On Saturday of my weekend in Madrid we took a day-trip out to Segovia, a little town about 90 kilometres away from Madrid. After Renfe, the national Spanish train company, made things slightly difficult, we ended up on the slow, but cheap, train to Segovia. The weather was marvellous, a perfectly clear sky with lots of warm sunshine, both things I have come to appreciate so very much living in rainy Asturias.
Walking in to the old town from the train station the first spot we came across was the Aqueduct that originally dates from Roman times. Even taking into account the fact that it has been rebuilt and restored a number of times, it is very impressive. It has beautiful, even arches, lovely stone work and a Virgin hiding away in a little niche. With clear, blue sky behind it, it could not fail to be very picturesque.
We found the best way to see the town was to cut a path from the Aqueduct on one side, through the tiny, cobbled streets and the Catedral de Santa María in the middle, out to the Alcázar (fortress) on the other side of the old town. This took us to the three main attractions and we got a lovely walk in between. So from the Aqueduct we took some back streets and meandered down to the Plaza Mayor, which is somewhat overshadowed by Segovia’s Cathedral.
The Cathedral boasts the usual plethora of side chapels and ornate choir stalls but it also has some great artworks. After the bright sunshine it was a little chilly though!
From the Cathedral we really only had to keep following one street to wind up at the Alcázar. We decided to skip the Artillery Museum inside but I did buy a ticket to climb the Torre de Juan II (one of the fortress’s towers), laughing at the warning that the 152 step staircase was “not for unhealthy people”. Turns out the spiral staircase is more unsuitable for claustrophobic people or anyone bigger than about a size 12. It was a tight squeeze! Especially with people walking both up and down and trying to pass each other. However the views from the top, looking back towards the Cathedral towering over the old town and the snow-capped mountains in the background, were magnificent and worth the effort.
One delicious lunch later and we were back on the train to Madrid. One siesta later and we were heading out to dinner and our last night together before my lovely friend headed off to Barcelona the next morning. We ate in the Plaza Mayor, which turned out to be much more touristy in the evening but beautiful all the same. A chocolate con churros each later and we were very ready to sleep! The next day was to be my last in Madrid and I still had plenty left to see!
I finally made the trip to Spain’s capital back in early April when I made plans to meet a friend visiting from Australia for the weekend. I took the train from Oviedo on Thursday evening, and it turned out to be a very comfortable, pleasant journey of approximately 6 hours. I got to read, stretch out my legs in the tons of leg-room and watch first the mountains of Asturias and then the plains of Castilla y León pass by. My point here: trains are awesome! (My cross-country bus trips in Semana Santa really proved this too).
The next morning we started out with few fixed plans, just a generally idea of walking in a vague direction and seeing a few of the sights. We started out at the Plaza Mayor, which was lovely in the early morning without so many tourists and touts (except for Minnie Mouse who seemed to think we were famous because she kept wanting to have a photo with us…) We also headed out to the Palacio Real and climbed up the dome of the Catedral Almudena next to it for a lovely view over the city. All of this seemingly organised sightseeing was interspersed with copious amounts of aimless wandering but it was nice getting to see the city, something you miss out on if you just take the metro from your hostel to your chosen tourist attraction.
View of the Palacio Real from the Catedral de la Almudena
After a yummy lunch involving delicious tortilla española and a good dose of caffeine, we spent a large part of the afternoon exploring the collection of the Museo del Prado. Madrid has three world-renowned museums, all located within the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, a little corner of Madrid. The Prado is the most famous and houses European art spanning the 12th to 19th centuries. Famous Spanish artists such as Velázquez, Goya and El Greco have lots of paintings on display, as do Ruebens and Bosch. There are also a few paintings by my favourite Spanish artist Sorolla (but I got to see many, many more at the dedicated Museo de Sorolla later that weekend). The Prado is very big, not anything like the Louvre, but it would take you a long time to see everything properly.
An early evening siesta later and we headed out for more tasty tapas and Spanish wine. We had an early night though to get ready for our early train out to Segovia the next morning!
PS: No surprises, Mum picked all of the right royals from the last post. They were (in no particular order): Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Catherine and William the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, Charles Prince of Wales and Prince Henry who is more commonly known as Prince Harry!
This past Friday I was grateful, not for the first time, that I don’t have to work on Fridays! Instead I spent the morning indulging in Twinings tea and coverage of the Royal Wedding. Of course this was coverage with a distinctly Spanish air. Mostly it was the morning programs showing the Wedding, complete with a panel of raucous, over-dressed commentators. Naturally the English vows, the service and the music didn’t mean an awful lot to them, so after the arrival of the bride and the most important part of the whole day (the Dress) it was back to loud, heated discussions about who was the best dressed, who was the worst dressed, what the Spanish royal family was wearing and so on. Still, it was an experience, and I learnt a whole bunch of new names for the members of the royal family. With that in mind, it’s time for a new competition: guess away at these Spanish versions of the names of some of our royals.
