Part of the beauty of Madrid is its proximity to several glorious Spanish cities and vacation destinations. Granted, most of these are better reserved for the warmer months with their tropical pleasures and sprawling sandy beaches. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get around to visiting a fair few of them. But the ones I did merited a mention.
There’s something intrinsically charming about trains, especially in Europe, which might just be the only continent, where you can simply hop on trains and transit between different landscapes and countries. Despite my previous complaints about public transport complexities, I've developed a fondness for long journeys on trains, or comfy buses. Picture this: a long ride, pleasant dissociation, gazing out the window with whimsical musical soundtracks playing in the background (currently, a mix of New West, Griff, and the Cannons). Now, back to the main point.
Technically, València should warrant its own weekend, but hasty planning, and a lot of the Airbnbs being sold out resulted in it being a day trip. We did leave on a 7 a.m. train and returned via the 8:30 p.m., courtesy of Omio trains, so it was indeed a whole day at Valencia. This was, of course, the first trip of the semester, which brought with it its own excitement. With its nouveau modernistic architecture, palm tree-lined boardwalks, myriads of ice cream and beach shops, and quaint quirky buildings, València combines an interesting blend of Madrid’s city life with a beach town aesthetic. It’s easy to forget it’s Spain’s third-largest commercial city. The dome-shaped hemispherical shell of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is certainly an imposing sight in person, sleek, modern, and ever so blue, as the water reflects the skies. L’oceanografic is very oddly reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, although its arches were definitely constructed with a mathematical focus. While another day in the city would have warranted a visit inside, I think we all elected to soak in the beaches. The biggest is the Playa de los Arenas, although it later merges into El Cabanyal. With its sandy shores, warm blue water, frothy waves, and shacks selling Sangrias and beverages along the boardwalk, it is truly a spot where you can simply let yourself be. Gelato, croissants, and fresh seafood bowls from beachside restaurants are a must-try, offering a brunch with a seaside view.
I could spend all day every day on a beach and still not be satisfied, so this was pretty much a perfect day for me, wrapped up with a quick trip to a Mango Outlet.
Heads up: there are no Ubers in Valencia; there are, of course, hundreds of taxis as soon as you get out of the train station and in the more central areas. But traverse to the interior, and your chances are significantly reduced. The buses are extremely convenient, however, and only €2.50 to ride. They can get crowded. A combination of a tour group, vacationers, and a professional group going on an outing resulted in us getting on an extremely packed bus and our bus driver speeding past stops to prevent more passengers from attempting to force their way onto the bus.
Avila - A Field Trip with IES Abroad
Avila is a tiny town, just a two-hour drive from Madrid. The day of our trip was a rather miserable one, rainy and windy with downcast skies. Leaving our rooms at 7 a.m. was enough of an ordeal after just three days in Madrid, and missing to glance at the forecast, I arrived unfortunately bereft of a jacket or an umbrella. Our bus rides were definitely full of soft slumbers, and muted conversations. The first half of the day, I spent curling in on myself to conserve heat. Walking along the bridge that wraps along the city, I remember only thinking of how absolutely freezing cold I was. As soon as I managed to get my hands on a steaming cappuccino, and an oozing chocolate croissant, and midday arrived, and the sun hit the skies, quieting the gushes. However, my mood was improved, just in time to hit the city center. Fortuitously, we happened to be visiting on the day of the medieval festival. Taking place only on the first weekend of September.
It was a medieval enthusiast’s dream come true: archery reenactments, dueling knights, eagles and ravens perched on gold guilds, streets and archways draped in tapestries covered with coat of arms, and of course, a glorious parade; not one element was lacking. An hour-long procession through the main town- with everyone from the age of four to 80 participating, dressed to the nines in resplendent garb, representing a different clan- sprites, nymphs, royalty, imps, elves, it felt like being on set for BBC’s Merlin, albeit a high production, high budget version. The whole city seemed ALIVE and JOYOUS with medieval spirit. Visiting on any other day would have definitely been a loss.
While I wish we’d had time to explore the local markets, and sample some of the mystic delicacies, it was a cute trip!
Haunted by my trip to Avila, where I walked around shivering and half-drenched. I was prepared this time around, arming myself with an umbrella (hastily purchased in the metro station), and a trusty cardigan, only for dark cloudy skies to give way to sunny temperatures almost immediately. I guess you really can’t control the weather. Bus company Avanza services a two-hour bus to Segovia from the Moncloa Metro Station every hour or so. The tickets are odd in the way that they seem to have no bus number or station printed on them, converting them into an intriguing game of "I Spy: with deductive reasoning to follow. While this is instantly simplified in the metropolitan, brightly lit station of Moncloa, where bus numbers and destinations are clearly printed on the different islas (platforms); in Segovia, it is a bit of a task. Our bus dropped us off at what I assumed to be the entrance to Segovia, not at what we later learned was the central bus station. If you didn’t quite catch the subtle hints- we missed our bus back. Missed might not be the best word choice, since we spent about a half hour running along the streets of Segovia, racing from one public bus stop to another (Google Maps deserves a one-star rating for navigating the inner streets). It turns out the bus station is neatly tucked underneath the major streets, nestled behind the police station. When we arrived, panting and embarrassed, it was precisely 10 minutes past our departure. What followed was a halting discussion with an extremely kind ticketing agent who readily switched our tickets to a later departure (my extremely limited Spanish conversation skills couldn’t quite keep up with her discourse, but I assume from her giggles, that she was amused - Avanza bus, your tickets could have been as helpful as your ticketing agents.) Nevertheless, Segovia is an enchanting city, full of architectural wonders. You can definitely see the Roman influence in the aqueducts and Cathedrals.
The Castle was my favorite, however. It is claimed to be one of Walt Disney’s inspirations for the famous Cinderella Castle, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. With the beautiful rolling hills in the background, arched spires, and a whimsical fountain out front, you can see the vision. It did, however, feel more reminiscent of Rapunzel’s castle to me, with the stooping towers. Interestingly, it also helped finance Christopher Columbus’s first voyage. There’s also an enchanting park that runs along the castle’s fortress walls, with a draw bridge running over short streams, and mushroom patches. (I apologize for the second niche reference, but I just cannot resist If you’ve watched Once Upon A Time on the ABC network, it looks exactly like Snow White’s Castle, the Troll Bridge, and the Enchanted Forest.)
That’s it for now. I would have included more pictures, but recent events have made it impossible. Catch you in the next one!
More Blogs From This Author
My name is Eeshta Bhatt and I'm originally from Mumbai, India. An avid reader, writer, and dancer; you are most likely to find me sipping coffee with a fantasy fiction novel, watching a murder mystery or charting out new runnining trails.