Category Archives: SUMMER CRUISING

Exporing via JUANONA

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:

¡España!

GIJÓN Y ENVIRONS

Tuesday-Wednesday, July 9-16, 2019

Gijón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covandonga

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

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

 

but also Pelayo, his wife Gaudosia,

and Alphonse I who are entombed here.

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

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

passing the Collegiate Church of San Fernando.

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

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

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

and miradors along the way.

Cangas de Onis

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

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

Posada de Valdeón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and in my back pocket.

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

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

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

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

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

The roads appeared well kept 

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

Potes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tower offered some great views

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

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

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

including some rather cartoonish expressions of Adam and Eve…

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

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

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

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

Santillana del Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

and an elaborate storyboard depicting the life of Christ,

which jolted us when it suddenly sparked into animation.

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

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

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

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

Oviedo

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

listened to traditional music while watching costumed locals dance,

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

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

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

Raised onto mushroom topped stones,

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

Cudillero

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

with some getting a respite from the water.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

BRITTANY: Part IV

With Wifi pretty iffy and cell difficult to use at times, I’ll try to keep up with posting but may often be a wee bit behind… this one being a perfect example of such!

ROAD TRIPPING FROM ROSCOFF…

Sunday-Tuesday, June 9-18, 2019

Reading and hearing about Quimper, Finistère’s capital, we knew it was another not-to-be-missed, charming Breton town. And, knowing we couldn’t reach it easily by sailing up the L’Odet River (a future stop further south), we took a bus to Morlaix and rented a car for our journey south.

Yet, before we left we performed our now in-grained exercise of inquiring of the nearest Tourist Office, “What do you think we should see?”

Lo and behold we discovered a flock of religious sites famous in this area:  Les Enclos Paroissiaux (Parish Closes).

Defined by a grouping of five structures–church, churchyard (once the cemetary), ossaury-chapel (bone depository when the graveyard became too crowded), calvary (not a horseback troop but a cross watching over the dead), and triumphal arch – all enclosed by a wall – Finistère featured over 20 of these Closes.

Thanks to the demand for leather, hemp and linen/canvas Bretons grew wealthy during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. And, what better way to spend your money than trying to one-up your neighboring village by building the most impressive religious site? Oh, and to give thanks to your Catholic god for your prosperity.

With limited time we managed to do stop-and-go’s at five of the most famous ones.

And, when I say stop-and-go’s, I truly mean running in/peering around/running out. Our visits of each site must have broken the record for the ‘seen-that-been-there-done-that’ touring. Which is why the only way I can recall which is which comes from checking each photo’s GPS location.

So, a quick litany of our Parish Close Sites follows below, beginning with our first:  Saint-Thégonnec.

The church glittered and preened with the usual gold-toned altars and pulpits boasting over-the-top decor.

Among all the pomp one piece of furniture stood out due to its simplicty:  the Archives Cabinet. To unlock it required the presence of three keys with the priest, the local lord, and the churchwarden each holding one.

Back outside we circled the calvary. As our first exposure to one we were a bit stunned to see the numerous, in some instances cartoonish, figures decorating a multi-sided cross.

However, use of visual storylines made sense considering the lack of literacy during this time. (FYI, with regards to all of the tongues sticking out, I read that it’s a part of the body symbolizing evil in man.)

Guimiliau Parish Close was one of the more beautiful ones, most likely due to its smaller setting and, thus, more intimate feel.

Drawn to its more manageable size we spent the most time here inspecting the elaborate carvings found throughout the interior:

In the churchyard its ornate cavalry beckons you with over 200 statues

and a platform allowing a priest to instruct parishoners on the story of Christ.

Driving into a rougher terrain, we noticed the churches became a bit sterner in appearance. One being the Plounéour-Ménez Close.

Amidst the medieval decor a banner introduced a modern and sobering touch. Later I read the subject was a Polish friar arrested and sent to Auschwitz. After someone escaped from Kolbe’s barracks the Nazis selected ten prisoners to be placed in a chamber and slowly starved to death. Kolbe volunteered to replace one of the chosen men. He ended up being executed after two weeks as one of the four men still alive. He was canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The man who was replaced survived the war and spent his life touring the world and speaking about Kolbe. He died in 1995.

Commana’s Parish Close appeared to be the ‘roughest’ of the four we’d seen this morning, yet its wooden reredos (ornamental screens placed behind altars) take the prize as Brittany’s most glorious according to a brochure. A placard in the churchyard attributes the ‘technical perfection’ and the ‘exurerance’ of these carvings to the naval sculptors from Brest (when they weren’t building boats).

By now we had visited four of these religious sites in less than three hours, including driving time of an hour. A graduate degree in religious architecture and art would have increased my interest tenfold. Either that or a guide who could explain it all.

Continuing on we began to climb to a bit higher elevation with sweeping views on either side. Atop one hill we noticed a chapel and decided to check it out. Turned out to be perched on one of the four highest peaks in the area:  Mont Saint-Michel de Brasparts (1,253 ft).

At first glance the small chapel appears lonely, but determined to stand its ground. And, when we stepped through the small doorway we saw colorful and disparate offerings giving thanks on a wide range of issues. I love the fact the location served as a site for worshipping the Celtic sun god :)

We stopped at one more Parish Close (couldn’t resist), Plebyn, which was undergoing repairs but allowed us a peek of the unusual three-bell tower

and a much simpler and easier to ‘read’ calvary.

By early afternoon we arrived in Quimper and proceeded to yet another church. Begun in the 12th century the Cathedrale St-Corentin stands in the center of town on a lovely square ringed by cafes and begging for lively fairs.

Its dominance, though, diminishes a bit when you enter. Looking straight down the nave to the chancel you notice a slight skewing to the left. This came from a decision in the 19th century to add the twin towers without compromising the 13th-century sanctuary.

They later said it represented the tilt of Jesus’ head on the cross. Nice try.

What this ‘head tilt’ did, though, was bother Max who kept wondering why they screwed up the comforting symmetry of a straight shot to the altar…

Next door we visited the Breton Museum located in the former Bishop’s Palace (built by the Rohans in 1508, the same family whose castle we toured on another road trip). We saw an excellent, temporary exhibit on the Gallo-Roman period following Caesar’s 56 B.C.E. conquering of the Veneti, one of the province’s five Gallic tribes. Armorica became Roman. One of the tribes, the Osismii (meaning ‘the furthest’ in Celtic, probably due to the western-most point of Gaul)  occupied what is now considered Finistère, one of Brittany’s four departments (counties).

The Romanizing of the former Gallic culture was evident in finds such as this Iron Age stele rechiseled to show Roman gods. Although, I doubt this stamped out worshipping of Celtic gods entirely…

These Iron Age steles were particular to western Armorica along with underground galleries close to settlements.

Going back even further to the Bronze Age, the huge supply of tin led to a huge production of goods.

Surprisingly, this mound of pristine axe heads was used for exchange and exporting, not for slicing and dicing.

After perusing early history we climbed stairs to the permanent exhibits, which seemed quite small and brief. On display were statues of several of Breton’s beloved saints:

Sainte-Anne  (Virgin Mary’s mom and Jesus’ grandmother) with two pilgrimages:  Sainte-Anne d’Auray (in Morbihan region) and Sainte-Anne-La-Palud (in Finistère region)

and Saint James (bro of John the Apostle) whose tomb at Saint-Jacques de Compostela in Spain is the second most important pilgrimage after Rome (note the scallop shell on his pouch).

More recent artifacts included: some lovey sculpture by RenéeQuillivic (1879-1969),

the traditional hats depicting the various regions,

the traditional ceramics started in this area in the 1600s,

and, the Swiss-army knife of beds:  the lit-clos or box-bed where you can sleep, sit on the bench, and stash clothes or other stuff in the chest under the bench.

Interestingly, even in Brittany, a relatively small geographical area, the design of these beds varied:  this one had two sliding doors popular in Cornouaille, whereas in Finistère the lit-clos generally only had one, while in Morbihan the beds were usually curtained off and half-closed with no doors.

We didn’t make it to the Musée des Beaux-Arts located on the square opposite the cathedral but did wander around to soak up the medieval-ness and beauty of this city.

And, to take advantage of you-know-whats ?:)

We left the next day to return to Roscoff back on the north coast. The only site on our to-see list involved a monastary called Landévennec located on the River Aulne. Unbeknowst to us ‘the land of priests’ is one of Brittany’s taglines, or so says one of our books. And, it’s not often we can see a group of live monks.

