Our last day in Madrid was spent mostly resting and we still managed over 6 miles of walking. We left the studio in the late afternoon and headed to the street fair of home decor. Local business get involved by decorating their facades. I didn’t see much tempting stuff but I was taken with the science displays. Anatomy figurines and posters of parasites. When I gazed longingly at the parasites the proprietor came over and explained to me that they were parasites. In Spanish and English. I think he was alarmed that I did not recoil in horror and he was trying to gross me out. Utter failure. Especially because I couldn’t stop giggling over the penis. Do you think the upper left hand parasite is associated with the penis? Or is that a parasite’s head? I think it’s a penis because there are other body parts near the other parasites. Hair follicle, muscle tissue. It’s a penis parasite. Now that’s interesting. And gross.
After the too hot fair of too weird interior decor we hiked to the anthropology museum. On the way we passed a sign in English saying REFUGEES WELCOME. It was an interesting thought. Why English? Brexit? Trump? Gypsy Carpenters? File that. The anthropology museum was mind blowing. Ancient history of the Iberian peninsula goes back to the beginning. Almost back to our origins in Africa. I saw stone tools of massive size. The display covers knowable time without gap. It’s all too much to take in. I thought Mexico City had an in depth and lengthy exhibit on the origins of man but Spain is even bigger and deeper. (I like Mexico’s museum more because it’s more fun.) There’s only so many atlatls and arrowheads I can take before I want an ice cream. I saw that there was a display of a reproduction of some of the oldest cave art ever discovered. I whipped out my Spanish and got to ask, Dondé esta la cueva? two times. It was the highlight of my day. I never knew I would want to ask that question. Better yet I understood both answers. You’d think I’d only have to ask once but like most of Europe and Mexico signage is inadequate.
The cave exhibit was dated and felt like we were on the deck of the USS Enterprise staring into a far away galaxy but it was fun. Again, Mexico City’s cave art display was better. It felt more realistic. Madrid’s had too much chrome and glare and smelled musty.
Time to go to Italy. We had a 4:45 taxi to the airport the next morning. Time for bed.
So Burt and I were ticking off the sights in Toledo when I recalled that the Alcazar was important. So we set off looking. I could see its dominant and distinctive roof line but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. Dead ends and blind alleys and a disoriented GPS were all to blame. Eventually we hit the wall at the edge of town. I peered over and took a bead on a corner of the massive fortress. Following the wall we finally we made it to the corner. No door. We walked up and down and around. Burt and I circumnavigated the Alcazar but never found the door. This was the place where in 1521, Hernan Cortes was received by King Charles I following Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs. Here the gold came to Spain. Click on THIS for the scale of this place. So I decided walking around it was visit enough. Then I recalled there was a famous Roman era bridge.
We walked back to the wall and again using the visual technique we headed around the edge of town towards the bridge. We dead-ended into a wall with a class of kids (sound familiar) backed up against it. The French students poured through a door and we flowed in with them. Burt and I had no idea where we were. The kids dissipated and we stepped into a small mausoleum. The sculpture on top of the tomb was done by Victorio Macho and the guy inside was his brother. We wondered who he was. Outside was a sculpture garden with a view of the bridge. We snapped some pictures from a prime piece of Toledo real estate. We wondered where we were. Suddenly a woman came out and kind of yelled at us for sneaking in and not paying. We had no idea we had done that but, okay. We paid. Then we wandered around feeling all entitled to do whatever we wanted. We went into a small gallery. Everything was buy this dude Victor Macho. I guess we were in Victor Macho’s yard. Burt and I were outside admiring the naked lady below when another staffer came out and yelled at us that we were supposed to be in the movie. That was news to us. Was that where the kids were? Rather than figure out what was going on and why we were there we fled. We made a hasty exit through the door we came in which was labeled EXIT on the inside. An internet search revealed we had fallen into Victorio Macho’s museum home, like Alice through the rabbit hole.
My internet searching also revealed we had failed to find the Roman bridge. Instead we were enjoying the view of Saint Martin’s bridge. Not such a bad thing since both bridges are remarkable. The Puente San Martin is famous for its length of span and was built in the 14th Century. I’m not sure which San Martin is the bridge’s namesake.
