Sunday, June 23, 2013

El Escorial, Valle de los Caidos, and Toledo- oh my!

Good morning!

It’s currently 9:45 here on this beautiful Sunday morning. Normally I think of any time after 9am as “mid-morning,” but I’ve been once again reminded that here in Spanish-land, this time is freakishly early.

I slept in as much as I could (body clock strikes again- 8:30 today) and decided to go for a walk so I could get out of the house a little bit. You know who else is out? Nobody. At all. Except for the few hobos who sleep in the street. (I think I’m now sitting on the bench-home of one of them…oops)
I ended up walking to church, since there’s nowhere else to go and I was planning on mass at 11:30. Turns out I got here even before the church is unlocked. So…if you ever go to Spain, don’t wake up early.

Today has got to be my homework day. I’ve been procrastinating a lot of it to travel and sightsee (and spend money).  Now I have three essays to write…fun stuff. But if any of you feel the urge to write about a) Franco’s dictatorship, b) the world of bullfighting, c) a famous painter, or d) all of the above, let me know!

So yeah, the past few days, I’ve seen a lot in Spain! Friday we took a field trip to El Escorial and Valle de los Caidos. El Escorial is the old palace, which still holds a lot of interesting history. For example, I saw the bed that King Felipe II died in. So, that’s something. I’m pretty sure his ghost is roaming around in the castle somewhere. Actually, now that I think about it, the majority of what we saw were catacombs and graves for dead people. I really don’t know how many bodies were in that place. Hundreds, I’m sure. And they were all famous Spanish royalty, too! Other than that, the palace itself wasn’t too outstanding. We toured with such a big group (four classes, so around 80 people) and our tour guide was a very nice but short and quiet old man, so it was near impossible to see him, let alone hear him. And we didn’t even get to see a lot of the castle. Most of it was closed to visitors, and the guards kept us on a very tight path. That was disappointing because I’m sure there were a ton of secret passages that I wanted to find.

Oh, and no pictures allowed inside. Why do most places prohibit those?! It frustrates me. It’s all so gorgeous and I want to remember it!

Speaking of gorgeous- the cathedral in the palace was incredible. Again, no pictures. L
I just tried searching on Google for some pictures, but I guess even professional photographers aren’t allowed to capture the place, because there were only a few, and even those were probably taken illegally. I guess you’ll just have to go to these places to see the grandeur!

Basically, it was huge, intricate, and old. And so cool.

Afterwards, we got two hours for lunch. Which was nice, but the town is as small as my neighborhood, so there wasn’t much to see or do. A lot of us just ended up sitting in the sun outside of the castle, which ended up being a bad idea because I felt something on my arm and turned to see a ginormous black spider crawling up me. I freaked out and hit it a lot and the next time I looked, I couldn’t find it’s lifeless carcass anywhere. The only logical assumption was that it fell into the coffee I had just bought. The coffee that I didn’t end up drinking because it most likely was polluted by a stupid spider. Since I couldn’t sit there anymore knowing spiders frequented that area of the castle, we moved to another sitting area where a lizard almost ended up on my lap. After those two traumatic events, I stood a good distance away from any foliage as we all waited to move to the next location.
Which wassssss…… Valle de los Caidos! This was another church (yeah, there’s a ton of them here) which Francisco Franco built (well, had people build) to honor the casualties from the Spanish Civil War. This was the first church I’ve ever been to that was UNDERGROUND. I thought that was awesome, even though the church itself seemed like the chamber of secrets from Harry Potter. Seriously, a bunch of us started planning ways the basilisk could escape. And it was surrounded by four massive angel statues, which were a tad bit creepy. Franco obviously didn’t like happy stuff that much. Speaking of the dictator- he’s actually buried there! I got to see his grave…woot. I took a moment to realize I was less than 6 feet away from this crappy “celebrity” of sorts.

Also, you got into the church through this ginormous tunnel, which really reminded me of something from Star Wars. And since the church was built into a hill, the edge of it was a cliff with an awesome view, so we all took a good amount of time for pictures and such.

Afterwards, we jumped in our buses and went back to Alcala. It was in that moment I realized how much I missed public, easily accessible bathrooms.

After arriving, it was time for tapas, ice cream, and shopping! Because you can never have enough of any of those.

So that was a fun Friday. Yesterday a group of us went to Toledo! Not Ohio, for those of you who were planning on making that joke. Toledo is a popular city in Spain that is full of history (though aren’t they all?) and is most known for an amazing cathedral, castle, and El Greco, who is a famous painter you might have heard of.

We got up early to catch the 9am train to Madrid, only to find out our group of 4 had somehow grown to a group of 10. You know how with larger groups it becomes more difficult to go places and stay organized? Well, that definitely happened to us. Some people were running late, so we missed the first few trains, and didn’t get to Madrid until a half hour after we had planned. Then, we had to buy our train tickets to Toledo. That’s where things got really interesting. After trying every kiosk outside the ticket office (along with about thirty other tourists), we came to the realization that not a single one was working. You’d think they would have put a sign on them to notify us before attempting a million times. We’d go through all the steps, and then find the operation would be cancelled for whatever reason. Keep in mind that this station is huge and busy, so we were trying to fight off the other ticket-wanters, keep all our stuff from being stolen, figure out the machines, try other machines when we were unsuccessful, and keep everybody together while we tried to decide how to get our tickets.
We finally realized that we had to go into the office for them. Our first clue should have been the fact that everybody was in there. It was this tiny, windowless office, stuffed with people. We could barely move. That phrase “could barely stir them with a stick” was very appropriate in this situation. We kept trying to fight our way to the desk whenever they became open, only to realize that we had to pull a number. So I did. Number 768. They had just called number 710. And there were two people working. So we were all getting a bit frustrated, as we were hoping to catch the 10:20 train, which was no longer possible. Then four of the people in our group decided to find a bus to take to Toledo, so they left to find their own way there. Meanwhile, we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We ended up waiting an hour and a half in that tiny office for them to call our number. By then, the next train we could get on was the 12:20, which meant we had half an hour. We were just about to pay for our tickets when the undecided group ran up to us, having realized the bus was actually far away and more of a hassle. I felt a bit bad for the man at the counter, who then tried to find some seats together on the already crowded train. I guess everyone wanted to go to Toledo yesterday.

