A massive thank you to all my family, friends and work colleagues, who took time out of their busy schedules to take the time, to wish me a Happy Birthday. I’ve had a gorgeous day. A special shout out to Gerard who gave me an eclectic and thoughtful gift. Chocolates, bees wax candles, packets of chilli seaweed chips (I’m a bit addicted to these atm and if you haven’t tried them you simply must! Money towards our flights to go hiking in NZ, and last but not ever so in the least two goats for a destitute family in Mozambique. This last gift brought me to tears. Let’s face it I won the world’s lotto being born in Australia and really need for nothing when it comes down to it. I feel immense gratitude for what I have in my life and that includes you all. I love you, you make my world an amazing place x
Written by a friend in Alice Springs last week
Shared here because I think it is a really special message
Yesterday we traveled by bus from Leon to Madrid. My time in Leon was really special. Bianca belongs to a long-time Leon family who live in the city centre. Her parents have an apartment a stone’s throw from the magnificent Gothic/Renaissance cathedral, built between the 1200s and 1500s on the site of ancient Roman baths. We attended an organ concert in the cathedral on Thursday night. Despite growing up attending Catholic church and being familiar with organ music, I had no idea that an organ could sound as this one did. It was like listening to a whole orchestra, with many instruments playing at the same time, yet one 23yo man was playing one single instrument which resonated to the heavens inside the soaring apses which are lined with original stained glass windows.
Earlier that day we also visited the Basilica de San Isidoro, another impressive religious monument a short walk from the Cathedral, dating back to the 10th century. Here we saw various ancient artefacts in the Museo including a chalice purported to be The Holy Grail, although Maria announced “but we know this is not the Holy Grail, but it does originate from those times”. Sitting inside a glass cabinet in a dark room, lit to highlight it’s jewelled features, she pointed to the grail’s base and said “this is made from the … how do you say … the fangs of the elephant?”. Maria corrected her with “ivory” while I almost fell over laughing. Apparently in Spanish, elephant tusks are called fangs, an excellent example of the differences in perception that language creates! This basilica also houses a catacomb with concrete tombs where kings are buried and artwork on the walls which has given the room the name “Spain’s Cistine Chapel”. The Spanish harvesting calendar painted in one archway depicts the different activities typical for each month of the year, including a pig slaughter in November, showing that Bianca’s family have a strong connection to ancient Spanish culture.
Many other features exist inside both the Cathedral and Basilica and we also visited El Palacio de los Guzmanes (the palace of the Goodman family), which dates from the 1600s and sits in a plaza next to one of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces, Casa Botines, which is now some sort of office building. This is one of only a handful of works Gaudi created outside of his home province of Catalonia.
As a local, Bianca knows a lot about all of these places. Leaving El Palacio de los Guzmanes, where a guide told us that one of the Guzmans who was a bishop as well as belonging to this powerful family, had removed a part of the ancient Roman wall (which still encircles much of the city centre), to build his palace, she walked us to a nearby building. Here, another powerful family built a tall tower, higher than the Guzman Palace, in protest at the destruction of the city wall.
Our days in Leon were filled with historical and architectural awe. Bianca also knew the best tapas bars to visit and we had a very culinary time, sharing our custom between many bars and testing lots of local specialties. But the best time of all was being a part of the Leon community. Our Friday was spent on the fourth floor terrace of Bianca’s old school friend, watching over the rooftops of Leon including a spire belonging to Leon’s oldest church, upon which a stork and her baby were nested. We popped into a bar one lunchtime to meet an aunt and uncle with their friends; bumped into one cousin in the street; visited another in the old Bishop’s Palace where she works. On Friday a cousin’s graduation saw the extended family meet in a restaurant, where Maria and I joined Bianca, her parents, an aunt, uncle and two cousins with their partners, for a meal which started at 10pm and finished at 1am Saturday morning. Local specialities were served, wine flowed, and animated Spanish conversation surrounded me. The family greeted me with kisses and English phrases before asking if I speak Spanish and informing me apologetically that they don’t speak English. At the table instructions placed me between Maria and Bianca so that they could translate for me and I felt like a long lost member of the family. At 1am we were ready to head home while her parents, aunt and uncle strode off towards a bar to have a drink!
Spanish time is something I could definitely get used to. Everything happens late, from sleeping in to the last evening meal. Arriving in Madrid yesterday after a 3.5 hour bus trip on a luxury coach for €15, we walked to Maria’s home along the tree lined streets and boulevards of the city centre. They live in a 4 bed, 2 bath apartment which must be twice the size of my house, on the first floor of the building. The third floor is occupied by an uncle and his family and the sixth floor of the same building by an aunt. Maria grew up here and I am sleeping in her childhood bedroom. Upon arrival her mother, father and aunt were discussing plans for the christening today of the family’s latest baby. We joined them for a few hours before, around 9pm, heading out into the streets to have a drink at a bar in a nearby plaza. We returned home at 10pm for dinner of empanada, tortilla, jamon, bread, gorgonzola, pate and wine! We sat at a round table and had a very animated meal. Maria looked at me earnestly and announced “Did you know that our President doesn’t even speak English?!”. I returned a look of confusion as to why this mattered and she said “Come on! English! He has to represent us in Europe, at the European Union and he doesn’t even speak English! He should at least speak English and French, no? Even to get a job working in a shop they want you to speak English!”. Her Spanish outrage was both amusing and educational!
Today Maria and her family are attending a christening. Bianca, who was at university in Madrid and has lived here for over ten years, will (once more) play tour guide with me.