Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Three Little Kittens

Snowy (Snowleopard), who died at age 16 before we came to Spain


Flipper, a good old cat

Last summer we lost both our big cat Flipper to old age, and our cat Circles to an unfortunate set of circumstances (click here for their story, at the end of the post).  Since we were caring for my sister’s cat, Smokey, we didn’t get kittens right away—Smokey has a bad-boy reputation and we didn’t want any kittenhood trauma.  But once Smokey was safely home in California and we were done with our summer travels, the search for the perfect kitten began.

Scary Smokey--you gotta watch him all the time

We went to several people’s houses, where they were fostering kittens rescued from the street.  The ones we liked were either female (we were looking for males) or already taken, and the rest were…well…scrawny little street cats.  We found a great-looking Siamese at the pound, but when we took him out, he began growling and carrying on like a madman.  No good.

Bad kitty

Typical little ugler jetty kitten

Better, but not quite what we wanted

So I put out a message on Facebook to all our friends here, asking if they knew of kittens.  Several messages came back quickly, but the first was from MariAngeles, my compañera de baile, who said she had three cute kittens in her garden!  

Where are these guys?  This is more along the lines I thought about...but Todd wanted black and white, not Siamese

How about something like these little cuties?
There was a gorgeous kitten in Maine...but he already had a home, darn it.
But when we arrived, ziiiiip!  MariAngeles' kittens all disappeared into the woodpile.  Obviously feral and completely unaccustomed to human contact, they were NOT what we wanted.  MariAngeles is afraid of cats, and couldn’t go into her garden, and didn’t know what to do or who to call.  I’d been in contact with all the cat people in the area, and so volunteered to capture them and get them out of her way. 

No wonder MariAngeles is afraid, those gatos salvajes are pretty scary

Big mistake.  I had to take apart the entire woodpile to find the three tiny monsters flattened out against a big piece of wood, making themselves as invisible as possible.  I grabbed the black one by his scruff, and he turned into the Tasmanian Devil, a whirling biting scratching yowling hissing tornado.  I flattened him onto a log and pinned him, shouting for Sasha to hand me SOMETHING!!! to put him in.  We grabbed a flowerpot and trapped him in with a large tile. 

These kittens were FIERCE!

Then the others started to move.  I grabbed a second one and YOW!  he bit my finger hard!  Startled, I dropped him, blood dripping down my hand.  “Mom, you’re BLEEDING!” said Tia.  No kidding.  All I could think about was my cousin Dana and her four-week battle with a massive infection from her own cat's bite. 

Snowy, our old cat, was incredibly patient...up to a point

We want Flipper back!!

But after washing out the punctures, I went back to the woodpile.  This time we had a box, and we trapped a second wild whirling dervish who screamed bloody murder when we caught him.   The third was harder to find, but by now we had a system, and soon there were three wild-eyed demons peering at us and scrabbling at the transparent box sides.  “Tape!”  I cried, and we wrapped the lid of the box on tight.  All I could think of was what a disaster it would be if these three wildcats got loose inside the Lion Car on the way home. 

Uh-oh...what have we done?

We put the little monsters in our rabbit cage, and I went to call the pound.  “Wait!”  said Todd.  “These are free, right?”  Yep.  “They are black and white, just what we wanted?”  Yep.  “The black bad-luck one we can give away?”  Yep.  “Let’s tame them!”  Suddenly Todd’s reluctance to have any new cats flew out the window, and a project was born.

A BIG project wrapped in little furry bundles

Seeing double-trouble: Chloe and Chase
Click here to see the first video of the new scared ferocious kittens.

And so we have new kittens.  Chloe, the female (yes, we can’t bear to give her away, she’s so sweet) was the first to gentle, and is the first to purr and run to you when she’s hungry.  Tia has claimed her.   

Tia and Chloe
Chloe must have some ragdoll in her, she is so floppy

Chase, a little ruffian whose tail curls up over his back when he plays, is loved dearly by Sasha, and even though he’s a rascal and somewhat squirmy at times, he loves to sleep with her.  

Funny Chase and funny Sasha

And Cosmos, the bad-luck black kitten, turned out to have a saving-grace white star on his throat, and Todd claimed him for his own.  So now we have THREE cats instead of two, and who KNOWS how we’ll get them all home when we return to California next September!

Todd loves his kitty-cat!

But in the meantime, our kitten-taming project is going swimmingly, and it’s a joy to watch them play and grow like little weeds.  Here’s to cat-love!

Click here to see the kittens play now! 

Cosmos, Chase, and Chloe

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Friends: Mallorca

Island dreaming

It came through on Facebook: a trip planned by Mati and Angeline to the Spanish island of Mallorca, a family group vacation with some of our favorite people.  

