Spain expanded its high-speed train network (AVE) — now the largest in Europe — travelling within this vivacious country has become perceptibly convenient. For a visitor with budgeted time, day-trips are far more doable and if planned prudently a Eurail pass (www.eurailtravel.com) makes the outing cost-effective too, happily leaving a few extra euros in the pocket.
On a brief trip to
Madrid recently, train travel nudged me into packing in two additional destinations, allowing the experience of contrasting cultures and bringing into focus ’s absorbing historical canvas. Spain
The non-stop train journey has made it the closest seaside town for
and it’s not uncommon to hear holidayers heading-off for “paella-by-the-beach lunch”. I would vouch for it as a must-do when in Spain, having savoured this experience on the popular Playa (beach) de Las Arenas, which had a picturesque waterfront, a string of heritage restaurants and a lively Sunday market where among other buys were freshly-pickled olives. Madrid
As across classical Europe,
’s Old Quarter exudes Gothic charisma, and my exploration begun from the popular Plaza de la Reina. This has a clutch of striking buildings, the most celebrated being Valencia Cathedral, which evidently has the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. Its hybrid architecture stood in contrast to my next halt, the 15th century La Lonja del la Seda (silk exchange), a Unesco site for being the best preserved late-Gothic example and a seal of Valencia ’s golden age as a leading trade centre. What imprisoned my senses here, though, was an overwhelmingly delicate fragrance, which I discovered were from orange blossoms at its small central garden. What blissful natural scent! Valencia piqued my interest once again at the buzzing Mercado Central, the century-plus food market opposite the street, that’s a splendid manifestation of Moorish influences like ceramic tiles and domed glass-roof. It typically offered a window to the city’s culture and as I browsed, observing locals stock-up on paella ingredients, pans, ham and more, I noticed the tag ‘naranja’ on piles of luscious oranges. Apparently the Spanish term for the fruit originated from the Dravidian root naarinja, as oranges were an import from India/China. Oranges
was offset by two cutting-edge architectural spots. The City of Valencia and Sciences, was a complex designed on a spectacular scale. Offering museums, opera house, Imax theatre besides Arts Europe’s biggest aquarium, it was conceived to stimulate the mind. However, Bioparc, a new generation zoo got my vote as the not-to be-missed experience. Its uniqueness was the remarkable recreation of assorted yet freewheeling wild habitats: savannah, rain forests, equatorial Africa etc, with respective species co-existing in harmony. So if it was hello to the giraffe and zebra at one instance, a while later I was observing gorillas and flamingos. Truly, an enthralling tribute to sustainability and conservation; and a rewarding wrap-up to my excursion. Valencia
My next day-trip was to pocket-sized
. Quaint and delightfully frozen in time, this Unesco heritage town, in the shadows of the snow-capped Guadarrama mountains, was merely 30 minutes by train north of Segovia . A showpiece of the Madrid Castile and Leon autonomous province in , centuries of miscellaneous history met around the corners presenting a fascinating museum-like cultural exposition. Spain
tour got an awe-start with the multi-arched AD 1 Aqueduct, the town’s symbol. Built with stone but no mortar, it was a characteristic feat of Roman engineering towering over the landscape. Beyond it the skyline dramatically changed. Segovia
Dominated by an assortment of quirky Gothic-Renaissance turrets, domes, spires, towers and a labyrinth of twisting alleys, my first impressions were of having almost stepped into fairyland. As I realised, this was an oft-heard reaction. And if modern myth is to be believed, El Alcazar, the erstwhile royal residence on a cliff, at the end of the tourist trail, did inspire the logo of a company that’s enchanted generations with the magic of make-belief world: Walt Disney.
Another multi-spire stunner was the AD 1525 Segovia Cathedral dedicated to patron saint San Frutos at Plaza Mayor. His sculpture holding a prayer book stands in a niche atop the doorway, and legend says the day he closes the book the world will end!
Every step in this dainty, atmospheric town had tremendous architectural power and the liberal sprinkling of outdoorsy cafes, tapas bars, boutiques, old-style restaurants as Michelin-star Jose Maria renowned for
’s signature dish cochinillo, and colourful souvenir shops made my hours vanish quickly. Soon it was time to board the train back to Segovia …with a promise to return. Madrid
Published in Deccan Herald, Oct 2011