Tuesday, July 22, 2014

King of Spain Juan Carlos I's Surprise Moves: Coming and Going

King Juan Carlos I of Spain, 1975 - 2014

Americans might have missed that Spain recently coronated a new monarch, King Felipe VI, son of the outgoing Juan Carlos I, who--in a move that surprised the world--abdicated his throne a few months ago. Citing the need for a younger generation to take on Spain's current economic challenges, King Juan Carlos, voluntarily relinquished his power to his son.

It would be truly surprising if he hadn't voluntarily relinquished power before.

Before we get to that, you should realize that the Spanish monarchy isn't as much a figurehead as the British monarchy we Americans are seemingly much more familiar with. While the Spanish constitutional monarchy, like that of the British, entitles the ruling family with the embodiment and representation of the state, the current Spanish monarch is also tasked to act as commander-in-chief of the Spanish armed forces and to take a more proactive role in Spain's international affairs of state. The same can be said of the British monarch, though with greater oversight by the parliament.

So when has Juan Carlos relinquished power previously? Juan Carlos, grandson of the previous monarch, was hand-picked by dictator Francisco Franco to succeed him. Juan Carlos was coronated two days after Franco died. Franco ran Spain as a dictator from 1939 until his death in 1975, coming to power with an iron fist (see our blog on Guernica) and with support from the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. His decades-long regime survived that of his more notorious allies, but was as replete with concentration and forced labor camps and all the nasty human rights abuses typically attributable to dictators. Unlike his contemporaries, Franco got to keep his atrocities going for more than 35 years.

I imagine it was expected that Juan Carlos, having been picked by Franco, might continue ruling Spain with the same iron-fisted oppression as Franco, but soon after becoming King, Juan Carlos began to dismantle Franco's government and set Spain on the path to democracy.

We Americans have a nearly two-plus century legacy of our leaders voluntarily relinquishing power. Many were actually surprised that George Washington stepped aside quietly to allow John Adams to become President. So we might forget how big a deal it is that someone actually lets go of power. Spain's Juan Carlos actually did it twice.

King Juan Carlos, I of Spain
(from Wikipedia)

In tomorrow's blog we introduce you to Spain's new King Felipe VI.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Playa Malvarrosa Beach, Valencia, Spain



One of the reasons we decided to go to Valencia was to go to the beach. Chuck asked me where I wanted to spend July, and I said somewhere with a beach. So here we are. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay right on the beach but staying in the old town has been fun, too. We are only about a mile and a half from the beach, just a short tram ride away.  

Valencia is located on the southeastern coast of Spain along the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches run north and south along the edge of the city above and below a large port. There are several named beaches north of the port that are easy to get to and are popular with tourists and locals alike. The beaches that are south of the port are harder to get to and they don't have the amenities of the northern ones, but I hear that clothing is optional...hmmm.

Anyway, the beach that we have visited is called Malvarrosa and it is located just north of the port.  There are really 3 beaches but they all run together. Malvarrosa is technically the one in the middle, but everyone refers to the entire beach area as Playa Malvarrosa.  

We've visited the beach three times now and have enjoyed it immensely. The beach is big--about 70m deep from the boardwalk to the water, and I-don't-know-how-many miles long. There are lifeguards and wooden walkways every so often with showers and restrooms and other conveniences. On the boardwalk there are restaurants and shops: it's very easy to enjoy lunch and a pitcher of sangria while watching the beach-goers. 

The beach itself is made of a very fine almost brown sand that's nice to walk in and very clean. The water is also nice: it's clear, blue and warm. The whole beach is flat including the shore. The water stays shallow for quite a ways out, so it's nice to wade or float or swim if you are so inclined. Each time we've been, the water has been different. The first time was after a storm so the the water was darker with big (3 foot) waves. The other times the water has been calmer and warmer.  

Closer to the port, the beach has hotels and more touristy shops and, obviously, more tourists. On this end you see more families and hear different languages. The middle section of the beach (Malvarrosa proper) seems to have more locals. Valencians seem to love their beach: young and old alike come to catch a little sun as often as possible. For the young it seems to be a place to hang out, and for the old it seems a part of their daily routine to come and spend 30 minutes or so walking along the water or soaking up some sun. It's not unusual to see people fully clothed in dresses or jeans stripping down to get a few quick minutes of sun.  

