I'm here at home now, a few days after returning from my adventure. It's wonderful to be back with my family. I missed them so much! They held down the fort with such strength and ease. My dogs were happy to see me too, but in a very calm way. Thanks to Uncle Greg, Uncle Paul, Uncle Steve, Grandpa Bud, Ruth, Aunt Denise, Eunice, Cindy, Yvonne--and my amazing husband, Dan--the family held together and that warmed my heart.
I do miss Spain and Germany, and especially my friend Andrea. Adventure is adrenaline. It's been hard to wind down and get back to normal life. I find myself longing for the unknown. The walking. The food. All the new people I am just waiting to meet. What a gift to wake up each day to a completely new surprise. A procession of soliders on horse-back out my hotel window. Soccer fans chanting through the streets. But I as I remember, surprises occur everywhere...if you open your eyes to them. This trip has helped me "see" more clearly. I can sense the doors that open, even as we speak now.
As I look back on the last few weeks, a few things stand out for me. The first is the spirit of humanity and how it reveals itself in so many ways. The music haunts me. Starting off with Alfonso near the Palacio Real in Madrid who played amazing Spanish guitar ( I bought his CD and have been playing it everyday!) The songs of the many musicians along the streets--violins, guitars, drums. The saxophonist on the metro, sending his spirit out underground. The flamenco show at Casa Patas in Madrid. Three vocalists. Two guitarists. Two dancers. Their souls intertwined. Spontaneous. Passionate. Each piece soulful in itself, yet when put together, created a complete, organic wholeness. A extremely moving experience. In Berlin, the alto-sax player, whose crisp, melodic notes filled the air in the Gendarmenmarkt area. I felt the unique rhythm of each place. The mood. The wisdom and soul of each city locked on to musical notes. In these songs, I felt the heart of all people. The struggles. The happiness. The stories. Different, yet at the center, all alike.
Art followed me day by day. The Masters at the Prado, the Thyssen, the Reina Sofia. Tochales in Berlin. Bits of the wall now canvas for amazing works of the art. All the street artists and performers. I bought a few pieces of art depicting the faces of women from Antonio Castro out in front of the Prado. Very Picasso-esque. My mujeres. Unique. Strong. Independent. The power of artistic expression. Universal statements against suffering and injustice. The creation of hope and beauty.
The last thing I will hold with me forever is all the people I met along the way. I have new friends on almost every continent. The shared experiences. The shared differences. The common thread of hope that ties us all together. I had the privilege of sitting next another great person, Jose Ignacio, on the way home. Born in Spain and schooled in the UK, Jose is a film critic with radio and TV shows in Madrid, and film reviews in publications all over the world. It was so nice to end my trip with wonderful, enlightening conversation once again. Throughout this entire trip, I never felt alone.
Thank you to my dear friend, Andrea, whose friendship began in Paraguay 11 years ago, and has withstood the test of time and distance. I a deeply grateful to her friends: Patsy, Sybelle, Till, Tomas, Katia, Joe, and Christiana for their welcome and friendship! My good thoughts go out to Andrea's husband, Mathias, for a strong recovery and much healing.
And thank you to my family and friends for always supporting my crazy dreams. To lilhubb for lifting my dreams and holding them high. And soon-to-be travelers,Nova Jaye and GG, I cannot wait to adventure with you both!
Thank you to everybody who read my never-ending posts, and for your lovely comments. It was such a pleasure to share my travels with you all! Encuentro de Cuentos.
So happy to be back in Madrid! We arrived late last night, but after dropping off our luggage, we went out at about 12pm, and the streets were still lively with people walking and eating. Ate another one of my favorite falafels (maoz) and went to bed with a happy stomach! yum. This morning we stopped a cafe, and I had a new favorite: tarrifa de leche. Imagine a scumptious french toast drenched in honey like sauce!
Today we visited the Museum of the Americas. Art and artifacts of los indios and the Americas. So interesting to see the Spanish conquistadore view of the New World. Maps with extemely exaggerated places. Maps missing whole parts of the world. It made me realize the power of access to information and knowledge. And how humans are on this constant quest. Only the humble know this quest never ends.
