11th March 2023: Rocks from the land and fish from the sea (Madrid, Spain)

Back in 2018, when going to Madrid’s Geomineral Museum (Museo Geominero), I stumbled upon an event in the Mining Engineering University – something called Expominerales. At the time, I did not have time to explore it, and only later did I realise what I had missed – an international fair for the trade of minerals, rocks and fossils. I made a mental note to check the event out the following year, but something came up and I completely forgot about the whole thing. In 2020 the pandemic struck, and finally in 2023, almost five years to the day, I went back to this event held in Madrid.

Expominerales is held yearly at the working engineering school Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Minas y Energía (ETSIME), which offers the bachelor’s degree in Mining Engineering, and the one in Energy Engineering (whatever this last one is). The first weekend of every month, the school organises a “mineral-world flea market”, and the second weekend of March, it hosts an international mineral, gem and fossil fair, with shopping stands and different workshops and activities. After a few cancellations due to Covid, it returned in 2022 and it’s back to its former glory in 2023 – Expominerales XLII, the 42th edition of the fair.

The ETSIME in Madrid. Pink-and-white building from the 19th century, accessible through stairs, with flags hanging over the door

Mining Engineering became a formal education path in Spain in 1777, originally in the town of Almadén, a mercury hub. The school was moved to Madrid in 1835 and a two-building campus was ordered. The historical building in the ETSIME (M1) was designed by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, and decorated by ceramist Daniel Zuloaga between 1884 and 1893. The second building (M2) was damaged during the Civil War, and has suffered several modifications to accommodate classrooms and laboratories. The premises also include a reproduction of a mine, Mina Museo Marcelo Jorissen, however this one is closed for renovation – a lot of that seems to be going on around the university, since part of the decorations of the buildings are also covered.

The M1 historical building has a central cloister with an ironwork colonnade. The building is rectangular, and on the short sides there are two symmetrical wards. One holds the historical mining museum, the other one the historical library. The central cloister is the main area where Expominerales is held, on the ground and first floor. On Saturday, the exhibit opened at 10:00, and we were there a bit later in order to sign up for the first guided visit at 11:00 (3€) – we wanted to take it so we had access to several rooms that would otherwise be closed to us. The idea was being there before families with kids started arriving and the activities became overcrowded – it turned out in the end that most the activities were indeed organised for children, so it did not really make a difference. Furthermore, the visit we feared full only had 6 attendees.

We had one hour before the guided visit that we spent looking at the stands on the ground floor on the M1 building. The guide was a student who might have been partying the previous night, because he sounded a little out of it – forgetting info and words, even things related to his own degree.

First, we went to see the mineral collection, the origin of the historical museum in the M1 building, Museo Histórico-Minero Don Felipe de Borbón y Grecia. The mineral collection was started in 1831, and throughout the years it was increased with new minerals donated by different institutions. It was later expanded to cover palaeontology and historical artefacts related to mining and other earth sciences. Though a lot of the displays are scattered throughout he building, the original museum dates from the 19th century, and it has four sections: the mineral collection, the fossil collection, the cave bear collection and the mining archaeology section, totalling over 10,000 items.

The historical mining museum at ETSIME Madrid. It is a large ward with cedar wood shelves from floor to ceiling, filled with rocks and fossils. The picture also shows some close-ups of rocks, two cave bear skulls, and a cluster of fossilised snail-like animals

Today, the museum is named after King Felipe VI, who visited the museum in the late 1980s after the university reached out to him to propose the name. The then prince came to visit then, and the name “the king’s stairs” was given to the set of side stairs he used – Escaleras del Rey.

We also visited the small hall where candidates read their theses, a little hall with spectacular ceramic tiles by Zuloaga, and finally the historical library, with obsolete but cool volumes. The library also dates back from the 19th century, with the walls covered in wooden shelves, with a small metal staircase to access the upper balcony. Unfortunately both this one and the one in the museum were cordoned off.

Library in ETSIME. It is a large room with cedar wood shelves from floor to ceiling, and a spiral staircase.

The visit ended at the lecture hall on building M2, one of the few remaining areas of the original design. It is a marble room with wooden benches and decorated windows that represent the original subjects taught to Mining Engineers. After we were left off, we sat down at the cafeteria for a drink.

Lecture hall in ETSIME (Madrid). It's a marble room, rather dark, with smoked windows representing different subjects of the Mining Engineering Degree

We recharged batteries, and then we had a look at the stands on the first floor of the M1 building, alongside the collection of apparatus that they had. Afterwards, we decided to separate in order to do shopping. Expominerales hosted over 30 stands, national and international.

Expominerales. A view of the ETSIME cloister from the second floor, showing different stands and lots of people peering curiously

I, being the nerd that I am, got myself a tiny slice of iron meteorite (from Geoterra Minerals), a mosasaur fossilised tooth (from Carlos Hammann, who also had amazing megalodon teeth that I will never be able to afford), a decent-sized of recrystallised bismuth (from Rossell Minerals), and a small piece of black tourmaline (from The MineralShop) – all for 51€.

Collage: a fossilised tooth, a bit of mineral in metallic colours, a slice of meteorite with silver orthogonal markings, and a bit of shiny black rock

When we met again, it was a bit past 13:30. There were too many people by then – families had started arriving, so we decided to leave. We had booked at a nearby restaurant for lunch, and they did not mind accommodating us a little earlier. The restaurant, called DeAtún Ponzano specialises in tuna dishes – particularly Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), sustainably caught in the Straight of Gibraltar.

Before overfishing was even a thing, Phoenicians settled in the south-west of Spain somewhere between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE – the city of Cádiz, credited as being the longest-standing city in Europe, may have been the first port. The Phoenicians observed that the bluefin tuna migrated from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean every year around the same dates, and later they came back to the ocean. These guys came up with a very simple technique – that was later developed further by the Romans and perfected in the Islamic period: the almadraba.

An almadraba is a portable but complex net which is lowered for the migration period. The bigger fish are funnelled into a box-like construction, and the smaller ones swim right through it. Once the almadraba is full, a number of fishing boats lift it in a process called levantada (raising). Expert fishermen walk onto the nets, discard any small specimen that might have been trapped, and choose the tuna that will be sold, generally individuals heavier than 200 kg.

Since the fish are selected on a case by case basis, the amount of both the catch and by-catch is small in comparison to other fishing methods. Both the seasonality and craftsmanship of the whole process make it much more sustainable than others – of course, this also causes fewer pieces in the market, which in turn increases the price. Furthermore, all the fish are wild, hand-picked, and only bled out when they are loaded onto the ship. Thus, the quality is extremely high. Another factor that makes almadraba-caught tuna more expensive is the fact that walking onto the levantada is dangerous. Fishermen have been seriously hurt by struggling tuna, as some of the fish might weigh up to 500 kg.

Working almost exclusively high-quality tuna means that DeAtún is not a restaurant on the cheap side of things. I’ve actually traced down their tuna provider and the prices are rather cost-adjusted for almadraba-caught tuna. There’s another thing to consider, too, which is that the Spanish law forces restaurants to freeze fish that is going to be served either raw or quasi-raw, at least for 24 hours at a temperature under -20 ºC – this is done to destroy a fish parasite called Anisakis, which can cause stomach distress and serious allergic reactions. Apparently, the perfect temperature to keep the tuna properties is -60 ºC. So yay Anisakis-safe almadraba-caught tuna all year round (though it’s true that the freezing law makes it impossible to eat fresh tuna raw).

We got a welcome tapa of boiled potatoes with olive oil and herbs (“papas aliñás”), a favourite from southwestern of Spain, the same area where the almadraba tuna are caught. We shared some European anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) “anchoas del Cantábrico” with tomato and toasted bread. These anchovies are salted for at least six months, cleaned, and stored in olive oil. They have a strong flavour, and are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I adore them. We also shared a portion of “ortiguillas” (Mediterranean snakelocks sea anemone Anemonia sulcata, battered and fried), also typical of the south-west – I’ve never been much of a fan though.

Lunch at DeAtún. Collage with a potato salad, anchovies and battered seafood balls

Finally, as my tuna preference is raw, I was wondering whether I wanted sashimi or tartar. In the end, I decided to try a combo (“trio DeAtún”): tuna sashimi (slices), tuna tartar (dice) and tuna tataki (heat-sealed slices), with a side taste of different sauce emulsions – wasabi, kimchi and curry. The tuna cuts used for these preparations (descargamento and tarantelo) would be the otoro or toro Japanese cuts, which are appropriate for raw preparations – technically the best ones, fatty or very fatty meat. I don’t love tataki, thus my original reticence to try this combo, but it was good. My favourite bit was the sashimi though, the tartar was missing a bit of spice.

I was offered chopsticks to eat the dish, and I accepted – easier to handle the fish. That apparently made the maître think that I had been the one choosing the restaurant, because in his words I “seemed to be an expert, chopsticks and all”. That was hilarious – I mean, why offer chopsticks if you don’t expect them to be accepted? For the record, although I booked the table, I did not choose the restaurant – it would have been a little on the “too fancy” side for me. The truth is, there were a bunch of very-elaborated dishes that we decided to give a miss, and we went for the raw tuna.

Lunch at DeAtún. A plate with three tuna cuts. The centre is round, and rose-like, and the sides are extended on a line. The fish is uncooked and it looks dark red. There's a similar dish in the background, with more cuts

Desserts were okay, but not the reason we had chosen this place. The point was eating tuna – raw tuna in my case – and the restaurant delivered. I was however amused by tables around us refusing the raw options even when the chef himself came out to greet them and recommend the dishes (someone over there must have been an acquittance, I don’t really know). Finally, we set back home to compare treasures and plot going back to Expominerales in its 2024 edition – at a time where we can snatch some discounted rocks.

25th February 2023: Feria de las Mercaderías de San Matías 2023 (Tendilla, Spain)

In 2022, some relatives who spend the weekends there talked me into visiting the Medieval fair in TendillaFeria de las Mercaderías de San Matías. It recovers the tradition of the cattle fair around St. Matthew’s day, and today it is one of the yearly highlights of the village. The historical roots of the municipality as an important villa in Medieval times can be traced to the Second Count of Tendilla, Don Íñigo López de Mendoza (1442 – 1515). He accompanied the Catholic Monarchs in their conquest of Andalusia and was later named “governor” (of sorts) of Granada once it was won for the Kingdom of Castile.

I once more arranged to attend the fair in 2023, and I drove off early in order to secure a decent parking spot as the core of the village gets closed off to traffic. Tendilla is laid out along a former main road, which used to work as a separating axis. Today, traffic has been diverted and circumvents the whole village, and the axis has been renamed as two streets: Calle del General Muñoz y Muñoz from the beginning of the village to the town hall square, Plaza de la Constitución, and Calle del Alférez Agudo to the end of the village and the “former fair square”, today the square Plaza de Vicente Mariño. Along this axis, rows of stands on both sides of the street, selling crafts, trinkets, traditional products and foods, and so on. Tendilla is known for its torreznos, processed pork lard snacks, so there are many of them on offer.

The typical food at the fair is migas, a dish made out of toasted breadcrumbs and several toppings. Traditionally, migas were made from stale bread by semi-nomadic shepherds back when it was common to move livestocks from one area of Spain to the other according to the season (transhumance). The town hall organises a collective cook-out of a simplified version for the attendants, just the fried breadcrumbs with paprika and garlic, topped with the famous torreznos. Though there are endless variations of the dish, the local tradition calls for breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic, and minced pork, topped with a fried egg, and sometimes some fruit.

We were going to prepare our own complete version of the migas, so the first goal was securing some minced chorizo, called picadillo from the butcher’s. We also bought some torreznos for later. Then, we started wandering the village – literally up and down from one square to the other – to see the stands and catch all the events. Although it was rather cold, it was sunny and not windy, quite pleasant once you were wearing enough layers – I had actually brought some extra ones that I did not end up needing.

At 11:00 the “farm” opened at Plaza de Vicente Mariño – this is the closest activity related to the origin of the fair, a cattle trade event. There were horses, ponies, donkeys, cows, goats, sheep, piglets, and fowls… I might have remembered a little too late that hay causes an allergic reaction these days. Across the street from the farm stood a huge BBQ grill and some watering holes – I guess that to place the roasting pork just in front of the living piglets is part of the village’s twisted sense of humour. Desensitising kids, or what? One of the funniest things around this area is hearing people squealing at the animals, especially at the piglets – there are a lot of “urban people” in the fairs wanting to “experience country life”, who have never really seen a farm animal in their life and are thoroughly impressed – and end up saying hilarious things.

