My Most and Least Favorite Things About Spain

Spain has been an interesting contrast with the other countries in which we have lived over the past three years. As we prepare to move on, it is natural to reflect on the high points and the low ones. Here are some thoughts about what I most enjoyed and least enjoyed about Spain.

#1 Least Favorite – Dog poop

I find it incredible that dog owners in towns all around Spain do not clean up after their poopy dogs. There are piles of dog crap on almost every sidewalk of every block of every town I have visited. The big cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada, and so on, are well-enough funded to have maintenance employees in the city centers who pick up pet poop along with garbage. Not so in the other areas of the towns. If the people of Spain had any idea how disgusting it is to tourists to have to dodge these piles, and how poorly it reflects on their country, they might do a better job of enforcing dog sanitation regulations. Thank goodness dogs are outlawed on the beaches!

#1 Most Favorite – The people

Our finest friends in Spain were the Brits, Mike and Ruth, on either side of me.  Joining us were their friends from England, Debbie and Hannah at the site of a Roman quarry in La Torre.

Our finest friends in Spain were the Brits, Mike and Ruth, on either side of me. Joining us were their friends from England, Debbie and Hannah at the site of a Roman quarry in La Torre.

We have made friends in every country we have visited, and Spain was no exception. It is always the memories of places and events shared with locals and fellow travelers that seem the most vivid. Even if we never see some of these friends again, we will never forget the kindnesses they have shared with us that made our time in Spain memorable.

#2 Least Favorite – The poor

There are poor people in every country, but that is no reason to forget about them. The poor economy hit Spain harder than most industrialized countries, and they have lagged behind the rest of the world in recovering. Personally, I think Spain has the resources it needs to take care of its people. Unfortunately, much of the revenues that flow into the economy seem to get siphoned off through corruption and unethical business practices.

When Spain recently announced Felipe VI as their new king, he proclaimed he would work to achieve greater equality and more opportunities for the unemployed and the needy. I hope he has the influence, the leadership and the integrity to bring about these benefits for his people.

#2 Most Favorite – The Food

The Central Market of Torrevieja, where I purchased dried figs and apricots.

The Central Market of Torrevieja, where I purchased dried figs and apricots.

I love fresh markets, and Spain is a fantastic place to find countless varieties of fruits, nuts, vegetables, olive oil and prepared foods to meet most people’s tastes. The land is fertile and productive. There is no reason for the people of Spain to ever go hungry. We also learned they make delicious chocolate in Spain!

#3 Least Favorite – Pickpockets

In the resort towns along the coast, there is little concern about personal safety and security. I have never felt unsafe walking alone or with my wife. And even though we were never directly approached in the big cities – Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Cordoba – we were always cautioned to be on the lookout for pickpockets. This was especially true in the bus and train stations whenever we were toting luggage. After having my wallet lifted in Rome, I have become more vigilant about watching out for thieves. They have become quite sophisticated in some instances. For example, I witnessed a well-dressed man in a fine suit carrying a clipboard and hanging around our hotel in Granada while the tour buses were unloading. When he saw that everyone remained standing next to their personal bags and he noticed my wife and I were watching him, he walked away.

#3 Most Favorite – The Weather

A typical sunny day at one of Torrevieja's many local parks.

A typical sunny day at one of Torrevieja’s many local parks.

Although the Costa Blanca has experienced its worst drought year on record and there have been dozens of brush fires in the surrounding countryside, it has been pleasant living on the coast just a few short blocks from the beach. The evening breezes coming of the Mediterranean Sea are cool and refreshing. In fact, we have seen rain here on the southern coast of Spain just a handful of times during our stay. We have been most fortunate weather-wise when we take into account that Madrid received over a foot accumulation of hail on July 3rd. The traffic on the freeways feeding this city of 3.2 million was brought to a standstill and the precipitation eroded the track of the high speed train from Alicante to Madrid. The Metro subway and the airport were flooded forcing delays and diversion of flights. I am grateful that we live on the Costa Blanca where it was 85°F and sunny.

There is something for everyone in Spain, and I am sure I will think of more things I could have added to this list after we leave.  Suffice it to say Spain should be on your list of countries to visit. Should you decide to go, I will be watching for your stories so that I might reminisce about our time in Spain. Buen viaje!

Thoughts and Recollections of Spain

In just a few short days we will be departing Spain, and I am reflection on our experiences here as we prepare to leave. Spain has impressed me in a number of ways – some good and some not so much. Many of these impressions will become my memories of Spain, and I share them here with you.

The Food

A typical delicatessen in Spain offers whole or cut cured hams and many varieties of cheese.

A typical delicatessen in Spain offers whole or cut cured hams and many varieties of cheese.

The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables and the varieties of market-fresh meats, cheeses and fish in Spain are remarkable. Prices can vary a lot compared to what I am used to seeing in the U.S. and the U.K. The most inexpensive fruit is oranges. The flatlands near where I live have orange groves that spread as far as the eye can see. Restaurants and sidewalk vendors offer fresh-squeezed orange juice almost everywhere in the country.

The most expensive food item is ham, which is a story in itself. There is cured ham you can buy at a deli counter (jamón cocida), and cured hams sold as an entire leg (jamón ibérico and jamón serrano). A ten pound leg can sell for $100 at the local meat store or run as high as $500/pound for the gourmet stuff. These hams look remarkably similar to prosciutto, but they are not the same.

One of Spain’s major contributions to world cuisine is paella, a pan of rice cooked with spices, vegetables, seafood, chicken or meat. It is a staple on many restaurant menus and a good choice for a large group. I like to think of paella as comfort food like how Americans eat macaroni and cheese or a bowl of chili.  It is not a gourmet dish, but it can be quite tasty.

I also have to mention tapas. Some have been quite good. Most have been mediocre. I think of tapas as better-than-average bar food – something to snack on with beer to take the place of preparing a regular dinner.

The People

We have made a number of friends during our time in Spain, and every one is from another country – Portugal, Colombia, Cuba and England. None are native Spaniards. Although I live in an all-Spanish, non-English speaking neighborhood, only one person ever smiled or greeted me with a simple ‘Buenos dias’. One good thing is that people give us space and do not impose themselves. Still, I have to wonder if the locals are just not all that friendly. Perhaps the beach towns have been so overrun with expats for so long that the locals are numb to outsiders. Since joining the EU, Spain has experienced the flood of northern European expats and seen the cost of real estate soar. Most of the coastal areas of Spain are now a string of resort towns. Tourism dictates the local economy, and our city of Torrevieja is no different.

The Country and its History

Elaborate exterior décor adds to the elegance of the architecture in Spain's fine cities.

Elaborate exterior décor adds to the elegance of the architecture in Spain’s fine cities.

Spain has played a central role in the history of civilization from the ancient Iberians to the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Moors, the Catholic monarchs, the global explorers, the conquistadors and the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire. Like other countries, Spain was built in layers, one on top of another.  Most of the architecture in the cities now reflects the elegance of 19th century facades with many fine parks, plazas and pedestrian walkways.

