Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Taking a travelogue break to offer quick reviews of the movies I watched on the plane:

  • I didn’t watch any movies on the way over, only the two episodes of Mad Men they offered.  I didn’t want to get too committed to full-length films because I was all MUST SLEEP. GO TO SLEEP. NOW.
  • Of course, I didn’t sleep at all. I never do.  Even the time I flew to Europe by myself, with empty seats on either side of me….I didn’t sleep. I’m too anxious about sleeping to sleep, that’s all.
  • On the way back, I watched three movies, though, and part of two others.
  • I’d been looking forward to Foxcatcher since reading about it, probably a year ago.  It sounded complicated and layered and had Steve Carrell.  But I’m sorry to say…no.  About 45 minutes into it, I couldn’t believe it was only 45 minutes into it and there were 90 minutes left to go.  Carrell was fine, if a little mannered and caricatured (but perhaps that’s the way DuPont actually presented), and I thought Channing Tatum was just fine, but the whole thing was just a little too…careful. Money Quote: “Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist…”
  • I’d also been wanting to see Whiplash.  It was certainly more entertaining that Foxcatcher, albeit fairly crazy and over the top. J.K. Simmons, as an uber-intense, authoritarian, sadistic instructor of jazz band was fun to watch, but it was, as I said, just too much to take at times.  What interested me was to see what the film would do with the standard tough master v. student trope and to follow the various mind games being played. It certainly wasn’t predictable, that’s for sure, but there were points at which the unpredictability morphed into unbelievability – as in, a perfectionist musician would take an opportunity given to him to shine and use that moment to humiliate one guy? Nope.
  • But. The last fifteen minutes are, well…great. They are earned. It’s exhilarating to see the put-upon, even abused student "amy welborn"take charge and to observe the dynamic of master-student: taking what’s been learned and shooting it right back – played out in the context of Caravan. 
  • Fr. Robert Barron wrote about this film today in the context of spiritual mentoring.  It’s a reasonable jumping-off point, but I had a hard time connecting to the movie on that subject because the Simmons character was so ridiculous, really. Rather, what I was thinking about, especially during those last few minutes of the film, was art – and perhaps more so because I’d spent a week contemplating the likes of Bosch, El Greco, Velasquez, Picasso, Ribera, and Goya. My final takeaway of those final seconds, in particular, was that in order to make truly great art you probably have to be a little bit crazy, and you might just have to sell your soul.  Money Quote: “Mmmm….not my tempo.”
  • Enough Said was one of James Gandolfini’s last films, and he stars in this tale of love and courtship in middle age with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and Toni Colette.  Loved it. I have to say that my 32-year old son had seen it some months ago and recommended it, so it’s not just a middle-aged thing.  It’s very real, funny and the acting is terrific. People have doubts about each other, get angry, and connect in unexpected ways with unexpected people and talk about the issues they have in ways pretty close that we do in real life, with enough of the elevated focus and wit of theater to make you both nod in recognition and laugh because they’re funnier than you are.  It’s also striking because one character really does mistreat another, and handle a situation very badly…and is called on it, and must bear the consequences..and eventually finds forgiveness, but it’s not easy.
  • I also watched part of The Skeleton Twins, mostly because I like Bill Hader – what I watched struck me as pretty formulaic, but I couldn’t finish it because the sound putzed out.
  • So I tried to give St Vincent  – the film about the irascible Bill Murray being impacted (I assume) by the Kid Next Doorbut we landed about 30 minutes in, and I wasn’t interested enough to pick it up later…should I?  It struck me as situational – as in, let’s create a Wacky Situation which leads characters to confront a Quirky Situation which leads to Understanding Despite the Odds.
  • And didn’t we see this in Kolya, and wasn’t it much better then?

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We arrived back safe and sound Monday evening, only to be greeted Tuesday morning with the sobering news of a tragic crash in the Alps – not even on our route, and not our airline, but still…it certainly gives one pause, especially if you are one who has to give yourself the “Think how many flights there are every single day” pep talk when you fly…especially in the moments when the wheels noisily retract and the engines shift to cruising mode or whatever it is they do, but that feels like all the machinery has just stopped operating…


I don’t think I’ve posted since Friday.  I’ll do Saturday here, then Sunday in another post.

My daughter was returning to Germany Saturday afternoon, but we still had a couple of hours to be with her before she jumped on the Metro with her suitcase at noon.

So, to save time, we took a taxi (and it only cost one Euro more than it would have taken us all to ride the Metro) out to the Temple of Debod, which had been located on land flooded as a result of the Aswan Dam. (Another temple relocated for the same reason is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC).  It was a brief, but interesting stop.  The location is well-done and the upper floor of the main building has been outfitted with educational presentations done in the excellent way I experienced in every Spanish museum.  They really do that hi-tech stuff well.

