Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The road from Salamanca.

There is more or less a straight diagonal route from Salamanca to Bilbao, northeast, 250 miles, free motorway the whole way, nothing between us and the ferry than a range of 5000' mountains and a week. There was no need to hurry so we planned a slight squiggle from the straight line, veering north to Zamora, then along the valley of the Duero to visit Toro and Tordesillas.

Toro is situated on a rocky bluff above the Duero, it has a spectacular Romansesque cathedral, ancient ramparts, a moorish fortress and old streets and squares with half timbered buildings. We stopped on the outskirts, had lunch, then spent an hour or so wandering about.

The primary reason for the visit was not the place's architectural heritage but it's viniculture. We like Ribiera de Duero wines generally but have a particular soft spot for those produced in Toro. Somewhat frustratingly all the specialist wine shops were closed until 5.00pm for 'lunch'. The only place open was a small supermarket so we bought a couple of bottles there. In truth, unless you go for known growers and are willing to pay for the privilege, then you can often buy the same wine found in the bodega at a lower price in a local supermarket. 

It was a short drive along the valley to the campsite at Tordesillas. We arrived by mid-afternoon and after a coffee in the van decided to walk into town. Like Toro, Tordesillas is a walled riverside settlement established where an ancient bridge crossed the river. We caught the golden light of the late afternoon sun as we approached the town; it was very beautiful.

Of the two places Toro has famous wine, but it cannot match Tordesillas in terms of historical significance. This small town has achieved World Heritage status on the basis of the treaty that was signed here between the monarchs' of Spain and Portugal in 1494. The treaty was required after Columbus's return from the Caribbean two years previously. It drew an imaginary line down the Atlantic Ocean a couple of hundred miles to the west of the Cape Verde Is which allowed Portugal free passage to its trading posts in West Africa and control of the Indian Ocean; Spain gained access to the new transatlantic route.

At the time this probably looked like a fair deal as they assumed that the West Indies were an archipelago of islands lying between Europe and 'Cathay'. Nobody realised the huge landmass of North and South America lay in-between. This contemporary map shows the extent of this misapprehension.

We discovered this at the excellent small museum situated in the building where the treaty had been signed. As we looked at the reproductions of old maps and the explanations of the diplomacy that lead to the treaty how momentous the agreement proved to be. It sealed the fate of Portugal and Spain, the former building its empire in the East Indies and Africa, with Brazil its only 'prize' in the New World.

Spain gained the most, and conquered the remainder of South and Central America. This focus gifted North America to England, Holland and France's later imperial ambitions. We reflected just how much the shape of the modern world was defined by the treaty signed here. It could even mark the first glimmerings of global consciousness. Without it, no chillies in India, Roman Catholics in Peru, no African Americans, it sealed the fate of native American culture from the Aztecs to the Sioux. It is not possible to visit the museum without reflecting on the ingenuity and courage of 16th century explorers, but also their greed and merciless religious fervour. 

We had planned to stay in Tordesillas for two nights so we could visit the museum. We discovered that it was open until 6.30pm and included it as part of our evening stroll. By the time the sun was setting over the Duero we had more or less wrapped it up for Tordesillas.

When we returned to the van out came the weather apps. It soon became clear that there was no let up in dawn's minus temperatures. However, on the north coast, though daytime temperatures were cooler than here - high teens not low twenties - overnight it remained mild. A decision - tomorrow we head for the Cantabrian coast - if we have a few days spare before the ferry we might return for some pintxos in San Sebastian, perhaps cross over into France and visit the hypermarket in Hendaye for some pre-Christmas shopping. Black Friday has spread across Europe - there may be bargains!

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