Planes, trains and automobiles: Madrid and Segovia

Breaking last year’s pattern, I didn’t take a laptop or netbook with me on this year’s summer holiday. I knew I hadn’t given up on this blog, but thought I didn’t have the time for it. But since I deactivated my Facebook, I’ve had a lot more time to do genuinely productive things – from cooking, to going outside and enjoying myself, and now being able to commit to this blog.

Myself and my family flew from Bristol this time – the first regional airport I’ve flown from in years. It was actually pretty pleasant because all I had to do was get on the bus from my house, rather than take a coach/train etc. Everything went smoothly until we got to Madrid and experienced the world’s worst car hire company (Firefly, 10/10 would not recommend). Then we drove round Madrid’s old town, repeatedly, and completely by accident. Beautiful though it is, hiring a car in a city is nearly always a recipe for disaster!

However, the hotel was in an excellent location, right next to the Mercado de San Miguel and the medieval Plaza Mayor. Walking around to de-stress, I also enjoyed a sangria, which are much better in Spain than they are in the UK. Perhaps not a surprise, since the main thing at home is quantity as opposed to quality, at least when it comes to alcohol.

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The Plaza Mayor was beautifully lit and had some sort of thing going on. Can’t be more specific than that, unfortunately.

Since walking is my favourite thing, that’s what we did the next day. Plus, Madrid is such a walkable city, quite like Budapest I suppose. Most of the stuff you want to see is within 20 minutes’ walk, or there’s a good metro system. They banned manspreading on public transport while I was out there, but unfortunately we didn’t use it, so couldn’t celebrate with all the other women sick of being squished into corners.

Strolling through the large thoroughfares and plentiful parks (Madrid has the post trees per head than any other city in the world, allegedly), we walked right past the Prado gallery, since fine art is lost on my family. Instead, we made a bee-line for the city park, which was beautiful. It reminded me of the Boboli gardens in Florence. Italianate in style, but Spanish in flavour, you could spend a day relaxing there. Sadly, we missed out on boating in the lake, but I did get the only decent picture of me this entire trip:

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I bought this shirt from Levi’s for £40. Worth every penny.

I did miss having another young friend with me, to take dope holiday snaps.

Later that day, the weather cooled off. Like, really cooled off. Almost as bad as the UK summer – it even looked like a thunderstorm at one point. Regardless, Dad was keen to show me the delights of a segway tour. Since I wasn’t paying, I readily agreed, and we set off.

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Bloody yellow bin and helmet ruining the shot. Or am I the real trash? Discuss…

We zipped around the old town with our helpful guide, who told us all about Madrid’s history. It’s a fascinating place, and interesting too just how much Islamic influence has disappeared from the modern city. The main sight on this tour was the Palacio Real, i.e. the Spanish version of Buckingham Palace. King Felipe lives there. As monarchs go, he’s quite handsome, and his house is pretty nifty too…

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Me? Gold digger? No…

That evening, we went in search of a restaurant, which was harder than it sounds. I’m vegetarian so Spain is like hell. My mum doesn’t like fish, rice, or anything spicy. Where are the Italian restaurants when you need them? I think countries with bad food, i.e. the UK, are more open to food of other cultures because we need variety from our own stodgy diet. Not the case in Spain, sadly. I ate my first plate of garlic mushrooms – a dish I’d be eating until it practically came out of my ears.

Now, since me and mum are suckers for a fairytale, we took the trouble of driving out of the city to see Segovia. Across the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains lies this picturesque town, complete with Roman aqueduct and Disney castle. Again, it was somewhat chilly when we went, for me anyway. I’m a lizard so anything under about 25 is a bit nippy. But since I’m a history lover, the town made up for it.

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Like the Pont du Gard, but instead of a river, it’s a road.

Sadly, it’s a bit of a walk from the aqueduct to the castle (of Buzzfeed fame). So we drove round some more old town – hooray. We also didn’t manage to see a full view of the castle, so I only got a few shots of the outside, and as you know I am the world’s worst photographer. Here’s one of them now.

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Honestly, this really doesn’t do it justice.

There’s been a fortress on this site since the Romans, but the castle was recently rebuilt and revamped in the 19th century. That’s why it looks so Disney-like: older castles are much more rough around the edges, more practical, and less turrety. But turrets are kinda my thing, so naturally, I was in heaven. Well worth the drive.

Inside, the castle is lavishly decorated with gilding, artworks, mosaics and stonework. Every room is like something out of Shrek. I’m sure that’s probably offensive to those who built it, but honestly, I mean it as a compliment. But a picture speaks a thousand words, so here is a terrible interior shot.

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I know you’re not supposed to take pictures in these places, but I can’t be tamed.

We then climbed up the many steps to the battlements, and got some beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

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This one’s not so bad.