Then I took the bus about an hour north east to an monastery in the city of San Lorenzo de Escorial. Built by Phillip II during the height of the Spanish Inquisition, this massive palace-monastery was overwhelming. The biblioteca completely blew me away! 40,000 books, plus scientific artifacts as well. Built by "humanists," scientists of that time, the quest for knowlege was powerful, even at a time of such religiously fervor.
My favorite "peace" of today were the gardens. I finally found the open land that I was looking for here in Spain. Phillip II appreciated nature greatly, and the grounds and gardens are astonishing. I sat along the wall, in the warm sunchine (yay!) writing and thinking. Cows grazed below. Birds flew overhead. And boys played on the acient steps below me. Once again, I meandered through the windy, cobblestone roads of San Lorenzo. Stopped for a sweet postre, and met the owner of a lovely music and bookstore. Spain is truly a beautiful place!
Now I am off to meet Andrea for a flamenco show!!!! One more day and I return home...
PS- I added photos to each posting now. check them out.
We visited a beautiful area called Gendarmenmarkt, a plaza that holds two cathedrals--a German one and a French one. In the center, an old theater now functions as a concert hall. A wonderul saxophonist played his melancholy songs in the center, the notes sending a calmness out across the plaza. In no way could I imagine the devasting scene here from WWII. The churches and theater were left as rubble.
The Holocaust memorial is near the famous Brandenberg Gate. This memorial was built by an American architect Peter Eisman. His design broke all rules. He built a grid of 2,711 gray, concrete varying in height. The memorial can be walked through from all sides, and without its use of symbolism, it leaves guests to find their way in and out, and to discover their own feelings about this space. Some people walked through this maze-like memorial in silence. Others zipped in and out of the blocks in a playful way. I'm not sure how it made me feel. I definitely could embrace the sense of loss, yet I also was able to see how this part of Europe's past--this part of all of our history-is still present, still a part of the essence of who we all are. The museum below the memorial is overpowering. The Room of Dimensions displays projections of quotations from Jewish prisoners, along with the actual copy of the letter it was taken from. The Room of Familes showed projections of an entire family and how details of how they were affected in the war. With most outcomes being the worst. The Room of Places highlighted the effects of death and torture across the Europe. The energy of life drains from you. Documentation of the unimaginable is completely overwhelming.
But as I moved along the the city, the markers between what was once west and east Berlin are everywhere. A wandering memorial along the road itself marks where the Berlin Wall once stood, and it is astounding to step one foot on and off. How could such a divider separate a city and its people? In 1961, in two days, the Wall was built, separating families, serparating lives. Closing off people and their ideas. There is a memorial at the Checkpoint Charlie. The infamous border crossing on the corner of Friedrichtrasse. This checkpoint seperated the US and Soviet sectors, and in October 1961, the tanks of both countries threatened each other head on for 3 days. The East German government no longer wanted the US military traveling to the East without papers being checked. Finally, Soviets retreated in October of that same year--saving us further destruction from war. This checkpoint was one of 8 crossings between the two parts of the city.
With years of hopes for unification, the Wall came down in 1989, piece by piece, opening up this city again to its people as a whole. One section of wall remains near to where the old Gestapo center had been. Gazing up at this massive piece of the Wall, it is still almost impossible to imagine how it could have encompassed an entire city. Impossible to imagine the lack of freedom and justice.
During the Cold War, all hope was not lost. An art community arose in an area called Tochales. Art withstood injustice and seperation, and expression allowed hope to live on. The building is still a vibrant art center in Berlin, and the building, although modernized with present-day life, still remains the same. Art is hope and healing.
I am overjoyed to see the amazing city that Berlin is now. The sadness of witnessing the history of WWII, and the Cold War here will haunt me forever, but I leave with a hope and a love for this remarkable place. Thank you to my wonderful guides, Joe and Christiana!
Have spent the last two days touring these historic towns. I am in awe of being such places of importance. As an American of my generation, WWII seems so distant, so remote, so impossible. Yet to discover the effects of this war, and witness what exists now is mind blowing. Very emotional.
Wiesbaden itself is such a great town. The streets are quiet, silent enough to hear the numerous birds calling to each other in the narrow, windy cobblestone streets that lead around town. The buildings that line these streets remain almost unchanged. During the war, Americans admired Wiesbaden so much, that they set up their headquarters here. The town escaped the war without much damage. Wiesbaden has three historic inspiring cathedrals as well as a very busy downtown center near the government buildings, restaurants, theaters and shops. There is a gorgeous, thick forest that lies right outside of town. Fox, deer, racoons. We saw a few falcons the other day hovering near the freeway. Beautiful.
