In our blog, you’ll find information about metaphysics and spirituality from Lazaris and Jach, excerpts from Lazaris recordings and interviews, and travelogues from Jach’s adventures around the world.
“I love this city!” Those were my first words at the welcome dinner, Sunday, April 8. And it’s true. There is magic in the air in this city. Most large cities that are growing and changing, tend to have an aliveness within the hustle and bustle of city life. They have a dynamism that can be exhilarating or exhausting. I suppose Barcelona has that, but there is something else, something special, unique to its hustle and to its aliveness. There’s a freshness here, an eagerness, and a buzz. Barcelona is a juicy, passionate city, and I love it. Probably my most favorite city: Barcelona.
Enrique and I had arrived on Friday, April 6; a few others had already been in Barcelona or Spain for several days, but we all gathered for the Welcome Dinner at Hotel 1898 Sunday evening. Following an elegant buffet, I made my opening remarks and Lazaris welcomed us all. It was immediately clear: This was going to be an amazing vision quest for each of us and for all of us. Well, all the Lazaris workshops are amazing, but this one will be even more so. I could feel the excitement as people said goodnight and made their way to their rooms. The energy was exalted.
We spent two full days in Barcelona. One day was complete with an excursion: The morning within the exquisitely beauty of Sagrada Familia. I feel it is the most beautiful building, temple, structure in the world. We had a terrific tour guide and also plenty of time to explore on our own or to just be with the beauty. Throngs of tourists, of course, but once you are inside, the beauty is so immense and so intense and so sacred that all the milling people and the din of whispering tourists disappear. I felt delightfully alone in the presence of my soul and suspended in a timeless moment in the sacred beauty that was everywhere. Vast. Mighty. Majestic. I suspect others felt the same. Oh, and the light, oh my, the rainbow of light – luminous colors moving with the movement of the sun – was utterly breathtaking. I could have spent the full day there. I will be back.
We moved on to a classic Spanish lunch. We sat down at 1:30 and ate and talked and drank some wine and talked and laughed and finally pushed back from the table. It was almost 4:00. Satisfied. Full. Determined to “never eat again” or at least until the next opportunity. Tapas anyone? Our excursion continued with a walking tour of the Gothic section of Barcelona. Our evening was free as was the other day in the city, free to explore, free to drink in the marvel, the wonder, and the magic.
It was a drizzly morning when all 95 of us gathered in the lobby. We boarded the buses, arrived at the airport, unloaded the luggage, raced to the group check-in counter, and finally boarded the place for Bilboa, in the heart of the Basque country in northeastern Spain. Back on a bus we rode through the enchanting countryside to San Sebastian. A beautiful drive. Our excitement grew as we passed small villages in the valleys and snapped photos of the wooded mountains and the many waterfalls. The greens were stunning. The richness of the land was grand. We arrived at our hotel in San Sebastian. Registration? Fast and easy. Our luggage? Either it was right there or one of the porters delivered it to our rooms. At 6:30 we were off to an enchanting restaurant for a buffet of typical Basque food. Our excitement grew as were already were basking in the wonder and beauty of this amazing place. Wow. Too simple a word, but an appropriate one.
One major ingredient in all meals in the Catalania and the Basque area, and perhaps in all of Spain, is conversation. It was a lively ingredient of our first evening meal in San Sebastian. Throughout our time here, I noticed that so many of the Pinxtos Bars and Cafes were overflowing with locals, groups of men or men and woman, eating Pintxos and lost in boisterous conversations peppered with laughter. The volume is as intense as the energy but it’s all fun and wonderful. You just join in and become a part of the community and create your own conversations with friends or strangers newly met. It all feels like a celebration of life. It sizzles here in San Sebastian.
The workshop got underway Friday morning but this vision quest began on that Sunday nearly a week before in Barcelona. It was in full swing Sunday, and continued Monday morning and for a full day Tuesday. Tuesday evening we said farewell (fare well) to many who were here only for week one. Wednesday evening we welcomed another group, and the wonder and the magic and the fun continued for another nine days. The first week we worked with the triumph of our personal freedom. The second week we worked with embracing the unfathomable. Each week was breathtaking and stunning. Each week was a pivotale watershed of growing and changing. I would like to say more, but I can’t. The entire experience reach for and touched the unfathomable.
Tomorrow we all make our way back to Barcelona for three nights. The journey continues as the circle ends where it began. Amazing. There are no adequate words.
Yes, I am loving it. We are all loving it.
I love olives! I didn’t used to. As a kid I hated olives, especially green ones. In almost every restaurant, almost as soon as you sit down, they serve green olives along with various types of bread and olive oil. As we were sitting in a charming little restaurant in Córdoba, I turned to Enrique and said, “I love olives!” as though it were a discovery.
We left Granada Monday morning and drove to Córdoba, stayed for two nights, and then moved on to Toledo. Both cities with their old towns and historic districts are enchanting and charming. Each has a renowned Cathedral, a rich Islamic heritage, a Jewish section characterized by remains of Synagoges and narrow maze-like streets, and clear evidences of the conquering Christians. In each city, once we arrived we “hit the streets” exploring as much as we could in the afternoon and evening. On the next day, our full day, we were up and out in good order and continued absorbing each of these amazing cities.
Córdoba is vibrant and sizzling with energy. It is renowned as a beautiful city and for its annual Festival of Patios in May. Each year the homeowners open their homes (their patios) for tourists to see. They compete for prizes but mostly it’s the joy of sharing the beauty they have nurtured. Part of its beauty is its amazing history. Our hotel was on such a narrow street, we had to walk in for several blocks. The hotel, with its nine rooms, was built on a Roman foundation. Across the street, about 4 feet away, was a house that is now a museum that was once a royal home in the 15th Century (Islamic time) and a prison. The street’s name is Calle de Cabezas (Street of Heads) because according to legend, the seven children of the one prisoner were beheaded and their heads were hung on display. Córdoba is rich with history and it has an incredible Mosque-Cathedral. I could not fathom the vastness and the richness. I cannot describe it.
Toledo, built on a bluff at the edge of a river, is beautiful and there is an elegance here that is hard to describe but easy to relish. We walked and walked and walked some more. Thursday, we began our day with a visit to the Cathedral. We planned a short visit because we’ve visited many Cathedrals, right? Well this one, like each of the others, was special. The recorded tour was also the best of all the recorded tours we taken. We spent 4 hours in the Cathedral.
Then we moved on to the El Greco Museum. I learned a lot. One thing, El Greco, who spend much of his life in Toledo, was not Spanish. He was born on Crete. He was Greek, thus El Greco. In Italy he studied in Venice developing his unique expressions of color, and in Florence with Michelangelo developing his techniques of space and depth. In Italy he was called an artist; in Spain, an artisan, and not respected nor paid well. When he died, his art was lost and not revived until the 19th and 20th Centuries. The museum was small but wonderful. Great afternoon.
Yesterday we were on our feet for nearly 10 hours. Just as I was ready to call it quits and go back to the hotel, we’d round a corner and something else beckoned us on. Finally we stopped for dinner in a small Arabian restaurant. The waiter was Syrian. From Aleppo. In Spain -- Toledo -- for two years. Learned his Spanish on the streets. Yes, there is an elegance here woven into the beauty.
Today, Friday, we pack up, drive back to Madrid, and fly to Barcelona. What an amazing three weeks, three weeks to the day, it has been.
I don’t know what happened. All of a sudden, a rush of energy and tears were flowing down my face. I was laughing. I was overwhelmed with caring and compassion for humankind.
Saturday was Cathedral, museum, and Procession Day in Granada. We skipped breakfast, walked out of the Parador de Granada Hotel at 11:00, and caught the bus down from Alhambra to the Plaza Nueva. From there we walked the side streets toward the Cathedral, and stopped at a tiny pizzeria for a slice – breakfast. We continued along what seemed an alleyway that was lined with little restaurants, bars, and cafés. We rounded a bend, and there was the Cathedral. Grand. Looming, but not majestic. It took more than 180 years to build, and its architecture expresses three different styles. It’s bell tower is shorter than it had been planned – cut off – because the foundation of the building was Gothic while the bell tower was Renaissance. A Gothic foundation couldn’t support the weight of a Renaissance tower.
We waited in line for tickets and marveled at the human statues standing so still waiting for tourists to give them change in exchange for a photo. There was one that I thought really was a bronze statue until Enrique pointed out he was looking at, not a book as I had first thought, but at an iPhone. I gave the guy a big tip for his creativity and got a photograph.
We did the Cathedral tour; I wasn’t impressed although it’s a really significant Cathedral. Second largest (next to the Cathedral in Sevilla) in Spain and it has the authentic tomb of the Catholic Monarchs and the remains of three other Royals, one of which was Michael who would have been king of both Spain and Portugal except he died at age two. His was the small coffin at the side of the tomb.
From the Cathedral we walked to a museum of the Inquisition in Spain, and specifically in Granada. It was fascinating and disappointing. Fascinating because it had a collection of torture devices used in the Inquisition along with vivid descriptions. I was amazed at how sexually “erotic” so many of the tortures were: The prisoner was strapped naked on this device or naked to that device or placed naked in a cage in the public square for all to see. Anal and vaginal probes were used as well as nipple clamps for men as well as for women, and hot pokers were prevalent. These uptight, prudish, and “pure men of Christ” played out their dark sexual fantasies. Reminds me of the pious evangelist who is having an extramarital affair or the Pro-Life zealot who encouraged his mistress to have an abortion. Hypocrisy is timeless I guess.
The museum also had a section about the Jewish population of Granada and how they were persecuted during the Inquisition. For many the Inquisition was inspired as a way to rid Granada of its Jewish population and to punish those Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Ironically, they were considered heretics and had to confess their sins. Their punishment? Often death, but for sure the confiscation of their property and their wealth. Amazing. But I was disappointed because the information around the Inquisition and the Jews was very limited and pretty superficial.
We kept watching the time, well, I kept watching the time, because at 5:00 one of the most famous and beautiful processions – the “Maria, Virgin of Alhambra” Procession – was scheduled to begin. A Procession is a parade with usually two bands and with church participants, many in colorful costumes, and carrying religious symbols and artifacts. Lots of candles and robed men and women. Children too. The focus of the processions is to carry the religious float-statue from the church to the Cathedral. I say float-statue because I don’t have the proper words. It’s a huge life-like statue depicting a scene in Christ’s life especially around the crucifixion and resurrection. Easter. There are often two or more figures on a float, countless candles, other elaborate gold or silver ornaments, and lots of flowers. These statue-floats weight 2,000 to 3,000 pounds.
In this procession on Easter Saturday, it’s two statues – Mary overcome with sorrow as she holds a crucified Jesus. The statues, as with so many others in other processions, were crafted in the 1700s and have been carried to the Cathedral for what seems forever. This procession begins when they open the church in Alhambra. The marching band plays and the participants take their places as the Stevedores (they are the young men who carry the float-statue on their shoulders, Stevedores, that’s what they’re called) leave the church and begin their march to descend through the Gate of Justice, down the switchback narrow roadway, and then on to the Cathedral.
