Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trip to Spain (September 2016)...

In September, Kristin and I traveled to Spain and Portugal together with two couples of Sung Hoon Song and Mindy Song, and Paul SungJin and Young Kim Lim who came all the way from Los Angeles. We have known them since 1983.

The tour began in Madrid and went through the cities of Toledo, Granada, Ronda, Sevilla in Spain. Then it continued in Portugal, visiting Algarve, Lisbon, Obidos and Porto before returning to Spain and visiting Salamanca and Avila. The tour ended in Madrid. On the day it ended, we took an express train from Madrid to Barcelona and spent four nights in this cosmopolitan city.

For this travel, I am writing three blogposts: one for Spain, another for Portugal and another that covers the foods and drinks of Spain and Portugal.  Please click here to go to the blogpost for Portugal and click here to go to one for the Foods and Drinks of Spain and Portugal.

Madrid:      The first stop was Madrid, the capital city of Spain. Before our travel began, I stayed one night at Danny Kim's house.

Danny Kim is a missionary to Haiti and is now in transition. I met his wife Monica Estacio, a physician, and two adorable children: Gabriel and Isaac. They are twins. We had Spanish churros and orange juice for breakfast. Simple but delicious.

Danny and I spent good amount of time in the morning, exploring the possibility of doing ministries together through SfK Ministries. Lord's willing.

I also spent some time with Caro Hyun Young Seo who is an intended BAMer living in Madrid.

Danny Kim's family
Meanwhile, Kristin arrived in the afternoon and also met up with the Songs and the Lims who arrived earlier on Saturday. We rejoiced in our reunion.

On Sunday, we worshiped at Madrid Full Gospel Church where Pastor Yong Won Soh shepherds the congregation. I learned that Madrid has nine churches serving approximately 400 Korean Christians out of 5,000 Korean population.

I had the privilege of sharing God's word to approximately 25 members in attendance with many young adults. I had a pleasant surprise of bumping into Hyo Jin Park, who is a brother in law of Koomin Chung, my former colleague and now SfK Kingdom Fellow, after 14 years of no contact. It was a joyful reunion.

With Hyo Jin Park and his wife
We originally planned to take a hop-on and hop-off bus trip, but due to a citywide cycling race, the bus operations were all stopped.

We ended up visiting several places of interest in Madrid for two days, including Prado Museum, Queen Sofia Museum, National Palace, Main Plaza, Atocha Station,, Retiro Park etc. On Monday, the second day, I ended up working to catch up while others explored the city.

Prado Museum Entrance
Goya Statue

Statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Toledo:  We had a comfort stop at Toledo. This city is the former capital of Spain. It has a natural fortress, but the city outgrew it. Its cathedral and Alcarza formed a beautiful skyline of the city on the hill. We had a breath-taking and panoramic view of the city on a hill from another hill on the other side of a river, called River Tajo or Tagus. The city was designated as a UNESCO heritage site in 1987.

I learned that any Spanish that starts with "Al" originates from Arabic because of nearly 800 years of ruling by the Arabic Moors. Thus, Alcarza means fortress. Cathedral was reported to be 1200 years old. We strolled around in the city visiting Military Museum and other points of interest.

Granada:   We spent a night in Granada. It was the last Moorish or Islamic city to be regained by the Roman Catholic. Roman Catholic in the name of Christian Reconquista or Crusade did a lot of proselyting to the Muslims. Many Islamic people had to leave the city unless they chose to convert to Roman Catholic. It is not a biblical evangelism that requires true conversion in heart. It is against the Lord's will. The Crusade and Islamic Jihadh look the same to me. Due to this historical conflict, the gap between the Islam and Christianity seems widening.

Granada means pomegranate in Spanish, the fruit that is believed to have originated from the current Iran and has been spread to all over the world. This fruit is very common in the Middle East. Since pomegranate is the symbol of Granada, you can find it growing everywhere in Granada. It is later described, but a monument of Christopher Columbus coffin being carried out by four priests has one pomegranate being pierced by a spear, symbolizing the defeat of the last city occupied by the Moors.

