Sydney to Bangkok, Thailand

Well, a change from Spain.

An exciting change! Flying from Sydney into Bangkok Thailand after four years away. And, an exciting taxi ride in from the airport too. The taxi driver wriggled, rubbed his face, picked up his mobile, chatted on his mobile, texted etc. And repeated it all again. I wondered for a while if my cards might show death on Ramses IX Road.

By the way, Qantas shareholders should rejoice. Qantas is actively continuing to save lots on all the little things that would make a passenger’s experience positive and memorable. Sad but, Emirates continues to provide a much better overall experience.

Checked in to our Bangkok hotel, quick drink and out street crawling. One of us was persecuting the local pussies, again. Calling them to be patted when they clearly don’t speak english.

We stayed alongside the river at this time. Lots of boats of all sorts: passenger ferries, long tail boats, and the wonderful barges.

Night times brings out the big dinner boats. Lots of lights, food and entertainment. Up and down the short local stretch they ply their trade.

Buildings in Bangkok are diverse, to say the least. From some very run down old ones alongside the river

to the most exciting architecture.

From high up in our hotel we counted about 20 working cranes, all deployed on new skyscrapers. The skyline has changed so much in 10 years and the diversity of buildings has to be seen to be believed.

And the weather is warm, warm and humid. Wonderful weather. No problem travelling here in the wet season. Except perhaps for mosquitos and little bities. Living here? Different matter.

Offerings everywhere. Some elaborate.

Some not. Simpler offerings at the base of a tree every now and then.

Graffiti is becoming more elaborate. Sometimes challenging!

Quick snack: chicken and cheese toastie plus an iced tea and coffee cost 600Baht! Yes ~$A26 And our first intimation of how much might have changed here. Shock!

So, just one full day of temples, religious and secular (commerce).

Bought crocs at the secular ‘temple’, the very large shopping centre at Siam metro station. The crocs cost more than in Australia but, at least I could try a few different models.

The food hall in the Paragon, at the Siam shopping centre, remains exceptional for its variety and quality. Busy for very good reasons.

And then a wonderful evening exploring the Chinese market after dark.

So busy, so alive, exciting. Many interesting food and dessert options. Lots of tourists, not as many as we’d expected but, stall owners were generally busy.

With only short waits between customers at times.

And temples were still open.

A brief stay, two nights in Bangkok and we were off again. Next: Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. First trip there, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

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Plasencia to Salamanca to Madrid

Plasencia

If you are ever in Plasencia the best breakfast is down near the Clávelo gate, just outside the old walled town.

A small bar run by a woman who cares about the food she offers. Very nice toast, fresh tomato and good olive oil. And, she remembers your preferences from day to day, unlike some of the grumpy old men who run bars. She is busy, a constant flow of people, many of whom are clearly regulars.

By contrast, the cafe near the information centre provides oil, and tomato tasting like cheap ketchup, in sachets. Ugh. You were told!

For the most wonderful salmorejo, the tomato based soup, go to Hotel Palacio Carvajal Girón. The service is as good as the food and the nice dining room.

For gazpacho go to Restaurante Santa Tomas, up the hill past the aqueduct. Otherwise, I lived on the wonderful torta de casar cheese with fresh bread and strawberries and cream. Yeah, yeah! Too much! Well, that’s what my pants started to say.

Market day

Plasencia has one of the best open air fresh food markets I’ve been to in spain. A variety of fruit and veg, home made cheeses and chorizos of all types, seedlings, flowers and even white truffles. Plus many types of melons, legumes and olives.

The huge slabs of the fish you see most commonly, bacalao, always puzzle me: type of fish, if mainly preserved with salt still etc.

It’s held on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Dammit that I’ll have no more cooking facilities this trip.

Reminds me: the Plaza Mayor is overseen by a most unusual clock.

One of the most unusual must-sees in Plasencia is a sculpture in a fairly central square. Interesting! Nothing near it to say who did it or what it meant to them.

Moving on: leaving the apartment in Plasencia was a highlight. I really dislike cold and dark apartments. Plus I slept badly, too aware of some malevolent nocturnal presence.

Salamanca

What a beautiful city. Who could tire of Salamanca? Rhetorical. Don’t send responses.

My feet knew where to go. I walked from the bus station, checked into the usual hotel, and was still in time to get to Zazu’s for lunch.

Not just the once. Interesting salad, a pasta with salmon and, the other day, bacalao with asparagus ‘sauce’.

My feet then led me to some familiar haunts: a supermarket that has good sushi and to the cheesecake shop. Yes, and along various interesting streets and through the Plaza Mayor quite a few times.

Amazing how empty it can look early in the morning.

Everywhere you go the special nature of this city is evident.

From a central shopping area to the omnipresent views representing past glories.

Cathedrals? Roman bridge? University? Not directly this time but I did buy some nice new walking pants. 😁 For future trips 😏

Above all I had 2 restful days. My room faced the square and, sigh, was light and bright.

But, I ‘failed’ breakfast both days. On the first day it was absurdly expensive and the camerero was a very unhappy guy. On day 2 the tomato had enough salt for stage 1 of a salt mine. Inedible. Can’t win them all but, winning one would have been nice.

Saturday in Salamanca

Another day in a big city. Many out shopping and others just looking.

Outside one church boys dressed as sailors, or an admiral, or in lounge suits with a tie or bow tie, and a girl dressed as a bride all just ‘done’, their first communion finished.

All good things must come to an end. Time to leave. Flight home coming up all too soon.

Salamanca to Madrid

Got the slow train, remind me next time to get the quick one. But, it left at a time that suited me, around 12:30pm.

Plasencia (2)

Alphonso 8th laid the foundation stone for Plasencia in 1186. Before then? Yes, there’s evidence of people living here for a very long time. Politicians just don’t change, do they. Lay it, put your name on it…. Get your statue/photo up for all to see.

Parts of Plasencia are very impressive. For example, the aqueduct is long and in better condition than that in Merida. And impressive. Just part of daily life here.

Many impressive buildings, some looking like recent orphans among remnants of the Middle Ages. Imagine if stones could speak.

And some buildings look as though nothing has changed forever.

Near the Middle Ages locality is a chapel with the various floats and costumes used by some of the participating groups (cofraderies) during the local Semana Santa. And it’s not all old. One started in the last 20 or 30 years.

And the ‘floats’ are truly amazing. One shows the last supper, another, Christ being taken down from the cross and another, him being supported afterwards by Mary. Very impressive. And I’ve loved the costumes members of the cofraderies wear.

The cathedral is also very impressive.

And yes, I just looked from outside. I’ve given enough to the church to last a long lifetime so, no more to look at possible treasures.

Some buildings have an old family crest. Some were noticeable overachievers or members of very well connected and very large families.

Lots of impressive arches all over town.

A simple red poppy against a stone wall was as impressive.

The Plaza Mayor in Plasencia is one of the most impressive, and alive, I’ve seen. I counted 10 restaurants/cafes around it one day. May have missed a couple…

The overlooking houses are narrow, like the one I’m in. Hard to imagine much natural natural light in the middle of any floors but the top.

Two big parks in town: one that is an island in the river flowing through the lower section of the city and another called the Park of the Pines. The latter could not be more different: on a hill, lots of large exposed basalt rocks and many peacocks, white and the usual colour. Noisy. Spectacular.

I’ve been in Plasencia too long. Woke this morning thinking ‘hooray, bus today, Thursday’. No. Confused. It’s on Friday. However, I enjoyed exploring again today.

And, I’ve now got some new ideas for future walking in Spain, maybe for a spare week in October if it’s not to cold. For example, a part of Extremadura adjoining Portugal has some fascinating houses, and, its own language, not just a dialect. To the southwest of here is a region with various Roman remains. Oh, and castles. Or, I could join the Via de la Plata for some of my favourite sections near here. Worth thinking about as I’ll be stir crazy after a month at school in Madrid, exercising just in the gym.

Next: bus to Salamanca, ‘cos it’s there! Then, a train to Madrid, giving me a couple of days to collect my gear and make it all fit in one backpack before heading home.

Last job tonight: a battle with the washing machine. It won. It could provide a service testing the durability of clothes. I had to turn it off or it might still be going tomorrow.

Merida: bread, circus and a museum

Bread

Over to the south east of Plaza España, the side away from the larger tourist focus and not far from the bull ring, is small town Spain, yes, in the middle of this city. The bakery opens daily and has great bread. I especially like their ‘Viena’, a type of wide roll, not as crusty as some. Goes very well with the special cheese from this area, torta de Casa, the one where you cut off the top and dip bread into the soft contents.

Nearby are a couple of cafeterias and a churrería, all around the Plaza, a concreted area surrounded by a few banks of benches and with a couple of stalwart deciduous trees. If I came back late morning the benches would be occupied by old men. I like this part of Merida. Not necessarily as attractive but, interesting.

Circus

A km or so north west of this area is the site of the old Roman circus. Not a lot to see. More interesting is that no one seems to have done much restoration.

It’s sometimes surprising how little of most monuments is real, original, with the stones or bricks actually having been laid by the romans or the group to which it’s attributed. However, two thousand years is a long time and it was unlikely that huge unused monuments would be maintained, unchanged, forever by anyone. Especially when the area was subsequently conquered by lots of other groups, like the different Visigoth tribes here and, later, the Moores. And later again, the christians and still later Franco’s mob. On and on it’s gone. Laying, relaying, decay, relaying, decay….

Among the old photos in the museum are some showing the state of the Roman theatre in Merida prior to reconstruction. Not a lot was left intact and I’m guessing it and the surrounding land, like the Parthenon in Rome, was used for farming. Same with the circus.

I’m wondering if the aqueduct is different, perhaps largely unchanged over time as it would be difficult to pull out a few stones or bricks for your new place.

It remains one of my favourite parts of Merida. And left me wondering how the romans measured height above sea level as they had to calculate the fall for this aqueduct over the 6km from their local cistern to the nearby reservoir.

Oh, and the storks who now have babies!

The Roman bridge is neat and a little of that is original. Five dinghies in the water today each seemed to be picking up rubbish from around the shoreline. Odd. At first I thought they were fishing but the fluro vests and their interest in the shoreline made me wonder.

Spoke to a local and she told me they were picking up bits of a troublesome weed. Made more sense. She kept extolling the virtues of Roman Merida so I asked her what she thought of Medellin, another well preserved Roman site, about 30km away. In her entire 70 years she has never been there. Never! She hastened to tell me where she’d been. No, not out of Spain but to Madrid.

Not much really remains of the Alcazar and it’s a bit less than 1,000 years old.

I still like Trajan’s arch.

And find it amazing how far below the current road level it is. You can see from a remaining door by its side. How impressive it must have been before the marble facing disappeared.

Museum

Actually visited a couple. Yes, more Roman road and marble statues, one of Ceres the god of agriculture and a guy with a 6-pack+. And a little wall painting from a Roman mansion.

And I was so impressed by the juxtaposition of an original Roman column against the inside of the modern museum.

Notwithstanding all the history of Merida, the locals remain as diverse as in any other place. The beggar looks like her many family members across spain, usually outside a church or supermarket. Baptisms of babies continue. And I had a particular sympathy with a guy represented in a statue commemorating all those that have made possible the celebrations of Santa Semana in Merida. His hat is by his side as he massages his poor foot! So yes, personal.

Toenail

Ah yes, you were asking about R toe 5. The most recently offending toenail is off! Pulled it out yesterday. Ahhhhh, relief. The skin should close over soon. I could almost wear boots again, walk seriously but it’s now not going to happen this trip.

I’m tied into a travel week. And I need to get feet sandal-ready for a trip to Cambodia, coming up soon.

Review of camino 

Quick review
The walk this sept/oct was a continuation of the Camino Mozarábe from Granada to Merida. We then continued north on the Via de la Plata. I stopped at Salamanca, not having enough time to walk to Santiago again. (I walked the first part of the Mozarabe from Almeria to Granada in October 2016, and the other option earlier, from Malaga to Cabra).

