ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


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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.

 DOORS, WALLS & WINDOWS

casa de los picos, calle real, Segovia

FAIRYTALE CITY

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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Assisi

I’ve been stuck on this post for a while now, getting frustrated over sentences that just aren’t working, sentiments that won’t be put into words, and a tone that cannot be found. Possibly because it’s been a few weeks since I was in Italy and now I’ve got other things on my mind. Or that when I do turn my thoughts towards Assisi, they’re met with glorious sunset images that simply cannot be described without sounding saccharine or clichéd.

I know the world probably doesn’t need another self indulgent writer harping on about ‘the wondrous Umbrian light’… but never mind, indulge me. Assisi is beautiful and I would like to sing its praises, no matter how clumsily or inadequately, and starting with the sunsets.

AssisiAssisi is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been to. At sundown, at least in summer, the ancient stone facades all glow a lovely, dusky pink – a reflection of the peach and flamingo medley sky. The medieval town is built on the side of a hill, surrounded by views  of a seemingly endless rust and olive coloured landscape. That would be Umbria, bathed in magical Umbrian light.

In addition to being almost inconceivably pretty to look at, Assisi has a wonderful vibe. Being the birthplace of St.Francis, it is, of course, an incredibly religious place. I’m not a religious person, and the word ‘spiritual’, in certain contexts, invokes in me an admittedly violent scepticism that makes me feel physically ill. But compared with, for example, the crowded halls and tacky gift shops of the Vatican (and countless other religious hotspots), Assisi seems so much more dignified, modest, and yes, genuinely, humbly ‘spiritual’. In the least pretentious sense of the word.

It was really nice to see churches being used as churches, and pilgrims without cameras.

AssisiAnother thing that struck me about Assisi was that it manages to strike a nice balance between tranquillity and liveliness. The clergy-to-layperson ratio is possibly one of the highest in the world, which is perhaps why the streets felt so safe and everyone seemed to walk rather slowly. But in no way did it feel sleepy or musty, and there’s more to the town than religion. For example, there are lots of fantastic bookshops and bakeries (which is enough to sell a place to me, but possibly not everyone). There’s also live music in the streets, plenty of bars and cafes, art galleries, and non-tacky gift shops (although there were some admittedly tacky ones too). When Mum and I were there, there was a medieval festival happening, with hot marching drummers, and hot roast sandwiches & glass of wine combo for 2.50€. There was a Morris Minor motor club passing through, and like most hilly places in Southern Europe, insanely fit cyclists flitting about in professional looking getup. The streets were filled with happy people enjoying Aperol Spritzers in the late afternoon light. I wouldn’t say Assisi is a party town, but it definitely has an upbeat feel to it. It’s refreshingly clean. And the local dessert is some kind of delicious brioche dipped in some kind of delicious liquor, just in case you were wondering.

As for St.Francis, he sounds like an interesting fellow. Mum and I were talking to a trainee priest who gave us a bit more insight on this apparently misinterpreted saint. Misinterpreted, according to our priest friend, because people often imagine him as a nature loving hippy. The story goes that St. Francis was a rich boy, the son of a wealthy silk merchant, who relinquished his comfortable life in order to be closer to God by living in poverty. He spent a lot of time wandering the countryside, talking with animals, and urging people to respect all living creatures as equals… sounds pretty hippy to me. And makes me wonder, perhaps if St.Francis had been born on the other side of the world, about 1600 years earlier, he and Buddha would have made good mates. Anyway, in addition to being a friar and wild animal tamer, the young St Francis and St Clare and their friends the birdsFrancesco was also a trendsetter; he was the first recorded person to ever receive the stigmata, and he bought Jesus’ humble robes back into fashion (retro was aldready ‘in’). He was reportedly a diplomat, who tried to put an end to the crusades by talking and negotiating with foreign leaders. He started his own order, and convinced his ‘friend’ St.Clare to do the same. St. Francis spread the love and was popular amongst his contemporaries, so much so that he was canonised just 2 years after his death. He’s since become the patron saint of ecologists – a hippy if there ever was one. However, St.Francis appeals to me personally on a more superficial, aesthetic level. He’s often pictured with birds… I’ve a bit of a thing for birds, and they look so sweet in all the paintings.