It was 4:00 and we hadn’t eaten since our slice of pizza in the morning. We ducked into a side alley and found a delightful little restaurant for a fast lunch. 4:30, we returned to the street and began walking up to get close to the beginning point of the procession. The procession should begin at 5:00 and it should arrive at the Cathedral at 9:00 -- four hours later -- to travel a distance that would take 30 minutes to walk. The street was filling up as we continued to climb the street to get closer to Alhambra. Finally we found a place and we sat on the stoney curb to wait. It was 5:00. We hear the band playing.
5:45 -- “Hey, it’s Colombia ... no it’s Spain!” The procession finally began. Now I have no particular affiliation with the Catholic Church, and I am not particularly enamored with other expressions of the Christian religion or with any religion. Religious experiences and a personal relationship with God/Goddess/All That Is and with my Soul? Yes. So I am curious and I am enjoying the procession. Many of the marchers wear pointed hoods. They were hoods used by knights in the medieval times. They looked akin to Ku Klux Klan hoods. Spooky. Or like dunce caps. Funny. Others are obviously church dignitaries and elders. They march very slowly, and they stop frequently. The Stevedores are carrying lots of weight, and they have to stop and rest regularly. Suddenly everything stops. No movement for 10, 15, 20 minutes. What’s wrong? People moved into the street to look. Nothing.
Suddenly movement again. Applause begins flowing down the street ahead of the approaching float. The Stevedores, carrying 2,500 pounds on their shoulders, had to kneel down and walk on their knees for 30 feet or more to get the statue through the Gate of Justice! On their knees! A stoney path for 30 feet! On their knees! OMG. Devotion. Responsibility (returning to their promises to God). Stunning.
The statue came along. The statue of Mary in her sorrow was amazing. Without warning tears streamed down my face and I was laughing with joy. Not for the church, but for the honor and responsibility of the Stevedores and joy and caring and compassion for humankind and humanity. It wasn’t about religion, it was about a religious – a re-aligning – experience that transcends form.
I thought I would include a photo of the float-statue, but I didn't. My photographs didn't capture the richness or the beauty. It fell far short of the reality. So no photo.
I came away with understanding beyond accessing, with understanding that involves inference, appreciation, and valuing valuation. These processions have value historically and ritualistically for people of the Catholic faith, but I think they can have value for so many more and for so many other reasons -– reason other than the obvious.
For me, Saturday and the procession was unforgettable and it was life shifting and life changing. More than memorable. Magical.
A palace, a fortress, a walled community, a self-sustained village, Alhambra was all of this and more. Now a World Heritage Site, Alhambra began as a Sultan’s summer home and governmental palace as well as his homage to Paradise. It was also a strong hold of Muslim power in the Iberian Peninsula for 12 Sultan before the Christian Conquest by the Christian Monarchs, King Ferdinand, along with Queen Isabella, in 1492. The Monarchs worked to preserve and enhance the palace and summer home. They also added to the grounds with their own buildings. Carlos V also worked to preserve the beauty as well as the integrity of Alhambra. He also added his own palace with the ancient walls as a honeymoon gift to his bride, Isabella (a different Isabella). However his palace was never finished and never occupied. It remains unfinished now.
Wednesday: We arrived in Granada mid-afternoon, and after a few wrong turns even with our GPS guide, we found our way to the Parador de San Francisco -- the Parador de Granada. We chose this hotel because it is within the grounds of Alhambra, a plateau in the heart of the city. Of the Paradores we’ve visited, it is the most elegant. It was once a monastery built on the orders of the Catholic Monarchs, where there was once a Muslim palace; remnants of the palace remain. Muslim and Christian architecture are intermingled, and the hotel, with its grand interior courtyard, is now totally refurbished and remodeled with an additional “new section.” Now it’s one of the exclusive hotels in Granada. Our room with a view is in the old section. The hotel is a bit of paradise in its own way.
Before sunset we walked down to the city. Out the Gate of Justice and down a very steep hill, we reached another gate to the city of Granada. The narrow street was lined with shops and small cafés and busy with tourists walking up and down. We continued walking down and arrived at the Plaza Nueva (the New Plaza). We explored a bit and found an outdoor café for tapas and Sangria. As night surrounded us, we could hear the percussion of a distant Easter Procession. In time, we hailed a cab to drive us back to Alhambra. Because of all the Easter Processions during this week, he had to take the long way around. It took 30 minutes to walk down and another 30 minutes to drive back.
Thursday: Yesterday afternoon, we had scheduled a private tour -- the only way to enjoy the rich history of Alhambra --for today. We met our guide, Maria, in the hotel lobby at 2:00. Since our hotel is within the walls of Alhambra, we had a short walk to the vast formal gardens so characteristic of the Muslim style and sensibility. Sculpted shrubbery with low bubbling fountains and water canals embedded in the tile floors create a mystical ambiance of tranquility and peace -- exhilaration and serenity spontaneously. The summer houses and the palace were resoundingly reflective of the Moor and Arabic expressions of beauty. The courtyards held visions of glorious serenity and of peaceful yearnings for the unfathomable of the divine. The words I write are not enough but they are the best I have to describe the wonder of Alhambra.
Our three hour tour lasted 4 hours. Maria, our guide, was gracious and so eager to answer all our questions. She was a sweetheart. The tour was in English, but she was delighted that Enrique spoke Spanish. That reality enhanced our private tour.
A full and fulfilling day was even more. Enriching. Enchanting. Alhambra is almost overwhelming. The beauty of the Muslim art is astounding. The precision, the attention to detail, the symbolism, and the vision all augment the richness of color and light and wonder. Room after room, courtyard after courtyard, fountain after fountain, it is unending.
