We wanted to tour the western Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula and Karen’s alma mater, Bucknell, sent a brochure for such a trip. It was sponsored by a number of universities, The Smithsonian, and The World Affairs Council. One of the other universities was Penn State, of which I am affiliated and an alumnus. It was a small ship cruise of the right duration and venue, and it had appropriately (for us) luxury and with guided tours included.
What a story we have! To reveal the end first, we were so fortunate and all came out well for us.
Everything with our flight was perfect. We arrived at the parking lot and a bus was there right away to drop us off at the International Departure terminal, where we walked just a very few steps to the First Class line, and we were immediately checked in and our bags checked. We went through TSA-Pre, through security, and then we walked to the American Lounge, got a free wine (it was late afternoon) and waited for the boarding call. When it came, we sauntered up to the gate to the front of the line, and walked onto the plane. We got in our ”seats” (like compartments), settled back with some champagne and soon it was time to take off. We watched a couple of movies, slept (the seat becomes a full length bed), and had dinner and prior to landing, breakfast.
When we landed and went through customs (a non-event), we were greeted by the folks from Gohagen, who organized the trip and ran it. They took our bags for direct delivery to the ship, and then suggested that we not wait for the bus they have ordered, but instead get in a limo they summoned so we wouldn't have to wait for other arrivals. We did that, and our driver took us on a roundabout tour of Barcelona, pointing our many interesting sights. After a while, we learned that there was a protest march going on and many of the main boulevards were shut down by the protesters. These were Catalonian Separatists protesting the pronouncement of long sentences for three of the leaders of a prior protest. The driver had to abort while attempting to get to the Majestic Hotel where we were hosted prior to boarding, so we walked several blocks to the hotel and signed in with our hosts.
Below: Hotel Majestic in Barcelona; and separatist protestors just outside the hotel:
We had several hours before we could leave to board the ship, so we walked out and about and found a little restaurant/bar and had some wine and Paella for lunch. Ah, wonderful. While walking we had crossed a big boulevard full of protesters and while we dined the streets were absolutely stopped dead of traffic. People just turned their cars off.
Below: Restaurante Cabanela, where we had lunch; and Karen raising her glass:
Now here is the real popper: We read the next morning about the protesters overcoming security and taking over the airport, just after we left. A good number of people were reportedly injured. We missed it by minutes or a few hours. Talk about being lucky.
Excerpts from Ponant, the cruise line operating the ship:
Le Lyrial is one of four sister ships in the fleet of Ponant, a French luxury cruise line. The ship is small, holding just 264 people, but manages to pack a lot into a small space, including a full-service spa, fitness center and a swimming pool. The ship has a wonderfully calm vibe, with a sedate elegance, a marine-inspired decor, and the atrium sculpture, which mimics whirling columns of fish.
Ponant is a French line and the service, food and entertainment onboard are French. Announcements are made in French first, dinner is served late, the cuisine is French-inspired and entertainment in the theater is cabaret style, while in the lounge the singers channel their inner Edith Piaf. Le Lyrial sails primarily in Europe, South America and around Africa. When in Europe, it offers culturally rich itineraries throughout the Mediterranean. During the rest of the year, it sails expedition journeys to Antarctica, around the coast of South Africa and to the African islands (Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, etc.). The onboard marina is stocked with kayaks and Zodiacs for use on these more exotic sailings.
Le Lyrial is where distinctive French sophistication meets innovative nautical design. The ship’s efficient electrical propulsion system and customized stabilizers provide an exceptionally smooth, quiet and comfortable voyage. The ship has “Clean Ship” certification.
There are many complimentary onboard amenities - alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages always available in-suite and throughout the cruise; Wi-Fi access throughout the ship; and 24-hour room service.
The stylish dining room and casual alfresco restaurant feature international and regional cuisine and serve continental and buffet breakfasts, buffet lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner in four courses or buffet. Wine is served at lunch and dinner.
With only 110 suites and staterooms, the elegant ocean-view accommodations range from 200 to 592 square feet, and most have a private balcony. Suites and staterooms feature individual climate control, queen beds, private bathroom with shower and luxurious hotel amenities, including flat-screen television, safe, full-length closet, plush robes and slippers. We can enjoy two lounges, a theater, library, sun deck with open air bar, swimming pool, beauty salon, spa, Turkish bath-style steam room, fitness center, and two elevators.
The highly-trained, English-speaking crew are personable and attentive, and the ship has an infirmary staffed with a doctor and nurse.
