In the future I would like to write more about this city but here are some glimpses to whet the appetite.
One of our favourite painters is Joachim Sorolla whose understanding of light and family infuses his paintings. On this occasion we didn’t enter the gallery but Hetty went to the bookshop and I wandered around the garden of what was originally his home.
Madrid is surrounded by huge parks, in part, because of it monarchist past. One is Retiro park with a lake and its own Crystal Palace.
The Museum of Archeology has an excellent collection that is beautifully presented. Spain is saturated in Roman sites and this part of their history shone.
And, of course, there are the churches.
Tags: Madrid, Spain, travel
Here are some of my wife’s reflections on Spain
Being in Spain for a few months has shown me many aspects of this beautiful country.
In the north we travelled a bit around the area of Estella and Pamplona, and then to the west around Logrono and Burgos. The people seem friendly enough and there is a strong sense of community, but they’re reluctant to let you into their lives. A returning wave and a smile is the most you can expect.
But they are hardworking, and this is especially evident when you look at the countryside. Every available field is being cultivated. Much of it was with vineyards.
As we continued our trip, to the southwest and into Portugal, the landscape opened up to wide expanses of farmlands. But this was different. It was a harsh land, full of rocks and boulders. Every fence, every building, every road, was made from the rocks of the fields. It was dry country, yet it was productive. Cattle grazed between the boulders. And every so often we saw an ‘orchard’ of solar panels set out in neat rows. There were lots of sunflower crops ready for harvest too. This was a harsh environment but it was far from barren.
In the region of Extramadura we saw the best examples of how this country uses every resource to its maximum capacity. I have been told this region is extremely challenging. A rugged terrain, a hot, dry climate, and a people to match. Our first foray into Extramadura was the Valley of Cherries in the north. It was high in the hills, deep ravines, steep hillsides. But every inch was under the cultivation of cherries. The terraced land had rows and rows of cherry trees as far as you could see.
Further south we encountered the hundreds of olive groves, the vineyards, the cork trees, and the sheep and cattle. Near Zafra we saw fields of oak trees, and on a day’s excursion to the south of the town we saw so many of these trees we asked someone why. The famous Iberian jamon comes from pigs that feast on the acorns that fall from the trees every October.
As if there weren’t enough resources on the surface to avail themselves of, the Spanish also use the wind and the sun for electricity production. Centuries old windmills sit alongside new wind turbines on the ridges. And then today as we drove through the hills towards Córdoba we saw coal mines and cement production facilities.
It seems as if Spaniards have had thousands of years to learn how to get the most from their country, and it is equally true to say they are willing to embrace new technologies to continue doing this into the future.
Tags: Spain, travel
(A post on Lisbon is still coming)
Extremadura. It sounds like a cooking term but it is actually a region of Spain sandwiched between Andalusia, Portugal, Castile La Mancha and Castile & León. It is the driest, most arid part of Spain but is flooded with history. Imagine north west Victoria/South Australia with Roman ruins. Many people from the area tried to escape the harshness of this place in the past and were part of the expeditionary armies of the C16&17th. Some brought back loot and fame.
This area is also know for the Iberian black pig which is let out when the acorns fall to the ground so they can munch on this fruit. Little do the pigs realise that this makes their pound of flesh all the more desirable. It becomes the most sought after, and therefore most expensive, jamon.
Roman ruins are widely spread throughout this area. Merida and Badajoz are well known for their ruins but further south a few kilometres outside the small town of Casas de Reina there is a vast Roman site that includes a theatre. For generations the locals knew it as the place of the ‘thick wall’ but were unaware what archeology lay underneath. Houses, shops, temple and other buildings have all been discovered at this spot.
The white towns with their squares are full of life – particularly after five pm when families come out. Children play and parents and grandparents natter over a drink and tapas.
Tags: Spain, travel
Today was going to be the first day of our drive around Spain and Portugal. I had booked a hire car near the pension where we were staying. A short walk and we would be on our way. With confidence and masculine authority I led my trusting wife to the Avis office only to find it had changed hands and was no longer Avis. Made some calls with International Roaming flying through my credit. It is a couple of kms further down the road. I left trusting bride in a hotel lobby that was willing for her to sit there, and marched up the road. I felt as though I was walking clear of Burgos and the numbers on the buildings had disappeared. I looked down an alleyway and there at the end, 20 businesses away, was the Avis Budget office. Beautifully hidden and camouflaged in a way to keep customers on their toes.
They offered me an upgrade – ‘a cheebrid’. A what? ‘A cheebrid- electricity and gas.’ Oh, a hybrid I muttered to myself.
Papers signed, Keys handed over, and I started the car like any normal car and I drove off. Picked up patient bride with car starting normally and headed out of town. We then stopped in a picnic area to have lunch. It was time to go. Car wouldn’t start. Tried and tried again. Translated instrument panel Spanish into English. Nothing! Called RACE, the Royal Automobile Club of España. My mechanic friend turned up and informed me that once the battery is charged it doesn’t make broom, broom noises. Very sheepishly and exceptionally quietly, I drove away.
I am now in Segovia licking my wounds but my bride is very understanding.
