Monday, November 20, 2023

VALLADOLID, SPAIN - Anger in the Streets

Being a lazy Sunday morning, went for a stroll, looking for the right light for a good photo. 
What I was about to encounter this day was more interesting...

But first... a historic building, once a royal residence.

As I wandered, started seeing people walking with purpose carrying 
what looked like flags or funny umbrellas. Waving a flag is popular here at football games. 
Football in Spain is what we call soccer in the US.

Hmm, young and old, they all seemed to be heading in the direction of the Plaza Mayor. 
That's not the direction of the football stadium. I'll tag along and see what's up.

Nearing the main Plaza, I spot police and TV news vehicles lining up. A patrolman was flipping up the steel mesh that protects the patrol car's windshield in case of a riot. This could get interesting!

More flags are being unfurled. Banners too. Some people were wearing Spain's national flag as a shawl, wrapping it around their shoulders. This doesn't look like a young rowdy group of sports fans either.

Seems more like a happy family gathering or patriotic celebration of some kind, at first...

As more people pour into the Plaza, the throng steadily grows in number and enthusiasm.

This sea of colorful flags from the various political parties, 
I later learned, represented the conservative right.  
They seemed joyous with the escalation of favorite chants and songs.

The intensity and passion shifted as speakers with megaphones became more adamant in their comments. 
Punctuating the words with strong, aggressive hand gestures.
My inner sense of self-preservation was awoken... could this turn ugly?

 Was it safe for me to be here?  Obviously, I am a foreigner, I stick out. 
Due to my height and blue eyes, I do not blend well.
 But what are they protesting about?

Now yelling, speakers grew bolder...
 The crowd's gestures took on a more aggressive meaning! 

Some mature reasoning minds seemed concerned 
with where all of this was heading... like him.

And him... and her... having their doubts about what is being said.

In the midst of all the action and commotion, I realized this one guy kept staring at me... 
Did the camera bother him, or was it...?

   In the next few photos, I noted he kept turning away, hiding his face from the camera.
Oh, oh, he suddenly turned, ducked down, and disappeared into the crowd. 
Is he circling around my way? Is he security? Or worse...

While the crowd itself did not feel threatening, individual actors might have other ideas.

The ever-growing crowd continued to press in, tighter and tighter, in order to better see and hear. 
I am in the middle of it all. My feet are being stepped on, it's so tight.

I finally determined that these people were members of several Spanish conservative political action parties. They were not happy with a pact the acting Prime Minister had made with an ultra-left party in order to secure enough votes to pass an unpopular measure. An amnesty measure that this crowd strongly opposed.

Handmade signs calling the PM a traitor began appearing among the crowd.
Spanish people are very passionate about many things, politics being one of them.

The Plaza continued filling up with protestors and onlookers. As the size of the crowd grew 
so did the passion and anger in their voices.
After grabbing a few more photos, I thought it was best to slip away.

Having been in similar situations in Latin America, I learned when in doubt 
about what's happening around you, trust your gut instinct. 
Keep your back against a wall, plan an escape route, and be proactive. 
The moment the onlookers are distracted, slip away quietly.
I did.


What started as a slow, lazy day, 
became an intense, passionate display of political anger and emotion.
An experience to remember.


Sunday, November 12, 2023

BILBAO, SPAIN - Famous Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain hosts more international visitors each year than those coming from Spain. It is the principal reason to travel there.
Surprisingly one of the most visited art museum in the world, was built on riverfront land where a decrepit industrial shipyard stood that had fallen on hard times. 

In the early 1990's, when the Guggenhein Foundation was shopping for a site to build a second museum, Bilbao was facing high unemployment, poverty with poor economic prospects. Many major cities in Europe and Orient did not have the land available near the city center for such a large complex. With the shipyards closed, Bilbao was anxious to gain a major tourist attraction that could help rebuild its economy.

The Foundation offered put up a major portion of the $89 million cost to build if the city of Bilbao could raise the rest of the funds needed to make this museum happen. The citizens from Bilbao and the surrounding areas, government entities , businesses and foundations all pitched in and pledged to raise the necessary funds to build the museum. Which they did.
The museum, designed by Frank Gehry, a Canadian-American architect, was inaugurated on October 18, 1997. As part of the Guggenheim system, some of the world most famous works of art are here on loan from the New York City museum. Original works by Spanish and International artists were added to the permanent collection.

