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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mayhem in Madrid

Sunday started promisingly with me going to the local cafe and ordering coffee and a spliff. The waiter couldn't help but smile; he must hear that all the time. But he did suggest that I might prefer a PORRA which is a large churro rather then a PORRO which is a large Marijuana cigarette.
Later, I went to the Rastro which is a humungous flea market, full of junk but fun to browse.  It goes on endlessly and stretches out into side streets.
Later that day I had a ticket for Las Ventas, which, yes, is the bullfight ring of Madrid. I won't describe what I saw.
What happens in Las V. stays in Las V.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hanky Panky in Leon

Okay, I know that in the best of all possible worlds the lion will lay down with the lamb. But ON TOP of the lamb?  Or maybe he ate the lamb and is pooping it out. Whatever. The guy who made this sculpture was probably sent back to bible studies class.
Leaving Leon tomorrow. Being here has reminded me of everything that I love about Spain : nice people, great food, beautiful countryside and fantastic history and art. I've loved walking along the narrow streets that will suddenly open to small plazas. This is what enthralls me about Spain.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Leon Taming

Leon has been taming me. I love this city, full of nice people, great museums and delicious food. Yesterday,  as I was taking my paseo, I heard horns and drums and the clacking of castanets. A small procession was passing in the streets, and I hurried/hobbled to keep up with them. Look at the beautiful, traditional necklaces they are wearing. One of the women told me these were true antiques, passed down in their families.
Romanesque art is my favorite, and this city is full of it. Here's a scene from hell above the door to the Cathedral. What's not to love?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Back in Sevilla

I returned to Sevilla after my walk, only to discover that madness still reigned here. The Feria had begun. Not sure about its origens, but Feria is party time. All the ladies dress flamenco style and everyone dances Sevillanas all night.
I only was staying overnight but I took a walk to the fair ground to see what was going on. It wasn't dancing time yet but the ladies were all arriving in their finery. Young, old, it didn't matter. Cell phones and cigarettes seem to be added accessories. Personally, I loved the horses.
Leaving Sevilla at 7 this morning, I still saw people coming home from the Feria.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The End Of The Road

My one valley walk has ended. It was wonderful to be out in nature for all that time, green hills, oak trees, the chirping of the birds, sound of the river, and, when nature started to close in, discussions of Hillery vs. Sanders.
And the wonderful tapas at the end of each day.  Vegetarians stop reading! Pig cheeks and feet and mystery croquettes. All great.
The last day's hotel, with the river right outside my window.
And here's my hiking shoes. This is the clean version. My shoes were mud magnets.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

One Valley Walk

From the company Walking Wild Andalucia I chose the one valley walk, not the Two valley walk,  nor the ominous sounding Mountain walk. No, no, I chose just one little valley. Valleys are Down aren't they? But, to get down first you must get up. And it was while walking up, that I managed to fall 3 times on the first day. Luckily I had a wonderful guide with me, Mike Newcombe , who picked me up each time and made sure I was ok to go on. Next day, he arrived with anti-inflammatorys and a compression bandage and we chose the flatter of two possible routes.
Tomorrow is my last day and I've loved every moment of it, the green hills, spring flowers, the wandering pigs, goats sheep and cows, as well as all the birds, like this vulture who was eying me for a possible lunch.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

I Wander in Ronda

Ronda, as you can see, is quite high up. The brave and the strong walk to the bottom. The rest of us take photos from the top. Mountains, fields, farms and of course, the cliffs. There's a lot of tourist here but most of them are gone by late afternoon. Then the locals come out to take their paseo till about 8:30, then head home to make that late Spanish dinner.
Speaking of dinner, I've been trying some mystery food, stuff on the menu that I have no idea what it is. Here's two examples, not from the same meal, thank goodness. One turned out to be fried eggplant and honey. Strange but edible. The other? Well what can I say, just look at it. In an effort not to be thrown off Facebook, I'll say it looked to me like deep fried eel. It Was dense. Some sort of rolled meat with hard boiled egg in the center. Comments accepted.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Juego de Tronos

