Just Another Packing Post

Some of you have been patiently waiting for blog posts about our Viking River cruise through the south of France at the end of October 2016. I’ll begin those posts soon but we leave today for another epic adventure. We fly to Auckland, New Zealand where we will spend 5 days then depart for a 19-day cruise to Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. This is the longest trip we’ve ever taken and my friend, Gail, asked me to do a packing post to share what I’m taking in my carry-on suitcase for 27 days. So, I’m taking that challenge and I’m excited to show you what fits in a carry-on plus backpack for this trip.

A couple caveats are in order. First, we’ll be in the southern hemisphere where it’s summer and temperatures vary from the 60’s (16C) at night to the 70’s (23C) to upper 80’s (31C) in the daytime. Obviously and fortunately, lightweight clothing takes up less space. Second, we are eligible to have 2 bags of laundry done for us on the cruise ship, but I have no idea how many items that will be. Finally, my lightweight socks and undies dry quickly when hand washed.

The last time I did a packing post I forgot to mention sleepwear and a friend humorously pointed that out. Deb, I have a lightweight nightgown although no one is sharing our cabin on this trip so I don’t really need one. 😉

Here’s what I’m taking:

3 dresses to wear for dinner  (one is reversible so it’s really 4)

2 golf skorts that can be worn like shorts or to the dining room like a skirt

3 shorts–black, khaki, jean

1 legging

8 shirts that can be dressy or casual

7 panties

2 bras (wash 1 wear 1)

1 nightgown

2 work-out outfits

1 sweater, 1 athletic jacket, 1 rain jacket

2 swimsuits + cover-up

1 scarf that can be worn as a wrap

2 hats

too many shoes: 1 trainer, 1 walking sandal, 1 dressy flip-flop, 1 pool flip-flop, 1 water shoe

umbrella

water bottle

2 cloth bags that roll up compactly to use for the beach or shopping

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The dress in back is reversible

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3 shorts, 2 skorts, 1 legging

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8 versatile shirts

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Raincoat, jacket, sweater (all black) + scarf

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Shoes–all lightweight that take up little space

In my baggie of liquids, I have sunscreen (eco-friendly that we can wear in the water at the Great Barrier Reef), hairspray, jojoba oil, eye drops, perfume, mascara.

Toiletries such as hair brush, comb, bar soap (provided everywhere but I like my own), bar shampoo (same as soap reason), curling iron, electric toothbrush (we’ll buy full-size toothpaste and mouthwash when we arrive in New Zealand), small make-up bag

Medication bag including first aid items

Too much technology including laptop, Ipad, Iphone, kindle, extra battery pack, power cords, power strip (staterooms lack outlets), headphones, adapters for hotels in New Zealand and Singapore (onboard there are American outlets)

I rolled all the clothing. It takes up less space that way and minimizes wrinkling. Everything fit easily into my regulation size (22X14X9) carry-on suitcase. In fact, I had enough extra room that I considered throwing in an extra dress and shirt but I resisted. I packed the electronics and liquids plus a small purse into my personal item, a small backpack.

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Everything in my suitcase with room to spare

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Ready to go

I’ve never been short of clothing on a trip. In fact, I still seem to take an item or two that I don’t even wear. If necessary, there are stores everywhere including on the ship so I can always purchase what I need. I’ll report back at the end of this trip to let you know whether I had too much, too little, or the right amount. Meanwhile, feel free to weigh in. Do you think I’ll be horribly short of clothing options?

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Virginia Beach Family Tradition

Both my love of travel and my love of history stem from childhood travels. My maternal grandparents lived in Virginia so in the summer my parents piled us four kids into the station wagon and Dad drove from Wisconsin to the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern Virginia for a 2-week visit. Along the way, my mother, an avid antique collector, offered us kids a nickel for every antique shop we spotted and a full quarter if my father stopped. I loved poking around the musty old shops with my mother who could always be convinced to buy me an old book for a quarter, often a Nancy Drew mystery. We didn’t eat in many restaurants but my mother pulled an endless supply of pimento cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, and cold milk from the battered green Coleman cooler. After three days in the car squabbling with three of my four brothers, (the fourth came along after I was grown) we’d pull into Roanoke for an idyllic summer vacation, free to roam my grandparents’ neighborhood with little adult interference. This was heaven to me with the smell of boxwood wafting through the air, the soft sound of southern accents, and as much Dr. Pepper as we wanted to drink.   As a bonus during our stay, we’d sometimes take day trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Appomattox, Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Virginia Beach. I have fond memories of all these places and the history I learned there.

After a long absence, in 1984, I was pregnant with my first child and I returned to Virginia with my husband to visit the Williamsburg area and Washington, DC, and introduce him to relatives in Richmond and Arlington. It was the beginning of a new family tradition.

Over the years, we returned again and again to Virginia with our children in tow to spend a week at Virginia Beach with my extended family and various friends, as well as visiting the historic sites, museums, and monuments in Washington, DC; Williamsburg; Yorktown; Jamestown; and numerous Civil War battlefields. I hope my children remember these childhood experiences as fondly as I do.

Last summer my older brother’s kids and their spouses organized a reunion of sorts. They are now married with children of their own and it was time for another generation to experience the beach. My youngest brother wanted to rent a house rather than our usual suites in the beachfront hotel area of Virginia Beach, so we searched across Rudee Inlet at Croatan Beach where we found two large houses across the street from the beach that would accommodate all 27 of us.

Jim and I headed south, picked up one son in Des Moines, (the other and his wife couldn’t make the trip this time), and stopped first in St. Louis to caravan with my youngest brother and his family. A stop in Louisville, Kentucky at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory broke up the trip and was great fun for all of us.

