I loved Spain. I loved Spain; I love it now; I think there’s a good chance I may always love it. From the moment I first stepped off the plane and felt the warm weather (high 80s) greet me, I knew this was going to be a good trip. And it in no way let me down.
I began my time in Madrid. I’d planned for a full day of extensive sight seeing once I arrived on Monday afternoon, but my first stop, el Parque de Buen Retiro, managed to knock any ideas of productivity out of my system almost immediately. I had arrived in the afternoon, and this beautiful park was a popular meeting spot for an afternoon siesta, so everywhere I turned as I walked the vast distance of the grounds, people were laying in the grass sleeping, reading, tanning, or talking with those around them, and after seeing the park, I decided I’d just spend some time sitting on a park bench, watching and relaxing myself. I caught up on some journal writing, acclimated my ears and mind to the Spanish language, and then headed over to El Conservatorio Real to meet up with my roommates, Mary and Jacqueline, from Pacific who were in Spain for the week with a tour organized by the university. I attended their concert that evening, and then we all had dinner afterward.
The laid back attitude I observed in the park permeates the culture. Dinner, which started at about 10:00 PM, was a slow affair, and it wasn’t until we realized we’d need to be sure to catch the last metro that we began to start to rush a bit. We’d been eating outside, where, surprisingly, it wasn’t even dark until almost 11:00, and it continued to stay warm, so the entire experience was quite comfortable–even for this girl who tends to maintain a fairly early bedtime.
The next day, I set out early on my own to do a walking tour of parts of the city. I saw many things, including La Biblioteca Nacional, Plaza del Sol, and la Inglesia de San Jeronimo. While I enjoyed the landmark places, I think what I enjoyed the most was just looking at all the different buildings and statues (important or not) that I passed along the way. After this couple-hour tour, I met up again with Mary and Jacqueline at Madrid’s cultural crowning glory (at least in the way of museums), El Museo del Prado. The Prado was an art museum, home to much religious art, as well as secular paintings, and a massive collection of Goya paintings. For one man, Goya went through a lot of phases, and one of his most disturbing and yet most intriguing, I thought, was a dark phase. Apparently the paintings were all painted after he had gone deaf, and (silly as this sounds) you could tell. They just seemed to lack something, but to do so purposefully. They were silent paintings (yes… this DEFINITELY sounds silly, but it is getting late).
After the museum and a lunch, we walked down La Gran Via, one of the main streets of Madrid for some window shopping and later some gelato. Then, I headed off again on my own to visit El Jardin Botanico Real, which ended up being the highlight of this trip. The garden was beautiful. From the moment I walked in, it was an experience for the senses. All around me, gardens of every plant imaginable were sprawled out among twisted hedge borders, and the smell that hit me as soon as I passed through the gates was heavenly. The street traffic disappears behind the thick hedge and stone walls, and the only sound is a quite chatter of birds and people talking in soft voices. At this point, it was around 6:30, and the brash heat of the day had subsided to something more gentle and nurturing, and the atmosphere and feeling that those gardens held made the experience something spiritual. I ended up spending over two hours here, snapping photographs (I’ve started to play around with my camera as I want to be a better photographer), and just enjoying existence until the park closed at 9:00.
From the gardens, I headed north back to el Parque de Buen Retiro, stopping at one point to admire a lane of stands set up selling old books (honestly, there must have been at least thirty stalls of book sellers) across from a long looking pond and fountain. In the park, I found two street musicians performing a jazz number on a saxophone and a percussive instrument which I’ve never before seen. For street musicians, it was really good. Not to knock street musicians, but often times they just seem to play classics or oldies that they know people are going to recognize and give money for. These two, however, played a form of jazz (I call it jazz because I don’t know what other category it could be, and jazz has always been a catch-all phrase) that was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Clear, transparent, subdued: it was incredibly relaxing, and I was glad I’d had a chance to get a glimpse of Madrid’s jazz scene in such a lovely environment.
The next day, we took the train to Barcelona. It was cooler here, but still enjoyable weather, and in such good fortune we made our first stop the basilica la Sagrada Familia, a church that was designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi and began construction in the 1870s. Once he had imagined this piece, Gaudi spent the remainder of his life working on it, knowing he would never finish (I was told this was the “fashionable” thing to do at the time–devote a life to a project you know you’ll never see finished–it had a bit of nobility to it). He was right, and when he died in the 1920s and then the Spanish Civil War broke out, the ornate building was forgotten until an effort was made to revitalize it in the fifties. Today, it still stands incomplete, but is under rigorous construction and is scheduled to be finished in 2026. I think I know when my next Spain trip is going to be. Even unfinished, the architecture was beautiful to behold. Like a well written novel, absolutely every last detail had been careful crafted and bore some sort of significance or symbolism. And what I particularly liked was that everything drew from nature as it’s example. The pillars were sculpted as tree trunks, opening up to a foliage-esque ceiling, and the entire thing reminded me of a really big (but cool) sand castle. If you ever go to Spain and Barcelona, definitely go there.
That night and the following day were spent in more exploration and walking. I saw many cool things, the highlights being the Park Guell, the Mediterranean Sea, and the busy boulevard called La Rambla. The markets in Barcelona are also pretty cool; foods of all kinds are set up and arrayed in a way that leaves you wondering where exactly to look, because you want to look at absolutely everything all at once. If you’re ever in Barcelona, after you visit the basilica, go to a market and get one of the many fresh fruit juices they sell there. Don’t buy one at the entrance, but head further in (they get cheaper but they’re just as good and they have more flavors to choose from); it will compliment the hot weather nicely.
My fifth day in Spain I got out of the city. I woke up early and hopped on a bus up to the Catalonian range of the Pyrenees mountains. It was raining quite heavily, so rather than hiking there as I’d planned, I headed down a ways to Garrotxa National Park, a collection of volcanoes at the base of the Pyrenees and spent the day hiking a few of the volcanoes there and a forest. Because of all the nutrients brought into the soil by the volcanoes, everything in that area was rich, lush, and green. Wildflowers were abundant, and going toward the forest hike, I passed multiple fields full of coral-colored poppies. Eventually, the rain traveled down to where I was (and fell rather heavily), so I was chased indoors to a small geological museum–the ONLY place open in that tiny town during the siesta hours–where I watched a film on volcanoes. Considering my extensive (and by extensive I mean not at all) understanding of Spanish geological vocabulary, I had a difficult time following much of the film. And so when the special-effects theater which I was watching in began shifting and moving under my feet, simulating a serious earthquake, I went into a brief moment of terror, having missed the verbal cue that must have said “This is what an earthquake would feel like.” Afterward, though, I found this pretty funny, as did the guy working it, I’m sure. Once the rain let up, there wasn’t enough time to start a new hike, but I explored the small town, which was basically a labyrinth of narrow alley ways and tall buildings, much like the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, and practiced more picture taking.
My last day in Barcelona was spent poking in and out of small handmade pottery and jewelry shops before having to head out to Girona to catch my home bound flight. It was delayed, and as such, I didn’t end up back in my room until almost 1:30 AM the following morning.
Now, I’m just unpacking and repacking, readying myself to leave for six days in Austria and Germany with my dad (who just arrived today. SO EXCITING!). I’m also trying to narrow down what pictures to put on this blog. I’d put them all, but I took over 1200… So that’s my goal for tomorrow. If I could narrow it down to 50, I think that would be grand.