Thursday, August 12, 2010

Goodbye Spain

Goodbye ocean!

We're driving home.

We loved your beaches.

The Ride to our House

See the video below, it is really a one lane road. The song we are singing comes from a audiobook about a dragon Kokusnus and his friends and their adventures. We listened to the stories on our long drives. Pascal liked the stories the most, whereas we kind of got tired of it after the third time. Anyways we all learned the theme song.

The Rivers of Cantabaria

Don't forget the rivers of spain. Water comes all the way from the snow covered rocky Picos du Europa, and cascades down smooth river rocked beds. In one town after lunch, we climbed down the river bank and soaked our feet in the refreshing water. Tessa and Anika discovered how to paint on rocks (with a wet twig) and made some art. Pascal had an infinite supply of rocks to throw. I almost fell asleep sitting on a rock, legs dangling in the cool water, the gentle sound of the river filling my ears.

Panoramic Beach View (Click it!)

A panoramic view of a typical coved beach. Click picture for nice big view. Those are caves to the left. There were also the remnants of some sort of building built into the cliff wall and cave entrance. It was obviously destroyed by the river mouth pointing directly at it. When the tide went out rock climbers started to scale the cliffs. See post below about Caves, Paleolithic art, and Churches.

Anika and Pascal are above just past the white water to the right.

Caves and Churches

On our drive to Spain we passed through the "Valley of Humans" in southwestern France. Here are the famous paleolithic caves paintings of Lascaux. We didn't have a chance to visit any caves here, but there were paleolithic caves in northern Spain. We went to one hidden in a cliff right next to the beach in Ribadisella. The original opening to the cave was closed by a landslide god knows when, so the cave wasn't discovered until the early sixties by amatuer cave climbers.

There are many paleolithic cave paintings strewn threw the labyrinth of caves. We could only see one set of paintings. There were three main paintings one almost 40,000 years old and the newest maybe 20,000 years old. The paintings were charcoal drawings of reindeer and horses, very beautifully done and they all used the natural rock itself as part of the drawing (i.e. a crack in the rock could be used as an outline of a horse limb). There were small more schematic animal drawings, a proportionally correct detailed drawing of a horse head, and a "impressionistic" purple colored drawing of a horse. The guide said that Picasso when seeing the cave paintings said something like: "it's all been done before, the symbolic, the realistic, the impressionistic, and the abstract." We humans haven't really changed that much, it's only our technology that has really advanced.

You have to walk in these caves to understand this, but I'll try here. These are large caves with water sculpted walls (the caves were originally carved out by an underground river), the ceilings can be 20 meters high or more. The stalactites hanging from the ceiling are grotesque and come in many shapes and forms. Their design is elaborate. These caves and the drawings were, I think, like churches to paleolithic humans. Walk into any gothic church and you can feel the cave-like atmosphere, the almost grotesque ornamentation, the darkness punctuated by light streaming down from above, the carved and painted figures all around. Really the church is but an elaboration of the cave!

Now consider this: the stone in the caves is a kind of sandstone usually, which is soft enough that water can carve out the cave in the first place. The churches are often of the very same stone! And then in the mountains of Spain we saw an alter of sorts set in an actual cave! It is shown in the topmost picture above. The religious alter was built into the cave wall. The stream below the natural waterfall was damed off to make a reflective little lake. And haven't I seen these little fake "grottos" with, I think, a figure of Mary, in the vestibules of various catholic churches. I don't know, the parallels between cave and church are astonishingly many. And aren't these fake "caves" built into numerous public fountains around Europe. Think of King Ludwig's fantasy grotto he built for Wagner, with the swan shaped boats. Caves have been particularly special to humans for some time, and still are.

Sideria Pouring

All over the region of Spain we were in (Austurias, Cantabaria) they drink Sidra, a hard apple cider. The pouring of the drink is the thing.

The first restaurant we visited in Austurias was really a nothing special, a practical hole in the wall type of place. But we were hungry. The food turned out great, even though we didn't really have a clue what we were ordering. All the dishes were tapas, which is kind of like ordering food Chinese style. I love to eat this way. One tapas was largish mushrooms fried in a tempura like batter, topped off with a sweat cream with black small fish roe laying in the cream. It was delicious. Another tapas was tomatoes, stuffed with cheese and drizzled with a honey sauce. Also very good.

