Tag: Gate

Wats Everywhere!

Wats Everywhere!

Chiang Mai, Thailand – February 5, 2017

I arrived at the airport in Singapore with plenty of time to spare.  I cannot stand to be late.  I do not like the drama that comes with being late.  It was lunchtime.  I opted for Sweet and Sour Chicken at Central Thai.

With my belly full, I went through passport control and then sat down to wait for my flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was on my way to a training class. The seating area was in the concourse as opposed to at the gate. There was an unmanned security checkpoint at the gate. That meant no one could sit in the waiting area. Once the security team arrived, I went through and sat in the gate area.

While I was waiting for my Silkair flight, a woman wearing a non-descript uniform approached me to ask if I would participate in a survey.  I agreed.  She read the questions to me from her iPad.  In total, the survey took about five minutes.  At the conclusion, she gave me a box containing a very nice pen engraved with “Changi Airport,” the name of the airport in Singapore.

Onboard the plane, I found my exit row aisle seat had more legroom than I think I have ever experienced.  I did find it odd that those sitting in the exit row cannot place anything under the seat in front of them.  All carry-on items went into the overhead bins.  The second thing I found odd was one of the flight attendants sat in the exit row aisle seat across from me.  I think it is much more common to see the flight attendants sitting in jump seats.  Regardless, the three-hour flight was uneventful.

The Silkair flight arrived in Chiang Mai at about 17:40 local time.  I quickly went through passport control and customs.  With my baggage in hand, I arranged for a taxi.  The taxi boss said the cost for the trip from the airport to the Le Meridien Hotel was 200 Baht (just under US$6).

The driver did not speak English. I certainly do not know the Thai language. Luckily, the driver had a translation app on his cell phone. He spoke into the phone in Thai, pressed a button, and I heard the question or statement in English. I responded in English, speaking into his phone. He played that back in Thai. We had quite a good conversation on the way to the hotel.

Elephants are a symbol of good luck in Thailand. These were in front of the Le Meridien Hotel.

About an hour after landing, I was at my hotel. Here comes the snobbish part…my room was lovely; but the room, bathroom, and entry area could have all fit within just the bedroom I had in Singapore.

The view from the room was generally to the west. The air quality was not good. Through the haze, I could make out Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep near the top of a mountain in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Periodically, various commercial jets rose diagonally across the face of the hill; ultimately rising above the horizon.

View of Chiang Mai, Thailand from the Le Meridien Hotel.

One afternoon, a group of us decided to walk to a Buddhist temple.  I thought we would walk to the temple, go to a restaurant, and then return to the hotel.  Little did I know the adventures that lay ahead.

A few blocks from the hotel, we arrived at the Tha Phae Gate that allows passage through the ancient wall that surrounds the old city of Chiang Mai. The wall provided protection, and the accompanying moat added to the level of security. This gate only allows for pedestrian traffic. Other portals allow vehicle passage.

This is one of several gates allowing entry to the ancient walled area of Chiang Mai. It is on the eastern wall.

We continued west along Rachadamnoen Road.  Although it was not our final destination, we stopped for a quick look at Wat Phan On.  A wat is a Buddhist temple.  In Chiang Mai, there are around 300 wats; literally wats everywhere.

Entering the wat compound, one immediately sees a gilded chedi.  A chedi is a burial structure.  Those buried in the chedis are in a seated position.  The chedis become a place for meditation.  The chedi at Wat Phan On is directly across from the main temple.  We took a quick look at the temple and left to continue our journey.

A gilded chedi at Wat Phan On.

Our 2.5 kilometer (1.5 miles) walk concluded at the wat we sought, Wat Phra Singh ( วัดพระสิงห์ ).  I included the Thai spelling because it is such a beautiful and unique alphabet.  The wat dates from the mid-14th Century.  It is one of the most revered wats in Chiang Mai.

The beauty of the wat is stunning. One of the things that immediately caught my attention was the gilded dragon (nāga) at the entry to the main temple (viharn luang). The level of detail and ornamentation are incredible. An interesting point about this dragon and others I saw during this trip; they emanate from the mouth of another dragon.

Another view of the dragon in front of the main temple at Wat Phra Singh.

In the main temple, the gilded Buddha was huge and imposing. I must admit I do not fully understand the Buddhist religion, so a lot of the items and décor in each wat left question marks above my head. Regardless, the beauty was such as I had never seen before.

The Buddha in the main temple at Wat Phra Singh.

