Spain - July 29-31
Spain, time spent with SRS manager, full-time missionary couple, visiting self-reliance center and priesthood leaders. Time was very well spent, relationships were strengthened and understanding increased. During spare moments, Tom was also able to participate in an endowment session in the Madrid Temple and see a few sights in the evening time. People just begin coming out after the sun goes down, due to the extreme heat this time of the year, so the city plazas come alive and become very crowded after 10:00 pm.
The hotel was in the city of Alcalá, just outside of Madrid. This city is noted for a few things, Rome first conquered the area and built the city in the first century B.C. It was also the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes in 1547, the author of Man of La Mancha. I spent an evening walking through the town square with our manager and his wife. The following photos are some of the highlights of that evening:
This photo is of a university that was first built in the 1500s under the direction of Ximenez de Cicneros, a Catholic Cardinal. The uniqueness of the building is how light is portrayed. As students begin learning they are on the first floor where the windows are small and they begin receiving light. By the second year, on the second floor the windows are larger (more light). The third floor is full of many windows, signifying more enlightenment. In the final and fourth year they arrive to the roof, which is full of light, but the true light comes from above. On the roof is several torches, which symbolically are lighted by the Holy Ghost. What a wonderful concept of learning and receiving light, especially from the Creator of Light and the Holy Ghost.
This photo shows me with a statue of Miguel de Cervantes, creator of Man of La Mancha. Much of the parts of the story are shown on the base of the statue (fighting windmills, etc.). We saw much more of this throughout the town, including statues of Don Quixote and Sancho. Every year around Miguel de Cervantes' birthday (Oct. 9), they have a medieval week, which is full of many people dressed up and apparently quite an experience.
The next night we spent the evening on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain, truly a gathering place for many people in Madrid. The photo below shows the spot near the plaza where all road measurements (kilometer markings) originate for Spain, all are measured from this spot, which is near the center of the country.
The plaza is full of varied attractions and many residents come to walk and watch. The photo below is form a street dancer (acrobat) and his team that were performing on the square in an impromptu act.
Albania - August 1 to August 5
I traveled to the country of Albania on Saturday, August 1. The primary focus of this trip was to meet with the first participants of the PEF loan program which had just been approved in this country. We also met with the Stake President (his stake covers the entire country), many of the bishops, the mission president and a few Senior missionary couples who serve in different capacities in the country. I learned a lot about a country that had been communist just 25 years ago and was now trying to overcome their communist past. The Church is growing well in this country, but it is still in it's infancy. We feel that the Self-Reliance initiative is just what the members need, it will help the Church and its members to grow.
On Monday we traveled to a city three hours south of Tirana. While we were waiting for a meeting with the Bishop and some young adults, we were able to visit an old fort that dates back to the Greek and Roman eras. It is on top of the mountain above the city: