Category: Spain

Barcelona – Last Time Ever?

Barcelona – Last Time Ever?

Barcelona, Spain – June 6, 2012

The train departed Madrid, Spain, bound for Barcelona at about 08:30. It will be my final trip during this tour, maybe my last trip ever to Barcelona. I have been very fortunate to have made some dozen or so trips to Barcelona while living in Spain.

My stay in Barcelona is for three days and two nights. Once again, my hotel of choice was the Le Méridien on La Rambla. I have not yet decided what I will do after hours. I feel like I have seen and done nearly everything, but I am sure I will think of something.

I arrived at the hotel at about 17:00. By 17:30 I checked-in, bought a bottle of wine, some cheese, and some pistachios. That would ultimately be my dinner because I had a large lunch that day.

When I left the hotel, I grabbed a red apple. I decided to head toward the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MAC BA). I at the apple as I walked. Part of why I chose to go there was because the hotel provided a complimentary entry ticket.

I am thrilled the ticket was gratis. People say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Well, this beholder did not see a great deal of beauty. To be fair, several exhibits were closed because they were either being assembled or disassembled.
Regardless, on three floors of exhibit space, I did not see one item that appealed to me. The other “strike” against the museum was the fact that it does not allow photographs. However, I was able to take a picture from an exterior balcony of an abandoned church across the street from MAC BA.

After I trekked through the three floors of the museum, I stopped at the museum shop. I was able to buy two magnets for Leslie’s collection. They are magnets that will remind us of La Rambla and Plaza Catalunya.

In front of the museum, there was a lot of activity. Since it was in the shade by then, numerous people sat on top of a small wall in front of MAC BA. In front of that was an expansive plaza. People talking, walking, and riding skateboards crowded the square.

A couple of sidewalk cafés just outside the MAC BA museum.

Detail of the abandoned church across the street from MAC BA.
People sitting on the wall in front of the museum.
A skateboarder doing tricks in front of the museum in the Plaça dels Àngels.
Pedestrians passing the museum.
The wall was a popular place.
Another skateboarder doing tricks in front of the museum in the Plaça dels Àngels.
Yet another skateboarder doing tricks in front of the museum in the Plaça dels Àngels.
The sign in front of the museum.
The abandoned church.
View along the top of the wall.
A bicycle rider departing from near the wall.
A unique sculpture above an apartment.
A car driving along a very narrow street.
A wall, fence, and hedge along the narrow street.
People walking past Two-Hand Photocopies.
My welcome at my hotel.
A building across from the hotel with some art deco-looking statues.
Looking down on La Rambla as a buss passes.
A taxi on La Rambla.
Cars and bicycles on La Rambla.
Pedestrians in the center median of La Rambla.
A car and skateboarder on La Rambla.
A building across the street from the hotel.
Pedestrians after dark.

After work on Thursday, I strolled south on La Rambla. My mission was to photograph many of the street performers that were out working. The first one I spotted was a portrait painter. Dressed entirely in white, he had a paintbrush and a palette; both also white. He had a small white frame that those posing with him held in front of their faces. That made it look as though he was painting their portrait. After the painter, I saw the space alien. He had the most fun and also had attracted the biggest crowd. A little farther down the road was a woman made up to look like the figure in Salvador Dali’s painting, The Burning Giraffe (1937). Her costume was complete with the open drawers one sees in the original painting. Lastly, there were two different performers with the same get-up, each riding a bicycle with a skeleton sidekick.

Painting a masterpiece?
The space alien having fun.
A crowd gathered around the space alien.
Pedestrians on La Rambla.
Flowers for sale on La Rambla.
Plants and tourist trinkets also for sale.
Gardening seeds for sale.
People coming and going from St. Joseph Market off La Rambla.
An Erotic Museum??? I did not have the gumption to enter.
The Salvador Dali street performer.
The woman “from” The Burning Giraffe by Salvador Dali.  Note the chain attached to the money jar.
The bell tower of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi.
An advertisement for a Titanic exhibition.
The most unique feature of a building near the Liceu Metro stop is the dragon holding a lamp with an umbrella leaning against the lamp.
A unique building near the Liceu Metro stop.
A wider view of the building and plaza.

