Madrid everyday and a trip to the countryside

School update

My head is still rebounding. Can a head rebound? Yes, if you mix the Spanish teacher I’ve just had, with, a stupid argument in class between a very conservative class member and the rest of the class and the teacher, then add a review of sets of complex verbs she didn’t complete yesterday because she doesn’t time manage well and that she only reluctantly reviewed today. Add to that the fact she shouts. And shouts. Aggghhh. If I was a user of valium I’d say now is a fine time! 

I hadn’t realised today is Thursday. I’d thought it Wednesday. No. I don’t know if shops are open or not on Friday. Our information on tomorrow’s fiesta was very limited, in fact, limited to ‘look on the website’. Very different from the approach taken by the school in Granada:  they used the opportunity to extend our vocabulary and to ensure we could take advantage of the opportunities. What’s more surprising is the shouter rebuffed my questions about the fiesta the other day by saying she’d give us information the day before. A website hardly constitutes that. Easy to find without help. Sigh. I’m tired. 

Glad for a day off and hoping to hear some great music played over the next few days. The concerts I’ve found are in big plazas and start at 9.30pm. I can see some naps coming up! 

The concerts? I gave up on going to a concert. The crowd there at 8.30pm snaked around for hundreds of metres and most could not have got in given the number of seats. Restaurants around the edge were pretty full. The thought of being squashed in the square with even more thousands of people sent me reeling out, back to my music and spanish radio. The same goes for the Sunday night opera in the Plaza Mayor. I’d love to go but it’s hard to queue let alone for hours and hours alone. Plus big crowds are totally scary for me. Here crowds can be very big. The population is immense and yes, it doesn’t compare to India or Nepal but early evening in central areas it is very evident.

Roman roads booking

Saturday I’m off to see Roman roads and something. I don’t really care what the ‘something’ is, I’m a sucker for roman roads.

If I sound a little uncertain what I’m going to see it’s because it’s obviously a trip for locals, advertised by locals, . I saw an interesting looking travel shop on a roundabout way to school a few days ago. Took a photo so I could find it again, luckily. And yes, when I finally refound it, it was shut, as befits a Spanish shop at lunchtime. 

Yesterday I found the shop again and it was open. I was surprised at its limited stock of travel books but a guy gave me a brochure as I left. To my surprise it offered many day, and slightly longer, trips in the area and a bit further afield. 😊

So, goodby Toledo, my initial thought, and hullo to the area around Segovia. Bus at 8.30 at a nearby Plaza Espana, return at 5.30pm and in between, walk 17km around or over roman roads somewhere in the back of Segovia, including through a place called the dead woman’s pass!  Doesn’t look too arduous. Have to take food and water as well as wet weather gear – not because it is expected to rain, more a universal set of recommendations. 

Roman roads trip

Arrived 8.30 for 9am departure. Not many here initially but it was very easy to find the buses. I initially felt so odd in this crowd. They all spoke Spanish properly and a few are friends. Range of ages but none so far under 35-40.  Everyone is well kitted out, with nice packs albeit a bit large for a 4 or 5 hour walk to my way of thinking, and sticks. Many Spanish use a single stick, more like a pole but many of these are clearly serious walkers with proper sticks. 

I’m in the front seat, possibly displaced someone as there was a bit of gear on the seat next to the window.  It’s now 9.04 and still walkers are arriving. Time is different here. Helps that I’m on holidays and probably seeing it differently but I suspect it is. 

Left soon after and picked up others at a planned stop. I was so lucky – the wonderful Isabella sat next to me. She speaks some english and translated information for me plus we talked a little about Spain. 

We passed the big stone cross over Franco’s grave. The more I learn the more I realise how little I’ll ever understand about the civil war and the implications of Franco’s 40 years in power until 1975. Incidentally, during the week I attended a lecture on the amazing cultural movement that sprung up quickly after he died.  The outcomes of the sudden lifting of the severe repression of Spain post Franco is another interesting facet of this country, the Movíl Madrileno. This was a totally non political movement in terms of established parties but it clearly focussed and fomented divisions such as those between the young and the old and the past and the future. The main locus was the suburb I’m living in and the movement was clearly related to those elsewhere in the world, a little earlier in the USA and France and to the punks in the UK. Similar changes evolved here very quickly after 1975 in music, arts generally including film, fashion and writing. The participants were apparently the middle and upper middle class kids, many as young as 15 or 16 in the bands, for example. Wow. Also interesting is that it sounds to me that it functioned as a pressure valve and allowed tremendous, and peaceful, social change soon after.

