Sunday, November 3, 2019

Spain - El Escorial, Segovia, Madrid and Toledo

This trip is re-created from a journal Judy kept (although much less detailed from those she has kept in later years), from photos and from memory.

On Friday, April 1, 2005, Judy, our son Andrew, and I checked into a hotel near LAX about 1:00 a.m. We got four hours of sleep before waking up to catch the 6:00 a.m. shuttle to the airport. We didn't record the name of the hotel or the airline we flew on or our flight route, but we had one stop enroute and I was separated from Andrew and Judy, who were together, on both legs. 

We arrived in Madrid on Saturday, April 2nd, about 10:00 a.m. We waited until 11:15 a.m. to meet our niece, Lisa Delong, who flew in from London to spend some time with us. We rented a car at Europecar and were upgraded to a BMW. We drove about 38 miles northwest of Madrid to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site of the Spanish Inquisition and now an art museum and cathedral.
El Escorial
Andrew and Lisa in courtyard of El Escorial.
We then stopped at a grocery store for bread, cheese and water and continued on to Segovia, about 32 miles north of El Escorial. 
Roman aqueduct in Segovia.
Roman aqueduct later in the evening. 
We walked through Segovia, visiting the impressive Roman aqueduct and Cathedral.
Lisa, Andrew and I outside Segovia Cathedral.
We were exhausted and hungry and discovered that the Spaniards eat very late. We had dinner at 7:30 p.m. in a very nice restaurant  with white linen table cloths and beautiful place settings and we were the only people in the place. It was one of the first of many exotic meals that would follow over the years and I can't believe we took no photos (the trend of taking photos of meals began later). We had cochinillo asado (whole roasted suckling pig with crispy skin and tender flesh inside), roasted partridge, lamb and monkfish. Our dessert was pineapple with a custard sauce in a tall glass. Andrew knocked over his dessert and it went on to the table and floor. The waiters immediately cleaned it up and brought him a new one. Afterwards we walked to the castle or alcazar which was a residence of the kings of Castile. 
The Alcazar
Moat at the Alcazar.
At the castle wall.
View of the 12 sided Iglesia de la Vera Cruz from the castle wall.
View of Segovia walls and part of the Cathedral from the castle. From this view you get the impression that the castle is outside of the walls. It is not, the walls curve in at this point and then curve back out at the castle. 
The Cathedral from the castle. 
Beautiful view from the castle. 
Our BMW was giving us problems. We could hear a noise in the back wheel-well and smelled a burning odor. So we contacted Europecar about a replacement. 
Segovia is beautiful at night. The city walls in artificial light. 
Sunday, April 3rd, we worked to resolve the car issue. The BMW was towed away and we were taken by taxi from Segovia to the Madrid Airport where we got an Audi as a replacement. The car problems cost us several hours. Judy noted I hadn't slept well and was tense driving, but we found our way into Madrid to the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia. Guernica by Picasso was there, one of Andrew's favorite paintings. There were many other Picassos from many different periods, mostly abstract, and paintings by Miro and other Spanish artists. We stopped at a Churreria and had churros and very thick hot chocolate to dip them in. Then we drove to the Museo del Prado and Judy noted I was wearing out fast and left the two of them, with an agreed meeting time of 7:00 p.m. 
The three of us outside the Prado.
Their favorite painting was Roger van der Weyden's Deposition of Christ. Other favorites were Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, as well as Goyas, Velasquezes, Las Meninas, portraits of ugly long chinned Habsburgs, and Zubaran's Lamb of God (a lamb with its feet tied). Around 5:00 p.m. Judy and Andrew went to the Thyssen Museum which is more modern and more eclectic. Andrew liked the two John Singer Sargent portraits, Edward Hopper, Picasso's Harlequin and a Chagall. There were also some Monet, Gaugin, Manet, and Degas. Judy noted that the Prado and Thyssen were incredible, particularly when viewed together. 
Andrew in front of Las Meninas, Spanish for "The Ladies in Waiting," a 1656 painting by Diego Velazquez. 
The Holy Family with a Little Bird by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, about 1650, has Mary winding a skein of thread, Jesus leaning on Joseph as he plays with a little bird and a dog. 
My recollection is that I went through both museums quite quickly and spent quite a bit of time sitting on a bench, exhausted. As I look back, I think this trip had had an impact on Andrew. A year or two later he backpacked through Europe for three months with a friend, visiting many of the art museums of Europe, before starting at UCLA where he majored in Art and became very knowledgeable in art history while beginning his own vocation as an artist. 

