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Well, we are back!

Unbelievably – FORTY MINUTES EARLY last night, on a direct flight from LGA to BHM. To be hitting your own bed right at the time you were supposed to be landing? Priceless.

A flight, which, incidentally, demonstrated why BHM doesn’t get many direct flights out of here – maybe 12 passengers on a not-tiny plane?

I have one major Tedious Think Post that comes from experiences of seeing Hadestown, Billy Joel at MSG, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Old Saint Patrick’s and the “new” Saint Patrick’s. But before that, I have an article due on Monday.

As per usual with trips of over a day or so, I like to recap – more for my aging, addled, sieve-like brain than anything else. But also to help you, if you’re planning a trip!

NYC 2/16-21

Why? 

Oldest “kid” lives there now (has for three years). Billy Joel was playing one of his mostly-monthly gigs at Madison Square Garden, something we’d been talking about doing for the past year. This date was perfect for us – not on a weekend and during a sort-of off season – mid February is probably about as off-season in NYC as you’re going to get – so prices and crowds were a little lower. (Although it was a vacation week for NYC school kids – why?  – so places like the Natural History Museum were mob scenes – we’ve been there a couple of times, and it was not on this week’s possibilities, but we did get off at that subway stop Tuesday morning, and geez louise, as we say down here – I was very glad we didn’t want to go there. )

Where?

I am all about price on these visits, and with that priority in mind, we’ve stayed in various spots. On brief stopovers, we’ve stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Astoria. I liked that location, actually – an interesting area, and not a bad ride in. We stayed in Long Island City once, which was okay – but I wouldn’t do it again. There was the time we stayed at a Hampton Inn in Brooklyn.

This time we stayed, as we have once before, at the Leo House on 23rd, in Chelsea. 

It has a very interesting history that you can read about here– its origins were as a guest house for recent German immigrants. It’s old – with some renovations, but still signs of age in rooms, especially the bathrooms – and it’s old-fashioned in that you turn your (real) key in at the front desk when you leave the hotel, and only registered guests are allowed in the rooms.

 

 

Because it was February, I could have gotten a decent deal on a room in “regular” hotels – chain or independent – in the city, but for five nights, I really wanted space, and sure didn’t want to spend a ton on it. Poking around the Leo House website in early January, I happened upon one of their deals. They always have discounts of one sort or another available, but this was particularly deep – for a two-bedroom room. In fact, it was the same room, the three of us (w/now-college kid) stayed in a couple of years ago. But for…cheaper. A lot. It was so low, I wasn’t completely sure it wasn’t a mistake, and went armed and ready of my printout of the receipt. No problem, as it turned out. So that was a good start.

It’s a convenient location, near subway stops that will get you anywhere in a decent amount of time. Included is  a pretty nice breakfast in a very pleasant space. And you walk to the end of the block, and this is your view:

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What?

As I said, this is more for me than you folks, but if it gives you insight into sights you’d want to see, all the better.

(Getting around – bought 7-day unlimited passes, which I think we paid for by Day 3. Mostly subway, with a couple of rather excruciating bus rides in there.)

Sunday:

Flight into LGA a little early. Arrived around 6:30 pm. Got a shared Lyft – very easy right outside the terminal (crazy construction around LGA for a while now that has made getting transportation complicated. Ride-sharing services are the easiest to access, which I’m sure delights the taxi drivers no end). Shared with a woman from Canada who was staying around Central Park, but luckily, our driver decided it was be best to drop us off first. In hotel, checked in by 7:30.

Met son, went to L’Express for dinner.

Then to Greenwich Village, hoping to get into a jazz club.Mezzrow proved to be just the ticket.

Monday:

An hour of piano practice at a room in the National Opera Center, near our hotel.

Whitney Museum w/Ann Engelhart.

wp-1582035054836.jpgPoked around Chelsea and Gansenvoort Markets. Latter didn’t have anything that grabbed us, former was too crazy busy. Ended up at Balaboosta for lunch.

Took a bus up to Hudson Yards, saw the Vessel – no one had a driving desire to walk up, so we didn’t. Checked out the Spanish version of Eataly that’s there.

