Travel Stamp

At long last, pictures

Finally got around to putting up some of my photos from Spain.


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Madrid with Friends

Last night we were treated to a night out with Jośe (with whom we are aquainted through Ken’s brother Jeff, who met Jośe recently during Jeff’s stint volunteering at a language academy outside of Madrid), Jośe’s lovely wife Marisol (who speaks as much English as I speak Spanish), Marisol’s cousin Laura (who is on her way to speaking English after a recent study program of her own), and Laura’s husband Jośe Louis (whose name I think I’ve ruined).

They showed us Madrid like only locals can, and it was truly awesome! After meeting up, we walked through Retiro Park on the final day of the annual national book fair, which stretched farther than my eye could see. To give our legs a rest, we were then treated to a chaufered personal tour down the main vein of the modern center, Paseo de la Castellana. We passed Spain’s Stock Exchange, the Treasury, Tax Collection headquarters, and major banks.

Even though it was raining, we detoured to have a look at the Temple de Debod, and caught sight of a rainbow near sunset for our troubles.

Next came the Fiesta de San Antonio de la Florida. Afterall, what could be better than a look in at one of Madrid’s annual festivals, and it was great. We started in toward a food spot well known to locals (we were told) and neighboring the Chapel where El Greco rests his painterly bones. On our way there, I got talked into sharing what I was told is a specialty of Madrid, fried pork intestine.

Do you care to know what I thought of breaded & fried poop shoot, as Anthony Bordain puts it? Well I’ll tell you. Having grown up in Arkasas, I think I can testify that anything breaded and fried pretty much shares that breaded-and-fried flavor profile. It was quite rich and salty with crunch, not unlike fried chicken skin, but with added chew. Bread was a good accompaniment, and—as Jośe pointed out—some wine (acidity) would help to cut the richness of it. Did I like it? Sure. I enjoyed it. Though I’m probably not in need of getting it again all too soon, it was fun to give it a try. (I’m still saving blood sausage for another time, however.)

Back to our preordained tapas stop: as I said, it was right next to the Chapel of San Antonio de la Florida—a big wooden tavern of a place that reminded us of a Munich beer hall—where we all enjoyed chiorzo braised in hard cider, washing it down with—what else?—hard cider. Others of us (Ken wasn’t up for trying the pork bowel sandwiches, either) enjoyed tuna-laced ensalada pimentoes and empanadas to share, as well. With the slightest shred of appetite still remaining, we headed out toward the festival.

The festival was much like you might imagine. It featured various food stalls, carnival rides, a rock band performance, and a few folks in traditional costume. At Marisol’s prompting, we got our picture taken with the traditionally clad folks, and they were most obliging. Super fun! O! And I should mention that we tried soaked chuffa nuts (such as are used to make horchata) and pickled eggplant (which was something I would definately eat all the time if I could find them like this at home).

For one last tapas stop, we were back in the car toward our hotel and Puerto del Sol. Jose told us how the place was part of a chain, but that the food is good. It was. It was Las Bravas at the intersection of Calle de Alvarez Gato and Calle de la Cruz, just a few blocks past Puerto del Sol. They ordered for us some croquets, a tortilla, and (damn, I can’t remember what else, but it was good).

Thanks so much to this group for showing is a memoriable and authentic night. It was a blast. We hope for the chance to return the favor sometime


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Of Madrid and the end

Three museums in three days. Very doable.

Last night after rolling in on the AVE from Segovia we wasted little time in heading to the Prado as it was free after 16:00 and closed at 20:00. The book warned of massive crowds any time the museum was free but it was very manageable.

Seeing that time was short we headed for the important stuff first. The Goya, the Velázquez, the El Greco, with a few Titians and Ruebens thrown in for good measure.

Today we hit the Thyssen-Bornemisza for the more modern art. A very enjoyable museum which held a few discoveries for me.

Tomorrow we will go to the Reina Sofía. And the the day after that we head home.

As sad as it is to end our time in Spain, it will be good to get back home to familiar things. Plus I’m sure the kitties will be glad to see us.


