The three tiered train network in Spain enables you to strike out well into the countryside to get to some isolated gems far away from the hustle and bustle of Madrid. This weekend I decided to hop on the Cercanías—the trains that bridge the gap between the short range Metro and long distance intercity services—and go to the end of the line, where an unexpected treat was awaiting.< At the end of the cercanías is a little village that sits at the base of the mountains to the north of Madrid. The village itself is pretty enough, though the outskirts are polluted with the same high rise apartments that seem to be the common characteristic of modern Spain. In the centre, just away from the central plaza, is a large terraced courtyard and fountain, the perimeter marked by cafes and restaurants priced for the tourist pocket. In this part of Spain, the bandits have long given up highway robbery in favour of the hospitality industry. The small village municipio (town hall) faces onto the plaza, and at midday (or thereabouts, for the sake of this story), it produces a wedding party, dressed in traditional costume, with a band of bards playing traditional music not unlike snake charming. There’s a burst of ear splitting fireworks that frighten children and send dogs yelping to the nearest hidey-hole, whilst pigeons go up and pigeon by-products come down. From there the wedding party passes noisily through the surrounding streets, enroute to what I can guess will be a reception in one of the local restaurants.
But these are just distractions for the tourists occupying the terraces and eateries that fringe the plaza.
El Escorial is known for the enormous monastery and basilica that sit on the fringe of the town. I’m told that escoria means “scam” or “slag” in Spanish (depending on context), and that “escorial” is the place where it’s stored. Given it’s a catholic site, neither interpretation surprises me too much. Part monastery and basilica, part royal palace, this is the place where the Spanish royal family are buried in gold-leafed caskets, in a gold-laced pantheon that rests beneath the complex. The Catholic Church has done well to keep itself firmly entrenched in the passages of the royal family, and given there are still two empty caskets in there, the symbiosis is likely to continue for a few years more.
I don’t remember how far back the list of names goes, but seven walls of five caskets works out to be a fair chunk of recent history, especially given the gap years with that Franco fella.
I didn’t actually get to see it all in the end, as after the 75minute wait to get in, there were only a couple of hours left before closing, and large sections of the complex had been closed off by the time I reached them—namely the basilica itself, and the library, among others. If all goes well in the coming weeks, and my Spanish classes have their intended effect, I might just have landed myself a job here in Madrid, and be able to visit it at my leisure.