Today we were getting up early so we could catch the train to one of Spain’s picturesque historic towns, Segovia.
I wasn’t going to miss out on breakfast so I got ready as fast as I could and ran into the kids again who had already been over to Starbucks and back.
Madrid has two train stations and the one that we needed was the one that was further out, so we had the hotel arrange a taxi for us. We were only going to Segovia for the day and would be returning to Madrid before we had to leave later this evening for Valencia.
On our drive to the station we got the opportunity to see some of downtown Madrid with a lot of their newer buildings.
I found these buildings to be very interesting.
We made it to Madrid’s Chamartin train station and after me wandering off to get an espresso and not realizing that no one had seen where I went and a few texts and calls later from the family frantically trying to find me, we walked down to the train platform to wait for the arrival of our train.
Sissy didn’t have a chance to get down to the breakfast room with us, so I smuggled a croissant out for her.
I don’t think it fared to well in my purse, sorry about that Sissy, I tried.
We booked the fast train to Segovia, which was only going to take us 20 minutes to get there. If you were to drive or take the bus it would have taken up to three hours to get there.
Once on the train we instantly made our selves comfortable.
The town of Segovia was first mentioned as a settlement under Celtic possession. At some point it later passed into the hands of the Romans. Segovia is listed as an Unesco World Heritage site and has described Segovia “as always had a whiff of legend about it, not least in the myths that the city was founded by Hercules or by the son of Noah.”
Segovia’s historical neighborhoods, streets, and houses are laid out in accordance with a social structure in which hierarchy was organized and dominated by belonging to one of the different cultural communities.
Nowhere else in Spain is there such a stunning monument to Roman grandeur surviving in the heart of a vibrant modern city. There is the ancient Roman Aqueduct that you can’t miss once you enter the city center. You can also see by looking at the different buildings and monuments in Segovia, at which time they belonged to and who had control of the area. From the Romans, to the Moors, to the Spanish.
The train stops at the newer train station in Segovia which is not actually located near the city center. We had to grab a taxi and take about a 15 minute drive up to our first stop, the Alcázar.
At first there wasn’t a lot to look at, a lot of country side but then we started to see more buildings and then all of sudden you enter into the most charming town I have ever seen. It looks exactly like you would think an ancient European town should look like.
The taxi driver took us to the very top of the city and dropped us off at the entrance to the Alcázar of Segovia (Segovia Castle).
The Alcázar of Segovia started off as a Roman fort, but apart from the foundations, little of the original structure remains. During the Moor’s control over this area, they had built a fort, but because it was made out of wood there is very little evidence left. The Spanish reconquista resulted in the capture of Segovia as early as 1085, which means the majority of the castle architecture is Spanish.
In the courtyard before reaching the castle there is a beautiful monument. I had a hard time finding anything on this monument other than it was dedicated to war hero’s.
There is a rumor about this castle that Walt Disney is said to have modeled Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland on Segovia’s Alcázar. I can actually see this if you are looking from far away, up close it’s hard to see the resemblance. Mom couldn’t see it all, but I can see it in the tall turrets.
Despite the Moors being expelled from the country, Moorish building styles became increasingly fashionable in Early Modern Spain and most of the present buildings of the Alcázar the Moorish style can be seen. If you look at some of the arched windows you can see the style of the former occupants of this area. The official name for this style in Spain is mudéjar.
There are stunning views of the city, the countryside, and of the Cathedral from here.
The shape and form of the Alcázar was not known until the reign of King Alfonso VIII. He and his wife, Eleanor of England, made this Alcázar their principal residence and much work was carried out to erect the beginnings of the stone fortification we see today.
The Alcázar was a favorite residence for the monarchs of Castile in the Middle Ages and a key fortress in the defense of the kingdom. It was during this period that most of the current building was constructed by the Trastámara dynasty.
Most castles and fortresses have been founded upon spots which offer a natural defensive advantage. The Alcazar of Segovia is particularly special in that it was built upon a large rock promontory, which is shaped rather like the bow of a ship.
We had gotten there before the castle opened so we did a little exploring and we may have gotten a little bit of goofin around in as well.
It was a good thing we got there early because we were able to be the first ones in line to get our tickets and start exploring. It wouldn’t be long before this small town would be overcome with tourists spending their day here.
