May 22, 2007

El Campo (the countryside)

Two weekends ago (May 11-13), we rented a car with a British "bloke" Brady has classes with (Tom) and drove west and southwest to explore some small towns and countryside. We left Friday evening and drove about 45 minutes west to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is a very small, charming town with a well-preserved Roman wall surrounding the city center. There are old buildings and churches every few steps, including a small, beautiful Romanesque church called Iglesia de San Isidoro. We tried to visit the church Friday night, but before entering we could hear what sounded like a sermon, and then noticed a note near the door indicating there was a funeral scheduled for that time and day. People actually use these old historic churches and cathedrals, which is really cool. We decided to come back the next day. We walked the old Roman wall instead (picture, right). The next day, Saturday, when we returned to the church, a woman inside gave us an impromptu tour.

After the church, we also visited the post office. Why visit the post office? Because people in this town post their mail inside an old mansion. (How old? I don't remember).

Next on to the town's cathedral, a large, ornate, late Romanesque/early Gothic structure that they prohibit one from taking pictures inside. Too bad, because there is a doorway inside that is absolutely enchanting, with 10 or so rows of stone arches above it, all with tiny sculptures of the 12 apostles doing different things. There is also an amazingly ornate and large wooden choir stall. This picture is of one of the outside doorways, and is very Romanesque in style with its stiff, expressionless human figures.

The Sierra de Francia (translation: French mountains) were next on our agenda. Specifically, a town called La Alberca. But on the way, we saw a sign that directed us toward the highest peak in the Sierra de Francia, atop which is a monastery known as the Pena de Francia (translation: French suffering ?). The Sierra de Francia mountains got their name when numerous French people came to the area and settled after making the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (where pilgrims walked across northern Spain from the Pyrenees to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to be absolved by the church of all their sins... except murder; murder could not be absolved from a month of walking, but everything else, yes). Eventually we made our way back down the moutain and found La Alberca, a cute, mountainous, almost German-looking town. It is known for hand-painted plates, dishes, tiles etc decorated with symbols from the region. The symbols represent various things, like marriage, love, ... and other things that escape me.

And there was this cool dog in La Alberca.

Next on to the town of Candelario, which is in Extremadura, so we crossed a state border. (La Alberca may be in Extremadura too... not really sure). On the way we saw lots of beautiful countryside, small towns, olive orchards, and crossed the Rio Alagón, which had several fishermen wading into the water and led to Brady repeating several times, "Why didn't I bring my fly rod? I wish I had my fly rod! My dad was right!"

Candelario proved small and quaint, and the owner of the teeny hotel we stayed at suggested we visit Granadilla the next day, Sunday. Granadilla is a very old, small town surrounded by a wall that was abandoned several decades ago when a dam was built nearby and the reservoir flooded the town. But apparently it didn't flood the town very badly, and currently the reservoir is a good 200-300 meters from the town, so the government is encouraging people to move back in and restore the city. On Sundays, the town gates close at 1 pm. We learned this from the hotel owner at noon, while paying our bill, after waking up luxuriously late and eating a late breakfast. It takes 30 minutes to get to Granadilla, he said. So we went for it, and drove like heck, but arrived at exactly 1 pm. The gates were closing, and when Brady tried to enter, the "gatekeeper" pushed Brady back, thrusting him into the door of the gate. Rather rude, but nevertheless, we took a picture through the gate and then walked around the perimeter of the wall. The picture above is near the entrance to the town.

We didn't know where to go next, but eventually decided on Hérvas, a town north of Granadilla and on the way back to Salamanca, which was an important consideration because our rental car was due back at 5 pm. Hérvas has one of the most well-preserved Jewish neighborhoods in all of Europe. Not really any more Jews there -- they were run out of town in 1492 as part of the Inquisition -- but nevertheless, a well-preserved Jewish neighborhood. And, since Brady's Jewish ancestors were kicked out of Spain during the Inquisition (likely also in 1492, since that was apparently the year the Inquisition kicked Jews out of all parts of Spain), the town took on special meaning for him. Perhaps this is where some of his ancestors lived? Or if not there, then in a town with a neighborhood similar to that? The world may never know, but it was fascinating nonetheless. Also of interest in Hervás: the church atop the highest hill in town was built on the ruins of a Knights Templar castle. The picture above is a bird's eye view of Hervás from above. At right are Tom and Brady on the streets of Hervás' Jewish neighborhood.

And finally, back to Salamanca. We arrived a little bit after the time our rental car was due, only to find out we had rushed for nothing. No one was there to note the time we were returning the car and all we had to do was park it and drop the keys in a box.


Ann Bennon said...

Boy, I absolutely love your blogs!! You should be a writer for travel magazines. All the information is fabulous, and even funny in spots. I love the pictures, but I don't think I received the picture of the door you spoke about. Keep these coming! I love them. Mom

Nick & Beck said...

Man, I want to absolve sins by walking. That would be sweet.

Great posts by the way, you history buffs. Looking forward to your return soon!