Author Archives: margaretlynnie

¡Mas Galicia… y Roberto!

A Coruña

Thursday-Saturday, July 25-27, 2019

On the 25th I took the bus to the train station to meet a childhood friend whose family has been intertwined with mine since my mom and his had met in college many moons ago. Someone recently told me of seeing both of our pregnant mothers slowly walking down the street in our neighborhood. That image has stayed with me, collected along with many others from over 60 years.

So, watching him push through the turnstile brought back our shared history as well as anticipation of more adventures, starting with a great way to memorialize his arrival…

yet, my pleas for a snapshot keepsake were laughingly refused in spite of my stating “Max would do it”.

Once aboard Robbie assured us his overnight in Madrid had helped diminish some of his jet lag caused by flying from San Diego to Spain. Which was great, since we whisked him off to experience a taste of the Medieval Festival beginning with a sampling of those mohitos Max and I imbibed the night before.

This being one of the most celebrated holidays in Galicia, we quietly entered one of A Coruña’s medieval churches. Here in the Church of Santiago is a revered wooden statue of that apostle that thousands of pilgrims have touched since the 13th century. Unfortunately I only captured it from a distance.

Throughout the evening Max and Robbie graciously sat

and stood for photos

until we eventually landed back on JUANONA.

The next day entailed a long walk to El Torre de Hercules, a.k.a., the Tower of Hercules built by the Romans in the 1st century A.C.E. Max and I had visited this site before but wanted to show Robbie this remarkable piece of working architecture. Interestingly, the Statue of Liberty and Cuba’s Lighthouse of Morro became ‘twinned’ with this lighthouse in 2008. Wouldn’t happen today, I bet.

Designed by a Lusitanian architect named Caius Sevius Lupus*, this lighthouse is the oldest Roman one still working. Throughout the ages documents have cited this structure, testifying to its early fame, as noted by: Roman historian Ptolemy (4th ce.); the Burgo de Osma Beatus (10th ce.); General Alfonso X (13th ce.); navigation charts (16th ce); and ‘Atlas del Rey Planeta: A description of Spin and the coasts and ports of its kingdoms’ (17th ce.).

*A stone tablet dedicated to the god Mars and placed at the base carries his name, the only ancient Roman lighthouse whose builder is known.

We purchased tickets allowing 30 minutes to see the original construction

now encased and reinforced in a shell after renovations took place in the 18th century.

On each floor signage provides factoids, such as:

Romans used concrete, a low cost material and one not requiring really skilled labor (you can see the hole in the ceiling which enabled the overseers to drop a plumb line);

This port, originally called Brigantium, served as an important commercial port (part of the tin route) and strategic location (it supplied provisions for troops attacking and conquering Britannia in 43 A.C.E.);

And, this lighthouse made a great watchtower as well as stronghold:  six soldiers in May 1589 defended it, holding off Sir Francis Drake’s attack for nine days. (This is also the battle where A Coruña’s famous heroine, Maria Mayor Fernāndezde Cámara y Pita– of whom you’ll see statues– and other women, fought the English.)

We climbed the 254 steps to the top, where a full-sky view of the city and Gulf of Atabro lay before us.

It’s also where Max saved a family from trying to fit in a selfie,

and where I captured one of Robbie :)

The lighthouse’s name comes from a legend created by King Alfonso X the Wise around 1270:  Hercules ordered a tower built over the buried head of a giant named Gerión, whom Hercules had defeated.

But, two earlier stories exist… Irish monks in the 1100s wrote the ‘Invasions Book‘ (now viewed as a compilation of myths about Ireland’s history). Their tale attributes the tower to Breogan, the Celtic chieftan of Ireland and founder of the city of Brigantia…. And a myth a century earlier involves a monk named Trezensonio who visited the city and climbed ‘the tower’.

Whatever the legend, it’s called the Tower of Hercules, which is good enough for moi.

The lighthouse is part of an outdoor museum created in the mid-1990s and includes 20 sculptures. Several caught my eye:

the Compass Rose (see from the top of the lighthouse) with its eight directional points and references to the seven Celtic nations and the Tartessians who lived in SW Spain 900-600 B.C.E.

Charon, the ferryman of Hades who helped Hercules capture the hound Cerberus

and, Breoghan (mentioned above), the founder of A Coruña.

As most of you know by now I really search out this type of art. Not sure if due to its tactileness or just the three-dimensional aspect. Whatever. I love it.

Camariñas

Saturday-Tuesday, July 27-30, 2019 

Saturday we headed off into rolly seas, covering 48 miles with a mix of sail and motor. Not the smoothest of rides for Robbie’s first on JUANONA. But, we made it to our next anchorage without the crew getting too nauseous. Luckily the captain generally has an iron stomach. Me, not so much.

We turned into the Ria de Camariñas and headed a little past the main town, anchoring off the beach enjoying calmer waters yet still with a bit of rocking.

The next morning, with a forecast of strong winds and rain we decided to head to the marina. Being at a dock makes it easier to explore ashore, which is what we did for two days. The first day we hiked towards the coastline where Max took the opportunity to do a head soak. We found these water fountains throughout our walks, probably servicing many pilgrims on the caminos to Santiago. They certainly came in handy as demonstrated below.

The next day we strolled in the opposite direction, and after verifying our heading like all good navigators,

we landed on the beach we had seen from JUANONA when anchoring the previous night. Unable to resist the water, we headed down to toe-test the temp. And, found it still a bit chilly.

Outdoor cafes offered plenty of opportunities for local feasting, which we enjoyed as did some local wildlife.

But, no one really seems to mind as we later saw in another town a similar clientele.

When in a foreign country we attempt to learn, at the very least, some basics such as ‘hello’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’; and, of course, an initial inquiry:  ‘do you speak English?’

So, when someone approaches and catches our eye we typically say, ‘hola’. Which we planned to do as an older lady headed towards us. Well, either we didn’t get our ‘bueñas días’ out soon enough or she was already tired of touristas because this fireplug of a woman spat out two ‘¡bueñas días!’ seemingly with a scowl as she passed us.

Thankfully we didn’t take it personally. Although, maybe we should have? What it did do is provide a mantra among the three of us. And, a strong encouragement to practice our Español greetings.

One of the biggest pleasures of cruising comes from meeting other folk, and in Carmariñas we had the good fortune of meeting Anna and Arthur from Sweden and Leoni and Steve from England. And, what else do you do but invite them aboard for evening conversation and libations? :) Always a pleasure and a highlight of our travels.

Fisterra and environs

Tuesday-Sunday, July 30-August 4, 2019

With calmer seas (thankfully) we exited the Ria on Tuesday, heading another 23 miles south.

(FYI:  the dangling rubber snake upper left is to keep seagulls off of JUANONA.)

Our destination serves as one of the most prominent points of land in Spain:  Finisterra or, as the Romans termed it, the “End of the Earth.”

This point’s fame also comes from pilgrims continuing beyond Santiago de Compostella to end here. And, indeed, we did see a lot of these pilgrims. Some looking fresher than others, but all happy to have no more camino (road) in front of them.

Often we’d spot a scallop shell, indigenous to Galicia, dangling from their backpacks. I looked into why this was so emblematic of St. James and the pilgrimages to Santiago. It comes from the story associated with his return to Galicia where he had spread the work of Jesus.

This time he wasn’t here to proselytize. He couldn’t, because he didn’t have a head. James made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (not too smart) and King Herod Agrippa I (nephew of Herod Antipas, the guy who dealt with Jesus) had him executed in 44 C.E. His followers decided to take his headless body back to the Iberian peninsula (allegedly on a rudderless, no-sail, stone ‘sailboat’). When the boat landed it frightened a knight’s horse who then bolted and plummeted into the sea along with said knight. St. James saved him (sure thing) and the knight and horse emerged un-drowned, covered in scallops.

But, I prefer the earlier association:  pagans used to travel the Janus Path (named after the Roman god) to Finisterre as part of a re-birth. And, they began at the Temple of Venus in the Pyrenees. Venus, we all know, rose from a scallop shell, a perfect reason for a pilgrimage badge. A lot more pleasant of a tale, I think.

We anchored off another white sand beach of which these rias abound and dinghied to shore. We rinsed off our feet at a convenient water spray* before starting down a lovely stone walkway towards the town of Fisterra.

*Galicia takes care of their beachgoers because almost all of the public beaches also feature fresh water sprays for feet and body. And, no, we did not take soap in order to use them as our shower source. As tempting as it may be.

Along this trail exercise stations appeared, which, of course, meant the three of us had to check them out…

I seriously doubt anyone would have taken us for pilgrims. Or, at least, not the kind of pilgrims who were on a spiritual quest.

After a night off the beach we upped anchor and moved just a mile over to Playa de Estorde, around the corner from the town of Cee.

Not only was our new anchorage more remote, but also meant we could see Anna and Arthur again :)

That’s definitely one of the best features of cruising:  not only do you meet some great people but also arrange to rendezvous in later ports.