Frankfurt is equally interesting. This town was not protected during WWII, so many of the buildings were either destroyed or have been rebuilt since. The Mainz river flows through the city. We walked through a flea market along the water. Anything you can imagine. Middle-eastern jewlery and trinkets, furs (ugh,) clothes, shoes, etc. A very ethnic feel. Down to the food market. Lots of booths selling fruit, vegetables, hot food, cheese. We started off with a drink made of buttermillk and peaches. Tart at first, but yummy after a few sips. For lunch, we had potatoes (mine was like a potato pancake) with a special green sauce made of sour cream and 7 herbs (only made in Frankfurt!) Really tasty, espcially with the cider made from apples. As we wandered the market, I bought some hand cream made or beeswax, and there I met the "Mr. Bad Beekeeper." He was a jolly man who spoke great English. He pretended to trick me about giving me back the correct change so he said, "I'm a Bad Beekeeper! And I like to be bad!" He was so funny, and I can already see an idea for a great picture book. Encuentro de Cuentos. Dinner that night at a Thai restaurant called Erawen with Andrea, her friend Patsy, and their friend Till. Such great people. It is an honor to be in their company.
I took a four-hour train ride to Berlin yesterday. Manuervered my way through the train station, following the nice German people who were going my direction. The train ride was great. Northeast up through towns and the countryside. Lots of green pasture land, and beautiful towns with German-style architechture. One town had an amazing castle sitting atop a hill in the center. In Berlin, Andrea's friends Joe and Christiana met me to take me on a tour of a now united Berlin. We started off with the Reichstag Building, the German parliament building. The parliament was dissolved by Hitler, and in 1945, the end of the Battle of Berlin raged all around, leaving this building in ruins and rubble. It has since been rebuilt, and cupola that was once in the center, has since been redesigned by a new architect in glass, with a spiral staircase inside.
In the 17th century, trees were planted along the axis of one of the main streets, Unter Den Linden (under the trees.) This area holds many of the embassies, a German historical museum, New Guardhouse that acts as a National Monument for the victims of war and tyranny. One of the most historic intersections, Unter Den Linden-Friedrichstrasse, has famous hotels and cafes. Some of the businesses still remain unchanged. The Berlin Dome is a dramatic cathedral in the center of town. It' green oxidized iron domes are such a stark contrast to the darkened sandstone. The cathedral was severely damaged in the war, but has also been rebuilt. The bottom floor hold the crypt of the original Hohenyollern family The area around the cathedral was almost completely ruined during the war, but you would never know, with the lively energy and hustle and bustle of this area. After being completely destroyed, the palace in the center of Berlin no loner exists. East German leaders rebuilt The Palace of the Republic in 1974, but now that has been torn down as well, and a new palace--maybe similar to the original before the war. There is still much controversy about how to preserve the horrible parts of Berlin's past, yet remain true to the integrity of its history.
We visited an amazing area called Hackensche Höfe that is a colorful varietz of buldings within a narrow space. During the turn of the century, along of with industrialization, thousands of people were immigrating to Berlin to work. So the govenment constructed these tall upright apartment buildings with eight rear courtyards. Sometimes as many as 2-3 families would live in one small, apartment. Now the area is ful of restaurants, bars, clubs and theater--all preserving the original design and architechture.
After writing the never-ending blog from my last post I had about an hour to explore a little more of Madrid. I jetted down to the Palacio Real area and by chance ran into my friend from Peru, Ana Maria. We strolled the Plaza de Espana together and marveled at the statues of Cervantes and Don Quixote. After a quick snack- bocadillo de ensalada (half sandwich on white bread with a veggie-type salad inside,) -I headed off to the Metro with my luggage (now with one added bag that I bought and filled instantly.) At once, I realized on my first trip down a long flight of stairs that my bulging, luggage on wheels (that I had just received back the day before) was going to be a problem! By the third flight of bus-length stairs, I had officially named my bag, el Monstruo, the monster. A few nice gentleman, offered to carry it for me. Usually, I decline (I can carry my own luggage, thank you!) But as the sweat trickled down my forehead, I happily accepted their help. Then the escalators stopped working! And there I was, the crazed American turista stomping down the stairs with a stuffed backpack on my back, a big red bag over my shoulder, and el Monsturo clonking behind me. “Bum, bum, bum!”