Alhambra, meaning 'The Red One' was a small fortress built upon Roman ruins, but later converted to a Moorish castle, thus now full of Moorish architectural designs. All entrances, including gates and doors, are shaped like a key hole with a key inscribed above. Obviously, the gate symbolizes the entrance to their heaven and Islam must be the key.

Image result for AlhambraI forgot that a prior reservation and purchase of the ticket on line was required to enter Alhambra. So we could not get in. Oh well. We had to settle with a visit to the outside courtyard and gardens. But we climbed a nearby hill to a lookout point called San Nicolas Mirador where we could see the entire view of Alhambra. There was a heavy rain when we reached Alhambra and we came back down to town all wearing disposable ponchos. Aren't we pretty in a photo below?

For dinner, we had calamari, spaghetti and fish. We also had churros with hot chocolate for dessert. The foods were delightfully delicious! I was told that the dessert we thought we were eating  as churros was not actually churros but porras. Well... whatever...

Regarding Alhambra, I cannot leave out Washington Irving. He was an U.S. ambassador to Spain for four years from 1842. But his profession was a short story writer. He wrote articles and books about Christopher Columbus, the Moors and Alhambra. Particularly, his book titled Tales of Alhambra introduced Alhambra to the western world. There was his statue on the way up to Alhambra. 

Also, a music piece called Memories of the Alhambra is just beautiful when you listen to it played in guitar. It tranquilize your soul to peace. 

Another fact to note is that Andres Segovia, known to be the father of classical guitar, grew up in Granada and produced many students and beautiful guitar music in Granada. Acoustic guitar is so natural and popular in Spain, particularly in the Andalusian region. A great finding. 

Ronda: We stopped at a cute town of Ronda. It had a very deep gorge that divided the town to two parts. It was called Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) built by the Romans. The construction began in 1751 and it took 42 years until completion. The bridge stood at 120 meter high from the bottom of the gorge. The surrounding rolling hills covered with olive trees gave us a sense of tranquility, overlooking from a lookout point.

Nearby there was a bullring with the statue of a bull guarding the bullring..I could not fathom about the number of bulls that had to be killed for the sake of human enjoyment. Human cruelty continues. There were cafes and restaurants in the alleys decorated with beautiful Spanish colors of red, yellow, orange and white.

You cannot complete your visit to Ronda without discussion about Ernest Hemingway. He fell in love with Ronda and also bullfight. Before he took his life in 1961, he celebrated his last birthday in Ronda and spent good amount of time enjoying the scenery as well as bullfights in this town. His love affair with bullfight appeared in depth in his book, titled "Death in the Afternoon." Apparently Ronda named a street after his name: Paseo de E Hemingway. .

Image result for ernest hemingway face statue ronda

Gold Tower
Sevilla:   Sevilla or Seville in English is the capital city of the Andalusia Region, an autonomous region and a nation recognized as part of the Kingdom of Spain. It consists of 8 provinces. The 8 million people who call Andalusia their home identify themselves as Andalusians.

Sevilla is called a city of gold and silver. This nickname was earned because Queen Isabel designated this city to be the trading post for all trades with the newly discovered America (1492) between 1503 and 1717. This designation was made because Sevilla had the Guadaquivir River (meaning Rio Grande) that was the only navigable river connecting to the sea and navigable even to Cordoba. It is known to be the second longest river in Spain.

Because of the trading activities with the Americas, Christopher Columbus or Cristobal Colon in Spanish, is highly appreciated and respected in this city. Although there is controversy, he is claimed to be buried here in this city at the Cathedral. During this period, all the wealth of the Americas came to Spain through Sevilla, obviously making the city flourish with material riches.

Torre del Oro or Gold Tower is a .small tower errected right by the Guadaquivir River, overlooking the flow of boats and people on the river. Its name originated from a shining spot at the top, believed to be gold, symbolizing the gold and silver that came in to the city from the Americas. Inside the tower, there was a Navigation Museum, quite small in scale compared to one we saw at the Greenwich Observatory in London.

The Sevilla Cathedral or St Mary of the See Cathedral is known to be the largest Gothic cathedral and the third largest church in the world, after St Peter's Basilica in Vatican and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil.

