Saturday, June 9, 2012

Segovia: a day trip from Madrid

the city

For the first weekend in Madrid, I wanted to take Saturday for a day trip, and I wanted to go to Segovia. It's a small town about an hour northwest of Madrid by bus for 7 euros each way (the alternative, the AVE that takes about 30 minutes, was 12 euros each way, and at this point I didn't have a Eurail pass). Mary,  Josh, and I went to Princípe Pío to buy the bus tickets 15 minutes before the bus left. No problem! 


A 5 minute walk from the bus station we get to a beautiful church
with a nice altar, 
an organ,
and an alcove where bad priests have to sit
(just kidding; I don't mean to offend any Catholics. I just don't know what this little alcove is for...). 


We weren't in a hurry, so we leisurely passed the wedding party clearly waiting to go into the church and walked up to one of three attractions of Segovia: the Roman aqueduct. 
The aqueduct was still used to carry water from the mountains to the city up until the year 1980 or so, and is the best-preserved stretch of aqueduct in Spain. But the most surprising thing about Roman architecture (and this aqueduct) was that the Romans didn't use any mortar!
They were architectural geniuses, those Romans. 


So we walked up the city walls (Segovia is one of the few cities in Spain that has a city wall around it)
and into the main square (called Plaza Mayor, of course). There were two main things to see in Segovia, the cathedral and the Alcazár. 

the cathedral

We didn't have to wait in line to get into the cathedral at all. It was a few euros to enter, with no discounts given to students. I guess the Catholic Church isn't a fan of catering to the poorer sectors of society... oh wait...
Inside was a standard, typical cathedral. If you've seen one, you've seen all. But what I did like was that the art had some kind of cynical sense of humor:
It's not every day that you see Jesus and a skeleton chillin' under a tree. I'm sure this has some deeper religious meaning, and if anyone knows what it is I'd love to hear it (either email me or post it in the comments). 

lunch and (not) cochinillo

After seeing the cathedral Josh, Mary, and I tried to find a place recommended by Rick Steve's guidebook to go to lunch. We had a map, so we found the place without too much difficulty. We had to walk out of the city walls and into a more residential area, but it turns out that when we got to the location of the restaurant, they were randomly closed for the day. 

The reason we wanted to go to this place was that we wanted to try the famous Segovian cochinillo, or roast suckling pig. It's basically a fetal pig (think AP Biology dissection day) that gets slowly roasted over the fire. When it gets served to you, the waiter cracks the head open with a wooden board and you enjoy the juicy tender meat of the fetal pig. Unfortunately I have no pictures of this since (a) it cost something like 26 euros a person and (b) we never did find a good place to eat it.... 

Instead we ate a classic menu del día that included Castellano soup (a soup made of large white beans), fish or lamb chops, a small salad, desert, and wine or sparkling water. All this costing each of us 13 euros. Not a bad deal compared to that cochinillo...

the alcazár - Disney's inspiration

After lunch we met up with the other group from MIT (Sam, Carlos, Lucas, Cristina, and a non-MIT friend Fabio) to see the Alcazár.  It was pretty cool to see the castle that inspired Walt Disney's princess castle. 
It does look like the standard Disney castle, doesn't it? Can you tell which is which? (hint: the one on the left is in Segovia). 

the word "alcazár"

The word alcazár in Spanish actually derives from an Arabic word that used to mean "fort."  However, it's a word specific to castles in Spain and Portugal - it signified more than a fort. It was a fort, castle, home for the royal family, and symbol of power. The old Arabic word was thought to derive from a word meaning "army camp", so it's not surprising that the Alcazár at Segovia had a bit of an army development station.

other castle features

Firstly, the castle was built in the 12th century and served as a home for many many monarchs of Castille (the province that Segovia is located in). Because it was such a strategic military point for many Castillian monarchs, the army development in the Alcazár was quite cool. They did lots of arms research
which apparently included these stylish armor shoes at one point in time:
(Yes, I'm wearing jeans and closed-toed shoes because a bit north of Madrid the air is cooler and it was only about 70 degrees that day. Perfect day for a day trip.)

But the best part of the arms research was this little model of a lathe for making cannons! 

surprise Jews!

The two MIT groups parted ways after wandering the city a bit after seeing the Alcazár. Of course, we stopped to get ice cream as one does on a hot Spanish day. But after that, the other MIT group was off to catch their train, but Josh and Mary and I had some time to kill before our bus, so we decided to walk around the outskirts of the city rather than the touristy inner walls. We came upon an old Jewish cemetery in the process!
 And got a nice picture of the entire town of Segovia too:

concluding remarks and advice

All in all, the trip was great. We got back to Madrid at around 8pm and were ready to go out to explore the nightlife in Madrid after we got back. On the bus ride, we passed along one of the main highways leading north from Madrid, from which you can see the Valle de los Caídos from the highway. I unfortunately don't have any pictures of this, since it was getting dark and taking pictures through dirty glass bus windows don't work out so well. 

If I were to do this trip over again, I would spend even less time in Segovia than I did. I ended up spending something like 10 hours in Segovia (arrived at 10ish am and left at 8ish pm), and it turned out to be more than enough time to see everything I wanted to see, walk around, and have a nice relaxing lunch. It was a good first day trip to do just to see how long it takes to see a city, but now I know that I could spend less time and be just as happy. 

Cheers to Spanish towns!