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Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory

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Leah at the Louisville Slugger

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3 J’s: Jonah, Jackie, and Jim.  Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play major league baseball.

We also found Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant and Bakery for lunch the second day on the road in Staunton, Virginia, which fed my nostalgia with a pimento cheese sandwich.

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Mrs. Rowe’s in Staunton, Va

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You can’t take these people anywhere

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Pimento cheese sandwich YUM!

We were thrilled with our lodging choice on quiet Croatan Beach. With four bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths, there were plenty of beds for the 13 of us and enough bathrooms, too. The other house, a couple blocks south, was also outstanding with plenty of space for 14. Between the two houses and 8 nuclear families, we divided into teams to cook dinner on 6 nights for the entire group. The seventh night we all went out to dinner en masse to Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant, another family tradition.

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Our place at the beach

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Living room with two sofa beds

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Kitchen

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Back of the house with balconies for each bedroom

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Backyard pool with the kids

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Wisconsin brat night at the other house

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My brother, Paul, shucking oysters for dinner on his night

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Sister-in-law Sarah, grilling the oysters

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The finished product–DELISH

Sadly, two of my brothers are already deceased but they loved the beach, too, so we brought them along in spirit.

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My brothers, Bill and Collier, with their daughters, two of whom were on this trip with their families

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My brothers, Stafford and Paul, at the beach

We had plenty to celebrate with Gavin’s birthday and the 4th of July.

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Gavin’s birthday party

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My son (in the middle) and nephews celebrating the 4th of July

Several mornings my brother, Stafford, and I rode our bikes about 3 miles north over the Rudee Inlet on General Booth Boulevard to the beachfront hotel area. We missed the action along the boardwalk and we ended up renting a suite at the Comfort Inn in addition to the houses on Croatan Beach.

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Bike trail from Croatan Beach to Virginia Beach

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View from the Comfort Inn

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Virginia Beach morning view

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Enjoying the view from our hotel

For this group of beach lovers, the real draw is catching the big waves for a great ride on a boogie board.

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Watching for the right wave

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Boogie Boarding

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Riding the waves

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Sand time

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My son, Michael

The week went by way too fast and before we knew it, it was time to head for home. When we left, my brother, Paul, and his family decided to visit Jamestown Settlement, just 66 miles from Virginia Beach. We hadn’t been there since our own kids were small and we were eager to go again.

For anyone not familiar with Jamestown, Virginia, this was the first permanent English colony in America founded in 1607. The outdoor living history exhibits, including the Powhatan Indian Village, James Fort, and the Jamestown Settlement Ships were there when we last visited but they have since added a large museum with many exhibits incorporating authentic artifacts from the period. Both the museum and the outdoor living history exhibits are very child-friendly with demonstrations that appeal to kids and engage them in the presentations.

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Replica dugout canoe the kids are encouraged to try in the museum at Jamestown Settlement

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Filling their bags with corn for bartering at Powhatan Village

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Trading their corn for goods at James Fort

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They even have armor for visitors to try but you can’t shoot the cannon

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Jamestown Settlement replica ships

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Jonah trying out the bilge pump on one of the ships

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Leah checking out a small bunk on the ship

After our visit to Jamestown Settlement, we headed for home in earnest. Until next time.

 

Based on events from July 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Camino de Santiago

The story of the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James, is a mixture of history and legend. Historically, we know St. James the Apostle spent time on the Iberian peninsula seeking converts to Christianity, then he returned to Jerusalem where he was beheaded in 44 AD. Legend has it his body, accompanied by two disciples and two angels, was transported by boat to Galicia for burial. Nearly 800 years later a shepherd named Pelayo found some bones in a field which were declared to be the relics of St. James. Hearing of the discovery, King Alfonso II commissioned a church in the area and later, in 1078, a cathedral was built to house the relics. The town of Santiago (St. James) de Compostela (burial ground) grew up around it. Pilgrims came from around the world to see the relics of St. James and continue to come to this day.

Today there are 2.5 million visitors to Santiago de Compostela each year and about a half million are pilgrims walking the Camino, the third most important Christian pilgrimage after Jerusalem and Rome. If you walk 100 km or bike or ride a horse 200 km to Santiago by the routes on the map below, you can receive the Compostela, a certificate of completion. For Catholics, completion of the Camino during a holy year which only occurs every 25 years or by special declaration, also carries with it a plenary indulgence. (A plenary indulgence essentially forgives sins and can shorten the time in Purgatory.) Pope Francis declared 2016 a holy year so it may be a while, however, before another occurs. And by the way, Santiago de Compostela and the Camino are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Map of Camino de Santiago Routes provided by http://www.caminoadventures.com

Vigo, Spain, on the Galician coast was our final port of call on our Holland America cruise on the ms Rotterdam and we booked transportation to Santiago de Compostela for the day. Photos taken through the windows on the bus were on the whole, unsatisfactory, but I thought one photo with the explanation shared by the guide should be included. Throughout the countryside, we frequently saw what looked to me like raised miniature churches. They are called horreos, granaries that hold any kind of grain but especially corn in this area. The horreos are raised from the ground to keep the grain dry and often built of concrete to keep rats out.

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Horreo seen from the bus

As our bus approached the city, we saw more and more pilgrims with their walking sticks reaching the end of their Camino. We parked a short distance away from the Old Town and our guide led us on foot. Approaching the Cathedral, the excitement was palpable as we followed a pilgrim through a passageway where a bagpiper played traditional Galician music.

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Passageway into Praza do Obradoiro

Sadly, our first view of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was almost completely obscured by scaffolding but I appreciate that repairs and restoration continue to protect the cathedral for future generations to enjoy.

