Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd

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For the past many months I have kept quiet on what might be the most exciting news of all. I have been accepted to start a doctoral degree in Art History at Harvard University.

In order to move into my new abode in Boston my father was gracious enough to accompany me on an East Coast Road trip starting in Charlotte NC. In three days we covered over 12,000 miles, crossed 10 states’ borders,  listened to and debated all of the current Malcolm Gladwell podcasts, jammed out to some great oldies,and ate some delicious food. We could have easily done this trip in 15 hours straight and without any stops, but we decided that we didn’t want to just see the East Coast, we wanted to experience it. Therefore, we packed our schedule with sights and tours in the various places we stopped.

 

Below are some of the highlights from our roundabout adventure across the East Coast!

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Day 1: Our Adventure begins in Charlotte NC

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Our trusty driver takes to the wheel with his intrepid navigator at his side (not shown)

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The accumulated crap we all carry with us from one destination to another (oh and it’s another rolled bed, but not from Ikea)

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The first “new” state we entered, and also the only one I was actually able to capture while driving

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iStepping back in time at Market on Main in Lynchburg VA for a nice hearty lunch

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Replenished, rehydrated and ready for leg two of our journey!

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Day 2: Washington DC. Thankfully we are better at driving than we are at taking selfies…

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We found one of the two Philz outside of CA 

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No better way to start the day than by driving by the historic buildings that have forged and continue to construct American history. 

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Up close and personal.

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About as close as we got to the White House. Looks like we need to take another trip to DC to truly enjoy these buildings. 

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We might have walked back in time during out visit to The Amish Farm and House in Lancaster PA, but don’t think that they live segregated from the rest of society, just look at that Target next to our tourist site. 

 

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The first of many reconstructions depicting how a “typical” Amish Family lives

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Although this table seats more than the average American family, this would not be enough room for the average Amish family, which usually have at least seven children. 

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An idealized bedroom to depict different men’s fashion. 

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We finally learned what all the leafy green plants on the side of the road were: lucrative tobacco.

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A machine that enables four children to work the tobacco fields. 

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After it is harvested, tobacco is hung to dry in sheets like these

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This tobacco is typically turned into cigars according to the display. 

 

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A place to park your buggy when you want to visit Target. 

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Views of Farms while on the tour of the countryside, if you see green shades in the folowign images you know you ahve found an Amish home. 

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Sunset falling over the Hudson River Valley

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Day 3: Selfie skills have slightly improved. Leaving Waterbury CT after having some of the BEST breakfast potatoes we have ever eaten at Johnny’s Breakfast and Lunch

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The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Estate in Hyde Park NY

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A glimpse of the Traditional Family Home, where Sarah Delano held court

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This was FDR’s personal bedroom where the secret black phone was used to keep him abreast of issues of state during WWII.

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A monument to memorialize the couple that served our country with all of their hearts and souls

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The Oval Office Desk where FDR fought for the Four Freedoms of all Americans: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. 

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We finally made it to the Mass Turn PIKE!

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Mission Complete! The Mills’s have arrived in Boston!

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A first glimspe of my newly decorated room!

I am sure that the next few years will hold many many adventures; however, I am not sure if I will continue to blog with the same frequency as I have in the past. I have decided to maintain the blog this upcoming year, if for nothing else than to help my Ikea followers who drive my stats through the roof, but also to give me the freedom to continue to write if I so choose. Hasta ahora! Un beso a todos!

Unexpected Leisure Time

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No one goes into Trials thinking that they will not make the team, and I was no different. In fact, I had made no summer plans on the assumption that I would be competing in Rio. Once it became clear that that would not be the case, I moved forward to make the most of these few weeks off. The same family that I previously cited as the reason why I swam so well, has been helping me to recover from the loss and make the most out of this summer.

The first stop was a quik day trip to Lincoln, Nebraska to a celebratory lunch with my family. Look at all of the smiles on those faces!

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Isak Dineson once remarked that “the best cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea”. I was fortunate to have all three with a trip to Charleston right after landing in Charlotte. There is nothing like letting the salt water of the sea and the love of family and friends carry away your pain.

After Charleston I traveled to Sacramento to spend time with my immediate family. We have been able to have a lot of quality time together these past few weeks and make up for all the time that I was abroad. This has been the longest stretch that I have been in Sacramento in the last 5 or 6 years. I also had the good fortune of driving up to Inverness for a weekend to see some of my cousins who normally live in Manila.

There are a few more weeks left in summer and I have many more adventures scheduled to make the most of my time off. I believe wholeheartedly that everything happens for a reason. And although, I desperately wanted to make that Olympic team, it has been amazing to connect with family and friends and know that this would not have been possible if I had made that team.

Here’s to celebrating the last few weeks of Summer with the people I love!!

US Olympic Trials

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For thousands of elite US Swimmers the most important swim meet of the last four years was held June 26th through the 4th of July in Omaha Nebraska. This meet, the US Olympic Trials, served as the qualification process to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games held this summer in Rio.

This was my third time competing at this meet and I felt the most prepared both mentally and physically that I had ever been. How could I not be prepared with two teams fully supporting me? Below is one of many photos that my teammates at Real Canoe sent me to keep me motivated.

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Every trials Omaha has sought to bedazzle the crowd with fanfare and excitment, as well as producing a phenomenally well-run meet. This year they did not disappoint, and some of that production was put into personalizing the goodie bags for every swimmer. Below is my personal kickboard to help me remember my experience.

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Despite all of the nifty trappings, this was no different than any other swim meet. I had three races at the Trials, the 400  and 200 IM and the 200 Butterfly. I was fortunate the final in the 400 IM and to semi-final in both of the other two events. Although I hoped for more, I am so thankful for this experience to cap off an amazing career. I have made incredible friends over the years, been able to compete for my country and to push my body to the absolute limits. Although I will not be swimming in Rio, I have no regrets and am proud of the swimming career that I have had.

I know that it would have been impossible to have reached this level without the love and support of my family and credit them with all of my success. There is nothing better than racing the last races of my career with them in the stands.

TEAM USA!

Back to the Queen City

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Nine hours after leaving Madrid, I touched down in Charlotte, North Carolina where I continued my journey in attempts of making the Olympic Team. Something I learned in Madrid is that I could never simply train, and with something as important as the Trials looming in the future, I knew I needed to find a creative outlet.