So anyway, no matter where you fall on the belief spectrum, I can highly recommend a visit to Assisi, especially if picturesque countryside, cute little rambling streets, or elegant architecture is your thing. There are a tonne of churches – not the gilt, austentatious kind, but the graceful, austere, gothic variety. Austere plus colourful pschedelic frescos. Anyway, the town is small enough that you can walk around comfortably, and big enough that you can stay for two or three days without getting bored. Another option is to spend a couple of months there and do an intensive Italian course, now that would be nice. There are lots of picnic spots with good views, and being in the heart of Umbria (more specifically, Perugia, the home of Baci chocolates), there’s plenty to see and do within an easy, day-trippable distance.

As always, but particularly this time, my photos don’t do the place justice. Perhaps St.Francis is telling me it’s time to buy myself a fancy high-tech camera with a panoramic lens.


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MORE on Italy, this time in COLOUR!

VeniceIf a picture’s worth a thousand words, I probably should have cut straight to uploading these photos, and saved myself the effort of writing my recent long and overly descriptive post on Italy.

But judging by the images, you’d think I only went to Venice. That’s because Venice is such a photogenic city. (And given the poor representation of the rest of the country, I’m a lazy photographer)

To see the Italy photo page, click on the blue door →


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Where am I ?

The last (first) post dealt with who I am and what I’m doing… more or less. But I’ve been getting a few enquiries from friends about whether or not I’ve started work yet in Segovia, and if not, just exactly where am I?

The answer to the first question is no, I still haven’t started work yet! It’s getting kind of ridiculous.  But whilst I (dearly) miss having an income, I’m quite content enjoying the longest chunk of time off I’ve had since, I don’t know, hitting puberty. It really has been an endless summer, and the ever distant prospect of going ‘back to school’ makes me feel like a kid again. Except that this time round I’m drinking tinto de verano instead of banana smoothies, and in Spain there’s no such thing as a cool change at the end of a 40° day (I keep waiting, it never comes).

As for where I am, well my current home base (axe murderers and cyber stalkers look away now please), is a town called Martos, just south of Jaén. I’m pretty sure I mentioned it in my last (ever) travel email, but I can forgive you for overlooking that detail! If you’re not familiar with Spain, then apparently Martos can be confused with Malaga or Marbella… but those places may as well be the Maldives for all they have in common with this town. Martos is dry, dusty, not-particularly-exciting, and miles from the coast. But it’s got a great local pool (with an air conditioned bar and heaps of shady palm trees), some nice (cheap!) cafes, and a library with speedy internet. Perfect for me right now.

It’s also quite pretty, at least I think so. Because it’s built at the foot of a peña (big rocky hill thing), the streets wind up and down, and the different levels nicely show off the ancient Arab buildings. Over the past couple of weeks, in between tearing my hair out over this blog, watching the Olympics, and reading a very long novel (very slowly) in Spanish, I’ve done a fair bit of wandering around the town and its outskirts. Usually I take my camera… you can check out the photos here. There are two albums there, the first is of the town, and the second is of a little adventure I had one cloudy day…

So that’s Martos, and it’s no longer where I am, but more like where I was. As I’m writing, my bag is packed and ready to go. This weekend I’m heading back to Hinojosa (my ‘ex-village’), for the feria of her* patron saint**. The feria (big party) runs for several days, and I think I might need a few more to recover.  Then the rough plan is to hang out a bit longer and do some visiting in Andalucía, before relocating up north, where my endless summer will actually come to an end.

That’s it for now.

*yes, Hinojosa is feminine. (But the word for ‘village’ is masculine. But Spanish possessive adjectives agree with the object and not the subject like in English, which is why I’ve never had to say ‘her’ in Spanish… and an English villages is neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’… maybe that’s why I felt so weird about that sentence… maybe I shouldn’t think so much… maybe this is really boring for you… hello?)

**Unfortunately Hinojosa and Martos both have the same patron (San Bartolomé), which means their ferias fall on the same dates. Given the number of saints and the number of villages in Spain, this really is an unlucky coincidence, I would love to have gone to both parties (it’s a hard life). But considering the fact that Mum’s Spanish-Australian friend’s house (where I’m staying), happens to be in Martos, which just so happens to be the hometown of a colleague from Hinojosa who I get along well with (and whos’s family are lovely and welcoming and have a pool)… I think I’m still doing pretty well in the ‘lucky coincidence’ stakes!