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Posts Tagged ‘Spain 2019’

 

Well, let’s get back to SpainBlogging. Even though that’s in Italian up there. You’ll get it in a minute.

(Other posts have finally been collated here)

This, to many, will probably be to oddest aspect of this trip report. The oddest and the most indulgent. I won’t say “self-indulgent” because it wasn’t me who was being indulged. But indulgent, nonetheless.

Of course, everything else about this trip was indulgent, anyway. Freely admitted. A few months back, someone posted a link to one of my travel posts on Facebook, and discussion ensued along the lines of  “Gee, must be nice” and so on. I didn’t get defensive, because I am past that. I’m more at the stage of “You guys post gushing posts about your best-friend- hubbies and great marriages and your wonderful parents  every single freaking day and all of my people in those particular categories are completely dead, so maybe you can handle posts about Spain and trying, in some feeble, undoubtedly misguided way, to fill in…gaps.”

So yeah. When you’re raising boys with a dead father, and all the family news around you is about people dying or being plunged into dementia, you’re like, “What the hell. You like all this Spaghetti Western Stuff? Screw it. Let’s do this.”

For some reason, a couple of years ago, Son #5 became entranced with the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood/Ennio Morricone opus. I really and truly do not know how it happened – if it was the movies or the music that grabbed him first. All I know is that he watched them, and then the soundtracks became a fixture in our home. They came on every time I got in the car. They were on the top of the queue of Spotify when I was cooking dinner. They were learned and played on the piano – constantly.

I’d never watched any of them. Never. But I just endured it and supported it and what have you. And then last summer, the local vintage artsy heritage downtown movie palace offered The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as part of their summer series, and so I took Son #5 –

– and was enraptured.

Okay, not with the lengthy, discursive Civil War section that culminates in the bridge explosion – that could be cut – but with almost everything else, especially the music.

I got it. 

People sometimes wonder – why should I have kids? 

Well, here’s Reason #428. Because whenever you invite other people into your life – and that’s what having kids is all about – your own world expands. It could be something essential, or it could be something trivial. You learn something, you see more, you step out, you move down the road – and it’s all just very, very interesting.

So, let’s go back to this trip. I didn’t design it around spaghetti westerns – if I had, the trip would have looked much different (for all of those movies were filmed in Spain, and there’s even an attraction in southern Spain centered on it).  I settled on Seville as a base and then, for that last week, a possible jaunt up north, ending in Bilbao.

Which is when it dawned on me – Sad Hill Cemetery. 

And I figured – well, yes, this could happen. We’d watched the rather moving (although overlong) documentary about the site’s restoration, and once I studied the map, it was clear , yes, this was possible. We could work in a stop at that iconic site.

So there was that.

And then a few weeks before we left, I was doing some research – unrelated to this trip. I was thinking about M’s and mine future roadschooling future, and poking around, trying to see if there were any interesting concerts coming up to which we could travel. I was thinking, first, of the Michael Giacchino “We Have to Go Back”  Lost concerts, and then I idly thought (maybe because of similar-sounding Italian names)…hmmmm…what about Morricone? 

Oh.

What I stumbled upon was the fact that the 90-year old maestro was embarking upon his “last tour,” conducting concerts in Spain and Italy during the spring and summer. Unfortunately, the Spain concerts would be in May, but – well, look at this – one of them – in fact – THE LAST  – (as advertised) concert would be in Lucca, Italy – on a date during which we’d be in Europe.

*Checks RyanAir fares from Madrid to Pisa. Cheap. Struggles with guilt. Thinks – well, we’d be paying for housing *somewhere* – why not in Italy, instead of Spain for a couple of nights?*

Thinks – as per usual – about death and mortality – and pushes – BUY.

So there’s your backstory, people. Your backstory as to how we went to Ennio Morricone’s supposed last concert on Saturday, June 29 in Lucca, Italy – and then a couple of days later, were wandering around the Sad Hill Cemetery – the famed round cemetery from the final scene The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. 

