and a poop log.
It’s been a week since I last wrote. I’ve missed out on telling you a lot and will try my best to fill you in. One of the reasons I haven’t written is because one of those worst case scenarios I’d hoped wouldn’t happen while this far away from “home” happened. I got a call that was scary/surprising/shitty news about someone back in the States. After talking with them, Chad and I have decided to stay the course with our plans to go to Germany and fly out of Norway in a week and a half, but that may change, and the next leg of our trip may be postponed. Please send some good thoughts towards NC and I’ll update you when I can.
FLAMENCO, PART II
You already know that we went to the Andalucía region in the Southern part of Spain, aka the birthplace of flamenco. Remember, this is not only a dance, it’s a way of life & a huge part of the culture there, even if the younger generation is abandoning it except on the big days like the feria in April. We wanted to understand it as best we could before attending the required tourist stop of going to a show, so on Saturday we went to a short dance class. You will thank me for the entertainment if you watch the video on Instagram of Chad’s successful attempt at the choreography for the final dance. (My annoying back started hurting from all of the stomping in heels, so I’ll spare you the pic of me pouting instead of dancing.) Chad learned moves like “pick the cherry from the tree & put it in the basket,” “some for you and keep some for me” and “kill the mosquito.” Since the class, he has been an even more authentic flamenco dancer, breaking into spontaneous dance using his new moves. Jay, you’re being forewarned, he is quite enthusiastic about bringing them to the next dance-off with you at a wedding! Boden, you’ve been forewarned in case you fall in love before he forgets how to dance.
The show we went to later in the day was a wonderful summary of all we had learned, including watching the mind-boggling speed and passionate dancing, the soulful wails of the songs, and the talented guitarist working with what seemed like 2 pairs of hands.
Our guide told us that Alcazár literally means big house (casa), but you might translate it to fortress or palace. Forgive me for cheating with Wikipedia, but this is succinct, & then I’ll share my notes from our tour:
“The Royal Alcázar of Seville, historically known as al-Qasr al-Muriq (Arabic: القصر المُورِق, is a royal palace/fortress built for the Christian king Peter of Castile. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbasid Muslim alcazar; the fortress was destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville in 1248.
The palace is a preeminent example of Mudejar style in the Iberian Peninsula, combining Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance structural elements. The upper stories of the Alcázar are still occupied by the royal family when they visit Seville. It was registered in 1987 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
The Mudejar style was a mix of Islam and Christian art. It was widely believed that the Muslims were superior in art, architecture, engineering, etc, so when the king overtook the alcazár, he made a point of still using their style but making it bigger and better to show his superiority. I found it interesting that since Muslims weren’t allowed to represent the infinite perfection of Allah by showing people or animals, they designed perfection with mathematical designs, especially ones that represented the number 8/infinity instead. And sometimes they made intricate geometric designs but actually were covering the door or wall with praises to Allah and/or the king. Those painted ceramics arrived first in the 16th century from Italy and were something only a king could afford.
The courtyards were stunning, and they were designed to be a feast for all the senses. Terra Cotta tiles and marble to touch, water to hear and feel (the cool breeze was almost like a/c), orange trees to eat fruits, flowers to smell, birds to hear, designs in the tiles to see.
For those of you who are Game of Thrones fans, we saw places where the show was filmed when the producers got permission from UNESCO & paid a high enough price to warrant closing down the entire Alcazár for 3 days. The author was inspired by Andalucia to create his kingdom. Sevilla was also the birthplace of the Barber of Seville and Carmen operas. Our tour guide on a walking tour later told us, “There’s a lot of color here—gypsies, palm trees, flamenco, bullrings.” Lots of inspiration!
We saw a replica of the Nao Victoria, the only boat that made it back from Magellan’s expedition in 1519 to circumnavigate the world. Before dying in a battle, he found a western route to the Moluccas (Spice Islands) and discovered the Strait of Magellan. The fleet started with 270 men and 5 ships, but was plagued by so many hardships that only 30 men and one ship survived. The replica was built and docked in Seville only 2 years ago and was fascinating to explore. It made me seasick just thinking about the conditions those men had to endure, including walking up and down those narrow staircases while the boat lurched and water spit up from the sea. It was flat out tiny for the amount of people on board, and only the captain had a (large) quarters where he could sleep. The rest of them sprawled out anywhere they could and ate whatever they were given, which was sometimes bread with maggots. I confirmed that I’m not the best candidate for circumnavigating anything.
