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.

The Trek to the Underground River

Underground-RiverCredits: Papers by Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, The Design Girl, Trixie Scap Design; Ribbon by Design by Tater, Red string with flowers by Graham Like the Cracker, and String wrap by Haynay Designs. 

Elusive in the past, I became disinterested and eventually gave up the idea of visiting Palawan’s famous Underground River. Then they re-opened the Jungle Trail.

Initially slated for December but due to unforeseen reasons, we moved our Puerto Princesa trip to January.  We planned to simply chill out, visit our favorite jaunts and catch up with friends. Then, the grand idea— “why not go to Sabang for the day so you can finally see the Underground River?” Anton to me.  Me to him,  “Ok, but we will trek to the cave.”

Sabang-Pier

The Sabang Pier is the main jump off point to the Underground River or The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, once also called the St. Paul Subterranean River. Yes, it has many names. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, the cave was provisionally chosen (through votes—and you know how we Filipinos can vote) as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature in 2011.

Entrance-from-the-shoreEntrance from the shore

The usual way to get there is to take a 15-20 minute boat ride (I estimate) from the pier.

There are two trails to the cave, The Monkey Trail, and the Jungle Trail. The former has been closed for a time now and the latter re-opened only last year. Having heard of the Monkey trail from friends who did it some 10 years back, I knew that I’d do it at some point. Well, the jungle trail, I reckon, is good enough.

crossingThe trek starts by crossing the mangrove.

A recommended option for the active, the jungle trail meanders through a beautiful lush forest.

dwarfed-by-trees

It lets you hike through ancient trees, well crafted wooden staircases, bridges and benches made from confiscated wood that adds character to the trail

wooden-walkways

one-among-many-bridges

and at one point, limestone formations becomes backdrop behind the foliage.

limestone-backdrop

Not only does the pleasant 2-hour hike enhance the experience but it also gives jobs to the 20 or so Tagbanua indigenous community members.

guide

reminder-before-the-trek

As “Park Wardens” they serve as guides and caretakers of the jungle.

path-to-the-riverthe path from the trail

The Underground River itself was not a let down at all. Having heard of so many mixed reviews, expectations were low.

paddle-boatsWaiting in line to enter the cave.

But to my surprise, the chambers especially the one called “the cathedral,” towering some 800 meters high, impressed me.

inside-the-cave

Truth to tell though, I fell asleep some part of the way, perhaps due to exhaustion and the fact that the only thing lighting the way was a flashlight held by the person in front. Our guide was adept and quite engaging in providing intelligent albeit elementary information about what a cave system is.

lush-forest-2

My take on this experience: to go there just for the Underground River may not be worth the effort (it’s still a 2-hour ride to Sabang). The hikes makes the difference.  Having seen Sabang, I wish I had stayed a few nights to explore the quiet town.

Romancing with Sintra

Sintra-collageCredits: J Sprague Photo Collage Template version 3; Paper by Wimpychompers Creations

If you have an extra day in Lisbon, I suggest you head out to Sintra. It’s just a 45-minute train ride from the Rossio Station and well worth the trip.

first-glimpse

Walking into Sintra is like treading on fairytale land, more so on a gloomy day as when we were there. Known for its many romantic 19th-century architectures, Sintra is an outstanding reference for Portuguese culture.

fairytale town

Royal castles, mansions, and chalets scatter around the verdant rolling hills and peaks of the Sintra mountain range. The long sections of walls winding around the high peaks of the Serra reminds of century’s past.

stonewalls-of-the-moor-castle

The Moors Castle high above Sintra

Here, at the Central Western Portuguese coast, at the northern-most stretch of the protected Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, history, archeology, architecture and natural beauty meld into a beguiling and magical town.

It’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed center, the Sintra Vile is a 15-minutes walk from the train station.

Palacio-Nacional-de-Sintra

The Palacio Nacional de Sintra dominates the old town. Its iconic twin conical chimneys can be seen from far away. We, however, only had time to visit 2 Castles that day:

Sintra Castelo dos Mouros (The Moor Castle)

Castelo-dos-Mouros

A classic ruined castle set amidst the lush forests of the Serra de Sintra. Established by the Northern African Moors during the 9th century to guard the town but fell into disrepair after the Christian conquered Portugal. The castle was restored and transformed into a romantic ruin in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II.

