Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Officially in the Mediterranean - Finally!

It has been nearly two months since I left the US. And nearly three since we left Burlington.  It feels as if we have lived a year in those few months. Such is the case with traveling.  Life expands and slows down at the same time.

Mentally we have had this rushed, almost panicky feeling about getting into the Mediterranean, but physically and emotionally we have been letting go and slowing down.  This, combined with the hot, languid weather and boat repairs, has has kept us moving at a less than a vigorous pace.   But a few days ago we landed in Gibraltar and are now officially in Mediterranean waters.

Let me catch you up on the last few weeks: Lisbon - Sines - Lagos - Villamoura -- into Spain -- Ayamonte - Cadiz - Barbate - Gibraltar.

Portugal is wonderful, the people are friendly, the marinas are amazingly clean, modern and ecologically aware (water conservation, excellent recycling) and the food and wine are top notch.   The wine especially is so good and so cheap and so underrated.  Lisbon is a beautiful city which spreads from the water up into hills, sort of like San Francisco.  Some neighborhoods use funiculars to scale the steep inclines.  We just walked them, for hours.

Our first day there Mathias, Beth and I spent about 14 hours going up and down those winding streets.  We managed to see several of the expected tourist attractions as well as fitting in a wonderful meal in a quirky restaurant randomly picked by me mainly for the ambiance and decor, specifically the artsy-crafty buttons strung together to form colorful curtains.  There we enjoyed a delicious meal, one of the best of the trip thus far, and a really great bottle of Portuguese wine, one of the best wines of our lives thus far.

Amazing stone work at the Monument of Discoveries in Lisbon.  The Portuguese are very proud of their contributions to navigation and early colonization of the "new world".  

The monument, which looks out over the river to Lisbon.

A visit to the Maritime Museum, which was, of course, a must for Mathias and Beth. I enjoyed it, but not as much as some...

We ended up staying in Lisbon for a week, waiting for boat parts and getting repairs.  Before leaving I was insistent we see some Fado music. Fado is a genre of Portuguese traditional music which is dramatic and mournful. I love it.

This was the best singer we saw that evening. They brought out new singers every hour or so. And they got better and better as the night went on. We left at midnight and she was pretty great.

We didn't actually stay in Lisbon proper, but in the small, seaside town of Cascias, which is picturesque and worth a visit in its own right.  It is jam-packed with tourists in the summer, but also appeals to locals who flock from Lisbon, only a 20-minute train ride away, to go to the beaches.  On the train, we frequently saw teenagers and families dressed in barely more than bikinis and towels heading in and out of Cascias.  The Portuguese are certainly not shy about showing their flesh.  I saw many a grannie sporting a string bikini and men of all ages donning the salami sling, which would often bunch up under their big sun tanned bellies.  Mathias reported seeing a distinguished-looking older woman change her shirt on the train.

We left Cascais and Lisbon for Lagos. An even more touristy location, where literally the streets were cheek to jowl from 10am to 1pm, then empty for the siesta and then crammed again from 8pm till at least midnight.  Within a few days Mathias and I knew the city backwards and forwards and found our favorite places for coffee or lunch.

But the best thing about Lagos for me was finding an amazing yoga studio called The Lightroom.  This husband and wife team - Jenny and Igor - taught the best yoga, at least the kind that I really like.  It was here that we started to get into the habit of the afternoon siesta.

And here we had time to reorganize the boat, changing it from a ocean crossing boat into a cruising boat.
Despite all the tourists, Lagos was a nice old seaside town that isn't too built up, like much of the Spanish coast.

After Lagos we didn't see anything interesting until Cadiz.   On our way to Cadiz Mathias caught a fish, we think a small Mahi-Mahi.  I was amazed at how beautiful the fish was, bright iridescent greenish yellow, like a tropical bird.  But as soon as it died it immediately changed color to the silvery grey of most fish.  I know it was just a fish, and that fisherman see this all the time, but I was amazed to see life extinguish before my eyes an in such a dramatic and demonstrative way.  I kept thanking the beautiful fish for giving its life for our lunch (which was delicious, I sauteed the little beauty in garlic and butter).

You can sort of see the color in this photo

Mathias deployed his humane technique of spraying vodka in the gills to kill the fish, as opposed to clubbing it straight away.