By the way, the 16th century was the “golden age” of Sevilla. They were in charge of everything related to navigation. Boats could only depart/arrive from there, so explorers like Pinzón and Vespucci came to Sevilla.
In case you’ve forgotten about your explorers from elementary school, “Amerigo Vespucci, a European explorer, sailed for Spain in an effort to explore Asia. By sailing southwest from the Atlantic Ocean, Vespucci and his crew ended up discovering South America, which he initially thought was connected to Asia. Vespucci wrote the “Letter from Seville” in Seville after finishing his voyage in order to summarize all his discoveries. Vespucci was satisfied with the voyage because he crossed the equator successfully and explored the tropics and investigated rivers and different plant and animal species.” -Wikipedia
a WALK THRU SEVILLA
We were lucky to meet our guide, Ron, an American teacher who moved to Sevilla with his British wife and their 2 children (adopted from Colombia.) They wanted their children to grow up in an area where they could learn Spanish, which they have done for 10 years now. His tour was just too packed with facts and stories that I couldn’t keep up with notes, but here are some of them: We saw places throughout with the Castle and Lion—it was definitely a marketing campaign that took hold for people to represent Spain. We walked by the Cathedral, which is the 3rd largest Christian church in the world. It is also the largest Gothic church and was also built over a mosque. Moors built roads with lots of twists and turns because it would cut the heat by providing shadows. When the Christians started building them is when you’ll see more straight lines. We loved all of the narrow, twisty ones; they feel like you’re on an adventure to discover whatever Roman ruin has been embedded in the next wall. One road was so narrow they call it the Kissing Street because you could lean out your window and kiss your neighbor.
One of the most interesting things about Seville is the complicated interconnectedness of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians. As I already said, the Moors were the engineers, building water fountains for luxurious aesthetics and a purpose. But of course they were not given credit for their work. We went to the Jewish Quarter and saw the wall with the gates that were closed to keep them in overnight. By day, the minorities were “tolerated” because almost everyone hired them (doctor, lawyer, banker) or got loans from them (for the nobles.) But in 1391, there was a massacre that killed over 4000 people overnight. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella said all Jews had to leave or convert. It reminds me of the Christians overtaking the Mayan people in Guatemala. What would you say if you had a sword at your throat? 50k ended up leaving, and now there are very few Jewish people living there, but “lots of Jewish ancestry.”
ROYAL PALACE of MADRID
This is the official residence of the Royal Family of Spain (even though it’s now only used for state ceremonies) and was somewhere that words will never give justice. Every room was a treat, and we were happy we’d bought the audio guide there to hear & see (on the tablet) more of the details. It is hard to imagine actually living there, entertaining guests, well, being important enough that you’d do either.
“The palace has 135,000 m2 (1,450,000 sq ft) of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms. It is the second largest functioning royal palace after the Apostolic Palace, in Vatican City. The palace is now open to the public, except during state functions, although it is so large that only a selection of rooms are on the visitor route at any one time, the route being changed every few months. The palace is on the site of a bygone Muslim-era fortress constructed by Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba in the 9th century.” (of course) - Wikipedia
MUSEO NACIONAL DE ARTE REINA SOFIA
“The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art. Highlights of the museum include excellent collections of Spain's two greatest 20th-century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. The most famous masterpiece in the museum is Picasso's 1937 painting Guernica. (If you’ve never seen it, check it out and email me your interpretations.) Along with its extensive collection, the museum offers a mixture of national and international temporary exhibitions in its many galleries, making it one of the world’s largest museums for modern and contemporary art. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic it attracted only 1,248,480 visitors, a drop of 72 percent from 2019, but it still ranked sixth on the list of most-visited art museums in the world.” -Wikipedia My reviews: Saw some Dalí, Picasso, Miró. Also saw some art that baffled us. And some that I wish I’d never seen. I would only go back if I had someone there to help me understand better what I was seeing.
