Tag Archives: Avila

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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Searching for Segovia

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Saturday, Dec1918986_1292384830917_5445064_nember 5, 200

Hola a Todos,

I had decided the morning of to go to Segovia, so I boarded a train from Chamartin, the north part of the Metro map — if taking a trip somewhere were only as easy as merely pointing it out on the map — and headed to Segovia, pleased that I was accomplishing one of my goals here: seeing another city in Spain. However, I was less pleased with myself that I hadn’t researched the trip, unusual for me, and hoped that everything would work out all right — and it did, sort of.

I could’ve sworn that those who had traveled to Segovia had told me that Segovia was only 45 minutes from Madrid, and the map showed it was only a couple of inches away, so I surmised that they couldn’t have been lying!


However, 45 minutes after I had boarded the train, the ticket collector came by, so I bought a ticket, not having had enough time to get one in the station beforehand. As I was purchasing my ticket, I asked the train ticket collector if Segovia was maybe only a few minutes away at this point, since we had already passed the allotted time and had traveled much more than a couple of inches… Maybe I had misunderstood everybody: Maybe downtown Segovia was 45 minutes away from suburban Segovia. While I have a fantastic sense of humor, I don’t have a fantastic sense of humor about these things, except in retrospect, because I normally have a very good memory and am very good with numbers, even possessing a sometimes advanced ability in math, but right now I have so many other meaningless items stored in my head that I don’t really work hard at doing that. (Music and numbers go together is what people tell me, and even when my classical music professor father was dying of a brain tumor and was garbling his speech, he was still citing statistics correctly. He was very good with numbers and math, my sister majored in math, I got a high score on the GREs in math, etc., so I guess math ability kind of runs in the family.)1918986_1292384430907_8060525_n

19960_1316791641072_7569161_nBut the Mr. Train Ticket Collector responded, “One more hour and 15 minutes” in perfect Spanish — considering he was Spanish. I was figuratively rolling my eyes in the back of my head at myself, wondering how I could’ve gotten the time wrong, except for the fact that I hadn’t done even a speck of research for this trip: I had to live with the fact that I had winged the whole thing. However, before I left, I had noticed that the fast-speed train, the “Ave” (Ah-vay), from Madrid, not the train I was riding, took about an hour, which as I recall is about 15 more minutes than 45, to travel to Segovia, an amount of time that didn’t jive with my traveler friends’ calculations. And I was almost certain that they hadn’t been discussing the fast-speed train with me because they wouldn’t have paid the extra money for it. It was all a mystery.

1918986_1292384710914_7082_nI sat back down, thinking that this type of mixup went with the territory of being a foreigner, especially one who had done no research, and then decided that it all really didn’t matter: I had no other place to be, no other obligations. It’s not as if I had a husband or a child or a boyfriend or even a cat who needed me to be home at a particular time. “Just enjoy the scenery,” I told myself. When you know you’re not a slacker or even a laid-back person (except in some areas, definitely!) — and you think way too much for your own good — you need to tell yourself these things.19960_1316790801051_1192951_n

When I first moved to Japan, I was talking to a Japanese person about a Canadian teacher who was in my teacher program and was one of four other teachers who had accompanied me on the plane to Japan and was going to be teaching at the high school with me. I knew when I met him for the first time at the second round of interviews, merely a formality, that he was going to be a pill, but then he seemed to be chummy during orientation, which caused me to doubt my first impression of him. (And I can usually count on my first impressions.) The Japanese woman’s response? “There’s always one [person that wrecks a situation, no matter where you are],” and absolutely the same can be said about the train: I was sitting there peacefully, having just reminded myself that I’d better enjoy the scenery in Spain (after all, I am privileged to be given this opportunity to live and work here, so, by golly, I’d better have some fun) — and a group of people got on the train and, from that point, never shut up. Shouting, talking loudly — kind of like my schoolchildren.

