BARCELONA, SPAIN–April 10, 2014

 

Today in Barcelona I went on a tour which took us to view the Cathedral Sagrada Familia which was designed by Gaudi. It is still under construction (has been for a hundred years) but we walked around it for a view of the side dedicated to Christ’s birth and the opposite side which depicts his death and the stations of the cross. The side depicting the birth is so ornately overdone it is a mish-mosh. The opposite side is stark. The various spires around the church have fruit on top which made it seem rather like Carmen Miranda’s tootie fruity hat. All in all, in may be a grand edifice, but it did nothing for me.

After viewing the Cathedral, we got back on the bus and drove to an area where we were to see a flamenco show. Apparently architects drove throughout Spain to get an idea of the different building styles and then came back to Madrid and built this small walled enclave with different buildings and shops designed to look like the various regions. We went into a restaurant where we were greeted with glasses of sangria and seated at tables around the small stage. We were told there would be tapas for us and it turned out to be potato chips, a Spanish version of goldfish crackers, and green olives. After we were settled in the guitarist and singer started the music. After a few numbers the male and female flamenco dancers came out and started to dance. At first they danced together. They then both sat down and we had more music from the other two. The woman then got up and did her numbers and then the man did his. The dancing was amazing. I took general shots of them at first but we were told the dancers faces would be very revealing as the dancing is intense so I focused on the faces after that.

We had some free time to wander about the complex and check out the shops and then we got back on the buses and drove to Madrid Hill for some great views of the city. We walked around a little bit and checked out the views of the port as well. Our guide was saying they can accommodate 10 cruise ships at a time now, but are adding another terminal to expand their capabilities since last summer they had 17 in at one time. A large part of the economy in Madrid is tourism so they are doing all they can to promote it.

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MOTRIL, SPAIN – April 8, 2014

 

Motril is the port an hour from Granada so I took the tour with Rose and Cheri to Granada and the Alhambra. The area is mountainous and you could still see snow on the top of the mountains. It was a nice drive in and things were leafed out and flowers in bloom. Granada is a clean and pretty city. We ended up with some spare time right after we got off the bus, and as it was early and vendors were not open, we ended up at cafes around the square, sitting in the sun where possible as it was a tad chilly early on. Our first stop was at the Royal Chapel, built as a memorial for Queen Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand. It is very ornate, in contrast to her wishes as she was a very religious woman who did not focus on worldly treasures. Her scepter and crown were very austere and her robes, though done with beautiful tapestry, were designed for comfort and warmth. She held services every day, even when they were fighting the Moors, and regularly carried religious statuary with her. We were able to view the crown, scepter and robes for her in the small museum attached to the chapel. The museum also held her collection of religious paintings of the time.

MOTRIL SPAIN 008Outside of the Royal ChapelMOTRIL SPAIN 020Granada

 

From the Royal Chapel we walked a short distance to the Granada Cathedral. It is immense with all kinds of side chapels. The center section held, on either side, the two banks of pipes for the big pipe organ which is only played a few times a year for major celebrations. The Cathedral was quite chilly and I cannot imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago when you were expected to spend most of your day in church. MOTRIL SPAIN 012Center section of cathedral. Note the banks of the pipe organ on either side.

MOTRIL SPAIN 018A side chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary

 

From the church we headed out of town to have lunch at a hotel on the edge of the grounds of the Alhambra. After lunch, we divided up into groups with tour guides to do the tour of the Alhambra which is a large walled complex erected by a Moorish sultan for protection. His palace is beautiful and the reflecting pool there is said to have been the inspiration for the pools at the Taj Mahal. When the sultan was defeated by Ferdinand and Isabella, they took over the Alhambra and made it their capital for a short time. Ultimately they moved the capital to Madrid, further inland and safer from sea invasions. Much of the grounds still remain, as does Generalife, the summer residence of the sultan, which was built on grounds outside the Alhambra. It is said he spent time there with his family during the daylight hours but returned to the safety of the walls of the Alhambra at night. 

 

MOTRIL SPAIN 032Entrance to the Alhambra

MOTRIL SPAIN 033Looking down the passageway which separated the two walls of the Alhambra fortress

MOTRIL SPAIN 035MOTRIL SPAIN 036Guns atop the walls and a view of the inside grounds

MOTRIL SPAIN 041MOTRIL SPAIN 048Me with the old town in the background.  The reflecting pool of the palace.

