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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

El Camino Levante - Day 7 El Herradón to Ávila plus Day 8&9 Rest Days

High above San Bartolomé and just before
"El Boqueron" then on into Tornadizos de Ávila
San Bartolomé, for those who are interested, might be worth visiting during the festival of Luminarias, and which takes place during the festival of Saint Anthony, patron saint of animals.  Just like Canals last year and the giant bonfire I mentioned in the blog, fire is involved. Here they are light fires in the streets and jump their horses through them.

Apparently the smoke is said to purify the horses.  The festival is celebrated on January 16th and there are photos in the bar at El Patio.  You can also see more on the following link:

There were a few similar hills to yesterdays to climb on today's walk and the legs were tired from yesterday's climb and so we made very slow progress.  However, it was a glorious walk and for most of the day, our excitement about walking into Ávila kept us in high spirits.  Kaishi came with me first (after our usual morning walk out with Michael and the other dogs to accompany us on the first half hour of our day) and today we would reach the highest point of our trip so far - 1315m at El Boqueron.

The stream under the bridge, just beyond here it gets
a bit muddier and deeper!
We had to pass through many cattle at different points, with calves and sometimes at very close quarters, all were calm but it still left us a little tentative and going at a slow pace.  Once up at a level in the hills, the route follows a river valley and so the way is reasonably on the level, however, as we neared the meeting point (below another steep climb) the route passes under the main road and I could see that at times this could be flooded as it is really part of the stream running through the valley.  I think that this would definitely be another "wading" opportunity and it could also be very muddy and a bit deep!

We were sustained by our usual snacks of nuts, hard boiled eggs and fruit and we needed it as the going was hard in places and it was
A beautifully built wall around
the curve of a boulder!

much colder than the previous days - this always helps to work up an appetite.  At the top there was quite a sharp wind and just after the photo, I put on my thicker shirt!  It was a lovely open way from here and Michael and the other dogs came with us for a fair stretch as we hoped to get over the rise and see Ávila below us.  But you know what it's like - you get over the rise, and then there is another rise, and then another!!  There was still quite some distance before we would see Ávila!  When Michael turned back Cressa and Akina came with me and raced across the big open spaces, Cressa even managing to stay ahead of Akina at times!  The walk was beautiful although the calves (the leg type) were feeling the "downhill" that we were gradually making all the way to Tornadizos.

The way to Tornadizos de Ávila

Large nest on the top of the church
Arriving in the village there was one bar open (or three in a village of only a few houses) but they made us most, most welcome and the barman wanted to speak English.  We had a lovely refreshing beer and chilled for a bit before I headed on toward the "main event"!  Ávila.  I was tired but feeling good and had no idea how hard the next 6km was going to be.  The only thing that spurred me on was the fact that it is the midway point and I wanted 100% to enter it on foot - regardless of the main roads and industrial estates, tar roads and hot day.  The tar always makes it harder and the way was not the most attractive or peaceful!  One view that made me smile on the way out of the village was a large stork's next on top of the church - it seems to be a common sight!  Maybe this "is" the way babies are delivered here?!??!!

Before entering Ávila the guidebook says that you will cross a stream by a Roman bridge, however, unless the stream is running high, you cross by the ford as the road goes right on by the bridge.  Although the final part of the route is through industrial estates and modern buildings, along roads and very tiring, the sight of the city itself will soon make you forget all that.  It is simply breathtaking and it seems as though one has walked onto a film set or that rather than the walls being Medieval, they have only just finished being constructed.  I have wanted to see it for so long and, unlike so many famous places, it was not spoilt by the photographs and information I had seen about it.  It really was as amazing as I expected - more so.

Ávila as you enter the town
One of the city gates
 It was the capital of kings and the seat of several courts.  It is the best preserved medieval walled city in the world and construction of the walls began in 1090.  The walls measure 2.5km around (and you can walk around the top of them) and have eight gateways.  One of which, with its viewing gallery which addresses the most spectacular view across plains below, can be seen in the photo here.

Wikipedia says the following:

It is sometimes called the City of Stones and Saints, and it claims that it is one of the cities with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches (and bars and restaurants) per capita in Spain. (Zamora, a city of similar size, claims the greatest number of Romanesque churches in Europe.) It is notable for having complete and prominent medieval city walls, built in the Romanesque style. The city is also known as Ávila de los Caballeros,Ávila del Rey and Ávila de los Leales (Ávila of the Knights, the King and the Loyalists), each of these epithetsbeing present in the city standard.

