Fin: Madrid

After an arduous overnight on the Portuguese “Diesel Express,” we arrived in the Spanish capital. Let’s just say this isn’t Frank and Mikey’s first time at the rodeo as we’ve both previously been to Madrid several times. Still, we took time to revisit various special places, see some new things, and rest before heading back to the States. This was probably the biggest Spanish flag we’ve ever seen!

Speaking of huge, this 20 ton statue in the Puerta de Sol depicts a bear eating from a fruit tree and is the symbol for the city of Madrid. It has also been the sight of several protests against the local government during our stay. 

In 2000, Mikey spent a week in Madrid. As a Spanish visa-carrying international student, he was allowed free entrance to the Prado art museum. Needless to say, he went for a few hours each day to study the works of Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, and others. It was a true highlight of his sojourn in the capital. 
16 years later, with no student visa and having to pay 14€, the Prado has lost some of its appeal. No, that’s a joke – actually, the Prado has undergone a remodel and is quite easy to navigate in much less time. But, here’s the rub: as of 2007, visitors are no longer allowed to take photographs or video inside the museum. Mikey found this out the hard way when a cretinous old security guard approached him and literally swished her #2 pencil in front of his face whilst informing him of this new rule. The one picture he snagged was (naturally) of our friend, Saint James!

After a bit at the Prado, we walked around the capital. This is a view of the Madrid City Hall building. While its castle-like architecture is impressive, the  predominant banner says much about the current atmosphere in Spain. 
Unlike France and Germany, our Iberian hosts are willing to take a risk on providing hospitality to those unknown. Mikey and Frank – both strangers in a foreign land – were made to feel welcome in this country for well over a month. 
Likewise, those from Syria, Iraq, and all other troubled places seeking a better and safer existence can find a place here. 
It’s almost like that age-old plea from the Mother of Exiles: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Speaking of famous verses, Frank made sure to take a photo of Mikey infront of the National Library. If only we had more time (and a better command of classical Spanish!)

Speaking of giants, the (center) tower of Columbus is almost dwarfed by the newer Tower of Spain of the left. This main square is home to the giant Spanish flag above and a host of controversy in other parts of the world where Columbus is seen more as an invader than explorer. (Naturally, Mikey had to snap a few shots of it!)

Following such controversial meandering, we retired to Retiro Park for a bit of relaxation. 

Frank has been the best of sports throughout this trip. As a friend put it today, it seems like Mikey inserts Frank into the most awkward situations and Frank just rolls with the photo! Well, Frank wouldn’t do the boat thing today. That’s ok, though – Mikey looked at the water and immediately backed down from the boating challenge!!

Still, we found a sporty little number for someone quite close to Mikey and Frank! Speaking of good sports, here’s to hoping Mom likes purple!

 But, the deal is: if she likes it, Frank is going to buy Mikey his first … er, whatever you call this AWESOME thingy on wheels. (It would definitely save on gas as no one could bum a ride in a one-seater!)

Ok, we played around a little, but the truth is that both Mikey and Frank are history buffs.  As such, we ponied up 3€ each for the BEST Spanish history museum ever.  The National Archeological Museum in Madrid is a true jewel. Having visited many history museums, both Frank and Mikey agree that this one is pretty close to Smithsonian quality – really!!

A centerpiece of the museum and long held symbol of Iberian culture, the Lady of Elche statue hails from the 5th or early 4th century BCE. 

One often overlooked beauty of Spain is her Roman history. This tiled mosaic depicts the triumphant entry of a Roman circus into Hispania. 

 Likewise, this 4th century mosaic of Medusa is a great agricultural calendar floor piece for … rich farmers?!

One recurring theme is always Calvary. These 12-13th century images are well preserved, but a little too museum-ish for what we have already seen in Camino churches. 

These gold-gilded and larger-than-life medallions are definitely new to us.  

 Also new are fresh roasted veggies!!! “Hello, loves – we have missed you. Thank you for being on our 3-course menu today!” Seriously, Mikey has been in a meat coma for 3 weeks now!

Speaking of food comas: the “Four Stations” pizza. We have seen this item at many restaurants thus far and finally decided to try it. It’s basically a cheese pizza with 4 ingredients divided into 4 sections. Frank is having bell peppers, shrimp, ham, and mushrooms. 