When we left Wat Phra Singh, we began walking east. I thought we were heading to dinner. I was wrong. Along Arak 5 Road we found Wat Inthakhin Sadww Muang. The wat is very small. That did not deter the decoration. Although tiny, it was beautiful inside. At this wat as well as at many other locations in Chiang Mai, one saw portraits of Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej the King of Thailand. The King died on October 13, 2016. The country was still in mourning during my trip. I believe the period of mourning lasts for one year.

A woman on the floor in front of the Buddhas at Wat Inthakhin Sadww Muang.

At Ratvithi Road and Ratchapakhinai Road, we came to 48 Garage. It was like a German beer garden plopped in the middle of Chiang Mai. My mates and I ordered a beer. While we sat there, a woman came to the table holding dozens of woven fabric bracelets. Those on display were country names; like Canada, U. S. A., and Sweden. However, she also twisted by request. One could select nearly any word or phrase, and she would weave it into a bracelet. Her work was fascinating. She completed a bracelet in about ten minutes. I did not get one. Many others did get bracelets with words and phrases that I will not bother to list here.

A bracelet maker at a beer garden in Chiang Mai.

Besides 48 Garage, there were several other bars and street food vendors.  A couple of my favorite names were New York Pizza and Tacos Bell (yes, there is an “s”).  Some of the guys ate various fare from the food vendors.  I opted out.  I had no desire to have a run-in with a runny tummy.

This stand, at first look, may be a Taco Bell. Actually, it is TacoS Bell. The “s” is very important in differentiating.

We went into a bar across from New York Pizza.  What drew us in was the live band.  Of all things, it was a Reggae band.  The group consisted of three guitar players, a keyboardist, a trumpet player, and a drummer.  They played very well.

A reggae band performing in Chiang Mai.

Leaving the bar, several of my mates spotted a bar touting a “Shot Gun Beer Can Competition.” Much like the bracelet incident, I opted out. The bar employee willingly prepped beer cans for anyone wishing to compete. The preparation was putting a small hole on the side of the beer can, near the bottom. The competitor places their mouth over the small hole while holding the beer can upright. Then, pulling the tab open, the beer shotguns through the small hole and into the mouth in a matter of seconds. For those keeping score at home, the U.S.A. is in the lead with 322 cans downed. Several countries; such as Cyprus, Gambia, and Armenia, are tied for the last place with one can each. This is a popular sport. The leader-board tracks a total of 64 countries.

This tally board keeps track of the claimed national status of those that take on the shotgun beer can competition in Chiang Mai.

Continuing in the general direction of our hotel, we ended up at the Tha Phae Gate again.  This time, the plaza on the east side of the gate had a didgeridoo band playing.  Much like the Reggae band, they played very well.

About a half-block down the road from the plaza, we found the THC Rooftop Bar. THC is one of the chemical compounds in marijuana. I was a little worried that we might encounter a marijuana haven. We did not.

Had I been by myself, I am confident I would not have gone in, but… The front door to the stairs had a low head height. Many of the flights of stairs were a long way from OSHA safety standards. Regardless, we made it to the level below the bar. There, we found something more akin to a ladder than stairs. Making this all the dicier was the nearby sign; “SHOES OFF PLEASE If you have expensive shoes, take them upstairs with you! We take no responsibility! THANK YOU.”
One is required to take off one’s shoes before reaching the rooftop THC bar.

In addition to the sign, there was some wild graffiti on the walls.  One of my mates and I stayed at that level for a few minutes.  One of our other mates came back to the top of the stairs/ladder and coaxed us up.  As I took off my shoes and climbed the very uncomfortable stairs/ladder, the horror of completing my walk to our hotel in my stocking feet continued to play over and over in my mind.

Graffiti at the THC Rooftop Bar.

Having risen those last few feet, we were at the bar level. Much to my chagrin, to get to the final level, we faced one more stair/ladder. As if that were not enough, once I reached the last level, I saw dozens of small tables about 18 inches above the floor. To use the tables, one sat on pillows on the floor. As I squatted down and left my fate to gravity, the next horror show played in my mind; wondering how would I possibly get back to my feet.

When we prepared to leave, somehow, I made it back to an upright position. My mind was not on the very uncomfortable rungs, but rather on the actual location of my shoes as I descended my favorite stair/ladder. I could not have been happier if I had won the lottery; my shoes were still there!

From the THC Rooftop Bar, we began our walk again. Surprise, we stopped at yet another bar; the Baba Bobo Music and Restaurant Bar. Luckily, I recognized the street was the same one on which our hotel was located. Since it was well past my regular bedtime of 20:30, the entertainment value of our trek was waning. I decided to hit the eject button and walk the final 800 meters (one-half mile) back to the hotel.