Farm animals - pony, rabbits, white-and-brown cow, small piglets, sheep, a cheeky goat

At 11:10, we caught the Opening Parade took place, described as musicians, jugglers and knights walking along the streets. It featured a dancer, a small group of musicians, and the members of the horse riding school Caballeros del Alarde.

Collage showing a female dancer followed by three Medieval musicians; two horse riders, one in full armour and the other one dressed as a nobleman from the Middle ages.

After the parade ended at Plaza de Vicente Mariño, we went to check on the communal migas, and say hi to the guys preparing them. They had prepared a bonfire and a huge pot to toast the breadcrumbs, and fought off the cold with beer and wine.

A huge pot with orange breadcrumbs being cooked

There was a second parade at 12:10, this time the official inauguration one. Aside from the musicians, dancers and horse riders, walkers included the authorities, ladies in Medieval clothing, and giants. They walked from the town hall square Plaza de la Constitución to the migas cook-out. With this, the festival officially kicked off.

Parade. Three musicians playing Medieval instruments. Three giant puppet-like giant costumes; men and women dressed as Medieval nobles. A moorish-like kight on a white horse.

I followed the horse riders Caballeros del Alarde back to Plaza de la Constitución where they started practising for their later show. They are part of a horse riding school which carries out several activities, Medieval riding is one of them, along with horse training, archery, and shows in Medieval fairs and markets. For this event in particular, there were six riders – five men and one woman – with two bay and two white horses. One of the bay horses was not in the mood to cooperate though, and got easily spooked.

The show happened from 13:30 to 14:30. It was an exhibition of Medieval horse-riding – while horses galloped through, different different tests carried out – spearing a bale of hay, hitting a metal shield, catching a metal loop with the sword, then cutting off a carrot… There was also a bit of a staged scuffle, swashbuckler-style. The emcee made it sound like the whole show was an exhibit to train for an upcoming jousting contest (in the evening) and the riders would later compete for a pouch full of gold maravedis – Medieval Spanish coins. The show itself was pretty fun and impressive to be honest – the riders had to control the horse in a crowded and small area, full of bystanders and noise, and do the activities with a very high level of success.

Shots from the horse riding exhibit - one of the riders galloping, another spearing the bale of hay, two riders sword-fighting; The female rider, wearing bright blue, with a long spear.

After the horse show, we went home to prepare the traditional version of migas – we fried some minced chorizo, garlic and paprika, then worked the bread on the stove. Finally, we fried the eggs (sunny side up) and the food was ready! Not that we stayed down for long, soon after finishing our late lunch we went out again to find a good spot to watch the jousting at Plaza de la Constitución.

Preparing the migas - frying mincedmeat, then the garlic, then the paprika. Breadcrumbs just poured, still white, then cooked and looking bright orange. Finally, a dish with a sunny-side-up egg on top of the migas.

We walked around the square and realised that there was not really a good spot though because the square was too small and set in a way that anything the riders did, their right hand would be towards the inner area of the square. So whatever they did, the view would be obstructed by flags and décor. And the best viewpoint was actually taken by the sound equipment – which ended up malfunctioning anyway…

Before the tournament started, a sword was brought in as a present to the village. Because the sound was so horrible, I did not completely get the significance of it – it was supposed to have been donated by Queen Isabel of Castile to the village. The program said that there was going to be a forged sword at some point, so I thought it was that one.

A woman parading a Medieval sword, and a group of horsement behind her

This time there were only five riders, apparently one of them had been hurt at a previous exhibition and was not ready for the whole competition. The show itself was all right though – the emcee presented the best rider as a bit (or a lot) of a cheater, and he hyped a lot of “girl power” vibe around the female rider. The riders competed on tests in pairs, again spearing, loop catching and carrot-cutting. The “cheater” won in the end and the maravedis were distributed among attending children, as apparently the coins were not legal Medieval currency but plain old chocolate. They tried to do an archery exhibition too, but the square was too small.

Scenes from the jousting, showing horses and riders as they take the different tests with swords, spears and the to-be-cut carrot.

There were much fewer people for this exhibition since it was later in the evening (17:00) and because the evil-looking storm cloud just above our heads. Thus, this time, when the riders offered if someone wanted to take a picture on one of the horses, I got myself up a white Pure Spanish Breed warhorse, which was really cool. Then, the group asked if someone would take a picture of them, and I offered to do so.

All the horse-riding school performers, in character, both on horses and on foot, pose for the picture. They are all dressed in Medieval clothes and smiling.

We went to see the campsite afterwards, with different things that could have existed in Medieval times. One of the most interesting things was the forge, with the blacksmith at the ready. I hung out around the smithy for a while and as night fell, the sword started to take shape. I realised later that this was the sword that was going to be forged for the village, and not the one I had seen before the jousting.

A blacksmith hammering down metal to forge a sword and a guard.

I don’t know whatever happened to it, because I eventually moved away to find the final parade, in which a group of villagers dressed up as Moors from Granada, either friends or foes of the Count. The parade was lit with torches, and ended at main square Plaza de la Constitución again. There were also jugglers, fire-dancers, and some more swashbuckling. They also made a queimada, a distilled spirit with “magical powers” flavoured with herbs, cinnamon, sugar, herbs and coffee beans. A spell is usually requires an extra spell as it is prepared. While I would have wanted to try it, I did not dare do so before driving…

Collage of the final parade. A group of people wearing flashy red and gold clothes carrying torches. A woman dancing with fire torches in her hands. A man and a woman fighting with swords on fire. Two men dressed in Medieval attire on war horses.

A bit after 21:00, after roughly 12 hours of “fairing”, I got back on the car to drive home with a basketful of food and good memories to drive home before the temperature went below zero again. Only when I was home I realised I had not even taken my scarf off, and that it still had straw on it from the farm – which quite probably did not help with the allergies.

24th September 2022: Manzanares el Real & Alcalá de Henares (Spain)

My friend, whom I had not seen since January 2020 as the pandemic kept us apart, dropped by for a visit as she was in the area. Since the weather forecasting had not been promising, I had not booked anything, but given her a bunch of options to do. She was particularly taken by the castle in Manzanares El Real, a town in the Madrid area, so we drove there.

The palace-castle Castillo Nuevo de Manzanares El Real was built in the late 15th century as a replacement of the previous one by the House of Mendoza. The noble family was given control over the area the previous century, and after a hundred years living in the older castle, the new one was commissioned to Juan Guas, who designed the building in a on a Romanesque-Mudejar style. It was built in granite stone, with Isabelline Gothic decoration, mixing defensive / military, palatial and religious architecture. It was inhabited for about a century before it was abandoned. The castle was declared a Cultural Monument in 1931, and it has undergone several restorations. In 1961, it was used as shooting location for Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren’s “El Cid” film.

Considered one of the best-preserved castles in the Madrid area, the building it has four towers, six floors, and a central patio. It holds a collection of tapestries, and most of it can be walked. Unfortunately, the towers cannot be climbed, but you can walk around the walls, both in the terraced gallery and outside. It was a bit overpriced, but well-worth the visit.

Collage showing the castle. It is reddish with hard corners and rounded towers. The decoration is white and ornate.

We made a pause for lunch and tried the best wild asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius) that I have had in ages – just grilled with salt and lemon. We had some croquettes too.

Plate of perfectly-round croquettes and some crisps in the middle + plate of roasted green wild asparagus

As we had walked into the village for lunch, we only had to walk a little further to find the ruins of the original castle Castillo Viejo de Manzanares el Real. At the moment, only the foundations can be seen, though it is similar to the new one. The archaeological excavation started in the year 2022, but nothing much is known of it, except this one was an actual military fortress that predates the new castle. From there, the views of the new castle and the local church make a nice skyline of sorts.

Foundations of the old castle. Not much is seen, there is a sign reading "Old Castle Archaeological Excavation"

View of Manzanares el Real, showing modern roofs, the church tower, and the castle in the furthest background

It was still early in the afternoon, so I suggested stopping by Alcalá de Henares. I wanted to make a stop at a shop to check for something, but after a quick visit to the shopping centre, we moved on to what is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting buildings in town – the small palace house Palacete Laredo. Built in the Neo-Mudejar style, it is a bizarre combination of mosaics, moorish-like decorations, and vibrantly-coloured windows that somehow work, somehow. Though only about half of the building can be visited, I just find it bizarrely alluring. My friend loved it. Furthermore, the building has a few Complutensian Polyglot Bibles in display – the first polyglot edition of the Christian Holy book, published in the 16th century under the patronage of the Cardinal Cisneros, a key figure in local history.

Palacete Laredo: exterior and interior decorations + close up of the open bible, in Latin and Hebrew

We continued on, and walked round the city. We saw two back-to-back weddings at the cathedral Santa e Insigne Catedral-Magistral de los Santos Justo y Pastor – that meant we could not snoop into the cathedral, but we did see one of the brides arrive in a Rolls Royce.

Finally, we dropped by the archaeological museum Museo Arqueológico Regional, which has opened a very interesting new palaeontology ward – holding reproductions and real fossils of animals that used to live in the Madrid area, with a few coming from the palaeontological site of Cerro de los Batallones – most interestingly a Tetralophodon longirostris and a Machairodus aphanistus sabretooth cat.

Skeletons and skulls: mastodon, giant prehistoric giraffe that looks similar to a humongous goat, and sabretooth cat

We did a little more shopping afterwards, and eventually we drove off into the sunset… and the traffic. We ended up walking for 12.47 km (19078 steps), and driving for a good three hours, though M40 was so busy it actually felt like much much longer.

27th June 2022: One unexpected Aquarium visit. Zaragoza (Spain)

Because life is strange sometimes, I found myself travelling to Zaragoza in a super-slow train that took three and a half hours (while the high-speed train takes around one hour). It was somewhat of an emergency so we had to leave on Sunday in the late afternoon, and came back on Monday. We booked a hotel next to the station, one that had been built for the Expo 2008, and it goes without saying that the hotel had indeed seen better times.

My company was not required on Monday morning, so I walked towards the area that had been the Expo’08. I crossed river Ebro using the bridge Puente del Tercer Milenio, the longest concrete bow-string bridge in the world, designed by architect Juan José Arenas de Pablo.

Several views of Zaragoza's Millenium Bridge. It is white, arched in form, and the middle is held by a zigzag of wiring.

The north wind was blowing and it was a bit uncomfortable. Furthermore, the area where the Expo used to be was creepy. A lot of it was abandoned and / or fenced off, and even if they had tried to make it a park it just looked derelict and forsaken.

A collage of the parks, buildings and decorations from the former Expo 98. Everything looks derelict, with dry weeds growing where there used to be fountains. Interestingly, no windows are broken.

I looked over at the river Río Ebro. To both sides there were bridges – Pasarela del Voluntariado to the downstream to the left, and Pabellón Puente upstream to the right.

A panoramic from the river bank. There is a bird flying, the sky is blue and there are several clouds

Then I went to the river aquarium Acuario de Zaragoza, which prides itself in being the largest freshwater aquarium in Europe.

The aquarium is divided in five areas or rivers, organised surrounding a central freshwater tank called “World River”, where there are no sharks, but there are several arapaima (Arapaima gigas), one of the largest freshwater species of fish, up to 2 metres long.

Huge Amazonian fish swimming about.

The first river is the Nile (Egypt). It included (obviously) a bunch of fish, a couple of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), a Nile monitor lizard (Varanus niloticus, which had somehow by the way figured out that it lived in an enclosure with a sliding door and… was trying to get it open), a couple of lungfish, perches…

Collage: a Nile monitor lizard, Nile crocodiles chilling, and colourful fish.

The second river is the Mekong (China), which is known for its giant fish – as a matter of fact, the largest freshwater fish ever was recently found there. There are also an insane amount of catfish – in the river, the aquarium has them under control. The most interesting thing about the Mekong is the freshwater rays.

Collage: Big orange-and-red fish, and a freshwater ray, which is black with white spots. It looks a bit like a pan.

The third river is the Amazon (Brazil), which is the largest river ever, so there are three separate areas – the blackwater-flooded forest or Igapó, the forest itself, and the mangrove. The displays included Knysna turaco (Tauraco corythaix), which is the “only true red and green bird”, green iguana (Iguana iguana), catfish, red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri), electric eels (Electrophorus electricus), anaconda (Eunectes notaeus).

