The boys bag a boar. Compludo, North Western Castile and León, Spain. 2009

Engogirl and I went to a medieval iron works, Herrería de Compludo, yesterday.  The road was so narrow, that we couldn’t turn the car around to go back to Ponferrada, so we drove on down the dirt road to the tiny village of Compludo. As we entered the village we had to come to a halt because the road was blocked by a large group of men, dogs and 4WDs.

We stopped the car and got out to see what was going on and this is part of what we saw.

A group of hunters had killed a wild boar and were weighing it (94kg2 or 207lbs) while the villagers appeared from all directions to take photos, admire and congratulate.

Floral offerings at the Fiestas del Pilar. Zaragoza, Spain. 2009

As part of the Fiestas del Pilar a gigantic pyramid of floral offerings is made in front of the Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica.


This statue of the “Virgin of Pilar” crowned the floral pyramid that the people had come to see.

As with most spectacular things, many people appeared to want to be photographed in front of the pyramid. I noticed in particular that there were often large groups of elderly people in wheelchairs being photographed with the flowers behind them.

What struck me in particular was how many of the people seemed to be genuinely touched by the experience of being near such a large religious offering.


There was a palpable feeling of love in the air as the people with the elderly in the wheelchairs showed them much tenderness and care. It was all quite moving to see and be around all the emotion.

Gigantes y cabezudos at the Fiestas del Pilar. Zaragoza, Spain. 2009

Each day of the Fiestas del Pilar at noon a procession giants and bigheads passses through a different part of town to end up at the Basilica del Pilar.

At the head of the procession are groups of youngs who line up an taunt the the big heads to chase them with their whips.

The bigheads charge after anyone who gets too close and lightly whip them. This all is done in fun and I think that the Spanish have tapped into a very basic human desire to be chased. Engogirl got chased by a bighead and had a big smile on her dial all day.

Most of the kids love being chased and it really lightens the heart to hear the squeals of delight of little kids being chased.

Of course some children freak out and run screaming and crying to their parents. The parents tended to pick the frightened child up and while comforting them, take them back to the bighead chasing them showing that it was all in fun. The guys in the bigheads go to great effort to comfort any kids that get frightened.

Many of the parents and grandparents would call over the bigheads with chants along the lines of, “torre-a-dore, torre-a-dore,torre-a-dore” to chase their kids. I guess that they were tying to pass on something that they enjoyed as children.

Of course some of the children were just too small to get what was going on.

Following behind the bigheads are the giants which dance and swirl around to music played on traditional instruments like bagpipes and reed instruments similar to oboes.

It’s also interesting to see big heads in the form of stereotypes that havent been around, in Australia at least,  for about 50 years. A hunchbacked negro jockey?

That would go down like a fart in an elevator in the States, but such images don’t seem to be considered inappropriate in Zaragoza. Then again, bullfighting is still very popular so I guess the locals have been somewhat desensitized to how other beings feel.

Having said all that about an unfortunate remaining stereotype, the procession on the whole represented a lot of fun for just about everyone except the guy selling balloon swords. 

He stood around in his token greasepaint as everyone walked by enjoying the free fun without buying his wares.

Pedro Collares playing the hang.

We are currently in Zaragoza, Spain for the Fiesta de Pilar.

The streets are crowded with revellers, hawkers and street performers. Last night we came across Pedro Collares playing the hang. The hang looks like cross between a gamelan and a wok but it sounds a like cross between a tim drum and a dulcimer. Here’s a video from Youtube showing Pedro playing in Barcelona. Unfortunately it doesn’t do justice to the musician or the instrument.

[youtube XOU5k39EZWs]

The only thing that is constant is change. Certaldo, Tuscany, Italy. 2009

When I was a child the world seemed to be set and complete but as I’ve grown older I’ve noticed that everything is in a constant state of flux.

Nothing is set or finished. City skylines always have cranes in them. Something is always being built, or renovated while other things are being torn down. Countries fragment while empires grown. Back and forth the boundaries between nature and the man made ebb and flow.

When I was in Certaldo in Italy I was struck with how many changes some of the buildings had gone through.  The large original arch in the picture above was made in the 12th century and over the years; the wall with the arch has been modified to suit the changing needs of the owners of the building.

All these changes remind me of how we are all subject to change.

Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

Omar Khayyám

Slot car tourism. Siena, Italy. 2009

After a testing day driving the very narrow and winding back roads of Tuscany, plunging into Siena during the afternoon peak hour is akin to sticking one’s hand into a blender while it is on.  The locals and tourists are all trying to escape the city at the same time and in a word, it’s chaos. 

