Monday, October 20, 2008

Moors and Christians...again?, Calpe

Well, it looks like the king of festivals might be ready to call it quits for a while! Given that Kellen and Suzanne immediately balked at me when I suggested heading to Calpe for their version of Moors and Christians - I knew it would not be long before the whole family revolted. Casey and Christian were still lured by the promise of ice cream when we got there and besides, Christian is still intrigued with any festival that has his name in it!. So off we went to Calpe. This festival seemed particularly interesting because; 1) it is the actual site where the Moors originally landed to invade Spain and 2) it is a mock battle staged on the beach. The kids were more interested in playing on a pirate ship on the beach, so I let them hang out there for a while. Soon we could see a number of ships heading towards the main beach and extremely loud explosions were set off from canisters on shore. As the ships pulled in, the crowd of "Christians" lined up along the beach to meet their assailants. When the "Moors" disembarked, the guns started going off and the Moors slowly pushed back the Christians, who ultimately retreated toward the main town. The Moor King brought up the rear with his brightly colored garb and loud guns as they followed the Christians through the town. This whole process lasted at least an hour, but we quickly grew tired of the loud explosions and decided to enjoy the rest of our morning on the beach eating ice cream while the town remained under siege.

In Search for the World's Largest Paella, Jalon

What would our weekends be without a festival? Today, we headed off to Jalon a small picturesque town in the hills east of us, where they were celebrating a feast of some patron saint or virgin or something (they all start to blend together after a while). We had read that they were hosting a giant paella, and that alone seemed to be worth the drive as we were getting hungry. They were just setting up and we came across quite a spectacle - a truly giant paella pan filled with savory paella. Perhaps not the world's largest, but enough to feed a small town. For us however, the festival turned out to be a bust - you needed tickets to be served and they were already sold out. It looked like the entire town had shown up and set up tables in the streets around the main plaza. Bummer. We stood around for a while drooling as they started serving up mounds o' paella to the locals - it looked and smelled delicious.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hiking to the Castell La Granadella

Christian and Casey have now firmly established themselves as the hikers of the family! On a cloudy Saturday, the three of us headed out to Granadella cove to see if we could find the ruins of the Castle of La Granadella, The Castell was small outpost hidden on the cliff above the cove, which formed part of the Valencian coastal defense system on the Southern border of Javea. This area had been assaulted by North African pirates since the time of the Christian conquest of the Moors. We started down at the beach, where there were some rather large waves due to the recent stormy weather (yes another week of rain in the forecast!). From there it was a several Km hike up to the cliffs above. Christian led the hike for the most part, although he had trouble leaving his team behind. It became a game for the kids to be the first to find the trail markers - yellow and white parallel stripes - placed strategically along the rocks and trees ahead. There was not much left of the castle, which had been slowly deteriorating over time, but that didn't stop the kids from making up stories of pirates, dragons and princesses. By now, it was well past lunch, we hurried back, spurred on by images of a large angry dragon on our tail, and a gang of angry pirates preparing for their attack down at the beach below.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Lesson in Patience II - How to get a Residency Card in 37 Easy Steps!