Hearing a town three miles away was scenic, we motored onto the beach

and proceeded to walk to Corcubión. By the second mile mincing our way along the narrow shoulder we thought hitchhiking might not be a bad idea.

But, then realized who the hell would pick us up for we most likely would look like cheating pilgrims. Or, maybe smelly, cheating pilgrims.

So, we continued grunting our way and, upon reaching our destination, rewarded ourselves with some excellent refreshments at a friendly sidewalk cafe.

And, if you’re wondering, we took a bus back…

The next day Robbie and I tried our luck with the bus going back to Fisterra to pick up some groceries. Hah. Not only was it difficult to locate the schedule online; once we did, we ended up waiting one hour and 45 minutes from the time indicated. And, we proved that hitchhiking was futile because we tried with no luck.

But, we did make it into Fisterra, picked up some provisions, walked down to the harbor,

and shared a lunch amidst yet more pilgrims.

San Francisco

Friday-Sunday, August 2-4, 2019

The next morning we motor-sailed under a gentle breeze

accompanied by more playful dolphins

the short distance to one of the prettiest beaches yet:  Playa de San Francisco.

Having read about some petroglyphs, the three of us dinghied to shore to search them out. After wandering around we located the chiseled rock designs at the top of a hill. Several days later I found better photos to use here.

Supposition is that they represent the sun’s movement through the sky. But, like most prehistoric art, it’s an educated guess at best.

The next day Max served as our taxi and Robbie and I took a long walk from town, heading off the main road through a pine forest

to the lighthouse on Monte Louro where, turning the corner, an amazing stretch of sand and tourquoise sea came into view. A Wow-ie view.

We had passed this on our way into the Ria and it looked as enticing now as it did then.

Another long walk back found us searching for an outdoor lunch spot. We managed to find one but, after a disinterested waitress took our drink order and delivered the large bottle of agua frio and a waiter dumped a basket of bread on our table, we sat for 15 to 20 minutes as others arriving after us had their orders taken and whileother patrons were served.

We tried to catch her eye but she wasn’t having any of that. So, we waited a bit more then decided to pay for our what was on our table and leave. As Robbie said we should have taken the last piece of bread… Definitely a rare experience in this country.

Our taxi awaited us

only to return with the three of us decked out in our swimsuits for a dip. Because there was no way I was going to let Robbie leave this beautiful water without getting in it.

We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the sun and sea. The beach was packed. And, when back aboard, some boisterous teens paddled toward us and posed for a group photo.

Muros

Sunday-Tuesday, August 4-6, 2019

After two nights on anchor we headed further up the ria to the marina in Muros, where we filled up with water, did laundry,

took showers (FYI:  we ensured Robbie experienced the joys of a cockpit shower :), provisioned and explored the town.

One of the sites turned out to be an old tidal milll.

Hardly any signage alerted us to this former industry, but once we located the entrance a smiling and knowledgeable guy at the front desk explained how it worked. Between 1820 and 1967 this mill ground corn and other grains.

The receptionist also provided an intriguing bit of information:  with a lot of time to kill during the milling process the Galicians created their traditional dance and music called ‘muiñera’.

The exhibit featured diagrams associated with the mill

as well as the early history of the region. (This exhibit area is also where I found those better photos of the petroglyphs we had seen on our hike in San Francisco.)

On our way back to JUANONA we looked for a larger grocery store indicated on Google Maps. After several mis-steps, we ended up at what appeared to be a dead end. However, we heard a voice overhead, which turned out to be an older señor who had seen us looking around for a road to the store.

Apparently he’s seen confused walkers before, and he pointed to a path through the field.

Feeling a bit like we were trespassing, we tentatively started out and with more encouragement from our window guide we became more confident as we strode across the land.

With fishing boats delivering seafood on a regular basis, it seemed a crime not to buy some. Not knowing the Spanish names of the fish we generally eat, Max managed to identify something similar. Fortunately the woman filleted it for him. Max also assisted a Danish cruiser (the guy standing next to him with his daughter) who was buying a lobster –his first ever!– to try.

After dinner Robbie performed his usual boat chore,

followed by a game of Oh Hell (yes, Robbie is now a member of that ‘club’ with Max showing him how to score).

Santiago de Compostello

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Muros would be our last port of call with Robbie, but we decided to accompany him to Santiago de Compostello where he’d board the train to Madrid for his flight home. And, where we’d take advantage of forecast inclement weather to check out potential marinas for our wintering.

We took the bus after a feast of custard doughnuts (the last one I gave to my seatmate, a young pilgrim from Barcelona who was ravenous),

and in less than two hours found ourselves in THE pilgrim site.

Max and I checked into our hotel located right around the corner from the main plaza, and soon the three of us found ourselves heading to the cathedral.

On the way some displays immediately caught my eye, and I thought, this is PERFECT for commemorating our visit here.

But, then we found they were 3.50 euros each total a photo (!). We kept going but to this day I regret not convincing my fellow travelers to stick their heads through those holes.

A few steps further we arrived to where so many others had walked:  the Cathedral of Saint James, and his bones. The latter had been discovered in 814 in the forests of Libredón by a hermit named Paio. King Alfonso II built a church and, voila!, let the pilgrimages begin… along with a bigger and more glorious church.

As we walked around the large open plaze filled with pilgrims and tourists alike, it felt in many ways like a carnival.

No doubt echoing centuries’ worth of such fare.

We snapped photos of one another in the plaza,

and, on the other side of the cathedral.

I felt dwarfed by the immensity standing in such close quarters to this building. Obviously those who ruled wanted to provide followers with a feeling that they were being looked after by their religion. Either that or showing who’s boss.

Throughout Max and my travels this summer we’ve come across numerous references to St. James (‘Santiago’ in Galician). And, You didn’t have to be a believer to feel awestruck when standing in front of a cathedral which has drawn so many pilgrims over the centuries. I mean, even my sister is going to be doing a camino with a friend this September.

We joined the line (miraculously short) and climbed the steps to enter.

Noticing four pilgrim-like young men directly behind us I asked them when they had arrived. They hailed from Canada and had just finished their pilgrimage exactly 30 days from when they started.

Unfortunately, they were turned away at the entrance because of their backpacks. But, the guard told them they could store them for 2 euros each just down the steps and to the left. Robbie had read that prior to our entering, and we all had stashed our bags before touring.

Although under major renovations,

visitors could see the famous botafumeira (incense ball), which is swung by eight men on special occasions. Imagine getting konked on the head with THAT thing. Talk about an MDT!

Supposedly the reason for the incense was to counteract the stinkiness of unwashed pilgrims flooding into the building. No kidding.

Around the corner we opted to join others who slowly made their way through a roped path to the High Altar in the Apostle’s chapel to touch the silver back of St. James.

No photos were allowed of the silver bust, but here’s a peek of it through the gates. He sure looks like a happy guy. Who wouldn’t with all those people coming to see you?

We visited the crypt underneath, about which Max wanted to know if anyone had opened it to ensure it was headless…

and then rejoined the human snake as we all existed through the gift shop back to a plaza.

While Robbie and Max looked over some brochures I went next door to our hotel to use our head. Which turned into quite an experience when I couldn’t unlatch the door from the bathroom. Realizing I truly was stuck, I began kicking and screaming. Just our luck, the room was soundproof, as advertised.

Finally, after 15 minutes a maid working in another room, heard my even louder shouts (interrupted by my laughing at my predicament). After she, then the manager, then Max who arrived with Robbie, tried and failed to open the door, the manager’s mom (family-run business) succeeded in freeing me from the bathroom.

With only some bruised thumbs to show for my exertions,

the three of us found a place for lunch indoors (it was starting to sprinkle). FYI: In Spain it’s less expensive to eat indoors than out, but that’s not why we ate indoors. Honest!

Not able to put off our good-byes any longer we walked Robbie out of the old town towards his train.

All I can say is thank god, St. James, and all the pagan deities, memories remain of wonderful times. For that they were :)

 

Starting to cruise Galicia…

Tuesday-Thursday, July 16-25, 2019

Remember when I said we basically glided for two days and nights down the Bay of Biscay to Gijón? None of the traditional rock ‘n rolling due to the ocean rollers that can ‘knock your head right off your shoulders’ (from a Schooner Fare song). Well, our east to west sails along the north coast of Spain made up for our smooth north to south passage.

For 60 miles we slipped and sloshed our way through water throwing a liquid temper tantrum.

Occasional dolphins created a welcome reprieve during our roller-coaster motor-sailing.

With relief we turned into Ria de Ribadeo for the night.

Not so fast. Not only did a weedy bottom in places force us to re-anchor, but we continued to roll up, down, and around on swells. After a sleepless eight hours we upped anchor as soon as it got light and headed for the Ria de Viveiro.

But after reading that this anchorage can be rolly, we said let’s keep on going, which is how we ended up anchored in a lovely bay off of Cedeira late in the afternoon.