This year Benedo and I walked from Granada, met Manolo in Córdoba and, a day later, after Cerro Muriano, met Victoria on a very dark stretch of road in the wee hours. Benedo and Manola left us just before Merida to go back home. Victoria and I continued together until Salamanca. I left there for Madrid and she kept walking, headed to Santiago and later Finisterre. 

Data

34 days of walking and 3 rest days, 2 in Córdoba & 1 in Merida

Point to point distance = ~600+ from Granada to Merida to Salamanca

Steps: 1,073,813 (Fitbit)

Distance walked: 762.51km (Fitbit) – this includes the many incidental km visiting castles and looking for bars, supermarkets and accomodation along the way

(My Fitbit gives reasonable estimates of distance during steady walking when checked against my map.)

Resting in Salamanca

After over a month of close togetherness with others it’s strange being alone again. It’s odd but I almost have voices ringing in my head. Travelling closely with someone else for weeks on end obviously ‘creates and fills a space’. Sometimes that space is filled with conversation, sometimes it’s almost physical, just being aware they are there or have just left. 

After two days in Salamanca I go to Madrid. I’m trying to arrange spanish classes there. If I can’t I guess I’m going to spend a lot of time in bars and watching spanish tv. Even if only to justify my new book of spanish verbs, hardly riveting but each new verb I learn plugs a gap. And it should reduce some of my mangling the language. 

Not easy to recall some of the new words during a conversation and I’m resigned to limited improvement unless I can figure out how I can live in the Hispanic world for a while. Irrespective, I’ll definitely continue as a regular visitor. 

Wednesday 1 November 2017

V left at about 07:30 and, as we’d traversed the complicated way out a few times, she should be well along the camino by now. Her maps aren’t really good. Neither were mine the first time and she has a considerable advantage in being spanish. She’ll manage. I’m guessing it won’t be easy for her at first, being alone again.

I like Salamanca and always like to check on some of my favourite carvings on the ‘new’ Catedral. 

Thursday 2 November 2017

Another lazy day with the hardest choices relating to which bar and what to drink. Yes. Tough. 

Good walking around the town.  Have to say naming a restaurant after white snails was clearly not a success as it’s for sale or to rent. And then there are the Bimbo trucks. No idea what they offer. 

By contrast, it’s clear that Christopher Columbus offered at least one pigeon something yesterday.


And the shops in the Plaza Mayor sell great looking cakes as well as cats’ tongues (chocolates) and other interesting looking options. 


I still don’t understand how it was that I found so many english speakers on my first camino, the Via de la Plata from Sevilla to Santiago, and this time, except for the 2 Americans on my first day, none. Not one. Even in the streets here in Salamanca I’ve heard very few snippets in english. Time of year? Or what? 

Having heard from V it’s clear her boots are better with the inserts and her new clothes are warmer. It’s great to hear well she’s going.  Hard to talk to her though as her phone company coverage is truly dreadful. WhatsApp ends up offering a better way of chatting. 

For me: Madrid, by train, tomorrow. 

A day in Salamanca 

We met Monica and had a drink late yesterday in the Plaza Mayor.  V and I then headed back to the hotel with take-away in hand. She hadn’t had sushi before – she’s now a convert. 

Tuesday 31 October 2017
Today started well. There is a very nice churrería near the hotel, small, busy, and very unpretentious. Great chocolate and churros.

I wanted a book of spanish verbs (yes, another) and V needed some warmer clothes for her next stage towards Santiago.  

We did it all. Even did a bit of touristing: looked into la casa de las conchas, the new cathedral, the interesting round church, San Marcos, up the far end of Calle Zamora, and I can’t remember what else. 

Tomorrow is a holiday, like the day of the dead in Mexico (El Dia Del Muertos; here: Dia De Los Santos). It’s also apparently halloween. (Hmmm, um, who cares). So, sigh.  

Of more interest to me, everything will be shut except for bars and restaurants. Fingers crossed my lovely friend with a bar around the corner is open and I’m planning a very lazy day and time in the bath anyhow.

Next stage

V will leave early tomorrow, Wednesday, possibly in the dark, as there may be trouble getting a bed tomorrow in her next town. You can’t tell as there’ve been some days with 1 peregrino and others with up to 15. October is a quieter time of year for VdlP and just bad luck if you end up arriving with lots of others. 

We know of an Aussie guy heading off tomorrow too. A friend of Monica, he apparently has a painful achilles tendon problem. Others? No idea. 

V has been a wonderful friend. Infinitely patient with my murdering, and sometimes brutal, spanglish, an immense help in improving my facility and confidence with the language. Being with a spaniard also helps as she understands subtleties and the niceties I sometimes don’t. 

So much more than that, she is so easy to travel with. We like enough of the same things and have similar ways of operating so that being with her has been so easy and has increased my enjoyment of this walk immensely. 

It was really so much more fun, like my time with the boys last year and, with Benedo this year for our first week from Granada. In the end I’ve spent over a month living closely with from one to three spaniards and it’s truly enhanced my enjoyment incredibly. I have been so lucky.

Over a month and I’ve still hardly spoken english, just written it. I’m getting so confused I had to ask Monica (French) yesterday for the word ‘sushi’! Yes, I know, technically it’s not an english word but, you also know what I mean. 

Truly, a bigger world has been opened for me this trip. I’ve even understood responses from some of the oldies in small villages. Yup. 😁🤗

l owe a lot to my friends Victoria, Manolo and Benedo. Very good friends and wonderful walking companions. 

San Pedro de Rozados to Salamanca

Walking was hard on Monday 30th October with a cold wind from the east crossing us. Felt like snow somewhere. I’m guessing not but it wasn’t my preferred temperature nor ideal conditions for my last day of walking this time in spain. 

I did like the metal sculpture in a small town (with no bar!).  And the jacket made ‘her’ a class act!


The actual walk was about 24km but with no bars open we stopped for a picnic. 

Definitely not our best as we couldn’t escape the wind for the last of our eggs (cooked about 3 days earlier, just pre-a-salmonella revival) and olives (a fellow traveller in my pack for about a week). The bread and cheese goes on waiting to be eaten on another day.  Ugh. 

Amazing how long bread is sort of edible. Well, if washed down with chocolate milk! You know, of the 91% milk and 9%? variety. ‘Sort of’… No. Age doesn’t improve bread nor does travelling in a pack. Cheese is semi indestructible in the cold. 

By this stage the distal phalanx on my R index finger was turning black. The first of the 5 or 6 gates in this stage was very challenging. 

Clearly not assembled correctly I was contemplating climbing it. The spikes along the top put me off that and the adjacent fences were built by the same person. He clearly has a perverse sense of humour as all are high and topped by barbed wire. 

Only one option left to open the gate, brute force. If only I’d moved a certain finger away first! Oh well. At least it was worth waiting for V to arrive to get some sympathy. 😐 The rapid colour change proved I was deserving. I just needed a sling. Ha ha. Surprisingly it didn’t hurt, the cold saw to that. Give you an idea of how ‘un-ideal’ the day was?

And then there were the intermittent dust storms, just before the cross on a hill overlooking Salamanca. 

Very unpleasant. I’ll swear I was wearing 1kg of dust by the time we arrived. The basin agreed as I later washed some clothes! 

My shorts need a washing machine, nothing less will stop the crackly sounds as I roll them up. 😎 I hasten to add, they HAVE been washed a few times over the past month but…..,

Salamanca

We arrived and it was clear how tired V is. 

I don’t think she saw past the bath once we checked in. We were upgraded to a suite as I’d booked a twin but they didn’t have a twin. Let’s say, I wasn’t unhappy about being upgraded! 

I left V heading for the bath while I went to get coffee. Then I remembered the local cheesecake place. I was heading back and felt compelled to stop for a hot chocolate. Not my drink of choice so guess I’m pretty tired too. Not for lack of sleep. Clearly walking for a bit over a month has taken it out of me in a much deeper way. 

Later we have planned to meet Monica (French, speaks some english) near the Casa de Las Conchas – the house of the shells. 

 

Fuenterroble to San Pedro de Rozados

Spanish men
I was highly affronted last night! Turns out the second trio of Spanish guys was worried V had been left on her own as I raced ahead. Not sure if they thought we’d had a falling out but they didn’t think she should be alone. 

If only they listened properly and exercised their neurones a little: she left Malaga alone, managed the whole distance alone until the day after Córdoba, having met only one or two other walkers in that time. Meaning, she’s clearly capable of managing alone and doesn’t need me or anyone else to hold her hand and to stay with her. We’ve always automatically walked together in the dark, as we did with the boys in pairs or fours, as more eyes help in ensuring you stay on track. 

I hasten to add these three men always walk very very closely together, are never apart and must feel a bit vulnerable and believe it affects others similarly. Oh, especially women since they felt obliged to comment. 

Even as they left the supermarket in Fuenterroble they were in a tight formation. Second lot of Spanish male ‘triplets’ who’ve affected us. Weird. 


And yes, the fourth guy was, I’m sure, deliberately keeping back if only from the noise they make: chat chat chat. 

V wasn’t totally surprised. Sigh. Thankfully one of the nicest guys I’ve met this trip was spanish, Jésus, or I’d have wondered about the men here. 

End of daylight savings

Starting today, Sunday, light now arrives at about 07:30. We changed over last night. Thankfully. Made starting today easier. Was a bit confusing as I don’t know how all my devices knew to change as our signal varied from nonexistent to nearly nonexistent. 

As we left the Fuenterroble albergue the guy in charge offered us breakfast. Ha ha! Waited until after we’d made arrangements with a local bar to tell us they offered breakfast to peregrinos. 

I wasn’t sorry we’d set up going to a bar as, except for a very pregnant Mrs Puss and another puss on heat, V and I were the only females and the religious donativo felt very blokey. 

At this time of year most walkers on this route are men and I’m happy that again we avoided sharing with at least 5 of them last night. 

Moving on

A very foggy start to the day’s walk. Some frost on the ground too. 

Great track after a short time on the road. We left first, no torches needed today. Hooray. 

Beautiful bucolic splendour. The sun came up and cleared the fog away. Soon after we started climbing up to the set of windmills along the crest of the hill. And then slowly down and along flatter (undulating), dry countryside.

Pigs, cows, lots of oak trees.  Oh, and an odd (very) peregrina picnicking along the way. (If you can’t see the road what road…😎😎😎)

And finally our town for the night, San Pedro Rozados. 

San Pedro Rozados

In this town in 2013 Ekhardt and I ended up in a small house with a room each. Overflow from a hotel or albergue and great for us. 

This time I arranged a room in the hotel E and I had eaten at last time. Decent sized room, bathroom and just 2 of us. Thank heavens. Sharing my last night this walking trip in spain with 5 other snorers – no thanks. 😁 

Interesting lunch (at 16:00 or a bit after): farináto (a mix of fried bread crumbs, pig fat, egg, cinammon and annisette), a mixed salad and then spaghetti. The farinato is a local speciality and very nice. Luckily we were sharing it and the salad so not too much. 

Very interesting, the farinato – to me a tastier version of the migas (breadcrumb etc mix) from further south in spain. Again a much loved local dish that I guess was once leftovers eaten by peasants. If not, leave me with that delusion. 

Salamanca

Tomorrow we will meet up again with one of the very few women we’ve met so far, Monica (French), in Salamanca. 

Yes, Salamanca tomorrow. Just 24km between here, San Pedro de Rozados, and there. I’ve got a hotel booked and am looking forward to it. V will stay a night or 2 and then head off towards Santiago. I’m staying until Friday.

By the time we arrive I’ll have been walking for nearly 5 weeks (4 + as I had 2 days off in Córdoba and 1 in Merida) and have clocked up a bit over 600km. 

My shoes may well deserve to end their days here, in spain! They are seriously considering their options. 😂

Reminds me

A false friend found labelling a drawer in our room in the albergue last night:  


 If you translate the following word for word you end up with a very very strange notice. 

