I did get an hour then checked out for the Metro to Athocha Station to pick up the car. The Metro closed because of an accident. Police were everywhere as they suspected a terrorist attack. Meanwhile I had lugged my stuff down flights of stairs , paid my ticket and had to return to take a taxi to Atocha station. I was first up but lost three taxis to more aggressive people. It is like I imagine NYC to be. I’m not one to fight for a taxi or anything else. Too old and I don’t really care. Got the taxi and arrived to finally find the Euro Car office closed. They had moved to a new location and after spending a hour and being misdirected by three different people, I finally found it.
Euro Car checked me in and assigned me a five speed Renault but when I went to pick it up, it was blocked by another car so I had to return to the office and stand in line again to get someone to move the car.
I had to drive though the center of Madrid and up the Grand Via through football traffic. Everyone’s horn was honking and of course I thought it was at me. I took two wrong turn so I had to do a circle…two actually. I had hoped to spend some time in East Madrid which was the home of Cervantes. The suburb is a very nice village and near the Arc of Espana, which I drove by. I had a hell of a time trying to get the car in reverse at the first rest stop I ate at. After entering A6 and traveling for a couple hours in sometimes congested traffic, I ended in Astorga after trying to find a hotel in Leon…but another football match stopped that. I didn’t check in until 6pm and was lucky to find a room at the Delfin Hostal where I opted to stay there then visit Astorga in the morning.
While I was driving and searching for a radio station, I noticed I had a CD player and remembered going into Avila with my Spanish friend listening to the Beatles Classic Album. He wasn’t even born when these songs were popular. I thought how nice it would be to hear the same in my car while driving through the Spanish Alps. I saw a CD of the Beatles at the Hostel so purchased it. I met Pedro and Antonio at the bar, then I had dinner and now am getting ready to find out who wins the Madrid football match and get some sleep. A few dreams went by before I was informed that Madrid Real won…but really don’t know yet .
The next morning while driving into Astorga I realized the CD I bought was a Spanish band with their own version of the Beatles. An Album called Chill Out with the Homemade Beatles. Most of the band were all women and it was all Beatles songs with a Salsa beat. They also have Chill Out Opera’s done with a salsa beat. I made a note to give the Album to Andree for her rock children as a gift. Astorga was a very Spanish town. It is morning in Astorga and after having a sponge bath and breakfast of a roll, Juice and coffee…
I’m off for a photo shoot of Astorga then on to La Coruna to find a room for two days. The Camino ,that the Pilgrims walk, has some of the best cathedrals in most of the major towns, Astorga included. Leon is another. I visited the Chocolate Museum and the Chocolate Boutique.
There is a lot of Gaudi influence in the town. Some of the homes, city buildings, lamp posts, and the Cathedral.
It was around noon as I drove out of town heading to Ferrol, in the far North, for some coffee con leche and a break from the driving. It is only a short distance from La Coruna. I took some photos and left. It looked interesting on a point overlooking the ocean but mostly condos and sailboats.
I returned the way I came and arrived in La Coruna. This whole area is Galicia. Settled by the Celts and very rich in history and beauty. I thought Coruna was going to be like Ferrol when I first saw it but after struggling with the traffic around the port area, I actually found a parking spot so decided to look for a hotel. After a short walk, I discovered an Irish bar named…the Dublin, of course. This had to be a place for good info. I asked the bartender but the only English he spoke was Pint? He found another, who could have been the owner, to assist me. The other, who could have been the owner, consulted with a few people, drew a map and recommended MayCar Hotel. I walked and walked until I found it and checked in for 2 days when I discovered the price (including free Wi-Fi and parking) to be 39 Euro. It was located right in the center and close to everything. Oh, did I tell you the Pint of Guinness was 3 Euro! That is the cheapest I’ve had. I paid up to 7 Euro in most places. I checked in and got an email from Gredos, the school I just attended, with all the emails of both the Spaniards and the Anglos. I entered them in my Google Book then emailed them to tell them I was in La Coruna.
