Having a drink outside

My balcony in Madrid had a view onto the outdoor tables of a bar. I loved looking out onto the street, watching the comings and goings, and spying on the people who sat down to have a drink. Looking back, I now wish that I had made a project of it as I am somewhat frustrated with the short series of unsatisfactory pictures I took. Hmph. It will have to keep for next time … and I’ll have to make sure that I have a balcony that is as advantageously situated.

~ Spotted Cow

Weekly Photo Challenge: Frame

Two ladies catching up

In my quest for cool spaces in the Madrid heat, I found this living wall in front of the Caixaforum art centre, with seating that neatly frames the city’s inhabitants – including flighted ones – taking a break from the summer’s intensity.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Frame

~ Spotted Cow

People relaxing in the cool of the wall

Living wall, Caixaforum


Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal, Parque Retiro, Madrid

The Crystal Palace edifice isn’t rare like a diamond, but there are not so many of them around. Certainly, I’ve only ever seen pictures of the London Crystal Palace which was destroyed by fire, and upon which the Madrid one is modelled. It was originally built as a greenhouse – and it reminds me of the Kew Garden greenhouses – but these days it is used for art exhibitions.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was very hot inside when I went to have a look at what seemed a disparate set of exhibits, including a swinging pendulum that looked like an upside-down Empire State Building, a model ship hoisted at an angle and various retro electronics. The greenhouse wasn’t much respite from the heat outside, but it was a beautiful building to admire. I lingered to take some photographs indoors and had to be patient for what I thought was the right grouping and movement of people, with the right space between them. Such is the character of street photography that you can’t direct people around as you would like !

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare

~ Spotted Cow

Detail on the Crystal Palace

Model boat exhibit

Pendulum exhibit

Weekly Photo Challenge: Morning

Cycling in the park

I’m back from Madrid and there’s just time for a quickie weekly entry. Madrid in August is a scorcher. The evening I landed, it was 34°C (or about 93°F) at midnight when I got into the hotel. Thank goodness for air-conditioning. It made sense to spend my first morning acclimatising at the Parque Retiro – Madrid’s second largest park – where there was lots of greenery and shade, while I did some people-watching … and snapping.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Morning

~ Spotted Cow

Fried pigs ears

Fried pigs ears

These aren’t fried pigs ears. Or at least I don’t think they are.

The picture was taken in the Mercado de San Miguel food hall in Madrid. I was hurrying along to catch up with The Lovely J, and took a quick snap of these snacks. I meant to ask what they were, but forgot. I think they look like baby or midget pig ears deep fried in batter, and that’s how they’ll remain etched in my memory unless someone tells me otherwise.

~ Spotted Cow

Bridge myth. The love of a good woman.

Puente de San Martin, B&W

Toledo’s Puente de San Martin with fantastic cloud. Black & white? Or colour?

This bridge is the Puente de San Martin, built in the 14th century. The story has it that upon the finishing stages of the bridge, its engineer realised that he had made a gross miscalculation and the bridge wasn’t going to hold. He became depressed, fearing the worst recriminations of the day. One night, a heavy thunderstorm blew over Toledo. His wife, unable to alleviate his anguish, went out in the night and burnt the middle section of the bridge down. Everyone thought the storm had caused it. And the engineer was able to re-do his numbers and finish the bridge which stands today.

The love of a good woman.

~ Spotted Cow

Puente de San Martin, colour

Toledo, home of the Visigoths

Toledo, black & white

Toledo was the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, which makes it sound very romantic even though I don’t know who the Visigoths are. Over the ages, the Romans came here too. As did the Christians, the Moors and the Jews.  A lot of fighting went on. No surprise then, that a typical Toledo souvenir is a sword or a knife. They sell them in all the shops.

On the topic of photography, I’m trying my hand at turning these architectural pictures into black & white. Plus, the clouds were incredible that afternoon, which makes for wonderful texture in the sky. The original colour version below.

~Spotted Cow

Toledo, colour

Madrid. Stinkingly hot


It was stinkingly hot when The Lovely J and I were in Madrid in early June. When you live in England, 33°C or 90°F at 10 o’clock in the morning classifies as stinkingly hot, although of course, we embraced the heat under the cover of umbrellas, hats and sunscreen.

Anyway, the point is that other than the 3 hours in the dance studio, most of the rest of the time was spent eating, drinking and gossiping in the bars. It pays to be sociable with the bartenders. You get to have interesting conversations and they may bring you specials or drinks or off-menu tapas.

One of the tapas places we liked was sitting at the bar at El Bocaito. They do wonderful padron peppers. The bartender persuaded us to try the Luisito tapa, which he described as a bit of prawn and squid with their house mayo and chilli paste, served on a bit of toast. “It’s a bit spicy”, he said as he sliced the portion. The Spaniards aren’t known for spicy food. As it turned out, the chilli paste was intense. It caught us by surprise, and it was hot enough to bring me to the verge of tears. Every time I took another bite, the heat accumulated in my mouth, building up an unholy fire. Meanwhile, the bartender thought our reactions quite hilarious, and eventually brought us some tortilla to mitigate the heat. I did like the lovely tingly feeling around my mouth. But it was stinkingly hot !

