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Published: November 4th 2014
The ticket process at new Salamanca Rail Station was more relaxed than Chamartin. It had been redeveloped with the proceeds of a cinema and fitness complex attached to either wing. The comfortable seats were clearly to the liking of the grey population of town, who sat around observing the proceedings of the day before their afternoon nap. A train sat on the allotted platform, but disturbingly showed no sign of where it was heading. The other half is always nervous about such lack of information, as indeed were half the people waiting who urgently sought out anybody vaguely resembling a member of train related staff. After multiple reassurances that the train was heading in the correct direction, the assembled masses climbed aboard.
We set off across the open flatlands again towards Avila. Have you heard the one about 2 Irishmen on a train? They were sat opposite. The Dub had a fascination for the distances between stations. In Sandyford, Dublin, the Microsoft plant had it’s own a mere 100 metres from another existing station. He knew because he had an interview there last year. It turned out that he had attended a lot of interviews all over Ireland, so was
an expert on rail stations. The Galway man sounded amazed at the power of the corporate giant, clearly thinking a station nearer his accommodation in Madrid would be handy. I wondered after all the interviews, how come he had no job and was on a train in Spain? The conversation turned towards crop cycles and the number of grain silos. There is another one, exclaimed an excited Dub! He added thoughtfully that it was a lot like the Ukraine. I saw no sign of opposition forces shelling each other out of the window, so it was obviously a historical recollection. We moved on to random subjects such as the chemical properties of condensed milk and the sex life of a Right Whale. It was exhausting, just listening.
We alighted at Avila and left the boys in deep conversation. One can only imagine where the conversation headed next! Avila is split in two by the train tracks. The new side of town has expanded up the hill from the Railway Station, where modern flats mingled with the other inevitable trappings of the future – an Aldi and a Lidl scrambling for the local Euro. Morrisons price matching was not evident.
We wandered towards the Old Town, where our Hostal faced directly on to the city walls. The word Hostal conjures up backpacking, but this one was better described as a restaurant with rooms – nice large rooms that faced out over the city gate and the Cathedral. How many hostals have a restaurant with stars?
There was a rather muddled check in procedure with members of the restaurant staff doing their level best to explain to some French guests, that the restaurant was closed on Monday evening from 8.30 pm and in lieu of a reception the code for the entry gate was as follows. Ten minutes later, all was well. We had a room with a view overlooking the Cathedral and city walls. A spacious room, no less. The question was what happens if we had turned up late? We found out later, when other guests who had just made the cut off spent a good hour arguing about whose fault it was for getting the driving instructions very wrong!
We spotted a cheap lunch. A Chinese place nearby. Menu del Dia is always a good bet at lunch. Three courses and a drink included at 5.95
Euros. We sat outside and the other half sought a red wine. The waiter clearly thinking about saving his legs merely brought the bottle and left it on the table. Self control was required! The dull weather turned to rain and forced us inside. We obviously brought the bottle. The overcast conditions played into our hand. The best view of the walls of the whole town was looking south, which would have been facing the midday sun for photographs. Bad idea. We achieved the panorama shots and wandered back in town via some military museum about the siege of Avila. Verdict - alright for free.
We headed for the afternoon ritual "dos cana por favour". A free tapas was provided. It was unclear whether this was a gesture of good will of the intention to close early and getting rid of the produce. Avila has a policy it seems of any bar offering free tapas with a drink, which explains why a bar owner later in the evening looked a bit put out when we declined. The level of understanding of the Spanish language clearly didn't get the word free, which is not usually a word that passes me
by! The first barman transpired to be Romanian, a theme that would be repeated. The job opportunity website of Avila is obviously a hot read in all parts of Romania. The concept of free tapas is of course a matter of opinion, as the uniform price was 1.80 Euros, a significant increase on the bargain booze of Salamanca. We dined on an Italian ..... when in Spain and all that ............ the waiter was Romanian! In fact, we dined Italian all three nights - with two Romanian servers!! We had planned an alternative, but mine hosts who incidentally did not appear Romanian didn't consider our choice of table worthy and tried to place us in the equivalent of 2 deck chairs squeezed up against a window. The table could have accommodated four and we were but two. The clue was we don't like "tourist menus and.............. ", which was a bit odd seeing as there didn't seem to be anybody else to serve. The place had bizarrely some glowing Tripadvisor references, which just goes to show how many people manufacture these things themselves. You know who you are! We retreated across to the safety of our Romanian serving friend and
I would recommend all others to follow suit! It was then ironic to come out of our dining to see two people sat at our selected table! Time had pressed on and standards had clearly slipped ............. or perhaps they show Tripadvisor accreditation of lots of good reviews.
The town was busy with a religious festival - in short St Therea Week - which culminated in a processions heading into Cathedral carrying what one could presume was St Theresa overhead. She would emerge 2 days later. The good folk of Avila like a bit of time off work, so seemed to have extended the National Holiday on 12 October for a further 3 days. As a significant portion of the sights were closed, including the Walls, we opted for an excursion out of the town the following day and set off to find the Bus Station out. The information to hand was clearly outdated - all shut up and possibly unoccupied for at least 2 years. We found it down to side of the Railway Station, funnily enough sporting a fitness club like Salamanca Rail Station, but no grey population watching the world go by! Bus tickets in Spain
are a complete pricing mystery. Internet says one price, but with add-ons works out more than advance sale in bus station. The following day, after our early wander in the dark, the ticket to Segovia was even cheaper than either!
The weather improved for the climax of the St Theresa festivities. We initially headed for a walk on the Walls. The circumference is about 2/3 open and is akin with anything Carcassonne can offer. The entrance fee includes a free audio guide, which helpfully had an English version and explains the history of the town. The masses were gathering once we had descended from the ramparts, awaiting the procession of St Theresa. A local gave us his overview of the route and approximate time. Alas half the town got the route wrong and blissfully waited in the wrong street. The procession was a combination of all sorts - some clergy, some dressed like local mafia in sharp suits and shades, a couple of St Theresas overhead, some scary Mary types and a lot of military in all forms. The townsfolk lapped it up, making the most of their extra holidays. A mass retreat for tapas followed.
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