.,;.-._.: 5:773? . . 3‘ Shouting over the Lati -Am rican:

beat in Madrid‘s ‘Oba Oba‘ (so good they named it twice). i realised this was no place to be talking about Cuenca. Why. my amigos couldn‘t help asking. were we about'to desert their pulsating capital for a provincial city in the middle of nowhere?

‘Why indeed'.". was the question we refused to ask ourselves. as unperturbed by its nonentity status. we arrived at Cuenca the next day. ‘Tens of BBC researchers can’t be wrong.’ we reasoned. clutching our ‘Digame‘ textbooks and recalling the glowing recommendations of the TV Spanish course. Thankfully. we did not have to wait long before a bus took us away from the unspectacular parte baja (lower part) and up to the amazing parte antigua or old part. This was the halfof the city that we would come to love. not so much for its cobbled streets and be-flowered balconies. as for its commanding position. high up on a crag. and between two rivers that have carved 2(ltlft cliffs out of a cowboy landscape of rocks and plains.

All this is not immediately apparent as the bus trundles its upwardly mobile path to the Plaza Mayor. the lively main square where it turns round and comes down again. But take any of the tiny streets to the left or right of this square and the rewards are instant ~ staggering views across rooftops and down to one ofthe rivers. before reaching sharply upwards again in endless strata of rocks and pines. All this Confronted us from two balconies as we settled into what the owner called. ‘the room‘ in the Posada San Jose. For the first few days. further activity seemed unnecessary. and we spent more time looking at possible walks than actually doing them.

Directly below us was a breakfast terrace. offering more excuses to linger about gazing at it all. before making our way out into the sun to

Stephanie Billen discovers the delights of Cuenca.


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explore the streets and bars. ln (he Spanish way. every second shop was a bar. The best of these in the old part of the city turned out to be the Bar Los Elefantos. a haunt of artists and young people. loud with rock music and white-washed walls covered in abstract art. A Vermouth secco con Schweppes limon (dry martini and lemonade) had never tasted better than when served in quadruple measures in cool seclusion at the back of the bar. Turning left out of this bar. we felt fortified and enjoyed an alcohol

induced amble down stone steps and out onto the rocks. On Sundays we found this was a popular path for Cuencans taking the air after church. Still in their finery and apparently dressed more for flamenco dancing than either walking or praying. they didn‘t stray far the couple ahead of us turning back in theatrical horror at a glimpse of a snake in the grass.

Another day. we made a gradual ascent from the Calle de los Tintes. along the river Huecar. looking down on the beginnings ofC‘uenca‘s fertile crescent. the Hoz de Huecar cornucopia for the city‘s markets and restaurants. As the path became narrower and increasingly overgrown with poppies and thistles. we began to feel like explorers. falling into single file and making separate discoveries of caves and crannies in the cliffs. We eventually came to a deserted villa. ramshackle and full ofgraffiti. Like the excited children ofJohn Boorman‘s ‘Hope and Glory‘ stumbling on the bombed-out wrecks of people’s homes. we picked our way across broken tiles. past the cellar door ominously daubed with the word ‘Muerte‘. and out onto a long balcony. running the length of one wall and a perfect vantage point for watching hawks soar above us.

With a week to spare. we were slow to see the official ‘attractions‘ of Cuenca. The Casas Colgadas (literally hanging houses. perched on the edge of a huge rock cliff) formed part of the dramatic landscape of many ofour walks. Within them is the Museo de Arte Abstracto. a showcase for many of the artists who choose to live in Cuenca. After the

Bar Los Elefantos. we felt a curious sense of deja vu at the sight of whitewashed walls and avant-garde paintings. but the Museo stands alone. with its beams. winding stair-cases and. at the top of the building the Sala Blanca. Here the white walls are echoed by white floor and white seats. and the sense of peace is uninterrupted except for the gentle tinklingofa magnificent metal sculpture in the corner. The works are mainly by famous Spanish names like Zobel and Saura. with the different styles and media competing for attention. Most impressive are the Zobels. hazin evocative with a splash of definition. from the orange ofa setting sun in ‘Atocha‘. to the sharp horizontal line ofC‘uenca‘s wooden bridge amid a haze of ‘luz extraordinaria‘. to the rough diagonals in ‘Palacio de (,‘ristal'. At the end. you will probably want to revisit some of the rooms. if only to feel less guilty about looking out of the windows at the views over the gorge. In the evening you can come back for more. and a pricey but romantic meal at the Meson Casas (‘olgades restaurant next door.

