Pilgrimage Travelogue
A highly spiritual journey of a
lifetime









a highly
Part 4
By Susie “Chie” R. Cuñada

Once-in-a-lifetime experiences are as exhilarating as they are enriching.  As a matter of fact, unique, one-of-a kind events
that create a lasting memory are one of the great reasons to travel. And a pilgrimage tour is no exception.  For those of you
who are not Catholics, Mr. Webster defines pilgrimage as a “journey to a sacred place or shrine.”  

Personally, I’m fascinated by the ways in which travel and spirituality intersect.  Certain places have an almost magnetic
pull on our souls, whether they’re to a holy site in a distant land or to a place of private meaning for a single person.  But
one thing that makes the pilgrimage different is the attitude toward it. However skeptical one may be about the basis of the
pilgrimage and the supposedly “legends” surrounding it, one cannot help but be affected by it. And although it is not free
of contradictions, one of its many little ironies is that the first step toward this state entails a certain amount of very practical
preparation ahead of time.  Yes, it's difficult to find the time and money, and even more difficult to do, but for those who
want something more, you'll find it in your soul. As it did in mine.

Fr. Jerry was our spiritual director for this tour.
2017,accelerated by additional funding from visitors to Barcelona following the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Computer-
aided design technology has been used to accelerate construction of the building, which had previously been expected
to last for several hundred years, based on building techniques available in the early 20th century. Current technology
allows stone to be shaped off-site by a CNC milling machine, whereas in the 20th century, the stone was carved by
hand.

The main nave was covered and an organ installed in mid-2010, allowing the still unfinished building to be used for
religious services. The church was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI on November 7, 2010 in front of a congregation of
6,500 people, including King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain. A further 50,000 people followed the consecration
Mass from outside the basilica, where more than 100 bishops and 300 priests were on hand to offer Holy Communion.  
No masses were allowed before its consecration. Therefore, we were really blessed to have come at such an
opportune time because we have been allowed to have mass celebrated inside the Basilica.

Gaudí's original design calls for a total of 18 spires, representing in ascending order of height the 12 Apostles, the 4
Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ.  Eight spires have been built as of 2010, corresponding to 4
apostles at the Nativity facade and 4 apostles at the Passion facade.

The Evangelists' spires will be surmounted by sculptures of their traditional symbols: a bull (St Luke), a winged man (St
Matthew), an eagle (St John), and a lion (St Mark). The central spire of Jesus Christ is to be surmounted by a giant
cross; the spire's total height (170m (560 ft)) will be one metre less than that of Montjuïc hill in Barcelona. The lower
spires are surmounted by communion hosts with sheaves of wheat and chalices with bunches of grapes, representing
the Eucharist. The completion of the spires will make Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world.

The Church will have three grand façades: the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory
façade to the South (yet to be completed). The Nativity Façade was built before work was interrupted in 1935 and bears
the most direct Gaudí influence. The Passion façade is especially striking for its spare, gaunt, tormented characters,
including emaciated figures of Christ being scourged at the pillar; and Christ on the Cross. These controversial
designs are the work of Josep Maria Subirachs. The Glory façade, on which construction began in 2002, will be the
largest and most monumental of the three and will represent one's ascension to God.  It will also depict various scenes
such as Hell, Purgatory, and will include elements such as the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Heavenly Virtues.

Today, cash receipts from tourist visitors and public donations mean the Sagrada project is self-supporting, which
explains why the citizens of Barcelona have such a phlegmatic attitude toward the length of time the Cathedral is taking
to build.  But it was not always that way and in the early stage of construction (1909), dissatisfaction among Barcelona’s
poor, coupled with perceptions of Church wealth, exploded into rioting, and many religious buildings in the city were
attacked and destroyed. However, the name Antoni Gaudi carried sufficient respect to ensure that the Sagrada was free
from the attention of rampaging mobs.  Perhaps in the light of those upheavals, we can see the Sagrada Familia – in
addition to its dedicatory name – standing as a symbol of the institution of the family: under attack by unholy things and
yet still surviving basically intact.  Maybe the building will never be finished but will stand instead as a symbol of our own
lives, our own spiritual journeys; works in progress, largely unfinished until such time as life ends when at last our
spiritual houses will be judged complete, one way or another.

