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TourPro Goes Medieval

June 19th, 2007 · 1 Comment · Miscellania

I’ve got a spare moment to post. Wow. Sort of trapped today, kind of nice actually. (Hey, M. I’m collecting dust!) Leaving for Spain in two days. This post will serve as both a notification of my impending absence, and serve as an data dump for the tourism research I will conduct today regarding my destination. I welcome comments.

Before you get all twisty and accuse me of jetsetting, this is an “in-law” trip.

This isn’t my first trip to Spain, but it is a rare Summer visit instead of the usual X-mas thing. I like my in-laws, probably more than my wife, so it really is not something I dread. At it’s core, this trip is a ‘friends and family’ vacation, but we always try to get some good recreation in anyway. We are bringing bikes.

The Plan

Two weeks for me, Four weeks for the wife and kids.
Depart 6/21 Montreal – London – Madrid
Spend as little time as possible in Madrid
Spend as much time as possible in Sigüenza


It’s not that I don’t like Madrid, I’ve just seen it all and I’m not a city-tourist in general. The in-laws have a place not far from Las Ventas – the world’s most important and famous Bullring. Not a bad area, convenient to the highway, airport, and easy transportation via subway or bus to all points of interest in the city. My main thing to do these days is visit my favorite knife shop (near the Puerta del Sol), get a Chocolate (real hot chocolate), and a refresco at Bar Sydney for their famous Calamari sandwich. You have to go to the Sydney across from the Atocha station for that. Ask for a beer to wash it down.

Tip: “Una caña, por favor” then “Otra caña, por favor” (gets you two standard beers – drink it like water).

All the other stuff, done it, seen it. My faves include the Army Museum, El Rastro (flea market), and going food shopping. You see, I like to live like the locals – that’s tourism for me. Going to the local markets is the greatest way to learn and absorb (literally) the culture of a place your going.

Sigüenza – The City of the Doncel

El Castillo de SiguenzaNow this is the place I like. Sort of a Spanish version of Saranac Lake, just more medieval. Spain, much like in the Adirondacks, has a tradition of seasonal residences. Typically, the family would head for the hills (the camp) for the long hot summer. The man of the family would visit, but also get to enjoy the life of being “Señor Rodríguez” while the family is out-of-town. My wife’s family has had their summer place for generations in the 12th century village of Sigüenza.

Being of aristocratic descent, the local villagers refer to my wife as La Marquesa. Now she is also known as having a crazy Asian husband who terrorizes the cobbled streets on bike. One of the most famous locals is known for having killed a sheep with his head while extremely drunk. I buy him a beer every time I see him.

Cathedral of SiguenzaThe most important attractions of this village (they call it a city, but that is a stretch) are the Cathedral and the Castle. The kids always compete to see who spots the castle first as we drop into the valley where the village is located. Once in town, we must pass the Cathedral, drive through the Portal Mayor (you have to fold your side-view mirrors to make it), and then up to the house. (If we have an extra minute, there’s the village bar across from the Church where we stop for a refreshment, cheers!)

Here’s what I like about Sigüenza:

  • Slow pace of life
  • The locals, while acknowledging my freakness, accept me as a quasi-insider.
  • Excellent Road-biking and Mountain-biking
  • Great eating, cheap beer
  • Hanging with Felix, the lazy-eyed family house caretaker. (this is kind of a problem because of class issues, he’s like 70 years old and rides a mountain bike everyday!)
  • Cool day-trips to other nearby ancient villages and “ghost towns”

Located in the province of Guadalajara, Sigüenza is the archetypal Castilian village. It is surrounded by mountainous, desert-like land of red earth. You would can easily imagine El Cid riding his loyal horse around these hills.

The idea is to hang-out, ride our bikes, and do some day-trips.


Most people think we are crazy to bring our bicycles on vacation. We are.

In the past, we’ve only taken two bikes and the trailer for the kid. That’s pretty easy. Now we have to bring three bikes and the trailer-bike. A logistical challenge which we have 80% solved less than 72 hours from departure.

How-to pack a bike for air travel:

  1. Contact your carrier for cost, weight, and size information.
  2. Get a bike box from your friendly neighborhood bike shop for each bike you wish to bring. Make sure you plan ahead so they save a good one. Also, get the plastic pieces which manufacturers use to protect the forks and axle ends.
  3. Remove all the giant staples which are normally used to close the box. Use caution so you don’t hurt yourself or the box.
  4. Use some good quality packing tape to seal the bottom of the box – inside and out. Reinforce the cutouts used as handholds, if there are none, make some. This is for you and the baggage handler.
  5. Get a big Ziploc for parts. Optional: foam pipe insulation, masking tape
  6. Remove Front-wheel, insert plastic fork-end protector into dropouts.
  7. Remove Seat and Post from frame, indicate the height setting on the post with a marker.
  8. Remove both pedals.
  9. Remove stem and handlebars from the frame, leave the cables alone or detach if able.
  10. Carefully place the bike into the box.
  11. Remove quick release from Front-wheel, attach axle-end protector. Place the wheel on the non-drive side of the bike. Handlebars should fit also fit on top. Seat and post inside too. Check that the box closes.
  12. Optional: Use pipe insulation, masking tape to secure and pad any loose stuff. This can be done prior to putting the bike in.
  13. It should be a fairly tight fit, but the box shouldn’t bulge. Extra space can be used for helmet, shoes, etc.
  14. The ziploc bag should contain all the parts removed (pedals, QR), but also basic assembly/disassembly tools, and rag (grease is your friend).
  15. Be sure to mark the outside of the box with your appropriate destination address.
  16. Tip: As the contents will be inspected, it is generally not necessary to seal the box completely. Just enough to get it to the airport. Homeland Security or some such will complete the closure of the box. Good Luck.