Our waiter was a funny guy. In between serving our dishes he hung around the bar eating Pringles chips from the can. His other trick was pouring the spanish cider, Sidra. Basically he assumes the stance of a matador, head up, legs straight, chest out. He takes the Sidra bottle in one hand and raises his arm straight in the air as high as he can reach. The other hand holds the drinking glass, and he holds the glass slightly tilted and as low as he can. Then he looks away toward the wall and begins to pour from the bottle held high above his head, and attempts to hit the glass held down by his knees. Of course, it's practically impossible to do this without splattering Cider all out the glass, and pouring a fair amount directly onto the ground. The whole time the Cider is spraying all around the waiter doesn't move hardly an inch, just a little with his bottom hand to better catch the Cider. Second thing: you don't pour your own glass of Cider, the waiter is constantly hovering about and will fill your glass before it is empty always by the matador method. There are Sideria or "cider bars" everywhere in Austurias. To handle the cider pouring business in the busier bars they have little "machines" on the tables that will pour your cider for you. So.... when in northern Spain, don't pour your own cider - either your matador-waiter will do it, or the machine will.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Beach Terrariums and Cannons

We had a certain routine at the beach. Show up around 10am - the beaches are deserted because the Spainish like to stay up late in the night. Anika starts collecting snails, little to medium sized crabs and hermit crabs. She digs a hole in the sand, fills it with water, either by the tide or a bucket, decorates the premises and places here animals in their new pen. Pascal helps a little, and when there is a bit of surf he gladly plays for hours jumping over the incoming whitewash, karate kicking the foam, etc. He was in the water so long he needed to take a rest more than once because of blue lips.

A typical beach. Mountains in the background, little coves and wading pools. Fine sand all around. Not many people out before noon.

Anika digging a pen for her creature collection.

Anika's dugout pen with a bunch of hermit crabs.

Nice wading pools, and we weren't the only ones poking about for crabs and the like. I think these folks were collecting crabs to eat later. By the way Spanish food is really good. I'm sure they have a delicious preparation for the little rock crabs found all around.

Pascal's penguin ready to be shot out the barrel of a rusty cannon.

A Stickbug!

It didn't move a millimeter, looks like it is missing a leg, and there it was on the stone wall to our vacation house. I thought these bugs were only tropical. Guess not.

Wild Horses

In the mountains, in addition to cows and horses are free ranging "wild" horses. We found some grazing alongside a lookout stop, and in the mossy forest below. They look a little smaller than your average horse, and behaved more like cows I guess than what I might think is gallopy horse behavior. I'm not even sure they are truly wild, but there was no fence, and the horses were roaming about freely.

Arrival in Northern Spain!

We made it to Spain! The ocean! The beach! The air! This picture above is Pascal jumping off the sea wall in Biarritz, France actually. It's a tony town for sure, but a nice beach and real surf. For your ferrari driving caviar snacking surfer to be sure. The car garage was the best: we drove down, down, down in this cave-like garage to level -7. Opened the car doors, stretched our car-sitting tired legs, turned the corner and at the end of the exit tunnel is a perfectly framed view of the beach and ocean of Biarretz. Stunning! And so welcome after 6 hours in the car.

Above is our main beach in the town of Ribadisella, not far from our vacation house. We went here maybe 4 times. I rented a surf board and went surfing twice. The guys renting the surfboard were so apologetic about the waves that they let me surf for free the second time. The waves weren't actually that bad, also not that good, but it's summer afterall. I had a really fun time surfing, no crowds, pretty comfortable water temp in a 3/2mm wetsuit, and even some fun little waves (better than Pacifica, CA my old home break).

The air temperature was perfect, a modest 75 degrees maybe a little warmer in the full sun. The water temp was bracing at the beginning getting in, but actually you could swim in the ocean for a good 1/4 hour and feel comfortalbe without chilling down too far.

That's our house in the picture above. Look for the red roof in the right half of the picture just below the dark green and rocky hillside, and just above the light green hillside in the foreground.

The countryside in northern Spain is green, hilly and beautiful. Above are some of the views from our house. A huge mountain chain the Picos de Europe begins in this region, and right next to the coast. The air is fresh from the ocean, and when the beach is too hot, the mountains are only 10 minutes away. Our house was minutes up a one lane road snaking through pastures and little vegetable gardens. That's Sabine sitting on our patio overlooking a beautiful valley. In the mornings the mist would rise out of the valley to the clinking sounds of cow bells.

But Spain has tons of beaches right next to those mountains. Here's Pascal "not getting wet" this time. There are beaches, and beautiful ones all up and down the coast.

This is Carmalita the horse who spent the week in the field just at the beginning of the road to our vacation home. We pet her everyday on our way to and from the house. Several mornings, Anika and Tessa walked up the road from our house to feed Carmalita carrots.

Portrait of two clean, and ready for bed children.