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Sunday, July 31, 2011, in Valencia, Spain

Hi everyone. We’ve just arrived in Valencia, working our way up the coast of Spain. Last week, we had just arrived in Alicante.

It was Sunday, and we knew that town would be quiet. We thought that the large nearby mall with national chain stores would be open, but the marina office assured us that it would not. We walked around the perimeter of the marina harbor, and there was activity in the restaurants surrounding the water. This didn’t entice us; we’d eaten lunch already, and we’re not generally tempted when the signs are big on English and light on the local language, or in this case, languages.

At the city end of the harbor is a paved promenade, and across a well-trafficked street is another, this one wide and with tiles designed in that dizzying wave pattern we’d seen in Portugal. I learned later that it holds 6.5 million tiles in all. On one end of the strip was a crowded beach, but this sunny Sunday didn’t steal all the people away from town. And I could see why; this place was inviting.

There’s a fountain with cherubs and life-sized statues. Two lions guard the entrance to this median from the main part of town. A large section is flanked with huge banyan trees that offer beauty and cool rainforest respite from the afternoon Mediterranean sun. Another section is lined with tall palm trees. If the park planners were going for grand, well, they nailed it.

Among the many summer activities being offered in Alicante, there are two concerts a week in a stage shell along this paved park. We managed to arrive on a day one was scheduled, and watched the municipal symphonic band (think brass instruments playing classical pieces.) Then we walked in one direction after another. The promenade was host to kiosks selling impulse goods: cheap jewelry, sundresses, souvenirs that say “Alicante” on them, and colorful flamenco dresses for kids. They also sold ornate fans, the kind you associate with Spanish ladies. It turns out that you can look over the concert audience in the park and see lots of actual fans put to use, even in modern times.

Another row of kiosks is billed as an art festival and sells slightly more upscale goods, although they’re still jewelry and fans. Performance artists abound: the ubiquitous South American flute music (although this time the main product is the flutes themselves), a couple dancing tango, a Japanese man playing a recognizable sort of music on an instrument that’s part violin and part tiny guitar that I’d never seen before.

Any public place in Europe has its array of young people one step above panhandling. They dress in a unique way, normally covered in a single color, gold, silver, or white, and stand perfectly still. We’ve seen these people everywhere, from Sweden to the Med. They leave a hat or a box exposed for tips. Then you toss in a coin and the person moves, or they do something related to however it is that they’re dressed. It appears to be the worst summer job that you could ever have, and you barely get paid for it. But we even saw some original human statues in Alicante. One woman was dressed as a tree, with roots and leaves. The costume was as professional as you might see on the stage, and she interacted with children (which I think is good marketing, if you’re looking for tips.) Another person was a lookalike Edward Scissorhands, gleefully mock-cutting kids’ hair with giant scissor fingers while their parents snapped photos. Yet another guy sat inside a box with only his made-up head exposed, with two other severed heads on either side of him. Occasionally, he’d pop out his head with a roar, like a jack-in-the-box, and scare the dickens out of passers-by.

Then there’s the enormous box of a ship in the harbor, the Santisima Trinidad (the Holy Trinity.) This is a replica of one of the ships of Spain’s Royal Navy, which surrendered to the quite-fleet British fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar. It was, in its day (launched in 1768 and rebuilt around 1802), the most-heavily armed vessel in the world. It sailed poorly from the weight of the guns and the height of the gundecks, giving it the nickname El Ponderoso (which I’ll simply translate as “El Tubbo”). Today, the replica (a former merchant ship with wood siding and an enormous lion-king figurehead) is open for browsing, and there is a near-permanent line of families awaiting entry.

Though there are lots of attractions for visitors in Alicante, we chose instead to live like locals --- strolling through the town during the day, resting for the siesta, and a walk after dinner for ice cream. I discovered a drink called horchata, which I’d never heard of before, a sweetened blend of tiger nuts, which I’d also never heard of before. Art immersed himself in the many marine shops scattered all over town, finding devices that would result in tiny improvements to cruising, and then busying himself with pint-sized installation projects onboard.

We left Alicante in a quiet breeze, and sailed all day, watching the breeze turn into a pleasant wind behind us. Earlier than we expected to arrive, we got to our destination, an anchorage off of a town called Javea, a holiday destination located between two small capes. Those capes form an open bay that in the right wind conditions provide safe harbor for the night. These were the right conditions.

It wasn’t easy to find a spot to anchor. The bay was teeming with boats, most of which we were sure would leave before night fell. During the afternoon, though, swimmers swarmed around each anchored vessel like sharks, and shrill giggles filled the air. By the time we settled in for the night, about half of the boats were gone, probably returned to the marina in Javea after their respite from heat and dry land. When we woke up in the morning and looked around, there wasn’t another boat in the bay.

Another all-day sail took us to Valencia. Clouds and occasional sprinkles kept the day cool, and we arrived at the new Marina Real Juan Carlos I in late afternoon. All week, Art had been calling the marina and speaking with English-fluent staff, but the weekend marineros in the office spoke English only about as well as I speak Spanish. Somehow, we completed the paperwork and got settled into a berth for what we expect will be a long visit.

We’ll begin exploring Valencia today, and let you know in next’s week’s letter what we find.

Love, Karen (and Art)