Later in the week, I decided to walk to Wat Chiang Man.  It is one of the oldest in the old city, dating from the late 13th Century.  My planned walk was about four kilometers (two and one-half miles).  On my way, I walked by Wat Mahawan.  I walked through the wat quickly and went on to Tha Phae Gate.

That day at the gate, there were many sights; tuk-tuks waiting for fares, a divey looking bar (probably one of the best places in town), and monks walking through the plaza.

Some tuk-tuks waiting for passengers.
Five Buddhist monks walking through the plaza at the Tha Phae Gate.

After passing through Tha Phae Gate, I walked to Wat Phan On. For those keeping track of what’s wat; Wat Phan On was the first wat I visited during this trip. It is the first wat I had ever seen. On my own, I had much more time to wander through the wat compound. It is beautiful. A few items I saw there that I had not seen in any other wat included small brass bells near a chedi, two large gongs near a chedi, and several inspirational signs. The signs are in both Thai and English. I think my favorite is “Self-winning is pretty good.”

Some additional inspirational signs at Wat Phan On. The sign on the left is a little difficult to read. It reads “Self-winning is pretty good.”

It was a warm afternoon, so I was hot when I arrived at Wat Chiang Man.  At the main temple, as was the case with all the other wats, one had to remove one’s shoes before entering.  At this temple, there was a guard dog of sorts.  Actually, “guard” may be a bit of a stretch.  The dog lay on the marble, not paying much attention to shoes or people.  Odd, but at the temple, I did not have the same feeling of dread with leaving my shoes behind as I had at the THC Rooftop Bar.

People are expected to remove their shoes before entering the Buddhist temples. This is at Wat Chiang Man. Note the sleeping dog on the marble floor.

I thought the Chedi Chang Lom was fascinating. It is the oldest structure at Wat Chiang Man. That means it was built in the late 1290s. The many elephants emerging from the chedi at the base are all full-size.

This chedi is the oldest structure on the Wat Chiang Man compound. It dates from the late 13th Century.

The small side of the temple had two very beautiful dragons alongside the stairs. They are every bit as ornate and beautiful as the dragons at Wat Phra Singh.

The golden dragons guarding the side entry to a smaller temple at Wat Chiang Man.

I walked back to my hotel and took a nap. Shortly after waking up, a friend and his wife invited me out for dinner. We went to a food court about two blocks away from the hotel. I did not do any of the ordering, but I certainly helped with eating. The main course was a huge seafood boil served on some new paper used for printing newspapers. Rubber gloves helped one stay somewhat clean while eating the boil by hand. It reminded me of the meals I have had in Louisiana. To say it was delicious does not do it enough justice.

While I sat at the table with my friend, his wife and her friend continued bringing different fare from the various food vendors at the food court.  If I had known the Thai street food was so good, I would have joined my buddies eating during the night of the “death march” and shotgun beer competition.  I enjoyed every morsel of food I tried that evening; and best of all, no runny tummy!

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for some shopping at one of the tourist bazaars. I found a wood-carved dragon that I had to have. I think it cost US$10. I bought several other gifts; such as embroidered bags, and various small, painted, ceramic elephants. My friend’s wife is Thai. That made it easy to “negotiate” with the vendors. They all spoke some English, but I am sure the back and forth in Thai helped make things easier.

Colorful entry to a tourist bazaar.

For my last afternoon in Chiang Mai, I decided I would see something different; the Flower Market.  I set out from the hotel on a sunny afternoon.  Before going too far, I walked by Wat Upakhut.  It was not “different,” but I am glad I decided to go in and explore.

In the main temple, two or three monks were wearing plastic gloves. They were mixing something in some large metal bowls. I am not sure what it was, but it must have been edible. From the ceiling hung what must have been donations. Ribbon-like holders were hanging from the ceiling. They each contained varying amounts of Thai baht. Each also had a card at the bottom with something written in Thai, possibly a prayer.

Monks at Wat Upakhut mixing something, apparently edible. Note the dozens of collections of Thai Baht hanging from the ceiling.

I took some interesting photographs in the compound.  I think one of my favorites was that of two men working on restoring one of the dragons at the entry to the main temple.  I enjoyed watching their handiwork in plaster.

Two men working to refurbish one of the dragons at Wat Upakhut.

I walked on to the north. As I approached the Flower Market, I found several gold shops. There was so much gold jewelry for sale; it was hard to see the individual pieces because of the bright glare.

The Flower Market was in a structure that one might liken to a department store. The flower vendors were on the Ping River side.

A portion of the flower market in Chiang Mai.

After all of my walking over the last few days, I was tired. I spent very little time in the Flower Market. When I emerged, I flagged down a tuk-tuk. I took my first ever ride back to the hotel. It was entertaining.

