The following blog post was written on the afternoon of Friday 19 July 2013. Unable to be published previously due to lack of Internet connection.
We travelled today to El Escorial, best described as a tourist town, a 50-minute journey from Madrid. On the way, I noticed the area around Madrid seemed to be flat, bounded on most sides by hills and mountains. Shortly, the terrain was undulated, hilly, and craggy. Much of the ground was dotted with trees and bushes. The ground itself, between the trees, was not the green colour of England or Wales, but a light-brown colour, more like straw, a bright, dry appearance, with poor looking soil. Our train trip was like travelling back home. The poet, Dorothea Mackellar, who wrote about my homeland more than a hundred years ago, could easily have applied the term 'sunburnt country' to Spain. The heat, the dry earth, the cloudless sky, even the sight of a recent, localised grass fire, all accompanied us on our excursion out of Madrid. To all intents and purposes, this is Australia.
We arrived at El Escorial. Primarily, we came to see the grave of Franco, who was Spain's dictator from about 1938 until his death in 1975. Ironically, at the time of his death, I was in High School studying Spanish, and I remember it. Franco is buried at Valle de Los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen). After arriving at El Escorial, we actually wasted an hour trying to work out how to get both to Franco's burial place and the Monastery. We walked a great deal in roughly 36 degree heat, and we abandoned the idea of finding Franco's grave.
On the way to the Monastery, there is an enormous park, with multiple trails throughout, and many many hidden spots within. It is quiet, peaceful, and no one seems to be around. A group of young trouble makers could make mischief, or a young couple could enjoy intimacy and never be found. A variety of trees and bushes of many shapes and sizes is to be found in this park. We found the Monastery, built in the 16th century by King Phillip II, and photographed it from the outside.
We had lunch in a pretty little street nearby. After lunch, we strolled a short distance, and decided it was coffee o'clock. We sat in a very pleasant little square, shaded beautifully by nine deciduous trees. When you ask for 'caffe con leche' (coffee with milk), they pour the coffee into the cup out of sight, but they pour the milk in front of you. This is unlike in Britain, where the milk is poured in first, and then the coffee goes on top. Which is horrible. I've got them well trained here in Spain. I say "uno caffe con leche por la senora y por me uno caffe con mucho leche y no mucho caffe, por favor". (A coffee with milk for the lady (Jean), and for me a coffee with lots of milk and not much coffee). I'll soon teach them how to make coffee properly.
We were on the train back to Madrid. There were at least four carriages through which you could see all the way, and if you shouted, people way down the other end would hear you. This is perfect for people with something to say. A young lady launched into a very loud speech, of course in Spanish, and everyone could hear her. We had no clue what she was talking about. Tears came to her eyes at one point. I wondered if she was spruiking religion or something similar (the same thing happened on the Paris Metro). Finally, to my surprise, two passengers gave her money, including the lady opposite us. I leaned across, and discreetly pointing to the speaker, I said "Señora.....religion?" The lady said "No...sincasa". Eventually, I remembered that 'casa' meant 'home', and 'sin' meant 'without'. The lady was homeless, and must have told a sad story.