Having lived in London (England) all her life, Rosie has traveled extensively through America, Europe, Asia & Africa as a solo female visiting some 32 countries. She met her partner (Paul) on a singles holiday (the one & only package she ever took!). After Rosie’s 33 years in retail banking and Paul’s 30 years in boat building, they quit their jobs on a whim and decided to buy a campervan (the size of an estate car) to spend 6 months exploring Spain & Portugal. Here is what a week-in-the-life of Rosie in Spain and what hers and Paul’s traveling lives looked like:
This post was originally published in 2009. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
John Major reputedly has his summer house in Candalario. More importantly its claim to fame is it’s the most scenic village in the region. Against a steep mountain face, it’s famous for its stone and wood houses that cluster together to protect them against the harsh winter climate. Little streams run parallel to the cobbled lanes between the houses. Ornate ‘batipuertas’ (wooden half doors) are fixed in front of the regular doorways.
Arriving at Candelario we took the wrong turn. I drove along a couple of narrow cobbled lanes with my wing mirrors almost touching the houses on either side. We asked a group of elderly ladies if they knew where the camp site was. Each one tried to compete with the other giving us differing directions. Things got somewhat excited! After several minutes we realised we weren’t getting anywhere and were actually causing a traffic jam! We politely thanked them and gave them all a friendly wave then went on our way still none the wiser. Within a couple of moments we reached the campsite. Mission accomplished!
Close by a delightful little bar oozed charisma and so we enjoyed a much needed San Miguel.
We made a packed lunch and donned our walking boots to explore the countryside. The mountains were cloaked in virgin snow. A placid tempered waterfall tinkled over shiny brown boulders splattered with patches of algae into the stream that ran aside a path edged by masses of thick gorse under a thick carpet of wild flowers amongst a myriad of brightly coloured butterflies. We saw the hugest moth we’d ever seen. Each wing was the size of a hand and mottled brown.
It blended perfectly with the branches that we had to look twice before really seeing it. We walked for just over an hour until the stream flowed across the path to such a depth and width that we were unable to cross it. Nearby were several large boulders so we were able to sit on one to eat our picnic lunch in peaceful tranquillity.
Taking the correct turn from Candelario, we headed towards Salamanca, one of the most spectacular Renaissance cities in Europe. Through the centuries the sandstone buildings have gained an exquisite golden glow giving Salamanca the nickname La Ciudad Dorada, the golden city. Its inhabitants are said to speak the “purest” Spanish attracting people from all over the world who want to learn Spanish.
The roads around Salamanca were busy. I was tired having driven a fair way. We saw a shopping area with a large car park so we took a comfort stop. After exploring the exciting stock of Lidl, McDonalds lured us in with the smell of freshly ground coffee and freshly fried chips. Refreshed, we decided that we’d bypass the city centre and approach the campsite from an easier direction, putting about twenty miles onto our journey but the detour was worth it. I hasten to add here, that McDonalds was the only one we saw on the entire trip. Was fate on our side? I leave you, dear reader, to decide.
The campsite was tucked away from the main road. Our ‘pitch’ was enclosed by three sentinel hedges which we welcomed as many campsites didn’t understand the word ‘privacy’, parking you so close to your neighbour you could see inside their window and hear their every word. During our trip we heard many scintillating conversations heralding a best seller that would make a raunchy Jackie Collins novel sound like Enid Blyton.
We met another English couple; the first that we’d seen for weeks. They were traveling with their three cats down to the south. Recently retired, they had sold their house and were looking for a property in Spain. Little did we know that two years later we would be following in their footsteps?
We took the bus into Salamanca. The route took us via the surrounding residential area and served as the social event of the day with local housewives who swapped tasty chorizo recipes plus tales of Fernando and Concepta at number forty eight. I often wish my knowledge of Spanish would enable to understand where Carlos and the dog came into that conversation but then perhaps I’m better off not knowing!
Our experience started in the nineteenth century Plaza Mayor known as the living room of the Salmantinos. Holding up to twenty thousand people, they would have once witnessed bullfights but nowadays they gather to attend concerts. We picnicked sitting on a stone bench here, sharing it with an American lady, visiting the city with her teenage daughter. The mother had attended the University of Salamanca some thirty years previously so was showing the daughter the haunts of her youth. The mother had been in Spain when Franco ruled. She’d seen a lot of radical changes but was also aware that many things had remained much as they were when the dictator had been alive and in power.
Someone with a distorted sense of humour told us we could walk to the town by the river.
“How far?” we’d asked.
Easy. We followed a calm river, lined with fishermen chewing the ends of their cigarette butts; hoping for a catch they could boast about in the bars that evening. Gardens kissed the waters edge and contained a multitude of malformed vegetables along with large patches of the ubiquitous poppy and several of sweet smelling lavender.
We walked…the river curved, winding its way who knew where. We certainly didn’t. No signs of the city and the sun’s heat hugged our bodies ferociously. If we’d been traveling with good ol’ Laurence in Arabia, we’d have seen an oasis by now. But this wasn’t the Sahara and we were just two lost souls in the midday sun, sweating profusely with tongues thicker than shag pile.
