Category Archives: COUNTRY

Cruising on land and sea

FALL 2019: More of Tuscany

Friday-Sunday, October 11-13, 2019

CARRARA

Thanks to Traci’s reassarch (and feeling a wee bit guilty due to their not being able to fit this in) we visited the marble quarries begun by the Romans in the Apuan mountains.

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In order to reach the higest point in the quarries we needed to join a jeep tour. Our driver/guide appeared to enjoy his role–envision a mix of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Indiana Jones.

He entertained eight of us, including a young woman from Siberia who vaguely described her life as ‘moving around a lot’ (she had her own guide with her) and a Russian ballet dancer from the Kremlin and his wife, mother-in-law and 2-year-old son.

As our maniac driver cheerfully zoomed up the sketchy roads he told us families own individual plots and it was their equipment we saw on the different levels next to terraced cuts in the mountainsides. Yet, I later discovered online that the families weren’t the mom-and-pop variety but more like the Trumps and consortiums including foreign companies (such as the Bin Laden family).

We didn’t see any activity due to being after working hours, but our guide explained the process of carefully sawing and removing the slabs. No extracting going on allowed us to hear better as opposed to his shouting over the booming and drilling sounds of machinery. Although, I believe our guide would relish the challenge.

For over 2000 years men have worked these quarries, slicing into raw stone to deliver a range of marble, from white marble to a dark gray.

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If you’ve read Irving Stone’s THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY about Michaelangeo you’ve probably identified this as the marble source for the sculptor’s ‘David’. As well as material used by Henry Moore. Hey, if it’s good enough for Mikey, it must be good enough for any sculptor.

However, this systematic clawing away at these magnificent mountains may be ending. Some local folk have started the Salviamo le Alpi Apuane (Save the Apuan Alps) in the past couple of years to protest the desctruction of this natural landscape and the resulting air and water pollution from marble dust and waste. In the past year they actually succeeded in closing down two quarries (positive news keeping mountains alive ).  A bit poetic in a mixed-up metaphorical way that ‘David’ originating from here has managed to fight this $333 million industry Goliath.

LUCCA

Like Pienza this Tuscan city had been added to our tour based on others’ recommendations. With its intact medieval wall and a historical center filled with stunning churches and stone streets it made for a delightful two-night stop.

We joined strollers, joggers and cyclists as we entered the old city and climbed to the top of its 2.6-mile wall. Once there I realized this felt as if I was on a lovely, tree-lined boulevard as opposed to on top of a defensive rock wall.

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With our limited time we explored one of the main attractions:  St. Martin’s Cathedral (or Duomo di Lucca). Like most churches in Europe this one’s history goes back centuries with the main building rebuilt in the 8th century to accommodate saintly relics with later enlargements and renovations occurring into the 15th century.

FYI:  For those, like moi, who aren’t on familiar terms with saints, Saint Martin is noted for severing his cloak to give to a shivering beggar. Two statues document this deed, one inside and one outside,

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although, I have to say it looks like he’s aiming to sever the begger’s neck, not the cloak.

The alternating light and dark marble creates a stunning visual bringing to mind a Moorish influence. And, not to be too cheeky but I loved the additional plaid pattern added to the scene thanks to someone’s unique BMW Mini.

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Whenever I enter a huge church my eyes immediately go skyward, which is exactly what occurred here.

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Yet, what brought them back to eye-level appeared in the left-hand side roughly half-way up the nave. There a screened-in gazebo held the Volto Santo (Holy Face) a sacred image (and money-maker), which drew thousands of pilgrims.

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Supposedly, and you’re more than welcome to believe this, Nicodemus, who helped Joseph of Arimathea remove Jesus’ body from the cross, carved this figure, but not trusting himself to render Christ’s face faithfully, he left the face unfinished and went to sleep. Yet, when he woke up he realized an angel had completed his work. Uh-huh.

But, this was a boon to those looking for an item to generate funds, I mean, to worship.

Thanks to two Bishops (one on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and one in Italy) who dreamt where this sacred statue should be displayed, legend states it landed in Lucca in 782. Hence, the rebuilding in the 8th century mentioned above. And, you can tell they liked playing dress-up with their religious figures for in the museum associated with the cathedral we saw some gold and jewel-encrusted apparel for the Volto Santo:

Experts date this work to the 13th century yet say it could be a copy of an 11th-century statue, which could be a copy of an even earlier piece:  an 8th-century Syrian work. Whatever. It does look magnificent displayed in its glittery cage, and the cathedral is definitely worth a visit, including the side room housing the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, (1379-1405), second wife of the powerful Luccan ruler, Paolo Guinigi (1372-1432).

You can climb the attached bell tower, and we set off to do so (with my muttering “I can do this” while trying not to look down through the metal steps to the floors below) and were rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of Lucca.

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Back outside we entered the smaller church sharing the square with the cathedral:  Church of Saints Giovanni and Reparata. This served as the original church that St. Martins replaced in 782.

Some murals caught my attention when walking up to the apse

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but below us is what we really found interesting. An archeology excavation delineated four time periods from the Romans’ habitation in the 1st century through to the second half of the seventh century. The most complete consctruction being the mosaic room of the church is S. Reparata.

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One other church, the Church of San Michele in Foro (‘in Foro’ because it sits in Lucc’as ancient forum)

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we visited touched on an MDT where we saw the desicated face and hands of St. Zita (d.1272), patroness of domestic servants, who lived and worked in Lucca. She’s also an incorruptible saint meaning her body hasn’t deteriorated. Which I find quite a generous description.

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The square on which this building stood also featured one of the coolest looking senior citizens I’ve seen, and one I wouldn’t mind emulating both in fashion and transportation styles.

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A walking tour later in the afternoon guaranteed us a fuller picture of this city. Joining a group of other tourists we learned why the word ‘liberty’ strikes a strong chord in the city’s inhabitants. From the 12th century to the early 1800s Lucca remained unconquered (although some of this freedom was bought by paying off potential occupiers). This meant fending off its enemies from Pisa and Florence, including repulsing that pesky Medici family.

The city’s republican status remained until 1805 when Napoleon made his sister Elisa Duchess of Lucca and Princess of Piombino. She  mandated a square be constructed mimicking a French one, which resulted in the only plaza in Lucca with trees.

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Lucca’s initial wealth came from the silk and brocade trade. In the 1400s the city held 8,000 people and 3,000 looms. Unfortunately, that trade petered out but in the mid-1900s Lucca fostered a less prestigious, but definitely lucrative industry:  making toilet paper. I guess that’s why some appears to be embossed with a brocade pattern…

Our guide pointed out out one of the many towers poking up from the medieval structures, one we had noticed earlier in the day had trees sprouting from it.

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She explained the wealthiest family planted them to ensure they owned the tallest tower in the city. Due to a law regarding height restriction the family added trees , thus they followed the letter of the law, just not the spirit.

Continuing our guided walk we landed at the site of one of Lucca’s most notable figures, Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) whose full name, by the way, is Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini. With ancestors serving as St. Martin’s Cathedral musical directors for two centuries Puccini came by his talent naturally.

A statue in a square close to his childhood home pays homage to the creator of notable operas whose names even I recognize:  LA BOHÈME, TOSCA, AND MADAMA BUTTERFLY.

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Not knowing opera but relishing the dramatic voices singing in them, I read later that those who do know opera point to Puccini as ‘the greatest exponent of operatic realism’ (www.britannica.com). Which, I think, means he ensured the audience connected to the story playing out on the stage.

The tour ended in Piazza Anfiteatro,

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the former Roman amphitheater where we later returned for the locals’ refreshing apéritifs, one with campari and the other aperol.

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But, our last stop turned into another musical treat when we happened upon an orchestra and chorus practicing in St. Martin’s for that evening’s free concert.

Perfect way to end our stay in Lucca.

Sunday-Wednesday, October 13-16, 2019

FLORENCE

We returned our rental car to Florence and took the convenient tram into Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini the locale of our hotel facing the Basilica S. Lorenzo & Medici Chapel. Not that you needed to really know that but it helps with pic below.

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Once again we followed Ellen and Carter’s path by taking two excellent tours given by Artviva. Not only did our guide (we had Brenda for both) deliver informative facts in an engaging manner but she also shielded us from the feeling of being swamped and crushed by maurading tourists traveling solo, in pairs, and in packs of 20 or more. If we hadn’t availed ourselves of the company’s services I sincerely doubt we would have lasted more than an overnight in this city. Not that we also weren’t tourists adding to the claustophobic mass!

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We thought we might visit the Duomo, whose dome we could make out from our hotel.

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But, seeing the never-ending line we opted to simply admire its stunning exterior.

Florence offers such a gargantuum amount of splendid sites created by world reknown artists it’s overwhelming just to think of recounting the ones we saw. So, rather than flooding you with our memories I’ll just mention some that stood out from our tours with Brenda, one walking around the historical center and the other focused solely on the Uffizzi Gallery. [FYI:  for those uninterested in art, etc., you’re better off skipping this.]