Set in a lovely wooded area,

we entered a modern church

and enjoyed the 2pm NONE, one of the Horaires des Office. I quietly clicked on recording for a short stint to capture, to me, a special moment. Not because I’m religious (just ask Bobbie, Ellen and Carter about that) but because those sounds create a haunting atmosphere.

We also found ourselves on the continuation of the GR 34, the 133km trail outlining Brittany’s coast.

Ending up on this trail off and on the past three weeks I think it’s a wonderful alternative to getting your scallop shell at Spain’s Santiago de Campostella. Although, in speaking with Cami, a local Breton (who had just finished two months on the Norman Trail) this coastal path may not offer much in the terms of convenient lodging.

On the road again we ended up taking a side tour to Locronan. The Grande Troménie (a 12-km trotting around of religious banners following in the footsteps of the 6th-century founder of the town, Saint Ronan) occurs every six years in early July, 2019 being the sixth year. Although we’d miss it, photos captured previous ones as costumed Bretons exited the church to begin their march.

With a history tied to canvas (supposedly even the Vikings shopped here for their sails) the town grew into a lovely medieval one. And, it’s well worth a stop no matter how brief.

With that, we concluded our road trip in this part of Brittany and traded our wheels for sails.

But, not before one more photo from Roscoff. Now, that’s a head tilt… :)

 

 

BRITTANY: Part III

ROSCOFF and ÎLE DE BATZ

Sunday-Tuesday, June 9-18, 2019

After Lézardrieux we continued our trek westward, timing our departure so we would have a favorable current en route, and slack water when arriving at the next anchorage since it was up a  river.  We looked forward to getting to South Brittany which doesn’t have the high tides and strong currents that make sailing North Brittany’s waters so challenging, and limit the options when picking our next harbor and the time windows to get there.

Planning our route resulted in several hops, each one navigating one of the three sites of potentially unpleasant waters. We chose Roscoff, some 50 miles away as our next port of call.

Initially we hadn’t planned on stopping here due to some online reports from other cruisers. One that definitely gave us pause was this report (paraphrased):  We noticed how hard the tide was flooding through the marina. A boat approached and we watched him T-Bone our transom, causing substantial damage. The harbor staff told us, no wonder, we were tied up in the ‘danger zone’ at the extremities of the pontoons. Why didn’t they tell us that when we arrived?”

We also learned the new marina offset the docking difficulty by meeting incoming boats and literally pushing them into the berth (which we later witnessed).

However, we also read that approaching the harbor at slack tide (either at highest or lowest water mark) with little-to-no wind negated the need for the rubber-boat nudging; so, we coordinated our departure to coincide with favorable (low) winds and little-to-no current. And, all went well.

The marina still retains its newness with facilities being excellent (which means including a good laundry area :), friendly staff, and easy access to lovely town and old harbor.

The only oddity was grocery shopping required a bike ride (the marina rented bikes for boaters to reach it). Otherwise, whatever began as frozen or cold food would be quite warm by the time you deposited them on the boat. Yet, if you ended up there to provision, you may want to lug your laundry because we spotted an unusual (to us) service in the parking lot:

But, if all you desired was a taste of traditional Breton cuisine, shops sold tantalizing options: both savory and sweet items, including some from Algoplus, the local seaweed factory where we took a tour with Max getting a sniff of Nori…

IMG_E4980

all in French but, at least the tasting didn’t require language other than ‘yummy’ or ‘yucky’.

Like most cafes and restaurants over here, menus are conveniently mounted outisde, so you’re able to decide if you’d like to eat there before entering. Although, when checking out one establishment’s menu we noticed a strikingly unusual dish, which I’ll let you discover for yourself…

Additionally, walking just 15 mintues into town brought you to an array of local cafés offering crepes, galettes, or gaufres, the latter served at Le Bistrot a Gaufres, and where we ate three times (!) during our stay (we highly recommend the vegetable one :).

Or, you could order bread and pastries the night before at the marina office, retrieving it the next day beginning at 7:00a. We most definitely were in France :)

Unbeknowst to us we arrived as the marina was preparing for an annual event, one of the most prestigious sailing races in France:  La Solitaire; and, this year was the 50th anniversary, which raised the celebratory atmosphere a notch or two.

As the name implies it’s a single-handed race, meaning you’re on your own on the boat. Which may not sound too bad until you add in non-stop sailing for 72 hours or so  (implying 15-20 minute cat-naps for a maximum of two hours sleep every 24 hours) in the often atrocious tides, currents and weather of the English Channel. There are four separate races, each one more than 400 nautical miles. Oh, and no toilet aboard. Considered the world championship of solo around-the-buoys racing, and an unofficial qualifier for garnering sponsorships for the Vendee-Globe (the non-stop, around-the-world single-handed race), La Solitaire earns its reputation as an extremely tough race. It’s not surprising to notice the entrants’ ages appeared on the younger side…

Out of 47 entrants, only 7 are non-French. We were rooting for three of the non-French sailors (a Brit, an Irish and a Kiwi). The 2019 raced featured brand new high-tech Beneteaus equipped with foils (think ailerons projecting out from the side which help lift the boats to of the water to reduce drag). Unfortunately, this challenging race served as a shake-down for these new boats. We heard of several racers being penalized for replacing faulty screws with bolts for a plate covering the foils (which allowed water to leak, sometimes at a rapid rate, into the cabin). To us it seemed unfair to not allow this repair in order to make these boats safer for the racers.

We were in the pefect position to participate in the excitement of seeing these racers arrive after their second stage

with Max helping with lines as needed as boats began arriving en masse.

Wandering the pontoons we also got a glimpse of the preparation required for such a race, such as one sailor’s notes in his cockpit.

By the evening the boats added a festive look to the marina with the various sponsors’ logos in the rigging and on the hulls.

Thanks to hiring a ride on one of the many sight-seeing boats accompanying the fleet out of the harbor,

we watched as the fleet departed, jockeyed for the starting gun, and sailed off on their third leg.

But, the best aspect of the race for us was meeting Maria, Project and Communications Manager of Alan Roberts (www.AlanRobertsRacing.com), one of the few British sailors in the race.

We enjoyed her company immensely. We learned she, too, had raced, which is how she first met Alan. And, it was only asking further what she raced (dinghies) did we eventually get out of her she won the 2018 national championship with her crew Rob Henderson! I later read she also was, and I quote: ” the first female helm to win an adult fleet at a UK RS national championship since the RS classes were first established 25 years ago.”

If anyone needed a project manager who’s extremely capable, intelligent and personable, you’d be fortunate to have her on your team. Again, we only wish we had more time to spend with her.

The race was only one of the attractions here. Directly above the marina overlooking the la Baie of Morlaix we noticed a viewing platform. We discovered it belonged to the Jardin Exotique et Botanique de Roscoff, which opened in 1986.

So, off we treked the short walk where we peered at various trees, shrubs, and flowers

Most of the signage had English translations, albeit cumbersome ones, and I especially enjoyed reading about the various professtional and amateur botanists associated with certain flora. Some of these  were placed in a familiar historical context such as Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Daniel Solander (1733-82) who sailed with James Cook (1728-79) on his first voyage (1768-71).

Two others – Phillbert Commerson (1727-73) and Jeanne Barret (1740-1807) – caught my interest due to the unusual arrangement of their relationship. As the following so oddly explained…

Being the perfect day for outdoor sight-seeing, the view from the top was as promised: a perfect perch from which to gaze across the bay. If you could put the next three photos together, left to right, you’d have a look at the marina (in the middle photo JUANONA is almost at the end of the second pontoon from the left… not that you can see her!)

The village of Roscoff seems quite touristy but definitely provides visitors with examples of typical Breton architecture,

including its church, the Notre-Dame de Croas-Batz. Built over a 200-year period beginning in 1520 its belfry (double gallery with two tiers of bells) served as a prototype for many other churches we saw in Brittany.

One of Roscoff’s claims to fame involved a visit by a royal personage on August 13, 1548:  Mary Stuart, aka Mary Queen of Scots. She stopped here with her entourage from Dumbarton near Glasgow. At only 5-1/2 years of age she was aboard the Royal Galleon of the French king, slated for marriage. Supposedly she prayed at the chapel. Would have been fascinating to hear what she prayed for. I have a feeling it wasn’t for a couple of fresh croissants.