We have enjoyed the quirky grandeur of Anton Gaudí architecture in Barcelona, the mosque cathedral in Cordoba, the Gothic cathedral in Seville, and the classic beauty of the Royal Palace in Madrid. We have seen the Roman amphitheater in Cartagena, the Alhambra in Granada and the fertile countryside filled with vineyards, olive groves, almond orchards and fruit trees. There is a sense of grandeur in Spain that rivals any of the Old World countries, and their culture lives on through traditional music, dance, bullfighting, art and a modern-day monarch.

Statues of Christopher Columbus standing before Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in the gardens of the Alcazar of Cordoba, one of many monuments honoring the memory of Columbus.

Statues of Christopher Columbus standing before Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in the gardens of the Alcazar of Cordoba, one of many monuments honoring the memory of Columbus.

Even with Spain’s rich history of art, culture, architecture and empire, I am left with gaps in understanding the country. For example, there are statues, monuments and tributes to Christopher Columbus throughout Spain. Why is there so little history told about Magellan, Pizarro, Balboa, Cortez, et.al., and the roles they played in building the Spanish Empire? I started reading about these explorers and conquerors in elementary school. One must understand something of their exploits to appreciate the history of all of Latin America, the Caribbean and The Philippine Islands.

Where is the energy and drive that keeps a country’s economy vital and strong? While most of the industrialized world has more or less recovered from the economic depression of 2007-2011, Spain seems mired in record high levels of poverty and unemployment. Young people with college degrees are leaving Spain in record numbers to find work elsewhere, creating a brain drain that will take decades to restore. I have listened to stories of the work ethic of Spaniards who are more focused on clock-watching than productivity. Spaniards still prefer to take afternoon siestas, which made sense when people worked outdoors. However, what do employees who commute to work do for three hours when their place of work closes its doors every afternoon?

I have read and viewed so many news stories about corruption in government in Spain at every level that I sometimes wonder how the the country has managed to build their wind turbines, high speed trains and solar farms. Then I read that energy rates and train fares continue to rise to cover expenses while economies of scale would suggest that costs should be coming down. Where is all the money going?

I came to Spain with high expectations, and I enjoyed my time here.  I am a bit pessimistic about Spain’s future as I mull over these puzzling questions. Whatever happens with Spain, there is no denying its appeal. It is a beautiful country and we have taken in much of its beauty during our six months as you can see from this brief video Florence created. I hope you enjoy the imagery as much as we enjoyed experiencing it.  Hasta luego!

© All photos are copyrighted by Florence Lince.

News and Sports from a Global Perspective

The crown is transferred to Felipe VI of Spain on June 19, 2014.  His wife, Letizia and his two daughters stand before the Congress of Deputies for the ceremony. Photo credit: Reuters

The crown is transferred to Felipe VI of Spain on June 19, 2014. His wife, Letizia and his two daughters stand before the Congress of Deputies for the ceremony.
Photo credit: Reuters

While living abroad over the past three years we have witnessed several historic moments up close. When we were in Mexico in March, 2013, we experienced firsthand the collective elation of the Latin American world when the Argentine cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was named Pope Francis I. We were living in the United Kingdom in July, 2013, when Prince George was born, the newest heir to the British Throne.

Pope Francis visits the slums of Vargihna, Brazil in 2013. Photo credit:  Wikimedia.org

Pope Francis visits the slums of Vargihna, Brazil in 2013.
Photo credit: Wikimedia.org

Most recently, we watched the swearing in of Spain’s new king, Felipe VI. The event was a ceremony without a coronation or much fanfare, following the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos, for reasons of poor health. Even though this was a low key event by royal standards, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards lined up along the parade route from the Congress of Deputies to the Royal Palace in downtown Madrid, where thousands more assembled below the palace’s central balcony to cheer their new king and his family.

Outside of the political arena, the top story in the world right now is the World Cup soccer tournament taking place in Brazil. It is fascinating to watch the hopes of sports fans from around the world rise and fall with the fortunes of their national teams. I wonder how many Americans know or care that the United States soccer team is still alive in the qualifying pool with Germany, Ghana and Portugal, and a victory in either of their next two games will advance the U.S. team to the win-or-go-home second round of the tournament.

Mexico's Andres Guardado is fouled by Brazil's Daniel Alves. Photo credit:  Sydney Morning Herald, Australia

Mexico’s Andres Guardado is fouled by Brazil’s Daniel Alves.
Photo credit: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia

Every café and bar across Spain turns on the live telecast of the soccer matches. Games start here five hours later than local time in Brazil and fans gather in the evenings at every watering hole for the excitement. Unfortunately, Spaniards have had little to cheer about. Although Spain was the top-rated team going into the World Cup, this week they suffered their second straight loss and they will soon be packing for the trip home. Highly-ranked England lost their second game as well (to Uruguay), and they, too, are headed home.

Although my expectations for the United States team are low, I will be excited if they advance in the tournament against the world’s elite teams, most notably Holland, Germany, Brazil and our next opponent, Portugal. And even though I am not a huge soccer fan, I find myself cheering for teams from my favorite countries that I have visited – Croatia, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico.

Soccer in the U.S. has never caught on like football, baseball or basketball. Even professional hockey draws three times more paid attendance per season than does soccer. I think one reason Americans find men’s professional soccer laughable is because so often following contact between players, the player with the ball collapses in a theatric display of pain and agony, which looks as phony as professional wrestling. It appears these feeble antics are displayed with the hope of drawing a penalty, and most American spectators would react like ‘What a wussie!’ The exception this week was Mexico. Their machismo was evident as they battled host-nation Brazil to a 0-0 tie. The Mexican players jumped up quickly from the turf so as to not give any satisfaction to their more physical opponents that the hits they absorbed had any effect.

The World Cup continues up to the finals on July 13, and I will be proud of the U.S. team no matter how they perform. Also, I will cheer for my favorite underdogs to hold their own against the world’s football powers. Unlike American football, superior strength and a strong running game is not the typical determining factor in a soccer match. Like Spain found out, being elite does not assure victory. Personally, I think Germany is the team to beat. Do you have a prediction?

Seville Before and After the Spanish Empire

The Gold Tower was built during Moorish rule in the early 13th century to guard access along the Guadalquivir River.  The tower's lime mortar gave off a golden glow in the evening sun which led to its name, the Torre del Oro.

The Gold Tower was built during Moorish rule in the early 13th century to guard access along the Guadalquivir River. The tower’s lime mortar gave off a golden glow in the evening sun which led to its name, the Torre del Oro.

Seville, an elegant city of over 700,000 people, rose to prominence as a working seaport on the Guadalquivir River.  It served as the launching point for the exploration voyages of Christopher Columbus.  Subsequent wealth that poured in from the New World making Seville one of the most important trade centers in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.  In addition, the wealth of treasures the conquistadors plundered from the Incas and Aztecs funded an expansion in Spanish military power greater than anything in human history up to that time.  That wealth is nowhere more evident than in Seville.

