Monday, 20 December 2010

Exploring Espana ..... Dec 2010

Looking over the dry plains of Spain
Day 1 – Cartagena to Cuenca (Castilla la Mancha)

While I did the final packing, Mark walked up to the bus station and collected our Nissan Micra hire car for our weeks exploration of Spain. With all systems shut down and Balvenie locked up we were out of the marina just before 11am, it's just 2 minutes to the motorway and we headed north.

The southwest corner of Spain is very dry and inland quite flat. We passed miles and miles of irrigated farmed land, it is the time of year between crops, most of the fields were freshly ploughed, but a few had seedlings popping their little green heads through, others were ready for late harvesting.

Houses built into the hill under the fort
 at Chinchilla de Monte Aragon
 As we headed further north the scenery slowly changed, it became more colourful as orange orchards and olive groves interrupted the miles and miles of crops.  We took a slight detour to the small hilltop village of Chinchilla de Monte Aragon, heading up the very narrow streets and through the ancient stone "city gates" into the Plaza Mayor.   The weekly market was beginning to shut down, stall owners packing away their wares for another day, townsfolk filling their shopping trolleys for another week.  We went for a walk circumnavigating the restored hilltop fortress, the vista over the countryside superb in every direction.  Cute little whitewashed cottages sat below the fort, cut into the hillside like hobbit houses.

Venturing on the balcony of our
 "Hanging Hotel" in Cuenca 

Carrying on almost due north we travelled through more miles of ploughed land, not an acre wasted, as far as the eye could see.  Our destination for the night was the ancient town of Cuenca, famous for its 'casa colgadas' - 16th century 'hanging houses' clinging to the steep ravine sides.  We decided to stay at a 'slightly newer' 17th century hanging house, a converted choir school, but after twice round the tiny lanes, with wing mirrors pulled in so our teeny Micra could squeeze through, we still hadn't found it.  A quick phone call utilizing our constantly improving Spanish had us up the lane for 3rd time lucky, Mark dropped me and the bags off at Posada San Jose then successfully found free parking further up the road.  
Front entrance to our converted
 Choir House

The converted choir house was just beautiful and we splashed out on a 'room with a view' in this boutique hotel, and what a view it was.  We looked across the valley to a restored Monastery, straight down to the river bed, and on each side were other ancient buildings hanging on the side of the hill. Just stunning.  There was enough daylight left to explore the old town before dark, the 16th century Cathedral dominates over the Plaza Mayor and the surrounding pastel painted buildings made us feel we had had a quick detour back to Italy.  It was time to rest, we found a cosy little local bar with free tapas and possibly the cheapest drinks we have had so far in Europe. 

Day 2 – Cuenca to Toledo (Castilla la Mancha)

After breakfast in our enclosed veranda we donned our newly purchased ski jackets, but didn't hit the ski slopes!!!  Instead we did a great hike up to the top of the old town then down the side of the ravine, along the valley base to take in the view from below of the hanging houses and back up for a very well deserved morning cafe con leche (ski jackets definitely not required on the climb back up!!!)
All snug in our new jackets
above the hanging houses

It was time to move west.  We found a brand new free motorway that went nearly all the way to Toledo, there was hardly another car on it, amazing.  Old town Toledo sits, as most ancient fortified towns do, atop the highest ground in the area.  So it was up, up, up, through the one way streets, tiny lanes, dead ends, round and round in circles. There is a definite advantage in travelling with a car, but they can be a liability in these old towns.  Eventually we found one of our chosen hotels, the Hostal Alfonso XII in a small side street with just enough room to park the car temporarily,  we secured a room for 2 nights, dropped the bags, and drove back out of the walled town to park for free.  We spent the rest of the day exploring  this ancient maze the best way - by foot and getting lost! 
Plaza Mayor Cuenca (or is it Italy?)

Toledo is reputed to be Spain's answer to Rome, definitely a pocket sized version, but brimming over with medieval buildings, open plazas, fortifications, Roman ruins and not forgetting the Cathedral, several churches, a couple of synagogues and a mosque or two.  Basically anyone who was anyone has conquered Toledo and left their stamp of this multi cultural, compact and beautiful city.

Day 3 - Day trip by bus to Madrid (Spain's Capital City) 
The most photographed hanging
house with wooden verandas
The little quiet side street where our hotel was located had a little not so quiet nightclub tucked away in it that we had not spotted, so we did not awake bright eyed and full of enthusiasm on Saturday morning.  However Madrid was just an hour up the road waiting to be explored so after breakie and a coffee to liven us up we walked down to the bus station and headed to Madrid.  The countryside was rather uninspiring during the 45 minute journey after the interesting mix we had already seen and we reached the outskirts of Madrid in no time at all.  The bus station has its own exit off the motorway, straight into the underground bus terminal, very efficient.  After navigating our way to the right Metro line and successfully purchasing tickets from a machine we caught the Metro into the big city.    

We came out to street level at Plaza de la Puerto del Sol, to be met by a Animal Rights silent protest underway, hundreds of people standing quietly, attired in white lab overalls, white hair nets and white latex gloves, each person arms outstretched holding a dead animal.  Very effective.  Welcome to Madrid!!!!  

Toledo's skyline at dusk
We moved on quickly walking down the busy roads to the Prado Museum, the queues to purchase tickets were long and there appeared only to be one window open so we decided to try the nearby private collection at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (entry €8 each).  This Museum/Art Gallery had come highly recommended, and for good reason.  Although it is not housed in a particularly interesting building, the art is displayed well, clearly documented and for a private collection of around 800 works is truly outstanding.  From 13th century medieval art to 20th century modern art there is something for everyone, with all the masters - Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh,

Toledo's city gate in the morning fog
 and our favorite Cannaletto - to name just a few.  An excellent display. 

