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.

Spain: Toledo

Today I am taking the train from Madrid to explore the city of Toledo. Toledo is a city in Castilla-La Mancha known for its history of Arab, Jewish and Christian influences. Toledo is about a 30 minute train ride from Madrid from the Madrid Atocha station. It is easy to get a last minute ticket since there are about 15 trains a day that do this route. I have a little delay on finding where to buy the tickets initially but I eventually figure it out. I’ve decided to sign up online for a RENFE card. I earn points I’m not sure how to use but most tickets I buy from this day forward are in advance using my phone where I can log in and all my info automatically gets populated to save time.

I arrive in Toledo and follow the crowd towards town. There are a couple routes to get into the city, I choose the one with many stairs. Starting my day breaking a large sweat seems to be the theme of my traveling the next couple weeks. I like hitting the shoulder seasons when I travel but it seems I’ve hit Spain at the beginning of the hottest time of year.

On the walk into town

As I get closer to the old city I feel the need to take some photos with my fancier camera. I haven’t used it extensively for a while. It immediately starts acting up. The after market batteries I bought in Southeast Asia in 2019 are no longer holding a charge and the battery gets stuck in my camera. I can’t seem to get the stupid battery out. I eventually get it out with my room card but I vow to toss that battery later. I put the camera away for now and continue to the old town.

After I climb many stairs I end up in the main thoroughfare where there are shops and cafes. I am enjoying the shade cloth they have along the street. It is a very hot day and every little counts. I note this in another city days later. I think it is a fantastic idea.

I head first to the church Santo Tomé, a small church that is famous for its El Greco The Burial of Count Orgaz.

Toledo is all about El Greco and by the end of the day I am El Greco’d out but this is a nice start. It is a quick visit.

Toledo had a view large Jewish population in the 1400’s until they were expelled in 1492. The Tránsito Synagogue and Jewish Museum shows the history during that time. I enjoy looking at the wooden ceiling and Mudéjar architecture.

I wander over to San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio built by catholic monarchs as a tribute to the victory at the battle of Toro. It is said to have been originally designated as the resting place for Isabel and Ferdinand (Note: They are in Granada). It is another great example of Mudéjar style. There are again some really impressive wood ceilings.

Nearby is Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca a Jewish synagogue built in Moorish style that was later converted to a Christian church. It is once more an example of the melting of three religious cultures in this city.

I stop for a couple minutes and eat my bocadilla I bought in the morning then head over to the Museo del Greco where I observe the unhinged looking personalities in his paintings and the paintings of people who studied under him.

I’m getting el sicko of el Greco but I have one more stop on the El Greco tour, the Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo or Toledo Cathedral.

I get burned out easily when I see tons of cathedrals but this one is definitely worth the stop. I’m glad I am here in the late afternoon since I’ve seemed to miss the crowds of all the day-trippers….yes I am a day-tripper too but I’m not in a group that crowds up the place.

The cathedral is Spanish Gothic style with a hint of Mudejar architecture inside. I especially like the main chapel with its over the top pictorial of new testament scenes.

Behind the main chapel is a pretty spectacular display that goes all the up to the ceiling where it appears heaven itself has so boldly provided the lighting.

I love this and can’t believe its the first time I’ve heard this story of the giant that carries people across the river.

A visit to the chapter house shows a display of portraits of its Archbishops as well as some nice frescos.

Soon I’ve hit the El Greco’s again. I admit they are nice but I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten my fill of El Greco for a lifetime at this point.

My favorite by far of the church is the choir. I am delighted when I notice the odd bottoms of the choir seats. The seats also contain wood carvings of various battles.

I am tired since this is my first full day of sightseeing, I am about to call it quits after the cathedral even though I still have some hours to go before it is time for my return train to Madrid. I walk by the Ermita “Mezquita” del Cristo de la Luz which is still open. Here I see a small Catholic church that was once a mosque.

With time to kill I wander a bit more. I am looking for a cafe to have a snack and a drink but I’ve hit the dreaded siesta time and there doesn’t seem to be much open that fits what I need.

I find an outdoor park with a limited menu cafe and order a beer and some mass produced patatas bravas. I am not really a big fan of potatoes in my every day life but they seem to be a staple here so I dive into a plate.

It is almost time to go so I head to the train station and catch the 7:20PM train back to Madrid. I leave town a different way than I’ve entered so I get a different perspective.

Its a short ride back to Madrid and somehow I still have energy stores. I clean up and try to check out Calle Cava Baja in Madrid, a place popular for tapas crawls. I’m still early but the place I have chosen, La Perejila, is already very busy. I insert myself into a small spot at the bar and order a vermut and a pintxo. I’ve been here before but I wanted to return since I found it charming last time. Eventually a table clears and I am offered the table. I much rather sit at the bar but I am in an awkward spot so I take the table. I mean to stop at another spot but I am exhausted and head back to the hotel. After all I have another busy day scheduled tomorrow.