A slight waif-like like man of advanced years appeared from nowhere
“Donde esta Salamanca?” we asked, our tongues rasped against the roofs of our mouths like course sandpaper.
Gesticulating in a wave of frenzied Semaphore, he pointed and we followed. We were still a long way from the town but we figured we were beyond the point of no return so plodded on! Pausing for breath again, our elfin friend magically appeared some thirty yards behind us. Hadn’t he stepped out in front of us the first time we’d seen him? The signaling scenario was repeated. Yes, this time he was definitely in from of us racing on with the speed of Schumacher Every time we paused, our elfin friend appeared from behind with his ever frantic arm movements. We eventually came to a road of shops that our saviour indicated led to the centre of town. Hallelujah! We waved a final good bye as our knight simply vanished.
The first thing that we did in town was to find a café so as we could recover! Our feet told us that the first one we came to was an ideal choice.
At the Tourist Office we picked up a leaflet containing details of two walks that would take us around the points of interest. We did both of those over two days. Paul allowed me to be in charge both times saying he had to allow me to be in charge occasionally!! Having said that, I was always more in charge than he realised, but I won’t remind him of that.
Every nook and cranny revealed historic delight. One historical mystery is the sixteenth century House of Deaths. A macabre legend tells of the mysterious deaths there. The front was decorated with medallions, coats of arms, and relief’s from which skulls were carved in the brackets. Legend says they were shaped into simple balls over the years until the building was restored in 1963 and they were re-carved.
The Casa de Conchas is one of the towns’ most endearing buildings named after the scallop shells on its front. Its owner was a Dr. Rodrigo Maldonado de Talavera, a doctor at the court of Isabel and a member of the Order of Santiago whose symbol is a shell. Hence so many pilgrims are seen carrying the pilgrim emblem.
That evening we took the easy way ‘home’ – the bus!
Our feet cried out in earnest “Take the bus – please, please.” We heard!!
Our continued sightseeing started with the cathedral which is actually two adjoining cathedrals from the twelfth and seventeenth centuries. My personal highlights being the fifty four boards displaying scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary by Nicolás Florentino and the bronze crucifix carried into battle before El Cid.
The thirteenth century University is one of the oldest in the world. The façade is highly ornamented with detailed figures; the most famous is the frog on a skull. Visitors who have nothing better to do, spend considerable time standing discreetly looking for the tiny frog. After innumerable minutes a chorus of whoops fills the square as these dream seekers spot the frog perhaps hoping the prince of their dreams will be unearthed.
In front of the University there is statue of Fray Luis de Leon, a famous poet and professor who was persecuted by the inquisition. Returning back to give lessons after years in prison, his first words were “As we mentioned yesterday ..” His sixteenth century classroom can still be seen. Two other famous sons are Miguel de Cervantes and Christopher Columbus. Hermando Cortes also took classes at Salamanca, but returned home in 1501 at the age of seventeen, without completing his course as he wanted to look for something to do!
Yes, you’ve guessed it; we returned to the campsite on the bus. Chicken a la camper for supper courtesy of a visit to a nearby Carrefour, accompanied by a bottle of ever so expensive wine at 1€.
We headed towards Portugal; just on a whim. We took a wrong turn out of Salamanca but what the heck; many a wrong turn has been taken for the sake of discovery. Large signs simply stated Portugal; beckoning another stage of our adventure. Approaching the border and I urged Paul to have our passports ready. Where was everybody? We were the only vehicle on the road. Not another soul in sight. The silence and stillness was eerie. Passport Control was a ghost town; just a row of empty toll booths. Overhead a neon sign flashed indiscriminately urging us to put our watches back an hour. We drove straight through casting our eyes every which way waiting for the obscene grin of Batman’s Joker to start screaming “Y’hoo. Portugal is closed.” Thankfully it was his day off.
The scenery changed dramatically in the space of a few feet. Low plateau land gave way to a wild abundance of craggy hills, bleak and naked whose modesty was covered with a scattering of hardy trees and robust bushes. There were wild flowers but not the variety or colour that we’d seen in Spain.
We decided that our first stop would be Guarda. We didn’t have a guide book so knew nothing about it. Our deciding factor was that it was the nearest big town, according to our atlas, after crossing the border. As it was the first main town I had pictured it as one full of activity but it was sleepy and quiet. The camp site was close to the town but wasn’t signposted well so we ended up driving the wrong way down a one way street. We realised after a few hundred yards managing to turn around with the help of a few locals who were expert in Portuguese semaphore. Having set up camp we walked to the town for a well deserved beer.
Having fallen in love with the Spain that they discovered off the beaten track, Rosie in Spain and Paul decided to move there. They sold the house and moved (lock, stock & barrel) to the northern province of Asturias in 2007. They have immersed themselves in the Spanish culture and way of life, living in an old stone farmhouse in a rural mountainous pueblo. No regrets. Their travelling now revolves around exploring the parts of Spain they didn’t manage to squeeze in their trip. Their next big trip is in February 2010 when they’ll be exploring the Gambia.