Another nice thing about Malvarrosa is it's other amenities--chairs and umbrellas for rent and refreshment stations. The chairs and umbrellas are very reasonable: 12 Euros for the day for a permanently situated thatched umbrella and a pair of cushioned lounge chairs. There are plenty of little blue and white stands that sell cerveza (beer), cold drinks, ice cream, sandwiches, etc. Unfortunately, there are other vendors that bother you with offers of massages or hair braiding or cover-ups...but they usually move on fairly quickly with a 'no, gracias.' Except for the Asian massage ladies: they attempt to start rubbing you!  That's just not my thing at the beach, and please don't touch me unless I give you permission! (I wasn't really found of strangers touching my belly when I was pregnant, either. You know the ladies in the mall that always want to rub your big belly like you are Buddha or something...)

My favorite part of going to the beach is the people watching and Malvarrosa does not disappoint! I'm amazed that people can come to the beach fully clothed, wrap a towel around themselves, and emerge in their swimsuits! I'm also amazed that you would want to wear jeans in 90 degree weather in the first place, but like I said, the locals seem to come to steal a few minutes in the sun when they can.

If you use Trip Advisor or Yelp for recommendations and reviews, the comments about Malvarrosa were correct in saying that the beach was great but they also mentioned that it was 'European'--meaning that there would be topless women around. Some reviews were negative about this and warned people away. Now, I find this funny. For one thing, we'e in Europe! Duh! Tops are often shed at the beach by young and old...it is a part of the culture. Some toddlers even run around naked (gasp)! Only Americans would be so critical to say this was wrong especially since it's not even their home!  

So, yes, there are boobies all around--some covered, some not, some perky, some not, some young, some not. There are also guys in Speedos, girls in thongs...you name it. Most people wear as little as possible. It's fun to watch the locals (who are comfortable) and tourists (who are trying to be comfortable) at the beach. Then there's the guy that just stands and stares...he's fun to watch too!

So, Playa Malvarrosa does not disappoint as a whole! I give it a 90 on my rating scale. It's pretty close to perfect, and I can see why people love it. I can't wait to go back tomorrow!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Beach Report Card


Eleuthera, Bahamas

I love the beach. I love the sand, the water, the wind, the frozen drinks...oops, I digress. My mantra is:  if you can't be on the beach you love, love the beach you're on. Having been a teacher for so many years, I love to grade things, even beaches; here's my critique of a good beach and my grading scale. 

The Sand

I grew up with the fine white sand along the Gulf Coast so that's what I typically look for. I've been to beaches that have white sand, brown sand, black sand, pink sand, and pebbles (gravel?), even boulder-sized 'sand.' In Riomaggiore, Italy along the Cinque Terre, the beach had crashing waves and huge boulders. It was not an easy beach to sunbathe on, but people did.

The Rock Beach at Riomarriore, Italy

The Water

I'm a sucker for beautiful clear blue (green, aqua, turquoise, etc.) water. I am also cold-natured so anything above 78 degrees F (that's about 25 degrees C!) is preferred. I like to see the bottom and what's swimming with me, so clear water and little seaweed is a must! I don't mind a little wildlife but I like to see it before it eats me.

Waves

Giant waves are great to look at if I'm not swimming, but I do like some wave action. No wave action can be really dull. And the sound of surf is the most soothing sound in the world.

The Wind

This is a tough one. I like enough breeze to be pleasant and keep the bugs away but not so much that you are being sandblasted and/or freezing.

Eleuthera, Bahamas
Size

Yes, size matters! How much distance from the road (or boardwalk) to the water versus width of the shore. There is a definite correlation between the square footage and the number of people that a beach can hold. I have to have room to spread out my stuff or plan on knowing my beach mates really well.

Amenities

By this I mean the availability of bathrooms, food and drink, showers, umbrellas and chairs for rent, etc. Things that make a trip to the beach pleasant and allow me to not have to bring everything I might need with me.

The People

The crowd, or lack of...also, beautiful (and not so beautiful), young and old, loud, fidgety, playing sports, clothed, not so fully clothed, etc. I do like to people-watch on a public beach but it is also very nice to have a beach to yourself.

