Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Monday, January 26, 2015

sun series #1 - the coast of andalucia

About as rare as finding a diamond peeking out from a grassy field in summer is seeing the winter sun above the Rhine. So, to pummel the January blues, I want to share with you a place where the sun rules. If you like ocean and sun, fish and mountains, sand and surfing (of any kind) then you will like these things to do in Andalucia, the Costa de la Luz - southern Spain's Coast of Light.


From the historically-rich city of Cadiz, the Atlantic shoreline cuts a toffifee-coloured line down to the most southern tip of the European continent and the surfing mecca of Tarifa. All along the Costa de la Luz sandy beaches and hidden coves eke out their existence among the relentless waves that batter the ochre-coloured cliffs.


But turn your back to the drama of the Atlantic coastline and you will find a golden simplicity within the people and the landscape. Obvious signs of hard times and struggle make their mark amid the beauty, but the Spanish tradition of family, fiesta and fun seem firmly cemented into the Spanish Alltag (everyday).


One of our favourite places to visit when we are here, is the surfer's paradise at the Tangana Beach Bar on Valdevaqueros Beach, just a few minutes north of Tarifa


Whether you surf or just like to watch it (like we do) then you'll love spending the afternoon or the complete day hanging out with the cool folks. The beach is long, the waves are wild and the atmosphere is supremely chill.


All you need are your sunglasses, a beach towel and a very relaxed attitude - or better yet, no attitude at all. Everyone fits in and that's the beauty of hanging with really cool folks.


If you're more into off-the-beaten-path, less-people-the-better then spend your day north of Conil de la Frontera. This is your kind of heaven. We love, love, love these hidden sandy beaches and spend at least a couple of hours each day in one of these coves.


The series of calas (coves) nestled between Conil and the town of Roche are many and variable. Some are more hidden from view than others and therefore a favourite with naturists. But if naked people don't bother you then you can enjoy the sandy nook as much as they do. Cala del Frailecillo is the smallest cove beach, while Cala del Aceite is the most popular and closest to the Conil harbour.


I would recommend taking a day and trying the different coves out. They are conveniently located side by side, but keep your eyes open! Some beaches are barely noticeable except for the stairway. The red cliffs, azure sky and white-capped water will relax you the moment your feet hit the smoking-hot sand.


If you haven't rented a car then hanging out at the Playa Fontanillo, right in front of Conil, is an easy and not-so-terrible option. A seemingly never-ending beach in both directions with just sand is loved by early-morning joggers, families, actual Spanish people and of-course tourists. But there is so much room, no worries that you won't get your piece of sandy real-estate for the day.


When we hit this part of the world, we like to mix our days into beach, hiking, beach. I have to say, it's quite the lovely schedule.


North and south of Barbate, you will find hiking routes moving through forests of mushroom-topped Spanish pines, along Eucalyptus shrubs and Cistus rockroses with constant majestic views of Morocco across the way.


The thing I obsess about, after I get bored of the never-ending beautiful view, is the aroma along every hiking trail we take. The air smells as if someone is regularly spritzing it with a mixture of vaporub and savory herbs. Seriously, you'll either get hungry or feel healthier, or both. I grew up with a family who sucked on Eucalyptus candy as if it was manna from heaven - when hiking here that family is never far from mind.


The understory in much of southern Spain is laid with bushy, pungent Eucalyptus, Rosemary and Thyme, along with Almond and Olive trees, Holly Oaks and Spanish firs. Only the Tasmanian Blue Gum, also in the Eucalyptus family can tear my thoughts away from my old friends and vault them towards my brother. Does this tree not totally look like it's dressed in camo?


There are two wonderful hiking trails between Conil and Barbate which lead you to Torre del Tajo and Torre de Meca. These watchtowers, among a series puncturing the southern coast, were erected in the 16th century to protect Spain from Berber attacks.


Because of the coastline's proximity to the Strait of Gibraltar and it being just a stone's throw from the African continent, this entire area has quite the bloody past. One might just think that this is the reason for the earth's reddish hue.


On clear days, between April and September, the steep-cliffed trail leading from Barbate to Canos de Meca offers you perfect viewpoints to see Killer Whales hunting Tuna, and Dolphins just playing around - really what else do Dolphins do?


And after a busy day of beaching and hiking, the very best place to take in the setting sun is a sandy bar on the playa. A cervesa or sangria, along with a fishy snack is pretty much the rule of the day here - or if you want a fancier paella served on white linen then La Fontanilla on Conil's beach will not fail.


When we are here we spend a lot of time at the harbour, admiring the patient skill of the fishermen untangling their nets (a seemingly endless job), and engaging in great guy's favourite pasttime - staring at boats...all kinds of boats.


Across from the harbour, at the foot of the Rio Roche, is a port of a different kind - here the boats come to die. I find it an overwhelmingly sad sight, but one I can't seem to get enough of. There is a beauty in the neglected wood, broken bows and forgotten stories.


Whenever I see the man sitting under his umbrella beside the broken boat I could almost weep. What a place to spend your day. Each time I send a prayer upwards hoping that this is not where he lives.


Conil, a small white city down the coast from Cadiz and forty minutes from the nearest airport, Jerez de la Frontera, has a quaint simplicity. It's not a glamorous place, has its dilapidated and neglected corners, and possibly because of that is a very easy place to spend some time. The only stress you'll experience is adapting to siesta store hours....but shopping can wait till later, here it's always sun time.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

be kind or die?

