Monthly Archives: January 2017

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: , , , , | 4 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

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