4th-5th Sept Homeward bound

Leaving Madrid was seamless and my Uber driver Daniel was charming, chatty and fast. Madrid’s early morning traffic density surprised me because in our part of the city it is quiet till about 9 but in the outer suburbs it is all go at 6.30!

Madrid’s airport is the second largest in Europe and I needed a train to get to my gate. So efficient. No delays and very well organised boarding. My seat companion was Elena from Woodend in Victoria and we hit it off immediately. How lucky? She had been visiting Spain with her husband who is a French Australian,working on a project in Kuwait with a Spanish team. Very international. She was a musician, high school career advisor, budding potter and painter. We had lots in common and the flight went quickly.

She was only in Abu Dhabi for a couple of hours but I had a 14 hour stopover. We parted ways and I opted for the airport transit hotel. It was more expensive than I expected but the luxury of a bed, private ensuite, TV , wifi and tea making facilities was worth it. Especially when I emerged at 4 am to find bodies slung over chairs and across the floors.

I grabbed a breakfast and then did some exploring. When I found a waiting lounge and a chair I was only there for awhile before Airport staff came by and closed the lounge and sent us all off! I went in search of a lounger seat and eventually found one where I settled to read and nap. As boarding time neared I headed down the very long corridor to my gate, got settled and proceeded to wait. Once again we were all roused to leave the lounge so that we could all have our carry on checked for liquids and aerosols before returning to the lounge area.

I am getting hungry again but will wait for the plane. They have been giving me Gluten free meals this flight which have been good. Not long now!

3rd Sept. Last day in Madrid for me.

Previous visits to Madrid had not allowed enough time for art galleries so I was determined to squeeze them in this time. Madrid is a city of arts and galleries and really you need a much longer time than I have to really make the most if it.

I was up early and Peter and I headed for the Prado. Wonderful and overwhelming at the same time. We did a self guided tour ( meaning we walked back and forth missing and then finding, our special paintings!). It was a sensory explosion. We decided we had seen a lot of medieval religious art over the month so we only gave that area a cursory look. Still one painting from that era has stuck with me. It seemed so fresh and modern but was from the 12th C. Lots to see but after 2.30 hrs we were done. There is only so much you can absorb. Peter and I headed off to revive with fresh air and ice creams.

We needed to meet up with Karen and Andy at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Gallery. I had been here before but as they were only just starting their visit, ( they had been waylayed by a couple they met at a cafe) Peter and I went in for another art bath. This is a more modern collection with impressionists and Renoir and Jackson Pollock to name a few. It was also interesting and inspiring for me. About 1.30 hrs later I was starving and needed a break.

We were all hungry now and brain dead! I wanted to wash some clothes I needed for the return trip so I was eager to get back to the apartment. We only have one set of keys so keeping tabs on each other was needed. Andy wasn’t hungry but we found an Indian restaurant close by and had a massive lunch. I should have shared the plate because I had indigestion all afternoon.

Although I was ready for a nap we decided to play our last game of cards. I have become pretty competent over the last few weeks and gone from a regular loser to a frequent winner. By 7pm the washing was done and out drying( thank you Madrid for turning on a nice 27 C finish), we headed off to the Reina Sofia Muséum to see Picasso’s Guernica. That was my final wish and then a snack and bed!

Guernica – extraordinary.

Trying to find the exit was a bit of a challenge. We can find our way across Spain but not out of the Gallery! Flashes of my experience in Kyoto station came to me. Once again we headed back to our apartment but we were looking for an ATM so I could withdraw some money to pay my share of the car. It seemed like I would be thwarted as there were none to be found and when we did, it was out of order. A bit like this trip. Haha!

Of course there turned out to be more than one and all was sorted. Close to home stopped for a light dinner and drink to mark the end of the trip. It was light and tasty but with tiredness plus indigestion from lunch, by the time I got to the top of the stairs at the flat I was desperate and hurrying Andy to get the three locks(!) open because I was about to vomit. I felt ghastly and was scared it might go on and on. I vomited on my hair too( damn long hair) so I needed a bath and hair wash.

I ventured upstairs to our public bath but found there was a modesty screen provided at least. Standing up was out of the question so it was a sit down shower in the bath. I don’t think Peter will cope!

I went to bed with queasy stomach but slept and was fine in the morning. What a relief. Called the Uber and I was off for my marathon journey home. Farewell Madrid , I hope to return.

2nd Oct. Madrid

We strapped on our backpacks to hike up to the car and make our last journey in it to Madrid. We have been very grateful for it and though our trip changed it added dimensions we would not have experienced without a car.

