Category: Europe



The peregrinos are coming to town. It’s a Friday and the noontime and evening masses for pilgrims at the lovely Romanesque cathedral in Santiago de Compostela will have 8 robed men swinging the butafumeiro across the isles. As I soldiered on on this wet and windy day, many younger pilgrims zoomed past me, unmindful of the cold and rain. They could reach Santiago in time for the mass at noon. 


Believe me, getting in and out of your rain poncho can be a mood spoiler. Much more so for those wearing rain pants. But it’s the last day. Our last 15 kms. As the Irish, German and locals zipped past on foot or on bikes, each had an expectant look.  “Buen Camino” which means “Have a good camino or walk” has also substituted for “hello” and “excuse me” or “move aside” as when they overtake you along the trail. 

 

Most peregrinos stop at Monte do Gozo to have their first glimpse of the spires of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It’s the last hill before reaching Santiago, about 4 kilometers away. Windy, overcast sky, cold and wet, we made a collective sigh of relief that the “end” is near. Our hearts felt the church spires beckoning us to march on. 

 

 

As soon as we stood before the Church, the dam broke. I cried. Such joy to be here. Such an honor to make this pilgrimage. All worth the wet, cold, windy camino days. The swollen feet from all the walking and the swollen hand from holding the shaft or walking stick.  This “jubilada” (retiree — which is what they registered at the Pilgrims’ Office when asked my profession) made it! And I’m happy that we made this hike in 6 days, feeling every step of the pilgrimage. Gracias, Señor.

The Pilgrim’s Mass at 7:30pm had the entire cathedral filled up as early as half hour before the service. Came a good hour early and claimed front seat. Soon after the service, the tiraboleiros prepared to swing the metal thurible. Botafumeiro is that giant thurible or incensory that they swing across the isles, up and down, pulled by 8 men in deep red robes. Botafumeiro in Galician means smoke-expeller. And the robed men in charge of the swinging thurible are called tiraboleiros which mean incense carrier in Galician. 

Such a fitting end to this pilgrimage. Feeling blessed. Unlike those who made the 300-800km journey (or even longer), I can’t claim any lifechanging miracle. But I have a newfound discovery. Life, as with uphill climbs, need NOT be rushed. It’s hard. But taking breaks –a breather– every so often makes a seemingly impossible task doable. Often enough, I had to remind myself to slow dow and walk in a relaxed manner. As with life, we sometimes do things just to get it over with. In this Camino, I discovered SLOW works

Gracias, Señor. Gracias, San Tiago de Compostela. Gracias to my nueva amigas : Maria Chus, Herta, Beth, Maryanne, May, Anne W, Helen, Carole, Ann, Misty, Sue. God bless you all😘

http://youtu.be/ByPqqO8Qwus


Funny how one starts thinking it will be another “short hike”. You see, the camino trail should have covered 28 kilometers but a great decision was made to “break” this legbreaker into 2 days. Entonces, it’s 28 kms in 2 days. Enough reason to start a tad perky yesterday and today. But it rained yesterday. Not so today. 


 

We left our hotel in Melide around 9:30am and walked a bit off the trail to visit this pulperia, a church and a zapateria. Another reason to feel perky after a “late start”. For the first time, there was a mass service on this Wednesday during this camino journey. Great start! 


 

By the time we were ready to resume our camino, 2 in our group had new leather boots in their backpacks. If we weren’t full from breakfast, we could have spent more time in that pulperia. 


 


Enjoyed the best weather today. Cold when we started, but sun’s out and trail’s lovely as we weaved through Galicia’s countryside. This part — from Melide to Arzua — is very interesting.  We shared the camino path with cows, had lunch in a small cafe bar (Santiago) whose pet dog attempted to follow us as we were leaving. Friendly dog, friendly cafe bar owner. He gave us so many “freebies” like more cheese, jamon, cake etc. Lovely man! 


  

This part of the Camino is the best so far. “Only” 14 kilometers today through one of the picturesque parts of Galicia. Both the farmlands and villages are charming. Gosh, did I actually say that? ONLY 14 KILOMETERS TODAY. For someone who is lucky to hit 10,000 steps in a day, you better believe that!

