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Traveling to Spain and France

by Chrissi

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After going through several security checks at the airport in Cartagena, we boarded the small Avianca jet and arrived in Bogota without mishap. Bogota is the capitol of Columbia, a big city high in the Andes mountains. The temperature there was freezing. For the first time in many years I saw my breath condensing in the frigid air as we stepped off the plane. I was dressed in a t-shirt, jeans and sandals, and I tried to hug up close to Jack to keep from dying of hypothermia. We retrieved my thin jacket from our checked baggage, but by that time it was too late and I knew I had caught a bad chill.

The nine hour flight from Bogota to Madrid was a nightmare; I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t stay warm enough. I was feverish and dizzy and don’t even remember changing planes in Madrid. Jack’s brother Howie and his wife Carmen met us at the airport in Barcelona and drove us to their comfortable condo in Espluges, an affluent suburb of Barcelona. I was so glad to have finally arrived, and I went straight to bed.

Howie is a professor at the University of Barcelona and teaches economics. He is sixty-five years old but you would never know it from looking at him. He runs in marathons, hang glides, wind surfs, and wants to take up kite surfing. Amazing man. His beautiful and intelligent wife Carmen is a medical doctor, a heart specialist, as well as an excellent cook. We spent two weeks visiting with them and they showed us a really spectacular time.

After a nice long nap, Howie and Carmen took us to a street festival in the nearby suburb of Gracia. I didn’t feel like doing anything except staying in bed, but reluctantly I got up, got dressed, and had a good time in spite of myself. The street festival in Gracia was the beginning of a fast paced whirlwind of so many different sights, activities and adventures in Europe, I can’t believe we were able to pack so much into one month.

One night we watched in wonder as the Magic Fountain performed its majestic dance. The fountain mechanically alters its flow of water through its many water jets, sometimes spraying water high into the air, sometimes swirling it in low concentric spirals. Spotlights within the fountain flash, swivel and change color in harmony with the shifting water flow, and all this is set to dramatic music playing from hidden speakers. Thousands of people, both tourists and residents, stood around and watched this magical performance with us.

The Rambla is a long pedestrian park set between two roads. All along its length there are open-air cafes and restaurants. Artists and craftsmen sell their work alongside flower stalls and newspaper and book kiosks. There are exotic bird venders selling parrots and songbirds, and musicians and street performers ply their eccentric trade. Of the street performers, my favorites were the statue people. They were painted and dressed as some fanciful character, and would stand or sit perfectly still until a coin was dropped into the hat or bowl in front of them. Then, with mechanical slowness, they would acknowledge your presence and make some kind of theatrical movement, then return to their immobility.

We visited many beautiful churches and cathedrals, but the one that stands out most in my memory is the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. It is a monstrosity of towers, winding stairways and intricate stone carving. This massive cathedral whose opulence far exceeds good taste is still under construction and will be for several more decades. The architect of this fantastic tribute to God was a lunatic named Gaudi.

Gaudi was a very successful architect in his time. Jack’s brother pointed out many structures in Barcelona that were designed by the madman. One of Gaudi’s trademarks is the absence of right angles. Everything is curvy and off center, and much of the stonework looks like it’s melting. He even designed his own park surrounding his residence. Walking through it is like stepping into someone’s idea of an LSD trip.

We spent an entire day at Port Adventura, a massive theme park run by Universal Studios. We rushed around to all corners of the park to catch interesting performances like the exotic bird show, a thousand and one ways to tie a pareo, Polynesian dancing and an oriental magic show. I ate enough cotton candy and junk food to make my teeth hurt, then almost lost it all on the worlds loopiest roller coaster.

Carmen had a special diversion in store for us; the pre- medieval village where she had lived as a child was having its annual festival. We were invited to stay at Carmen’s aunt’s house where we were given a comfortable guest room, and treated to traditional Catalunian lunch feasts. We watched as angry bulls were let loose in the town square and men, both young and old, taunted and teased them. This included Jack and Howie. The men bravely ran across the square while the bulls charged after them. Spectators like myself and Carmen remained inside the steel cages provided, but the bulls were angry enough to attack the cages too, so even inside the protective steel bars I still screamed in terror. After the sun set they took the meanest of the three bulls and set his horns on fire, then let him run around the square and chase the men some more. The festival wasn’t just about torturing the animals, there were also parades, music and dancing with traditional costumes and dress.

Jack and I rented a car and drove to France to visit some of his old friends. We drove past acre upon acre of apple and pear orchards, past hundreds of sunflower fields and endless grape vineyards. We decided after several successful raids on the orchards that I was the reason people put up fences.

The first stop (not counting the pillage and plunder) was the ancient village of San Antonin where Mary, the energetic and generous mother of Jack’s good friend Daniel lives. She let us stay in her newly renovated townhouse that dates back about a thousand years. San Antonin is the village where Jack lived for six months while he was writing his book “La nuit ou les beateaux volaient” (The Night the Boats Flew.) We walked along streets so narrow that I could reach out with my arms and touch the buildings on either side with my fingertips. Tiles embedded into the walls of the houses proclaim the street names in the dead language of Oc. Most of the town’s architecture dates back to a bygone era, one of lords and ladies, peasants and surfs. The village not only looks and smells old, it stirs a sixth sense, a ghostly feeling of days long past melding with modern times.

