Thursday, January 31, 2013

Granada Day 1

After our first night in Granada, we woke up ready to go (on foot after all the crazy driving) see the sights. Our first objective was to see the Cathedral. On our way there, J wanted to pose with a fountain that had no historical value. It was just in front of a hotel.

Gratuitous hotel fountain

Further on, we came to the Fuente del Triunfo, a park going up a small hill. I had walked by the night before and saw water running down channels in the park, but it was either too cold or too early when we walked by.

Fuente del Triunfo without the water running

At the top is a statue of Our Lady on a high pillar, which got oohs and aahs from parents, if not from the children.

View of Mary on a pillar

View from Mary

Nearby is a statue of Fray Leopoldo, a Spanish Capuchin friar who lived from 1864 to 1956. He is admired, not for fabulous accomplishments but for the simplicity of his life. He lived mostly in Granada, where he was the quaestor or seeker for his community. He went door to door for donations for his friary and was a familiar sight on the streets. People sought him for advice and intercession. Now he is a Blessed and a nearby sign talks about furthering his cause to be declared a saint.

Fray Leopoldo

At the bottom of the park is another statue of a holy person, Saint John of God, who lived in the 1500s. He is depicted doing charitable work for the poor. 

St. John of God

Across the street and on the way to the cathedral, we saw another fancy building that caught my camera's eye.

Nice building

We had one last stop, at a pastry shop, before we made it to the cathedral, which unfortunately didn't open to the public till 10:45. Fortunately, we were able to go into the Royal Chapel of Granada at 10:15, which is especially fascinating since it is the final resting place of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. More on that in the next post!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Driving Around in Spain: Antequera to Granada

We rented a car in Spain to help us get around and see the various sites since our main hotel was not in a major city. We took a lot of day trips. The biggest trip was going to Granada where we stayed two nights before returning to the Mediterranean coast. In the morning we drove to Antequera, spent some time wandering around, then headed to our hotel in Granada.

Driving from Antequera to Granada was not so bad. Our GPS's maps are about two years old and have been not fully accurate for Spain, leading to some nerve-wracking moments early in the trip. The GPS continued to be confused about newly built highways, but the highway signs were helpful enough for even non-Spanish speakers. The toughest part was in Granada itself, dealing with one-way streets and the slight mis-timing of the GPS at the corner or fork where we were supposed to go one way but didn't get the information in time. We circled around where our apartment was twice before finding street parking.

Then we had to find the street where the apartment was, which involved circling around twice on foot. We finally buzzed the apartment of the right building and made it up to our cozy apartment. The lady had just finished washing up towels and such and had them hung out in the enclosed balcony to dry. She gave us the keys and a rough idea of how to get our car into the garage.

After she was gone, we decided to reverse engineer parking our car in the garage. We took the elevator down to the garage (which required a special elevator key). We found the proper spot and the door out of the apartment building's section of the underground parking. We couldn't get the door to open to the garage exit until we found the key hole on the other side of the door. Luckily a small, human-sized door let us out of the garage entrance. We found figured out the right key to get the larger car door open. We returned to the surface, circled around twice on our way to our car.

Driving back to the entrance wasn't too bad. We were three turns away from the entrance: a right, a left, and a u-turn. We were quite proud to only circle around once! My wife hopped out to unlock the first door which did not want to open. She had to "encourage" it with some elbow grease. We finally made it in and unloaded the car, hoping we wouldn't have to deal with it again until we left Granada.

More on Granada next!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spanish Beer

Part of any traveling is to try out some local brews. I was happy to see the large San Miguel plant right outside the Malaga airport when we landed in Spain. It didn't smell like a lot of other breweries I've been to, so I wondered what it would be like. After a visit to a local grocery store, I had some local stuff ready to try.

Cruzcampo, Legado de Yuste, and San Miguel

San Miguel 1516 is a local lager that is pretty typical for a lager. It's light (though not in the low-calorie sense) and a little bit bitter. The flavor is not outstanding, though I usually don't like lagers anyway.

