Ojo Rojo

I’m officially on vacation. We don’t fly out till Thursday, but it has begun. We felt it would be good to take a day before we left and tie up some loose ends so that’s what tomorrow is for.

We are in the final countdown and running through the go/no go sequence for launch before our flight on Thursday and we hit a minor snag.

Cynthia had noticed her eye turning very red Sunday evening. I assumed it to be a subconjunctival hemorrhage and probably not anything to worry about. Cynthia was not so sure.

On Monday it got a little worse and when we woke up this morning Cynthia informed me that it had gotten much worse and began to panic a bit. It was decided that she would go to the eye doctor as soon as his office opened and she would let him have a look.

I endeavored to stay positive and upbeat. Still, if there was a serious medical problem it would obviously put the trip we have been planning for the last 6 months in jeopardy.

I was sticking with my amateur diagnosis as Cynthia pursued the advice of someone who actually studied medicine. There was a tense moment when she called and said “I have good news and I have bad news.” I asked for the bad news and she told me that as bad as it looked now, it was going to look a lot worse over the next few weeks.

I asked for the good news and she confirmed that it was a subconjunctival hemorrhage and her doctor had said it wasn’t serious and that she should not worry and that she would be fine to travel.

Yay! Cynthia’s going to be ok!
Yay! The trip is still on!

The eye really doesn’t look that bad. She has to hold the eyelid open before you can really see the problem. The doctor says it’s normal for these things to grow as the eye heals so it may well spread over a larger part of the eye and become more noticeable.

On the plus side, Cynthia’s not in any pain and it’s not affecting her vision. She is worried it will show up in th the holiday photos. Several people, including my boss and Cynthia’s doctor, tried to reassure us by suggesting some photoshopping to clean up our vacation photos if what we are now affectionately calling Cynthia’s Eye Bubo showed up in any of them.

On a side note, spare yourself the squirmy discomfort of performing a Google image search on the term “subconjunctival hemorrhage” as the results are rather distressing.

Spain – Llegamos

12 hours worth of travel time. Flight from Houston to Newark, New Jersey and then a change of planes for the overseas leg to Madrid.

Definitely not one of my best travel days. About 1/2 way into the 6 1/2 hour flight from Newark to Madrid my stomach started to get upset. I probably could have held out but there was a woman two rows back who had the most indescribable stench. When she walked past us to go the lavatory the smell was so overwhelming that I had to avail myself of one of the utility bags in the seat back pocket. Even Cynthia who was doing pretty well started to hyperventilate and came close to utilizing her own bag.

We cleared customs quite quickly and soon we were in a cab heading to the Hotel Plaza Mayor. The room is small but comfortable and is well situated to a lot of the city’s attractions.


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We were able to check in right away and we attempted to go for a walk, but were so exhausted we quickly returned to the room for a 3 hour nap. It was the best 3 hour nap ever! We had the balcony doors open and the cool breeze lulled us to sleep quite quickly.

We woke up without an alarm clock feeling much more human that we had in awhile and set out to explore a bit of our surroundings.

The sun is bright and the sky is deep blue. High today was around 74 degrees and no humidity. Temps tonight should be in the upper 50’s.

We walked for a quite awhile and shot some pictures and are now relaxing in the room. Our intention is to head out this evening so I can get some night shots and have some dinner.

Here is the statue of Charles III in the Puerta Del Sol


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On the right you see the Tio Pepe sign, Madrid’s oldest billboard.

I was particularly delighted to the see the Metropolis Building!

Detail of one of the door signs


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We came back to the hotel to rest. Now that the sun has gone down we are off in search of food and night shots!

Madrid – El Dia Segundo

We stayed up a bit late last night. It was fun to wander the streets and take in the sites after sunset. I am happy to have access to several Starbucks as it’s a great value on a huge cup of coffee.


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This morning we woke up much later than we anticipated. It seemed that it should only be around 7:30 am but was, in fact, 9:30 am. We were obviously more tired than we thought.

We got up, got dressed and walked past the Palacio de Comunicaciones on our way to the obligatory visit to the Museo del Prado


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The line to get into the museum was not too bad, even at the late hour. I was most pleased to see The Garden Of Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.

Now we’re back at the hotel for siesta and contemplating our next move.

Paseando

After our day at the museum and a brief siesta we decided to have a walk around the Plaza Mayor.


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At night it is a very lovely place. The weather is holding and it’s very soothing to be out and about.

Cynthia had read in her Rick Steve’s guide book that the Casa Rúa offered a tasty bocadillo calamare for 2 euros.


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Yup, a squid sandwich! YUM!

All kinds of characters roam the plaza. This group of ladies were all sporting light-up bunny ears.


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I’m sure they were having quite the good evening.

As we strolled past the various restaurants and shops we saw something that caught our eye and caused us to both stop dead in our tracks.


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There’s a message here, I’m certain.

