Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Road Trip: Astorga!

Despite the fact that I'm back in Illinois and largely recovered from the 32-hour trip from León, Spain to my home, I still want to share my road trip to Astorga.

It's a small and ancient town with both Celtic and Roman origins.  Only about 30 miles from León, Astorga is an important stop on the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James.)  I drove my mother-in-law's mint-condition 1982 Mercedes 300D, and was there in less than an hour.

1982 Mercedes 300D.  A great car for a road trip.  I first drove this car in 1995 when it was only 13 years-old.  It still looks like a new car.

Famous for it's sweet pastries, called Mantecadas, Astorga is probably best known for its Bishop's Palace, designed by Antoni Gaudí and built between 1889 and 1913. I strongly recommend that you find time to walk through the town's center, but if you only have time for one thing, the Bishop's Palace is the place to see.

Mantecadas are served with coffee at the hotel cafe across the street from the Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace.
Wall art shows the packing of Mantecadas cakes in earlier days.
Tile Roofs from an overlook in Astorga.

The municipal building in Astorga
Me in front of the entrance to the Bishop's Palace. The building is in the neo-Gothic style. (Photo by my mother-in-law.)
Exterior view of the Bishop's Palace. I can imagine it as a set from the Wizard of Oz.

Stained glass detail from the Bishop's Palace.
More stained glass.
Painted ceramic tiles highlight arches throughout the palace.

More stained glass and ceramic tile.
The chapel in the Bishop's palace.

Wide shot of the Palace.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief road trip to Astorga.  I will have more from Spain in upcoming posts. If you would like to follow along and receive a notification when a new post appears, please subscribe by clicking here and entering your email address.

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This blog has been named one of the top 75 fine art photography blogs on the planet.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Going Home

Preparing to go home from a trip is never easy.  It's not like you just zip open your suitcase, throw in the clothes and walk out the door.  For me, it involves shopping to buy gifts for my family and friends. Mostly, they're very small gifts -- just something to let them know I was thinking of them while I was away.  But even very small gifts can say a lot.

This isn't an easy blog post to write.  I had intended to document my Spanish shopping excursions and  show you all the cool items I found.  Then I realized that my family and friends read my blog.  The question suddenly becomes:  Do I destroy the element of surprise and write an awesome blog post showing all of the nice gifts; or, do I keep the surprise and not show anything to my loyal and faithful readers?

Sorry, loyal and faithful readers.  My family and friends won this round.

Buying for my wife, María, is the most difficult.  When I give her a gift, the exchange usually goes something like this:

Me: "I really put a lot of thought into it and hope you like it."

María:  (ripping open the box and wrapping paper) "Oh, I love it!  I love it!  (long pause)  But, you wouldn't mind if I exchange it for another color would you?   The green doesn't really go with anything I have.  And if they had it with a different neckline...  You know, I have several sweaters similar to this, but I saw one that was really cute in another catalogue...  You wouldn't mind, would you if...."

Don't worry.  I'm used to it.  The only problem is that whatever I choose this time has to be right, because I can't return it.

So, I won't show you what I'm buying, but I'll show you a few of the shops I've checked out on my gift-buying ventures.  You'll see some gift shop windows that I might or might not have found something to buy. Family and friends, you can use your imaginations!  Loyal readers, sorry, you'll have to use your imaginations, too!

You can probably guess that I didn't buy anything here.  I can wait until I get home to buy the M&M's and Twinkies.  (You can click on photographs in this blog for a closer view.  Hit the "escape" or "esc" key to exit to an normal view.)

This is a nice shop for typical food and drink products of León.  You can bet that I didn't buy the meat since customs doesn't like it when I pack it in my luggage.
Meats, pastries, cheeses, and drinks are in this window.

A souvenir shop in front of the Cathedral.

All sorts of figurines.
More from a souvenir shop display.
Ceramics are always popular gifts.
A bottle of local herb liquor.  Very tasty.

Bracelets.  The scallop shells represent the Way of St. James (the Camino de Santiago.)

Anyway, now you've seen some of the cool shopping options I've had.  Hopefully, I made some good decisions.

This will be my last blog entry from Spain, but I've much more to share, including a road trip to Astorga, a fantastic restaurant and trout soup in Órbigo, tapas, more reflections on Holy Week, etc.
Tune-in in a few days after I'm back in Illinois, and I'll still be blogging about my trip to Spain.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Apologies, Elderly Cows, and Bar Tabs

As I mentioned in a previous post, my DNA test shows my ancestry is less than one percent Spanish.  Somehow, the people here in León seem to sense this.

A few days ago, I was at one of my favorite tapas bars, Jamón Jamón (Ham Ham), enjoying an excellent glass of local red wine and a crusty white bread topped with an amazing Spanish ham, chorizo, and manchego cheese.  Holy week was not yet over and crowds were everywhere.  Inside the bar, people stood shoulder to shoulder.  I elected to move outside where there was a shelf against the window for patrons to place their drinks and plates of food.  Usually the space around the shelf is also crowded, but today I found myself alone in the outdoor space, with people rushing through the streets around me.

