Return to Ávila and Salamanca

DSCN0139

Ávila

For five long years now, I’ve wanted to return to Ávila, a small Castilian capital that I fell in love with on a short day trip from Madrid on a snowy February day in 2010. I even toyed with switching with someone in Ávila who was wanting to stay in Bilbao (and in the end, I’m glad I stayed in Bilbao, rain and egotistical people Capital of the World). I also wanted to return to Salamanca and give the famous university city a second chance, as the first time left me rather unimpressed.

I took advantage of being in Ávila province last week for VaughanTown to revisit these places on the way back. I regret not being able to visit some of the places nearby like Ciudad Rodrígo and Zamora, but that gives me an excuse to return in the future. (I plan on picking up Zamora, Lugo and Ourense whenever I finish the Camino de Santiago.) It also gave me an opportunity to complete some travel to-dos that I had left hanging on my prior 2010 visits.

DSCN0128

¡Bienvenidos a Ávila!

On Friday afternoon, I said goodbye to my new friends from VaughanTown at Cuatro Postes, which was coincidentally the monument I deliberately avoided seeing so I would have an excuse to return to Ávila. Five years later…I went to my pensión next to the train station, rested a bit as I waited for it to cool down, and went off to explore the province capital.

DSCN0142

Cuatro Postes

I stopped at the Oficina de Turismo for a map and meandered the cobblestone streets and admired the walls and views. I didn’t go up the walls (murallas in Spanish) as it was 5€ and I was on a budget, and I had already done the wall walk. It’s well worth doing again though, but budgets are budgets unfortunately. I walked through the park along the Río Adaja and went to the Cuatro Postes to admire Ávila. On the way back, I visited the Parador, as I am prone to do whenever I am in a city that has a castle renovated into a hotel (ie…Parador).

DSCN0104

Catedral

Ávila is the highest province capital in Spain and is said to have more Romanesque and Gothic churches (along with bars and cafés) per capita in Spain and has been a UNESCO World Heritiage site since 1985.

DSCN0096

A león de Athletic in Ávila.

As I am prone to do, I took time to admire the beautiful sunset from just outside the walls. It was a special moment as I reflected on the amazing week I had just had and on my future as the sun said adiós to Friday, August 28th, 2015.

DSCN0170

Ávila Sunset

On Saturday morning, I had a quick tostada con tomate y café con leche at a bar near the train station before catching a bus to Salamanca. The bus was pretty empty, as I like buses to be, and it went through the small towns and villages between the two capital cities. I arrived to Salamanca around noon, and at first, my impression was the same as before: overrated.

After dropping my stuff off at the pensión, I made my way to the city centre and meandered the streets. It was hot, about 35ºC (90s F). The streets were full of people, however. The Plaza Mayor was happening, and although I didn’t have a relaxing café con leche in the actual Plaza, I did nearby.

The Plaza seemed smaller for some reason, but it also seemed more impressive than I remembered. I went inside the library at the Casa de las Conches (the Shell House), and I had a unmemorable lunch before going to find the frog. On my previous visit, I didn’t find the frog, and I wonder if that is why I have had a lot of bad luck in my professional career. It is said that university students must find the hidden frog for luck on their exams.

DSCN0212

Find the frog. ¿Dónde está la rana? I’ll never tell…

It took me a while, but I did it. I found the frog. Team Pablo for the win!

DSCN0241

Team Pablo!

I crossed the Roman bridge and admired the river.

DSCN0225

Lanzarillo de Tormes

As a fan of Lanzarillo de Tormes, an important piece of Spanish literature that inspired Charles Dickens, I was super excited to see the river again.

DSCN0243

Salamanca sunset

I watched the sun set from the Roman bridge, and I saw a bit of the supermoon, although it was hard to capture a picture of it.

DSCN0251

My camera doesn’t like moon pics.

Sunday morning, I went to the Cueva de Salamanca (the Cave of Salamanca), where legend has it the Devil gave lessons in evil. I saw no traces of Lucifer, thankfully (and that part of the legend escaped me until just now while researching the cave!) Today you can climb some steps for some precious views of the city.

Next, I went to the Parador, which didn’t impress me much. I took advantage of exploring the area near the river more. I stopped at a bar-café, Mordiscos I believe, and the waiter happened to be from Bilbao. Although I don’t support the local team (I am a diehard culé (Barça supporter) along with my #1 team, València CF), whenever I see an Athletic item, I have to ask. I do like how Athletic will only sign players from the Basque region, and I believe La Liga would be more interesting with Spanish-only players (I do like Messi and don’t mind Suarez, but I am so sick and tired of the antics of Neymar and especially Cristinao Ronaldo.) I digress. I had a relaxing café con leche here and read a while before having lunch at the same restaurant I ate at five years ago, Don Quijote.

DSCN0267

Salamanca

The Don Quijote restaurant has some amazing ambiance, and the food is quite good too. For those complaining that Spain doesn’t have vegetables, I had a delicious salad that also included peaches. (I never was a fan of veggies until I moved to Spain).

Salamanca left a better second impression than a first. When they had told me it was a “Granada del norte” (Granada of the north), I had my hopes high. If you say a city is a “Granada” of a place, you raise the bar so high it is impossible to reach. This time, with lower expectations, I got more out of my visit to the city.

That said…I still prefer Ávila and believe it is my favourite capital of Castilla y Léon, but Segovia, León and Burgos are pretty stiff competitors.

When I moved to Spain, one of my professors told me to spend a night in Ávila and another on Salamanca whenever I visted these two cities. I finally listened…por fin, le hice caso. The moral of the story, as he would say, is don’t marry a loser and listen to your professors.