So began our cruising the Galician coast of Spain.

CEDEIRA

July 17-19

We explored the town, enjoying lunch in a little square where the town had smartly planned an activity playground for kids while adults sat at tthe outdoor cafes enjoying local fare.

A path along the river took us behind the town where we passed senior citizens out for their morning stroll and, when returning to town, spotted a father and son walking the exposed river bed at low tide.

Besides a blissfully calm surface in which to sleep this town gave us the gift of meeting Pam and Mark, two Brits heading in the same direction. When dinghy-ing back to JUANONA from town, we headed near their boat but with enough space to turn off in case they didn’t wave back (our litmus test for how receptive others are to two cruisers disrupting their peaceful solitude). Fortunately they were as glad to meet other English speaking cruisers as we. They invited us aboard and conversation flowed :)

ARES

July 19-22

After our stay in Cedeira, we headed to the Ares, the next Ria south of us with Pam and March appearing later in the day.

Over the next three days we relaxed off this small beach resort,

where we joined other locals and visitors in slowly walking the boardwalk

and, of course, sampling local seafood :)

Tucked amidst some trees at the far end of the beach we found a cafe with some decent WiFi and across the street a few blocks away a fantastic laundramat. Unfortunately the WiFi only really worked that one day at the cafe but clean bedding and clothes offset that inconvenience.

With Caribbean-color water tempting us, we dinghied to one of the beaches for an evening swim.

Our ‘swim’ ended up as a quick dip instead for the water temperature resembled Maine’s more than any tropical warmth.

With the start of summer holidays beginning in full force we’d been a bit concerned about crowded harbors and anchorages. But our fears were unfounded. We discovered plenty of space along this coastal region, an assurance other sailors had mentioned.

And, it appeared some cruising boats never left as witnessed by the tatters of a country flag…

A CORUÑA

July 22-25

Our next rendezvous put us in A Coruña, a port whose history included…

the world’s oldest working lighthouse (more on that latter)…

…and a landing for those arriving from sea to continue their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

A misunderstanding put us In two different marinas. Pam and Mark moored at the Darsena located in the town center while we turned into the first marina when entering the harbor. Although even on the outer part of the city it was an easy, five-minute walk into the old town.

Generally it takes us a bit to become accustomed to the quicker tempo of a metropolis after the peace of a quiet village.  But, with an afternoon of walking through the old town we settled into the city’s pace. Which picked up, as did we, when learning we had arrived just as one of the largest parties was beginning: the Medieval Festival :)

Beginning Tuesday night and continuing through Sunday, locals outfitted in medieval dress manned booths selling wares of non-edibles (headscarves to amulets)

and edibles (Iberica jamon to honey), some appearing mighty odd.

But, the best offerings of the festival appeared in the form of acrobats,

Strolling troubadours,

Ogres,

who didn’t seem to faze some kids despite in-your face ‘greetings’,

walking vegetation,

and, a fire-breathing dragon, which did cause at least one child to scream in holy terror (check out the video, pretty horrifying for a kid).

I fell under the spell of this festival with its blending of GAME OF THRONES + LORD OF THE RINGS + WIZARD OF OZ. Not what I was expecting in a region known for its Catholicism.

Delicious street food served as our lunch and dinner fare for most of our days there where we partook of kabobs, actually MANY kabobs. It’s also where we learned the importance of vigilance against theives.

As Max stood in front of a booth deciding what food to order three women, grandmotherly in appearance, crowded around him. He felt pressure where he kept his wallet inside a Velcro-closed pocket, and when he realized it was gone quickly grabbed the woman’s arm. Suddenly a young man standing nearby pointed and yelled ‘the thief went that way!’

Well,s he hadn’t gone that way. In the confusion all the thieves got away. Within 15 minutes the police ‘discovered’ and returned the wallet, minus cash but with credit cards intact. How they knew where to find the wallet so quickly made the entire episode seem a bit suspicious, but Max was relieved to only have lost some cash. He now pins that pocket closed with a safety pin.

A Coruña also where we found a perfect retreat from the street melange:  a cafe with great WiFi, peace for writing all accompanied by good java.

I discovered even more relaxing hours during two glorious massages by Rita at the Oriental spa located right on the main plaza. Now that’s a true luxury.

We met up with Pam and Mark

for some amazing mojitos (while learning of some special rum)

then joined the stream of happy revelers navigating the narrow lanes with Mark encouraging Max to demo a head scratcher.

The days were hot under the sun but really pleasant in the shade. By afternoon an onshore sea breeze kicked in, providing free A/C to all. In the late evening the air cooled off a bit more, warranting a blanket for sleeping. With most of Europe experiencing acute heat waves, this part of Spain was bathed in cooler temps. Talk about luck.

We explored beyond the old town gaining an appreciation for this Spanish city.  Just walking out of the main plaza placed us amid modern life, including seeing a peaceful protest against the local telecommunications company.

Walking further on we saw an evocative photography display, ‘Castaway Women’. With over 10 portraits, the photographs captured the terror, exhaustion, and relief experienced by these migrants. In the image below Olmo Calvo caught a group of immigrants found in a rubber dinghy next to the Libyan coast. The Spanish NGO, Proactiva Open Arms, supplied the life vests and later rescued 60 people also attempting to cross to Italy. 

The expression ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ seems appropriate.

Crossing to the other side of the peninsula we prominaded along a boardwalk rimming a pristine beach, a feature of many of these coastal cities and towns.

And, where one beach goer would possibly rue her time in the sun.

A cool sculpture at the end of the beach reminded us of the popularity of surfing

and always of my brother and nephews’ love of the sport. So, I just had to pose (as seen in cover photo :)

The Spaniards definitely appreciate their ocean access. In all of our stops along this coast kayakers, paddle boarders, divers, jet skiers, and swimmers joined sailors and power boaters on and in the water. But, nothing beats the pure joy of seeing kids leaping off land and splashing down in the ocean, which occurred frequently along the city’s harbor.

By Thursday A Coruña had become a familiar face. Having adjusted to city living we settled into an easy routine of visiting favorite haunts (roaming the old town, running miscellaneous errands, and provisioning as needed).

Additionally, Thursday, July 25th is one of the most popular holidays of the year:  the Feast of St. James, the patron saint of Galicia and of Spain.

He’s the reason (well, at least way back when) why all those pilgrims make their way to Santiago (‘Saint James’ in the galician dialect) de Compostello where he’s (supposedly) interned. And, why the Festival’s spirit reached an even higher pitch. Which is truly interesting considering how joyfully pagan we felt.

Yet, aboard JUANONA we had highlighted this day for another reason. With that, I’ll close with something I never got tired of during our time in A Coruña:

¡España!

GIJÓN Y ENVIRONS

Tuesday-Wednesday, July 9-16, 2019

Gijón

Marina Yates welcomed us onto the north coast of Spain Tuesday morning with Jésus, the marina manager, and his friend catching our lines. We had heard of the warm hospitality visiting yachts received in Spain, and Jésus and his staff proved it.

He later came aboard to help us plan our exploration of Gijón and the surrounding area. His enthusiasm for this region of Spain was infectious, and we carefully noted routes and sites to see.

But, we also had another treasure trove of information for this area, which we frequently consulted during our stay. Our friends Linda and Joel had traveled here resulting in several detailed emails providing excellent suggestions for a road trip.

Another source came from my brother and sister-in-law who had just recently returned from a two-week road trip, which included both inland and coastal sight-seeing. Coastal because my brother managed to bring his wetsuit and surf several times :)

Not only did Jésus assist in mapping out our itinerary but also served as transport to the local medical clinic. Furthermore, when we didn’t return until much later in the afternoon, we discovered he drove to the hospital (!) to see if we had been sent there. But, it was nothing that drastic. The clinic gave us an appointment and within two hours we had paid the 51 euro bill and obtained a prescription at a local pharmacy for 5 euros. The efficiency and low-cost stunned us (other times we’ve had to pay much, much more to access a country’s medical services), as did the concern and care from Jésus.

Our marina sat on the outskirts of the city resulting in a 20-30 minute walk to reach the old town. Along the way we noticed some ugly graffiti mirroring what’s going on back home. Another reminder of how nationalism brings out the worst in people.

But, that was one of the few signs we saw, hoping there weren’t more.

When exploring Gijón we walked by a statue of a king named Pelayo holding aloft a cross.

In reading later about this guy we discovered Asturias, a principality facing the Cantabrian Sea (Spanish name for Bay of Biscay) to the north, Cantabria to the east, Castile-León to the south, and Galicia to the west, served as the first area of this peninsula to reconquer lands from the Moors.

Pelayo (d.737), whom they think may have been a page or a bodyguard in the royal court of Visigothic King Roderick (who died fighting the Muslims), led the revolt in the early 700s, becoming king in 717 after pushing the Muslims out of his country and reinstating the Catholic faith and Spanish independence, at least in this bit of Spain.

