Segovia

Segovia Aqueduct

Today is a early start. I need to take the metro to the Madrid-Chamartín train station to catch my train to Segovia for today’s day trip. It is a new station to me so I give myself extra time to arrive. The ride to Segovia is around 30 minutes and we go through a long tunnel during the trip. The train arrives at the high speed rail station of Segovia-Guiomar that is about 4 km outside the city center. Luckily there is bus 11 to take you into the main tourist areas. Exact change needed for the bus, or at least smaller bill, because there is no where at the train station to make change (at least when I arrived the only restaurant was closed). I find a smaller bills hidden in my bag, others in line have a harder time collecting fare.

The bus drop off is right in front of the aqueduct for which the city is famous for.

View of aqueduct right past the bus stop

The exact date of the construction of this roman aqueduct are not know but it is still a marvel to view considering this had to be done prior to 200 AD.

My gaze heads to the sky while I watch flocks of birds flying in and out of the arches in round patterns.

My train to Segovia was quite early this morning and I didn’t get a chance to eat a proper breakfast. I pass by a café that seems like a place the locals go and I order a café con leche and the bread-like thing that is sitting on the counter. The Torrijas de Leche ends up being a sort of French toast-style egg custard bread. I normally don’t choose sweet things in the morning but it is nice to try something different every once in a while.

I am now ready to begin my day.

The second most important thing that people visit in Segovia is the Alcázar de Segovia. This fairytale castle is said to have inspired Disney’s Cinderella’s castle. Not sure about that since I heard the same story about Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Anyway it is neat to tour and it has some great overlooks from the castle.

To get the the alcazar I take the long way and wander through the quiet streets of the Jewish quarter.

I eventually come to the city wall and I follow that to the alcazar. Soon the castle appears in the distance.

Muralla de Segovia and view of alcazar

Muralla de Segovia and view of the city

Again I spend a good amount of time looking at the ceiling. I am always fascinated about how much detail is given to ceilings.

I walk by a couple churches, including the Segovia cathedral. It is only day 3 of my travels and I’m already burned out on churches so I decide to not go inside. From the pictures I’ve seen online it has some pretty neat floors though.

I prefer instead to just wander the streets. This time of day there aren’t as many day trippers so it is nice and peaceful.

Again I walk through the Jewish quarter. I love the texture patterns on the walls of the buildings.

Jewish Quarter

I return to the busy areas. People are shopping and gathering. It is lunchtime.

I have planned in advance for lunch today. A stop to Segovia is not complete unless you try a local specialty the cochinillo (roasted suckling pig). Mesón de Cándido is recommended for suckling pig. I have made reservations in advance and have an outdoor table with a view of the aqueduct. I am very glad my temporary meat aversion is gone by the time I arrive in Spain so I am able to enjoy this very juicy pork. The skin of the pig snaps loudly when pierced with a fork. I apologize to all my vegetarian friends for the vivid description.

cochinillo

Still have some time before I needed to head to the train station so I walk down another busy street. I see more nice churches and there is a nice view of the cathedral off in the distance.

I stop for one last snack before I head back to Madrid. Its been another hot day but I’m slowly getting back into the groove of travel. I just need to slow down at times.

Flying to Madrid

I am starting my Spain adventure in Madrid. My last trip to Madrid was ten years ago. I feel like I got to see most of the city last time. The goal in staying in Madrid isn’t really to visit Madrid, the goal is to use it as a home base for some day trips: Toledo and Segovia.

My international flight from the USA is out of JFK. I try to schedule padding between my international connections in case of flight delays. Unfortunately this time my international flight is delayed. This time the plane is at the airport but there is a delay to taxi the plane out of the storage area where it has been sitting for the past few hours. We are delayed hours waiting for the plane to be brought to the gate. In addition, the Delta terminal at JFK has seen better days; the airport has broken bathrooms, broken ipads, and very slow staff. The terminal is crowded and having that extra time in the airport is not a comfortable experience.

