Day 3 into our family vacation and we found ourselves rather unexpectedly at Christmas, or at least I did! Without the usual buildup around Tufts and the house at home, hanging Christmas lights, decorating my room, finding and decorating a Christmas tree, the holiday sprang up out of nowhere. It was more of a passive experience for me here, with my host family doing the decorations (a lovely tree and colorful flashing lights hung in front of the mirror were some highlights), the plaza turning into a market, lights suspended above the streets and a Christmas tree springing up in the plaza. Understanding that most attractions in Spain would be closed for the holiday, we decided to venture out to a different city to see the sights.
We decided to take the high speed train up to Segovia for the day, a town rich in history and tradition. After stopping for a chocolate croissant in Sol, we took the metro to Chamartin and then began our journey at alta velocidad to the ancient aqueduct that awaited us. The train ride was a brief 30 minutes, but provided us with some stunning views of the mountainous countryside, some of the higher peaks covered in snow. Arriving at the station, we were greeted with empty hillsides of snow, with the mountains we had just traveled beneath rising in the background. I feared we were at some random Segovia station far away from the city center, with only countryside and cows to keep us entertained on Christmas. Luckily, a quick bus ride brought us to the city center and soon we were standing beneath the aqueduct with a few hundred other people. But why the crowd? We had stumbled upon one of the greatest kept secrets of not only Segovia, not only Spain, but of the entire world: La Carrera del Pavo.
Every Christmas, for the last 75 years, the fine people of Segovia have gathered for the bicycle race to end all bicycle races, one in which there is no pedaling. But, Will, how do they race without pedals you may ask. A fine question, a fine question indeed. The cyclists mount their bicycles on the street at the top of the aqueduct then race down the hill, gathering as much speed as possible. At the bottom of the hill they make a turn through the center of the crowd, beneath the nearly 2,000 year old aqueduct, and begin making their way up the hill on the opposite side. The cyclist who makes it the farthest up the hill wins. People of all ages, from young whippersnappers to old fogies, participated in the race with a wide range of bicycles including custom-made peddle-less bikes and a E.T. in a basket. There was even an old man with a bicycle made out of wood!
After watching the turkey race and scoring some free hot chocolate, we headed up to the top of the aqueduct for some photos and then ventured into Plaza Mayor. By now it was time for lunch, so we found restaurant (there were more open than we had expected for Christmas day) and settled in for a traditional Segovian meal: cochinillo de Segovia, or suckling pig. While not normally at the top of my list of foods I would enjoy eating for lunch, I had to try it since it is the specialty of the region. It wasn’t bad, although the hoof sticking up from my plate was a little disconcerting. Dessert consisted of another traditional Segovian dish, this time delicious and visually appealing, of which I most unfortunately forgot the name. To complete the Segovian dining experience, we partook in a bottle of red wine from Segovia throughout the meal.
With full stomachs we headed to the cathedral and walked around the spacious interior. Next up was the Alcazar, which we could view from the outside. I had been to both of these sites with the study abroad program earlier in the fall, but it was fun to be back again and be able to share some of what I had learned about them with my parents. It was at this point that my dad realized he had lost his train ticket, so we took the next bus back to the train station in case it would be difficult to resolve the issue. We had some entertainment on the way thanks to some boisterous Americans singing “The Wheels on the Bus” next to us.
Luckily someone had found my dad’s ticket at the station and turned it in, so we were able to relax in peace for the next two hours at the strain station. I slept for a bit at the table (as did the boisterous Americans a table over). The train ride home was dark and uneventful except for my encounters with a certain Italian woman. It all began as we put our bags into the xray machine at the station. She was standing behind me and as I put my bag in the scanner, she threw hers on top of it. I didn’t understand why she had to put hers on top of my bag instead of behind it on the belt, as is the usual procedure in xray machines, but maybe she missed her target or they do it differently in Italy. On the other side of the machine however, our bags fully scanned, she attempts to maneuver ahead of me and recover her bag before mine (at this point hers had slipped off of mine and was behind mine). This resulted in our bags getting tangled, at which point she glared at me and yanked hers until they separated. I thought our strange encounter was over until I happened upon her once more on my search for a vending machine onboard the train. Strolling down the center aisle, I was interrupted by the rearend of a woman backing out of one of the seats. As she turned to face me, I was greeted once more by the glare of my Italian friend. I felt closer to her than ever before.
Back in Madrid, we took a brief siesta and then headed down past Plaza Mayor for some delicious tapas. We found a great little restaurant that served the best croquetas I’ve had in Spain, as well as delicious empanadas, brochetas, y huevos estrellados. We ended with a fantastic tiramisu. The restaurant was a little fancier than your typical tapas bar, but the ambiance wasn’t lost one bit. Our second Christmas meal was as much of a success, if not more so, than our first and we headed back to the hotel as happy as could be. Content and ready to relax before bed, we put on Love Actually (best movie ever for those of you who will be seeing it for the first time in the future) and spent a relaxing Christmas evening in the hotel. While quite different from our traditional Christmas day at home, this was a fantastic one I won’t be forgetting any time soon.