At one point along La Rambla, I found myself at an exit/entry of the Metro.  Suddenly, nuns began streaming out of the underground Metro onto the street.  Based on the habits they wore, I believe they were part of the Missionaries of Charity.  That is the group founded by Mother Teresa.  I was not the only one to stop and photograph their exit.

Mercenaries of Charity exiting the Liceu Metro stop.
There seemed to be nuns everywhere!
A happy baby.
A street performer dressed as The Mask.
A bike rider and skeleton.
Good ol’ KFC!
An intricate water fountain on La Rambla.
Two people posing near another bike rider and skeleton.
A typical street scene on La Rambla.

 

I ultimately ended up in the “art” area of La Rambla, an area with caricature artists and painters of nearly every variety. I watched one artist ply his trade with spray paint. It was amazing what he did and how quickly he completed the canvas. He began with a white, stretched canvas, and in about five minutes, he had a finished work of art. It looked like a beach sunset scene. Beside him was a box of a dozen or so spray paint cans. He had only one nozzle that he quickly detached from one can and attached to another in a split second. At one point, his cell phone rang. Once he answered the cell phone, he cradled it to his ear, and he was right back to painting. I do not think this was his first day on the job! Some of the detail work, such as the palm trees and birds, he did by hand; other than those, it was spray paint only.

Shortly after that “booth,” I found an artist that did oil paintings on canvas. One of the large pictures reminded me of the art Leslie, and I had just seen at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid; Saint-Honore Street in the Afternoon Effect of Rain by Camille Pissarro (1897). The artist wanted €120 (US$146). I talked him down (the first bartering I have done in Spain) to €80 (US$97), so I bought the painting. It may have been too expensive, but oh well.

The spray paint artist.
The spray paint artist on the phone. Notice his right hand is still moving furiously.
Placing the finishing touches.
Some colorful art for sale on La Rambla.
THE painting!

 

On my way back north on La Rambla, I spotted a small plaza off to the east by about a half-block. I walked into the square and took a seat at a table at la Terrassa del DO for a glass of wine and a tapa. I decided to have patatas bravas, one of my favorites. When I asked the waiter the name of the plaza, he said, “Plaça Reial.” That translates to Royal Square. Like so many other sidewalk cafés, it was delightful and relaxing to sit there and watch the world and the people. To occupy my time, besides the wine and tapas, I took photographs and wrote in my journal.

The patatas bravas had a wonderfully delicious white sauce on top of each potato. The waiter explained that it was a specialty of the hotel, a mixture of olive oil, garlic, and eggs. I had never had a sauce like that before. It was decadent. On top of the white sauce was a dollop of the traditional red sauce commonly used on patatas bravas.

While I say enjoying my patatas bravas and wine, a three-piece musical group came by to entertain anyone in the plaza that would listen. There was an accordion player, a clarinet player, and a drummer. After their song, they went table to table with a hat to collect money. I gave them €3 (US$3.66) for their effort. I found out they were from Romania. One’s name was Steven, one was Tosh, and I did not understand the name of the third member. After they left, I ordered some calamari and another glass of wine. It was very relaxing.

When I finished, I walked back to the hotel and packed, in preparation for my departure the next day.

Mopeds lined up as far as the eye can see.
People sitting around the water fountain at Plaça Reial.
People walking past the cafe at which I sat.
The musicians stopped for a smoke break.
Playing one of their songs.
The three musicians at my table.
Posing for a photograph in front of the fountain in Plaça Reial.
A woman walking a dog and two boys.
Two women posing near my table.
Thyssen Museum

Thyssen Museum

Madrid, Spain – June 2, 2012

This morning Leslie, Tyler, and I drove to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. It is one of the Trinity of museums in Madrid; including The Prado and the Reina Sofia museums. We departed our home in Pozuelo de Alarcón at about 09:00. We made it to the parking garage at about 09:30. In Madrid, that translates into quickly finding a parking spot.

