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!

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

Cordoba, Spain – Crossroads of History

One of the many pools in the gardens of the Alcazar Palace.

One of the many pools in the gardens of the Alcazar Palace.

Our ride inland through the fertile and most populous region of Spain, Andalucía, revealed a checkerboard of golden acres of wheat alternating with verdant fields of sunflowers.  I have never seen or imagined so many sunflowers, and the fields in full bloom glowed with bright yellow made all the more vivid under the shining sun.

The walls surrounding La Mezquita give it a fortress-like appearance.

The walls surrounding La Mezquita give it a fortress-like appearance.

Our ABC Tour (Another Blessed Cathedral) ultimately led us to La Mezquita (The Mosque), now known as the Cathedral of Cordoba.  There is nothing like it in the world and a bit of history is necessary to appreciate its story.

Pushing back the boundaries of a weakened Roman Empire, the Visigoths built a Christian church in Cordoba on the site of a temple honoring the Roman god, Janus.  The Visigoths controlled most of what is now Spain for over 100 years before the Muslim conquest early in the 8th century.

The courtyard of palm and orange trees leading to the entrance of The Mosque Cathedral.

The courtyard of palm and orange trees leading to the entrance of The Mosque Cathedral.

The Muslims (referred to as Moors in Spain) made Cordoba the capital of their Al-Andalus region in 718 AD.  Beginning in 784, the emir of Cordoba ordered the construction of a mosque on the site of the Christian church, which was demolished.  During this period, Cordoba also became one of the most prosperous cities in the world, known for its advancements in science, art and architecture.  The Christians and Jews in the city were welcomed to stay and worship as they pleased as long as they paid a tithe to the Muslim emir.

The array of columns hints at rows of palm trees in a desert oasis.

The array of columns hints at rows of palm trees in a desert oasis.

Over a period of 200 years the mosque was enlarged and enhanced until it became one of the largest and finest mosques in the world.  It is an impressive structure covering some 250,000 square feet.  From the outside the mosque does not appear that impressive.  While ornate by today’s architectural standards, the mosque gives off a distinctly military feel with forty foot high walls and iron gates at its arched entries.

So magnificent was the finished mosque that when the Catholic Church proposed building its cathedral addition in the middle of the mosque, it was over the objections of the people of Cordoba.  Opposition to the cathedral was overruled by King Carlos V without his ever having visited the site.  In 1526, when the king did witness the damage he had unwittingly allowed, he is said to have remarked, ‘You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world.’

The Mosque covers an area of over 250,000 sq. ft. with over 800 columns spread throughout.

The Mosque covers an area of over 250,000 sq. ft. with over 800 columns spread throughout.

Once we entered the huge courtyard and the cathedral itself is its grandeur revealed.  Florence and I both looked at each other and simultaneously mouthed, ‘Wow.’  (If only there was a word that equaled Wow to the tenth power.)  The expanse of the mosque is filled with over 850 columns made of onyx, granite, marble and jasper, all holding up brightly colored red and white arches which in turn support much higher arched ceilings.

The Roman Bridge featuring 12 arches connects the Old City with the new.

The Roman Bridge featuring 12 arches connects the Old City with the new.

Cordoba today is a tranquil city with parks and plazas with plenty of fountains and statuary.  It is also one of the premier locations in the world for bullfights.  Many people find bullfighting to be a cruel sport.  In fact, bullfighting has been banned in some areas of Spain, most notably Barcelona in the Catalan Region.  However, bullfights remain popular in Andalucía.  There are fourteen bullrings in Cordoba, the largest of which is the Plaza de Los Califas, which seats 16,900 spectators.  The excitement stems from the possibility of death faced simultaneously by both fighter and bull.  It is worth noting that bulls bred to fight are raised and treated gently and fed only the finest food fit for a bull.  As for the moral principle of bullfighting, I personally find it hypocritical to criticize a fight to the death between man and bull when we as a society raise vast herds of cattle to be unceremoniously slaughtered without giving it much thought.

