Hasta Luego Espana!
01 May 2008 | La Ciotat, France
Bonnie/Sunny, but cooler
In the early Sunday morning sunshine, I lace up my shoes and randomly follow a runner heading north along the Barcelona waterfront. The run takes me past beautiful beaches, the Olympic Village, and a futuristic structure that I later learn is Frank Gehry's goldfish. It's shaping up to be the perfect day until Rick's perusal of the grib files leads him to the conclusion that we should leave the next morning. What, already?? Better make the most of today then. A quick perusal of the guide books gives us a shortlist of places to visit: the Palau de la Musica (a world heritage sight), the Arc de Triumphe (bet you thought that was in Paris) and the Picasso museum. On go the hiking shoes again, and we head straight for the Ribera district.
After a short walk, Rick beckons me toward a narrow side street with a fantastic structure that appears to be topped with Ukrainian Easter eggs. It's the Palau de la Musica-designed by a Catalan architect Montaner as a home for the Catalan Choral Society. The guided tours of the auditorium are fully booked until Tuesday-how disappointing; we'll be long gone by then. There's another possibility though- we can buy tickets for the 6 p.m. performance of a Catalan operetta. Doesn't that sound perfect? Rick is not so sure. The box office doesn't open until 4 p.m. anyway, so we move on.
Animal activists are staging a lively demonstration under the Arc de Triumph, complete with oversize float-figures and dancing percussionists. There is an Oxfam event being held inside Ciutadella Park, and families lounge on the grass. We have a tapas lunch in El Borne, then tour the Picasso Museum-well worth a visit. We backtrack to the church of Santa Maria del Mar, and have coffee in the square. By five o'clock we are both very tired, but Rick indulges me and agrees to go back to the Palau de la Musica for the operetta. When he sees the auditorium he is glad he did. It is an astonishing place- whimsical and ornate, with rich colours, intricate carving, a brilliant stained glass skylight, three-dimensional figures leaping out of the mosaic backdrop behind the stage...can any performance match the artistry of this setting? Rick manages to take a few photographs before being told that this is against the rules (and, it must be said, a few after being told!). The operetta is sung entirely in Catalan, with full orchestral accompaniment. We can't understand a single word, but it doesn't matter.
We topped off the evening with dinner in a restaurant back in El Borne, and that was the end of our tour of Barcelona- at least for this year. From there it was on to Palamos-a nice little town and a great position to start the crossing of the Golfe De Lion , but be prepared for pricetag shock if you want to stay at the marina- 68 euros a night! (In comparison , Marina Vell, with it's unbeatable location in downtown Barcelona, was 19.66 euros in April, 43.24 euros beginning May 1st- go figure.) Last night we finally crossed the Golfe de Lion, and we landed in La Ciotat, Provence at around 2 o'clock today. French flags, cafe au lait and serious culture shock.. hasta luego Espana, ici on parle francais!
29 April 2008
If you are growing tired of hearing us rhapsodize about Spain, you will be pleased to hear that we are almost ready to move on to France. But first, Barcelona!
I've been re-reading parts of James Michener's "Iberia" and learning more about Spanish history and culture. Michener says that "To travel across Spain and finally to reach Barcelona is like drinking a respectable red wine and finishing up with a bottle of champagne". Although he wrote this back in the 1960's, it still seems to fit.
The Barcelona that Rick experienced in the days of his long-forgotten long hair would have been very similar to the Barcelona described by Michener. Somehow, I think he expected to find it unchanged, complete with 50-cent roasted chickens sold in paper bags from sidewalk stalls. He was almost bouncing with excitement as we joined the throngs of people streaming past the Christopher Columbus monument toward Las Ramblas-a long, graceful, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard that begins at Port Vell and stretches to Catalunya Square. Stepping onto the Ramblas was like arriving at a fairground...souvenir booths, flower stalls, human "statues" that spring to life for those willing to drop a few centimos, unsuspecting tourists loosing their money (and perhaps their wallets) at sidewalk ball-and-cup games...and yes, Mr. Michener, even stalls selling live birds! A street pigeon, free on the sidewalk, stares through the bars of a cage at the captive budgies inside. What are they thinking, I wonder? Something is reminding me of Madrid- is it the graceful architecture, the hum of a large city? No, I eventually recognize it as the sense of unease, the feeling that my pocket is about to be picked. I satisfy myself that my passport and camera are secure as we move away from the Ramblas and into the huge market. Stalls of vegetables artistically arranged, meats, fish, dried fruits, candy, pastries... is it too early to shop for dinner? Yes, because we don't want to carry the bags.