I made it down and bought my ticket, and proceeded to wait for my line. The Metro did not come, and two announcements come over the loudspeaker. But the echo in the tunnel made the Spanish message impossible to understand so I waited. And waited. Finally it came, okay the messages had just been announcing that it was late. I got on my line, went to a stop about 10 minutes up, and then came right back to the stop that I’d left from. The train is not late! There’s a problem and it’s not going in my direction. Uh-oh. Using my talented map-reading skills (sarcasm,) I found another route and get off on Linea 6 and walk miles around circular underground tunnels with five thousand flights of stairs!!! “Bum, bum, bum!” said el Monstruo. Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum!
Finally, hot and sweaty, I get to the next line. Take it to the airport. Realize I can’t read my ticket that Andrea booked for me cause it’s in German. Ask for help. Find my way to Terminal 2. Get told that I’m not in Terminal 2, I’m in Terminal 4! Take a shuttle all the way to Terminal 4. Check el Monstruo at the desk. Go to customs. Realize over two hours have past since I left. I ask a nice guy named Remco from the Netherlands (who happens to be a British Air pilot visiting his Spanish girlfriend,) what time it was. He says 2:10 and I think my flight is ready to leave! I have to take 4 more flights of escalators (minus the monster, at least,) another Metro-type subway to get to my gate. He tries to call ahead for me and tell them I’m late, but no one answers. I get out at my gate, and he says, “You better run!” So off I go—bumping through the terminal with a smaller monster on my back (my computer adaptor weights 5 pounds alone.) I feel like a freak (remember Quasimodo from Young Frankenstein?) cause I can’t run with the “bum, bum, bum” from the mochilla on my back. I’m dripping in sweat, dragging down the terminal. I get to my gate and see two attendants still at the desk. “Did I miss my flight?” I gasp. “Mas tarde. Mucho corriendo!” I say.
“No,” the attendant calmly says. “We don’t start boarding for another 10 minutes.”
I run to the bathroom, buy some jugo de durazno, and sit down to wait. At this point, I am starting to stink! Phe-yu!
That’s when it hits me.
And my flight doesn’t leave until 3:10!!!
That’s what I get for not looking at my ticket again. Especially with my dysfunctional photographic memory issues! So to make an eternal story, short. I got on the plane no problem, and made it to Wiesbaden, even a bit early!
We’ve had a great time in Germany so far. Last night we shopped at the German grocery store and made a wonderful meal Cannelloni, salad, and olives. This morning Andrea took me to Mainz, a city about 20 minutes from here. A very cool town with cathedrals, palaces, cobblestone streets, brenzel (pretzel,) pastry and chocolate shops everywhere. And home to Guttenberg, the first inventor of the press 500 years ago .
I was really in awe of this early, printed material. Of course, I saw four of the original Gutenberg bibles from 1452. The process was extremely technical and advanced for this time, and other printing processes existed in other parts of the world even earlier. The printed word was such a revelation, changing our world forever. It’s incredible to think how we changed as people. How information and knowledge spread faster than it ever had. What would have happened to our intellectual evolution if man had not achieved the unthinkable? It was his creativity and persistence that truly transformed the world.
It honors me to see this work in person. The dedication and craftsmanship that went into these books is astounding. Books were revered the way they should be. Afterward, we stopped by the Gutenberg print-making shop and Frank, a technical draftsman by trade, demonstrated the process for me. I was able to choose the plates for my prints and he painted and ran them through the press. Very cool to watch them come to life as a finished print. Seeing him make prints first-hand truly gave me an appreciation for how hard people in the 15-16th centuries worked to disseminate information and art for the masses-- for many reasons. This special shop was run by volunteers--students, adults currently out of work, or those with disabilities.
