Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On The Town . . .

The Costa Blanca area of Spain is renowned for its beaches and warm weather on Mediterranean Sea, so it has become a popular tourist destination for Europeans from the Northern climes. When we looked for an area of Spain to come for a month, we were trying to find a mix of the “tourist” destinations where the reasonable accommodations are available to us “Foolish Foreigners” willing to rent someone else's “Summer” house when they do not want to use it, and hopefully find some interesting Historical Spain.

We actually did pretty well. El Campello is not really very historically significant, but this apartment is in an older part of town and is surrounded by typical narrow streets and quite a few older style Spanish houses and buildings. It has a feel of more of a seaside town than a tourist resort. If you walk down the beach you quickly get into a much more modern area built up with large high-rises and modern style tourist homes & condos. Walking the other way, up into the town itself, you find some of the original old houses and buildings, surrounding the old town church and the original town square. The nice thing about El Campello is that the tram system allows you to visit other towns and communities in the area very easily. We rented a car to get to Grenada and Valencia, but were able to use the tram to visit most places.

All of the towns and cities in the area have modern shopping areas and huge apartment complexes, and the communities on the coast all suffer from the “Tourist” areas, but a bit of walking will usually allow you to find the old towns within the cities and villages in the area.

The first thing to look for in any town is the biggest and oldest looking church. The churches were usually the central part of a town and the community grew around the church. In Grenada, our hotel was on the same square as the big cathedral and this allowed us to easily explore the historical part of the city. We could easily walk through old alleys and side streets that obviously were never designed for modern traffic. They were used by cars, but when you heard a vehicle on the street, you had to walk single file, and watch out that the car's mirrors did not clip you. One evening in Grenada we tried to find a “recommended” tavern, and started climbing up the streets towards the Alhambra. Many of these were footpaths with steep steps and cobble-stone paving twisting up the hills. The deep-set doors and windows all showed how old this area of the town was, and we finally came out onto another square with another old church and three or four tavernas, but could not find the one we wanted.

Alicante has a similar area when you walk up to the old fort instead of taking the road up the back side. You almost feel that you are walking through someone's yard or using their private drive. The old houses are built right into the hill, and the tiny walkways up the hill are only wide enough for foot traffic or a scooter. Obviously a sign of urban planning prior to the invention of the car. As you made your way up, it was so steep, you would climb in front of a house, and then find yourself looking over the same house from behind and over it.

We took the tram to Altea, a town up the coast from El Campello, and discovered the same design there. Altea has a beautiful seacoast and the promenade along the water is wonderful, with beautiful views and places to sit and relax or bars and restaurants to take a break, but this area is definitely a tourist area, and we heard almost more English than Spanish. A quick look around however when you exit the tram and you can see the beautiful blue dome of the church up on the hill. I'm not sure why churches always seem to build on the “high-ground”; perhaps it is to give you a head start towards heaven, or building a bit further from hell. We had heard about the beautiful old town of Altea and the walk up the hill was certainly worth the effort. Again, you climb through narrow stone paved streets switch-backing up the steep hill. Often the streets became footpaths with steps to help you climb, another indicator of the pre-car age of them. On the way up there are lovely little shops selling beautiful local jewellery and artwork, and interspersed with interesting tavernas and restaurants. When you reach the top, it is again the church on the top of the hill, with the original town square surrounding it. Most of the buildings around are now shops and tavernas catering to the thirsty traveller who just climbed all those steps, but you can imagine the original necessary town businesses here in the past, the bakery, the butcher, the blacksmith or the pharmacy.

We have been able to find this old part of the original “Town” in most of the communities we have visited during our travels. It is always worth the climb.

Saving Time . .

Saving some time in Altea . . .

Ok, I already wrote about “Living on Spanish Time”, but I realized yesterday exactly how well I had adjusted to the relaxed pace of life here is El Campello.

The owner of the apartment kindly offered to let us use their Post Box to get a package that was left in Grenada by accident, and since she was in El Campello yesterday, she offered to deliver the package to us. We had plans to go by tram to visit Altea, another pleasant little seaside town along the coast, so we said we would wait for her to come and then leave. So long as we arrived in Altea before they took “Siesta” we would be Ok. We had been warned by a Scottish couple we met that everything closed in Altea at 2:00. They highly recommended visiting the town, but were very disappointed with the number of shops that were closed when they got there. No problem, our schedule was flexible and we could go any time. We went out for a walk before breakfast so we would be here when she arrived with the package. However she was very early and rang the bell just as we were starting breakfast. We were happy to get the package and discussed plans to visit their village on Thursday with them.

We had the times all planned out to get to the train station in time to catch one train that would get us to the first stop with only a short wait for the second train, but when we arrived at the station, purchased tickets and sat on the platform to wait, we discovered that the time on the station clock was 10:50 not 9:50.

What was going on . . . . . .?

Did the time change here . . . . . . .?

When . . . . .?

How long had we been operating on the wrong time . . . . . .?

I changed my watch, and we caught the train, and made all the connections, arriving in Altea with no problem. As we usually do, we stopped in the local Tourist information booth to get a map of the town and to ask for advice of what to see. I noticed a local English newspaper that was free, so I picked it up. There on the front page was a notice - “Don't forget to set your clocks ahead on Sunday Morning!”

It was Tuesday; we had gone two days without noticing that the time had changed. Now it did answer the question of why the waiter seemed to be hurrying us out of the restaurant on Sunday evening. We had gone for dinner at 9:00 not 8:00 and he was ready to close up by 11:00. That also sheds some light on why the workers downstairs were working so late on Sunday night. Now on Monday, when we took the tram to Alicante, we never even noticed it. I didn't wear my watch, and we weren't even thinking of the time. We got up, ate, and took the tram to Alicante when we were ready, returning on the same flexible schedule. Nothing gave us any indication that we were operating one whole hour out of sync with the rest of the world.

I do not know if it is a good or bad thing when you are so much into Vacation/Retired time that you do not notice a time change for two days, but we seem to have survived it. I do not know how I am going to deal with the hectic schedule when we get home . . . . . . . .

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunny Sunday

El Campello, Spain  is a tourist town. The normal population is 25,000, but in the summer it swells to 80,000. Being here in March, this is very evident. The building we are in has at least 8 apartments, and for most of the month there was only one other apartment occupied. On our daily walks down the beachfront we see huge waterfront apartment buildings with only one or two apartments opened. It seems that most of the buildings here are built with special windows that includes a solid metal shutter that can be pulled down; a very useful option when your house is only used part of the year. I suspect that is also the reason why I can choose between five different supermarkets – they are probably all busy in the summer months.