Therefore, despite having been in Charlotte, both as a resident and a visitor numerous times in the last five years I decided to become a tourist again and hit up all of the important cultural institutions on my free afternoons, thankfully I had some killer companions who were willing to join me on my quest to see the cultural side of Charlotte.

My first stop was the Mint Museum Uptown with Sallie. We started our adventure at East Bar and Grill and Sallie taught me the ins and outs of “selfies”.  Sometimes, I feel like that really uncool aunt who has no idea how to work technology…IMG_1193

We headed to the museum to see the exhibition called “Pumped” which sought to display the evolution of shoes from the 18th century to today. All of the shoes form a part of the collection of the museum, but it is the first time that they have ever been displayed in this manner.

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After learning about the different procedures for tanning, stretching, and fitting shoes we moved into the second gallery room which was filled with many different models, some even dating to the last few years. We decided that with so many shoes present we would each pick our favorite three shoes, and surprisingly did not overlap on our choices. Below are our personal favorites:

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Seeing so many pairs of shoes, really worked up an appetite and so we decided to visit the outdoor coffee shop for a little treat before visiting the rest of the museum.

 

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Here is one of our favorite paintings of Saint Cecile from the permanent collection. IMG_1270

 

Our second outing was to the Mint Museum. Yes you are reading correctly, we did go back to the museum, but we did not go to the same branch. In Charlotte, the Mint Museum has two separate locations, and so, although we had seen the Uptown site, we had not been the Randolf location. Uptown is known for housing the exhibitions and other novel displays, whereas Randolf holds the majority of the permanent collection. On this outing, we were blessed with the presence of Chapman.

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I was really looking forward to this trip because of the fabulous collection of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin American Art. It was such a treat for me to be able to explain the how the different pieces were used and formed pillars of the cultures in Latin America and see both the girls interest in these pieces.

Apart from this display, I was rather disappointed with the museum trip. Four years ago, I was blown away by the importance the museum placed on making the collection come alive for visitors. On our visit, we found other cultures to be remote and lacking contextualization. For example, in the African Art section had pieces together in the same vitrine from diverse parts of the continent, begging the question, was art in Africa similar across the continent? For those of us who are not specialists in the field, it is hard to understand the importance of the collection and the weight of the different pieces, without better contextualization.

That being said, we did enjoy the trip and I even emulated one of the sculptures in the garden. We’ll call is present day tableau vivant.

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My final cultural outing was to the Charlotte Aviation Museum with Tripp. I might have been the expert when visiting the art museums, but Tripp was our aviation guru. About twenty to thirty planes are warehoused here at the Museum, including a replica of the first plane ever flown. Included in that list of planes, is the renowned Miracle on the Hudson that was successfully landed on the Hudson River in 2009.  Below are few images of the plane, to give an idea of the damage accrued during that crash landing.

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The best part of the museum was being able to climb into the cockpit of a few planes and pretend to fly them. I believe Tripp and I would form a great duo if we ever get the chance!

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I know three museum trips do not seem like much, but to me they constituted emotional and intellectual breaks, which helped me to deal with the stress and excitement of the pending competition. What’s more is I was able to share these experiences with three very important individuals in my life.

Hasta Luego Madrid

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It has taken me quite some time to write this post, in part, because it means that I have truly left Spain. However, now that summer is coming to an end, it seems most fitting that I update the blog with the last portion of my adventure in Spain.

I have never felt so much love than on the eve of my departure from Spain. Every single night for two weeks was filled with drinks or dinners with various groups of friends, demonstrating the deep connections I made while I was in Madrid. I have learned over the years to be open to new experiences, perspectives, and cultures.

Since I have been home, many people have asked if I miss Spain. They mention the “siestas” and the “paellas” as something to miss. However, they fail to hit the mark. I am sure that I will miss the authentic cuisine, but truthfully, what I will miss most of Spain are my friends. I will miss birthdays and other celebrations in the next few years, but I know that I will remain a part of their lives as they will remain a part of mine. Thankfully, technology has allowed us to remain in close contact even if miles of ocean separate us. And besides, with my future studies, I will definitely be in Madrid over the next couple of years and so, I said “¡Hasta Luego Madrid, espero que sea muy pronto!”

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Farewell dinner with friends

 

Burgos: A Summer Destination

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A few weeks ago, although now it feels like ages ago, I traveled to Burgos, Spain for my last weekend getaway to visit the Convent Las Huelgas. That Saturday afternoon, after finishing practice I climbed aboard to ALSA bus to Burgos and arrived early that evening. Since I was not meeting my rental host until later that evening, and I knew that her place was located near the Cathedral of Saint Mary, I thought it would be best to spend the evening visiting the revered site of worship. Construction began in 1221 following typical French Gothic plans; however, the majority of the changes to the structure occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Cathedral was later renovated in the 19th and 20th centuries. For more information about the Cathedral, please see its webpage here.

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Gate into Burgos

From the outside, the numerous crenelated spikes and towers suggest the beauty of the cathedral’s interior. Yet, even this decorous exterior does not prepare you for the splendor inside. Initially, you enter through the side doors, where there are two funerary chapels flanking either side. The entire perimeter of the Cathedral is filled with ornate chapels, each donated by a different local family and decorated according to their whims and desires. Although there are many splendid altarpieces found throughout these chapels, the most beautiful part of the Cathedral for me was the decoration of the ceilings. Each chapel approached the ceiling differently, some extended visually the images found on the other walls, others used decorated crenulation to move the eyes towards the intricate vaulting that culminated in the family’s coat of arms. The best ceiling decoration, however, was not found in a rotating chapel, but rather the central vault, right as one entered the choired section of the Cathedral. Below are images found from the different chapels and the interior of the Cathedral to give you a glimpse of its beauty.

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Burgos Cathedral of Saint Mary

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Touristic entrance to the Cathedral

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Chapel of the Visitation – 15th Century

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Chapel of Saint Henry – 17th Century

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Transcept – Choir of the Cathedral

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Saint Michael on the gate of the Choir

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Rotating Chapel 15th century

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Chapel of Reliquaries

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Ceiling to the Chapel of Reliquaries

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The Procesional “Golden” Staircase

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View of the ceiling over the altar

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Chapel of the Constables (15th-17th centuries)

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Chapel of the Condestables

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Tourists looking up at the ceiling above

After visiting all of the main parts of the Cathedral proper, I continued my visit to the attached cloister where they explained the different phases of construction and displayed devotional pieces from their collections. Some highlights of their collection include the Mary Magdalene by Leonardo Da Vinci and the Virgin of the Rosary sculpture from China. I loved this sculpture from Macao because although this is the typical posture for a Virgin and Child sculpture, both people represented are given oriental features highlighting where it was produced.

