Back on Board 

7 May

 

A winter in Spain with a couple of weeks in the UK either side means we’ve been away from the boat for the best part of 8 months. Thankfully, a man (a very nice man, a very, very nice man) has been looking after her in our absence. We returned to a clean and aired Desi, lift-out, antifouling and lift-in all done. Now that is what I call luxury. He’d also fitted the new anchor Neil had ordered, the same as on our previous boat which we’ve grown to trust (a Kobra 2 for those who are interested in that sort of thing – yawn.)
Arriving in the early afternoon with three big holdalls of “stuff” (including much-missed slow cooker and quilts) meant we had a few hours to get the interior back to rights and unpack. For the non-boaties out there I should perhaps explain that the unheated space below deck left over winter can get very damp so anything that might suffer has to be wrapped up and positioned​ away from the walls.

Much to our relief Desi has proved to be a very dry boat and it was only the one pillow that showed any sign of mildew. As well as unpacking and unwrapping, all the loose items from deck including dinghy, sails etc were stowed in the rear cabin needed shifting.

However, our early start got the better of us and a cold beer was giving off its siren call. A glass or two and a delicious stifado later and we were both done in. With enough space cleared to sleep on, we collapsed into Desi’s welcome rocking and the lullaby of creaking mooring lines and rattling halyards. It was 8:30pm.

Pamplona Impressions

25 Apr

Although best known for its bull running event, Pamplona is so much more. Following on the heels of our visit to Zaragoza the contrast is striking and left us wishing we’d chosen to spend longer here than this flying visit. With just a couple of hours to explore, not even long enough to have a meal, we raced around the beautiful narrow streets, a photogenic view at every turn.

They say that we subconsciously remember smells and that they trigger memories. For Seville that will certainly be from the orange blossom. For me, Pamplona will for ever be associated in my mind with the green fragrance of the new growth of spring. And, perhaps, the tangy sweetness​ of lemon ice cream.

Shady, green park

Beautiful buildings

Open, sunny Plaza 

There’s even deer grazing, protected by the city moat

Zaragoza

18 Apr

It’s perhaps unfortunate that we visited Zaragoza so soon after spending time in Seville. It seriously doesn’t compare. But perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh, particularly if, like us, you want to break up the long drive from the Mediterranean coast to the the ferries in the north.

There are two cathedrals for a start, not to mention the fortified palace of the Aragon Court. We visited the latter on our first evening after failing to be able to walk to it along the riverbank. It’s pleasant enough although so restored it resembles a stereotypical toy castle. It must have been splendid in its day but little of that splendour remains and we left after half an hour feeling we hadn’t been allowed to access most of the building.

Then there’s the food. The tapas bars get rave reviews but I feel like the boy who said the Emperor was “in the altogether”. I’d have been grateful for a Macdonald’s, to be honest. And everybody is so incredibly unfriendly to the point of rudeness. Yes, they’re busy and they are serving idiots who are stupid enough to eat in a place where the waiter insists you don’t ask him for a particular item on the menu, just tell him the number. I sympathise but it doesn’t help. Oh, and you’ll pay far more than anywhere else in Spain that we have visited.

Ok, maybe my judgement has been clouded by accidentally stepping with both feet into a water feature shortly followed by walking into a glass door that turned out not to be a door – the only time I saw a local laugh. I decided that the dire food was the third of the “these things come in threes” event. Nevertheless, I’ve been very careful to hold handrails while going up and down stairs!

Our second day restored my faith in Zaragoza. For a start we found somewhere serving fresh bread at reasonable prices for breakfast and the busy waitress managed to both smile and be friendly. It’s amazing how something like that can change your day. After losing it slightly when I was served warm white wine (they quickly realised it was a good idea to get me a fresh one!) we decided to change our eating intentions completely and hunted out a lunchtime Menu del Dia in the shopping district, completely abandoning the idea of tapas. Thankfully that worked, too.

We managed to visit both cathedrals, some Roman ruins and a quirky exhibition of huge illuminated lanterns at the Museum of the Crystal Rosary (Museo de los Faroles y Rosario de Cristal). Apparently these huge illuminated lanterns are carried around Zaragoza in October which one review we read described as a sort of collision between Blackpool Illuminations and Semana Santa. Now that would definitely be something to see.

So would we return? As an overnight stopover – probably.

Sevilla

7 Apr

We never made it to Seville on our sail from Plymouth to Greece (http://www.sailblogs.com/member/serenmor/) but I’ve wanted to go ever since. This winter we were determined to finally make the trip and, being weather-obsessed sailors, looked for a suitable weather window even though we were driving. We wanted dry and sunny but cool enough to walk around and last week looked perfect.

Of course, it didn’t go entirely as forecast. Leaving a Jávea bathed in sunshine in a car still dusty with wind-blown pollen and sand, we arrived wet and shiny after a long-threatened torrential downpour just as we arrived in the Seville rush hour traffic. However, the trusty satnav took us straight to our hotel and we were soon pounding the streets under the faintest hint of “trying to rain”.