Juegos = games

De = of 

Cama = bed

But, it actually means a set of bed linen: sheets and pillow slips! Who would know! And yes, I looked inside and was more confused than ever. 😂😂😂

Salamanca to Florence

A happy student A few days ago I found myself walking along a street, muttering. 😋 Muttering? Well, saying things in Spanish. To whom? No one. Just trying to get the sounds right, after I realised I’d lapsed into Aussie-never-open-your-mouth speak (keeps the flies out 🙄). My ‘r’ has disappeared again along with other sounds. So, back to being a muttering street walker. If you see me, pretend it’s understandable 😄. Please…..

To cap off the odd behaviour: I spent 5 minutes in an airport lounge this morning sewing a tag in my wonderful hat so I can tie it to my bag. So I won’t lose it 😏 in an airport. Or indeed anywhere else when it’s not on. 

I have a history of being a hat lover, of being obsessed by a hat. My first much loved hat was a captain’s peaked cap, reluctantly bought by my great aunt when I was 11, visiting Melbourne alone. She subsequently repeatedly pointed it out to her friends at every opportunity. So it must have been an unusual choice. Don’t remember its demise but it would have been a sad day for it and me.

Leaving Spain

Yes, heading off on Sunday for a few weeks in Italy then, back to Spain. Hence the hotel on Saturday night in Barajas, near the airport.

Oh, best of all! TV in my Barajas hotel was showing Naked and Afraid! He wears a bag across his groin. Hers is across her boobs or bum, depending on the direction she is facing. 

They both have mud all over their face and haven’t eaten for 13 days. They would be eating a snake she caught had he not overridden her when she suggested it was sufficiently cooked. Its final chalk-like consistency after more cooking made it inedible. Ha ha! These guys are so citified it’s unbelievable but lots of fun to watch. 

Day 17 he caught a poor little lizard. Oh, the big hunter act that followed! 🤔🙄⤵️ I need a finger-down-throat emoji. Later, after he prayed out loud, they caught another snake, 4 foot long. And the cooking? He insisted on smoking that one and the structure caught fire. As they sifted through the ashes they found they’d discarded some snake eggs and so they cooked and ate them. Consolation prize. Truly, he’s an idiot and she was stupid for letting him win each time. Phew. They finished the challenge, 3 weeks in which they shared one small lizard and 3 snake’s eggs. Water was freely available so they couldn’t mess that up.

The following program was much better, Naked and Afraid XL. Could be called Advanced idiocy! 

A naked group of about 12 people (4 teams of 3) out for 40 days somewhere in Africa with no shoes or sunscreen, just modesty bags, a large knife each and it looks like each had another item, such as fishing line. Each has survived a 21 day program previously. Relax, you don’t get a protracted description of that program as well. Two competitors had gone by the the time I turned it off, one opted out and one to hospital. 

Barajas 

My Barajas hotel is clearly used by many english speakers and most information is in both that and Spanish. 

One fellow traveller was a woman in a hijab with 3 kids. She quizzed the waiter in the hotel restaurant about their food. I only heard the word ‘halal’ but gathered the food didn’t meet her requirements. The 4 of them caught the airport bus with me this morning and it became clear she didn’t speak a word of Spanish. 

I couldn’t help but think how hard it must be for many women who wear burkas. Under a constant pressure to withstand sideways looks, snide comments. I wonder if it’s the same for the two equally strangely dressed men in the airport today with their long black coats, beards, curly locks on each side of their face, growing down over their necks. Various strings in places and I don’t know what under their coats but everything seemed to be black or white. 

Do those guys (Hasidic Jews) get hassled as much as the women in burquas who look equally medievally and outlandishly dressed. Both lots ‘shout’ I am different! Look at moi ……

Dammit. The Iberian airport lounge has changed its wifi password and I can’t get my gear to rejoin – both my iPad mini and iphone refuse to renew their lease from scratch. Oh well. Anyhow, as long as the Iberia airlines people don’t pick up on my incessant coughing and toss me off the plane, as a (feverish) friend was from qantas in Melbourne. 

Phew. Too late to put me off! We are heading down the runway. I’m safe.

Flying from Spain to Italy 

I’m heading to Florence, Italy. Why? I wanted a few days here before I join a walking group in nearby Pisa for a week north of there.

Spain looked so dry as we flew over it.


The Spanish coast, and that of France, and I wasn’t sure how much further around, had the largest number of marinas I’ve ever seen. Every few km there was another.

And then the huge mountain ranges, rocky outcrops, not long after we arrived over Italy. Were they the Dolomites perhaps?

Soon after, the patchwork paddocks surrounding various small Tuscan towns and large houses. 

The food on the Iberia plane won my heart: black pasta containing a salmon mixture. It looked spectacular.


A bit rubbery but wow! The look alone made ordering it worthwhile.

Florence, waiting, Airbnb style

If first impressions count, beam me out of here Scotty! Already into September and the central, touristy, area of Florence seems extremely crowded. 

I had to ring the Airbnb person when I arrived to get access to #29. Not so straight forwards when you don’t have a local sim. And then I waited outside, next to the street repairs. It was dusty and not as exciting out as I hoped it would be inside. 

A flock of 3 cute little dogs just passed behind someone. Some ill advised person asked me, in Italian, if the something or rather was open. Yeah, she obviously rapidly understood my limited utility to her and quickly disappeared! Many many people walking single file on both sides of the blocked street. A wooden ramp on one part makes it noisy in the apartment, sounding like a bouncing basketball each time it’s walked on.

My Florence Airbnb apartment is fairly central. Hard to get any idea of what it’s like from looking at the outside.

The entrance comprises two brown wooden doors, huge, tall ones. 

Behind them is a large atrium with huge, high ceilings. 

Up we travelled, to the first floor, turned right and into apartment one. It has two bathrooms, a mezzanine with a low ceiling and a single bed upstairs, and downstairs is open with a double bedroom off from the kitchen living area. There are bathrooms off from both the main bedroom and the kitchen. The apartment feels large and open. It was expensive. Not surprising, given the location and the fact you could fit 3 or 4 people here. In fact the Airbnb person thought I would have someone with me. I thought she was being nosey but it seems the police require the registration of even temporary residents and the state, a €2.50 per tourist person per day tax.

I got the briefest and least helpful tour of any Airbnb facilities I’ve ever had. As equipment in every country is different I long ago learnt to ask how it works: how to light the stove, gas, with a wall tap; where various cooking things were etc. She showed me fairly reluctantly.

They provide a map, useless tourist junk. I asked her to mark the supermarket on it to see if it was even readable and because I wanted to know. She had trouble and I’ve since checked online and discovered it’s nowhere near where she finally said it was. No kettle, crappy small saucepan, a large one and three lids. Three? Nothing to cook in for the microwave. Not a well setup kitchen. Nothing to cut with except 2 bread knives with guides attached (ghastly) and not one kitchen cloth or tea towel. Not one. Feels like I’m on an endless factory belt in this apartment, rubbish in, sausages out. Customers in, money out. 

The wifi has no security and is slow, 1Mb/sec. I checked. 

The roadworks downstairs are unfortunate and, I hope, not too noisy. 



Not the fault of the Airbnb people at all. Just my bad luck. 

Anyhow, I’m going out walking.

Salamanca to Madrid

I left one of the most comfortable and convenient Airbnb apartments I’ve ever had at 08:30 this morning. Without having set multiple alarms I’d still be in bed in Salamanca. Two or three hours of coughing after going to bed ruined my usual inbuilt clock. 
Consequently, the first, very imperious alarm at 07:45 was a shock! A while later, a second alarm, left me with no choice. Up, pack and GO! 

All packed, me showered, and out on time. A farewell to my apartment, inside and out.


I must include a neighbour from a few days ago. He lives in, or near, my (?) apartment. Looked like a real red dog, miniatured, but so cute.


And past nearby buildings including the Cathedral and the Casa de Conchas. Many work vehicles are around still as its early. Few people otherwise. 


A slow walk to the nearby rubbish bin to dump the remains from ‘my’ apartment.  I like the subtle way even the bins tone in here. Most elsewhere in Spain you choose green or yellow, or blue, depending on the type of rubbish you have.

Few signs of life in the Rua Antigua, looking back towards the Cathedral. An hour or so later the centre of this old street would be full of tables and soon after, people eating.


Few in the Plaza Mayor at this early hour despite the visibly huge influx into town for the fiesta next week. The stage is nearly ready. 

Flight trails are just still visible in the early light. Remember it’s daylight saving time plus, Spain is in an earlier time zone than you’d expect, to keep up with Germany. Franco set the zone decades ago and it’s a regular topic of conversation. 

Then to the station. 

A few huge ducks on the way. Great range of colours.


The station seemed empty at this stage, as the shops are not open so early in the morning. I know, I know, it’s only called ‘early’ because I’m in Spain. Where else in the world is 9ish ‘early’?

Last day at school was ok. I only did Francisco’s class, told the next teacher, Julia, I didn’t feel well and was going. She insisted I took my certificate (of attendance). If I return M will still be there as she is enrolled until late October. I honestly don’t know what to do. School was good. The ambience there is great. I’m certainly motivated as I’m starting to read newspapers more easily. At last. 

Moving on

Train has started and I’m going backwards. You select, or are allocated, a seat. And for the sanity and ease of the ticket collector you must stay in it. They are always old guys, reliant on you being where you’ve been put. It’s an excellent ticketing system though. They can be electronic in an Apple wallet, or on paper. 

The world backwards? Better forwards! 

Surprisingly, a short distance from Salamanca there was no internet reception! Maybe due to my provider, orange, but I doubt it.

Train from Salamanca to Chamartin, in Madrid. Swap to metro and head to Barajas, a station near the airport. 

Airport

Oh dear! Those poor Brits! The two who initially looked a little uncertain but then got off in a determined manner at the Barajas station made a fatal mistake. He was watching me and yes, I look like a traveller again. Pack on and a little one over my shoulder. They got off in the right suburb, Barajas, but that is the station between the 2 airport stations: one for terminals 1,2 and 3 and the other for terminal 4. I thought of asking them if they wanted the airport as they got off but others with bags got off here too so I didn’t. They realised their error as we got out of the station and i heard them asking someone behind me.

Why on earth am I way out of central Madrid you ask? Yes, I’m not flying out until tomorrow but I though it a good excuse to see a bit more of Madrid. So I booked a hotel between the 2 airport stations.

And it is very different. My huge suite of rooms costs heaps less and seems nice. 

The streets are full of places to eat and drink and it’s not busy like the central, touristed, areas. This is very obvious from the views out my first floor room. And, I hasten to add, the hotel is much better than the views might suggest.



Lunch

Hmmm, just the day to eat out. Hotel restaurant looked OK, although empty but, it was only just after 2pm. Worth the risk before I suffer from avitaminosis having lived on coffee, fresh figs, wonderful peaches, bread and cheese as I couldn’t manage eating out or cooking in Salamanca. Well, only out to Zazu’s once and to Mandala’s twice in two weeks barely counts. 

Equal best mixed salad I’ve had in Spain this trip. Yes, tuna is obligatory! 


The garlic prawns were good and the cheesecake, different. 


Except for me and a table of 6, celebrating a family birthday, the place remained empty.

Freddy and Izzy, again

Lunch was very enjoyable. As I was sitting alone I read an article in today’s paper about the Spanish King, Freddy. I should say, Fernando el Catolicó. I’ve always wondered why his wife, Isabella la Catolica, got so much good press and he so little. It seemed to me she must have been the smart one and he merely the beneficiary of being a bloke in the sixteenth century. 

Today’s article on him in El País was excellent and provided a totally different perspective. I should have realised! Many places I’ve visited in Spain make so much of Isabella with statues and memorials and, yes, you guessed it, they are in her home territory, Castile! Given the passionate regionalism that continues to affect priorities in Spain it shouldn’t be surprising. She was from over to the west of Madrid, Castile, and he from the east with family further east again. Hence he was less visible and viewed less favourably in Castile!  That’s what the article argued and that version seems credible.

