UNESCO

Kingston, Ontario to Niagara Falls

Disappointed to learn Fort Henry, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Kingston, Ontario, closed for the season on September 3, we, nevertheless, walked around a bit and took a few photos on day 7 of our Great Lakes Road Trip. Built in the 1830’s atop Point Henry and overlooking the St. Lawrence River on a military route from Montreal to Ottawa,  the strategic value was readily apparent and the views were outstanding.

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View from Ft. Henry toward Kingston

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The gate at Ft. Henry at the upper fort

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View of the lower fort

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The lower fort

Kingston is the door to the 1000 Islands, a region located in the St. Lawrence River along the U.S./ Canada border. We drove 20 miles east to Ganonoque for a boat tour of the Thousand Islands with Gananoque Boat Line, billed as the largest and oldest of the cruise companies in the islands.  We decided on the 1-hour Beauty of the Islands cruise departing from Gananoque for $24.95 rather than the 5-hour Boldt Castle Stopover for $48.80.

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Beauty of the Islands cruise route

The 1000 Islands are rich with history, beginning with First Nations people who inhabited the area before French explorer Jacques Cartier discovered the area in the 1500s followed by Samuel de Champlain in the 1600s. By the late 1800s, the area became the summer vacation destination for millionaires during the Gilded Age. George Boldt, the wealthy owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, built Boldt Castle for his wife, Louise, who died before its completion without ever seeing it.

Incidentally, Thousand Island salad dressing was created here. One version of the story says George Boldt’s chef created the recipe but another version says it was created by Sophia Lalonde, the wife of a fishing guide. Whichever story you believe, when George Boldt got ahold of the recipe, he put it on the menu at the Waldorf Astoria, and the rest is history.

Today, the archipelago of 1864 islands in the St. Lawrence River remains a vacation paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Only a few islands are reachable by ferry; otherwise private watercraft are required with plenty of boat rentals available throughout the area. Twenty-one islands comprise the 1000 Island National Park of Canada with docks, trails, and camping facilities.

As we embarked our cruise boat, the day was warm and sunny. We enjoyed the ride with commentary to accompany the close-up views of many small islands and cottages.

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I have no idea which ferry we saw in the photo below but if you look carefully, you can see it’s cable-driven. This method is safer on a river with a strong current. We were lucky to have gotten a look at this one in action.

IMG_7257Many of the islands are small enough to accommodate just one cottage. In fact, on our cruise they told us to be considered an island, it must be at least 6 square feet of land with at least 2 trees. I read on various websites, however, that the requirement is one tree and the land must be fully above water 365 days a year. Either way, some of these islands are very small and could easily be submerged by a high wake.

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Note the sign “PLEASE NO WAKE”

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Following our cruise, we crossed the Thousand Islands International Bridge to re-enter the United States.

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Thousand Island International Bridge

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View of the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Island International Bridge

We had planned to follow the shore of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls but when I saw Seneca Falls, NY on the map, I was keen to visit the site of the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. and Jim was willing.

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In July 1848, over 300 women and men gathered in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY to discuss the rights of women. Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, on the first day only women were allowed to attend and discuss principles. On the second day, 100 women and men discussed and signed the Declaration of Sentiments which expanded on the sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence and began with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.”

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Restored Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held

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Interior of Wesleyan Chapel

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Sign outside Wesleyan Chapel

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Outside the Visitor Center at Women’s Rights National Historical Park

For me, the most moving exhibits inside the Visitor Center were the First Wave Statue and an exact replica of the suffrage banner. The First Wave Statues represent the first wave of women’s rights activists including the 5 organizers of the convention, the men who supported their efforts, and others who did not sign the Declaration of Sentiments.

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The suffrage banner celebrated the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 granting women the right to vote. The colors in the banner are purple for justice, white for purity of intent, and gold for courage. The stars represent the 36 states that ratified the amendment.

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In 1980, the Women’s Rights Historical Park was established as part of the National Park Service. It’s easy to forget the struggles of those who led the way to establish the rights of women. It took another 72 years after the convention to secure the right to vote for women. Today, we have enjoyed that right for fewer than 100 years. This national park serves as an important reminder.

