Central SpainPosted: October 30, 2011
Leaving our Camino and heading south to Madrid, we had two sightseeing destinations in Central Spain on our list! Salamanca and Segovia.
I had heard Salamanca was a beautiful city built in a golden-hued Villamayor stone that gleams night and day. Lying on the banks of the River Tormes, Salamanca dates back to pre Ancient Rome, and around the year 700 bordered a Moorish – Christian battleground. A Roman bridge still stands strong, flanking the River Tormes, with 15 of its arches dating back to the 1st century. It provides a remarkable walkway into the old town.
Mostly, Salamanca is a University city. As far back as the 13th century Salamanca has had a prominence as the most important University city in Spain with a particular speciality in teaching the Spanish language, in this area, said to be the purist in Spain. International students, at least 30,000 of the 190,000 residents, flock to the city and contribute a diverse multi cultural element to the Unesco World Heritage old town.
The old city is large, open feeling, traffic free and pristine. Jo and I feel like we could be walking through a Disneyland set. The Baroque, 18th century Plaza Mayor is the focal point of the city. Spectacular churches, convents, university buildings, stylish shops and palatial homes lead out from there.
Antonio sent us girls off to sight-see while he enjoyed cooking on the banks of the river. He was challenged by Jo’s appetite for the local soup speciality – Caldo Gallego. Jo had become a connoisseur on her last Camino and found it to be a staple of her diet. Antonio rose to the challenge and Jo pronounced his version as good as any she had tasted!
Caldo Gallego – receipe
• Add to a pot: 50 gms of finely chopped pork lard cubes, half onion, two large squashed cloves of garlic and brown in a dab of oil. While browning crush one chicken cube and add with a pickled pigs trotter and two cups of water, pepper. ( Do not add salt as pigs trotter has plenty). Bring to the boil.
• Add 1/4 jar of white cannelloni beans and continue boiling for about 10 mins.
• Finally add a bunch of roughly chopped Spanish cabbage (similar to silverbeet- collard or kale could substitute) together with two medium sized cubed potatoes and remainder of cannelloni beans.
• Allow to continue boiling until pork trotter is soft and falling off the bone.
Segovia was more of a surprise! With historical references to the city from 192 AD, it is one of Spain’s most monumental and picturesque towns.
On approach you cannot help but gaze in awe at the majestic, fairytale castle, Alcazar! Set upon a rocky outcrop with a commanding view across the cereal producing plains. Built as a fortress to this once walled city, the Alcazar has also had a life as a Royal Palace, a Gaol for 200 years and a military academy. Its foundations have been found to be Roman but it has had many extensions and renovations over the years, the latest being in 1862 after it was badly damaged by fire and was rebuilt in this most romantic style.
The second overwhelming surprise for us in Segovia are the Saturday afternoon crowds. We think there must be a festival of some kind but when I ask, it seems its quite normal for Madridians to visit and party. Not a good omen for Jo staying at a hotel in the heart of the city.
There is a lot here to offer a quick weekend away. Beautiful views gained from ancient streets. Cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels. Over 20 Romanesque churches, dozens of Renaissance fortress residences and palaces, all within the setting of this quiet, (except on Saturday nights) provincial capital.
By far the most impressive surprise is the Roman Aqueduct. It is a brilliant feat of 1st century Roman engineering, and is the largest and best preserved from the Roman empire. The above ground structure spans nearly one kilometer, it rises to an incredible height of 29 meters and carried water from 15 kms away. Incredibly, each arch is supported by the pressure caused by forces of opposition without the use of any kind of mortar!!!
Looking up beneath the structure, you too may have some reservations about touching it or standing there for too long. Whilst it may have already lasted 2000 years, without mortar, surely it will fall one day!
For now we need to continue our journey to Madrid, but Antonio and I take another look back as we depart. Something has tempted our taste buds and we think we will return. The vegetarians should not read this next sentence, but on our travels, we have both enjoyed the Cordero de Leche or roast baby lamb. Here we have spotted butterflied, roasted, suckling pig! Known as THE dish of Segovia, the Cochinillo is so tender it is cut with the edge of a plate!