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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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Clocktower at Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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Hostal dos Reis Católicos across from the cathedral

The scallop shell is the symbol that marks the Camino to guide pilgrims along the trail. Although there are several explanations of the symbolism, the one that resonates most with me is the grooves on the shell begin from different points but all lead to one central point just as the many Caminos all lead to the destination of Santiago de Compostela.

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Scallop shell that marks the Camino

Inside the cathedral, the celebration of Mass was in progress but visitors were welcome, nevertheless.

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Interior of the Cathedral

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Interior of Cathedral

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Censer for burning incense during mass

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Statue of St. James that visitors touch, hug, or kiss as they pass behind it to see the crypt

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Crypt of St. James

Back outside, we walked around to the north facade of the Cathedral, then wandered through the narrow medieval streets of the Old Town.

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North facade of Cathedral

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Old Town Santiago de Compostela

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Old Town scene

 

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Rick, Lori, Laura, and Jim trying the local fare in Old Town

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Typical dish recommended by our waiter

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Local produce

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Iberian ham in a local shop

We bought just one item in the local shops–a cross of St. James rosary for our Catholic son who bears the middle name of James.

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Cross of St. James or Santiago Cross

As we stood on the street in the Old Town, we were delighted by a surprise parade through the narrow cobblestone street.

At the appointed hour, we headed back to the Cathedral and our meeting place for the return bus trip to Vigo and our cruise ship.

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Lori, Rick, Jim, and Jeff outside the south facade, the oldest of the Cathedral

I would love a return trip to Santiago de Compostela and the thought of a hiking adventure appeals to me. Our visit fired my imagination with visions of hiking the French Way, the original route marked in heavy red shown on the map above. Cheryl Strayed hiked 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Bill Bryson hiked nearly 800 miles of the Appalachian Trail. l propose we walk just 100 km (62 miles) from Sarria to Santiago which will earn us our Compostela. Who wants to go with me?

Based on events from May 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Explorers in Lisbon

During the 15th century, Portugal rose to dominance as a maritime power and Lisbon, one of the oldest capitals in Europe, became the most prosperous trading center on the continent. Under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal entered the Age of Discovery. Knowing we were walking in the footsteps of these great travelers who preceded us sent shivers down my spine.

We set off with alacrity the morning of day 2 in Lisbon to continue our own exploration. After a long fruitless wait at a tram stop for the famous Tram 28 to show us the city highlights, we continued walking until we reached Figueira Square, a transportation hub for the city.

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King João I, Figueira Square

Adjacent to Figueira Square, we found Rossio Square where it looked like a market would open soon, judging by the small white tents lining the square. No time to wait for that. We were intrigued by the wavy pattern in the pavement that seemed appropriate for the capital of a country whose Golden Age was based on sea power.

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Praca do Rossio, Rossio Square, Lisbon

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Statue of Dom Pedro IV, Rossio Square

We debated how to get to the district of Belem, about 4 miles away, to see the UNESCO World Heritage sites and the Monument to the Discoveries. The trolley supposedly went there and we had yet to ride it so that was one option. Lori and I were somewhat enamored with the touristy yet appealing tuk-tuk but Jim was unenthusiastic. We could also go by bus or taxi. In the end, we settled on a taxi as the quickest and simplest solution with our limited time.

We had the taxi deliver us to Belem Tower, constructed around 1515 as part of the defense system on the Tagus River to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

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Belem Tower

A short walk away, we found the other UNESCO site, the Monastery of the Hieronymites, built by King Dom Manuel I as a gift to the monks of St. Heronymus in exchange for their prayers for the king and seafaring explorers. Appropriately, Vasco da Gama, who famously discovered the route to India by sailing around Africa in 1497 and prayed here with his men before the voyage, is entombed within the monastery.

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Monastery of the Hieronymites

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Monastery of the Hieronymites

After exploration on our own, we eventually discovered the underpass to cross the highway to the Monument to the Discoveries. Built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, this monument memorializes explorers, cartographers, monks, leaders, and others from the Golden Age of Discovery, including Vasco da Gama, Magellan, King Manual I and others, led by Prince Henry at what appears to be the bow of a ship headed out to sea.

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Monument to the Discoveries from across the highway

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Monument to the Discoveries

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Monument to the Discoveries, Belem

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Monument to the Discoveries with 25th of April Bridge and Cristo Rei in the background

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View of 25th of April Bridge and Cristo Rei from Monument of the Discoveries

If the two sights in the photo above look familiar, the 25th of April Bridge, named for the revolution of 1974, looks much like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco except that this one is longer. Cristo Rei, the monument on the other side of the Tagus River, was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio de Janeiro.

Whether you call it a cable car, trolley, or tram, a ride on this vehicle is a highlight of any visit to Lisbon. We had the taxi drop us at the stop farthest west for Tram 28. The famous tram is so full by the time it gets further into the city that it’s nearly impossible to get a ride. At the outermost stop, everyone is required to get off and reboard and we were rewarded with seats by using this strategy. Tram 28 comes with pickpocket warnings due to the crowds of tourists who are distracted by the sights and ripe for the picking, so a seat where we could grip our purses while we took in the views was reassuring.

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Tram 28

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Riding Tram 28

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View from Tram 28

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View from Tram 28

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Scenes from Tram 28

While the photo ops from a moving vehicle aren’t always the best, we saw more of the old city than we could cover on foot and we thoroughly enjoyed our ride on Tram 28.

After we disembarked, we saw the scene below. The old buildings covered in satellite dishes struck me as a study in contrasts that demanded digital capture.

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Lisbon old and new

On our way back to the ship, we encountered a flea market but we didn’t really have the time or interest to shop.

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Flea Market in Lisbon

Here are just a couple more photos from the city.