This part of Spain is a popular tourist destination for Europeans because it has a climate that is nice all year long. Even in the winter the temperatures get up to 15C, and it has an average temperature of 19C and usually gets 250 days of sunshine a year. To us, coming from Nova Scotia's winter with -10C and snow everywhere, it was a wonderful getaway, but for most of the “tourists” it is not time to come to Southern Spain yet. In the last couple of weeks we can see a few more apartments opening up, and a few more people on the beaches and promenade. Now the locals don't see it the same. We arrived on a Saturday, and the following day we walked down the promenade on a Sunday morning. It was sunny and warm (to us anyway), and there were many local people out for a walk with their dogs and families. They were dressed in winter coats – the big puffy kind  - and had on gloves and hats. Their dogs all had on winter coats! To them it was a cold day.

Well the weather has improved a lot and the Sundays have gotten progressively better. Last weekend there were people on the beach in swimwear. People stared at us for wearing sandals the first couple of weeks, but there are more and more sandals showing up. This Sunday dawned bright, blue and calm, so it was lovely. I'd estimate it was probably 23 in the sun, and you could see the promenade come alive.

The restaurants and bars along the promenade are full; especially the patios facing the beach. On most days only about a third are open, and we walk by many watching the wait staff and cooks chatting without any customers at all. We wondered how they could stay in business. Sunny Sundays certainly help a lot.

People are out in force. It is Sunday, so most people are dressed in their best clothes. Suits, dresses, skirts, fur coats. Although it is a long walk, the norm is dress shoes for men and heels for women. You can tell the foreigners; they are the ones wearing sensible walking shoes or “heaven forbid” sandals. Also popular with the women are boots, everything from thigh-high ones to short ones, but many with very high heels. Comfort gets no precedence over style for the Sunday strolls here.

The promenade has a real family atmosphere on Sundays. There are children everywhere. Young families push babies in strollers or buggies. Families stop into their favourite restaurants, for lunch, often sitting with wine or Spanish coffee long after lunch is done. It is a perfect spot for this. There are no cars on the street, and the beach is right across the road. When the kids get tired of restaurant they are allowed to go out onto the promenade to ride their bikes, inline skate, ride scooters, or just to go play in the sand. We would often see groups of children playing in the sand with no apparent supervision, and suddenly one of them would run across to the restaurant or bar to a table full of parents. The parents could see them all the time while still enjoying time with their family and friends.

The family outings on the promenade often include the extended family as well. We often saw grandma being helped along arm in arm with someone while the baby carriage was pushed by someone else. The children circled on all sorts of wheeled contraptions, making up for grandma's slow pace by putting three times the distance on their wheels. The promenade is paved with coloured tiles in a zig-zag pattern, and I watched one little girl walk the length following the pattern. We passed one family group that had given up on the walk, and had camped out by one of the walkways down to the beach. There were about 20 of them. The adults were sitting on the wall separating the promenade from the beach or standing around; all talking at once – I thought I might learn some Spanish on this trip, but I can't distinguish one word from another because they all talk at once. The children were scattered around the beach, playing in the sand, or riding bikes on the road and sidewalk, and the teenagers were off to one side chatting and texting. Everyone seemed happy except one little girl sitting on the wall in bare feet crying about something.

I can only imagine what this place must be like on a Sunday in July or August.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Going to the Dogs

Jasper would fit right right in, but I'm afraid that Mocha just would not at all.

Now most of you know that Jasper and Mocha are two dogs I know. Jasper is a very small dog and Mocha is on the large size. They love their dogs here in El Campello, but other than a very few “bigger” dogs, they are generally small in size. What they lack in size they make up for in pure numbers. On a nice sunny day here, the promenade down by the beach is covered in little dogs all out for a walk.

One Saturday I saw a little orangey, Pomeranian type  dog being pushed along in a child's doll stroller by a little girl. He seemed perfectly happy this way. When the little girl went down onto the sand, her mother picked the dog out of the stroller and put him on the bottom shelf of a baby buggy and parked it with the little girl's brother and her dog beside the wall along the walkway. The dog just stayed there. Later he was put back in the stroller to continue their walk. Along the way he objected to something another dog did or said and he gave the other dog a good barking, but never left the stroller – stood up and gave him a good barking-to. I thought he perhaps was unable to walk, but the little girl at one point took him out, put him on the ground and put her doll in the stroller. He just started walking.

This morning we walked down the promenade to the bakery, and I saw a gentleman in one of the beach front cafes, having a coffee and a sweet while reading the paper. He had a little white dog sitting on his lap who seemed as interested in the news as he was.

Social Networking for Dogs
On most days, I have seen one older man walking three dogs. He moves pretty slow, and the trek down the promenade and back takes awhile, but the dogs are almost as old as he is and they also move slowly. He has a leash attached to one dog which he holds onto and then the second dog is attached to the first and the third is attached to the second. I don't know how the order is determined; if it is seniority, or behaviour, but it seems to work for them.

I am amazed at how good most of the dogs are. On a nice sunny day there are probably 50 dogs out for a walk, but you hardly hear a bark, and I have never heard a fight – well not amongst the dogs anyway. They quietly stroll up and down, stopping and socializing when the humans they have out for a walk stop to talk. Most are on leads, but the ones allowed to walk freely deserve the liberty. They walk along always keeping a close eye on where their masters are and I have never seen a dog who had to be called back from exploring.

There is definitely a positive economic side to the number of dogs. There are more veterinarian clinics than there are hospitals here in El Campello. I think there is a human hospital here in town, but I'm not sure where it is. I have however seen three Veterinarian offices. On the TV there are ads for “Pet Insurance”; I'm sure you can get this service back home. but I don't think it is yet big enough to purchase ads on National TV.

Now there is a down side to the number of dogs . . . . . you've got it, they all use the toilet outside or as my mother-in-law says “damn shitty-ass dogs”. You have to always keep one eye on the sidewalk as you walk, because there WILL be some little doggie turds on the sidewalk. You have to be sharp too because the dogs are little their traces are also small and can be hard to spot easily. The city provides disposal bins for dog waste, and I have seen more people picking up after their dogs than I have seen pretending that “Their dear little dog didn't do that!”, but it is just the sheer numbers. They keep the main areas pretty clean, and I suspect someone must come along and clean the promenade and the main street sidewalks, but watch out if you step off the sidewalks or take a back street.

Wipe your feet on the mat by the door please. 

Internet Access?

El Lobo Marino bar in El Campello
The apartment in El Campello does not have internet access. The owners did not promise that we would have internet, but said that it was available just across the street at the waterfront bar. When we contacted them and asked about this, they suggested that you could sometimes pick up the Wi-Fi from the bar out on the balcony. I was a bit concerned about being able to access the internet because we did not have a cell phone and had no way to contact anyone other than through e-mail. As well I was hoping to write a few blog entries if I could find time.