The 14th century gothic cathedral is shrouded in scaffolding and gauzy canvass, a silk-screened image providing only a vague hint of its grandeur. Do we just have particularly bad timing, or is every famous historic site in Europe perpetually under construction? (Probably the latter, given the age of these monuments.) Much of the Gothic quarter is in shadows, even on this bright sunny day. The city is suffering from a drought, water is being rationed and all the fountains are shut off. No doubt they cannot keep the streets as clean as usual- the delicious smells from the restaurants mingle with less pleasant smells from the gutters.
Rick's quest for barbecued chicken turns up nothing other than one rather expensive restaurant where chickens are turning on a spit in a brick alcove outside the front door. We are too tired to appreciate a sit-down meal, and go back to the boat for sandwiches and an early night. (Later, we learn that this restaurant, Los Caracoles, is one of the oldest in Barcelona and by the way highly recommended by Wally and Martha!) The following day is given over to cleaning, laundry and other chores- mundane, but very satisfying. (At the washing machine, there is a sign firmly prohibiting the washing of robes.What objection could they possibly have to the washing of robes, I wonder. Eventually, I work out that they mean ropes!)
By Saturday, we are ready to resume our sightseeing. We have already seen Wally and Martha's photos of the Sagrada Familia (Gaudi's famous church-in-progress) and are determined not to miss it. Gaudi began work on this astonishing basilica in 1884. At that time, the design must have been very controversial even in a city where Moderisme was already taking hold. Only one tower had been completed when Gaudi died after being hit by a tramcar in 1926, very bad luck. (His tomb-unbelievably, also closed for renovations-is in a museum on the grounds.) The project continued for a time under the direction of another architect, but was interrupted by the Spanish Civil war, during which all the plans and many of the models were destroyed. Eventually some of the models were reconstructed, but succeeding architects have developed their own interpretations. The result has sort of a haunted forest-meets Alhambra-meets Star Wars effect that is difficult to describe or even capture in photographs. Go to Barcelona and have a look for yourself if you get an opportunity- although if you want to see the finished product, best to wait twenty or thirty years! It's massive and an architectural marvel.
We saw a lot more of Barcelona, but I think this posting is already too long. I hope we fill in the blanks in a separate posting within the next couple of days. We have since moved on to Palomos and we are waiting here for a weather window to cross the Golfe du Lion. Too many warnings about the unpredictable weather on this body of water have made us a bit uneasy- this morning we made it as far as the fuel dock, but chickened out when we got a better glimpse of the conditions outside. It seems a bit unfair that the marina fees here are almost double what they were in Barcelona- but we're happy to be here cooking pasta instead of battling Force 7 winds and waves to match!
All the best from Aisling 1
Barcelona on the Bow
28 April 2008 | 4 miles off Mataro, Spain on the Costa Brava
Do the basic navigation chores like calculating the distance-it's 130 miles. Check the weather-winds look light and the Tramontana is quiet-that's a good thing. Verify the route for obstructions, calculate the ETA and do the fuel calculation. We have 19" in one tank and 25" in the other. At 1600 rpm that's about 3L per hour and allows for 125 hours. Even at 2200 rpm and a burn rate of 6.2L/hr, that gives us 65 hours. After all that, I still find it difficult to wait for the planned departure time. I want to get going. So even though I have planned my arrival time and know when I should leave, I am pacing the dock and the boat
. one side of my head saying "Get going, look there is wind!" , the other side of my head saying . "No, no, no, take it easy, just wait a bit, relax. You know when you want to leave." But I can't relax before a departure. It's one of my little idiosyncrasies.
Most departures are like this for me. Palma was the same Bonnie out for a run and Rick pacing, organizing and looking at his watch, wondering when Bonnie will get back. "Where is she?" -even though I know we do not want to leave until 1:30pm. Finally, Bonnie does come back-she has been squeezing in a little Christmas shopping, but senses that I am pacing here at the boat. I calm down when she suggests grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Hmm, sounds good. We finally get underway at about 1:40pm.
