Monday, February 8, 2010
Saturday I traveled to Ávila, Spain, a small city about 1.5 hours south of Salamanca, on the way to Madrid.
I arrived famished (I have yet to adjust to the Spanish notion that breakfast is not the most important meal of the day; it is barely a meal here!). I set off looking for a place to eat lunch. I wandered around for entirely too long (I don't know why I was being so difficult, there are multiple restaurants on every street), and finally settled on a restaurant-a bit pricey-but the hostess lured me in off the street. All restaurants have "Menu of the Day" where there are several options for the Primera Plata, other options for the Segunda Plata, and then dessert and drink choices, all for a fixed price. I challenged myself to step out of my "mixed salad and grilled chicken" comfort zone, so I tried judías con chorizo (beans and sausage, it was really more like bean soup) and filete de bistec de Ávila (fillet of steak from Ávila). My drink choices were wine or water; I still cannot get used to the idea of paying for water. So I chose the wine, a red table wine, served in a small pitcher. It was delicious. I observed people around me pouring just a bit of wine into the glass at a time, maybe 1/3 of a glass full. I did the same, but failed to keep track of how much wine I consumed. I probably had about two glasses unknowingly. After sitting for over an hour, when I finally stood to leave, only then did the wine hit me! Mom and Dad: don't worry, I was fine, perfectly able to function. Climbing the wall immediately after probably was not my brightest idea, however. My slight fear of heights was certainly not assuaged...but I walked so much the wine quickly went right through me. Next time, I will know!
Speaking of the famous wall: Ávila has the oldest and most complete, well-preserved wall surrounding the city. It is quite impressive! I paid a small fee and was able to climb on top of the wall and walk much of the distance around the city. I took many, many pictures-the views were quite stunning! It was a very bright day, and the sun made it a bit difficult to capture great pictures, but it didn't stop me from trying! (The pictures are all on Picasa-I'm sorry for the repetitive nature of the album...I took many pictures, many of the same view...)
The birthplace of Santa Teresa, Ávila also boasts the convent she began, as well as a church in her honor, a room of relics, including her ring finger and bones from San Juan de la Cruz (Saint John of the Cross, her contemporary and mentor). I considered taking a picture (which is prohibited) but did not want to pay the consequences. I spent so much time on the wall that by the time I found Plaza Santa Teresa, the convent and church were closed (and didn't have much time before the bus left), so I had to settle for the relics room, intending to return another day. I still feel a little foolish that I, somehow, managed to miss the biggest attraction of the city. I did tour the Cathedral (I liked the outside better-renovations have the interior disjointed and disorganized) and the Basilica.
There was a neat room in the Cathedral's museum called "Dolor y muerte" (Pain and death). I know, it sounds terribly morbid. The walls were covered in red fabric and adorned with depictions of Jesus' death, and those who witnessed his crucifixion. I cannot forget his dark, pleading eyes on a face cut by thorns. Or the red, tearful eyes of his blessed mother, who just watcher her beloved son suffer a horrible death. If only I could remember the pain endured for my sins, perhaps I would be less inclined to sin. It was moving.
I like to think my Spanish is improving, slowly but surely. I was a little discouraged when I asked in the tourist office for a map (I spoke in Spanish, of course) and he responded in English! I responded in Spanish to his questions asked in English, a bit wilted, however. A much nicer lady at the ticket window for the wall at least asked me if I preferred Spanish or English. I told her I speak better English, but am here to learn Spanish-she smiled and said she would help me learn, so gave me the information in Spanish. THEN, the old man at the ticket window for the Basilica (I hate paying to go into a church, which is sadly the situation in many churches here) handed me an informative pamphlet in Spanish with my ticket, and when I thanked him he said, "Oh, English? Let me give you this paper instead."
All in time.
I did have a positive conversational experience. I was stopped at the same spot on the wall as a family with two children. The dad took a picture of the kids, and then they started to move along. I offered to take a picture of the whole family. They seemed a little confused at the offer, but said okay. After I took the picture I explained that in my family my Dad always takes the pictures, and we rarely have a picture of the whole family, and that is why I offered. I think they understood; they seemed grateful.
Then I set up my tripod and took a picture of myself. That's certainly humbling, hahaha...but, Nick and Alex: I do appreciate the tripod-it comes in handy when traveling by myself!
I had read about a well-known treat of the region-yemas. My book said they are soft-boiled egg yolks cooled and sweetened. I am not a fan of eggs, and this treat did not sound very sweet. But, determined to have an opened mind, I stopped in a "dulcería" and bought two. They have an odd consistency-like a mushy gum-drop, but they taste sweet. I am glad I tried them!
It was a tiring afternoon, but I always love exploring new places.
And Santa Teresa-I promise I will return one day.