Majestic Mallorca

“Why?”  said Todd.  “We’ve already been there, and it wasn’t that great.”  But I pointed out to him that we would be with Ignacio, our Spanish navy captain jet fighter pilot friend, who knows the island well.  Plus, I told the kids, Narissa, their favorite friend, would be going.  And the Durkovich boys! That was all the convincing needed to book the tickets. 

How could you resist this bunch?

So, just a few days after returning from Santiago, we packed back up and headed for the airport.  The journey was exciting—there was an accident on the toll road that our car managed to circumvent, but the van carrying Ignacio, our ticket to the Spanish Navy lodge on Mallorca, was stuck.  It was unclear for about an hour if they would even make the flight!  But they did, and off we flew.

The Mallorca crew

I had enjoyed Mallorca when we were here last summer, but we’d only sailed its coast.  Ignacio took us to the less-inhabited northwest coast of the big island, to the port of Sóller.  Wow!  It is a beautiful St. Tropez clone minus the glitz.  The quaint little harbor, in-town beaches, and lighthouse delighted us at first glance. 

The Spanish Navy residencia is the big building on the left above the wall.  The lighthouse is on the far left.

We hung out on the Spanish residencia patio until late, enjoying the summer night.   The guys snuck out to dive into the ocean from the Navy lighthouse, but were soon chased back by the guards. 

Soft summer Mallorca evening
Apparently this is prohibido
The next day, before the incoming storm hit, we wandered off to Valldemossa, a lovely village with a monastery and beautiful winding streets.  

Valdemossa group selfie
Coming back, a huge thunderstorm engulfed the island, flooding the Palma airport and providing an impressive lightning show over our harbor.  Some had been kayaking, and they scrambled off the water just in time to avoid being struck.

Watch out, you might get struck by reyes

After a delightful Indian dinner (Mati had no complaints here…), in which we celebrated the selection of Mati and Ignacio’s son Alejandro to the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, we meandered down the harbor path, stopping for a drink along the way, and pretending to own one of the fabulous yachts parked there.

A lazy summer night

Posing in front of our boat with our bike

Saturday was a sunny beach day.  The storm had created some enormous waves, so it took a while to find a calm (although crowded!) little cala, but once there, we nudged people out of the way and claimed our piece of sand.  

Crowded turquoise waters...and fun!
The kids grouped together around the ukulele, and it was a delight to listen to them all sing together (although Bethe petitioned for a break after the 47,000th song of the weekend). 

Kids hanging out with the ukulele
Click here to see the kids sing together, it's awesome.

That afternoon we packed up and passed through the town of Pollença, with its charming plazas and impressive staircase up to the church.  We came through just as a footrace was ending—at the top of the stairs!  What a brutal end to a race, whew!  We cheered them on as they struggled to the top, happy that we could just hang out and enjoy the view.

A loooooong hike

Dinner that evening was at a lovely Italian place, where the kids played cards and the adults split (yet again) between male side and female side of the table (why does this always happen?) I guess the women are just more fun. 

Split into men's side and women's side

Here the boys were simply outnumbered

Sunday was a day to relax.  A group of us headed up to the town of Sóller via a cute (and expensive, what did we expect?) tourist train, and we wandered the streets for a couple hours before lunch.  

Playing for change in Sóller

Todd and others went sailing—“Si,” said Todd at lunch, “Si no hay reyes!”  Mati and Ignacio looked puzzled.  “Rayos, rayos!”  I translated.  Todd’s Spanish continues to amuse us all (reyes = kings, while rayos = lightning).  The rest of the day we spent enjoying the harbor beach in Port Sóller, and practicing some stand-up padel and gymnastics. 

Enjoying the sunset

Tia the gymnast

We celebrated Bethe’s birthday on our last night with take-out Indian food (“Again?” asked Mati.  “Where's the tapas?”), and celebrating too our well-planned, thoroughly enjoyable, and delightfully relaxing group vacation in an incredibly gorgeous setting.  

Kids' night ops
Everyone, from the kids to the grown-ups, had a awesome time.  Thank you, Ignacio and Mati, for sharing it with us!  How lucky are we??

Making memories

Friday, September 4, 2015

To the North: Santiago de Compostela and Porto

Rockin'out with my friend Jenny...then on to Santiago!

As if we hadn’t traveled enough, I insisted on going to northern Spain for a week at the end of August.  Everyone knows that summer is the best time to be there since it’s rainy and cold most other times, and even so during the summer.  This time we targeted Santiago de Compostela, home of the well-known Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

Stormy city
Hanging out with the gallegas

Surprise, surprise, it was drizzling and cold when we arrived, but still nice enough in our little attic we’d rented.  Maria, our host, gave us multiple great restaurant recommendations, and once the drizzle stopped we headed out into the old city.  Gorgeous!  And the best was the pulpo a la gallega, octopus Galician-style!

