Tag Archive: Spain



SLOW. Like Snails. 

Why not? It’s my 6th visit to Madrid and this time taking my oldest sister for a month-long holiday. The first day was hard for her, hardly sleeping on our long flight from Manila. We managed to go out on Day 2 but careful not to tire her out. The bus in front of our Madrid crib took us to Almudena Cathedral, right beside Palacio Real. The mandatory shots in front of the Royal Palace turned out alright. There was a long snaking line outside for those seeking admission into the Palace. We trooped to the nearby Cathedral instead where a mass was going on. Coming out, we turned right down the street to get inside La Crypta. For a €1 donativo, one finds solace in this Crypt underneath the Cathedral. An altar inside tells you that mass services must be held here too though I never heard one since I started frequenting the place. Why, you ask? I like how tranquil the place is. More so than in the Cathedral where the religious and the tourists comprise the crowd. One time, I sat beside a friendly priest visiting from Zimbabwe. We prayed quietly then. 


From La Crypta, we crossed the street to view portions of the ancient muralla (walls) before walking up along Calle Mayor. It’s a 1 kilometer walk from this corner to Puerta Del Sol. Many iconic landmarks and short detours along this main road. First off is my favorite tiny square called Plaza de la Villa. The old Town Hall can be found here. The oldest building, fully restored, in Madrid. Across it is the Tower where the French monarch Francois I was imprisoned for a year following their defeat in the Battle of Pavia. In the center of the square is a statue of a naval commander who led the Spanish Armada. Truly, a very interesting square.


Not very far, and still walking along Calle Mayor, you’d find Mercado de San Miguel. You can pick up a Sangria or a Tinto de Verano here, to go with a cone of fried calamares or octopus or boquerones. Great appetizers! The giant paelleras of greatlooking Paella Negra or Marinara may appeal to firsttimers like my sister. But I won’t be fooled a 2nd time 😜. From here, we walked just a few more steps, under one of 9 or so arched entrance ways, towards Plaza Mayor. Being a Saturday, it was way too crowded. 


Museo de Jamon. It’s a chain. Their tapas bar on the littered ground floor is packed with tourists. On the second floor, we found a table and this old waiter who fondly calls my niece La Niña. We took our seats, and ordered enough for our lunch here, and leftover dinner later! No problem having a meal replay of callos, pecaditos and boquerones. We didn’t bring home the pulpo, and we drank our sangria to the last drop. It won’t be our best meal and we’re really being touristy here, but hey, it’s my sister’s first time in Madrid. 


For dessert, we walked FASTER towards Chocolateria de San Gines. Churros con Chocolate for my sister and niece. Cafe for me. Refueled, we managed to do some shopping. Then some snapshots with the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue, an iconic landmark to be found in the Puerta Del Sol. Before taking the metro here going home, I wanted to get inside La Mallorquina for some napoleones and marron glacé but the place looked like it’s been invaded by tourists! 


Home is in Bravo Murillo. We heard anticipated mass in the Parroquia right next to our building. Estamos Felices! 


I realize I can’t do this in one go. Not all of 800 kilometers (500 miles) in one go over a period of 6 weeks or so. But after walking my first camino spanning the last 114 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, I knew it would be the first of many. One year after, I did the last 100 kilometers from Viterbo to Rome — what’s called Via Francigena which is the Italian equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Both tracing pilgrimage hiking trails, one ending in the northwestern part of Spain, the other ending in Vatican City. 


The same year I walked from Viterbo to Rome, I likewise tried a short leg of the famed Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago in Japan. Like a preview or sampler of a longer hike sometime in the future. In Japan. But one idea continues to occupy my mind. The Camino Frances. From St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP) to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Not just a part of it. The whole 800 kilometers of it. Yet, how? The mere thought of crossing the Pyrenees freaks me out of my wits. 


First off, I accepted the reality that walking everyday for 5 to 6 weeks will make me miserable. Or fail. So I’d settle for “mini successes”.  Like breaking up the 800-km hike into 8-9 adventures, each involving 100 kms or so over 5 or so walking days. I thought the following itineraries doable: 

St. Jean PdP to Pamplona (68kms)

      SJPP to Roncesvalles

      Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Pamplona to Logroño (94 kms)

Logroño to Burgos (121 kms)

Burgos to Sahagún (124 kms)

Sahagún to Leon (56 kms)

Leon to Ponferrada (103 kms)

Ponferrada to Sarria (92 kms)

Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (114 kms)


Then, I read that the WORST, HARDEST, MOST PUNISHING walk is the first leg of Camino Frances. Specifically, the first walking day from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Literally across the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees area. No wonder most walking guides say most quitters do so on the first 2 days. My research taught me it’s also not as daunting as literally climbing up and down a mountain. Over time, this leg may have been “romanticized” as “crossing the Pyrenees” though that is not to say that it’s not difficult. Let’s just say there are ways to walk AROUND the mountains. 


