I had put Cuenca on my itinerary purely on the basis of a picture I had seen of its famed Casas Colgadas, literally translated, the Hanging Houses. When I got off the station I was sure I had made some mistake. Maybe there were two Cuencas in Spain? The station was in a kind of a trench so I could not see much more than the hills around it. Once outside the station, I could see some housing blocks and factories, and my heart sank. That could not be the setting for an UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Everybody had rushed off to the only vehicle standing in the huge parking lot, a yellow bus. The bus moved towards civilisation. Boxes of motel chains, expanses of car dealerships and factories spewing smoke dotted the route before the bus came to its destination. Sensing that I am a tourist, the bus driver told me to take another bus from there to go to the touristic part of the city.
"Las Casas Colgadas?" I ventured.
Whew! Maybe this is what they meant when they referred to it as a hidden treasure. One had to peel off the ugly layers to get there! As the next bus moved from cemented roads to cobblestoned streets and started winding up steep narrow pathways, my spirits rose. Little dollhouses with painted wooden shutters lined the streets and church spires vied for attention in the background. The bus dropped me off at the top of the hill. The surrounding cliffs looked like deformed demon faces had been cut into the mountains. The rooftops of the village I had just come through spread out beneath me with narrow winding paths running through them. And then I spotted them, halfway down, hanging off the steep cliffs and at the same time clinging on to the village paths, las Casas Colgadas. As I started walking towards them, I felt like I had gone up Enid Blyton's Enchanted tree and entered a strange, strange land. After a closer view of the Casas Colgadas I spent a couple of hours walking around the village before heading back.
Would I recommend Cuenca as a must-see? Probably not as the town does not offer enough to warrant a full day trip. But if you are in the vicinity, it is worth a zip through and a short stop.
Once back in Madrid, I had one quick stop to make before I called it a day - Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home to Real Madrid. I am no football fan so I must admit that the key reason for this visit was simply to incite envy in all my football crazy friends. But, there is no mistaking the magic of the place even with the bleachers empty. No football fan should leave Madrid without visiting the Stadum as the tour gives access to all the areas - bleachers, VIP stand, pitch, player's tunnel, the benches, dressing room, trophy room...the works!
From a lost ancient wonder to a modern sporting Mecca...what a day!