Having got our bearings and timed the walk to the sights in preparation for the the following day, a few drinks were called for sitting outside, naturally, encased in our wet weather gear and under a parasol just in case – well we are tourists, you know. We visited enough establishments to establish that you don’t get given any crisps, let alone tapas, with drinks in Seville (you can dine off freebies in Granada) so we headed indoors for something more substantial. And thus began a three night stay of fabulous food indulgence.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the sites we visited over the next couple of days (I’ll let the pictures do that!). This blog has never been a travelogue. All I will say is that Seville lived up to expectations and then some. It enchanted me. The weather gradually improved so that by our last evening we were happily dining outside well into the night. One for the bucket lists.

The Cathedral with its bell tower on the right, glowing in the sunlight

Inside it’s gold that makes the cathedral glow. Polishing the already dazzling alter ready for Easter 

A fitting place for the tomb of Christopher Columbus 

Posing in the square outside the cathedral 

A courtyard in the extraordinary Alcazar 

A small part of the gardens of the Alcazar, filled, like much of Seville at this time of year, with the scent of orange blossom

Intriguing courtyards can be glimpsed from the narrow streets of the old town, hinting at far more space inside than the exteriors would suggest

Of course, you can’t escape the tourist tatt but some are drawn to it 

The Fallas (Again)

17 Mar

This is the third time I’ve blogged about the Fallas in Dénia so I won’t go into much detail just share the pictures. You can read more here or several entries on Sailblogs (find at bottom of page 1 of contents list and top of page 2 http://www.sailblogs.com/member/serenmor/contents/1)

The detail is extraordinary

They can get quite saucy 

Love the expressions

Some are startlingly explicit for a family occasion! 

But in the end, it’s really one long party (this was about 10am) 

Ten A Day 

24 Feb

You’ve no doubt heard about the recent study that recommends we each eat ten portions of fruit and vegetables every day. It was widely reported in the British press and TV (here for example). If, like me, your first reaction was “Don’t be ridiculous”, you were also probably further perturbed by the suggestion that only two of these should be fruit and canned or frozen was bad news.

Now, I’ve always thought we managed to get fairly near the five a day currently recommended, at least most days, but looking at what a portion actually is I’ve started to doubt it. Increasing this to ten portions would need a radical change in our eating habits and I don’t know if I’m prepared to do it, to be honest. Neil takes a lot of persuading to eat most vegetables as it is.

However, the reported analysis showed even increasing intake by small amounts had a health boon – obviously more is even better. One of the researchers mentioned by the BBC, Dr Dagfinn Aune, said: “Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system.”

I already have issues with cholesterol and hypertension. After initially totally rejecting the idea, particularly as I misunderstood that tinned tomatoes and frozen peas would have to be excluded (it’s just fruit they’re on about), I came to the conclusion that I’d have to give it some more thought and at least try. The local supermarket here in Spain has an excellent assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables and seems to be a lot cheaper than in the UK so really we don’t have any excuse.

So this morning I piled a selection into the trolley, much to Neil’s bemusement (I think that’s the right word) but he went along with it. Unpacking the shopping at the munchie time of around 11 o’clock I automatically cut myself a wedge of cheese. Now hang on, thought I. This is when I should be choosing vegetables not delicious Stilton. I duly cut some carrots and celery into batons (eating the Stilton as I did so – well, I’d already cut it) and spooned a dollop of guacamole onto the plate to dip into. Not bad. In fact really very good.

With no great expectations I offered Neil the plate. He rejected the celery, of course, but cautiously dipped a piece of carrot into the green glupe, then another. It wasn’t long before he asked for his own plate and gave the verdict that they were really quite moreish! Being hungry helped, I suspect. Round one to the vegetables. Now what am I supposed to do with this huge bag of Spinach?

Laura’s blog here 

Almond Blossom and Sanitoriums 

9 Feb

In all the time we’ve spent in Jávea over the years we’ve never managed to go to the Jalón Valley when the almond blossom is in flower. Less delayed than expected by this year’s unusual weather, as soon as we heard the blossom was out we changed all plans and drove to this lovely area away from the coast.

Finding a narrow, winding road almost by accident gave us the most beautiful views at every turn and so quiet that stopping to take photos wasn’t that difficult. In fact I wish I could have recorded a sound track: a dog barking in the distance, a cockerel trying to impress the ladies and, close to, the steady hum of bees. Of such moments are memories made.

Deciding to drive further afield into the Val de Laguar we came across Fontilles up in the surrounding hills. In such a beautiful location in the middle of nowhere, why did this small village seem to contain only hospitals and sanitoriums (sanatoria?)? A bit of Googling revealed that the original Sanatoria of San Francisco de Borja had been founded by a Jesuit Priest for the treatment and research into leprosy. Well, that makes sense, then. http://unitingtocombatntds.org/endorsement/fontilles

If we learnt anything today it’s that there still so much more to explore in this area. We have to go back. Soon.