We emerged from the parking garage, which happened to be right beside the museum and began our hunt for a place to have coffee. We found a place called DOCC Prado. The initials stand for Denominacióon de Origen y Calidad Contrastada. Loosely translated, that means Denomination of Origin and Contrast Quality, located at Calle Prado, 28 at Plaza de las Cortes.

After our coffee, we walked a couple of blocks to the museum entrance. In so doing, we passed by the Groupama Seguros building and the Westin Palace Hotel. Both buildings had some very striking architectural details. The Groupama Seguros building had a large clock to which we returned later.

The Groupama Seguros building and the Westin Palace Hotel on the left.

The Groupama Seguros building.

At the museum, it cost €24 (US$29) to get the three of us entry. I was impressed with the art collection. Virtually every item in the museum is from the private Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. There was an extensive number of works covering many centuries. The oldest painting I saw was from 1310. The most recent one I saw dated from 1925. There is more detail on the paintings in the list of hotlinks below. I had to resort to a list because the museum does not allow photography. Regardless, the museum is a must-see in Madrid.

The rooftop restaurant at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
Sitting on the bench outside the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

The following list includes my favorite paintings and works. If one wishes to see any of the work, click on the hotlink (courtesy of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum). Just before entering the exhibit spaces, there were four marble sculptures by Auguste Rodin. My two favorites were:

From there, we entered the exhibition spaces and saw the following, among others:

I recognize this is a lengthy list, but it is a fantastic collection of art. As I wrote above, this museum is a must-see.

Shortly after viewing Christ and the Samaritan Woman, we noticed it was 11:55. We hurried out of the museum and walked toward the Westin Palace Hotel. Just across the street from the hotel is the Groupama Seguros (an insurance company) building. It is known for its clock. When it strikes noon, several characters come out and “dance” during the chiming of the bells.

The characters at the Carillón Plus Ultra clock photographed by pedestrians below.
The characters shortly after noon.
Detail of the characters.

After watching the clock show, we returned to the museum because we had not been through the gift store.  We found a couple of magnets for Leslie’s collection.  When we left the store, I saw signs for a restaurant in the museum building.  We followed the signs to the fifth floor, the top of the building.  We sat on the terrace overlooking the entrance of the museum.  Tyler had a Coke while Leslie and I had a vino tinto.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum as seen from the roof restaurant.

This time, we left the museum and began our walk to the north to the National Library.  We wanted to go there to do some genealogy research on one of Leslie’s great-grandfathers.  Family lore says he was an ambassador from Spain to Mexico.  It was roughly a half-mile walk.  When we got to the front of the library, it was about 13:00.  Leslie suggested we go in because it might close.  I said, “Naw, let’s get some lunch first!”

Pedestrians walking north on Paseo del Prado.
Cars maneuver around the Cibeles Fountain.
The traffic circle at the Cibeles Fountain. The Metropolis building is in the background with the ornate dome.
Part of the sign in front of the Casa de América Cultural Center.

We walked to a restaurant in the median of Paseo de Recoletos in front of the library. It is the Café el Espejo (The Mirror Café). That happens to be the same restaurant Tyler, and I went to last summer when Leslie was in Colorado.
For lunch, I had the sanwich mixto (grilled ham and cheese). Leslie and Tyler each had muselo de pollo asado con patatas fritas y ensalada (roasted chicken leg with French fries and salad). We also shared a pitcher of Sangria. Quite frankly, the Sangria was not very good. That stated, it was empty when we departed.

The bar and service area of El Espejo.

Looking across the table to another group of patrons at El Espejo.

We finished our lunch and arrived at the front doors of the library at about 13:55, only to find they were closing.  Leslie was right!  I will try to go to the library over the next week or two, during my lunch hour, to see what I can discover.

A little depressed, we crossed the street, hailed a taxi, and rode back to the parking garage.  By about 14:45, we were in our home and ready for our siestas.

Buitrago del Lozoya

Buitrago del Lozoya

Buitrago del Lozoya, Spain – May 20, 2012

Today, Uncle Wayne, Aunt Ann, Leslie, and I visited the small town of Buitrago del Lozoya. It is a town we usually drive past as we go north on the A-1 to other Spanish cities and towns. What a beautiful little town! We parked beside the main square, Plaza Picasso.