After all that waiting and frustration, we went to Starbucks. Not some nice little café. A Starbucks. It just seemed like the best stress-reliever at the moment.

A few hours later, we were finally in Toledo. It was all laughs and happiness for a few minutes, before we were divided on whether to walk or take the bus from the train station to the middle of the city. That’s when we split up, probably because we realized a group of ten people who all wanted to do different things just didn’t work out. So, some of us walked and some rode the bus, but we all planned to meet up at the Cathedral. However, once in the city, a few girls decided they just wanted to sit down and eat somewhere, even though we had just stepped foot in the city and hadn’t seen anything. So, the group split again, and we went to meet up with the others at the cathedral. But then we got lost. And there was nobody around who we could ask for directions. And it was HOT- as in 100+ degrees. And we didn’t have water. Sounds like nothing could go right!

But somehow, we found the cathedral and the others, after a confusing and rough start. However, once there, a few people decided they didn’t want to pay to get in, so they left to explore on their own. The few of us who were left went for it, and it turned out the cost of admission also gave you a headset and audio tour! Plus, you could take pictures in this church!

Thankfully, the audio tour was in English, so I could actually understand most of it. The cathedral of Toledo is one of the main examples of Gothic architecture, so it had high ceilings and a lot of intricate design. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, because there used to be a church there before, built on a place where a Cardinal saw an apparition. There’s even an area that includes a stone from the original church.

The audio tour was a bit confusing, because the guide given to us wasn’t clear on where we should be standing when we listened to a specific section. So I now know a lot about the church, but I don’t really know what facts match up with which area. Kinda defeats the purpose, but oh well. We ended up just walking around. They have this giant gold monstrance which was over ten feet tall, which everyone wanted to see. It was hard to get a good picture when I had to reach over everyone’s heads. We also saw some more tombs and paintings, which, though gorgeous, are starting to become commonplace now. The most amazing part of the church (in my opinion) was the retable behind the altar. It stretched to the ceiling and depicted scenes from Mary’s life. On either side of it were buried a few monarchs.

After the church, we ate at a restaurant nearby. By that time, we were so hungry that we literally just walked into the first place we saw. It turned out to be a more expensive place than we thought, and ended up having a three course meal that lasted two hours. I also didn’t know what anything on the menu was. Not because it was in Spanish (there were English translations) but just because none of those words seemed to go with each other and make food names. It was weird. Somehow I had this rice pasta for my first course and then I thought I ordered pork for my second, but when it came, it looked really odd. I was eating it, and thought it tasted okay, until I let one of my friends try it. She told me it was definitely veal.


It’s not that I have anything AGAINST veal. I had never tried it before. But something about it has never made me WANT to try it, so I had a moment of “oh my gosh am I seriously eating veal” that apparently was pretty funny to watch.

Luckily, I had rich chocolate cake for dessert which I KNOW I like.

Unfortunately, after lunch, we had to go back out into the heat. We decided to go visit the museum of El Greco, which was actually his house that they had converted into a museum. It took us forever to find it, but I guess we could just have followed the crowd of tourists, since that was apparently where everyone goes when they visit Toledo. Next door was a whole other building, which housed his most famous work “El entierro  del Conde de Orgaz.” But guess what? You had to pay 2.50 euro just to see that one painting. Since I don’t really care too much for Greco’s work, I was perfectly fine with passing over that. The others agreed and we went to his house, which was free.

We were then forced into a tight line as we shuffled behind everyone else through the house. It wasn’t that big, so there wasn’t too much to see. A lot of his paintings were hung up throughout the house, but we doubted they were actually his since they were not guarded or protected whatsoever. Plus, some of the exact same works were in the cathedral that we had seen earlier, and those were behind steel bars. So, we bypassed most of the art in Greco’s house. How funny would it be if it turned out those were the real ones?

We did a little bit of shopping afterwards, but everything there was so expensive, and we had to get back to catch our train. Once we were on the train, we all instantly fell asleep. I guess the long day really took a toll on us!

So now, only 5 days left. Ahhhhh I shouldn’t even say that. I don’t want to think about leaving yet. There’s still more adventures to be had!

And here's some pictures! Most of these are stolen from Google.

At Valle de los Caidos- temple of Loreto!

Entrance- long hallway (the lights were out when we were in there)

The dome

At El Escorial- this is one of the collection of caskets (aka group of dead people)

Another view of Valle de los Caidos

El Escorial- these are only a FEW of the caskets of past kings/queens

El Escorial from the air (obviously I did not take this one)

Opposite side of Valle de los Caidos- that's the tunnel entrance in the back, and at the bottom of the picture you can see Franco's grave. Unfortunately, you can't see the creepy angels. And this picture kinda makes the place look nice and friendly. In reality, it was one of the most eerie churches I've been in.

Cathedral in Toledo

Toledo Cathedral

Altar in Cathedral

1 comment:

  1. That's the only reason I don't envy you: all the train ticket confusion!

    That last picture... Oh my GOODNESS!! It's sooooo beautiful, I can't even.