There is so much that I could say about Alhambra but the thing that stood out for me was how the Muslims and the Sultans created enchanting beauty and the Christians worked to maintain and to enhance that beauty. Even as they destroyed mosques to build their own churches, they didn’t destroy Alhambra. Again the realization: Beauty is eternal. It speaks to our soul and to wherever is divine in each of us, and it speaks throughout the Ages.
Thursday was full. We were fulfilled. Granada is an amazing city. A triumph of beauty.
Five days of enchantment. I don’t know how else to describe the last five days after leaving Sevilla. We visited three “Pueblos Blancos” in the Andalucía region. Each village nestled in the foothills dates back to at least 400 A.D., the Roman times. Maybe earlier. Narrow cobbled streets, all of them either ascending or descending, are lined with small houses and in the mix there are now apartments or offices or stores.
We arrived in Arcos de la Frontera (Arches of the Frontier) so named because during the Christian conquests, it was at the border, the frontier, of the battles to conquer the Moors and to push the Muslims out of the Iberian Peninsula. We weaved our way through too narrow streets following the GPS voice as we tried to find our hotel. We came to an arched tunnel. Enrique stopped unsure if he could drive through. We folded in the mirrors, turned off the radio, and didn’t speak as if silence would make our car narrower or the tunnel wider. Creeping through and then a sharp right turn and up a steep incline and there were were at the plateau atop the village, and our hotel, the Parador de Arcos de la Frontera. A sigh of relief.
It was a rainy afternoon but we went walking anyway, and we found a lovely hole in the wall restaurant bar, Taberna de Los Jovenes Flamencos, the Tavern of the Young Flamencos. The service was charming and the food was incredible. We were there for nearly three hours. The drizzle stopped and we made our way up the hill to home, in the morning we continued our exploration before leaving for our second stop.
Grazalema is the tiniest of the towns we visited. High in the foothills, it is the most remote of the three villages. We stayed two nights in a small Bed & Breakfast. We found it by accident as we tried to follow the GPS voice which was directing us the wrong way on one way streets. Suddenly there was a sign and an arrow: half way down a street no wider than 5 feet we saw the open door to La Meyorana! High in the foothills, it was cold and drizzly when we arrived and it rained hard the entire next day. We stayed in.
Glorious sunshine and warming breezes greeted us Sunday morning. We explored Grazalema for half the day before leaving for Ronda. On our way, we spontaneously turned off the road and headed toward Zahara de la Sierra, another White Village. As we drove around a huge lake and then up into the hills to the town, we noticed an ancient tower high above the town.
“I’m not walking up there.,” I said as Enrique parked the car.
We walked the village streets, stopped in the main church, marveled at how elaborate it was for such a small out of the way village, and walked on. As we approached the path that would eventually lead to the tower, I could see it in his eyes and I could see the yearning in his body language. Okay, I would climb the ramps and steps to the tower, but I get points.
Over 200 steps. Yes, I tend to always count steps. As strenuous as it was to walk up, it was more difficult to walk back down. The ancient stones, worn from centuries of walking, were slippery even on this sunny dry day. We stopped for lunch before getting on the road again.
Ronda is the largest of the three villages and the oldest dating back to 300 or 400 B.C. It is also distinguished because of a grand gorge that runs through it. The gorge is breathtaking. Incredible. We visited an estate currently being restored: Casa del Rey Moro -- House of the Moorish King. In the Arabic gardens, there’s a doorway, more like a portal, that descends to the base of the gorge. Yes, we walked down the spiraling stone steps, wet with condensation. 230 steps down and we were at water’s edge. Beautiful descent. Beautiful destination. Lots of photos. The return was arduous. OMG.
I kept telling myself: “Michelle did it; I can do it.”
At the entrance to the Casa, there were photographs of Michelle Obama’s visit, along with their daughters, to Ronda and to the Casa and to the Cave.
Ronda was a Roman city, then a city of the Moors, and then a city conquered by the Catholic Monarchs. In the 1800s into the 1900s it was a city of poets and writers, now it’s a thriving tourist city and it’s rich with enchantment. We were there Monday and Tuesday, and we could have stayed on for several more day, but Granada was calling.
There is a powerful sense of peace in the White Villages. The rolling hills covered in brilliant yellows of mustard plants and stunning greens of newly sprouting wheat, and dotted with olive trees and strewn with boulders left over from the prehistoric glacier age, create a bold backdrop for the scattering of white houses with red tiled roofs. There is something ageless, perhaps eternal, and it touches you. Well, it touched us. As we drove along we would spontaneously look at each other and smile, or I’d reach out or Enrique would reach out and we clasp hands. No words. We just knew.
Each village was different -- different energy, different character, different level of awareness, each with a strong sense of integrity -- even though they look alike. The tourists were there, mostly from England or France or Germany. Few Americans. But the locals were there, too. Strong, present, unyielding. These were their villages, their homes, and they were willing to share them. For a while. We were in the region for five days visiting three, no four, White Villages. Then it was time to move on, but I suspect we will be back someday. I think our souls will call us to return. For now, it is on to Granada.
419 steps. That’s what I figured. There were ramps not actual steps, but I took 12 steps for each inclining ramp, and there were 34 of them. 34 up, up, and more up. At the end, just when I thought I was done, there were 17 stair steps, steep stair steps, to the top of the tower. The views ... there was all of Sevilla. In all directions historic center, old city, new city, expanding city, the river that once was the gateway to the sea, a once thriving trade capital for the Iberian Peninsula and for all of Europe, and now still a growing city finding its new identity. Sevilla. Yes, it was worth the climb.