Now, if my reading of this article (in Spanish 😚 of course) was totally wrong, the story could be different yet again! Makes thinking about history even more interesting and reinforces my earlier ideas and those in an autobiography of Inga Clendinnen. She wrote it over a period when she was about to meet her maker as she had liver failure and a subsequent transplant. 

She is an internationally significant historian of the Aztecs and of early colonisation in Australia. I find her views fascinating. Think in another life I might study the philosophy of history. Not now. Now I need to learn Spanish. 

Next

Heading off overseas tomorrow, late morning. Not a trip I’m looking forwards to much at present. 😒 I set up something I may regret. 

More later…… Today I need to be present here and to stop coughing….. 

Salamanca early morning, school and more

Salamanca in the morningEarly (07:45!) morning walk again. Dark, as I walk down the passage to the front door of my building.


And the street lights are still on outside.


With the right timing, the sun is dawning over from the cathedral steps. The sky already looks European:  full of flight trails.

And, I can never go past some of the more recent carvings on the new cathedral, the rabbit and the monster with the ice cream.



And above the side door, the carvings there always impress me. No matter if I walk past it day after day.


And the other side of the cathedral, the back end of the old one.


This is one of the best places to find pilgrims as the albergue is near. Not that I’ve seen many. And the painters seemed not to have either.


Just along is a very old carving in a wall, or is it just one that’s not weathered well? The anguish on the face makes it a favourite of mine.


For the first time in my nearly 2 weeks in Salamanca I bounced down and over the Puente Romano (Roman bridge) on my morning walk.

The view both ways across the bridge is always spectacular. Whether to the south, away from the old city of Salamanca and to the Paradore (a modern version of the hotel chain) or, to the north to the cathedral and everything that makes this city so special.


As I knelt on the bridge taking a photo I quite disconcerted a women riding towards me. She couldn’t change her trajectory and swerve to my side. Nup. She halted. Odd! At last. A rider who makes me look good.

image

And then back. Most restaurants were nearly set up by now. Time for porridge, the last serve in the box, coffee and a quick check of my homework – that I’ve done it all and have it ready to take.

School

Five of us in my class. A good number. Let me describe them. The order is how we sit. Yes, everyday we flock to the same seats.

M is 18, on a gap year from Holland. Cutely boyish he blushes easily as one of our teachers gently teases him about things like football. He is doing 3 months of Spanish in Salamanca and then going to Ecuador as a volunteer. There, he will be teaching english and football to adolescents. Having heard his english accent well, let’s say, it’s unusually broad for someone whose compatriots usually speak it very well and he will be teaching it! He confirms for me the value for kids of a year off between school and future life. And what a wonderful way to spend it, some here, some in Ecuador and I don’t know what else. But an idea to encourage. I wonder if it works as well for those heading into the professions. He will do humanities in future. From the high level of approval of gap years from another teacher I’ve learnt it’s usual here and she has a son of a similar age.

C sits to his left. She, like him, is new to our class this week. Like me she is what the teacher calls a ‘language traveller’. Yes, she is near-pensionable age, an engineer who has spent recent time travelling, doing a bit of Spanish here and a bit there. She is American, Californian, and has just spent six months in each of the past two years in Ecuador, learning Spanish and volunteering. For what I don’t know. After talking to her I am convinced I don’t want to go to Qito. The southern city in Ecuador, ?Cuencia, can’t remember, sounds like a good place to visit. Anyhow, she is sensible, doing extra classes each day, as I should. Outside class she is inseparable from her husband who is in a lower level class in the school. Her focus is the imminent arrival of their daughter in Spain.

The third member of class is R. She is young enough, 22, that she includes her age when introducing herself to new class members. From the UK she seems to be spending a postgrad gap year but is really completing a practice year for her legal registration. She is small, obviously has predecessors from somewhere in the subcontinent, and leads a busy social life, coming to class most days a little late and half asleep. She wakes quickly and is a very sharp analyst. She is ahead of me in class, that’s for sure. She is obviously enjoying her freedom in Salamanca, with her work experience already organised for somewhere in Spain. And it’s obviously where she will have to use Spanish. Sadly, Brexit may well change the options for people such as her who want to live or study here.

M sits on R’s left and next to me. She is older, maybe early 40s, I can’t tell. French, and learning Spanish to get a new and better job. She was a buyer in a large technical organisation with problems and is now defunct. Not that that seems to describe her well. Her political comments on the divisions in France are very interesting: of those in her original town, in Paris and generally. Her family are in the Caribbean, and originally from there. Anyhow, I like her. She is a much more fluid speaker than me but I often get more of the homework answers correct. She is very serious and has two months before she will sit the DELE test to formally establish her level in Spanish.

Next week my class will move up to level B2. I wonder if I return if I’d get into B2 or would need to repeat the last week of B1. This week, feeling better, I’ve caught up a lot and feel as though I’m on the lower end of the top of B1. So after a few weeks away, repeating B1.5 would be fine, as would starting B2. I’ll see.

Yes, I’ve started to think about coming back here. I’m glad I won’t be here next week thou. A huge group of students is starting at don Quijote, 65 or 75 of them. As this is in response to advertising by the school, and as the annual saints day for Salamanca is on September 8, most probably they’ll be very young.

Next week

Lots of parades, life in streets, all culminating in bonfires. The culture lecture last night mentioned this type of Spanish festival. I realise now how lucky I was to see the huge bonfire in Antigua (Guatemala) in 1998, and this year, the fair (feria) in Jerez and Semana Santa (Easter) in Avila. Wow! Thanks JP for the encouragement for both.

 

 

Salamanca: a beautiful city

Monday morning



Forget mondayitis. Gone! And, if I’d felt like this last week I’d have lined up extra classes for this week, one on one conversation. It’s a little late now but it would have been a really good idea, had I known I’d live again!

Since I effectively lost a week, one option is to return to Salamanca for a couple more. I’ve checked and so far the same apartment is empty but, I don’t want to fix my options yet. I know. The apartment may be unavailable if I leave it. My risk.

Yup, more, and different, adventures to come before I want to make this decision.

Stage 2 of this trip sort of starts next Saturday. More later.

Lunch out

To continue my upward trajectory I decided lunch at ZaZu’s was the go. Their salads are great. Tasty, healthy. 

To start: a very tasty salad with brie and orange, then, a nice seafood linguini, a great mango ‘soup’ (gelato) and a coffee. Cost €17.90 (about $26AUD). Not cheap but, worth it. I first ate there in 2013 as a special farewell dinner with my erstwhile walking companion, Ekhardt. More recently, I ate there with JP. So, a very infrequent regular!

Then, until desert arrived at about 14:35, I was the only customer. By 15:50 another 3 were upstairs with me. 

Two were guys. Talked incessantly and over each other, as spaniards are wont to do, and each took a photo of each course. They each posted them immediately. I waited until later and sorry, I only had desert to show for my visit. So I took it twice! Next time I’ll do better.


I asked the waitress why it was so quiet. She said the foreigners have gone and the Spanish aren’t back from holidays yet. Good luck for me! I already knew the students are away as it’s so much quieter than usual where I currently live in Salamanca, between the 2 universities, the one state and the other, private. 

Reminds me! I typed ‘salads’ but reread it and it had changed after i finished. Like my last blog: for the strange omissions/additions, thank Pages or WordPress. Truly, I set a blog up, check it carefully and it changes afterwards. So put the blame not on the author but on the software (yes, a revision of the old line: ‘it’s the pen, not me’). Si? For the times the auto correct is invaluable, there are as many when it drives me nuts.

Walking

I was finally out early this morning, a bit after 0730, when the sun comes up. 


My street was so quiet. Nothing and no one.


Half an hour later the delivery vans had started and some tables and chairs were propped closely against one wall. 

Was a lot later before all the tables were out and some in use. Every day this process is repeated. Every year. Tables and chairs out, filled with people, cleaned, replaced back inside and tomorrow it starts again. 


Meanwhile the cliched view people who live here, or walk through touristy bits, see is tables and chairs in the centre of a pedestrian-only road as you look south, towards the cathedral.

 

Apple

Am I the only person in the world eagerly awaiting to see what Apple will do with the iPad mini 5, or whatever it’s going to be called? I am eagerly awaiting a new, thinner, lighter, waterproof model with a better processor. Will I be lucky this year? I’ve just got lucky another way. Yes got a ticket to My Fair Lady my first week back now in Australia. Even better, it’s in the middle of the front row. Hmmm, I’m uncertain why it was possible. I love that row when I don’t need to read the subtitles. For an english language operetta I love, a front seat should be the best.
Food

Bread in Spain

A favourite topic! For me. 

Just bought another loaf of my favourite bread in Spain. It is pan aleman, German bread. Much better than most types of Spanish bread. Those are typically very crusty tonsil abraders or, like many in American, white or brown coloured, soft, spongy ‘stuff’ labelled bread. Neither is particularly exciting as far as I’m concerned. 
I am heading to the only supermarket I know will be open at about 2pm on a weekday (worse on a weekend). Yes, most are shut, or shutting, then. 

 

The one open one sells nice sushi and sashimi. Secretly it’s so I can change a €100 note. Few places can change big notes, except supermarkets. Plus, the sushi is good. 

One shop in some big cities in Spain that always puzzles me is Pull and Bear. I kid you know. Spanglish? Some english, such as its use of english for ‘back to school’ sale. Interesting! So is the extent of clutter.


Ramblings

Back to do homework before the cultural lecture at 19:00. I was looking at my desk and wondering why I was getting fat.

Too much cough medicine?

Too little physical exercise – well virtually none until this morning. 

Can’t think what else. 😙 not cheesecake bought for a few days in advance. Surely not. 



School

Tonight’s cultural lecture is Francisco and his guitar. I’ve asked him to play La Cucharacha, the cockroach, a highly political song I love! Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, we are learning when to use some prepositions. Be blowed if I’ve figured other than: learn as many examples as you can so you will do the right-sounding thing. The little logic I’ve figured leaves me very confused. Hair splitting!

Salamanca, school again!

Honey and lemon didn’t work. Fixed neither bronchitis nor a sore throat. I tried! Drank an orchard’s worth of lemons.

Decided to start antibiotics in middle of Sunday night after yet another protracted bout of dry coughing but you are advised not to lie down for a while afterwards. Well, Muriel, I assume it burns your gizzards if it slides back up. So I had to wait ’til the sun was waking to start them.

Monday 22 August

First day at school in Salamanca and I felt, and looked, dreadful.

If coughing was an Olympic sport I got gold for duration per day, for force per cough and whatever else. Gold. Gold. And more gold…. Day after day. ☹️

Another day off would be a bonus but they do class allocations on a Monday so, I had to go to class. I spent 2 minutes revising, Monday morning. Yup, too little, too late. I’m focussed on after class. Bed!

School

I chose Don Quijote again because I’ve heard good things about the Salamanca branch plus, I know it’s well organised and its teachers are all well qualified grads.

Eight am start. Do test. This is part written and part oral with one of the teachers. Well organised and they’d hived off those who speak no Spanish earlier so we operated in Spanish. Most students are young, a few of us, not. From all countries, particularly Germany I think. A few French, Brits and otherwise I don’t know. No other Aussies as far as I know.

Curiously, there are two small flags above the smart board in the seminar room used for the tests and lectures. To the left is the Spanish flag and, to the right, the Australian flag. Australian? Why, I have no idea but, it is. And no, no, it was there the day after too. Very strange.

Then a tour of the areas around the school (and, past where I currently live). What a great tour! Hearing local views and history from someone who grew up and was educated here, was great. We climbed up the balcony in the Casa Concha, walked to the Plaza Mayor, back to both sides of the Cathedral, new and old, then down to overview the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano), back up my street (Libreros), originally the street of the booksellers, and back to school. Time left for coffee and to find your new class.

Casa Concha? Astoundingly popular. Always has crowds looking at it, even relatively early in the morning.


Test results

Well, I’m in B1.4! B1 is the initial intermediate level and the 4 is the number of weeks completed at that level. The last week in B1 is 5. My last time in don Quijote I was in A2 so I must have learnt something. Despite zero practice in the language for what feels like ages.

