Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Day Trip to Guadalest

We awoke to a spectacularly clear day and decided to take a drive up to Guadalest, a very small pueblo up in the hills above Calpe that is built literally into the rock. Perched almost 600 metres above sea-level, the houses and Castell (castle) of Guadalest overlook a wide valley which is bordered by the mountains (sierras) of Aitana, Serrella and Xorta. The Castell and the original houses of the village were built by the Moors during the Arab occupation (8th to 13th Centuries) and were accessible (as they remain today), only by way of a 15 metre long tunnel, carved in solid rock. Guadalest developed as an agricultural area, aided by the terracing of the mountain slopes and by irrigation systems put in place by the Arabs. The Moors were able to take advantage of this rocky setting to fend off the Christian attacks far longer than in other Moorish strongholds. I felt both tired and queasy as we made our way up the winding, twisty road to the town. It didn't help that I was out until 3:30 am the previous night (dinner till ~1 am and off to the bars afterwards) with some Spaniards from my gym class - and I was one of the first to leave the bars! I later learned that the rest of the group stayed up until about 6:00 am. Every time I start thinking I can hang with the Spaniards, I am proven wrong! As much as I would have liked to use the excuse that I am an old man, the truth is that some of them were as old if not older than me! This kind of partying must take years and years of training/conditioning. When do these people sleep? Fortunately for all of us, Guadalest was small and surprisingly uncrowded, so we took a nice leisurely stroll through one of the original homes and through the castell before having a quick bocadillo lunch in the pueblo and heading back home. This is definitely an area that warrants further exploration!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Exploring Cap San Antonio, Javea

We woke up to a huge rainstorm in Javea the morning after getting back from Santiago. Yikes, more rain? Then suddenly, the clouds blew past as quickly as they came in and the sun came out. It was almost shocking to see blue skies after so much foul weather in October. Perhaps this was a good sign for the rest of November... We packed up the kids and headed just over to the far side of town (above the port) to Cap San Antonio, where the lighthouse is situated. Kellen had gone there on a school field trip a while back and he wanted to go back to the "diamond mine" (an inconsequential pile of quartz crystals) to collect some more diamonds. So off we went, enjoying the sun and the spectacular views of the mediterranean and the town below. As much as we loved Santiago, it was nice to be reminded of the stunning vistas in our own backyard.

La Coruna, Galicia, as told by Christian Roy

Yesterday Daddy made us drive on a long car trip to go to the tower of Hercules. Hercules helped build it with the Romans but he wasn’t there today. We climbed to the top, but the workers were cleaning it and it smelled funny. We also went to the aquarium and we saw an octopus called “el pulpo” and the octopus got into the tank from the ocean water. When they get in, they can’t get out and there were so many jellyfish that they were going in a circle because the other jellyfish were coming and they couldn’t get out. In the other tank of jellyfish, one jellyfish got its tentacles on the other one. We saw another jellyfish that was dead and in a jar. And there was a seahorse that was very little and some freaky starfishes that were hairy. And then we saw something on TV, there was an eel that looked white and the shark was trying to eat it – and I think it was an electric eel. And there was a shark swimming in the water and it was going to eat a human, but it got the fish instead. Then Mommy, Kellen and Casey ate "el pulpo" at the restaurant. Yuch!!!! I went to the aquarium store and I bought a seal and named him “Santiago” - Santiago is the name of Saint James in Spanish. He was a powerful guy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