Having spent quite some time admiring all this art we decided to leave the Prado for another time, and spent the rest of the afternoon walking the streets, following the suggested "Historical Walking Tour" in the Lonely Planet Guide.  This 5km route covered most of Madrid's main sights, the pick being the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), and the Plaza Espana.  It was 2 Saturdays before Christmas and the Plaza Espana had transformed from a large open area to the venue of the Christmas Fiesta or Santa Parade.  It was absolutely jam packed with families, street theatre, trinket vendors, Christmas trees and about a million push chairs!!!  It resembled nothing of the tranquil plaza I remember from my backpacking days. 
Plaza Mayor in Almagro

We found the crowds overwhelming, dusk was setting in so we decided to head back to Toledo, the metro, bus and walk back to the old town taking no time at all.  We rewarded ourselves with tapas (just for a change) in the Plaza de Zocodover, sitting outside under gas heaters and enjoying the much calmer pace of Toledo

Day 4 - Toledo to Ubeda  (Andalucia)   
Olive Trees, as far as you can see

Another noisy night and a dark foggy morning made for a late start from Toledo.  Then of course there was the challenge of collecting the car and finding the hotel by car again to get our bags, always fun!!!  We had planned to head to Cordoba but decided to change our plans.  Cordoba had experienced heavy rains and major flooding a couple of days prior, plus we weren't quite ready for another busy city so we headed south east into the fog.  We stopped in the small town of Almagro to stretch our legs and top up on caffeine.The Plaza Mayor surrounded by 3 storied wooden buildings all painted dark green, peculiar to this town and traced back to a 16th century German heritage.  It is also home to Spain's oldest theatre, still used during summer.
Sleepy Ubeda from our room

The fog hung low all morning, sometimes  totally enveloping us as we made our way through the scenic vineyard area of Spain, well it said in the book this was the vineyard area, honestly - we could not see anything further than about 30metres ahead of us.   When the fog finally lifted the vineyards were nowhere to be seen, but olive trees - well we must have seen millions of them, miles and miles in every direction, on the plains, up hills, down valleys, along lake edges, just everywhere.  We stayed the night in the smallish town of Ubeda, complete with a walled old town, bullring and a beautiful Plaza Vazquez de Molina surrounded by handsome 15th and 16th century buildings and planted with manicured orange trees.  
A typical rural scene - if it wasn't all olives!!

Day 5 - Ubeda to Granada (Andalucia)

Another foggy morning.  The views down over the plains from Ubeda should have been spectacular, oh well - something for next time!!!  Eventually through the mist we found the road for Granada, then the motorway.  Olive groves gave way to planted fields, then we went through National Parklands.  As the mist cleared we could see the Sierra Nevada's looming in the distance, our destination of Granada sitting in their shadow at the foothills. We joined the 'ring road' and followed the signs for the Alhambra.  The exit took us off and up into the Alhambra "compound" that comprised of a huge car park,the main Alhambra and grounds and a narrow road (with no space for stopping) that lead us down into the city of Granada.  
The Alhambra from our hotel

And that is when we got lost!!!! We didn't appear to be on our Lonely Planet city map, none of the sign posts were for things on our map either (yes I did check I was using the correct map!!), we went up wide treed boulevards, down main avenues, into tiny one way systems, through the Arab quarter, still unable to work out exactly where we were or where we wanted to be.  Occasionally I would briefly 'find us', only to lose us again seconds later as we turned into another maze.  We never found one of the 10 hotel options we had chosen.  After what seemed like hours we found another sign for the Alhambra, made our way back up the hill and headed straight for the car park, barely flinching at the advertised 25Euro charge for 24 hours.
Us and the Alhambra from the
 Generalife Summer Palace

We ventured into the upmarket Hotel Guadalupe and  took a double room at the excellent off season rate, with the bonus of getting our parking at half price, dropped off our bags and headed for the nearby cafe for a very late pizza lunch and a much needed drink - our nerves were shredded!!!    Our "tour" of Granada by car had worn us down and we decided we had seen enough of the city through the car windows so didn't go into town for the evening.  We had an excellent meal at the hotel (there was nothing else open up there) then enjoyed watching the BBC News in English, over and over again, this was the first time we had had English speaking TV for a very long time !!!

Day 6 - Granada to Capileira (Andalucia)

Next morning dawned crisp and clear, we frequented a small cafe for tostada and cafe con leche then headed for Spain's most visited monument, the Alhambra (entry €12 each) the best example of an Islamic building in Europe. 
Looking down on Granada thru the
Albrambas arches
There certainly are advantages of touring in the off season, not only are the hotel rates much more affordable, but instead of a) prebooking your Alhambra ticket weeks in advance on the internet or b) queueing by 7am in the hope of getting one of the gate sales allocation - you can simply turn up, buy your ticket and enter, no queues, no tour buses, just lovely.  That's not to say we were the only ones there but there were no crowds and we could spend as little or long as we chose to exploring this incredible area. 

Fountain and reflection in the pond
Dating from as early as the 9th century the Alhambra, like all well placed fortresses has had a chequered history, built and occupied by Arabs, taken over by the Christians then later abandoned, in moved the thieves and beggars and it was left to fall into decline until Napoleons troops occupied it for a while.  Thankfully it was declared a National Monument in 1870 and has undergone extensive restoration work ever since.   The Palaces, watchtower, baths and gardens are all excellent and display fine examples of the extreme level of craftsmanship used in buildings of antiquity - what a great loss to mankind that these crafts are almost extinct.
Afternoon walk up the valley
 from Capileira
We left Granada early afternoon, heading out on the ring road then south towards the coast, only 60 km's away.  But we weren't heading back to the sea just yet, we took a left in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and headed into the region known as Las Alpujarres - we were heading for the hills.  We turned again at the main town of Orgiva and headed north into the mountains, climbing the steep, narrow, windy road , up and up, then up some more.  We passed the small village of Pampaneira, whitewashed houses cascading down the valley walls, further up we passed Bubion with its cute compact village centre of whitewashed and stone buildings, but we kept going to the top with Capileira at nearly 1500m altitude our destination for our final night of touring.
Morninghike above Bubion and Capileira
We found a room for the night at Finca los Llanos, with great views down the valley and over the village, dropped our bags, donned our hiking boots and went off to explore.  We did an easy hike up the valley towards the snow topped Mulhacen (3,479m), mainland Spain's highest peak, the air was clear and crisp, the sun still had some warmth, birds were singing, goat bells were ringing across the valley - just magic, it was lovely to be back in the mountains.  As the sun started to dip we headed back to our sleepy village, a bustling spot for hikers most of the year, but we were here in what they report as the quietest 2 weeks of the year - between the early December public holiday break and Christmas.  Much of the town was closed up but it still had a laid back touristy feel to it that we enjoyed.
Picnic lunch on last day.