My 4 classmates (a German couple, a Brit and a French woman) are ahead of me. Usually I like the challenge. Being crook has made it hard to think of working to catch up as fun. Sigh (again). Really nice classmates. The Germans have done 5 year spells in many countries, she has a great job. He works at home. The other two are also nice, one 22 and the other is probably 30s.

After the break/tour my group was continuing a new verb tense today. Well, new to me. Guess what I’m doing tonight, after the 7-8pm culture lecture. Think level B only goes to B1.5. Just as I was getting resigned to never progressing further I jumped right up from A2. Clearly I won’t get to B2 this time. (Phew).

Understanding the 2nd teacher, Julia, takes an effort. She uses a high level of vocabulary and speaks at a normal pace. Note: in Spain ‘normal’ pace means the speed of a machine gun. And so, no, I don’t understand every word but I can follow the ideas. I am happy about the challenge.

Day 2 also depressing

Skip this if your life is good at present!

I felt like shit. Not sleeping well as I was still waking a few times for protracted bouts of dry coughing. Cough medicine didn’t work and I’m starting to suspect overdosing is possible. Anyhow, I was crook and just holding it together for school.

School ambience seems good, location is brilliant and it’s a nicer building than those Madrid or Granada with its very old stone walls, an open courtyard and a cafe attached. Great looking down both ways from my first floor classroom. (The figs are still green!)



And, it’s just along the street and around the corner from where I’m staying! So far I’m very pleased I came here.

Evening cultural lectures are held from 7-8 every week day with movies as well on some. I went to the Monday and Wednesday lectures on Picasso but couldn’t face another two on him. Enough is enough.
Best of all was the Tuesday ‘lecture’. My teacher, Francisco, has a wonderful voice, an interest in the sorts of folk songs everyone knows and plays a guitar beautifully. Despite feeling lousy I loved it and would drag myself out of a sickbed to hear him anytime. Enthusiastic, knowledgeable and a great voice, I love the different sounds many folk songs here have.

I’ve been hearing strange moans from somewhere nearby my apartment, especially at sun up and down. Thought at first that my neighbours had a very interesting love life. In time, I reckon it’s more likely the local pigeons or doves. It’s louder than I’d have expected as they can’t perch just near my apartment. Interesting.
The view out from my windows is pretty neat when you realise how inner city I am.


Still hard to view the garden as private with many of us in overlooking apartments!
The inner view towards the windows is not so interesting on washing day. Not so easy drying 2 sheets on a drying rack. Well, except that I keep all windows open day and night as it’s wonderfully warm. Warm and dry. We had a rapid thunderstorm one day but otherwise ideal, warm, dry and summer!


Rest of the week

My life will continue to be run by alarms again. I have one to be up by, dressed by, another for when I must leave for school and one so I have time to get to the evening lecture. Yup, a clock-run life for just another week.
I hated Thursday’s class. Julia speaks very rapidly, says ‘it’s easy’ so often it drives me nuts as I run on the spot to keep up. I’m barely doing my homework. Just attending feels like enough this week. I’d rather spend it just lying in bed. Day after day.

In a Friday class some of the reasons I often can’t understand what’s being said in Spanish became evident. We had 3 segments of conversation played to us: one with an Argentinian accent, one from southern Spain and one from Castille-Leon. The differences! Like those between a broad Scot, a southern raised American, an Indian and an Aussie/Kiwi! Same written language, broadly, but sooo different in speed, use of ends of words and what happened to ‘s’ and ‘c’ sounds. For a start. But the speed of one snippet!!!
Summary of class 
If I can use the weekend to catch up I’ll be happy as the content was what I have long known I need to know. The big topic was the sorts of conditional tense. I’ve been using one but know I need a more shaded set of options. So, that was good.

Evening lecture topics are mixed. Except for the singing night, they are disappointing. I was hoping for history rather than a focus on painters. Each to their own!

My two teachers both offer good practise for me: Francisco is clearer and easier to follow. Julia speaks rapidly, waffles and I need the practise she offers! So, all is good that way.
And I love the layout of the school and it’s ambience. Beats the Madrid school. Not sure I really like the system that don Quijote uses. It’s very laisse faire with textbooks the staff don’t really use and they are almost useless for home study. Thankfully I have some Spanish text options electronically.

TV

And now I’ve seem it all! A competition in which people complete a tattoo within a fixed period. Judges then look very fierce as they exclude one of the tattooists. In the first episode each tatt was based on a photo of someone important to the recipient. Amazingly good work. Some astounding tatts with excellent shading. In the second episode the image was of a loved pet, from a pink poodle to a snake. I kid you not! Different recipients each time of course. You guessed?

However the evil looking judge bulged his eyes out from his fat head and shouted (lisping!) at one competitor in the first episode saying he wasn’t taking it sufficiently seriously. (Picture it as I described it!)  The next contestant cried. (Who wouldn’t!) They all ended up on a stage and I’m sure your version of the protracted judging and feedback sessions would be accurate as we’ve all seen it for singing, getting thin etc. So, all in all the same public theatre, a win for most and humiliation for a few. And yes, I was watching solely to practise Spanish. 🤓

It was a change from TV programs on fixing up cars. I still can’t find my usual favourite programs in Spain, the survival competitions. Of these, the best remains the program in which a pair meet for the first time, while they are both naked and in a jungle. Oh no! I’ve seen ads for an extension of naked pairs in the jungle! Naked groups! I’ll have to find out when it’s on and stay up just so I know I understood the ad (yes, it had footage!).

Oh yes, border control. I’ve been watching ones filmed in Sydney. Haven’t seen me in a background shot yet so I’m obviously not travelling enough! But I must say that if I didn’t have an Aussie passport and know the rules I don’t think I’d bother going there. Very off putting. Trust me, in my time watching Spanish tv I’ve seen border control from Canada, Columbia and Australia. And the others aren’t as bad. At least now, as it’s all in Spanish, it looks as though the persecutors and their victims all speak the one language equally well. So yes, it’s not as bad translated!

Different
At home I expect others walking towards me to make eye contact, especially in my small suburb. Doesn’t happen here. Very much walking in parallel as you pass like ships in the night. I understand it would happen in Madrid but here, in Salamanca! Hmmm.

Remember I told you about the wonderful Saturday hairdos ready for church? Found two victims yesterday who won’t know you are watching them. 😏

Ignore her dreadful scoliosis!


And her lesser scoliosis! Just look at her  hair.


Life into the future
Next week will be better! I am clearly better than I was when I started this section of my blog. So, put your hankies away, don’t look for a death notice or have anyone look for my will, yet.

At the end of next week, I will be moaning and wishing I hadn’t lost two weeks fitness! But my Spanglish will be a bit better!

Arriving in Salamanca, Spain

Weekend 20/21 August 2016
Yes, I’m in Salamanca. Sleeping within earshot of two sets of church bells, in a very central area. The bells don’t ring through the night and, anyway, their noise is beautiful, mellow and it doesn’t intrude. In fact, I forgot where I was the first time and tried to locate a chiming clock in the apartment. Hmmm..

One of my nearby neighbours in the Casa Concha, the house of shells. Another is the Cathedral. Another is my favourite restaurant from previous trips.


I love the strange house up the street, on my corner, with its very decorative upper facade.

Another feature of the location is, guess what my neighbours, two houses along, sell? Yes!


Valor! It’s a major brand of chocolate here in Spain. Thankfully I usually find it the Cadbury’s equivalent and am successful in trying not to need it 😊. I’m imperfect but I know you can buy bulk Lindt balls at a particular supermarket. But not my favourites, cappuccino, thankfully.

My landlady is Ana, a two kisser on meeting and parting. Very nice and has a wonderful apartment. One review, it’s from Airbnb, noted her unhappiness that the renters were late arriving, two hours late. So when I told her when I’d arrive I was dammed careful to get it right. Twenty to 30 minutes walk from the end of the train line I guessed. Phew, it was. I made sure it was. She seems fine!

The apartment is ideal for one or two. Separate toilet and shower, each with a basin, a bedroom with two adjacent singles, living area with a comfortable couch opposite a TV that shows the Discovery channel in Spanish (great). At one end of the living space is a reasonably well provisioned, small, kitchenette. At the other, large openable windows overlooking a private courtyard garden. Hmm.

How could it be private when overlooked by many apartments 3 or more floors high! Still, they get to water grass and to sit on it even if everyone watches enviously from their windows above. I thought I’d have access to the garden as my apartment is Bajo C, under (or below) C and I figured it was a ground or basement level apartment. It is actually street level and the block must slope more than I thought as there is a floor below me that does open onto the garden. Hmmm. Bajo bajo?
Interesting small differences exist between different countries. For example, the hot water in the shower needs the tap turned the other way. Many shared places use timed lights, a good system unless you stay on the loo longer than allocated or can’t find the door keys in time. And the door keys! They always imply to me that Spain is dangerous as most front doors of apartments have those heavy duty locks with 3 bolts plus one above and one below. And I turn many more times than I should need as I inevitably turn the key the wrong way and so then have to reverse it all. Slowly I’m getting it sorted. Might need many more visits to Spain to be sure.

Hair

Haircuts here still fascinate me. Well, the men’s do. The women often wear theirs long if young and it varies as they age from long to middling to number 3. And many of the 70+ women still get theirs permed and combed on Saturdays. Since I doubt it’s for a night out I’m assuming hairdressers shut Sunday but older women still have to look their best for church on Sunday.

Anyhow, hair and the men! For the past few years those aged 15 to 30 have slavishly copied some soccer player. Now it seems even more exaggerated. No longer #2 or 3 around the edges. No. An oval island of hair on top, a reverse tonsure filled with hair that seems to be getting longer every six months, perched over a #1 all the way down around the ears. Imagine a large hairy pimple on a pumpkin and you have it.

Breakfasts

Breakfast Saturday was at the station in Madrid, Chamartin. That is the one overseen by 4 skyscrapers all owned (or named at least) by the big 4 international accounting firms including PWC, KMP, E&Y etc. Forgive me if I’ve got the names wrong. I don’t use them professionally, only as a landmark at Chamartin. And no, I didn’t buy anything in the Chamartin lolly shop. Visited it though as, travelling with JP, I got to know them and their offerings well.

Breakfast Sunday was at Granier in Salamanca. Breakfast was the usual: white coffee plus a toasted roll with olive oil and minced up tomato. Not true I come to Spain for breakfast. But it could be.
And the streets were so quiet at the early hour of 9ish.


Around the streets

I found the cutest garage, beautifully adapted to look like original 15th or whatever century.


Nearby was a typical statue of a woman carved by a man who used a man as the model. The hands! The face!


Church

After breakfast, the church nearby had started a service so I dropped in. I was a little late. It’s one north of the touristy churches. Almost full of the over 70s. Yes, with nicely styled Sunday perms.

Among the few under 70 was a family with three young boys. Everyone had to turn to their neighbours and shake their hands at one stage. One little boy was very vigorous in doing this to the two old ladies in the pew behind. One was a very shrunken and distorted old lady, with a crutch and rheumatoid hands. She didn’t flinch. Was too surprised but I flinched on her behalf. Poor thing.

I don’t fit in in church in Spain. Too young and I have the wrong hairstyle, not having enough hair for a Saturday perm. Plus, I don’t know the responses to the priest. But I get irritated by the beggars here that focus on the entrances to churches. Pushy and irritating. Sort of intimidating too as they fill a lot of the entrance space. I suspect few of those specialising in this tactic are christians so it always strikes me as blatant opportunism. That shuts my wallet more tightly and faster than anything else.


Along the street was another church. The number in old Salamanca? No idea. Many. Anyhow, not everybody gets inside where it was cool.  It was very hot out.

I currently have an upper respiratory infection with an irritated cough and a sore throat. So I’m even happier I’m in a nice apartment where I can make honey and lemon concoctions all the time. I feel a bit better today and hopefully will be able to concentrate in school tomorrow. Priorities. Priorities.

Oh, and I found figs! So far I’ve seen two types, both new to me. I’ve only bought been ones so far as the purplish ones looked as though they’d become exhausted after extensive travel. Limp and a bit mildewy.  The green are wonderful.