Standing at the quay in the old harbor you can see a lovely island called Île de Batz, one we decided to visit on a sunny day.

While waiting for the morning ferry we had a chance to see one of the fishing boats

unload its cargo of crabs. Crate after crate (10 days worth) came off the boat and, when weighed, loaded into a truck for their next destination. We wish we could have asked them where they’d been and more about the process but while they were friendly (agreed to a photo) they were busy.

By then the ferry was ready for boarding. After paying and settling into our seats we watched as other passengers (locals, tradesmen, and tourists), multiple sacks of mail, bread from one of Roscoff’s Boulangeries, and construction materials were laded. It reminded us of the daily runs of Casco Bay ferries and how they, too, served as life lines for everyday living on small islands.

Within 15 minutes we found ourselves walking amidst the ruins of a 6th-century monastery, subsequently replaced by later churches.

We continued our counter-clockwise circumnavigation on lanes and trails running parallel and perpindicular to potato fields. Stopping to watch one harvesting operation, the tractor driver waved us into the field where we could see up close how the machine pulled the potatoes from the earth after which two people (most likely his wife and one of their fathers) sorted the small from the large before dropping them into crates.

They agreed to a photo then proceeded with their work, and us with our leisure.

Within a mile we cycled into a broad expanse of green fields and blue sky with a stone house in the distance along with a bypassing helicopter.

Pedaling closer we saw a man working on a window frame.

Unsure if we were riding on a private lane, we tried to mime the question. When it looked as if he was coming down to see us, I thought he may not be happy of our interruption, especially if we missed any sign stipulating the path as ‘privé’.

Fortunately, that couldn’t have been further from his demeanor as he welcomed us and asked if we wanted to see the house (!). In the meantime his wife biked up, introductions were made, and off she went inside leaving us with our friendly host. From her patient manner I got the impression she’s use to his embracing strangers. If anyone remembers Ed Wynn in the first “Mary Poppins” movie, this Breton could be his brother.

In showing us around he told us it was his NYC cousin’s place, one that belonged in the family and used to be the island’s mill. Which made sense of the two towers standing at one end of the house, and the 360º panaramic view. He also mentioned it was available for rent.

If looking for a place to R&R away from it all (and with little distraction), this would be it.

Thanking him and waving goodbye we returned to our bikes and followed the larger trails that allowed bikes on them (although some requiring a bit of bushwhacking)

to scenic coves

and fields never far from the shoreline.

With a quick stop at the local store for some of those potatoes we saw earlier we completed our ride within two hours.

Catching the ferry back we were glad we took the early one over for there was quite a crowd waiting to board in Roscoff.

And, with the tide having gone out, we disembarked on the long ramp built to accommodate the 20 to 30 foot tides.

As an aside, it’s fascinating to see how local boats handle the outgoing tide. On Île de Batz, we scrutinized several small sailboats balanced on their keels and shored up by two poles on either side, ones they carry on deck.

In the old harbor we’d seen boats hanging on their lines as the water goes out. Check out the larger boat against the quay in the photo below,

and the ones pretty much sitting on the bottom of the harbor.

As we mounted our bikes, once again fishermen caught our eye.

Detangling their nets of various hues, they created a scene some of our artist friends would be happy to paint.

Before ever touching foot in this part of France, I associated blue-and-white striped cotton shirts as traditional French nautical apparel, and specifically, worn by those in Brittany.

Several companies made the most of this style as we saw in the ubiquitous, blue-and-white-striped-wearing tourists roaming the sights like we were. They are pretty cool, especially the ones of a heavier cotton weave, which last for a long time (as per my sister who snagged one when in Brittany).

However, I learned that this jersey or marinière became synonymous with not only sailors but also a unique Breton, the ‘Johnny’. This was due to a political cartoon created by a British artist in an illustration. And, I found that out was during our tour of La Maison de Johnnies.

This tiny but informative museum explained how Johnnies (called Petitjeans in Britain) crossed the English Channel in the early 19th century to sell their pink onions.

Henri Ollivier (1808-65) appears as the father of this trade when he sailed to England with his cago of onions. When reading about his successful green thumb* it’s not surprising to learn of his entrepreneurial spirit carrying him to Britain.

*In 1842 this enterprising Frenchman gained national recognition when his cauliflowers and artichokes took ‘1st Honors’ in a contest run by the Royal Society of Horticulture of Paris.

A combination of abundent produce in Brittany, lack of it in Britain, and overpopulation in Roscoff led to the seasonal exporting and selling of these tasty onions. Not only were they delicious but also had a long life once picked.

The museum explained the process of shipping …

stringing, the arduous job of creating the braided ropes (image the paper cuts doing that?!), which reduced the flow of oxygen increasing their preservation …

and selling these aromatic globes by walking or cycling door-to-door, both men

and children.

They concentrated their selling in Wales where shared Celtic roots made it a popular and natural market for the Bretons.

With the exception of a small nostalgic group, the Johnnies and their onion-selling have all but died out due to changing economics post-WWII. However, we did meet a Brit earlier this summer who recalled a visit of a Johnny at his grandmother’s home.

Now that you’re familiar with a Johnny, back to the shirts…

In the August 16th,1944 edition of PUNCH an illustration by Ernest Howard Shepard (1879-1976) appeared featuring “The Breton onion-man”.

Shepard used this figure to represent the human spirit of determination and strength of France’s resistance fighters during WWII. He dressed the man in patched trousers (characteristic of Johnnies since the 1800s) and the striped jersey or marinère, which the landsmen actually didn’t wear.*  But, thanks to Shepard they stayed a symbol of the onion-selling Breton.

And, if Shepard’s style reminds you of another illustration, you’d be correct in thinking of A.A.Milne’s tales about a lad, a teddybear who loved honey, and a whole gang of stuffed pals.

Shepard’s work created the first visuals of this heart-warming group in 1923 when Milne’s verses appeared in PUNCH magazine.  Although his work comprised subjects other than children’s stories, his connection with Pooh continued throughout his life. At the age of 93 he drew his last work when he finished 240 color drawings for the 1973 edition of WINNIE THE POOH.

*This shirt originally began as a naval uniform for seamen from Northern France. Designed in 1858, each stripe represented one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s 21 victories. Since Coco Channel popularized it in her 1917 nautical collection, the distinctive shirt has been worn by an array of personalities, from James Dean in the 1955 movie “Rebel Without a Cause” to Duchess of Cambridge in 2018.

So, when it comes to a momento of Brittany what better one than a marinère jersey? :)

BRITTANY: Part II

Road Tripping continued…

Wednesday-Friday, June 4-7, 2019

DINAN

Instead of a making a day trip we decided to spend the night in a quintessential medieval village: Dinan (formerly called Saint-Sauveru). [In the map below Lézardrieux is in the upper left where you see one of the rivers, and Dinan is far to the right at the end of the river next to St. Malo.]

Within an hour or so driving we reached this medieval jewel.

Founded in the 1st century on the banks of the Rance river, Dinan would grow into a commercial hub. Exporting food crops, and later hemp, cloth merchants became prosperous during the 12th and 14th centuries. A healthy middle class emerged and became more powerful thanks to the support of Jean the 3rd who granted the town special privileges to curry the bourgeoisie’ favor.

The town also attracted the reigning dukes: In the late 1300s Duke John IV built the Château de Dinan (unfortunately closed for renovations); and, in the late 1400s Duke Francoise II approved the building of a town hall and a municipal tower. In 1500 Duchess Anne gave them a bell, converting it to a belfry, one you can climb, which Max did (I went only part way up not wanting to be on the open-air balcony at the tippy top).

Of course, if there’s a decent-size town, there’s a good-size religious building. Dinan’s is a lovely one named St. Saviour’s Church.

A Crusader, the knight Rivallon le Roux, a member of the Lords of Dinan family, made a promise to himself to build a church if he returned from the Crusades. He did return, remembered his pledge, and called the church Saint-Sauveur.

Behind it an English garden flows to the town wall, built in the late 1700s,

where peering from one of the towers

you see the old town spread out below you.