 From the hotel balcony, one can see the museum on the left, the sandstone tower in the middle and the big Red H bridge support on the right. The Red H offers an exciting light show every evening. We had a great view of the light show from our hotel window.

Gehry designed the museum's titanium exterior to look like a ship at sea, 
with waves, wind, and movement.

Here is a better close-up shot of the exterior. The highway in front is the main road coming off the high banks of the Nervion River to the south, filtering the commuting traffic into downtown Bilbao.

Between the Museum building and the Nervion River is a pedestrian walkway. Several times a day, white smoke emanates from under the walkway to emulate fog on the sea.

Various sculptures are not only inside the museum but outside as well.

While there are many art pieces here on permanent display, others are on loan from the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. They also have special touring exhibits for featured artists. The works there this month are sculptures by Picasso. Most people know of Picasso from his drawings and paintings. Many are not aware he also experimented with sculpture.

Jeff Koons created this oversized brightly colored tulips sculpture on display inside the museum. Each tulip is about the size of a 55 gallon drum. The material has a vibrant colorful shine, the finish like mylar...?

Then there are Richard Serra's larger-than-life steel sculptures that took ten years to create, build, and install in the museum. You are encouraged to walk through his sculptures for an unforgettable experience. You will feel the sensation of movement, of rolling waves, claustrophobia, walls leaning in or tilting out, clean white lights and deep dark shadows follow you as you make your way through the maze.You will experience all of these rising and falling sensations as you walk on a level concrete floor.

Serra's sculpture challenges your senses and how your mind interprets its surroundings. Serra is a genius in creating a work that required extensive engineering, mathematics, and a working understanding of physics to create this particular work. These freestanding sheets of steel weighing over several tons each, are stood up on edge, perfectly balanced and not falling on each other or on spectators though you might feel like they are. Every steel piece is exactly the same height, but you would bet your last dollar that they are not. That's all part of the illusion. Serra stated that his sculpture is more than just steel plates. It's the air and space in and around the steel pieces that are as much a part of the work as the plates themselves.

Due to the exterior design of the building, nothing is straight or vertical on the exterior 
or in the interior. Everything is curved. 
Only the floor is level, but it doesn't always feel that way.

The hand railing below is level, or is it?

At night, street light reflects off the Museum's titanium skin. 
Compare this photo with the second one above taken during the day.

You can now better understand why this museum attracts so many visitors
from around the world each year. By 2003, its reputation had grown so much that more international visitors than Spaniards visited the museum. The Bilbao city government has collected more than $100 million in tax receipts from these visitors over the years. That's more than the original cost to build the museum. Despite many critics of the design when it first opened, it was a great investment for Bilbao.

This economic fact has not been lost on architects and city planners internationally.
They refer to this as the Bilbao Effect.  It has motivated many city planners around the world to invest in the innovative design of public buildings. 

The Sydney Opera House in Australia is a prime example of the Bilbao Effect 
changing a city skyline and influencing public opinion about the city.


BURGOS, SPAIN - Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María de Burgos

Today we drove under beautiful cobalt blue skies from Valladolid to Burgos, Spain. 
Had heard great things about the Cathedral here, so we decided go see it, 
wander around a bit in the old city and spend the night.

Found a great room near the Burgos Cathedral, in the NH Palacio de Burgos Hotel.
The hotel itself has quite a history as a major part of its structure was a 16th century monastery. It was acquired by the hotel chain in 1977 when the Jesuit school that was using it vacated to a larger facility in the city. 

The old church monastery is on the left, the hotel on the right, but the bell tower in the middle was built sometime between the two. Three different colors of stone and architectural styles.

Literally across the street from the hotel are the walls of the old city.  
The spires of the Cathedral can be seen rising up behind the outer wall. 
What started out for us as a warm day turned cool.

Immediatelly inside the walls, Amparo spots a statue dedicated to the pligrims 
who make the trek on the Camino a Santiago. 
Burgos is one of the larger cities on that route.

Construction of the Cathedral began in 1221, and was completed in 1267. It is an example of the evolution of Gothic style buildings, with the entire history of Gothic art seen in its architecture. Inside is a museum with a unque collection of art, paintings, stained-glass. 