Back to hotel for a bit, then met oldest, first for a drink at Dante, then dinner at Bar Pitti with our good friend Gabriel Byrne.

Went our separate ways, the two of us then made our way up to Times Square for a bit, then back down.

Tuesday

Metropolitan Museum of Art via subway up to the west side of the park – that NHM stop I mentioned above – and a sort of chilly but still pleasant walk across the park to the Met.

On the bus down to Koreatown. A quick bite of fried chicken here. Then the underwhelming Sony Square space. Then subway down to Flight of the Conchords and (by bus – this one wasn’t bad)  John Wick locations (in Chinatown and the Financial District, respectively.)

Back up to hotel, then over to Washington Square/NYU area for Catholic Artists’ talk.

Subway up to Penn Station, found a DSW for some better walking shoes for kid, then subway down to Katz’s Deli (by this time it’s 10 or so) for a very late dinner, then back.

Wednesday:

Morning: UN Tour

Bus over to Bryant Park area. Ice skating was considered, then declined. Stop at the Steinway Showroom for a few minutes in their “Experience Room.”

Subway down to Greenwich Village, for a huge hero from Faicco’s Italian Specialities. 

Decided to head back up to the Met – kid had wanted to see the Egyptian exhibits.

Back down, met oldest for pre-show food at an Italian place near our hotel.

Hadestown.

Thursday

Subway down to the Lower East Side.

Walk through Essex Market, stop to taste at the Pickle Guys.

The Museum at Eldridge Street – guided tour, learning about the history of Jewish immigration to the area.

Two food stops: Nom Wah Tea Parlor (dumplings) and 88 Lan Zhou Homemade Noodles– more dumplings and, of course, noodles.

Then to Old Saint Patrick’s, where we had the opportunity to learn about their historic organ – I had contacted the Friends of the Erben Organ group, and arranged the tour.  I’ll write more about this later, but it was a great experience to be able to see the workings of this instrument and for my son to be given a chance to play it.

Consider given support to the group that’s dedicated to restoring and preserving this important instrument!

Time for a little rest, then to meet oldest at Casa Mono, then to MSG for Billy Joel.

Friday

Time to pack up and move out – although our flight wasn’t until very late, so we still had the full day (not accidental, of course.)

Pack, check out.

Subway up to a luggage storage facility on 46th – the closest I could figure out to where we’d be going and leaving from. It was fine. It would have been more fine if it hadn’t been 20 degrees, but we lived.

Then to MOMA for their opening at 10:30. 90 minutes there, which was just about enough – we could indeed have spent longer, but we saw the core of the collection, and not in a rushed way. It’s so well-organized, that you can move very smoothly and get an excellent overview of the period (1880’s-1950’s were our main interest) in a straightforward way. We knew if we needed more later in the afternoon, we could get it in, and probably would have except for the cold. Four blocks in frigid air is a lot different than four blocks in the balmy spring.

The reason for the restriction was that I’d booked the NBC Studio Tour for 12:20. By the time I got around to it, it was the earliest available time (meaning, if I’d been able to, I would have booked it as the first activity of the day, giving more leisure for the museum…).

It was fine. Well-run, no dawdling, which I appreciate. Stupid fake talk-show making video at the end which I certainly could have done without.  Saw Tyler Perry. Well, let’s just say, that he walked by us. There was a group of men who were walking down a hall, all with an air of importance, and my focus was on the short elderly white guy in the middle of the line. As quickly as he passed, I was sort of halfway convinced it was Bloomberg, but it also didn’t make sense that it would be, for a number of different reasons (Media competitor; he should be in Nevada or SC…etc), but there was a buzz nonetheless that *someone* had been in that group of guys, and turns out it was Tyler Perry (confirmed by the tour guide and then by Someone I Know who knows someone who works in Perry’s company and he confirmed that yes, Perry was at NBC that day.)

Son was fighting a cold, and really didn’t want to walk back to MOMA (which would take us further from our bags), so we grabbed a quick lunch in Rockefeller Center, then popped into St. Patrick’s, got the bags, then pushed through to the subway station at Bryant Park, got on the 7 out to Queens.

