Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Poros to Spetses via Dokos, Saronic Sailing days 2-3

Oops! Almost two months since my previous post... and I wanted to write one a week to be sure to have the sailing trip finished by the end of summer! Let's just say I've been a little bit distracted by visitors, summer activities and by all the Olympic excitement! :p

In the previous post we had just left Poros en route to Spetses via Dokos, starting our 2nd day of Saronic Sailing. And sailing we did! Was kind of exciting to finally see Vassilis unfurl the main sail and the genoa! :o)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Visiting Alicante, Spain

When I started this blog I wanted to write about my travels, both as they happened (or shortly after returning home) and as trips down memory lane. The idea was for this to both be a travel journal for me, and a place to share my experiences with other people who would be interested in hearing about or visiting these places. The thing about only writing about travelling though, is that it doesn't include writing about one's own hometown! I've often pondered what to do about this... So when I saw the opportunity to ask a friend to write a guest post about her visit to Alicante, you can bet I jumped on it! Annette is a family friend from Minneapolis. She has known me since I was 6 months old, when we moved there from Panama. Long, long time ago! ;o)  She and her husband Tim were part of the adventurous travellers who accepted my parents' invitation to join them on the week's sailing in the Saronic Islands in Greece to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. They also joined in the visit to Athens and Crete and then came to Alicante for a week to enjoy our crazy holiday the Hogueras de San Juan! Here's Annette's tale of their visit to Alicante. Enjoy! :o)

Visiting Alicante, Spain                                                                         July 19 - 25, 2012
by Annette Gagliardi

As part of a larger vacation sailing the Aegean Sea and touring Crete, my husband & I spent the week of “Fogueres de Sant Joan” in Alicante (June 19 - 24, 2012). If you find yourself in Spain, Alicante is a wonderful place to see and to visit. We are lucky enough to have friends who allowed us to bunk with them, showed us the sights and did a fair amount of translation as my husband’s Spanish is non-existent and mine is deplorable. Our friends, Len & Paquita, are the ultimate hosts. Len organized our week on the sailboat, the Stressbuster, drove us around Crete and still had the generosity to want us in their home for the Fogueres week.

And what a festival the Fogueres de Sant Joan is! With fireworks at 2 pm each day, statues erected around the city over the several days of the festival, and a final night of fireworks and bonfires as each Hoguera is set ablaze in its neighborhood. 

The Festival:
setting up the "official" Hoguera in front of the Ayuntamiento
Hoguera Oficial Plaza del Ayuntamiento
Hoguera Alfonso el Sabio

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Athens to Poros, Saronic Sailing Day 1

Let's get this Saronic Sailing trip started!

Day 1. June 2nd 2012. We left the hotel in Athens to have lunch just across the street at a little place on the beach, and from there headed over to find our two sailboats, the San Giorgio and Stressbuster, in the nearby Kalamaki Marina.

Half the gang stayed at the Stressbuster, while the rest of us loaded our bags on a trolley and followed our Skipper Vassilis to the San Giorgio where our First Mate/cook Lorella showed us around and explained where things were and how things worked on the sailboat (for example the very important lesson of flushing the sea toilets!).

Welcome aboard the San Giorgio!

We settled in, started unpacking, and headed out right after Vassilis gave us a security briefing (safety first, always!). In no time Athens was behind us and we were on our way, 31 nautical miles to go! :o)

the Stressbuster, with Athens in the background

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sailing the Saronic Islands in Greece

How's your summer going? Mine started a bit early this year, with a lovely week of sailing around the Saronic Islands in Greece! 

40 years and still going! :o)
How did this come about? Just the usual bit of craziness when my family starts organising an event! My dad was looking to do something special to celebrate my parents' 40th wedding anniversary, and I suggested they go to Greece since it's something my mom has always wanted to do. So, he started digging around online, looking at options... and then thought "Hey! We could go for a sailing cruise!" There's no way you'd ever get my mom on a big cruise ship (the idea of being herded around like cattle when you land and are told you have x minutes here then back on the bus/boat/whatever is NOT her - nor my - idea of travelling), but on a sailboat -if that sailboat were to stop at islands with archaeological ruins- then yes! And my dad loves sailing (he keeps hoping someone will give him a 40ft yacht, lol!)! No sooner thought than suggested, accepted, and done! He planned a fabulous trip for them which included a week sailing and then a week to visit Athens and Crete. Only problem? Cost! Yup, chartering a sailboat ain't cheap! Well, at least not when you're just two people 'cause basically you pay a fixed rate for the boat (and captain and 1st mate/cook) and it's up to you to decided how many passengers will be on board (the boat had 4 double cabins for passengers). So my dad had to find people who would be crazy enough willing to embark on a Greek adventure! As he started contacting family and friends it looked like it would be tough to find enough people for the cost to be reasonable... then all of the sudden there was 1 person too many for the boat! Since he didn't want to go back and tell anyone "Sorry, you can't come after all", well, he just chartered a second boat! And then started convincing more people for that one! One of which included me! :o)

13 crazy adventurous souls from 6 different cities in 3 countries on 2 (or 3?) continents!