Jamón Jamón serves only one thing for tapas:  crusty bread with Spanish ham, chorizo, and manchego cheese.  (You can click on photographs in this blog for a larger view.  Use the "esc" or "escape" key to exit to a normal view.

For €1.30 ($1.60) you can have a glass of wine and tapas.

It was not long before I heard a commotion and looked around to see a young husband and wife with two small, extremely unruly children pushing my way.  It seemed that the husband's sworn duty was to be totally oblivious to everything going on around him, while the wife grabbed at the children's shirt collars and flailing arms, screaming, "No! Juan Pablo, no!  Javier! No!

Jamón Jamón is a popular destination on the tapas circuit in León.

In a split second, I placed my glass of wine on the shelf and braced myself for the inevitable impact. Sure enough, despite my attempt to move out of the way, the wife, who was bent over trying to control the children, backed into me.  She rapidly turned and looked up at me in horror.  The apology immediately followed, "Sorry!  Sorry!," she said with true remorse.

"No te preocupes. Estoy bien,"  ("Don't worry. I'm fine,") I immediately said as she turned again, crying, "Juan Pablo. Javier!  No!"  The father was looking around with his hands behind his back as if he were waiting for a bus.

Instantly, I was aware that something was wrong.  What had I done?  I hadn't uttered a word before she slammed into me.  Why had she apologized to me in English?  When I wasn't looking had someone secretly stenciled my forehead with text that said, "American. Please speak English!?"

I've had similar incidents happen to me at other times during my travels.  I've been over much of the world, and in some places, I'm obviously a tourist and elicit communication in English, or sometimes in sign language. But here, I thought, if I don't speak with my American accent, surely I will blend in.  Whatever the case, I decided not to dwell on it, and to put it aside so that I could enjoy the last couple of days of Holy Week.

I missed being with my family and friends back in Illinois on Easter Sunday.  I knew that they had enjoyed a wonderful Easter dinner with many traditional dishes, including my favorite: lamb.

On the Tuesday following Easter, my mother-in-law's cousin, Tomasina, invited my mother-in-law, María Rosa; my niece, Sofía with her fiancé, Ronnie; and me to a late lunch. (Lunches in Spain are always very late.)  We entered a very nice restaurant and were soon seated at a table next to a window.

After a few minutes, a waiter appeared and started placing menus in front of us.  I was last. "And a menu in English, for you, sir," he intoned.

I was stunned. How had he known?  I didn't say anything, but looked at him suspiciously.

Seconds later we were talking about other things and I let it slide.  But I must say that the menu in English was a mixed blessing.  Not only did I not know what everything was on the Spanish menu, I had trouble with the English menu, also.  We decided on roasted vegetables and morcilla (a Spanish blood sausage that is delicious, despite what it sounds like)  for a first course.  Then I started looking at the main courses.  After fish were the meats, with beef first on the list.

It was when I got to the third offering that I knew I wouldn't be having beef that afternoon.  "Carne roja de añojo deshuesada..."  The English translation was: "Deboned red meat from elderly cows..."

A picture formed in my head. I could see ancient and decrepit bovines tottering around a pasture waiting to die; the moment they dropped, someone would cart them off to be deboned and placed on a table before us. After getting the image out of my mind, I continued down the menu until I found the leg of lamb. That was my choice, and an excellent one, at that.  It wasn't a substitute for lamb at home, but it made things better.

A leg of lamb with potatoes, a roasted pepper, and salad.  It was far better than eating elderly cows.

A couple of days later, my mother-in-law and I stopped at one of the nearby restaurant/bars for a drink and tapas before lunch, as we often do. (Remember that lunch is late in the afternoon; it's not like we start pounding down drinks at 9 a.m.)  When we were ready to leave, I stepped up to the bar to pay.  The bar tender held up three fingers.  "Three Euros," he said in a heavy Spanish accent.

I sort of see myself as Indiana Jones describes his friend and colleague, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot,) in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)The Nazis realize that Brody has the journal page revealing the location of the Holy Grail.  Jones defiantly explains why the bad guys will never catch Brody.

 In truth, I think my case lies somewhere between the first and second scenes of the clip.

I keep looking in the mirror to see if something has been stenciled on my forehead, but so far, I haven't found it.

⧫    ⧫    ⧫    ⧫

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

León's Storefront Displays of Devotion

Now that Holy Week in León is over, I want to share with you some of the fun demonstrations of devotion that I didn't have time to post before.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, storefronts celebrate Holy Week with displays that portray the processions and pasos (giant religious floats.)  Below are photographs of some of those displays, including more of the Legos.

