Segovia: An immersion in Architecture and Historic Treasures

SegoviaCredits:  Elements by Haynay Designs, Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, Sahlin Studio, Trixie Scarp Designs, Wimpy Chompers; Paper by Wimpy Chompers; Alpha by MissBehaving 2011

A visit to picturesque old city Segovia was an excellent way to cap off this month-long West Mediterranean trip. We spent the day exploring a castle, devouring a roasted suckling pig, taking lots of photographs and people watching.

tourists

This once sleepy Castilian town had a lot to offer and had us in awe at every turn, suffice it to say that we had a fun stroll.

wandering

A UNESCO World Heritage City, visitors fill the twisting alleyways wandering around a multitude of historic buildings, churches, and monuments.

Located just 80 kilometers from Madrid, it is only a 30-minute high-speed train ride away. If you have the time, seize the opportunity and take a trip to the walled old town of Segovia.

town

It is a good way to travel back in time, explore the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage-listed city by foot.

The Aqueduct

aqueduct-2

An impressive aqueduct built sometime in the 1st or 2nd century supplied water to the small town of Segovia, perched on a steep isolated hill and joined by two rivers.

aqueduct

The magnificent aqueduct bridge carried water from the Fuente Frio River traversing about 15km before entering this town.

Aqueduct-4Today its boasts of being one of the most significant and best-preserved works of Roman engineering on the Iberico Peninsula.

Segovia Cathedral

Cathedral

On the highest point in the old town, fronting the historic Plaza Mayor (Segovia’s main square) stands the Cathedral of Segovia, one of the last Gothic Cathedral built in Spain and Europe.

Plaza-Mayor-and-cathedral

The construction began in the early 16th century to replace an earlier cathedral destroyed during the war of the comuneros, a revolt against the King. I am awed by the details of this church.

cathedral-up-close

Alcazar

alcazar-2

Now, this looks like a castle straight out of a Disney fairytale.

alcazar-4

The castle rises out on a rock between the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers, a testament to its original military status. Being the favorite residence for Kings of Castile, the Alcazar was transformed from a small castle into an extraordinary palace.

alcazar-3

It played a crucial role in Spanish history because it was used in various ways throughout history.

alcazar-interior-2

Originally built as a fortress, it had served as home to royals before it became a state prison, a Royal Artillery College, and a military academy. Currently, it is a museum and home to the Spanish General Military Archive.

Lunch at the Meson de Candido Restaurant

Plaza de Azoguejo 5, 40001  +34 921 425911

Meson-de-Candido

An attraction in itself, the restaurant was declared a national monument in 1941. Set in a delightful 18th-century building next to the aqueduct, it is most famous today for its wood-fire roasted suckling pig, cochinillo.

cochinillo-ritual

Served with a short speech and a ceremonial cutting of the pig with a plate,

cochinillo-ritual-2

this famous dish was a delight—crispy skin and flavorful and fork tender meat is hard to beat. Also, worth noting is their Sepulveda-Style Roasted Lamb.

Rich in architecture treasures, it was a joy to wander through this town. Presenting below a few more photos to delight in.

Segovia-CathedralThe Cathedral from afar.
alcazar-interiorStained Glass wall at the Alcazar
view-from-the-alcazarA view from the Alcazar
Aqueduct-3The Aqueduct up close
plaza-medina-del-campoPlaza Medina del Campo
Azoguejo-Square-2The Azoguejo Square with the Aqueduct as backdrop
Plaza-MayorPlaza Mayor of Segovia
from-the-castleA view from the castle
peddlersPeddlers line the periphery of the aqueduct
Iglesia-de-San-Martin-2Iglesia de San Martin
narrow-roadNarrow winding road of Segovia
Iglesia-de-San-MartinIglesia de San Martin
Juan-BravoA statue of Juan Bravo: a leader of the rebel Comuneros in the Castilian Revolt of the Comuneros.

Bullfighting

arena

One April evening, enthusiast and curious tourists from around the world enter the massive arena of Las Ventas to witness a bullfight. I was there too, sitting in the Sombra (shaded) section, quite close to the action.

bullfighting

Bullfighting or a corrida is an ancient tradition that goes back four millennia, practiced by many different cultures. Three toreros (matadors) fighting six bulls, each with 6 assistants: two picadors (lancers) mounted on horseback, three banderilleros (flagmen) and a mozo de Espada (sword servant). Together, they form a cuadrillo or an entourage.

opening-parade

The trumpet sounds and in flamboyant bullfighter costumes, the entourage parades into the arena. The corrida starts with the first bull entering the field from the Puerta de las Toriles, where it waited.

