nuke the leuk

nuke the leuk
Supported by the Lotus 7 Club

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Day 21-22 Santiago [Saints & Salsa]

After a very welcome siesta in Hotel Mexico and some catching up with Blog writing I headed back up to the Cathedral to meet my fellow pilgrims for our evening meal at 8pm. This of course in the UK is rather late to be thinking about ones supper but in Spain it’s early in fact too early as when I tried to book the table for 8pm early that afternoon the manager said it was two early and that 8:30pm was the first sitting.

As I strolled along the narrow streets which led up to the Cathedral around 6pm Santiago was just beginning to get ready for a Saturday night. Barmen were busy putting out tables and menus and inside I could see the long thin coolers which sit on top of the bars being filled with tapas for that evening. I was keen to see what Saturday night in Santiago would be like with hundreds of pilgrims ready to celebrate after the long walk, ride or in my case drive.

Many of the shops were also reopening as they tend to closed at around 12pm for the afternoon when it’s really to hot for people to be walking around shopping though in the North where we were it’s not as bad as Madrid which can reach the forties in July and August. They then reopen at around 5pm normally through till 8pm but many of these tourist shops selling nick knacks will be open till gone 11pm. I had phoned Kate and the boys that afternoon to be told that the UK was having a heat wave and that it had reach the thirties in Shrivenham. Here it was a comfortable 25 degrees Celsius as I had seen another sign outside a pharmacist indicating the temperature.

I perused some of the shops looking at all the souvenirs that are available and I’m please to report it’s no where near as bad as Lourdes I couldn’t find a single flashing statute of St James. What I was searching for were car stickers of the familiar yellow and blue Camino sign. This was proving very difficult probably as most people walked and would frown on such an adornment who would want to advertise that the drove the Camino! ME!

In the Cathedral Square more pilgrims who had obviously just arrived were lying down in the centre of the square looking up at the Cathedral as seems to be the tradition. However I’m starting to suspect that some of the pilgrims may have only walked from the bus or train station as they look remarkably clean and don’t seem to be suffering any of the signs one would associate with a long gruelling walk. The genuine pilgrims are those who stagger and limp into the square, rucksack torn and dirty, sun bleached hair, skin turned to the colour of the orange earth of the Camino through rain and dirt. They walk in with steely determination in their own world not looking anyone in the eye.

However many of these so called pilgrims have back packs on with the scallop shell and a rolled up sleeping mat that looks like they were purchased this afternoon these have never been thrown down in the dust of the road or been stained with the sweat of the pilgrims’ back. Tim Moore in his book on the Camion where he walks the route from Pamplona with a Donkey comments on several occasions about fake pilgrims. Those who would leave the refuge late after all the others had gone to discreetly walk to the bus stop or taxi rank. He recognised several faces that would leave last but always seemed to arrive first at the next over night stop and no one else would have seen them on the road that day. They would always make sure they walked the last few hundred yards to the check point to get the Camino Passport stamped so they would receive their certificate at the end. At least I have been open about driving the Camino and undertaken it in a car that makes you feel every bump, the heat the wet not to mention the countless number of insects I have ingested on the way!!!

I found my fellow pilgrims at the edge of the square and we headed for the restaurant I had booked earlier on recommendation. On the way we stopped for a drink and I found a shop selling car stickers so my 7 will now have its reward for getting me here. At this point I realized that much choice of evening wear had been unwise a pair of chinos and a green polo shirt. This was the uniform of the bar staff at which we were now sitting and as soon as I got up to find the gents I had several people waving and shouting drinks orders at me! The restaurant was a modern building serving pilgrims fair a three course meal for 8 Euros. My meal was pleasant enough it wouldn’t have won master chef but it was filling. Unfortunately some of my companions did not fair so well with tough steak and even a long black hair in one meal. The half of the group staying with Linda and Gary Pontin in the other hotel the previous evening had been to a Michelin Star restaurant which Dom Bruce had been told about. This must have seen rather a large step down from the fine cuisine they had had the night before. However it was a good evening and fun a laughter had by all.

After the meal I a promised to introduce Alex Peal to tapas so we headed out to the narrow streets which had many of these small bars side by side. It was now nearly 10pm and I was surprised how quiet it actually was for a Saturday night particularly when I compare it to some of the other towns I have been in over the past few weeks. This may have been down to the rain or drizzle which by now had soaked the streets. We had decided to visit 7 bars before retiring. This seemed an appropriate number for several reasons. I had driven a 7 here, I had 7 Parishes, there are 7 sacraments of the church [well if your and Anglo Catholic there are] Saturday is the 7th day of the week and you drink seven glasses of wine at the Passover meal I could go on.

Now I should explain at this point that a bar crawl in Spain is quite a different affair than a pub crawl in the UK. In the UK a pub crawl simply involves visiting as many pubs as you can and drinking as many pints as you can often resulting in unconsciousness, a trip to A&E or a lift home with the boys in blue. In Spain this is a much more civilised way to spend an evening the idea being to sample the various local wines and the speciality tapas of each bar. When you order a glass of wine in a Spanish bar a normal table wine glass is placed on the bar and half filled this costs about a Euro then you are offered a selection of tapas so you are eating a drinking small amounts as you go along. So this was not a case of the Vicar and Organist on a knees up but two English gentlemen engaging in the local culture. At least this is what we both agreed to tell our wives before embarking on the project!

A pleasant evening was spent though we did make 7 bars we didn’t make 7 glasses of wine two were substituted one for a night cap of a scotch and then an espresso it would have been a cup of tea but there was none to be had. Around 1am we headed our separate ways back to our hotels.

I was somewhat dismayed upon my return to hotel Mexico to discover that directly under the hotel was a night club blaring out very loud music. I should have expected this as I mentioned the hotel was right in the university quarter of the town but I was sure I had not noticed it the previous evening. I decided to go and have a look as the music coming up through the doors was not your regular night club mix of trance, and pop but Latin American music. When I walked down the stairs to this basement club I was met with the most spectacular sight, lots of people of all ages spinning around a swing hips to a Latin American rhythm this was a Salsa Club. After ordering a bottle of fizzy water which is what most people were drinking I asked a nice young girl at the bar about the place. She explained that most of the people here were at the university, graduates and undergraduates she like many of the students there were medics proving the world over that those studying medicine seem to have an ability to work and play harder than your average student. They all belonged to the university Salsa Club and they came here during the week for lessons then put it all into practice on a Saturday Night starting at 2:00am when the normal night club finished for the night. She pointed to several people who were the dance teachers one in particular who was very tall [my height which by Spanish standards is very tall] who was moving round the floor effortlessly dancing with one person after another and giving them tips on the way.

