Spain Snapshots: The Guadalupe Monastery of Cáceres

Many great places in Spain are seeped in legends, mentioned in texts or venerated by the insane queues at its ticket offices (I’m looking at you, Alhambra). 

For me, the Real Monasterio de Guadalupe was an obscure monastery and the name of many females, little more than a blip on a map in the wild back country of Extremadura. I figured it was worth a detour on our way to Trujillo.

Then came this:

According to legend, the veneration may have been carved in the 1st Century by Saint Luke himself, who then carted her around the world  before presenting the Archbishop of Seville, San Leandro, with it. During the Moorish invasion that commenced in 711, the Archdiocese of Seville looked for a place to hide her as invaders ransacked cities and palaces.

Turns out, I have something in common with this particular image of the Virgin Mary (besides my birthday being on the day of her ascension into heaven): we both made a pilgrimage to Guadalupe from Seville of 320 kilometers. When she arrived, though, she was buried next to the Guadalupe River and not discovered until the late 12th Century.

On that very spot, a humble chapel was erected and eventually converted into one of Spain’s most important (and arguably most stunning) monasteries.

Like all great pilgrimage sites, like the ending points of the Camino de Santiago or El Rocío, Guadalupe has attracted illustrious names in Spanish history – Columbus prayed here after returning from the New World (and the Madonna is now revered in Central and South America), King Alfonso XI invoked Guadalupe’s spirit during the Battle of Salado, and many modern-day popes have stopped to pray.

While we weren’t on a religious pilgrimage, really, I’m slowly ticking UNESCO World Heritage Sites off of my Spain list, and Guadalupe is listed as such. We joined the last tour of the day after getting lost in teeny towns on nearly abandoned highways, many of which bear names that were later given to cities in the New World, like Valdivia, where we devoured fried calamari sandwiches.

Tours to Guadalupe’s cloisters, treasury, church, religious art museum and sacristy can only be done on a guide tour in Spanish, which leave on the hour. As the monk droned on about artistic heritage, I stole into the Gothic cloistered courtyard.

As we had joined the last tour of the day, an elderly monk showed us through the sacristy, painted in its entirety by Zurburán, and invited us to the room that held one of three black Madonnas. The soaring chamber had frescoes of Catholicism’s most famous female saints, relics in every wall and a small turnstile that allowed the three women on my tour named Guadalupe to kiss the hands of the veneration.

They, like Columbus and Cervantes before them, had come to pray in front of the woman who gave them their name and ask for her eternal protection.

As it turns out, the 60 minutes we’d budgeted for the monastery stretched to nearly two hours, meaning we were late to meet Angela from Trujillo Villas, but a night in a cozy palace-turned-vacation-home has us back on the right track the following morning before visiting Yuste and the gorgeous hamlet of Garganta la Olla.

Have you ever been to Extremadura?

Seville Snapshots: Costaleros Practicing for Holy Week

The capataz knocks once. As if mechanically, the 40-off men beneath the wooden structure heave together, resting on their heels, hands gripping the wooden beams above their heads.

A second knock, and they launch into the air together.

On the third, the simulation float has rested on their shoulders, and they begin a coordinated dance down the street, walking in sync as they practice for their glorious penitence – Holy Week.

You all know that I paso de pasos (and the crowds, and the brass bands and even the torrijas), but the grueling pilgrimage from one’s church to the Cathedral and back fascinates me. No one bears the brunt more than the costaleros, who must pay for this prestigious position within their brotherhoods and seek penitence through their labor, carrying over 100 pounds for an average of eight hours.

In the weeks leading up to Viernes de Dolores, no less than 60 brotherhoods will crisscross the city to practice, placing cinderblocks on top of the metal float to simulate the large statue, each depicting the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life or of the weeping Virgin Mary. For ten days, Seville is full of religious fervor as the ornate pasos descend on the city center.

