On the road again: Leon, Burgos, Silos, etc.

I have been having some crazy dreams lately.  Like, CRA-ZY dreams.  And they’re all super stressful dreams too – the ones you wake up to after a restless night and not only feel shaken and disturbed, but also like you need another 8 hours of sleep as well.  Homesickness, perhaps?  Or maybe my mind needs stress to function, and since it’s so wonderful and stress-free here, it’s creating it’s own stresses as I sleep at night.  Who knows.

But anyhow.  That’s not why I’m writing.

First, if you want a little review of where I went last week (because I didn’t include a map or anything), click this link.

And now It’s time for a little history lesson, students.  Here is a map of where we traveled 🙂

Open up your minds and get ready for some intense stuff, because there’s more to all of this than meets the eye, which is saying something.

Our first stop was in Lerma, a small town that saw it’s glory days under the rule of the Duke of Lerma (a favorite of King Phillip II) between 1598 and 1618.  We visited the Ducal Palace which was built on top of the ruins of an ancient roman castle.

On top of a hill that dominates the Arlanza river valley, se find Lerma. Dating back to pre-Roman times, the village reached its maximum splendour under the rule of the Duke of Lerma, favourite of Phillip III between 1598 and 1618.

The city was surrounded by walls (murallas) and had the most AMAZING view ever.  With the wind blowing lightly, it made for the perfect photo shoot opportunity.

Okay, it was actually SUPER windy…and I’m making a weird face.  Candids obviously aren’t my forte.

What’s kind of funny about this picture is although i’m leaning over, in reality I’m actually shorter than all of the girls here.  I love heels.  What can I say?

Driving away from Lerma and heading on to Covarrubias was a beautiful sight.  I wish I knew more about the people who built these walls.  Walking down the cobblestone streets and seeing ancient inscriptions and marks made by the soldiers who occupied and defended the pueblos is something that will never cease to enchant me.

Now, Covarrubias is tiny – with just over 600 inhabitants, but what it lacks in size is made up tenfold by the amount of charm and history that lines the streets built by it’s ancient peoples.  Right on the bank of a river, Covarrubias was an area reconquered by the Moores in the early 9th century.  It is famous for its DELICIOUS and absolutely MONSTROUSLY huge grapes, as well as its legendary black pudding…which is the consistency of congealed leftover Thanksgiving gravy filled with tapioca rice balls, and the grayish-greenish-black color of an over-ripe banana.  Yum.

Here, we visited the beautiful Gothic Colegiata (collegiate church), and after prancing (respectfully of course, don’t question my maturity here) down an arched hallway which made me feel like I was running through Rivendell….

I was floored by an amazing alter (spanish flamenco style), completely plated in gold, to which even the most stunning pictures cannot offer due justice.

I have fallen in love with stained-glass windows.

And even more so with the girls in my group.  I could not have been more blessed to be able to travel with such amazing, strong girls.


Several of my close friends have laughed at me, joking about how I must be going crazy being around so many girls because I have always had a low tolerance for the dramatic, talkative, self-absorbed female population (although, without a doubt, I fit into that category perfectly, I’m sure), but I would like to inform everybody that yes, I am surviving, and that yes, I actually am extremely grateful that I have this time to learn from others and develop a tolerance that previously I have refused to acknowledge.

Our next stop was Silos, which houses a Visigothic monastery, ravaged by the Arabs but rebuilt by Santo Domingo in the 11th century, who reinvented this Romanesque gem that holds mysteries and stories that have yet to be discovered.

The monastery has become a center of artistic and spiritual pilgrimage.  Inside are hundreds of pillars and sculptures that depict the life of Christ, scenes from the bible, as well as of medieval towns.  

There is an undeniable residual “Princess Bride” feel as one walks through the corridors and through the 18th century library and pharmacy which holds a rich collection of Talavera jars, antique instruments and lab equipment that held herbs and medications for the wealthiest of people.

I kid you not, this is the first thing that came into my head when I stepped down into the monks’ scientific lab.

If you have time, take a moment and watch this video of the Gregorian Monks singing at the monastery.  It gives me chills every time I hear it and I wish that I could have seen it in person – unfortunately we missed it by just a few hours.  It reminds me of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; a group of faithful people, gathered together, with their thoughts and hearts directed solely towards God as they sing their praises to their maker.

Canto Gregoriano

I must mention that when we first arrived in Silos, it was during siesta time, so literally NO ONE was out on the street, and everything was boarded up.  Walking through ancient Spanish cities is ghostly and the whistle of the wind over the stone walls is hypnotic, transporting walkers to a different and more peaceful time.

Oh, have I mentioned that I am obsessed with the doors here?

Well, let me say it yet again.

A view from the keyhole

Before continuing our journey on to Burgos, we stopped along the highway at a place called Desfiladero de la Yecla, which was a beautiful little hike that reminded me a great deal of Arizona and Utah.  Although lovely, my heart sank slightly as I became homesick for the ones I love back in the States.