Before the rain hit hard, I did get to explore St. Christopher’s Church built in 1292-1325 but destroyed in World War Two. As I sat there, the pigeons flapped across the courtyard. It was the only sound I heard as it echoed off the stone walls. Time seemed to stand still, almost like I’d been transported back in time to the war, or maybe even a second into the future where people were no more. The pigeons sat there, watching me. Watching us, as if to say, “War? We know better. Do you?” I often feel like other creatures know much more than us, yet they surround us silently, like guardians. It was a very surreal moment that lasted just a second. The magic of the old and new.
When the storm hit, we escaped into a café where we ate apple strudel and tea. Then we were able to visit St. Martin’s Cathedral. In front, the oldest German Renaissance fountain. Built in 975, it has been through fire and destruction, and rebuilt many times. Today in Maines, there was an open-air market with flowers, vegetables, fruit. I purchased some gourmet olives (feta, onions, and dill! Dan you would have LOVED these!)
On our way home, we stopped by Andrea’s friends beautiful, multi-leveled home (over 100 years old!) Katia and Thomas run their own business on one level of the house and were so welcoming (I checked email and ate schneckchen, fruity pastries! Yum!)
For dinner tonight, we ate at an awesome Italian restaurant called Vapiano with two of Andrea’s friends-Sibylle, who works for the American Chamber of Commerce here in Frankfurt, and Patsy, who runs a graphic design business. It was so much fun to connect with them, talk about life and politics. You truly discover that the connections run deep—regardless of culture, country, or background. (Go Obama, go!)
After dinner, we visited a beautiful park, Kurpark in downtown Wiesbaden that holds an artistic celebration of sorts called Lightsite. All throughout the park, artists have different presentations all relating to art. Some political. Some funky. Some abstract. The air was heavy and our breath formed puffs of white fog as we exhaled. But it was beautiful and enlightening to be out with such amazing women!
Now I am sitting here writing and it’s almost 3 am. I’ve buddied up with one of Andrea’s cats. She is completely like a dog, following us around and constantly inquiring about love or play. She is an adorable black and white patched cat with a great, big belly. She has a German name, but I call her pansa” for short. She is sitting here now on the table inches away from me, purring and bringing peace and calmness into my heart.
It’s my last day here in Madrid by myself. I fly to Germany this afternoon. I’m a little sad to leave this place as a solo traveler . My friend Andrea will return with me and it will be exciting to share it with her, but I will definitely see things differently. I’ve realized that when exploring on your own, you dig down deep for that strength, confidence, and allow yourself to fully reflect on your thoughts and senses. You value those around you in such a powerful way. When you’re alone in a different place, you search for that common link to others and open your heart to them--regardless of how long you’ve known each other. Our intense need for human contact and connection is so plainly felt and experienced when we don’t have the luxury of moving through the unknown with someone we’re comfortable with. The barriers dissolve. The fortress around you disappears, and it is truly a beautiful thing!
The walls around me had disappeared, and that is when I found an ancient fortress of my own! Traveling by high-speed train, RENFE, I went about 30 minutes south of Madrid to the golden hilltop city of Toledo. Perched over the river Tajo, this city’s skyline has barely changed for three centuries. Before Rome fell, this town (now at around 10,000 people,) was the trading and transportation center. It had a huge Jewish community as well. After Rome fell, the Moors (Muslims) made it a regional center in 711. Then in 1085, the Christian conquered the city but many Moors and Jews remained as respected scholars and craftsmen. During this medieval period, this city of the arts grew strong in its cultural diversity. People of all three faiths lived in peace, and God was known by many names. (Imagine that! What a beautiful idea.) In the 16th century, the unique harmony of Toledo disappeared when the Moors and Jews were expelled, and Spain made Madrid its new capital.
The city is so dramatic. The architecture, the colors, the smells. At the center sits the magnificent cathedral. Holy Toledo! (they think this phrase was coined by the Jews from Toledo who immigrated to the US) I have never seen such a remarkable cathedral. (sorry, not allowed to take photos inside) The Gothic, gold and wood high alter, two massive pipe organs, the archbishops’ massive throne, rich carvings, alabaster relief, frescoes, and my favorite were the hundreds of detailed stained glass windows that adorned the incredibly high domed ceilings. Believe me, my neck was aching! I gazed at them for a few hours, trying to determine the stories they told, reminded of the many ancient methods of storytelling. In the outdoor cloister, I met a guard named Carlos. He took me under his wing, and for the first time this trip, I felt pretty good about my Spanish (I was rustier that I thought, and the accent here is quite different.) Birds sang in the outdoor garden area, their voices echoing off the ancient granite archways. Time stood still. Elviento, the wind rushed through the openings of the archways, send its own melancholy, peaceful message. We talked about Spanish music, and then Carlos proceeded to teach me a Spanish dance, the “colpa” right there at the cathedral!
