Balearic Islands Part 2

Port of Soller at dusk

Soller, Formentor and Pollenca Mallorca


Due to the length of the post I have opted to break the Balearic Island posts into 3 different pieces – Please look back or forward to other entries on different Islands.

Recommended by 3 different people in 3 different countries, the next stop was Port of Soller, 3 km inland to the town of Soller and nestled into the side of the Tramontana mountain range. Soller is connected to the port by a little mahogany tram. Nearby villages of Fornalutx and Biniaraix and Binibassi can be easily reached by bus or taxi, In fact, for 2 Euro and 30 minutes we spent the day enjoying the UNESCO Heritage village of Fornalutx. This town most certainly made the top 3 destinations of the year in terms of charm and is a not to be missed destination should you find yourself cruising this area. Some of the best hikes we have done happened here and without much direction or planning, we ambled into the back country of the mountain finding Goats, Donkeys and a throwback to the industry before tourism, fields of olive and citrus trees. Again, due to Covid our time here can only be described as enchanting. We changed our dock reservations 4 times before and 2 times after our arrival and we were accommodated easily with each change. Certainly, a sign of the times as this is the only harbor on the NW coast offering refuge from the “mistral” which arrived this week. The town itself is loaded with a full range of restaurants and cafes to suit any budget or taste, and many were opened early enough for us to dine at our usual 1800 – BONUS!

Mistrals – interesting wind events common in the Med result in the entire lee coast becoming potentially dangerous, so we were happy to be tied safely to the dock (though the surge made us feel like we were on a rolly-ride at Disney) and made boarding via the passarelle (first time we have ever used it) a challenge. A small side note, if you read the Gibraltar post on Med mooring, you may have asked yourself how does one manage to get on or off the boat without any adjacent dock on which to jump? The answer is, of course, to jump from the swim platform off the stern or a ladder from the bow – depending on which way we back into the sea wall. This was how we did it thus far but in Soller, the sea wall had an underwater ledge that made getting close impossible and really with all of the surge, we had no choice but to employ the use of the passarelle. We have thus far been reluctant to use it– honestly it just looked too complicated and unwieldy and we just preferred to jump to the dock. That strategy would absolutely not work here thus the passarelle got dusted off for the first time in 2 years. Attached to the aft bulkhead of Gratitude via some backing plates and screws, one side of the roughtly 7 foot long walkway Is secured in this manner while the other end hangs just over the ledge on the dock side held up by bungie cords connected to the davit. It is important that the dock end not be left to ride on the pavement as the boat is in constant motion and would certainly break at least the passarelle if not damage the boat. Braun and Tina gave us a little tutoring on it and Alec felt he had a pretty good handle on it – so up it went. With Gratitude bucking and rolling even tied to the dock, boarding and disembarking became an act of care and concentration 

What makes cruising uncomfortable, made for perfect hiking weather and with an occasional mist and cooler overcast temperatures we enjoyed exploring the olive groves, windmills and wild donkeys and goats which graze freely. Recommended by new friends, we found 2 hikes and several anchorages to explore – which we enjoyed exploring when the weather calmed, and we could take out the dinghy.

So wonderful to have a pool in the back yard again! This is the first marina in over a year with a pool and we took full advantage.

Reluctant but anxious to see what new delight await us further North, we departed Soller and next made a 4 hour passage to Calle de Formentor. on the Northern tip of Mallorca, planning to be here just a few nights before jumping over to Menorca, we can already see that plan has changed – again…

Have you ever returned from a vacation and felt like you needed a vacation? Sometimes as the on board “cruise director” I can sense that my crew is feeling that way, so I like to plan in some “lay days” at anchor where we aren’t spending a fortune to NOT take advantage of the town we are in. That was my plan for Calle de Formentor because the next island, Menorca, has evidence of the oldest civilizations in the Med and according to the Islas Baleares cruising guide, “Menorca has the greatest concentration of prehistoric remains IN THE ENTIRE MEDITERRANEAN”. So we may need to arrive refreshing and ready to learn to do the exploring that this island promises even though it is one of the smaller islands, it promises to keep us busy.

Our few days of rest in Formentor became a week here. We enjoyed the rest, of course, as well as lots of snorkeling, swimming, a small bit of hiking and a trip to Pollenca. Recommended by a friend from home and a short 15 minute dinghy ride to the Port of Pollenca, we were so happy to have been warned of this spot mere miles from where we were. The port is a typical large port city – nice and with a market (you know how I love the markets!) the real gem was a 15 minute and 1.50 Euro bus ride to the old town of Pollenca. Pollenca just as with Soller, the main towns were built 7 and 3 km respectively, inland from their ports as protection from pirates. Conquered by the Romans in 123 BC, Pollenca was founded between 70 and 60 BC. The 365 steps to Calvary were so much fun to climb and the town was a true gem with adorable shops and restaurants in this ancient city. Thanks Bob and Dori for the recommendations!

Pollenca, Spain

School is beginning across the US this week and we will be continuing our plan of limited school until we are tucked into our “winter” home. Jack has been writing in his journal weekly and reading both assigned books and non- assigned fun books. We had hoped to do 3 days a week of Kahn Academy – but due to limited internet some weeks have been better than others. Still, Jack has completed nearly 50% of math for 4th grade (the grade he is “going into”) so we feel as though we are mostly current. Jack continues to learn History wherever we are, and living in and on the water is a daily Natural Science class.

As I write this we are underway to Mahon, Menorca. We hope you too are able to take advantage of the changes that this crazy Covid times are offering.

The Balearic Islands Part 1

The Balearic Islands

This entry has become too long and thus I have decided to break it into 3 different posts. The first will be Ibiza and 2 Southern Ports in Mallorca while the next post will be the 2 Northern ports in Mallorca and finally the 3rd will be the as yet un toured unseen island of Menorca on which we have just arrived today.

Our anchorage in Ibiza with Gratitude in the background

On any given summer, the four islands which comprise the Balearic Island chain are teeming with visitors from around the globe but during a Covid crisis, the anchorages and villages that dot the landscape are anything but over run. We begin our tour of the islands from the South with Ibiza. Though Formentera is the Southernmost island, we decided to bypass it in search of more towns and activity. Ibiza, long purported to be the jet-set, party island for socialites and hangers on – we saw little of that during our short 2 weeks stay. Due to Covid, all of the nightclubs were closed, so likely even had we gone looking for this scene, we wouldn’t’ have found it. We did take a dinghy trip to Sant Antonio – the epicenter of the party scene and didn’t see anything at all that would warrant an overnight trip with dockage in the 500-700 Euro per night range. Anchored out in a lovely harbor near Cala Coral, we were able to take our dinghy to shore and tie up for about 20 Euro per day. From here we could take a taxi anywhere else, which we did – to Puerto de Ibiza.

Puerto de Ibiza reminded us a lot of Key West. It was charming in architecture and the shops and restaurants were plentiful. This is the only place thus far that finding a last-minute reservation was not possible. According to the cruising guides, one should not even attempt a last-minute reservation in any of the Balearic Islands – especially in a boat our size, but during Covid – that is all we have done. Had we been a tiny bit more proactive or patient we certainly would have been accommodated, but we just didn’t feel strongly that we needed to be in Ibiza for more than the day we allowed ourselves, so we simply continued along making our way to the next island North, Mallorca.

