McKinney Gypsy Caravan

One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Category: Spain (page 2 of 2)

Days 4 and 5-Burgos, La Picas de Europa, Pamplona and Borja

We headed out towards the town of Burgos early in the morning since it was almost 3 hours away. We decided to head out to the furthest place away and backtrack through what we could get through by the end of the day.

Burgos has a huge cathedral that I wanted to see. You can’t throw a rock in Spain without hitting a church but some of these city cathedrals are just amazing feats of engineering and so pretty. We arrived to the cathedral during mass so there was a full choir filling the entire place with a somewhat haunting Latin chant.

Burgos has an amazing green space with a pedestrian street running along the river.

The first thing we passed through was the Arco de Santa Maria, an original city gate from the 1500s.

The cathedral held the coffer of El Cid, a military leader and national hero responsible for many battle wins in his time around 1100AD, but mostly just a local legend these days. He’s also a key figure featured in the arch we walked through into town. The coffer supposedly held all the gold of El Cid, which he used to back money transactions, but according to legend, it was really just full of sand.

I know I type this every post….but there are so many stairs in Europe. Haha

At least the stairs usually lead to amazing vantage points.

We left city center and headed to the outskirts of Burgos where were made it to the Miraflores Charterhouse 10 minutes before closing- just enough time to run in and see the inside. I was really interested in this cathedral because the altarpiece was made with the first shipment of gold that came back to Spain from the Americans. I’m not sure why I really wanted to see it, but something about it seemed so tangible that this gold gilded onto this altar was brought back from the Americas as proof of the riches awaiting men in this New World.


After leaving  Burgos, we took the scenic route back to our apartment though about 3-4 hours of national parks and small towns. We camera lens is super wide angle… so I can fit all of the mountains and cliffs into the frame, which gives the illusion that these aren’t really that big… but these are massive!

At one point, near Los Picos de Europa, We literally drove through a crack in the rock. It was crazy.

At one point, we came into a small village where some people were herding some cows (terribly) across the road into another field. Long story short: we got hit by a cow. haha

The idiots couldn’t get it together, they didn’t have the gates open…no one knew where they were sending the cows…. I was videotaping the cows coming at us and we were laughing when one brushed by the car… but then we got all backed up against the rear end and BOOM, the herd just kinda started got spooked and one cow gave us a pretty big hit from the back resulting in a broken taillight cover. Ooops. lol I hope that doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg when we turn it back in.

Very near our apartment were the Huellas de Dinosaurios or Dinosaur Footprints. Just like when we were on the isle of Skye in Scotland, a bedding plane on the beach had been eroded enough to show the remnants of dinosaur footprints. Except these were Brontosaurus prints! REAL dinosaur stuff 🙂

Norah laid down in the print for scale. haha

We went back to the town of Tazones for dinner again, but we knew that the restaurant from last night would be closed for the day, so we tried another. It was a cider bar… a drink very popular in this area. Up here along the coast, it’s overcast and rainy enough that grapevines don’t do so well, so they’ve always grown apples. They’ve been making this cider since 100 BC. What makes it so cool is that they only use the natural yeasts in the apples. They always pour the first drink from above the head to allow it to aerate and mix in the glass. You are supposed to drink it before the cloudiness resolves.  It was like a mix of a sour beer and a weak apple juice. Very sour, not too sweet…. very drinkable. But one of us had to drive, so I have a small amount and Kegan had two bottles. haha


We had calamari and paella and we weren’t totally impressed…. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t seek it out again. I’m still thinking about the seafood from La Playa the day before and scheming on how I can have that again.

Day 5

I’m tacking Day 5 onto this post because there really isn’t enough to justify a whole new posting. Today was just a day to get from the north coast of Spain over to the Costa Brava on the east coast. We got caught in construction and city traffic outside of Bilboa for a couple of hours in the morning, so our first stop was Pamplona in the afternoon. Pamplona is known for the “running of the bulls”, a traditional part of the festival of St. Gemin every July (just missed it by a couple weeks!) for over 250 years, 6 bulls and 6 oxen are chased and lead through the streets of Pamplona, chasing people who have decided to run with the bulls in front of them all the way to the arena where the bulls will be killed by bullfighters that day.