 So as it turns out, Mikey was gone too long and his boss flew into Madrid from LA to check on him!

Actually, Andrea was passing through like the jet-setter she is and we met up this morning. Kinda cool and a great reminder that it IS time to go home. Really though, these big cities have been fun, but with the Camino de Santiago over, we feel like the job is DONE.  

 And then we round a corner. “Saint James Street” is just outside our restaurant tonight. Is it a sign? Is it a pat on the back? Is it like the annoying prevalence of bull-shaped keychains in Spain? 

This has been a most amazing father-son trip. As Frank puts it,”It is a ONCE in a lifetime trip.” (Note the emphasis on “once!”) Yeah, we’re a little sick of each other, but we’re still talking! Mostly, Frank misses his truck and wife (not necessarily in that order.) And Mikey? Well, Mikey misses cotton! After a month and a half of wearing synthetic clothing, he’s ready for jeans! Seriously, though, it has been a most amazing trip, but here’s to a speedy flight home.

See you on the other side!

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Fin: A Second Day in Porto

After a month of getting up early to hike, we really do appreciate waiting for the sun to rise. Only, in Porto, sometimes it doesn’t! This morning we managed to sleep in a bit late and still visit the church/museum/catacombs of “Sao Francisco.”

The exterior is a mix of 16th century Gothic and earlier Romesque styles.

The interior is a VERY interesting blend of artistic styles with Baroque carvings dominating the main altar.This was an curious and graphic altarpiece depicting the slaughter of Christian monks by Moorish invaders.

A main attraction at Sao Francisco is the catacombs. Actively used until the mid to late 19th century (when interment within churches was banned by the state), it is a true time capsule of Porto’s “Who’s WAS?!”

OK, so here’s a little trivia for you: the USA is one of the few countries in which one can “own” a grave. In most of Europe (and the world), one technically “rents” a spot for a hundred years or so. Then, after the body has decomposed, the bones are removed from the grave and placed into an ossuary. This makes room for new tenants.

Talk about tight quarters! We see the evidence of slum-lord practices by looking through a grate in the floor into this mass ossuary.

Enough creepy catacombs for one morning! We headed down to the river for lunch and a tour of Graham’s cellars.

The view from Graham’s terrace was a bit overcast, but stunning (as was the look on Frank’s tired face after walking all the way from the two towers you see on the top left!)

Mikey thinks this view of him is just fine!

Much of our tour took us through Graham’s cellars and private bottle collection. Notice the dates on these barrels – they’re actually storing wine from those years (1912, 1924, and 1935) for use in future special releases!
Speaking of special releases…(that’s a shoutout to Kerry Dean!) Graham’s keeps their family’s private collection on premise. It contains a hoard of bottles from the most exceptional years.

Speaking of exceptional, Mikey got to do a tasting in the “Reserve Library” room following the tour. Oh, and that amber colored one in the middle is a 40 year-old tawny that goes for around $100 a bottle. But, the innocent looking one on the right is more like $150. While you probably won’t find these specific ports in the US, Mikey is already planning on bringing some tasty ones to the LA market!

Then there was the port and chocolate tasting at Kopke – the world’s oldest port house.

But there was weird stuff, too. For instance, Porto is famous for its hand-crafted ceramics. So, in addition to plates and such, its artisan entrepreneurs have gotten quite creative in making keepsake figurines. Take a look at one display:

 Yeah, maybe a bit risqué for some Porto-ians.

We also found this jewel of a candle in a window at a Catholic gift store. No pressure, birthday girl, but you’re certainly expected to meet age-specific goals so we can celebrate them by lighting your most demanding candle each birthday. Wow. (Mikey’s biting his tongue right now – something about a candle burning at both ends?!)

Ok, words simply fail at times like this.

We wrapped up the day near Porto’s famous bridge. Sure looks fancy at night! Well, good night and goodbye Porto.

“We’re leaving on a … Graffiti Train!” Yeah, still not sure if the Portuguese trains are actually graffitied or if it’s just a bad paint job. Anyway, we’re headed back to Spain aboard this diesel beast! Hasta pronto.