Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mas España! – Our Spanish Staycations: October 9 to 25, 2016

This post is being launched from Golfito, Costa Rica where we remain waiting for new house batteries to arrive from Miami. It is a flash-back post about the portion of our two-month Spanish sojourn spent "staycationing". We rented two different apartments in two very, very, very different places and enjoyed la vida española in both. 

Barcelona, Catalunia – October 9 - 18

Barcelona is a Favorite City for many and last year, when tourists abandoned Paris by the thousands, Barcelona became a Favorite City for Practically Everyone. Even in October, a month into the shoulder season, it was freehkin’ jammed.

We managed to fall in love with Barcelona anyway.

A Few Of Our Favorite Things:

               "Our" Apartment: Via Airbnb we rented all but the master suite (which was unoccupied – just unavailable to us) of a charming apartment on the seventh floor in an older building in the Eixample (“Eye-sham-plah”) area of Barcelona. The apartment was roomy, comfortable, quiet (for a major city) and offered a sliver of a distance view of the Mediterranean.

On The Horizon - Our Mediterranean View!

[Travel Tip: Those cute little apartments with charming floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto plazas and streets full of cafés and restaurants? Keep a grip on your romantic nature and remember that sounds coming from those streets and plazas - even those you may consider charming at 9 p.m. (friends meeting to begin a night of tapas and wine, music spilling from restaurants and motorcycles with handsome couples coming and going) - will be annoying as hell from midnight to 4:00 a.m.. Consider renting on the fifth floor or above if you like to leave windows open – reminder: small apartment can feel “close” without air movement -- or rent a place with heat and air which will permit you to shut those charming, huge windows.]

Eixample is a lovely part of Barcelona not too near and not too far from the city’s tourist attractions. Within a short walk we could window shop along Avenida Diagonal, view charming early 20th Century buildings,

Charming Big Windows -
With Catalan Flags In Many!

Barcelona Balconies

dine in just fine restaurants and shop for meals at home in several grocery stores. 

The Hospital Clinic metro station was a block away and from there we could get anywhere in town. [Travel Tip: Use the subway – it’s efficient, relatively self-explanatory, cheap if you buy a re-fillable pass, safe and clean. Just like a real city!]

               The Salon Nautico 2016:  One afternoon we decided to wander the waterfront and see if we could identify the marina where some sailing compadres had kept their boat for a year or so (thanks for the Barcelona info Dave!).

So Many Sailboats!

As we wandered toward the marina we saw there was a boat show in town. The next day we wandered happily through the show for hours looking at beautiful, brand new sailboats we can’t afford.

Beyond Our Means

Happily for our psychic health, after a full day of window shopping we concluded that Abracadabra may not be sleek and new, but she’s our sturdy girl. And between the two of us, we know damn near every inch of her!

               The Maritime Museum: And of course, there was a maritime museum. The museum in Barcelona is housed in the former royal shipyards, a dramatic setting for the museum's displays of boats, reproductions and models. 

They Built Ships Here? 

Replica of the Flagship At The Battle of Lepanto
(Photo By Martin Roysher)

A Model
(Photo by Martin Roysher)

The museum includes reenactment videos that offer a personal perspective on different aspects of Barcelona's maritime heritage. And there is a really fun display about toy boats.

Wind That Key, Kids!

Perhaps best of all on a day of pouring rain, the museum restaurant is very good.

But a warning for sailors of a certain vintage: there are a few exhibits that made us think: uhm, that's in a museum?!

Does This Mean Abracadabra's Chart Plotter Is A Museum Piece?

               Palau de la Música Orfeó Català (Palace of Catalan Music): We highly recommend hearing a concert at the Palau (thanks for the recommendation, Wendy!). It is a beautiful example of modernisme (Spanish: modernismo; English: modernism). [Side note: Modernisme refers to artistic and literary styles practiced in Latin America in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In Barcelona it’s most often used to refer to an architectural style that is similar to Art Nouveau.]