We tried the “Balcony” thing the day we arrived and although we were picking up four or five Wi-Fi signals, the one from the bar across the street was not one of them. We tried this off and on the whole time we were here and could never pick it up. I suspect that the bar owners have moved their router from when the apartment owners accessed it. It is now in the side of the bar facing the beach so the signal would have to go through the concrete building for me to get it, so I am not surprised I cannot pick it up.

Oh, well, that just means I have to actually go to the bar to use the Internet, and I'm not going to just go in and use their Wi-Fi; I'm going to order at least one beer. Someone suggested we just go out front and “Steal” their internet by sitting on the bench out front, but that just doesn't seem right to me. Of course anyone who knows me, knows that I am not adverse to forcing down a beer every so often if there is a good reason to do so.

I tried the Passatge Bar across the street first, and was able to get on with both the Mac and the IPad, and I checked my e-mail, and let everyone know that we were here and doing fine. However, the next time I went over, the Mac would not find the Wi-Fi and I couldn't get on. The IPad worked fine, but I was typing up my Blog entries in OpenOffice and pasting them into the blog, so I had to use the Mac. I tried a couple more times and couldn't figure out the issue, so I gave up.

Then walking down the beach I noticed that the bar on the corner also advertized Wi-Fi. When another attempt at the Passatge Bar did not work, I packed up and went down the street. This bar is called the “El Lobo Marino”, and it has become my Internet connection to the world. Like most of the bars along the El Campello waterfront, it has a small inside bar, but depends on a waterfront patio to provide room for most patrons. We usually have the inside to ourselves. The bar is decorated in a nautical theme, and reminds me of one of my favorite “pubs”, the Knot in Lunenburg Nova Scotia. It is decorated with pictures of ships, with rope wrapped pillars and framed “Nautical Knot”. I have never found anyone working in the bar that speaks a word of English, but we communicate well. I hold up two fingers and point to the draft beer spigot and two nice cold beer appear before me. If the server sees me first, she does the same and waits for an affirmation from me. The first time I went in, I had some problem figuring out the password for their Wi-Fi, and finally the server that evening simply motioned me over to the bar, and she pulled the Wi-Fi router out of the back room and handed it to me – problem solved!

One thing I do not understand, and have never been able to figure out is that the bar plays great English music all the time. I have heard 50's rock & roll, modern pop, country and one evening I went in and B. B. King was filling the room with his great blues. I tried to ask why the American music instead of Spanish music, and although the owner knew I was asking about the music, she couldn't understand, so after several attempts, she shrugged her shoulders and I simply gave her a thumbs up to show that I appreciated the music, and we left it unanswered.

Actually, I think the fact that I have to order a beer every time I post a blog probably keeps them coming on a regular basis.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waterfront Walks

Perhaps it's because I'm from Nova Scotia and have always lived close to the water, but I find that I really enjoy being near the ocean. Strange that someone who never goes in the water deeper than my ankles would spend so much vacation time near the ocean.

The oceans, rivers and lakes have always been important to mankind. Water is essential to life itself, so civilization grew up around access to water. The oceans of the world have always been an important source of food.  Transportation and commerce, especially in times past was  much easier with access to the oceans, and many wars were decided by which power controlled the ocean, so many important cities have grown up in places that allow the ocean to be used and enjoyed by people.

Here in El Campello I am told they have 27 miles of coastline – the longest in the area, and much of it is beachfront. The El Campello beach (Carrerlamar) and the Muchavista beach around the cove both offer  beautiful seafront Promenades that allow the public to stroll along the beach in comfort. There is a wide expanse of sand, a short wall and then an attractively paved walkway running the length of the beach. The El Campello beach allows only limited vehicle traffic on the road running along the beach, and most days it is used as an extended promenade for pedestrians. On the other side of the road are shops, restaurants, and bars with apartments over them. What is nice is that you can walk the length of the beach without anything interrupting the view. It makes for a very pleasant walk and we have gotten into the habit of taking this walk at least once a day. If ambitious, the Muchavista promenade allows a similarly beautiful but longer walk for over 3 km along the beach but without the benefit of so many restaurants and bars for “Pit Stops” along the way.

As I walk this Promenade I think of other similar waterfront walks I have encountered in my travels. In Brazil, the town of Santos had over 5 km of beautiful walkways along the beach. In Campeche, Mexico  they call their beachfront promenade the “Malecon” and Cozumel, Mexico has a similar area to walk along the waterfront. My Home town of Halifax has a beautiful waterfront boardwalk along much of it's waterfront, and during my cruising vacations when other passengers  discover I am from Halifax they comment about how much they enjoy this easy access to the Halifax waterfront. In Hamburg, Germany the city was designed with a beautiful lake in the centre that allows the public complete access to all of the shoreline with parks and pathways around the lake. Canada's capital Ottawa has managed to retain public access to much of the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal riverfront land and maintains beautiful walkways along them that can be enjoyed by all.

This doesn't always happen. Very often the rich or the powerful purchase this prime waterfront land and put fences to keep the public out. In Shanghai, China I enjoyed the riverfront walk along the Bund, but was disappointed when I tried to walk along the other side of the river only to run into a sturdy fence across the boardwalk blocking access where the famous “Oriental Pearl” tower somehow purchased access to the waterfront and no longer let people walk the waterfront without paying to visit their “attraction”. In Bristol, England, I was only able to stroll part way around it's famous “Floating Harbour” before running into expensive private residences blocking further access. I was so impressed by that lake in Hamburg, because they allowed the rich and powerful to build their houses and businesses beside the lake, there was however a road and a public pathway between their houses and the lake so that although they could purchase a permanent view of the lake, everyone could come and have the same view anytime they wanted.

These are only some of the beautiful waterfront walkways I have found on my travels. I'm sure there are many more examples of both public access to waterfronts and places where beautiful waterfront views are reserved for “Private Use” only. I am happy to be able to enjoy the beautiful beachfront promenade here in El Campello.


During a stop in Barcelona as part of a Transatlantic cruise, we visited a market and I was amazed at the variety of fruit, vegetables, and especially the cured meat and sausages. I looked at all this delicious food knowing that I couldn't bring any onto the ship, and decided that I'd like to actually come to Spain and spend enough time to actually settle in and cook some of the local food.

Once I actually arrived, I discovered that I had a bit of a false impression of “Spanish” food based on my experience with Mexican and Latin American food. Spanish food, at least the Costa Blanca variety of Spanish food is not spicy. We went to one of the local supermarkets the day we arrived in El Campello, and I got some indication of what was available.

