A Place in Spain: Part One

IMG_8964The fantasy was always to buy a place in Italy, or maybe in Spain.  That kind of fantasy is always more romantic than practical.  We looked at this notion a thousand different ways.  Hours were spent researching countries, regions, cities, properties, and foreign real estate laws and procedures.  Research is critical because once you start looking at properties it is possible to fall in love with the wrong house, in the wrong city, at the wrong time, and possibly in the wrong country.

Common sense kicks in and tells you it’s better to rent.  There are always counter arguments when it comes to common sense.  You do your research to let you know how impractical you are being, and just how deep the water is.

Like a strong current pushing a boat into a shipping lane we were eventually guided to Spain.  There is no accounting for that exactly.  It is possible to get into the intricacies of food, coffee, hospitality, weather, the cost of living, and how it feels to sit on a terrace in the afternoon sun.  It is possible to talk about the price of real estate.  Pinning it down as an individual is tough enough.  Pinning it down as a couple is an exercise in futility. Donna will talk about the light.  I will talk about sunsets and night noises.  In the end it comes down to feeling at home in a distant place, and everything else lining up to turn a fantasy into reality.

We narrowed our search down to the area in and around Oliva, Spain.  It’s on the coast forty minutes from Valencia.  The closest cities are Denia and Gandia.  Unlike most coastal cities Oliva is not strictly a tourist destination.  It’s a working Spanish town.  It doesn’t pull up stakes and disappear during off seasons.  The beach is long, beautiful, and relatively uncrowded.  Real estate prices are attractive.  We knew all of this because we had done the research. We had actually never set foot in Oliva.

Within an hour of arriving in Oliva we were doing neighborhood reviews.  Donna had lined up 32 properties to look at.  We narrowed it down to an agreed upon Top 10 list.  It felt like we were doing a House Hunter’s International marathon.  This wasn’t couch surfing though.  This was feet on the ground, bring the tape measure and paint chips stuff.  Thankfully, we’ve had lots of experience doing this kind of thing.  Donna and I moved at least eight times the first twelve years we were together.  My youngest daughter, Marleigh, knew the drill by heart.  “Dad, everytime you guys buy a new refrigerator you move!” 

The Top 3 houses on our list were visited. None of them had signs in the windows anymore.  The apartment across the street from San Maria de Major Cathedral had already been decorated in our minds. The townhouse with a small yard was only grudgingly on my Top 10 list. To me it looked like a car had driven through its fence.  Donna disputed this.  After all it had a lemon tree in the backyard.  Similarly, the apartment next to the Municipal Market was not one of Donna’s favorites.  Location, location, location had her expressing a little more interest.  It was skeptical interest, but that was an improvement. Again, we weren’t seeing any signs in the windows.

A walk through town on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t really tell you much.  It tells you if they roll up the streets after Sunday Mass, but that’s about it.  Oliva was pretty dead.  A few locals were drinking in a small bar.  A “kebap” and pizza joint was open. So was a little bakery.  Other than small groups of kids riding bikes and scooters the streets were unoccupied.  Adults were sticking close to home.

Oliva could have been a small town anywhere in the world.  It was difficult to tell if we were actually going to like it.  Standing on the rooftop terrace of our VRBO provided a strong positive clue.  The view was outstanding!

Festival Med 2018

Over the years our travels have brought us close to some pretty impressive concerts. We missed the Stones in Dublin, and in Barcelona. We missed Sinead O’Connor in Rome. She dressed up like a priest on that occasion. Manu Chao played Lisbon a week after we flew home. John Cale, of Velvet Underground fame, played Dublin on June 16th this year. Shoulda, coulda, woulda!

In 2014 we looked for festivals that coincided with our travel plans. Festival Med in Portugal fit the bill. I didn’t recognize any of the artists who were booked. Donna and I came away as fans of Fado artist, Gisela Jao. We saw her again last year in Seville. Nour Eddine and his  international crew electrified the crowd. Cabo Verde musician, Dino Santiago seduced the crowd with tropical rhythms. Returning to Festival Med became a bucket list item.

Donna and I have seen quite a few of our generation’s musical icons. Jimi, Janis, Joni, Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, Prince, and the list goes on. All of these were memorable experiences. None of them were quite as much fun as Festival Med.

