Kris'  London Online Journal

Fourth Week of April (Apr 25th - May 1st) 2011

Monday, April 25th

The destination for today was Segovia, another one of Spain’s enchanting medieval cities. Located 54 miles north of Madrid, it’s an easy 30-minute train ride away.  Here, we visited three monuments that make Segovia famous.

The first is its Roman Aqueduct, featured in the picture on the right. Almost 3,000 feet long and approximately 100 feet high with 167 arches, this Aqueduct was built sometime between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century AD.  The most amazing thing about this aqueduct is that it was built with no mortar and has required only minor reconstruction. It supplied the city’s Alcázar with water until very recently.

The second major monument in Segovia is the Gothic cathedral. Construction started in 1525 and took 65 years to finish.  It’s grand scale dwarfs the other buildings in Segovia’s Plaza Mayor.

The third is the Alcázar (alcazardesegovia.com), which many believe was the model for the Disneyworld Castle. However, I’ve heard the same thing about another castle in Germany and several in France, so who knows?

 

 

Tuesday, April 26th

This morning we took the high-speed train to Cuenca, located about 100 miles southeast of Madrid.  We came to Cuenca for two reasons. The first is to see the Casas Colgadas (in English: Hanging Houses) (www.mesoncasascolgadas.com).  If you look at the photo on the right, you can see how the houses got this name. Constructed in the 15th century as a palace, the buildings now house an art museum.

The second reason is because when Greg lived in Ecuador as a child, he lived in Cuenca, a sister city of Cuenca, Spain. Thus, we couldn’t pass up this chance.

Another one of Cuenca’s landmarks is the Puente (in English: Bridge) de San Pablo, an iron pedestrian bridge that crosses the deep gorge that the Casas Colgadas overlook. On the other side is Cuenca’s historic parador, which has a magnificent view of Cuenca’s old town, including the Casas Colgadas.  We walked around inside the parador, but didn’t stay there overnight. Too bad, because it was really exquisite. Instead, we took a late afternoon train back to Madrid.

For those of you who are not familiar with paradors, they are government-owned hotels located throughout Spain that are usually housed in historic buildings, such as monasteries, castles and convents. (www.paradores.es).  Not to worry. We are going to stay in two paradores later in our trip.

 

 

Wednesday, April 27th

This morning, we left Madrid and headed 125 miles northwest to Salamanca, a university town famous for its golden-colored sandstone buildings.  The station where we exited our train was kind of odd, mostly because there was no station. The train stopped in front of a school right when it was letting out for the day. And, because the cars of students’ parents blocked the street, we couldn’t get a taxi. So, we walked with our luggage all the way to the hotel. Luckily, the weather was nice.

Our home while we’re here is the Hotel Rector (www.hotelrector.com), a small and quiet establishment located near the historical city center. We quickly dropped off our bags and headed out to see the sights of Salamanca. Our first stop was at the cathedrals. Yes, cathedrals, not cathedral. Here, there is a new cathedral (built in the 16th century) and an old cathedral (built in the 12th century). Interestingly, they didn’t tear down the old cathedral. It sits right next to the new one. In fact, you have to walk through the new one to get to the old one. Both are lovely.

We ended the day with a nice dinner at an outdoor restaurant in the Plaza Mayor. The sun set while we were dining and soon the lights came on illuminating the entire plaza (see the photo on the right). Every town in Spain has a Plaza Mayor, but Salamanca is one the largest.  And most beautiful.

 

 

Thursday, April 28th

Today we traveled by car for the first time on this trip. We picked up a rental car as we were leaving Salamanca and drove 125 miles due south to Cacéres. We didn’t see much along the way as this part of Spain, known as Extremadura, is rural and sparsely populated.

After a 2-hour drive, we reached our hotel, the Parador de Cacéres (www.paradores.es). Having just reopened following an18-month renovation, the place still had that new car smell. The windows of our room opened up directly onto the narrow, cobblestone sidewalks of this quant medieval village. The vehicle traffic is so tightly controlled in this area that there is a road block and an intercom with a direct line to the local police station You have to press the button and tell the police you have a reservation at a hotel so they will buzz you through.

There isn’t much to do in Cacéres, except walk around and soak up the local culture. To our surprise and delight, there was a “progressive” concert in the old town tonight. First, we saw a woman playing a cello on the sidewalk. Soon we ran into another musician playing the saxophone (see photo) in sync with the cello player.
Finally, we realized what was going on. As it turned out, there were many musicians all over the city playing together. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was wonderful!

 

 

Friday, April 30th

Today we took our second car trip of this vacation. We drove from Cacéres south to Seville. The drive was about 165 miles, which took approximately 2.5 hours. Like yesterday, the trip was through mostly rural areas. In route, we exited the Extremadura region and entered the Andalucia region of Spain.

We arrived at our hotel in Seville, the Hotel Alfonso XIII (www.hotel-alfonsoxiii-seville.com), which is the grand dame of hotels here.  We had a wonderful room, with a balcony overlooking the street.

The first site on our list of things to see and do in Seville was the cathedral. Even though we’ve seen some pretty amazing cathedrals in Spain, we were shocked at the size of the one here. This cathedral is the largest in Spain and 3rd largest in the world. FYI, St. Peter’s in the Vatican is the largest and St. Paul’s in London is the 2nd largest.

As soon as we reached the cathedral, it started to rain and we didn’t have any umbrellas with us. Fortunately, we were walking near the area where there are horse-drawn carriages. We quickly decided to see the remainder of Seville’s sites from the dry seats of one of the carriages (see photo on the right). That turned out to be the best decision we made all day. It poured for hours!

 

 

Saturday, May 1st

Just before noon, we took a 45-minute train ride from Seville to our next destination, Córdoba.  After a short taxi ride, we arrived at our hotel, Hospes Palacio del Bailío (www.hospes.com).

The first thing we did was head straight for the one obligatory sight here, the Mezquita. Originally built as a mosque between the 8th and 10th centuries, it was converted to a Christian church in the 13th century (www.catedraldecordoba.es). Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 (http://whc.unesco.org/en.list), it is regarded as of one the finest examples of Spanish Muslim architecture. The place is massive. There are 850 candy-cane striped arches like the ones featured in the photo on the right. The mosque does have one flaw, though. Due to a miscalculation, the prayer wall faces south instead of east.

We had dinner at the restaurant at our hotel, Senzone. The food was good, but the view was even better. Rather than the typical view of an ocean or mountain, here the view is below your feet. The floor is made of glass so you can see the Roman ruins that exist under the hotel.