Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Back In Madrid - El Prado Museum

As I said in the last post, we are in Madrid for the week.  It's come to a close and we will head home tomorrow.  Our flight leaves at 9:30 a.m. and we arrive in Mexico City at 1:15 p.m. (CST).  Our bus from the airport to SMA leaves terminal 1 at 5:15 p.m. and we should be at our house before 10:30 p.m. It's a long day but the direct flight really makes a difference.  We will get up at 4 a.m. so that's alright considering I'm up by 5 usually.  A quick cup of coffee while watching the news, shower, and head for the subway station which is only two blocks away.  The subway will get us there in an hour so we will still be quite early but we haven't booked seats yet.  Let's see if we get lucky again this time.  If we confirmed our flight on line we would have to purchase seats and that's just another money maker for the airlines.  

We decided after all that we wanted to visit the El Prado Museum.   It is one of the most famous art museums in the world.  It houses paintings by such great artists as Goya, Bosch, El Greco, Rubens, Titian, Velazquez, Picasso, and Rembrandt.  It's a lot to digest but we started early.  Tickets are 14 Euros and a 50% discount for seniors.  We were there for six hours.  That didn't include our walk from the apartment to the museum and back.  We also returned the next day for the free two hours to finish the top floor of the museum.
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The lines to get in are long and you can always reserve a ticket online.  The lines move very quickly and we only waited about 10 minutes to get in.  The free hours have literally hundreds of people waiting to get in but they seem to have the system down quite well.  That line was about 30 minutes before opening the doors.  You're not allowed to take pictures so I am posting some shots from Google.  

The museum owns or houses over 8600 works.  We calculate that we saw roughly 2800 paintings and the Delfin Collection, created by the son of Luis XIV.  We saw that on day two in the after during the free entrance.  

The galleries go on forever.  I enjoy the works but more so the stories behind the painters and the paintings.  In many, they are a depiction of real-life scenes from over 500 years ago.  It's very hard to grasp, similar to those who have difficulty looking at colorized pictures and films from over 150 years ago.  

Some of the things that I find interesting is the symbolism in art:

Skulls appear in many paintings as a reminder that we are flesh and we all will reach an end.

Candles show that time is passing.

Mirrors and the reflections that appear in them are our or their souls.

Dogs!  I've seen them in many paintings but learned that they represent fidelity and faithfulness.

The majority of the art we experienced on this trip was medieval through the mid-19th century.  Most of the painters and their subjects didn't live past 45 to 65 years.  No wonder people married at 14 back then.

It is a lot to take in and digest and we are still talking about some of the paintings and the research that goes along with each painter, and royal subjects.  

We went to another city on Monday, Aranjuez.  It's a 45-minute train ride to the south.  The 16th-century palace of the royal family is located there.  Beautiful grounds and waterways that run through it.  We had originally set out for a stop in between to the town of Pinto which is in route to Aranjuez.  I had found the Tower of Éboli where Princess Ana de Mendoza de la Cerda y de Silva Cifuentes Duchess of Pastrana (that's a mouthful) was imprisoned by her father for murder.

Here are some street shots we took on our walk to the museum.  

And this is the last beer we shared today before going back to the apartment to pack.  I will continue in the next weeks to post all of the towns we visited and my impressions of what we have seen and experiened.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Leon, Spain Two-Day Stay - Saying Goodbye To A Good Friend In Avila

We made a stopover in the small town of Avila. An excellent place for a day and a night.  We actually stayed on the outskirts of the village of Vicolozano.  The total population is 27 inhabitants.  The big attraction is the restaurant La Venta.  The owner also has the Airbnb we stayed at.  

We made a stopover in the small town of Avila. An excellent place for a day and a night.  We actually stayed on the outskirts of the village of Vicolozano.  The total population is 27 inhabitants.  The big attraction is the restaurant La Venta.  The owner also has the Airbnb where we stayed.

The big attraction is this old school from the 1800s but nobody really knows much about it.  We arrived around 2 p.m. and the heatwave in Spain was slowly drawing to a close.  It was 39C when we arrived at and a chilly 16C in the morning before heading to the Madrid airport to turn in the car.

After relaxing for a while, we headed across the road to the restaurant.  We had purposely run out of food.  Once we were back in Madrid we would no longer need a cooler so we finished what we had for breakfast.  A wonderful egg and cheese omelet in a croissant.  Just as we arrived and ordered a glass of wine, we got a message from Kevin, Ruth and Cameron asking if we were up for a video chat.  We were, it's always good to be in touch with them.  They're having a blast with their grandson Cameron who is there for a short summer vacation visit.