Bocaito, Calle de la Libertad, 6, 28004 Madrid

~ Spotted Cow

padron peppers

pimientos del padron

El Bocaito

Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance

Sleeping shepherd and sheepdog

Endurance … or lack thereof. I came across a napping shepherd and his sheepdog on a walk in the Alpujarras mountains in Spain. It was a lovely rural scene. In the distance, you could hear the bells of his flock. I wish my office had a room like this where I could go and have a wee nap when the going gets tough.

Weekly Photo Challenge : Endurance

~ Spotted Cow

Seville, in August

Seville bullring and bullfighter statue

In the last week of August, I went to Seville. I love Seville and I’ve been more times than I can count, with various friends and family and different times in the year.

This time, I did a flamenco dance course with the inimitable Pastora Galvan, whose hip swivels, shoulder shrugs and backward bends left me both frustrated and inspired by the end of the week, not to mention the lighting footwork and razor-sharp finger snaps.

I didn’t take my camera because I spent 3+ hours every morning in the school, and then there was the necessary eating, showering and cooling down afterward. The afternoons were stupendously hot – on two days it was above 40ºC – and the sun was intense. I stayed indoors, flat out on the bed with the air-conditioning on full blast. So, no pictures, apart from the few that I’ve taken on my phone.

The Slow Pace girls gave me a list of eating recommendations – thanks ! I wish I could have got to all of them, especially Abades Triana which they wrote about on their blog. The heat got the better of us. Next time. It was difficult to narrow down, but I’m going to put my Top 5 eating/drinking/flamenco tips from this trip.

1. Ena, the terrace bar at the Alfonso XIII hotel. Calle San Fernando, 2. The Alfonso XIII is a beautiful old world hotel built in the mudejar style. I didn’t stay here – I wish ! – but we had sunset cocktails on the terrace bar, sitting on comfy cushions against the lush setting of the gardens.

2. El Rinconcillo. Calle Gerona, 40. A really lovely traditional bar and restaurant with hanging hams, a long wooden bar, and beautiful tiled walls. We had Sunday lunch in the salon. My favourite dish is the espinacas con garbanzos or spinach with chickpeas. Theirs is Sevillian style, fused with plenty of cumin.

3. Casa Morales. Calle Garcia de Vinuesa, 11. A traditional tapas bar, just south of the Cathedral, where you sit among large terracotta earthenware jars. It’s small and gets crowded quickly at lunchtime. The menu is on the blackboard, and the wait staff will tell you the day’s special. On the day we went, it was arroz con carrillada, or rice with Iberian pork cheeks. Delicious !

4. Victoria Eugenia. Calle Cuna, 2. A restaurant that seems to specialise in cod dishes, because that’s what made up much of the menu. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve eaten here even though I saw later that the tripadvisor reviews were mixed. This time it was cod croquetas and artichoke hearts with cured ham. So good ! It’s a couple of doors down from the Casa de la Memoria – below – which is handy after watching a flamenco show.

5. Casa de la Memoria. Calle Cuna, 6. There are plenty of flamenco shows in town, but Casa de la Memoria is my favourite because they have good artists, so you’ll always get a good show even if you don’t know who they are. This is where I first saw Pastora Galvan years ago. It’s a lovely intimate venue and there are two showings a night at 19.30h and 21.00h. Also, they don’t make you buy a food and drink package, which I think is a bonus.

~ Spotted Cow

Spanish finger food

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

Narsi After

Narsi is a lovely woman I met in Esparragosa de Lares, who generously allowed me to take photographs of her in the outside bit of her kitchen. It’s the place where she does her washing up and some of the food prep, and there is a big freezer in the corner. I say “outside”, but there isn’t really an inside bit to the kitchen. It’s just a stove in a nook.

It’s my picture for the Room theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge.

There’s a disclaimer here in that I might have totally misrepresented everything I’ve said because Narsi spoke Spanish at lightning-speed in the local village accent. It doesn’t show in the photo, but she is a tiny woman, about a head shorter than me … and I just top the 5-foot mark.

In a nod to Before-After that Stacy conducts on Visual Venturing, I’m including my original photograph. It was taken on ISO 800, f/8, 1/80 at 24mm. The photo was taken at 8.30pm, and the light was starting to fade. So I’ve upped the exposure, taken down the saturation and put in a little bit of definition to bring out the textures. The most challenging bit was correcting the perspective. Almost everything in Narsi’s house is not properly straight or level, and I had to have several goes at getting the lines as right as I could make it. My eyes were wonky afterward.

Click if you want to have a go at ABFriday on Visual Venturing.