Subsequently, Pelayo became a legend and is hailed as the savior of Christianity. One site describes his victory over the Moors as such: “Vastly outnumbered but armed with invincible faith, Don Pelayo’s heroic spirit attracted God’s blessing and changed the course of Spanish history” (www.tfpstudentaction.org). Yikes. Thus begins another religious righteousness that, to me, has poisoned the world.

But, back to Asturias where prior to Pelayo evidence has been found of human habitation 100,000 years ago. Later, during the Iron Age, Celtic tribes arrived and settled in this area. By the 5th century B.C.E. the Castreña culture populated the area, living in fortified settlements called castros located on hilltops surrounded by a circular ditch.

Next, the Romans arrived in the Iberian peninsula 219/8 B.C.E. They overcame their main rivals, the Carthaginians, in 205 B.C.E. and proceeded to push north and west, conquering tribes along the way – one being the Lusitanians.

The Lusitanians lost to the invaders in 133 B.C.E. but only after putting up fierce resistance. Interestingly, some historians accredit the Lusitanians under their leader Viriatus (d.138 B.C.E.) as employing the first Spanish guerrilla tactics.

The Romans continued their push into Iberia, now focusing on the Celtic tribes occuping northwest Spain, primarily in Asturias and its eastern neighbor, Cantabri. Only after ten years of fighting (29-19 B.C.E.) did Rome finally win the war.

Then, 700 years later the Moors arrived, which brings us back to Don Pelayo (FYImost of the rest of Spain remained under the Moors until King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I captured Granada in 1492).

Okay, back to Pelayo (labeled ‘the wild ass’ in an Islamic chronicle). Since his reconquering of Asturia from the Moors soon after their initial invasion, this part of the Iberian peninsula remained independent with the title “prince of Asturias” being used by the Spanish monarchy to this day. And, in spite of the Roman and Moorish invasions, the native traditions still exist as we saw during several festivals.

With time to explore the region we rented a car and headed south towards the beautiful Picos de Europa. For three days we oohed and awed over the glorious scenery laid out in front of us.

Covandonga

Within several hours we found ourselves in one of the Asturians’ most venerated sites:  Covandonga. Here Pelayo began his reconquest of Asturias. Supposedly, the breath of the Virgin inspired Pelayo to win the Battle of Covadonga thus placing this spot on the history map. The cave, Cova Dominica, in which Pelayo and his soldiers sheltered became a holy site with the third king of Asturias, Alphonse I (693-757) building a chapel there. A masonry one was built on the spot in 1940.

Not only does the Holy Cave enshrine the Ausurians’ patron saint, la Santina (the Virgin de Covandonga) seen below in a 1918 procession to the Holy Cave…

 

but also Pelayo, his wife Gaudosia,

and Alphonse I who are entombed here.

Originally, pilgrims crawled on their knees up the 100 stone steps (Staircase of Promises) to reach the site, but now a tunnel connects it to the esplanade of the Basilica. And, overseeing the entire plaza is the iconic statue of Don Pelayo with his infamous Christian cross, la Cruz de la Victoria.

The Basilica dramatically rises as you begin your approach to the plaza,

passing the Collegiate Church of San Fernando.

Commissioned by King Alphonse XII (1886-1941), the Basillica was completed in 1901.

Walking back to our car we contemplated joining a long line waiting for the bus to see two magnificent lakes, Enol and La Ercina. It was tempting, as was taking the Fuente Dé cable car to the top of Picos Massif as my brother and his wife recently did; however, the heat won out with our choosing, instead, to avoid the crowds. We opted for an icy pop then slurped our way back down the hill to our car.

We continued winding our way further south through mountainous countryside with a few stops at roadside adventure camps

and miradors along the way.

Cangas de Onis

Our next destination was Cangas de Onis, capital of Asturias until 774 with its former Roman bridge reconstructed during the Middle Ages.

We also took advantage of some other works of ‘art’.

Posada de Valdeón

Late afternoon we began our search for a place to stay, and we found the perfect spot in Posada de Valdeón:  Hotel Rural Picos de Europa. We knew we were lucky because not a lot of accommodations populate these small towns, but our hosts said the high season had only just begun since earlier rainy weather delayed the typical onslaught of visitors.

And, our room tucked up into the top floor made for a perfect ‘Heidi in the mountains’ feel.

This tiny village offered several lodges, a few restaurants (one being so good we returned for our second feast the next night), and an outdoor adventure shop. That’s it, along with the incredible vistas.

It’s also where we met and shared some wonderful conversations with two avid New Hampshire hikers who kindly suggested an easy stroll for us, starting in Cain, another small village further north.

We drove a half hour or so to Cain for a morning trek alongside the Cares River, a riverbed chiseled out of huge limestone blocks.

It also serves as a feed for hydropower, which is probably why such a well-established trail is carved out of the limestone, beginning with some short tunnels.

We went to the mid-point, then turned to retrace our steps. But, not before we experienced a religious moment… Thanks to our friend Ellen, we started seeing Flat Jesus in odd spots, including on a trail sign,

and in my back pocket.

We felt a bit abashed when others noticed our Flat Jesus, but we hopefully allayed any disrespect by saying it was ‘for our church’.

On our way back to our inn we stopped at yet another viewpoint (honestly, you can not not take photos of all this splendor)

only to find when we got back in the car that we could only go in reverse (!) while in first gear. Not a good thing when on narrow, steep, winding roads. In other words, backing up all the way back was definitely not an option.

After a few moments of wide-eyed concern of ‘how the hell do we get out of this predicament?!’, Max discovered he just had to really, REALLY gun it when starting on an incline. Problem solved but not without some rapid heart beating.

The next morning we packed our bags and headed off for more exploring as we made our way back to the coast, heading north and east.

The roads appeared well kept 

although still a bit unerving with steep drop-offs and potential fog banks ahead.

Potes

With a full day ahead we decided to check out another popular pilgrimage site.

Just outside the city of Potes in the Cantabria province east of Asturias, Turibius of Liébana and some Benedictine monks settled in the foothills of Picos de Europa in the 6th century.

Several centuries later Don Pelayo’s successful campaign against the Moors resulted in a Catholic stronghold. Later, emigrating Christians from the north created a strategic buffer in the Valley of Liébana along the River Duer.  Which is how the monastery Santo Toribio de Liébana came to be.

It gets a bit confusing as this Turibius of the 6th century (who would become a Saint) gets mixed up with another Turibius of Astorga of the 4th century (also granted Sainthood). I believe it’s the latter whose bones found their way to this monastery.

To me, what’s interesting is both championed Rome’s Catholicism versus Priscillianism, a form of Christianity developed here in the 4th century by, whom else, Priscillian (340-385).*  And, one I had never ever heard about, which isn’t surprising considering my tiny knowledge of religions.

*This doctrine is a mix of Gnosticism (the Christians’ God didn’t directly create the earth, an imperfect spirit did…) and Manichaeism (the good power of God opposed the evil power of the devil) with the underlying dualistic premise:  material was evil and the spirit good, which, leads to the logical (?) belief that this denied Christ’s humanity.

Priscillian didn’t sound like a fun guy as he has been described as a rigorous ascetic forbidding all sensual pleasures, marriage, meat and wine. He also has the distinction of being the first ascetic executed (he literally lost his head) for heresy by the Church.

And, this is one of the rabbit holes I follow when something unusual catches my interest and, which I’m certain doesn’t capture yours! So, onwards to what we actually saw…

We passed groups of orange t-shirted youth making their way up the long hill.

I later spoke with several of them who explained they comprised a group of around 100 kids from all over Spain. Their week-long pilgrimage ended here, for which they appeared extremely thankful.

We followed them into the church, built in 1256. The simplicity of the decor was refreshing after the lavishness of other churches and cathedrals we’d visited.

Here we witnessed a short sermon (which we didn’t understand) and a song (which didn’t matter that we didn’t understand as it was lovely).

Off to the left of the Apse an iron grill secured the Chapel of the Lignum Crucis. Eye roll not withstanding, peering through the bars we saw a glass encased, gold encrusted sacred relic.

This was the Lignum Crucis or in lay terms, the largest known piece of the True Cross… left branch, mind you, of the cross Jesus died on. And, if you could look at it without the gold casing (created in the 18th century) you could see the nail hole for one of his hands, I mean, the sacred nail hole.

And, how did this priceless piece of wood come to be here you ask? Well, Emperor Constantine’s mom, Helen (Saint Elena now) (246/248-330 C.E.) discovered it along with the crucifixion nails, the holy tunic, and the crown of thorns belonging to Jesus. Historians can’t quite pinpoint how Camaleño managed to get their hands on this artifact; but it most likey arrived in the 8th century along with the remains of Santo Toribio de Astorga. Which is why this ancient monastery is known as “The Sanctuary of the Lignum Crucis”.

