A Travellerspoint blog

The Elusive Frog of Salamanca

Hey everybody, sorry this entry is way overdue! I’ve spent the past week traveling in Paris and Barcelona for my vacations and haven’t had a chance to really post this until after I came back. Updates on Paris and Barcelona will follow in the next week or so.

Like almost every other weekend here in Spain, I was in a different city a couple weekends ago. This time it was Salamanca, a small city to the west of Madrid (about 3 hours ride by bus) that is comprised mostly of university students. We stayed there for the entire weekend and it was just the right amount of time. It takes about 3 hours to walk the whole city and see pretty much everything there is to see, after that it’s all relaxing and cheap food. It was a nice break from Madrid, but as always I was glad to head back to the big city by the end of the weekend.


This is a university building in which the entire outside is covered with these shell like carvings. It’s very strange, but quite appealing… Ideas for my house one day perhaps.
There are two cathedrals next to each other that you can visit in Salamanca. One is the old cathedral and one is the new one. No one explained to me why they decided to build a new one or why it was directly next to the old one, but I do know we were allowed to take non-flash pictures inside!
Here’s a ground shot of the Gothic arches and domes.
A close up shot of one of the domes.
We were able to climb one of the towers and enter into the cathedral’s flying buttress.
Here’s a shot of the cathedral from up top.
A snapshot of Salamanca from up high.
Your typical pretty European street picture.
This is the wall to the library of the University of Salamanca, on which there are innumerous carvings. There is a small carving of a frog on the wall that’s about the size of an egg. It’s said if you can find the frog, you’ll have good luck. I found it… but only because I listened to someone describing the location to her husband. I am not sure if that negates the luck or not.
Salamanca sits on the edge of a gorgeous river, and the weather allowed us to go out and really enjoy our Sunday morning.
An incredible snap shot of the new cathedral from across the river.

Posted by KaiDoo 06:44 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Holy Toledo!

Ready for another history lesson everyone? This weekend’s trip was to Toledo, the famous city. It was the first capital of the peninsula that is now Spain (Spain was not united as ‘Spain’ until the reconquista), and was inhabited by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Muslims, the Jewish (though they were never the ruling majority), and the Catholics. Unlike many of the other cities in Spain, Toledo adopted styles from each and mixed them together in their architecture. The countless churches have the same characteristic arches and building materials used by the Muslims, mixed with gothic or renaissance styles. Toledo is not only known as ‘Holy Toledo’ because of the numerous churches, but also because of the giant cathedral that was once the primary cathedral in all of Spain.
¡Hasta poco!

There are two walls in the city that were built to protect the city’s weak point. This is the first wall and main entrance into the city.
The Romans built the first wall and the Catholics built the second wall in the city. This gate is called ‘Puerta del Sol’ and though the Catholics built it, it has the appearance of the Muslim style. This is because the Catholics contracted the Muslims to design and build the wall.
The city sits on a hill in the bend of a river; this was strategically done so that it would be hard to invade the city from any direction but the side with the walls. Despite sitting in the crook of the river, the city has had many problems throughout the decades with getting water.
Here you can see a little mixture of the building styles. Take a look at the arches and the building materials. The middle set is of Muslim design and the use of bricks was a cheap building style also brought to Spain by them.
A dramatic picture I took in a playground. It was a little stormy in the morning, but the sun popped out later in the day.
Toledo is not especially known for any food in particular, and is actually rather pricey since it is a tourist hot spot. The one thing they do make rather well is mazapan. It has a doughy consistency like the Ponche from Segovia, but is made with almonds.
This is the famous cathedral, which is absolutely gorgeous. Like all churches and museums, I was not allowed to take pictures inside, however the interior is incredible and breathtaking.
Another dramatic picture I took, it looks a bit like a postcard I think.
The famous painter El Greco lived much of his life in Toledo and completed the majority of his paintings there. The ‘House of El Greco’ is not his actual house (which was on the outskirts of the city) but a recreation. It is normally a museum of his work, but has been closed for some time now for some construction or something of that sort.
A snap shot of the lower part of the city from above.

Posted by KaiDoo 06:46 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Sigüenza - A Bottle of Water AND a Town!

