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

Un Día en A Coruña, Spain

Admittedly, I had never heard of A Coruña, Spain prior to our visit. Located in the northwest corner of Spain on the Atlantic coast in the region of Galicia, A Coruña is noteworthy as the base from which the Spanish Armada set sail to conquer England in 1588. Even more importantly to me, however, it is the home of another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Tower of Hercules.

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Morning in A Coruña, Spain

We were ready to disembark when our ship docked at 8 am. We took bus #3 to our number one sight, the Tower of Hercules, but unfortunately, found that it didn’t open until 10 am. Instead of waiting until the opening time to climb the 234 steps to the top of the tower, we contented ourselves with a tour of the grounds and the spectacular views from the base of the tower.

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Jim climbing the hill to the Tower of Hercules

The only Roman lighthouse still in existence and the oldest lighthouse in the world, the Tower of Hercules was built by the Romans in the last half of the first century, AD. Originally named Farum Brigantium by the Romans, it has served continuously as a lighthouse since its construction, marking the entrance to La Coruña Harbor. The restoration in 1789 preserved the original Roman structure resulting in its designation in 2009 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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The Tower of Hercules

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Tower of Hercules

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View from the Tower of Hercules

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View from the Tower of Hercules

The tower is surrounded by a sculpture garden in a green space comprising 116 acres. The Doors of Hercules, on either side of the tower, are among the art pieces in the collection. The bronze doors, sculpted by Francisco Leiro, contain images representing the various myths and legends about the tower.

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The Doors of Hercules, a bronze sculpture by Francisco Leiro

Next to the tower, the Portrait of King Carlos III, by Pablo Serrano Aguilar, struck me as incongruous until I did a little research and learned that he was the monarch who authorized the restoration of the tower. I first thought he looked like an American Revolutionary soldier who wandered into the wrong historical setting.

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Portrait of King Carlos III

Legend has it the Celts, led by Breogán, founded Brigantia and built a tower on this site prior to the Romans. When his son, Ithe, spied Ireland from the top of the tower, he set sail for the island but was killed upon his arrival by locals. When his body was brought back to Brigantia, the family decided to return to Ireland to avenge his death and settled there permanently. (Per sign on-site.) The white granite sculpture, Breogán, by José Cid, commemorates this story.

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Jim, Rick, and Lori next to Breogán

The mosaic, Rosa de Los Vientos, by Javier Correa, pays tribute to the seven Celtic peoples.

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View of mosaic, Rosa de Los Vientos

Finally, the sculpture, Charon, by Ramón Conde, depicts the boatman who ferried the dead to Hades in Greek mythology. Hercules defeated him in a standoff when he faced the challenge to bring the three-headed dog, Cerebus, back from Hades.

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Charon

There was more to see including a Muslim cemetery and we could have spent lots more time at the tower but we wanted to get to the historic quarter and the castle. We set off to walk the 2 kilometers to the old city by way of the new promenade along the water.

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Promenade along the water in A Coruña

We stopped first at San Carlos Garden in the Historic Quarter where Sir John Moore is entombed. He died in the Battle of Coruña where he defeated the French. This peaceful and beautiful park is the perfect resting place for any hero.

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San Carlos Garden

Then by chance, we came upon Santa Maria del Campo Collegiate Church from the 13th century and took a peek inside.

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Santa Maria del Campo Collegiate Church, A Coruña

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Santa Maria del Campo Collegiate Church, A Coruña

Plaza de la Harina, today called Plaza de Azcárraga, was the main square in the old city where grain was sold.

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Plaza de la Harina, aka Plaza de Azcárraga

The Church of Santiago, built in the 12th century, is one of A Coruña’s oldest buildings.

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Church of Santiago

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Church of Santiago, A Coruña

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Santiago, in Church of Santiago

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Street in the old city

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Gate in the old city

The Castle of San Antón was built beginning in the 14th century as a fortress to quarantine soldiers with a disease called “the fire of San Antón.” It later served as a prison for political prisoners as well as common criminals. Today it houses the Archeological and History Museum.