Our first stop on this Spanish island was Santa Ponca. According to Navily, the anchorage and port app we use, this anchorage was well protected based on the winds for the next few days. As it was also a short 7-8 hours cruise from Ibiza, it would be the perfect place to spend the night. Santa Ponca was perfectly idyllic, and we ended staying for nearly a week. The anchorage, like all of the anchorages we have thus explored in the Med, required the flopper stoppers as there was more surge than we have encountered elsewhere, but with the generous permission to leave our dinghy for the day – protected and tied up, it made for a wonderful first stop to explore by foot and by bus the surrounding area in the South West Coast of Mallorca. Santa Ponca was where King James 1 of Aragon took the island from the Arabs in 1229 after 300 years of Muslim rule, and this is commemorated by a monument which provides an interesting backdrop to the cliff from which teens jump into the harbor. Part of the municipality of Calvia, Santa Ponca is 18 Km from Palma, the capital of Mallorca, which can be accessed by frequent bus service. Another day was spent on a zipline obstacle course similar to the park that we enjoyed nearly weekly in Portugal. A bit of school took place – we studied the effects of evaporation in the Mediterranean Sea water, then used the newly acquired salt to make Mediterranean Sea Salt carmel which we drizzled on ice cream. I love school!!!

After spending a week enjoying the lovely secluded beaches and restaurants, we decided to move on to Palma. Having checked it out in advance, we found a perfect marina location right next to the Cathedral in Palma called Mollvell where we made reservations to arrive the next day. Originally planning just 3 days at the dock, we ended up staying for a week, and in that time, hardly sat still. Built in the Gothic style common in the 14th century for King James II, the Bellver Castle serves today as a history museum set on acres of wooded land surrounding it and makes for a wonderful hike – 6 miles round trip from the dock. The other highlights of our time in Palma include a trip to the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma which began construction a year after King James I of Aragon took the island and continued for nearly 400 years, finishing in 1601. True of many European Cathedrals, it sits on the site of a previous Mosque and contains a nave that is 40 metres wide and 44 metres tall. By comparison, according to Wikipedia the height of the central nave in Notre Dame in Paris is 33 metres. Impressive. Adding to its splendor, Goudi made several changes to the cathedral in the early 20th century after a fire including a crown of lights hanging above the altar.

The crown of lights above the alter contributed by Goudi early 20th Century

For Jack the highlight of this stop most certainly was the Segway tour and the trip to Toys R Us – the first we have seen since we left the US and for me the highlight must have been the cafe’s and pastry and bread and markets…. its all about the food!!!!

Cartagena, Spain

July, 2020

Cartagena, Spain

I’d like to start this blog by just saying we as a family have no words to express our gratitude that we are underway again. We feel in our groove again, in stride and engaged once more in the life we are living. There are a number of you reading who love the numbers so this week I’m going to start with that.

Over the past 14 months we have fueled up intermittently taking fuel at various stops from the time we left Florida until we last fueled up in Jersey, Channel Islands last October. When we fueled up in Gibraltar last week, we chose to “fill her up” as we aren’t expecting to see these prices again throughout the Med. Fuel in Gib was .40 pence/Liter. For the Americans – it’s roughly 4 liters per gallon and we took on 5200 Liters. Based on our typical usage, we aren’t anticipating needing fuel for at least another year. A typical overnight trip which we just enjoyed from Gibraltar to Cartagena, SP took 30 hours to travel 244 miles. We averaged 8.1 knots and used 198 gallons of fuel for 6.6 gallons per hour or 1.23 Nautical Mile Per Gallon. For this cost, we are essentially moving around our home and doing so very comfortably. There is nothing in the world like spending the day sightseeing, hiking or just living to arrive home to one’s own pillow, bed, and all of the full bottles of toiletries one uses to be comfortable. Preparing all of Jacks favorite meals and treats in our own galley is another of our great joys. Jack and I are the very grateful beneficiaries of the vast knowledge and dedication Alec brings to this venture. Our Gratitude has been steadily and faithfully performing beautifully since we first adopted her and that is in no small part due to the care and constant vigilance that Alec brings to his avocation. A couple of hours from the dock in Gibraltar we had a failure of the Satellite Compass – we got a “work around” allowing us to navigate using our back up flux gate compass – this worked perfectly allowing us to get to the dock but due to the Covid situation – we couldn’t really get the electronics guy to fix the problem. Alec worked around it by running Cat 5 wire from the antenna at the top of the mast through the wheelhouse port and to the processor. It’s not the most elegant solution but it is working perfectly and allowing for the electronics guy to complete the work properly at a later date when travel isn’t so onerous. In any event, the electronics guy lives in Ireland so that’s a bit of a help.

Now back to the fun stuff… Cartagena, SP

What a cool city! Inhabitants of Cartagena date back 3700 years. For our purposes though, we looked at the history dating back to when it was inhabited by the Carthaginians who built a wall in approx. 3rd century BC. Remarkably, that wall is still standing despite the failure to prevent the Romans from capturing the city and turning it into a Roman Colony around the 2nd century BC. The Arabs left their mark arriving in the 8th century AD and the Christians came later in the 13th century.

The Punic Wall (3rd Century BC)

The Roman Theatre only recently discovered

Restoration work being done daily on the ancient discoveries

The recent and modern Theatre with the ancient roman theatre in the background (right)

The stunning statue paying tribute to all of the victims of terrorism.

While uncovering the Punic wall only recently discovered, the sarcophagus was also found which was once part of the church which stood here. Before the 18th century, brothers of orders would leave offerings to pay for a mass and a place in the tomb in the church. The practice was stopped in the early 19th century.

Some of the benefits of this kind of living and teaching were apparent right away – and some others have taken time to emerge. One benefit which I only recently discovered is the wonderful gift of time to get curious. Certainly, the greatest inspiration for learning is curiosity but in our past lives, we seemed never to have enough time for our curiosity to flourish. We have noticed lately that we have a thought – or a curiosity, and then we research the answer later. We have all been enjoying this latest benefit and not more so than this past week. We were doing one of the silly bus tours where you hop on and hop off, listening to the audio recording about some given monument or building as it whizzes past at 30 miles per hour. I hate admitting this, but we love these – not for the vast knowledge that we acquire in the moment but rather the overview which we can then home in on and decide which of the local special attractions we would like to spend our time on later. Such was the case as we zoomed past a monument paying tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in the Spanish American war. Immediately, I got curious. Hmmmm, I seem to remember something about that but…. When was that?……what was it about? The next day we did some research. On the off chance that you are as curious as I was – here are a few details. It was fought in 1898 and it started over a squirmish in Havana Harbors after an American Ship had some fire aboard. Now, at the time, Cuba belonged to Spain. The resulting war or more accurately our win, brought about an end to Spain being a world power and the beginning of America with overseas territories in Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba gaining their independence. For this we paid a paltry 20 Million dollars. Jack was curious about the Spanish Civil war. So interesting in that it occurred between 1936-1939. Jack immediately recognized the significance of those dates – just before the start of WW2 and it was largely due to the rise of Fascism (sound familiar) and the disparity arising between the poor and the wealthy. Essentially the poor and disenfranchised rose up. Sound familiar? seems to me that has happened in several other countries just before the fall of an empire. It happened in Russia with the Czars. Now I swear I’m not making this up and I’m sure if you are a parent you have said these words to your own child when they came to you as Jack did this week to inquire, “why do we have to spend so much time on ancient history”? There can only be 1 answer to this question, right? Writer and philosopher George Santayana is credited with this well-known – quote “Those who don’t know History are condemned to repeat it” So that begs the question – do we all need a history lesson?

The hiking here is fantastic with 5 large hills of approximately 800 feet (I know because we climbed one of them) surrounding the city. It is a bit balmy – some would say Hot but we are Floridians, so it hasn’t hit the “hot” moniker for us yet. As long as we can sit with the ports open during the day – which we have done every day – it’s not hot. We do sleep with AC at night but during the day the breezes – though warm- are comfortable.

And finally – the food – glorious food!!! Yes, we love Spanish tapas – who doesn’t right? But we still have some work to do to get our body schedule on the local schedule – the closest we have come is eating dinner just before the restaurants close after lunch. We are really going to be in for it when we get to the Balearics. The islands – (particularly Ibiza) are well known for their party ‘til you drop night clubs of which we, in a perfect world – would not be partaking. But this is not a perfect world – or is it? The nightclubs are closed due to Covid and we have every reason to suspect that the attendant crowds, of which we have been warned, will be non-existent. We shall see. You can see in the Cartagena photos that there were very few other tourists in any of the sites we visited yet most of my research indicated ways to avoid the crowds – as though that was something one might want to do. Certainly, the cruise ships which normally occupy a large part of the port were non-existent during our visit as were the several thousand occupants which pour through the port doors when a ship is in town. According to the BBC, roughly 35% of the Balearic Island economic output is in tourism and there has been a grand effort to save some of this year’s revenue lost due to Covid but also according to the same BBC News article, there has long been an agenda by the locals and the Balearic islands’ tourism board to get away from the party –“ booze tourism” crowd inundating the islands every year in search of a more upmarket crowd. I can hardly wait to see what awaits us at the anchorage.

Our plan is to spend several days at anchor and minimize our time at the docks. The reasons for this are many – but primarily, in addition to enjoying our times at anchor – especially in warmer weather where we can just jump in the water and have a swim, the dockage in the Med is very expensive. Since we left Florida, we haven’t spent nearly the budget for dockage that we spend in the US. And this is true for most of Northern Europe – but not so for the Med where dockage expenses range from the pricey to the insane – think basic Bahamas or Nantucket. The cruising guides and all empirical knowledge from friends warn that dockage and anchorage space is incredibly limited in July and August, but we are hoping that this Covid thing is going to cause the exception. We will let ya know…

So we are currently off the Spanish Coast heading for the Balearic Islands due in tomorrow morning.

So very nice getting back into the swing of things…

Gibraltar (the second time)

Gibraltar (the second time)

Several months ago, before Covid changed the world forever, Alec, Jack and I traveled to Gibraltar to do research for winter 2021, believing then that we would make our way into the Med for the following summer 2021. Even though that was only 6 months ago, everyone reading this can relate to how different our world looks, both individually and collectively now.

Still, having done the research months earlier, it made coming here easier in several ways in that we knew what to expect and we had made contacts for dockage as well. I had written a piece about Gib, as it is affectionately called by the locals, which I later sold to Ocean Navigator magazine, and for that reason, I never made a blog post about it then. Sometimes I write to get something that we experience on paper, wherever it ends up. Having done that, I find it difficult to write a different piece for a different audience on the same subject, but I am happy to have another opportunity to share our combined experiences of both trips here now.

Gratitude Med-Moored in Gibraltar

The great thing about coming to this lovely place twice and having one of those times before this Covid crisis was, we had the ability to sightsee in a way last time which was impossible this time due to the closure of many of the tourist attractions for the duration of our time here. We did manage to walk up the Rock of Gibraltar and visit the monkeys who seemed overly friendly in the wake of the drought of visitors of late. We had heard that they were “cheeky” little thieves and would welcome any chance to make off with hats, glasses or even back packs. On our first visit we saw none of this bold familiarity yet on our recent trip, with us the only visitors we saw in a full day of climbing up and down, cheeky was the perfect word to describe them. They grabbed at Jacks hat, desperate to abscond with it to who knows where. They grabbed my arms and tried to engage with me in a gentle sort of playful way. Given that I have had exactly 2 experiences with wild monkeys in my life, this was completely unnerving to me. Especially the males who appeared to be guarding the nursing females on our ascent up the rock. At nearly the top and after getting some “guff” from one such large ape like monkey, I felt it was time to turn tale and head back down – I had gotten close enough to the top to call it a victory.

On the previous trip and given that we only had 3 days not 3 weeks to explore, we took a taxi to the top and made the requisite stops at both the St. Michaels Caves and the Pillar of Hercules. So, a short history lesson here, The Rock of Gibraltar, only a 3 miles spit of land, (growing daily due to the high value of land and the attendant desire for reclamation) and completely surrounded by Spain on all land sides, has been home to inhabitants dating back to the Neanderthals. Travelers have been leaving their mark here since the Phoenicians and later, the Carthaginian’s who, traveling past believed that they were approaching the end of the earth, left gifts to the Gods in the caves in the years between roughly 800 BC and 200 BC. In 711 the Moors landed at the foot of the rock and so began the Muslim conquest of Iberia. Evidence of their occupation remains in the Moorish Baths located within the Gibraltar Museum. The British and Dutch forces captured the Rock in 1704 and under the Treaty of Ultrecht in 1717 ceded Gib to the British Crown in perpetuity. This would not be the last heard of the Spanish however and several more attempts were made on the rock the final and greatest being The Great Siege in 1779-1783. For Americans a point of significance is that date. The British had to endure a brutal siege by Spain for Gibraltar at the same time the Americans were fighting for their liberty. Dividing the British resources undoubtedly played a role in the success of the American and French in fighting the British for American sovereignty during those same years.

A quick glance at a map and one can easily see why this is so important a piece of land for the British. Given necessary trade with Asia and India the rights to the Straights of Gibraltar prevented Crown ships having to make the trip around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and all the way back up again. Cutting through the Med especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 gave them access to a far shorter trade route. Today that same shortened route is required to get access to precious oil from the Middle East. From a strictly military point of view, it is a critical strong hold and remains encamped today to provide supplies to allied ships proving invaluable during WW2.

On our earlier visit our guide shared with us a story of the myth of twin pillars of Hercules. Homer claimed that Hercules broke the mountain joining Europe and Africa resulting in two pillars on either side of Straights of Gibraltar. The European “pillar” is the Rock of Gibraltar and the “pillar” on the African side is Mount Hacho.

We dropped by the museum, closed due to covid, and discovered that with prior arrangement a visit may be possible. I sent an email and was delighted that they would permit us a private visit during a designated time slot. It was a perfectly wonderful museum exploration – we were the only visitors there and we were free to meander and discover completely at our own pace. They had reconstructed a couple of Neanderthals from found bones and just that alone was worth the trip. There have been carvings and evidence of their habitation in Gib for over 100,000 years.

We are clearly moving into yet a new phase of our learning aboard Gratitude. So accustomed have we been to think of history in terms of the past 300 years in the US, upon reaching the UK we began thinking more in terms of the past 2000 years. Now we are beginning to look at History in terms of BC and AD as much of the Mediterranean history dates back well over 2000 years ago.

Jack turned 10 last week and we celebrated in a big way aboard Gratitude. Having experienced a bit of a Toy drought since we left -unable to just run to Target for something on which to spend his hard-earned money, the toy store abundance combined with his impending birthday made this the perfect place to be. Also, I lost a (dental) crown, which was repaired here, and Alec had some worrisome skin issues resolved.

Jack’s 10th birthday Coffee Cake practice for the main event later

Finally, if you have been following along you may be wondering why we are headed into the Med now when we were originally planning to be in the Baltic this summer. When the Covid thing hit and as we were waiting for Portugal to open and let us leave, we were simultaneously waiting for another country to open their border to let us in. We have the additional constraints of the shortened cruising season up North, in fact, as early as October the weather was changing quickly as far South as the Channel Islands. We certainly don’t wish to be in the North Sea that late in the year. Also, with our immigration concerns there seems to be a more lenient approach to allowing extensions in the Southern part of Europe as opposed to the Northern countries. And finally, Italy was the first country to open their doors and allow foreign visitors. So, armed with all of these constraints, we decided to move around some plans and hope that we may still make it to the Baltic in the summer of 2022 spending this summer and next in the Med. Of course, given so many variables up in the air, even now we aren’t certain where we will end up this winter, though we hope to be in Sicily. So, this is all just a wild guess.

What we do know now is that we are on our way to Cartegena, Spain and having the most gorgeous passage. Underway for about 25 hours thus, and with another 2 to go, the weather has been stunning and the views breathtaking. The Spanish coastline has made me wish we could stop at every little town we seem to pass.

