UNESCO

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

Un Día en A Coruña, Spain

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

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Morning in A Coruña, Spain

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

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Jim climbing the hill to the Tower of Hercules

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

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The Tower of Hercules

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Tower of Hercules

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View from the Tower of Hercules

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View from the Tower of Hercules

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

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The Doors of Hercules, a bronze sculpture by Francisco Leiro

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

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Portrait of King Carlos III

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

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Jim, Rick, and Lori next to Breogán

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

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View of mosaic, Rosa de Los Vientos

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

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Charon

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

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Promenade along the water in A Coruña

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

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San Carlos Garden

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

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Santa Maria del Campo Collegiate Church, A Coruña

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Santa Maria del Campo Collegiate Church, A Coruña

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

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Plaza de la Harina, aka Plaza de Azcárraga

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

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Church of Santiago

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Church of Santiago, A Coruña

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Santiago, in Church of Santiago

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Street in the old city

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Gate in the old city

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

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View of San Antón Castle

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Grounds of San Antón Castle

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San Antón Castle

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Cistern at San Antón Castle

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Borna, a replica, at San Antón Castle

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Museum at San Antón Castle

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Religious and funeral art at San Antón Castle

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

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

Based on events from April/May 2016.

 

 

 

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

A Day in Bruges

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

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

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Belfry of Bruges

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

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

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Stairwell in the Belfry of Bruges

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Carillon in the Belfry of Bruges]

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Reaching the top

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View of the square from the Belfry

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Bruges from the Belfry

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Bruges

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

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Our captain was friendly and gregarious

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View from the boat

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Church of Our Lady viewed from the canal tour

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Another boat meeting us

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Canal boat tour

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I loved all the swans in the canals

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View from the boat

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Canal boat tour

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Canal boat tour

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

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Jim and I on the canal tour

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Yet another swan photo

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

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Jim in front of Pralinette

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Inside Pralinette

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Chocolatier Fangio De Baets

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

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Church of our Lady

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Inside Church of our Lady

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

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

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Madonna and Child by Michelangelo

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Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child

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

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Rick, Lori, and Jim relaxing at St Janshoeve

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Waffle and coffee at St Janshoeve

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

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

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Our tour guide telling us about the beer-making process

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Tour at De Halve Maan Brewery

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View from the roof of De Halve Maan Brewery

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

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View of the pipeline under construction at De Halve Maan

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

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Brugse Zot beer and cheese

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

 

Based on events from April 2016.

 

 

 

 

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

In Bruges at Last

We first visited Belgium in January 2007 with our sons on holiday between college semesters. With an ambitious itinerary, we skipped Bruges and opted for Brussels instead.  Even though we ate mussels in Brussels (and horse), when the movie, In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell, came out in 2008, I knew missing Bruges was a big mistake. So when we booked a cruise to Spain, Portugal, and Gibralter sailing out of Rotterdam, Netherlands in April 2016, I saw an opportunity to correct my error. We decided to go early and make a side trip first to Bruges.

We arrived by train late in the afternoon. As we exited the railway station, we looked around for a taxi and after a short wait, we found a ride to our hotel, Ter Brughe. I discovered this historic hotel dating from the 13th century on the internet and I believed it was perfectly situated within walking distance of all the sights we wanted to see. We were not disappointed.

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Hotel Ter Brughe on the canal

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Lobby at Hotel Ter Brughe

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Breakfast room at Hotel Ter Brughe

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Breakfast with a canal view

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Swans in the canal outside breakfast room

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The bar at Hotel Ter Brughe

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Pre-dinner drinks at Hotel Ter Brughe

Our first priority after settling into our hotel was to locate dinner. We found Restaurant Bistro de Schilder in a nearby square, and while the waiter wasn’t especially engaging, the food was adequate. Lori and I ordered the white asparagus, a new experience for both of us and quite tasty.

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Lori and Rick perusing the menu at Restaurant Bistro de Schilder

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Chicken entree ordered by Rick and Jim

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White asparagus

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Jim and I enjoyed dinner in this charming square in Bruges

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Statue of painter Jan Van Eyck in the square where we ate dinner

This was also our first experience with famous Zot beer, made in Bruges. We toured the brewery the following day but Jim and Rick each enjoyed a preview Zot with dinner, while Lori and I stuck with our usual red wine.

