ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy

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Segovia, a runner’s paradise

This Sunday was the 8th annual half-marathon of Segovia. Nearly 3,000 people took part, including me. It was my first official half marathon, and despite having splurged on fancy footwear and aerodynamic lycra leggings with little reflective ‘speed’ stripes, and having been training (relatively) regularly since Christmas, I was absolutely dreading it.

This was mostly because of the weather. After a fortnight of spring-like sunshine (a cruel teaser), the weather had reverted back to being overcast, rainy, incredibly windy, and just damn unpleasant. But also because Segovia is just such a tough city to run, even under optimal conditions, and especially when you’ve got to do 21km of it. So the combination of wet weather and winding streets of ancient, well worn cobblestones was inevitably going to make for particularly difficult terrain, and a long, hard race.

Despite all this, the day turned out to be a success. Much to my surprise (and relief),  I finished the course – alive, pain free, and in much better time than I’d hoped. But the best thing of all was that – I had fun! It was actually enjoyable, and dare I say it, an exciting, exhilarating, and overwhelmingly positive experience.  Aside from a runny nose, minor headphone battle, toilet urgency (it passed, but was not made any easier by seeing guys making quick detours whenever there were trees or bushes available, which was totally unfair, and totally disgusting), and a rude, unexpected hill at km 17 (I’d been looking forward to running down it, but to my horror, they’d changed the route so that we had to go up it), I spent the better part of the race running along happily to a perfectly timed ‘inspirational music’ playlist, with a stupid grin on my face, waving at familiar and unfamiliar faces, highplano2013 fiving little kids along the way, thinking, ‘my god, this is awesome’. The atmosphere was electric from start to finish. That’s to say, from the pre-race warm up (so many good looking sporty people, so many hilarious warm up techniques!), to the exhausted post-race bonanza of sweaty hugs, show bag collection, powerade sculling, and the usual ‘trying to find my friends in the crowd’ chaos.

So during the race I had two hours of uninterrupted, compulsory reflection time, and my thoughts rather predictably gravitated towards running, Segovia, and ultimately, why Segovia is such a great place to run. I even made a little list in my head.

1. It’s beautiful. The city itself is full of spectacular monuments, and within five minutes you can be in the countryside, with rivers, hills, and leafy parks and picnic areas (picnicking not for you, you are running)
2. The air is fresh and clean.
3. There are lots of drinking fountains.
4. There are heaps of uphills and downhills. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a decent flat route. Although the uphills do make it tough, they also get you in shape pretty quickly, and the downhills are a pleasant reward. Running Segovia is like doing incidental FARTLEK training, and you don’t even need a stopwatch.
5. It’s at altitude. Only 1,000m, so not enough to completely wipe you out if you’re not used to it. But enough to notice some affects when you first start exercising there. I’m no expert in fitness or physiology, but I’m pretty sure that if you adapt to the altitude and no longer feel the effects, that means you must be getting stronger. Or rather, your blood is taking up oxygen faster and you’re on the right track to becoming super human. Ye-ah
6. Aside from last weekend, the weather is usually quite good. Segovia has a dry climate, so even when it snows, it doesn’t feel as cold as it should. And in summer, unlike most of Spain, it cools down overnight (so you can run quite comfortably in the early morning).
7. There’s very little traffic. The city centre is horrible for driving and has lots of restrictions, and there are plenty of walking and bike paths all around the outskirts. So you rarely have to contend with pedestrian crossings (or feel silly jogging on the spot at traffic lights while all the cars are watching you).
8. There’s no dog poo.

And… those are all the reasons I could come up with. Of course, I was hoping for a nice round ten. Perhaps I needed to run a little further to get some more ideas. Or not.

Well, in the unlikely event that anyone who reads this blog actually comes to Segovia and runs, here’s my only warning: avoid Calle Real (the main street from the plaza to the aqueduct) between 8am – 10am (bottleneck of delivery trucks), or 10am – 2pm (bottleneck of tour groups) or 6pm – 9pm (bottleneck of locals out for their evening stroll).

And the best time to run? At daybreak, especially in the busy tourist period. That’s when you’re most likely to see the hot air balloons floating across the dawn sky. Or you can catch them at ground level; they take off from the fields opposite the Alcazar. The champagne breakfast tourists will happily give you a wave, and you all start the day with a smile on your face.



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from my window

from my window, SegoviaYou can see her from my window. “She” being the cathedral of Segovia. Officially called the Santa Iglesia Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción y San Frutos, she’s also known as La Catedral de Santa Maria, and affectionately referred to as “La Dama de las Catedrales”.  Very dignified.