Ignacio emailed me back recommending the Maria Pita Plaza and told me what a wonderful experience I was in for. Eduardo, who lives here didn’t even mention how great his city was. I had to hear it from a Valencian. I skimmed my emails but it was getting late by my standards…almost 7:30pm. I took off to the park along the waterfront, took some pictures and was checking my map to find the plaza when a Senior, offered to assist me. I thanked him and found the Square which was quiet for a Sunday. Of course no one goes out until 9 or 10 pm. I ordered a beautiful pork sandwich on fresh made, delicious bread with a beer. It was huge and seemed to grow bigger the more I ate of it.
A procession appeared from one corner of the Plaza with music so I quickly finished my 5 Euro meal and headed that way. After many photos the procession , with priest, assistants, more assistants and half the town, left the Square and so did I. The Dublin was calling. I had to thank the man, who I think was the owner, for his recommendation…didn’t I? He wasn’t there…must have been the owner…so I told the bartender in my best Spanish to thank him. He nodded as if he knew what I was saying. I then returned to the hotel to add to my journal. It is ten o’clock now but still light out. I am heading for the docks once again but on the other side of Coruna. It is on a peninsula.
Instead, I died and fell asleep and arose quite refreshed. The pigeons woke me once during the night. I am up 7 stories so left the window ajar for fresh air but the pigeons perch with nests one more floor up and coo a lot! I closed the window and slept well the rest of the night.
My breakfast, while catching up on my emails, consisted of a muffin, two coffees, and a fresh squeezed juice all for 4 Euros. This is really cheap in Spain. Normally two coffees is 5 Euro. I feel like I won the free holiday on The Price is Right. Every time I give them money they give me money back! Wow. I emailed Eduardo for lunch tomorrow and am off to the tourist bureau to find out what other goodies came with the prize.
My second breakfast, at the Manhattan Café, costs around 10 Euros. The Manhattan is in the center and shaped in a circle with glass on all sides so wherever you sit, you can look out at the world going by. There are patios outside and all the customers seemed to be well heeled Spaniards dressed in their finery. Some retirees sipping their coffee and reading the equivalent of the Wall Street Journal while checking the stock reports . My waiter was in his 70’s and wore a tuxedo as did all the waiters. I ordered the Eggs a la Cubana, fresh orange juice and coffee. I got a plate with two eggs, some rice(plain white), a fried banana, some bread and salsa (ketchup). The eggs were right out of the chicken but fried and served up as are ALL eggs cooked in Spain with the exception of some scrambled with potatoes or baked like a frittata or omelet…the latter is know as the Spanish Omelet and bears no resemblance to our Spanish Omelet. I had to flag the waiter to request salt and pepper but only got salt. It was too much effort to try and get him to bring the pepper, so I let it go in favor of eating my meal before it got any colder. You will not find Salsa in Spain and nor will you find spicy hot sauces or peppers.
Walking down to the port area I noticed La Coruna is largely Spanish. There are few tourists other than Spanish and that suits me fine. I didn’t feel as though I had to watch my wallet or avoid certain areas. A very safe and friendly city. They have an Opera house and many cultural activities and festivals. The port was celebrating it’s One Hundred Years with pictures of the port at the turn of the Century. It looked almost the same. The Old Town is very picturesque . I took many photos and walked for over two hours before returning to the Hotel for my siesta. I skipped the Trolley ride around town and am planning to see a little night life tonight and have some seafood.
The manager of Maycar Hotel recommended El 10 in the Plaza Espana. I visited the Dublin on the way but on arriving I discovered the restaurant was closed and didn’t open until 9pm so wandering around I discovered the Bar David.
Perfect but when I entered I noticed the Spaniards were drinking something out of a vase like Saki. I ordered a beer but my curiosity got the better of me and I finally spoke my best Spanish and inquired as to what the hell was that. It was wine brewed by Senior David. I told them I was Senior David and would like to try it. After about 10 of Senior David’s wines I retired to eat Percebes at the El 10., a seafood restaurant. By this time I knew everybody at the Bar David and really didn’t care.