For an official route plan with approximate times, check here. You can use this to either catch the processions, or totally avoid them!

What are your Holy Week plans? Have you ever seen Semana Santa in Seville?

Photo Post of Carmona: The Perfect Little Day Trip from Seville

Nothing says long weekend like a roadtrip, a quick stop in a village and the mass migration of people during the sacred puente. Not wanting to go too far, I settled on taking a day trip to Carmona, one of the province highlights that is often shadowed by Seville (even though, in my opinion, the province doesn’t offer too much by way of historical sites). 

Rain was on the forecast, but it didn’t matter – Phyllis and I grabbed Pequeño Monty and took the A-4 all the way into town. My first trip to Carmona was five years ago on a similar, drizzly morning – I’ve been aching to return since (particularly because that was one of my poorest points of expat life – we didn’t pay to see anything and split two plates of food between five of us).

Most visitors to the city arrive to the Plaza del Estatuto, known to locals as the Plaza de Abajo. The oblong plaza is lined with old man bars. I swooned immediately.

This small city, perched on a hill above acres of wheat and olives, has seen traces of Bronze Age settlers, Roman emperors, Visigoth Kings and the Moors before its conquest in the 13th Century. In pounding the pavement, I felt like we were on the tails of history.

The old center winds up from the Puerta de Sevilla and its imposing city walls and onto Plaza San Fernando towards Calle Prim, called the Plaza de Abajo by locals. Hidden within the gradually steep walls that stretch to the Iglesia de Santiago and the Puerte de Córdoba are tucked-away plazas, convents, grandiose cathedrals and stately palaces. Many alleyways are so slim, you can touch both sides of the walls.

There was little car traffic (it seemed the whole town was either sleeping off the Carnival celebrations or at a wedding at the Priory of Santa María), and we practically had the whole place to ourselves.

Ending the day at the Necrópolis de Carmona (which is free, so you have no excuse to not go), we had gone from lavish renaissance palaces to the ruins of an ancient burial ground by just driving to the other part of town. Laying along the Via Augusta, Carmona has been attracting tourists for millennia.  We were just two unassuming guiris still amazed that such old stuff exists.

Have you been to Carmona? What are you favorite villages in the Sevilla province? I’d recommend the following:

Estepa, Ciudad del Mantecado

Itálica and its Roman Ruins

San Nicolás del Puerto

Spain Snapshots: The Romanesque Churches of Oviedo

There is little I don’t love about Oviedo, the capital of the Principality of Asturias, nestled between the Picos de Europa and the Cantabrian Sea – the enormous cachopos, the spontaneous rainpours, the colorful plazas with cidra bars and the raucous Calle Gascona.

Gran amigo of Oviedo is the American director Woody Allen. Uvieu has been front and center in a few of his films, and there’s even a statue of Allen in the central part of town.

Claudia assured me I would recognize this famous monument of Oviedo:

Recognize these churches? Perhaps from the film Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona when Juan Antonio takes the women to Oviedo for the weekend to meet his father?

We spent a lazy Sunday morning hiking to the pre-Romanesque churches that rest just outside the city on Mount Naranco. There’s a small visitors center just off the parking lot, but the beauty is really in the details of the two churches – completed in the late 9th Century. Santa María del Naranco was built as part of a large palace complex to the Virgin Mary, with San Miguel de Lillo, 100 meters downhill, though both were converted into worship places.

It’s easy to see why – the views from Monte Naranco of the picos are incredible. Clau and I spent easily an hour there, looking out over the capital.

If you go: You can drive to Monte Naranco by following signs leading away from the train and bus stations in Oviedo, or you can also take the local bus numbered 10 from the city center, getting off at the stop marked ‘Cruce.’ Follow the signs uphill until you reach San Miguel. Santa María is just 100 meters on. There are a number of bars in the area with great views and sandwiches.

San Miguel is currently not open, though guided tours will take you to Santa María to explain its history, construction and patrimony every morning but Monday. The structures can be visited year-round.