To understand Florence’s power as a city-state just say ‘Medici’ over and over and over for that’s whose presence, including their coat of arms (whose symbolic use of five red and one blue balls remain a mystery to this day), you see cast in stone on many buildings,

dominates the city’s history. Add in this wealthy family’s patronage of the arts and it’s not surprising Florence and the Renaissance are inexorably linked.

Below are some excerpts from our tours around Florence:

…Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, aka Donatello (1386-1466), apprentice of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1381-1455) (known for the brass doors of the Duomo’s Baptistery-seen below from earlier walk),

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shared the reputation with Michelangelo of being the best Renaissance sculptors.  Brenda showed us two key elements contributing to this sculptor’s reputation:  his use of perspective and the realistic wearing of garments. To explain she pointed out his St. Mark standing in a recess of the Orsanmichele Church, once the chapel for linen and craft guilds, now a museum.  

If viewed when the 7’9″ statue stands on the floor St. Mark appears out of proportion with short legs and long torso; yet, this changes into one of complete symmetry when looking up to the niche. And, the molding of the garments depicting an actual body underneath is a complete change from when clothes simply fell stiffly hiding any form underneath. Not being an art aficionado both are insights I never would have known.

But, Brenda went beyond the technical merits of a piece of art with a glimpse of the artist’s personality. She told us how the guild who commissioned this work initially-and saw it face-on in the sculptor’s studio-told Donatello it didn’t look right and needed corrections. The sculptor said let him work on it and then place it up high so they could see how it looked then. Well, he did nothing and when the time came to show them the revised sculpture, Donatello simply had it placed in the niche and when unveiled, the guild approved of the ‘changes’.

…Brenda led us to the Piazzo della Signoria (it’s the people-jammed square at beginning of this post). This is where Michelangelo’s original David used to stand before being moved inside to the Accademia Gallery and, gruesomely, the spot where Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical Dominican monk, was hung and burned along with two associates. It’s also, where a large loggia holds a large group of statues. There Brenda mentioned one in particular, ‘The Abduction of a Sabine Woman’ by Giovanni da Bologna, aka Giambologna (1529-1608).

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By using a spiraling effect to depict the trio’s emotions this flemish artist created a dynamic situation as your eyes follow the twisting action flowing from one figure to the next. She also mentioned the metal wiring found in part of the bodies, which protects the work from lightening strikes.

As we followed her through streets and into plazas Brenda pointed out quirky building details, such as small windows with doors found hip level. She said these openings were wine doors where wine was sold to the public.

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The next day she guided us through the Uffizi, the awesome museum stuffed with European masterpieces from the Middle ages to the Modern period. Focusing on paintings Brenda selected key pieces epitomizing the Italian Renaissance. Furthermore, she managed to ensure we parked ourselves close enough to understand specific details of each work…

…how Leonardo’s angel (on the left) was considered better than his mentor’s (Andrea del Vercocchio) in The Baptism of Christ,

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…that Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) muse (Simonetta Vespucci, 1453-1476) depicted in Birth of Venus has a rather thick neck for such a delicate-featured woman, which is most likely due to using a nude male model for the body . (I tried loading a good photo of her but program on iPhone isn’t cooperating, but check out the painting online. once you’ve been told that it’s hard not to notice her brawny neck.)

…and, the fact that Michelangelo Merisi, aka Caravaggio (1571-1610) rebelled against established art by painting subjects exactly as he saw them:  in Bacchus the young man has a ruddy face in contrast to his pale body and dirty fingers, features that are associated with a guy working in the fields as opposed to a lofty Roman god.

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The building itself is a work of art constructed between 1560 and 1580. But, what’s quite unique is the Vasari Corridor, named after its architect, connecting the Medicis’ Palazzo Pitti (across the river) to Palazzo Vecchio, the government’s headquarters. You can see the visible start of it on the right-hand side in photo below. Evidently, if your structure was in the way of the Medici’s private corridor, tough luck. Hmmm, sounds like a wall going up in our country.

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Unfortunately, this connector is closed to the public due to structural concerns, but we could see part of it running down the right side of the Arno River, then crossing over the shops on Ponte Vecchio. (Once across the river it becomes a tunnel.)

The Uffizi Originally served as bureaucrats’ offices (the literal translation of ‘uffizzi’) with the top floor used to show off the Medicis’ art stockpile. Eventually it became a museum in 1865 with one of the Medici heirs, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743), creating the Family Pact of 1737 ensuring the family’s collection would remain intact and in Florence. A gift that draws millions of people every year to this city.

Throughout both of our tours with Brenda her information brought this medieval city and its inhabitants to life. If anyone’s heading that way, we highly recommend signing up for Artviva tours.

Max and I returned to one of the sites we’d seen with Brenda, Bargello Museum, another wonderful museum where we found few tourists. Once a contains more famous Florentine and Italian art. One of these is Donatello’s David. It was the first free-standing bronze statue and the first male nude since those created by the Greeks over 2,000+ years ago.

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However, the biggest impression of my time in that studio is Max’s comment regarding this David. While I was gazing at other sculptures Max quietly steps up to me and whispers in my ear, ‘doesn’t his butt look a bit low slung?’. Intrigued I walked back to the David to scrutinize his posterior.

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I guess I can agree with him, yet, what it did is cause me to check out other Stoney or metallic behinds I happened to see, and probably not just here but in the future.

Another locale, The Basilica of Santa Croce, offered a chance to see the tombs of famous people, such as Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Initially his remains weren’t allowed in the main part of the church due to a charge of heresy (disagreeing with the Catholic church’s dogma by saying the earth orbited the sun) In 1737 (during the Age of Enlightenment) he was reburied in a prominent part (left nave) less three fingers and a tooth.

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And, Micaelangelo’s tomb is there, too.

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Max later visited the Galileo Museum and saw that finger (a mini-MDT). (They say it’s his middle finger…)

We enjoyed several other Florentine views, both across the river:

a landscape reached by climbing a hill to land in the Piazzale Michelangelo,

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and, a foodscape taken in a bistecca restaurant where we chomped our way through a carnivorous meal.

Later we heard how Traci and Smokey also partook of a similar meal, only they actually saw their cut of meat pre-cooking :)

Just wish we could have shared a bistecca meal together

Well, since my computer died, iPad WP program crashed, and the phone keyboard is not my best typing platform i’ll stop writing.

But, there’s one more photo I know you’d love to see before I close …

ciao!

FALL 2019: Another Amazing Meet-up

TUSCANY

Saturday-Friday, October 5-11, 2019

Spannocchia

As Betsy trained it to Madrid for her return to Cincinnati we flew to Florence to meet two more pilgrims. However, this get-together involved a much more leisurely (and much less strenuous) pilgrimage than Betsy and Missie’s.

Having heard from our friends Traci and Smokey they’d be in Italy for a week, we arranged to rendez-vous in the middle of their travels.

Wanting a place in the countryside offering activities both on- and off-site the four of us decided on Spannocchia (https://www.spannocchia.com), a Tuscan farm owned and operated by the Cinelli family who purchased the estate in the early 1920s.

Located about 45 miles SW from Florence this estate has many ties to Maine, which is how we first learned of it via friends on Bailey Island who happen to be members. We later learned the Spannocchia Foundation’s headquarters is in Portland.

After a night near the Florence airport (so close we actually walked to our hotel, although I wouldn’t recommend it at night due to playing chicken with some highway traffic), we began heading towards Spannocchia with one stop along the way:  Leonardo di Vinci’s home town.

Born 1452 near Vinci in the village of Anchiano Leonardo lived in a house owned by his father, believed to be the restored farmhouse we visited.

Paying a minor entrance fee we strolled through several rooms open to the public,

watched a short video of his life, and scruntinized a digital analysis of ‘The Last Supper’ (the latter being well-worth the price of admission). Walking in the (supposedly) footsteps of this renaissance genuis seemed the perfect introduction to spending a week in Italy.

As we began our drive down the hillside towards Spannocchia I looked back. Not surprisingly the landscape could be a scene found in one of Leonardo’s paintings.

As interesting as it was to visit that landmark the real excitement centered on the arrival of Traci and Smokey at Spannocchia.

Warmlly welcomed by Benedetta, a member of the staff, we settled into our casa (one of the many on the estate), uncorked a bottle of the farm’s red wines, awaited our friends’ arrival,

and, the fun began!

But, before I regale you with our adventures I have to say the hospitality shown to us by the owners, staff, and the interns enrolled in Spannocchia’s farm and agritourism program made our stay all the more amazing. You truly felt immersed in the farm’s workings, be it spontaneous conversations with interns or scheduled activities–all added a richness to being in Tuscany.

We opted for sharing dinner our first evening, which introduced us to some of the eight interns here for their three-month program. Several came from Maine, including one living in Brunswick. At another night’s meal we met several of those accepted into the butcher apprenticeship. In speaking with them it quickly became apparent the dedication each of them brought to their work.

Our first day we explored the estate starting with the activity room where we met one of the owners, Randall Stratton, married to Francesca Cinelli. He ushered us into the building where a panoramic mural greeted us. Encircled by this illustrative timeline we heard how our friend from Bailey’s, Jame Almeida, had painstakedly created it over ten years.

