The Last Stop in the Road Trip, Frias

Our final stop for the mini road-trip is Frias - a small medieval town in the Province of Burgos. Frias has the honor of being the smallest "city" in Spain, given this title in 1435. And it is really small - the maximum number of inhabitants this town has ever seen is 275. 

The biggest draw of this town is the Frias Castle, or the Castle of the Dukes of Frias. The walls of this castle are pretty much crumbling, but visible from quite far away, because of its situation. The side with the crumbling wall was much more interesting, so we went around to a nearby hill to get a nice view of the castle.

 

After the cliff-side hike and pictures, we wondered into the town a little bit to walk around the other side of the wall, take a look at other side of the castle. The town is pretty well preserved other than the castle. We walked along the wall, and saw a bunch of kids hanging out and shooting the breeze. We asked one of them to take a picture of us with my camera. As soon as I gave 5d to him, one of the other guys teased "Correr! Correr!" - which means "Run! Run!" i.e. you got the camera, so make for it. All in good fun - he took the picture, and gave us back the camera.

 
 

El Día de los Reyes

We visited Frias on Jan 5th, which means it was  the night before Epiphany, or as they call it in Spain - El Día de los Reyes. In Spain, most kids get their Christmas present on the morning of the 6th, in reference to the three kings bringing gold and frankincense to baby Jesus - they leave shoes ready for the kings to bring them presents as well. Most towns have a parade to commemorate the the kings's journey, and even smallest town have a parade. The three kings make the hike to church, and throw candy to the crowds, so naturally all the local kids follow. It turns out we were there at the right time to enjoy the parade.


A Drive through La Rioja to Parador Santo Domingo de La Calzada

After a stop in cold (warm in other ways) Pedrazza, and a break in Lerma, we headed towards our final destination for the day, to the Parador Santo Domingo de La Calzada. Santo Domingo de La Calzada is a small municipality in the La Rioja region. La Rioja region is well known for its wine, and we were hoping to tour some vineyards, but we were pretty late, and in the end we didn't even get to see any of them on our drive.

However, on the way to the Parador, we passed some of the farming country of La Rioja which when basked in the late light from the sunset, looked gorgeous.

The country side of La Rioja is pretty much all we could get while the light was out. We made our way through the dark meandering roads of the region, occasionally running into wondering cows from the near by farms - and eventually reached the Parador.

The town of Santo Domingo de La Calzada does not allow cars. You can go in there to drop off, and then be out of there. The Parador has special parking, so they allow you take your car into their own special lot. We were pretty thankful for that, because we were exhausted. We didn't really get to see anything at night, because the town pretty much shut down. 

The Parador itself is pretty cool. It's housed in a building that occupies a former 12th-century hospital near the cathedral, erected by St. Dominic to take in pilgrims traveling on the Camino de Santiago. It has a regal, elegant style, with majestic function rooms and a lobby filled with Gothic arches and wood coffered ceilings. We relaxed in the lobby for a bit and then it was off to the room for - room service! We ordered some of the traditional food of the region,  Pollo a la Riojana and Riojana Potato Soup and rested.

In the morning, we took a walk around town. The town is really small, and the main draw of the town is the Cathedral de Santo Domingo. This cathedral was built dedicated to Santo Dominic, who dedicated his life to this region. The town is a stop along the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago, and during the summer it comes alive with all sorts of festivals and events. All along the streets, you'll also see the sign for the pilgrimage, to guide you along your way.

A Break in Lerma

After the rainy stay in Segovia and a cold and freezing pit-stop in Pedrazza, we made another little stop in Lerma to take a break. Lerma is a small town in the Province of Burgos, known for its bread and morcilla (blood sausage), and the Parador de Lerma, which is housed in The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace is of course the most interesting construction of the city. This beautiful Palace was constucuted over the ruins of and old XV castle, and was designed by the Architect Francisco de Mora in the traditional Castilian style with four towers. The building is situated at the Plaza Mayor, a huge plaza surrounded by arcades. This building is now the Parador de Lerma. Paradors in Spain are special hotels, that are housed in heritage buildings. It so happens that a lot of these historic buildings are in towns that are small and without much economic activity, so the Parador is a novel source of income for the town. There are Paradors all over the country, in mostly remote locations, so its a destination in itself. Not to mention, staying in one of these is a very cool experience, which I will get into when we stay in Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada.


An Even More Freezing Day in Pedrazza

After a cold and rainy day in Segovia, we were headed to Pedrazza, a smaller town in the same province, but not quite as popular. A lot of people have heard of Segovia, and the Alcázar of Segovia, but not too many people have heard of Pedrazza. Segovia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Pedrazza is not. Its not too big, and not very populated, which makes it a perfect little town to visit for a non-touristy feel. I really wish we had stayed over, but this was a pit-stop in our road trip, and we could only spend a few hours. But I think we will go back for sure.

