Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free Admission Day

The weekend before last I made my first, and so far only, call home, so my parents at least have had an update since me last post, but it wasn't until just now that I realized that the nagging feeling in the back of my head was me trying to remind myself that I promised that I would post more pictures.

I joined a gaggle of 12 people I mostly didn't know for a bus trip out into the suburbs. We went to the monastery and palace of San Lorenzo de el Escorial, which is conveniently located in the town of the same name, roughly an hour away from the city center. It was, for some unexpected and still unexplained reason, it was free admission day which was a very nice surprise and meant that I had enough cash handy to rent the audio guide. The library was, unfortunately, not included in the free ticket, and the basilica was closed when I went.

Photography is not allowed inside, but because I am a bad person, I snuck a few anyway. Because I'm the kind of nerd who thinks that looking at foundations and bits of archway to see what's holding the building up is the niftiest thing ever, 1.)I thought the architecture museum in the basement was the most interesting part of the visit and 2.)the things I want pictures of are never in the postcards. The fact that I got in for free only encouraged me because in the back of my mind I couldn't help but think, "what are you going to do, kick me out?"

The wikipedia article I linked does a good enough job of explaining the place, and I've added captions which should be sufficient explanation for the pictures. If some thing is unclear* leave a comment here and I'll try to explain. Leave comments anyway, they make me feel like someone cares about my vacation pictures. :P

After lunch, we loaded onto a different bus and went to the Valley of the Fallen. Franco built the place in the 50s as a memorial to the people who died in the Spanish Civil War (or at least, those people who were on his side). Out side there are a few terraces with great views of the Sierra Guadarrama** mountains, a huge pieta over the door, and a Giant Cement Cross that can be seen for miles***. The wikipedia article does again does a good enough job of describing the place, especially the controversy about it's construction.

It was free admission day there as well, and photos were also not allowed inside. I tried to sneak a few of the interior, but the lighting was so low that they didn't turn out and I had to be content with the post cards and a ton of exterior pictures. The postcards actually aren't that great, because they brought in extra lighting and fancy tripods so they have the statues centered in the frame and you can see all the detail, but that isn't what you experience when you actually visit the place. The interior of the basilica is in what I call the Catholic Fascist style (a combination of neo-classisim and futurism, see anything Mussolini had constructed as an example). The lights are so dim it's hard to see the ceiling, copies of 16th century tapestry depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation line the walls, and giant representations of the Our Lady guard each of the side altars. The neo-gothic carved wood quire is almost comforting when compared to the angels who stand at the four corners of the crossing and in the narthex. The feet of these statues are on pillars higher than my head, they each hold some sort of weapon bigger than I am, and the way they are back lit in the already dim light, it looks like they are ready to come to life at any minute and fight any devils that might present themselves. You, the observer, will be squashed into a grease spot on the floor if you get in their way.

Outside, it's a beautiful day with clean air, sunshine, and a good view of the landscape. My photos are in the same album as the ones from El Escorial, again with lots of captions, if you haven't already looked through them. The one thing I'm not sure that my pictures accomplished was showing just how large the place was, mostly because there's no way to fit it all into one picture without a wide angle lens and a helicopter.

Week-end Adventure #1, complete.

*The captions, I mean. I know the pictures are fuzzy, but it they were the best I can do under the circumstances.
**redundancy alert! Sierra means mountains
***There is a similar sized cross in Effingham, Illinois (because it's the CROSSroads of America, get it?), but the one in Illinois doesn't have any crying angels, so it's hardly art, is it?

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