Many break the SJPdP to Roncesvalles route into 2 walking days, either stopping and resting the night in Orisson or in Valcarlos. Others simply skip this route and start their camino past the border in Roncesvalles. I’m determined to start from St. Jean Pied de Port. I’m also realistic enough to set this goal only up to Roncesvalles so that my next camino would be entirely in Spain’s Basque Country towards Navarra and Galicia. Small victories, I reminded myself. Just go past that crucial border crossing!  


I hope to do this entire Camino Frances before I hit 71. Why 71? It’s the age I lost my old man and I just know that if he were around, he’d do this pilgrimage walk with me.  Perhaps even at a faster pace! So there. Seems like a good plan. Wish me luck. God bless me with good health and the spirit to do this. 

CAMINO REFLECTIONS



Humility

One trick works when doing uphill climbs. Look down, as if tracing your steps. Somehow you forget how steep an incline you’re scaling. Just like in life — uphill climbs are struggles meant to humble ourselves. We struggle to reach the top but the best advice remains: succeed with your feet firmly on the ground. With heads bowed, humility is the true measure of a successful man. 


Listening

What is the best prayer while walking the Camino? I’d say the best and hardest is to listen. Everyday life has tuned us to many of life’s distractions. If only we can empty our minds of all these cobwebs that easily. It probably starts when our muscles begin to ache and the rhythm of walking dulls our senses to pull through. When we ache without suffering, we listen. The pain is dulled and we prep ourselves to listen. First to our body, then without warning, our mind opens up in prayer to listen. Prayerful thoughts without the prayer recitations. 

Mindfulness

A friend reminded me that communing with Nature is mindfulness. It comes after the initial pain and aches. One’s senses are heightened, fully engaged. Mono-tasking prevails. You walk, and mind how you walk. You look around and the beauty around you cheers you up. His presence felt with every lovely tree you pass, every stone and pebble you step on, every leaf felt crunching under your soles, every fragrance from the forest and woodlands you cross. 

Instant Familiarity & Openness

When you walk the Camino, you come across strangers who don’t feel like strangers. It’s not them. It’s YOU. The newfound “openness” within you offers instant familiarity. Walked my first Camino SOLO, and the familiar faces of fellow peregrinos made me feel safe and never alone. For a mile or two, you walk with some before bidding them “Buen Camino” – a cue you’d walk ahead or behind, depending on your pace. But for those 2 miles or so, you’re talking initially to a stranger who slowly transforms into a pilgrim buddy. Hardly asking about names, profession and status. Quickly and almost logically, these aren’t important details anymore. Pilgrim buddies rather talk about how long they’ve been walking, where they started, and how they feel. They may even share meals, clink beer bottles, laugh at jokes or pray together. This I miss. To others, don’t hesitate to walk alone. The Camino provides. God provides. 



I have been dreaming of my camino de Santiago de Compostela like forever. I realized that dream on the first week of May 2015. Yes, just this year. And just nearly 3 months ago. I waited for many of my friends to join me, only to decide to do it solo. Well, not exactly solo. I joined caminoways which organized my camino for 6 walking days and booked all my hotel and luggage transfers, as well as my breakfasts and dinners. I dreaded walking so far only to find no decent accommodations and sleeping without dinner. I decided well. The pre-booked hotels and meals were all good, and all I worried about is finishing the day’s walk. All of 113 kilometers in 6 walking days. Minimum daily walk is 15 kilometers. Other days, we walked 30 kilometers including detours! 


 

On the Feast Day of Saint James (July 25), I mused over my own camino. Interestingly, I thought back to all those moments when I felt God’s presence in the green fields, the moist smell of the forest, the encounters with grazing farm animals, the non-verbal interactions via sign language with friendly locals, the centuries-old medieval bridges crossed by many pilgrims before me, the tiny, dark churches in the quaint hamlets we passed, the muddied paths and puddles of rainwater along the trail. NEVER did the pain of walking so many miles in the rain cross my mind. If at all, I look at my little toes and reminisce how I persevered to finish my camino. A little triumphant sensation there, I confess. 


