Category Archives: Arts and Crafts

France, Le Tricolore et La Fenêtre

At the top of the climb we went through the charming town of St Pons-de-Thomieres and as we sat in the mid morning traffic we drove past the Hôtel de Ville and in the courtyard there was a magnificent statue of Madame Liberty, the traditional female embodiment of the French Republic with her ample bosom unashamedly thrusting out and exposed to all.

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tricoloure window 2Tricolour window

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Travels in Spain, One Balcony Three Ways

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Travels in Spain, Wall Tile Decoration

Cudillero Wall Tile 2

The tiles in Spain often tell a story, theses were taken in the town of Cudillero in Asturias on the North Coast.

Cudillero Wall Tile 1Cudillero Wall Tile 3

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Travels in Spain, A Mountain Pass and a Fuel Crisis

San Ildefonso o la granja 3

“The Sierra, like the moon, had two distinct faces: the north one aloof and cold in its shadow, a place of green thickets and alpine silence, whilst to the south the mountain was just a raw burnt rock, the cliffs stripped bare by the sun.”  – Laurie Lee

After we had walked through the gardens we reluctantly left the Palace of San Ildefonso o La Granja and then the town and we drove south again towards our next intended destination, the fortress town of Manzanares El Real where we planned to see our final castle.

To get there we had to drive across the top of the mountain and shortly after leaving San Ildefonso we began to steadily climb the northern face of the peaks.  Eventually we reached the top at a mountain pass called Puerto de Navacerrada, the gateway to the long descent on the southern side down towards Madrid.  We were right on schedule but at the top were some policemen who pulled us to a stop and then explained that the road was closed and that we would have to take a detour back down the northern side of the mountain.

Guardia Civil

At least we assumed that was what they were saying because to be honest I didn’t understand Spanish police instructions terribly well and they weren’t especially good at understanding English tourists who couldn’t understand Spanish police instructions.  I said “Madrid, Madrid, Madridon the basis if you say something over and over and get louder each time a foreigner might eventually understand and this seemed to work on this occasion because eventually he pointed again to the alternative road that we would have to take and smiled as we set off.

This was going to be a problem because it was going to add twenty miles to the journey and there certainly wasn’t enough fuel in the tank for that.  Luckily it was all down-hill from here so I used the throttle as little as possible and freewheeled down the safe sections.  I knew that there was enough fuel left in the tank but as we went down the really steep bits the needle on the fuel gauge rushed headlong into the red zone and even though I knew this was because of uneven fuel distribution in the tank the situation certainly brought me out in a hot sweat.

There was no sign of a filling station and I began to grow concerned but then we reached the pretty town of Rascafria sitting in a narrow valley surrounded by mountain peaks and after stopping and asking for directions at a restaurant we thankfully found a garage and I put an extra couple of squirts in more than we really needed just to be on the safe side.

Rascafia

After I had calmed down we relaxed a little at a café pavement table and then walked through the streets of the charming little mountain town that provided a pleasant contrast to the tourist cities of Toledo and Segovia.  It was as though we had turned full circle and were back in Belmonte and then we resumed our journey.  There was a safe route but feeling confident once more we choose to try the mountain passes again this time using the eastern route and we hoped that this wouldn’t be blocked and closed as well.

We climbed again, quite quickly this time and reached a mountain top plateau surrounded by snowy peaks and with uninterrupted views into the distance.  We were only twenty miles from Madrid but we were practically alone in a lonely natural wilderness. What a day this was to be in this seemingly remote part of Spain, a glorious blue sky, snow on the mountains, early days of Spring and absolutely no one to share it with.

Top Of The World View

We crossed the top and thankfully there were no Guardia Civil to send us back and after we passed through the town of Miraflores de la Sierra the road dropped quickly down to the shoreline of a shimmering blue reservoir and the town of Manzanares El Real.

We arrived and parked in a dusty car park directly below the huge medieval castle sat on an outcrop of rock that we had driven here to see.  Leaving the car we walked through the languid square where little afternoon groups of men in flat caps and berets were congregating and debating the big issues of the day and women were shopping in the small stores around the perimeter.  They don’t get many English tourists here, especially in March so I think one or two of them were surprised to see us as they went about their daily routine.

We found the entrance to the castle and paid our €4 fee and then made our way inside through the main gate.  The castle has been restored of course, most recently in the 1970s, because only a few years ago it wasn’t in very good shape at all and I guessed that what we were seeing was what Belmonte castle will look like when it too has been restored.

