Winter in Barcelona…the words rolled off my tongue…and my computer… so frequently and for so many years they acquired the aura of a travel brochure.
Or was it 11 years in the Caribbean…or a brain addled by encroaching old age… or simply massive denial that made me forget there is an actual reality behind the word winter?
But speaking of denial, which one of us do you think has not yet accepted the reality of 45 degree temps?
I have to admit, it’s not been the easy slide into an uncomplicated and exciting life I envisioned. Which is perhaps why you have not heard quite so frequently from us since our arrival…Here’s the briefest I am capable of…Hope it’s not too repetitive for some of you…
The transition would have been easier had the shipping company kept its side of the bargain. Instead Seven Stars cancelled the September transport to Palma de Mallorca. Nonetheless we were greeted by tee-shirts-and-shorts weather when we arrived.
This was the view from our transom—La Seu, the Palma de Mallorca cathedral.
Then, whammo. Cold, windy and rainy today. Layers of warm clothing. Wool socks. Time to test the boat heaters, which we’d never used, of course.
Only two of five heaters were working…
But who to call? Our friend Mike, an old Mediterranean salt, who we met years ago covered—then, in Bonairean salt—recommended José. José fixed one, while grunting in Thpanith. We need to replace the other. The last one maybe is Gary-fixable, later.
Definitely not Caribbean conditions. Definitely not ready for this. What would it be like in January??
On the other hand Mike also introduced to a wonderful new kind of Oriental cuisine—Conveyor Belt. We went immediately. Just our style. 20 miles or so of individual plates more or less passing by our noses—well, actually more like shoulder height. All we had to do was be prepared to grab what we wanted before the fellas in front and behind got there first. Needless to say we won handily. Score one for the New Yorker gourmands.
And…it was good. 52 dishes for the four of us. (fixed price 9 euros, ($13) per person, alls you can eat: ribs, lo-mein, thick and thin; fried rice; many types sushi; chicken with veggies, chicken sweet and sour, Chicken General Jose; dim sim baskets; clams; mussels; pork a million ways; bacon-wrapped fig; many-kinds fishies; assorted fried mysteries; soy sauce asparagus; mixed mushrooms, lychees; pineapple, melon, you name it….even ice cream, Oriental flan and birthday-type cake.
Left bursting—with gift Chinese calendars. Honest!
Wednesday November 17, 2010… was to be a fine day.
At last we were bound for Barcelona. All three boats, Jackie, Paul and Janet, all back from London, the boats all readied and looked like we’d been blessed with a decent, if not quite perfec, weather window predicted for our 120 mile overnight.
We set out in a dull, somewhat tarnished gold sunlight, temperature around 55 degrees—hardly Carribean weather, but we’d almost become accustomed to that after nearly after two weeks in Palma.
We steamed out of Palma harbor but stopped to wait for Feisty who had some trouble leaving a tight slip in the wind. Steamed soon became the operative word… as in LULU’s Perkins engine began overheating yet again...a problem we struggled with all summer in Ft Lauderdale. Gary was cursing (as he is rarely wont to do), indeed almost blaming Señor Juan, whose pockets we lined with some 3,000 shekels to fix this overheating problem.
We were rolling around in big waves. Gary suddenly remembered, as he turned the color of those shekels—green—that he'd forgotten to take his Bonine.
Clearly we could not continue. We sent Feisty and Matilda on their way, reluctant as they were to leave us here, all alone, in the big, scary, brand new Mediterranean.
We anchored a while, to cool the engine down and hoping to fix it in the harbor and thus not have to do back into a marina slip—that is, have to undertake the dreaded Med Moor so soon after leaving. But, alas, the water was too rolly. We hoped the problem was nothing more than a clogged strainer. But no such luck.
As his head cleared, Gary remembered we did motor all the way to Palm Beach with no overheating problems and so charitably (but only interimly) forgave Señor Juan.
We limped back into the harbor, hoping to tie up at our marina's fuel dock and check out the impeller, which would be the next best repair scenario. Alas, the fuel dock was full. Across the harbor was a huge, almost cruiseship-size, side-tie slip that looked available at some other big marina, so we figure “Boat In Distress,” how could they refuse us?
How could they? Easy it turned out...
We pulled in, with the help of a crew person from a mega-yacht passing by. Our neighbors seemed to be Larry Ellison (Katana or Rising Sun or whatever his latest boat is) Leslie Wexner (Limitless) and assorted Saudi Sheiks...
In fact, I remembered just the day before as we sat eating grilled-foot-long German bratwursts at a sidewalk café and watching the club across the way, this very slip that we pulled into had been occupied by a humongous, dark-bluest of blue boats that had been pointed out as the Current Biggest-Private-Boat-In-The-World. Now, wasn't it nice of that boat to leave just in time for our engine problems?
