We drove to Franco's massive monument to himself and his victory in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39. The "Valley of the Fallen" sits a few miles outside of Madrid next to the city of El Escorial; I hadn't visited there in some 40 years, and it appeared different from what I remembered.
The thing is massive; you can look it up on the internet and YouTube, but pictures, video, and written descriptions don't give justice to its size. In the middle of a national park, full of deer and wild boar, it occupies a beautiful chunk of real estate. It took some ten years to build, using, among others, the forced labor of thousands of political prisoners, including at least one of my relatives. Franco himself officially inaugurated the monument in 1959; the Pope blessed it the following year. When he died in 1975, Franco was buried in the enormous crypt there.
I, however, can confirm for my six readers that Franco has left the building.
After years of contentious political and social debate over whether to tear down the whole thing, the compromise reached a couple of years ago was to move the body of the Generalisimo from the crypt to a military cemetery. Interestingly, the body of Spanish fascism's founder, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, remains. While tearing down the whole monument and its many buildings would have proven fantastically costly, various leftist governments over the years, however, apparently have decided to starve the place. According to a curator at the religious retreat/hotel/restaurant there, the Ministry of Culture steadily has reduced the Valley's budget, and some features, such as the cable car to the top of mountain upon which sits an enormous cross, have been allowed to fall into disrepair and closed "temporarily" for several years. The retreat's massive library also shows signs of failing maintenance, e.g., water stains, mold.
The whole place was spookily empty. It looked like the set of a post-apocalypse film; a few Dutch tourists taking selfies, but not many others. The vast parking lots were empty. Despite all that, it's definitely worth a visit. If nothing else, it will make you think of Ozymandias.
After that visit, we went off to El Escorial and had what I think is the best steak I have ever had at a wonderful restaurant, El Charoles. Hard to find. My GPS kept sending us in circles, but worth it. Go there.
Couple of days later we took the train (masks required) to Toledo, named after a place in Ohio, I think. Might be wrong. It's a great place, and despite all the tourists, the residents are very friendly, and the city retains its medieval charm. We found the modest synagogue where my ancestors prayed over 500 years ago; it was closed. The spectacular cathedral where my wife's ancestors prayed, however, that, that was OPEN--anti-semitism, of course. The cathedral is beyond beautiful. You could spend the whole day in there and not run out of things to see. Also bought a heavy chess set which proved devastating for my back. I could hardly walk after trying to swing the thing over my shoulder. The much more fit Diplowife had to lug the monster around as we walked up and down hilly streets. I followed slowly and painfully. She has made me swear to collect something other than chess sets. Besides Toledo, she has carried them for me in Mexico City, Guatemala City, Hong Kong, Lima, La Paz, Bangkok, New Delhi, and Jakarta. No more!
I have nothing wise to say about the political insanity back home. As my oldest son said to me on the phone yesterday, "The crazy Democrats have chosen abortion as the hill to die on." Complete insanity and deliberate malice characterize the Dems on Roe v Wade. Let'em die on that hill.
Taking the train (masks required) today to San Sebastian where my wife has a variety of legal issues to handle re the estates of her late mother and her aunt. I intend to handle the food. Perhaps the best food in all of Spain, which already has the best food in the world.