Riding back to the hotel in a tuk-tuk.

That night, I went back to the food court by myself for dinner. I arrived a little early, so I partook of a Thai foot massage. At times, it was much less than relaxing. A 30-minute foot massage was 120 baht (US$3.43). In Auckland, the only other place where I have seen Thai foot massages advertised, 30-minutes go for NZ$45 (US$32.64); ten times the price!

For dinner, I tried some of the grilled items.  The pork and chicken on a stick were delicious.  I had two of the pork on a stick and one of the chicken on a stick.  To wash it down, I had one liter of Leo beer (a Thai beer).  The total cost of my dinner came in at 220 baht (US$6.29).

Some of the available grilled items. The pricing is in Thai Baht. From the upper left 20 to the lower right 120, the U.S. equivalent is $0.60 to $3.53.

On Saturday, I caught my 200 Thai baht taxi back to the airport.  From there, it was back to Singapore for another rest stop before flying back to New Zealand.

Pedestrians waiting to cross the street.
A statue at Wat Upakhut.
A man sitting on his trike outside Wat Upakhut.
A family traveling through Chiang Mai.
Monks crossing a footbridge near the flower market.
Monks crossing a footbridge near the flower market.
Traffic maneuvering near the flower market.
The Ping River near the flower market.
Some of the traffic to the side of the flower market.
A very detailed bird at Wat Upakhut.
One serpent devouring another at Wat Upakhut.
Some of the intricate ornamentation at Wat Upakhut.
It was apparently laundry day when I visited Wat Upakhut.
Several praying statues at Wat Upakhut.
A niche at Wat Upakhut.
Several painted goddesses at Wat Upakhut.
A fully refurbished dragon at Wat Upakhut.
A line of praying statues at Wat Upakhut.
Additional ornamentation at Wat Upakhut.
The monks’ laundry hanging to dry at Wat Upakhut.
A VW van that doubles as a bar at the food court.
At night, the street fills with vendor booths for blocks and blocks.
The very detailed ornamentation at a small side temple at Wat Upakhut.
A carved wooden elephant was hidden out of the way at Wat Upakhut.
A closeup look at some of the intricate detail in front of the small side temple at Wat Upakhut.
Inside the small side temple at Wat Upakhut.
A double-decker bar at the food court.
Some of the hundreds of mini Buddhas on the walls of the small side temple. Each has something different written along the bottom.
The Buddha in the main temple at Chiang Man.
Looking along the side of the main temple at Wat Chiang Man.
Door detail at Wat Chiang Man.
Two young girls posing in front of the ancient chedi in the compound of the Wat Chiang Man.
A little gray elephant and some other elephants in front of Wat Chiang Man.
Purses for sale at a stand across the street from a Burger King franchise.
A man moving his refrigerated (iced) cart to a new location.
A beverage stand next to a grilling stand. For dinner, on this particular evening, I patronized both.
Some bells near the stupa at Wat Phan On.
A niche at a chedi at Wat Phan On.
A gong at Wat Phan On.
A bilingual inspirational sign at Wat Phan On.
An inspirational saying at Wat Phan On.
A gong at Wat Phan On.
The long temple at Wat Phan On.
The Buddhist temple of Wat Phan On.
A secluded area at Wat Phan On.
Inside the main temple at Wat Phan On.
Two guard-lions at Wat Phan On.
A guardian lion at Wat Phan On.
Detail of the door relief at Wat Phan On.
The golden Buddha at Wat Phan On.
Two Buddhist monks checking the price with a taxi driver before boarding for their destination.
A closed Buddhist temple at Wat Mahawan.
A chedi at Wat Mahawan.
A rather dilapidated bar, the Inter Bar. That means it must be a GREAT place.
A dragon at Wat Mahawan.
A worship niche at a chedi at Wat Mahawan.
A side temple at Wat Mahawan.
A statue in front of the main temple at Wat Phra Sing.
The gilded chedi at the rear of the main temple at Wat Phra Singh.
A golden elephant at the rear of the main temple at Wat Phra Singh.
A very ornate building near the front of the main temple at Wat Phra Singh.
A woman facing Buddhas at Wat Inthakhin Sadww Muang. The portrait is of the just-passed king.
The Tha Phae Gate at night.
A didgeridoo band performing near the Tha Phae Gate.
The very, very low entry to the stairs which lead to the THC Rooftop Bar.
It is not unusual to see motos for rent throughout Chiang Mai. However, by actually renting, I am certain one is really taking a chance with the crazy traffic.
Some typical businesses. I am not exactly sure what the Sexy Poompui Bar is all about…
A more detailed view of the town from the Le Meridien Hotel.
A small home in Chiang Mai.
The main temple at Wat Phra Singh in the old city of Chiang Mai.
A very ornate dragon at the entry to the main temple at Wat Phra Singh.
Two women in front of the Buddha in the main temple of Wat Phra Singh.