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville was originally a minaret for the mosque which once stood adjacent.  Over 340 feet high, the top is accessed by 36 ramps which allowed horsemen to ride to the top.  The Giralda is named for the weathervane at its top.

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville was originally a minaret for the mosque which once stood adjacent. Over 340 feet high, the top is accessed by 36 ramps which allowed horsemen to ride to the top. The Giralda is named for the weathervane at its top.

Seville from the Giralda Tower and the Alamilla Bridge's slanted white tower built for Seville's '92 World Expo.

Seville from the Giralda Tower and the Alamilla Bridge’s slanted white tower built for Seville’s ’92 World Expo.

Seville added to its prominence in the era of exploration with the global circumnavigation voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, which left from Seville in 1519.  The city monopolized trans-Atlantic trade with the discovery of the New World and opened a Golden Age of art, literature and music.  It was during this era that Cervantes wrote Don Quixote de La Mancha and the art works of Diego Velazquez and El Greco gained world recognition.  The influence of these and other Spanish artists has carried over through The Renaissance to modern times.

The vast scale Cathedral of Seville inspires awe.  It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world in both area and volume.

The vast scale Cathedral of Seville inspires awe. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world in both area and volume.

Today, the architecture of Seville is a study in contrasts.  The Cathedral of Seville is the largest Gothic style cathedral in the world and third largest cathedral of any type.  The ultra-modern Parasol Metropol is the largest wooden structure in the world, and covers a subterranean archeological site.  On the ground level is fresh market where vendors’ stalls offer extensive choices of meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables and baked goods.  While it is not the largest of public markets, it offers a full range of purchase options.  It is also maintained to a level of pristine cleanliness that outshines any public market I have ever seen.

The Metropol Parasol is believed to be the largest wooden structure in the world - 490' x 230' and 85' high.  On the street level is the public market.

The Metropol Parasol is believed to be the largest wooden structure in the world – 490′ x 230′ and 85′ high. On the street level is the public market.

The public market is housed below the Parasol.  It sparkles with cleanliness and offers the full range of produce, meats and baked goods.

The public market is housed below the Parasol. It sparkles with cleanliness and offers the full range of produce, meats and baked goods.

Seville buzzes with vibrancy like any great university city with lots of young people surrounded by the bustle of commerce.  I found a rich mixture of modern and historic architecture.  There is no denying the artistic elegance of the city which proudly proclaims its class and style.

This vibrant city will resonate with me for a long time.  There is so much to see in Seville that I wish I would have had more time there.  Unfortunately, a single day was all we had.  That was most important thing I learned from our visit to Seville – to not try to fit in everything worth seeing into a single day.

This pavilion marks the entrance to the Park of Santa Maria Luisa, once the grounds of Seville's 1929 World's Fair.

This pavilion marks the entrance to the Park of Santa Maria Luisa, once the grounds of Seville’s 1929 World’s Fair.

© All photos copyrighted by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Seafair Memories from a Seattle Old Timer

Unlimited hydroplanes racing down the backstretch on Lake Washington. Photo credit: U-37.com

Unlimited hydroplanes racing down the backstretch on Lake Washington.
Photo credit: U-37.com

Note: In July, we will be returning to the United States to begin a new chapter in our travel lives.  With this blog, Applecore, I will continue to write about our travel adventures.  However, our lifestyle as The 6 Monthers is nearing its conclusion.  As our time in Spain comes to an end, I have begun contemplating our next destination – the return to my home state of Washington.  Inspired by memories of my younger days, this story is the first in a series looking back on my experiences growing up in Seattle.

Much of this story will be news to newcomers to the Seattle area, those who came within the last 40 years.  It was a time before Seattle had the NFL Seahawks, the Major League Mariners, or an NBA franchise like the now defunct Supersonics (now known grudgingly as the Oklahoma City Thunder).  We had the AAA baseball Seattle Rainiers who played at Sicks Stadium, located on Rainier Avenue where a Pepsi Cola warehouse now sits.  We also had the Western Hockey League Seattle Totems who played at the Civic Ice Arena, now known as the Seattle Center Arena.  However, these were minor diversions for sports fans.  There was only one sport that owned Seattle during my youth in the 50’s and 60’s – unlimited hydroplane racing.

Hometown favorite, Miss Bardahl won the National Championship in 1967 and '68.

Hometown favorite, Miss Bardahl won the National Championship in 1967 and ’68.
Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

In 1947, a national racing circuit was established for unlimited hydroplanes.  They were powered by V-12 Allison aircraft engines surplused after WWII.  The Allison’s were gradually replaced with V-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engines, the ones that powered the British Spitfire fighter planes.  Generating over 1,000 horsepower, these extremely loud aircraft engines were what led to nicknaming the hydros as ‘Thunderboats.’  Even where I lived south of the city near Burien, I could hear the Thunderboats from my home five miles from the Lake Washington racecourse.

Why was unlimited hydroplane racing so big in Seattle?  Other than no big-time sports in the city, the lakefront along Lake Washington was, and still is, public park land.  It was an ideal setting for a daylong summer outing for the whole family.  The fans, who enjoyed swimming and picnicking between racing heats, turned out by the hundreds of thousands.  There was also a floating log boom installed along the backstretch of the racecourse.  To this day motorboat enthusiasts moor side-by-side to form a mile long flotilla of partying race fans.  Annual attendance estimates in the 50’s were around 400,000 people for the hydroplane races – almost half the population of the Seattle Metropolitan Area at the time.

The U.S. Navy is popular in the Puget Sound region, and their Blue Angels are a Seafair fixture on race day.

The U.S. Navy is popular in the Puget Sound region, and their Blue Angels are a Seafair fixture on race day.
Photo credit: Seattlepi.com

One great legend from this era was that of test pilot, Alvin ‘Tex’ Johnson.  Originally from Arkansas, he acquired the nickname ‘Tex’ from his penchant for wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots on the flight line.  He came to Boeing from Bell Aircraft, where he piloted, among other prototype aircraft, the rocket-propelled X-1, which pioneered the breaking of the sound barrier.  At Boeing, Johnson, the first pilot to fly the B-52 Stratofortress, sealed his legend when he flew the prototype Boeing 707 over the Lake Washington hydroplane racecourse on race day and performed a barrel role directly overhead of thousands of awestruck onlookers.  This risky maneuver, never before attempted in a four engine passenger jet, was captured on film.  (Click here for the brief video.)  The story goes that Tex was called before then Boeing President, Bill Allen, and asked what the heck he thought he was doing, to which Tex replied, ‘I’m selling airplanes.’  And that is exactly what he did.  Orders for the 707 came pouring in after his stunt, and Johnson was never fired, suspended or fined.

Other legends arose from the early hydroplane days.  Col. Russ Schleeh, who left his career as a test pilot to drive the old Shanty I hydroplane, is still the only hydroplane driver ever to get his photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated (September, 1957).  Old time race fans will remember the 1950 Slo-Mo-Shun IV driven by Stanley Sayres that set a world water speed record of 160 mph breaking the 11 year old record by almost 20 mph.  Two years later the same boat set a new record at 178 mph.

