Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Travel day—to Granada

After our fun night last night, I didn't sleep. I tossed and turned and couldn't get comfortable. I was grateful, but unrested when morning arrived. So getting on a bus for a 5-hour ride wasn't a bad thing. I slept on the bus. I'm sure I had my mouth hanging open and I had my goofy blow-up neck pillow, but I was unashamed. The only person I knew on the bus was Ray and he's seen worse. This is the way of the traveler. Somehow I often sleep better sitting up on a bus than in a comfy, but unfamiliar hotel bed. It's a mystery.

We arrived in Granada mid-afternoon and found our Airbnb in the historic Albayzin area. It is pretty great. The building, much like the one in Barcelona, is ancient on a narrow little hillside street, but this one is much cozier, with furniture and a well-appointed kitchen. It even has a washer and we are doing some laundry tonight. We did a little walkabout earlier, checked out the neighborhood, had a cold beer in the plaza, bought groceries and retired to our little home away from home for the evening. Our place has two balconies and the views knocked us out. I will leave you with tonight's views.

Looking down toward Plaza Nuevo
Looking up at The Alhambra.
Pinch me. I think I'm dreaming. . .


Monday, September 15, 2014

Last day in Madrid

Today we took in the Reina Sofia Museum, which houses the works of the more modern masters, including Picasso's Guernica. When we were in Europe in 1972 we saw Guernica on exhibit in Paris. Franco was in power at that time, in Spain, and Picasso, a Spaniard by birth had declared that he would not exhibit his work in Spain as long as Franco ruled. Both are, of course, now dead, the monarchy was restored in Spain and Picasso's work has returned to his native country.

Along with Picasso, the museum's collection includes absolutely wonderful works, including many artists from Spain, but from around the world as well. Here are a few pieces that stood out for me.

"inspiration" by Josefa Tolra. I was not familiar with this artist, but this spoke to me. A Google search turns up much more by her.

"The Goring of the Woman Bullfighter" by Jose Caballero. Reminded me of the wonderful Almodovar movie "Talk to Her" about the same subject.

"Antonio and Carmen" by Antonio Lopez. Something very touching about this double portrait.

And what a treat to see good old Rothko in Spain and such good Spanish colors!

When my brain could absorb no more and my feet were rebelling, we stopped and had lunch in the museum's space-agey cafe.

This evening we met up with Keiko, an old work colleague of Ray's who has been hiking the Santiago de Compostela trail and was in Madrid today—Would not have connected at all except that she posted where she was on Facebook. The three of us went to the fabulous San Miguel Market where you can pick up small plates of prepared food to eat on the spot, or shop to take home.
You pick up your little plates and a glass of wine and find a spot at the crowded little tables in the center of the market. As luck, or fate, would have it, we ended up sharing a table with a couple of delightful guys—American Craig who is an IT guy (like Ray and Keiko) for the US State Department, and his French friend, Patric, who is a restaurant owner in Paris. The food was delicious and the company and conversation was great. At one point Patric, in his charming accent, gesturing around our table and then toward the multicultural throng in the busy market, said, "why can't the world be more like this..."

Tomorrow we are off to Granada.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Eyes on Madrid

After our long museum day yesterday we decided to get out and see the city today. We started at Plaza Mayor, the very oldest part of Madrid. It has been the scene of many historic events, including the public execution of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. Today there was nothing more exciting than a small flea market consisting mostly of old coins and stamps, and old men haggling over them. We wandered along the stalls and I bought a small pair of old and interesting folding scissors.

The closer and higher I looked, the more interesting details I found.

We left the Plaza Mayor and walked through some neighborhoods, getting a little lost and very tired and decided this was not the most efficient way to explore the city. So we headed down to Plaza del Sol and bought tickets for the big red tourist bus. It turned out to be a great idea. You can hop off the bus almost anywhere along the line, explore, or have a meal, then hop on the next bus that comes along all day and into the evening. There is a recorded commentary, in numerous languages, you can listen to as you ride along.

As I had discovered at Plaza Mayor, there is a lot to be seen by looking up.

