” Castile has no coast, so tourists in search of a beach leave it alone…. Castile is almost overlooked. If Spain is hard, extreme, hot, cold, empty, then Castile is more so.” Christopher House – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’
It was still hot and the long straight road just kept going and going with nothing to break the monotony of the empty plains and the expanse of dusty red soil and the occasional vineyard. As we drove I started to get a sense of just how big Spain is, four times larger than England and not as many people living in it either. At some point in the afternoon we crossed the Guadiana River for a second time today and then drove through the towns of Valdepeñas, Manzanares and Tembleque and then the sun started to go down and it began to get dark.
We were very hungry now and we needed fuel so we stopped at a truck stop and filling station and went inside. The truckers, who were watching the Muppet show on TV, in Spanish, seemed surprised to see us and when there was a power cut and everything went pitch black we feared the worst might happen especially as Tembleque as one of the largest civil prisons in Spain. When the power was restored a few minutes later and Kermit reappeared we nodded our appreciation to them for not murdering and robbing us and we set off again in the direction of Madrid.
Finally we reached the capital where once again there was no ring road and we were sucked into the city centre at the peak of Friday rush hour. This was an incredible experience, driving down a main city street with no road markings, no logic to the traffic light sequencing and pedestrians fearlessly crossing the road and dodging the cars.
We stopped to ask directions but that wasn’t very helpful and at one point with Richard driving and on the wrong road we told him to reverse and correct his position. We calculated that this was a safe thing to do because the traffic behind was held back by a red light but in the middle of the manoeuvre the lights changed and we didn’t want to be there because it was a bit like being caught in the middle of the road at the start of the Spanish grand prix!
Richard fearlessly completed the direction correction and slowly we began to crawl north out of the city. It was about seven o’clock and we were six hours behind schedule, we should have been at the French border but we had only completed about seven hundred kilometres.
As we finally left Madrid behind us we started to climb into the mountains and the temperature started to fall. We had forgotten about the bodged up repair to the heater because up until now we hadn’t needed it but now it was getting cold and it would have been rather nice. And it got darker and darker and the missing headlight was becoming a problem and other motorists were constantly flashing us.
While I took my turn at the wheel the other three put on extra clothing and went to sleep and I continued in silence and then it started to snow. Driving was becoming quite difficult now and it wasn’t made easier when at one point Richard woke with a start and began to grab the wheel because in his disorientation he thought that I had strayed onto the wrong carriageway and I had to fight him off and settle him down before carrying on.
By ten o’clock we had been on road for seventeen hours and I was tired, hungry and had just plain had enough! We had passed into Castilla y León and were high in the mountains approaching the town of Aranda del Duoro when suddenly some welcoming lights appeared and I decided that if this was somewhere to sleep I was stopping.
It was a classy looking hotel called the Tudanca-Aranda II that from the temporary warmth of the back seat Anthony and Tony declared too expensive but I didn’t care and went to enquire about availability. It turned out that this was a Spanish state hotel, which were luxury hotels in old castles, palaces, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings and are now part of the exclusive Parador group. The hotels were set up by the state to promote quality tourism to act as guardian of the national and artistic heritage of Spain and to assist poorer regions to attract more visitors.
This one was an old hacienda and I don’t think they were expecting too many visitors on this particular night. As it was a state hotel it was also ridiculously reasonably priced so I booked a room for Richard and me and went back to the car where the others were getting ready for an uncomfortable night in the vehicle but they were delighted when I broke the price news and they quickly joined us at check in.
Our final problem for this day was that we didn’t have many pesetas so we had to make a decision; food or beer? While we had a first San Miguel the barman provided us with plates of little tapas snacks and as they just seemed to keep coming we kept eating them and this seemed to be the perfect solution. Free food meant all of our money was available for wasting on beer! We didn’t stop up long though because we were exhausted and I can still remember, without exaggeration, the pleasure of getting undressed and climbing into the most comfortable bed that I have ever slept in, in my life.