Perhaps, La Sagrada Familia, even in its incomplete state, has to fall into the category of being one of the man-made
wonders of the world.  So, does it really matter if in another 200 years it still remains unfinished?  I don’t think it does.  
After all, several hundred years is not outside the norm for completing many of Europe’s most famous cathedrals.  
Besides, whenever Antoni Gaudi was asked why he persisted with a project he would never live to see completed, he
would invariably reply, "My Master is in no hurry."
Alba de Tormes / Salamanca (Spain)
After breakfast, we said goodbye to Fatima and motored back to Spain, and
proceeded to Alba de Tormes, an old-world little town southeast of Salamanca,
which is one of the most important pilgrimage centers in Spain in which St.
Teresa of Avila, who died here in 1582, is revered.

We went to the Carmelite convent where we were privileged to have our mass,
visit the tomb of St. Teresa (right) and have photos with her relics.

The Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Annunciation was founded on January
25, 1571 by Saint Teresa of Ávila. The restless Teresa spent her last 15 days of
her life in a small cell of the ground floor of the monastery where she experienced solemn
encounters with God before dying on October 4, 1582.  Although Teresa's holiness was
recognized throughout Spain during her lifetime, it is through her beautiful death where her
glorious story begins. Here, her incorrupt body is kept, along with two of her most renowned
relics - her left arm and her heart (right) . For this reason, this Carmelite Monastery is known
throughout the entire world and it is a renowned route for pilgrims and tourists.

Avila / Segovia (Spain)
Ávila is a medieval city in the province of Castile-Léon in western Spain, about 70 miles
northwest of Madrid.  Founded in the 11th century to protect the Spanish territories from the
Moors, Ávila (right) has a
magnificently well-preserved city
wall, a historic cathedral, a
number of Romanesque
churches, and an authentic
medieval atmosphere.  For all
these reasons, the entire Old
Town of Ávila has been
designated a World Heritage
Site by UNESCO. For pilgrims,
however, the city of Ávila is important because of its association with the great mystic and reformer, St. Teresa de Jesus,
better known as St. Teresa of Ávila.  

Avila is noted for its tall city wall which encircles the entire old city.  As you travel from the south to Avila, the first thing you’ll
notice is the drop in temperature as Avila is 1130 meters above sea level.  The shape of the current wall is due, primarily,
to construction done in the 11th and 12th centuries. Today the wall is considered one of the best preserved in the world.  
They are a couple miles long and average 40 feet in height.  The walls are partitioned by over 80 towers that reach as high
as 65 feet, the equivalent of a six-story building.  There are nine gates allowing you to enter and exit the town. The amazing
thing about the walls is their condition.  They are in a near-perfect state.  If you did not know better, you would swear they
were built last week.  Happily, you can tromp up and down the towers and walk across the top of the walls.  Looking out
over the area surrounding Avila, you get a definite feel for what it must have been like for a soldier to defend the city.

St. Teresa of Avila
Saint Teresa was born into a noble family of Ávila on March 28, 1515.  Religiously inclined from a young age, Teresa was
fascinated by the lives of the saints and ran away several times to seek martyrdom at the hands of the Moors.  The "Four
Posts" monument on the hill above Ávila marks the spot where her father brought her back at the age of 7.

At the age of 19, Teresa left home to join the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Ávila.  In the cloister, Teresa
practiced severe asceticism and mystical contemplation.  However, Teresa found the Carmelite order to be too worldly, so
she worked as a reformer of the order for much of her life.  In 1562, she founded a new convent in Ávila called St.
Joseph's, and moved there in 1563 where she wrote a "Constitution" enforcing strict asceticism.

For the first 5 years in her new convent, Teresa devoted herself entirely to spiritual contemplation and mysticism whereby
she experienced many visions and mystical ecstasies, the most famous of which is the "transverberation of the heart,"
which she described in her Autobiography: “The angel appeared to me to be thrusting the spear of fire into my heart and
piercing my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and left me all on fire with a great love of
God.” This event inspired one of Bernini's most famous sculptures, “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa,” located in Rome.