Alboran Marina is small, narrow and shallow (9'). The anchor lines, therefore, have shallow, long runs. They are like a spider's web, waiting to catch me and even though the winds are supposed to be light, there is a nice breeze. With our new system, the departure from the dock goes well.
Turns out the wind is a sea breeze and as soon as we turn the corner at Punta Cautius it dies to 2-4 knots from the SW, so it's motor the whole way, 20 hours. It's a beautiful warm afternoon as the huge cliffs and mountains of Mallorca slip to our stern.
This is a busy part of the Med. We counted 20 ships on the AIS or radar. CPA's were never closer than 1mile except a lone sailboat that ghosted by in the middle of the night at about 500' on the inverse of our course. All I saw was the red light at the top of his mast. The passage was uneventful and the arrival was easy.
Barcelona is a big, busy city. I was here back in the hippy days of the early 70's and I remember the brown haze of smog. Well, it's still there but maybe just a little bit lighter, and some of Barcelona's amazing architecture comes into view. We have a reservation at Marina Port Vell, so we twist and turn our way into the inner reaches of the harbour. We have the lines ready for a Med moor but they direct us to a finger pier, which is a nice surprise after weeks of climbing up and down the anchor. Lots of big boats here as well- one unusual 80'(?) trimaran called Pilar Rossi, with a 30' cigarette boat on the starboard pontoon and 4 jet skis and a car on the port pontoon. It also had two RIBs tied to its side-one with a 90hp engine and the other with a 40hp engine. I think someone likes his toys!
Port Vell is the old harbour and it is right downtown. We get organized and head immediately out on the town. It's only a 10 minute walk to the Rambla. The city is buzzing with people and our heads are twisting from side to side taking in the sights and smells. I think this is going to be a fun visit!
As I write this on Apr. 28, we are on the water again heading for Palamos today and hopefully will cross the Gulf de Lyon tomorrow, heading for Cassis, France, if the forecast holds. We will write about our Barcelona visit in the next post.
All the best from Aisling I Yesterday was a great day.
All the best from Aisling I
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25 April 2008 | Port Vell, Barcelona, Spain
We had high expectations of Palma-the massive cathedral overlooking the old town, the huge super-yachts berthed in uber-expensive clubs, the setting of palm trees, blue water and sunshine. Aisling joined thousands of other yachts in Palma Harbour- some, like us, who were there to look, and others, no doubt, who were there to be seen. It reminded us, to some extent, of St Barth's in the Caribbean.
Arriving in any new port always causes us some anxiety, so we were relieved to have found such a great parking place for Saturday night- and even more relieved when we were able to book a berth for the next day at the marina Alboran, just a short walk away. Who would have believed that the price of 48 euros/night would seem like a real steal?
With our immediate concerns resolved, we walked into the old town in search of dinner. The streets of the old town were bustling with European vacationers, mostly German, whose elegance made us regret our wardrobe choices for the evening (jeans, T-shirts and ballcaps). We had tapas and wine at a busy little bar, and chatted for a while with the Brazilian skipper of a Swan 65 and his crewmate from Antibes as well as a young German couple who were vacationing in Mallorca. Later, we went back to the boat and sat in the cockpit for a while, enjoying the view of the full moon beside the cathedral.
The following day, the animated city we had seen the night before seemed to have vanished. On Sundays (and during siesta) the streets of Spanish cities are typically deserted. The garage-style metal doors that cover the fronts of most businesses can hardly be described as picturesque. No Sunday shopping here! No eating out either, apparently, since most restaurants were also closed. The weather was cool and overcast so, after a long walk, we spent the day resting and catching up on some work.
By early the next morning, the city had shape-shifted back into a Mediterranean paradise! It was the ideal day for a long run along the waterfront boardwalk in the bright sunshine, past the cathedral and beaches, where surf created by the blow of the previous night was crashing in on the sand. The end of the point was a great spot to get the full impact of the cathedral's size, scope and graceful proportions. After a quick shower, we headed off for a day of exploring.