Rivendell, New Zealand – June 25, 2016

This time of year, the sun does not rise until nearly 08:00. It was dark when we departed home.
The first stop was Macca’s for fuel. Some orange juice and a couple of Sausage Egg McMuffins and we were ready for the trip. When we got back in the car, we could begin to see the faint hint of a sunrise.
Our destination was a mere 32 kilometers (20 miles) away, Kaitoke Regional Park. The draw was Rivendell. Many of our past trips along State Highway 2 took us up and over Rimutaka Pass. On each trip, we passed a sign, pointing to the north, with the words “Kaitoke Regional Park” and “Rivendell.” Not too long ago, I asked one of my Kiwi colleagues whether the “Rivendell” on the sign referred to the Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies and books. I was happy to hear, “yes.”
In roughly 20 minutes, we made that often-passed turn to the north. At the entry to the park, we stopped at the information pavilion. No one else was around. It was interesting to read about the longfin eel. I had never heard of that species of eel. Perhaps that was because it is endemic to New Zealand (found nowhere else on earth). The eels may live in rivers for decades before returning to the sea to mate.

Leaving the pavilion, we continued north. In about one kilometer, we arrived at the small parking area for Rivendell. Once again, we were by ourselves. Exiting our vehicle, I grabbed my camera gear. We walked down to the Pakuratahi River. The river water, like every river we have seen in New Zealand, was crystal clear. After taking some photographs, we decided it was time to hike to Rivendell.

Our hike began at the parking lot. We knew which direction we were to travel; however, we were unsure about the distance. It ended up being only about 200 meters until we found the Rivendell Path. We did not know at the time, but the walk along the path to Rivendell was also only about 200 meters. In addition to being a short hike, it was very level. The hiking surface was a combination of sealed road and well-groomed gravel path.

Map of Rivendell.
A signpost along one of the trails.
A green field.

We knew before we set out that Rivendell no longer exists; however, there is some preservation of the area used for filming. There are a few signposts throughout the site, which help interpret portions of what happened in Rivendell in LOTR. One signpost demonstrated the relative heights of Hobbits, trolls, Sauron, etc.; while another showed a plan indicating the location of various parts of the Rivendell site. The only structure at the place that harkens back to the movie set is the Elvish Archway. While the archway is an interesting photo opportunity, it is a reproduction. Regardless, we enjoyed our brief trip to Rivendell.

The elfish archway.
The elfish archway with visitors.

We walked back to the parking area to prepare for our next activity, the Swingbridge. At the Kaitoke Regional Park, the Pakuratahi River merges with the Hutt River. A bridge crosses both rivers. Over the Pakuratahi River is a cement girder bridge leading to Rivendell. On the other hand, over the Hutt River is a suspension bridge dubbed the Swingbridge. As soon as one steps on the suspension portion, it becomes very evident from whence the name comes. Luckily, the Swingbridge is only about ten meters above the water. If it had been 100 or 150 meters above the river, I am sure I would not have managed the crossing.

The swinging bridge.
Looking toward the end of the bridge.

The draw of the Swingbridge is more than merely the view of the Hutt River. It is the quickest way to get to the Loop Walk, a short trail through the rainforest. Rainforests have become one of my favorite things about New Zealand. The flora of the rainforests is impressive. The loop trail winds through numerous species of trees, ferns, and other plants that are endemic to New Zealand. Some of the trees reach heights of 50 meters. While the circumference of the trees is no match for the California redwood trees, they are still imposing.

New Zealand is host to about 200 species of fern, and there are numerous species located along the loop trail. The silver fern, at up to 10 meters in height, is the most imposing and famous. The Maori call the new, tightly coiled fronds “koru.” The koru is one of my favorite things to photograph in the rainforest.

Silver fern as seen from underneath.
Bark detail in the forest.

Leaving the rainforest, it was back across Swingbridge. At the parking lot, I retrieved our folding chairs from the car. We took those down to the edge of the Pakuratahi River and sat at the river’s side for a long time. It was such a peaceful setting. The sound of the river (I would call it a stream) was very soothing.
While sitting beside the Pakuratahi, I had my camera on a tripod, capturing photos now and then. We saw two mallard drakes and two mallard hens coming toward us. They were kind enough to allow me to take several photographs.

Ducks on the river.
Ducks on the river II.

