Now that I’m finally done recapping my Semana Santa travels, I can update on what I’ve been doing in Spain!
About a month ago, I had a 5 day weekend because of European Labor Day and a Community of Madrid holiday (commemorating the 2 de Mayo uprising, when the people of Madrid rebelled against the French army that was occupying the city). I had been wanting to visit the town of Cuenca for awhile; my Spanish friend Elisa suggested we take advantage of the long weekend and went ahead and bought the bus tickets.
Cuenca is located in the Castile-La Mancha region of Spain, about 2 hours east of Madrid. The Old Town (which got rated 2 stars in my Frommer’s Spain guidebook) sits atop a steep hill and is a UNESCO World Heritage site–walking up to it is quite the workout! Some of the historical sites lie across the way on another hill, separated by deep gorges in which flow the Jucar and Huecar Rivers. The Muslim Arabs, otherwise known as the Moors, settled the area in 714 and built a fortress in the gorge (there are some remnants of a tower and a wall today).
The first thing we did was head straight to the Plaza Mayor and go inside the cathedral. The cathedral was decent as far as cathedrals go–a bit on the smaller side. The most surprising aspect of it were the stained glass windows. I guess the old ones were in bad shape because sometime in the 1990s, modern stained glass windows commissioned from local artists began to replace the older ones. All the stained glass windows have different designs so it looks a bit schizophrenic–but it works.
Here we’ll start off with some pictures in and around the Plaza Mayor and the outside of the cathedral (oh and look at that blue sky! Quite the change from dreary Austria!):
We then went inside the cathedral. I have to apologize for the quality of the pictures–as soon as I have the money, I’m treating myself to a nicer camera!
We then walked across the St. Paul Bridge, a bridge spanning the length of one of the gorges and took in the surrounding view. I’ll admit I got vertigo while crossing the bridge! This is where we also spotted “las casas colgadas” aka the hanging houses–one of the reasons why tourists bother to stop in Cuenca. These types of houses sprung up in the 15th century–houses built on the very edge of the ravine, with the balconies hanging off the precipice (why this was considered safe is beyond me). Today, only a few houses have survived to the present day. One of the hanging houses is an abstract art museum, which was the last thing Elisa and I visited before heading for the bus station (and I do recommend visiting it even if you’re not into abstract art–it’s pretty small and not overwhelming).
Here are some pictures from the bridge and the surrounding view. It all looks very medieval!
After crossing the bridge, we walked up the mountain to reach the statue of Jesus. You can see the statue above in one of the pictures. We were told we would get a great view of the Old Town. And as you can see by the pictures, the view did not disappoint! However, the walk up was mildly challenging–I’m out of shape, I’ll admit it. Also, not too sure why, but there were these stone markers engraved with a cross scattered at fixed intervals along the path. I’m guessing they have something to do with the Jesus statue, but I don’t know what the connection is.
I don’t understand the flowers in the bottles with the weird yarn sweaters. I’m sure there is an explanation for it but I have no idea what it means!
And here are some other pictures I took strolling around Cuenca’s Old Town. It really is a picturesque little city. The buildings are very colorful and it is just so… Spanish looking, for a lack of a better word.
I also tried morteruelo, a local Cuenca delicacy, for lunch at Elisa’s insistence–a kind of pate made from different kinds of meat (pork, hen, hare etc.) I’m half French and I love pate, so morteruelo was right up my alley! (Americans need to get over their fear of animal liver, seriously. There’s more to life than pancakes and hamburgers.)
And the Casas Colgadas one last time:
If you would like to read more about Cuenca, here is a NY Times article that was published last year: http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/travel/30overnighter-cuenca.html?pagewanted=all