Archive for March, 2013

Spain Ole

March 6, 2013

It was a cold and rainy morning when we left Asilah, Morocco. The cab ride in the old Mercedes was equally cold, the driver chatty and informative about the terrain we drove past. When we got to the ferry terminal in Tangiers the nice cab driver wanted us to pay twice what the going rate was. My wife objected and we paid half that. That is the one thing I hated about Morocco—folks just trying to overcharge at every opportunity.

Out of the taxi and one step toward the terminal building and we were surrounded and harangued by a mob to buy tickets for the ferry ride from their ticket office. I’d had enough. I yelled in Spanish (we were still in Morocco) Tranquillo! It translated. The guys looked at me and kept quiet. Anger is international. We then enlisted the help of a porter with a handcart to hump our luggage through the ferry terminal building. After buying tickets, we had another “helper” fill out much of the form and then wanted a “tip” for doing so. Yes, we are all just ATM machines for Moroccans.

Finally we made it to immigration and there was one guy working as slow as any human could. It looked like we would miss the ferry to Spain until a man in line told us the ferry always left an hour late and the ferry company knew how long it took to clear immigration. One hour later we left Morocco for the 35 minute ferry ride across the Mediterranean to Spain.

After all the problems in Morocco I was not looking forward to Spain but the travel gods were with us and we zipped from one bus ride to another arriving at our destination in Jerez about 1:30 p.m. We rented a car and checked into the hotel and went out for something to eat. Immediately you could see the “se vende” signs in windows and the vacant shops around the city. This part of Spain was hurting in the country’s recent financial recession. Then we noticed the retails shops were all closed and there were not many people on the streets. That seemed rather odd. To our amazement the restaurants were closed too for siesta and those that were open had only a handful of customers. Where were all the people? This was lunch time. We walked by a small shopping mall and it was dark and the escalator had stopped. We went in and it I swear I was in the Twilight Zone. All of the stores were closed and the shopping center silent and dark. Then I remembered what someone had told me about Spain. The Spanish have an interesting work ethic. It goes something like this: They start work at 10 a.m. work till 12:30, take a 3 hour lunch break and work till around 7 p.m. The merchants have cut back hours rather than eliminate jobs. Unemployment for the youth is 50%.

Now you would think that the Spanish would not be driving considering the price of gas is roughly $8 a gallon. But they are in love with their cars and like many Americans their self worth is apparently wrapped up in the possession of an automobile. Would a Spaniard stop driving and take the bus? Never! For a Spaniard to take the bus is an admission of personal economic failure once they have a car. Consequently in all cities in Spain there are no parking spaces on the streets. None. It is amazing. It is bumper to bumper to bumper parking on the streets. Because of this all the Spaniards are experts at parallel parking. As explained to me they would rather drive around for 60 minutes looking for a parking space than use a paid lot.

More of Spain’s oddness: In Sevilla we went out one bright morning at 9 a.m. to have breakfast and spied a Burger King. Closed. The place did not open till noon. WTF! We found a small café and for 8 Euros I got the smallest cup of coffee I have ever drunk and a piece of bread. Plus there was a 2 Euro service charge for the waitress to bring the food to our table.

Spanish cities we visited: See the pictures.

Sevilla. The Alacazar is beautiful and a great example of Moorish architecture.

Granada. This was our favorite city in southern Spain. It still had lots of charm in the old city (circa 10th and 11th Century) plus it had the incredible Alhambra palace and building complex. This is the way the 1/10th of 1% people lived in those days.

Malaga. It is on the Mediterranean and not much happening. They have a fortress overlooking the city that was fun to visit. It was a pleasant place to stroll around, very attractive.

Cordoba. The Mezquita which was a Mosque then converted into a cathedral after the Moors were defeated and left.

Valencia. This is a city where they have torn down lots of the “old stuff.” The city is known for oranges and beautiful women. I saw the oranges but the beautiful women escaped me. They do have a monster museum, aquarium and science center that has futuristic architecture and was wonderful to visit. It is the largest aquarium in Europe, btw. We had great paella which is the local dish.

Ronda. This is a small city surrounded by Spain’s “white villages.” These are small towns perched on the sides of mountains and all painted white. Ronda overlooks a large river gorge. It has very steep narrow winding streets and wonderful old buildings. Ronda deserves high praise and is a must see. The small town is a jewel in a really gorgeous setting. Hemingway came here to learn about bull fighting. In Ronda they made up the rules and procedures of bull fighting.

Our final stop before hitting Barcelona was a stop in Girona and then we drove to the Dali Museum in the town of Figueres. The Dali museum is…well…uh….ummm….I can’t describe it. You have to see this museum for yourself. In the vernacular Dali was one “Far out dude.” Unfortunately his nearby home was closed for January so we didn’t see that.

WE finally returned the rental car in Barcelona (I drove the whole way so Anita could navigate. She just loves maps you know) and took the metro and then the bus to our artist residence in Can Serrat near the community of El Bruc. The residence is located about 45 minutes outside of Barcelona and at the foot of a unique (small) mountain range, Montserrat, which is known world-wide and is a mecca for mountain climbers. Life at the residence is pretty quiet not much to write about. Basically Anita painted and I wrote. We took some day trips into Barcelona and saw the Picasso and Miro Museums among others. We took some time to hike around the area and we all went up to the famous monastery of Montserrat. We went to a local outdoor market and went to an outdoor restaurant and ate calcoks or spring green onions that are grilled and eaten dipped in a delicious sauce and we drank lots of wine with the onions—-a traditional Catalonian treat this time of year. Also The residence put on an opera concertone weekend with two tenors performing and we went to a concert at the little local church. We probably would have done more, but we did not have very good weather for most of our time in Spain.On one of our excursion into Barcelona we visited the Gaudi church, Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s Parc Guell, and the house he designed, Casa Batll, and built for a client. Like Dali, Gaudi was way, way, way out there.

After 29 days we left on a cold morning to fly to Marseilles France and begin traveling again like gypsies.

Spain? Ole!

Photos can be seen at: