We are home from Morella. Just pulled in after a long weekend of new sights, new sounds and ALOT of ground covered. Morella is north of Valencia by about 2 hours on a motorcycle. I’ve been interested in Spanish prehistoric cave painting for decades and I’ve never indulged in taking the time to seek them out. This past weekend that was to change. The area has sites all around it and they’re UNESCO World Heritage protected.
We headed out to Morella and WOW! What a lovely hilltop fortress town in the mountains east of Peniscola. The road to get there was very winding – Jeff’s favorite kind on the bike. More bridges that only allow one car at a time. I was never so happy to follow a slow truck that choked black smoke all the way up the mountainside because it ensured Jeff went a reasonable speed. Cresting the last hill leading towards the town, the view is spectacular. When Emilie and I walked the Camino we saw so many hill towns with castle ruins that when I would point them out, she would just reply. ‘So what. It’s just another castle.’
Well, even Emilie would have been impressed by this one. I like to put the things I’m seeing here into the historical context I already have. The Castillo de Morella was started in 950 AD. Yup, that’s more than a hundred years before my own ancestors hopped on a boat with William the Conqueror in France and sailed the channel to subdue the English forever.
We rode through the gates to find our hotel inside the fortress. Jeff’s absolute favorite thing is to ride his motorcycle on slippery marble cobbled streets, using a GPS whose maps don’t cover inside the fortress, and try to locate where we’re staying, not on an actual street but up some marble hand carved stairs. After much swearing and a lot of ‘You have to be FUCKING kidding me’s’, I was flashing back to Lleida and the Parador in May.
Here we were staying in an ex Palau de Ram that was built in 1462, 30 years before Columbus decided to head across the Atlantic and pretend to discover America. I needed to put Jeff out of his misery, so I hopped off the bike, put my phone away with the lying devil Google Maps, and got a spry little old lady with a cane to lead me up some steep marble steps to the front door. Even with the cane she was faster than me. Sometimes elderly analog is the only way to go.
The Hotel is lovely and the rooms have stunning views. The sunrise and the fog over the hills in the valley made getting up early these past couple of days a treat. And the quiet? Ah, the quiet. It was deafening. We are so used to city noise that we lay there in bed with the windows open and just listened to nothing.
Jeff is always amazed that I meet random people, get to chatting and then get invited to things. One of my friends here in Valencia calls me a ‘Puller’. I don’t really know exactly if that’s a good thing, but she’s right. I go places and I meet people and then I end up doing something I hadn’t planned on doing 10 minutes before. This trip was no different. After arriving and getting a lovely lunch in the outdoor restaurant at the hotel, I met a very nice English lady in the lobby while trying to get decent wifi reception. She was there with her husband who was doing a sort of cultural exchange choir concert that was sponsored by the village.
The choir is a Chorus Angelorum from Bath and Bournemouth in the UK. And they were singing at the Convent of San Francisco, and she asked if I wanted to go. Well, of course I did. I went outside and told Jeff, who promptly bowed out, and then I met the woman and some others in the lobby and off we went up, up, and then up some more. All the way to the convent at the base of the castle to listen to three Spanish composers sung by a British choir. The entire town turned up for the concert. They were very good – not that I know choir music from a hole in the wall – and I sat front row next to the Mayor and his wife. Afterwards, speeches by the choir director and Senor Mayor. Flowers distributed, then lots of glad handing and back patting.
I was introduced to the Mayor who, in broken English, asked me if I had seen their most famous painting. I had not and he said ‘Come’. I followed him to a little chapel where the painting was lit. It wasn’t long before the room was filled with choir members and the Mayor asked me to translate what he was saying to the group. Oh no he didn’t! I wanted to tell him I don’t have enough Spanish for that, but I just said ‘Vale’ and whispered a little prayer to whomever might be on duty listening to pleas from fools that night. He spoke and a miracle happened. An ACTUAL miracle, because I understood what he was saying about the ‘Dance of Death’ and the whole nine yards. And I did as he asked and told the others in English what he said. I even got the word for ‘Prostitute’ right and I had never heard it before. I guess context is everything. No one else was aware of this amazing moment, but that place has something powerful to conjure up that bit of magic.