Bullfighting is such a barbaric blood sport… I really have no interest in it…it is even illegal in parts of Spain now, so I think it is definitely a dying tradition. There are variations that are more humane… some areas have a variation where a flare is attached to each horn and the bullfighter tries to grab it. Another is where the matador just uses acrobatics to evade the bull, but doesn’t actually stab it with spears enough for it to sever the tendons in its neck and bleed out.

We just made a quick stop to see the town square and the statue for the running of the bulls.

We drove on through the “Arizona” of Spain… passing little villages and scenery.


We arrived at the village of Borja…a tiny village no one would pay much attention to if it wasn’t for a little old lady and the power of social media. Cecelia Jimenez was an 83 year old widow and amatuer painter who did some work around the church in the village. She had asked permission from the priest to do some restoration of the painting Ecce Homo from Spanish artist, Elias Garcia Martinez. She has been touching up some edges for a few years, but the time had come for the picture to get some major touch up work done… and well… lets just say things got out of hand. What resulted is what would be forever known to the world…as “Beast Jesus”.

The “restoration” was so terrible that it immediately went viral. haha  People all over the world were looking at this “priceless” painting that had been completely ruined. The poor lady said she couldn’t even eat for days after she found out people were so upset and that so many people knew about her attempt.

But… all’s well that ends well. Beast Jesus put Borja on the map… they now get over 150,000 visitors a year coming to look at Beast Jesus and they charge 2 euro a head… that cash income has resulted in restaurants, an arts center and other local programs and Cecilia is now a local hero of sorts. The painting that saved a town. Because of that, I just had to see this thing for myself and add our 6 euro to the Borja coffers.  The church is actually REALLY pretty! and the town was adorable with a scenic vista, a cute little cafe and everyone was very nice. It really should have been on the tourist track before Beast Jesus…but I’m glad it is now.

After that I had a conference call for work I couldn’t miss (even on vacation.) So Kegan and Norah walked around and played on the play equipment for a while.

We ended in a little town along the interstate (a tolled interstate by the way that cost us almost $60 to drive on!! Highway robbery… literally!) that was just a roadside hotel/spa and we had McDonalds for dinner because Norah sometimes has to get what she wants, too 🙂

Day 3-Las Medulas and Asturias 

Today, we woke up so hungry we could eat a horse! (No, literally… we ate horse.) ha
Turns out they sell horse meat in Spain… and when we stopped to get gas and food, of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try it. I was really not sure about it…but was actually really good…. but super greasy. I probably won’t miss ever having it again…

I always love trying all the new snacks.. these chocolate balls tasted like a fluffy version of a cheap ice cream cone, dipped it a very weak chocolate, then rolled in corn nuts. haha but they worked! I would eat these again.

We started out today headed towards the northwest coast for the cities of A Coruña and Ferrol, but our AirBnb host called me and said that the father of the person who was supposed to pass us the keys died this morning. She assured us we could still pick up the keys, that she just wouldn’t be able to come and show us the place… but she wasn’t very clear about how or where to get the keys… or exactly where her place was…so we just decided we’d find another place for the night. I called the place we were scheduled to stay the following night to see if we could book an extra earlier night and we could- so we had to adapt the day to fit in the double driving we now had.

Since we were already at our first stop when we found out, we went ahead and hiked up to the top of an overlook point to see Las Medulas, a Roman gold mine. It was a huge operation here, in fact- the largest mine in the entire Roman empire. They fought a gruelling war for over 10 years with the Celts of the area for control over the land. The Romans mined gold here for over 250 years estimating that they mined over 5 million “roman pounds” of gold total. (about 3,750,000 US lbs- a Roman pound or “libra” – hence lb. as an abbreviation today- was only 12 oz vs our 16 oz.). Pliny the Elder documented the mining works that were taking place here in 77AD.

“What happens is far beyond the work of giants. The mountains are bored with corridors and galleries made by lamplight with a duration that is used to measure the shifts. For months, the miners cannot see the sunlight and many of them die inside the tunnels. The cracks made in the entrails of the stone are so dangerous that it would be easier to find purpurine or pearls at the bottom of the sea than make scars in the rock. How dangerous we have made the Earth!”

There were over 60,000 miners working this site at any time. They cut stone aqueducts through the rock to wash the gold, used fire to weaken the stone for breaking it apart and cut into entire hillsides/small mountains as you can still see the remnants of the mining area today- as they left it when they had exhausted the gold. Huge hill climb. All the cool stuff is always on top of the hill.