It wasn’t long before he had salsad his way over to me and in a slightly effeminate manner introduced himself as the professor or Antonio. He spoke good English and explained that he was a professional dancer he had even appeared on celebrity come dancing in the UK! Not a program I’ve watched so I just had to take his word for it. He also explained that he had danced in competitions many times in Blackpool. I was suitably impressed. Well when in Roman as they say, that evening I learnt a few salsa steps and had a great time chatting to the medic students who all spoke good English. My trump card was telling them I was a priest in the Church of England which they thought was great many commenting that they felt that the clergy in Spain were unapproachable and did not understand modern life. In the end my late night turned into an early morning with the dancing ended at 5am. Thankfully fizzy water had been the beverage of choice for the dancers so I left with a clear head and conscience some interesting insights to university life in Spain, a few could theological discussions on the church and faith today but most importantly some new dance steps that I would impress Kate with at the RMCS collage ball in July! I should finish by saying though I did not make the morning mass at 10am in the cathedral I did make the midday mass.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Technical Problems but all OK!

This mat be my last update for a while. I have been having problems with my little note book I think it has a virus on it which will now not let me connect to the internet. At present I am in a Campsite at Santillian del Mar a sort of Spanish Burford very pretty little town until I catch the Ferry home on Monday. It´s pooring with rain but thankfully I moved out of my tent yeasterday and into a chalet Hi Dy Hi and all that so at least I´m dry. I had hoped to be a beach bum this week but it has rain 4 days out of five so far.
The kind man at reception has let me borrow his PC but only for a short time as he needs it to book people in and out. So I will try and fix my PC today.
Looking forward to getting back home to seeing Kate, Alex and Ben as well as some familiar faces and enjoying a pint of real ale.

Day 20 The Shrine of St James The Apostle.

I awoke in hotel Mexico my base for the next three days which is situated in the university quart of the city. It was a basic room single bed with good bath room which had a bath and shower. Again I was on the 5th floor which seemed to be made up of single rooms. I could have had breakfast in the hotel but it’s easier and cheaper to simple walk into a café bar so I decided to do this on the way to the Cathedral. I had arranged to meet my fellow pilgrims for the midday pilgrims mass, some of the group had arranged a guided tour that morning which would end up at the Cathedral. The previous evening Dom Bruce and I agreed to save seats for the entire group for the Mass. The tradition is if you’re a pilgrim that you don’t head straight for the shrine but prepare yourself first.

I found a very pleasant café bar on the way and breakfast consisted of a milky coffee and a slice of Tarte de Santiago which is an almond pastry similar to bakewell tart but without the jam, all for 2 Euros.

I walked up the steps of the cathedral slowly recalling the past three week’s journey that had brought me here. The many things I had seen, places I had visited, shrines I had prayed at and the people I had met including the Civil Guard. I had some apprehensiveness at going in as this would mean the end of my pilgrimage which had been 18 months in the planning. I had sat in my study at the vicarage after evening meetings looking at the map on the wall and the guidebooks trying to imagine what this moment would be like. I know I had another week in Spain and some other places to visit but essentially this was just killing time waiting for the ferry from Santander to Portsmouth. In a way it was all a bit of an anticlimax, something other pilgrims had written about in the books I had studied over the past year. It’s really the journey itself which is important it’s the microcosm of life which pilgrimage represents that brings you into an encounter with God not a silver casket with the dried bones of a Saint [or so I thought] though the fact they are there is the reason for setting out in thee first place.

Well after a pause and a short prayer I walk through the doors of the Cathedral. I was surprised that it was smaller in size than I had imagined not like the huge cathedrals of Charters, Burgos or Segovia. There was a real buzz inside actually quite noisy but this is how medieval cathedrals were not sanctuaries of silence. They were places where people met, did business as well as prayed. As I walked round there were several masses being said in side chapels in different languages. As I moved to the high altar I could see the large statue of St James rising up the ornately decorated sanctuary and people walking behind the statute and embracing it as is the custom. I also noticed the huge botafumeiro censer hanging in the sanctuary which is the size of a large dustbin and takes 7 men to swing it pulling on a large rope which the cathedral is famous for.

As I walked round I bumped into Joy and the group which had taken the tour and followed them to behind the high altar and the passageway that leads up to the head of the statue of St James and we all walked up the steps. This was it, the moment, journeys end. I knelt crossed myself and embraced the statue kissing the scallop shell on the back and paused. Normally you can’t stop but I had put on a clerical collar this morning so the shrine attended held back the queue for me while I prayed rank in this case clearly having privilege. I then bowed was given a prayer card by the shrine attended and left it was all over and no bright lights or angel voices but I had not expected any.

What I did find interesting is that as I came out of behind the high Altar there was another set of steps leading underneath to the crypt which is where the silver casket containing the bones of St James brought here in 813AD lay. This does not seem to attract as much attention as the statue which is only from the 13th Centaury in comparison, but I know Europeans seem to have a thing about plaster saints. I descended to the crypt and this to me was far more sacred than the statue and there was a place to kneel and pray in front of the silver casket. Whatever you may think or believe this to me was something special as in that silver box which is about 4ft in length are the bones of a man who walked with Christ on this earth, who heard his teaching first hand, who eat with him at the last supper the first Eucharist, who witnessed his death on the cross and most importantly his resurrection who touch the risen Lord and was commissioned by him to baptise people in his name. A man who called Peter, John, Matthew, Luke, Mary Magdalena and the other apostles friends a person who through my own ordination I have an apostolic link. It was here as I knelt and prayed that my heart leapt for joy and I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit very strongly this was no anticlimax but an encounter with the living Lord.