On race days the ‘Slo-Mo’ used to stop traffic on the Lake Washington Floating Bridge as it left its owner’s private dock near Leschi Park, a mile north of the racecourse.  It would race under the west high rise of the bridge and time its approach to the starting line going 160 mph as the starting gun sounded.  The running start was halted when the rules were changed requiring all boats to start from and return to the pits.

Unlimited hydroplane racing is inherently dangerous.  Even the modern aerodynamic boats can get airborne at high speeds.  Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

Unlimited hydroplane racing is inherently dangerous. Even the modern aerodynamic boats can get airborne at high speeds.
Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

Other early hydroplane drivers were household names in Seattle:  Mira Slovak – The Flying Czech (who escaped Communist Czechoslovakia as an airline pilot who diverted his commercial flight to Luxemburg), Dean Chenowith, Ron Musson and Bill Muncey.  Slovak was the only one of these drivers not killed in competition before safer boat designs were instituted.

My most vivid memory of the hydroplane races was standing on the shore of Lake Washington in 1969 as six Thunderboats came across the starting line.  They came roaring straight toward me side-by-side at 150 mph as I stood waist deep along the shore near the first turn.  Imagine seventy-two un-muffled combustion chambers exploding with aviation fuel as the boats spit out roostertail wakes fifty feet high.  The sound was so loud that it pulsed through my bones like a hundred sub-woofers cranked to the max at a KISS concert.  I have never experienced such total immersion in sensory overload as I did at that moment.

Beginning in 1980, unlimited hydroplanes began using Lycoming T-55 turbine engines.  Initially built to power Chinook helicopters, these engines produced over 3,000 horsepower.  The safer design of updated hydroplanes incorporate space age components, advanced aerodynamics, and enclosed cockpits.  As fast and powerful as these boats are, now easily reach speeds in excess of 200 mph, their high-pitched turbines can never replace the excitement and sensation of the classic Thunderboats.

Seattle’s annual Seafair celebration still culminates with unlimited hydroplane races on Lake Washington, and the races are still a great extravaganza.  Every year over a quarter million people line the course to watch the races.  However, with so many sports options available, hydroplane racing in Seattle will never regain the unique excitement once provided by the Thunderboats whose tradition is kept alive only when there is a demo race of the classic hydroplanes.  What remains of the Thunderboats are museum pieces which can be viewed at the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent, Washington.

 

The Legends:  U-4   Miss Burien, Chuck Hickling U-40 Miss Bardahl, Norm Evans (later drivers: Miro Slovak, Jackie Regas and Ron Musson) U-60 Miss Thriftway, Bill Muncey – winningest driver in unlimited hydro racing history (62 victories)  U-6   Oh Boy! Oberto, Buddy Byers (later, Jim McCormick) U-77 Miss Wahoo, Mira Slovak

The Legends: U-4 Miss Burien, Chuck Hickling
U-40 Miss Bardahl, Norm Evans (later drivers: Billy Schumacher, Mira Slovak, Jackie Regas and Ron Musson)
U-60 Miss Thriftway, Bill Muncey – winningest driver in unlimited hydro racing history (62 victories)
U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Buddy Byers (later, Jim McCormick)
U-77 Miss Wahoo, Mira Slovak
Photo credit: waterfollies.com

Note:  For more reading about the Thunderboats, click here for another story I ran across by another Seattle old-timer with his own take on the classic hydroplanes.

Resurrection in Torrevieja – an Easter Story

Beach cafés thrive during tourist season.  Bring a chair, a towel and some sunblock and you need not leave the beach all day.

Beach cafés thrive during tourist season. Bring a chair, a towel and some sunblock and you need not leave the beach all day.

Here in Torrevieja, Spain, things have been quiet up until this week. Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, also marks the official beginning of the travel season. Torrevieja, a city with a population of about 100,000, slumbers peacefully through the fall and winter seasons with less than half that number of residents.  Suddenly, along comes Good Friday and the city bursts at the seams. This wave of visitors to Spain’s Costa Blanca is the annual ‘British invasion’ since most of the recent arrivals are from the UK, many of whom own apartments in the city.  Restaurants that have been sitting dormant suddenly come to life like a bear coming out of hibernation. Beach chairs, towels and beach umbrellas are flying out of the local stores. Cold beverages and snack foods are also big sellers.

Most of Spain’s fellow EU citizens enter Spain driving their own vehicles, and now finding a parking place on a city street would be like looking for an unoccupied parking meter in Times Square. One should keep in mind that the driving distance from Europe’s northern cities to Spain is less than 1,000 miles, a straightforward two-day drive. This proximity and the relatively low cost of living in Spain compared to many Western European countries explains why so many non-Spaniards have taken up residence in Spain, both seasonally and permanently.

The larger Catholic churches conduct Easter parades during Holy Week.

The larger Catholic churches conduct Easter parades during Holy Week.

Thinking back to Easter Sundays from my childhood, I recollect colored Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies (white chocolate was my favorite), jelly beans and pastel colored M&M’s hiding in simulated grass-filled baskets. Here in Spain I have seen no grocery displays for egg-dyeing, no candy displays, no special chocolate treats. The focus for Easter is almost entirely on the religious significance of the holiday. During Holy Week the churches in town, almost all of which are Catholic, parade down the city streets with statues of Christ on the Cross or of The Virgin Mary in glorious robes hoisted high on the shoulders of young men. Often, the parades of made up of parochial students in their school uniforms while their parents walk alongside with video cameras or stand back to proudly watch their children.

There is a daily migration to the beach in Torrevieja and coastal towns all along the Spanish Riviera.

There is a daily migration to the beach in Torrevieja and coastal towns all along the Spanish Riviera.

Just like in the United States where Independence Day marks the beginning of the travel and vacation season, the media here warns of extra highway patrol officers to crack down on speeders. It is estimated that 12 million motorists hit Spain’s highways in the days leading up to Easter, and the added traffic patrols are fair warning for all drivers to maintain safe practices on the highways.

That is Easter week here in Torrevieja. Our Easter was peaceful and pleasant. I hope yours was, too. And it turns out the Easter bunny left a white chocolate candy bar in my cupboard!

I Hit the Jackpot in Torrevieja

Life-size bronze statues of a director and five musicians pay tribute to the rich musical legacy of Torrevieja.

Life-size bronze statues of a director and five musicians stand on the Paseo Vista Alegre in tribute to the rich musical legacy of Torrevieja.

This was the final week of the Tapas Crawl, the 10th Annual Ruta de Las Tapas. We set out for the town center to check out the annual Book Fair on the downtown waterfront. Florence and I are avid readers, and we were interested to see if there were many books in English available at reasonable prices. Granted, the local library has a decent English language section, mostly fiction. A range of restaurants would be serving their best tapas for whenever the hunger bug hit, but first a little shopping was in order.

The annual book fair consists of six large book kiosks on the seafront pedestrian walkway.

The annual book fair consists of six large book kiosks on the seafront pedestrian walkway.