The cathedral is an iconic example of Gothic architecture going all out.

From the cathedral we wandered over to the Plaza Major, 
which seemed small in comparison to others we have seen in Spain.

A building/gate making up part of the surround of the Plaza Major.

There were very few tourists here in November, which suits you just fine. A waiter in a neat clean cafe near the Plaza told us the tourist season was over until next year.
After a great meal of pumpkin soup and artisan bread, splurged on a tiramaisu dessert.


Pretty elegant for a small plaza cafe. It was very tasty.

Back out in the Plaza, Amparo made a new friend.
His name is Tinito.

Burgos is about half the size of Valladolid. In some ways Burgoa has older religious buildings, but not as many. Nor does it have the Royal historical significance that Valladloid does. 

The next day we drove on to Bilbao on the northern coast.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

VALLADOLID, SPAIN - Cloistered Convent

There are numerous magnificant religious structures in Valladolid, 
though at times it is the small chapel or capilla out of the main that impresses the most.

Inside these historic edifices one expects to see highly ornate goldwork, 
colorful stained glass, religious statues and soaring architectural stonework...  
and you do!

But what can be found behind the simple, plain wooden doors in walls of plaster and stucco?

Though I have walked this particular street many times, 
was not prepared for what lay behind such a non-descript exterior.

As you enter this street, on your left is the large gothic stone structure,  
that is today a repository for provincial records, 
though it looks like it might have been a church in it's day.

While admiring the tall massive gothic structure, one tends to ignore the simple wall 
of stucco and old doors on the other side of the street.

Turning around, you see there is a small statue of the Virgen Mary in an alcove above the only door. 
Which is not unusual as many homes here have a statue of the Virgen Mary
in their garden or in an alcove.

One Sunday, I notice that door was standing open.
That's an invitation in Spain to come in.

Removing my hat in the foyer, am awaken by the light inside.
I was pleasantly surprised and awed by what is behind the plain brown painted doors.

Never expected to find a small yet brightly lite, impressively clean, neat, well cared for church ...
it's high nave with a painted ceiling with an elaberate golden alter on the far wall.
All behind such a nondescript exterior.

It's a convent's church...
the Monasterio de Santa Isabel de Hungary, 
a convent for Clarisas Fransiscan nuns. 

Today it is still a functioning convent, while it also showcases a museum, a bakery that sells treats
several days a week to help support the nuns living here, and this hidden church.

Knowing the nuns here pledged to live a simple auster lifestyle, one would not expect 
to see a highly ornate private church behind the cloistered walls.

Pause for a moment to study all of the highly detailed ornate artwork, religious symbols as a
clean tidy display in this photo. Unlike many golden alters seen which are a clutter of dark icons competeing with each other for attention (see next photo), this alter is neatly organized in an orderly fashion. Such as a nun would do...

In photography we call that having a focal point. 
Drawing the viewer's eye to where you want them to look.

Here is an example of a more heavy handed decorated church.
You do not know where you are suppose to look. There is no focal point.
 Everything there screams for attention. Bad design...

What is particularly interesting as I don't remember seeing many of these, 
 to the right of the sanctuary in the convent church, 
behind a sturdy iron grate is what they call the nun's chapel.  
Also call by some as a Choir Sister's room. 
Next to the grate, out of sight, is an iron door.

Cloistered convents maintained a strict set of rules concerning contact between the nuns inside the convent and the outside public, including the Catholic clergy. This convent allowed the public to attend mass here attended to by a visiting priest, but they were not to have contact with the nuns. Nor were the nuns to see the public. A woven cloth would be hung across the grate blocking anyone viewing of the nuns, 
yet the congregation could still hear their voices singing. 
And the nuns could hear the priest officiating the Mass.

 When the iron door between the chapel and the church was locked, 
the only accessed to the chapel room is from inside the convent itself. 
After the public had left the church and the main doors were locked, 
the iron door between the nun's chapel 
and the nave was unlocked, so the nuns could clean and maintain their church. 

Though nuns and the novices all attended a mandatory daily mass,
they were always separated from the Priest and the public.  

It is said it took two keys to open the main doors of the convent. 
Two highly respected nuns, often elderly, were entrusted with one key each. 
They were what stood between the vulnerable nuns inside and the world of heathens outside.

