And so it begins: the journey to drop off the youngest Combrinck on her first day of university. She will be attending IE University in Segovia, Spain, the kind of place whose name seems so fantastical it could be the country Anne Hathaway rules in Princess Diaries.
We decided to trek to Segovia by train. The trail languidly looped between the farmlands and the mountains, occasionally passing by villages that seemed to be frozen in time. The landscape changed as the train climbed in altitude. Just as we left Madrid, the horizon looked like an African savannah, filled with trees. I even saw speckles of what looked like moose hiding in the shade. Soon enough we saw open grasslands replaced by rocky hillsides.
The temperature dropped too. We left Madrid in a warm 27°C. Now we watched the analogue clock flash 17°C. My sister’s face dropped as we neared our destination. We fell out of the train with all our luggage at the Segovia station ( there was a total of nine bags between the three of us, bear in mind Turkish Airlines lost one bag).
The first challenge was ordering a taxi. My sister made the call with her limited Spanish, and eventually, after some team effort from everyone at the train station – we got our taxi.
We started through the city centre – which was pretty unimpressive. Then we took a sharp right up against a steep hill. As we spiralled up the hill the roads grew narrower and the buildings taller. Soon we were squeezing between the smallest alleyways between old buildings. But it wasn’t until a break from the high walls on either side that we realised where we were.
My heart leapt at what it saw.
We were in the old part of town on a hill. Crowning the hill was a group of historic buildings breaking modern cityscape. The dusty-yellow structures made me think of the forts in the Middle East, standing stoically against the sky.
The hotel we would be staying at was also a stunning building. We checked into Hotel Exe Casa de Los Linajes. Miriam at the front desk told us we were the very first South African’s to check into this hotel. It was in a scenic spot at the edge of the hill overlooking a beautiful landscape, scattered with old churches and buildings. I was very impressed by the room (and the price). What a place to call home!
What is the one thing Segovia is known for? Its aqueduct.
I recall a conversation my brother had with my sister to convince her of her studies.
“They have an aqueduct in Segovia. An aqueduct! They were built by the Roman’s and were the first irrigation system ever used!” he exclaimed.
It was as impressive as I imagined. The stone structure was built in 112 AD and once stood at 17km long and couriered water from the nearby city in the La Acebeda region.It is now 813m long and towers above the plaza at 28m. The architecture is incredible. Needless to say, it is the centre point of this town.
Another astounding piece of architecture is the Segovia Cathedral. It stands guard of the Plaza Mayor. This Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral has got to be one of the most beautiful houses I have seen. With its twisted spires and ghastly gargoyles, it has become a favourite resting place for a flock of blackbirds. Every time the church bells echo across the square the birds take flight, rising like a cloud into the sky, before circling the plaza and resettling on the tallest towers.
I wish I could have stayed and wandered this labyrinth of alleyways forever. In fact, we did stay an extra night. Each day my feet tracked a new path, and I would discover something new. There is a sort of deafening silence in the town, although there is traffic. But as one sense dulls, others awake. Suddenly I became aware of how much Segovia smells like a forest. Its roads are dense with trees, sort of like Stellenbosch. Rows upon rows of trees line the roads and clump on the hillsides.
If you follow your nose, you will also find yourself dining at some fantastic restaurants. We had the pleasure of enjoying ourselves at Café Juan Bravo, a divine Spanish restaurant headed by Michelin Star chef Rubén Arnanz. We also feasted at Restaurante El Bernardino with an unparallel view of the night sky and city skyline.
I think I most enjoyed just wandering the streets. You never knew what was around the next corner. On our last morning, we were surprised by a massive market that unfolded on Plaza Mayor. It was coloured with second-hand clothes and produce from the outlying farms. I have never seen vegetables of that size before! It had Golden Delicious apples the size of two fists and red peppers larger than my hands. It filled most corners of the square. Apparently, it’s a weekly thing (every Thursday, if you must know).