 

 

Though I struggled with the uphill climbs — 30 years of heavy smoking do that to you! — I enjoyed the hike. It helps too that we didn’t get rained out today. 


Birds chirping, feeling the “crunch” upon stepping on fallen leaves, crossing a bubbly stream, a slight drizzle, muddy paths, and cow manure here and there.   




It’s hard to deprive one’s self with a copa of vino or cerveza. I should stop. Dehydration  issues and balance issues and all. Even the vino during dinners, much that I enjoy them, should be given up. One of the 4 ladies I’m walking with told me that she’s giving up smoking in this Camino. “That’s great” I said. To which she smilingly replied “…. just that I don’t smoke”. Touche! Let me have my vino!

  

 

There’s a lot of my musings and ramblings as my knees struggled through the uphill climbs, downhill walks and flooded/muddied paths.  Many oxygen breaks happened here. I’m good walking some distances on flat, dry surfaces. And without a backpack! But I’m compelled to use a backpack to carry my change of socks, vaseline, and fleece vest. Oh ok, the chocolate and energy bars are in there too. Galician weather is hard to predict. Funny how I don’t miss sunny spells (I break out in sweat!) and how thankful I am whenever it rains just when we’ve stopped for some coffee or caldo! But today, it rained again on the last leg of the camino. Too lazy to put on my poncho. Just trudged along hoping the hotel is at the next bend. 




Being close to Nature makes for good contemplative monents. Whenever a gust of wind ruffles your hair, you cant help but smile. The aroma of cow manure brings you back to your senses, but in a positive way. For the life of me, I welcomed the scent of farm life. The simplicity of Galician life renders you grateful that you’re doing this walk, able to count your many blessings. A pilgrimage or an adventure? It is both for me. I wanted to challenge myself as much as I wanted to do my “spiritual retreat”. I’m having my moment. Can’t even bring myself to complain when it rains, gets really cold or when I couldn’t figure out where to step on a muddied path. Really. 




“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen”.  — Linda Hogan 

Buen Camino!

Day 2: A VERY WET CAMINO


It would be another 23 kilometers today and the weather forecast says more rain. Oh dear. Left our hotel at 8:30am, careful not to drink much coffee nor fill up  much on breakfast lest I go looking for a bush in the next 5-7 kilometers leaving the town of Portomarin towards Palas de Rei. Wearing only my windbreaker over my Merino shirt and shorts, I welcomed the slight drizzle and hoped it would be like yesterday’s weather. It was not. 

   

And just as I dreaded, it was a long uphill climb. Darn! It’s a struggle to stop, get my backpack off, take off my windbreaker, dry up a bit (you can break out in sweat walking!) then deciding whether to put the jacket back on or wrap it around your waist. Unlike Day 1 when we crossed many fields, a forest and a bubbling stream, today’s walk didn’t present much by way of “communion with Nature”. For a good 5 kms or so, we walked along a major road which we had to cross 3x I think. Oh Lord. 

 

We were only too happy to stop at Casa Garcia for mid-day refreshments. This guesthouse looked better than most. Cozy. Our next stop was LUNCH where croquetas de quezo y patatas, hamburguesa, tortilla and empanada were enjoyed while it started to really pour. Thankfully, I brought my fleece vest and raincoat/poncho. So, 4 layers of clothing — shirt, fleece vest, windbreaker and poncho — and my gloves and beanie completed my ensemble to battle this Galician weather. And I calculated there’s 10 more kilometers at this point before reaching Palas de Rei!

  

The Camino is truly a test of willpower. I decided on just doing the last 100 as I don’t have the energy to walk 800, or even 500 kilometers. Now I ask myself if I have the energy for even 100-113 kms. I’m bushed!

If only I could break the camino to walk only 10-13 kms daily, I’d be fine. IF I had the luxury of time, I would have gone for 10 days. But as it happened, I’m stuck to do this in 6 days. Thus, the first 2 days’ walk bring you near the halfway mark at 23 kms/day or a total of 46 kms. out of the required 100 to earn the compostela. 

