Ups and downs at the beginning of 2018

Let’s get the down over and done with first… it was when our hire car was broken into on a visit to Tarragona. We believe that the thieves used some form electronic device which either stopped the door mechanism locking or which recorded the “bleep” and could replicate it to open the doors. Whatever, there was no sign of entry and it was about three hours after leaving Tarragona that we got a total shock when we opened the hatchback to find everything gone. [Not sure that you can actually “find” things that are gone but you know what I mean!] We calculate that the monetary value was over £2,000 – partly as a result of our two almost new sailing jackets, a new Olympus Tough camera [my Xmas present from Mike], a tablet, some prescription glasses and a bag full of clothes [have you bought Levi’s recently!!] The worst loss though was the irreplaceable silver earrings which I have collected on our travels. Not expensive but so valuable in other ways. As someone said – I will just have to start again.

We were clearly targeted as tourists and were probably watched as we put our rucksack into the back where it joined the travel holdall. In some way this may have worked in our favour as they didn’t realise that the I.pad we use as a GPS was actually tucked under the front seat and the phone in the drop down box. We were also lucky that our passports were safe back on the boat and Mike had taken the wallet in his pocket in case we had to pay entrance to the site so all our cards were with us. We believe “identity theft” is the biggest earner these days so, whilst they got away with a boot full of stuff it probably wasn’t what they wanted!

We filed a claim with the National Police which took us all day as we traipsed from Guardia Civil, to Policía Local and finally, the correct Police force. Confusing. But, to add insult to injury, even though we knew any property loss claim was limited, what we then found out was that the insurance doesn’t cover loss if there is no evidence of break-in! Again, on the bright side, had the lock been broken or windows smashed we would have had the whole hassle with the car hire people and then a reclaim on the insurance. So, maybe it was better the way it happened.

What we have learned is to actually lock the car door with the key rather than the button.

But, on to better things. We were in Tarragona as part of a trip north to Barcelona – to sort out an issue for Becketts [which was successful] – and to visit our friends in Cadaques.

We had a brilliant weekend. We arrived, having driven through snow in the mountains, to a damp and windy Cadaques but a really warm welcome from Jack and Christine. As usual a few drinks and lots of chat and a fairly late night ensued, but not so much that we weren’t up and ready for a trip into France the following day. Being almost on the border it is only a couple of hours from Cadaques into France. We took the scenic coastal route and stopped first in Banyuls-sue-Mer before driving on for a late lunch in Collioure.

Yes, it was still chilly and a bit damp that day – but Sunday dawned dry and bright and we enjoyed a walk down into the village….

Sunday antiques market – Cadaques

…. to have a drink overlooking the market and to buy local produce for lunch on the balcony.

A lovely, if short stay, topped off by a great game of Mexican Train.

Tarragona was chosen as our stop off place on our return journey because of its Roman ruins which made a change from the Moorish history, artefacts and remains we have seen elsewhere.

Our “all-in ticket” was a bargain and we started our day at the Murallas Passeig Arqueològic, a walk which runs around the inland part of the old town’s perimeter between two lines of city walls.

The inner walls are mainly Roman and date back to the 3rd century BC, while the outer ones were put up by the British in 1709 during the War of the Spanish Succession.

The earliest stretches are a mighty 4m thick, 6 m high and built of large irregular stones and reinforced by towers – one of the most renowned being the “Minerva tower” with the remains of what was a carved plaque representing the goddess.

Littered along the front of the walls are various pillars….










Built into one wall was a water system….

… and just prior to leaving the site we reached the  “Socors Gate” which is the only one remaining from the second phase of the wall.

During this second phase the large stones of each face were laid and the space between them filled with earth and smaller stones. Rows of ashlars were placed on top [no mortar], more internal rough stones added at the bottom which was then topped with loam bricks.

Representation showing second phase wall construction

Another information board told us that internal buttresses every eight to nine metres joined the two faces together.

Once outside the walkway we found ourselves in the heart of the old medieval town.

As one would expect, the cathedral dominates the centre…

…and we were quite surprised by the level of preservation of some of the statues.

We think it may have something to do with prevailing wind and rain direction because on the other side of the door the statues were much less intact.

Our next stop was the Pretori Romà where we saw the octagonal “Nuns Tower”….

…which was part of the medieval defensive wall built in 1366 taking advantage of the interior face of the roman “circus” façade.

The “Torre Romana” was built in C1AD and used as a royal residence in C14.

From the top were views over the modern city out past the commercial port to the marina in the far distance….

…and you can also see [flat yellow gravelly bit] what was once one end of the “circus”.

The circus was used for chariot racing, popular since C8BC. There were races for both two and four horse chariots and what I found fascinating was that the arena, and the participants, were representative of Roman beliefs. The arena symbolised the earth and the chariots, the sun. There were four teams whose colours, green, blue, red and white symbolised the four seasons. Three chariots from each team meant 12 racing which represented the signs of the zodiac/months of the year with each race of seven laps charted the days of the week. The Circus Maximus in Rome seated 125,000, the one in Tarragona, 25,000.

This impression shows what it used to look like.

The end of the circus nearest to the amphitheatre is what can be seen from the tower and what was the other end is now a street with the government building at its end.

A good view of the amphitheatre was also gained by climbing the tower…

… whilst this picture, taken later when we visited it, shows part of the now derelict church which was built within it long after it had been abandoned by the Romans.

Our favourite part of the Pretori was the underground passage…

…. and vaults.

Below what is now Calle Enrajolet is one of the longest [93 meters] and best preserved circus vaults. The Romans had apparently stopped using it by early C8 and it remained that way until C13 when a series of holes was made in the roof so it could be used as a dumping ground for businesses operating in the street which had now replaced the circus. In C17 it was used as storage for the nearby military barracks.