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View of the interior patio through the Stained ag

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Hallway of the Cloister

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Mary Magdalene, Leonardo DaVinci, Chapel of the Condestables

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Virgin and Child, anonymous, 16th century

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The Virgin of the Rosary, from Macao China, 16th century

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Other main entrance to the Cathedral

As I stepped back out onto the streets of Burgos I came across a local procession; however, this was not of the religious type. The lady with whom I stayed told me that every weekend a group of friends will get a permit to hold a procession in the streets. Typically, she said one group will start in the early afternoon and another will pick up where they left off in the late evening. Her knowledge of these processions came from her flat’s location on one of the main streets that they pass along. I followed the procession along, like many other people in the streets swaying to the live music until we reached the Plaza Mayor where I broke away to view its vast expansive space.

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Plaza Mayor, Burgos

I decided to take full advantage of the daylight and continued to explore the rest of the city to the best of my ability. Although the Convent Las Hueglas was not that far away from the city center, I knew there was a possibility I would not be back on Sunday for more exploration after visiting the convent and wanted to see as much as possible before I left. From the Plaza I climbed to the top of the Park of Castile to overlook the entire city. It was filled with youths drinking in the back woods excited for their Saturday night revelry.

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View from above, Burgos

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One of the original gates of Burgos 

On my descend, I stopped by the Museum of Saint Steven, which houses the collection of altarpieces. Unfortunately, the Museum is only open during the summer months, July and August, which is a common trend in the city. This is because peak tourism occurs in these months and it is not economical for them to be open in other months – at least that is what they claim.

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Museum Saint Steven of Altarpieces

As the sun began to set, I set off in search of dinner. I first headed to a posh bar that had a Michelin star, where I tried two funky tapas with a glass of wine before heading to the next place. I have learned that these places are fun for the experience of exotic renditions of traditional fare, but if you’re interested in actually curbing your hunger, it’s much better to go to a dive bar where you will be sure to get enough food. I waited to order Morcilla, a traditional blood sausage dish that is made in Burgos, until I found a dive bar, because there are certain things you just want done the traditional way. While a soccer game was playing in the background I struck up a conversation with the table on my left who were giving me suggestions on where to eat the following day. With a full content stomach, I headed back to my room to get a good night’s rest.

Sunday morning I awoke relatively early in hopes of making it to the convent on foot before the tours began, so that I could glimpse part of their religious services. As I cut across the river and parks, I joined many pilgrims who were on their way to Santiago Compostela because that journey runs straight through Burgos and consequentially Las Huelgas. Unfortunately, I made a wrong turn mistakenly reading the sign that pointed to the convent equivocally and ended up at the faculty of law of the University. By the time I righted my wrong, I had doubled my walking time.

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Pathway to the Faculty of Law

As I strode into the main patio in front of the Convent in search of the ticket office a man standing on upper balcony window telling all of the people gathered in the patio that the convent was closed for the day. There were approximately 20 or so people, who like myself were rather miffed as to it being closed. He kept reiterating that it was a holiday for workers and they would be open on Monday. The problem was not that the convent was closed, it was the lack of communication that it would be closed. Almost everyone who was there could not go and visit another day. I expressly made this trip that particular weekend because according to Patrimonio Nacional it was not closed and best coincided with the rest of my schedule.

Desperate to get inside, I asked him politely if they were still holding mass. He told me that I could in fact attend mass, but I had to agree to stay the whole hour. Without hesitating I told him that I would be more than willing to stay. A few other people decided to join the mass, whereas the others left the grounds. Those of us who stayed were rather fortunate because we were given a brisk tour of the whole convent because the nuns do not use the large church for their services, but rather a small chapel located inside the cloistered part of the church, which is why we had to follow the security guard into the sanctuary. The austere chapel differed from the rest of what we saw leading up to the chapel; however, the mass was a beautiful display of faith especially shown through the polyphony music. I tried to soak up all of the various spaces and images on our way out and decided that although I was not able to see the entire convent on a tour, my trip was not for naught, because I was able to experience the convent, something that most tours do not allow us to do.

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Exterior of Las Huelgas

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First Patio of Las Huelgas

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Fountain and Patio of Las Huelgas

After leaving the mass, the man in the window had disappeared and many people were gathering in the patio trying to figure out what was going on with the convent. One couple from Madrid asked me if I knew where they could buy tickets and I explained that it was closed today. They then suggested that we all go to the Monastery Cartuja de Miraflores (click here for a virtual tour of the monastery). Initially, they wanted to take the bus, but some locals told us that the buses only run in the summer (again there really is a preferred season to visit Burgos) and that our best way to visit this gem would be in taxi. The building dates to a palace commissioned by Henry III in 1401. His son, John II, later converted the palace into the Carthusian monastery. A fire destroyed much of the building in 1452 and its reconstruction was not finished until the end of the century, under the reign of Isabel I of Castile.

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Cartuja de Miraflores

As we walked crossed the threshold of the chapel, which was divided into three separate spaces, we were initially struck by the light scent of roses perfuming the air. We all kept looking for the flower arrangements only to learn later that it was an extract made by the monks to highlight the sacredness of the site. The monks sold this perfume in their shop and I bought a small bottle to bring a little of Spain to Boston with me this fall.

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View of the first room 

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Vaulting of the chapel of Cartuja de Miraflores

The decoration of the high altar made up for the sparse decoration found in the first two rooms, starting with the gates separating the two spaces and culminating in the rich decoration of the altarpiece. The wooden carved altarpiece uses high relief and gilding to portray the exaltation of the Eucharist. Right in front of the altar in the shape of an eight-pointed star is the tomb sculpture commissioned by Isabel I of Castile to honor John II of Castile and his wife. Seeing as he transformed the palace into a monastery, it is fitting that his tomb sculpture be present in this chapel. The intricate carving of the alabaster not only captures the likeness of the royal couple, but also displays flora and fauna with such detail that scholars can accurately name the different species.

