After a long (okay, not so long) month in Valencia, the University of Virginia decided that I had worked hard enough to deserve a week vacation. I obviously wasn’t going to dispute this, and my parents, being hard working people themselves, decided to seize the day and take a vacation themselves. Utilizing our favorite Spanish resource (Alex’s family) we made plans for the week. After an awesome goodbye tapas with my friends in Valencia, I found myself on an AVE high speed train— destination Madrid.
Arriving very early, we had the entire day ahead of us. My parents and Martha fought their jet lag as we embarked on the 45-minute drive to the Escorial—the royal residence. Founded by Phillip II, it reached completion in 1584. It originally contained a monastery and a palace to house the royal family and entourage. Later it was modified to also include a school, seminary and library. The most fascinating part of the Escorial was a circular room in the basement that contained the crypts of many of the kings and queens of Spain. It is the eternal resting place of kings from Charles I to the most recently inducted Alfoson XIII who ruled in the late 1800s and early 1900s. And, for all of you book worms out there, this palace contained the most breath-taking library in the entire world. This place of magic stories and resounding knowledge was more incredible than my imagination could have concocted. Finally pried from the library’s enchanting grasp, we explored the adorable small town surrounding the Escorial. I was so excited that for a day I was able to leave the palm tress of Valencia behind and experience the leaves changing for the first time this year.
On Sunday we left the big city life of Madrid far behind us and explored the small historic town of Segovia. Famous for it’s well preserved Roman aqueducts, the small city still uses irrigation from the system. We strolled the narrow streets alongside the 2000-year-old aqueducts and arches until we happened along Segovia’s cathedral. The Cathedral of Santa María was completed in 1558 and is well known for its high vaulted gothic ceilings and structure. From the outside the building looks plain, but inside is incredible. In the center stands a huge organ and the circumference is lined with small, ornate chapels. Standing in this cathedral is a real religious experience that took my breath away. From there we moved on to the Alcazar, which is very basically a castle that was previously was surrounded by a moat. We had a great time looking around at the medieval artifacts and climbing the castles tower. My parents are even convinced that they’re going to build a courtyard like the one in the Alcazar…. We’ll see.
Never have I ever gone hungry with Silvia and Miguel. With my parents and Martha in tow, they wanted us to experience a real Segovian meal. When in Rome, right? So we drove just outside of the city to a very small town famous for it’s Segovian lamb. Here, they use an old fashioned earthen oven made for roasting lamb and pork in their own juices in the style horno a asar. I’m going to go ahead and say it was the best meal of my life. From there we headed to la granja de san ildefonso which was the royal summer residence and hunting home. A beautiful building itself, we discovered that its extensive gardens were even more beautiful.
Having Monday off, Silvia spent all of Monday as our tour guide of Madrid. We followed closely behind as she paraded us through the immaculate streets of Madrid, pointing out monuments, fountains and museums. Since my parents had never visited Madrid before, we had a copy-cat schedule of my last day in Madrid. It was the “oh, so you think you can learn Madrid in 24 hours” kind of tour. We explored the Royal Palace and the Plaza de España. Pleasantly surprised by Madrid’s beauty, my parents enjoyed taking in the architecture. When the time came, my mom and Martha went to the opera in Madrid’s opera theater and my dad, Silvia and I went to the top of the post office (which is one of the coolest buildings in Madrid, surprisingly enough) and watched the sunset from 8 stories above.
Saying goodbye is never fun, but it’s a little bit better when it’s done over dinner. Rosa, Alvaro, Lucia and Christina had us over for a late dinner at their place and we enjoyed home cooked Spanish food and the best conversation with our Spanish family. Bright and early we bid Madrid farewell and boarded our train to Seville.