As I immerged from the crypt I felt spiritually renewed and invigorated and before to long found the group with Joy still going round the cathedral and I followed for a while chatting with Anne before going to save some seats as it was getting very busy. We had been told by the guide that they were going to use the large incense burner at the midday mass. We were very lucky as this is only used 24 times a year and many people come to Santiago and never see it, before finding my seat and as I was wearing my collar I sauntered into the sacristy where tourist can’t go. The nun at the door just smiled at me and I was in an area where hundreds of robes and all manner of liturgical regalia were hanging. There were also lost of priest getting vested many of them Canons of the cathedral. At one point one strolled over to me shook my hand smiled and welcomed me. He asked where I was from and I said England and asked if I would be taking part in the midday mass. I said yes but I presume he meant would I be up at the altar celebrating and I decided it was best not to tell him I was an Anglican remember the Spanish Inquisition! I then headed back out to find some pews and after sitting for about 15 minutes I witnessed the strangest liturgical act. The organ piped up very loudly with a fanfare and a long line of clergy all dressed as Canons [Edwin you would have blended in well here with you scarlet sash!] were lead to the sanctuary by about ten servers dressed in white robes. They all took there places and one of them address the people saying welcome to the cathedral and the shrine of St James on behalf of the Bishop and Canons. A quick prayer was said the organ piped up for a second time and they were all led out a huge crowed gathered by the sacristy door all taking pictures and wanting to shake hands with the clergy. Cleary in Santiago if you’re a priest you’re a celebrity!!!

Before two long I spied Dom Bruce in his splendid habit along with Gary and Linda and I went to get them and by ten to twelve the whole group was all seated. The Mass was very moving it began with a list being read of all the pilgrims who had received their certificate that day. My name was not there as undertaking the Camino in a Lotus 7 does not count as far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned. I think I will ask Bishop Stephen when I get back if he can furnish me with something for my study wall [so if you’re reading this Bishop maybe you could ask Jane or Leslie to put something together on the PC] I’m sure it will be just as valid as anything the RC church give out!

The Mass was led by a lovely priest who seemed very grounded and gave a good address focusing on the spirit of the journey rather than the arriving and we all went up and received together. At the end of the Mass the celebrant said that all the pilgrims were to be censed and the huge censer was lowered a shovel load of charcoal put in followed by a similar amount of incense. Then 7 large men took hold of the rope and began to pull hard lifting then of the ground at some points. In a very short space of time the botafumeiro was whizzing past our seats and going right up into the roof space leaving a large trail of incense in its wake. We had been told that it had only come of the rope twice in the last 500 years so I considered if statistically it was due another escape if it had it would certainly result in several pilgrims being speedily dispatched to the pearly gates. As well as a liturgical purpose there is of course a practical purpose to this huge censer. Imagine being in this cathedral several hundred years ago with pilgrims who had been waking for months with no access to showers or baths the stench must have been incredible and it took something of this size to probably even disguise the smell for enough time for a service to take place.

After the Mass we all headed for a café bar and coffees, beer and plenty of Tarte de Santiago was consumed. The afternoon had been designated as free time. I went to check out a couple of restaurants that had been recommended to Margaret Smith by John the Vicar of Bishopstone who had walked the Camino the previous year and I choose the best of the two and made a reservation for twelve and then headed for a siesta.

Day 19 Leon to Santiago.

Well here it is the final day before arriving at Santiago and meeting up with my fellow pilgrims from Shrivenham & Ashbury. I set my alarm for 8am so as to be out of the hotel and on the road by 9:30am as I hoped to get to Santiago by 4pm so I could check into my hotel shower and change before meeting my follow pilgrims by the steps of the Cathedral at 6pm.

However it seemed like Christian in Pilgrims Progress that dark forces might be at work trying to stop me reaching the shrine of St James. Firstly my alarm clock failed to go off or I slept right through it waking at just before nine. No matter I thought I got packed as quickly as possible and headed down to the café bar in the hotel for a quick coffee and cake for breakfast. I then went to settle my bill to be told by the receptionist that there was a problem with the hi-tech lift that brought cars too and from the basement garage it was jammed! She said it should only be about 10 minutes before the technicians get it working. Translating this into Spanish time meant at least an hour. I took my bags out of the room went down to the car and loaded up. There were several other guests by their cars waiting to go. After about a 40 minute wait we all gave up and decided to head for the café. The receptionist said she would call us when the lift was fixed. I texted Alex Peal whose mobile number I had to say that I was delayed and the 6pm rendezvous might not be possible. By 11:15am and no sign of the problem being resolved I knew that if it wasn’t fixed by midday the technicians would stop for lunch and not start again till 2pm. I could see myself spending another day in Leon. Thankfully at 11:40am the receptionist said the lift was working and I headed to the car and out of Leon which was relatively straight forward.

The road I was following followed the Camino exactly and I could see many pilgrims on foot or on their bikes heading to Santiago but they would not be there for at least 4 or 5 days. My Sat Nav estimated that my arrivel time would 6:04pm so if I parked the car and headed for the Cathedral I would not be too late for my meeting and hoped that Alex had got the message. I had intended to stop and several places on the way to look at some of the pilgrim chapels but this was now not possible so I concentrated on the driving.

It was bright and sunny but not too hot and the drive up into the mountains was great encountering cloud level at several points making it like driving through fog but as soon as I descended a little the sunlight broke through. I did stop at one point which was the highest summit of the mountains I was crossing and there was a small pilgrim chapel and a large cross to which pilgrims had attached notes, photos rosaries or simply placed a stone at the foot of the cross. There was a group of Dutch pilgrims there and they chatted giving me some stick for not walking. One of their group had walked all the way from Holland and had been joined by various friends on route. After some friendly banter we wished each other well [Bien Camino!] and I began my decent the Caterham handling the bends with no problem at all but I was being carful as there were cyclists round every corner though the speed some of them achieved was very impressive again passing me on several occasions.

Lunch today was a sandwich brought at a garage a sort of Spanish BLT [no comment] when I stopped for fuel in a small village this was eaten in a lay by with an apple and some water watching pilgrims slug up the hill on foot or via pedal power, but I could not dither for long as I wanted to keep my appointment. Over the next couple of hours I made up quite a bit of time and the Sat Nav was estimating I would arrive at Santiago at about 5:30pm so I would be able to keep my appointment. All was going fine and the drive had been very pleasant despite not being able to make the stops I had intended and I counted down the signs giving the distance to Santiago 100km, 60km, 30km, 25km my excitement growing.

I was driving at a steady 60mph or 100km hour not pushing it when I passed a sign saying Santiago 14km, when I came up behind some slow moving traffic two cars and a small white van doing about 45kmph. I then noticed in my mirrors a light green car come up behind me very fast and was sitting on my bumper. I was a bit concerned as he was so close that if I stopped suddenly he would hit me. He then dropped back and accelerated again coming up very close and repeated this several times. This was rather unnerving as I was not sure what he was doing but it seemed as if he was trying to provoke me or make some kind of point. We approach an incline and I could see the road ahead was clear so I indicated and overtook the three slow moving cars. As soon as I did this the green car behind me then leap frogged me and over took me while I was over taking £$*&^ idiot I thought he was trying to race me so I let him pass but then he swooped in front of me and slammed his brakes on. It was at this point that a little sign popped out of his rear parcel shelf saying POLICE STOP! and I saw a hand vigorously waving to me to pull over. It was the Civil Guard a sort of military wing of the police force who my mother had warned me about on many occasions!

