Ávila To Trujillo – Ordering More Drink, Food & Ice Cream And Opportunities Missed

I am really enjoying my time In Spain.

Aside from using the trip to test my proficiency (or not) in using the Spanish I have learnt, I am really enjoying my experience of this amazing country.

It is a beautiful part of the world with some amazing and even breathtaking scenery. Rich in culture, the people are incredibly friendly.

Spanish people are different to me. The culture is different to mine and of course the language is different.

But what I am finding is that my experience on this trip is being infinitely enhanced by trying to engage the locals in their language.

Speaking Spanish Breaks Through “The Fourth Wall”

When actors perform on stage in a play they describe the barrier between them and the audience as “the fourth wall”. It is an impenetrable but transparent barrier that allows the audience to watch what is going on but not take part.

I think if you visit a country and don’t even try to engage the locals in their language then there will be this “fourth wall” between you and them. You can watch what is going on, but you can’t get involved.

However when you start speaking the local lingo, even if your pronunciation is bad and your conjugations are wrong, then that wall still comes tumbling down.

I also think having a go is a mark of respect. I find it cringeworthy when I witness native English speakers attempt communication by speaking S-L-O-W-E-R and L-O-U-D-E-R in ENGLISH!

You might think it is a stereotype consigned to comedy soap operas like faulty towers, but on this trip I have seen it twice already (someone from Scotland and another from America)!

And so my decision to learn some Spanish has been one I am somewhat pleased with and is probably the key factor that has made the trip so far just as enjoyable.

Well now that I have waxed lyrically and philosophically, it’s time to get back to some practicalities.

Useful “Filler Phrases” To Use To Give You Time To Understand

Before I headed off on the next leg of my journey, I needed to get breakfast.

I wasn’t sure whether breakfast was either included in the price of my stay or indeed even available here. The answer to that came when I ventured into the reception area and saw that nothing had been set out.

I found Augustine, the owner of the place, taking in the morning air when I went out to check my bike.

We exchanged greetings and I commented on what a beautiful morning it was. He asked me something that I think was about quality of my sleep. I only sensed that because I recognised the root of the verb dormir (to sleep) in the middle of what he said. From that I surmised what he meant.

At this early stage, I think this is going to be commonplace in my conversations. I am going to have to work on what I can pick up from what they say and then use context to infer meaning.

That’s the scary part of this phase of learning Spanish.

Because I might get it wrong….!!!

So this adds another fear factor to the equation. Not only do we worry about using the right words and then pronouncing them correctly, there is this grey area of possible meaning!

With his (possible?) question about the quality of my sleep still ringing in my ears I responded with a hearty “Si, muy bien”.

This is a phrase that has infinite potential for use at just about any point in any conversation. It can be used to proffer a universally appropriate response to give you a bit of thinking time whilst you try and work out what they actually said.

Other useful phrases I have found that perform this function extremely well are:

“Por supuesto” – Of course
“Verdad” – True

Even a simple “Si” can help the dialogue flow along. This one has greater flexibility because variations of tone and even how many times you repeat it (emphatically or not) can give different meanings.

I am finding I use this last one a lot.

Planning And The Right Way To Use google Translate

Another good principle to apply at this early stage of my Spanish speaking journey is planning and anticipation. Often my brain “seizes up” in the moment when I am trying to think of words to say. It’s a form of linguistic performance anxiety.

So one one to overcome that is to prepare in advance what you are going to say.

I knew I needed to ask what time breakfast would be served in town. So I quickly consulted Google Translate for the best way to say that. I knew the words for breakfast, and the phrases “at what time” and “in town” and had an idea what to say but was uncertain.

You might think that is cheating. But consulting Google Translate or your Phrase book when you are not sure is actually a great way to push your language boundaries a bit more.

Relying on these continually is not good. They are there to be a back up when there is doubt.

In this case, I was pretty close and so got a good dose of positive reinforcement.

So in my broken Spanish conversation with Augustine, I popped in the phrase:

“¿A que hora el desayuno en la ciudad?”

His response after looking up to the sun and checking his watch….


So off I popped into the walled section of the old town of Ávila looking for somewhere to eat.

Stating The Obvious Is Still Practicing Your Spanish!

I eventually found a restaurant in one of the squares just outside the walls on the other side of the old town. It clearly served breakfast. There were people sipping coffee, knocking back orange juice and munching on pastries.

But I still walked in and asked the lady behind the counter if they served breakfast…

“¿Tiene desayuno?”.

She looked at me like I was stupid and without saying anything, cast her arms around the place in a “this is what we do” shrug of her shoulders.

Of course I knew that but I just wanted to roll out the bit of Spanish that I knew was relevant to the situation that was in.

You have to take your chances when they appear you know… even if they do seem a little odd to the locals!

So in a brief conversation with my slightly bemused Spanish waitress, I ordered breakfast of pastries, orange juice and green tea.

Later on I asked another waitress if they had hot chocolate using the phrase “¿Tiene chocolate caliente?”. I wasn’t sure whether that was the correct phrase – I just combined the two individual words I knew that were relevant and hoped for the best.

Sometimes you have to do this… take a punt and see what happens.

You will not learn every phrase you will use by rote. You learn the vocabulary, understand how to link them together with a bit of grammar and then you have the raw material to say just about anything that you want.

Sometimes you will get it right… sometimes you won’t.

I’ll never know whether her emphatic response of “No” was because they didn’t have any or it was the wrong phrase to use!

