ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


a walk in the park (with vomiting frogs)

Palacio Real (gracias google)A long time ago, when the Bourbon Kings ruled Spain, France must have seemed a lot further away than it is now. So in order to feel a bit more at home, King Felipe V (the friendly) decided to build himself and his heirs a French Rococo palace, in an estate known as La Granja, about 7km from Segovia. This area was originally a popular hunting ground for the Spanish Court, but the Bourbons transformed it into something more. Not only did they build an ostentatious palace (decked in crystals and tapestries), but they converted much of the forest lands into well manicured gardens. La Granja essentially became a ‘mini Versailles’.

These days, La Granja de San Ildefonso (y el Palacio Real) is a lovely little day or half-day trip from Segovia. I first saw the gardens in their fiery Autumn splendour (and semi mentioned them in a rather philosophical post), and a second time in Winter, when they were blanketed in not-quite-enough-to-be-white snow. Spring hasn’t really happened this year (we’re still shivering in our soggy boots and it’s June already), but I made another ‘seasonal’ visit to La Granja.

This time it wasn’t for just any old walk in the park.

The main feature of the palace gardens is the collection of elaborate, mythical fountains. They are fed by an 18th century water system; at the top of a hill there is a dam, and the force of gravity is used to power jets of water as high as 40 meters in the air – when the fountains are turned on. Most of the time though, the pipes are dry and the ponds lie empty, with leaf litter covering the chequered tile bases. It’s only twice per year that the fountains are activated (presumably by a magic lever somewhere), and the public come streaming in to watch the spectacular.

However, this has been Spain’s rainiest year in a long time, so the dam is nice and full. Extra dates have been added to the fountain calendar, and I got to go there for an excursion with my Spanish class (instead of class, brilliant).

Apollo fountain (gracias google)All afternoon the sky was threatening to burst on us, and there were a lot more people about than I like to find in nature, but overall, it was a very pleasant experience. The fountains were turned on only one at a time, due to the system of water which feeds from one to the next as it works its way down the hill. So, numbered maps in hand, we followed a set route and gathered around each fountain in anticipation, and cheered as a group when the first jet of water burst out of the mythical lion’s/horse’s/faun’s/carp’s/mermaid’s/human-frog-hybrid’s nose/mouth/orifices. The sculptures are figures from Classical mythology, and the stories behind each of them were fantastical, frightening, and so dramatic they were hilarious.

I had to laugh when I overhead a little child in the crowd behind me asking ‘mummy, why are all the puppies vomiting?’, as I’d been wondering something similar about the frogs.

Anyway, here are some more terrible photos. This wouldn’t be a true post of mine if the photos didn’t come accompanied by an excuse as to why my photography is so bad: It was cold, and I didn’t want my camera to get wet, and there were lots of distractions… in summer I really won’t have any excuses. For those that are interested, the next dates to see all the fountains in action are the 25th of July and the 25th of August… although some indivudual foutains will be activated for most of the next couple of months.