We have tried to explain the allure of Festival Med. The musicians are world class, the setting is magical, but it’s the interaction between the audience and the musicians that is unique. In Portugal it’s not a concert. It’s a party! The crowd claps and sings along. Grandparents  and toddlers are dancing. You start moving to the beat and it’s met with genuine smiles! Any bit of reserve melts away. You are in a crowd of joyful people dancing!

Festival Med also features costumed people on stilts, fire breathers, ragtime bands, retired gentlemen’s choirs, marching bands, and small cafes where local Fado singers perform. If there is singing , someone is singing along. The  historic center of Loule is alive with multiple formal and impromptu entertainment spaces.

This year Donna and I made time for wandering. This brought us to a cafe where Fado was being performed. An excellent guitar trio played tangos while we ate paella, fish soup, and octopus salad. We sampled a few headliners as we threaded our way through the crowd. That last bit sounds terrible, but it was fun.

Then there were the acts I researched and didn’t want to miss.

Vurro

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Vurro is a keyboard playing one man band from Spain. He wears a cow skull on his head and uses the horns to crash the cymbals. He plays dazzling versions of classic old time rock and roll tunes. You could say Vurro is a novelty act. The thing is, just when you start wondering what kind of physical damage he is doing to himself by crashing into those cymbals he launches into a blazing version of Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again”! You’re too busy dancing to worry about Vurro’s vertebrae.

Los Mirlos 

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My brother, Leland, introduced me to Los Mirlos. We were playing our “Do you have any…” music collection game. Peru’s legendary Los Mirlos are credited with inventing the musical form known as Chicha. It’s a combination of traditional South American musical forms and surf guitar. Move over Eric Clapton and make room for Danny Jhonston! The guy plays mind bending licks, and hits rhythmic shifts I’ve never heard anyone pull off before. Los Mirlos had people dancing from the first note until the last. Danny Jhonston raised the Guitar God bar up a couple of notches! (Donna’s assessment? “You wouldn’t expect old men wearing green pants and white patent leather shoes to be so good!”)

Sara Tavares

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I knew Sara Tavares from my time hosting a radio show on Everett’s Independent Radio Station KSER. Tavares stands on Cabo Verde’s incredibly rich musical tradition. That means she knows she has to expand upon that tradition and make it her own. For my money (a twelve Euro entry fee) Tavares and her razor sharp band did exactly that. The stage craft we witnessed put the audience completely in Tavares’ capable hands. You knew she was going to take you somewhere, and she did!

My favorite image of the Festival came from this show. A tiny formally dressed white haired Portuguese woman stood swaying in the middle of the crowd. She was singing with a look of complete joy on her face! It doesn’t get better than that!

Morgane Ji

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Reunion Island’s Morgane Ji is what I’d call an artist to watch. The lyrics from her song “Time Bomb” say it all. “Come back to me. Don’t turn your back on me. By the way…I’m a time bomb!” Mix Eartha Kitt with a dash of Jimi Hendrix, throw in a post apocalyptic electric banjo, some electronic effects, and a voice that can recall Tracy Chapman’s and you have started to approximate Ji. She also made the only openly political statement I heard during Festival Med. “This song is for the migrants, the people who have nothing. We must keep them in our hearts always!” That a simple call to recognize the humanity of those who are fleeing violence in their homelands has become political is telling. Morgane Ji, tough and vulnerable at the same time, delivered fierce musical statements one after the other. She’s an artist on a mission. You will hear about her!

The acts we missed were numerous. We didn’t see them, but our apartment was only a three minute walk away. With the door to the balcony open we could hear them even as we drifted off to sleep.

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First World Amusements

 

IMG_7467The sun was shining in Nerja. The waters were as aquamarine and inviting as we remembered. Carrabeo Beach was just down the stairs. Our daughter, Maresa, is a beach bunny. There was no question about how long it would take us to hit the beach.

Somehow the sunscreen didn’t make it into our beach bag. Donna decided to go back and get it. When she returned she was lugging the dilapidated umbrella from our rental’s patio. Putting it up required assembly, and catching a lizard. This attracted a small crowd who watched with amusement.

