1st July 2015
Fast and Loose
Zaragoza to Cáceres (Extremadura) by Train
Fast? The train from Zaragosa to Madrid – 300km/hr. With wings we may have taken to the air.
Here we go, here we go, here we go-o-o-o-o-o . . .
We’re back in the land of Storks perched up high in nests in improbable places (old chimney stacks, bell towers, power pylons etc.) and Vultures circling high over their prospective dinners.
Olde, dun-coloured villages nestle neatly against hillsides as we race by. Topped by crumbling castles, each village is overseen by its inevitable church – that medieval connection between elevation (altitude and attitude?), power and defence. The vast and sprawling landscape is broken by tidy hectares of horticulture, the distant mountains sprinkled with slow-turning windfarms: they would have driven Don Quixote insane – wait a minute, he was, wasn’t he?
Hey, but I don’t want to write a travelogue, the day is young and I may yet fall on my face somewhere or spill red wine over some fair Spanish maiden or get food poisoning again.
Having arrived at Madrid’s sprawling and cavernous Atocha central Rail Station we have a two hour wait in its stultifying atmosphere – the whole country is battling a heat-wave. Our anticipated three and a half hour ride is to be at a much more respectable pace, and we are predicted to stop at many small towns en route for Cáceres. This train, too, is the bullet-nosed type so visually evocative of their capabilities. They have comfortable seats with fold-down tables and very effective air conditioning. Ah, joyous, speedy travel.
Who would have thought it . . .
Our train stopped in the small rural station of Villaluenga Yuncler – and stayed there. Two hours later we were off-loaded onto a bus. There was a bushfire somewhere along the line and that was it – the main (and only) line from Madrid was out of action. I told you it was hot, and out here in the plains there was a strong and very hot wind: perfect bushfire conditions. Fortunately, our West Australian arsonists haven’t discovered this place yet or the whole, dry land with all its crops would be up in smoke. Unlike Australia, most of the land is given over to producing food.
The bus took us to a station on the other side of the trouble, Torrijos (a pleasant little station), where we boarded yet another train while we waited for the other passengers to be bused over. The carriages were, however, air conditioned and very modern.
There was an unexpected visit from a couple of characters from the Guardia Civil, one looking like a dangerous hoodlum or ‘cyber cop’, as Rachel suggested, with wrap-around sunnies (standard issue), bullet-proof vest and tats around his wrists, but they weren’t after us. However, not long after that bit of excitement we were under way again; this train carefully only hitting speeds of up to 150km/hr.
But we were stopped again, this time to be kept in the dark, so to speak, while we waited-out the delay with much speculation amongst the frustrated passengers, and many mobile calls being made to pre-booked accommodation and awaiting families. The result was that we arrived in Cáceres just after midnight, exactly four hours later than planned – not bad. Before night fell, however, as we glided along we were treated to nature’s low, late-afternoon sun painting the landscape with a gorgeous palette: golden acres of top-harvested grain stalks; broad silver-green swathes of olive groves; purple lavender fields; and the red, tilled soil of this land – what a spectacle. We saw only a little of the distant bush fires’ smoke and flames. The next day, at the rail station in Cáceres when we filled out a reclamation form (for our fares), we learned that the train’s stoppages were due to the firefighters’ instructions – to do with allowing them clear access to the fires. The delay bothered us little, with us finding our hotel in the dark after a long walk, and we were confident the bars would still be open in order for us to assuage our thirst and hunger. Spain is good like that.
Wonder of Wonders
Cherries are being harvested here by the ton, also. Rachel bought a kilo today for the outrageous price of 1.50 Euros/kg, as a ‘room snack’.
Loose? Our travel plans. We seem barely able to plan beyond three days – we live very much ‘in the moment’. It keeps us on our toes and, hopefully, will stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
Now, where was I?
. . . Ah, yes. Our room is very good and good value at 33 Euros per night, but after a quick assessment of the small and ancient city (approx 90,000 pop.) we have extended it already for an additional three nights at 30 Euros per night.
During an initial drink in a suitable-looking bar offering a 10 Euro Menu Del Dia (to ‘test the waters’ you understand) in the Casco Viejo (olde town), we quickly elected to dine there on the results of their free tapa; it was clear we were in gourmet territory – as advertised about this city. This was not an error, the food was superb and their generosity included another appetiser (threatening our appetites) and a post-three-course-meal liquor made from acorns – yes, the acorns that make those black-footed pigs (pata negra) taste so delicious. A full bottle of local wine went with the meal – just like in the old days. Oh dear oh dear – this kind of feasting requires a lot of walking afterwards, but it is so damned hot we will have to leave that till later – if we can last the distance (we are often in bed before the Spanish hit the streets of an evening).
We returned the next day (you see what a little bit of generosity can inspire, given quality product?) and discovered that the vintner of the local wine was the bar’s owner. Having expressed an interest in our enjoying his wine (yes, in Spanish, nobody there spoke English anyway – we’re getting better at it ;)) he explained his wine’s composition and answered my query about the lack of evidence of sulphides therein – he uses absolutely minimal, claiming (amongst other things) that they can cause headaches. Oh yes indeedy, tell me about it! The gentleman grows sixty hectares of Verdello, Palomino Fino, Airen, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes. The food was again delicious and the staff were generous – but to top it off, the owner gave us a bottle each of his house red (tinto) and white. Both are excellent, smooth drinking wines and he was much impressed by Rachel’s claim to find a residual flavour of almonds in the white. Err, I showed some restraint this time, and we didn’t quite finish the bottle of wine that came with the meal.
A typical free tapa
Photogenic olde Cáceres
Below: This church’s whole retablo is carved from cedar wood
And a day trip to Medieval Trujillo
Neolithic Menhirs by the castle
Ah, but these are just a tantalising taste from the photos we took – this olde Europe with all its invasions, battles, transplanting of different religions, laws, horticulture and cultures is just incredible to witness, and here in Extremadura , south eastern Spain that history is still palpable, still visible, still tangible. Not a bad trip so far.