A Travellerspoint blog

Gas, coffee & wine

“The gas has gone,” I scream. I’m half way through my shower. The hot water fades over seconds, becoming lute warm. My hair is soaking and I am cold.

Paul goes to change the gas. He lights the incendiary device and the light goes on, them fades to nothing.

“Oh, bugger,” he exclaims. He changes the butane bottle. Match struck he lights the boiler. The flame flickers then dies. He tries again, then again, then again...... He checks the bottle; it’s connected correctly.

I shiver. My body is as blue as Paul’s language. My wet hair hangs lankly over my face. I’m not a happy bunny.

“There’s a problem,” Paul says, a box of matches later. That’s putting it mildly, I think as I rinse myself as best I can and towel myself dry. I boil a kettle of water so I can rinse my hair thoroughly. South Pacific comes to mind. Under my breath I sing that I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair.

“I think we need a man to look at it,” Paul continues. I agree, but say nothing.

A while later I suggest he goes to ask Antonio if he knows who we can call. Wouldn’t you know, it’s pouring with rain? That summed the morning up, as far as I was concerned. Paul grabs the umbrella and saunters the fifty yards along the track to our neighbour’s house. I watch as he is invited in. I’ll not see him again for an hour. They’ll have a coffee and a liqueur or two before they even get talking. I’m use to that by now. It’s the way it is here in rural Asturias. But not this morning; five minutes later I see the two men wandering back to our house. Antonio can’t light the boiler. Hey ho, if Antonio can’t light it then we do have a problem!

“Jose Luis in Trevias,” Antonio says in Spanish. Locally no one speaks English so we have to speak Spanish. That’s the best way to learn.

We all nod. Jose Luis, seemingly, is the answer to all electric and gas problems.

“We’ll go to Trevias now,” our neighbour tells us, adding that we’ll also have coffee there too.

We’re in our working clothes and Umi, his wife, tells us that is no problem. We go in Antonio’s ‘village’ car. It’s a twenty five year old Peugeot he uses as a run around. The upholstery has seen better days but is still comfy. In the back there is a rusting knife on the floor, a few aged peas and wood shavings.

“Ah, that is why it’s ok to go as we are,” I say to myself. That is why he uses this car for driving the bumpy rural lanes as he checks on his land. During those rustic travels he’ll collect a host of vegetation; either for replanting or for Umi’s culinary delights. His brand new Peugeot 405 sits in the garage ready for their weekend trips back to Gijon and life in the city.

We traverse the seventeen curves along the two kilometre road into Brieves and join the Trevias road. The twenty five year old engine purrs like a kitten. Fifteen minutes later we are parked on the yellow lines outside Jose Luis. Antonio puts the hazard lights on. In Trevias you can park anywhere you like as long as you use the hazards. You can park on crossings, corners as well as double or triple park outside the bank or supermarket. No one cares, not even the Guadia.

Umi takes us into the shop. Problem given, solution received. A man will come on Monday or Tuesday. Sorted.

“Are we in a hurry?” our neighbours ask. We shake our heads. They need to go and see a man in a nearby village. As we have never heard of the village, let alone visited it then we are happy to ride along. We turn off the Cadavedo road and drive along a narrow lane that winds up into the hills. We stop at a pueblo of some four houses. Each is a soft pastel colour and geraniums blossom on the windowsills. Chickens prance amongst the dilapidated farm equipment, squawking as they go. Smoke belches from the chimneys indicating the women are at work in the kitchens. Here, that is their place. The pop pop of a tractor from somewhere in the woodlands tell us the men folk are hard at work. Aran lilies bloom in a sea of thick mud. Antonio calls and am aged, walnut skinned gent appears from behind a pile of wood, axe in hand. They chat in rapid colloquial Bable. Paul and I delight in the view out over Trevias and San Feliz. We point as we pick out landmarks. The sun is shining by then; its rays bounce off the windows of the houses scattered over the valley below. Umi is busy sorting through the shrubbery in search of cuttings she wants to add to her own flower garden. Antonio reappears with a pair of shears which apparently are the object of our visit. He cuts the few pickings that Umi has chosen and the car boot is full.

We climb back into the car.