Christopher Columbus is believed to be buried here at the Cathedral. The story goes like this. He was originally buried in northern Spain where he died, then was moved to Sevilla because it is the place where he wanted to be buried. But he was moved to Santo Domingo to be buried along with his first son Diego. But, when Santo Domingo was split to Dominican Republic and Haiti due to a war between Spain and France, his remains were moved to Cuba. Later his remains were transferred back to Sevilla. But the remains weight only 150 g. The question about the rest of the remains is still lingering and being debated..

The Cathedral was built later than the bell tower called Giralda located right next to each other.

The architecture of the Giralda Tower comprised the Moorish architecture as the foundation and up to the lower bell tower and the Roman Catholic construction was later added to the Moorish building. At the top, there is a statue of a woman symbolizing Christian faith and she rotates. Thus, the tower is called Giralda, signifying the rotation of the statue according to the wind. It overlooks the city and is believed to be protecting the city. We climbed all the way to the top through 34 ramps and one flight of stairs. The climb was relatively easy because of the ramps that were built o circle up to the top so that the Moorish Muslim leaders could climb up on donkeys five times a day.

Alcarza meaning 'fortress' was right nearby. It is still used partially as the royal residence. It is a huge compound and we looked around only in the building and garden area.

Both the Sevilla Cathedral and the Alcarza are UNESCO heritage sites. Nearby, there was another heritage site, called Archives of the Indies. Here all the documents related to the discovery of the Americas are believed to be stored.

Cathedral and Bell Tower
Giralda Tower
Christopher Columbus Tomb
Pomegranate pierced by a spear, signifying the defeat of Granada
Ramp to climb up the Giralda Tower
Bells at the top

Here are the photos of the  Alcarza.

The Pope John Paul II

Sevilla's colors of white and dark yellow

Also, there was a tall monument that commemorates Christopher Columbus discovery with a lion at the top, his name and 1492 when the America was discovered. and a ship that has a name of Isabel, the queen who commissioned Christopher to find a new world.

Speaking of 1492, this year proves three meanings to the people of Sevilla. One, it is the year of discovering America. Two, it marked the conquest of Granada. Three, it signified the expulsion of the Jews from Santa Cruz, the Jewish town.

We passed through the former Jewish Quarter now called Santa Cruz. One king gave the precious land located next to the Alcarza to the Jewish community. But after his death the next Islamic king expelled them from the land unless they converted to Islam. Now it is a bohemian town with narrow alleys filled with cafes and restaurants. Santa Cruz.

There was a small museum that houses three pieces of art painted by Velasquez.. Apparently he was born in Sevilla but moved to Madrid when he was 20 and he never came back. So most of his works are in Madrid, notably at Prado Museum.

We had a walking tour with Marda, a local guide. She was quite knowledgeable and we enjoyed her explanation during the tour. One of the interesting places we visited was Plaza Espanya. It is a place where all cities of Spain are depicted and painted. Inside, there was a plaza and also some people were enjoying boat-riding. It was a magnificent place. The City of Sevilla built this compound in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.

We had one free day in Sevilla. We signed up for a river cruise in the morning and Flamenco show with dinner in the evening. The river cruise was quite boring and there was nothing much to see, but the Flamenco show was far better than expectation.

The Flamenco show is known to have originated from Andalusia through gypsies. The traditional Flamenco show includes four parts: dancers, guitarists, vocalists and clappers. The show we watched was fabulous! The energetic body movements, dazzling foot taps, soulful facial expressions, amazing guitar music and spirit-filled vocal singing all were just magnificent! The best! Two thumbs up!

With the wonderful tap dancer

Salamanca:     Salamanca was a pleasant surprise to us. It is a college town with University of Salamanca, one of the top universities in Spain. Its origin dates back to a Cathedral school but later developed into a top higher educational institution in Spain. It is famous for the study of humanities, medicine and theology. Also, it is well known for the study of Spanish language for foreign students. Thousands of foreign students are known to be coming to study Spanish at University of Salamanca.

Also, the city with a population of 265,000 had several landmarks, such as impressive cathedrals and main plaza, Due to young population, the city looked quite vibrant.

There was a bronze statue that looks like Christopher Columbus studying. We learned that Christopher Columbus came to discuss with geologists before he embarked on his ocean journey through the western route to the Indies.