We had a lot of driving to do and it was a beautiful area. Lots of valleys and rolling green hills.


We did stop by and see the Praia de Catedrales, an area on the northern coast known for jagged rocks and very weathered cliffs. It has an amazing little beach that was, of course, full of people. In July and August, you actually have to buy a ticket a couple weeks in advance to go down to the beach because there are so many people that come here. Oh, and Spain beaches… topless isn’t a big deal. Unless you’re American..then it makes you a little uncomfortable! haha

I think there were probably better rock formations somewhere along the beach that we didn’t find, but we had fun getting our feet in the water and seeing the close ones. Norah was obviously in her happy place.

We arrived at our AirBnb around 6:30pm. We have a great view over  a local beach, but high enough up on a hill that it was very private.

I had planned to go to Restaurante La Playa in the little seaside town of Tazones. I asked the AirBnb host who unlocked the apartment what she recommended just to make sure and she said that was the best restaurant around…where they even go for dinner a lot. They even called ahead for us to make sure we could get a table. My Spanish is decent, but it was still nice to have a local they know call and give you the “green light” at a tiny locals joint. 🙂

The town is like a postcard. A tiny village built in the hillside. Access by foot onto a tiny rocky beach, a boat pier with fishing nets draped over the wall for tomorrow’s trip out. Crab pots stacked up along the wall waiting for the next day. We got to the restaurant too early. They don’t open until 8pm… which is mind-blowing to me…haha but as we were leaving at 11pm, locals were still coming in for dinner. Just Spanish culture to eat dinner very late.

I think this is one of those corpse flowers… but it didn’t have a smell… I really wanted to see what they smelled like!  (and it may not be a corpse flower at all)

We sat outside with 3 other tables of people we would come to know throughout dinner. A group of late 20s guys from Madrid who regularly come up to the area for the weekend. They had been there since lunch drinking so they were loads of fun. ha Most of them actually studied in the US for college, so they were whipping out their drunk English to talk to Norah and to us later. The other couple of tables were a couple of families- one with a little boy Norah’s age. He was “almost 5” he told his father with a scowl. haha

His mother and I talked a lot throughout the evening. What we could with my Spanish, anyway. We got by…and used Google translate for a couple words when we weren’t getting our point across. ha

They were sweet people. When Norah wouldn’t eat any of the shrimp or lobster we ordered, she scooped her up to sit at their table and sat and fed her monkfish and calamari they ordered for their meal. haha (We paid for their plate of calamari… I couldn’t handle just letting that happen!)

Everyone was so friendly and sharing seafood that we just HAD to try. I leaned too far off the edge of the bench at the beginning of the night trying to adjust my dress and had a very clumsy awkward fall/save haha and throughout the night, we all laughed as two other people did the same thing!It was obviously a common occurrence with how the benches were made. It was funnier every time. haha Stupid benches. lol

We left with full bellies and a great Spanish experience. Norah gave everyone a kiss on the cheek saying “adios!” …including both tables of people that we were NOT interacting with and were a little freaked out at first..but then of course, immediately thought she was the cutest thing ever.

As we walked down the stairs, the drunken group started singing “Bye bye Ms American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levy….” LOUDLY! haha and kept it going for the entire way we were walking up the street. A priceless experience… but the $100 price tag for a giant platter of seafood, a crab dip, a calamari and a couple of beers and waters was incredible. Definitely already scheming on a long weekend back here again soon with RyanAir flights being so cheap… we could make a low key beach trip back here very reasonably.

Day 1- Madrid, Spain

Hola from España! We had a great first day in Madrid. We arrived Wednesday night late enough to just get our car and head to the hotel so we were up and at ’em early today to get a full day of sightseeing in by 2pm (still working today and tomorrow- then true vacation for the rest of the trip.)

Found this nice statue of my likeness outside of the airport. The artist is Botero, known for his fat round characters and representations. He’s from Columbia, but he has a lot of art in Spain. 5 sculptures alone in Madrid.

We arrived to our hotel too late for the restaurant but not for room service, so we really kicked off vacation the right way with Spanish specialties brought straight to our room. The central area around Madrid is known for Jamon Iberico… salty cured ham from Iberico black pigs who are fed acorns, cured long and sliced paper thin. So good.