The first stop, of course, was the cathedral. It is as magnificent as described- very large and ornate, with three levels of elaborate and beautiful stained glass windows. Oddly, guidebooks were for sale only in the giftshop at the exit, but we were able to get some insight by lingering in the vicinity of an elderly American couple who had obviously hired a private guide for the day. (Leaving the cathedral, we saw this same couple leaving in a Mercedes with their driver and guide- a glimpse of how the privileged set tour Spain!) The guide provided a detailed explanation of the altarpiece, designed by Gaudi, (who will doubtless return to the pages of this blog later, when we reach Barcelona).This unusual twisting wrought iron chandelier supposedly represents the Crown of Thorns, but a key feature is 33 small suspended ships. According to the guide, the ships represent Catalan sailing ships.and were crafted from pumpkin shells. The number 33 was apparently of some significance to Gaudi's Masonic background, and the crown on the head of his statue of Christ also features 33 points. It would have required the better part of a day to examine everything the cathedral had to offer, but unfortunately Rick's tolerance for touring cathedrals seems to be inversely proportional to the number we have seen during our journey. After about half an hour, he was ready to leave. We moved on to the Can Marques,"the only mansion house one can visit in Palma," for a glimpse at the lifestyle of wealthy citizens in early-20th-century Mallorca. Can Marques is a beautiful house, but not one where a tall person could live comfortably.
We could have toured the castle, the other churches (which are as glorious as the cathedrals in many cities) and some of the museums. Instead, we went shopping. Rick, now regretting his Riviera man comments, was in search of a European wardrobe. We found a great pair of linen pants and a scarf, then retreated to a dockside restaurant for a late lunch.
We had heard various tales of Mallorca's spectacular scenery, tranquil anchorages, poor holding and fierce winds, but unfortunately the remainder of our Mallorcan "cruising" was done by car. We confined our explorations to the west coast, where many of the important points of interest are clustered. The Serra Tramuntana,, with elevations of up to 4500', lie just outside Palma. The drive to the village of Soller took us through a spectacular landscape of olive and citrus groves backed by craggy mountain peaks. Spring wildflowers added splashes of red and yellow to the landscape. Dodging the hoards of cyclists made the steep switchbacks even more challenging than usual to navigate. Yes, cyclists... hundreds of them...most seemingly on a cycling holiday with a German tour company, but resembling Tour de France contenders complete with "team" uniforms. They smiled cheerfully as they pedaled up steep inclines for miles the way we might pedal down Spring Garden Road, but hurled oaths at inconsiderate drivers. As they passed us on the steep downhill segments, with only inches between them and certain death, I concluded that some levels of courage are best left to others.
S�ller is a captivating town of old stone buildings, beautiful gardens, small shops and mountain views. A tram line runs through the town and out to the coast. We had coffee in the square, then drove to the outskirts of the town, where fields of citrus orchards shimmered against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains and the air was full of the perfume of flowers.
Fornalutz and Dei� were also very beautiful- quaint villages in spectacular mountain settings, again with the elusive scent in the air- could it be oleander? Dei� was the home of British poet Robert Graves- whom we had never heard of until seeing the cartoon of "Graves' Grave" in Bob's book. This setting would surely inspire artistic creativity, even though Graves is beyond appreciating the spectacular view from his final resting place. The cemetery itself was actually quite interesting. Spanish graves often provide photographs of the deceased- typically stout and elderly, peering out from behind thick glasses. Surely they must once have been lovely senoritas and handsome young men?
The only disappointment was the town of Valldemossa- touted as a highlight of the island but in fact a warren of cheap tourist stalls, although admittedly in a lovely setting. Perhaps we are experiencing touring burnout. In any case, we decided to go no further, and made our way gradually back to Palma, detouring for a picnic in Sant Elm and a visit to the marina in Andratx.
The next morning, Rick announced that the wind, although light, was at last coming from the right direction to sail (motor) to Barcelona, so after one last run along the water and a final foray into the town, we headed down the coast. Unfortunately, the combination of our boat problems, weather and schedule hadn't really allowed us to experience genuine cruising in the Balearics, but perhaps we will be more fortunate on the homeward journey.
We arrived at Marina Vell in Barcelona at 11 a.m. yesterday, after a calm and windless passage. More to follow!
All the best from Aisling 1!