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Looking from the main temple building

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From there, we walked to San Antonio de la Florida Chapel, which features wonderful paintings – including the dome portraying a scene of St. Anthony raising a man from the dead – by Goya, and is where he is buried.

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Um…a lovely walk, yes?

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The chapel in sight.

As we walked up, I saw well-dressed people getting out of cars and heading in the same direction, and we thought, “Oh no…wedding,” and yes there was, but  in the other chapel – they built a chapel for parish use next to the original, so the original could be seen by all, no matter if services were going on or not.

(No photos of the interior were allowed….not even for the puppet show that was being set up. For some reason.)

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Then another taxi back to the apartment, a quick lunch at the wonderful Mercado San Anton – one block from our apartment – and farewell to the sister….

…at which point we headed out again, back west (on the Metro this time) to the Museo de America.  It was closing at 3, so we had to hurry.

It was, as you’d expect, a good collection of artifacts from the Maya, Aztec, Inca, as well as from the Colonial period – although the collection at the Met in New York is even more impressive.  I was most interested in the period paintings depicting colonial life, especially those highlighting – as a positive – the mixed-race aspect of family life in Spanish America.  And although all the placards were in Spanish, it was still evident enough to me that the perspective offered on the Spanish conquest of the Americas was…different than what you would probably find in a museum in this hemisphere. I didn’t see any hand-wringing or much – if any – mention of disease or exploitation.

Anyway, the Maya-mad 10-year old enjoyed himself!

It was only 3 pm that point, but it was rainy, so my hope of doing bikes in the park the city of Madrid built over a highway tunnel, were dashed. Instead, we headed east to the Naval Museum, which is free.  (Although note –  they will ask for a donation anyway, and the fellow who took mine, clearly didn’t feel that 4 Euros was enough to support the Spanish Navy). I had very good memories of the stunning maritime museum in Barcelona, and while this would certainly be interesting to people who are…well…interested…in matters maritime, it was less so to us.  Lots of scale models, lots of paintings of admirals, some mastheads, which were great, and the highlight of the collection - this, drawn by Juan de la Cosa, who accompanied Columbus on his three exhibitions, the first map showing the western hemisphere, made in 1500, and perhaps even used to explain matters to Isabella and Ferdinand.  That was awe-inspiring to see. Between that and the hand-written manuscripts by Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross…we were ridiculously close to some great stuff on this trip.

(But we did look in vain for references to a certain event that occurred in 1588…..)

Back to the apartment, then I went out in search of food, returning with an odd assortment of a roast chicken, arancini, and bread. Huh. After they ate, I headed out alone back to the Puerta del Sol area to do some undistracted surveying for the final Souvenir Push on Sunday!


A note on our taxi drivers.  First, it is incredibly easy to hail a taxi in Madrid. They are everywhere, and happy to take you wherever you need to go.

(When we were in New York City last summer, I hailed a cab because we were dead tired and just wanted to get back to the hotel, which was maybe 8 blocks away – I told the guy through the window where we were going and he snorted, said something unintelligible and drove away.  Someone told me later to not tell them where you are going until you are actually in the car, since at that point they are prohibited from turning the customer away. Lesson learned.)

The fellow on the way over to the Temple was taciturn, which is obviously fine with me.  The driver on the way back was way more talkative, but what he had to say was intriguing.  My daughter was sitting in the front seat, and he handed her a small volume of bound pictures – his art, he said (after telling us that his wife is Brazilian, and how much he wants to visit America). He went on to tell us that he had a religious conversion – that he had never paid much attention to his religion, until something happened, and he came to understand how important faith in Jesus is, and “He changed my heart.”

He tends to do that, yes?

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The day began and (sort of) ended with people lined up, crowded in, to catch a glimpse, touch and be close.

We set out down the Gran Via with one end in mind, but were distracted by a crowd at an H & M across the road, obviously gathered to see Someone. A web search led me to believe that it might be David Beckham. We asked someone, “Quien es?” and she answered, “Beck-hahm,” an assertion affirmed by various other Spaniards around us, and finally by an Englishman who nodded and said he’d seen it on the news.

So…why not wait?  We did, probably for too long, but you get to a point at which you say, “Well, we’ve waited this long….” He finally arrived in a jet black minivan, but since we were, you know, across the road and the black minivan didn’t move right away, and there were crowds…we didn’t see him, although my daughter thinks she caught the top of his head.


(Here’s a story about the appearance.)