This morning we started out towards El Retiro Park, “the lungs of Madrid”… and I have to say, I underestimated the scale of Madrid…it was over a mile just to the “start” of our day, so we covered a lot of ground.

This statue in the park is said to be the only known public monument to Satan in the world. haha The Fallen Angel represents Lucifer in Milton’s Paradise Lost where he fell from the heavens.

We found what appeared to be an outdoor library that ran the length of this street. How COOL is that??

El Retiro is also the home of the Crystal Palace. Built by the royal family in the 1800s to house all of the plants from exotic locales, it is now empty and used for art exhibits. After seeing this, I’m thinking Kegan better get to building because my polytunnel just isn’t seeming so cool anymore. 🙂

After that, we found a play we had to let Norah play a little. Even if it was cutting into my “itinerary”. ha

We continued on through the park seeing various statues and gardens.

We walked past the Prado Museum, but didn’t have time to go inside and tour. Especially with a 4 year old. ha just not in the cards….

We were hot and thirsty by this point. It was almost 100 degrees today…and coming from Ireland for the year were it hasn’t broken 75…it was a shocker. I’m now “Karen” according to Starbucks. We’ve been having fun with that all day calling Norah “Karen”. It’s really getting her worked up. ha


Found a status of Cervantes (Don Quixote author) along the walk.

This is the famous El Oso y El Madroño statue- the Bear and the Strawberry Tree. The statue is fairly new- within the last 50  years- but the bear and tree have been a symbol for Madrid since at least the 1400s. It is in the Puerta del Sol- an open plaza just FULL of people. Sensory overload for sure.

After wandering around, buying some sunscreen and a toothbrush for me (I forgot mine like a travel newb and the hotel freebie wasnt going to cut it for more than a couple brushings ha) we found a gem of a place: San Gine’s Chocolateria, famous for churros and chocolate. They don’t drink their hot chocolate in Madrid- they use it to dunk their churros!

After than wonderfulness, we marched on to Plaza Mayor, the main plaza of the city. I find it so interesting how the use of public spaces has changed so much over time. Today, people sit around the edges of the plaza, enjoying coffee or wine, lunch, a few shops… but if you were to go back to the late 1400s, this was a major site of the Spanish Inquisition. Every month or so you could have seen a whole group of “heretics” paraded out into this very plaza and burned at the stake.

The Spanish Inquisition was authorized by the pope in the late 1400s, originally just as a way to ensure that Jewish and Islamic converts to Catholicism were adhering to the orthodox principles because they had a tendancy to continue their “old” religious practices after conversion. (Could have had something to do with the fact that all Jews and Arab people were told by law they HAD to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain….).  However, the Protestant Reformation- a break from the Catholic church and led by Martin Luther just a few short years later would really run the inquisitors off the rails giving it the reputation throughout history as a bunch of priests telling everyone they weren’t doing catholicism right and then burning them alive.
Anyway… We headed on over to the San Miguel Marketplace. So many people… but such a cool place.

We picked up some fruit- peaches and apples- and some small sausages to hold us over until dinner.

Norah found a Pinocchio that she just had to have her photo with.

That brought us around to the Royal Palace of Madrid. Over 1.4 million square feet. over 3,000 rooms. AND…. the royal family doesn’t even live here anymore. ha There was a big line to get in and Norah had reached her maximum. Heck, I had reached my maximum with the heat! haha So… we caught an Uber and headed back across town to the hotel to get kiddo a nap and so I could work. Keeping it real- sometimes you you don’t get to do fun things because you are vacationing with a four year old. A very sweet and smart 4 year old, but 4 none the less. 🙂

We did head out across the street for a quick dinner later in the evening. There was a sushi/asian restaurant we went to that really hit the spot. It was an all-you-can-eat sort of scenario where you can order 5 items at a time as many “rounds” as you want. Well, I only did 2 rounds. LOSER ! I’m slacking on my sushi buffet abilities. 🙂

Tomorrow, we head out of Madrid towards Segovia, Avila and end in Salamanca.

Day 2-Segovia, Avila and Salamanca

We got an early start out of the center of Madrid this morning, but still managed to sit in traffic for 30 minutes or so. Considering Madrid is basically the size of London or Paris, 30 minutes on a Friday morning didn’t seem so bad. As soon as we got north of the city, it immediately turned to mountains and an almost desert like terrain. Reminded me a lot of Nevada outside of Las Vegas.