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Zot beer

After dinner, we set off to find the historic central Market Place where we  began our exploration of this unique UNESCO World Heritage site. Bruges (French), or Brugge (Dutch), is a superior example of a well-preserved medieval town. An economic and commercial powerhouse during the middle ages, it retains its Gothic flavor with narrow cobblestone streets and characteristic architecture.

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Narrow street leading to the Market Square

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Central Market Place in Bruges

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Town Hall in Central Market, Bruges

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One of many charming shops in Bruges

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Central Market, Bruges

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Jim in front of the statue of local heroes, Jan Breydal and Pieter de Coninck, in Market Square, Bruges

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View from Market Square, Bruges

The best-known building in Bruges is undoubtedly the bell tower, dating from the 13th century. We enthusiastically planned to climb the 366 steps to the top the following morning for a panoramic view of this historic, captivating medieval town.

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Bell Tower in Market Square, Bruges

Based on events in April 2016.

 

 

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Stinking and Sinking in Puerto Aventuras

Our condo at Chac Hal Al overlooked Bahia de Fatima, a beautiful, serene bay with clear cerulean water perfect for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, or paddle boarding. For the less active, it was a beautiful setting for sunbathing or just sitting in the shade of a palm tree or palapa with a good book or a cocktail.

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Bahia de Fátima (Fatima Bay) from our beach

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Báhia de Fátima (Fatima Bay) from our balcony

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Swimmers and snorkelers at the beach

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Gail paddle boarding

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Jim chillaxin’ poolside with a view of the bay

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Gail sunbathing on the beach

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Jim with a view of the pool and the bay

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Time for nachos and Coronitas

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My view

Idyllic, wouldn’t you agree? That is until our idyll was disturbed by two events. The first disruption occurred when we observed this.

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What looked like brown seaweed invaded the peaceful azure waters and definitely discouraged water activities. My research revealed it was sargassum or sargasso seaweed, which is an increasingly common problem in the Caribbean. The free-floating algae originate in the Sargasso Sea located in the Bermuda Triangle of the North Atlantic. While its existence is nothing new, the amount has increased dramatically and may be attributed to the warming of the ocean due to global climate change. In normal amounts, sargassum provides habitat for lots of marine life including hatching sea turtles but the massive amounts washing ashore today can adversely impact tourism. Clogging the water, it discourages swimmers and snorkelers and the smell as it deteriorates drives away beach-lovers.

I was impressed to see residents and employees working side by side to rake and bag the sargassum and haul it away from the beach. Soon they had the beach looking pristine again and ready for activities. We did, however, observe sargassum at other beaches along the Riviera Maya during our stay so I wonder how they are dealing with the issue.

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Jim walking back from the area where clean-up occurred

The next puzzling event occurred when we noticed a large ship which appeared offshore in Bahia de Fatima.

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Large ship in Bahia Fátima

After several days continued presence, we asked a local realtor that paddle boarded to our beach about it. She said a Mexican Navy ship hit the reef and sank. I posted a teaser on Facebook and Twitter that a blog post would follow. This is finally that post.

We still didn’t know the full story. Why was the large ship there? Day after day, when I saw it was still there, I wondered what it was doing and how long it would continue to be present. It dominated our view and became a daily topic of conversation.

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Mexican Navy Ship

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View of the navy ship from our upstairs balcony

We even discussed it over cocktails at the Omni swim-up bar.

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Our view of the navy ship from the swim-up bar at the Omni Hotel

And then it was gone and the drama ended. We finally learned from reading the local paper, The Pelican Free Press, a Polaris Patrol Interceptor boat lost power causing it to hit the reef. It was hung up on the reef for several days, where Jim first saw it, but it sank when it was pulled from the rocks. Salvage operations first centered around removing equipment and weapons from the boat. The Mexican Navy’s second largest multipurpose logistical ship, a BAL-02, equipped with a hoist arrived to refloat the sunken ship and tow her in for repairs.

Life on Bahia Fátima returned to its previous undisturbed halcyon state. But I’m sure the tourists and locals who were there sometimes say, “Remember when…”

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Next time: Playa del Carmen

Based on events from January 2016.

 

 

Categories: History, Mexico, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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