Day 7 - Capileira to Cartagena  

Awakening to the call of roosters and smelling wood fires burning always fondly reminds us of Nepal, and when we opened our shutters and looked out on the new day with clear skies and snow capped peaks, well we could nearly have been back there. 
After a very hearty hikers breakfast in the hotel (so far we had seen 6 staff and we were the only ones staying), we picked up a detailed map and instructions from reception and did a very scenic 2 1/2 hour walk up above the villages, along a ridge with a vista to Morocco (but not today, too much haze) then back down the valley slopes below Bubion, and up to Capileira - that certainly woke us up!!!!  Rewarded with an excellent coffee in the warm sun it was time to start heading home to Balvenie.    We took the scenic mountain route, down valleys, over rivers, back up mountain sides - we feel we saw most of what you could by car in Las Alpujarras, it is an interesting area and has an extensive network of very well marked paths for hiking, with rewards of remote mountain villages to lay your weary head at the end of a hard day.

The landscape was hilly all the way back to Cartagena.  We ended up on a motorway we didn't want to be on for some time by Almeria, but generally took the more scenic rural roads.  We had planned to stop and look at Mazarron but the windy roads had slowed our progress and light was failing.  We joined the new "peage" motorway at Mazarron the last 50 odd km's back to Cartagena, at 6.50Euro for this short distance we were very pleased we had not got on it earlier.  We were back to Balvenie around 7.00pm, we covered just short of 1600km's and enjoyed an excellent week.

Excursion Info for Spain Mini-break:
Car Hire:  We booked and prepaid our small car online directly with Europcar for €120 including all insurances and 250km's per day (we stayed under this).  We collected it from the local Europcar at the Cartagena Bus Terminal, just 5 minutes from the marina.  We used €106 fuel, and paid €24 in parking fees and €6.50 in toll road charges.
Accommodation:  (click on their names in text above to get link to their own websites) 
Cuenca - Posada San Jose €85 blew the budget completly but it really was lovely and what a view.  Didn't check wifi
Toledo - Alfonso XII €45 cute but tiny rooms.  The nightclub noise was an issue but may not be on weeknights, also they did have a couple of rooms not facing the street which would have been quieter. Free wifi in room
Ubeda - Hotel Cuidad Rosaleda de Don Pedro €45 plus €10 parking. Free wifi in some rooms and main lobby, quite big hotel but think we were the only ones there.  Nice enough.
Granada - Hotel Guadalupe €45 plus parking in Alhambra complex discounted to €13.80 for 24 hours.  Only one floor open as undergoing refit but no noise from this.  Very good meal in restuarant only ones in there).  Free wifi in lobby area.  BBC in English on TV
Capileira - Finca los Llanos €64.80 including a good breakfast but thought it was very overpriced for the off season rate.  Only ones there.  Free wifi in lobby but it closed at 6.30pm. Heating didn't come on till 5.30pm and it was pretty chilly up there.  Room ok nothing flash though, nice view down valley.
Eating out:  As we had the car we took food/utensils etc with us, so had fruit and cereal for breakfast.  As picked up fresh bread and had picnic lunches enroute, but we always stopped for our morning coffee and generally went out for drinks and tapas, followed by dinner.  Total for the week €263
Sightseeing:  The return bus/metro fares from Toledo to Madrid were €10.50 each.  Total entrance fees spent all week were €45.60

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Meet the Twins ..... Dec 2010

24 November - 07 December 2010
Once upon a time .... it looked like this
Our 2 month anniversary in Cartagena is fast approaching.    We have been addressing important issues - mainly organising social activities for the small cruisers community we have here in the marina.  So far we have had 2 successful 'happy hours' at a local tapas bar, with a turn out of over 15 each week.  We also had a bar-b-que on the dock one sunny afternoon, gave everyone 2 hours notice and had a great turn out - with some very interesting nibbles and wine/sangria tastings.   There have been a few free concerts we have attended, then last weekend there was a large medieval market in town with all varieties of side shows, stalls and food vendors, and last Thursday night we went to a free digitally animated movie on the early settlement of Cartagena, it was excellent (just needed English subtitles!!!) In between all that somewhere a group of us went to a local Asian restaurant for dinner to celebrate Marks birthday, another year bites the dust!

So despite the weather cooling down - and boy did it cool down when Northern Europe was snowed under - we are still getting out and about.  The list of sightseeing to do is still long, but the good news is that the boats jobs "to do" list is actually going down.  "The Twins"  have moved in and are the latest addition to the Balvenie family.  After a long wait for the stainless brackets to support them in place, Skipper was out in a very bracing northerly wind to complete the final install.  We are now very happy to have our 2 new Kyocero 135watt Solar panels up, all wired in through a smart regulator and making power even in this low, weak winter sun - yippee.  Maybe we will be allowed to use the computer more next cruising season now.  
 then along came Mark and the angle grinder

Making enough power for your own needs on a boat is an ongoing issue. We have a generator and of course an engine, but we like peace and quiet so prefer not to have motors going.  Last winter we invested in an Airbreeze Wind Generator, had an extra stainless steel arm added on our stern for it and looked forward to 'almost silent' (as per unbiased research articles we read) wind generation.  Alas, no such luck.  Yes, it is almost silent if you compare it (nicknamed "Henry" the Helicopter) to a Jumbo Jet taking off, but Henry whizzes in the wind and also hums through the inside of the boat, in short - he drives us mad and we tie him up to keep him quiet, somewhat defeating the purpose of having him!!!  So although he does make plenty of power if the wind is over about 14 knots, until we can quieten him up it will be up to the really silent  "Twins"  to work hard when we are back at anchor to keep up with our power needs. 