I told the waiter that I wanted him to explain everything about eating the Percebes. They were shellfish only from Galicia and the fishermen had to wait while the waves came in to scrape the Percebes from the rocks. They were like piss clams in Boston and did piss all over me before the waiter showed me how to suck them down.
All of a sudden my amigo from Gredos showed up at the door after calling the hotel and trying to get in touch with me. We drank lots of wine and ate lots of Percebes then left to go back to the Bar David. Ramon the bartender said that I spoke good Spanish and after Eduardo told them our story and he conferred that I told the same. Sando returned and we all had a drink before I returned with Eduardo to my Hotel. It was 1:30 am when we departed and I was thankful for the siesta.
We promised to send photos and now I am on getting ready to leave for Santiago with tears in my eyes. He is also separated from his wife. In Spain you have to be separated one year before a divorce but he has been separated two years. It is only important if you want to get remarried and he doesn’t want that so it’s not important to get the final divorce. He said it was much the same in Ireland.
I love El Caruna and all the people in the village and will return here when I return to Spain. No better place! It was late when I retired. That home make wine was potent. I know we stopped for Octopus and more drinks then again at the Dublin for last call. I awoke at 10am had coffee while checking my emails then packed and checked out at noon.
I lucked out and found the rode to the North Coast and Muxia, my first destination, without every looking at the map. I just follow road signs. It was a long and winding coastal mountain road that took much longer than I thought. The Spaniards were passing me left and right. It was like the Indy 500. I was starting to feel a little like Mario Andretti with my little 5 speed standard shift and big 1.2L engine! The auto didn’t have Cruise Control…I was the Cruise Control. Cars were passing cars that passed them and then passed another with another coming. They all passed me. The road was bordered by the end of the earth on both sides with a few corners I thought might be my last. The few was idyllic country seaside villages with sandy beaches, sail boats and beautiful water. I stopped in Muros and had an Octopus and Coffee.
I entered Santiago late in the afternoon with no map and found a place to park. That was a miracle considering the time of day and the traffic. I noticed a hotel so asked directions of the front desk clerk for the address of the Maycar. It was the next street over…how lucky. The desk clerk at the Maycar informed me that the Hotel was full and no rooms were available. I explained I had a reservation and he showed me my room. The car park was right up the street but was not affiliated with the Maycar and when I investigated, I discovered it was full. I returned to my car and bought a two hour ticket to park there while gathering my luggage and hiking back to the Maycar. After unpacking and settling in, I found the Car Park had available parking so returned to move my car but it was blocked by another. I noticed a man watching the park and asked if he was the car that was blocking me and he was. I then went over but couldn’t get in the driver’s side as the door was blocked by the car next to me. The only opening was on the driver’s side and to unlock the other doors, you had to push an unlock button that was unreachable in the center of the dashboard. I finally managed to reach around to the back door and unlock it from the inside, thereby unlocking all the doors. I then went to the passenger side while the man moved his car and was patiently waiting for me to move so he could park there. Three other cars were now behind him anticipating the same spot when I left. A crowd was gathering to see if I was going to get over the center shift and into the driver’s seat. What a drama. I did and made it to the car park before if filled back up, found a place then returned to the hotel.
Getting up around 9am I had some coffee in the cafeteria then ventured out again to visit the St James Cathedral where all the pilgrims go to receive their certification that they completed the trip. It was enormous. Pilgrims were everywhere. They were mixed with tourists and were a variety of young and old but it looked like a Sierra Club convention. I never saw so many healthy looking non-smokers gathered in one place. They were an advertisement for Travel Smith, Columbia, Lands End, Timberline, etc. Nothing but the finest in shoes….hiking that is. I washed down some local cheeses and bread with and excellent wine then returned for a siesta.
