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Posts Tagged ‘family travel’

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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Last post: Basic itinerary.

This post: how we got around:

 

In Seville, we mostly walked. And walked. And walked.

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Not usually with bulls, though. 

The central area of Seville is quite, quite walkable. Hardly anything more than a kilometer away – it would have been like nothing if it hadn’t been near or at a hundred degrees most days. We did the bus twice – the first time when we took our grandson/nephew down to the Aquarium from our apartment. Walking a mile and a half img_20190614_130303is fine, but not a great way to start the day with a five-year old if you would like to maintain his enthusiasm. Buses are much better for that. The second time involved the bullfight museum and the Basilica of La Macarena – Seville’s most revered image of the Virgin. I got the bright idea of going to the bullfight museum…but then we couldn’t get tickets for anytime earlier than 90 minutes from that moment. So I went ahead and got the tickets, and then got the next bright idea – that we’d go visit the Basilica – we had just enough time to do it, and All the Information told me it would be re-opening soon – at 4:30. It was just a little far to walk in that time, so sure – bus.

Well, we missed the bus the first time – we were standing in the shade a bit away, it swung by, paused….and left, with us running after it. Too bad! So we waited a few minutes until the next one came, took the bus up to the Basilica…and found that it actually didn’t re-open until five. Ah. By that point, I didn’t feel like walking back to the bus stop and waiting, so I just hailed a taxi to take us back – it was about 1 Euro more than the bus would have been for all of us.

The buses in Seville were – in my limited experience – prompt and clean. Very prompFare was $1.40, payable in cash, change actually given, which sort of shocked me.

Train to Cordoba was fine, although Spanish trains seem far more expensive than trains in at least Italy and France. Yes, they do offer discounts when you book in advance, and img_20190617_174007I’m sure Spanish residents use all sorts of plans and cards to get better deals, but still – I’ll just compare it to our brief stint in Italy. The train between Pisa and Lucca – about a 30 minute ride – was E 3.60, last minute, purchased before boarding. The train between Seville and Cordoba – longer, yes, but still a ride less than an hour – could not be had for less than E11, even in advance, and even on non-high-speed trains. I suppose there are differences in financial structures and support than impact that, but train travel in Spain was simply not as attractive as it had been in Italy in the past.

Above: walking to the Cordoba train station.

As I mentioned in the last post, I didn’t actually commit to renting a car for the second part of the trip until a couple of days before the moment arrived. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, although I’d driven in other countries before, and one stop in the last part of our trip would necessitate a car, absolutely. But still, I would have occasional seizures of hesitancy, and scramble around Google Maps, trying to figure if there were other destinations we could explore that were more friendly to train travel. There might have been, but it would have required me re-arranging my brain – and some of the destinations (like Guadalupe) would have been incredibly complicated to visit if we’d not had a car.

So…a car it was. Rented from Hertz, through the Hertz site. About $200 for ten days, pickup in one city, dropoff in another, much insurance paid for plus insurance through my Amex card.

I am extremely wary of 3rd-party sites when it comes to things like car rentals in foreign countries. Having that extra layer of responsible parties just might mean adding one more party who doesn’t want to help you when things go wrong, handing you back to the party in the previous layer…who would also like to not bother with you, and hands you back.

I read a lot of travel disaster stories and a great many of them involve aspects of travel booked through third-party sites, it seems to me.

International Driver’s License obtained through AAA, as you’re told to do – pay $20, get a form that you can show cops. There’s all sorts of conflicting information out there as to whether it’s required in various countries. All I can say is – the rental agency never asked for it at any point, and since I wasn’t stopped at any point, I don’t know if la policia would have actually asked to see it, rather than just my US state license.

I picked up the car in Seville, at the train station. I could have done so at the airport, but I wasn’t going to the airport, the airport was farther away, and my son and his family were going to the train station anyway on Saturday, so why not? The reason some warn against picking up a car at the train station rather than the airport has to do with traffic for the driver new to driving in Spain – the airport’s further away from the city, of course. But the train station is very near a highway, it was a Saturday, so there wasn’t much traffic – it was fine.