We finished day 7 in Niagara Falls to celebrate our wedding anniversary which I’ll share in my next post.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

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Categories: Canada, History, National Parks, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Taste of Lyon, France

Located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon is the third largest city in France and sometimes considered the more friendly and likable little sister of Paris. As a UNESCO World Heritage site and the gastronomy capital of France, Lyon offers obvious appeal but we enjoyed some unique and lesser-known attractions as well.

We arrived in Lyon at 8:30 AM on day 6 of our Viking River Cruise and started off with a bus tour of the city.

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This small boat pulled up to our ship following our arrival in Lyon

The Place Bellecour is the third largest square in France and the “beautiful heart” of the city. Created in 1708 by Louis XIV, a statue of the Sun King adorns the plaza.

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Place Bellecour

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View from Place Bellecour toward Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourviere atop the hill

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Place des Jacobins

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St Nizier Church Lyon, France

La Fresque des Lyonnais is, without a doubt, the most impressive trompe l’oeil I have ever seen. The mural features well-known Lyonnais including the Lumière brothers who invented the cinématographe in 1895 and the Little Prince, created by author Antoine de St.-Exupéry in 1942. I could gaze upon this for hours, it is so fascinating to me. Everything is painted, even the windows, doors, and railings. It is all illusion. Fortunately, our bus stopped to allow us the time to take photographs and I took many.

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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Lumiére Brothers

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The Little Prince

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

Lyon was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its political, economic, and cultural importance since the 1st century B.C. when the Romans founded the city and called it Lugdunum. Roman ruins are still evident although we only viewed them from the bus.

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Roman ruins in Lyon, France

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Roman ruins in Lyon, France

We stopped at the top of Fourviere Hill for a visit to Basilique Notre-Dame. Built in the late 1800’s, it became a basilica soon after its consecration. One of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen, it was built entirely with private funds.

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Basilica Notre-Dame

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The views of the city from atop the Fourviere Hill reminded me of the views from Sacré Coeur in Paris. Even the bit of smog in the air hanging over the city seemed familiar.

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After our visit to the Basilica, the bus delivered us to the old town for a walking tour. I was fascinated by the traboules, secret passageways through buildings that connect one street to another.  Originally, the traboules were used to access water at the river more quickly and later they were used by weavers to transport silk to markets in the city center. Today, the 30 or so of the more than 300 existing traboules which are open to the public are marked by a shield next to the door as shown in the photo below.

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Door to a traboule

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Lori inside a traboule

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Inside a traboule

The silk industry began in Lyon in 1466 under King Louis XI and less than 80 years later, King Francois I granted a monopoly to Lyon for the production of silk.  Silk remains an important industry in Lyon today and many of the shops we saw in the old town sold scarves. (A few were even made from locally produced silk.)

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Jerry, Lori, and Jim outside a shop in Lyon while Kathy shopped

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Street in old town Lyon

As I said earlier, Lyon is considered the gastronomy capital of France. My palate is not refined enough to appreciate a 3-star restaurant (and my pocketbook can’t afford a 3-star palate anyway). You can still enjoy a great culinary experience at a reasonable price at a bouchon Lyonnais, a local eatery that features regional cuisine.

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Our guide tells us about the bouchon Lyonnais

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One last view

We had too little time in this impressive city. I definitely needed more time to adequately explore the Roman ruins, learn about the silk industry, and eat in a bouchon Lyonnais. A return trip is definitely on my list.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

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

Pont du Gard

After our morning tour of the Palace of the Popes and Les Halles in Avignon on day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to the ship for lunch before our next excursion. Our new friend, Laura, joined us and we discussed our plans for the afternoon. Laura had chosen an optional Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tour and Tasting. We had considered it but being Roman history junkies, we opted instead for the excursion to Pont du Gard. I asked Laura to pick up a bottle of wine for us to share at dinner that evening so that we wouldn’t entirely miss out on tasting this celebrated wine.

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Laura, Kathy, Jerry, Jim, and Lori at lunch on the Viking Buri

Following lunch, we boarded our motor coach for the half-hour ride to Pont du Gard. We especially enjoyed seeing the vineyards from the bus and wondered whether any of the grapes we saw were used for Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine.