Outside the cathedral, I met a great woman from Peru, Ana Maria. She also was traveling alone (France, Spain, and Italy...lucky her!) so we decided to explore the rest of Toledo together.
The medieval street plan led us round and round the city. The narrow, windy cobblestone roads are filled with pedestrians as well as cars and buses. We had a few tight squeezes to make as we edged are way around corners with buses inches away! Whew. No one got squished, so we were lucky! We visited the home of the famous artist, El Greco—who lived in Toledo for the last 37 years of his life. The Sinagoga de Santa Maria Blanca was absolutely beautiful. An earthy, pure smell swept through the white, Moorish-horseshoe arches. Built as a mosque, but used as a synagogue, church, and stables by Napoleons’ troops during the French invasion. It’s pure, simple nature gave me a deep sense of peace. The San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio was equally beautiful with a grand courtyard and gothic design. We ended our day by eating pizza (and a little marzipan) together in the Plaza de Zocodover as small white, flower-seed blossoms floated down from the trees above us. So nice to share this experience with someone like Ana Maria!
Back in Madrid, we walked the museum (cool, massive art outside the Prado) area together and trekked through Parque del Buen Retiro. As light rain fell, this beautiful, 300-acre pristine park brought much peace to the end of a busy day. I headed over to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia which holds four rooms of Picasso’s work. As I wandered through the rooms, I was once again awed to be in the presence of greatness. Picasso has always been one of my favorites, so I tagged on a tour with a very dynamic guide. Each room depicted a period in Picasso’s life and style—his Blue Period, Cubism, classical, Surrealism. It was thrilling to watch the process of an artist change and grow. And I was reminded again of how these transformations are reflections of the artist’s own emotional growth, as well as symbols of the times. Guernica was by far the highlight. Listening to an expert speak of this humongous painting made it even more enjoyable. The symbolic statement against war hit me in such a profound way. To hear, step-by-step, the brilliance of Picasso´s intentions as we moved through the painting was incredible! It truly has re-inspired me as an artist. Art can bring about change.
After a trip back on the metro, I had a tasty dinner at a local restaurant—tomato salad, pasta con queso, vino Rosado, and sangria! Ate with a new friend, Phillip, who works as a British diplomat. Wonderful conversation about the ways of the world! What a gift to meet people and appreciate perspectives.
I am continually amazed here in Spain by the textures. The textures of the architecture and of the people I have met. It is the wonder and wisdom of all things old and all things new. And the beauty truly lies in the connection in between.
BTW, my luggage arrived yesterday, and I had a little celebration to honor my things!
Okay, it´s been pouring rain all afternoon and evening, and Í´m still in the same clothes thatI put on Sunday. Gross.I did find a really cool thrift store called HUMANA: From people to people. All profits go to third world nations. Bought a jacket and a pair of capris, but the jacket needs a wash (lots of smoking here-- one thing I´m not crazy about!) and I don´t have shoes for the capris. So here I am in the same, dirty black pants and lightweight jacket. I did break down and buy a paragua after a day of getting soaked, a gorra to keep my head dry, and a shiny scarf to liven up my dreary, dull clothes.
I spent the afternoon on the double-decker, Madrid Vision bus so I could get out of the rain, and hop on and off at different locations. Rode the bus with Dawn and Brad, a great couple that was visiting their daugther here on an exhange program. It was so nice to talk of our love for travel. They headed over to the archeological museum and I sloshed my way to the Biblioteca Naccional where I hoped to see the children´s stacks. Unfortunately, visitors were only allowed to visit a small part of the library and their museum. The museum´s exhibition, the guerra de indepencia, had original drawings of the French and Spanish battlegrounds, and some drawings from Francisco de Goya´s dark period. His metaphorical work truly depicts the evils of war.