There was lots of delicious looking sausages and cured meat. Most of the sausages have a clear orange tint, from the spice. I have sampled many of the sausages, and discovered that they are actually very unlike our chorizo. or I should say that what we call chorizo back home is not what the actual chorizo is like. The first one I bought was flavorful, but not at all spicy. Another lesson in Spanish; “dulce” is a sweet sausage, where “picante” is a spicy one, but they are all called chorizo.

Everywhere were whole cured legs of ham or jamon serrano. Most bars and small restaurants had them sitting on a counter ready to have thin slices cut off for sandwiches. They are never refrigerated or even packed away, at most covered with a hand towel.  Every supermarket or butcher shop had them hanging at various prices. These are salt cured meat, and unlike our ham it is darker in colour. The meat is very flavourful, but salty and a bit tough. Unable to justify purchasing a whole leg, I bought a small chunk of the meat from one of the markets, and used it like bacon for breakfasts.

There were lots of red and green peppers at the markets, but I could not find any of the nice little hot red peppers I expected to see. I'm sure I recall them hanging in bunches from the market stalls in Barcelona. Finally, when I went to the weekly market here in El Campello I found a bag of them, but they were sold not by a Spanish vendor, but a very pleasant Asian lady who warned me that they were “picante – HOT”. I got a whole bag of them for one euro and they lasted me a week. She insisted on giving me a nice batch of fresh parsley to go with them. They were actually not that hot, but did add a bit more flavour to the things I cooked.

The oranges were perhaps the biggest disappointment. Here we were close to Valencia, with an orange named after the city, and everywhere we went we could see acres of trees covered in oranges, yet I have found it difficult to get good oranges. The ones left at the apartment by our hosts from their own tree were good, but many from stores and markets were very dry inside with little juice as if old. I understand that the “Valencia” orange is not known as an eating orange, and is generally used to produce juice, but I would think that the oranges would be much better. Perhaps the locals recognize me as a foreigner and slip me the “old” product.

We do not eat out very much, electing to cook our meals using the fresh local produce, but we have gone out when visiting Madrid, Valencia, Grenada and Alicante. The whole experience is different. Many restaurants use a “Daily Menu” that is a set price with a choice of two courses. The area is known for rice dishes, and we have had a couple of excellent ones usually with seafood mixed. There is little beef and lots of pork. Again, the food is generally full of flavour, but not at all hot or spicy. Of all the food I had in dining out my favorite was the tapas, or bar snacks. In Grenada, almost every bar served free tapas with every drink. One and a half Euro got you a beer and a plate of snacks. It was often on slices of bread, but could have been almost anything. We had a plate of delicious meatballs, stuffed sweet peppers, and squid in sauce. One bar brought over nice pork sandwiches with our beer. Some bars had extensive menus of different tapas, and some had glass cases with pre-made tapas on display so you could choose. For an average price of 5 euro you could get a plate of one type of tapas, so with four people you could order several and get to taste many different things.

Then there is the wine. Alicante is known as a wine producing region, and on the train from Madrid we saw kilometre after kilometre of vineyards prepared for another season of grapes. You can purchase wine in any grocery store or from speciality Bodegas. In the Bodegas you can actually pay a good deal for a bottle of wine, and I'm sure it is very good, but so far I have been quite happy with the selection from the grocery stores.  Other than one bottle that sits beside the stove relegated to cooking, even the inexpensive bottles have been excellent. In the grocery stores it is hard to pay more than 10 euros for a bottle, and I purchased one excellent bottle on sale for .99 euros. It is going to be hard to go home and have to pay $20 for a nice bottle of Spanish wine.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Rain in Spain

Ok, yes, I admit it, this blog is nothing more than an excuse to brag about how nice it is here compared to back home in Canada. . . . . I can't help it.

I love Nova Scotia, but I don't particularly like waiting through the dreary spring for the summer to arrive. At least I don't live in BC where I have heard it rains from February until May. I therefore try to find some place to go where the weather is better for a while. This year I decided to try Spain; specifically El Campello, a little town about half way down the Spanish Mediterranean coast between Valencia and Alicante.

Our Spanish vacation didn't start so great with a cold rain in Madrid that forced us to retreat to our hotel from an attempt to explore Madrid, but the following day we took the train to El Campello and arrived to a lovely sunny day. I opened the doors to the balcony and comfortably sat outside with a glass of wine.

We have had a day with rain, and a couple of days that were cloudy, but we have just had to endure five straight days of sunshine without a cloud in the sky and temperatures of 18C – 22C. I thought I'd just tell you a bit about what the days are like here in Spain.

The sun has some heat, and it is actually warm in the sun, but the evenings are cool, and the buildings here are not really built for the cool evenings. I have learned to close the doors to the balcony at about four even though the sun is still shining. The wind blows quite strong, and so it cools off if the sun is not shining in the apartment. The balcony on the apartment is very well designed for this time of year. The sun comes over the top of the building across the street at about 10:00, just as I'm returning from my first walk down the beach to the pastry shop for something to go with my second cup of coffee, and it shines on the balcony until 4:00 pm. You can sit outside all day, comfortable in shorts. Lunch on the balcony has become one of our daily routines – local wine, chorizo, fresh vegetables and leftovers from last night.

Most days, we walk down the beach or the boardwalk, and see what is going on a couple of times. In the morning we go to see what the Digger (Thanks to Liam for that word) is doing down at the end of the beach, and stop at the bakery on the way back for a pastry to go with my coffee. I am trying to paint something or sketch something every couple of days, so that is another walk down the beach, and we normally need something from the market, but there are five or six within a ten minute walk. I might if I am energetic go out for another walk with my camera to take pictures of something. Then as the sun goes down we take another walk down the beach to watch the sun set and see what progress the “Digger” (actually a dredger working off the beach digging a trench?) has made during the day. You need a jacket for the evening walk, but certainly not the puffy winter parka's still worn by the natives. The trees lining the main street are in brilliant pink blooms, and the palm trees down the beach are filling out, preparing to shelter the sun-shy from the coming summer season.

I just checked the weather on my computer while at the tavern at the corner and we might get another day of rain next week, but then the rain forecast for this week never arrived. I don't bother checking what it is like back in Nova Scotia because it will only remind me that I have to return in a couple of weeks.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Spanish Time

On one of my first days here in El Campello I found a nice little bakery with fresh bread and lovely pastries. We were going for a walk and decided to stop in on the way back to pick something up. Unfortunately we never found it on the way back . . . .  or the next day . . . . or the next day The little bakery just disappeared.. I thought I knew approximately  where it was, but it was not there.