Collage: black and white fish with whiskers, a green and blue bird silendly judging the photographer, brightly-coloured fish and something that looks like a rock but it's actually a weird turtle.

Then there is the Darling-Murray river (Australia), which must be saltier than I had expected, because apparently clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) and anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) packs, and seahorses, along Pearl arowanas (Scleropages jardinii), tree frogs (Litoria caerulea), and the supercute (I think it was a) nobbi dragon (Diporiphora nobbi)…

Collage: A lizard, quite unamused; a clown fish hiding behind an anemone

Finally, there’s the Ebro river, the local one. There are the endemic barbs (“barbo de Graells” Luciobarbus graellsii), the local otter (Lutra lutra) and sturgeons (Acipenser sp.).

Collage: a turtle, an edible fish, and a blurry otter that would not stay still for a picture

Throughout the whole run there are hundreds of turtles – the aquarium runs a turtle rescue scheme in order to get abandoned pet turtles out from the rivers, mostly the pond slider (Trachemys scripta).

I saw some of the old Expo’08 mascot, and some people diving in the central tank – I don’t think I’d go into a tank with the arapaima, even if they were swimming near when I was feeding the manatee in Faunia. There were also some animals that had been rescued from illegal trade and donated to the aquarium.

After the aquarium, there was only coming back in yet another train that took over three hours. It was the weirdest trip I have ever taken…

13th March 2022: The outskirts of Madrid (Spain)

I’m usually rather enthusiastic when I visit new places, but if there is a place that I’ve found kind of over-hyped, that has been the park Parque del Capricho, in Madrid. “Capricho”, which means whim or folly – in its architectural meaning of an often extravagant picturesque building erected to suit a fanciful taste, or building erected for decoration, typical of the French and English decorative gardens from the 18th century. The park is located in Madrid, and the only romantic garden that remains in Madrid. It was promoted by the 12th Duchess of Osuna between 1787 and 1839, and became a recreational area for the nobility of the time. Some of the most important gardeners and landscapers of the time worked on its design. It was declared Historical Garden in 1934 and restored in 1999.

So it is a garden, with some plants, some flowers, and a bunch of weird-looking decorative items, that takes itself a bit too seriously. It won’t accept pets and you can’t bring any food inside (it has some cage-looking “lockers” were you can leave your stuff.”. There is a strict capacity control that does nothing for it not to feel ridiculously crowded on a regular nice-weather Sunday. Maybe it improves in spring / summer, and with fewer people, but I had some stuff to do in the area and that is why I made time to visit today.

It had been raining all week, so I had mostly scrapped my plans. It was a great sunny day though so in the end I decided to get there. Parking the car was ridiculously easy – though the parking spot was maxed out, I found a very easy one in the avenue next to the park – good, it was close as I would not put my sandwich in the crappy-looking lockers and preferred taking it back to the car. Then I walked in, and explored for a couple of hours – and don’t tell anyone, but I ate a piece of candy, just to be rebellious (≧▽≦) (and to make sure I did not sugar crash without any food around, but that does not really make for a good story).

While I of course did not expect everything to be blooming and colourful and green… I hoped that it would have at least maintained through winter. No such luck. A bunch of areas were fenced off, the footpaths were swamped with puddles, and the water in the ponds was not as clean as it should have been. Exploring the 14 hectares took me about an hour and a half, considering that I did go into all the little paths, but all the buildings were closed and / or under constructions. There is a Civil War bunker in the park too, but that is only open through pre-booked guided visit and I did not know I was going to do this 30 minutes before I jumped on the car. The few flowers that had already bloomed included the garden pansies (Viola × wittrockiana, which are after all winter flowers), and the yellow and white daffodils (narcissus, maybe the subspecies jonquil Narcissus jonquilla). There were a couple of black swans (Cygnus atratus) at the main pond, and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) on every second water body, including fountains.

Pond in the park. There are some flowers and buildings around it, and a black swan sunbathing.

Collage of different park decoration: a bush labyrinth, a fountain, and some decoration reminding of Greek temples.

Afterwards, I took a small detour to see if any of the Japanese cherry trees in the park opposite the street Parque Juan Carlos I had started blossoming. The answer was not at all. But the point was heading to the restored castle Castillo de la Alameda. The castle dates back to the 15th century, though there are older remains underneath, and it is thought that its presence is the one that got all the aristocrats to flock to the area, as it switched from defensive castle to palace.

The remains of the castle feature an irregular moat with lobe-like structures in the corners, and the restored keep, which stands up to the first floor, though it must have been much higher. An interesting characteristic of the castle is that it was built using a kind of mortar made from flint. I have to say it was a nice surprise, free to visit.

A clover-shaped castle ruins, all white. There is not much of the castle left, but the moat is almost intact, though empty

To the side of the castle there is a casemate – a fortified machine gun emplacement from the Spanish Civil War, called Nido de Ametralladoras (Machine gun nest), a semi buried cement block for snipers of sorts to defend the position.

Concrete block that was used as a machine-gun base

Then I moved onto Mejorada del Campo a little town near Madrid that only has one tourist attraction – a… handmade cathedral. Of sorts – Catedral de Justo Gallego .

Justo Gallego was born in 1925. Deeply Catholic, he became a young monk-in-training but had to leave the monastery when he contracted tuberculosis. He made a vow to erect a cathedral to the Virgin Mary in her “Lady of the Pillar” avocation, and he sort of did. Throughout the next 60 years he worked on building the cathedral, using recycled material, and on his own. His work came to fame when a soft-drink company made him the star of an advertising campaign, which made him and his work famous.

The cathedral has 12 towers, a crypt, two cloisters, a baptistery, and the main nave is 20×50 metres, with a 35 metres high dome. Most of it was done by hand, using discarded items such as tubes and bicycle wheels. It is garish and childish in its decoration, but I found it to have some strange allure. The cathedral has drawn the attention of international artists and institutions, and apparently Gallego built it without any blueprints or knowledge of construction. Upon his death, an architectural studio started working on “legalising” the cathedral (from an urbanistic point of view; it is not an official Christian building) and is it is now under management from an NGO. It was just a bizarre thing to see, but interesting since I was in the area (sort of. Construction made the route stupidly long), glad I’ve visited it at least once. I did catch a European white stork (Ciconia ciconia ciconia) coming home to one of the towers.

Cathedral made out of recycled items: pipes, plastic bottles, irons... there is a dome and a nave, in bizarre colours.

A stork approaches one of the towers of the cathedral

I drove off afterwards, and I have to say the weather that day was amazing – just in-between two piss-poor ones, so yay spring escapade.

Walking distance: 11.18 km (16916 steps)

26th February 2022: A Medieval Fair in Tendilla (Spain)

Tendilla is a tiny village in the area of Guadalajara, Spain. It was declared a town – by Medieval standards at least in 1394. About a century later, the County of Tendilla was founded. By that time, the local cattle fair, around the festivity of St. Matthew, was considered one of the best in the Kingdom of Castile, with the Catholic Monarchs bestowing their blessings on the town. Among the most interesting areas are the long covered arcades, and the unfinished church dating back from the 16th century, Iglesia de la Asunción.

The cattle fair was rekindled in the 1990s, and today it is called Feria de Mercaderías de San Matías. The closest weekend to the 24th of February, St. Matthew’s day, a Medieval market is laid along Main Street, with edibles, trinkets and artisan items. The village becomes decorated with flags, pennons showing off real and assumed heraldry items.

This year, I decided to get there as some family members were going to be in the house they own in the village. I arrived at around 10 am, and by that time most the village was already full. I got deviated, but it was not hard to find a parking spot. Unfortunately the weather had not decided to accompany and it was rainy and freezing all day.

The fair stalls had begun to open, but first we made a run for the local grocery stores to grab some ingredients for lunch. The typical thing to eat in this time are migas, which are basically fried breadcrumbs with paprika, pork, garlic and a fried egg on top. We also bought sweets and confectioneries, just because we could.

At noon, we walked along Main Street Calle Mayor. The stalls were already open, and even in the bad weather there were quite a few people. Some were even in costume, dressed in Medieval outfits, as dames, knights or noblemen.

A wide street. There are flags hanging above and from the balconies, and shopping stands on the right. the sky is dark and heavy, as in all the pictures taken

A wide street. There are flags hanging above, and shopping stands on the both sides, selling hand-made jewellry and trinkets.

A Romanesque church with a bell tower. The church is unfinished.

Main square. It has a pole in the middle, and colourful ribbons run from it to the buildings around the square. The floor has been covered in sand, and the houses are decorated with flags. Lots of people walk around.

To the end of the village, a small “farm” had been installed – oxen, horses, cows, goats, donkies, sheep, rabbits, piglets… Due to the ‘health situation’ which for once was not Covid but avian flu, there were no ducks or hens or any kind of bird. You could hold the bunnies, but I really really wanted to hug the huge draft horses.

Farm animals: a donkey, two piglets, cows, rabbits, a sheep trying to eat the camera, a working horse.

Farm animals: goats trying to escape the pen, oxen ignoring the camera, a black-and-white cow wanting pets, and a working horse looking tired.

Someone had not really thought positioning carefully though, and right in front of the farm – and the piglets – stood the food stalls, especially a roaster, whose cooked pork was… suspiciously similar to the piglets in the farm *coughs*.

On the other side of the farm, the locals had started preparing the communal migas – every visitor is entitled to a plate of them, but it was way too cold to queue. Instead of being topped with an egg, though, they are sprinkled with torreznos, pork lard fried and preserved.

A huge barbecue with pork roasting and sausages. The barbeque itself is round, and it's big enough to fit at least a dozen ribcages, ten pork legs, and twenty or thirty sausages.

A person using a shovel to stir a huge pot of breadcrumbs being cooked, and a close up of the severd plate: orange-looking breadcrumbs with dried fried pork lard on top.

On our way back we ran into the horse parade and show, which was held in front of the town hall. The riders of El Duque Espectáulos, dressed in Medieval and Templar costumes, trotted and galloped along the music.

A group of medieval-looking horse riders making their way through the crowds

An older man making a golden horse trot and gallop on command, the horse is photographed mid-hop

Riders in medieval clothing galloping on the Main square

We stopped to buy some torreznos to take home, and we got given the tourist treat – a cloth bag with a huge box of fried pork skin. It is tastier than it sounds, honest!

A tote bag reading Tendi (the rest of the writing is obscured), with a box of torreznos inside

We had lunch at home, and not to show off, but I do think our breadcrumbs looked much better. We made them ourselves, with chorizo meat and eggs sunny side up! They looked so much better than the communal ones, right?!

A plate of migas. The breadcrumbs look golden, and there are pieces of pancetta and chorizo mixed with the bread. On top, there is a fried egg, sunny-side up

Finally, after lunch, we took another stroll, but the weather was miserable, raining and cold – which was so mean because the following day when I had to work it was nice and sunny, and there was a bird of prey exhibit.

Romanesque and Baroque buildings, deserted in the rain. One of them is a tiny hermit church, the other a column, and the third a palace that has seen better times

But all in all I spent a nice time with family and got to pat horses and goats. I guess there are much worse ways to spend a Saturday.

Walked distance: 6.20 km (9866 steps)

1st January 2022: Barranco de la Hoz & some towns around (Spain)

I found myself socially free on the first so I decided to kick off the year by improvising a hike – and when I arrived at the parking lot I realised I was crazy person #3 to have the same plan. To be honest I kind of went along the flow for half of the day trip, with just a faint idea of what to do.

My first stop was an area in the natural park Parque Natural del Alto Tajo. One of the tributaries, the River Gallo, has eroded a deep valley in the sandstone and calcareous rockbed – Barranco de la Hoz, which translates to something akin to “Gorge Ravine” (though technically it could also be “Sickle Ravine”). The gorge is located in the north of the province of Guadalajara. Two hundred million years ago (Early Triassic period), the area was covered by the same sea that gave way to all the fossils that can be found in Albarracín and reached the muddy areas where dinosaurs left their footprints in Enciso.

When the sea level receded, it left behind different layers of rock, that have been painstakingly excavated by the river Río Gallo for the last two million years or so (Quaternary period). There are conglomerates at the very base of the gorge, and red sandstone, calcite and dolomite in the upper parts. The vertical wall is around 115 metres high. At the base there is also a small hermit church. According to the legend, during the Middle Ages, the Virgin Mary appeared to one of the shepherds in the area – that is the reason why the area is also called Barranco de la Virgen de la Hoz. Next to the sanctuary there is a restaurant / hotel, and a parking lot. Along the river bank there are several tables for picnics and so.