Ann Engelhart met us at the Mets/Willets Point station with her car, then we drove to the Queens Museum, which had a lovely, informative temporary exhibit on Tiffany (the studio was in Queens) and then the crown jewel of the collection – the Panorama of New York City built for the 1964 Worlds Fair. Totally, absolutely worth it, especially if you can visit with a life-long New Yorker, as we did, who can point out her family’s various homes and give all sorts of great historic detail!

A really great and fitting end to the trip.

She then drove us to a great Greek restaurant – Agnanti– and then it was time to head to the airport!

 

 

 

 

 

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…and then in the air. Four hour drive to the airport from here (they say) and then a couple flights and then boom! Home!

Which will be great, although this was nice, too:

 

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Gracias, Honduras, 6:30 am, 11/21. Hotel Guancascos.

I’ll be back tomorrow – maybe even late tonight – with Friday takes, and then spend the weekend pulling together my traditional post-trip set of posts summarizing things.

In the meantime, don’t forget Advent is coming – and in particular today, I’ll call your attention to this daily devotional, which begins on the first Sunday of Advent this year, and continues to December 31, 2020:

 

 

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…we climbed a smaller hill, did Spanish homework, and rested.

Perhaps we should have gone back today, but I had no idea how much time we’d actually want here, not knowing much about the area. We were essentially “done” last night, and not just because the 10k hike did us in…there wasn’t much left to see that was within walking distance. But that’s okay…it would have been insane and painful to go from yesterday to a 4-hour drive to the airport and the flights back home.

So it was good to have a day to not do much.

That smaller hill is right behind our hotel, atop of which stands the Fuerte San Cristobal. Nothing much happened there, and there’s not much to see but the views, but it ate up about twenty minutes, so there’s that:

Below is a good view of the Celaque National Park mountain range. The highest peak is, well, the highest peak in Honduras. I believe our Death March took us to the high peak on the left.

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We wandered into the town for some food. Lunch happened at this small cafeteria right across from the square and the church. It was homey, excellent and cheap (of course) – about $4/plate.

(Exterior, chicken, cerdo (pork), interior garden)

Here’s the San Marco church in the daytime. If you look at photos of it from the past, the trim is painted gold.

Then it was back to the hotel for much of the afternoon, where he worked on Spanish homework, I wrote a bit, and we watched the utility workers doing repairs and replacements on a series of poles down the street in front of us – the reason, we can safely assume, the power was out most of the afternoon.

Eventually, we made it back downtown, where we got our final Honduran meal from here, in the square. Roger helped us order – he’s a native Honduran who moved to the US, lived there for over two decades, became a citizen, and has recently returned here to help his mother.

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Then dessert in a cafe kiosk in the square which features and upstairs looking down on the park. I couldn’t get any panoramic shots, but I did get this weird looking tree:

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And that’s it from Honduras – probably – unless we get stuck here tomorrow, then who knows what I”d have to say?

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Went up the mountain, came down.

About 10K total. A little more than seven hours.

Really, really, really hard.

But done for the kid’s birthday, so there’s that. Too wiped out to give detail, so here are some photos to tide you over:

Our hotel owner had said she’d drive us all up, but when the time came, her truck was blocked in by other guests – so she grabbed the key to the hotel mototaxi and off we went! It was something!

Note: the men in the middle photo on the bottom work for the water system – this provides a lot of the water for the Gracias area. They’re doing a routine cleanup of the source.

We had a guide, and it was a good thing from a number of perspectives. We didn’t get lost – the trails are well marked, but I could see us still getting confused. He was a biology student and could point out various flora and fauna. Plus, if he hadn’t been guiding us, no way would I have done the full hike. I would have been done at about 3K and said, “Eh, that’s enough…we’re going back.” And it was good that we kept going.

The vegetation on the mountain transitions from normal hardwood, surprisingly conifer-rich forest to a “cloud forest,” which was my son’s goal. The park has the highest peak in Honduras – but it really requires camping to reach it. But what we did was pretty spectacular – it was a very high peak, way up in the clouds. Hellish to get there, but worth it.

