Chilled from spending two hours in the shadowed Our Lady of the Pillar Basilica, I stepped into the sun-filled cobble-stoned market square. I wasn’t sure of the time, but my belly told me it was time to eat. A group of fellow pilgrims walked past Tammie and me. One of them motioned to us, “Come on, Juan is taking us to a restaurant where there’s a buffet for 14.95 euros.”
My daughter grumped, “There’ll be too much food at a buffet and I don’t want to pay that much for lunch.”
Not wanting to do what everyone else was doing, I confided, “I have to agree with you, Tammie. What would you rather do?”
Brightening up, she said, “Let’s go into the restaurant, but order food from the counter and eat it outside.” Food samples lined the counter for visitors. Tammie picked tortilla espanol; I ordered a basket of calamari and two skewers of large shrimp and olives topped with a creamy dressing.
We sat at a table in the shade and tucked into our generous servings. A cheeky sparrow landed near our feet and hunted for crumbs to eat. The shrimp and olives were fresh and delicious, but my big basket of calamari surprised me. I’d never had calamari before that didn’t have at least one rubber band running the length of each piece. I pointed that out to Tammie and concluded, “I guess that’s the difference between ordering calamari in Spain, rather than in Wisconsin.”
After lunch our pilgrim group returned to the bus parked on the north bank of the Ebro River. There was a long drive to reach our next destination, Siguenza. Along the way we saw two Osbourn bull billboards. These 46-foot-tall black silhouette images of a bull were put along highways in the mid 1950’s to advertise a brand of sherry. By 1994, when legislation outlawed alcoholic advertisement near roads, the bulls were considered a public domain image. The compromise left the giant bulls standing, but black paint covered the brand name.
We traveled through the beautiful, but remote Spanish countryside. Small medieval towns dotted the hillsides. Juan, the tour company owner announced, “We thought you’d enjoy visiting a castle before we go to our hotel and have dinner.” We looked out of the windows as the bus pulled up alongside a castle.
We trouped off the bus and milled around in the vibrantly green grass alongside the gray stone castle walls. Above us, the crenellations at the top of the walls spoke of a history of sieges and archers hiding behind the battlements. Juan jubilantly announced, “Surprise! This is our hotel. We will be staying at the castle tonight!”
The guest room Tammie and I shared was beautiful and modern. We opened our screenless third-floor casement window, leaned out and looked down into the courtyard below. As much as I would have liked to have dawdled there, we were slated to attend Mass at the church and tour the building before returning to the castle to eat dinner.
A half-mile of cobble-stone street, steeper than the barn hill on my childhood farm, led down to the church. We attended Mass seated in a chapel reserved for the medieval ‘rich’ people. An older native woman seated behind us gave the typical European greeting; kisses on each cheek, instead of the usual American handshake of peace. Afterwards, this wonderful woman proudly shared that the priest who had presided at the Mass was her youngest son of five.
The interior of the church was very cold. My teeth chattered as we inspected stained glass windows, statues, small side chapels and other interesting niches. Then it was time to labor back up hill to the castle on the narrow, uneven street. We were all tired and hungry.
Back at the castle, I took a photo of Tammie standing next to a suit of armor. Then, using the castle’s Wifi, sent it to my daughter Niki and her children in Wisconsin.
Niki responded quickly. She said, “The children are so jealous. They wish they could stay in a castle, too.”
I said to Tammie, “This experience of sleeping in a castle makes me feel like royalty. From now on everyone should call me, “Your Highness.”