After the Xavier castle, we headed to our first parador.I had no real concept of what a "parador" was. What a way to find out! Turns out that paradors are ancient institutions that have been renovated and turned into hotels run by the Spanish government (a model of efficiency--and no, that is not being facetious). When we drew near the town of Olite, the most striking thing on the horizon was the majestic castle of "Charles the Noble," King of Navarre. Work was being done on one of the outer walls, and we had to drive around the city looking for a way into the town itself. We went down a narrow road that opened into a plaza dominated by the battlements, towers and turrets of the castle. That was our parador. We later learned that the castle had been reduced to a rocky rubble pile of ruins, and had been completely restored. (Archaeology is a great career choice in Spain.)
(Note the view from my room, to the right.) After checking in at a front desk near which stood a complete suit of armor , Karen and Barbara went into the plaza in search of an ATM, but came back empty-handed. Barbara had even attempted to extract money from a video-return box that was guarded by an ugly, toothy dog. This was the beginning of the "Ignatian" part of our trip. Good thing we didn't know what was coming in that regard! We made reservations for dinner in the parador restaurant, located in what was probably part of the Castle's great room. When the time came, we found service rather poor. It didn't help that Karen asked the head waiter if they had sangria. He could barely even get a "no" through his disdainfully pursed lips. (Turns out that Navarre is the principal wine-making region in Spain, and they don't do that to their wine.) We had a great meal anyway, taking in the surroundings, from the massive light fixtures to the triple-sized fireplace. And then we said good-bye to Barbara--we would meet up with her in two days, but for now she was going to meet a friend in Asturias. Karen and I would visit Ignatius' birthplace without her.
The next morning, Barbara having left at 5:00, Karen and I went to Mass.
The parador staff told us that there would be a 10:00 Mass at San Pedro, so we headed there, stopping every few steps for another Kodak moment. (When you spend the night in a 15th century castle, there are lots of Kodak moments on the way anywhere.) We found San Pedro, but the old church was locked. We went all around to see how to get in without any luck. I saw an old man go by on a motorized cart and suggested that we ask him--or at the pharmacy across the tiny plaza (Karen was our designated local-language person). So we followed the old man (and his tiny puppy) in. As I glanced out toward the church, I saw a nun walking by. Without even alerting Karen, I ran out after her. "Hermana?" She turned, and I asked a one-word question: "Misa?" She pointed back to the castle we had come from. Mass would be at the Castle Church of St. Mary, not at San Pedro. (Evidently the local Mass people maintain their own information network, and the parador is not in on it.) Karen let go of the few items she was about to purchase, and we followed the nun back to the chapel of St. Mary. Immediately, the lights went on, and an enormous retalbo was lit up. It had clearly been refinished or even repainted in recent times, but it was breathtaking in sparkling gold. The Mass began, and the priest opened with a hymn. The whole assembly joined in, and they were good! The old lady behind me had an exceptional voice, but overall the people sang well, with a unified voice, clear, echoing in the small Gothic church. After Mass, the lights went out. We tried to get a few pictures anyway.
The facade of the chapel was covered in statues (see photos, including the night shot taken through a window in a castle stairway), and in front of it there was a kind of patio surrounded in gothic arches. It is interesting that all my life I understood the word "gothic" to refer only to a style, but here, the word is a very specific historical designation: it really means "the Visigoths built this"!
After Mass, Karen ran to her room, while I stayed outside. (This was not a "waiting for Karen" episode, however: I didn't want to go in the building when I could enjoy the sunshine.) A group of school children, about 11 or 12 year-olds, greeted me. I apologized that I could only greet them in English. Well, that got them excited. They swarmed around me chattering, with a few words of English here and there. The first thing I understood was that their English teacher, who was named Orlando or Rolando, was fat! They stayed there, trying to communicate in English and Spanish, telling me their names. Even a teacher came by and was excited to speak with an American sister.
Then Karen came out and together we went looking for...an ATM! Well, no luck. We tried a bank that proudly announced that they do money exchanges. "Oh, we don't do currency exchanges here. Try across the street." The place across the street would only do it if you had an account with the Bank of Spain. But then a manager intervened, and we were at least able to change our dollars into euros. Kind of important. None of Karen's credit cards were working, and it was still nighttime in the US, so no one there could do anything about the situation. We were on our own.