The Ticket Booth of The Palau

Modernisme Details - They Loved Their Tile Work
(Ticket Purchaser - A Complete Stranger)

Attending a concert is a great way to enjoy the spectacular interior of the Palau though one can also pay for a tour of the interior. We heard two young artists: Joaquin Arrabal Zamora, who played contrabass with a piano accompanist. Interestingly, a contrabass can be the primary instrument in a Schubert sonata. The second performer was Daahoud Salim, a very energetic pianist. We enjoyed the evening, but couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for the performers. It must be tough knowing that most of the audience was more interested in the venue than the performances. 

               Spanish Civil War Walking Tour: A highlight of our stay was a walking tour offered by Iberian Nature Tours. Our tour guide, Catherine Howley, introduced us to a part of history we knew very little about.

Catherine With a Poster For the "People's Olympics"
Held In Protest Against The 1936 Summer Olympics Held In Nazi Germany
The People's Olympics Were Interrupted By The Outbreak Of The Civil War  

During the Spanish Civil War Barcelona was held by Anarchist and Communist groups that opposed Franco’s fascists and, sadly, eventually began fighting against each other. The whole city bore the brunt of deadly Axis assaults and over a thousand were killed during a series of bombing raids in March of 1938.

Bombing Evidence That Escaped The Falange Regime's
"Urban Renewal" Efforts

After the fascists defeated the Republicans in 1939 many refugees fled Barcelona for France. Some were forcibly returned to Francoist Spain; others were interned as Communists by the Vichy government or pressed into work details; and many were eventually sent to German death camps. A few escaped imprisonment by going underground and joining the French Resistance. Thousands of people were swept up in one war and then another for ten long years.

Many Republican supporters escaped to Mexico or South America. The United States refused most who had fought for the Republic (remember, this was a popularly elected, though left-leaning government) on the basis that they were -- love this phrase: premature anti-fascists. Code word: communists.

During our time in Spain we saw very few museum exhibits about the Civil War or the forty years long Franco dictatorship. This lack of public discussion suggested to us that Spaniards haven’t yet come to grips with those devastating events. Even this tour is run by British residents of Spain, rather than by Spaniards whose families suffered through those times. 

                Cathedral: Because one does, we visited the city's Cathedral. 

It’s beautiful.

Gothic Arches - Must Be A Cathedral

It’s home to some lovely pieces of art.

An Annunciation - Yep, A Cathedral

It’s also a modern, bustling financial enterprise.

Big Screens

Post Cards To The Left, Praying To The Right

A Few Of Our Not Quite Favorite Things (Warning: Tourist Heresy Here!):

               Sagrada Familia: Antoni Gaudi, a well-known practitioner of the modernisme architectural style designed the Basilica Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (the Basilica and Expiatory Church of The Sacred Family). He died in 1926. The church is still under construction. Those in charge of the project promise it will be completed in 2026. 

Cranes Surrounding Us

This church is not a building of elegant simplicity.

But it is A Place To See in Barcelona, so we went. Along with many of our fellow tourists.

Seeing A Place To See

Bryce enjoyed one of the four entrances to the church – the one depicting the passion of Christ. 

Molly, not so much. An art-knowledgeable friend suggests that this negative reaction may be due to something as simple as the weather or time of day  - that we might have appreciated the beauty of the light disbursed into the nave by the windows had we visited on a sunnier day. 

For whatever reason, Molly just could not get past the construction zone aspect, the audio guide's adulation of Gaudi (she suspects he was an unpleasant zealot) and the hordes of tourists. Maybe she was just hungry. The death knell to her experience was watching two women taking selfies in front of a depiction of the crucifixion. Really – in front of the crucifixion? She’s not even a practicing Christian and she found that creepy.

Many others disagree - they love this place and wax poetic about the design and light and etc.. You may, too.

Bryce Observing

But make reservations – you will be sharing this experience with others.

               Park Güell:  The “monument zone” of the park is another place on the Gaudi Trail. And another source of aesthetic disagreement among the crew of Abracadabra. Molly thought some of the structures were quirky and humorous. Bryce, not so much.
Our best laugh: The audio guide's description of the park made it clear that the park began life as a failed residential real estate development! Gaudi’s primary patron, Eusebi Güell, got the Gaudi-designed front gate, two gate-keeper’s cottages and market built . . . and no one bought a single lot (well, Güell and Gaudi had houses there). Güell’s family later gave the whole thing to the City. Can't help but think there was a charitable tax deduction lurking in the story somewhere . . . 