Before long, we were approaching Palas de Rei. But I fell behind the pack to change my wet socks. Can’t risk having blisters. A slather of Vaseline which i carried in my backpack and I’m good to go for the day’s final 3 kms. Somewhere along the path, the road was all mud and water. No space for a single step without risking a slip. I wondered why this man was standing along the elevated edge seemingly waiting for pilgrims. He stretched out his hand and said “I’d help you”. Reaching for his hand, he pulled me towards the elevated bank where I trudged on to finish my day’s camino. What a gallant peregrino!

By the time  we reached Complejo de Cabana in Palas do Rei,  we got quite a surprise. Not 23 kms we’re told, but 32.6 kilometers. Duh? No wonder I felt wasted. My feet need some serious TLC. Gosh, I can’t believe I paid for this! Lol. Buen Camino!

 


Well, not exactly. Or you wouldn’t be reading this. Pre-booked hotels via caminoways.com have excellent wifi connection. Yey! But I confess I felt a great deal of excitement over the looming solitude and physical challenge as I prepared for the last 113 kilometers or 70 miles walking from Sarria in Lugo to Santiago de Compostela. As the day neared, i grew more anxious…. bordering on nervous wreck. Can I really do this?



Switching off. At least for 6 hours each single walking day. No sweat. I can easily do that. Even longer, if need be. My practice walks then lasted 2-3 hours straight. Like 20,000 steps or so. But this time, it’s not only longer hours. The ground’s not paved nor even, and there’s an incline here and there. In some spots,  it’s not even dry. Very wet, I may add. Even muddy. Every couple of hours, the camino is suspended for some serious oxygen breaks, backstretching, fluid replenishment, dry-ups, pee breaks, or just a change of socks and slathering of more Vaseline on the feet. 




 


“Every pilgrimage is a journey backwards. Every pilgrim’s step is a step towards his childhood.”   
         — Charles Foster (The Sacred Journey)
  
 
There is a saying on the French route: the first third is physical, the second third is mental and the third third is spiritual. Many pilgrims seem to fall into this rhythm. In my case, it started out as spiritual. I wanted this so much as my own spiritual retreat of sorts. I likewise made a mental note that 113 kilometers is punctuated by gastronomic breaks and all I had to do is think pulpo gallega and caldo gallego to keep those legs moving! As I took my first camino step, my faith & confidence combined to make this a meaningful Day 1 of my camino. As the roads and paths stretched before me, the physical demands of the camino wiped out all pulpo dreams. All I wanted was to reach the pre-arranged hostel, take a bath, put up my legs and sleep. These images all threatened to break my concentration as I prayed many rosaries. On Day 1, 6 rosaries. 
 
 
 
I was NEVER more aware of my body and physical state than NOW. It’s like I know the condition of every toe attached to my feet. Like I’m having an altercation with every leg muscle. My brain’s all messed up halfway through Day 1’s camino. It’s 23 kilometers today. Yeah, what a fine introduction. But looking at many pilgrims from all over the world passing me — a few limping through, having walked nearly 700 kilometers — it is such a humbling experience NOT to complain. 
 
 


Dinner in these parts is at 9pm. I worry I may not make it to dinner. Definitely dinner is more a social activity rather than nourishment for me this time. It’s a struggle to keep awake after the hike and then, a leisurely stroll around the village. I know others may think this part of the Camino is the more popular, more touristy, noisier, more about the adventure rather than the pilgrimage type. But hey, who’s judging? Certainly not me. We come for different reasons. We each make our own Camino? But whoever said it’s easy is lying! (And it’s only Day 1 😭😭😭)


Having fallen ill on my last week in Madrid, I opted out of trips outside the capital and skipped on long walks. Truth is I lost much time just staying in, homebound with coughing fits. Must be the cold spell.

 

 

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One of Lazaro’s favorites, it is among the first art pieces you’d encounter. No attribution. Bought in Paris from the Marquis de Salamanca’s Collection.

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That’s Señor Lazaro right in the middle. Financier, Journalist, Publisher, Art Collector.

