Avila Mismaps

¡Hola a Todos!

According to some source I can’t remember, Avila is a medieval walled city that stands about 1,100 metres above sea level. Inside the walls is a city of monasteries, churches, convents, squares, and plazas.

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Moorish prisoners constructed the wall, at Alfonso VI’s orders and after he conquered the city. The wall, almost 1 1/2 miles long, is still in good condition. Fourteen meters high and 3 meters thick, these walls have 9 entrance gates and 90 towers.


On a cold, sunny February day, I took a train from Chamartin to Avila, a city northwest of Madrid. Once there, I walked around, eventually coming across the tourist office and the famous wall. I approached one of the entrances and climbed the stairs. At the first level, I found several small and narrow passageways, each with approximately 8 stairs leading to a more elevated place for a better view of the city. I was very careful because the steps were narrow and I had fallen down a flight of steps in 1995 at my apartment building in Chicago: I was walking down the steps at 8 a.m., on my way to the gym, and tripped over the cuffs of my blue-jean overalls. I fell face forward down the carpeted steps onto my chest and sustained back pain and a rug burn atop my right wrist, which I can admire to this day. I immediately raced to the gym so that I would be around someone, anyone, in case I passed out from whatever falling down the stairs does to a person…For this reason, I am “old lady careful” either ascending or descending stairs, always clutching the rails. When I see stairs, I not only think of this episode but also of my father, who would always run up the stairs, two at a time, even at 79 years old – and fell one time, as at the time we didn’t know he had a brain tumor.

10171236_10205459746794289_4058497180429153871_n10978535_10205459747874316_1964887529254261957_nNormally, I’m pretty good with maps and had gotten a map from the tourist office, but once inside the wall, I kept getting  very confused about where I was, with all the winding streets. I like to think I’m smarter than all of this or that I’m just having a bad map day or that it all really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things or that I can find my way out of this maze with or without a map, but sometimes I’m not a good guide for myself.

At times, the problem is that I’m not wearing my reading glasses and the print is exceptionally small so I can’t actually see the street names


Other times, I don’t feel like looking at a map, and having had to figure out so many things since I’ve been in Spain, I just want to walk around and enjoy the city. And then there are instances I don’t have a clue about what’s going on or what I’m doing. But I’m sure these illegible maps are for foreign tourists, who wind up staying in whatever Spanish city much longer than necessary (and buying more souvenirs) because they can’t figure out how to return to the train or bus station: “Might as well get that I LOVE AVILA tee shirt since I’m going to be here the rest of my life anyway, trying to figure out how to scale the wall.” Despite the street-map traffic in my head, I was able to visit a couple of museums there for free, visit a few churches, take about 1,000 pictures of the wall, and see a lot.

In related news, I had visited Chicago in March of 1996, never having been there, except on college choir tour in the suburbs, where the snow was knee-high, and I was using one of those cartoon-like maps with the Amazon River drawn around the Rain Forest Cafe. I like to think that this drawing was so distracting or enjoyable that I failed to notice I had been holding the city map with Lake Michigan at the north instead of the east. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how the lake could possibly be located at my right since it was way at the top of my ma983854_10205459743434205_6681850869402220022_np.

I guess if I had asked someone for directions at the beginning of my trip, I would have gotten oriented much faster.

However, if you ever visit Spain, you’ll notice that the roads in various cities wind this way and that. For an especially confusing time, visit Toledo. If using a map is way too much trouble, as it was in Toledo, I sometimes tuck the map into my purse and try to, map-less, enjoy the shops and scenes, but then I end up having no idea where I am and pass the same shops and scenes about 40 times and start dwelling on how I can’t believe I can’t figure out something so simple and then start fretting over how I haven’t read up on Spanish history and don’t even know what I’m looking at anyway. Then I wonder how an intelligent woman could be this incompetent, meanwhile hoping no one is following me. What is truly remarkable is that tourists in Chicago and even in Spain come up to me to ask me for directions or other information. I must look as if I have some vague idea about what’s going on.


Okay, so I’m being hard on myself. Actually, my sense of direction is pretty good and I’m normally quite competent with maps, and I especially have to give myself lots of credit for reading train maps in cities with which I’m unfamiliar, plus I lived outside of Tokyo for three years and read train signs in Hiragana. I used the train all the time in Madrid, understanding the system pretty well pretty quickly. So if I have lived in two foreign countries and could read the language and am still alive today, I guess my map situation isn’t so bad. And despite what I said, I think I can find almost anything. I don’t know why I need to reference this information, as I have driven many places without GPS, as well as found many places in foreign countries (think JAPAN), and everything turned out all right! However, I suppose there are always exceptions to the rule, and Toledo and Avila happen to be two of them, not to mention Sevilla, whose street names on the map were so small I could barely see them, plus I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses at the time.



I don’t have much more to say about Avila. I figure if you or I want to know the history, we can consult the Internet (Wikipedia, if we’re hard up), or you can just look at the pictures on this blog. They tell a better story than I do, plus I’ve already explored the area, gotten turned around many times, and wasted lots of time, all in an effort to save YOU a bunch of time, trouble, and agony. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and the good news is that to view them, you don’t even need a map.



International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English

halliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429


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