Part 4: Vengeance in the Valencian Water: Photo Tour

Sit back and take in many scenes featured in the upcoming novel Vengeance in the Valencian Water, out January 24. Since the book is brand new, I can’t go into detail about what will happen in each scene featured here (no spoilers allowed), but it gives readers a chance to see just what the areas in Valencia and Madrid look like. Enjoy!

(Spanish spellings have been used, rather than Valencian, for street names. Because Valencian was banned under Franco, the book uses Spanish names for consistency, unless otherwise stated)

 

Valencia – Plaza del temple 50’s, and Plaza Poete Llorante 2013, side by side locations and major book scenes in 1957

 

Valencia – Town Hall building Plaza Ayuntamiento 2013, and (same place) Plaza del Caudillo 1957, including snow in the winter. The location featured heavily in the 1957 story

 

Old town Valencia new and old, all major book scenes in both 1957 and 2010

 

Valencia – Arts and Sciences area where Luna Montgomery lives,  1950’s and today

Calle Reloj Viejo
Calle Reloj Viejo

Calle de Reloj Viejo/ Carrer del Rellotge Vell, where José lives in 1957

 

Bullrings in both Madrid and Valencia, scenes of fights by Cayetano Beltrán in 2010

 

Valencia beaches 1957 and 2010

 

Calle Pechina, site of the old prison (featured in 1957 storyline)

 

Scenes from Madrid frequented by Luna Montgomery

 

Valencia bridges and riverbed, all featured heavily in both 1957 and 2010 storylines

 

Valencia March celebrations during Las Fallas

cathedral

Cuenca cathedral, home to another huge scene, the same as in Blood in the Valencian Soil

Part 5 of the Vengeance in the Valencian Water series will be on January 24, the same day as the book release. The post will feature the whole first chapter, which is set in 1957 and can be read for free. Also, Blood in the Valencian Soil will be free on Amazon for three days only, to coincide with the release of Vengeance in the Valencian Water, so you can grab both book in the series to enjoy.

Click here for Part 1Part 2 and Part 3, featuring all the replies to the recent Q+A session.

All present day photos are author’s own, and 1957 photos are courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces 

PART 2: Vengeance in the Valencian Water Q+A

To read part one, click here – PART 1: VENGEANCE IN THE VALENCIAN WATER Q+A

Here we go, part two of the Q+A, time for some of the more specific questions –

6 ) Did you base the characters on real-life people, like with Blood in the Valencian Soil? 

Rather than look at the situations of specific individuals and make a fictional tale based on their lives, this book takes a different vein. This book follows real events (like BITVS) but has all fictional characters. This book is a snapshot of Valencia in 1957 and the characters live in what was reality at the time. I spent countless hours studying photographs and recollections of the city and its way of life at the time. I also studied the 1957 flood over the period of about a year, so I knew all the details I needed. I got to point where I knew the water level of individual streets around the city. I also walked those streets in Valencia, to visualise the scenarios for myself. All of the characters are entirely fictional, and would not want to meet these people in person!

As for the 2010 characters, they are all also fictional, but live in Spain as it was that year. One chapter sees Luna caught up in a protests in Madrid, and I made sure there was a protest in Puerta del Sol in that month, and checked what they protested against and what their signs said. The timeline is accurate, but no one is based on a real person.

Graham Hunt was kind enough to capture this, so it had to go in the book

7 ) What did you research for the book? You talk about research a lot of twitter.

Jaja, my twitter rambling coming back to bite me. Following on my from the last question – I researched a lot. For me, when I sit down to write, I need to be able to envisage the whole scene in my mind before a word can be written. When it’s based in Valencia, imagining somewhere is a piece of cake. But still, I need to know the details are in place before I can start. For example, when writing José in 1957, I needed to know what his Guardia Civil uniform looked like, or what the fashion of the time looked like in Valencia. That meant tracking down photographs in 1957. There is one scene were José has to wear what I imagine as the most ugly brown suit ever, but then in another, the smoothest grey suit you can imagine. I know both of these were on sale because I checked. I don’t spend a great deal of time on clothing unless it’s relevant to the scene, so you don’t feel bombarded with inane tidbits. But when they buy 1957 swimsuits, I checked to see what you could get at Malvarrosa at the time. Beach umbrellas are the right colour, restaurant decor is correct, street names are correct, even the flowers bought at the market are the right type. When Franco arrives, his car is the right kind, the positions are correct, the aides are dressed properly. When it comes to bullfighting, the clothes are correct, the details of a fight are correct, the feeling from the crowd is correct ( I know this because I sat there to get it right). Valencia is the perfect place to use as a location because there is just so much to see, and how much the city has changed is incredible. I have studied the detail of the city from the mid-1800’s until now and the changes are amazing, yet the core, the heart of the city remains the same.