We were surprised to learn that Suzy and Rob, purveyors of the Bargain Books shop downtown, were the only outlet for English language books in town. I would have thought there would be demand for more given the large English expat population in Torrevieja. According to Suzy, that used to be the case. However, the other businesses folded, and now she and her husband have the last remaining English language bookstore.

Tomato and cheese pizza - 7€ ($10), and plenty left over for later

Tomato and cheese pizza – 7€ ($10), and plenty left over for later

We had eaten light that morning. Then it was time to ‘tapa off’ our appetites. I was already salivating in anticipation of our return visit to La Mila-Grossa, the Argentine restaurant we had discovered the previous weekend. We made a stop at La Bella Lola, which offered an excellent toasted tomato and cheese tapa. Next stop – La Mila-Grossa Restaurant.

Empañadas with Salsa de la Abuela - As soon as the aroma hit my nostrils I knew I was in for a treat.

Empañadas with Salsa de la Abuela – The aroma told me I was in for a treat.

We started with some fine appetizers. However, we had the main courses in mind. Florence longed for a vegetarian pizza, and I planned to make a meal of the house specialty empañadas. I had sampled them the weekend before, and the anticipation was killing me. When the empañadas arrived, I inquired if they had hot sauce thinking I had spied some on a side counter. Our server, Mariano, asked if I wanted ‘picante’ – the hot stuff. Oh, yeah!

Let me interject here that I love hot, spicy food. I have not tasted a decent hot sauce since we left Mexico over a year ago. Suddenly, a plain bottle with a generic skull ‘n’ crossbones sticker appeared on our table. I was as nervous as a teenager on a first date. Could this be the moment I had been waiting for? I put a taste on my fork and licked it off. A tense moment passed, and then a small fire started on the tip of my tongue. The juices that formed in my mouth were as sensuous as my first French kiss! I thought I heard angels singing. My heart beat and breathing sped up. It was delicious!

The handsome, young Mariano made me a gift of his grandmothers salsa.

The handsome, young Mariano made me a gift of his grandmothers salsa.

I had a pleasant conversation with Mariano after we had eaten. He told me he was from a town near Mar del Plata, Argentina, where his mother lives. He now lives here in Torrevieja where his father’s family originates. As we were preparing to go, I asked if the picante sauce served with lunch could be purchased. ‘Le gusta?’ he asked, pleasantly surprised. (You like it?) Then he told me his grandmother makes it for the restaurant, and yes, I could have some.

Mariano brought a generous container of the heavenly elixir from the kitchen. I asked him how much. He handed it to me and said, ‘Esto es un regalo para usted.’ (This is a gift for you.) Mariano had given me a gift of liquid gold which I now call Salsa de la Abuela, grandmother’s salsa. I had hit the jackpot! Muchas gracias mi amigo.

Note: All photos are the copyrighted property of Florence Lince.

The Highs and Lows of Travel Life

One of my favorite high points - Whistler Mountain, BC Photo credit - whistlerblackcomb.com

One of my favorite high points – Whistler Mountain, BC
Photo credit – whistlerblackcomb.com

The insights revealed by our travels over the last few years have been nothing short of amazing. There have been so many beautiful places and interesting people. I continue to fulfill a lifelong desire to better know and appreciate the world we all share. I try to keep an open mind and to demonstrate my desire to reach out to people and to understand their culture, and I have learned that we are all not so different.

Mt. Villarica and the town of Pucón, Chile, another favorite peak

Mt. Villarica and the town of Pucón, Chile, another favorite spot     Photo credit: Wikicommons

My greatest love of the outdoors is the mountains. This was something I acquired at a young age as a hiking and climbing partner with my dad. I learned to love the clean air, the fresh water, the exhilaration of looking at the world around me from the highest perch I could reach, and the camaraderie that comes from sharing these experiences with like-minded outdoorsmen. Even though my legs are nowhere near as strong as when I was a constant hiker and backpacker, I dream of the heights when I spot snowcapped peaks on the horizon. At least there is a chair lift to the top of one of my favorite peaks, Whistler Mountain, so I will still be able to visit the high alpine country even when I am too old to hike the trails.

Not every day on the road is an adventure. There are health issues that crop up. I had to have a root canal performed on a broken tooth while we were in Mexico. I broke out in hives a few weeks back, an apparent allergic reaction that made me itch so bad that I felt like my whole body was one big mosquito bite. We also have money concerns, just like everyone else. I think the hardest part about traveling full time is missing family. I do not have a lot of family – two daughters and two grandsons. Other than my in-laws I am not close with any other family.

I have often heard the phrase on television shows and from friends that ‘family is the most important thing.’ In my case that has hardly ever been true. My family of origin was never close. In one way or another every member of my family abandoned our relationship. My father was hauled off to the East Coast by my stepmother’s family, and after 2005 I never saw him or heard from him again. I found his obituary online a last year and learned that he passed away in 2009. He would have been 90. My mother never had so much as a memorial service. Maybe that was not a bad thing. I am not sure if I would have attended. My sister, two years older than I, just one day stopped communicating with me. We have had no contact with one another since 2008.

All of these family failures sometimes make me wonder if I unwittingly sabotage relationships? Have I been a good enough father to my two daughters? Am I a good enough husband to my wife? Am I at fault for the failure of my first marriage of 28 years? I cannot take all that on myself. Relationships are a two-way street. All I know is I miss my daughters and my grandsons. They are on the other side of the world, and I cannot easily commute to see them.

I love my life on the road. Every day holds the possibility of a new adventure. I love adventure, and I always have. I also love my daughters and my grandsons. I miss them. I know their lives are busy. Mine was when I was their age. Alas, not everything about our traveling lifestyle is easy.

The Story of the Old Tower

The shoreline of Torrevieja features beautiful sandy beaches and a mile long pedestrian walkway.

The shoreline of Torrevieja features beautiful sandy beaches and a mile long pedestrian walkway.

Until about 1500 the Mediterranean Sea was ruled by pirates from maritime countries like France, Italy, and from as far away as Britain.  Subsequently, during Ottoman rule in Spain, pirates from Algeria and Turkey known as Berbers were the predominant predators who attacked settlements along the coast.  Even inland villages were vulnerable to the threat of pirates seeking food, treasure and slaves to row their galleys or to be sold for profit.

Perfect for St. Patrick's Day - an Irish Pub in downtown Torrevieja!

Perfect for St. Patrick’s Day – an Irish Pub in downtown Torrevieja!

King Phillip VII, who ruled Spain in the early 1600’s, took a radical step to reduce the threat of pirates.  Believing that Moorish descendants of the Ottoman days in Spain were sympathetic and perhaps even helpful to the Berber pirates, the king ordered their expulsion from Spain.  Over 500,000 ‘moriscos’ were shipped to North Africa.  Many of them became slaves.  Some, either out of desperation or revenge, joined with the pirates.  As a result, King Phillip was forced to take defensive measures. 

Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Torrevieja.  The walkway adjoins the beach walkway in the city center.

Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Torrevieja. The walkway adjoins the beach walkway in the city center.