 

Advertisement

A different English village in Spain.

vaughan town

Last week, I participated in another English village in Spain. This one, VaughanTown, happens to be part of the Vaughan English Learning Empire of Spain. From Sunday morning until Friday evening, I joined 21 other “Anglo” volunteers to help 21 españoles out with the English language by giving them an opportunity to use all that English grammar and vocabulary they have been studying ad nauseam for their entire lives but never actually use.

vaughan town 5

The most popular 1-to-1 Spot

The location was in the heart of the Gredos near Barco de Ávila in the province of Ávila. The hotel was amazing, and the scenery was breathtaking. We arrived about 13:00, and after a brief introduction we had some lunch and time to check in and unpack. The rule is that two Anglos (English-speakers) and two Spanish-speakers sat at every table. At the beginning of the week, it was quite difficult for the Spanish-speakers to understand (especially the Scottish accents, but I had some problems with those myself). By the end of the week, their conversation skills had improved.

vaughan town 3

The hotel/el hotel

After checking in and receiving more rules, we were off to our one to ones, which we spent talking to the Spanish speakers and assisting them as much as we could.  We usually walked on the many trails nearby, the most popular being to the Río Tormes (Lanzarillo de Tormes) Throughout the week, there were some group activities and three Entertainment Hours, which consisted of skits rehearsed throughout the day.

The Spanish also have to prepare a presentation in English. As a lifelong student of Spanish (and now Catalán), I understand the nerves of having to present on a topic not of your choice in a language that is not your own. It’s very difficult. I can barely do it in English myself if it’s not in the classroom.  Major props to the Spanish who participated.

One evening, there was a queimada, which is a Galician tradition to burn out the bad things in your life. Queimada is an alcoholic drink made from orujo (a Galician alcoholic beverage), sugar, lemon peel, coffee beans and cinnamon that is set on fire. It’s ready when the flames are a bright blue.

On Wednesday, we had a brief tour of the village of Barco de Ávila. On Thursday during my free time, I found another village, Los Llanos de Tormes, which had even more beautiful views of the Gredos mountains.

vaughan town 2

Los Llanos de Tormes

There was lots of wine, even more water, lots of great meals, but most importantly were the memories I now have of these 42 people from all over Spain and all over the world who had gathered here this week.

I’m not going to make a statement as of which is better, VaughanTown or Pueblo Inglés    (now Diverbo). Both are unique opportunities, and both depend on the participants. You get out of it what you put into it. Either one will give you lifelong memories and a week with some fantastic people, and there are too many variables to say which is better.

If you’re interested in applying for a week with VaughanTown, their website can be found here.

vaughan town 4

León…like a lion.

IMG_1633

I’ve been wanting to go back to León ever since that one night I spent in the capital on my way to Asturias in 2011. (How is that four years ago?) My time there, like so many of the smaller provinces, was too short, but it left an impression on me.

On the Puente de Noviembre (long weekend/bank holiday for All Saints’ Day (Todos Los Santos) of 2011, I took off after work, excited that I was about to complete my goal of visiting every comunidad autónoma by arriving to Asturias the next day. I had already decided my next goal would be to visit every province (still working on that one), so I spent the night in León.

IMG_1653

My bus arrived about 10, if I remember correctly, and I checked in at the pensión/hostal (I forget which). The woman was one of the friendliest owners I have encountered in Spain. I went out to the Barrio Húmedo and had either tapas or a kebab, I forget which. It was cold, but being from Ohio, I relished the cold. I walked around a bit and got a good night’s sleep. I awoke Saturday morning to explore the city. I fell in love with the Cathedral, as I’m one of those who believe if you’ve seen one Spanish Cathedral, you’ve pretty much seen them are. However, the Catedral de León, one of the most famous of Spain, is special with its beautiful stained-glass windows. I also saw the Casa de Botines, designed by the famous Gaudí. I had a delicious café con leche y tostada con tomate near the Casa de Botines in a café, whose name escapes me, that left an impression on me (I still remember that breakfast.) I also enjoyed all the graffiti stating that León is NOT Castilla. I didn’t hear any of the dialect “leonés”, but I did see some of the graffiti. After strolling along the river a bit, I headed off to Asturias, anxious to set foot in the last of the 17 autónomas.

Since then, I’ve been dying to go back to León. I almost took off for there a few times this year, especially because I wanted to be able to write the entry dedicated to León better. Alas, time and money never go together.

I also remember being excited at seeing the arrows for the Camino de Santiago (Francés).

The facts on León capital? It was founded as a Roman military encampment around 29 BC. Today it is a city of  nearly 132,000 people and nearly 500,000 in the metropolitan area. León was once one of the most important kingdoms but was consolidated with Castilla in 1301.

    IMG_1664

Set Meravelles

Catedral

IMG_1636

The Catedral of León, also known as La Casa de la Luz (House of Light) or Pulchra Leonina, was built on the site of Roman Baths. During the Reconquista, the baths were converted to a Palace. King Ordoño II converted the Royal Palace into a cathedral to show his devotion to God after defeating the Moors in 917. Alfonso VI consecrated a second cathedral in 1073. The third cathedral began construction in the 13th century but wasn’t completed until the latter part of the 15th century. Today it’s an important milestone on the Camino Frances, and I was glad I was able to see the inside of it for free (it was open on that Saturday morning), as the stained-glass windows are truly impressive.

Barrio Humédo y Casa de los Botines

IMG_1639

La Casa de los Botines is a house designed by Antoni Gaudí in the centre of León. It is four stories/storeys and has a basement and an attic. Gaudí used typical architecture from León, incorporating medieval and neo-Gothic influences. It was bought by the Caja España bank in 1929, and in 2010 merged with similar institutions due to the crisis (2008-???). It’s located near the Barrio Humédo, so named for the number of alcoholic drinks sold in this neighbourhood. The barrio has over 100 bars, centered around Plaza de San Martín and surrounding streets. For the non drinkers, the neighbourhood is also renowned for its tapas.

Astorga (to be discovered)

Astorga has been on my radar for years, perhaps due to all the reading of the Camino de Santiago I did, dreaming of one day doing it myself. Ey, estoy en ello. Located on the River Tuerto 32,4 kilometres (27 miles) southwest of León capital, the city of 12,242 people (2009 records) predate the Paleolithic era. Today it is home of a Cathedral, the Gaudí designed Palacio Espiscopal, Roman remains, remains of the old city walls, and a chocolate museum.

Ponferrada (to be discovered)

With nearly 70,000 habitants, Ponferrada is the last major city before reaching Santiago on the Camino Francés de Santiago. The city was an important mining town for the Romans. It’s home to the Castillo de los Templarios, a Templar Castle dating back to the 12th century. There is also a basilica, a Museum of Radio, el Museo de El Bierzo offering the history of the region, soon an Energy Museum (currently being constructed), and a few churches and érmitas (hermitages). It also offers a ton of opportunities for hiking/trekking and nature.