Reina Isabel II
Duquesa de Cornualles
Carlos, Príncipe de Gales
Príncipe Felipe, Duque de Edimburgo
It is a truth universally acknowledged that grandmothers are in the business of feeding people. Spanish señoras seem to be particularly renowned for this habit. A few weeks ago my landlady took us to lunch at her mother’s house in her pueblo (village) called Salas. ‘Us’ is the three of us foreigners living in my landlady’s properties: myself, a girl from Guatemala and one from Mexico.
After the usual hair-raising drive we arrived in the little town of Salas on a fine, Spring day. We took a short stroll around the town before stopping at the bar for a quick drink in the sun while I tried my best to keep up with the conversation, and even – gulp – participate.
Tower from the old castillo in Salas
Just around the corner was our hostess’s house and we arrived to find red wine, ham, chorizo, cheese and croquetas (little deep fried balls of ham and cheese) ready and waiting. Then it was time for the first course: traditional Asturian fabada, a very rich bean stew with chunks of pork, chorizo and morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) mixed in, and fresh bread on the side. Second course: fried salted cod and salad with pork. Finally for dessert there was a huge dish of arroz con leche, literally rice with milk, essentially rice pudding. I cannot stress enough just how much food there was, nor how much of it was consumed! Our lovely hostess must have had leftovers for days.
Eventually we rolled from the table and back to car. On our way back to Oviedo we made a few stops in sweet little seaside towns, even getting out and stretching our legs in one: Cudillero. It was a gorgeous little town, on a hillside sloping right down into the sea, with the houses clinging to the land.
Houses in Cudillero
The seafront in Cudillero
It was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday and a great experience to have of real Spanish home-cooking, which I can certainly attest, in this case at least, is very delicious.
Nearly four days of almost total bed rest later I’m ready to start filling you all in on the last six weeks worth of adventures. Let’s go back to where I left off, Carnaval.
As you may remember, in Asturias there are two weekends for Carnaval, the last weekend before Lent and the real Carnaval, and the following weekend when Oviedo throws its own party.
By the second weekend of Carnaval I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling the motivation; the all-night dancing and freezing cold dawn Navia wanderings had taken their toll and I wasn’t feeling very well. So rather than hit up Carnaval with the other twentysomethings and repeat the partying and dress ups, I decided to enjoy the family-friendly version of Carnaval.
So I meandered down to the centre of Oviedo early in the evening to check out the parade of groups wearing fabulous, bright costumes. The parade finished at the Plaza de Alfonso II, otherwise called the Plaza de la Catedral, where there was a big stage set up for the costume competition, complete with D-grade local celebrities to judge (there was a female judge dressed up as a dominatrix I’m pretty sure, she was even prancing round with a riding crop… It was all kinds of weird). As the parade wound up the Plaza filled right up with people and the competition got under way. My personal favourite was the Oreo biscuits complete with box (typical of the sweet-tooth, right?).
However I didn’t ever find out if they won the group section as during that section the heavens opened. And properly opened. I have never seen such a large crowd dissipate so quickly! People were sheltering in doorways or under balconies from the heavy rain and rising puddles or braving it and getting drenched (that was me, I forgot my umbrella. Stupid, stupid thing to do; in Asturias you never ever leave the house without your umbrella!). Halfway home the thunder and lightning started and I experienced my first, albeit brief, Spanish thunderstorm.
All in all it was a fun evening, the effort that goes into the costumes is remarkable and the monetary value of the prizes likewise!
The Mythology Society even had a dragon
The Plaza de la Catedral starting to fill up
The update: I am back home in foggy, rainy Oviedo after my trip to Andalucía for Semana Santa. Sadly, I am not at all ready to go back to school on Tuesday as I was struck down during my holiday by a particularly vicious head-cold that I still can’t kick.
The apology is for being so far behind on my blog posts! I have about six weeks of stories and photos to share, so once I am fully recovered you can expect to have your inbox or Facebook feed stuffed with updates from me.
I will leave you in the meantime with one of my favourite photos of the trip (out of the 800 or so I took…). It is of a woman taking part in a procession in Granada, holding her candle and swinging her rosary.
Las niñas en el mar by Joaquín Sorolla.
One of the best things I did in Madrid last weekend was visit the Museo de Sorolla. This painting struck a particular chord and so here it is for all of you to enjoy.