The municipal building in Buitrago del Lozoya.

Our first stop, of course, was for coffee and a restroom. At random, we entered the Mesón Serrano. It is directly across the street from Plaza Picasso on Calle Real. We each had a coffee served in a glass, not a mug. That is relatively common in Spain. The interior was rustic. The bar was a thick, highly polished, single piece of wood. The bar and the paneling reminded me of knotty pine, but I think it was a different type of wood. Above the bar were several hand-hammered bas relief panels. They looked like they were brass. The theme on all the boards was bullfighting.

One man sat at the bar, drinking a beer. That is not that unusual in Spain; although, it was a bit early for me.

The Meson Serrano bar and restaurant.

The sign points the way to the dining room. Also on the wall is a flyer for an apartment for rent, the daily lottery results and the price list.
Detail of some of the bullfighting art above the bar.

When we left the Mesón Serrano, we stopped and looked at a map of the town. The Rio Lozoya surrounds the village on three sides. The northern point of the town nestles securely inside a massive wall. The Moors constructed the wall in the 11th Century.

Uncle Wayne looking at Calle Real.

We walked toward the church tower we could see from Calle Mayor. As we neared it, we could see we need to walk down a small street to our right. However, because of a curve, it appeared the road was a dead end. In the far corner of the street was a tiny hotel and restaurant. As we continued along, we saw the street made a sharp left turn. When we rounded that corner, we saw an archway that allowed passage through the wall. There, the road veered sharply right and emptied onto a small plaza in front of a beautiful stone church. On one of the walls of the plaza, we saw a sign commemorating the six hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Marques de Santillana, 1398 – 1998. He was a famous poet and politician in the area.

Possibly a dead end…
Our first glimpse of Santa Maria del Castillo.
A sign commemorating the birth of the Marques de Santillana six centuries ago.

The church, Sanat Maria del Castillo, turned out to be quaint, yet one of the most beautiful we have seen. Some portions of the church date to 1321. The coffered Mudejar ceiling is by far the most prominent and impressive feature of the worship space.

Beside the plaza outside the church is a set of stairs that lead to the top of the wall. At that point, the wall rose to a height of nearly 50 feet (15 meters). Aunt Ann and I walked up the stairs to get a photograph of the church. The gate allowing access to the very top of the wall was not open. Therefore, we stopped at the top landing and made our photographs. Storks nesting on the bell tower completed the scene. It is not unusual to see storks nesting on the high points of the old churches in Spain.

The church of Santa Maria del Castillo.

They are not bats in the belfry, they are storks.
Looking along the wall toward the Mendoza Fortress.
Leslie and Uncle Wayne wait patiently at the base of the stairs.
The beautiful interior of Santa Maria del Castillo.
The altar and crucifix.
A prayer niche with paintings of the holy family.
Detail of the altar and crucifix.

From the church plaza (Plaza de Caidos – Plaza of the Fallen) we made our way to the east side of town.  At the wall on that side, we came across the ruin of the Mendoza Fortress.  The fortress dates from sometime between the 14th and 15th centuries.  Upon entering, one sees the floor is sand and circular.  It is open to the sky.  There are some stone bleachers on all sides.  It almost seemed to be a small bullfighting arena; however, it does not appear to be in use.

A typical street inside the walled part of the city.
An old home with what appears to be an even older cart.
A side-shed at the Mendoza Fortress.
A view inside the Mendoza Fortress.

Near the fortress is an opening in the wall onto what looks like an overlook and pedestrian walkway. The walkway ended up being a street, much to our surprise. From the overlook, there were some charming views of the Rio Lozoya.

A walkway between the village wall and the Lozoya River.
The Lozoya River.
Looking north along the village wall and the Lozoya River.

 

We went back through the wall and continued our trek to the north end of the town. At the north end of the village, the wall was only about 10 or 12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters) high. There was another set of stairs. This time we all walked to the top of the wall as there was no gate at these stairs.

Also, at the north end of the town, there is a playground/garden area. There were several types of flowers, many of which seemed to be wild. One of the more unique features was a children’s maze, formed with live cedar trees. The trees were about five feet (1.5 meters) tall. Planted very close together, they created the passageways. I have never seen anything like that at any other playground.

