A Heart-In-Mouth Moment.
Our arrival in Zamora provided a heart-stopping moment. Following satnav instructions, we left the motorway and drove into the city, over the Rio Duero, turned left as directed, then right and left again, with the final announcement, “You have reached your destination”. The photo shows the destination, supposed to be the NH Hotel Palacio del Duero, adorned with four stars! Enquiry of a passing local revealed that we needed one final right and left within the space of another 30m, and there, tucked in behind the renovation work being carries out to the church of Nuestra Señora de la Horta was our hotel. Large sigh of relief!
Zamora turned out to be a lovely city with a distinctly Romanesque style of church architecture, there being an abundance of small, simple churches all through the historic centre of town as well as a number of larger ones, also dating primarily from the XII and XIII centuries. We spent a day wandering around them and visiting the cathedral and the ruins of the castle. Both evenings we ate out at good but inexpensive restaurants in the Plaza Mayor.
Our journey from Zamora to Gijón was shown as around three hours. We had our room until midday and our ferry did not sail until 9.00pm, so we had a full morning to spare. We took advantage of this opportunity to follow the advice of my friend, Luis, and go in search of the Museo de la Semana Santa. What excellent advice it turned out to be. This modern museum is home to the tableaux and statues which are mounted on tronos (thrones or plinths) and carried in procession in the city during Holy Week. They are enormous, they are true works of artisan art and there are around three dozen of them. Also on display (somewhat eerily, it must be said) on mannequins are the vestments of the individual cofradías (brotherhoods) linked to different churches in the city. I suspect that the only thing better than a visit to the museum would be a visit to the city to watch the Holy Week processions.
The road to Gijón took us up and over - and frequently, through - the Picos de Europa mountains with a long, long downhill runout which had my dashboard insisting that I had enough fuel for a further 1,320km. A normal fill-up gives a range of 1,040km without air-con, or 940km if air-con is switched on, and the distance from Frigiliana on the Med to Gijón on the Bay of Biscay is only 1300km. We arrived in mid-afternoon at what was very clearly not a ferry port. Gijón is a major centre of the Spanish steel industry and we had arrived at the gate to a very obvious iron ore port. I sought the help of an agente of the Port Police, who first reeled off a string of directions to get me from where I was to where I needed to be. Then he had a better idea. “Wait,” he said, went across and spoke to his partner, then set the barrier to automatic, climbed into his patrol car and led us along this convoluted route, sailing past ‘authorised personnel only’ checkpoints and straight up to the ferry company office. My wife was astonished at this friendliness, which in truth is not that rare among Spanish people, as she witnessed with even more incredulity when the Guardia Civil officer in charge of border control arrived to take the necessary details from me and then stayed another ten minutes chatting about the differences between the Spanish and the French and English (his wife is French, so he knows what he is talking about).
So then it was just a matter of drive onto the ferry, find our cabin, get a drink and a meal, a night’s sleep and then watch the mouth of the Loire appear. I’m already seeing evidence of the Guardia’s words; what miserable ‘douaniers’ we had to deal with to get off the docks at Saint-Nazaire!