We also learned her husband, Paul, a photographer, is responsible for many of the photos gracing the estate’s marketing materials.

Randall pointed out a specific image, which Jane painted in memory of Midge Vreeland, a beloved Spannocchia member .

If you live in the Portland area you may recognize Midge’s name as she and her husband along with his brother and wife started the ad agency Vreeland & Company, one where I worked in the mid-1990s.

We exited that room and climbed a few steps to enter the estate’s medieval tower. Originally constructed in the 12th century this building now serves as a useful drying station for both grapes…

and squash,

and a sighting platform for Traci’s photography from which I benefited for this post.

Wanting to see more of the actual workings of the farm we strolled down one of the roads leading to the famous heritage Cinta Senese pigs (so-called due to the black-and-white belt or cintura adorning their hides).

There we saw Eleanor, one of the interns we had met the night before,

who graciously explained how the pigs’ diet from foraging contributed to their good health and (close your eyes, vegetarians) quality of meat. These creatures have a good lifestyle, albeit a bit short (22-24 months) one but longer than other commercial piggies (under a year). After tasting some of Spannocchia’s award-winning salumi we realized those wild acorns definitely translate to tasty meat.

With half a day open for more exploring we hopped in the car to drive the 45 miles to the UNESCO World Heritage town of San Gimignano. Known for its towers, symbols of prosperity among the medieval residents. With15 out of the original 72 structures still in existance, this site translated into a merchant’s bonanza for it was packed. Busloads and carloads of tourists jammed the streets and main square causing us to rethink the timing of our visit.

But, we managed to find a place for lunch right on the Piazza della Cisterna and later treat ed ourselves to what some of the interns told us was the best gelato EVER at Gelateria Dondoli. Spotting the expanding line-up outside its door (see left-hand signage) we wondered if we should join it.

But it moved quickly enough in spite of the chaotic ordering scene experienced once inside; and, the four of us enjoyed a variety of flavors ranging from exotic combinations of grapefruit-and-champagne to sedate, but delectable, chocolate. I don’t think any of us sampled the gorgonzzola-and-waltnuts but some did a tomato mixture and declared it delicious.

Fully sated we made our way out of the crowds back to the car for our next town:  Volterra.

Here we breathed a sigh of relief for no masses of people interrupted our view of the sites, one being the recently installed ‘Boogey Man’, a startling sculpture by Daniele Basso.

A plaque under it proposes “We are as strong as our greatest fear” and, yet, (to paraphrase) the courage of knowledge can cause our fears to subside.  An interesting piece of work juxtaposed against the backdrop of a medieval square. And, timely, too, in light of the current state of the world.

Continuing our stroll into a park as twilight approached we discovered ruins from the early Estrucan settlers. Unfortunately, the exhibit was closed for the day but Traci and I managed to entertain ourselves with some other attractions…

Circling back to where we first entered the town we found evidence of those who followed the Etruscans as we gazed down upon an impressive Roman theater.

We all said we wish we had traveled here first as opposed to San Gimignano. If we had done so, we would have had more time to explore this less-touristy Tuscan town, especially with regards to its early history.

The next day Max and I roamed around the grounds of Spannochia, which are located within the Alto Merse Natural Reserve, Merse being the river flowing through it.  An easy hike up a dirt road led to Castiglion Baizaretti known as “The Castle known only by God” due to its isolated perch atop a hill with the sounds of mating deers echoing throughout the forest.

While we explored our home grounds Traci and Smokey visited Sienna and returned energized from that city’s magnificent architecture and history. (Although we would have enjoyed touring Siena with them we had been there for several days on a previous trip and opted for a more pastoral setting.)

Wednesday’s activities proved to be one of the several highlights of our time together. We had signed up for a cooking class to learn the art of making ravioli. Not really knowing what to expect we ended up totally floored by a most awesome experience.

A 9:00 a.m. garden tour given by Silvia educated us on the techniques Spannocchia employs to grow its organic produce. To say I could have listened to this joyful presence all day wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Her knowledge imparted both professionally and playfully gave us a sense of what was to follow. Which Traci captured in two wonderful photos :)

Which led directly to four hours of creating and consuming a feast worthy of Italian nobles.

Sylvia led us to the kitchen where we met our two instructors:  chef extradinaire Loredana, whom Smokey aptly named ‘chef Michaelangela’, with Daniela (who happens to be Sylvia’s mom), also an excellent cook, serving as translator.

Presented with our menu for lunch (shown below)

at each of our prepping stations

we discovered our ravioli served as only one of the courses we’d be preparing.

Loredana began our instruction with tiramisu, the dish requiring the most lead time prior to lunch. (photo from Traci :)

We proceeded to the orange pork loin and baked fennel,

took a break to make and enjoy our crostone al pomodoro

enjoyed with Randall and a bottle of prosecco,

then completed the course with the pezzo di resistenza (aka pièce de résistance) and food star of the show:  ravioli.

And, inbetween taking notes, videoing key steps, and actually making the recipes, we snapped shots of one another in full garb.

Miraculously we four felt we actually could recreate the meal back home, which means a redo is in our future :)

The grand finale ended with a feast, one none of us will ever forget thanks to our delightful instructors, the setting, and, of course, the food. All made immensely more enjoyable by sharing it with good friends.

Happily lethargic we stumbled back to our casa only to ready ourselves for an informative tour on Spannocchia’s history given by Randall. There we learned how the estate evolved from the feudal sharecropping system of mezzadria to the current offering of a Tuscan Farm experience. A tale definitely worth hearing.

After another shared dinner, our second of our stay, we fell into bed so we could leave early enough Thursday morning to explore two more Tuscan locales.

Several folks had raved about Pienza, one being Ellen who visited with her husband last year and another, Alan, who was just there with his wife. Armed with that advice we drove the 30+ minutes for a morning stroll in this Tuscan hill town .

Let me say Pienza did not disappoint.

The size of the old town makes for a leisurely exploration with one of the key sites being the Palazzo Piccolomini. We discovered that Franco Zeffirelli (1923-2019) filmed his movie ‘Romeo and Juliet’ here in 1967. We didn’t pay the admission fee but seeing the young star Olivia Hussey’s face promoting the film set brought back all the innocent beauty of that tragedy. Definitely on the list for a re-watch.

But, Pienza also featured the second of our joint ‘best moments’ of our trip (our cooking class being the first).

As we reached one end of the town some lovely notes drew us closer to a small courtyard. Nearing the backside of a building we all stood in silence marveling at the voice producing the operatic song.

Max decided to investigate by circling around to the front. The three of us followed and found ourselves in the entrance of the town’s library. An official young woman appeared out of a small office. Initially I thought she was asking us to leave but then she smiled and handed us leaflets giving us permission to follow Max who had darted upstairs.

There we joined a small group of listeners seated behind a row of 8 judges, one we later were told had been married to Pavarotti (1935-2007).

They were assessing and grading the contestants in the 10th annual Pienza international opera competition with a field comprised primarily of up and coming singers.  The competition ran for three days with the first day eliminating all but 25 and the second day whittling it further to 15. Contestants (a large number but it made for a more interesting night for attendees of the grand finale). All stages were free and open to the public. Those who win awards receive a small monetary prize with the more valuable rewards being entrées to influential conections in the world of opera.

We found the above out thanks to a retired Canadian PR agent whose clients had been involved in this field. She and her husband had retired here some years ago,and now she volunteered to assist in this event.

For an hour we listened to several of the 60 contestants,  a mix of male and female singing ranges from bass to soprano.

Every time we made a move to leave another singer captivated us pushing us right back onto our seats. But, we did manage to extract ourselves, although with difficulty.

Outside Traci and I posed next to the promotional poster

with Max joining in during our walk around town.

The town and day provided plenty of photo ops, from landscapes

to portraits… can you tell from our expressions how wonderful it felt to be there? :)

Increasing the magic of the day we later met one of the opera contestants, Mariangela Santoro, who was seated nearby.

The four of us had sat at the designated ‘Shared Table’ joining  two couples from Luxembourg.

Mariangela happened to see Max sharing a video of the contest with our table mates. She leaned over from her nearby table to introduce herself as one of the contestants.

We then told her how wonderful and special it was for us to hear such beautiful voices. And, before she left we got her autograph.

(FYI:  We later tracked her progress through the second and then the third day of competition only to discover she won! If you’d like to hear a sample of her singing, here’s her aria as one of the finalists in a 2018 competition.  And, in case you’re wondering, there’s no evidence of photoshopping in her PR photo–she IS that lovely :)

We left Pienza agreeing it was definitely our favorite small hill town after Siena.

So when we reached the more urban and larger Montepulciano this town had a high bar to reach compared to Pienza.

We tried some libations at a wine bar where you use a card to self-pour either a sample or a full glass, a great way to try different wines without purchasing a full bottle. We took our samples outside to enjoy the view and the warmth of the sun. But, we didn’t stay long. With a long ride in front of us and the driver (Max) only having an occasional sip we left to head back to the car, but first we posed (again :)

and walked by one site sure to attract my MDT seeker.