I didn’t see it but the monastery’s cloister has replicas of the “Commentary on the Book of the Apocalypse” by Beatus of Liébana (730-800). Drafted in 776 then revised twice over the next ten years, his work served as a rallying cry for his countrymen against the Moorish rule. Thus, it became a best seller, causing others to create over 34 versions (called “beatus”) from the 10th to the 16th centuries.

In a small gift shop you could obtain a bunch of Christian items, including several versions of a baby Jesus,

with price tags that probably pay for some good communion vino.

As tempting as it was, we decided to not bring one aboard to keep our pagan doll company.

Rgardless of who did what when, this stone grouping of quiet buildings nestled amongst the forested hill exudes peace. One we enjoyed in spite of our heatheness.

Back down the hill we drove into another popular destination, Potes. We eventually found a parking spot and joined other tourists out and about enjoying a warm summery day.

A tower offered some great views

and a quick history of the region beginning with the Roman conquest of NW Spain and continuning through the rise of the Inquisition.

And, remember the Beatus mentioned earlier? An exhibit featured replicas of these manuscripts, noting that a variety of institutions (Paris National Library, Madrid’s Royal Academy of History Library, New York City’s Morgan Library, etc.) hold the originals.

Since the majority of text appeared in Spanish we deciphered what we could- not quite understanding the Beatus’ significance, but appreciating the illustrations,

including some rather cartoonish expressions of Adam and Eve…

While I perused the Beatus Max joyfully occupied himself scouting out various placements for Flat Jesus, the most notable relating to the Inquisition.

An outdoor lunch (numerous sidewalk cafes mean very few choose to eat indoors) and people-watching ended our tour of Potes.

We continued on our journey while every now and then gazing heavenwarads to thank the road gods for the nets above us.

We stopped in at the 10th century church of Santa Maria de Liébana. Unfortunately, we had missed the confusing signage citing opening hours but did appreciate the setting, situated below a rock climbing school.

Santillana del Mar

Our last destination before Santander landed us in one of the quaintest medieval villages we’d seen in Spain:  Santillana del Mar. Thankfully, Linda mentioned this otherwise we might have missed it, which would have been a real mistake.

We paid a small entrance fee to access one of this village’s main sites:  Santa Juliana Collegiate Church.

Another fascinating religious structure educated us on the connection of the French King Luis IX (1214-70) to this region of Spain via his father’s (Luis VIII’s) marriage to Blanca de Castilla (1188-1252).

A display describes this king as one of the most prestigious figures of the Middle Ages. No doubt this reverance came from Louis’ devotion to the Christian faith (he’s the only French king named as a Saint). He wanted to trade his crown for a monk’s robe but knew his duty was to lead his people, which he did in the 7th and 8th crusades while spending boat loads of public funds on Christian relics (he built Sainte-Chapelle to hold these special items). Considering he zealously suppported the Inquisition, his reforming of the French legal system and the presumption of innocence seems a bit hypocritical. Eventually Luis got his halo and became Saint Luis in 1297.

For all his monkhood he certainly enjoyed the conjugal bed, for his wife Margaret of Provence (1221-95) popped out 11 kids.

We wandered along the cloister noting elaborate columns decorated with religious scenes

and an elaborate storyboard depicting the life of Christ,

which jolted us when it suddenly sparked into animation.

On our way to this site Max noticed a potential MDT (Max Disaster Tour), the Torture and Inquisition Museum. Oh boy.

However, when we met at the cafe (I decided to sit this one out) he said the displays present these despicable practices in historical context, and notes which ones continue to the present day in particular countries.

Another very historical site we unfortunately missed:  the Cave of Altimira with its 14,000 year-old paintings. But, hey, yet another reason to return to this magical region of Spain.

By 10pm we found ourselves standing in Santander’s small airport waiting for a special visitor to arrive. Soon we spotted my beautiful god daughter Maggie :)  She had made the trek from Lyons where her French studies had just ended and was joining us for a too-brief visit.

Oviedo

Back on JUANONA we fell into berths and woke Sunday morning for another day of sight-seeing. We made the short drive to the capital of Asturias, Oviedo, where we posed for photos in front of its famous cathedral in the Plaza Alphonse II El Casto,

listened to traditional music while watching costumed locals dance,

enjoyed some tapas and some of tapas including shaved slices of jamón,

and appreciated one of the stunning sculptures scattered throughout out this city.

A circular route back to Gijón included some back roads to another small church, again whose viewing hours we missed; but, we did see one of this area’s traditional hórreos or granaries.

Raised onto mushroom topped stones,

this design supposedly kept rodents out of the stored grain; however, I’d like to see a test run of this for all of us thought rats could scale those pillars pretty quickly if they’re anything like the squirrels at our feeders.

Cudillero

A quick drive down to the small harbor of Cudillero found us amidst a flood of locals and tourists. Against a steep backdrop of homes, cafes, and shops locals and tourists alike basked in the hot sun

with some getting a respite from the water.

After a whirlwind of a visit Maggie boarded a bus to Bilboa to meet her friends as well as reacquaint herself with her luggage that hadn’t arrived on her flight to us.

A quick provisioning at a huge supermercado and a wash down of JUANONA’s deck to remove coal dust from the loading port next door prepped us for our next adventure:  Galicia, which, to say it properly, start lisping!

I can’t leave this post without noting a favorite musician of mine who passed away July 16. Johnny Clegg, born 1953, was someone I discovered in the 1980s and followed ever since. Thanks to him, I have a wonderful memory of dancing my butt off with my cousin Cathy and friend Colleen in the early 1990s at a concert in Burlington, Vermont.

So, here’s to Johnny Clegg and the beauty of his music.

https://www.okayafrica.com/listen-to-ten-great-johnny-clegg-songs/

 

 

 

Passage

BAY OF BISCAY

Sunday-Tuesday, July 7-9, 2019

This was the day to face the infamous Bay of Biscay, a body of water that I’d only heard not great things about. Max would every now and then hum a Schooner Fare song and when feeling particularly jolly, sing out “and the Bay of Biscay rollers will knock your head right off your shoulders!” Lovely.

Yet, we knew of several cruising teams who had perfectly fine crossings, one even in January (!) and another who zoomed down from the North with a wonderful wind. So, we knew if we picked our weather, which we usually can due to the luxury of no real time constraints, our crossing would, if not mimic those, at least be relatively peaceful.

That weather window opened up Sunday after a week’s long stay in Quiberon, our last port of call in Brittany. Since landing May 30 in Lezardrieu this part of France had served as an intriguing and captivating place to explore. Despite sometimes challenging decisions concerning extreme tides and powerful currents our time here gave us a completely different feel of France. Not surprising considering the strong connections to the Celts’ immigration pre-900 C.E.

Under a forecast of not too much wind and low wave, i.e., roller, height distrubing our 260-mile journey we left casting a last glance backwards.

Within two hours we were hoisting our asymetrical (cruising) spinnaker, first time of the summer.

For the next several hours we enjoyed a relaxing and even keeled ride.

Ahhh, only us, the wind and the seas, which felt blessedly gentle.

The first day our wind kept up, more so than had been predicted. No matter. Suited us just fine. And, how can anything be wrong with this picture… great legs AND harness attached (Max was fiddling with the SSB Radio antenna).

On our two-person passages our time tables for being on watch flex:  during the day, we’ll trade off cat-napping as needed; at night we generally do three hours on/three hours off. Or, if required, we’re both up to deal with a lot of shipping traffic, sail changes, or major weather disturbances.

But, nothing like that faced us, so the captain got a restful sleep while offering the perfect opportunity for a quick shot :)

The night passed smoothly and another day of sailing coupled with motoring to ensure we maintained 4 knots minimum. We always want to keep ourselves covering miles at a decent pace. It lowers our exposure to changes in the weather as the forecast under which we leave a port is only good for a limited amount of time; so, the quicker we cross, the less likely to be caught out.

Surprisingly, very little traffic appeared during this passage. The one exception were the fleets of fishing boats, which we had heard about. Sure enough, the predicted flock appeared and we easily avoided any issues because they were clumped together.

After that, we rarely spotted another boat either on AIS (automatic identification system) or looking at the horizon. A few times a white sail would appear heading towards us or coming our way; but, other than those infrequent sightings the coast was clear as they say (sorry, I can’t seem to get away from spouting these trite expressions!).

On Monday the wind had dropped as forecasted, so on came the motor. By mid-day we crossed from France into Spain.

Max performed the ceremony of switching our courtesy flags (a nautical requirement to indicate a boat’s foreign status in another country’s waters).

Once or twice before we’ve come to realize after the fact out courtesy flag wasn’t the correct one. In Spain we later discovered flags without the crown on them. When we asked our Spanish marina host, he said, ‘no, you’d want the crown for it shows you support the king.’ Which began our understanding about this northern coast’s heritage: it was the first region of Spain where they reconquered their country from the Moors in the mid-700s. Don’t worry-that’s all the history. For now, at least :)

Monday flowed into the second and final night of our passage. We had hoped to be crossing under a full moon but the timing didn’t work out, so our nights were shrouded in darkness.