When we got cold, the temperature was right at 50 degrees Fahrenheit; we packed up and took another short walk to warm up. A sign near the river indicated kayakers faced a three-hour trip down the Hutt River, through a gorge. When we got back to the parking area, there just happened to be three kayakers. Leslie struck up a conversation with the young men. They told us they could make the trip downriver in about two hours. What increases the time is the existence of inexperienced kayakers. That day, they were the only kayakers around. One of the young men indicated he might have been suffering from a hangover. He added that he could not wait to get in the river and overturn. He thought that might help his condition. Sure enough, once in the river, he deliberately turned over. I do not know if that helped him or not.


After that walk, we had a picnic lunch and then returned to Lower Hutt.

For anyone in the area, I highly recommend a trip to the Kaitoke Regional Park.

Panorama of the Hutt River shore.
The swinging bridge over the Hutt River.
The river with the bridge in the background.
Tree along the path.
Red berries.
Some white moss.
The Hutt River.
A green field.
Rocks in the river.
The Hutt River.
The Hutt River.
Red berries.

Last Time in Segovia

Last Time in Segovia

Segovia, Spain – May 13, 2012

We headed out today with Tio y Tia (uncle and aunt) to the beautiful city of Segovia, Spain. We arrived at about 10:00 and quickly made our way to la Criolla restaurant. It is right beside the aqueduct. We sat there and enjoyed a mixture of full breakfasts and pan con tomate (bread with a tomato sauce).

Sitting outside la Criolla, admiring the aqueduct, and waiting for coffee.
Still waiting for coffee.

It was apparent that the day would be something special. In the central plaza by the aqueduct, there was a merry go round. That is not normal.

With our appetites sated, we decided it was time to explore the town. We decided to climb the stairs in between the tourist information office and the aqueduct to get to the top of the old city wall. After several breaks, we made it to the top with no problems. From that point, we continued toward Plaza Mayor. When we arrived at the plaza, we saw several triangular banners throughout the square. On the banner, there was a large block of a capital “T.” Imposed on the T was a hand that appeared to have strings reaching down toward a small “t.” It reminded us of marionettes. Sure enough, as we walked through the plaza, we saw people setting up for the puppet shows that would follow shortly. The festival is known as Titirimundi. That explains the letter “T.”

Climbing the stairs near the aqueduct.

Many of the buildings in Segovia have textured facades. This is a very good example.
Lighting the way…

Along the way, we came across a traffic jam at a parking garage entry. The reason for the jam was that the entrance to the garage is by an elevator only. With the cars backed up, heaven help a driver who needed to exit at that time — an odd scene.

The queue to get into the parking garage.
Self-portrait while Aunt Ann patiently waits for the nut to be finished.
The initial view of the cathedral.
Plaza Mayor with the cathedral looming in the background.
Window shoppers at the Kukul store.
Detail of the Kukul sign.

We continued beyond the cathedral about a block or so and then began to double back.  From the south side of the plaza, we took the main commercial street, Calle Isabel la Católica.  It became increasingly crowded with people.  About halfway between the Plaza Mayor and the aqueduct, we came across one of the puppet shows.  The puppeteers sang and danced to well known American songs while moving their puppets.  We stood and watched them for several minutes.

A puppet show during the puppet festival.

From the puppet show, we resumed our journey toward the aqueduct. When we arrived at that plaza, Plaza del Azequeo, it bustled with people. Many booths and vendors filled the streets. Also, people were doing various forms of live entertainment. Directly under the aqueduct, there was a small four-piece band and several groups of women. The women wore some traditional costumes. We asked one group whether they had made their costumes or purchased them. Of course, they said they made them all by hand. They seemed to appreciate the fact that we showed genuine interest in their handiwork. They invited me to take a photograph of Leslie with the group.

Each of the groups of women had a sign that had various slogans and depictions of the Virgin Mary. They were preparing for a procession of some sort. We did not hang around to see.

The aqueduct as seen from Calle Cervantes.

A religious festival in progress.
One of the festival participants dancing to the music of the four-piece band.
An intricate headdress.
Leslie with some of her newfound friends.
Two festival participants stop to pose for photographs.

Back at the car, we set the GPS for San Ildefonso. We thought it would be an excellent idea to stop by the palace at la Granja and stroll through the gardens. I was very disappointed there were no flowers in the garden. That made our walk a little anti-climactic.

As soon as we finished our walk, we got back in the car and headed back home.

Some flowers (virtually the only ones we saw) near La Granja.