I was of the “leave the lizard alone” school of thought. Donna was in “catch and release” mode. I joined the crowd of watchers and enjoyed the show. With a look of triumph Donna caught the lizard, and returned it to its natural habitat. “Now it has rocks, shade, and a small pool of water!”

Donna was the first one into the Mediterranean. Then she convinced a skeptical Maresa to get in. It was clear that the water wasn’t warm. I eventually edged towards the waves. “The water is fine after the first five minutes. Really!!!” Not the strongest words of encouragement I have ever heard. It was an accurate assessment though. The water was eventually fine.

While we were swimming I watched a woman entering the water with a dip net. Whatever she was catching was being deposited in a blue bucket. Interesting!

I watched an elderly Irish woman make the sign of the cross before entering the water. In a beautiful brogue she said, “Ah, he’s laughing at me now for making the sign of the cross!?!”  In a short space of time we learned the beach had just reopened. The day before thousands of jellyfish called Mauve Stingers had filled the bay. That’s what was being deposited in the blue bucket. Mauve Stingers can cause a nasty case of burning, nausea, and muscle cramps!

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Donna didn’t go into catch and release mode this time. She jumped out of the water and started scanning the surface. Maresa pointed out a Mauve Stinger. Donna borrowed the net. In short order there was another jellyfish in the blue bucket. Swim time was over.

Later that night I fell asleep while Donna and Maresa watched a television show about dictators. The focus was on North Korea. The show was broadcast in English. That was a first.

I woke up to three waves of shrieking! I figured a lizard must have made its way in from the patio. Given the increasing volume of the shrieks I figured it must be a big one.

After the show about dictators was over Donna started channel surfing. She found the Disney Channel, but the show wasn’t capturing their attention. She hit the clicker again…“Porn!” “Porn!!!” “Gay Porn!!!” 

There right next to the Disney Channel were three channels of gay porn! The giggling continued into the night.

I am grateful for first world amusements, and first world problems. Not everyone is able to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.  Not everyone has moments they can laugh about, or change the channel on. We keep these fellow humans in our hearts!

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Tortilla Espanola & Utah Fry Sauce

IMG_7344This is the recipe you wish you had when you were courting.  At the courting stage the goal is to convince the object of your desire that you aren’t a complete idiot. Whipping up a delicious and exotic sounding omelette using potato chips and eggs is an excellent start. Of course they’ll figure it out soon enough. “Complete…total idiot!!! What was I thinking??? Well, there is that thing with potato chips and eggs.”

I didn’t invent this version of Tortilla Espanola. Full credit goes to Chef Jose Andres. He extolls the virtues of small batch Spanish potato chips. Potatoes, oil, and salt are their only ingredients.  The thickness to crunch factor is perfectly balanced.  In an omelette the chips are reconstituted during the cooking process.  They become tender and impossibly thin slices of potato.

Andres has also discovered flavored kettle chips. So, using Sea Salt and Vinegar chips, or whatever else is on hand, works. Pour some beer into a couple of jelly glasses and you have created a romantic little meal.

In Spain potatoes are frequently served with Salsa Brava. It’s a spicy tomato based sauce. It is usually accompanied by aioli. In Seville, Valencia, Córdoba, and Grenada most bars mix the Salsa Brava and aioli together. The grocery store in the Albaycin carries Hellmann’s mayonnaise based Brava Sauce. It’s good, but you aren’t going to find it in the states.

In trying to come up with a stateside equivalent to Salsa Brava I could only come up with Utah Fry Sauce. My youngest daughter, Marleigh, turned me on to this stuff. She took us to a drive-in in Utah that serves burgers the size of your head, baskets of fries, and tubs of fry sauce. We are talking seriously big portions! When it’s below freezing and your clientele is wearing Arctic parkas with coyote trim, cargo shorts, and flip flops your portions better be big!

Utah Fry Sauce and a Tortilla Espanola are a match made in heaven. I’d be remiss not to include Alabama White Sauce though. Every refrigerator should contain a squeeze bottle full of it at the ready. It’s addictive, and you can put it on everything except pancakes.

Tortilla Espanola

Ingredients: A fist full of potato chips, five thin slices of spring onion, three eggs, a dash of salt, a dash of smoked paprika, a drizzle of olive oil.

