Thursday, July 9, 2015

To Segovia we Go

For our first excursion after arriving in Salamanca, we took a Saturday day trip to Segovia, a city east of Salamanca, back towards Madrid. Typically, Segovia is cooler than Salamanca, but we had quite the hot day. In fact, our program director, Maria, said that it was the hottest she remembers it ever being in Segovia. We drove through a lot of farm land on our way to Segovia.

Segovia's most famous (and recognizable) monument is its Roman aqueduct. While its exact history is unknown, it was most likely built in the 1st century A.D. and is considered one of the most significant and best-preserved ancient monuments on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The aqueduct spans almost 900 yards and is made of about 25,000 granite blocks, but, amazingly, no mortar. That's some pretty crazy civil engineering!

We climbed up to about the same level as the top of the aqueduct to get another view of the city. The birds were swarming all around, which made for some interesting photos.

We took a nice stroll through Old Town Segovia with our guide, on the way to the Cathedral.

Segovia's cathedral was the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain, in the mid-16th century. I have seen so many cathedrals at this point that they are all starting to blend together...


However, there was a wedding going on the day we were there, and we got to see the bride being walked down the "aisle" (the wedding was held in one of the small side chapels, not at the high altar).

After finishing up in the cathedral, we walked to the Alcazar, which was originally built as a fortress but  has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy since then. There is evidence of the Alcazar dating back to the mid 12th century, but it probably has existed in some form since Roman times. One cool thing about the Alcazar is that Walt Disney used it as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland. Below, see the Alcazar, and then Disney's interpretation.

The Alcazar is now mainly a museum. Inside, there are lots of suits of armor and other military/battle remnants.

There are lots of intricately decorated ceilings. This kind of work was done by Arabs.

View from the Alcazar. It looks like what I would imagine Tuscany to look like.

A few of us took the opportunity to climb the 150 steps up the tower at the Alcazar. The staircase was a little scary because it is very tightly enclosed and spirally, with only enough room for one-way traffic, but we made it to the top! The view was well worth it. :)

After finishing up at the Alcazar, we had some free time in Segovia. A lot of us split up into smaller groups and went souvenir shopping and tried the traditional Segovian dessert (ponche Segoviano) before relaxing in the shade with a cold drink! 

By this time, we were all really hot, tired, and wanted to get back on our air conditioned bus. However, we boarded the bus to find that the air conditioning was pretty useless with the number of people we had.  Nonetheless, we continued to our next destination, about 40 minutes away.

This next destination was the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. It is the summer palace and gardens of the Kings of Spain since the 1700s, but now functions as a museums. We were solely there to visit the gardens, which are built to mimic those of Versailles in France. The main attraction is the fountains, of which there are 26 scattered throughout the gardens. They do not run all day, but selected ones are simply turned on one by one for the "fountain tour" from what I understood. Our group joined probably 1000 other people in walking through the gardens to see the fountains do their thing. It was pretty amazing, especially since I had absolutely no expectations. The water would start flowing at a reasonable level, but it would gradually increase until you could easily get a shower if you desired. Here are some photos for better effect:

It definitely felt good to cool off after such a long and hot day! I think that we visited about 4 or 5 fountains in total. Riding the minimally air conditioned bus two hours back to Salamanca was much more bearable after getting soaking wet. More stories soon!

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