Calle Cava Baja

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.

I’m traveling again

Its been a couple years since I’ve traveled internationally as I’ve been too scared to book a trip. I’ve done some domestic travel but the fear of the world shutting down again lingered over me so I hesitated to book a trip outside the USA. I eventually worked through that fear and decided to go somewhere, anywhere. I decided to pick a country I have traveled easily to before and book a plane ticket. I’ve been to Spain twice before but felt like there was so much I didn’t have time to see on previous trips therefore decided that was a good choice for my starter trip post-covid-19 (yes I know covid-19 is not over yet). I recently received another booster shot so feel confident I am protected against contracting covid-19 (I was wrong, but more about that in a little while). So I begin creating a spreadsheet with possibly itineraries and start watching airline ticket prices. The tickets are way more than I want to pay and the prices are not coming down; it appears I waited too long to book. I am not giving up on this trip though. I close my eyes and book an airfare that is refundable. Who knows if I’ll be able to travel forever, its just money, right?!? I decide to do an open-jaw flight since there is virtually no price difference in booking a roundtrip from the same airport and I dislike backtracking when I travel. The plan is to start in Madrid then head south and finish up north to fly home from Barcelona.

A couple days after I book my airfare I start feeling under the weather. It is probably allergies I tell myself since 100% of the time up to this point it has been allergies – confirmed by countless negative covid-19 tests. This feels a little different though and I have plans to do a road trip to visit family and some friends in a couple days so I take my home test like I always do proactively. This time it comes up immediately as positive. I confirm it with a PCR test. I get sicker the next day so I cancel the week’s plans. I have had my first case of covid-19. It runs it course like a bad cold that symptoms are treated well by over the counter cold medicine. I don’t believe I even contract a fever. I get slightly worried that this sickness will interfere with my international travel plans. Thank goodness I bought refundable airfare. I test again 5 days in and I’m still testing positive even though I just have some congestion and tiredness lingering. I decide to wait until day 10 to test again so I’m not wasting too many tests. The CDC website says I am good to go in public now but I continue to mask up and avoid social events until I do end up testing negative. Luckily I still have a couple weeks left before my trip so I go full-speed into planning mode.

I’m definitely out of travel practice but I guess its like riding a bike since I am checking off my to-do list quickly once I begin. Many of the activities planned are ones I missed on previous visits so I make sure to book in advance many things. My itinerary is jam-packed and I am moving around way more than I like but its only for a couple weeks so I can handle it, right? (Note: Nonstop travel is a recipe for me getting sick while I travel. Luckily I already got the covid-19 immunity temporarily out of the way). I am packing way too many things since as I get older I need more things to simply survive. At the time of me packing USA still required a negative covid test in order to return to my home country so two of the things packed are two very large covid-19 tests (I pack two in case one fails as we are advised) that I order them off the internet because they have to be the kind that are confirmed online with a nurse. I had no idea how large they would be when I order them. I am super annoyed by how much room they are taking up in my day pack. Other than that I do have a good packing list though that has been developed from years and years of travel. I have 95% of the things I could ever need on that list. I just need to now go through the exercise where I narrow the pile of clothes I am taking to smaller and smaller piles.

I finally reduce things down to a sufficient size and do a test pack before the busy weekend before I leave. The flight is on Monday and the weekend before is busy with plans – I do end up canceling my Sunday plans though due to exhaustion since I don’t want to wear myself out BEFORE my travel.

Oh and I am using my old backpack that is falling apart since I can’t seem to find a new backpack that I like. A little sewing repair before I go gets it to a good enough state to travel ….

Can you see where I did my sewing repairs?

2021 Update

Its hard to believe now that a little over two years ago I embarked on a journey of a lifetime. Even harder to believe that I have not visited a foreign country since that trip when in the past it was typical for me to go on at least one international trip a year.

There is one big excuse (COVID-19) but I do notice more and more people are traveling now – and they seem to be traveling safely. I have yet to take the plunge myself; I am still not comfortable doing so. Living in the USA I come from a place of privilege where vaccinations are widely available and I still feel like traveling internationally puts other countries unduly at risk. I have wavered a bit on this and had some false starts with trip planning but always found myself relieved when my travel plans fell through.

I miss traveling dearly and long to be wandering around streets where the sounds are all foreign or hiking in a land where all I hear are sounds of animals that I am unable to identify.

Who knows when I will be abroad again…..it may be a spur of the moment trip soon….well maybe not that soon since I am in the process of renewing my passport. But for now I am settled in my hometown. I am reconnecting with friends, family, and trying to regain my emotional center after major life changes the last few years.

For those of you fortunate enough to travel right now, enjoy and please be safe. Hopefully I can join you soon.