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Grape vines viewed from our motor coach

Built by the Romans over 2000 years ago, the Nimes Aqueduct carried 5 million gallons of fresh water each day from the springs of Uzes to the Roman outpost of Nimes, 31 miles away. The actual distance is somewhat less but the uneven terrain necessitated a longer winding route. The engineering requirements amazed me. Obviously, the aqueduct transported the water downhill using gravity to get it to flow but Nimes is just 55 feet lower than the water source. Consequently, the slope of the aqueduct was just 25 inches per mile. Much of the aqueduct ran underground or at ground level but the magnificent Pont du Gard was built to cross the Gardon River and stands today at 50 meters (164 ft.) as the tallest aqueduct built by the Romans. The three-level bridge was built of locally quarried limestone and according to our guide, constructed without the use of mortar. The official website of Pont du Gard, however, says, “The highest part of the structure is made out of breeze blocks joined together with mortar,” so I believe mortar was used on the uppermost level in the water channel to waterproof it.

Although use of the aqueduct to transport water ceased by the 6th century, it continued to function as a bridge for carts and pedestrians to cross the Gardon River. By the 18th century, a road designed by Henri Pitot was incorporated into the second level and motorized traffic was allowed until 1997. In 1985, Pont du Gard was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today the bridge is used strictly for pedestrian traffic. For those who are particularly adventurous, you can also take a guided tour of the third tier for an extra fee. We did not.

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Our tour guide showing us a map of the area at the entrance to Pont du Gard

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The entrance to the Pont du Gard site

 

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1000-year-old olive tree transplanted from Spain to Pont du Gard in 1988

 

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First view of Pont du Gard

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Closer view as we approach Pont du Gard

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View of the Gardon River that Pont du Gard crosses

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Le Bistro du Vieux Moulin along the walkway to Pont du Gard

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Approach showing bicycler enjoying this space, too

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I don’t get tired of this view, do you?

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Proof we were here

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View of Gardon River from Pont du Gard

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On the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard

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View from Pont du Gard

After our guide led us to the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard while telling us about the construction and history, we had free time to explore on our own. Well-marked paths on both the right bank and left bank of the river enable visitors to wander, explore, and picnic in the Garrigue, as the wooded scrubland surrounding Pont du Gard is called. Swimming, canoeing, and kayaking are allowed in the river but it was a little late in the season to see anyone engaged in those activities.

We followed the path on the right bank (rive droite) and clambered first down to the river level where I found my favorite view for photographs.

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My favorite view

Then we climbed up the trail to see Pont du Gard from the hillside and explore some of the Garrigue. We also found the perfect spot to take Jim’s picture holding up his Iowa State flag. The athletic department has a social media contest to pick a fan photo each week to post on their Facebook page. Our photo won.

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Iowa State University Athletic Department’s photo of the week

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View of the Gardon River and Garrigue from the path above with limestone rock in the foreground

 

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Another view of the Garrigue

 

The top level of Pont du Gard was not open but we did get a selfie of us underneath it.

 

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Laura, Lori, Jerry, and Jim beneath the third tier of Pont du Gard

 

 

This excursion was worth every penny of the $59 we paid for it. And when we returned to the ship, Laura brought an excellent bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape to celebrate a day well-spent.

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Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Back to Avignon

On Day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to Avignon. With our whisper boxes in hand, we set off on foot that morning for our included excursion to tour the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the historic center. (A whisper box is a headset that enables the wearer to better hear the tour guide.)

Once inside the ramparts, we meandered through the medieval streets while our guide pointed out several buildings on our way to the Popes’ Palace. Incidentally, you can walk the ramparts which I would like to do next time.

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Ramparts surrounding historic center of Avignon

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Church of St. Agricola in Avignon

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Gargoyle on Church of St. Agricola, Avignon

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Clock tower at Hôtel de Ville (City Hall)

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Lori in front of Opera Theater in Avignon

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View of Cathedral Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon

The Palace of the Popes is the largest gothic palace in Europe and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Why, you may wonder did the papacy relocate to Avignon, France in 1309?  Pope Boniface VIII had earlier issued two edicts; one prohibited taxation of the clergy and the other asserted the supremacy of papal authority over temporal authority.  Philip IV, King of France, objected to these edicts and responded by taking Boniface prisoner for a short time and the Pope died soon after his release.  When Pope Clement V from France was elected, he reached an agreement with King Philip to settle in Avignon where the papacy would remain for nearly 70 years. This period was known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in reference to the 70-year Jewish exile in Babylon.