By now we had covered nearly 8 miles and we didn’t know how to reach the bus. Burt had one more goal. Burt wanted to climb to the top of the church we passed in the first 5 minutes of our tour and see what the guide told us was the best view of Toledo. So we started to get to the church. I really wanted to make this happen for Burt. I googled but couldn’t find the church. Twenty seven buildings come up as churches in Toledo. So we tried to find the escalator and work from there. I googled the escalator. No luck. I put a pin in the general area of the bus stop and tried to get a map to there. No can do. GPS couldn’t cope with Toledo. No google car here. So we wandered. The wall towered overhead and the street were very narrow. We couldn’t see ahead and the GPS was bouncing from alleyway to alleyway. Time was dribbling away. I started to get a little weepy feeling as I realized I’d never find the church and I might not find the bus stop. Burt was calm and stoic. He let go of the church idea pretty easily. I had the urge to sit still and wait for help to come to us. We were really in some back alleys with no tourists and no sign of tourism. There weren’t any people. It was shadowy and disorienting. We could have been in game of thrones. No wonder townies had an advantage over outsiders in these warren like cities. An outsider couldn’t get anywhere. Well planned cities might be a tactical mistake.
Suddenly, with a half hour to spare we found the bus stop. Burt joked that he was going to head back into the city and look for the church. I panicked thinking he really was going to go get lost again, but he had no intention of taking his chances. Instead we sat in the grass and waited for the bus to find us.
In conclusion: I would go back to Toledo again. Hopefully I won’t wait 30 years to do it.
At some point in our harried wandering I got in my head that I wanted to see the Alcazar (fortress). Things were coming back to me in fragments of feelings but not actual visual memories. I can remember my teacher being very excited about the Alcazar. Maybe it was this one, maybe it was a different one. El Alcazar is a fortress. Again, a Moorish word. This particular fortress has a roofline that I remember seeing in my photos of the earlier trip but can’t remember why we visited. Pat’s comment below is true. I was very lucky to undertake a trip to Spain alone at such a young age. It strikes me that I can only remember silly things but I realize it must have profoundly influenced my world view. A major effect came from my parents simply letting me go so it gave me the idea I could go and that travel was a good thing.
A quick digression. When I was in 8th grade my Spanish teacher, Ms. Jelm, or Señorita Jelm, mentioned she was taking the high school advanced class to Spain the following year. For some reason she gave special permission to my friend Liz and I to go if our parents allowed. We would be the youngest students ever allowed on what was traditionally a senior class trip. I think it was because she was leaving the area and would no longer lead trips to Spain for our school system. We must have been good students. Or maybe we were simply well behaved and easily managed. It was foreseen as a last chance to go since there were no other teachers willing to lead such a nightmare of a trip. That turned out to be true. There were no other trips after we went. Ms. Jelm was one hip and hot divorcee. Imagine 1980 and your blonde single mother Spanish teacher with the million dollar smile saying you are special enough, she will let you go to Spain with her as a freshman. Everyone else on the trip would be seniors. I took the idea home. I expected to be flatly rejected. The cost was $500. A formidable sum for our family.
My parents said, “Ok. You have a year. You must save up for it and pay your own way. If you do that we will let you go.” I think they thought I’d never make it in 1980 teenager wages. In fact I did not make it. Despite an obsession with working and money (that still haunts me) I came up $100 short. I babysat and babysat and ran errands for my aunt and hoarded every dollar grandma and great aunts gave me but I couldn’t make it to $500 in time. Imagine the quarters and nickels I had to roll. This was when I had a paper route, too. I gave that up because a flasher was harassing me. I never told anyone. Finally when payment was due and I was short mom loaned me the $100. It was a loan. I paid her every painful penny back.
So I went. So did Liz. So did Ms. Jelm and 16 or so seniors and Ms. Jelm’s two pre-teen daughters. To say we were unsupervised would be an understatement. Things happened. I’m not sure what. My natural timidity and fear of trouble kept me out of trouble. But there was no drinking age and there were men all around. I avoided alcohol and men. Ewww. Sometimes being too young is good. Rumors reached us of a missing girl, then found, then silence. I have no idea if anything happened. At the time I had no idea what the possibilities were. Could this be why there were no subsequent trips and Ms. Jelm left our school system? I’ve always wondered. While the seniors were partying (in good or bad fun) and Ms. Jelm managed her daughters, Liz and I could be found alone, essentially wandering the streets of whatever city we were in staying, mostly, out of trouble. We did see my first R rated movie (The Blue Lagoon) and Liz had one drink. I was a wet blanket even then. They call me a fresa in Spanish. A strawberry.