Parque Natural de las Médulas (to be discovered)

Speaking of nature, located close to Ponferrada is the Natural Park of Las Médulas, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997. They were the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire once upon a time. Today it offers some amazing hiking routes and scenery.

San Miguel de la Escalada (to be discovered)

Ten kilometres away from the Camino de Santiago, the San Miguel de la Escalada is a monastery with Mozarabic art and architecture. It was consecrated in 951 around the time of the founding of the Kingdom  of León. It was abandoned in 1836.

Castrillo de los Polvazares (to be discovered)

Located five kilometres from Astorga, Castrillo de los Polvazares is a small pedestrian-only hamlet of 81 habitants. The entire village is made of stone. Houses, roads, everything is stone. It was important for the reconquista of Astorga during the Spanish Independence War. They do mention the city is overrun with tourists in the summer, so I’m making note to revisit León in the autumn or spring.

Palencia…con “P”.

iPod 642

Houston, we have a problem.

I have very little photographic evidence of my day in Palencia. I apparently had forgotten my camera that day and only have a few blurry ones taken with an iPod Touch. My apologies. You just have to believe me when I say Palencia, while being one of the less famous provinces (and constantly referred to as “With ‘P’ so it doesn’t get confused with Valencia), is a great rural get away. The capital is a bit boring, I have to admit, but there are amazing villages and mountains in the province, and a statue of Jesus Christ is always watching over you wherever you go in the capital.

My spring day in Palencia in 2013 began with a three-hour bus ride from Madrid. Three hours is my limits for a day trip, and at the time I was still hoping that I’d somehow swing a placement in either Catalunya or Valencia and wanted to visit places that weren’t so far from Madrid while in Madrid. I remember watching and loving Crazy Stupid Love on the bus. The bus station isn’t much to write about, and I didn’t write a lot about the city in my private journal. I do remember meandering the streets and admiring the Cathedral and Casco Viejo. The river was quite muddy with the spring rains (It had rained for a month in Madrid, where rain is rare. The north, of course, got more.) I was lucky as it was sunny and 15ºC (upper 50s/low 60s range). For me, the highlight of the trip was my walk to the hill at the top of the town to see the statue of Jesus, El Cristo de Otero. It’s Palencia’s most famous tourist attraction. I was beginning to fall more and more in love with walking during this time in my life (it was only two years ago!), and the walk up the hill was short but fun. The views were quite nice too.

I’d like to go hiking in the northern part of the province sometime soon. As I am now 98,72% I’ll be staying another year in Bilbao, I may have my chance soon. I should mention that the Camino de Santiago Frances passes through 70 kilometres of the province.

Set Meravelles  

El Cristo del Otero

iPod 645

This statue of Jesus can be seen for kilometres. Located on a knoll (Otero) , the Statue, situated as if it were blessing the city of Palencia, was built in 1931 by architect Victorio Macho and is said to be 21 metres high (or 21 yards or 63 feet high). Of course, like everything in Spain, the actual height is up to debate.  There is a museum at his feet, along with an ermita and the grave of the designer.
Casco Viejo y Catedral

iPod 642

Palencia is the province capital and has around 80,000 people. The Carrión River flows through the city and there is a Roman bridge (that has been replaced various times). La Olmeda Roman Village is a house that dates back to 4 AD, and there are some traces of the old city walls. The Cathedral was built between 1321 and 1504 in Gothic style.

Carrión de los Condes

40 kilometres from the province capital, peregrinos on the Camino can stop in Carrión de los Condes, population 2300, home of the fictitious sons-in-law of El Cid. The town has a number of old churches and some nice streets to travel back in time on.

Pedrosa de la Vega (La Olmeda)

Pedrosa de la Vega, population 366, may not offer much, but it is located only 1 kilometre away from La Olmeda, a Bien de Interés Cultural. La Olmeda is a Roman village excavated professionaly in the 1960s and also has a museum.

El Canal de Castilla

Canals aren’t just for Venice, Brugges and Panama. Built in the 18th century, the Canal de Castilla is one of the few canals in Spain and runs through Burgos and Valladolid too. It is 207 km (129 miles) long and was a major help in irrigation after trains took over the transport. Today they are using it to study wetlands in Palencia to improve the biodiversity located along the canal.


Villalcázar de Sirga

Another stop on the Camino Frances, Villalcázar de Sirga only has a population of just over 200, but it also has a beautiful church that is burial site of Infante Felipe de Castilla and his second wife Inés Rodríguez Girón.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista

Located 13 kilometres from the province capital, the oldest church in Spain, the Church of San Juan Bautista (John the Baptist) dates back to the Visigoths. The church is located in Baños de Cerrato and Venta de Baños, which used to be a major train transportation hub.

Ávila…a wall around the city.

avila 5

Ávila, a small Castilla y León capital of 59,000 habitants located 1132 metres (3714 feet) above sea level 115 kilometres north of Madrid, remains one of my favourite cities in the Greatest Peninsula in the World and a place I’ve wanted to return to ever since my first (and really, only) visit in 2010. I definitely prefer it to its neighbours Segovia (which I also love) and Salamanca.

Ávila is said to have the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain, along with bars and restaurants. Along with Toledo, it’s one of the most medieval cities in Spain, and by visiting the city, you feel like you’re stepping back into time. The city is surrounded by medieval walls, which for a nominal fee, you can visit and walk along the top of. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 for good reason.

avila 7

It was a snowy morning in late February 2010 when I visited Ávila. I caught the morning train from Chamartin as I really didn’t feel like going to Estación Sur de Madrid (whenever does anyone want to go there?) and the price was about the same. A couple of hours through some gorgeous countryside, and I was in Ávila to have my morning tostada con tomate y café con leche. I remember going instantly to the muralla (wall) and paying to walk above it and falling in love with the city and the wall. It was cold but sunny, and I was quite happy to see snow once again. I meandered through the city, planning a return trip that I still have yet to make. I left something left to see, the Los Cuatro de Postes, so I would make sure to come back. I made it to the Springfield and shopped the last bit of their rebajas (sales) before heading back to Madrid. I was tired from the day’s meanders.

avila

Yeah, I’ve never really made it back, but I did see the Los Cuatro de Postes from a bus stop of 15 minutes on the way to a summer camp. And I made it back to Ávila provincia (province) in 2010, to a beautiful village called Candeleda. I was in the mountains a bit away from the town, but I fell in love with the brilliant sunset I saw every night.