Back to the walk today:  about 30 of us. We headed off at a very fast pace. I was surprised. We kept it up for the whole walk, starting by crossing rough paddocks heavily chopped up underfoot by cow hooves and overgrown and not easy walking. 

You get an idea of the countryside in this shot, an early rest point after we finished walking across the countryside and started on a track:

  The photo below is from Wikipedia, showing La Mujer Meurta, the dead woman, a mountain over to the left of where we were walking. If you look carefully you can see a woman reposed. The various legends about how this mountain got its name include two about her sons interminably fighting each other and her being turned to stone either after she died or that she died being turned to stone during a storm. Either way the sons stopped fighting.

The area is currently greener than it was in this Wikipedia photo. 

 The smell of wild thyme and rosemary just growing among the grasses. Ahh. And the flowers, little mauve, yellow and blue flowers. No poppies here but beautiful flowers everywhere and verdant growth after apparently high spring rains.  This shot does not capture how beautiful it was underfoot. Nor does it show any of the very prevalent wild thyme or rosemary.

  After a couple of hours we arrived at the Calzada Romana, the path the Romans used. Little symbols marked the path and at its end was a milario, one of their large, stone, distance posts. You may remember my many photos of these from the area south of Salamanca. And here’s another, smaller one:

  The path itself was fairly narrow in places and if you didn’t know two things you couldn’t tell it had been a roman road:  the modern signage

   and the fact the track was alongside a major water source for the aqueduct in Segovia, 28km away given the course the water source followed. At one place a sort of narrow and higher walled canal with interior walls that part crossed the channel, alternating, one from the left and one from the right and so on. This was to slow the flow of water to remove rubbish during floods. Full credit to the roman engineers for purposively collecting and taking water from such a distant source and the design of the rubbish trap was, I think, theirs.  

We were walking alongside a small creek running down across the small valley alongside the creek. The area was beautiful:


The water was clear and there were signs saying ‘no fishing’. Yes, in Spanish but they reserve a particular word for ‘no fishing/hunting’. Interesting as the word looks to me as though it should mean ‘truth’. Sigh. Lesson:  extrapolation can be dangerous! Anyhow, the water was very clean looking, down from the nearby mountains still with a little snow on small sections.

People were friendly and many mixed. Some obviously came in groups, others not. One younger one is doing her Cambridge exam in english this year. She was as slow in english as I am in spanish but she clearly had a better vocabulary than most, including my ‘protector’. 

 The fast pace was sustained for the whole trip. We had breaks every 45′ or so and, lunch. How long did we stop for lunch? Yes, an hour. I was ready to go much earlier but it wasn’t an option 😊. Lunch matters here. My gear is in the front of the shot and my ‘angel’ translator in the pink shirt in the foreground. 

  For part of the way, possibly about 8km, we walked on a small road which must have still been in the national park. We then crossed more paddocks, through barbed wire fences and bushman’s gates, the same as you find in many places in Australia.  
And eventually back to the bus. Finished walking at 5.30pm, having started at 11. So, a long day. And a very enjoyable one for 20€ and the discovery that this sort of trip goes both days every weekend and on holidays. Isabella pointed out some of the cultural tours in the brochure. I’ll need more Spanish to benefit from a guided tour and look forward to being able to participate in one! 

A view looking away from the murdered woman mountain shows the Cathedral of Segovia, very faintly, a little to the left of centre, in the background. I was surprised as it must be in a bit of a dip as it looked as though it was by itself on the outskirts of the city and not as central as it obviously is when you visit. This was as close as we got to it.

 Took another 2 hours to get back to Madrid. First we stopped for 30′ or so at the equivalent of a motel/hotel for drinks. Then, home. A great day, good for me as I’ve not walked enough in weeks and I enjoyed the pressure of trying to understand people. I wasn’t very successful! 
Anyhow, after getting back I was still revved up and not fancying broccoli and mushrooms again so I headed off to a largely vegetarian restaurant in an area I like, a bit off the main drag. The soup was a creamy thistle soup.  I don’t know what the plant looks like but Google translate assures me ‘cardo’ is a thistle. After, a salad, but much more interesting than the usual type here that comprises iceberg lettuce with tomato wedges like mum stopped making decades ago except here is with tuna and no egg.  And nearby, the wonderful little La Paca cafe. Hot chocolate. Plain, a simple basic hot chocolate as I had a complex one with the lot the other night. Wasn’t sure what was in it but it was rather like whisky + chocolate + canned whipped cream. Nice, and I didn’t feel as though it was alcohol but it sure tasted that way. I prefer the basic thick, Spanish chocolate to the fancy ones.

