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Porto, Portugal – old and new worlds

7 Aug

Last month, we finished our jump across the Atlantic in our sailboat, Shearwater, in Porto, Portugal.  For the time being, the boat will stay there, as we have been very impressed with the marina, as well as the city.  Technically, the marina is across the River Douro from Porto, in Vila Nova de Gaia, but Porto is just a stone’s throw away, really.  This past weekend, we drove back to fetch dirty laundry and food from the boat (a five hours’ drive).  We also brought our dogs, Jordan and Haley, who have never been on a boat before.  Luckily, as with most other things that they’ve accompanied us on, they seemed to be happy enough getting to come along and check out new things.  In fact, Haley had no issues going up our very steep, ladder-like stairs into the cockpit!

Our aspirations to get them to sleep in the quarterberth at the back of the boat were dashed immediately, as they were quite content to dog pile into the v-berth where we sleep.  Cuteness trumps rationale, I guess.

This is Jordan in our v-berth…errr, her v-berth on the boat.

They tolerated the life jackets, only because they were cool.

One of the highlights of our weekend was a visit to one of the casas de Vinho do Porto, where we sampled several of the famous port wines from the region.  With the wine, we also ordered a few food tidbits, including something we thought was almonds from the picture on the wall, but ended up being something quite different – tremoços, a small yellow legume of sorts.  The woman who brought our tasting samples came back with a single tremoço to demonstrate how to eat it: use your teeth to break the skin of the tremoço and then use your fingers to shoot it into your mouth (well, maybe she didn’t exactly tell us to “shoot it” but we entertained ourselves by eating these this way)!  They were cold beans, but a bit tastier than you might think.

Tremoços – an interesting cold legume that requires you to remove the skin before eating the bean. We bit into the bean to break the skin, and then we used our fingers to shoot the bean through the skin into our mouth. A fun food!

We could quite happily become port wine aficionados!

Our quick weekend included lots of meandering walks with our dogs, and a bit of work on the boat that ended up in a minor disaster that we’re still working through (we’ll share more of that excitement on our Shearwater blog).  We are definitely looking forward to spending more time getting to know Portugal.

The city of Porto, along the banks of the River Douro. Historically, vinhos do Porto were brought to Porto from wineries upriver via boat.

Enjoying the sunset along the beach.

The Atlantic lies just outside the breakwater to the River Douro.



1 Aug

We’ve been absent these last few weeks, so the blog has been neglected!  If you are curious what we were up to, check out our sailing blog that chronicled our trip across the Atlantic in our sailboat:

  • The start of the entries for our trip.
  • A stopover in the Azores, with pictures here.
  • Finishing our trip last week by arriving in Portugal, with pictures to come.


Looking for Vikings

21 Mar

March has been the month of travel for Justin, and he’s still not done.  We’re making the most of it, though, and took the opportunity to spend the weekend exploring Copenhagen, Denmark.  In our minds, Copenhagen has always been THE gold star for bike-friendly cities, although truthfully, we have been blown away by Holland and Sweden, too.  Copenhagen did not disappoint at all.

Scandinavia is such a change, too, in that we both feel tall and (me) fair-complexioned in Spain and Italy, but as we travel further north, we transition from feeling like we are in Lilliput to Brobdingnag in Gulliver’s Travels!

There ARE still vikings in Denmark!!!

Copenhagen is expensive, and consistently is cited as having one of the highest costs of living in Europe.  Our centrally-located hotel room was a “small double”, but probably was not bigger than some people’s closets…we had to turn sideways to get around the bed from the bathroom to the desk.  It was pleasant, though, with one of the best breakfast buffets that we have had in our European adventures, and we were able to conveniently rent bikes both days that we wandered Copenhagen.  After spending a few days in Malmö last spring, we expected sticker shock in restaurants and planned accordingly (or rather adjusted accordingly after having a nicer meal than anticipated on Friday night!).

That first evening was lovely, and we had an incredible dinner at the Norrebro Brygus that is a brewery restaurant with organic beers.  We showed up hungry, and glanced too quickly at the menu before deciding to “just go with the set menu”.  It was expensive, but absolutely fantastic.  We later lamented the five beers that accompanied the courses more the next morning – but it was well worth a stop, if you are in Copenhagen.

Um, we did drink five of those beers...with a fantastic dinner (Spain has taught us how to enjoy dinner for 3+ hours, though!).