 

 

By the time I’m well enough to step out, I was reminded not to overdo it. So how about this less-visited museum. No crowds. Below the tourist radar, but highly-recommended for its art treasure and exquisitely-arranged collection.

 

 

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San Diego de Alcalá. By Franccisco de Zurbarán. 1651-1653.

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Look up!

 

 

Not too far from the U.S. Embassy in the fashionable district of Salamanca is Palacio Parque Florido. That’s how the estate is called. The museo housed in the Galdiano Mansion is actually where the childless Lazaro Galdiano lived with his Argentinian wife, Paula Florido. Along with the estate given over to the Government is Señor Galdiano’s impressive collection of paintings, sculpture and other works of art. This one generous intellectual obviously collected without regard for cost. The rich and famous…. and brilliant and classy, may I add. Oh yes, not all those with fame and wealth have intellect and errrr, class. This Galdiano couple did.

 

 

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The Young Marchioness of Roncali. Madrid. 1838. So young. So elegant.

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Another reason to look up!

 

 

The couple collected as a matter of personal taste rather than societal dictates. Both Lazaro and his Argentinian wife acquired art pieces like they were perennially on a shopping spree. Moving from Madrid to Paris to New York must have fuelled, stepped up their acquisition mode that every room in this neo-Renaissance 3-storey (or was it 4?) mansion was tastefully done and adorned with art. Even read that some art critics of that time dismissed their collection as “barbaric”, whatever that means. I like that they collected even those art pieces without any attribution. Or that the pieces done by less popular artists didn’t have to compete for more prominent space on the walls, and yes, ceilings, of the lovely mansion. Going from room to room, hall to hall, floor to floor is an adventure. The next step, always a pleasant surprise. The frescoes on the ceilings are magnificent. The Goyas on exhibit pale in size and popularity compared to those in the Prado, but still manage to delight. The portraits present a study in contrast….. from the aristocratic ladies sitting for their portraits to the more relaxed but nevertheless elegant poses of young sitters.

 

 

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Christ at the Column. Michelangelo Naccherino. 1550-1622. Italian School. Marble.

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Young Christ, a late 15th century “Leonardesque” painting traditionally attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Oil on Beech Tree Panel.

 

 

A painting of an adolescent Christ intrigued me. It is my first time to see an image of a younger Jesus. Same with the more detailed and morbid painting of the head of San Juan Bautista. Was it really Leonardo da Vinci who painted the young Christ? Or was the painting done by one of Leonardo’s student protegés or apprentices? Just like the controversial “other Mona Lisa” in Museo del Prado, Da Vinci continues to stir controversy centuries later. As for Saint John’s head, this painting was originally listed in the 1570 Medici inventory. Such anatomical details! 

 

 

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Head of Saint John the Baptist. Another “lost original” by Leonardo da Vinci?

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Christ Child With Cross of the Passion. No attribution.

 

 

Sometimes, a museum visit gets “personal”. I felt that way when I visited Museo Sorolla. Same here. And there’s even less crowd yet more collections! Could the more “intimate experience” be attributed to the fact that the Museo was a former lived-in residence? That its collection was personally handpicked by its owner-collectors, and in the case of the lovely jewelry collection, even worn and lovingly cared for? Good vibes in this museo, for sure.

 

 

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Goya’s El Verano (Summer). 1786.

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Entombment of Christ by Goya. 1771-72

 

 

The Museum closes early, and is closed every Tuesday. If you’re doing the rounds of Madrid’s museums, you’d be happy to visit this on a Monday when most other museums are closed. It is easy to spot along the posh Calle Serrano farther away from the shops near the corner of Calle José Abascal. Lastly, don’t forget to ride the glass and wood elevator. I did. Alone. Seated like a queen on the velvet bench inside the tiny enclosure. 🙂

 

 

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Wood and Glass Elevator in Museo Lazaro Galdiano.

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Museo Lazaro Galdiano. Madrid.


Back when I was a first time visitor in Madrid, I took my breakfasts in the hotel. Easily, that sets you back 7-10€ daily. I scrimped the second time i visited. Did my groceries and made my own breakfasts. Then the 3rd and 4th time around, I knew better.