We made a quick stop off at the Castle De Los Medoza just because it was along the way. A granite fortress towering over a small town. Not much history here really. They built this, lived there for less than 100 years… then it has sat empty for the last 400 years or so. I’d live there 🙂

The main attraction of the day was a little further up the highway in Segovia. The amazing Roman aqueduct! This aqueduct was built around 100AD and brought water to Segovia from over 15 miles away and was used until the mid 1850s. Over 20,000 granite blocks with no mortar make up the system and it maintains a 1.5 degreee slope all the way into the center of the city.

We walked around Segovia taking in the old buildings and churchs

Norah wanted to stand in front of the statue and be the Statue of Liberty. Ha

They have an actual bandstand in the main plaza.

Norah and Kegan played their imaginary instruments on the steps.

This incredible Segovia cathedral is a Gothic style from the 1500s that is just massive.

Giant 16 foot doors stand on multiple sides for entry.

One of the only Baroque organs in Europe (we saw another one in Amorbach a couple of weeks ago)

After our old quarter walking tour, we drove to the outskirts of Segovia to see the Alcazar, or “fortress”. Some sort of fortress has been here since Roman times. The Moors set up their fortress and defenses here as well because it’s right at the convergence point of two rivers. Then, when the Christian monarchs conquered the area, they immediately started building this giant stone structure. Very impressive castle.

Next, we went by the Iglesia de Vera Cruz, one of the oldest buildings in the world still standing as an original. There are tons of cathedrals and such from 700 or 800AD, but they’ve all been rebuilt, changed, built on top of an old one… but this 12 sided church was built by the Knights Templar in 1208 to mimic the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Knights Templar had taken back the Holy Land from Muslim control years earlier in the first crusade.

The Knights Templar have great mystery and speculation surrounding them…with ties to secret societies, freemasons and the Holy Grail, but the quick history is a lot more humdrum. The Pope decreed that this small order of Knights would answer only to the Pope/Catholic church and be above Kings/borders and all local laws. All Knights Templar swore themselves to poverty and chastity- and survived by donations. As a way to help the Christian cause, noblemen would make grand donations to the Knights and this helped grow the order into what today would be a considered a multinational corporation. Because they weren’t subject to the local rulers and they were sworn to poverty, they eventually became a trusted source for depositing valuables and controlling and securing wealth. They actually came up with the first form of banking- they would let pilgrims headed to the Holy Land deposit all wealth and valuables at their home area and they would issue a “check” to be redeemed when they reached Jerusalem.

The Templars lasted only a couple hundred years. A French king who financed a war against the English through the Knights was deeply indebted and was able to start enough rumors about the Knights Templar to create an absolute witch hunt- accusing the Knights of homosexual activity, spitting on the cross as part of their private initiation rituals, worshipping idols, etc…all because  he couldn’t pay his bills. He was even able to convince the current Pope (a member of his family, conveniently) to disband the Knights and pass their wealth to other Knight orders…but not before burning the leaders in Paris at the stake-for effect, of course. So- really- no true secret orders, no ulterior missions..just a group with more power than a King and a King who outplayed them. It is said that as the Grand Master of the Knights was burned, he said he would soon meet at God’s door those who orchestrated his punishment. The Pope died a month later and the King was killed in a hunting accident the same year….and that fact gives me a lot of satisfaction. Haha

I digress. Church of Vera Cruz:

A blurry dog along the way. I really wish this photo would have turned out… I love this dog. Ha

We started driving towards Salamanca for the evening but stopped by Avila to see the town with these intact medieval walls surrounding it.

We stopped for a quick meal along the road and happened on a restaurant serving suckling pig and suckling lamb.

I had the Jamon Iberico and of course, Kegan ordered the whole leg of lamb. Haha

They have so many rules on raising, cooking and serving this meat to preserve tradition and quality. It is always served in a clay dish, cooked slow in a clay oven and always with the tag on the foot showing it’s certified.

When we got to the hotel, Norah went to try out the pool.

We ventured out to the main plaza for dinner and had Tapas and drinks with all 2,000 other people in Salamanca on a Friday night. Haha

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