ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


Segovia, in pictures

It’s hard to believe it’s over. After almost two years of living inside a fairytale, I’ve packed up my little attic apartment, said goodbye to Señor Cigüeña (the stork outside my window), and did one last scenic walk of the Segovia and its ancient walls. I tried my best to farewell each of my friends and colleagues, and have a last glass of wine and pincho at all of my favourite bars. On Saturday I handed back my keys, and I’m now no longer a resident of what I consider to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Segovia has treated me incredibly well. It’s cheap, easily navigable on foot, surrounded by lush green countryside and snow capped mountains, and, most importantly, almost every bar offers free tapas. One of my reasons for leaving was actually that life there was too easy, and I was worried about getting so comfortable that I’d never be able to hack living somewhere “in the real world”. For me, one of the biggest challenges of the Madrid Metrolpolis will be that “not everything is picturesque all the time”, as is the case in most corners of the globe, save where I happen to be coming from.Señor Cigüeña

So am I sad about leaving Segovia? The truth is, not really. Whilst I loved it there (really loved it) and it will always have a special place in my heart, I simply knew that it was time to move on. I acknowledge my incredible good fortune in having had the opportunity to live somewhere so remarkable (and for so long), but I didn’t want to push my luck, and I didn’t want to let the experience stagnate. Segovia will always be there to go back to, and go back I will. I’m already planning visits for the next Segovian half-marathon and Titirimundi puppet festival, as well as scouting apartments to buy there when I win first division in El Gordo, the fat Christmas lottery.

In the meantime, as a little tribute to Segovia, I’ve uploaded some photos of my wanderings about the city. There are a lot missing, a lot of views that I was meaning to capture, yet somehow just never got around to. I would also love to have done a series of drawings based on the esgrafiados (traditional Segovian facades), and maybe I still will, but excuses excuses, there were just too many other things to be seen and done. Another thing to note is that the city is much greener and in better condition than as depicted in these photos. There are plenty of parks and nice, clean, renovated buildings – it’s just that I’m drawn to photographing old derelict walls.

If you’re interested, click on the links to two different photo pages. Then, at the foot of this post, you’ll find my recommendations for some bars, restaurants, and things to see and do in Segovia.


casa de los picos, calle real, Segovia


Segovia, anochecer


Top bars with free tapas:
José María (most famous and well regarded in Segovia city, also has big dining room)
La Judería (generous tapas of Indian/Asian/Middle eastern food, something different for when you get sick of traditional Spanish cuisine)
Fogón Sefardí (consecutive winner of tapas competitions, see menu for mini mains at pincho prices)
La Cueva de San Esteban (Cave-like venue, traditional food and decor)
El Fogón de Javier (lovely terrace, fantastic olives)
Ludos (also has board games and great breakfast combos)

Fine dining restaurants (the best ones are always outside the capital):
La Portada de Mediodía, Torrecaballeros
El Rancho, Torrecaballeros
José María
La Postal, Zamarramala (great weekday set menu)

Great bakery: Limon y Menta (just off the main square)

Fresh food markets :
Thursday morning in the main square
Saturday morning between José Zorilla and Avenida de la Constitución

Best touristy things to do:
The Alcazar
Visit to La Granja Palace and gardens (mini Versailles, but free and minus the crowds)
Museo Esteban Vicente (more for the building than the art)
Pedraza (medieval fortress town about 40mins by car from Segovia)
Puerta de Santiago (an exhibition space inside one of the gates of the old wall)
walk walk walk (around the town, around the surrounding countryside, especially around the wall)

Typical Segovian set-menu:
Judiones de La Granja (jumbo white broad beans in hearty meaty broth)
Cochinillo o Cordero Asado (oven roasted suckling pig or baby lamb)
Ponche Segoviano (sponge cake with egg yolk custard and thin real-almond-not-horrible-fake marzipan icing)

Also try:
Cocido (hearty many-part stew, with noodle broth, vegies and chick peas, and separate mixed meat and sausage component)
Alcachofas con jamon (artichokes with garlic and Spanish ham)
Tejas de almendra (sticky almond ‘roof tiles’)
torreznos (pork crackling bar snacks – not my thing, but is typical of the region)
Empanada de pisto (pastry filled with cooked tomato and onion)
Pulga de tortilla (little bread roll filled with Spanish potato omelette, typical mid-morning snack)
all the grilled/roasted vegetables, especially pimentón (sweet red pepper)

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Chapter ???