But, don’t think we missed an opportunity to indulge in some of this Montepulchiano wine. Earlier in the week Traci and Smokey had purchased a bottle along with a Chianti, which we all enjoyed back in our casa during our stay.

 

Friday morning arrived, which meant leaving Spannocchia, and our friends. Their destination was Florence for a few days prior to returning home via Rome. We were fortunate our schedules meshed with theirs these six days before we all headed back to the states.

We had a fabulous Tuscan tour, one not to be forgotten.

 

FALL 2019: Meeting Pilgrims

Saturday-Monday, September 28-30, 2019

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

We arrived in Santiago de Compostela around noon to await the appearance of two special pilgrims:  my sister Betsy and her friend Missie. They had begun their trek on the French Camino September 15 in Ponferrada, Spain.

From there they trekked over 135 miles–some a bit more strenuous than others…

to reach Saint James’ final resting place in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Max began identifiying the possible directions from which they’d appear. He then staked out a hidden position to alert me so I could document their final steps into the square.

Under a glorious blue sky and a perfect early Fall day these two tired, but exhilarated, pilgrims arrived!

After some celebratory beers with two rather dazed pilgrims

we drove them to their next destination, one that they were more accustomed to…

and one where I was fortunate to share some girly time with both.

The next morning found the three of us back at the Cathedral’s square in now rainy weather

where Betsy and Missie saw the true end of their camino (St. James’ tomb). Some candles were lit for special folk

before heading back to the hotel where these two pilgrims enjoyed a much deserved glass of vino

and well-earned good night’s rest, demonstrated by my sister sleeping like, well, like someone who’s walked 135+ miles.

FINISTERRE

On Monday Max picked us up for a pilgrimage (by car) to Finisterre. Max, our friend Robbie, and I had sailed by this ‘end of the earth’ point and anchored in the Ría de Corcobión earlier this summer; but, we hadn’t actually gone to the final site for those walking beyond Santiago.

In spite of the fog the four of us joined other visitors wandering around in the gray mist. If you happened to be a legitimate pilgrim who had walked to Santiago you could pay a euro to receive your final stamp.

As you can see from their booklets they acquired these badges of “I was here” along their camino but opted out of some due to the long lines at key locations.*  Can’t blame them. I’d do the same if it meant standing another three to four hours on tired peds.

*They described one city where busloads of people were dropped off in Sarria, exactly 100kms from Santiago. This distance qualified as an official camino. However, Betsy and Missie said the walk changed drastically from one filled generally with contemplative souls to a gaggle of chattering, wanna-be pilgrims, some disrupting the tranquility with boom boxes and FaceTiming. 

After receiving their stamps they told us it was the first time they had to pay for one, meaning he shouldn’t have charged. Their saying that made me wonder how many entrepreneurial souls were out there flashing some ‘official’ stamps and ink pads along with a collection purse?

After portraits

and some lunch in the nearby town of Corcobión, we returned Missie to the luxurious hotel where she’d begin her travels back to Cincinnati while Betsy accompanied us back to JUANONA for a short stay. And, I say short because she manages to time her boat visits based on the number of days between showers.* Fortunately, for her, during her time with us we managed to include a night in a hotel :)

And, just so you know, Missie walked an earlier part of the French Camino last year and may walk another one next year (!). That’s a heck of a lot of trekking.

*When we’d told her we showered every five days due to possible issues filling JUANONA’s water tanks north of the Arctic Circle she managed to fly in and out for exactly five days, i.e., the length she’d go showerless.

Tuesday-Saturday, October 1-5, 2019

SOUTHERN GALICIA

Since Betsy hadn’t seen this province of Spain we spun her around the southwest part of this Galicia.  We visited sites Max and I hadn’t seen before as well as some we had.

Here’s a quick description of our touring:

PARQUE NATURA MONTE ALOIA

Making our way up to Mount Aloia Natural Park we stopped in at the information desk where an avid young staff member eagerly greeted us. During his 15-minute introduction to the park he ensured we knew its history (a park as of December 1978), the distinction of it being a natural vs national park (not quite sure as both protect the environment), and the importance of conserving its flora and fauna.

I admire the passion some bring to their work but sometimes a little goes a long way, so we were thankful when a couple entered into his sphere and we could gracefully exit. Continuing up to the top we took a short stroll around snapping panoramic views at look-out points.

Our stop was a nice place to stretch our legs but not a ‘must-see’ destination unless you really plan to follow paths around the park, which we didn’t.

TUI

Sitting across the river Miño from Portugal the Galician city of Tui offers the perfect site for perusing a medieval city. Starting with the Romans Tui grew into a strategic fortress under the Spanish king Alfonso IX. And, proof of this is the Santa Mariade Tui Cathedral begun 1120, completed 1180, and consecrated 1225.

With a facade more akin to defending a town than worshipping in it, the cathedral stares down at the medieval streets ringing its exterior, all once enclosed by a wall.

Lunch at Ideas Peregrinas, a cafe offering vegan and other healthy options for transiting pilgrims,

reminded us we were at the first stop in Galicia for those on the Portuguese Camino. As did the universal camino arrow pointing the way.

Luckily our  own camino only required circling around the cathedral on lovely stone lanes.

Not only did we see remnants of Roman drainage systems

catch mesmerizing views across to Portugal,

but also watched Max re-enact an encounter Max, Robbie and I had with a disgruntled señora in  Camariñas.

Along our walk signage identified buildings associated with Tui’s Sephardic Jewish citizenry.

Once a vibrant segment of Spain’s culture, this changed with Spain’s 1492 Edict of Expulsion. The law required Jews to convert, depart, or die; and, some of those who did convert (Converso Jews) were later convicted of continuing to practice Judaism.

I was aware of the ugliness of the Spanish Inquisition formally established by King Ferdinand II (1452-1516) and Queen Isabella I (1451-1504) but had never heard of two items displayed in the cathedral’s museum:  sanbenitos. Later I read those accused of heresy but who had repented wore these yellow and red cloaks and a conical hat while being paraded through the streets (usually with no clothes on below the belt) in disgrace. The cloaks also served as banners in the church reminding parishioners of the dangers of heresey.

I guess, though, the wearers of these cloaks were the lucky ones. They returned home. The unrepentant heretics adorned with the black cloaks ended up at a human BBQ. Lovely.

An intriguing footnote to this 1492 edict is Spain’s vote on a law 522 years later offering citizenship to the descendants of those Sephardic Jews forced to flee. To read more here’s a recent article describing this endeavor a heck of a lot better than I could ever do: “Spain’s Attempt to Atone for a 500-Year-Old Sin“.

A GUARDA

We spent the night in A Guarda known for its cluster of hill-top castros of Santa Trega.

Here early settlers established a fort and village. Dating from over 2000 years and occupied into the 1st Century these granite ruins (along with a renovated unit)

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can be found throughout Galicia, yet this was the largest yet we’d visited.*

*In previous posts I’ve said these are Celtic settlements; however, some say a better description is Castro settlements to avoid defining these inhabitants definitely as Celtic (the Celtic-Galician connection has been disputed over the years). 

Built when people in the Iron Age began settling down, the locations changed through the centuries from defensive to more sheltered and close to crops and grazing lands. Either way they’re impressive.

The darkening sky provided dramatic lighting and an eerie atmosphere as we walked around the empty grounds. It was a relief to return to the car for a drive to the town and our hotel. And some Spanish vino :)

OIA

The next morning we followed the coastal road north stopping at the Santa María Monastery.

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The Cisterian monks (a branch of the Benedictines) established this site in the 12th century, the only Cisterian monastery built on the sea. Strategicially located, the monks here sometimes served as fighters, such as when they repelled Turkish pirates in 1624. This earned them the distinction “the artillery monks”.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t tour the monastery (now a private building) and the parish church was closed. But, we could still admire its uncompromising stance right on the edge of the sea. Which one of us had to see just how close.

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BAIONA

As we continued north we diverted from the coast to inland. Max, especially, had been looking forward to traveling through this area ever since he had read some friends’ cruising notes describing wild horses roaming the hillsides.

The moutain horses of Galicia evolved from the practice of the Catholic clergy being allowed to own the horses but not take care of them (a bit odd, don’t you think?). Yet, when we had asked about these horses at a tourist information center the staffer laughed, then kindly explained they aren’t exactly wild. They’ve been tagged and often vaccinated during the annual Rapa das Bestas (Capture of the Beasts). That still didn’t affect Max’s mission to discover these fierce and independent equines.

We avidly searched the countryside as we climbed into the countryside. Initially we saw roaming sheep and roaming cows, even ‘Watch Out For Horse’ signs,

but no roaming horses… until we reached a broad expanse where all three of us excitedly yelped, ‘Look! a horse!’.

We quickly began scouting out a possible turn-off so we could document our lucky find. Unsure of how the wild animal would react Max took full precautions…

because, as you can see, this horse was, indeed, a most dangerous stallion ready to charge:

I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of the intrepid photographer while my sister calmly rolled down her window and opened the door to look at the horsey. I can only imagine the thought bubbles the cartoonist Gary Larson would use to animate these two scenes.

