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.

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