With no more food in the cooler, we decided to say goodbye to our friend Neverita!  This is a picture of her as we left the apartment in Vicolozano.  She was good to us providing us with three weeks of storage and good eats in the car and most of our meals.   She'll be missed but I'm sure she will find her way into someone else's car!

Before heading to Vicolozano we had a two-night stay in Leon.  We did see some interesting things and Juan took me out for my birthday on the 22nd.  We had a great dinner at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the city.  As we came into the restaurant a waiter said to take a seat wherever we wanted.  Then, Suzy sad pants came along and said if we had no reservation we couldn't have dinner.   We were allowed on the outside rooftop for drinks.  That waiter knows how to pour vodka.  In fact, I babied that glass for the two and a half hours we were there.  It was huge.  Juan snuck back inside to ask just in case there was a reservation and lo and behold we had a great table.  Service was very good and Suzy changed her attitude.

The next day we took a tour of the city.  Of course we had to visit the church and museum.  What a fantastic place.  We walked 15,543 steps that day, down along the river and to the center of town.  The Monastery San Marcos has a museum that contains stone sarcophagi and headstones from over 1000 years ago.  They have information on each one included in Latin, Spanish, and English.  

The monastery/convent was used as a weigh station and hospital for those walking on the Camino a Santiago.  The original structure was considered unsafe and was demolished and rebuilt in 1514 by King Ferdinand but the new construction took place under Charles I.  The walk began after the discovery of Apostle Santiago Mayor's tomb in 813.  A sad and disturbing part of the museum is that the monastery was used during the Spanish Civil War in 1939 to house political prisoners and pretty much was nothing more than a concentration camp.  The photos from that time are much like those we see from the Holocaust.   

I had a feeling he was pointing at me so I just kept walking.  I did look back on several occasions.

Grand staircase going up to the hospital and hostel rooms.  It's not available for viewing.

The main chapel with a statue of the bishop praying before the altar.

Leon Museum of Art.  I was pooped out on museums.   We did go to the main cathedral but they were charging 14 Euros for seniors.  Way too much and at this point pretty much finished with museums although I am sure in Madrid we will go to the El Prado.  That museum is worth the price.

This section of town is known as el Bario Humedo or the Wet Neighborhood because of all the taverns and outdoor cafes that line the streets.  As you can see, it was lunch hour so again, everything shuts down from 1 p.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. depending on the establishment.  Truly amazing that it is still a strong tradition.   In the two pictures below you can see the before lunch and during lunch.  Imagine at night what the place must be like!

The Casa Botines Gaudí Museum.  Built by and named after the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. 

We really enjoy being out during lunch hours.  No one on the streets and very little traffic.

Rotundas are very common in Spain and very few street lights.  It makes for easy driving.  I took this picture after our dinner out.  It was about 10:30 at night.  Spain is a very safe country.  I'm not sure that I stated it in the last post but the murder rate in Spain is .63 to 100,000 versus Mexico at 26.6 per 100,000.

There are so many differences between what we have seen in Spain versus my trips to Mexico, Central and South America.  I will be doing a short blog on those after we return home.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Oviedo - Heading South To Leon

Fontan Plaza got its name from the fountain that was once there.  The plaza fell into disrepair in the late 20th century but was reconstructed and now provides a space for a weekly market and cafes around its perimeter.  

We needed to start our trek back to Madrid.  The needs to be turned in on Friday.  We are still about four hours north of Madrid but I don't want to drive that all in one day.  We spent the Monday night in Oviedo.  I ran across what I thought was an incredible deal on Airbnb.  We took the chance and it was more than we expected.  It has now become our number two-ever Airbnb.  It is a small efficiency apartment in a six-story building. The guy turned it into a luxury apartment.  There is a small room that is considered a workspace but he installed a murphy bed and it makes for a great bedroom.  If you have forgotten anything at all, he has it available.  Great linens, towels, and wonderful coffee although we carry our own for when we have access to a coffeemaker.

We had investigated the town over the weekend so we were prepared to get on the move.  That evening we took a walk down to the centro area which is a short 20-minute walk.  