A wide view of the Legos procession. (You can click on photos in this blog for a closer view.  Press the "escape" or "esc" key to return to a normal view.)
Legos figures in black papones (hoods and gowns) carry a paso.

The Legos creations are so detailed as to include babies, bicyclist, dogs, musicians, and much more.

It's important to note that Legos characters with umbrellas can always be found in this display since the possibility of rain is a constant danger to Holy Week processions.

This much more realistic depiction of one of the pasos can be found in the window of a fabric shop.

Another of the model pasos in the fabric shop.

A pharmacy on the main street of León depicts activities of the processions with packaging from medicine, such as this pill box that serves as the table for the Last Supper.

A wide shot of one of the pharmacy windows.

A box for energy pills serves as the platform for one of the pasos.  Presumably, the hooded figures took the pills to maintain enough energy to lift and bear the heavy pasos.

Bottles of wine wear the hoods typical of Holy Week at a store that deals in typical wines, meats, and foods of León.

Another hooded bottle

Representations of women in traditional Holy Week dress in a cosmetics store.

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and a Video Retrospective of Holy Week in León

Saturday's  Procesión del Santo Cristo Del Desenclavo (The Procession of Christ Freed (from the Cross) is a powerful demonstration of devotion in León, Spain.  Four thousand robed and hooded participants march to the Plaza of San Isidoro with pasos (the giant religious floats) representing the  Virgin Mary and Christ nailed to the cross.  Another thousand without hoods and robes also participate as musicians, candle bearers, and other supporting roles.

Jesus is brought into the plaza of San Isidoro.

Many thousands gather along the processional route.  Those who can squeeze into the plaza of San Isidoro are fortunate to see Jesus removed from the cross and placed in the arms of his Mother.

The Virgin Mary.
The highlight of the Procession of Santo Cristo Desenclavado is when the dead Jesus is removed from the cross and finds his place in the arms of his Mother, the Virgin Mary.  One of the brothers climbs a ladder and reverently removes the Body from the cross with the help of other brothers below.

Jesus removed from the cross.

On the way out of the plaza, Jesus is no longer on the cross, but rather, in the arms of his Mother.
The procession sets the stage for Easter Sunday (Domingo de Resurrección.)

I was fortunate enough to march in the final Holy Week Procession on Easter Sunday, the Procesión de El Encuentro (Procession of the Encounter.)  Until now, the processions have been somber and reflective.  But now, the resurrection of Jesus marks a turning point. The march is a joyous occasion, representing the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. The march music is no longer solemn, but rather lively, and there are smiles on the faces of participants and audience alike.

Eduardo de Paz, who invited me to participate in the celebration of Holy Week, along with his granddaughters:  Mónica, age 7; Paula, age 12; and Irene, age 10. I was pleased to be able to march with the girls during the procession.
I was honored to be invited to march in the Easter Sunday procession.  We no longer cover our faces with hoods, as sin has been forgiven with the resurrection of Jesus, and there is no longer a need for shame.   (Photo by José Luis de Paz.)

While never directly mentioned in the Bible, Catholic tradition holds that Jesus revealed himself to his Mother, the Virgin Mary, early in the morning, shortly after the resurrection.  That tradition is celebrated in the Procession of the Encounter.
In this paso, Jesus has risen from the tomb.  This photograph is from 2016, as I could not both march in the procession and take photographs.

The final paso portrays the Virgin Mary wearing a Crown of Glory.  In her right hand is a scepter, which replaces a handkerchief that she had carried before.  Tears and sorrow are replaced with joy. (Also from 2016.)
The Virgin Mary is seen as Reina de los Cielos (Queen of Heaven). (From 2016.)
I am somewhat sad that Holy Week is over.  It has been a great privilege to learn more about the Spanish Holy Week traditions as a participant. Despite being an American, with, according to my DNA test, less than one percent Spanish ancestry, I have been made to feel welcome and as if I belong here.  Somehow, I feel that if I were to retake the DNA test, it would show that I am fully Spanish. While I know that that can't be true, I also know that when I return again, I will be welcomed with open arms.

It would be impossible to share all of the photographs I have taken, but below, is a short video retrospective of the entire Holy Week. The video lasts a little over three minutes.  In addition to myself, photographers were Ronny Gunzenhauser and José Luis de Paz. The music is from processionals played by the Brotherhood of the Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross. The two pasos photographs from Easter Sunday at the end of the video are from 2016.

If you would like to view the video full-screen, click on the little square at the bottom right of the video player.  Click the "escape" or "esc" key to return to a normal view.

Now that Holy Week is over, I will continue blogging about my adventures, although I will not hold to a daily schedule.  If you would like to follow along and receive a notification when a new post appears, please subscribe by clicking here and entering your email address.

You can view my fine art photography website at:

This blog has been named one of the top 75 fine art photography blogs on the planet.