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This segment covers our tour of the Iberian Peninsula. For those that don't know, Iberia is a region in east Russia.
I earlier sent the picture with me and the ape. One of my "friends," Mike Kneasely (another IS37 owner) wrote: "Dear Bryan. Thank you for the picture, but some of us have not met you face to face yet. Which one was you and which was the monkey?"
Ha ha. It was easy to tell. Gibraltar apes do not have moustaches.
Having safely arrived in Lisbon to fanfare (well, Victor’s mom, dad and brother were there) in Lisbon, we said goodbye to our ocean crossing shipmates, and spent a day trying to make the boat presentable for our wives and daughters. I met Eileen, Colette and Kiera at the airport in the morning on the August 15; it was sure great to see them after a month!
Tracie and Jackie were supposed to come in later that afternoon, and Art went out to the airport to meet them. He came back several hours later, empty handed. Turns out that Tracie’s ticket was for 12:01 am; she thought it was pm! Fortunately, they were able to hop on a later flight and arrived in Lisbon the next morning. Art's folks, Ray and Truce, flew in to visit us and took us out to dinner a couple times, which was very nice.
We spent a week in Lisbon, Portugal, getting moved in and sightseeing. Portugal is the poorer sister of Western Europe, but still much more advanced than most Carribean countries, for example. Apparently the EU is dumping billions into Portugal to bring it up to the standard of the rest of Europe. There were signs of urban renovation in certain places, and Lisbon did a major rebuild of an area (they call the National Park) along the riverfront for the 1998 Exposition. They have a great aquarium there we visited, we had fun at a science center, and watched a couple movies at a nearby mall.
Speaking of the EU, the Euro was introduced earlier this year, and has been adopted wholesale, at least in the countries we visited. With an exchange rate of close to 1:1 with the buck, it makes currencies matters a breeze. The EU has also opened intercountry borders, making customs and immigration hassles of the past non-existent. (At least so far.) Unfortunately, standardization hasn't reached the marinas, as it seems that at every other marina we have to rewire a different kind of electrical plug or splice a different kind of facet connection to the hose.
After we shoved off from Lisbon, we headed south. The southern coast of Portgual, called the Algarve, is a popular vacation area. August is when Europeans vacation, so the marinas and beaches were packed with tourists. We spent 4 days at anchorage in a little cove at a village called Alvor, where we met some nice folks (Yosie and Jeff aboard their self built catamaran). Tracie, Art, Jackie and Kiera went horseback riding (Kiera is now a horse nut and I could kill Tracie); and we spent a day at the beach. (I gotta say, after spending the last several months out on the water, I am about perfectly bronzed.)
After Portugal, we actually skipped by most of southern Spain. Fierce gale force (or stronger) winds (Mistrals - there are also Tratamontes, Levantes, Sirrocos -- there have a name for every kind of wind) frequently build quickly, particularly in the northern Med in the colder months. I wanted to get to the Riviera by the end of August so we could be heading south down Italy as Fall progressed. So we bypassed much of southern Spain, which we plan to visit on the way out of the Med.
We did, however, stay a couple days in Gibraltar, where we arrived July 31st. Some people we had met described Gib as a "hellhole," but I thought it was a pretty nice place. It was clean, full of interesting history, and people speak English. The people of Gib are in a quandary because they, overwhelmingly, want to stay a part of Britain, but Spain wants it back and the UK has in principle agreed to turn it over (notwithstanding the fact it has been in British hands since 1704, when it was ceded to Britain from Spain “in perpetuity”).
Gibraltar is famous for cute little wild monkeys, really apes, apparently, but they look like monkeys. Lore says the Rock will stay British as long as the apes are there. (Legend has it that Winston Churchill secretly shipped a bunch there during WWII to ensure an ample supply). Local cabbies feed them and visit them all the time, so they are tame with people. They climbed on the braver part of our crew, including Kiera, who, I don't think, really knew what she was getting herself into!
We visited the huge internal caverns and a portion of the (34!) miles of tunnels cut throughout the Rock as part of a network of defense fortifications. The Rock, for all its impressive stature, is really a piece of swiss cheese! Eileen and I also stopped at a local dentist, Dr. Clark, who had a very professional office and fixed our lost fillings.
Heading out of Gibraltar, we heading up the coast of Spain. The topography of southern coast of Spain (the Costa del Sol) and Portugal is at once impressive and base. A good portion of the coast, particularly to the south, is made up of brown jutting cliffs and modestly sized mountains that sweep down to the sea. In other areas are beaches, which are uniformly lined solidly with hotels and apartments. The buildings seem almost all the same size, maybe 8-12 floors, and form a solid line of sprawl behind the beaches. The picturesque little ocean side villages, with white stucco and reddish-tan tile roofs, are largely gone.
The Costa del Sol lacks many good spots for anchorages. Perhaps this accounts for why there are so few cruisers. Compared to the Bahamas, the ICW and the Chesapeake, the place seems downright barren. Everyone stays in marinas, which unfortunately for any would be cruisers, are completely full during the summer months.
I was also surprised to see so few American boats. We ran into them here and there (a relatively large proportion of catamarans) but there aren't many Yanks cruising in Europe. I had expected to see more. However, the Yanks have invaded big time on the commercial front. I don't think there was a McDonald's in Spain when I lived there in '75. Now they are all over the place, along with Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. You know, all the franchises that made America great.
The Spanish (and Portuguese) are very friendly. They generally like Americans and expressed sympathy for 911. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that I speak passable Spanish and can communicate.