Ride in the morning to avoid the heat. The Castilian plain is really a desert – very low humidity. Drink and bring lots of water. In this case, drink beer after riding. Sunblock or risk becoming a Spanish lobster. Watch out for crazy drivers. I’m serious, these people are insane and drink like fish. 100 people died in vehicle accidents last Easter.


Did you know that Spain was Muslim for longer than it was Catholic?

This place is a Catholic religious traveler’s smorgasboard. My kids were baptized in a local Romanesque church by the family priest. It’s really in a building, but it is so old and worn when you get inside it almost feels like your in a cave. My recollection of the ceremonies were that it was like taking part in a very strange and ancient ritual. Both baptisms were in the winter, the priest was always kind enough to warm the holy water and store it in a thermos. This little church is just down the road from the Castle.

DoncelThe main Cathedral in town is huge. It dominated the central part of town and is located across from the village plaza. I’m not really a religious tourist, but even I can appreciate the history and magnificence of this structure. Sigüenza is the local Catholic HQ so it is not a surprise that the Cathedral is significant. Also, there’s the place where the bishop hangs out, not really a tourist thing. Really, the Cathedral is a collection of little chapels. These are also the burial places of the people that sponsored the chapel. The most famous is that of the Doncel – Don Martín Vázquez de Arce. You really don’t get to see many mortuary statues reclining with a book.

The cathedral, a sight not to be missed, is a very massive Gothic edifice of ashlar stone. Its façade has three doors, with a railed court in front. At the sides rise two square towers, 164 feet high, with merlons topped with large balls; these towers are connected by a balustrade which crowns the facade, the work of Bishop Herrera in the eighteenth century. [via]

Here’s an interesting poem [via Notes from Spain]:

Santa Librada,
Santa Librada,
que la salida
sea tan dulce
como la entrada!

… which means:

Santa Librada,
May the way out
Be as sweet
As the way in!

Seems that located in this very Cathedral is also the tomb of Santa Librada, the patron saint of Sigüenza and prostitutes. I’m telling everyone I’m going specifically for this.

The Castle

Sigüenza has an official Parador.

A room in the CastleThe Spanish Paradores are hotels for luxury accommodation in Castles, Palaces, Fortresses, Convents, Monasteries and other historic buildings.

There are also modern hotels, built in traditional style, in areas of outstanding beauty

[via Paradores of Spain]

Too cool, right? Located at the top of the hill in town (duh, it’s a castle), what was formerly in ruins is now a great place to impress out-of-towners. I’m not up on my castle lingo, so bear with me. First thing you see as you enter the valley. As you head up the hill, the narrow streets will obscure your view until you emerge into the cobbled parking area. I’m guessing this was a former kill zone. (the kids always remember the bag of smashed Chorizo we found there). Cross the moat and double gates (very cool, the pulley system is guarded from within) and you’ll enter what now is the lobby. Check the armor. We usually will schedule a meal in the restaurant for a formal lunch (the main meal) during our visit. They have really good food.

Really the most important thing to do is visit the well. Exit the side-door from the lobby to access the courtyard outside. See the round covered hole? That’s the top of the well or what more likely is a cistern below. Yell into the hole and listen to the echo. Let each child have a turn. You are officially done with the Castle.

Behind the Castle, you’ll find a dirt road heading into El Pinar – the Pines. This is a forested area adjacent and above the village. Trails and view abound. Also there is a really neat cemetery where my father-in-law is buried. Awesome mountain-biking. The rocks are brutal and will create permanent scars if you crash. Anyway, keep following the main dirt track till you see a weird village/collection of buildings. There you will find a little church. Go in. What the heck is going on here? This is the church where people go to ask for help if they have physical ailments. All of the body parts you see around are representative of the particular ailment which is being “treated”. Basically, if your arm hurts, find an old dolly, break her arm off and bring it to the church. Say a few prayers, leave the dolly arm and hope for the best. Superstition? Medicine? You make the call.


Some of the little villages we pass through as we bike and explore the area literally have not seen outsiders or tourists ever. Life has not changed in hundreds of years.

Almost every village has ruins of some sort.

If your in Segovia, you must eat the Roasted Suckling Pig. So tender is is cut with a plate. You can eat in the shadow of an Roman aqueduct. PETA is terrified of Spain.

Buy swords in Toledo.

The thinner the ham slice, the tastier it is.

Gotta buy the bread fresh everyday.

Beer typically comes in tiny bottles (8oz?). Drink it like water. Don’t be afraid to order a beer at anytime of the day.

When your in Madrid, take note of the chain of pork shops known as Museo del Jamón – Museum of Ham.

Eat whatever you are told to eat. Get used to having dinner at 10pm.

Sigüenza is know for the manufacture of Bota bags – wine containers made of leather. These are the real deal with a tar-like resin inside to make it wine-proof.

I used to get shoes handmade by an really old guy in town. He kept my foot size in a little card file. Last of an era, died a few years ago.

Sigüenza also has a very lively bunch of local artisans/artists. Ceramic plates are popular.

Everyone takes a drink from the fountain next to the ice-cream shop across from the Cathedral. It’s a tradition.

Tortilla means omelette. Tostada means toast.

If it looks like little eels, they are. And yes, that sausage really is congealed blood and rice – deep fried.

My brother-in-law is Penelope Cruz‘s neighbor.

See you all when I get back!

More Info

Spain Trip 2007 – Google My Map

Geocaches Near Siquenza

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