Fry the onion slices in olive oil and reserve.  Stir the eggs until slightly frothy. Mix the onions into the eggs. Grab a handful of potato chips and place them on top of the egg and onion mixture. If no one is watching use the palm of your hand to flatten the chips. Otherwise use a spatula, but it’s not as satisfying. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into an omelette pan. When the oil begins to spread out in the pan dump in the egg mixture.  When the bottom of the omelette is golden brown invert it onto a plate. Then slide it back into the pan uncooked side down. (If you mess up that step, the object of your desire will reach an undesirable conclusion immediately.) When the bottom is brown, and no egg bubbles up when you pierce the omelette with a fork, slide it onto a clean plate. Dust it with some salt, and smoked paprika. It isn’t necessary to eat it right away. The Spanish serve it at room temperature.

Utah Fry Sauce

Ingredients: 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 3 to 4 teaspoons pickle juice ( add one tsp at a time & taste)…

Options: Substitute 1/4 cup chili sauce & 1/4 cup ketchup instead of using straight ketchup. If you go with straight ketchup add cayenne pepper 1/4 tsp at a time for some kick.

Whisk the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Chill and serve. Refrigerate up to two weeks. (You will be tempted to use a blender, or food processor. Don’t! Hand processed is better!)

Alabama White Sauce

There are more complicated recipes for this sauce.  I have tried them. I prefer this stripped down version.

Ingredients: 2 cups mayonnaise, 1cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon agave syrup, 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 teaspoons black pepper, a dash of salt, add cayenne pepper 1/4 tsp at a time to taste.

Whisk the ingredients together in a mixing bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Put the sauce in a squeeze bottle and keep it refrigerated. After two weeks mix up a new batch! Salut!!!

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Anthony Bourdain: The Journey Extends

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We wandered through unfamiliar streets in the dark to find a restaurant in Jaen, Spain. It kept popping up on our radar. Finding it had become our mission. Nothing about the street Casa Antonio is on promised greatness. Jaen isn’t a city that stands on appearances. It has it’s own business to do. Casa Antonio’s business is creating startlingly delicious food. Food you’ll wake up in the morning and want more of.

That walk in Jaen, when you strip it of its city clothes and put it in a t-shirt, was inspired by Anthony Bourdain. He had the gift of making the pursuit of the sublime look badass. Bourdain had a handle on the transitory nature of our singular journeys. The bright moments when all your senses collide around a perfect bite of food in the perfect moment, that’s the territory he owned.

So, our journeys now become a tribute to Anthony. The Art Deco grandeur of Hotel Hidalgo in Martos, Spain with its balconies overlooking the bull ring, the tour of tumbledown working people’s homes on the hillsides of a white village, watching a home health worker cook mussels and bacalao in a kitchen the size of a coat closet…these things will forever be touched by our irreverent host, Anthony Bourdain.

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Here of course I am obliged to mention the journey’s end. There is a darkness that pulls at us all. Our journeys all wind up in the same place. It’s the memories we collect on the way that matter.

John Cale, of Velvet Underground fame, wrote, “Home is living like a man on the run. Trails leading nowhere, where to my son? We’re already dead, not yet in the ground. Take my helping hand, I’ll show you around.” Despite the darkness, and perhaps because of it, Anthony Bourdain took our hand and showed us around. He did it in grand badass style. He will be missed!

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Grenada: Can Lightning Strike Twice?

We dropped the rental car off at Central Hotel in Grenada. The Opel Mokka was one of the best cars I’ve ever rented. The built in GPS still couldn’t count exits from roundabouts though. Taking the sixth exit on a roundabout that only has four exits requires ignoring the polite English manners of Ms. GPS. Donna’s directions were more accurate. “Don’t listen to her! We’re going straight!!!” 

Dropping rental cars off always feels good. What felt even better was the taxi driver dropping us off at Plaza Largo in the Albaicin. There was a sudden rush of exhilaration from our toes to the crowns of our heads!  We were home!

Our produce lady was still working her stand. She even tossed a free tomato into our bag. The swirl of tourists, locals, and feral hippies hadn’t lost its lively step! The familiar was still familiar.

We took the short cut we discovered two years ago to the house on San Luis. The caretaker, Ana, rode up on her motorcycle the moment we arrived. The house with its fairytale views was pretty much as we left it in October of 2016.