School’s out for this academic year, and I find myself once again in limbo. Whilst the kids have finished exams and are clearly on their long summer break, I’m in a slightly confusing no man’s land between three cities, some random work/life/bureaucratic ‘to-dos’, and a deceptive amount of free time (which sometimes feels like too little, sometimes too much, but mostly just never fully presents itself).

Having 3.5 months school ‘holidays’ is definitely a blessing and a curse. At the moment I’m holding on desperately to a dwindling number of private classes, to see how far I can stretch them in to the summer. Unfortunately not many people have ‘ganas’ to study once the term wraps up and the heat kicks in. But fortunately I do have just enough students to get me through the next few weeks, and whilst these classes get in the way of most other plans, they also break up the day and give me a good reason to keep myself showered and sober :-P

So other than sitting in the sun and staring longingly at frosty beer taps, how else am I planning on filling this idle, gaping, gap in commitments? And what’s on the other side of it?

On the other side of it is Madrid, where I’m due to start work in a primary school next October. I know little about the school, other than that it’s conveniently located just inside the Zone A metro perimeter, the website is pretty, the students look to be suspiciously non-diverse (did they pick out all the blond ones for the photo shoot?), and they’re terrible at responding to emails (which is not surprising). Despite my initial preference being to work in a secondary school, now that I’ve received my placement I’m starting to get pretty excited about teaching kids again, and I’m hoping that infantíl (pre-primary) will be included in the bilingual program. I wouldn’t mind another year of finger painting red apples and yellow bananas with three year olds – I’ve missed the little ones!

But October is a long way away. At the moment I’m hanging tight in Segovia for as long as my private classes continue, whilst sorting out the move to Madrid (find a flat, renew visa, start carting stuff eastward). Other projects include trying to get the sticky blu-tack residue off my walls, finding creative ways to use up all my dry goods and condiments, and filling any other down-time with creative writing (not self-indulgent blog posts). Kayaking with a big group of 14 year olds is also on the cards.

In early July an Australian friend is coming to visit in Segovia and help me polish off all the alcohol, because glass is just too heavy to move house with. (Books are also heavy, if only she could help me quickly read them all!)

Then in mid July, providing I don’t get cold feet/chicken out/acojonarse, I’m setting off on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage/series of walking routes which start all over Spain and Europe and finish in Santiago de Compostela, in the North West corner of Spain. I’ll be doing the Northern route, starting from Irún and walking some 800km along the coast, via places like San Sebastian and Guernica… hopefully all the way to Santiago, and hopefully at a fast enough pace to make it home in time for my flight to Australia in late August.

Most of September will be spent in Melbourne, where my little brother is getting married, and lots of people are turning 30, and I will be undoing six weeks of wholesome hiking with just over 3 weeks of solid socialising (if my last trip home was anything to go by).

And then it’s back to Madrid for the next chapter (or has that started already?)…and continuing the continuous cycle of constant movement but no real progress in any direction. Perhaps I will take another Spanish exam in November, providing that the trauma of the last one was worth it (still no news).

So, friends, family and random readers, that is the short term plan for the moment. It’s pretty much my long term plan as well, and of course, subject to change. I might experience an epiphany on the Camino and decide to become a nun of the cloister, or swim to Canada, or study economics. Stranger things have happened. But for now, if you are in Melbourne, keep warm, and I look forward to seeing you in August/September.

Everyone else, Madrid is a great meeting place from October onwards!

