Astronauts in the Cathedral


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Europe
August 12th 2019
Published: August 13th 2019
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We sleep in, and when I realise how late it is I decide to make this morning’s shower extra quick so that we don’t waste any more of the day. This proves to be a bit more of a challenge than I might have hoped. The water outlets in the bath are a bath tap, a shower rose on the end of a hose, and a real shower head; I can only work out how to turn on the first two, and as Murphy’s Law would have it it’s the third one that I really want. How can this be so complicated. After a long time I find an obscurely hidden knob to twiddle and the real shower head bursts into action. I wish Issy luck as she goes into the shower, but she emerges a few minutes later looking well washed and wondering why I found this all so hard. I decide that the day can probably only improve from here.

Issy doesn’t like churches or cathedrals, and today’s agenda includes little else. She tells me that I haven’t thought this out very well, which is probably right. I thought there was a pool at the hotel where she could relax while I went off church hopping, but this turns out to be about the size of a bath tub, and it’s on the roof without any shade around it. The other minor consideration in all of this is that it’s not nearly warm enough to go swimming. I tell Issy that if it’s this cold at least she won’t need to worry about there being no shade, but I suspect she’s not finding this observation all that helpful. I try to convince her that a monastery, which is also on the agenda, isn’t really a church or a cathedral, but it seems the scope of places she doesn’t want to visit has now been expanded to encompass all religious buildings.

She asks me whether there are gardens she can sit in and sketch priceless masterpieces while I’m wandering around doing other things. I do remember reading about one of these so we head off towards the Huerta de Calixto y Melibea, which is a cute small garden next to the city walls, overlooking the river. I envisage her spending the rest of the day here, happily lost in her own artistic world. It seems that she has a slightly different vision. I’d have to agree that the concrete benches don’t look all that comfortable, and that‘s aside from the minor impediment of me apparently forgetting to remind her to bring her pencils and sketch pad with her. I think I may have been wrong in thinking earlier that the day could only improve.

We decide to have lunch again in Plaza Mayor. I remember reading last night on the ever reliable Wikipedia that there are 247 windows overlooking the plaza. Lunch is a bit slow arriving so I decide to count them. I come up with 280, which seems like quite a significant discrepancy. We wonder whether Wikipedia’s window counter might have overdosed on the sangria when he came here. We look at Wikipedia again. It seems, not for the first time today, that I may have been mistaken. It says that there are 247 balconies, not windows, and I hadn’t considered the possibility that not every window has a balcony. Lunch has now arrived and I can’t be bothered trying to identify whether there are 33 windows that don’t have balconies, but at least we’ll now have something to do the next time we come here. Issy looks like she might be starting to look just ever so slightly bored; can’t imagine why.

Issy goes shopping while I head off to my first stop, which is the Cathedral. Apparently this is two cathedrals joined together. The Old Cathedral was founded in the 12th century and completed in the 14th century, and the much larger New Cathedral which was started in 1513 and not finished until 1733. Issy told me over dinner last night that she’d read somewhere that there’s an astronaut carved into the Cathedral’s facade. I wasn’t aware that there were a lot of astronauts around these parts in 1733, so I put this down to the sangria. It seems however that there really is an astronaut here, and it was added by a presumably rogue artisan during restoration work in 1992. The New Cathedral is massive and on a similar scale to the one in Segovia.

Next stop is Ieronimus, which is a separate tour of the Cathedrals’ roofs and tower. The spiral staircase up the tower is very narrow, and in one section they’ve installed traffic lights so that tourists can only negotiate it one direction at a time. I’ve been to a few other towers recently that might have benefitted from a similar arrangement. If you’re unlucky enough to lose the inevitable fight for the outside track when you need to pass someone coming the other way on one of these things, your chances of slipping off one of the frighteningly narrow inside steps and breaking your neck go up substantially. Anyway, there’s none of this risk to worry about here today thanks to the traffic lights, and the views from the roof are again spectacular.

I move onto the nearby Monasterio de San Esteban, which was built between 1524 and 1610 on the site of a previous Dominican monastery, which was destroyed to enable the current iteration to be built. Christopher Columbus is thought to have stayed in the previous version when he came here to debate the University’s geographers, who apparently weren’t too keen on his hypothesis that you could get to the Indies by sailing west.

I’m now churched and monasteried out, for today at least.


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19th August 2019
New Cathedral

Beautiful
I wonder how much time it took to create a masterpiece so detailed.

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