Toledo and Segovia

WordPress is not being helpful vis-a-vis including lots of photos in the posts.  If you want to see any, I recommend clicking on them. Sorry for the formatting.

Toledo and Segovia are both hill cities.  Toledo covers an evenly rounded hilltop and offers equally stunning views of its verdant river valley no matter where you stand.  Getting lost on the way to the town from the train station should be impossible, but Will and I did it with aplomb.  Once inside, we found that Toledo’s streets are particularly twisty.  All of them seem to loop and fold back onto the center cathedral so that if you walk without a map it feels like you’re tracing the edges of a flower’s petals, always returning to the bright center.  The cathedral’s ceilings are splashed all over with vibrant paintings of angels.  In the sacristy there is a wall sculpted from flagstone floor to distant skylit dome with angels in bronze, silver, and gold.

Naturally, there is a prominent statue of Miguel de Cervantes near the city gates.  I lingered by it not because I’ve ever read Don Quixote, but because there is a similar statue on Peking University’s campus.  The 1989 protests that culminated in Liu Si, or Tiananmen Square, began with a small group of students leading a rally at that statue.

If you are like me and you walk through various historical buildings in Toledo, you might notice one or two paintings attributed to a gentleman named El Greco and think the name is somewhat familiar.  Then as you explore more and more of the city, you might begin to say to yourself, “This gentleman seems somewhat prolific.”  Hopefully you will remember earlier than me that El Greco is rather famous and more than prolific, which explains why almost every single oil painting I saw in Toledo (and there were at least seventy five) appeared to be his work.  (You might also feel abashed and apologize to your uncle, a historian of fourteenth and fifteenth century Spanish art, who has definitely told you a lot about El Greco.)

Segovia’s hill slopes gently down on one side and falls in a steep cliff on the other.  Along the first side spreads the Aqueducto Romano; at the top of the second stands the Alcàzar.

Before I continue I must explain something about my elementary school education.  In second grade I worked with a boy named Ned Pappin, who at the time spotted UFOs with regularity and who took my whole class in a stretch Hummer limo to see Chicken Run, on a project about Segovia’s Alcázar.  We built a model.  I still have it.  It is a cardboard box, a cardboard paper towel roll, both painted a bland yellow.  There is a scraggly “turret” made of black construction paper at the top of the paper towel tower.

When I was in third grade I did a written report on the Segovia Aqueduct, a Roman structure that is still in almost perfect condition today (though it no longer functions as an aqueduct).  This was the first report for which I used a plastic report cover.  I was very proud.

The real aqueduct has the simple majesty I associate with the Great Wall of China (though, of course, on a smaller scale).  When you stand at its base and look up, it breaks the sky into even blue pieces.  Its mortarless stones are rounded with age.  In the center of its highest arch is a careful white marble statue of the Patroness of Segovia, la Virgen de la Fuencisla.

We were in Segovia for Easter, so there were jubilant Semana Santa processions.  The marchers had uncovered faces and dressed in bright blue.  Excellent trumpet music blasted through the streets.

Before we went to see the Alcázar, Will and I hiked down the steep side of the hill and wandered along another swift river that had swollen in the spring rains and now caught itself around the skinny trunks of budding trees.  We walked up another ridge to see the Alcázar, Segovia’s cathedral, and a clock tower crowning the city.  It darkened and began to rain while we walked, and even though suburbs and pueblos began about a mile from where we were it seemed like the edge of the world.  Behind the city rose snow-capped peaks.

Then we went to the Alcázar, and I jumped around like an eight-year-old.  I don’t have much more to tell about it.  It was an old castle and I loved it.  The rest would just be words.

tl;dr: Spain is pretty and I was pretty cool in elementary school.






Water mill downriver of Toledo


Main entrance to Toledo. (We did not use this entrance.)


Not the right way to enter Toledo. (Or, how Will and I entered Toledo.)


Statue of Cervantes. Love to Beijing.


Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, Toledo’s center of gravity.


View of the valley


I don’t know how to take pictures of cathedrals.


The phenomenal ceiling mural in the cathedral.


I can’t do justice to how vast this building is.


View from the hostel window. Europe is better.


The other way out the hostel. Europe is a lot better.


Will: unamused at our high school’s mascot, which, naturally, is two little boys suckling at a wolf’s teat.


Segovia Aqueduct. It’s the coolest.


View of the hills around Segovia


A particularly photogenic alley in Segovia.


Easter procession


Virgin Mary float


We set out on a hike!


There is a beautiful river


A dream of spring. (ASOIAF 4lyfe.)


Everyone be glad I don’t use Instagram.


Beneath the city.


Segovian Skyline


Another shot of it.


And, finally, the Alcázar.

Zaragoza and Madrid

Will whisked me across northeastern Spain for two weeks.  We spent most of the first one in Zaragoza watching the faceless marchers pace through the streets with their crosses and candles.  After that we went to Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, and Barcelona.  To keep the posts a moderately manageable length, and to disguise my own propensity to ramble, I will break up the journey into three posts.

Zaragoza’s old World Expo grounds are actually quite beautiful.  I can’t imagine Shanghai’s bearing up that well after five or ten years.  There is an excellent sculpture by Jaume Plensa, who did “Alchemist” (outside the Stratton Student Center of MIT).  There is also a bridge that looks peculiarly like an orchid.

Will showed me all his favorite spots in Zaragoza and thoroughly impressed me with his Spanish.  His host family were naturally very patient with me and they thought that my height was almost as hilarious as his.

Will and I took the smooth AVE train at a rip-roaring 300km/hr into Madrid on Thursday night.

Madrid was not my favorite city, although it had charm and a wonderful central park and a gorgeous, simple, colorful modern cathedral.  Also, the churros were divine. I have no regrets regarding the two orders of churros we got when neither Will nor I had the money to pay for them or the subsequent run through the rainy winding streets back to get my heavy thick coins from our hostel, just a touch of shame chasing me along.

The Reina Sofia is by far my favorite place in Madrid, which may surprise those of you who have had to drag me through a museum after my half-hour allotment for interest in art was used up.  But I found my interest caught and held tightly by the bright oil paintings in the Reina Sofia.  In fact, I went twice in one day.  I stared at Guernica for fifteen minutes and it wasn’t nearly enough, but I’m very tall and I can only stand in one place at an art museum for so long.  Will and I found the room full of Salvador Dali (and other surrealists) and just stood there gaping.  It was all art that you didn’t have to be extremely self-aware to understand.  You just looked and enjoyed.

Almudena Cathedral Madrid

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

Moonrise over the Royal Palace of Madrid

Moonrise over the Royal Palace of Madrid


Monument to Alfonso XII in Buen Retiro park, Madrid. You go, Alfonso.

Monument to Alfonso XII in Buen Retiro park, Madrid. You go, Alfonso.

IMG_0842 IMG_0841

Palacio de Cristal in Buen Retiro park

Palacio de Cristal in Buen Retiro park

Will approves.

Will approves.

Fountain of the Falling Angel, Buen Retiro park

Fountain of the Falling Angel, Buen Retiro park

tl;dr: Will showed me around Zaragoza and Madrid and I found art I like.  Churros are delicious.