In fact, being introduced to driving in Spain on a weekend was an unintentionally excellent idea. I recommend it. I drove through and out of Seville, up to Merida, then to Caceres, and the next day to Trujillo and back to Caceres, going through the towns, parking in the middle of the towns – with no problems or issues, simply because it was a weekend and traffic was so light.

There were only two points during those ten days in which I felt a little harried behind the wheel – the first was in Talavera de la Reine – our stop on the way to Toledo. It was the middle of a weekday, everyone was out, and I found myself in the midst of traffic I hadn’t expected. I wasn’t keen on driving around in that and found parking as soon as I could, perhaps further away from the Basilica than needed, but at least I was off the road and away from all those other drivers, impatiently tailing me around roundabouts. The second was Tuesday in Bilbao – it was okay, but getting out of town at the end of our day there was a little tense, simply because it was around 5pm on a weekday. Only almost mowed over a couple of pedestrians.

Other than that, most of my driving was on highways – motorways  – as the GPS lady called them. My experience driving these roads was similar to what it had been in France – very relaxing, and for the same reason, I think. The speed limit for cars is 120 km/hour (about 75 mph). I don’t know if it is the same for trucks, but I don’t think it is, because they all seemed to be going at least 15-20 km/slower and they stuck to it. Trucks don’t pass cars on these highways – they generally seem to stick in the left lanes. So with that absence of barreling semis and no billboards to speak of (sorry, Shunnarah!), you have a much calmer driving landscape.

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Trujillo in the distance.

And roundabouts? As I’ve mentioned, I’m a fan. Once you get the hang of it and understand the yielding and that if you are exiting soon, you should hang right as soon as you can – they’re great. I particularly like them because they offer a more tolerant approach to mistakes and changes of mind. You miss your turn? Just drive around again, and there you are. Very…European. 

The only thing I didn’t like and really didn’t understand was the way directional arrows – really just triangles – are painted on Spanish roads. I can’t find an image online of one, and I didn’t photograph it – because obviously, we’d be in the car when we saw it, but picture this:

In the lane you’re driving in, you are approaching a triangle painted in your lane indicated the proper direction traffic should be flowing.  Imagine what this might look like – perhaps, if you’re imagining it, you’re envisioning being in your car and seeing the triangle painted on the road, with a side facing you and one of the vertices pointing away from you. Like an arrow.

But no.

It’s the opposite. For some reason, they do the opposite – a flat side facing away from you indicates the direction of traffic with the vertex pointing at you. I can’t tell you how many times I would get mildly, momentarily freaked out when glancing down and seeing that triangle pointing at me and my car. Am I going the right way?! Yes, my navigator would assure me. Yes, yes. Or, as the Spanish would say, si-si-si. 

I encountered a few toll roads I wasn’t expecting and wasn’t prepared for, but luckily had enough change for or by accident and happenstance got into a lane that took cards, so no disasters there. I stuck to the speed limit, so I don’t think I got a ticket, although in Spain, they don’t seem to have the law patrolling for speeders, but instead use some sort of Super Secreto Radar, and you think you’re fine when surprise  – a traffic ticket turns up in your mailbox a few weeks later.

And, finally, parking. That, rather than the challenges of driving, was the real reason I considered alternatives to driving. I was just really concerned about parking the car in these old towns designed for horsecarts, not cars. Where would I park? How would I know where to park? Would I have to parallel park on narrow stone roads?? That was a needless worry – and I didn’t have to go to the lengths I did to find “HOTEL WITH PARKING PROVIDED” either. Lesson really learned there – for of course, all of these towns are crazy to drive in, no one really wants to drive in them, and the towns don’t want to be clogged with cars either, so of course, there is plenty of parking available in lots right outside the centers, within easy walking distance of anything you’d want to stay, and even hotels.

One of the parking garage companies – I encountered this in a couple of places – has the tickets (we think) jerryrigged with chips or something so that after you pay, you don’t even have to insert it or even make contact with a machine before the barrier arm lifts – it just. There may be something else going on – perhaps an attendant has been watching via camera and knows you paid and raises the arm? But whatever the case, it was efficient and impressive.

