Saturday 20 February 2016 Spain

Can you spot Anakin?
February has not so been particularly birdy or bloggy, but when I looked at my calendar earlier in the year that was immediately obvious. Once again I have barely stood still, with a trip to Hamburg, an intense period at work, and more recently nearly a full week in Spain en famille. This latter is all I really have to talk at the moment, my blog has descended into "my life, by me" which is a bit sad. I still have the death of the high street tucked away, which I wrote in jest about a day before our local butcher went bust. There is now a very sad empty shop on in Wanstead with a "To Let" sign on it. 90 years they had been going, a proper multi-generational family business. No doubt it will soon be yet another fried chicken place, it's next to Costa and there's already a Starbucks a few doors down so unless Nero fancy their chances I think we can discount coffee. Tescos is already here having taken over the Woolies a few years ago. Is the demise of A G Dennis a coincidence? On the plus side the Allied Irish office has turned into a pub, and we now have a proper fishmonger, so it isn't all bad news. Still, I felt it was slightly insensitive to post it so soon after this loss, when all I am really doing is complaining about people going shopping and thus getting in the way of my Strava record attempts!

When I got home from Spain there was some really bad news though! I have written a fully-fledged blog piece on the stupidity of bird books as a follow-up to the one I did on how my decluttering was going. This was basically ready to go, penned on the London to Madrid flight, but when I got home I discovered that somebody had beaten me to it!  Now you will probably have noticed that a fair few of the blogs I read are written by similarly-aged men. I might [nearly] be one too, although I am confident I am the youngest of the lot! Anyhow, this writing collective being essentially one super-organism nearly always agrees with everything written by any of them, and one post can frequently spark a post in reply and so on. It would be going too far to say that they're all the same as they're not, each one has a distinct style and different humour, but you do sometimes feel like you're reading a set. Thus I cannot possibly now post something about how on earth I've ended with 50 unread bird books, and so that one has to remain in draft too until everyone has forgotten about Gavin's post. And Steve's.... 

Which leaves me with Extramadura, Seville and Madrid. All in Spain, but just like our writers all very different in their feel and the experiences they afford. This was a family holiday - binoculars came but were used on just two days out of six. Yes, only a third of the holiday contained birds! Despite this abject failure I still racked up a pretty respectable list in quiet moments, but as Mrs L might read this I'll need to stay silent on that for now. Black-winged Kite!! Shhhhhh! You will also have to excuse me for this being a rather photo-heavy post. Think of it as compensating for the lack of birdiness... I took my rejuvenated (read fixed at great expense) 5D3 with me, confirming it's a wonderful tool for my kind of travel.

Trujillo is a lovely place. If you come just a little later you can see the colony of Lesser Kestrels at the bullring. We were too early though, and had to wander round the town until the kids got bored.
Our first day was in Trujillo in a gale. We had a very leisurely local breakfast, and then wandered around the medieval town. The kids practiced their spanish in various shops, and Mrs L and I were happy just to see them getting to grips with a new place. After an excellent picnic lunch in the countryside where we devoured all the hard-communicated produce, we went for a walk on the plains. Or more accurately we were blown across the plains, the wind was quite ridiculous. With leaden skies mounting worryingly fast we fought our way back to the car just in time to escape a monumental rain storm. 

Shortly after I took this it landed on us, but we were safely in our car by then, The landscape is incredibly impressive, and there are birds everywhere.

The following day after another stupidly long breakfast we made our way to Monfrague National Park. Henry, who had been before with me, took on the mantle of expedition leader, and so the whole family saw Vultures, Blue Rock Thrushes, Azure-winged Magpies and a host of other lovely birds set in dramatic scenery. Another lengthy and satisfying al fresco lunch took place, after which we decided we would visit Portugal on the way to Seville. This we did, heading west at Barajoz and discovering that the Portugese economy is in far worse shape than Spain's. A bit sad really to wander around a run-down town, being served out-of-date fruit juice with mould in the bottles. To be fair it's probably not like this in Lisbon or Faro, but on the far edges of the country you do feel like you have hit a rather neglected area.

If I lived in Extramadura and my house didn't have a Stork on it I would have to move to one that did.

Even Mrs L with her bird phobia could not fail to be impressed with the Griffons at Salto del Gitano. Confession time, my large lens did come too, but was used very sparingly indeed.

