Our cell phone’s alarm clock rang early. We were tired from the travel, but forced ourselves up and out into the early morning light. This was the last hours of our short stay in La Rioja and we wanted to make the most of it.
Downstairs, we rented bikes from the hotel’s front desk. Pedaling our way out from the hotel’s compound, the air was cool and brisk. The feel of the air and the smells and sounds that surrounded us were familiar to wine country worldwide.
We skirted Laguardia’s walls and headed through the dew-coated vineyards to the sprawling, pixelated wave exterior of Bodega Ysios. Bodegas Ysios and Juan Alcorta, which we visited on the previous day, are both members of the Domecq Bodegas winery group. The morning’s visit was not about Ysios’ wine. It was our chance to see the striking structure of Ysios’ winery set amongst the vines. Somehow the bodega managed to look alien but, at the same time, seemed to belong situated in the vineyards.
Cold from the morning air, we rolled back to the hotel, ate breakfast, and headed out. Ganesan and Catherine would return this day to Southampton, so we were headed to Bilbao’s airport. Before they departed we had a chance to visit the Vizcaya Bridge on the mouth of the Ibaizabal estuary just outside of Bilbao.
The Vizcaya Bridge or Puente Colgante (Suspension Bridge translated to English), as the locals call it, was not something that we knew about when we started our trip. On our travels in and out of Bilbao, we noticed a roadside sign indicating the route to this UNESCO World Heritage listed site. The UNESCO designation peaked our interest. We’ve always found UNESCO World Heritage sites interesting.
Built in 1893, the Vizcaya Bridge is the world’s oldest transporter bridge. It solves the challenge of connecting two communities separated by a waterway while still allowing ships to pass underneath. To do this, Alberto Palacio, one of Gustave Eiffel’s disciples, designed a high metal structure that crosses high above the river allowing ships to pass underneath. What is different about a transporter bridge is that passengers and now cars and small trucks are brought across the water in a gondola that moves back and forth across the channel above the river level suspended by cables from the high super structure. Think of it as hanging ferryboat. It is amazing that the whole thing still works.
We spent an hour or so exploring the bridge. For a small sum, we took the elevator to the super structure and crossed high over the river on the caged walkway. Anyone who was fond of his or her Erector Set when growing up would love the Vizcaya Bridge. From the walkway, we could see past the mouth of the river and onto the Bay of Biscay. Far below us, a large ship passed beneath us as the transporter’s gondola paused its shuttling to let it through. At the far side of the river, still high above the water on the super structure, we took the elevator down to the gondola level and paid a small amount for a ride back across the estuary.
In the modern era, the transporter bridge seems like an anachronism. But still, the bridge remains popular with the locals. The gondola was full with passengers going about their local business. We were the only tourists.
UESCO Entry for the Vizcaya Bridge: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1217
From the bridge it was a short trip to the airport. We said our goodbyes to Ganesan and Catherine and headed on to Burgos for the night. Burgos is about two hours by car from Bilbao.
The main attraction in Burgos is its Cathedral. Burgos is a stop on the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago in Spanish), the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Burgos Cathedral itself is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site as is the pilgrimage route of “Route of Santiago de Compostela.”
Our trip to Burgos with Becky at the wheel of the “Chamber of Terror” was surprisingly uneventful. When we arrived we checked into our room. Our hotel, NH Palacio de la Merced, was converted from an 16th and 17th century palace complete with a now covered gothic cloister. Sounds pretty cool and it would have been if the air conditioning actually worked in our room. No matter what, the hotel was unique and it was close to the old quarter of Burgos and its famous cathedral.
After a break, we headed across the river and through the large ornate gate of the old town to the cathedral. On the other side of the gate, Burgos Cathedral is impressive. It is not particularly tall, but it is massive and sprawling. Typically Spanish Gothic, every nook and cranny is seemingly decorated with frilly, ornate stonework. On the spires, the stonework has the hollow, lacy look that I associate with Spanish Gothic. All the splendor of the cathedral is enhanced by the recent restoration work that has left the structure in amazingly pristine condition.
The restoration work was even more striking on the inside. For our entrance fee, we had wide access to the cavernous and well-lit interior space. Often the insides of old cathedrals are sooty dark from the years of use, but the lighting and the restoration left room after room as light and airy, ornate spaces. Bells and vocal sounds from an art installation in the cloister echoed throughout the building imparting atmospheric sounds that recalled Gregorian Chants. I’ve been inside of numerous cathedrals on my travels, but the Cathedral in Burgos was the most impressive and beautiful one I have seen. Without a doubt, Burgos and its cathedral are worth a visit.
Stained glass from the cathedral: