Happy Birthday Denis!!
Sunny Spanish Coast - A day's drive from Andorra we reached the Mediterranean coast at Barcelona and stayed at Vilanova Park, a 4-star caravan park with all of the bells and whistles - plus a small view of the sea. Down the coast near Valencia we rested one night before reaching the Costa Blanca, a string of resort towns on the Spanish Mediterranean coast.
Catching up with the GS - Our primary objective in Calpe was to visit with the traveling representatives of The Gourmet Society, our US-based group of friends who have shared menus, meals, and wine for the last 25+ years. Other commitments prevented most members from visiting, but Jaime and Gloria invited us to their villa on the sunny Spanish Mediterranean coast. Their villa is in Benissa, near Calpe on a rocky coast that has become a magnet for North Europeans escaping the cold weather. The British came in the 70's and 80's, now being followed by Germans. Towns have cropped up with villas, townhouses, and high-rises straining the infrastructure and turning isolated villages into a concrete coastline. Despite the over-building, it is a very pleasant pace, the weather has been wonderful (sunny and warm) and it has plenty of restaurants and shopping. We began our visit with visits to local restaurants, a pattern that persisted for the next 10 days.
Great visit with Jaime and Gloria - Jaime and Gloria were wonderful hosts for the week as they juggled house upkeep and entertainment of yours truly. We explored the countryside, drank wine at quaint country restaurants, investigated the local marinas, drank wine at bustling town restaurants, watched Flamenco and modern dancing at the Benidorm Palace, and drank wine on our back porch. By the end of the week we had met quite a few very friendly locals and were enjoying the good life. One afternoon we visited Jose and Benilde, friends from Jaime's IBM assignment in Madrid, and we consumed a huge casserole of paella, with a little help from friends and neighbors. It was a wonderful glimpse into the gracious lifestyle of Spain.
A Typical Day in Spain - Our days changed quite a bit during our time in Spain. A big midday meal and time for a Siesta is a departure from the typical US or Northern European life. For those of us that are not working at the moment, the day goes like this:
As the observer can see, there is a lot of eating and down time in a typical day on the Spanish coast. For those working, somehow they must fit 7-8 hours of work into this busy schedule as well.
Plans - As usual our plans are always subject to change, but at the moment our plans are:
But, plans can change without notice due to any of hundreds of reasons.
Chilling out in Spain - Jaime and Gloria hopped on the Big Bird and were back in the US within a few days. We can see why the Costa Blanca attracts so many northern Europeans tired of cold, rainy and snowy days, this is really a nice part of the world with bright sunshine virtually every day and comfortable nights - this time of year. We have lounged around the pool, took short drives to nearby Alicante and Denia, tried to stay in the 'large lunch, small dinner' mode, but found ourselves falling back into our old habits of small lunch and larger dinner.
Downside - The only downside we have found so far is the long siesta break from 1330 to 1700 (approximately). Once the shops close for the morning, one is never sure when (or if) they will open again and for the 3-4 hours in the middle of the afternoon one has to go home or take a l-o-n-g lunch, not conducive to a production 'afternoon'. Thus a shopping trip may turn into two trips, interrupted by a long lunch.
Plans Thwarted; temporarily - Our intention has been to head to Seville and Gibraltar, but first we had to get our mail which was supposed to contain our Absentee Ballots - wrong! It contained a promise to send them later. So now we have ordered ballots from the US Embassy in Madrid and our real ones have arrived in Florida and are now on their way. So, by early next week, we should be awash in ballots and can then head South!
Train to Alicante - A well-known department store in Spain, El Corte Ingles, had been described as a 'must visit', so we hopped the local train from Calpe to Alicante to avoid driving in a busy town. Our first mistake was not realizing that we had to change trains - we discovered that when all the people on our train go off and it started going in reverse. An hour later we had managed to find a bus and an alternate route into Alicante. Loaded down with new clothes we visited the marina at Alicante, and concluded it would be a very nice place to spend a winter, although we did not see many foreign yachts.
Done our Duty - Our Absentee Ballots arrived in our 2d mail shipment and were duly completed and mailed back to Maryland. Not to belabor the point, we are not in favor of "four more years".
Fish Market in Calpe - This was a fascinating visit - the commercial fish market where catch fresh from the trawlers are auctioned to wholesale buyers such as restaurants, fish stores, and supermarket chains. Baskets of fish, shrimp, eels, octopi, and sting-rays were tagged, weighed, and passed in front of potential buyers armed with remote bidding devices. A display board identified all pertinent information while prices counted down for each basket of fresh catch. As the lot passed under a big red arrow, thumbs hovered - a squeeze from one remote was a 'buy' signal and the price froze on the display for a couple of seconds until the next lot was up for sale. Each lot took about 10 seconds to bid and sell and then it was shuffled off to the pallet belonging to the bidder - a very smooth operation.
Coast Drive - We set out to travel south, and decided to follow the coast. Unfortunately, Spain seems to have reserved the coastline for boardwalks and private use and none of the roads followed the water. The only reasonable road was one to 5 miles inland at all times with glimpses of the Med on the rare occasion where it rose high enough to see over the high-rises. We passed Cartagena, reminiscent of the Colombian city of the same name with its nearby bay called Mar Menor, and Almeria at the beginning of the plastic-covered farmland.
Almerimar and the agricultural coast - The southern coast of Spain is the winter vegetable garden for Europe - a veritable hothouse! The hillsides and river-beds are bone dry, but enough water is extracted from wells to dribble on crops protected from heat, sun and birds with covers of plastic or mesh. Driving along the coast we passed thousands of acres of crops under plastic with only 10% of the soil visible between the tents. We stopped for two days in Almerimar, a resort town with a marina full of expats; British, Germans, and even a few Americans. It looked like another possible wintering spot - cheaper than Alicante and a lot of cruiser activities going on.
Granada - One of the popular destinations of Spain, the prime attraction is the Alhambra, a fortress built by the Moors when Islam conquered Spain 1000 years ago, and expanded and rebuilt over the centuries. Palaces inside the fortress have some of the most exquisite stone carving we have seen anywhere and water features abound - evidence that opulence knows no national or religious boundaries. The Moors were expelled from Spain in 1492 and renovations over the last 500 years have left the Alhambra a beautiful and peaceful spot.
Sierra Nevada - Between Granada and the sea lies a wild and rugged mountain range rising over 8000' above sea level. We drove up until icy roads and "Chains Required" signs turned us back. They are a playground for the locals with hiking trails, snow fields, and lakes for water sports. We stayed two nights overlooking a lake and the snow-capped peaks and enjoying the clean, cool air.
Olive Trees Everywhere - On the 300 km drive from Granada to Seville we passed more olive trees than we believed existed in the world! For over 150 km there were olive plantations as far as the eye could see in all directions - thousands of square kilometers of olives, neatly planted and well-tended.
Seville - The capital of Flamenco dancing, we have just arrived in one of the best known cities of Spain and will have more to say next week.