Tag Archives: Alcala

Madrid Attraction: The Crystal Palace of Buen Retiro Park

imageI’m having a break from my day trip adventures, even if I admit I always have the best times whenever I go to these beautiful nearby towns, the last being Avila, Manzanares el Real and Chincon. These three Spanish pueblos are such fascinating Spanish pueblos I advise everyone to also visit and explore.

But for now, time to focus again on the city proper and feature yet another entrancing Madrid attraction. This morning, I found myself in front of the Puerta de Alcala, in front of the city´s premier park. Entering through the park’s entrance in front of the Plaza de la Independencia, I’m set to visit a popular edifice within — beautiful park attraction.

Palacio de Cristal de Retiro

Crystal Palace is located at Madrid, Spain‘s premier park and garden, the Buen Retiro Park. The edifice is located along Paseo de Cuba, and a popular venue for various exhibits featuring various forms of arts and culture. Its very first exhibit happened in the 1887’s international exhibition, when it housed a wide variety of plants and animals from the Philippines.

What is the building of the Crystal Palace made of?

Main construction components are metal and glass, with the latter abundantly used as walls and ceilings to allow sufficient sunshine to to pass through. Consequently, this provides ample natural lighting inside the palace.

If only for the glass-and-metal make of the building, this renders the Crystal as one of the most attractive spots of the Retiro Park. Needless to say, the edifice-monument is one of the reasons why throngs of people are enticed to visit the park every day.

imageThe lush flora, the fountain in the midst of the pond, the pond itself, and the tiny water falls in the background — they all add to the beauty to the surroundings of the palace

Because of the lush greenery that surrounds the area, as well as the pond found in its front, the outdoor surrounding of the palace is as enjoyable to walk around as its interior. The tall and thick flora provides cool shade for people to enjoy as they pass through the palace and its vicinity. The pond is home to some wild ducks swimming in its water, which is a warm, interesting scene to enjoy.

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How to go to Crystal Palace

The edifice is royal and stately in appearance, which is why it was named a palace, in the first place. I was utterly mesmerized the first time I went there. And since then, I’ve been to the site for as much as I can, whenever I am in the area of Alcala or Puerta del Sol. The tranquility of the surroundings, the  pond, the ducks floating in the water, the fountain, and the palace itself have a calming effect, and so, I always come out of the park as devoid of tiredness and totally refreshed. Take some time to visit the Crystal Palace yourself, I assure you it will be worth your while.

Direccion de Palacio de Cristal: Inside the Buen Retiro Park, you can reach the site via Paseo Republica de Cuba or Paseo Fernan Nunez

Nearby Retiro sites: Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez, Palacio de Velazquez

Horario: Open from 10AM to 10PM

Map:

CentroCentro y El Mirador de Palacio de Cibeles

“Refugees welcome” is the message you’d see written on the huge rectangular banner that hangs on the middle of the façade of Palacio de Cibeles. Also known as Palacio de Communicaciones, that gargantuan and majestic, former-post-office-turned-city hall must be the first thing you’d see whenever you’re at Plaza Cibeles. The sign alone is a clear indication of the willingness of Spain to help alleviate the refugee crisis in Europe. (As of yet, an effective solution to the problem seems nowhere in sight.) Surprisingly, the cloth has remained white and maintained its pristine appearance (that’s how it appears from the distance of a few hundred feet) despite its exposure to the common elements. Or has it been replaced a number of times already?

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It must have been hanging there for eternity, or at least since I got here in Madrid. Perhaps, it will continue to be until the message is no longer relevant.  Frankly, the constant sight of the banner had me thinking that the building has become a huge refugee center, a wild conjecture I must possibly share with others.

Well, at least today, the beloved Ayuntamiento will be my refuge as I say it’s time for me to take on its rooftop.

El Mirador – Rooftop or Observation Deck

You might ask,”Are people even allowed there?”

Yes, I’m pretty sure. Because of the banner, it had me venturing my gaze way above it, and in the process, spotted people populating the upper portion of the middle tower of Cibeles (I realized later it was the building’s observation deck on the 8th floor).