The weather had warmed up a bit by this time, so we decided to go back a different way. Instead of going through the mountains the boring way, we opted to drive up the winding roads and see what there was to see. We reached a ski resort, Puerto de Navacerrada, which was closed since it was summer. You can get a train here from Madrid in under two hours, which is awesome. I’ve never been skiing because of the expense, but can you imagine taking a day trip to hit the slopes, then be home in time for tea? What a cool concept.

Anyway, the view was beautiful, and nothing beats a few gasps of fresh mountain air.

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Ahhh, lovely. Nothing but nature for miles around.

But soon, it was time to say goodbye to the fresh air, and head back for the city. Via Carrefour, of course. I must say, going into supermarkets abroad is one of my favourite things to do, because you get a taste of what the locals like to eat/buy. Me and my friends do entire day trips to France from Poole (the boat takes about 3.5 hours) just to go to Carrefour and stock up. Seriously, I’m dedicated. Managed to get our hands on some American cookies, Pepperidge Farm, so that was a win.

With a belly full of cookies, I went to bed.

Our last day in Madrid was spent nosing around the Palacio Real (because unlike Buckingham Palace, you can go around it for much of the year), shopping, and touring the opera house. I also nearly got fined, but more on that later.

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So beautiful… and so symmetrical.

The Palacio Real is, as you’d expect, super grand. The King has an entire room of Stradivarius violins, for Christ’s sake. It’s interesting that a country like Spain still has a monarchy, since its neighbours Portugal and France dramatically got rid of theirs. I wonder if Spain has similar monarchist/anti-monarchist arguments. Personally I’d say Britain has bigger things to worry about, like the chaos that is Brexit and the threat of nuclear war, as well as rising violence and racial hate crimes.

Anyway, back to the palace. It’s beautiful and massive, but once you’ve seen a few grand rooms, they all start to look the same. I’d say it’s got Vatican syndrome – you’ve seen so many other incredible rooms by the time you get to the Sistine Chapel, it suddenly doesn’t seem so impressive.

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See about ten of these incredible rooms and you’ll be bored stiff.

The gardens, however, are another matter. They have a lovely French-style Versailles garden, which is the one you’d generally go around first. It’s symmetrical, like the palace itself. Walk about a mile down the hill (because they won’t let you into the closest entrance) and you can explore the English-style garden, a vast woodlands which seems wild, but is most definitely not. Here, peacocks roam free, and run the roost.

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Shake your tail feather.

We then toured the opera house, since I went round the Opera Garnier a few years back and was impressed. I’m biased, though, because Phantom of the Opera is my favourite musical. The Teatro Real was interesting in a different sense, because of how it operates – behind the scenes are several floors of equipment, all directly above the stage. Below it, too, floors and floors of props in the basement. The guide was a cantankerous old bloke who didn’t like King Felipe because he didn’t visit the opera much, and preferred Guns ‘n’ Roses, apparently.

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This is the box where the guide wished the King would sit.

I grabbed a vegetarian paella. Madrid actually has quite a few good veggie/vegan joints, but you really have to look for them. I don’t think it was for me, but it was quite nice, and at least I’d tried the local food.

In the evening, me and Dad went for a walk to see the ancient Egyptian ruins gifted to Spain in 1968. The Temple of Debod was build in the Ptolemaic era, so it’s not really Egyptian, but Greek masquerading as such. But hey, who’s complaining. It’s mainly famous for its reflective pool, which looks beautiful at all times of day, but particularly at sunset.

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Seeing other people paddle in its green and murky waters, I thought I’d have a go. It seemed legit, since everybody else was doing it. I went in for a few seconds, got my pictures, then got out. Just in time, as it turns out – the police came around the corner a few seconds later, sounding their horn, because you’re not allowed to paddle there after all. The guy next to me got fined, but even though I was clearly suspicious, I legged it just in time. What a thrill!

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DEFINITELY NOT LEGAL.

On the way home, we walked through the Plaza de España, which is a bit like New York in that it’s surrounded by skyscrapers. Continuing along the Gran Via, we came across something incredible – Spanish Primark. Since I was such a dedicated customer in my teens, I just had to see it. I thought it was a Spanish company, but apparently it’s an Irish one. Anyway, it was a curiosity, and it had some crazy stuff in it.

We rounded off our trip in the Puerta del Sol, a modern square that’s recently been the centre of demonstrations. A guy was making money out of this sign, and he was cute, so we did actually pay him. If he’s out there, and is reading this, here’s me by the sign (admittedly not looking my best in those sandals…)

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I’ll hashtag it too, for super easy stalking: #frommadridwithlove!

Saying goodbye to our lovely hotel in the Plaza del Conde Miranda, we got to bed early, as we had a long drive to Lisbon the next day. It was also my birthday. So I ate more cookies to treat myself and went to sleep. What? I was just making up for all that walking…


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