Spain

Chapter Four: The road to Madrid

Santiago de Compostela was nice, but as I hadn’t spent 20 days walking the Camino to get there I really had no spiritual reason to linger.

Salamanca:
Throughout the journey from Santiago to Salamanca the weather just got better and better and hotter and hotter. Heading south the terrain previously washed with verdant plants turned into rocky scrub land, the kind of red you expect mars to look like. By the time I reached Salamanca the dusk had settled and the place buzzed with students and traffic. Having quickly found the campsite I pitched in the dark, happy I’d remembered how to do it, made camp-stove dinner and went to sleep around 1. The morning sun baked me out of my tent earlier than preferable. I was feeling good so took my bike back into the center to soak up some Salamancan vibes. The hustle and bustle of this beautiful university city was a welcome change to the quieter, sleepier northern Galicia, and you could pull refreshing wisps of conversations in English if you listened hard enough. The breeze was warm and carried with it smells of citrus garden – I was digging it. I even forgot my learned lack of enthusiasm for historic buildings and decided to get lost in the old town, with its wide open plazas and gardens.

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Impressed and now running on lazy Spanish time I booked in for another night camping. Having munched hungrily through packet cous cous the night before I treated myself to some amazing Spanish fresh fish and fell asleep quickly to a background of rural insect calls.

I woke thirsty and late. It was mid afternoon by the time I got myself and the bike (as I told my Dutch campsite neighbour “If it ain’t broke, fix it till it is“) ready for off. I’d been tinkering with something I didn’t quite understand in the hope of smoothing out the low speed jitters. Leaving the city took a predictable one hour, confused lap of Salamanca before finding the right road. Madrid, my final destination for today, was on the doorstep so I’d get a chance to run through some spectacular scenic routes on the way.

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Avila:
Because of the late start I only assigned and hour or so for each place, but that went out the window when I first saw Avila from the A-roads leading up to it.

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Inside the city walls cobbled streets lead from walled garden to quiet corner to residential districts in no set fashion. The streets were veiled in a hush that forced you into taking slow quiet steps so after a wander around I took another audio guided tour, this time of the city walls. Not so bad as the cliché-stoner-american-ninja-turtle-bro narrating was clearly out of his depths talking about ambulatories or apsesbro. The view of the town kept me up there for too long. For some strange reason I started walking with my hands clasped behind my back like a geography teacher…

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Segovia:
I don’t think i gave Segovia the time it deserved, it already being 6pm when I got there. But I’d been told not to miss the wussbag fairytale style castle, so parked up illegally like all the locals and went for a wander.

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The road to Madrid:
I hurried the bike out of town and onto the A roads running perpendicular to the toll motorways, direction south.
The sun was failing fast and the anti-fog pinlock in my visor darkened the panorama further while a million squashed insects obscured my peripheral view almost completely. I’d stop to clean it but the wide bending roads were best taken in what little light there was remaining. So I sped. And I sped. Until at last there was only darkness and rear light trails of a car in the distance.

I lifted the visor for a better view of the road and passed by a toll gate for the Madrid tunnel. The Spaniards had already conned me out of €1.45 for a 200m stretch on the way to Segovia, not again. In the memoirs of Tom Hartland this will live on as a bad decision. Whatever price the toll, the cost on my concentration as the road wound its way into the mountains was more. Wave after wave of cold air wobbled the contacts around my eyeballs until the latest additions, a bombardment of flashing illuminated neon hazard signs, blurred lazily into one another. My ill configured headlights (fixed for euro driving with duct tape) painted what seemed to be mirages of ice on the road. Or so I thought until my back wheel started drifting and kicking out on the ice – putting me on edge for the next 10 miles. When I joined the tunnel output a number of frazzled miles later the cars didn’t go short of jealous needling. Soon the roads became 3 then 4 lane illuminated highways with cold air rushing off the mountains was washed out with the warm breezes from the south. And before you know it your face to face with the arc de triomphe (or whatever Spain’s equivalent is called) in the middle of a four lane fight frenzy with barely discernible rights of way and too many traffic lights to know which you’re meant to follow.

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When I followed my headphone instructions to the hostel and pulled up I barely had 10 minutes to prepare for a pub crawl. First world problems.

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