Cruzcampo Gran Reserva is another lager with a bit more flavor but not much more satisfaction. The alcohol content is higher (6.4% compared to San Miguel's 4.2%) which may account for my preferring it over the San Miguel. It's less bitter for sure and the little extra kick is not unpleasant.

Legado de Yuste is a Seville-brewed beer. I enjoyed this beer a lot more than the other two I had tried. It has tanginess and not bitterness. The bottle says, Elaborada segun la tradicion de los Maestros Cerveceros de Fandes durante el retiro de Carlos V en el Monasterio de Yuste (Caceres). According to Google Translate, that comes out as "Brewed in the tradition of the Masters Brewers Fandes during retirement of Charles V at the Monastery of Yuste (Caceres)." Google suggests "Fandes" should be "Flanders" which is probably right, the brewers were from Flanders. So it's another triumph for the Belgian Monastic brewing tradition in my book.

In Granada, as a tribute to its famed Alhambra, I had an Alhambra Especial. I finally found a good lager in Spain! It was quite nice--not too bitter and not too tasteless. Instead, it was crisp and refreshing. I didn't have a lot of success trying to photograph it at the restaurant (Martin's right by our apartment), but I did like the weird effect on the glass I got in this photo.

Alhambra the beer

If you look at the rim the wrong way it seems like it's open toward you. Also, it had some nice reflections. I wonder if because I had this lager in a glass there was some subtle difference that made it better?

I guess in Spain the properly evolved people drink wine, not beer.

If only they let little children in...

Book Review: The Twilight Zone: The Midnight Sun

The Twilight Zone: the Midnight Sun, adapted from Rod Serling's original script by Mark Kneece
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadows, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone. 
The Twilight Zone is a classic science fiction television series from the 1960s. It was produced and hosted by Rod Serling who wrote more than half of the 156 episodes. The stories are so well told that the show is still repeated and readily available today. It was also a training ground for many actors and directors, including Robert Redford, Charles Bronson, Ron Howard, and William Shatner. A series of graphic novels were developed based on script episodes. This particular book comes from the tenth episode of the third season, also called "The Midnight Sun."

The story follows a young female artist, Norma, who lives in New York City. For the past several months, the weather has gotten hotter and hotter, driving citizens from the city. Those who have remained behind are slowly going crazy. She lives in a walk-up apartment. Her building is down to two residents--her and her neighbor Mrs. Bronson. They try to keep each others spirits up, even though there's no good news from the TV or from the passersby in the street. Norma paints sweltering landscapes that mirror the bleak heat outside the building. As with many Twilight Zone stories, the ending has a nice twist that I didn't see coming the first time I saw the episode on TV.

This adaptation stays very close to the script, even including scenes from the script that weren't filmed for budgetary and time constraints. It does a great job at capturing the oppressive heat and despair in the story as well as Norma's efforts to survive her various run-ins with desperate people. The visuals open up the story. It has the more epic feel that Serling could not capture on a television budget, depicting things like Liberty Island as a dried out hill next to Manhattan.

It's nice to visit stories from old favorites and the graphic novel format suits The Twilight Zone quite well.

Great quote from the introduction by Anna Marlis Burgard:
While he had his run-ins with censorship, Serling's clever use of other worlds and veiled scenarios generally protected him. As he explained, what he couldn't have a Republican or a Democrat espouse on the show, he could have an alien profess without offending the sponsors. This approach also allowed viewers to take away whatever message best suited them; the more reflective could consider the psychological and political implications, while others might be satisfied with simply enjoying the thrill of the surface story. So much more than mere science fiction or fantasy, Serling's scripts are parables that explore the multifaceted natures of hope, fear, humanity, loneliness, and self-delusion.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Catholic Family Fun by Sarah A. Reinhard

Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless by Sarah A. Reinhard

One of the challenging things about having kids is what to do with them. When they are infants, the process is pretty straightforward--sleep, eat, clean up, change diapers, maybe play or read--a seemingly endless cycle. But eventually the cycle ends. They walk and talk and grab and wonder and move stuff around and ask you where they put it. Having activities to keep them occupied and to help them grow as persons is necessary for everyone's sanity. But how to keep those activities fun for kids and parents? And how to sneak in some faith when you can?