Being the insomniac I am, waking up after the New Year celebration was not excessively hard. As mentioned though, as I was not sure I would be free until the previous evening, I just went along the flow of the day. I drove off and reached the gorge at around 11:00. The the car measured a temperature of -1 ºC. I was wearing five layers anyway so I was all right. Just before reaching the parking area, I had to yield to a sounder of wild boars.

The sanctuary is the starting point of a path of around 400 steps carved and sculpted onto the vertical wall, ascending over 110 metres. The climb was not as hard as I expected, especially as the sun shone on the steps. I reached the mid-viewpoint in less than 15 minutes and sprawled on the stone ground for a little to bask in the sun. As I continued upwards, I encountered a small lizard doing the same sun-basking routine – Iberian wall lizard Podarcis hispanicus (maybe?). I finally reached the top of the gorge and I was the first on the upper viewpoint area for a while. Throughout the hike up, the strata can be clearly seen, along with fossilised ripples, fracture lines and the hints of some folds. The steps and viewpoints are protected by markers and verandas (helpful at points).

Halfway up a reddish sandstone wall. The picture faces the rising sun, and at the bottom of the ravine is the river, with the evergreen trees around.

Close up of a lizard hidden amonng leaves

Although you are technically supposed to stay on the trail, I honestly wanted to explore the upper edge of the gorge, so I went towards the rocky cliffs to the east. I came across marks caused by of boars, and European wildcat (Felis silvestris) paw prints, I also saw some birds of prey (very maybe a golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos) , but not the right time to see much fauna – probably because around noon people started arriving with dogs. Also, it was stupidly warm for a first of January… Good thing I was using the good-old technique of having a lot of layers and shedding / putting them on as I felt warmer or colder.

A panoramic view of a rabine, with the river at the bottom.

A panoramic view of the top of a ravine, with the cut-off walls dropping from sight

A view of the vertical sandstone walls that create the ravine

A flying bird of prey and some animal tracks: a paw print and removed ground from a boar digging for acorns.

After an hour or so, I made my way downwards and I visited the church now that it was empty and walked into the area where the legend says the Virgin appared.

A hermit church built against / into the vertical wall of the ravine

Then I walked around the river bed for a while. The river bank was covered in frosted leaves, and the water was quite cold. I layered up again…

The wall of the ravine from the riverbank

Ivy and fallen leaves on the ground. The rims are white with frost and ice

At around 13:15 I decided to head over to Molina de Aragón. It was New Year’s Day, so I did not expect anything to be open, so I just wanted to wander round for a while. Though the town is considered one of the coldest places in the area, when I parked it was warm. I found the castle Castillo de Molina and wandered around for a bit. The castle has three distinctive parts – the walled fortress, the lone watchtower Torre de Aragón, and the back area, which was cordoned off, but not walled, Prao de los Judíos. The first Arab castle or alcázar was built the 10th century, over an older Celtiberian hill fort. In the 12th century, it was conquered by the Christians and rebuilt in the Romanesque style. Out of the eight towers that the castle had, four of them have survived, along the ruins of two more.

A rectangular castle with quite a few towers and battlements on top. Around half of it is reconstructed, the rest is in ruins

Afterwards, I took a stroll down the town. There are many churches dating to the Medieval times, most of them Romanesque style, some already showing hints of Gothic: Parroquia de San Felipe, Iglesia de Santa Clara, Iglesia de San Pedro, Iglesia de San Martín, Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor de San Gil. There were also some mansions and palaces.

Buildings in Molina. They all look reddish due to the characteristic rocks used to build them

I tried to locate a bridge I had seen trying to find a parking spot, and it only took a couple of wrong turns to do so. The bridge is Puente Viejo, the old Romanesque bridge, built in the reddish calcites that are characteristic of the area. From there I also peeked onto Monasterio de San Francisco, originally from the 13th Century, though the current building dates from the 18th century.

A reddish stone bridge over the river. It has three arches, but today only the left arch is over the river, the other two are over grass.

A church with an angel on top of the belltower

It was already late afternoon, and I had a couple of options. In the end I decided to head back in order not to drive through the sunset – at this time of the year, the sun’s glare would hit me square in the eyes in the highway. However, on my way towards the gorge, I had driven through a tiny village, Rillo de Gallo, where, for some reason, there is a Modernist-style house, called, more or less formally, El Capricho Rillano (The Folly in Rillo), as a lot of Modernist buildings have the “whim” name in them. It was apparently erected by a builder who apparently liked the aesthetics, without an architect being involved. It was… interesting, though the village was tiny and it was difficult to get into it and find a place to leave the car without blocking a street.

Bizarre modernist house. The construction looks wavy, with snakes and twisted columns. The balcony is held out by gigantic hands.

That was the whole day in the end, I drove back home, and did not have much trouble with sunset. As a whole, I drove around 300 km, and walked just a little over 10 km. And it was way warmer than expected for a first of January! Here’s to hoping that it was a promising start to 2022…

12th November 2021: Beech Unplugged – Hayedo de la Tejera Negra (Spain)

One of the Unesco World Heritage Sites is “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”. The “other regions of Europe” actually makes the site expand into 94 forests in 18 European countries – three of these forest are in Spain. A primeval forest, in layman’s terms “old-growth forest” is one that has been allowed to thrive without significant alteration from humans. Most of Europe’s temperate forests have been altered by human activities, so the protected areas are patched throughout the continent.

One of the protected areas is the beech forest Hayedo de la Tejera Negra. The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a deciduous tree from the same family as oaks. The trees usually measure up to around 30 m, tend to have a slim trunk and grow branches high on the tree. The leaves are simple, though they are toothed, the shape is soft. They change colour in autumn from green to gold and tend not to be shed but stay in the tree unless the weather brings them down. They grow in humid areas, but they require a well-drained soil. Forests tend to be thick and dark, with few other species as the beech canopy takes up all the light.

The forest is located in the centre of Spain, and it is part of the natural park Parque Natural de la Sierra Norte de Guadalajara, some 30 km away from the Aljibe Waterfalls. Beech forests tend to grow in colder climates, so this one is a relict forest from times when Spain was cooler and wetter (maybe what is called the Little Ice Age between 1300 and 1850). The fact that it remains is due to a very precise location – low valleys with a lot of shades and shadow where fog and mist are common and it rains rather often. Furthermore, the calcite-rich area makes the soil ideal for beeches. The reality of it being a Primeval forest is thrown has doubts cast as the forest was actually cut down twice – 1860 and 1960.

The beech forest technically belongs to Cantalojas, in the north of the province of Guadalajara, Spain. There is an inner parking lot that has to be reserved in advance for just under 5€ (access between 10:00 and 13:00), and a free-access parking lot at the edge of it. In order to get there, the first step is to arrive in Cantalojas. There, a bumpy rail gets to the beginning of the park, where the checkpoint stands, you can either leave your car here and walk the longer trail (Senda del Robledal), or if you have an inner parking reservation, you will get waved through the longer driving path, 8 km long. Once in the parking lot, you may walk the inner trail.

After my first try to visit the park was fouled by the driving path being closed on weekdays and the parking lot full, and my second by the bad weather, I was finally on my way on Friday the 12th of November – took long enough! The roughly 100 km took a bit more than expected due to a good part of the road having a lower speed-limit than normal, as it is considered a “dangerous mountain road”. There is also loose cattle around the roads, and I came across a few cows having a field day. In the end, I drove for an hour and forty-five minutes, and started walking around 11:30. I took the shorter, inner trail, called Senda de Carretas, which is around 6 km long. Depending on which resource you look at, between two and three hours are expected to hike it.

The trail starts in the lower valley, between the creek Río Lillas and the lower pine forest, whose trees won’t lose their leaves anyway. Thus, even if the weather is turning cold this area is still very green. The name of the trail translates into “Trail of Carts” as it was used in the past to transport coal that was produced in the beech forest. As the trail turns to the left, it starts ascending, leaving behind the valley and the pines. First, there is an area of low bushes and trees, where pieces of calcite rock are abundant, then it delves first into the oak forest, which has already turned brown.

A sign reading Senda de Carretas. Behind it, a small valley. A creek runs at the bottom, and the sides are covered in pines and other evergreen trees.

A rock formation, with vertical cracks, and bushes in the background

Beech trees, looking brown / orange / golden in the autumn weather.

There were way more people than I had been expecting for a weekday – a lot of them were hiking in groups and unfortunately loud, which made catching a glimpse of any animal impossible. The forest was beautiful though. Around one-third in I came across the sculpture that recreates the old coal-ovens, La Carbonera.

A hut made out of thin trunks. The autumn leaves have accumulted against

I continued hiking up, and after a pretty wooden bridge, the steep slope started. This was a bit harder than I had anticipated, and made the mistake of taking a break in-between, so I lost my pace. At the end of the slope I found the open prairie Pradera de la Mata Redonda, which looks down on the valley and up onto the multi-coloured mountain.

The valley from above. There are no trees, but a high plane with bushes and scattered grey rocks covered in lynchen

After a short look-around, I continued on the hiking path. Here I could actually see something unexpected… snow! Do you remember that my second attempt had been thwarted by the weather? Well, there were the remainders of so… This was in my opinion the most beautiful part of the forest, as the descend starts. The beech forest was completely golden at this point, and the ground was also covered on leaves. This is the part that gives the forest its fame, and it is well-deserved, at least in autumn.

Grey path into the forest. On the sides there are brown / gold trees, green bushes, and even a bit of snow.

A whole forest of beeches in gold, brown and golden colours; the ground is covered in leaves.

When I reached a fork on the road, I continued for a little on the Senda del Robledal (Oak forest trail), then took the path down towards the parking lot. The forest opened up and I eventually got to the parking lot, where I got on the car and drove away at around 14:45. I took a little over three hours in total and walked 7.46 km.

A whole forest of beeches in gold, brown and golden colours; the ground is covered in leaves

On my way back I drove past more cows chilling out – the complete drive was a bit under 200 km. And I did not have signal for the whole day, which was a nice change for a while.

A black cow chilling at the side of the road - they actually have the right of way in this area

6th November 2021: Torrejón de Ardoz & Guadalajara (Spain)

No matter how much some people demonise it, one true thing is that a great chunk of the Spanish general income is dependent on tourism. That’s why when the 2008 recession hit the country, many areas or municipalities tried to fabricate tourist attractions where there used to be none. Torrejón de Ardoz is one of these places – despite shouldering a huge debt, it gambled a couple of tourist lure. One is a huge winter lights (Christmas) display, which runs from November through January. The other is a huge park in a former slum, called Parque Europa, Europe Park.

Parque Europa was described as “Pharaonic” upon its inauguration in 2010. It covers a whooping 23 hectares of trees, bushes, ponds, rides for kids and replicas of different European monuments and landmarks, both real and art depictions. I can’t be sure if in the end the park managed to break a profit, but the reviews online do sound like it did.

In winter, the park opens at 9.00 am, and I thought that if I managed to get there relatively early in the morning, I might find a free parking spot around the area. Online reviews do talk about limited parking space aimed to fill the pay-per-car parking lot close to the entrances, so I thought I’d try to leave the park in the streets of the industrial complex nearby. After a couple of Sat-Nav mishaps – human-caused aka I forgot the adapter for it to work in the car (≧▽≦) – I was on my way and I reached the neighbourhood a bit before 10.00 am. As I was driving towards my intended parking spot I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, so when I turned and found a random parking spot, I decided to just ditch the car. There were many double-parked cars ahead so I thought the rest of the street would be packed. At that time in the morning, I could have just parked in front of one of the access gates without problems, apparently. So I had to walk two whole extra minutes!! In the end though, that parking spot was even closer than the ones I planned to look for – so it was all good.

I wanted something to do in the morning outside the house so I did not have a plan per se (to be honest, I had long made the afternoon plans and I wanted something to do in the morning to make the most out of the disposable contacts). However, as the fountains were turned on at noon, I wanted to leave them for last. Fortunately, most of them are in the same area of the park – which is shaped like a ham of sorts. At that time most of the children rides were closed, and I was mostly alone except for people jogging or walking their dogs, and it was rather chilly. But I wanted to see the replicas, so that was all right.