One final note – many have asked us about the guidelines and requirements here in Europe in the wake of Covid. Mask usage is fairly consistent across the board anytime a 2-meter distance cannot be maintained. We just arrived in Spain where one can be fined 1,000 Euros on the spot for failure to comply and have with them a mask. As in Portugal, usage was mandatory in restaurants and cafes anytime not seated at the table and the tables and its occupants were required to be 2 meters apart. Nobody is complaining about this – nobody is even talking about it – it’s just become part of the program and without dispute, the Covid numbers are under control here. There have been a few tiny “brushfires” which have been quickly tamped down with contract tracing and immediate resolution but with mask usage – the asymptomatic carriers aren’t spreading it accidentally. When I read the US news I’m just so amazed that this is even an issue – using a mask saves lives – this is the undisputed fact of science. It has NOTHING to do with political affiliation or belief – it’s just science and across the board there is no dispute that wearing a mask prevents the spread – Just my 2 cents worth.

We hope wherever this finds you – you are enjoying your summer plans – upended though they most certainly are – and enjoying each other.

The Fantasy… The Reality… The Memory Gibralter

The fantasy, The reality, The memory GIBRALTER

Nothing ever just happens. Most meaningful achievements are the result of planning and work, and the best part of the planning is the fantasizing that I do while I’m doing the work and the planning. The fantasies are the dreams that fuel the work and keep me interested in the project. And the fantasies never look anything like the reality. I have been in the fantasy and dream making business for a long time and I enjoy laughing at how different the reality is from the fantasy. Sometimes, the reality is actually much better than the fantasy, but mostly it is just different – not really better or worse.

Seeing “The rock” outside our own boat window was a true highlight!

Such was the case yesterday when we arrived for the first time in Gibralter, and we had the opportunity to learn how to Med- Moor. Alec and I have been cruising together for 20 years now, and I love that we still have the opportunity to learn new things. Usually learning too much at once isn’t good – big lessons are usually costly and big inconveniences, but little lessons are always fun and interesting. Such was the case yesterday. It’s not inconsequential that most of the recent learning experiences have happened after overnight passages. Now – a word here about our overnight passages – for us, a 1-day passage of 22-26 hours is really the worst. We would much rather keep going for 2 -4 days because in 22 hours, there hasn’t been enough time to re-coup the lost sleep of the 3 hours on 3 hours off schedule. By day 3 and 4 we have fallen into a rhythm and things get easier for us. So, when we arrived here after 23 hours underway, we were both really tired, having lost sleep the night before and not having had enough time to re-coup that sleep. Learning when tired is not the best, most conducive environment, but I was open and totally receptive when the dock helpers arrived to hand me the slime lines. Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Med-Moor, Ill segway to your briefing here…

Friends sending us off in Lagos. Note the lovely finger piers coming off the dock

The med-moor is designed to maximize dockage by eliminating completely the finger piers which come out of the dock. What you essentially end up with is a long line of boats next to each other with no dock or finger at all between them. How do you tie up then? you ask? Well, that is the tricky part. After Alec threads the needle between 2 boats on either side, backing down with nothing more than a tiny fender (or in Gratitude’s case several fenders) between us and the adjacent 2 boats, I get lines on the dock from the stern on the port and starboard sides. Ok – The stern is now attached to the dock, but the bow is still free to swing side to side into our neighbors. So to prevent this, I take a lead line from the stern and walk it up to the bow where I pull said line until it reveals the “slime line” so named due to it living below the water line and full of mud and ich. I know Ich is not a technical term but it’s the only word I can use here. So, the line full of the ichy muddy substance now dripping all over me and the deck of Gratitude which must be pulled as tightly as possible to secure us tightly enough so that our bow doesn’t move. We do this on each side of our boat. Remember though that we only have a walkway on the starboard side – so it must be handed up to me on the boat deck on the port side where I try to walk it up to the bow mud dripping all over on the way. Ensuring that Gratitude doesn’t drift or “sail” into another boat until we are tied securely, Alec must remain vigilant at the controls.

Our slip is next to the blue sailboat on the right. Tight. Notice no finger piers

So, there I was ready to accept the second line with 3 lines firmly on Gratitude when I completely lost my balance and SPLASH! In I went. I had told Jack earlier that it is ok to look unfamiliar when you explain to people that you have never done something before. “We will honestly tell our dock helpers that we are unfamiliar, and they will help us, we just don’t want to look totally inept”. So, floating in the water and laughing nearly uncontrollably while still trying to secure one’s boat to the dock is sort of what “inept” looks like but I digress. Yachties reading this will appreciate that when a new boat enters the marina there is always a bit of anticipation wondering what level of entertainment the new boat is likely to offer. We always hope to obtain nothing more than a cursory nod of approval from our new neighbors rather than the full on “get a cocktail – we are going to enjoy this” level of attention but that is one of the wonderful things about boating (and flying too for that matter). No matter how long you have been doing it or how good you think you are, there is always a new lesson right around the corner. Yep…. We are still learning….

So the dripping wet image of me being fished out of the water and the ensuing hour spent cleaning up cat vomit and Alec trying to figure out why we have no electrical power connected to the dock – These are the realities of the “glamorous” cruising life. But this morning we awoke to coffee on the flybridge in a new marina in a new country filled with new possibilities. Welcome to Gibralter!

The best part of cruising is the people whom we meet along the way. Below are friends who came to say so-long on our way out of the inlet. We will miss you Nicholls Family!!!

Blooming where we are planted, Lagos, Portugal

If you travel by boat, whether sail or motor, you have heard if not used the saying “plans made in the sand at low tide”. Of course, this recent Covid crisis has given new meaning to that phrase in ways none of us could have imagined even 6 months ago when the news reports of this novel corona virus first surfaced. Plans which normally changed by days or weeks are now changing by months even years and locales which were firmly planned; if timing uncertain, are completely up in the air.

For us aboard Gratitude, we feel your pain! It was our plan to head up to the Baltic region of Northern Europe from Portugal in late March/ Early April but as we are quickly approaching June, dock lines are still tied fast to terra firma in Lagos as required by the local state of emergency, and not only is the Baltic seeming unlikely, even Northern Europe is not assured as we are considering destinations in the Med – once planned for 2021.

Not only have we re-discovered the area in which we “live” but Gratitude herself has moved into a new season. With warmer temperatures we have been enjoying the outside living areas in a way we haven’t done since we left Florida. Covers off the cushions, we are back to eating multiple meals on the fly bridge and sleeping with all of the ports open, breezes filling the boat and bringing in the sounds of the numerous species of birds.

Enjoying breakfast outside with the new warmer weather

If you are finding yourself in the same proverbial “boat” – may I suggest taking another look at where you are. While feeling anxious with all of our plans disintegrating before our eyes, I heard the saying “Bloom where you are planted” and it got me thinking. At one time, eyes fresh and excitement abounded as we arrived in Portugal. That was only 6 months ago but now I have been feeling almost jaded by the familiarity of our surroundings. What was once comfort at knowing where to find the best coffee in this new area has become monotony. It was seriously time to take another look at this beautiful place in the Algarve which we have called home for 6 months. While this is a look at the Algarve through the fresh lens of our new prospective, why not take a look around your own comfortable “sand box” and see if there isn’t some new hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.

The Algarve, the magnificent coastline from the Atlantic Ocean on the most south-westerly point of Europe to the Portuguese border with Spain to the East, is home to some of the most stunning beaches, impressive caves and rock formations, and over 100 species of birds. The winter temperatures average between 55 and 65 Fahrenheit; too cold to swim in the 55 degree water, and unless the sea is calm, dinghy excursions were limited in both duration and time. So while we were taking a new look at our old surroundings, we were fortunate enough to have a whole new climate to help us to enjoy vistas and experiences which were, if not impossible, at least uncomfortable a few months ago.