Pena National Palace

Pena-exterior

On top of a hill stands an eccentric palace built in the 19th century for Dom Fernando II, an artistic king who wanted the palace to resemble that of an opera. Despite the hodgepodge of styles, the castle looks surprisingly harmonious and the use of yellow, pink and purple colors completed the “fairytale” quirkiness of the palace.

Pena-interior

A Protected National Monument, the Palace is considered to be one of the world’s best examples of architectures from the Romantic era.

medieval-streets

The medieval streets of Sintra Vile lead to many treasures – craft shops selling a host of local artisan specialties, a range of cafes and restaurants or even townhouses that exude the air of past glories.

Cantinho-Gourmet

In one of the narrow streets, we found a small café (Cantinho Gourmet) for a pretty good lunch prepared by an old lady. In another part of town is A. Piriquitos.

traveisseros-and-queijadas

Here we had the famed delicacies of the village, Queijadas de Sintra and Travesseiros. Delicious treats not to be missed.

Pena-Palace

In this region north of Lisbon, the center town of Sintra is only half the story. A must-do day trip but if time permits, a few nights stay is ideal to spend time exploring the surrounding beaches and the many seafood restaurants. The other half is a spectacular stretch of Atlantic coast with rugged cliffs, crashing waves and near-empty stretches of sandy beach, which calls for another visit in the future, perhaps.

Useful Info:

A Piriquita: Rua Padarcias 1/7; +351 219 230 026

Pena National Palace: Estrada da Pena; +351 219 237 300

Castelo dos Mouros: Parque de Monserrate, Estrada da Pena; +351 219 237 300     Opening Hours: 9:30AM-8:00PM; shorter hours in low season

Greetings…

It has been a crazy, crazy month year!!!  This hopes to explain why posts have been slow in coming.  Writing to you in the early morning of Christmas eve in my hotel room in Hong Kong (here for work).  Tomorrow I fly early in the morning back to Manila to catch an afternoon flight to Tuguegarao where, for the first time, I will spend Christmas.

While I look forward to a good year ahead, I hope and pray that we try to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts and deeds the whole year round.

2014-xmas

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

 

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

Flavors of Andalusia

AndalusiaCredits:  Papers by Scrapmuss Designs, Page Frocks and Pri Rocha Designs; Stitch and label by Crystal Wilkerson; The Boyfriend Alpha by Carina Gardiner

Seductive, vivacious, relaxed, stunning, delectable… This is Andalusia in my eyes. It is the quintessential Spain where bullfighting, flamenco, sherry and ruined castles first originated, an autonomous region where the cuisine is all about simple pleasures in an unhurried way, a region of contrast: ancient cities and beautiful countryside, wind-swept, sandy beaches and remote mountain ranges, Christianity and Islamic as manifested in its culture and architecture…

Stay tuned for flavors of Andalusia and its way of life.

Meet Adam

Gracious-HostCredits: Quickpage created by Reeta Treat using “4Ever” collaborative kit created for JessicaSprague.com

A stocky young man with glasses, wearing a baseball cap, leather jacket and track pants, Adam is not the typical Moroccan you see walking around the medina.  He talks with an American twang.  It is because although born in Morocco, he and his siblings grew up in Canada, Adam explains as he leads us to a beautiful riad he calls home.  He runs the riad that he renovated with his parents when they decided to go back home to Morocco.

bedroom

Riad Slawi is cozy with 4 rooms (5 actually if you count Adam’s room on the ground floor) tastefully designed in classic Moroccan fashion.

courtyard

Typical of riads, it has a (well-lit) courtyard where we were served traditional, homemade breakfasts.

breakfast

But what I love best about the house is this stylish yet cozy sitting lounge where I would read and write in my journal on down time.

sitting-lounge

Hands down my favorite home in Morocco.

Famished from travelling all day, we asked Adam where we could get some local street food. He walked us back to the entrance of the medina and brought us to a hole in a wall where we had some awesome kebab.

hole-in-a-wall-eatery

Surrounded by local folks, we sat on stools vacated by a group of teens and heartily ate the grilled beef, lamb and chicken Adam ordered for us.

kebab

This is what I call an awesome welcome to Marrakech.

