Travel: Spain

Spain: Barcelona

Thick and bitter chocolate "beverage" I needed to consume with a spoonWe’re back from a brief trip to Barcelona. It was so nice to have several days of sunshine and warm(er) temperatures. More to come once the non-camera photos are processed. Mark had the camera at the conference he was at for one of the days.

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Spain: Barcelona – Museu de Xocalata

Thick like chocolate pudding thickNow this is my kind of museum, where the admission ticket is a bar of dark chocolate!

I enjoyed eating my dark xocolata as I explored the exhibits showing the cultural and natural history of the Theobroma cacao. Of looking at and reading about the technology for processing the bean. And seeing art inspired by this glorious plant. I finished my visit with a cup of spiced, thick and bitter “drinking” chocolate that was a recipe used in the ancient America’s. It required a spoon to consume, but was fantastic!

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Spain: Barcelona – Gaudi

This trip has been Gaudi-centric, and many of the places I visited and photographed involved his Dr. Seuss like architecture. I rather enjoy the style and it is the hallmark style of many landmark’s in this city. Enjoy the photo set:

Casa Batllo, Barcelona Lizard detail

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Spain: Madrid – One End to the Other in the Pouring Rain

Dry cured Spanish ham in the "Ham Museum"It’s pouring rain. Buckets and buckets are falling from the sky! Perfect day to walk around the city of Madrid!

We stopped in the Museo de Jamon for lunch. Ham is a mainstay of the Spanish diet. This amazing store is absolutely covered in hams! Dry cured hams, various sausages and cuts. Ham is quintessential Spain, a staple. With a long history of Jewish and Muslim culture, when all were forced into Christianity, they were once required to hang legs of pork by their doors to demonstrate a faithful conversion. We learned that the best ham is from pigs fed on acorns (bellota ham), the most expensive fancy acorn fed ham was 105 Euros per kilogram! (like $70/lb!!)

Deb in a rainy Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is a central plaza in the city. The ground floors contain shops and restaurants and the stories above are residences with apparently 237 balconies. This large plaza has been historically used for large markets and even bullfights.

I was having difficulty finding a place to purchase my “Madrid yarn” for my souvenir yarn to make a scarf. We were directed to this store tucked into one corner of the Plaza Mayor. Inside was this shop filled with little old ladies and yarn of every type. All the yarn was label in prices of Euros/kilo. We accidentally asked for one kilo of yarn, Eeep! All I really need is one skein as we watched the woman load the scale with skein after skein.Deb holding up the Temple

In the ever increasing pouring rain, we walked past the Royal Palace and its adjacent Sabatini Royal Gardens. Umbrellas in hand made for some entertaining photos around the fountains and puddles. We decided we would stop in for some cafe con leche while we dried out a bit and waited for the rain to clear.

On one end of the city is the Temple of Debod, this is an Egyptian temple that was moved from Egypt to Spain when the Aswan dam was constructed. It was donated to Spain as thanks for the Spanish governments involvement. We were able to get some shots in during a brief respite from the rain.

We still had some time before we needed to get to the airport so we stopped in the Thyssen Art Museum. This is a large private collection come public museum. It contains more modern art than the Prado. There was only one Lichtenstein on display, a favorite painter of Mark’s. I’m more fond of the Impressionists and Cubists myself. But we don’t need to go into a “what is art” silly debate here. We like what we like and that’s that.

We didn’t get to a bull fight, it’s something we didn’t think about until we saw there were fights every night we were there, but they were all sold out. That’s on the list of what to do next time in Spain :)

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Spain: Madrid – Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid

I spent the day at the Real Jardin Botanico aka The Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid.