“Cafe ahora,” Antonio states. We nod. Coffee now seems a good idea. He drives back down the curving lane and into Trevias. There are many bars in Trevias but the hub of the town always seems to be Bar Esva, named after the river of the same name that flows by the town. The Rio Esva, I have learnt, is home to the largest otter community in Europe. A few weeks earlier, just to prove a point, an otter strutted across the road. He lingered just long enough for us to admire his elegant blue-grey pelt. Why should he rush? He has no reason too. He is in command; this is his territory.

We sit at a table with our coffee and pinchos. We chatter ten to the dozen. I’d forgotten my dictionary but that didn’t seem to matter. If I didn’t know the words for what I wanted to say I thought of others I could use instead. It worked for me. Coffee finished. Time to go? No. It was time for a glass of wine and so the conversation flowed some more. A group of old men with faces as withered as carob beans sat at the next table; its top covered by a green baize cloth. Their leathery hands shuffled and dealt tatty, gaudily decorated pictorial playing cards with the experience of a Park Lane card sharp. The constant flow of coffee ‘cortado’ greased their razor like tongues that quarrelled furiously over any suspected cheating that would rob them of their valued counters; the final amount would pronounce the winner.

We have seen this game played in the bars all over Spain but have never been able to figure out the rules. We often said we didn’t think there were any. We asked Antonio if he played but he shook his head. He knew how to play though. One day we may learn the complexities of the game. There is that phrase again – ‘one day’! One day is a long time away.

We sip the last of our wine. “Vamos,” says Antonio. We go.

Posted by SpanishRos 10:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Miss Haversham in Navia?

Pavarotti sang his lungs out as we motored the N634 from Canero. The Camino Trail was devoid of walkers. Easter will see them walking the Trail towards Santiago de Compestela by the dozen. We pass through Otur and I turn my eyes towards Miss Haversham’s house; at least that is what I call it. The house weeps neglect and has been for sale the two and a half years we’ve lived here. I imagine it once had great expectations and I always expect to see Estella peering proudly through the tarnished gates.

Some metres past my eerie daydream stands one of the many hotels that line this stretch of road. Its frontage is a jumble of objects. Plastic cows graze the lawn. Amidst the herd a mine shaft entrance stands alongside gaudily painted boats. Somewhere amidst this chaos the name of the hotel is lost. It has taken me all the time we’ve lived here to figure that these objects are meant to symbolise all that is Asturias. Friesian cows are kept for their milk as witnessed by the ubiquitous Asturian milk tankers that regularly bypass the equally ubiquitous fields of velvety black and white cows. I guess the mine shaft is a reminder of the days when kaolin was mined nearby. Fishing is a major industry along this coast. There is hardly a time of day when fishing boats are absent from the horizon of the sea that runs almost parallel with this stretch of road. One day I promise myself that we’ll take coffee there.

As we approach the stretch of road known locally as ‘las curvas’ we see the massive white arches of the motorway bridge that spans the Rio Navia. These herald our arrival in the town of the same name. Drawing level, a certain aroma fills the air. Smoking chimneys from the factories close by suggest it’s the smell of substances originating there. Seconds later we think its stagnant seaweed from the broad waters underneath the arches. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. Each time we drive past we are still unable to make up our minds. Then just as suddenly as our noses started to twitch, then they stop and the tang is gone.

We park easily enough alongside the grassed promenade by the river. Over the past weeks we’ve watched the municipal gardeners painstakingly planting the spring flowers. A small children’s playground boasts a brightly painted Thomas tank and roundabout.

There is a chilly breeze makes me think it’s time for coffee. We cross the road to Bar La Isla. We’ve been in there several times. It’s unpretentious but the coffee is good, The proprietor is a welcoming guy. He is unique in Navia. Whatever the weather he wears a short sleeved shirt. We asked him once when the temperature was below zero, if he was cold. “Que es frio?” he asked. Somewhere in his fifties, he rides a bright red, high handle-barred bicycle veering along the pavement as he goes with hardly a care in the world. His wife is reserved and typically Spanish; she keeps order in a quiet way and multi tasks with an ease that only the Spanish can. They know us now. He sees us coming in.

“Good morning,” he calls, proud to show off his knowledge of English in front of a bar of locals who probably haven’t been further than Luarca, some twenty kilometres away.

