Avila Day Trip

Trip Start Apr 11, 2008
Trip End Jul 03, 2008

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Where I stayed
Aparthotel Suites Barrio de Salamanca

Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Castile-León,
Sunday, April 27, 2008

On Sunday, April 27th I took a tour to 2 beautiful Spanish cities, Avila and Segovia.  I'll cover Avila in this posting first so that my travel map can be separately updated for Segovia.
I left out of Madrid with a tour that was supposed to be in English - well, that sort of accurate.  The tour was in Spanish, Italian and English - with a strong emphasis on Spanish and Italian.  I think our guide was more comfortable with those 2 languages as she frequently gave abbreviated explanations in English or simply skipped over the English part all together.  I can understand to some extent as it took quite a bit of time for her to explain every detail in 3 languages.  I was thankful that my Spanish was good enough to catch some of what she said in Spanish in case she skipped over the English version. 
We boarded a tour bus that left around 9am for the hour drive to Avila.  On the way, our guide pointed out a couple of points of interest. 

The first was the burial site of the late General Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975.  The cross is visible from many miles away (see photos), and there is a rather large memorial that draws thousands from all over Spain.  We didn't stop there....just driving by was enough.  It was amazing to me to see such a huge memorial made to a fascist dictator who squelched so much of the passion of the Spanish people during his rule.  I have heard that to this day, there are still Spanish nuns who tend to the grave site and still cry over the late generalissimo.

The first thing I noticed were the mountains.  Avila is located about 60 miles northwest of Madrid and just on the other side of the snow-capped Sierra de Guaderrama mountains.  The views were beautiful the whole way.  Prior to arriving in Avila, our guide warned us that the city is very religious, and that we were to tour quietly as the whole city was participating in religious services (literally) since it was Sunday morning.  When I first saw the city from a distance, it reminded me of something out of an old children's book.  The city was completely enclosed in huge medieval-aged stone walls with lookout towers every few hundred feet.  The walls date back to prior to the 11th century and still seem to be in excellent condition. 

Avila is known most for being the birthplace of Saint Teresa of Jesus (a devout Catholic nun famous for writing poems dedicated to Jesus to in which she expressed her devotion to Him - legend is that she used to levitate when praying).  We visited her birthplace, baptismal church and the convent that she started back in the 13th century that is still an operating convent.  Actually, the convent has a little museum next to it that has "relics" of St. Teresa and some of her pals (other saints also from Avila).  OK, so when I hear "relics" I think communion chalices, processional crosses, maybe vestments from St. Teresa's time.  Actually, those "relics" were actual preserved body parts of the saints.  Apparently, it is a Spanish (maybe a Catholic) custom to place body parts of key saints in churches where they served during key points in their lives.  I saw St. Teresa's 600 year-old ring finger.  Yes, I even took a picture of it for your viewing pleasure (or not).

Also, the Basilica de St. Vincente dates back to the 10th century.  It was a very interesting structure which apparently took hundreds of years to build and includes architecture styles of several different influences from gothic to renaissance.  There is also a beautiful Cathedral (Catedral de Avila) that originally was built as a fortress.  We didn't get to see the inside, but you can see the outside is gorgeous.

Overall, the town of Avila is a beautiful little Spanish village with cobblestone streets, a Plaza Mayor (main square), restaurants, shops, etc... It would have been nice to visit the city on a Saturday so that there would have been more going on (other than church services).  We were only there for a couple of hours, and I believe we saw most points of interest.  We left Avila around noon and headed about an hour west to Segovia where we were to continue our tour which I'll cover in a separate entry. 

Bye for now!

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