These are the monument replicas that are hosted in the park, in the order I saw them, turning clockwise from the entrance I used:

  • Puerta de Alcalá (Gate to Alcalá), Madrid, Spain. Neoclassical gate to the former walls in Madrid. Today it is considered World Heritage as part of the “Paisaje de la Luz”.
  • Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), Lisbon, Portugal. Officially named Torre de São Vicente (Tower of Saint Vincent), a 16th-century port fortification for Portuguese explorers, with high symbolism and ceremony.
  • Tower Bridge, London, United Kingdom. Crossing the River Thames, it is one of the most iconic London landmarks.
  • Kinderdijkse molens, the Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands. The original windmills were designed as part of water drainage to drain the excess water in the Alblasserwaard polder.
  • Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Berlin, Germany. It is one of the most characteristic landmarks in the country, a monument built in the place of a former wall gate in the 18th century.
  • Den lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid), Copenhagen, Denmark. This small sculpture is displayed on a rock in the a promenade in Copenhagen, and depicts the mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale becoming human.
  • La tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower), Paris, France, built for the entrance to the 1889 World’s fair and one of the most visited monuments of the world.
  • Michelangelo’s David, Florence, Italy. One of the masterpieces of the Renaissance sculpture, standing 5.17 m of white marble. This replica I didn’t get to see because it had been either stolen or taken away for restoration.
  • Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), Rome, Italy. Dating back from 1762, the fountain is a “more dramatic” version of a previous one at the end of one of the Roman aqueducts. The fountain was turned on at noon and it had just a little water.
  • Manneken Pis (“Little Pissing Man”), Brussels, Belgium. It is a bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy peeing into the basin, dating back from the 17th century.
  • Atomium, Brussels, Belgium. This stainless steel building was constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, and renovated between 2004 – 2006. It stands 102 metres high and some of the spheres are open to the public and hosts exhibitions.

There are also “adaptations” or monuments that you can “sort of” identify but have been more freely reproduced.

  • Greek Theatre, based on the Athens one, with the Winged Victory of Samothrace watching over in a bit of an artistic license move I guess, considering it was a ship figurehead. The actual one is in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The theatre is built into the slope of the central pond of the park so visitors can see the light and sound show in said pond when they are held.
  • Plaza de España (Square of Spain). The centre of the square is the famous “Puerta del Sol” in Madrid and the older Post office. Its back represents the Main Square of the city. Other houses represent different regional buildings throughout Spain that I was unable to recognise.
  • Viking Ship fountain. There is not much I can say about this. It was one of the fountains, and this one was turned before any of the others.

Inspired by paintings, there are two other monuments.

  • The Three Graces. While the park’s webpage claims that the sculpture is a copy of the one that Antonio Canova created, it looks like it was sculptured using Ruben’s painting as inspiration. This one was the first monument I saw.
  • Van Gogh’s bridge”, a wooden bridge inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s painting “The Langlois Bridge at Arles”. I missed it at first so I had to backtrack and I did not find a good angle to see it from the side.

An original piece is the fountain called Plaza de Europa, Europe Square, a circular square with stars forming little fountains. This was one of the fountains I had to wait till noon to see and to be honest, I was… underwhelmed, expecting way more by the pictures on the website. I’m not sure if it was just “winter fountain” or whether the sprouts were set on low because it was a bit windy.

What was interestingly impressive was the original piece of the Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall. During the Cold War, after WWII, Berlin was partitioned into West Germany and East Germany with the erection of the wall in 1961 (in what was called the Berlin Crisis of 1961). It was all built within the eastern border as it was the USSR who decided to put it up. The Wall separated the city halves for decades, there were even deaths as people from the east tried to defect to the west. The wall officially but metaphorically fell in November 1989 as the political powers who had driven its building agonised. The piece that stands in Parque Europa originally stood in Postdamer Platz and was ceded to Torrejón by the city of Berlin and it stands behind the Brandenburg Gate.

There are many other areas and activities for kids. A number of them were already opening up by the time I left, others seemed to be on hold due to pandemic concerns. The park has different things to draw attention too, such a giant bird cage (mostly full of parakeets), three life-sized elephants made out of bush, gardens, or an artificial waterfall – which did not get turned on. I saw a lot of birds too – magpies, swans, mallards and some very territorial Egyptian geese (I think that they were Egyptian geese. I’m absolutely sure they were territorial).

I left Torrejón at around 12:30, I think. I took care of some errands on the way, had lunch, and then I headed off to the second part of my self-imposed day off. A late-Halloween activity that ran throughout the month of November: Arquitectura y escultura funeraria in Guadalajara: a walking tour with a focus on the funerary architecture and sculpture in town. Well, at least with a stop at those places that are directly controlled by the town hall, missing those that are not. Yes, I voluntarily signed up for a guided visit! Unfortunately, information on Guadalajara is rather difficult to find, so I thought there might be interesting knowledge to be gathered (Narrator’s voice: there wasn’t).

The tour started at the local cemetery Cementerio Municipal Virgen De La Antigua, where we saw several tombs and pantheons dating from the 19th century and the early 20th century. These included:

  • Panteón de la Tropa, the “Troop mausoleum”, a communal grave for soldiers who died in the African campaigns, where supposedly some of the Civil Wars victims were buried. It actually is not the place, but legends are legends, I guess.
  • Panteón de los Marqueses de Villamejor – a neoclassical mausoleum where a noble family was interred.
  • Monumento funerario de la Familia Cuesta Sanz, a creepy obelisk-looking tomb.
  • Some smaller mausoleums (or big graves) Panteón de María Luisa García Gamboa, Panteón de la Familia Chavarri, Panteón de Josefa Corrido de Gaona, and Panteón de la familia de Ripollés Calvo. All these are stone tombs with a rounded roof that drains off rainwater.
  • Panteón de los Condes de Romanones, the place of eternal rest of another noble family, whose head was the son of the previous one.
  • Kittens

We then walked off towards the chapel Capilla de Luis de Lucena. Luis de Lucena was a doctor and a priest who was born in the 15th century. He died in Rome as he worked as a doctor for the Pope, but he expected to be buried in this chapel, adjacent to a now-disappeared church. The outer area is built in brick, and the inner ceilings have several frescoes, even if they are rather deteriorated as the town had no money to take care of the art during the 90s and the early 2000s. The chapel was never used as a burial place, and now it is a tiny museum that keeps rests of other disappeared churches in town, especially the funerary sculptures.

The final spot was the crypt of the church of St. Francis – Cripta de la Iglesia de San Francisco, built in dark marble and similar to the one in El Escorial. This is where the Mendoza duchy family members were buried, but the area was ransacked by the French during the Napoleonic wars and the remains were taken to Pastrana afterwards, so the crypt is currently empty. Which is good considering the way some of the tombs are shattered…

This concluded the tour so I was free to go. I saved up the entry fee on the chapel and the crypt as the tour was free. Most of the tour was just crawling from one point to the other and there was not that much new information to be learnt. Maybe there is jut not enough information to be found…

Driven distance: around 83 km.
Walking distance: 13.14 km

1st July 2021: Manatees are Zen (Faunia, Madrid, Spain)

Madrid has two zoos, the traditional one which can be traced back to 1770, and a second one which opened in 2001. They actually belong to the same business group anyway so probably the whole point is just to charge more – and to expand the installations. They operate as independent entities. On the first of July, due to a number of circumstances coming together, I visited Faunia, the newer installation. The standard price for a ticket is around 28€ – but there are plenty of different discounts. I paid 18.90€ for a random Thursday discount that they’ve got.

Though it promotes itself as a “Nature Theme park”, Faunia is little more than a modern standard zoo. Of course, it is much better than the old zoos, and the animals are well-kept, an organisation in ecosystems or areas is not that much of a novelty any more. There are different areas: farm / petting zoo, night, lake, jungle, temperate forest, African forest, Australia…

Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the largest lizard in the world, endemic to some Indonesian islands. They are venomous.
Tufted capuchin (Sapajus apella), an omnivorous primate from South America.
Red panda (Ailurus fulgens), an animal that is so different from everything else that it has its own family name all by itself. It is native to the Himalayas and the south west of China.
American flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber), long-legged wading birds famous for their pink colour that tend to live in flocks.
Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), a group-forming species endemic to Madagascar. They are attitude-laden and fear-lacking little fellas who love to sunbathe.

Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda): a small fox with large ears which lives in the Sahara and the Sinai Peninsula.
Southern tamandua or lesser anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla), a species of anteater from the forests of South America and the Caribbean, which feeds on ants, termites and bees.
Kangaroo Rat (genus Dipodomys), tiny nocturnal rodents from North America that can jump over two metres
Butterflies – don’t expect me to be able to ID them, but my money is on Antiochus Longwing, a south American small butterfly
Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), a found in marshes, rivers and lakes in throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They are opportunistic and aggressive predators which ambush their prey in or near the water. And they can gallop. Look that up.

Arapaima (Sudis gigas), a giant fish native to the Amazon. They eat smaller fish, crustaceans, fruits, seeds, insects and any small land animal that they can catch on shore. Furthermore, this is an air-breather. It is a top predator that can become invasive if placed somewhere else.
Redtail catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus), another carnivorous fish from the Amazon. Never trust a catfish, they can literally eat you by accident (or on purpose).
Caiman (family Alligatoridae), reptile predators originating in South America. They are large and aggressive, but they tend to hut fish. Did you know that
Penguins (family Spheniscidae) are a group of aquatic flightless birds. Most live in the Southern Hemisphere, and they feed on krill, fish, squid and so on that they catch underwater. Contrary to the myth, not all penguins live in the cold, a lot of them live in temperate climates.
Coral reef, with clownfish (family Pomacentridae) and sea anemones (order Actiniaria) living in symbiosis.

Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) aka Timon from the Lion King.
Red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), similar to but smaller than a kangaroo, and also friendlier. They, of course, originate from Australia. The Faunia webpage says that you can go into the pen and walk among them, but I didn’t try.
Yellow-banded poison dart frog (Dendrobates leucomelas). It is an amphibian which lives in the humid areas in the north of South American. They secrete toxins from their skin. Do not pet, much less lick.
Blue viper of the white-lipped island pit viper (Trimeresurus insularis). Beautiful, venomous, aggressive and feisty, this snake is originary from Indonesian islands.
Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica), it is really there. It is another venomous snake, and it has the longest fangs among snakes. And yes, it is really there.

White-cheeked turaco (Menelikornis leucotis), originary from forest in the highland regions of Eastern Africa.
Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum), a large bird from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), a wading bird from South America, with a very characteristic beak, hence the name
Macaws (genus Ara), endemic to Central and South America. They are “seed predators” which means they destroy the seeds to eat them
Scarlet ibises (Eudocimus ruber), another colourful bird whose original habitat is the coastal areas of South America. They use their long beaks to prove for food in mud or under plants – they eat a lot of small crustaceans, which gives them their particular colour

I guess it is worth a visit, but that’s just about it, if you consider it from a shallow point of view – because when you start getting deep into things, everything gets ridiculously expensive. Because the thing that does differentiate Faunia from other zoos is the fact that it offers “hands-on experiences.” Some of these are about 5 or 6€ and include a short talk inside one of the pens – such as “meeting” the pelicans or the penguins.

For example, the Pelican interaction consists in walking into the pen and seeing the birds from afar sitting on a bench while one caretaker explains basic biology facts and the other tries to get a pelican to eat trouts for a bit of a close-up “feeling”. Pelicans are large water birds spread all through the world but Antarctica. Their most important characteristic is the large throat pouch under their long beak, that they use to “fish” – they fill their pouch with a billful of water and keep whatever they can digest. Faunia has pink-backed pelicans (Pelecanus rufescens) great white pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus)

There are however other more expensive interactions, on the range of 40 to 50€, and one of them is the one I did – the interaction with the Manatees. Faunia has three West Indian manatees of the Antillean subspecies (Trichechus manatus manatus). Manatees are aquatic mammals – they breathe air and they spend all of their lives in the water, either salt or freshwater in South America. They don’t have natural predators, so they lack predator-avoidance responses, which makes them very tame and friendly. Unfortunately, they are critically endangered in the wild, mostly due to human-related deaths: hunting, habitat destruction and collision with ships. As they are herbivorous, they eat fresh and saltwater algae and plants, they are sometimes called “sea cows”, and eat plants and algae – males are called bulls, females cows and babies calves. They are sturdy and they can weigh between 400 and 550 kg, measuring up to 3 m in length. They have a long spine with pectoral flippers that have five fingers, but no rear flippers. Their body ends in a paddle-shaped tail. The neck is not visible and the head is stocky. They don’t have ears, their eyes are small and their snout is short, with nostrils that can be closed when they are underwater. They have a prehensile lip that they use to gather food and for social communication and interaction.