And since then, I would always throw a glance at that faraway spot at the Palacio’s middle tower, often from a seat of an autobus whenever I’m headed to Embajadores, Lavapies (27) or Puerta del Sol (5), both lines of which pass through the Plaza. The deck seems to never run out of people, all crowding near the ledge presumably to take the best pictures possible. Always, I look at such a scene with great envy,  and this odious feeling is only made worse by the Palacio itself, with its mere sight almost like coaxing me in some dogged manner to be there myself, and just make it happen.

“Go to the roof of the Cibeles?  But who wants to climb up a building rooftop, which is a precarious location as you can imagine?” Yes, I know. To begin with, it’s not even a roof top but an observation deck, for Pete’s sake.

But I do agree with everyone else who says that a rooftop is never a desired destination, as it is somewhat of a bore, a dull area of almost-nothingness, save for a few pieces of old furniture huddled at a corner or some rusty, jutted-out reinforcing iron bars meant for future building extension. A bit of correction: everybody agrees to these not-so-pleasant statements about the rooftop, except perhaps for some half-witted lovers who look to them as the perfect place to effect the consummation of their romantic tryst (presuming it is secluded).

Clearly, we’re not talking about that of Cibeles – it doesn’t fit such descriptions (especially the one with the amorous slant). To reiterate, it’s an observation deck, and not any ordinary roof. It was created for a more essential, a rather touristic purpose, among others, which is to offer great viewing experience of the stunning places in Madrid.

Inside Palacio de Cibeles

Actually, there are two things that you can do at Cibeles. One, check out the floors of the Centro Centro, that part of the building that acts as the city’s center of culture and arts; and two, go to the observation deck for some awesome viewing enjoyment. You can do both, but I would rather you engage in the rooftop activity later, which is what I did.

Since it was still early, I surveyed the area first. On the second floor (main floor), you are greeted by an information counter and a souvenir and gift shop. After loitering around, I can’t for the life of me feel that I’m actually inside the Madrid Ayuntamiento. The place was quiet, and hardly had the chaotic fuss and goings-on typical of any government office, let alone, a city hall.

So, I thought some chat with the information desk officer is in order.

“Yes, this is the city Hall.” Unable to respond quickly, I must have appeared dumbfounded to the lady at the desk, so she explained that everything is located at the back of the building.

“And the office of the mayor?”

“Also at the back.” Still sensing my confusion, she added, “Where we are now is the CentroCentro – the culture and arts center of Madrid.”

I had a bunch of questions that I’d like to bring up but lest I might sound stupid, I decided to let her be and continued to look around. At left of the main floor is a lounge, offering a number of sofas to rest on. Here, you can have some shut-eye for a few minutes if you want to, which I did, although only after hiding my face behind one of those tourism brochures that I grabbed from nearby. There was a lot of them, by the way – revistas, flyers, and booklets. All are colorful, attractive, and professionally printed with details on various exhibitions and similar activities at the CentroCentro. They are tucked neatly in their respective shelves, ready for any visitor who wants good introductory reading on Madrid culture.

It’s apparent that Centro Centro’s current expositions are more into the visual arts, as attested to by the exhibits, galleries, and film-showing dedicated to conventional and digital photography, sketches, illustrations, and paintings. Most are found in the third and fourth floor.

Anyway, the quick siesta gave me ample energy to be propped up and ready for what I really wanted to do – go up the observation deck.

image The reading room / lounge is located at the 2nd floor

image The 2nd floor of the Ayuntamiento de Madrid used to be the Old Post Office’s operations courtyard. It now serves to receive guests and introduce them to the city’s cultural focal point – the Centro Centro. At the photo’s left is the info center, while opposite is a shop selling  souvenirs and memorabilia. In the middle is a row of computer booths that offers online access on CentroCentro information

imageDepicted in this old photo is the postal operations during the heyday of the Palacio del Communicaciones. This and the other photos of the old post office and telegraph building are on display on the middle section of the main floor (second floor)

imageInformation counter at CentroCentro. They advised me to forgo any visit to the mirador in case of inclement weather. Even the gentlest of rains is enough to close the observation deck.