What’s your favorite UNESCO World Heritage Site, either in Spain or beyond?

Seville Snapshots: Calle Pureza, the heart of Triana

Soy Ana, de la Calle Pureza

Kelly never fails to let people believe she’s trianera, a resident of the Triana neighborhood of Seville. When I called this barrio home for three years, we’d often wax poetic about just how special it felt, that it was more a feeling than monuments or a glossy exterior. Triana is the old fisherman’s barrio, where squat houses crumble next to soaring church spires, where a tapa is bigger and cheaper than in the center. I had all of my people here – the man around the corner who made my coffee, the woman at the laundromat who would re-wash a garment – for free – if she wasn’t satisfied.

Even the natives – those who have grown up and attended school in the neighborhood – swell with pride when describing a neighborhood where gypsies sing flamenco on the streets every now and again and azulejo tiles line the hole-in-the-wall bars.

While walking down Calle Pureza, a street that snakes through the heart of Triana, I heard a hoarse “cuidaaaaaao” as I was fumbling with Camarón’s settings. I was on the way to shoot the wedding of a guiri friend and her sevillano boyfriend, nervously changing between auto and manual. An abuelo weidling a shopping cart wizzed by me, dodging oncoming traffic as he carried nearly a dozen long septres towards the pristine basilica. I raised Camarón to my face and shot.

 Olé mi Triana.

I had a great time shooting Andrea and Carlos’s wedding in early June, and I’m as happy as they are with the results. If you’re looking for someone to shoot an event, engagement pictures, etc. in Seville, get in touch! Alternately, I’m looking for guest bloggers for the upcoming months. Send your stories and photos to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] com.

Preparing for the Camino: Why I’m Walking

Muuuuyyyyyy bien chicos! Raquel’s morning greeting was accompanied with a slurp and the decapitation of the top quarter of Spain. “El Camino de Santiago is today’s topic.”

I dutifully took out my notebook, etching the bull’s hide of Spain and marking the end of the pilgrimmage across the top of Spain with a star. As Raquel recounted her experience walking a month across age-old trails between drags on a cigarette, I’d been imagining a return to Spain one day to walk the Way to Santiago de Compostela.

During my 2012 trip, I ran into some of my old students from IES Heliche. All roads may lead to Rome, but quite a few lead to Santiago, too!

Galicia, the region in which Santiago is located, is like my second home in Spain. On half a dozen occasions, I’ve laid my eyes on its sprawling cathedral, watched backpackers with no common language embrace in the sacred Plaza do Obradoiro, smelt the mix of incense and sweat left by peregrinos as I’ve hugged the bejeweled bust of St. James, the patron saint of Spain. I’ve even spent the Xacobeo, the Holy Years in which St. James’s Day falls on a Sunday, partying until dawn in the sacred city. The Camino has been part of my Spain bucket list since that sweltering day in June when Raquel first talked about it.

Jesus, my friend James and the Patrón himself in front of the Catedral de Santiago in 2010, a Holy Year

While many legends exist about its origins, perhaps the most common story is the one in which St. James, one of Jesus’s disciples, had his remains placed in a boat from Jerusalem. The saint was covered in conch shells and barnacles when his boat washed up on the northwest coast of Spain, and the remains were subsequently buried. Centuries later, a shepherd claims to have seen a cluster of stars in a field at night over the reputed tomb of the saint, and King Alfonso II ordered a massive cathedral to be built in that very place. For the last milenia, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have descended on the city – now a major tourist draw and intellectual center – believing that completing at least the last 100 kilometers on foot brings pleneray indulgence. This route is called la Ruta Xacobea in local galego, or the Camino de Santiago in Castellano. To me, its one name, El Camino, holds a world of meaning.