The cathedral is also hard to miss. a gleaming white -.\'otre Dame-shaped facade on the main square. sniffily dismissed by the Rough Guide as an architectural aberration. ‘ugly and unfinished‘. tacked onto the simple (iothic nave and trancepts. It didn‘t look that bad to me and we enjoyed the (‘athedral museum with its downstairs hideaway for the clergy. still choc-a-bloc with unspeakable relics of the fingernail variety. and huge gold rings for the podgiest of ecclesiastical digits. (‘uenca’s archaeological museum nearby is worth a look. ifonly to marvel at the bronze monk with everything missing except head and left foot. The rest of him is carefully sketched on the wall for your enlightenment.

After three days ofperfection at

Getting There

Cuenca is about 3 hours' train ride from Madrid‘s Atocha station. From Madrid. telephone 733 00 00 or 733 30 0010rtrain times. fares. etc.

I BY AIR Campus Travel fly from Gatwick to Madrid for £188 return. This includes a Glasgow add-on tare. For students under 32 only. Proof of status (an International Student Identity Card) is required. Campus are at Hillhead Street, Glasgow (041 357 0608) and Strathclyde University, 90 John Street. Glasgow (041 552 2867). British Airways go to Madrid twice a day. Apex fares are from £128 return. depending on day of travel. You must stay overa Saturday night. Flights are from Heathrow and Gatwick. The Edinburgh Travel Centre (atthe University. Oristo Square

and in Rose Street) otter chartered flights to Madrid for students from £58 one

way. plus the cost of the Scotland/London connection by coach. train or plane.

I BY TRAIN It's a fairly lengthy process (34 hours) going by train. Eurotrain (from Campus and the Edinburgh Travel Centre) and Transalpino (from themselves on North Bridge. Edinburgh orthe Edinburgh Travel Centre) fares are the same: £128 return with add-ons of £39.50 from Edinburgh and £33.201rom Glasgow. It would probably work out cheaper to buy an Inter-rail ticket or a Eurotrain Explorer.

Where to Stay

I LOCAL TOURIST OFFICES will point you in the direction of accommodation. Types and expense range from hotels

50 The List 24 June 7 July 1988

properdown to pensions. hostales and Iondas. the cheapest rooms.

Things You Should Know

I CUENCA TOURIST OFFICE is to be found at Calle de Garcia. Izcara. The main Madrid one resides at Princesa. 1 Torre de Madrid (tel: 24 12 325).

I FOR BEFORE-YOU-GO INFORMATION the Spanish Tourist Office at 57/58 St James's Street, London SW1A1LD wil be happon help if you enclose a SAE. I THE AVERAGE temperatures in the Madrid area are between 20C and 24C during the summer months.

I SHOP AND BANK opening hours are quite different from ours. and mostwill shut for long siestas in the afternoons. The ionner generally close from 1.30pm/2pm to 4pm/4.30pm. The latter

open on weekdays and feasibility. I msmmeumg 10 3pm" Saturdaysfrom 8.30amto IRIOJA isthe wineto drink (Harrap Columbus 29,95) 29'“- -Dai"l0||lt Cheanhen includes much of the above .you'LL Nggnaplug compared with the price we plus colourphotos anaa converter- Spanish sockets "3V9 '0 pay '0! it here). fuller look at cultural and arefor2-pin plugs. I In"!!! summer. Spain historical matters.

I If you hold the ISIC CARD. (“will "19 Canaries) is I THE SPANISH

you may get free orreduced TWO HOURS AHEAD of TRAVELMATE (Richard admission to museums and GMT- Drew £1.50) is a snug little galleries.The card is I IF YOU PLAN TO DRIVE booklisting yourbasic

available from student travel specialists (Campus and the Edinburgh Travel Centre).

I MUSTS FOR MADRID excursions are the Prado Museum (closed Mondays) for the best in Spanish art (a heavily-guarded buiding houses Picasso's ‘Guernlca'); the Sunday market El Rastro, which sprawls over several streets in the city centre; sardine bars; and some distance from the city. San Lorenzo de El Escorial. home of Felipe Il's palace/ monastery. the internal dome of which defeats the architectural laws of

to. orin, Spain, you'll need an International Driving Licence (from an AA office) and a Green Gard. unless you're hiring a carthere.

Useful Pubncahons

I THE ROUGH GUIDE TO SPAIN (Harrap Columbus £5.95) gives you honest opinions and practical information. It has a section on Cuenca as well as comprehensive coverage of Madrid. Where to stay. what to do. how to getaround. contact addresses. maps and tips for the unwitting and the unwary.

verbal requirements: ‘dos cervezas. por favor’ (‘two beers. please‘). Ishould add that in Spanish ‘c' and ‘z' are pronounced more like ‘th' and ‘v' is like ‘b'. I GUIDE TO MADRID inthe ‘Everything UnderThe Sun‘ series (Harrap Columbus £2.95). is an excellent pointertowards the not-to-be-missed. It includes accommodation. addresses. city and metro maps etal.