In March 1989 we drove across Spain for the first time. It was something of a fraught experience. We were travelling with our friends who introduced us to Frigiliana, Pat and Judy, to share the driving and then to spend a couple of weeks as guests at Casa de los Arcos, the house they owned on c/ Chorruelo. Sadly, a month previously Pat had had to undergo a programme of chemotherapy following the recurrence of a cancer which had been thought to be in remission, and so when we arrived in Santander he and Judy took the train via Madrid to Málaga, where they were met by friends. We then drove their car across Spain for them.
Why ʻ a fraught experienceʼ? Well, to begin with it was my first experience of driving on the righthand side of the road, and in a righthand drive car to boot. Secondly, as I pulled on the handbrake on the car deck of the ferry, there had been a great whoosh of steam from under the bonnet, which severely depleted the water in the radiator, so the first thing to be done on the dock side in Santander was to pour 3 litres of best quality Evian water into the radiator and then try and top up further by refilling one of the bottles from nearby puddles. This eased the problem rather than solved it. On the open road everything was fine, but on the slow crawl through each successive town the temperature gauge climbed steadily red-wards, only held under control by turning heater and fan onto full blast; given that the Spanish temperature was in the mid-twenties, this also required both windows to be fully opened to vent the heat from the passenger compartment. My wifeʼs main memory is of rolling through Plasencia with her legs out of the window; not literally true, but you get the picture. In this way we got to Salamanca in the late afternoon and treated ourselves to a night in the parador. We felt we deserved it, and anyway it was the day after our wedding anniversary, so that fully justifed the expense.
Day two unfolded in pretty much the same way as day one, with the added anxiety that the exhaust seemed to be noisier than previously. Still, we bowled down the road from Salamanca, through Caceres and Mérida towards Sevilla. Around Zafra we took a left turn to head across to Córdoba before turning south again for Málaga. We now found ourselves on a lesser road which was in need of extensive resurfacing; so much in need, in fact, that the contractors had already stripped the old surface off a forty kilometre stretch which they were now repairing piecemeal. The noise from the exhaust increased with each kilometre, although it was often hard to hear over the noise of tyres bouncing over the rough, rutted surface.
And so at last we reached the small town of Llerena in southern Extremadura. It had a single ʻhotelʼ next to the railway station - Los Ángeles, a typical Spanish bar with rooms. We asked to see one and were led down a nondescript corridor and through a door on the other side of which we were transported back into the 17th or 18th century and an old venta. Iʼve written about this in one of my early postings, so wonʼt repeat myself here.
The reason for this reminiscing is that yesterday we set off on this yearʼs holiday, two weeks in Brittany and weʼre taking a ferry from Asturias across to Saint-Nazaire. The route allowed us to retrace our 1989 steps and so we booked a hotel in Llerena for our first night on the road, sadly not Los Ángeles. Having checked in, we decided to stroll across town to the railway station and have a drink at our old hotel.. No joy! Where once had stood this ancient hostelry was now a block of very modern apartments. So we came back by another road so that I could at least get a photo of the wonderful old fountain, built out of marble the colour of ivory, and its rim so well-worn by countless Spanish bottoms that it looked like a well burnt candle, an appropriate illustration for todayʼs posting. But that, too, has gone.
Today we drove the rutted road to Zafra, except, of course, that it has a fine smooth surface now. We have driven north past Mérida, Caceres and Salamanca (you donʼt drive through them any more, not now thereʼs the motorway, Ruta de la Plata.) and here we are
in Zamora, a new destination for us, which we look forward to exploring this evening and tomorrow before we head on up to Gijón on Thursday.
Thereʼs a saying, “You canʼt go back.” I think I now know what it means.