“Dos cafes?” he asks.

“Si,” we reply.

“Grandes y con leche,” he states, knowing we prefer the larger milkier coffees. We nod and almost immediately they are placed on the bar.

As we sip our welcome coffees we admire the paintings on the wall. There are some new ones this week. They’re modern ones that I can make sense of. I’m a traditionalist gal at heart. I cross the bar to admire them. To one side is an article about the artist; Javier Soto Garcia. He is 34 years old and based in Bilbao. Ha has an impressive CV. I jot down his name. I want to find out more. Thank goodness for the internet. The proprietoress sees me looking.

“He is my son,” she says proudly in Spanish, handing us the same leaflet that hung on the wall.

“He has much talent,” we reply.

“He gets it from me,” she says and asks us to wait. She goes to a cabinet behind the bar and pulls out an album. Inside are photographs of her paintings. She explains that he gets his talent from her. Her paintings are also of a modern ilk showing use of light and dark. She goes on to tell us that her son has exhibitions mostly on his own but often with her. Research on the internet later bears out all that we’ve discovered. One of life’s chance discoveries; in a town called Navia the guide books either tell us to drive on through or don’t even mention.

With our thirst for coffee and art both suitably refreshed, we sully forth. We pass by several large ornate balconied houses converted into hotels. These were originally owned by the Indianos. In years gone by locals went to the Caribbean Indies and made their fortunes from growing bananas, tobacco and other commodities. They returned with a wealth beyond belief and built houses to match their new found status. The estates either stayed in the family or were sold when no heirs were apparent.

Through the town are two tree lined avenues paved with blue and white tiles. White stones decorate small planted areas. The town is a maze of small shops selling a variety of wares. You can find anything you want as long as you have the time to look. Thursday is market day in Navia so having been to the bank and post office, which were our purpose of visiting Navia in the first place, we head for the Mercado. Here you can buy any fashion item you desire at a fraction of the price. So it may be just a copy but no one would know the difference. Locals sell a variety of vegetables harvested just that morning; there are none to be bought any fresher. Buy this weeks’ must have sweater and a weeks’ worth of veggies for the price of a cauli and three kilos of potatoes in the supermarket.

Time for a snack. We go into Cafe Martinez. Quite different from La Isla. Larger with tables and seats aplenty. It’s lighter and busier with a more modern feel, bit still retains the quality and friendliness that Spanish bars are renowned for. The waitress recognises us. We order two large coffee and a ‘lomo pincho’; a small roll with pork, lettuce and mayonnaise. All that for 4€ 80; no need for lunch when we get back home.

We walk back to the car passing the supermarket on the way and call in to buy a few bits. We head home, knowing that although Navia is a far fetch from the likes of Madrid and Barcelona, it is worthy of at least a few hours visit. Stay for a few days and visit villages in the surrounds; Puerto de Vega, Anleo, La Caridad........ Watch my blog!

Pavarotti serenades us back to Munas de Arrriba. We dream of a promise of tomorrow.

Posted by SpanishRos 09:59 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Who knows it is there?

“I’ll show you the cemetery,” our neighbour says as we drive along the thickly wooded N634 under the rocky crags. Paul and I look at each other, bemused. We’re on our way to the Wednesday market in Luarca, the capital of Valdes County. Pepe wanted to buy some pepper plants and now he is going to show us a cemetery!

“You need to see it. You need to understand,” he says emphatically. We nod trying to look as if we do.

“Despacio,” he says suddenly. I bite my lip. I know I have to go slowly; there is a bend ahead. Then with equal rapidity he tells me to stop. Dark ghostly trees intertwine. Their knarled branches reach across the deserted road to clasp each other’s knotted fingers. The sky is obliterated and eeriness prevails.