We had apparently pulled into Club (pronounced CLOOB) de Mar, the most exclusive and privatest club in Palma. Well, turns out, they don't cotton to the likes of us, who do not fly any Famous World Yacht Club Ensigns...Our Castaways Yacht Club, New Rochelle burgee long ago shredded and in any event would not have qualified.
Of course I didn't know this as I picked up the radio and hailed Cloob de Mar with my engine problem. "No,” said someone, “this is a private club, you can't stay." Of course I thought whoever was kidding. Especially when he/she/it didn't call back.
And of course we couldn't do much or go anywhere or even fix anything yet because the engine was still hot.
An hour later when the copper in the blue suit came and told us the Port Captain said we had to leave immediately, he looked very serious indeed.
I had to start smiling seriously—TD& Fing we used to call it in New Rochelle. (Tap Dancing & Farting.)
I got escorted to the Oficina with the boat papeles (papers)...and guess what? They found me a slip in the very private cloob. Course the only slip they could find me was for a 22 meter ship, and we’re only 18. And that's without electricity and water and internet, which naturally cost more. And don’t forget the 18% VAT. Course even if we get to the 22 meter slip we couldn't even set up the electric lines because we couldn't get off the boat because the dinghy was in the way because we were set up for travel and we were definitely not putting the passerelle out because we were leaving in the morning...maybe, if we were lucky, if we could only fix this.
They just wouldn’t let us stay along the wall because it's very, very dangerous...unless you’re a Saudi Arabian sheik with a 400 foot boat. It was kinda surge-y, I have to admit....Meanwhile going back to the actual overheating problem, now that was 7:30 and Gary had gotten his head and hips and heart into it, was LUCKY US, after paying 100 euros for the slip in the very exclusive private club, plus 10 (or was it 15?) euros for internet for a day, it was the impeller... So Señor Juan was off the hook for good.
So now there was time to move into our Prada slip because the dock marineros would come (up until 9PM) and help us move in (the dreaded Med Moor this time with no third party onboard to help, plus this time in the dark), but we couldn’t reach the electric box or get off the boat anyway, so as my Philosopher King husband Gary said, it costs the same whether we move or we don’t. We'll get the same reprimand one way or the other from the Powers That Be. So we decided to sit there, tell them we didn't fix it in time and live with the surge. And that’s when I heard the heavenly of the Perkins humming...with no concurrent burning smell!! Positively Mozartian…
But not long after we heard a new knocking. The polizia were back. There was no escaping the move to the slip. Something about dock liability. And so we moved. But no way we were Med-Mooring in the dark. So we Bow-Firsted. Inasmuch as we were not getting off the boat. And the electricians were off duty by the time we got into the slip anyway, so we Cinderellas got no electricity at all. We huddled in our$300-a night slip, a small white pimple on the dark asses of these two great big Saudi-Arabian hulks just waiting for dawn to come over the pyramids.
But, just a day later, we pulled into stunning Barcelona at dawn, engine working just fine.
The city is right outside of our marina.
Filled with art and whimsy.
DECEMBER 2010… Every day we go for long walks. Sensational architecture, so much from the 1300’s, so little new. Tiny alleys and winding streets everywhere. Stores and shops and restaurants—end to end, scarves next to chocolates next to shoes next to old master paintings next to tapas. You never know what you’ll find. Very old amazing churches, a cluster of Roman columns from BC. Street theater wherever we turn.
One day we found “Wok N’ Walk,” freshly prepared wok stuff to order. Pick from the list (one side Spanish, one side Ingles) and they stir it up. Pretty good; familiar, comforting flavors.
Next shop had bagels at $2.50 each!! Sold by an Arabic type… well, it looked like a bagel. We’ll see tomorrow at breakfast how they are. I surmise they were not Concord-ed in from H&H. Just guessing.
Next day a Russian gourmet market, where we found some aomamhrr schmand, (sour cream). None anywhere else. Not exactly Breakstone’s, but not bad at all. I put it on my bananas, not exactly Chiquita’s, but not bad at all.
Lots of young people walking around, not glamorous and sexy like in Venezuela or Colombia. But, not bad at all.
Nobody has a tan, including us. Pale faces everyplace. The weather is something to get used to, mid 50’s sunny days mid 30’s starry nights. We are slowly getting more OK with that. BUT… at least one of us is still dreaming of St Martin.
Taking Spanish lessons….Buenos dias, you-all. The local Catalan word for OK is “Vale”, pronounced Vah-lay, you hear it everyplace.
Another night a fun cruiser party. 12 at a local pizza joint. It still cost $80 a couple. We of course, chose the Italian Chianti. Which contributed to it costing $80 a couple I’m sure. Met some new Americans. New for us that is, they have been Americans all along.
Thousands of restaurants here. I’m guessing at least one must be good. We will find it. (One of us has already found some she likes just fine.)
