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BARCELONA: Gothic to Gaudi

September 26th, 2012 No comments

Barcelona has been on our “must see” list as long as we have been in the Med, and did not disappoint.  Even from the sea, Barcelona is a city of contrasts.

Arriving by boat with a reservation at Reial Club Maritim, the contrast between the “old” and “new” Barcelona is evident from the skyline.

High rise buildings along the coast are in striking contrast to the sepia colors of Old Barcelona.

The Westin Hotel, a black monolith, dominates the harbor entrance. . .not what I expected.

We had made reservations at Reial Club Maritim, a private club/marina that sits right under the famous Mirador a Colom, a 19th century monument to the glory of  Christopher Columbus. 

Entry into the marina is through a swing bridge that is a pedestrian walkway to the Convention Center.

The club is in the heart of Barcelona.  On one side is Gothic architecture and on the other the modern Convention Center and large shopping mall.

From our berth. . .

Columbus points the way to the "New World". . .to which we will soon return.

The statue of Columbus sits high atop an ornate column and is visible over an equally ornate building that sits on the waterfront, making for an incredible view from Destiny.

The wide tree-lined boulevards, classic architecture and cafes are reminiscent of Paris–another favorite city.

Tree lined streets with whimiscal wrought iron street lights. . .

are interspersed with monuments to the past.

The glory of Barcelona’s Gothic past is reflected in its Cathedral and many of its buildings.

Barcelona's Gothic Cathedral. . .

has an elevator that takes you to the roof for an impressive view of the towers and a birdseye view of medieval Barcelona.

The interior architecture of the Cathedral is austere but imposing.

Modern Barcelona is juxtaposed with its Gothic history.

Modern buildings sit side-by-side with exotic Gothic structures. . .

with ceramic tile roofs. . .

Romanesque facades. . .

and castle-like public buildings, such as this one facing the harbor.

But Barcelona is probably best known as a place where a mix of art and architecture have produced some of the most amazing contemporary buildings in the world.  Antoni Gaudi, a late 19th century architect who died in 1926 is viewed as a visionary in contemporary architecture who transformed buildings into an art form.

In 1833 Gaudi became chief architect for a neo-Gothic church known as La Sagrada Familia.  This church which is designed to hold 13,000 worshipers obviously predates modern tele-ministry and has been under construction for 130 years.  The projected completion date is 2020-40.

La Sagrada Familia rises above the trees of a nearby park. . .

but Gaudi's "masterpiece" is expressed in the many details that make up the structure which are impossible to capture in a single picture.

Gaudi is buried in a crypt under the church, but during his life brought “modernism” to Barcelona architecture in the way that Picasso transformed the art world.  Another of his crowning achievements is the avant garde, La Pedrera with curvy balconies decorated with highly stylized metal vines and chimney pots reminscent of the storybook fairy chimneys.

La Pedrara seems to be in motion. . .

with not a straight line to be seen, and art-deco flora & fauna accents on each balcony.

My favorite Gaudi creation is Casa Batlio, a private apartment house that is whimsical by day and sparkles by night. 

Casa Batlio is a fairy tale residence. . .just up the street from La Pedrera.

Throughout Barcelona there are avant garde scupltures, that some would call “art” and others less Picasso-minded may think of as weird.  Some of the buildings also fall into that category.

Only in Barcelona are you likely to see a building shaped like. . .a certain male appendage:)

Architecture aside, there are many things to like about Barcelona.  It has a great subway and bus system.  For the conservation minded, there bicycles that can be rented and dropped at various locations in the city.

Kent checks out the self-serve bike rentals at Cataluyna Square in Central Barcelona.

 Barcelona is also known for its great food–tapas, paealla, sangria by the pitcher, but that would be another whole post.  Suffice it to say that we ate very well, but still couldn’t resist a little “taste of home”.

There seems to be a Burger King in every country, but at 8 euros for a burger it isn't a bargain.

Unfortunately, we had only a few days in Barcelona, so only got a flavor of the place by visiting some of the most popular sights.  You could spend a month in this city and still not see everything.  Next time, we do the museums!

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BEWARE THE GULF OF LION

September 25th, 2012 1 comment

We left Bandol, France in early August heading for the Spanish mainland across the Gulf of Lion with our anticipated arrival at least 12 hours ahead of some strong wind–at least that was the forecast from the several sources we use.

We had a great first 12 hours of our overnight passage. . .

accompanied by dolphins which are supposed to bring good luck.

Anyone who has experienced the Gulf of Lion (which now includes us) knows that the weather forecast and the actual weather can be quite different. Unfortunately for us, the weather that should have been behind us arrived early.

By sunset there was a wall of black clouds approaching. . . ominous at best.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. while I was on watch, the black clouds that had been evident at sunset had enveloped us.  Although the wind had not yet picked up, I was frightened enough to wake Kent.  Thankfully, he came topside and immediately took in the  main and reduced the jib before the 40 kt. Tramontana wind hit us like a train.  We were making 7-8 kts. with a postage stamp size jib.

