Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sping Break II: Segovia

The skyscrapers of Madrid just outside of the
Chamartín train station
I'm in love...with a castle! That may sound strange, but after you see some pictures of the Alcázar de Segovia (Segovia Castle/Fortress) you'll understand my feelings. First things first though, today I went to Segovia a town just a little north of Madrid. In the 1400 and 1500s it was an extremely important city, and was, on occasion, the capital of Castilla (the center region of Spain) It is an amazing town and extremely beautiful with a lot of points of interest, but three main ones, all of which I went to.

The first is the Acueducto de Segovia (Aqueduct of Segovia) which is kind of hard to miss since it's giant and the bus from the train station drops you off practically right in front of it. It was built by the Romans when Spain (and Portugal too) were part of the Roman Empire. So it's been around for a long time and still standing strong, which completely baffles me.

Acueducto de Segovia

I don't even want to know how they got that
flag up there (hopefully a ladder and not by
climbing on the aqueduct)

Then after getting a map from the tourist office (it's not a huge town, but I did not feel like getting lost) I made my way to the Alcázar, but first with a stop at Segovia's Plaza Mayor where the second main attraction, the Santa Iglesia Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción y de San Frutos de Segovia (or for short, the Catedral de Segovia), is located. It's considered one of the finest Gothic-style buildings in the world and it's easy to see why, it's simply breathtaking inside and out.

Plaza Mayor

Catedral de Segovia

The Cathedral's bell tower

The main altar

Then I finally, I visited the Alcázar de Segovia, the third most popular tourist place in Segovia. I have wanted to visit the Alcázar since my high school Spanish teacher, and a CMU alum (shout out to Mrs. Christensen!) told us about her study abroad experience in Segovia. It's so beautiful and I know I already used the word breathtaking, but the Alcázar truly is. After taking a ton of pictures of the entrance, I went inside and began my tour. My favorite parts were the throne room and the dining hall which contains all of the rulers of Castilla until the unification of Spain into what we know it as today. The Alcázar was where Queen Isabella la Católica (the Catholic), considered one of the greatest monarchs in Spain's history, was corinated as Queen of Castilla. It was also one of the castles used as the inspiration of the Cinderella Castle in Disney's Magic Kingdom. I took a ton of pictures throughout the day of the Alcázar (like I said, I fell in love) from various vantage points.

King Fernando, Queen Isabel and their daughter,
Queen Juana

After visiting the inside of the Alcázar I climbed 152 stairs to get to the top of the Torre de Juan II (Tower of Juan II) to get a great view of the city and the back end of the Alcázar from above.

After all of the stair climbing I was pretty famished so I had lunch. I'm not exactly sure what I had because I forgot the name, but it was some sort of ham and mashed potatoes with sweet onions on top. I'm not sure if that is a local dish or not, but either way it was delicious and I'm upset I can't remember the name because I can't even Google it now! After I was full, I went to the Cemeterio Judío (Jewish Cemetery) just outside the city on a hill. From there not only was I able to see some of the grave sites from before 1492 (that's when the Jews were forced out of Spain), I also was able to take some really nice pictures of the city (and the Alcázar of course) and afterwards, as an Earth Day activity, I hiked up a mountain (albeit small and with paths) to get a view of the back of the Alcázar.


Puerta de San Andrés - one of the gates in the city wall

My favorite photo I took today
I had to lay down in the grass to take it, luckily there
was no one around to see me acting like a weirdo.

After a while of just staring at the Alcázar, I headed back into the city and went to the Museo de Segovia (Museum of Segovia) to check out the history of the wonderful town (and the province too).

All in all, an extremely delightful day, and don't get me wrong, I love Alicante to death, but I am now super jealous of all of the CMU students that have had the opportunity to live in Segovia.

One last picture of the aqueduct as I left Segovia (hopefully not for good)

Spring Break: Madrid

Spring Break for the University of Alicante officially started on Thursday, a day in which I used to pack and get ready for my trip to Madrid and nearby cities. On Friday my train left at 11am and I was in Madrid by 2:40pm! I immediately found my hostel so I could drop of my bags and then I went exploring!

Plaza Mayor
The first afternoon in Madrid I decided to explore the eastern part of the city, also known as Old Madrid. The first main attraction I went to was the Plaza Mayor, or the Main Plaza. Later, I made my way to the Catedral de la Almudena (Madrid's largest cathedral) which is right across from the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). I decided not to visit the cathedral, but I did, however, go into the Palacio Real. It is a beautiful building remolded in the 1800 in a more French-like style and just like Versailles in Paris, it has a lot of elegant and large rooms. Unfortunately, photography within the palace is not allowed, so I have to photos to show off, but take my word for it, this place is amazing.

The main building of Plaza Mayor

Catedral de la Almudena

Palacio Real

With a view like this, what king wouldn't want to build a castle here?

Afterwards, I went to the Parque de Sabatini, which I believe used to be the Palacio Real's gardens because it's right behind it. Then I went to another park called the Parque del Este (East Park) which has the Templo de Debod (Temple of Debod) which was given to Spain by Egypt in the 1960s for helping them restore and protect the ancient temples in Egypt.