A word about the journey to the cemetery – if you go (and you might well have arrived at this post because that’s where you’re headed) – do not go through Santo Domingo de Silos.  It’s what we did, and it was a mistake – I mean, the car survived, but it was dicey – a super steep hilly, incredibly rocky path. The other way – that comes from the north ( the way we exited) – is much safer for your vehicle.

 

The concert was great. Thousands of people, enraptured with the music, the fantastic, theatrical sopranos giving their super-dramatic all on pieces like The Ecstasy of Gold  – just Italians loving other Italians doing music. The best.

I will say that the bright spot about the rather frightening drive up a very steep hill on rocky paths in a rental car was…this view. Which we would have missed coming the other way. So – there’s that. And no damage to the car anyway, so it’s all good!

 

 

Yes, there was much re-creation of the scene. Running, seeking, fake digging, falling into graves and such. I might post some of that on Instagram in a bit. We weren’t alone. When we arrived there were three middle-aged British guys who’d arrived on motorcycles. They left, and we were alone for a good bit, and as we were living, two other small groups came. Plus, you know….

…cows.

Which is not something I expected! The ground was covered with cow patties, and as we ventured further in, we saw the reason, just up the hill, behind the trees, we heard them – the cowbells, gently sounding. As the minutes wore on, the cows moved closer, past the trees, until they had started, apparently, their late-day claim among the “graves.”

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I have one more strange aspect to this whole tale. I purchased the concert tickets via a resale outfit. The way it works is that you still see the original purchaser’s names on the receipt.

I did a double take at the name. The address was given as well. It sort of checked out. This person is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, although his present professional position is elsewhere in Canada.

So. Do you think it’s possible that my weird tickets to go, on a whim, see an elderly, legendary composer in Lucca, Italy, were purchased from the  Jordan Peterson?

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So what age-old question does this discovery answer?

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In case you’re also asking the question – Chinchón, Spain is the answer. 

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“Yeah, people are going to be mad at me for going. But I don’t give a f***. I’m in Spain. I’m going to a bullfight.” 

-Young guy to a friend, walking behind me on the way to the bullfight in Seville.

Kind of the way I felt, but without this fellow’s enthusiasm. My feeling was more of an obligation – I wanted to understand.

I’ve seen bullfighting protested in, I think – London. Or maybe Paris. Somewhere where they don’t have bullfights. The only part of Spain they’ve been banned is Catalonia (the area of Spain where Barcelona is located). Elsewhere in the country, bullfighting remains a deeply ingrained part of the culture (they also have bullfighting in southern France, and, of course, in Mexico). Most towns of any size that we drove through had a bullring. One – Chinchon (seen below – they were setting up bleachers for a weekend bullfight) – features bullfights in the town plaza. All of that fascinates me, I knew nothing about it, and I wanted to understand it.

 

Not everyone went, of course. It was me and the three sons on the trip. Daughter-in-law stayed home with the grandson.

But first, the bullring itself. A few days before we attended the fight, sons 4 & 5 and grandson and I toured the bullring and went to the museum associated with it. Even if you don’t want to go to a bullfight and even if you’re against it – it’s worth visiting the museum. Again, for the sake of understanding – even though the narrative is, of course, very pro-bullfight.

The origins of bullfighting are in military training, which then became ritualized and became, in sense, a sport. The most interesting part of the tour to me was the chapel. It’s the last stop the bullfighter makes before he goes into the ring. He prays to himself and he prays three prayers that are on the walls of the chapel. There’s a jug of water on the floor next to the door – I guess it’s blessed – I don’t know. But before he steps out, he rinses his mouth with this water, so the last “taste” he has before he faces the bull is of sacred, not earthly things.

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I’ll also say that it seems – besides sport and spectacle – bullfighting is related to charity, historically and at present. Several of the historic posters on display in the museum were advertisements for bullfighting events that would benefit charities – featuring images of nuns helping poor children and so on. And the notice I saw for the bullfight in Chinchon indicated that it was a benefit for a charity as well.

 

 

And now, to the main event.

They called him Ferdinand the Fierce and all of the Banderilleros were afraid of him and the Picadores were afraid of him and the Matador was scared stiff.

Yes, having read Ferdinand to children off and on for thirty years, the text was running on a loop in my head the whole time.