We then changed directions and headed over to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the last of the triad (after the Prado and the Reina Sofia). It is a good, representative collection, arranged chronologically, so following it from the top floor down, you get a succinct history of European and American art from 14th-century Italy to a little past Lichtenstein. A few favorites – I am not one to take photos in art museums, even when it is allowed. I know that there are better images online or in books that I can manage, so I usually don’t bother except as a form of note-taking for future reference.

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This is called The Virgin of the Dry Tree.  The reference is to a Confraternity of the Dry Tree, which in turn is probably a reference to Ezekiel, and then, the tree of the Garden that brought death, which Jesus will restore to life.

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The Risen Christ by Bramantino, 15th century, but strikingly contemporary.

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Annunciation to St. Anne. Go read about it – quite interesting.

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Now, this is attributed to Gilbert Stuart, and is called Portrait of George Washington’s Cook, although apparently there is some speculation involved in this identification. But George Washington did have a cook in Philadelphia, his name was Hercules, and he was enslaved – more here, including the story of his escape from slavery in Mount Vernon. 

After the museum and lunch, we walked back over to a church we’d seen beforehand, a church with an impressive line of people snaking into it. What was that about?

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The line leading into the church.

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…and to the other side of the block.

Well, it was this – Jesus of Medinaceli – a statue stolen by Moors, then retrieved. It is venerated, apparently, on Fridays.


The statue is on that top level. People walk up the stairs to venerate it.

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A full church, organ playing in the background.
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Let’s see. Church open all day – so all are welcome to enter into this place and be a part of what is going on. Loads of people, from everywhere and anywhere, bringing the totality of their lives, joys and pain. Looking at the schedule of this basilica, we see Mass several times a day, every day, and Confessions off and on all day, every day.

Open doors. Open to anyone.

Anyone can walk in and see, listen, touch and be moved by grace.

No one judges and no one excludes because here, all eyes are fixed on Christ, and when we are all looking in His direction, the supposed flaws of our neighbor recede from our sight.

Why do they come?

Seeking mercy, perhaps?

And finding it in ancient sacraments and traditions grown out of centuries of spiritual experience and reflection?

Because mercy wasn’t invented this week, perhaps?


By this time, it was around five, perhaps later, so we just wound our way back home, through the neighorhood of Santa Ana, which I hope to revisit tomorrow or the next day, back up through the Puerta de Sol, to the other mass of El Corte Ingles stores…this time we found the branches selling clothes and toys, so time to split up and see what the Spanish have to offer. (We must always do Lego comparisons). I also looked through the grocery store in the basement and decided that will probably be the place where I do my take-home food shopping this weekend – it really is too bad that cured meats aren’t allowed back in the US…no jamon or chorizo….sigh.

I also discovered a great store called Tiger - it’s sort of a cross between a dollar-type store and Ikea.  Low prices (from 1-4 E on most things) and sharp, clean, colorful design sensibility.


Also, while I knew, in theory, that Holy Week was a big deal in Spain…I see now that I didn’t know anything at all, really. It’s a big deal. There was a display table in the book section of El Corte Ingles with books, videos and CD’s about Semana Santa. I’ve seen children’s coloring and sticker books about it. On the first afternoon we were here, we saw a huge, rectangular block being borne out of a chapel door by a group of men…we had no idea what it was at the time, but know I now it was one of those platforms to carry statuary – it was completely covered in protective tarps and so on, but I’m assuming they were carting it somewhere to get it ready for Holy Week….

(Related…Valencia celebrates St. Joseph’s feastday in a huge way, and I was halfway tempted to head over there this week to take a peek…well, actually less than halfway, because it’s far from here and the crowds are huge..but still…tempted.)

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— 1 —

It’s nice to be in a place with actual, functioning public transportation.

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— 2 —

When you ascend the Ventas Metro stop, this is what greets you:

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Beautiful building, horrible “sport.”  IMHO.

H— 3 —

This statue celebrates a famed bullfighter – one side showing him triumphant, the other side, an angel weeping by the side of a bench holding his matador suit…the sign reads, “Died a matador, born an angel.”

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— 4 —

We then hopped back on the metro, and this time when we ascended, we saw this:

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— 5 —

I paid for the tour – three of us have zero interest in soccer, and the fourth has some, only because it’s a sport, and sports are his passion.  I was willing to pay for this tour because I figured that while some of us can enter into a culture via its food, history or religion, others might enter more deeply into it via sports.

It was very high tech – impressive.

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And the tour took you through the dressing rooms and down to the field as well..