We stopped partway through the tour and had lunch—mine was a pizza with an egg on it. I ordered it without the egg, which sounded a little wierd, but it arrived with egg, so I ate it and the egg was OK. When in Spain....

We got back on the bus and finished the first half of the tour, got off near our hotel and came back for a little rest and to check messages, then went back for the second half this evening. It was a good day! Madrid is a pretty magnificent place.


Saturday, September 13, 2014


We arrived in this delicious city yesterday on the high speed train from Barcelona and found our hotel, near the Plaza Mayor. A perfect location.

View from our fifth floor window. We settled in and waited for our friends to arrive. Funny thing. Months ago I was walking, as I do most mornings, with Beth, and I told her Ray and were planning a trip to Spain and Portugal in September. She stopped in her tracks and said, "Ed and I and some old friends are going to Spain and Portugal in September!" We compared itineraries and found we would be in the same city, at the same time, only once—yesterday in Madrid! We booked the same hotel and planned to meet up. We had a great evening of visiting and wandering around the neighborhood Tapas bars, then bid them farewell this morning.

Today we went to the Prado. We were there 42 years ago and have never forgotten it. Probably the greatest art museum in the world.

We spent nearly 4 hours drinking in Velasquez, Rubens, El Greco, Durer, fra Angelico, etc., etc, and, of course Goya! Oh, Goya! Lovely, shocking, powerful. Beth's friend saw Picasso's Guernica a couple days ago and called it the first anti-war painting. He hasn't yet seen Goya's Executions of the Third of May.

The Prado is hard work. Really hard work. My feet and back are still suffering, so it seemed only right to limp to the Metro, return to "our" neighborhood, find a pitcher of sangria and some tapas to share at a table on the little square across from the hotel, and indulge in some people watching.

What looks like potato salad here is potatoes with a creamy olive oil and garlic sauce. Bread. Spanish olives. So good.

Anywhere people congregate, the street musicians show up. Some are awfully good. I liked this guy's style—musical and personal.

The Spanish citizens stroll in the evening. Young couples, groups of teenagers, families—out for the air, the music, the company. I especially loved seeing the older women, so often arm in arm, properly dressed in their good clothes and earrings and necklaces, hair "done" and lipstick in place. Beautiful, they are.

Such a civilized city.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gaudi's master work

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to see the Sagrada Familia, the huge church designed by Antoni Gaudi, begun in 1882 and still under construction. Yesterday I was there.

I have seen a lot of cathedrals and this one both resembles many of them and yet is entirely different. The style and form are classic Gothic cathedral, but a very eccentric and crusty kind of Gothic. The exterior is particularly eccentric, with many whimsical, but meaningful details.

Above is the "Tree of Life" over the front entrance.

The front facade. This is what I meant when I said "crusty". There is a feeling of cave structures about it, yet a richness of texture that is mysterious and appealing.

Inside the huge pillars that support the massive structure are meant to represent a forest that rises into a canopy of leaves.

For me what is most striking is the quality of light flowing into the space. Unlike the medieval cathedrals with the dark jewel-like light filtered through stained glass windows, much of the light here is a pearly white light, that feels otherworldly. And where there are colored windows, the colored light turns everything into glowing prisms of color.

This could all change as the clear glass is gradually replaced by colored glass, but I hope not. The light is my favorite thing.

At one end is this bronze model done in Braille.

Below the cathedral are exhibits of Gaudi's drawing and models, which were fascinating.

It is all under construction, as it has been for 132 years. Cranes, scaffolding and workmen pushing wheelbarrows, hammering, drilling, are all part of the scene. It's pretty noisy inside!

It is due to be finished in 2026, which will be the centennial of Gaudi's death. It will be the largest place of worship in the world, with the tallest church tower. And it will all be paid for with donations and, I presume, mine and all the many thousands of entry fees.

My thoughts about God and religion are complicated and unorthodox and not something I will ever discuss here, but cathedrals are a passion for me and a source of awe and humble wonder at what the mind and creative spirit of man can bring to life. This visit was a memory I will carry with me for all of my days, alongside my memory of visiting Chartres cathedral many years ago. Pure joy.