Our first taste of Brittany’s famous crepes occurred here (Max eyeing our targeted lunch spot…)

and we quickly became hooked as we had crepes for both lunch and dinner. I really don’t know how these French folk stay so slim. If they’re not eating crepes or croissants, they’re eating a baguette the size of a bat. And, let’s not forget the cheese AND the wine. It’s tough trying not to follow in their footsteps.

We loved the medieval-ness of the town but a 21st century event really made our stay magical. Our hotel happened to be adjacent to the Jacobin Theater, During a quick scouting of the area Max noticed a dance performance being staged the one night we were in town. Figuring dance would allay any issues of not speaking French, we bought two tickets.

If you EVER get the oppportunity to see “Du Désir D’Horizons” (Desire for Horizons) by Salia Sanou, GO. Being modern dance the first minute or so when a lead performer just pretty much moved one finger or a toe I thought, ‘Oh, boy, this is going to be a long evening…’. Twenty seconds later I sat in awe and for the next 60 minutes watched chaos made beautiful by eight dancers whose limbs darted, crashed, and swayed across the stage. Minamalistic music added to the raw power on stage punctuated every now and then with some speech.  http://www.saliasanou.net/new/du-desir-dhorizons-2

I’ll remember Dinan for its ancientl setting, but more so from the magnificent performace we were fortunate to see.

ST. MALO

The next morning we left for St. Malo on the eastern edge of the Côtes d’Armor. This city is a favorite for sailors, as well as tourists.

We parked in the underground garage next to the old city and stopped to take note of an interesting sailboat moored along the town quay. Conversing with one of the crew aboard we discovered it was used for research, spending three months to three years at sea depending on the project. They were prepping the boat for their next excursion:  studying microplastics, beginning in the Thames. Another reminder of the harm we’re doing to our world.

With that sobering thought we journeyed back in time to the 12th century when the fortifcation of this Ducal town began with construction of impressive walls.

In the late 14th century a castle, Château de Saint Malo, was added and it’s here we visited the city’s History Museum. Since most of it was in French and the displays seemed a bit dusty, we were in and out within the hour. Yet, we did grasp an understanding of the importance of cod fishing for the area. The ships would leave St. Malo for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Each ship carried 20 dories, each manned by a crew of two who would catch the cod and then return to the mothership to offload. Not a job I’d want.

Back outside we explored a bit more, first stopping in for a coffee at a restaurant made famous for its highly unusual decor.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw one item hanging in the window:

Ellen, Liza and Tracy, do you remember your Patty Playpal :) ?

Fortified, we joined the busloads of tourists checking out shops and eateries along cobblestone streets. Then we escaped the masses by climbing the steps to the lovely promenade on the impressive town walls wreathing the old city.

During our wandering Max eyes lit upon a fruit we’d been searching for: pomegranites!

Thanks to our friends Sue and Carol W. we’ve been making two delicious quinoa meals, one requiring the bulbous seeds of those lovely pink globes.

Yet, after Max started picking several out of the crate, the proprieter came running towards us stating they weren’t for sale. And, it’s then we looked at the storefront and discovered it’s a cafe selling smoothies (with a sign stating ‘please don’t touch the fruit’). In other words, they, too, were using them as a key ingredient…

This town definitely deserved more than the cursory few hours we allotted, but having seen Dinan and anxious to continue our explorations elsewhere, we returned to our car and headed for less Disneyesque views.

PAIMPOL

Our final stop of the day involved the amazing display of this coast’s tidal waters. Several cruisers have recommended the port of Paimpol as a unique opportunity to experience the complete draining of a harbor. However, we subsequently heard stories that made us rethink heading there with our deep-draft boat. Basically, there is no margin of error if you miss the high water mark to enter the port. To paraphrase British sailor Mike’s experience, whom we met in Guernsey, and who misread the tide tables and had to beat a hasty retreat to deep water:  “when you can see the eyes of the crabs under your keel you realize it’s not a good time to be there.”

Which is why we opted for the safe ‘cruise’ on land where happy boats float on one side of the lock…

while the other side is not so likely to float one’s boat.

And, after witnessing the incoming sailboats endeavoring to dock alongside or in berths, I am so willing to wait for the perfect tide + current combo, or as perfect as we can get them.

It’s no wonder this area breeds excellent sailors. Like we did in the Channel Islands, we have to plan our exits and entrances to coincide with the tide and current.

If we ever think of going against the current at its peak all we have to do is remember watching a sailboat trying to dock recently. First it appeared as if they’d be coming alongside with no problem only to see them moving horizontally as all on aboard quickly assess how to get the boat pointing back towards the dock. Once they manage that, it’s a fight to land without the bow hitting the pontoon first. When they’ve finally reached the dock and someone is able to jump off (or toss their lines to a person on the dock) and wrestle to slowly inch the boat closer to finally allow all to breathe a sigh of relief and the captain cut the engine.

I know it sounds crazy but we’ve both been helped (thankfully) and have helped boats to dock. At times a boat feels like a bucking stallion. And, god help you if you mess up tieing the lines!

PAIMPONT

Thursday was our last day with the car. Heading back towards Lézardrieux we stopped at the enchanting Fôret de Paimpont. The forest is known for its ties to the Legend of King Arthur and Camelot and his sidekick Merlin (and Max).

Supposedly he found Excalibur here. Although, I think it more likely he located some good cider and an abbey.

The Paimpont Abbey sits next to a lovely lake and dominates the small village. Like most of these religious structures it began as a much smaller version in the 7th century when missionaries seemed to flood the area. The Normans knocked it down, resulting in a rebuild during the 9th century. Four hundred years later, the abbey acquired its Gothic style with add-ons and renovations occurring during subsequent centuries.

Similar to other churches we’ve seen in Brittany, the roof resembles an upside-down ship’s hull. And, it’s made of wood versus stone, which is unusual.

While in Paimpont we met a charming Irish cyclist who uses the summers to recoup from a hectic winter of musical work including teaching and touring with musicals. Ger (short for Gerald) had two weeks to explore this area and was making the most of it without brutalizing himself. We wish he had more time or was closer in his circuit to JUANONA for he would have been great to have aboard for a night of conversation.

JOSSELIN

We then  headed almost due west to Jossselin and its Château. In the 11th century a viscount built a fortified town here in the Oust Valley; but, it didn’t last too, too long because the English King Henry II (same guy who built the Dover Castle and took Eleanor de Acquitaine as his 2nd wife) destroyed most of the château in 1168 when the feudal Bretons opposed him.

Two hundred years later the rebirth of what was left of the building began after a swap between the Count of Alençon and the High Constable of France. The latter, Olivier Clisson, proceeded to strengthen the defense by adding three towers along the riverside

and one more as a stand-along (which looks like a perfect Rampuzel residence if you note the little red door).

What amazed me, though, is that the current owners are related to that original Clisson. Can you imagine someone doing their geneology being able to trace it back to this house?!  When Olivier died in 1407 the renovations continued via his grandson, Alain IX de Rohan, and great-grandson, Jean II.

However, once again, revenge caused massive damage to the place in 1629. This time that marvelous spiritual guidance, i.e., religion, was the culprit when Cardinal de Richelieu didn’t take too kindly to rebellious Calvinist Henri de Rohan. Rumor has it the Cardinal snidely quipped to Henri, “Sir, I have just scattered your skittles.” And, he most obviously wasn’t talking about the candy.

Daily tours were available, and we joined the group after the guide provided a quick background. ‘After’ because it was all in French.

With no photography allowed inside we contented ourselves with exterior shots

and referencing an English brochure.

In the write-up we learned…

The ‘Battle of the Thirty’ in 1351 occurred close to Josselin during the ‘Deux Jeannes’ war (Brittany’s Civil War). The fame derives from being seen as the most chivalrous battle in history (Encyclopedia Britannica.com). It began when the governor of Brittany (supporting the French House of Blois) challenged the Captain of Ploëmel (supporting House of Montfort) to a fight composed of 30 soldiers per side. The governor eventually won with both sides suffering heavy casualties while ensuring the prisoners of the losing faction were treated well and released (The House of Montfort eventually won the overall war.)

A more recent tidbit appeared in the form of a contemporary portrait of Duke Alain de Rohan, father of the current owner. I hadn’t heard of him but some of you may have:  his friend, the American artist Trafford Klots (1913-76), painted it in 1966. Just one more reminder of the longevity of Olivier’s DNA…

I convinced Max to purchase the joint ticket so we could visit The Musée de Poupées, a collection of puppets and dolls by Herminie de Rohan during the 19th century with more recent donations reflecting current times.