Osuna was ruled by dukes for many centuries. For years it's claim to fame has been those ducal homes with their elaborate coat of arms that line the streets. But in recent years turists have come here to see memories of a different royality.
Here I am in Osuna's bullring. Hardly anyone likes seeing bulls get killed but who doesn't enjoy watching hundreds of loyal soldiers getting slaughtered as the Queen looks on? It happened right here not long ago. Many of the town's people participated. The Queen's name is Daenerys and 2 rooms in the Osuna museum are dedicated to the story of Game of Thrones. White Walkers are available for photo opps.
Actually the bullring was one of the best places I visited here. I was early and I wandered the whole place by myself. I saw where the horses were stabled. Thought better about taking a hoof home as a souvenir. The bulls are kept in cells with thick iron doors. When they are released they pass through a labyrinth of tunnels with guillotine like doors that close behind them to force them forward.  Throughout the tunnels are narrow niches for men to escape into if they are caught with a bull. It must have been fun for the town's people who played extras to die in their own bullring.
Osuna isn't as mysterious as Carmona but I've found the most important place: the town library with its high church like ceiling and it's free wifi.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Nice Day For An Auto De Fé

My last day in tiny Carmona and I thought I had walked every street of the Medina.  But today, wandering as usual,  I came upon a high, white wall. When I found an opening it turned out to be a large empty plaza. It reminded me that many plazas like this were used for auto de fé's. I don't  know about this one. No one burning at the stake today, just some kids playing soccer.
My last look at the town at sunset.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wrangling Cats In A Castle

It wasn't actually a castle; it was a fort at the entrance to the old town in Carmona. And they weren't cats but almost as bad, a class of preschoolers.
I was visiting the fort this morning when this band of feral children, all dressed in medival costumes were herded up to the towers by their teachers.  OK, I admit it, they were cute. In Spain,  it seems it's alright to take photos of children, unlike the USA, where you get dirty looks and are told to stop.
Other than that, I'm still just wandering through the narrow street, my favorite thing to do in Spain

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Carmona

I've left Sevilla and all its crazy energy and now I'm in the small town of Carmona. Silent white streets and a plaza where I can sit as long as I want with my Tinto de Verano,  red wine and soda. I can breathe again.
Right now I'm in the library cause my beautiful little house doesn't have wifi,  pronounced weefee here.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Virgin Dances

All the processions ended on Sunday and I've been taking it easy, recuperating from those late nights.
I think I'm ready to tell you about the best thing I saw. It was on Good Friday and the Virgin of Triana was on her way home, having started  out at 2 in the morning. I was waiting for her to pass in a small square.  Right across from me was a little church. It's doors were open and inside you could just make out that there was a statue in the doorway, either of another Virgin, or of a saint or Christ. The figure was surrounded by candles and flowers.
Finally, with music playing, the Virgin came into the square. But when she came to the church, she stopped. Slowly she turned and moved toward the doorway. She was on a platform, being carried by men underneath a velvet drape at the bottom. The platform is carved and intricate. On this rest not only the statue of the Virgin but candles, lamps and flower displays as well as a heavy canopy supported on silver poles. The whole assembly was much higher than the church's door.
There was no music, the Virgin simply pressed against the door. You felt as if the statues were somehow communing with each other. After a long while the music began softly. The Virgin slowly moved away from the door.  Then the music would become louder, faster and the Virgin would rush back to the doorway. This happened again and again, as if she didn't want to leave, until finally the music crescendoed and she turned and continued her march home. It was very dramatic and touching.
To end my Semana Santa visit, I add a photo of a float from the last day. It speaks for itself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Me and My Big Ideas

Yes, I actually had a big idea yesterday. After watching so many people stare at their phones and then run off in the direction of the nearest virgin, it came to me : There's an app for that. Sure enough there were, and I downloaded 2 of them. No more trying to guess where the Virgin would be.  Now I had her whole itinerary mapped out for me , street by street, hour by hour. Oh I felt so smug getting a nice place to view the next Virgin.
But you know, the Virgin has friends in very high places. It was supposed to rain for 3 days before. Every day I dutifully carried my umbrella but it never rained. This day the forecast was sunny. As I waited for the procession, it started to pour. My umbrella was safely in the apartment. When it rains there is no procession. The virgin's gowns are expensive and antique. The cannot get wet. Virgin:1.  Imelda:0
But I  did take a nice quiet walk in the morning. Here's what I saw.

