Monday, 13 August 2007

Castilla y Leon

This post covers our journey through the harsh Castillan landscape taking in the cities of Segovia and Salamanca.

On Thursday 9 August we decided to head south into Castilla y Leon, one of the largest regions of Spain. Before we left we had a look around the town of Santillana del Mar, described as one of the prettiest villages in Spain. While the village is pretty, it’s certainly not a spectacularly good looking place and there is nothing there of any interest. We headed south on brand new motorways, firstly through the hills near the coast and then through the harsh Castillian landscape. Some areas we drove through had an almost lunar look to them.
Above and two below: Castrojeriz

Driving towards the campsite we had found in a book, I casually mentioned to Sarah that the book said the present owner was looking to sell up, so don’t be too surprised if it’s closed! The campsite in the town of Castrojeriz was called “Camping Camino de Santiago” and not surprisingly was right on the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostella. The town itself is overlooked by a ruined castle.

The camino is one of the oldest tourist paths in existence, pilgrims have been making their way Europe to Santiago for centuries, carrying a staff and a shell to identify themselves along the way. The bones of St James (Santiago) were miraculously found here in the ninth century during the reconquest of Spain by the Catholic Kings, driving out the Moors (or is that the Moops? Seinfeld fans will know what I’m talking about…)
Sarah thinks I’m a nutter but the idea of walking across Europe appeals to me. Of course there are a couple of problems... number one I'm not Catholic and number two I'm not especially religious! Maybe I will do the trek one day just for the fun of it...

We set up in a beautiful shady pitch and sat outside in the sunshine. Over the course of the afternoon about 15 pilgrims passed through, some setting up their tents for the night near us. In the evening we walked around town and it was quickly becoming apparent the camino was the only thing this place had going for it. Many houses were semi-demolished, some were made of bare bricks, newspapers blew through the streets like tumbleweeds. There were a couple of guest houses for pilgrims who didn’t carry tents. Luckily we visited the other part of town where there was a beautiful church and some lovely houses. Our impression of the town went up!
Above and below: Plaza Mayor, Segovia

The next day, Friday 10 August, we had a late check out from the campsite. We drove 250 kilometres to Segovia, 50 kilometres north-west of Madrid. After setting up Ace in the campsite we got the bus into town for a wander around town. We had a quick beer and sangria in bar (Sarah was surprised to find out sangria had red wine in it…) which came accompanied by some free tapas – pieces of bread with some kind of fish paste on topped with a raspberry. Not the most appealing sounding tapas but nevertheless I thought it was quite nice! Sarah was horrified. We then wandered the streets looking for a restaurant, finally ending up in a pretty average place near the main square.

On Saturday we slept in before heading into town again to look at the main sights – the cathedral, the alcazar and the Roman aqueduct. The aqueduct is quite amazing, constructed 2000 years ago without a drop of cement. Back at the campsite it was time for yet another Sarah Coiff haircut and I'm pleased to say she did a better job this time! Phew!

On Sunday 12 August it was my 33rd birthday! For days I had been giving Sarah instructions about breakfast. I always get up first and make breakfast while lazy bones lies in bed. Today she awoke first and prepared me orange juice with champagne, coffee, bacon and eggs and pancakes. What a treat! She’d even made chocolate cornflake cakes for mid-morning. After opening Sarah’s presents, speaking to my folks and reading a few texts from friends and family, we drove onto the walled town of Avila. We walked around the walls stopping for lunch near the cathedral.
Above: Aqueduct, Segovia
Below: Birthday boy, Avila

We drove a further hour and a half to Salamanca, where we drove around looking for a campsite. During this drive a small sparrow decided to plough head on into Ace and then spent the next 15 minutes regaining consciousness at the top of the bonnet as we drove around town. Sarah donned a plastic glove and wanted to stop and place him on the ground, but seeing as we were in the city, I told her it would be better for him to have a breather for a few minutes and he’ll come good. Eventually he perched himself on our windscreen wipers and sometime later flew away, right near where he hit us earlier.

We spent the night at an ordinary campsite on the edge of town, drinking champagne and munching Sarah’s carbonara. Today, Monday 13 August, we headed to Carrefour first thing to do the shopping. As we walked in I was accosted by an employee telling me my small-ish camera backpack was not allowed in the store, even though many people had larger bags with them. I opened it to show her it was only a camera, she then led me to a sign which said the stores prohibited cameras! I was very angry by this stage, I carry my camera almost everywhere with me and has been no problem in every other supermarket in Europe. This woman obviously thought I was some kind of industrial spy who would be taking photos of the inside of Carrefour! I walked off raving and ranting but eventually decided to head back to Ace when two burly security guards came along. I told them it was no problem in French Carrefour stores to which they replied, this isn’t France, this is Spain. I replied, Spain is crazy!
Below: Plaza Mayor, Salamanca

An hour later we had our groceries and drove to the better campsite in town which was much larger and has free WiFi in the reception. We caught the bus into Salamanca this afternoon for a walk around, admiring the Casa de Conches (House of Shells), the Cathedral and the Plaza Mayor. We stopped in a bar for a quick drink, I had a beer and Sarah ordered a Cointreau, which was very large! Just before we left the tapas started arriving at the bar, we asked how much it was for some ham and cheese croquettes and the barman said they were included in the price of the drink, bonus! We walked back to the bus stop in the rain feeling rather tipsy, arriving back at the campsite around 8pm. No idea where we’re going tomorrow, probably towards Portugal and then up to Santiago.


uncle neill said...

Helo there folks, and happy birthday Matthew. It certainly sounds as though Sarah made the day special - choc cornflake biscuits!! And al of this in a motorhome! By the way, where is the pic of the above-mentioned m-h?
Loved yr summary of the camino, and your assertion that you couldn;t go on it for several resons, one of them being you're not Catholic. I recall you were raised as an Anglican, and as we all know, that's just a pretend Catholic! ho Ho Ho
When the faithful walk, they do it in the starngest ways. In what is now western Mexico and California, the Franciscan Friars who walked up to what is now San Francisco from Mexico travelled with - yopu guessed it, a staff and a shell. They had another quirky habit (habit!!!) too, which was to toss mustard (not Mostert) seeds along the path, so that now there are millions of mustard plants growing wild up and down the coastal path.
Quite a time for Murray/ Mostert birthdays, as Ray and Shirl hosted a party for H the other day. I think they deserve a medal!

Great pics well done how about one of the 'bago?

ray murray said...

Well Hello from Daddyo . Great to read and see that that you are living , whta others could only hope to dream . Look forward so much to catching up in Rome in about one month . If we could afford another bag , we would smuggle Harrison with us , he asked the other day if he could come . You guys seem to be hitting the bottle a bit , gee I wonder who you take after Matt . Keep up the great work Love Daddyo . You should see our fabulous IQ box on the tele amazing

dwozz said...

Hi Matt / Sarah
Your blogg is just getting better and better (I told doubting Lucki it would!)LOL. You really are getting quite good at that photo palaver Matt.Could you take some that we can use for work please??
I bet you're looking forward to meeting up with relies(that's my attempt at some Aussie dialect - I appologise now!
Keep well, drive safe, store well (remember the undies incident Sarah?)
See you both soon

Big sis said...

Im sorry to hear spain isnt living up to the same expectations as france!! Sarah im ashamed you didnt know sangria was made of red wine!! You cannot be a sister of mine!! hahaha ! Keep up the good work x
Lots of love big sis