imageSouvenir and gift shop at the main floor of the CentrCentro

imageThis picture of a lady with a detached prosthetic arm is part of an exhibit on digital photography with people with disabilities as theme. Las Personas Con Discapacidad Exhibit, 3rd Floor, March 18 to June 6, 2016

imageD-Espacio – an exhibition that tackles contemporary design, located at the 3rd floor, CentroCentro

image Simplicity and ingenuity as well as convenience in usage is evident in these pieces of furniture at the D-Espacio exhibition

imageSeries of sketches and photos that are part of Aliadas (Allies), an exhibition of variety of art work that celebrates women. 3rd Floor, CentroCentro, March 10 to September, 2016

imageLa Crecion, a splendid artwork by Nuria Meseguer, is included in the Aliadas Exhibit

image Cachetejack is the name of the duo Nuria Bellver and Raquel Fanjul, popular Spanish artists/illustrators. They have global brands like Elle Magazines and Hermes for clients. Their exhibit is at the 4th floor of the Cibeles. A must-see

image See the work of Catalan artist Rut Panuse at the 4th floor, March 04 – May 08, 2016

El Mirador de Palacio de Cibeles

A few minutes after 6PM, I bought my ticket at the Taquilla outside the Palacio. imageThe teller told me to go straight to 6E floor, where I will be given further instruction. Upon reaching the floor, I was greeted by another comely lady who directed me to the stairs that leads to the 8th floor.

“How long can I stay at the Mirador,” I asked her, even if I already knew I can only remain at the deck for 15 minutes.

“You have to leave at 6:25.”

And so I proceeded to climb up, along with two other guests.

What can I say about the experience? I wouldn’t say it’s mind-boggling because it’s not. That’s too much of an exaggeration to say. But still, I must admit I’m very much amazed by the experience. Breathtaking is the appropriate description to use. Every view from the observation deck is just beautiful. Everywhere I look is picture-worthy that I consumed much of my mobile phone’s memory, filling it with photos. (Sadly, I can only post so much because of website bandwidth issues)  The 15 minutes allotted to each visitor is definitely not enough. I’ll return another time, and do less picture-taking and more soaking on the unique moment of being up there. Make the effort yourself. I promise it’s worth your while, to say the least.

imagePor fin! I see the Cybele goddess and her chariot and the fountain in a whole new, dizzying way. Wonder how great the angle of depression that my looking at the statue from the height of 70 meters has created. I must say that the statue is one of the most beautiful in all of Madrid. And its view from afar and from a place this high makes it even more spectacular

imageThe flag of Spain flying high and mighty. Here’s a beautiful view of Paseo de Recoletos that leads to Plaza de Colon and the opulent areas of Salamanca and Chamberi

imageRight tower of Palacio de Cibeles obscures the view of Paseo de Recoletos from the observation tower

image From El Mirador, you have a nice of view of the Torres de colon, the tall, dark building from afar. It is named after Cristobal Colon, Spanish for Christopher Columbus, the famed explorer

imageThe edifice with the flag houses the Naval Museum and the Naval Headquarters, located along Paseo del Prado

imageDark, errie clouds loom, seemingly with a menacing threat to bring great rains

Useful Tips when visiting El Mirador de Cibeles:

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1. Palacio de Cibeles is closed to the public on Mondays. Likewise, entry to the mirador is not allowed during rains/inclement weather.

2. Be ready with your 2 euros, the cost of an entrance ticket of an adult visitor. You have to pay 50 cents for every child you bring.

Two euros is a mere pittance yet it takes you through an exhilarating experience that involves all your senses as you feast on the unique views of many awesome places in Madrid.

3. You can take advantage of free entrada if you set your visit on the first Wednesday of every month.

4. Remember you are only given a scant 15 minutes to stay, so make the most of it; and by this, I mean take quality photographs. We tend to focus on the quantity, but who cares about so many pictures, if most would end up on your mobile phone’s trash bin anyway.