Strolling the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba with our new British friends, Ruth and Mike Steele

Strolling the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba with our new British friends, Ruth and Mike Steele

We topped off our tour of Cordoba with a stroll through the picturesque Jewish Quarter with its artisan ceramic and leather shops and a synagogue dating back to AD 1350.  We passed the museum of the Spanish Inquisition in which about 3,000 people (some estimates are higher) were executed for their religious beliefs.  We also visited the nearby Alcazar Castle with its spectacular gardens.  The royalty of Spain clearly knew how to live in grand style.

The power of the once mighty Spanish Empire came full circle for me after having seen the Spanish influence in colonial Latin America during our two years touring and living there.  Even though Spain is no longer considered a major world power, its place in history is forever set with an elegance that rivals any country.

On Becoming Beach People

My view of the harbor from our place on the beach

My view of the harbor from our place on the beach

I have never considered myself much of a beach person.  Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I was blessed with a range of wilderness options for my adventures.  Although I was able to choose between seashores and snow-capped peaks, I was always drawn to the mountains first and foremost.

Why not go?  The beach is a two blocks from home.

Why not go? The beach is only two blocks from home.

I have enjoyed plenty of ocean beach experiences.  I flew kites on the sandy beaches of Twin Harbors, Ocean Shores and Long Beach (Washington).  I explored Pacific Coast shores from Cape Alava to Point Reyes.  I fished and foraged for mollusks from Hood Canal to Cape Flattery.  Nonetheless, my heart always belonged to the rocky crags and towering peaks.  Unless I was scouting for a secluded cove to call my private paradise for a couple of days, beaches were merely places to go and sit.

One thing boring about the beach - it is so flat.

One thing boring about the beach – it is so flat.

Getting a good tan was never in the cards for me.  My Nordic ancestors endowed me with a pasty whiteness that was never meant to withstand prolonged exposure to solar radiation.  Even with a 30-plus SPF sunscreen, I can quickly turn into a crispy critter if I do not wear long sleeves and pants.   Not only did I run the risk of sunburn, but I also found plopping on a beach to be boring.

I am older now.  After many years of employment, I can recall countless times when I would have given a lot to be bored.  Maybe that is why I feel so ideally suited to being retired.  I have learned to not only accept boredom, but also to embrace it.

Numerous cafés line the beach.  We usually pack our own food and drink.

Although numerous cafés line the beach, we usually pack our own food and drink.

And now here I am in Torrevieja, Spain.  Typically, if I spot a young people here, they are either working in a service sector job or they are in town to visit their grandparents.  So what do all the old people do here on the Costa Blanca, or the Costa Brava or the Costa del Sol?  You guessed it – they go to the beach!  Many of these jubilados (pensioners) have incredible tans.  Some take an occasional swim in the warm, clear Mediterranean waters.  A few, like me and Florence, bring a book to read.  Some folks take a nap.

When I finish reading I have time to think.

When I finish reading I have time to think.

We recently invested $15 in a beach umbrella.  In order to maximize our ROI (return on investment), and given the luxury of free time, we now join the daily migration from apartment dwellings to the sandy beach just 500 feet from our door.  Like practiced pensioners, we pack drinks and sandwiches and take a book and some puzzles to work on.  We are now ‘beach people.’  And thanks to the umbrella, I can safely sit in the shade and not risk too much exposure to the sun.  Does that sound boring?  Maybe it is.  But as I have often been known to say, boredom is greatly underappreciated.

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

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!

It is Time for Tapas

Torrevieja is a resort town full of parks, plazas and an array of restaurants and shops... and beaches.

Our home town of Torrevieja is a resort town full of parks, plazas and an array of restaurants and shops… and beaches.