I think of her more as the mysterious old lady on the hill, past the aqueduct. This afternoon she was looking quite lovely, veiled by falling snow, fading in and out of the mist.

In other news, the storks are back. Don’t know why. They look cold.


the return to OZ

Was a fully saturated, action packed, emotional rollercoaster whirlwind of a visit – powered by vegemite, sunscreen and sushi.

Being at home again, after over two years away, was always going to be a bit of a surreal experience. The strangest part however, was that so much felt completely normal. My parents seemed unchanged, my little brothers still towered over me, even my brother’s fiancée (whom I’d never met before) was exactly as I expected, a natural addition to the scene awaiting me at the airport.

After a 36 hour journey with virtually no sleep (there was too much food and entertainment to indulge in during the flight), meeting and greeting the family, and ‘checking in’ to my parent’s place (again, unchanged), I had a shower and a quick siesta, and then went straight to a friend’s 30th birthday in Princess Park.

Prinny was my old stomping (and running) ground, just around the corner from Melbourne Uni. I arrived late to the picnic/BBQ to find my ‘north side’ friends clustered around a bunch of eskies and a fold out table laden with dips and mostly eaten birthday cake. They were sipping cider and bubbles and wearing summery clothes, as though that’s what they’d been doing ever since I left. Obviously that’s not the case – many of them have been busy being lawyers and having babies and doing PhDs in disciplines I can’t pronounce the names of. But this Sunday afternoon was super casual, yet picture perfect, and it instantly made me feel as though I hadn’t missed a beat.

Anyway, ‘off the plane and to a party’ pretty much set the pace of my entire stay. Except for when I was at a music festival, hiking, or on the road to visit rellies interstate, I was busy in Melbourne catching up with groups and individuals over breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffee, walks and dinner. Unfortunately for me, in early December almost everybody was still at work in the real world, so there was a fair bit of visiting people on their lunch breaks. It was actually quite nice to see where they worked – mostly in impressive looking glass high-rises. One morning I even begrudgingly met up with my brother at 7.30am, ‘the only time his schedule would allow’, which was a shock to my system and a telling reminder of the differences in our lives. Fortunately, despite the career disparity, we still got along as well as we always have, and fortunately this was the case with just about everyone. I’ve invested a lot a of time and effort into keeping in touch with people while away, and it was a relief to realise it’s paid off. Not once did I feel like a stranger.

Meredith, my favourite festival in the bush

So what were the highlights? Well there were too many to mention, and it wouldn’t be fair to single out one over others. Besides, this was a purely social holiday, and I doubt my personal life has anything new to offer the blogosphere.

Instead, to summarise my trip without having to write properly, I’m going to be very Gen Y and put my observations into lists; of things that surprised me, things that I’d missed, and things that I learnt from my visit to home.

Things about Melbourne that surprised me (or that I’d forgotten about)

  • Increased prevalence of beards – notably the full-blown Ned Kelly ginger bush variety, which I’m not particularly sold on, but is now ubiquitous in the northern suburbs and at hipster music festivals. (I don’t mind a bit of respectably trimmed scruffle though, and it was nice to see a lot of that around too).
  • Prices – despite having free accommodation, being cooked for, shouted, taken out, and chauffeured around, this was still one of the most expensive holidays I’ve ever had. I’d forgotten just how pricey Melbourne was. Ten dollars for a pint of cider? That’s a three course meal in Spain!
  • Internet and phone app dating – seems to now be the norm. I suppose that makes sense in such a modern, proactive society, where people know what they want, are ruthless in looking for it, and time is at a premium. However seeing this change (and meeting all the new +1s) made me realise not only how old fashioned I am, but just how incredibly passive my attitude is toward the whole question of finding a partner is.
  • The Australian sun – how it burns! I’d forgotten about the ‘no ozone’ thing, oops.
  • Trendy hipster trendiness (bluntly described by a friend as a ‘big w*** fest’, which is definitely one way of looking at it) – everything seemed so fancy, so designer, so elaborate. Especially what comes on your plate. I used to work in hospitality and I thought I knew all the food words. But things have changed. It’s been taken to another level, damn master chef and everyone wanting to be a ‘foodie’.
  • Urban sprawl – Melbourne apparently now spans over 100km. You can drive and drive and the city never ends.
  • My mum has become a cricket fan – Now this was a shock. She was always a kindred ‘non-cricket’ person, but now she leaves the TV on all day when the cricket’s on, and speaks cricket language (all fractions and innings and names of people I don’t know). I feel betrayed.
  • Public transport – a tardy, lumbering embarrassment. It’s hard for me to believe I used to spend up to 3 hours a day on trams (to get from one ‘inner city’ suburb to another), and never thought much of it. Compared to the metro of, for example Madrid (also 4 million people), Melbourne is light years behind. I’m not sure what the criteria are for ‘world’s most liveable city’, but given that Melbourne has won it, public transport clearly isn’t one of them.
  • Meat – at almost every meal. Seemed like a lot, in comparison to my usual passive-semi-vegetarian diet. I eat meat in Spain if it’s served to me as a tapa, or occasionally in a menú del día, but these are tiny portions compared to the quanity of meat served in an Australian main (at home or dining out).
  • Bigger people. Just sayin’
  • Strange new words like ‘totes’ (totally) and ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out).