After spotting our first one or two of these terrifying beasts plenty more came into our view as we headed down towards the coast and Baiona, JUANONA’s southernmost port of call this summer.

This lovely resort town sported an elegant marina, a replica of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 PINTA, and a parador, one of the government-run hotels showcasing Spain’s scenic/historical treasures. We toured Betsy around the marina then ended up eating a late lunch on one of the parador’s terraces overlooking the bay. The view was a bit better than the lunch, which appeared a little singed. And, yes, it’s suppose to have the window to the fried egg…

ALBARIÑO WINERIES

Fully sated we returned to our car for the our next destination:  Granbazán, one of the many wineries found in the Rias Baixas (Southern Rias) along the Ruto do Vino (Wine route). Both this bodega and Paco & Lola, a more recent and modern winery, had been recommended by a cruising friend whose notes have guided us to many favorite spots during our Galician cruising.

Granbazán

Named after a noble familly from the area, Granbazán began on a huge estate with the first wines produced in 1989. Located in Val do Salnés, the coldest and wettest of the five DO (denomination of origin designating a quality-controlled wine) Rias Baixas’ sub-regions, the vineyard uses the delicate albariño grapes to produce a light-bodied, citrusy white wine.

Catching the last possible tour an hour before closing time the guide initially appeared hurried; but, the more questions we asked, the more she relaxed into her role. We three, along with a German couple who joined us later, spent an information hour listening to our host.

She began with showing us how they grow their grapes:  trellised horizontally. By keeping the plants off the ground the grapes are less susceptible to issues from too much moisture.

She let us pick one of the green globes to sample. After doing so, it immediately became apparent these grapes had something special to offer winemakers. Not that I’m a connoisseur of grape-testing. They just tasted yummy.

Leading us into the production area, she pointed out three large metal drums stationed off the floor. Here the winemaking begins with cold soaking or maceration:  the grapes are placed in these refrigerated tanks for the initial collection of juice. The grapes slowly press down on themselves due to gravity. They then release their juices meshing with the skins, the latter adding extra flavor (and color) to the extract.

After draining the extract the juice is then fermented in stainless steel tanks standing in the opposite side of the room.

Strict rules regulating production of their albariño wine apply; yet, the authorities allowed Granbazán to introduce a watering system in 2017 due to the extreme lack of rain, a sign of the affects of a changing climate affects on Spain’s wine-making.

The vineyard also produces some red wine with grapes grown in northern Spain. Overall, Granbazán produces roughly 800,000 bottles. Some of them were headed to Texas with a shipping price of over $1,000, including a huge bottle that would be difficult to lift much less pour.

Paco & Lola

The second winery presented a completely different feel from the stately grandeur of Granbazán. Paco & Lola began in 2005 as a cooperative and quickly became known for its polka dots. The modern facility happily embraces its jaunty brand personality, and our guide cheerfully led us through production, shipping and merchandising areas.

When we asked how the wine came to be named she laughed and said it’s completely made up. There isn’t any ‘Paco’ or ‘Lola’ affiliated with the company. The winery just wanted two names that were easy to pronounce and recognizable, i.e., marketable. Increasing their visibility they decided to use the polka dots, which many predicted would stymie this vineyard’s wine sales.

The nay sayers obviously were proven wrong for the wine is definitely one of the more popular (and instantly identifiable) bottles. Plus, with such a large collection of independent coop members and their grape patches, Paco & Lola can produce over 2.5 million bottles a year. That’s a lot of wine being sold, and a lot of polka dots.

She brought out food with which we could sample several bottles. While Max gladly began munching on the sardines,

I kept to the bread and Betsy, after one gulp of a mussel,

did the same.

We liked both bodegas’ wines, purchasing some bottles from each for sipping aboard JUANONA. What we should have done, though, is ship some to Maine because we’ve heard from several different sources Spain keeps the good wine for themselves (!).

PADRÓN

In addition to the Paco & Lola winery our last day of touring included a stop in another town associated with St. James:  Padrón. Here legend has it that the boat carrying his body up to his tomb in Santiago landed here, tied the line to a stone, then began the trek inland to what is now Santiago.

And, where there’s an opportunity to connect with a saint, the residents of Padrón managed to find the exact stone and keep it safe for centuries.

Since Max and I had read about this during our summer in Galicia we felt obligated to see this symbol of Saint James. And, with Betsy, an official pilgrim, we felt even more compelled to stop here. So, the three of us squeezed into a parking space across the river, dodged cars and buses crossing a one-lane bridge, and entered a small church where we gazed upon this sacred item.

It wasn’t quite anticlimatic but I do reserve the right to doubt that this is THE rock. But, hey, maybe someone way back when captured the moment when this happened, put a fence around it, and announced that St. James ‘slept here’ or, at least, laid here (headless, I might add) for awhile.

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

Saturday, October 5, 2019

We returned to JUANONA for a night of wine tasting and packing up.

The next morning we came full circle, arriving back where we were a week previously when we met Betsy and Missie fresh off their pilgrimage. This time, though, we were saying good-bye. Always difficult but eased by knowing we’d be seeing her in a few months verus half a year.

So, our shared journey ended as she caught her train to Madrid and us, our plane out of Spain, all on to new adventures.

But, before I sign off, I want to post a pic of my sister that caught me up short when I was reviewing photos. Startled me only  because she looks like a blend of our mom and her sister, Lolly. Lucky her. And, them!

 

 

End of Summer

Note:  This is an imminently “skimmable” post. We stopped in a lot of different harbors, some only for a night, but I kept those in here because it’s our record of who–what-where-when-and, sometimes-why.

GALICIA

Wednesday-Wednesday, August 14-22, 2019

Since we had sailed out of A Coruña with Robbie in late July, we had covered a lot of Galicia’s 1,650 km coasline, cruising in the Rías Atlas or Upper Rías* (Ferrolterra and A Corunña As Mariñas), along the Costa da Morte (Coast of the Dead), and rounded Cabo Finisterre, the divider of Upper and Lower Rías.

*Ría, by the way, is Galician for estuary or ‘long narrow inlet formed by a partial submergence of a river bed’ (www.lexico.com).What’s confusing in identifying places here comes from each one having Spanish and Galician (the local language) names. For instance, ‘playa’ is beach in Spanish but ‘praia’ in Galician. In my posts I try to be consistent with using the local terms but am not always successful.

By mid-August we found ourselves at the Real Club Náutico de Portisin in Ría de Muros e Noia. And, after our marina staff safari via automobile we chose this marina as JUANONA’s winter berth.

That settled, we continued our summer cruising, exploring more rías down the coast. Having been in marinas or on mooring buoys earlier this summer, we yearned for the simplicity of being ‘on anchor’ as we perused the southern rías (13 A, B, C, D below).

So, our summer’s end began with two glorious weeks anchored out before enjoying a lovely marina at the most southern stop of our Galician cruise…

Rías Baixas

It wasn’t until we visited one of the major cities that we received some excellent information about this area from a Tourist Office.  After asking about vineyards and miscellaneous activities, our conversation led to the waters we were cruising.

The staffer told us the fresh river water flowing under the salt of the ocean gives Galicia excellent conditions for raising shellfish. Which explains all the bateas (mussel rafts) we sailed through and around during our summer here.

Other cruisers told us of the delectable seafood here, and we happily partook of fresh fish (mainly Max) and shellfish (only moi). And, I will be trying pulpa or octopus but am waiting for a dish where the eight tentacled legs aren’t so anatomically identifiable…

There is quite a difference between the Upper and Lower Rías. The more northernly ones appeared wilder, with steep cliffs and less development, while the southern ones bustle with more human activity and habitation.

Yet, each ría provides beautiful, white sand beaches and plenty of opportunities to explore ashore, be it on trails or town roads.

NW Spain’s coastline primarily hosts Spanish sailors and power boaters, many of them just out for a day cruise. Often, what begins as a full anchorage during daylight hours becomes quite sparse by the time the sun sets. We’ve seen sailboats hailing from other European countries, but what we haven’t noticed are any American boats.

Because of the numerous protected harbors located inside these rías we rarely have trouble finding room to anchor. Even the few marinas we visit always have a berth. Matter-of-fact, only two places appeared too crowded for our comfort, both due to being small coves.

It’s fairly simple to navigate in these waters as long as youremember the tidal range (generally about 5 to 10 feet), skirt around the few patches of rocks, and avoid any fishing buoys (the latter are generally brightly colored and a lot less prevalent than the lobster pots in Maine).

For six nights we anchoreded off town beaches, dingying into shore for walks and errands. With so many safe harbors, we traveled short distances with some days only going five miles. Unlike other areas we cruised this summer, the Galician rías offered the luxury of stress-free anchoring. Only once did we have to re-anchor: we hit a bunch of weed causing us to drag when we first dropped the hook.