We had left Madrid Tuesday morning, and we had driven nearly 6 hours to arrive at our hotel in Sevilla, a grand city that is still the capital of the Andalucía region here in Spain. Our hotel, an actual palace in the 1700s, had been restored, refurbished, and transformed into a boutique hotel close to the historic center of Sevilla.
After we checked in, it was early enough to go exploring so off we went. We walked for nearly 2 hours and finally stopped at a delightful restaurant advertising tapas and wine. It was Michelin rated and the food was excellent. It was after 10:00 when we walked out into the cool crisp night air. A sliver moon over head and we were content. Fulfilled. We turned on the GPS on the iPhone and began our journey back to the hotel. Twisting and turning through the charming tiny streets, past tiny tapas bars and hidden courtyards, and soon we realized we were lost. The GPS voice kept talking but the directions made less and less sense and apparently we were getting further and further away from our hotel. When the GPS said we had 2 more kilometers to go, Enrique hailed a taxi. Our driver laughed and told us that it was impossible to find our hotel with Google Maps. I think he was just being polite. He drove us through a maze of alleyways and in roughly 2 kilometers we were home.
Wednesday: We walked the old town and spent the afternoon at Real Alcázar, the major Moorish and then Catholic palace that is still the Sevilla residence for the current royal family. The palace is breathtakingly beautiful with strong Moorish influences that remain from it inception and that were enhanced in the 15th Century, mainly by Charles V and Isabella, and again in the 16th and 17th Centuries by the Catholic Kings. I came away amazed and sad.
Amazed at the beauty of the Moorish and Muslim traditions expressed in the Royal Alcázar Palace. There was such a sense and respect for the romance of life and such a respect and honoring of beauty. The geometric elegance and excellence were fascinating and mesmerizing. I stood in this room and that one -- rooms meticulously measured and designed and adorned with intricate precise tile patterns or mosaics -- and just took in as much as I could. Almost overwhelmed.
Such beauty, such mysticism, such science, such mastery. My eyes often blurred with tears. “Beauty is eternal.” I remembered.
I also came away sad because of what has happened to that richness and that honoring of humanity and humankind that was so profoundly woven into that tradition. Ignorance, a lack of understanding, along with bigotry, anger, hate, and revenge have ravaged so much of human goodness and truth. I also walked away remembering. “Goodness and Truth shall prevail, and Beauty is eternal.” It’s important to remember. There’s magic in remembering.
Thursday: We spent much of Thursday exploring two churches: “El Salvador Divino” (The Divine Savior) and the Cathedral of Seville. In the 12th Century, the conquering Christians pushed the Moors (Muslims) out of Spain. In Sevilla, the conquerors tore down the majestic Mosque and built an even more massive Cathedral. Not more majestic but more massive. The legend says they wanted to build a Cathedral so that (paraphrase) “All who saw it would think they were madmen.”
The smaller church was amazingly beautiful. Stunning. Currently they are cleaning and preparing the huge statutes that will be carried during next week’s Easter Week Processions. The men will be carrying massive statues that weight tons. The platforms rest on the men’s shoulders. Only their feet show as they march slowly and with precision through the streets of Sevilla from noon until 2:00 a.m. Yeah, 14 hours. Unbelievable, but it’s the tradition; it’s the ritual.
The Cathedral, not so beautiful, is huge. Gigantic. It is the third largest in the world next to St. Peter’s in the Vatican and St Paul’s in London, and it’s the number one largest Gothic cathedral in the world. As we were ready to leave the Cathedral, we decided to climb the tower. It was initially the Mosque Tower. Rather than stairs, there were ramps so that the cleric could ride a horse to the top five times per day to call the people to prayer. The Christians didn’t destroy the tower. Instead they added height to it, and the two architectural styles are evident. As I walked I counted steps. Each ramp, 12 to 14 steps so I did the math at 12 steps. For someone young, eager, and naive, it probably would be 10 steps per ramp, but I am not young or naive, so 12 steps. It was a worthy and fitting finish to our church/Cathedral exploration.
Within that historic center there’s the Santa Cruz barrio which is notorious for its even narrower streets that interweave to create a seemingly endless maze. It’s easy to get lost; we did a couple of times. It’s an enchanting area of the city. Tiny shops, tapas bars, small houses with their interior courtyards normally hidden from view, little garden parks, and more tiny alleyways leading to who know where. We returned to this area several times in the daylight just to explore and to feel the energies and to get lost. So alive.
Friday we are on the road again heading to Arco de la Frontera, one of the “Pueblos Blancos” -- the white villages -- of the Andalucía region.
We bought our tickets late Sunday night. We had slept most of the morning adjusting to the six hour time change. It was sunny, brilliant sun, luminously bright, and crisp, refreshingly crisp, sharp, when we began wandering Metro Centro in Madrid. Our first stop was Plaza del Sol and as we were walking into the vast open space the name was obvious. There were hundreds of people strolling through the plaza, a Mariachi Band was playing by the central statue as perhaps 200 people, families with kids and pets, looked on. Enrique stopped to get a Sim card so he could stay in touch with the world, and then we checked our map and headed off to walk the narrow streets. I’ve mentioned it before, I am enamored with the architecture of the apartment buildings that line the narrow streets. There aren’t any daring designs like the Gaudi designs in Barcelona, but there is something that speaks to me. I suppose that something speaks to my soul. As I walk along I look up. I stop. “Oh, my isn’t that beautiful?” I say out loud to myself. The words tumble out. Goosebumps. Then I move along.
We ended up at the Plaza Mayor and then to the San Miguel Mercado again. This time we stayed.