Having read in THE LONELY PLANET guidebook it was, and I quote:  “more interesting that it sounds!” I thought it could be fascinating.

Hah! Fascinating if you, too, collect dolls. However, it provided some light-hearted (and extremely fast) viewing resulting in naming some of them myself, such as…

The guilty one…

Big-headed Gulliver

 

Religious salesman

Bad Hair Day Lady

Temper Tantrum Tess

Juvenile on my part, I know. Okay, EXTREMELY childish.

CHÂTEAU DE LA ROCHE-JAGU

Our last stop made us wish it could have been a longer one. On the outskirts of Ploëzal Château de la Roche-Jagu sits above the Trieux River, only a couple miles up from where we’re docked in Lézardrieux. Built as part of a ten-fortress defense in the 15th century, it’s the only one still standing.

And, it’s stunning with its stoic facade juxtaposed against lovely gardens.

Renovated by the Côtes de l’Armor county council, the château and grounds host exhibitions and performances. Our late arrival precluded anything but a brief visit, but we met a teacher who takes his young students here annually. He kindly walked with us to the magnificent viewing platform and explained this location was strategically important for hampering any Viking raids coming up river. Standing where we were it was easy to understand how.

After he left we strolled through some gardens. In one we spotted an Insect Hotel.

A bit bizarre, but, then, we’d seen one earlier in the day just outside of the Château de Josselin.

Hey, if I were a bug I’d be booking in at one of these hotels that sit within buzzing range of a château.

Our time in Lézardrieux was coming to a close with a forecast of a good combo of wind and tide. However, our next port isn’t too far from here. And, we’re looking forward to more adventures in Brittany!

Next, more medieval-ness and an amazing sailing race…

 

 

 

CHANNEL ISLANDS: Part III

GUERNSEY (continued…)

Thursday-Thursday, May 23-30, 2019

We didn’t only do indoor touring as these islands offer a gorgeous backyard in which to play.

We had heard of two beautiful islands close to Guernsey–Herm and Sark. Daily ferries connect to both for day tripping, and based on some friends’ recommendations we decided on Sark.

The island is populated by 600 people, not including the seasonal influx of tourists, animals–both domesticated and wild

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(saw a rabbit, Deborah, and thought of you :), tractors, horse-drawn carts,

and bikes. What we didn’t see are cars, which are not allowed on the island ensuring lovely cycling roads–when not avoiding the tourists, animals, tractors, horse-drawn carts, and other cyclists.

We saw a few of the formal sights such as the local prison,

and the 17th-century La Seigneurie where two of the three ruling families (seigneurs and dames) lived.

Not quite understanding exactly who these Seigneurs and Dames were, I learned about one of the more recent ones when stopping in at the Tourist Information (TI) Office. There I read about the Nazi Occupation and the formidable and feisty Dame Sibyl Hathaway (1884-1974), the feudal overlord who inherited the position of Dame when her father, the Seigneur, died.

Wanting to learn more about this Dame, I found a wonderfully entertaining article, which is definitely worth reading if you’re interested.

During her lifetime Dame Hathaway fought to maintain Sark’s bucolic way of life, one established way back when. She did so with comments such as, “If it was good enough for William the Conqueror, it should be good enough for us”. After reading the above-mentioned article, this pronouncement gives you a pretty good idea of why she could be labeled ‘feisty and formidable’.

Speaking of good ole William, feudal laws followed under the Normans still existed well into the 1900s, which is how Sibyl inherited her right to govern over the other islanders.  This changed in 2008 with elected officials replacing this hereditary position, but not necessarily voiding all of the Dame’s ‘rules’ as cars are still not allowed on the island…

Similar to other islands of intoxicating landscapes, Sark has attracted its share of artists. Prior to WWII some set up their own colony calling themselves the Sark Group. They built their own two-story studio and gallery, which today serves as the Post Office and store. We saw some of their art work on signage in the small TI office. Every time I read about creative retreats such as this one I think of our artist friends and how they would soak this up.

The painting above captures one of the most spectacular views on the island. It appears when crossing to ‘Little Sark’ via a manmade bridge (repaired in 1945 thanks to Dame Hathaway’s use of German POWs from the occupation).

In spite of quite a drop on either side my fear of heights didn’t keep me from enjoying the 360º vista.

Although, I do admit the handrail came in handy every now and then as we walked our bikes across. Walked because riding wasn’t allowed.

I can’t tell you how much I loved exploring this island. And, I can’t specifically state why except to believe it came from riding down country roads under a sunny, blue-sky day, poking here and there, stopping for refreshments (yes, coffee) while engaging in conversation with other contented souls, and just literally ‘being’. Talk about lucky.

The only dark cloud above Sark, and not one tourists would necessarily know about, comes from the recent domination of two landlords, the billionaire Barclay twins. In 1993 they purchased Brecqhou, a little island NW of Sark and proceeded to build a huge Gothic castle. Subsequently, they bought/built four hotels on Sark and also planted a vineyard (in an area not necessarily noted for its fine wine…).

With all of this wealth they exhibited the typical 1%-ers behavior:  we later heard of the Barclays helicoptering in a head of lettuce from their Ritz Hotel because it was organic. It better make some good salads if that’s how they’re doing their grocery shopping.

Being the wealthiest islanders they aimed to mold Sark into their own private fiefdom. They bullied the islanders into changing an inheritance law, reducing Brecqhuo’s taxes, and challenging the centuries-old rule of the Seigneur (or Dame). The latter the Barclays said wasn’t democratic enough. But, then, after the 2008 voting in of a democratically elected chamber they threw a temper tantrum when their candidates weren’t voted in. For revenge the twins shuttered their businesses  (tossing over 100 locals out of work). They reopened them later only to close them again. Trust me, it gets complicated.

For visitors, though, this friction seems pretty muted.  We learned of only two signs of this divisiveness: (1) when our waitress said they had just opened after four years of closure,and, if the Barclays felt the business did well, they’d remain open;

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(2) the withering grape vines we passed cycling out of town. But, as I said, we didn’t feel any simmering undercurrent during our short stay.

Returning our bikes we walked down the steep hill back to the ferry dock, feeling completely sated with a summertime joy.

You don’t have to go off island to appreciate Guernsey’s outdoor attractions.

The town itself provides interesting walks. A maze of cobblestone streets and stairs wind up and down the hills. It seemed we were always going up or down some incline.

Yet, any climbing resulted in a lovely view over the city.

Even after a week of going places in town I still couldn’t tell you the most direct way to reach anywhere. Other than our coffee place, of course.

During one of our first self-guided tours around town we passed a plaque on Tower Hill. It was one of the most disturbing ones I’ve seen, for it marked the spot where a mother and her two daughters, one being pregnant, were burned to death for their Protestant belief under Bloody Queen Mary’s rule.

To make it even more horrifying the daughter gave birth during the burning, and the executioners decided to throw the baby back into the fire. Makes me sick just writing this even now.

When discussing this with the minister mentioned in my earlier Guernsey post he said people were horrified to hear this and determined the islanders needed to be educated. So, when reigns changed from Mary to Elizabeth I, the Elizabeth College for Boys was established by the Queen in 1563.

A much pleasanter walk took us to a peaceful oasis in the middle of town where stunning photographs serve as part of the flora.

Candie Garden, perched on a hillside in the north part of town, drew us to another spectacular piece of St. Peter Port. We didn’t visit the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery there but did see a statue dedicated to its famous exile-er.

I had mentioned in Channel Islands: Part I the best-seller, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, as being one of my few sources of information prior to arriving here. Set during the Nazi Occupation 1940-45 the story features landmarks existing today.

I found reminders of this book scattered throughout the town, which isn’t surprising considering the tourism board has embraced this novel whole-heartedly. They’ve even created a ‘passport’ you can get stamped in various locations.

Adding to that, one of the walks promoted in their “Tasty Walks” guide book features a city trail dedicated to locales associated with the book’s characters.

That guide book turned out to be a great resource. We didn’t really do any of the 20 self-guided walks but wish we had, especially after circumnavigating the island on the public buses.

Halfway around we had to switch buses, and while waiting we noticed a wetsuit throng of little ones hoisting surfboards for a lesson. Whenever we come across surfers I always think of my Nags Head family who, for sure, would have been catching waves if they were here. Those wetsuits would come in handy as I believe the water is about the same invigorating temp as Maine’s.