I’d check the sails with a strong flashlight but it can feel a bit eerie floating out there with only you, the sea, and a visibility the circumference of the boat.

When it’s quiet with no ships around and no unpredictable boat movements due to rough or no-wind weather, you become wrapped in a comfortable blanket of soft darkness. I’d like to play music but don’t since earphones would block out any unusual sounds coming out of the night. So, it’s my cup of tea, book, meandering thoughts, and dropping below to check AIS.

Then dawn breaks, the remoteness fades, and renewed energy infuses JUANONA.  And, this morning involved prepping for our arrival in Gíjon, Spain.

With Marina Yates on the outskirts of the city promising no-stress docking we contacted the marina over VHF (if that fails, we resort to using our limited cell for a phone call).

The staff directed us to our berth, catching our lines and welcoming us to Spain. Within thirty minutes Customs was aboard, and after an easy exchange of legal papers (boat registration, our passports, and other necessary documents), we had officially been accepted into this country.

We had last sailed here in 2003, only it was in southern Spain when we had over-wintered while staging to enter and later leave the Mediterranean. This had a completely different feel, one we were looking forward to exploring.

And, one of the best parts of being here? Our crossing was the easiest one I’ve ever been on. So, the Bay of Biscay for us did not knock our heads off our shoulders, and for that I’m truly thankful.

 

 

 

 

BRITTANY: Part VI

ÎLE DE GROIX

Thursday-Sunday, June 27-30, 2019

One night was all we required to get a feel for Concarneau, so the next day we hoisted our anchor and headed out to sea. But not too far for our destination only 25 miles away. Soon we landed on one of Britany’s gems:  Île de Groix.

The island has a small marina and some mooring buoys where you tie both your bow and stern. People told us it can get pretty crowded, especially on the weekend, which hastened our decision to get there Thursday. And, we were glad we did for by the weekend every boat was rafting to another one creating a web of lines.

But, we were lucky because we met Camille, Pierre, and Thomas who had sailed here from L’Orient. The boat belonged to Cami and Pierre who lived aboard while their friend Thomas was taking a break from his cycling vacation (he’d been up in Scotland) to join them for the weekend.

We wish we had had more time to spend with them but at least we shared a table watching the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup game and saw them briefly during our forays around the island.

And, they generously gave us a traditional cake from Brittany, which we devoured… :)

We rented bikes (we’re becoming hooked on electric bikes…), which gave us the opportunity to toodle around the entire island. And, where we engaged in a staring contest with the horse seen at the beginning this post. We also took our first dips of the season

on one of the pristine beaches dotting the shoreline.

This island served as the second time we came into contact with the Douanes (French Customs). Luckily it’s only because they were on a boat rafted to us. I engaged one of the officers quickly, letting him know we were ‘legal’ with our temporary residency in the Netherlands. He was fine; however, a sterner looking fellow asked him a question which included ‘Ou?’, which I knew as ‘where?’.

The nicer officer with whom I was conversing said, ‘It’s not you, it’s the boat. He wants to know where you sailed from.’ I told him we had stopped in the Channel Islands, technically not in the EU part of the VAT agreement (which has since come into question), and we had temporarity imported JUANONA into the Netherlands. He smiled and said, you’re fine as we have you in the system from when you were boarded earlier this summer.’

In spite of our legal status both with regards to Schengen and the EU VAT, I never quite feel at ease in the company of customs. More often than not one’s compliance appears to depend on how the Custom Officers interprets their understanding of the rules and regulations. And, in the fine print of the EU one, each country can decide whether and how much VAT can/will be charged on the boat.

It was nice speaking with the first guy, but also nice to wave good-bye…

 

ÎLE d-HOUAT

Sunday-Monday, June 30-July 1, 2019

When Sunday came we provisioned at the grocery store, then quickly decided to leave when several of the rafted boats departed and we spotted an opening to make an easy exit from the harbor.

We rendez-vous’d with another American boat whom we had met via an email introduction via some other cruising friends.  They had  suggested meeting in a large bay off this island.

Jayne, another cruising friend, mentioned they had stopped here several years ago and saw an amazing display of the phosphorescence, a feature this small island is known for. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it but did enjoy a lovely walk the next day

after a fun dinner followed by a sleep amidst swells rocking JUANONA.

We only had a short time to share as we were heading in opposite directions and needed to take adavantage of the winds. That’s the problem with cruising:  you’re always saying good-bye.

 

COASTAL BRITTANY

Monday-Sunday, July 1-7, 2019

QUIBERON

We only had another short sail to reach our next port, this time a marina (Port Haliguen) outside the town of Quiberon.

We’ve been extremely fortunate being able to live ‘on the water’ because meteorologists had forecast a heat wave blanketing Europe. Being on the coast certainly helped mediate the temperatures; and, even though we couldn’t swing with the wind since we were in a berth, the lower temps of the water kept our hull (and us) relatively cool.

PONT-AVEN

Here we took advantage of our proximity to several sites by planning several day trips with a rental car. A must-see for me was Pont-Aven, a lovely town, one both Max and I just relaxed into (once we fereted out a parking space amidst all the other tourists’ vehicles).

While walking along the riverside we noted how nonchalant some of these boats sat at low tide,

including one whose prop appeared immersed in the muddy bottom goo, which perplexed the captain mightily.

124567F4-446C-443F-A516-AF49FA4DF2D8

This town is where Paul Gauguin started an informal art colony in 1886 by encouraging fellow French painters to come here. However, it had gained popularity 30 years earlier first with American artists, followed by British, Scandinavians, Dutch and Irish.

For those who aren’t interested in history, please skip. For those who are, I’m just doing a brief stroll through the painters’ time in this village, which could charm the most cynical of tourists.

A museum on the main square introduced us to one of the key reasons why artists favored this town: Julia Guillou (1848-1927).She managed to buy the hotel (Hôtel des Voyageurs) where she had worked, soon earning the reputation as the ‘bonne hôstesse’. The museum occupies the annexe she later added to her hotel.

Over the years as owner of this hotel she offered rooms to painters, primarily academic ones, while ensuring a healthy income came from developing her hospitality business. Doesn’t she sound like someone you’d love to meet? She does to me. And, frankly, I have a friend who immediately comes to mind when thinking of Julia. Only she’d be right in there with the artists!

Painters gathered here drawn by Gauguin, including CamillePissaro (1830-1903), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Emile Bernard (1868-1941) and many I didn’t know:  Armand Séguin; Émile Schuffenecker, Paul Sérusier, Charles Laval, Louis Anquetin,Maxime Maufra, Henry Moret, Ferdinand Loyen du Puigaudeau to name a few. Being senior to the majority of the other French painters, Gauguin became the de facto leader.

During this time several different painting styles arose, and I’ll use Wikipedia.org’s definitiions versus trying to explain them myself:  synthetism (‘emphasized two-dimentional flat patterns’); and, cloisonnism (‘bold and flat forms separated by dark contours’).

With lighter easels and paints available in tubes, artists found it easier to paint on site; and, Brittany with its dramatic coastline and variable maritime light served as the perfect ‘model’ for painters eager to explore new techniques.

The exhibit and excellent audio tour filled us full of the various storylines of the artists and their time spent here. So much so, I stopped trying to make sense of who did what when and simply just enjoyed their work. Well, a lot of it.

The Pont-Aven Group continued to inspire artists beyond Gaugin’s time, and several painters’ later work–

Moret’s (156-1913) ‘Goulphar, Belle-Île’ 1895

Maufra’s (1861-1918) ‘Rochers au soleil couchant; L’Anse du port Lonnec’ 1899

and, Puigaudeau’s (1865-1930) ‘Batz-sur-mer au clair de lune’

–drew my eyes. As did, Moret’s ‘Ramasseuses de goémon’ pastel.

What I loved were the odd non-art details that cropped up every now and then. For example, in 1894 Gauguin ended up with a broken ankle thanks to a fight with some fishermen in Concarneau (the beach resort town off of which we had anchored a week earlier).

Looking at this photo from 1886 in Pont-Aven you can imagine the bohemian spirit zinging around those streets.

Gauguin sits in the middle holding a dog while Puigaudeau stands third from the right wearing, appropriately, a Breton shirt :)

Gauguin seemed a restless soul, coming and going to and from Pont-Aven four times over eight years, with 1894 being his last. That year he returned in April with his young mistress Annah, a Javanese woman he’d met in Tahiti, but he didn’t stay long. He left Pont-Aven eventually landing in Marseilles and leaving again for Tahiti in 1895. He died eight years later in the Marquesas.

Many of these artists owed their growing fame to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922).

He first began in 1870-71 with paintings by Monet and then Pissarro and featured the Impressionists’ second showing in his Paris gallery in 1876. Eleven years later he opened up a gallery in New York City, and in 1905 exhibited their work in London.

