November – Santander to Salamanca
The usual excellent crossing from Portsmouth to Santander on the Pont Aven. Britanny Ferries may not be quite as good as they were 15-20 years ago; but then what is?
Our luck with the weather held - frankly a near-flat calm most of the way with the newish shortcut inside Uishant the one short spell of chop. On time arrival with Santander ferry dock in upheaval due to a smart new art museum under construction. But the diverted exit from the city was actually easier than normal. The new route is a bit rough in places but for a long way the ferry traffic is all there is!
The mountains were essentially in cloud so it was wet and miserable until we came off the high ground onto the (relatively) lower Alta Plana. Then it was sunshine all the way to Salamanca.
Campsite (at Villamayor) is good, easy to find - A62 junction with N630 Zamora road and then a short drive following the signs (hooray!). We are high (800 metres again) so much sun but a biting wind. It says 14C but feels like about 5! Easy access to Salamanca and 2k to a very large Carefour.
Van continues to be a Coachman - ie nice but a bit flakey! Design is rather silly - wrong size cupboards over the sink, right size over the beds. That sort of thing .But no real probs bar the water pump which chose this arrival to suddenly pack up. Oh and the sat nav which will not turn back on - DO NOT buy a Garmin, otherwise known as the Garbage! Annoying since the only thing it is actually any use for is finding local things like shops, restos, tourist sites. I plan to open it (!) and/or hit it very hard with something.
Our diet continue to inspire - I am under 100kilos for the first timke by deign since I gave up smoking in 1993! Target 1 achieved - the next is to stablise at 95k which will be what I was in about 1990. It means all new trousers (down from 44 to 42 (got both) and now going lower) and some new shirts since I seem to have dropped back to na sub 18 collar. Janet also doing well but mildly annoyed as her rings are now loose!
Part 2 - First visit to the Golden City of Salamanca, named for the apricot stone which came from under our very feet here in Villamayor!
And indeed it is a golden city. And its city fathers have ensured that, even if not all the modern architects have quite got the ability to meld or modernise they are at leat required to use some apricot stone.
The result is city of golden light. And of architecture that frankly redeems the reyes catholica aggrandisement. For from the Playa Mayior, along the Rua Mayir to the amazing duoploy of cathedra one is constantly confronted by baroque and or platerist adornments.
The Playa is thework is architect Cherringueta and it has to be said that while restraint was unknown to him his aggrandisement is of a very specia order. The square is huge - about 150s metre on a side - slightly off square and is surrounded by a unified array of four storey plateresque and golden stoned magnificences. On one side the unity is deliberately broken by the ayuntamiento, town hall – and five storey grandiose exposition shows how to use the stone to best effect. Amazingly it was crowned in the 19th century with a bell tower that is, frankly, right. How do you do that? And the light is amazing and emphasised by a simple trick - on the corner of each balcony ironwork is a golden ball that catches the sun.
A half kilometre towards to Rio Tormes and we reach the cathedra – yes, two. The first dates from the 12th to 14th century. At which point the hugely successful city of Salamanca led its city father to decide they needed a newer, bigger and more modern Cathedral;. But at that point they did something unique and special - they decided NOT to rebuild the old one but to leave it and build a new one alongside.
That decision means today we can visit a cathedral of the 12th centuiry, virtually untouched by later architectiural and religious whims. And alongside a baroque and plateresque mass that rides like a cruise liner in goloden stone above the city below. And then they crown their decision by connecting the two - so today you step through a portal, descend a few steps and arrive, two centuries earlier in a mediceval basilica. Genius.
Of course for us scientific atheists it is all a bit much – only our Catholic cousins really know how to do OTT! But it is impressive and magnificent and it is the work of committed, dedicated and skilled artisans. Many will have died on the scaffolding nof their creation. You have to respct thje commitment even if their theory is out of our realm of reality.
Part three – the weather!
And so it is very cold and pretty wet. Was that what we expected? Not at all and local opinion bears us out. On our day of arrival it was sunny and, if not warm, very nice. But we know now that it had been really warm until that day. Weather charts show November in the mid teens here and mild, so wettish. But we are on the alta plana again and three thousand feet (800s metres) means wer are on a Munro in Scottish terms. All that saves us from freezing and snow and ice is a mere 100 miles south.
Part four -Avila, city of the longest surving medieval wall in the world; fact!
And wow is it impressive. Judge by this: we drove up to it in the foulest weather imaginable. Rain followed by low cloud followed by the site of the snow ploughs in their standby bays, lights already flashing.And the temperature guage dropped to zero. Avila stands at 1180 metres, the highest city in all of very high Spain. And were all set to turn back but 60 miels is 60 miles of fuel each way. So let us at least see what we could.
You arrive in such conditions suddenly. Avila stands on a promontory surrounded on three sides by river valleys and mountains - bar the only gap to the north and hence the weather. Through the mist we saw and gasped – for this is a city as we have not seen before. Carcassonne is a pale imitation. These golden walls extend for a kilometre to left and right. Too many towers to count. And all in virtually pristine condition, fully crenellated and mortar pointed tight.
Words do not work and the pictures are poor – but even in this weather exciting. Access is amazing. Too cold and wet to get out we were able to circuit the entire city – about four kilometres and even venture inside and see a fair bit of the walls from there too.
If history left this fortified city untouched modern developers (Spanish) and architects (Spanish) and town planners (Spanish or absent) have done it less well. For the interieor is as nasty a collection of 20th century kitsch building as you will find anywhere. What was here we cannot know since getting out to visit the museums and visitot centres was not a sensible option. But it is such a place that we may be back in better weather one day. Astonishing.
Part four will take us off to Caceres and better weather - we hope!