Zamora. The Setmeravelles.

Zamora León Ponferrada

Zamora was the 49th Spanish province I visited, and I finally made it in June 2018. I only saw the capital city, but I was charmed by the city of 63,217 people. I would love to have more time to explore the city and the entire province. The city is home to 24 Romanesque churches, more than any other city in Europe. Zamora el la 49ª provincia española que visité, y por fin fui en junio de 2018. Solo podía ver la capital, pero me encantó la ciudad de 63,217 personas. Me encantaría tener más tiempo para explorar la ciudad y la provincia. La ciudad tiene 24 iglesias románicas, más que cualquier otra ciudad europea. 

Zamora Set Meravelles

1. Castillo de Zamora

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The castle-fort’s orgins are a mystery. Some say Alfonso II of Asturias had it built, while others say it was Fernando I de León. We do know it was built between the 10th and 12th centuries and was reformed under Felipe V. Today it is a tourist attraction. Los origines del castillo-fortaleza son un misterio. Algunos dicen que es de la era de Alfonso II de Asturias mientras otros dicen que era durante Fernando I de León. Sabemos que fue construido entre los siglos X y XII y fue reformado durante la época de Felipe V. Hoy es un sitio turístico. 

2. Catedral de Zamora

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The Romanesque cathedral was built between 1151 and 1174 and is on a hill overlooking the River Duero, dominating the skyline. It still has the old walls and gates and is an impressive site, next to the Castle. La catedral románica fue construida entre 1151 y 1174. Está situado en una colina con vistas del Río Duero y domina el horizonte. Todavía tiene las murallas y puertas antiguas y es impresionante, a lado del castillo. 

3. Fermoselle (yet to discover)

Fermoselle is a medieval village dating back to Roman times and has a population of 1262. Juan de la Encina, father of Spanish theatre, was born there. It is close to the Arribes del Duero Natural Park, a gorge with green rock formations. Fermoselle es un pueblo medieval fundido en los tiempos romanos y tiene una población de 1262 habitantes. Juan de la Encina, el padre de teatro español, nació allí. Está cerca del Parque Natural Arribes del Duero, un barranco con formaciones de roca verdes. 

4. Toro (Yet to discover)

Toro is a quaint village that usually pops up on those lists of beautiful villages of Spain. 9421 people call the town which dates back to 220 B.C. home. It’s built in the shape of a fan and has views of the oasis of Castilla. It’s known for its wine. Toro es un pueblo pintoresco que suele estar en estas listas de pueblos bonitos de España. 9421 personas llaman el pueblo su hogar. Fue fundido en 220 a.C. Tiene el forma de un abanico y tiene vistas del oasis de Castilla. Es conocido por su vino. 

5. Benavente (Yet to discover)

Benavente, population 18,237, dates back to 1167. It has a Parador and several churches and is an important transportation hub in Castilla y León. Benavente, población 18.237, fue fundido en 1167. Tiene un Parador y muchas iglesias y es muy importante para comunicación de transporte en Castilla y León. 

6.  Sanabria (Yet to discover)

The Lake of Sanabria is one of the few glacial lakes in Spain. The comarca has a sizable wolf population . The village of Sanabria has a population of 1432, but it is the impressive lake and mountains that make it must-see for me. El Lago de Sanabria es uno de los pocos lagos glaciales en España.La comarca tiene bastante lobos. El pueblo de Sanabria tiene una población de 1432 personas, pero es el lago impresionante y los montes que me atraen más. 

7. Lagunas de Villafáfila (Yet to discover)

The Lagoons of Villafáfila are three lagoons near the rivers Esla, Valderaduey and Salado, near the village of Villafáfila. Las lagunas de Villafáfila son tres lagunas cerca de los ríos Esla, Valderaduey y Salado, a lado del pueblo de Villafáfila. 

36 Hours in Lugo.

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Located in Galicia in the northwest of Spain, Lugo is a fascinating province capital with a lot to offer visitors…especially tapas. Ubicado en Galicia en el noroeste de España, Lugo es una capital de provincia fascinante con mucho ofrecer a los visitantes…especialmente tapas. 