They say familiarity can breed contempt. It can also build contentment. Our month in Grenada two years ago gave us a solid base to explore from.

We found a new restaurant in the Albaicin. El Picoteo had only been open a few months. There is no menu. The waitress tells you what is fresh, and the chef takes it from there.  The veal tenderloin Donna ordered was epic. It was as big as her plate, and so tender you could cut it with a spoon. My squid could have come from one of the best beach shacks on the coast.

Everything seems to have fallen into place. Bar Tana was as good as we remembered.  Around the corner in the Realejo, I found a new barber, my new travel guitar/ukulele, and some excellent hole-in-the-wall cafes.  Off the Bib-Rambla we found a shop that specializes in fresh Italian pasta, an antique shop that had the ring we’ve been looking for, and shop that had a tabletop BBQ grill. Little things that once would have required the poor guidance of Google Maps to find.

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Our abbreviated process has given us time to delve into the intricacies of Spainish olive oils. There are something like 260 varieties of olives grown in Spain. The favored type is the Picual. It produces a characteristic kick at the back of the throat. It’s bitter. In truth, we prefer smooth buttery olive oils. On the counter in the kitchen we now have five bottles of olive oil. A Picual, two blends, a rare Ocal, and an Arbequina. Tonight I’ll mix some smoked paprika, salt, and the Arbequina. I’ll smear it on the tuna, and then BBQ out on the patio.

Our restless search for a home base in Spain may be coming closer to an end. Sometimes starting back at the beginning makes sense. Sometimes lightning strikes in the same place twice!

 

 

Prime Real Estate: The Beach is the Thing

IMG_6481.JPGThe second phase of our vacation involved exploring the coast of Spain from Alicante to Nerja.  Ever since Spain captured a spot on our radar viewing properties online has become one of our activities. It is not uncommon for Donna to send me five properties a day to peruse.

We have learned the old real estate maxim “location, location, location” is true.  So, the question we wanted an answer to was, “Why is La Rabita so cheap?”  Substitute other bargain locations as well.  We wanted to find out where there was a “there” there.

Alicante

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There is an airport in Alicante. This makes it attractive for Europeans.  We met a woman and her mother as we sat in a waterfront cafe.  They shared that owning a place in the Alicante area allowed a visit every six weeks.

What brings them so often? Sunshine, great beaches, a good Mercado, and Spanish culture. We found some excellent food at Casa Julio.  Our hotel, Almirante, was reasonable. The beach was right across the street. So was the tram that took you to town.

Rents and home prices make Alicante a bargain. A cute apartment near the market was listed at 129,000 euros. A person could pick up a rough apartment in a local neighborhood for 18,000 euros.

Alicante is easy to get to.  There is a thriving local community, and a thriving tourist scene. The beaches were long and sandy, but closed due to a Portuguese-Man-of-War invasion.

 

Mojacar

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Mojacar is often listed as being one of the most charming coastal white villages.  It is visually stunning.  It felt like a retirement community, and we were the youngsters.  At our age you don’t want to feel older, or be constantly reminded of what lies ahead. Mojacar felt like the set of a geriatric zombie movie.  No, no, and no!

Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park: San Jose and San Miguel

IMG_6337.JPGFor my money Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park was a must visit.  Looking at real estate was not on my agenda here.  The park did not disappoint. Stunningly isolated wild beaches where nature is the show are difficult to top.

Wild isolated beaches also tend to be naturist paradises. Topless bathing is to be expected on any Spanish beach. Nude bathing is not uncommon. Seeing a dude hiking along the road wearing nothing but a ball cap while swinging his belly, a walking stick, and his nether regions is a rare and memorable sight. Someone took the “Nature Park” thing pretty literally.

Cabo de Gata-Nijar Nature Park is sandwiched between San Jose and San Miguel.  Neither place was recognized by our onboard GPS.   Both towns serve tourists who are headed to the park.  San Jose is more upscale with trendy boutique hotels, and restaurants designed to feed the hungry hordes.  San Miguel had less overall charm.  It was uniformly tourist basic.

