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Published: August 19th 2019
Today we have a longish day of travelling to Majorca.
The train ride from Avila to Madrid takes us through some very harsh and barren looking country, with scattered shrubs and a few small trees sitting in amongst a lot of parched earth strewn with granite boulders. It reminds us both of parts of our Aussie homeland.
As we pass through the small village of El Escorial we spot a massive castle up on the hillside. This is apparently the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It’s a bit hard to miss, and completely dwarfs everything around it. We read that it’s a 16th century historical residence of the Kings of Spain, and most of the Spanish kings from the last five centuries are buried here. It’s apparently a very popular tourist attraction visited by half a million people a year. It looks completely out of place in amongst what otherwise looks like a ordinary rural village in a fairly barren landscape.
We arrive in Madrid and I go searching for a map of the Metro to try to work out how we’re going to get to the airport. When I return I find Issy deep in conversation with a Spanish man, who‘s complaining to her that he’s finding it really hard to find anyone in the station who speaks English. I’m not quite sure why he seems so desperate to find English speakers when just about everyone here speaks his native language. He has a map in his hand with a station circled on it, which he tells us is about 80 kilometres away. We assume he‘s hoping we can give him directions, but instead he launches into a sob story. He tells us that he has no home or parents and that he needs to get to this station so that he can look after his elderly aunt who is his only surviving relative. He says he needs 70 cents more for the fare, but then quickly adds that what he really needs is two lots of 70 cents so that his sister can come with him. So much for having no other living relatives. We give him 2 Euros, just to make him go away. My first thoughts are that his scam needs a lot of work. Why would an obviously Spanish person think that he could make people believe that he only speaks English. Then again, we didn’t believe him, but we still gave him two Euros for about five minutes work, so at that rate he’ll be making 24 Euro an hour, which is probably a lot more than the average Spanish worker makes.
The plane to Majorca is half empty, but the airline still seems to have managed to seat Issy and me several rows apart, with virtually no one sitting in any of the rows between us. I wonder if Issy told them that she needed a break from my endless pedantry. I thought it was quite reasonable to ask her whether she thought the plaque on the Avila station, which said it was at 1,132.9 metres above sea level, was referring to the level of the top, middle or bottom of the plaque, or the level of the platform underneath it.
We have arranged to hire a car for the first time since we were scammed by the extremely dodgy Noleggiare in Sardinia. For some unknown reason they did eventually agree to withdraw their claim for the non-existent damage, but stuck to their allegation that we didn’t return the car full of petrol. They said the receipt we sent them was from the evening before, so couldn’t prove that we hadn’t done a couple of laps of the island in between filling it up and returning it. One of the reviews of the company we read later said that one of their staff had virtually admitted that they make most of their profit by charging customers for non-existent damage, and by lodging fraudulent insurance claims. The reviewer said the staff member gave the impression that he couldn’t see anything wrong with this. It’s probably an unfortunate fact of life that if you keep doing something dodgy for long enough you’ll probably eventually convince yourself that it’s legitimate. I wonder how much longer they’ll be in business. The impact of this experience is that we spend a long time going over this new hire car with a microscope, taking photos of even the most insignificant marks.
Our drive takes us from Palma de Majorca at the south end of the island past spectacular rocky mountains on the island’s west coast, to our hotel overlooking Playa de Cala Barques beach in the village of Cala Sant Vincenc near the island’s northern tip. The beach is white sand and flanked by steep rocky cliffs. We’ve enjoyed exploring the ancient edifices and backstreets of Segovia, Salamanca and Avila over the past ten days, but we’re now looking forward to a few days of pure relaxation. Our balcony overlooks an idyllic beach setting, and Issy says she’ll be spending the next week sitting right here.
We eat at the hotel restaurant, which also overlooks the beach. Since we arrived in Spain we’ve got very used to saying "gracias" to waiters and waitresses whenever they approach our table for whatever reason. I think we do this because it’s the only Spanish word that we’re confident of using. The usual response is "de nada", which translates to something like "it’s nothing". Our young waitress approaches the table as we finish main course. We assume she’s going to clear our plates, so we say "gracias". She responds with "why?" We’re not quite sure how to respond to this, so I go with "because the food was nice?" She says she was only here to light the table’s candle. All three of us then get the giggles, and we get them again whenever she walks past the table for the rest of the evening. I think we might be in for an entertaining week.
It seems that we have arrived here on the final day of the annual Cala Sant Vincenc Festival. Hundreds of people gather along the foreshore, and at midnight there’s a fireworks display that would give the New Year’s Eve extravaganzas in Melbourne and Sydney a good run for their money.
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