 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time savoring my camino moments after my walk. Soon after, I met up with cousins visiting Madrid and then I had to fly to Berlin to meet up with friends before flying into Copenhagen to join our Scandinavian cruise. After sailing back to Denmark, I then flew back to Madrid with a couple of friends to join up with 2 more couples flying in from USA. The reunion lasted 3 weeks and covered many side trips from Madrid including bus and train trips to Burgos, Bilbao, Getaria, San Sebastian, Lourdes (in France), Irun, Santiago de Compostela (yes, I went back too soon), Muxia, Fisterra, Oporto, Fatima and Lisbon.  The adventure with friends left me no time to really indulge in more musings over my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Besides, the experience was clouded by a couple more pilgrimages to Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal. It’s an altogether wonderful experience. Really. Just that I would have wanted to relive the memory of EVERY SINGLE DAY of my camino and remember how all the yellow arrows directed me throughout my weeklong camino. 


 

I have been “on the go” since May. Even well before that, as I spent a week in Madrid doing more “practice walks” before hopping on that 6 hour train to Santiago de Compostela. When I returned to Manila mid-June, I only had a week to prepare for my family from Sydney spending a whole month with us. Plus there’s the Bangkok wedding which the entire family and a few friends (all 23 of us!) attended. On the feast day of Saint James, the last batch of my OZ family took the flight back to Sydney. I am left with many happy memories of family reunions, wedding, Bangkok sidetrips, and quite honestly, bonding across 4 generations within our family.  Such memories would last me many lifetimes. As would my “me-moments with my God” during my camino. I find it a luxury to indulge myself with those lovely images and experiences from my camino now. No matter what you hear or read, your Camino is YOUR CAMINO.  It’s a personal experience — an adventure, if you like — that is completely your own. I walked more than a hundred kilometers but more than half of those walking ALONE. Alone with my thoughts. In sync with Nature, and over-the-top with the wondrous solitude to pray as much and as long for others, and for myself and my family. Before the walk, I listed a hundred names of people I’d pray for. A kilometer for each, some of whom I do not know at all. The thought of praying for someone else pulled me through. Funny that whenever I prayed for myself, I’d always catch myself praying for “no blisters”. More so whenever I stop to change my socks, wiggle my toes and slather my feet with Vaseline. I even picked up the habit of ordering a beer to “reward” myself every afternoon, and some glasses of red wine come dinner time. Every morning when I woke up, I prayed and thanked the Lord for the renewed energy, well-rested limbs, and newfound enthusiasm for another day’s walk. I never lost the excitement over what I’ll find along the camino trail. Somehow, I likewise looked forward to the mid-morning and late lunch breaks  when I find myself interacting with fellow pilgrims from different countries. One funny thing here is finding yourself deep in conversation with another pilgrim whose name you never asked. Yet you remember his nationality, from where he started his camino, and how long he has been walking.  Other times, you’d be walking with a few for about a mile, engaged in serious and not-so-serious conversations, before bidding each other “Buen Camino”. If you meet them at your next coffee break, you greet each other like long lost friends. Such is the camino routine and vibes and I gladly eased into this  “behavior”. 


 

I finished my camino without any blisters. I pity those who trudged on with blisters, nasty sore toes,  and for a few, lost toenails.  Thankful every time I reached our hotel even when there were days we were soaking from the rain. Nothing beats that first beer of the day. Except perhaps that first minute when you soak your tired feet in a tub filled with hot water. Many times I fell asleep till the water turned really cold around my swollen feet. Every night, I’d wash my hair and then wear my camino clothes for the next day. Yes, fat chance I’d jump into my pajamas and then change into my camino shirt and shorts the following morning. Happened only on the first night. 😄 Waking up every morning was a breeze as I only needed to brush my teeth, put on my socks and shoes, and walk out the room. I’m not embarassed to admit this. Really. And it’s one good advice I’d give anyone planning a camino. Starting the day right, with as much ease and convenience, is the way to go. 