The buildings and other structures in the monument zone are of the modernisme style and are charming in a quirky, Hobbit House / Hansel and Gretel kind of way (so says Molly anyway). The tile roofs are particularly amusing - a play on the classic Mexican tile roofs that can be found in Puebla.

A House For A Gatekeeper Named Baggins?

Extreme Tile Design

Immediately outside of the monument zone is the house Gaudi was living in at the end of his life. One of Gaudi's disciples designed the house and it contains some Craftsman-ish looking furniture designed by The Guy. It is very pleasant and worth a visit.

Classic Style - Both The House and
The Captain's Wardrobe

[Travel Tip: Visitors can wander the park without making a reservation but a visit to the monument zone requires a time-specific entry ticket. Do not run late and attempt to eat your picnic lunch on a bench within the monument zone. Verboten. You may be able to sneak into the little café inside the lower entry gates (those the tours use) and eat your picnic there. Note that the guide insisting that you can’t eat at all within the monument zone will not tell you about this café even if you ask in Spanish whether there is any place you can eat your lunch within the monument zone.]

              La Rambla: The Rambla (rambla, Spanish for dry river bed) is a pedestrian walk named for the dry river bed  which preceded the road which preceded today's pedestrian walking zone. The Rambla passes a lot of beautiful old buildings that can be seen if you look above the crowds.

Dragon. Umbrella. Why? No Idea.

And it passes by one of our favorite things in Barcelona – a restored Roman Necropolis (about 100 yards off The Rambla, through the Passatge de la Ramblas):

Those Romans Were Everywhere

But as for La Rambla itself: Tour books wax poetic about how one can pull up a chair at a café on La Rambla and “watch Europe stroll by”. Well yeah – only it’s like watching “all of America” at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. You may see a lot of people that you wouldn't want to know any better drinking violently colored, fishbowl-sized alcoholic beverages and smoking furiously. 

But as every visitor to San Francisco must go to Fisherman's Wharf at least once, visitors must wander La Rambla at least once. And who knows - you might like it. Something brings all those people there. 

All of Europe - And A Bunch of North Americans,
Chinese and Australians Too!

We had a better time wandering in other parts of the city.


Surprise: We Liked The Marina!

And Because There’s Stuff We Never Got To:

Despite all the favorite things and not quite so favorite things we packed into our nine-night stay, we barely scratched the surface of what Barcelona has to offer. There are dozens of museums and great restaurants and tapas bars waiting for our return, not to mention a thriving current arts scene we barely explored. Even more Gaudi-designed buildings to tour. Must go back! 

But we left because we had arranged for a second staycation: 

Lubrín, Almerìa – October 18 – 25

From Spain’s second largest city we flew to Almería, where we were met by a taxi arranged by our landlord which took us to the village of Lubrín. Lubrin is not large in anyone’s definition: population less than 2,000 souls.

We had rented a little one-bedroom casita and were planning on doing some more hiking and some relaxing. During our week in Lubrin we managed to fit in both. [Note: the link above is the Airbnb listing for the casita. We booked through a hiking website but the Airbnb site has clearer pictures.] 

Our landlord had created great little hiking guides for six circle routes through the hills surrounding Lubrín. We took two of the walks/hikes:

Bryce Consulting The Guide

Urban Vista

Rural Vista

And then we realized that, because it was the very end of the dry season every place near Lubrin was going to look very similar. Very Sergio Leone. 

So we began to concentrate more heavily on the relaxing-and-enjoying-village-life portion of the program.

Bryce Enjoying One Of The Two Restaurants In Town

Yes, Harry Potter. But In Spanish.

We both really enjoyed our visit to the Lubrín weekly market. [Note: We were busy buying and carrying vegetables and failed to take pictures. There are a couple of nice market day pictures on the Airbnb link above.]

Winding through the narrow streets and buying from ladies who had set up their tables of vegetables that morning reminded us of market day in Mexico. Well, until we got to the guy with a dozen different kind of olives. Hmm. Something Mexico is missing: olives. And then we bought possibly the smallest, but tastiest chicken ever from a guy selling rotisserie chickens from a rotisserie van. Not something we say often – but that chicken was better than any we purchased in Mexico.