~ Spotted Cow

Narsi Before

Blue Eggs


Esparragosa de Lares, Spain

A rural holiday wouldn’t be complete without a farm trip. We took off into the outskirts – a 7-minute walk! – to D’s cousin’s farm. I was excited about seeing the animals, city-dweller that I am. There were just-born baby geese, hens a-hatching, roosters strutting, chickens running away from humans and curious lambs wondering why we were hanging about.

D’s cousin gave us freshly laid eggs which had a blue-ish tinge. Apparently, they are no-cholesterol eggs, although I haven’t been able to verify that. Anybody know?

~ Spotted Cow

Lamb with bell Sheep on hillsideRoosters and chickensHatching henBlue eggs


Tita Felisa

Esparragosa de Lares, Spain

Today I’m going to tell you about Tita. Or Aunty. Our daily holiday schedule in the village revolved around going to lunch at hers. In Spain, mealtimes are late and lunchtime is somewhere between 2pm and 4pm.

Aunty is the family matriarch and D’s father’s sister. She is a sprightly woman in her 80s, with a good bite to her tongue. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of her because you’ll get a telling off the likes of which you haven’t heard since you were ten.

Everyday she cooked for us in her tiny kitchen that just fits her stove and a small counter top. She has a bigger, modern kitchen but she doesn’t cook in there. In fact, her oven is crammed full of bags of potato chips. I was tickled. But out of the cupboard-sized kitchen came the magic of tortilla, ajo blanco, milanesa (breaded chicken), potatoes in tomato, fried chorizo, lentils, meatballs. Hearty village favourites, served with love and a big loaf of country bread.

Tita herself eats sparingly. But the moment you finish the last scrap on your plate, she’s up on her feet, gesturing to seconds and asking if you want anything else. She reels off the contents of her fridge – beer, wine, melon, cheese, yoghurt, yesterday’s leftovers. When we really cannot eat anymore, she tells us what she is going to cook the next day. And then points again to seconds !

During the village fair, the cooking amounts were larger. Her away children came back. Her “English” brother returned. One evening, at half past midnight, we dropped by and there were all manner of immediate & extended family and friends wandering in and out of her house, catching up with each other. From her chair, Tita was chatting and gesturing to food and drink. It made me think of my grandmother’s house when she was alive.

Enjoy the pictures. I don’t have many of the food because I was too busy eating.

~ Spotted Cow

Milanesa and chorizoTiny kitchenDining table

Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story

bull in the doorway

Remember how I told you that I attended a bull run in the Spanish village of Esparragosa de Lares, where the men were taunting the poor animal. Well, the bull had its comeuppance several times. In this instance – Bull 1, Man 0.

I thought this picture captured the Split-Second Story theme quite neatly for the Weekly Photo Challenge.

~ Spotted Cow

A Week of Un-Connectedness

Extremadura landscape

Phew! I’m re-acclimatising to normal life and working hours. I spent a week in the back of beyond in the Spanish village of Esparragosa de Lares in Extremadura. The village lags time in a wholly lackadaisical way. There is no public wifi, no traffic lights, and no cash machine. There is nothing to buy because there are no shops. Siesta hours are kept, which means that by the time you get up and sort yourself out, you can’t pop out for milk anyway because the store is shut. Plus, it’s long-life UHT milk.

I didn’t think places like these still exist in Western Europe. My friend D invited me. Her father is from the village and she spent childhood summers running wild with her brother and cousins in the arid, yellow surrounds.

We were there on the weekend of the spring fair, when everyone spills out onto the streets. There was a mini bull run, which consisted of a scared young bull running around the plaza, teased beyond an inch of its life by young men.

At the town hall, men and women in traditional garb made tortilla and ajo blanco – which is like a super-garlicky gazpacho without the tomato.

There was sheep shearing, something I’ve witnessed before, but this time I had the privilege of a full frontal of the sheep’s private bits and all. I was treated to some wonderful horsemanship in the horse show. And I partook of the Ruta Tapa, which involved a pub crawl of the three bars and their best tapas. My favourite was the mini hamburger with goats cheese.

In between events, there was a bouncy castle and music blaring from the public speakers till 5am. Still, I slept fantastically – with ear-plugs – in a room darkened by opaque blinds.

Truly, it was a wonderful week. I didn’t miss the shops or social networking, and I came home re-charged.

Next time I’ll tell you more about the people, who are warm and kind and all-embracing. D’s family took me completely into their fold, and fed me. Because after all, food is love.

~ Spotted Cow

Children's bull Bull in the plaza Esparragosa de LaresHorsemanshipSheep shearing

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

Spring bee

I cannot tell you how terrified I was taking this photo. The bee was enormous, and even though I was using a zoom lens (100mm), I was still standing a bare arm’s length from it. But I had a bee in my bonnet – pun intended! – about getting it in the picture with the flowers.

This spring photo for the Weekly Photo Challenge was shot in the lovely garden of Casa Ana, a guest house in the Alpujarras in southern Spain. While I was scrolling through Ana’s site, I saw a couple of my photos on her garden page. How lovely. I had forgotten that I had given her a set of my images to use. It’s made my day !