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Posts from the ‘Spain’ Category


“Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering–remembering and not using your right to hit back. Its a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
– Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, Anglican Church of South Africa

I loved learning about the history of Cape Town during my time in South Africa. I was grateful for the time I had to reflect on my journey thus far. I especially enjoyed fitting the pieces of the historical “world puzzle” together in a new way while I was here.

Learning about the age of exploration while in Spain and Portugal just a few months ago had a great influence on my understanding of world history while I was in South Africa.

Now, I was able to hear the other side of the story. Now I had a chance to hear the side of the story from a country that was explored. I was able to gain new insights of the effects of the explorers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on these other lands. The lands where the riches and gold were taken. The people were taken.

One thing I finally realized during my time here is that in every country I have ever traveled, there was a people who were injured, wronged and even wrongfully put to death. Sometimes the victor becomes the loser, and sometimes the wronged become the oppressor. I also realize at some point, for the cycle to stop there must be forgiveness. The countries where I have seen an end to cycle of revenge proceeded through a process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Unfortunately, all over the world we are reminded of peoples that have not forgiven the past and do not seek peace. Demond Tutu also said that “Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.”

Countries must forgive to get past hurts and move forward. And, likewise, individuals must have forgiveness to move on from the past. I think this is something we all should consider as we move into a fresh new year and do our part to spread peace.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
― Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, Anglican Church of South Africa



Sevilla is the heart of what we think is Spain; The red flamenco dresses, the flat black hats with flat rims, the painted fans women use in the the extreme heat, the music with the strong vocalist and the lighting speed guitar. Yes, this is the Spain we see in movies and it is real. This is also the Spain that keeps stricter siesta hours and your options become more limited for everything between two until eight in the evening; things really just start going at about ten at night.

We did see the cathedral in Seville, the third largest, after St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s, and largest Gothic church in the world. It was large but not quite as ornate as some of the other religious sites we had already seen in Spain. We were surprised to find the tomb of Christopher Columbus inside the cathedral. The tower was impressive and was worth the thirty-five floor climb to the top. The bells of various sizes were all connected to ring with a single pulley system. The view of Seville was outstanding from the bell tower.

We also visited the Alcazar, which was a palace built in the fourteenth century by the conquering king. It is still a residence of the King and Queen of Spain while staying in Seville today. The tile work inside the residence and the gardens were the highlights of the palace visit.

Our favorite parts of Seville were the cultural entertainment and a late night buggy ride in the lighted parks and surrounding buildings of old Seville. The first night we had our introduction to flamenco. From the lighting fast tapping to the stomps that would kill any bug. The flamenco dancer is in charge and getting “egged on” by the palmists who cup their hands in a way that sounds like additional stomps of the feet. The vocalist commands out to the dancer and the dancer plays out the song. Together they tell a story while the skilled guitarist looks up and smiles at the scene.

Several styles of flamenco were demonstrated. The single male, straight back, with feet so quick that his body appeared to vibrate. The single woman in a fitted dress to the hips and ruffles to the floor demonstrate strength and grace. Every limb and every finger in complete precision. Next a woman with a fan, flinging and snapping the object into submission. The woman with a scarf danced in another style while the most complex seemed to be the woman who danced in a dress with a train behind her. When she turned or twisted she had to fling the skirt around to the desired position with a kick of the foot without missing a tap of the dance. Finally the female balladeer describing with her facial gestures as much as her words the meaning of her pain. This prepared us for the event we were very lucky to attend the next evening.

Every two years, Seville holds a flamenco festival where the “stars” of flamenco preform. Since the website for the event was only in Spanish and there were not advertisements on display I had a feeling that it would be tricky to get tickets. We were very lucky to obtain two of the last balcony tickets for a performance. The company of Mercedes Ruiz took every part of the dance we had seen from the night before to the next level. Mercedes Ruiz preformed the entire event with a few short costume changes. When I was in college a professor once told us that standing ovations should be saved for the “out of the ordinary” or a performance that is the culmination of a life’s work. I thought that this would be a performance that warranted such an ovation. After the performance the crowd clapped in a uniform way that sounded like unified stomping back to thank the performer. Cheers echoed in the theater. In all my life I have never experienced such an ovation.

Finally the theater itself was quite spectacular. There was floor seating but most of the upper seating was in individual balconies that circled the theater. The usher escorted us to door twenty-one on the first balcony. She unlocked the door and there was a small room with a mirror on one side and a coat rack on the other. Below the coat rack was a small bench. Directly in front of us was a second curtain, parting this curtain to the side we found two seats and our individual balcony. What a wonderful experience. When you come to Seville, remember to take a siesta, stay out late when the city comes alive and attend at least one cultural performance during your stay.













