Sunday, August 12, 2012

Madrid, Madrid. Madrid!

From Granada we drove to Madrid on June 2.  Before we left, we passed by a wedding party, the first of many like it that we saw in Spain and Portugal.  These amazing churches are beautiful wedding venues.  Every time we saw one of these events passers-by enjoyed them almost as much as the guests.  Instead of stretch limos, beautifully restored ancient automobiles are de rigeur.  


On the way to Madrid, we had to make a couple of stops.  After all, we couldn't be in Spain in the summer time without swimming in the Mediterranean.  So we went to Salobrena.  It was actually a little chilly at the beach.  No matter, we were there, we got wet, and maybe a little sunburned.

By this time we were hungry.  We didn't have any travel books, just a map and some good luck.  We stopped in a little town a few miles off the freeway.  It was one of those towns like we find all over the Northeast, only instead of "George Washington Slept Here", it was "Queen Isabella Slept Here".  That seemed pretty cool.  We also had one of the best meals we had anywhere in Spain, sitting outside the restaurant in a municipal park.

There are many wonderful things about life in Spain. One is the way so many people sit and relax at a meal in a public space, with good food, good friends, good conversation --- in no hurry to be anywhere else.  The country's history and architecture are amazing and the best aspect is the care that communities display in maintaining, restoring, using, and loving these places.  


This is the church - one of many, no doubt - where Isabella and her entourage passed through, in the days when Spain had no capital city.  Until Felipe II settled his court permanently in Madrid in the second half of the Sixteenth Century, the court moved from city to city.  Seems like a lot of work.  In the end, Madrid, at the time a minor city, was made the capital because for the king to choose any other  city would have been politically disastrous.

So here we are, in Madrid.  Which included a visit to the Royal Palace.  Built with ostentation in mind.  We didn't go in, because the outside was impressive enough, and we preferred to stay outdoors in the sunshine.


That's Annie and Nick in the picture on the left.  We wish we had taken the second picture, but no, let's just give credit where credit is due.  One thing we wished is that people would take fewer pictures and rely more on the internet.  This was particularly true in sacred spaces.  It can be annoying to be standing in a special place, one that demands reverence and awe, only to have hundreds of us tourists snapping pictures.  

Of course, there are some pictures that we can't find on the world wide web.  Like this one of Annie and Nick on the street where our bnb was located.  Or Nick, our favorite brewer in the world, outside a "beer museum". Seriously.

We loved being outdoors in Madrid.  In fact, while Nick and Annie were with us, we avoided the Prado altogether, in favor of the Royal Botanical Garden and street performances.


We were constantly impressed at how beautifully the city open spaces
are planted and maintained.  This, in spite of the economic troubles.  Maybe this
helps to assuage the pain of recession.
There's a little bit of Botswana in all of us.   That's why we stopped and talked to the people running this HIV/AIDS Awareness display.  From our work in Botswana, we know how intractable these conditions can be and so admire those who are devoted to the effort.

Speaking of outdoors, we were really impressed by this archi-horticultural masterpiece in downtown Madrid.  On a huge scale, it is the same concept we first saw at Nel Centro in Portland, one of our favorite places for lunch outdoors.


That's not to say there aren't some pretty amazing indoor spaces.  This is a church next to El Escorial.  And on the other side of town, the train station, the most beautiful we've seen.

And there were some things that we couldn't miss, like Guernica, Picasso's epic statement on the violence of war, which hangs in the Queen Sophia Museum. 

As the adage goes, all good things must come to an end.... After an amazing ten days of travel, Annie and Nick returned to their jobs, school, and pets in Portland.  And we stayed on in Madrid for a couple of days, time to reflect on our departure from Botswana and the Peace Corps. On a hunch and inspiration we decided to travel to Astorga and spend the next two weeks walking the Camino de Santiago/Way of St. James. So for now, we will say farewell and love to the Munson-Phelps.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Annie Nick Barcelona Granada

For months, we had been planning a trip to Spain to spend some time with Annie and Nick, who were going to the wedding of some friends, in a small French town near Barcelona.  It was only a few days before we left Goodhope that we knew by then we were not returning to Africa.  A very sad and difficult decision --- then to see Annie and Nick was a sight for our sore eyes.

We arrived in Barcelona on May 27.  Nick and Annie met us at the airport with a rental car.  And plenty of much needed hugs! We stayed in a wonderful apartment in the city center that Carol found through a website (that we recommend) called Airbnb.  This is the view from our window.

We all fell in love with Barcelona (the first of many such love affairs in Spain).  The winding streets were confusing and exciting. Not far from the door of our apartment we passed an art shop, with this
picture somewhat ironically displayed in the window.  It reminded us of where we have been, and

                                         that the end of one walk is the beginning of another....

We kept being surprised by things we didn't expect to see....opera singers giving concerts in a courtyard of the Cathedral, these bubble artists on a side street!

Wonderful markets 

                       and  Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. We did not take many pictures, as it would have
                                been too distracting, and pictures are easily available on the internet. 

But, just to say that construction on this amazing church is still going on - and, according to various guides, won't be completed for another ten or twenty years, here is one more....

We liked everything about Spain - not to say that everything is perfect there.  The economy has been taking its toll.  The Spanish banks were "saved" by the European Union recently and everywhere, ordinary people knew who is going to pay the price for the banks' mistakes, and it won't be the bankers.  Teachers, maybe, who, like teachers at home, are very unhappy about the way economic crisis always seems to mean the bankers get their money and the teachers get laid off.

From Barcelona, we drove to Granada, where we stayed in another beautiful home (also through Airbnb) owned by Ulrike, a wonderful woman from Austria who settled in old Granada years ago when it was mostly run down and abandoned by workers looking for more modern digs.  Here, then, is the view from our room.
Getting to the house was a challenge!  The roads wind around the hill, and many are too narrow for a car, especially driven by an out-of-towner.  We managed to get close, and Ulrike's brother walked up to find us, help us get our luggage to our rooms, and then help us find a car park.  It was close to 11 pm by the time we got settled, but then that's not late in Spain. Not at all. Actually, it's time for dinner!

We spent a day looking around Granada, getting wonderfully lost in the maze of streets, soaking in the smells, colors and ambiance of this ancient Moorish Andalusian place.  When we visited the Alhambra, we took this picture of our Airbnb.  The church at the top is where we contacted Ulrike when lost on arrival, and the apartment is three or four levels below it.  It's easy to see why we fell in love with this place.

                                         Nick wasn't the only one of us to be incredulous!

What we hadn't realized is that it was far more than a palace, it was a fortress, a city, and, of course, a symbol.  And ordinary people lived here until fairly recently. 150 years ago it was pretty run down; Washington Irving visited, fell in love with it, and wrote about it.  Since then restoration has been an ongoing process.  In fact, wherever we went in Europe, restoration was a theme.  From the great Cathedral of Chartes to small towns and villages, people, communities, nations take immense pride in the preservation and restoration of their heritage.  Sometimes it is a disappointment to see something we were looking forward to seeing, only to find it under layers of scaffolding.  Knowing that future generations will benefit from this great work is uplifting.  Take a look at these:
Foundation of houses in the old city
This is the first thing we saw as we
walked up the hill to the Alhambra

View from the battlements
Looking down at the living quarters

Carol, Annie and Nick
One of the many people
working to restore and main-
tain the site
Everywhere the artisanship was


Gardens of the Alhambra
Enough for now!  It should be obvious that we were overwhelmed at everything we saw. all of us for for the first time.  We still had a few more days in Spain with Annie and Nick.  Stay tuned....