Cadiz is a beautiful old city that has Roman ruins and can trace its roots back to the Phoenicians.  Like much of Andalusia, it has a strong Moorish influence in the architecture and food.  The Marina was a 40 minute walk to the city center so we tended to go into town and stay there until evening, passing the 2-4 hours of forced siesta either at a museum or an outdoor cafe with Internet.   I was missing the delicious Portuguese wine but I was happy to get good Spanish coffee in exchange.  Much as I tried, and those who know me know my relentless search for perfection, I could not get a decent cup of coffee in Portugal, but in Spain all you say is "cafe con leche" and you get a decent to excellent coffee every time.

  Mathias having just finished his third cafe con leche

Views from the top of the Cathedral in Cadiz

 Inside the Cathedral, one of the many amazing churches in Spain

Strangely, Cadiz was visited by mainly Spanish tourists, we barely saw or head anything but Spanish.  Most of the restaurants did not cater to tourists.  I translated as best as I could, reaching back to my high school Spanish classes, which were not great.  But I managed to get us around and if I wasn't quick enough Mathias would just start speaking in English, repeating himself until sometimes they would get it, possibly reaching back to their high school English.

Weather kept us in Cadiz for an extra three days so we decided at the last minute to rent a car and head to Seville for a few days, taking in the Andalusian countryside along the way.   I had visited Seville a few years ago, but really wanted Mathias to see this fabulous city.  We soon realized the reason everyone from Seville was in Cadiz, we thought it was warm on the coast, Seville is apparently the hottest place in Spain during the summer and the weekend we were there is was having a hot spell, temperatures reached 110 degrees!  We were running from the sun, and just walking a few blocks would leaving you dripping with sweat, but this did not in any way diminish the fun and awe of spending time in this wonderful city. We had a few great meals and visited the Cathedral and the Alcazar.  Mathias was blown away, especially by the Alcazar, which is a Royal Palace surrounded by elegant gardens.  Both the buildings and the gardens are a mixture of Moorish and Andalusian architecture and sensibilities.

Inside one of the rooms of the Alcazar

Detail of just one small section of one of the walls.

We found that the siesta times in Seville were even longer than in Cadiz, things closed down from 1pm and didn't open up until 6 or 7pm.  The afternoon heat is so intense that no one is outside, only the restaurants were open and many of the outdoor cafes used jets of cooled mist, which shot from the awnings and sort of cooled you down.

You can see here the streets are empty and if you look closely you can see the mist hanging over the tables.

On our way back to Cadiz we drove though some of the White Villages Route, which are a series of small white villages that dot the otherwise empty mountainous countryside.  Because it was the end of summer, it was mostly brown and dry, other than the miles and miles of olive trees and some cotton, but we saw fields of dry sunflowers that must be stunning when they are in bloom.
We stopped in one village, Arcos de la Frontera, which is said to be one of the prettiest in all of Andalusia and possibly all of Spain.

The village is perched on a mountain with views from every angle.

We had another great meal (I know all we do is eat it seems).  I read about this restaurant online that was inside of a cave on the side of a mountain -- how could I resist.  

We left Cadiz for Gibraltar the following day, with a one night stop in Barbate along the way.  I will let Mathias describe Gibraltar:

"The harbor is ugly. And the town is ugly. Some silly British enclave which has become nothing but a high-rise condominium development for Brits who think they want to experience the Mediterranean, but in fact only are in a hotter neighborhood of their own country with bad food, horrid manners, store-front exploitation of duty free laws, reckless Monto Carlo speedway racing between scooters and cars taking aim at pedestrians as if to score extra points, the worst marina complex of any we have seen in all of Portugal and Spain, and to add salt to the wound, prices that take your breath away as your wallet drains.

Oh well. Not every port can be paradise."

We can see the rock from our dock slip. If you click on the photo, you will see the top of a mosque that is built at the rock's crest.

but this is a more typical, uninspiring view...

Next the Balearics.


Unknown said...

my 3 favorite things:

-the wavy mosaic stonework
few weeks into the project they prob thought "what did we get ourselves into"...... but now they're happy they decided to spend a little extra L&M for the upgrade

- the maritime museum
the longboat pics are really cool

- the color of the water in the mahi pic

(btw; vodka in the spray bottle....really ?
I think a quick head bashing would be more humane, fraction of a second and it's over, as opposed to 80 proof sprayed into your lungs as you gasp for air)

~ abbot ~

Unknown said...

and the "produce aisle" style seating is pretty cool too.....

Mathias and Jen Dubilier said...

Damn! Another American accused of Vodka-boarding!