Nice stuff that I’d missed, and some new pleasant surprises

  • Home-style Aussie food – all those yummy things that sound weird when you try to explain them to foreigners, like curried eggs, curried sausages, cucumber dip, yo-yos, Pavlova, and chicken Parma. Even Vita Wheats got me excited.
  • Lemon lime and bitters
  • Real milk – none of that UHT nonsense
  • Asian food – is so much better in Australia than in Spain. Or maybe it’s just about what you’re used to. I must be specifically hooked on ‘Australian style Asian food’, cos I’m sure it’s different in Asia. Anyway, I did my best to eat my fill of sushi, Bombay By Night’s ‘Chicken Makhanwalla’, and every kind of stir-fry, dumpling, mooncake noodle goreng I could get my hands on. New Year’s Day involved an epic Yum Cha feast…I think I’ve now had enough chicken’s feet and Shanghai pork buns to last me until 2015.
  • Variety, variety, variety – Segovia is a hot spot for ‘traditional Spanish food’, so that is what 99% of bars and restaurants serve. But Melbourne offers food from every continent (well maybe not Antarctica). It was refreshing to be able to choose what type of cuisine I felt like eating. Bless multiculturalism!!!
  • Jobs – In Melbourne it seems like every one has one, and most students even work part time – something unheard of in Spain, where about 50% of my age group is unemployed.  I know that my Australian peers work incredibly hard, and not all of them have ended up in their chosen fields, but I really hope they understand how lucky they are.
  • Gardens – I’ve missed back yards!
  • The music – Aside from friends and family, good music in bars is probably the single biggest thing I’ve missed about Australia, and the terrible music in bars (as in ‘discotecas’, the places you go after 3am cos you want to dance) has been the single biggest disappointment of Spain*.
    *at least the Spain I’ve lived in. I know there’re plenty of famous Spanish clubs that are renowned for their top notch DJs, but in your everyday venues where the normal people go, it’s latin Top 40 plus Rhiannon, at deafening volume, with nobody dancing… so it was really nice to sit around and listen to ambient electronica, at a volume that still permitted conversation, and realise it was so beautiful I never wanted to leave
  • Cider – As much as I loved my Asturian experience, I’ve got to say, I prefer cider the Australian way: on tap, with the bubbles already in it.
  • Coffee – I know I’ve already complained about Melbourne’s overly expensive and overly trendy bar and cafe scene, and coffee is one of the biggest culprits in regards to this. But the endless cupfulls of creamy swirly works of art were really quite delightful, and possibly even worth the price.
  • Nice looking bars – awesome decor and design. With mood lighting, great music and hypnotic coffee swirls, you can disappear into another world. Cool.
  • Beaches – I went for a morning run along a beautiful beach near my Great Aunt and Uncle’s place on the east coast, and I was the only person there, bliss! Even though I’ve never been a surfer/swimmer/beach babe type, I’ve missed living by the sea. Two years inland is making me feel a bit, dunno, claustrophobic.

Things I learnt (or think I learnt)