Added bonus: None of us had phone service to call the hotel to come get us, but there was a family there at the visitor’s center whom our guide knew – and they gave us ride back to town in their pickup, everyone except the dad and me sitting in the truck bed. We had a very good conversation – he works in telecommunications, installing internet. Doesn’t live in the area, but was visiting family (government school major vacation here is November 15-February 1, and his kids had just finished school.)  We were making another pickup on the way – his sister’s kids who go to a Christian school run on the US timetable (summer vacation, 8-4 hours – so as we sat and waited for them to emerge, Nelson and I talked about the United States – he had Google Earth on his phone, so I should him exactly where my house was, he asked pretty penetrating questions about the layout of the city, roads, and so on, and mentioned Chattanooga as a model for internet conductibility….

Oh, and here’s some of the flora and fauna seen – several birds were seen, but I didn’t photograph them. The white caterpillar was dead – it had been, our guide said, attacked by a fungus that just….enveloped it…

 

Not a tree trunk – a root.

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Settled in our new place…

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(If you followed me on Instagram, you would have heard those church bells ringing the Angelus…)

We had a leisurely sleep-in – no Spanish class to go to! – and then did some shopping in town, including at the amazing, labyrinthine indoor market – I won’t pretend it was “charming” in a way that a tourist-oriented market would be, but it was certainly an experience – stalls selling everything under the sun from shoes to rope to food jammed together – you think you’re done, and well,there’s another corner with another wall stuffed with purses or bags of spices…

El Merced is a gorgeous colonial-era church which, it seems, like most churches around here, is not open except during Masses. This is too bad (but I’m sure they have their reasons – which are probably, I’m guessing about crime, vandalism and the value of 350-year old carvings.)

I got a shot of the exterior from the locked gate and wondered why the door was open. We went across the street for a bit, and while we were there, workmen came out of the church bearing some chunks of wood,unlocked the gate, continued out, and left the gate unlocked. That was our chance! I sped up to the church, peaked in, told M to watch to make sure we didn’t get locked in the property, took photos, saw a young man standing at another door that led to a garden, asked him, “Aqui, okay?” He shook his head. “No okay?” He nodded. I had M as him when the church was open. “Domingo.” Okay, then – well, at least I got some photos…

 

Another stop was at the park, where M had a long conversation with Frankie, who approached us as we sat on the park bench, playing with a golf ball. I don’t know why he wanted to talk – sometimes children approach us, seeing that we are not Honduran, IMG_20191118_103232.jpgwanting to speak English. He didn’t, and I kept waiting, I admit, for a request for money..but it never came, and we passed him later in town, him striding jauntily down the street on his own, waving to us cheerily as he passed. So I supposed he was just friendly? For he was – and clearly very smart. M got most of what he said – and when he had trouble, Frankie made a great show of being in despair – shaking his head, and holding it in his hands. What we understood was that he liked Star Wars, Legos, Groot, snakes and Jackie Chan. The only English he spoke was when telling us how many Lego sets he had at home – “One, two, three….” all the way up to ten.

More Spanish practice came here – a shop featuring homemade preserves and sweets. There was lots to sample of the salsa, preserves, and pickled everything from yucca to some sort of egg to various chilis and beyond. The lady running it was very kind and took several minutes to talk with M.

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No lunch – we had a big, late breakfast – and then it was off to more hot springs, this one featuring a zipline over a river. The springs were not nearly as attractive as the Luna Jaguar springs back in Copan, even more so because the major pool was closed for repairs. Ah, well – those who ziplined enjoyed it!

 

Back here, rest, and a dinner at a place that was fine – run by several women with a couple of children zipping about – but we were confused by the massive bed of fried plaintains under the meat. We couldn’t imagine anyone eating all of that…

Tomorrow: the mountain. Yikes.

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Written Thursday night, not quite finished…might as well post it, since I took the time to write it.