RÍA DE AROUSA

RIBEIRA

Leaving Portosin we sailed out of the Ría de Muros e Noia and into Ría de Arousa to Ribeira, right around the corner. We motored to the beach watching for the rocks noted on our chart and anchored with just a few other sailboats around.

By late afternoon the tide had come up covering the exposed rocks, enough so that one of the boats heading out of the anchorage ran aground. By the time we saw him not moving through the water but instead sitting a bit off kilter, several boats were buzzing towards him.

Watching the action it appeared the boat was starting to float free only to have one of the helpers inadvertently pull it back onto the rocks. Eventually the sailboat managed to get away.

When you see that all you can think is ‘man, I hope he’s okay’ followed by ‘I’m glad it’s not me’.

A lot happening in this harbor for later an ominous looking customs boat motored by just to check.

They didn’t stop (always a good sign) just waved and threw a huge wake causing JUANONA to rock like crazy. But, we’ll take that over a boarding any day.

The next morning we watched some fishermen haul in their nets

then went ashore where we saw a parking lot full of larger nets being untangled and repaired. Quite a job, all by hand.

In the other direction we walked to Palmeira, a town some cruisers liked, only to find it quite dead (we had come during lunch time when most shops take siestas for several hours, anytime between 2p-5p). We walked to the old church,

also closed, which didn’t stop Max from peeking through the window.

But, it had a nice view looking out to the bateas.

We manage to catch a bus back once we figured out the schedule, which, trust me, has been one of the most difficult parts of traveling around here:  it’s difficult finding a schedule either online or posted (if you manage to locate an actual bus stop). Not only are timetables elusive, the actual pick-up and drop-off points are even more so for they rarely have any signage. Which means, just ask a local if you’re lucky enough to do so. Or, better yet, the TI.

Time to move on. So, we pulled up the anchor the next morning after watching a pack of swimmers racing around a buoy close to our stern.

PUNTA DE PEDARRUBIA OU de MIXELUÍDA and PLAYA DE PIÑEIRO

Again, we only went a short distance to a beach next to Piñera. Not as pretty as others we’d been to; but, still worth a dip.

And, yes, that’s my pink doughnut tube. A surprise from Max, one that enabled me to brave the chilly water without much touching. :)

And, just so you know, Max got his own pink doughnut, too :)

VILAGARCIA

Our next destination in this Ría was Vilagarcia, one of the larger municipalities in the area. We anchored off a beach and braved the waves to dinghy into the marina. Once there we found a public place to dock, then hopped off to explore and pick up some provisions.

Some friends had noted they liked the feel of this city. Us, not so much. To be fair our quick opinion of the place came from trying to avoid a lot of drunken partyers armed with water pistols (it was their Water Festival) and sites smelling like urinals.

We discovered not only did the fiesta create a crowd of water-squirting youths but also most stores were closed. We did manage to find a market the next morning in a much quieter and more genteel neighborhood off the beach. With a stormy day forecasted, we ended up staying one night longer than we would have if the weather had cooperated.

RÍA DE PONTEVEDRA

Up and out the next morning we left for the next ría further south, Ría Pontevedra. We stopped for one night in Praia do Laño. Pulling up anchor the next morning we headed to Combarro, what could have been JUANONA’s winter port if we hadn’t decided on Portosin.

COMBARRO

Knowing the winds would be high, we decided to anchor on the lee side of a town’s breakwater versus staying in the marina or out in a more open bay. The latter, we discovered, was a hive of activity for locals digging for cockles. A spectacular sight, one that disappeared when the tide rushed back in.

Combarro is known for its hórreros (stone granaries seen throughout NW Spain) with their mushroom bases for deterring rodent theft.

and its stone houses. We joined the tourists funneling through the ‘main street’, actually a narrow passageway,

ducking into other alleys to escape the crowds.

Vendors tried to entice customers into their shops while cafes offered the promise of seafood, some, no doubt, from that morning’s harvesting.

After running the gauntlet we decided to walk up the hillside to see some old water mills. The structures had fallen into disrepair but sightings of grinding stones and diverted streams provided proof of these hydropowered-mills. And, the fact the trail is called The Route of the Mills…

Being a hot day away from the water, Max took advantage of yet another head dunking to cool down.

PONTEVEDRA

Just across the bay you could see Galicia’s capital, Pontevedra, which translates to Ancient Bridge. One of the largest cities in the region (pop.80,000+) it also featured an old quarter, one we easily accessed by a 30-minute bus ride (and, yes, we got the logistical info at the TI).

As soon as we hopped off the bus the city enveloped us in its charm. Refreshing and airy parks just outside the historic center offered a ‘reset button’ for anyone feeling harried

and the openess of the plazas

spread into stone lanes filled with cafes.

Everything built of stone… lanes, plazas, and buildings grace Pontevedra’s old quarter. Surprisingly, the city didn’t feel harsh or cold, but warm and welcoming with many former homes displaying an impressive coat-of-arms.

For four hours we toured this city, beginning with an important landmark–the Plaza de Peregrina (Pilgrim Plaza), with its 18th-century Shrine of the Virgen Peregrina (to the right), patron saint of the province.

Inside we watched modern-day pilrims decked out in techo-clothing and equipment recieve a stamp for reaching this stage of their camino.

Eintering another church, San Bartolomé, we noticed a statue of the virgin, which seemed a bit odd to me,

and when I walked closer and peered from the side I understoode why:  she was pregnant!

Sitting atop a hill the Real Basílica de Santa María la Mayor boasts of the town’s seafarers’ guild. Built in the 16th-century, the main facade features work by Cornielis the Dutch and the Portuguese Joā Nobre (not that I know them but having a Dutch guy working on them way back when I found interesting)

while outside the ever-present cruceira stood guard.

We managed to enter another church–the ‘lessor’ Santa María:  Real Basílica Menor de Santa María, right before it closed thanks to the kind keeper of the site. Climbing the tower,

gave us another vantage point over the city and reinforced the sensation of openess.

We walked past a building with a placard noting this is where Sister Lucia, one of the children who witnessed the apparitions in Fátima, lived. Unfortunately, her room, now a chapel, was closed.

Pontevedra is associated with several famous Galicians, such as Isabel Barreto de Castro (1567-1612), the first known female admiral in European history. She got her start by accompanying her spouse (the first European landing on the Solomon and Marquesas Islands).

We didn’t see her home but did see another of the most notable amidst these stone buildings:  the 15th-century Casa das Campás (Bell House). According to legend Pontevedra’s cruel and blood-thirsty pirate, Benito Soto, used to hide here when in town supposedly leaving some of his treasure buried on the premises (yet to be found…).

Eventually his time ran out at age 25, and Soto was hanged in Gibraltar. Hmmm… sounds like an MDT.

We took a lunch break from touring, sharing a plate of pimientos de Padrón (from the Galician municipality of Padrón) and salads.

Then continued our walk, which included posing with the famous Galician satirist and author, the one-arm (lost due to an infection from a fight) Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1865-1936).

and a woman taking her chickens to the market.

One last site to see involved the hedonistic experience of sipping a libation in the peaceful garden of the Parador Casa del Barón.

Repurposed from a former pazo (an aristocrat’s Galician mansion) built on theremnants of a Roman town, this state-owned hotel is part of a large parador network found throughout Spain.

The history behind these paradors (don’t worry, only a few sentences on this) began in 1910 with the Spanish goverment’s desire to capture the interest (and wallets) of international tourists. To accomplish this goal they focused on increasing the visibility of Spain’s natural beauty and historical sites. And, what better way to do so than offer notable accommodations?

Eighteen years later the first hotel, Parador de Gredos in Ávila NW of Madrid, opened. Since then almost 100 of these government-owned and -operated establishments entice visitors to spend time (and money) exploring locations where the hotels, themselves, are showcases. If you are coming to Spain and you do want to see the Alhambra in Granada, splurge on that parador. I wasn’t able to stay there but Max did, on our first anniversary no less!

Wednesday-Monday, August 21-26

Aldán

More beaches beckoned us, with the first being Aldán, at the mouth of Ría de Pontevedra. We had heard from another cruiser (whose posts and notes are excellent resources) you could find the warmest water around here, which is saying a lot as the temps mimic Maine’s.

And, she was right! For two days we enjoyed the beach, along with many others, and small resort town lining its shore. As well as a walk up to a famous cruciero in Hio carved in the late 1800s. It’s certainly the most elaborate stone cross we’ve seen here but, to me, it seemed like the fame came from a lot of smart marketing by this tiny town…

We continued from there to Cangas. Located on the other side of the point in the next ría south.  Once there, we checked for engine oil (didn’t find the kind we wanted) then caught a bus back.

RÍA DE VIGO

Praia de Barra

Around the corner was Praia de Barra sitting at the mouth of the next ría south of us, Ría de Vigo.

This beach was the loveliest we’ve explored – with the extra bonus of being a clothing-optional one.

We dinghied in with our bathing attire intact, adding our bodies into the holiday mix of primarily nudey beach-goers.