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View of San Antón Castle

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Grounds of San Antón Castle

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San Antón Castle

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Cistern at San Antón Castle

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Borna, a replica, at San Antón Castle

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Museum at San Antón Castle

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Religious and funeral art at San Antón Castle

Following our visit to the Castle of San Antón, we strolled back to the modern, attractive cruise terminal. We enjoyed our first port of call in A Coruña very much with everything conveniently located near the cruise ship terminal or a short bus or tram ride away.  We didn’t take the time to see the beaches, the new city of nearly 250,000, or shopping areas but we saw the historic areas that interested us most.

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Our ship, the ms Rotterdam, at A Coruña cruise port

Based on events from April/May 2016.

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Setting Sail on the MS Rotterdam

The European adventure that began with Keukenhof and Bruges took us next by train to Rotterdam in the Netherlands to board our ship, the ms Rotterdam, for a 14-day cruise to Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar.

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Our ship, the ms Rotterdam

My research of ground transportation in these three countries led me to the perfect itinerary on the Holland America Line. As I’ve said before, if you want an introduction to a broad area and to sample places within it, a cruise is more efficient and affordable than arranging your own transportation, lodging, and meals. Then when you find your favorite places within the itinerary, you can always return and immerse yourself for a longer period.

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Setting sail is always exciting and this trip was no exception.

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Setting sail from Rotterdam

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Rotterdam from the ms Rotterdam

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Charming windmill in Rotterdam through a dirty window

We enjoyed scenes of Rotterdam, a city totally rebuilt following WW2, from the ship but when we reached the North Sea, the captain announced we would turn back to deliver a passenger with a medical emergency. Then a short while later, he announced a helicopter would instead evacuate the passenger. This was the first of three medical evacuations that  occurred on this cruise which caused a ship staff person to tell a friend of ours that she had worked on this ship for 10 years and had seen a total of three medical evacuations in all that time. Until now, when her experience doubled within two weeks.

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Rescue helicopter approaching

Following the excitement, we settled in for two days at sea which allowed us plenty of time to explore the ms Rotterdam.

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Jim relaxing in our cabin

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Our cabin

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Our cabin

We usually cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line and this was just our second cruise on the Holland America Line. I choose cruises by a combination of itinerary and price and this one fit both criteria. Both NCL and HAL offer good service; clean, well-maintained ships; high-quality food; and good entertainment. HAL has a bit of an edge, however, with a sofa and bathtub in their standard ocean-view cabins and pay washers and dryers where passengers can do their own laundry. For a two-week cruise, that laundry option is especially important.

The ms Rotterdam, previously the Holland America Line’s flagship, is a beautiful, elegant ship with a capacity of 1400 passengers and 600 staff.

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ms Rotterdam

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Poolside area

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Enclosed pool area with the retractable roof closed

With several sea days on this itinerary, we were able to enjoy the hot tub on the ship. None of us swam in the pool but many of the intrepid Dutch passengers seemed to enjoy it.

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Lori and I ready to visit the hot tub

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Jim, after the hot tub

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The roof retracted on the pool deck

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Art treasures on the ms Rotterdam

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More original ancient art on the ms Rotterdam

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ms Rotterdam

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Casino on the ms Rotterdam

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Entertainment in the theater

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Theater on the ms Rotterdam

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Rick, Lori, and I in the theater

A new offering in our cruise  experience, the ms Rotterdam offered bridge lessons on our days at sea. We were “game” to try it and became regulars in class. Jeff, the instructor, was very helpful and soon became a friend and we enjoyed his company off the ship while on excursions as well.

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Jim, Rick, and Lori practicing our bridge game

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Our instructor, Jeff, assisting our group at bridge

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View from the bow of the ms Rotterdam

We especially enjoyed the cooking demonstrations we attended with recipes provided for such dishes as Classic Spanish Paella, Saffron Shrimp and Stuffed Cherry Peppers, and Portuguese Mini Lemon-Orange Cakes.

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One of several cooking demonstrations we attended

I’ll devote an entire post later to the outstanding food we enjoyed onboard but meanwhile, here are a few scenes from the main dining room.

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Main Dining Room

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Main Dining Room

A favorite special touch aboard the ms Rotterdam was the rug in the elevator which was changed daily. The rug announced the day of the week to us, a helpful aid on a long cruise when you have no responsibilities but enjoyment.

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Day of the week rug in the elevator

After two days at sea, we felt very comfortable with our home away from home on the ms Rotterdam and ready for our first port of call, A Coruña, Spain. Come back next week to read about it.

 

Taken from events in April and May 2016.