 

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Desayuno means breakfast in Spain. Not their most important meal of the day, but just as interesting as it is simple.

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Tomá Cafe. Best coffee in town. 5 stars!

 

While I’m not about to dismiss the Churros y Chocolate in Chocolateria de San Gines, which honestly appeals to me more as midnight or late afternoon snack, I’d like to share some happy breakfast discoveries here. Feel free to click on the link for more photos, details and directions.

 

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Typically, my breakfast here is only 2.50€ for a cup of cafe cortado y bocadillo. This photo shows my breakfast of coffee and roscon de reyes, a typical 3 Kings Day pastry. Costs 3.50€ for this special fare.

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A typical desayuno from audrey’s: cafe y empanada.

 

For best coffee, it’s Tomá Cafe ☕️. Their alfajores is also good on the lips, but feel your hips grow while munching one. Audrey’s Panaderia is just round the corner so it easily became a go-to for bocadillo, croissant and empanada fixes.

 

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Brie con tomate breakfast in Toast Cafe where I was the sole diner. I must be too early?

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Cafeteria HD ain’t much to look at from outside, but you’d like the vibe here. I’m told they serve good burgers here.

 

Spaniards don’t really take breakfasts “seriously”. That works well with me as I do enjoy hearty luncheons. I care about my coffee and would settle for a good molleta con tomaté in Cafeteria HD or brié in Toast Café. Those are typical Spanish fare for desayunos. Other times, I settle for brunch in some mercado where I can stay longer people-watching while downing cups of my favorite black liquid, or while deciding whether to order more tapás. Mercado de San Anton, Mercado de San Miguel, Mercado de la Paz and Mervado de Maravillas come to mind.

 

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Mercado de San Anton. My new favorito.

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Mercado de San Miguel, still one of my favorites.

 

Of course it’s tempting to see those 1€ bocadillos or sandwiches and maybe take a couple “para llevar” to eat in some park or square. But I’d advise you against it only because desayunos can be a happy leisurely affair that hardly costs you. I even found one coffee shop offering 1-1.50€ complete breakfast (Mercado de Provenzal) and another with an extra glass of freshly-squeezed naranja (2.50€) at Cerveceria de Padron. Great deals.

 

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Mercado de la Paz. People-watching or jamon-watching while enjoying your desayuno.

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Tempting, yes. Not the best, but really cheap, huh?

 

Much depends on how you feel first hour in the morning. You either save your appetite for lunch and thus settle for a simple breakfast, or take a full breakfast to energize you for long city walks. Take your pick. Mine varies from very simple, simple, hearty to delightful. The last is when I take the sweet Spanish pastries for breakfast. In Christmas, there were loads of them!

 

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Want to show you a 1€ breakfast of good coffee and a tostada media con tomate.

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And here’s a 2.50€ desayuno with a glass of freshly-squeezed naranja. Coffee in a glass.

 

Dulces de Navidad is how they’re called.  Snack food. But don’t take my word for it. I dropped in on a few pastelerias for breakfast to indulge myself 🍰🍪🍮

 

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Ensaimadas here are not like what we have locally. Tasted more like creme puffs to me. But I love their turrones and their polvorenes con almendras (almonds)!

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Drool……

 

Or you may simply choose to have your Spanish chocolate con or sin churros after all. There’s Chocolateria de San Gines as I mentioned, or Valor. But I’m also happy with my chocolate from the lovely Estado Puro or Pabellon de Espejos. Your choice, really.

 

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See that smile? Churros con chocolate does that to any child. Valor.

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Just 2.50€ for a cup of chocolate here in Estado Puro. You’d love their very spanish interiors here.

 

I know. Too many choices for a “simple desayuno”. The idea is you’d never find it a problem looking for a breakfast place around Madrid. Cheap too! Most offered below 3€. If you need more “complications” deciding how to spend your waking hours, here’s more. 😉

 

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It’s an ice cream place but I ‘ve tried their coffee here. Another choice for you when you want to jump from desayuno to sinful dessert.

