My commute to school used to be a twenty five minute drive through the beautiful East Lothian country side , apart from the odd time when the weather was so bad that the journey became stressful, it was generally a great way to start the day. However the last stretch took me over the A1 via a fly over and I can remember many a Monday morning thinking how good it would be to take the slip road instead of the fly over and head north! My late parents lived in Stirling and as they grew older, I wanted to spend more time with them. A simple cup of tea and a chat often seemed more appealing than thirty lively teenagers for the following six hours! This feeling was often strongest as the new term sped from summer in to autumn, the changing colours and stunning countryside was so tempting. There were often more clear blue skies and sunny mornings on those Scottish autumn mornings than we had had all summer!
Last Monday morning I woke up in Salamanca. Two years of Monday mornings with no commute and I am still grateful but last Monday morning was extra special. We had driven up to Salamanca for our wedding anniversary and stayed in a lovely hotel right next to the Roman Bridge with views of this incredible city. It is a UN site of special interest , with breathtaking buildings and an otherworldly atmosphere. This was especially true on Monday morning as a mist surrounded the old city with only the Cathedral and towers of the taller buildings visible above it. It was as if the city was floating. Salamanca has the third oldest university in Europe and is famous for its teaching and learning. While we were there, the Plaza Mayor was filled with stalls and an exhibition of antique books as well as a good helping of modern literature and texts . While it is a huge tourist attraction, the city is not overwhelmed nor did it feel as if tourism was its only reason for being. It has not become simply a museum. On the Sunday morning as we walked up through the old town looking for breakfast, we had to squeeze ourselves single file against the ancient stone walled houses as an enormous sponsored walk, literally thousands of families from Grandparents to babies in buggies, snaked its way around the city, fund and awareness raising for cancer research. A city still very much alive and home to ordinary folk not simply tourists such as ourselves.
Salamanca is a six hour drive north for us therefore the climate is very different. For the first time in months , jeans, jumpers and my rain coat were retrieved from the back of the wardrobe…. and they were needed! After tidying ourselves up on the Saturday we arrived , we wandered the city getting our bearings and deciding what to go and see on the Sunday. By 5pm the rain was too heavy even for us Scots and we just happened to find a quirky little cocktail bar near the university. It was full of locals which is always a good sign, the staff were lovely, the music excellent and the people watching even better. I had crammed in six hours of tutoring and teaching the day before, in three different locations across Murcia which made the chilling out all the more delicious. We were sitting by the open door, watching the rain and people scuttle by the ancient buildings, bliss!
I love the contrasts in this amazing country. Several hours north and I was able to walk along the river in Salamanca enjoying the colours and smells of an autumn very different from that of Murcia. As we drove towards Salamanca there were even cows in the fields. Changing seasons make the year interesting for me and even in our sunny southern home there are subtle signs of Autumn but I really loved the smells and colours of a Salamanca autumn!
The rain stopped on Sunday and we spent the day being tourists, visiting the cathedral and climbing its tower for amazing views of the city and beyond. Not once did I experience that ‘ Sunday feeling’ and although it was only in my last couple of years teaching in Scotland that this feeling had really kicked in, I was still incredibly grateful not to have my drive to school the next day. It may not have been the A1 to Stirling but we had gone on a road trip. Spanish roads and motorways simply do not have the volume of traffic that the roads in Scotland or England do, apart from going through Madrid we had wide open roads, every changing scenery , no cones and no road works. Therefore after a picnic breakfast on Monday morning we decided to stop in Toledo. All those years of wanting just to keep going….. Yes! A road trip is made all the better if you allow for diversions. Driving through Madrid on Saturday had been a little too hectic so we decided to take a longer route home via Toledo. Once again Walt had done a reccy earlier in the year on the motor bike and loved it. Toledo is incredible especially for a history geek. I had recently read Giles Tremlett’s works on Isabella of Castile and her daughter, Henry the VIII’s wife, Catherine of Aragon. While a little busier and more touristy than Salamanca, Toledo was beautiful and very special. What a Monday!
As we drove home , much later than planned, the windmills both modern and ancient ( for tourists?) dotted the landscape . The motorway was deserted apart from the odd truck and the journey simple. How lucky , after all those Monday mornings to be able to enjoy just taking off the way I had imagined I would love to when crossing the A1 all those years ago.