Army engineers were tasked with building a coastal defense against marauding pirates.  This defense was a series of coastal and inland watchtowers from the French border in the north to the south coast city of Cádiz.  The towers were built on coast rocks, cliff tops or elevated platforms.  Most were circular in shape evoking the image of a classic rook piece on a chessboard.  A removable staircase was often used to access an elevated entry door so that it could be removed in the event of an attack.  Guards who spotted threats would ignite a fire atop the tower which could be seen from a neighboring tower.  It is believed that a warning from Cádiz west of Gibraltar could be relayed to the French border within three hours over a distance of 1,000 miles.  Some towers were armed with artillery cannons.  Many had shelter spaces for farmers or fisherman from nearby to seek refuge. 

The Torre del Moro watchtower in Torrevieja Photo credit - Google images

The Torre del Moro watchtower in Torrevieja
Photo credit – Google images

Many of the towers in the Alicante Region have survived over 400 years and remain as historic landmarks open to the public.  One such tower was built in the center of what is now Torrevieja, which translated means Old Tower.  The original tower was destroyed by an earthquake.  The only remaining tower in Torrevieja is the Torre del Moro located on the coast just north of the city center.  This area was once a minor fishing village which grew with the development of a huge salt industry.  Vast evaporation lagoons are still used to produce tons of salt annually for shipment around the world.

Models are constructed, then submerged in the salt lagoon for three days.  Salt crystalizes on the model creating a prized art piece.

Models are constructed, then submerged in the salt lagoon for three days. Salt crystalizes on the model creating a prized art piece.

One of the signature souvenir pieces representing Torrevieja are salt ships.  These models are prized gifts given to visiting dignitaries or as wedding presents.  Other popular landmarks such as the Coralista Monument or one of the town’s signature cathedrals are also popular salt models.  Many models are displayed in Torrevieja’s Museum of Salt located in the city center. 

This salt model of the famous Coralistas Monument is among several on display at the Museum of Salt.

This salt model of the famous Coralistas Monument is among several on display at the Museum of Salt.

The salt museum near the colorful sea walk is one of the many attractions that make Torrevieja a popular vacation spot on Spain’s Costa Blanca.  Even though spring has not officially arrived, spring-like weather during the winter months explains the town’s great appeal, especially among the many northern Europeans we have seen. 

Many apartments still look sealed up for the winter, so I expect the beaches will soon be more crowded.  In the meantime, we are enjoying the peace and quiet or our urban apartment.  Given the number of friends and family dealing with this winter’s bitter cold, we feel duty bound to make the most of the many sunny days here.  It seems that is the least we can do. 

All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince unless otherwise indicated.

Starting Anew in Torrevieja, Spain

There are two miles of beaches lining the coast of Torrevieja.  This beach is two blocks from our apartment.

There are two miles of beaches lining the coast of Torrevieja. This beach is two blocks from our apartment. Pedestrians can walk the entire waterfront with shops and restaurants lining the walkway.

We have walked the city streets, learned the bus routes, visited the central shopping mall, checked out the main cathedral and located the nearest supermarkets and the public library.  Now that we have our feet on the ground we are free to check out the interesting sights of the city.

The 'coralista monument' is a tribute to music and musicians.  It references the Habaneras singing style brought to Torrevieja by sailors who brought Cuban-style song and dance back from the Caribbean in the 18th century.

The ‘coralista monument’ is a tribute to music and musicians. It references the Habaneras music adopted from Cuba via shipping trade dating back to the 1700’s.

Torrevieja, or old tower, is a city of 100,000 people with double that number when you count the surrounding suburbs.  The original tower that gave the city its name was built as an overlook facing the sea.  The tower no longer exists except for some foundation stones that mark its origin.  The city has since erected a stone tower representing the city’s namesake.

The Torrevieja area had proximity to sub-sea level lowlands just a half-mile inland from the coast.  Some early settlers dug a ditch from the sea to these lowlands and flooded two areas to form shallow lakes that were used as dehydration ponds to make salt.  These two salt ponds are huge, combining to cover over 9,000 acres.  Salt production still takes place and now exceeds 800,000 tons/year exported mostly to Western European markets.  The shoreline areas of the salt lakes are protected parklands serving as habitat for birds and wildlife.  Wading birds are common as they prey upon fish in the shallow lagoons.

Torrevieja's main church viewed from Plaza Constitución.

The city’s central church was rebuilt in 1844 using stone blocks from the old tower that was left in ruins from this earthquake.

The city does not have a natural port, so the area was overlooked until the 17th century as far as a hub of commercial activity.  Early settlers were mostly fishermen from Genoa and Naples looking for less competitive fishing areas.  To this day Italian surnames are common among the local population.   Modern day Torrevieja features a water-break seawall that extends nearly a mile around the city’s main marina which moors over 300 boats.  People can stroll the entire length of the seawall on a beautiful boardwalk and get an outstanding view of the city waterfront from offshore. 

The elaborate altar inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception

The elaborate altar inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception

The main church in Torrevieja, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, was originally built in 1798.  A severe earthquake in 1829, which would have registered a 6.6 using the Richter scale, had its epicenter close to Torrevieja and devastated the city.  Surrounding towns were also nearly destroyed.  There was little history of seismic activity along the Mediterranean coast, so the local populations were caught completely by surprise. 

Picturesque parks are found throughout the city, like this one a few blocks from our home.

Picturesque parks are found throughout the city, like this one a few blocks from our home.

The current city of Torrevieja is a tourist and expat destination.  Nearly half of the population is made up of British expats who own a home or apartment somewhere around the city.  English is spoken in most shops, restaurants and businesses.  There is an English language weekly newspaper, an English cinema, and innumerable groups and clubs including golfing, cycling, acting, hiking and jogging.  Runners were drawn to the 31st annual Torrevieja Half-Marathon, which took place on February 23rd and draws over 2,000 runners. 

The Central Market of Torrevieja offers a variety of fresh fruits, deli items and goodies.

The Central Market of Torrevieja offers a variety of fresh fruits, deli items and goodies.

While we are not beach people per se, we enjoy strolling along the waterfront on a warm sunny day and feeling the cool breeze.  And now that we have our bearings, we look forward to getting to better know our new home town.

Our New Home on the Costa Blanca

Our hosts, Esmeralda and Raul showed us this apartment in Villajoyosa, just south of Benidorm.  Too bad we could not afford it.

Our hosts, Esmeralda and Raul showed us this apartment in Villajoyosa overlooking the marina, just south of Benidorm. Too bad we could not afford it.

Our greatest experiences in the countries we have visited have been the people we have met.  Spain has been no exception.  We were fortunate to have found a room to rent for our first month in Alicante with a welcoming couple, Raul and Esmeralda, which served as our base to search for an apartment.  After a few days decompressing and learning the terrain, our apartment search began in earnest.

Benidorm is a lovely spot overrun by expats.  Most of the high rise buildings are apartments.

Benidorm is a lovely spot overrun by expats. Most of the high rise buildings are apartments.