And they are adorable.

The manatees in Faunia are named Bruno, Fiona and Pelusa (“Dustbunny”), with the latter being the two-year-old daughter of the other two, born in the park. They live in the tank located in “The Jungle” area (La Jungla), sharing their space with catfish, arapaima and pirapitinga (the good-rep fish in the piranha family). For the interaction, you are asked to bring your bathing suit, towel and pool flip-flops. I arrived at the meeting point early and waited eagerly for the staff to come pick me up. Then I was guided into the inner area of the Jungle building, up a metal staircase and I changed into the neoprene suit.

As we waited for the other people to be collected, I saw the manatees swimming around, already anticipating the food. They had mulberry leaves, endives, and banana pieces for treats, and lettuce of different kinds as their main meals. The interaction itself is a kind of training for the animals. The trainers go in with an acoustic signal, and the animals recognise their own names, and each goes to the trainer assigned to them – you also get assigned a trainer so you don’t mess up.

There are two parts of the interaction. First, you get to feed “your” manatee whatever you are given. Normally, there are two people per manatee, but as this was in the middle of the week, even if in summer, we were lucky enough to only be three visitors – which meant your own personal manatee. Mine was Pelusa, the baby, and she was way more interested in the mulberry than the endives. During this part you keep your FFP mask on.

For the second part you “go down” with a snorkelling mask and even if you’re still on the platform you get to feed “whomever comes to you”, seeing the interaction from within the water. To finish up, you give your manatee a small branch for them to eat and play with, and they are released, you change back into your clothes and leave. My interaction took about one hour, and I was lucky enough that I had an “infiltrate” who took pictures from the “underwater tunnel” that crosses the tank. I also bought myself one of the official pictures that the resident photographer takes, because I really, really wanted a good picture.

All in all, it was awesome, and it even felt that the manatees came to wave bye-bye as I left through the tunnel.

As a zoo, as I mentioned, Faunia is a very standard one, with very few things that would make it special if not for the interactions. It could do with some more shades, because just after lunchtime it became really hot. Most food kiosk were closed due to COVID measures, and there were several vending machines. There were a lot of kids doing “urban camp” activities, and I got ran over twice – one of them pretty painfully to be honest.

Aside from the animals, there is a roller-coaster, also down due to COVID and a “dinosaur canyon” with dummies and animatronics that have really seen better days.

T-rex skeleton reconstruction

Furthermore, queuing to go in because the VIP entrance is blocked for… no really VIPs as there were none, and waiting forever at the entrance kiosk to get the Experience passes and then for the photos, were a drag. As a conclusion, going once in your lifetime, getting to do an interaction or two might be a good idea, but this is not somewhere I’m dying to come back to – though I am open to explore other parks from the same owner, such as the traditional zoo or the aquarium.

I mean, some of animals, such as this goose, had a very clear opinion about the park, too.

Goose attacking one of the Faunia signs

Walked distance: 12954 steps / 8.06 km

Pricing: Ticket: 18.90€ + Manatee experience 38.90€ + Pelican experience 5€ + Professional picture 11.90€ + digital upgrade (three-month access) 1€ = 75.70€. Way too much to plan another expedition any time soon.
Saved: We parked outside so we saved up the 5.50 € for the parking lot, and we took our own food.

8th & 9th January 2021: Guadalajara & Filomena (Spain)

Since 2017, Spain (alongside Portugal and France) has taken up the custom of naming bad storms, and this season we are up to ‘F’, the 6th bad storm. In this case, the storm, named Filomena, entered Spain from the south west and collided with a polar air mass that happened to be coming from the north. The result – snow. Lot’s of it, with low temperatures and snow-heights not seen in a very long time. Some call it “the snowfall of a lifetime”.

As Covid-19 has made travelling impossible – or at least pretty unsafe / irresponsible (choose your pick), plans have been pushed back again, and plain cancelled. While truth be told I still hold tickets for the Saint Seiya event in Paris in late May, I have no hope I will be able to attend. Even if the Covid crisis fades away, there’s the extra issue of the economic blow 2020 caused.

Anyway, back to Filomena – it brought something that is rarely seen in these parts. Snow. Lots of it. So before everything went to hell, I just decided to ignore the stay at home recommendation and took a couple of walks around Guadalajara for a rare sight – the monuments covered with snow. Furthermore, as the snow is expected to freeze into ice plates, I had to go out when the snow was still fresh.

I took two different walks. On the eight of January, Friday, as soon as I got out of wok I put on my snow boots (perks from the time living in Scotland) and winter coat, then threw my raincoat over it – it was a tricky movement, but I managed not to dislocate my shoulder doing so. By this time there was a coverage of a few centimetres, and I decided to head out to the outer area of town where I could sneakily take my mask off if my glasses fogged too much, which I had to do when I crossed the road, because there’s no actual crossing.

There was a surprising amount of people around! Fortunately I was able to keep my distance, especially at the times when I tried to breathe – even if I went out with the smaller glasses, at points I had to take them and the mask off to be able to breathe and see anything.

I walked up to the Toro de Osborne a winery-billboard-turned-item-of-cultural-and-visual-interest which as you can see is shaped as a bull – representing the species used in bred for bullfighting, because the Osborne winery is located in an area also famous for the livestock. It is made of metal and measures around 14 metres high, one of the 91 that remain around Spain. It stands in an area that was supposed to become urbanised but never did, so it has several unfinished alleys and corners. There has been a statue there since 1975, called El Abrazo, (The Hug), which has always reminded me of a decomposing DNA strand. It was erected by Francisco Sobrino, the most famous sculptor from the town.

I went back right before sundown, and the roads were already difficult. It continued snowing throughout the night, and when I woke up on Saturday morning, no cars could run, there were no buses, trains had been stopped and some trees had collapsed under the weight of the strongest snowfall in decades. But… temptation won. I only wanted to peek around the corner a little, but then I decided that as there was a good chance I would run into people, I could not cheat on mask policy – so I put my contacts on. That warranted for a longer walk as those are disposable, and… not cheap (≧▽≦).

First I walked down the Avenida del Ejército, one of the main arteries in town, which had already been somewhat cleaned of snow, which was good, because… well, there was a bit more of a cover than the day before

I reached the park built after the ancient Arab structure, Parque de la Huerta de San Antonio. To the left stands one of the towers of the old walls, Torreón de Alvar Fáñez.

I saw the snowed Palacio del Infantado. This palace was built in the late Renaissance style, designed by Juan Guas and commissioned by the Marquis of Santillana. Although the main construction happened between 1480 and 1497 but has been reformed in several occasions, even recently as it was turned from public library into monument and museum. Infantado is a name related to the concepts of infante or infanta, which are the Spanish terms that designate the children of monarchs who are not the direct heirs (so no the crown prince or princess). The most important feature is the main façade built with sand-coloured rocks and diamond protuberances as decoration. It was suspected to have suffered from aluminosis concrete a couple of years back, but after a small political struggle, it the palace was deemed healthy again. Magic, I guess.

Up the central street of the old town, I took a small detour to check the Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol to the left. The church, built in bricks, used to belong to a now-gone convent.

In front of the church stands the convent-turned-palace-turned-high-school Convento de la Piedad / Palacio de Antonio de Mendoza. The convent-palace represents the start of the Renaissance influence in Spain, especially the former grand entrance.

At the end of the street stands the main square and Ayuntamiento, the town hall, and main square, where the street turns into the main street, Calle Mayor. The town hall, built at the beginning of the 20th century, sports an interesting bell tower in iron.

The square Plaza del Jardinillo (square of the little garden) where the Baroque church Iglesia de San Nicolás el Real stands. You can’t really recognise him under all the snow, but there is a Neptune standing in the middle of the fountain in the square.

Main Street continues until the square Plaza de Santo Domingo. The square is half park-like, half built, and one of the trees that died in the park area was carved into a book-stash sculpture.

On the other side of the road stands another church, Iglesia de San Ginés, built in the 17th century with two towers and a Romanesque-looking entrance.

The police tape around the main town park, Parque de la Concordia, had been partially taken down and I interpreted (wrongly) by the sheer number of people inside that it was allowed to walk in. Only when I reached the other side I realised that the park was considered unsafe, and of course I did not risk any other trespassing. The park dates to mid-19th century, and hosts a gazebo-like structure built in brick and iron by Francisco Checa in 1915.

I went on to the Paseo de San Roque, only on the street area, as the more park-like one was taped off. This is one of the most diverse parks in town, and some say that it could / should have been considered a botanical garden.

I walked alongside, peeked into the park Parque de las Adoratrices, but it was packed, so I continued on. Although this park is rather recent, opened in 2009, the walls and fences were built a century earlier. The town festival used to be celebrated here, but it was moved away to the outskirts as the town grew.

At the end of the street stands the chapel Ermita de San Roque , which originally was outside the town when it was built in the 17th century, in the typical brick of the area.

I walked around the walled area of the Colegio de las Adoratrices, with some really cool views of the pantheon that stands there, Panteón de la Duquesa de Sevillano, the school building and the church Iglesia de Santa María Micaela. This whole area used to belong to the Duchess, who commissioned the architectural complex in the 19th century. The pantheon is a particular example of the eclectic architecture, with a purple dome. The church is a mixture of different styles, out of which maybe neo-Gothic would be the most prominent one.

The street I wanted to go along next was a) taped off and b) waaaay too steep for a safe climb-up, so I decided to turn towards another of the important squares in town, Plaza de Bejanque. You can guess the old fortress Fuerte de San Francisco behind it, but it was also full of people, so I walked fast.

One of the features of the square is the old gate from the walls, Puerta de Bejanque, one of the access gates through the 14th century wall. This used to be part of a house that was built around it, and it was unearthed, so to speak, in the 90s.

I went down towards the co-cathedral Concatedral de Santa María. Originally built in the 13th century, this catholic church has been redesigned and rebuilt in several styles. It is best characterised by the horse-shoe arches in the main façade.

And sneaked up towards the chapel Capilla de Luis de Lucena, a small and compact chapel built like a tiny fortress that used to be an oratory part of a larger church.

I walked past the old palatial house Palacio de la Cotilla, a palatial house from the 15th century.

The convent Convento de las Carmelitas de San José. This convent, where cloistered nuns still live (tradition says that couples that are going to marry should bring them eggs for sun on the day of the wedding) was built in 1625, and the inside is decorated in the Baroque style.

And finally reached the lookout over the park built within the old torrent, Parque del Barranco del Alamín.

I finally saw the former church Iglesia de los Remedios. Today it is used as the grand hall for the nearby university, but it was originally a Renaissance temple, with three characteristic arches guarding the entrance.

And turned back towards the Palacio del Infantado from the square Plaza de España.

It had started snowing more heavily by then and my legs were getting tired. The sloshy snow on the roads had become frozen so it was slippery, and when I was walking on the actual snow, it was up to my mid-shins, so I was feeling the strain in my legs and my back. Thus, I decided to go back home and not to return in the afternoon again because the trees had lost more and more branches under the weight of the snow. The temperature going down also meant that the snow was going to freeze and it would be more slippery as it became ice…

I mean, this is the tree that used to stand in front of my balcony… So better safe than sorry. But all in all, the snowfall of a lifetime in these latitudes!

12th September 2020: Sigüenza (Spain)

We took a drive to Sigüenza, in Spain. This medieval town? big village? had a big relevance through the Middle Ages, and the historical centre reflects that. The most prominent point is the castle on top of a hill. The Castillo de los Obispos is a fortress that can be traced to Roman times. However, the actual castle was a Moorish alcazaba. After the Christians took it over in the 12th century, it was remodelled and enlarged. Due to its vantage point, the castle was a key element in different wars and strife, including the Napoleonic invasion and the Civil War, thus resulting pretty damaged. In the late 20th century it was decided to restore it turn it into a Parador with around 50 rooms.

During our planning stage we called and tried to book a restaurant for lunch, and we were told they were not taking them, we had to call on the same day. Of course, when we got there, it was impossible to book – there was a course and the celebration of a communion (seriously, people, learn to say no so others can get organised). Unfortunately, you could not see the interior or even the yard if you had no reservations, so I can only share a picture from the parking lot, where we left the car.

We walked down the main street Calle Mayor, a clobbered slope that ends (well, technically begins) at the town’s main square.