I then found another bakery down on the waterfront, and this time I noted where it was – and I bought my bread even though I had to carry it on my walk. On my way back I was able to find the bakery, but it was now shuttered and closed in the middle of the day?

I  found one of the many grocery stores in the town (I don't know how a quaint little town like this manages to support five grocery stores, and saw some sheep cheese behind the butcher counter. I waited patiently leaning up against the counter thinking someone would come and wait on me. No such luck, staff walked by ignoring me until I finally flagged someone down who wagged her finger at me pointing out the sign with hours on it. It seemed that the grocery store was open, but the butcher was closed for three hours  and would open up again at 5:00.

It seems that many shops and services here run on a very different schedule than I was used to. They open at about 9:00 or 10:00, and close in the middle of the afternoon for a “siesta”. They then open again late in the afternoon, and stay open into the evening. Even paces that stay open, sort of go into ”siesta mode” during the afternoon. One afternoon I was across the street at the bar checking my e-mail and working on this blog, when suddenly all the staff stopped working, pushed tables together and had lunch in the middle of the bar. All the staff were involved in this meal, and a couple sitting at the bar were as confused as I was. They finished their drinks and looked around for a waiter to reorder. Finally after it became obvious they wanted something, the waiter got up from his lunch, went over, waited on them, and went back to his lunch

There is construction going on below the apartment, and although it it not terribly noisy, we know they are there, and have become accustomed to their hours. They start work at about 10:00, work until about 3:00, stop for a siesta, and then start again, sometimes working into the evening.

It is difficult to adjust to the Spanish time routine, but since I am trying to actually “Live” here, I have taken to working this three hour “siesta” break into my busy day. It is hard, but it is important to adapt to the local customs – life is hard . . . . . Oh, I did finally find that little bakery; it was right where I thought it was, the shutters were just closed up tightly . I now try to get there in the morning.

Sorry that this blog entry is a bit shorter than normal . . . . . . it's time for siesta . . .

The Alhambra

A week or so before flying to Spain, we happened upon a travel show on TV with a movie star and a celebrity chef touring Spain. As we watched this show, we realized that not only were they in Spain, but they were touring the area we were going to. The show really was not that good; spending more time showing off the movie star than telling us about Spain, but one thing that we saw was the Alhambra in Grenada. They actually did spend some time touring and talking about this historical site. Since the one side trip we wanted to take was to the city of Grenada, so this show encouraged us to visit the Alhambra while there.

The Alhambra was started in 1238 and originally built as a palace for Mohammad I al-Ahmar, and was added to and modified by both Muslim and Christian from that time until the 1500's. It is now a Spanish National Monument and a World Heritage site.

The entire complex is huge, and occupies the highest hillside in Grenada. The complex consists of both the Alhambra Palaces and the Generalife gardens. In addition there is the oldest part of the complex, the Alcazaba, or the military part of the complex. The views from the Alhambra complex of Grenada is spectacular. Make sure you have plenty of room on your camera card.

As with many historical sites in Europe, the Alhambra has not really been “Restored”, it has been partly rebuilt and stabilized. As you walk through, you realize that this would have been a truly amazing palace. The tile work and amazing carved stonework that is visible now give some indication of what this place must have been like. There are rough stone walls in most places where these would have been covered in smooth white stucco and painted. The intricate carved marble walls in the palace areas show just a hint of the amazing paint that would have covered them when this place was the home to Sultans or Monarchs. The gardens are intricate and well maintained, but I can only imagine them as actual royalty strolled the same paths now used by tourists.

One of the most amazing aspects of the complex is the water system. Everywhere you walk you hear water trickling underfoot feeding a series of ponds and baths as well as keeping the gardens blooming and beautiful in this generally arid part of Spain. As I walked around I could see pipes and sprinklers that have been added, but the original complex was constantly irrigated by a complex system of gravity fed waterworks. The water flowed from the top of the complex through stairways, in and out of ponds, pools and fountains. What makes it so interesting is that the actual waterworks was part of the beauty of the palaces. The water flowed along open passages and trickled down the centre of stairways or flowed beside the handrails down stairs. Everywhere you went water could be heard moving to another part of the waterworks.

The Alhambra is one of the major Tourist attractions in all of Spain. Apparently it is almost as difficult to get tickets during the high tourist season as it is to get into the Vatican, but visiting in March meant we had no wait for tickets, and I was usually able to get pictures without crowds of tourists. The entire complex is extremely efficiently run. There are special “Alhambra Express” busses that run from downtown up to the entrance constantly and we only had to wait for a few minutes for a bus. Your ticket is issued for a specific time and you must be at the actual Palace at that time to get in. Tickets are checked constantly and the number of people allowed in is closely controlled, so I expect that even in busy times the crowds would not be overwhelming. Flow through most of the complex is controlled with signs directing you to follow a set route, but you can move at your own pace and can deviate from the flow. There are many areas that are off limits, but you can normally get close enough to see them. When we toured the site, the Generalife area was mostly closed, but this is primarily gardens, so March is the time when workers doing routine maintenance and getting the gardens ready for the upcoming high season.

If you are visiting Spain, Grenada and the Alhambra should definitely be put onto your itinerary. You will need at least a couple of hours (3 hours is the official recommendation). You can use an audio guide to help you, or you can download a free Bluetooth App for your smartphone, or you can just use the excellent printed Visitor Guide. The complex is BIG, so wear comfortable shoes, and be prepared for a lot of walking and climbing. The visit is worth the time and effort, and then take the bus back down the old part of Grenada and wander the narrow cobblestone streets until you find a Tapas bar you like for a relaxing beer and snack.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Driving in Spain

Now in Great Britain they have a clever strategy to keep foreigners off their roads. First, they put all the important automotive controls on the wrong side of the car, so you have to sit on the right side of the vehicle. Then they tell you that you have to drive on the left side of the road. They then point you to a nice “M” series motorway, with three nice wide lanes like our freeways only with no real speed limit, so you start feeling pretty confident – “this is not so difficult”. Then you take an exit onto the “real” british roads; their two lane “A” series are the width of our residential streets, and their country roads are only one lane wide with two way traffic. Now this wouldn't be so bad if you could take your time, but you just get comfortable keeping the car from bouncing off the curbs on either side when suddenly there's a big Jag sedan or a Range Rover on you tail going twice your speed, wondering why you can't maintain 100 kph when you have at least a foot between the 500 year old stone wall on one side and the a few inches more on the other side before that 6 foot thorn hedge starts taking the paint of the rental car.

Now I managed pretty well in England, especially considering it was before I had my cataract surgery and couldn't see all that well, so I didn't hesitate to rent a car and drive in Spain.

First, they drive on the right side of the road and their cars are set up correctly so you sit on the left to drive. The roads are very good, nice and wide and well marked. Signage is in Spanish, but easy to understand, so it is quite easy to find your way around.

My first outing was a very pleasant drive along the Mediterranean coast from El Campello to Valencia along the coastal road, N332. This was a road designed for driving, as it wound around the coast and up and down the local mountains and hills. We made this trip on a Sunday, so there was a lot of traffic, with large groups of bicyclists in full bright multi-colour riding gear, providing moving slalom pylons, many motorcyclists out on everything from Vespas, to Sport bike riders in racing leathers blitzing the corners and high speed, and some very interesting sports cars of every vintage. I would have loved to have done this road on the GPZ 550.

Our second trip was a four hour drive to visit Grenada. This trip was mostly on larger four lane divided highways. These highways are very similar to our major highways, with speeds posted at 100 – 110. The roads are well maintained and well serviced. There are lots of service centres with gas stations and convenient rest areas (no toilets however). The exits are well marked and plenty of warnings are given for them. It was a challenge to figure out some of the regular signs however. There was one sign with two motorcycles with their back wheels in the air following a car. It could have meant “No Stunt Riding”, but as I tried to convince the little Fiat Panda to get up the mountain, I realized it meant that those Blitzing sport bikes had better be aware of overtaking underpowered fiats going very slow up the hills.

The drivers that we shared the roads with were all very courteous. I only heard a horn blow once while in a traffic jam in Valencia, and normally they are patient to pass, and generally calm. There were a lot of large trucks on the highways to Grenada, and they generally stick to the right hand lane, allowing other traffic to pass easily. When they do pass other vehicles, they do it quickly and pull in immediately. Although I saw no signs about lane use, most drivers remain in the right lane unless actually passing, and when they pass they immediately switch back to the right lane. Never once did I find the little old lady with the purple hair in the 1978 Cadillac blissfully cruising at 80 in the left lane.

There did seem to be a distinct class system on the highways. There were loads of trucks, who obviously knew their place was in the right lane. There were the “Ordinary” folk who drove Fiats, Volkswagens, Renaults, or Citroens, who stayed in their right lanes most of the time, but were welcome to switch over occasionally to pass slower drivers. Then there were the large Mercedes, BMW's  and Audis. There seemed to be a different rule for them. They were polite, but it was obvious that they felt that the left lanes were built for big fast German sedans with only one person (What fuel crisis?). Most of these cars cruised the left lane at least 20 – 30 kph faster than everyone else. I never saw one pulled over for speeding, and the speed limit was recently lowered from 120 to 110. When you pulled out to pass you had to watch out, because they were travelling so much faster that without warning you would see a big sedan filling the mirrors feet from your rear bumper. What surprised me was the politeness of everyone. Even these big faster sedans didn't glare at you as they roared by like so ofter happens in North America when you inadvertently get in a faster vehicle's way. These cars just waited for you to pull over and then accelerated rapidly by without a second look – they knew there were folk who couldn't afford cars that could maintain decent speeds but they just accepted them and moved on.

All in all, driving the highways and byways of Spain was a very pleasant experience. The cities are another story, but anyone coming to Spain, I would not hesitate to suggest you rent a car to get around.  . . . . BUT as I said before – The trains are an awfully civilized way to travel.    

Orange Pickers

One day we decided to take a trip to Valencia a couple of hours up the coast. We rented a car to make this trip and a trip to Grenada later. There is a very nice coastal highway that follows the Mediterranean Sea from town to town. The road wanders in and out of coastal communities and up and down the mountains in this area. We elected to take this road instead of the more direct and faster divided highways so we could see some of the sites from the area.

It really proved to be a beautiful drive and the views of the coast were spectacular. It was a beautiful day and lots of people were out for drives with us. On a stop to fill the car I happened upon a gathering of beautiful sports cars including two Jag E-Types, three Porsches, a couple of MG's , and a lovely AC/Cobra.

Now driving to Valencia we also saw many, many oranges growing in orchards along the road. It would have been so tempting to stop and pick one of the lovely ripe fruit, but discussions of Orange Police and “I'm not bailing you out if you get caught steeling oranges!” kept us in the car. Watching these Orange Orchards did however produce another interesting sight.

As we were driving along, we observed a young woman standing along side the road, dressed in very “provocative” attire. A comment was made about “I wonder who she is waiting for dressed like that?”. Then there was another, this time sitting alongside an orange orchard, in a plastic lawn chair, also dressed rather fancy . . . Then another similarly decked out. One was reading a magazine while sitting in a chair, another had headphones in her ear listening to something.

The suggestion was made that since they seemed to be beside the orange orchards, then perhaps they were waiting to go to work picking oranges, but they did not seem to be dressed for this sort of work. Finally we passed one young woman wearing black stockings and black leather hot-pants standing with her hands on her hips watching traffic and we decided that, no she definitely did not seem to be working as an orange picker.

Then we passed a couple more standing waiting for customers while a police vehicle was passing out a ticket to a motorist, and we motored on with more questions than answers . . . . .

Was this legal in this particular area?

Where exactly did they perform their services? There were no houses close by;  just orange orchards?

Since no one really felt like stopping to ask them we continued on our way with no answers to our questions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fresh Fish

Ok, now my daughter lived in Japan where they have the largest seafood market in the world. I admit, it's not the Tokyo Fish Market, but El Campello has its own fish auction and we went today, found it, and came home with a “denton.” We had no idea what it was, but it at least resembled a fish we could recognize. The fellow at the cash register gave us instructions for how to cook it in the oven on a bed of potatoes, onions, olive oil and white wine. We shall see how it turns out.

In the information on the apartment, it said there was a local fish auction where you could get fresh fish daily, and we were anxious to give it a try. However, since we arrived on a Saturday the weather has been too windy for the fishermen to go out, today was the first day the auction was open. I walked down earlier and located the building holding the auction, and wandered around the dock looking at the fishing boats.

The auction starts at 6:15 each day, and I went down early to scope the place out. I was a bit worried because there were only two cars in the lot, and no one around. As I wandered down the dock, I could see a flock of seagulls out to sea, and sure enough under the cloud of wings was a boat steadily making for port. As the boat came through the narrows and slipped up to the wharf, people started to gather. I wondered if somehow the auction took place on the wharf, but no, everyone was just wanting to get a sneak peek of the catch before it was brought in to the auction house. The boat was tied up and the crew started washing and sorting their catch. They had quite a variety of species. I saw fish, squid, octopus, crayfish, and other items I did not recognize. There was a lot of discussion going on amongst the gathered crowd, but unfortunately for me it was all in Spanish, so I did not pick up any hints as to what was good or bad.