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View from the second room of chapel

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High Altar Cartuja de Miraflores 

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John II

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Tomb of Juan II and Isabel of Portugal

In the side vestibule there was an exhibit displaying other prize pieces of the monastery, which is still active. The portrait of Isabel I of Castile caught my attention as I have seen many different versions of this queen throughout my travels, but many portray her as a young queen rather than in her later stage of life as this one does. We were not able to visit the cloister or other spaces of the monastery, but could hear the monks chanting their morning prayers as we left.

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Portrait of Isabel I of Castile 

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Exterior of Cartucha de Miraflores

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Exterior Cartucha de Miraflores

From the monastery, we all headed back to the center of Burgos where I left my new friends to have lunch at a local place that had been recommended to me the previous night. I just lucked out and missed the crowds and was able to receive a table. (As I left there were approximately twenty people waiting patiently to eat.) Next to the restaurant was a touristic chacuterie and although I would not normally stop at a tourist place to buy local goods, given that it was Sunday and nothing else was open, i decided that it was my best bet to bring traditional morcilla back to Madrid with me.

Since there were still a few hours until my bus left, I visited the Church of Saint Nicolas, located right next to the Cathedral. This tiny temple was founded as a church in 1408 on the ruins of a Roman temple. The main altarpiece is all carved in stone, which given the detail and precision with which it was carved does not appear to be stone, but rather a more plastic medium.

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Church of Saint Nicolas 

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High Altar of Saint Nicolas 

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Detail of the High Altar of the Church of Saint Nicolas 

This final church was the perfect end to my weekend. I look back fondly on this trip as a reminder that you can only plan so much in advance, and sometimes the best adventure is the one that finds you. I am sure that someday I will find my way back to Burgos, hopefully on the path to Santiago, but until then I am very content with adventure in this Castilian city.

The ‘Other’ Capital of Spain: Valladolid

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Throughout the centuries many cities have enjoyed being the center of the Spanish Monarchy; however, all of that was due to change in 1561 when Philip II chose to make Madrid the Capital of his Empire. Nonetheless, Madrid’s hegemony as sole capital of Madrid was challenged under the rule of Philip III, when from 1601-1606 the young King decided to move the Capital to Valladolid.

Founded in the 10th century, upon Celtiberian and Roman ruins, the town of Valladolid has played an integral role in shaping the political culture of the kingdom of Castile and Leon. For instance, in 1469 the Catholic Kings, Isabel and Ferdinand, were married in the city center. Although floods of its surrounding rivers damaged many of the historic buildings, those that remain offer a glimpse to its greater glory.

I headed to Valladolid for a short weekend excursion to see the Convent Santa Clara of Tordesillas, which is in a town to the west of Valladolid. However, given the historical importance of the city I thought it would be best to combine the two trips into one, especially due to their physical proximity. Thus my Saturday afternoon and evening were spent in Valladolid proper, whereas my Sunday was spent in Tordesillas.

Fortunately, it no longer takes three days of travel to arrive in Valladolid and by board the Ave train you can reach the city within an hour. Leaving the train station, I first came across the Plaza de Columbus and then attempted to head towards the historic center of the city; however, I erroneously decided to trust google maps instead of my intuition and went in the completely wrong direction. At least this meant, I saw a little more of the outskirts of Valladolid.

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Fountain of the Plaza de Zorrilla

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Academy of Caballería

Once I finally corrected my error, I quickly made my way to the center, walking along the backside of the Cathedral and the University. Although I snapped the few photos below, I left my actual exploring for after I checked into my hostal and dropped off my backpack.

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The University of Valladolid

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Statue of Cervantes, who resided in the city when he published Don Quixote 

With my touristic map in hand, I left the hostal and started on my trek throughout the historic center. I couldn’t have had more luck, as I ran straight into the Convent Las Descalzas Reales of Valladolid. The convent was founded in 1550 under the name of Our Lady of Piety. Various noble homes in front of the Chancillería were bought in order to construct the nuns’ cloister and the convent’s church. Upon the declaration of Valladolid as the capital, Philip III, not only changed the convent’s name to Our Lady of the Asumption, but also its appearance, hiring Francisco de Mora to re-design the convent’s architecture. However, these new plans were not implemented until 1615, long after the court had moved back to Madrid.

Of importance, many of the stipulations included in Philip III’s plan, clearly reflect both the convents of the Encarnation and Las Descalzas Reales in Madrid, displaying a correlation between these different royal foundations. Although it is currently considered Patrimonio Nacional, visits to the interior are not possible. I was told that potentially in July they will open the convent a few days to the public, but I will no longer be in Spain and will have to wait for a chance to see this convent.

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Convent of Las Descalzas Reales Valladolid

The Convent was very well situated within the historic part of the city, as are its counterparts in Madrid. Within a few steps one comes across both the Church of San Pablo and the former palaces of the city, both central seats of power in Valladolid.

The Church of San Pablo was comissioned by Cardinal Juan de Torquemada, in 1445, which was connected to a dominican monastery. However, additional reforms were made throughout the 17th century to create the building that stands today. Both Philip II and Philip IV were baptized in the church, seeing as they were both born in the palace alongside the church.

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Church of San Pablo 

To its right is the Palace of the Pimientel, where Philip II was born. I was not actually able to enter into the interior of the palace, only its vestibule as a tour was getting ready to leave. Here there are contemporary painted tiles depicting the life of Philip II while in Valladolid, from his birth to his baptism to later events that affected the city during his rule, such as the great fire of . For his baptism they constructed a wooden passageway on the second story to connect the palace and the Church of San Pablo to make sure that he could travel to the church without touching the ground floor, which was a common custom used throughout the Habsburg reign.

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El Palace of the Pimentel

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View of the Patio of the Palace of the Pimintel

Behind the Palace and Church of San Pablo is the Museum of Scupture, which since its founding in 1842 has sought to collect works from convents and monasteries that were dissolved in 1836 by the act of desamortization. Currently the museum is housed in various buildings, which comprise of the College of Saint Gregory, the Palace of Villena, The House of the Sun, the house and church of Saint Benit the Elder, the last of these were the private home and funerary chapel of the Count of Gondomar.

The main collection is found in the College of Saint Gregory, where there are approximately 20 rooms, each dedicated to displaying different types of sculpture, the marjority of which are dedicated to expounding religious themes and subjects.