Main Square or Plaza Mayor is home to the Town Hall or Ayuntamiento de Sigüenza, an old palace with a typical Castillian inner yard or patio.

Opposite the town hall stands the cathedral Catedral de Santa María La Mayor de Sigüenza. The Gothic building was built upon a previous Romanesque one and it had some Neoclassical and Baroque additions. Thus, the façade sports Romanesque doors and rose window, and the main body is Gothic. The altar and the choir are awfully Baroque too, and some of the chapels sport Cisneros, Plateresque and Renaissance decorations. All in all, an interesting pout-pourri of architectural and decoration styles.

The most important piece of art of the cathedral, however, is a funerary piece to the right of the altar. It is the sepulchre of Martín Vázquez de Arce “El Doncel” (“The Young Man”). The chapel holds him, his parents and grandparents, but the sculpture on his sepulchre is the most impressive one. The Vázquez de Arce family were vassals of the Mendoza family, the most important family in the area during the Middle Ages. During the war to conquer Al-Andalus, the Vázquez de Arce males followed the Mendoza to the war in Granada, where Martín died in a trap set by the Arabs, which consisted on damming the River Genil to a creek, and then releasing the dam so the water took over the enemies crossing (which… kinda sounds like something out of the Lord of the Rings, doesn’t it? At least, it makes me think of Arwen and Treebeard). The sepulchre, commissioned by Martín’s brother, presents him taking a break during training and reading a book. He even has pupils, so if you could climb up, you’d see what he’s reading!

The cloister is also Gothic, as the previous Romanesque one was torn down. It holds a central garden and a number of side rooms where there is a collection of mythology-themed tapestries. In one of the chapels, there is also a painting by El Greco, a Greek painter rooted in Spain who was one of the key artists during the Spanish Renaissance.

The cathedral ticket also allows a visit to the Diocesan Museum Museo Diocesano, which holds many pieces of religious art, along with a few models of the cathedral in its different construction stages. These days I’m trying to learn some hagiography, which means how to identify religious figures by how they’re presented. Getting there, three out of ten times or so, because half the time they cheat.

After the cathedral we climbed up towards the castle, and we stopped at the former church Iglesia de Santiago, now transformed into a mini-introduction centre for all the “hidden” or “unknown” Romanesque in the area. The church itself had some beautiful paintings, but it was destroyed during the Civil War.

Continuing our way up, we turned a little to see the house where the Vázquez de Arce family used to live, now turned in a museum, Museo Casa del Doncel. There is a little paintings exhibition and a guitar museum, along with some ancient artefacts such as vases or looms. The most interesting part are the Moorish “Mozárabe” decoration. Here is a bit of historic trolling: when the Christian “conquerors” hired Arab craftsmen to do decoration, one of the things the Arabs did was decorate using Quran verses.

Then we saw the outside of the church Iglesia de San Vicente Mártir, Romanesque to boot.

Afterwards, we ended up at the square Plazuela de la Cárcel, where the old gaol jail stood.

Finally, we headed over to the restaurant where we had booked a lunch table, a traditional grill called La Taberna Seguntina where I chose to have a “summer menu” with salmorejo (a thick soup or purée made with tomato, oil, and bread and sprinkled with boiled egg and cured ham) and roasted cochinillo (suckling pig, roasted whole) with potatoes and herbs. For dessert I had a pudding!

And that was it, really – Medieval Sigüenza has nothing else to see. As the façade of the castle was being restored, we did not even take pictures of it as we drove away.

4th September 2020: Alcalá de Henares (Spain)

After looking for a place to park the car for 12 minutes, I left the car and I went off on foot towards the centre with a relative who is living in Alcalá de Henares. The town centre has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1998.

Our first stop, at 10:30 almost sharp was the Palacete Laredo, a small palace built in the Neo-Mudéjar style, a type of Moorish Revival architecture. It was designed and built between 1880 and 1884 by the Spanish artist Manuel José de Laredo y Ordoño. After a century in private hands, it passed to the town hall, which allows the university to use it as a museum, showing a collection of ancient documents.

The palace is built in brick, it has two floors and a minaret-like tower. The inside is decorated with coloured-glass window, tiles and paintings. The visible ceilings on the first floor are wooden artesonado (decorative beams joined together). There is also a garden, but it was closed.

Afterwards, we headed off towards the centre. We walked by the church Parroquia de Santa María la Mayor and is inhabitant the stork on photo duty.

We had tickets to see the Corral de Comedias, a theatre built in the site of an ancient “theatrical courtyard”. These were open-air theatres that were common during the late middle ages and exploded in popularity in the 16th century. The Corral in Alcalá de Henares was built in 1601 by Francisco Sánchez, member of the Carpenters Guild. It suffered several changes – the ceiling was built in the 18th century, then it became a cinema, and eventually was “lost” in the 1970s. In the 1980s, it was rediscovered, restored, and finally opened as working theatre in 2003.

Alas, we were too late for the 12:00 visit to the university, so we wandered around the town’s main square Plaza de Cervantes – Alcalá de Henares was Cervantes’ birthplace. Miguel de Cervantes was a 16th century Spanish writer, most renown for his novel “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha”, which many authors consider “the first modern novel” and “the best literary work ever written” (though… I disagree). The square features a bandstand, the statue of Cervantes, and is surrounded by several buildings of importance – the ruins of the church Iglesia de Santa María, the Town Hall and the Círculo de Contribuyentes, former casino, and the Corral de Comedias.

Then we walked down Main Street Calle Mayor, until we got down to the Obispado de Alcalá de Henares, the bishopric, with two towers from the former wall at their sides. That reminds me – we did not visit the cathedral or any religious buildings because they were all closed to tourism.

At 13:00 we took the guided visit to one of the university buildings, the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso. The university was established in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros, an influential Spanish religious and statesman in the time of the Catholic Monarchs. A colegio mayor is basically a dignified “classic” dormitory. The façade was built between 1537 and 1559 in the Plateresque style, an architectural style that developed in Spain between the late Gothic and the early Renaissance. The architect was Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón.

Inside, we saw the cloisters and yards, the gate of honour (from where the successful students left the university), the classroom where the students defended their final thesis, and the chapel, with the tomb of the founding Cardinal (but not his body, which is in the cathedral).

We had a reservation to have lunch at the Parador de Alcalá de Henares, which is a rather modern building and not a historical one, but a stamp was needed (≧▽≦). Lunch was a looong affair because our waiter might not have been the… most efficient. We tried the combos with a little bit of everything to share (entrées and desserts), and some bull tail. Oh and coffee. Yay coffee. (Also, kudos to me for cutting that nut in half.)

After lunch, we walked down the Calle Mayor again and we made a stop at what is supposed to be the house where Cervantes was born, or at least a reconstruction, with a bunch of ancient objects thrown in – the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes. There was also a photography exhibition. To be honest, it had a great quality-price relation. It was free, and the quality was… lacking. Or maybe I’m old and I have seen most of the stuff they showed in action, and used a few.

We continued on to the regional archaeological museum Museo Arqueológico Regional, located in the old Archiepiscopal palace. That was unexpectedly good, with the fossil record and the old Roman mosaics.

Pending for a future visit to Alcalá de Henares: Roman and Medieval areas, and the religious buildings, as the day finished up doing some necessary and work-related shopping before I drove back home.

Driven distance: Around an hour? I dumped the car as soon as I could and we walked the hell out of the town (≧▽≦)
Walked distance: 14.61 km

30th July 2020: Vampires in Madrid (Spain)

The world is pretty much topsy-turvy these days, isn’t it? I’ve been literally staring at the computer screen for about an hour, wondering how to start, how to explain. I’ve erased the opening paragraph about four times too (≧▽≦). Thus, I will just spare you the introduction, explanations, justifications, and so. It took me a while to decide in favour of my little trip to Madrid.

Vampires, the Evolution of the Myth, or Vampiros, la Evolución del Mito (#VampirosCaixaForum) was scheduled before the whole COVID-19 debacle. Once things started opening up in Spain, the exhibition was rescheduled to run in Madrid for a couple of months through summer. And for a while I pondered whether it was… I’m not sure how to put it… worth the risk? For months we had been told to avoid public transport, which is my main mean of moving around, so in the end I decided what the fuck, if I was doing this, I was going to drive into the centre of Madrid – for the very first time in my life. For the record I don’t particularly enjoy driving, I much prefer being driven, and my sense of directions when driving is… not the best, so I borrowed a GPS, picked up my sister, and drove off.

After only getting the wrong exit once, we left the car in an underground parking lot and walked ten short minutes and we were in front of the Caixa Forum Madrid. Caixa Forum is a cultural space owned by a savings bank in search of tax deductions that organises shows and exhibitions. We had a compound ticket for 12:00, which included both exhibitions in the building, and a theme lunch. And so we went.

Vampiros: La Evolución del Mito, “Vampires, the Evolution of the Myth” is an exhibition originally organised by La Cinémathèque française, which is a French French non-profit film organisation that holds one of the collection of cinema-related objects and documents in the world. As they are specialised in films, the vampire exhibition focuses on the figure of the preternatural being throughout cinema.

The first room is focused on the book Dracula, and the Romantic interpretation of the myth – Romantic as the literary period, not the lovey-dovey stuff. Highlights include a facsimile of the first scene of the manuscript of Bram Stoker’s version of Dracula for theatre, aside from early editions of the novel and other vampire books such as John William Polidori’s The Vampyre and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. There were also some surprising items – some of Francisco de Goya’s wood-prints. Goya was one of the most influential painters in Spain, also grounded in the Romantic movement. Good stuff.

The second room was dedicated to Nosferatu, one of the key films in the vampire genre, with some promotional material and film props – this was the ward with best and most important number of items.

The following room was dedicated to the romantic, erotic and sexual vampires. It had two main focuses – one was the Dracula portrayed by Bela Lugosi as the epitome of the elegant, seductive vampire, first in Broadway, then in the 1931 film by Universal Studios. The centrepiece of the room featured two pieces of the wardrobe in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula worn by Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder, along with several designs for the wardrobe (which could not be photographed, but you can peek at in some of the pics). Finally, we got to see the suit worn Tom Cruise as Lestat and Kirsten Dunst as Claudia in the 1994 film Interview with the Vampire. I missed some more Christopher Lee, as there were barely some photographies of his performance in Dracula (1958) and its sequels.

On one side there was a small area dedicated to the vampire as a political metaphor. The final area was dedicated to the pop vampire, including magazines, comics and graphic novels, some Japanese manga, and so on – even Count Dracula from Sesame Street! Then again, he was on a screen. I would have killed to see the real puppet.

All in all I got the impression that the exhibit lacked ‘the real thing’ and abused the film montages. I was expecting a few more props and less bits of films which… after all I’ve seen most (≧▽≦). The truth is that the myth of the vampire starts much earlier than the “Medieval” vampire featured in the Romantic fantasies, and can be traced to early succubi or the Lamia myths in Ancient Greece if you think about Western Culture alone. The Romantic and Victorian writers just made the myth cool as it was once more popular due to a sort of “vampire hysteria” that crossed the Balkans the previous century – that’s probably the main reason why Bram Stoker chose the figure of a Transylvanian warlord to create his character. But in the end it was a good way to break the activity fast.

Then we moved on to the next exhibition, Cámara y ciudad. La vida urbana en la fotografía y el cine, “Camera and the city: urban life in photography and the cinema” which… was okay, I guess. I guess I’m not a photography / video kind of person (≧▽≦).

After perusing the shop for a while, we moved to the cafeteria, where a “theme menu” had been designed. Let me detail that for you:

  • El frenesí vampírico / Vampire frenzy: virgin – I think – Bloody Mary
  • Estacas de la muerte / Death stakes: aubergine tempura with sweet and sour sauce
  • Reencarnación / Reincarnation: Goat cheese, sweet beet and raspberries salad
  • Inmortalidad / Immortality: Macerated sea bass with lime, orange, coriander, salt and pepper, with a side of mango and tortilla chips
  • Embalsamamiento / Embalmment: Duck magret with a red wine sauce and mushrooms
  • Drácula / Dracula: Crème anglaise, jelly and raspberry mousse.

Let me tell you, this was amazing – and fortunately the portions were small so the final amount was more than adequate.

It was a little later than 15:15 when we left the CaixaForum centre and headed off the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, a museum built from a noble family’s art collection which also hosts temporary exhibitions. The permanent exhibition is chronologically organised, and here are some of the pieces by famous artists: Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Degas, El Greco, Tiziano… and hm… many very modern painters I… can’t understand.