Inside the main building we followed a route through a succession of restored rooms with displays of armour and medieval bric-a-brac of dubious originality and then out onto the battlements and turrets at the very top of the building.  To the north there were the snowy peaks of the mountains and to the south a stunning view over the Embalse de Santillana which is a recent addition to the landscape of course so wouldn’t have been there in the middle-ages for the occupants of the castle to enjoy and what made it all the more satisfying is that today we had the castle and the views all to ourselves.

After a long day it was getting late so we left now and continued to our final destination, Alcalá de Henares.

Manzanares el Real

Travels in Spain, A Detour to Talavera de la Reina

Talavera de la Reina Faces

Talavera de la Reina is a city in the western part of the province of Toledo, the second-largest centre of population in Castile-La Mancha after Albacete; it is the largest in the province, larger even than the city of Toledo itself, although the more famous city naturally remains the capital.

This means that to a certain extent Talavera is a city with an inferiority complex and this isn’t helped by the fact that it isn’t really a primary tourist destination but we are keen to visit as many Spanish cities as possible and even if it was not on our most direct route between Toledo and Ávila we were not going to exclude it from our itinerary.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Talavera achieved great recognition in Spain and beyond, thanks to its ceramics. Wonderful pieces of pottery and Talavera tiles are found in the main museums of the world and in the most luxurious palaces all over Europe.  The city is internationally known for its products, which King Philip II used as tiled revetments in many of his works, such as the monastery of El Escorial.

The nickname of Talavera de la Reina is ‘The City of Pottery’ and Mexico’s famous Talavera pottery was named after the place.  We could have guessed this because after lunch we walked through the old city towards the River Tagus and our route took us past a succession of similar ceramics workshops and shops.

Talavera de la Reina Soldiers

Eventually we reached the river which is the longest in the Iberian Peninsula and the twelfth longest in Europe. It is just over six hundred miles long long and flows all the way to Lisbon in Portugal where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  Along its course there are several dams and diversions supply drinking water to most of central Spain and Portugal, while dozens of hydroelectric stations create power.

The source of the Tagus is the Fuente de García, in the Montes Universales, Sierra de Albarracín Comarca. The main cities it passes through are Aranjuez, Toledo, Talavera de la Reina and Alcántara in Spain, then Abrantes, Santarém, Almada and Lisbon in Portugal.

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To be honest there wasn’t a lot to detain us for more than an afternoon so after a short while we left.  Driving out of Talavera de la Reina was not too difficult except that we emerged from the underground car park onto a one way street and managed to cross the River Tagus twice until we found the road that headed north towards the Gredos Mountains, but once out of the city motoring was straight-forward and the satellite navigation lady seemed to pull her self together so we didn’t have any fall-outs!

As we headed north we began to slowly climb as we entered an area of green scrubland littered with huge granite boulders where the verges of the road were a riot of red poppies and contrasting yellow daisies.  Ahead of us we could see the mountains with peaks covered in a few stubborn streaks of snow in the protection of the shadows where the March sun couldn’t quite reach.  We were still in bright sunshine but ahead of us the sky was a dramatic dark grey, brooding, threatening and angry and we worried that crossing the north south dividing line of Spain parallel with Madrid (40° 25′ 0.3900” N) that we were leaving all of the good weather behind.

A short way out of Talavera we crossed the site of a famous battle of the Peninsula War where Sir Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) won one of his most successful and famous battles.  On 27th and 28th July 1809 the Battle of Talavera took place between the Anglo-Spanish army and the French.  It was a total allied victory and during the fight Talavera was hardly damaged and Wellesley’s army expelled the French from the city and the surrounding area.

The battle is also the setting for the fictional event of ‘Sharpe’s Eagle’ the first book written in Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ series.

Next time I will finally get back to Ávila…

Regions of Spain

Travels in Spain, Museums

Kim doesn’t always share my enthusiasm for Museums.  She sat this one out but from the garden outside caught me looking at the exhibits through a window.

Travels in Spain, Window Gardens

Window Garden Cuenca Spain

Living towers high in the sky

No land or garden below to grow

So pots in a place near by to fly

And in the blow the flowers grow

The Spanish are good are filling the most unlikely places with pots of blooms.  I spotted this window of colourful pots  in the city of Cuenca.