Eventually we board the plane and fortunately the flight is pretty pleasant. In the past I slept well on long flights but find it hard the past couple years. I probably have a total of an hour’s rest on the flight. Luckily I have nothing planned the first day.

Metro Station at airport in Madrid

I make it to my hotel early so I drop my bags and go walking nearby. This is my first time staying at a hotel at the Room Mate chain (Room Mate Mario Hotel). It isn’t the cheapest stay but I’m happy with what I get for the price point I pay. I am near the big opera house. It is a central location and close to a metro stop.

Opera metro station and theater in the background

I walk over to the Royal Palace of Madrid and take a stroll. It is not on my agenda to go inside but I do take some pictures of the outside and the nearby Catedral de la Almudena. I walk a little further into the nearby area which mostly seems new to me because I don’t recall the area much from my last visit to Madrid.

Royal Palace of Madrid
Gotta love Europe in the summer. Look at this weird bear.

Soon enough it is time to check in so I return back to the hotel to check in and get cleaned up from my flight.

I get the wifi password and it doesn’t work. One of the symbols looks like a variation of the British pound symbol. I try different iterations and nothing works. I am too tired to go get a new password and decide to deal with it later; plus my Spanish is rusty (even after a month of Duolingo reviews). I dislike defaulting to English. I don’t like being that type of traveler I like to at least attempt the primary language of the land. I give it my best effort.

After cleaning up I wander to one of the favorites of my past the Mercado de San Miguel where I order myself a nice glass of Vermut (Vermouth). Nothing compares to the vermouth I get in Spain. The market is a nice and easy place to try different types of pintxos (pinchos or small tapas) and regular size tapas. It isn’t cheap and it gets crowded in the evening but vendors at the market are used to dealing with tourists so it is an easy way to jump into the Spain tapas experience. It is also perfect for my first jetlagged evening.

It is still early but I am tired so I slowly stroll back to my room to go to be early. I have my first day trip scheduled to Toledo tomorrow.

Georgia Road Trip: Springer Mountain

It is early in the morning and I hear a drum beat outside my room. We must be expecting a great sunrise this morning. I go to the kitchen to get some coffee and walk down to the sunrise observation area.

The sunrise is amazing this morning. I feel very lucky. The lodge at Hike Inn is mostly quiet but some guests play Here Comes the Sun from their phone and the sunrise group sings along.

After sunrise it is time for breakfast. It is very filling and I am offered extra servings of bacon. I would never pass up extra bacon.

grits, bacon, eggs, peach spoonbread

I talk to the front desk staff about how long today’s hike should take. There are two dinner times scheduled this evening and I am assigned to the early one. I know I am a slow hiker so I ask if I can be moved to the later dinner. I never know how long a hike will take me and I want to be safe. Luckily they can move me.

I ordered a trail lunch yesterday and pick it up at the front desk while I get ready for my hike today ($8 three sandwich choices ~meat, veggie, peanut butter; plus trail mix, and a large cookie).

My cookie. I end up eating it later after my hike.

I start my hike today at 9:20 am. I am hoping that gives me enough time for the return trip.

The hike today is to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a 4.4-mile hike (8.8 miles round trip) from the Hike Inn.

The first part of the hike is mostly downhill which is nice but I am warned to save energy for this part on the return trip.

I reach a gap where there is an open area. I cross this area to continue my hike. It is here that I start the hike uphill. Luckily the climb is pretty gradual.

There are a couple springs where I can refill my water bottle with fresh water but my camelback is still 3/4 full and already heavy enough. Good to know that on a hot day there are options for refills.

I finally get to the top. I stop to take some pictures then sit down to enjoy my sandwich. I chat with other hikers.

Sandwich time

There are ladies from the lodge up here who brought their own wine in a water bottle. What a fun idea!

I try not to rest too long because I want to allow enough time to get back in time for my late dinner. While hiking back I meet a barefoot hiker from Florida. It takes a brave person to hike barefoot in the woods.