There were a couple of routes possible for a week's sailing, and my dad finally chose the Saronic Islands because a) they didn't involve very long distances between islands (so shorter sailing bits, good since there were people who'd never been on a sailboat before and he was worried about seasickness etc.), and b) they were historically important islands, some with interesting archaeological sites!

"Flying Dolphin"
So, where are the Saronic Islands (sometimes called the Argo-Saronic Islands)? They're an archipelago of islands in the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean Sea, between Athens and the Peloponnese Peninsula. Of all the Greek isles, they're the ones closest to Athens, and many of them are just a couple of hours away by ferry or "Flying Dolphin". They're popular day trips from Athens, and are popular with mainland Greeks as holiday destinations in summer. Salamis (which we didn't visit) is closest to Athens, Aegina was modern Greece's first capital and in Classical times was a force to rival ancient Athens! Angistri (didn't visit) is very close to Aegina, and Poros (in reality two islands connected by a bridge) just a couple of sailing hours away. Going further south around the Peloponnese Peninsula towards the Argolic Gulf, we can find the quaint Hydra whose fleet played an important role in the war of independence against Turkey, and where you have to move around on foot or on donkey/mule/horse: no motorised vehicles allowed! A short hop away is Dokos, at present uninhabited except for lots of goats and the shepherds who tend them, but with some ruins indicating inhabitants over 3000 years ago! And finally, at the entrance to the Argolic Gulf, Spetses, another important island in the war of independence.

our route (click bigger)

We sailed out of Athens to Poros on Saturday June 2nd in the afternoon, arriving in the early evening. Then on to Spetses (with a lunch stop at Dokos), back to Dokos, then Hydra. From Hydra we went to Epidauros, VERY important archaeological site on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Then Aegina (pistachio capital of Greece) and finally back to Athens on Friday June 8th.

I'll be reliving this trip here on the blog this summer, with photos and videos and anecdotes, and you're welcome to join me! Tales of sailing and snorkelling and wandering around and visiting archaeological sites... So sit back, grab a daiquiri, and enjoy! I sure did! ;o)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Semana Santa: Domingo de Resurrección en Alicante 2011

Easter Sunday. Domingo de Resurección. Holy Week is over and the Church is rejoicing for Christ has risen! This makes for a very joyful procession on Easter morn! ;o)

I've only seen an Easter Sunday procession once before, when I was visiting a friend in a small town in Murcia about a decade ago, and it was something else! Very festive, big happy crowds, dancing thrones... (yes, the throne bearers made them dance!!! must have been exhausting) Quite a contrast from the sombre processions during the Semana Santa. I didn't expect it to be quite as much fun here in Alicante (small towns are always better than cities for these holidays!) when I went downtown last year,  and I was both right and wrong! The public were more onlookers than active participants, but those participating made sure it was a grand and joyous event! In any case, everyone was smiling (and cheering), which is always nice to see!

In Alicante only two figures participate in the procession for Domingo de Resurrección: Christ and the Virgin Mary. Each of them leaves from a different church (Christ from the Cathedral, the Virgin from the Iglesia de Santa María) and it is timed so they meet up in front of the Ayuntamiento at 12 noon and then head out together from there.

I made it down to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento with plenty of time to spare, and still only got a spot in the second row behind the barriers! Little by little the Plaza started filling up. Just in front of the Ayuntamiento doors  representatives of different Hermandades started gathering (they all participate together on Easter Sunday).

On either side of them were "regular" people who obviously knew they had to show up bright and early to get the best viewing spot. This one lady even brought a special friend with her! ;o)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Semana Santa: Procesión del Silencio en Callosa de Segura

It's Holy Week again! Better known in Spain as Semana Santa, when towns and cities all over the country host processions almost every day (sometimes more than one in a day) between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Last year I wrote quite a few posts about the processions in Alicante, but I couldn't find time to finish up the posts I had planned... so here we go again, better late than never! :o)
There are often several processions held on the same day during Semana Santa, each telling a part of the story of the passion of Christ. The most moving procession held on Holy Thursday is called the Procesión del Silencio (the "Silent Procession") and basically it commemorates Christ's crucifixion and death on the cross. It's a reminder of the sadness felt by the faithful at the death of Christ, and in a way could be considered a funeral procession. Only two pasos participate: the image of Christ crucified and the Virgin Mary in mourning (often called la Virgen de los Dolores or "Our Lady of Sorrows"). They are accompanied by a silent population, walking to the beat of a lonely drum, with only candles to light the darkness.

la pequeña Paquita!

 My first year back in Spain, I went with my parents on Holy Thursday to see the Procesión del Silencio in Callosa de Segura (much more info here if you can read Spanish), a small town in the southern part of the Province of Alicante. Not exactly next door, plus it meant driving home really late. So why go all the way down there for a procession? Trip down memory lane! My mom actually participated in the Holy Wednesday procession as a child one year when her family was living in Callosa in the mid-1950s (they moved around a lot), and she wanted to revisit the town during Holy Week! 