Spring in Torrevieja is a delightful time of year. The crisp breezes blowing off the continent and the brisk on-shore winds have given way to the bright sunshine and warmer days that demand we leave our jackets behind when we take a walk. People are heading to the beaches with their folding chairs and beach towels ahead of the crowds still to come when people seek refuge from the blazing heat of summer. The seasonal shops and restaurants are opening all over town. It is a time to celebrate spring. It is time for tapas.

Our first stop was Las Salinas, a favorite stop for families.  Their Magra de Ibérica was like a delicious stew.

First stop – Las Salinas, an open air favorite spot for families. Their Magra de Ibérica was a delicious stew made with veal.

This year Torrevieja, Spain, is celebrating its 10th Rutas de Las Tapas, or what we English-speakers would call a ‘Tapas Crawl.’ What are tapas? Tapas can be practically anything from a chunk of tuna, cocktail onion and an olive skewered on a long toothpick to a hot meat with sauce served in a miniature clay dish – or anything in between. Tapas are served day in and day out in every bar and café in Spain. They are so much a part of the culture and social scene that the Spanish people invented the verb tapear which means to go eat tapas!¹

Tu Aroma offered a piece of fried cod served over a zucchini wrap of peppers and onions; also a grilled meat in a chocolate mole sauce.

Tu Aroma offered a piece of fried cod served over a zucchini wrap of peppers and onions, plus a grilled meat in a chocolate mole sauce.

Fifty-six restaurants are each offering two tapas from which to choose during weekend one and two different tapas during weekend two. The weekends run from Thursday through Sunday and are available at either lunch or dinner time. The tapas are offered in addition to regular menu items and are advertised as standard or gourmet as determined by the restaurant. Standard tapas sell for 2€ and gourmet items sell for 2.5€, equal to $2.80 and $3.50, and include a choice of beverage. I ordered beer. Florence chose bottled water.

The Mediterranean Café offer this baked dish made with chicken and potatoes.  The second tapa was skewered 'sepia' which is Spanish for cuttlefish - similar to squid.

The Mediterranean Café offer this baked dish made with chicken and potatoes. The second tapa was skewered ‘sepia’ which is Spanish for cuttlefish – similar to squid.

No one has to pay an entry fee. All that is required to participate in the Tapas Crawl is a few Euros, a good appetite and good walking shoes. Even though there are participating restaurants are all over town, most are concentrated downtown near the ocean shore. People are allowed to vote for their favorite tapas once they have sampled at least ten options at no fewer than five restaurants.

Taj Mahal offered tapas Indian-style - deep fried vegetable mix that put onion rings to shame, and a shrimp roll made with sweet potato that was our favorite so far.

Taj Mahal offered tapas Indian-style – deep fried vegetable mix that put onion rings to shame, and a shrimp roll made with sweet potato that was our favorite so far.

We visited four restaurants on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and we ordered both of the tapas offered at each stop, so that was about 5€ times four, a total of 20€ for the two of us to sample eight varieties of Spanish cuisine including tips and beverages. That was a pretty good deal. We are already thinking ahead to weekend number two, and one stop we passed on our way home is already at the top of our list. We were too full to sit at La Mila-Grossa, an Argentine restaurant. However, we ordered some of their empañadas to take home for dinner, and that was a fantastic gastronomic conclusion to our first Tapas Crawl.

¹From ‘What are tapas?’ by Lisa and Tony Sierra on About.com
Note: All photos are the copyrighted property of Florence Lince.

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.

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.

First Impressions from Rome

Pope Clement XIII had the Palazzo del Quirinale built as a summer palace on Rome's highest hill to escape the stench of the Tiber River.

Pope Clement XIII had the Palazzo del Quirinale built as a summer palace on Rome’s highest hill to escape the smell of raw sewage which flowed down the Tiber River.

We round the corner to enter the Quirinale Plaza and catch our first sight of The Vatican.

We round the corner to enter the Quirinale Plaza and catch our first sight of The Vatican.

