Portomarín

The 20 kilometer walk from Sarria to Portomarín was fairly flat and a mix of isolated dirt paths and roadside walking.  Near the end, the path split in two and we could either walk on a shorter, very steep path or on a longer, flatter path that followed the road. As I have been having some knee problems, I opted for the longer road path, which followed a small road past homes and small farms.

To get to Portomarín, pilgrims walk across a large bridge that ends with a large staircase leading to the town. Portomarín is a town in the Lugo providence and currently has a population of about 2000. A bridge across the Mino river by this town has existed since at least 993 and was the site of many conflicts during the Medieval period. As such, Portomarín was an important military and commercial town throughout history.

However, the old town of Portomarín did not exist in the exact place where the current town is. In 1956, construction began on the Embalse de Belesar dam. As a result, the water level in the Mino river rose, putting the entire town of Portomarín under water. However, the most important buildings in Portomarín were saved from the flooding as they were moved up to higher ground brick by brick. When the water in the river is low, one can still see remnants of the old town  and bridge in the water.
One of the buildings moved was the Church of San Juan of Portomarín, which is a late Romanesque church originally designed to be both a church and a castle. As a result, the building contains components of both structures including walkways protected by battlements as well as tympanums and rose windows. The church has the largest single nave in a Romanesque church in Galicia. In the late 12th and early 13th century the church housed knights and was visited by many catholic monarchs. Today, the church houses the parish of San Nicolas. Next to the church, the Pazo de la Marquesa de Boreda, a 17th century palace, has also been reconstructed.
Our albergue in Portomarín was one of the most unique hostels we stayed at on our trip. Rather than staying in rooms housing 6-25 of us in each room, this albergue had only a single dormitory room with well over a hundred beds all in the same room. Though staying in a room with that many people was mildly overwhelming, all appreciated the cleanliness and efficiency of the albergue. Since most of us were quite tired upon arriving to Portomarín, we had a relaxed evening in the hostel and at restaurants nearby.
sada
Alison
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Spanish Beginnings: Greetings from Burgos

Unlike several other towns that we will pass through on our way to Santiago de Compostela, Burgos is not a town based on Roman foundations, but rather early medieval ones. It was a vital location during the long and bloody process of the Reconquista, during which the Catholic monarchs of Spain slowly pushed the borders of the Muslim-controlled kingdoms southward, culminating in the fall of Granada in the fifteenth century. Today, Burgos is a popular and lovely stop along the way.

Getting There
Burgos is between the major hubs of Logroño and León on the Camino de Santiago. You can also arrive by bus, or via train from Madrid, though the bus station is closer to the center of town. We came variously from Madrid, London, and Munich, and so missed out on the views of the Meseta on the way– the flat plain that stretches towards the mountains of Galicia in the west.

image.jpegThings to See
– Cathedral: The cathedral of Our Lady of Burgos is a wonderful mix of styles– built on the site of a much smaller Romanesque cathedral, the bulk of the current Gothic structure was completed in the 13th century, but has been enlarged and variously improved by each successive generation. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, we were amazed by the perforated star lights in the dome, the elaborate rococo chapels, the gilded reliquaries, and the many surviving medieval wall paintings. For fans of Spanish history, don’t miss the tomb of El Cid! The price of admission also gains you access to the cloister and a small museum.
– St. Nicolas: A Romanesque church, noted for its astonishing early plateresque altarpiece of 1505, which is the full height of the back wall and highlighted in gold leaf, and for its icon of the Virgin Bianca.
– St. Esteban, now the Museo de Retablo: Our second favorite site in Burgos, the Romanesque church of St. Esteban is home to a series of 15th and 16th c retablos… At ground level! You’ve never been able to examine altarpieces like this before. The church itself is a beautifully preserved example of Romanesque architecture, with a very rare surviving stone porch.
– The Castle: For fans of military history and amazing views. The castle is in ruins now, but there is a very nice wall walk, and the views down over the city and cathedral are breathtaking.
– The River/Arch of the Virgin: If you have time, take a walk along the small river that runs through the city, and take a look at the Arch of the Virgin, adorned with important early modern citizens of the city. Keep an eye out for the imposing statue of El Cid!

image.jpegThings to Eat/Drink:

There are many wonderful things you can say about Burgos, but the food is definitely worth an extensive mention. Like most towns along the Camino, there are many coffee shops, tapas bars and restaurants offering variations on the menu del dia. We, however, discovered two locations which are must visits. Both are near the Hotel de Norde y Londre and within walking distance of many other lodging options.

As any visitor to Spain will soon discover, the tapas bar is everywhere, which means it takes a very special place to stand out from the crowd. Donde Alberto is one. The beer and wine offerings are standard, but the tapas are fantastic. We were in Burgos for four days, and came here at least five times. The stack of tuna tartare with diced tomatoes and avocado, the goat cheese and golden raisin toast, and the toast with smoked herring, egg and goat cheese are fabulous, and only two Euro each.

For dinner, any visitor to Burgos will struggle to find better food than the features at Cuchillo de Palo. The interior is upscale, with a bar and tapas options, but the dining room is also lovely, and they didn’t seem to mind that we showed up in our pilgrim gear. Between the three of us, we tried a seared tuna filet with guacamole quenelles and soy sauce, poached Bacalao with pesto, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and arugula salad, and duck confit with chestnut purée and parmentier. For the quality, the price is almost criminal, and no visit to Burgos is complete without a meal here!

Today we’re taking a short break in Sahaguna, a small town which was very important during the Middle Ages. Tomorrow we leave for Leon, where we will meet up with our other Fordham Peregrinos.

Buen Camino!
Rachel Podd and Louisa Foroughi