Friday, 22 June 2012

Pigs, piglets, dizzy heights and sparrows

[health warning re later food pictures for rabid vegetarians]

 I pitched up in Segovia last night, and decided I couldn't actually be bothered to move out of range of the van - instead I pitched up the camping chairs, dug out a stale loaf of bread and set to work engendering a battle royale in the local sparrow community. Nearly 3 hours flew by just watching the males disputing bread rights, and a number of the poor female sparrows being royally conned by their beloved fledglings - who mostly were larger than their mothers, and came up begging desperately, waited till Mama fed them, then grabbed not only the nicely prepared morsel, but also the whole hunk of bread and flew away rapidly to a remote spot to gorge. Some decided stealth attacks were the best way to evade notice - flying in under the van, grabbing the bread, and retreating fast in reverse. Needless to say, I'm surrounded by a lot of hopeful sparrows as I write this. And I'm down two baguettes and most of a plastic loaf.
As with Toledo, the old city of Segovia and its Aqueduct were declared World Heritage by UNESCO. Within the environment of the old city, there is a rich diversity of historic buildings both civil and religious, both Catholic and Judaic. Although unlike Toledo, Segovia is not built on a steep hill, I decided to learn my lesson re driving in old Spanish cities - or at least, re parking - and decided to try and find the local bus service from the campsite to the town centre. Given my indoctrination in the Spanish speed of life, by the time I reached there, and wandered around for a while, it was clearly lunchtime! 
I decided to blow my food budget for the next 3 days ( it's bread and cheese for me from now on!) on lunch at an Asador  and have "cochinillo" or roast piglet, a local speciality. Having sussed out the menus, I chose this restaurant due to the overwhelming number of spaniards, many of whom were clearly locals, all having lunch there, by comparison to the tourist cafes in the Plaza Mayor. It offered a 'tasting menu' which worked out the same price as a starter and a roast pork main, so I decided to be a 'Piglet' and have my one meal of the day at lunchtime. (Please note : my trainer will be proud of me.....calories *early*)

They didn't have a table available immediately so they sat me in the bar, and gave me some free tapas to stave off the pangs of hunger - tortilla, bread, and something very fishy. Eating this was a *bad* idea as will shortly become clear. 
As the menu picture is probably too small to read, I'll summarise just how much I managed to snarf in one 3.5 hour sitting.....and the pictures will speak for themselves
  • a local cheese with salad, oil & vinegar & fresh bread
  • local potato croquettes made with cheese & jamon iberico and served with chips
  • tempura seasonal vegetables
  • gazpacho with accompanying trimmings
  • Roast pig
  • Apple jelly with whipped cream & white chocolate
  • Coffee, local wine and water.
Now, I guess it becomes clear where the pig and piglet appear :D

 I have to admit that I've always been told its a good idea to walk a little after a good meal, so with some serious trepidation, I levered a now *very* rotund me up out of my comfy dining chair and headed off . First stop was the Segovia Cathedral which is the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain. It is considered the masterpiece of Basque-Castilian Gothic and is known as "The Lady of Cathedrals."As with all Roman Catholic churchs it was highly adorned but in a much more restrained ( in RC terms of course) than the Toledano cathedral. The cloisters were a wonderful oasis of calm in the middle of a relatively busy city centre. The one jarring note for me, was the grey granite carved entrance in a sharp modernistic style which was completely out of kilter with the rest of the warm amber and flowing gothic style of the building.

From the cathedral on to the Alcazar, the royal palace located on top of a rock between the rivers Eresma and Clamores. It was documented for the first time in 1122. It was one of the favorite residences of the kings of Castile, built in the transition from Romanesque to Gothic and Mudéjar decor highlighting its ample rooms. It was from here that Isabella the Catholic set off in procession to be crowned Queen of Castile in the main square. For a moment or two , I wondered if I'd headed back into France and not realised it, so strong are the similarities with the Loire castles. The castle is filled with gorgeous stained glass windows, something I have a real passion for, and it was great to see them with non-religous scenes.

The other amazing element was the complexity of decoration on the ceilings. It is not something we do very much in the current time, with our white styrofoam tiles or plain white ceilings. I guess people spent a lot of time walking around craning their necks upwards historically, and it's certainly a good way of showing how stonkingly rich you are. I did wonder though, how many kings and queens suffered from indigestion with this array of ancestors staring down at them in the dining room!

 The castle also had a comprehensive display of weaponry as it was converted into a college for Artillery in the 1800s. Perhaps I wasn't the only tourist to be reminded of the phrase 'its not how big it is, it's what you do with it' on seeing the two canons in the right hand image?

 Having finished the tour of the castle with a climb of 152 steps to the top of the Torre San Juan, I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the local stork population & the obligatory human graffitti collection. I decided that having reached these heights, on return to ground zero I deserved a long cool mocha frappucino to restore myself with, prior to a pleasant amble back to the aqueduct and a return to the 'van. One surprise inhabitant on the way back - this iron bull.