We stopped to take a couple of portraits. This one I shot of Cynthia


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And this one is Cynthia’s first successful no-flash night shot


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We headed off for a night-cap of churros and chocolate at San Ginés Chocolateria


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After that, we returned, tired and happy to our hotel

Tomorrow, Segovia!

Segovia

Today was our first “day trip” during our vacation.

Segovia is located about 50 miles northwest of Madrid and makes it an ideal one day visit as it only takes about an hour to get there by bus.

I was particularly interested in Segovia because I wanted to see the Roman aqueduct that still stands there.

To get to the bus station we had to take the Metro, the underground subway system in Madrid. No big deal, right? WRONG!

I don’t think I fully appreciated Cynthia’s fear of the underground until today. I knew she was not fond of the subway from our trip to Paris but I learned the hard way that Cynthia’s literally terrified of being underground. She’s got no problem being up on a rickety ladder hanging a quilt or whatever, but get her in a subway station and she can get rather freaked out.

To get to the bus station we would have to catch the subway train to the Principe Pio stop which entailed one transfer. It was quite a journey with poor Cynthia nearly hyperventilating the whole way.

Once we reached Principe Pio she was fine. The fresh air reinvigorated her and we headed over to the bus station, bought our tickets and boarded the bus to Segovia.

We were laughing and having a good time when all of a sudden the bus entered a tunnel. It was quite a long tunnel and again Cynthia was a bit freaked out.

We cleared the tunnel and before long we were pulling into the bus station in Segovia.

The weather was threatening to rain all day. Menacing clouds gathered above the mountain tops and the day bounced back and forth from cloudy to sunny. I think this made for an interesting day of photography.

Right as you walk into the city center you see this wonderful old church


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If you look in the upper right-hand corner you can see the cathedral in the background


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All very nice, but the main attraction IS the aqueduct


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So exciting that even William the Sheep needed to have his picture taken in front of it

We checked it out and then walked on to have a closer look at the cathedral. It’s more Gothic than you can imagine!


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From there it was on to the Alcazar


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We opted not to pay the entry fee to take the tours and just enjoyed the spectacular weather and scenic views


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After that, we headed back to our hotel in Madrid. Cynthia did much better in the tunnel and on the subway. I think that now that she understands it a bit better we’ll have less trouble. This is good since we have to utilize it for two more day trips from Madrid alone…

Segovia – addendum

When we were reading about Segovia in the Rick Steves’ guide he mentioned something called the House of a Thousand Beaks. As bird lovers this caught our imagination. Rick Steves didn’t give any details about it other than it’s location so I went online to see what I could find out about the House of a Thousand Beaks.

Surprisingly, I came up emtpy.

Still, we sought it out while we were there and we found it and I think these pictures show clearly how the building got it’s name


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Being a Sunday, it was closed. Or maybe it is just a house. Still, it is my hope that this post will help others who try to do an Internet search for the House of a Thousand Beaks…

Night Life

Cynthia has never been a night owl. She’s usually down for the count by 9:30 or 10:00 pm and would certainly NEVER consider going out for a bite to eat at 10:00 on a Sunday night.

Not so in Madrid. This town has changed her.

We got back from Segovia and I was beat. I laid down and napped for a few hours only to wake up to the sounds of Cynthia changing clothes. She said she’d like to go out for a walk and maybe have a bocadillo (sandwich) and maybe a sangria.

I got up and got dressed and we headed out. The evening weather was absolutely perfect. No coat was needed and we were perfectly comfortable.

We walked over to the Plaza Mayor and found a table at the restaurant we discovered the previous night and sat down. We ordered our food and sangria and sat to watch the worlds go by.

Many, many people wandering the square. Young lovers walking hand in hand, a group of old ladies all sitting beneath one of the lamps in the square who I would bet are there each Sunday night, odd groups of tourists here and there. Simply magical.

And the music! There was this band starting to play near us. Just 3 guys. I got up to take a picture as a 4th was arriving.


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I figured since he had an upright bass and there was already an upright bass player he was just going to talk to someone and move on.

Nope.

By the time I took this picture there were 3 upright bass players.


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By the time we moved on there were about 12 musicians in total. Horns, percussion, guitar and the three bass players. And they were good, too! Swing music with heavy Latin overtones. They would be a huge hit at the Continental Club for sure!

Lazy Day

Today we decided we would go to the store and buy some supplies. I needed razors and Cynthia needed contact lens solution. The store to buy ANYTHING in this town is El Corte Inglés.

When I say anything, I mean ANYTHING. The store occupies several buildings over several blocks right off the Peurta Del Sol. If you go in one door it’s electronics, another door it’s books and so on. It’s like a US mall but all the stores are one company.

We got what we needed, but will return just to have a look around. It’s always fascinating to me to wander a department or grocery store in a foreign country.

After dropping off our purchase in our hotel room we made our way to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

The Reina Sofia is a world renown modern art museum and houses many great paintings by Picasso and Salvador Dali just to name the big ones. We were there specifically to see Guernica, the piece done by Pablo Picasso depicting the Nazi German bombing of Guernica, Spain by twenty-four bombers on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.


