Thursday, April 29, 2010

Viaje a Galicia, El Escorial, y Madrid con Papá

Dad arrived Thursday morning while I was still in class and managed to make to Alcala fine, following my directions! We had planned a trip that night for Galicia, which is the northwestern most providence of Spain, right above Portugal. We were set to fly out of Madrid that night. After I got out of class, I met him in the plaza and we stopped back at my apartment to drop his luggage off and introduce him to Eleu! We got some tapas in town before walking around Alcala. I showed him all the important stuff, which didn’t take too long! We got to go into Cervantes’ house and museum and inside the University of Alcala, which is beautiful. Then we headed into Madrid to catch our plane to Santiago. During this time, we heard about the volcano in Iceland that had erupted and was causing issues in Northern Europe in terms of travel. The airport was a madhouse, with people waiting everywhere. Luckily, our flight wasn’t impacted but it was such a process waiting in line for our passport checks and then getting on the flight itself. It took off about an hour after it was scheduled to, but given the trouble in the rest of Europe, that wasn’t bad. The airport was chaotic and Dad was exhausted from his previous red-eye flight the night before so we were both relieved to finally be on our way.

The weather forecast wasn’t too great for A Coruña, which is located where the sea meets the Atlantic Ocean at the northwestern most part of Spain. It turns out that we had a great day and the weather was perfect! Sunny and warm. We walked around the coast and the city all day, just enjoying everything. The view of the water, especially from our hotel and the Torre do Hercules, was so blue. I’ve never seen the Atlantic look so beautiful! Spending the day here was a great idea. We went to the Torre do Hercules, the oldest still working Roman lighthouse from the 2nd Century, and climbed to the top. We also saw the Town Hall building in the Plaza de Maria Pita (pictured below) and countless churches and convents which were so old and beautiful. There were so many scattered around the modern city. We struggled a little to find a new restaurant for dinner since there were tons of bars and cafes but no nice, sit-down restaurants. We ended up at a tapas place which was good because we got to try pulpo, which is octopus, a Galician specialty. It was actually very good.

Our next day consisted mainly of traveling since we were flying back out of Santiago, a 45 minute train ride away from A Coruña. Our flight was in the afternoon, so we had just enough time to stop by the Cathedral in Santiago, which is magnificent. St. James is actually buried there and it is the destination of one of the most popular pilgrimages in the world – the Way of St. James, through Spain. It would have been nice to go inside, but we didn’t know what awaited us at the airport so we didn’t want to be late! Everything worked out fine and we were back in Alcala in time for dinner.

That Sunday was one of Maria Jose’s trips to El Escorial, which is right outside of Madrid. El Monasterio de El Escorial is one of the richest historical locations in Spain because of the period that it represents. During the reign of Felipe II in the 16th Century, the Spanish Empire was the most powerful in the world. In many ways, El Escorial is a symbol of not only its creator, Felipe II, but of Spain. At his time in the history of Spain, the king wielded the most power. As the Spanish Empire grew in the Americas, King Felipe II wanted to build a monument to the incredible power of Spain in the world and give due credit to God, who enabled it. The theme that was reiterated many times by our tour guide was the Felipe’s intentions in building the Monastery was so that ‘kings would live like monks, and monks would live like kings.’ This was very evident in the décor of the palace section. Felipe’s rooms were surprisingly small and unadorned. Everything was very plain and he appeared to live very simply. It was interesting to compare this to the current Royal Palace in Madrid which I have been inside. It is the exact opposite of the palace in El Escorial. Although we were not able to see it, the actual monastery is much more ornate and decorative than the king’s quarters.

One of the important parts of the Monastery is the Basilica, which is the focal point of El Escorial. It was modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome and has the same layout and structure, but on a smaller scale. The Basilica was beautiful and the altar piece was especially impressive. The frescos on the ceiling show the different styles of painting used over the time the monastery was built. It is very clear that the main motivation behind the monastery was religious and Felipe II put a lot of effort into making sure that was apparent. The whole building is dedicated to San Lorenzo, who helped the Spaniards to win an important battle. Therefore, the monastery is a tribute to him. What I found interesting was that even the structure and shape of the outside pays homage to the way San Lorenzo was executed – on a grill. The altar of the Basilica is actually the handle of the grill and 11 meters below is the Royal Mausoleum.

The mausoleum under the monastery houses most of the royal families of the past, with a special chamber for the kings and queens, beginning with Carlos all the way through the current royal family. Juan Carlos and Sofia are the only ones that will not be buried there due to lack of space. The design of the room is much more elaborate and does not fix with the rest of the interior of the monastery. This is because Felipe II’s father, Carlos, was actually the one who requested this type of room be created before his death. It was incredible to be in the room with all of the past monarchs of Spain since the 16th Century. The other big section of the monastery is the library, which contains many of the forbidden books of the Spanish Inquisition. At the time, anything written that challenged the Catholic Church was banned, but Felipe II kept a portion of the books in the library in El Escorial. Another interesting fact about the library is that the ceiling was painted to look like the Sistine Chapel, except it also served a practical function as a system of dividing the library into sections by subject such as philosophy, theology, mathematics, etc. It contains many very old texts, protected by the way they are shelved, which is different from usual. Instead of having the spines face outward, they are faced inward, against the wood where the leather protects against the moisture from the walls and thus preserves them longer. It was a great learning experience for me, especially after studying the architecture of the monastery in my Spanish Art History Class.

Monday we went in to Madrid for the day and I gave Dad my own walking tour, starting in Plaza Mayor and working our way to the Royal Palace. After that, we went to Retiro Park and walked around for a while. It turned out to be another beautiful day so it was nice to be outside. That night we went to this great sushi place that Mike had found before and taken us to. It was delicious! The next day we went back into Madrid after an adventure trying to find a new way to get to Dad’s hotel which led us through the town of Coslada searching for a taxi. We eventually got back in to Madrid, grabbed a bite to eat at VIPS and headed to the Prado Museum. After that, we went to Ventas, where the Plaza del Toro is but unfortunately tours for the day were already over so we could only see it from the outside. We definitely crammed a lot into the six days that he was here visiting but it worked out really well! It was incredible to see Dad since I miss him and my family so much! If only Dusty could have came…

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