From El Greco to the Gecko

Last weekend, I ventured to Toledo and Madrid. Toledo is small and rambling; just a little, medieval town selling knives, swords and jewelry in every little shop. Gollum marionettes hang in the windows next to replicas of Frodo’s sword Sting. Normal stuff. While the ironwork is all very impressive (some jewelry takes up to 15 years to make), the marvels of Toledo are the Cathedral and the art of El Greco.

The Cathedral of Toledo is known as the “most Spanish” cathedral to due to the influence of Islamic art represented in its decoration.  Lucky for us, a girl in our group studying music happened to know some Gregorian song and gave us an impromptu concert (not the chant from Monty Python). Her voice echoed and reverberated through the stone walls and the sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows to shine directly on her. Like a halo. Literally. It was quite the experience.

Exploring the ups and downs of the streets of Toledo, we noticed signs for an exposition of El Greco’s art, celebrating 400 years. Doménikos Theotokópoulos, originally from Greece as his “nickname” denotes, spent most of his life in Toledo. His style of Mannerism breaks with the perfection and symmetry idealized during the Renaissance. Elongated bodies, forced movements, contrasting colors and personality of the hands and facial expressions characterize his style. It was incredible to see his paintings after studying them in class for the past few weeks.

As Madrid is less than an hour bus ride away, we decided to visit more than just the airport of the capital city. The streets were so packed with people every once in a while you had a chance to glance past your compadre’s head to take in your surroundings. Which may have included people dressed as shimmery, tinsel llamas, a man playing drinking glasses (like Gracie Lou Freebush’s talent in Miss Congeniality), or a giant, silver gecko planted on the facade of a building. We walked through Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, Plaza de España, Templo de Debod, El Prado, El Parque de Buen Retiro, and more parks and gardens (and we may have spent an hour in the National Geographic store).  The Royal Palace was incredible. It had a room entirely made of porcelain, a dining table the length of an Olympic swimming pool, Stradivarius instruments laying around (actually they were kept in really nice cases). We latched onto a Canadian high school tour for a bit and spent the rest of the time guessing which panel you had to knock or which teapot you had to rotate in order to open the entrance to each secret passageway. I cannot even imagine how much fun the slumber parties were in that labyrinth.

The Prado Museum was well worth the free entrance as well. I got to see works by Rembrandt, Bosch, Rubens, Dürer, Goya, Velásquez, Zurbarán, Murillo, and of course El Greco again. It was so exciting to see paintings I recognized and marvel at how these artists could possibly have had the patience to carve such intricate, marble statues. But by far, the best of all was meeting up with Hailey, my best friend from high school, for some catching up, a walk in the park and some churros!

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