Enter stage right Catholic Family Fun, a new book by Catholic blogger and podcaster Sarah Reinhard. She provides an array of activities sorted into various categories, like activities at home, things to do outdoors, ways to start stories or skits, ways to serve in your local community, etc. For each activity, she'll add in "Faith Angle," "Wide Angle," and "Make It Your Own" bits of advice on how to customize the activities. The index sorts the activities based on cost and by preparation time and by duration. The book is a very handy reference, allowing a parent to hop right into something good.

I found the book reassuring. One of the activities is "Be 'Crazy'" which is just like what it sounds. Let the children run around, say silly things, laugh, and have fun. I struggle with this because it is quite chaotic and drives me a little crazy. But the kids are having fun and as long as they aren't hurting themselves, why not? My children are three and five as I write this, so they are a little young for some activities, like performing skits or volunteering at local charities. But that time will come and it's nice to have ideas and encouragement beforehand.

Faith-related ideas are woven throughout the book. Even in unlikely places. One outdoor activity recommended is creating obstacle courses. J used to watch a lot of Ninja Warrior and still wants to do physical challenges and courses like the Japanese contestants do on the television show (we used to watch a lot of clips online). She recommends building a course based on Old Testament stories, like using a sandbox and a wading pool to have contestants flee the Egyptians as in Exodus. Or a saint theme--I would do St. George, so we could slay a dragon!

The book also has a web site with links to resources. The materials there are also helpful (especially the links to recipes for St. Lucy's Eyeballs which is appealing to me, because, well, you know). We have done a sort-of Seder on Holy Thursday for a while (we grill a leg of lamb and have unleavened bread and salad). I think we are ready to up our game this year and the web links on the books site will be very helpful.

I highly recommend this book. It has a lot of wonderful ideas but isn't too long or too complicated. The index is especially helpful in finding things to do when only a certain amount of time is available.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

La Real Colegiata de Santa Maria, Antequera, Spain

The Royal Collegiate Church of Saint Mary was built from 1530 to 1550 on Roman and Visigoth ruins on the hill overlooking Antequera. It is the first Renaissance church built in Andalusia and a spectacular site.

La Real Colegiata de Santa Maria

In the plaza is a statue of Pedro Espinosa, a poet who went to the Antequera School where humanist teaching emphasized the importance of reason and the centrality of man. The school was part of this church.

Pedro Espinosa

The interior is very Roman, with a lot of open space and thick Ionic columns. The layout follows typical basilica floor plans. The side aisle have some modest altars.


Main altar

Side altar

One of the side aisles has a tarasca, a half-serpent, half lady who often led the Corpus Christi processions in the Baroque period. Some cities in Spain still use the tarasca for their processions. This one is modeled after one used in Granada in 1760.

Tarasca, front view

Tarasca close up

Tarasca, side view

The monster is depicted as a snake or dragon. This particular manifestation has seven heads, echoing the seven deadly sins and the dragon from the Apocalypse. Often, the monster is ridden by a woman. She represents faith and the triumph of Christ over sin. This lady Faith is in a castle, showing her invulnerability to the serpent's attacks.

There are some bits of art still in the church, but the building is no longer used for worship and has become a national monument. Many works have been moved to the municipal museum in the center of Antequera.


Bits from Roman antiquity

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Alcazaba in Antequera, Spain

The spot to see in Antequera is the alcazaba and church at the top of the hill. The castle was built by the Moors in the 14th century on the ruins of a Roman fort. The entrance is through the Arch of the Giants, built in 1585. The castle still has some impressive walls and towers, as well as amazing views.