el MESÓN DE CHAMPIÑONES, PART II
Remember this place? Chad and I were due to meet up with Mary Louise, a friend of Hammie’s, one of Boden’s friends. She is studying abroad in Madrid for the semester, and he connected us to see if we might be able to meet before leaving. We coordinated time for tapas (the best mushrooms in town!) at el Mesón de Champiñones. She was running a little late (because she’s already a good Spaniard,) so I left Chad at the table and told him I had to go give out a peace coin. I went over to the bar and asked to speak to the owner (no, not like a Karen, but like a Karin.) They pointed over to a tall man and said, “He just came in!” So, I proceeded to introduce myself and verbal-vomited all of the story of how much that restaurant has meant to me. I said it was because of the opportunity to speak with the waiters there in the 80s that I had decided I wanted to become fluent in Spanish. I then went on to tell him some of the things that I’ve been able to do because of it, including the amazing experiences and relationships I’ve been a part of in Guatemala. I also told him about the scholarship kids that worked hard and became the firsts in the village to graduate from high school. I told him about visiting el Meson in 2012 with Emily and Boden. And then I said his restaurant was basically like the “nido” (nest) for my Spanish journey.
By this point he was about cross eyed at trying to follow my story, but I kept going. I told him that I had brought something to him from Guatemala. (I seriously packed one just to give someone at this restaurant, and I was thrilled it was the owner.) I told him quickly about the Paz and that I wanted to share it with him as a token of gratitude. He was visibly touched by it and said, “Our restaurant has gone international.” He asked if he could take a selfie with me and asked for my email. He then surprised me by saying that he’s going to put the coin on a tile and hang it up at the bar. Coolest use of a peace coin yet! (I’m supposed to get an email with the selfie and a pic of the coin up in the bar.)
As soon as I sat down, he brought over a pitcher of sangría and some tapas. He also insisted that the waiter give us small sangría pitchers before we left. The waiter came to us after this frenzy of gift giving to tell us he never does things like that. I asked how long he had been the owner and the waiter said just for the past year, after his dad passed away. They are the only 2 that have run the restaurant, and Chad thinks it probably touched the owner to know of the legacy of their place. The waiter also said that he never comes in, and he was pretty much only there for the 10 minutes while we talked. I think that was a “God wink” that we were able to connect. And for those of you who are in Spain, let me know if you happen to see peace up on the wall!
“Casa Botín, founded in 1725, is the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records and a benchmark of Madrid’s best traditional cuisine.” - botin.es After that awesome experience at the mushroom place, Mary Louise, Chad, and I headed down the hill to the Casa Botín. There are men in suits all over the place, and you have to ask one, then the next, then the next for permission to even get to the guy who (sparingly) gives out seats. We were able to get a table outside, where we watched aforementioned suits in action, and we’re convinced the place is run by a Spanish mob. The food was decent, but way overpriced, so we are also convinced they’ve stayed in business from tourists for all of these years. Still, it was great to get lost in that multi-leveled, wood paneled restaurant and imagine all of the people who had eaten there before us.
WALKING el CAMINO & EVERYDAY CASTLES
We hung out with Pritch & Jodi on Wed. and went to Manzanares el Real, a small town about 45 minutes north of Madrid. It had the coolest castle, one that looks like a castle you probably drew as a kid. It was wonderfully renovated and full of information. It also just sat on a hill close to homes and businesses, hidden in plain sight.
We also did a short hike up to see the sierras better, and it turned out that part of the hike was also a spur of the Camino de Santiago. You might know that better as el Camino, the pilgrimage that most people think of as running along the top of Spain from France to Galicia in northwest Spain, but there are other routes as well. In order to walk it, you must ask for permission from the government, and once you get it, you could walk the whole thing (40+ days if you walk 25 km/day) for less than $1000. There are many places that will allow you to stay cheaply or for free as a pilgrim. Once you arrive at the end, there is celebration, including a certificate of completion. (Though technically, you can get a certificate so long as you’ve walked 100km.) I guess we should have clocked our steps on the way. ; )
WE’LL BE BACK
We are already thinking of coming back to Spain. We still have some time on our 90 day visas for Schengen Area countries. These are mostly countries in the EU, though some are not. From what I understand, it mainly exists to allow for easier travel through Europe. When we came into Norway, we went through passport control, where we got questioned about our purpose there and got a stamp. That was the last time we’ve had our passport checked.