In 1567, Teresa was granted permission by the Carmelite general to establish more Carmelite convents.  Shortly
thereafter, she began making long journeys throughout Spain, reforming old convents and founding new ones. She
founded 16 new convents during her 20 years of reform activity.

During one of her journeys, Teresa met St. John of the Cross, who became her spiritual advisor.  He joined her in her
reforming efforts and paralleled her work with Carmelite nuns among Carmelite monks.  (More about St. John of the
Cross later.)

St. Teresa died from illness on one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Tormes on October 4, 1582.  Many miracles
and legends have been associated with St. Teresa since her death. The night she died, her monastic cell back in Ávila
was said to fill with a pleasant fragrance.  When her body was exhumed 330 years later, her coffin emitted the same
heavenly fragrance.  This miracle is known in Catholicism as the "odor of sanctity."  It is also said that when Teresa's body
was examined upon her death, she was found to have a perforation of the heart, reflecting her most famous mystical
experience. According to another legend, a hand severed from St. Teresa's body could perform miracles.

St. Teresa has been highly revered within Catholicism ever since.  In 1622, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV at the
same time as Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier.  In 1817, the Cortes declared St. Teresa the patron saint of Spain.  In
1970, Pope Paul VI gave St. Teresa the honorific title "Doctor of the Church."  She was the first woman in Catholic history
to receive that title.

The Convent of St. Teresa, which belongs to the Order of Carmelitas Descalzos (Barefoot Carmelites), is the primary
shrine of St. Teresa in Ávila.  Located on the Plaza de la Santa, it stands over the site of Teresa's birth.  It is an active
convent and much of it remains closed to visitors, but pilgrims can visit the site of Teresa's birthplace, now an elaborate
chapel within the Baroque church (left).  The chapel is decorated with scenes of the saint demonstrating her powers of
levitation.

Anyhow, our first stop outside the medieval walls of Ávila was the Monastery of the Incarnation, an important stop on the
pilgrimage to St. Teresa of Ávila. This is where Teresa lived for 30 years, received the advice of St. John of the Cross,
began to reform the Carmelite order, wrote, and had many of her mystical experiences.   

The courtyard of the monastery is paved with a visual representation of the Interior Castle, written by St. Teresa, which
compares the contemplative soul to a castle with seven successive interior courts, or chambers, analogous to the seven
heavens.
Segovia
After the guided tour and
some free time for
ourselves, we motored
towards Segovia, famous for
its world renowned Roman
Aqueduct, the largest and
best preserved of its kind
anywhere in the world.  The
Aqueduct of Segovia is a
Roman aqueduct and one
of the most significant and best-preserved ancient monuments left on the Iberian Peninsula. It is the foremost symbol of
Segovia, as evidenced by its presence on the city's coat of arms. The aqueduct is the city's most important architectural
landmark. It had been kept functioning throughout the centuries and preserved in excellent condition.  It provided water to
Segovia, mainly to the Segovia Alcázar, until recently. Because of differential decay of stone blocks, water leakage from the
upper viaduct, and pollution that caused the granite ashlar masonry to deteriorate and crack, the site was listed in the
2006 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund. Contrary to popular belief, vibrations caused by traffic that
used to pass under the arches did not affect the aqueduct due to its great mass.

In the olden times, the aqueduct transports waters from Fuente Fría River, situated in the nearby mountains, some 17 km
(11 mi) from the city in a region known as La Acebeda.  It runs another 15 km (9.3 mi) before arriving in the city.  The water
is first gathered in a tank known as El Caserón (or Big House), and is then led through a channel to a second tower
known as the Casa de Aguas (or Waterhouse).  There it is naturally decanted and sand settles out before the water
continues its route.  Next the water travels 728 m. (796 yd.) on a 1% grade until it is high upon the Postigo, a rocky
outcropping on which the old city center, the Segovia Alcázar, was built.  Then, at Plaza de Díaz Sanz, the structure makes
an abrupt turn and heads toward Plaza Azoguejo.  It is there the monument begins to display its full splendor.  

