Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 104: Escape from Madrid: Segovia, Ávila, and Salamanca

Madrid's location in the center of Spain makes it an excellent traveling hub. Thankfully you don't need to go far from Madrid to find beautiful cities. A day trip to Segovia, Ávila, or Salamanca make the perfect vacation from your vacation. I visited all three of these cities in one day and ended up staying in Salamanca for two days.

After three hours of trying to find the right bus station (Estacion Norte) I was on a bus headed to Segovia. Originally I was going to hitch hike but I thought it would take too long given that I was trying to do three cities in one day. Good thing that the bus tickets were all around €5 and the rides through the Spanish countryside were amazing. Segovia, Ávila, and Salamanca were all a pleasure to see.

One of Ávila's churches with the cathedral in the distance.
Buildings going up the hill.

I left Madrid to escape the rain. An hour and a half after departing, Segovia welcomed me with beautiful sunny skies. Segovia was my favorite city out of the three that I visited. The combination of the geography and the buildings was superb. Segovia is built on a hill so after some climbing, you can see for kilometers all around you. If you pay the €2 to go up in the castle's tower (which I recommend you do) then you can see practically forever. Segovia has many famous attractions such as an aqueduct, cathedral, and Alcázar (Segovia's castle). If you go don't forget to check out the Jewish cemetery which is built into a wooded hillside just outside of the city and provides the best views of the city, the castle, and a tranquil retreat from life in the town. I was hoping to get an earlier bus, but three hours was the perfect amount of time for me to see Segovia. I hopped on the 4 o'clock bus to Ávila.

Segovaia's magnificent aquaduct!
From the top of the hill the view is spectacular.
You can make it!
Segovia's cathedral.
These big beautiful birds were soaring all around the city.
The Jewish burial hill on the outskirts of Segovia.
Alcázar, Segovia's castle!
Mr. Serious and the castle.

I was worried that it was going to be dark by the time I got to Ávila but thankfully I had about an hours worth of light. Ávila is a fortified town, so the old section has huge walls around it. Inside the walls are lots of bars, shops, and churches. The next bus from Ávila to Salamanca left at 2200, which meant I had 4 hours to kill. I felt like I saw enough of the city after wandering around for an hour. Besides the wall I didn't feel like there was a lot to see. After such an excellent time in Segovia, I admit, I was a little disappointed with Ávila. With two hours left, I scoured the town for a bar with WIFI, hunkered down, and wrote a blog entry over a caña and tapas. When I returned to the bus station at 10 it was all dark, no ticket counters were open, and I was worried I wouldn't be able to get on the bus. Thankfully when the bus came, the driver accepted my money and I was off to Salamanca.

The plaza between the new and the old city.
The walls of the old city.
A watermelon candy makeshift urinal cake. Smelled like watermelon.
While I was looking for a bar it started snowing big time.
Ávila's cathedral with a full moon.

With its young university crowd and rich history, Salamanca would be a fun place to live. I arrived to my host's apartment, dead tired, at around 12 o'clock. On my way I laughed to myself as I thought about how absurd CouchSurfing is. Something about stumbling through an unknown city in search of a stranger's apartment made me laugh.

The streets of Salamanca.
I totally forget what building this was. Sorry :)
Amazing typography all over the city.
Deco and Victor, two of my CouchSurfing hosts.
The heavens open above Salamanca's cathedral.
A robot charging up in a brick wall.
The Lis is a SUPERB art nouveau and art deco museum in Salamanca.
The buildings are so old they're falling apart!
More of these big beautiful birds.

I was staying with four Brazilians – three dudes and a chick. They were warm, welcoming, and a lot of fun. The next morning my hosts showed me around the city. They told me that after Bologna, Salamanca was home to the oldest university in Europe. As we wandered around the old part of town, it was easy to tell that this city was super old. The limestone on the buildings was crumbling and many of the sculptures were worn from the weather. Walking around the streets of Salamanca was like a living history lesson. The buildings there, from the churches to the university, were all magnificently detailed. Unfortunately, it was after I left that I found out about Salamanca's lucky frog.

Salamanca's secondary cathedral.
Plaza Major was an awesome place to chill.
Right about to enjoy Victor's amazing cooking!

The next day I hitched out of Salamanca using suggestions from HitchWiki. After 40 minutes of dancing on the side of the road, the cops drove by. "Crap!" I thought to myself. Sure enough, they circled back around and parked on the other side of the street. I took the hint and went and hid in a nearby grocery store for a few minutes – using my time to buy markers to make a sign. When I came out they were still there! Fortunately, after a few minutes of reading my book in hiding, I saw their van leave. Suckers! Armed with a sign I caught a ride in less than 5 minutes.

Feelin' good and ready to hitch.
The locals bid me adios.
I got a ride with two amazing girls!

Seeing three towns in one day was pretty exhausting. Despite power naps on the bus, I noticed a huge decrease in energy from town to town. If you're in Madrid and looking for a day trip, grab a bus ticket to Segovia from Estacion Norte, you'll be back in time for tapas!


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