I had been warned about driving in Italy, but I came up with a coping mechanism that enabled me to get around like a local.  When driving in Italy and faced with a choice, all one has to do is ask oneself the question, “what would a selfish person do?” and then go ahead and do it as though you had all the right in the world and owned the road.  Any display of driving courtesy or consideration will only throw the locals into confusion and probably cause an accident.  Don’t indicate, don’t give way, don’t stop at pedestrian crossings, just drive like a selfish bastard and you’ll be okay.  This might sound like hyperbole but I’m not kidding,  and it pays to assume that everyone else will drive that way, because it makes things much more predictable and therefore safer.

Feeling like a salmon swimming upstream as I circuited the city a few times looking for parking prepared me for when we finally left the car and started walking into the old part of the city.  It was as though the driving was merely the first gauntlet through which we had to pass.  The second was heading in the opposite direction to the streaming crowds leaving the city before nightfall.  We saw large (probably the size that would fit into a tour bus) flocks of sunbaked and footsore tour groups, either bedecked with matching green scarves or being herded along by their flag-wielding shepherds. 

On we swam upstream until we finally reached the world-famous Campo and I have to admit, I was blown away while feeling an uncontrollable urge to spawn.  It really is beautiful, and no wonder all those people wanted to have a look at it.  Without trying to be disingenuous, I suppose it is the height of chutzpah to expect that I would have such an amazing place just for us two.

The Piazza Del Campo=

The first thing that struck me about the Campo in Siena, was that it wasn’t flat, which might not sound like too great a concern until one realises that the locals race horses around the circumference of the piazza during the Palio.  I have to be honest, the Palio is something I would love to see, even though it would cost a small fortune for decent accommodation at that time and to secure a good vantage point.  Why I’d even brave the insane crowds that would go to such an event!

As with most famous tourist attractions, the Campo in Siena is surrounded by numerous eateries and in Italy this unfortunately means a plethora of pizza parlours.  I am so over pizzas, and like I’m talkin’ 35 years over them.  I spent a summer making them and even though I consider myself a pizza connisseur I wouldn’t care if I never ate another one. 

By the time we arrived at the Campo, both our nerves were quite frazzled and poor old Engogirl was looking a bit down-spirited.  So when I asked her what she wanted to eat and she replied ‘pizza’, there was no way I could deny her such a small thing.  So we sat at the first pizza place we came to and she ordered a Montanga pizza and I ordered a tuna salad.  Sitting at a nearby table was a cool-looking elderly couple drinking some bright orange drinks with ice in large wine glasses.  The ice-cold bright orange drinks seemed to know my name and they called to me, so I gestured to the waiter to come over, and asked him what they were.  He replied “spritzers”.  Now I always thought that a spritzer was just some generic term for a wine cocktail with something fizzy in it, but apparently in northern Italy it is a combination of Aperol (a milder-flavoured version of the very nasty Campari) and Prosecco.  I have to say that considering my mental state at the time, the delivered “spritzers” were the perfect antidote.  

When our meal arrived, the sun had started to go down and the sky turned a beautiful deep blue and the crowds had thinned right out.  No longer were there clumps of locals shooting the breeze as tourists took photographs of each other with the Palazzo Pubblico behind.

Twilight at the Piazza Del Campo=

Much to my surprise, the salad that I ordered was fantastic, and Engogirl’s pizza was divine.  I’ve never been a fan of thin-crust pizzas, as I feel that they are a failure of technique.  Any idiot can make a thin crust pizza by letting ordinary pizza dough dry out during the second rising.  Talk about selling a defect as an advantage…sheesh!  But I digress, the pizza’s flavours were just amazing.  Arugula, wild mushrooms (which are in season at the moment) and proscuitto with a mozzarella that was unlike any that I’d ever tasted before.  It all tasted so rich and buttery.  It was the best pizza I’d ever tasted.

The Americans may have invented the pizza but I think it’s been perfected in Siena.

By the time we had finished dinner the sky had turned black and the piazza was almost deserted except for a few small groups of back-packers sitting around sharing wine. 

The Piazza Del Campo at night=

As I looked at the backpackers I couldn’t help but remember my times in the early eighties when I hitchhiked through Europe.  I was glad that I travelled back then, the way how I did, because just about any kind of travel is better than no travel at all.  But I have to admit, I’m really loving the way how I’ve been travelling lately.

Back when I was younger I travelled with little or no money and I often felt that I was on the outside looking in, like some hungry dog with its nose pressed up against the glass of a butcher’s shop window.  How things have changed, now I’m on the inside and my biggest problem is not to eat and drink too much!

Looking straight up in a few places in Europe. 2009

Ever since I took a photo from directly under the Eiffel Tower in Paris I’ve made a point of taking some photos looking directly up.

The entrance to Žale cemetary by Jože Plečnik in Ljubjana, Slovenia

The cathedral in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy

Inside the entrance way of the Vicariale in Certaldo, Tuscany, Italy

The catherdral in Worms, Germany.

Ruins of the Roman baths in Trier, Germany.

A candelabra in an old mosque in Mostar, Herzegovina.

A tower on the freeway in Provence, France.

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