This route was much more a hike through Spain than a Camino. The distances between towns were longer and accommodation more difficult, especially for a group of four. The Ruta de la Lana is a trade route and as such is not so well supported for walking continuously. Having said that, it was a fabulous opportunity to see much of wild Spain and some different and significant historic cities. It has been one of the most scenic walks I have undertaken and the quietest. The car gave us opportunities to visit places we would not have been physically capable of doing without a tent!

We managed to exit Burgos quite easily in the end and travelled on to Madrid with one stop for Churros and Chocolste. Our first in the whole trip. The chocolate was liquid – just and the churros fresh cooked. Delicious but not gluten free!

Churros and Chocolate

Arriving in Madrid was daunting for Karen and the plan to get as close to the apartment to drop bags was thwarted by the special zone restricted to residents it was in. Plan b was just go to Hertz at Atocha station after filling up with petrol first. All was accomplished without mishap though Karen was somewhat strained as the driver! Once we left the car Peter and I decided we were not walking but would take a taxi and so we grabbed one large enough (just) for all and where at the apartment in about 10 mins. And €10. Well spent as it turned out because Karen and I had to go to another street ( not far) to retrieve the keys from a key safe in a Lock and Go place.

As it turned out we didn’t have an access code that we could find for the actual lock and Go but some one came at the same time who did and we were able to enter and retrieve our keys. We would have been ropable if we had walked there and had that bother. Once we returned to the men minding our gear on the footpath we entered and climbed to the 4 th floor (again – what is it with us and 4th floors?)

Colour coded keys for colour coded door (no number I could see!) and we were in a very cool but quirky place. Bright light, spare, IKEA furnished odd. There are two fold out beds downstairs and an attic bedroom and bath up a winding , narrow staircase. The toilet is downstairs near the front door abd my bed. Bath has no privacy but is open in the bedroom. It was not meant for four old fogies that is for sure! We all like it despite the oddities. Very artist/young person on an adventure in Madrid feel. You could write your novel sitting in the bath.

Once we’d all had a cup of tea and snacks as well as wine we went out to explore. Heaps of restaurants- very multicultural area near the Reine Sofia art gallery. It was a bit overwhelming for us because apart from Burgos every place has been so quiet and siesta time was adhered to strongly. Big City, lots of people, more shops and bars open and it was aperativo time. Not a table to spare! We walked about three streets before returning and finding a table at last. We had a jug of Sangria and some lovely snacks. Then we headed back closer to home to La Barbiera an Italian restaurant. Very busy, cool and with good food and a fabulous blues singer and guitarist. The noise was energising for me but Karen was finding it a bit overwhelming.

The news that Bolselro fromBrazil was likely to be ousted had brought out the Argentinians to celebrate and they were loud, happy and singing!

What a fun start to Madrid.

1st Oct. Exploring Burgos

Last time I was here I was walking the Camino Frances and arrived tired and time pressed. I had a massage and did the minimum sightseeing. This time I have really enjoyed exploring the city and discovering its vibe. We are so lucky to have finally arrived in the middle of a festival. The Cidiana- festival of medieval times and commemoration of El Cid. I have decided I have a crush on him. He seemed a really interesting person and what a looker! He is buried in the Cathedral here. He is a real hero in Spain.

Peter and I visited the Museum of human development. It traces human development from the earliest times with bones and artefacts retrieved from the archeological dig at Alapuerta outside Burgos that has traced the development of humans in Europe. It was fascinating and with new human species discovered in the last 20 years it is filling the gaps in evolution. They had excepts from Darwin’s journal that made me think I should read The Origin of the Species. His wonder at the variety of flora and fauna was inspiring.

All that brain strain brought on a raging hunger so we left for lunch. Our tickets were free because we are Seniors and lasts all day.

Revived by lunch we went up to the castle that looks over the town. While we were wandering around we kept seeing people in medieval costumes. Then we heard music and singing so we returned from the castle to watch some jousting, archery and sword fighting.

I made a trip into the Cathedral while Peter went souvenir shopping. It is the fanciest cathedral with lots of embellishments but also some beautiful sculptures, altars and stained glass. This time the cloister was open. I had not registered previously that it had one!

We bumped into Karen and Andy and headed back to the jousting for a snack and a look at the medieval falcons. There were several birds and two kookaburras. I felt a bit sad to see them but the carer was very attentive and the birds seemed affectionate with him.