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Many Spaniards celebrate the Feast of the Three Wise Men — alright, 3 Kings, if you like — more than they do Christmas and New Year’s. It’s the Twelfth Night of Christmas! The Eve of the Epiphany. No Papa Noel in dear España. No Santa Claus entering homes through their chimneys. Rather, the Three Kings from the Orient are the bearer of gifts. And Spanish niños y niñas wait until January 6 for their aguinaldos. Even decors show the 3 kings climbing up Spanish balconies bringing presents. Sí, you can say the Spanish traditions take off from the Bible more literally and meaningfully than Western practices. Christmas is all about the Belén where the star is the Infant Jesus. New Year’s is all about the countdown and the eve’s dinner is called Noche Vieja (literally, old night) and it’s considered good luck to eat “doce uvas” or 12 grapes as one welcomes the New Year. And Christmas Season ends with the Feast of the Three Kings.

 

 

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Meet Melchor.

Meet Caspar. Or

Meet Caspar. Or Gaspar.

 

 

Melchor, Caspar (or Gaspar) and Balthasar (or Baltazar). They’re the stars in this street parade in many major cities and towns all over España. I was fortunate to be in Madrid for the entire Christmas Season 2013-2014, and didn’t miss any of the festivities. But I agree with many Madrileños. The most festive and extravagant is the Cabalgata De Los Reyes Magos. There are many floats, marching bands, majorettes, horsemen, acrobats, cartoon characters, fireeaters, fairies, clowns, but you have to bring tons of patience waiting till the street parade reaches your spot.

 

 

Meet Balthasar. The last of 3 floats bearing the magi.

Meet Balthasar. The last of 3 floats bearing the magi.

 

 

The Cabalgata parade weaved its way from Nuevos Ministerios through Plaza Colon area, towards Plaza de Cibeles where we waited and claimed a spot when there was still light on this winter day. We waited through an early sunset,  hardly sensed twilight because of our excitement, joined a crowd of many locals who came ready with food baskets, toys to amuse their toddlers and young children through as long as 4 hours of waiting, blankets (yes!) and even ladders (si!). We prayed for good weather since it rained for 2 days prior, and we got it the whole day till mid-parade when it started to drizzle. But Madrileños came prepared. Raincoats out, umbrellas up. No one is losing his temper here. The anticipation is only matched by the fierce cold weather. I wrapped myself good, but still too cold for my shaking bones and freezing fingers.

 

 

This kid played, ate, and waited. Then she slept midway through the parade.

This kid played, ate, and waited. Then she slept midway through the parade.

The rains won't stop this street parade!

The rains won’t stop this street parade!

 

 

So much revelry. The fairies, the clowns threw away candies or dulcés to the crowd. Some costumed marchers broke away from the parade to say “Hola” to the delight of the kids and not so young. An acrobat gowned in white was tied to a bunch of balloons (and roped down to a bunch of “controlling men”) doing her stunts up in the air, sometimes just right over our heads until she soars high again, against the lovely backdrop of the Palacio de Cibeles.

 

 

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The “up” lady in white.

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Let the “up” lady soar high!

 

 

There were many floats outside of the carrozas ridden by the three kings. Obviously designed to grab young spectators’ interest, I also noticed how some floats incorporated environmental concerns for everyone’s wise consumption. Watching these carrozas pass us by, it is hard to think the Spanish economy is having a crisis. But it is certainly money well-spent. The sponsors who funded the floats certainly enjoyed media mileage, having been watched and appreciated by both young and old in the crowd. Locals, as well as visitors like me.

 

 

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Environmental Management. Go GREEN.

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Biggest babe tonight!

 

 

And lest I forget, those marching bands making beautiful, bouncy music while swinging and dancing with their instruments were really fun to watch. Same with the pageantry of seeing horsemen…. an entire cavalry joining the parade. The horses, and sí, those horsemen all looked good. You’ve got to hand it to the organizers for making this event so orderly, so organized, and most of all, SAFE. I heard about the tragedy that struck one Cabalgata in Malaga (where a kid ran to pick up some dulcés and was ran over by one of the floats) but the organizers certainly had these concerns in mind. The Policia, the Bomberos, even the street cleaners who manned the tail end of the street parade sweeping their way through were equally crowd drawers.

