Valladolid airport is only small with limited facilities but there was a sign apologising for this and promising imminent improvements. We collected a steel grey Seat Ibiza from the Avis rental car office and set off immediately on the one hundred and forty mile drive to Ciudad Rodrigo.
As it was Sunday and we worried about shops being open we stopped as soon as we could at a motorway service station and bought beer, wine and snacks and then carried on.
We were crossing the Meseta, the great central plain of interior Spain, which at two hundred and ten thousand square kilometres makes up forty percent of the country and has an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres. It is split in two by the Sistema Central, the Guadarrama and Gredos mountain ranges, creating Old Castile to the north (Castilla y Leon) and New Castile to the south (Castilla La Mancha). The northern ‘submeseta’ is the higher of the two at over eight hundred metres and coming from below sea level in Lincolnshire I worried that we might require oxygen cylinders.
After a couple of hours of really enjoyable motoring we came to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is the last city in Spain before reaching Portugal, a fortress city built to protect the western border of the country and as we approached we could see the walled city and its fortifications standing proud on a rocky outcrop in a commanding defensive position.
I knew roughly where the hotel Molina de Águeda was and as we kept an eye open for directions Kim had a navigational fluke and spotted a half hidden sign that signposted our destination. As we pulled into the car park there were a few spots of rain but it came to nothing and there were blue skies above us as we unloaded the car and went inside to reception. It was a very nice hotel indeed located in an old water mill on the river Agueda, elegantly refurbished and surrounded by woods and we had a good room on the front with a nice view of the river and the old city about a half a mile away.
It was a pleasant evening, not cold, but the sort of temperature when local people feel it appropriate to put on a coat, hat and scarf but is still shirt sleeve weather for those of us from northern Europe with thicker blood. We needn’t have worried about finding somewhere to eat because there was plenty of choice and the place was really busy with families out for a Sunday night on the town.
As a consequence of a severe Atlantic storm in the west we woke to a hissing wind and dark scowling clouds that the mountains of Portugal had failed to detain racing in from the west like battleships. It was mean and moody but there was no rain so that was a bonus.
From the hotel balcony it was possible to appreciate just what a land of contrasts Spain really is. This was about as far away from the traditional view of Spain of the holiday brochures as it is possible to get and it was different too from our visit the previous month to Castilla-la Mancha. Here we were getting close towards green Spain in the north with more small farms, livestock, deciduous woods, fast flowing rivers and Portugal just twenty-five kilometres away – which was where we planned to visit later.
After breakfastwe dressed appropriately and took the walk alongside the river and into Ciudad Rodrigo. The sky was blue but filling all the time with dark purple clouds with only occasional shafts of sunlight darting through. There was a spiteful wind that stung our ears and although it was a nice walk it was along a very muddy path that took us along the Rio Águeda.
As we climbed the outside of the city walls the wind strengthened and thankfully scattered the black clouds somewhere to the east towards Salamanca and they were replaced with friendlier white cotton wool ball clouds that raced in to take their place. We entered the city through the western gate cut into the fortifications, still bearing the pock-marked scars of musket balls and found ourselves in a charming place overflowing with history and character.
It was quiet enough today however and once inside the walls we walked to the castle, which predictably is now a Parador hotel, had a look inside and then walked around a part of the walls. A few spots of rain forced us down into the city, past the curiously misshapen cathedral, the result of an earthquake which literally knocked it sideways, and into a tourist information office with the heating set to an unnecessary maximum and then on to the Plaza Mayor in the centre with its warm sandstone coloured buildings, ornate metal balconies and traditional Spanish shops and bars around all four sides.
The weather was changing by the minute and after the little shower the sky was blue with clouds that had no time to stop and spoil it because they were driven away swiftly by the wind. It was nice enough to sit outside at a pavement café and have a drink while we planned what to do with the rest of the day.
We hadn’t seen all of Ciudad Rodrigo but we decided to leave some for tomorrow and feeling optimistic about the weather prospects decided to go to Portugal for lunch so we returned to the hotel to pick up the car.