Celebrations in the World

My favorite festivals are the unplanned surprises one discovers in a country. I think that is because there are no expectations. Just a feeling of being very lucky you are here on that given day to experience something with the people who live there. What is interesting is that the locals try very hard to communicate what is happening and why this celebration is important.

We were luckily to have found that very kind of a celebration when we were on stopover in Tarifa, Spain. It seemed that many foreigners, like us, were here to take the short ferry ride to Morocco. After dinner we noticed what looked like a couple of secondary school bands gathering at the end of the street. “Is there something happening tonight?”, I ask the older men standing on the street corner. “Yes, there is a parade in honor of Maria de la Luz. She is the patron saint of Tarifa. It’s over there.” He pointed to the north. “In the town center by the church.” That was in the direction of our hotel so we walked on.

The sleepy little street we had booked a room for the evening had completely filled with people, young and old, waiting in anticipation. We stop at the corner of our hotel and wait with the crowd. We are told that the statue of Maria de la Luz was found in the harbor and ever since she has been the patron saint of the city. She would be paraded in celebration of their saint. This was the final day and to be the grandest celebration of the entire week of festivities. What followed was a very slow and well orchestrated tribute to the saint. Everyone was dress in their finest clothes and it was obvious that it was a privileged to be invited to walk in the parade.

Men on horses holding silver staffs wearing light blue suits with short jackets followed by alter boys dressed in red robes who swung an incenser whose aroma wafted above the crowd. The soft smell rose up in the streets. There were also acolytes in white holding crosses and staffs. There were young girls dressed as princesses with sashes. Several dozen women wearing high heels and Spanish mantillas proceeded in linear order followed by men in suits with staffs. The focus was all on an alter that was dressed in blue velvet and silver. Large vases with flowers covered the altar. There were also sprays of flowers laying on the alter. In the center there was a large statue on top of a pedestal. Then I looked down. I could see two rows of four pair of feet moving only an inch forward with each step.

Then like a layering of a cake there were more men with staffs and rows of women, priests and other liturgical officials followed by the selected queen and princesses of the celebration. City officials including the mayor and city council were part of the the entourage. The highlight was the second altar with the Maria statue. It was even larger than the first altar. Locals were touching the altar as it passed by as if asking for a blessing. There were two rows of six feet under this altar.

At the corner we were standing, a block from the church where the procession had started, I finally understood the reason that the parade was moving so slowly down the street as someone handed a bottle of water to the men under the veiled altar. Then two men appeared from under the altar, drenched in sweat and completely drained. The parade just started at nine and it would be almost three and a half hours later that the parade would be making its final entry back to the church. I wonder if the men under the altar signed up for this honor or maybe they would receive a special blessing for this duty or maybe their wives simply signed them up for this role?

How often do we hear, “We used to…”, when remembering a holiday since that tradition became to hard to fit in our lives or when we use a twentieth-century substitute that will make life easier but still “somewhat” observes an old tradition. Sometimes we lose part of our traditions when we chip away at them. Traditions are important, they bond a family, community and a nation. It was an honor to watch a total dedication to tradition in a community in the twenty-first century. I believe a lesson we should all remember.











A pleasant resort on the Costa del Sol for the sea to take you away. There are more foreign tourist here than locals who come for the sun and the waves. No need for going to see entertainment in town. All the theater you could need is right here, playing out on the beach.









“It’s not that important of a cathedral according to our guidebook.” I state as we approach the entry of the Granada cathedral complex. I step through main door and look up. Wow. As my eyes finally rise to the top of the arch that seemed like a football in height. The side arches were as tall as a basket ball court. There was gold everywhere including on the two large pipe organs in each side of the nave, where the congregation sits. Large paintings were covering the walls several stories high. In awe I whisper, “I guess we really do know where the gold of the new world went.” And I realized that some of the less important sights in Spain would be main attractions in the United States.

Leaving the cathedral we continue on our walking path to find the Alcaiceria, which was a silk market in the Moorish quarter. We entered the arched entryway to find ourselves in a marketplace that was a feast for the eyes: fabrics, purses and light fixtures of all colors. The jewelry and other home decorations, it all was a shoppers dream. Shopkeepers were on the entry of each stall ready to make a deal. It was a delightful way to see the local crafts from the region.