The Royal Gate entrance to La Granja.
A sculpture in the gardens of La Granja.
The Royal Palace at La Granja.
Barcelona with Flat Stanley

Barcelona with Flat Stanley

Barcelona, Spain – March 21, 2012

When I woke up this morning, it was raining. That is the first precipitation we have had in many, many months. It was coming down somewhat hard. I got myself ready, finished packing, and left the house to meet my neighbor for a ride to work. When I arrived at his car, I was surprised to see it covered in snow. The rain had switched to snow. Luckily it was not accumulating on the ground.

Shortly after arriving at the office, I hailed a taxi to take me to the Atocha railway station to catch my 08:00 train. It had stopped snowing, but it was still raining. The cab dropped me off at the station at about 07:25. As always, the train departed precisely on time. We were scheduled to arrive in Barcelona at about 10:30.

About 25 minutes into the journey, I began to see snow had accumulated on the ground just enough to turn the ground white.

Another 20 minutes further along and there was snow! I estimate it was about three or four inches deep, complete with some drifts. It was a pretty sight. The train slowed from 300 kilometers per hour to 160 kilometers per hour (186 mph to 99 mph) going through that area. It was also very foggy.

About halfway through the journey, I walked to the cafeteria car and spent 3.40€ (US$4.15) for a cup of coffee and a croissant. I stood at the counter in the cafeteria car to consume those. The croissant was huge. Chasing a bite of a croissant with a sip of Spanish coffee is heavenly!

I arrived at the Barcelona train station at about 10:42, the late arrival no doubt due to our trek through the snow at about half-speed. It is the only time I can recall being on a train that arrived late. It was raining in Barcelona. I took a taxi to the office and then, later, I took a cab to my hotel.

After unpacking at the hotel, I walked next door to the grocery store to buy a bottle of wine. Once there, I decided to pick up some tapas. I bought some sliced Havarti cheese, chorizo picante (Felix de Murtiga Jabugo – lberico de Bellota), and some pistachios. When I returned to my room, I was surprised to find a bowl of fruit and some mineral water. The fruit consisted of a huge strawberry, grapes, a pear, a kiwi, and a plum. So, all of that food became my dinner. Partly because it was there and partly because I did not want to go out in the weather to a restaurant.

Just before leaving for Barcelona, we received Flat Stanley in the mail. He came to us from a friend in Colorado. He is working with their second-grader as they learn about the world. So, one of the first things Flat Stanley did was look out of the hotel window onto La Rambla.

Flat Stanley looking out of the hotel window.

The next day, after work, Flat Stanley and I decided to go to the Picasso Museum. We decided we would walk to the museum. It is only about 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) from the hotel. Just as we began our walk, I saw one of the Go Cars. When I later looked at the photograph I had taken, I was surprised by the numerous modes of transportation captured by the camera; of course, the Go Car, the numerous mopeds, the pedestrians, the cyclist, the van approaching in traffic, and the taxi behind that.

Several modes of transport are available in Barcelona.

We continued on our walk, through the plaza in front of the Cathedral and then on to Carrer Princesa. Shortly after turning onto that street, we came across a shop, Arlequi Mascaras. Flat Stanley desperately wanted to go inside and have a look at all of the masks. While there, I bought a key chain for Tyler and a broach for Hillary. Flat Stanley did not buy anything, but he did want his picture taken with some of the masks his size. There was a sign in the store that photographs were not allowed. However, after meeting Flat Stanley, the shopkeeper, Anna, said I could take his picture. She commented after seeing the photo, “Flat Stanley looked like a fish in the water with all of those masks.”

A couple dining above the fountain.
A lot of people on Carrer Portaferrisa.
Students gathering around the Barcelona sculpture.
A bustling market in front of the cathedral.
Dozens of people gathering outside the cathedral.
A Roman-era wall and tower.
The very narrow end of a building.
One can go either way to the Picasso Museum.
Flat Stanley on the way to the museum.
Flat Stanley shopping for a mask.

From that shop, we continued toward the Picasso Museum. In all of my visits to Barcelona, I have never been to this museum. I have passed by it many times, but I have never gone in. I think that is because the entry line has been too long in the past. This time there were only about a dozen people in front of me. I am delighted I spent the 11€ (US$13.42) to enter the museum. Picasso’s works absolutely stuff the museum. The vast majority of them are from the period between 1890 and 1917. During much of that time, he lived in Barcelona. Additionally, there were several works from 1957 when he was living in Cannes, France. Following are the artworks I most enjoyed seeing:

Mother and son with handkerchief, 1903 - Pablo Picasso

Mother and Son with Handkerchief – 1903.  Photo credit WikiArt (https://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/mother-and-son-with-handkerchief-1903).


Olga in a Mantilla, 1917 - Pablo Picasso

Olga in a Mantilla – 1903.  Photo credit WikiArt (https://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/olga-in-a-mantilla-1917).