All the catch was loaded onto trays, and then into a van which drove to the actual auction building -  with the crowd moving as well. There was a wait while everything was weighed and displayed and as we waited. The various seafood was brought out and displayed on a long table with little hand-written labels telling how much it weighed. It was obvious that this auction was not aimed at big buyers, as most of the items were displayed in batches of between 1 kg to 1.5 kg. This was obviously aimed at individual buyers or small restaurants.

By the time the table was covered with fish, there was a considerable crowd gathered and it was obvious that some people were here to get particular items. There were hushed discussions between husbands & wives or groups of young men as well a pair of Asian men that carried on until the auctioneer came out and went into a detailed exclamation about how the auction was going to work. Well, at least this is what I assumed he was doing; it was all in Spanish, and I got that everything was priced by the kilogram, but not much else. 

I was interested in watching the auction, but I was not planning to bid on any fish.  However I told my son that since he was the seafood expert that it was his job to get a fish for supper. There were a few leftovers in the fridge, so if he couldn't figure it out we wouldn't go hungry.

It actually worked pretty well. There is a minimum price they will sell the product for, so we just waited and watched. The people who wanted something special threw their hands up when the price reached something they could live with, but we just waited until they moved the fish that didn't sell to the other end of the table and then went down picked out one and paid for it. I hope it tastes good, but at least I know it is fresh.

Climbing the "Big Rock"

When our friends from Egypt were driving down from Barcelona to visit us in El Campello for a few days, they saw this “Big Rock” not far outside El Campello and decided they wanted to go back to see it while they were visiting us.

Now it is not really called the “Big Rock”, although that is certainly a good way to describe it. The actual name is “Penyal d'ifac”, and is in fact a Spanish National Park. It is a 45 hectares park and the rock itself is 232 m high, so I guess that the description as a “Big Rock” is actually pretty accurate. I'm no geologist, but there must be a term for this type of natural formation, and the area is full of similar “rocks”, many of which have been turned into locations of fortifications and castles. The city of Alicante has a spectacular fort built onto a rock like this that provided protection from invading hoards. What makes this formation special is that it juts out into the sea, and has a gentle isthmus connecting it to the mainland, allowing easy access.

Entrance to the park is free, as is parking at the base, which is very nice in this time where you seem to have to pay for everything. It was a cool and very windy day, so there were very few other cars in the parking area. Although there were not many people exploring the rock with us, I was surprised at how many there were. Another indicator that the Spanish are not as dependent on their cars to get around. All the other folk climbing the rock had to have gotten there somehow, but when we left there was only one other vehicle parked with us.

Climbing the rock is a two stage event. The first part is relatively easy and safe with a steep but well maintained pathway paved with rocks and protected by wooden handrails. There is even a wheelchair accessible section allowing access to a spectacular viewing platform part way up the first section. It took us about 20 minutes to climb up the first part of the trail, but we made numerous stops to look back over the town and beach as they grew smaller as each switchback came to the edge of the rock and fell off to the sea on either side. At first we marvelled at the views each time and snapped photos, but quickly realized that the next viewing spot was going to be even more spectacular, so we waited until we got to the top.

The first part of the climb ends at a solid stone face, and I am not sure how access to the higher elevations was reached in the past, but in 1918, while the rock was owned privately, a tunnel was cut through from one side of the rock face to the other, allowing easier access to the rest of the climb. The tunnel is actually quite treacherous with the passage of many feet wearing the rocks to a smooth slippery and uneven surface necessitating holding a rope the entire way through.

When you come out the other side of the tunnel, you are presented with an entirely different type of trail. Gone are the paved paths and wooden handrails. The remaining trail is simply a natural pathway along the rock face. There are ropes added to the inside wall in particularly dangerous places, but the entire trail is listed as dangerous and it is not recommended unless wearing actual climbing shoes and children are strongly discouraged. Although I was wearing a sturdy pair of walking shoes they did not have an aggressive “climbing” sole, and one of our party had regular shoes on. After venturing out along the remaining trail to “have a look” I reached a section of smooth warn stone sloping off at a 40 degree angle to a sheer drop to the Mediterranean Sea a hundred meters below. A rope hold was provided, but this convinced me that we had gone far enough, and I reported back that we might not want to go all the way to the top.

We cannot actually say that we climbed to the top of the “Big Rock”, but we certainly climbed part of it, and it was still a wonderful adventure added to our Spanish trip.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Living In El Campello

Our Home in Spain (Above the silver blue car)
Finally this blog entry is actually about living in Spain. My goal for this trip is not to “see” Spain, but to actually “live” in one area, get to know the area, the food, the customs, and the people. I did this when I went to China; I never did get to walk the Great Wall, see the Forbidden City, or visit Tibet, but I knew my way around Suzhou as well as many of the natives. By the end of my two months there I was telling them things about their city they did not know. I was hoping to take the same approach here in  El Campello, Spain.

El Campello is a resort town on the Mediterranean Sea, almost half way between Barcelona in the north and Gibraltar (Great Britain) in the south. The area is one of the principle resort areas in Spain, and is popular for tourists from England, France and Germany. The apartment we are renting is owned by a couple from England who used it as a vacation home before they retired, bought a house and moved to Spain to live.

The Promenade along the El Campello Waterfront
The apartment is in a building one block from the beach in the old part of the town. If you walk down the boardwalk there is a much newer part of El Campello with huge apartment blocks of vacation homes. This area is mostly lower building on narrow streets with many little restaurants and bars. If you go out onto the balcony off the living area, you can see down the street to the beach and the Marina beyond, where I am told there is a fish auction every day at 6:00 pm where the public can buy fresh seafood. (Regis has admitted to knowing how to clean fish, so we may go see if we can get some fresh fish.) We can hear the waves on the beach from the balcony unless it is very calm. Under the Apartment is a restaurant that is currently under renovation by the bar across the street where I got to get access to the internet. The building is four stories high and we are on the second floor, but as far as I can tell, there is almost no one actually here. Most of the other apartments are shuttered and at least two are for sale, so it is very quiet. When walking down the beach, we noticed that some of the large apartment buildings only seemed to have a couple of the units occupied; the rest dark with shutters down.  Even the renovations going on downstairs are rather low key – they don't seem to start until about 10:00, knock of for the Spanish siesta from 2:00 – 5:00, and don't seem to really get back to serious work after the rest most days.