 

 

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Thank you, Madrid, for this experience of watching this festivity and putting more meaning to this Feast of The Three Kings! He disfrutado mucho! Gracias, Madrid. 

 

 

 

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That’s how the article was headlined. Packing the Estadio Bernabéu for the Champions for Life Charity Match to raise funds for UNICEF’s Program to help children affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The charity match played between the big football stars of Spain from the Western and Eastern Regions was scheduled last December 30, 2013 and raised 550,000 Euros! That’s about P30 Million.

 

 

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The 80,000 seater Estadio Bernabéu in Madrid.

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The December 30, 2013 Charity Match raised 550,000€ or about 30 million pesos.

 

 

I don’t know anything from Adam when it comes to football. Talks of Sergio Ramos, Álvaro Morata, Iniesta, Quini,  Beñat, Iñigo Martinez, Gabi, Raul Garcia, Iraola, Jesus Fernandez and other football greats didn’t ring a bell for me. But here I am, watching a 7pm match in the stadium that Real Madrid Football club calls home. My only clues that the players are big stars come from this boy behind me who’d invariably call out their names and ask for a “camiseta”. I assumed that’s the equivalent of a fan asking for the player’s jersey.

 

 

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Saved! Just as UNICEF aims to save the children affected by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines. Muchas Gracias, UNICEF, España, the Football Stars.

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It was a friendly match, but players are players and everyone wants to see a good game played.

 

 

The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu can seat over 80,000 spectators. The stadium is about half full with families watching from grandpa to grandkids in strollers. Seated in front, you are about 3 meters away from the nearest security officer from a security team who have the “ill luck” of watching the crowd rather than the game. They only stand up, presumably to watch the crowd better, everytime a team scores. GOOL! those 4-letter words flash every time a player scores a goal. But not GOAL. Here in España, it’s GOOL.

 

 

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That’s Alvaro Morato wearing the white “camiseta”. He scored an impressive “bicycle” goal to the crowd’s delight.

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This is Sergio Ramos, also from the Real Madrid Team.

 

 

It was a chilly night. The man beside me had a small bottle of wine that he sucks from time to time. He also littered our common space with watermelon seeds. Pepitas, to the locals.  But despite the cold, everyone was in good spirits. For a good 5 minutes, the crowd stood to “wave” around the stadium.  Thought it would never stop! 

 

 

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Sergio Ramos counts many fans among the Spanish football aficionados.

 

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The mood was very festive. At the start of the game, they even played Christmas carols.   Though a friendly match, there were daring runs, impressive saves and goals. Quini and Morata got the loudest cheers for their memorable goals that night. What a thrill! And that’s coming from someone who watched a football game for the very first time!  

 

THANK YOU ESPAÑA! THANK YOU UNICEF!

 

 

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Not this time. It’s a GOOL!

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Three meters away, maybe even less. Hard to watch the game knowing the security officers are missing the thrilling game 😉


Once home to the royals, one of the few remaining houses — called Casas Colgadas — in the medieval town of Cuenca, Spain is the location of a highly-regarded Museo de Artes Abstracto Español. The establishment of this Museum of Abstract Arts in the 1960’s is credited mainly, if not exclusively, to one man. Fernando Zobel y Montojo. Born in Manila, Zobel belongs to a prominent Filipino-Hispanic family in the Philippines who also happens to be a passionate art patron and artist himself. Together with a couple of Spanish artists — Gerardo Rueda and Gustavo Torner — he realized his dream of a Museum and added significantly to this lovely town’s cultural offerings.

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Museo de Artes Abstracto Español (Museum of Abstract Arts) in Cuenca, Spain.

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The Museum is housed in one of the Casas Colgadas or Hanging Houses of Cuenca, Spain.