I ventured out to Old Town and ran into a Spanish Bagpipe band with Drums and settled in for an Empanada and some Beer. Took some photos and toured the Old Town one more time. I discovered a beautiful restaurant called the Derby that was founded in 1929. Lots of Art Deco and good wine served with some Mussels Ceviche. I returned for the night and arose for my usual Desayuno? I was going to return to the same restaurant but discovered another that served Chocolate and Churros. I ended up having a Coffee Chocolate Cappuccino and the famous Tartes de Santiago instead. Then packed and left Santiago with no problem.
I took the main route out of town toward Benavente. It was a half way stop to Madrid. It was not on the tourist map except for a four star Paramour that was a castle and too expensive for me. I had tried to book a hotel there over the internet but when I checked in that morning they had not replied. I arrived in Benavente around 3 pm after checking out at around 12pm. It was a beautiful country ride on a toll road. I noted that there were no re tread tires cluttering the highway, trash of any kind was absent, and no signs that the Taylor family cleans this highway. When I arrived in town, I was looking for the hotel on the Calles de Peru but instead discovered the Hostal Presidio that was convenient so checked in for 25 Euros. It looked a little shady but I was able to park out front for free and was leaving early for Madrid. I just needed some sleep. When I took my bags to the room, I was more than pleasantly surprised at a well appointed room with cable, A/C, a very clean room with the typical marble bath and double bed. The TV was a flat screen wall mounted and the first I had seen in Spain. This was not expected at all. I charged up the computer and went downstairs to catch the local color. They had an adjoining restaurant that was closed now for siesta. There was a large patio area full of people enjoying coffee and the sunshine. There were a lot of what appeared to be retired or out of work gentleman from Benavente enjoying Mus, Dominos, Chess, Solitaire, and the Slot machines…only 2 of them. I sat at the bar and met a young man drinking a strange drink so ordered one from the barmaid who turned out to be his girlfriend. He was waiting for her to get off work and playing the slot machines. They are losers and everywhere in Spain. He looked like Colin Ferrell. We chatted a bit but no one spoke any English in Benavente. I had a few beers and retired for a nap.
I awoke and went downstairs for my Café con Leche and there was Colin Ferrell still sipping a beer and looking like he had lost all his money at the Slot Machine and his girlfriend. I said hello but he didn’t respond and I didn’t pursue it. I ventured out into the town without my camera and my sandals on. That was a mistake. Benavente had come alive and was teeming with people out strolling. Not one tourist was to be found in this village and nor was anyone that spoke English. Benavente sit’s a top a Mountain and from the outskirts around the town, you can see for 5 to 7 miles in all directions. Truly a breathtaking view all around. I returned for my camera but decided to keep the sandals.
The villages in Spain, in general, all have town squares and large areas closed to unnecessary motorized traffic. This encourages the community to join each other in parks and squares to exchange pleasantries. When the shops reopen at 5pm, the people start meandering down to the square. They stroll with their hands behind their backs, chatting with their children, spouses or friends along the way. The evening is spent leisurely shopping , gossiping and visiting friends. Young children greet each other with kisses on both cheeks. Old men, women and couples, with their canes and all dressed up, sit on park benches watching the world go by. The one they once occupied and now watch from the sidelines. Every other store appears to be a bakery or a shoe shop. The former all stocked with the same pastries as the other and none of them bake anything. It is all delivered that morning by the same company in big boxes all frozen from Madrid. Occasionally I notice the beautiful, petite senorita walking along side of her father…until she turns and I realize she is a beautiful Senora and that is her husband or boyfriend. Some are so small you think that it is a child. I’m going to try the restaurant here when they open around 9pm. Then bed down early for an early trip to Euro Rent a Car in Madrid.