Plus I found a rock that looked like a skull.  Ominous or fantastic?  I’d say both.

reminds me of peter pan and king kong…

Alright…where to next?  Oh yes, Burgos.  It is at this point that I believe I became truly infatuated with Spain.  If you ever visit, GO TO BURGOS.  Not only does it have some fantastic nightlife (read on to hear about my first official “bar-hopping” experience), but it also has adorable shops and a cathedral that is beyond amazing.  I have pages and pages filled just from taking notes while walking around the inside.  Take a look:

Arco de Santa Maria

Arco de Santa Maria

…and this is just the entrance into the ancient city.  If you look closely, there is an angel at the top that represents holding the castle and city together.  Below, is the Virgin holding the Baby Jesus in her arms.  The other carvings are of kings and warriors who assisted in founding and protecting the city.

Burgos consists of two parts: New Burgos and Old Burgos.  On one side of the Arlanzón river lies the “New Burgos”, which is still impressively old – it is simply an expansion of the original city which was build within the protection of twelve fantastically constructed walls on the other side of the river.

“Smile, it’s Burgos.”  Take note of this theater.  The bottom part is made out of expensive and beautiful stone, although the top is simply adorned with stone moulding but is made mostly out of less expensive materials.  Touring around Spain, it is not uncommon to see many buildings built like this, which signifies that the city ran out of money during the building process and had to finish using inferior materials.

We arrived relatively early in the evening, around 7:00 (the Spaniards think that this is still siesta time in many places….usually people are just beginning to open up their shops and restaurants, and in the smaller towns, places often don’t even open until after 8pm.)  Upon dropping our things off at a hotel near the city center, we were set free to explore the city, so I accompanied three other girls in search of some delicious…tapas….yeah….tapas, that’s it.  I promise.

BUT – I have just one thing to say.

The people are bred well here.

Go to Northern Spain if you want to find a ridiculously attractive Spanish man.

Unfortunately all three of us left our cameras behind when we went out that night, so we have no proof of our experience learning about the way Spanish bars work, which is quite unfortunate.  But, never fear, because the third time’s a charm.  It only took us two rather embarrassing tries before we became masters.  Sort of.

The first time, we were simply looking for food, but we didn’t realize that many of the bars really are only bars…they just serve drinks.  So upon walking in and sitting down, but then looking around us and realizing that there was no food to be seen, we rushed out laughing at our foolish mistake.

The second time, we found a busy looking place filled with people around our age and slightly older, and we decided it looked promising.  In fact, it was, although we didn’t realize that you aren’t supposed to go into the bar and sit at a table before you order at the actual bar.  Since we had messed up once again, but this time there were three surrounding tables filled with some FINE Spanish boys, we pretended we knew exactly what we were doing and sat there for a while laughing and talking….before we hurried out the back door to escape once again.

The third and final time, we were met with the smiling face of success, along with some delicious food, including Patatas Bravas, Salmon Ahumado, Ensalada de Concha, and much more.  Although, we did get some funny looks when we all ordered water and cokes from the bar….like seriously, the bartender looked at us as if we had just ordered chocolate milk and cookies from the wine refinery.  But oh well – it was absolutely divine.

Inside the central plaza of Burgos

The next day, we woke up to a brisk and chilly, yet already bustling Burgos, which was originally founded in the early 10th century.  We walked down the famous Paseo del Espelón, which is lined by banana trees – although I am pretty sure they aren’t named for the fruit.

These trees are fascinating.  If you look closely (although it is nearly impossible in this picture), you can see that the branches of the trees are all connected, as they were grafted into one another when the trees were young.  This road, therefore, is one of the most famous in all of Spain.

Burgos is famous not only because it was the home of the famous military diplomat and leader El Cid,

A statue of El Cid: Apparently, when one of the horse’s feet is raised it means the rider died due to battle wounds. When all are on the ground, they died of natural causes, and if the horse is reared on its two hind feet, the rider died while fighting in battle.

but also because it lies along El Camino de Santiago (which, I must tell you, is something that I WILL be doing in my life), and had (and still has, for that matter), a high amount of traffic from los peregrinos, or rather, “the pilgrims”, who would walk the trail along Northern Spain in search of spiritual enlightenment and self-discovery.  The churches, as early as the 10th century, served as hospitals and boarding places for weary travelers who would arrive at the point of death because of their long and perilous rout along the Camino de Santiago.

And now, prepare yourself…

I present to you the Cathedral of Burgos!

can someone say Salt Lake Temple???…sort of.

Its construction began in 1221 and it includes fifteen chapels within. The architectural beauty is truly astounding.  It is home to one of the largest Baroque altar ever built, although the most important is the smallest, in which rests a Cristus with real human hair and nails, symbolizing the actual body of Christ.

The inside of the cathedral used to be almost entirely painted, but due to the fact that the climate is often wet and humid, the weather dissolved the calcium in the paint, which left the walls bare yet still gloriously breathtaking.

From the floor to the lowest part of the ceiling is over 26 meters, and from this point to the tip of the linterna (the very top of this star-looking structure:

is another 23 meters.  Pretty impressive, huh?  Our buildings have nothing on these ones.

One carving in particular was rather interesting to me.