Not me, not really. It’s what’s blasting from the other room, because Someone is watching ..what’s the third one called? The Two Towers? No. Return of the King. And Someone Else is out gallavanting around. He’s been driving for over three years now, and this particular car (manual) for over one, so I don’t really get nervous any more. But then I start thinking about it, and…I get nervous.

So, no – I’m not up for focusing on Trollope right now, and I just did my 7 Quick Takes, and I can’t focus on writing anything substantive, so…I’ll blog some more. About school. How about that.

I’ll make this my first official Homeschooling High School post. For real.

Long-time readers know about our dipping in and out of homeschooling. (Link up there for some of the more substantive posts – more by just clicking through these. Although I probably didn’t correctly label everything, so there’s undoubtedly more ramblings and bullet points out there somewhere.)

We’re on Kid #5. His history: PK-1: school  2-5: homeschool 6: school (different than the first time) 7: homeschool 8: school (same school as 6th, different administration, better experience.)

High school, at this point: homeschool.

Why? He’s intelligent and self-motivated, he spends a lot of time on music (although he still maintains he doesn’t want to pursue it professionally – his teachers and I just keep our fingers crossed…), he has zero interest in the high school scene right now, he wants to travel, and – on my part – he’s the last one, I’m edging close to 60, my conscience won’t let me rest easy on this matter. I’m an introvert and relish my time alone, but also honestly? My oldest is almost 37 years old, I know time flies like the wind, and there is really no reason not to homeschool. In good conscience, I have to put my own “needs” (which are not really needs) aside…for just a few more years. You can talk all you want about glorying in your own individual career path or perceived calling, but bottom line: when you accept children into your life – they come first. And you have to try to not be a jerk and a martyr about it either. That second part is usually the hard part for most of us, including me.

(Also – if there were slightly different options for secondary school around here, we’d be looking at those. But without going into details – the options don’t fit, for different reasons. Our public school that we’re zoned for is lousy, while I’ve had two kids go the IB route, and this one would be a natural for it in some respects, I just don’t believe in that intense level of study in a curriculum established by others at a secondary level any more – as if I ever really did – and the private school options are either too elitist and secular (I’m not going to pay thousands of dollars to plop my kid in proudly pagan cultures, you know?) or just mediocre (at this point – we’re keeping our options open for the future though) Let’s just say that I have friends who live in parts of the country where they have hybrid charter classical schools and such. *Jealous*)

Also, even though he maintains resistance to pursuing music professionally, he does like it, does spend a lot of time on it, and if he were in a high-level school all day with a few hours of homework at night? Good-bye to that. No way could he do it, mentally or even just practically –  especially the organ – because of the limits on practice times, mostly.

We can do this. 

So here’s where we stand in terms of subject matter and structure:

  • Classical piano study w/teacher, mostly long-distance, as teacher is a graduate student in a doctoral program out of state. Current rep: Brahms Scherzo, Prokofiev Diabolical Suggestion and (as of this week) Hayden, Sonata 52, mvt 1.
  • Jazz piano study w/local teacher, once a week.
  • Pipe organ study w/local teacher, every other week. Lots of Bach right now, but once fall starts, that will probably expand a bit.
  • I’m going to have to figure out opportunities for him to perform. The “classical” instruction is no longer associated with an academy or larger group, so it’s up to us to find places to play. He may do some competitions, but we are being casual about that. I’m looking into assisted living facilities, first..then we’ll see. He has occasional opportunities to play a song or two with his jazz teacher in his gigs around town.

You might wonder about practicing the organ. It’s a challenge. We have permission from a few local churches to use their organs, but there’s one in particular that we’ve settled on. It’s fairly close to our house, the church is open all day, the calendar is posted online and actually kept current so I can make sure we don’t bump into a funeral or something, and the organ, while mostly electric and not a true pipe (they call it a “toaster”) is serviceable. I often post his practices to Instagram stories, so if you want to hear, check in there. Hopefully in a few months, he’ll be filling in during church services once in a while. That’s the goal.