Calle Miguelete at Plaza de la Virgen, both Jose’s 1957 and Luna’s 2010 reality 

8) Are there any storyline pieces you are worried about? Does reaction to the book worry you?

Does it worry me? Only all the time. Writing a book is like walking around naked, you are fully exposed to embarrassment and ridicule. I feel like a running joke – an author with an anxiety disorder. I dream about being teased about typos. After writing a  chapter, I put on a cynical hat and question its believability. With the Luna Montgomery series, I want things to be as realistic as possible. Fortunately, by following real-life scenarios, the possibility of the storyline being over-the-top is nigh impossible. With the flood, it’s all real, as is the babies stolen by the church. None of that needed to be made up. The 2010 storyline gave me more worries. The medical details were something I was careful with – there’s nothing worse than reading/watching something and a character is sick and makes an instant miracle recovery. Anyone who suffered or nursed someone with a serious illness or injury will see right through it. I had to check the detail very carefully. I fight constantly with Luna and Cayetano, to make sure they are believable and full of flaws. Perfection doesn’t exist and neither of them can appear to have the upper hand over the other. They both make mistakes, they both say stupid things, like any couple. I worried, about halfway through, that Luna was being too needy, and then wasn’t being strong enough. At the end, I did worry if all the feminists out there will be disappointed with her life choices, but to me, she does all she needs to do for all around her. She doesn’t have the luxury of making decisions to suit herself. I also worry if Cayetano comes off as arrogant or selfish at times, but have tried to suitably redeem him. You aren’t supposed to like every character all the time anyway.

9 )Why give Luna two children? What’s the point?

There is plenty of point. From the very beginning, I imagined Luna with two sons. Luna is the very first character I ever created, back in 2009 when I was still finding my feet. (You can’t accuse me of not taking my time with the characters. I took 18 months off these characters to work on Canna Medici while I got this series together.) Luna meets Cayetano and their lives are a mess. They meet to uncover murdered relatives, so it’s not a love story. From the very beginning, Cayetano always had María, his wife. That in itself is a nightmare, but to have Luna as a single woman would be too easy, and make her too perfect. I made her a parent because it suits her, she’s the type to cope well with sons. I had to also make her a widow, because that was the only way to make her solo mother, no other scenario worked on Luna and Fabrizio as a couple. I’ve been the child of a solo mother, and know just how amazing they are. To have a male and female lead character makes it easy for them to fall into a relationship, or at least an affair, and by making Luna a widowed solo mother, and Cayetano already married, it gave me far more scope to develop the characters and their interactions. They come from totally different perspectives, and not just because their families sit on opposite sides of the political and religious divide. They cannot understand each other’s situations because they are so bogged down in their own realities. Just when the path seems smooth for a quiet life, I have something to throw in the mix. This isn’t a romance novel (but if you like romance, I have one in the pipeline to come out after my next civil war book, so bear with me!)

10 ) Which of the two books (Blood in the Valencian Soil and Vengeance in the Valencian Water) have you enjoyed writing the most….and why?

That is a really hard choice. BITVS was my baby, I nursed her for quite some before I got the book I wanted. It is centred in the civil war, something that gives me enough inspiration to write 100 books. It is set around a murdered grandfather, something very close to home for me. The issue of relative killed in the civil war and hidden away also hits close to home for me. The story of a kiwi nurse in Spain is something I took the time to understand, follow and genuinely care about. It was great to meet the family of Renee Shadbolt, the real Scarlett Montgomery, and how proud they were of her. Real people in real scenarios flourishing and despairing was what I wanted to create. I will always love BITVS.

one place – three periods in the series

VITVW is totally different. Writing one book and making it my baby seems easy compared to following it up with a suitable sequel. I wanted to continue the series, but at the same time, make a story that can stand on its own. It needed to pack all the punch of the first book, without going over old detail. I can’t remember when I decided to write a Valencia flood novel, but I don’t think it’s been done before (feel free to correct me). It would have been easy to have Luna and Cayetano go back through another civil war story and it probably would have worked, too. But going back to the 1950’s instead of the 1930’s gave the series new life. The third book goes to the 1970’s, so the state of Spain under Franco through the years can be seen in long form. From war in the 30’s, to the heavy-handed rule of the 50’s, to the unstable 70’s, the story of the Beltrán and Morales families can tell a huge story. The present day storyline also gives that chance. BITVS is set in 2009, VITVW in 2010 and then Death in the Valencian Dust in 2013, and Spain changes in this tiny time frame, giving me plenty to work with. As long as Rajoy is in power, enough things will be screwed up, providing plenty of ideas.