I stopped the car and two officers stepped out of the car and asked what I was doing. I explained that I felt that their car was to close to me so I decided to over take the slow traffic in front. They then demanded all my papers which I had and they went of into a huddle. The younger of the two then came back and asked if I had any money on me. My mother has told me in the pass that this particular type of police will stop you for any reason then take all the money you have. It's important to insist that they explain what offence you have committed and if money is to be handed over an official ticket issued. So I asked what offence I had committed. The younger officer then said I had been driving carelessly. I asked if I had broken the speed limit. Like UK police cars this would be recorded on camera. He paused and said no. So I asked again exactly what offence had I committed he replied again driving carelessly and how much money did I have. I then asked if he was going to issue me with a ticket. At this point he walked off and had a loud discussion with the older officer involving a lot of hand waving. I over heard the older officer saying let him go its not worth the trouble but the younger said no he was going to fine me. At this point the older office went and sat in the car. The younger came back and asked for my papers again and then went back to the police car. After about ten minutes he emerged with what look like a hand held computer and began writing down info off my license. He said he was going to charge me for driving with out care and this would be a 210Euro fine. I questioned that I could not understand what I had done wrong as I had not broken the speed limit and only over taken three vehicles which where moving slowly. His response was sharp if I didn’t like it I could come to the police station and deal with it there. At this point I felt I should just relent and I asked him to issue the ticket which took about another twenty minutes. He produced a machine which printed of a ticket which said I had been driving carelessly it even indicated that I had been doing 77kmph in a 100kmph zone. In other words I was doing about 45mph when I over took the traffic in a 60mph zone quite how this constitutes carless driving I will never know. I’m sure everyone who gets a ticket has what they feel is a valid excuse but if I had been driving carelessly I would be the first to say it’s a fair cop but through out this trip I have been aware of the fact that I wanted to return home safe and sound to my family and have not pushed it. I hate to say it but my mother was right, it seems as if these two Civil Guard saw a flash English car and decided to give me some payback for the Spanish Armada. Well as a pilgrim you must pay your penance and I suppose I did 210Euros worth. The ticket said I have a right of 30 days to appeal and if I had the time money and inclination I would but for now the priority was to get to Santiago and then safely home.

This whole incident put rather a dampener as I drove into Santiago and I was pleased to find the hotel and get the car parked. I phoned my mother as I walked to the Cathedral and she used several Spanish expletives to describe the Civil Guard reminding me that they could not be trusted. In contrast I have met and been stopped by the local police [Spain has three police forces Local, National who are like our police and the Civil Guard a creation of Franco’s] on several occasions not because I was doing anything wrong they just wanted to look at the car and they were all very friendly and wished me well on my trip indeed one local police officer even said watch out for the Civil Guard!

As I walked across the Cathedral Square having phoned Alex Peal I have to say the site of folk from Shrivenham and Ashbury as well as Dom Bruce from Elmore Abbey who had joined them was most welcomed. I sat down had a beer and felt secure as I was amongst friends and recounted the whole incident to them. After a good chat the group split in two to go to respective hotels and I joined Joy’s group for an evening meal at there hotel which was very pleasant and most relaxing. At around 11pm I strolled back to my hotel very much ready for bed after the adventure of they day

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Day 18 Salamanca to Leon

Some months ago when I was planning my route I discovered that there was not much of great interest between Salamanca and Leon. Zamora lay on the road between the two but the guide books that mention it at all advise that it’s given a wide birth as it is nothing more than an urban and industrial mess with only a very small part of the old town remaining. There were places tucked away in the area but this would have involved a considerable detour and I was keen to keep my mileage to 200 miles per day so as I set off from Salamanca at around midday I was not sure what I would find on route.

The drive to Zamora was very flat and straight thankfully the weather was a little cooler today so it was pleasant going listening to 80’s hits on my IPod. This came to an end when I pulled into garage to fuel up and buy bread and water for a picnic later. The helpful attendant warned me to be careful as it was illegal to listen to music on headphones while driving and warrants a 60 Euro fine if caught. This law I could not fathom as in a modern car with a stereo on you can’t hear anything and in my 7 I have to drive with either headphones or ear plugs as the engine noise is so great that after a couple of hours you end up with ringing in your ears. However wanting to play it cool I check the RAC booklet to ascertain that this was so which it was and then put the IPod in my man bag and put in my foam ear plugs attempting to hum some tunes on route.

The outskirts of Zamora were as awful as described and the traffic heading into the centre was so heavy that I decided to bypass the place altogether, this led me to take a wrong turn and I end up on the larger N630 an A road rather than the CL612 a C road. I had hoped this smaller C road might provide some interesting little villages. However I was glad I stuck to the N630 as this led me to the small village of Mayorga and just as I entered the village I spied a sign pointing left to a 15th Centaury Monastery so I turned the car round and followed the little road for 3km to discover a large ruin. The place was disserted apart from a young woman I passed on foot who turn up a while later. All the gates were closed and it seemed to indicate that they would open at 4pm. As it was now gone three and I had not had any lunch I decided this was as good a place as any to stop. I set up my folding chair and tucked into French bread, choricho and a small tin of pate I had in the car from France, washed down with a couple of mouthfuls of wine from my wine skin.

An hour later not much had happened. The girl had got fed up of waiting for the gate to open and had simply climbed over. I was intending to do the same thing when a couple of cars turn up shortly followed by the man in charge who opened all the gates. I was very impressive and in its day would have been similar in size to the abbey at Glastonbury. It was clear from the large sign by the gate that it was been managed and restored by the Spanish Heritage Department. Apart from this there was no other information and I have searched my guide books and the net to no avail. None of the structures had roofs on and the tops of the walls were lined with storks nests, clearly by there number if you follow superstition the little town of Mayorga was about to experience a baby boom!