One of the many pilgrims

Tentacled treats

Santiago de Compostela is named for San Iago, or St. James, who preached in Hispania before returning to the Holy Land.  There he was martyred, but his disciples managed to sneak out his body and transport it back to Galicia in a stone ship.  They petitioned the queen to bury his body in Galicia, but the queen tried to sabatoge them by sending them to a dragon (who exploded on seeing the cross) and giving them wild bulls to gore them to death (who became tame on seeing the cross).  So St. James was buried in Galicia.

St. James arriving and being buried in Galicia

His remains were discovered in the 9th century by a hermit, who was led to the site by a bright light, hence the name Compostela, from the latin Campus Stellae, “field of stars.”  St. James miraculously appeared during the 15th-century Christian battle against the Moors, disguised as a white knight, and helped the Christians to victory.

Onward Christian soldier

Nowadays over 100,000 pilgrims a year travel from many different points to reach the impressive, gilded cathedral at the heart of Santiago’s old town.  The botafumeiro is swung only rarely, but every Sunday during St. James years, where the feast of St. James falls on a Sunday that year. 

The chalice or botafumeiro is swung by 8 monks tugging on ropes
Click here and here to watch the swinging of the botafumeiro; the first link is the WHOLE thing!

We watched several documentaries on the pilgrimage, el Camino de Santiago.  Todd, Tia, and Sasha declared their complete lack of interest in even trying it, while I ran out and bought shell bracelets for my friends, determined to talk them into walking at least 5 days this coming Spring!

Click here to see a movie of one Australian charmer's story, a good way to see if you would want to do this...okay, maybe not 34 days' worth...

Door to our attic staircase
From Santiago de Compostela we diverted east to the walled town of Lugo.  It is one of the few European towns with a Roman wall still completely intact. 

Around and around we go!

We walked it twice, once in the soft Galician evening (after a day full of sun), and again the next morning.  Lugo was full of delicious yogurt and interesting odes to its Roman past.

Modern-day chariot

Taking in the Roman history and frozen yogurt

From Lugo we went to Porto in northern Portugal.   We headed south, following our (un)trusty GPS, which usually leads us in bizarre paths to our destination.  True to form, we ended up on tiny roads zig-zagging through the Peneda-Gerês National Park on our way to Braga.

Gorgeously gloomy

It was raining in Braga, so we cut our visit short after admiring its wonderful fountain displays and headed into Porto.

Beautiful Braga

In Porto we found kittens in our hotel!  Tia and Sasha had a ball playing with them, and it only whetted their appetite for kittens, which we’d promised once we’d finished traveling for the summer.

Here kitty kitty kitty

We also feasted on the famous Francesingha, a densely compacted sandwich of sorts made of steak, linguiça, ham, cheese, topped by a fried egg and slathered in special sauce.  Yum!  At least I thought so; the others were not so impressed.


Porto is the home of port wine, much like El Puerto, Jerez, and Sanlúcar are the home of sherry.  The Douro river runs from the upcountry, where the grapes are grown, and down through Porto, where the bodegas line its banks.  

Sandeman (visible in center) is our favorite

This ready-made transportation system and the delightful flavor of its grapes has made (and kept) Porto famous since the 13th century.  In fact, Porto, the Roman city Portus Cale, provided the name “Portugal” to its country.  The British mistakenly call it “Oporto,” as the city is one of Portugal’s main ports, and “O” means “the” in Portuguese.  Hence, o porto = el Puerto = the port.

Vivacious Porto hillside old town on a rare sunny day

We walked the high bridge and stopped to watch young daredevils jump from the lower bridge into the fast-moving Douro.  We wandered the steep city streets from cathedral to riverbank and back up to our hotel. 

They only jumped from the LOWER bridge!!  

The following day we visited the famous Lello bookstore, a model for J.K. Rowling, who lived in Porto for two years.  Apparently she modeled parts of Hogwarts based on the library’s interior.  This fame has certainly helped the bookstore, which has a line and special 3-euro tickets JUST to get into the place!

Harriet Potter

Hogwarts wannabees

Todd had mentioned some mysterious islands off the Galician coast, so I included them as our final stop.  The Islas Cies are billed as the “Spanish Caribbean,” and so they are, albeit with still-very-cold North Atlantic waters.   

Okay, these waters are NOT the Caribbean!
We lucked out with the weather, lounging on the sunny white sand beach and diving in (briefly!) to turquoise waters while the mainland and out to sea were engulfed in fog. 

High beauty

Fun in the sun

You can only reach the Islas Cies via boat, and the number of visitors is capped at 2000.   We hiked the trails and enjoyed our picnic, then hopped the boat back to the mainland and back to Santiago. 

As pretty as any Caribbean island

Were we done traveling yet?  Oh no, my friends Angeline and Mati had to dream up a group trip to Mallorca.  An offer we just couldn’t resist…and I’m glad we didn’t resist…see the next blog…