Saturday was a day for exploring and wandering – we had a bit of a loose schedule, but wanted to make sure we saw sailboats, found some bike shops, got some riding in, saw the ”alternative-society” Christiania (Denmark’s nod at Amsterdam, although the city may try to integrate this area in the coming years), wandered the waterfront at Nyhavn and paid a visit to a caramel factory.  I had found a few boat chandleries that I thought might be fun to visit – our first stop was a dud (water damage in the building had closed the shop), but across the street from that shop was an Aigle store.  Aigle is a French company that makes the sailing dinghy boots that Justin and I both had when we raced for the University of Washington.  Mine are still intact and on our new-to-us boat, but Justin’s completely deteriorated, as might be expected from years of recent disuse, following years of very hard use.  They had newer models, in addition to a pair of what the salesperson referred to as “retro” boots…the exact same boots we both had!  As tempting as it was, Justin resisted buying the old-style boots, and since the store had none of the new style, zipper boots in his size, he bought a pair of padded hiking shorts (for dinghies…or sitting on the rail of a keelboat) instead.  We left the Aigle store on a mission to find an 87-year old man, “Luffe”, who supposedly ran a small chandlery in the basement of a building in the next town.

We watched some radio-controlled sailboats get ready to race.

We rode several miles north of Copenhagen along the coast, still enjoying our own bike lanes and following Danish bike etiquette of signaling and staying to the right (our heavy, 3-speed steel behemoths were no match for the myriad other bikes we saw on the roads and so we were passed now and again by roadies, tri-bikes, beautiful steel city bikes, Christiana bikes with a trailer upfront and everything in-between).

Our quest to find Luffe was a failure, but after asking about him in another shop, it’s possible that his shop no longer existed…apparently Luffe is legendary, but in the sense that everyone knows OF him, but two of the people we asked had not seen him in a decade or more.

We rode back into town after warming up in a bakery, to see Christiania…this pretty much entailed walking the bikes through Pusher Street, where there were stalls set up to sell marijuana and hash (presumably).  Interestingly, some of the guides I had read said that they were no longer doing this, but really, I’m not sure what else people would have been selling, complete with signs saying “NO PHOTOGRAPHY”.  This area has its own government and set of basic rules (no selling property, no hard drugs, etc.), but the community may be short-lived, so the general consensus seems to be “see it now before it is too late!”  It was interesting, to say the least.  There was a tiny house in the middle of the street just outside Pusher Street, and the owner graciously allowed us to take a picture of his dog…what a life!

The dog was quite the spectator, and we have some close-ups of him. This picture shows a little better what Christiania is like, though...

Our remaining Saturday was spent checking out Nyhavn where although the idea of ice cream with “guf” (marshmallow), but it was too chilly for our tastes!  Instead, we enjoyed walking along the waterfront and then had dinner at La Galette, which serves buckwheat crepes – it was quite nice and definitely reasonably priced.

An incredible city to ride in - about 40% of the city uses the bike for commuting, and reputedly there is a ratio of 1:1 for bikes to people. Wow.

Sunday was more drizzly, but we were on the bikes to see Copenhagen’s famous “Little Mermaid” statue in the harbor.  I had to take more than a few deep breaths as a small group spent an eternity rotating through having each person in their group stand with the statue…but quite fluidly they managed to never leave the statue alone for the group of other visitors waiting to take a picture without these people.   I normally don’t get too riled up about these things (and really have become more patient, I promise!), but it was the most selfish and discourteous picture-hogging show at a landmark that I’ve seen…come on!  If they would have just crawled all over the statue, I would have felt compelled to photograph them, and then my pictures would have had a story (about picture-hogging, statue-crawling people), I guess.

The Little Mermaid - I think she's been restored several times (probably because of rowdy tourists climbing on her!).

Checking out the art in the parks.

The key agenda item for Sunday was to see three of the castles that were built by Danish monarchs over the years, and we saw everything from ruins that had been discovered under existing structures, to rooms of porcelain plates, to royal crowns with hundreds of real gems at three impressive palaces that boast residence in Copenhagen:

  • Rosenborg Castle
  • Christiansborg Palace
  • Amalienborg Castle

A guard at Amalienborg Palace. One of them started speaking Danish quite insistently towards us, and we suspect that he thought that Justin should not have been leaning on the castle!

(Note: Seeing these castles and learning more about the royal “Danes” were a nice segues from a tour I took last week at the Prado about the “Spanish” royals.  Essentially, it makes no sense to tag on an adjective like “Spanish” or “Danish” because the European royal family interbred and were everywhere and anywhere.  It’s a post in and of itself – completely fascinating!).

