10:10 AM, Saturday, The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain
Our tickets permit us entrance at 10:30, so we have to wait another twenty minutes.
We walk the Christmas Market in the park, the Fira de Nadal a la Sagrada Familia. Vendors are just starting to slowly open their booths.
We sit on a bench and eat an apple from the hotel. We look up at the Passion Facade.
We watch as three people, likely father, mother, and son walk through the crowd of tourists, then return to a spot behind a booth, and retrieve two cloth sacks from outside the plastic liner of a trash can.
Are they dangerous? Should we move? Should we tell someone?
The son kneels on the sidewalk, right in the middle of the crowd.
He slowly unwraps the cloth, folding it open on the ground. He begins to place items in rows.
A tourist comes up and hands him her phone. He attaches it to a pink ‘selfie stick’ and she offers him a five euro note.
20:30 PM, Fira de Santa Llúcia, Catedral de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
At a stall, we purchase a small el caganer.
We marvel at the nativity scenes, at the many ways people can decorate or design their own. Some are built of large bark pieces, others of tiny stone walls, designed to mimic old rock houses, with windows and half-covered straw rooftops. Assorted animal statues are sold, as well as different depictions of Mary, Joseph, the infant Christ, the shepherds, and wise men.
You can buy flats of moss, pine branches, and whole trees.
There isn’t a single ‘German’ booth, like those which we’ve grown accustomed to in Edinburgh. There are no fudge or marzipan sellers. No bratwursts or pretzels.
Here, below the cathedral, the products are all telling the same story.
11:00 AM, Sunday, Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain.
Hundreds upon hundreds of people. Pushing, fighting, yelling. Ordering olives, oysters, paella, vermouth in a glass with ice, with lemon.
All are dressed in black. Most have just come from mass, or are on their way, their rosaries still hanging out of pockets. Crumpled prayer and scripture pamphlets on the floor.
An old man tries to sell us lotto tickets. Later, an old woman does the same.
12:00 Noon, Sunday, Santa María la Real de La Almudena, Madrid, Spain.
A few clanks of coins into a donation box.
Catholics rise from their pews, walk together, kneel, receive the host.
Tourists take pictures.
A woman, hidden somewhere within the dark places of the cathedral, is singing in Spanish. Her voice echoes back to us.
We wait until the pews refill, then walk quietly to the door and back out into the cold, Sunday light.
12:45 AM, Sunday, Templo de Debod, Madrid, Spain.
Climb the stone steps, turn left into the entrance.
Enter the dark rooms and read about the hieroglyphs. Wait in line and climb the wooden steps upstairs and wait to see a reconstructed map of Egypt.
Outside, amongst people taking selfies in the two archways that once led to the temple.
Sit with our feet hanging off the wall behind the temple, eating a stromboli of ham and mozzarella, purchased earlier at the market.
We watch the hazy light over the city. People walk their dogs. A young boy is kicking a ball back and forth with his father.
17:20, Sunday, Buen Retiro Park, Madrid Spain
Sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee and Campari on ice, watching people walk by.
Thousands of people are here this afternoon, speaking different languages, families of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
On our way to the Atocha metro station, we stop at the Monumento del Angel Caido. At the top of the fountain, Lucifer is falling in place in bronze. All around us are skateboarders and people on roller blades.
Someone is playing music far off in the distance.
19:00, Sunday, Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain
Waiting for our flight. Delays, delays, delays.
Sitting in a row of chairs facing a blank wall with a small door. Over the doorway there is a sign: ‘Capilla.’
We share a can of Mahou beer. We eat sandwiches with ham, cheese, and a barbacoa sauce.
At the gate next to us a plane is boarding for Turkey. The usual noise of people standing in line, of children fussing about and adults complaining to each other in whispers.
12:10 AM, Monday, The 100 Airlink Bus from the Edinburgh Airport to Waverley Station
We talk about the trip, about the things we saw, and how this will be the last trip for us to Europe for some time.
We talk about the people we encountered, about how so many of them seemed more concerned with pictures of themselves.
So many tourist traps, and so many sacred spaces.
Are we pilgrims? Are we a new type of pilgrim?
In the contemporary world, with terrorism and secularism and ever-changing religious diversity, what does it mean to visit a sacred place? What will it mean in the future?
Moreover, has our idea of the sacred changed, or, have these places become a hybrid?
A place to worship, as well as a place to take a selfie. To say: here I am, I was here, here’s my proof.
What, then, is the difference between a selfie, and this sort of writing?
Is this not, in its own way, a literary selfie?
I went to these places, I am writing about them, here’s my proof.