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150 palabras


Hace un tiempo escribí un cuento para “Rincones de Segovia”, un certamen anual de microrrelatos convocado por la Librería Antares. El desafío, como uno se puede imaginar, era escribir un relato de solo 150 palabras que hiciera referencia a Segovia. Para mí fue todo un reto, no sólo por la cuestión de idioma, sino también por lo mucho que me cuesta ser concisa. Comparé lo que suponía escribir un microrrelato con el famoso “Cubo de Rubik”, es decir, me parece como un rompecabezas. Sin embargo, disfruté del proyecto y, gracias a la ayuda de una amiga que me corrigió el texto, quedé contenta con el resultado (aunque no sea perfecto). Por supuesto no gané el concurso, pero eso tampoco era mi objetivo.

Como ahora se están acercando las vacaciones, estoy pensando mucho en escribir. Será uno de mis proyectos veraniegos. Por eso, el microrrelato, que tenía olvidado, me vino a la cabeza. Me di cuenta de que este año la colección de entregas no la publicó la librería. ¡Qué pena! Me habría gustado ver mi cuento impreso, y leer los otros, sobre todo los premiados.

Bueno, no pasa nada. He subido el mío, ¡qué fácil es “auto-publicar”! Así que, si os interesa, pinchad el enlace abajo. El microrrelato se llama “La huida”. Por supuesto, se agradecerá cualquier comentario, ya sea crítico o consejo.

pincha aquí para la pagina de cuentos

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It’s that time of year again! The time when the sun comes out, the old French carousel is set up under the aqueduct, and the puppets come to Segovia. Titirimundi is an annual festival, which unites some of the best puppeteers and performance artists from all over the world. It also attracts hordes of children, street musicians, fire twirlers, balloon vendors, and dreadlocked alternative bohemian folk (selling alternative bohemian wearable wares). There are also workshops, exhibitions, and puppet stalls, so that anyone who’s mildly creative and/or under the age of ten can have a go at being a part of the action themselves. And to top it all off, there’s the Tierra de Sabor (Land of Flavour) food tent, which I can personally recommend for the rich, psychedelic-dream-inducing cheeses, just in case the festival performances aren’t bizarre enough for your taste.

Oh yes, and there’s also the King. His Majesty Juan Carlos I of Spain decided to grace Segovia with his presence this weekend, but I don’t think he came for the puppets. There was some kind of Royal Artillery anniversary, with cannons and speeches etc. A bit of bad timing I guess, given the evident political persuasion of Segovia’s current transient population. Luckily, the King is recovering from a hip operation (after a triple fracture incurred during an elephant hunting trip in Botswana, I kid you not), conveniently excusing him from any obligation to walk through the city or greet the populace.

Anyway, back to the wonderful mundo de títeres (world of puppets).

Last time Titirimundi came to town, I was tragically desk ridden and didn’t get to see any of it. This year, no such lucrative translating jobs have come my way, leaving me free to roam the streets and enjoy the spectacle. I’ve been feeling so relaxed and enchanted by the atmosphere, that I was almost tempted to take my chances at joining one of the wandering artists’ troupes. The nomadic, penniless, circus-esque life is beginning to look like an attractive career move.

Whilst the atmosphere in the streets is fantastic, it’s really just a side show, a bonus. The main event(s) are the espectáculos, shows, held in ambient venues such as old monasteries and churches, and the famous Juan Bravo theatre on Segovia’s Plaza Mayor. Some are free, but you have to reserve, others are cheap, but it’s first in best dressed on the day, and some require you to book and pay in advance (although this is no guarantee of a seat). Yes, the ‘system’ is typically Spanish; varied and complicated. But one thing is consistent; all main events have been well attended, and tickets must always be bought as far in advance as possible. They usually go on sale about a month before the festival. Consider this a heads up for next year.

The shows themselves range from traditional favourites such as The Flea Circus and Punch and Judy, to all kinds of kooky international avant garde theatre productions.

