January 5, Monday
Dear friends, camels on the streets of Madrid… carrying presents! upside down umbrellas for catching candy! a high-school marching band from Kansas (go Huskies!) five pianists playing five-part harmony upside down. The cabalgata was a mind-bending, magical, experience.
We stood for hours, whined a bit, caught candy, stared at the shepherds herding ducks (!) and had an absolutely phenomenal time. Walked back up a cordoned-off Alcala (for those of you who have any experience with Madrid was surreal! ) with thousands of others, and staggered exhausted into our hotel. Good news – 18 of the 19 people arrived on Monday, the fifth. Bad news – one of us was not allowed to leave the country because her passport would expire too soon after the trip. She’ll be here on Friday. Other bad news… Although Anna and Jade made it from Austin Straubel to O’Hare with *whew* five minutes to spare, their luggage did not. Nor did it arrive in Madrid later on Monday. Or on Tuesday.
Tuesday, January 6
A día festivo in Spain- The Three Kings. Stores are all closed (including the Corte Inglés), and museums have limited hours. People sleeping in late before heading out with family for chocolate y churros. We’d set the morning aside for the Prado, and we walked from the hotel down to the Neptune fountain and over to the museum where we spent time studying “The Second of May” and “The Third of May” by Goya, and “Las Meninas” (“The Ladies in Waiting”) by Velasquez. On the brochure of the floor plan of the Prado, there are has thumbnail pictures of the most famous works housed in the museum along with the location: brilliant. Students could wander purposefully (I don’t think that’s an oxymoron). We’d hoped to get down to the Reina Sofía to see Picasso’s Guernika, but by the time we left the Prado, we were too close to the closing time to make it.
We split up, grabbed some food, some went to see Bernabeu Stadium, where Real Madrid plays, and some wandered. At four, we met Mercedes – an official Madrid guide, for a walking tour of the Madrid of the Austrias (the Hapsburg monarchs who ruled Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries). Highlights? Madrid was originally an outpost constructed to protect the capital city of Toledo from invaders. Its name, “Madrid,” means “the mother of waters” in Arabic – not because of the Manzanares River ( mere dribble by Wisconsin standards) – but because the water-table is so close to the surface. The symbol of Madrid is a bear standing at a “modroño” tree. Why? When a king fell ill with malaria, his doctors had no answer, but the locals knew to make an infusion with the modroño berries – small, red fruits that contain quinine.
Bad “highlight”? Our guide warned us that she’d just noticed two young women who appeared to be pickpockets – but the warning came too late for Alex, who had her wallet expertly extracted from her zipped purse. Hugely distressing for all, but we’ve already had cards cancelled and are making arrangements. We will carry on.
Off to Toledo tomorrow morning – still no sign of the missing luggage.
Wednesday, January 7
The metro to Atocha (the main train station of Madrid), the fast train to Toledo, a bus up the hill to the plaza (the “Zocodover”), and a long walk over stone streets to San Juan de la Penitencia, the center for the Fundación Ortega y Gasett. St. Norbert students have studied abroad at the Fundación for decades, and this modest building at the end of a tiny alleyway off a small plaza named San Justo is my safe place in Spain. Good friends, endless support, profound knowledge, and – of course – coffee. Today we needed all of that, and we weren’t disappointed. The radical hospitality shown us here is beyond description.
Paco and Carlos at the front desk immediately began calling different airports and airlines, trying to track down the missing luggage, José Luis took charge of getting money from home into Alex’s wallet, Mila got the students settled in their rooms, and Yuki walked Steve and Stacey and me to our “hospedería” – a tiny rooming house next to the Cathedral. We ate, we rested, we made plans. Stacey and Steve and I admired our quarters: the first floor of the building was built in the 11th century and the second floor (our rooms) from the 16th century. Cardinal Cisneros lived in this building, and his name is still by the door to his bedroom.
Thursday, January 8
Toledo: the city-musuem. Rosa Almoguera, the director of the Fundación and a dear personal friend, had arranged for our tour in Madrid as well as our walking tour of Toledo. Our guide was Juanjo (Juan José), and he was marvelous. He took us to the usual highlights of the town: San Juan de los Reyes, the synagogues, the cathedral, and Santo Tomé; but he also took us to the Church of San Román and the Roman baths. In San Román we saw the amazing synthesis of Muslim and Christian art. The altar – pure Baroque. But on the walls were the remains of romanesque frescos, along the columns and around the windows were lines from the psalms – in Arabic, and the arches were all key-hole arches. My favorite? Tombs on the floor were positioned so that the bodies would face the east when the last trumpets sounded, and frescoes on the walls above them showed the people pushing up the lids of the coffins.
We walked for a good four hours with Juanjo – ended our tour at San Tomé – a small church with an incredible piece of art: El Greco painted “The Burial of Conde Orgaz” specifically for this church. Conde Orgaz is buried at the base of the painting, fresh flowers on his tomb today.
And more good news! Luggage has been found, and Paco has ordered it sent to our hotel in Granada. And even better news! Beth will meet us tomorrow morning in Atocha, where we will catch the train to Granada.
Friday, January 9
Early, early morning; the train for Madrid was scheduled for 9:00, so we caught the train from Toledo at 7:20. Met Beth in Atocha! She had navigated Madrid, the hotel, the metro, and the train station by herself with grace and good humor.
Four hours to Granada, but no one was complaining; most were sleeping. Those who stayed awake could see miles and miles of olive orchards and then, as we neared Granada, the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Luggage waiting at the hotel!
I studied in Granada, but it’s been (many) years since I spent time in this city. Motor memory? I found myself moving around easily between the Plaza Nueva, the cathedral, and the Albaicin – the old Muslim city. Tomorrow we’ll visit the Alhambra, but today we spend time walking, working our way up the hill to the Albaicin and admiring the views from the Mirador San Nicolás.
Highlights? The ancient walkway along the Darro; the convent of the cloistered nuns sell sweets (wooden revolving window allows the exchange of money and candy without revealing faces), the 60-ish feel of the Mirador de San Nicolas (dread-locked couples selling jewelry and clothing while their kids dance and skip around the plaza), tourists waited for the sun to set – turning the walls of the Alhambra a ruddy terracotta red, and the cheerful bantering between old friends. As the lights turned on, we wandered a bit further into the Albaicín, into a store that sold loose tea, cheeses, dried fruit, and other treats. We gathered together a picnic that we’d later enjoy at the hotel.
Saturday, January 10
Up and out, into a bus and up to the Alhambra. Nothing can prepare you for this Moorish palace.