I love the fall colors and slightly barren trees.

The last couple miles on the way back is hard because there is about a mile of inclines to hike toward the end. I need to stop frequently.

I eventually arrive back at the inn. I am not as late as I anticipated. In fact, I could have made it in time for the early dinner. I decide to take advantage of this extra time and shower so I am cleaned up for dinner. I can go to sleep soon after eating. I am so tired I forget to photograph my dinner.

My body is sore so I proactively take pain relief so I get a good night sleep. I despise being woke up by aching muscles.

Next Morning

I do wake up a few times during the night but I otherwise am well rested. We are woken up for sunrise but it isn’t as lovely as the day before. Fortunately I scheduled two nights at the inn and had at least one full sunrise.

After sunrise I take one last look around the grounds.

Since I burned so many calories yesterday I am excited about breakfast this morning. No bacon today but I enjoy the sausage and biscuits and gravy. After breakfast I get ready to checkout.

After I pay my bill I sit at the front entrance tightening my shoes and such getting ready for hike back. There are a group of ladies getting ready to hike back to the parking lot “the long way” (all the way to Springer mountain and then to the parking lot for a total of about 12 miles). One in the group is not up for the long hike (nor would I be) and asks if she can walk back with me. Its been a long while since I’ve had a hiking companion. We have a nice hike back and talk about lots of different things. We make it back to the parking lot safe!

Never been so happy to see a sign that I have reached the parking lot. I have another smaller hike scheduled for later in the trip but for now I am heading to Helen to relax.

Georgia Road Trip: Hiking to Len Foote Inn

Amicalola Falls waterfall

I am checking out of the beautiful Limelight Inn and making a short stop at a waterfall before I start a 5 mile hike to an inn where I will spend the next two nights. While planning my trip to Georgia my aunt mentioned Springer Mountain as a multi-day hike. She has fond memories of hiking to this inn that can only be accessed by foot. The inn is also a starting point to hiking Springer Mountain, the start of the Appalachian trail in the south. The inn, Len Foote Hike Inn (named after Leonard E. Foote, a local conservationist), has limited capacity but luckily I am able to get a reservation for two nights. Most hike in for the day, stay one night, and hike out the next. I will stay for two nights so I can spend a complete day hiking to the summit of Springer Mountain. Some do this as very long hike to Springer Mountain to and from the parking lot but that is way too ambitious for me.

The check in for the hike is at the Visitors Center inside the Amicalola Falls State Park. They instruct hikers to start no later than 2:00 PM for the 5 mile hike to the inn. The check in deadline is to ensure all hikers arrive early enough for dinner and lodge check in. I plan start at about 11:00 am this morning after my visit to the Amicalola waterfall. Hopefully I have more than enough time, given how slow I am.

I stop at the first parking lot for viewing the waterfall. It is a short walk to the observation point. I notice a staircase to get different views for the waterfall. If I had more time I would go to different levels but I want to get my hike started. I take a couple photos and head back to my car.

Parking for the Hike Inn

There is limited parking nearby the trail. I’ve read I may have to park at the overflow lot at the nearby lodge. When I arrive at the turn the road for the parking lot it is blocked by service vehicles. I talk to the person at the parking entrance and tell them that I am trying to park for the hike (the same parking lot is used for viewing the waterfall from the top). They think the lot is full but let me in anyway. To my disapointment the lot is full. I park illegally for the time being and run over to use the nearby bathroom. I sit in my car and wait to think of what to do next. Luckily while I wait people return to their cars from viewing the waterfall and I am able secure a space right at the trailhead! This is where my car will live for the next 48 hours or so.

Parking lot for Hike Inn
Trailhead

I gather everything I think I might need for two nights into a smaller daypack and my hiking poles. I don’t want to carry extra weight but I kind of wish I had a bigger pack to bring more comforts with me. I’ve hiked the Inca Trail so two nights in semi-discomfort in a cabin should be a breeze to me at this point.