My personal blog’s comments on Ávila were short and to the point. I always go back and read them to refresh my memory. I was going through a BAD flatmate situation at that time, which explains why it was so short as I had been complaining about that instead of writing on my day. Youth!

Yesterday, I went to Ávila for the day. We read about it in class. It’s an amazing city…highest province capital in Spain. It has this “muralla” (wall) surrounding the city. It’s just how I like my Spanish cities to be. A clash of medieval and modern. Way cooler than Zaragoza.

avila 6

Set Meravelles

Ávila Capital

23812_318491506365_5551890_n

The province capital is a wonder in itself. Higher in altitude than any other Spanish capital, the city offers spectacular views with a medieval flair. It has a ton of churches to visit, including a cathedral and basilica, many beautiful plazas to have your relaxing café con leche (or irlandés (Irish)) and a ton of charm and history.

Muralla

avila 8

The city walls were constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries and has a perimeter of around 2516 metres (7548 feet or 2516ish yards), which is the equivalent of 88 blocks. There are 9 gates, and the average height is 12 metres (12 yards or 36 feet) and is the largest fully illuminated monument in the world. Only about half of it is open for pedestrians, and it’s worth the price of admission to walk wherever you can on top of these mighty walls.

La Sierra de Gredos (Yet to discover)

The mountains of the Gredos are one of the largest in Spain, and its highest peak, Pico Almanzor is 2592 metres (7776 feet) high. The mountains are home to many flora and fauna, and part of the mountains belong to the protected area Parque Regional de la Sierra de Gredos.

Candeleda

candeleda

I was lucky enough to work at a summer camp located out in the countryside near Candeleda where I had this sunset every night. The “Andalucía de Ávila” has around 5200 residents and is home to the festival honouring their virgin Chilla in September and the Candelas in February. Former British Prime Minister John Major has spent many summers here.

Arévalo (Yet to discover)

Arévalo, population 8100, is a village whose name stems from the Celtic word “arevalon”, meaning “city near the wall”. Today its North Walls can still be seen, and the rest of the walls are undergoing restoration. It also is home to a Castle, el Castillo de Arévalo.

Madrigal de las Altas Torres (Yet to discover)

While only boasting 1600 habitants, the small village of Madrigal de las Altas Torres has one very important citizen, Queen Isabel I of Castilla, better known as the Isabella in Ferdinand and Isabellla, the Catholic Kings who finished the Reconquista and funded Christopher Columbus. Today it has some medieval walls and a chance to see España profunda.

Castro de Ulaca (Yet to discover)

Castro de Ulaca is an archaelogical zone near Solosancho and has been a “Bien de Interés Cultural” since 1986 (Place of Cultural Interest). It’s located in the Sierra de la Paramera and has an altar, a sauna and various houses from the Vettones in the century 1 B.C.

Burgos…home of El Cid.

Burgos 2015 024

Burgos is known for being one of the coldest places in Spain. The province of Castilla y León is famous for being cold, for the capital’s cathedral, a major stop on the Camino de Santiago Frances, and for its many pueblos (villages and towns). It is said to have more villages than any other province in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. In my experience from crisscrossing the province on the bus and train over the years, it happens to have some of the most beautiful villages too. It has a ton of mountains and a ton of plains. Peregrinos (pilgrims) get a special discount to enter the cathedral by the way. (It normally costs 7€ to enter. I’m not paying that money to enter a House of God, sorry! Even if it is said to be one of the most impressive in the world. I’m not sure they’d be happy with my Credentials going from Zumaia to Burgos with no stops in between either! So I didn’t try to use them.)

El Cid, Rodrígo Diaz de Vivar is a real (yet more known for the important Spanish literature El Cid) was born in Burgos in the village Vivar del Cid. He was very important in the fight against the Moors. I keep meaning to read this Spanish work of literature but have never got around to it. (I have read Quijote in Spanish if that counts for anything.)

In 2013, on a cold three-day weekend I had in January, I finally got the chance to visit the capital city. I fell in love with the Cathedral and the Arco de Santa María, the Río Arlanzón, the Cartuja Miraflores (a Carthusian monastery) and the views from the Parque de Castillo (Park of the Castle) of the city and surroundings. I tried tapas de morcilla (blood sausage, black pudding, whatever translation works for you), which is so much better than the English name makes it sound (Reason #928392 why Spanish is better than English) and experienced the city. I had come wanting some snow, but it was 10ºC/50ºF. On Sunday, going back to Madrid, I stopped in the town whose bus station serves as the “parada de 20 minutos” in the bus from Bilbao to Madrid. It had looked so beautiful from the road. And it was really beautiful to walk through the streets, but the good weather ran out on me. It started to rain a cold rain/sleet, and I had a bit of time to kill before the next bus to Madrid. I’m glad I got to see Lerma, but I wish I would’ve had better weather.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada 052

Later in 2013, during my move from Madrid to Bilbao, I rented/hired a car and drove through the province, stopping in Aranda de Duero. I was running late, so I had no time to really explore it, but I did get a chance to see what the town was like (very typical small city of Castilla y León). I took the back roads to avoid the too-high toll roads and saw some incredibly beautiful mountains. I stopped at a roadside café to have one last café before crossing the Euskadi border (something like that scene in Ocho Apellidos Vascos, only rainier). I love small-town Spain in the summer evenings.

In 2014, I returned to the province once again, this time to work at an intensive-English course. I regret that my ankle was still healing from the sprain as there were so many beautiful trails to hike nearby.

On the backroads, on the old highway, there is an incredibly beautiful village in the mountains known as Pancorbo.