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The picadors mounted on heavily padded horses follow. Bull attacks the horse, the picador stabs its neck, the bull weakens.

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Then three banderilleros enters as the picadors leave, plants spiked flag sticks into the bull’s shoulder.

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When the bull is deemed weak enough, the torero appears and works the bull with several runs at the cape. The whole spectacle comes to an end with the torero killing the bull with his sword. This was repeated six times.

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Did I enjoy it? Many times I cringed, especially when the puncture wasn’t clean. No, I will not watch it again. Just once, I told myself.   Hard as it may be to watch, I could not deny that it was a cultural experience hard to forget.

Madrid: On Second Chances

In the middle of Madrid’s historic center, his cab off limits, the driver dropped us off just outside a tree-lined, cobbled street.

tree-lined

Across it is our hostal. Calle Mayor is filled with buildings of centuries past and within walking distance is Madrid’s main squares, Plaza Mayor, and Puerto del Sol.

calle-mayor

hostal-patria-2Hostal Patria

A good place to be, this part of the city is full of sprightly bars, restaurants, and shops, many of which are old and historical selling traditional goods.

traditional-stores

alpargateria

Definitely a perfect choice to get into its verve.

Madrid didn’t always dazzled. On a day trip en route to Seville some ten years ago, the capital of Spain failed to impress. Too cosmopolitan, my first impression was.

old-building

But highly developed as it has become, Madrid’s art, and cultural heritage remains Intact and very much alive. A few days in the capital and I warmed up, I allowed it to dazzle me with its vibrant vibe, the second time around. So how did it change my impression?

 La Plaza Mayor and People Watching

plaza-mayor

Although overpriced, Plaza Mayor is a marvelous place to while away time. We’d order a jug of sangria, a plate of olives and pass the time and people watch.

sangria-and-olives

people-watch-p-mayor

Built during Philip III’s reign (the Habsburg period), it used to be the center of festivities… bull fights, royal coronations, and executions. It is still used today for public celebrations and is one of the famous squares of Madrid. It is a beautiful square that measures 129 by 94 meters. Three-storey residential buildings surround it.

plaza-mayor-arch

A fire led to the plaza’s renovation in 1790. Architect Juan de Villanueva lowered the building fronts and enclosed the square at the corners by building nine archways. The Arco de Cuchilleros with its steep steps leading up to the square is the most arresting among the arches.

In Calle Cuchilleros, you’ll find Botin Restaurant—the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records. But more than its world record, do go for their specialty,

botin-restuarant

the Cochinillo Asado (roast suckling pig) and Cordero Asado (roast lamb). Superb.

Delightful Cheap Eats

museo-del-jamon-facade

Museo del Jamon (Museum of Ham). Just by the name, you are lured, yes? Legs and legs of ham hang from its walls, calling us from afar. This was the first place, after checking in, we entered.

museo-de-jamon

It was jamon heaven and an excellent brunch it made. A block away from the hostal, we found it to be a great place to soak in the local scene while sampling different kinds of Spanish ham at very affordable prices. Beer comes with a round of free tapas already.

cerveseria-100-montaditos

Another excellent venue for very affordable eats is Cerveceria 100 Montaditos. A fun place with many outlets across Spain, actually. A pint of beer and most sandwiches sell for €1. And these aren’t shoddy sandwiches either. How can you go wrong with that?

Mercado de San Miguel is my favorite.

mercado-san-miguel

It’s a market and a tapas corner in one roof. Although somewhat of a tourist trap, I was captivated.

mercado-de-san-miguel-building

The vibrant atmosphere, the turn of the century building, which was rebuilt when the Belle Époque fell into disrepair, the tapas and various foods are good enough reasons to be trapped here.

tapas-at-mercado-san-miguel

It is described to be a culinary culture center that brings together the best traders, professionals and experts under one roof and I tend to agree. I truly enjoyed this place.