My goddaugther Maggie reminded me of an excellent book on some of these artists:  THE PRIVATE LIVES OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS by Sue Roe. I had started it on Kindle awhile ago but decided on a paper copy for easier Index referencing. Anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes view of this group would enjoy it.

Although many are devotees of Gauguin, including Pierre Girded (1875-1948)I who painted his idol in a composition mimicking the Last Supper…

… I’m not a fan of Gauguin’s work. However I do appreciate his influence on others. After the fact, the artists who painted here became known as the Pont-Aven School. However, as the museum clearly states: the group of artists is ‘not one of a master surrounded by his students, but instead a sharing of personal and innovative ideas and aesthetics, at the margins of official instruction… According to Gauguin, the painter thus acquired “the right to dare all”. And, ‘dare all’ they did.

A perfect summation of our touring of this picturesque town. With one last look at the high tide having freed the earlier-mentioned sailboat’s propeller and keel, we drove back towards the sea and JUANONA.

CARNAC

The next day our land excursion found us retracing part of our route back to Carnac. We had driven by here on our return from Pont-Aven, and it was then that both of us exclaimed ‘holy cow!’ as we came to the top of a rise.

The reason for our shared shout came from seeing a huge field of megaliths, prehistoric standing stones, quietly laid out in front of us.

We had heard how this area of Brittany featured many prehistoric sites, and we had seen some on our bike ride around Camaret-sur-mer further north. But, these 5,000-6,000 year-old stones appearing in row after row in undulating fields for almost four miles is awesome. This is the only place where so many of these stones appear in one location.

Called the Carnac Alightments, a Neolithic site located just outside La Trinité-sur-la-mer, they stand as sentries; yet, no one knows why, only that they obviously took a lot of work to place them. Not a job I’d enjoy.

The Megaliths Visitor Center provided a good explanation of the site’s main champion, Zacharie Le Rouzic (1864-1939),

as well as other prehistoric areas located in Armorica, this region of Brittany. His mentor was the scottish archaelogist James Miln, but Le Rouzic became enamored with this site in the 1880s when the Carnac Museum opened. He began taking photographs, selling them in the museum. Eventually this led to a dual passion of photography and archaeolgy.

A short video explained the ‘how’ of installing such stones

and signage gave us the background on Le Rouzic. And, one of the staff told us we could simply take a picture of the large map on display

and view the stones on our own without taking a guided tour. (The tour allows you to walk amidst the stones; and, in case anyone can come between the months of October and March, you’d be able to walk along the rows without a guide.)

So, that’s what we did, stopping at all the designated viewpoints to gaze at these solemn rocks…

and stooping to enter one of the dolmens…

where I snapped a shot of Max, one that I would NEVER let him post of me in the same position.

But, it bugs the hell out of me that we don’t know the purpose. This is another reason why time travel would be a fantastic way to experience history. Maybe in the future.

L’ORIENT

Our final day of road travel we focused on two things:  seeing France’s homage to a stellar sailor, Éric Tabarly; and, trying to find a larger battery for our electric outboard.

We accomplished both :)

Tabarly (1931-98) became an avid sailor starting with sailing as a baby aboard his father’s boat, PEN DUICK, and later joining the French Navy. He designed PEN DUICK II, his second racing boat, and began building a winning resumé by placing first in the 1964 single-handed, transatlantic race from Plymouth, England to Newport, Rhode Island.

His racing boats, all named PEN DUICK, evolved over the years adding to his victories and growing reputation both in France and around the world (his countrymen and women thought so highly of him that shipyard workers in 1968 stopped striking so they could complete number IV in time for a race). Max actually recognized one of these iterations, PEN DUICK III, docked at the same Guernsey marina as us back in May.

A relatively small display covered his life, including listing his racing achievements from 1964 to winning the notorious, annual Fastnet Race in 1997.  But, it was only in reading later online that I learned he tragically drowned in the Irish Sea while sailing to Scotland June 1998. He was sailing on the original PEN DUICK, the one on which he learned to sail as a boy.

Racing these boats is pretty dangerous as this video captures a scene of a guy just missing being left behind in the sea…

and of another French solo sailor crashing.

When inside this museum it became clear the emphasis was on exposing visitors to the physics, mechanics and joys of sailing. Videos explained the principles of using the wind to move a boat through water. Another area includes many demos–including an indoor pool equipped with toyboats–

tested one’s marine skills.

In addition to entertaining you, it also showed that what may look simple, isn’t necessarily so. Both Max and I said what a perfect place to bring anyone interested in sailing, especially those attending a sailing school.

After an hour of perusing the exhibits and trying out our own maritime agility, we exited to look at the real thing floating in the marina. As it happened, these docks served as a base for some of the racing boats and teams we saw during the Urgo Le Figaro in Roscoff.

And, the electric outboard battery? After searching several chandleries, one said they didn’t have one and contacted the distributor who couldn’t ship one to us in time. Then he called another store and arranged for us to pick up the battery that had been used as a display (!). This type of help typifies the people we’ve experienced during our time in Brittany.

La Trinité-sur-mer

We visited one more town just up the river from our marina in Quiberon. La Trinité-sur-mer had been an option for a marina stay as we had heard it had a lovely old town and nice waterfront filled with cafes; but, it also had tidal concerns and tight berths. (Although, it would have been pretty cool to be in  Éric Tabarly’s homeport.)

It also was the home of several of the huge catamarans. We spotted one when we were sailing from Île de Groix to Quiberon.

After a brief walk-around we both agreed where we landed (Port Haliguen) served our purpose fine.

Yet, this town did offer a celebration that night so we opted to return. We walked along one of the cobblestone streets

9883E2FF-68BF-4E08-8F4E-4E9CC344933A

as some traditional Breton music drew us towards the town square.

F1325DE5-AF6F-43AB-80DD-E75EFDE30721

There a group of locals were demonstrating some of the centuries-old dances composed of one large group versus individual partners.

An older couple beckoned us in, so we entered the ring and began our clumsy attempts at replicating their paces. Being only a few of the foreigners exerting rhythm often misplaced, we, no doubt, drew quite a few stares. Yet, our beckoners gamely tried to instruct us in the correct maneuvers as we moved with the clockwise circling.

After quite a few mis-steps with the man on my right continuing to shout ‘left’ whenever Max stomped right, we thanked our gracious partners who looked a bit relieved we were leaving. Actually they appeared extremely relieved.

Before I close this long-winded post, I just want to share with you some of our companions during our last sails in Brittany. Truly one of the joys of being on the water…

[NOTE:  we RARELY venture out of the cockpit in the open sea without our harnesses, but we did this time based on the calm seas, water temperature and being extremely vigilant in crawling up to the bow.]

And, that’s the end of our stay in Brittany, a land full of treasures, ones we hope to revisit.

NEXT: crossing the Big Bad Bay of Biscay…

 

 

 

 

BRITTANY: Part V

After Roscoff we faced only two more stretches requiring careful timing of tides and currents to ensure a smooth passage through potentially dangerous choke points.

We waited for the right tide (not too extreme, so closer to Neaps than Springs) and current (not too strong so a low coefficient*).

* A tidal coefficient states the difference in height between consecutive high tides and low tides. The highest coefficient is 120, but we aimed for 70 and lower. In other words, we avoided extreme high and low tides.

We made our way first to L’Aber Wrac’h where we picked up a buoy for a quick overnight, and where a friendly group of seaweed gatherers welcomed us with a warm shout of ‘United States!’

C2CBAE89-7516-4F81-AA84-95214C2DA37E

The next day we rounded the Northwest corner of France to Camaret-sur-mer, leaving the waters of the English Channel and entering the Atlantic Ocean coast of Brittany.

FBC7A554-ECF7-4BEE-A177-DE2769CD9239

Again, we picked up a buoy. We could have tried to squeeze onto a pontoon but people tend to raft there. It’s not that we mind rafting but, if you want to leave and your boat is on the inside, you have to wait for the other people to return to move theirs. There’s a trade-off because your shore access depends on a dinghy ride to/from; yet, the luxury of being able to swing with the breeze and the privacy factor offset that for us. And, not having to maneuver to dock is always a relief …

The harbor features two historic buildings which we walked around when going to/from our dinghy.

Chapelle Notre Dame de Rocamadour dedicated to the local sailors

and, Vauban Tower built in late 1600s and refortified during the French Revolution in the late 1700s.

Oddly one of the draws of this town is a row of derelict fishing boats from Caramet’s fishing heyday. These rusting relics pose for many visitors’ lens, which to me is: “why?” But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do…

What really attracted our attention is the peninsula, Point de Pen-Hir, which we saw entering the bay into Camaret

57928119-F4E5-426A-94A8-38E341378887

on our way to the harbor.

E91FB4CB-C6F6-4FCB-B005-4110421F169A

This headland offers spectacular ocean views, which we took advantage of using electric bikes (but I try not to use the boost often knowing leg exercise is exactly what I need living aboard…).