 

SLOW. I’m beginning to like this word. It is NOT a contest. Why rush? You have the WHOLE DAY to do it. My daily camino started every morning at a convenient time of 8:30 am. It helps a lot that you know you have a room in the next hotel where you’d finish your day’s walk.  Invariably, I’m done by mid-afternoon. And that includes coffee breaks, lunch breaks, pee breaks, oxygen breaks, and the occasional beer or wine. Mind you, I lingered over my lunch. It’s a major social activity for the day. A time to meet new walking buddies, swap first-aid plasters and ointments, listen to more (Irish) jokes 😄, “score” some passing hunks on bikes 😜, and share some energy bars sitting and adding weight to your backpacks. Altogether, these breaks are all too important to rest your limbs and maintain your sanity. When you start having a conversation with your leg muscles, your hip joints or your little toes, you know it’s time for a cafe con leche, cafe cortado, cerveza, rioja, or a bocadillo. 👣👣👣


 

Will I do another camino in my lifetime? I’ve met many septuagenarians who whizzed past me. Many walked alone. Many on their 2nd or 3rd camino. I would love to do this again. Perhaps walk the whole hog from St. Jean or Roncesvalles — but in installments. Like a week or 2 at a time.  Let’s see. Meanwhile, BUEN CAMINO! 


 

For more details and photos, check out my blog here.  And yes, do share your own camino memories here. 😀

CAMINO DAY 5: Can you believe it?


I CAN. HARDLY. BELIEVE IT. Five days of walking from Sarria in Lugo to Amenal, just 15 kms away from Santiago de Compostela. When we went past the 20 km marker, I felt like screaming for joy. Never mind that the next 5kms towards our hotel seemed like an eternity. We were tired, after all. 

   


Been blessed with enough stamina and willpower to hurdle this camino which our guide Maria says isn’t exactly 113 total, but much more. In fact, she said we’ve actually done the minimum 100 kms yesterday to earn a Compostela. She measures our mileage each day but only tells us when day’s over. A little white lie, Maria would say. 

  


But naaaahhh. Having gone this far, we’re not about to hop on a cab to Santiago. Well, there’s only tomorrow’s 15 kms towards Santiago de Compostela, so I feel more confident. Tired? Very! And blessed. No blisters. My little toes gave me problems since Day 2, but me and my toes will survive this. 

  


Today’s walk was like yesterday’s —- into the woodlands in many portions, some meters of walking along the roads, pleasant weather. But more excitement today as we chanced upon Terry Porter, ex NBA player, now coach. Spanish media trailed him from the pitstop beer garden to the last 6 kilometers to Amenal. Took photos even if I didn’t even know the guy. Tried catching up with him but at over 6 feet, those long strides would make us eat dust. Well, the chance encounter was a good distraction for me and my sore legs. 😞 
 

  

By this time, I have grown accustomed to more oxygen breaks to pace myself (thanks for the breathing/pacing lessons, Herta!) , zumo (juice) de naranja replenishments every 5-8 kms, and vino o cerveza only at day’s end. I’ve even grown excited over these camino breaks for coffee, snacks, cerveza and chats with fellow pilgrims. Some cafe bars are ok, but got to say the food menu hardly changed. It’s the same cerveza, tea, jamon y quezo sandwich, naranja juice, ensalada, tortilla. The defining mark rests in how they do their coffee and the state of their washrooms 😉
 

   



My right knee started feeling funny after 12kms but my new friend Herta gave me something to spray on it to ease the pain. I am excited for tomorrow’s final leg and happy it’s the last day. My endurance would be severely tested beyond tomorrow, for sure.
 

   


Day 5. It’s more crowded now as we neared Santiago de Compostela. A bunch of cyclists, a group of German and Irish students, a gang of friendly and hilarious Irish women, many having reached this point after weeks on the camino. And many with their entire pack on their backs! This last 100 kms is nothing compared to what these men and women have been through. It’s embarrassing to even talk about how my right knee started feeling funny in today’s walk. Or how my pinky toes are giving me a problem. In fact, I feel guilty just looking tired 😢
 

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 😭😭😭)

PLATEA MADRID


I am very, very sold on Mercado San Miguel off Plaza Mayor and Mercado San Anton in the Chueca District just off Gran Via. But this! A gourmet market in a converted theater — how original is that? 


  

  

I made a mental note of going back on an empty stomach and with company. Surely, there’s a variety of gastronomic delights and it’s more fun to enjoy rioja or tinto verano or cerveza or sidra with friends.  The delicatessen available on the ground floor or center stage offers many choices. I can just imagine myself enjoying tapas y vinos while a band is playing onstage. 


   

  

For senior diners, there’s a 2 Michelin star Chef running Arriba Restaurante on the 2nd floor where tables are set up with a full view of the center stage. Likewise overlooking the theater stage is El Paco on the 2nd Floor. Now this El Paco should suit serious drinkers! 