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Lisbon

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Lisbon

Our final stop on our way back to the ship in time for our departure was a peek into the National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia.

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National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia

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National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia

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National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia

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View outside the National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia

As we sailed away, I imagined the feelings of the sailors who accompanied Vasco da Gama centuries ago as they departed from Lisbon to sail into the unknown. They, like me, likely hoped they would return to see this beautiful city again.

 

Based on events from May 2016.

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lost in Lisbon

Day 10 of our Holland America cruise on the ms Rotterdam found us cruising the Tagus River en route to our sixth port of call, Lisbon, Portugal.

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Cruising the Tagus River: 25 de Abril Bridge

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Cruising the Tagus River: view of Cristo-Rei statue (Christ the King)

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Cruising the Tagus River: Lisbon, Portugal

We were forewarned that Lisbon was hilly (an extreme understatement) but we were unprepared for the confounding narrow winding streets that kept us lost for most of our visit. We set off to find the Castelo de São Jorge (St George’s Castle) believing we’d find it if we just kept heading uphill because it’s above the city and supposedly visible from anywhere. (Not so.) Even maps and the innate male sense of direction failed us in our search but we eventually arrived and saw plenty along the way.

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Narrow winding street in Lisbon, Portugal

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One of many azulejo (painted ceramic tile) decorated buildings in Lisbon

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Cable car rumbling through a narrow street, Lisbon

The cable car illustrates how narrow these streets really are. In fact, in some places, it’s necessary to press into a doorway to get out of the way. Fortunately, the clang of the bell and rumble on the track warn pedestrians.

One of the places we found by chance was the Lisbon Cathedral. Founded in 1147, it is the oldest church in Lisbon.

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Lisbon Cathedral

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Lisbon Cathedral

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Lisbon Cathedral

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Lisbon Cathedral

We knew there was an elevator to assist visitors to reach the level of the castle and we finally found it adjacent to a grocery store but I couldn’t lead you back there if my life depended on it. We’d have just as easily taken the street, but this little oddity intrigued us enough that we wanted to experience it.

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Grocery store next to the elevator to the castle–can you spot Rick in line?

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Entrance to the elevator

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Good advice

When we arrived inside the gate of the Castle, we were greeted by a surprise which made our search totally worthwhile.

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Always willing to try new things, we, of course, purchased a glass which we got to keep and the view was thrown in for free.

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View from Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon.

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Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

Tickets for the castle were €8.50 and worth every penny. Although named for St. George, the patron saint of England in the 14th century, the castle was built by Arabs in the 11th century. Many were here before that, however, including Phoenicians, Romans, and Visigoths.

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Moat outside Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

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Flag of Portugal flying above Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

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Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

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Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

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Jim on the ramparts at Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

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Guys love a castle, don’t they? And a cannon

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Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

 

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Archeological museum at Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

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Azulejos in the archeological museum at Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

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Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

Peacocks roaming the grounds were an unexpected bonus with their vibrant plumage which they obstinately refused to spread for our photos.

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Peacock at Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon

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Needless to say, it was easier finding our way back to the ship as we headed downhill toward the water.

We had tickets that evening at Fado in Chiado for the show. Fado is a music genre that originated in Lisbon in the early 19th century. The word fado means fate in Portuguese and the music performed by a soloist accompanied by acoustic guitar, sounds mournful and full of longing. It is so symbolic of the Portuguese identity that UNESCO inscribed it to its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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Rick, Lori, Jim waiting for Fado to begin

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Naturally, photography and videotaping were not allowed during the performance but I found a sample on YouTube for you to enjoy.

 

For more in Lisbon, come back next time.

 

Based on events from May 2016.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

7 Hours on the Rock

One of the reasons I chose this Holland America cruise was because Gibraltar was a port of call on the itinerary and I was eager to visit the Rock. I wished we’d be in port longer than 7 hours but as it turned out, that was only one of the challenges.

First, a little historical context: In 711 AD Muslim General Tarik-ibn-Ziyad invaded the Rock taking it from the Visigoths. The Rock came to be called Jebel Tarik (Mountain of Tarik) which evolved to Gibraltar. The Moors were finally expelled from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella and in 1501 Queen Isabella decreed that Gibraltar would henceforth be part of Spain. Over 200 years later, the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 ceded Gibraltar to Britain and today, 300 years later, it remains a territory of Britain in spite of Spain’s desire to have it back. Citizens of Gibraltar have voted overwhelmingly to remain in the UK but following the recent successful Brexit vote, Spain promises to reopen the issue.

Today around 30,000 residents occupy Gibraltar and an estimated 6000 people cross the border each day for work. Interestingly, the busiest road in Gibraltar crosses the border and also crosses the only runway at the airport so the road has to be closed whenever a plane lands. You can see it on the map below. (I’m not sure I’d want to fly into this airport!) The climate is temperate which attracts tourists along with its robust gambling industry. Other top tourist attractions include the views from the Rock, the Barbary macaques, the 32 miles of tunnels running through the Rock, the Mediterranean Steps, and St. Michael’s Cave.

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Rick and Jim as we arrived at the port of Gibraltar

Our ship arrived at 7 am on Sunday, May 1. The following day was a bank holiday so I’m not sure whether businesses were closed because it was Sunday or because the next day was a bank holiday but lots of shops, other than souvenir shops were closed. Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we headed straight to the cable car, an aerial tram, to take us up to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve at the top of the Rock. They begin operation at 9:30 am and we were in the first car of the day.

The views on the 6-minute ride to the top were mostly obscured by fog. We could see little below us but nothing above. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the iconic view of the Rock of Gibraltar through the clouds at the top nor did we catch a glimpse of it all day. As you can see on the map above, the craggy view would be best from the northeast and especially from Eastern Beach but our ship was docked in the harbor to the west.