  • That I can still finish a whole chicken Parma, even when topped with kangaroo fillet. (Thanks Pub Club and the Napier Hotel)
  • That as much as I like bushwalking and I like camping… bushwalking and camping at the same time is not for me. Even when the boys are carrying the tents.
  • That eating “scroggin” (fruit and nut trail mix with MMs) whilst hiking is a sure fire way to not lose weight whilst hiking.
  • That inflatable mattresses need to be inflated, if you want them to adequately serve their purpose as a mattress.
  • That it’s impossible to spot koalas when you’re looking at your feet.
  • That Melbourne has it’s own special variety of cold, that gets into your bones and makes it feel at least 15° colder than it actually is. Why else would I be shivering myself to sleep on a 20° Melbourne summer evening, and, upon my return, finding a 10° Segovian winter night “balmy”.
  • That Emirates are overrated.
  • That I’m a lot more materialistic than I thought I was. Many of my peers in Melbourne have nice stuff (cars, houses, iPhones), and I began to notice envy creeping in, something I hadn’t felt in a while. And when my suitcase was delayed for 3 days on the way home, I started to overthink and worry about what would happen if I lost all my things. Perhaps I’m not such a free spirit after all.
  • That at home I feel much more susceptible and reactive to…everything. It’s not just jealousy. The terrible public transport stresses me out. Elevated prices disgust me. The new government’s policies revolt me, make me angry and ashamed for my country. On the flip side, the positive aspects (such as good music, art and produce, beautiful gardens, and friends and family doing inspiring things), make me swell with pride and joy and optimism. When I’m overseas, it’s much easier to detatch. I don’t feel subject to pressures (not that anyone pressures me at home) or responsible for shit governments (not that I’m responsible at home). I just take things for how they are and then choose if or how much I want to engage or react emotionally. Perhaps an attitude I should work on maintaining next time I’m in Australia.
  • That seeing people one-on-one, and catching up with large groups of people in which you want to talk to everyone at the same time, are both very exhausting, but in different ways.
  • That being ‘on holidays’ at home, with all your family and friends, is awesome. Ex-pat or not, I recommend it to anyone! (stage your own disappearance for a few months, come back, and everyone will buy you beers!)
  • Most of all, I learnt that I had been denying to myself the extent to which I missed everyone. I tried to convert it in my head to “missing situations or moments”, such as watching QI on Tuesday nights at my parents’ house, playing scrabble with friends in winter, or getting Thalia Thai or fish ‘n chips on hangover days. Wrong. I missed people – my parents, my brothers, and my friends. With or without QI and Thaila Thai. But I guess that’s a good thing, and I’m lucky to have people to miss. Very lucky.

a pretty nice view to brush your teeth to, at Wilson's Promontory National Park


flying south for winter

It’s been two years and nearly four months…in other words, far too long. But finally I’m going home, for a good chunk of time over Christmas.

People in Spain keep commenting how nice it will be to escape the frosty Segovian winter and get a dose of Australian sunshine, but the truth is, I couldn’t give a damn about the seasons. I’m just so excited to be seeing everyone at home. It’s got to the point where I’d even go in June, and that’s saying a lot. I definitely don’t feel ready to move back ‘for good’, but god I miss Melbourne, and I’ve been missing it in little phases ever since I left.

When Mum was here last summer, we agreed that no matter where I was living or travelling, I’d make it home for every second Christmas. I think that’s only fair, and as far as Mums go, a pretty lenient concession.

survive the flight kit - laptop, iPod, e-books, real books, diary, sudokus, writing stuff, chocolate, fruit, nuts, chewy (if I actually had a kitchen sink I'd pack that too)To be honest, I’m a little anxious. About getting/missing such an expensive and important flight. And because more than any other holiday, I want this one to be perfect (though I know that these things never are). I’ll be making a few trips within the trip (to visit distant rellies, to a music festival, to go bush walking in real Aussie bush), so time-out in Melbourne will be limited. It’ll be logistically/temporally/humanly impossible to spend ‘enough’ time with ‘everyone’. But no matter, I’ll do my best, cross my fingers, and drink a lot of coffee (if I can remember how to order it… coffee is so complicated in Melbourne!).

In the meantime, on the Spain front, everything is trundling along nicely. Apart from the initial chaos at the start of the academic year, my classes seem to have all fallen into a good rhythm.  I’ve had four city breaks in the past five weeks (Cordoba, Salamanca, Oviedo, and Madrid), and for the first time in a long time, have been enjoying both weeknights and weekends… sampling and re-sampling Spanish food and wine, just in case I hadn’t done enough of that already! It’s occurred to me that perhaps everything is getting a little too comfortable. After New Year’s, the plan is to pull my socks up, put my nose to the grindstone, work my butt off, espabilar*. But before expending all that energy, it’s probably a good idea to recalibrate. And the best place for that is home.

I’ll be there soon, in just a few sleeps! **

* espabilar is one of my favourite Spanish verbs, meaning to ‘liven up’ or ‘work harder’. It comes from the noun pabilo, wick, and refers to the action of cleaning back the melted wax from a candle so that the wick can burn better

** no idea how many real sleeps until I’m home, but the journey will take well over 30 hours… so I’m hoping to fit a number of snoozes in!


El Laberinto, Córdoba (the best way to spend your daylight savings).