The week started with paella cooking classes where we sampled two types of paella and a paella-esque rice. The first was paella Valenciano, which is a paella from Valencia. It consists of various vegies, rice, chicken, and rabbit. It was quite exciting to have my first taste of rabbit, and I find that it's actually quite good. The second was a black rice paella, which is made black by mixing in the ink of a squid. The last rice one was a little soupy and made from a fishy broth with a broth made from tomato and pepper. The best hands down was the Valenciano, but it was all fantastic. I later learned that initially paella was not made with rice, and it was added later because it was a filler and also gave it a nice texture. The dish also was not initially called paella, but it since it is cooked in a skillet that has a name very similar to paella, people began to call it by the name of the skillet in which it is cooked. (I will hunt down pictures and post some as soon as I can)
Thursday I (along with all the other American students) was asked to do some filming for a commercial for the Institute of Cervantes. The Institute of Cervantes is a nonprofit organization which overlooks the learning of the Spanish language in pretty much every country in the world... I learned this AFTER I agreed to get filmed. We were taken to their building and up to the 5th executive level floor which few are allowed to see. We found out we had to read from a teleprompter and the stories were totally bogus. I apparently started my own enterprise of computers and had statistics on the number of Hispanic enterprises in the United States. After stumbling over the easiest words and embarrassing myself multiple times we were done. We then got a tour of the basement which had a giant safe we got to enter. The building was once a bank that later became the building for the Institute of Cervantes and now the safes are timecapsules for Spanish poets and artists. It was all very cool. The commercial will be on their online television channel, so you can all view it, I just need to find out when it will air.
This weekend I spent my time in the country house of a friend. There were 9 of us, but we all managed to fit alright and had a good time. It seems like every town has a castle AND a cathedral, Sigüenza was no exception. After dealing with train issues (there is currently a strike and a large unemployment issue) we got there and it was beautiful, a nice change from Madrid. The only real issue was that it was cold there and I had to wear the same coats I wear in Worcester during winter. Anyway here are some pics!
¡Besos y abrazos!
The arch to a church near the house. This church had some bodies buried underneath it and there was a spot covered with glass where you could look in at the bones... it was gross.
The Cathedral which had bullet holes in various parts from when Franco's army was fighting the Nationalists way back when.
The arch to the entrance.
The pretty courtyard of the Cathedral.
Notice anything odd? Like the tree inside the building? All that was left of the building was the outside, it was kinda neat.
The castle, which was converted by the Paradores into a hotel. The Paradores take historical buildings, purchase them, and then convert them into hotels.
The fabulous view from the castle.
The castle parking lot...
A street picture.

Posted by KaiDoo 06:37 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

The Country of Parties and the City of Astrology

Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve last posted something. I wanted to wait till I had a chance to visit another city before writing another entry… I need pictures to show off, right?
So Spain is rather infamous for its partying spirit and active nightlife. It seems like every weekend there is something special going on in one city or another. Summer in particular is the time when most ‘pueblos’ (towns) throw fiestas for a few days a time. Most of the smaller pueblos have events with the bulls where they may have a running of the bulls (sometimes with torches on their horns) or another of the numerous (and sometimes gruesome) bull events that exist. After the Noche en Blanca thrown in Madrid, a nearby city called Guadalajara (yes, there is one also in Mexico) hosted probably the last fiesta of the summer. In this festival they have a bull with torches run through a track that passes through the city. I was surprised to find that instead of having the bull run at night, they have a man with lights attached to his back run the track instead. Unfortunately we missed the actual spectacle of an illuminated man coursing through the streets of the city.

El Escorial is another of the nearby towns that my program has excursions to, like Segovia was. El Escorial was built by the king Felipe II who had it constructed under the pretense of commemorating a certain war, but in actuality was attempting to build a pantheon in which to place the body his dying father. The actual building was constructed in only 20 years, though the planning took many years and 2 architects. The second architect, and primary designer, was a man of math, science, and astrology/astronomy (they were not separate back then) who decided to use these in the construction of El Escorial. The building itself is in the form of a cube (because it is the ‘perfect’ shape) and is symmetrical. Half is a cathedral; the other half is a school and library. The pantheon itself is under the cathedral (it must be joined by a cathedral so the kings can be prayed for) and in the shape of a circle to represent the eternity of the afterlife in Heaven. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed within the building (excluding the courtyards in the entrances), so I have no pictures to show the interior, but let me assure that it is quite impressive.

Sorry the entry is a bit big, hopefully you’ve read it in parts and not all in one go!