now meet "The Twins" and spot all the
 Our Volvo engine is back in working order, complete with a gleaming shiny new turbo charger.  We ordered our new turbo through an English company Volspec who were recommended  by fellow cruisers.  They did an excellent job of supplying the necessary parts (plus we topped up on spares) and shipped them to us in Cartagena at extremely competitive prices.  Mark, utilizing his ever expanding knowledge of diesel engines, was able to remove the old turbo and replace it with our new one, the engine is purring and sounds like a new one - well done skipper!, another major job crossed off "the list".  
Next, Skipper changed from 'diesel mechanic' and put back on his 'sparky' cap and removed around 25 teeny weeny wires from our B and G Autopilot  processing unit.  It has been dispatched to England for testing, all season "Arnie" our big strong autopilot has been losing his way around the Med and needed constant supervision.  Despite many checks on various components the fault has not been discovered , the compass has already been sent to England and it has come up clean, so off has gone the processing unit.  At 37Euro postage for a 3 kilo part I hope we don't have to send too much more of him away.  

Think  the turbo goes in here....somewhere!!!!
The fender covers and lots of little repair jobs are all completed  - I get the easy ones!!!!  I did spend several hours trying to convince our new mobile phone that we needed it to speak English and not Spanish, such are the pastimes of those of us living in foreign countries.  But in between boat jobs I have been having dental work and gum surgery done - not to be recommended if you don't want to have soup for 10 days ....... but maintenance on Balvenie and us is necessary and ongoing - especially as we are all getting older and this is as good a place as any to stop to do it all. 

I have also been working on the and have completed compiling all our cruising notes for the 2010 Cruising season and also the Red Sea. Coming soon will be Croatia, Greece and Turkey.  If all you want is the anchorages, tips and local onshore info this is the place to look.

So the days are ticking by, today it warmed right up and hit 20c, long may it last.  The forecast is looking good for the next week so we have decided to have a minibreak and will leave Thursday morning to go and explore Spain for a week, should be fun.  Hasta luega

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Some new additions ..... Nov 2010

Skipper removing obsolete cabling  

25 November 2010

I haven't been too idle. There's a couple of additions below. On this years Cruising Summary - Cruisin, Boozin & Snoozin 2010, (either arrow down or click on Yearly Roundups in the Labels) I have now added a map of all the anchorages for this season. You can click on the anchor and get a brief description of the anchorage.

I have also added the "Cost of Cruising" at the end of that blog post. This covers all our cruising related expenses for our 2010 Season.
Fat Freddy the Fender, winner of the best
 dressed fender competition

Also added is another Balvenie Blog (as if one isn't keeping me busy enough). This is our Cruising Info Blog for those behind us that love all info but don't need all the great pictures and stories when they want to print it off. So if you are one of those take a look at

I am very receptive to feedback on both my blogs so send us an email (with Balvenies blog in the subject) with anything.

Now back to the sewing machine, in the middle of 9 new fender covers, running a little short of fabric so have commandeered a rather over-sized sweatshirt for our big fat ball fender, he is now looking so dapper I'm not sure he should be put back into service!!!    Meanwhile Skipper is playing in our 'spaghetti junction' removing all the wiring related to the obsolete equipment we have removed, we are nearly up to 200 metres removed!!!!  - what fun
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Valencia Excursion and Moto GP finals ..... Nov 2010

Old town Valencia by night
05 - 08 November 2010

It was finally time for our first Spanish excursion.  Our good friend Tony off  Tactical Directions has wintered his boat in Barcelona  so we looked for a half way rendezvous point.  The deciding factor on Valencia was that it was also hosting the final round of the World Moto GP, Tony and his friend Jackie are big fans - so Valencia it was.

We left at 9.15am and caught the bus from Cartagena to Murcia, the regional capital just 45 minutes away.  There was enough time for a coffee before getting onto our connection and by 3pm we had arrived in Valencia.  The scenery enroute changed from the flat alluvial plains growng many various crops and the odd vineyard, to a more undulating landscape further north, all very colourful with orange trees almost as far as you could see.
Mark, Tony and Jackie at the Moto GP 

Last time we visited Valencia was in June 2007, another sporting event, the final of the America's Cup between the Swiss Defenders - Alinghi and the New Zealand Challengers -Emirates Team New Zealand.  Our days and nights were full of yacht racing - watching it, talking about it, reliving each race, celebrating the wins, drowning our sorrows in the loses. We had had a great time in Valencia, despite not winning the cup.
We had done some sightseeing then, but being based near the Cup Village on the shores of the Med, we hadn't ventured downtown at night. This time we were staying in the centre and getting out to see Valencia by night.  Getting accommodation for the weekend had been difficult, not only was the Moto GP on but also a major tennis fixture, hotels were very busy and rates had at least doubled.  We had booked the Hotel Turia,  conveniently located adjacent to the bus terminal, opposite a huge shopping mall, metro station and about a 15 minute leisurely walk into the centre of the spectacular old town . 
Boy these bikes make alot of noise 

After catching up with Tony and Jackie we had a siesta (I had the most wonderful bubble bath, somewhat of a luxury when you live on a yacht) then explored the old town,  trialling the best looking tapas bars along the way.  By 9pm we decided to stop for dinner, things were pretty quiet, it was Friday night in Valencia - where was everyone??  We had a superb meal in a little place whose name unfortunately I lost, and it was tucked away in a rabbit warren of lanes.  When we left around 10.45pm the place was overflowing, all tables taken, people standing eating at the counter, the few tables out in the cool night air occupied - and this was the scene at every eatery we saw on the way home.  The Spaniards come out to play very late.

Saturday was Qualifying Day at the Moto GP.  I had not planned to go, its not really my thing, but it was a beautiful day so after a leisurely breakfast at the tiny cafe opposite the hotel we walked to the train station and eventually got ourselves sorted as to how to get to the track.  I was happy to sit in the sun watching the bikes go round in circles, while others around me appreciated the finer points of what was happening.  The noise wasn't too bad, and it does come and go. 
Made it round the first corner

Back to the hotel, more bubble baths and siestas then out for tapas a little later this time.  Well, when in Spain !!!  We  found another good cafe for dinner, the evening was a repeat of the previous, empty on arrival - but this time 9.30pm and absolutely pumping after 11pm with people queueing for tables as we left, its a tad hard to get used to.