Our suite (yes, suite) was a two room arrangement, with a king-size bed and clothes storage and so on in one room and a seating and table area in the other room. Each room had a full bath, which was actually two room - one for the toilet and one for the shower and sink. The latter had a sliding partition that could open to the room through glass or be closed for privacy.
Below: Our bedroom; and me on our balcony:
Below: Our sitting room facing Port; and the sitting room facing Starboard:
Below: Looking Aft from the top deck, and the ship from through our tour bus window (see Karen’s reflection):
LeLyrial is in the Ponant line and is French. Its primary crew are French, captained by Rémi Génevaz, as is its chef, Xavier Etchebes. There are two
main restaurants on board:
The trip includes open bars with a variety of house brands of spirits and wines and premium brands available for a charge. The ship being French, we found the house wines to be very good, and the house spirits included such items as Jameson’s and Baily’s Irish Cream (my and Karen’s favorites, respectively).
After boarding and unpacking, we participated in the mandatory Life Boat Drill. Then we dressed for dinner and had our first meal on board In Le Celeste with the Bucknell group. We found the food and the wine was very good. It was a very good start to the trip.
Each morning we are provided with the “Journal de bord”, at least four pages of the published agenda and information for the day. On the front page is a bit of information and history of and about our destination of the day, the weather forecast, and a little map. The second page details the daily tour venue - where we are going, specific information about each part of the tour, and such things as walking conditions and where and how to get back to the ship if one elects to tour on their own or stay after the tour. The third page is a detail calendar of the day - what happens at what time and where. The fourth page details general information about the ship and goings on, hours open/closed, and a little advert about the cocktail of the day. Sometimes there were additional inserts for particular tours. This was very useful, and we kept them to use as reminders of where we had been.
Our tours were organized by university or interest group, and this kept the size of each group small and intimate. We toured with the Bucknell group, and we generally had perhaps sixteen to twenty in the group. We would exit the ship to a very comfy bus or van (if the group was smaller) and we would have our guide on board. Sometimes there were two guides: one from the local venue and one from Gohagen. There was also the driver, of course. In the case of the Gilbralter tour, our van driver was our tour guide, and he was a Brit who has lived on Gilbralter his whole life.
Mallorca or Majorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago in the western Mediterranean, and is a part of Spain. It is an autonomous region, and its capital is Palma. A little history lesson for the rest of this trip travelogue:
From the transition of the Neolithic era to the Bronze Age, Majorca and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), were inhabited. In the case of Mallorca, the earliest known inhabitants were the Balearic “Slingers”. Around 1300 BC the culture began to change with the emergence of the Talayotics and there was inter-cultural conflict until the islands were conquered by the Roman Quintas Caecilus Metellus in 123 BC. He wanted to quell the frequent pirate attacks on Roman ships. The Slingers, by the way, fought alongside the Romans as auxiliary troops from that point on. They helped Julius Caesar in his conquest of Gaul.
In 427 the Vandals, under Gunderic, captured the island and used it as a base to plunder settlements around the Mediterranean until Roman rule was restored about 40 years later. The Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Vandals, then the Visigoths (or “Goths”), then the Romans, then the Byzantine Empire, then in 711 AD the Berbers (the Islamic Arabs and Moors from North Africa), and then the Christians of Europe. Its culture, architecture, artifacts, and people reflect the history.
I have to say that of all the places I have visited, none display the magnificent detail of craftsmanship and artistry as the Muslim-era palaces, mosques, and other structures found on this trip. They introduced a deep understanding of mathematics and geometry to the finishes of these structures, with repeating geometric designs of great sophistication and detail. Every square inch of the interiors is covered with tiles and carvings, each with a mathematic underlie. Much of it is breathtaking.
We started this tour with a drive to Validemossa to see the dramatic cliffs, and a tour of the Carthusian Monastery. The Monastery was once the residence of Frederick Chopin and his lover, George Sand (the pen name of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, a famous Romantic-era writer). I'll leave it to you to look up Dupin/Sand’s scandalous behavior.
