Today, I saw the monastery at Escorial. Actually, its name is inaccurate. The monastery forms only part of it. It was also a royal palace for Carlos V and his wife, Isabel. But, a royal palace with a difference. It was quite plain and understated for a royal abode. The rooms were simple, the most ornate feature being some of the doors, which were hand carved in Germany. Even the king's throne was quite unremarkable - apparently, it was specially constructed for him to assist with his painful gout. But, if you ask me, this "special chair" looked extremely uncomfortable - I didn't envy that luxury in the slightest.
Far more impressive were the tombs in the pantheon. In the bowels of the palace were the sarcophagi of all the dead kings and queens in the history of Spain, since Carlos I, who doubled as Emperor of Germany. The grandfather of the current King of Spain is kept here too, and it is expected thst when the current king and queen die, they will take up residence here as well.
The whole place was cold. As it was constructed of stone, and only last week, the palace was covered in 15 centimetres of snow, I was grateful for the endless stairs to climb when leaving the crypts in the Pantheon.
We climbed and climbed giant steps, as we were taken into the cathedrsl above the tombs... as always, a very impressive sight. The dome in the cenral part of the room being about 95 metres high. Of course, the artwork detail in the frescoes and ornamentation never fail to impress me in the cathedrals I have seen in Europe so far. As an atheist, it astonishes me that human beings spent so much time and devoted so much attention to create magnificent homages to a God, which according to me, does not exist.
The monastery itself is still home to about 60 monks. This section of the building was closed off to the public. But, we were taken into the library... Behind glass cabinets were illuminated manuscripts and tomes dating back to the 16th century. Here, I was astounded, as the only preservation methods in this library were keeping the precious books out of direct sunlight. Apparently, people are able to look at them still, with special permission from the monks. There has been no digitisation of the contents of the library, and even I could see that the keeping of these precious books left a lot to be desired.
Carlos V insisted that these books were added to the collection from all parts of the world. He wanted to keep all the information ever published, similar to a State or National Library's legal deposit. That fact in itself made me sad to know that no one has taken responsibility in preserving the collection besides keeping the books in some fancy glass cabinets.
At the centre of the library was a large golden globe of the Earth, constructed at a time before Galileo, when it was still thought that the world was at the centre of the universe.
All of this was very thirsty work. Returning to Madrid in the afternoon for some tapas and a glass of wine was well received. This free offer of a snack was provided at the city's popular shopping centre, Corte Ingles. I would liken this department store to Australia's Myer - many levels, many shopping options, all in one location.
I found it quite hilarious to see the types of items on sale there. In some ways, the fashions and styles of household accessories looked quite dated. Things I recall seeing in a store like Myer when I was in my teens, are, here in Madrid, the latest fashion to hit the stores.
The tapas and wine I was given in the store's cafeteria were awful. But, there was something on the menu that immediately caught my attention. Dulce de leche crepes with helado. For those of you who don't know, dulce de leche is a caramelised condensed milk that the Spanish make and have on their deseert menus often. It definitely appeals to a sweet tooth like me! I was in heaven! And with helado! Helado = ice cream... you can figure out for yourself why I was so pleased.
Memories of my last trip to Spain and France in 2005 came flooding back. I had reached the stage where I was following the dulce de leche desserts and ice-creams all across the country. I always asked for it and was rarely disappointed to find it available on the menu. I am sure this will be a repeat performance of sorts.
So, tomorrow is another day of sight-seeing and discovery. There is an Egyptian temple to the west of the city that was a gift from the Egyptian government, reconstructed in Madrid piece by piece and completed in 1973. I hear from the locals that it is a good place to visit. Perhaps that will be on the cards tomorrow, who knows? Time will tell...
Hasta luego amigos!