We ended up taking a trail on the south side of the island, and the scenery was stunning.

Being a Bank Holiday Weekend plenty of other visitors were out and about strolling the streets. Especially the one fronting the harbor featuring an annual fair. A mushroom of tents had sprouted up over night and now offered a range of wares from ice cream to pet accessories.

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And, no surprise seeing dog collars and catnip for sale:  tThe Guernsey SPCA sponsored the fair. Which also accounted for the appropriately dressed folk playing ball.

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The day also offered one of our favorite activities:  sticking our heads out of head holes…

Being in a harbor where boats appeared to come and go as often as the tide we met some fabulous folk, both visiting cruisers and locals:  Karen and Jean-Luc; Elie, Jan and Mike; Sadie and Denis; and, the local port captain of the Cruising Association, Richard. And, being sailors, they kindly shared their knowledge of ports and anchorages assisting us in where to head next.

This port didn’t lack for boaters, especially with the number of regattas. We’d go to bed on an almost-empty pontoon only to wake up the next morning surrounded by a boat load of racers, some even rafting to us in the middle of the night. Definitely added a higher level of energy to the harbor.

Experiencing some of the Channel Islands I was amazed we hadn’t really thought of them as a vacation destination. The lovely outdoors combined with a distinct cultural experience felt similar to visiting the Azores, another European archipelago (albeit a bit further away from the mainland).  Although, we had heard more cruise ships were popping into the harbor here, which explained the American accents we heard when walking in town or riding the buses.

In speaking later with a resident, she said tourism had actually decreased since the heyday of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

During those decades these islands served as an exotic destination for Brits who wanted sun and beaches (and there are some amazing ones here) while also enjoying the ease of an English-speaking country. Furthermore, frequent ferry runs between the mainland and islands ensured convenient transportation.

Yet, as the Brits began to venture further afield to Spain and other countries offering similar amenities, and sometimes for less money, the Channel Islands lost a lot of their visitors. Now an emphasis is on marketing these islands resulting in an increase in tourism, one of Guernsey’s main economic drivers. 

So, if you’re looking for a relaxing spot to stretch your legs and treat your eyes, consider the Channel Islands. And, if you do, please say hello to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle for me :)

 

 

 

CHANNEL ISLANDS: Part II

GUERNSEY

Thursday-Thursday, May 23-30, 2019

With decent winds we left Alderney for the 24-mile sail to St. Peter Port (aka, Saint-Pierre-Port), the capital of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is one of the three Crown Dependencies of Great Britain.

After 5 hours we arrived at the harbor entrance, requested permission to enter and did so after waiting outside while a large ferry docked. Next we waited for one of the marina skiffs to guide us carefully to one of the floating pontoons.

We opted for those docks in lieu of Victoria Marina, an interior harbor protected by a sill from low tides*.

Originally planning on getting a berth in the marina, we decided not to risk crossing the stone barrier:  some cruisers in Alderney mentioned they had heard of a boat with the same draft as ours (2-meter or 6’ 6”) getting stuck on the sill (!). No thanks. Plus, the pontoons were only a three-minute walk from one of the main streets.

I have to say living in Maine one gets use to tides and steep ramps to and from floating pontoons, but in this neck of the woods, they can get a heck of a lot steeper…

which is why many boats are built to sit on the ground when there’s no water under them.

JUANONA, not so much.

*A sill is a barrier that captures a harbor’s/marina’s water at high tide and retains it during low tide. Basically, just think of it as a bathtub for boats.

And, in spite of the rather tired and dingy appearance, the showers provided luxurious hot water with strong pressure (similar to Alderney’s) and appeared surprisingly clean. Actually, even the public restrooms throughout the islands seemed exceptionally clean. No laundry facility at the marina, but we found one in town easily enough. With a supermarket nearby, plenty of buses and ferries within a five-minute walk, and a great Tourist Information (TI) Office just across the street, the location offered everything we needed. Oh, yeah, and a great coffee shop, too :)

Doing some quick research online we discovered a fabulous treasure in St. Peter Port–Hauteville Maison, also known as Victor Hugo’s House.

Having visited his apartment in Paris a few years ago, to tour his home here seemed a no-brainer. Especially since this is where he wrote one of our favorite books and musicals, LES MISERABLES. Just writing that makes me break out in song, lucky for Max it’s not out loud.

Reading that they required reservations and noting none available until the following week, I thought we’d miss seeing it. But, the lady at the TI suggested I try calling, and, voila! a last minute opening for the hour-long tour was available.

The house had actually stayed in the family until 1927 after which Hugo’s granddaughter and the children of his grandson donated it to the City of Paris. When water leakage damaged the interior, the billionaire art collector, François Pinault  (also, a key benefactor of the Notre Dame roof re-build) funded the entire, 3 million-euro renovation in 2018. Fortunately, careful restoration left the house the same as when Victor Hugo lived here.

Not being up on the details of this novelist/poet/dramatist/artist, we learned that Victor Hugo’s (1802-85) political beliefs morphed over the decades, from supporting the monarchy to opposing it. The latter occurred when Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-73) threw a tantrum over the one-term limit of his presidency and staged a coup d’etat. Having a way with words, Hugo coined the derogatory (but, one must admit, clever) phrase, “we have had Napoleon the Great, now we have Napoleon the Small”, a none-too-subtle expression of his feelings towards Louis-now-self-titled-Napoleon III.

He (Hugo, not Emperor 3) avoided arrest by heading to Brussels in December 1851. But his stay was short due to the proximity to France and a formal decree of exile, so he left for Jersey in 1852 where other non-Napoleon III supporters lived.

But, Hugo obviously knew how to p_ _ s off royals. An unflattering article about Queen Victoria’s visit to Paris in 1855 caused his next boot out of a country. Not that he wrote it; but, the article penned in London was re-published in a Jersey paper by some of his fellow exiles. When they were expelled from that Channel Island, Hugo decided to also leave in a show of support.

He moved to the nearby island of Guernsey in 1855 and with the success of THE CONTEMPLATIONS, a poetry book, he purchased the house in 1856. And proceeded to decorate it. And, boy, did he decorate.

Arriving before our scheduled tour, we had access to his backyard,

and, while Max enjoyed the ambiance here,

I went on the hunt for a cup of coffee, which I found just up the street in a hotel with another lovely garden view.

A young guide with a lilting French accent (of course) led our small group of ten through the public rooms where he entertained:

the Billards Room with family portraits and drawings…

the Tapesty Room wallpapered with oriental rugs (a small sun-lit room next door offset this dark one)…

the Dining Room with Dutch Delft tiles, and where he provided meals for the city’s poor children,

along with lessons of life, which were also carved into the decor.

Stairs to the first (what we call second) floor landed us in an elaborate hallway off of which were two richly,(overly so in my opinion) decorated lounges for more entertaining,

with one end of the two rooms suitable for presenting plays.

Then to the second (third) floor where the hallway served as his library, which included one of the first ever editions of an Encyclopedia…

and opened into a large study and bedroom, but one he never slept in.

To the tippy-top third (fourth) floor where he did actually sleep…

and work (this is the room in which he was sitting in the sepia photo above…

and where, finally, I would be able to rest if I lived here) as he looked out to his garden and the sea beyond to France.

Throughout the house the guide pointed out Hugo’s fascination with Chinese culture,   one shared by others during this time.

(Ellen, note the peacock :)

I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be for those who had studied this man’s life and work because for me, not well-versed on Hugo, this tour was fascinating and a definite highlight of our time here.

Unlike some of our other cultural visits we didn’t tour a lot of museums here. Actually, as I write this, I realize Hugo’s house was it as far as museums go. We did, however, do a quick stop at one other building, also overly decorated:  the Little Chapel.

We reached this little (and, it is wee) site after a 30-minute bus ride to the center of the island.

Along with a group of other curious tourists we hopped off to stroll the one-minute walk to a building festooned with broken pottery shards.

Inspired by a similar chapel in Lourdes, this grotto chapel was the third one begun by Brother Déodat. His first one (9’x4.5’) was too small as was his second (9’x6’), and I love this–he decided the second one didn’t fit the bill when the Bishop of Portsmouth couldn’t fit through the door.