Sunday dawned...race day. Clear and warm, breakfast at the hotel then back out to the track.  All looked much as the day before to me, I had not been converted but the others seemed to enjoy it and the stands were full of supporters from all nationalities. Tony and Jackie (clad in Aussie flags) the real petrol heads amongst us, were cheering for the Aussie Casey Stoner who finished second behind the Spanish world champion and the locals went loco. The noise and speed of the bikes was impressive even for this novice. It had started clouding over on the train ride back and by the time we went for dinner it was pouring down, we found a Chinese restaurant just a block away and enjoyed an excellent cheap meal before an early night.  Tony and Jackie had an early start on Monday, ours was more leisurely, we had booked on a direct bus at 11.15am and were home to Balvenie by 4.00pm.  Although I wouldn't go to another Moto GP, I can say I've been there done that but don't need the T shirt. However we had a great weekend  catching up with friends, sampling the local delights and visiting Valencia again.  

Excursion Info to Valencia:-
Bus -
There is an almost hourly service between Cartagena and Murcia. 3.50E pp ow, 45 minutes on the express.  From Murcia we went by ALSA   to Valencia, and got a direct bus back to Cartagena (just two per day) The return tickets cost 72E for both of us, including the Cartagena/Murcia sector. 
Hotel - Accommodation was at an absolute premium, as were the prices.  We booked through at The Hotel Turia.  It is a 4star, 95E a night, their weekend rate is normally around 53E.  Buffet continental breakfast was 6.50E pp extra.  The rooms were spacious and clean, but for a 4 star where were no extra touches you may expect. was an easy site to use and you are not required to prepay, and we could cancel without charge up to 2 days ahead.  
Sightseeing - Valencia is a beautiful city, the old town has some outstanding buildings - worth seeing by day and night, just walk around, get lost and enjoy all the nooks and crannies.  Last time we visited we went to the Science Museums area, adjacent to the Americas Cup village, this area is worth a visit, if not to see inside the buildings, then to view the modern architecture 
Eating Out -   You will not go hungry.  There are hundreds of tiny tapas bars, cafes and upmarket restaurants for every budget. Some don't even open for dinner till after 8pm and many close on Sundays.  Most have their tapas on display, be brave, go inside, point at all the ones that look good and enjoy!!  Spain is cheap for eating out, most tapas plates are 2E or less (the size of a saucer), raciones around 4E (about the size of a bread and butter plate), bread is normaly extra.  Meals range from about 8E upwards, and Menu del dia (3 courses and a drink) from 8E upwards    

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Our first month in Cartagena .... Nov 2010

Mark playing hide n seek in the engine room! 
08 October - 04 November 2010

It is hard to believe we have almost been in Cartagena for a month already.  The days seem to be rolling into each other, we have got used to bright blue skies and warm sunshine, there was a windy patch last weekend when a low passed through but otherwise it has just been perfect, we keep thinking we should be out cruising!!!!   It's cooling down a little at night, but still haven't needed to put a heater on, and its cooler in the shade during the day, but in the sun it's still shorts and teeshirts weather,  not bad for November.
Having fun polishing the stainless

We haven't done any of the 'official' sites of Cartagena yet, but we have certainly pounded the pavements and discovered almost every cafe and tapas bar in the vicinity and we have completed an extensive tastings survey to ascertain the best, cheapest, and most authentic - its been quite some challenge - so that has been keeping us busy and getting us familiar with our new winter home.

The list of dreaded 'boat jobs' is keeping us busy in our spare time, as I write this I am listening to the angle grinder whizzing away on the stern, where Mark is cutting up our stainless steel framework, removing an arm that holds some obsolete aerials to make way for 2 new solar panels we have ordered, he doesn't quite look the part, wearing a snorkeling mask in lieu of safety goggles - at least he has removed the snorkel.    We have been doing more painting and yesterday completed repainting the area between our teak deck and toerail, it looks great and has finally been crossed off the 'to do' list after 7 years, what an achievement. 
What a fiddly area to try and paint

Lots of little jobs are out of the way now too, the dodger has been resewn to mend shreaded stitching, broken zippers replaced to keep the cockpit snug in winter, then the cupboards have all been sorted out, bilges cleaned.  While I have been doing all these minor jobs Mark has been working on the Volvo, changing oil, replacing fuel and air filters, cleaning the lift pump - all in an effort to rectify an 'irregular heart beat' it developed late in the season, and to try and discover why we have engine coolant in our turbo charger.  He wasn't successful so we called in the experts, we are up to 22 hours of labour (not looking forward to the bill), the engine is all back together but neither problem has been solved, there will be more installments on this one.

Looking through our cabin hatch to the QE
 Of course dealing with all of this in a foreign country and using a language we can not speak does not make it easy, but slowly we will get there, we hope!!
The Queen Elizabeth & Balvenie

The angle grinder has stopped, another job completed.  Tomorrow we go on holiday for a long weekend to Valencia to rendezvous with our good friend Tony off Tactical Directions who has his boat in Barcelona.  The boys are off to the final Moto GP of the season,  I think I will opt for something a little less noisy!!   

Today we have the brand new Cunard Cruise Liner, the Queen Elizabeth in port on her inaugural voyage, we also have another cruise ship - they have been relegated to the freighter docks.  We have been getting 3 or 4 a week coming through, the town certainly livens up with the extra people, it must be a huge injection of cash into the local community.

