December 3, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Travel, Travels in Spain

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It’s been awhile since I last went to Cuenca, probably a couple of years. The last time I went, I wasn’t blogging yet, so I’m glad that I can now add a little bit about the charming city hanging on the precipice of a deadly gorge ;).

We gave my family the option of going to Ávila or Cuenca, and they chose Cuenca – thankfully. I needed to visit some place that I hadn’t been in awhile. Unfortunately, when we were about 45 minutes into the drive, we discovered that several of the main roads were completely closed and that we would have to take several detours to get there. 45 minutes in, and we figured we may as well go all the way. Almost two hours later and we arrived in Cuenca where we parked in front of the Parador with the breathtaking view (quite literally breathtaking considering the steep cliff just feet away) of the old city of Cuenca and its hanging housings (casas colgadas).

Angie and I clenched each other’s arms as we carefully stepped are way across the bridge spanning the two sides of the deep valley. Every squeaky wood panel sent a shiver up my spine. I am not going to lie, I watched where Jacob stepped and carefully stepped in his footsteps (is that ridiculous?).

We managed to arrive safely on the other side and headed straight for lunch at a restaurant right at the mouth of the city. In the foyer I paid close attention to the paintings on the walls as my Spanish professor from the US, Rebeca, had told me that her father had painted them, and sure enough, I saw her last name inscribed on each painting.

We enjoyed another yummy Spanish meal as we peered out the windows of our “hanging” restaurant. The lunched was finished off by a yummy coffee liqueur that is a speciality of Cuenca. After this, we walked through the old city, stopping in shops along the way. I was somewhat disillusioned by the pungent smell in many of the shops (what was it – cheese?), almost irritated that they were ruining the impression my family would have of such a lovely city.

We came upon a hole in the wall shop (really, it did seem like a hole in the wall, what with Jacob having to duck his head constantly and the teeny tiny window in back that looked out over another steep slope). At this shop they sold loads of handmade bowls, plates etc (the shop, called Cuencos de Cuenca, literally means bowls of Cuenca) all made by an artist born and raised in Cuenca. I had to buy a few of the darling colorful tea cups.

Across the street, my aunt Kia checked out a wine and cheese shop to see if she could find any of the yummy coffee liqueur. When I entered the shop I was greeted by that strong smell again – what was the problem with this place!?? My mom and Kia made some purchases, while Jacob and I stayed behind talking with the chatty shop owner about cheese (Cuenca is in Castilla La Mancha, the home of my favorite staple food – manchego cheese). She gave us a long dissertation about how her cheese was the best artisanal cheese, and how she guaranteed it would be good. After her long speech, we felt we could hardly leave without buying some of the famous cheese (as if I ever need an excuse anyway).

We made the long drive back to the city where the Madrid Christmas lights were finally blazing. We drove up and down the Castellana and down toward Puerta de Alcala gazing at the twinkling lights all the way. We finished off the day with dinner at our favorite Madrid spot – Rubaiyat.

The next day, Jacob and I opened the manchego and suddenly our kitchen was filled with the intense odor that I recognized from Cuenca. I was skeptical – I love manchego, but this could be a stretch. One bite though and I realized how very wrong I was – best manchego ever! Lesson learned – don’t judge a cheese by its smell.