Benidorm, about 30 miles north of Alicante, is one of the coast cities that has been taken over by the British, either on holidays or as expats.  We liked the city well enough, and there is just as much English spoken as there is Spanish.  However, we became disillusioned with the housing options.  They were either above our budget or just plain dumpy.   

Sensing our frustration, Esmeralda phoned her sister in Torrevieja, about 30 miles south of Alicante, who had an apartment to show us.  We knew the moment we saw the apartment and the neighborhood that we were home!  A city of 100,000, Torrevieja is also a favorite British landing spot.  They have an English language cinema, an English weekly newspaper and several British pubs and restaurants.  An expat city like Torrevieja would not be our typical move.  However, it is pretty with lots of areas to walk and shop, and there are lots of places in and around the city to explore.

The view of the sea from the Castle of Santa Barbara

The view of the sea from the Castle of Santa Barbara

Having found a place to live freed us up to explore a bit more.  We took the oceanfront elevator 500 feet up to the hilltop Castle of Santa Barbara, about the same height as the ride up Seattle’s Space Needle.  However, the elevator shaft was cut through solid rock, so there were no views until we got to the top.  Although artifacts pre-dating Roman times have been found on the slopes of Mount Benacantil, the fortress was established in the 9th century, a time of Arabic Muslim control.  The castle was taken by Castilian forces on December 4, 1248.  That was the feast day honoring Saint Barbara, patron saint of the military, and that is how the castle came to be known.

A 450 year old church, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is picturesque and beautiful inside.

A 450 year old church, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is picturesque and beautiful inside.

I visited the Museum of Archeology, an award-winning museum that captures the evolution of the Alicante area from pre-historic times up to the 20th century.  The ancient Roman city of Lucentum is only a mile or so from the museum, so there are plentiful artifacts depicting the Roman Era. 

Further exploration has taken us to The Explanade, the city’s colorful mosaic pedestrian walkway along the waterfront.  We explored the nearby suburb of San Vicente del Raspeig, Alicante’s university district.  We discovered the Mercado Central and the downtown walking and shopping areas.  We took in the Museo de Taurinos, the Bullfight Museum, which is operated by the City of Alicante and free to the public.  We visited the 17th century Cathedral of Saint Nicholas on the ABC tour (the Another Blessed Cathedral tour for newer readers).  We have also visited the Museum of Chocolate, shopped at the Open Market, and we have eaten tapas, empañadas and seafood paella.

Bullfighting still takes place in Alicante.  The city runs a bullfighter school for young aspiring bullfighters.

Bullfighting still takes place in Alicante. The city runs a bullfighter school for young aspiring bullfighters.

The Valor Chocolate Company is still family owned.  They produce a variety of chocolates including these designer goodies.  The ones in front use various liqueurs.  The quality compares with the best we have tasted.

The Valor Chocolate Company is still family owned. They produce a variety of chocolates including these designer goodies. The ones in front use various liqueurs. The quality compares with the best we have tasted.

There is much more we can see and do in and around Alicante.  Unfortunately, our sightseeing was cut short when Florence caught the flu.  Other than catching the flu, our first month in Spain has been pleasant by every account. 

All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince

We Made It Just In Time

We Made It Just In Time

Our latest story was just published by BoomerCafe.com, the top U.S. website for Baby Boomers where we submit a monthly story updating readers at BoomerCafe on our travels.  This month’s story shares our transition from Croatia and getting settled in Spain, an effort still in progress.  Link here for our story and perhaps some other articles you might enjoy as well.

Stay tuned for updates as we move into our new apartment in Torrevieja on February 21st, the day before my birthday.  What a gift!  And after we settle we have much more of Spain to see and to share.  La Vida aquí es marveloso!

Life on the Costa Blanca

The palm lined Esplanade in downtown Alicante divides the harbor from several high end hotels, restaurants and apartment buildings.

The palm lined Esplanade in downtown Alicante divides the harbor from several high end hotels, restaurants and apartment buildings.

After arriving in Spain via a Grimaldi Line cruise ship ferry from Italy, we divided a week between the two great cities of Barcelona and Madrid to spend time sightseeing and to visit friends.  There is no question that the highlight of Barcelona was La Sagrada Familia, although I will admit that the sights of Madrid impressed me somewhat more than did Barcelona.  They are both beautiful, world-class cities.  However, the rich history of Spain seemed more evident to me in Madrid with its parks, palaces, cathedrals and art museums. 

We walked past Alicante's Plaza of the Bulls.  Bullfights still take place in the arena during the summer.

We walked past Alicante’s Plaza of the Bulls. Bullfights still take place in the arena during the summer.

I will also admit that playing tourist after leaving Croatia in early January left us both mentally and physically drained.  So it was with more than a little relief that we rode the motorcoach for the five hour ride to Alicante.  We emailed our host family of our estimated arrival, and they were waiting to greet us as we landed on their doorstep, just a 10 minute taxi ride from the bus station.

The Castle of Santa Barbara has stood watch over Alicante for over 1,000 years.

The Castle of Santa Barbara has stood watch over Alicante for over 1,000 years.

I had read quite a bit about Spain and its many great cities.  Somehow I was drawn to the region known as the Costa Blanca, thus named for the pale color of the sandy beaches on the Mediterranean coast.  I now know the decision to come here was absolutely the right one.  Alicante is approximately halfway between Barcelona and Gibraltar on the Spanish Riviera.  Here people enjoy over 300 sunny days per year.  There is a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally, and the area is so gorgeous that it is mind-boggling.   

The beachfront of Benidorm, one of Spain's most touristic cities.

The beachfront of Benidorm, one of Spain’s most touristic cities.

Our host family is helpful and kind beyond any expectation.  Our arrangement with them is to rent for a month while we look for a more permanent setting.  This has given us the gift of time to get our bearings and explore the area.  Our first venture was to explore the city of Alicante itself.  We walked the mile or so into the city center and discovered the Central Market, the City Center and the Esplanade, the colorful, tile-paved waterfront pedestrian walk.  We did not think we could find anything finer than downtown Alicante.

Overlooking the sea is Benidorm's Church of St. James.

Overlooking the sea is Benidorm’s Church of St. James.

The next day we hitched a ride with our host, Raul, to the touristy seaside town of Benidorm, about 20 north.  We were struck by how many tourists there were in January.  We heard English, French and German spoken by those we walked among along the beach.  And we noticed almost everyone was at least our age or older.  Clearly, the pensioners of Europe come here to escape the cold weather up north.

This beautiful promontory divides Benidorm into north and south halves.

This beautiful promontory divides Benidorm into north and south halves.

We have yet to explore further south to Torrevieja and Murcia.  Considering how much we have enjoyed each of the cities we have visited in Spain, it is hard to imagine we will not also enjoy our upcoming visits there and points beyond.  Spain has proven to be comfortable and hospitable.  The prices for essentials are affordable on our budget, which means we can also afford to tour more of the country in the weeks ahead.  In the meantime, we should have a place to call our own in time for my February birthday, and that will be the finest gift I could wish for.

Transitioning to Spain

Spain's Royal Family no longer lives in Madrid's Palace.  When not in use for ceremonies, it is open to the public.