The Glorious Churros con Chocolate

A favorite of the Spaniards, chocolate and churros, they take very seriously. Made of thick dark chocolate, Spanish hot chocolate is almost always paired with churros. The thickness and richness work well as a dip but to drink it after the churros are gone is not a bad thing too.

churros

Highly recommended in guidebooks and online searches are San Gines Chocolateria. Believed to be the oldest place serving chocolate and churros. We found our way there one morning, a line already forming. The menu, if there even is one, only has a handful of items: café con leche, fresh orange juice, and churros con chocolate caliente. There are 2 versions of the churros – the traditional kind (has 6-7 pieces per order) and the thicker kind called porras. Lighter, I preferred the traditional one.

Our hostal host, on the other hand, recommended to Cafeteria Los Pinchitos. It is, to him, the best churros con chocolate in town. “A secret among Madrileños,” he said.

los-pinchitos-churros

The churros are light, the outside crispy while the inside soft. The chocolate appeals more to my taste – not as thick as San Gines’ but creamier. The place lacks ambiance, typically traditional, and the service leaves much to be desired. But the food besides the churros and the chocolate are excellent.

roasted-pork-earsOreja de Cerdo a la Plancha — Roasted Pork Ear 

Treasure Hunting at El Rastro

rastro

Unless it’s a flea market, a traditional market or a specialty market (for affordable art / conversational pieces that are easy to carry home), I try to avoid the shopping scene. But in Madrid, Sundays should be reserved for the flea market.

entertainment-at-the-rastroEntertainment at the Rastro

rastro-knick-knacks

The rastro is a street market from the medieval time.

rastro-antique

rastro-chairs

One can spend the whole morning looking at find practically anything, from books and toys, clothes, flowers, handicrafts, to antiques, paintings, and other works of art.

sievert-blow-torchA blowtorch made by Anton’s descendant.  How likely is that?

Held every Sunday and public holidays from 9am – 2pm, it takes up a large triangle area between Calle Embajadores and Ronda de Toledo, along Plaza de Cascorro and La Riberia de Curtidones.

 And suddenly I am charmed.

A Glimpse of Granada

Glimpse-of-GranadaCredits: Papers by Scrapmuss Design; label and border element by Splendid Fiins; Suede Alpha by MissBhaving

Outside of (the little I know of) the Alhambra, I know close to nothing about Granada. After all, I didn’t plan to venture out this far from Seville. So expectation was kept to a minimum.

calle-puerta-realThe NH Hotel at Puerta Real, the crossroad of the city’s shopping zone.

Crossing Calle Puerto Real on our way to lunch, the beautiful bourgeois architecture instantly left an impression.

desolate

Although we passed some streets that seemed desolate, we soon found ourselves in the heart of the city where the Cathedral and the Alcaiceria, the Moorish Silk market of way back, impressed once more.

cathedral

Lunch, arranged by the Noval brothers (our guide and driver), was at the Restaurante Sevilla—a stone throw away from the Cathedral, at the fringe of the Alcaiceria.

restaurante-sevilla

In a small, old style Spanish bar, we were served yet another excellent meal of tapas.

tapas

Quite in keeping with the cuisine’s good repute. Andalusian cuisine has yet to disappoint.

The best way to experience the city’s old yet vibrant center is to walk it.

Alcaiceria

So after that fulfilling lunch, we inched our way out of the Alcaiceria to the busy Plaza Nueva, which despite the name, is the oldest square.

busy-plaza-nueva

Lively cafes and bars, along with Moorish and Renaissance monuments and landmarks scatter around here.

A short distance on the east, right where the Carrera de Darro begins, the Rio Darro emerges from underground.

Iglesia-de-San-Gil-y-Santa-Ana

Here too lies one of the best remaining churches of Mudejar architecture, the 16th century Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana.

cafes-along-carrera-del-darro

It was strolling along the Carrera de Darro that Granada called to me. “One day,” I told Anton, “we will sit and absorb the pulse of the city in one of these cafes.”

artists

To assimilate with the carefree students and free-spirited artists that fill the streets for even just a few days would be pretty cool.

Follow the river and you will come across Paseo de los Tristes.

Alhambra

A picturesque street with a river running along it, the Alhambra keeping watch from atop.

Granada has an unmistakable Moorish soul, most likely because it was the last city to be reconquered by the Catholic Monarchs.

darro-river

Lying at the confluence of 4 rivers—the Beiro, Darro, Genil, and the Monachit, separated by the gorge of the Rio Darro. The city is set between 2 outlying hills, the Alhambra hill on the south and the Albaicin, on the north.

