Day 24 – Segovia and Madrid

I woke up this morning wondering where the time had gone – the last day of my Fund for Teachers adventure.  We began the day with a ‘Segovian breakfast’, consisting of a couple fried eggs, café con leche, and two varieties of jamon.  This nourished us for some last minute souvenir shopping and a walk down the main street for a final view of the Roman Aqueduct.

Soon thereafter we were on a high-speed train for a quick, 30-minute ride to Madrid.  Since we had a very early flight the next morning, we dropped our bags and high-tailed it into the city.  To finish off our exploration of palaces, we toured the Royal Palace in Madrid.  It happened to be the day that EU students entered for free, so the palace was bustling. This palace is extravagant, and a bit over the top for my taste.  Without a doubt, it feels like a place where a hoity-toity king and queen would show off their wealth.  We closed down the place and walked over to Plaza Mayor.  It’s another nice plaza, but couldn’t beat out the one in Salamanca.  Despite expensive food and waiters calling out to lure in business, we still enjoyed a seat in the midst of the hustle and bustle.  When the sun went down the plaza had a lovely soft glow.  We got a kick out of the strange street entertainers while we walked along the perimeter to savor our last night in Spain.  We ended our evening with gelato from the nearby market.  Hands-down, the best gelato we had in Spain, which was no easy feat.

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Day 23 – El Escorial and La Granja

Today was an adventure! I mentioned earlier that we decided to cut out a visit to Avila with the purpose of seeing other geometrically rich sites, including El Escorial and La Granja.  To make it to both locations we rented a car and I tried my hand at driving in Spain.  It was a manual, which I last practiced as my parents’ chauffer in Ireland 7 years ago.  My mom said it’s just like riding a bike, yet after stalling at the first roundabout I wasn’t so sure.  A few unfriendly cars behind tried to shake my confidence to no avail. I was quickly revving the engine, back in the groove and on our way.  Google maps failed to inform us that our route to El Escorial was up one side of a mountain then down the other.  It was a little daunting, but provided a gorgeous view of the area.  We hadn’t ventured outside of a city yet, so this was a welcomed change of pace.  One of my hopes has been to spend some time in rural Spain to explore the small towns, build relationships with the locals, and distance myself from the standard tourist activities. This drive is the closest I’ve gotten this dream (yet) and I enjoyed every second of it.

We ended up in El Escorial, a magnificent palace with art and architecture museums.  The only disappointment was that we couldn’t take any photos.  On the basement level there was an exquisite display of the plans, blueprints and models used to build this extraordinary building, a geometry teacher’s dream come true. I tried to soak in as much as I could in room after room of this architectural museum.  Without a photo to take with me, my heart broke as I left.  It still makes me sad.  Attached to this room were the tools used by the builders when constructing this space.  My dad was an excellent resource in explaining how these tools would have been used and what tools are still used today.  He should have been the tour guide through this area, because his insight was invaluable!  The building was vast with so much to see – a wonderful art collection, a gorgeous cathedral, tombs of Spanish royalty, the living quarters of the kings and queens, a plaza…wow!  I had to go back out to the car twice to refill the meter and I bet we could have stayed longer if we didn’t have one more stop for the day.  (In case you’re wondering, they did not have any book, pamphlet or photos of the architectural museum…so disappointing.)

Back in the car, up the mountain and down again to our next stop, La Granja, also known as ‘Little Versailles’.  We were too late to enter the palace but the gardens were still open.  This was an excellent formal garden area to document for the 3D unit.  We worked our way around the gardens and thought were almost finished, then we found a map.  And we were wrong.  Very, very wrong.  We may have walked a quarter of the gardens and that is being generous.  Unfortunately we had to return our rental car, so I left with a frown.  It’s odd to spend the day seeing amazing things and then to leave with a heavy heart because it had to come to an end.

It was a race to make it to the car rental agency before closing time.  We beat the buzzer, barely.  We walked back down to the Roman Aqueduct to watch the sun set and enjoy our last meal in Segovia.  It was over too soon.

