Thursday, January 31, 2008

Castilla y Leon in Winter

I thought Spain would be a lot warmer in the winter. In fact, the weather forecast thought so, too. Well, D. and I spent New Year's bundled up against the cold, but enjoying the central region of Spain - a part of the country I had never seen before. We got lots of super-thick hot chocolates to bolster our spirits and raise our temperatures, and we enjoyed the thinner crowds in the winter season.

All in all, we had nine days, which we split between Madrid, Salamanca, Segovia, Avila, and Toledo, historic towns with incredibly well-preserved ancient sandstone architecture and winding medieval lanes. We were especially impressed by how well illuminated the buildings were at night. Along the way we visited Franco's enormous monument at Valle de los Caidos and the equally enormous monastery of El Escorial, and tiny mountain villages in the Sierra de Francia, where it felt like the modern age hadn't quite infiltrated local life yet.

As for culture, this region feels quite different from Barcelona, the only other part of the country I've seen. Spain was considered to be "developing" until relatively recently, due to the hardships of the Franco years, and it has some of the atmosphere of a country that is enjoying newfound wealth - most of the women are wearing fur coats, absolutely everyone is smoking all the time, and the place is a vegetarian's nightmare. D. and I actually celebrated New Year's in our hotel, because not a single place in Salamanca had even one vegetarian option on their menu that night! In the end, though, it was a blessing - we bought homemade bread, a delicious local manchego and some sparkling local wine, and I swear it was better than whatever we would have gotten in a restaurant!

We enjoyed most the small towns that we visited, where the houses were picturesque and the people friendly - oh, and the homemade marzipan that is Toledo's specialty. Out in the mountains, we encountered a herd of wild goats grazing on the road, and we were constantly impressed by the ornate architecture of the old churches and castles. Madrid itself is best visited for its art - it was very exciting to finally see some of the most famous paintings in the world "face to face." Madrid definitely left its mark on us, though - our hotel had bedbugs, which we made major efforts not to bring home with us - but D.'s face unfortunately showed the results for a week or so after we got back!

I haven't gotten around to getting up pictures from South America yet. Someday soon. I've put a bunch more from this trip to Spain below, so enjoy, and don't forget you can click on each one to make it larger. So that's all for now... I'll be back with another installment in a couple of months.


Cathedral in Madrid

Views of the valley in Toledo


Roman aqueduct in Segovia

Valle de los Caidos

Mountain goats on the road on Peña de Francia, near Salamanca.

Cathedral of Salamanca at night

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