Arco de los Gigantes

The arch leads into the old Arab town, with the entrance to the fort on the right. We stopped in at the information/ticket office on the left, where we bought tickets and received audio guides for the fort and the church (which you can see a bit of through the arch). The ticket seller programmed our guides for English and off we went into the fort.

Puerta de la Alcazaba

The citadel on the hill is about 65,000 square meters and most of the wall still stands. It was home to various groups at various times. Most of the buildings are gone now and gardens have been put in their place.

Gardens inside

Interesting but unidentified tree

Further up we came on the Christian Gate. Built in the 16th century, it leads to where the Christian nobles lived. The gate was part of an inner defensive ring for the fort.

Puerta Cristiana

What's left of the Christians' homes

Further up the hill is the central square or courtyard of the fort, where the soldiers would have their barracks. Also in the courtyard was a hole which we thought was the castle's water well.

Patio de Armas

J by the sign

Mazmorra is what again?

It's pretty deep

The audio guide set us straight. Las mazmorras is the dungeons, so this 6-meter deep hole was home to prisoners. Naturally, the dungeon is right next to the keep, the main fortification.

Climbing the Keep

The keep is home to a clock. It is nicknamed the Papabellotas. A cork oak grove was sold to pay for its construction. The bell in the tower was one of the largest when it was cast and was used for announcing church services, irrigation times, emergencies, or good news. We climbed up the stairs to have a look.

Table with cannonballs inside the tower

The bell (which did not go off while we were there, thankfully)

L and the holey stairs

J looks through the hole too

At the top we had a nice view down the wall to the White Tower, named more for the purity of its appearance than its actual whiteness.

White Tower and hills

The tower is impressive even from inside the fort

Further on we came to the spot where the mosque once stood. The water tank was also in this area. Thick wall foundations are about all that's still visible today.

Mezquita y Aljibe

Over by the eastern walls is a Roman tomb dated to the first century AD.

Tumba Romana

This spot also provides a view of the Pena de los Enamorados or Lovers' Leap. The story goes that Tazgona, daughter of a wealth Moor, was in love with a young Christian from Granada. Neither family would permit them to marry. The young couple was pursued into the mountains. They made it to one of the peaks and leapt together to their deaths. For a similar story from Guam, check out this Forgotten Tale I recorded.

Pena de los Enamorados

Walking further down the eastern walls, we saw the roof of the Real Colegiata de Santa Maria, which was our next stop and will be the next post!

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria roof

Friday, January 25, 2013

Antequera, Spain

On our way to Granada, we stopped in the mountain town of Antequera. As you might guess from the name, the town dates back to Roman times, though there have been plenty of changes since then. We parked in the middle of town and wandered around a bit before going to the top of the hill to see the church and fort there (which will have their own posts later).

As with most Spanish towns, a variety of churches are found throughout. One that seemed closed was the Church of the Mother of God. Our guide book says it was built in the 1700s and is "a good example of Andalusian rococo."

Iglesia de Madre de Dios

From there we walked over to the main plaza in town. The Palacio de Najera houses the municipal museum, which was closed, even on the second of January.

Town Plaza

Entrance to the Museo Municipal in the Palacio de Najera

Patio of the Palacio

The square also has a statue of King Ferdinand I on horseback and a church across from the museum.

J and Ferdinand I (not a fountain)

There's the fountain

The church is dedicated to St. Martin de Porres, and had a lovely interior and a simple nativity.

Church nave

Church nativity

We found plenty of other fountains in town, from massive to modest.

Fountain in downtown

Fountain closer to the Roman stuff

We also discovered some other imperial roots of Antequera.

Darth Vader winters here?

We started winding our way up the hill, discovering some nice views of the town and a small wall shrine to Our Lady.

Town with fog in the distance

Looks like good roofs for Jason Bourne to run across

Our Lady of Socorro

Next, we went to the alcazaba or fort at the top of the hill, which we will learn more about in the next post.