MOTRIL SPAIN 055MOTRIL SPAIN 058interior rooms of the Alhambra

MOTRIL SPAIN 065MOTRIL SPAIN 076detail of other buildings in the Alhambra

MOTRIL SPAIN 081MOTRIL SPAIN 092views of the gardens within and outside the Alhambra

MOTRIL SPAIN 099looking back at the Alhambra from the summer palace

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GIBRALTER, BRITISH TERRITORY–April 07, 2014

 

We had no shuttle in Gibralter so took a walk into town where there was a centralized bus terminal. The terminal was outside an area called the Casements which appeared to be old fortifications and which turned out to be a shopping area. I was not interested in shopping so I changed some money to Euros and caught the bus to the aerial tramway to go up the Rock of Gibralter. The bus took us right to the stop and we beat the tour buses there so it was not too crowded. The views were amazing, and the sun had come out so I got lots of good pictures. At the top, the Barbary Apes were all over. I had no sooner walked out on deck and was fiddling getting the camera out when I was told to look out. An ape had come up and settled on the rail right behind me. We had been told to look out for them as they will take food or shiny things right out of your hands. One lady had a clip in her hair and a smaller monkey jumped on her and bit her hands and arms and then climbed on top her head. Once he had gotten her clip free, he jumped off, but her husband did not try to help at all. We then decided to go to the upper deck and fortunately I was not in the lead. Turns out two of the monkeys were peeing on the stairs from the upper rail.

I took a bunch of pictures, got a coffee and sat down for a few minutes and then we wandered out of the tram building and walked up the road to the old military fortifications. It was interesting to imagine yourself standing on the top and looking out for planes back during the war. We walked back down  to the tram and watched the monkeys some more. It was evident food had been dumped on the road for them as the goal is to keep the monkeys out of town. Once fed, they jumped around the trees, up to the platforms and down again. They had no fear of falling as they jumped and maybe dropped ten to twenty feet before they got purchase again. Fun to watch, but just as we were leaving, a new couple came out on the platform and the woman had an apple in her hand. They warn you not to feed the monkeys with an announcement in the cars before the tram stops so the woman had to have known the monkey would take the apple from her. He jumped on her and got the apple in a blink of an eye and her husband stood there and videotaped the whole thing.

After sitting at the bus stop across the street from the tram for a while and not seeing any buses coming our way, but seeing lots on the street at the bottom of the hill, we finally asked and were told we needed to go down to the other street and look for the stop for bus 9 going back into town. Live and learnSmile.

 

Gibralter 003looking down at the city

Gibralter 007Me and Donna at the top of the rock

 

Looking down the ocean side view of the rock and other pictures of the top and its old military buildings

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CASABLANCA, MOROCCO – April 6, 2014

 

In Casablanca I took a tour with Cheri and Rose. Our first stop was at the Hassan II Mosque, built by the present king’s late father. The money for it was donated by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It was built by the sea, partially on reclaimed land, and is large enough to hold 25,000 inside. On an average day, however, the guide indicated only perhaps 50 people come in to pray. The floor is entirely marble and they have channels in the floor to facilitate cleaning. The channels have ropes around them to keep people coming inside from tripping in them. Considering the birds fly in and out of the mosque, and that part of the vaulted wood ceiling in the prayer area can be opened, it seems more than necessary to the floor can be hosed down. There is also a window in the floor which opens onto the bathing area downstairs where the people can do their required ablutions to their hands, face, ears, head and feet before they pray. We went into the downstairs rooms and it was a lot of space, one room with a large pool for regular Turkish bathing, restrooms, and then the ablution room with its many fountains for bathing. Each room, basement or not was ornately tiled. Upstairs in the main body of the mosque, the women’s area was elevated and covered with openwork wood screens rather than having a whole separate room for the women. When we arrived at the mosque, it was foggy, but the mists cleared and it turned into a beautiful day. The mosque is part of a complex which includes a large outdoor area and a library and gardens. It is lovely, and a shame it is mainly a tourist attraction that is occasionally used for celebrations.

From the mosque we drove out along the waterfront across the bay to a spot where we could take pictures of the whole mosque complex, but the sea mist made pictures difficult. Also the area we stopped at was basically a slum and the seaside littered with garbage. As usual though, the slums all had their satellite dishes for TV. Further down the waterfront we were taken to a lovely little restaurant for juice, coffee and pastries. I had the best croissant since being in Montreal. At least the French left some good legacies behind. After this stop we were driven by the summer compounds of the royal families of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and then into central city for a stop at the market. The market was typical of what we have been seeing, but the signs advertising horse meat caught my attention. Apparently this is the only place in town where it is sold. Lots of lamb and beef were available at various stalls but the fish section was the smelliest and largest. I saw something next to the oysters for sale that were odd looking, about the size of fingers, but I never did get an answer as to what they were.