So, what was it like?

It was, first of all, very ritualized. There were three matadors on the ticket, and each fought twice. So six bullfights in all. These were not the major bullfights that take place here – those happen in the spring and then in the fall. The best I could understand, it was like we were seeing AAA matadors.

The stages of the bullfight are exactly the same each time, except one on of the last two fights, when the bull came out, the banderillero (I think) who was to meet him in the ring sort of leaned back – as one does in doing the Limbo – and the bull leaped over him as he raced in.

So yes – the bull comes in. He’s met with a number of men with capes who, I assume are getting the bull situated and perhaps agitated. Then the picador comes in on horseback – the horse is wearing a type of armor, in a way, to protect him from the bull, who gets understandably enraged when the picador lances him in the neck.

Next come the banderilleros – these are the men who have the two colorfully decorated swords (I guess) that they raise up and then stab in the bull’s neck as he is charging them. In the midst of this, the matador himself has come out and begun his work, engaging the bull to come at him, with various passes of the cape. Judging from the crowd’s reaction, there are definitely levels of skill and art by which these actions are judged – by number of passes? Proximity to the matador? I don’t know.

 

Then, eventually, the bull gets worn out from loss of blood and more or less collapses – at which time the matador takes out his sword and kills the bull – piercing it in the neck.

Impressions:

  • I had the distinct, superficial impression during these fights that the bulls are conditioned to react to the capes and the presence of certain stimuli – the way the animals were looking, almost expectantly, led me to think this, and it struck me as deeply unfair – it seemed as if they had been trained to play a game and then, welp, you’re dead. I’ve researched it a bit, though, and all the information I can find in that quick look tells me that this isn’t so, and that in fact the “wildness” of the bull is a criterion for their value as an opponent.
  • The ring was pretty full, and people were of all ages (including children) and from all over.
  • There was a live band that played the introductory music and the fanfares.
  • After the bull is killed and taken out (more on that in a minute), the matador strides around the ring, receiving the applause of the spectators – one matador had trouble killing the bull, though – he had to stab it, I think four times, before it was killed. He didn’t take that victory lap.
  • The most striking machismo-moment of the ritual occurs in moments when the matador has gotten the bull agitated, pulled it in several passes close to him, the bull has backed off a bit – and the matador turns his back on the bull. 

I guess I wasn’t aware, before I went that the bull dies every time. They say there are rare times in which the bull fights with such vigor that he is “pardoned.” But yeah, the point of the thing is some art and grace and machismo, but mostly – kill the bull.

(Bullfighters do die, too. The two most recent I can find are from 2016 and 2017.)

After the first bullfight, I popped out to get more refreshments. I climbed the steps to get back in, but – like Woody Harrelson at Wimbledon – was stopped by an attendant.

“When the bull dies,” he said, “You can go back in.”

Okay. 

So what happens when the bull dies? I bet you’ve never thought about that before. I hadn’t. Well, it’s pretty startling, but, what else are they going to do?

A team of horses comes out, they hook the bulls body to a chain, and, racing, drag it out of the ring.

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It’s very weird to see.

Also weird was the sight that greeted us as we left. We exited the ring with the crowd, and walked a bit around the circumference of it outside to get going in the right direction back to the apartment. There, right outside the doors, a truck was parked, with the stone pavement surrounding in pooled with blood. Lots of blood.

I think what interests me most about the whole spectacle was that it still exists. In a time when people get driven from polite society for posting images of themselves with the game they’ve shot on “safari,” it’s amazing to me that bullfighting hasn’t met the same end. Perhaps it will someday, or not. It obviously plays an important role in Spanish culture and society – I don’t profess to understand it at all – but I’m not sorry I went, even though the whole thing was, I admit, pretty surreal.

 

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I told you I was going to be random about these Spain posts. 

I’m going to backtrack to Seville for a moment and highlight some of the holdings of the lovely little Museo de Bellas Artes. It was two blocks from our apartment, and I think tickets were 1.50 Euros.

I posted some of these before, but I thought I’d revisit, post some more images and talk a bit more about them.