The rear side of Santa Maria del Castillo.
The hillside across the Lozoya River.
The entry to a home inside the walled portion of the village.
No, no, and no!!!
A view across the river through one of the notches in the wall.
The river as seen from the wall.
A street lined with typical homes.
Some flowers in the municipal garden.
The same sign in a different location in the garden.
A bit of a fixer-upper.
Aunt Ann and Leslie walk by a home on what must be laundry day.

We began our walk back toward the central part of the town, stopping at a small plaza to sit and rest. On one side, I spotted a ferreteria (hardware store). It was open. I knew Uncle Wayne wanted to see a hardware store, so we went inside. It was amazing just how much stuff the owner packed into that small store. I estimate the store was about 20 feet (six meters) square. The store also boasted a second floor. The name of the store is Angel San Juan.

Uncle Wayne marveling at the selection in the village hardware store.
The door to the Angel San Juan hardware store.
Uncle Wayne and Aunt Ann leaving the store.
An LP gas delivery truck.

By this time, most of the stores in town were open. We found one small store that sold refrigerator magnets. We bought a magnet for Leslie’s collection.

That store brought us full circle, back to the Plaza Picasso. It has that name because of the museum in the lower level of the municipal building, Museo Picasso Eugenio Arias Collection. Born in Buitrago del Lozoya in 1909, Arias ultimately became a barber. Arias decided to leave Spain and settle in Vallauris in the south of France. That was after the Spanish Civil War. Coincidentally, Picasso lived there at the same time. Arias became Picasso’s barber. Picasso liked him, so he gave him many things he drew, painted, or made. Those items are on display in the museum.

The display of the two Picasso posters.

Detail of a Picasso poster.
Detail of a Picasso poster II.
The two Picasso posters on display.
Detail of a Picasso poster III.
Detail of a Picasso poster IV.

 

As I have written previously, since coming to Spain, I am now a big fan of Picasso. I have become much fonder of him than I was before because I have personally seen many of his works and observed the evolution of his style.

Earlier in the morning, on our drive to the town, we drove through a lot of rain. I worried that we would have a soggy, miserable trip. When we arrived at Buitrago del Lozoya it was not raining, just cloudy. After being in the town for a while, it became very windy, so it was cold. By the time we were ready to depart, it had become partly sunny.

This town is well worth the stop.

Two boys kicking the ball back and forth in front of the municipal building.
Confessions of a Tapa Crawl

Confessions of a Tapa Crawl

Madrid, Spain – May 18, 2012

Last night Leslie, Tyler, and I went on a “tapa crawl.” Some friends from Colorado; Cole and Carol were passing through Madrid, so we met them at Plaza Mayor.

The San Miguel Market near Plaza Mayor.
An entrance to the market.
The view south on Cava de San Miguel.
The northwest entry arch to Plaza Mayor.

I must confess, this was our first tapa crawl!! I know that sounds crazy, especially after living in Madrid for nearly three years. I had not wanted to go previously for two reasons. First, I am usually in REM sleep no later than 21:00. Secondly, when I thought of a tapa crawl, all I could picture was Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisana. That type of debauchery is not quite my speed…anymore. So, I was very hesitant to try a tapa crawl.

Now for my second confession; not going on a tapa crawl sooner was a big mistake. It was nothing like a drunken-crowd-fest like what I witnessed on Bourbon Street. Instead, it was clean, comfortable, not too crowded, and an absolute blast! I highly recommend a crawl for anyone visiting Madrid.

We began our crawl at about 19:15 on the north side of Plaza Mayor at the Torre do Oro (Golden Tower) bar. It is a very well-known bar in Madrid. There is almost too much to see in the bar, with multiple items and photographs relating to bullfighting adorning the walls. There are several mounted heads of famous bulls on the walls. Also, on display are items of clothing from famous bullfighters. Lastly, covering the walls are photographs of bullfighters. The catch with the pictures is that the subject bullfighter had to have been either gored or killed by a bull. Each photograph caught the specific moment of pain for posterity. Some of them are rather gruesome. For example, one very unlucky bullfighter had his photo taken during a goring; with one of the bull’s horns running up under the bullfighter’s chin and out through his mouth. OUCH!!

