Siguenza is a beautiful medieval town. All its streets are narrow and cobble-stoned. Its cathedral was begun around 1150 and finished in the early 16th century. It has a beautiful, thin
arch in front of a main (if not the main) entrance. Nearby is a castle, now a Parador (formerly state-run and now privately run hotels in historic structures), in which we wander. It has been beautifully restored and decorated, giving the feel of what it would have been like to live in it during its glory. Except it probably would not have been as comfortable without heating, darker with fewer windows to let in the light.
The Plaza Mayor was commissioned by Cardinal Mendoza. It is fully cobblestoned. The surrounding structures are in fine shape. The style is Renaissance.
We depart through one of the narrow, cobble-stone alleys, which winds past two to three story stone and stucco dwellings. The cold, sunny winter day takes us to Medinaceli.
High on a hilltop sits this small village and its main attraction, the triple Roman arch of the 2nd or 3rd century AD. This is the only triple archway to survive in Spain and its
silhouette is used as a symbol on road signs leading to national monuments. The lonely arch greets you when your reach the top, marking a main entrance to the village. It stands alone now but it begs to have the company of other structures. The cobblestones
around it are well used. Turn around and there is magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.
The village is in the process of being restored. Its old
dwellings has been neglected since the end of the 19th c, but now
foreigners and natives have begun the task of putting things back
together and modernizing. For the Spanish, this village serves
in large part as a weekend retreat from Madrid. We drive around
the small town’s sparsely cobble-stoned, unnamed streets. This
takes less than 10 minutes at a crawl. Many of structures are
detached and semi-detached, rather than the more typical
apartment buildings and row houses. Excavations of Roman sites
is on-going in the village.
This site sits on a lonely hilltop just north of Soria. Here in
135-134 BC, Iberians fought off the Romans, choosing death rather
than surrender at the end. They must have had good defensive
structures as they were apparently surrounded yet held off the
conquerors for some part of a year or somewhat more. Most of the
ruins are Roman, being foundations of buildings and streets.
Sounds of slashing swords, even the crunching of sandals in the
streets, would carry far along this hilltop and down the slopes.
The sky at night, normally clear as this is dry Spain, would
doubtless even now yield a star-studded heaven.
Trouble with Telefonica
We awoke to find the line was not working. I called them from a
public telephone, standing in the rain. It seems that they have
not received the deposit of 32400 ptas. I have to fax them a
copy of the receipt, which is from a bank where I paid the
deposit in early December. Late in the afternoon the phone is
back on. In the meantime, incoming calls can still get through.
Negotiating with fast talking, harried Telefonica employees while
in the and standing on Bravo Murillo, a very busy street, is a
challenge for me. Trucks, buses and cars obscure their words.
Finally, I understand what I am to do after a second call to
Later in the day I called back to see if they received the fax.
Their representative had not but since the phone started working
a short time later, I decided the problem was solved. I called
the next day and confirmed that this was the case. We also spent
some time trying to determine if our bank account number was
correct. There were more numbers on my bank statement than they
showed on the bill. We could not get the computer to accept the
additional numbers. But since they had received their money for
the phone bill (as opposed to the deposit), we decided that they
must have it right.
Alcalá de Hernares
Went to Alcalá de Hernares via the Cercanias train, which serve
the areas immediately surrounding Madrid. It’s about 18 miles to
the northwest of Madrid. The University was founded in 1498 and
it was important until 1836 when the Universidad Complutencia
moved to Madrid. Until then, all the important Church leaders
were educated in this small town. Cervantes, Calderon de la
Barca, Gari de Dallas were either educated or taught here. There
was a School of Medicine.
We took a guided tour of the university building. It is in
Italian Renaissance style with lots of Spanish flavor. There are
large patios surrounded by three story Roman arched structures.
Peg says that the older of them is quite unique.
Cardinal Henry Cisneros endowed the university in 1489. The
first building, set up like a cloister, was completed in 1500,
and is in pure Renaissance style. Very simply decorated, white
Roman arches making a square with a pretty courtyard in the
center. Its simplicity and elegance has an enormous impact. The
2nd story is set back from the arched walkway so that it is even
The more impressive courtyard was completed 100 years later and
is purely neo-classical. Also very beautiful, with three floors
of open arched walkways making a large square.