The underground part of the tower contained the bottom of plinths…

….and this statue…

…which was found in a park outside the city and probably was once placed along one of the roads leading in. It is dated to C1/2AD and was likely a funerary monument.

The final site visited in Tarragona city was the Roman Forum where the layout of the houses can be easily seen….










Running between them is the “decumanos” – paved street. In “Tarraco” [Tarragona] these strrets were mainly six metres wide.

All in all, a very interesting predominantly Roman morning and, although obviously not Roman, I became distracted – as is often the case – by colourful graffiti.

We then drove out of the city to see the “Aqueducte de les Ferreres”…

….an amazing structure at 217 metres long and 25 high.

Its other name is the “Pont del Diable” and I guess it lived up to its name because it was in this car park that the theft of our stuff took place!

As well as our little trip we also had the pleasure of hosting visits by James, in January and Claire, in February.

James came just after New Year. The weather was rather fine which gave the guys a chance to do some remedial work on the dinghy.

Interesting life forms – just two months growth in the marina

Get scraping and scrubbing boys

All clean – well as clean as can be expected for an old dinghy!

James wanted to just chill but we did venture into town on a couple of occasions and between craft beer stops we managed to take in some culture with a visit to the Ceramics museum which is housed in a palace that dates from the 15th century and was refurbished in 1740 in rococo style.  It was equally fascinating for its rooms as its contents.

Japanese room

… in the entrance hall


Beautifully painted ceiling.

In another room a very differently decorated ceiling was displayed

Over time it had had three layers of painted decoration, the third [top] layer dating from the late C15 Plateresque period. The name comes from “Plato” [silver] because the ornamental style of the period was silversmith like.

Three boards are exhibited on the wall with paintwork from the first period dating from C14 and having an Arabic style.

There was a reconstructed kitchen….

…several ewers….

……and a number of “Safa Barberas” – C18 shaving bowls.

Some of the ceramics were designed by Picasso….

…. but I was more taken with these.

They are chocolate warming saucers. Candles were put into the holes to keep the chocolate warm. It seems that C18 Spanish aristocracy was much taken by the whole art of chocolate making and drinking – a tradition which remains today – churros and chocolate being a favourite mid-morning snack.

Our “snacks” were more tapas based…

At Casa Montana

…. or just completely liquid!

Marina Sud weekend bar

Claire’s visit in the middle of Feb wasn’t quite as warm but despite one day of rain we had a lovely time. Of course, she had to be introduced to Agua de Valencia…

… which she probably enjoyed more than the local Horchata – a tiger nut based drink which she politely described as “sugary”. Like hot chocolate, it is a must taste Spanish tradition though to be honest I am happy to let others taste it and report back!

One of the most famous “Horchaterias”

A very Valencian tradition which we are looking forward to is the “Fallas” and Claire had read up about it and wanted to visit the museum. We were happy to go along because it was one we hadn’t visited before. A very interesting experience with the Niñots being a little unexpected!

What I mean is that the characters the Niñots represented were unexpected.

I had expected politicians/famous stars/Disney type characters – and there were a couple of these.

I hadn’t expected weird folk.

Some, however, were very colourful and funny….

… decorative….

….or just characters that we know and love.

We look forward to see the 750 [yes, 750 – that is not a typo] or so which will be erected all over the city overnight on 15th March ready for viewing on 16th.

I have a feeling that a whole blog will need to be dedicated to this festival – especially as we will have the added fun of having Andrea and Fiona with us during part of it. As another preview to what that blog might contain, below is a family in the traditional Fallas outfits.

Amazing – even the girl’s shoes match her dress.

As I said above, there was one day of rain during Claire’s visit but the rest of the time it was sunny and bright. We enjoyed watching a drumming band…

….in the Plaza de Ajuntamente…

…. and visiting Dénia and Xàbia on a day trip down the coast.

Xàbia we stopped at only briefly to take a photo of its coastline and strangely formed beach which looked quarried?

In Dénia we enjoyed lunch “al fresco”…

…. before visiting the castle.

As can be seen from the shape of the gate, the fortress is of Moorish origin dating from C10/11.

It is built on a rocky promontory, dominates the town and overlooks the harbour.

During the latter part of C14 it was remodelled and its outer and inner walls improved.

A wide embankment circles the castle and we walked along it thinking it might lead to a different way out. It didn’t! But, we were really glad we had made the walk because we came across these…. Look closely!

They are the hairy caterpillars of the pine processionary moth which live in silvery nests in the tops of pine trees throughout Mediterranean Spain. The nests are most obvious in the early winter months and now I know about it I realise I have seen them. These insects rarely leave their host tree until they are ready to find an adequate place for cocooning.

This normally occurs in March – mid April but probably, as with other things, warmer winters may have brought this phenomenon forward as we are only in February.

The word processionary comes from the fact that they follow each other in long lines that can reach several meters long, as we saw. They are considered to be one of the Mediterranean’s worst pests! If they are touched, their hairs cause an extremely nasty skin reaction. Fortunately none of us did.

So obviously spring is here, early maybe but there are definite signs everywhere.

Delicate almond blossom

We have been very lucky not to actually know that there has been a winter as temperatures haven’t dropped below about 5degreesC even on the coldest nights and have reached the high teens most days. But even so it is nice to know that spring is here and we can soon go sailing.

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1 comment

    • Jack and Christine on February 28, 2018 at 4:19 pm
    • Reply

    Wonderful blog post and great pics. Although no more further photos of me unless my Trump toupee
    is in place! We still feel terrible about your loss in Tarragona and above all, the loss of the Mexican Dominoes Box!
    Love you guys and a big Happy Birthday to the wanker.

    J & C

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