Nearby the area, we are approached by several gypsy women holding out bunches of herbs and wanting to give blessing on our way to the old caravanserai. This was a stopover point on the silk road where merchants could rest their camels and spend the night. I am sure there was a bit of trading going on here as well. This particular place was used more recently to store coal after the Reconquista.

Our favorite stop in this medieval city was the Alhambra. The Alhambra was a Moorish place named for a red headed sultan who first lived here. This was a great place to visit to see an earlier civilization and the place they built. We hired a guide for this visit and it was interesting to learn of the social customs and history of the people who called this place home.

The arched doorways ornate with tile, small columns, tile floors and cedar ceilings with intricate designs are some of the memorable detail work in the palace. Written in Arabic throughout the complex over and over on the walls, “God is the only Victor” ensures that the people of this time do not forget their focus.

When foreign guests arrived from a long journey the first thing they would receive is water before having a meeting with the sultan. Water was an important and generous gift in this hot and dry climate. The water system was built before the palace. It is a system based on gravity from the mountains using the aqueduct techniques similar to those used in Roman times. All the water runs down the mountain and runs through the gardens and inside the palace. There were streams and fountains and pools of water throughout the palace wherever one looked. The gravity from the slope powers the fountains we see throughout the Alhambra. Different irrigation system flows the used water out of the Alhambra.

The garden was my favorite area to roam. I loved the garden fountains and was amazed at the height the water achieved without a mechanical pump. There were specific areas for the production of food but gardens inside the Generalife walls were only for flowers and green vegetation, a place to enjoy life away from the palace.

In the evening, we watched the sunset on the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas. As darkness overcame the earth the lights illuminated the Alhambra in all its glory.

Upon leaving Granada I must mention the 650 year old hotel we were privileged to stay at for a short time on our journey. The Santa Isabela la Real was restored to its original glory as a medieval mansion. I loved the thick wood shutters that could open on each side or as small window doors in each of the four corners. When the shutters were closed all light was removed from the room even during mid day and even better any noise was halted on the outside. The staff was beyond helpful and this was just a pleasant oasis.
























Medieval Magic!

We are in Toledo to see the art of El Greco and one of the best cathedrals in Europe. As we walk to our destination point we are quickly sidetracked by cello music in the air. We turn right to find ourselves treated to a concert for two. My mother asks, “Will you see if he can play, Out of Africa?”. I translate and the young man smiles and promptly changing his expression and puts the bow on the cords. We were transformed by this place as we walked the pebble paved streets. Most streets were not much more in width than my arms stretched out.

On the way we were also drawn in to an exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci. This was one of our favorite finds while in Toledo. We all know Da Vinci the painter and his interest in anatomy but I had no idea of his interest and skill in engineering, design, science and mathematics that would transform the future in so many areas. In the nineteenth century, a German cataloged all the inventions made to that point. I was surprised to learn that all but one had been invented or improved by Da Vinci – from ball bearings, anemometer and rotary joints to an underwater breathing machine, parachute and helicopter to an army tank, crane and motor vehicle. Da Vinci had designs on display of them all. He even had drawing of a transmission differential system which allowed wheels to rotate at different velocities on a curve. Interestingly, our early twentieth century vehicles did not utilize this technology yet. I couldn’t help but thinking what a wonderful project this would be for a group of students. It did not matter what your interest was: art, mathematics, science, history, machinery, music, arm forces, the air or the water, there would be something to peek any students interest when thoughtfully studying the work of this individual.

The beginning of the reconquering of Spain by the Christian Catholics
over the Moors was done from the center of the enemy territory. Toledo was the Vatican of Spain. It had been and still is the religious capital. The entire church was overwhelming by the immense size of the main church but also the side chapels. The cathedral was completed in 1495, it took 250 years to build, and every religious leader and monarch added their own permanent mark during that time. Your eye will surely be drawn to the ornate gold work throughout the site including the gold leaf work painted on the ceiling. Some of the religious vestments on display were from the fourteenth century. The fine embroidery and beads on the heavy cloaks was as intricate as a medieval tapestry. The walls in chapter room, where the current cardinal presides, was lined with wood carved seats and above the chairs were paintings of every cardinal who presided over the cathedral since 1515. One realizes pretty quickly where the gold of the new world ended up when visiting this cathedral and this city in general.