The one we toured measures 16’x9’, and, as you can see, we easily stepped through the opening.

Being un-consecrated anyone and everyone can mediate/pray/worship/perform miracles here. And, visit for free with donations accepted.

It is lovely it its kitchyness and fantastical mosaics,

It’s also where Max caught the spiritual glow.

As I said, basically you could walk through the chapel

and out the door

in 20 steps.

We could have dwelled a bit longer but…. And, evidently we weren’t the only ones feeling as such because we joined the same stampede of visitors who caught the bus out with us who were now determined not to miss the next bus heading back. Otherwise, we’d all have to wait another hour and there’s just so much cemented pottery shards I can take at one time no matter how devotedly placed.

Another day, while waiting for our coffee place to open we popped into a larger place of worship, the Town Church.

Spotting a guy who appeared to give impromptu tours we asked him about some mounted plaques. For the next 15 minutes he entertained us by pointing out some of the more interesting of these memorials.

When I asked about a rather prominent one for The Very Reverend Daniel Francis Durand and noted it was pretty cool he was the son of the guy who headed up Canterbury, he laughed and corrected me saying,’no, that was something stated to make him sound important:  he wasn’t literally the son, he simply came from there.

He then walked us over to the memorial of Captain Nicholas Messier, a privateer (aka pirate) who fought the French. Our informal guide appreciated the hypocrisy for he said isn’t it wonderful how someone is lauded by the same people who could just as easily have treated him as a criminal. I think I could use this guide on all our tours…

One of the largest plaques immortalized one of the most famous islanders, James Saumarez, Lord de Saumarez. He fought with Lord Nelson in the Mediterranean, though not at the Battle of Trafalgar. The two officers had a strained relationship, and our guide mentioned it was due to Saumarez not approving of Nelson’s romantic liaison with Lady Hamilton. As our host stated succinctly, ‘Saumarez was a prude.’

Our last critiquing of these plaques concerned one dedicated to Rear Admiral Thomas Saumarez Brock (his father being another famous islander, Isaac Brock, who defeated the Americans when they attacked Canada during the War of 1812) and his wife and her eldest son. Here we learned their daughter used plundered marble from the Roman Temple of Diana in Ephesus, a famous ruin in Turkey… and, bragged about it.

It’s also when I noticed a clerical collar peeking out from our guide’s sweater.

I left that church thinking now, he along with a few others, is a minister whose sermons I wouldn’t mind listening to. Nothing like some irreverent humor to spice up one’s Sunday :)

Next, the great outdoors…

CHANNEL ISLANDS: Part I

Getting there

Monday-Tuesday, May 20-21, 2019

To lessen the miles (and help with any adverse current) we left Lymington and headed to Studland Bay, an easy 17 miles away. As we passed the Isle of Wight the three formations of chalk and flint called the Needles came into view.

Although, to me, ’The Molars’ would be a more appropriate moniker.

Reaching our destination, startling white cliffs greeted us reminding me of how much we enjoyed our first visit here in 2014. One of the reasons being Studland Bay was the only anchorage we had while cruising the south coast of England due to being a coastline relatively devoid of safe places to drop one’s hook.

The anchor dropped quickly and smoothly, always a relief when performing that exercise the first of the season.  Pulling it up made up for the ease of dropping it as the current pushed JUANONA forward while the anchor chain pulled backwards. But, the windlass (anchor motor) won out, and off we sailed to Alderney, the northernmost island of the Channel Islands.

You could count my knowledge of this archipelago in the English Channel on two fingers:

(!) They are not part of the EU, which means non-EU boats can check in here to reset the VAT clock (avoid having to pay VAT tax on the boat) of 18 months. Considering the other possibilities to reset the VAT are Norway and Morocco, this land mass offers a valuable service to yachties. If we didn’t have our import of JUANONA under our Dutch temporary residency, we’d also be very thankful for this (and our visit here will serve as a backup for difficult bureaucrats)

(2) The 2008 book, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, that swept the U.S. book club repertoire described a brutal Nazi occupation during WWII.

So, I checked online to find a bit more background on the Channel Islands…

Romans visited the islands followed by Christian missionaries (which may be why the largest cities on the islands all start with “Saint”?) in the 6th century. In the 9th century Norse invaders took over the islands and they became the property of the Duchy of Normandy. By the 10th century the islands came under English rule when William II of Normandy (aka William the Conqueror) became William I of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

A jumbled history of English and French stakes to the islands occurred over the next eight centuries, resulting in a split of the islands into two Crown Dependencies:  the Bailiwick of Jersey (the largest island) and the Bailiwick of Guernsey (the latter covering Guernsey as well as Alderney, Sark and some smaller islands).

Not to go into too much detail (and, frankly, I don’t think I could untangle the snarl of who-ruled-what-when well enough for myself, much less you), the islands are self-governing but are still ‘possessions’ of the United Kingdom. They print their own currency (1:1 to the British pound), and have their own courts and administration. (FYI:  there are three of these Crown Dependencies, the other being the Isle of Man.)

Jersey (population 100,000+) and Guernsey (pop. 63,000+) are the dominant islands with Alderney (pop. 2,000), Sark (pop. 600), Herm (pop.60), Jethou (and, I love this:  pop. 3) and Brecqhou forming the primary grouping, with much smaller iles dotted around.

Fishing, quarrying, mining (silver), and agriculture (cows) formed the economies, with tourism now being one of the largest money-makers.

Obviously, I’m missing a lot of history here but you, at least, know as much as I do (and, probably more if you’ve read about this area).

So, now to our first island…

 

Alderney

Tuesday-Thursday, May 21-23, 2019

Current and tide rule the boating world around here. No wonder when there are 10+ meter (33 ft+) tides which can create currents of up to 5 knots or more. The high tide range significantly limits anchorage possibilities, which is one reason there are so many shallow-draft boats around here which can ‘take the bottom’ (ie they can dry out and stay upright on ground when the tide goes out).

When we left England we set a heading of 190 degrees, a straight line into the town of St. Anne at Alderney, 56 miles south-south west of us. But, as you can see from the chart plotter, the current pushed us almost 40º to the east giving us a course over ground (COG) of 150º and moving the bearing to Alderney to 205 degrees and eventually even more.

It wasn’t until a few miles from our destination that our COG came close to matching our set heading. As these two photos show, our track simulated a drawn bow.

We picked up one of the many guest moorings and the next morning hailed the water taxi operated by one of the many friendly locals we met during our two-night stay here.

Expecting more deserted harbors the number of other boaters (mainly, a lot of guys enjoying a boys’ cruise it seemed) surprised us. Yet, sailing season starts early over here. Although, we still had plenty of time to peruse this area of the sea before the huge bubble of boaters when schools let out in July and August.

Within 90 minutes, we managed to snap a photo of the interior harbor,

climb the steep hill to town center, eat a lovely breakfast (some of the best coffee ever) at Jack’s Cafe (highly recommended),

rent electric bikes (and, we agree with Colleen:  they provide the perfect spurt of energy when needed :), and clear Customs after lowering our official yellow quarantine flag we had raised prior to entering.

Speaking of Customs, we asked the officials to stamp our passports. Now we felt doubly ‘legal’ for not only did we have our temporary Dutch residency covering us for Schengen and temporary import of JUANONA but also official exit from the Schengen zone.

In addition to the official paperwork we will also retain receipts of our Channel Islands marina andharbor fees to prove our temporary exit from the European Union for any future official questioning. This pertains to diesel fuel as well, for some countries require proof that we didn’t cheat the system by buying fuel while claiming it was for commercial use and therefore exempt from tax.

Official business completed we hopped on our rented bikes for our jaunt around the island under a brilliant blue sky and warm sun.

Although it’s not my area of interest, anyone fascinated by military equipment and defense should visit here. Known as one of the most heavily fortified places in this part of the world, Alderney boasts over 30 forts, batteries, bunkers and armories seemingly on every headland, 18 of which the Victorians constructed between 1850 and 1860.

Within two hours we had easily biked and toured various landmarks around Alderney, espying a rookery of gannets,

spotting an immense fog horn located on top of Mannez Lighthouse, built in 1912…

reading the plaques in English, French, Polish, Hebrew, Russian, and Spanish on the  Hammond War Memorial commemorating the forced laborers who lost their lives here during the occupation…

and recognizing a name used for Rod and Jo’s famous log on Sleeth Island :)

As we continued our cycling the circumference of this island we couldn’t avoid reminders of how heavily fortified this island became. It seemed every few miles we’d come upon some sort of military structure. Many, if not all, of which the Germans repurposed during WWII.