This is my first visit to Rome.  My wife, Florence, has visited Rome on five occasions prior to this visit, so she is excited for me to experience awe and wonder of The Eternal City.   She loves to describe the sights I am about to lay my eyes on for the first time, and she is eager for my reactions.  However, her descriptions do little to prepare me for what I am experiencing.  There is simply no way to describe Rome to the first-time visitor.  It would be like trying to explain Disneyland to an alien.  One must see Rome for oneself.

Florence loves roasted chestnuts.  I bought cookies.

Florence loves fresh-roasted chestnuts.

As we start walking from our hotel near the central train station, I begin to notice the numerous locations that sell pizza.  My comment – ‘Look, another place that sells pizza!’ becomes tiresome, so I begin noticing shops with baked goods.  I had to stop.  After stocking up on a few essential goodies, we wander toward the President’s Palace, known officially as the Palazzo del Quirinale, the historic home of thirty popes dating back to the 16th century.  It is the sixth largest palace in the world and the largest home to any head of state.  From outside we have no idea about the scale of the palace on the inside, and the guards at the gate were not about to let us wander in to see for ourselves.

Mythological figures and horses seem to emerge from the rocks and pools of the Trevi Fountain.

Mythological figures and horses seem to emerge from the rocks and pools of the Trevi Fountain.

Descending from Piazza Quirinale on Rome’s highest hill, we see crowds of people ahead.  A quick check of the city map confirms they are converging on the Piazza di Trevi and the iconic Trevi Fountain.  There is so much happening artistically in the massive fountain that I can hardly take it all in at one time.  Also, I now realize how fortunate we are to be visiting Rome in the off season.  I think we would have had to wait an hour or more to get the photos that were available to us just by walking among the crowd to the edge of the observation area.

The Spanish Steps leading to the church above are the widest in the world.

The Spanish Steps leading to the church above are the widest in the world.

A few blocks beyond the Trevi Fountain is the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Plaza) and the Spanish Steps.  These 135 steps ascend to the Church of Trinitá dei Monti.  This day was the eve of The Epiphany, the day when the three magi appeared in Jerusalem following the birth of Jesus, so there was still in place a Nativity scene on the upper terrace of the steps.

Massa, the lovely sales clerk at Vinovip near the Trevi Fountain, cheerfully offers samples of liqueurs, which I am happy to taste.

Massa, the lovely sales clerk at Vinovip near the Trevi Fountain, cheerfully offers samples of liqueurs, which I am happy to taste.

We encountered numerous sights on our initial stroll through the city.  The fascinating thing about Rome is one can walk a mere block or two in any direction and suddenly you come upon a park, a plaza, a fountain, a palace, or one of the dozens of architectural wonders which abound, and we have barely scratched the surface.  Fortunately, Florence scheduled our stay here for a week.  She knew not to cut short our time in this great city.  All these legendary places are now coming to life right before my eyes.

Time to Split, Croatia

A view of Split, Croatia's harbor and the Old City

A view of Split, Croatia’s harbor and the Old City

Diocletian, Emperor of Rome 284-305 AD, lived in this palace until he died in 311.  He addressed his subjects from this balcony.

Diocletian, Emperor of Rome 284-305 AD, lived in this palace until he died in 311 AD. He addressed his subjects from this balcony.

Split, the second largest city on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, is our point of departure by ferry to Italy later this week.  In English ‘split’ means to leave.  Although we are less than eager to leave Croatia because of the bonds of friendship we have forged here, as The 6 Monthers we must answer the call to make another country our home for the next six months.  The excitement of moving someplace new is building within us as we complete our second year of living in a new country every six months.* 

Outside The Golden Gate of Diocletian's Palace stands this statue of medieval bishop, Gregory of Nin by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia's most famous artist.

Outside The Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace stands this statue of medieval bishop, Gregory of Nin by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia’s most famous artist.