Conclusion: I’m glad I rented the car. We were able to see things we would have missed if we’d traveled by bus or train. No way we could have reached Guadalupe as easily as we did, or made the out-of-the way stops we did with as much efficiency. Costwise, it just might have been a wash. If we’d just gone to major sites, even as expensive as train travel is in Spain, when you throw in the cost of parking and gas, I’m thinking it would have been about the same for the three of us. Hard to say, though. Either way, you see things you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Left to right: Underground parking in Talavera de la Reine; free parking lot a few hundred meters from our inn in Guadalupe; parking garage outside the old city of Caceres, a ten minute walk from our hotel. 

 

Two spots where a slightly larger car came in handy – driving up the dirt switchbacks leading up to the castle on the left, south of Toledo, and then taking the hard way up a very rocky road to this overlook and then down a dirt path – instead of the slightly easier way involving only rural dirt roads and no straight uphill path of rocks – to the Sad Hill Cemetery.

 

And some of us even rode boats.

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More Travel blogposts here. 

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We’re back!

I’m going to do a recap of our trip, partly for you, but mostly for me. If you’ve ever taken an intense trip like this, you know how weird it is, how time compresses, how the moments you are convinced you won’t forget immediately fade into the fog of memory.

As I usually do, I’ll start with the basics. I’ll outline our itinerary in this post, including how we got around, then follow up with a post on where we stayed, then follow that up with several more detailed posts on what we experienced.

So..why Spain?

I have no Spanish blood in me (WASP on one side, French-Canadian on the other). Son #5 has a strong interest in Hispanic-related things, but from this side of the world: Mexico and Central America.

But.  I do find Spain an interesting place – well, everywhere in the world is interesting to me, so that’s not helpful. I wanted a fresh destination for us and one that was easy to get to, closer to the US than say, Poland, and that would be a good spot for not only us, but for one of my older sons and his family (wife and son), who would be joining us for the first part of the trip.

So what evolved was a Seville-centered trip for the first two weeks, and then the three of us exploring for the rest of it. I had a general sense of what we’d do – ending up in Bilbao for a flight out, but I left it basically open until we were actually in Spain. I made some refundable hotel/hostel reservations, but I didn’t make the final decisions until we were actually there, and that included renting a car.

It turned out, I think, to be an excellent choice. For me at least! The one negative was the weather – as you know, Europe was in the midst of an intense heat wave during the last part of June and although almost everywhere we went had air conditioning, it made walking about outdoors not the most pleasant of experiences – in Bilbao, the temperatures were in the 70’s, and it was…lovely!

Anyway, here’s a map of our travels, followed by a day-by-day breakdown.

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June 10:  Fly out of the US

June 11: Arrive, eventually, in Seville, late afternoon.

June 12: Son #2 & family arrive

June 11-June 22 Seville.  One day trip for us &grandson to Cordoba. One two-day trip for Son & Daughter-in-law to Grenada

June 22: Son #2 & family back to US.

June 22: Pick up rental car at Seville train station. Drive to Mérida for the afternoon and then to Cáceres‎

June 22-24 (morning): Cáceres‎ with Sunday afternoon trip to Trujillo.

June 24 (Monday): Drive to Guadalupe. Spend night in Guadalupe.

June 25 (Tuesday): Drive to Toledo, with stop in Talavera de la Reina.

June 25-27: Toledo

June 27: Drive to Madrid – stops in Chinchon and Mejorada del Campo , stay in airport hotel.

June 28-30: Fly RyanAir to Lucca, Italy (via Pisa)

June 30: Fly back to Madrid, get car, drive to Sad Hill Cemetery outside of Santo Domingo de los Silos, late afternoon in Burgos, see the Burgos Cathedral, drive on to Bilbao

July 1: Day in Bilbao, evening, return car.

July 2: Back to US – fly into NYC, spend night, visit with Ann Engelhart  (follow her on Instagram, too!) who picked us up at JFK and took us to the hotel in Astoria, and then with Son #1, who lives in NYC.

July 3: Back to Birmingham!