Below: The magnificent cliffs of Validemossa; and me reducing their glory:
Below: We are standing the the garden of the Carthusian Monestary; and a view of the garden from inside:
Below: Chopin recital given at the Monastery:
Below: Beliver Castle/Fortress above Palma; and the view from the top of the castle:
After the day of touring we had dinner on board with Steve and Sue, two of the Bucknell group. During the trip we became close with them and dined together frequently. You will see their photo later in this travelogue. The nice thing about this kind of cruise (university sponsored) is that in addition to the great ship and the tours, there are numerous presentations by folks from Harvard, The Smithsonian, Penn State and the like. Notice that I mentioned Penn State, with which I have had a long relationship. Everybody aboard was mature, with the downside being that there were several people who found it difficult during the tours. They were accommodated by all and things proceeded nicely.
We joined the Captain’s Gala Evening in the Theater, enjoyed the Welcome Celebration, and had dinner in Restaurant Celeste. Had we chosen to, we could have seen a “Caberet Mini Show” by the ballet Paris C’Show in the Main Lounge, or a classical pianist in the Observatory Lounge. We were a bit exhausted by then so we skipped the entertainment and went to our suite.
The third largest city in Spain and the fifth largest container port on the Mediterranean, Valencia is the capital of its own autonomous region. It lies on the Turia River, on the east coast. Valencia is a city of multiple personalities, both ancient and extremely modern, a unique and satisfying blend.
We began in the Old Town, touring through its streets and going into several buildings of interest, including the ancient silk trading center, beautifully preserved. We stopped in a small cafe for horchate and a pastry. Horchate is a local beverage unique to Valencia, made from water, sugar, and tiger nut (or “chufas”). I found it to be a tasty and refreshing drink.
Below: Our ship as we left for the tour of Valencia; and the Bull Fighting Ring (Plaza de Toros de Valencia), build in the 1850’s:
Below: One of the many beautiful squares throughout the old city; and the cafe where we were treated to horchate:
Below: The old Central Market, which is a massive farmers market with outstanding meats and produce; and a view of some produce:
Below: One of the buildings we passed - the old city is full them:
Below: Look at the 3-dimensional aspect of this 1,500 year old floor from the Moors; and the ceiling above it:
The City of Arts and Sciences is as different as from Old Town as one could imagine. It is a futuristic complex of phenomenal architecture and holds many buildings appropriate to its name (‘Arts and Sciences”). We wandered through the area just viewing the magnificence of its scope and scale.
Below: Turning into the City of Arts and Sciences; and the theater building housing the “Hemisféric” (IMAX cinema and digital projection):
Below: The Umbracle (vantage point and car park); and the Principe Filipe Science Museum, an innovation and interactive science center):
Below: A walkway through the City of Arts and Sciences; and I am with Pablo, our guide in Valencia, who was of such good cheer that we all smiled with him:
Below: The Oceanográfico (the largest aquarium in Europe); and kids playing in bubbles in a pool;
Below: Just us at the City of Arts and Sciences; and a shot of the sun setting as we sailed from Valencia:
Throughout the cruise there were presentations in the theater during the afternoons. This day had one by a Harvard Professor on The Spanish Flu and one by a Penn State Professor on Travel Photography Tips, neither of which did we attend. Before dinner this day, there was a briefing by our excellent Gohagen travel director, Robin Mort, about the upcoming excursion to Granada and the Alhambra. We did attend that briefing.
We had dinner and then attended the "Bijoux" Show Parisian Review in the Theater. It was a very fun Can-Can type review by the ballet Paris C’Show. As was true of each evening, there was live music in the Main Lounge and a piano melody playing in the Observatory Lounge. We didn’t lounge much during the trip, generally being quite tired after a full day.
We awoke as we continued sailing toward Motril, dressed and had breakfast. I particularly liked the breakfasts for the variety and the quality. We could order a la carte and/or buffet dine. I sometimes ordered an omelet and filled my plate at the buffet. We always had coffee, but the tables had milk for the coffee and we preferred half-and-half. The waiters would go for some, but it always took some time. It turns out they had to elevator to another kitchen to fetch it. It was the single complaint I have about the food service. But, in defense of the ship, it is French and they use milk (Café Au Lait, anyone?).
The morning had a couple of presentations by folks from Northwestern and The Smithsonian, and we were interested and sat through the Smithsonian talk on “Al-Andalus: The History and Culture of Islamic Spain”. It was educational and interesting. We follow that with a caviar tasting in the Main Lounge, with live music. Then lunch with a little wine (of course). We skipped the “Famous Quote Quiz" and Musical Tea Time. At about 3:30PM we docked at Motril.