This was a unique opportunity to see a Convent's chapel, 
as many are never opened for public viewing.


Thursday, November 2, 2023

LEÓN, SPAIN - Cathedral

Drove the 120 miles north from Valladolid to see the famous Cathedral of León. 
Spend the night, returning the next day.

Our early morning departure was delayed 
as the street out front was closed with police barricades, for a marathon?
Cannot get the car out of the underground parking garage.

It started small... only a few participants with light rain,  
my first thought is, well this won't be long! Then we'll go.

But the number of walkers kept growing...

and growing. 

We later heard on TV it was a fundraising walk for finding a cure for cancer. 

There was a challenge to see which city could turn out the most participants.
The larger city of León had 24,000 walkers(?).

Valladolid, being a smaller city, had somewhere between 48 - 60 thousand 
persons participating, depending on which TV station you wanted to believe.
All helping to raise money for more cancer research. 


Finally, we were able to leave, now under a downpour of rain.

The national roadway system in Spain is modern and well-maintained. Finding gasoline does require some planning though, as stations are not found at every crossroads. Worse though is finding a place to eat.
The selection at the few gas stations was severely limited.
We drove into small towns along the way looking for a place to eat. 
Tried several restaurants, but since we did not have reservations, sorry was their reply.
They must be for locals, as with all the variables involved with highway travel, 
who can make a reservation for lunch down the road?

Seems a decent 24-hour fast food place would be a welcomed addition along these highways.
Or maybe the labor laws don't allow that?

Arrived in León, but figuring out how their slightly different traffic flow worked was a bit of a challenge.  
It is very organized and obviously well-thought-out. Look at the clean precise street markings 
and direction arrows in the photo below. 
 It's just that we are not familiar with León's system.

After checking into our hotel, we set out walking to find the Cathedral.

Find it we did, after a twist or turn or two to get there.
Here is the proof!

It was now late in the day, the cathedral was closed, which was good, 
as I have an ethical hang-up about paying to enter a church.
Blame it on my Midwest Methodist upbringing. 
There might have been some Quaker or Mennonite way of thinking mixed in there too.

Yes, it was cool that day.

Amparo thought the father & son statue was pretty cool.
Father admiring the Cathedral and the son looking at a huge open plaza 
with lots of room to run and play.

Nearby was a small pizza café where we could relax and get a bite to eat.
We thought León was very clean, like all of Spain. 
It is much more commercial or business-oriented than Valladolid.
It is the economic powerhouse for the region.

Reflecting on the two cities, Valladolid is more compact, an easier walking city that has kept many of its old cobblestone streets. It has a longer history of religious, cultural, and artistic events since it was the home of the Spanish Court for several years before they decided to relocate back to Madrid.

We only hear Spanish walking tour groups on weekends outside our apartment, as the guide lectures in front of the cathedral and the University of Law building. Yet to hear English language tour...

From our hotel window, León's blue hour just before dawn.

The next day we returned to Valladolid. It's the first time in two weeks
 we have taken the rental car out for a drive. All of the essentials in Valladolid where we are staying 
are within walking distance 
. Finding parking spot there is a challenge. Is much easier and faster to just walk.

Tomorrow, November 1, All Saint's Day, is a national holiday in Spain. 
Most businesses will be closed.


Tuesday, October 31, 2023


Halloween in Spain can be a special place or a spooky expereince.

A dreary street, though kids and clowns think alike.

"Ain't no thing as having too much fun!"

Since the restaurants don't open for dining until 8:00 pm here,
popped into a pub for a refreshment. Not expecting to have to stare at this while relaxing...

Why do they have to be old folks, can't young people be scary too?

Hmmm, well, yes they can. Some souls seem to float along like ghosts on parade in the night.
Mirages... reflections... whisps of ghouls and spirits.

Can one see a free spirit in a mirror? Or is that only a vampire thing?

Amparo wanted to get her face painted like this couple, 
but they left their makeup kits at home. 
Sorry girl... maybe next year.

So she settled for a pose with Jack Sparrow's daughter and a vampiress.


Learned a new Spanish word - SETAS???

 Have always been a curious person.  Some say I ask too many questions. But...

Long ago I was taught that mushrooms are called hongos or champiñones in spanish. 

Here in Spain, mushrooms are referred to as setas.