So thats our first month in Spain, our Spanish is NOT coming along in leaps and bounds, although we are very good at ordering our tapas, think we need to try harder.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Summer Season draws to a close ..... Oct 2010

Along for a free ride, 40 miles offshore! 
06 - 10 October 2010

We enjoyed our 8 night 'minibreak' anchored at Palmanova on Mallorca. Skipper had a tearful farewell with the owner of the 'Welsh Mosquito' having been camped there for three days watching the Ryder Cup. The strong sou'westerly winds had died away and the swell was down but there was more bad weather coming in a few days so it was time to head ever westward once again and make the long jump from Mallorca to the next island of Ibiza.  It was a 55 mile run so we were up at 'O dark hundred' (well it doesn't get light until 8am at the moment) and on our way by 7am.  We had a forecast for 12knots from the east increasing to 20knots late afternoon and building more overnight,  so we poled out the headsail and sailed downwind all day. Skipper was a happy bunny despite getting overruled once again when requesting a spinnaker hoist. This was champagne sailing running before the wind heading west but every now and again a yacht would pass us going the other way, bashing into a steep choppy sea towards Mallorca - at least we had the elements with us. 

We pulled into Portinatx,  a small cala on the nor'eastern tip of Ibiza.  Luckily there were only 3 other yachts in there as some of these anchorages are not very big, but it was a scenic little spot with a couple of hotels and a small town ashore.  Most importantly we had flat water, just tucked up out of the swell.  We didn't go ashore at night, we had had a long day and there was always tomorrow.  But sometimes tomorrow doesn't quite come, well not for going ashore anyway.  Overnight the wind had come around more to the north making the cove a little more exposed so we checked the weather again first thing, then sat down for a serious breakfast board meeting.
The Silver Fern might just last until Spain
The low pressure system we were expecting in 2 days was still coming but would pass through in a day and we should be able to find somewhere to shelter from it, but 3 days later the Balearics were due to get severely hammered by a series of thunderstorms and 40 knots winds lasting for several days, and from various directions. 

The seasons they were a changing, it was getting cooler, the sunny days were being outnumbered by the cloudy ones and the approaching thunderstorms did not look good.  On top of this I had been suffering from toothache for too long, no amount of painkillers was dulling the ache (but straight brandy does!!!) and I really needed to sort it out.  It did not take long for the board of Balvenie  to make the unanimous decision to use the northerly wind we had and head south to Cartagena our Winter base. The famous party island of  Ibiza and its small neighbour of Formentera sadly would be missed, but we can not see everything and the changeable weather is very hard to deal with when there are very few all round protected anchorages.

So we never did go ashore on Ibiza, at 8.30am on October 07 2010 we weighed anchor for the last time this season, motored out of the cala, raised the mainsail, bore away downwind, set the pole, rolled out the headsail and headed for the Spanish mainland. 
Glad to be tied up in Cartagena
It is around 160 miles to Cartagena and with the short weather window we had, we decided to go straight through and do an overnight passage.  We had wind behind us and besides having to gibe the pole had an uneventful and comfortable day.  We could see the bright lights of Spain as darkness fell, our 2nd overnight passage this season with a new moon - it sure was dark out there, "as black as the inside of a cow" as skipper says. But the stars were glistening and it was a clear night.

The lights on shore faded  as the mainland curved away from us and we ran down the outside of the shipping lanes.  We crossed the meridian at 1.35am on October 08 2010.  After 6 years we had made it to the Western Hemisphere phew!!  Just minutes later our northerly wind died and a southerly filled in, this was not in the forecast!  By the time we had dropped the pole and reset the sails the southerly too had eased and by 3am we were motoring with no wind.

The sea state was easing with the calming of the wind and shelter from the mainland but the shipping was busy and kept us on guard.  Dawn broke around 7.30am and as the sun peaked over clouds on the horizon it looked like it would be a lovely clear day.  I went below to switch off the navigation lights and radar and when I came back up, not a minute later we had been totally engulfed in heavy fog.  This is the first time we have experienced fog at sea, I knew there was nothing at all around us but it's a weird feeling not been able to see anything.  Even on the darkest of nights you can see something!!   I woke skipper for some moral support and to make sure I wasn't dreaming, then shortly after it cleared as quickly as it had arrived and the sun came out to play.

Diet? I don't think so!!!
 We motored in calm seas, those last few miles seeming to take forever.  At last at 12.30pm we entered the bay where the town of Cartagena is nestled.  We passed the refinery and naval yard and entered the inner harbour.  It's a working port so there are ships coming and going but it's small and not too busy.  We found our way to the marina and contacted Yacht Port Cartagena on VHF Channel 09, Alberto the marinero came to take our lines and to welcome us.  This will be home now for several months over the Mediterranean winter.  First impressions - it looks good.  I'll add more info when we have  settled in.

So that it is the end of our cruising season for summer 2010, it has been an outstanding season.  We have seen some wonderful places, cruised with some exceptional people, eaten and drunk our way across the western med and will now take some time to diet, exercise and sleep!!!   Stay tuned though - there will be more updates soon.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Minibreak on Mallorca ..... Sept - Oct 2010

Balvenie at Palmanova's busy beach
27 September - 06 October 2010

The wind is howling through so we are staying put here in Palma, the wind generator is whizzing away (noisily) but creating plenty of power for the laptop, Mark is ashore ensconced in a bar happily watching the final rounds of Golfs Ryder Cup, oh, and the sun is shining - what more could we ask for?

We left sleepy little Porto Petro and sailed in the seabreeze down to the bottom left tip of Mallorca and around into the bite of Ensenada de la Rapita. As expected the dreaded swell just kept on following us but eventually we managed to tuck behind most of it and anchored off the beautiful long white sand beach of Playa del Trench. There were just a handful of yachts, and although many sunloungers and umbrellas were onshore there was no accommodation or people and the immediate land looked like national park, it was beautiful. I had my first swim in Spain in gin clear water and could see the ripples of sand on the bottom, it was magic. For the first time since arriving in the Balearics we had not had any rain and at sunset we were treated to clear skies, long may it last! Next morning we took a long walk ashore along the sandy beach, unfortunately paradise can never be perfect - southerly winds were forecast and this did not have enough cover so we lifted anchor mid morning and had a great sail aft of the beam the 25 miles across to Palmanova in the Bay of Palma.

Leisurely lunch at Soller
This is "package holiday land" and my first impressions were not too positive. Ashore we were surrounded by medium rise hotels with names like the Honolulu, St Lucia, Waikiki. The wall to wall cafes - the Scotsman, Welsh Mosquito, Paddys Bar, Los Curries and the like!-  offer menus in every language but Spanish, and cater for all tastes but Spanish, but I think I was a little judgemental, its grown on me, and we had a great curry out one night! There is a lovely sandy beach, the weather is warm and sunny for the most part, and everyone is just here enjoying a warm break from their day to day lives. It's not so bad at all.