I would have to say BITVS is my favourite to write because it was the first in this big project, but VITVW gave me huge satisfaction too, as I feel I have done a really good job with it. I wouldn’t change a thing, and feel my writing style is much better now.

Click here to read the Part 1 with the free book offer Q+A. Part 3 will have all remaining questions, Part 4 is Valencia in photos, and Part 5 is the first chapter, available January 24, the same day as the book release.

Thanks to Graham Hunt for the video, and Juan Antonio Soler Aces for the historical Valencia photos

Part 1: Vengeance in the Valencian Water Q+A (plus a FREE book)

Valencia, Spain: October 1957 – After a long hot summer, Guardia Civil officers José Morales Ruiz and Fermín Belasco Ibarra have had enough of their lives. Sick of dealing with lowlifes and those left powerless under Franco’s ruthless dictatorship, the friends devise a  complex system of stealing babies, to be sent away to paying families. But as the October rains fall, the dry Valencian streets fill with muddy water, and only greed and self-preservation will survive…

It’s 2010, and Luna Montgomery is busier than ever. With the mystery of her murdered grandfather solved, she reluctantly prepares to be the bride in Spain’s ‘wedding of the year’. But four more bodies lie hidden at Escondrijo, Luna’s farm in the Valencian mountains. Her fiancé, bullfighter Cayetano Beltrán Morales, is not eager to have his name brought up in a post-civil war burial excavation. When Cayetano’s grandfather José, an evil Franco supporter, starts to push his ideals on Luna, her decision to join the Beltrán family comes under scrutiny.

The Tour de France is fast approaching, and Luna’s position as a bike mechanic on Valencia’s new cycling team begins to come under pressure. When an ‘accident’ occurs at Escondrijo, lives hang in the balance as more of Spain’s ghosts come to life and tell the story of a flood in 1957…

It’s that time again. With time ticking away until Vengeance in the Valencian Water is released on January 24, it’s time I got onto answering some of your questions! I have merged some questions together, to answer as many as possible, but will post in a few parts. Let’s jump right in.

book covers

1 ) What is Vengeance in the Valencian Water all about?

VITVW is the second in the Luna Montgomery ‘Secrets of Spain’ series, which continues right where Blood in the Valencian Soil left off. VITVW follows the same vein – two different time periods, with their own themes that are bound together by similar circumstances. VITVW is centred in Valencia 1957, with a Guardia Civil officer, José Morales and his battle against the struggles of Franco Spain. Common in this time period was the horrendous baby-stealing practices in hospitals, where the church would steal babies from mothers at birth and sell them, with the law on their side. José gets caught up in this vicious circle, only to find his real adversary is the Valencia flood of October 14 the same year. The story runs alongside the 2010 storyline of Cayetano Beltrán, José’s grandson, and his life with Luna Montgomery, which is under pressure. With the financial crisis weighing down Cayetano’s career as a bullfighter and the impending bankruptcy of his grandfather’s huge business, life is increasingly difficult. Luna is still struggling after the recession claimed her job in the first novel, and just as she finds some stability, her late husband’s alleged drug cheating as a professional cyclist rears its head. The long-awaited trial of a Spanish doctor caught doping Tour de France riders leaves Luna to face a legacy she never wanted to be part of. Luna continues pushing to dig up unidentified Spanish civil war bodies, the common clash in Luna and Cayetano’s relationship in BITVS. All the themes in both 1957 and 2010 interlink as ‘coincidence versus fate’ is again explored.

DSCF5338

Pretending to be researching in Segovia

2 ) How long did it take to write Vengeance in the Valencian Water?