  • Science: Biology class with other homeschoolers, taught by a local Ph.D from a local university faculty. Once a week.
  • Math: Algebra II, taught by a retired math teacher with many degrees, and experience that includes teaching in the local International Baccalaureate program (she taught my daughter Pre-Calculus, I think). Once a week. Given his interests, I think I’ve decided that what I want for math for him is two years of studies that will get him ready to take pre-college standardized tests (Algebra II, Geometry, Trig), plus a good dose of statistics and probability. I am, of course, fairly anti-standardized testing, but I think in this case, we’ll have PSAT/SAT/ACT and even GED prep books on hand to provide benchmarks and guidelines. Basically: learn this stuff, get it done, and move on.
  • Latin: He began Latin I this summer, and he’s on track to finish it by the end of October, then start prepping for the National Latin Exam and start Latin II. Meet with tutor, probably every couple of weeks, maybe more to prep for the NLE. He wants to do Greek also, but the Latin tutor has recommended a solid trip through Latin I-II before tackling that.
  • Spanish: He did Spanish I last year in school, and has kept up with Spanish informally all summer. Spanish II will probably happen via a recorded course with Homeschool Connections as well as a couple of week-long language school sessions in Mexico or Central America. (told you – travel’s a part of this deal.)
  • Writing: Going to use this and work through it.
  • Literature: Sort of ad hoc. He wants to do Greek things, so we’ll start with the Iliad and the Odyssey this fall. Use various recorded lectures (Hillsdale, Great Courses) as intro and framework. Latin tutor will be involved in this as well.
  • We’ll always have a Shakespeare play going, related to local performances. This fall, the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern will be doing Julius Caesar and King Lear, so we will revisit the first and dig into the second.
  • Most other studies of the humanities will be ad hoc, related to travel or local performances and events. I’ve told him that I always want him to have some sort of serious, adult history book going, on whatever topic he’s interested in. I’ll always be checking on that Big Picture, making sure he’s got the framework and flow, but he has a good sense of that, and so I’m not too worried.
  • We’re already looking at summer programs. Most of the summer programs at the good Catholic colleges are for older kids – rising juniors and seniors. There are a couple he’s pretty interested in. There are a couple that are open to the age he’ll be next summer, so we’re looking into those.
  • I have a growing list of competitions – mostly writing – open to high school students. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll take a closer look at those. I’m thinking that besides the Norton book, we might use competitions as a framework for working on writing.

At this point, the weeks already look busy. Thursday will be the fullest day: two classes, and probably two music lessons. Wednesday night: Catholic guys’ group. Saturday morning: service work with a local Catholic ministry to the disabled. Meetings with Latin tutor and long-distance music lessons every ten days to two weeks.  And even though the classes only meet once a week – well, that’s just the classes. He’ll have to give a lot of time to studying those subjects in between classes.

So when is this vaunted travel going to happen, you ask? Some long weekends probably this fall, but the “classes” are scheduled to end in early November and not begin again until, I don’t think late January. Plenty of time…..But honestly? These first few months need to be a little more…schoolish, I think. For both our sakes – self-discipline, and then, my peace of mind (as in what are we doing what is he missing out on are we getting everything in panic)

We will probably squeeze something in in late August, after Brother gets deposited at college and before the homeschool classes start up here.

Alabama has very relaxed homeschool rules. They don’t require you to submit anything besides attendance. But of course, we’re talking high school now, and we need to have good records. So that will be the emphasis: not necessarily planning, but meticulous record keeping: daily, which is then collated to weekly, which then, on a monthly basis, is collated thematically: Books read/topics covered, etc. Writing samples preserved.

Goal? Finish the basics of high school in a couple of years and then start in on community college classes. He has a particular Catholic college in mind for “real” college already, and it does seem like a perfect fit, so all of this will be happening with that goal in mind.

We’ll see. I’m definitely in the mode of Okay. Just stop. That’s enough. You can’t do everything . Just Do These Things and get some sleep. 

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I got a little hung up on the trip blogging because at some point I decided I should just go through the entire trip in order – and that quickly became a discouraging, daunting task. Mostly because I thought I might do a single post on Seville, but we were there for two weeks, and..what should I do?

