Sunday, April 28, 2013

Villafranca Montes de Oca to Burgos

We awoke to a very cold, blustery day with snow flurries. We had looked ahead to the forecast so we were not surprised. Walking up and down hills with a 1500 ft. accrued ascent was not in the picture.
We had already come up with a Plan B and for those of you who know me well, you know I am the Queen of Plan B.
Villafranca was the last city on the Camino with bus service into Burgos, about 22 miles. Since it was Sunday, the bus did not arrive until noon. We took advantage of the time to sleep in, have a communal breakfast with others at our lodging, and then hang out in the lobby of the Hotel San Anton Abad with other pilgrims enjoying its free WiFi.
Obviously, we were not the only ones with this great idea. By the time the bus pulled up, there were at least 20 of us freezing in the little shelter. (Photo 1) The bus was incredibly nice. The driver had us put our packs underneath and we rode the 40 minutes in luxury. All this for 2.42€. (About $3).
The bus station ended up being a very short walk to our hotel, the 4-star AC Marriott, which is right along the tree-lined Paseo del Espolon. We were overwhelmed. All this for 167€ for 2 nights with breakfast, complimentary cafe and tea in the lobby and a room with a tiny balcony overlooking the Rio Arlanzon.
We had a quick snack in the room and then headed to the Museum of Human Evolution, which was only open until 3. (Photo 2). It was an extremely modern building with state-of-the-art exhibits. Opened in 2010, the museum focuses on the oldest human fossil remains found in Europe unearthed in nearby Atapuerca. They were discovered in 1976 when a railroad was being built in the area. To date, they have discovered 28 individuals estimated to be 530,000 years old, predating the Neanderthal which is 200,000 years old.
What they discovered about these ancestors was quite interesting. Their stature was similar to ours but they were much heartier. There was the same difference in size between men and women as us. Most were right-handed. They were able to speak and they looked after their disabled. One example of the latter was the fact that a child's skeleton that showed a severe birth defect had lived to be 10 years old.
A significant part of the museum was devoted to Charles Darwin and the "Beagle Expedition" of 1831, when he traveled around the world and collected samples from many species of plants and animals. This led to his "Origin of the Species" in 1859.
Another interesting factoid from this museum is that menopause sets humans apart from other species. This led to the "grandmother hypothesis" - that grandmothers are supposed to help their children raise their grandchildren.
After the Museum, we climbed a hill behind the big cathedral (more on that tomorrow) to the ruins of a castle originally built in the 800's, but expanded over time. It was incredibly cold and windy at the top but the views from there were expansive. (Photos 3 and 4).
Then we walked through the streets of Burgos, past the Plaza Mayor and then strolled along Paseo Espolon where we were fascinated by the topiary-type sculpting of the trees (photos 5 and 6).
Tonight we ate dinner at the Casino Restaurant on the Plaza which was packed with locals, many of them older women grouped together at tables (I guess while the men were at bars). At 9 we were the only ones with real food in front of us. I don't know when they eat. Maybe at 10?
Then back to the hotel where we met up with Gary and Marjorie from Australia whom we met at the beginning of our trip. It's amazing how pilgrims keep connecting.

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