I started writing in February ’13, with the intention of having the bulk of the storyline completed before my research trip in May. That failed dismally but while in Spain, I learned so many things. Once back from Spain I was busy with Violent Daylight‘s August release and the story went on hold. I didn’t get back to VITVW until October and finished at the end of November. The book dragged out longer than ever planned, and many ‘real-life’ things got in the way. I had the background for the book, with the research on the Valencian flood, the baby black market and the drugs in cycling done a year in advance, so when it came time to flesh out the book, there was no delay. Going to Spain to learn more about bullfighting and the reality of the recession in Spain really helped with the final touches. Because this book had swirled in my mind for so long, the writing was the final piece of the puzzle, rather than just writing and seeing where the book led, as I have done in the past.

BXR-AKQIAAEkSOK

wonderful photo by @v_puerto

3 ) How can you justify being a fan of bullfighting? Bullfighting is grotesque, so why do you condone animal cruelty? 

I have heard it all. I have three things that attract internet trolls – bullfighting, supporting cycling (in NZ) and being a feminist. Bullfighting tends to bring out the animal in people themselves. I have been told I am vile, I am cruel, I don’t deserve to be a parent, I am disgusting, my family deserves to be hurt… the list goes on. Are all these people interesting in the way their meat was raised and processed? Bulls raised on ganaderías and sent to bull fights are treated like kings. Quality healthcare, exercise regimes, carefully controlled diets… none of those things are taken into consideration for the chicken or pork in your fridge. Yes, bulls are taunted and exhausted in the ring, surrounded by the real beast of bullfighting – the crowd – who hungers for the animal to die. Is that degrading? Yes – that is without question. Do I feel sorry for the bulls while they stand disoriented and weakened as they get stabbed to death? Absolutely! The combination of watching the animal die, combined with sitting beside people who love to watch the event is not a nice feeling at all. Am I trying to promote bullfighting? I’m not sure if that is even possible – people can make up their minds about the corrida long before they get there. Many argue on the side of tradition, and I can identify with that. Bullfighting is more than killing an animal. The toreros are fascinating men and their dance with death is something I could write about forever. They are brave, proud and skilled. They have a talent that is frowned upon in the modern age, and stand in the ring to cheat death of its right to claim them, and are both reviled and revered every time they do so. (Numbers of men wanting to be toreros is up, not down as expected). I have great respect for these men, but I have no desire to promote cruelty to animals. I don’t plan on opening minds to both sides of the argument – many minds cannot be opened. The bull is the orchestra, the torero is the conductor. The crowd chants for a kill. I don’t write to glamourise the event – in fact, if you read, you’ll find the books regularly grapple with the subject, and show there is more to a torero than his sword.

4 ) Do you need to read Blood in the Valencian Soil before you read Vengeance in the Valencian Water?

A tricky one. Yes and no. Book one tells the story of a lonely bullfighter and a grieving bike mechanic teaming up to unearth a civil war grave, running parallel to the 1939 storyline of their grandparents trying to flee Valencia at the end of the civil war. The story tells of how Luna and Cayetano meet and how unorthodox they are as a team. However, book two tells the story of them battling through the trials of 2010 Spain, alongside unearthing an all-new grave. The story does stand alone, and the book should give you enough of background that you don’t feel like you’ve been denied any detail. But they are designed to run together, with VITVW starting off just a month after BITVS ended.

5 ) Why have alternate storylines? Isn’t that complicated?

I’ve never had anyone tell me that alternate storylines is complicated. I personally feel that VITVW is even easier to follow than BITVS with the different time periods. The series tells the story of Spanish families throughout the civil war and Franco time period. BITVS is a snapshot of life in 1939, VITVW tells of 1957 Valencian life, and the third book (out 2015) tells the story of 1976 Spain, as the country comes to terms with Franco’s recent death. These times are pitted alongside modern Spain and the very real struggles that the nation is facing. Given the laws that the current Spanish government passes, there is no need to imagine fantastical fiction; reality continues to inspire in depressing ways.

Portal de la Valldigna ’57/’13 – Different and yet the same (photo courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces)

I will be back with part two of the book Q+A in a few days, so if your question hasn’t been answered, have no fear! In the meantime –

For 48 hours only – Blood in the Valencian Soil is free on Kindle/Kindle App. Catch up for free before Vengeance in the Valencian Water is released!