Molly’s educational experience during this week (not everyone can read Harry Potter in Spanish) was learning how to make coffee using what the British call a “cafetiere”.

A Cafetiere

She read Internet posts. She watched You Tube videos. She was ready. The trick, she learned, is creating pressure in the bottom of the pot, which forces steam through the coffee grounds and up into the upper coffee chamber. The next step is important: take the pot off the heat and close the lid before there is a coffee eruption. Got it.

For several mornings we had okay coffee and Molly began to feel quite confident in her cafetiere skills. 

Until we invited the property manager, a charming Australian named David, to join us for dinner and offered decaffeinated coffee with dessert. Molly used the package of coffee left in the kitchen that was clearly marked: decaffeinated coffee. She followed the procedures and . . . without warning the cafetiere erupted violently and sprayed coffee everywhere (really, everywhere – even the ceiling!)

David ran for a bucked and mop and all was put to order fairly quickly. But Molly went to bed that night completely mystified as to what she had done wrong. In the morning – when the light was good enough to read the really, really tiny print on the package of decaf she had used -- she saw that the coffee was . . . soluble. Say what you will about American packaging notices but at least when the package contains instant coffee it says so in readable letters! 

Note to self: Never, never trust the British when it comes to coffee!

Our Next Post (Unless Something Exciting Happens In Golfito): The Greatest Hits of Southern Spain

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Costa Rica Living / Boat Projects – January, 2017

We can’t yet say we are ON Abracadabra but it IS accurate to say we are NEAR Abracadabra. Within about 100 yards, actually.

Return To The Tropics

We returned to Costa Rica on December 29 and stayed in San José for two nights. The idea was to “be on vacation” for a full day before we traveled on to Golfito and Abracadabra. You know, acclimate to the heat and hang by the pool.

Not so much.

Our one full day in the big city was spent at a down-at-the-heels shopping mall getting telephone chips (our previous local telephone numbers had expired), buying a tea kettle (even we couldn’t drink what came out of our old one), eating a very bad meal at a food court and getting Bryce’s hair cut (he hasn’t yet bonded with a barber in Golfito).

We flew to Golfito on Sansa Airlines on the 31st. [Explanatory Note: The following pictures were taken when we departed Golfito in August, but since we didn’t post about that trip and we didn’t get any pictures of our trip into town we thought we’d share these old pictures here.]

Golfito Airport Where Inside Is Outside

Ooops - But Don't Worry,
That Wasn't A Sansa Plane -- It Was The Police

Marina Pez Vela at Quepos From The Air -
Two Days To Sail It / 30 Minutes To Fly

New Year’s Eve

We arrived at our marina-side apartment in time to drop our bags and learn that (a) a giant papaya tree had fallen and taken out the electrical service on our side of the street and (b) there was a potluck party that night at the Cruiser's Clubhouse (a cruiser-friendly business run by Katie, the owner of the apartment we are renting). 

We walked to the grocery store and bought some chicken, chips and a bottle of white wine. We stashed our chicken and wine in the clubhouse fridge because that side of the street had power and returned to shower and dress in our finest wrinkled clothing. The electricity came on about the time we were leaving for the party. Yea!, we would come home to operating ceiling fans!

The party was a good “welcome home” for us. There were fireworks at various points around the little gulf (Golfito), our chicken was fine, the pot-luck portion of the meal was good and the crowd was very friendly and eclectic – Swedes, Canadians (both anglophone and francophone), Americans and an energetic Kyrgyz/Russian/Israeli. Someday Molly is going to write a novel and you will be able to meet some of the more colorful residents of the Golfito area!

Boat Related Stuff

Since the New Year began we have been living in the same nice one-bedroom apartment overlooking Banana Bay Marina that we rented for a couple of weeks last year. 

We Have The Top Floor - Great Breeze!
And a View of The Imperial Beer Sign.

From the comfort of home we make daily forays to clean and fix things aboard Abracadabra.  [Side Note: Many cruisers pride themselves in being hearty. The fact that we are not so much used to embarrass us. No longer. We are happy to work from a nice, breezy little apartment rather than sweat it out trying to live in a tiny construction site and are grateful that we have enough cash flow to do it this way!]

