Pilgrimage

I had not seen Europe for five years, and I did miss it. I have a world map on my wall with colorful pins designating all of the places I visited over the years, and the only place in Europe without any pins was Spain. This summer, I was determined to fix this, so I joined a group of my friends on a Spanish journey. We arrived in Madrid and immediately jumped on a train to Málaga. After two and a half hours of a very comfortable, scenic ride, we were on the Spanish Riviera. Lush, hilly landscapes, white houses with red roofs, the intoxicating smell of coffee, mild Mediterranean weather and, of course, the sea. “HELLO, RIVIERA, IT’S BEEN TOO LONG!”

Well, let me tell you: Europe did not miss me as much as I missed HER. The first thing I learned was that it is impossible to get a cup of coffee before 10am, because that is when everything opens. When we asked what we could see on Sunday we got a look of a suspicion about our mental health…”This is Sunday, people! Everything is closed! RELAX! This is south of Spain, not New York!” We were on a mission to see as much as we possibly could in two weeks – we were on an exploration journey, not a relaxation one – and took this advice quite personally, hastily connecting this relaxing style of life with the current economic crisis, and not wishing Spain the best…

I have seen a lot of Europe over the years and charming narrow streets do not put me in a state of AWE anymore. It was hot, infested with tourists in white panamas just like us, and often-unfriendly locals. General disappointment in Spanish cuisine did not help either. I was expecting the food to be comparable to French with a huge variety of fresh seafood, having in mind that Spain is surrounded by water on 2½ sides… We were waking up every day at 6 am to jump in the car and drive for hours to see more and more and more… We did not have time for jetlag; we were on a mission to see the Spain.

A few days into our journey, the unspeakable happened: I lost the European transformer for my phone and IPad and got totally disconnected from the world. My state of mind could be compared to a cocaine addict who just entered rehab. With the combination of no coffee before 10am, absence of the Internet, everything being closed on Sundays, everyday’s siesta (from 1:30 – 4:30), and marginal service in general, I was wondering why am I there for two weeks? There are a lot of fabulous places in the world with less problems, how far am I willing to go just to add more colorful dots to our home map?

And then the magic began.

We visited Gibraltar and I waved hello to the African coast; in Seville I got mesmerized by the beauty of the Castle (the Real Alcazar of Seville) started in Moorish times (IX century, mind you…); then came Granada with its famous Alhambra that oversees the city and shines as a bright star in many famous works of art. Then I flew to Barcelona to see my old friend and saw Salvador Dali’s house-museum in Figueres, then Picasso in Barcelona (after I had visited one in Malaga, the place of his birth). Then Barcelona National Gallery and museum of Joan Miro, and THEN we got introduced to Gaudi and it was fascinating! His Sagrada Familia, still under constriction, became a symbol of national pride and despite the economic crisis will be completed on 2026 to commemorate the centennial of his death.

The grand finale of the trip was LA PRADA in Madrid. The richness of it only can be compared to the largest collections in the world, like Metropolitan, Louvre and Hermitage. Velasquez, Goya, Bosh, Rivera, El Greco: presented in huge quantities, the museum is mindboggling! I only saw these works in catalogs before and felt privileged to see it in person. Across the street from La Prada in the museum district, there was the exhibit of Edward Hopper from private collections and museums from all over the US and the rest of the world. In Madrid museums are opened until midnight, as well as restaurants, and people stroll down the streets and casually stop at the museums. WHAT A LIFE! It is the art that still puts me in a state of AWE!

I have learned a lot about this old and rich culture with its proud people, great architecture, passionate flamenco and fascinating art. Every town, every street has many centuries of history in the making and people carefully treasure it. I successfully got off the Internet addiction; I feel refreshed and fueled with enormous world creativity and it is needless to say that I got many new colorful pins on my world map. Spain has been a destination for pilgrims for centuries for its beauty, religion and history. Although the history of Spain and its role in the world is immeasurable, I am an art girl and am willing to go as far as it takes to see great art and great art only. This trip found its purpose, it turned out to be a pilgrimage to ART, to a very artsy country Spain.

Till next time… Madrid, I will be back!