Learning new words, experiencing different cultures, feeds your brain valuable nutrients. 

Too bad knowledge and setas aren't easing our sore feet from all the walking.   lol


Friday, October 27, 2023

VALLADOLID, SPAIN - Spooked in the Mercado del Val

Today I had a really ominous feeling as I walked over to the Mercado del Val. 
That enclosed marketplace... 

Right off the bat, in front of the statue " The Chiseler? " 
with his mallet and sharp chisel in hand.
I was photo-bombed...

Minutes later walking pass a second hand store, three figurines jumped into view...
an exotic performer...   a Spanish Toreador (bullfighter)...  a little blonde girl... 

What do they represent?

Spinning around, a gossamer mirage of a painted lady is staring in my direction...
there but not really there... 
Tilt your head slightly, she disappears, 
only to re-appear if you look into her eyes.

My hands goes out, but an invisible barrier protects her...
or is a reflection or reality?

Where does that street go?

Walking a bit further, am taken aback mid-stride...
as I try to understand the significance of this in a Christian city.

Unknown man covered by a long robe, face hidden, tall pointed hood...
offering what to a golden haired child?

Is this the same little girl we saw in the shop window?

Something about a secret society, Knights Tem....

Why all of this so early in the day?

Men in hoods, dancing godesses, stranger photo-bombing, haunting female mirage, a bullfighter's stare... ?
Is any of this real ?

Riding the motorized ramp up into the market, all is unusually hushed, 
a chill hangs in the air. 

Where are the people?

Had that old feeling of a thousand eyes staring at my back,

raising the hair on the back of my neck. 

Unblinking suspicious eyes watching my every move.

Who would be intently staring at me? Why?

How many of them are there? Shall I make a break for it?

Spinning quickly around, I confront...

there,...  there...   there...  hundreds of eyes... 
silently... staring... 

frozen... unmoving...  unfeeling...  always watching!

A woosh from the dark recesses above suddenly releases a cascading cloud of white.
As the crystalized mist envelopes the  school of wide eyed coho,
the steely-eyed lady in a trenchcoat waits, unfliching, 
braced for the wave of cold to dissipate.

Quietness once again reins throughout the dark hall...

until the soft touch of a shopkeeper is heard methodically squeezing, testing, smelling,
carefully placing her fruit,
hoping to appeal to skeptical shoppers seeking a bargain of her best.

Suddenly a loud slap comes from around the corner, making me cringe at a familiar sound...  
WHAP... WHAP...  CRACK..! the sound of bones breaking! 

A focused Spanish maiden with a broad razor sharp cleaver expertly separates a foot from the leg.
With a well trained eye and fast hand, she quickly splits the whole into parts 
with a...  WHAP... WHAP...  CRACK..! 
Sounds of a blood sport!

I fear she could remove my gizzard with a swift twist of the knife.
Gizzards here are sold by the Kg.

The glow of many weird colored lights illuminating the meat on display
plays games with my mind. Different vendors have different glows.. a secret code?

Anxiety is calmed when warned, these special lights are to keep the red meat 
 free of bacteria...  insects. 

Or is it to cover up the smell of fresh blood?

With hundreds of pounds of soft animal flesh being chopped, sliced, slivered and weighed each day,
am taken aback how their white shirts and sleeves are free
of red stains, blood splatters. 
Too clean... too professional... too clever.

As morning shoppers slowly mingle in from who knows where, 
the hassling and bargaining over prices versus quantity grows in intensity and volume.

Once the haggled amount is settled, her credit card takes a quick swipe.

While the meat vendors are competing to sell the same cut of flesh
 to a limited number of consumers,
a ray of sunshine radiates from the cheese merchant.

He offers a relaxed friendly smile.

Because maybe he is the only cheese vendor in the marketplace? 
There is no competition, he is not haggling today.
Pay his price or leave empty handed.

An angry customer complained, "Your prices are too high,!
Your sign says 'Popular Prices'".

The merchant softly smiles: "Well, I like them."

After waiting many years
I finally get to use this expression...

"Oh, what a pear!"

Happy Halloween everybody!
Feliz Dia de los Muertos Muchachos!


Not a footnote, but a foot joke:

Have heard that beef in Spain would be sparse on Monday, 
were it not for the losing bulls on Sunday...
Toreadors  3,   Bulls  0...