With a glass of Rioja in hand, we went looking for a space to sit. There are long rows of tables with stools lining both sides. Young, old, families with babies in strollers, groups of friends huddled together laughing, all sorts of individuals and groups, mostly tourists from all over the world, gather to enjoy the tapas and tasty treats. Once we found a place, one stool and then another stool, we took turns going off to explore. Enrique would come back with some surprises, we‘d eat them, and then I would go off. I found a Paella stand with six or seven variations. Enrique stopped at the Olive Bar. Amazing “Olive Kebobs.” I had to go to the Mozzarella Bar. It took me a while to find it. The eating was fun but it was the sitting there amid the flow of people that made Sunday afternoon and evening in Madrid special. After three hours, we were ready to leave but first Enrique went looking for a special dessert to share. “Milhojas” -- a thousand leaves -- which is a delicate dessert of flaky pastry filled with lush cream.
We quietly walked back to our hotel. We stopped to talk to the Concierge. We bought tickets to the Prado Museum for Monday.
It was drizzly. A perfect day for museums. With tickets in hand, we walked past the very long line of people waiting, and were shaking off our umbrellas and moving through security in no time. We entered the main hall. The Prado is huge. Second largest museum in the world next to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Wow. We turned around and went looking for a guide, not just the recorded tour, but a live person. We had a wonderful four hours at the Prado. We went back to our hotel to rest a while and then we went out walking again.
We had wanted to go to the Reina Sofia Museum but as we looked at our map, it seemed too far away. So just went walking the narrow streets again. Can never do that too much. Before we realized it, we were only a block away from the Reina Sofia. It’s a beautiful museum. The main building was once a hospital and now it’s a museum of eclectic art with an emphasis on Modern Art. We focused on Cubism. Why? Well, it was close to where we had entered, but once we went into the first exhibition hall, we focused on Cubism because it was an intriguing exhibit.
It was 8:00 when we returned to the street and to our walk. We had dinner plans with friends. We would meet at 9:15. Our friends are Colombians living here in Madrid. Mario, is a marvelous chef and owner of two very successful restaurants in the Metro Centro area of the city. His husband, Juan Pablo, a relative of Enrique’s, is a very successful architect. We had dinner at “Hortencio.” Only Juan Pablo, Enrique, and I sat at the table. Mario was busy preparing an incredible meal for us. A delicate Morel Mushroom soup, Morel Mushrooms garnished with foie gras or egg (egg for me), and I had “La Soup aux Trufa,” which Mario prepared as an homage to the deceased famous French Chef, Paul Bocuse, who first presented this soup on February 25, 1975. It was delicious beyond words. Enrique had a tender lamb dish that was sensational. A dab of Pistachio ice cream added the exclamation point to a culinary delightful evening.
The day was full, and it was wonderful. In the morning we’d be off to Sevilla.
Bumper-to-bumper movement or none at all, we were caught in a traffic jam at the Yumbo Roundabout on our way to the airport in Cali, Colombia. We arrived just as our flight was scheduled to leave. My cellular buzzed with an announcement. Our flight was also delayed. Mechanical trouble, a new plane was en route. Mechanical trouble or magic? I dispelled my building anxiety with a smile.
From Cali to Bogotá with a four hour layover that became two and a half hours, we were off on our overnight to Madrid. We disembarked at 1:30 Saturday afternoon. Friday afternoon we were caught in traffic and less than 24 hours later we were in Madrid. I know it’s a cliche but travel still fascinated me. Thanks to many moving sidewalks, escalators, and trains, we move from gate to immigration and then to baggage claim easily. Waiting for luggage, my anxieties always stir. Today they were broken by a voice.
“Are you from Cali?” I turned to see a young woman with a beautiful smile standing there with who appeared to be her mother.
“Yes.” Maybe I said, “Sí,” not sure.
“I think you’re our neighbor.” She speaks excellent English; very little accent. I wished my Spanish had been that good. “You have two Vizslas, right?”
“Yes! Abbie and Lucas!”
There is only one other Vizsla in our neighborhood. It’s hers. We each knew each other’s dogs -- our kids -- now we met face to face at baggage claim in Madrid. What a world. It was a nice wink as our journey got underway. Rental car picked up, GPS’ed to the hotel with only one missed turn and route correction, and we were resting in our room. After just resting a few hours, knowing better than to go to sleep in the daylight, we bundled up, it was in the low 50’s out there by 6:00 p.m., we headed out walking.
I find Madrid to be a fascinating city, more than most. There is something in the resonance, in the lay of the land, in the architecture of the buildings, in the green trees that line the streets and fill the parks, and in the energy of the people, that is mysterious and intriguing at the same moment. I just love walking the streets and just love looking, looking at everything. It fills me; I feel alive as I walk and look and listen. I think there just might be a common denominator of caring. I don’t think everyone cares about this city, but I think enough people do care, and care with a Latin sense of immediacy and passion, that it makes a difference. Madrid is a different city. Sure there’s some graffiti on the walls of vacant buildings or run down doorways, but not much. Otherwise the streets and the buildings and the windows are amazingly clean. There is a pride along with the caring and I think that matters.
We walked along these delightfully narrow stone slab streets. They are wide enough for single lane car traffic by day but in the evenings pedestrians take them over. Oh, occasionally cars come, but they move meticulously slow and with great caution. People own the streets as the sun sets. Street lights and shop lights and restaurant lights fill the night along with the chatter and laughter of hundreds of people coming alive and filling the nights.