Lagos

The Lagos de Marina, home to more than 400 boats during the winter season from ports all over Europe, most of the Ensigns hail from the UK. Floating docks accommodate the tidal change of 6’ and bars and restaurants abound to suit any palate. Just a few minutes’ walk down the Avenida and you will find cuisine ranging from burgers and pizza to Michelin stared restaurants. From this marina it is a short walk to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and hikes featuring dramatic cliffs and heart-stopping drop offs. Don’t turn your back to take a selfie or cast out too far fishing or you may join one of several per year who perish in the fall. No lawyers, no signs warning you – just your own good judgement to keep you safe. With a bus station in the front and a train station in the back, the Marina de Lagos is a gateway to anyplace else you may want to explore.

Alvor

It is crazy to me to believe that this quaint seaside fishing village, which is a mere 4 miles from Lagos by water, was nearly missed by us. While we have walked extensive trails all the way to Vila do Bispo, through the countryside and along the coast, this cobblestoned riverfront with an abundance of bars and restaurants was completely overlooked. As the weather permitted longer dinghy rides and further exploration, we found this little gem and enjoyed one of the best days yet, dining in the newly opened restaurants, post lockdown. Located on a protected wetland, we stopped and enjoyed walking and shelling on the sandbars and visiting fellow Americans at anchor. Boardwalks to the white sand beaches and hiking trails abound in this lovely seaside village.

Europe in general counts tourism responsible for roughly 10% of it’s GDP but in the Algarve that number is higher at 15%, which is the reason we never learned, or even made a concerted effort to learn, Portuguese.  With the abundance of UK flags both in the marina and occupying many of the second homes and condos, the local economy runs in English.    Given the tremendous hardship experienced by the shop keepers and restaurants,  we have been doing our level best to help by eating out several meals a week since the lockdown has been lifted.  One restaurant which was kind enough to leave the wifi on during their absence and whose business we work hard to support said that her numbers are 50% what they were same time last year.  They are struggling.    We have been so fortunate to be able to enjoy such abundance and varied restaurants during our time here – we hope they can make it through this difficult time.  

The kayaks aboard Gratitude have been getting a free ride since we left the states over a year ago and it is high time they earned their keep!   All of the destinations we have visited, while certainly beautiful enough to warrant a kayak around, were simply too cold for these Floridian whimps.   The weather here has warmed enough for us to tolerate the chill of 60 F degree water trickling down onto our laps so we have been out in the kayaks several times over the past few weeks.  What a treasure trove of discovery this has been!  

We have just received word that at least until June 15 we are NOT PERMITTED to leave the dock for any overnight trip.  This was so disappointing as we had heard from friends about a wonderful anchorage called Culatra which is at the convergence of a river with the estuary in Faro, Portugal a mere 45 miles away.    Alternatively we had hoped to spend a week in Lisbon as we make our way North for the winter.   It seems that neither of these trips will come to pass this time around.     As we always aim to follow local rules and customs and be a nice guest, here is where we will sit until it is time for us to move along.  

What can you discover while waiting for the tide to stay out long enough to re-write some of those plans?

The Year in Review 2020

The year in review

The year in Review

Im a goal setter.  Its the thing that gets me out of bed and gets me going.  Its what keeps me on task and moving forward.  And its what helps me to the be the best version of myself that I can be.   But sometimes life – or Covid 19 happens – and the goals need to be tossed out the window.  In these times, I like to look at what moved on track this year and how getting derailed in the past has actually been the blessing in disguise that I have needed.  

We had planned to be in Portugal for 5 months – Knowing that we can’t really move the boat too much in the winter and knowing also that we don’t have the disposition to live in cold/overcast climates indefinitely, this was a planned stop.  It has really been fantastic in hindsight as it offered us so many of the conditions we were hoping for.  For one thing, cruising is challenging.  Moving the boat and your family -often times constantly -for a whole season (which can be 5-7 months depending on your area and tolerance for lousy weather) takes its toll.  It is not unusual for us to just take a mental health day during a particularly aggressive month of cruising to just stop and reset for a day (or few) before doing anything else.  While traveling to new cities we have never been before is fun and exciting, it also requires planning which can range from minimal to many days/nights of reading.  Getting the boat safely into a dock or harbor is, of course, step one.  Planning the route, the weather, the fuel and the tides are just a few of the considerations each of these trips involves.  In addition, planning the meals, the sights, the museums, the recreation, the schooling etc all the while making sure that we don’t miss the “must do” in any location and deciding what must wait until our next trip here  – is all work.   Don’t get me wrong – Im not complaining – its wonderful work and we are thrilled to be doing it but it is work.     We aren’t sitting around with umbrella drinks having our laundry and sheets cleaned by staff.     All of this is to say that the winter was to be a giant reset essentially giving all of us time to rest, catch up on school, fall into a routine of work/exercise and allow visitors a chance to come see us.  We were also excited to actually wake up in the morning and know where the best place to have coffee is or our favorite pizza place after a long day.   Lagos, Portugal – YOU DID IT!  Honestly  -given our hopes for this winter of rest, Lagos nailed it (thanks Marci and George).     

Can you spot Gratitude? (one of the few non-sail types:-)

But now we are SERIOUSLY ready to move.  This is that goal setter in me who looks at the plan and shrieks “We have to GO!”   I somehow feel like I am failing, Im falling short of my goals and dreams.  I know that Im not the only person in this situation surrounded by amazing good fortune for which I am so speechlessly grateful yet feels “I should be doing something more”.    So on the off chance that there is another person out there like me who feels that they are “missing out” or failing to meet their plan or goal, or just basically feeling like a slacker for spending the day doing nothing – playing cards or chess or watching netflix – this is for you – and it is for me.     Time for a recap of the year to put into prospective what a few weeks of doing the responsible thing of “hangin’ on the couch,  is really about.    I would really encourage you to do the same in your life – even mention it on the blog!  Its all the virtual friendship anyway!  Tell me and each other what we have achieved in the last year before this all happened.  

The recap

In 5 weeks time, we will have been living aboard Gratitude for a whole year.  In that time, we have traveled roughly 6,000 miles (at a basic walking pace), seen 10 countries and 4 islands visiting 20 cities.  We have managed to keep ourselves fed and watered and, thank God, afloat for all of it.  Alec continues to amazing and delight us with the impeccable manner in which he maintains Gratitude, fixing every issue big or small the moment it arises.  Jack has moved into 4th grade and is flying through his studies with a new momentum and commitment that impresses me beyond measure.  We have planned a very aggressive and thorough trip to the Baltic region this summer but it is very likely we will be examining a Plan B or even Plan C with this Corona Virus as our immigration concerns are mounting with our protracted stay in Portugal.  We crashed and burned on the Portuguese lessons.  After committing to lessons both online and in person, it became burdensome to the point of harming Jacks other studies.  Basically, we needed to do exactly what we are doing now – we examined the benefit/work ratio and decided that the work, while honorable, was not likely to pay off in any meaningful way.  Nearly everyone here speaks English so there was little chance to practice.  Really working on and practicing Portuguese would make sense if we had obtained residency here but that never worked out either.  Given that we may or may not be here next winter (immigration issues again) there was little point to committing the time necessary to learn this challenging language.  Sometimes you just gotta punt.   

We have made new friends and old friends have visited.  We have thoroughly and completely traveled and learned the Algarve as well as a few other well known Portuguese cities.  So even though the cruising goal may become sidelined for the time being, the goal of living overseas continues to thrive.  The blog is gaining momentum thanks to readers like you – so thank you – you make it enjoyable to write and to share our experiences with you.  I have submitted 2 pieces of work to magazines and I continue to work on and learn how to improve my writing.  We have all spent far more time reading this past year than ever before and we all continue to exercise and eat well.  So on balance – even though this isn’t exactly what I thought  or hoped we would be doing right now, Im going to take a deep breath, thank God for this opportunity to just “be” and send all of you love and calming energy.  