El Laberinto

This weekend I travelled south to visit some friends – teachers who worked in the same village as me during my first year in Spain. The expedition involved spending most of Friday in transit, crashing two nights on a couch, and not making it back to Segovia until late Sunday night…  quite the journey for just a casual Saturday lunch. But of course, (and in keeping with the predictably upbeat, possibly saccharine, tone of this blog), it was totally worth it.

The reunion was exactly as I’d hoped and expected*. As for the rest of the weekend, I hadn’t had a chance to give it any thought, so of course it all came as an unlooked for bonus.

The first factor that I hadn’t contemplated was that it would be hot. This stands to reason, Córdoba being a lot further south than Segovia, but didn’t enter my head as I rushedly shoved extra jumpers into my bag before leaving. But better to be too hot than too cold, and my top half (saved by a last minute singlet) spent the weekend bathing in sunny glory…whilst my legs silently roasted in black jeans and long boots.

Secondly, I’d forgotten all about typical Andalusian breakfasts. So good!! Toasted fresh rolls, with (incredible) olive oil and grated tomato, milk coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice…at a relaxed pace, in the aforementioned sun, for only 1.50€. What a way to start the day.

Then of course there were the free tapas, chosen from the menu and not from the bar top (as they are in Segovia, not that I’m complaining). But getting free food a la carte is really something special. Hooray for Andalucía.

basking bargainsBut the true highlight was having a whole unexpected Sunday morning in which to indulge. Thanks to daylight saving (and the surprising absence of hangover), I had time to wander the streets, photosynthesise, and finally peruse El Laberinto, a beautiful second hand bookshop that I’ve been wanting to visit for months.

El Labrinto is special for a number of reasons, the first of these being that in the world of antiquarian bookshops, it’s just a baby. Despite the fact that in today’s technology driven, crisis bound economy, longstanding bookstores are struggling to survive, El Laberinto boldly opened in mid 2012 and appears to be thriving. Surprising? Not really, it’s a wonderful store with a prime location (on the riverside), that’s been well thought-out and is clearly well run. The service is knowledgeable, personalised, and considerate (I was even talked in to buying a cheaper book than what I had originally selected, but one that I will hopefully enjoy reading more***). And as well as a range of foreign language books, Spanish classics, and vintage children’s books (of which a colourful abridged version of Don Quijote definitely tempted me), there were many other curious trinkets for sale or on display. A large collection of amusing/beautiful retro postcards (1€), re-printed Civil War facsimiles in zine form (3€), records, scientific specimens, pot plants, and comics.

Unlike many second hand bookstores (and despite the tonnes of books lining the walls and and floor), El Labrinto is well lit, clean and spacious. There’s none one of the hayfever inducing dustiness or back breaking pokiness that normally needs to be endured in this kind of shop. There are plenty of chairs, and customers are invited to sit down and take their time sorting through the contents of the large wooden dining tables. The background music was cool and reason enough to linger, as were the literary quotes that decorated the concrete walls.

So if you’re in Córdoba, and have time (time is important), treat yourself to a leisurely breakfast in the sun (ideally at El Pimentón on the riverside) and then mosey on next door to El Laberinto to pleasantly wile away some hours. But if slow ain’t your style, I’m sure you could still scoot by and pick up a bargain from one of the outdoor 1 – 3€ baskets, without having to think too hard or take off your headphones.

So I’ve checked the forecast and it’ll be warm in the south for the next quite a while. Weird, but it may as well be enjoyed. As for Segovia, bordered by mountains and currently mizzling… well here’s a good place to have plenty of reading material.

*We met up at 2pm and didn’t part ways til after midnight. “Lunch” included plenty of traditional Cordovan food (salmorejo, aceitunas, flamenquín, and garlic garlic garlic), bar hopping (the highlight being The Jazz Bar, if you’re in Córdoba, go there), watching a clásico (Madrid vs Barcelona football match), and seeing a live rock band (long hair and denim, just so you knew they were legit). The only downlight (?) was the post pub grub…if you know the franchise 100 montaditos (100 little bread rolls), and are curious to try the new Spanish fast food sensation**, 100 pizzitas, don’t!

**100 pizzitas, the only fast food in the world that causes you to lose weight …the fuss of the ordering process (and stress of waiting for the hockey puck to buzz), isn’t worth the actual pizzas (which are wafer thin, and all 100 flavours come out looking the same).

*** Instead of El Dorado (a slim paperback with a beautiful cover), I walked away with Ramon J. Sender’s Aventura Equinocial, a novelised version of the same history (in a less glamorous jacket).