We disembarked and set off for an evening tour of Alhambra in Granada. It was about an hour drive from the ship. This turned out to be a spectacular private tour. This place gets very, very many visitors and a private tour is very rare. We had to have passports for the security, got bracelets to wear, and the guide was an Alhambra docent guide. There were guards everywhere. Our tour started at 6:00PM.
It is called The Alhambra because of the reddish walls of the castle walls. In Arabic, “qa’latal-Hamra’” means Red Castle. It is located on the Darrow River, just west of the city of Granada. It overlooks the city and the valley, and its location is probably due to dwellings already in place before the Muslims arrived.
Upon entering Alhambra, we went to the Nasrid, which was the rural residence of the Emirs. After the Muslims, it became the leisure palace for the kings of Granada when they were away from the official affairs of state in their residence. While every exterior in Alhambra was relatively plain, the interiors were spectacular in their total covering of detail.
The Nasrid Palaces are three independent sections corresponding to the semipublic part of the palace for justice administration and affairs of state; the official residence of the king; and the Palace of the Lions, the private area where the Harem was located. The public area was decorated in a Muslim style, and the private area with that combined with some Christian influences - probably due friendship between Mohammed V and his Castillian counterpart Pedro I, The Cruel (to be fair, he was also Pedro I The Just). The facade is golden in a delicate filigree pattern. The detailed shapes are floral and geometric forms. Because of this extensive detail and the geometry of the Alhambra, even mathematicians have analyzed the Alhambra. They see the Golden Ratio in parts of the Alhambra´s design. Despite the ornate appearance of these walls, it doesn´t appear to be a main entrance. This leads to the throne room and into heart of the palace itself.
Below: The Red Walls of The Alhambra as we approached; Entering one of the buildings in the complex:
A feature of the Moorish architecture was that every building was built around a garden, and even within the building interior there were gardens. Everything seemed to require access to a garden. Each of the gardens had some softly flowing water - not a waterfall or spraying fountain, but pools or gently flowing water. It was important to have the sound of water in the gardens. Each garden was filled with beautiful plants and was a place for peaceful meditation.
Below one of the hallways as we entered the Nasrid Palaces; and the first garden we encountered:
In the Camares Palace (residence of the king) there was an Arab Bath. The Baths (Baños) followed the model of Roman thermal baths. The Hall of the Beds (Sala de las Camas), the first chamber was where they entered the baths, was the “apoditerium”, where people undressed before going into the bath. It has a square space in the middle, surrounded by columns, with a fountain inside it and galleries surrounding it. There is a gallery open towards the first floor, where the king would look down at his naked wives and then throw an apple to the one he had chosen for that night. (It is good to be the king, is it not?) There were beds to rest on after the bath on the sides. All of the decoration that remains is from the Christian period, because the baths have been restored and rebuilt several times. Instead of a swimming pool like in Roman thermal baths, in Arab baths there is a cold water basin. The central hall is the “tepidarium” or warm hall, which is connected with the other halls by arches. Finally there is the “caldarium” or steam hall, which was the hot hall of the bath. Inside this hall there was a copper boiler where water was first heated and taken underground to heat these chambers.
Below: The roof of the steam room, which was useful in heating the entire space; and a view from the windows:
As in Valencia, I cannot imagine the amount of work, skill, and knowledge that was used to decorate the floors, walls, and ceilings of The Alhambra. Every inch of interior space is covered with ceramic mosaics, plasterwork and carved wooden ceilings all profusely decorated, reflecting the Islamic tendency to cover all surfaces with complex ornaments. From Victoria and Albert Museum (UK) description: “Nasrid plasterwork covers almost every single surface of walls, arches, vaults and ceilings, gaining an almost textile quality through their intricate ornament and vibrant palette of colors. Its almost overwhelming appearance is the result of the interconnection and superimposition of different ornamental elements: calligraphic inscriptions, geometric lazo, ataurique and mocárabes.”
Below: A view looking up at the upper walls and a ceiling; and another elaborate ceiling (this from the Christian era since it depicts people, forbidden in Muslim art):
Below: An interior garden with a pool; and us ruining the view (except for Karen, who improves it):
Adjacent and somewhat enclosing the Palaces were the Gardens of the Generalife, full of boxwood trees, rose, carnation, gillyflowere bushes, shrubs from willow to cypress. It is a masterpiece of horticulture (phrases taken from our Gohagen daily paper).
Below: An unearthed portion showing where people other than the King and his family lived - stone structures with small rooms; and us in the Garden of the Generalife:
Below: A walkway in the gardens; and one of the fountains:
We were a private tour (very rare) in the evening, and we were witness to a spectacular sunset over some of the walls of The Alhambra. This was an awe-inspiring moment for each of us.