The seas built dramatically in what seemed like a nanosecond, and for the next ten hours Kent hand steered as each wave hit our aft starboard quarter with a jolting force.  The waves were close together and as we surfed down one wave, the next one was upon us.  For the first time since we have been in the Med, I put in the companionway slats, because I was sure a breaking wave would come over the stern and flood the cockpit.

The nearly full moon that came up after midnight was a mixed blessing.  It provided Kent with some visibility, but looking astern seeing a wall of water rising up behind us was very scary for me.  I hunkered down with Jolie on my lap, both of us in life jackets and tethered to the cockpit, and prayed. . .with my eyes closed.

Kent’s skilled helmsmanship got us through a very difficult situation, but the raging power of the sea terrified me.

Just before dawn we reached the Spanish coast and found some protection from the violence of the sea, but we had to continue down the coast to Puerto de Blanes until we had enough daylight to enter a harbor and anchor.

As we approached Puerto de Blanes, the weather was still threatening. . .but at least we were in sight of land.

We had just set our anchor, when the skies opened and we were drenched in torrential rain.  Destiny had taken salt water over the bow with nearly every wave, so the rain was a welcome fresh water wash.

The rain gave way to sunshine. . .

which was cause for dancing!!!

The aftermath of this experience is our decision (mostly mine) that Destiny will not cross the Atlantic this fall as planned.   Lessons learned:

(1) Never underestimate the power of the sea.  Had we planned for the seas that we might have encountered, our dinghy would have been lashed down on the bow, not precariously dangling from the davits where it could have been flooded and lost from an ill-timed wave.

(2) Never overestimate the accuracy of the weather forecasting.  We felt comfortable that we would be 12 hours ahead of the strong winds and approaching the coast of Spain before they arrived.   Getting out ahead of weather is not a good idea.

(3) Some bodies of water are notoriously more dangerous than others.  The Gulf of Lion has a “reputation” that deserves respect.  We could have poked along the coast and avoided crossing south of the Gulf of Lion buoy, but thought it would be “boring” and require a lot of motoring.  Sometimes “boring” is better.

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ALCUDIA ANNIVERSARY

September 15th, 2012 No comments

Every August 31st we treat ourselves to a night on shore to celebrate our anniversary.  Prior anniversaries have been spent in picturesque and popular places such as Corfu.  In 2012 we were on Mallorca in the Spanish Balaeric Islands and spent our anniversary in the idyllic walled city of Alcudia.

The Alcudia walls were necessary fortifications when constructed. . .

but narrow streets. . .

with outdoor cafes. . .

and ornate buildings like the Town Hall make it a special place indeed.

Finding the right mix of budget friendly luxury for our anniversary involves lots of on-line research which is half the fun.  This year’s choice was Can’ Pere within the walls of the ancient city.

The entrance to Can' Pere is unassuming. . .

but inside the dining room. . .

and courtyard are tastefully decorated with modern touches.

Can’ Pere has only six or seven rooms and it’s primary attraction is the restaurant that occupies the dining room and courtyard during the lunch and dinner hours.  The rooms, which are up a rather steep set of stairs are each unique and tastefully furnished with luxurious linens–perfect for a romantic rendezvous.

Our room at Can' Pere was charming. . .

with modern appointments set against the backdrop of ancient stone walls.

Oh yes, and for me the piece d’ resistance was a bathtub.  It also happened to be in only hotel in the area that would accept a dog–which Jolie greatly appreciated.

After touring the maze of streets within the walled city and taking a leisurely nap, it was time for dinner in the garden courtyard.

I got a view of the softly lit courtyard. . .

while Kent's view was of me, and the wall of course. . .ever the gentleman.

This was our ninth anniversary, and we look forward to many more.  The only question is where will the next one be?  Somewhere exotic, if I have my way.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, Kent!

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VIVA LA FRANCE!

September 6th, 2012 1 comment

In keeping with the notion of “saving the best for last”, we visited the South of France during our last season in the Med. 

Our port of entry to France was Menton. . .

with an Old Port surrounded by pastel buildings.

I confess that I have been a Franco-phile for years, having spent some memorable times on Pampelonne Beach in St. Tropez and driving through the French countryside with classical music floating through the air.

In fact, what I wanted for retirement was a small house in the South of France, with a little garden and maybe a few grape vines or olive trees.  That was before I met and fell in love with Kent, a sailor, who couldn’t envision himself as a “farmer”.  So, we ended up on Destiny in the Med. . .and here we are four years and 15,000 miles later.

Since Destiny was shipped to Genoa, Italy our adventure started there and we headed east.  Now that our journey takes us back west, I realized my dream of anchoring off Pampelonne Beach in St. Tropez and going ashore to Moorea for lunch by beach club launch.