For my first post of the year I had planned on writing something inspirational; combining ideas about creativity and hope and artistic expression. The following quote had been sloshing around in my head and not letting me go:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. – Neil Gaiman


While today I still find this quote great, there is now a dark, heavy blanket sent from Paris, smothering my light-hearted thoughts. You, readers, know that I’m not a critical writer. It’s not that I’m not a critical thinker, but I live my life and write my words being ├╝ber-careful about not causing unnecesary hurt or disrespect to others. Some surely say that I err too much on the side of caution, but I think offensiveness creates barriers between us and I don’t like when I see it coming from myself or others.


So I want to write about the power of creating - using clay or paint, pencil or charcoal, pen or keyboard, piano or playdough – the materials ‘to each his own’. But, I want to discuss the idea of art within the confines of responsibility; creating while being kind. Is this a necessary discussion in order to live together as a fruitful and thriving global community?

An intelligent, artistic friend of mine, in response to my questions about Wednesday’s tragic events at Charlie Hebdo, said this,“It is of course ridiculous and appalling that people find it necessary to kill for a concept. Allah and Muhammad just cannot be that sensitive. I do believe in critical analysis and critique, especially of religion. But analysis can be done respectfully. I like the Buddhist philosophy of right speech: before you speak, consider, will it improve upon the silence? Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? If all of these things aren’t true, perhaps it doesn’t need to be said. I think it’s fine for people to get angry and be offended, but to deliver a piece of truth to people in a way that inflames and disrespects, how does that advance truth? It only builds up walls between us.”


I am thoroughly moved by #jesuischarlie and #jesuisahmed for the unity it shows and because with certainty those 17 people in Paris did not deserve to die last week. I absolutely believe that a fundamental human right should be the freedom of expression and freedom of beliefs; but with the caveat that these freedoms cannot impact others negatively. And that’s where things get murky. Most people are against expressions of hate, or they should be, and those purveyors of slander, racism, bigotry, etc can be prosecuted in, I think, all democratic countries. But what of humour, satire?

“The world has become so serious that humor is a risky profession.” – Bernardo Erlich, Artist

Satire is: "The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues" (Oxford Dictionary). I’m only asking the question: Should there be boundaries when artistic expression hurts and offends? Or should we be willing and ready to die, if not? Both could very well be ludicrous questions.

So where is the line between being creative and being disrespectful or should the two live irrespective of each other? Is art, art - without boundaries or responsibility? I think humans are pretty two-faced about it unfortunately. The stronger power who’s offended wins, right? If Hitler was around nowadays, hitting the talk show circuit promoting his ‘Mein Kampf’ wouldn’t there be an outright ban? Would he be free to express his sick views of the world even as satire or in cartoon form? Who decides?


Yesterday, I desperately wanted to join the million people rallying in Paris for unity, for freedom of speech, for just plain ol' freedom. If I had the extra 150€ I would absolutely have taken the 4-hour train ride and marched along with the normal folks, religious and world leaders, journalists, artists and every other pencil holder; in honour of those who lost their lives last week. But, I would also have been marching for the thousands or more who’ve also lost their lives because of hatred and conflict in other places around the world last week - like the 2000 women and children massacred in Nigeria. I would walk for peace and kindness – wishing that in the midst of disagreements, differences of opinions and even anger, we could all just be kinder to each other and possibly prevent some killing.



How amazing it was to see on television, Netanyahu and Abbas, along with many other world leaders, standing beside Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders in Paris yesterday. What an incredible display of respect! Will all of us who look up to our respective world and religious leaders follow suit with those standing next to us on the street, in the bus or on the train platform? 


Why can’t we just be kinder, more respectful to each other - starting with the people who live on our street, extending all the way across the world? Don’t hate him because he looks different. Don’t belittle or make fun of her because she acts differently. Don’t disrespect or offend them because they pray differently. Don’t kill me because I believe in something different from you. Talk to each other. We don’t have to be friends, but we can be kind. Everyone. Everywhere. Why not? Then everyone could live their lives in peace - could live until nature takes its course. That is all anyone wants to do anyways - to love and live in peace, right? I, you, they, we...need to start being kind so that we will all be free.



Some say a target like Charlie Hebdo and its cartoons is just an excuse – that the plan to terrorize and hurt just needed a bullseye. Maybe art in this case was not the true catalyst of anger. An interesting blogger, Hayden Trenholm, wrote of the attacks and said, “
There is plenty of blame to go around I suppose, and we can point in every direction we want but the reality is all the blame here belongs in one place — the three men who committed these crimes and, perhaps, the half-dozen or so who abetted them. They had a mad grievance against the world and, like all grievances, it required them to point their rage somewhere. They chose to point it at a group of satirists and cartoonists but they just as easily could have pointed it at a soldier standing guard at a war memorial or a group of school children quietly going about their business in… Connecticut. The ideology of hate knows no bounds.”


So why do people begin to hate? Why do people feel isolate, disenfranchised; having nothing to lose but their lives? Isn't treating people like you want to be treated a great beginning - like dousing ice water onto the simmering embers of hate. Think about this proverb - we’ve all heard it before. Think about what it really means. How do you want to be treated by neighbours, strangers, foreigners? I think we all want to be treated fairly, respectfully, kindly. Let's do it. Employ people. Train people. Talk to people. Hear people’s stories and listen while they speak. Try to understand where they’re coming from – believe me, when you happen to land somewhere where nobody knows you, the most important thing is having people try to get to know you. Give people the opportunities that you also want to have. Share. Share. Share. 

My wish for all of us in 2015 is that we will be brave in our kindness even when others are not. Be brave as the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were, and still are, to draw. Be brave to use pens instead of swords. Be brave to create that which builds bridges instead of walls. Be brave to be kind. What do we have to lose other than our lives?

Of all our dreams, today there is none more important – or so hard to realize – as that of peace in our world. May we never lose our faith in it, or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality. -Lester B. Pearson

Thank you to Lisa Hallerbach for inspiring me with her creations and her spirit.


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