Thursday was the end of another chapter. I start a new job in two weeks time. Not as a teacher of children but as a facilitator for a company called Core Education. I will be part of a Ministry of Education team advising and supporting schools as they integrate technology into their learning programmes. This sort of work has been a large part of what I have been doing over the last 7 years anyway but it is a big step to take and I feel just a bit weird!
Anyway, more of that in a later post. For now I am in Spain; long complicated back story but basically I was lucky enough to win a scholarship provided by the University of Auckland and the Spanish Embassy to come to Salamanca University to study Spanish for two weeks. I am going to make the most of it because for the first time in my life I will not have 11 weeks holiday a year to play with! So the next few posts will be ramblings from Spain.
Viernes el 3 de julio
I promised myself a trip to the mountains out of Madrid and a visit to Manzanares. So up reasonably early to catch train at Atocha at 9.00am. Just as well I gave myself plenty of time because the station was heaving and I had to queue for half an hour for ticket. Then found that train was at 9.30 ! Next: breakfast. l had an Oferta de Manana- coffee, orange juice and croissant for 3€ standing up at bar “a la Espanol” Confusion abounded then as I searched for my way into the platforms- 3 different sets of platforms at Atocha: Local, regional, national! More confusion once I found the right one as hordes of people are milling around at the top of the stairs going down to the platforms. It seems we are in some sort of holding area waiting for the lady who spends more time on her phone or greeting long lost friends than doing her job. “Espera, espera!” she repeats to everyone who tries to ask for help.
Finally, I am on the train; the uninspiring industrial and commercial buildings typical of the outskirts of any big city have given way to dry, undulating, yellow fields of olive trees to my left, green fields to my right with low hills in the middle distance. Every now and then clusters of red roofed, pale terracotta houses seem to be evidence of the creeping urban sprawl of Madrid linked by the main road that runs alongside us. The embankment wall is scrawled with grafitti mainly of the bored youth variety but occasionally a political slogan or two.
First stop Aranjuez, I have no idea how many stops before Manzanares but it will take 2 hours so I have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. This is a “go with the flow ‘ day. Apart from reading a few sentences that said Manzanares was an interesting place to visit and the fact that you can walk in the forest and hills around, l know nothing! I have 8 hours to explore! Hoping it’s not going to be too hot! But I have my hat and my “abanico “, a bottIe or two of water and my adventuring head on! Here goes!
Stop 2: Villasequilla
Sun parched fields, olive groves, dry baked earth – yellow but tinged red, unclouded blue sky and the heat shimmering on the horizon. Looking out from an air-conditioned train, it looks pleasant but I know what heat is going to hit me once I step out!
White windmills with red roofs and big sails, the old-fashioned type, sit on the hills just above a village. T o my left, along the whole length of the ridge, the tall, elegant modern day sort stand resplendent, their three sails turning, turning, turning.
Stop 3: Villacanas.
A small, industrial town- I say industrial became it looks like there is a factory, a chimney, warehouses and water towers, but it is surrounded by fields – a splash of a different colour in the centre of the flat lands of yellow. It seems amazing that the newly planted olive trees (l presume that’s what they are but will confirm later ) could survive the harsh sun.
Stop 4: Quero.
Storks perched precariously on abandoned buildings. More grafitti daubed walls. A nothing place!
Stop 5: Alcazar de san Juan
Alcazar means castle or fort but this looks industrial. I wonder what the town and its people are really like? Here I am making judgements from the glimpses I have as the train enters and leaves the station. A corridor view, blinkered by the constraints of what I can see from my seat. Grafitti decorates the walls, bright, artistic, expressions of youths’ boredom, frustration or just a need to make a mark. After all people have been doing it for centuries! It is more than a blip on the landscape. An old steam train is parked to the right, not haphazardly and I wonder what it’s used for. Large white tanks and the tell-tale factory zig-zag roof profile help to strengthen my thoughts about this being an industrial hub.
I think my stop is next!! But still 20 mins to go. Little white buildings with red tiled roofs at the corner of each planted field . Not sure what the little trees / bushes) seedlings are – olives? It’s still very flat – where are the hills? Starting to see vague outlines in the distances, smokey brown shapes through the heat haze.
Phones ringing,”Dime, dime!” conversations going on with invisible people ! Even stranger when folks don’t have a phone but just ear pieces as they seem to be talking to themselves!
