Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Favorite Photos

Those who frequent my blog will know that my family and I recently returned from a trip to Spain and Italy.  If you missed my articles and photos on tapas, you might want to go back and read my previous three blog entries.
Papier-mâché masks have been a tradition in Venice for centuries.
In this entry, I thought I would share a few of the photos I took on the trip.  Over four weeks or so, I took about 3,000 photographs.  Needless to say, I haven't had time to thoroughly review all of them.  However, here are a few that I thought turned out rather well.

Gondolas are everywhere in Venice. 

The Gothic Cathedral in León, Spain  is one of the most beautiful in Europe.  The city is great for walking at night.
Rain, clouds, and reflections make for a dramatic backdrop for the Cathedral.

This photo was chosen as an Editor's Pick this week by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP).   The bartender is keeping customers satisfied at the Camarote Madrid Bar in León.

Children playing are always good subjects for photography.  I'll talk about this more in an upcoming blog entry.

I'll have some more of my favorite recent photos next time.

You can view my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Photographing (and Eating) Tapas in León, Spain - Part Two

If you didn't catch Part I of my article on tapas:  you may want to read it by clicking here before advancing to Part II. 

Several years ago, my colleague Steve and I went to a tapas restaurant in North Carolina.  He hadn't heard of tapas, and I wanted him to experience something like he might get in León, Spain.  I had had tapas several years earlier in León, and thought the restaurant experience might be similar, yet an Americanized version.  Our waiter told us to pick several items from the menu and they would be brought out as we had our drink.  We ordered a Spanish tortilla (a potato dish), manchego cheese, some ham and even quail legs.  The first dish that was brought out was the cheese.  On the plate were two thin triangles of cheese.

"Are these just for us to try?"  Steve asked, puzzled.

"No, I think that's the cheese we ordered."

To make the story short, the rest of the night continued exactly the same way.  When we left after paying a bill of well over a hundred dollars, Steve said, "I'm hungry.  Let's go get a pizza."  To this day, he will no longer take my advice on a restaurant.  He'll just stare at me and say, "....you remember North Carolina...?"

Well, that's the American version of tapas.  The food was okay, but it was expensive and there wasn't much of it.  In León, however, the bars take pride in the quality and quantity of tapas, as well as the diversity.  For well under two Euros, you'll get a drink and a plate of something good to eat.

We ordered a round of seven drinks.  This is the plate of food that came with it at the Barín de Eva

León's streets are safe to walk, even late at night. The streets just off from the Cathedral are filled with bars.

Many of the tapas you'll get with your drinks are Spanish specialties, although, at first, not all will sound appetizing to some American palates.  One of my favorites is morcilla.  It's a blood sausage, and absolutely delicious.  Another is callos, or beef stomach.  It's served in a hot barbeque sauce and should be tried before declaring you don't like it.  You might also have squid, shrimp, shellfish or other seafoods.

The bartender at the Cervantes cheerfullly let us choose our tapas.  One that I gave a try was callos.

Sandwiches on the left and callos on the right were tapas at the Cervantes Bar.  The sauce on the callos is extremely spicy.

Morcilla and fried potatoes were tapas at the Rincón de los Gauchos. We also had a delicious garlic soup.   Notice that Reserve Rioja was provided rather than a "house wine."
This plate of tapas from the Gala Bar has white asparagus, peppers, potatoes, fish, sausage, a fried egg and bread.

We had shellfish in tomato sauce at the Bar Ribera.
We drank Rioja and Ribera del Duero wine at the Boccalino.  Tapas included shrimp, sausage, and pizza.
Obviously, in just a little over two weeks, I didn't have time to try all the bars in León (although you can see that I tried).  Thanks go out to my wife's cousin, Jo Luis and his family for making sure we got a sampling of the best food, drink, and hospitality that León has to offer. 

I hope you get a chance to try real Spanish tapas from León, sometime.  If you have a good experience, let me know.

You can view my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Photographing (and Eating) Tapas in León, Spain

Sometimes a photographer must write about something other than photography.  In this case, I'm writing about something that impressed me enough to both write about and photograph it:  tapas.  I'm certainly not a food critic.  However, my mission with  this blog entry is to give you a feel for a cultural experience you won't find in the United States.  Yes, you'll find tapas restaurants here, where you can get little orders of croquettes and quail legs and Spanish ham, but you won't find the real Spanish experience anywhere other than Spain.  If you're heading to Spain, go to the north.  León is a wonderful city on the Camino de Santiago.  While it has its share of tourists, it doesn't feel like a tourist town.  You'll find that the tapas bars aren't filled with tourists.  They're filled with the people of León. That speaks volumes for the food and drinks you'll find and the experience you'll have in this city.

León is one of the great cities of Spain.  Not only does it have friendly people, a magnificent Gothic cathedral, Roman ruins, and surviving streets from the medieval period, it is also a center of the ancient culinary tradition known as tapas.  Tapas are snacks served when a drink is ordered.  That's the simple definition.  However, in the case of tapas, photographs may give a better understanding of the tradition and why it's not to be missed if you're in León or northern Spain.