If you want to see the work from El Greco this is the place to do it. El Greco lived the last half his life in Toledo and his artwork is throughout the city. His paintings often focused on the connection of earth and heaven and have an unmistakable movement in his figures caught in a moment. He often used a red, blue, yellow or green color to highlight what he wants you to focus on in the work.


























Our Favorites Things in Madrid

Walking out of Retiro Metro Stop we found ourself in a 300 acre park with young and old enjoying the weekend life. This was the park of kings but more than 200 years ago “the good king” or “the best mayor of madrid” gave the park to the public…..And the locals are using the park. In the center is a pool eight to ten football fields wide, now people rent row boats and enjoy time on the water. Others are sun bathing but most stroll in the streets watching the free entertainment that sprouts up. The children, more than anywhere in Spain seemed happy here. If you have children you must venture to the Retiro Park.

We were lucky enough to catch the last night of “Carmen” preformed by the Compania Antonio Gades. It was a stirring performance by the dancers who received many ovations. The strong mature voice that rose above the flamingo caught my heart. There was no better place to see Carmen performed.

Our favorite was the Prado. This museum contains over 3000 works of art. There is no way to see the Prado in a day. We were fortunate enough to secure one of the most amazing teachers I have ever been aquatinted with for a private lesson. Hernan Satt, the owner of Madrid Museum Tours and a former professor of art history in Madrid, challenged and guided us through the art and through the history of the art. After two and a half hours we absorbed a semester of art and history of the Iberian Peninsula in a morning. We were very grateful for his expertise in making the art come alive from canvas. Among many new thoughts, I walk away with an appreciation for the contributions Diego Velasquez to the world of art and learned of the political risks he was willing to take to express himself.








An Impression of Madrid

It is hard to believe that in a large city one can slow down and catch your breath but I think we accomplished that very thing in Madrid. Here one does not walk but stroll. No one is in a rush. We are looking in windows and watching the time drift instead putting to much thought into the people surrounding us. Everywhere you look there is a new act starting and a crowd gathers. A girl singing opera on the corner of our hotel, a clown with a ballon attracting young and old alike, a puppet show, a magic act, or a dance group. Everyone has time to stop for a while. There is no fish bowl we all are in the ocean together.

I love Madrid. We actually stayed an extra day here. There was not one time that my mother entered a full train and a stranger did not stand up and give their seat away. This city is safe, there are police everywhere and this city is clean. Any hour we were out, even after ten in the evening, there were workers in green and lime colored suits sweeping the streets. One of the best parts of this stop was immersing yourself in the city itself. Streets wind and twist on cobblestone roads but it is okay to get lost, someone will point you back to Puerta Del Sol, the gathering spot…So go ahead get lost here.








The Monastery of Montserrat

I am up early today waiting to greet the sunrise from my bedroom window. There is complete quiet between the tolls of the bells which mark the passing of time. One ring at quarter after, two at the half hour, three at quarter till and four on the hour followed by the bells which ring the same number of times as the hour. I did not even notice the bells until I opened my window this morning. I am so excited for this day so I have been up since four-thirty.

Most tourists are shuttled up and down the mountain in a one day tour, which is a shame. The basilica opens at 7:30 and I plan to be the first in to see the statue of Mary and Jesus that was said to be carved by Saint Luke and brought to Spain by Saint Peter. Yesterday I watched tourists wait two hours or more in line to see the statue found in the cave near here. This morning the few that stay on the mountain will have until about 10 o’clock before the first tourists are shuttled up the mountain. This is our time to see Montserrat the way it should be viewed in its peacefulness and natural inspiring beauty.

Yesterday we arrived by cable car up this jagged mountain that seems to go straight up in the sky. The rocks of Montserrat are named for the jagged edges which seems to be serrated or cut. Evergreen oak trees completely cover large areas of the rock. In some places it does not seem as if there is a break in the green. I would discover later that the trees form such a canopy that the bushes grow larger than normal up here as they are safely hidden from the sun. Clover, ivy and thyme cover the ground between the bushes; cyprus trees spike up through it all.

This site has a long and checkered history well worth discovering. The first monks arrived in the tenth century and began building structures in the eleventh century. I can’t help but think throughout my visit, “How did they get all this stuff up here.”

Yesterday we spent over an hour in the basilica. It is one of the most ornate and well cared for religious sites I have ever seen. The frescos on the ceilings are breathtaking. The stained glass, sculptures and cravings were also of amazing quality. This is a large basilica but not a massive building. What is amazing with this structure is the detail in every inch of this building. Nothing was left without decoration of meaning, especially in the most holy areas.