South Beach, Less The Crowds

Vendors

These are the people who walk around trying to sell you stuff. They fall into two categories: good and annoying. The good ones sell food (fresh coconut, ice cream, drinks, etc.). The annoying ones harass you with offers of massages (eww!) or cover-ups, hair braiding, etc. The annoying part comes when they keep coming by (again and again) and disturbing my nap.

There might also be shops and booths, which of course are always great if they're located not-so-close to the beach as to be in my way but not-so-far as to be a pain to get to. This might also be part of my amenities scoring.

Weather and Location

I also throw in weather and how easy it is to get there. I mean, I'm sure the beaches are spectacular in Australia but it would take me at least two days to get there.

So there's my criteria for a great beach. I basically rate every area on a one to ten basis and add up the scores giving me a total out of a hundred; 90's and above are A's, 80's to 90's are B's...you get the idea. It gives me something to do when I'm not napping.

I've been to some nice beaches in the last few years...some get really close to a perfect score--Eleuthera comes to mind--others, not even close. Sorry, but I was not that impressed with South Beach.

So, how does the beach in Valencia rate?  You'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out!

Playa Malvarossa, Valencia, Spain

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Architecture of Valencia: The Classical

Valencia's Town Hall ("Ajuntament")

Valencia has a unique classical architecture. We'll call it "Valencian". It's something of an ornate blend of mediterranean Europe with functional artistic embellishment.

In the center of the old city, only two blocks from our apartment for the month, is the Plaça de l'Ajuntament, a large fountain-filled plaza flanked on one side by the town hall (Ajuntament) and on the other by the post office. You can also see it here in our YouTube video "Noon in Valencia". The buildings are splendidly--but not overly so--decorated with gleaming bronze domes and towers and statues.

A favorite discussion of ours: are the domes glazed tile or metal?

Valencia's Post Office

Many of Valencia's buildings are adorned with art that reflects the purpose of the building, like the post office and it's winged couriers ready to whisk your letter or package off to the far reaches of the globe. The building is stamped with "Correos Y Telegrafos"--correspondence and telegraphs--harkening to the way things used to happen. A nearby building is topped with a massive black lion, we suppose to portray the strength and power of a bank or insurance company.


A church gargoyle: if you look closely, it's a saint, not a lizard

Many buildings have elaborate terraces and towers atop them

Even the plazas and sidewalks themselves bear the "Valencian" style, with marble side walks (which you can see in our Café Timelapse YouTube video) and gardens of colorful flowers and walls of bougainvillea.

Valencia's Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas

Between the new of yesterday's blog and the old of today's blog, we might be a bit partial to the old. You might want to ask us again tomorrow, though.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Architecture of Valencia: The Modern

Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences

We're neither architecture experts nor aficionados, but in the same way that you don't have to be an art expert to appreciate great art, you don't have to be an architecture expert to appreciate great architecture.

As we blogged before, one of the reasons we decided to spend time in Valencia, Spain was because of the architecture here. Valencia hasn't disappointed us in that regard. A city's great architecture is like a giant, free museum: all you have to do to enjoy it is walk around and look up. We know even less of the styles and eras of architectural art than we do of painting and sculpture, so we simply think of it as "classical" and "modern".

Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences

Valencia's Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia

To us, the City of Arts and Sciences--with it's massive shallow green pools and blend of glass and concrete buttresses--is a masterpiece. The neighboring Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, looking like a sand crawler out of a Star Wars movie, would be as well though we couldn't decide if the rusting metal sides were intentional or part of a restoration or repair project.

Everywhere you look in Valencia is a contrasting blend of old and new. Looking out from our balcony and across the train station we can see an ultramodern glass and concrete apartment building nestled between two turn-of-the-century (as in 1900) buildings. Perhaps it's this contrast of styles that's kept Valencia below some travel radars, but to us it's part of the character of Valencia.

A sleek, modern Bridge (ok, so it's engineering, not architecture, but still cool)

A modern Valencian apartment building of concrete and glass, covered with sliding wooden shade panels

In tomorrow's blog we'll take a look at some of Valencia's more classical architecture.