Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mom's Visit, Part 2: Madrid/Segovia/La Granja

     Back in Madrid after a great weekend in Extremadura, Katie and I began to show my mom our favorite things to do here, as well as things we had rarely or never done. I took Mom to Casa de Campo, an enormous park in Madrid. We had the good fortune of beautiful weather all week, and the wildflowers were in bloom.

(Casa de Campo)

     One evening we stopped by Plaza Mayor, the famous plaza near the center of the city, and then walked past the Royal Palace nearby.

(Plaza Mayor)

(Detail of the Royal Palace, Visigoth kings flanking the arms of Spain. Moon.)

     The next day, we all went inside the palace for the first time— but not before seeing some elderly Spaniards having a rest in the shade. 

(Elders in the shade with the Royal Palace behind)

     The 18th century Royal Palace is enormous. It has over 3,000 rooms, of which around 50 are visible to the public. These visible rooms include the old pharmacy, your usual extravagant bedrooms, a dining room, a lot of expensive dinnerware, a chapel, a matching Stradivarius string quintet (the only one in the world), and paintings by famous Spanish artists. It was impressive and I'm glad I saw it after all this time. 

     One day when I was at school, Katie took mom to one of our favorite museums in Madrid, the Museo Sorolla. The museum is the house where the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla and his family lived, and all of the paintings are his. It is a beautiful place and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Madrid for more than a day. 

(Inside the Museo Sorolla)

     Later, I played a few songs at a sort-of political event. The husband of the woman with whom we went to Extremadura has a solar energy company, and his company was signing an agreement with a Spanish 'green' party called Equo. The entertainment they had booked for the evening had to cancel, so I was asked the same day if I could play a few songs after the business was wrapped up. I did. 

(Playing at a political rally?)

     We also made sure Mom visited Retiro park several times. It is the Central Park of Madrid, and is my favorite green space. The trees there had finally started to fill out and the park was great for lounging. 

(A corner of Retiro)

     We made trips to the Prado and Reina Sofia museums as well, of course. My mom's favorite parts of the Prado were the usually less appreciated ancient sculptures and Dauphin's treasure, both of which are found downstairs, far from the crowds. Dauphin's treasure is kept inside an enormous vault, its incredibly thick door letting you know something valuable is inside. The Grand Dauphin Louis was the son of Louis XIV. He was also the father of Philip V, the first Spanish Bourbon king (1700-1724), and his treasure was transported to Spain upon his death. It's mostly comprised of pots, jars, and containers for liquids, though it is far from your ordinary tupperware. These are constructed of jaspers, jade, lapis lazuli, turquoise, onyx, rock crystal, etc. Both the sculptures and the treasure are worth checking out if you make it to the Prado, and are a good break from all of the ultra-famous paintings. 
     The week was filled with great food, as we took Mom to all of our favorite eateries. She had both traditional Spanish food and our favorite 'foreign' food, such as tacos, pizza, and Ecuadorian food. There was also our favorite café, where we had my specially made tea (black tea with milk, honey, cinnamon, chocolate...not so much tea as liquid dessert) and homemade cheesecake with blackberry preserves. One day I'll write on all of our favorite restaurants around town. 
     Our last big trip was to Segovia, which I had gone to in the Fall and enjoyed. Both Katie and Mom wanted to see the Roman aqueduct and surrounding area. What I hadn't done on my first trip was visit the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, just a short bus ride from Segovia, and which was formally the summer residence of Spanish kings, dating back to Philip V. First, we visited Segovia's enormous cathedral, and then walked out of the city walls to see the Church of La Vera Cruz, constructed by the Knight's Templar in the 13th century. When I had tried to visit last time, it was closed, but this time we found it open and went in. It was simple, sparse, and well-built. 

(La Iglesia de la Vera Cruz)

(Inside the church)

     Afterward, we walked up a hill for a view of the castle, then down and around and back up to the city for some lunch. 

(The girls, the castle)

(Lunch in Segovia)

     After lunch we caught the bus to La Granja. This palace is supposed to have awesome gardens, and we thought that they might be in bloom since Madrid had flowered. However, we did not account for the difference in elevation, and found the gardens still very sparse. The trees in front of the palace, however, were worth the trip alone. There was an enormous giant sequoia, 115ft tall and planted in 1877. 

(Trees, the palace— the giant sequoia to obstructed to the right, detail below)

(Giant Sequoia) 

(A view from behind the palace)

     After walking around the gardens and the small town, we took the bus back to Segovia to spend some quality time at the aqueduct before leaving for Madrid. 

     After nine days, Mom unfortunately had to go back home. We had the best time ever with her! She brought the good weather with her and took it back when she left. Madrid didn't see another good week for a month, and it's just now getting nice again. We hope she comes back soon (and brings Dad and Ben along too)!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mom's Visit, Part 1: Extremadura

(First photo in Spain: Mom, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and I)

     A few weeks ago, my wonderful mom visited me in Spain! We had an incredible time. A couple of hours after she arrived, we were in a car driving to Extremadura (the region west of Madrid). Cecilia, the music teacher at my school, had invited us to visit her childhood home in Aldeanueva de la Vera with her family for the weekend. So after a quick two and a half hour drive, we were in a different world.