The rain poured harder and I headed over to the museum Prado. (Free today, yay!) It was amazing to be in the same room with the masters--Diego Velazquez, El Greco, and more Goya. It is inspiring to see how art is timeless, and reflects history and philosophy. It truly can give a voice to those who do not have one.
I finished up my day with a treat...churros con chocolate! Never thought a churro could taste any better (until they put a cup of melted chocolate in front of me!)
Now I´m dry, and a bit tired. Time for some writing and reflecting, and maybe tapas tonight. Tomorrow, Í´m off to Toledo by train, and maybe the teatro at night. They are performing Jesus Christ Superstar and Bella y Bestia, but I might go for a smaller, more traditional show. I do wish you were all here with me! I would love to share these experiences with the colorful and beautiful characters in my life.
After almost 24 hours of flying, I made it to my hotel--HOSTAL ORIENTE- near the theater and Royal Palace in Madrid. Unfortunately, my luggage didn´t make it with me. Ít´s somewhere at Heathrow-they are hoping that they´ve located it, and if Í´m lucky, I can pick it up sometime tomorrow.
Hours of wandering the Madrid airport looking for mi equipaje without any sleep made me a little loca. I did meet a really nice couple from the UK visiting their son who is in a language intensive here to teach English in Spain. But I eventually braved the Metro (underground transportation, like a subway) Three stops later, and I was near my hotel (near being the key word here.) My friend Andrea had FAXed me 6 pages of info before we left to Dan´s office. But, as you all understand my tardiness issues, we forgot to pick it up on our way to the airport, and didn´t have time to go back! I didn´t bother to write down the direccion of my hotel because I thought I´d have it with me in the notes. So needless to say, I wandered the one street over and over--Calle Arenal--up and back with a stuffed backpack and computer bag.
I asked so many people for directions, some thought they knew, some had no idea, and some spoke so rapido in Spanish that I had no idea! I entered several dark, hidden places claiming I had reservations, then found out I was in the wrong hotel. Instead of freaking out, I really starting laughing about my plight, especially as the rain started, and all I was wearing was a light jacket. I felt like a tiny little invisible hormiga, an ant, crawling around on the wrong ant hill! But, with perseverance, and the patience of a nice, elderly man, we found the HOSTAL ORIENTE right across the street from the metro station. A tiny golden sign adorned the inside of the door frame! It´s a quaint little hotel type place with a common room, and tiny rooms (the size of a walk-in closet) but it has a nice bathroom...perfect for me. I slept for 12 hours, but woke up to all my party neighbors returning at around 4 am.
Today has been so pleasant. I explored the Royal Palace and gardens. The third-largest palace in Europe. Commissioned by King Phillip after a fortress burned down in the 18th Century. He ordered it to be built as his own Versailles with more than 2000 rooms, luxurious tapestries, chandeliers, porcelain, bronze and gold leaf decorations. The royal family lives in a mansion nearby, but the palace is used for formal ceremonies. A truly extravagant place! The frescoes on the ceilings of every room were incredible, and so was a street musician named Alfonso who played lovely Spanish guitar. I helped an elderly, blind man find his way today. And it made me realize how grateful I am to speak Spanish. I think about the human connections that I am able to make, and it makes me very happy.
Í´ve wandered through the old town, PLAZA MAYOR-- and I´m currently in an internet cafe in PUERTA DEL SOL. Both places are bustling downtown plazas full of people shops, and restaurants. Í´ve met lots of nice people from the states, Europe, and India. I just ate at a little vegetarian place called Maoz (falafel) So yummy! I was bad and ordered papas flamencas-- Spanish fries. Boy were they tasty!
The architecture and carvings in the city are especially beautiful and telling. I think about all the stories that have happened beneath, within, or next to them. The history. The tragedy. The joy. All a part of human life in every city. I am in awe of being part of such an old place. I look forward to telling some new stories inspired by the ancient energy that still occupies the hustle and bustle of Madrid. Encuentro de Cuentos.
I hope to send photos soon. My electrical adapter is in my luggage...vacationing somewhere in London!