We grabbed our information brochure and headed inside.
The Alcázar is arranged around two main courtyards and visitors are allowed to visit twelve of the castle rooms that are located off of these courtyards. Each of the rooms are an intriguing mix of Gothic, Romanesque and Moorish influences.
The first room we came to had some cool suits of armor, some on horses, some standing at guard.
I asked Sissy to take a picture of me with a knight but this is what happens when you hand over your phone to her.
She at least still took the picture of me after leaving this beauty for me to find later.
We passed the Fireplace room on our way to the Throne Room which was built during the reign of the Trastamara Dynasty and houses the throne commissioned for the visit of Alfonso XII and Queen Victoria Eugenia on occasion of the centenary of May 2, 1808.
Next was the Galley Room which is named after its old moulded ceiling resembling the hull of a ship upside down. Queen Catherine of Lancaster had this room built in 1412, her son Juan II was still a minor.
Moving on, we entered the Royal Bedroom. The doorways that are in “neo-mudéjar” style are replicas of those located in the palace belonging to Enrique IV near St. Martin’s church in Segovia.
The next room was the Monarchs Room and the detail in this room was just amazing. The room is decorated with a frieze depicting the monarchs of Asturias, Castile, and Leon.
We then entered the Cord Room which is named after the Franciscan cord decorating its walls, which, according to a Segovian legend, was fitted by order of Alfonso X “el Sabio” (the Wise) as a sign of penance for his excessive pride.
The next room was the Chapel. This is where Phillip II and Anna of Austria, Phillip’s fourth wife, had their wedding nuptials. The painting “The Epiphany” by Bartolomé Carducho (1600) hangs on the wall in here and was rescued from the fire that ripped through the castle in 1862.
Before we move on, here is a little bit more on the fire I mentioned.
In 1862, a fire-ripped through the Alcazar, destroying the roofing, turrets and upper floors of almost every building in the castle. It turns out this act of destruction would make the Alcazar internationally famous.
In the late 1860s, the Romantic movement was sweeping Western Europe. Although Romantic poets and authors described ruined castles and chateau with tremendous enthusiasm, they also tried to emulate ideas of grander, more chivalrous years gone by.
As a result, the architects restoring the Alcazar in Segovia chose to exaggerate all aspects of the castle – creating more fanciful turrets and larger, spiraling towers. It may have not been historically correct but it definitely gave it the dramatic effect we see today.
From here we stepped outside and were welcomed with some breathtaking views.
We then ventured into the Armory Room that holds a collection of weapons dating from different time periods.
From here I stepped outside and found an old well. At least I assumed it was a well, seemed like an odd place to have one.
Once the Royal Court settled in Madrid, the Alcázar lost its status of a royal residence and was used as a State Prison for over two centuries. Then in 1764 King Carlos III established the Royal Artillery School and the Alcázar was chosen as its seat until March 6, 1862, the day of the dreadful fire. When the restoration work was completed in 1896, the Regent Queen Maria Cristina on behalf of King Alfonso XIII handed over the Alcázar to the Ministry of War to be used solely by the Artillery Corps.
It is, possibly, the oldest active Military Officer Training Center in the world.
We then made our way to the other end of the castle and paid the little extra fee to walk up the Tower of Juan II. Paying this fee got us the wonderful experience of walking up 156 crooked steps, which I practically raced up just to get it over with and once I emerged I was welcomed with stunning views of the Spanish countryside and views of Segovia’s massive Cathedral.
The local people say that the peaks and valleys of the Sierra de Guadarrama, which stretch across the horizon, apparently resemble the body of a woman, lying on her back with her knees slightly bent.
You may have to squint a bit and use your imagination to see this.
We finished up at the Alcázar and started to make the trek down the hill and through the small streets of Segovia to get to the city center.
While walking down the tiny streets we came across Segovia’s Gastronomic Museum. I had read about it and was hoping to get a chance to stop in.
When we walked in, it was a small place that sold wine and specialty snacks and chocolate, but for a very small fee we were given entrance into the museum part of the store.
The museum explains the history and processes involved in Segovia’s famous gastronomy with the Spanish information panels all accompanied with helpful English translations.
Part of the museum is located in a cave that takes you back to the Roman times when it was built.
