After a few days of eating way too much rich food (and maybe drinking copious amounts of wine) I was not up to having much for breakfast, though my caffeine addiction still demanded at least a cup of coffee.
And I had a very full day ahead; even by my admittedly – ahem– aggressive sightseeing standards.
I looked at all the bars along the street, with their beautiful brewing machines which probably cost more than my car is currently worth, and just had the feeling that my stomach would not really embrace a cup of the strong joe. Coffee in Spain is good. Real good. And strong. The way it should be.
Pondering this existential dilema (stomach troubles vs. withdrawal headache) on a beautifully bright spring morning, I suddenly spotted a potential solution. The green circle with a mermaid in it. Yes, I went into a Starbucks by Plaza de Callao. Me. I don’t ever do this. Ok, maybe once in a blue moon for a Frappuccino on a very hot day.
I don’t even know the fancy words to order properly. ‘Un café americano pequeño’ did the trick. The barista might have sneered. I grudgingly admit that the watery black liquid did not irritate the stomach and staved off the headache.
During the night I had come to the conclusion that I needed to something about my ‘access denied‘ disappointments. A plan started hatching in my mind.
It was time to act. The first stop of the day was a return trip to the ticket office of the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales to inquire about visit availability. Score!
They still had a couple of slots (at 9:00am) for the 2:00pm visit. I did not know if this would work for me as I had yet to get a ticket at the other place I wanted to visit, but at €6 it was not going to break the bank if I had to give it up (fat chance!) and give me a chance to visit my Mary after all.
A short walk took me to the Real Monasterio de la Encarnación, which was really the first visit planned for the day. I was almost shocked that there was no space available for next guided visit. I had completely underestimated Madrid’s shoulder season crowds. Twice now.
The next available time slot was at noon. I was going to be cutting it close to get back to the Descalzas but I was sure I could make it work. I’m a fast walker when I want to. Personal record for a half-marathon is 2:47 without running at all.
So I had slightly over an hour to spend. This is where having Plans B, C, and D grouped by location in The Spreadsheet comes in handy.
I cannot pinpoint accurately how I became aware of the existence of San Antonio de los Alemanes church. It is barely mentioned in guidebooks. But it was marked in light green for ‘if I have time‘ within The Spreadsheet and it was nearby. Google maps got me there without problems.
The simple exterior does nothing to prepare you for magnificent baroque interior. Built in the mid 1600s it was originally know as the Hospital de los Portugueses, until secession soured the relations of the Habsburgs with that country.
I had not seen pictures of the church before and it got a jaw-dropping surprise reaction out of me. What a beauty!!!! Every inch of surface is decorated but since Spanish baroque tends to be more subdued that its French or Italian counterparts, it is much more to my liking.
If you enjoy religious art, give yourself the gift of stepping off the beaten path to visit this jewel.
Before leaving I lit a candle to St. Anthony and threw in a few coins into the donation box. I might be non-practicing but within a 1-year period my three sisters have become unexpectedly single. So yeah, we will take all the help we can get, lol.
After spending (much!) more time than I had intended in the church, I had to haul my not-so-little rear end back to La Encarnación at high pace. I made it with a few minutes to spare. This was going to be a recurring theme throughout the day.
The Real Monasterio de la Encarnacion is still an active convent; a handful of cloistered nuns still live there. The public areas and visiting times are accordingly limited. Only guided visits allowed, and the no-pictures policy is strictly enforced. Very strictly.
A guest was threatened to be kicked out because of picture-taking. In the lady’s defense, I will say that the guide’s English was barely understandable and her own was rudimentary.
These miscommunications are unfortunately common in Spain. In MY experience (Surveyed Subjects = 1), most people under 50 living in urban areas will understand at least basic English and will try to respond in the same language. This is where it gets complicated because even if the word choice and pronunciation might be correct, the rhythm in which the Spanish speak their English will throw off a lot listeners.
My personal and entirely non-scientific theory is that the natural rhythm of spoken Castilian Spanish does not merge well with English because my experience with Latin American Spanish speakers is very different.
In case you are wondering, I’m a native Spanish speaker and first learned English by reading; MY pronunciation is off many, many times. And if you have ever tried to change the rhythm in which you speak you know that it is hard.
Anyway, back to the to tour. I’m willing to give the lady the benefit of the doubt, I think that she never understood that there was a picture-taking prohibition. Or maybe she was counting on it not being enforced. The visitor was visibly distressed and very embarrassed over the exchange.
Some of the fellow guests on the tour were there only because they tickets for the Descalzas Reales were sold out. The ticket agent there had sent them over to La Encarnación as a second-best visit. And for the most part that is exactly what it is. The not so pretty older sister.
Having said that, La Encarnación contains some heavy-duty works of art. The reliquary room by itself is a wonder to see. One of the best I have seen in Spain and close to the truly outstanding chapel of relics in the Alcobaça Monastery in Portugal.
The most revered relics are vials containing the blood of San Pantaleón and San Genaro encased in masterpieces of goldsmith. IF one is interested in the subject matter (I am) this was an entirely worthwhile visit.
By the time the tour reached the church, I was beginning to get nervous. It was 1:45pm and I needed to get going or risk losing my time slot at the Descalzas. Straightforward honesty was (usually always is) the best course of action: I told the tour guide I had an timed entrance ticket and he opened a side door so I could leave after making sure I knew where to go.
I got to the Descalzas a little sweaty and winded, but I got there on time. With 3 minutes to spare actually.
The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales was no less impressive by having seen it two days before. This is such a treasure trove that one will always notice new things. And this time the Chapter House was open to visits.
I got to see my Mary after all.
This half-body polychromed wood 17th century sculpture by Pedro de Mena simply moves me down to the core. I come from a long line of strong women, and this Mater Dolorosa is one I can relate to. This Mary feels the desolation stemming from the loss of her child, yet she is not defined by it. Her lips are tight with determination and her chin juts forward bravely. She has Faith. She truly believes that there is purpose to her suffering and is full of acceptance.
Yes, I might have shed a discreet tear. I have tried to find a picture that does justice to this remarkable polychromed wood but none really capture the raw emotion. Or maybe it’s just me getting this deep personal response from the sculpture. It is my Mary after all.
Picture is from the Patrimonio Nacional website.
It was close to 4:00pm and I was starving. Thankfully coming up on The Spreadsheet was a visit to nearby Espacio Gourmet, a food hall and market located on the penthouse of big El Corte Inglés department store by Callao.
Even if you have zero interest on food and/or food porn (plenty to see here!), this place is worth a visit just for the views of Madrid. And they have continuous service throughout the day in case you get trapped in the 4:00 to 8:00 period where most restaurants close.
I could have had anything (everything looked amazing) but the smell of burgers on the grill had made my mouth water since the elevator doors slid open. And I do love a good burger. Seared crust on the outside and medium rare inside? Yes, please!
See what happens when you start the day with Starbucks!?!?! Anyway, I still had 4 more weeks in Spain. I would have plenty of time to eat stuff I do not get at home. And the Spanish love their burgers too.
And then, if you eat a hamburger in Spain it automatically becomes a Spanish Hamburger. It WAS a good burger. The glass of wine I had with it didn’t hurt either.
I had met all my must do items for the day and it was still early. Head back to the hotel for a nap? I had time to squeeze in a few second tier sights. But did I have the energy?
Day 5, Thursday, April 18 / Part 1