The Romans occupied Segovia before the great piglet chefs. The product of their genius is most visible in the aqueduct—a structure consisting of 44 arches and more than 2,400 large stones, it brought clean water from the mountains to the city. While gypsy women plied their wares below the aqueduct (one of us purchased a beautiful beaded shawl which will look great under the disco lights of San Sebastian), swallows flew in and out and around the arches. When asked about the huge number of swallows, our guide told us a local poem: “cuando el grajo, vuelo abajo, el frio viene al carjajo.” (When the swallow flies low, there follows the damn cold.”). And it was cold!
Centuries after the Visigoths ran off the Romans and then the Spanish ran off the Moors, the Spanish kings lived in Segovia in the Alcazar before Phillip II moved the capital to Madrid. The Alcazar is a castle which reminds one of Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle. It was the home of Ferdinand and Isabella and some 20 other monarchs. The Alcazar towers over the city and the valley below. It is shaped like a ship and appears to sail across the sky. Leaving the Alcazar, we walked down hundreds of steps and then through narrow streets with no sidewalks as Spanish drivers sped by. Arriving back at the bus we said ¡gracias a Dios! We were safe!
Leaving Segovia, we made our way to Lerma, a village on a hill in the middle of fields of what looked like barley. Juan, our guide, warned us that our hotel was run by the state so we should be prepared for delays in checking in and receiving our bags. And, he warned, we should be prepared for another little surprise. And, what a surprise it was—El Paradors is a hotel but it is much more than that; it is a restored castle or palace from the time of Phillip II with fantastic rooms and wonderful food. Two convents of cloistered nuns live near our hotel; to buy their products (one sells baked goods and the other ceramics) you have to put your request and your money on what was essentially a covered lazy Susan, permitting the nuns to sell their wares without contact with the outside world and thus maintain their cloistered status. We feasted on some very tasty cookies made by the nuns and hoped thereby to gain some good karma.
While the bull fighting arena in Lerma may not be the Plaza del Toros in Madrid, the village is charming, compact and walkable. We walked through the village—a short trip—said hello to the village stork (nesting in the bell tower of the monastery), and then headed down the hill into the fields. About a quarter to half a mile outside of town, we crossed a small river and arrived in the forest; we soon passed a group of what looked like community gardens. Each is guarded by a dog of various sizes and breeds, ranging from about the size of an ugh (booth) to a Fiat and ranging in breed from mutt to mutt. After walking for about 30 minutes we came upon a waterfall with an old weir. While we did not have fishing gear or wine botas we felt a little but like Jake and Bill in The Sun Also Rises (but thankfully not too much like Jake!).
That evening we met for our evening cocktails on the main floor of the castle. It is clear a pattern has developed. While we do not segregate ourselves by gender, it is safe to say that the ladies have a marked tendency to order gin and tonics—albeit not exclusively. The men choose water, diet coke, and gin without the tonic—the two who choose the gin without the tonic believe that the gin alone (or with a dollop of vermouth) is tonic enough! Dinner was in the oldest part of the hotel, a great arching-hall which is the remnants of the old medieval castle that the palace later incorporated. Dinner, always sumptuous in Spain, began with an interesting twist on Spain’s famous gazpacho, this time made with pineapple juice rather than tomatoes.