Thursday, October 27, 2011

An architectural treasure trove

Barcelona is an architectural treasure trove. Everywhere we turn, we find beautiful buildings, truly gems of artistic design and craftsmanship. The amazing part is the abundance of it. Most big cities have some nice buildings, but in Barcelona, they are everywhere. Most of them were built in the last several centuries, but many are relatively recent. The wealth generated by the Industrial Revolution, combined with Spain's expertise in metal and stone works, were put into good use. The city held an open house during a weekend for many such buildings, called a "48 Hour Open House", and we were fortunate to be able to get into a few of these buildings.

Monastery of Pedralbes

Typical apartments in Barcelona

Palau Musica Catalana

Casa Asia

Life in Barcelona Oct. 24

Life in Barcelona         Oct. 24

View of Barcelona old city, from our marina 

A gorgeous sunny afternoon at the beach, a short walk from the marina 

The famous Cassa Batllo by Gaudi 

We like this artistic chair and lamp post! 

Placa de Catalunya, at the center of town

Barcelona is truly an amazing city. We’ve been here over three weeks now, going out sightseeing almost everyday, but so far we’ve barely seen half the city, and very superficially. Everywhere we turn there are magnificent buildings, interesting museums, impressive squares, beautiful parks, not to mention the signature Gaudi buildings. The city has done a wonderful job of laying out the roads to accommodate bicycles, and most streets have dedicated bike lanes, making it safe and easy to commute by bike. We are making full use of our two foldable bikes and go nearly everywhere with them. However the popularity of bikes also makes bikes targets for thefts; we use three locks on our two bikes.

Tapas! Yum!

Typical elegant apartments. Beautiful ironworks and stainglass.  

The AMAZING Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. Took a hundred years to build and not quite finished yet.

 Inside the Familia

We’ve settled into a pattern with our lives here in this big city. We get a fresh loaf of bread every morning for breakfast – Ben jogs the 5 minutes to go to the bakery in town outside the marina. We do a bit of exercise, then do a bit of boat-work (yes there are always things to be fixed, cleaned, varnished …. ), try to learn Spanish (mostly Eliza) and sometimes we go to the library, also within a short walk, where they have some English books and magazines, and free WiFi. Often we just go for long walks. Port Vell marina is very centrally located. Within half an hour walk, we can get to: a long beach with a nice promenade; the Old Town, where all the tourist attractions are;  a couple of large, modern shopping malls; a large, beautiful park; and of courses, churches and museums, just to name a few. The marina is right next to a vibrant, middle class neighborhood, which has everything we need – countless resturants, several bakeries, half a dozen fresh produce markets – all at very good prices. We were pleasantly surprised to find that produce in season is cheaper here than Canada. The quality and freshness of fruit and vegetable are amazing.

Food Festival! Eliza is busy sampling.

A local produce market. Great selections at good prices.

Fresh bread every day! Note the wide selection of breads. Freshly made in the shop throughout the day

However life is not totally perfect, of course, and we do miss a few things. The weather in this part of the northern Mediterranean is not as mild as southern Turkey where we wintered last year. Now, in late-October, it is turning cold (15C to 20C daytime high), and occasionally, we have cloudy and rainy days. In Turkey we had spring-like sunny weather until December. The marina here, while expensive, has only very basic service infrastructure, and social life here is nowhere close to Kemer. So there are pros and cons. But cruising life continues to be interesting, and we are meeting new friends and having a grand time exploring this exciting city.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Passage to Barcelona Sept 29 – Oct. 1

Passage to Barcelona       Sept 29 – Oct. 1

It’s now end of September. The sun is showing up lower and lower in the sky, and the days are getting shorter. The weather is still very mild in this southern part of Europe and the sailing season has not yet ended for many sailors, but we have been sailing for six months now and getting settled at a port is beginning to seem attractive. We’ve booked a berth at Port Vell Marina at Barcelona and are looking forward to completing this final passage of this sailing season.

Barcelona is about 300 miles from the French Riviera. The passage crosses the Gulf of Lyon, an area notorious for unpredictable weather and heavy seas. The high mountains of the Alps force high pressure systems to funnel through the valley of Lyon, where wind builds up strength and roars down the Gulf into the Med. The 7-day forecast is calling for a somewhat unusual light east wind, which will be favorably coming from between us as we sail west. This wind will be followed by a major blow in a few days. So the timing is right for us to do the crossing now, taking the chance of having a bit too-little wind rather than too much.

We set off from Saint Tropez on the morning of Sept. 29, leaving behind us the armada of sailboats anchored in the bay. A few hours later, as we sailed near the French island of Ile du Levant, we were approached by a patrol boat. We thought they wanted to check our papers, but no – they were warning us to stay away from the island as there’s a naval live fire exercise going on! We changed course to turn away, and half an hour later, we saw fighter jets screaming by at supersonic speed, followed by the ‘thud thud’ sound of cannon fire! That was an interesting send-off as we departed the French coast.

Goodbye Saint Tropez! 

French patrol boat, warning us of the live-shooting exercise

All morning the wind was light, and the sea breeze did not pick up until late afternoon. It was light and was coming from dead behind us, as forecasted. We set up the genoa pole and sailed wing-on-wing with the main sail, and were content to do close to 5 knots, until the wind died at near mid night. This pattern repeated the next day – no wind until late afternoon, and then light breezes showed up off and on through the night. We stayed 10 miles off shore to avoid fishing boats and worse, tuna nets (which can stop a small freighter!), and traffic was light all the way. The wind stayed with us on the last night, and after 50 hours we sailed into the busy harbor of Barcelona. 

Sailing wing-on-wing

Entering Barcelona harbor

The busy Port Vell marina 

Saint Tropez Sept. 28-29

The land breeze in the morning lasted only an hour and we motored the rest of the way from Antibes to Saint Tropez, 35 miles away. As we approached the large bay of Saint Tropez, we were greeted by an amazing sight: literally hundreds of sailboats completely filled the bay, boats of all sizes, sailing/racing in the light breeze. There was no way to avoid this huge regatta, so we motored slowly right through them. Sailboats ranging from small sloops, to large schooners, and sleek mega-yachts. A helicopter was flying low among them. We were just completely in awe. It turned out that this week is a regatta week, and races were taking place twice daily. The downside of this event is that everywhere was jam-packed. It was a challenge to find a spot in the bay to anchor with proper holding ground. We ended up anchoring a mile away from the town harbor, and then took a long dinghy ride to visit the town.

The large regatta we encountered as we approached St. Tropez 

Beautiful schooners

After the race, they are all back in the marina

Saint Tropez is just outside of the French Riviera area, but it’s no less posh. In the early 20th century it started as an artists’ colony, attracting a group of well-known painters and sculptors. Today the town is a bit dated, but the streets are still lined with exclusive brand-name stores, and tourists pack the tidy alleys and courtyards. Even the town clock is a designer label from Rolex. This fancy setting comes with a price – everything is expensive; a single scoop of ice cream costs 3 Euros. We settled for some reasonably priced pastry instead, and returned to our boat for a supper on board, with a magnificent evening view of the mega yachts around us anchored in the bay, all nicely lit up.  This was a fitting place to conclude our cruising season this year, as this is the last port before we embark on the passage to Barcelona, Spain, where we will stay for the winter.

Big crowds admiring the sailboats

St. Tropez's thriving art shops

The fancy town clock