Each day begins with a cafe solo in a local bar, and a deep inhalation of the warm,freshly baked fragrance of amazing arrays of pastries and biscuits. English Breakfast tea just doesn’t hit the spot in Spain. A local mercado provides ample opportunity to practice basic Spanish and purchase great local produce – jamon, quesos, olivas, vino, pan.
Madrid invites walking and people watching – but the diversity of nationalities appears to be far less than Melbourne. Chueca, as it turns out, is the gay heart of Madrid. Many of the bars are overtly directed to gay clientele – and there’s an unusual lingerie store just down the calle from the apartment. Itsy-bitsy dogs are de rigeur, and one of the residents in the apartment block has two yappy toilet-brush breed pooches. Their carefully groomed coats contrast with his carefully shaved pate.
But back to World Heritage listed Sergovia…a fast train trip out of Madrid…and featuring a 2000 year old Roman Aqueduct, still standing, built without mortar, and originally 15 kms long. It’s a masterful piece of engineering construction, being over 28 meters at its highest point. The holes in the stones where the scaffolding was inserted so that the blocks could be raised into place bring a sense of humanity to the structure and cause one to think about the slaves who suffered and died as a consequence of its construction. Children now run along an accessible part of the water channel.
The city itself sits on a strategic vantage point in relation to the countryside. The city walls reflect a time when fear of attack was a constant reality. The power and presence of the Catholic church is everywhere, with the highlight being the Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion y San Frutos Cathedral. The builders who started it never saw the finished product – it took 200 years to build. The skill of the stonemasons is breathtaking. Around the cloisters the arches are filled with stone lace; every column is topped with an individually carved capital; the keystones in the curved stone ceilings are individualised stone rosettas. The overall effect is one of light and space, as well as reflecting the wealth of the church. Leaving the gothic majesty of the cathedral aside, Sergovia itself invites ambling off the main tourist shopping drag. One building is on the verge of collapse, and a four storey high Meccano-like structure is stopping the bulge from bursting. If it goes, at least one other building down the hill from the compromised building will be taken down as well.
By contrast, the bus route to the station traverses rather brutal dormitory suburbs.