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View from the cable car to the top of the Rock

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Cable car to the top of the Rock

The Barbary apes (macaques) greeted us as we exited the cable car, mitigating our disappointment over the foggy views. Admittedly, this was my favorite experience in Gibraltar and I took lots of pictures but you only have to scroll through some of my favorites.

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Barbary ape at the top of the Rock

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Barbary ape and Lori

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Barbary ape

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No shame

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Ape accosting a visitor

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More of the same

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Rick and Lori with Barbary apes

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Jim and I with the Barbary apes

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One of the senior apes

We tried to wait out the fog in the Top of the Rock Cafe but the fog outlasted us.

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Rick, me, Lori having coffee in the cafe at the Top of the Rock

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There is no definitive answer as to how the Barbary apes came to inhabit Gibraltar but theories include a tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar to Morrocco and escaping apes owned by sailors visiting the port. Now there are some 230 apes living here but the population declined to just 7 during WWII. Legend has it that Britain will control Gibraltar as long as the macaques remain and consequently, Winston Churchill ordered the population restored. Today the ape population is managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society.

We decided to walk down from the top of the Rock in hopes that the fog would lift to provide us with views.

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Walking down from the top of the Rock

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Road walking down the rock of Gibraltar

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Caroline’s Battery, Rock of Gibraltar

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View from the Rock

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View from the Rock

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Lori with the view lost from the west

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Jim and I with the iconic view somewhere above us

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Moorish Castle

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Moorish Castle

Originally, we planned to visit the Great Siege Tunnels which were the opposite direction from St. Michael’s Cave and the Mediterranean Steps. In retrospect, I may have switched that. When we arrived at the tunnels, we realized we didn’t have enough time for the tour and continued down the Rock. We had nice views of the Moorish Castle dating from the 8th century AD but a trip down the Mediterranean Steps which were restored in 2007 may have been an even better experience.

Once we reached the bottom, a pub stop was in order, since we were, after all, in British territory with a powerful thirst after our hike.

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Hoisting a pint

Gibraltar definitely has that quintessential British feel and a couple Anglophiles like Lori and me enthusiastically soaked up the charm.

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Gibraltar

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Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned

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As we made our way back to the ship, we discovered May Day celebrations beginning in Casemate Square. Had we the time, we’d have stuck around longer to enjoy the show.

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May Day celebration, Casemate Square, Gibraltar

When we arrived back at the ship, we learned the second largest private yacht in the world, owned by a Russian tycoon, was in the harbor so, of course, I got a photo. Fuel is reputedly cheap in Gibraltar so they stopped by to fill up. (You can also spot the yacht it in an earlier photo of the harbor.)

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Second largest yacht in the world 

As we sailed away, that cloud continued to hover above Gibraltar, like an old friend unable to bid us farewell.

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View of Gibraltar from the west

 

I believe a return to Gibraltar may well be in my future since I have some unfinished business, namely a view and a photo that look like this:

 

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Free photo of the Rock of Gibraltar from the public domain

 

Based on events of May 2016.

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

My Tale of the Alhambra

With 8500 visitors each day, the Alhambra is Spain’s most visited monument. If you go, I strongly advise you to purchase tickets in advance. You can buy tickets onsite the day of your visit but the lines are long and the number sold is limited, so if you’re not there before 8 am, forget it. Each ticket has a specified time for entry into the Nasrid Palace to control the number of visitors to 300 each half-hour, and you must arrive within the designated time or admission is denied. In my last post, I explained why we generally don’t book excursions through the cruise line but there are exceptions and our day trip to the Alhambra was one of them. Spain Day Tours told us they could not get tickets for April 30 so we paid $200 for our cruise excursion rather than miss out.

Our ship docked in the port of Malaga at 8 am and we departed soon thereafter on the 2.5-hour bus ride to Granada. After a rest stop midway, we arrived in Granada late in the morning.

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Our guide shows us a map at the entrance to the Alhambra

Originally a military fortress to house troops in the Alcazaba, the Alhambra (Red Castle in Arabic) was rebuilt in the 1300’s to add palaces and the medina or court city. Home to the sultans of the Islamic Nasrid dynasty, their rule in Spain ended in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabel defeated the Moors to reestablish Christian rule. Following the rule of Ferdinand and Isabel and the Reconquista, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V began construction of the Charles V Palace in 1527 and added other Christian elements to the Alhambra. By the time Washington Irving took up residence in 1829 to write Tales of the Alhambra, the place had fallen into ruin. Fortunately, in 1870 Spain declared the Alhambra a national monument beginning the protection and restoration of this important historical complex and culminating in its designation in 1984 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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View of the walls around the Alhambra

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Outsides the walls of the Alhambra as we approach the Gate of Justice

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Looking down the path we walked up to the Gate of Justice to enter the Alhambra

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The Gate of Justice entrance to the Alhambra

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Plaque commemorating Washington Irving outside the Gate of Justice

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A hand, Islamic decoration above the Gate of Justice

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A key, another Islamic symbol with Arabic script above on the Gate of Justice

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View from inside the Alhambra overlooking the outer walls

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Ornamentation within the Alhambra

Just as we entered the area of the Nasrid Palace where the time of entry is strictly controlled, our friend Rick had a malfunction on his headphone that was furnished to better hear our tour guide. The rubber earpiece detached and descended into his ear canal where it lodged beyond the reach of desperate fingers. He announced he was leaving to seek medical attention. Our guide had a hard time understanding what he was telling her and once she understood, she had an even harder time explaining it to the staff guarding the entrance who were determined to keep out anyone without the proper ticket. None of us were sure whether they would allow him back in upon his return. Our bridge instructor from the cruise ship, Jeff, shepherded Rick back to our group upon his return after medical personnel used tweezers to pluck the renegade rubber piece from his ear.