Thanks for reading!

xo

Laurie  

Corona Virus and Portugal

Corona Virus Update in Portugal

It seems as though this is the only thing on anyones mind…I can’t imagine a time in the world’s history when everyone on the planet was having the exact same conversation.

At 53 years old and having never before lived through a war on our own soil, I can only imagine what the war time rations and austerity measures were like to live through. What it may have been like to hide in silence as many jews did in order to save their own lives – it makes these new changes to our own liberties seem insignificant, and yet –

Portugal has declared a state of emergency giving the government far reaching authority to limit mobility or commandeer property. In fact, I read through the measures and the comments from the PM and it seemed as though it was a terribly difficult decision to come to. It is strange having ones movements and freedoms restricted though nobody has any objections to these restrictions. Whatever must be done to save lives – we are willing. But these changes have really gotten me thinking.

In practice, these new measures have had very little relative impact on our current living situation – essentially the way we have been living since we left Stuart, FL 10 months ago. Where this will have the greatest impact will be to our travel plans this summer as we were planning to leave next week in order to give us 3 months outside of the Schengen area before heading into the Baltic. All of the ports are closed and even if we were permitted to exit, we would have no place to go. Without that 3 months in the UK out of the Schengen zone, we will be unable to cruise the Baltic since Portugal is a Schengen country and this is where we have been. I know! I know!, first world problems – and we are so very grateful for so many things. We are all healthy – as is all of our family and friends back home. We have stocked shelves and everything and everyone here in the Algarve seems to be behaving sensibly. But this has gotten me thinking about the changes our friends and family back home are experiencing and it’s interesting to us that they are the exact same changes that we ourselves experienced when we decided to live overseas and travel the world. The big difference is of course, we planned it, we chose it, and we worked toward it. But I can’t help but think that these changes are going to, on balance and with the gift of time, be a time that most people will remember with some fondness.

The first thing we noticed when we left the dock and especially when Jack arrived in the Azores was our own family values. If you aren’t sure about your own family values, this past week is a nice window into it. Not judging anything as good or bad, just observing where you (and your children) are spending your time and energy in this new world will provide tons of feedback.

We have noticed that we watch more movies. We never watched tv at home (or so rarely I can say never) but we also didn’t seem to have the time more than once maybe twice a week for dinner and a movie which is a family favorite activity. We do now. This is probably in the category of not the highest quality time but we usually limit it to an evening activity of a couple of hours and more so now that we aren’t traveling. We don’t watch any movies during the day (unless it is a rainy day and we are desperate but this is really rare). When we are traveling in the summer we don’t have this much time for movies either.

Alec and I had always spent a few moments at the start of the day in quiet prayer/meditation. We like to begin each day with a few moments of focus on the things (big or small) that bring us gratitude that day. Nothing earth shattering – just whatever it is that we are grateful for. We have both become more spiritual I believe since we have left. We have noticed that we prepare more meals on board than we did at home, just as many of our friends are now, with the restaurant closures and children activities cancelled (including school) – and that brings us to homeschooling.

I have never gone through SO MUCH FLOUR!!!
OR SUGAR (lesson on metrics)

Many of you are already aware of the rocky start our homeschooling efforts began with but we are now in a rhythm and we wouldn’t trade it for anything – I can’t imagine returning to our old school life – but neither would I like to go back to the early days of our working through the bumps. If you are a parent reading this and new to homeschooling – hang in there! I promise it gets better and the rewards for that are so many. Just as a side note – even if all you can manage is Math – try out Kahn Academy. This alone has done wonders to our homeschooling efforts.

Nature is king here in the Algarve!

We spend more time outside in nature together just observing the natural world in which we live. We spend more time making new friends rather than hanging with the familiar, safe and close friends – although this is not something that the current climate is going to facilitate.

New Friends

And finally we are reading more. This was something I never made time for at home but now probably 3 or 4 days a week I can get in an hour of Family reading time. Jack even looks forward to it.

I can’t help but think this is a really great time to hit the giant personal reset button in our family lives and see where our time and energies are being spent and just make sure that it is where we want them to be spent.

Alec has gotten Gratitude in tip top shape for our departure – whenever that may occur. Yesterday I broke Jack’s toilet so Alec spent the day with the head apart fixing it. I am so very grateful for my amazing and talented husband who, not only had the spare parts to fix the head, he had the ability to fix it even though he had never had our Vacuflush head apart before. I am so very grateful to our amazing and smart 9 year old son who continues to surprise and delight us daily with his kindness, his humor and his intellect. I am so grateful that in whatever community we find ourselves, there is always at least 1 or 2 individuals or couples who give of their time and talents to make life better for the rest of us. In Maine it was Milt and Judy Baker who organized cocktail parties and rallies to Nova Scotia. And in Lagos, Portugal, the couple who do this is Chip and Sue on Toujour. They organize a weekly walk for dozens of people, planning the route and even the bus transportation. They organize a dinner each week, cocktail parties, holiday events and just basically provide some entertainment and organization to a large group of boats who call this home for several months of the year. This weekly walk has been a source of education and delight as we have enjoyed making friendships and learning about this beautiful Algarve. So though we are limited in our movement and the plans for our future are uncertain, we are so very grateful to so many people and for so many gifts.

I pray that all of you are in good health and good spirits. Take care of each other and take care of yourselves!

xo
Laurie

Morocco

Morocco

Just typing the name of this country reminds me of the contrasts which we experienced in the short 3 days that we were here. Alec and I visited Morocco about 30 years ago – each before we met the other – and so we each arrived with our own pre-set memories of the country and a bit of pre-judgement. In addition, many Americans who watched as planes flown by radical Muslim extremists crashed into the World Trade Towers have a different view of Muslim countries. Many of you already know that Alec and I are both retired airline pilots. At the time of the World Trade Center disaster, Alec was flying for American and I was just beginning my flying career with Gulfstream Airlines while on a leave of absence as a flight attendant for American Airlines. Watching as our colleagues, along with their charges, perished will haunt each of us, and most Americans for the rest of their lives. In addition, my cousin, in New York on a short business trip also perished on that day.

I would love to say that the hours of media coverage after the disaster didn’t do anything at all to impact our view of the world but Im afraid that would be a lie. Whether or not we want to admit it, we viewed Muslims differently after that and it is the media who enjoys profits directly related to the fear that they peddle who capitalized on this. I have had many conversations with scared Americans citing the Christian extremists who have also committed murder in the name of their religion and imploring people to see that the VAST majority of muslim worshippers are loving and kind people simply honoring God through a different tradition but if Im 100% honest, I have to admit that even I watch a praying Muslim in the airport a little bit more carefully.

When we were in London I had the other new experience of discovering that Jack was a bit scared and nervous around Muslim women wearing burka. This completely shocked me as Jack has not heard anything about the trade center disasters nor has he EVER been allowed to watch or be in the room when the news is on because we didn’t want those images to be in his head when Mommy and Daddy went off to work, but really, there was simply no need for him to know anything about it. In fact, even now he is old enough to know and we have just begun to wade into telling him and he said “stop talking, I don’t want to hear this yet.” Well, long story short, the only reason he was scared of Muslim women was because he was not able to see their face. He is also a bit scared of clowns for the same reason. Ok – I get that – in fact, how much of our own discomfort is caused by this same reasoning. How much information do we routinely gain from our surroundings simply by having the freedom to gauge another’s emotional status by looking at their face.

Jack holding court in the ferry departures lounge with a bunch of guys who had not a clue what he was saying

So all of this is to say that when we booked this trip to Tangier we did so admitting that we had a bit of trepidation about the plan and I spent a bit of time coming to grips with my own personal biases.

Well the trip was really wonderful and so many aspects of it were a complete delight. For one thing, the people were lovely and quite possibly the very best part of Morocco.