We have been out enjoying the sights. It's about 45 minutes by bus from here into Palma city. The first day we got all ready for a big day out and set off ashore, but there were strikes on protesting at the "austerity measures", no buses that day so it was back to boat chores instead. We tried again the next day, more successfully, we got a bus into Palma Station, then connected with the small narrow gauge tourist train through inland Mallorca's valleys to the beautiful town of Soller.  This vintage train has been running through the scenic Serra de Tramuntansa since 1911. Soller is in a stunning setting with high peaks around it, just a small town but with some handsome buildings and a large plaza area with many trees splendid in their autumnal colours.
Narrow gauge train to Soller

There is a tram that runs from the town down to the port area, it was very busy - sadly we had chosen a day with 6 cruise ships in Palma port (yes, VERY busy!!!), so we decided to walk down. Unless you really need to stretch your legs don't do this, we walk fast and it was over an hour, little shade and very hot, a bad idea but worth it when you are rewarded with such a beautiful harbour setting. If we had been here before leaving the northern coast we would have come down the west coast by boat and stayed a couple of nights.

After all our exercise we relaxed and had an excellent late lunch harbourside, the quality and selection of food we have experienced so far in Spain has been the best in Europe and it is the most affordable, we are enjoying Spain. We walked all around the harbour then caught the tram back up the hill, had a final stroll around town and headed for the bus station.

Inland Mallorca Olive grove
 It had been recommended by other cruisers to catch the No 210 bus back for more stunning scenery on mountain roads with hairpin bends, unfortunately the buses were busy so we ended on the express.  Had I looked closer at the timetable I would have seen that the buses start from the port, we didn't need to get the tram back and would probably have got on the scenic one!!! Ah, hindsight. At least the timing worked well and we connected with a bus straight away back to Balvenie.  

On another day we caught the bus into Palma again and explored the city. What a lovely European city this is, fine old buildings, spacious tree lined streets, open plazas with sidewalk cafes, all very clean and with no traffic pollution, a really agreeable place. We stopped in a vibrant plaza and sat in a street cafe enjoying the best coffee we have had in Europe, life is good.  Revitalized we hit the streets, exploring the side streets and little lanes, seeing all there was on offer.  The Municipal Market at Placa del Olivar was a great stop with an abundance of fresh produce, seafood and meats. The hundreds of hung smoked legs of pork dominated one corner, while the endless varieties of olives left us drooling.  There were a couple of great extremely busy tapas counters there too, getting close enough to order and choosing from all the delectable goodies was the hard part.    
Palma's spectacular Cathedral

Then it was off to the Palma Cathedral, as the photo shows it is an outstanding looking building both inside and out.  Religion may have, and still does, cause more tension and wars than anything else but the need to worship in holy surroundings has certainly, over the centuries left us with some fine religious buildings, and this is no exception.   Construction started in 1306 and took around 300 years, it has had many restorations since, a major one being after severe earthquake damage in 1851.  There are 61 stained glass windows and with the sun shining in the internal light was magnificent.  Many great architects and artists have stamped their mark on parts of the cathedral, Antoni Gaudi being one.  Most recently Miquel Barcelo reformed the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, goodness me - what was he thinking? this is a cathedral not an underwater theme park.  Still, maybe we do not have a fine enough appreciation of modern art - each to their own.  

Cruising notes for Isla Gabina/Playa del Trench and Palma Nova, Mallorca:-
Anchorages -
Isla Gabina -   39 20.183N   02 59.118E   4.9m  clear sea, sandy bottom.  We anchored further south first to get more shelter form the swell and thought we were on sand, but when the sun came out we could see we were on a flat stone bottom with small crevices.  We moved further north to the sandy bottom, it was a little rollier but great holding
Palmanova -   39 30.931N   02 32.478E   4.0m  hard sand/weed.  Not great holding, several boats dragged in 20knots (some superyachts).  Morning breeze came in from the east (for 4 days) until around 11am then dropped off, nothing forecast from east.  Good shelter from NW to SSE, and can move to other end of bay for more N protection, or to little islands (2 miles away) for some E cover. 
Communications - Phone signal excellent, no unlocked WIFI but dongle worked well
Ashore - Just a shacky beach bar at Isla Gabina which closed at sunset.   Palmanova:  we left the dinghy on the small concrete jetty on the eastern (seaward) side as shallow as possible, not many cleats, a small ferry uses this dock so stay well in.  When full we left it on the tiny adjacent beach.  There are hundreds of eateries, dozens of little minimarkets selling (holiday) basics, the Eroski Supermarket is right at the northern end of the bay (take dinghy to tiny harbour and it's right there or walk along seafront), its on the road that goes inland and about the 2nd building on the right.  Good selection fruit, veg, meat at very reasonable prices.  Plenty ATMs, English newspapers, didn't see fuel anywhere, bus stops on road inland parallel to beach. 
Formalities - The large blue Spanish Customs (Aduana) Boat came into the bay most evenings.  We were boarded by 3 officers who asked to see our passports, ships papers and boat insurance.  They gave us a copy of their paperwork (which we showed to them the next night when they came again!!), they were polite and took just a few minutes.
Sightseeing - Buses 104, 105 and 106 run into Palma about every 20 minutes. 2.75E p/p o/w buy tickets on bus.  We stayed on till the station then went up to street level, turned right and a couple of buildings along is the Ferrocarril de Soller where you catch the tourist train. 10.00E p/p o/w. Times Mar-Oct 0800, 1010, 1050, 1215, 1330, 1510.  Tourist office in Soller is by train station in Soller they can give you bus times for return, 210 is scenic and 211 express 2.45E p/p o/w (cheap).  Tram down to Soller port is 4.00E o/w p/p.  Palma Cathedral is 4.00E p/p.  When you catch the bus back to Palmanova the stop at the Cathedral gets very busy, we were leaving people behind in October!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Moving from Menorca to Mallorca ..... Sept 2010

Privately owned Fort at Pollenca
21 - 27 September 2010

We stayed 6 nights in Mahon, completed all the boat jobs, did all the sightseeing, even had the chance to socialize with an Australian Catamaran Catouse, and American yacht So Bella.  The mistral had died out in the Golf du Lyon (for the time being) so the swell had finally eased but our dilemma was now which way to go around the island.  We decided to head north and motored in very light downwind conditions up the east coast and around the top to the sheltered  harbour of Fornells.  We had already visited by car so knew we could tuck up out of any existing swell and were ready for evening shore leave, something we didn't do in Mahon with the 20 minute dinghy ride!