Not much to say, it is a small but nice garden, surrounded on all sides by busy roads so you never escape feeling like you’re in the middle of a city. There were dozens of small fountains which served as the center of a square garden. Each little square had a “theme” either being all of a particular family or genus or a collection of plants from a particular region. I did spend a good bit of time stalking butterflies and hence, this is mostly a post for sharing some gorgeous photos:

Hummingbird hawk moth in flight

Red Admiral Butterfly in Spain Cebolla roja de miort

Aloe soponaria flowers Line of mini fountains

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A quick note before the real Madrid Zoo post

I’m loving the new 18-200VR lens, it’s making it even harder to *not* take amazing photographs, here’s a sampling of photos from the Madrid Zoo:

Resting Pelican

Lions running about

Smiling Meerkat

It’s really hard to pick favorites, just go have a lookie at the Complete Photo Set Here

P.S. this is a pretty amazing zoo, the lions were up and running around chasing each other! What zoo have you been to that has enough space for lions to chase each other?!

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Spain: Madrid – Museo del Prado

Palacio de ComunicacionesPowered by churros, the Spanish fried-dough pastry mostly served for breakfast in Spain, and cafe con leche I set out for another walk about the city.

I started out at the Plaza de Cibeles which is dominated by the Palacio de Communicaciones. It is mockingly referred to as “Our Lady of Communications” due to it’s ornateness and cathedral like spires, but is merely the post office headquarters and also houses a museum of the postal system. The fountain in the center of this famous plaza is the Fuente de la Cibeles, which features the roman goddess of nature (Ceres) on her chariot.

Fuente de CibelesI braved the insanely long lines and visited Museo del Prado, the largest and most famous art museum in Madrid. This museum boasts one of the largest collections of paintings by Goya. Through the many rooms on multiple floors you walk by and see just how much his painting style changed and evolved. I found the “black paintings” incredibly disturbing, mostly in the exaggeration of facial features that were at the same time vague. The stuff of nightmares where more is left to the imagination.

I thoroughly enjoyed the hunting scenes, there was a room full of hunting dog paintings with game and the occasional tall thin paintings with trees and birds, dimensions you just don’t see in paintings eight feet tall and maybe ten inches wide.

Of course, there is no photography in the museum, I wish I could have captured an image or two of the secret basement room I was told I needed to find. It contained “paintings” composed entirely of mosaic pieces of semi precious stones. Mosaic isn’t quite the right word, the detail and alignment was so precise and tiny *tiny* pieces, stepping back just one step and it looked like it had been painted. I’m not an art historian, but I can appreciate the skill and talent it would take to create something like that.

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Spain: Madrid – Casa del Campo

Left to my own devices, I hopped on the metro (just €1 to go anywhere you want to go with no extra fee for transfers and it even came complete with an accordionist playing a tango (Hernando’s Hideaway) on the Linea Dos!) and visited the Madrid Zoo and aquarium today, a really awesome zoo.

The zoo is nestled within the borders of the Casa del Campo, a former royal hunting ground encompassing 4,300 acres with pines and scrubland. The first exhibit you encounter includes all these birds that are free to fly: huge cranes nesting in the trees above and flying all over the place. So many of the water fowl had broods of tiny offspring following them around. All of the animals had huge enclosures, never have I been to a zoo where the lions, well, were not sleeping, but actually had enough room to run and chase after each other.

I had a blast with the new 18-200VR lens we bought, really, it’s hard to pick any favorites, it’s just making it even *harder* to *not* take fabulous photos. Here’s a sample:

Resting Pelican Lions running about
Smiling Meerkat Hmm... what's in here?

Complete Photo Set with the rest of the awesome photos

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Spain: Madrid – Parque del Retiro

Monumento al Descubrimiento de Am
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Spain: Madrid

P.S. We’re in Madrid right now, will be until Thursday, the same story, Mark’s here for work and I’ll be off to explore (Le Prado and the Botanical Gardens are on the list).

This is one busy city. It’s 1 am and we just got in from people watching and nibbling on a large plate of cured ham and crusty bread, sitting outside at a street side restaurant. We were just off of the “Plaza Mayor” and there was an unending stream of people, mobs of them really. We wandered around the city for awhile, stopped to listen to string quartet playing in the street… the night is still young as we head back to our hotel. Interesting thing to note, we’re seeing that restaurants don’t open to serve dinner until 9 pm, the evening meal is taken around 10 pm.

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