Over the holiday break, approximately two weeks ago, Enrique sent me an email telling me that he had planned a little trip for us to take the weekend after I returned to Spain. He gave virtually no details about the trip except that it would be from Friday to Sunday and that we would be spending the night in a 15th century castle. You can imagine my excitement! Friday finally came and Enrique picked me up from home around 6pm. We drove an hour and a half to our destination, a castle-turned-hotel which in Spanish is called a Parador Nacional, there are several throughout Spain. It was beautiful. The rooms, however, were not that spectacular, but rather could be described as comfortable and traditional. I think he was a little disappointed in the rooms... he paid quite a bit to spend the weekend here and the modest rooms didn't really live up to his expectations. Nonetheless, it was a treat to be away in a new place, in a castle no less! After checking in, we had a nice dinner at the hotel and then shared a great night together.
The next morning we went to a nearby town to visit a famous monastery called San Yuste. This was the site where King Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire during most of the 16th century, spent his last two years of life in order to prepare his soul for death. We took an excellent guided tour of the monastery and heard many interesting anecdotes about the life of one of the most powerful men in history. Afterwards we drove an hour and a half to Caceres, the town where Enrique went to law school. It was a very nice little city with a lovely historical district. We did a lot of walking, had lunch and then headed back to the Parador. On the drive back, the back-left window in Enriques car failed to roll back up so we spent about 30 minutes with 40 degree wind flying into the car. Fortunately we found a gas station that had some tools which allowed us to shut it. The rest of the journey was much more pleasant as a result. As soon as we got back to the hotel I hopped into the tub, took a nice hot bath and when I got out found Enrique with a chessboard that he picked up at reception. We played a game of chess, then one of checkers... I lost badly at both and, as a result, quickly lost interest in playing. We then had some dinner at a restaurant in town and were talking the whole time about our waitress whose age was a complete mystery... her body said 20 but her face said 50. It was pretty funny.
The next day we checked out and began our drive back to Madrid. We stopped at a few places along the way including a lovely little waterfall in the forest and an enchanting city called Avila (emphasis on the first A). As you'll see in the pictures below, Avila is best known for its medieval city walls and towers which form the original boundries of the city. After lunch, we walked along the top of these walls and took in some magnificent views. We got back to Madrid around 7pm. So in 48 hours we did quite a bit --it was really nice being able to escape the noise and pollution of the city and see some wide open spaces in the quiet Spanish countryside. It was also a great way to get to know each other a little bit better. We had a wonderful time.
The courtyard of the castle-turned-hotel where we stayed for two nights.
The garden and pond at the St. Yuste monastery. It is said that King Carlos V fished in this large pond from his bedroom window on the first floor.
A picturesque brook in the forest on the way to Caceres
The entrance to the historical quarter in Caceres, the remains of which date back to the 8th century
This quarter has been very well preserved, some buildings are still in use
One of the many storks that perch on the tops of the buildings in the historic quarter, they have massive nests and are constantly making very strange noises with their beaks (it sounds like two pieces of hollow wood being banged together)
Stairway to the historical quarter
Yours truly, under a bridge... behind me is a very pretty waterfall
The very pretty waterfall
El gran bosque
This region is fraught with very spooky trees like this one which reminds me of Christ's crown of thorns. Others looked like decrepit hands. It must take a lot of upkeep to maintain their appearance.
The towers that line the medieval city walls of Avila (circa 1090)
Beyond the twenty-foot walls you can see the where most of Avila's residents live and work.
The grand city plaza
A view of the cathedral within the city walls
A truly enchanting place!