And I just got back from another trip to the capital city. This time, I was greeted with snow flurries, a nice change from the torrential rains that have plagued the Basque Country since November. Most of the weather was sunny, though. I stayed at the same hostal I had before, which is by far one of the best hostal (cheap hotel) I have stayed at in Spain. Happy Corral Hostal will give you a good night’s stay at a cheap price, and the front-desk clerk knows a lot about Burgos and is willing to inform you about anything the province and city has to offer.

I sort of wanted to relive Burgos before writing about it, and I was also hoping to cross a few more places in the province that I wanted to see off my list. Unfortunately, without a car, a lot of the weekend transport leaves a lot to be desired (IE, not a lot of bus options). One day, when I have a car, all these Set Meravelles that I list that I haven’t been to yet WILL be crossed off, I promise.

Any trip to Burgos is a well-deserved trip, though. Without further ado…

Setmeravelles

Catedral (UNESCO World Heritage Site) y el Casco Viejo de Burgos

Burgos 2015 010

Even though I haven’t seen the inside of it as I am a cheapskate don’t feel that one should pay money to enter a House of God, the outside alone of the Cathedral of Burgos is impressive enough. The construction of the Gothic cathedral began in 1221. Nearby is my fave, the Arcos de Santa María, the medieval gate to the city. There are a ton of tapas bars nearby, and the Plaza Mayor is also quite stunning (and yes, has relaxing cafés con leche.) Two great nearby bars/cafes are Cafe de España (opened in 1921) and Viva La Pepa, right in the cathedral square. The Cathedral and city are best contemplated from high above, from the Parque de Castillo in front of the Burgos Castle ruins (there aren’t much, honestly). I write all about the capital city in one shot because there is so much to be discovered in this province. The city capital is 180,000 habitants, by the way, with another 20,000 in the metropolitan area.

Lerma

025

Lerma, population 2800, is more than a “parada de 20 minutos” on the Madrid-Bilbao ALSA line. It has many buildings designed by the Duke of Lerma, Francisco Gómez de Sandoval, a close friend of King Felipe III, including the Ducal palace. The Ducal palace was a prison during the Spanish Civil War and today is a parador, one of those castles or palaces turned into a hotel. There are also various churches and a medieval feel.

Atapuerca (to be discovered)

The Atapuerca Mountains has a ton of caves and secrets of the past. In the mountains lies the important archaeological site of Atapuerca where human remains from the Bronze Age were found in 1964 while digging out a railway tunnel. The excavation site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Covarrubias (to be discovered)

Covarrubias, population around 650 habitants, is a beautiful medieval village located in the Río Arlanza valley. It was declared a Cojunto Histórico-Artístico in 1965.

Frías (to be discovered)

Frías, population 275, is an offical Pueblo Bonito in Spain and the smallest population to be called a city. Yes, 275 people can constitute a city (remember, Bilbao, capital of the world with its 350,000 citizens is a villa, not a city). But it was made a city in 1435 and has been one ever since. It has a castle, medieval bridge and some hanging houses. Skyscanner recently named it one of the 17 Most Beautiful Villages in Spain.

Santo Domingo de Silos (to be discovered)

The Benedictine Monastery and Abbey named for Dominic of Silos dates back to the Visogoths of the 7th century. Fernando I (Fernando the Great) had Santo Domingo renovate it, hence the current name. It’s considered one of the most beautiful and important monasteries in Spain.

San Pantaleón de Losa (to be discovered)

The Valle de Losa is located in the north of the province. The”ermita de San Panteleón de Losa” (hermitage/small church) was consecrated in 1207 and is said to have the blood of San Panteleón and figures into the search for the Holy Grail (it’s in Valencia!!!). For me, it’s the scenery that gets me. Like I always say, God is always a better architect than man.

Salamanca. Looking for a frog…

salamanca 4

The city of Salamanca, metropolitan area of 214,000, located not far from the Portuguese border in western Spain, is known throughout the peninsula for its Plaza Mayor (perhaps the relaxing café con leche was invented at this one, seeing as how the one in Madrid was based on this one and the Plaza Mayor in Valladolid), university and student life. They even have a fake New Year’s Eve before the real deal so students can celebrate the occasion with their friends before going home for the holidays. According to tradition, students must find the lucky frog (Rana de Suerte) in order to have good luck and pass their exams.

On my one-day visit to the capital in spring 2010, I was not able to find the frog. I think I’ve had a run of bad luck ever since, as I still have not done my MA in Hispanic Studies, and the month following that day I had a horrible case of bad luck. I’m not going to reveal the location of the frog (you can Google it easily, but I’m not helping cheaters! Find it on your own, which I will do if I ever go back.)

Before I went to Salamanca, many people had built the city up in my mind, saying it was the Granada of the north. For those who have been to Granada, you know this is a mighty claim and raises the stakes of a place. You expect a lot. My expectations were not met. I will admit I was very tired the day I went and dealing with a lot of stuff (job and boy worries). And looking back at my photos, I wonder what the hell I was thinking, as Salamanca is beautiful.

It’s just not Granada.

I saw the major sites of the city (Plaza Mayor, Casa de Unamuno, the oldest university in Spain (Universidad de Salamanca), the Old and “New” Cathedral), but I never found the frog. I remember having a really good meal on the cheap at a place that had a name that was an ode to Quijote or Cervantes and having to translate for Germans annoyed that the waitress didn’t speak English. We’re in Spain, not Australia, folks! We speak Spanish, Basque, Catalán/Valenciano and Galician (Gallego)!

I had a chance to return to the province of Salamanca for a week in 2012 to the village of La Alberca. La Alberca is an amazingly charming and beautiful village (and home of the very first check apparently a few centuries ago. You can still use your debit card, but cash is preferred all over Spain!). I went with Pueblo Inglés (now Diverbo) as a volunteer for their program that gives Spanish speakers a chance to learn English with native speakers in their own country. I fell in love with this village and the beauty of it all.

I nearly ran away to Salamanca this weekend to escape the endless rain of Bilbao, but a clearer head prevailed as I’m saving money for my Easter holiday. I’d love to give this city a second chance and hit up Ciudad Rodrigo.

Set Meravelles

La universidad y la rana

The oldest university in Spain was founded in 1218 by King Alfonso XI of León. Today the city has 36,000 students and people come from all over Spain and even the world to study here. Salamanca is one of the most popular places to study Spanish, and the city has an international flair due to all the students. The frog is hidden somewhere in the university, that much I will give away….