Gutted horse, 1917 - Pablo Picasso

Gutted Horse – 1917.  It reminds me of some of his later, modern works at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Photo credit WikiArt (https://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/gutted-horse-1917).


El Paseo de Colon, 1917 - Pablo Picasso

El Paseo de Colon – 1917.  Photo credit WikiArt (https://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/el-paseo-de-colon-1917).


Las Meninas (Velazquez), 1957 - Pablo Picasso

Las Meninas – 1957.  It was a series, culminating in an extensive, maybe eight feet by 10 feet canvas, done as a likeness of the Velazquez hanging in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. Photo credit WikiArt (https://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/las-meninas-velazquez-1957-4).


Before going to the museum, I had looked up some information on the internet. It was there that I discovered that Picasso was a regular at a restaurant known as 4Gats (Four Cats). It is a small bar/restaurant that has been in existence since about 1897. Picasso did the artwork for the first menu. I thought Flat Stanley and I needed to see that restaurant. Even though I had drawn myself a map, I still had to ask a police officer for directions. By that point, we were within a couple of hundred meters, an easy walk.

The bar is at Carrer de Montsio, 3, just a few blocks north of the Cathedral. It is one of the tiny streets in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona. The slogan of the restaurant is “food and drink are served at any time.” Of course, I ordered my standard glass of vino tinto. When the waiter brought my wine, he also brought some olives. That is very normal; however, these were the smallest olives I have ever seen. The largest ones were maybe 1/2 inch in diameter. Usually, I like olives, but these were quite bitter.

There were a fantastic number of tourists that streamed through the restaurant, got a coffee or wine, took some photos and then left. It is a unique establishment. The floor is done in red bricks about four inches by eight inches, laid in a square pattern. Filling the center of the square is either a white or black piece of marble. The pattern repeats throughout. Looking at the floor from either the front or rear of the restaurant, these are all rotated 45 degrees so they appear to be diamonds. The marble forms a line from front to back, alternating one line white and the next black.

One side wall toward the rear has a large painting, again about eight feet by ten feet, of two men on a tandem bicycle. I think it was painted by Casay, undoubtedly a contemporary of Picasso.


A statue near the Roman-era wall.
Detail of the Roman-era wall.
Mopeds seem to be everywhere!
The cathedral spire rises above the street.
A dog on one of the small side streets.
The entrance to the 4 Gats Restaurant. Beginning at age 17, this was one of Picasso’s hangouts.
Wine and olives at 4 Gats.
The bar at the rear of the seating area in 4 Gats.
Detail of the bar.
The tandem bicycle painting in 4 Gats.
The formal dining room of 4 Gats.
The 4 Gats sign after dark.
A plaque marking the centenary of the 4 Gats Restaurant.
The gate next to 4 Gats reads Pasatge de St. Joseph.

The sidewalls of the restaurant, on the floor, begin with a wooden baseboard about twelve inches wide. On top of that is a dark wood decorative molding. Above that is a wide stripe of alternating white and green tiles. The tiles are triangular, with two of them forming a square about five inches by five inches. The total width of these tiles is a band, four squares tall. Above that is a band of two tiles, with each four forming a flower pattern. Those same tiles repeat at the front of the bar. The ceiling is open-beams of dark wood, with the bottom portion painted green.

The wall opposite the painting of the men on the bicycle has wood and glass doorways repeating all along the wall, each formed by a pointed arch. Within the arc are the wooden frames of the windows and the doors. Above the doors, the windows contain numerous disks of colored glass. It almost looks like this building was part of a parish hall at some point.

While I continued to sit in the restaurant, I decided to have a tapa. I ordered Croquetas de la Casa. They are a deep-fried concoction about the size of a Jalapeno popper, filled with a mixture of cheese, meat, and a kind of doughy substance. I like them. My family does not like them.

My bill for the evening came to 14.47€ (US$17.66). That price included 3.24€ (US$2.02) for a magnet depicting the cover of the menu done by Picasso. I thought it was a very reasonable price for all that I received. I would highly recommend this stop to anyone, whether or not they are a Picasso fan.

Pedestrians on Avenida Potal Angel.

One of the shops on Avenida Portal Angel.
A “sneaky” way to sell sneakers…?
“Trapped” in the window display.
A pharmacy along La Rambla.
A kiosk on La Rambla.

The next day, after working about half a day at the office, Flat Stanley and I boarded the AVE train for our return trip to Madrid. We arrived at about 17:10, hailed a taxi, and braved some horrendous traffic to get out of downtown.   All in all, it was a great trip.