Monthly Archives: September 2011

Próxima parada: Segovia

After our lesson learned with Toledo, Leigh and I mistakenly carried on an air of pride as if we knew what to do for our next trip. Take the metro to Atocha, buy tickets and catch the train. Easy peasy.

Wrong.

We get to Atocha, only to realize that we were supposed to go to a different train station. After finding out that there was more than one bus station, why didn’t it occur to us that there would be more than one train station? I will leave this question unanswered.

So, from Atocha, instead of hopping back onto the metro, we were able to catch the Cercanías (a regional train, much slower than the Ave) to Chamartín, where we then got off, bought tickets, then hopped back on to get to Segovia. To put train speeds into perspective, the Ave takes 30 minutes, and the Cercanías takes up to 2 hours. The latter, however, goes through a more scenic route and gets us closer to the city center in Segovia.

Neither of us came prepared with a plan nor any sort of guide book. I then took out my Kindle and, with a few clicks, we became well-equipped with The Rough Guide to Spain. Hello, my name is Christine, and I am a recent Kindle-convert.

Segovia, Spain

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The aqueduct looks like brick fencing for giants. On one hand, it seems out of place in the midst of roads and passing vehicles (similar to the Colosseum in Rome) and, on the other, it seems magical, a monument constantly reminding the city of its history. A very cute and jolly grandpa (a local) saw us passing by, and stopped to tell us that the stones were held in place not by mortar or concrete but by weight balance, a fact I had read in our guide book. He also told us that the Romans were very intelligent in building the aqueduct and that the Spaniards would not have thought of the process themselves, a fact you probably would not find in a guide book.

We walked up a staircase on one side for a better view of the aqueduct stretching out along the city center. Another cute and jolly grandpa, upon seeing us with our cameras, gestured towards a corner that ended up being a great photo spot. Gracias a todos los abuelos alegres 🙂

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Iglesia de San Martín

Before this photo, I took about four other, each of which featured an annoying Asian tourist posing in ill-fitted and/or ill-patterned clothing. Some people should be banned from wearing white pants.

Sometimes I wonder, how could you stand yourself wearing clothing so tight, that your rear and thighs resemble a topographical map of mountain ranges?

051_Plaza Mayor

A five minute walk later, we reached Plaza Mayor and the enormous cathedral. Although a lot of churches and cathedrals look the same in Europe, this one seemed particularly magnificent among the tiny surrounding terra cotta-roofed houses.

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We walked into the above part of the cathedral…or…were we transported to Hogwarts?!?! Okay, maybe not, but a girl can dream :*(

Yes, that is a tear.

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Right before entering the Alcázar, we were welcomed by a panoramic view of the Zamarramala area, with Iglesia de la Vera Cruz in the distance. This church was built by the Knights Templar and was said to have had a piece of the true cross (vera cruz). Upon reading this, I suddenly felt like Robert Langdon in the middle of a religious puzzle.

Back to reality, the first cute and jolly grandpa from before told us to trek down there for an amazing view of the Alcázar, a castle so impressive that it inspired Walt Disney’s trademark castle. The entrance only provided a one side view that made the castle look like an ordinary structure. Unfortunately, the two main pathways going downhill were blocked off by construction, and the only other way to get there was too far of a walk. Bah!

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So, instead, I offer you an entrance view, a full frontal.

Walking back towards the aqueduct, I realized that there was a bus that went towards Zamarramala. When the bus arrived, we asked the bus driver if it was going in our intended direction. His incoherent response + lack of time drove us off the bus. Bah, again!

To cheer up the mood, Leigh and I went to a nearby cafe for a glass of wine. Losing track of time, we asked for the check too late. In Spain, you should give the waiter an ample amount of time for him to bring you the check at an appropriate snail pace. Believe me, that snail would give you the check the next day if he had the option. And so, we ended up missing our train back and dishing out some more dough to catch the next one. Why do we have such bad luck with transportation? I should throw some salt over my shoulder (and some onto that snail of a waiter), and be done with it all.

Primera parada

Toledo, Spain

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Leigh (my roommate) and I bought train tickets the day before to avoid the next day’s morning rush and long lines. So, with tickets pre-purchased, what did we decide to do the night before our trip? Sleep early like logical people? No. We botellón-ed with Amy (my other roommate) and her gay friends until 3am to celebrate her 25th, got “yelled” at via a note on a crumpled piece of paper thrown from a window for being too noisy on the streets, ran away from an approaching police car, and danced at Stardust with more gay men until 5am. Not to mention, I was dragged by one of the men down the stairs from the mid-level of the club into a crowded men’s bathroom, then back up the stairs to another bathroom (this one vomit-scented) where he then fixed his hair and introduced me to a guy from Boston who had just done his liquidy business and was zipping up. During introductions, Mr. Boston placed his unwashed hand upon my shoulder after which we finally left the bathroom and I was reunited with my worried roommates. Um, what just happened?

(Dictionary: botellón basically involves a group of people drinking alcohol on the streets. Is it legal? Um, well, we ran away from the police.)

I woke up too late the next morning to wash away my cigarette smoked hair but, was still running on schedule to catch the Renfe to Toledo. Everything seemed fine until we realized that the sign at the metro platform announcing the arrival of the next subway in 4 minutes hadn’t changed in the past five or six minutes. When we finally reached the Atocha stop, we ran for dear life towards the Renfe platform and the gates had already closed. We saw that the train hadn’t yet closed their doors but the ticket ladies refused to open the gate. No exchanges, no refunds. And, the next two trains were sold out. Ha, the one thing in Spain that actually runs on time.

So, we asked the information desk how to get to the bus station. Take Linea 7 to Avenida de América. We double checked the metro map and realized that she told us the longer route. Great. Upon reaching Avenida de América, we find out at another information desk that we were supposed to go to Plaza Elíptica instead. More great. Finally reaching the correct station, we caught a bus to Toledo and passed out from exhaustion.

The one redeeming factor of the morning debacle – on the metro ride to Avenida de América, there was a panhandler performing with a Native American-esque tribal flute (think Times Square), and a guy from Amsterdam asked us if this was a common occurrence in a Madrid subway car. This guy was, for a lack of a better word, HOT! And that Dutch accent? SIZZLE. To my dismay, he was just passing through on vacation and was not going in our direction. And, of course, we meet this guy while I am greasy and disheveled. Lovely.

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The weather here in the middle of Spain has been gorgeous. Sun and breeze, with very little humidity. That didn’t stop my heat rashes from taking over but, I blame that particularly on my lack of SPF application. Hooray for serpentine skin and accelerating the aging process!

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Toledo unexpectedly took my breath away. It had a mix of small town and old world charm, and was very reminiscent of Tuscany with its tall thin cypress trees. Since we lost about three hours from the morning fiasco, we didn’t get to go inside the cathedral or the alcazar. This calls for another visit (later this week!).

Getting lost can sometimes have its perks, such as running into a group of traditionally-attired men singing, dancing and playing instruments.

Onto the tourist attractions…

015_Sinagoga del Transito

Sinagoga del Tránsito, which is free from 2pm until closing on Saturdays.

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Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca (not worth visiting despite what the above photo might suggest)

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And to offset the appetizer and entree of synagogues, here is a nice cathedral dessert.