We spent a week in Avila and it was an interesting experience. But would I return?
Preserving the past
The old, walled city of Avila is a world-heritage site, an extraordinary city which has retained its walls and most of the city inside the walls since the Middle Ages. You have to walk round the walls!
A new city , 20th century and beyond, exists outside the walls, and it seems as if the walled Avila is now one of the ‘industries’ of the area. There are 45 hotels in Avila, including a Paradore, and numerous hostels and of course AirBnB and other private accommodations. Our AirBnB flat, near San Vicente, was ideal for our purposes with a very good supermarket and butcher close by. .
And of course, as a commodity to be sold, we found a different situation. The Tourist Office was much more detached and less enthusiastic and helpful, and then there were the endless crocodiles of tourists of all nationalities, mostly with blank faces, trailing after guides. I wonder what impression they will take away.
It is a difficult balance to strike. People have the time and money to travel (after all, that is what we are doing) and are doing the best they can in taking a guided tour. They are certainly being told far more than I can fathom! But what do learn about another culture if you don’t linger? Or use the local shops, or markets? And you need time.
We were ‘caught’ in Avila – I had read about an AvilaCard (only valid for 48 hours) which reduced the cost of entry provided you went into a lot of sites. We followed the list for two days, like obedient tourists, and then gave up and tried to understand ‘life’ in Avila. And because we had several more days with no set itinerary we enjoyed the stay in the town – in the end.
Inside the walls ‘normal life’ was hard to find. Many shops and cafes were closed in the morning, opening in the middle of the day, and in the evening – the times of tourist visits. The Plaza Mercado Chico in the town was often very quiet, but we subsequently understood this is surrounded by administrative buildings – there is little cause to linger.
We craved people and missed the evenings in Soria where we sat in a square, at our ‘usual’ cafe with a medicinal glass and watched the evening paseo, and friends meeting and greeting. Then we discovered the Plaza Mercado Grande…
And then there were the corners which only come by walking around, slowly.
Theresa of Avila was an extraordinary woman – highly intelligent, motivated, strong-willed. You cannot avoid her in Avila and so we visited the sites associated with her but came away feeling we had much more to learn and consider.
But of course you have to visit ‘the sights’ and in addition to the walls there are some extraordinary things – well, this is World Heritage Site!
I will take away the tranquillity of the Church of San Pedro and the Annunciation carved on San Vicente But also some sadness about tourism and a slight concern that we are part of the problem.
The week in Avila was a good time and as travellers we gained much from the experience.