The guidebooks and people we meet along the way were not remiss in cautioning us of touts, hustlers, scammers, etc.

Adam

Adam, however, more than cleared its reputation.  He graciously offered to buy train tickets to Tangiers for us, even booked us a hotel near the train station, He allowed us to  leave our bags with him while we spent 2 days in Essaouira, and arranged to have us picked up at the bus station when we returned.  His kind certainly makes up for all the Saids of Morocco.  Such a gracious host and a real darling, I must say.

Useful Info

Riad Slawi
92 Derb Almed el Borj
Sidi Ben Slimane, Kaa Sou
+212 524 37 7967

It’s That Time of Year Again…

…when I rant about not having enough time for anything, when I wish I had the foresight to plan ahead, when I not only cram for gifts but cram to finish as much work for the year so I can eventually relax somewhere away from the hustle and bustle.  Nothing has changed, and I’m off once again to another whirlwind vacation, this time with the family.  It’s gonna be a great, cold Christmas, I can feel it already.  So I guess, I’ll be back next year.

As for the gifts, it really isn’t all about it…

Christmas-2013Credits:  Papers by Tammy Circeo Designs and Tree by Deborah Kitching of Crafty Queen.  All from the Christmas Treasures kit.

Yes, it really isn’t about it at all.  Here’s Pentatonix with an awesome rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High”.  Enjoy!

Glory to God in the highest!  Merry Christmas to you and yours.

An Outing Outside of Fes: Moulay Idriss

Moulay-IdrissCredits: Digital sketch by Jen Caputo (http://jencaputo.typepad.com); Papers from Scrapmatters’ Life’s Little Surprises kit — Happy Scrappy Girl, Graham like the Cracker, Haynay Designs

Seated comfortably in the van, enjoying the company of family and newfound friends,

Lake-ChahandLake Chahand

we marveled at the beauty along the way,

roadside-vendor

even stopping to buy some oranges and dried figs from a roadside vendor.

An hour away from Fes is a picturesque whitewashed town scenically perched in the foothills of the Rif Mountain.

donkeys-and-cars

whitewashed

Moulay Idriss is the first of several destinations planned for the day. Considered the holiest town in Morocco, we paid a visit to the final resting place of the town’s namesake, Morocco’s religious and secular founder and the great-grandson of the prophet Mohamed.

entering-the-mausoleum

His shrine is actually off-limits to non-Muslims, but we were able to go as far as the first courtyard.

first-courtyard

Until 2005, non-Muslims were not permitted to spend the night in town and tourists were advised to be out of town by 3pm. Today, I noticed a few lodgings while walking around.

off-limits-beyond-this-pointThis is where we end the visit to the shrine.  Off limits from here.

The town is considered to be the holiest in Morocco.  They say that, for Moroccans who can’t afford the trip to Mecca, five pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss is equal to one to Mecca.

end-of-town

picturesque-view

Pretty and peaceful with beautiful views across the foothills,

local-market

dried-figs

the village has a charming little souk with stalls selling everything from fruits to live hens.

main-square

And while we were not allowed inside the mosque and shrine, we had fun walking around the main square. It is a great place to people watch while sipping mint tea

kebab

or enjoy a terrific lunch of grilled meats before or after a visit to Volubilis.

Aside from the fact that our driver barely spoke English, Ibrahim confessed to never having explored the town of Moulay Idriss and the nearby city of Volubilis making it the perfect reason to come along.

the-groupNew-found friends flanked: Israeli couple Ronin and wife and Ibrahim

But I think he just really likes us.

A Dar in Fes

Dar-LabcharaCredits: Papers by Gwenipooh Designs and Graham Like the Cracker from Scrapmatters’ Life Little Surprises Kit; Elements by Designs by Tater from Scrapmatters’ LLS Kit and journaling snippets by Crystal Wilkerson

Founded 1,200 years ago in the northern part of Morocco, Fes has remained to be the country’s cultural and spiritual capital.  It is home to the oldest university in the world and its medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Fes has the best-preserved old city in the Arab World and to spend a few nights inside those walls is to, in some way, experience its unique culture.