Monday, March 21, 2016

How to Hunt for Virgins

Chasing down Virgins is hard work. The crowd forms quickly when they know a procession is coming. I slither and squeeze to the front, only to be usurped by tiny children whose mothers insist that I give way. The children hold their hands out for the candy that the baby penitents give out. Older child penitents give holy cards and medals. The children hold their prizes up triumphantly for mama to see. It's a lesson in being avaricious. This goes on for hours. After all,  there are 600 nazarenos in this procession alone. Then come the penitents carrying crucifixes. For some reason their pointed hoods droop. There's something Freudian there, but I'm not sure what it is.
Finally the smell of incense and the sounds of the band as the Virgin appears, in all her splendor. Right after that the crowd disburses. Pressed forward, pushed back, I'm reminded of those news stories where people are crushed at soccer games, and it Has happened at Semana Santa too. The man behind me keeps muttering that I'm too slow. I know if I fell he would step on me.
In a nearby plaza yet another virgin is wending her way home. She's crying. Probably tired from being on her feet all day.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Slogging through Sevilla

My plan to run around Sevilla chasing the best of the processions has quickly faded. There was no rushing, no walking, not even crawling. The streets where processions were scheduled to pass where so mobbed with people that it became impossible to move. ..and the evening has not even begun. But serendipity was on my side; I found myself caught on a street where an unexpected float appeared with band and penitents, those guys with the cone hoods, as well as baby penitents handing out candy.
I was out for hours but maybe only in a 5 block area. So my plan revised: to just follow one procession a day. Maybe two?
I'm taking a little break and then gonna try and follow the Virgin of Esperanza who will be crossing the bridge from Triana on her way to the Cathedral and then back again.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Chasing the Virgin

Tomorrow is the beginning of the madness of Semana Santa. I took  my evening Paseo across the bridge, in Triana and I happened upon this church displaying the floats it will have. Here's the Virgin of Esperanza. I have a feeling I won't be able to keep all my Virgins straight and I apologize to each and everyone of them ahead of time.

This is the quiet before the storm and the streets of Triana are lovely. I won't be seeing any streets this clearly for the rest of the week since all the processions start in the late afternoon and go to the wee hours



Friday, March 18, 2016

Sevilla!

Took Renfe from Madrid and arrived in Sevilla in just 2 1/2 hours. This is my apartment. Very cute and right near the bridge to Triana. Errr, no elevator, so I dragged my bags up two very long flights. OK, my whole purpose for this trip is Semana Santa, which starts this Sunday. Somehow in my mind, I  imagined one or two processions a day. It's more like 10 or 12 a day, each one taking a convoluted route to the Cathedral and ending way after midnight.
Trying to read the color coded maps is giving me a headache. I believe the expression is "a plethora of choices"
I passed this lovely store, selling muy  expensive shawls and mantillas.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Death By Bubble Bath

I went to the Thyssen.....something museum today. I can't spell or pronounce it, but it sure had a lot of art. I don't understand what is happening in this painting. It looks like a saint is taking a bubble bath in a church. Anyone know what is going on?
I'm also trying to look at people more. Like this guy eating his porro this morning.
Right now I'm sitting outside the Palace and the changing of the guard is going on. Men slooooowly marching around the  huge courtyard while a rather merry flute plays. Wow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Cortes Ingles

The giant store, Cortes Ingles, has some kind of monopoly in Spain. On the Puerta del Sol is a huge bookstore of their's. On the next block is their giant department store with a great food store in the basement. But a few blocks further near the Gran Vía is yet another store, with gourmet  food sold on the top floor, along with huge windows overlooking the city. There was a whole line of gourmet pork crackling that I was afraid to try.
The Puerta del Sol, the very center of Spain,  by the way, is now called Vodafone Sol. But no one calls it that. It's like Avenue of the Americas in NY. If Donald Trump lived here it would probably be called Trump Sol, or, more likely, Puerta del Donald.
Here's a photo of my favorite place in Madrid, the Plaza Mayor. No matter what is going on, it's always tranquil.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ham Lust

My first day  in Madrid, wandering around in a jet lag funk. I saw these people admiring ham in a shop window.
This is the land of ham, that's why I had this Jamon iberico  de bellota   sandwich for breakfast. These pigs romped  in the woods their whole lives, eating acorns.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Super Stupid Thing I Did

I put all my passwords and pin numbers  in an e wallet app and made it super secure with a complicated password. So complicated that I now can't open the app. And of course I didn't have them saved anywhere else.
And the most important one let's me get Euros  without charge.
So here I am at the airport, beginning a 6 week trip to Spain, desperately making calls to other banks. Duuuuumb