So last night, I said, forget it. I’ll just blog topically and randomly, as is my wont. It will all be eventually organized in the proper order on the Travel page anyway.

When we went to Madrid several years ago (my daughter was working in Germany, and this was our way of meeting her for spring break – we’d been to Germany at Thanksgiving and she was ready for a change of scenery by that point), Toledo emerged as a possible day trip, but it lost out to Segovia, and I’m glad. Toledo is filled with daytrippers, and I think we got more out of our time there from not being a part of those hordes.

You might know the aspect of Toledo from El Greco, who settled here and painted it, memorably.

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That’s all I knew about it, really. Striking setting, old, former capitol. I’d considered staying for longer, and I’m glad we didn’t. Two days was enough. Not that we saw every corner, but there was something about the place that made me ready to leave.

There’s really no mystery about it – and it wasn’t the fact that it was blisteringly hot (high 90’s) during our time there. As I walked around, the best comparison I could come up with was Venice. Toledo certainly has more actual residents than Venice does, even in that historic center – I saw them shopping and sitting in government services waiting rooms (I wasn’t in those waiting rooms – the doors were wide open to the street), and you can see that the city spreads far out beyond the iconic rise on the river bend. But that historic center does seem predominantly tourist-centered in a way that, say, Seville, wasn’t. When I travel, what I enjoy experiencing is that mix of deep history and culture in the midst of vibrant contemporary life. Toledo struck me as more of a museum. Interesting with lots to see in a stunning setting – but still, a museum.

So – I’m definitely glad we went. The Cathedral was spectacular, with one of the most helpful and engaging audio guides I’ve heard, the setting was beautiful and thought-provoking and seeing the El Grecos – memorable. But I didn’t regret leaving – I didn’t think, “I could come back here” as I’ve felt in some other places, large (Seville), medium (Padova, Italy) and small (Uzes, France).

As I mentioned, we didn’t stay in the center. In retrospect, having walked around and seen some of the parking areas, I think we definitely could have managed a different arrangement with a hotel closer in – but not knowing the layout, I was hesitant to commit. So the Marriott it was! 

It’s about a kilometer from the center, and walkable, but…not in near 100 degree heat. I mean – you could do it, I suppose, but starting your day out with a kilometer walk, partly uphill, in that kind of weather, doesn’t make for a great rest of the day. So we took the bus which stopped on the hour right outside the hotel.

Highlights:

Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, founded by Ferdinand and Isabella, who intended to be buried here, but ended up in Grenada. I highlight for you the weird monkey on a chamber pot and the prayer on display before the high altar, also pictured. It was nice to see what was on display presented in a way consistent with its original (and continuing) purpose.

 

 

El Greco Museum. There are, of course, several El Greco pieces on display in situ around Toledo, but photographs are not allowed in most of those places. Here at the El Greco Museum, they were – it’s basically a replica of his house, built by some wealthy fellow to highlight a collection. It’s not expensive to get in (maybe 4 Euros? And that was just for me), and it’s not huge, but it’s worth seeing, especially for these portraits of the apostles.

We arrived just as a huge, boisterous group of senior citizens did – so boisterous they had to be shushed by the attendants – glad they were having a good time! But we were able to outrun them and reach the important rooms before they got there.

 

 

We did walk back to our hotel that night – it cooled down a bit, and I wanted to see the area down by the river. You can’t see it from the photos, but fish of some sort were attempting to swim upstream over the little “falls.”

 

 

IMG_20190625_213337It’s one of my favorite parts of traveling – those early evening hours when you’re wandering back “home” and people are horsing around. They drive me a little nuts, but thinking about traveling on my own without them? Doesn’t actually hold much appeal to me.

Next morning – view from the hotel and breakfast.

 

 

Then, on the bus, up to the city. First stop: the Jesuit church of San Ildenfonso – wonderful art inside, and a tower with a great view:

 

 

My favorite detail on the Mary statue is that she’s holding the sword aimed at the dragon’s head. Awesome.

