Thursday, 24 December 2009

What a difference a day makes

written 19th December

The cathedral was, of course, every bit as awesome (in the old fashioned sense the word, not a cheesy american teenager sense) as Bill had promised

and, leaving Jules in another snowy layby, after a quick stop for coffee, the sun even came out!

According to the history section in the lower cloister, the current cathedral is built on the site of a small, unassuming looking church which was built around 1080 and modestly extended in 1180. 

In 1219, or thereabouts, the King decided that it just wasn't big enough (something to do with him getting married, not sure if he wanted to get married in Burgos and couldn't or had it rebuilt in anticipation of his marriage - was trying to read the spanish as the english brochure stopped upstairs which was a shame, deinately something about king and marriage) so ordered a new cathedral built.  They started in 1221, had the first mass in 1230, and finished most of it by 1270 - quite impressive in 50 years when you consider the neverending slow progress of the Sagrada Familias in Barcelona which is the only other cathedral we have been to which comes close to Burgos (but they have funding constraints and a dead architect (Gaudi) to contend with, amongst other things) - and it is simply immense.

There is nothing left of the original church and on the model it took up about a quarter of the floor plan of the current edifice and a third of the ceiling height so it was a massive change for the town.

Inside, the soaring central nave and choir (with El Cid's grave between them) are surrounded by chapel after chapel full of high ceilings and ornately carved and gilded reredos

(relief wall decorations depicting things like the begats of Jesse through to Jesus, and Jesus' life)

and everywhere there are stone bishops sleeping on pedestals and in alcoves - there have been a lot of bishes.

Somewhat incongruously, instead of the hallowed organ music we were expecting, the cathedral staff were in full on christmas mood so we bopped our way around to "lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you", "Walking in a winter wonderland" and "santa claus is coming to town".  which was fun :)

The upper cloister and some of the chapels were closed for restoration - an ongoing thing from what we could understand of the history section - but even so we had a good couple of hours of amazement and it was definately worth the trip.

Deciding that Burgos was just too cold for any tourist office, guided walk fun - we have done a lot of that recently anyway - we decided to set off once more.  Burgos has been the destination for a while now, with no real plans after that.  Our options were following the pilgrims route to Leon - another place featured on the cold weather news - or taking up Bill's suggestion of a good driving road, N623, between Burgos and Santander so we decided to head north and down, in the hope of fine driving and warmer temperatures.  The map promised some light wiggles and a pass or two at around 1000m which sounded good to us, and conveniently passed Carrefour so we were able to stock up - and i have bought my first ever spanish cheese (Tierno)! 

We contemplated snow chains but they were expensive so we didn't but i was allowed some lovely cheap fluffy boots - yay new shoes!

The road started off well, nicely clear and gritted, through more wide open expanses of what I presume to be fields but covered in snow, 

then wound its way into the mountains and through massive natural rock cliffs which reminded us very much of the landscape we drove through in Texas beween Austin and Big Bend National park -  although on a less epic scale than Texas where after 10h driving you are still only half way across the state, but then, everything's bigger in Texas! - and particularly Santa Elena canyon, where, on the other side of the surprisingly small Rio Grande, Mexico rises as a sheer 1500m cliff face, there are pictures on Fickr a little way back.

All was still well, as we reached the first pass and we saw lots of snow plough and gritting lorries out and about so they are obviously used to this. 

As we reached the final ascent to the highest pass though (Puerto del Escudo 1020m), the cloud descended and whiteout.  Fortunately both Will and Jules are very capable so although there were no views, we wound our way safely down below the cloud and snow line once more - who would have though we would be glad to see rain!!