We also went into the museum of the monastery. This two floor museum is jammed packed of the best of everything. No kidding, I could not believe it…. Most of the artifacts were donated or collected on the travels by one of the monks. The first room had renaissance artwork. Next room had Renoir, Monet, Picasso and Caravaggio. There was a large collection of greek orthodox religious paintings and also highlighted some interesting artists from Spain. For the frosting on the cake, there were some topnotch artifacts from a variety of time periods and countries including, Mesopotamia, Israel, Palestine and Egypt. This small two floor museum packed in a punch and we left with that “Wow” feeling.

There are several hikes including an outdoor “Way of the Cross” depicting the stations of the cross that remember the events during passion week on the Christian calendar or from Palm Sunday to Easter. Other hikes and viewpoints are accessed by funiculars which take a traveler further up or down the mountain. Unknowingly I discovered later that I chose the steepest two hikes on the mountain. On the first trail I was the only person on the way up or down the pathway. Every turn was like walking through a secret garden witnessing the vegetation below and wondering what view of the mountain or monastery I would see next. By the time I reached the fifth switchback I knew the type of hike I was in for; however, the view revealed more secrets of the mountain, almost tempting me, I couldn’t turn back. Later, when I reached the small Chapel of St. Michael’s I would learn that I could have ridden the funicular up to the top of the mountain and walked down to where I was standing…..But I am sure it would not have held the same sense of peace and accomplishment that I felt once I caught my breath.

Walking down the mountain I realized there seemed to be two types of people that make their way to Montserrat; the devout who will wait two hours to see the statue of Mary and Jesus and the hiker, here to discover nature. Either way both are sure to find some peace and discover a higher power.



















Highlights of Barcelona

The highlight of Barcelona was visiting the La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church). This is more than a church, it is an original work of art. The famous architect Antonio Gaudi worked for 43 years on this amazing structure beginning in 1883 and the community continues to work on his vision from the plans he left behind. Antonio Gaudi understood that this structure would not be completed in his lifetime stating that it was okay because “God was patient.” These words impressed on me the man whose aim was for the perfection of the detail in his art versus rushing to complete his work in order to view it. I am not sure if any words or picture can thoroughly describe his genius as a, an engineer, architect or artist. The building does not follow a uniform plan throughout therefore I had to retrace steps; however, upon the retracing I continued to discover new aspects I had not noticed. As I walked in different directions, I rediscovered his art as I viewed it from different angles.

The interesting design elements were fascinating to observe. The choice of materials used were thoughtfully selected not only to enhance the effects of the design but were also selected to relate to the viewer a spiritual significance to ponder. A column was not simply placed to support the building but even the material used to create a column in a specific area, since all columns were not made from the same material, were chosen and shaped to create some thought provoking or spiritual significance. For example most old religious structures are in the shape of a cross. In the center of this building, where all sides meet the columns are made from a red granite (porphyry) but the rest of the columns in the building where made from a grey stone. Most cathedrals of similar size have broad columns which are all the same size and shape. Here Gaudi wanted to bring the nature into this building therefore none of the columns are exactly like each other. These red columns where right in front of the main alter as if to say, “Here is where your focus should be.” Then, as I lift my eyes I notice that the columns branch out as when one lies on the grass and looks up into a tree. As all branches are different, all columns were different. Some branches even having boles to further enhance the effect. Each column represents a trunk of a tree therefore some of the supports were narrow but had enough strength to support the entire the weight of the roof.

Gaudi designed the structure also to enhance the effect of light and the natural surroundings. The bronze doors were larger than life and the doors which will become the main entrance had various words and phrases from the Lord’s Prayer in a variety of languages in large and small print.

The four sides of the building are the work of a a master sculptor. The only side that was completed during the life of Gaudi is of the Holy Family Facade. As one gazes up you can see that the sculptures flow together but each scene is recessed deep into the building as its own individual snow globe….Without the snow of course. At some point I realized that I am not the only one holding the back of my head for support to continue to look up to understand the story being told.

The only other outside of the building completed was finished after Gaudi’s death and the story tells of Jesus last days called the “Passion Facade”. The sculpture that most sticks in my mind is reminding us of the story when Pilot washes his hands as Pilot’s wife turns away after Jesus was condemned to death. This side was meant to be sculpted as course and the stone even looks heavy which reminds the viewer of the weight of the stories from this period.

This is a unique highlight and should be on one’s list to view in their lifetime.