What a day! We woke up EARLY this morning and hit the road - final destination: Toledo. We stopped at El Monasterio del Escorial. Such a cool place. It's a monastery and a school and a library, and ultimately, it was the vacation home of Felipe II during the summer and Christmas holiday. The library is almost the most important library of the Catholic faith, second only to the Vatican. It had 100's of original manuscripts. It was absolutely magnificent. We saw the bedroom where Felipe II died at the age of 71, and also the bedroom of his oldest daughter, Isabella. We toured the royal mausoleum, where all but two of the kings and queens of Spain are laid. Their bones are actually in the marble and bronze gilded tombs, and there were three bodies in the rotting rooms just outside of the mausoleum. The place totaled 34,000 sq. meters. It was absolutely beautiful.
We had some free time after our tour, so we walked around the town. It was gorgeous, surrounded by mountains. I bought a pizza (cuatro quesos) from a little panería for lunch. It was chilly outside, so Melanie, Elizabeth, Anna and I went into a little bar and ordered some hot cola-cao (this delicious chocolate drink comparable to hot chocolate).
After leaving El Escorial, we made a second stop at Valle de los Caídos. This magnificent monument was built in honor of los Caídos (the fallen) of the Spanish civil war. It's a tourist spot for sure, because the Spanish view it as a very sad place and don't really visit it. It consists of a HUGE cross (more than 100 meters) on top of a mountain, and below it, a monument built into the mountain that doubles as a Catholic church, where mass is actually held. The very cool part about this is that the huge cross has a small hole in the top that goes all the way through to the dome inside the mountain. In the center of the dome is a giant statue of Jesus on the cross, and at just the right time, the sun comes in through the cross and hits the cross, illuminating the entire room.
We left the monument and rode the almost 2 hours to Toledo. We're staying at the Beatriz Hotel. It is VERY big and super nice. Tonight we had a meeting about our host families and culture in Valencia, after which Dottie, Melanie, Ken, Andrew, Jessica, Macy and I went to a nearby supermercado and bought dinner to eat back here in the hotel.
Today has been much better as far as my homesickness goes :) I think now that we're all getting used to each other and getting used to Spain, it's a lot easier to enjoy everything.
*Pictures (from top to bottom): Outside of El Monasterio del Escorial, inside the center of el monasterio, the town of El Escorial, the monument Valle de los Caídos, the view from the monument