Back to Madrid
29.06.2007 26 °C
June 27, 2007
This morning breaks another beautiful day. Bright sunshine with temperature in the low 70’s will follow us on our way to Madrid as we wind down our last days of the tour.
This morning we have a short ride to the Escorial and the monument to the fallen.
Today is also another memorial; one year ago today I had a heart attack. Thanks to the quick action of my son Chris and the ability of the Toledo Hospital I survived and recovered to be healthy enough to take this trip. I thank God every day for this second chance.
Our first stop this morning is the walled city of Avilla. Still completely surrounded by ancient walls this is the home of St Theresa of Avilla. Outside the city about 1 kilometer from the walls is a four post memorial with a large stone cross. This point commemorates the spot where the seven year old Theresa was stopped by he parents when she left home with two of her thirteen brothers to convert the non believers. She was returned home where years later she once again left and began a life of religious work.
We continue our drive toward Madrid and the Escorial. One our way we made an interesting discovery. Our bus driver, Fernando, was actually a Portuguese Bull Fighter. He began his Matador years as a young man in his home country of Portugal but one fine Sunday he was seriously injured and carries the scars of the bull on his body. He became a bus driver soon thereafter and has been a perfect gentleman throughout our journey.
We arrive into a hill top city where King Philip built a Palace, a Cathedral and The Escorial a burial place for all the Kings of Spain. This is a building from the 16th century and is mostly complete with some restoration. Here we were able to see how a King of Spain actually lived as this was a continuous use Palace and Cathedral from the time of King Philip II.
This was a summer palace and as such was very open with a beautiful garden and several private and public rooms. We actually saw the bedroom of King Philip II in which he died at the age of 82. In his will he requested his successors would keep his private apartment as he left it and they did so we did get to see truly how a King lived and they lived very well. We visited the throne room and the private library and other rooms used for governing and living.
As part of the Palace he also built a Cathedral dedicated to St. Jeronimo (Gerome). As we may recall St Gerome was burned alive for evangelizing in Rome and always wore green as a sign of his order. The King preserved St Gerome’s memory in many paintings and dedication of the church to the Saint.
The church itself is still in use today and is built in the Baroque style so it is very ornate. Weddings, daily mass and musical concerts are still held in the church which is maintained by an order of Monks from the time of the early Spanish Kings. Spain was under a King until 1933 when the last King Abdicated and was eventually replaced by Francisco Franco a dictator who died in the 1970’s.
The highlight of this portion of our tour was when we went below the church and into the crypt of the Kings of Spain. Here we were in the presence of the main Kings of Spain from Carlos V Emperor of Rome as well as King of Spain down to the modern Kings of the 19th century. Here also are buried the Queens of Spain who were mothers to a King. It seems that for a wife of the King to be buried here she must also have produced a son who became a King. So not all the wives of Kings are buried in this special crypt. In any event it was an amazing place to see and to be in the presence of so much royalty.
When we left the crypt we crossed the church, still underground, and into the crypt of the royal families of the kings. Here was room after room filled with tombs on both sides of Princes, Princesses, Wives, Mothers and Children of Royalty. There must have been well over 100 tombs here all ornate and all beautiful.
This was a most amazing stop on our tour steeped in history and a very beautiful palace just on the outskirts of Madrid.
After our tour we headed for lunch as we were all starving. We stopped at a self serve cafeteria where the three of us dined on Lasagna, salad and delicious bread. We followed this up with Gelato, reminiscent of a fine meal in Italy. After lunch back to the bus for the short ride to the memorial of the fallen and the tomb of Franco.
When Franco took power it was through a civil war lasting from 1936 – 1939. This was a bloody period of Spanish history and one in which Spain fell far behind the rest of the industrialized world. By the time Franco gained power and began to settle the region Spain became a second world power and failed to be a part of the industrial revolution. Spain remained a poor country with few wealthy and many poor.
Franco was a dictator who tried to help the people, but was ruthless with his enemies. Growth occurred under Franco but also a police state existed and freedom was restricted. Some people loved him and some hated him but most did not care they were more concerned with the state of their own life.
In 1940 Franco began the construction of a monument to those brave men who died in the revolution. Initially he planned a memorial and burial location for those who fought on his side but soon realized to heal his country he would allow any one who was killed in the revolution on either side.
He built a memorial of monumental proportions. In a mountain within 5 miles of the Escorial, the burial place of Kings, Franco commissioned a Christian Church under a mountain.
The church was built in 19 years by hollowing out the center of a mountain and leaving a natural cavity that comprised a church so large that the Vatican refused to approve the initial plans. You see Franco’s original plan was a church larger then the Vatican itself. Since no church can be larger then the Vatican, France added a wall cutting off part of the church so that the area that was sanctified was smaller then the Vatican by a few yards. Once approved the Cathedral was built and now houses the remains of 35,000 of the 100,000 killed in the revolution and houses the remains of Franco himself.
The interior is breathtaking yet simple. It is a modern church so the decorations are simple but what is there is grand in scale. There church is maintained by Cloistered Monks who say a daily mass and perform weddings on Sunday.
Franco actually wanted to be buried in the Escorial, but since he was not a king he could not. So he built a monument that rivaled the Escorial in size and scope. Franco thought a great deal of himself and his grave certainly shows how much.
We departed the area and headed back to the city of Madrid and checked into our final hotel of the tour. We will spend two nights here as part of the tour, but the Farina’s will spend an additional night in Madrid before we head out to Greece and the rest of our vacation.
Tonight is the group Farewell Dinner where we will once again eat more food then we should and drink more wine then we need. We are sure it will be a meal to remember, but right now some laundry and a nap are in order. More later.
We board our bus once again for a trip to the old center of the city for our farewell dinner. Our destination is a local restaurant famous for Paella. Since we are early for the locals to be eating we have the restaurant to ourselves.
Tonight’s dinner is amazing. We dine on fine breads, a salad of fresh tomato and tuna filet, then a small fish deep fried (so small you have to eat it with your fingers), and finally the Paella. The Paella was a mixture of fish and meats in a delicious red sauce. Of course all was washed down with red wine (2 bottles for our table of 5). This gastronomical treat was followed by dessert which consisted of a large plate of pastries and cream with black coffee. At the end we had a choice of two after dinner digestives. There was a red sweet beverage (90% alcohol of course) and a green less sweet beverage. Of course we tried both! Chris liked the green and I the red. Cathy passed.
There was much picture taking and the saying of good bye as we prepared for our final day together as a “family on tour”
We head back to the bus and the short ride to the hotel. Tomorrow is our last day on tour where we will go to the Prado Museum followed by a trip to Segovia.