We finally returned to the flat for a dinner of lentils and rice and headed out for the night parade. There were horses and lots of people dressed in medieval costumes with flaming candles. At the end we went home but there was another parade at 11.00 pm! It was all to do with El CID’s life. Also the commemoration of the Cathedrals 800 years was achieved by art installations around the town and a lot of restoration work in the Cathedral.

The music

The place was abuzz and occasionally I wondered about Covid. It has not been mentioned here though people wear masks sometimes and always in a pharmacy and on public transport. Life seems so normal. It has been a great relief to be away from the constant barrage of Covid news or in fact any news! We have dipped in a little but not much.

It was a wonderful day and so lively compared to many of our nights on this trip where everything was closed.

29th to 30th Sept. Santo Domingo de Silos to Burgos

Today Andy and I returned to Quintanarrayo to complete the walk to Santo Domingo de Silos. I was a bit undecided about doing it but I didn’t want Andy to go alone and Peter was in too much discomfort to do the hilly part of this day. I was so glad I did go. It was a wonderful walk with forest and ravines and more quaint towns and I felt really good at the end when we came over the hill to see Santo Domingo below. It was about 23kms and pretty cold so we walked fast. We were also racing the potential rain. I put my poncho on and felt like a walking plastic bag but it did feel warmer if noisy! Swish , swish!

We arrived starving but just minutes before the rain finally fell hard and persistent for the rest of the day. I was cold and needed to wrap up in a rug to get warm. Karen had made a substantial lentil soup. God bless her! I had two huge bowls. None of us wanted to go out so we did our media etc and then settled in for cards.Andy has had a run of bad luck ( losing) so he and Karen suggested we learn to play bridge. Well, I kind of got the basics but after three hands we reverted to Nomination Whist.

I think we just didn’t quite have the brain energy for more challenges. Peter is feeling even worse and really needs a dentist. We decided that he and Karen should go straight to Burgos and the dentist suggested by our Airbnb host in the morning. Andy and I would walk from Santo Domingo de Silos to Covarrubias about 17 kms. Hopefully Karen and Peter would meet us there and we would go to just outside Burgos and walk the last 5 kms.

It was a sobering walk out of Santo Domingo de Silos through fire devastated forest. Even more extensive than we had seen the other day. Everything was black and silent and one tree had branches snapped off leaving an almost red wound. The burnt timber was being harvested as it was charcoal outside but still usable timber inside.

Devastated foredt

We also came across a limestone quarry and I was blown away by the size of the blocks that were cut.

It was cold again even with another layer and we walked through cloud mist as we climbed the mountain. It was good when we finally heard a few birds and saw a deer.

We came into Retuerta past some very fancy bodegas but alas no bar or cafe. So it was a cold seat outside the church with a banana and a muesli bar to fortify us for the next 4kms. We had good news from Karen and Peter. They had presented themselves to the dentist surgery at 10 am and were seen immediately. The dentist X-rayed Peter’s mouth and ascertained an infection in the root of a tooth. She prescribed antibiotics and anti- inflammatory drugs and said she could remove the tooth on Monday after the antibiotics had done their job. it cost €20 and €6 for the drugs. Roughly A$40. Very good value! Peter was soon feeling considerably better and felt he could do the last 5 kms into Burgos which is part of his commitment to walking to Burgos.

With that good news we quickened our pace and we were soon in Covarrubias. I was cold and starving as usual and decided to have something from the panderia with a hot coffee. Not gluten free but food!

What a charming town. A bit touristy but with good reason. Very quaint buildings, rubbish bins disguised as buildings, a story of a young Norwegian princess married to Felipe abad de Covarrubias in 1257 which has since instigated a twin city arrangement with Ionsberg Norway in 1978. They also have an arms museum and seem to do re-enactments of the fight between Christian’s and Muslims on Saturdays. It was one of the first towns reconquered from the Moors.

We headed off to our drop off point outside Burgos while Karen headed into Burgos to find the Airbnb and a parking spot. She has the tough job!

Our walk was much more pleasant than my first encounter with Burgos which was through industrial areas. Since then there has been a new alternative path avoiding the highway and using a defunct railway line. It was flat! We walked quickly and covered the 5 kms to the Cathedral easily. Andy was disappointed to find the bar he had visited many years before which had been in the movie The Way has been renovated. We had our photos taken outside the city walls as per the photo on Peter’s fund raising poster to mark our arrival in Burgos.

Our apartment building overlooks the Cathedral but has 95 stairs (4 stories) to climb. Second time up with the contents of the car, parked 10 minutes away seemed quicker! Best aspect is the JAPANESE restaurant down stairs!!!