(View of Aldeanueva de la Vera)

     The surroundings were beautiful, and the atmosphere was a welcoming contrast to Madrid. And the home, oh, the home. It is a museum of old Spain. The house has tens of thousands of books, dozens of instruments, a working gramophone, spread out over four stories...I would've liked nothing more than to spend a month there.

(Some Books) 



     There were several villages very near to ours, some more secluded—such as Guijo de Santa Bárbara, which stands at the top of a long, winding road with the Gredos Mountains directly behind.

(Countryside of Guijo de Santa Bárbara)

     And there was Yuste, the place where Charles V retired to in 1556 after his reign as the king of Spain.

(Monastery of Yuste)

     A bit farther along, amid fields of blossoming cherry trees, is the town of Garganta la Olla. There, we crossed a bridge and hiked up a flowering hillside for a spectacular view of the village below. 

(River of Garganta la Olla)

(Flowers of Garganta la Olla)

(View of Garganta la Olla)

(Cactus of Garganta la Olla)

     We spent two nights and three days in Extremadura, and every minute was phenomenal. We saw things I didn't think happened anymore, like a man leading his horse through the cobble streets, a wedding procession making its way through the village, a man following his belling cows down the mountain road. We saw the stars, all of them, from the rooftop one night, and the next morning walked up the road right onto a country path that just kept on winding through the olive tree hills. 

(Landscape of Aldeanueva de la Vera, its river flowing below)

     I was so glad that my mom could experience it with me. Back in Madrid for a week, Katie and I showed her all of our favorite places and things to do. Stay tuned for part two of Mom's adventures in Spain! 

Sunday, May 12, 2013


     So, I know the recent posts about Italy have been a bit lacking in text, but let's face it— what you really want is to look at the pictures! Here is the last post on Italy, about Rome, in which we stayed for three days and two nights.

(St. Peter's Basilica) 
     After dropping off our bags, we walked down to the Vatican to check out all the art we had studied throughout college. The Vatican has many of the most famous artworks in history. 

(The Laocoon, first century B.C. He is being strangled by a snake after trying to tell the Trojans about the Greek's Trojan horse)

[A map in the geographical map room of the Vatican museum]

[The School Of Athens by Raphael, 1510. It depicts many of the classical figures of antiquity, including Plato (in red, center), Aristotle (in blue, center), Socrates (green), Michelangelo (foreground, hand on head)...]

(Apollo Belvedere, 2nd century B.C. It is considered one of the most beautiful examples of sculpture, depicts Apollo having just released an arrow.)

     And of course the Vatican also features the Sistine chapel, the ceiling of which was painted by Michelangelo at the same time Raphael was painting The School Of Athens. Purportedly, Raphael peeked into the chapel to see how things we going, and was so impressed he painted Michelangelo in the foreground of his work-in-progress. 

(Trajan's Column, finished in 113AD, which commemorates the emperor's victory in the Dacian Wars. The spiraling base tells the story of the war. The column is about 100ft tall.)

[Detail of Trajan's Column, full moon (or very nearly) behind.]

(The Roman Colosseum, 70AD.)

(The Pantheon, rebuilt in 126AD, a beautifully symmetric building, with the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Still. Raphael's tomb is inside. Below is a picture of the dome from inside.)

(You can drink the water from all public fountains. And there are many. Rome has some of the cleanest water in the world.)

(Fountain in Piazza della Rotonda, opposite the Pantheon.)

(Detail of the Fountain of the Four Rivers, by Bernini, 1651. Bernini is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. Borromini, a rival sculptor of Bernini, was originally employed to create the  fountain because Bernini didn't get along with the current pope, Innocent X, but in the end the pope saw Bernini's model plan and awarded construction to him. The four river gods in the fountain are all facing away from the church behind, Sant'Agnese in Agone, because it was constructed by Borromini.) 

(Throwing a coin into Trevi Fountain, 1732-1762)

(View from the Spanish Steps, 1723-1725)

(Partial view of the ancient Roman Forum, the center of Rome from the end of the 6th century BC until the 1st century AD)

     And on the last day, to distill the saturation of antiquity, we went to a Helmut Newton exhibit at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni museum. Helmut Newton was an innovative 20th century fashion photographer, famous for his insertion of nudity into fashion photography. We saw many photos from three of his books: White Women, Sleepless Nights, and Big Nudes
     We enjoyed Rome a lot. Even though you can't throw a stone without hitting a world treasure, the city is big enough that you can walk around without feeling too touristy, and since a lot of the sites are outdoors, you can see some attractions even after the museums close. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013


     So, Venice. A floating movie set with thousands of extras walking around. Don't get me wrong, there is no doubt that Venice is beautiful and unique. but with so many tourists walking around, the atmosphere is more that of a theme park than a small Italian town. The difficulty saying there are too many tourists might be a bit hypocritical, considering we were two ourselves. But that is the reality of it, and we were hard pressed to find anything authentic about the place except for the buildings, bridges and canals. So, here are some photos of those!

(Famous Rialto Bridge)

(Grand Canal)

     Across the bridge from the main island, it was a bit less crowded. It is home to the 17th century church Santa Maria della Salute, a church we had seen a month prior in a painting by Spanish painter Martin Rico and were looking forward to seeing.

(Santa Maria della Salute Church)

       Stay tuned for my last Italy post, on Rome, which was of course touristy as well but which we enjoyed much more.