There are many big markets with lots of stalls with very fresh veggies, meat and fish. Also lots of bakeries with really good bread.
Had a haircut…... Well….. it’ll grow out.
We are really living in Europe. I had to go out and buy a wheelie shopping cart to take to the local market, a whole building of greengrocers and butchers and fishmongers just like in the travel books…I go almost every day, just like a Spanish abuela (grandma…well, I got the grandma part licked before I got here, didn’t I?)
Every stall bursts with a different, never-prepackaged local or regional specialty…recently-caught fish, clams, scallops, eels, squids; smoked Iberian hams; cheeses; poultry; pork; produce; mysterious jars and cans…
No pre-cut Perdue Styrofoam packets here—sickly yellowish filets sitting in questionable pink juices—though even the supermarket sells fresh suckling pig.
The mustachioed butcher whose stand you’ve selected after combing the market for quality and freshness clues takes a plump breast of chicken, tosses it on a well-worn slab, sharpens his knife in a flourish of steel and carves it into cutlets just the thickness you want, right in front of your nose… all the while jabbering in Catalan about how lucky you are you got the best butcher in the market. And how he’ll see you again on Tuesday, Dios willing.
Happened to me just yesterday. Fried up the chicken last night. Fabulous…
Dios willing, I’ll see him Martes.
Question…When is a bagel not a bagel?
Answer…When an Arab sells it to you for $2.50…Or when you’re dumb enough to buy it from him…
On the other hand, the bakery right around the corner is so terrific there’s a line to get in almost all the time.
NEW YEARS DAY… The weather outside here in Barcelona is 50 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s raining. The Barcelona World Race started today, here, on the next dock.
24 sixty-foot-long open ocean racing sailboats sailing/racing around this planet Earth, non-stop, with a two man/two woman crew over the next three months.
These meshugganas, with their craft, were on display for the past several weeks, preparing, adjusting, fixing, whatever.
We never found out what they eat on this three-month lunacy. Or why they want to do it. But, do it they will. And they’ll come back in March… Theoretically, we’ll be here to greet the bedraggled who return. May not be all of them. They’ll pass through all thee dangerous, windy, scary capes—Good Hope, No Hope and Lost Hope, we’re thinking. Plus something like 20 different climate zones. More even than Al Gore could invent.
Lady Lunatic Team Leaves the Dock
For our New Year’s Eve we saw the movie, The King’s Speech. Quite good. And before it a late lunch at the super fancy Arts Hotel restaurant. One of us went for yet another crappy burger. Guess which one? But this one cost $32. That’s 32 U.S. bucks for a crappy burger. Barfalona struck again.
But the other of us, you probably imagine who, went for the risotto con funghi (mushrooms fresh from the acclaimed Boqueria market) all properly stirred and quite fabulous at just a hair or two more (no hairs to be found either) Okay, so that cost 32 EUROS, which is more like $45 bucks. Plus a glass of Cava…only one. Economy measure. (Cava, you will remember, is the Catalan-equivalent of Champagne and Prosecco. At least they think so.)
Second but….the hotel served free excellent hot chocolate to us (and everybody else.)
And now for the message…..We wish each and every one a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2011. And for all the years to come.
Lulu & Gary
JANUARY, FEBRUARY 2011… The adjustment continues. Our marina—the best Barcelona has to offer—has no clubhouse, which means no happy hours, no potlucks, no dominoes, no revelry in general, and because it is winter, few opportunities to meet other cruisers. Mostly people don’t live on boats in the winter we’ve discovered…except in the Caribbean, Gary likes to point out to me.
And alas, Gary never did find what he considers a really good restaurant. He simply hasn’t adjusted to Spanish, much less Catalan food. Even gave up the quest for a decent hamburger, although he did develop quite a fondness for the teeny, weeny tapas burgers at Cerviceria Catalunya.
The solution, I told him, was to eat multiples.
But mostly he prefers to grumble about the food in BARFalona, which refrain has now been taken up by most of our family and friends. Truthfully, it’s been hard for both of us to drum up much enthusiasm about leaving the boat at 8 or 9 PM in the cold, knowing even if we do the restaurants will be largely empty, as dinners and diners do not rev up at all until maybe 10 here or in most Spanish cities.
But I, on the other hand, have unearthed what I consider to be some real culinary treasures…
Montiel Suckling Pig Dos Palillos Pork Jowls
Free-Range Filet Mignon Chicken Sashimi Cal Pep’s Tuna Sashimi
Calçots (pronounced Cal-Sots), a cross between scallions and leeks, with Romesco Sauce
Despite the cold, we continued walking and sightseeing during the day and generally being wowed by the city, the architecture and the imprint of Antoni Gaudí, in particular. Though it’s impossible to capture the genius and range of this man, here are a few favorite shots:
All in all, though our bellies may not be quite as stuffed as usual, our spirits have been nourished and our minds enriched by this winter in Barcelona.