I personally loved the connection between the architecture of the 15th century palace and the various displays of scultpure. Although many of the pieces did not come from the same convent in a given room, nor were constructed at the same time, together they gave a clear picture of the life size pieces found in monasteries throughout the region.I most frequently come into contact with small devotional objects that were placed within niches and chapels and it was very illuminating to see such a wide display of pieces that highlighted the connection between the saints’ bodies and our own.

Moreover, I throughly appreciated the handouts that were available in each room to further explain themes and ideas presented by the collection, particualrily the attention paid to the various ceilings that were incorporated into the displays. For an overview of the best pieces of the work, please click here and below you will find some of my photos from the various exhibition halls.

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Entrance to the College of Saint Gregory

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The first exhibtion room – various types of sculptures and art objects

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Patio of College of Saint Gregory

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Example of an Altarpiece

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Sculpted Choir Cells 

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A funerary sculpture beneath a gilded wooden ceiling

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The upper floor of the College of Saint Gregory 

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An exhibition room with life size scultpures of saints

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Cornices of the upper cloister of the college of Saint Gregory 

After leaving the Sculptural Museum, I decided to visit the Museum of the House of Columbus.  I must admit that I expected the visit to display a 16th century home, and was throughly surprised to find a modern exhibition space. It appears the only original part of the home that has been maintained is its location within Valladolid. Columbus spent his final years in this house after completing his four journeys across the Atlantic Ocean, and this is the house in which he died. The Museum, thus, serves as a conmemoration of those journeys by describing each one in detail on each floor. It was a rather Kitsch musuem designed for a younger audience, with displays of dried clover and ginger to visually demonstrate the spices that Columbus sought in his travels. Maybe if I had not gone in with the expectation of seeing a 16th century home I might have been more impressed, but I left the museum thoroughly disappointed with what I had seen.

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Museum House of Columbus 

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Entrance to the House of Columbus

After leaving the museum I decided to pick up the suggested tourist route on my map to see the rest of the city. Starting at the church called “La Antigua” I wound my way throughout the historic city perimeter.

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The Cathedral of Valladolid, although unfinished, was designed by Juan de Herrera, the famous architect who finished the Escorial for Philip II. The intention was to construct the largest cathedral in all of Europe; however, lack of resources and problems with the structural foundation, hindered its completion.

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Side view of the Cathedral

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Facade of the Cathedral

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Backside of the Cathedral

Before making it to the River Pisguera, I stopped at a local bar for some light refreshments and to give my feet a quick respite seeing as I had been walking for the better part of four hours. I don’t know how well you can tell from the photo below, but the river has sandy banks and although I thought it was too chilly to swim, there were bathers on the far banks.

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River Pisguera 

From the river, I found my way towards the Plaza Mayor. Originally, this area held the market for the entire town;however, a fire in 1561 completely destroyed all of the market stalls and surrounding buildings. Under the design of Francisco de Salamanca it was rebuilt and became the first fully enclosed arcaded market in Spain. The subsequent Plaza Mayor of Spain would be based off of these plans.

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Plaza Mayor

According to everthing that I had read, the best place for tapas was around the Plaza Mayor and since Valladolid is famed for having the best tapas I decided to hunt down a few places to try. The first two were chosen because there were many elderly Spanish couples eating inside. This method does not always work, but 9 times out of 10 it will ensure that there is good quality food, and this was one of those nights when they did not disappoint. From there I decided to venture to Los Zagales de Abadia which is famous for their award winning tapas. I tried the Tierra-Mar-Aire which was the winner of the 3rd Competition of Tapas of Design in Madrid Fushion in 2007, which appeared smoking on my table. It was quite a fun treat, but is not something that I will need to eat on a regular basis. All in all, it was the perfect conclusion to a long day of sight seeing.

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Building that states it passes the Higene laws of 1904

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Tapa Tierra Mar Aire from Los Zagales de Abadia

Sunday morning I awoke extremely early in order to catch the only morning bus to Tordesillas. From as early as the 13th century, the town has been a favorite of the kings and queens of Castile and Leon.  In fact, Isabel negotiated with the Portuguese crown over the terms of  the Treaty of Tordesillas in x. Moreover, Juana la loca, the mother of Charles V was locked away in the Convent of Santa Clara in 1509. She would remain locked away in the royal palace until her death in 1555. Historians currently believe that she was most probably not as insane as contemporary writers would have you believe, for many used her mental problems, such as depression, to usurp her control of the crown. It is easy to think that after many years locked away, punished with silence and other inhumane treatments that Juana did in fact become mad. Unfortunately, the palace were she was kept fell into dissuse and by the 18th century was, according to Charles III, beyond repair and destroyed. Therefore, we no longer can visit the rooms of this neglected queen. That being said, the city honors her entrance each year in early March where one young woman of the community who is 29 years old, the age of Juana when she entered the city, is chosen to play the role of Juana. She is accompanied by a young girl who represents her daughter that arrived with her.  In this way, the history of her enclosure is never fully forgotten and remains an active part of the cultural fabric of Tordesillas.

It was a sleepy Sunday morning and I had arrived long before any of the shops opened which gave me the chance to explore the relationship bewteen the various buildings, most of which were located alongisde the river.

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My first view of Tordesillas

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The Plaza Mayor of Tordesillas 

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A Painted Door in Tordesillas

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A wooden Sculpture with hands reaching out

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The Church of San Antolín

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The Convent of Santa Clara

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The Convent of Santa Clara

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A view of the River

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A Mural on one of the streets

Before I knew it, it was time to enter the Convent of Santa Clara, the reason for my entire trip. I first attended the mass in the Church, where the 8 nuns who are living within the convent still sing in polyphony. I, then, attended the first tour offered of the site, to get a better feel for the relationship between the various rooms of the complex.

The site was originally a palace, finished under the King Pedro I. Pedro was enamored with Islamic arquitecture and it it thought that he hired some of the same architects who designed parts of the Alhambra to design his palace in the 14th century. Upon his death he left the palace to his daughter Beatriz, under to the implication that she would convert the palace into a convent which would perpetually pray for their souls. Therefore in 1365 the Pope Urban VI gave the officals decrees to found the Royal Monastery of Santa Clara. Amongst the nuns of the community, were the names of the daughters and widows of the most noble families in Castile.