The jangling of Serins is never far away. Another failure for this country. Bring on Global Warming I say.
Back into Spain we woke up the next day in Seville, and spent all of the next two days exploring this wonderful city, stacked to the gills with fantastic moorish architecture and open spaces, narrow streets with doorways leading to palatial courtyards. Everywhere was tiled, everywhere was delightful. Amazing food at all corners, we ate a lot of it but equally walked miles and miles. Oranges are everywhere, they appear to grow on trees. There is a whole municipal department devoted to picking them up and throwing them away, as they fall faster than they can be used. And they're delicious to boot, and absurdly cheap. We saw where Star Wars was filmed. More interestingly we saw where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. I can't recommend it highly enough as a city break. If you do one thing, go to the Alcazar. Or the Casa de Pilatos. Or......I'll let the photos do the talking I think.

Behind wooden doorways along the narrow streets you often got a glimpse of the charms within. It is simply a different style of living.
This is where we were lucky enough to be staying. Horrible isn't it?

I certainly didn't like it at all as it provoked feelings of pure rage.

These are known as the mushrooms. Whoever designed it had been on them I think.

The sheer intricacy of the Alcazar was breathtaking. Hundreds of years old. The gardens were tranquility apart from the demented Mallard that thought it was a Peacock.

Don't go to southern Spain if you don't like tiles and glazed ceramics would be my advice

On our final day we went to Madrid. I cunningly booked a very long connection which allowed us about six hours in the city, and so by 9am we were eating breakfast overlooking the Royal Palace, and then were able to bimble at leisure for a few hours. We explored a few markets, and revisited a couple of Tapas places I had enjoyed solo on a previous trip, saw a tubby Spiderman and considered the purchase of a life-sized fibreglass Jesus, the most impressive of countless pieces of devotional crud that are ubiquitously available in Spain. We filled a suitcase with salami, cheese, oranges, ham, chocolate, vegetables and olive oil, and were home in Chateau L by supper time.

Ah, supper - I could not write about Spain without talking more about the food. Just to wander around the markets is enough to make you weep. We bought a kilo of prawns for about three quid. In England even finding a prawn is hard work. To walk past the rows of bodegas and not go into every single one of them is a super-human feat. The fruit looks and tastes amazing, the vegetables make what we get here seem a poor excuse. As mentioned above we brought back what we could, but it's no substitute for being able to simply nip out and grab an entire delicious meal of fresh ingredients for a fraction of the price that here simply gets you drab uniformity. Have a look at the next few photos and salivate....

Boquerones, frequently filleted and soaked in oil and vinegar for extra deliciousness.

A small selection of a dizzying amount of Tapas routinely available almost anywhere you went. The UK's reputation for a poor diet is very well founded.

There is nothing to say.

Unlike poor A G Dennis, Spain has thousands of thriving small niche food businesses

To complete lunch.....

This is actually a skip of oranges. Council workers were gathering these from the ground at Seville Cathedral and dumping them in bucketloads. What happens to them I have no idea. Once they have no taste I expect Tesco take them.

Not food, but in case you didn't believe me.

And no "trip report" would be complete without this to finish up with. A Tapas place in Madrid that only did shrimp in garlic. And white wine.


  1. Absolutely wonderful images, every single one! Why don't you have an exhibition of your photographs? I guess more people read blogs than go to photographic exhibitions - but I keep think that I'd love to see some of these blown up and on a wall.

    1. Thanks Martha. An exhibition? You're right on the numbers, but it would also require time that I don't have! Any anyhow, there are thousands of websites with far better offerings that you get here, you just have not found them yet!

  2. Reading this on a computer in the Express offices having earlier eaten some fruit from Tesco as part of my lunch - a plastic bowl with acidic chunks of barely edible stuff in it. Beautiful images, by the way. Too beautiful really, as they make me want to cry...

    1. Remarkably the day or so after I wrote this I had a really really good orange from Tesco. But overall I stand by what I said, we're are but poor culinary relations to most other places.

  3. Jono, have been a bit remiss in keeping up with the blogs I visit, so a bit late to this post. Initially I opened it up on my little Sony tablet, but simply had to make the effort to use the laptop so I could fully appreciate the stunning photos. In my (untrained, ignorant, merely-a-punter) opinion, you have a superb eye for a good shot. The above would be worthy of any pukka travelogue, and really convey the feel of the place. Brilliant.

    Re the books/super-organism: Sorry about that! However, I think I am very much out of alignment with most of the rest of the body when it comes to book collecting!

    1. Cheers Gavin, I had a lovely time in Spain annoying the family while I stopped to take photographs. I think I felt somewhat rejuvenated after the return of my camera from the repairers and made extra effort, however we went to some inspiring places and that helps a great deal. Seville - book it now!!