For lunch, we found the highly anticipated (for us!) Grød restaurant that specializes in porridge (oatmeal).  Ours was fantastic…Justin chose a more traditional oatmeal with apples, nuts and flaxseeds, and I decided on the “traditional Danish” porridge with rye, beer, apple compote and cream.  Both were delicious and have inspired us to pick it up a notch with our morning oatmeal routines!

For oatmeal aficionados like us, this was heaven!

I almost cried having to leave Copenhagen…but onto other adventures!

Messing about on boats (again)

20 Dec

This fall, we re-entered the world of boat ownership, with an eye on bringing our new boat to Europe.  The Swedish archipelago, Balearic Islands, Croatia, Greece, British Isles, Turkey, and all places in between have been calling our names as we learn more about Europe.  Since receiving our household goods earlier this month, Justin found one of our old cruising books and has been reading Seraffyn’s European Adventure by Lin and Larry Pardey out loud to me.  So far, it sounds like living aboard in England over the winter pretty much sucks, but we’re anticipating some happier stories soon.

During our recent trip back home, we spent a weekend messing about on our new boat – a bit of a project boat, but not too bad.  We’ll do the official christening later, but her new name is “Shearwater” (more on that later, too).  We both had such a good time working, even cleaning out the nastiness in the bilges amid frigid temperatures.  It’s exciting to be thinking about getting to spend some time on the water in the future.  Justin seems to think that the girls might take to some weekend cruising easily enough, and I’m starting to think they might, too – they’ve been incredibly adaptable with everything else!  We shall see…

Our goals for this trip were to get it in reasonable shape to deal with winter in Annapolis and to scope out what needs to be done to the boat to be able to spend some time seeing the coastline of Maine next summer (and hopefully Europe next fall/winter).  We went through the on-board systems together, as our current plan is to have my “cheap” labor install new electronics, new autopilot, complete some engine maintenance and do haul-out chores, like painting the bottom, next spring before Justin joins me to move the boat up to Rhode Island.  We’re both excited about the plan, as it will save some money and help us both know the systems inside and out.  We will both be studying manuals and paperwork from the boat this winter in preparation!

Our J/120 was finished in Europe, and apparently has a bit more wood than American-finished boats. Overall, the wood is in great shape - the area near the chainplate was refinished after a leak and just needs new varnish.

Our garage! This is the area aft of the galley on the port side.

After 4 years of the ins and outs of air quality and diesel exhaust, I look at diesel engines a bit differently than I did before!

The biggest highlight of our long workdays on the boat (up at 4am because we were still on Madrid time!) was that we met with old friends three times over the weekend.  Justin has managed to keep in touch with cruisers from when we had our old sailboat, Earendil, over the past 10 years, and a number of them happened to be in Annapolis.  The cruising community is incredible, and we were taken in yet again by wonderful people who provided a needed respite over beers, chili and even brunch at the Annapolis Yacht Club!  We’re grateful for these relationships – and reminded that friends and family add so much happiness to our lives.

This picture was taken of Shearwater during her survey (it's a good thing when the boats don't sink!) - phew!

Alicante: the start of the Volvo Ocean Race!

2 Nov

We spent the past weekend in the coastal city of Alicante, in southeastern Spain.  This was the second weekend in a row where we were able to spend time near the water, and it was simply fantastic.  Our motivation for being in Alicante was to see the six sailboats that will be embarking this coming weekend (November 5) on a round-the-world race with nine legs (stopovers in Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya, Auckland, Itajal, Miami, Lisbon, Lorient and Galway).  This race is a biggie in the realm of ocean racing, and the city of Alicante was a-buzz with activity associated with the race.

Waiting for the start of the in-port race in Alicante Bay...lots of windshifts, but not a lot of breeze!

Sailboat racing in Europe seems much more popular with the general public than in the US, especially ocean racing. Ironically, I’m in the middle of reading Ellen McArthur’s biography “Full Circle,” which landed in my lap with lots of encouragement from Justin (and it really has been incredible to read – for those of you who do not know Ellen, she’s a feisty British sailor who broke record after record starting in her teenage years, including setting a round-the-world solo record in a multi-hull – an incredible feat to accomplish!).  Some of the best singlehanded sailors who attempt ocean records (e.g., Atlantic crossings, round the world attempts, etc.) are from France, but Spain has definitely had a strong presence in the racing community, as well.  The sailboats and crews we wanted to see in Alicante will embark with 10-man crews in 70-foot racing machines (the teams have no women this year racing, although there are women on the teams handling other tasks).  There will be 9 stopovers, but the racing conditions between ports are likely to be brutal, especially in the Southern Ocean, and crew members will likely be pushed to the edge, mentally and physically.