I asked Jeff, a retired Navy captain, if he was somehow responsible for our group. He told me the previous day Susie had gotten separated from the tour group when she stopped to purchase a souvenir causing her husband, Charles, considerable worry and consternation. Jeff found the lost sheep and returned her to the fold and now just liked to keep an eye on the herd. (My words, not his.)

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Charles V Palace in the Alhambra with Jeff in the pink shirt at the rear of our group

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Court of the Myrtles, Alhambra

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Ornamentation

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Decorative art in a niche in the Court of Myrtles, Alhambra

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Throne Room, Alhambra

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Throne Room, Alhambra

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Tile floor in Throne Room, Alhambra

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The Court of the Lions, Alhambra

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The Court of the Lions, Alhambra

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Our tour group with Susie and Charles listening to the guide and Rick on the right after the ear piece incident

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Hall of Abencerrages, Alhambra

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Ceiling in Hall of Abencerrages, Alhambra

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Partal Palace, the oldest palace in the Alhambra

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St Mary Church, Alhambra

We didn’t have nearly enough time to fully appreciate the Alhambra and we saw just a fraction of the splendid and majestic complex on our tour. At the end of the tour, the guide offered to lead anyone interested to the Generalife, the nearby extensive gardens where royalty escaped the drudgery of the Alhambra. (It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.) We, of course, joined the group.

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Walk to the Generalife

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Generalife Gardens

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Patio of the Irrigation Ditch, Generalife

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Generalife

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Jim and I enjoy the view

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Generalife

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Generalife

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Lori, Rick, Laura, and Jim at Generalife

A buffet lunch followed our tour before we began the long ride back to Malaga and our home at sea, the ms Rotterdam. In spite of the confusing and complicated history, the crowds jostling to get a view, and the tightly controlled access, the Alhambra is definitely a five star historical and cultural monument not to be missed.

As Washington Irving penned in his Tales of the Alhambra, “Such is the Alhambra—a Moslem pile in the midst of a Christian land, an Oriental palace amidst the Gothic edifices of the West, an elegant memento of a brave, intelligent, and graceful people who conquered, ruled and passed away.”

 

Based on events from April 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Spain, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Day Trip to Sevilla, Spain

Many cruise passengers take an excursion to Sevilla, Spain from the port of Cádiz and we were no exception. Obviously, history nerds like Jim and me wanted to see the Real Alcázar, and yes, you guessed it, it’s another UNESCO World Heritage site and so is the cathedral and the bell tower that was once a minaret. If you’re new to UNESCO World Heritage, these are places deemed to be of universal importance which you can read more about here.

Holland America offered an all-day excursion to Sevilla that included the Alcázar for almost $200 per person. Our experience with cruise ship excursions isn’t terrible but they’re nearly always more expensive, there’s often a stop somewhere to sell us something we don’t need or want, and we’re usually fed a mediocre meal. Instead, we opted for an all-day tour through Spain Day Tours, which cost a mere 69 euros ($75) with no meal or stop to shop although we had free time to do both on our own.

The bus picked us up at the cruise port and our guide provided lots of commentary during the hour and a half ride to Sevilla. We learned that Spain is the second largest producer of almonds in the world behind the U.S., and Andalusia is one of the major locations for that crop. Even more interestingly, cork oak trees grow in this area, and incidentally, they also grow in Portugal (but no one told us about it while we were there). Harvested every nine years without harming the tree, the cork comes from the bark. I took a poor photo of cork oak trees out the bus window but I want to share it nevertheless.

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I also found a photo in the public domain that shows a tree after the cork was harvested. The white area is the bark and the red is where it’s been removed.  cork-oak-505260_1920

Upon our arrival in Sevilla, our first stop was the Plaza de España, built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929. Plaza de España refers to both the plaza and the magnificent,  semi-circular structure anchored by towers at either end connected by porticos. The building is constructed of brick decorated with azulejos (colored ceramic tiles).

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Plaza de España showing one of the towers

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Plaza de España with the other tower

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Portico at Plaza de España

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Columns on portico with azulejo decoration

Along the front of the building are 48 alcoves representing the provinces of Spain with benches and murals made of azulejos. Our guide showed us the alcove for Huelva, the province where Cristopher Columbus set sail for the New World.

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Alcoves for the provinces along the front of the building

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Alcove for the province of Huelva with mural

A canal, with four bridges representing the four ancients kingdoms of Spain, follows the curve of the building.

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The canal at Plaza de España

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Azulejo (ceramic tile) decoration on a bridge at Plaza de España

Following this impressive introduction to Sevilla, we walked through the old Jewish Quarter, today called Barrio Santa Cruz, to experience the charming and historic atmosphere of the old city.

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Walk through the old Jewish Quarter, today called Barrio Santa Cruz

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Barrio Santa Cruz, Sevilla

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Barrio Santa Cruz

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Barrio Santa Cruz

American author, Washington Irving, spent eight years in Spain and wrote several books about the country including Tales from the Alhambra, published in 1832This plaque commemorates his time in Sevilla and his love of Spain.

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Plaque honoring Washington Irving, Sevilla

Seeing the abundant orange trees lining the squares in this neighborhood as we had seen them in Cádiz, we inquired whether they were good to eat. Our guide explained that the bitter orange is not good to eat as is, but the bitter or Sevilla orange is used to make marmalade. You can tell if it’s a bitter orange by the leaf. If the leaf has a little bump at the base, it’s bitter.