The facade of the building is about 150 feet long, moving into
early Spanish baroque – still absolutely white, but more heavily
decorated and four storeys high. As part of the complex, there
is a chapel with a false front about 2 storeys above its roof.
On its top, and the tops of other bell towers in the city center,
are stork nests about 4 feet across and 2 feet high, housing
enormous storks. Emelia says they used to migrate, but they seem
to be so happy in this part of Spain that they stay here
The university was originally a cluster of 40 buildings. Over
the next couple of hundred years, many monasteries, convents and
other universities clustered in the town, making it very
important. When the university was moved into Madrid in 1836,
the city went into instant decline. Now it is being restored,
but there seems to be so much of it that I can’t imagine that the
whole thing can ever be done.
Having company is a treat
In this living-just-the-two-of-us, don’t-try-this-unless-you-get-
life style that we follow, having company is a treat. This is
especially the case when people are appreciative of what they see
and do and eat while they are here. It was a special treat for
us to have young people who seemed to understand so much and be
so willing to try some new things.
A friend of Peg, Patti, and her teenage twins, arrive from
London. Patti and ‘Pehhy’ had not seen each other in about 15
years. She and her boys are here only for a few days, just
enough time for a few local must sees, such as the Prado and El
Palacio Real, and the always magnificent Catedral de Toledo.
In Toledo we had a memorable seafood lunch in La Ria (the
Estuary). Patti insisted on finding it as it was in the guide
book. It is a tiny place, seating maybe 20 snuggling people, and
it is in a tiny alley. The garlic shrimp were unforgettable.
We went to ‘carnival’. This festival consists of big parades
everywhere in Spain. In Madrid thousand march wearing tons of
fabulous costumes. Lovely young ladies and handsome men who
dance the entire route, which is at least a mile. Some of them
were very sexily dressed, never seen under Franco. Some of the
floats displayed South American Indian themes, playing music with
heavy drums, of which some in turn played a salsa beat (sounded
great, even if the Indians did not play salsa music before it was
Costumes adorned many of the watching crowd. These costumes
reminded of Halloween. Devil themes. Witch themes. Death
themes. Sheep themes- a group bah’ed past us complete with
shepherd but no dog. Makeup of death: pancake faces, dark
circles under eyes. An occasional Superman disrupted the theme.
In the middle of the parade a strong and cold wind struck us,
bringing a heavy, cold downpour a few minutes later. We had our
umbrella with us and snuggled against the wall of a building with
a few million others. A couple without umbrella or cover stood
next to us and we invited them in. She looked very unhappy.
At the end of the parade, an enormous Devil sits upon his throne,
heavy beat of music playing deep thumps that certainly they must
hear in Paris.
Next Wednesday is another carnival event: the burying of the
sardine. I think it has something to do with Lent. (Catholics
are supposed to give up things during Lent, like meat, eating
fish instead- but why bury the fish?). The internment occurs at 5
pm. Now, why didn’t El Greco paint this scene?
Up into the mountains with Emilia, Nina, their mother, Jaime and
Maria Eugenia. Emilia continues to keep us involved in her life.
I had forgotten how satisfying home repair can be. Today I
repaired the leaky toilets. The two gaskets cost less than a
dollar. I will be content to forget again.
Not having seen this type of flush mechanism before, I could not
tell that the gasket could be changed. I showed the whole unit
to the shopkeeper. I said I wanted a new one. She said I did
not need a whole new piece, just a gasket. She showed me how to
remove the piece holding the gasket in place. She could have
taken me for a ride and did not.
There are more repairs on the way, so I shall not be able to
forget again just yet. One of the vollet (the wooden slatted
blinds that are in a channel, and are drawn up with a chord that
is on the interior wall) is need of repair. We cannot open it
and our bedroom is dark. The chord is broken. The chord on a
lamp is ready to break off, and the whole socket wobbles. To the
ferrerteria I must go.