We spent only 3 nights here but we crammed in as much as we could including taking a 2 hour drive to see Chefchaouen.

Chefchaouen, – also known as the “Blue City” – has a population of roughly 43,000 people and is set amid the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains of Northwest Morocco. This was truly the most enjoyable stop on the trip and if you find yourself headed this way, I would recommend spending the entire trip here and journey out from here. It is completely unspoiled and remains as I imagine it did 100 years ago. Time has stood still, in the loveliest ways. Not only is the blue so very much more vivid than any picture could possibly portray, but the cobblestoned streets and charming shops filled with handmade rugs, blankets and ceramics are manned by the loveliest and warmest shop keepers. If you have ever been to Morocco or if you know of anyone who has, you no doubt were left with the experience of being absolutely accosted by shopkeepers refusing to take no for an answer but here more than any other place we have been in this country you may do so. Yes, they are more aggressive while making their living than you will find at the local car dealer but still, not nearly as disconcertingly as in the local Medinas in other Moroccan cities we have visited.

One of the most charming things we saw (and enjoyed) was this local “baker” where women of the town bring their breads and cookies and cakes in the morning to be baked. They then give a portion of the baked goods to the keeper of the “oven”. Below are pictures of the “city wood” which feeds the fire of the “city oven”. At night the women return with their tagines – a stew made of meat and vegetables prepared and cooked in a earthenware crockpot to cook the evening meal. How could one possibly pass up the chance to try such delicacies? We didn’t and Im here to tell you that I have never eaten a more delicious cookie than this.

Returning to Tangier we were again faced with the faster paced rhythm of city life and here is one of the many contradictions we observed. Where time has stood still in so many ways, the 21st century has arrived in others. In Tangier as in 2 other ports in Morocco there exists full service marinas and although this is the oldest port in Morocco (created in 1925 though completely updated) it is as “state of the art” as we have ever seen. Housing 1400 moorings in 2 basins there was ample dockage available and I had the distinct impression that a last minute weather stop would not be a problem. There is a ton of construction going on there and we were told that the Med-mooring now in place for most of the marina was soon to be replaced by the “preferred by Western Yachts” pontoon finger piers. Yah – we agree – though we have never “Med-Moored” – we aren’t very excited to do it.

Just across from the marina is the old town and medina. This was absolutely the highlight of Tangier for us. Below are the pictures taken on our shopping expedition to the market. The fruits and veg are so incredibly beautiful and delicious – just as across the Straight of Gibralter. Stuff from the earth just tastes better here and as we walked around we loved the sights and sounds and smells of the city. The spices and herbs were fantastic and I brought a few home with me. Again, walking through the medina I felt as though I had slipped back in time 100 years though just across the street was this 1400 slip modern marina- another contradiction. As we approached the meat section (with nary an ice cube or refrigerant in sight) my stomach began to object and then further on we came to the beginning of the fish – Im out! I had to leave as my stomach continued to churn. Alec and Jack made the trip though and Jack took these photos. I skipped lunch.

Jacks says the smell – horrible!!!
and the ground “disgusting with dead fish and guts”

So it is my nature to smile and be friendly to everyone and saying no and then no and then no…. well, you get the picture, it was really tough for me to be tough. Also, when we arrived at the ferry terminal we were approached by someone who didn’t speak much English but he asked us if we wanted a taxi. We said “yes” and he gestured, follow me. We did and soon we were being loaded into a taxi. I thought that it was his taxi until he jumped into the front passenger seat. Then, as Alec and I struggled to guess why he was in the taxi with us, he sat in the front chatting with the driver. I thought – well, perhaps he needed a ride to Tangier and was waiting for people going that way. Well, nope I was wrong. Apparently, we now owed him taxi fare back to the ferry terminal and to pay him for escorting us on the last 30 km of a 4000 mile journey. Lesson learned – I suppose I have paid a lot more for lessons in my life but here is the next contradiction. I want to be kind to people and I want to chat and get to know people but how am I to know when a little chit chat now becomes employment? How can I be gracious and still make it clear that we have no room on our boat for your lovely 8X11 carpet?

The primary reasons for taking this trip were to ascertain the likelihood that Gratitude would stay here next winter. We are still working around the Schengen requirement to be out of the Schengen area for 90/180 days and this would be a nice way to arrive in the Med with a clear clock. The original trepidation we felt over the calls to prayer awakening us never happened in fact, those that we were able to hear were actually a lovely reminder to say a little prayer ourselves. And the conversations that this visit in a Muslim country sparked with Jack were really wonderful and in the process we discovered that again, and as usual, we are FAR more alike than not. We too pray 5 times a day – once at each meal and at bedtime and in the morning. We have so many similarities and it was a nice bridge to learn about and be reminded of this simple truth.

One reason we would rather not stay here next year is there is a huge difference between visiting an area for a week and “living” in an area for several months. I can without reservation recommend this marina as a stop on ones way elsewhere – for example going to the Canaries, but for us to get enough time out of the Shengen area to make it worth our while to “live” there – we just don’t want to do it. There was a basic “heaviness” to the city – to its feel. The buildings in the area were basic concrete block construction not charming in the least but with missing windows and mostly fallen into a state of disrepair.

It felt heavy and unkept and we didn’t feel it was safe to be out at night. There were groups of young men standing about and while they may have been perfectly harmless, they felt very “gang” like to me. The medina was wonderful and interesting but I would not prefer to do my weekly shopping here. I honestly don’t think our stomachs have the right combo of bacteria for any of the protein for sure. We have heard great things about the marina in Rabat and there is a fast train from Tangier which will get you there in an hour – something to consider if you are headed that way. For us it is headed in the wrong direction and we would prefer to just hang out in Gibralter, if we can get dockage that is…. More on that in the next post.

I have decided to break up our week long “road trip” into a couple different blog posts and I have done so in the reverse order of how we accomplished it beginning with Morocco rather than the Roman city of Italica. In the next post Ill talk about both of those stops.

Sevilla, Spain

Sevilla, Spain

The travel

As a young child and later adolescent I was not the best student in the world – the reasons for this were many but the result the same. I rallied in my 30’s to go back to University and then I soared but this only provided the basis for my pilot career knowledge – not so much the history that I should have picked up in high school. I have always been aware of the gaping caverns of knowledge missing from my basic intellectual library but traveling around Europe where history is measured in centuries and millennia rather than in our country where history is measured in decades and centuries has certainly shined a bright light on the shortcomings.

Im not sure if my new avocation in learning everything that I can about the world and it’s history is born of an latent desire that I never noticed or my new found delight in sharing all of this knowledge with our son but better late than never I say 🙂 So the learning that I have done in the past 8 months has completely eclipsed the sum total of all of the knowledge of world history leading up to this adventure. This is really exciting because what is travel for if not to open up our minds to history and the world.

Which brings me to our recent “road trip” to Sevilla, Spain, a city absolutely dripping with an incredibly vibrant and rich history spanning millennia. All of this AND it is incredibly well designed and spotless – seriously -spotless.