Below: Karen with the sun setting behind; and a view of the sunset:
Below: Overlooking part of the town; and the old city wall and the houses of the Gypsies (the houses are the fronts of caves going into the mountain):
Below: We walked down to the Alhambra Palace Hotel for dinner; a scene from dinner:
Then it was a one hour drive back to the ship, which then left for Gibraltar as we sank into our bed. The ship proceeded toward Gibraltar that night to arrive at Gibraltar, U.K. at 8:15AM.
Yep, it looks as it does in the commercials. The Rock of Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, and its population reflects that, as does driving on the LHS, and other British customs and manners. Our tour commenced in small 6-person vans, each with a Gibraltar guide/driver (British).
We started by driving to Europapoint, only nine miles from Africa, which can clearly be seen from Gibraltar. You can see Jebel Sidi Musa, the other of the “Pillars of Hercules” (the Rock is the first) to the ancient Greeks. They believed, by the way, that if a ship sailed past the pillars they would sail to certain destruction, falling off the edge of the world. The first Neanderthal skull ever found was discovered on the Rock in 1848. There are artifacts from the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians. Seven hundred years after Christ, Tarik-Ibn-Zeyad conquered the Rock and named it Jebel-Tarik (Tarik’s mountain). The Arabs were in Spain for eight centuries, and the Rock changed hands a number of times during that era. Spanish forces won it in the early fourteenth century, but in 1333 it reverted to Moorish control. Then it became Spanish again in 1462 when the Duke of Medina Sidonia captured it. Then is 1704, Admiral Sir George Rook took the Rock with a combined British and Dutch fleet. Too much history? Sorry.
Below: The Rock with a Mosque below; and a Lighthouse:
We went to St. Michael’s Cave, an amazing natural phenomenon. Karen toured the cave, while I sat peacefully near the top. Way too many steps down, then up.
Below: A plaque at the entrance to St. Michael’s Cave; and the steps going down into the cave:
Below: More stalagtites (from ceiling) and stalagmites (from floor):
The Top of the Rock gives you views of Spain, Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic Ocean. By the way, this is where the famous monkeys are. They are actually a tailless monkey called a Barbary Macaque. It came from Algeria and Morocco. We were warned about carrying any food on our person and while we were there a monkey jumped on the back of a man, unzipped his backpack, and stole a candy bar. The man hopped around trying to rid the monkey, and his wife slapped at it (a real no-no). The monkey left when he had his candy. Lesson learned. There are a lot of monkeys and they are wild animals.
Below: Monkey on tourist back; and more monkeys on the wall:
Below: Karen at the Top of the Rock; and me on the Top of the Rock:
Below: Take a look at the end of the airport runway - right over the water; and the island had been connected to the continent by landfill:
We went to the Siege Tunnels. During the Great Siege of 1779-1783, Governor of Gibraltar (General Elliott), the British dug more than 350 feet through limestone rock to place cannons on the "Notch". It is hard to understand how they did this feat. After the Siege (it was Spain and France trying to capture Gibraltar from the British), General Elliott hosted a banquet for General Ulysses S. Grant, our 18th President at the end of the tunnel.
Below: A cannon in the Siege Tunnels; and sailing away from Gibraltar:
We also stopped to see the "100 Ton Gun", which put fear into any sailor trying to thread through the Pillars of Hercules without British permission. Sailing away was a special treat. We passed about three miles from the African Coast, and could see individual houses in the town of Benzu in Morocco.
Below: Africa from about 3 miles away at sea; and Dusk at Sea:
That evening, we had a Pata Negra Tasting by Chef Etchebes, which was a tasting of Spanish cured ham. Delicious, served with French Champagne (is there any other kind?) and other hors d’eourves. We enjoyed a very nice dinner in Le Celeste with our friends Steve and Sue. We stopped for a bit of the “Constellation Show” in the Theater, but we were tired and read in our cabin until sleep. On to Seville!
We sailed up the Guadalquivir River and docked in Seville. We had heard wonderful things, but were still taken aback by Seville - a truly great place to visit and tour. Some history, just below, taken from Le Lyrial’s daily “Journal de bord”:
Legends say that Seville was founded by Hercules. But according to historians, the Seville area flourished during the Tharsis reign and commercial relations were maintained with the Phoenicians and Greeks. During the 8th century BC, their descendants created a city on the shores of the Guadaquivir named “Ispal”, later called ‘Hispalis”, considered to be the origin of Seville.
