Although the first month here in Spain has yet to end, as I sit here on the corner cafe of Calle Nunez de Balboa, I cannot help but to marvel at what's been going on, and the pace of events - which has basically been to arrive in Madrid after an 8-hour flight and hit the ground running. Breaks? Pausing to catch your breath? Taking it easy? Staying in? Haven't heard of her. However I know you, dear reader, aren't exactly here to hear about my hustling and bustling morning commute as I jockey for the prime real-estate on the subway benches or how walking and public transportation is our God here. That'll come in the next post if anything.
No dear reader, I'm here to talk to you about some of the field trips, some of our little day-long (weekend long in the case of Bilbao & San Sebastian) excursions deep into the country that you know and I love, Spain.
Right off the bat - within the first two weeks of arrival, we spent an entire day in Segovia - known throughout the world for its mighty fortress the Alcazar de Segovia, its ancient Roman Aqueduct, and one of the last Gothic-style cathedrals built in the mid-16th century
Once again, I'll reiterate the point that there was a lot of walking - which makes sense when one considers the town is a window into the past. Yes, there are roads and cars and we arrived there by bus, but the town and the castle itself are anachronisms; windows into a past era of knights and religious orders, kings and conquests, of taverns and hard work in the fields. Our tour guide, Mario, was enthusiastic and funny, the kind of energy that‘s infectious and had us walking up the gated path in leaps and bounds. Mario cheerfully explained how the design of the castle was such that attacking soldiers would be forced into awkward positions, changing their shields from their left to their right hand to defend from incoming projectiles; what was once a battleground was now a wide avenue, and we had to pause as some cars came down. It makes you pause to consider how much things have changed since, and appreciate the creature comforts we too often take for granted.
Upon reaching the top of the hill where the castle is situated, the first thing one notes is the tower of John II - the dominating feature of visigothic brickwork that forms the main entry into the castle once we passed the moat. From there, Mario led us on a tour of the rooms briefly explaining the history and origins of each. And yes, we saw the Throne Room with the Imperial insignia.
The rest of Segovia was just as impressive - as we walked through winding and narrow medieval streets we eventually came across the plaza mayor of the city, the main square. There we took a moment to rest, collect ourselves and have some astoundingly delicious ice cream.
From there we toured the rest of the city, before finally opening up another main plaza and roadway, where the massive and ancient Roman Aqueduct stretched over. When I say that it commands your attention and respect, I mean it. Not to put down el Alcazar by any means, but the Aqueduct is just under 2,000 years old - and built using only the stones that compose it and sheer ingenuity. No concrete, just gravity and precise mathematics. It is awesome, in the original sense of the word - you feel tiny in its shadow. The arches, though weathered, make you question where might you be in 2,000 years: not that you’ll have an answer for them. I certainly didn't.
Another week would pass before we were off again; Bilbao and San Sebastian were equally as incredible, although in different ways. Both are in el Pais Vasco - the Basque country. Bilbao itself is an old city with a new look. Wide avenues and tram lines intersected medieval streets, old brickwork from the houses and apartments were kept clean and tidy. With the selection of Bilbao to host the Guggenheim Museum, the city began to flourish again after struggling in the years after the Francoist era (as our friend, guide, and recurring character Mario explained). And yes, we did have an opportunity to go in the museum. Follow-up, if you get the opportunity, go. Don’t question it, just go.
We spent our saturday in San Sebastian, another jewel on Spain’s northern coast, a stone’s throw away from the French border. The city was humming with activity - it was game day, and Real Sociedad was playing against Real Madrid, and the Basques, proud as they are, were dressed for the occasion. Every bar, tavern, meson, and restaurant was packed with fans waiting for the game to begin, and once it did, the roar of chants and passionate voices was omnipresent; the city was alive.
But that was not our main draw to San Sebastian, instead we went to the beach. The cold waters of the Cantabrian Sea are a far cry from the warmth of the beaches back home, but that didn’t stop me from going in. It was absolutely idyllic, not a single cloud in the sky, with the mountains framing the bay and every type of skiff, trimaran, ferry, and sailboat out in force. My only complaint is that we were gone too soon.
But for a weekend getaway, nothing could have been better. Between the three it would be hard to pick a favorite, so I’ll refrain from doing so. Needless to say though, each city is otherworldly in the best way possible. Segovia is ancient, proud, and speaks to the long and royal history of Spain; Bilbao points towards the country’s various peoples, Basque flags draped on almost every balcony; San Sebastian demonstrates the idyllic and enchanting side of Spain - of pristine beaches and long lovely days tasting the seabreeze underneath the Spanish sun. I’m sure you get the idea.
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<p>Well as you can tell from the headshot I used, I don't take myself overly seriously. I'm twenty years old and a son of Cuban exiles, born and raised in Miami, Florida. I have a particularly interesting outlook on the world - one brought about by the Cuban heritage I take with me (and maybe one or two run-ins with my own mortality, but no biggie!) for living well and loving life unpretentiously and earnestly. The experience of friendships, connections, experiences, and memories are what drive me to make the most of wherever I am, and explore everything - the people, the history and culture, the problems we all face, and that we are all fundamentally more alike than different. I'm a junior at Bates College, majoring in Politics with the idea of one day getting into law and leaving the world a bit better than I found it. On the off chance that I'm not working or studying, I like throwing myself into anything that seems like a challenge, regardless of whatever it is. On my off time, I like being able to just sit outside and soak in the day or night, relax, and appreciate the world around me.</p>