Next on our tour was a stop at a local store that sold all the standard items to buy here. Leather goods, oils and lotions, hammered brass objects and water pipes. I did not see anything I could not live without so headed on back to the bus and to the pier.

After a quick bite aboard ship, I headed back out with Donna, who sits with me for dancing every night. She and her friend Jerry have been great company in the evenings and will be sorely missed when they leave in Barcelona. We caught the shuttle and went down to the central market. We wandered through checking out all the stuff for sale, from watches and other jewelry to loads of shoes, clothes and leather goods. There were a number of leather shops with beautiful soft leather items. Pricey and you really have to haggle to get the merchants to come down. It was fun to shop and I did make a couple of purchases.

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AGADIR, MOROCCO – April 4, 2014

 

Agadir is not a large city so we just took the bus into town and walked around. It is basically a tourist town with nice beaches and “caravan” parks (trailer parks to us).

ARRECIFE CANARY ISLANDS 003view from town  back toward the portARRECIFE CANARY ISLANDS 004local mosqueARRECIFE CANARY ISLANDS 005little shop where we stopped for coffee

ARRECIFE CANARY ISLANDS 007view from the park

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ARRECIFE, LANZEROTE, CANARY ISLANDS–April 3, 2014

 

The last of our stops in the Canarys, Lanzerote, was amazing. The island has over 100 volcanoes and three fourths of the island is covered in lava flows. Some of the flows have been broken down but there is a large area where, geologically speaking, the flows are new and make the area look like a lunar landscape. We stopped at a point in the middle of the national park for demonstrations of how close some of the activity is. At one point, they took a shovel of small lava rock from a hole barely a foot deep and dropped a few of the stones on each of our hands. Some dropped them as they were hot, but I warmed my hands with them. At the next point, they showed us how fast things catch fire when exposed to the heat. It took less than a minute. The last demo was of a man dumping a bucket of water down a tube that went down ten feet or so into the ground. In three seconds it shot back up like a geyser. A well known local artist and activist was involved in designing the restaurant erected here so he designed it to fit in with the landscape. During construction, they had to figure out how to divert the heat from the ground under the restaurant so that the floor of the building did not overheat. The solution was to put vent tunnels under the floor. These tunnels connected over a well and they now use it as the barbecue pit for the restaurant.

After the demos, we were taken on a special route through the partk to view the various volcanoes, the lava tubes, and the lunar landscape. Some of the lava is of a type, ah ah, that flows rather like molasses so it creates interesting tubes and flowing shapes.  Boulders of various sizes lie around as they are spewed forth periodically from the active volcanoes. The people of the island have adapted well to what they have to deal with. There is little rain on the island but at night the humidity can be as much as 70%. They have found the local lava rock picks up and holds much of the moisture from the air and then releases it slowly. Consequently, crushed lava rock is used around farm crops as well as in gardens to help the plants grow. They have even found marsh grasses growing in air vents on the sides of the volcanoes as the heat and the moisture in the rocks makes an ideal environment for the grasses to flourish.

Once through the park we stopped for our camel ride. The company has 200 camels that can be brought in for the rides, depending on their bookings.  We all got in our seats and then walked back up into the lunar landscape. They had quite a number of camels out that day so it was fun watching the camels get loaded up and go on their way. I ended up sitting on one side of the camel with two bags of sand on the other side to balance me out. No one sat on the camel behind me so she tended to get up close and personal. I was glad she had a muzzle on as I really did not want camel drool in my hair.

 

ARRECIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN 008ARRECIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN 025ARRECIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN 029lava tubeARRECIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN 0385 volcanoes in a row ARRECIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN 077ARRECIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN 081ARRECIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN 084

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LAS PALMAS, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN–April 2, 2014

 

We headed out early for our tour of Las Palmas, the second most populated of the Canary Islands (named for dogs, not birds). Our first stop was for a panoramic view of the city, which you can see is rather overcast.  We got out at the second stop as it started to sprinkle so I got Cheri to snap my picture just before it started to pour. Fortunately as we got to the third stop to have a look at the cathedral, it was clearing up. We got to take shots inside and out of the church and then had a little free time for walking. The little open air café was just across the street from the side entrance of the church. I walked up and around the block and counted at least 5 little coffee places where the locals were enjoying their morning cup. It seemed odd to see people walking along with their cigarettes in hand as I don’t notice that much at home these days.