28th Sept Santo Domingo and surrounds

We are all tired and today was a rest day. Andy outlined the walk up to Sad Hill Cemetery, the last scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly filmed near here. It was only as we were trudging up the hill that I realised it wasn’t 4.5 kms all up but to and from! I did say to him , ‘What part of rest day didn’t he get?” We should have driven because once we got to the top of the hill it was a long winding road down to the cemetery. We all decided the view from the top was probably the best aspect anyway! We returned, thankfully downhill.

On the walk up to Sad Hill and subsequently as we drove to the gorge we could see the ravages of the recent forest fires this past summer. Santo Domingo was almost surrounded so it must have been extremely worrying for the locals and the Monastery.

Sad Hill Cemetery
Fire damage

Next stop was the Yecla gorge (by car!). Wow! How dramatic it was after our gentle undulating country walking. We could understand why they chose this part of Spain to make the film. This country is so surprising with such contrasting landscapes.

To get to the gorge you drive through two tunnels cut in the mountains. Then we walked into the gorge on a well built path. Above circled many vultures. We have seen them many times and I think we occasionally thought they were eagles. On this occasion there was no doubt. I could photograph them on the cliff edges and they flew low.

After the gorge we drove to Lerma an interesting town with a Duke’s palace, now a Parador with a gorgeous courtyard lounge area. There was a poet’s walk outside the St Teresa’s convent with Poems by Jose Zorrilla, whose sculpture was sitting on a seat. I love these little things about Spain. We missed the market but a pulse and spice stall was still open. The produce was displayed so attractively in white bags. We wandered around and found a little place for lunch. I have been craving a bit of meat- I think it is why I was tired. So I had pork chops and Morçilla sausage with salad. A very happy girl after!

Pulse and Spice stall

Another successful day. Only a week left of our trip.

We headed home but saw a supermarket and got excited. At home we are blasé about supermarkets but in Spain many of these places only have a little shop and they have to travel to bigger places to see a supermarket and they aren’t as big as ours. We have really appreciated them when we find one! We stocked up on basics and wine and fruit. We still have a few days to go. I was able to get some gluten free bread and gluten free muesli bars for walking. Then it was home for a light dinner and off to the church to hear the monks sing vespers. They ask you not to photograph and it felt intrusive to do so but I did video the sound of singing. It was very harmonious and gentle. We were surprised by the number of younger monks. There were some who were also very old. They must live a peaceful life.

Peter has developed a severe tooth ache which is getting worse. The most likely opportunity for a dentist will be Burgos. He was trying to wait till he returned to England but it is getting too painful. We are trying to organise a dentist through the Airbnb host.

27th Sept. San Estaban to Santo Domingo de Silos

Walked in two stages today from San Estaban. The first 8kms was through wheat fields. Not a soul around. If you got injured you would be hard pressed to get help if you were solo!

Our first town was just a workers hamlet where someone liked to sculpt wooden characters.we saw pretty kittens in a ruin. People feed the cats and you often see trays of kibble and bowls of water outside in the street. Karen met us here and we drove to our next staging point. Along the way we had our third deer scare. They are like kangaroos and jump across in front at the last minute! We expect it so no problem but you need to be aware. Later we saw four or five grazing mid wheat field. I have never seen so many deer on a trip before.

Alcubilla de Avellaneda is a wine town on the wine route in Riberia with an oenology museum. Needless to say it was all closed as was the Cafe! Only Andy and I walked this stage as it was hilly and Peter doesn’t like hills!

Rolling hills, oak forest and quite isolated. We are crisscrossing the El Cid route again and there have been big signs up. It is a shorter walk which might be popular with hikers though not at this time of year! Still haven’t seen any other walkers except the one guy a few days ago.

This time Peter and Karen met us for the last two kms. We had a rest outside some bodegas where there was a communal fire and tables and benches. No matter how small a place is there is always a communal square with a bench at the least, or a few meeting places. It is an aspect of Spanish culture I find very attractive.

Our destination town was a bit more substantial and I was delighted to see a magnificent black horse walking untethered and unaccompanied behind a car that it was following. I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture, but it was being taken somewhere. That image just stuck in my brain all day. it was glossy black and well groomed with a yellow face halter. Gorgeous.

Shortly after that we were distracted by the loud horn of a truck. It was the fruit and vegetable man. People come out and buy what they need. The bread van comes to the villages too. No internet accounts needed. I was eager to get some fruit and delighted to see an avocado! You don’t pick the fruit yourself. That is bad manners. But the man was so kind , he picked an avocado that was soft for eating but as it was a bit softer at the top he didn’t charge, nor for the nectarine that was a slight bit crinkled. Both pieces turned out to be perfect inside (despite my scepticism).

