Monday, June 17, 2013

16 Jun 13 – Day 10 (Salamanca and Segovia)

This morning we had the Salamanca city tour and we started off with visiting the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca. It was considered as the most beautiful plaza in Spain. Then we went to the New Cathedral and the Old Cathedral, which exist just next to each other. The local guide told us about the astronaut and the ice-cream eating gargoyle that are hidden in the carvings of the lateral entrance of the cathedral. It turns out that both the astronaut and the gargoyle are details added by the craftsmen in charge of doing some restoration work on the Cathedral in 1992.

Breezed through the cathedral and we moved on to the University of Salamanca, passing by the Church of the Clergy. We were brought to small plaza to see main piece of the University: La Puerta de Salamanca, the University’s façade. It is carved out of stone, with a highly decorative style and intricate carvings. Of the numerous carvings, we saw the Catholic Kings and were asked to find the frog on a skull. Only a couple of us managed to find the frog. It was said that whoever finds the frog will be able to graduate from the University. The local guide also told us that people choose to come to this university to study Spanish because it is cheap and also it is more authentic without the heavy accent. Nearby we saw the Statue of Fray Luis de León facing the University and the building behind the statue used to be a hospital.

We saw a lot of red writings on the walls and it turns out that students would write the 6-letters VICTOR on the wall to celebrate their graduations. It means Victory. Some were simple while some were elaborated and in very nice fonts. Moving on we saw the Casa de las Conchas and through some small alleys, we passed by some souvenir shops where they sell a lot of earrings, rings and accessories of a design called Charro button. The local guide said that in olden days, people used to wear accessories of this design. Made a mental note of it and decided that I would come back to this shop to get rings for M and myself. Finished off the city tour by returning to the Plaza Mayor where we were given time to explore.

Told Kim that I would like to go back to that shop to get rings and we tried to trace our steps. Unfortunately, we got lost half way because we couldn’t remember which alley to take. So in the end, we just popped into a random shop that sells accessories of that design. Compared to the other shop, this had a smaller range of accessories. Browsed through the rings, tried them on and selected one for M. Then looked through the pinky rings and basically there were only about one to two designs so I was just trying on for size. The shop owner tried to help but again due to language barrier, he just left me to try the ring. Quickly paid for my purchases and went back to the plaza to meet up with the rest. While waiting, Kim asked Mr Chia to help us take a photo together with the modern bronze statue of Architects who redesigned the Plaza Mayor. The rest of the group came back and we set off for our next destination, Segovia.

After we reached Segovia, we were hurried to the designated restaurant for lunch. While walking, we saw many vintage cars passing by. Apparently there was a vintage car event going on. Got to the restaurant, we were told that we need to pay for the drinks. Therefore, each one ordered their own drinks which means I had to drink a bottle of coke on my own. Lunch was cochinillo, Spanish suckling pig, specialty of Segovia. They brought the roasted pig out for us to take photos before smashing a plate to cut the pig to be distributed. Unlike the one that BIL bought during Chinese New Year, this was really juicy and tender and the meat just came off from the bone with the slight push of the fork.

Towards the end of the meal, our local guide came to meet us. He spoke very good English and we started the city tour with the visit to the Aqueduct of Segovia. We had to climb a flight of stairs to get to the top where we got good view. After the aqueduct, the local guide pointed out the The Dead Woman Mountain. A mountain range that separate Segovia from Madrid. Next, we saw the House of the Picos, which reminded me of Toblerone chocolate. Saw the city's old prison which has now been converted into public library, St. Stephen's Church, Roman Catholic Church in the city of Segovia and ended off at Plaza Mayor where we were given time to take photos and do some shopping. Popped into a souvenir shop and bought two magnets depicting pigs before taking photos of the Segovia Cathedral and Teatro Juan Bravo, which is the city’s theater.

Then we headed off to visit the Alcázar of Segovia, which was the inspiration for the castle at Disneyland. There were many rooms with different designs and decorations. I guessed all ancient castles have the same kind of concepts; different rooms have different designs and decorations to represent the different functions of the rooms. Tried to take some photos while following the local guide and listening to his explanations but as usual, I could only catch here and there. Soon we were done with the place and we had to leave for Madrid. The local guide led us back to where the coach was and while walking, Kim made small talks with the local guide, asking questions here and there. Finally, we reached the car park where we passed by a statue depicting a Candido cutting the suckling pigs with a plate, showing how tender the meat was. We boarded the coach, waved goodbye to the local guide and we were on our way to Madrid where we checked into a hotel called Foxa 25.

It was a rather old hotel with rooms that came with kitchen and living room. After settling down, we went down to the restaurant for our dinner before retiring back to our room for the night. Upon closer inspections, it seemed that the room was not properly clean. The floor was dusty, we even saw label tags on the floor and the bathroom shower facility was rather shaky. Lucky for Kim, she brought bathroom slippers while I had to endure the dirty floor. 

Thoughts: Both Salamanca and Segovia are considered small towns so I like them more compared to bigger cities. City tours were too fast to really appreciate the beauty of the small towns. Hopefully I will get to visit these beautiful towns again. The hotel was a big disappointment. It would have been really nice if the housekeeping was done properly and the facilities well maintained.

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