Plaza Mayor

salamanca 2

The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca is the heart of the city and boasts many shops, cafés and ice cream parlours. The plaza is always filled with people. It was constructed in the Baroque style between 1729 and 1755. The old part (Casco Viejo) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Let’s all go have our relaxing café con leche here!

Río Tormes

salamanca 3

The Río Tormes flows through the provinces of Ávila and Salamanca to wind up at the Río Duero. It is 284 kilometres (176 miles) long.

La Casa de las Conchas

salamanca 1

Construction began on the Shell House in 1493 but it wasn’t completed until 1517. Today it is a public library. It’s unique for having a façade with 300 shells in the shape of Santiago and el Camino de Santiago.

La Alberca

IMG_4379

Ay, the days of my blurry camera! Grrr. Anyway, La Alberca is a small village of just over 1000 habitants and has been inhabitated since before Roman times. One of the interesting traditions of this town is the pig tradition. La Alberca is famous for its jamón negro (black ham). Every year, San Anton, as the pig is named, is blessed on July 13 and released to run free in the streets. Whatever house he decides to call home for the evening must take the pig in for the night and care for him. On Jan. 17, San Antion, the pig is raffled off.

IMG_4386

Ciudad Rodrigo (to be discovered)

Ciudad Rodrigo is 25 kilometres from Portugal and is a Cathedral city of about 14,000. It lies on the banks of the Águeda river and is still enclosed by the city walls. It’s a must-see for any history lover or lover of medieval cities. I’ve been hearing rave reviews from many people about the beauty of this town.

Ledesma (to be discovered)

Ledasma, with nearly 2000 habitants, is located 730 metres above sea level and has a Roman bridge. It also has walls, a castle and tons of beautiful trails and views.

Soria. More than a parada de 20 minutos

   IMG_4166

Soria is one of many forgotten provinces in Castilla y León. Many people only know the province from the bus stop between Barcelona and Madrid that offers beautiful views and cold/hot weather, depending on the season. The capital city is a beautiful Castilian city that is often ignored for not being off a main highway between major cities. That’s okay as it keeps it an undiscovered treasure for everyone else. Antonio Machado, famed Spanish poet of the Generación de ’98, taught French in a secondary school for five years here.

I remember one of my first trips from Madrid to Zaragoza or Barcelona and the bus stop at the travel plaza in the province when it started snowing. I hadn’t really heard of Soria before and wasn’t sure which Castilla it was in. I did my research and suddenly wanted to travel. It wasn’t until 2012 when I had my chance. On a hazy summer day, I went to Soria on a day trip and fell in love with it. It only has a population of around 40,000, making it a smaller capital. It has a beautiful park, but my fave part of the day was walking along the River Duero to the San Saturio ermita (small church. Do people really use “hermitage”? As I have never heard of that word in English before, and I’m a native speaker supposedly…) I remember seeing a lot of small villages in the country that looked beautiful. I haven’t had the chance to go back, but I was just looking to see if there was a bus from Bilbao to Soria before writing this. Unfortunately there isn’t a direct one, but if I stop in Logroño and change buses…

I found this in my private journal about the day to refresh my memory just now. Today I crossed another province off my list. Soria. It’s in Castilla y León, north of Guadalajara (Castilla La Mancha) and south of Zaragoza (Aragón) and the capital city has a population of about 35.000.

It took me a bit to find a decent place that had my tostada con tomate, and it as an expensive tostada and not that great. I then took off to the castle, which would be better labeled as ruins, as there was nothing left but a few walls, surrounding a swimming pool. It was on top of a mountain with view of more mountains.

I then lucked out and found a path down to the trail next to the river Duero, which I took to find the ermita which as made out of a cave. So cool, and sort of a religious experience, of course. There is just something about putting Caedmon’s Call on the iPod and being in touch with nature.

I had a decent meal, although I am trying to eat healthy and change my diet. It was probably not the healthiest, but a lot healthier than it could have been.

A walk through the park, and now I’m on the bus back to Madrid, annoyed that the wifi doesn’t work and that the bus left 10 minutes late.

Set Meravelles

Ermita de San Saturio

IMG_4190

Another ermita, yay! The cool thing about this one is that it’s located in a cave. Sure, they have built up around the cave, but the entrance and part of the ermita is located in a cave. It’s a nice hike from the city, or if you have a car, a very short car ride. Construction began in the 18th century and has an octagon shape.

Castillo

IMG_4169

Perched high upon the hill of Soria, the ruins of a former castle (along with the old city walls)  look over the Río Duero. When I heard there was a castle, I got excited, but all that remains are ruins like in the photo. Nothing last forever! The ruins are still worth checking out, especially for the views from the hill. Those searching out for a more impressive castle can visit el Castillo de Gormaz, 13 kilometres (about 20 miles more or less) from Burgo de Osma, another meravella of the province. I have yet to visit this castle though.

Plaza Mayor

IMG_4147

Madrid Mayor Ana Botella would be happy to have the chance to have a relaxing café con leche in this Plaza Mayor. It’s one of the most important plazas of the city, although on the hot summer morning I was there, I didn’t spend much time there.

Duero

IMG_4189

The Río Duero is one of the most important rivers (the third longest after the Tajo and Ebro) in the Greatest Peninsula in the World, and this time I say it to include Spain’s frenemy Portugal as the river flows on to meet the Atlantic in Porto, Portugal. It flows through the heart of Castilla y León, crossing through five Castilian Leon provinces: Soria, Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca and Zamora.

Burgo de Osma (to be discovered)

The third largest municipality of Soria, Burgo de Osma , population 5250, is located on the Duero. It’s another beautiful medieval village that has walls and a cathedral. For the non-vegetarian foodies out there, in weekends between January and April, they have “Jornadas de la Matanza” to celebrate the autumn’s harvest.

Medinaceli (to be discovered)

Medinaceli derives from the Arab word for “city” and the Celtic word for “hill”, so you can imagine that this is a city on a hill. Today this “city” has only 804 people, but it is said to be one of the most beautiful locals in Spain. I can attest to what little I saw from the bus that it looks beautiful. The Arco (Arch) de Medinaceli is one of the most famous images of the village, and there is also a castle.