As with all palaces that are later converted into convents, the various rooms are drastically changed to better serve the needs of the community. This sometimes results in destruction of other beautiful works of art. Our guide strongly lamented the many places in which the nuns “destroyed”or rather re-employed the Islamic architecture for thier own needs. One such example was the Golden Chapel, whose ceiling was originally covered in gold. However, due to the spread of the plague the nuns covered the metal in white calcium to stop teh spread of the disease, and therefore, the intricate woodwrok is white instead of gilded. Although not one to neglect the importance of the palatial buildings, I tend to prefer the history of how the nuns employed the various spaces of their site, which is not the typical thread of these types of tours. Instead, the guide attempts to highlight the importance of the site through listing its collection of antique pieces, the earlier the better. Thankfully, now that I have an idea of the spatial relationship between these various spaces, I can supplement my knowledge with other articles and books written about Santa Clara to get a better idea of how the nuns lived in this convent.

I, unfortunately, cannot take you on a visual tour of the complex because we were only allowed to take photos of the exterior and the first patio, which at least will give a glimpse of the detailed Islamic architecture that was part of the original palace. I did buy the book of the site, primarily for the phenomenal photos that it contains and am more than happy to share it with anyone would like to take a peak.

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Entrance to the Convent of Santa Clara

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The First Patio

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Another view of the First Patio

After finishing the tour of Santa Clara I headed towards the Casas del Tratado (Houses of the Treaty). It is here that Isabel and Juan of Portual negotiated the Treaty of Tordesillas (1492), which divided the Americas into Spanish and Portuguese territories. This treaty had an everlasting effect on the shape of the Americas and is the reason that in Brazil they speak Portugese and in the rest of Latin America they speak Spanish because each country could only colonize the territories found on their side of the longitudinal line.

Today, they have turned the Houses of the Treaty into a museum that explains how the treaty came into being. There are also reconstructions of some of the key buildings of Tordesillas that are no longer extant, such as the Royal Palace. The only thing is that none of the documents on display are original and all of the maps included are also facsimilies. I know that there are preservation, logistical, and security concerns at play, but I was really looking forward to seeing the original treaty.

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A reproduction of the Royal Palace of Tordesillas

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The Copy of the Treaty signed by Isabel

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The Copy of the Treaty sign by Juan 

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Facsimilie of the dividing line of the Treaty of Tordesillas

Apart from all of the history, Tordesillas and its surrounding countryside is renown for its wine. I, desperately, wanted to visit a Bodega while I was in the area, but did not have the means to go to another city. Fortunately, my friend Bea recommended a bodega with the city of Tordesillas, called Bodgea Muelas.

When I arrived, both of the current owners were in the store front and Reyes, the younger of the two offered to give me a tour of the caves of the bodega. As she explained, most of the buildings in Tordesillas sit on top of such caves, that were once used to make wine. However, over time many have stopped production in these areas and the caves have fallen into disuse. At their bodega, their goal is to continue producing wine in the same fashion as their great great grandfather who first bought this cave. Therefore, instead of large quantities of product, they strive to create the highest quality wine possible, even if that means there is less of it. Not only did I fall in love with the historic site and presentation of the Bodega, which displays in the shop different documents surrounding the familiy’s involvement in wine production, but also with their final product. At the end of the tour, I was given a Cata (Tasting) of their different selection of wines, they are primarily known for their Tintos; however, do make a pure verdejo, which is incredible. My only problem was deciding which bottles to bring back with me to Madrid.

Apart from her love of wine, Reyes is also a jewlery designer, with many of her pieces inspired by wine (To see some of her pieces click here). These one of a kind works capture her spirit, her love of family, tradition and culture, and her desire to share that love with anyone who walks through the door. I feel extraordinarily blessed to have gotten to know her, and am looking forward to seeing her at her next pop-up show in Madrid.

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Bodega Muelas

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Bodega Muelas

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Bodega Muelas

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Bodega Muelas

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Bodega Muelas

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Bodega Muelas

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Bodega Muelas

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Bodega Muelas

Reyes gave me a few suggestions of where to eat like a tordesillana in Tordesillas. Unfortuantely, the first place, which was also recommended to me by a few passerbys was full for the day. I was able to get into the second restaurant and had a delicious meal. Afterwards it was time to catch the bus back to Valladolid where my train back to Madrid awaited me. Despite its lack of preparation, this trip was filled with serendipitious moments, which have given me an apprecation of all of Spain’s countryside.

The Tears of Joy for Saints: Semana Santa in Madrid

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You either love or hate processions. There is no apathy when it comes to witnessing saints processing through the streets. I, personally, am all about processions. I am enchanted by the way the pasos (which are the platforms on which the saints sit) sway through the streets, mingled with the lingering incense and music floating in the air. I also am enthralled by the exuberant response to these images by the other participants, which helps me to imagine the emotional response felt during the processions that I study in texts. Although I know that you cannot transpose what I see or feel during a contemporary procession, I believe that witnessing these events has helped me to better understand the complex multisensory theatrical productions that are Spanish religious processions. Therefore, I will not ever miss an opportunity to witness a procession in person.

Madrid, being the capital, makes it a little more cumbersome to find and watch processions. This is because there is no one overarching procession in which all of the saints (and confraternities or parishes) participate, but rather a plethora of processions organized individually. According to the guide book for Semana Santa 2016 there were in downtown Madrid at least 5 different processions with the majority all starting at 7pm. Since a few overlapped in the same district of La Latina, I headed straight there to see what I could find. Around 6 pm I strolled into the Colegiata, where I saw a steady stream of people coming out of the church. I just happened to be standing next to the barricades, when the police started to clear the street and so I erroneously believed the procession was about to commence. We in fact had another two hours to wait until Jesus of the Cross would come out, and even longer, until the famed Magdalena made her appearance. Nonethess, I was fortunate in having very interesting companions on either side of me, which made the two hours fly by. To my left was a couple who live in the outskirts of Madrid, Rosa y Edu, and had traveled for the first time to see the Magdalena to whom had answered their family’s prayers this year, behind them was a family of veteran processional attendees, who knew exactly where to stand for each one and generously shared all of their information, and to my right was a couple whose son was a costalera (one of the many carriers of the virgin), who provided me with all of the technical ins and outs of moving a paso.