Parque de Maria Luisa

In 1929 when the city was planning for its Ibero-American Exposition, Anibal Gonzalez Alvarez-Ossorio was tasked with creating many of the spaces and buildings that are now the focal point and “cherry on top” of the city masterpieces. The most significant in my opinion is the Plaza de Espana which, upon entering, literally took my breath away. It was positively stunning and our guide took us there early on a Sunday morning so we essentially had the entire plaza to ourselves. We were rewarded in that we were able to see the magnitude of the space uninterrupted by crowds. The plaza was built facing West in a semi-circle to demonstrate the welcome and open arms to the Americas and the plaza itself pays tribute to all of the provinces of Spain in a combination of the Renaissance, Baroque and the Moorish styles as a nod to the city’s rich history. The city was taken back to Christianity from the Arabs in 1248 after a long and exhaustive war fought and won by King Ferdinand the III. The Arabs had this city for nearly 500 years and the artists and craftsmen of that time have left their mark throughout the city. Most of the development of Sevilla happened after 1929 so the city literally grew up around the beautiful buildings created by Alvarez-Ossorio but the buildings are only a small part of the charm of this city. Alvarez-Ossorio planted 100,000 orange trees in and around Sevilla and they are as plentiful as they are magnificent. We asked our guide why they were all so laden with fruit? surprised as we were that hoarders have’t come along to scoop them up and learned that they are a bit more sour than the typical fruit. We did try one and it was delicious but very sour. They don’t go to waste though – they are collected and shipped to England where they are turned into marmalade. As former residents of the “Sunshine state” which produces most of the country’s orange juice, we can only imagine what the city must smell like in the spring when the orange blossoms are in bloom! Heaven!!!

Imagine 100,000 of these trees city wide!

Anyone who reads our blog will know of our affinity for searching out and reporting on various UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This city has topped the list for varied sites in such close proximity with 3 independent sites located in the same square – Plaza del Triunfo – all from different time periods. The Archivo General De Indias, an example of the Spanish Renaissance architecture which houses extremely valuable archival documents according to Wikipedia, is one of the buildings. We were told that housed within are 2000 or more documents and charts from Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World. The building itself is a treasure and unfortunately that was all we were able to appreciate of it on this visit. The other 2 buildings are the Cathedral de Sevilla (also known as St. Mary of the See) and the Alcazar. Our guide stated that this is the largest Cathedral in the world but before I write I like to do some fact checking. In fact, I have found citations in Wikipedia supporting this assertion and also contradicting it calling it the 2nd largest cathedral in the world. The first point of distinction is that of the difference between a Cathedral and a Basilica – the former being a seat of a bishop. In any case, the size which has 5 Nave’s rather than the typical 3 of a Catholic Cathedral is owed to the fact that when the cathedral was taken over from the Arab Muslims, it needed to be rebuilt as a church and it needed to cover all of the previously consecrated space of the Mosque. In addition, the stunning Giralda Bell tower which was formerly the Turet in which the Muslims were called to prayer is 343 feet (104.5 meters). Interesting facts are that the remains of Christopher Columbus are housed here as are the remains of his son. Incidentally, Columbus’ remains have been moved 5 times so what portion of his remains that sits in the tomb is uncertain. This Cathedral is the largest Gothic building in Europe and it houses the largest alter piece in the world which is a complete work of art in itself divided into 4 tiers each depicting a different part of the life of Christ. This building was magnificent and personal favorite of Jack (who is only 9 and had to sit through a 5 hour tour but did so brilliantly as a trade for the 2 days he got to “tour” on a Segway.)

This is a depiction of Heaven, purgatory and Hell (notice the fire at the bottom)

And the 3rd building on the site is the Alcazar, the current residence of the royal family when in Seville (although we have heard they prefer the local hotel) and the residence which has housed royalty since 913 AD. It has been added to over the years particularly a palace and stables. Examples of Renaissance, Gothic, and Moorish architecture abound in the various structures. Changes have been made by every monarch to grace the halls since Ferdinand The III and notable history is the birth of Maria Antoinette of Spain (1729-1785).

Note the beautiful Moorish design

Honestly I could bore you for hours with details of the history we learned in the short 4 days enjoying Sevilla, but I digress, THE FOOD!!!

I had one of the most emotionally satisfying meals I have ever eaten. I know you know what Im talking about here. Not to say that it was the taste that was perfection, but the whole of the experience was pure delight. It was a tapas bar just steps from the door to our apartment and we were served beautifully prepared healthy and delicious local food slowly and deliberately and I could have sat in that spot for hours watching the gorgeous Sevilla city go by followed by a perfectly wonderful night spent enjoying a typical Flamenco dance show with an extraordinary guitar player.

So much Passion!!!

The FOO FOO

One of the ways that we try as a family to most enjoy a new city (or food or person) is – to the absolute extent that we are able – totally suspend personal judgement. We task ourselves to walk and observe without making other cultures right or wrong and to catch ourselves if we struggle with this. It is a terrific way to “see” oneself and also to gently remind ourselves of what we are trying to do here. Remaining the objective observer makes new cities fascinating and even more enjoyable. This city challenged me a bit personally in a small way and then in a larger way. First with the city’s love of their hero, Christopher Columbus and then to a greater extent, with the continued “entertainment” of bull fighting.

Picture taken from Torro de Geralda – Note the bull rink in the distance

I can understand that any effort to “judge” someone through the lens of 21st Century eyes is flawed which is why I can look at the appreciation of Christopher Columbus for all that he achieved for Spain and see that he will always be revered and celebrated due to his numerous contributions. I struggle a bit more with the whole bull fighting thing. I totally “get” that it is a matter of heritage and I even support as an “observer” and “guest” from another country that I have no capacity to ever understand it so we will just say that while bull fighting wasn’t happening at the time of our visit, we would not have spent our tourist dollars on this enterprise. Still, there is a farm nearby that had we had more time we would likely have gone to visit just so that we could teach Jack about it. As it was, it didn’t really come up and I didn’t feel the need to teach about this point of Spanish heritage quite yet as I didn’t want my personal “judgement” creeping in. Speaking of judging….

Funny thing – living with one of your greatest teachers and having it be your 9 year old son. As part of my quest for more history I have been reading a lot of historical fiction. A fantastic book I am currently reading is written by Ken Follett and is part of a trilogy. The tome of which I speak is 850 pages and called THE FALL OF GIANTS. It is only the 1st in the trilogy of equally lengthy pieces of literature but it is so captivating, Ill certainly read the other two. But I digress. So 2 other books I have recently read are concerned with WW2 and are non-fiction. Both have left me feeling both bereft for what the Jews have endured and equally shocked at how impotent the German citizens were to stop it. I became aware of my growing prejudice against Germans when my son, eager to learn German, tried to speak it in shops in London. I asked Jack to stop and told him that I was just uncomfortable with him trying to learn a language of a people who had fought against the shop keepers we were standing in front of. Also, while I support him learning it, maybe he didn’t have to actually use it to non-German speaking people. I then bristled when Jack expressed a desire to visit Germany next summer. Hmmm..

Jack knows all of the facts of the second World War largely due to his own interest in the subject and he wanted to go. We have always told Jack that we want him to be a part of the trip – to plan the itinerary and to take an interest in the places we visit. So – here it was – Jack was interested but not in the same places I was interested. Ha – Don’t you love it when that happens? So pressing me one night he asked – “Mom, you said you want to go to Russia right?” Me: Yep – I would love to get to Russia Jack: But Mom, what about the Cold war and how the Communists and the Americans each threatened each other with nuclear war and what about how bitterly the Americans hated the Russians and wasn’t that even MORE recent that WW2? Haven’t we moved passed that? How can you still hold a grudge against the Germans? Hmmmmm funny thing about “judgement”. Even when you declare it a family value is shocks me when I learn how I sit in judgement all the time. And who am I to judge? I have learned (and Im sorry Im going to tip my toe into politics here briefly though I promise I won’t stay) that even when my country acts in a way that opposes my value system I too am impotent to stop it. So there it is – my 9 year old son showed me the ways in which I was silently harboring a grudge and judging a whole country. Well, lesson learned. Germany is on the schedule for next summer and we have had German guests for cocktails and this week having a lovely German woman for dinner. Im learning…. And I have gotten my German travel guide in the mail and it promises to be one of the best stops of the summer. To all Germans reading this – sorry and thanks for being patient. I can only hope that you aren’t the 1/2 dozen or so who are sharing our dock 🙂
As always, Thanks for reading and wishing everyone a very Happy New Year

“Miro” our Segway tour guide and Jack
enjoying Jacks first taste of Paella. He loved it!