In pre-Roman times (5th century BC), Ávila was inhabited by the Vettones, who called it Obila ("High Mountain") and built one of their strongest fortresses here. There are Bronze Age stone statues of boars (known as verracio) nearby.

Gate Alcazar
One can imagine how it might have seemed to those
approaching it in ancient times
Ávila may have been the ancient town known as Abula, mentioned by Ptolemy in his Geographia (II 6, 60) as being located in the Iberian region of BastetaniaAbula is mentioned as one of the first cities in Hispania that was converted to Christianity bySecundus of Abula (San Segundo), however, Abula may alternatively have been the town of Abla.[2]
After the conquest by ancient Rome, the town was called Abila or Abela. The plan of the city remains typically Roman; rectangular in shape, with its two main streets (cardo and decumanus) intersecting at a forum in the center. Roman remains that are embedded in city walls at the eastern and southern entrances (now the Alcazar and Rastro Gates) appear to have been ashlaraltar stones.[3]
By tradition, in the 1st century, Secundus, having travelled via the Roman province of Hispania Baetica, brought the Gospel to Avila, and was created its first bishop.[4]
The steps ahead were a short walk from our first
We managed to squeeze
all of them into a VERY
small space! (In our first night's
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Ávila became a stronghold of the Visigoths. Conquered by the Arabs (who called it Ābila, آبلة), it was repeatedly attacked by the northern Iberian Christian kingdoms, becoming a virtually uninhabited no man's land. It was repopulated about 1088 following the definitive reconquest of the area by Raymond of Burgundy, son in law of Alfonso VI of León and Castile. He employed two foreigners, Casandro Romano and Florin de Pituenga, to construct a stone frontier city and creating the walls that still stand.[5]
Plaza Mayor with the market
and Ayuntamiento at the far end
The city achieved a period of prosperity under the Catholic Monarchs in the early 16th century, and their successors Charles V and Philip II of Spain, but began a long decline during the 17th century, reducing to just 4,000 inhabitants.

Wall Facts:
Its main monument is the imposing Walls of Ávila (11th-14th centuries), the medieval work was started in 1090. The fenced area is of 31 hectares with a perimeter of approximately 2,516 meters, 88 blocks or semicircular towers, 2,500merlons, paintings by 3 m. thick, an average height of 12 m. and 9 gates. It is the largest fully illuminated monument in the world. It is possible to walk upon the walls themselves for roughly half their circumference. Whilst some of the walls will never be navigable in this way because of their integration into other structures, there is a large stretch of the walls that have yet to be made safe for pedestrians.

During our stay we also learned about its famous resident - St Teresa of Ávila and we visited her convent and the exhibition to her.  A fascinating woman and ahead of her times she was a reformer and great writer, and as such is often portrayed with a quill in her hand.  Below are some snippets from Wikipedia, but there is much more if you want to read about her - just go to the relevant page under St Teresa of Ávila.

Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582) was a prominent Spanish mysticRoman Catholic saintCarmelite nun, writer of the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered to be a founder of the Discalced Carmelites along with John of the Cross.
In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV and on 27 September 1970, was named aDoctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.[6] Her books, which include her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus) and her seminal work El Castillo Interior (trans.: The Interior Castle) are an integral part of Spanish Renaissance literatureas well as Christian mysticism and Christian meditation practices as she entails in her other important work, Camino de Perfección (trans.: The Way of Perfection).

Post office and area outside
of the Cathedral - famous
"corner window" on the PO

Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, in the province of Ávila, Spain. Her paternal grandfather, Juan de Toledo, was a marrano (Jewish convert to Christianity) and was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith. Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, bought a knighthood and successfully assimilated into Christian society. Teresa's mother, Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas,[7] was especially keen to raise her daughter as a pious Christian. Teresa was fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints, and ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the city, having spotted the two outside the city walls.[8]
When Teresa was 14, her mother died, causing the girl a profound grief that prompted her to embrace a deeper devotion to the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother. Along with this good resolution, however, she also developed immoderate interests in reading popular fiction (consisting, at that time, mostly of medieval tales of knighthood) and caring for her own appearance.[9]
In the cloister, she suffered greatly from illness.
Teresa the Reformer...

Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain on 2 November 1535. She found herself increasingly in disharmony with the spiritual malaise prevailing at the Incarnation. Among the 150 nuns living there, the observance of cloister—designed to protect and strengthen the spirit and practice of prayer—became so lax that it actually lost its very purpose. The daily invasion of visitors, many of high social and political rank, vitiated the atmosphere with frivolous concerns and vain conversations. These violations of the solitude absolutely essential to progress in genuine contemplative prayer grieved Teresa to the extent that she longed to do something.[11]
Cathedral right - gate ahead, PO is on the left and one
of the old palaces.  All this was walking distance of
a few metres from our hotel door
The incentive to give outward practical expression to her inward motive was inspired in Teresa by the Franciscan priest Saint Peter of Alcantara who became acquainted with her as Founder early in 1560, and became her spiritual guide and counselor. She now resolved to found a reformed Carmelite convent, correcting the laxity which she had found in the Cloister of the Incarnation and others. Guimara de Ulloa, a woman of wealth and a friend, supplied the funds. Teresa worked for many years encouraging Spanish Jewish converts to follow Christianity.
The absolute poverty of the new monastery, established in 1562 and named St. Joseph's (San José), at first excited a scandal among the citizens and authorities of Ávila, and the little house with its chapel was in peril of suppression; but powerful patrons, including the bishop himself, as well as the impression of well-secured subsistence and prosperity, turned animosity into applause.
In March 1563, when Teresa moved to the new cloister, she received the papal sanction to her prime principle of absolute poverty and renunciation of property, which she proceeded to formulate into a "Constitution". Her plan was the revival of the earlier, stricter rules, supplemented by new regulations such as the three disciplines of ceremonial flagellation prescribed for the divine service every week, and the discalceation of the nun. For the first five years, Teresa remained in pious seclusion, engaged in writing.
Our "Palace" - the Palacio Valderrábanos on the Plaza
de la Catedral - the room overlooked the cloisters.  4* and
pet friendly - we had a couple of days of luxury to reward
ourselves and recuperate
In 1576 a series of persecutions began on the part of the older observant Carmelite order against Teresa, her friends, and her reforms. Pursuant to a body of resolutions adopted at the general chapter at Piacenza, the "definitors" of the order forbade all further founding of convents. The general chapter condemned her to voluntary retirement to one of her institutions. She obeyed and chose St. Joseph's at Toledo. Her friends and subordinates were subjected to greater trials.
Finally, after several years her pleadings by letter with King Philip II of Spain secured relief. As a result, in 1579, the processes before the inquisition against her, Gracian, and others were dropped, which allowed the reform to continue. 

Our room in the palace - huge and
lots of space for the dogs
One of the more unusual things to be found in Ávila, certainly for some of us who have not grown up in Spain, are the Yemas de Santa Teresa, or sweetened egg yolks (yes, actually a yolk) and which is basically the yellow ball of yolk, but now sweet.  My stomach did flip flops but I tried one - amazingly like a soft sweet, it was "OK" and I coped but I could still taste the yolk... hmmmm, could not let my mind focus on that too much or the result might not have been pleasant!  I'm sure it's an acquired taste or something one might be used to if you grow up with it... well, I tried one, but I won't be doing it again!  Here is what our friend Wikipedia has to say on the matter and of their history:

Yemas de Santa Teresa (en: Yolks of Saint Teresa) or Yemas de Ávila (en: Yolks of Ávila) is a pastry that is identified with the Spanish province of Ávila. Its fame has spread across the country and they can be bought throughout Spain but typically they are a souvenir connected with the city of Ávila.
They are very popular for its distinctive look: small orange balls served in a white confectionary paper and are made to honor Teresa of Ávila.

Where we tried our Yemas and had the MOST delicious
breakfasts - including a goats cheese and membrillo
tostada!  Try it!  We also bought delicious
pastillas of shortbread filled with membrillo
The origin of the pastry is uncertain but there are several opinions where it comes from. One theory assumes that it was a pastry shop in the Medieval Ages in Andalusia called "Flor de Castilla" that first sold a pastry under the name "Yemas de Santa Teresa". Don Isabelo Sánchez, founder of the pastry shop "La Dulce Aviles" (nowadays known as "Flor de Castilla") in Ávila commercialized the pastry in 1860 under the name "Yemas de Santa Teresa". The success of the dish was great and other pastry chefs in Ávila soon started to sell similar pastries which they called "Yemas de Ávila". Another theory credits the monks of the convent of Teresa of Ávila with the invention of the dish. With the beginning of the 21st century the market for "Yemas de Ávila" expanded and they are now on demand in North America. Therefore a new packaging system was developed to improve the preservation and make them survive the shipping to America.