(promotion runs from midnight January 9 until midnight January 11 PST)

A LITTLE JAUNT TO SPAIN – REVIEW PART 9: Thunderstorms, Jesus and Ghosts in Cuenca

IMG_3670

You will long know by now that Cuenca is one of the central locations on my novel, Blood in the Valencian Soil. What you may not know is that when I wrote the novel, I worked purely on information given to me when researching the real characters that inspired their fictional counterparts in the book. While I know the outlying areas around the town, I never made it to the small hilltop town the entire time I lived in Spain. So, once the book was finished, I decided that while on my trip to gain information for my second Spanish novel, it was time to visit Cuenca in the flesh.

Name a town anywhere in Valencia province and I can almost certainly say I’ve been there. The mountainous region north of Valencia city is one of my favorite places. I have also spread out north-west of the city into the Aragon region many times, but Cuenca was last on the list of places to visit.

Whilst the town of Uclés was the ‘real-life’ town that my 1939 book characters worked in during the war, I moved the story to Cuenca for the later war storyline, and the town did not disappoint. The views of Cuenca are well-known, the cliffs, the hanging houses, the parador, but the place largely gets ignored during the lists of places to visit in Spain. Personally, the (albeit oddly shaped) triangle that runs from Valencia to Barcelona to Madrid is my favourite part of Spain, and it lies mostly untouched by tourism.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into a high-and-mighty speech about the ‘real Spain’. What Cuenca does offer is an opportunity to have a day trip to a town where there are no set rules on what you should experience.

IMG_3237

The trip started well enough, out of Valencia. I was torn by leaving my  favourite city; while I could easily stay in the place forever, heading for Cuenca was 200 kms closer to getting back to Madrid and on a flight home, which I am not ashamed to say I was missing. The A-3, while a quick route inland, does mean you miss little opportunities to explore the Valencia region more, but I was not the driver (I hate driving); instead I settled for a familiar sights along a familiar road (my ill-fated trip to Teruel had the exact same problem).

We headed up the N-320, and Spain’s quiet interior peace settled in. It doesn’t take long to leave the world behind and head through small villages. For me, just seeing little places and knowing their wartime history was a great experience, though I had no one to share any of the information with. To be honest, I did wish I had taken the train, which I had in my original plans, but never mind.

country

We arrived in Cuenca at about 2pm, and quickly bypassed the new town, filled with your standard Spanish locales, since obviously the locals require these businesses for work and life’s daily needs. My car-ride companion had a desire to get through the area as fast as possible, complaining of its ugliness. We arrived at the parador, the former Convento de San Pablo, one of Cuenca’s most enduring sights. As it is a location in my novel, I was determined to stay there, despite the fact a single night cost me more than three nights in a classy Madrid hotel on the same trip.

luna view 1939 book

View of the parador

I applaud anyone who has the desire to take care of a historic building and those at the parador have done just that. With a quiet, well maintained yet basic courtyard in the building, and hallways that give you the chance to feel the soul of the place. With a room on the second floor, I felt lazy taking the elevator, despite carrying my bag, and opted for the stairs for the rest of the stay, since the elevator is slow and filled with tourists not quite as agile as me.

IMG_3795

Main hallway

The room – I paid for a view, hence the slight increase in price and the view did not disappoint for a moment. Located above the main entrance, the room gave an instant view across the bridge over the gorge and over the old town dangling over the precipice of silent cliffs. A huge thunderstorm hung over the town, reminding me to stay inside for a little while. After an irritating car trip, I didn’t particularly want to hang out in a dated and poorly decorated room with terrible wifi, but the pouring squall slashing its way over the town was best viewed from the behind the windows.

view

I left my dark depressing room and headed down the hallway to a charming area where seating was laid out, with a view over the interior courtyard of the building. I met a charming man named Jesús, on holiday with his parents from Madrid. He said the town has become a popular place for visitors from the capital over the past few years, but as we sat together, all that passed us was a Japanese family eager to do some sightseeing. The silence of the building made us wonder if the nuns were still running the place! Jesús was the only person my age (ie. 30’s) I saw there. Maybe the price puts younger travelers off; Jesús had just got a new job and wanted to treat his parents because he hadn’t had a job for over a year.

I bid farewell to the flirty Jesús and headed outside into the frail sunshine, amazed (though not surprised) by the cool temperatures of the mountainous area. Still free of my car-ride buddy, I started a walk down to the base of the Huécar gorge, and I was entirely alone the whole time. Not a soul walked by and as I wandered around the base of the town, and back up, popping out on the side of the old town, skipping the gorge walk bridge entirely.