At its tallest, the aqueduct reaches a height of 28.5 m. (93 ft. 6 in.), including nearly 6 m. (19 ft. 8 in.) of foundation.  There
are both single and double arches supported by pillars.  From the point the aqueduct enters the city until it reaches Plaza
de Díaz Sanz, it boasts 75 single arches and 44 double arches (or 88 arches when counted individually), followed by 4
single arches, totaling 167 arches in all.  The aqueduct is built of unmortared, brick-like granite blocks.  During the Roman
era, each of the three tallest arches displayed a sign in bronze letters, indicating the name of its builder along with the
date of construction.  Today, two niches are still visible, one on each side of the aqueduct.  One of them is known to have
held the image of Hercules, who according to legend was founder of the city. The other niche now contains the images of
the Virgen de la Fuencisla (the Patroness of Segovia) and Saint Stephen.  

By way of introduction, Segovia is Spain and Castile at its best - twisting alleyways, the highest concentration of
Romanesque churches in all of Europe, pedestrian streets where no cars are allowed, the aroma of roast suckling pig
around every corner, all surrounded by the city's medieval wall, which itself is bordered by two rivers and an extensive
green-belt park with miles of shaded walks.  The tallest building in Segovia is still the 16th-century Cathedral, a prominent
landmark as one approaches from any direction.
A city of great importance in Roman and medieval times,
Segovia's population has remained relatively stable over the
centuries and today hovers at around 50,000.  Famous in the 15th
century for its wool production, today's activities are based on
agriculture and tourism.  The tourist sector was greatly assisted
in 1985 when UNESCO declared Segovia "Heritage of Mankind."  
The future of Segovia is closely linked to the protection and
promotion of the city's monumental complex, in which the Mint is
given a unique distinction as the world's oldest, still standing,
industrial manufacturing plant (1583).

Visiting all these attractions in Segovia is particularly easy due to
the city's close proximity to Madrid and its international airport.  
The 54-mile drive is done in less than an hour via a twin-bore
unnel going under the Guadarrama Mountains, which totally and quite effectively separate this sleepy Castillan town
from the over 3 million people in Spain's capital city.  The mountains also provide a dramatic backdrop to Segovia's
monumental skyline, particularly in winter and spring when covered with snow.  The city's elevation of 3,280 ft. provides
a refreshing atmosphere during the long summer evenings for enjoying the dozens of sidewalk cafes and terraces,
especially on the streets and plazas where no cars are permitted.

After breakfast, we proceeded to the Shrine of St. John of the Cross for the mass and to visit his tomb.  Segovia is the
final resting place of the saint.
John de Yepes, youngest child of Gonzalo de Yepes and Catherine Alvarez, poor silk
weavers of Toledo, learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His
father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver's daughter and was
disowned by his noble family.  After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family
together as they wandered homeless in search of work.  These were the examples of
sacrifice that John followed with his own great love -- God.

When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest
city in Spain.  At 14, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from
incurable diseases and madness.  It was out of this poverty and suffering that John
learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform
movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer.  But
many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order
kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell 6X10 feet and beaten three times a week by the monks.  There was only one tiny
window high up near the ceiling.  Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and
light.  He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After 9 months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical
poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets.  With no idea where he
was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns.  
From then on, his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.

When he fell ill, he was moved to the monastery of Ubeda where he at first was treated very unkindly, but at last even his
adversaries came to acknowledge his sanctity, and his funeral was the occasion of a great outburst of enthusiasm.  The
body, still incorrupt, as has been ascertained within the last few years, was moved to Segovia.  
Alcazar Castle
The Alcázar of Segovia (Segovia Castle) is a stone fortification, located in
the old city of Segovia (right).  Rising out on a rocky crag above the
confluence of the rivers Eresma and Clamores near the Guadarrama
mountains, it is one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain by
virtue of its shape - like the bow of a ship.  The Alcázar was originally built
as a fortress but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal
Artillery College and a military academy since then.