Okay, so I think the Spanish bureaucracy has finally gotten the better of me. Since we left part 1 of this post, we thought we had all the paperwork we needed for our year residency. Apparently, we had been given some bad advice (from the "Advice Center" of all places!) After several innocent calls to clarify an issue around a driver permit, I learned that we absolutely needed to establish residency formally through the National Police in Alicante. But now we were officially past our 1 month deadline to do this. Aaaarrrggghhhhh!!!!!!!! Technically we only have permission to be in the EU for 90 days without our residencia - although many people are living here without one and we are not at all clear about how strongly this rule is enforced. That being said, I did not want our adventure year to be cut short due to a technicality. What ensued was a frenzy of calls to an immigration lawyer and other residencia "specialists", notarized spanish letters, pleas to the US consulate in Valencia and several weeks of frustration and worry with no responses. At the end of the day, people do not have a lot of experience here working with US visitors, and there apparently was not an easy shortcut, save for going down in person and figuring it out. To make matters worse, nobody in the Spanish government will speak English, so I was definitely challenged given the magnitude of what we were trying to do. I had images of standing for hours in long lines begging and pleading only to hear my favorite Spanish quote... "that is not possible" fired back at me. Armed with every document in our possession, I embarked at 5:30 am to Alicante and wait with the masses. In spite of getting up so early to get in front of the line, I was shocked to find over 300 people already there, many of whom were in sleeping bags. As it turned out, almost all of them had pre-standing appointments to be there on that day. To make matters worse, I wasn't sure if I was even in the right place! After standing for 4 1/2 hours in a long line that never moved, I ended up giving up and making my way to the bureaucratic headquarters to see if I could at least talk with somebody who could give me SOME information. After waiting several hours in yet another queue, I finally got in and made my plea for help. Finally a small win - I was able to obtain additional documents that we needed for our residencia. However the glow of this win faded when I was told to go back to the place I had futilely waited at earlier. Oh, and be sure to bring your family! AAArrrrgggghhhh!!!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Volvo Ocean Race, Alicante

Second only to the America’s Cup in poularity, the Ocean Race is by far the most grueling and challenging sailing race in the world. Formerly known as the Whitbred Round the World Race and often referred to as the "Mt. Everest of Sailing", 8 teams of 11 men per boat will head out on Oct 11 to circumnavigate the world, with their first stop in Cape Town, South Africa. This was the first time that the race would launch from the Mediterranean, and Alicante (about 85 KM Southwest of us) was selected to host this international event. They pulled out all the stops to put this picturesque seaside city on the map, building a huge race village on the port, with activities, an in-port regatta, demonstrations, concerts and exhibits. On the day we visited there were also a number of activities designed for the kids, such as musical chairs, sack races, face painting and a “bucking surfboard”. While a bit too crowded to see everything, Kellen summed up the day nicely – “Daddy, I didn’t think I would, but I actually had a lot of fun today!” It probably didn’t hurt that he won a tee-shirt at the sack races...

Festival de Degustacion (Tapas Festival), Javea

Alright - for the record I am officially redeeming myself as the self-proclaimed “king of fiestas”. Suzanne and the kids cringed when I suggested we go into town for yet another festival (“I mean seriously, Steve, do we really have to go to every single one of these things?!?!”), but this one turned out to be a nice treat. Approximately 12 restaurants were on hand and each offered 2-3 specialty tapas plates for 1 euro each. We tried some fabulous dishes – albondigas with grilled peppers, lamb stew, toasted rice fritter in squid ink topped with a fried quail egg, black lentils with quail, and vegetable tortilla (like a frittata) were just a few of the highlights, along with some fantastic deserts. Even the kids seemed to like most of what we tried and they enjoyed the festive atmosphere. It was one of the best meals we’ve had while here, and kilo for kilo, was by far the best deal in town. We tend to spend Euro coins (~$1.50) like they were quarters, but this was the one thing I had no problem spending on. I strolled past the booths with a big grin – this was one of those memorable and enjoyable experiences that reminded us why we are here!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cueva de las Calaveras, Benidoleig

About 30 minutes outside of town, we came upon the “cave of the skulls” a huge cavern that used to be an underground aquifer in the limestone hills just outside the pueblo of Benidoleig. The cave has grown in size as the water has steadily receded due to agricultural demands over the years. An interesting historical display outlined all the different uses of this cave since the prehistoric time through the present. At one time during WWII, soldiers used the cave to store food and repair aircraft engines. And yes, they found many skulls inside the cave. The cave went back about 1-2 kms, where it finally became impassable due to underground water. A team of scuba divers is currently mapping the further regions of the cave. The kids enjoyed walking through the cave and were a bit spooked by the eerie caverns deep inside, but now say it’s one of their favorite places. Casey keeps asking to invite one of her schoolmates to the cave on a playdate!