So, first long excursion with the BeE group down! Six cities in five days…yes it’s as exhausting as it sounds, but I can’t deny how enriching and culturally moving it was to visit each place!
We left early Tuesday morning, around 8:35 a.m. to start the seven-hour bus ride to Segovia. After arriving and getting our room assignments, we headed out on a guided tour of the city, starting with the Cathedral located in the main plaza (La Plaza Mayor) about 50 feet from our hotel. It is a Gothic style, Roman Catholic cathedral built in the 16th and 17th centuries and is the last Gothic cathedral constructed in Spain. It is lined with 20 chapels, capillas in Spanish, and the owners were the nobility in Segovia. The cloisters were gorgeous and opened into well-lit gardens. The outside of the cathedral was very ornate and detailed. This was most certainly one of my favorite cathedrals that I have visited thus far.
Next, we visited the Alcazar of Segovia, meaning fortress castle. It is, in fact, the inspiration for the Disney Princess Castle! It was quite amazing, especially the view from the top. I loved how the view from one side of the castle was green land and on the other side it was the snow capped Guadarrama Mountains. It was a gorgeous view at about the time of sunset.
- Last stop in Segovia was the aqueduct. This was BY FAR my favorite part. The Aqueduct is a huge roman structure of over 23,000 stones that provided water to Segovia, mainly to the Alcazar. It worked until the year 1956 (!!) and it is possible to make a part of it work even today.
Wednesday morning, we were up early to hit the road and make our first stop of the day in Avila. We visited the Cathedral, which was the first Gothic cathedral to be constructed in Spain around the year 1091. This was an interesting fact since we visited the last constructed Gothic cathedral of Spain in Segovia the day before. We also ate yemas, a custard candy made from an egg yolk (yema in Spanish) and milk and then coated with sugar. I am not a fan of them but there are people who travel specifically to Avila to have these pastry/candies.
Salamanca was next on the list, and also where we spent the night. After dropping our luggage off in the hotel, we took a guided tour of the city. We stopped in La Plaza Mayor which was right near our hotel. It is a baroque style plaza and is considered one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain. It is a common meeting area for the people of Salamanca, under the main clock, and you can definitely get the feeling it is the heart of the city. I found it interesting the the plaza is in the shape of a trapezoid and not a square which is how it seems. Also, the buildings are made of golden stones.
From here, we walked to the cathedrals of Salamanca known as La Catedral Vieja (The Old Cathedral) and La Catedral Nueva (The New Cathedral), and which are connected by one wall. This is an interesting feature because they are the only two cathedrals in Spain to be constructed next to each other and to share a common wall. The reason for this is because the students used to take their classes in the cathedral and once the number of students increased, they needed more space so they constructed the second one. In the old cathedral, the fresco “The Final Judgement” by Dello Delli is in the apse. The figures in white are those who will be going to Heaven and those on the side in the green lizards mouth are going to Hell. One of the chapels we visited was used as an exam room for students who were studying to be doctors in a subject. They were required to spend 24 hours straight in the room studying the day before their two hour exam in front of a panel of professors. They had to sit in a chair at the end of the tomb of the bishop and place their feet on his with the belief that his knowledge would be transferred to them by way of the feet. If the student passed the exam, they would exit the cathedral through the large door in the front and had to invite those waiting outside to a meal and to a bull match. If they failed, they left through the small door in the back of the cathedral and were tossed in a blanket.
Next, we visited La Antigua Universidad (The Old University). The classrooms were lined with uncomfortable looking wooden benches, and the professors stand was at the front of the room. In the old days, the wealthier students sat in the front and the poorest in the back. Also, the students didn’t take notes…they simply listened to the professor give a lecture. The chapel was very beautiful and it is where students of the University of Salamanca are able to get married. I happened to love the library, with the old feeling and antique books. It was so cool.
On the outside of the building, there is a legend that the students who are able to find the small frog without any help from anyone, that student will be blessed with good luck. We found the frog, buuuut with a little help from a travel guide book. On the buildings behind us in the courtyard were the names of bullfighters written in the blood of the bull they killed. It was a little disturbing but interesting all the same.
Thursday we left for Madrid. First stop was the hotel and then the Museum Reina Sofia, which houses modern art. One of the most famous works I got to see was Guernica, which for those of you who don’t know, is a painting by Picasso about the Spanish Civil War. It is enormous (!) and I was not expecting it. I have studied this painting in more than one Spanish class at Bucknell and there is so much that goes into analyzing it that, like our tour guide said, we could be sitting there for two hours discussing the use of color and the position of each person. Some things I didn’t know: Guernica was completed in 46 days and Picasso’s lover at the time actually took photos of each stage of the process. In fact, the pictures are on the wall across from the painting. Next, we saw some paintings of Salvador Dali who was a surrealist painter. One of his most famous works is called The Persistence of Memory. Unfortunately, this wasn’t in the Reina Sofia but the other were cool to see.
We began Friday at the Royal Palace, which is the official residence for the King and Queen of Spain; however, they live in the Palaca of Zarzuela, situated in the outskirts of Madrid. The Palace Royal is used for ceremonies and comprises 2,800 rooms. It is of neoclassic and baroque decor.
Next we visited the Prado Museum, which is home to more art from the 12th to 19th century. We visited the rooms of Fracisco de Goya, Diego Velazquez, and El Greco. Here is a little info on each painter:
- El Greco is know for his mystical paintings. His signature in the paintings are the elongated bodies and the form of the hands. The middle two fingers are normally painted next to each other with the other separated. El Greco considered the painting entitled La Adoracion de los Pastores (The Adoration of the Shepards) to be his best work. If you look at the painting, it seems the child illuminates the whole scene. It was quite impressive in person.
- Velazquez was an impressionist painting and is most well known for the paintings: Los Borrachos (The Drunkards), La Fragua del Volcano (The Forge of the Vulcano), and Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour). The latter has about 400 pages of analysis written on it, thus it is quite open to individual review.
- Goya was a romantic painter and is well known for his paintings La Familia de Carlos IV (The Family of Carlos the fourth) and El Tres de Mayo de 1808 en Madrid (The Third of May in Madrid).
Saturday was the last day and it was spent in the lovely city of Toledo. We visited the Synagogue, Cathedral, and Santo Tome where the full painting El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz) by El Greco is housed.
I think it’s safe to say my favorite cities were Segovia and Salamanca. Madrid is WAY too big for me to want to study abroad there and Toledo was quite small, although full of history. It was a great trip and I am excited for our excursion this weekend to the Alhambra!