Another interesting fact about this bar is its size. I guess it is no more than 10 feet (three meters) wide by about 30 feet (nine meters) deep. Toward the rear, there are a few barstools. Other than that, one stands at the bar.

We had our first vino and our first tapa there. The bartender gave us some potato salad to share. We were surprised by how good it was.

La Torre de Oro bar on the north side of Plaza Mayor, the starting point for the tapa crawl.

Some rather gruesome photographs. One only gets a photo on the wall if one has been gored or killed during a bullfight.
Catching up with our Colorado friends, Carol and Cole.
Heads of famous bulls hang alongside the jamón ibérico.
Sharing and reliving memories.
Stairs leading to the toilets on the lower level.
Cole and Tyler in a deep discussion.

Departing Torre de Oro, we walked south from Plaza Mayor along Calle de Cuchilleros. Within about 200 meters we found the beginning of Calle Cava Baja, our main objective for the evening’s tapa crawl. I must give credit to one of my colleagues at the embassy, Aurora. She is the one that guided me by providing precise directions before I left the office.

A street sign for Cava Baja, one of two streets on which we would “crawl.”
A typical fruit and vegetable store in Madrid.
We were not the only pedestrians out that evening.
The beautiful tile sign for La Chata Restaurante (The Flat Restaurant).

The first establishment at which we stopped on Cava Baja was la Peonza Taberna (The Spinning Top Tavern). The tapas we had there were jamón ibérico on toast and some shrimp with garlic on toast. I thought they both tasted perfect, especially the jamón ibérico.

Our server at la Peonza Taberna (The Spinning Top Tavern).

After we left la Peonza Taberna, we began looking for a specific tapa bar. Aurora told me we had to stop at Taberna los de Lucio (I think it translates as the Pike Tavern). We inadvertently walked past the tavern, but we did not see it the first time. I stopped at a pharmacy to ask directions. We did our back-tracking and found the bar.

We entered and ordered our drinks. As a tapa, they gave us some almonds warmed in olive oil. They were very hot to the touch, but they were delicious. Monica was our server from behind the bar. As we sat there, we decided to have something else to eat. I ordered a plate of Manchego cheese and a plate of jamón ibérico. Sampling jamón ibérico several times in Spain, I thought the serving at the tavern was by far the best. We polished off those plates and headed out the door.

The entry to Taberna los de Lucio.

Our server, Monica, pouring drinks at Taberna los de Lucio.
Monica carving a serving of jamón ibérico.

Tyler saw a bar at which he wanted to stop, the 47 Cocktail Bar because he wished to have a daiquiri to relive his experience in Marbella, Spain. So, we went in and ordered him a daiquiri. He hoped it would be as good as the one Puerto Banus, Spain near Marbella. It was not good at all; he had about two sips and gave up. We finished our vino tinto and left the bar.

Servers at the 47 Cocktail Bar.
Tyler and his very own daiquiri at 47 Cocktail Bar.

Leaving the 47 Cocktail Bar, we ended up at a sidewalk café, el Viajero. It was enjoyable to sit outside and watch all the people pass. We ordered some croquetas and some filet mignon. The filet just about melted in one’s mouth; however, it was very rare — very typical for Spain. When I ordered, I forgot to tell the server, “muy hecho.” That helpful phrase signifies “well done.” In the United States, I never order anything well done. In Spain, muy hecho comes out as the equivalent of medium. Regardless, we did not leave anything behind!

When we finished those tapas, we all walked back to Plaza Mayor. We bade our friends goodbye, hailed a taxi, and went home. We arrived home at about 23:45. For those readers keeping track, that is nearly three hours beyond my normal REM sleep!

The dome of St. Andrew’s Church.
Conversation at the aptly named el Viajero (The Traveler).
We had a lot of conversations that evening.
Where there’s a Baja there has to be an Alta…the sign for Upper Cava.
An offering for a photography course.  I might have been interested if I had not seen that one of the courses is “desnudo,” naked!