(Ok, I had to consult with good ol’ Wiki: “The Schengen Area is an area comprising 26 European countries that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders. Being an element within the wider area of freedom, security and justice policy of the EU, it mostly functions as a single jurisdiction under a common visa policy for international travel purposes. The area is named after the 1985 Schengen Agreement and the 1990 Schengen Convention, both signed in Schengen, Luxembourg.")
I find this interesting, because Norway won’t know we were in Spain until (if) we are asked at departure. I wondered whether this could work to our advantage, where we could fly in to Amsterdam, for instance, and burn a fresh 90 days there on our visas while actually going back to Spain. Then we could change countries and have another 90 days to stay in Spain. Unfortunately not. It’s “90 days in and 90 days out” & counts as a running total for all Schengen countries unless you go through the lengthy visa process, but I’m not sure we would qualify. There IS a way to get a “Golden Visa” that would bypass that visa, but I’m sure we would not qualify because it involves investing $500k in the country. Anyone have extra cash laying around? As complicated as all of this is, it looks like if we want to spend any more time in Spain we will be limited to about 45 days.
Chad is getting much better at understanding Spanish. So am I. Spain Spanish is much different from Latin American Spanish, from the way they pronounce some of the letters to the words they use. For instance, bathroom in my 3rd grade textbook was baño. But if you have to go in Guatemala you look for a sanitario. Here it is sometimes labeled “WC” for Water Closet, but usually aseo/s. Important info! We also learned an Andalusian dialect word: “NoNiNa” It basically means neither no or yes. Liike a strong maybe, and they use it all the time.
This is somewhere I REALLY hate that I missed out this time: “If you want to show off your knowledge of Madrid, you have to spend a Sunday morning in El Rastro, the most popular and traditional market in Madrid. It has been held for more than 250 years from 9am to 3pm every Sunday and bank holiday, in the area that used to be occupied by the tanneries next to the Matadero slaughterhouse. It is believed to have received its name from the trails (rastro in Spanish) left by the carcasses as they were transported from the slaughterhouse to the tanneries, where the animals' skin was turned into leather goods.
So, the best thing to do now is to let yourself get carried away and surprised whilst soaking in the atmosphere and the more than 3,000 stands that are set up in the neighbourhood and discover the most authentic corners of the Rastro, the most prestigious ones.” Sounds so fun, doesn’t it?! https://www.esmadrid.com/en/morning-rastro
LOST & FOUND
It’s been interesting to see how we’ve naturally chosen certain roles in this traveling partnership. One of my roles is obviously speaking & reading Spanish and sometimes even deciphering menus. Chad has learned “pan & cerveza,” bread and beer, because for some reason they magically appear on the table at every restaurant we go to. (I think that may continue in Germany. lol) One of his roles is to get us lost and found. It’s baffling to me how he has homing pigeon skills at getting us back to our apartments, even after a short time there, and even if Google maps gets wonky. If it weren’t for him, I would have been in the middle of a sidewalk curled up in a ball and crying most of the times he has gotten us lost and found.
BUY STOCK IN NAIR
Public service announcement. It is now in style (started by sports guys) for men to shave every bit of hair on their body. Or use Nair or laser treatments. But yeah, hairy legs are a thing of the past.
THE POOP LOG
I started with poopy news and I’ll finish with poopy news. In the Catalonia region of Spain, they celebrate Christmas with an unusual tradition. They have a big piece of cut wood that they prop up and cover with a blanket so it will not get cold. The children have to take good care of the log for a couple of weeks with the goal being on Christmas Eve or Day that the log will poop out good presents.
Yep, you read that right. The celebration commences with a song and the beating of the “shitting log’ (lyrics below) until the log poops out a present, which they can collect underneath the blanket.
This is also the country that has a festival of throwing tomatoes at each other, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised there’s a tradition of kids yelling at a log and telling it to shit for Christmas.
hazelnuts and nougats,
do not shit herrings,
they are too salty,
they taste better.
almonds and nougats,
and if you don't want to shit
I will hit you with a stick!
Read more and see pics here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tió_de_Nadal