We drove for hours along picturesque roads that wound through mountains and farm lands. We only got lost once and Jack insisted it was due to my faulty navigating. We visited the erstwhile villages of Fenerol, Cord Sur Ciel, and Penne, each with its adjacent castle, and drove along the Aveyron river with its weirs and mills. We drove to La Rochelle, a seaside town from Jack’s yacht racing past. We walked along the busy marina and waterfront with hundreds of other tourists, and on the advice of Jack’s friend Daniel, we checked into a hotel on the edge of the twilight zone.

Staying at the B&B hotel was a little like stepping into a virtual reality. The whole experience was computer automated. The parking lot doesn’t have an attendant at the gate, instead you drive up, swipe your credit card, the gate goes up, and you park. You can’t get your car out of the lot without swiping your card again. Instead of security guards there are security cameras. The front desk is only open for three hours in the evening, the man at the front desk looked and acted like an escapee from a hospital for the criminally insane. Which was o.k. because we didn’t really need him to check in. Instead of a normal hotel check-in procedure, there is a machine near the front door, it looks like a bank ATM.. To check in you swipe your credit card and it gives you a code number. Then, you enter this code number into the keypad at the front door and you’re inside the hotel. In the ‘lobby’ there is an automated café that consists of several vending machines. One dispenses water and soft drinks, another dispenses coffee and hot chocolate. Another has snacks, candies and condoms, and still another machine dispenses hot sandwiches and burgers. Of course there is the change machine too. The elevator works just like any other elevator. Just push the button. Once you get to your room, instead of a key or a key card you enter the code number from the ATM machine into the keypad and voila, you’re in! Telephone and TV deposits are handled at the ATM machine also. I wondered if they used robots to change sheets and clean the rooms.

We drove to Fort Bloque, a modern seaside village where I had the pleasure of meeting the world’s foremost expert on yachting history. Daniel Charles is the author of many books about yachts and related subjects. He is a dear friend of Jack’s, a wonderful host and an excellent chef. He introduced me to the delights of stewed rabbit and Monte Python. In his immediate future he plans to build an aluminum live-aboard proa. He showed me the plans he’d drawn up, they’re only slightly less radical than his racing proa designs.

We stayed with Daniel for several days in Fort Bloque and made forays to the nearby towns of L’Orient and Concarneau. This part of France is called Brittany and its residents have a far reaching history as seafarers. Everywhere we went we saw sailboats, but in particular, Brittany is home to the largest concentration of high performance multihulls in the world. We saw several boats designed by Dick Newick, the architect for Naga. We met up with Nigel Irens, another famous multihull designer, and he showed us some of his latest creations, one being an ultra light hydrofoil trimaran capable of 40+ knots.

We were invited to sail on a 1.8 million dollar yacht, the newest sixty something foot catamaran built by Catana. The helmsman wore a suit and tie. I was wishing I had on a full length fur coat and mittens. (sailing at 48 Degrees north latitude in September is a little less than tropical.) I thought it was a beautiful boat. Jack wasn’t as charitable in his opinions; he said it was like sailing a truck. After the sail we went to an inauguration party for the new Catana factory where Jack met up with some long lost friends from the glamourous world of offshore racing.

Daniel drove us to La Trinite sur Mer, a large port town littered with sexy fast sailboats. Bundled up in winter coats we watched from the dock as all the current yacht racing superstars competed on Formula 28 catamarans. My hero and favorite superstar Ellen McArthur was racing too. She came 1st in the last Route de Rhum race (single handed from France to Guadeloupe) and second in the last Vendee Globe (single handed non-stop round the world race.) Unfortunately she wasn’t doing so well in the round the buoys match race.

On the drive back to Spain we stopped in Castlenaudary for several cans of pork-n-beans. In France, its called cassoulet and its one of Jack’s favorite dishes. They throw some beans in with a little goose lard, call it gourmet and sell it at exorbitant prices. I don’t see what the big deal is, it’s still just pork (or duck or goose) and beans.

Our last stop before returning to Barcelona was the Salvador Dali museum. It’s hard to believe that man wasn’t tripping on LSD when he painted all those melting clocks and dripping people. I have a suspicion that Salvador Dali was a good friend and party buddy with the mad architect Gaudi.

Howie and Carmen had taken a vacation to Argentina, so when we returned to Barcelona we had their condo to ourselves for a couple of days. Jack took advantage of Howie’s super-fast internet connection, and there he stayed, lost in cyberspace, until it was time to catch our flight back to Columbia. I went for one last shopping spree in what would be the last ‘first world country’ I visit for a long while. We had packed so much fun and activity into such a short period of time that Jack and I were both mentally and physically exhausted. We had a wonderful time but were glad to get back to Naga and our laid back ‘third world’ island pace.


Our sailing adventures in photos and textEvery kind of helpful resource for sailors and travelersWeather for sailorsMaking a living onboard or on the roadLinks to friends and related sites


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