Today, the Alcázar remains one of the most popular historical sights in
Spain and is one of the three major attractions in Segovia.  Notable
rooms are the Hall of Ajimeces which houses many works of art, the Hall
of the Throne and the Hall of Kings with a frieze representing all of the
Spanish Kings and Queens.

Madrid
After mass at the Shrine of St. John of the Cross, we motored towards
Madrid, the capital of Spain (right).  It is a city almost without equal in
Europe.  It is the vivacious, teeming, always beating heart of Spain.  Long
stifled under the fascist regime of Francisco Franco, Madrid has enjoyed
a rebirth of political and social freedom during the last quarter century not
witnessed since the Spanish capital's golden age in the 16th century.

Contemporary Madrid is a sprawling, modern city with a population of
over 3 million.  While the suburban areas are awash in uniform, concrete
apartment buildings, the city center is a delightful mix of narrow
alleyways, gourmet restaurants, and world famous modern art and
Renaissance museums.  Everyone arrives in the capital with varied
pictures of Madrid in their mind, yet the city always shows you something
new, something you missed or had not expected.

Located in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula and right in the center of the
Castilian plain 646 meters above sea level (the highest capital in
Europe), the climate of Madrid is characterized by warm, dry summers
and cool winters. A cosmopolitan city, a business center, headquarters
for the Public Administration, Government, Spanish Parliament and the
home of the Spanish Royal Family, Madrid also plays a major role in both
the banking and industrial sectors.  Most of its industry is located in the
Southern fringe of the city, where important textile, food and metal
working factories are clustered.  A city of great monuments, it is also
characterized by intense cultural and artistic activity and a very lively
nightlife.  But it is not just a cultural destination.  It is also a lively
metropolis with many pubs, cafes, discos and nightclubs open late into
the night.  
Our first stop was in front of the monument of Jose P. Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero (above right).  Rizal’s
monument was inaugurated on December 5, 1996 along the Avenida de Las Islas Filipinas in Madrid to commemorate
the 100th year of his death.  The inauguration was part of the celebrations marking the centennial of Philippine
independence from Spain.

After our group photo in front of Rizal’s monument, we continued with our panoramic tour of the city.  The city is divided
into the “old Madrid” which has the old buildings; and the “new Madrid” which has the skyscrapers.  Having said this,
however, I noticed that while Madrid possesses a modern infrastructure, it has preserved the look and feel of many of its
historic neighborhoods and streets, as can be gleaned from the photos below:
Plaza de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles (center) is one of the finest squares in Madrid, and as a result of its beauty, it has managed to become a
major symbol of the city. The imperial majesty of Spain's capital city is on display at this busy plaza, with buildings such as
the Palacio de Comunicaciones and the Banco de España figuring among the most architecturally appealing structures in
the entire city.  In the center of it all lies the attractive Cibeles Fountain, which is a major symbol of the city in its own right.  
The immediate area in general boasts an enticing appeal that is simply hard to deny, and some of the best Madrid views
can be enjoyed from any number of vantage points.

No visit to Madrid would be complete without enjoying some time in the
Plaza Mayor (above left). Plaza Mayor is Madrid's
most emblematic square, and this has a lot to do with its rich history and its overall grandeur. The Plaza Mayor Statue
depicts Philip III on a horse and dates back to the early 1600s.  In fact, hanging out in this attractive plaza is one of the top
things to do in Spain's capital city.  At the base of the square's buildings are a number of shops and restaurants, and even
if you aren't up for shopping or dining, the square can be a great place to just hang out and take it all in.

Puerta de Alcalá
Puerta de Alcalá (above right) stands at Plaza de la Independencia in Madrid.  The original Puerta de Alcalá, which stood
nearby, was built in 1599 as a welcome gesture to Doña Margarita de Austria, who was the wife of King Felipe III.  When
Carlos III came to the throne of Spain one and a half centuries later, he entered Madrid in great style but was not at all
pleased with this city gate, thinking it quite unsuitable for an important royal appearance.