  

   

Platea Madrid is truly a gourmet experience. I can imagine crowded weekend nights here. It must go crazy! Drinks, tapas, international dishes to suit every whim! I hear there are other Michelin star restaurants in this food hall too other than Arriba. But who cares about ranking? I just love the vibe here! 


    


   


This gourmet food hall housed in a former theater is along Calle Goya 5-7, near the Plaza de Colon. You can’t miss it.  You bet I’m headed back!  


  

  L

Out A Third Of The Year 2013


In 2013, I spent nearly 2 months in Sydney and even slightly longer in Madrid. A good third of 2013. And that excludes those weeklong trips to Mongolia, Phuket and 2 trips to South Korea. I blogged like crazy ….. Just like when I stayed nearly 3 months homebased in Madrid back in 2012. Whenever I get back to Manila, I always long to do a trip to some exotic place. Preferably those sites below the tourist radar. There is a long list. So much to cover and discover in our own backyard. And as always, the local trips draw more hits!

20140124-140739.jpg

Trek to Mount Pinatubo.

 

20140124-142511.jpg

Batanes

 

 

I struck off Batanes, Sagada, El Nido, MassKara Festival, Transfiguration Monastery in Bukidnon, Divine Mercy Shrine in Misamis Oriental and a trek to Mount Pinatubo off my bucket list which continues to grow longer. That list has its own life! I made a few “insignificant”, impromptu daytrips just outside Manila to entertain friends. And I’m surprised such trips drew much more attention and appreciation. Perhaps because many, like me, thought they were “insignificant” and were later pleasantly surprised. Maybe because they’re very doable and demands less planning and time. Or it could also be because these out-of-town trips were really good finds — a discovery that many (like me) have initially dismissed as “ordinary”.

 

 

20140124-143704.jpg

Half-Buried In Lahar. Bacolor, Pampanga.

20140124-163224.jpg

MassKara Festival. Bacolod. 2013.

 

 

The travels abroad have acquired a certain “routine”. Sydney and Madrid meant “family time” and homebase for many day and out-of-town trips. Twice doing it in Madrid, yet the 2 experiences can’t be branded or dismissed as “the same”. Because the 2nd time was timed with the Christmas Season, I enjoyed immersing myself in Spanish traditions and culture. In both Sydney and Madrid, my day trips were to such sites below the tourist radar. No crowds. Great sites. Reasonable prices.

 

image

Winter in Australia.

20131124-065425.jpg

Autumn in Korea

 

 

My Seasons also got me confused, swinging from summer in the beaches of El Nido and Phuket to Philippine winter version in Batanes, to “end of winter-early spring” in Mongolia to “mild winter” in Sydney back to sweltering summer heat in Bacolod’s MassKara Festival to autumn in Korea down to honest-to-goodness winter in Madrid. You can say I’m done with winter last 2013.

 

 

Sydney. Not exactly on travel mode.

Sydney. Not exactly on travel mode.

Christmas In Madrid

Christmas In Madrid

 

 

From Traveller to Storyteller. That’s moí. In groups, out with friends, home with family or ALONE. I do enjoy my travels. I realize some of my friends do wonder why I continue to wander. I wanted to say I have not lost my capacity for joy and discoveries. I wanted to share that I continue to believe and trust and enjoy life’s simple joys, appreciating the kindness of strangers, and discovering how “little” I know of the world around me. Good health, joy in solitude paired with the unceasing thrill of meeting “angels” in my solo travels, these are God’s gifts. I appreciate them, and my gratitude expresses itself in the joy I feel. I remember meeting a Brazilian couple in the lovely town of Chinchon. They said nothing happens by accident. We got on the same bus because we were meant to spend the afternoon enjoying the medieval town and the village folks. I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

Three Kings Parade. Madrid. 2014.

Three Kings Parade. Madrid. 2014.

Football Game at Estadio Bernabeu.

Football Game at Estadio Bernabeu.

 

 

The year 2013 was marked by many firsts. Too many to list here without running the risk of boring you. It is also the same year I turned 60 so maybe, that calls for a separate blog. Like 60 “firsts” as I turned 60. How about it?


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.

20131230-221256.jpg

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

20131230-221359.jpg

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. 😉

 

 

20131230-223804.jpg

20131230-223905.jpg

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.

 

 

20131231-151606.jpg

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

20131231-151734.jpg

Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

20131231-151837.jpg

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.

 

 

20131231-160003.jpg

Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

20131231-160105.jpg

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.