The Palace of the Popes actually consists of two palaces; construction of the Old Palace commenced in 1335 under Pope Benedict XII and the New Palace was completed less than 20 years later by Pope Clement VI. The model below shows just how vast the complex is, covering 15,000 square meters (over 161,000 square feet).

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Palace of the Popes model: the Old Palace is on the left and behind, the New Palace on the right in front

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Jerry and Kathy outside the old doors at the Palace of the Popes

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View from Courtyard of Honor at Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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Courtyard of Honor at Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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Sculpture in Palace of the Popes

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Frescoes in Palace of the Popes

Photography of the priceless frescoes in the private apartments and chapels of the Palace of the Popes was not allowed but I took several photos of the video shown to illustrate the beauty.

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Grand Tinel or Banquet Hall, Palace of the Popes

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Plaster effigies in Palace of the Popes

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Passion of the Christ sculpture in the Consistory of the Palace of the Popes

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The Great Clementine Chapel, Palace of the Popes

The acoustics are absolutely amazing in this chapel. When none of us volunteered to sing, our guide sang for us. I could hear her all the way at the other end of the chapel. Listen to her.

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The Papal Seat in Consistory Hall

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Central Courtyard, Palace of the Popes

Sadly, many of the sculptures were beheaded during the French Revolution. If you look closely, you can see the heads are missing on the archway of the doors below.

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Sculptured doorway at Palace of the Popes

Following the departure of the papacy, the Catholic Church maintained ownership of the palace until the French Revolution. Under the subsequent Napoleonic rule, the palace was used as a military barracks and prison until 1906 when it became a national museum and restoration began. Today the Palace of the Popes doesn’t compare to the lavish splendor of the Vatican in Rome, but I imagine in the 14th century when it was filled with tapestries and treasures, it would have come close.

I was excited that we were headed next to Les Halles, the indoor market. On our way, we stopped at Basilique St. Pierre to see the intricately carved walnut doors and the gold-gilded Renaissance altar.

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Basilique St. Pierre

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Carved doors on Basilique St. Pierre

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Altar in Basilique St. Pierre

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Entrance to Les Halles

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Our guide and Viking staff offer us samples

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Les Halles fruit stand

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Les Halles fromage (cheese)

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Poisson (fish) at Les Halles

I purchased a large package of herbes de Provence from the spice stall to use at home and bring back memories of the time and food we enjoyed in Provence.

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Spices at Les Halles

My daughter-in-law likes macarons so I purchased some of those, too, to take home to her. Then they served macarons on our ship a couple days later.

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Macarons at Les Halles

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La Patisserie at Les Halles

We accomplished all of this in the morning, then headed back to the ship for lunch before our optional excursion that afternoon to Pont du Gard. Check back for my next post. Pont du Gard was truly amazing.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

References:

Viking Daily

Tour guide engaged by Viking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Walking Tour of Arles, France

We first glimpsed Tarascon, France through the early morning mist on the Rhône river. As the castle came into view, we knew that day 2 of our river cruise promised to be at least as delightful as the first. Our ship docked at this small town of 13,000 inhabitants, 11 miles (18 km) north of Arles. Tarascon would have to wait until later in the day, however, because we were scheduled for a walking tour of Arles that morning.

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Dawn on the Rhône River approaching Tarascon

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Tarascon Castle from the Rhône River

But first, a good breakfast was in order to fuel our explorations. We were offered an outstanding array on the buffet or we could order from the menu or both.

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Scrumptious breakfast

Following breakfast, our motor coach waited to transport us to Arles, pop. 50,000. Arles was settled by the Greeks as early as the 6th century, BC, and the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Roman monuments dating from the 1st century, BC, and Romanesque monuments from the 11th and 12th centuries.

As we walked through the city, I was charmed by almost everything I saw.

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The Roman Amphitheater, still in use today for bullfights and other events, was built in the 1st century AD to accommodate 21,000 spectators.

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Lori and Jim at the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

The nearby Roman Theater, built in the 1st century BC, was not as well-preserved as the amphitheater but it, too, is still used today for outdoor performances, accommodating audiences of 8,000.

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As we continued our stroll toward the Place de la Republique, I captured a few views along the way.

