In all of my excitement about Spain, I almost forgot that today is my 364th consecutive day of blogging! I have no awareness of what day is is at any time here since we lost seven hours flying this way. I’ve been convinced that I missed a day of blogging this week somehow with the timezone change, but I didn’t. Todo esta bien. And I couldn’t manage to make the internet work for long whenever I woke up early this morning, not surprising, so I didn’t get a chance to write my post, so I’m going to do so now. It is still morning at home, after all. The time difference is not fantastic, but it’s working in my favor now.
Yesterday we visited El Valle de Los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen), which, if I remember correctly, is the place where the soldiers who died during the Spanish Civil War are buried. It was forty minutes or so outside of Madrid and when we left the city we drove through the most beautiful countryside. I have to buy a bottle of olive oil here to bring home because with the amount of olive trees that grow, it has to be pretty fantastic. Mountains sit along the back as we drove up to El Valle de Los Caídos whose most distinctive feature is a massive stone cross. I’ve never seen anything like it. The mere scale of everything here is impressive. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to post pictures of it all right now, but I can’t wait to show you all. It was insane. The cross sits very high up and we went inside the basilica underneath it which is where Francisco Franco is buried. The only way you can actually see El Valle de los Caîdos is if you attend a mass there. They don’t let tourists go in because they consider it a sacred place, not an attraction. So, we went to mass there in the morning. The church was ornate, but not in comparison to a cathedral, by any means. It was massive with stone walls and large statues. There are a few Catholics in the group, but the good majority of the group felt a bit uneasy mostly because they didn’t know what to expect from a Catholic mass. Although the mass was quite different than any I’ve ever been to, it was the most comfortable I’ve felt here. It was the most like home. I knew what to expect. I knew what was being said. I knew what all of it meant, when to sit, when to stand, and what to say. I explained parts of the mass to my friends around me and did my best to understand the priest through his thick Spanish accent and the echo of his voice in the church. The mass was the most somber and reverent mass I’ve been to. A boys choir led the songs from the back of the church where I couldn’t see them (or understand them. I couldn’t tell if they were singing in Spanish or Latin either. Awkward.) There were ten or so priests and six niñitos chiquitos as altar servers. The mass was very solemn though, not in a typical reverent way either. But the most interesting thing I remember about it was during the consecration, the moment where the priest lifts the host, simultaneously with the bells, all of the lights of the church went off except for one at the top of the dome directly above the altar, luminating the crucifix in the middle of the altar all the way down to the priests hands. The shape of the light in the dome and the only light in the entire church besides the candles was a crescent moon.
It was beautiful.
After that we went to El Escorial which is some sort of residence place/monastery/pantheon for the royals of Spain and some monks. The monastery had the most beautiful gardens with maze-like bushes and beautiful trees and archways and a pond with a gorgeous swan. It was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen as it sits on a mountain. I really wish you all had been there to see it with me. I can’t say enough about it to do it justice. There was tons of great art in the palace part of that. Oh, and one of the oldest libraries. (Julia Moen, I got to see one of St. Teresa of Avila’s handwritten journals there and I thought of you! I’m not exactly sure why, but thought you’d appreciate knowing that) From there (yesterday was the longest day ever) we went to El Prado, the most prominent art museum in all of Spain. And I flipped a bit because we saw genuine works by El Greco and Francisco Goya. They were so amazing, but nothing compared to seeing “Las Meninas” by Diego Velazquez in person. I’ve studied that painting so many times. It was unreal. And today we went to La Reina Sofia, a modern art museum which holds Picasso’s Guernica. Insane! It’s all insane.
On our way back to the hostel yesterday, there was a huge riot on the street. They’ve been protesting for a few weeks now two blocks from where we’re staying but they moved into the street yesterday right in front of our hostel. I got a video of the protest and all the madness that I’ll upload when I get a chance as well.
Everything has been great. We go to Valencia tomorrow and I’m excited (and nervous!) to meet my host family! I’m more excited to go to the beach though! ¡Aye aye aye!
I got lost walking in the rain in Madrid with a friend a few hours ago. He and I walked for forty-five minutes trying to find our way back to the hostel (without technology!). We enjoyed the adventure.
I think that’s all I have for you right now. I really do wish you all were here with me, that’s the only thing that could be better. I miss you all dearly and hope you’re well.
Oh, and we had the most fabulous Gazpacho last night. I felt like I was home.