To obtain a more in-depth education about Alderney we visited the local museum;

and, it’s well worth visiting, beginning with the lovely lady greeting us. She was happy to have us since it seemed we represented 50% of the museum’s visitors that afternoon. We were joined by another couple from the states, two friendly gentlemen ending their three-month, eclectic travel of Malawi, the Greek Isles, and now the Channel Islands. The four of us weaved various paths in and around several rooms filled with peacetime artifacts, such as a mangler (in which I once got my arm caught in a motorized  one a long time ago  that was fun,),

juxtaposed with wartime memories.

IMG_3861The book mentioned earlier in this post has generated huge interest during WWII. Unlike Guernsey, the majority of the islanders decided to evacuate. This occurred when they saw the Germans continuing their march west towards the French coast. In 1940 the first to be evacuated were the children, many of whom went to Cheshire, England. The islanders voted at a town meeting to leave their homes and the next day on June 23, 1940 six ships from England left for Weymouth.

Hitler relished the invasion and occupation of these islands, Germany’s one foothold in territory belonging to Great Britain. In particular, he saw Alderney as an important part of his ‘ Atlantic Wall’. It was this island’s proximity to mainland Europe (only 8 miles separating it from mainland Cherbourg, France) that caused Hitler to heavily fortify Alderney.

He also planned to invade England from Braye harbor in which we were currently moored (which, thankfully, never took place).

Initially German soldiers felt it an honor to be posted on the first invaded piece of British soil; however, the lack of fighting and amenities soon changed this attitude to one of boredom and lackluster duty. Although, it didn’t keep the local SS from terrorizing the 5,000 slave laborers imported from mainland Europe to construct fortifications around the island. As one German soldier wrote in his diary, “It certainly was a godforsaken island.”

But, there always seems to be bits of caring humanity regardless of which side one is on, and the museum featured one such German soldier, Conrad Gries.

He was responsible for drawing up plans of the minefields laid on Alderney. Ordered to destroy the plans prior to the liberation of the island May 16, 1945, he hid a copy in the hopes the Allies would find it. Which they did, no doubt saving many lives.

A small room off to the side detailed a curious event right after the war when islanders returned to Alderney (due to lack of resources on the island this occurred in stages using the application below). The first group returned December 15, 1945.

A joint project of the curator, a school group, and residents describes the ‘Battle of the Butes’ (the Butes being a locale). After five years of occupation, many homes were in disrepair and household goods sorely lacking. Added to this was the need to fumigate for vermin, causing further destruction to personal property. To compensate, the Red Cross, British government, and other sources sent, i.e., ‘issued’, supplies, aka ‘Issue Furniture’. Included in this stash were items recovered from the island’s homes.

This didn’t sound so bad but how the appointed judge from the Home Office in England decided to allocate these household goods is bizaare:  they roped off the goods, assembled the returning islanders, then blew a whistle, lower the ropes, and a stampede of frantic men, women and children try to claim as many pieces as possible.

I mentioned to the woman at the front desk how demeaning this free-for-all must have been, especially considering what those people went through during the war. She said it caused a lot of friction between the islanders, and even now, there’s a residual disgruntlement. People would enter a friend’s home only to spot a bureau or vase that use to be theirs (!). Or, they wouldn’t invite someone over in case the friends recognized an item belonging to their family.

Beyond the horror and sadness of WWII, the museum showcased local shipwrecks, all understandable due to the dangers of navigating these waters.

From an Elizabethan wreck dating late 1500s to the  LIVERPOOL, the world’s largest four-masted, full-rigged ship, in 1902

to a small cabin cruiser in 1969 and the SS ARMAS of Cyprus in 1973.

Another interesting bit of information concerned the Alderney Cow, bred form the 1850s to 1920s. Since my knowledge of cows as a farm animal is iimited to the love of cheese, butter, and all things fatty, I’ll quote directly why these animals were prized:  ‘high quality milk-butter yield, easy husbandry, and requiring littler expensive dietary needs’.

Unfortunately, the uniqueness of the Alderney cow was lost when interbreeding with Guernsey cows occurred in 1927. But, at least they live on in literature for those who have read A.A.Milne’s “The King’s Breakfast” and Jane Austen’s EMMA.

Looking for further island exploration Max happened upon, most likely, the most dangerous adventure on Alderney:  The Bat and Hedgehog Tour.

Checking with the Alderney Wildlife Trust, the guide said this week’s tour had been scheduled for Tuesday (the day before) but he’d be happy to accommodate us by doing it tonight. Sounded great to us! So, we made our reservation and then strategized on filling up the four hours prior to meeting him at 9p.

We settled on finding a local hang-out followed by dinner. However, we faced a minor problem: the liveliness of the town bustling with locals and tourists alike that greeted us in the morning had now dwindled to a trickle of activity. All shops and most eateries had shut their doors and would next open Thursday morning.

As we slowly made our way up the main street peering in windows hoping for an ‘OPEN’ sign, a kind woman stopped to ask if she could help us (this was the second time of the day someone had offered us guidance, earning Alderney high marks on friendly natives). She said we may have noticed that businesses close every Wednesday afternoon but what were we looking for? We said eventually a place for dinner. And, with that piece of information she said, ‘Eddie’s is just right up the block, and tell him Norma sent you.’

Her name worked like a charm. Being his Tapas Night, he said he was full but could serve us out in the garden. Which is how we ended up with not only a lovely view but also some exquisite samplings of dishes.

A setting sun brought on a chill so we left for a pub we had checked out earlier. Wanting to be alert for our tour, Max decided to order a tea, and if anyone looked like the sort of person who would ask for tea in a pub, Max would be it:

But, the most entertainment came from the warm and chatty bartender’s response to his request. She was flummoxed and stunned, then exclaimed, ‘TEA? You’re in a pub and you want TEA?!’ I can only imagine how she would have responded if he had added that it was really herbal tea that he wanted…

Forty minutes later (after a beer after all) we found ourselves back in the Alderney Wildlife Trust office where our young guide Roland commenced the tour with so much information my head was spinning. This guy is a walking encyclopedia for bats and hedgehogs.

We discovered bats comprise almost 20% of the earth’s mammals… you identity the different families by  their echolocation range… they actually fly, not glide like ‘flying squirrels’… and, they’re difficult to spot in the dark (that’s my observation after walking around with a loudly clicking echo meter managing to only see one or two madly darting objects).

 

Hedgehogs, on the other hand, are easier to spot as long as you know where to look and have an informative guide. Alderney has the unique distinction of being one of two habitats (North Ronaldsay, an Orkney Island is the other) where you can find blonde hedgehogs. And, it seems locals take on bragging rights if one lives in
their garden. Otherwise, it’s the more common brown ones.

They don’t burrow but nest. And, naturally, those nests are often under and in hedges.

Roland ensured we knew that they were not albino but blonde due to a recessive gene that just keeps occurring. Having no predators on the island, hedgehogs thrive on Alderney. And, possibly the blonde ones increased in population due to being easier to see at night, so less road kill. Nice to know.

My fondness for these little creatures comes in large part from a childhood addicted to Beatrix Potter’s books.  A favorite was THE TALE OF MRS. TIGGY-WINKLE, the story of a female hedgehog who washes clothes for the animals in the neighborhood.

I even had a little animal hedgehog I could dress up. I know, I know, anthropomorphism and sexism combined but, hey, I was a kid. Who wouldn’t want to know of a hedgehog with whom you could sit and share a cup of tea?

So, when I saw them they immediately brought to mind a little hedgehog running around in a mob cap and apron while my voice became the high-pitch of baby talk.

Roland told us not to worry about harming them because if they truly felt threatened by us they’d curl up in a ball versus just scurry away. Which made both of us relax a bit when he shone his flashlight on one.

Supposedly, it’s rare to see them, but all we saw were little blonde hedgehogs out for the night.  Hmmm…. perhaps the blonde ones have more fun? :)

Our dangerous tour ended with our happily exclaiming our luck in seeing those cuties as we made our way back to JUANONA.

With sun shining and decent winds we left the next morning for our next Channel Island, alas, one without Mrs. Tiggy-winkles…