We than were seated in a small room where an informational film (in Spanish) about food production and consumption in Segovia was played. There was some really pretty images of Segovia but the film was kinda boring, but it was nice to sit down for a little while.
The nice lady who was running the place brought us in some small snacks. Cheese, jamon, and unbeknownst to me, chocolate covered pork rinds. We couldn’t quite understand everything the lady was saying and I really missed what she said these were when she sat them down and I put the whole piece in my mouth. Um, the best way I can describe it was yuck. I never thought I would have to ask if there was pork in my chocolate. (I didn’t even get a picture of them, I was so grossed out.)
After drinking a whole bottle of water we then made our way back out into the sunshine and continued walking.
We came across the beautiful 12th century Romanesque Church of San Andrés. I’m not for sure if it was open, but we only had less than two hours left before he had to go back to the train station and we still needed to get to the Cathedral and the Roman aqueduct, so I snapped a few pictures and continued on.
We finally arrived at the Segovia Cathedral.
This massive Cathedral was built on the highest point of the town and was started in 1525 but wasn’t completed until 1768. This was the last Gothic cathedral to be built in Spain.
The Cathedral fronts Segovia’s historic Plaza Mayor and it stands on the spot where Isabella I was proclaimed Queen of Castile in 1474.
Affectionately called la dama de las catedrales (the lady of the cathedrals), it’s exterior is mainly Gothic with a surprisingly bare interior, but contains numerous treasures inside. There is a small museum inside that has a collection of rare manuscripts, including one of the first printed books published in Spain, the Sinodal de Aquilafuente.
I excitingly walked up to the gates and was told by the two young men standing there that we were not allowed in at the moment because a service was being held. Being Sunday, I was aware that we would run into a service but still expected to get in before we left. The two men said to come back at 12:45 and it was about 12:00ish at this point. So, we headed over to their main square where we lost Tanya to the stores. I did get a good picture of the Cathedral once we were a little further away from it.
Not far from the Cathedral is Segovia’s Plaza Mayor.
At this point I was getting a bit worried that we weren’t going to have enough time to see the Roman Aqueduct after the Cathedral, so I thought it would be best to go to the Aqueduct now and then by the time we got back the Cathedral would be open. So we started walking down the hill.
It was a very warm day and everyone was walking on the only side of the street where the shade could be found. It’s hard to see from this picture but there were quite a few people in Segovia at this point of the day and we all scrambled to get out of the baking sun.
This walking to the aqueduct was taking a lot longer than I thought. We kept walking and walking.
We did come across another plaza that must have some historical significance because a lot of people were gathered taking pictures.
Finally, after what seemed like the longest walk ever, the aqueduct finally came into view.
The Aqueduct of Segovia is a tourist’s highlight in this charming town. It is one of the most significant and best preserved ancient monuments left on the Iberian Peninsula. The completion of the Aqueduct, that crosses the city from one side to the other, was probably completed in either 98AD or 112AD. Historians are not completely sure of the exact date.
For almost 2,000 years it has defied the passing of time, bringing water and beauty to Segovia. It was used up until the mid 19th century. They definitely don’t make things like this anymore. Can you imagine a car working for 2,000 years.
Legend has it that Lucifer himself built the bridge in one single night, in order to win a young woman’s soul. He failed, however, lacking the final stone when dawn came. Tradition also has it that the holes visible on the stones are the marks of the devil’s fingers.
We made it back to the train station to find out our train was delayed. Initially it was only delayed 5 minutes but by the time the train finally showed up it was almost 40 minutes late, which means I could have had more time in Segovia.
I guess I will just have to go back some time.
When we made it back to Madrid we had the taxi driver drop us off in the touristy area. Our time in Madrid was ticking down and we still had a lot of souvenirs we were on the hunt for.
Of course we needed a little ice cream break to keep our energy up.
We ended up on the very busy street for shopping and eating, Carrera de San Jerónimo. This street really didn’t have any special shops. Most of the shops were similar to what we have at home.
We weren’t really finding anything and decided to head back to the hotel where we did end up finding a few things at a shop around the corner from our hotel.
Right next to the souvenir shop was a costume shop that wasn’t open but they had some really cool statues hanging out of their top windows.
In the souvenir shop Mom got pretty excited to see a statue of Don Quixote and she instantly asked me to take a picture of her and Marion and Don.