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Salamanca and Segovia

It has decided to rain on us for the rest of our trip. This is sad but we are making the best of it. If it starts to really come down we duck into a cathedral or a museum or, you know, as a last resort, a bar.

Here we are in Segovia and the rain has started to play an on and off game with us. The three hour bus from Salamanca, not a drop of rain. As soon as we were settled and heading out to see the town a serious downpour started.

So we had a little vino tinto while it blew over. Then as we strolled down towards the aquaduct started again. Now we are in a bar for a caña (small beer) while the latest bout blows over. Irene keeps trying to order something other than beer and is utterly failing to communicate her desires. She will say the word to be greeted with a blank stare. She will then write it down and they will say “ah!” and repeat it back to her almost exactly as she said it. Sometimes in think they are just messing with us.

Here are some random observations about Spain:

•The bread is mostly terrible.
•Everything comes with a side of fries.
•If it doesn’t come with fries it has canned tuna in it.
•Vegetables are sold at the markets but this is just for show. You can’t actually get any at a restaurant.

Tonight we feasted on suckling pig (a speciality in the region). We have discovered it is shockingly easy to polish off a bottle of wine with dinner.

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Wait Time in Salamanca

It’s early in Salamanca, and we’re in the in-betweens. In between when everything is closed and when it opens. In between awake and asleep. A living limbo in the train station. You know… You’ve been here. Now it’s our turn. This morning started at 4:15 when I stepped out of my sleeper, and Ken stepped out of his. No co-ed sleeper cars for us out of Basque country. My roomates for the evening were (I surmised) two adult sisters and their mother. When I opened the door into the sleeper (to which I was directed by the uniformed attendant), Mama sounded off like an alarm. All I could do while she was overcoming my injustice in loud, protesting Portgese is stand in the doorway as unthreateningly as possible and hold my ticket and my ground. Eventually, I understood that it was less my filling a bunk as my filling a bottom bunk that got her going. I pointed at myself and then at the top bunk. Polite smiles exchanged with the daughters, and I was presented with the ladder to climb to the top bunk. That was somewhere in the neighborhood of 11:00.

I slept. Ken seems not so lucky. He looks tired. A 24-hour coffee shop inside the train station is our salvation. The weather turned during our daytrip to San Jean de Luz yesterday. We got caught in the rain, and thus kicked off our waiting time earlier than expected. Whereas now we’re waiting for a reasonable hour when other businesses will be open, last night we were waiting out the rain and waiting for transport back across the Spanish-French border to San Sebastian earlier than we otherwise would have been. As we arrived here this morning, we saw that we brought the rain with us.

So, I’m glad to be at least partially-rested, warm, dry, safe, and caffeinated. I’ll take this moment to extol the utter fantastic-ness of traveling with a smart phone. Ken and I tend to compose these little ditties during the inevitable wait times that accompany travel and upload them when a wifi opportunity presents itself. This is the first trip of its kind where I’ve had my own snazzy gadgetry, and I’ve really enjoyed keeping up with the news, writing emails (without hunting down any Internet cafés or navigating funny keyboards), uploading pictures to Facebook, and posting my few entries to this blog. Being this connected changes the way it feels to travel.

Speaking of the news, Spain is in the headlines in the US because public workers here are threatening to strike over wage cuts due to take effect this month. We’ve heard a lot of protests in many of the places we’ve visited. I assume they’re all focused on the economic situation, which I only vaguely understand. Other than the seemingly frequent protests (and the increasingly favorable—for us—exchange rate converting dollars to euros) our personal experience as foreign tourists has not called real attention to Spain’s economic hardship. I personally hope it stays that way for us and that we continue to avoid inconveniences (such as a strike by public workers) for the remainder of our stay. That the country and its people are struggling is clear. Reading about concerns that the EU and/or its currency could fail bother me a lot. I’d always thought the whole notion of the EU was/is lofty. I wish I knew more about the situation here (in Spain particularly) but much more than that, I wish it fixed, rapido.

That about taps my tired brain for this early morning. We’re going to try for a bus into town where we’ll occupy more wait time getting breakfast. Hola from Salamanca!


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