We stopped for a beer and to do some people-watching.  On the way back we needed to pick up some groceries.  We headed for Mercadona supermarket and also a gas station.  Mercadona has a great wine selection and we found several under 1.5 Euros.  We made the mistake of moving the car.  When we returned to the area where we were spending the night, nothing was available.  Parking is a problem in Spanish cities.  The concentration of people in highrise apartment buildings makes it a difficult task.  We parked in what they call the blue area, the streets are marked with white for free, and blue for pay.  After nine p.m. there is no charge but I had to get up and out early the next morning to move the car hoping to find a white spot.  I sure did but it took me a few minutes of driving around the nearby blocks.

We went to the cathedral of San Salvador.  A fabulous cathedral and museum filled with relics of saints and bishops.  Amazing how we have managed as a society to preserve the past.  Thanks to technology such as drones, satellites, and lasers, it is much easier to detect what is buried underground or covered with heavy vegetation and forest growth.

Relief work over the entrance to the cathedral which was built in the 9th century.  

The altar is considered one of the most important in Europe.  The scenes depict the different phases in the life of Christ.  

The Holy Chamber holds relics of Spanish saints.  The cloth above the golden case is the supposed cloth used to wipe the fast of Jesus.  We'll leave that up to theologians and religious experts.  The Holy Chamber is also classified as a UNESCO site.   

The hallway that leads from the church to the convent and cloister.  I don't know who those people are, they just walked right into the camera. 

An altar honoring the virgin.

The Capilla de Rey Casto holds the remains of Spanish royalty.

The heatwave continues and the streets empty out for lunch.  Everything closes except for a few sidewalk cafes.  Seeing a vibrant city like Oviedo turn into a ghost town for three hours is very interesting.  There are no convenience stores although some supermarket chains have express shops.  We too went home for a nap and then out again after 5 p.m. 

We headed up a paved but narrow mountain road that led to a monument on top.  Again, it's a giant statue of Christ, the Sacred Heart.  It's a winding road and reminded us of our mountain crossing from Linares to San Roberto.  One section is for tourists to see the views of the city as well as the statue and then the finca owners have their land and their cows.  The cows roam freely around the monument.  There is a road leading the opposite way off of the mountain but it is private for landowners only.  We've seen that quite a bit in rural areas as well. 

There are also hiking trails and a map that explains them as you enter the final walk up to the top.  The hikes are from 7 to 10 km.  They look pretty good but Juan's knee has been bothering him.  I see a knee replacement coming soon.  

I apologize but I didn't get to post the pictures of the statue and the mountaintop.  We are leaving Leon in an hour so I will have to post those later today or tomorrow.  

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Impressive Trip To The Spanish Alps (Picos Europeos)
We've been following the northern coast and visiting small towns along the way.  The beaches are fabulous and this time of year it is summer vacation.  30 days for companies and 90 days for students.  I wish I had been a student in Spain.  

Now we are in the town of Viadago, it is pretty close to our last stop in Castro-Urdiales.  We wanted to be here to stay in a nice hotel that was affordable and close to the Spanish Alps.  We found the place and it is a superb location.  We are minutes from the beach and several small towns are all within a 10-minute drive.  The car has really come in handy and I'm glad we decided to rent it.  The Alps can't be seen from here but we took a drive yesterday.  

It's a curvy two-lane highway and the speed limit never varies much from 40 to 70 km.  As we rounded the passes we could see the peaks or picos of the Alps.  Truly impressive as you can tell from the pictures.  I haven't downloaded pics from Juan's camera but he took most of the shots.  A great place for a drive and to take pictures, there are pullouts all along the route.  It is an hour drive to get to the visitor's information center for the national park.  All of the towns, hotels, and restaurants are located along the highway.  There isn't a town with more than a couple hundred people and most are under 50 persons.  It takes a lot to get supplies and goods up to the top.  

Like most medieval and pre-medieval towns they are all located along the rivers.  Going up to the peaks the water is always along your side.  In some places, there are some minor rapids and some that appear to have a small beach.  Calmer waters for now allow kayakers to take their rigs and float around.  

The rock is impressive and the visitor's center takes you through all the details of the area.  It is a great learning experience for children and adults as well.  The explanations are in both Spanish and English and describe the type of rock, flora, fauna and minerals that were extracted during the mining days up until 30 years ago when the mines were closed.  We spent a good hour and a half going through the exhibits.

This is a house in the back of the visitor's center.  Imagine living and farming there.  Cattle of course, are a huge source of income and at this elevation they do well with grazing on the local grasses.