Cuenca1

San Pablo bridge all to myself

After the frenetic tourist-ridden locations like Barcelona, to stand alone in this picturesque area is a real chance to breathe. I took about 1001 photos of the area, which could easy take up your whole day. With my handy copy of BITVS in tow, I got to see the areas that has been so accurately described through photos and friends while working on the book.

Past the Casas Colgadas, the Hanging Houses (which houses the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art), I wandered in the Barrio San Martín, a labyrinth series of streets, portrayed regularly in my book. More photos and some glorious time to be alone, something I wanted more of, I got to see the places in my book, which made me immensely happy. I didn’t pass a soul in the area, and walking along the steep and easily confusing area, it would be easy to think you have gone back in time. The silence is stunning and the town speaks to you instead.

san martin

Legit street in Barrio San Martín

luna

House used as inspiration in BITVS

Onwards to Plaza Mayor, the heart of the old town. After popping out onto the square by luck rather than planning, it was interesting to see a main plaza with almost no people. For all the talk of the place being a tourist area these days, there wasn’t a tourist to be seen, and not many locals either.  I went straight in the direction of the cathedral, another pivotal location in my novel, and will also feature in subsequent books.

The interior of the church doesn’t disappoint. The solemn religious works sit in an air of silent and cold (almost as cold as Segovia’s frigid cathedral) peace. I sat at the altar for a while, the first time I had taken a break on my whole trip (or so it felt), to soak in the moment. It may sound crazy, or juvenile even, but being in Cuenca made my own book come to life for me, more so than Valencia and Madrid. I could imagine Cayetano Beltrán praying in the same seat, with Luna Montgomery watching in silence, wondering what the hell she was doing there with the bullfighter.

cuenca cathedral

Cuenca cathedral 

IMG_3369

With the intention of walking up Calle San Pedro, the ‘main’ road leaving up out of Plaza Mayor (try watching a bus go up there with a car coming down the other side – impressive skills and nerves), I instead peeled off along tiny and intriguing little alleyways, in search of my Cuenca (mine, as in ‘in the book’ Cuenca). The lack of people and noise makes it easy to develop your own opinion of the town and indeed imagine yourself in a novel.

IMG_3954

I reached the 18th century San Pedro church. Though basic, it’s home to a bell tower,  is a must-climb. The few hundred stairs are an easy climb and the views once up there are amazing. The climb is a real highlight (see what I did there?)

a

Parador view from bell tower

jucar

View of Júcar gorge from bell tower

IMG_3841

odd bit of artwork looking to old town from Júcar gorge

For me, I felt exceedingly lonely in Cuenca. I missed my family, who weren’t on this research trip with me. Without them, the majority of sights seemed hollow. Cuenca is a sight best seen with someone you love (or at least like!). I wandered back to Plaza Mayor, and grabbed a map from a nice young guy named Carlos at visitor information. I prided my lack of maps on my trip, but it was quite handy for a quick walk up and down stairs on the hillside to view the Júcar gorge on the other side of the old town, and then I was officially tired of the whole area. My enthusiasm had gone. I went back to the parador, this time over the San Pablo bridge, and took a break.

weird

Creepy homage to Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, see the little Falangist symbols beneath? I nearly fell over when I saw this on the cathedral wall near the entrance to the Archbishop’s palace. Odd in 2013.

Surely evening could be interesting. With exhaustion ruining the trip, my car-ride buddy suggested a drink at the restaurant in the parador. Before even poking my head in, she said that everyone looked too old and boring (note from me – if you are in your 50’s, I’ll happily share a drink with you). Instead, we headed over the gorge and into the old town, to a random little in Plaza Mayor bar where I spent my evening mulling over several white wines from Cuenca – all of which I would recommend. The barman brought so many tapas over that dinner wasn’t required!

IMG_3939

The walk home at about 1am was a highlight, I’m not one for heading out late at night, but walking the pitch dark and silent alleyways, suitably spirited with wine and relatively lost makes you feel like someone is creeping up behind you, or that you’ve stumbled into a Jason Webster novel. The cliffs lit up at night is a sight to behold, even if my iphone couldn’t capture them very well, as is crossing the bridge in the dark.

