On Monday morning, we bid farewell to Salamanca and drifted 100km through the high plains to Ávila, a city in the rolling hill country northwest of Madrid. It’s best known for it’s intact medieval city walls, with 80-plus crenellated, semi-circular towers and 9 gates, including the arched El Alcázar, on the eastern side. Long sections on top of the walls are walkable, for a fee. At night, the illuminated walls are a pretty distinctive sight. Unfortunately, we’d been rather spoilt by Salamanca by this stage and, to be honest, Ávila’s walls were about the only thing about the city that lit us up, both by day and by night! Fortunately, the parking was free and we had a fab view of the walls from where we were so it kinda made up for the disappointment of the city itself. We’ve seen so many churches and cathedrals by this stage that I think we’re actually all churched-out now! In fairness, it probably wasn’t helped by the fact that the weather has turned quite cold now-after all, we are at an elevation of over 1000m and it is, technically, only early spring so we probably shouldn’t be complaining-and our day in Ávila was very overcast so we probably didn’t see it at it’s best.
Yesterday morning, we continued our high plains drifting for another 100km and landed in Segovia by lunchtime (a record for us none-early risers!). Segovia promised to really impress us, not least because of it’s UNESCO World Heritage listing and it’s awesome Roman Aqueduct . Impress it did…..and how! The Aqueduct is breathtaking! Of course, it has been restored – in the 1990s, a few years after it was UNESCO listed BUT, it’s engineering (the fact that it was built from huge granite blocks without any mortar!!!) cannot possibly fail to impress anyone!
The Alcázar is pretty impressive too -rebuilt, in a quite an “over the top” fashion, following a fire in 1862-it is rumoured to have been Walt Disney’s inspiration for his fairytale castle in Disneyland! We can see the likeness, it has to be said, with it’s Rapunzel-like turrets!
All in all, Segovia got a huge thumbs-up from us, as did the local council for having the decency to provide a free Aire, with services, alongside the Plaza de Toros, just a short walk from the walled city. A walk into the city after lunch led to our discovery that this week is Carnival Week – and that Tuesday night is Parade Night! It appeared that this was a fundraising event for Segovian Special Needs, with the Parade ending in Plaza Mayor around 8pm. On our return to Sebo later, the salmon fillets we were defrosting for our dinner were quickly put back in the fridge when one of us (it may have been me!) suggested that the local delicacy of slow-roasted suckling pig might be a tastier option, since we were planning on walking back into the city to watch the parade. And so it was that we donned our thermals (it was 7.5C by 6pm!), and headed back into the city in search of suckling pig. After perusing several menus, we opted to venture into La Concepcion, a quaint-looking bar/restaurant right on the Plaza Mayor, offering a three course Castillian menu for €25 (including a half bottle of wine and bread), which seemed to be pretty much the going rate, PLUS, they had a table at the window from which we could view the festivities. Dead on! The food was absolutely to die for – from my starter of a HUGE bowl of Castillian soup (garlic and ham – a meal in itself), Roy’s starter of pureed Parmesan, with basil, rocket and pine nuts (he deemed it to be “heavenly”!) he likened it to a portion of Cullen Skink that he had in a hotel restaurant in the Isle of Skye several years ago on a walking/climbing trip with ‘the lads’. A reasonably small portion but was to die for and a larger serving would have been way too much of a taste explosion! The main of slow-roasted suckling pig provided smiley faces and relative silence at the table and the was followed by the somewhat, by this stage, unnecessary desserts of cheesecake and apple pastry! The wine was a 2014 Rioja and just made the whole dining experience perfect! With a couple of coffees as added extras and a decent tip for the excellent service, the bill came to €60. Up to press, it was THE best meal we’d eaten out this entire trip!
Just as we were paying the bill, The Parade landed in the main square so out we went to soak up the atmosphere and join in the festivities. It was a good-natured affair, with a couple of thousand people congregated in a relatively small space, with a band about to play in the bandstand and, as Roy, with his “Crowd Safety Manager’s” head on, quite rightly pointed out, there wasn’t a single Event Steward in attendance nor were there any barriers to hold the crowd back, other than the half a dozen directing folk to the food stall. Back home, an event of that ilk would have required around a dozen stewards to ensure crowd safety! Kinda demonstrates the difference in cultural attitudes! No Buckfast or eejits out to spoil the night just because they could!! The “food stall” was, basically, a number of chefs and a couple of enormous pots of a local potato stew-type dish being sold for €1 for the charity and, when we were approached by a ticket seller for this gastronomic (!) delight, we bought a couple just to be generous (we certainly couldn’t eat another thing!). Whilst watching the 5m Skeleton leading The Parade, doing “The Dance of Death” (apparently!) and marvelling at the great music and costumes on show, Roy pointed out that the food queue was in excess of 200m in length, that everyone seemed to be getting the stew served in rather nice local ceramic dishes, with Segovia written on them (the type you’d see in a souvenir shop but would baulk at paying a few Euro for!) AND, far from handing them back when they’d finished eating, they were all off home with them! Ah, I see – I knew where this was leading -yup, we joined the queue and were soon heading back to Sebo with two rather useful dishes to add to Sebo’s crockery collection! Nope, we didn’t actually eat the contents (though Roy DID try a couple of spoonfuls!), having rather shamefacedly emptied them into a bin on the way back!
With our bellies well and truly stuffed, we hit the sack at a reasonable hour as our high plains drifting today was to take us the 190km to Soria (a HUGE distance by our standards!). So huge, in fact, that Moi actually volunteered to drive! Shock! Horror! In fairness, I uttered the offer whilst eating lunch at a service station just off the motorway well over the halfway point and didn’t seriously think it would be taken up. But, it WAS taken up and Herself found herself behind Sebo’s wheel for the first time in over 18 months (it didn’t end well then but, in my defence, it was before we had the reversing camera fitted….I’ll say no more on the subject, other than the fact that the only thing damaged in that case was my ego!). Bearing in mind that I haven’t even driven a car since last November when The Donohoes kindly lent us their car in France, I didn’t do too badly – though Roy may disagree – but I think I may actually want to do more now that I’ve got the hang of the new Cruise Control – as long as it doesn’t involve narrow streets and too many roundabouts!
I will confess at this point, that I pulled over and handed the wheel back to The Expert before we hit Soria though! I know my limits! We found a parking spot just out of town, alongside the River Deuro and went for a stroll along one of the walking trails – only to find a much better parking place in which to overnight so, after Harley took a dip in the river, we walked back to Sebo and promptly moved to our preferred spot before continuing our walk along said river. Here, we spotted what we took to be a church, built high up on the rocky hillside on the other side of the river. Further investigation revealed it to be the 16th Century Hermitage of San Saturnio (free entry so we had a mooch around inside!) – very impressive! Looking at where it’s built, it’s a miracle it’s still there after more than 400 years!
We’re now comfortably ensconced in Sebo, in yet another free car park, with an awesome view of the River Deuro, with several walking trails to avail of in the morning before we drift across the high plains to Zaragoza – another lengthy drive of 177km, so I may get another turn at The Wheel …..possibly……!