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— 6 —

Afterwards, down to the Reina Sofia Museum, where we saw Picasso’s Guernica  – which we’d studied a bit before the trip – and other works. No photos, of course, but this is the view of the Atocha train station from the front of the museum.

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And then to the huge El Corte Ingles store off the Gran Via, just to look..this is the view from the roof.

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— 7 —

Starting to think about First Communion gifts?

Try these…

And since it’s Friday….

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

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

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This painting was in a side chapel in the Segovia Cathedral:

(Click on the image to enlarge it)


So…there we are on top of the tree, partying. (It’s the Feast of St. Joseph, so yes, here in Europe, we are partying). There’s death, about to take us down.

There’s Jesus, poised to ring the warning bell.

And there’s the little devil, trying to cut the rope and silence the bell so we’ll just keep on partying…..

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Today, we headed to Segovia.

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I had gone back and forth on this one because every time I checked, the weather forecast changed. If it was going to be quite rainy in Madrid and okay in Segovia, we’d go…but then the forecast would tell me that it was going to be okay in Madrid and rainier in Segovia..or it was going to be quite rainy in both (in which case, we’d stay here and do museums).

It finally settled, mid-morning on a “40% chance of light rain” forecast for Segovia, so that seemed worth the risk…and I’m very glad we went, because it ended up being a lovely, rain-free afternoon.

How did we get there? Well, my intention had been to take the high speed train up and back. We reached the Chamartin station, and by the time I finally got to a ticketing person (the machines wouldn’t take my cards…of course), the one I reached didn’t speak a word of English, we didn’t really understand each other, and he sold me four one-way tickets to Segovia, rather than the round-trip I’d wanted.

We’ll figure that out later.

The train ride up was quick and smooth, much of it through tunnels and one starting section through fairly heavy snowfall.

The AVE station is 6 km outside of Segovia, but the buses are coordinated to await the coming trains, so all you do is pay your Euro and hop on, for a twenty minute ride into town.

Segovia is famous for its magnificent Roman aqueduct…and it is certainly something.

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As is the Cathedral,  constructed in what is termed the “Flamboyant Gothic” style.

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You turn the corner and…

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The odd thing is that the actual worship space (as we say) takes up a relatively small area in the middle of the cathedral – the rest of it being consumed by a gorgeous choir area with two stunning organs and then, of course, lots and lots of side chapels.

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Including a Blessed Sacrament with a lovely tabernacle and altar obviously carefully designed to complement the normative aesthetic. (You probably have to click on the photo to enlarge it to see.)

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Then to the castle, mostly reconstructed, but still mildly interesting, mostly for the room which holds bas-relief painted statues of all the monarchs of the Reconquest.  And the ceilings, which were gorgeous.

More storks!

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By then it was 2, so it was time for lunch. Segovia’s local culinary claim to fame is conchilla, or roast suckling pig. I didn’t go seeking it, but the odd little restaurant where we ended up – tables on the second floor, dish and condiment story on the first, in full view of the street, kitchen in parts unknown – had it on the menu, so we tried it, and yes, it was excellent.

Then down the hill to the  Iglesia de la Vera Cruz, built by the Knights Templar in that signature roundish style.


I was surprised that it wasn’t open on the inside, which I had expected. There was, rather, a two-level room built in the middle of the structure, with an altar and a couple of niches on the second level – I wondered if this is where the relic of the True Cross had been kept.

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Then down and around to the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites, founded by St. John of the Cross, and where his remains now lie. (You can watch a short video of Fr. Robert Barron and Fr. Steve Grunow in front of this tomb, discussing the importance of the saint.)

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Then back. We didn’t take the train on the return because there’s a direct bus to Madrid that was right in town, so it would require one less step.  In addition, the metro at the bus stop is a little closer to us than the metro at the AVE train station, so total time, despite the fact that the bus was an hour, wasn’t that much more. And it was a different experience.

So…we left the apartment at about 10:30 AM, and were back by 8..a full day, yes?

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Always leave time and space for running….

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Yesterday was a day trip to Alcala de Hernares, the birthplace of Cervantes.

The University of Alcala:

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Statue of Cervantes in the main square:

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Storks nesting on every height:

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Baptismal font where Cervantes was baptized.  Baptismal record is on the wall behind it.

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Cervantes birthplace, now a little sort of museum.

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The local pastry:

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Special exhibit on St. Teresa of Jesus at the Biblioteca Nacional:

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Manuscript of The Way of Perfection….in Teresa’s own hand.  There were several artifacts like this, as well as some written by John of the Cross.

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St. Isidore of Seville, outside the library."amy welborn" "amy welborn"

Pulpit, St. Barbara’s Church"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

Carmelites visiting the exhibit.

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