I am in Zaragoza. The car has been returned to the right spot at the airport, and I no longer have to drive through Spain with a passenger who likes to call herself my co-pilot and give me instructions and directions to places in Spanish. Yes, she was as useful as tits on a bull... Pardon my French...
But, that's all over with. I arrived back at our hotel in Zaragoza in one piece. I'm grateful for that. Plus, it's worth noting that as I got more comfortable with the roads and the signs everywhere, I am definitely not averse to revisiting the idea of riding a motorcycle through Europe. It would be a hair-raising and fun experience, I'm sure.
Cuenca was absolutely gorgeous. That's where I've been the last few days. It's about three hours drive from Zaragoza - and the drive was marvellous too. The roads are tight and winding, with red cliffs on either side - very pretty and quite awesome to see.
Cuenca itself, was stunning. We stayed at the Hotel Parador de Turismo. This hotel was an old monastery, it had been converted into a hotel. There were breathtaking views from every room of the hotel - even if you walked down a passageway from your room to the lift, you had views.
Views of what? The old part of Cuenca is built on a little mountain - that's the best way to describe it. I liken it to Mont Saint Michel in France, or Montserrat in the outskirts of Barcelona - if you've been to either of those places, you'll know what I mean.
Cuenca is known for its casas colgadas, its hanging houses. These houses are built on the cliff-face, with their balconies hanging over the rivers that run through Cuenca - the Huecar and the Jucar.
It's unnerving to stand on the balconies of one of these houses. The Museo del Arte Abstracto de Espanol (Abstract Art Museum of Cuenca) is situated in one of these hanging houses, facing the Huecar River. As much as I enjoyed looking at the art work featured here, I couldn't restrain myself from being scared to death by standing on the balconies on each level of the gallery.
You feel like nothing is holding or protecting you when you step out - if you have the courage to look over the rail of the balcony, you see nothing but the river about 100 metres below. (At least, it felt like 100 metres - it was probably about 50... I'm sure I'm exaggerating, as I was positively frozen on the spot, standing there to admire the views.)
Our hotel was opposite these cliffs and the hanging houses. To get back to our hotel, we had to walk down many steep, narrow passages to the Puente San Pablo, a bridge for pedestrians which crossed over the river. This bridge, too, was many metres above the river and ground below. I was forced by sheer fear to hold onto the rail tightly as I walked over it slowly to the other side, our hotel and salvation.
At night, the views from here are also magnificent, as the Cuencans have lit up all the rocks, edifices and old buildings that are still standing and in use around the River Huecar.
Our first night was perfect - the weather was beautiful, the night, crystal clear, and there were a zillion stars in the sky. I had time to sit and admire my surroundings as my mother was looking for the Southern Cross in the night sky. Of course, I refrained from reminding her of our location in the Northern Hemisphere - I thought it best that she find the constellation on her own while I looked around, peacefully.
On the second day in Cuenca, as we were heading to the bridge back to our hotel, I was stopped by a busker with a guitar that insisted on singing flamenco to me. He sang, beautifully, in Spanish... the words: Your eyes are like fire and your lips drive me mad with passion. Wow! What an ego boost! I especially found him endearing as he was missing his front teeth - I could see that singing to passers-by was his bread and butter. His busking turf was perfectly situated - he could grab the tourists as they headed to the puente, making his living by trapping them on their way to the magnificent views that lay ahead.
In Cuenca, I have found out about an intriguing modern Spanish artist that I had not heard of before. Fernando Zobel. He was the artist that made the hanging modern abstract art museum possible. Inside, there were many of his works, along with his note and sketch books showing the inspiration and observations he made for each of the pieces on display. Fascinated, I took copious notes of my own about him, as I'd like to locate a book in English about Zobel - the book they were selling in the museum shop was in Spanish. It was a big, thick, heavy tome which I'm sure would have made my trip back to Australia more difficult. So, finding such a book in English is on my to-do list when I get back home.
So far, I have truly enjoyed looking at the galleries and museums in this country. I have particularly found the modern Spanish artists interesting - they seem to have so much say in their work that I can't help myself reading all the Spanish descriptions and labels around them, despite my lack of understanding - I am always longing to find out more.
Again, I can see why people like Hemingway found this country so intriguing. I am sure that I am missing out on a lot because of the language barrier I have been experiencing here. I have had some entertaining and interesting mini-chats to hotel porters, taxi drivers, even ice-cream sellers, and they seem to have a lot to tell. Perhaps I was hasty earlier when I deduced that the Spanish people I was seeing around me in public places probably weren't as interesting as I initially thought they would be.
However, I have found that the people that interest me most are the everyday Spanish - the workers, the attendants, the people I pass by, engaged in conversation with one another on the street.
Surrounded, in the hotels, by other tourists, or even Spaniards visiting from other cities, I am repelled by their need to assert their own culture or status into their unknown environment and surrounds. It feels as though they're being arrogant - I shudder to think that I may have given this impression to others when I was first trying to get my bearings in this mostly unfamiliar land.
At the time of writing this, I am torn... Even though I would like to see more of the world, I would also appreciate the pleasure of returning to this country, to try and get to know it more intimately. The viviaciousness in these people is appealing - at present, I feel like a complete outsider, looking in on a party from the perimeter, waiting for someone to hand me an invitation to join in the festivities.
Now, to explore Zaragoza... I am impatient though. I have saved the best for last. San Sebastian and Barcelona are waiting. It's hard to think about the city I am currently in - it seems far less interesting than what lies ahead. I hope I am pleasantly surprised.
Although, in its defence, I have met the most amazing porter in our hotel this morning. He assisted me by giving me driving directions to the airport to drop off the car rental. His name is Juan Antonio... if Spaniards have a flavour, he's definitely the epitome of what a Spaniard is. He has the stature of a bull fighter, and has the most seductive je ne sais quoi... indescribable, but definitely there. I cannot take my eyes off him. He's an amazing creature to watch. Jokingly, after his thorough assistance, I told my mother to ask him Spanish to come in the car with us to direct me - I'd pay him 100 Euros if he did. He looked saddened that he couldn't leave his post in front of the hotel to receive the guests arriving and bid farewell to those departing. Ah well... it was not meant to be.
I must remember to take a photo of Juan Antonio before I depart for San Sebastian. He's quite a specimen.
Hasta la vista, mis amigos!