We have twenty days between our departure from Croatia and our scheduled arrival in Alicante, Spain.  Thus, we will use surface transportation to travel first to Italy.  I have seen Naples, Florence, Pisa, and Sicily, but I have not yet visited Rome.  Florence informs me one needs at least a week to see and appreciate Rome.  So we will do just that.  We will then take another ferry, which is more of a cruise ship, to Barcelona and divide our remaining time between Barcelona and Madrid.  In each city we plan to reunite with Spanish friends we have made during our travels.  How great is that, to have locals help us discover the wonders of their home country!

Rubbing the toe of Gregory of Nin's statue is supposed to bring good luck.

Rubbing the toe of Gregory of Nin’s statue is supposed to bring good luck.

Why Spain?  One reason is that Spanish is my only other language.  In fact, after living in Latin America for over a year I developed this habit.  Whenever someone speaks to me in a foreign language, I automatically answer in Spanish.  It seems I now have the ability to confuse others in two languages.  At least I understand the language of laughter.  Since I have learned a few words in Croatian, my pronunciation has also elicited some laughs and smiles.  Fortunately, most Croatians speak English, and many quite fluently.

Ivan Meštrović lived in what is now a museum a few block's from Split's harbor.

Ivan Meštrović lived in what is now a museum a few block’s from Split’s harbor.

If I were to attend school in Spain, my Spanish might be good enough to get me into the third grade, which is to say I have plenty of room for improvement, and I look forward to that.  The history of Spain also intrigues me.  The Iberian Peninsula played a strategic role in the expansion and development of modern civilization, and Spain ultimately served as the base of one of history’s most dominant and influential empires. 

Republic Square near Diocletian's Palace bears striking resemblance to St. Mark's Square in Venice.  Our guide says Croatia's painted it pink as a poke at the Venetians, who once ruled here.

Republic Square near Diocletian’s Palace bears striking resemblance to St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Our guide says Croatian’s painted it pink as a poke at the Venetians, who once ruled here.

Now we get to learn about this beautiful land and culture firsthand.  So many names of Spanish cities evoke thoughts of something exotic and unique – Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Valencia (the only Spanish city I have visited).  I want to visit them all and more:  Basque Country, El Camino de Santiago, and of course, the Spanish Riviera which we plan to call home for the next six months.  I expect to have many stories to share from Spain. 

If you have traveled to Spain, what was your finest memory?  If you have not visited Spain, what would you most want to see?  I would love for you to share your thoughts. 

*Note:  We created a list of countries in which we would like to live that spans the next ten years.  Link here for our list and more about The 6 Monthers.  Do you think we overlooked a country?  Tell us which country and why.  We are open to suggestions.

The 6 Monthers Prepare to Move Again

Looking back on our time in Šibenik, we will remember living near the iconic Cathedral of St. James.

Looking back on our time in Šibenik, we will remember living near the iconic Cathedral of St. James.

My wife and I are The 6 Monthers because we choose to live in a new country every six months.  We chose the six month time span because we now have time to visit more places and see more of the sights each country has to offer.  We also choose to live like the locals.  We rent an apartment to use as our base.  We shop where locals shop and we eat like locals eat.  Six months may seem like a long time in which to stay in a country, but it goes fast because here we are preparing to move once again.

The 6 Monthers overlooking Sarajevo, Bosnia.

The 6 Monthers overlooking Sarajevo, Bosnia.

This current six month interval was divided into two three month periods for a couple of reasons.  First, we were invited to visit Croatia in September as photo and blog journalists by Dhar Media for a Touristar production called Discover Croatia.  Our intensive 24 day series of excursions opened our eyes to the beauty and historic wonders of Croatia, and we knew we would love to return.  Second, we found our move to Scotland forced us to live at the extent of our budget because there were hidden costs to living there.  Perhaps ‘undisclosed’ is a more accurate term.  Florence wrote a story with details for anyone who is interested. 