This is typical of a small Spanish town in the sense that people sit around and drink coffee and eat bread.  A lot, they do it all day.  They stop frequently for a coffee and a chat.  In fact, we stopped along the trip for a coffee and a tortilla de patata.  I need to learn how to make them, they are delicious.

Here in the town of Potes, we found the majority of the tourists.  The place was packed but people aren't very pushy or in a hurry to see things.  They do park anywhere they can and with the huge amount of rvs and RV rentals, it can get pretty complicated as well as congested.  Just as in Mexico, the kiosk is the central meeting place for the townspeople.  In the background, you'll always see the peaks!

Even though we have been here two weeks it still doesn't seem to sink in that some of these homes and buildings are hundreds of years old and well-preserved, and some are still in the hands of the original families that built them.  In the case of most Americans, it is very hard to trace your roots back more than 150 years.  

This was taken in Castro-Urdiales.  

Today is Sunday and a rest day.  We made the decision to stay one more day here and do laundry and goof off.  We went to Unquera, a small village about 6 minutes from the hotel.  While we were there we met a very nice couple (brother and sister) and they gave us some good tips on where to visit before we head back towards Madrid at the end of this week. 

A woman came in to get her laundry and she joined the conversation.  It turns out she is from Mexico City and moved to Spain after the last earthquake in 2017.  She opened a Mexican restaurant.  We are going to have dinner there this evening.  We haven't had anything spicy and hot since we left home.

In the town, they have a local policeman.  Yep, just one and he strolls up and down the street stopping from shop to shop to make sure all is well.   If he sees a travel bus or RV in trouble on the narrow streets, he gets out and does his thing.  A very friendly guy who is willing to answer questions.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2023

By The Sea - Castro Urdiales and Laredo, Spain

On our way from Burgos to Castro-Urdiales.   We stopped for gas and a coffee.  Our little Fiat 500 Hybrid taking a break.  A motorhome was filling up its tank with freshwater.  Rvs are everywhere and they park wherever they want.  Boondocking galore and no one seems to say a thing.  In fact, we hardly ever see police or transito.  

We arrived safe and sound to our Airbnb.  This is our first "room" in a house versus a complete apartment or house.  Helena caters to hikers on the Camino a Santiago.  She has a large house with five bedrooms.  We have a bedroom with a private bath and a galley-type kitchen for shared use.  We have an ice chest and a heating coil to make coffee in the mornings.  Works great!

We're within walking distance of the beach.  This was our first view after crossing the highway!

One thing I have to mention and it will come up again is that everywhere we go it is so clean.  Yesterday was a holiday celebrating the virgin.  Everyone was at the beach and it was a great time to be there.   As much as I love Mexico it was nice to be in a place with a lot of people enjoying the beach; no fires, no BBQs, and most of all, no music.  We watched the rowing matches before heading back to our stay.

The weather here at the coast is similar to California.  Instead of the 100F temps in Madrid, here it is a cool 78F.  It's a pleasure to be outside along the shore with a cool breeze.  A bit of rain in the morning and clouds but it is a welcome change.

The castle of Castro - Urdiales.  The castle was built in the 12 century.  It was used as an escape during the French invasion of 1812.  Caesar Vespasiano conquered this part of Spain in 74 A.D.  The castle is also part of the Cathedral of Santa Ana.  

The artwork and detail that went into the construction.  The representation of each of the figures and what they meant, scaring off warring peoples or the threat of hell for those who didn't repent.  You could study this one site for years.  Unbelievable that we are standing in the spot where Caesar stood, walked and gave orders to his soldiers.  

The interior of the church is even more amazing.  This side chapel has a red hue around the top.  This is from two very narrow, maybe 12" by 48", red pieces of glass.  The thought that went into each chapel along the sides.  The artist aspect was well thought out.

The lighthouse that was later added.

Back to the house this afternoon for a quick lunch and a nap.  We took off for Laredo which was a short 20 minute drive.  We didn't find it too exciting but we were on the hunt for something I damaged.  I always carry my hot water coil.  Well, we had a cup of noodles for lunch and we are accustomed to having an egg cooked in it kind of like egg drop soup.  Well, it was too much for the coil and it snapped.  It still works but don't check the water with your finger or you'll get a shock.  We went to several places but had no luck finding a new one.

We did run across this parking area for rvs.  Some of them are so cool!

A shot from the hilltop over looking the coast of Laredo!

Tomorrow off to Santander for the morning and then back to Castro-Urdiales.