Albaicin, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the old Moorish quarter of Granada.

cobbled-streets

Walking through its narrow and winding cobbled streets will take you back over 1500 years. It holds a vast amount of Granada’s historic buildings and plazas.

residential-district

Although a residential district on the whole, it is host to many restaurants, bars as well as guesthouses oozing with classic Andalusian charm.

andalusian-charm

Above all, this beautiful residential neighborhood delivers some incredible view of the Alhambra and much of the city.

view-of-the-city-from-AlbaicinView of the city from Albaicin
alhambra-from-albaicinAlhambra from Albaicin

More of Granada through my lens:

albaicin-restaurantsA Plaza in Albaicin
calle-caldereria-nuevaCalle Calderreria Nueva–a narrow street close to Plaza Nueva, holding tourist shops, a few restaurant and a few merchants typical of the old Moorish quarter.  Not quite similar but oftentimes referred to the medina found in Morocco.
carmen-es-2The Carmen es—rows of beautiful houses—line the streets of Albaicin.
real-chancilleriaThe Real Chancilleria at Plaza Nueva
cathedral-surroundingsSteps of the Cathedral where people hang out
narrow-streetsNarrow streets of Albaicin
musiciansMusicians found in every corner — Alcaiceria
GranadaA glimpse of the city from the Alhambra

Useful Info:

Restaurante Seville
Calle Oficios, 12
+34 958 221 223

La Alhambra

We didn’t plan this, going to Granada that is. I was thinking Cordoba because it is closer to Seville. And of course, the beautiful Mezquita de Cordoba tickled my fancy. In Cadiz, however, our host was bewildered that we weren’t going to Granada and urged us to take a trip there. Curiosity got the better of us and the Mezquita will have to wait.

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So what is there in Granada that captivated the hearts of even its own? It was the pride in their faces that convinced me to change plans. La Alhambra, the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic historical legacy, is in Granada, and this Moorish citadel and palace is one big reason behind the region’s appeal.

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The private tour we booked included tickets to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. They say that when in Granada, you cannot miss the grand Alhambra because it is a city, a fortress and a palace all in one site.

overlooking-the-modern-Ganada

On a hill overlooking the modern lower town, the Alhambra (consisting of three parts—the Nasrid Palace, the Alcazaba and the Generalife) snake around the Sabika hill.

Alhambra

It is the pinnacle of Moorish Art that captured well the Muslim Spain. One of the great architecture sights of Europe, it is an outstanding example of royal Arab residences of the medieval period.

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A series of courtyards surrounded by rooms present a varied repertoire of Moorish arched columns, fountains, and light reflecting water basins.

pic-16-partal-palaceThe Partal Palace

Here’s more captures… the details, the grandeur, the lushness– a great source of pride indeed.

pic-2The tall hedges of the Generalife Garden.

pic-4 pic-5

pic-6-ceiling-designCeiling Design

pic-7 pic-8 pic-9 pic-10   pic-11   pic-13

pic-14The garden of the Nasrid Palace
pic-15The facade of the Alcazaba, the battlements

   

Useful Info

The Nasrid Palace is booked by time and date, and visitors must be mindful of the time stated on their tickets. There is always a queue so make sure not to be late or you might not get in.

La Alhambra
Calle Real de la Alhambra
+34 958 027 971

The Alcazar and Barrio Santa Cruz

CollageCredits:  Template by J Sprague Photo collage; Paper by Scrapmuss Designs

After a night of soulful music and dancing, elated from the cultural assimilation, we were back on the street the next day for more. The Santa Cruz district, also known as Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarters, is just a hop away from our hostel.

Best known for its small plazas—Plaza de Santa Cruz, Plaza de los Venerables,

plaza-alianzaPlaza Alianza
plaza dona elviraPlaza Dona Elvira

Plaza Alianza, Plaza de Dona Elvira among others—hidden around the lively labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys awash with shops not only of touristy souvenirs

shopSangre Espanola–burnt my MC here.

and bars indulged too by locals,

bars

it is a natural gathering of visitors and the community alike. Picturesque lime-washed houses added to its charm.

And in this district stands 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites:

cathedral-from-triunfoThe Cathedral from Plaza del Triunfo

the Cathedral and its Giralda, the Archivo de Indias (which we failed to enter), and the Alcazar.