Outside the walls of the medieval city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Outside the walls of the medieval city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

We have a month left before we depart.  We will celebrate our sixth anniversary the weekend before Christmas by throwing a party at a waterfront restaurant for all of our friends here in Croatia.  We will also celebrate Christmas and New Years here in Šibenik.  We have been the grateful beneficiaries of much kindness and caring on the part of our Croatian hosts, and celebrating with them is an appropriate way to express our appreciation.

Picturesque Mlini, just south of Dubrovnik

Picturesque Mlini, just south of Dubrovnik

We have completed most of our research for our next move.  We leave January 3rd to catch the overnight ferry from Split, Croatia, to Ancona, Italy.  I have not yet seen Rome, so we will spend a week there to take in the many sights that must be seen.  We will also submit our papers for dual citizenship with Italy while in Rome.  The application process has been time-consuming.  We are hopeful the final approval will be forthcoming in the next few months.  Traveling in Europe on Italian passports will solve a lot of issues when visiting Schengen Alliance countries.

Vela Spila cave, an archeological site on the island of Korčula with human remains 20,000 years old.

Vela Spila cave, an archeological site on the island of Korčula with human remains 20,000 years old.

After Rome we will fly to Barcelona, Spain, where we will spend at least four days seeing the sights.  I look forward to strolling past the shops along La Rambla and visiting La Boqueria Market, sampling tapas, and viewing Gaudi architecture.  Maybe we will even get inside La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s crowning achievement that has yet to be completed.  Tourists line up for hours to view the cathedral during the high season.  We simply cannot overlook this landmark on our ABC Tour.*

Vineyard and olive country on the island of Pag

Vineyard and olive country on the island of Pag

We will visit Madrid for a few days before settling in Alicante, Spain, for the next six months.  I look forward to improving my Spanish during our stay.  We will soon be sharing our stories from Spain on our next adventure, life on the Costa Blanca.  There are so many places to visit with romantic and familiar names:  Cordoba, Granada, Seville, Malaga, Bilbao, and more. 

If you have a favorite memory of Spain or a destination you wish to see some day, please share your comments.  I would love to know.

*Note:  ‘ABC’ stands for Another Blessed Cathedral, a reference made numerous times on this blog.

100 Stories and We Have Only Just Begun

Entering Plitvička Lakes National Park, Croatia

On our September, 2013 trip near the entrance to Plitvička Lakes National Park, Croatia

This is my 100th post in the year plus since I started this blog.  Out of curiosity I went back over all of my previous stories to see which were the most popular.  I discovered the top five most-viewed posts dealt with some aspect of how we travel, how we budget, how we decide where to live and how we adapt to our living arrangements. 

Touring the islands of Lake Nicaragua - Granada, Nicaragua

Touring the islands of Lake Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua

As much as I would love to think readers wish to see our pretty pictures and learn about different places in various countries, it turns out what is most popular is to learn about the process of traveling.  This realization made me think perhaps I should use fewer words discussing ‘what’ and dedicate more effort discussing ‘how.’  I will keep that in mind.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that there are thousands, if not millions, of travel blogs.  I am a relative newcomer to the world of travel and the blog scene.  While I would dearly love to do distinguish myself in that realm, I have barely scratched the surface.  I feel fortunate to have several things in my favor.

Altar of the feathered serpent Xochicalco, Mexico

Altar of the feathered serpent
Xochicalco, Mexico

First, The 6 Monthers concept is fairly unique.  There are other travelers who choose a variety of destinations and stay for extended lengths of time.  However, I have not discovered anyone else taking our six-months-at-a-time approach, which is why we purchased the web domain.  Our challenge now is to increase our visibility beyond the few thousand people that have heard of us. 

Mike: 'What's that sound?' Florence: 'My teeth chattering.' Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Mike: ‘What’s that sound?’
Florence: ‘My teeth chattering.’
Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Second, I retired a couple of years ago and I now have time to pursue with a passion both travel and writing.  With Florence’s social media and photography expertise, we leveraged our skills to earn an invitation to travel for three-and-a-half weeks in Croatia as the guests of Dhar Media and Touristar.tv to help promote tourism in their country.  That was cool!  Our ambition now is to carry our experience forward to other countries to help bolster their tourism industry while saving on expenses.  Sharing those kinds of experiences would dovetail nicely with writing more about the ‘How to’ of travel.