That being said, we had a spectacular meal at a beach shack in San Miguel. Chiri-Bus didn’t look like much, but one glimpse at the food told us we were grabbing a table.  We ordered gazpacho, clams in tomato sauce, and grilled squid.  Fresh squid with a perfect amount of char and a squeeze of lemon eaten at a table on the beach is a little slice of heaven.

 

In San Jose we ordered a shrimp cocktail. It was transported from the 50’s.  What I thought must be shrimp mousse turned out to be Utah fry sauce.  Buried in the mayo and ketchup were tough balls of shrimp, cubed orange pieces, and shredded lettuce. Each bite was accompanied by Donna saying, “I don’t think you should be eating that!” 

La Rabita and El Pozuelo

IMG_6377.JPGEvery broad real estate search brought up these two beachfront towns.  La Rabita has been the focus of some tourist development money.  It boasts a new waterfront promenade.  When you do the research the question is always, “Why are these towns so cheap?”  

The answer lies just around the bend at the end of the beach in La Rabita. That’s where you encounter the plastic.  Both towns are surrounded by acres and acres of degrading plastic tarps.  The greenhouses are so vast they can be seen from outer space. In El Pozuelo they are readily visible unless you are looking directly out to sea. In isolated coves broken down plastic is said to be knee deep.EB6D44B0-CE76-4275-8E6C-F598AFA0D1F9Castell de Ferro

I almost never fall in love with a piece of real estate online. There was a traditional town house in Castell de Ferro I kept my eye on for a couple of years.  It had a covered deck overlooking the beach.  I imagined sitting on that deck watching the Mediterranean sparkle.  The apartment eventually sold, but we still wanted to check out the town.

 

The properties shown above range from 52,000 to 100,000 Euros.  All but the rural casita are within walking distance of the beach. The town house that’s second from the left is the only place that doesn’t have a view of the sea.

Castell de Ferro? It’s charming. The surrounding terrain is steep enough that it’s not overwhelmed by acres of plastic tarps. The people were welcoming and friendly. Too small? Too hard to get to? Too isolated? Those are quibbles. Check out the color of that water!IMG_6385.JPG

Nerja

IMG_6418.JPGThis is where Donna said, “You get what you pay for!” Nerja has never come up on any lists of Mediterranean bargains.  By U.S. standards it probably should. We had to go to a real estate office to check into our homeaway.com room.  The agent assured Donna that she could find us a long term rental with a sea view for $500 Euros per month.  Donna took her card.

Nerja is beautiful , cosmopolitan, chic, and lively.  It felt like the best of all worlds.  Donna hit the beach and played in the waves.  I unkinked my back by nestling into the warm sand. Then we spent a memorable evening at Restaurante 34.

 

A great restaurant is as much about the people as the food. The food at Restaurante 34 is excellent! The thing is by the end of the evening Donna was up on the stairs talking politics with Carmen, Macarena, and the rest of the wait staff. Carmen supplied one of the best lines of the night, “Honey, in Spain the politics are f-d!” 

Meanwhile, I was talking with an 82 year old gentleman who required the diligent care of his eldest daughter. His daughter inquired, “Dad, what are you up to now?” ” I’m talking to a soul.” “Ahhh, that’s what it is!”  

When we departed there were hugs all around. Donna got kisses on both cheeks! The eldest daughter was still trying to convince her father it was time to call it a night.  Beautiful!

 

Nerja may not be on a lot of Spain on a Shoestring lists, but in this case you do actually get what you pay for.  That’s what Donna said, and her look told me there was no arguing it!

Leaving Dublin

IMG_6181Leaving Dublin feels like leaving behind memories of how Seattle was fifteen years ago.  The traffic here is manageable.  There aren’t hordes of homeless citizens tucked into every public doorway, park, and unoccupied patch of land. Dublin’s rents are high.  A two bedroom flat ranges between $1,250 to $1,875 a month.  That’s still cheaper than Seattle.

Dublin has done a lot of things right.  It’s public parks are well-maintained community gathering spaces.  When the sun peaks out from behind the clouds every park is crowded with picnickers.  At night the gates are locked.

Public transportation options are plentiful. Busses, rapid transit, and trains regularly take people in and out of the city. A three day LEAP pass cost $10 and gave us unlimited access to explore Dublin and the surrounding villages.