He demanded that a much more flamboyant gate should be built, and called for architects to present their proposed plans.
 Although several great architects of the age presented their proposals, it was an Italian architect, Francisco Sabatini, who
was finally granted the commission.  In 1764, the original Puerta de Alcalá was demolished and work started on the grand
new gate.  The new Puerta de Alcalá was completed in 1769 and its official inauguration took place in 1778.  The gate has
a large central semicircular topped arch, flanked by two similar arches. They are in turn flanked by two square lintelled
gates, five in all.
Puerta del Sol
The Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun), located in the very heart of Madrid, is one of
the best known and busiest places in Madrid.  This is the centre (Km 0) of the
radial network of Spanish roads, from which all roads and highways start (left).  
The square also contains the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional
eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year.  

The Puerta del Sol contains a number of well known sights associated both
domestically and internationally with Spain.  On the south side, the old Post
Office serves as the office of the President of Madrid, the head of the regional
government of the Autonomous Community of Madrid (not to be confused with
the Madrid City Council, which is housed elsewhere).  Also on its south side, the
square holds a mounted statue of Charles III of Spain, nicknamed "el rey
alcalde" ("the kingmayor") due to the extensive public works program he set in
motion.  On the east side lies a statue of a bear and a madrone tree (madroño),
the heraldic symbol of Madrid.  

Madrid is the administrative and financial capital of Spain.  In here you will find
the most important Stock exchange in Spain.  Almost all the important financial
institutions have their headquarters here, such as the BBVA skyscraper.  

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) is one of the biggest banks in Spain.  
Although its headquarters is in Bilbao, the bank has a huge delegation in
Madrid's financial district.   It is one of the most important architectural
landmarks of Madrid, with its striking ocher color, more intense as time passes
due to the oxidation of its facade steel. It has a rectangular floor with round
corners, and the facade is made of continuous glass and steel, allowing exterior
views from every point.  The South, East and West facades also have steel
sunshades in every floor, contributing to its characteristic look.

Torre Picasso
From 1988 till 2007, Torre Picasso (Picasso Tower) was the tallest building in
Madrid with its 157m (515 ft) and 43 floors.  A notable feature of Torre Picasso is
the wide entrance arch, supporting the whole façade over it, with an
underground steel structure serving to reinforce it.  The gap under this arch is
covered by a special security glass.
The statue of Don Quixote and Sancho
Panza in Plaza de España
It is strictly forbidden to take any photos of the tower or any other construction from within the perimeter of the property.  
Guards will demand you leave the premises at the mere sight of your camera, citing security concerns and image rights.  
While the owners present the tower as an emblematic symbol of Madrid for the citizens, for photography enthusiasts, the
tower has become a symbol of restriction and prohibition.
Kio Towers
The Puerta de Europa towers (Gate of Europe or just Torres KIO) are twin office
buildings in Madrid (right). The towers have a height of 114m (374 ft) and have 26
floors. They were constructed from 1989 to 1996. They were designed by the
American architects, Philip Johnson and John Burgee, built by Fomento de
Construcciones y Contratas and commissioned in 1996 by the Kuwait Investment
Office (hence their initial name "Torres KIO" or "KIO Towers").  Each building is
115m tall with an inclination of 15°, making them the first inclined skyscrapers in
the world.

Cuatro Torres Business Area (CTBA) (Four Towers Business Area) is a business
district located in the Paseo de la Castellana (below right). The area contains the
tallest skyscrapers in Madrid and Spain (Torre Espacio, Torre de Cristal, Torre
Sacyr Vallehermoso and Torre Caja Madrid).  The construction of the buildings
finished in 2008.  The complex was formerly known as Madrid Arena.
Palacio Real de Madrid (The Royal Palace of Madrid)

The official residence of the King of Spain in the city of Madrid, the Royal
Palace is only used for state ceremonies.  King Juan Carlos and the Royal
Family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the more modest
Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.  The palace is owned by
the Spanish State and administered by the Patrimonio Nacional, a public
agency of the Ministry of the Presidency. It is partially open to the public,
except when it is being used for official business.

Palacio Real visitors should prepare themselves to be wowed, especially if
they venture inside the sprawling complex to get a look at some of the more
than 2,000 rooms.  It is a most impressive palace, its size intended to dwarf
the other palaces on the European continent at the time.  