Health Care in Spain
Health care is available to every citizen without regard for
ability to pay. People with private health insurance will not
get any better care but they may have to wait less for care,
especially for things like kidney transplants. If you do not
have health insurance, you are charged according to your ability
to pay. Fernando indicated that people sometimes found clever
ways to look poor if they had a health problem, had no insurance
yet had assets.
Care is of very high quality. Even those with private means go
to public hospitals and clinics for most procedures. All of the
most modern technologies are readily available, with waiting
lists as indicated for those without private cover. My only
experience here is with the dentist and I just picked one nearby
for a cleaning. The equipment was modern, top notch and very
If ever you are hungry, there is a solution not far away in any
town. Here in Madrid, the solution is almost every way you turn:
the bars. The bars serve food from as early as 6 a.m. until as
late as 6 a.m.
There are common offerings available:
1) tortillas. A Spanish tortilla is an omelette but it
does not have the consistency of most omelets. There
are two ingredients: eggs and potatoes. Somehow they
cook the potatoes in olive oil until they are creamy,
and then they somehow get the eggs to mix in evenly
with the potatoes. The result is a creamy consistency
that makes the tortilla a tortilla, and an omelette
something quite different.
2) patatas ali oli. These are boiled potatoes with a
garlic rich mayonnaise generously, perhaps over-
generously added. This is a potato salad with bite-
sized pieces that will keep the vampires at bay for
days. I love them (the potatoes, that is).
3) patatas bravas: I think that they boil these
potatoes too, but when you place the order they go into
the deep frier. Then a thick, garlicky (what
else)tomato sauce is added.
4) mushrooms buttons in olive oil and varying amounts
of ‘ajo.’ Can you guess what ajo means in Spanish?
5) pulpo. octopus with various oil-based sauces,
usually with, guess, ajo.
6) calamari, usually fried.
7) bocadillos. These are baguettes of various sizes.
They have either a slice of chorizo (see below) or of
cheese, but rarely both. You can even get a tortilla
Sometimes an appetizer is served free with a beer.
These have a small slice of chorizo on a slice of
baguette. They have sandwiches here but a sandwich is
grilled and served hot.
8) bonito is tuna. In the bars it is canned, but in
the markets you can buy it fresh at about 1/3 the price
we paid in Dallas. Served with oil, maybe a little
vinegar and a slice of bread.
9) bocarones are anchovies, according to our local
bartender. But they do not taste like anchovies.
There are also anchoas on the same menus.
10) chorizo. Chorizo is sausage that has paprika in
it. The paprika makes it red. They are mild in
flavor, but sometimes they are a little hot. They can
be hard like pepperoni, or uncooked and thus soft.
They can be long, short, fat, skinny. In the bars,
soft chorizo is cooked in a tomato looking sauce and
served with bread. Great stuff!
11) rotisserie chicken, served with fried potatoes,
many with a sauce made from the chicken. Wow! A whole
chicken in the bar with fries cost about $5.00.
12) Breakfast. Forget cereal. Churros. Deep fried
donut thing, about 4″ long. Eat ’em with the coffee
that is great everywhere you go, and cheap. Or how
about some hot chocolate? Try that if you like
chocolate bars because that is how rich it is. There
are other assorted pastries and every now and again you
see a croissant, but the French do those much better.
We eat cereal at home. Eating breakfast here every day
means needing the national health service pronto!
13) Berenjenas: eggplant (aubergines in the UK and
France). Baby eggplants are green. In the bars, these
babies are cooked in a thin red sauce. Cumin is the
14) Murcillo is blood sausage. Tastes good but I do
not like the idea.
15) Paella is frequently available and sometimes is
even given as a tapa with beer (thus no extra charge,
although it is only a few bites). Paella is a rice
dish that I love to cook and eat. It has onions, green
peppers, chicken and/or chorizo a/o fish a/o mollusks
a/o shrimp a/o lobster a/o pork or a/o anything else,
So, what do Peg and Gary eat?