I wrote earlier that people were unfailingly polite.  This continued to be true.  There was an openness that Seattle’s insular communities rarely exhibit.  Dublin isn’t the worst place to get lost in.

Of course we did see the odd doorway filled with someone sleeping out.  More than a few panhandlers had that drug glazed look.  On Saturday morning there were broken bottles from the night before. The debate about whether to repeal restrictions on abortion is creating a familiar divide. Given the fervor on both sides, the debate seems to be mostly civil.  There will be family members who aren’t speaking to each other by the end though.IMG_6099

Heading to Spain from Dublin leaves a unique wistfulness.  It creates a sense of nostalgia for the city we have always called home. The sense of comfort we feel in Dublin invites a need to engage in wider exploration. We made it to the fishing village of Howth, but not to Malahide Castle.

All that said, an extended layover in Dublin on the way to Spain makes perfect sense. The flight is less grueling. It’s possible to conquer jet lag before heading out in a rental car along the Spanish coast. That alone makes stopping in Dublin worth it, but then there’s the city and its people. We wound up being charmed!IMG_6182

 

A Little Bit of Dublin

 

At first glance Dublin reminds us of Vancouver, BC.  Although, there are probably fewer Americans in Vancouver.  Our first Dublin adventure involved an almost steady jet lagged walking tour. We were testing a new protocol for minimizing the effects of jet lag.  It was brutal, but it seems to have worked.

On our walking tour we wandered into O’Donoghue’s 15 Bar.  It’s just off Grafton Street on Suffolk.  We ordered small glasses of Guinness, fish and chips, and Irish stew.  Donna and I were soon surrounded by fresh off the tour boat Americans. They were gushing about a leprechaun tour, and hoping to see the Loch Ness Monster when they visit Scotland.  All of this was encouraged by unfailingly polite locals.  Tourism boosts the economy.

O’Donoghue’s fish and chips were very good.  The Irish stew was excellent. The Guinness wasn’t part of the jet lag protocol, but it was worth adding.

IMG_6010We have found the fastest way to orient ourselves in a new city is to take a “Hop on, Hop off” tour bus.  In Dublin it’s best to take the green “DoDublin” busses. We took a red tour bus.  There were three green busses for every red bus. Dublin’s chill doesn’t make longer waits desirable. If it happens to be raining? Take a green bus.

No matter which bus you choose you will wind up at the Guinness Storehouse.  You will want to take the tour, and you should.  It’s the Disneyland of Beer.  The tour is slick, well-structured, and self-guided.

The animatronic fish riding a bicycle was a highlight.  It was presented with the quote, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”.  There was no accompanying quote for men.  I suppose it would be, “A man needs a woman like… Give me another beer.”

The tour winds up on the sixth floor at the Gravity Bar.  It’s a great place to cash in your ticket stub for a pint of Guinness. The beer comes with a 360 degree view of Dublin.  Donna ordered the traditional extra stout.  I ordered the #13 Hop House Lager.

The tradition pint is poured with great ritual.  To get the perfect head it’s poured and allowed to sit before being topped off.  It’s a process that maximizes the beer’s frothy creaminess.  The lager was unceremoniously poured and served immediately.  It was very hop forward with citrusy notes.  This should have been worth remembering.

After demolishing our pints we headed down to the fifth floor to eat.  Oysters were on the menu.  Pairing them with Guinness extra stout is recommended.  The oysters were fresh, briny, perfectly chilled, and delicious.  The pairing???  The best oysters avoid off month muddy notes.  The earthiness of a porter introduces these notes.  The citrusy Hop House Lager would have made a better pairing.  Forget the beer though.  Give us champagne!

Jet Lag Protocol 

1. Don’t consume any alcohol on your flight.  2. Only take cat naps that are no longer than an hour.  3. Once you arrive in the new time zone take a brisk walk. (We put in 3.5 miles.)  4. Stay up until 10 PM local time.

I didn’t quite manage #4.  I closed my eyes between 8 and 9 PM and didn’t open them again until midnight.  I read for an hour and managed to sleep for the rest of the night. When I got up at 8 AM the next morning I wasn’t fogged in with that typical jet lagged feeling.  Sixteen hours and 4.2 miles of walking later I am still obnoxiously perky. Donna has tomorrow’s adventures thoroughly planned!

 

 

 

 

A List: But Would You Return?