An approach to Pedrazza via Bandas Sonaras

Like a lot of the cities in the world heritage site list, Pedrazza is also a Medieval Village. The village really was almost abandoned in the 70s and 80s, because there are no jobs nearby (other than tourism related) and so a lot of the younger people left to go to bigger metropolitan areas. Recently the economy took a upturn, as a lot of the urbanites have come back to purchase homes and have renovated them to be weekend escapes. 

Pedrazza falls in the province of Segovia and autonomous community of Castilla y Leon, but most of the visitors head towards Segovia; so when we went, it was almost empty. Not to mention, it was raining very heavily with a lot of wind and so most people were indoors. Nevertheless we got to walk around and take in some of the medieval architecture. Towns like these have always appealed to, because they are very different than what I am used to - growing up we heard many fairy tale stories about princes and warriors from medieval times, and walking through these town I can imagine what it would be like to live in one of these towns. They've been modernized since then with indoor plumbing and such, but the old school charm is still there.

After walking around a little bit in what turned out to be almost a ghost town, we got a little hungry. There aren't many restaurants around town, and it was off-season, and cold and rainy, and we didn't think any place would be open. But then we wondered into a small side street, and lo behold, we saw one small place with steamed windows, which could only mean they are cooking inside.

Restaurante Reberte sighted!

We found Restaurante Reberte, which looked like it just opened. It was small place, family owned, it looked like - it felt exactly like what you would want to find in a small medieval village. Spanish lunchtime - especially on a weekend - is really late, around 3PM, and it was still about 2PM, so when we walked in, we were still pretty early and they didn't look prepared. We asked nicely if they could feed us still, and Señor Reberte himself said "of course!". So then we sat down for a nice hearty meal of cordero (lamb roast), sopa castellana and flan. Reberte tended to us himself, all the while roasting and fetching.At the end of the meal (even though we couldn't really stand) he even agreed to take a picture with us. 

After the meal, we were warmed up a little bit, but really full. We walked around a little bit more to see the rest of the town, which included the town pharmacy, some other small bars, and the town prison (yes, a prison).


Sights around Segovia

When we visited Segovia, it was just bad weather all around. Drizzle and rain mist covered almost everything, and the cloud was just overcast and flat. It gave us time to visit a lot of restaurants and cafes, admire the establishments and enjoy some good food. 

Because of all the rain, I saw umbrellas everywhere. So - here is a collection of pictures of one of the main sights of the trip: Umbrellas!

 

Street Signs

Segovia being a World Heritage Site, its pretty touristy. There are signs all over the place, making sure the tourists don't get lost. Given that the tourists come from all over the world. I guess you expect the signs to be various languages. In Spain, almost everything is translated, and there are hardly any signs in english. So in Segovia, you would expect to see all the signs in Spanish, right? Yes, and also in - Japanese! My friend Francesco explained to me why that is - it seems Japanese tourists are crazy about World Heritage Sites, and they visit them places in this list more than any other destination. So it would make sense to cater to the Japanese. 

 

SNIPPETS!

Starting with this post, I've decided that I want to incorporate some of my iphone pictures into this website. Sometimes the phone is just handy enough to capture a moment that I might have missed with the big dslr. So, throughout the site, expect to see SNIPPETS! in various areas.

Locals

Stalked Locals

Tapas at Duque Maestro Asada

At the top of the Aquaduct

The lobby of our hotel - 

Princess sighting at the post office

The view from the hotel balcony

Alcazar of Segovia

Wine from Restaurant Jose Maria restaurantejosemaria.com

Cochinillo - cooked so soft, it can be cut with a plate



A Rainy Day in Segovia

Segovia has been on my bucket list for a while now - ever since I saw the picture of the Alcazar of Segovia - so it was pretty awesome when I was finally able to go there. Segovia is one of the cities in the World Heritage Sites from UNESCO, so we expected it to be crowded, but less crowded in December. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative. It rained the entire time we were in Segovia and it was freezing. It was the drizzly kind, and not torrential downpour, so we were able to walk around a bit. When we first got there, we could see the aquaduct from the street approaching. We stopped for a bit to walk around the famouse Aquaduct of Segovia for a bit, climbing all around it, and getting a nice view of the city.

The next day wasn't any better. Drizzle/rain mist all day, and overcast sky. We walked all around town, and it was a good day for some cocido and bean stew. We walked all around town, admiring the architecture and town center.Amongst the aquaduct, which is one of the most important Roman construction in Spain, the architecture is influenced by Romanesque style.

Alcázar of Segovia

Call it indoctrination of Disney, or just childhood fairy tales, but castles are yet another obsession of mine, that I just wasn't used to while growing up. Seeing castles up front is major treat and often it feels like when kids see their superheros in real-life for the first time. Supposedly the Cinderella Castle in Disneyland was inspired by the Alcázar Castle in Segovia and Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, but I think most castles would like to claim that credit. 

IMG_2865_hdr.jpg

The interior of this castle is just as gorgeous and luxurious. I can only imagine what it was like to live in one of these castles in its heyday.

Orange Overload - Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is not like anything you've ever seen before. Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways are eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic 'flowing' shapes in the rock.

Read More