It’s a scene of the nativity, and ever so subtly, Joseph is seen smiling, which is incredibly uncommon in these types of carvings.  See that mug he is holding?  Yeah, it looks REAL SIMILAR to a glass of ale, now doesn’t it?  In fact, most people believe that’s the reason that he is smiling.  Don’t worry though, it’s really a lantern.  I think.

In front of the Burgos Cathedral, sitting on the lap of a naked “peregrino”

There is such an incredibly amount of symbolism within these cathedrals that it would take me ages to describe it all, and unfortunately I have neither the motivation nor the capacity to even begin to do it justice.  You walk room after room of staggering size, and every square inch of stone and wood is covered in statues and carvings, all with a specific symbolic meaning. Played out on the walls were stories of the Old and New Testament, teaching the wealthy and poor, uneducated alike the glories and wonders of their God.  And the people who built it had only their minds and their hands. No machines, no computers… only talent and motivation to build to worship the God who created them.

Upon leaving Burgos, we stopped for a few minutes at a Roman church in the middle of nowhere called San Martín de Frómista.

You can tell it’s a Roman church because it has very few windows; their architectural style of arches did not allow for many windows because they took away from the support of the building.

This church, in reality, is actually very small and incredibly simple inside.  However, the acoustics are amazing.  We made it inside just as it was closing, and begged the man in the office to let us stay for just a few minutes.  We were the only ones inside, and coming together in a circle, we sang “I Feel My Savior’s Love”, which echoed through the building and sounded more beautiful than anything I have ever heard.  The man stood quietly, watching, and as soon as we finished, with chills running down our backs, he urged us to sing another.  Upon finishing “Abide With Me, ‘Tis Eventide”, we stood in silence, feeling the Spirit so strongly inside that simple Roman church.  It amazes me how present and real the Spirit is at times like these, in places like that.  In all truth, no matter where it is or how it is presented, there is light, and this was one of those times where it swept every single one of us away.  I wish you all could have been there.

And then, we arrived at León at last!  It’s late here, and I have class early, and I am sure that I have bored you all enough, so I will sum up quickly, although I could probably go on for another few hours.  But ask questions!  There is so much to learn, and I wish I knew it all.

León is extremely modern, yet dates back to before the 5th century when the Visigoths invaded Spain.  In the 6th century it was occupied by the Arabs, and then in the 10th century it became the capital of Northern Spain.

The Cathedral of Leon, is the most visited site of the city.  Built in the classic form of a giant cross, la “Planta de Cruz Latina”, with the three naves symbolizing the trinity, it manages to strike awe in anyone who passes.  It was built by French architects who worked for year upon years to make it one of the most beautiful buildings ever created.

The cathedral not only has the 2nd most stained glass out of all the cathedrals in Europe (almost 2,000 square meters), but it is also entirely constructed using the numbers 3, 4, and 7, along with multiples of these.  The number 3 symbolizes the trinity, and 7 is considered the “perfect” number in the bible.  3 + 4 = 7 so naturally, 4 is used as well.  Try and see the number patterns in the picture above.

If you look closely at the background of the picture above, you will see that in the center of the stained glass arrangement there is a small circle – inside this is a picture of Christ.  The cathedral was constructed in such a way that the very first rays of light shine through this tiny window, signifying the Light of Christ shining upon the world.

On one side of the cathedral that doesn’t ever get direct sunlight, the windows are all made up of cool colors; blues, purples, etc., depicting the Old Testament, without the Light of Christ, while on the side that has almost constant sunlight, golds and yellows and reds and greens light up the cathedral with renditions of the New Testament, filled with Christ’s light and direction.  Amazing, isn’t it?

One of popes who once passed through this cathedral long ago explained it better than anything else.  He said there is “más vidrio que piedra, más luz que vidrio, y más fe que luz” (“more glass than stone, more lige than glass, and more faith than light”)  It is true.  Those who built this building and sacrificed their lives surely accomplished something amazing.

The streets of Leon are charming and filled with markets and little shops.

As well as countless peregrinos on the Camino de Santiago.  If you’re not familiar with the Camino de Santiago, it’s a pilgrimage route to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The walk lasts about two months and takes the pilgrams through Northwestern Spain. People do it for meditation, self control, as a way of making an important decision, or for religious reasons.

I would live in Leon for sure.  Especially because while we were out at night we found a self-serve gelato place with TONS of flavors and even MORE candies and fruits to put on top.  That almost made the entire trip about 100 times better.

And in the end, when we finally geared up and managed to tear ourselves away from the beautiful city, we made one last stop in a tiny town called Castrillo de los Polvazares.  Absolutely authentic and quaintly situated on vine-covered hills, this town is a place that must not be missed.

And for my very favorite picture of all…me and Alba, a sweet 3-year-old Spanish girl who was following us around.  It made me miss my sisters…and the orphanage in Mexico City more than anything.

When I am old and have traveled the world and am finally ready to settle down, I would live here.  And I would be one happy woman.


2 thoughts on “On the road again: Leon, Burgos, Silos, etc.

  1. Pingback: A Romantic Comedy, Starring Us | A Ticking Thyme Blonde

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