And how did we get around? In Seville, we walked, with a couple of cab and bus rides here and there. We took the train to Cordoba. Son and DIL took the bus to Grenada.

After Seville, we drove. I’ll probably do a post on driving in Spain later, but just know that it was absolutely fine. Even navigating in towns and cities, while a little fraught, was problem-free. I have driven in Europe before – in Sicily in 2009,throughout France in 2012, then in Italy in 2016 – so, for example, the whole concept of the roundabout is familiar to me, and I really am a fan.

The car was a Citroen Cactus,rented from Hertz for about $200 for the 11 days – very cheap, it seems, especially with pickup and dropoff in two different cities.  I usually go super small (last time in Italy, I drove a small Fiat and it was great fun), but I knew this time we’d be driving on some questionable roads (to get to Sad Hill Cemetery) and a small car was…not advisable for that. It drove very well, and came with GPS, which I’ve never had in a car before, but was invaluable this time.

Well, I started this about 5:30 AM – I’ve been awake since 4, with my body still on Europe clock – and I expect others to start awakening soon, so…more later on exactly where we stayed and what all that was like.

 

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— 1 —

Greetings…not from Seville, finally!

Since last we met (if you only show up here on Fridays), we’ve been to Caceres, Trujillo, Guadalupe, Talavera de la Reine, Toledo, Chinchon and here tonight in Madrid….with a weird weekend trip coming up, then a couple more weird things and then home. 

These trips are very good for making me a homebody…for a while.

For some accounts of what we’ve done and some photos, just click back to previous entries and check out Instagram as well.

 — 2 —

My other news this week is that the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols was awarded first place in the “Children’s Books” category from the Catholic Press Association:

Many thanks to the great team at Loyola who designed, illustrated and edited this book of which I’m very proud!

— 3 —

Speaking of this book and speaking of today – the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart – here’s the entry on that:

-4–

All right – some travel notes. We were in Toledo Tuesday evening, all day Wednesday and this morning, when we left – gawking at the views, as one does driving around the city in this amazing setting. We weren’t the only ones, of course. The road was already crowded with tour buses of daytrippers stopped at the viewpoints – but it was time for us to go.

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–5 —

First stop was to be Aranjuez, famed for a huge palace that was a summer home for Spanish monarchs. I was a little confused by the directions, traffic was heavy and I really don’t care much about palaces anyway (we were in Paris for five weeks, and I had no interest in seeing Versailles…so we didn’t), so….we just kept driving.

To Chinchon – an interesting little town that boasts a church with an Assumption painted by Goya (his brother was a priest there and he liked spending time there), a proud tradition of anise liqueur production, and a fascinating, medieval-looking central plaza that…is…used for bullfights. !  They were setting up bleachers for one as we wandered. That would be something, wouldn’t it? It was incredibly windy up there, which was a relief considering the highs in Spain over these days is in the 100’s…(seriously). I had thought we’d eat, but nothing really appealed to us except some of the local typical bakery goods, so we just wandered, went to the small local museum, saw the church and went on.

— 6 —

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…have you heard of this? I’d learned about Don Justo a few years ago when we first visited Madrid. I wanted to get out there to see his work then, but time constraints and no car made it impossible that time. But not this time – we have a car, and it was on the way from Chinchon to our hotel outside Madrid.

Here’s the story in his own words:

My name is Justo Gallego. I was born in Mejorada del Campo on September 20, 1925. When I was very young, I had a deep Christian faith and I wanted to devote myself to the Creator. For this reason, when I was 27 I entered the monastery of Santa Maria de la Huerta in the province of Soria. After eight years, I fell ill with tuberculosis and I was forced to leave the community for fear I might contaminate the others.

I came back to Mejorada devastated by this setback to my first attempt at a spiritual life. So I decided to build, on farmland belonging to my family, an offering to God. Little by little, the building was erected, spending my family inheritance to keep it going. There were never any construction plans or official permission. Everything is in my head. I am not an architect or a stonemason. I have never had any training in the building profession. My basic education was interrupted by the Civil War. I was inspired by books about cathedrals, castles and other religious buildings and they gave birth to my own work. But my principle source of illumination and inspiration has always been the Word of Christ. It is He who guides me and it is to Him that I offer my work, in gratitude for the life he has given me and in penitence for those who have not followed his path.