We had a lovely walk around town and dinner, with my mom pointing out places she remembered, and then we headed over to the 16th century Iglesia de San Martín from whence the procession was scheduled to start.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Exploring the Province of Alicante One Hike at a Time

So things have been awfully quiet around here since I wrapped up the Christmas Markets theme... sorry about that! It's just that I've been really busy what with my number of students increasing and the fact that I've been heading out hiking around the Province of Alicante most Sundays! This results in being exhausted on Monday and what little creative juices I have left after preparing/teaching my classes have gone into transforming my hikes (via photo selection/editing + writing) into blog posts on my "main blog" (under the tag Hiking Alicante). I've been wondering if I should just import those posts here... but it kind of seems like cheating to post things twice! Plus in my view this is my "travel blog" and for me hiking around Alicante doesn't count as travelling... but since I realise it might interest other travellers I hope to see visiting here, I figure I'll at least dedicate one post to hiking in Alicante and do a short presentation on all the hikes with links to the original posts, and then keep updating it with successive hikes. What do you think? (oops!, turns out I have a lot more hikes than I thought... so I'm doing a couple of posts!)

Physical map of Alicante (wikipedia)
The Province of Alicante may be one of the smaller provinces of Spain (41 out of 50 for surface), but it is the fourth most inhabited in the country (probably has something to do with the 23.6% which are foreigners)! In spite of this there are some "empty" areas in the province, mostly abandoned rural spaces or mountainous zones, since most of the population lives in an urban environment. Most people who visit Alicante just think of the Province as one big beach, since the coastal area and sunny climate are the big tourist draw here. Surprise, surprise: the Province of Alicante is actually the third or fourth most mountainous province of Spain! And these mountains create some pretty big climatological differences between the north and central parts of the province (proper Mediterranean climate so more rain, greener) vs the south and along the coast (semi-arid so dry and brown). This means hikes in one area will be quite different from those in another part of Alicante! The three highest peaks in Alicante are the Aitana (1558 m / 5112 ft), the Puig Campana (1410 m / 4626 ft) and the Montcabrer (1389 m / 4557 ft). So far I've climbed the last two. :o)

I used to do a lot of hiking as a teenager (lots of my family holidays involved mountains), but hadn't done much since I came to Spain for college. I started up again in Belgium in 2010 and in New Zealand in January 2011. So when I came back to Alicante in February 2011 I was anxious to keep it up! Unfortunately I didn't know the paths around here, or who to go hiking with (almost none of my friends are hikers). So I did what most people do in this day and age... I Googled it! Yup, I basically stuck "senderismo Alicante" in Google and out popped the Centro Excursionista de Alicante! A hiking (and climbing, canyoning, biking etc.) group that's been around for 60-odd years and organises outings for its members (and "friends") on weekends! Only problem was... only 1 hike / month! I couldn't go to the first two after I got back, then had a damn cycling accident and twisted my knee in April, and so couldn't join them for a hike until September! Since then I've done most of my hikes with them (and I became a member in Jan'12), but also with another group I found, the Trenet Senderista. Also, the Provincial Government organises hikes in the Fall and Spring, plus I've been hiking with friends I made through the various hikes, people who know the trails well enough to choose a nice spot to go to and won't get us lost! :D

Now, without further ado, I give you: Hiking in Alicante 2011! (Clicking on the names will take you to the posts)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Christmas Markets: Maastricht and Koln

I had planned on finishing the Christmas market series with Aachen... but then I felt bad for these two orphaned markets! I can't write an individual post about each because I have very few photos of them, don't remember the one in Köln (or Cologne) very well, and well, the Maastricht one isn't really worth writing home about! But then I figured I might as well wrap things up, and if I ever get back to Köln someday in a month of December then I'll just write another more complete post. ;o)

Let's start with the Köln Christmas Market, of which in fact there are at least 7 (4 big ones) in different spots around the city! Both times I went, in 2000 and 2005 (these photos, can't find the prints from 2000, must be in a box still!)

Glühwein mugs from Köln's Christmas Market

Friday, January 6, 2012

Christmas Markets: Wilkommen auf den Aachener WeihnachtsMarkt!

So I started out this series with two Belgian Christmas Markets as those were the ones closest to me when I lived there, but now it's time to visit my favourite of them all (well, of those I've visited!): the Christmas Market in Charlemagne's old capital city: Aachen - Aix La Chapelle - Aquisgrán (pick your language!).

Aachen is less than an hour's train ride from Liège, and I think I've been at least 4 or 5 times (to the Christmas Market, plus a couple more trips in the Spring)! Let me check my cupboard to be sure (you'll find out why about the cupboard later).
The cupboard says I've been there 4 times for the Christmas Market.

 It's an easy walk from the train station to the Christmas Market area... it's only about 10-15' following the signs for the "Dom" (Cathedral), or you could just go with the flow! Litterally. Just follow the rest of the people coming out of the train station... I can pretty much guarantee you that on a December morning most of them are there for the same reason you are! They're all going here:

Welcome to Aachen's Christmas Market!