Work on finding the best angles and lighting before you click; this will help you come up with photos that you will be proud to post on your blog/website later.

Semana Santa 2016 Madrid

As I observe and celebrate my second Holy Week here in Madrid, I decided to be up close and more into it this time.  Especially during the days leading up to Easter, I soaked up the city’s main way of celebrating the Semana Santa, which is the procession, a congregation of a variety of people, or “los gentes” – the devotees and believers, Cofradia officers and members, Nazarenos, Costaleros, tourists, and even the watchers and the curious lot. It’s fascinating to see how everyone wants to participate, whether as one of those parading through the streets and plazas for hours to carry heavy religious statues, or as a mere bystander who’s content to watch from the sidelines. Lent in Madrid is all about things meant to remember Christ – chanting, band playing, reciting oraciones, hearing masses, and even more processions.

Needless to say, my effort to be more involved was greatly rewarded. More than being the learning experience that it is, everything was a total eye-opener, which meant me letting out the boxed-up feeling of my somewhat latent appreciation for the Catholic faith. It’s just one of the many positive things that I gained as I went through the almost-sublime experience that is Madrid’s Semana Santa.

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Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y Desamparo

JUEVES SANTO – Nuestro Padre de Jesus del Gran Poder / Maria Santisima de la Esperanza Macarena at Real Colegiata de San Isidro, Calle Toledo

HOLY THURSDAY – the day when I thought some cosmic forces decided to conspire against me. Just an hour before the procession, I discovered that I left my abono (Metro train/autobus travel pass) while already at the stop, so I went scrambling back to the apartment. Precious time gone to waste. Then later, while already having boarded the bus, I thought I left my ID card as I checked my things. So I hurriedly got off the next stop at Cuzco, only to find out upon rechecking that it was tucked in my passport wallet after all. And to make things worse, when I arrived at Calle Toledo, all I managed was to be within 100 meters, a distance so far I couldn’t even see the facade of the church. These wretched circumstances, they caused me to miss the procession altogether. Despite (or because of?) the frustration, I resolved to be early for Good Friday’s procession.

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I was far, too far from the entrance of Real Colegiata de San Isidro. Worse, the procession turned the opposite way

VIERNES SANTO: Maria Santisima de los Siete Dolores, at Parroquia de Santa Cruz, Calle Atocha, 6

GOOD FRIDAY – I gave up the usual engagement (read: home chores, blogging) to clear my afternoon and make sure that I am off to Santa Cruz early. Leaving home an hour and a half before the procession time, I rushed to the bus station at Paseo de la Castellana and Calle de Rosario Pino, hoping that autobus no. 5 would arrive soon. It did. As soon as I was seated, it somehow put my mind on ease about missing the procession. Arrived at Puerta del Sol at 6.45, now I am too early. I decided to look around to while away time. To my surprise, the sight of a myriad of people greeted me – doing the usual things like shopping, roaming around, and sightseeing, like it’s an ordinary Friday. Yes, I agree that Puerta del Sol is a tourist area, but then again, I presumed that on a Good Friday, activities in the area would be toned-down. As it is, most establishments were doing business that day. El Corte was open, and so were other high-end boutiques, the Mercado de San Miguel, restaurantes like Museo del Jamon, and the souvenir shops in Plaza Major and beyond.

I realized that the Holy Week isn’t quite enough reason for the Spaniards to deviate, even if momentarily, from their normal day-to-day life, which I thought is a demeanor that’s fine and not offensive or even egregious. It is apparent that being observant of the Holy Week, while acting like it’s just another normal one, is a behavior typical of them. It’s their nature, which I wouldn’t dare judge or underrate, in the same degree that I don’t want anyone to judge mine.
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Upon arriving at Parroquia de Santa Cruz, I chanced on the Nazerenos gathering at the front part of the parade, carrying their processional crosses, torches, and banners. They had their faces behind pointy capirotes to hide them from general view. Minutes after 6:30, the crowd livened up and roared with gusto upon seeing that the procession is about to start. The procession moves at last, even if slowly, to cause everyone to applaud in appreciation.

