Published: April 15th 2011April 4th 2011
We eagerly headed to the train station, excited to use our Eurail passes for the first time. However, we were not prepared for the mad rush of the European trains. With signs as poorly marked as our tickets, we spun in circles trying to find the train bound for Cuenca. What was not explained to us was the “minor” detail that we first needed to ride the local train to a location just outside of Madrid. Our hearts sunk as our departure time came and went, leaving us frantically searching the platforms. Luckily, the connecting train departed every few minutes and we found ourselves on board racing against the clock to catch the Cuenca bound train. With a stroke of good luck and a heavy sigh of relief, we made it to our seats on the nearly empty outbound train.
We pulled into the station surrounded by a large metropolis, modern buildings, and heavy crowds- far from the quaint mountainous village we had envisioned. We disembarked and began the now familiar trudge around the city, lugged down by our behemoth packs. We hailed a cab and began a winding descent into the old city. With each turn, the cityscape changed
dramatically. Smooth paved roads gave way to cobblestone streets. Perfectly manicured buildings and modern shops faded into stone lined facades. As we ascended higher and higher up the mountain, the auto and foot traffic thinned. Finally, we reached the Posada de San Jose- an old choir school transformed into a hostel/hotel. We quickly put our bags down and made our way to the gorge. Cuenca is famously situated on a steep gorge, with most of its famous buildings precariously hanging over the cliffs. Connecting the city to the tree lined escarpment was a picturesque bridge over 180 meters high. The view was amplified by the then setting sun. When night fell, we were further awed by the soft glowing lights that illuminate the buildings and rocky ravine.
To our surprise, a full breakfast buffet was included in the room rate- a perk we took full advantage of! Eggs, ham, cheese, bread, coffee cake, fruit, yogurt, cereal, and chocolate chip cookies filled our stomachs for the morning. Shortly after breakfast, we left the Posada to explore Old Cuenca. Throughout the day, we crossed checked out the parador (fortress), viewed the Hanging Houses, crossed the bridge, walked along the escarpment, climbed
through a dilapidated house, and hiked along the river to the top of the gorge. As a man played Spanish guitar next to us, we relaxed in the sun overlooking the entire city. Since the whole city shut down for siesta in the afternoon, we thought we should too! We woke up to a warm Spanish afternoon and bested the heat with ice cream bars and a visit to the historic cathedral. In a spectacle of colors, the interior of the cathedral was vividly illuminated by its stained glass windows.
Our most enchanting moment in Cuenca arrived after hiking to “the Christ”, a large white statue of Jesus perched on the highest hill above the city. The hike proved to be far more difficult than we imagined, but the evening was worth the trip. Complete with a full panoramic view of both Old and New Cuenca, we popped a bottle of local wine and played Skip-Bo in the setting sun. I think this is a good time to point out that I have extended my lead over Lauren to five games!!! As the sun made its slow descent into the hills, we enjoyed the changing colors of the skyline.
Just as the sun slipped out of sight, the lights of the city flickered on. The soft glowing lights mesmerized us until the chilly night set in. Growing cold and hungry, we tore ourselves away from the scene and began the flashlight guided hike down. After a full day of adventure, we treated ourselves to a full meal at the Posada’s restaurant while watching Real Madrid dismantle Tottenham in the Champion’s League.
We spent our final morning in Cuenca exploring the second of Cuenca’s two rivers. Again, we packed our bags and prepared for a new country- France!
There are more photos below