|As I was laying down Saturday evening and waiting to fall asleep, I thought to myself So my alarm is set for 8:00am—that should be plenty of time to get ready in the morning and be at the train station by 9:30am. But what if I woke up at 8:45? Would I have enough time? Little did I know, I was about to find out. I slept through my alarm (because I had set it to MAKE NO NOISE—why did I do that!?), and woke up at 8:44. After realizing that my premonition was coming true, I had that freak out morning moment where you jump out of bed and scramble to get ready. It was fine, because I was out the door at 9:03, and I felt really good about arriving on time.
I made it to Atocha Train Station at 9:30 on the dot, and easily found Tim waiting outside the AVIS car rental area. He lead me over to where Jenny and Sarah were patiently waiting on Dani to finalize the car rental. To recap who these people are, Tim and Sarah are Andrew's grandparents, and I had met them at his graduation open house. Jenny is Andrew's aunt and Dani is her boyfriend. When I was last in Barcelona, we had discussed meeting up when they come to Madrid, so we kept in touch and decided that we would head to Segovia for the day.
Renting a car was a great idea. We ended up with a Volkswagen Polo (do those exist in the States?), and while we were somewhat crammed into the small car, we made it work. Now that I've been in a car, I think I've officially traveled through Spain via every possible means of transportation, which is pretty cool to be able to say. I sat in the front passenger seat and was able to get some great pictures of the drive. We headed north out of Spain, and the hills, mountains, small towns, and rivers all made for a really great view while driving. I could never get bored with seeing these views!
There was a change in plans from what I originally thought would be our itinerary, and instead of going to Ávila, we instead went to El Escorial. I was very excited to hear the change of plans, because multiple people have told me to go to El Escorial to visit the monastery, which is a must-see attraction in Spain. We arrived at El Escorial after close to an hour of driving (and thanks, in part, to my fantastic navigating skills via smart phone GPS maps), and it was quickly getting hotter. Thankfully, El Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (I'll simply refer to it as 'the monastery') was rather large and provided us with refuge from the outside temperature. For 10 € we were able to enter the monastery and see a museum that portrayed the construction of the monastery and then another museum that showed a lot of art that was located throughout the monastery. One of the most impressive art pieces we saw was the mural in the Hall of Battles, which was a very long corridor that depicted the most important Spanish military victories. It literally stretched on forever and felt like a large "Where's Waldo?" painting. It was quite incredible.
My favorite part of the monastery visit was when we headed down to the mausoleum. To arrive there, we had to descend this staircase that was literally made entirely of marble—stairs, walls, ceilings—everything of marble. That was rad. When we arrived at the bottom of the stairs, we were taken aback by this huge circular room in which many tombs were stacked upon another. I wasn't allowed to take a picture of this area, nor was I allowed to in most of the monastery, and I'd link a picture here to this mausoleum if Google weren't being so annoying this morning. Once we ascended the staircase we came down, we then walked through eight chambers in which other tombs were laid out. This part of the tour was extremely eerie, but also the coolest part. The tombs are so detailed and ornate, they were really beautiful. I wish I could have taken pictures of this part!!
We finished up at the monastery and headed outside to get in the car and head towards Segovia, but I was distracted by this guy with a cart who was selling horchata and limonada granizada. Without hesitation, I took out 2 € and had the best frozen lemonade I've ever had in my life. I'm sure the fact that it was really hot out had something to do with how great the lemonade was, but it literally became my world in that moment. We were all feeling somewhat exhausted from the long tour in the monastery, and we were excited to head to Segovia so we could relax in an air conditioned car for a little while.
Lunch was our first priority once we arrived at Segovia, and Jenny had done some research and found a placed called El Bernadino, which was well known for it's cochinillo. The restaurant itself was very impressive and very nice. I ordered a meal combination that provided me with a soup as an appetizer, cochinillo as the main entrée, a dessert, and a beverage—all for 25 €. I liked the sound of all of that, so I went for it. The soup was pretty good, though we weren't sure as to what was in it. If prior experiences in Europe have taught me anything, it's eat first, then ask what's in it. It didn't have anything remotely outrageous in it, so I was relieved to hear that.
Next was the main event: the cochinillo. Cochinillo is basically a small pig that is roasted for a long while, and then said pig is brought out and shredded apart right in front of you. I have to say that this was quite the cultural experience! The server brought the pig to our table to show us what we were about to eat, or maybe to greet it, I don't know, but then the server proceeded to knife and fork the pig until it was reduced to a plate of baked skin and pig meat. The meat was extremely tender and tasted wonderful (and a lot like chicken, actually). I'd recommend that if you're in Segovia, then be sure to try the cochinillo.
After lunch we made our way towards the Alcázar, which I learned was the actual inspiration for Cinderella's Castle. The resemblance is there, I think. One of the first rooms we encountered in the Alcázar had a lot of statues of knights in armor, and I thought that was pretty cool. I hadn't seen that yet in all of my European travels, so it was pretty exciting to see the different types of armor that would have been worn back in the day. The tour of the Alcázar was fairly brief, but it did include an outdoor area where there was a million dollar view of the Segovian countryside, and then one of the last rooms had all sorts of weapons that the knights used, which I really enjoyed checking out.
We then headed towards the aqueducts, which were over near where we ate lunch. It wasn't a long walk to get from the Alcázar to the aqueducts, but it was mostly walking up a hill, and it was hot, so the struggle was very real. We felt it necessary to stop somewhere and get a cold beverage before actually heading to the aqueducts, and I felt that it was a good time to get a pastry that I might deem the best thing pastry I've ever eaten in my entire life. I could attempt to describe it, but words wouldn't come remotely close to how fantastic this was. I'll just let you stare at the picture and drool.
Are you drooling yet!?
The aqueduct was to be the last thing we'd see while in Segovia. It was around 6:30, and we were all starting to drag our tails a little. It really is incredible how this aqueduct was centuries old and still standing, and what's even more impressive to know is that it was built without using any sort of cement. So we concluded that it's being held up entirely by incredible feats of 'engineering' in that the rocks are pressing against each other just right so that the arches stay round and compact. It's obvious that the keystone plays quite an important role in this aqueduct! We read that the aqueduct is actually 9 or 10 miles long, but all we could see was this portion of it. I still have to pinch myself every now and then for being able to see all of these incredible structures and buildings that I'm seeing. I really have seen so much while I've been in Europe, and it still amazes me when I think about this opportunity.
And with that, we made our way back to the VW Polo and headed south to Madrid. It was a long, exhausting, and great day, and it exceeded all my expectations. It was nice to get to see some historical points of interest, and it was especially nice to have a group of people with whom to share the experience.