So, home about 9.30 or 10pm, just as many others were coming out to play or have a pre-dinner drink. The ceramics market in the square under my window was in full swing. I do like some of the things on sale, the ones with very bright, loud, bright colours like the Mexican pottery. Most items aren’t like that, and are plain and functional jugs, ovenware etc. Shut the window and outside disappears. Open it and there is noise. So, shut the window and off to sleep. I awoke dreaming of conjugations in Spanish and not being able to recall important ones. Aghhh. 


Marketers! Seemed like a great option: 4€ for a packet of smoked salmon instead of the usual 13€. I missed the bit that said for the second packet! Oh well.

More reflections on school

The first teacher of the day is so so good. Patient, kind and systematic. The second, the chronically moaning shouter, was very entertaining on a couple of days. Daily she has us reporting what we did after class yesterday. She starts on her left and works systematically around, one by one. I’m thinking of making up a fantasy life as mine sounds so boring by comparison with some. Hmm, perhaps they have figured the game and are a step ahead of me!  Anyhow, she has clearly taught for too many years and using the same question and the same order each day reduces its value. She also doesn’t manage time well as we take so long to go around there’s not much time for anything else. 

In a language class, in my experience, you have to do a lot of disclosing. Most seem to tell a truth about themselves, who they are, what they like etc. Makes it very interesting. Since I last wrote we’ve had a Brazilian and a South Korean join us. 

The all time most fascinating member of any of my classes remains the Russian from Moscow. This was her last week. Back to Russia for a week of work. Then a weekend in Hong Kong, a week of work and the next weekend in the Middle East somewhere. Perhaps the Lebanon.  I don’t know what her job is nor how she can afford so many international flights for such short periods and to such diverse places. She was intriguing, not only for this but also for her unselfconscious descriptions of how she attracts men and how they like her english accent. Truly a most intriguing person. I’d love to know her real story.

And another interesting one is the guy in his early 40s with MS. I didn’t ever see him walking but he always deliberately arrived early so he had time to recover plus, he said, he had a visible hemiplegia after walking a little way. His initial symptom was a unilateral blindness.
While I understand little spoken Spanish still outside the school environment, I like it that the language is slowly but surely opening up for me. I really need an hour a day having to chat to someone. Might see what I can arrange when I come back. 

Come back you ask? Yes. I’d like to get enough Spanish under my belt that I can comfortably converse, listen to it, and read daily newspapers. And, I’d like to live in this apartment for longer. I love its location, it’s quiet and serviced weekly. Much more expensive than Granada but with the benefits of it being Madrid.  Everything, except a beach, is here if you know where to look. Like the travel company I’ve just been with and, Isabella told me, there are others. So…. 
Booking a bus ticket out of Salamanca

Well. The website wanted a magic number foreign banks don’t provide. So, plan 2, ring the bus company Sunday.

How it went follows:   

Hola, buenos días. Que quieres? Well, a nice start from the bus company. 

Then I asked for two tickets from Salamanca. Had to spell our destination. Not always easy in Spanish. As long as there is no ‘g’ or ‘j’ I can manage. Always get a bit confused between ‘I’ and ‘e’ but we progressed nicely in spanglish. I mangled spanish and he mangled english. Got it all done, even coped with the J in Jane and then, dammit, I couldn’t pay. Again it wasn’t possible on the phone as online. So odd. I use the card all the time with no problems, even for booking train tickets online but the bus company’s security is the strictest – passport numbers for each passenger and it won’t take my card. So, it’s off to a travel agent where I know I can use a card.😚

Queue jumper:   Here I am, waiting in a travel agency. One lot is being served, two are in front of me and a new guy arrived and pushed in as a new agent arrived. I wondered what would happen. Sure enough, those waiting rapidly told the second travel agent there was a queue. Dangerous! I understood, I’ve wanted to kill for less in a travel agency but I’ve also waited a long time to complete a very brief transaction, given up, gone out and rung them just so I could pay without waiting another 20′ for them to complete complex travel plans for others. So I understand what the new guy may have been doing and the position of us other waiters. The locals clearly hate queue jumpers too. 

Outcome: 2 tickets for the 2am bus! Yes. 2am! The cost: 5€ more because I had to use an agent but, I have two tickets. 😊🎶🎶🎶🎶

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