I got back to the room and told Jeff that I had met the Mayor and all about my little secret translation triumph. He seemed unmoved at the monumental moment that this was.
‘So you like the town?’ he said.
‘Well, yes. I mean, I’ve met the Mayor and his wife. And the girl who was one of the princess type people from that Sexenni thing (the festival every 6 years celebrating the Virgin – get your mind out of the gutter). I’ve been here 6 hours and I”m connected now.’
‘Good. Cause we’re looking at some properties around here. I’ve walked the entire town while you’ve been out with your new friends. There’s a lot for sale here.’
I wasn’t surprised. Of course he was already looking at real estate. But I was a little put off by his depiction of me being ‘Out with your new friends.’ I’d been at a convent, for God’s sake. Listening to choir music. So many Hallelujahs and Ave Marias. I wasn’t up the street dancing at the local disco bar. To be fair, it was closed.
So we set up some appointments and viewed one house that stood out. It was 9 bedrooms and 4600 sq. feet. The cousin of the owners showed it to us and they don’t know how old it is. ’15, 16, 1700’s. We don’t know’. I saw a strange chain hanging over a hook through a small door with a window in the kitchen.
“Is that a dumb waiter?’ I asked the cousin.
‘No.’ he said, like he was speaking to a small child. ‘It’s a bucket. That’s the well in the kitchen.’
Yes, it has an actual open mouthed well – like you see in old movies – in the kitchen. They have running water but a well? I guess it’s a good back up except I would hate to hear ‘Timmy’s fallen in the well!’ while living there and that seems like an actual possibility. I’d need to immediately purchase a border collie – ala Lassie – just to be safe.
Amazing. So much potential. It was full of the heads of African animals hunted by the family over the centuries. That kind of freaked me out. I asked the cousin how long the family had owned it. He just waved over his shoulder again and again, said ‘Whew’ shook his head, shrugging ‘Nobody knows. Long time.’ But we’re heading back to the US and I told our local agent (oh yes, we have one of those now – thanks Jeff), that we would visit again after we got back. We need mulling over time.
We started for home this afternoon. The ride back was going to be filled with thunderstorms and rain we could see from the ramparts of the castle. We were not equipped for this eventuality because when we left Valencia the temperature was on the first floor of Hell. So we traveled in our summer riding gear. But today, by the time we got from Morella to Sant Mateu the heavens opened up. When I saw the lightning and heard the thunder I tapped Jeff on the shoulder, pointed at the church and urgently shook my finger. We headed into the village to try to find a coffee place to wait it out.
No such luck. We were getting soaked and watching the sky light up. Finally, we came around a corner and I spotted a place filled with people. It had umbrellas and tables outside, so Jeff quickly parked and we hopped off and ran inside. The entire place turned to look at us and went silent. Like 30 people gathered around tables playing cards with characters I didn’t recognize, with a bar in the back. I know we looked like drown rats or deer caught in the headlights – take your pick. The barman broke the tension by waving to us and came around the bar directing us to sit so we could dry out. He got me a coffee and Jeff a Coke. It was then that Jeff realized we were not in a cafe, but in the meeting place for the Order of Montesa. There were flags on the walls festooning the space with the name, with crests and coats of arms. This was their clubhouse.
I didn’t know what it was so I looked it up. It’s a fraternal military order that dates back to the 1200’s. These guys are related to the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar were all famously slaughtered on Friday October 13th (hence the superstition), but these guys were part of an Aragon branch and were exempted as ‘Innocents’ during the trials that followed. Sant Mateu was part of the kingdom of Aragon before Spain was Spain. But they were still ‘suppressed’ after the purges of their brethren in 1312.
I don’t know much about it all, but I do know that we were so grateful that they took us in and provide us safe harbor in a lightning storm, until we could get back on the road. We’re home now. Safe and dry and getting ready to pack for our trip back to the US. But nothing like a little adventure before we fly away. Complete with castles, new friends and knights. What more could we ask for?