From the 3rd century BC, the Carthaginians occupied the area but they were defeated by the Roman Scipio Africanus in 206 BC. From then on, Seville entered into an age of splendor, even truer when Julius Caesar gave Seville the status of colony in 45 BC. During that period, various invasions took place, particularly Vandals and Visigoths. The latter dominated during the 6th-7th centuries when Seville became the most important cultural area in the Occident.
In 712 Arab domination started over Seville, at that time called “Isbiliah”. Under Arab rule, Seville entered another age of splendor. When the Almohades arrived in 1147, they transferred the center of the power from Cordoba to Seville and made it their capital.
So much for background. After another too-big breakfast, we disembarked and began our tour. Thus began another truly spectacular day. We had a short drive through the delightful city, stopping at the Maria Luisa Park, full of beautiful chris-crossing tree-lined avenues, parks, statues, and fountains.
We then walked to The Plaza de Spana, built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929. The whole area around the Park and the Plaza is full of buildings built for the Exhibition by virtually all of the countries of the Americas, some now housing the respective country’s mission, and some with other purposes. The exhibition was expected to be well-attended but the collapse of Wall Street in 1929 caused a steep decline in attendees. Nevertheless, the creation of the area was accomplished.
Below: Part of beautiful Maria Luisa Park; and the interior as we passed through an entrance to the Plaza de Espana:
Below: A view of the exterior of the Plaza de Espana; and a walking bridge within the Plaza:
Below: A detail of one of the walls on the Plaza (each was different); and another view of the Plaza building:
Below: One of the towers at either end of the Plaza; and a boat sculpture high above:
We then went to the Barrio Santa Cruz, the Jewish Quarter. The Barrio was once the largest Jewish community in Spain with 33 synagogues. When the Catholic Inquisition happened, it forced all the Jews to convert, flee, or be killed. The Barrio is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets, bounded by the Alcazar wall and The Juderia, with three synagogues.
Below: The ancient (more than 1,000 year old) tree at the entrance to the Barrio Santa Cruz; and a view of the old Barrio wall:
Below: A railing indicating the intricacy of the homes in and near the Barrio; and one of the narrow streets withing the Barrio:
We had free time from the tour to wander through the Barrio. We saw many small shops with interesting specialties, but we especially enjoyed the feel of the small cobblestone streets. At one point we wondered by a church where there were apparently two distinct weddings underway. One had a horse drawn carriage awaiting the couple, and one had a limo. We saw the wedding parties and were right in the middle of the crowd. We wondered some more and began looking for a place to eat. We stopped for lunch at Taberna Belmonte, “Cervezas, Vinos, & Tapas”. It was delightful. We sat at the table just inside the doorway and could enjoy the crowds outside as well as the ambiance inside. We wine and a delicious lunch. It was the perfect find.
Below: a typical Avenue surrounding the Barrio; and a guitar shop found on one of the narrow streets, typical of the many shops:
Below: The Taverna Belemonte, where we had a delightful lunch (and wine, of course); and a view of Karen enjoying hers:
A fisheye shot of the front of the Taverna, where we sat just to the left of the door; and as we walked back to the rejoin the tour:
We then drifted back to the meeting place for the tour to resume and sat with some of our fellow cruise-mates and chatted. It looked like it might rain, but we were lucky so far. Then our afternoon tour resumed.
We first toured the Cathedral, the third largest in the world, built over the site of a 12th century Great Mosque, the minaret of which is still a part the Cathedral. The minaret is called the Giralda for the weather vane that was added to the top in the 16th century. The courtyard and a great door are also parts of the original mosque. It was converted by Ferdinand III of Castile in 1248. The cathedral demonstrates many different styles: Mudéjar, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neo-classical. Christopher Columbus's tomb lies here.
Below: The Cathedral Exterior, from the square in front (where we sat to wait for the tour); and the weather vane on top of the minaret:
Below: The knave (I think that is what it is called), with the organ pipes above; and the alter:
Below" The 120 foot high ceiling of the Cathedral; and the tomb of Christopher Columbus:
We walked to the Alcazar, a palatial fortress. Seville was conquered by the Umayyad Caliphate in the year 712, and the original Christian Basilica built on the site was destroyed and replaced by a military fortress. In the 12th century during the caliphate of Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur, new buildings for the residence of the Caliph and his court were erected. The upper sections are still used today at a residence for the King and his family.
