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Articles: Only a Decade Late, part 3
Posted by Schizo on Tuesday, February 07, 2012 - 11:53 AM PST

Cult
So, it has been impressed on me, via a hostage situation mixed with a little bribery, that I am to continue writing the account of my trip to Spain to visit Arthegarn. So here I am again, since apparently I do negotiate with terrorists.
I was awakened before light on my first morning in Spain. Usually, when one is in a foreign country, one does not usually wish to be awakened before daylight to be taken to a mystery location, but in this case, I was all for it. So as the sun rose over the beautiful city of Madrid, reflecting off El Escorial and the Valle de los Caidos, we were heading full-speed towards the Sierra de Guadarrama. Arthegarn insisted that I try to sleep on the trip, but my curiosity kept me from being too succesful. I have a few disjointed memories of that trip. The huge jet turbines pumping fresh air into the long tunnels through the mountain range. The yellow dirt and juniper trees of the plains of Castille y Leon. The tiny stone villages with their red tile roofs, each with an identical church tower. The coat of arms created out of flowers on the hillside approaching our destination - beautiful Salamanca.

Salamanca is known for its golden stone, which glows in the sunlight. When there is sunlight. Unfortunately, the day was grey and chilly. Chilly for Spain, anyway. I had no complaints, considering I had left three-foot snowbanks behind.

Our first order of business was to find some coffee to ingest. Arthegarn ordered me a cortado, and so I learned the charm of drinking strong coffee out of tiny cups, rather than huge styrofoam monstrosities. Thus refreshed, we set out to explore.

First, we visited the Convento de San Esteban, with its huge door intricately carved with saints and patrons. I learned how carvings such as these were meant to convey church teachings to the illiterate, and how each saint had his traditional symbols, be it book or beast or sword. Inside the convent, I was amazed at the attention to detail that has been lost in the modern era. In our times, the underneath of a staircase is a good storage area. Back then, it was an excuse to display the finest of hand-carved stonework. I was also struck with the contrast between the opulance of the gilded, ornately carved Baroque monstrosity of an apse in the chapel, and the simple and quiet stillness of the cloister, with its stone well and daisy-strewn lawn.

From the convent we went to the nearby Catedral de Salamanca, a behemoth of a building - the conjoined twin of cathedrals. The Old Cathedral was built in the 12th through 14th centuries, in a Romanesque-turning-into-Gothic style (cathedrals were built so slowly that the architects had plenty of time to change their minds on design, as technology evolved and tastes changed, thus resulting in buildings where no two towers, and no two windows were alike.) The New Cathedral was built from the 16th through 18th centuries, in a Gothic style, touching a little on the Baroque, though not much, to keep it from clashing too badly with its twin. The modern era has touched the Cathedral as well. In 1992, while restoring stonework destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, it was decided to give a nod to society as it is today, and if you look carefully, you will find a carving of an astronaut doing a space walk.

We ended up taking a tour of the Cathedral towers, and from there I learned that this era's attention to detail extends to not only the bottoms of staircases, but also to rooftops.

From there, we wandered the city, and I got to see such things as the Iglesia de San Marcos, (a circular Templar church,) the Casa de las Conchas, (a building covered in carvins of scallop shells, the sign of a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela,) and the Universidad de Salamanca (motto - "Quod natura non dat, Salmantica non praestat," or "what nature does not give, Salamanca does not lend." Also home to the famous frog of Salamanca, of which it is said that, if a student has the diligence to find this frog in the carvings surrounding the university door, he also has the diligence to graduate.) Throughout the city we found numerous examples of ancient graffiti, often a victory symbol, or the initials of a graduating student, painted in ink made of ox blood.

We stopped at a small tavern, the Taberna de Pilatos, for refreshments. More cortado, of course, and wine (in fact, Arthegarn gave me a lesson on how to evaluate wine, which was fascinating. Unfortunately, servers in small-town American taverns get nervous when you try these techniques, and ask you anxiously if you dislike your drink. I've learned this the hard way.) More tapas, more jamon, and more testing of my sense of culinary adventure, when Arthegarn ordered blood sausage and essentially dared me to try it. Of course I did. It was good.

When we were done wandering the cobblestone streets of this amazing city, Arthegarn led us back to the car, and we set off for, once again, another mystery destination. This time, however, we struck a snag when we were pulled over at a police checkpoint. It was a bit of a nervous moment for me, as men in uniform wandered about with dogs, saying things I couldn't understand, and eventually asking us to exit the car, and searching it. Only after we were sent on our way was I able to ask what the hell was happening. Apparently these men were members of a branch of the Spanish military, and were stopping all the cars on that road this particular day. We were only caught with a minor infraction, fined, and lectured and allowed to leave. We travelled on with no more incident.

Eventually, I began to see signs for Portugal, but shortly before reaching the border, we instead arrived at our second destination of mystery - the Ciudad Rodrigo - a city with many layers of history, occupied since the Neolithic age, with structures and artifacts from the Celtic and Roman eras, and a rich heritage since then. We passed the three Roman pillars that are featured on the city coat of arms, and drove into the old, walled part of the city, and then in through a narrow doorway, to our final destination of the day. The Castillo de Enrique II, now converted into a hotel. The delicious realization dawned on me that I would be sleeping in a castle that night.

The interior of the castle was a wonder of beauty and luxury. The lobby was actually the original courtyard, roofed in glass, so I could look up and see the homage tower above me. As we were led to our rooms, we passed suits of armor and what must have been priceless furniture. Once we were settled, we set out to explore the battlements and garden, where we got a beautiful view of the city and a Roman bridge crossing the Agueda River. From there, we set out to walk the inner city wall, which was built in the 12th century. Beneath the wall was the newer outer wall, built in sharp angles to deflect cannonballs, which it did during the Napoleonic area, when the town was under siege. Napoleons' men took the town, breaching the wall directly in front of the Cathedral, which is pockmarked with scars from the battery.

When we were done circumnavigating the old city, we returned to the castle, and sat down to a sumptuous meal of traditional Spanish cuisine. Apparently, a celebrity of Spanish television was there as well, having a vacation with his family. After feasting to my hearts content and basking in luxury, we returned to our castle bedrooms, and thus ended my first full day in Spain.


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Only a Decade Late, part 3 | Login/Create an account | 2 Comments
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Re: Only a Decade Late, part 3
by Rogue (Rogue@skew.org)
on Feb 07, 2012 - 05:42 PM
(User info | Send a Message) http://http://
you should never negotiate with terrorists. or was that tourists? i could never understand our last president, not sure what he meant. also, never eat meat that does not require refrigeration. i was told i had people from that leon castile place, never met them so i am not sure. sounds like you had fun. also, circumnavigation is for jewish babies.


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