I opted to maintain suited up while Max decided to de-suit. With that he stripped off top and bottom then grabbed our inflated float. He bravely strolled to the water’s edge and flopped himself onto our doughnut tube. In full disclosure he did manage to position that float just so on the way down while being a bit looser with the placement on the way back to our towel.

I would have considered doing the same except I get tired of layering on sunscreen with what I typically expose. There’re enough bits and bobs to cover without adding more to the task. But, after a few days of seeing all sorts of physiques and attitudes, from young children to seniors, parading up and down the beach (and, parade they did; as Max noted he’s never seen so many people getting their exercise walking back and forth on a beach), you get use to seeing private parts  floundering around in public.

Besides walks on the beach the area provided some interesting sites, one located on a hilltop above the town of Donón. There we saw ruins of a castro (a celtic settlement from 1st century B.C.E.).

Heading back into town we continued our trek along the coast heading back to the beach and JUANONA.

Wanting to explore a bit more the next day we walked to a smaller beach, Praia de Melide, just around the point from us.

Monday-Tuesday, August 26-September 3, 2019

Baiona

After almost two weeks on anchor the need for fresh water and clean laundry meant a marina visit would feel great. Just opposite us across the mouth of the Ría de Vigo another historic city offered a marina with a great reputation among cruisers, Monte Real Club de Yates.

This club was really a private one yet did offer berths to transiting boats. With a discount from memberships in the CCA and OCC the nightly fee was reasonable, especially considering the location (right in town) and facilities (excellent showers and enticing bar and restaurant overlooking the harbor).

We stayed for five nights, luxuriating in the ease of quick access to provisions, a beautiful walk around another parador, both on the grounds (after paying the one-euro fee)

and its outer circumference, and a chance to see the replica of the PINTA, one of the ships accompanying Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America and back. Since there are no actual plans or discovered wrecks of a caravel, they’ve used historical accounts to recreate this floating copy.

The fact the PINTA, captained by Martin Alonso Pinzón (1441-93)*, arrived here with news of Columbus’ findings appears to serve as the city’s main attraction. Especially since Pinzón’s arrival on March 1, 1493 preceded Columbus’ docking in Lisbon on NIÑA (the SANTA MÁRIA went aground off the coast of Haiti) by two days.

To mark this occasion in 1974 the city established the March 1st ‘La Arriba’ (Arrival) festival.

*Pinzón served as one of Columbus’ financial backers for this voyage, and his younger bro, Vincent Yáñez (mid-1400s-1514) also sailed with Columbus in 1492 as captain of the NIÑA.

In a small museum we learned a bit more about this historical event. Due to a storm separating the two ships, Pinzón decided to land in Baiona, a thriving commerical port (this city had been designated a Royal Village since 1201 by King Alfonso IX, with its residents receiving special privileges such as a monopoly on salted fish).

By landing here, Pinzón became the first to notify (via a letter) King Ferdinand II of Aragon (1461-1516) and Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504), a coup for someone as ambitious as he was. However, Columbus was the one who got an audience with the King to give his first-hand account of the discovery, which is why we know his name more than Pinzón’s’. But, don’t tell Baionians that…

Baiona also sits on the Portuguese Camino, which begins in Lisbon or further north in Porto, and ending in Santiago. So, once again, we were amidst pilgrims making their way towards St. James’ bones.

By the end of our stay in Baiona we ended up meeting others going north, the same direction as us, resulting in  exchanging information on forecasts and thoughts of the best time to leave. In speaking with a sailor helping with a boat delivery heading up to England, Max noticed another guy poking his head out of the main cabin. Only to recognize Andy, someone we met in the Kiel Canal a year ago (on the left in the photo)!

Back then Andy was captaining a sparkling new Halberg-Rassey, going to a boat show in Amsterdam.

We had ended up delicately rafting next to her pristine hull, removing shoes before we tiptoed across her deck to reach the pontoon. His current delivery, though, couldn’t have been more different.

It was great seeing him and, again, we wish we had had more time.

RÍA DE MUROS NOIA

Esteira

Saturday-Tuesday, August 31-September 3

We needed to be back in JUANONA’s winter berth by September 10, which meant we had to pick a day out of the ten-day forecast of 15-25 knot winds with the least amount of northerly wind. Tuesday appeared to be the best with “only” 15-18 knots, so we left along with other boats heading north. For 42-miles we motor-sailed in bucking seas until we reached the Ría de Muros e Noia.

Wanting one more anchorage we dropped the hook in a wonderfully calm harbor just a few miles opposite Portosin.

A pedestrian bridge separates the cove from the river with beaches rimming both shores.

After a few days of sitting on JUANONA with some walks ashore, we headed across to Portosin to ready JUANONA for winter.

Portosin

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Once docked we prepared for continuing windy days and nights with sustained gusts rising to 35 knots. Max purchased some metal springs to absorb shocks and relieve some of the strain on our lines.

The constant winds also generated a fairly common occurrence:  forest fires.

We had seen some fire-fighting activity the day before but the next morning we found the unabated wind had caused even more to sprout up.

Along with other cruisers and locals over the next three days we watched the dramatic piloting as planes and helicopters picked up water to smother the fires.

A cruising friend told us the fires come from the dried bark and leaves of the non-indigenous Eucalyptus and Acacia trees carpeting the forests. The trees are a boon for lumber companies but a disaster for the local ecology. As usual, money speaks louder than mother nature; however, Portugal has placed a moratorium on eucalyptus plantations having witnessed Spain’s problems with wildfires.

Adding to the excitement a solo sailor entered the harbor with a broken jib furler, his lines trailing from the bow and just avoiding his prop.

He picked a good spot to land as the marineros at this marina are excellent. With their tender they managed to help him corral his jib and reach a pontoon safely.

Our 2019 summer cruising had ended. But, not before we met more wonderful folk, such as Helga and Frank who shared a pontoon with us before heading off to Portugal.

El Fin

 

On the hunt…

MARINA SAFARI

Wednesday-Friday, August 7-9, 2019

It all began when the three of us–Robbie, Max and I–took the bus to Santiago de Compostela.

Max and I would tour this famous pilgrim destination with Robbie before he had to catch his train to Madrid. We’d then spend the night and pick up a rental car the next day. The reason for the car was to boost our chances of securing a winter berth in Lisbon.

Based on recommendations from other cruisers we had called Lisbon’s Marina Parque das Naçōes earlier this summer asking about reserving space from October 1 to March 31. They told us they may have a place for us but couldn’t guarantee one. Portuguese boaters returning in the fall, coupled with the lack of good harbors along Portugal’s west coast meant marinas were a valuable commodity. And, Lisbon’s Parque das Naçōes with easy access to the city’s historic old town made it a popular choice both for residents and visitors.

Thinking a face-to-face meeting could help secure a berth, we thought why not do a quick road trip? The timing seemed optimal with JUANONA safe from swells and forecasted winds in Muros’ marina, the chance to see Santiago with Robbie, and a convenient place to pick up/return a rental car.

Plus, on the way back up to Muros, we could scout out any others in the event a berth in Parque de Naçōes seemed unlikely.

After seeing Robbie off Tuesday afternoon we wandered back to Santiago’s old town. Spotting a museum covering the pilgrimages’ history we decided to pay the entrance fee.

No photos allowed so I can’t document our visit (for some, that’s a blessing) but the displays provided the seed of what sprouted all of these walks, namely St. James’ tomb.

History identifies St. James as an apostle,

then pilgrim,

finally, a knight.

The latter justified the Crusades, while the pilgrim character lent itself beautifully to creating a reason for all those caminos or walks to Santiago de Compostela.

St. James’ tomb draws thousands of pilgrims in various stages of soul-searching to this city. And, this revenue-producing stream of folk has caught the financial interest of other towns to ensure they, too, lie on a camino route. Which makes sense considering all the money gained from serving up Saints’ bones, Jesus artifacts, and other sacred items.

But, I digress (again). However, the museum enriches any visitor’s stop in Santiago, one we highly recommend, pilgrim or not.

That was Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning our marina hunt began.

In 2.5 days we covered nine marinas. It may not sound like a lot but, but trust me, the rapid pace with which we scouted out the five in Portugal and the four in Spain caused memory blurs. We now have to use prompts, such as ‘no, that was the rat-infested one’, when trying to envision which marina we meant.

After a five-hour drive we found our way through city traffic to our marina of choice:  Marina Parque das Naçōes on the Rio Tejo in Lisbon.

We introduced ourselves to the two friendly women managing the desk. They explained the situation regarding ‘no guarantee’ but did provide us with quite a bit of assurance that we most likely could obtain a berth there. Yet, oddly, one told us we could just pay month-by-month in the event we wanted to move.

That caught us up short a bit. Move? During the winter? Well, yes, because the marina couldn’t predict what the tide and currents could do to the silting of the harbor. The pilot guide had mentioned this issue, a problem the marina has been trying to solve. Eleven years ago they built a lock which reduced, but didn’t eliminate, silting. By 2018 the marina had lost the use of 150 of their 400 berths thanks to this phenomenom. In 2019 they planned to dredge, an operation most likely occurring annually.