Along the way, we encountered a group of men practicing for an upcoming Easter procession. During Semana Santa -- Easter Week -- there are many parades or processions where people carry huge religious statues for miles and miles. So they practice ahead of time. There were six rows of men. Four per row. They were marching slowly and in precision with each step in unison. They had a wood platform resting on their shoulders. On top of the platform were concrete blocks with a total weight equal to that of the statue they will carry during Semana Santa. See the accompanying photo.
It was early. We walked and meandered for almost an hour making our way along those narrow walkways through several plazas until we reached Plaza Mayor. It’s famous. A tourist attraction. And it’s still grand and majestic and warm and friendly. We found a restaurant and had an easy dinner of tapas and sangria. It was 10:15 when we walked out into the Plaza again. The night was now fully underway. Restaurants were full. Outdoor cafes under blazing gas heaters were full. Rapid fire talking and laughter and an occasional shrill laugh, the night was sizzling.
We walked through the Plaza to the San Miguel Mercado on the far side. Also famous. Also a destination for most tourists, and also a must stop place. It was after 10:00 and people were streaming out. We thought they must be closing.
Oh no. No way were they closing. The places was abuzz with hundreds of people. Four deep standing around a wine bar here or a sangria bar over there. People carrying plates piled high with tapas or other hors d’oeuvres were weaving their way through the jam of people. No, no one was closing. The night had just begun.
San Miguel Mercado is not a farmer’s market or a grocery store. It is an enclosed building with hundreds of vendors: I saw a Mozzarella Bar selling countless culinary treats with mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella, and each was an intricate creation. There were all sorts of tapas vendors, and salad vendors, and ... there was one display of tapas made with olives, just olives of all kinds, olives adorned with all kinds of delicacies.
We slowly made our way through the growing crowds of people. Everyone was smiling, laughing, celebrating, and eating. To me, this is Madrid. This is Spain. As we left the market and walked back through Plaza Mayor, we realized we’d left our street map in the restaurant. We used it to find our way to the Plaza and Market. We were on our own to walk back. A few wrong turns, but soon enough we were at our hotel. We stopped in the lounge for a night cap. Our first day of our road trip complete, now we could go to bed.
Tokyo is huge and the architecture is fascinating. What seems obvious really became more obvious Sunday morning as we made our way to Ropongi and then to Ropongi Hills, a trendy area of the city not far from our hotel. Near the Grand Hyatt, we got our tickets and took the elevator up 52 floors to the City View — a round glass enclosed observation room with a small cafe, a museum, and incredible views — stunning views — of Tokyo. It was another crisp morning, about 60 degrees F, and the winds were gusting, but the sky was powerfully blue. The city sparkled. Towering buildings, patches of green parks, low warehouses and storage buildings down by the piers, and the deep blues of the seemingly endless bay. Captivating. We were there for more than an hour.
Then we explored the rest of that 52nd floor. There were scale models of the city that filled the side rooms. As many as 30 people at a time stood silently peering over the lucite walls marveling at the detail or identifying neighborhoods and buildings. On the walls, decade by decade descriptions of the development of the modern city of Tokyo. It was all in Japanese, but it was impressive even to my eye. The display in any language, was beautiful.
Finally we left the City View and explored Ropongi Hills. It was Sunday morning and already the foot traffic was building. Yes, a huge city with an increasingly huge population. We found a restaurant for an early lunch and then planned to head out to the Meiji Shrine.
Previously at the hotel when we inquired about the Imperial Palace, the attendant at the front desk took a post-it size paper and wrote the words “Imperial Palace” in Japanese characters. Often taxi drivers don’t know the English names of their shrines and tourist attractions. So rather than pointing to a location on a city map, we gave the driver the paper. Easy. Elegant.
We asked the waiter to write “Meiji Shrine.” Smiling broadly, he returned with a small paper and it said, “I would like to go to the Meiji Shrine,” in characters. We were off in the easy flow of traffic to some other part of the city and one of the most famous and most popular Shrines in Tokyo.
We stood several long minutes at the Gate, the 40 feet tall entrance to the grounds of the Shine. Amazing. Almost immediately we felt the reverence; others did too. As we made our way along the walkway, I listened to the “music.” The crunch of gravel underfoot as hundreds of people walked the pathways in silence that was accentuated as kids intentionally shuffled along. Shush, shush, shush. The call of the ravens in the trees that, at times, swooping low overhead. A soft whisper of a breeze playing in the trees. It all added to majesty of the place and to the honor of the procession of people making their way to the Shrine of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.
The Emperor Meiji is credited with bringing Japan out of the feudal system and out of over 200 years of isolation. He is credited with introducing Western technology and culture to Japan. He lifted Japan into economic viability and vitality as he ended the Edo Era and as he opened Japan to a new world in which the old structures — structures that needed to be replaced — broke down making room for a new way of living and a new way of being. It felt appropriate to be walking the pathways to the Shrine.
The buildings weren’t that impressive, but the energy was. The several original buildings, some still being restored, were traditional Japanese, Shinto. Practical. Symbolic. Not intended to dazzle. This temple is where the souls of Meiji and his wife are enshrined. There’s a reverence and a reverie here that supersedes the physical design. There is a presence here that is available without being imposing.
Meiji and Shoken wrote “Wakas.” They are 31 syllable Japanese poems intended to offer subtle insight or guidance to living a better life. Meiji wrote over 100,000 of them; Shoken wrote 30,000. I purchased two. I reached into the box and dug around and picked one Waka for me and another for our Asia Excursion.
My Waka: “We shall fall behind our fellows in the world if, when we should advance, we make no move at all.” — Emperor Meiji
I smiled thinking about how God/Goddess/All That Is — God, Goddess — are continually growing, becoming more. Our souls and Higher Selves are continually growing and becoming more. If we aren’t, we are falling behind. I like the phrase, “when we should advance.”