 

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IMG_0677IMG_0680IMG_0687IMG_0695Finally, the band began to play solemn music and the crowd went silent. A statue of Crist on a gilded platform emerged and all started to shout in a call and echo form “CHRISTO. VIVA. CHRISTO. VIVA. CHRISTO. VIVA. VIVA.VIVA”. People were rather excited that he had arrived into the streets, which only heightened the anticipation for the titular saint. The processions move very slowly because the pasos are extremely heavy. Costaleras begin practicing as early as January, every Saturday, by carrying the same weight as the paso the entire route of the procession. A typical procession can last five hours and so they take turns between two groups of costaleras, so that not one group is under the paso for more than an hour (all of this information was given to me by the mother of the costalera). The movement also is not direct from point a to b, but rather the pasos sway as they take two steps left one forward, two right one forward, which also hinders rapid progress. There is also another reason why they do not want to rush through the streets, which has nothing to do with the weight of the paso, which is that they want to provide an encounter with the saint in the streets for all of the spectators, which implies that the saint must be present long enough for everyone to have a good look. From watching the Christ paso, I quickly learned that I was in a prime position for watching and was almost able to touch both pasos as they turned onto the street.IMG_0703IMG_0719IMG_0721IMG_0728

After Christ was completely out of view, the band began to play once again, this time announcing the presence of the Magdalena. The front of her paso was ethereally lit, visually proclaiming her arrival. The crowd went crazy upon seeing her. People to my left and right began to cry tears of joys, clamoring a version of the first call and echo “MAGDALENA. GUAPA. MAGDALENA. GUAPA. MAGDALENA. GUAPA. GUAPA. GUAPA.” I have tried to upload a video of her coming out of the church portal, but it doesn’t seem to work (I am rather technologically challenged so it is probably my fault), but email me if you would like to have access to the video. Her side to side movement was even more pronounced by the swaying of the canopy draped over her head. When she had finally turned the corner and began moving the barricades were removed and people began to process with her throughout the streets.

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According to our friends, Magdalena and the Christ Child would meet for the first time in a corner nearby and so Rosa, Edu and I bought some potato chips and water and waited where our friends told us we would have the best view. By 10:30 everything was in motion but Christ was for some reason not coming down the hill, we were pretty cold and tired and so we decided to walk up the hill to the Plaza Mayor and meet him where he was. And thus ended my first experience with Madrid’s processions.

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Given my experience the night before, I decided that I did in fact need to be early to the procession at Las Descalzas Reales. This procession dates back to the 16th century and formed an essential part of the collective Corpus Christi celebration in Madrid. This procession is important because the sculpture of Cristo Yacente is carried throughout the cloister. This statue received a Papal Bull in the 16th century to be allowed to carry the host, even though it is Good Friday (when no hosts should be displayed in custodians), which forms the basis of its devotion.

I knew that there was still access to the procession; however, I could not find any information online, or by visiting the tourist offices about when it would begin. Therefore, I went as early as 2 pm to the convent to see if I could learn anything new. When I arrived the Church was open for visitors, as was the door to the secular cloister and so I walked around a few times, snapping photos of the various tapestries on display. The majority form part of the donation of Isabel Clara Eugenia, titled the Triumph of the Eucharist. These same tapestries formed part of the celebration in the Early Modern era, dating from their incorporation in the monastery treasury. (They were also recently on display in both the Prado and the Getty as part of the exhibition: Spectacular Rubens).

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Upon talking with a few guards I learned that Mass was to be held at 5 pm and then would lead directly to the procession within the secular cloister. Both guards warned me that many people wanted to visit but that there was not room for everyone, and so, I decided that I needed to be inside the church by 3:30 at the latest. When I entered the church the nuns were performing a responsorial psalm, whose communal response was rather muddled due to the lack of unison. It reminded me of the importance the nuns of my manuscript stress on being in perfect timing so as to be well understood.

As I sat in my pew towards the middle of the church I contemplated the diverse reasons that my companions and I found ourselves in this temple. For me I am here purely out of academic curiosity, or at least that is what I tell myself. I do not share the fervent emotion of my companions, and regardless of how beautiful the ceremony, I am not moved to tears. Yet I am comforted by seeing so many people moved to such extremes, which is a feeling I cannot identify. Quickly the Church began to fill up and I was more than thankful that I had come early to stake out my seat.

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Per usual, I made friends with the elderly woman who came to sit next to me. Her name was María and I jokingly told her that I had saved the seat particularly for her. We then got to talking and she attends this service every year in order to be close to the splendor of the church. Later she admitted that some years there are so many participants that she could not enter the cloister and watch the statue process. This year we had a little luck, and we met up with three of her friends in the third corner of the cloister – a prime spot for watching the procession.

Since this portion of the convent is outside of the cloister perimeter the nuns do not process with their statue. Instead, they are present through the statue, for all participants know that it belongs to them, and also by their voices as they sing the chants of the procession. Therefore, they are present, but not seen. This procession was in fact rather quick and finished within half an hour, with the majority of the time spent in a commemoration speech in the church. Although it was very different than I imagined, it still was an incredible moment of watching how a tradition that I read about in manuscripts has survived to present day.

 

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I was not planning on visiting any other processions that afternoon, but as I left the convent I came upon Berta and a few of her friends and as we walked towards a spot to get drinks, happened to come across our first procession of the night. Berta was rather aghast that they were pulling the sculpture instead of carrying it. But thankfully, we happened across another procession of the Virgin (Still not sure which one) whose woeful music and swaying body incorporated precisely what she believed a procession should be. Thus concluded, my processional attendance in Madrid, surrounded by friends, new and old, watching the saints continue to march onwards.

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A Little Tourism in Madrid

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Since I decided to stay in Madrid and keep training, I thought I would celebrate by being a tourist in my own city.

I started off my five days of celebrations with a trip to the Biblioteca Nacional España, not in order to study like I do most days, but rather to see the two temporary exhibits that they have currently on display. Most days when I walk into the library and am in a rush to consult a specific book, and althougth colored posters are enticing, I have always put off the visit to the temporary exhibits, saying Tomorrow I will have more time…  Now that I have the “Time” I decided, that the first order of buisness was to visit the Library of Garcilasco de la Vega.

Garcilaso was a mestizo author wrote the both the History of Florida and the Royal Commentaries of the Inca in the early 17th century. He was an avid reader, as the references in both of his works attest, and collected one of the most extensive libraries (188 entries) of his time. Therefore, the exhibition sought to shed light on his diverse interests by displaying the many different sources of his studies, from dictionaries and maps to sculptures and other precious objects. Through the various pieces, the museum was able to capture an image of the mestizo humanist, giving context to one of the most important seventeenth century chroniclers of the Spanish occupation of Peru.

