Iggy the Hymer motorhome is sitting in a Sports centre carpark in the little Portuguese town of Aveiro. It is already our 6th night in Portugal, and our last Spanish stop at Ciudad Rodrigo seems a long, long time away.
A world away, a lifetime away. To write of it now tonight I have to reach back, back… beyond Venetian style tourist boats plying to and fro on the Aveiro canal. The fish restaurants, cobbled hills, dauntingly high bridges and painted houses of Porto. The incredible scenery of the mountainous, Portuguese interior. And the entrancing completeness of the fortified village of Almeida.
Last Stop in Spain
But I have been a naughty blogger and not kept up to date! So reach I must. Into the trail of our road dust, straight across this country, from West coast to Eastern boundary. And there, just a few miles into neighbouring Spain, Ciudad Rodrigo lies waiting within it’s ancient stone walls.
It was Tuesday 19th February when Iggy trundled his way into the more modern town lying outside the city walls. We were expecting to park up in the market square, but a fair was setting up and we retreated a few streets down to a spot near a playpark. There was already an older Hymer parked up there and it was a decent spot that wasn’t in anyone’s way.
Ciudad Rodrigo had looked like a nice stopover for our last night before switching countries. I had a lot of writing to catch up on, and it looked interesting without being too time consuming. Oh me and my “not too interesting” spots!
I should have known by now that the chances of getting away with doing not a lot, were going to be pretty slim unless we just parked up in a modern, suburban supermarket for the night! Even then it would probably be the annual clown festival day! Hosted by the supermarket. In their carpark!
Ciudad Rodrigo then, naturally, proved to be a fascinating ancient city. Still nestled securely inside it’s fully intact 12th century stone walls, the entrance to the city is through the outer fortifications and moat. Immediately our attention was taken by the strange metal barriers running either side of the approach road into the old city. What were these?
It didn’t take long for the answer to pop into our heads. Fences for a Bull Run. Either some kind of full on Bull torturing festivities had either just taken place or were shortly going to happen. The metal fences were covered in the names of local companies, we were in Spain, and there was a fair in town. Two and two was definitely looking a bit like four.
With a festival of the Bovine variety our top guess we proceeded on through the long, narrow entrance tunnel otherwise known as the City Gate. Or one city gate. There were, in true fairytale style four entrance gates, of various sizes, and all shared by people and vehicles alike. We waited for a car to drive through and then dodged hastily along the cobbles in the wake of an elderly Spanish local.
Our usual cowardly technique of avoiding death by traffic by stalking pensioners has proven pretty effective so far. There seems to be a general reluctance to run old folk over – no matter how crazy the driving! Though the habit of said old folk of apparently just throwing themselves into the path of oncoming vehicles without so much as a look can be a bit daunting to emulate!
This strategy has always worked so far though, and this time was no exception. We made it safely through the long, pavement-less, tunnel of potential death, and back out into the bright sunlight of the ancient city beyond.
The desire to drop to my knees and embrace the life giving yellow orb in the sky was strong in me. Sadly my knees aren’t quite as keen on these shenanigans as they were thirty odd years ago, so I settled for taking lots and lots of photographs instead!
Tis a pretty old town without really trying to be is Ciudad Rodrigo. Encased in metres thick, 900 year old walls, and even longer history, I guess it doesn’t have to make any attempts to impress. It kind of manages that just by existing at all.
A Load of Old Bull
Although we’d never heard of the city before, it was clearly on some kind of tourist path judging by the small, but noticeable, numbers of visitors for a February afternoon. More bull fences, and structures in the making around the streets and the main square, numerous posters and a quick glance at the town website confirmed that Ciudad Rodrigo is a bit of a contender on the Bull Festivities circuit.
There had been Bull Run/Fight events in the region, and the city, throughout February, and there was a three day Bull Carnival at the beginning of March. Ciudad Rodrigo had a history and tradition of the bulls being driven through the runs by men on horseback, and a beautiful statue outside the gates attests to this.
As we wandered the cobbled maze of the old city, past all the hints of the “festivities” to come I could only feel happy that we’d not arrived just a few days later. That we had not witnessed this undeniably cruel practice. Although the reporter in me, as always, would like to bear witness.
It would all come back to me later that night as we walked Marley round the outskirts of the town. Finding the area of the animal pens at the far end of a long, metal fenced street. The night air still ripe with the stench of faeces mixed with urine. The sharp, hot smell of entrapment and fear. Of the raw edges of panic writhing in search of an escape route.
The smell is days old but as sharp as new. On Saturday, when the bulls return, it will be overpowering.
There is no smell inside the city walls on this day though. We spend five minutes squeezed against the side, on top of the walls, as an endless tour group of Spanish pensioners passes by.
Every third one stops to exclaim over Marley and stroke her velvet soft ears. People further ahead shout for the others to hurry up. A few more pass. They stop to stroke Marley. Repeat. Smile. Love life. Repeat.
Finally the long, “When I’m ready”, line of happy wanderers passes, and we continue our stroll. Storks clatter their beaks in accompaniment to our footsteps. Butterflies flit, will-o-the-wisp fashion, teasing us to follow, and a darting, gleaming, family of tiny wall lizards scatters from their afternoon feast of ants as we approach.
Back in the main square we sip wine and talk about bull runs until the couple at the next table join our conversation. Married for fifty years and in their late 70s, they hailed from Durham, and were touring by car and hotel on their way to a family visit near Nerja.
One glass of wine turned to three as the hours slipped by and they filled our ears with stories of their travels across the continent. First with caravan, then motorhome and now the car and hotels as they found it easier these days.
I thought to ask them for a photo and their names. For when I wrote about them here. But I didn’t. I just listened instead. Listened and laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more.
Sometimes photographs and details, and even names don’t matter. Sometimes all that matters is the old rock and ancient olive trees, the afternoon sun, the ruby shine of the wine, and the passing of time in good company.
Till next time.