Despite the lack of information this was a photographers dream and I put my little Canon G10 which I had brought for the trip through its paces. It’s a compact camera but has all of the flexibility of a larger digital SLR apart from the lens can’t be interchanged. Even so the lens gives you an equivalent of 24mm – 120mm which is really all you need. There is an additional digital zoom which gives an equivalent 200mm which I used to good effect at Le Mans. All in all I have been very impressed with the results and hope you have enjoyed them on the blog, by the way if you double click on the little slide shows in the Blog this will give you a full screen picture so you can see the photos in greater detail. One of the features I particularly like is that you can switch to black and white or sepia tone which gives very good results. I know this can also be done on the PC afterwards but it was good to play around in this way.

After an hour's photography I decided it was time to head for Leon. The rest of the drive was as dull as the mornings made worse by lack of music but I did pass three parked police cars so decided I had been wise not to wear the headphones. It was also getting considerably cooler and grey clouds were appearing in the sky. I thought it could well rain before I arrive at Leon. I even found myself reaching for the leaver that operates the heating at several points. Coming into the centre of Leon was straight forward. I had pre-booked my hotel, Hotel Paris which was right by the Cathedral. I followed the sat nav until I came to one of the bollards that goes up and down in the road. I had no pass but then notice a button marked Hotel Paris which I pressed and a voice soon crackled on the intercom and then the bollard descended and I was through.

At this point I felt like a film star arriving as the street was full of pedestrians who parted some cheering and clapping at my little car and making sounds of great exclamation. Though this brought a smile to my face at first it all became rather embarrassing particularly when I had to stop outside the hotel where a large crowd gather taking photos. I asked the receptionist if I could put the car away first. She said she was sorry but the garage was full. I showed her my booking form which clearly indicated that I had reserved parking but she apologised and said there was nothing she could do. I pointed to the car and the crowed and said I have to have somewhere secure to park the car. She said the nearest underground car park was nearly a kilometre away. At this point the hotel manager appeared to see why such a crowd had gathered in front of his hotel. He could see my problem and felt confident he could get me into the space he had for motor bikes. He walked out of the hotel and instructed me to follow him in the car. I drove slowly up the street followed by the crowed and then round the corner to what looked like a set of huge lift doors. These he opened and I drove in. A button was pressed the doors closed and we began to descend at the same time the car slowly rotated 180 degrees. All I need was the Thunderbirds theme tune and Brains to appear at the door. When the lift stopped I drove into an area that could hold about 8 cars and there was a small space for bikes which had been used by a group of cyclists. We moved the push bikes and the 7 fitted perfectly into the space I could now rest easy.

Back at reception the receptionist was very sorry about not having kept the space but I said it was no longer a problem. She gave me my key and then a card marked Spa Pass. What was this I asked? She explained that the hotel had a Spa and it was all free to guest including the treatments. This I should indicate is very much in keeping with the Camino as pilgrims would often spoil themselves at Leon before the final push and more mountains before Santiago. My room was small but very clean and tidy up in the roof with a mini bar, TV and air-conditioning. It seems in Spanish hotels rooms on the top floor in the attic space are kept for single travellers there a bit smaller than a normal room but all you need I could have stayed here for a week quite comfortably. This is very sensible as in so many hotels these days you are penalized for being a solo traveller having to pay a room subsidy which is most unfair.

I decided I would head straight to the Spa as a long hot drive had taken its toll. The Spa was on the second floor and consisted of a set of small changing rooms, a pool which was about 10x10 meters a Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, and a shower system that was again very hi-tech. It reminded me of the scene from Dr No when Bond is caught in the swamp and has to be decontaminated before entering number 1’s layer, though in this instant you walked round in a large circle while various jets squirted you in places that a member of the clergy should not be squirted. By the end of this process I was spotlessly clean and headed for the pool. Lengths were pointless as with one push you were at the other end but it was very refreshing. I discovered there were various buttons around the edge of the pool which operated air bubbles one so strong it nearly removed my trunks! This was becoming more James Bond by the minute, having arrived in a Lotus, revolving lifts, and space age shower systems all I needed was a Bond girl or a sinister man in a grey suite to walk out stroking a white cat and say ‘we have been expecting you Revd Hancock’! However apart from me and the occasional member of staff putting towels in the lockers I was on my own. I decided a good steam was in order so headed for the steam room and lay there for twenty minutes as it suggested on the door. When I stepped out would you believe it the place was full of Bond Girls!!! What would 007 do at this point? I decided to head for the Jacuzzi and engage some of these lovely creatures in conversation, unfortunately there was no facility for ordering a martini. I soon discovered that they were not all guest of the hotel but members of the Spa and had just finished work in the city and were having a session before heading home. When I was asked what I did I felt like saying I work for her majesty’s government! However saying I was a priest in the Anglican Church I think generated far more interested. They were all very interested particularly in the fact the clergy can marry which they thought was a very sensible idea and that we had women priest too.

At this point another young woman join the gathering in the Jacuzzi but this time I discovered that she was a pilgrim like me from Vienna on her way to Santiago named Christine. Unlike me she had walked from just the other side of the Spanish boarder with France in the Pyrenees. Unfortunately she had sprained her ankle a couple of days ago and for now was unable to continue having been told by a doctor to rest it for a few days. Well a good place to be stuck in I retorted. She told me that she was married and had a little boy of 5 called Mathew who suffered from hyper activity and that the past five years had been very difficult. Her husband had changed jobs and had more free time and suggested that she take a month’s break so she decided to walk the Camino. This was very brave on two counts walking alone in some of the places I’ve been through is no easy thing and I would not want to be a lone female in some of the isolated villages I have been through. Secondly leaving ones child for such a long period is not easy I know Kate can’t be away from our boys for more than three days before she feels she needs to get back. I explained I had to young boys and I missed them and my wife but it is some how different for a mother to be separated from her children sorry if this sounds sexist but it’s just the case. We swapped notes on the pilgrims experience particularly the feeling of loneliness that can be generated in large crowds rather than on the road as well as the constant urge to be on the move and how frustrating it was for her to be stuck in Leon. I did offer her a lift but knew this would be considered cheating by anyone walking the Camino but it seemed the English and gentlemanly thing to do. Quite what I would have done with all my kit in the passenger foot well and her back pack is another matter. I realized at this point I should have brought the Aston Martin rather then the Lotus. 007 at instant would have contacted Q to have it flown in! By now I was looking like a prune so I said farewell and good luck to Christine and headed back to my room to get changed and find a place to eat.