Pepe gets out the car and beckons us to follow. We do; we feel we have no alternative. My body shivers. I look at Paul and know that his does too. Our friend strides ahead of us with confidence and we gingerly follow. The stout trunks are swathed in clingy foliage that trail bulkily to the next mighty shaft. Pepe seems to know where he is going and we follow like sheep as we step on his footsteps. A few yards into this wooded cavern on the Barcia road, we see a tumbling, moss covered wall damaged by the onslaught of a multitude of elements. The wall forms a square shape, a pillar at each corner. In years gone by the pillars were topped by a crest but it’s now difficult to see what shape that crest took. Stumbling, we find the entrance; just an anonymous opening. Pepe walks inside, quietly. We follow suit. No one speaks. The stillness hangs heavily. Inside the walls is just a vast area of hardened earth ripped by the roots of the trees that protect the outer fortifications. Nettles wait to sting the intruders. Huge stones wait to trip the invading feet.

“They fought for my country,” our friend says softly. We don’t know what to say. Mutely, we ask ourselves “What is this place?” As if he has heard our hidden thoughts, he answers. Here in this unmarked grave are buried many hundred Republican bodies. Men who fought against Franco. Brought here by the lorry load. A couple were always purposely kept alive for the digging. They knew they weren’t just digging for the dead. Only Franco’s men left alive.

There is no sign to indicate this almost forgotten memorial. Only the locals who lived through that horrific time remember. Perhaps that is why he took us there. He had the need to let us know. Like his heart, ours can be memorials to those brave men that fought against dictatorship.

Our friend lived through the years of Franco as a boy and young man. We continued to the market and Pepe bought his pepper plants. I think we bought broccoli plants too. Whenever we go out with Pepe there is always a bar or two to visit. This is a community where people mean something. Pop into a bar and there is always a friend already sitting at the bar. Gossip is exchanged; you can go home happy and contented. On this occasion we partake of refreshment in the cafe of the Alsa bus station. Pepe has his usual vino tinto whilst Paul and I enjoy a cafe con leche grande.

For awhile Pepe is quiet. Then he opens up. The Franco years were hard, he tells us. He speaks quietly. I wonder if he is still afraid of being overheard. His parents couldn’t even hold hands in public during ‘those days’. His mother washed what little clothing and linen they had in the cold water over the frosty stones of the village fountain. He remembers her washing there whilst catching up on the village gossip when he was in his teens; he is only forty eight now.

“We started school each morning, oh so early,” he explains as he takes another sip. “We studied until so late at night.”

“What time do you call ‘late’?” I ask, almost afraid of the question.

“Nine or ten at night,” he replies and shrugs.

We sip our drinks in silence. Several minutes later he continues.

“Sometimes if we didn’t do our lessons properly we had to stand in the corner. We had to stand erect for five or six hours.” Again he shrugs. His shoulders tell a hundred tales.

Another deep sip.

“We didn’t go hungry,” he explains. We wait, not knowing what to say.

“We grew potatoes,” he goes on.

We wait a moment longer.

“The Guadia often took them,” his shoulders work overtime.

“Ah, so you did go hungry then” I reply sympathetically.

“Oh no. We searched for the peelings and fried them.”

Nature didn’t let its sons starve. Each season proffered a feast. The ubiquitous blackberry was considered a delicacy. Chestnuts were ten a penny and roasted by the dozen over a log fire. Then there were the mushrooms.

“We even boiled nettles,” he adds, with a smile. No, they didn’t starve.

Life under Franco was tough, he tells us. As he speaks we watch his face and believe him. Finishing our drinks we visit the market and do our shopping. On the way home we stop at another cafe; it’s customary. He reminisces with a ravaged faced ‘vecino’, a neighbour who also remembers. Their memories will never fade.

Back in the pueblo he invites us into his ramshackle abode. He and his sister lived in these three rooms during the Franco era. Repairs were done with whatever came to hand. Ingenuity was the name of the game. They recycled; every piece of waste was used again. The plaster on the Gonzalez family home has peeled to reveal the brickwork. The odd brick has been lost; the gap covered by a piece of metal fallen from a rotting moped discarded when they couldn’t get the fuel. He invites us in for yet another coffee and we accept his invitation. His table and chairs have had their peeling Formica nailed down a hundred times. The tiled floor has more lines then a Michelin atlas. He puts the rusting cafetiere on the eighty year old log burning stove. He is so proud of its ancestry and boasts of the new top he bought at the Rastro
thirty years ago.