Again, with no real plans, we headed first for Santillana del Mar - a mediaeval village near some prehistoric cave paintings, 3 miles inland, which was apparently described as "the prettiest little village in Spain" by Jean-Paul Satre, but in the dark, with nothing open and no where obviously to park up, we decided that they would have to forego our tourist euro (only the one, we have blown the budget for this week on electronics and gas buying midweek mini breaks in France!)

and headed on up the coast where we stopped in a cliffside parking space in Comillas with a view down over the sea - our first actual seaview sleeping point, although no roof up, top window view on this occasion - so 24 hours later, 1000m lower and positively warm!  I mean it, it was at least +3 degrees :)

We started the next day again with sunshine and no plans.   I fancied the wiggly red roads through the Picos de Europa National Park but with passes at 1600m Will sensibly veto'd that plan so we headed off in the sunshine along the coast where I was in geography heaven with snowcapped mountains on one side and rolling green hills, cliff edges and blue sea on the other. 

And we are now on the Camino Norte de Santiago (Northern Pilgrimage route) so still heading in the right direction.

Feeling peckish, we stopped in Llanes to see about finding some bread and found what has to be the most helpful tourist information guy, in his very own castle.  A request for a map of the town got us a brochure with a map, the history and what you can see, and some other places in the Llanes county.  A question about other things in the local area got a map of eastern Asturias and places ringed.  Asking about whether, in general there is a problem with parking a small camping car overnight in carparks got a brochure containing all the campsites in the area (and an indication that the problem with parking overnight seemed more to do with big vehicles overhanging the legal spaces than the sleeping), a conversation about the mountains and the weather elicited a weather forecast and the information that is has been unusually cold for this early in the year but that the mountains would be good if we had snow chains as well as some information about which roads had been blocked but which would by now be cleared, and on learning that we were headed west, he produced a further map of the whole Asturias region. brilliant!

after a wander round, a coffee to avoid a snow shower, a cliff top walk and some lovely caliente barra (hot baguette) we set off in search of the Llanes natural treasures in the brochure, a pretty inland beach and the cliff top blow holes. 

Even our new detailed, tourist maps weren't great at enabling tourists to find things marked on them so after much driving to and fro in the right general area and a chilly cliff top walk, we admitted defeat on the beach and set off in search of blow holes.  Again, they were only signed once you found the right village but there was at least a carpark and no walking required.

The Bufones de Pia is a small cliff top area covered with jaggedy rocks and scrubby bushes which rises sheer upwards from the sea, 50 feet or so below.  The blow holes are natural holes in the rocks which go down through the cliffs to the sea, and with the right wind, wave and tide conditions, jets of water spurt up to 20ft. 

Unfortunately we didn't see jets but there was water vapour coming up out of the holes with a loud roaring wind/waves noise (looked a bit like the thermal springs at Rotarua in New Zealand but without the bubbling mud pools).  As you walked over the cliffs, it was a bit like they were breathing, particularly as they all did it at different times and the "exhaled" air was slightly warm and damp - with half an eye on the undulating sea below, you could almost believe you felt the cliffs rise and fall with every breath... wierd

We also met Laura and Cedric who asked us what we were doing with our little van and helpfully circled all sorts of good places on our map both locally and further afield in northern and southern spain and portugal - we had been wondering whether we would find enough things to see to fill the 10 days before our Porto rendezvous, no worres anymore!  although sadly the really good bits of Asturias are the mountains and we have had enough mountain fun for a while, maybe another trip in the summer in the midgey - a nearby beach where we would be fine to stop for the night and a great seafood restaurant for the following lunchtime and on hearing that we hadn't tried the local cider, promptly invited us to join them in Villaviciosa that night - excellent!

With the right time to start drinking cider apparently being between 9-10pm, we had a couple of hours to kill so set off for the suggested beach and set about cleaning ourselves up properly - well if people had been good enough to invite us out, the least we could do was not smell too bad :)  At 0 degrees, it was even so warm compared with our previous couple of nights that I washed my hair, thus negating the need to find a campsite for another few days - more budget for cider! :)

So, nearing the end of another day, and having started it with no plans, we have finished up with some new ideas for a route, new things to see, new food to try and some new friends - not bad going :)

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