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Maria Santisima de los Siete Dolores stands atop a float exquisitely decorated with flowers and candle lights. Hearty cheers and applause from devotees welcome her as she is brought out of the church to join the procession.

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Cofradia or brotherhood is depicted in this photo, wherein the Costaleros work together to carry the magnificent float of Maria Santisima de los Siete Dolores to its destination. Typical statues chosen for display atop such floats are the major players of the Lent, like Christ or the Virgin Mary, or the barrio’s patron saint. The floats, tronos in Spanish, are themselves an attraction. Many are priceless, being in existence for decades, some even centuries, and have been passed on from one generation to another. They are masterful creations of well-known Spanish artists. 

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At the end of the procession is the marching band playing music in honor of the Maria Santisima de los Siete Dolores

SABADO DE GLORIA – Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y Desamparo, Iglesia de la Concepción Real de Calatrava, Calle Alcalá, 25

According to procession schedule posted online, there is only one religious parade on Black Saturday in Madrid, and it is happening at the Iglesia de la Concepcion Real de Calatrava, along Calle Alcala. I liked that the event was on an afternoon – the photos were clearer as every shot comes with great, natural lighting. The sun was up and the air was cool – I felt comfortably warm even with just a light sweatshirt on. The weather was conducive to holding a great procession.

imageWomen and men don traditional clothes as they await the start of the procession. Elderly officials and members of the Cofradia are dressed appropriately in attune to the occasion. Customary wear for women are black gowns and veils (mantillas). The latter are a beautiful adornment, held high on their heads with the use of a comb called the peineta. Men are also dressed in black attire, either a suit or robe. In contrast, penitents wear a simple garb, with their faces behind a cover and feet bare to emphasize a remorseful mood.

image The statue of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y Desamparo emerges from the church atop the float carried by costaleros. It’s obviously heavy beyond description, which must be why the pall-bearers do rhythmic swaying motions – they probably help ease the load that pushes hurtfully onto their shoulders.

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Following the statue of the Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y Desamparo is the musical band playing slow-beat music

imageJoining the procession are officials of La Communidad de Madrid and leaders of the Cofradia

imageThe statue passes by the former BBVA building and the current headquarters of the Ministry of Environment and Territorial Planning

image Participants wear purple and black-colored pointy hoods and carry scepters as they trail the float of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y Desamparo. Nazarenos, who hold crosses and candles during religious parades, are known to walk barefoot as a sign of penance. However, I didn’t notice this group doing so.

DOMINGO DE PASCUA – Plaza Mayor

Happy Easter! It has been the tradition to welcome the Risen Lord via the beating of the drums at Plaza Mayor, in Central Madrid. Called the Tamborada del Domingo de Resureccion, it is the awaited event of the day, where numerous drums are beaten and played to recreate that thunderous sounds and quakes that were said to have happened during the Resurrection of Jesus.

image The Lord is risen! Throngs congregate in the middle of Plaza Mayor to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.
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Drummers beat their instruments loudly to signify the Risen Christ. Each participant’s pounding is  in sync with the rest to create a simple yet melodious booming rhythm, keeping everyone engrossed in their performance.

The Bear and the Strawberry Tree – Symbol of Madrid

Position yourself on the sidewalk in front of the Ministry of Interior, the massive edifice with the clock tower, and you could hardly spot the statue from where it stands. Its height of 14 feet is not enough to be conspicuous from such a distance.

Still, you know that it’s there, its location being one of the most crowded in the whole area, an indication of its immense popularity.

Come closer, and behold, a bear nuzzles up a strawberry tree. The latter seems to be receptive of its amiable gesture. Such is an attractive sight, and an easy tourist draw of the plaza.

The Bear and the Strawberry Tree Statue, known among locals as “El Oso y El Madrono,” is a highly revered symbol of Spain’s capital, and one of the must-see attractions of Madrid.