It has been almost fifty years since I devoted myself to building this cathedral and I still get up at three thirty in the morning to start my day. With the exception from time to time of assistants, I have done it all by myself, mostly using recycled building materials… and there is not set date for the end of this work. I content myself everyday offering to the Almighty the work He wishes me to do and it makes me happy to think of what I have already accomplished. And I will continue, till the end of my days, to keep working on the cathedral with my resources and donations from other.

Everything that is made in the name of God helps us to admire his reflected and eternal glory.”

I’m thinking it’s all any of us are called to do: use what’s at hand to create something  – simply a life – that reflects His love and glory. Right?

It was astonishing – far bigger than I’d expected. I also thought it would be out in a field somewhere, but no, it’s right there in the middle of the town. It wasn’t open when we went, but we were able to see enough, including inside, to get a good sense of it, be impressed and be humbled.

— 7 —


Couple more writing notes: The Absence of War is available again and check out this interview with Son #2 about his writing process. Here’s his forthcoming book, available for pre-order.  He also blogs every weekday about film.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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I’m going to wait until I get home to do a lot of detailed posting. I just can’t think much here and the internet is weird and I’m on this Chromebook (one that Son #4 had to have for school, and so why not bring it and LORD IN HEAVEN I HATE IT) so nothing is easy and everything is dependent on internet and, as I said, I hate it.

So we’ll just do photos mostly.

Oh, and if you have a moment, please note the temperatures in Spain and other parts of Europe for now and the rest of the week. I’ll wait. Got it? Yup….100’s. 100’s. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m a hot-weather gal, for sure. But it’s a different thing when The Obligation of Touristing must happen in 100-degree weather, indeed.

(And here in this part of Spain, the peak temps happen between about 3-6, fyi)

Today we rose, had a lovely breakfast at our hotel, which is not in the old city, but across the river. I have a car, I needed parking, and so I opted for something where that would happen. It means either a long walk or an easy bus ride to the center, but that’s fine. We’re content here. (Again – two rooms).

We caught the bus down and up into the marvelous city of Toledo – and it is marvelous, although I will say (and will say at more length later) that even with its richness, I prefer Seville to Toledo.  And I prefer smaller places like Caceres to either of them. The old city of Toledo may indeed have permanent residents – I’m sure it does – but as a whole, it has a far more touristy feel than any place else we’ve visited in Spain so far on this trip – almost Venice-like, as in: “Would this exist if it weren’t for tourists?” I prefer a place in which real people are  obviously living their real lives amidst the richness of deep history and I’m simply privileged to peak in for a bit and hoping I’m not getting in their way too much.

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I’m going to go into more detail later about the beautiful churches of Toledo, but just know that today’s highlights were the Cathedral, which is, of course, fascinating and gorgeous. I’ve been in many major Cathedrals, and I might just put Toledo at or very near the top. The orientation for visitors is extremely well done and the audio guide is tops. You are getting tired of me saying more later, but believe me – when I return home next week, it will be a month solid of posts on this trip.

Ah – that first sentence in the paragraph again said “were” – which indicates plural, which indicates more than one. There were other lovely churches, but the other highlight was probably the Jesuit church, San Idelfanso. Wonderful side altars with vivid statuary and a great view from the bell towers.

By the time we finished with all of that and more and an excellent non-Spanish lunch img_20190626_134620(here – a welcome change), it was past four and time for a break. We caught a cab back to the hotel (it’s uphill and did I mention it’s 100 degrees here?), rested for a bit, during which I did some research and discovered a possibly interesting site about ten miles south of here…

and it was…

Holding my breath, driving up dirt road switchbacks to a  ruined, abandoned castle was the perfect way to say “thank you” to my traveling companions for trudging through countless churches over the past few weeks. It actually wasn’t as bad as some of the discussion board comments had led me to believe – just take it slow and you’ll be fine.

