El Escorial, Spain

My trip to El Escorial, about an hour north of Madrid started from the city of Valdemoro where I was staying with my “Spanish family” (mom Susanna; dad, Jose and girls with whom I had been practicing English conversation for the last few weeks).

One day I went to the sports complex with Susanna.  While she was working out, I went next door to the VIPS restaurant and was enjoying my coffee and bocadillo (sandwich) when a nice looking man approached and asked, in English, if I would consent to joining him and his friends who were mature students studying English.  Of course!  Who am I to pass up an opportunity to meet locals.

Then I received an invitation to join their English class as a native English speaker.  And, so, the next Tuesday I met with Ada, Rosa and Jose Maria in Fernando’s class.  And, for the next 3 classes as well.

One day I said I wanted to go to Segovià and that comment ended with Ada and Rosa making plans to go with me.  They both asked if I was also going to visit nearby El Escorial, a place I knew nothing about.

We made plans for the following week.  In the meantime Susannas’ mother, Pilar came to visit and we invited her to come as well.  We all boarded the 9 o’clock train and made the  hour and a half trip to the mountains and the town of El Escorial.

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Our first stop in El Escorial was for coffee or chocolate and churros.  We took this photo (that’s Rosa) because in the US it would be illegal to advertise something you don’t have!  Yep, they didn’t have churros 😥.

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Me, Rosa, Pilar and Ada in black stripes.

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We walked up the street towards the monastery, stopping to look around in the visitor center and other shops.

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Ada and Rosa checking out the clothes!
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Walkway to the monastery entrance.

A most impressive sight, the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, also known as The Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the historical residence of the past kings of Spain. Built for King Philip the Second, it is an austere structure encompassing the following: monastery, church, royal palace, school, seminary, and royal library surrounding 11 main courtyards and 3 service courtyards.  It is the largest​ monastery in Spain.

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This is less than 25% of the complex.

Originally this was the property of the Hieronymite monks from the Order of Saint Jerome.  These were hermit monks living according to the Rule of Saint Augustine in 14th century Spain. These monks devoted themselves to study and exercised great influence over the Spanish kings.

Today it is the monastery of the Order of Saint Augustine and a boarding school.

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This, like the aqueduct of Segovia, was built without mortar or concrete in the 16th century.

There is a massive library where all of the books are edged in gold gilt and kept under lock and key.

The crypt is the final resting place of Spanish royalty.  Elaborate black and gold caskets line the circular wall, each stacked, in order, one shelf after another.  Other family members are in kept in an adjacent large underground area.

Photos are not allowed inside of the rooms so you can go to Wikipedia or the UNESCO website to see what I cannot show you.

Waiting for the next train under the spreading Jacaranda trees.IMG_20170412_183254El Escorial is a lovely little town with a jaw-dropping national treasure. I am glad I got to see it with my own personal guides.

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Segovia, Spain

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE.  I was surprised and a bit perplexed when I began to research Segovia because several of the travel videos said there were only three or four things to see there.  One young woman also erroneously remarked that the world famous Roman aqueduct, constructed sometime in the first century, was a “wall”.

IMG_20170415_183059IMG_20170415_183510The aqueduct consists of 25,000 blocks and 221 pillars all built without mortar or concrete. It stretches 15 kilometers from the river to the town.

Can you imagine anything being constructed today without concrete that would survive 2000 years?  I think not!

The aqueduct is the first amazing structure you see when entering the city of Segovia. Find a seat, order a coffee and try to imagine men hauling enormous stones up, up, up, one upon another all 221 pillars without the use of our modern machinery.  It stretches the imagination. There’s a myth, though, that the city of Segovia was founded by Hercules.  Ok, he could have done it.

Done with the coffee?  Great, now stop in at the tourist office on the right hand side of the square and get a map, you will need it if you are going to visit all of the sites (not just 3 or 4).

Head up the street and on your right you will see Casa De Los Picos, a house with a façade of pyramid shaped granite blocks. The entrance and courtyard are decorated in Talavera tiles. Built in the 15th century, now houses the Segovia Art School.

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Continuing you will come to Plaza San Martin where you might encounter a marionette playing music across from St. Martin’s church, one of the prettiest Romanesque churches in Segovia.

The cobbled street brings you into the main square where a massive and grandiose Cathedral de Santa Maria del Segovia takes the spotlight.  Well worth the small entrance fee.  Be prepared to have neck strain.  This ediface is like an enormous buffet where you want to taste everything, but your stomach says “please, no more”.  It is the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain and it is the place where Isabella was crowned queen of Castile.

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My photos don’t do it justice.  Check it out on line.

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Walk around the plaza, poke around the shops, enjoy a coffee or chocolate and churros!

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IMG_20170415_150933The street forks here.  Take the left fork through the arch.

Then continue along the narrow, winding streets of the Jewish Quarter where in early 1492 monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella produced an edict that said in effect that all Jews in Spain had 3 months to either convert to Christianity or leave Spain, which ended 300 years of peaceful co-existance.

There are many small signs telling about the Jewish Quarter as well as shops, museums and churches here.

This street intersects with Plaza Reina Victoria Eugenia and the beautiful Segovia Castle which you might recognise as Walt Disney’s version of Snow White’s home.

IMG_20170415_154211Officially Alcazar de Segovia (Segovia fortress), construction began in about 1155 by King Alfonso the 8th. Many kings of Castile have chosen this fortress as their home.

Many of the interior rooms are decorated in the Moorish style like the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar de Seville. You can visit the interior of the castle, and I would recommend purchasing a ticket on line, because the line was VERY LONG on the day of my visit.

IMG_20170415_163841Across the park is a restaurant with a lovely view of the old city behind the fortress wall.  Service was slow and the line for the ladies room moving at a snails pace, but if you are thirsty it’s the only game in town.

Immerse yourself in history, shop til you drop and have fun in Segovia!

“Just Speak”

Dateline: Poznan, Poland.  New English Immersion program now available to native English speakers from around the world.IMG_20170519_085153

A small group of 8 Polish speakers and 8 native English speakers gathered at a retreat on an idyllic lake, complete with swans,  to work on improving the English of the Polish participants; through the use of both typical exercises and some innovative and fun new ones.

Early morning strolls with a cuppa’ java usually led to the dock and quiet conversations with the duck family or a program participant.  The swans were late arrivals, but were routinely seen mid-morning skimming the reeds.  Someone was always using the dock for English exercises.

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And, then there was the campfire when we all roasted our sausages and practiced  more English, tried to learn a new dance and talked about music, politics and food.

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In this group we had native English speakers from the United States, Australia, England, Wales, and Canada and as you can see, a good time was had by all. As is usually​ the case with theses programs we all leave with more then we expect; new friends, traveling tips, life lessons and happy memories.

If you find yourself headed for Poland and want to have some fun, be useful to English students and eat some really great Polish food join the group at Just Speak in Poznan!  www.justspeak.pl

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