“When you reach the train station, please call this number”, Said (Sa-eed) advised on his email. “A handsome young man will meet you at the bank outside Bab Boujeloud.” – the main and most attractive point of entry into the medina, Fes el Bali.

A petit taxi outside the train station, he advised, would cost 10 Dh to get us to the main gate.  And true enough; handsome young man introduced himself as Ibrahim.

Decorated with blue (color of Fes) zellij tile on the outside and green (color of Islam) on the other side, the gate leads to the Bab Boujeloud Square.

narrow-alleyway

Meandering through the narrow alleys teeming with people, restaurants and lodgings called riads and dars, provided a perfect primer of Fes.  The passages taper as we marched deeper into the medina, the maze of corridors begin to confuse.  We finally reached a wooden arched door in an uncommonly narrow lane.  Ibrahim unlocked the door and welcomed us into a world bursting with exotic eastern charm.  Dars and riads are traditional homes unique to Morocco.

indoor-patio-2

Entirely closed on the outside, the dar’s foyer serves as gatekeeper that led to an inner courtyard of traditional zellij (small colored tiles) floors, exquisite Moroccan design and furnishings with touches of deep red.

indoor-patio

The courtyard is the center of the house and serves as seating and dining area.  The second floor balcony overlooks it.

A burly man, Ibrahim’s uncle, Said warmly welcomed us to Fes.  He owns Dar Labchara, a lovely house he inherited from his father.  While we sipped tea and recharged from the four-hour journey, he gave us a rundown of what to expect of Fes.

We met a guy on the train also named Said, we told him, exceptionally friendly and extremely eager to help.  “You are the 3rd guests who met him”, he said.  “Does he wear a black leather jacket?” Said asked.  He revealed that one of his guests decided to pay the factory (he said he owned) a visit and found that the Said from the train isn’t quite what he presented himself to be, pretending to own a ceramic factory when he only earns a commission for bringing “tourists” there.  Not exactly harmful, but neither was he truthful.  And with that, he candidly warned of fraudsters roaming the narrow alleyways of the medina.  Warnings of this manner I came across while researching for this trip, I was still shocked, however, to have met one so early in the trip.

dinner

For a traditional Moroccan dinner, Ibrahim pointed us to the nearby Restaurant Palais des Merinides, assigning Mohammed, a staff, to bring and fetch us after.  Beautiful interiors.  As the culinary center of Morocco, my expectations were high.  Maybe too high because the food was actually decent but impressed we were not.  The Pastilla Fassia (chicken pastille) was flavorful and memorable, the play in sweet and savory appealed to me but not to everyone in the group.

Mechoui

The Mechoui (roasted mutton) was not as tender as I wished it to be.  They say that many restaurants like this pay commission for sending guests over, I hope this wasn’t the case with our dar.

Breakfast, however, was a different story. It more than made up for last night’s lackluster effort to wow.

breakfast-bread-2

The variety of breads alone – flatbread (khobz), pan-fried bread (harcha), pan-fried pancakes (msemen), a more traditional looking pancake (meloui)…

breakfast-bread

were enough to overlook the lack of any meat in the morning.  To complement the breads were cheese, butter, jams and honey, fried eggs served in a pool of olive oil seasoned with cumin and salt.

bessara

One morning, we were served a traditional soup called bessara.  It is pureed beans served with olive oil and cumin.  Usually eaten at breakfast and a prefered soup during Ramadan. Tastes like pea soup with a strong olive oil taste that leaves a slight bitter aftertaste, which quite frankly, appealed to me.

door

From the street, the houses in the medina is hidden by a high wall with a door somewhere, giving no clue as to what lays beneath.  But once inside, one is transported into a remarkable intricately decorated palace.  Fes, in a similar fashion, reveals its charm unexpectedly, its mysteries difficult to comprehend but once revealed, opens up to a brilliant world within.  The key is to run straight in.

Useful Info:

Dar Labchara
8 Derb Lebchara, Souiket
Ben Safi Talaa Sghira
Fes, Morocco
Phone: +212 535 741 306
Mobile: +212 662 347 547
Email: contact@darlabchara.com