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The Place de la Republique, where the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is located, is the center of the historic district. The ancient Egyptian obelisk was moved here from the amphitheater in 1676.

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Place de la Republique

Facing the Place de la Republique is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church and Cloister of St. Trophime, named for an early bishop of Arles. The facade of the Romanesque church features sculptured scenes of the Last Judgement including Christ in Majesty surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists above the doorway, the righteous being delivered to the saints on the left, and the chain-bound souls being delivered to hell on the right.

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Christ in Majesty with the Evangelists

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The righteous delivered to the saints

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The damned with chains around their waists delivered to hell

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Inside the Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime Interior

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Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime

Incidentally, the Church of St. Trophime is a stop along one of the pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago. We didn’t see any pilgrims while we were there, however.

Vincent Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888 at age 34 and spent 15 months here producing 300 paintings including some of his most famous. It was here that he cut off his ear and was hospitalized at the old Arles Hospital where he painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles. Today this hospital is a cultural center featuring many of Van Gogh’s works. Sadly, the artist died young in 1890.

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Sign to mark the place where Van Gogh painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles

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In the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh

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Sign to identify the cafe where Van Gogh painted Le Café Le Soir

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Location of the painting Le Cafe Le Soir (Cafe Terrace at Night)

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Another view of the café

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Marker for Van Gogh’s La Nuit Étoilée

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View of the river where La Nuit Étoilée was painted by Vincent Van Gogh

We saw one more ancient Roman monument on our walking tour, the Baths of Constantine, dating from the 4th century.

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

Before boarding our bus to return to Tarascon, I took a few photos of The Bridge of Lions. The bridge was destroyed in a WWII bombing but the lions have been restored and stand regally on guard on the embankment of the River Rhône. IMG_0326

Upon our return to our ship, the Viking Buri, we were greeted by staff with a welcome aboard drink for us.

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Check back for a tour of Tarascon Castle.

 

Based on events from October 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Day 1: Sur le Pont d’Avignon

Day 1 of our Viking River Cruise, embarkation day, provided us with just a brief sample of the city of Avignon, France in the region of Provence. We arrived late in the afternoon and, after settling into our cabins, we joined the welcome walk through the historic center with a local guide.

Avignon is a walled city with narrow medieval streets and loads of French charm. The historic center is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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View of historic Avignon from outside the city walls

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Avignon city walls

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The Avignon City Wall

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Our group on the welcome walk

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Beautiful architecture with typical French charm

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Another charmer 

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A gated view 

Avignon is historically significant as the seat of the Papacy from 1309 to 1378. (More on that later.) The view in the photo below of the outside of the Palace of the Popes stirred our anticipation for the tour of the palace scheduled on day 3 of our cruise.

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Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes)

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Palais des Papes

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Conservatory of Music on the Place du Palais across from the palace

The main square, Place de l’Horloge, is the center of many community activities with the National Opera Theater, the Hotel de Ville (City Hall), and even a carousel. It’s also a perfect place for people watching.

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National Opera Theater

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Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

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Place de l’Horloge

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Carousel on Place de l’Horloge

There are over 50 locations with trompe l’oeil (a painting technique to create optical illusion) in Avignon and our guide pointed out one for us on the Place de Sorano. Window peeking is acceptable in this building.

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I learned the children’s nursery rhyme, Sur le Pont d’Avignon (On the Bridge of Avignon), in my high school French class and I can still sing it to this day. The bridge in the song was built across the Rhone River in the 12th century but flooding destroyed it several times until finally, in the 17th century it was abandoned. Today only 4 of the original 22 arches remain but it’s one of the major tourist attractions in Avignon.

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Le Pont d’Avignon

After our guided stroll through the historic center, we stopped to shop at Le Chateau du Bois to purchase some lavender oil, a well-known product of Provence.

 

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Le Chateau du Bois in Avignon

 

 

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Lavender growing in Avignon

 

 

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Lori and I with our lavender purchases from Chateau du Bois

To close out day 1 of our river cruise on the Viking Buri, we enjoyed our first meal prepared by Executive Chef, Pascal Vallee, and his staff.

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Desserts

Everything including the wine was delicious and we looked forward to each and every meal thereafter.

 

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Dinner on the Viking Buri

Based on events from October 2016.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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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