There are certain moments I want to box up in a little glass snow globe to keep on my nightstand so I can shake it and relive my favorite days. This was one of those days, but I know that no image or representation of it could ever do it justice. Just for kicks, here are some photos that could give you some idea of what we saw.
El Escorial is a little town that is a 45 minute bus ride northwest of Madrid, famous for its royal palace that includes a cathedral, monastery, school, library, gardens and fabulous views. The castle was built for King Philip II starting in 1563, taking 21 years to complete.
Our tour guide was a little bespectacled man of what I’ll call great knowledge and enthusiasm, with English annunciation worthy of an impression perfected by Karl. The religious devotion of King Philip II is apparent in the solemn severity of the architecture and the lack of frivolity in his court. The inlaid wood doors and original tile work still preserved today are remarkable artisan achievements of which I could hardly believe were created almost 500 years ago.
After our castle tour and garden exploration we had lunch in a café that offered us the cheapest price (9 €) for the menu of the day – I had something the waiter and I called “revolutionary potatoes” (which arose from my lack of proper pronunciation of the real dish) and chicken, along with a couple sips of wine, making the hike through the rain – did I forget to mention the rain? – much more enjoyable.
So, this castle was sweet. The gardens were equally amazing. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty of the three-mile hike we took to the top of the mountain overlooking the castle. Each sight of the day was more breathtaking than the last.
Nancy led the 12 of us along a winding road up the mountain. The majority of us were cloaked in an array of colorful ponchos, making it hard to lose the group and great for taking photos. Do you know how pretty everyone looks in ponchos?
The hike should have taken about half the time, but it seems we are easily distracted by every moss covered boulder and field of wildflowers. The defining moment of the day for me was (probably a little too recklessly) jumping up on a rock that overlooked the most beautiful and vast greenery I’ve ever seen, gasping, and screaming for everyone else to climb up. The look on each person’s face as they registered the view was the most amazing display of human emotion I could imagine.
Reaching the top of the mountain, we climbed up the manmade rock steps to survey what we had conquered. I’m not a very sentimental person (ummm sometimes), but the view made my heart surge with joy. I’ve never been so at peace with nature and in awe of my environment at the same time. Looking at that made me remember that the world is such an open place of beauty and possibility.
So often I forget about nature. I’m busy. You’re busy. We go to work, maybe school, we don’t take the time to listen to the world. I could have sat on that mountaintop for hours, taking in the view and hearing things that are usually blocked out by my endless mental to-do list.
As Nancy said to Karl, “They have to learn one word in Spainsh – tranquilo. They’re on Spanish time now. Learn to be tranquil.”
I’m trying. I still have that mental to-do list, but maybe I’ll slow it down. I don’t have that memory snow globe, but if I take the time to really observe and appreciate things, maybe I don’t need the snow globe. I’ll try to be a little more tranquilo.