Weekend Wayfarer 3

Since moving to Pamplona in September, I have been settling back in to life in Spain. I've kick started my exercise (kick boxing), upped my output of Spanish (Castellano) and even penned a few thoughts (2016 writing focus). What with the new job, there hasn't been a huge amount of time for exploring the north of the country. However, due to some public holidays and expertly planned trips, this multi purpose blog space once again turns to Travel.


Walking the walk

A couple of weeks ago I arranged to meet some friends in Burgos, a small city steeped in history and also situated on the Camino de Santiago.

Burgos is famous for . . . you have guessed it . . .  a cathedral. Pilgrims, pilgrims everywhere. I have visited a lot of cathedrals (Sienna being my personal favourite), so I just looked at the outside of the one in Burgos.

The city's famous son El Cid (Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar) is buried inside. He lived about 1,000 years ago and helped whichever King paid him the most to defeat Muslims, or other kings, depending on who they wanted to fight. He apparently died in the siege of a city and all he got to show for it was a for Charlton Heston to play him in a film. Poor guy.

We went to a monastery on the outskirts of town and blagged a free tour due to being teachers (we get the occasional win). The bodies of Alfonso XII and Eleanor are buried there among a few other treasures. Eleanor was an English royal sold off to the highest Spanish bidder and they were the monarchs who helped in the reconquest of the peninsula.

Burgos is similar in feel to Pamplona or Germany (depending if you agree with me, or my friend). It's not a showstopper, but there is plenty to see (castles / museums) and eat (blood sausage, cheeses and roast lamb). All in all, it was a good weekend.


Pretty Pilar

Every October, the city of Zaragoza puts on a week long party under the guise of you've guessed it . . . religious fervour. Nobody could give me too many straight answers about what the festival was about - The city, Cristopher Colombus, Music, or some virgin saint - I went along for the ride with my flatmate who's from there anyway.

On top of El Pilar in the cathedral (Cathedrals!!!), sits a tiny statue of Spain's patron saint. People from the city donate ornate dresses to drape over it for some reason. The cathedral is a little like the world biggest jukebox. It has slots every five meters where you can put money in to turn on the lights for that section of the church. They've moved on from the wax candle business anyway.

Like many festivals here, there was a kind of uniform - a black and red neckerchief, and groups adorned themselves in face paint and festival t-shirts in order to go drinking.

Zaragoza itself is not particularly striking, it is a mid sized industrial city in the middle of windy arid desert. However, the city puts on a good old show, splashing for concerts, parades and performances. Rather than see any of that, I decided to go to a rock tribute show (Metallica, ACDC and more). Tribute bands are something of a big business in Spain, especially in the cities that aren't big enough to warrant the bands actually visiting.


On the outskirts

There are 20 or so small villages on the outskirts of Pamplona which are little known, but pretty nonetheless.

I am not the explorer that my cycle enthusiast of a flatmate is, but the Navarra autumn views certainly out inspire you to get out of the city.

The Camino is not the only well marked trail in the province, cycle lanes, river paths and country routes lead you out into natural beauty of Spain's most sparsely populated province.

Along the way, I have encountered mountain views, old water mills, abandoned 18th century factories, ramshackle houses and multiple foragers. That's right, people digging around for mushrooms, chestnuts and any other edible floor matter.

The people of Navarra are very connected with the land. Most of my students tell me they went walking in the 'monteins' (mountains) at the weekend. And yes, I have tried teaching the word for hiking. There are a lot of eco-food and organic festivals in the city, one of which is the celebration of fungus pictured. The lads in the back with funny hats look like they've had a few magic ones.

One particularly nice little village, is that of Sorauren, about 12km for Pamplona. It was a mercifully flat cycle ride following the river and the views were well worth it.

A short drive away is Lekunberri, a traditional little town surrounded by forest and hills. People here are more likely to greet you with Epa (Euskera) than Hola. I'm not sure they took too kindly to English tourists ordering fancy coffees though, we had a distinctly grumpy barman serve us.

Lekunberri is just one of the numerous old villages with pathways into the mountains, small farms and 'casas rurales' for people to rent and have a weekend away. Sounds like a good idea for my impending birthday.


Basque Brilliance

During a long public holiday weekend, I made my way to the Bay of Biscay - the only place in Spain where people have heard of Portsmouth (the ferry goes there).

Spain's fourth city is a multicultural mix of art, business, transport and Basque nationalism. It's a city with quite a lot to offer - good links, beaches and a music scene. There were a good number of different nationalities visiting too, it didn't have a connection with only one type of tourist. I guess an internationally famous museum will do that for a city.

Speaking of the Guggenheim, I finally visited, 17 years after my last attempt. It has become a bit of a running joke in my family that when we came to Cantabria and drove back towards Biarritz, we tried to visit the museum. It was Monday. It was closed. Our plans were scuppered.

The exhibits were not spectacular to be honest (although this one was interesting), but being inside the building was better than being trapped outside it. The flowy shape of the structure does interact with people outside on the promenade, the river and the infrastructure of the city.

With the land sloping down into the river, views of the city were pretty good. - hills everywhere. At least my fellow hostel dwellers never skipped leg day hiking back up from Casco Viejo each night.

The next day I headed onto Donostía (that's San Sebastian to you). Many Basque towns have a name in Euskera and in Castellano, but for some reason, almost everybody uses the Basque name for this one. Anyway, it is a town famous for its film festival, Michelin starred restaurants, high rolling sun seekers, rain, and David Moyes.

If you don't know what a pintxo (pronounced pincho) is, then you might find yourself going hungry in the Basque Country. Small, beautifully prepared little bites - snacking and drinking is the favourite pass time of people here. It is a great way to while away the hours with friends or family.

However, I am someone who is used to eating big meals, so I just can't get into the mindset of pintxos. It is like naps - I don't get it. When I sleep, I want to sleep for 6-8 hours, not for 45 minutes. I just wake up feel groggy and deprived.

If I'm hungry, I want 5 pintxos, 10 pinxtos, and more. And I don't always want 5-10 tiny drinks to go along with it. Then again, if I go for a pinxto just before a meal it feels like an extra, just adding to the waistline. That said, for 30 Euros, you can eat and drink all day, so it's not a bad price for the entertainment of it.

Anyway, the city is very nice, especially when the weather in December is 15 degrees, and it doesn't rain. It has a French riviera vibe, and is a town that has had glories past and present. The food wasn't bad either! I returned to Pamplona feeling festive and ready for another holiday.

There is still plenty in Navarra and the surrounds for me to explore (La Rioja, Forests, Hiking and more food). Here's to the next instalment of Weekend Wayfarer.