What a sight. Real people lived and worked here, scanning the landscape for danger, prepared to protect and defend, waiting and watching in the silence of a vast, windswept landscape.

All right then. What next? It’s seven o’clock and this being broad daylight because it’s Spain…we’ll bow to the memory of all the tough hombres who manned the castle…and head to the mall.

I do enjoy grocery shopping and mall cruising in foreign countries. It points to the differences and similarities and the ubiquity, quite frankly, of American popular culture. We spent time in the food court and there is no question, without a doubt that the most popular place by a factor of at least five, was McDonald’s. But you could have guessed that, right?

Left: sight not normally seen at Publix. Right: the love for chocolate here runs deep.

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Took a quick trip over to Cordoba on Monday.

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A note about the train in Spain: it’s not cheap. I mean – it can be if you book ahead and/or choose their least busy times. And I suppose the actual Spaniards who use the system have their discount and reward cards and do just fine. But for me, deciding to do this at almost the last minute, with a crew that I don’t want to force an early rising on – no, it wasn’t cheap.

The grandson’s parents are in Grenada for an overnight (3 hours by bus..so not a daytrip we’re going to take), so the four of us headed to the train station, then to Cordoba.

The main site in Cordoba is the Mosque-Cathedral. They have an excellent webiste here.

Short version: The site was first a Visigoth Chapel (I am not sure if the chapel dates from the Arian days or a point after the Visigoths generally embraced orthodoxy), then taken over by Muslims, who built the impressive mosque. The Christians got it back after the 12th century Reconquista, and in the 16th century, they plunked a church in the middle of the former mosque.

And do remember that much of what you read about the supposed golden age of tolerance in Cordoba (at one time western capital of the Islamic empire and the largest city in Europe) is myth-making. Yes, it was “peaceful” co-existence, but there were reasons for that, reasons related to law, taxation and punishment. A prison that happens to be functional can be described as a “peaceful” place, after all. Before we came over I read The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, and one of the points the author makes is specifically related to this structure – that’s it’s not just the new Muslim leaders struck a deal with the conquered for the site. They, you know, took it. For a summary of his broader argument, read this article. 

For more, here’s Matthew Bunson in the NCRegister, with the added angle of the recent push by Muslims and Spanish leftists to return the mosque to Muslims.

Such was the beauty of the Great Mosque, the Mezquita in Spanish, that when Córdoba was captured by King Ferdinand, one of the first decisions he had to face was what to do with it.

The new ruler decided to transform the mosque into the city’s new cathedral. Respectful of the architecture, he maintained the columns and even preserved the ornate horseshoe-arched mihrab, or prayer niche, and its stunning dome above.

The minaret, meanwhile, was converted to a bell tower, with bells brought from Santiago de Compostela. In effect, Ferdinand preserved the mosque’s beauty for posterity.

With the exception of the chapels found throughout, the one major structural change was made in the 16th century, when Emperor Charles V permitted Bishop Alonso Manrique to construct a Renaissance cathedral in the middle of the building.

Fortunately, the current governing laws in Spain prevent such outright seizure, and Bishop Fernández has also been assured that, should this actually happen, Pope Francis and the Holy See would enter the fray. That will, of course, not stop opposition officials from trying.

And while the current law blocks such expropriation, other goals might be more attainable. The bishop warned of “the more immediate objectives, such as asking for them [Muslims] to be able to share the cathedral … but that’s not possible, neither for the Catholics nor for the Muslims.”

Equally, there is no desperate need for prayer space on the part of Muslims, as there are barely 1,500 in the city, which is served by two mosques. The Islamic population in Spain, while growing through immigration, makes up barely 4% of the total population.

Local Muslims are also not behind the controversy. The push is coming from outside of Spain, and it is believed that much of the funding is being provided by Arab countries, with some Church officials and even Ambassador Ruperez warning that funding may even be coming from Qatar, which is facing many accusations of being a state sponsor of international terrorism.

It’s quite interesting – you can see plenty of photos at the official site and I have a bit of video on Instagram. I will say that many of the guides I read indicated you should give the site two hours, but we found one hour plenty – but perhaps a factor in that is a five-year old.