We then rode further in the island to a town called Arucas, which is the banana capital of Gran Canaria. The bananas are grown on terraces as the land is hilly to mountainous. The variety is smaller that what we see in the states and most of the crop here goes to Europe.The local distillery makes both banana liquor and a honey rum liquor. I only sampled the latter and it was pretty good stuff. Anyway, from there we drove to the Finca la Laja Plantation which was tucked away in a little village partway up the side of a mountain.  The farm is owned by a family of three brothers and they use all available land. Grapes are terraced up the hillsides as are acres of orange trees. The pathways on the farm are covered by grape vines which shield the coffee plants which line the paths. The orange trees were in bloom so the air was heavy with the scent of the orange blossoms. We got a sample of the oranges, which were very large and juicy. The coffee plants all had beans on them and they went over how all the beans are hand harvested as they leave the beans on until they ripen to a pretty red, and then pick them. If you do not harvest this way, the quality of the coffee is compromised. They also pride themselves on making only organic coffee. It was good, but too pricey for me. We then were shown the winery and the selection of wines they produce. They had just taken a first prize at a judging of European wines and were very proud of doing so. They offered us a selection of their wines along with some excellent bread, cheese and ham so it was a nice break for us.

From the farm, we headed out to Puerto de las Nieves fishing village for a walk around town. The beach is rocky but people were sunbathing anyway. It was a quaint village and we had a little free time to roam before heading back to the ship.

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SANTA CRUZ de TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN April 1, 2014

 

On Tenerife, we took a tour through the Anaga Mountains. When you first get into port, you think the town is small as it is hilly here. When you see it from above, you realize what a large city it is. It also looks pretty modern. Anyway, we got on the bus and headed up into the mountains. The hills were covered with aloe, heather, and cacti (imported from Mexico) which all grow well in the volcanic soil. Tenerife has the highest mountain in the Atlantic Ocean and we were fortunate to find it clear when we got up to the top. The beaches here vary from beautiful sand which looks like it came from the Sahara, and lots of rocks. We were told the water was pretty chilly yet but we did see a determined girl with a surfboard heading out when we stopped in one little village to check out the local wine and cheese and go for a walk along the water. Each stop was very picturesque, especially the stop where we were along a rocky stretch of coast and the waves were breaking beautifully on the rocks. I can’t imagine what it would be like in a storm.

The people here take advantage of land wherever they can with all the steep hillsides. You see terraces cut everywhere for gardens. It has to be a lot of work, but they obviously find it rewarding. Coming down from the top of the mountain and back toward Santa Cruz, we got a good view of the valley which stretched all the way down to the port. It was covered with towns. Our guide said Tenerife has a million people and all 7 inhabited islands contain two million people. As you can see from the pictures, it is a really beautiful island.  We then had a stop in one of the towns in the valley where we got a chance to wander around a market and then visit an old church. The market was immaculate and not that stinky, despite the fish counters in back. We were in need of change for all we had were 5 and 10 Euro notes and needed smaller amounts for our tour tips. With that justification we stopped at one of the bakery counters and got a giant doughnut like pastry filled with guava. It was WONDERFUL and we shared it 4 ways. After that we looked at the vegetables, figuring out what some things were.  Interestingly, likely because of the hoards of tourists, they had signs up saying to not touch anything. We then wandered over to the church, one of the oldest ones on the island and marveled at all the silver covering the crucifix and much of the altar. It shone beautifully in the dim light. In the side room where there were candles to light, the “candles” were cases of miniature electric candles and you dropped in your coin and one would randomly light up. Just didn’t seem right to me.

On the way back to the ship, we had the tour bus drop us in downtown so we could shop. Our friend Jean needed a new camera and Rose, Cheri, and I volunteered to go with her. We walked up to the department store the guide had pointed out and managed to find the right floor for electronics. She found a camera, but of course the power supply was for European 220 volt. We pointed out it would be no issue on the ship since it has both 110 and 220 outlets but Jean thought she should have a converter since she would need it at home. We trooped up to another floor with domestic electronics and finally made ourselves understood to the clerk after pulling out Jean’s old cameras plug in and showing her the 110 plug. With that she brought several converters over and, after looking at them and at the prices, decided she had the same thing at home and did not need one after all. From there we headed to the street level where they had a full grocery and wandered around picking up incidentals we needed. After that it proved to be a much longer walk back to the ship that what we were led to believe, mostly because of construction. I was pooped when I got back as it had also warmed up and it was hot walking in the sun.

