City in the Sky

avilaWildlfowers bloom in springtime outside the medieval walled city of Ávila. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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Still Rolling Along UPDATE: (Now needs a new title)

talgo[Everything I said about slow train travel in Spain is true. Except for the part about the Talgo III still being in service. It's last run, sadly, was in 2010.] Taking a trip on the AVE, Spain’s network of modern high-speed trains, is fast and efficient. But what’s your rush? There are plenty of older trains still in operation across the country and taking a trip on one is like slipping back in time. Above, the bar car of a Talgo III, which started service almost 50 years ago and is still going strongPhoto ©Mike Randolph

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Here be Lots of Dragons

sa dragoneraThe island of Sa Dragonera, off the coast of Mallorca, almost became a mass-tourism resort after a private company bought it in 1974 and started developing plans for apartments, a hotel, a casino, and a large man-made port. But environmentalists fought back hard, and finally, ten years later, the island was designated a park and building on it was prohibited. Named for its dragon-like silhouette, the island is also home to thousands of mini dragons, aka, Podarcis lilfordi, a small lizard found nowhere else. The lighthouse at the eastern tip of the island has operated since 1910. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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Party time in Pamplona

chupinazo san fermin

The chupinazo marks the start of the Sanfermines in Pamplona. After the rocket is fired at noon on July 6, the city doesn’t sleep for nine long days. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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Cooling off in Cadiz

cadiz beach

Beach season is here. For a look at this beach at a different time of day (and a different time of year), click here. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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Nighttime, and Madrid is just getting started

gran via madridCalle Alcala and the start of the Gran Via, on a cold winter’s night in Madrid. The same evening I took this image, I took this one a little earlier, while waiting for dusk. It stumped quite a few people. I wasn’t sure anybody would get it, and they might not have without the hints I left in the comments! Both were taken from the observation deck of the Palacio de Correos in the heart of the city. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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Sunset on Segovia

segoviaThe last rays of the sun paint Segovia’s spectacular monuments with warm orange light. Photo ©Mike Randolph

 

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Street Scents

valldemosaA man walks down a cobblestone street in Valldemosa, a small town in the Tramuntana mountains on the island of Mallorca. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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Cultural Crossroads

zaragoza semana santaSemana Santa in Spain: In a nighttime Holy Week procession, hooded penitents push a statue of the Virgen Mary past the mudéjar wall of Zaragoza’s La Seo Cathedral. Mudéjar architecture, with its distinct Islamic influence (note the geometric patterns), reached its zenith in Aragon, where buildings such as La Seo form part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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Mystery Thing (Solved–see Update)

  • What the heck?

    What the heck?

  • Best when sliced thin.

    Best when sliced thin.

  • Interesting texture.

    Interesting texture.

  • Lightly fried in olive oil.

    Lightly fried in olive oil.

  • They're good with scrambled eggs.

    They’re good with scrambled eggs.

Do you know what these are? I mean, aside from delicious? Be the first to name this mystery food and win a free 8×12 print of your choosing. The answer must be the full name in Spanish or English (or latin, if you want to show off). Leave your guess in the comments section below. Good luck! Photos ©Mike Randolph

UPDATE  We have a winner, EnriqueB, author of the Spanish food blog www.dorarnosella.com. They are criadillas de tierra. That is how they are known in Extremadura, where they are most common in Spain, but they are also known as turmas in Murcia and papas crías or criadas in the Canary Islands. In English they are most commonly called desert truffles. They are related to the white truffle, though I bought mine for 12 Euros a kilo whereas white truffles are a tad more expensive–3,000 Euros a kilo. They grow in arid, sandy soils in Spain as well as parts of North Africa and the Middle East. Fungi expert Antonio Rodríguez has an excellent post on them here.

While not nearly as aromatic as white or even black truffles, they do have a wonderful mushroomy, earthy, hard-to-define taste. Some people slice them thin and use them in place of potatoes in a tortilla. But most people prefer them with scrambled eggs. They are moist, but dense, and fried in olive oil they are quite lovely. March and April is the season for fresh desert truffles, though they are also sold in jars, minus their soil-covered skin. As Julvic noted in the comments, they don’t look very appetizing. Last fun fact: Criadillas means calf’s testicles, so the rough translation for desert truffle in Spanish is calf’s testicles of the earth.

Thanks to all who participated.

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Springtime in the Dehesa

oak tree dehesa extremaduraBuy a limited edition print of this image

A moss-covered oak tree in the Dehesa of Extremadura, Spain. Photo ©Mike Randolph

 

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Gone to Blazes

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[Last year I was asked by the editor of Men's Fashion, a popular Canadian magazine, to write a feature about Las Fallas in Valencia. Since tomorrow, March 19th, the fiesta comes to a spectacular end with the cremà, or burning, of the giant statues, I thought I'd post the article that appeared in last December's issue. Here it is.]

It takes a little while, but during the fiesta known as Las Fallas, in Valencia, you eventually get used to the sight of four-year-old boys walking around with pieces of burning rope. At first I didn’t know what the ropes were for, but then I saw one little guy run up to his father and jump up and down imploringly until dad produced a few firecrackers. The kid then ran off to light them with the rope and then throw them pretty much wherever he pleased. Oh, I thought. I see. The ropes are fuses. Of course. I mean, you can’t exactly let a four-year-old play with matches, can you?

Ah, Spain. It’s fun for people of all ages! While the kids amuse themselves by lighting firecrackers in bars, in restaurants and throwing them at the feet of unsuspecting tourists (“Wow, that old man jumped a lot higher than I thought he could!”), some of the adults busy themselves with the final touches on the mascletás. Whole sections of streets are cordoned off and rigged with Continue Reading →

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Portal into the Past

The 12th-century Romanesque cloisters of the Colegiata de Santa Juliana glow in the late afternoon light. The church, in the town of Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, was declared a National Monument in 1889, more than seven-hundred years after it was built. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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Aerial Invasion

Tarifa, at the southern tip of Spain, was named after Tarif ibn Malik, a Berber warrior who in 710 sailed from Africa, seen in the background, to reconnoiter military defenses in preparation for Continue Reading →

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Garlike

Don Quixote warned his faithful companion Sancho Panza against eating garlic because his breath would betray him as a lowly farmer. But Sancho didn’t listen and neither did anybody else. (The Don was, after all, a little off his rocker.) Today, garlic is a foundation of the Mediterranean diet. In Zaragoza’s central market, above, a woman sells different varieties of garlic from across Spain. Photo ©Mike Randolph

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