Final stop: Manzanares
So….. wrong Manzanares! l sort of knew that the place I wanted was called Manzanares el Real, But when I asked at the railway station for a ticket to Manzanares I didn’t know there was another town called “Manzanares “and they didn’t ask which Manzanares I wanted.
So, no walking in the mountains! But l am exploring this little town, not entirely sure how to fill the time until 7 pm when my train leaves as there are only so many churches & museums to shelter from the sun in. The grand looking “Gran Teatro” dominates the street as I walk into town to the tourist office to find out what there is to do here. There is something intellectual about european grafitti! But then when a country is in economic crisis and there is something to protest about, and 25% of under 30s are unemployed, there is time to be creative.
The gems in this place this morning though have been the Museo Manuel Pina and the Museo de Queso Manchego. 5€ well spent. Manuel Pina was Spain’s leading fashion designer in the 80’s and 90’s. He designed clothes for Almodovar’s characters and was highly influential in the fashion world. He took his inspiration from the women of the region, the colours of the land and the climate. The museum is small, Pina died at the age of 53 fm AIDS, but it is delightful. Housed in the cellar of a old house, the mannequins stand in the vaulted brick arches, artistically lit and not so many that you are overwhelmed. The clothes are bold, they make statements about the land and its women and Manuel’s relationship with them. I love the quote from him that translates as “A man’s shadow is sometimes more human and more real than the man himself”.
Next up el Museo de Queso Manchego. This gave me a greater understanding of the land I travelled through on the train. It is a great little museum housed in a former dignitary’s grand dwelling with tiled floors and walls and a courtyard with a well in the middle. Cool in the heat of the sun. A mixture of local art and pottery alongside artefacts from the cheese making industry and a well-planned explanation of the importance of the cheese industry to the area. I thought the child friendly synopses of the extended written explanations were brilliant idea. They certainly helped me! The cheese tasting at the end ( with wine) topped the visit off.
Less impressive is the Castillo; it has been recently renovated and looks a bit like a mock castle now -walls too straight, the bricks/ stones too regular. l didn’t go in , not even sure you can. I am currently sitting in la Plaza de la Constitucion opposite a beautiful XVI century church which goes by the rather long name of la Iglesia Parroquial de la Asuncion de Nuestra Senora, drinking beer and eating enough for two! A huge plate of jamon iberico and an ensalada mixta – wondering if l can get a doggy bag. On the other hand I have all day so might as well order another beer!
Interestingly though, talking about regular bricks. it does seem that the natural building material here is clay bricks. They are a beautiful, warm pinkish red colour. Many of the older buildings have them whereas more modern constructs are concrete with a painted plaster covering.
It is getting hotter and I am struggling. I think the travel days have caught up with me. I decide to head to the station to see if I can get an earlier train. Manzanares is a ghost town. I have arrived on day 2 of the annual fiesta. Shops that normally close at 2 pm and reopen at 4pm will not open un til 6 pm. The population is holed up preparing to party tonight.
One more place to visit though, since I am here. The Parque de Poligono de Manzanares. A bit tacky but I am too hot really to appreciate anything right now. Normally I would delight in the peacocks strutting around – well to be honest they’re not strutting, I think they’re too hot as well! The feature of this park are the planets all laid out in order from the Sun to Pluto. On a scale of 1/166.500 the sun has a diameter of 8.4m and the Earth 7.7cm. It is quite fascinating but not in 38 degrees after travelling halfway round the world.
Off to the station, surely I’ll be able to change my ticket? Long story short, I couldn’t. The guard must be having a really bad day – I’m trying to be charitable here… the train is practically empty, it is due to stop in only three places on the way, he won’t let me on. I have to wait another two hours. As he closes the doors on me, I plead with him. Frustration wins and I hurl English abuse at an unhearing man and a disappearing train. As the concerned couple in the station say when I explain what has happened, I should have just got on rather than being honest and asking.
Self pity is bearing down, and I almost let it engulf me. I indulge in a few tears and then remember the bus station. Maybe there is a bus!? Loathe to spend more money. Maybe I can find a bar to sit in the cool until the train? A walk back down the street answers that question – Manzanares is still shut!
Bus station, bus in 10 minutes, yayy! I buy a ticket and head to the bar – yes, the bus station has a bar – and I get a beer. Standing at the counter I almost knock it back in a oner! So thirsty despite drinking loads of water.
Fell asleep in the bus about 10 minutes out of town, wake up as bus pulls into Madrid! Day done! It was an adventure.