The Waka for our journey: “As clear and refreshing as the rising sun — thus might it always be with the human heart.” — Emperor Meiji
Okay, so I am going to begin each morning of our journey through Asia, with my heart open to the refreshing clarity of a sunrise. Focus on the light of a new dawn, of a new day. Always.
It was a magical afternoon. From the Shrine we walked the grounds. The call of the ravens was loud and persistent. One raven swooped low and landed on a fence. We chatted for a bit and then he flew off. We walked on.
The public access to the Shrine closed at 4:00 and we along with hundreds of people began meandering our way toward the gate. Around 4:30 we move with the steady flow of people through the narrow exit. Ahead of us, a grand boulevard of shops: modern shops, old shops, simple shops, and high end shops. Ahead of us, thousands of people strolling along the sidewalks, sidewalks that are 10 to 12 feet wide and the people are moving like an undulating human river. Amazing. Intriguing. It was Sunday early evening and there were throngs of people walking this shopping highway. I got a photo.
We walked or flowed with the crowd for nearly a half hour. It was our “grounding time.” Hailing a taxi, we made our way back to the New Otani Hotel, Garden Tower. A fine day. A quiet night.
Arriving in Tokyo in the evening was a fortunate change in our plans imposed by the airline. I had made our reservations to leave SFO at 2:00 a.m. on November 2 and we were scheduled to arrive in Tokyo at 5:00 a.m. Wasn’t sure what we would do from 5:00 a.m. until we could check into our hotel, but I figured we could handle it. It was Cathay Pacific or JAL that changed the schedule and our departure was pushed forward 14 hours to 4:00 p.m. Arriving in the evening was great because we could be awake for only a few more hours and then sleep. Nice.
Immigration was so easy and baggage claim was fast. Through customs in a breeze, our driver was there with my name spelled correctly. We arrived at the New Otani Hotel and were in our room by 9:00 p.m. Peggy, Enrique’s mother, had flown in from Rome and had arrived mid-afternoon. The hotel restaurants close at 10:00. We rushed down to the restaurant for my last “western meal.” I had a juicy square hamburger with all the imaginable trimmings. $25.00. Ha! I know prices are high in huge cities. I knew prices were high in Tokyo and all of Japan. Still. It’s a bit of shock. $25.00 for a hamburger? $8.50 for a soft drink in a glass?
In Cuba I expected to find only the facades of old buildings and vintage cars. I did. In Tokyo I expected to find high prices. I did and I am continuing to find high prices.
However I didn’t expect to encounter people who are so courteous and so very kind. Gentle people who seem eager to help tourist such as us. Several times we stood looking both curiously and helplessly at our maps. Each time someone came up and quietly bowed and asked if we they could help. Some spoke English fluently with excellent pronunciation while others struggled to find the words and to pronounce them correctly. But each was patient and helpful.
I also didn’t expect to find such a clean city. No litter. None. Really. None. No graffiti (so far?) and the buildings seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. The white bricks were still white. Not darkened by auto exhaust and other air pollution. No paper in the gutters. No cigarette butts. Clean everywhere. We walked quite a bit in the Akasaka area: narrow old streets, tiny shops, many restaurants with secluded doorways, and not a speck of litter anywhere. I didn’t expect to see the streets and the buildings so clean. And then there’s the architecture . It’s wonderfully creative and inventive. Okay, I expected that.
I didn’t expect the tranquility that I felt. I mean, Tokyo is a huge city with all kinds of traffic and highways creating a crisscross maze of concrete. I expected the hectic frenzy of New York City or Bogota or even Cali, Colombia. But no. Loads of traffic but it was all moving in a quiet orderly fashion. Thousands of people, many with those white masks covering mouth and nose, but everyone walking casually and minding the walk-don’t walk signs. There was one intersection where each road was six lanes wide. The cross walks created an X in the intersection. All the lights turned red simultaneously. All traffic stopped. Silence. Suddenly streams of people from all four corners walked in all directions: straight ahead, left or right, or diagonally criss crossed through the middle of the intersection. A massive flow of humanity in confluence. It was orderly. No pushing, no shoving, no congestion, just easy flow. A dance. It was quite beautiful.
The people, the landscaping and architecture, and the tranquility . . . there is something delightful and mysterious about this city. We will be here for four days before taking the Bullet Train to Kyoto. I am eager to explore this city before going to that one. Our Asia Excursion is only 3 days old and already . . . yes, it’s going to be a magic journey.
Friday: Late morning with a walk across the street to find a breakfast place. Found a delightful restaurant called Starbucks. [s] Yeah, all the Japanese restaurant were closed until 11:00 a.m. when they opened for lunch. Starbucks for a coffee and a spinach quiche, then we walked for several hours finding a local lunch place. After lunch we went to the Imperial Palace. We anticipated a going on a tour of the palace. Not so. There are tours of the grounds but none that actually go into the palace. Disappointed we walked to the Ginza area and found the department store Food Court and were astounded. We bought fruit, cheese, crackers — dinner for Friday night.
Saturday: After a Japanese breakfast at the hotel, we went on a 4 hour tour of the city and ended up at the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. It is a beautiful garden rich in greenery and powerful in tranquility. We walked for nearly an hour, and then we made our way back to the hotel. We had dinner reservations at Tajimaya Ginza. We had Sukiyaki . . . . incredible. The food, the service, the ambiance, the entire evening was memorable — an incredible moment that lasted nearly 3 hours linearly. Forever beyond the linear.
What does tomorrow hold?
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