The Retirees go Abroad – the Iberian Peninsula – Madrid and Sergovia

Enrique gave us tips about another restaurant specialising in lamb and tips about flamenco shows, markets, towns to visit and a town famous with Spaniards for game – El Pardo. So the next day we revisited where we had been with Enrique before going out to Sergovia. When retracing our steps Kerry found the shop that had been making espadrilles since 1860 at the same spot – Hernanz Cordeleria and Alpargateria. We spent some considerable time here while Kerry photographed shoes and emailed them to various people taking orders. We also made bookings at Sobrino de Bortin and Posada de la Ville. We had cod fish cakes and jam with a glass of wine and tapas (spanish omelette) at El Modrono and visited San Miguel mercado to see what all the fuss was about.

That afternoon we decided to find our way to Moncloa and catch a bus to Sergovia which is located on the plains of Old Castile, near Valladolid and the Spanish capital, Madrid. Sergovia was first settled by the Celts, captured and occupied by the Romans who built a fort and aqueduct and abandoned after the invasion by the Moors and resettled after Alfonso VI defeated the Moors. It is world heritage listed for its aqueduct and the castle built on the foundations of the Roman fort. The bus trip takes about an hour non-stop and cost 8 euro each return. The bus trip was comfortable and without drama and included a vista of a large cross out in the countryside for no apparent reason.We made the mistake of getting off at the first stop in Sergovia and then walking through the modern village to the old village. When returning to Madrid, we would learn that had we not disembarked at the terminus but stayed on the bus for one more stop that there was a terminus much closer to the old village.  The walk through the new village had some interest. The bonus was that it was all downhill. Along the way we passed a wall mural of early life in the old village. Some might call this graffiti but I was very impressed. The mural gave some feel of ordinary life in the village to visitors. Finally after half an hours walk we arrived at the aqueduct. A quick visit to the information centre and we developed our plan of attack. There are some seriously old buildings still in use in this town.

We took the main road up the hill past the diamond tip house, the Palacio de Cascales, St Martins Church, a tower which had an exhibit of Portuguese aqueducts (go figure), a restaurant with suckling pig, the Cathedral, the Town Hall, and finally the castle.

The views from the castle were awe inspiring particularly the windows of the castle with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet.  The Alcázar of Segovia (literally, Segovia Castle) is a castle rising out on a rocky crag above the confluence of two rivers near the Guadarrama mountains, it is one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain by virtue of its shape – like the bow of a ship. The Alcázar was originally built as a fortress but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy since then. It is currently used as a museum and a military archives building. The interior was badly damaged by fire but has been rebuilt and the Hall of the Kings with its frieze of all Spanish Kings is impressive.

On the return leg we went through the Jewish quarter with its old architecture and some interesting street art. It is below the cathedral indicating an easy existence with the Christian inhabitants.

We left ourselves an hour to walk back to the bus and this proved to be insufficient because we had got off the bus one stop too early. The bus driver on the journey to Sergovia was a rude individual who answered Kerry’s enquiry about where to catch the return bus with a grunt and a wave of his hand. When we made the same enquiry of a know it all tourist information officer he could not believe we had got off the bus anywhere other than the terminus and simply kept saying that we return to the point where we had arrived to catch the return bus. Well we missed the 5.00pm bus but caught the 6.00pm bus now knowing exactly the ins and outs of Sergovia.

The Retirees go Abroad – the Iberian Peninsula – Madrid and Tapas

Time for our Tapas tour draws near. We caught the metro and travelled back to Opera and wandered up Calle Arenal; a pedestrianised mall full of tourists. There are plenty of tapas bars and they all seem to have ham on the bone (pigs legs) hanging in the cafe. Not all shops were as innovative as the “pop up” shop here in the mall – a local carver had set up shop with minimum cost. Then there is the chocolate biscuit that is popular in Madrid – chorros, a long biscuit type of thing and a thick flowing chocolate that you dip and eat with the biscuit. We found one place where the customers were lined out the door.


Six o’clock rolled around and this is tour time. We met Enrique our guide at the information office. There was only one other couple for this tour so it was like a personalised tour. Enrique looked and spoke like a Spanish guerrilla; wooly beard and so passionate about his Madrid and its traditions and its food you could imagine him over turning the tables in the Tapas bar that charged tourists for tapas. For Enrique, tapas was a tradition started by King Alfonso IV following a bout of illness where the cure prescribed was 6 glasses of red wine per day with a little to eat with each glass. The King recovered and passed a law that all Castilians should do the same. Whilst it is no longer law the tradition remains – you drink wine or beer and have a little food with the beverage. The word “tapas” comes for the habit of placing the plate with food over the drink to stop insects from getting into the drink – “tapa” a top for the drink.

Enrique showed us that Madrid is protecting its history – shops that have traded for more than a century are identified by a plaque in the footpath and the locals are encouraged to support the local traders so you find shops that are still trading more than 100 years later like this butchers shop which is now more of a general corner shop but is still run by the same family – Los Ferreros.

We moved onto sample our first tapas – a glass of wine some olive oil and bread and some calamari rings with bread. The he showed us where to go for codfish cakes – Revuelta (they are a favourite with the Spanish the same as the Portuguese and use the same salted cod) and codfish cakes and jam made out of a local citrus that is also used to make a liqueur – El Modrono (the tree is called modrono or strawberry tree). Then we went to another restaurant which seemed to have the same name but was decorated in pictures made of tiles. Here we tried the Modrono liqueur in cones lined with chocolate so you ate your “glass” after drinking the liqueur. In fact it was called Taverna El Modrono.

Across the road, and 30 m up the road we stood in front of the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records (there is a certificate in the window to prove it). Our guide Enrique used his influence to get us inside to view the wood fired stove that has been turning out suckling pigs since 1725 to view the cellar which I think was last dusted in 1725 and generally view this living bit of history.

Sobrino de Botin founded in 1725, is the oldest restaurant still running in the world. The artist Francisco de Goya worked there as a waiter while waiting to get accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. The restaurant was founded by a French man Jean Botin and his spouse, and was originally called Casa Botín. It was inherited by a nephew of theirs called Candido Remis, thus explaining the change of name to Sobrino de Botín, which survives to this day. The Sobrino and its speciality of roast suckling pig are mentioned in the closing pages of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, “The Sun Also Rises”. Its other signature dish is an egg, poached in chicken broth, and laced with sherry and garlic: a favourite pick-me-up with Madrileño revellers.

Then Enrique took us to the San Miguel Mercado or Market to show us the seafood and the tourists in the market. His point was to avoid this place at all costs and seek out the local traders for better value and less chaos. After the visit to the markets Enrique took us to another restaurant where we had pig’s blood sandwiches and a glass of wine – not so impressed but we had the chance to chat with our Dutch friends after Enrique had taken his leave. An excellent night which has led to other adventures.