Madrid, mid summer

Day 1, Thursday 18 August 2016

Ten twenty in the morning and at least six working girls were out near the centre of Madrid. Dressed to the nines, most were wearing high shoes, the types that aren’t meant for walking far. Must remember that when I book my next hotel anywhere near the Sol Plaza.

Last year Sol Plaza station was Sol Vodaphone. Vodaphone is smart, capitalising on a few years of people reading and saying Sol Vodaphone!

The day was hot and the sun very fierce so I bought a new hat. As you do. 

A hat and a coffee. A good start to the day. And I don’t care if the hat looks silly. It’s like a throwback to my schooldays of wearing a panama. Albeit a very different design and colour!

Near and in the Grand Plaza many cafes use a misting system of cooling customers. I thought at first, here we go again, dammed Europeans smoke too much. But no. The fogs are from the customer coolers, a fine vapour pulsed out from pipes in the tops of umbrellas. Looks cool…..



Finally found a street with adventure gear in the suburb of La Latina. Not the one JP and I liked so much on an earlier visit. Still, progress. Many shoe brands I know. Except for a few icebreaker items, all the clothing brands are new to me. So, very interesting and yes, I bought some very trendy white socks with expensive red bobbles. Positively guaranteed to remove all moisture in your shoes. 😉 We will see. 

Many shops and restaurants in central Madrid are shut and no, not just because it’s lunchtime. It’s August and, despite the numbers of tourists here, it’s traditional for many people to leave the hot city. And it hasn’t been nearly as busy in the centre as in late May/June. Very good time to visit.

And another of my favourite coffee shops was open. Literally, to the adjacent footpath. To my right is the nice swish interior and, to my left, motorbike parking. 


And, I must remember the next time I tell a beggar I don’t speak Spanish not to do so when I’m reading El Pais, published only in Spanish. Cuts your credibility somewhat! 😄

Beautiful out in the evening. After 9pm, it’s warm and the streets are crowded. The Chueca station is in the Chueca Plaza with its many busy cafes and restaurants. And, it being Spain, the evening has not yet begun.


No-one in the Lindt shop. 


Do you know what happens to Lindt balls exposed to heat? Those in my bag, yes yes, purloined of course, oozed out both ends onto my paperwork. It now looks, well, ugh. And if you eat a melted Lindt ball you risk it running all down your chin as it explodes over you. So, until the weather cools down a lot, I’m off Lindt balls. 

Day two

Had to see the lake over the river down from the king’s castle (left) and the adjacent cathedral (right). If you think that sounds like a fairy tale you should see how it all looks! From below they are largely hidden by trees so you need some imagination. Picture book stuff especially with a very high connector between the buildings. Looks like an aqueduct but I think it was King Freddy’s (some other name I’m sure) private walk. Maybe I’ve seen too many fairies in the heat. Moving on….

It’s a huge area of parkland near the royal palace. At least one King kept a boat on the river near the castle, reached by crossing his private bridge! Tough gig. Don’t know if the present King lives there but the private gardens are well watered, enclosed by a high fence, guarded by the Civil Guard so, maybe.  

Trees, grass, tracks, bikes, runners and a cafe. The lake is somewhere. A very hot day. At least 30C, clear sun. 

Three of the three women hat wearers I’ve seen in Madrid today have on panamas and are in this park now 👑. Explain that! Yes, I’m one of the three. Days of street walking and I’ve seen very few wearers of any caps or hats, female or male. Odd. Like all the smokers in streets here, something from the past.

Found the ‘lake’. Really it’s a reservoir. Pretty dirty and I asked the old guy fishing there if you could eat the fish or was he just practising 😋. Unsurprisingly, he said he was practising and seemed repulsed by the idea of eating his catch, if any. Very taciturn. I should have said ‘good luck’ but he didn’t want to talk. 


If you think you know how to park, do better. Or explain how you’d get out of this. Both ends of one car were the same.


To Salamanca Saturday morning. By train of course as it’s easy and pleasant. Two days and school starts Monday early, with a test to decide your class. 

Leaving Aus 

The train from Gosford to the city was busy. And thank heavens I was heading to the last stop on the line today as I went to sleep on it again. Jim’s fault. The darling little red Aussie terrier has just recovered from something that made him unwilling to walk, to even lie down. During last night he decided he needed to be taken outside at about 2am. Well, that’s my excuse for being so tired.


Sydney international airport was quieter than I’ve ever seen it. Even with an inspection for explosives (bad timing on my part), I was through from Emirates checkin to the Qantas lounge in a mere 5 to 15 minutes. Very quick and easy. Wow!

With my books, bathers and extra clothes and shoes for school in Salamanca, walking poles and sleeping bag with liner, my pack weighed 7kg. Not too bad as a number of things will remain in Madrid when I start walking a section of the Mozarabe, a different camino in Spain, mid September if all goes to plan. I hope …

For the walk in Tuscany, early September, I’ll take most things as I’m joining a group, organised by Walking Women, and we’ll be based in a single location. This follows my discovery of how good it can be to walk with a group, as with Wild Women Expeditions along the Incan Trail and up Huayna Picchu. On the strength of that I’ve got another two group trips organised for 2017. And yes, I know, I was lucky with my recent group and it won’t always be that way. All I have to do is to remember my bike trip in Myanmar with the subgroups: 6 Canadian friends who tended to stick together as did the group of 4 American friends, and then there was me. Hence my reluctance to join groups, especially when it might be a group of partners or pre-existing friends.

In a short while I might change to the Emirates lounge as they have nicer food than Qantas. In the meantime, their nuts are wonderful, as is the quiet. I should have organised a massage as there is a spa here. Maybe you have to fly first class for that. Oh well. 😋

Trip to Dubai

First leg of my trip to Madrid is an overnight flight to Dubai. I don’t know how long it takes, maybe 12, maybe 14 hours. Never remember as it’s usually quite pleasant and I sleep well.

The Emirates lounge? Yes, much better food than in the Qantas one. Confirmed once again 😉.

So, Dubai and then Madrid, here I come.

Time to go again!

Yes, the recent 4 or 5 weeks at home has been great but, it’s time to fly. 

Broomstick ready, I head out today, far away from this neighbourhood. Yes, far from this slice of paradise, through which I walk many days when I’m home. 

First stop, Spain. Then Italy and back to Spain. Sound good? 

Stay with me for more in a few days, when I get to Madrid or Salamanca. 

(The header photo is Jane Sheers’. The more routine one on this page is mine).

Salamanca and Madrid

Bar life: the perils and benefits of knowing too little

Now, if I’d understood what the woman behind the bar said, I’d have been happy with the rice and beans for lunch. She didn’t call it soup and obviously thought I meant proper soup: chicken stock, salt, small noodles and a hard boiled egg cut up. So, she made it. And it was nice. ☺️
The place was busy. Six or so people around the bar drinking a glass of wine or a coffee, one watching football on TV and an old lady who eats here daily, ensconced in her usual seat at her table. A guy who is also often there took her empty chair as she left.
Most customers are older. Fits with the decor and the measured approach to service.
Cold today. Too cold to even cross the Roman Bridge (puente Romano) as the wind would blow my hair off or the umbrella inside out. Brrr.
Did I tell you the ugly (but free) brown umbrella I was given by a young guy earlier left me! Jumped ship soon after I’d commented on its deficiencies, like not staying open in the rain. Now long replaced by a €7 model condemned to a liquidation store in Arevalo and now to me.☺️

Monday, leaving Salamanca

Another wet day. Not cold. Feels a bit over 5C, validated by one of the ubiquitous pharmacy temperature displays as 6C.

Fast Train from Salamanca to Madrid

Easy to buy tickets online, a big improvement. The ticket inspector checks your phone. Even easier as a traveller.

The fast trains are fast. The one from Salamanca is travelling at a sedate pace, 120km/hr versus over 150km/hr earlier. It’s smooth and doesn’t feel that fast.

The lasting countryside is brown, green, dry, with stone fences, cereal crops, like this, from a fast train:


  
     

Madrid

Monday: Madrid is wet and miserable today but not especially cold. Between 5C and 8C I’d guess, based on the number of bits happily above freezing.
I’m staying in an Airbnb apartment in an inner city suburb, Chueca. The apartment is a little tired and unusual but it’s a lot better than being in the ‘brothel’ JP and I unwittingly stayed in last time.😙 The location is great and with the heater on full, it’s warm.
I’m trying to find a good vegetarian restaurant. Left the first one, unnoticed, after a severe lack of service. The food in the second was to die ‘from’, rather than ‘for’. So, back to my favourite hot chocolate shop in Calle Valverde, a few blocks from here, for consolation. Even better, a little dog in there thought I was ok. Well, it soon became clear he preferred my bag with its food contents!

 
Ended up trying a different one today and had vegetables within their natural life span and not pallid, dead and greasy like yesterday. Ugh!

The choice in Madrid is unbelievable. So many small restaurants within a block of where you live, if centrally, offering a large range of options from plastic food of all types to whatever you are willing to pay for. And bread shops. I found another today, around another corner near here.

Found different museum the other day. A house and contents from the early to mid 1800s. Hard not to compare life in it, just after the war of independence against France, with contemporaneous developments in Australia: soon after the first fleet etc, the building of Sydney and Hobart. Here it was so developed, sophisticated, formalised.

Oh, and as this was the relevant period, poor Queen Isabella II had to look over her troops from the side saddle position. Well done her and no, she is a much later Isabella than the one who intrigues me, from the 15/16th centuries. I liked this picture of her.

 Wednesday: Last full day in Madrid this visit

The day started with me leaving a small bag of things I don’t want to take to Italy or to later lug around Spain, while we ‘tour’. Left it at the hotel we are staying in for our last night in Europe this visit. The guy was so helpful and I was so relieved. I had options but this was best.

Next: I couldn’t book some bus tickets we need last night. Not a new experience. Stacks of data in, get the end and it will accept only European ID so, bang. Finish. Agggghhh. Last night a new failure point. I was booking too far in advance. Odd. Very odd.

So, off to a travel agency this morning. Same thing, except she said that bus company is never available and we have to go to their office. Yeah, it will be in the relevant town where we will be in 2 or 3 weeks. Not helpful but I’m guessing the bus won’t be full with the company acting that way.

Then a quick visit to catch up with Pedro, the boss at the language school. He was away today. Yes, he’s back tomorrow. So a quick chat with the woman at the front and then with one of the teachers. He’s tall, very thin, smokes like a chimney and so is outside every break. Yes, again today. He was no help in answering: do more school in Salamanca or Madrid?

Around the corner two shops to visit: one that organises walking trips in the countryside outside Madrid, as well as to other countries. Got a hard copy of its brochure. Because I could. Then to one of the nearby bread shops. Oh yes.

And then to the bookshop, Atticus-Finch.

  I thought it had shut but, no. At 11.30 the owner was there, happy to again accept half a loaf of bread, share a coffee, and to catchup. She doesn’t speak any english and it was good chatting about disparate topics in Spanish from her health to why people from Madrid are called cats. Three options for the latter: like cats, Madrilenos are nocturnal; or, because they live like cats chasing after mice up in the attics, from the time when only Madrid had many multi-storey buildings; and finally, that they are said by outsiders to have attitude, as is always said about a city that has been the capital for hundreds of years and is perceived as believing itself superior!

Last two catchup visits: the cheese shop for a blue goat-cheese from Zamora and then the exciting shop that sells drones, electronic games and moving things. Hard to keep my credit card in hand in that shop. Very very hard.

Back at the apartment: I don’t what the guy at the door really wanted. He is a cleaner and i didn’t mind him getting a bucket of water but I don’t know what else he wanted. His Spanish was highly accented and he has too little english for me to understand. Plus, why ring only this doorbell and why show me paperwork.

I could truly say ‘ask someone who cares’! But, with zero mutual understanding, even that was not possible!