Finally we decided to call it a day before people started coming out of work and leaving town so that we did not get into a traffic jam, and I am very proud of myself for taking the drive – which was my wee white whale for a while. I’ll see myself out now (≧▽≦)

Distance: Approx. 120 km driving; 6.08 km walking

Also, as an afterthought, I ordered the Vampire exhibition book online. I did not at first because I did not feel like carrying it around as it is thick. But they home-delivered and I actually saved 2.5 bucks?

PS: New logo! What do you think?

26th January 2020: Royal Palace and Norwegian salmon (Madrid, Spain)

A friend was over visiting for the weekend and we headed off to Madrid. It had been raining and the weather the previous evening had been rather miserable. Actually, when we left home it was rather foggy and dark, but upon stepping out the Avenida de América bus station, it had become sunny and not cold at all.

My friend wanted to see the Palacio Real de Madrid, the Royal Palace – we had been playing Madrid Cluedo the day before and she had mentioned that she had never been there. At first, we only wanted to see building. As it was Chinese New Year, the blunt of tourists was somewhere else watching the Parade, and we had a short queue to go inside, so she decided to wait as it was not expensive, either.

You can’t take pictures in most of the palace, but the yard looked really nice and you could see the cathedral from there. We also heard all the bells tolling at noon, which was fun. When you go into the palace you see several rooms, including the throne room and the old sleeping quarters. One of my favourite rooms is the one with the Stradivarius violins and other instruments.

While there aren’t that many pictures taken inside, here is a shot of the cathedral, Catedral de la Almudena .

After visiting the Palacio Real, we went to have lunch. She wanted ham, and I wanted a poke bowl I had seen announced in El Corte Inglés cafeteria, so it was a win-win situation. I had a “Poke bowl de salmón noruego”, Norwegian salmon poke bowl that was amazing – a sushi rice base with avocado, spring onion, purple onion, wakame, a soft-boiled egg and Norgweian salmon marinated with soy sauce, rice vinegar and kimchi.

She declared that she was happy after this, so we called it a day.

4th May 2019: Museo Naval & TeamLab in Madrid (Spain)

There were a couple of exhibitions in Madrid that I wanted to see, and my mother decided to tag along. We took a train and walked to the Museo Naval, the Navy museum, which was being renovated – so the permanent connection was not being shown. In the end, that turned out to be awesomely lucky because it allowed us to see the marble staircase and stained glass of the classical building, which is very rarely shown.

The exhibition that I wanted to see was related to the trips to Asia, mostly China, Japan and Philippines, and it was interesting for 3€. one of these days I would like to come back to see the whole museum when the renovations are over. It’s on the bucket list, I swear. One of these… I’m not sure, months, because I’d been saying I want to go to the Museo Naval for years.

After seeing the “Asia in the Naval Museum” exhibit and the ceiling, we walked towards the Telefónica Building. There, there was an Exhibition by TeamLab, the museum of virtual art from Tokyo! I really want to see it.

There were three exhibits:

  • Flutter of Butterflies, Born from Hands (2019), a magical wall where you can rest your hands for butterflies to come up.

  • Black Waves: Lost, Immersed and Reborn (2016), an amazing scenery of breaking waves.

  • Enso – Cold Light (2017), a self-tracing enso (perfect circle traced with one stroke in calligraphy).

I was very happy to see this, and then we walked around the “Evolution of phones” exhibition- however, I apparently have not taken pictures of that one. I think it was too nostalgic, because god did it make me feel old (≧▽≦).

Before we returned home, we had lunch at a De María restaurant – an Argentinean meat-grill where we got a glass of rose champagne to go. Another place I want to return! However, this time I did not take pictures because the atmosphere did not feel adequate to do so.

17th April 2019: La Almudena & Mercado de San Miguel (Madrid, Spain)

A Japanese friend had a layover in Madrid, so I took the day trip to see her and stay with her until she moved on to her final destination. We dropped off her luggage at the coin lockers in Atocha station and I asked her what she wanted to see.

Our first destination was quite accidental. We were heading towards La Almudena cathedral when we stumbled into the Changing of the Guards in front of the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Palacio Real de Madrid.

The Catedral de la Almudena, Madrid’s cathedral, is right next to the Palace, and we were there a few minutes later. We walked around the upper area. It was a nice, sunny day so the coloured windows made neat reflections on the walls and floors.

Afterwards we found our way to the cathedral crypt.

Then we moved on towards Mercado de San Miguel, St. Michael’s market, a bit of high-end foodcourt. I’m still traumatised due to the 6€ we paid for four lousy croquettes, but that’s life and she really wanted to go there.

It was very hot, so we took shelter in some of the shops and then we headed off to have some ice-cream in the Callao Gourmet Experience and enjoy the view. Afterwards I dropped her off at her train so she could go on her merry way and I went back home.

16th February 2019: A day at Japan Weekend (Madrid, Spain)

Having nothing else to do, my sibling and I headed over to IFEMA to spend a few hours in the Japan Weekend convention of “Japanese culture and other stuff” that was taking place in Madrid over the weekend.

First, we attended a matcha workshop / tea ceremony mock-up to mix our own our own matcha. It was carried out by the tea shop Punto de Té. The tea was really good. We did not want to be carrying around stuff all day so we left it for later. Fortunately for the shop, when we came back the had sold most everything!

Then, we watched a kendo exhibit for a while. It was not a competition or anything, but those people were living the fights. That was cool.

One of the things I was most interested in was watching the act of a pair of Japanese brothers who call themselves Kuni-ken: older brother KUNIaki and younger brother KENji. They play traditional Japanese instruments to create modern rock music. It was an interesting act, and afterwards I bought one of their CDs and got it autographed (after a stint with a suitcase that would not open).

Finally, we stopped at AKKOGORILLA’s concert. She is a Japanese rapper who is all about girl power, and moves as if she had batteries or something. I would have bought a CD if she had brought any, so I got a zine for a signature.

I think I’m getting too old and cranky to hang out with the younger crowd though. In the end, I don’t care much about the shops – having credit cards, I don’t need a physical stand at a convention to buy stuff, and I avoid bootleg merchandise… Going to this kind of places for short live music displays… is starting not to cut it.

2nd January 2019: Jurassic and 19th Century Madrid (Spain)

I was in the middle of winter holidays and a couple of family members asked me if I had plans – I said I was getting tickets for a dinosaur exhibit in Madrid, and they jumped in. We made arrangements to head over there on the 2nd of January and spend the day in Madrid. I don’t think they really realised what it meant to be around me and the “terrible lizards” (≧▽≦). But off we went.

General entry ticket for 2nd January 2019

The Jurassic World: Exhibition was held in Madrid. The whole thing is organised in-verse, as if you actually visited the island.

Jurassic World the Exhibition logo and title

After you walk in, there is first a small introduction on the “boat” as you travel towards Isla Nublar. There you are given the instructions (mainly, keep your hands to yourself), the boat makes dock and you are let into the Park. Keeping in touch with the spirit of the films (not the book though *giggles*) there’s a Brachiosaurus there to greet you, just like the first animal you see in Isla Nublar (and later the last).

Pretencious gate with two columns on the side, reading Jurassic World. A brontosaurus head peers down at you

You also catch a glimpse of a Parasaurolophus.

The head of an herbivore dinosaur (parasaurolophus) peering through the bushes

Then you get to the “stables” where you get to see a Triceratops mama with her baby.

Mom and baby Triceratops behind a fence that reads Gentle giants petting zoo

Afterwards, there is a small room that represents the laboratory where the dinosaurs are made – I could have made it out with a critter but there were only baby Iguanodon.

Fake amber pieces and DNA extactor along with an incubator with eggs and baby dinosaurs

Next, you walk into a tiny museum with some fossil reproductions and actual scientific information…

Reproduction of carnivore dinosaurs skull and bones, along with the drawing of a huge T-rex fooot print drawn on the ground to compare it to a human one

… right before everything goes to hell and back when you’re shown a hologram of Owen Grady talking to his velociraptor Blue and you get a… guy in a velociraptor costume prancing around (≧▽≦).

Person disguised as a verlociraptor

The next room shows the Tyrannosaurus rex cage (by the way #TeamTRex here, in case you did not know) behind her cage, menacing and staring.

T-rex animatronic, showing the huge head behind a fence

The final room is another garden in which you get to see a Stegosaurus being stalked by the made-up Indominus rex.


Head of the Indominus rex, looking like it's stalking prey

And at the end of the exhibition, after the shop even, you find the velociraptors, which have apparently escaped and are ready to attack!

Jurassic world velociraptors on a wrecked crate

All in all, being the dinosaur geek I am, I had a blast. I’m not sure that my poor family members that had wanted to tag along with me knew what they were bargaining for (≧▽≦).

However, they were still willing to put up with my for a little longer, and together we drove off to the centre of Madrid, and somehow ended up at the Museo Cerralbo. They asked if there was something I wanted to see, and the Cerralbo Museum was running a couple of Japan-related specials I was curious about. The museum stands in the Palace of the same name, and it holds the collection of the late Marquis Cerralbo.

The museum is… crammed and chaotic, but interesting in its own way. It holds thousands of pieces, from worthless-looking mementos to priceless paintings by masters such as El Greco. Art experts say that the Cerralbo collection was the most valuable of its time.

Collage of cerralbo museum. A room with two samurai armous. A centrepiece made with swords. A long table, set, with chairs along and an ellaborate lamp hanging from the ceiling. The hall of the museum, with a staircase with an ellaborate balaustrade and a glass lamp hanging from the ceiling.

The museum was holding a designated route focused on the Japanese pieces it has, including samurai armours.

Collage of Asian and Japanese pieces of the museum: hars, a samurai armour, and an hexagonal carey box

Furthermore, there was an origami exhibition on the lower floor.

Origami pieces: a phoenix, a snake, an orca, corals, and a life-sized hippo

After the museum we sat down for lunch at a fusion Asian-Japanese restaurant, because the family members “wanted to try” – although they were rather scared of the food. Eventually they managed to enjoy it too, and even have seconds – however I needed to make a run to get my tablet serviced.

Lunch. Sushi, chicken skewers, rice dish and noodles dish

Once it was up and running, and family had come to find me, we walked towards the shopping centre in Principe Pío for dessert – yoghurt ice cream with berries and smarties. A great way to end the day!

An old station from iron architecture epoch repurposed into shopping centre

Frozen yoghurt with berries sauce and smarties

30th June 2018: Spanish breakfast, Japanese entertainment (Madrid, Spain)

30th June 2018: Spanish breakfast, Japanese entertainment (Madrid, Spain)

My friend C***** came over to Madrid for one of those crazy crazy things that we do – a crazy Saturday. She took a bus overnight and I went to meet her up for breakfast. The day started with a good omen, because I caught a rainbow around 7:30.

To celebrate that we had met up for the first time in a long while, we went to the most famous chocolaterie in Madrid, Chocolatería San Ginés for chocolate and churros. As her bus arrived in the early morning, I think we were there around 8:30 as I took the first train available.

After breakfast, we head over to the area of the theatre, Teatros del Canal, for the main event at noon – a piece of Kabuki [歌舞伎], a piece of classical Japanese dance. In this case we were going to see an adaptation of Fuji Musume and Renjishi. First, we checked out the little market of Japanese craftsmanship and decided that we wanted everything, because of course we did.

Then we walked into the theatre. The company Heisei Nakamuraza was bringing two key pieces in the history of kabuki. The first was Fuji Musume [藤娘] “The Wisteria Lady”. It is a representation of unrequited love, dancing under the wisteria tree that represents femininity, and the pine that represents masculinity. During the dance there are several kimono dances and it is visually stunning. The second piece, Renjishi [検索結果], “The Two Lions”, is a very spectacular dance, in many ways mirrored between two dancers. The first part represents a parent lion-dog and its cub, then there is a small comical interlude and finally the lion dogs come out again in celebration. No pictures allowed of the performance, but have some of the theatre:

The show was over much too quickly, sadly. We went out of the theatre and raided the matsuri / market.

Then we walked a few minutes to the Japanese restaurant Hayama, where we had some sushi, gyoza, takoyaki, curry and ramen to share.

As C***** had an early-evening train to get back (I did mention that this was a crazy escapade specially for her), I tagged along to the station and I saw her off. Awesome way to spend a Saturday, though I wish we could have hung out for longer!