We collected the car and headed through amazing rugged, rocky canyon country to Santo Domingo de Silos. What a contrast to our walking terrain!

26 th Sept. Fresno de Caracena to San Estaban de Gomaz

We are travelling through El Cid country so there are many signs around with a knight on horseback like on the wood heater in our Airbnb.

Today was a delightful walk. Not such a cold start and lovely sunshine all day. It was a steady climb up so we soon got warm. We passed through two towns, neither of which had a bar open so it was muesli bars to keep us going and water for the 19 kms.

One of the towns had pretty street signs with poems under each sign and some one was immortalising some local cats. Some of these little towns surprise you.

This area has an enormous number of botegas- cellars dug into the hill sides that look like hobbit houses. They are used for storing grain or produce because of the even temperature. In San Estaban where we are staying overnight, the hill side has about 300! Some look like they might even be lived in.

We passed through wheat fields, vineyards, vegetable farms and apple orchards. The onions could be smelt from the road. They were huge white ones. Most of the pickers were Africans.

When we finally arrived at San Estaban we couldn’t get into our place till after 4 and it was only 2pm. Karen had already explored the town and Peter was tired so it was only Andy and I who wanted to wander. Looking for a bar or restaurant on the way, only to find once again they were closed from the date we arrived! We keep missing out but we manage to get enough groceries to keep our selves going. I had my first pork ribs and pinchos (olives, chilli, beans and anchovies). I was craving something different.

We checked out the Romanesque churches which had unique covered porticos. They were the original source of the style copied later by other churches.

After waiting to get in we were tired and I went up for a nap. Karen set to making dinner, a rice with curried chickpea and vegetables and a mixed green salad. I had been craving salad for a couple of days. Then it was a couple of games of cards and off to bed. I was very happy to snuggle into bed and slept immediately.

25 th Sept Retortilla de Soria to Caracena

It was 2C when we walked out this morning for the next leg of our walk. Frost on the soccer field. I was freezing! I wish I had not sent my fleece home!! We walked briskly but my hands just wouldn’t thaw. Tomorrow I will wear my spare socks as gloves and my thermals under my shorts. The day warmed and soon it was really perfect walking weather. Once we entered the gorge it was wonderful. Really a hike in the wilderness with eagles soaring, deer leaping up the hillside and rocks to clamber over. We loved it all. Three river crossings but with stepping stones this time. This walk/Camino is much more of a nature walk then any others. So far only one pilgrim has been met. The car has enabled us to see other aspects of the country and shorten our days walking so it is not a pure pilgrims walk. We would be hard pressed getting stamps as many churches are closed and we are not using Albergues because we have the car, but also the distances between are much longer than we want to walk.

Karen greeted us at a natural arch making bubbles! It was lovely to walk the rest of the way with her. After a quick look at Caracena we headed for El Burgos de Osma.

On the way we passed the largest espaliered netted apple orchard I have ever seen. It was kilometres long and wide. The processing plant had hundreds of plastic and wooden cartons stacked metres high.

Our first stop in town was a cool bar with great music and a modern menu. Mushroom Canoloni (yum, but not gluten free) Hummus with beetroot and hummus with spices , veggie sticks and corn chips (what I should have had!). Fortified, we wandered through the town and stumbled on a concert (singer and good music) plus the Cathedral, Bishop’s Palace and medieval street scape. As everything shut down for siesta we wandered up to the castle that stood above the town. ( This area is graced with Castles everywhere. It was a frontier between the Christians and the Moors for centuries)

We took a left turn when we entered the Castle ramparts and found our way into the castle by breaching the roped area and literally climbing the wall! Only after we had scrambled over did we see the path in was from the other side.

The view was spectacular over the town. While we wandered around we heard fabulous music wafting up which I was sure was flamenco or gypsy music. Must have been loud if you were next door!

By the time we returned to town the Cathedral was open so we paid our €3 to enter. It had a beautiful cloister and I was surprised that it wasn’t as large inside as we expected. It was built between the 12th and the 16th Centuries.

We were then in search of a restaurant but we were all tired by now and hanging around for restaurants was not so appealing. It was Sunday and nothing open as it turned out. We stumbled on a petrol station which had a few basic groceries as well as petrol, so we opted for home and a clean out the fridge dinner.

It is getting cold in the mornings and at night so I have dragged out the thermals for walking. I will be a tragic sight with thermals under shorts and socks for gloves but it is what I need to do to keep warm!