We walked through Patio de las Doncellas, the name meaning "The Courtyard of the Maidens", refers to the legend that the Moors demanded 100 virgins every year as tribute from Christian kingdoms in Iberia.
Below: Some carriages as we walked to the Alcazar; and entering the Alcazar:
Below: A garden within the Alcazar; and another garden:
Just as we left the Alcazar to walk to the bus, a very light rain began. It lasted about five minutes. We all laughed because everybody was expecting rain that day and many were carrying umbrellas all day. It was the only rain we experienced on the trip.
We returned to the ship and were treated to a Flamenco show performed by Azelea, singers, dancers, and musicians from Cadiz. The guitarist was fabulous and the dancers were very good. We were told that this was a traditional Flamenco, not the popularized version. We enjoyed that, then had another good dinner.
Below: The Flamenco troupe; and the dancers in action:
It was off to Portugal, with our first stop being in The Algarve, or translating the Arabic, The West. It is the south of Portugal and our stop was at Portomâo, the Algarve’s largest city. The city is at the mouth of the Bensafrim River, and fronts the water with docks for pleasure and fishing boats and also has commercial piers for tours and commercial boats. As you enter the river, there are a red striped lighthouse to the left and a green striped lighthouse to the right to help guide the ships coming in and out. Just directly south of Lagos are the cliffs of Ponta de Peidade, which we visited. They are beautiful and give wonderful views in every direction.
Below: The Farol de Portimão Molhe Este lighthouse (one of two at the entrance to the Portimão piers, as we sailed toward
Portomão; and Fort São João do Arade, a Fortress Castle just across the Bensafrim River from the docks:
We were driven to Lagos, a town about five or six miles away to tour. We stopped just directly south of Lagos where we walked around the cliffs of Ponta de Peidade. They are beautiful and give wonderful views in every direction. We were there with our new friends from the trip, Steve and Sue, and we all enjoyed being out in this surrounding.
Below: The spectacular cliffs of Ponta de Piedade; and the cliffs with Lagos in the background:
Below: Karen and me in individual pictures at the Ponta de Piedade (Karen is the beautiful one):
Below: The views are all wondrous; a hole worn by the Atlantic waves through a large rock:
Below: Here we are on the cliffs; and Steve and Sue were there, too:
We then went into the town of Lagos. It is a city with a lot of history and historical monuments and buildings. One thing that was pointed out to us by our guide was that this was the first African slave market in Europe, built in 1444. The guide was quick to point out that they are not proud of this, but that it is historical fact an must be shown. We also toured the San Antonio Church, considered the most beautiful in Portugal.
Below: A street in Lagos shows how charming the city is; and the original slave auction:
Below: A vibrant city square, where there were performers and music as we walked through; and what I think might be the original
“Red Bull” (imagine a smiley face now):
We returned to the ship to prepare for the Captain’s Farewell Reception with the Crew Presentation by Capucine, the Cruise Director. Then it was the farewell dinner and to the room to pack for our departure in the morning in Lisbon.
We had opted for the post-cruise stay and tour in Lisbon (“Lisboa”). Our hotel was the Dom Pedro on Aveneda Engenheiro Duarte Pacheco. This comes off of the spectacular tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade, bending left at Praça do Marques de Pombal, a beautiful circle adorned with an obelisk topped with a statue of tribute to the Marquis of Pombal. Was was the leading statesman that provided remarkable leadership following the devastating earthquake of 1755 which totally destroyed much of Lisbon. He also weakened the stranglehold of the Inquisition and helped bring the Age of Enlightenment.
Below: A Lisbon Street as seen from our bus as we entered the main part of the city; and a city square:
Regardless, the city has a great deal of beauty, and also some of the characteristics of any large metro area worldwide. We began our time in Lisbon with the tour provided by Gohagan. We boarded the tour bus for a drive to Queluz to visit the Queluz National Palace. It is a grand 18th century Rococo palace built for Dom Pedro (yes, the same as for whom our hotel is named). Dom Pedro I (in English Peter I), was the founder Brazil and its first King. As King Dom Pedro IV, he reigned briefly over Portugal, where he also became known as "the Liberator" as well as “the Soldier King”. When Portugal was invaded by French troops in 1807, he fled to Portugal’s wealthiest colony, Brazil.