Toledo was memorable because we saw the painting I mentioned previously and we were there after dark on our own looking for food alone. Liz and I wandered. I had very little spending money so shopping was not an option. Even food choices were carefully thought out. Eventually we were drawn into a hole in the wall by an elderly man. I struggled to order. I wasn’t a picky eater but I was having trouble. Maybe it was because we rarely ate out. I just didn’t know what I would like and wanted paella but couldn’t have it without 3 eating companions. Liz was far more tolerant and experienced. She demanded I to stop whining and order. I picked fish. I was served an entire fish. Head and eyes and tail and fins. I was mortified. Today I would be delighted. Then it was all too much. I picked at it and Liz mocked me for being such a wimp. She was right. Time to buck up. I turned my life around, eventually. This memory is always there to remind me I was once scared and inexperienced, too. My memories are so spotty. I remember cold, damp, dark, swords and Lladro. And then this fish.
Cut to Burt and I getting lost in Toldeo last week and I wonder how Liz and I ever found our way back to the bus at age 14. I have an itch in the back of my head that Ms. Jelm was worried and waiting for us. I’d need hypnosis to really unearth those memories.
So sometime around 1PM our guide suddenly departed. She reminded us to get to the bus on time and disappeared. We’d paid for a 20 minute walk through a maze and a late bus. We wondered what to do. Here we were on top a hill laden with history. People had been living on this spot since pre-history. The land had been controlled by Visigoths, Moors, Romans, and Spain, to name a few. Burt wanted to see the synagogue. I wanted to see the El Greco painting. We GPS’d the sights and started trying to navigate. Lunch was a priority.
We found a lunch spot and ate some okay food. The lunch was fine anywhere but not really up to the standards of Mexico or Spain. Afterwards we headed in the general direction of El Greco’s TheBurial of the Count of Orgaz. I saw this painting on my first tour and it probably was the first time a work of art stunned me. It’s ethereal and otherworldly. The immense size and confounding lack of positional references sucked me in. I had to see it again. The link above gives the story. So check that off the old list, I saw it again and it was just as marvelous as I remembered.
Next, but maybe before, I did a quick self guided tour of the Cathedral of Toledo. It’s very popular now to wear a small ipod device and headphones and listen to the official narration of the site being visited. This was my first time using one and it was the perfect place to try. The Toldeo Cathedral is massive and old. It is built on the site of a mosque and a Visigoth church. The main body of the church is constructed with relics of preceding places of worship, including the moorish arches surrounding the choir area. There are side chapels with their own daily masses. The side chapels are as big as churches. In one of the side chapels a daily visigoth christian mass is offered. This mass has been practiced in this location for over a millennium. The Visigoths ruled in Spain before the Moors. There is more gold than any other church except Saint Peter’s. Much of the gold came from the New World. So I listened and what I learned was I am an ignoramus. Burt needed to be on the tour and he had opted to walk around outside. So there I was getting the history of the world as expressed in a cathedral and I hardly knew who they were talking about. It’s an amazing thing to consider. This site has been the home of a place of worship for more than a thousand years and as it stands now it has incorporated all the preceding religions, architecturally and decoratively. Add to that the gilding of Spain’s years of global dominance and it is overwhelming. So after 20 minutes I left. This spot is worthy of a week’s visit by itself. Here’s a MAP. Site #4 is the Capilla Mozarabe where the Visigoth Mass happens. I left before the end of the recording. It was all too much to digest. I’d like to go back with Burt. No photos allowed in many of the sacred places so no photos here.
Next we found the ancient synagogue. Toledo, and Spain, have a rich Jewish history. For hundreds of years people got along. And then they didn’t. Or, I like to think, it was like now, most of us get along and some of us don’t no matter where we come from or what we look like. So sad there are still assholes. They always cause trouble for all of us. The synagogue also went through permutations as peoples came and went. Currently it is restored to it’s original intent and serves as a museum. The relics in here were beautiful. I like how the roof looks like a boat. Some cultures used boats as roofs and it make me think, chicken or the egg. Was it a boat first or a roof first?
Burt and I concluded the Ten plus mile day with aan evening return to the Prado for more art and more walking. More on the art later. I was again seduced at dinner by croquettes, this time with a side of grandma’s meatballs. There are small plates of comfort food everywhere you look in Madrid. The croquettes were spinach, pine nut, and raisin. I dare you to resist them. Fried dough balls of spinach, pine nuts, and raisins. Each ingredient blended away to its flavor essence. No chunks in these croquettes. All essence of the ingredients in crispy outside, warm and soft inside, balls of dough. I dare you. A plate of meatballs to balance it.
Despite the epic walk, memorable meal and two ativans I did not sleep. I was even crabbier than the day before but we got up and did an 8 AM march back to the Plaza Mayor to catch a tour bus to Toledo. This is where decision fatigue and jetlag combined to lead us to make the only bad choice on our Spanish journey. The bus tour was a complete waste of money. We could have caught a train or public bus to Toledo and done as well, perhaps better on our own. We would have saved money and there would have been no time constraint on our return.