Furthermore, after walking the pontoons, talking with some cruisers (a German told us, ’yes, I sit in some mud but it’s soft and not hard to get out of’), and seeing some of the pontoons stranded on brown mounds three to four feet above the water, we clearly understood why the caution about silting. Hmmm….

Adding to our second thoughts was the overall appearance of the facilities (seemed a bit tired) while noticing the pontoons themselves needed repairs (missing planks as well as caved-in spots). Our opinion of this marina went down several notches.

All was not lost, though. We drove a few miles to another Lisbon marina, Doca de Alcântara.

In the parking lot I noticed someone who looked like he was heading towards a boat. In asking about this marina he told us don’t even bother; berths will most likely all be taken by locals.

We mentioned Parque Naçōes. He said the city built that marina really quickly for Lisbon’s World Exposition in 1998. Too quickly, resulting in poor planning and quality of construction. Hence, the pontoons we saw sitting out of the water.

Two down. The third, Marina de Cascais (located on the coast before the entrance to the Tejo River) we didn’t see. Although an excellent alternative to being in Lisbon, the expense of wintering there, along with possible shortage of berths, precluded it as an option.

Okay, time to start driving north to prepare for tomorrow’s continuation of our marina hunt.

Wednesday night just happened to land us in another religious spot called Sanctuary of our Lady of Fátima, aka, Apparitions of our Lady of the Rosary. We only ended up here due to good value of a room on Booking.com, so it came as a surprise to see some huge Catholic complex glowing like a lava lamp.

After dinner we trooped across to a enormous plaza (larger than the Vatican’s St. Peter’s) following some people carrying electronic torches as well as candles. They were heading towards a preaching priest standing outside of one of the buildings flanking the large, central tower. Although we couldn’t understand anything being said it seemed pretty obvious some felt quite devoted to the message.

Curious as to why this town became such a religious site, I later discovered the source of all this piety. Supposedly, three shepherd kids in 1917 witnessed the appearance of a ‘mysterious lady’ six times.

During those visits this vision in bright white (ID’ed by the church as none other than Virgin Mary) spoke of prophecies (WWII, rise of communism, papal assassination attempt) and instructions (ranging fromthe world better repent’ to ‘build a chapel here’).

Of course, many doubted the children’s veracity. So, this mysterious lady told the three children she would give them a sign at noon on October 13 (the 7th visit) to silence nonbelievers. That day dawned rainy and cloudy, yet exactly when the sun reached its zenith, a strange light broke through and for 10 minutes the sun whirled in the sky. That day is known as ‘the day the sun danced’.

Two of the three children’s tombs are in this complex (they died from the Spanish flu in 1919 and 1920) while the third lived until 2005 as a nun.

It was just happenstance that we landed here. And, it was due to the inexpensive hotel room we found, and highway tolls.

Why highway tolls? Well, if anyone’s interesting in driving around Portugal, rent a car from within Portugal. We mistakenly assumed we could pay any tolls with cash or a card (credit/debit).

Hah! Joke’s on us. The Portuguese have instituted an electronic toll collection on some of its highways with no option to pay manually. Unless you enroll in their ‘Easytoll’ system or purchase a prepaid Toll Card or have a Portuguese rental car outfitted with one, you’re SOL if you manage to find yourself on one of the electronic-toll only roads (indicated in red below).

Which we did, and which meant we had to find a way to pay it before leaving Portugal to avoid reputed large fines. This resulted in, first, a visit to a local bank on our way out of Fátima. Mistakenly, we thought we could pay our toll and any penalty there as noted on one of numerous ‘how-to-pay-Portuguese- highway-tolls’ websites (judging by the vast array of sites outlining instructions, our predicament was a common occurrence). No, we had to drive to a special office operated by Brisa, the largest private road operator in Portugal.

Driving another thirty minutes while ensuring we dodged any more electronic-toll-only roads, we located the office closest to our route. We spent another thirty minutes waiting and then paying our 8 Euro toll only to have her write out a hand-slip because her computer system was down.

For a company touting itself as seeking “efficiency in all dimensions of its business” (www.brisa.pt) I sort of wonder how they define ‘efficiency’.

Armed with proof to (hopefully) avoid any toll fee and penalty charged by our car rental agency we continued onto our next round of marina views.

Back in the car (which after all this driving was feeling like our 2nd home) we drove to Porto. We stopped at the city’s new marina, Douro Marina.

The office was closed but we saw some French cruisers crossing the parking lot and accosted them (becoming quite a habit). Speaking with them they said the facilities were good and they liked the marina. However, we found it pretty sterile. Crossed that off our list.

A few miles further on we found Leixōes’ Porto Atlântico based in an industrial harbor.

Again, another friendly senhora (the majority of marina office staff in Portugal seem to be female) answered our questions and assured us no problem of wintering here.

In spite of the rather rough atmosphere, the marina felt more like a yachting home. Maybe due to the small size as well as several of the boats we saw appeared to be cruisers. Okay, we marked Leixōes as a possibility.

Our next destination was Póvoa de Varzin Marina a few more miles up the coast.

Located in a beachy resort, we parked our car in a sandy lot and walked to the marina office. There, the nice senhora told us our 12m size (just over 40‘) precluded any chance of wintering there unless we were on the hard (out of the water). Good to know.

But, the likelihood of our actually choosing to berth there if they did accept our length was close to a big fat zero: we had read about rats populating the pontoons and boarding boats…

Cointinuing further north we followed a long line of traffic as we inched into the town of Viana do Castelo on the Rio Lima. We lucked out in finding a space to park on the street as rain began to fall. Exiting the car we began walking towards the town marina.  As we neared it we looked at one another and said, “Do we really think we’d want to stay here? Because it looks pretty depressing from this vantage point…” Question asked and answered with “let’s get out of here.”

Our day ended in Ponte de Lima, again driven by an inexpensive hotel room (of which there are many in Portugal). By luck we found ourselves in one of the country’s oldest towns, and a beautiful one at that, which we explored the next morning before continuing our marina hunt.

Our hotel bordered the river with a tree-lined promenade lining one side of the Lima river.

Wandering down the street, the early morning hour kept us from accessing the Torre de Cadeia Velha. This tower is one of the two remaining from the nine that were part of the 14th century wall. The tower became the district’s prison in 1511 following repairs and reinforcement by King D. Manuel (1469-1521). Now, it serves as the Tourist Information Office.

Although the hours clearly posted indicated it wouldn’t open until later, it didn’t stop Max from trying the door,

and, when that failed, peering in.

But, what really draws one’s eye is the magnificent bridge spanning the Lima river, a reminder of Rome’s occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.

Estimated to having been constructed during Emperor Augustus’ time (63 B.C.E. – 14 C.E.), the bridge is part of the military Roman route “Conventus Bracaraugustanus”, aka, Via XIX. It was renovated during the Middle Ages to support the town’s fortifications:  first by King D. Pedro (1320-67) around 1370, followed by King D. Manuel mentioned above.

A collage of statues representing the region’s agricultural economy stands next to the bridge (the area is known for its Vinho Verde or Green Wines)…

while on the other side

we saw signs of yet another camino, this time from Porto to Santiago de Campostela.

Returning to the old town we walked back a different way passing more reminders of the town’s medieval history, such as the fountain,

paid for by a tax on salt and olive oil and kept clean by charging fines for ‘dirtying’ it as per this inscription:

Back in the car and on the road again we crossed over to Spain where we checked out four marinas:

Marina Punta Lagoa (in Vigo) – We received a friendly welcome, and we knew this marina offered good protection from the Atlantic swells, but the container toilets and showers left a lot to be desired….;

Moaña Marina (in Moaña) – We liked the ‘feel’ of this small marina as well as Alex, the manager. The facilities appeared adequate and clean, and the location had that ‘curb-appeal’ of a pretty river town. This definitely was one we’d consider for the winter;

Rodeira Yacht Club (in Cangas) – The marina staff was friendly but the facilities were dirty and the town didn’t seem as nice as Moaña’s. Next…:

and, Combarro Marina (in Combarro) – Another marina staffer named Alex gave us some information and said he’d put us in touch with the manager when she came back later that day. We liked the facilities (great looking toilets and showers, as well as clean) and the location right off the historic old town gave this small marina a lovely feel. Finally! We’ve found one suitable for JUANONA’s wintering with us on her :)

After 60 hours on a road trip to Lisbon and back we decided Spain would be our winter berth with Marina Combarro getting the most votes for security, facilities, friendly marina staff, and pleasant curb-appeal.

However, this all got tossed after a chance encounter with our friends Pam and Mark whom we chanced to meet upon our return to JUANONA and Muros.

Upon their suggestion we sailed across the ria adding a tenth marina (not counting Muros) into our pool of ‘where to winter.’

Jackpot! Real Club Náutico Portosín exuded an aura of professionalism and efficiency all presented by a warm and helpful staff.

Further checking on facilities, pontoons, and pricing we put in our application for a berth.

And, to think we had to drive to Lisbon and back only to discover what we were looking for was practically right under JUANONA’s bow.  I guess there really is no place like ‘home’ :)

¡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: