After an intense couple of days, its ‘adios Madrid’ for now - it was time to go to the train station and catch a train to Avila.
I could get there by chasing a couple of trains, but the Uber rate was very reasonable - so I went in comfort in a fancy car instead of struggling in a crowded metro and changing trains a couple of time and so forth.
The train journey to Avila was very smooth - Spanish trains are very nice … comfortable, roomy and very fast!
Now how to get to the hotel? I hopefully checked for Uber again, but alas - no Uber in Avila. Take the bus!
I looked about for the bus stop, and saw it just a few meters away. But just as I started walking towards it - I went OW OW OW! My rear calf muscle had stiffened up - for no reason at all! I had enjoyed a relaxing journey sitting on my arse - why was my calf complaining?
I cursed a bit and limped towards the bus stop - and saw that the bus I wanted was already pulling in! Shit - I cursed a bit more and limped towards the bus and as he was pulling out - I waved half heartedly at him…and he stopped! Wow - what a nice guy!
I thanked him and got on to the bus - I put my hand in my pocket to pay the fare, but he saw me struggling with the bags and motion of the bus and jerked his head towards a seat.
I went and sank down in the seat and relaxed - and didn’t even go to pay the guy!
After a minute the driver got irritated and stopped the bus and glared at me. Oops!
I scampered to him and put my hand in my pocket and said the name of the stop ‘San Vicente please’ - and the guy got even more irritated!
‘This bus doesn’t go to San Vicente! Get out! And take a bus in the opposite direction! Shoo! VAMOS!’
Shit. I had taken the wrong bus. Again. Of course I had. If there was a 50% chance of going in the wrong direction, it was a 100% chance that I would go in the wrong direction. Dammit.
I got hastily out of the bus and looked around - seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Well, obviously it was in the middle of somewhere…I had been on the bus for hardly a minute…but for some reason I thought that I had been dumped in no mans land or something. I crossed the road and checked Google Maps - the hotel was hardly a 20 minute walk away - but with my stiff calf and 2 backpacks, it sounded like a long way off. Oh no.
I trudged along, full of sympathy for myself. All that was required was for a blues soundtrack playing in the background. ‘Nobody knows the trouble I am in…twang twang twang…Noooooooooobody knows the trouble I have seen….twang twang twang….’
‘Noooooobody knows the trouble…wait…what’s that?
Oh, it’s a bus stop! Ah good.
I checked the route carefully to make sure it was going to San Vicente, and fished out a 1 euro coin to give to the driver. This time it was very smooth - the bus rolled up, the driver smiled at me, I smiled at him and everything was happy and shiny! WOOHOO!
I got off the bus and walked to the hotel - it was a hotel with a very subtle sign, surrounded by hotels with very aggressive signage…so I walked around in a puzzled circle until I finally found it. I had been standing right in front of it and had not noticed it!
This was very zen. Like a Kabir Doha about the musk deer going mad in search for the tantalising musk but not realising that the scent was coming from inside it, and all that.
‘kasturi kundali basai, mrig dhundhe ban mahi;
aise ghati ghati ram hi, duniya dekhai nahi.’
Way. Kabir in Spain. That is cool.
The hotel had sent some very detailed, yet mystifying directions to me.
‘Dear Ketan Sudhir Joshi, we provide you with the CODES so you can make your entry automatically:
We recommend that you check in online at the link we sent to your email 24 hours ago before your arrival.
Room number: 210. Go up the stone staircase and then up the staircase on your right, right corridor
Street door code: 2512E
Room key box code: 9312…’ and so on.
I looked at the mail thoughtfully - I got the idea of the street door code, no problem. But what was a room key box code?
Luckily the reception desk was working when I reached there, and she explained it to me.
It seemed that because of COVID, they would not HAND the room key card to me directly. They had locked the key card in a little box outside the room, and the box had a mechanical number lock, like on old suitcases. You align the little wheels as per the code and the the box will open - and hey presto! Your key card is inside!
I was stunned at this example of stupidity. This was at the ‘because we can’ level of nonsense.
‘But…I have to come here to the reception desk to check in…’ I said.
‘Ah…Ideally no…we sent you a link to check in online.’
‘But you need a signature there to check in. How can I do that online? I have to come here to sign.’
‘So I am here.’
‘But you wont GIVE me the key card.’
I went up to the room and looked with interest at the little storage box, entered the code and pressed the button - and WHOOPIE - it opened up and showed me a key card. WOOHOO.
I chucked and took the card and tapped it on the door lock- and it went AANNNK and glowed red. The little light glowed red I mean…not the whole door lock. Though that would have been cool.
I tapped it again, but the card was not working.
So I had to got down anyway and had to give the card back to her at the reception desk, and then she did some computer swiping and tapping and restored the card and handed it back to me.
So much for COVID and key box codes.
Good thing the reception was working, imagine the problem if this happens late at night with no staff at the reception.
Anyway - all’s well that ends well and all that.
Now it was time to explore Avila!
Distinctly known by its medieval walls, Ávila is sometimes called the Town of Stones and Saints, and it claims that it is one of the towns with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. It has complete and prominent medieval town walls, built in the Romanesque style; writer José Martínez Ruiz, in his book El alma castellana ("The Castilian Soul"), described it as "perhaps the most 16th-century town in Spain". The town is also known as Ávila de los Caballeros, Ávila del Rey and Ávila de los Leales ("Ávila of the knights", "Ávila of the king", "Ávila of the loyal ones"), each of these epithets being present in the town standard.
Orson Welles once named Ávila as the place in which he would most desire to live, calling it a "strange, tragic place". Various scenes of his 1965 film Chimes at Midnight were filmed in the town.
Ávila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The site originally consisted of the walled city and four extra muros churches.
It is a very old town, having been occupied since pre-Roman times by local tribes who built a fort there. After the conquest by ancient Rome, the town was called Abila or Abela. The plan of the town remains typically Roman; rectangular in shape, with its two main streets (cardo and decumanus) intersecting at a forum in the centre. It was amongst the first towns to convert to Christianity - right in the 1st century itself.
Perhaps because of this, it boasts one of the greatest Cathedrals in the country - the majestic Avila cathedral. The cathedral is built like a fort and is indeed a part of the fortified walls - inevitable perhaps due to the constant conflict there as the place was repeated attacked by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, the Christians - and probably anybody and everybody who passed by there.
The construction of the iron-grey granite Gothic Cathedral of Ávila is said to have commenced in 1107. The eastern apse, which forms part of the town walls, is half church, half fortress, and it was here that the loyal citizens elevated Alonso VII as their king, hence Ávila del Rey. The transept was finished in 1350 by Bishop Sancho de Ávila. The earlier Romanesque parts are made of a striking red-and-white "blood" limestone, while the Gothic parts were built with pure white stone.
My jaw dropped as I reached the place - what an imposing pile! They charged me 6 bucks to enter the place, and gave me a QR code which could be scanned to enter a web page which had a free audio guide about the place. I spent a most enjoyable couple of hours gawking at the place.
It is quite difficult to describe the scale and grandeur of these cathedrals - of which Spain seems to have so many! Have a look at some photos instead.
After the cathedral, I visited the Church of San Vicente, dedicated to a trio of martyrs who were tortured to death for some reason or the other. The church was OK, but after the great cathedral, everything paled.
And it started drizzling - ugh. I didn’t want to get wet in the cold so it was back to bed for me.
‘It would be cool to have a villa here…’ I thought as I drifted off to sleep. ‘I would call it ‘A villa in Avila!’
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!