Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Castile - Day 7, Madrid (almost)

So far this week everything had gone mostly to plan and the itinerary that I planned meticulously had worked well so something just had to go wrong and today it went spectacularly awry. On the final full day of the holiday it was our intention to take the train to the capital, Madrid, so we set out alarm clock for a six o’ clock for an early morning start.

It was quite cool as we walked to the bus station next to the Aqueduct and caught the no. 11 bus that would take us to the railway station five kilometres out of town in time to catch the seven-twenty train that would whisk us to the city in thirty-five minutes in time for a traditional Madrileño breakfast. There was an alternative train on the old line but that journey takes two hours through the mountain so the high-speed bullet train Alta Velocidad Española, or AVE seemed a much better option. Since the 1990s Spain has engaged in a frenzy of high-speed rail building and is fast catching up with France and Japan, the world leaders, and by 2010 will have the most extensive high-speed rail network in the world as the Government stitches its disparate regions together with a €100 billion system of bullet trains designed to traverse the countryside at up three hundred kilometres an hour.

There were ten minutes to spare and only one person in front of us at the ticket desk so we didn’t wait long to step up and request two return tickets. The clerk looked at the computer screen and made twitching expressions and tutting noises and I began to fear the worst. After a minute or so he explained that there were no seats on the train and the next one wasn’t for two hours. Oh Bugger! This was something that I hadn’t made allowances for in the plan. I naturally assumed that train travel would be the same as in the United Kingdom where you turn up at Peterborough station, they sell you a ticket whether there is a seat or not (usually not) and you travel to London standing in the corridor next to the loos. Sadly this isn’t an option on the AVE bullet train so we could do no other than to go back to Segovia on the same bus that had just brought us here. The driver seemed a bit surprised because I suspect not many people do a round trip to the railway station at seven o’clock in the morning.

After a moment or two of indecision we considered the options. I didn’t really want to drive to Madrid so we decided to try the alternative two-hour train journey. Because we expected to be in Madrid I hadn’t brought the map of Segovia with me and because the conversation didn’t include ordering beer or wine our attempts at trying to discuss directions with the Segovians proved hopeless so I had to return to the hotel to get the map. It turned out to be about a kilometre and a half away and quite straightforward and we walked there in about half an hour. We needn’t have bothered however because the next train wasn’t until eleven o’clock and we wouldn’t reach Madrid until the afternoon so three hours after the early alarm call we abandoned the Madrid plan and went back to the hotel for breakfast and on the way back we had a brilliant idea – we could come back again later in the year to see Madrid. Every cloud has a silver lining!

So we had a second unexpected day in Segovia and as we had done all of the main things to do yesterday we wondered just what we would do - so we did the same things again today but a little bit more slowly.

First we walked again to the Alcázar and just took our time and enjoyed the views of the city and the mighty Cathedral and the mountains in the background with their peaks still covered in snow. It was a beautiful morning once more and we sat and watched the Storks going about their business again with their unhurried routine of flying from the nest with their big scoopy wings seemingly struggling to get into the sky, massive against the blue sky with a dagger like head tucked into the shoulders and long dangly legs dragging behind almost as an after thought.

The population of storks in Spain is rising, from six thousand seven hundred pairs thirty years ago to an estimated thirty-five thousand pairs today. In fact there are now so many White Storks in Spain that it is now second only to Poland who with fifty thousand birds has traditionally been the country with the most Storks in Europe. This increase in numbers has been so dramatic that the conservation status has been changed from amber to green.

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