Anyway, some impressions:

The structure is quite beautiful, unique and stunning. The repetition of the identical striped double arches, juxtaposed with the wild Baroque of the Cathedral is an expression, in a way, of  differences between Islam and Catholicism – something even my teens picked up on without my prompting.

It was not very busy on this Monday in June. If there had been no school groups, it would have been even less so.

Here’s the most interesting thing I saw.

We were in a small exhibit on some particular silvermaker who made chalices. At one point, a Muslim family (who’d been on the train with us from Seville and, it would turn out, would also be on the same return train) came over, led by a security guard, who pointed up to a particular pillar. They told him thank you, then asked him a few questions, studied the pillar, and took photos of it. They left. Not a couple of minutes later another small Muslim group came over, found the pillar, discussed it, pointed, and took photos.

It was this:

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I asked the guard the significance. He barely spoke English, but he was able to indicate that it said something about Allah being the only God (probably a portion of the Shahada) and very important to Muslims. Well, yes. So what I concluded (and I can’t find anything about this online in the time I have at the moment) is that it must be the only remaining original Arabic/Koranic script left in the structure. You could see  similar spaces on the other column capitals that had obviously been scraped clean.

And then a third Muslim group came by, stopped, searched, pointed and photographed – three in the space of five minutes.

All right then, after that, it was about four (we’d come on an early afternoon train). We went to the Moorish/Roman bridge. Found a bathroom. Made our way to the ancient Synagogue, which was closed (it’s a museum, so of course, yeah – on a Monday – closed), then decided, eh, find ice cream and just go to the station.

Which we did. We didn’t do a lot of wandering. I was glad to have gone and seen the Cathedral, but the area around it is super, super touristy. I’ve been on plenty of ancient winding European streets, so spending a hot afternoon with a five-year old on narrow streets crammed with souvenir shops and other tourists doesn’t have much appeal to me. So a slow meander back to the station, back to Seville on a slower train, went to the grocery store, provide food for the youngest one, put him to sleep, and then M and I went out for some late-night tapas. Set out at ten, it was still light outside and the streets were busy and restaurants were crowded with all sorts of groups, including families.

We found a good tapas bar – we weren’t super hungry, but I just wanted to try some new things. So I found a new thing on the menu and ordered it. As I was sitting there waiting and watching the action behind the bar, I pointed and laughed and this weird thing being plated – “Look,” I said, “It’s a piece of cake with…lettuce on the side! What in the world?”

And then the waiter grabbed it and put it in front of me.

Oh!

Not exactly what I expected when ordering a “zucchini tart.” But it was good!

Also below: innovations from Spanish cuisine, including free 2L coke bottles with your Seagram’s and one I can truly get behind – pre-skewered relishes in a jar.

 

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After a morning walk in which I considered lamb brains at the market (see previous post), the big boys and I went to the Archive of the Indies:

The General Archive of the Indies of Seville was created in 1785 at the request of King Carlos III, in order to centralize in one place all documentation referring to the administration of the Spanish colonies which, until then, had been dispersed in various archives: Simancas, Cádiz, and Seville. La Casa Lonja de Mercaderes in Seville, built during the reign of Felipe II between 1584 and 1598, was chosen for the archives, where it remains to this day. The archive is home to about 43,000 files, with some 80 million pages and 8,000 maps and drawings that mainly derive from the metropolitan agencies in charge of administering the colonies. It was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, together with the Cathedral and the Reales Alcázares.

In the display room, many letters and documents, including handwritten letters from Columbus, Cortez and George Washington:

 

Then to the Church of El Salvador. Some subtle Spanish Baroque for you:

 

We then met up with the parents and grandson, took the grandson while the parents went up a bit north of Seville to a Roman site that was also a location for GOT. We headed to the bullfight ring where we took the very good tour. Of course it’s propoganda selling the activity – just as the Football Hall of Fame would be – but it was educational and very well done.

Notes on a  couple of specifics: the statue with the head was apparently used in training exercises. The chapel is the matador’s chapel – it’s their last stop before they enter the ring.

Next up: Sunday

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