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Lugo is a city of 98,560 people and is most famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Roman Walls. It’s the only city in the world to have completely intact Roman Walls. The walls are 10-15 metres high (33-49 feet) and the walk around the town on top of the walls is 2.1 km. There are 71 towers with 10 gates. Lugo es una ciudad de 98.560 personas y es conocido por sus murallas romanas que son UNESCO Patrimonio de la Humanidad. Es la única ciudad del mundo para tener murallas que son completas e intactas. Las murallas tienen 10-15 metros de altura y la ruta por arriba de las murallas es 2,1 km. Hay 71 torres con 10 puertas. 

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There is also a Roman bridge over the Minho River worth checking out. It’s along the Camino Primitivo. I was so jealous of the pilgrims I saw as I was ending my Camino. También hay un puente romano que cruce el Río Minho que vale la pena ver. Es parte del Camino Primitivo. Me daban envidia los peregrinos que vi como ya había acabado mi Camino por ahora. 

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I arrived to the beautiful city around 8 pm on a Tuesday in July. My AirBNB was fantastic, although a bit far from the centre of town. It was definitely walkable though. Llegué a la ciudad bonita sobre las 8 en un martes de julio. Mi AirBNB era genial, aunque estaba un poco lejos del centro de la ciudad. No daba ningún problema en caminar. 

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I had dinner cheaply in the Casco Antiguo. They give you huge tapas for free with your drink order (in the morning, most places do it even with your coffee). Tapas are not well-known in the north of Spain, so it was an unexpected treat. Cené en un sitio bueno, bonito y barato por el Casco Antiguo. Te dan tapas grandes gratis con una bebida (por la mañana, la mayoría de los sitios te la dan con tu café.) El norte de España no es conocido por sus tapas, y era un trato que no esperaba. 

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Wednesday morning I awoke to the bad news that I had lost my job for unknown reasons. This put a damper on the visit, but I tried to raise my head up high and enjoy the town and not worry about what I was going to do. El miércoles por la mañana, me desperté a las malas noticias que he perdido mi trabajo para razones desconocidos. Me estropeó la visita, pero intenté ser positivo y olvidarmelo para disfrutar la ciudad y no preocuparme del futuro. 

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I had breakfast and found my way to the bridge, getting lost (somewhat on purpose) in a nearby park. When I arrived to the bridge, I was amazed by its beauty. I’ve read about the Minho River, and I was finally seeing it for myself. I later stopped at the café next door before heading back up to town. Desayuné y encontré el puente, aunque me perdí (quizás no era sin querer) en un parque cercano. Cuando llegué al puente, me fascinó su belleza. He leído mucho del Minho y por fin estaba viendolo en directo. Después, paré en el café a lado antes de volver a la ciudad.

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I went to the Cathedral of Lugo, which was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was partially destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. It was quite the impressive visit. Fui a la Catedral de Lugo, que fue construido en los siglos XII y XIII. Una parte era destruido en el seísmo de Lisboa en 1755. Era una visita impresionante. 

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It was time to explore the walls. I walked around the city on top of the walls, loving every moment. Ya era hora de explorar las murallas. Caminé por la ciudad arriba de las murallas, y me encantó cada momento. 

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I had lunch in the Casco Viejo and went to rest a bit. After the siesta, I returned to town and visited the Lugo Provincial Museum, which was free. It was more an art museum than a history museum, but I can’t complain about the price. Comí en el Casco Viejo y fui a descansar un rato. Después de la siesta, volví al Casco Viejo y fui al Museo Provincial de Lugo, que era gratis. Era más un museo de arte que un museo de historia, pero no me puedo quejar del precio. 

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I watched the sunset from the walls. Vi la puesta de sol desde las murallas. 

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The next day I wandered around town some more, and the rain came back. I caught a BlaBlCar to Gijón, and on Friday another one to Bilbao, and on Sunday went back to Valencia into the Great Unknown. El día siguiente deambulé por la ciudad más, y la lluvia volvió. Cogí un BlaBlaCar a Gijón y viernes cogí otro hasta Bilbao, y el domingo volví a Valencia al Gran Desconocido. 

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Return to Ávila and Salamanca

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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.

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¡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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Team Pablo!

I crossed the Roman bridge and admired the river.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Burgos…home of El Cid.

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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.

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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…

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

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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

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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.