We settled into the anchorage and headed ashore for happy hour and dinner.  Well we enjoyed happy hour and were certainly enjoying the Spanish prices, drinking out had finally returned to an acceptable price (not that it had stopped us!!).  We didn't make dinner, those regular big black evening clouds were looking very threatening so we headed on back to Balvenie, just in case.   They skirted around us and didn't amount to anything, but we prefer to be cautious.

Next morning we were off as the sun rose, well it doesn't come up till 7.30am so it isn't too much of an effort .  We were leaving Menorca and heading to Pollenca on the next island of Mallorca.  It was a 50 mile run and we managed a comfortable downwind sail across for the first 30 miles, then the wind died right off so we charged the batteries and cooled the drinks for the remainder.  

Cobbled lanes of Alcudia
We arrived into the shallow harbour at Pollenca at 6pm, and hooked onto a free mooring buoy we had prebooked. The headland ashore was totally dominated by the most spectacular fort, now privately owned and converted into a mansion, the manicured gardens were terraced down to the waters edge, it was just beautiful and made for quite a backdrop, we settled down to a peaceful night.

Our morning check of the weather was now routine. The changeable weather conditions were causing us some problems as another front was due to come through in the early hours of the following morning with a switch from strong southerlies to northwesterlies. The large bay was enclosed but a fetch could easily build, we were in only 3.5 metres of water, the mooring buoy was rated to 16knots of wind and the bottom very weedy and shallow for anchoring. We consulted the cruising guide and found a nearby small marina with enough depth for us (not easy in some of these places), made a phone call, secured a berth on the visitors dock and we were tied up within the hour, we could relax!!!!

We took a walk into the ancient fortified town of Pollentia founded in 123BC, nowadays called Alcudia. It was rich in history with some excellent old buildings and parts of the town wall in very good order, it was an enjoyable spot to while away a few hours. We finally got to have our first Spanish dinner out at the local restaurant, and enjoyed mixed Paella for 2 that would have happily fed 4. It was a bonus just to be able to step back onboard at the end of a great day.
Alcudia's wall is still complete in places

The front came through; we were all secure and very happy we had chosen to marina Balvenie for a couple of nights. The clouds cleared away, we went for a long walk out towards the headland, the swell had set in again - it doesn’t seem to take much to get it going – and even in the marina we had a little surge coming in.

Our departure Saturday morning was delayed as the office did not open till 10.30am for us to retrieve our deposit. Again we were unsure of which coast to head down, because Mallorca lies on an angle the swell and winds seem to wrap around it. We headed back across to the north eastern tip in light winds but very rolly seas, and once we rounded the top sailed the remainder of the way in building tail winds to Porto Petro, we pulled in just before dark and picked up another free mooring buoy (these are just great), then opened the bar.

Next day was Sunday, the weather looked ok to stay longer so we went ashore to the tiny town, found a cafe with a big screen tv and settled down to an excellent lunch while watching the Formula One Grand Prix, what a lazy Sunday afternoon.  There's not much at Porto Petro but that is part of its charm, we knew we would be seeing many high rise hotels and built up areas soon enough so we enjoyed the peace.  Unfortunately that night the swell found us yet again, we were sitting beam on and had yet another rolly old night.  We had planned to stay as Baracca were heading our way, but when the easterly sea breeze started coming in late morning we decided it was time to move on.

Cruising info for Fornells on Menorca and Pollenca, Marina de Bonaire and Porto Petro on Mallorca:-
Anchorages -
Fornells, Pollenca and Porto Petro - Mooring buoys are available for all three of these anchorages.  We anchored at Fornells as we had 20knot bullets and could not pick up a buoy.  To book these free buoys visit you need to register online, they must be booked before 6.30pm the day before and are normally a maximum of 2 nights.  They seemed in good order, generally have an extra line with loop to put your line through and these should have a float on so you can pull it up with boat hook.  In Fornells they didn't have floats and as it was our first stop we couldn't work out how to connect it!!!  
Marina de Bonaire - 39 52.013N   03 08.614E   2.5m, side tied.  phone +34 971 54 69 55  Visitors dock just inside the breakwater, will place you further in if they can.  They are not happy to put boats on visitors dock in a strong north east wind because of the surge, we had a little surge (wore through our fender covers) but it was fine.  39E per night incl wifi, power and water.  Shower/toilet blocks, Laundry 3E, bookswap, very helpful small marina.
Communications - Phones: GYMSIM and Vodafone Malta on roaming both working.  Internet: WIFI at Marina (get code from office) and picked up unlocked signal in Porto Petro.  Dongle worked well for rest.

Ashore - 
Fornells -  Tied dinghy to a floating pontoon.  A few bars, cafes and restaurants for all budgets.  A small supermarket (English papers) inland back from Port office and excellent bakery on street out supermarkets back door.  Didn't see ATM but must be one as small touristy town
Pollenca -  Long way from mooring buoys to town area, we didn't go ashore here
Marina de Bonaire - Fuel dock and 30 ton travelift.  Paella great at restaurant by gate.  Turn right at gate for short walk to minimarket and a couple of bars then follow road inland from there to Alcudia, about 25 minute flat walk.  Well worth it.  ATM's in Alcudia
Porto Petro -  Either take dinghy to little dock/beach on right by beachfront cafe or into fishing boat harbour and tie to wall.  Small supermarket one block back (English papers), several eateries, no ATM
Formalities - none.  Marina checked our Boat papers but nothing else.