The boys and I took our grandson/nephew. It was a small enough museum that the five-year old wasn’t overtaxed.

(Remember, you can click on any image for a larger version)

First, St. Jerome:

 

 

Yes, this is St. Jerome, according to the signage. Who needs a lion with this build? It’s a great example of artists using the moment to show off their skills, isn’t it? Same with St. Dominic here:

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He’s doing penance, gaze fixed on the cross. Clearly, what he’s holding in his right hand would have been attached to a discipline, probably made of leather strips or rope.

 

 

More saints. If you click on the images you can see more detail. Left to right: St. Ramon Nonato, who had his lips locked together by those who imprisoned him;  A martyr whose name I didn’t note with a knife in his neck; then in English, St. Louis Bertrand (in Spanish Luis Beltran) painted by the wonderful Zurbaran. Here’s why a dragon is coming out of his cup:

In Christian iconography, St. Louis Bertrand is often portrayed holding a chalice from which serpents are emerging. In the other hand, he displays a crucifix with a pistol at its base. These articles call to mind two stories from the great saint’s life when God miraculously saved him from attempts on his life by vile would-be assassins. The first recalls the story of Brother Louis’ missionary preaching in South America. A native priest, showing his jealous contempt for our saint, gave him a chalice of poison at the Holy Mass. Louis made the sign of the Cross over the toxic potion, and serpents sprang from the chalice, thus revealing its true contents and saving his life.

The second object – the crucifix/pistol – recalls another account of near-martyrdom in the life of St. Louis Bertrand. Set upon by a crazed gunman — we like to think it was one of his novices, but who knows — St. Louis calmly made the conquering sign of the Cross. With this most basic gesture of our faith, the barrel of the gun miraculously turned into a crucifix.

Speaking of dragons:

I loved this fierce, medieval St. Michael:

 

 

There was a series of large paintings depicting processions through Seville being held at various times of the year. We noted this detail in one of them. Proof, obviously, that dragons are real:

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More saints and their miracles:

 

 

I have done some digging, and the best I can see is that the painting represents a miracle in which an artist was painting a portrait (not from life) of St. Francis de Paolo, he collapses (or dies) and an angel comes to finish the painting. The next painting in the series, right next to this one, depicts the angel-finished painting being borne through streets along which buildings are collapsing – it seems as if it is functioning as a protection.

 

 

This rendition of the souls in Purgatory was quite beautiful and affecting.

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I just am so taken with the look on the little angel’s face: sad, concerned and a little angry.  All emotions appropriate to the moment.

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I am not sure why I was moved to take a photo of this – except perhaps that I was struck by Christ’s gaze, directly at us.

 

 

We had big discussions about this Last Supper. First, obviously, concerning the naked mole rat “lamb” on the platter there. But – with the apostle on the left – I maintained that the painter had originally had him facing to the right, and then changed his mind. Or couldn’t paint profiles facing the other way. Either way – it’s a mess, it seems to me. It’s almost painful to look at it.

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Art is so important as a window into the past. This late 19th century painting gives a glimpse into the devotional life of the period – the spiritual treasures of one elderly woman, held dear.

Now, from the sweet pink-garbed infant to …a more violent spiritual artifact. Prepare yourself:

 

 

 

Gaspar Núñez Delgado. I am trying to think of the setting in a church or chapel that would feature this piece – I am assuming it would have been on a platter, in some larger arrangement.

 

 

Random shots of the guys, plus the gorgeous ceiling they’re studying in the last photo. My grandson said he counted thirty-three “pictures” in the ceiling.

And now, two final intriguing pieces.

First – who’s this?

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St. Joseph, of course. I’m sure dissertations have been written concerning the age of St. Joseph as portrayed in art, but I did see a few youngish San Jose’s in Spanish galleries and churches. This is by Murillo, whose statue stands in the square outside the museum.

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And then – I saw three S. Sebastians in Spain – two pictured here, one from Seville the other from, I think, Burgos. A refreshing change from the writhing half-nude S. Sebastian one sees elsewhere:

 

 

 

I’ll say this for the Spanish: they may like their blood and gore, but they also like their fine garments.