The Palacio Real from the Parque de Sabatini

King Fernando I of Castilla (the center part of Spain)

Templo de Debod

After that, I went to the Plaza de España (Plaza of Spain) where there is a famous statue of Miguel de Cervantes (referred to as the Spanish Shakespeare) and his two most well-known characters Don Quijote and Sancho Panza from El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha or in English, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote de la Mancha. After a long day of traveling and walking, I decided to head back to my hostel, but as I passed the Palacio Real once again, there was a crowed around one of the doors for the Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession for Good Friday so I stuck around and watched that for a little bit before finally heading back.

Plaza de España

Don Quijote and Sancho Panza

Miguel de Cervantes

Semana Santa procession

Puerta del Sol
Saturday morning I got up and went to the Puerta del Sol a plaza that is not only the center of Madrid, but the center of Spain and the Iberian Peninsula. The Puerta del Sol also contains a statue of El oso y el madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree) the symbol of Madrid. I then made my way to the Palacio de Cibeles (Palace of Cibeles) which also has a fountain called the Fuente de Cibeles; they are two of Madrid's most famous sites. Next I went to another famous site called the Puerta de Alcalá (Gate of Alcalá) and then finally I went to my first museum in Madrid, the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (National Archaeological  Museum). It was one of the best museums I have ever been to and as a history geek, I enjoyed every minute of my time there. I really enjoyed the Dama de Elche, one of the most preserved statues from the pre-Roman period in Spain.

The famous clock tower in the Puerta del Sol

Kilometer 0, the center of Spain

El oso y el madroño

Fuente de Cibeles

Palacio de Cibeles

Puerta de Alcalá

Façade of the Museo Arqueológico Nacional

La Dama de Elche

A Visigoth crown that was held, not worn 
Museo Thyseen-Bornemisza

After that I went to the Museo Thyseen-Bornemisza an art museum that used to be the private collection of Baron Hans Thyssen-Bornemisza; before being sold to the Spanish government it was the second largest private art collection only after the British Royal Family's collection. It contains painting from nearly every era, from the middle ages to modern times. It was quite impressive and I found a few paintings that we had talked about and analyzed in my sociology of contemporary art class.

Next, the crown jewel of the Spanish art museums, the Museo del Prado (Museum of the Prado) simply called El/The Prado for short. It was free on Saturday so I had to stand in a huge line for about a half and hour, and they don't allow photography, so I only have photos of the outside, which is pretty impressive in it's own right. The Prado has artwork from the middle ages through the early 1800s, but the bulk of it's collection is from the Renaissance. The Prado is basically the artwork collected by the Spanish Royal Family until the 1800s when it was turned into a museum. The most famous works are paintings by Titan, El Greco, Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya and a plethora of other artists. I didn't have time to go through the whole museum before it closed on Saturday so Sunday morning I returned to finish and thanks to my Carnet Jove (Youth Card in Valencian), the international student card given out by the regional government of Valencia (other regional governments issue their own version as well) I was given free admission once again.

The Prado with a statue of Diego Velázquez

After finishing the Prado on Sunday I decided to take a walk through Madrid's main park, the Parque del Retiro. The park is very beautiful and has tons of paths, fields, fountains and monuments and even a pond, the best thing to compare it to is Central Park in New York (just not as big). A cool fact (or at least I think it's cool): the main paths and plazas are named after the former Spanish colonies in the Americas. The last thing I did on Sunday was go to the Real Jardín Botánico (Royal Botanical Garden).

The pond with a monument to King Alfonso XII

Paseo de México

Palacio de Cristal  (Glass Palace)

Statue of King Carlos III who commissioned the Botanical Garden

Today (I know this will say I posted this on the 22nd, but I started writing it on the 21st), the last full day I'll have in Madrid since I am going to Segovia tomorrow, Ávila on Wednesday and Toledo on Thursday until Friday, I went to the last major place that was on my Madrid bucket list, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Queen Sofía National Center of Art Museum) or simply the Museo Reina Sofía. It has artwork from the late 1800s on so between the Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza pretty much all eras of art are covered. I'm not a huge fan of modern and contemporary art, but I did find the museum very interesting. And the great thing about the Museo Reina Sofía, it contains my favorite work of art: Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Guernica was painted in 1937 after Nazi Germany bombed a town in the north of Spain called Guernica with the support of Francisco Franco (who later became dictator of Spain from 1939 until 1975) during the Spanish Civil War because the town supported the Republican government. Picasso was extremely anti-Franco and the painting stayed in France for a while (where Picasso had fled to in exile) until he gave it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York until democracy was restored in Spain, so in 1981, after the Spanish transition to democracy, Guernica was placed in a small art museum in the Parque del Retiro until 1992 when the Museo Reina Sofía opened.


I then braved the Madrid metro in order to catch an interurban bus that would take me to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, where El Escorial (or it's full name: Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial) is located. El Escorial is a royal palace and monastery which also contains a library. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a Royal Site of Spain and a Spanish Heritage Site. Unfortunately, I didn't know that it is closed on Mondays, so I only got pictures of the outside of the building, I was very upset because I really wanted to see the library and the tombs of nearly all of the Spanish kings and queens since the late 1500s are buried. Hopefully I will find time to go back to see the inside, but I'm not sure I'll have time because of my aforementioned planes to go to other cities, but I really hope that I can fit it in somewhere because I have wanted to go see it since I learned about it in one of my Spanish classes. I'll try to post again soon with more updates of my Spring Break.

El Escorial

The façade of the main entrance

The view of Madrid from El Escorial