Monday, October 19, 2009

Road trip!

It became clear soon after we arrived in Rota that the wind would be against us when we were ready to resume our eastward voyage, so we enjoyed the days we had planned to spend here and then rented a car to drive across Spain to Barcelona and see nephew Joel. That’s why there have been no blog posts: we’ve been busy!

Richard and Andrea have been great about introducing us to Andalusian food and culture. We’ve been out for dinner with them and to a sherry bodega tour in Jerez. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve also gotten acquainted with our Dutch neighbors across the dock, Peter and Danielle on Second Lady. They’re spending the winter here, and we hope to see them in the western Med in the spring.

Sherry bodega

Driving from Rota to Barcelona is like driving from San Francisco to Portland. It took us two days because we first had to take the bus to Seville to get the car, and then we had to come back to Rota to get the dog. We knew we’d be getting a late start, so we reserved a hotel room near Valencia to break up the trip. We readily sail overnight, but driving is a lot different.

We set off with directions from Google Maps, which were quite good until they told us to take a highway in a direction that it didn’t yet go. Once we figured that out, we drove to a gas station to buy a paper map. The only one they had was a huge two-book guide to Spain for more than 20€. We needed a map, so we bought it. The first thing I did was look to see if the map showed the highway as complete; it did, so Google came by the misinformation honestly. Nonetheless, I was able to plot a course on existing roads, and we continued.

The major roads and highways in Spain are excellent and have really good signs—once you know that all roads lead to Madrid and learn to see what other places are listed on the sign. Unfortunately, once you’re on the city streets of any city, you’re left with signs that are ambiguous at best. And that’s if you can even find them. Many streets have more than one name, and the street names are posted on the sides of buildings, sometimes not on the corner, and sometimes there are simply no street names to be found. That made it very difficult to find our hotels in Valencia and Barcelona. In Valencia I had to call the hotel at one o’clock in the morning for directions. We just couldn’t figure it out in the dark. Thanks goodness they spoke English!

Once we got to our hotel in Barcelona, we parked the car and bought a two-day pass for the metro. Our first priority was to meet up with Joel, who is a chef and is in Spain to see what’s going on with the food scene here. We had fun wandering around with him looking at restaurants and the market and eating and drinking here and there. The second night we went to Cerveceria Catalana, one of the oldest tapas bars in Barcelona. It was excellent! Since we were unfashionably early, arriving well before 8:00 p.m., we were able to get a table without a wait. When we left, the line was out the door.

Joel

Cerveceria Catalana

Earlier in the day John and I visited Sagrada Familia, the famous, as-yet-unfinished church designed by Gaudi. We splurged and did the audio tour and rode the elevator up one of the towers. It was pretty spectacular and, yes, a bit gaudy (no relation). Later when we went to meet Joel in front of Casa Batll√≥, another Gaudi-designed building, it was easy to spot it on the block. Next to much Spanish architecture, Gaudi doesn’t really look gaudy at all—just different. I think I’ve become a fan.

Sagrada Familia

The next day we started back to Rota along the coast route. We’ll return to Barcelona and spend more time—a day and a half isn’t close to enough—but we had other stops to make while we had the car. Our next stop was Cartagena, where we’ll be spending the winter. We wanted to meet the people at the marina and see where we would be docked. We got to pick our place, and we’re pleased to have a side-tie near the amenities and facilities.

From Cartagena we drove to Gibraltar—technically to La Linea, Spain, since it is recommended to walk over the border rather than face the long lines at the border trying to drive back to Spain. When we sail through the Strait, we will stop at Gibraltar for tax-free fuel, but we plan to anchor and won’t take time to sight see. That’s what we did over the weekend. We did the whole bit: Europa Point at the tip, the cable car to the top of the Rock to see the monkeys, and a walk through the city center. Because it was Sunday most stores were closed, including the Gibraltar Chart Agency where we needed to pick up our Mediterranean Almanac and Cruising Guide. We found the place, though, so that we could dash in Monday morning on our way out of town. (Dash is a relative term for walk-bus-walk-walk-bus-walk.)

The Rock as seen from the beach outside our hotel in La Linea

Family of Barbary apes (actually macaques)

On Sunday we also had a typical “carved buffet” Sunday dinner at a pub we picked because it was overflowing with British navy people in uniform. We thought it must be good. Originally we were just going to have a pint, but then we saw the buffet sign and figured that was why it was so crowded. We were mightily impressed when we were offered chicken, turkey, pork, beef, and lamb, plus vegetables and potatoes and brown gravy. And now we understand from personal experience why English food is so maligned. All of the meat was dry and all of the vegetables were overcooked and mushy, except the peas, which were only half cooked. I went back twice for more gravy to moisten my turkey. We saw signs for similar Sunday dinners further into town, and our pub had the best price, so I guess that’s really why the navy was there in force.

From Gibraltar it was a relatively short drive back to Rota along the coast. We stopped at Tarifa to check out the anchorage. Tarifa is famous for being one of the windiest places in Europe, and it’s a big kite and wind surfing destination. It was definitely windy, and we hope we don’t have to stop to anchor there, but it’s good to know what it looks like.

Eastern anchorage at Tarifa

John took more pictures in Barcelona, Gibraltar, and Tarifa, but there was only one viewpoint along the highway the whole trip, so he wasn’t able to get photos of most of the scenery. We traveled through some amazing country, though, and since we’ll have almost six months and a great map set, I hope we get to explore more of it.

Mediterranean: view from the one viewpoint

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