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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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.



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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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I lied about not having a castle

After a recent trip to Vienna, I wrote about how my Austrian friend grew up in a small village with a castle on a hill. What was originally intended to be a piece of  ‘travel writing’, somehow turned into a jealous rant… because I decided that I wanted a castle too.

The funny thing is, I’ve got one.

The Alcazar of Segovia was originally an Arab fortress built upon Roman ruins, and has since been converted into a royal palace, a prison, a royal artillery college and a military academy. It was the refuge of Queen Isabel of Spain during the 15th century, and it’s more recent claim to fame is that it was the inspiration behind Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

I’ve been living in Segovia for nearly nine months now, and the Alcazar hasn’t ceased to impress me. It’s not just that it’s a beautiful building, it’s the way it’s situated… tall and proud on the edge of a rocky outcrop, like a giant stone fairytale pirate ship, or something.

Due to a recent improvement in the weather (and my orientation skills), I’ve been doing a bit more running of late, and some of the different routes allow me to see the Alcazar from different angles. As a result, the castle now seems more familiar. I recognise the turrets and stonework, just as I recognise the twists and bends of Segovia’s sidestreets. I’m no longer a gawking tourist, I’m a part of the city… I know my way round, I have a role in society, a routine, a  local bar, a favourite spot in the libray, and a preferred cafe. And now, the Alcazar is familiar enough that I really do consider it ‘my castle’.

Here’s a happy snap I took this afternoon. Just after I took the photo, there was an impressive bolt of lightning in the background. If only I had been a fraction slower!

The Alcazar of Segovia