Here’s my summary of the tour part:
1. Go to Plaza Mayor, buy tickets, and wait. The bus is 40 minutes late.
2. Stop at three other stops to pick yp other irritated people.
3. At 11:20 you still haven’t left the city. You got out the door at 8 AM to make this convenient and expensive bus that supposedly left at 10.
4. No useful information is shared on the hour long drive to your destination city.
5. Arrive in Toledo and take an escalator up the steep hillside into the city’s ancient walls. Think to yourself, “Ok, now we’re gonna have a tour. We’re gonna learn something. Chin up.”
6. Follow tour guide as she leads you and forty of your new friends plus several ancient, nearly disabled, non-active persons in inappropriate footwear but wielding canes through a maze of uneven steps and shadowy passage ways.
7. Listen carefully through the complaints and screams of misery to hear the scant tidbits of local lore. Lucky for us we are relatively young and agile and can always navigate to the head of the crowd to try and hear the guide.
8. Forty-five minutes later the survivors arrive to a town center. I think, “Okay, now were gonna get this tour under way and learn something.”
9. Guide bids adieu with cryptic instructions on how to return to the bus. Says be there at 6:00PM. It is now well after noon.
10. Wander away from the main plaza sans map. Realize GPS is spotty in the tight streets. Wonder where to go. Have lunch to avert meltdown.
11. Manage an informative if chaotic tour of Toledo on your own.
12. An hour before departure start attempting to find the bus while looking for the one landmark the guide mentioned that your husband really want to see.
13. Get lost looking for the landmark. Feel like an idiot because you can’t find said landmark. You can’t find the route to the bus either. The GPS says it is right THERE. A 1000 year old wall is between you and there. Feel sympathy for hungry rats in science experiments.
14. Wander. Panic builds. Nearly fall staring at GPS and trying to cover ground quickly.
15. Suddenly find bus. There is time to spare but both Burt and I agree we are too scared to re-enter the city and look for the missing landmark.
16. Sit in grass for 45 minutes wondering when bus will arrive and could we have found the landmark. Best view in Toledo and we couldn’t find it.
17. Ride bus home. Bus driver says here’s your stop but it’s not our stop. It’s nobody’s stop. We are all dumped off in a completely new place. We are not where we started the tour. This is the perfect ending to this tour. I wanted to go insane but could only laugh. Lost again.
18. Find starting point because GPS works in Madrid. Walk 2 miles home without getting run over.
The Moors occupied Spain for a very long time. This is fact one if you want to understand anything about Spain. The entire culture is influenced by this ‘occupation’. Language, food, architecture…I hestitate to say occupation because 800 years of ruling a land seems more like back when the land was another country. I mean the US has been established for less than 230 years. Certainly the United States government can be considered occupying Native lands, Spanish lands, Mexican lands. It’s all a matter of perspective. Who was in power when? Like all history it’s very complicated and I’m not one for these details. What interests me now is the long term influences these mixes of culture have today.
On day three of our Madrid tour we rambled around in an irritated state. Eventually we found ourselves at the seat of Madrid’s Catholic infrastructure, La Catedral de la Almudena. In 1561 the Spanish moved their capitol from Toledo (we’ll get there) to Madrid. Toledo has an enormous and ancient cathedral. It’s the richest cathedral outside of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican. When Madrid became the capitol the Church decided they needed a new cathedral. The Church is the government back then. The powers that be wanted the biggest cathedral ever built but back then Spain was investing in the new world. So while Spain built 40 cities and many cathedrals throughout the new world she neglected Madrid. If they couldn’t find the money to build the biggest and bestest then they just wouldn’t build anything at all. Personally I’d like to read about the guy assigned the job to get this built. I see him begging money all over Rome and Spain and coming up short over and over again. He’s handing out dispensations and titles and pork barreling his best but he cannot compete with the mystery and wealth over in North and South America.
So for 300 years nothing was built. Finally in 1879 they start. It took a long time. The Spanish Civil War got in the way. The project was abandoned until 1950. Again, some poor schmuck has the title, Madrid Cathedral Project Manager. I’ve been there. A great project and no funding, it sounds good on paper but is no fun. How many men must have been in charge of this project over the centuries? Somewhere along the line somebody said, “Forget the biggest in the world, Saint Peter’s did that already. Let’s just get this done.” Eventually it was finished and blessed in 2004. The result is a delightful and sunny mixture of modern art on top of classic architecture. I was enchanted.