They are serious night owls. Sometimes there are clubs near the marinas. They stay empty until past midnight, and around 1-2am start filling up. Then they are packed until about 5-6 in the morning. I can see why they have siestas with that tradition.
I also noted that the women have adopted the American disposition for thinness and hairlessness, neither of which was necessarily the case when I was a teen living in Spain with my family 27 years ago. I have also noted (quite accidentally) that topless sunbathing is quite common here. In fact, it was quite an eye opener seeing how casually the Europeans (we have seen so far) treat nudity. Bare behinds on bus ads, bare breasts in magazines and beaches, full nudes in postcards, all casually displayed. And we haven't even made it to France yet. It's just shocking. I am really full of righteous indignation. And I was looking just to properly take record of the situation, mind you.
We stopped a couple places on the Costa del Sol of Southeast Spain, then high tailed it for Barcelona. We sailed overnight 3 nights, 2 of which were calm, the third caught us in 30 knot winds. Sailing in a gale in the pitch dark, ducking the occasional spray flying over the bow, that's what it's all about!
We pulled into Tarragona, an ancient coastal city about 50 miles from Barcelona in northeast Spain. We waited out high winds for 3 days, touring the town with its 1st millenia structures. We also spent a day at "Port Adventura", a Universal theme park, just like Orlando.
From Tarragona sailed to Barcelona. For me, Barcelona was the highlight of our Iberian trip. I had remembered it being one of my favorite cities when we had passed through in the 70s, and it is so now. The city is clean, interesting, vibrant. It is jammed with museums and parks. People are energentic, happy and friendly. On any given evening the city streets are full of them milling about. Barcelona was home to some truly notworthy architechs, including Gaudi, Montener, and Puig (ok, I admit I had to look up the names), whose works and buildings stand out like monuments in various parts of the city. But it also seems that every building, even nondescript arpartments, have a little something to make them interesting, whether it it columns, or gargoyles, or ornate iron grill work. It all gives the city an artsy feeling throughout.
We spent 10 days there. I felt like I could have spent a month and not have been bored. The first night we walked the Rambla, a big, open boulevard that cuts thru the middle of the city. Another day we toured a Picasso museum. He lived there in his youth, and while he is most famous for his abstract works, he created a truly amazing diversity of works with different artistic styles in all kinds of mediums).
Another day we went bike riding at the City Park. Colette, who had not mastered bike riding skills, fell down four times, garnishing a number of rasberries, but kept getting back on and trying. She is a tough kid. (She eventually got it.) We went shopping at a modern mall and saw a movie. We visited an ancient cathedral. And we spent a couple days visiting some of Gaudi's more famous works, including the Sagrada Familia temple.
This church has to be one of the most fascinating in the world. It is massive -- contruction on it began in 1880 and they are now only a little more than half done. Gaudi himself worked on it for 40 years. Now an international team of architechs and artisans are working on it with modern computers.
The church dominates the old section of town, with its twisting spires jutting into the sky. 8 of the 12 (representing the apostles) have now been completed. The structure may be revolting to some, with its weird angles, winding, twisting spires, leaning columns and mixtures of classical and modern facades. There is no doubt that Guadi's taste ran to the bizarre, but his architecture was genius (at least as far as I can tell). At a museum I learned how all his curving, seemingly random surfaces are really based on geometric principles of twisting series of straight lines so that they form curves -- parabols and hyperbolas and other kinds of things I forgot from geometry. Stuff that had never been done before and you don't see anywhere else. Despite its twisting, leaning columns, modern computers have demonstrated the viability of the plan
One exhibit showed how Gaudi (well before computers) determined the load points for his arches by handing little weights on strings upside down. Where the weights where attached determined the load points on the arches when inverted. Really fascinating stuff.
After 10 days in Barcelona we took off, and spent a few days bouncing off various places along the Costa Brava. The Costa Brava runs from Barcelona to the French and Spanish border. It is a much more distinguished than the southern coast. It is a rugged, rocky terrain, the grey rock dotted with green trees and foliage. There are many coves and crags (they call "calas") in which you can anchor.
We spent a couple days in Tossa de Mar, a pretty little town with the remains of a castle built on a crag that runs to edge of the beach. At the next town, L'Escala, we rented bikes and rode to a nearby archeological excavation of an ancient Greco/Roman town, featuring structural remains of an entire city. The Spanish have been excavating the site for the last 100 years and are about 25% done. That was exciting, but the most exciting part of the day was when Colette went whizzing by me on a busy street, front wheel shaking back and forth, on the verge of control. "Brake Colette!" I yelled, visions of a spectacular wipeout racing before my eyes. She managed to pull it out and stop, much to everyone's relief. At the next bar I had to order a Scotch and plasma.
We left Spain on the 28th of August, and sailed from Cadaques, near the French border, across the Gulf of Lyons to Marseilles. We had steady 20-30 knots winds for the 120 mile journey, a bit stronger than might be comfortable, but the wind was on the beam so we made great time. In the morning I pulled into Marselles harbor as the sun rose. The harbor was beautiful, with rugged, green dotted grey hills surrounding the harbor accenuated with rugged islands in the middle of the harbor.
The wispy clouds reflected the still hidden sun's rays, echoing colors ranging from electric pink to red to white to grey to black in the whisps, giving the hills a red glow. The wind blew the wisps across the sky, giving the whole scene a animated 3 dimensional effect. It promised to be a good omen for our visit to France, and more than made up for 4 hours of getting spray in the face.
Hope all is well with all of you, best wishes, and don't be afraid to drop a line at Clevelandirie@yahoo.com