As someone who is unfamiliar with puppets and their possibilities, one thing that has really surprised me is that although it’s clearly possible to make delicate, refined, and highly realistic puppets, many puppeteers chose not to. The majority of the títeres at this year’s festival, from hand puppets to marionettes, were extremely rudimentary in design. Beautifully crafted dolls could be found in the stalls, but not on the stages. For an internationally renowned festival, the sets were also very crudely constructed, at least in the few shows that I saw. Strangely enough, it seems to me that this deceptively amateur look actually emphasises the professionalism, skill, and creative talent of the performers.

The three espectáculos I attended were:

Sopa de Ladrones (Soup of thieves) by Titiritainas, Ecuador
A hand puppet drama about an Ecuadorian spinster who prays to Saint Antonio for a boyfriend, and then falls in love with a robber, whom she believes was sent in answer to her prayers. This lively mini theatre works on two different levels, with plenty of interactive moments for children, and funny adult innuendos. Almost worth seeing just to hear the kids’ animated commentaries.

Algo huele a podrido (Something smells rotten) by Elvis Alatac, France
A hilarious, depraved, very messy re-enactment of Hamlet, with kitchen utensils being the main protagonists. The actor/puppeteer was fantastic; eccentric, overly exaggerated and subtle at the same time, and probably best described as French. My only criticism is that despite having paid for tickets, many people still had to sit on the floor up the front, which meant that they A: got splattered with flour and fake blood, and B: had to strain to see the “subtitles” above the stage. Fortunately we all know more or less how Hamlet goes, and it wasn’t too difficult to understand the multilingual (French, Spanish and English) babble being spoken. The point was that it made no sense. Well, at least I think that was the point. Shakespeare always has been a bit over my head.

Dan’s atelier (Something about a workshop?) by Le Tof Theatre, Belgium
By far my favourite performance. In fifteen minutes of pure comedic brilliance, a puppet constructs himself, and then rebels against his puppeteers. The physical evolution of the puppet is fantastic, every gesture, every second of the performance is hilarious, and the skill of the two puppeteers absolutely blew me away. Acting is one thing (and difficult enough), but acting two roles at the same time (for example, a frightened puppeteer quivering under the threats of a menacing puppet), must require incredible talent and coordination. I walked away from this show feeling elated, exhausted from laughing, knowing that I’d seen something incredible that I’d never seen before, and that if every show after this was a let-down, the night would still have been good value.

So, as you might have guessed, Titirimundi was well worth the wait, and I very much enjoyed the glimpse I had into the colourful and exciting world of puppets. However, I know they’re not for everyone, and it’s no surprise that some local Segovians are a little bit over the annual hippy/artist invasion. Puppets can often be corny or clichéd, they have inherent limitations, and if done badly, they can be terrible (even embarrassing). But this makes them all the more challenging, interesting, and fun. It occurred to me halfway through Algo huele a podrido (Hamlet) that the performance was basically an adult playing with random objects and talking to himself in silly voices, just like a kid playing with toys. I don’t know how, but it worked. I guess that’s the magic of a good puppeteer.




French Toast, Spanish style… and a bit about Semana Santa

This is the first time I’ve been at ‘home’, alone, in Spain over the Easter break. I decided to forgo such an excellent opportunity to travel, in order to be able to:
– Do a big, scary, expensive and unnecessary Spanish exam (tick! fingers crossed!).
– Get on top of work and clean my flat before I go to Poland the week after the holidays, and my parents come to visit the week after that (!!!).
– Organise life/update CV/de-frag dying laptop.
– Save money.
– Catch up on a backlog of Skype catch ups. It seems like everyone in Australia is getting married and eating hot cross buns without me.
– Make some headway on book 2 of Juego de Tronos (Game of Thrones), which, as much as I’m loving it and it’s great for my medieval Spanish vocabulary, is looking to take the longest of any book I’ve ever read (possibly longer than 1Q84 and Les Miserables combined).