Speaking of gore – I completely forgot that I’ve not written about, yes…the bullfight. Maybe that will come tomorrow.

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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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Cod in Bilbao, Octopus in an Aldi in Madrid, a popcorn machine in Seville that fascinated.

(And a little bit in Italy)

We ate well in Spain, although it wasn’t a continual feast and it was never high-end. For the Seville part, there were six of us ranging in age from five to fifty-eight, of various dispositions, tastes and toleration levels. No, we had no pressing need to set out as a group to eat together for every meal (and in fact various divisions of the party would be off doing their own thing at times), but still, there were many factors to take into consideration which could be challenging at times. But knowing this, the smart person has already lowered expectations, and is happy to take whatever comes.

That’s not a bad suggestion for life in general, I think. Lower your expectations and be grateful for the gift of every moment. Yup.

Two other points:

First, my previous experience in Spain – Madrid and Barcelona on two different trips – had led me to expect more of the same regarding dinner times on this trip. It had been particularly acute in Barcelona, and perhaps I felt it particularly acutely at the time because I was traveling with a teen-age girl, an eight- year old and a four year old by myself. That is: they (Barcelona people – not my people)  don’t even start thinking about dinner until 9pm, and then, they really are just thinking about it. We’d set out at nine, confident that we’d  find a restaurant where we wouldn’t look like fools, as the sole customers – and were confounded every time.

So that’s what I was expecting in Seville. I was ready!

No need. Yes, “dinner” might not get rolling until that late hour, but the impact of the tapas culture is such that you can find people eating much of the afternoon and into the early evening.

Now, many restaurants are closed for a chunk of that – they might have been open for lunch from, say, noon to three or four – then they close and re-open at 8. But usually there are enough tapas bars that are open during that late afternoon-early evening hour that you can find something – and Spanish tapas is more than crackers and cheese. For light eaters, it qualifies as a meal.

So the point is that we never had trouble finding food being served somewhere. 

Secondly, while I enjoyed the food and by no means exhausted the local cuisine, I’ll say this about traveling to an area with a deeply-rooted traditional cuisine.

We look forward to it, right? We can’t wait to hit the pizza and pasta in Italy, the German sausages, the French sauces, the Spanish ham and potatos bravas. 

Well…

When I was in Italy (for two! days!), I was in the laundromat around the corner from our apartment. An American couple of about my age were also sorting and folding, so we got to talking. They were from Virginia and, like us, were on the tail end of a few weeks in Europe. I gathered that they’d been abroad a bit longer – more like four weeks. We had the usual conversation about how it had been great but we were ready to get home, and the woman said, I am so tired of pasta! 

And there you go. When an American travels to a part of the world with deep cultural traditions, we encounter a different world that is very attractive in some ways – in its richness and stability, its self-confidence. But, again, an American just might find some challenges in that landscape as well – I’ll talk more about this in a general way later, but since this is a food post, I’ll limit it to food.

What that stable, deep and rich culture means for food, in my limited experience, is that you encounter wonderful food that’s been centuries in the making, beloved, well-honed – and…not much else. So in Seville and around, the menus of most restaurants tend to share about 75% of the dishes in common: pork-related products (ham, of course, and also pork loin and chops), patatas bravasrevueltos (egg and vegetable scramble), snails (in season right now), and maybe ten other common dishes.

Restaurants doing anything different are scattered. We found one chicken-centered place not far from our apartment (there’s hardly any chicken on restaurant menus), and it was good, but most times we passed by, it was almost empty, as well.

Burger places are popular, though, and not just McDonald’s. There are several chains that do well – one we encountered often and ate at twice, I think, is called The Good Burger.

It’s not just so tired of pasta! It’s the beauty and the gift of the authentic diversity we have in this country  – with Mexican, Thai, Ethiopian, Nashville hot chicken, pizza and biscuits-and-gravy all within a couple miles of my house. A balanced world requires both – it requires the rich, solid, very-reluctantly changing and protected traditions – and the wildness of change and diversity. The trick is figuring out how to balance them, right?