Here is where the cultures come together. The name is from the Arabic term Al Mudayna meaning the citadel. The cathedral is dedicated to the patron saint of Madrid, the Virgin of Almudena. A golden icon of the Virgin Mary hidden from view during the Moorish era was miraculously revealed when the Moors were driven out. The driving out was a slow erosion of Moorish territories over 400 years. The pivotal moment for the Virgin was the retaking of Madrid by King Alfonso VI of Castile in the 11th Century. It is believed the site of the cathedral was formerly a mosque. This is pretty much the history of all major buildings in Italy and Spain. Here was a pagan temple, mosque, cathedral. Name your major religion of the era and they all recognized valuable real estate and the ease of rededication versus moving.
In summary: I thought this was a beautiful spot and I don’t recall seeing it when I was a kid. We walked nearly 10 1/2 miles this day.
Out of sorts and with now specific agenda we walked to the Plaza Mayor. This massive central plaza in Madrid was just how I remembered it. As a kid I thought what? why? Big boring brick lined square. Pretty much thought the same this time. There were some lame cutouts of matadors and flamenco dancers to stand behind. There was a tinsel covered dancing dog. Two actually. There was a statue. I read and learned that a lot of government hearings and trials and such happened here in the past. Now it is bus tour central and tourist shops. Pretty boring.
We left. I found a chocolate and churro shop. This was a mood booster. Spanish churros are less sweet than Mexican churros. Fortified we walked to the Royal Palace and the adjacent cathedral. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family but they don’t live there. We skipped the tour and opted to explore the cathedral. A guy was playing accordion out front. Besame Mucho and Quizas are the most popular songs in Spain and Italy. We heard them everywhere. Next up the Almudena Cathedral.
Madrid has a scene, a vibe, like I’ve read about but rarely experienced. The city is compact enough a pedestrian can cover swaths of it in a day. There are small cafes and stores everywhere. Interspersed are the remains of more than a millennia of history. Add to this world class art museums and a diversity of people. It’s happening. Good, affordable food everywhere. Nice people. Cleaner and more energetic than I remember. I really wanted to see the city again because I always felt like I just didn’t get it as a 14 year old. I didn’t get it but Madrid has also changed as much as I have in 37 years. Madrid in 1980 was just throwing off Franco. It was empty and I remember it feeling dirty and abandoned. You could only eat at certain hours and the place was filled with cheesy Lladro and little else to buy. We toured cathedrals and castles. For some reason we missed the Prado.It may have been closed. I recall my teacher being disappointed. Now it’s a free-for-all of cuisine, shops, flavor, and music. The mid-afternoon siesta is noticeable but you can still find a place to eat. Yesterday we learned the biggest Pride celebration in the world is in Madrid. We were not surprised.
So despite how much I loved it the lack of sleep was making me crabby. I couldn’t navigate our neighborhood without GPS, my feet hurt, I had decision fatigue. So much to do and so little time. Burt and I squabbled some but managed to head off in a direction and catch some more sights. We planned to take a bus to Toledo the next day.
Here are some scenes from our neighborhood. Next up the big cathedral tour.
The evening of day one was spent in the Prado until closing. Burt got this first glimpse of Hieronymous Bosch, or Bosco as the Spanish call him at the Prado. Bosch was waaaay ahead of his time. In fact I think he might still be ahead of our time. That was some whacky imagery he painted. He was into the repression of the Inquisition, too. A religious nut job who painted things that could make you crazy just to look at them. He did not hold humans in high regard. We all deserved to be punished and Bosch knew just how he wanted it done.
When our free perusal of the Prado ended we headed into the botanical gardens next door. It was only 8PM. The gardens were past their peak spring flowering but we did witness some ants setting off in their annual mating flight and a few birds eating the flying ants. We saw the Great Tit feeding its young and some wood pigeons. We also thought we saw a wood pipit but can’t be certain. My European bird app proved to be difficult to use and generally too vague to get IDs on little brown birds. This was the most nature filled moment of our entire trip.
Our walk home took us by an overflowing cafe. A mature woman of significant presence was singing from an arm chair on a tiny stage. We could just see her through the crowd. She had a band of young men on bass, drums, guitar, and accordion. The audience hung on her every word. This woman had them and us in her hand. We gaped for a few songs then unwillingly trudged home too tired to stand in the street for a world class performance. Someone told me she was La Doñina but I can’t find her on the internet.
Jet lag was taking over. I was physically exhausted but wide awake. Burt snoozed all night. He was shifting. I tried drugs around 3 AM Madrid time and slept until 10:30. By the time I woke up Burt had already walked half the city.