We met up at 7:00 p.m. and wanted to eat dinner near the Plaza Mayor, but traffic was very congested and there was no parking. So we returned to our hotel and had a grossly overpriced and mediocre meal.

Monday, April 4th (Judy's birthday), we drove from Madrid to Toledo. We got on a loop that encircled the city and stopped at several viewing areas for "Kodak moments" with its huge cathedral and Alcazar topping the hill and and a river surrounding the city like a moat. That is the memory stuck in my head - Toledo on a circular hill above a river - absolutely stunning.
Overlooking Toledo
The Tagus River and Toledo, Spain.
The Alcazar.
The Cathedral.
A bridge over the Tagus River.
Looking down at the road.
We found an underground parking lot outside the city wall, then entered via a massive "esclera automatica" or series of about six escalators cut into the side of a hill and almost invisible from the road below. Toledo reminded us of Mont San Michel in France and Assisi in Italy - steep narrow streets with fun shops and many churches. 
An entrance gate into the city.
Toledo is known for its marzapan and it is sold everywhere. It is not as moist or as sweet as the German version and not usually covered in chocolate, but Judy noted it was "yummy nevertheless." 
A replica of the Cathedral in marzapan.
We paid to go into a church where we climbed to the top of the bell tower (which happened to be the highest point in the city and provided great views and photo ops). 
One of the things I loved most was the tiled roofs.
We tried the cathedral, but it was siesta time and it was closed. We decided to eat lunch at Casa Aurelio, recommended by Rick Steves. We had a very good appetizer of cold venison and turnips and the rest of what we had was just okay. Several of us tried Sopa Castellano (a recommended dish) that had a poached egg, diced ham and garlic bead in a broth. Judy and Andrew had roasted partridge, Lisa had fish in a garbanzo sauce and I had leg of lamb. Lunch took over two hours and cost 120 Euro plus tax. It wasn't worth it. We got into the cathedral and it was massive and beautiful with a dark interior. It had amazing art, with 20 El Grecos, a Rubens, a Caravaggio and others, pretty terrific for a church. 
The Cathedral spire to the right.

The Alcazar is a huge fortress that was inhabited by kings during the glory days of Toledo, but it was closed for renovation. 
An olive tree in the courtyard of a museum.
So we went shopping instead. Judy purchased a wood carving of Don Quixote, a red flower pendant and a gold collar. Andrew bought his girlfriend, Susan, a hair barrette and I bought a pocket knife made of Toledo steel. We also visited a potter and purchased a clock surrounded by tile and a beautifully detailed cup which Judy will use to hold pencils. 
Potter and pottery shop.
For dinner we ate at a sandwich shop and had sandwiches with firm meats and cheeses on good bread, with very little spread. We got to our hotel late at night, about 11:30 p.m. Judy and Lisa shared a room and Andrew and I shared a room.


  1. Ah, so many good memories! Loved going to the art museums with Andrew, who was just finishing up AP Art History in his senior year of high school. The churros and dipping chocolate were to die for. I can see both the tiled mirror and the ceramic cup from where I am sitting right now. SO much fun.

  2. Fun post, we plan to be in Madrid in January and will be at many of these same places. It will be interesting to see how much things have changed and/or stayed the same.