GALICIA….BENEVENTES

         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 Hostel 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 Atocha 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.  

That evening I partied with the “TUNAS” celebrating the death of one of their long time
musicians that passed away. Not much sleep that night as the bar was one flood below my
bedroom at the Hotel.

         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.

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