We sometimes dine very similarly to how we might in the U.S. We
make pancakes (no syrup- Aunt Jamima costs about $10 a bottle at
the American store), with turkey bacon and coffee. You can get
pork bacon here. This is the Land o’ Pork, after all. But the
Spanish are growing faintly health conscious (I hear that you can
no longer buy cigarettes from vending machines installed on each
floor of the hospitals) so we can get turkey bacon. Most days we
have an excellent and healthy fruit and fiber cereal.
Lunch might be salad, or sandwiches made with turkey or ham, with
a few artichoke hearts or olives, both being quite inexpensive.
We buy some excellent bread, chapata integral (whole wheat and
other grains which together make a very dark loaf) or plain
chapata. A chapata is long like a baguette, but wider. There are
baguettes, regular and whole wheat.
We sometimes have soup, often with garbanzos. Garbanzos are
widely used. It is a main ingredient in ‘cocido,’ a Madrilean
specialty. Codido might have murcillo and tripe.
For dinner, we sometime pan fry a portion of ternera (beef steak
cut very thin) and enjoy some mushrooms with it. Very Spanish.
Lots of ajo if you like. We might have some red cabbage sliced
thinly and warmed with olive oil.
How about a few whole artichokes? They are cheap and in 30
minutes or less they are so tender that you can eat the choke
(that’s that funny, hairy part) as well as the heart but you
still have to scape the leaves with your teeth. I stuff the
leaves with, you guessed it, ajo.
They like Italian food here but you should only get it in an
Italian restaurant. I make various dishes often, and have made
my own pasta for the first time. Pizza. Make it yourself. The
commercial ones don’t look very good to me except at Pizza Hut,
and I didn’t come all the way here to eat there. The Mercadona
sells pizza flour, with leaving. Its very good. They do not
sell yeast. I have not found any yet.
Berenjenas (eggplants) are plentiful. Oranges, clementinas and
mandarins are plentiful and taste even better than the fresh ones
I’ve had in Florida. Fruit juices are everywhere, even peach,
and cost less than $.75 a liter (about a quart).
You cannot get curry here as easily (or as spicy) as you can in
the UK, naturally. So we make our own. Yesterday I made a
cauliflower curry from a recipe in a Spanish language cookbook
that Marie gave us. From the same book we are trying a recipe
for cooking baby onions. It has raisins, tomatoes and probably a
few pounds of ajo.
Adventures in Spanish
New words come my way almost everyday. I would learn one or two
of them each day except for the ‘memory out’ messages my brain
keeps on sending me. I think the message itself is faulty. It
is not as if I were having to remember too much and my memory
being therefore overburdened.
I do notice, however, that I can communicate with less difficulty
in general compared with when I first arrive. There are fewer
‘what?’s’ and ‘heh?’s’ that I feel compelled to mouth. It is
still the case, however, that I can easily lose or fail to pick
up the thread or context of the conversation.
For example, last week we went with Emilia to the mountain cabin,
the one without any running water. Emilia’s mother joined us
(and was trying to understand her new calculator the whole time).
I sat next to her and introduced myself and Peggy. A look of
utter confusion took over her face.
“What is Peggy (pronounced ‘Pehhy’ by the Spanish)? What is
‘Gary?” It took me and Emilia a few minutes to get her to
understand that we were telling her our names. She thought that
Pehhy and Gary meant something in English.
“¿Cómo té llamas,?” I asked. She gave me a story about someone
named Guacolda being the ‘mujer’ (woman or wife) of someone named
Lautaro. I tried writing these names down and I was getting it
wrong and she wrote them for me. I still could not figure out
who these people were and what they had to do with her name. If
she would just say, “Me llamo…” I would have understood
perfectly. I finally had to ask Emilia for help.
What do these names (and I could only assume that Lautaro and
Guacolda were names) have to do with your mother’s name.
“Nothing,” said Emilia. Now I was more confused than ever.
“Then what is her name?”
Then this story does have something to do with her name.
Finally, I got it. Lautaro and Guacolda were husband and wife
during the time of the Spanish conquest of Chile, I think it was
Chile (memory out), and thus Mom was named after the woman!
It is amazing how the most simple things can get so befuddled.