As is often the case with revisiting places you haven’t seen for several years, St. Tropez had changed.  Or perhaps it was my view of St. Tropez that changed more signigicantly.  In the past I had visited this part of the world by land–from the sea it was totally different.

St. Tropez from the bay. . .no traffic.

More serene, less harried–I certainly did not miss the crowds and traffic.

Sunset at Iles des Porquerelles. . .it doesn't get more tranquil than this.

We anchored off Cap Ferrat, spent days in Cannes wandering little back streets, and hopscotched from the tiny kingdom of Monaco to St. Tropez, Ile des Porquerelles and Bandol.  Along the way we savored Cote d’ Provence rose wines, and fine French cheese.

It was a less hurried visit than on prior occasions.  It felt decadent to be soaking up the same sun, enjoy the same soothing water as the mega-yachts that dominate the coast.

Our French sojourn began the end of June and extended through early August–high season in this part of the world.

From Menton we quickly went to Cannes, where our friends JoAnn and David Duquette were just wrapping up their annual visit to the South of France.  I had been through Cannes on several occasions, but never had ventured beyond La Crossiette, the main street along the beachfront.

We anchored off the beach by the Carleton Hotel where JoAnn and David were guests. . .

and were their guests for lunch at an elegant beachside restaurant the next day.

At the Duquettes’ recommendation we returned to Cannes for Bastille Day which was the following week.  We spent almost a week in or nearby Cannes and had a chance to explore its sights. 

Cannes has a fabulous daily market. . .

with fruits and vegetables so perfect they hardly look real.

We arranged to be in Port du Cannes marina for Bastille Day where the afternoon entertainment was watching mega-yachts dock. . .

after touring the neighborhood including the festooned Hotel d' Ville--the city hall. . .

but high winds on 7/14 delayed the fireworks. . .

until Jolie's birthday on 7/17. . .which we celebrated with Prosecco.

We were in Cannes for July 4th as well and dressed ship as we always do for this holiday, although the wind came up and we had to bring the flags down before sunset.  We also toured the Fort overlooking the marina and saw a U.S. warship anchored off shore, with ship’s colors flying.

From Destiny, we could see the Fort. . .

and from the Fort we could see the entire marina and waterfront.

A U.S. warship was anchored off Cannes on July 4th. . .it was good to see USA colors flying.

We actually left Port du Cannes for Monaco on July 4th planning to spend the holiday in the Old Port just under the Prince’s Palace.  After docking and once again putting up our signal flags for the holiday, we discovered that we couldn’t hook up the electric and promptly left–we weren’t in the mood to sit at the dock in July 4th heat without air conditioning.  

Berthed in the old harbor of Monaco. . .for an hour.

While anchored off Cannes we were approached by a boat selling wine and champagne–by the bottle or the case.  Couldn’t resist the Cote d’ Provence rose.  We had seen ice cream vendors in anchorages, but this was a first. 

Only in Cannes do you find boats selling wine and champagne in the anchorage. . .with free wine tastings!

. . .but Kent says they can't compete with the ice cream "dolly" in Villefranche.

Iles Ste.  Marguerite is one of two islands just off the coast of Cannes and a popular anchorage.  There is a Fort Royal on the island with a great view of Cannes. 

Fort Royal on Ile Ste. Marguerite is the fort where the "Man in the Iron Mask" was imprisoned.

Another favorite spot east of Cannes was Cap Ferrat. 

We anchored several days off an incredible estate at Cap Ferrat. . .

where there is a seaside path all around the cape.

Cap Ferrat attracts boats both big and small.

An opti fleet. . .

shares the bay with Le Grand Bleu (carrying a sailboat the size of Destiny on its deck). . .

and Maltese Falcon one of the largest sailboats in the world which we saw in St. Barth, the Aeolian Islands and again at Cap Ferrat.

We worked our way west along the French coast to Bandol, a lovely coastal town.

On the promanade near the Bandol Town Square is a bronze statue of the mythical Pan playing his flute. . .

but part of Pan's anatomy also gets a lot of "play".

Bandol has an active artist community with local artists and craftsmen selling their wares along the quay in the evening.  During the day there is a daily market.

The market has local delicacies. . .

including Paella "to go".

A Monty Python character said “Oh, those French. . .they have a word for everything!”  I have my own variation: “Oh, those French. . .they are so FRENCH!”  It is true the French have an “attitude” that some people (Kent among them) find “off putting”. . .but I find their joie d’ vie endearing.

Perhaps, it is the fact that we have a little white Coton de Tulear, but I have always found the French to be warm and agreeable. 

No one can resist Jolie. . .

even napping she is so cute!

I suspect many French are of the opinion:  “Oh those Americans. . .they are so AMERICAN!”

Nonetheless, I can’t think of a better place to be in summer than the South of France.  Who knows maybe there is a little cottage in the South of France in my future yet.

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