On the southeast side of the Plaza del Triunfo stands the Real Alcazar, supposedly the oldest European palace still in use.

alcazr-from-triunfoThe Alcazar from Plaza del Triunfo

Walking through the Alcazar is like walking through the history of Seville.

alcazar-collage

Art and architecture designs throughout the palace are marked by the diversity of cultures starting in Moorish times to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Baroque, and the XIX century.

Before it became the royal palace of Christian Kings, it was once a Moorish fortress. Today, it is still used as a part-time residence of the Spanish royal family, although only a few rooms are closed to the public.

alcazar-2

Built by Moorish architecture, the structure standing today still has details of a medieval fortress.

gardens

The gardens are outstanding, but I say that the picturesque Patio de las Doncellas, the Ambassador’s Hall,

patio-de-los-doncellas-2

patio-de-las-doncellas

patio-de-los-doncellas-3

with its tranquil pond that reflects the Mudejar plasterwork will transport you to another time. The intricate carvings and mosaic will leave you in awe.

The castle is huge, which took up half of our day. All the walking left us craving for tapas. And my notes tell me that Bodega Santa Cruz is the place to be when in the area.

bodega-santa-cruz

The bar wasn’t swarming with people yet, as it was only half past 11, so we easily found a table at the corner, in plain view of our bartender who wrote our orders down in chalk.

Bodega-sta.-cruz-dishesLeft to right: pringa, berenjenas con miel (fried aubergines with honey and salt), lomo chipiona

One by one, he calls out our orders, pringa, lomo chipiona, alitas de pollo, berenjenas con miel… all good that left us gratified.

And after wandering through the barrio, we were back for more tapas, al fresco this time.

Cafe-Alianza

We settled for Café Alianza at the plaza of the same name.

Restaurant-Alianza

Satisfying early dinner in a lovely square, a great way to cap the day.

Useful Info:

Bodega Sta. Cruz
Calle Rodrigo Caro, 1A
+35 954 21 32 46
 
Café Restaurante Alianza
Calle de Rodrigo Caro, 9
+34 954 21 76 35
 
Royal Alcazar of Seville
Patio de Banderas
+34 954 50 23 24
 
Sangre Española
Calle Santa Teresa, 4
+34 954 22 72 26

Our Flamenco Fling

I took a leaflet. “This is better,” the lady at the counter recommended a different one. “If you don’t mind, it’s at the outskirt of Sevilla. You will be picked up,” she added. “It’s €38 per person and comes with drinks and tapas.”

plaza-del-toro

And so, there we were in front of the Plaza del Toro a quarter before eight as instructed. At exactly eight, a van stopped in front, a lady came out greeted us and off we went.

Maria introduced herself as the co-owner of Flamenco Esencia, the company on the leaflet. They promised an authentic flamenco performance in an intimate setting. Not that easy to come by today, so I heard. Most performances are produced with tourists in mind. Maria, being a flamenco dancer herself (and respected one in the industry at that), had thought to revive flamenco performances the way it was intended to be: up close, spontaneous, and unplugged.

artists

With her influence, she has established and upcoming but promising flamenco artists on stage together resulting in performances that vary in style and temperament, depending on who are performing. We were awarded an outstanding, heartrending performance.

countrysideWe had a glimpse of the Sevillian countryside on our way to the venue in Salteras, a small village 10 kilometers away from the city center.

saltero

In a narrow street, we walked into a high 19th-century bodega where we were greeted with a glass of wine.

seating

stage

It is a small space with a high ceiling that has seats only for a limited number of people, I estimate about 40. Aside from the eight of us, a few more people arrived; I assumed were regular enthusiasts and friends.

tapas

A flavorsome choice of tapas, which included freshly carved Jamon Iberico, cheese and mouth-watering patatas tortilla, followed after the impressive, soulful performance.

jamon

The informality and friendliness that was shown the entire evening evoked a sense of genuine hospitality that I suspect isn’t felt in a regular show in the city.

Flamenco was an expression of denial, a means of escape of the persecuted gypsies back then. It was a mockery of paradoxes, which symbolizes their way of life evident in the supercilious dancers in bright costumes, the intricate rhythm set by hand clapping and foot stomping, and the raspy wail of singers echoing the Muslim’s call to prayer. And for at least 200 years, Flamenco has existed and has become an important part of Southern Spain’s cultural heritage with Seville as the center of this performing art.