In the waning evening light, I spotted the crenulated city walls of Avila. I tiredly thought without any enthusiasm, “Oh, another castle. How nice.” When a person is tired, it is hard to get excited even when seeing something beautiful and amazing.
My fellow pilgrims and I had slept in a castle the night before. Since then we had traveled through Spain by bus for many hours. We had driven through Madrid and on to Segovia. There, we had shopped, visited the cathedral and toured the famous Alcazar castle. That would have been more than enough to do in one day, yet we traveled on.
As our tour bus approached Avila, I sleepily noticed huge gray boulders along the way reminding me of our fishing trips to Canada. The difference was no water surrounded these monster, barn-sized rocks.
The big tour bus was unable to maneuver to the hotel inside the city walls, so we pilgrims carried our luggage the rest of the way up the hill on cobblestone streets. Fortunately, the effort fully woke me up. A four-course dinner awaited us in the dining room. We finished dining at 11 p.m.
When my daughter Tammie and I finally reached our room, I opened the casement window and found no screen. Leaning out over the dark city, I quirkily crooned, “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou?”
One floor below, a man opened his window, looked up and growled, “He’s not here.”
Despite our late-night meal, the next morning we were given the usual early wake-up call. One hour into the day, Tammie and I decided to go back to our room. We felt sick, victims of both exhaustion and a gastro intestinal bug shared by several of the other pilgrims.
After sleeping, we felt better. Not wanting to miss Avila, we ventured out into the medieval town that afternoon by ourselves to explore. The walls of old Avila enclose an area of 77 acres. The entire population of Avila, inside and outside the walls, is over 50 thousand.
The walls of the city are fully illuminated at night. Built in 1090 A.D., they are nearly ten feet thick, include 88 towers, and are all still intact. The reason I’d thought Avila was just a castle the night before was because of the picturesque battlements along the top of the walls. Bowmen hid behind them as they defended the city from attack.
Built on the summit of a flat hilltop, an arid, treeless wasteland, Avila is surrounded by lofty mountains that block the rain. There is so little rainfall in Avila that the nearby Adaja River dries up for several months each year.
If it wasn’t for Saint Teresa of Avila, I suspect few people would have heard of this dry, isolated city. Tammie and I walked slowly, enjoying the medieval Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Impossible to see everything the town had to offer in an afternoon, we were content to take in what we could.
Reaching a town square ringed with shops and cafes, we decided to stop for a meal. Picking a restaurant, we stood reading its menu board on the sidewalk. A charming host ushered us to a table. American big-band era music played softly overhead. I enjoyed the calamari I ordered but will forever wonder what they would have brought to our table if I had ordered the baby piglet meal!
Tammie and I rejoined our pilgrimage group for our late evening meal. The following morning our wakeup call was once again at 6 a.m. As our tour bus rumbled toward our next destination, Fatima, Portugal, I sleepily reminisced about our leisurely afternoon spent exploring Avila.
My daughter quietly pointed out, “We’re heading toward the Star Mountain range. Fatima is in its foothills, just as Lourdes is in the foothills of the Pyrenees.”
In reply, I murmured, “I hope I won’t be too sleepy to recognize it when we get there!”