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Sevilla orange

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Bitter Sevilla orange with bump at the base

Before a tour of the Real Alcázar, some historical context may be helpful. The Romans ruled the area of Sevilla from the second century, followed by the Vandals and then the Visigoths. The Moors, or Muslims, conquered the area in 711 and ruled Sevilla until 1248 when the Christians under Ferdinand III drove them out. The historical period called the Reconquista, in which Islam was expelled and Christian domination restored, wasn’t finally completed throughout Spain until 1492.

The Alcázar was originally built in Islamic style during the 10th century to house the Moorish governor.  Over the years, however, the palace was rebuilt, restored, and expanded combining both  Islamic and Christian elements to create an architectural style called Mudéjar.

Today, the Spanish royal family stays here when they are in Sevilla. Luckily for us, they were not in residence because the palace is closed to the public when they are present. The palace also served as a film location for several episodes in the fifth season of the HBO series, Game of Thrones. Maybe some of my photos will look familiar to enthusiasts.

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Entrance to Real Alcázar

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Patio del León, Alcázar

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Patio de la Monteria, Real Alcázar

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Real Alcázar

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Real Alcázar

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Sala de la Justicia, part of the original palace

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Baños Doña Maria de Padilla, actually a water tank at Alcázar

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Gardens at Real Alcázar

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Gardens at Real Alcázar

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Gardens at Real Alcázar

Following our tour of Real Alcázar, we had free time to tour the cathedral, shop, or get a bite to eat. We chose to find some tapas.

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Another stop for Tapas

We planned to see the Santa Maria de la Sene Cathedral of Sevilla, the burial site for Christopher Columbus. When we saw the lines, however, we didn’t want to spend our precious time standing in line so we contented ourselves with viewing the outside.

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The Giralda, originally a minaret for an Islamic mosque, today it is the bell tower for the cathedral

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Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral in Sevilla

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Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral, Sevilla

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Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral, Sevilla

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El Giraldillo Weathervane outside Santa Maria de la Sene Cathedral, Sevilla

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Santa Maria de la Sene Cathedral

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Santa Maria de la Sene Cathedral

I’m sure there’s plenty more to see in Sevilla but our day trip was a satisfying introduction.

Based on events from April 2016.

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Spain, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Walk Around Cádiz

Cádiz, founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain. Located on the southwestern coast in the region of Andalucia, Cádiz occupies a long narrow peninsula that juts into the Atlantic, providing plentiful sea views and beautiful beaches.  Our cruise ship, the ms Rotterdam, arrived in our third port of call at Cádiz around 4:00 in the afternoon. We had reservations for a flamenco show that evening and a tour to Sevilla the following day so we didn’t have a lot of time to explore Cádiz but fortunately, the cruise port is adjacent to the city and it was just a short walk to the historic center.

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View of Cádiz from our ship, ms Rotterdam

To save time later, we first checked out the location for our evening flamenco show, a wise decision because we had some difficulty finding La Cava on a narrow cobblestone street.

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La Cava, where we had reservations for the flamenco show

I’ve mentioned free walking tours in previous blog posts and Cádiz would have been a good place to have a guide to lead us and tell us about the city. Just google Cádiz free walking tour and you’ll find Panchotours.com. We arrived too late for a tour so we wandered around on our own and saw many of the same sights without the interesting commentary that a guide would provide.

Near the port, we discovered the Cortes Monument erected to commemorate Spain’s first liberal constitution established here in 1812. Cádiz has a long liberal history which is still evident today.

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Cortes Monument

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One of many narrow streets through Cádiz

When we spied a shop featuring jamón Ibérico, arguably the finest ham in the world which is produced in this area, we knew a stop for tapas including this delicacy was necessary.

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Jamón Ibérico

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A break for tapas

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Jamón Ibérico

Fortified with the ham, cheese, and wine, we soldiered on.

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One of many small parks in Câdiz

 

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Interesting architecture found in the narrow lanes of Cádiz

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Another park

The Plaza de las Flores (Plaza of Flowers) seemed to be the center of activity.

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Plaza de las Flores

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Rick and Lori at Plaza de las Flores

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Cádiz Cathedral

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A peek inside the cathedral

I was intrigued by the banner on City Hall that read, “For a Europe of Open Doors: Borders Kill.” Obviously a liberal reference to the refugee crisis in Europe, my later research uncovered the fact that this banner was raised by an Andalucian human rights organization, APDHA.

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City Hall in Cádiz

We returned to the ship for dinner then set off for the flamenco show at La Cava with no trouble finding the taverna this time. Our reserved table was close to the stage and the venue only seats 60-70 patrons so we knew we’d have a great view of the show.

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La Cava

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La Cava with Lori and Jim at our table on the right

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Jim and I with the stage directly behind us

Flamenco is commonly believed to have originated among gypsies, or gitanos, in Andalucia although a lack of documentation older than 200 years makes the origin difficult to substantiate. I, like most foreigners, believed that flamenco was a dance but it is actually composed of 4 elements, cante (song), baile (dance), toque (playing guitar), and jaleo (cheering and clapping). The show we experienced at La Cava exhibited each of these characteristics in a stirring authentic performance. The performers began with guitar and vocalizations followed by the dancers accompanied by clapping and cheering throughout the performance.

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Our performers: 3 dancers, the vocalist, and guitarist

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Flamenco dancer at La Cava

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Another flamenco dancer at La Cava

 

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Third and final flamenco dancer at La Cava

 

Videotaping was forbidden but I found this video on YouTube recorded at La Cava that includes the vocalist and one of the dancers we saw. Enjoy!