I sipped a wine on the terrace at the bar and asked the waitress when the restaurant opened . She replied at 9pm. So I waited till about 9:20 for them to open. That is typical in Spain that the Spaniards are at least 10-20 minutes late but I wasn’t sure about the businesses. Then they told me that I was sitting in the wrong seat on the terrace and had to move over one in order to be served by the restaurant waitress. I inquired as to the bill for the wine but she assured me it would be transferred to the restaurant bill. I sat down along side of another couple staying at the Hostal and they were ordering off the Menu du Dias for 7.50 Euro. I did the same but there was no printed menu. The waitress recited it to me of which I understood nothing. The starters, I heard Russa and understood that to be the Russian Salad which is loaded with potatoes and mayo. I choose the other. The entrée was Pollo and that I understood to be Chicken so immediately agreed to that choice acting like I knew what I was doing. I was lost on the choice of desserts so settled for something that sounded really special. To drink, I ordered the Red Table wine. She brought a bottle of it for the other table and myself then walked away. I noticed the other couple opening their own bottle. It just had a cork so I popped it and poured what tasted like red wine vinegar. Their first course arrived and it looked great. Mine arrived and it looked like Dinty Moore Beef Stew on a plate with little beef and lots of peas and carrots. There was a quarter of an egg thrown in for color? I think it was leftover from yesterday’s lunch. I ate some as I was so hungry but it was very salty and the red wine vinegar wasn’t helping. It came out that evening at 2am faster than it went it! Three things to worry about when traveling: theft, accident, and illness….if it does look or taste healthy, don’t eat it! The second course arrived and it looked good. A plump chicken that was nice and fresh when it was cooked…earlier that day for lunch. It turned out to be dry and now the red wine vinegar was tasting good. The French Fries that accompanied it were excellent as all are in Spain but I don’t eat French Fries. As always there was no Catsup or seasoning…not even butter for the stale bread. I thought I should have just told her to give me what the other Spanish couple had ordered but then I saw her bring them the chicken and didn’t feel so bad. My fantastic desert turned out to be rice pudding. Something I used to treat my 90 year old grandmother to when I took her out of the Nursing Home for lunch. The sunset was a beautiful Arizona one with the clouds just sitting in the sky and the colors turning from bright yellow to rose to crimson. I asked for the bill but she forgot the wine from the bar so I had to wait ANOTHER twenty minutes before I could retire to the room. The other couple was just being served their rice pudding as I left. They drank the whole bottle of table wine and seemed to be smiling. Tomorrow is another Vagabond day.
The sun had risen and I was checked out . When I arrived to load the car, A van was parked in front of it. It was a delivery truck from the bakery making it’s rounds. The women driver had the key to all the bakeries and would leave the delivery inside the door. These were a chain of bakeries. After she left, I loaded up and was driving out of town when I noticed the Manhattan restaurant with the same design, logo, and colors as the one I ate at in La Coruna. That was a chain also. So much for the idea that all these little shops are Mom and Pop places. People were hiking along side of the road on designated paths in the countryside taking their morning exercise. It was remarkable the number of old people along with couple couples. No one walked alone. There were groups of women, then men and couples enjoying the fresh air and sunshine before their desayunos.
I made good time to Madrid and after stopping to fill up the rent a car tank, I managed to get through downtown Madrid traffic at lunchtime (no small feat) and park the car where I took it at the Atchocha station. I was exactly on time.
I got off the Metro, checked in, ventured out to check my email and have lunch then siesta. When I woke, I visited the Dubliners for Happy hour and had a Jack and Heineken. I hung out at the Plaza Major for a while after having a real good but sweet Carmel Crepe at Mimi’s.
Today I plan to visit the Sophia Contemporary Art Museum and stroll through the park. This evening is Tapas with the Anglos that will be attending San Zoilo in the province of Palencia. This is the oldest Romanesque building in Carrion de los Condes and was a much trafficked hospital on the Camino de Santiago for weary and sick pilgrims. The current structure dates from between the 11th and 16th centuries and has been completely restored to accommodate modern creature comforts. The Way of St James, has been one of the most important Christian pilgrimages since medieval times and it has existed fro over 1000 years. Las Vigas, the restaurant at the monastery, uses the best of fresh seasonal produce being grown in the farm at the Monastery. Carrion de los Condes is a place where a traveler can eat like a king, rest with the tranquility of a monk, and have the fun of a villain.