Spanish mountain with snow

A snow-capped mountain as seen from the train

A day trip from Madrid

By Geri Dreiling

“And this snow,” Robert Jordan said. “You think there will be much?”

“Much,” Pablo said contentedly. Then called to Pilar, “You don’t like it, woman, either? Now that you command you do not like this snow?”

“A mí qué?” Pilar said, over her shoulder. “If it snows it snows.”

— For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

As I listened to E translate the weather forecast that was predicting snow for the areas just beyond Madrid, I thought of Pilar. We were scheduled to take a day trip to Ávila and it was one of the areas where snow was expected to fall.

The Costa del Sol of Spain’s Andalusian region – with its white stucco homes, decorative tiles awash in blues, and sun-saturated skies – is often what comes to mind when foreigners think of Spain. But Spain is composed of different regions with varied climates.

I was exploring the Castile-Leon region, that part of Spain traversed by Hemingway’s American character Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls. (Affiliate link) The northwestern region contains snow-capped sierra mountains with forests of pine; sloped hillsides and rocky terrain dotted with cows, bulls or sheep; Roman ruins; and, medieval villages with walls erected to repel invading armies.

Ávila is one such town in the region. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Ávila is most famous for the 10th century wall that rings the old part of the city. It is also the home of St. Teresa of Ávila, the 16th century Spanish mystic and nun.

Our train tickets to Ávila were already purchased. Snow or no snow, I was determined to stick to the schedule. On Sunday evening, we began to plot where we’d stop to eat and review the map to Ávila for our trip the next day. And that is when we learned that you could actually walk on top of the wall – except on Monday. And that Ávila had wonderful restaurants that served steak that was a specialty in the region as well as giant white beans – except on Monday when most of the restaurants were closed.

The upcoming adventure was looking more like a looming disaster. I hoped it would not be as ill-fated as Robert Jordan’s quest.

On Monday morning we got up early and ate a big breakfast at the Hotel Atlantico. After all, it could the last meal we’d enjoy until we returned to Madrid that night. We caught the nearby metro and headed for the Chamartín station, which is both a metro station and train station.

At Chamartín, it wasn’t easy navigating from the metro portion of the station to the area served by the train. A security guard pointed us in the right direction.

Train station in Madrid

A train waiting to depart in opposite direction

We were taking a middle-distance train and Ávila was one of its stops before ending at Salamanca. It would take about 2 hours to arrive.

To board the train, we walked out on the platform, found our car and sat down in the assigned seat. It was spacious and clean. The seats were comfortable and double the size of what you get when you fly coach.

Our train car was about two-thirds filled. There was younger man with a laptop who sat in a section with tables. A woman dressed in a suit seemed to be off to business meeting. Two well-acquainted old men with weathered faces wearing sweater vests, their white hair peaking out from under flat caps sat down not too far from E and me. For most of the trip, they carried on a comfortable conversation in Spanish before getting off at our stop – Ávila.

I settled in next to the window, my camera ready to capture the images as we passed. Taking photos from a moving train is not the easiest thing to do. It is hard to capture the beauty without also memorializing a random pole — or my camera lens.

Madrid outskirts

On the outskirts of Madrid


Spanish homes

Homes on the way to Ávila


Snow in the distance

Snow in the distance


Farm in Spain

A rugged farm on the rocky terrain


Dusting of snow

A dusting of snow near Ávila

The snow was not nearly as bad as had been forecast. When we arrived in Ávila, there wasn’t a trace of it on the ground.

Unfortunately, it was worse. A frigid, skin piercing, bone chilling wind was howling through the medieval streets.

But the day trip turned out to be a delight. When you travel with someone who is patient, has a good sense of humor and a deep appreciation for history, even a cold, gusty, gray day can turn into a warm, happy adventure.

Glimpse of Ávila's Walls

A glimpse of Ávila’s walls