After the trail starts hikers have to cross a paved road which confuses some day hikers I run into. Eventually the trail splits in two: one heading to the Hike Inn (where I am going) and one heading directly to Springer Mountain (Blue trail, 7.3 miles one way). Some do the Springer mountain hike as an out and back day hike and some hike directly to Springer Mountain to start their Appalachian trail hike from the south.

The trail starts out relatively flat then is continuous inclines and declines. It can be quite tiring to an out of shape hiker. I stop along the way to rest and enjoy beautiful views. I feel blessed that I am able to enjoy fall foliage and have cooler air to hike in. I am warm but not overheated; I love hiking in this type of weather.

At one point I stop to watch the wind blow colorful leaves down all around me. It is magical.

I notice a skunk-like smell. I think some people are smoking pot on the trail. It isn’t until later that evening that I discover it is the plant called Galax that grows along the trail.

Most of the trail is flat but there are some rocky parts. There is a fun section with some bare trees that look like they are out of a horror movie. I am sure they look eerie at night.

I am also enjoying the signs that tell me how far I have gone. It is helpful to know when I should stop and take a break along the way.

Fun trees

I finally get to an area of flat paths at the last part of the trail. Wooden planks are elevated side by side to make a wooded trail. I assume this area must get wet at times. My legs are about to give up but I am just happy it is cool and flat here. I think I am getting close to the end.

Finally the trail leads me to the lodge where I am spending the next two nights. I catch my breath then head up the stairs to check in. My room is ready but my linens are not yet ready. The accommodations are minimal but they do provide bedding, towel, and wash cloth to use during your stay.

My room is a bunk bed room. I have the room to myself and no single supplement is required!

One of the main buildings houses individual odorless composting toilet stalls. Instructions say to only drop compostable items in the toilets and keep the lid closed when they are not in use. They are interesting to use since you feel air flowing below you; I almost thought it might suck me in. It is weird but you get used to it.

Nearby the toilets is a separate women’s and men’s washroom with sinks and two shower stalls. I thought it would be busy with only two showers but I really only had to wait once for a little bit for my shower opportunity. The water was warm which is nice.

I arrive early enough for the tour of the grounds at 5 pm. We learn the history of the lodge and all the efforts they put into reducing their carbon footprint – composting worms, reduced use of electricity and use of solar panels. There is no WIFI on site and although I could get a cell phone signal at the inn, they discourage phone and computer use.

Recreation room. During normal times this is full of games and books. They removed them temporarily due to covid.

Nice porch to read and waste the evening away.

view from the lodge
View of the lodge

There is a outdoor sitting area with a nice view of the range in the distance. It is a great place to watch the sunrise in the morning. If they expect a good sunrise, staff members will beat a drum gently to alert lodgers who want to see the sunrise.

They are all about conservation so you are encouraged to use the same mug for beverages during your stay. They have coffee, tea, water and juice available at all times. Food is only served at breakfast and dinner. You can plan for separate paid bag lunch ahead of time if you want something to take along for a day hike. Meals are typically served family style but due to covid they currently sit parties with only people they traveled with. I like my alone time but I need things like forced group activities to get me out of my shell. I guess for this trip I’ll do lots of reflection.

The food is plentiful and tasty. They are big fans of no waste so we are encouraged strongly to take seconds and even thirds. They even reuse some of the foods for the next day’s meals (i.e. extra ham is served at breakfast or as part of a lunch sandwich). Lets just say I did not go hungry during my entire stay.

After dinner it is pretty much almost dark (fall time). I go straight back to my room to unwind for the evening. Time to get rested up for my long hike tomorrow. I am doing the hike up to Springer Mountain.