Avila:    Avila had a medieval castle surrounded by a city wall that has been very well preserved with 38 towers still standing intact. We walked on the city wall and the views were panoramic.

Barcelona:    After the Expat Explore tour was over, we continued our travel to the second largest city in Spain. Barcelona!

We were dropped off at the Atocha Station and we had dinner there. We then took a sleek Renfs express train to head down southeast to Barcelona. The train was close to a bullet train with a very clean interior. It took us three hours from Madrid to Barcelona.
Ready to board the express train...

Kristin and I came here a few months ago as part of the trip from Rome to London route. We stayed in this beautiful international city for three nights, but we saved some places of interest for this trip, including Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. Please click here if you want to see the blog post for the previous trip to Barcelona.

Catalonia is another autonomous region in the west of Spain. Barcelona is the capital of this region. Barcelona came up to the world stage in 1992 when the city successfully handled the summer olympic. It is cosmopolitan and filled with art works all over the city. It is a beautiful and wonderful city.

Day 1 - we arrived late at 10:40pm and took a taxi to go to the Airbnb place. The owner came 20 minutes late, but we were able to check in without a problem. Thank goodness. We washed ourselves quickly and fell asleep. It was a long day from Salamanca to Barcelona via Madrid. The distance we traveled was 845 km. Wow!

Day 2 - We slept well but were up and ready to go by 9:30am. We walked over to the Catalunya metro station, a little over 1.3 miles and picked up the Barcelona 2-day Cards. We could use this card for all public transportation and get discounts at various merchants. I think we took good value out of these cards.

We then walked down on the La Rambla Street, Barcelona's famous pedestrian street full of merchants and crowded with people, people, people. Last time we walked on this street in the evening. So we were busy guarding ourselves against any pickpockets. But, this time, we walked on the street during the day time and were less scared of the pickpockets that are known to be rampant, the second worst in the world after Naples, Italy. Yikes!

In the Liceu area, we went into the famous Mercado de Bourqueria, It was the best local market we have experienced so far in the entire Europe. Fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood all seemed extremely fresh. No smell at all! Very colorful fruits and ice cream bars were quite impressive. We tasted this and that slowly strolling the corridors of the market. What an experience!

We walked further down to the the Monument of Christopher Columbus located at the end of the La Rambla Street. Christopher Columbus is a national hero, although it was originally an Italian, but came to gain sponsorship for his ocean expedition for the western route to the Indies. He is honored and respected in all Spain.

We walked further along the Marina area and went to visit Picasso Museum. After a long wait, we were finally able to purchase the tickets and enjoyed the art legend's history of life and arts. I realized that his art style was realistic initially. He was born in Malaga, another Andalusian city in the south, but grew up and lived most of his life in Barcelona. Probably, this museum has the most number of Picasso's art collection.

We took the metro and took the funicular to climb up to the Parque Montsuic.  From the station, we walked over to the Miramar, a vista point and one of several places where you could take a Montsuic Cable Car. This one was traveling from the Miramar vista point passing over the Barcelona Port.

From the port station, we took a bus to go back to Mercado Bouqueria where we bought some fruits and vegetables for our dinner. We managed to get to the Sagrada Familia to see if we could purchase the tickets for tomorrow, but we could not.

We originally wanted to eat dinner at Seoul, a Korean restaurant, but it was closed until 7:30pm. It was siesta. Well... It was around 5pm and the wait seemed too long. We ended up coming back to our apartment and eating a home cooked meal. It turned out that the meal was far better than what we would have eaten at a restaurant, Seoul or else where. What a deal!

Day 3 - Another day in Barcelona. The priority was visiting Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic Basilica whose construction began in 1882 and is still in process after 130 years have passed. They are shooting to complete it by 2026, another ten years from now.

This project was designed by Antoni Gaudi, a renowned architect highly respected by all Catalans, as the people who live in the Catalonia Region are called. Unfortunately he died tragically by getting hit by a tram and nobody took him to the hospital to be treated. It was because he was living in the construction site and he looked like a homeless person and nobody recognized him. His sudden death is sad, but the magnificent work continues.