Leon was a buzz of activity my last visit here had been with Kate and the boys and I felt quite homesick sitting at the café by the cathedral we had visited last time. While I had been in the Hotel it had clearly rained and there was a welcomed freshness to the air. Rather than a sit down meal I opted for the tapas as this gives you a better feel for the place and it’s easier to engage people in conversation at the bars. I met several other pilgrims from Holland, the US, France, Spain, Germany but no Brits on my tour round the Bars. By 11pm I was feeling quite bushed so decided an early night would be in order and a chance to writer up the blog as the hotel had Wi-Fi. It was very pleasant sitting in my room writing with the sounds of the street below rising up to my window.

El Escorial, Avila and Salamanca.

Today has been a day of many childhood memories as I drove through the region of Spain I used to come to as a boy with my family which is about 60 miles North West of Madrid known as Sierra de Guadarrama.

This morning as I had a final stroll through Segovia I was very aware of the many smells of food frying with olive oil, streets that have been washed clean and familiar smells of freshly backed bread wafting pass my nose which took me right back to when I was a small boy. As I drove along the memories continued by the strong odour of pine mixed with something else that I have never been able to identify. In a sense this was very much home and it is as much a part of me as my life in the UK.

About 20 miles out of Segovia I stopped for fuel and to remove the hundreds of bugs that had ended the short existence on my windscreen, it was at this point that I realized that I had no front number plate. I was confident that it had been on the front when I parked in the hotel car park the previous night as I normally do a check under the front nose cone to see that the sump has not been damaged or is leaking oil. I concluded that either it had dropped of in the last 20 miles which seemed unlikely as I could not recall anything scraping and it was held in place by three very strong adhesive pads, which once when I had to replace a broken plate took considerable effort to remove. Or as I suspected someone had claimed S7 FOP as a trophy either way I had no front plate and I knew that in the UK this can lead to a major fine. I checked my RAC guide to driving in Spain and sure enough it was the same in Spain a fine of 200 Euros can be made on the spot by the police if your plats are missing or incorrect.

I decided the best course of action was to stop at the next garage and ask if they can make me a temporary plate. Though this would not be the same as the UK plate it would at least have my number on it. The rest of the drive was very pleasant driving up into the mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama dispersed with huge reservoirs which supply much of the water to Madrid. You could see that the dry season had already begun as some were quite low and you could see ancient villages beginning to appear on the shore line that had been swallowed up when the river had been dammed.

Before to long I arrived at Navas Del Rey [Place of the King] which was a small village I used to come with my family to live during the long summer holidays. My uncle has a villa about 3 miles from the village in the hills. When we first used to stay it had no electricity or running water. Each day we would drive into the village to fill up five or six 40 litre water carriers to take back to the villa and at night everything was either lit by candle or oil lamps it was very romantic and for a child with an active imagination was fantastic. It reminded my very much of those spaghetti westerns you would see with Clint Eastwood in fact all those famous films such as ‘A Fist Full of Dollars’ etc were filmed in this region of Spain and not Mexico or the US as some suppose so it was as real as it got. A few times a week we would walk the three miles into the village to Pub Disco 2000 where I practised my teenage flirting with local Spanish girls. Being English and in this small village made me a novelty and exotic so attention was easily gained.
On one occasion this led me to take up the offer the following day of walking to the next village to meet up with a girl and her friend to use the pool they had access to. The village was 10km and in the heat it nearly finished me off until I was picked up by the local police and thought I was in trouble. They drove me right to the pool little did I know that the officers were friends of my uncle and he had seen them in the village when he went to collect water and told them that if they saw a stupid English boy walking in the heat to the next village to give me a lift. Thankfully the return journey was provided by the girl’s father who was very interested in how much my father earned in the UK. I think he was sizing me up as to a possible match for his daughter and I wondered if I would be married by the end of the summer in some bizarre rural Spanish ritual.

As I drove through the village where the girl had lived I saw several old men sitting outside a bar who pointed at the car as I drove by and I thought they might be saying ‘look Hojse it’s that English boy come back in his sports car. We told you should have made him marry Maria’! Stopping and explaining I was a priest in the Church of England and not some millionaire would have only caused more confusion.

When I reach Navas Del Rey I realised that time had done the sleepy little place no favours as it was now a large suburban sprawl and Pub Disco 2000 was no more. I decided not to hang about as I wanted to remember it as it had been when I was a boy and some where I could return to in my thoughts and dreams. I did drive to my uncle’s villa which is down a dirt track not really meant for a Caterham. I knew no one would be there as he was working in Madrid and I had said that I would not be coming right into the centre of that big city in my little car. Had my timing been different I could have arrived at the weekend and stayed with them. The little villa looks much the same but now has electricity running water and a swimming pool.

After this little trip down memory lane I headed for El Escorial which is a huge palace and the burial place of the kings and queens of Spain. Built by Felipe II between 1563 1584AD and is dedicated to St Lawrence. When Felipe II built Escorial he instructed the builders to make all the royal apartments very plain they are mainly just white washed walls with heavy rustic furniture. All of the gold and gilt was saved for the church and mausoleum at the centre. He declared that this was a place for God and not kings and it was a kind of spiritual retreat for the royalty of Spain.

Upon entering the small town that surrounds the palace I came across a citron garage and pulled in to see if they could make me up a front plate. The receptionist was very helpful and said she would phone the Spanish equivalent of the DVLA. After several phone calls which took well over half an hour during which I showed the finer points of the 7 to the garage mechanics who had gathered round and where impressed with the simplicity of the car the receptionist said it would be possible. Great I thought but she then went on to say I would need to send my documents off and the plate would be ready in three days. I then discovered that all plates in Spain have to be made by the transport department and are not made in garages. I thanked here for her help profusely but explained that I needed to be in Santiago in three days so could not wait for them to be made up. It was then the I realised that I had a set of spare plates in my garage. They were leftovers from Halfords when the lad making them up had not got the letters central so he said I could have them free and made me another set. I got on the phone to Kate and then Anne Bell to get the spare front plate brought out with the group coming from Shrivenham along with some more sticky fixings. By the evening Kate had phone to say plate and fixings were in Alex Peals case. I would just have to explain to the police that a new plate was on its way from the UK and hope they would understand. This delay meant that visiting Escorial was not really viable and as I had been to it many times before decided to press on for Avila.

It was over 20 years ago that I last stopped in Avila but only for a brief time and never got to see the convent and house where St Theresa lived had her visions and wrote the ‘Interior Castle’ one of the great works of Christian Mysticism. St Theresa of Avila is a sort of Spanish Julian of Norwich so if you have read any of her works you will find Theresa of Avila equally inspiring if not more so.