The Camino is the subject of numerous books and films, and ever since its first inference, I’ve read many of them. Paulo Coehlo’s  The Pilgrammage, Field of Stars by Kevin Codd, A Journey of Days by Guy Thatcher all stick out in my mind, and a flight home from Spain in 2011 had me watching Emilio Estevez’s poignant film, The Way.

After years of wishing, planning and reading loads of books on the Camino, I’ve finally made plans to go. My hiking boots and trail bag are purchased, our route has been carefully outlined in red from Gijón to Santiago de Compostela. Towards the end of July, Hayley and I will set out from Asturias, rumbo Santiago. The Northern Route, called the Ruta del Norte, is less-traveled, more physically straining and supposedly breathtaking, as the majority of our first week will be along the coast before taking the Primitivo route until we reach the end of our trek.

People walk for many reasons – for spiritual reasons, for a journey of self-discovery, for the sport and adventure of it all. But I’m not walking just for me and a goal eight years in the making. I’ve decided to walk two weeks on the Camino de Santiago For the Kids – to raise money for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, an organization that has been important to me for nearly ten years.

As a college student, I would only pull an all-nighter once a year, during the annual Dance Marathon. During a full day, I could not sleep, sit or drink alcohol, an this was after raising a minimum of $425 to even get in the door. For an entire day, we’d put our bodies through hell to feel some sort of what kids and their families felt.

Coupled with bi-weekly visits to the hospital’s Child Life center and numerous leadership positions, I was hooked on helping and creating tomorrow by dancing today. When I became a Morale Captain in 2005, I was assigned a family to sponsor. The Lees were coping with Kelsey’s recent diagnosis of leukemia, a side effect of the chemo she’d received earlier in the year. We began to exchange emails and phone calls, excited to meet one another at the Big Event in February, 2006. Kelsey was only 14 years old and already fighting cancer for the second time.

After repping the Lees for two years, she was passed onto another sorority sister, but stayed in the family – literally –  a sister from two pledge classes above me’s father married into Kelsey’s. Even when I moved across the charca, we kept in touch through Facebook, postcards and Skype. Invitations for her high school and technical graduation got sent to my parents’s house, along with a yearly Luau-themed fundraiser her family held in their town. Kelsey felt like a cousin to me, so I was crushed when I learned she’d relapsed once again.

“You’re so much braver than anyone I know,” she wrote me in an email just before Christmas 2011 as I was preparing to visit my family in Arizona. “I really have to come visit you in Spain to see why it is you’re still there.” I promised to call her once she was out of surgery for some build-up in fluids around her lungs, an effect of her treatment.

The following day, she passed away. Her mother sent me a text message that I read, hysterical, in the Philadelphia International Airport as I boarded a Madrid-bound plane. Attempts to organize a mini-Dance Marathon at my old school never materialized, but I donated part of my severance package to Dance Marathon in Kelsey’s name and joined the Iowa Bone Marrow Donors Network. As Hayley and I made preliminary plans for this summer, I contact the UIDM’s sponsorship and business directors, setting up a donation page and walking in memory of Kelsey and all of the other families coping.

2013 has really been my year, between a promotion, getting my European driver’s license and (fingers crossed) obtaining my master’s degree. Things may be coming up roses for me, but I realize that this year has been tough on many of my loved ones. That said, I want to raise awareness of the numerous Dance Marathons that are emotionally and financially supporting families afflicted with childhood cancer, as well as trying to raise $500 – 100% of which will go to the University of Iowa Dance Marathon. My pilgrim conch shell will be accompanied by the leis Kelsey and I wore during the Big Events we spent together, my name-tags from when I was on the leadership team, and lime green letters FTK – For the Kids.

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the University of Iowa Dance Marathon to keep Creating Tomorrow by Dancing Today, and follow me at #CaminoFTK on twitter and instagram.

And many thanks to my sponsors, without whom this Camino would not be possible.

Interested in helping me complete the Camino For the Kids? Please contact me for sponsorship opportunities or check out my Camino Pinterest board for inspiration!

 

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