On the other hand, I was wondering if God will be pleased with all the tall and magnificent buildings that are called churches, cathedrals, basilicas, shrines or whatever. Looking back, huge Christian buildings are no longer used primarily for the saints. Rather they are used for the tourists. I suppose it is not the intent and purpose of such buildings. Gaudi meant to build the church for the poor people, but now it is flooded with tourists coming from all over the world. Good intent that has gone astray.

We were able to buy the tickets to enter the basilica at 10:30am.

This building was intended to be a church. But the church gained the bishop's seat, thus becoming a cathedral. In 2010, the Pope Benedict XVI declared it to be a basilica.  It was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984.

Sagrada Familia Basilica is well known for its height, the tallest religious building in Europe. Upon its tallest point will be 170 meters high, but will be one meter short of Mt. Montsuic, the tallest point of nature in the city, God's creation. Its ground space is not so big compared to significantly larger such buildings.

Another notable design of this basilica is 18 towers that it will have upon completion. Currently, there are only 8 towers completed. Out of 18, 12 represent the apostles, 4 evangelists, 1 Virgin Mary and the tallest Jesus Christ.

Sagrada Familia Basilica's modern design has made the lighting quite bright and embedded the beauty of nature, including flowers, fruits, trees, animals, in the building. Also, the interiors and exteriors are covered with bible stories that make the building quite comprehensive about the history or God's story.

After we spent more than good two hours at Sagrada Familia Basilica and grabbed quick lunch, we headed out to Park Guell, another landmark where Gaudi's tile mosaics are shining. Due to the park's high location, we could see the sea and the city. Gorgeous view! Gaudi's tile mosaic work was unique with designed tiles broken to pieces and patched together to produce an art design. The famous chameleon sculpture fountain was surrounded by tourists who wanted to pose for a picture.

Day 4 -- We planned to take an excursion to Montserrat, a remote national park that contains rocky mountains and stands out in the surrounding plain area. The boulder mountains formed a grandeur view even from a distance. To get there, we had to take multiple modes of transportation. First, we took a metro to Espana Station where we took a train to Monistrol Station Then we transferred to a cog train at the skirts of the mountains to climb up to the Monastery area.

We first took a San Joan funicular to climb further up to the top of the mountain for a view. It was panoramic and breath-taking.

Then we came down to the Monastery and took another San Cova funicular to go down into the valley. From there, we hiked to San Cova Monastery, a 1.67 km round trip. What was pleasantly surprising was that the hiking route was decorated with sculptures that represent the life stories of Jesus from birth to passion, resurrection and ascension. At the end, the story went astray with a few stories of Virgin Mary including her assumption and coronation. But, until then, the stories were quite real and we were able to meditate on His life with thanksgiving. Also, the views of the boulders seen from the valley were spectacular.

The Songs lined up to see the black Madonna at the Monastery and also visited the museum. We all checked out at the Audio Visual Education center about the history of Montserrat. It was noteworthy to learn that Montserrat is one of the starting points for the famous Camino de Santiago. Some day... Perhaps I could go on the journey. Let me dream on!

We took a 4:15pm cog train to return to Espana Station and to the apartment.

In Barcelona, we walked 10,000 to 25,000 steps everyday. We were all proud of ourselves that none of us fell behind the daily walk requirement.

Kristin and Mindy cooked seafood pasta that it was just delicious. Particularly after a long walk in the beautiful nature. It was our farewell dinner though, sadly.

It was time to prepare to return home.

Day 5 --- We packed and cleaned up all foods left in the refrigerator for breakfast as well as the apartment before our pick-up time at 8:40am. The driver of our pick up vehicle was punctual. We took off to the airport.

Although we arrived at the airport around 9:15am, our airlines were all different. Kristin took Turkish Airlines to return to Kigali, Rwanda and the Songs took Iberian Airlines to return to Los Angeles. My flight Qater Airways would not leave until 5:45pm and I could not check in my luggage until 2:15pm. Oh well... I had to kill time.

Image result for hasta pronto

With sadness, we had to say good bye to each other with deep gratitude for this wonderful opportunity to see and experience the best of Spain. But saying good bye is not farewell but see you soon. In Spanish, "Hasta pronto!" - Jeffrey

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