When we arrived in Alicante, we really had no idea what to expect, or frankly where we should go (Justin was in charge of this trip – he announced that he had a pretty good idea of what he was looking for because he had watched some helicopter footage of the area the night before.  This was sure to be helpful since we were arriving by air…or not!).  Even though we were winging it a bit, we found where we wanted to be easily – there was essentially an enormous area dedicated to the race, with sponsor exhibits, souvenirs, movies about the Volvo Ocean Race history, a raceboat simulator(!), a number of “Legends” boats that had done the race in years past and of course, this year’s entries to the race.  The boats that will be racing are (descriptions are from the official Volvo Ocean Race website):

  • Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (United Arab Emirates) – “The UAE entry has recruited a strong and experienced crew that includes a core of Volvo veterans and a UAE national, led by double Olympic medallist and 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race skipper, Ian Walker.”
  • Groupama Sailing Team (France) – “French offshore legend Franck Cammas and his long-term sponsor Groupama will compete in the next two editions of the Race in a boat designed by two-time race winner Juan Kouyoumdjian.”
  • PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (USA) – “PUMA Ocean Racing, which turned heads on and off the water in the 2008-09 race, has returned for the next edition, again under the leadership of Ken Read.”
  • CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (New Zealand/Spain) – “Spanish footwear brand Camper is collaborating with Emirates Team New Zealand to manage their first Volvo Ocean Race campaign. Principal designer Marcelino Botin and the build team at Cookson Boats will provide the boat and with a number of seasoned round-the-world sailors onboard, this team must rank as one of the favourites.”
  • Team Sanya (China) – “Chinese entry Team Sanya will be looking to stamp their mark on the race, with Volvo Ocean Race veteran and two-time winner Mike Sanderson as skipper and a mixture of experienced sailors and raw Chinese members.”
  • Team Telefónica (Spain) – “Dual Olympic medallist Iker Martínez will lead Team Telefónica on their third successive Volvo Ocean Race. Martínez’s crew have a long list of successes including 23 round the world races, 15 world titles and three Olympic gold medals. The team will race on board Telefónica, a third generation Volvo Open 70 designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian, which was built at the King Marine shipyard in Valencia.”

CAMPER - this baby's got a wide load. Note the life rafts on deck.

Puma, Abu Dhabi, Groupama, Camper, and Sanya jockeying for start-line positions.

Skippers of Puma (Ken Read) and CAMPER (Chris Nicholson).

We were simply in awe of everything that we saw, and I gained an entirely new appreciation of what the race represented, as well as what the guys would probably go through during the course of the race.  Both Justin and I have raced sailboats – dinghies and keelboats – but only in what would be considered protected waters.  We’ve both experienced really breezy days where rounding up or accidental jibes were a possibility, but certainly nothing compared to racing hard in steep seas where the stakes are pretty dismal if you push the boat too hard (as evidenced by the life rafts strapped to the decks of these boats).  The highlight of the day was watching an in-port race that actually had some real points that will count towards the final standings of the race.  Unfortunately the breeze was really shifty and light – from our vantage point, it appeared that several of the boats had no idea where they were heading – a true testament for how shifty the light air was that it looked like the boats were heading in all directions!

Two different approaches for this reach - spinnaker (chosen by most boats) and Code Zero (switched to by CAMPER).

I certainly don’t have a favorite team to root for yet, as each team has its own unique stories.  The Telefónica team’s skipper was an Olympic medalist racing the 49er dinghy (Justin and I owned and raced one), the Sanya team is a previous generation boat with a highly experienced skipper (the underdog!), the PUMA boat is incredible as it was painted as though a sea monster was enveloping it (and its sails!), and so on – all of the boats have an interesting story, so it will be really “fun” to follow (read: a TERRIBLE time sink for the next nine months…and I thought the Tour de France was a terrible, three-week distraction!).  The CAMPER boat and crew were definitely the best-dressed, though, hands-down.  The shoes were so cool…that Justin was swayed mightily and now rocks a pair.

Enjoy the pics, and check out the race if you are interested:  Volvo Ocean Race.

Justin and I each had a go on the grinder. Isn't it obvious who tries harder?