Oh, and cost. You can eat very, very cheaply in Spain – in our experience. As I said, we didn’t go high end. So, for example, a tapas-centered dinner that filled all six of us up (including one five-year old, yes), including drinks – which included a couple/three beers – came, on one memorable occasion, to 43 Euros. Most tapas plates are between 2-3.5 Euros. Of course you can get larger plates, but we tended to stick with tapas-sized.

Anyway. Highlights of food, in no particular order:

 Spinach and chickpeas in Seville (very common); tuna & peppers (again, tipico) and some sort of potato-shrimp-chorizo thing in Seville (it was excellent); Asparagus and Migas in Trujillo – Migas – breadcrumbs, sausage, peppers and egg- a typical dish of the region. Then, snails in Seville. They were in season, and everywhere – and very good. The sauce was a rich tomato – more flavorful than most sauces I encountered in Spain.

Oh, that’s my advice for you if you travel to Spain to eat and have a typical American palate like mine: bring salt. Just a bit, to bring out those flavors a little more.

Asparagus is one of the more common green vegetables in the region. It’s so arid, they just don’t grow much, and they don’t really feature on the menus. Breakfast juice with strawberries. That weird, but tasty “zucchini tart” from Seville, and one of the typical pastries of Trujillo – basically, a custard.

Clockwise from top left: First two photos are from an excellent lunch in Merida. Tuna and peppers for me, delicious pork loin and chicken for the guys. . A typical breakfast in Caceras – toast (thick-cut bread) with ham and some olive oil. A typical pastry from Guadalupe – basically day-old cake bits bound with honey Then a break in Toledo with Middle Eastern food.

Same. Pizza in Lucca – the best, served as they do in Rome, with big sheets of it available for your choosing, sold by weight. Then a very good chain burger place in Seville called Goiko Grill – probably the most expensive meal we had, but they said the burgers were great, so it was worth it. Lamb brains from on of the Seville markets. Tapas that came with drinks in Toledo. Typical bakery in Chinchon. The beginning of pintxos in Bilbao.

In the south you have tapas – served generally from a menu. In the north, you have pinxtos – piled up high at the bar. If forced to choose, I would probably go with the pintxos – the olive/pickles orientation is more my style. The other feature of pintxos is slices of bread with…stuff piled on top. I thought I had photos, but I don’t. It’s easy to find them, though. 

We ate more than this, but a lot of my photos of those meals tend to have family members’ faces in them, and while many social media types have no problem using their families in that way, well, you won’t find that here.

One more: a tale of two montadillos.

There are different kinds of sandwiches in Spain, of course. The smaller is called the montadito. There’s a very popular chain called 100 Montaditos – and that’s exactly what it is. A menu featuring 100 kinds of montaditos priced at 1 Euro each.

I see that they have a few American stores – in Florida. Sandwiches are not a buck each – they start at 2 and go up. 

It’s truly fast food – I would say hangover food, really.  One of our party was fascinated with the concept and wanted to hit it every time we saw one (we didn’t.). I mean – for a euro? It was fine. Hit the spot.

But. 

These on the right  were better. Recommended in many guides, this bar – Bodequita Antonio Romero –  specializes in montaditos, and they were wonderful. I think not too much more than a Euro, but easily five times as flavorful. It’s the kind of thing you really wonder about – why can’t we have this here? Just go up to a bar, order a couple of little sandwiches, have a beer, and move on. Everyone’s professional and courteous, but there’s no need to treat the experience as if you are binding yourself to the establishment for life or need to be assured that you’re loved and appreciated.

(Two reasons, probably – it goes back to the deeply rooted cultural aspect of this food and these places – they’re just part of the fabric – and the no-tipping culture, as well. I found the waitstaffs in Spain to be sometimes on the brink of brusque, but always just…professional. As a person who will go an extra mile for self-checkout and who wants to Death Stare the next server who cheerily asks, How’s it goin’ guys? Having a good day? …this is definitely more my style.)

 

One more random note: While in Seville, most mornings, I went out and got pastries for breakfast from this bakery, called Colette – they were really some of the best I’ve ever had. On the quick jump over to Italy, I was reminded why I am not fond of the Italian take on these pastries – like croissants – they put a glaze on them. 

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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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