My Uncle Brewer once sent out a list containing the wisdom he had acquired over his long and productive life.  The first entry was, “Never publish lists!”  In what appears to be a Hale family tradition I will ignore this advice.  Here are the places that keep calling us back.

ROMEIMG_6300

Romula’s place is located in the most picturesque lane in Trastevere, Rome, Italy.  We barely scratched the surface in Rome.  Romula headed us towards some of the best restaurants the district has to offer.  A return trip is based upon a very simple notion.  Experiencing the Christmas season in Rome is an inevitable bucket list item.  Take a look at the photo again.  The apartment in this little lane isn’t just an apartment.  It feels like an extension of Romula’s home.

 

COMPARTIR RESTAURANT, CADAQUES, SPAIN

We ate in the third best restaurant in the world, but I would rather return to Compartir in Cadaques.  Its food is informed by El Celler de Can Roca, but it’s a simpler meal.  The oysters we had were nothing short of perfection.  The gazpacho sorbet is something I continue to crave.  The wine pairings made us wish the food and the wine would keep flowing.  The walk on the beach after dinner, where we encountered local musicians and the local flaming drink, queimada, capped a beautiful evening.

TOSSA DE MAR, SPAINIMG_1573

Donna likes to imagine buying a place in almost every town we visit.  We have become adept at finding local real estate listings.  I am the hard sell in our party of two.  An evening of half-hearted consideration is as far as I ever get.  I considered Tossa de Mar for a week.  There was an apartment just outside the tourist zone that caught our eyes.  Then there was that tiny two person beach we kayaked to, and the promise of others.  Just off the town’s main beach we turned into sea creatures who had to be coaxed out of the water.

BORREGO SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA

The hike to the palm oasis in the Anza-Borrego State Park is adjacent to Borrego Springs. The health of the area’s ecosystem, and more specifically its water supply can be measured there.  The whole town threatens to dry up and blow away.  If the date farms and golf courses go with it I’d be happy.  There would still be the desert, the night sky, and elusive wildlife to catch glimpses of.  The desert is a place we connect to on a deeper level.

VENICE, ITALY

There is something about the light in Venice that draws us back.  Venice is beautiful.  There is an accumulation of sumptuous details that informs every part of it. It’s the foot traffic.  It’s the boat traffic.  It’s the bridges.  It’s ordering a plate of cicchetti and eating them while standing along a canal. It’s experiencing Art that graces textbooks up close in doses you can barely conceive of.  It’s the sense that preserving the city has always been a fight worth fighting.  Venice is the undisputed City of Love!

THE CANALS OF FRANCE

IMG_2592

We rented a canal boat and navigated the Canal Lateral de la Loire from Briare to Decize.  Walking into a small French town to purchase croissants, a freshly baked baguette, and the specialty of the house was a daily ritual.  Sitting at the helm of a boat with a steaming cup of coffee and a French pastry while slowly motoring up a canal is something worth doing.  There are more than 5,000 miles of canals in France to explore, and we aren’t getting any younger!

 

BOOKED…

GRENADA, SPAIN

Returning to Grenada hinged on being able to rent the house in the Albaicin again.  Fairytale views, a gourmet kitchen, a comfortable patio, a soaking tub, and a naturally occurring wine cave off the kitchen make for gracious Spanish living.  Being within walking distance to the market in Plaza Larga, and the Flamenco caves are added bonuses.  The intangibles of night noises, smells in the Arab Quarter, the lively feeling of streets lined with tapas bars, and a distinctly Spanish way of interacting gave us a sense of belonging.  Then too, there is the Alhambra!

FESTIVAL MED, LOULE, PORTUGAL

We attended Festival Med in 2014.  There was never a question about whether we would return.  Between the two of us we’ve seen The Beatles, The Stones, Joni, Dylan, Van, Neil, Jimi, Janis, Cream, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughn, McCoy Tyner, Son House, The Talking Heads, Prince, PJ Harvey,  U2 and a host of others in concert.  Festival Med stands out as being the most fun.  There was a connection between artists and audience that became a part of the performance on a level we’d never experienced before.  That we wound up having breakfast with a room full of performers the next morning was an added bonus. Festival Med 2018 is on our itinerary this June!