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The popular figure is found in Madrid’s historical plaza, the Puerta del Sol. If you want to see it sans the large crowd, try to visit the plaza at around 1 or 2PM.

Go through Calle Alcala or Calle San Jeronimo (coming from Cibeles, Plaza de Independencia, and Sevilla), or exit the Vodafone Sol Metro station via the Alcala access gate, and you’ll immediately encounter the monument. As you go near it, certainly you can feel its imposing presence.

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The Bear and Strawberry tree statue provides cool shade on a sunny day, which is why people love to gather around and even sit beside it to rest, with their backs pressed against its stone base.

A handsome bronze-and-stone creation of prominent Spanish sculptor Antonio Navarro Santafe, it was inaugurated in 1967. Quickly enough, Madridenos embrace it as a prime representation of their beloved city.

Indeed, the monument is a top reason why everyone wants to visit Puerta del Sol. It has become a meeting place of sorts, with tourists making it a starting point of their tour of the plaza.

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Take an electric bike ride from any point in the city and park at Sol’s own bicycle station, located a few meters away from the statue.

A visit of Sol, of course, is not complete without a photo of the monument. However, it looks like all want to have their picture taken with the famous bear and tree, so one must be ready to wait for his turn.
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The statue glistens on a rainy night

Some want to immediately scour the plaza for its surrounding commercial establishments, which are a slew and all more than willing to cater to various whims.

Still, many others rare to see the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, and would rather visit it first. Effortlessly, it attracts people to its fold, especially those who want to experience its historical importance.

How to reach: Visit to the monument is easy, as a number of EMT buses start and end, or pass within or near the plaza itself such as 51, 5, and 150. If you are coming from Glorietta de Embajadores, Tirso de Molina, and Plaza de Cascorro, the EMT minibus M1 will take you to the plaza. A stone’s throw away is Metro Station, Vodafone Sol. Reach it after just a few minutes of leisure walking from Tribunal, Callao, and Gran Via.

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EMT Autobus 51 offers a convenient ride, with its final stop (ultima parada) located near the monument.

Christmas 2015 in Madrid

Christmas is just around the corner. A week from now, Spain and the rest of the world will again be commemorating the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In my case, this will be my second Christmas in Madrid. And as in the previous year, it’s all bright, colorful and Christmassy everywhere I look, with the sentiments of warmth, love and happiness pervading the air around. There’s no doubt that Madrilenos love Christmas and are just all out when it comes to celebrating this festive season, such as looking forward to lots of parties, attending occasions of family get together and reunions, and gift-giving.

For posterity, I will again post a number of Christmas scenes from various places in Madrid – Plaza del Sol, El Corte Ingles in Calle de Castellana, Calle de Alcala, and Cibeles. I wish that this particular post will somehow send out the spirit of the Yuletide Season, even if in its small and humble way. Feliz Navidad a todos! image Colorful lanterns hang along the length of the the street of Alcala, which starts from Plaza de Independencia to Plaza de Cibeles

image Formerly known as the Palacio de Communicaciones, the Palacio de Cibeles lords over everything else within the whole area of the Plaza de Cibeles. During Christmas, it serves as the centerpiece of the vicinity, being the most intricately lighted and decorated edifice in tune with the Yuletide season.

image Anos Luz at Calle de Alcala 111, a seller of modern lighting fixtures and systems puts up a beautiful display that’s appropriate for the season.

image As soon as December starts, you will definitely not miss this yellow light-decked Christmas Tree as it becomes the center of attraction at Puerta del Sol. It is actually the same tree that they put up at at plaza last year, with the same decor, lighting, and all. Still, it never fails to buoy up the Yuletide spirit in everyone. This tree alone makes Sol – hands down – the most Christmassy in all of Madrid.

imageEl Corte Ingles, one of Spain’s premier shops, takes the season seriously with its gargantuan board showing moving Xmas displays for everyone, customers and pedestrians, to see and appreciate.