Monday, December 15, 2008

Zero Tolerance In Madrid's Mountains

This weekend in Madrid has been as cold as any I can remember in recent years. After what I have now taken to calling Grim Saturday, when it snowed a little in the centre of the city and rained the rest of the day, it didn't seem like a very promising idea to spend Sunday in the mountains outside of Madrid. If I'd known anyone prepared to suggest a cordero asado for lunch followed by a lazy afternoon cinema session then the decision would quickly have gone the other way. The snow was already around us as we left the city limits yesterday morning and headed for Cercedilla, one of the easiest points for accessing the sierra. Even parking wasn't easy, the normal place to leave a car was out of bounds to those not carrying chains for the wheels.

Despite all of this, we had a fantastic day. The really bad weather seemed to be concentrating on the highest peaks, and we made our way through the snowy woods in reasonably comfortable conditions. The seasons make all the difference, and a landscape with which I'm very familiar in spring or summer looks entirely different with snow deep enough to reach the top of your boots or higher. The branches of the pine trees were bending under the weight of snow, and every rocky outcrop with water passing over it had its formation of long, jagged icicles. On the way down we were finally caught by a blizzard and the wind drove the snow into our faces for about 15-20 minutes, leaving a legacy of icy crystals behind it. It didn't matter, once we got low enough the freezing wind was left behind and we had that great Spanish winter invention, a steaming hot caldo, in the restaurant down at the bottom.

A couple of weeks ago, when the weather was not quite so severe, we did another great walk in La Pedriza. This is another area that takes on a completely new look when the huge granite boulders have a layer of snow. I used to think this part of the sierra would be out of bounds in wet or icy conditions, but the variety of walks you can do makes it an option for all weathers as there are easy walks in the woods for those who reject the idea of having to use their hands to get over some of the rockier parts. This time around we took the walk more or less to the limit where danger becomes a factor as the ice on the rocks made scrambling a risky option. The reward is the clarity of cold late autumn days and we still got enough sun to have a 15 minute lunch stop on one of the better view points. Today in Madrid the sun is out again but even in mid morning it was still only 2 degrees in the street. I think I'll go back to Germany for a few days, a bratwurst and glühwein in the Christmas market makes the cold a bit easier to bear. The funny thing is that when I tell people there how things have been in Madrid this weekend I'm sure I will get looks of disbelief; the idea of freezing conditions in Spain isn't accepted by most northern Europeans who only know the country from summer visits.

1 comment:

Keef said...

We keep playing with the idea of a weekend trip up to Cotos, having not seen yer actual real snow that falls out of the sky (apart from the unconvincing bit we had yesterday) for about 16 years. And you're right about the disbelief thing: I was telling my Dad the other day how cold it had been in Madrid. Mind you, he still believes that Dubai is in Saudi Arabia.