At my last visit all one could see of Avila is the medieval wall which surrounds the whole town rising up on a hill out of the plane it was a very impressive site. These are considered the best preserved medieval walls in Europe and are 2km in length built in the 12th centaury. I was shocked this time to find a massive urban sprawl of high rise buildings surrounding the town. What on earth have the Spanish done to the place! It was ghastly and there had been no attempt to make any of the buildings sympathetic with the old part of the town. I have noticed this in several of the towns and cities I have been through and planning laws must be very lax. No thought is given to demolishing a row of medieval houses to be replaced with a high rise block of flats. I fear after it is to late the Spanish will look back at what they have lost. When this is compared with the great efforts the French went to rebuild there towns after the Second World War, St Malo for example rebuilt from the ground up its very sad that this urbanization is taking place.

I found an underground car park just outside one of the main gates into the old city and headed for the Convent or so I thought and got very lost. My theory of ask an American can back into play as I saw a group of young American University students with a tutor come the other way. I asked if she knew where the convent was and she said ‘follow me’. As I walked I chatted to the students who where in Spain for a semester in Madrid learning Spanish and before to long we were at the door of the church which lead to the convent. The young people didn’t stay long they were obviously on a whistle stop tour of Avila and then I had the place to myself.

I was then very lucky as I was shown the garden and house though I could not go in where Theresa lived 1515 -1582AD and then led to the chapel which has a famous statute of her where the nuns come to pray. It was beautiful peaceful and cool and I was able to sit and pray in stillness for sometime. It was a welcomed reminder of what this trip is really all about, to see how God has influenced the lives of the saints through the ages it was very moving knowing the St Theresa had prayed daily in this little chapel when she live here in the community before leaving to found her 19 orders of the Barefoot Carmelites with her disciple St John of the Cross who was from just down the road at Fontiveros. After drinking deeply from this spiritual well I set off to Salamanca via Fontiveros birth place of St John of the Cross but there is very little there to see.
I passed several police cars stationed on the outskirts of the small towns I passed through but thankfully they showed no interest in my lack of front number plate and I arrive safely in Salamanca. Tonight’s hotel had been book many months ago a familiar Ibis with parking. The charming and attractive girl on reception to my surprise was not Spanish but Polish studying at the university here. Salamanca is Oxbridge for Spaniards it’s their premier university and run on a collage system like Durham, Oxford and Cambridge. It's also Spain’s finest example of Renaissance and Plateresque architecture. The university was founded by Alfonso IX of Leon in 1218AD making it the oldest in Spain. Amongst the city’s many impressive buildings is the Plaza Mayor [Main Square] built in 1729AD and is huge.

This is where I headed for my evening meal after a welcomed shower and by 8:30pm it was beginning to come alive. On all for sides there are cafes and bars with tables to sit and watch the world go by. Supper was veal and asparagus with a glass of Rioja followed by a rich dark coffee and small cigar all for 11 Euros about £9:50! Buy now the square was filling up with students and had a real buzz about the place. I had hoped to see some Tunos or Troubadours as in previous visits with my family. These are musicians from the various colleges more often than not studying music that come out to sing in the square. They dress in Renaissance costume and have long black capes to which are attached long coloured ribbons. These ribbons are attached by young ladies to whom they sing as a favour if they are liked. There is great rivalry between the collages as to who’s the best and a Tuno whose cape resembles Joseph and his technicoloured dream coat is clearly a hit with the ladies. Sadly none appeared due to it either being only Wednesday or possibly the university term has finished but in Spain the term continues much later than in the UK

After a walk round in the cool night air and a glass of wine and couple of tapas I headed for my bed knowing the Santiago was now only two days drive away.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Burgos to Segovia and the Feast of John the Baptist

After a great nights sleep in hotel El Cid dreaming of great knightly quests I set of for Segovia some 200 miles away. At this juncture I left following the Camino’s traditional route which would have taken me westwards to Leon but I was keen to visit Segovia for its impressive cathedral, castle and roman viaduct. Then the following day to visit Avila the birth place and home of St Theresa of Avila one of the west’s greatest Christian mystics and on to Salamanca which is Oxbridge in Spanish terms their premier university.

As I pulled the car out of the cool of the underground car park and felt the blast of heat as I entered the sunlight I knew I was going to be in for another very hot day. I put lots of sun cream and made sure I had plenty of water then set off for another day’s adventure.

I now feel very nomadic and the call of the road is an odd thing and generates a mixture of feelings which can sometimes be overwhelming. At one level you just want to get to your destination in my case Santiago and the Shrine of St James' then you feel you would just prefer to be back home and can feel extremely homesick. However then another feeling comes in which is that you never really want the journey to end, that you would be happy to spend day after day travelling as if some unseen force is constantly calling you on. I know that all of the books I read by seasoned travellers before leaving on this adventure spoke of these feelings. It seems to take several weeks before this begins to happen. The first couple of weeks can seem just like an average fortnight’s holiday but once into the third week this disappears and you are no longer a tourist but a traveller or true pilgrim. I have met several pilgrims who have been walking for over 6 weeks now who have homes and families but they too echo this new existence. Maybe this is what Jesus was referring to when he said that foxes have their holes and birds there nest but the son of man has no where to lay his head. As I sped along the very dry long straight roads of the Spanish plains I had plenty of time to contemplate all of these new feelings.

My first stop was St Domingo de Silos where there is a huge monastery which was rebuilt be St Dominic in 1041AD over the sight of a previous abbey which was destroyed by the moors. Here I picked up another Camino which comes via Barcelona. The setting is very rural and it’s quiet and tranquillity has been an inspiration to many artists. The monastery is still in use today so access is limited but I was able to see the magnificent cloisters and the pharmacy which has been recreated as it was in the middle ages. Sadly they were very strict about photography so I was only able to take pictures of the outside of the building and as I had arrived at ten to one just managed to get inside but not able to by a postcards of the interior as they shut the gift shop for lunch and it would not reopen until 4pm.