 

Based on events from April 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventure in Porto, Portugal

I was especially excited to reach our second port of call at Porto, Portugal on the ms Rotterdam. This was my first time in Portugal and I’d read much about Porto at the mouth of the Douro River. Porto was established by the Romans in the 4th century, B.C. and in fact, Portugal was named for Porto. It’s also home to a UNESCO World Heritage site which includes the Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and the Monastery of Serra do Pilar.

We were initially faced with twin challenges at Porto. First of all, we would be in port from just 7 am to 1 pm and secondly, the cruise terminal is located in Leixoes, 10 kilometers by metro to the city center. I, nevertheless, planned an ambitious itinerary, starting on high ground in this hilly city and seeing the sights as we walked down to the river. This is the plan for Porto from my itinerary:

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I wanted to include the Monastery of Serra do Pilar but time simply wouldn’t allow it. As it turned out, we skipped the bookshop, too.

In addition to the challenges we knew about, we were confronted with several frustrations throughout our short stay. First, we had difficulty finding the metro stop. At 7:00 am, there were no buses or taxis lined up outside the cruise terminal and very few people on the streets. We asked someone where to catch the metro and she waved vaguely up the street. When we finally found the metro stop about 20 minutes later, the ticket machine only accepted coins, we had only paper, and the ticket office wasn’t open. We finally got  change at a nearby coffee shop and, armed with our tickets, we queued up. Nervous about whether we were at the right stop, I queried others waiting there, reassured myself we were in the correct place and obtained a promise from a family that they would tell us where to get off at the Sao Bento metro stop.

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Early morning empty street in Leixoes, Portugal

We finally arrived at our destination around 8:30 without further distress. Across the street from our metro stop, we found the Sao Bento train station where we viewed exquisite blue tile work depicting the important events in Portugal’s history.

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Sao Bento Train Station

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Tile work in Sao Bento Train Station

The cathedral was just a short walk away but it didn’t open until 9:00 so we took our time looking about.

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Market we passed en route to the cathedral

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Pelourinho and overlook in Cathedral Square

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View of the Douro River from Cathedral Square

Originally built in the 12th century in Romanesque style, the cathedral today combines Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles due to numerous additions and alterations over the years.

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Porto Cathedral

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Porto Cathedral

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Porto Cathedral

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Interior of Porto Cathedral

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Porto Cathedral Interior

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Interior of Porto Cathedral

Upon leaving the cathedral, we wound our way down through narrow medieval streets, encountering spectacular views, dead ends, wrong turns, and beautiful surprises until we reached Ribeira do Porto, the Porto Riverbank.

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View of Porto with Clerigos Church Tower

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Scene from Porto

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Narrow medieval street in Porto

 

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Museo de Arte Sacra e Arqueologia

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Palacio da Bolsa

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Ribeira

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Ribeira in Porto

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Walking the Ribeira in Porto

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Along the Ribeira in Porto

Built in the 1880’s, the double-decker Luiz I Bridge spans the Douro River between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.  The port wineries are located across the river and we intended to walk across the bridge to tour the Sandeman Winery. The top level of the bridge is for the metro and pedestrians but we were already at river level so rather than climbing up to the upper level, we crossed at river level where vehicle and pedestrian traffic are both allowed.

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View of Luiz I Bridge

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Luiz I Bridge

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View from the Luiz I Bridge

We easily found Sandeman’s but it wasn’t open yet so we hung around outside and took more photos of Porto from that side of the river.

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Rick, Lori, and I at Sandeman’s

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Porto across the River Douro

The river seemed high and another couple told us the river cruises were transporting passengers by bus because of it. We even found marks next to Sandeman’s door to record the height of various past floods. Fortunately, we weren’t faced with flooding!

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Marks to the left of the door showing the water level in previous floods

When Sandeman opened, we discovered there were no tours in English that morning so off we went to search for another winery nearby. Fortunately, up the hill, we found Offley and had another wait. We were the only customers awaiting a tour that morning so for 8 euros each we had a personal tour with a charming and knowledgeable guide.

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Offley Cellars

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Lori and I at Offley Cellars

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Touring Offley Cellars

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Our guide educates us

Port wine developed in this area to provide England with a source for wine when they were at war with France and unable to secure their wine from that country. Grapes grew well in Portugal but the long sea journey to England resulted in spoiled wine until the wine was fortified with grape brandy in the 17th century. Offley was established in 1737 in London by William Offley, a wine merchant who soon expanded his business to include port wine production in the Douro Valley. The company was subsequently brought to prominence by Joseph James Forrester when he took over 100 years later. Today Sogrape Vinhos owns the company.

Following our tour, we tasted Porto White, Porto Ruby, and Porto Tawny. We could definitely tell the wine was “fortified” but my husband, not a big wine drinker, liked it much better than regular wines. The white and ruby were younger wines but I think I most enjoyed the tawny, with a more robust and mature flavor.

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Port tasting

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All is well with a little port

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View across the river to Porto from Offley Winery with Monastery of Serra do Pilar in upper right corner

By now, we were running short of time to get back to our cruise ship before departure time. Before our tour, we’d asked at the ticket office about calling us a taxi and she said they would do so after the tour. We waited for what seemed like a long time and when the driver finally arrived, he spoke no English. And I mean, no English. We finally communicated to him that we needed to go to the cruise port at Leixoes. Off we went bouncing along narrow cobblestoned streets only wide enough for one vehicle around blind curves with a toot of the horn for warning while I bit my lip and held on for dear life. Then we got stuck in a traffic jam with tour buses blocking the road. The police finally sorted it out and we were off again. When we arrived at Leixoes, we actually had the driver drop us farther away  because we were confused and went the wrong way causing another delay.

We did make it back in time but I think we all felt stressed by the experience.    Whenever things don’t go well or exactly as planned, my husband and I say, “Well, that was an adventure.” And it was.

Based on events from April 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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