A rough attempt at sleep on a bed so hard I thought it had been built from nearby rock, I got up at 4am and went for a walk on my own, to the amusement of hotel staff. I did this on almost every night of my trip and it’s interesting what you can see and hear when out when no one else is stirring. I crossed the bridge in the freezing air, and heard what I think were owls, the sound echoing through the gorge like an eery cry. It took little imagination to feel like it was 1913 or even 1713. I sat between some trees on a lonely bench and felt very alone, which felt strangely liberating. The oddest thing, and I don’t believe in ghosts et al, but I felt very watched. I walked down under the bridge and walked the lonely road that arches through the waterless gorge. The sun had began to ease its way through the darkness as I headed back along the path to the hotel. A solitary figure stood on a driveway at one of the basic houses in the gorge, an old woman, who placed a hand on my shoulder as I passed her with a hello. ‘Women are always busy here, even when the men sleep’ she said and then simply turned away. I felt like I had found Spain, there that moment in the dark gorge, the wild Spain I had been looking for, one filled with a presence that was intangible.

After the fear of loneliness and darkness combined with bitter temperatures chased me back into the hard bed for an hour or so.  The creepy quiet night walk was worth staying in the town, otherwise I would recommend Cuenca as day trip rather than an overnight.

bridge

one last look

I checked out of the parador as soon my car-ride buddy was ready to leave and we headed for Madrid, just 165 kms away. I felt great for having seen Cuenca, but more than ready to catch up with friends in Madrid.

road

legit two-way street!

Must see and do –

Covento de San Pablo, even if only from the outside, just to see the view of the town staring back

The San Pablo bridge, were you must add your pledge of love to

Plaza Mayor, were tourists don’t exist

The bell tower at Iglesia San Pedro

The narrow streets of Barrio San Martín, and stop in any almost medieval-looking bar you can find

The view over Júcar gorge tends to get forgotten in postcard snaps but it just as beautiful and wild, and has a long nature walk in and around

The Cathedral, even if you just take in the facade

The alleys that lean against the edge of the Huécar gorge, try Ronda Julián Romero for a quiet alley walk

The wilds that surround the area. The landscape makes you want to cry, especially this civil war nerd

Drink the wine, eat the snacks. Nobody ever regretted that

The not-so great – 

Unless you are planning to take on the wilds around Cuenca, I would recommend taking the train. Cuenca is an easy place to get to by public transport and having a car was a pain in the ass, and I didn’t even drive it! Plus you meet fun people on trains, unlike in tedious car trips, especially if you can’t stop along the way. Plus I don’t like being yelled at for not knowing where to go/park in locations I’ve never been to, or haven’t been to in years

The parador – iconic, yes; but worth the costs? Neither Jesús or I were convinced of that. With other options available, do your homework first. If you’re determined to stay there (as was I), you should. I got the chance to visit the restaurant for breakfast (included in room cost) which served a buffet of both Spanish and English choices. Any day with churros is a good one. The rooms are not that nice or big, so be careful who you room with. Prince Felipe stayed there on his honeymoon, but I’m guessing he had more fun things to do and had well-chosen his companion! The cost of the bar/restaurant has been debated as over-priced, but I saw plenty of unusually pricey menus in windows while out on my walk. But, not every place is attempting you rip you off.

Spain is not hot all year around, despite what some think. Cuenca is located in a gorgeous but unforgiving landscape, so take a jacket unless its August.

Don’t expect Cuenca to be lively and exciting like a city. You might be disappointed. The place met all my expectations, but if you want to meet a sexy 19-year-old man-boy in an old town bar to engage in a fling with, you might be pushing your luck (What?! Some people like to judge people on looks and dream of Spanish interludes. Not me, but some people, it’s how romance novels are born). Likewise, if you’re not interested in war history, don’t travel with me!

The same generic Made in China souvenirs are available, like with anywhere. I did manage to buy a heavy stone model of the hanging houses, which was made locally.

Want to go but don’t know where to start? Take a look at the Spanish Thyme Traveller, who have just added Cuenca to their list of already well-planned holidays. Here is their latest blog post, all about a trip to Cuenca – A Visit to Cuenca Spain

IMG_3442

people declare their love on the San Pablo bridge so I did just that!