 

 

 

 

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A Day in Bruges

With just one full day to spend in Bruges, we had to be selective about what to see. We planned to begin early and see as much as possible in the short time we had.

After an early breakfast, we headed straight to the bell tower. One of the top sights in Bruges, it allows only 70 visitors inside at a time so we arrived well before the 9:30 opening to make sure we were first in line.

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Belfry of Bruges

The bell tower, or belfry, was an important institution in medieval Bruges. The 272 ft (82 m) tower served as a lookout and a means of communication. The bell rang at different times with different tones to tell the people when it was time to go to work, break for lunch, close the city gates at the end of the day, call the men to battle, sound an alarm, or issue important announcements.

We climbed 366 winding, narrow steps to the top to see the clock mechanism, the carillon with 47 bells, and the view.

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Stairwell in the Belfry of Bruges

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Carillon in the Belfry of Bruges]

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Reaching the top

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View of the square from the Belfry

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Bruges from the Belfry

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Bruges

Bruges is called the Venice of the north so our next stop was a canal boat tour. For 8 euros we enjoyed views of Bruges from the canals accompanied by lots of historical information from our gregarious and knowledgeable driver.

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Our captain was friendly and gregarious

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View from the boat

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Church of Our Lady viewed from the canal tour

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Another boat meeting us

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Canal boat tour

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I loved all the swans in the canals

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View from the boat

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Canal boat tour

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Canal boat tour

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View from the water of Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel where the hitmen in the movie, In Bruges, stayed

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Jim and I on the canal tour

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Yet another swan photo

Belgian chocolates are world-renowned and we wanted to taste some and after tasting, we wanted to take some home. We found a lovely shop, Pralinette, selling exquisite hand-made chocolates where we purchased just what we wanted. I talked with the head chocolatier, Fangio De Baets, who explained to me that the chocolates were hand-made on-site with the best quality Belgian chocolate.

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Jim in front of Pralinette

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Inside Pralinette

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Chocolatier Fangio De Baets

Fortified with chocolate, our next stop was the Church of Our Lady to view Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Dating from the 13th century, the church has been under restoration for the last several years with a completion date in 2017.  Fortunately for us, the exterior was completed in 2011 and the scaffolding was removed so our view of the outside brickwork was impressive.

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Church of our Lady

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Inside Church of our Lady

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Tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold in the Church of our Lady

Our primary purpose in visiting the Church of Our Lady was to view the sculpture, Madonna and Child. Sculpted from white marble, Michelangelo completed this piece around 1504 and it was his only sculpture to leave Italy during his lifetime. You may recall this sculpture was featured in the movie, The Monuments Men, as one of the art treasures recovered from the Nazis.

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Madonna and Child by Michelangelo

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Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child

Following our visit to the Church of Our Lady, we felt the need for a little refreshment so we stopped at St Janshoeve Restaurant for a waffle, another Belgian specialty, and a coffee.

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Rick, Lori, and Jim relaxing at St Janshoeve

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Waffle and coffee at St Janshoeve

Then it was on to Brouwerij De Halve Maan (Half Moon Brewery). On the brewery tour, they told us there are 1608 Belgian beers made in numerous Belgian breweries but only De Halve Maan Brewery is located in the historic center of Bruges.

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Myself, Jim, Rick, and Lori on the brewery tour at De Halve Maan

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Our tour guide telling us about the beer-making process

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Tour at De Halve Maan Brewery

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View from the roof of De Halve Maan Brewery

A family operation since 1856, today the brewery produces 5 million liters of beer each year. Transporting the increasing volume of beer to the outskirts of town for bottling caused a traffic problem of major proportions on narrow medieval streets. Thirty-six-year-old Xavier Vanneste, the current head of the company, came up with the idea to transport the beer by pipeline beneath the medieval streets of Bruges.We heard about the project which was underway when we visited in April 2016 and I read it was completed in September. You can read more about it from NPR here.

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View of the pipeline under construction at De Halve Maan

At the end of the tour, we enjoyed our complimentary Brugse Zot beer made on-site along with a local cheese.

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Brugse Zot beer and cheese

We didn’t see everything Bruges had to offer but we saw a number of the highlights. With only a day to spend, we felt we made a substantial dent in the sights of Bruges and left enough for a return visit in the future.

 

Based on events from April 2016.

 

 

 

 

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

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