“It’ll see me out,” he says as the small kitchen fills with the thick aroma of the bubbling Bonka coffee beans. He lights another cigarette. The ashtray overflows with a month of old fogies. The indigo – grey smoke blends with the hoary smoke from the coffee causing my throat to cloy. I check myself. This house is a memorial to the pain of a man who saw more suffering than I can imagine. He finds three cups that miraculously aren’t chipped and fills them with thick coffee. He offers me saccharine. I accept. He is intuitive and knows my stomach isn’t use to the strength of the coffee brewed here in this poor rural farming community. Suddenly he rummages somewhere in the corner behind his bed and produces a grimy brown bottle. He opens it and pours a drop into our coffee. It’s a local liquor brewed by his father just after Franco’s death.

“To share with special friends. Salud,” he says as he clinks our cups.

He goes to the window and points to a bright grey cross high on the mountain that we’d not noticed before.

“They shot him. He was my friend and they shot him,” he says, as a tear slips down his stubbly cheeks. We don’t have to ask who ‘they’ are.

“Why?” we ask.

“He breathed.” The answer was as simple as that.

We bid our farewells and leave our friend with his memories of a time we can’t imagine. His house is a museum to a time we don’t understand. We learnt a lot today and look at the area we now call home with fresh eyes. The Franco era isn’t something that is talked about readily especially to extranjeros. We are the foreigners here. Pepe has opened his door. Who knows but in the future the word extranjeros would have no meaning.

Posted by SpanishRos 09:57 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Violets & trucha

“Sun?” I ask.

“You know, that great ball of yellow in the sky,” Paul replies with sarcasm.

“Let me see....” I demand.

He is right; the sun is out after months of being hidden in the Payne’s grey sky of winter. Something stirs inside of me. I’m excited.

“Let’s go for coffee,” I say, excitedly. We grab our coats along with our hats and scarves. The sun may be out but it isn’t that warm. After all it is only the beginning of March and the mountains could yet be cloaked with more snow.

Driving through the curves toward Brieves we encounter four young deer frolicking in the shrubbery in front of the mine Captains dilapidated hut. The area was once rich in kaolin and luminous green moss lights the entrances to several caves once entrances to once thriving mines.

We head towards Canero, passing through Trevias. It’s busy as usual. Cars are double parked but that is the norm. A neighbour stops her car on the zebra crossing. She puts her hazard lights on. Apparently that makes everything alright.

“Can you call Eva?” she calls to the grocer who happily obliges and pops into the shop next door. Eva duly arrives to chat with her mother. No regard is given to the crossing.

“They keep the parking wardens busy,” we said naively soon after moving here. Our neighbour snorted. The Guardia have more important things to do such as taking ‘desayuno’ in one of the many bars that seemingly outnumber the shops.

The locals promenade the banks the Rio Esva dressed as they would be for Sunday Mass. I’ve been told that the river Esva is home to the largest otter population in Europe. Just to prove a point an otter struts across the road, lingering just long enough for me to admire his elegant blue-grey pelt. Why should he rush? He has no reason too. He is in command; this is his territory.

A local housewife stands in front of her house that stands alone amongst fincas full of berthas and grass ready to be scythed. She leans serenely against her front door still dressed in her cerulean blue dressing gown and wooden clogs, quite oblivious to the fact it’s ten past one in the afternoon.

Hotel Canero sits close to the Playa de Cueva. The hotel caters mostly to the demands of the many pilgrims who religiously walk the Camino Way to their destination of Santiago de Compestela. Comfortable rooms are boasted; if their food is anything to go by their beds are also manna from heaven. We walk the short footpath to the beach. Intense lemon butterflies dance as prima donnas amongst a chorus of amethyst wild violets that haphazardly line the semi-muddy track. Along one side there’s a stream so clear you can watch every movement of the graceful trout. No wonder trucha is on the menu today. The pathway gives way to a low mound of wonderful pebbles; a rainbow of colours. Their shapes and texture delight the fingertips. Then suddenly they give way to a satin smooth beach. Jade coloured waves softly kiss the sand. The silence is deafening. A campervan is parked to one end, secluded under the russet and ginger coloured cliffs proudly displaying the strata of many millennium.

“I wonder what stories they could tell,” I muse. Paul laughs; he knows my love of history and the romanticism of people long gone.

The afternoon is almost done and the chill of the evening hangs in the air. Time for coffee and reflections I believe.........

Posted by SpanishRos 09:56 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Of poppies, art & carp

“Where do we go next?” we asked ourselves.

I thought for a moment; pensively.

“Toledo,” I said enthusiastically.

“What’s there,” Paul asked, grabbing the guide book.

“It’s the home of El Greco,” I tell him and he nods knowingly but I know he doesn’t.

I’d become fascinated by the artist a few says earlier. During our time in Madrid we’d visited the Thyssen. The gallery, founded by the Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornernisza, contains one of the most wide ranging private European art collections in the world. We were lucky enough to see what I considered an impressive collection of El Greco paintings loaned to the Thyssen from galleries around the world. I wanted to meet the man and get to know him.

So Toledo it was. Seventy kilometres later finds us entering the town the guide book tells us was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, due to its extensive cultural and monumental heritage.

Art and religion are two of my passions. Having done my homework over my morning cup of coffee I know I’ll not be disappointed. This capital of Castilla and La Mancha boasts over two thousand years of history; a creaky museum where Judaism, Christianity and Islam have lived together through the ages with a harmony it claims is rarely seen elsewhere.

We had no problem finding Toledo as the Alcazar guides you towards Toledo from some thirty kilometres. It stands high above the undulating hills that are carpeted by squat olive groves filled with what seems dozens of bundles of black barbed wire. These groves alternate with vines; thickset and graceful they are certainly indicative of the area. Surrounding the olives and the vines are miles of farmland, fields of deep rich earth punctuated with vibrant greens. This natural patchwork is home to the squat white circular buildings with rounded roofs and disproportionate arms turning in the wind with the grace of Fonteyn, nicknamed
the jewels of La Mancha. We felt intruders in a long lost past as we passed decaying farmhouses surrounded by the clutter of abandoned tractors and rusting implements.

Our home for the next few nights was one of our favourite campsites. Fortunately our given patch was near the ‘facilities’. During our trip I’ve mastered the art of juggling enabling me to qualify for star rating with Gerry Cottle. At the same time I’m almost eligible to double for Coco the Clown. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve missed my footing as the kerb has been hidden behind my lopsided pyramid of melamine crockery and look-a-like Sheffield steel cutlery all bought with a lot of thought and attention from the local Trago Mills. Imagine my horror when on that first evening, when on my way to the washing up area, my pyramid flies through the air, my arms flay in a new version of Semaphore as I endeavour to grasp the genuine plastic wine goblets before they bounce into shards on the pebbly walkway. Yes, wine goblets first; a girl has to get her priorities right. As the fake steel saucepan also bought from Trago Mills for the knock down price of £1.58 collides with a dinner plate mid air I notice a spoonful of thick gunge of pasta sauce clinging to the corner of the aforesaid pan. Too late to do anything about it, I find my best white T shirt (bought from Oxfam’s bargain bin for 99p) covered in red splodges which have probably greatly increased its value. With bright pink face and scarlet cheeks that my old friend Coco would have been proud of I gather up my motley collection of cooking and eating utensils. Strangely, when I first headed for the ‘Washing Up’ area there wasn’t a soul to be seen. Then as if encouraged by some sudden deep desire to do their washing up that they’ve saved over the last two days the entire campsite descends upon the three sinks there within. Ignoring me, they somehow manage to sidestep my motley collection of mismatched kitchen ware as if it were covered in something other than pasta sauce. Of course they all have neat little plastic foldaway carriers containing their state of the ark saucepans and matching china tea service. We, too, could have a multi-coloured plastic foldaway dish carrier along with a multitude of other must have, fun accessories but there is only so much you can carry in a fifteen foot Citroën Nu Venture ‘Junior’ camper. But as we often said, if you want the luxuries of home, why go camping? That is my excuse.......

It’s just a ten minute uphill walk from the campsite to the city but in the heat that had risen dramatically over the last few days, that ten minute walk would have been of Everest proportions. Fortunately the bus into town stopped outside the campsite. The sloping entrance was enough for my chubby body and having arrived at the bus stop without losing more than half a bucket of perspiration made me feel as if I deserved a knighthood. Arriving in the town itself, the bus set us down in the Plaza de Zocodover, the centre of the town still haunted by the great bullfights, fiestas and macabre executions that once entertained the local

From Zocodover a maze of aromatic, medieval alleyways lead sightseers deep into the world of El Greco, his presence still felt centuries after his death. The twisting lanes and blind passageways complete with grim facades exert a strange and dark fascination which a local barman tells us is even more eerie when it is shrouded in fog during winter. We’ll take his word for it.