Rome

Rome tomorrow! Exciting. My first time in Italy. Jp and I are meeting outside a particular information spot in the airport. Wish us success as she’ll be very tired flying in from Sydney.

And Venice on Friday/ Saturday. Unbelievable!

Storks

Time in spring in Spain could not pass without mentioning storks. Everywhere high and spacious (church towers and spires) in country Spain. Clacking away. From Arevelo to Medina Del Campo to Salamanca. Each has them.

 And no Virginia they are not white as in the cards welcoming babies but often a little grotty. And I love hearing and seeing them.  Can’t get enough of them.

Salamanca, Spain

Saturday

My license to own and operate a camera was withdrawn this morning. Yes, I forgot the memory card, again. Sigh. I need to carry a spare in my bag at all times! 

The woman with the cute little dog and clothes didn’t mind my using an iPhone. If I was her, not the dog, I’d have asked for a retake so it was clear the dog and I weren’t family!

  Decided to do Salamanca museums today as it is Saturday, not Friday. The days are unimportant in many places but, not in Spain. Lots of things are shut Sunday and I’m catching the train to Madrid early on Monday. So, museums today, wondering why this was my first time doing them. 

Having found the various websites confusing I chatted with the woman on the front desk. And she said they don’t have ethnographic or history focused museums. I didn’t want painters. Heck, I’ll probably go to the Prado again in a few days. No, I want history, elaborations of the Medina del Campo worldview, of why Salamanca was important and when etc. etc.

Thought I’d try the Museum of Salamanca. Spoke to the man on the desk there. Sure enough, painters. Didn’t even bother to go past the inner door with that. 

Next, the Museo de Santa Clara, an old monastery run by, I think, a closed order of nuns. It has strange hours on Saturday so I’m sitting in a nearby plaza waiting for 11.40 when they’ll let me in. Yes, a strange time, 11.40, not 11.30 or any other option. I suspect it’s not really the type of museum I want. Might see if nearby shops have the newspaper I want, the ABC. No. Oh well.

10′ and I can enter the convent. 

For €3 I got a personal tour with a very patient guide who explained words I didn’t know and spoke at a reasonable speed. I got to see the skull of Saint Bernard or, were those his finger bones and someone else’s skull. Anyhow, wonderful frescos from the 13th and 15th centuries, the reliquary, various religious items of little interest to me and then we went upstairs. The frescos downstairs survived so long by being hidden under wooden panelling on the walls. The reliquaries, hmm, why keep a bit of something when the essence is gone? Moving on….

Through a grid upstairs you can look down onto a pretty impressive rococo retablo of the church, lots of gold but, dating from some recent period like the 18th century!

Best of all, a 13th century wooden ceiling, painted, and maintained by the nuns. Magnificent. Fancy, 700 to 800 years it’s been there, and long hidden by a false ceiling below it. To see the wooden roof you have to climb up and over it on a metal frame above the false ceiling. Wow. 

You can view sections of old Salamanca from up there too. 

  The glass over some windows has been abraded by many fingers and noses over the decades so it’s not the best way to see the old city. That is better seen from the cathedral tower.

  
The museum has various artefacts from everyday life, an eclectic collection. I loved the side saddle. Imagine galloping on a horse, all the while sitting in a tiny little chair that faced sideways to the direction of travel. I admire the women who could do that, who had to do that. Wow. Much harder even than smiling while dancing backwards and wearing stilettos. 

The set of animal traps was unexpected. In case you need to catch a bird or rat there are many more options than you may have realised.

  So, an interesting museum with the best bits being the frescos and the ceiling from the 13th century. Think of all the wars, skirmishes and power games fought around the place and that could have threatened their existence, an ambitious abbess wanting to make her mark, a local bishop needing to prove his superiority, lots of things that could have interfered, the civil war, so many earlier possibilities. Yet, both still exist. 

Back to the Plaza

  

Not many people for lunch outside at this time of year.

    

 
There I was, no, no selfie, sitting on a bench in the sun with two old boys watching the strange celebration and listening to a discordant band. Another old guy came up and gave the one on my right 2 blue balloons. Free for you today he said. One € tomorrow.
Yes, it was a joke and the old guy grimly hung onto them until the cutest little miss came near. She was eyeing them off. He gave her one. She stood there until he handed over the second too. All the while her father was telling her one was enough. It wasn’t, for her. 

 Ahh, the balloons are blue because it’s Autism Day today. Who knew! 

Spanish TV’

Travelling to Australia is confronting. I know, I’ve just been watching Border Control Australia. Looks like everyone is searched for drugs, food is confiscated from nice Chinese grandmothers even if they smile a lot, and visitors are expected to be liars. Even soft toys are vulnerable as they can carry drugs and seeds. True! Scary. Very scary. And the penalties seem unfair: the Chinese woman wasn’t fined despite even having bugs in her many fresh vegetables and a British couple with a banana and a couple of apples was, $220. And boy did she give them the rounds of the kitchen about how bad an impression it creates. Yes, it’s translated into Spanish. 

Sunday
Breakfast at the usual place. The woman there never seems to rest so I asked her when she has a break thinking she’s having Monday off. No, just Monday afternoon in winter and Sunday in summer! 

I’d noticed her husband has not been there this time and was sad to learn he died 5 months ago. Very sad. So she has had to continue working by herself, without a real break, in a cafe that needed two previously. I was quite upset for her but didn’t have the words to say anything more than something trite like, what a pity and to tell her that I had insufficient words in Spanish to say more. 

For the past few days I’ve been considering whether to move forward and learn more Spanish or to give up as my world is too english-centric. It’s becoming increasingly clear: I want to study more and it’s likely to be in Salamanca. As she told me this morning, the accent here is ‘pure’ Castillo-Leon, a difference I’d noticed made chatting easier for me here and in Medina del Campo. 

What to do today? Easy. While the rain holds off I’m walking back along the southern sections of the Via de la Plata. May be brief though as the sky is threatening, increasingly darker. 

I’m still sad for the woman running the cafe. 

Medina del Campo to Salamanca

Quick look out the window and yes, something white on the ground. The sides of the underpass next to the hotel, used by many large trucks and cars coming into Medina del Campo, was soon just a little damp. If snow or hail had fallen it was soon melted. Maybe I imagined it! 

The train platform says it all. 

  The train is 10′ late and the only person waiting is a trainguard. The rest of us scurried back inside as a ‘train delayed’ announcement was made. Ten minutes in the warmth was worth it to avoid the biting cold. Amazingly one woman had stayed out, scrunched up in her fur coat beside the staircase rails. Brrrr.

The train is fast and the terrain to Salamanca flat. No snow on ground anywhere but lots of puddles in paddocks so it clearly had rained. As dams to the east of here are low, and irrigation plants are ready, I’m sure many welcomed this rain.

Salamanca

Two versions of the temperature when I arrived: 6C or 0.08C. Both are dubious. It’s below 5C, for sure, with the ear and finger biting. It’s not well below zero, as when I memorably landed in Kabul so many decades ago and it hurt to breath and the cold bit your whole face. 

So truly, it’s not that cold in Salamanca today. No wind helps. Weather forecast for the area focuses on the depth of snow, a few cm only in most places and, winds of 80km per hr. Here, so far so good. 

Change is everywhere here in a city that has lasted for a long time. Some shops are to rent and I’m very sad to say my favourite bookshop, Libreria with its 2 shops, is one. So is the wonderful bread shop to the north of the old town. Many competitors remain but that was different, patronised by locals, not just tourists.

On the other hand, Salamanca looks more prosperous than Avila and some other towns I’ve recently visited.

Hotel

Returning to the Eurostars Las Claras Hotel was an unmitigated pleasure. The guy on the desk recognised me, well, the combination of me plus pack. He was sweet. I was early and had to wait 2.5 hours if I wanted one of the higher, front, rooms. No problem. I never tire of the view.

  Walking along familiar streets in this city is such fun. I’d wondered if I was silly coming back here when I should have been serious-walking somewhere. No. Walking here, through the big, central plaza confirmed it was a great idea. Still busy despite the temperature and time of year.

  
I was looking for the vegetarian restaurant nearish to the hotel. Why, if it’s vegetarian, label something made of soy, ‘meatballs’? Or present other strange bits of culinary deceit and subterfuge. There are so many honest options for vegetables and fruit and nuts. The current menu there is both too creative and unimaginative for me. 

Found a better restaurant along the street past the Shell House. Thanks to Apple finally fixing the horrible thing it did with the iOS 9.3 update so I can now find out more about things around me.  I hate the thought of ever reverting to a pre-Internet world. It was a lot harder. A lot. 

Why would someone build and put so many shells on the outer wall of any building? Don’t know yet. And then there is a bit of stone carving I missed on the new cathedral: I’ve seen the astronaut and there is also a dragon eating something I must look for. 

Retracing Via de la Plata Camino route

Before touristing and chasing up on a museum I want to visit, I am walking this morning. Procrastinating, as the temperature is well below 5C and I’ll be wearing shorts. 

Finally off at about 9.30am. For the record, the temperature was about 1C. After a km or so, one by one:  gloves off, unzip jacket, polar buff off, then unzip vest and finally take jacket off. 

Yeah, I looked weird! Shorts and short sleeved t-shirt plus a vest would have been a prize winner had anyone cared! And of course they didn’t but I still didn’t do a selfie. Even I have limits! 

The yellow Camino arrows didn’t appear for ages. Good to see this style again, and this type of track with a village in the distance promising coffee. 

  The outskirts of the city were as horrible as I remember. Km of not much and then you’re in the country surrounded by unfenced paddocks, very soon after climbing over yet one more roadside barrier. Not a friendly camino at many of the big outer roundabouts. Again I forsook taking a selfie of my legging it over roadside barriers! ☺️

Loved the local bit of sculpture, a bull (always well hung here) and a dog (I’m betting a 3 legged poodle although the neck chain is a little heavy for one of them).

  Feel a bit better for having removed cobwebs-of-the-legs-and-feet. About 25km in total. Had I read the following ad on the way out i might have just tried the free 25′ session of electrical stimulation instead of plodding!

  
Real pilgrims today

I had a disconcerting encounter with a Korean pilgrim. I was surprised to find him in the bar at my turnaround point. I asked if he wanted to speak in english or Spanish. He said he only spoke english. Heaven help me it was awkward. He reminded me how I must look when it’s clear I’ve no idea of what was just said in spanish! He had many fewer english words than I have Spanish. And he had no Spanish. None. Plus he had a big pack for a little guy. 

Still, he’s walked 500km, from Sevilla and, my sympathies to him, he’s having problems finding the route. Showed him my great map app, Gaia GPS, the one that would have saved my sanity in 2013 as I wandered lost, again, around the inner parts of most Spanish towns I visited. Forget Via de la Plata being 980km. I did well over 1100km in parallel ‘explorations’. 😙
Walking back to Salamanca I met a pilgrim couple from Brussels. She looked like it was hard work but, again, they’d made it from Seville so far. And at about 2.30pm I saw a pilgrim by himself on the other side of the road. Seemed late to be heading out. 

Breakfast

Breakfast, coffee and toast with tomato, at the little cafe around the corner. 

  Jp would relocate the owner nearer home if she could. With good reason. It’s the usual size, old design, warm and, the woman who runs it in the morning is very personable. 

  
This morning I told her, in my execrable Spanish, how much I like breakfast at her place and how a friend and I had eaten there a year ago. She said she was happy about that. 

Dammit. I missed the critical word and had to ask her to repeat and then explain I am a bit slow when listening to Spanish. I could have said it’s like some people reading a thesis: the beginning and the end are essential. Except, you know my chance of getting that into Spanish in less than a few minutes….

Thinking of Spanish, I’m still searching for the ‘newspapers for idiots’, the ones that use low level language but not many colloquialisms. Think now they don’t exist so I pick bits out from a range of newspapers, whatever a cafe has. I’m doing better at reading now than I was. Still trying to spend time listening into conversations and watching TV. Many American programs are shown, synched. 
Lunch

I finally arrived at a restaurant for lunch at an appropriate time, about 3pm. Zazu’s was on my way home. So, why not. As always, the food is very impressive and the service average (or below). A vegetable mix, then pasta with tomato and chicken (wow) and then, a superlative strawberry soup. True. Oh wow. Even the coffee was very nice.