Then, the Cathedral. It is…huge. You don’t just wander in – I think it was ten Euros to enter and tour, and that is a price I can’t argue with. You can mutter, “It’s a church, you shouldn’t charge to enter it,” but with a structure like this, of great historic importance and such an attraction – sure. There’s no way you could maintain the structure and offer the experience without charging something, and ten Euros struck me as very reasonable. I don’t often get audio guides, but I’m certainly glad we got this one – it was very well done, with the explanations just the right length, and engaging as well. You can, of course, read about the Toledo Cathedral in all sorts of places and see wonderful, better images, so here are just a few:

 

 

Some notes:

The St. Christopher is huge – the length of a wall. The audio guide explained that it was a popular belief that if you saw an image of St. Christopher, you’d be protected from death on that day – so they painted this image of the saint so, well…no one could miss seeing it when they entered! Burgos had a similarly huge St. Christopher painted in their cathedral.

In the photo on the third row to the right, you see an oculus – it’s part of a fascinating structure, including a highly ornamented piece opposite – called El Transparente. More:

El Transparente is a Baroque altarpiece in the ambulatory of the Cathedral of Toledo. Its name refers to the unique illumination provided by a large skylight cut very high up into the thick wall across the ambulatory, and another hole cut into the back of the altarpiece itself to allow shafts of sunlight to strike the tabernacle. This lower hole also allows persons in the ambulatory to see through the altarpiece to the tabernacle, as if were transparent, so to speak. It was created in 1729-1732 by Narciso Tomé and his four sons (two architects, one painter and one sculptor). The use of light and of mixed materials (marble, bronze, paint, stucco) may reflect the influence of Bernini’s Cathedra Petri in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

….

Not only was a skylight cut into the top of the thick back wall of the cathedral across the ambulatory behind the high altar, but another hole was cut into the high altar itself to allow the shafts of sunlight to illuminate the tabernacle like a spotlight.

After the two holes were cut, Tomé and his sons designed a way to visually connect the two by sculpting a fantastic company of angels, saints, prophets and cardinals. Abstract designs suggesting flowing robes and foliage hang over corners to mask the details of the architectural piercings. Along the edges of the skylight they arranged an array of Biblical figures who seem to tumble into the cathedral. At the outer edge of the opening sits Christ on a bank of clouds and surrounded by angels. The back side of the altarpiece was converted to a tower of marble which reaches from the floor to the ceiling. Intricate groups of figures were assembled so that the opening to the tabernacle could be hidden yet permit light to pass through.

The photo to the far right on the last row? Paschal Candle holder.

I was struck, as I always am, every time, in places like this, by sights such as you see in the photo on the right in the second row. Dozens – even, given the course of traffic in a single day – hundreds or thousands – of people standing, studying these images, which are not just images, but images that tell a story – the story of Jesus, the story that meets the deepest yearnings of the heart of every person standing there.

We wonder, we worry, constantly – how do we get people into churches? 

Guess what – in places like this – here they are. Here they are. 

 

We stopped in many other churches, ate some very good middle-eastern food, bought IMG_20190626_134620 (2)sweets from more cloistered nuns (left hand photos, top down), saw the remnants of what must have been a spectacular Corpus Christi procession, saw a couple more unphotographical El Grecos, then went back to the hotel to cool off, then – since it doesn’t get dark until about ten o’clock – headed out in the car, first to a castle south of the city. I’d read about it on TripAdvisor – it’s abandoned, high up on a hill – just what we needed to balance out the tourist hordes. The drive in the rental car was a little dicey – a rocky road with lots of switchbacks – but we did it, and my final bill from the rental car company arrived with no extra charges, so I guess I did fine. It was amazing and cooler up there than down below.

 

We then found a mall – this one – again, one of my favorite things to do when traveling. You can’t pay me to go into a mall in the United States, but I do love experiencing non-tourist shopping in other countries. It’s just so interesting to see what’s different – and what’s exactly the same. We ate at the food court, having found, of course a 100 Montaditos. The most popular restaurant, though? McDonald’s of course, and it wasn’t even close. The lines were five deep there – with Burger King right across the way, employees standing around, looking bored…

And the next morning….adios, Toledo! 

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