I already knew that Toledo is celebrated for two things. Its steel industry that produces the world famous swords has a reputation bar none. It’s most famous, albeit adopted, son is El Greco. Born Domenicos Theotocopoulos in 1541 in the Creten village of Fodele, he went to study in Venice, growing to become a prominent painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. Moving to Toledo in 1577, he never forgot he was of Greek descent and signed his paintings in Greek letters, often alongside his full name. According to the evidence of his time, Doménicos acquired his nick name, not only because of his place of origin, but also out of the great esteem in which he was held. The tortuously elongated fingers are characteristic of this extraordinary Cretan artist and are hard to mistake.

We soon discovered that many of the buildings here boast of having several of his paintings. Even the majestic Gothic cathedral is a gallery of the most precious works of art by such masters as Goya, Rafael, Tiziano, Rubens, Van Dyck, Zurbarán and, of course, of El Greco, as well as a house of prayer. The double tier of heavily carved, dark brown choir stalls with the twelfth century Gothic image of ‘La Virgen Blanca’ and ‘El Transparente’ behind the main altar reign over a sparkling darkness of summer fireflies as several hundred candles flicker for prayed hopes and desires. The actual cathedral building is a work of art in itself and is considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish Baroque. It’s one of just three
thirteenth century High Gothic cathedrals in Spain. As we meandered leisurely through this cathedral it was hard not to feel the presence of something Almighty seeping into our innermost thoughts. Hidden almost out of sight we discovered a room, home to the portraits of all the Cardinals of Toledo from over the centuries. A group of American tourists cluster around their guide. We eavesdrop. The guide tells them the Cardinal of Toledo has as much power in the Catholic Church as the Pope himself. He says if ever the Pope were to fall so ill he couldn’t fulfil his duties then it was the Cardinal of Toledo who ruled from the background in the name of the Pope. Fact or local legend is left to the visitor to decide.

In contrast is the petit Saint Tome Church with its Mudejar tower, home to El Greco’s most famous painting ‘The Burial of Count Orgaz’. El Greco painted the miracle of the saintly counts funeral, where St. Augustine and St. Stephen personally descended from Heaven to bury the Count. The church draws pilgrims by the dozen; all eager to know Domenicos.

The plethora of El Greco and religious history had saturated our brains. The thought of a walk by the river beckoned. To reach the banks of the River Tagus we rambled through an assortment of richly scented cobbled passages. As we passed each shabby door we could almost hear the silent dead voices screaming the stories that echoed around the labyrinths.

The river flowed fast, punctuated by shallow graceful weirs where fish jumped through the frothy white wavelets. Overhead birds swooped in the hope of catching a tasty dinner. As we walked along the bank we saw an aged Spanish gentleman fishing for his supper of fresh carp with not a care in the world. He face was wizened and brown, fading as a discarded walnut. Seeing us, he smiled the smile of a man happy and contented with life. Paul has always been a keen photographer and knew this was the face of a picture. Paul only had a few words of Spanish and the aged gent had no English at all. As they ‘chatted’ the gent pointed out various birds that flew over the river, hovering and diving for their carp supper too. Some sixty minutes proved that language is no barrier to friendship. It was hot; over thirty degrees and I sought refuge in the shade of a tree from where I could watch this growing friendship. A brief encounter between men not speaking the others language forged a friendship that would last a life time. Paul did get his photo which he treasures to this day.

We continued walking along the river for almost two miles. Steep banks bordered the sides and were covered by poppies as a sea of blood. We’d seen poppies in almost all the areas we’d visited so far. Seemingly, they flourished regardless of the richness of the soil; fertile earth, barren and stony ground as well as crowning piles of discarded rubble and rusty refrigerators. So we walked along the river thinking that it could get no hotter but then we’d not been to Jerez but that is another story.

Posted by SpanishRos 09:55 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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