Ephemera

As a child I was always jealous of Prince Charles who had a little motorised car. This kid, whose father was busy preventing crashes into people, brought it all back. Sniff. Sad for me. 

  
And as a reminder of that very impressive Queen, Isabella:

   
discovery of America

   
and, conqueror of Granada (last bastion of the Moores in Spain). 

So far my favourite places this trip are Avila, Medina del Campo and Salamanca. 
Tomorrow: I’ll walk the opposite way along the Via de la Plata track, assuming the weather is ok. Rain is forecast for the weekend. Cross your fingers for me.

Salamanca to Vérin (Galicia)

Tuesday 26/5/15
A bus station at 2am is a strange place. People waiting, sleeping, chatting quietly until the bus comes in. Then, action. Everyone springs up to get on the bus or to meet and greet people. 

To manage starting a trip at 2am, later yesterday we both had brief sleeps and then spent hours walking around Salamanca and taking nighttime photos.
   
      

I forgot to include the storks we saw and heard earlier as they clattered to each other or the world from their perches atop cathedrals and other high buildings. 

Back to our hotel for another sleep and we were ready to face checking out and getting to the bus station about 1.30am. Not much was happening when we arrived, or for a while afterwards.

   
 Once the bus arrived at 02:12: action. We were pleased to see a driver swap, thinking our new guy would be safer than a tired driver. Well! What we didn’t expect was his inability to sit still or to concentrate. He fidgeted, changed his seat position repeatedly, along with the radio station and volume, nibbled, picked his teeth etc. etc. He did not sit still and the bus spent a lot of time drifting over the central line. A problem when on a two way road and he often jerked the wheel to get the bus back. I’m not even going to try to remember our transits around some tight roundabouts. Very unusual behaviour from a Dainco bus driver in my experience. 

Despite the driver’s best efforts we each managed some sleep prior to a 15 minute coffee stop not long before we reached our destination, Verin. We arrived in darkness. We were the only people to get off. Had planned to catch a taxi but, no taxis. No life in the town at all at 05:40! Then a solitary car went passed us. Still no taxis. The birds started chirping and we hoped for light. And kept walking towards the Parador, our hotel a km or so away and up on the hill overlooking Vérin and seen here from the castle above it.
  
Maps showing the location of the Parador are clearly intended for car drivers who can take the long and indirect route here, up a steep road around the back. We had a solar torch and a GPS map showing a rough track up the side of the hill. Possibly an old roman road. So, up we climbed, up a roundabout track that eventually brought us out at the Parador, overshadowed by the nearby 12th century Monterrei Castle. 

We were very pleased to arrive and that we’d arranged a very early checkin. Cost us an extra €12 but that seemed reasonable, a better deal than waiting hours. And yes, we’d paid a full night in Salamanca for Monday/Tuesday but that was also worth it. 

So, another brief sleep for an hour or so before breakfast. This was very pleasant, fewer options than in most Paradores but with the important basics: including coffee, toast, tomatoes, olive oil, etc. 
Breakfast finished we headed off to the Castle overlooking Vérin and nearby towns. 

 

   The interior was shut as it is being reconstructed. We were able to walk around the battlements and explore the rather impressive exterior of the castle. 

  
          

 The wild flowers include red poppies, still at their best.

   
 Next, off to see the town and to get a few things for the first stage of our walk: oranges and chocolate milk and some Pepsi-light, lime flavoured. 

Vérin

Vérin is a not-very-big town north of Zamora. For us, it’s the starting point for our walk to Santiago, about 180km northwest of here.
The best part of the town was the line of cute 7 year olds who crossed in front of us. The town has some interesting houses, churches and appears relatively unexciting. Yes, it was Tuesday and some shops were shut but it does not look to be a busy and thriving place. 

The river is clean and is part of a ‘water route’ with other mineral springs and thermal pools along the way. Having tried hot springs once in Spain I wasn’t interested. Last time the water was luke warm and I got colder and colder as we went through successively ‘warmer’ baths. So, not in a hurry to replay that.

After watching trout-like fish in the clear river water we headed back to the Parador for lunch/dinner at 15:20. This was easier than staying awake for dinner which starts at 20:45. The food was Galician and we tried different options. Having a menu with an english translation helped considerably as the Galician language is different from Spanish and figuring out what’s what is an interesting challenge. Even with the internet it’s slow and hard!  But with an english language menu we knew what was coming and between us we had croquettes, two types of soup, pulpo (octopus) and bread. We enjoyed it. 
So, the final arranging of our packs tonight. An early breakfast, which is 08:00 here (I agree, not exactly early), and then we leave. Our route will be along the Via de la Plata only once we reach Laza, later tomorrow. We are first walking upstream to there from Vérin. Versions of this route connect part of one of the Portugese caminos to the VdlP at Laza. I only discovered this today, thanks to the French walker staying at an albergue in Vérin.

So, wish us ‘Buen camino’. Jane is still a little nervous about us not being on a well known and marked route tomorrow. However, we will be following yellow arrows very soon. And to get us there I’m now equipped with clever electronic maps, an iPhone and a solar charger. Thinking of useful apps: the upcoming weather looks good so far too.  Warm and clear. 

First though, look at Jane’s wonderful views of the past few days in Madrid, Salamanca and Verin.         <janesheers.wordpress.com>

A full day in Salamanca 

Monday 25/5/15

Yesterday’s date must have been the 24/3/15. That or my watch became confused and disoriented as we looked at working replicas of clocks from the Middle Ages in a shop opposite the Salamanca Cathedral today. The mechanisms appear to be wooden and they have just the hour hand and a strange little weight on a string that systematically wraps around the left column twice and then the right before continuing the process. Indefinitely if all goes well.

A busy day so far. From a very nice breakfast just near here to climbing the bell tower of the Cathedral and to walking around more of the city. 

Breakfast:     I’d looked forward to breakfast just around the corner again. He was still shut at 8.30 but a cute, old fashioned bar on the other side of the street was open. The woman running it looked similar to the inside of the bar.

The coffee and the food were good. She understood my request for a very weak coffee for Jane. 5 points for a start! After Jane had eaten the bar owner came over and asked if she’d liked her bocadillo with chorizo (roll with chorizo). Then she told us the chorizo was home made and her pride was very evident. I’m sorry we are just passing through as we’d both like to go back tomorrow. 

Yes, we leave here on the 2am Tuesday bus. Yes, Muriel, 2 in the morning. So we will breakfast in Vérin. 

Cathedral

We climbed the cathedral tower. Wow. The view is great to the northern and southern (below) areas of Salamanca, ones I know as I’ve walked through them both. The old stone staircases in the tower are so narrow there are traffic lights that tell you when you can go up and when down them! 

  
   

  

 Did you like the selfie? Real photographers think them kitsch. 😉

Begging around the cathedral is common. This guy was not having much luck but his level of persistence suggested that he’d probably been successful in the past despite today being a bad day.
   
  

And where would Salamanca be without the men in skirts? Two of the memorable bishops ‘cast’ around the place. 

   

  And some odds and ends: 

   

I love the detail in the brickwork. 

  And a not-very-warm welcome if you try to come in through the window. 

Vérin early tomorrow!

Perils and joys of being a perpetual student 

Today
I’m over it! Yes. The shouter gets to me! How can you deliver a new concept and expect an immediate application by shouting answers at people trying to apply them to complex sentences? WELL??? See……. A peril when you have a bad teacher!  Sigh. Us permanent students can come across this type of situation. Sigh. Again. 

 I know I’m learning a lot but I don’t like having a teacher like Marisa who asks the same question everyday: what did you do after class yesterday? and always starts with the same person and goes around the class in the same direction. I’m respondent #4. To the saaaame question. What did you do after school yesterday? Agggghhh

After a discussion before the class person #1 announced that after class yesterday she visited 2 planets, did various other strange things and was tired today as a result. My response was less interesting but I moved away from the formulaic ‘and then I ate lunch, went to the park and then the supermarket and bought…’ Ugh. Boring and I’ll bet it bores Marisa as day in, day out, week in, week out, she asks the eager faces in front of her this same question. I know she’s been doing it daily for at least the 5 weeks before I started with her and my 1.5 weeks with her! 

Why would anyone subject themself to such exquisite daily torture! Fancy doing it.  I suspect it’s more a matter of NOT doing…. Perhaps she is too bored by her job and by foreign students to prepare anything. Perhaps teaching too long is the problem.  

This process usually takes about an hour, often an excruciating hour, as we laboriously go through our boring daily routines. A different question daily would be of considerably more interest and value as her intent is good, to ensure we each speak for a little while. But her very rigid approach isn’t. In my experience, it’s lazy. 

 If you are unemployed in Spain nowadays though life is grim so I guess no-one voluntarily changes their jobs, if indeed they are lucky enough to have one. And in my experience Don Quijote don’t ask for student feedback on their teaching staff. I’ve had about 9, maybe 10, different teachers over my times with them. Not once do I remember being asked what commendations and suggestions we have for their teachers.  In this case I’m giving a small present to teacher #1 as she is great and works at it, and giving (unsolicited) feedback about both to the boss. 

The last 20 to 30 minutes in the shouter’s class are when we get new material. She usually provides no lead-in to extend our vocabularies nor does she facilitate a discussion of something that will have that function. No, for example, this morning’s new tense was introduced by her listing on the board  the changes to the regular verbs followed by those to the irregular verbs for it, the conditional tense. Only after she’d laboriously written all that on the board did she cursorily outline its uses. 

The shouter, Marisa, only shouted once when I was involved today. And no, I don’t understand much when it’s shouted. Don’t care what language the words are in. The effect is the same. I have a reflex that makes me grit my teeth and think of things outside the room. Funny, the word for ‘shout’ in Spanish is ‘gritar’. How apt it seems as I ungrit my molars! 
So, I’m not over ‘it’ so much as over Marisa. If I was to be here for another week I’d ask to be moved from that class.  And I’ll ask not to have her when I come back. Ughhhh. Too much of a bad thing.  6 days down, 3 to go. 

An excellent teacher

The contrast: Edurne, our first teacher every day, introduces new vocabulary by starting a discussion on a topic. She provides considerable joy to my life as a student at present.

She gives us short articles, facilitates discussion and within 10 minutes we have many new words and everyone has contributed. Yesterday she introduced the future tense. How did she introduce it? Easily, through a discussion of possible future developments in the world and how this might change it over the next 100 years; the changes made to verbs and we gradually applied it. And our homework tonight is to predict the future of our neighbour in the class, having photographed her palm. Introduces many new words and we necessarily must practice future tense. See. Good teaching. Very good teaching. 
And I loved the cultural lecture last night on the Spanish press. I understood about 85% of the lecture and loved the depth and breadth of philosophical concepts covered. Very stimulating. So more joys than sorrows. Very definitely. 

Future

So today, I am pleased I have a break from school coming up. J arrives Saturday and we head off to Salamanca on Sunday by train.  A few peaceful days and then an interesting bus trip. Yes. We catch it at 02:00 in Salamanca Yes, Mabel, at 2 in the morning. This is the only way I’ve found to get there even with help from a couple of travel agents. Given its Spain it’s not really an issue. There will still be signs of life in the Plaza in Salamanca much later than 2am. Much. Especially as uni there must be finishing soon. 

 So, we will arrive in the following new town on Tuesday at 05:30. Yes. Still in the morning but the hotel we are booked into has agreed to check us in at that hour. I have to make sure our lights are working as it looks like a very small town and even the birds will still be sleeping at that hour. Why that town? ‘Cos it offers the best place for us to start walking the last 170-180km of the Via de la Plata Camino. 😃

For future reference, I think I need a week off straight after four weeks of school. And, I’m going to ensure I do this when I come back. Perhaps a week somewhere interesting, 4 weeks in Salamanca, a week off and another 4 weeks at school in Madrid. Who knows?