...and already there has been some unexpected happenings. I received a call from my friend Andrea a few days ago. Her husband, Matthias had to undergo emergency heart surgery. He had bronchitis that went untreated, and the bacteria traveled into the artery in his heart and brain. Luckily, he pulled through the surgery, and is in ICU recovering. But he was extremely critical, and it will be a long road ahead--a total shift of lifestyle and priorities. It is one of those times when we are reminded of all the parts of our life we take for granted--our physical body in all its glory. Those who love and live with us. The fragility of life gives us more reason to inhale every moment and rejoice in the connections we've created. Connections of the past and those to be made in the future.
So, my plans have changed. I will travel to Madrid as scheduled, and experience the city solo--on my own. Visiting Toledo, a smaller city to the south, by train will also add to the adventure! More time to reflect. A push of my comfort zone. More time to open up to humanity.
On Friday, I will fly to Frankfurt, Germany, where Andrea will pick me up. We will explore Wiesbaden, where she lives. She hopes to take me all around to friends and to the surrounding areas. Berlin may be possible, as well. This should be such a fantastic, yet unexpected, visit. On Monday, if Matthias is doing well, Andrea will return to Madrid with me and we will enjoy a night of flamenco and wine! I look forward to sharing Madrid with a good friend. Wednesday will be my flight home. I'm sure it all will speed by! And the beauty of the Northern Coast of Spain will wait for me, I'm sure...
Count down: 3 days left before I leave for Spain. Anticipation. Intoxication. Desperation. Will I ever be ready? It's hard enough to prepare to leave a family of 6 (2 kids, 1 husband, & 3 dogs) behind. But in the midst of teaching, putting on a writing conference, and settling everything else in my world, my thoughts scatter. I feel the strength of my community of remarkable friends. I long for a just another run with my three hounds. I breathe in Nova's laugh. I hold tight to Grayson's heartache for justice and clarity. I forever feel Dan's arms around me. The fullness of my life overwhelms me. It battles with my passion for travel and adventure. It is truly hard to leave. But onward, in search of human story--encuentrodecuentos-- around the world (thanks to Grayson's remarkable teacher, Alondra Guzman, for her creativity in helping me come up with the name for my blog.) I will go with the spirits of all those I love. I go forth on the lookout for "unexpectations"...is that a word?
The plans? To meet my friend Andrea (from Germany) in Madrid. I met Andrea on my first Earthwatch trip 10 years ago in Paraguay! We survived the insane, never-ending bus ride through the capitol city, Asuncion, that left us miles and miles away from our quaint hotel (luckily, we convinced a taxi to take us all the way home!) Andrea and I lived through the hardships of floating down the River Paraguay on a small cargo ship (One toilet below with a good 6 inches of water on the ground. Ugh. Pigs and chickens as passengers, too! ) And together, we braved our way through the difficulties (and wonders) of living with a small tribe of Chamacocoindios. She is a true, life-long learner and adventurer!
We will stay in Madrid for a bit--visiting museos that hold the work of amazing artists such as Goya, Velazquez, Miro, and Picasso. During this time of war, I am especially thrilled to see Picasso's Guernica(those college art history classes will pay off) in person. We will shop and visit the open markets, as well as experience Madrid's night life & flamenco, food, and vino tinto(red wine!)
Then we will head to the northern provincias: Asturias, Cantabria. There, I hope to experience the coastal town of Costa Verde, the Museode Altamira (which holds the first paleolithic cave paintings ever found!) and the amazing Picosde Europa. We might head to the Guggenheim on the Northern coast and the intriguing Basque town of San Sebastian. Thanks to my friend Ev (who has also graciously lent me a well-traveled laptop,) I'm interested in discovering the heart of the historic San Sebastian old-town. EncuentrodeCuentos.
Andrea and her husband have been renovating a one hundred-year-old farmhouse in Llanes, right near the coast between Costa Verde and Altamira. We will stay with her neighbor since she says there is still lots of work to do there, but I look forward to seeing view of the mountains, the stone stable, the wandering goats and cows, taste the homemade cheese and "really good wine" in this party of the country.
I so look forward to the opportunity to meet amazing people, witness the beauty and diversity of the Spanish naturaleza. I can't wait to speak Spanish for 10 days!!! And all the while, I will be jotting down whatever I can--encuentrodecuentos-- so I will not lose any piece of my traveling puzzle. My second novel, SUPER NOVA is almost done, and I have plans on finishing it-- to and from-- this amazing country that I am almost in! May the magic of Spain weave its way into my words...