On the main island of Antigua - Leeward Islands, Caribbean Sea

On the main island of Antigua
Leeward Islands, Caribbean Sea

Finally, I want to someday point back to something meaningful to say, “I created that.”  Perhaps it will be a book.  We have published one children’s book, and we have a dozen more waiting in the wings.  We would love to score a publishing deal so we could get our books illustrated for young readers.  We would love to teach children about the people and animals and cultures from around the world.  And we would love to build our name, The 6 Monthers, which might one day be worthwhile to the next generation of travelers.

We have our work cut out for us.  Every great idea that amounted to something required perseverance, creativity, and passion, things we think we have.  We now look ahead as we pursue our journey and continue our travels down as yet unexplored roads.  As always, I hope you will accept my invitation to join us and share your thoughts along the way.

Discovering Croatia’s National Parks

Mike's mile high view of the Makarska Riviera and  beyond

Mike’s mile high view of the Makarska Riviera and beyond

Note:  I have been touring Croatia as a guest of Dhar Media in the role of journalist/blogger for most of September.  Due to constraints on time and internet connectivity, my blog has suffered some neglect, although I managed to post a couple of stories in fulfillment of the expectations of our hosts.  We return to Scotland at the end of September when I will explore in detail more about our travels through Croatia.  For example, we visited seven of Croatia’s national parks and I have posted only one related story to-date, the story about Plitvička Lakes.  This series continues with the following story about two of Croatia’s beautiful parks.

One of the most impressive qualities about Croatia is their preservation of the most beautiful public spaces for posterity through their system of national parks and parks of nature.  The distinction between national parks and parks of nature is the legal limitations on land use.  A good analogy would be the difference between a national park and a national forest in the United States.

Paklenice National Park

The steep canyon walls of Paklenica National Park

The steep canyon walls of Paklenica National Park

Paklenice (pawk-leh-NEES-eh) National Park is above all a climbers’ paradise near the Dalmatian archipelago island of Pag.  Solid karst rock walls rise 1,000 feet and higher in some areas to form a narrow, deep canyon.  Most routes are numbered and protection anchors are drilled permanently into the rock for clipping in carabiners for climbing ropes.  Small plaques on each pitch label the difficulty rating with a numerical designation.  Some pitches are no more than ten feet away from the next adjacent pitch, and during the Spring and Fall, climbing ropes lay about like spaghetti as climbers take turns climbing various routes.  Colorful names for the routes are given to each pitch, an honor reserved for whoever was credited with the first ascent.

Climbing walls tower overhead

Climbing walls tower overhead

The national park covers 95 km² (23,000 acres) and the terrain which straddles the coastal mountain ridges is an ideal setting for backpackers.  A ranger informs me that camping is only allowed in designated sites where shelters have been built.  Their purpose is primarily to protect surrounding areas undisturbed in their natural state.

A backpacker could hike the high country from one end of the park to the other in a few days.  This would make for an invigorating and rewarding outing and instill the desire to return to one day further explore the park’s hidden treasures.

Biokovo Park of Nature

View of the Dalmatia Coasts and Adriatic Sea

View of the Dalmatia Coasts and Adriatic Sea

Biokovo Park is named after the peak that towers over the Riviera town of Makarska.  The road to the summit winds up and up, switchback after switchback for 23 kilometers (14 miles).  Our drive climbs 1,700 meters (over 5,500 feet elevation) from the sea to a viewpoint marked by a radio relay tower.  The temperature drops 6°C (11°F) from our seashore point of origin, and a brisk wind reminds me I should have brought a jacket.

We can see all the way to Bosnia from Biokovo Mountain's summit.

