Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ávila and Segovia

The next morning we got up around 9 and got on the bus to go to Ávila, about an hour and a half from Salamanca. On this entire trip we were in southern part of Castilla and León (actually in the Castilla portion of the province) and pretty close to Madrid, or at least closer than I have previously been at this point in my travels. Ávila is known for it's perfectly preserved medieval walls, which completely encircle the old city and have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is situated on a high, treeless plateau surrounded by mountains, and is actually the highest provincial capital in Spain, at 3,665 feet.

Welcome to Ávila? Your signs say "yes" but your walls say "no" . . .

View of the surrounding landscape

The walls, there are 88 towers and 9 gateways

Ávila street, with the landscape at the end

The Cathedral of Ávila, the back of which actually forms part of the walls

You wanna get into this city, you're gonna have to go through me! Oh, and these big walls . . .

Yemas de Santa Teresa, the typical dessert of Ávila. "Yemas" means egg yolks, which is fitting because that is the main ingredient of these little custard balls, along with some milk, probably some other stuff, and a whole lot of sugar. Yeah, I tried one, but I didn't go back for seconds.

We walked around Ávila for about an hour and then set of to the east again towards Segovia. Before arriving in Segovia all I knew about it was that it had a famous Roman aqueduct that is on the cover of many high school Spanish books, and I was excited enough to see that without knowing what else we would be seeing. As you will see later, I was pleasantly surprised. But first, the aqueduct.

Looking down the hill that required the construction of this aqueduct by the Romans. Aqueducts, you see, are designed to provide water to cities by maintaining a gentle downward slope from the source to the intended destination. Once the water runs down a hill into a valley you can't get it back out unless you have a pump or something, so the aqueduct is like a bridge for the water over said valley. Sorry for talking to you all like children, but I got carried away with my explanation.

The aqueduct at it's highest point, 100.53 feet. Built around the first or second century AD, it is comprised of 20,400 granite blocks held together without any mortar or clamps, and has 166 arches and 120 pillars.

Looking back up the hill

Trying to get artsy and frame a church tower in an arch, but there were foreigners in the foreground

After checking out the aqueduct we were each given 4 euros and led to a "Rodillas" (knees), which is like a Spanish subway, but they mostly have cold sandwiches with the crust cut off. I don't know why it's called knees, but I wasn't going to complain about a partially subsidized lunch. Afterward we had some time to check out the surrounding area while waiting on the rest of the group to meet up and go to a lookout point, or so they told us.

Víctor and I being friendly while wearing opposing jester hats in a souvenir shop. (His is for Barcelona and mine is Real Madrid, which are the two most famous Spanish soccer teams and fierce rivals)

Segovia also has a cathedral, but it costs money to go inside. And we'll see more of it later

When we got to the "look out point" there were fabulous views of the countryside, which was what we in America would consider as typically Spanish, rolling brown hills. There was also something through the trees that looked pretty awesome, an Alcázar! I don't know if the guides had told us about it and I simply didn't hear/understand, or if they were trying to surprise us, but this castle (Alcázar means fortress, adapted into Spanish from Arabic) looked totally awesome and I was super excited to explore it.

Alcázar of Segovia, surrounded by cliffs at the edge of the city. It was built by the Arabs but expanded over the years by various monarchs of the Kingdom of Castilla, of whom it was a favorite royal residence. It is also the site where Fernando and Isabel, the Catholic monarchs who financed Columbus' first voyage, were married.

Front view, we were told that the castle at Disneyland Paris was partially inspired by the Alcázar, but if anything the only resemblance seems to be the pointed roofs of the smaller towers.

The main courtyard, with a fountain and a really short cannon at the back that I thought was a bell.

The Throne Room. Come on, you guys didn't have to put those ropes across the thrones, I wasn't gonna try to sit there . . .

HELP! A reanimated suit of armor knows I go around making jokes about stuff I see in Spain!

Awesome photo idea of the landscape through one of the prettier windows. People who saw me take this photo waited, then took their own. I'm just saying.

View of the town from the top of the main tower (152 really narrow steps, felt like I was in a lighthouse) with the Guadarrama Mountains shrouded in clouds in the background. That cathedral looks pretty sweet from up here.

Guadarrama Mountains again, with the surrounding landscape. The sun was starting to set and I really liked the light in these photos.

Looking back down on the rest of the Alcázar

Awesome photo, I love how the sun is shining only on the town

I took so many photos trying to get this flag waving perfectly, but this is the best I got.

We spent an hour or so exploring the Alcázar, then another half hour waiting for the same inconsiderate group of German girls who had been holding us up the whole trip to come out so we could walk back to the bus and head back to Oviedo. We were 5 hours from home, so we didn't get back to town until 11:30 Sunday night, and since the buses weren't running anymore I didn't get back to the vivienda to eat dinner until midnight. Oh well, Monday was a holiday and we didn't have class, so I slept in and then went to the circus. More on that later perhaps.


  1. Hey, Patrick,

    Love the picks, but I like the commentary, too! That view of Segovia looks familiar . . .

    Debbie Firebaugh

  2. Dear Patrick,

    I challenge you to find something not incredibly beautiful and amazing looking in Spain...Oh and the Holy Grail...oh, and Amelia Earhart...


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  4. OK so if I'm hearing you right you want me to find ugly Amelia Earhart, holding the Holy Grail, somewhere in Spain? I'm on it.

  5. haha, I like that interpretation. well played, sir...well played

  6. Well done - nice post! Love the landscape photos framed by windows (you've learned your lesson well, grasshopper...) -- Dad

  7. Patrick, I think this is my favorite post so far. The photos are beautiful, especially the one with the sun shining on the town! Your explanations are very helpful for us non-world travellers. It's almost as if I am with you. Keep up the good work!
    Love, Mom

  8. Enjoying your informative narration and beautiful pictures. Love, Karen

  9. Patrick-

    Awesome pictures! Are those with a regular camera, or have you gotten all fancy-photographer?

    And how come you're in Spain? Why aren't you an engineering slave like me? Not fair.