A LITTLE JAUNT TO SPAIN – REVIEW PART 4: On the road with ‘Blood in the Valencian Soil’

me book park

The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see – Gilbert K Chesterton

There are two things I don’t like – being mistaken for a romance novelist, and being called a tourist. I went to Spain without maps, guidebooks, or a plan for my trip. Yet, I decided to do something that would mix in two things I don’t like, and walked around like a tourist, taking photos of a book about love affairs destroyed by the Spanish Civil War. People in Valencia didn’t look twice at me, such is their relaxed nature. Madrileños looked at me like I was crazy, which was pretty fun. Either way, for several hours, I took photos of my last novel in some of the locations in the book.

me book

Caught being a tourist at Valencia’s Pont del Real

book brdge

Valencia’s Turia is a central point in the book through most of the novel, and in the titles to come in the ‘Secrets of Spain’ series. Who wouldn’t want to visit? I enjoyed sitting in the grass every day of my time in the city.

So here we are, in rough order as they appear in the novel, photos of my book and locations in BITVS. Even if you haven’t read the novel, you can still enjoy some beautiful parts of Spain –

B&W book cuenca

Chapter one – 1939: view of the Cuenca Convent San Pablo from the Beltrán family home in Barrio San Martín

IMG_3670

Chapter one – 1939: Cuenca’s Casas Colgadas, Hanging Houses, where Cayetano, Alejandro, Scarlett, Luna and Sofía discuss the civil war

IMG_3802

Chapter two – 2009: Madrid’s Plaza de Toros near where Luna meets Cayetano ‘the bull-minder’

madrid

Chapter two – 2009: a walk in Madrid’s Retiro park

ritz book door

Chapter three – 2009: a night at Madrid’s Ritz hotel

IMG_3828

luna house 1939 book

Chapter seven – 1939: the drop from Luna’s window

book park

Chapter eight – 2009: Cayetano follows Luna in Valencia’s Turia

cuenca bridge book

cuenca

Chapter 11 – 2009: Luna and Cayetano go to Cuenca in search of their namesakes

cuenca cathedral

cathdral book

Chapter 12 – 2009: Cayetano and Luna get into a fight at Cuenca’s cathedral

san martin book 1

Chapter 13 – 1939: Luna, Cayetano and Scarlett panic run up Cuenca’s Barrio San Martín steps

IMG_3795

parador book

Chapter 14 – 2009: a stolen night in Cuenca’s parador

park madrid book 2

Chapter 19 – 2009: another visit to Madrid to uncover the Beltrán family secret

luna 2

Chapter 21 – 1939: a secret burial in the Valencian mountains

book torre up close

me torre

Chapter 21 – 1939: arriving in Valencia as the war comes to an end

palca del angel book

valencia 8

Chapter 21 – 1939: Placa del L’Angel, where a plan to survive the war is hatched

serrano

IMG_2885

el carmen

Chapter 24 – 2009: a disasterous night out in Valencia’s El Carmen district

L 'Oronet

book mountain

Chapter 26 – 2009: a secret hideaway in the Valencian mountains is found

cloxck tower

Chapter 29 – 1939: panic at the clock tower at Valencia’s port

IMG_3618

Chapter 33 – 2009: Luna goes back to work as a Valencian bike mechanic

bridge names

Chapter 34 – 2009 and 1939: a declaration of love (written on Cuenca’s gorge bridge) that is broken and forgotten

IMG_3616

Chapter 35 – 2009: Cayetano hears a painful truth, another barrier to getting back in the bullring

virgen

Chapter 39 – 2009: a bullfighter and a bike mechanic at the Valencia’s Plaza de la Virgen fountain

water court

Chapter 39 – 2009: the entrance to the Valencia cathedral where the Water Court meet

luna 1

Chapter 45 – 2009: a new grave discovered in the Valencia mountains

There you have it! Because I am doing posts on Valencia, Madrid and Cuenca, I didn’t feel the need to go into specific detail about each location, I will save that for other posts. In the spirit of not planning my trip, I unexpectedly ended up in Xátiva. I didn’t want to visit the town again, but the fun trip gave me this photo, standing in the spot where, in 2005, my husband took a random scenic photo. It ended up being the photo that graces the cover of BITVS, but I didn’t have a copy of the book on me that day!

IMG_2521

So, what happened to the copy of the book in the photos? It got autographed and given to a friend who was kind enough to accompany me on a very cold day out in Madrid as I took the photos. Thank you for your good humour and an arm-in-arm stroll in Retiro, in the spirit of the novel. Being able to talk about Spain and the civil war every day was the highlight of my trip.

Up next… Part 5 (of 10) – Madrid Tapas and History Tour with James Blick

*all photos are authors own, with the exception of photos 1 & 2. Owner – Sabine Kern.