares, the Camino follows the fast flowing Rio Arlanzon. The path changes into a busy board walk, used by many recreational hikers and bikers. Why does it feel so long? Maybe I’m too hooked on reaching my destination. After crossing the river, I’m finally entering Burgos. I’m passing zillions of churches, squares and arcades before catching a glimpse of the mighty cathedral. The freshly renovated Municipal should be in its shadow.

Camino de Santiago - busy Burgos Municipal

Surprise-surprise! When I reach the Albergue Casa de los Cubos at noon, there’s already a never-ending row of pilgrims waiting. Seriously? This is getting ridiculous. Soon we’ll have to wake up at 5 to find a bed. I could kick myself for not leaving earlier. Now what? I have to act quickly. The endless line is not moving. Should I keep waiting? By the time it’s my turn, the place might be full. Carry on? The next village is another 10 km, 2.5 hours away. The clock is ticking. Let’s go. I don’t have time for nostalgia.

Camino de Santiago - Burgos cathedral

I decide to visit the Gothic cathedral. It’s more of quick meet ’n greet, I can’t afford another ‘completo’ sign in the next village. Thank God, the visitor centre has big lockers to store my backpack. “Peregrino?” asks the lady at the counter, somehow unnecessary, before granting me the special pilgrim's fee (3.5 instead of 7 euro). I enter the cathedral via the richly decorated Southern door. Audio guide? No thanks, no time. I’m overwhelmed by the architecture. This is French Gothic gone mad, reaching an almost Baroque sense of decoration. Every square inch is filled with marble saints, ornamental grills, golden retables, stained-glass windows and delicately sculpted coats of arms. I’m starting to understand why Paulo Coelho wouldn’t call it a catholic church, but a gothic monument: “You can see the men and women who crafted the whole cathedral. When I went inside, I saw an image of love.” That passion reaches a climax in the hexagonal Constable’s Chapel with its marble embroideries and star shaped ceiling.

I leave the cathedral to admire the actual facade. The 3 arched entrances are now filled with later added, neo-classical doors. The next level showcases a monumental 13th century rosette, crowned by a gallery of 8 arches, one for each Castilian King. The cathedral is punctuated by 2 richly decorated towers shrinking into sharp spires. The Plaza de Santa Maria is filled with smoke and fireworks from a nearby wedding. A rock band is shredding guitars. These devilish noises are almost scaring me. Weird. I’m a metal head. Maybe the Camino is transforming me. Every big city now feels hostile and alienating.

I’m happy to escape through the city gates. By sheer coincidence I bump into Elodie, a Swiss pilgrim, who feels the same way. A huge weight falls off my shoulders when she makes a reservation for the both of us. Now we can walk the remaining 12 km in peace and quiet. Like most parts in and out of major cities, the Camino is dull, following highways and crossing graffiti covered bridges. We take a well deserved coffee break in Tardajos, where a friendly man invites us to his farm. It sounds like one of these magic Camino encounters. We’ll join him tomorrow. Now, we’re already booked at Rabe de las Calzades, hardly 2 km down the road. The albergue Liberanos Domine is bull’s eye. A cosy, welcoming hostel with modern comfort, run by Spain’s hardest working Hospitalieros. I’m happy we walked the extra mile to spend the night here. Thank God I'm a country boy.

Camino de Santiago - Rabe de las Calzades

Travel Essentials

Burgos is a busy, touristic centre.

Make sure you arrive very early at the Casa Municipal Casa de los Cubos near the Cathedral. Or reserve a bed in a private hostel.

Burgos Cathedral.

Gothic gone mad. Absolute masterwork.

Opening hours:

- From March 19 to October 31: from 9.30 to 19.30 h (last entry at 18.30 h)

- From November 1 to March 18: from 10.00 to 19.00 h (last entry at 18.00 h)

- Special schedule. From August 7 to 13: from 9.30 to 18.15 h

- On August 14: from 9.30 to 16.00 h & from 16.30 to 18.00 h

Entrance fee:

- Normal: 7 euro - Student: 4.5 euro - Pilgrim: 3.5 euro

- Tuesday afternoons from 16.30 to 18.30 h (in winter: from 16.30 to 18.00 h): FREE entry.

- If you’re broke you can also take a FREE, sneak peak by entering the cathedral through the main facade

Albergue Liberanos Domine

Plaza Francisco Riberas, 10, Rabe de las Calzadas - better reserve on +34 695 116 901 - Open all year, from 12.00 to 22.00 h - 26 comfy beds, 8 euro, mattress on the floor for latecomers - outstanding pilgrim’s meal: 8 euro - breakfast: 2 euro. Big modern bathrooms, warm showers, washing machines, a truly superb albergue.

Buen Camino!

Next Episode: ‘Day 12 to San Anton - Paranoia in the Meseta’

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