Thereafter, we headed to the Almudena Cathedral, the main cathedral in
Madrid.  

The construction of the
Almudena Cathedral (below left) was conceived by
Carlos I in 1518, though work didn't start until the 1880s.  Delays were
prominent throughout the construction process.  Interestingly enough, the
Catedral de la Almudena, as it is known in Spanish, wasn't finished until
1993.  As you might imagine, this has resulted in a number of different
Author in front of the Royal Palace.
architectural styles being implemented. The exterior has a mostly neoclassical appeal that blends well with the Palacio
Real, which is located directly across from the cathedral.  As for its interior, it is decidedly neo-gothic and has a relatively
modern feel.
The devotion to Our Lady of Almudena, patroness of Madrid, began in the
11th century.  Tradition tells us that when Dom Alfonso VI conquered
Madrid in 1083, he immediately ordered the purification of the Church of
Santa Maria, which had been profaned by the Moors.

Since the statue of Our Lady, which the Apostle St. James had placed in
that building in the early days of the Church, had disappeared, the King,
together with the religious authorities, made a procession praying to Our
Lord to help them find the statue.  The pious cortege processed around the
walls of the city, singing and praying.  At a certain moment, part of the wall
fell and they found the statue of Our Lady that had been hidden there for
over 300 years.  On either side of the statue were two candles – still lighted
and burning – that Catholics had placed there in homage of the Virgin
before closing the niche where they had hidden her statue. Almudena means market or granary, and this name was
given to the statue because the place where it was hidden was near the Moorish granary.

No discussion about the Almudena Cathedral would be complete without mentioning how controversial the building is.
The relative lack of Old World charm when compared to other continental cathedrals such as Paris' Notre Dame is part of
the reason why it brings on some criticism. Regardless of what your final take might be, this Cathedral in Madrid
nonetheless deserves a look. There is a certain beauty to the outside, especially when viewed in tandem with the Palacio
Real from afar, and the grandiose interior is impressive.  The soaring ceilings and colorful paintings in the main nave
add to the somewhat tame beauty.  Pop art stained glass windows hint at the church's relatively young age, although
these windows were recently revealed to be copies. In 2004, the Almudena Cathedral served as the venue for the
wedding of Spain's Prince Felipe.

As an aside, people in Madrid are very friendly and open minded.  It's not difficult to make new friends (especially at night).
 If you ever come to Madrid, you will notice that people are always ready to help you. The problem, however, is that not
many people speak English.  Although English is studied in schools, many locals only know a few words.

Madrileños (how locals are called) like going to bed late at night and waking up late in the morning. They usually start
their day with chocolate con churros (thick hot chocolate with deep-fried hoops of batter) or coffee with 'bollos' (rolls).  
They eat lunch at three o'clock, go back to work at four till seven or eight, and eat dinner at ten at home.  If and when they
go out, they eat dinner at eleven or even later.

So - if you're planning a travel to Spain, try to adapt to this timetable, because restaurants usually open for lunch at one or
two o'clock and close at four, and open at nine and close at midnight for dinner.

Barcelona (Spain)
In a privileged position on the northeastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula and the shores of the Mediterranean,
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain in both size and population.  It is also the capital of Catalonia, 1 of the 17
Autonomous Communities that make up Spain.  There are two official languages spoken in Barcelona: Catalan,
generally spoken in all of Catalonia, and Castilian Spanish.  

Barcelona, a 2,000-year-old master of the art of perpetual novelty, has catapulted to the rank of Spain's most-visited city.  
Well known as a cultural centre, it boasts splendid architecture, monuments, historical sites, natural resources, beaches
and much more. It is a very modern, multicultural, cosmopolitan city.  Almost 4.5 million people call Barcelona home.  The
city enjoys a prime location, bathed by the sea and has excellent transport links with the rest of Europe.  Some people say
that Barcelona is Spain's most European city because it is always open to new ideas and trends.