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DAKAR, SENEGAL–March 29, 2014

 

In Dakar, I had no tour so walked into town and checked out the local market. It is not a particularly clean place, the cement floor was wet and the smell of all the fresh fish was nasty. The market was foodstuffs inside, but when you walked out a side door they had a double layer of stalls wrapped around to sell you everything from carvings to clothes and jewelry. It seems like all the places we visit sell the same carvings and jewelry which makes you wonder if any is made locally or whether it is all imported from China. There is a lot of dirt, the roads aren’t great and we were surprised to see a lot of construction downtown. As in Gambia, the locals want to either guide you or sell you something, so you almost always have a tail or two. After downtown, we walked back toward the pier and looked for the ferry which goes to Goree Island, the spot where the slaves were held for shipping to the new world. We took the ride over and the island is very picturesque with hotels and restaurants and lots of little shops. Sales ladies on the ferry who were on their way to work made sure they got our names and called out to us to come and buy something when they saw us stroll by their shops. The island was hilly so we walked up to the top to get the views and passed by the art vendors who had canvasses flying in the wind on clotheslines next to the funny looking baobab tree which looks like its dead but isn’t and produces fruit from which they get baking powder and from which they take the sticky sap for the sand art which is prevalent here. It was a very windy day but sunny and not hot. All in all, a great day for taking in the sights.

DAKAR, SENEGAL 001 the downtown market

DAKAR, SENEGAL 004the old slave prison at the point of Goree Island

DAKAR, SENEGAL 008trees and artwork along the path up Goree

DAKAR, SENEGAL 007looking back at Dakar from the top of Goree

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BANJUL, GAMBIA March 28, 2014

 

In Gambia Cheri and I had a tour that started at noon. We met late for breakfast and then went out on the pier. Some locals had put on a show earlier when most of the tours were going off and some of the entertainers were still about. The lucky vendors were able to get space on the pier right by the gangplank so they had their wares all spread out. Jewelry, baskets, wood carvings, batik material, shirts, belts and other odds and ends were being hawked by men in traditional long robes or by women dressed in lovely, colorful outfits. We talked to several of the ladies and they were very nice. One gave us each a bangle bracelet even though we bought nothing from her. Later in the day Cheri heard one of the women on the ship talking about her experience with one of the vendors. She wanted to buy a colorful outfit like the vendors were wearing. She ended up telling the vendor that and the vendor stripped off her dress and sold it to her. The disconcerting part was the vendor had not a stitch on under her dress. Apparently it did not phase her though as she just reached down and donned something else from her stash. Business is business after all.

We had been warned about trying to walk into town. If you picked up a “guide” while in the port, he would keep the locals outside the gates from pestering you. Of course the “guide” expected a tip for his services. Two couples who are our tablemates told us at dinner that they did not get a guide inside the gate and ended up with 4 following them when they exited the port. They ended up paying all of them for their services.

Finally after spending some money buying things on the pier, we caught the bus for our tour. We would our way through town and the poverty here was really apparent. The people though were all very striking. Girls in school uniforms, mothers in colorful clothing with their infants in a sling on their backs, and men in all different kinds of dress. We wound our way out of town for a 45 minute drive down to a local fishing village. The land is very sandy and dry. At our destination outside the village the 6 of us on the tour were taken out to get loaded on three camels for our ride. Three female dromedary camels were tied together and lying on the ground. Each had chairs fitted over their hump that we were to ride in. They had us stand on each side of the camel in front of the seat and then when they told us to sit, we were to do it in sync. Once we were seated they had the camel stand. The last camel in the group was loaded first. Cheri and I were second and then the last two were seated. Once seated, each camel had additional weight added to balance out the baskets (which, thank goodness,  had cushions and a place for your feet) and the camels were made to stand. I noticed each of the camels had a wire like muzzle on. Whether it was to keep them from spitting, keep them from biting, or just to keep them from eating, I wasn’t sure. When we stopped for a break later, the lead camel complained loudly until her muzzle was removed so she could snack on the plants at hand.

Once we were all settled in, the camels were led across the road and down to the beach. We proceeded to walk along the beach for quite a way looking at the rows and rows of colorful fishing boats, the piles of trash, the racks of drying fish, and all the people on the beach. It was a beautiful sunny day and there was a nice breeze on the beach as we walked along. Most of the boats were not out fishing, and we saw a lot of piles of nets on the beach. Later, after the camels had had a rest and we were returning to our starting point, the tide was coming in and the boats were being launched to head out fishing. I could hardly get over the numbers of boats on the beach and all the people milling around. At one point a boat had just come in with a big load of catfish. The women were cleaning them and preparing them for sale. At the market later on when we passed through town on our way to the port, we saw huge barrels of smoked catfish offered for sale.

The camel ride was slow and somewhat uncomfortable for both us and the camel. It was interesting to be able to take everything in at a leisurely pace though it did not make for good picture taking. After we got back from our trip, we were offered a soda and given time to look around in case anyone wanted to buy souvenirs. After that it was a ride back to town for a shower and dinner.

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