It was getting late and it was about time to head to Madrid’s other train station, Atocha Station. We had tickets on a late train to Valencia and even though I was sad to leave Madrid, I was looking forward to spending time in Valencia.
We all piled into a bigger taxi and somehow all of us plus our luggage fit. We had at first thought we were going to have to get two taxi’s but this guy and our doorman made it work.
Mom was kind enough to take a picture while we were busy unloading the luggage.
The train station was pretty big. There were shops and restaurants and a tropical garden in the middle that had a pond with the most adorable little turtles.
It was finally time to board our train and settle in for the next two hours.
We passed by some towns here and there but mainly we saw a lot of the countryside. I even saw a parasailor but you can’t see him very well in the picture.
We had paid to sit in the Premium cabin, which was totally worth it. It was only a few dollars more and we had the majority of the car to ourselves and they fed us dinner.
So the dinner wasn’t quite what I expected after reading the fancy menu card they had given us. The gazpacho was delicious but I know they said the meat was chicken but I would swear it was something else. I feared they had fed me liver. Tanya and I were texting each other wondering what in the world it was they were trying to pass off as chicken. I pretty much steered clear of the meat and ate the rest. The veggies were pretty good. They were suppose to be locally sourced, at least that’s what the menu said.
Once we arrived at Valencia’s train station, Joaquin Sorolla, we worked as a team to get all of our luggage off of the train and we made our way to the exit.
Marion had arranged through the hotel to have a vehicle pick us up and before we even exited the station there was a nice gentleman holding a sign with his name on it. He introduced himself and asked us to wait while they pulled the car around.
What was interesting was the gentleman that met us wasn’t our driver. He came back and got us and introduced us to our driver. Both the driver and the greeter at the station were both very nice and it was a great welcome so far to Valencia.
We were staying at the amazing Caro Hotel in the old city center.
The Caro Hotel is the only historical monument hotel in Valencia and recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Center. I was so excited to stay here, the story of this hotel is so fascinating and the owners who purchased this building back in 2005 have done such a wonderful job of restoring this place and showcasing the years of historical relics that were found, dating all the way back to the Roman occupation of Valencia.
Let me give you a bit of the history on this hotel.
Back in 1869 the Marquis of Caro, who was the Mayor of Valencia, purchased the building and renovated it in keeping with the fashion and tastes of the era. This was a huge renovation project and the old Gothic palace integrated into the Casas del Temple and then was converted into the Palace of the Marquis of Caro, an urban palace of eclectic appearance and catalogued as a listed building by the municipal authorities of the Town Hall of Valencia.
The current owners spent seven years and a considerable amount of money on lovingly restoring the building and turning it into a 5 star jewel among Valencian hotels. It is so historical that a large part of the old Arab wall that surrounded the city and didn’t quite manage to keep out El Cid, can be found inside the downstairs restaurant.
As soon as you enter you are bombarded by history with a second century cornice stone from the Roman Circus, a Roman mosaic carefully preserved under a glass floor, 10th and 12th century Moorish lanterns, 15th century Gothic tiles and 18th century typically Valencian tiles too.
As soon as we arrived we were greeted by a very nice young man who welcomed us and brought us to the extremely nice lady at the check in desk. While she worked on getting us checked in, the young man gave us not just history of the hotel but of Valencia and showed us the tourists highlights on the map.
I have never been so warmly welcomed at a hotel before. (Sorry Disney, you are up there but not quite up to snuff of this hotel.)
As you can see I was really excited and I was trying to soak up all the historical information I was being given.
The hotel is full of what they refer to as ‘hotspots’ for the curious, short stories that give the keys to understanding the whole project. Finding these hotspots is made easy by the use of QR (quick response codes), which tell guests and visitors what it is that they are looking at. I meant to go around the whole hotel pulling up all the QR info but I never made it further than just a couple of them.
The hotel only has 26 rooms and they all have different themes that incorporate different gems that were found while renovating the building.
Sissy and my room was the Wall Room.
The room had a very nice mix of contemporary and history.
We had a nice welcome dessert waiting for us once we entered our room and everything from the refrigerator was complementary.
It had been another long, fun day and it was time for bed. I couldn’t wait for the next day to start exploring Valencia and seeing what adventures were waiting for us.
Stay tuned to hear about our first day in Valencia.