By now the temperature was 32 degrees Celsius. I knew this as one of the very small shops in the town had a sign which flashed the time and temperature alternately. I found a very old looking hotel and headed inside. It was blissfully cool not due to air-conditioning but the 4ft think walls and small windows. Ironically in the foyer there where pictures of the little village deep in snow and ice showing the great fluctuation in temperature in this part of Spain. The hotel was empty apart from one other elderly couple taking refuge from the heat and a few flies buzzing around, the noise of there tiny wings adding to the atmosphere of the place rather than being an annoyance. A lady dress as a Spanish maid [nothing like a French maid more like a nun sadly] was in the café bar and I asked her to make me a tortilla and mixed salad. Tortilla is basically chunks of fried potato with onion and then egg sometimes referred to as Spanish Omelette. This is very much childhood food to me as my mother being Spanish would make this regularly and still does when she comes to look after the boys on Wednesdays.

I would have liked to have stayed in the cool of the hotel with the flies until 5pm when it would have cooled but I had a long way to go and had to brave the heat. I pressed on to Valladolid but by the time I got there it was so hot I didn’t feel like walking around. I managed to fuel the car and find a small bar to have a long cool drink of orange and lemonade. The car had attracted some attention the barman very please I had parked it outside of his establishment. Unfortunately I had to shout at three young lads who where taking pictures of themselves with the car. This was fine until the third and largest of the three decided he was going to sit on the very fragile fibreglass wheel arch. They seemed surprised and I explained but the bar man came out and told them to clear off and was very apologetic for the local youth.

I had intended a planned stop at Coca which has another ancient monastery but I was running late and the heat was too intense to consider a detour so I pointed my horse for Segovia. It was to some relief that I began to descend from the hot plane into a deep valley with trees and shade bringing a welcome drop in the temperature. It was not long before I set eyes on the fairy tail turrets of the Alcazar Segovia’s castle a welcomed site for any knight on a quest. In fact it impressed Walt Disney so much when he visited the place that when he came to build Disney Land he said he wanted the castle to look like the Alcazar in Segovia.

I have not had a lot of luck with my intention of camping through a mixture of heat, tiredness and late arrival and tonight was going to be no different. I headed to the campsite just outside the city but when I arrived had second thoughts as it resembled a traveller’s camp rather than a campsite and my little car was already attracting too much attention. I was concerned that I might wake from my tent in the morning to find it stripped so decided it was going to have to be another hotel.

I punched up a list of hotels on the sat nav and headed for the nearest one with parking. Now here’s a travellers tip for you. If like me your moving from hotel to hotel and don’t have a reservation take a mini PC note book that will let you connect to the web. I parked up and went into reception to ask the price of a room with parking this was a three star hotel Holiday Inn in fashion nothing particularly spectacular. The girl at reception asked if I had a reservation to which my reply was no. The total cost for my stay was 85 Euros nearly £80 a lot for one night. I asked if they had free Wi-Fi which they did. I then went out of the hotel sat on a bench and logged on to the internet and did a search for the hotel. Several sites came up with offers a few minutes later I had reserved myself a room with parking and breakfast at the same hotel for 46 Euros half the price about £38 much more like it. The girl was somewhat surprised when I walked in and then said I had a reservation. She said no and I asked her to look and watch her eyebrows rise as she found my booking. 46 Euros I said waving my little note book. She said that she didn’t think this was allowed and phoned the manager who said if I had a booking on the hotel computer with a credit card for that price then it was valid! I rewarded my ingenuity with a shower and cold beer before heading of into town.

It was a Tuesday night but there seemed to be a lot more people out than I would have expected more like a Friday or Saturday and they were all dressed up in their best. Elegant old ladies like Spanish galleons floating up and down the wide open vistas of the town centre.

I found a cheap and cheerful restaurant which de Platos Combainons which means combination plates and tucked into chicken fillets, fries and a small salad with a house wine all for 9 Euros oh and as much bread as you can eat, very good value. I decided to give the hotel restaurant a miss as I had no reservation!!! Seated next to me were an English couple who live in Andalusia for 6 months of the year returning to the UK in the summer they where heading for Santander and the ferry but love Segovia so much they always stop on the way up.

At this point I discovered there was about to be a fiesta which was why their where so many folk around for today was the feast day of John the Baptist. I haven’t really been looking a diaries but a quick glance at my iPod confirmed that this was the case. It was only 9pm so things wouldn’t liven up for another hour or so. After a pleasant meal and conversation with my expat neighbours I headed up to the Cathedral in the old part of town. Sure enough a large stage had been erected outside the Cathedral and a huge bonfire built. The tradition in Spain today is that bonfires are lit all over the county it is also midsummer’s eve so a hit of the pagan mixed with the Christian. At 10:30pm dry ice started to waft from behind the curtain on the stage and various lighting effects began to a cacophony of music as the curtain slowly rose. Three singers a girl and two guys with a large band then jumped into a compilation of Spanish favourites and in no time at all the square outside the cathedral was heaving and everybody dancing young and old many families with young children too it was all very friendly and you felt completely safe.

I can’t imagine this happening in Swindon my experience has been that the fighting has normally broken out at this point as people stagger senseless out of the bars. In Spain and France so far despite being out late and bars open every night to gone two I have not seen one drunk or experienced one act of aggression we have a lot to learn from our European cousins about how to have a good time.

The dancing went on until the small hours and for the most part I enjoyed the atmosphere enormously but it’s the first time I have really experienced how lonely you can feel in a large crowed. I’ve spent hours on my own over the past weeks and never had this intense feeling. But with everyone around you dancing with their friends, wives or lovers you do feel very lonely and I wished that my beloved Kate was here with me to dance the night away. To take my mind of this I decided to capture as much of the event on my camera as possible and then turned in a 1:30am but the party continued till 4am.

I have never experienced a whole town let alone a whole nation sharing a collective hangover! I was up at 8:30am and out of the hotel and looking for a café for breakfast but many where still shut and the streets very quiet. By 9:30am more people had ventured onto the streets and were heading for work. You need to remember that this was no bank holiday everyone worked yesterday and would do today but I think the boss would be sympathetic too the situation as he or she would as likely be nursing a sore head to. I watched with some amusement drinking my coffee feeling rather bright eyed after a good nights' sleep as weary Spaniards passed by often looking a little dishevelled.

I had a couple of horse to walk round the town visit the cathedral which is the last great Gothic Cathedral in Spain dating from 1525 built to replace an older building. It is huge and you strain your neck trying to look up at the high towers and vaulted ceilings. While there I joined a mass said in Polish. I then headed up to the Alcazar castle which I have visited before several times but it was good to walk around the new military museum and armoury as well as taking in the magnificent views over the battlements. It was not long before that feeling returned of being driven on and I new I was time to head back to the hotel check out and Head for Avila as well as some old childhood haunts.