Spain’s Royal Family no longer lives in Madrid’s Palace. When not in use for ceremonies, it is open to the public.

We have evolved from our initial goal of living in a different country for awhile to being The 6 Monthers, our current lifestyle of moving to a different country every six months.  Our objective is loaded with challenges as far as observing the tourist and visa laws of the various countries in which we wish to live.  We are in a race against time to obtain dual citizenship with Italy which will solve the Schengen Visa issue throughout most of the European Union. 

Standing on the Plaza de Independencia is the Puerta de Alcalá.

Standing on the Plaza de Independencia is the Puerta de Alcalá.

The hardest part of being a traveler in the manner we have chosen is the transition between countries.  Our travels are best done when we start from a base in the country of our choosing.  From there we take single-day and multi-day trips to surrounding areas to learn what we can about the culture and the beauty of the country.  When it comes time to move, we must pack everything we own into our luggage and cart it with us which is burdensome on multiple levels.  Primarily, it is draining to live out of suitcases for any length of time.

Is it a palace or a cathedral?  No that is the Palacio de Comunicaciones, otherwise known as the Madrid Post Office.

Is it a palace or a cathedral? No, it is the Palacio de Comunicaciones, also known as the Madrid Post Office.

We gave ourselves seventeen days for our latest transition from Croatia to Spain which allowed for stops in Rome, Barcelona and Madrid.  These are three world class cities with great history, food, art and culture.  They are cities I had only learned about in school and through my reading over the years.  For me, seeing them for the first time was a thrill I eagerly anticipated.  We got a tiny stateroom on the overnight Blue Line ferry from Split, Croatia, to Ancona, Italy, then caught the train to Rome.  For the 20 hour crossing from Italy to Barcelona, we also got a stateroom on the Grimaldi Line ferry.  In each case we were grateful to have avoided checking bags and paying the fees we would have incurred at airports.  We even got a little sleep along the way.

An evening on the town with my two favorite women in Spain

An evening out with my two favorite women in Spain

Rome was glorious, no question.  For me, our visit to The Vatican was the greatest highlight.  I will always think of Rome as a must-see place, one that made me say “Wow!” with almost every turn.  Among Barcelona’s most interesting sights is Antoni Gaudí’s architecture, and the highlight for any visitor to Barcelona is without question La Sagrada Familia.  For a number of reasons, Madrid was my favorite stop.  Perhaps it was the reunion with our new friend, Ana, whom we met during our Discover Croatia Tour.  Spending time with friends is always a treat, especially while living in a country far from home.  Madrid is unique and beautiful, and there was way more to see and do than we could fit in during three days.

Sometimes called the 'Superman Building' the Metropolis Insurance Company placed their name on the building when they purchased it.

Referred to by some as the ‘Superman Building’ the Metropolis Insurance Company placed their name on the building when they purchased it.

Overall, I am glad we visited these places in the off-season.  We avoided major crowds in each city as well as the summer days which can be insufferably hot.  That part was good.  I did lose my wallet to a pickpocket on the subway in Rome.  That experience made me much more conscious of my surroundings and much less trusting of people on the street.  And like any crime against a person, I felt violated, which impacted me psychologically.  It took me a few days to almost get over blaming my naiveté and blaming other, less scrupulous people for being assholes. 

This apartment building across from our hotel is typical of the fine architecture throughout the city.

This apartment building across from our hotel is typical of the fine architecture throughout the city.

Ultimately, traveling for over two weeks with daypacks and suitcases is too much.  We need closets and a washing machine and a kitchen of our own so we do not have to eat restaurant food every day.  That does not diminish the wonder and beauty of the places we visited during our transition.  It does, however, diminish our ability to maintain our energy and to fully appreciate what we are seeing.  Such is the learning curve of The 6 Monthers.  We are not on vacation – this is our life.  I believe we will get better at it as we go along.      

All photos: © by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Our Tour of The Vatican

Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel.  This photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo
Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Nothing quite prepares you for viewing The Vatican.  Vatican City looks small on the map, and compared to the rest of Rome it is fairly small.  However, it takes four hours just to walk through the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica, so it is not small.

Although everyone has seen a photo of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which was painted by Michelangelo 500 years ago, a photo cannot begin to do justice to the experience of seeing the ceiling through one’s own eyes.  The photos do not provide any indication of the scope or scale of the artwork.  Also, the appearance of three-dimensional columns on the ceiling is an illusion.  The arched ceiling has a smooth surface.

Even though the Sistine Chapel is no bigger than a high school gymnasium, there is so much to take in visually that we took a bench along the side of the chapel and we sat for half an hour just looking at the artwork.  Our necks hurt from looking up constantly, so we took in the murals along the side walls as well, which are the work of other Renaissance masters.

So much history has taken place within these walls.  This is the chapel where the Congress of Cardinals votes to select a new pope.  This is where, after over a four year span, Michelangelo stepped out of his primary artistic role as a sculptor to paint over 5,000 square feet of frescoes on the ceiling and high walls of the chapel.  Unlike the portrayal of Michelangelo played by Charlton Heston in the movie The Agony and the Ecstasy, he did not lay on his back to paint the entire ceiling.  The artist did spend a great deal of time bending over backwards, however, and that had to be agony.

Michelangelo had many helpers who most likely mixed paint and made the many trips up and down the scaffolds which reached over sixty feet above the floor.  Assistants also probably did the messy job of mixing fresh plaster since Michelangelo took on the difficult task of painting frescoes by applying paint while the plaster was still drying, thus creating the strongest possible bond between paint and plaster.  Even if some talented assistants had been tasked with painting a bit of sky or scenery, Michelangelo gets the credit for designing and painting the masterpiece that is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  He hired and fired so many assistants that no one else could take credit for any significant contribution to the finished work.

Twenty-five years after the completion of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was approached on behalf of the pope with the commission to paint the vast wall behind the altar which now holds his other chapel masterpiece, The Last Judgment.  He was hesitant to take the job thinking it was a test that would taint his reputation if he failed to live up to the standard he had set with the chapel ceiling. 

Photo credit:  Wikipedia Commons

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

The Last Judgment was the largest fresco ever painted up to that time, and it was a controversial piece given the amount of nudity that was depicted.  When the pope’s Master of Ceremonies, Biaggio di Cesena, proclaimed the painting was more suitable to a public bath or tavern than a holy place, Michelangelo painted a likeness of Cesena on the body of Minos, Judge of the Underworld, with donkey ears to symbolize foolishness and with a snake coiled around his middle to cover his genitalia.  (bottom right corner)  Cesena complained to the pope, who is said to have joked that his judgment did not extend to hell, so the painting remained unchanged.

During the ecumenical Council of Trent, nudity in religious art was condemned.  In 1564, after Michelangelo’s death, the genitalia referred to as ‘objectionable’ in The Last Judgment were painted over with drapery, which is how the painting has been viewed to this day.

Getting to the Sistine Chapel involves strolling through extensive galleries and museums.  You will begin to appreciate the vast treasures of The Vatican when you join our walk in this short video.