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Day 22 – Segovia (Cathedral, Roman Aqueduct)

We started the day with a walk-about to explore the smaller churches in the town. Since it was Monday several were closed, and the few that should have been open were closed for renovations.  Nonetheless, I captured some nice outer photos of Segovian architecture, got a better feel for the city, and worked through my disappointment with a cone of turron gelato. (Turron is a type of honey, almond nougat found in Spain and, oh, so delicious as an ice cream flavor!)

Feeling better, we walked back up the hills to take a closer look at the cathedral.  It is strikingly similar to the new cathedral in Salamanca, yet not as big nor as ornately decorated. If we had visited this one first, I have not doubt it would have blown us away.  Yet since it came after Salamanca’s cathedral we were less impressed. A benefit of its smaller size is it was easier to explore without feeling overwhelmed or tired half way through. They did have a few beautiful paintings in the side chapels and a lovely cloister, which we really enjoyed.  I have come to love walking around the peaceful cloisters in these cathedrals.  Protected from the heat of the sun, I stroll with a quiet mind just outside of a lovely square garden listening to birds singing and enjoying a cool breeze.  Up to this point, the cloisters have been the highlight of each cathedral I’ve visited.

The sun was high in the sky and hot on our brows yet we pushed through to take a closer look at the city walls. We were sweltering, so we didn’t have the energy to walk along them today nor stay very long.  We walked to the edge and looked along the walls in both directions thinking about what they had kept out in years past. It is something else to be inside of a city that is enclosed by walls and leads to many thoughts of medieval times, battles, raids and the like.

We let the sun pass through the sky during our siesta then walked down to the Roman Aqueduct. Oh my goodness!  At 100 feet tall, the sight of it took us all aback!  We walked up to one side, back down and up the stairs to the other side.  I am so excited to put this structure to use in my geometry class!  My dad had some wonderful insights into how they may have constructed it and what tools they may have used that I can’t wait to share with my students!

On the way back up to the hotel there was one more building that made me do a double take. The Casa de los Picos, a 15th century building that is covered in square pyramids.  Square pyramids, you say??  Why, yes, square pyramids!  No doubt it is an odd choice, but from a geometry teacher’s point of view, it’s awesome! Take a look at the photos to see what I mean.

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Day 21 – Segovia (Alcazar)

We were up bright and early to catch the bus to Segovia. It was sad driving away from Salamanca, but another adventure was ahead of us. We drove through Avila on the way and captured a few photos of the city walls. Originally I planned to visit this city but after more research I found Segovia would provide stronger geometric connections, so we were on our way.

We hailed a taxi to take us from the bus station to our hotel, the best decision of the day. The ride was up, up, up windy cobblestone streets. I imagined our strain, sweat and sighs if we had attempted to drag our bags up the hills. Grateful for the ride, we checked in and still had energy to explore. We started at the cathedral to experience a church service in Spain.  The bishop presided, the choir sang, the organ played, and the altar boys horsed around.  It was wonderful to see locals engaged in the cathedral’s mass to contrast our regular church companions with cameras in tow.

By the time we decided on a place for lunch, we were hot, tired and hungry…never a good combination. This combination results in a drastic drop in my ability to make decisions and communicate in Spanish.  We struggled through ordering tapas and lasagna and our spirits rose soon after.  Our next stop was the Alcazar (castle), which may be straight out of a fair tale.  I have read that this castle was the inspiration for the one in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, which I would not doubt. The outside structures are wonderful 3D geometric figures and the interior’s was filled with simple geometric patterns.  As a side note, there was a wonderful display of armor and weapons, which I’m hoping I can find a way to use in class. Our final feat was to climb the steep spiral staircase to the top of the castle tower. It is the only view like this in the city, but it is not without an effort.

By the time we grabbed sandwiches and reached our hotel, we were whooped, so we called it an early night.

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