Monthly Archives: December 2016

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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