1918986_1292384390906_1491662_nWhen these types of things happen, I occasionally think, “Hallie, you could go over and ask them about their country” [they weren’t from Spain] “or somehow learn a few words of their language or find out what you have in common with them.” That would be the adult action to take, but all I wanted them to do was shut up. I thought they should’ve at least had the courtesy to read my mind. I was contemplating moving to another train car, but then I knew I’d be exposed to a nonstop cell-phone talker or a couple who couldn’t help sharing their most intimate kisses in front of total strangers. There is always one — or a group.

1918986_1292385150925_7071937_nThe ride seemed so long that I kept wondering if by the time I got to Segovia, it would be time for me to return to Madrid. When I finally reached Segovia, I walked through the train station toward a big “You are here” map across the street. Some Italians came up to me and asked me, in broken Spanish, something I couldn’t comprehend, so I wasn’t sure how to respond to them. I mean, even if I could have understood them perfectly, I didn’t know a thing about Segovia, so how much help would I have been? I didn’t know how to direct them since I had just gotten there myself, so I said, in Spanish, “Soy Americana.” (I’m American, which is a sentence I figured would get me off the hook. They’d either think I didn’t know how to speak Spanish, didn’t have vacations that lasted more than 2 weeks, so I traveled through every country in 45 minutes, or was just plain ignorant.) They acknowledged me with a smile and left, maybe thinking, “Yes, that’s right. Americans speak only one language, don’t they? Ha-Ha-Ha!” I was still recovering from the length of the train ride, but I probably could’ve said something to them in Spanish, and lots of times I can respond to people in Spanish, but at the moment, I can’t come up with the words fast enough, and most people don’t have the patience to wait.

1918986_1292384950920_916623_nI stopped in a bar and ordered a “cafe con leche caliente” and asked the bartender where the tourist office was. It sounded as if it was far away, and it was. As I was walking there, I was wondering if I was missing something, because this part of town didn’t look either cute or beautiful, two adjectives my friends had used to describe this place. A lot of shops were closed, too, and even though it was the middle of a Saturday afternoon, I had heard that a couple of weeks before Christmas, shopkeepers work only in the morning or else close their shop altogether, so I assumed that that must’ve been the case. Surely something would be open, though. Lack of planning aside, I still expected something great to appear on the scene.

19960_1316791681073_961238_nI walked what must’ve been 2 miles, silently apologizing to my feet along the way, and came upon a plaza and a much more beautiful section of town — with cute shops, restaurants, an enormous wall, a castle, churches, and everything I had secretly hoped would magically appear. I stopped in at the tourist info center, got a map, went into the castle, and then walked to the places the tourist worker had circled on the map: the places to see in Segovia. A cathedral, a castle, shops, etc. Segovia was beautiful and scenic!

1918986_1292385270928_2311574_nA few hours later, not having bought anything except a bocadillo, I walked all the way back to the train station, knowing I had about an hour before the next train arrived, so I stopped in a bar to enjoy a glass of crianza…for myself and my aching feet. On my left were three Spanish guys who were thinking up ways to talk to me and becoming a little more talkative the more they drank. I was pretty much having none of it for a variety of well-thought-out reasons and decided to busy myself with deleting the bad photos from the dozens of photos I had taken that day while trying to shield my camera screen from my curious new “friends,” who were way too interested in what I was doing.

1918986_1292385390931_233472_nI walked over to the station, boarded the train, and after about 10 minutes realized that the same group I had traveled to Segovia with had picked the same time and car to return to Madrid. The woman was practically lying on top of the man — along three seats. When you ride public transportation as much as I have in the past 18 years, you are exposed to all kinds of people: the nose-pickers, the nail biters, the kissers, the pushers, the starers, the singers, the cell-phone chatterers, the taking-up-part-of-my-seat riders, the shouters, the attention-getters, the money-askers, the instrumentalists/singers (who then become the money-askers) — and then there’s me, noticing it all, so I can bring it all to you. That’s my job, except if I’m wearing earplugs, studying Spanish, reading a book, or listening to my now-stolen iPod.

So Segovia is a trip I highly recommend, and just remember that you heard it from me: From Madrid’s Chamartin, the ride is about 2 hours…or something like this. I honestly can’t remember anymore: I’m researching my next trip.


International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A., English

Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English and EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages

http://www.beltstyles.comhalliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429