The Cathedral in León is noted as one of the most beautiful in Europe.  In the surrounding streets are hundreds of bars and restaurants.

The main street in León has been used since Roman times.  Tapas can be found at the end of the rainbow, or almost anywhere else in the city.

Tapas can't be defined as a specific type of food.  It might be slices of one or more of the delicious Spanish hams, along with some bread and local cheese.  It might be deep fried croquetas or calamari, soup, shrimp, a potato or rice dish, or even pizza.

A typical plate of tapas that came with the order of two glasses of Rioja (one of the regions for fine wine in Spain) at the Boccalino Bar. This plate had shrimp, sausage, cheese, and bread.

My wife and I had a second glass of wine only because we heard that pizza would be on the next plate of tapas.  It was as good as it looks.

The Boccalino Bar is in the Plaza de San Isidoro, just across from the San Isidoro church, where my parents-in-law were married more than fifty years ago.  On Saturday nights during the summer, a laser light show, Reino de León, is projected onto the walls of the church.  The show depicts the city from early times to the modern day and is well worth seeing.

Some bars are famous for specific types of tapas.  Others have a little bit of everything.  The way it's done in León is that you simply order a drink (wine, beer, bottle of water, soft drink, etc.) and the waiter will bring out a portion, usually generous, of food.  Sometimes you can choose the snacks you want.  Sometimes the waiter will just bring you a plate of something good to eat.  You might imagine that such a service would drive the price of drinks up to an unaffordable level.  Yet, a round of wine, beer and soft drinks for seven or eight people was usually about 10 Euros (about US $13).

The Camarote Madrid is crowded on weekend nights.  Notice the Spanish hams hanging over the bar.

Manolo is on the the bartenders at the Camarote Madrid.  He stays busy making sure customers have wine, beer and tapas.
There are hundred of bars in León, especially in the famed Barrio Húmedo, the "wet area."  I only made it to a dozen or so, usually going out with family and friends, starting around 9 o'clock and ending the excursion in the early morning hours.  During that time, we would go to three or four bars, and with three or four drinks, have a satisfying dinner made up of various tapas.

Homemade potato chips and Salmorejo, a cold soup similar to gazpacho, are on the tapas menu at the Camarote Madrid.

It's also interesting to note that the bars are full of all sorts:  retired people, professionals, students,  and families.  On the weekends, it's not unusual to see small children in the bars past midnight.  The bars are considered family places and food can often be ordered at reasonable prices if the tapas aren't enough to satisfy. During all my visits to bars, I never saw anyone who remotely appeared drunk or disorderly.  However, everyone had a good time.

On weekend nights the bars are especially crowded, and the clientele may spill out onto the streets.

Sausage, ham, cheese and bread are typical tapas of the bar Jamón Jamón .  As you can imagine, it's a popular place with students.

My children's cousin, Jorge enjoys tapas at Jamón Jamón.

This video should give you a feel for the fast-paced atmosphere in places like Jamón Jamón.  I shot it with the same Nikon D90 I used for the other photos in this blog entry.

I still have enough photos and information for another entry on tapas.  Part II will be coming soon.

You can see my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Spain Means History, Tapas, more Tapas ...and Photographs

My family and I just returned from a trip to Spain, with a side visit to Italy.  We're still suffering from jetlag, but I'm so excited about the trip, I wanted to write this first installment. 

My Mother-in-Law has an apartment in the center of León, Spain.  We stayed with her and took advantage of its perfect location to walk to the tapas bars, drive to nearby villages and cities, and for me, to engage in photography. This blog entry is a preview of some the upcoming entries and photographs you'll be seeing over the next several days and weeks.  I'll have an entry or two specifically about tapas, those wonderful Spanish appetizers or snacks that you get with the order of a beer or glass of wine.  I'll share a visit to Castrillo de los Polvazares, a quiet, traditional village on the Camino de Santiago, near Astorga...and more.

You will also see photographs in the cities, along the roads, and in the bars.  If you have an interest in Spain or are planning a visit, I suggest you might find it useful to subscribe to this blog.
The Gothic Cathedral in León is noted for its beautiful stained glass windows. The medieval streets surrounding it are known as the Barrio Húmedo, the "wet area," full of bars that provide tapas and drinks.

The sidewalks in León are filled with visitors to the bars throughout the night and into the morning hours.

Manolo, one of the bartenders at the Camarote Madrid in León makes sure customers are satisfied with drinks and tapas.

Salmorejo, a cold soup similar to gazpacho, but thicker and smoother, is one of the tapas at the Camarote Madrid.

My son, Brian, took this photo of  me in Castrillo de los Polvazares.

Castrillo de los Polvazares is a scenic village, now visited mainly by pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.
Poppies and ruined farm buildings on the way to Salamanca.
Children play in the main plaza at Salamanca.

The mountains of northern Spain offer majestic views.
Don't miss out on my next blog entry where I'll go into detail about tapas, one of my favorite things about León.

Until then, you can visit my website at:  www.tombellart.com.