The apartment is very nice, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large comfortable living room with a balcony out front, a well equipped kitchen, and a pleasant little sitting area/courtyard off the master bedroom. The beds are comfortable, the entire apartment was clean and very well appointed when we arrived. The owners left a “Welcome Package” including basic groceries, a bottle of wine, and a bowl of fresh oranges picked from a tree in their yard, so we did not have to immediately locate a grocery store for our supper, instead we could pour a glass of wine and relax on the balcony in the Spanish sunshine after we unpacked.

Now we did discover that it is definitely the “off season” here this time of year. As the sun went down, it did get cold. The apartment is built for a warm climate, and all the windows are single pane glass and the nice wooden windows close securely but not tightly with not a hint of weather stripping. Fortunately the living room and the master bedroom have the same heater/AC units I had in China or Europe and they are able to dispel the evening chill with the help of the ceiling fan. I guess this is why so many of the units are unoccupied this time of year; when the sun is shining we find it lovely, but the locals must find it cold and chilly.

It is only day 6 and we have been entertaining the friends or our son up to this point, so we have plenty of time to try out this “living” in El Campello thing.

A Civilized Way to Travel

In North America, we have become dependent upon our cars to get around, but in much of the world owning  car is a luxury, or simply not really necessary. In many areas of the world people depend on trains and mass transit systems to get them around. When we researched a place to rent in Spain one of the important criteria was that we would not need to rent a car. We found that we could fly into Madrid from North America and then take a train to El Campello where the apartment was located, and from there we could get up and down the coast on local trains.

In Canada, our train system has been slowly downgraded from a National transportation system to at best a regional system that is really not essential and not used much. The trains the stations and the tracks are old, and although you can travel by train, it is not really convenient, or efficient and so people have neglected it for their cars. Here in Europe the trains are modern fast and convenient, and in many cases the preferred way of transport.

We knew we were taking the train from Madrid, so we booked a hotel that was close to the Metro and the train stations. The Train station is a massive place with a continuous stream of trains coming and going. The trains are coming in from all over the country and so the station is centrally located and people can come in on the train and walk to the Metro to get around the city easily.

We arrived at the train station in the morning, passed through a security gate where our luggage was X-rayed and we found a large waiting area full of people waiting with us for trains leading out of the city. Our train to Alicante was scheduled for exactly 9:25 am, and it we were told that the platform would be announced 20 minutes prior to departure. These times were completely accurate, and we were able to board the train about 15 minutes early.

The train was clean, modern with large comfortable seats with folding trays, foot rests and audio outlets. The car was full and people settled in all around us. The lady across from us fell asleep, the young woman behind her pulled out a stack of work sheets and started marking them with a red pen (Those teachers are the same all over the world), a young man across the isle set up his computer and started working while listening to music, and the two fellows behind us started chatting in Spanish. These people obviously are used to this way to travel.

The train pulled out of the station at exactly 9:25, and after slowly making it's way out of the city, sped up to 250 kph, smoothly and quietly. We were given a pair of earphones, and a movie started on the TV monitor in the ceiling. You could also choose to listen to various choices in music if you did not want to watch the movie (In Spanish only). There was a car behind us with a little cafe which was constantly full of people having a coffee or a snack. There was a washroom in each car and a little sign in the front of the car informed you if it was occupied. There was a nice area to store your luggage and plenty of room over your seat for smaller items.

Travelling by train is different than flying or driving. In a plane you get scenery for a few minutes as you take off or land, but looking at the top of clouds is rather boring after a bit. In your car you get lots of scenery, but you are strapped into a small area, and cannot move around easily. As well you have to be constantly watching for signs and other vehicles even if you are the passenger. In the train, someone else is driving and you can relax. It is quiet and comfortable; I spent my time paying some attention to the movie while watching the Spanish country side go by, while Regis listened to music and slept. We were following the highway for a while and rapidly passed the cars and trucks using this way to move around Spain.

The ride from Madrid to Alicante took 3 hours and 10 minutes exactly. We stopped at four stations along the way where passengers quickly got off and on and the train quickly continued on it's way. We were scheduled to arrive at 12:35 and the train actually stopped for 6 minutes outside of the city so that we pulled into the station at exactly 12:35. The teacher packed up her papers, the napping lady woke up,  stretched and put on her jacket, the young man put away his computer and his Iphone, and the two guys behind up continued chatting in Spanish. We arrived in Alicante relaxed and rested and the people who owned the apartment were waiting for us in the station to drive us to El Campello about 20 minutes away. As we crammed our luggage into their trunk, belted our seatbelts and pulled out into a traffic jam through road construction, it was really easy to realize that this train system really is a very civilized way to travel.    

It's A Small World

I know you are probably looking to read something about my trip to Spain here, but I'm doing the “Slow Travel” thing, so I'm not up to writing about Spain yet. I've only been here a couple of days and we have been busy finding our way around the town.

One of the greatest experiences while travelling is to meet up with someone from home in a foreign local. I find it really amazing that you can find someone when you are both thousands of miles from home. You can plan it, organize it, even hope it works, but it is such a feeling when the person you know suddenly comes into sight in another country, another time zone, or another continent.

We have accomplished this a number of times, and it always feels great. We are especially good at it with my dad. The first time was in Knoxville Tenn. When my mom & dad were circumnavigating North America in their camper van. We decided to meet up with them in Tennessee, visit Dollywood and tour the Eastern US on the way home with them. We had a little Boler trailer at the time, and towed it down through the New England states and across to Tennessee. Dad had arranged to meet at a campground outside Pigeon Forge & Knoxville, and we had good directions, finding it with no difficulty. When we checked in, we were told that, yes, indeed Mr. & Mrs. Hill were there and we were given the campsite next to them. Although they were gone when we arrived it was thrilling to pull in and recognize their “Stuff” in the next site.

The next time was in Rome when we met Dad and his wife to take a 21 day four continent transatlantic  cruise.  We had come from a week with friends in Egypt and they had come directly from home. We arrived at the hotel and received a message that they had gone to eat. We walked down the street in the direction indicated by the hotel desk clerk, and there they were walking up the other side of the boulevard.

The next year we did it again in England. Dad & Sharon had been in England for a week, and we flew in, took a train from London to Hilberton. They drove from Wales and met us only 20 minutes late. Then the next day we met my sister and her husband who had come from another part of England with his parents so we could all spend a week on a canal boat to Bristol. It was quite the feeling to all come together within 15 minutes from all over England.

This year, we are renting an apartment in Spain for a month, and our friends from Egypt were in Barcelona and decided to come spent a couple of days with us in El Campello. The apartment is in the old part of town at the end of a little narrow one way street, so although we had given them good instructions it was such a nice feeling to see their familiar faces waving from the rental car as they saw us waiting on the balcony.

It really is a heart warming experience and truly shows how small our world really is. I suggest you try it some time.