Laguna Negra (to be discovered)

Located in the Picos de Urbión, the “Black Lagoon” is famous due to Machado’s La tierra de Alvargonzález, where he said the lagoon had no limit to its depths. Perhaps this is where the Creature from the Black Lagoon came into being. It was made by glaciers, just like Lake Erie. It’s usually only accessed by foot after parking the car 2 kilometres away (1.2 miles); however during Semana Santa and the summer a bus connects the parking lot/car park (“parking” in Spanish!) to the lagoon.

 Psst: Happy Groundhog Day! Groundhog in Spanish is “marmota”, and the Spanish think this day is pretty ridiculous. I hope the endangered Spanish lynx brings snow to Bilbao before bringing back Lorenzo the Sun!

Segovia…a Medieval Journey

  Spanish Road Trip! 003

Located an hour north of Madrid, Segovia is an incredible medieval city that would have to be even more incredible covered in snow. I’ve visited the city three times and have also managed to visit a few of their coolest pueblos. The capital city and province are famous for their cochinillo (suckling pig. Babe fans might not want to try this delicacy), which is the food everyone recommends trying there. For not being a foodie, I did try this and I have to agree. It is delicious.

Segovia capital is a typical Castillian-Leonese capital city, small, medieval, quaint, and amazing. Its population tops out at 57,000 people and is in located in the Guadarrama mountains. Its Roman architecture, including that famous aqueduct, made it a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1985. It also has an old Jewish quarter

My first trip to Segovia was way back in 2009, when I was still trying to meet my goal of travelling to every Spanish comunidad autonoma and wanted to pick up Castilla y León before headed back to the States for the summer. I fell in love with the typical stuff, the aqueduct, the Cathedral, the Alcázar that supposedly is the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle, the medieval streets…I had a chance to study here instead of Toledo in 2003, and I found myself playing a lot of What-Ifs. However, both city have their merits, and Toledo is/was an amazing experience in its own right. I returned to Madrid happy with my first visit, dying for my second.

The second wouldn’t come until 2012. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There are just way too many places in Spain to see and experience to be able to do in one lifetime. Life always gets in the way. As the 15th of May is a holiday in the city of Madrid and many of the villages close by, I took advantage of having the day off to go to Segovia for a second time, and I was just as enchanted as I was the first time. It’s small enough and close enough to Madrid for a daytrip, although the bus seemed to be a bit expensive for an hour-twenty minute journey.

The third trip was a May Sunday morning in 2013. La Granja de San Ildefonso is a small village 13 kilometres/7.8 miles from Segovia Capital, and I took the bus from Madrid to spend my Sunday at this beautiful palace and gardens. I remember stopping at a bar with a Route 66 theme, and the bartender was so excited to meet someone who had been on Route 66 and was from the States. My freaking accent always gives me away. It was one of my favourite daytrips from Madrid ever.

La Granja de San Ildefonso 058

I was in Segovia again in 2013 when I went on an excursion with the Madrid gay Christian group. On the way back from visiting the Pueblos Negros de Guadalajara , we stopped in a lovely village called Ayllón. I got a free poster from the Oficina de Turismo that is still hanging in my room in Bilbao.

Many of the places in Segovia province that I want to see have horrible times for buses. For example, Pedraza only has one bus a day from Segovia at 17:00, so you have to stay the night. This is not to avoid tourists, but it’s for the people of the village who catch the bus in the morning to spend the day in Segovia shopping and whatnot, then return on the bus at 17:00. But for those without a car, it makes things more complicated. I remedied this situation on my move from Madrid to Bilbao on 30 July 2013. I rented a car and drove through the province, picking up villages like Pedraza and Sepúlvedra off my list. Pedraza didn’t have a good place to eat, I remember, so I found a great restaurant and had a late lunch (even for the Spanish) in Sepúlvedra. A great way to close out my time in Madrid.

Set Meravelles

1. La acueducto 

Segovia17

The aqueduct of Segovia is the most famous place in the city and province. It is believed to have been built in the first century AD and is believed to have been commissioned by the Roman emperor Domitian. It transported water from the Fuente Fría (Cold Fountain. Things sound better in Spanish.) some 17 km/11 miles away to Segovia and was an impressive feat for the Romans. It operated until the mid 19th century. Today it’s easily the most photographed aqueduct in Spain and is currently a part of the World Monuments Watch to ensure its protection well into the future.

2. Alcázar de Segovia

IMG_3801

Originally built as a fortress, the Alcázar (fortress) of Segovia has also been a palace, a prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military school. It is currently a museum and a military archived storage facility. In 1474 the Catholic Queen Isabel took refuge here after the death of Enrique IV  and was crowned the next day Queen with the support of Segovia’s council. It is one of the inspirations for Cinderella’s Castle, perhaps giving credence to the myth that Walt Disney was born in Almería.

3. Catedral de Segovia

Segovia57

The Cathedral of Segovia is one of the last Gothic cathedrals in Europe built before the Renaissance style took over. It’s located in Plaza Mayor in the centre of Segovia capital and was built in the 16th century after the previous one had been destroyed in a rebel attempt that lasted months. Crescentius of Rome is still buried here.

4. Ayllón

Spanish Road Trip! 019

Ayllón is a small village of 1400 people that was a random place that I visited and fell in love with. It’s 94 km from the capital (or 56,4 miles) and the Aguisejo and Riaza rivers pass through the village. The treaty that ended the wars of the Interregnum between Portugal and Castilla was signed here.  It is listed as a place of cultural interest (Bien de Interés Cultural) by Spain.

5. Pedraza

Spanish Road Trip! 019

Pedraza is a very small village of 500 people located 37 km/22,2 miles from Segovia capital. It is a medieval village complete with walls and has a castle. It’s one of those villages built on a hill that offer spectacular views, and it’s well worth the drive or staying a night if you must rely on that crazy bus schedule to get here.

6. Sepúlveda

Spanish Road Trip! 031

Located partially in the Parque Natural de las Hoces de Río Duratón, Sepúlveda is a village of 1200 citizens and is another place of Bien de Interés Cultural. It has been important in several of Spain’s many wars throughout history and offers several churches and a castle in ruins.