Medellín: Guatapé

Today M and I are taking a day trip out to the town of Guatapé from Medellín. There are a few different ways to get here (taxi, private tour, bus) and we decided to take the cheap route and take the bus. For us it is a 20 minute walk to train then take metro to Estacion Caribe. From Estacion Caribe walk to the terminal del norte bus station. There are a couple bus companies that have a bus to Guatapé, find one that has a soon departure (ticket booth #14). Go early so you’ll have time to climb and explore town. Once you arrive book return ticket since seats are assigned/limited – we found this to be very important on the return trip back.

The ride takes about 2 hours and is comfortable enough. There are not any empty seats so it is nice that I at least share the row with someone I know this time.

If you want to get off at the Peñól de Guatapé before you go into the town of Guatape, you have to tell the driver or listen carefully for the stops. We didn’t and ended up going all the way to the town of Guatapé when we really wanted to stop at the large rock first. We take a cab to the rock (Peñól de Guatapé) and he drops us off at the bottom of the hill. We had to walk uphill to get to the small town of El Peñol where we bought a ticket for the climb.

Piedra del Peñol

La Piedra del Peñol is the large rock nearby the town of Guatapé . It is an awkward looking rock but at some point some people decided to climb it. There is conflicting stories that one man did the climb but I’ve seen online that it is a group of men. Since then a set of stairs have been added for tourists and locals to make a climb as well.

Our morning task is to climb 700+ stairs to the top.

In the 1970s the area was dammed so the rock now overlooks a series of lakes and islands.

Fun chiva bus in the town El Peñol

In a crevice of the rock is a winding set of stairs.

It is tiring but we make it to the top (with lots of stops of course).

There is a café at the top so we take a break and have a beer.

We head back down and take a jeep back to the town of Guatapé.

Guatapé

It is lunchtime and I decide it is a great time to try Bandeja paisa and I have a new best friend as a result. It is a very good amount of meat and this dog wants me to share.

After lunch we wander around town. I am once again in a beautifully colored small town in Colombia.

I love all the scenes depicted at the bottom half of the buildings.

There is a large town square that is surrounded by restaurants.

The large white church has a beautiful wood ceiling.

More wandering around town

There is an afternoon storm coming. The clouds look ominous so we head to a indoor/outdoor cafe to wait it out. It doesn’t take long. Good thing we climbed the big rock in the morning.

More of the town….

We stop at a colorful café for a dessert treat.

We start heading to the edge of the town where it becomes more residential and less touristy. We end up by the water where obviously the water level is super low. The low water level gives the appearance of the boats looking stranded.

We see the bus station. Since it is getting close to time to leave we stay in the area and wait. There is a guy acting strangely nearby. We keep our distance to save trouble.

Bus station

Finally we board our bus for the ride back from Guatapé. I am glad we got on early otherwise we would be standing the entire way. The bus is full when we leave and we stop to pick up others on our journey. Unfortunately we chose the row up next to the door so we had quite a few people squeezing around us making it uncomfortable. Also the bus stopped frequently and people would ride temporarily trying to sell things, food, jewelry, etc. But it wasn’t until this man who got onto the bus and proselytizing to the bus loudly did it really get annoying. He stood right in front of us and screamed loudly at the bus for many minutes about Jesus. We put our heads down and pretended we didn’t understand. At some point we heard him talking to those in the seat across from us and we heard them tell the man that we don’t speak Spanish and that is why we did not interact with him. M and I both heard and understood the conversation and grinned briefly at each other. Now is a great time to play stupid! Eventually he leaves the bus. Good riddens!

Needless to say we are happy when we finally arrive back in Medellín.

The bus ride to Guatapé is cheap as heck. It isn’t the most glamourous way to travel but now we will always have the memory of the crazy bus ride.

Me not knowing what to expect on the ride back

It is a long day and long bus ride. Also I don’t mention enough that though I love the metro in Medellín it is exhausting to take the 30 minute journey uphill after a long day of sightseeing.

We only have energy tonight to stop for dinner around the corner. After that it is to bed. Partying will have to happen another night.