All the people of Madrid were out in the streets on the night of Noche en Blanca, you can’t really see it, but the crowd extends all the way to that lit up building and further. (I know I talked a little bit about it in the last entry, but here are photos)
The city did a bunch of quirky things, including placing giant inflatable ducks in the fountains of the city (same fountain as one of my earlier posts).
Fiesta in Guadalajara if the sign didn’t give it away.
There were a bunch of different rides and food stands all over. I decided to ride the Ferris wheel for a mere 3 euros (that’s like 5 dollars).
For you food junkies that liked my pictures of the ponche, here is a picture of the ever so famous ‘chocolate con churros’. This is the famous Sans Gines chocolateria, which is actually very close to my house. This is a typical treat for breakfast in Spain (like doughnuts for breakfast). You pretty much get a cup of chocolate (which is not sweet) and dip pieces of churros in. It’s not absolutely delicious in my opinion, but a definite must at least once.
A statue and some random lady posing in El Escorial.
A quick snap shot inside the actual Escorial building.
El Escorial is located in the Sierras (some short mountains outside Madrid).
The main entrance to the library side of El Escorial.
An intimidating picture of the same entrance, a little daunting from this angle.
Just inside that gate is the ‘Plaza of Kings’.
There are the kings. I don’t remember clearly but I think they are kings from the Bible styled after the actual kings…
A bell tower.
A nice view from the exterior.
Because one picture didn’t do the scene justice.

Posted by KaiDoo 07:10 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Segovia in 6 hours!

Saturday I took a trip with my program to the city of Segovia, which is a little over an hour bus ride from Madrid. The city was once owned by the Romans, then proceeded to change hands for many decades until it was finally reclaimed by the catholic King and Queen. Since it had so many owners, the architecture has many different influences. Styles change from having Arab influences, to Roman style arcs, to gothic ceilings, etc. There are also many churches because the catholic King tried to repopulate the city quickly by offering free land and other benefits. So many different kinds of people all rushed in and they each built their own churches.

Segovia is a really tranquil city with cute buildings and very famous food. Everything is a strange mix there, but it all fits together so perfectly that you don’t find it odd at all. I can’t explain how nice a change it was from the bigger/faster pace of Madrid (which in reality isn’t very faced paced at all), however by the end of the day I was looking forward to returning to Madrid for the Noche en Blanca festival (the city closes off streets and sets up lots of performances, activities, and concerts in addition to extending metro hours). I stayed out with friends until 7am, had chocolate con churros, and then fell into a very deep sleep in my bed.
¡Besos y abrazos!

When we got there we found a good many of the habitants of Segovia dressed in Roman style clothing. They were putting on demonstrations of what life was like when the Romans were in control of Segovia and apparently do this kind of thing frequently.
A quick snapshot of the streets. If you look carefully you can not only see my Tandem group in front of me, but also notice how the buildings sometimes have this 70s wallpaper look about them, very cool in reality.
One of the tallest towers in Segovia that is part of a church. Most churches were modest and kept their towers lower, but this church decided to go for it. Again, if you look closely you might notice the bottom 2 arches are gothic, vs the Romanic arches above, and that the bottom 2 sets of arches are blind arches.
An inside view of a portion of ponche, a savory dessert that is rather pricey, but well worth it. It is best described as a very light custardy inside with a thin layer of cinnamon, wrapped in a doughy outside that has the consistency of mochi. Another famous dish that I did not try is called cuchineo (I think that’s what they call it), which is baby pig that’s slow cooked for a very long time with only a little salt and not much else. It is supposed to be so soft that you can cut the pig afterwards with the side of a plate. Some friends tried it and said it was the best meat they had ever tasted in their entire lives.
This is the palace where the royalty once resided. It was commented several times by classmates that it had a sort of Disney appearance due to the towers.
It was complete with a high bridge over a moat (that was pretty much empty).
Here is the view from the top tower which is probably the highest point in the city. The climb is up a tiny spiral stone staircase in which many people pass up and down. I think it was well worth it though.
I have a thing about looking up, and I LOVED the ceilings inside the palace. This is the ceiling inside the throne room.
Next we have a giant cathedral in the main sector of the city. Normally the churches were built next to the palaces, but the king realized that they were 2 competing powers and after the old cathedral burned down, he had a new one rebuilt on the furthest point from the castle. It took many decades to build, but it quite impressive.
A sneaky picture from inside the courtyard. (I think we weren’t supposed to use cameras inside the cathedral, but many others were taking pictures and I felt one picture from the courtyard outside the actual cathedral would be ok.
Ok, well maybe it was two pictures that I took…
You can see the remnants of the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, one of the few remaining ones, and the best maintained and possibly longest existing one. The city keeps it in good condition by actually using it once every couple of months (the best way to maintain something is to use it I was told).
Here is where the long stretch ends and the water is poured into a small drain where it is added to the underground water supply.
The big arches must have been at least 50 feet tall. It was incredible! While there are many stones, which were replaced (because if I understood our teacher guide right it fell once and was put back up), it still appears very aged and I couldn’t resist running my hands over the stones in an attempt to feel the centuries.

Posted by KaiDoo 04:46 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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