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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Day 20 – Salamanca (University)

The morning started out on the right foot with churros con chocolate.  Churros are deep fried dough, almost donut-like, that one dips in a mug of chocolate…mmmm.  With a full stomach and higher cholesterol, we were off to tour Salamanca University.  The room that stands out to me the most is the library.  We could only peek in the doorway, but it was still amazing and beautiful.  Books & globes were at eye level and a beautifully painted ceiling above. I doubt that I would get any studying done in that library.  I would just spend my time daydreaming and looking around. Also worth noting were the hallway ceilings decorated with Moorish designs.  As a geometry teacher, this style is an absolute delight!  Their style was focused on repetitive shapes and designs with gorgeous colors, which will be so much more interesting for my students to study.

Our evening paseo proved to be a long walk on the look-out for more geometric shapes.  We started in the University garden then continued to walk around the city.  We found fountains, parks and churches along the way.  Ultimately we ended back at Plaza Mayor as we needed to document this space in the daylight.  I’m really excited for my students to work with the photos, videos, and model in the 2D and 3D units!

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Day 19 – Salamanca (Estaban and Roman Bridge)

The Monastery Estaban, another beautiful building!  This has another gorgeous cloister, with great geometric shapes, gentle breezes and birds chirping – a few of my favorite things!  The church in this monastery was massive and had a glimmering gold altar. I continue to be taken aback by the size of these buildings! And not only one, there are several.  It’s unreal.  There was a large collection of maps drawn in the 1500’s and 1600’s.  The maps are intricate and beautifully decorated.  Similar to Sevilla, we were not allowed to photograph in that area and they didn’t have any books that contained these images. I really enjoyed looking at these maps, but left a bit disappointed that I would have nothing to share with my students.

In the evening we hiked down the hillside to the Roman Bridge.  It is a pedestrian-only bridge so we had could wander without worrying.  We crossed the bridge then went down below to take a closer look.  It is strange walking on a bridge that is so old and so many feet have passed over.  This simple bridge will be a great contrast for my students to the bridges in Porto.

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Day 18 – Salamanca (Old &New Cathedral)

With a few days to spend in Salamanca we slowed our pace and stopped to smell more of the roses. We spent the morning at the new cathedral and gardens, then the evening at the old cathedral and a train ride. Both cathedrals are massive and beautiful. I’m still taken aback each time I walk up to one of these cathedrals – so big and so much detail!  Wow!  We stumbled upon a lovely garden with grape vines, a wishing well, fragrant trees, trickling fountains, a view of the city, and a gentle breeze to cool us. It was perfect place to wander outside in the shade (the sun in brutal). Post siesta we made our way back to the cathedrals, which are attached. This time we entered the old cathedral, also massive and beautiful.  This cathedral had a gorgeous and elaborate altar piece with 52 paintings telling the story of Jesus’ life.

At this point we had viewed three of the major sites in Salamanca but didn’t have a feel for the city yet.  To take care of this we boarded a motorized mini-train that gave a guided tour of the city.  Due to the combination of super bumpy roads and Spanish only explanations, the train ride received mixed reviews.  It did help us prioritize what else we wanted to see and helped orient us a little more.

Our day had started with a run along the river and ended on a chair in Plaza Mayor.  We tried a restaurant down a side street for tapas then went back into the plaza for ice cream and to watch the world go by.

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Day 17 – Salamanca (Plaza Mayor)

Planes, trains, and automobiles – we were off to Salamanca.  We arrived on an extremely hot day when everyone in their right mind was hiding away.  We rolled our suitcases and dripped with sweat as we made our way to our hotel.  The importance of a siesta was again reinforced.  We rested and studied our maps until the heat broke around 7.  Then we were out the door to get a feel of the city.

A main sight in Salamanca is its Plaza Mayor.  I have made it around to a number of plazas at this point, and Plaza Mayor quickly became my favorite.  We slowly walked around the Plaza appreciating the statues of famous Castilians, the town hall, the grand clock, the square niches and colonnades. With a large open space in the middle, it was easy to imagine when bullfights were held in the square (through 1893).  The plaza has always been, and is still, a place for the people to chat, eat, and watch the world go by.  As the sun began to set people poured into the plaza, the tables began to fill and a feeling of delight came over me. Being a part of this nightly ritual was one of the highlights of my trip so far.  There were two lovely surprises. Since it was a Wednesday night, I did not expect to hear any music in the plaza. I was very happy to be mistaken. There was a group of men singing, playing stringed instruments, and dressed in velvet pants, black capes and leggings. ‘Tuna music’ was a tradition from the 1400s – 1700s for the poor students to play and sing in the plaza to earn money for their education.  The music is a little hard to describe…there were songs that reminded me of waltzes and jigs and others folk songs to which all the Spaniards sang along.  I sat with a smile on my face, enjoying the gentle breeze and the lively music, when the second surprise occurred.  When it became dusk they turned on the lights around the plaza and everyone cheered!  You may think I’m overreacting, but it was beautiful!  The whole plaza glowed in a golden-tone adding magic to the air.  I already love Salamanca!

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Day 16 – Porto

On my last morning in Porto I was off to a boat tour of the six Porto bridges. I searched for an in depth tour and this boat tour was the best to be found.  We cruised up the Douro River, then back down towards the ocean.  Of the six bridges in Porto, two bear striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  It was not surprising to find that one of the bridges was designed by Eiffel himself, and the other by his protégé.  I was able to take wonderful photographs and video from numerous vantage points to use with the students.  Both of these bridges have triangles, rectangles, trapezoids, and rectangular prisms that we will be able to pick apart for calculations.  Unfortunately the informational piece of the tour was very general and not interactive.  A positive point is that the tour was given in several languages and will be great for my students to listen to as we view the recordings of the bridges.

The rest of the day was spent in the more mundane aspects of traveling as we were will be back in Spain tomorrow.

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Day 15 – Porto

Today’s exploration of Porto focused on the Se Cathedral.  It is a formidable structure overlooking the city.  The outside and main cathedral area provided more examples of columns that will work well in my curriculum.  Yet what made this cathedral stand out from others were the lovely cloisters.  Along the walls of the cloister are beautiful blue and white painted tiles.  This type of tile is common in Portugal and this cloister houses some of the highest quality of tiles – gorgeous! Within the cloister was a square surrounded by arches and columns and other geometric shapes. A great geometric example, plus a peaceful atmosphere…wonderful!

The Se Cathedral took most of our time today, yet there were a couple other highlights. We visited the Carmelitas Church, which is a beautiful example of Baroque design.  We also came upon a bookstore with an amazing staircase and woodwork, the Livaria Lello.  I love, love, love bookstores, so this was a wonderful treat!

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