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September 19, 2011

Lemonade, floor cleaner and fuel

Our final 24 hours in Spain went slightly less smoothly than the rest. En route to La Granja, Keir wanted to stop in Segovia to see its cathedral, and since Saturday parking was a total nightmare I volunteered to mind the car while he did so. Because it was so hot, I thought I'd slake my thirst with a bottle of lemonade that I'd bought for a change from all the agua con gas we'd been drinking. I was so thirsty that the first swallow was substantial - and revolting. Looking in disbelief at the lemonade-shaped bottle, which was lemon-coloured and covered in lemon photos, I discovered it was 1.5 litres of concentrated floor cleaner - friegasuelos!

This was unbelievably stupid of me, although I don't see why the supermarket had to shelve it among the water bottles, just to confuse me. It was worrying that the label told you, if ingested by mistake, to seek immediate medical help and phone an emergency number. This was going to be tricky: I don't speak Spanish, Keir was in the cathedral and the car was improperly parked in the middle of Segovia. After what seemed like an age, Keir returned and I 'fessed up and since La Granja wasn't far, I drove there anyway, feeling worse and worse by the km. On arrival, the Parador got no reply from the friegasuelos phone number and suggested their 24-hour medical centre. Finding it unexpectedly closed, I decided that self-induced vomiting was the only answer ... and had recovered fully by evening.

For some reason, Keir found the whole thing incredibly funny, and keeps making friegasuelos jokes and looked up the fateful square on Google maps and insists on calling it Friegasuelos Square. He also keeps pointing to lemon-themed bottles of various kinds of poison and asking me if they look like lemonade (they don't: the bottles are a totally different shape) and - the cheek of it - reproaching me for not having photographed the bottle in question! Oddly enough, I had other things on my mind than blog photos. I do seem to have become a bit accident-prone while on holiday (with broken bones or torn muscles on the last four out of four) but this was my first self-poisoning incident. I'll never drink straight out of an unknown bottle again!

Throughout the 10 days, our in-car division of labour had worked perfectly: Keir did all the navigation (some of it very challenging) and I did all the driving (mostly easy except the medieval city centres where "roads" sometime narrowed to two metres or less). The only tense moments were on our final drive from La Granja in pitch dark driving to catch our morning flight to Madrid airport. Although we'd covered some 1200 km over the trip, the car (a diesel C4) was frugal and with a range of 130 km still showing at La Granja I was confident we'd get close to Madrid airport on the original tankful. Although Keir mentioned the crossing of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the height he quoted was 1500 m and I thought we'd be OK.

We set off from La Granja in total darkness and climbed and climbed and climbed. By 1500 m the range had dropped to 60 km: it was falling faster than the stock market on Black Monday - each time I looked it dropped another 5 km. Finally we levelled out at 1880 m (6170 ft), by which time the range had slumped to 40 km - less than the distance to the next garage! I couldn't even coast downhill because the hairpins were so severe, but (as I hoped but didn't dare to count on) the range started to increase on the downhill, and we made the next garage with range to spare and considerable relief all round. Since we were in good time for the plane, I'm left feeling I want to return and drive that road again in daylight: it must be very scenic and without fuel anxiety could be very entertaining. And next time, I'd stick to drinking agua con gas.

September 21, 2011


Our first stop on holiday was Toledo, the Spanish capital throughout most of the Middle Ages and home also to El Greco until his death in 1614. My three favourite things about Toledo were the cathedral, the El Greco house (no photographs allowed, sadly) and our Parador.

Inside the cathedral, the slender columns and lofty vaulting were wonderful:



Its Treasury housed an amazing collection of art, including lots by El Greco, and also the best set of illuminated manuscripts I've seen, all in astonishingly good condition. Have you ever seen a more beautiful letter S?


Our Parador, although technically "modern" (20th century) was sympathetically styled and had a superb location: we dined there twice, enjoying a panoramic view over Toledo from its terrace. Look how our view of the cathedral changed from dusk to night-time:



And finally, with the mercury reading in the high thirties, I couldn't imagine a finer place to cool off than this pool with a view:


September 23, 2011

Jarandilla de la Vera, Charles V and Cuacas

You have to admire somebody as powerful as Charles V who actually gave up immense imperial power and retired voluntarily. After 40 years as emperor (of Spain, the Netherlands and Austro-Hungary) he stood down in 1556 in favour of son Philip II and came to live at the monastery at Cuacas de Yuste. While he waited for the building to be ready for him, he stayed three months in this very castle-palace which last week functioned as our Parador for two nights:


Sitting in its courtyard, sipping cold white wine, Keir brings Spanish medieval history alive for me, and I regret again the "kings, battles, dates" approach with which school history left me stone cold:


Next day we drive the short journey to Cuacas de Yuste, and enjoy the wonderful stillness of the monastery:


He died here in 1558, his deathbed within sight of the altar in his serene chapel:


September 25, 2011

Some Paradors of central Spain

A week after we got back from central Spain, I've been reflecting on the Parador concept and I'm really impressed. The Spanish government operates this chain of hotels, but with results that are refreshingly diverse – unlike most state-run projects. Each Parador is unique, and, beyond celebrating the history of each building, to run a successful hotel is a brilliant way of financing the maintenance of these amazing buildings.

Keir's 9-night itinerary was a clockwise loop around Madrid, starting with two nights in Toledo and proceeding via Guadalupe, Caceres, Jarandilla de la Vera, Ávila and La Granja back to Madrid airport. With temperatures soaring in the high 30s, I was grateful that most Paradors also have swimming pools. It was wonderful to eat our meals al fresco.

And in what other country can you stay in a monastery (Guadalupe), a 15th century castle (Jarandilla), among superb medieval walls (Ávila) and finish up in Philip V's royal summer palace (La Granja)? The Parador in Guadalupe was actually the Colegio de Infantes and a former hospital, but the monastery which houses Guadalupe's Black Virgin was only yards away:


and here is its bronze plaque to the Black Virgin whose miracles are so famous:


The next three photos show the Parador garden and walls of Ávila, and the castle of Jarandilla de la Vera:




And finally, here are the royal palace and gardens at La Granja:



September 26, 2011

Salamanca, and a future student?

I hadn't been to Salamanca since 1990 when Apple held its hypertext/CD-ROM conference in its university, one of Spain's oldest and most famous. We were staying in Avila and for a change took the train from there, which turned out to be a bit slow and inflexible.

We started with the cathedral, by far the largest we visited, and with the loftiest vaulting and dome:



It's a bonus that you can climb on to the roof, along the balconies inside and part way up the tower. This gave great views from new perspectives:


Those images are all of the so-called new cathedral, which dates from the 16th century, but happily (and unusually) the older building wasn't knocked down to make way. It still stands, adjoining its larger cousin – a dignified building of beautiful proportions, with superlative altar paintings:


After the glories of Salamanca's two cathedrals, the afternoon seemed long; siesta hours are a nuisance to tourists on a day trip. We had to wait until 4pm to get into the Casa Lis, the city's brilliant museum of art deco and art nouveau. Sadly, they don't allow photography so I can't post any images.

After we got home, we were able at last to deliver the souvenir we bought for Amy – a sweatshirt from the Universidad Salamanca with her own name below the logo. Here's how she looks in it. I wonder if she will consider a university abroad when the time comes?


About September 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in September 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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