07 July 2011

These are a few of my favorite cities!

In the past few weeks, I've been able to do a lot of traveling around the Madrid area. Just this small taste of affordable travel makes me itch when I think of high gas prices and plane tickets in the States. No wonder Europeans can vacation in several countries during one summer! There are cheap airlines, cheap hostels, cheap train tickets: this place was made for sojourners.

Here's a quick tour through three cities I've enjoyed immensely:

The first is Ávila, which was a day trip with some WorldVenture teammates. Ávila is famous for its medieval city walls and for being the home of Saint Teresa. I hear that the walls are the largest fully illuminated monument in the world, though we didn't see them at night because we had a train to catch!

I love how even the smallest things are given such intricate attention.

A wedding was taking place in this church while we were sitting across the plaza, eating Burger King. The best part: when they fired off glitter cannons as the bride and groom exited.

This is, allegedly, a toro. Poor guy--after hundreds of years, he has been ground down to his true self, which appears to be a bear-pig hybrid.

It's most fitting that there are tons and tons of lions in the autonomous community of Castile y Leon (which means "Castle and Lion," more or less)--one of seventeen autonomous communities (and two autonomous cities) in Spain. The country is remarkably decentralized when it comes to government power. Basically, that means that the community is the regional government, and each community is broken down into provinces. And all of it somehow eventually falls under the power of the Prime Minister, though I'm still trying to digest the concept of a constitutional monarchy. I can't tell you much else for certain about kingdoms and monarchies here, except that Queen Sofia is a classy, classy woman.

And here are the famous walls! Unlike American monuments, which are usually covered in security features, Spain seems to have few worries about safety regulations. You mean your kid wants to sit along the wall? No, we will not place protective fences between each post to prevent them from falling. Your toddler's entire torso would fit down that drain hole? Just make sure she doesn't get too close. I am thankful for the fence that makes up one side of the walled walkway, although it left me wondering how many soldiers died in battle along these walls...and how many died simply by slipping over the edge.

The second city of splendor: Segovia! The Celts were the first to claim Segovia, though it was eventually taken over by the Romans. And those Romans, in fact, know how to build a quite adequate aqueduct.

As part of Castile y Leon, Segovia has, of course, more lions! I feel that Segovian lions, however, tend to look more like sea otters.

Caitlin's Welsh friends joined us in the Segovian foray. If you look closely, you can see the strain on their faces from walking so far in the heat (or perhaps from listening to Caitlin and I talk about flowy princess dresses). Several weeks ago, I wrote that the rain in Spain does fall mainly on the plain. But I was misinformed. Apparently, the stormy weather we had upon my arrival is very unusual, so now I am inclined to state that the rain in Spain--at least in the summertime--falls not at all.

Segovia is home to one of Spain's many Alcazars. It means "castle" or "fortress," but the word "alcazar" is so much cooler. While I had Alcatraz-ian visions dancing in my head at first, I was soon corrected. This alcazar is actually part of the inspiration for Disney's Cinderella castle--both the one in the film and the one at the Magic Kingdom.

Does that last one look foreboding? Good. Gloomy clouds mean rain! For once! Four non-Spaniards hiking around Spain for hours at 30°C is not a pretty sight!

We waited out the rain below, then climbed the 152 stairs to the top of the tower. (A sign informed us that this trek was not for unhealthy people. Ha!) This trip could have only been made more fulfilling by some flowy princess dresses. Let me assure you of this: if you come to visit me in Spain, I will absolutely take you to Segovia.

Third, the city that is rapidly becoming one of my favorites: Madrid.

I think one of the best things about a city is when it doesn't feel like a city. Such is the case with Retiro Park, the biggest park in Madrid. It's loaded with fountains, statues, trees, and best of all, lush grass! (You never quite realize how much you love grass until you move into a house with a front yard made of tile and a back yard made of wooden planks, at the edge of a town whose only playgrounds are built upon dust and rocks.)

I totally wish I could bounce off the tops of these trees like in Super Mario World.

I owe much to the Chicago Transit Authority--and the Moody friends who taught me how to use it--for introducing me to the fine art of public transportation. Even though a trip into Madrid, which would take 20 minutes by car, can take a couple hours (depending upon how the bus and train schedules line up), I lovelovelove the Metro. (I do not love the ever-present signs asking to buy my gold, however.)

Ahh, Plaza Mayor. Legacy of the Habsburgs, once used for bullfights, public executions, markets, and persecution of Christians (among others). Today, it is still a central hub in Madrid--and with a strange magnetism for street performers.

Oh, Esponja Bob. Sigh. I just can't escape him. Well, as they say, if you can't beat 'em...beat him. Seriously.

Oh, I would never exact violence on SpongeBob. At least, not on this SpongeBob--only on the real one. Especially after this one mimicked all the punching actions by photographer Caitlin, who meant them for me. Perhaps his obliviousness to my presence is an indication that he may be the real SpongeBob after all!

Jesus loves everyone, especially Dobby. They were on break when we walked past but kindly posed together for this picture. When we asked where Jesus was from, he told us Valencia. I honestly did an audio double-take; for some reason, I was expecting, "Nazareth."

And finally, the sweet taste of Spanish pastries on the edge of Sol, accompanied by the music of a mariachi band.


I said a few weeks ago, during my initial settling-in period, that I had skipped the honeymoon period with Spain. It's been six weeks now, and I have to admit that I've been enchanted. While I still get hit with feelings of inadequacy, there are things that are just becoming second nature: saying "perdon" as I slip past someone in a crowded store, interpreting signs along the street, converting Euros to USD in my head. Even the 24-hour clock and the commas on price tags are beginning to look normal--and I realize that sometime within the past month, I quietly slipped into a state of contentment.

Of course it comes and goes: there are days when I think that I could stay here for years, followed by moments of wanting nothing more than a tall, cold glass of American milk (with free refills!). But the thing is that while I love home, I'm not currently aching to get back there. I'm finding that Spain has started a small flame in my heart, the kind that burns slowly but not without depth, the kind that is kindled bit by bit in such a way that you find yourself suddenly surprised not only by its heat but by its longevity.

Spain, I think I love you.


Sophia said...

Shar, I love you! Your blog is super. Wish I could be adventuring with you! Beautiful photos and wonderful commentary. So glad God brought you to ECA!

Anonymous said...

My favorite part is when you said, "adequate aquaducts!!"

Amanda said...

I've always wanted to visit that castle in Segovia! I did an art project on it in college, as a matter of fact:) I think I'd be falling in love with Spain if I were you too. Looks like you are enjoying getting better aquainted:)