 

 

Cuenca is only a 45 minute ride on the AVE fast train from Madrid’s Atocha Station. You can do this as a day trip but you’d miss out seeing the medieval town especially its Casas Colgadas and Puente de San Pablo illuminated at night. Train ticket costs 28€ each way but what you’d spend, you’d save on more reasonably-priced meals and admission tickets to art museums and cathedral museums. I have no illusion I can cross the Puente de San Pablo in the dark (that’s what it promises!) guided only by the lights from under the bridge and the dramatically-illuminated hanging houses which include the Museum of Abstract Arts with its wooden balconies jutting out of the rocky ridge, hanging over the Huecar gorge. No. Crossing it in daylight at -5 Celsius with windchill is more than what i need. Besides, it is a deep gorge! If you have altitude problems, remember to look ahead. DON’T ever ever look down. And yes, walk fast towards the other end. 😉

 

 

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The bridge : Puente de San Pablo crossing the Huecar Gorge in Cuenca, Spain.

 

 

But the simplicity, warmth and novelty of this Museum comforts you. Fernando Zobel is so loved in this heritage town that it named its railway station in his honor. Beat that! From the station you can ride 2 buses to Plaza Mayor (#12, then #1) or hail a cab for around 12€. In less than 20 minutes, you find Cuenca’s best attractions within and around the square. Just behind the Cuenca Cathedral (another must-see!)  is the Museum of Abstract Arts, housed in one of the Casas Colgadas, as if riding on the spine of a rocky ridge of this former Moorish fortress. Inside, abstract art in painting and sculpture compete with another “abstraction”. The windows and balconies show the bridge (Puente de San Pablo) crossing the Huecar Gorge with the former convent, now a parador, in full view across the gorge.

 

 

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One of the “abstractions” inside the Museo: prized view from the balcony of the Casa Colgada or Hanging House. Cuenca, Spain.

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Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

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Inside the Museum of Abstract Arts. Cuenca, Spain.

 

 

I must confess I am not a big fan of abstract arts but Zobel’s modernist art is quite distinct. Like a signature style, he uses surgical syringe in some of his paintings to produce those long, sharp, more defined lines. It is likewise interesting to note that Zobel finished medical studies in the University of Santo Tomas before completing his studies in Harvard University (history & literature) where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. From medicine to literature & history, to art. In his lifetime, he visited many Museums to view the works of art masters and drew inspirations to create “reactions” in abstract forms. He also helped, tutored and nurtured the careers of then budding Spanish modernist painters like Antonio Saura, Antonio Lorenzo, Eusebio Sempere, Martín Chirino López and many others. These protegés’ works are also on display in this Cuenca Museum.

 

 

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Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

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Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

 

 

At the risk of sounding shallow, let me say that I do find Fernando’s notebooks cum sketchpads as interesting as his obramaestras.  The notes and sketches are very neat and detailed. Like there’s “order” in his art. Hardly any smudges or erasures. Like he gives his art a lot of thought before committing himself on paper. And his handwriting? Fluid strokes from this brilliant artist.


 

 

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Notebook of Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

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Notebook of Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

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Notebook of Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

 

 

For all he has accomplished, no less than the King of Spain bestowed upon Zobel the Medalla de Oro al Mérito en las Bellas Artes in 1983. A fitting tribute to one man who dreamed and helped many along the way. A year later, Fernando Zobel died of a heart attack while visiting Rome, Italy. His remains were buried in his beloved Cuenca, in a hill overlooking the Huecar Gorge which gave him inspiration for many of his landscape paintings. In 2006, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit by then Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for his contributions in the arts.

 

 

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Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

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Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

 

 

On a final note, let me again say that I have no pretensions over my art appreciation but I am extremely proud that a Filipino (yes, born in Ermita and a citizen of our country!) gained the love and respect of the people of Cuenca, even the entire nation of Spain and yes, the rest of the world in the field of art. The visit to Cuenca was prompted more by the fame and respect bestowed upon Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo, more than the medieval town’s other cultural treasures. I was adequately intrigued that this heritage town so honored him to name their train station after him. Arriving at Fernando Zobel Train Station in Cuenca lets you off on a good start. And then ……. lets you finish with pride in your heart.