Now, at last, the final post – Spanish Road Trip Part 3. After leaving Santiago de Compostela, we drove to Santander to catch the ferry home, but taking an inland route via Leon and Burgos. There were still many pilgrims, but now passing us going the other way… Catch up with the previous post here
Our first stop was Lugo – it formed a natural coffee-break stop on the way to Leon, and I had read that the old city had the most completely intact circle of Roman walls in the world, and also a pretty cathedral. However, it proved to be an absolute nightmare and a half to park – in all the other cities we had visited I had taken us straight to the relevant hotel car park… I made sure to book places that had car parks. Sometimes we had to pay through the nose for parking – in Bilbao it was 27 euros for 24 hours – but it was worth it to save the hassle. By the time we had parked in Lugo we had virtually lost all interest in the place!
But, indeed, the city had impressive walls, and the Cathedral was worth seeing – quite small, but very striking, and had a quiet, mystical atmosphere.
Then, we drove on a motorway through the foothills of the Picos de Europa towards Leon. Once again, the road was traffic-free, with some alarmingly high viaducts over steep valleys. By this time, the weather was starting to close in a bit, and sadly, much of the mountain scenery was obscured by mist. We had difficulty in finding somewhere to get off the motorway to eat our lunch – it is not always clear that you can get on if you get off, and the terrain was so mountainous that slip-roads spiralled down into valleys far from the main carriageway.
In Leon, we were staying in the Hospederia Monastica Pax – as its name implies, a hotel converted from a monastery. Monastic calm – er… no. The place was quite monastic in style, plain, bare floors etc,., and many of the other residents seemed to go to services at strange hours – Compline, Matins, Lauds, Prime or whatever they are called, which involved clattering up and down the passages. Worse, we had builders right outside the window… and first thing, a man with a leaf-blower in teh square below. However, as you can see below, there was a nice little bar where we ate supper.
However, Leon Cathedral is quite magnificent, and for me, another of the highlights of our trip. It is a graceful gothic building, and the stained glass was just unbelievable – most of it original, undamaged and unaltered. It is the best I have ever seen – better than Chartres. Photographing stained glass is really difficult, so I have included photos from the internet…
The rest of the city did not grab us that much, but then we did not see all of it – by now, it had started to rain. One bonus though, we saw a stork on its nest. Turns out we saw plenty more, but it was a surprise to see our first one.
Our next destination, Burgos, is an attractive city – open, with many interesting buildings, but then it was sunny again – everything looks better in good weather.
We had a lovely hotel, which Battleaxe would totally recommend – another modern place, the Abba Burgos, right near the old city centre. We could see the Cathedral spires from our window, and even another stork’s nest!
The big draw in Burgos is again, the Cathedral, which is one of the largest in Spain. Indeed it is massive, and very impressive, but we did not like it quite so much as others. It felt touristy and lacking in atmosphere, and had been over-cleaned – it looked far too pristine.
After the Cathedral, we did something completely different – went to the Museum of Human Evolution. In the suburbs of present-day Burgos is another ancient cave site –Atapuerca, where they have found some of the earliest hominid remains ever found in Europe – from nearly a million years ago. I say hominid, not human – this was before homo sapiens appeared. Those folks must have lived in those caves for a long time, because they have also found well-preserved fossil remains of others, including Homo Heidelbergensis, who lived there around 3-4,000,00 years ago. These remains now form the core of the Burgos museum, and they have put together whole displays on the evolution of humanity, including a great life-size wax-work gallery with all of our ancestors on show. This little woman person in the picture below is Homo Habilis. It was really interesting, but I can’t imagine what fundamentalist creationists must think of it. I am surprised the museum is not more heavily guarded.
Burgos is very big on El Cid – he is buried in the cathedral – another Moor-slayer – they seem keen on them in this part of Spain.
The next day we set off to Santander via a garden centre, where I bought two oleanders to take home, and then stayed on a quieter road for a very spectacular mountain drive through empty countryside, with occasional ancient stone villages clinging to the valley sides. In parts the road was so high it was lined with poles to show winter snow levels…
Arrived at Santander in the pouring rain and had rather a boring wait for the ship, which left at 8pm. Needless to say it was very rough indeed, and this way round we had no time to acclimatise ourselves before the boat plunged into the stormy Bay of Biscay. Also, we had a cabin right at the front – poor Philosopher was sick.
We docked at Portsmouth about 7.45pm the next day, and had to wait about an hour before leaving the boat – we were right on the very bottom deck – it was panic-inducing to hear huge lorries heaving and groaning across the ceiling just above our heads, and terrible banging and clanging…
All in all it was a great holiday, but quite tiring – we crammed a lot into a short time.