Tags: Spain, travel
I learned two things today. 1. God’s house needs cleaning. We were in an old church in Burgos enjoying the peace and serenity. I had spent some time in prayer and was about to walk about and look at the art and statues when the cleaning ladies arrived. Dressed in white, armed with mops, buckets and cleaning cloths they swept into the building. Bang! Bang! Bang! As the kneeling rails were raised. Screech as doors hundreds of years old yielded to their unbending resolve. Cleaning materials were scattered over the floor, as the ladies chattered and rushed with purpose as they went to work. The lady at the altar unconcerned over its reverence and holiness scrubbed with gusto and without any genuflection. They had clearly done this many times before and were going to ensure it was done right. I snuck out of one of the huge doors now open to the world with one thought; I suppose God’s houses need cleaning too.
The second thing I learned: I then went to the Burgos Cathedral where I had been before but I wanted to see the museum and historical artefacts again. I was caught behind a group of nuns as they were being shown through. Every time they came to a significant artefact they whipped out their mobile smart phones and took pictures. Now, nuns with mobile phones was not a concept I had ever thought about or considered. These ethereal, other worldly creatures wielding smartphones with dexterity and aplomb was not a thought I had ever consciously considered. The brides of Christ with smartphones – my second lesson for the day.
Tags: Burgos, Spain, travel
Today we reached peak Camino madness. After a quiet community church service next to a monastery we arrived back at the albergue to find well over 40 people looking for accommodation in an albergue that only accommodates 25. Places were found for some in other places but we still had to find places for another 12 or so. People were desperate for a bed. The team was amazing by swinging into action and keeping pilgrims calm and taking people to a variety of other places in other towns. They also started looking for ways to use rooms usually set aside for other purposes. The room normally used for pilgrims to relax in was changed into a 3 bed dorm. A terrace used for drying washing was given a tarp and pilgrims were invited to make a bed in the open. Another room, not used due council requirements, was also pressed into service.
After weeks of relative quiet this week has been busy, but today was exceptional – but so was the team. What impressed me most was how the team rallied to the cause with each person working to do their best. It was inspirational! Extra hands helped at enrolment, with the meal, placing beds and mattresses and even finding extra blankets for the people on the terrace who happened to be there on what is predicted to be the coldest night in ages.
Speaking to pilgrims they were genuinely pleased and surprised by the level of support. Many had been turned away on previous occasions with no idea what to do next.
I saw a real expression of Christlike behaviour and was privileged to be part of it.
Tags: Camino, Spain
Last night we had the first night of a two day festival in Villamayor. The towns in the valley take it in turn to host this event. Although next weekend it is followed by the town festival as well. The evening started with lots of Spanish sausages, bacon and sardines all squashed into pieces of pan rustica, a long loaf like a French stick, washed down with local wines. This was followed at 10:30pm by a bull made out of a drum, bike wheels and other metal bits and pieces chasing children down the street with fireworks coming out of its tail. The kids screamed with delight as it chased them up and down the street. I suppose this is all in preparation for the real thing in Pamplona or another major city when they get older. And then, to finish off the evening a punk band with a rude name played strange music until after midnight. Some of the locals who were well lubricated by this time caroused into the night, or should I say, early morning and took one of our clothes line for a walk.
That was day one.
Tags: Camino, Spain, travel
Spanish kids have returned to school after their long summer break so there are fewer locals on the Camino. However, it seems that September 1st is a signal for everyone else to begin. The albergue is full every night and we have to turn people away. Happily there is a network so that bedless pilgrims are directed to other possibilities. It can be quite distressing for some to find that there is no bed available, so it is important to calm their anxiety.
While walking a section of the Camino the other day we discovered many North Americans ( USA and Canada- I don’t want to offend either!), Irish and even the odd Aussie being dragged along by his wife whose idea it was – a fact of which he kept reminding her.
I also got a chance to take a photo of the albergue’s favourite local sitting on his tractor. He loves to welcome the pilgrims and sit and have a chin wag with them whether they understand Spanish or not.
Tonight a local festival commences – so we will see if we sleep or not. The wind is very gusty and time will tell if the gazebos stay up. However, we can be certain of one thing, nothing will spoil a Spanish party!
Today after setting up for the team’s breakfast I absconded and went for a walk up Montejurra. I made it into a 20 km round trip by taking a few unwise turns. The following are some photos from my expedition.
On most evenings conversations around the dinner table at the albergue are light and breezy: where do you live, work, are you enjoying the walk, what do you do, how do you enjoy your retirement… and whatever.
But now again when when you ask, “Why are you doing the Camino?” You are given an answer that knocks you for six. I had learned that the relatively young man across the table was a blacksmith who wasn’t sure if his body could cope with this job for many more years. I told him how I would love to see him teach his skills to young people in this technological age. Then I asked him the dangerous question: why are you doing the Camino? The answer was not one I expected.
This man was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He had been indoctrinated to see enemies everywhere and not trust anyone. In war his life depended on a high degree of paranoia. He was on the Camino to reestablish contact with people, overcome his paranoia of enemies around every corner preparing to shoot him and to also overcome, unsurprisingly, his anxiety attacks. After he had described his struggles in detail I was in tears. I did not have the words to respond. Desperately I was asking God for words but nothing came to mind. All I could say was that I would pray for him for his journey and hoped he could achieve the peace he so desperately sought.
There were so many other things racing through my mind that I wish I had the words to speak but the meal ended, the tables had to be cleared and other duties performed. I felt so, so, inadequate in the face of such pain.
After the 8:30 Jesus meditation that occurs every evening at the albergue I asked him how it went. He told me he was blessed by this time of reflection. He then picked up the guitar and spent some time making gentle music. … and I was still lost for words.
Tags: Camino, Spain