This exhibit showed art made from found objects - trash that has polluted the oceans and beaches. We watched a movie that showed the amount of plastics ingested by albatrosses and other birds - it's revolting, disturbing and terrible. We need to change the legacy that humans are currently leaving on Earth.

Justin just ran up to the squishy PUMA mascot and gave it a hug!

I'm racing for Telefonica here.

Valencia – Oh how I love thee…

24 Oct

After our interesting Saturday watching the Rally Car race near Barcelona, we drove 3 hours back towards Madrid to the little beach town of Sagunto, near Valencia.  We spent the night at a very nice, very inexpensive apartment and had dinner at a great restaurant with the catch phrase “Del Mar a la mesa” – from the sea to the table.  Great seafood and a great evening.

Sunday morning we were in no rush, because we wanted breakfast, but nothing would be open until 9am.  So, of course, we spent the early hours walking the dogs on the beach.  Great way to start the day and then on to Valencia, just a few kms down the beach.

What would James say about this?

Probably not surprising, but we bee-lined it to the marina in Valencia.  We got a little turned around trying to park as we happened upon the finish of a big marathon, but once out of the car we took to exploring this very large, very modern, very nice harbor.  Part of the reason for the quality of the place was Valencia hosted the 32nd America’s Cup about 4 years ago.   There were plenty of nice cruising boats to ogle and a few really interesting race boats too.

A production Mini?

Uh, the steering wheel is up on the cabintop. Strange.

Yes, that is a carbon fiber boarding platform.

Definitely an IACC America's Cup boat. Perhaps it is Alinghi? Not sure.

That is definitely ETNZ (Emirates Team New Zealand) in the foreground. "Losers" of the 32nd America's Cup.

The TP52 Quantum Racing. Just crowned the 2011 Med Cup winner earlier this month in Barcelona.

Just big and beautiful.

The highlight was getting to see Mari Cha III closeup.  This is the 145’ racer/cruiser that set a transatlantic record in 1998.  She looked to be more in cruising mode now though and in fact she is available for charter for the all inclusive price of only €70,000/week!

A 30 foot beam!

She's all that.

We also stopped by the Alinghi store (Alinghi being the winners of the 32nd America’s Cup) and picked up a few souvenirs where the prices were much more reasonable.  A t-shirt was only $40.

Outside the marina in Valencia is a wide, long, sandy beach and right up near the boardwalk someone had spent what must have been hours very early in the morning (it was only 11am when we passed by) sculpting this incredible sand castle.  The detail on the roof and the sides of the structures was just amazing.  What a skill!  But, oh, the anguish of knowing that it probably wouldn’t last more than a day.

How many hours to build? How many hours will it last?

We had “second” breakfast (as the hobbits would say) on the boardwalk and there were a few amusing moments.  The first was the “Americano” breakfast which consisted of a fried egg, chorizo, and bread.   Mix them together and you have…  A Spanish Egg McMuffin!  I also ordered a bowl of cereal, mostly because this was the first time I’d seen cereal in a restaurant in Spain.  The cereal arrived as a bowl completely full of milk and cereal in a cup.  That meant there was about 3 times as much milk as needed.  And after a nice big spoonful, I was shocked to find the milk was WARM.  Not room temperature warm, but heated up warm.  Warm as in the little chocolate chips in my cereal (don’t ask) melted in the milk.  Of course, that didn’t stop me from enjoying it.

Ignore Chris's breakfast beer...

I’m sure we will be back to Valencia as it has the distinction of being the closest point on the sea from Madrid.  About 3.5 hours by car, but only 1.5 hours via the Ave High Speed train.  Yowza!  Can’t wait to give that a try.

Urban hiking – Parque Juan Carlos I

9 Oct

We’ve been decompressing this week – trying not to be sick after the toll that travelling and stress tend to take out on one’s body.  Yesterday morning, we woke up and decided that it was the perfect day to take the girls to Parque Juan Carlos I.

This park is in the northeast part of the city, approximately 2.5 miles away from our apartment.  Given the appearance of perfect fall weather – cool fifties and bright sun, we high-tailed it to the park, traversing through several other smaller parks along the way.  It was an amazing day – fall has always felt like a new beginning to me, whether the beginning of the school year or the mark of a new season – it’s inspiring and invigorating.  The dogs were ecstatic, and so were we.  It was the perfect day for what amounted to an eight-mile urban hike.

One of the interesting sculptures in Parque Juan Carlos I - the fingers actually had fingerprints!

One of those amazing fall days.

Sailing in Madrid! We enjoyed watching the racers - the boats were pretty impressive in the blustery wind.

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