I must say, being able to get stuck into these projects has been a luxury. There’s something to be said for a bit of time at home, when most of your friends are away (or live on the other side of the world), and you have no choice but to do all those niggly domestic tasks that have been building up for what seems like years. Hem pants, clean the little wheels under the microwave tray, and reply to near forgotten emails – all excellent reasons to not go to Ireland (which was the potential trip I had in mind for the Easter holidays before I realised it just wasn’t going to work).

capuchines de la parroquia de Jesús Cristo de Los GasconesExperiencing Semana Santa, Spanish holy week, was not a motivation for staying here. For some reason, watching bleeding Jesus and weeping Mary statues being paraded through the streets by grieving processions of people dressed in mourning, off-key brass bands, Klu Klux Klan figures, and overpowering incense…is something that just doesn’t attract me. I’ve been hearing the bands rehearsing for weeks, and seen the footage on the news, and for me that’s more than enough. I’ve no desire to go out of my way to attend a procession, and have graciously declined a few invitations to do so. I’m well aware that each statue is different and special, that some are hundreds of years old, some weigh a tonne and are carried cross country, or across rivers, or sometimes along cobblestone streets by bearers on their knees. It is all very specialised and painful stuff. The hermandades and cofradías (parish brotherhoods and guilds) spend months in preparation for the big week. They open temporary bars with names like Misericordia (not misery, mercy) to raise money for the church, and drink to their favourite Saint, Jesus or Virgin. They decorate the walls with posters of previous years’ processions, usually with close ups of Jesus’ bloody wounds and Mary’s tear stained face. Some years, it rains, and this means the pasos (statues) can’t leave the churches, which tends to produce even more waterworks. Apparently the main drawcard of Semana Santa is the sombreness of the atmosphere, as the people re-live Christ’s suffering.

But for some reason, this depressing, self-flagellating, Spanish brand of Catholicism is completely beyond me.

I’m not sure why I feel so estranged by it, but I do. Even more so than by more foreign religions. Perhaps this is the problem. Here, the religion just isn’t exotic enough. It fails to attract me on an aesthetic level (Spanish church interiors are particularly gaudy), and because it’s similar to what I’ve grown up with (it’s just an extreme version), there’s no mystery to lure me in. I know that this is wrong, that it should really be about faith (not aesthetics), but unfortunately I’m a little weak in that department.  So in Spain, all I see is a bizarre mix of unquestioning devotion, robotic obedience, complete indifference, and really tacky statues. Every now and then it occurs to me that I might be missing out on something, that to have a strong faith is probably a beautiful and comforting thing. But the truth is, I prefer not to hang my hopes on the benevolence of any specific deity, and I think “do unto others” is a reasonable, good, and straighforward code to endeavour to live by.

For me, the best thing about organised religion is that it brings family and friends together, and provides an excuse for a feast or a party. As simple as that. In my twisted, morally depraved perspective, religion is synonymous with tradition, tradition with culture, and culture with food. Nice, traditional, home cooked food. So holy wars, discrimination, and antiquated thinking aside, if religion is just an excuse for good food and a party, it can only be a good thing. Or is it?

A couple of years ago I went to a Romería, a celebration in the countryside in honour of La Virgin de la Antigua, one of the patron saints of the small Cordovan village where I was living at the time. Sure, it was a fun weekend (camping and dancing with about 6,000 people) but I couldn’t help but think, I wonder what the Virgin would have thought of the party in her name. Of the tacky carnival rides, the fairy floss stalls, the live football telecast on the big screen, the scantily dressed cover band, the excessive quantities of alcohol and the deafeningly loud music. Or of the perfect opportunity her party provided for all the teeny boppers to sneak away from their family’s tents, get drunk, and do naughty things in bushes. I’ve nothing against alcohol, or teenagers having fun in bushes, but it seemed very sacrilegious for it all to be happening in honour of a virgin.

La Virgin de La AntiguaThe week after the Romería, I was correcting homework for an after school class I had with some of the more ‘troubled’ (read: very very naughty) teenagers in the village. Unsurprisingly, most of them had written about the party. But I was more than a little shocked to read “I love La Virgin de la Antigua because she is beautiful and holy and kind”, over and over, the same sentence, echoed in almost every assignment. For once, I really hoped the students were copying each other.

