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Cruz de Ferro

Wow, what a week it was!

Two sisters who´d never seen Spain before. Ten days, and an entire country to show them. So here is what we did and where we went:

Day 1: Met Beth and Mart at Madrid airport. We drove to Moratinos from there, stopping for a little while in Lerma, a cool little town south of Burgos with the country´s fastest-growing convent of cloistered nuns. Beth and Mart both still, miraculously, wide awake, and snapping photos of everything in sight.

Day 2: Local. Villa Olmeda, a Roman villa; lunch with Paddy at Pili´s Casa de Comidas, a working-man´s café in Villada (Martea never ate rabbit before!); then to Villacreces, a jolly little abandoned ghost town. Fascinating place, and not another tourist in sight. Then to Grajal de Campos, home to our local castle and down-at-the-heels Renaissance palace; and into the Plaza Mayor in Sahagún for a vermouth in the Plaza Mayor.

Day 3: Road Trip! Drove north into the mountains, stopping first at Cueva de Castillo, a complex of limestone caves that are dotted with 4,000 years´ worth of Paleolithic artwork – some of it dating back 21,000 years! (I can´t believe I have lived here this long and never went to see the abundance of cave-painting sites so nearby... and these ones are the real thing, still there on the walls where they´ve always been. Beautiful paintings. And no one knows why they are there.) We continued north to the big cave-painting complex and museum at Altamira, where Spain´s best examples are securely sealed-off from humanity – but we still oohed and aahed over an exact copy of the biggest and most spectacular cavern. Very worthwhile. Downright inspiring, really.

Being good tourists, we drove to Santillana del Mar, a painfully charming little town nearby, to walk the historic streets and see the historic church and cloister – which apparently has some link to Camino churches in Fromista, Jaca, and Leon, judging from the Cistercian architectural details. It dawned on me that Santillana is dead on the Camino del Norte! Duh!

And so we soldiered onward and west to Comillas, a seaside town with a drop-dead collection of Art Moderne and Deco buildings, including one fascinating “Capricchio” by Antoni Gaudi – he of the freaky Barcelona Parque Güell and Sagrada Familia fame. We walked on the beach, we ate a great mountain of shellfish, we visited a steampunk graveyard...

Day 4: We hung out at the Gaudi place, we splashed in the Cantabrian Sea, we headed south through the high mountains to Potes and on to Santo Toribio de Liebana, an important and very ancient monastic shrine were a big slab of The True Cross is kept. It started raining. I did not get a good vibe from the place, perhaps because I could understand the fulminations of the rabid preacher in charge. The gift shop was a trip, though: I bought a shot glass there that comes with a vision! (add clear liquids and Santo Toribio appears on the bottom). Long drive home, spectacular scenery.

Day 5: Stormy and wet. We stayed home and rested, seeing as it was Sunday. At the vermut after Mass Leandra brought some superb homemade croquetas and pork cracklings. Beth and Mart were in heaven!
Day 6: The sun reappeared, and we drove west along the Camino to Pedredo, the tiny village where Malin and David live – just west of Astorga. We walked over meadows and streams all dotted with wildflowers, heard cuckoos calling, saw a set of petroglyphs carved into a rock face – discovered only three years ago! We ate a “parillada,” a feast of lamb, veal, and pork perfectly grilled. We drove up to Rabanal del Camino and visited Pat the Hospitalera. We hit the heights of the Camino at the Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross where people leave behind mementos. And then we said goodbye to Malin and David, and headed for Astorga. There was a fiesta going on, with Maragato folk dancers as well as a few local break-dancers. A great many photos were taken... and then we checked into what I thought was a Casa Rural (a nice B&B inn) but that turned out to be an Earl´s house, done over into a tiny hotel: La Casa Tepa. Wow. Simply Wow.

Day 7: We slept quite late. Drove to Leon, saw the Gothic cathedral and the Romanesque splendor of San Isidoro cloister. We also shopped for souvenirs. Apparently Beth is bringing “something thoughtful” home to each of her relatives and most of her son´s schoolmates.

Day 8: (today) We went to Burgos. We saw the wondrous cathedral, and ate shrimps on the colorful and asymmetric plaza. We intended to see the royal monastery of Las Huelgas, but I pooped out. We came home instead, and spent some times over at Bruno´s place with a gaggle of English and Irish and Australian pilgrims that Paddy met earlier in the day.

Tomorrow we rest, and pack up the bags. On Friday I will take them to Madrid and their airplane home.

It´s been quite non-stop. We are beat. They have seen such a tiny slice of this great, big country. I am amazed at how much I have never seen of Spain, myself. What a gift it is, to have such a lineup of beautiful places and great food and lovely people to share with my family!

And I am amazed at my sisters. We are funny, articulate, and capable women who have made very different choices in the past, and who live very different lives now. Still, we share so much more than genetics... so many crusty old jokes and songs and memories, and so many values and world-views, still. After all these years.

We have spent many hours together this week, but we haven´t had any of those Hollywood heart-to-hearts. We haven´t had to. We still speak the same language. Our parents set us on a strong base, and we three still stand strong thereon.

In my long pursuit of my personal dreams, I have neglected my family. But only because I assumed they will always be there for me, even if they are far away.

I have taken them for granted.
I have forgotten, up til now, that they are getting older. The weight, the aches and pains, the medicine we need to make it through the day... I guess I thought it was only me who was changing, that they would always be the clear-skinned teen beauties my mind sees when I hear their names.

I had forgotten, I guess, how fiercely and deeply and truly I love them.