31st Carreira Pedestre Popular Camino De Santiago

On our first night in Santiago I came across a flyer for a run to take place the following morning. I figured it might be fun to at least run part of the race. What I didn’t fully realize is that was one of the biggest public running events in all of Spain with almost 7,000 participants. The town completely shut down that Sunday morning- the route would wind its way through the entire town, covering 12.5 kilometers in total. As the masses gathered at the starting line, it was clear that this was a huge event. I stood back a ways from the starting area to admire the crowd and could feel the buildup of energy as the race was about to begin. . And what an experience it turned out to be... It took a few minutes after the gun went off to finally get through the starting gate and start running, and as I looked around, I could see countless waves of participants moving in unison, many of whom were talking, cheering or just smiling. After a few kilometers, the mass of runners began to quiet down and disperse a bit and people began to find their paces. As I was not running for a time, I decided to just soak it all in and enjoy this incredibly unique tour of Santiago. People were lined up along the streets cheering us along and I was quickly caught up in the excitement. I picked up my pace and decided that I was going to finish this after all – who knows when I might get a chance like this again. As we started working our way into the “casco antiguo”, I started to recognize some of the streets. To my pleasant surprise we were suddenly headed right past the plaza where our apartment was located and as I looked up I could see Casey standing on the balcony. “Hola Casey-cita!”, I shouted and waved as we passed by and I could see the thrilled look on her face when she recognized me and shouted, “Daddy!!!!!!!” and promptly ran inside to get her brothers. The crowds began to swell as the streets narrowed, and soon we were in the heart of old town, heading through the historic city center. I got goosebumps as we passed the last kilometer towards the finish line at the Praza do Obradoiro with everyone screaming and cheering. It was an exhilarating experience to finish in the main plaza. As I learned the following day, several top runners described the race as, “El ultimo es el kilometro mas bello del mundo” (the finish is the most beautiful kilometer in the world). The paper also stated that over 50,000 people had lined up to watch the race and cheer the participants. So much for a simple Sunday jog through town! Footnote: Interestingly, of the top 5 men and women finishers, all were from Africa - predominantly Kenya. David Kilel, the men’s winner clocked in at a stunning 34:47 (almost a half an hour faster than me!), and 3 of the men finished under 35 minutes. Also, after the main race, there was a kid’s run. Kellen and Christian wanted to participate, so we waited outside our apartment for the majority of the serious runners to pass by and then jumped on the course for a bit. As the kids turned the corner and saw the cheering crowds, they got very shy and decided to stop running. We pulled off the course and jogged a few blocks down a much quieter side street until they got tired. Casey on the other hand, was not to be shown up by “her boys”. On our return, she decided to give it a try and we headed off together holding hands. Unlike the boys, she was spurred on by the cheering crowds and probably made it 1 km, before I finally decided that the limelight should be focused properly on the final finishers and not on this very cute 4 year old “imposter” who had hardly broken a sweat!

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia

Ah…Santiago de Compostela – the final site on the pilgrimage to St. James Cathedral - or “Santiago’s Town”, as Casey likes to call it. Now THIS is Spain. Or at least this is the romantic image of Spain that we remember from previous trips, an image which led us to uproot ourselves and move all the way out this way. The guidebooks refer to Santiago as one of the more beautiful cities in all of Spain and they are absolutely right. Quite possibly the finest week of our adventure – one that has given us a moment to pause and reflect on what this trip is really about for us. Suzanne and I were vividly reminded of our trip through Extramadura many years ago, staying in the heart of old medieval towns, exploring the rich history, culture and cuisine that these towns have to offer. On some very good advice from our new friends Scott and Dee from Boulder (one of few American families also doing an adventure year), we booked an apartment right in the old town of Santiago. The week started off a bit auspiciously as we woke up the morning of our departure to torrential rains. Suzanne had heard that Santiago was one of the rainiest spots in Galicia and we were already growing weary of the rain in Javea. The prospect of spending a week’s vacation in even more rain while cramped in a small apartment with 3 kids sounded quite grim. The night before we had a wonderful dinner with our neighbors Richard and Carmen, and in true Spanish fashion, didn’t get home with the kids until almost 2 am! So needless to say, we were all just a bit cranky that morning. Fortunately, our flight worked out smoothly and to our surprise, we landed in Santiago under perfectly blue skies. How ironic that the town with 300 days of rain a year would be sunnier than the town which “claims” 300 days of sunshine! After the usual confusion that seems to be inevitable when trying to drive into a historic city center, we finally found our apartment and were once again pleasantly surprised. The apartment was huge, with 3 bedrooms, lots of open space and plenty of light. It was situated on the corner of a quaint little plaza right across from the Universitad Santiago de Compostela (yes, this is the real USC!) philosophy building and another apartment/hotel which once housed Ernest Hemingway. History was all around us and we were just a few streets over from the Praza do Obradoiro with its baroque and stunningly beautiful Cathedral. Our vision of living in Spain came to life, with shops and markets all around us selling local produce, cheeses wines and pastries (of particular note an almond cake called Tarta de Santiago) as well as wonderful, cozy restaurants with traditional Galician specialties. Oh and in spite of its touristic nature, it is seemingly empty of Brits and their EU expat counterparts. Seems like we have found our own little slice of heaven here in Santiago’s town!