Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Segovian romance

We headed to Segovia on our third day in Madrid. The small town lies 100 kilometers north of Madrid, which is a good one hour and a half's drive. As we drove out of the region of Madrid and hit the freeway, the Sierra Guadarrama unrolled before us. It is covered with ice from the peak halfway down, like a volcanic mountain whose crater spewed milk that eventually froze. We later passed through this mountain via a tunnel and exited into the Segovian region.

Something eventful happened on the final kilometer of our trip to the town though. The road wasn’t that bad, and so was Alba’s driving, but one in our little Asian tour group of five (Alba, three Chinese, and yours truly, while three other Chinese took the train whom we met in Segovia) threw up. We pulled over in a neighborhood and raced out of the car gasping for fresh air and to help the casualty (okay, I did mostly the former). We spent most of the time wiping off half-digested McDonald’s food on the back seat and the car floor. (Up to now, a whiff of the stench is still evident after cleaning the car. McDonald’s has just lost at least one customer).

Alba asked a couple of Segovians passing by for directions to reach the plaza mayor. They suggested her to park the car right in the same area where we pulled over because finding a parking place in the plaza was difficult. We went by foot to the general direction of the town center. As we were walking downhill somewhere and glanced on our left, we knew we have found our destination, and were taking the wrong road.

Even from afar, the Roman aqueduct imposes itself against the Spanish landscape. It would have been much later in history when Spaniards discovered the early Roman occupation which left one heck of a hegemonic and fancy sewerage system for a souvenir that is now in UNESCO’s World Heritage list. I stood in awe at the closer sight of the architectural and engineering wonder that has been restored to a fine state. The aqueduct is constructed out of slabs of stone merely put one on top of the other, with no binding cement, as I´ve been told. This basic technique creates uniform double-layers of arcs and columns. From the viewing deck (which I think must have been a form of control tower once upon a time) at the right end of the structure, I fulfilled my fantasy of lording over a Roman empire. This vantage point gives one the entire view of the aqueduct that stretches close to a kilometer. The aqueduct maintains an even level on its upper layer, which tapers off as it goes uphill the road to the far end and meet the horizon.

The main walkway from the aqueduct to the plaza mayor is wide, bound on each side by commercial establishments yet still integrated in ancient Spanish layout and design. In the middle of this pedestrian zone are lamp posts, benches and a drinking fountain. As in most Spanish squares, the plaza mayor is surrounded by the cathedral and the municipal hall. In my home town, Las Pinas City, back in the Philippines, the old municipal hall was across the church which administered the Catholic school where I attended secondary education.

Hidden in the back room of the walled city is a fine jewel. The Alcazar, a castle that has been used by royalties and much later as training grounds for their guards, was built on physical foundations on ruins left by Romans. The castle looks exactly how it is usually portrayed in your favorite fairy tale minus the dane dangling her golden locks. Beacons and towers reach the heavens. A moat separates the structure from the rest of the world. The walls outside integrate moorish patterns while colorful tapestry-like adornments entrance anyone who gazes up the ceilings.

After exploring the Segovian quarters, Alba, Liang and I decided to stay behind, while the others had to catch the train (who unfortunately missed it by two minutes and waited for an hour to catch the next one). We continued exploring the little cobble-stoned alleys, and after a while concurred to look for a tapas bar to get some grub. Our last meal, if you can call it as such, were some obleas. These are thin slices of giant hostiya (host) and tasted the same as the sweet cone which holds the yummy dirty ice cream peddled on Philippine streets.

We settled on Bar Socorro which I expected it to be full of tourists drinking beers and munching on their tapas. I was wrong. Locals stood by the bar smelling of cigarette smoke, while an elderly man sat on one corner downing a glass of coffee, probably trying to wear off the after-siesta wooziness. Bars are territories of Spanish men during afternoons, Alba told me. Women go here mostly to finish off loose change on the slot machine after picking up the groceries. The same old man drinking his coffee later volunteered to serve us the bocata de lomo embuchado we ordered. Three other men soon joined him on a corner table, set a playing mat and literally laid out the cards.

As we finished our bocadillo and made our way to the exit, I couldn't help but look at the men playing and illuminated by the warm afternoon glow streaming through the window. A typical day in the Segovian life. It was one thing to arrive the bucolic town a tourist and another thing to witness its past grandeur and present peoples, and leave the place and somehow hope to be one of their own.

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