With the Mala having completed 600km
since Valencia - outside the Cathedral

This pastry is made exclusively with egg yolks which are stirred in copper bowls. Meanwhile syrup is cooked with lemon juice and cinnamon to reduce it until it's a dense mixture. The consistency can be proven by dipping a spoon into the syrup and is right when the sticky liquid keeps connec
ted with the spoon by a thin thread.
Our view over the cloisters
As soon as the syrup reduction is gooey enough it is mixed with the egg yolks and stirred with them at a low heat. The pastry dough is left to cool and is then moulded into the special kind of balls with a few centimetres diameter and put into the tartlet papers.
For boiling oil perhaps???
Basically some of these treats still bear the names of the famous nuns or convents where they were (or still are in some cases) made: for example, the yemas de Santa Teresa from the Carmelite nuns of Ávila that we tried, the yemas de San Leandro from Sevilla and yemas de San Pablo from the religious order in Caceres".

The yemas!
We had decided to treat ourselves to three nights in Ávila.  The first was just through the gate that we had driven through and was small, cosy and perfectly formed.  They were so welcoming and although pet friendly they had said that the room was only big enough for one small dog.  We assured the lady that our dogs were happy to fit curled up into a smaller space than might be expected and she said we could take a look.  Indeed the room was small, but warm and cosy and as the dogs are used to the car and all curling together in their beds, we brought them up and they settled immediately (see photo above).  The hotel was the Alcántara and it has parking below ground just opposite - perfect and can be reserved in advance (10 Euros per day).

The second place we stayed was the 14th Century Palace - Palacio Valderrábanos, a 4* pet friendly next to the cathedral.  A perfect location and with a huge room and big bath - perfect for soaking the aching bones and for rewarding ourselves for making it half way!  We found a wonderful wine bar - just tooooo delicious on the vino and tapas front as well as with their meals (out of the gate next to the cathedral, turn left past the tourist office and it's the next bar along - again, wish I had noted the name - dumb) and bought a bottle of delicious fizz to treat ourselves and celebrate.  We ordered room service, put our feet up and watched movies on the ipad!  A great unwind!

We made a trip to the cathedral (I went twice) in order to look around and to get my sello.  Unfortunately there was no one in the office and I was told to keep my entry fee and come back the next day (and guess what - there was no one in then either!!)... so I had to go to the tourist office!  Not quite the momentous moment I had planned for the arrival of the Mala at the half way point!  It seems to be the same with nearly all the cathedrals - this is a pilgrimage and yet the ayuntamientos, police stations and other bodies seem to be far more excited about someone doing the Camino than the religious foundations.  Weird or what?!  They are also the least friendly - and I find it so sad!

The rose windows from our room
The cathedral is more "simple" than many we have seen and part of it is actually built into the town's walls as part of the defenses.  Very interesting!  There is also supposed to be a tunnel - part of which has been found if I read it correctly - which connected the cathedral with buildings and the bishop's palace outside... According to Wikipedia:

It was planned as a cathedral-fortress, its apse being one of the turrets of the city walls. It is surrounded by a number of houses or palaces, the most important being: the Palace of the Evening, the Palace of the Infant King, and the Palace of Valderrábanos, which were responsible for the defence of the Puerta de los Leales (The Gate of the Loyal Ones) also known as La Puerta del Peso de la Harina (The Flour Road Gate).

The elevation we walked since Cebreros
After two wonderful and relaxing days, taking the dogs for a run along the local dam and running through a thunder storm to a local restaurant to experience the local "judias de Barqua" (local beans) and suckling pig, we were due to set off again on the 10th for the village and birthplace of St Teresa - Gotarrendura.

Below - the route change before arriving in Tornadizos and from El Herradón and the Mala with special and rather appropriate words from Susan as we head off on the second half of our Camino and toward Santiago.  Every step now will mean we have less distance to travel than we have already taken...

"Every step takes us closer..."  Susan
Note the route changes - but they are all
clearly marked by arrows

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