7. Real Sitio de La Granja de San Ildefonoso

La Granja de San Ildefonso 070

Sometimes known as the Spanish Versailles, La Granja de San Ildefonoso is an 18th century palace with incredible gardens and incredible views of the surrounding mountain countryside. Despite not having any elephants, it has been a popular hunting site for Spanish kings through history. Today it is open to the public and if you’re there for the festivals of San Fernando and San Luis, you can see the fountains on full display. The palace began construction by Felipe V and modeled on Versailles in France. It was the summer home to many kings, but I just don’t see King Felipe and Queen Letizia summering there today due to all the tourists. Maybe the abdicated King Juan Carlos and his wife Sofía might visit since they have more free time now.

Bonus: Riaza (yet to visit)

Riaza is another quaint medieval village. I know there are even more in this medieval province to discover one day.

Valladolid. The Pure Spanish.

IMG_4264

Valladolid is not a name familiar to most people who visit Spain. It’s a rather small province and capital that stays out of way of more famous nearby provinces like Segovia, Ávila and Salamanca in the comunidad autónoma Castilla y León, although it is the de facto capital of Castilla y León. Granted, every September, the small village Tordesillas makes news for their controversial traditional slaughter of a bull (different from a normal bullfight, which most Spaniards would also label “slaughter”, but that’s neither here nor there) during the Torneo del Toro de la Vega. Other than that, Valladolid is known for having the “purest” dialect of Castilian Spanish. As my university has a graduate program exchange with the University of Valladolid, I knew of this province about 200 kilometres north of Madrid long before my arrival in the greatest peninsula in the world.

My trip to Valladolid came in August 2012. Valladolid is one of those provinces that is very hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. On the Friday in August when I went, it was 35º Celsius (95ºF). I first stopped in the medieval village Medina del Campo, which was preparing for their medieval festival that weekend. I stopped off for my usual café con leche y tostada con tomate and explored the town before hiking up to the impressive Castillo de la Mota. I had seen the castle from the bus on the way to Asturias the previous year and had wanted to go there ever since. It was well worth the wait and the visit. I had to catch the 12.44 train to Valladolid capital, so my time at the castle was unfortunately cut short.

IMG_4225

It’s a short train trip from Medina del Campo to Valladolid, so I arrived in time for lunch. I was catching the last bus to Madrid that evening, so I had plenty of time to explore the city of 300,000 people. Needless to say, I was impressed. I found the Plaza Mayor much nicer than the one in Salamanca, and the city itself seemed to me a pleasant mix of Castilla and surprisingly, Bilbao. Perhaps it comes with speaking the “castellano más puro”, but the city had a taste of elegance and sophistication. People seemed to dress up a bit more here than in Madrid, and the cafés had a flair of modern posh style. My favourite parts of the city include the Plaza Mayor and the park Campo Grande (literally translated to “Big Field”. Things sound better in Spanish.) I also enjoyed a walk along the river. As Valladolid couldn’t be more landlocked, they’ve turned part of the river into a beach.

IMG_4308

There are a lot more things to see and discover in Valladolid, as it is a province rich in nature and history. The Catholic Kings Fernindad and Isabel were married there in 1469, and Christopher Columbus died there in 1506. (Apparently the people of Valladolid like to be the centre of controversy.) The Castilian Kings called Valladolid their home in the 15th Century, and Felipe III made it the kingdom capital from 1601-1606.

For the foodies (which I’m admittedly not. I could eat tostada con tomate and paella valenciana (chicken and vegetables) every meal), the typical dish of the region is lachazo, or baby lamb.

Set Meravelles

 1. Castillo de la Mota y Medina del Campo

IMG_4234

45 kilometres from the province capital, Medina del Campo is a medieval small city of 22,000 habitants. “Medina” is arabic for “city”. It still has a few remains from the old walls around the city. The most famous attraction is the Castillo de la Mota, located on an artificial hill (mota) just outside the city. Cesare Borgia was a prisoner here at one time and was restored during the Franco era due to its ties to the Catholic monarchs.

2. Campo Grande (Valladolid)

IMG_4258

The Campo Grande is a beautiful park over 300 years old in the centre of the city. It’s in the shape of a triangle and is the home of many birds, including lots of peacocks. It’s a nice place for shade during those hot summer afternoons.

3. Plaza Mayor (Valladolid)

IMG_4277

The Plaza Mayor of Valladolid has two siblings, the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca and the Plaza Mayor of Madrid with its relaxing cups of café con leche. Its origins date back to the 13th century and is home to the ayuntamiento (city hall). After being destroyed in a fire 1561, King Felipe II hired architect Francisco de Salamanca to redesign it. It was later used as the model for the Plaza Madrid in Salamanca which influenced the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Although I was here before the Madrid mayor’s infamous “open mouth, insert foot” comment, I did have a café con leche here. I still have yet to do that in Salamanca’s or Madrid’s.

4. Catedral y las iglesias (churches) de Valladolid

IMG_4302

Valladolid is home to many beautiful churches, including their unfinished cathedral (they lost the funding to finish building it due to the capital being moved from Valladolid to Madrid in the 1500’s). Only half the church from the original design was built. San Benito, San Miguel, San Pablo (¡Vivan los Pablos), El Salvador, Santiago, Santa María la Antigua and San Juan de Letrán are some other interesting churches in the city.

5. El río Duero

IMG_4321

The Duero River is the third longest in the Iberian peninsula and flows through Valladolid. It flows through five provinces of Castilla y León (and through Portugal to Porto). Valladolid has turned its banks into a beach at one part, and it provides a great walk through town.

6. La Universidad de Valladolid

The University of Valladolid is one of the oldest universities in the world, established in the 1241. It is still an important Spanish university, although it doesn’t have quite the fame as neighbouring Universidad de Salamanca.

7. Tordesillas (to be discovered)

While the village of 9000 people is more infamous today for its controversial festival, Tordesillas once played an important part in world history. The 1494 treaty between the Catholic Monarchs and Portugal was signed here which stated where Portugal and Spain could and couldn’t colonize. It still has a castle and appears to be worth the time and effort to visit one day.