On the other hand, Barcelona is unequivocally a Mediterranean city, not only because of its geographic location but also
and above all because of its history, tradition and cultural influences.  There are monuments of Romanesque, Gothic and
Renaissance periods, but most characteristic is what has been built during the last 100 years.  The city continues to
evolve as a centre of design, as a gastronomic powerhouse, as an educational and business centre, and potentially the
coolest city in the world.   And one the world never tires of visiting.
Our first stop was Montjuic to see the Estadi Olimpic (left) or Olympic
Stadium Spain, site of exciting sporting events.  In 1929, Montjuic hosted the
International Exposition and began a large-scale construction process on
the hill, one of the results of which was the Estadi Olimpic.  Several years
ago, Estadi Olimpic was used as a paddock for racing teams participating
in the Spanish Grand Prix.  Now this amazing facility, a must-see stop for
any sports enthusiast, serves as a practice ground for the Espanyol football
team. The Olympics transformed Montjuic and Barcelona again in 1992.
The Olympic Stadium Spain underwent a transformation and was
remodeled to seat 65,000 people.

Thereafter, we continued our panoramic tour by passing through Passeig
de Gràcia, a major avenue in Barcelona which is also one of its most
important shopping and business areas, containing several of the city's
most celebrated pieces of architecture.  In terms of the cost of renting or
buying property anywhere in this avenue, Passeig de Gràcia is nowadays
regarded as the most expensive street in Barcelona and also in Spain.
Then on to Diagonal Avenue, the longest avenue in Barcelona that cuts the
city in two, diagonally from west to east (by Barcelona's compass), hence
the name.  

And finally, we got off the bus to gaze in awe and wonder at the
most-awaited La Sagrada Familia (below right).
We were blessed to have mass inside the Basilica, after which the local guide explained in detail the meaning and
importance of each facade, which I will explain in detail below.  

In a nutshell, the landmark is one of the most popular attractions in Spain, though its construction has taken more than
100 years and is still underway today.  La Sagrada Familia is constantly evolving into a more stunning masterpiece.

La Sagrada Familia is dedicated to the Holy Family. Construction began in 1881, and architect Antoni Gaudi dedicated
several years of his life to making it the “last great sanctuary of Christendom.”  It is one of Gaudi’s most famous works in
Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is filled with Christian symbolism, with detailed
sculptures and majestic spires adorning the facility.  Some of the original ideas of
Gaudi have been modified with the passage of time.  Wars and anarchists have
delayed its construction; however, the builders committed to finishing this great work
are determined to see it to the end.

The estimated completion date of the La Sagrada Familia is approximately 2026,
which will mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. That might seem like a long
time, but Gaudi meant for La Sagrada Familia to be quite unique. Many of its stones
are shaped differently than the next, and must be sent off-site to be shaped
accurately. Based on building techniques available in the early 1900s, it was once
thought that construction would take several hundred years!

This great masterpiece is truly awe-inspiring that I want to dig deep into its history.  

La Sagrada Família was the inspiration of a Catalan bookseller, Josep Maria
Bocabella, founder of Asociación Espiritual de Devotos de San José (Spiritual
Association of Devotees of St. Joseph). After a visit to the Vatican in 1872, Bocabella
returned from Italy with the intention of building a church inspired by that at Loreto.
The crypt of the church, funded by donations, was begun on March 1882 to the
design of the architect, Francisco de Paula del Villar, whose plan was for a Gothic
revival church of a standard form. Antoni Gaudí began work on the project in 1883.  
On March 1883, Villar retired from the project, and Gaudí assumed responsibility for
its design, which he changed radically.

On the subject of the extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have
remarked, "My client is not in a hurry."  When Gaudí died in 1926, the basilica was
between 15% and 25% complete. After Gaudí's death, work continued until
interrupted by the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Parts of the unfinished basilica and
Gaudí's models and workshop were destroyed during the war by Catalan
anarchists. The present design is based on reconstructed versions of the lost plans
as well as on modern adaptations. Since 1940 so many architects have carried on
the work. The current director, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, has been introducing
computers into the design and construction process since the 1980s.

One projection anticipates construction completion around 2026, the centennial of
Gaudí's death, while the project's information leaflet estimates a completion date in