Sigüenza

A bit over an hour north-east of Madrid lies the town of Sigüenza. I remember going there for an excursion for lunch once with my father when I was a teenager, and again with my family in my twenties, but I had not gone back since. In early January I went with my girlfriend. What a great town it is for a quick week-end getaway!

There are two main highlights to the town but many interesting bits to fill in between those two bookends. And bookends they are as they are situated on each side of town: The castle sits at the top of the hill, and the cathedral at the bottom. They are connected by the medieval wall. Within those walls are a handful of old churches, from Romanesque like Santiago and San Vicente to 19th C Santa Maria. There is a Renaissance town square, monasteries and convents, and like any good Spanish town a bunch of bars and restaurants!

The medieval castle, where queen Blanca de Borbón was kept prisoner for a few years since her dad King Jean II le Bon did not pay the dowry, became the bishops’ palace and eventually was turned into a gorgeous Parador hotel in the 70s. Imagine staying in a medieval castle but with awesome water pressure, great food and Wi-Fi!! We got a great deal, so we stayed there!

The town is perfect for walking around. Although we went in early January and it was freezing, there are plenty of places to check out and warm up!

The highlight is the Cathedral, originally Romanesque and then modified in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and eventually Neo-Classic styles. The main attraction in the cathedral is the tomb of “El doncel”. This fellow, Martín Vázquez de Arce was a local nobleman who was killed fighting for Ferdinand and Isabelle against the Moors in Granada in 1482. What is extraordinary is his tomb: he is not lying down like every other bishop and nobleman in every other cathedral… he is reclining, reading a book in his suit of armour, waiting for his eternal rest. The detail in the carving of the alabaster is exquisite to the point of whimsical: his page carefully holding his foot, his eyes open, etc. it is a gorgeous sculpture –funerary art at its best!

The rest of the cathedral is no slouch: a Greco painting, an outstanding collection of tapestries, amazing architecture, two pulpits: a Romanesque and a Renaissance one, etc., etc.

The Clarisas convent just happens to have an ancient burying ground outside their doors which is simply covered with a glass for you to appreciate the architecture and human bones! The nuns make the best chocolate truffles you can imagine. Since these nuns do not allow you to see them you have to buy the sweets via a rotating door. As a certified chocaholic, I can attest to the quality of the truffles! I did not bother tasting anything else.

As in any good Spanish town, food is the soul of the place. Sigüenza lies pretty much along the dividing line between Old and New Castille  – so called as Castille progressed on the expulsion of the aforementioned Moors… So you get both cuisines, North and South.

The surrounding villages are obviously much smaller than Sigüenza,but are very rich in history and culture. Make sure you check out Atienza and Medinacelli.

Granada

Olive trees in Antequera

Olive trees in Antequera

With Catherine

With Catherine

Snails

Snails

Backlit snails

Backlit snails

Cathedral

Cathedral

Santa Ana

Santa Ana

Casa San Juan de Dios

Casa San Juan de Dios

Santa Ana y Alhambra

Santa Ana y Alhambra

Old Granada

Old Granada

Walnut Hill 2010 Spain Trip reunion

Walnut Hill 2010 Spain Trip reunion

Sierra Nevada in the back

Sierra Nevada in the back

The last time I jumped on a train in Spain for some alone time was in 2010. A lot has happened since and I needed some time to be alone and enjoy this beautiful country. So I booked train tickets and I set off to Granada, the enchanted Moorish city of the South, home of Federico García Lorca, final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabel, inspiration for Washington Irving´s Tales of the Alhambra, and home to Europe´s Southernmost ski station, Sierra Nevada.

Some of the more noticeable changes in Spain in the last twenty years have been in infrastructure: Highways and railroads. Long gone are those creaky, smelly, shaking, trains, replaced by smooth, clean, and fast ones. The award winning Talgo technology – whereby the train “swings” in the turns allowing for a speedier, smoother ride now run on the high speed train rails. While not technically high speed, they do run quite fast. Making the Madrid to Granada trip in four hours where before eight would have been normal!

I love trains. I love enjoying the view while reading, listening to music or enjoying a nice cup of coffee. I love seeing the changes in the countryside as we speed along: now vines, now olive trees, now hills and rocky ridges. Tired and lazy I jumped into a cab for the five minute ride to the hotel. Right downtown, next to the beautiful Renaissance cathedral and the old Moorish town. The hotel, a 1920’s tile covered building has an old indoor patio.

I met up for dinner with Catherine Keller, a dear old student from my Walnut Hill days who is spending her summer in Granada with her Fordham University program. We went to the classic old Café Sevilla where we enjoyed great tapas and raciones – sharing plates. Including salmorejo (a concentrated type of gazpacho), and caracoles – snails!

Saturday morning, after a fabulous breakfast at the hotel, I hit the used book stores in the old part of town, and… Bingo! I found a trove of books that I needed for my reading list for my Ph.D. exam next Spring. The morning flew by while my bag grew heavier with books. Lunch was – as it should be – a leisurely affair, including, after coffee, a nice cigar and a Tanqueray Tonic while I continued reading my dear Fray Gerundioˡ. After a siesta it was time for vespers, as I knew I would not have time for mass on Sunday. I showed up at the beautiful Santa Ana church a while before mass, only to find that a wedding was finishing. It was all very beautiful, they had hired a four horse carriage, and the flowers in the church were delightful.

For dinner I met up with Catherine and Jenny – who I had seen in Madrid a few weeks ago, but was visiting Granada with her Mount Holyoke program from Valencia. So we had a mini Walnut Hill, 2010 Spain trip reunion with a lot of laughs.

Sunday morning, refreshed from my visit to old Granada, and with my bag a few pounds heavier, I jumped on the train back to Madrid.