We were thrilled to find absolutely no mold and very little mildew aboard Abracadabra (remember, Golfito has the reputation of being the rainiest place in Costa Rica). We can’t recommend these little Eva-Dry de-humidifiers enough!

The Eva-Dry 1100!

They're about the size of a one cup coffee maker. We purchased two of them. Bryce drilled a hole in the drip tray of each and attached small draining tubes. One was left to drain into the galley sink, the other into the sink in the head. Those little guys sucked moisture for five months and were still at work when we arrived. $55.00 each plus shipping. Priceless.

Sadly, not everything has gone as well. As we began to clean Molly found two dead cucarachas (cockroaches) of the German variety (really – that’s the name for the gross little brown scampering guys). Good, we thought; they ate the bait we left for them and now they’re dead. Die, little bugs, die. We continued to clean shelves and drawers and then – dah, dah, dah, dum: Bryce opened a drawer and . . . a live one skittered. As all sailors know, there’s never just one cockroach. We have since squirted a full tube of Advion gel (we call it Roach Mega Death Gel) around the boat – in every nook and cranny we can find. This Roach Mega Death Gel was given to us by a Prince Among Men – the captain of a charter sport fishing boat named Derrick.  

We'll Get You My Pretties!

This stuff costs about $20 a box on The Evil Amazon and is very hard to find in Costa Rica. Our benefactor simply gave us a box and told us to pay it on. Assuming it works as well as it is reported to we will purchase enough to be able to pass some on to others in need the next time we see a Home Depot!

We’re also waiting for the delivery of:
  • replacement 4D-size AGM Lifeline batteries which are in route by sea from Miami (they weigh too much to be sent by air) because, well, 5 years in the tropics is a battery life well-lived; 
  • two electric pumps, one of which died a tragically young death; and
  • the original of our annual Coast Guard Declaration which is reported to be in the hands of Correo Costa Rica (the postal service).
These deliveries = we don’t expect to be going anywhere very fast until February. What are we saying! We’re traveling on a sailboat. Even when we’re going as fast as we can, we aren’t going anywhere very fast!

Golfito Life

As we wait, we suffer the hardships of Golfito with our usual charm and grace (that would be sarcasm):
  • We have eaten our way through the menu at the Banana Bay Marina which is the best restaurant in town - and as a result consumed more french fries in the last few days than in the previous few months!
  • Molly is going through mosquito acclimation which, if consistent with past practices should mean the local population will tire of her charms in a couple more weeks.
  • Bryce is learning what equipment may be flown in and what has to be shipped in (because nothing actually here is the right thing or the right size of the right thing).
  • Between 7:30 a.m. and about 10 pm we have to shout at each other in the living room because our apartment not only overlooks the marina – it overlooks the main coastal highway.
Garbage Day In Golfito

All of that is bearable - and sometimes comical - because we are also able to enjoy:

  • the vast space that is an entire one-bedroom apartment with a real shower, a flush toilet, a stand-up refrigerator, fans, an air-conditioner in the bedroom and big windows;
  • the company of our fellow cruisers and visitors (good to meet you Jeff and Laurie!), the assorted quirky expatriated Americans, Canadians and Europeans who call Golfito home and the charming people working at the marina and in local stores;
  • watching tourists - sport fishers and backpackers come and go;
  • and, of course, the views:

Cruise Ship Disappearing Around The Corner

Sunset - Golfito

We also enjoy watching the U.S. Coast Guard in action - well, in action at the Banana Bay Marina bar and restaurant anyway. There are two surveillance ships (we think they are 110' Island Class Cutters ??) that use Golfito for crew changes and fuel purchases. Molly mentioned to a fellow sailor that she got a lot of comfort knowing that potential rescuers were so close at hand. His suggestion was that if we ever did need to issue a distress call, we could assure a Coast Guard rapid response by announcing something like: "We are taking on water and our entire haul of marijuana is getting wet!" Ha! Point well taken. 

That's our Golfito life for now. More about where we’re going when we get ready to go there!

Our Next Post: We’ll return to blog entries on Spain unless something exciting happens in Golfito.