Below: Quelez National Palace - a great room; and a center garden:
Below: A garden view at Queloz Palace; and one of the bedrooms:
Below: Chuck standing by a carriage inexplicitly in a great room; and Karen in the Royal meeting room, where the Royals met with
visitors - notice only two chairs, reserved for the Royals. Everyone else stood:
Next we went to Sintra to tour the Sintra National Palace. If you visit Portugal, please tour this UNESCO World Heritage site. Sintra was at one time the royal town of Portugal, and it is absolutely beautiful and charming. Not only is the Palace a wonder, but the town just outsite is a delight to explore. Our tour description informed us that Hans Christian Anderson describe Sintra as “the most beautiful place in Portugal”, and Lord Byron christened it “glorious Eden”. High praise, but deserved.
Below: Beautiful Sintra National Palace; and a view from the palace:
Below: a view of town from a palace window; and one of the elaborate rooms:
Below: A typical ceiling in the palace; and the kitchen:
After exploring the Palace, we walked the streets and found a delightful place for an al fresco lunch, and watched other tourists and locals wonder by. We had wine and a memorable lunch. I only wish I could remember the name of the place. After lunch and a little shopping we returned to the bus and back to Lisbon.
Below: Here we are at the delightful Italian restaurant near the Sintra National Palace:
Back at the hotel, after a rest we joined Steve and Sue to go to dinner at a local restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel. We had a good time, and some nice Portugese wine. Then an after dinner Port in the Dom Pedro lounge, and off to bed.
The next day was to be our final full day in Lisbon before flying home the following day. We were scheduled with a morning tour and then free for the day to explore.
Note: I may have the sequence of the tours for this morning out of order, but I don’t think it matters. I was getting “tour-lapse disease”. Ha!
We stopped in Lisbon at the National Coach Museum. The museum was created in 1905 by Queen Amélia to house an extensive collection of carriages belonging to the Portuguese royal family and nobility. The collection demonstrates the development of carriages from the late 16th through the 19th centuries, with carriages made in many European countries, including Italy, Portugal, France, Spain, Austria and England. Included are a late 16th/early 17th-century travelling coach used by King Philip II of Portugal to come from Spain to Portugal in 1619, and some Baroque 18th century carriages decorated with paintings and elaborate woodwork.
Below: the Ponte 25 de April (very long bridge); and Karen at the National Coach Museum:
Below: A Baroque Coach; and Chuck at an early Citroen taxi:
The tour resumed with a visit to Jerónimos Monastery. It was built starting in 1502 to honor the travels of Vasco de Gama.
Below: The Jorónimos Monastery; and the Entrance:
Below: Two views of a courtyard in the Monastery:
Below: Karen at the River Tagas; and Chuck in the Marina:
After the morning tour, we asked to be let off the bus near the Funicular to the Old Town. Lisbon old town is known as the Alfama district. The Alfama district spreads on the slope between the São Jorge Castle and the Tejo river. The name comes from the Arabic Al-hamma, meaning “hot fountains” or “baths”. We were joined by Steve and Sue and we rode the Funicular up to Old Town, and walked around looking for a nice place to eat.
Below: Us at lunch in Old Town; and the avenue as we walked back to the hotel:
After ride down the Funicular we walked the avenue for a while and then hailed a cab for a ride up the hill to the Dom Pedro. We joined Steve and Sue and went to Restaurante O Madirense in the great mall across from the hotel for a very nice and quiet dinner. Our last in Iberia.
Gohagen had our bags organized and on board a bus for our trip to the airport. We arrived, wondered to ticketing, then security, then through Duty Free (where Karen bought a bottle of wine), and on to the Lounge ANA (American Airline Lounge). We had a wine, snacks and then went to boarding. Our first class seats were enormous and converted to a full size bed at the push of a button. We each watched a couple of movies and slept a little, and we were back in Philadelphia. It was a great trip.
Before we leave this trip, I must emphasize the great weather we had - each and every day. During the entire journey we had exactly five minutes of light rain, right at the end of a tour when we were ready to board a bus. We all laughed at the great fortune we were having and that the rain just highlighted how wonderful the weather was.
This was another great cruise and tour. We met interesting people, some of whom we now consider lasting friends, and we learned a great deal about the region, its people, culture, history, and environment. We came to appreciate the grandeur of former times, and the pace of today’s living. I would recommend this venue for anyone seeking both pleasure, exploration, education, artistic appreciation, fine living, and lots of walking. It was a wonderful time.
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