After a leisurely breakfast in the morning sun, it was back to the hotel to pack the bike and head off on to the next stage of my journey.

Today I was heading to Trujillo.

More Encounters Involving Food And Drink

The rest of my encounters today were with people who either served me food or gave me a bed for the night.

After just a handful of days in this wonderful country I am getting the hang of ensuring some of my more basic needs are being met.

At the bar in Cuacos de Yuste on the N-120 after a hot and sweaty descent into the valley, I asked for orange juice and water and if they had any food without meat. They didn’t but I spotted what I thought was a spanish omelete on the counter.

This is a classic spanish dish containing papa, huevo, cebolla, and aceite de oliva (look ’em up!). Pointing at it, I asked “¿Tortilla espanola?”. It was and tasted delicious.

Fed and watered again and all in Spanish!

I do think I still need to work on my pronunciation though. When I asked for the bill, the young girl looked at me like she didn’t understand what I thought was a correctly pronounced “¿Tiene pagar por favor?”

After some consultation with the boss, I was given the bill, I paid up and said “Adiós” as I departed.

Back on the bike and eventually I arrived at my next port of call – the beautiful town of Trujillo.

This is an amazing place with a wonderful example of a Plaza Mayor. It’s a large circular cobbled area with a fountain in the centre. Along two sides there are rows of restaurants and shops and long the other two sides the plaza is flanked by an old church, a large monument and a cluster of arches.

Up on the hill overlooking all of the old town is the fort and up near that in the maze of small winding cobbled backstreets was my guest house. I navigated my way up narrow inclines and around sharp bends and eventually parked my bike opposite where I would be staying tonight.

Using “Old Faithful” To Check In Again

I eventually found the correct entrance, pressed the bell and waited. After a few seconds (though it felt longer), the intercom buzzed and a distant and rather fuzzy Spanish voice said “¿Si?”

So out came my stock phrase for moments like this:

“¿Tiene una reservación para mi por esta noche?”

I know they have because I made the reservation. But I am in the groove with this phrase and as it has initiated some great conversations already, I am reluctant to change it.

I suppose I could have pushed the boat out a little, been a little more assertive and said:

“Tengo una reservación por esta noche”.

But being hot and sweaty and still recovering from a rather technical ride from the Plaza Mayor up to this spot, I resorted to what I knew worked. Why complicate matters unecessarily?

I introduced myself to Ricardo when he welcomed me in and he showed me the two options I had for a choice of room. I settled for the one downstairs which he said he preferred.

I established there was wifi and he gave me the password. We had a conversation about where best to park my bike and I established what time dinner and breakfast were.

All in Spanish.

Probably broken Spanish. But communication was achieved.

I am still struggling to understand everything being said to me. But I know enough words to latch on to some of what is being said and then infer meaning

Time To Explore…And Order More Food!

After sorting out the bike, getting my kit ready for the morning and then having a shower I went for a wander around the town.

Trujillo is a magnificent example of a Spanish town and so I took the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of the old part around the Plaza Mayor.

After walking around for a while, I settled down at a table outside one of the restaurants on the edge of the Plaza and just took in the view.

I ordered drinks and went through the “¿Tiene comida sin carne?” routine that was becoming a stable part of my repertoire. I was given the menu and opted for something I recognised – Calamares fritos y patatas fritas.

As I stayed there for a good couple of hours taking in the atmosphere of the late afternoon and early evening, more drinks were ordered.

Because I was on holiday I thought I would treat myself to (another!) ice cream. “Helado” is a good word to use if you want to indulge in “postre”. I asked the waiter if they had any ice cream and he rattled off a string of options as though trying for a world speed talking record.

I have met the worlds fastest talking woman when we spoke at the same conference in New York a couple of years ago… this guy sounded just as fast!

Fortunately I recognised “Cornetto” and so with an internal sigh of relief I asked for one of those.


He rattled off another string of options equally as fast. This was the flavour of cornettos this fine establishment could offer.

Fortunately I also recognised the word “chocolate” and so picked that one.

The casual observer would have seen a tourist having a leisurely chat to the waiter about ice cream. They would have seen the waiter present a number of options and seen the tourist confidently make his selection.

But inside I was panicking with all of this new and strange data coming my way.

Like a linguistic duck on water – smooth progress on the surface, feet paddling like crazy underneath!

Imagine my relief when there were a couple of words I recognised that I could latch on to.

Even if I didn’t like chocolate cornettos, I was having one!

And then finally it was time to ask for “la cuenta”, pay up and depart.

Have I Missed A Trick?

Today’s conversations have been primarily functional. But that was the point of learning Spanish for this trip.

However on reflection I probably missed a number of opportunities to engage in real conversations beyond the transactional ones I have majored on so far.

Whilst at the restaurant numerous Spanish people sat around me and there is no reason why I couldn’t have tried to engage in at least a brief conversation with them.

Just behind me six young Spanish women in their late teens/early twenties giggled and laughed about things. I could have struck up a conversation with them – though I must admit the smoke from their cigarettes was a little bit off putting.

And then just opposite me there was an older couple sat having a coffee. He spent most of his time puffing on his cigar with his nose in his smartphone. She looked completely bored and I am sure would have gladly spoken to me.

I suppose I just have got to pluck up the courage, say “Hola” and see where it takes me.

But overall, despite the odd blip and perhaps some missed opportunities to practice my Spanish, I am really pleased with how things are going.

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