Interestingly, when I asked one of the managers if we should wear the yellow vests accompanying the bikes, he laughed and said you probably shouldn’t. Knowing many folk tend to use these when working on roads (they also come with your rental car in case you break down and end up on the side of the road), I wondered why we shouldn’t. Then, I remebered the Yellow Vest protests in France. Okay, I got it. We sure didn’t want to inflame any passionate anti-yellow vester.

Here, as in the Netherlands, drivers are extremely respectful of cyclists, which makes for more relaxed bike touring. Just wish this was the case at home.

We mounted our bikes and cycled out to the point where the Monument to the Bretons of Free France beckons. This war memorial was constructed 1949-51 and later dedicated by General Charles de Gaulle 1960. The solitary statue stands magnificently at the end of a wide path.

4CD81B87-8F31-4BAE-B579-4C65FBC5C262

In spite of the busloads of tourists (we’ve noticed that holidays are slowly starting here) we had time to ourselves here.

And, after being in Brittany since May 30, I noticed a familiar shirt:

We stopped at another WWII site where Germans built a bunker on the ruins of another 17th century Vauban fortress. A row of anchors honoring the 45,000 sailors on merchant naval ships lines the path to the Museum of the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-45).

It wasn’t open but we were able to explore the ruins, part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall defense.

Since the majority of the Free French Naval forces came from Brittany (they were the first to join the French resistance), these two memorials are a fitting tribute to them, as well as to all the sailors who lost their lives during the war.

We had read about some menhirs (Breton’s prehistoric standing stones), which we found appearing in a rather unkempt field next to a school. A description of the stones states that a local historian believed the alignment of these menhirs was connected to the Pleiades constellation. Since the sign was in French that was our best guess of a translation.

I never expected such gorgeous sandy beaches, but it seems you cannot not spot one in Brittany,

making perfect picnic spots.

During our ride, we came upon an informative sign indicating an ochre cliff. The cliff shows the strata of cold and temperate climates during the Quaternary period, while the beach has the distinction of being home to the first inhabitants of the Crozon peninsula.

After a lovely day of cycling we dinghied back to JUANONA. Similar to the other ports we’ve visited, we noticed a sailing school for youngsters.

With so many opportunites to learn how to sail, it’s no wonder the French become such champion sailors. One particular Frenchman contributed to the country’s passion for this watersport, which I’ll note later in another post.

We left early the next morning for a favorable tide & current passage through our last major ‘concern’:  Pointe du Raz. Thankfully, with calm seas and light wind it became a non-event and we whizzed through with 3 or 4 knots of favorable current.

B28048A0-9601-47AA-9B56-17687EA629CA

We picked up a mooring in the town of Bénodet located at the mouth of L’Odet River. Of all the harbors we had visited, this town felt like a beach resort, probably due to the lack of middle age buildings as well as seeing paddle boaders, wind surfers, and sun-tanners flocking to the town’s beach (of which I neglected to snap a shot). And, of course, a slew of sailboats. Yet, just across the river stood the picturesque Sainte-Marine easily accessed by a peasant walk from our marina across a large bridge.

237C4748-7352-4174-94CD-F3698534A558

We strolled through the town,

1BC7C4F1-CA1D-4C9B-AC9D-FC87E59F7C6D

picnicked on some rocks,

2EBCAB52-AA25-4FA4-93B3-E4494285E1E4

and posed in a lobster’s rusty claws.

5966841C-2264-47D6-9545-003D16CE99FF

We spent four nights on our mooring and used one of our days to revisit  Quimper to see the Musée de Beaux-Arts. We had missed this on our earlier tour of the city and now wanted to see its specail exhibit “The last of the Impressionists – the Intimists”.  While waiting at the bus stop we had the good fortune to meet another hr cruiser, Lesley (and later her husband Andy). We shared the same destination, which gave us an opportunity to hear their cruising plans.

Both are avid climbers living in the center of Glasgow. And, to hear their description of their fellow inhabitants in the condo building had me laughing and thinking what a marvelous BBC series this would make. Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to overlap while sailing, but it would have been lovely to do so.

But, back to the museum (which some will want to skip to the next non-cultural event :)…  I found the exhibit a bit confusing but still enjoyed the ambiance of an art museum.

The exhibit featured work by some artists I knew and many I didn’t, with the majority being French. Their art grew out of the earlier Impressionists (a label derived from Claude Monet’s 1872 “Impression: Sunrise”) who painted based on their own emotional perception of the subject matter vs. pursuing a realistic depiction.

The art we saw reflected this later group, The New Society. Below is just a handful of their work. I can’t explain why these particular pieces captured my attention more than others, but they did. Whatever the reason, I found myself mesmerized by the artist’s work.

Perhaps the vast horizon drew me…

9FEDC817-F55A-4AA2-9E5F-8B7F5FD569A8

Henri Martin (1860-1943) ‘Labastide-du-Vert, le matin’

the perceived movement of a graceful arm…

6FB6D0DF-2BEE-43C9-9C7E-E52579830EC5

Henry Caro-Delvaille (1876-1928) ‘Femme se coiffant’

a reflection of a familial moment in time…

86962865-DCB4-4F11-BCA4-A4727EFCE316

Henri-Paul Royer (1869-1938) ‘L’Ex-voto’

the enchantment of a flower sash…

49CAF33D-B05E-455E-86D0-A568C605B597

Henri Martin (1860-1943) ‘Belle Jeune Fille Marchant à Travers Les Champs’

or the intimate peek of an artist’s wife

A970F944-5D21-4CA4-977A-248DB38ECA21

Antonio de La Gandara (1863-1917) ‘Madame de La Gandara en profil droit’

i could go on, but I won’t :)

They had split the temporary exhibit between two museums, this one and the Musée Breton (which we had toured on a previous trip here). The latter was closed so we only saw half. We would have liked to have seen the full exhibit, but the Musée of Beaux Artes offered a vareity of works as part of their permanent collection so it’s not as if we weren’t overloaded with just trolling the halls here.

Back in Bénodet we decided to motor up river a bit for a night or two on anchor.

5E749780-AA24-44EC-A7ED-9435FB114143

Crossing under the bridge we had walked over when visiting Saint Marine,

AB39FE81-3373-4D4E-B445-4B70BE9E185F

we went a short distance, dropped the hook, and spent the next day lazily motir-drifting with the current up towards Quimper, then following it back down to JUANONA when the tide turned.

We decided to check out a little town located on the eastern shore about 3km inland. Not seeing an easy place to land we noticed a guy unloading his dinghy on what looked like a public ramp. And that’s how we met a delightful fellow named Jean. We ended up stopping at his boat on the way to JUANONA asking if he’d like to join us for a libation. He said he would have loved to but had a lot of work to do prepping his boat for a cruise in a few days.

He retired a few years ago and he and his wife spend three months in a camper van during the winter, and three months on the boat in the summer. They had just returned from their camping trip, having driven to the Black Sea and back (we noted that Albania was one of their favorite stops due to the lovely people). The traveling obviously agreed with him for he was quite a jolly guy!

96843390-1A30-479B-819A-56349C0822C0

After two quiet nights at anchor we left for Concarneau a few miles miles further east. We anchored in the Baie de la Forêt and dinghied into another lovely beach and another summery resort town.

92BA3178-0022-419B-B637-E44998F709CE

Here you truly felt summer had arrived, because it was hot. We weren’t alone as this was during the first of most likely multiple stretches of extreme heat throughout Europe, the type of heat when you hungrily seek the shaded side of a street or step into air-conditioned stores for a respite. This weather makes us appreciate our life on water vs land.

We walked to the old town ringed by a 14th-century fortress and later renovated by Vauban, who appears to have had his fingers in most of France’s defense construction. If you see a star-shaped pile of rocks, you’re probably looking at one of his masterpieces.

2ABA3A32-DBFF-4F57-93E6-B7B2DC13B645

Nowadays the old town serves as a tourist haven filled with souvenir shops, cafes and a Musée de la Pêche covering the city’s history in sardine fishing. We did visit the museum only to find it dusty, dated, and French-only signage (although we did have an abbreviated hand-out in English). But, what really made the visit unappealing was the dead air, i.e., no fans and certainly no A/C. By the time I had wandered through one of the rooms, the hand-out became a limp fan  attached to my frantically waving appendage in the hopes of staving off the trickling feeling of sweat running down my back.

Yet, we managed to make the most of it…

FF3320F4-C182-4992-9174-DE774958DE90

672EE206-81C8-4B1C-B265-204495B12889

What I found more interesting was reading in our LONELY PLANET guide book that this city serves as a landing spot for almost 200,000 tons of tuna caught in the Indian Ocean off the African coast. Now that’s a lot of Charlie the Tuna.

One night was all we required to get a feel for Concarneau, so the next day we hoisted our anchor and headed out to sea. But not too far…

Next:  A fantastic weekend on another Brittany gem….