I’d like to tell you a little bit about a city that I had previously, and erroneously, underrated. It’s name doesn’t slip off the tongue with an appealing ring. In fact, it is one of those Spanish words that I will always struggle to say correctly. Burgos. It sounds, well, a little homely. It doesn’t ring as glamorously as Oviedo. Burgos doesn’t sound as exotic as Barcelona or Valencia, León or Santiago. For that reason, I think I decided to write it off. And, truthfully, Andrew talked about it with such a wistfulness in his eyes that I couldn’t bring myself to believe it was that incredible. But, against my prejudgement, I am enthralled with Burgos. With that, I am going to attempt to describe to you one of the most agreeable Spanish tourism experiences I have had in quite a long time.
We parked, purely by accident, but what a great coincidence it was, underneath the Plaza Mayor. Essentially the hub of the city, it is the perfect place to start a tour of this provincial capitol. We ventured over to the giant, soaring Gothic cathedral. We took in the medieval gate to the city, La Puerta de Santa María. We hoofed like billy goats up the side of a hill to an overlook of the entire city. We ate a typical Spanish lunch of ensalada mixta, pollo asado, patatas fritas, y flan. We shopped and gawked approvingly at each new sight.
That all sounds like a day we’ve had before, in any Spanish city you can think of. But, there are quite a few ways that Burgos proved it is different from the rest. First, the most perfect example of a Spanish Gothic cathedral sits in a plaza that feels empty next to its enormity. Not only is it’s size impressive, but the restoration work that has been done is immaculate. Each spire, each dome, each relic and gold retabla, are cleaned, as if done with a miniature toothbrush, to the hilt. I couldn’t have done a better job myself, and Andrew knows I mean business when the windex and paper towels are brandished. Also, the tour of the cathedral is laid out in a logically pleasing order. The same can be said for the city gate’s cleanliness and majesty. Within the city wall, underneath the gate, is a smallish, contemporary art museum. It even merits a quick spin.
The casco viejo is also surprising in its orderliness. The buildings are quintessentially Spanish, but in good repair. The streets are void of dog poop. Most charmingly, the city of Burgos must have commissioned innummerable street statues to keep tourists entertained. They pop up on every corner and in each plaza and they are, well, really great. Some illicit laughter, others recall a difficult journey or a particularly introspective memory. A majestic bull, a puzzling young woman serenely holding her umbrella against the rain, two plump dwarf-like figures that exude the feeling of cheeriness that permeates, a battered pilgrim following the way of St. James. Also appealing were the historically important buildings we seemed to bump into; for example, a beautiful home where Isabella and Ferdinand received Christopher Columbus immediately after his second voyage to the New World or one of Franco’s homes during his fascist reign.
The sense of hospitality the citizens of Burgos showed us also impressed me. The server at lunch tried, good-naturedly, to joke with Andrew and I, (alas, humor is mostly lost on non-native speakers), the shopkeepers were friendly, warm, helpful, and even carefully gift wrapped our purchases. The kind woman who sold us hot chocolate asked where we were from. The thick chocolate drink she served us defrosted our insides and the proceeds went to a non-profit organization.
I’d like to imagine that Burgos would be as spectacular on any day of the year as it was on January 5th, but I highly doubt you would find it as magical as we did. This was because January 5th is like Christmas Eve for Spain. The Three Wise Men, whom bring children their gifts, parade through town on this day and the atmosphere is so festive and bright. We waited until dark so we could enjoy the lights and festivity with Burgos and it was the highlight of the day for each of us. The city morphed into a bustling fairy-tale land. And even if you can’t visit Burgos on this special day, I have a gut-feeling that any day of the year would serve you well.