Thursday 6 June 2013
Susan did well to hail a taxi as we lumped our packs out of the old city. We learned on our arrival that station for the fast trains was some distance away, and my back was not up to the task of carrying a heavy pack.
The train from Valencia to Cuenca was indeed a fast one: it frequently reached 300 km/h as we hurtled though low hills covered in orange groves and grapevines with that big, light blue sky overhead. The train stopped very briefly at Requena-Utiel, a rural town located in a shallow river valley with reddish-brown soil. Later on, the railway tunnels became more frequent as we traversed more mountainous terrain. We saw some beautiful, rugged country, lightly forested on the slopes with green lakes below and high bridges connecting the passes. At times, the colours were reminiscent of Australia—grey-green foliage, with the brown of the soil tending towards orange. The landscape was of course much greener than Australia, but it was not lush like the Netherlands.
The station for the fast trains in Cuenca is located at some distance from the centre of town, and even further from the old town, which is crammed onto a rocky peninsula surrounded by gorges. As we later learned, Cuenca provides another example of how a city’s geophysical constraints prove to be its saviour. The sharp inclines and sheer narrowness of the site made it unsuitable for modernisation; and so it was preserved from destruction. The inhabitants of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries were so desperate for extra lateral space that they built balconies hanging out over the gorges. These so-called casas colgadas (hanging houses) featured in an introductory Spanish course that Susan and I did at Petersham TAFE back in the 1980s in preparation for our travels in Mexico and Central America. We were pleased to at last behold the edifices that had seemed rather irrelevant to us a quarter of a century ago. Education is never wasted.
Our hotel room at the Hostel Tabanqueta was nothing special, save for the fact that one of its small windows had amazing views along the gorge traversed by the Paseo del Jucar. We could see the floor of the gorge below, and the other side of the gorge towered above us. At one point, some wag had painted an enormous pair of eyes in two adjacent impressions in the rock—a suitable reminder that we are living in the surveillance society.
After we settled into our room, we walked down the steep main street (there is only enough room for one!) to the main plaza where we ate some lunch. I was rather sick that afternoon, so I stayed in the hotel and rested while Susan went for a walk with the camera, and took some lively photographs of the town from some of the many, high vantage points that afford such opportunities.