We can see all the way to Bosnia from Biokovo Mountain’s summit.

Although weather can change rapidly and extreme weather is possible any day of the year, we arrive at the summit on the perfect day.  Looking east I can see Bosnia.  To the west I am able to see over the Dalmatian archipelago to the Adriatic Sea and beyond to catch a glimpse of the coast of Italy.

I should warn any prospective visitors who aspire to reach the summit of Biokovo Mountain.  The road is adequately maintained.  However, it is single lane over much of the route, and you will encounter oncoming cars.  Be prepared to find the closest wide spot in which you are able to squeeze past one another.  It may seem challenging, but the view is worth it.  Many tourists rent scooters for the drive, and that is a great solution on a typically warm sunny day.

During our trip I visited seven national parks.  You may be surprised by the diversity of natural settings as I share with you more of the natural beauty of Croatia in my next story. 

Stanley Mills – 200 Years of Textile Production

We entered the Stanley Mills site on the same path used by employees for two centuries.

We entered the Stanley Mills site on the same path used by employees for two centuries.

Just seven miles north of Perth is the village of Stanley, a town that was originally built to house mill workers in the late 1700’s. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, workers were drawn from farm labor to factory work. It was often the women and children who took the factory jobs at Stanley Mills to supplement their meager farm income, at least at first. Less than 400 workers were needed in the first years of flax weaving. However, over 2,000 workers were needed at the height of cotton weaving production.

Carding tons of cotton was a huge job requiring big machines.

Carding tons of cotton required big machines.

Some of the buildings had been vandalized and one building was lost to fire – perhaps arson. Historic Scotland took possession of the mills to preserve them for posterity. Interpretive displays and period carding and spinning machines are exhibited to help visitors picture what the textile workers’ daily lives were like. Much of the work was mind-numbingly tedious, like placing spools on spindles and threading looms. Factory noise must have been nerve wracking given the number of machines at work.

Giant troughs housed waterwheels large enough to power the factory.

Giant troughs housed waterwheels large enough to power the factory.

The mills increased production capabilities based on technological advances throughout the Industrial Revolution. At first, a giant water wheel turned belts connected to drive shafts on all four factory floors, each with its respective task. As cotton became the most profitable fabric, one floor was for carding the fibers, cleaning out impurities. Another floor began the spinning process to make threads of various thicknesses. The top floor was for weaving fabric on huge looms. The factory also produced continuous belts of various sized loops and thicknesses to ship to other factories for use as drive belts for their own machines. Cigarette factories were important customers for drive belts from Stanley Mills.

Stanley Mill condos now overlook the Tay River.

Stanley Mills condos now overlook the Tay River.

The water from the Tay River provided the mill with the energy required. Water tunnels were eventually built from upriver because the water level ebbed and flowed with the changing seasons. The water wheels were replaced with water powered turbines for a more efficient energy source, and in the 20th century the turbines drove generators that provided hydroelectric power.

The mills went through several cycles of expansion and shutdowns based on fluctuations in the economy. When India gained its independence, they began their own cotton production and imposed tariffs on British cotton that cost Stanley Mills a huge market for their goods.

Women wove belts on these machines. Skilled hands sewed the belts into continuous loops.

Women wove belts on these machines. Skilled hands sewed the belts into continuous loops.

Eventually, cotton was displaced by synthetic fibers as the favorite materials in the marketplace. Stanley Mills made the conversion to synthetic weaving to keep the factory operating. Cotton made a comeback as a desirable fabric in the 1980’s, but the mill could not afford the cost of retro-fitting and Stanley Mills ceased operations in 1989.

Country living at stylish Stanley Mills

Country living at stylish Stanley Mills

Today, some of the buildings have been refurbished to provide housing. The condominium units overlooking the river now sell for £125,000 GBP, about $193,000 USD, plus grounds maintenance fees. There are still units available for anyone who might like to live in this historic pastoral site overlooking the Tay River.