Image taken from The Elegant Variation

You read about this painting, you see it on TV or even in the occasional movie, but there’s nothing that compares to actually standing in front of it and gaping in slack-jawed awe at it’s larger-than-life magnificence.

As I’ve heard it said before: You know, I’m no art critic. But I know what I hate..

In many ways, my going to these art galleries is like cultural chemotherapy. Hopefully the exposure will have a positive and life enriching effect.

I did see some amazing things and there are more art galleries to come.

We’re back at the hotel now and it’s siesta time.

One last note, I wish I could have all my prescriptions filled here for the rest of my life…


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The tile work is amazing…

TeleMadrid

In our downtime we’ve been checking out Spanish TV.
The only option in English is a European version of CNN which covers a LOT of information about the global market (yawn) …

There’s one station that has taken very odd American shows and dubbed them into German … ???

Cynthia’s currently hooked on a TeleMadrid show called Metro a Metro, a game show that uses the Madrid Metro as the the playing board and the contestants advance by answering questions about the City.

Cynthia shouts out answers in Spanish and has been getting some of them correct, including one about the Metro itself.

It’s rather surreal…

Retiro Park

Check out this page for all my photos of Retiro Park.


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Yesterday afternoon we decided to head over to Retiro Park. It was threatening rain but we wanted to see it while we had the chance.

Retiro Park is is to Madrid what Central Park is to New York.

Even on an overcast day this place is spectacular. Sculpted gardens and magnificent fountains adorn this 350 acre park in the city center of Madrid.

We didn’t see much wildlife. No obvious squirrels or other critters. We did see many Magpies, though


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I wish we had Magpies back home.

As the weather began to get worse we made our way to the one “must see” attraction in the park, and that’s the Fountain of the Fallen Angel.

The sculpture at the top is a work by Ricardo Bellver (1845″“1924) which represents Lucifer falling from Heaven.

I’m certainly no devil-worshipper, but how can one resist going to see a statue of the devil in a public park?


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Holy Toledo!

Today was the day we slated for going to Toledo. It’s about 45 miles away and it’s only 30 minutes via the high speed Ave train which leaves from Atocha Station.

You might recognize the name as it is the location of the al-Qaeda lead train bombings that occurred on March 11th 2004.

In Spain they use 3-11 or 11-M the same way we use 9/11 in the US to describe the day the World Trade Center was attacked and destroyed.

This train station is truly something to behold. The most breathtaking feature is the winter garden that sits in the middle of the station.


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The garden is bordered by a lily pond, replete with turtles and everything!

Cynthia’s Spanish again served us well as we purchased our tickets. I don’t know if we could have pulled that off nearly as easily as we did if she didn’t speak the language.

We boarded the train and in no time at all we were pulling into the station in Toledo.

Rick Steves had indicated in his travel guide that it was a 30 minute walk to the city entrance or you could catch a cab from the station for a few euros. What he did not mention is that there are far fewer cabs than there are people needing them at the station. There must have been 50 people or more waiting in a cab line and I only saw 2 or 3 cabs trickle in before I decided we should walk.

Now keep in mind that Toledo is a walled medieval city on the top of a HUGE hill.


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We walked toward the city, not really knowing where to go and we found an old arched entrance in one of the walls.

As it turned out, this was some kind of “back entrance” to the city. We were greeted by a very steep climb up to the city center of Toledo. Neither of us was all that happy by the time we found our way to the top. We knew there must be an easier way and there is, we just didn’t end up taking it.

Once we caught our breath we set out to explore this incredible city.

The most impressive structure within the well preserved walls of Toledo is the Cathedral of St. Mary.

We made our way down the winding street to the entrance to the church and went inside.

Like many cathedrals, photography is allowed as long as it is without a flash. That is where my high speed lens came in handy and I was able to shoot some pics inside and actually walk away with something worth looking at.


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Gorgeous statues everywhere you look. This one was located on a very dimly lit wall. It was all I could do to hold the camera steady during the 1/5 of a second exposure time needed to get it.

Thank you built in image stabilization!

After we toured the cathedral we jumped on the cheezy mini-train that trundles around the city and took in the rest of the sites. This allowed me to capture a few more worthy shots of the city


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After that Cynthia and I walked down and out (the easy way) and headed back to the train station for our return to Madrid.


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Once back in Madrid we activated our rail passes and made our reservations for the train ride to Seville this Sunday.

Holy Toledo – addendum

I’ve visited some of the greatest cathedrals in Europe and they all have their fair share of votive candles. I even lit a candle for my mother while in Notre Dame during our visit to Paris a few years back.

While visiting the cathedral in Toledo I was struck by a significant difference between their votive candles and all the ones I’ve seen previously in my life…


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They’re electric lights. You put your offering in the slot, say a prayer, push a button and a light comes on….

What’s the world coming to?

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