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Marco Vitruvio Polión, De arquitectura, dividido en diez libros, traducido de Latín en Castellano por Miguel de Urrea, 1582.

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Antonio Ricardo, Arte y vocabulario en la lengua general del Perú llamada Quichua, y en la lengua Española. El más copioso y elegante que hasta ahora se ha impreso, 1586.

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Double Vase depicting two people dancing, Chimú-Inca Peru, 1000-1470.

The other exhibition, dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes, objectively speaking had more success than the mestizo writer, given that there were at least twofold more people in this exhibition hall than the other. Part of this might have been my timing, but I do believe that this is more interest in general, for the Spanish author. Cervantes is best known for his The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, which was written while he was imprisoned in Algiers. He, personally, believed that his last novel, and The works of Persiles and Sigismunda was his best and would propel him to eternal fame, not his story of the errant knight from La Mancha. However, one cannot always pick one’s fame. So ubiquitous in national culture are the characters of Don Quixote, that it is understandable why so many people preferred to visit this display.

The aim of the exhibit was to demystify the figure of Cervantes, by exploring three different directions: first, by understanding Cervantes as a man of his time, who worked as a soldier which allowed him to travel across most of the known world, constantly in search of the “merced” from the Spanish Monarchy, whether for his feats on the battlefield or his writings; secondly, by focusing on the representation, both pictorially and literarily; and finally, by examining the construction of civic monuments to Cervantes in various parts of Spain, particularly the fountain of Philip II in the Plaza de España in Madrid.

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Letter written by Cervantes

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Anonymous 17th century portrait of Miguel de Cervantes

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Antonio Muñoz Degraín, Cervantes writing the dedication of his work to the Count of Lemos, 1916

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Salvador Dalí, Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes, 1965.

With so many people present in the dim lit rooms, it was rather hard to get close and read the various books and pamphlets that were on display. However, through the three portions a clearer picture of the “prince of wits” emerged.

The following morning I headed off to see a different type of collection at the Fundación Banco Santander. Although it was located far outside the city, a friend highly recommended the exhibit of “Looking at the World around You. Contemporary Works from Qatar Museums”. I set off with high hopes after seeing the online preview of the display (seen here). Unfortunately for me, this online preview was all that I was able to see, given that the exhibition was closed on Thursday for Holidays (which is not mentioned anywhere online…). The kicker was that I was dying to use to restroom after almost two hours on the metro. When I asked the clerk if I could use his restroom, he replied that for security reasons I could not. The problem was that we were in the middle of nowhere and there was not a restaurant or public building in sight. When I arrived at the train stop, I saw that I had another thiry minutes before the train arrived. I honestly thought about popping a squat somewhere in one of the bushes, but there were security cameras everywhere and I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down, literally. And so I waited. As I boarded the train, I asked the young couple next to me if there was a restaurant at final stop where I could use a restroom and they both told me no, but maybe I could try the McDonald’s, which was found three stops before the end. Looking back I do not think that I would have made it to the final stop, seeing as I ran out of the train at the McDonald’s stop. After relieving myself, I realized that if I were to take another train, I would have to wait at least 30 minutes, and so I decided it would be faster to walk the rest of the route. The good news, is that I learned how to use the light metro; however, I do not think that I will be making another trip out to the center anytime soon.

As I headed back into the city, Hernán invited me to have lunch with him and we spent the sunny afternoon eating out on the patio of one Madrid’s few boulevards. It was a delightful meal, followed by a visit to the Mapfre photography collection of Julia Margaret Cameron, which was displayed nearby. It was incredible to see her transformation as an artist and her use of family members as historical biblical models. As Hernán astutely mentioned, her calligraphy clearly demonstrated her confidence and exuberant personality, which also translated into the photographs, especially those which portrayed the Virgin.

 

After lunch, I headed to the district of La Latina to witness my first procession in Madrid. For the sake of this post, I will dedicate the following post specifically to the many processions I attended.

Interspersed with my attendance at processions, I gave a walking tour of Madrid that helped me trace the entire city and talk about my favorite historical figures. I was also able to spend Sunday morning with a few friends perusing the antiques of the Rastro and eating tapas in one of my favorite traditional bars. All in all, I would say that I successfully enjoyed my week in Madrid as a tourist! Although I am back to regular life, it’s hard to forget how fortunate I am to live in such a lively, vibrant city.

Spanish Olympic Trials

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This Photo is taken from the Offical Rfen page

Last week Anne Mills competed in her last Spanish National Meet in Sabadell, Spain. Although everyone on pool deck – from fellow athletes, coaches to the staff running the ready room – calls me Kate, according to the Spanish Announcers I am Anne (pronounced an-nae) Mills Katherine. Thankfully, only in Madrid do they announce the Katherine at the end.

This meet was the Olympic Trials for the Spanish National team, and there were many butterflies on the pool deck before the first session began. Unlike our Olympic Trials, where the object of the game is to win your event, in Spain the goal is to get a certain cut, called a “mínima”. Therefore, someone could potentially win an event, and even break the National Record, and not accomplish the time standard set by the federation, which has in fact happened. Each federation has their specific way of testing how athletes compete under pressure. Having only truly competed in one system, I am not sure if I can state whether one system is better than the other. The only thing that I know is that in order to make it on any national team, the swimmer must overcome a significant amount of pressure to compete well. In the end, those circumstances are what prepare the swimmers to excel in international competition. Twelve Spaniards punched their tickets to Rio (three of whom are teammates) and a few others will have another shot in May (see here for a list of results).

Although my ticket to the Games in Rio was not on the line during this competition, I too felt the pressure of the meet. I wanted to go as fast as possible to put myself in a good position for Omaha, and also, if I am honest, wanted verifiable proof of the hard work we have put in this year. I did go a few season best times and was able to swim decently well, but not quite as fast as I wanted. I learned a lot about myself and had an amazing talk with Taja to put everything in perspective and am looking forward to the next few steps in our preparation for June. It is rather strange to think that I will not be at the next Spanish National meet. It is even harder to think that I will not be seeing all of my friends on a regular basis, but I know that I will be coming back to Spain, and that we will see one another again, perhaps next with a little less chlorine, and so it is not an “adios”, but rather an “hasta luego”.