 

 

20131231-173724.jpg

Notebook of Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

20131231-173948.jpg

Notebook of Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

20131231-174034.jpg

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.

 

 

20131231-171743.jpg

Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)

20131231-172110.jpg

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.

Museo Cerralbo (Madrid)


It used to be a private mansion, though it looks more like a palace to me. Its former owner, the Marquis of Cerralbo,  was a patron of the arts as his collections obviously show.  The Museum opened in 1944 and can be found a few meters from the corner of Calle Bailén/Calle Ferraz and Calle Ventura Rodriguez, 17, in Madrid. If you are in the area visiting Plaza de España and Templo de Debod, it’s a good pitstop (from the cold or all that sun) before proceeding towards Calle Bailén to view the Palacio Real or Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. 

 

 

20131226-204410.jpg

Museo Cerralbo is along Calle Ventura Rodriguez, 17, just off Plaza de españa and Templo de Debod.

20131222-091508.jpg

Frankly, the staircase and interiors of museo cerralbo intimidate me. But then again, a Marquis lived here!

 

 

From Plaza de España, I was walking towards Templo de Debod along Calle Bailen growing into Calle Ferraz, when I was tempted to take a right turn in Calle Ventura Rodriguez upon seeing the marker towards Museo Cerralbo. I joined many locals, including young students, when I got there, and felt like i was the only tourist.  First off upon entry, the ornately decorated staircase and walls with many prized and large paintings —- like they were running out of space —- simply floored me.  Whoa, some treasure here! 

 

 

20131222-091653.jpg

20131222-091905.jpg

This Salon must be their equivalent of a living room? Look at that ceiling!

 

 

It makes for a good break after visiting the “BIG 3” in the Paseo del Prado. Of course you can’t miss the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museums.  But what I love about small museums is that they’re “manageable”, won’t overwhelm, and best of all….they are  mostly former residences of the collector or artist himself!  Another museum, Museo Sorolla, ranks high among my favorites as the museo gives a glimpse of how the artist Sorolla lived and painted during his life.  As for Museo Cerralbo, here is one example of how the aristocrats lived then. Their mansions have huge salons fit for parties and their dining halls are meant for banquets. Adorning the walls is an impressive spread of their art collections. I can imagine them aristocrats taking a “stroll” along these corridors, pausing here and there, appreciating the many art pieces. 

 

 

20131222-092102.jpg

St. Joseph and the Child Jesus. Quite a takeoff from the usual Madonna and Child.

20131222-092202.jpg

The marker says it is one of many versions done by Girolamo Muziano (1580-1590)

 

 

The first oil painting is NOT attributed to any artist. Yes, it’s ANONYMOUS.  The marker says it was sourced from  an Italian School,  done presumably by one of its art students who drew inspiration from a Madonna and Child painting by Guido Reni, a master from a school in Bologna. This anonymous piece of art got my attention.  I love art themed on the Madonna and Child.  EXCEPT that this is NOT your usual Madonna & Child. Rather, it’s Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus. The second oil on canvas is done by Girolamo Muziano, the same 16th-century painter who did the same versions in at least 3 more Italian churches including the Saint Peter’s Basilica.

 

 

20131222-092337.jpg

This one is from the Spanish School where works are mainly religious paintings.

20131222-092604.jpg

A very intimidating corridor, fit for royalty.


 

Having actually lived here, the Mansion has its living, dining and sleeping quarters. Mind you though, they are far from the ordinary or standard quarters. I bet the Marquis did a lot of entertaining. After all, what are all those conversation pieces for? The collection could have covered conversations good for a month or longer! Besides, many royal guests from the nearby Palacio Real or Royal Palace must have whiled away some time here in the Mansion. Imagine them walking along the corridors, pausing for a break in the huge salon, or dining in the banquet room.

 

 

20131222-092704.jpg

The Banquet Room in Museo Cerralbo.

20131222-093019.jpg

Too many conversation pieces inside Museo Cerralbo 🙂

 

 

For all its grandeur though, I am perplexed how or why the Marquis chose to keep his bedroom so modest. It just doesn’t add up. Maybe sleeping or resting ranks low in his priorities? Check out the last photo here and tell me what you think. 😉

 

 

20131222-093217.jpg

Yes, he’s the man. Don Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, 17th Marquis of Cerralbo.

20131222-093403.jpg

Would you believe this is the royal bedroom of the Marquis?

Now compare that with one of his offices……..

20131222-092913.jpg