So, my attitude to religion, and parties, and religious parties in Spain, is more than a little conflicted. The big parties get too debauched. I can’t stand the hypocrisy. The apparent brainwashing frightens me. And most of all, Semana Santa is just so depressing. However, at least it’s good to see Easter being celebrated for what Easter is about (I thankfully haven’t seen a chocolate bunny since I got here). Religion is such a big part of culture and identity. It would be really sad if it began to die out and the people stopped practising their traditions.

Sometimes I wonder, considering that I’m an outsider in the community, and I’m not religious, what’s the point of even thinking about all this?

I don’t know. It’s interesting. And it’s impossible not to have opinions and feelings. I’m curious about the various levels of devotion and participation that are exhibited in the processions. It makes me reflect on my own background and attitude to religion. I was raised a Catholic, consider myself agnostic, avidly dislike commercialism, and absolutely love Christmas. I think it’s a beautiful custom, so long as I don’t think to hard about what it means, or is supposed to mean, or whether or not I have the right to enjoy it if I don’t agree a lot of stuff the Church says/does/has done in the past.

So anyway. It’s happened again. This post was supposed to be a quick one, just a few photos, some interesting cultural tidbits, and ya.

You see, I’m a little tired, possibly even delirious. This morning I went for a run, a really long one, even longer than the half marathon I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. And as I was on the final stretch, I saw a big group of red and black capuchines (hooded Semana Santa figures) congregated in the street outside my flat. They cut pretty striking figures, and it occurred to me that whether I’m into it or not, this was no everyday sight, and it would be stupid to miss a procession that was literally on my doorstep. The show was starting, so I bolted upstairs (very melodramatically, with what little strength I had left), grabbed my camera (and a swig of water) and ran back into the street. I managed to get a couple of photos, but the group had moved on. And I wasn’t about to join in the procession in my shaky, unwashed, salt-caked state.

After stretching and showering, I was just sitting down to eat, when I heard the procession returning. Again, I rushed downstairs, and managed to see the return leg. It was pretty cool. The musicians sounded much better than when they were rehearsing, and the capuchines had a pretty ominous aurora about them. This particular Jesús was carried in a glass coffin, heavily adorned with flowers. The parishioners followed sombrely, all dressed in the darkest shades of their Sunday best, and many of the women wore black veils.

After a couple of minutes of straining to find a good place to stand (my street is very narrow and the procession took up most of it), I heard some voices above me. My neighbours were watching from their balcony, and invited me up. From their vantage point, they could see Jesús inside the coffin (‘isn’t he beautiful’, they all crooned), and a spectacular view of the capuchines disappearing down the street, with the Aqueduct and ancient city walls in the background. I spent a good while longer in their flat, and they told me about the monk who founded the parish (he came from France on a donkey), gave me their photos of the procession on a USB, and we gossiped about the private lives of the owners of the neighbouring restaurants. The two little girls showed me their Semana Santa drawings, and I would loved to have stayed longer, except that by this point I was close to fainting, and could only think about the (now cold) eggs and toast that were waiting for me in my attic upstairs.

So what of Spanish Easter food? Firstly, as to be expected, there is no meat on Good Friday. Except for in Segovia, where cochinillo and cordero (roast suckling pig and lamb) are the traditional dishes. If the only chance you have to visit Segovia is during Easter, well, apparently it’s acceptable to try just a bit of whole dead baby animal. As far as I can tell, the only other specific-to-Easter dish is Torrijas, which is basically sticky honey and cinnamon French toast. I’ve tried to explain that in Australia, French toast is just a regular breakfast food (well, maybe not every day, but it’s on most breakfast menus and isn’t confined to one time of year). This has been met with a bit of uproar. Apparently Spanish torrijas are special, but as far as I can make out, the ingredients (milk, eggs, bread), cooking method, and taste, are all the same. Which is a good thing. Because whatever side of the equator (or Pyrenees), and whatever the name, or motivation for eating it, milky eggy sticky spicy fried bread is delicious.

And that’s all I have to say about Semana Santa