More Spain and Other Wonderful locales Pt. 2

It seems like ages since I told you about our trip to Barcelona, and we were about to head off to meet the cruise ship on the second part of our Spanish journey. Well actually it is over a month. So if you need a refresher please go to https://suddenly70.ca/2019/10/13/beautiful-barcelona-spain-pt-2/ and then to understand where I am now, check out https://wordpress.com/post/suddenly70.ca/1560 which describes our annual migration to Florida.

It takes me a while to settle into Florida life, where besides setting up our home and little garden, I am president of our ladies golf association, so there were meetings that had to be held when I arrived. I also run an opera club that is based around the fabulous offerings of The Metropolitan Opera’s HD series, so I had lots of prep to do for the first two operas. Entertaining has always been a priority, and getting back to the swing of things at golf, and on it goes. Lots of excuses not to write my blog, but then I remember what a fine time we had on our trip, and I know I have to share my experiences, so I am back.

We left our beautiful hotel, the El Palace, after breakfast, and arrived at the port to find our ship, Seabourn’s, Encore, sitting in the harbor in all its glory. We have travelled often on Seabourn, and have loved the intimacy and the all-inclusive nature of the voyages. This was to be an experiment with a larger vessel, about twice the number of passengers, albeit only 608, but the past journeys have always been a max of 350. The Encore is fairly new and very fresh with one more eating option space and an enlarged Thomas Keller restaurant and bar.

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We all gathered in the main theatre for info regarding safety and we sat behind a group of small children who were noisy, obnoxious and ill behaved. This was our first cruise on Seabourn where there were kids, and the parents were not even vaguely interested in keeping them under control. I gave them the evil eye and a big shush, which worked for a few minutes. Okay, this will sound racist, but it was memories of the movie ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. The women were dressed in the latest designer outfits with bags galore, and they didn’t seem to care less about their bratty offspring. Fortunately we rarely saw them again on the cruise.

After the briefing we went for lunch outside, had salads, toured the ship, and then attended a lecture with perhaps the most boring lecturer we have ever encountered on a ship, Martyn Green. I fell asleep, as did others. I had erased his name from my memory, kept it only long enough to give him a non-stellar review on the ship’s questionnaire, but of course it was in my notes, which is why his name is here. I think we tried another one of his conversations just to give him a chance, and he droned on and on. I learned more from Wikipedia. On past voyages we have been so impressed by the quality of the speakers that this was indeed a shock. We planned to avoid him during the trip. We almost succeeded.

We thought we would try the new Sushi restaurant and it was just fine, nothing spectacular, but certainly decent. We wandered into the bar adjoining the Thomas Keller restaurant and were delighted with the pianist, John Randall, an elegant, beautiful player of jazz, show tunes, and a charming man. We spent a great deal of time in that venue just loving his sound and stylings. I am not easily pleased with bar pianists, but John just delighted me so much that even this Russian judge gave him 5 stars.

piano bar with John Randall.. me close up and in the distance

Our first night was spent in the delicious bed, and it was excellent as it wrapped itself around us. Before sleep, I got ready for the next day’s private tour to Valencia. I am sure I have mentioned this previously, but I like to book tours through Viator, a division of Trip Advisor. We sometimes get guides from Tours by Locals, but their cancellation policy is not as friendly as Viator. I also book some tours through the Excursions offered by the ship. I pick and choose depending on where we are and what is offered.  This all seems to work. Of course booking tours on my own is cheaper than the ship options if you want a private tour guide and not a group tour. But I also enjoy the process and planning.

So our first day off the ship was to exquisite Valencia. Our guide, Sonia, although booked through Trip Advisor actually worked for Tours by Locals. Go figure. She met us at the appointed hour near the ship, and drove us to the City of Arts and Sciences and we parked in the very attractive parking lot. Who ever notices beauty in a parking lot, but this one had it in spades. The pictures will highlight what we saw which was incredible: opera house, aquarium, museum of science, art in the water, and pools where kids were playing inside of big bubbles. The iconic buildings all designed by the world-renowned architect, Calatrava. Not only did he build amazing and unique bridges and airports, but also a Galleria in Toronto at Brookfield Place, and a winery in Spain. We can see the influence of sculpture and art in his brilliant designs. It was hard to leave the area but we then drove to the old town where we parked in a mundane, uninspired lot, and wandered about. We went to the Silk Exchange and Sonia informed us about the history there. Built between 1482 and 1548, la Lonja is composed of three parts plus the Orange Garden – a walled courtyard. The main hall, Sala de Contratacion (The Contract Hall) is a large lavishly decorated space supported by gorgeous twisted columns. This was the financial centre of La Lonja, where the merchants worked out contracts. The side-wing is named the Pavilion of the Consulate, and this was the seat of the Tribunal del Mar – the first marine merchant tribunal to ever be formed in Spain.  During subsequent centuries, La Lonja functioned as a silk exchange.

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sculptures in the water, fabulous stuctures, kids in bubbles at arts and sciences

Moors, Jews and Christians lived in Valencia. The Moors created gargoyles of pornographic themes hidden in the art, as well as a Jewish Star in the Cathedral to get back at the Christians. Sonja told us that Christopher Colom (Columbus) got money from Jewish businessmen to sail to India, but he discovered America instead, and never paid back his dept. Jews were banished in 1492 along with the Moors. Everyone was expected to convert to Catholicism. Some Jews did, but were discovered celebrating Sabbath on Friday nights. Lots of juicy history here during the Spanish Inquisition.

the silk exchange, the tiles on the floor and ceiling, gargoyles, and a brail replica of the town
Calatrava’s work in Toronto, and winery in Spain
market time

Valencia was the most powerful and richest country in the world at that time. Now there are exports of Valencia oranges, tourism, Grand Prix  Races and Americas Cupsailing. It is truly a fascinating and beautiful city and well worth a visit. At one point on our tour we bumped into another guide who it turns out I had been corresponding with. She was accompanying a couple, also on the ship, and we eventually met up with them for meals a few times and really appreciated their company.

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new friends

We ate dinner in the main restaurant and enjoyed it thoroughly. I like that you don’t need reservations. I had roast beef that was perfectly cooked, a ceviche of wild mushrooms. Charles had a tomato bisque, and fish. After that we headed to the bar to hear more from John, and he passed my very demanding test which is to play Michel Legrand’s, ‘What are you doing the rest of your life?’ It is very difficult harmonically and few pianists can play and sing it well. I fell in love with him, well sort of after that tune. The truth being it is a tune Charles and I adore, one of our songs.

The next day I woke and had a wonderful swim, although it was windy and the pool can be dangerous with the swaying of the ship. Years ago, a dear friend, David, told me to be careful when I swim in such active weather, and not to go too near the sides. I always remember this sage advice. We had been given a $300 voucher for services from our tour consultant, Tully Luxury Travel, a nice treat. I booked Pilates with the trainer but was unimpressed; however the massage I had was super. Charles tried acupuncture and found it expensive, and not particularly satisfying.

It was the formal night aboard and I wore my fave beige beaded dress. Fine dinner in the restaurant; caviar, veal chop done perfectly, lobster tail for Charles then cheese and we joined our new friends at their table for chatting.

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I travel with a towel wrap for my hair which helps it dry quicker and it seems that the maids love to whisk it away with the sheets. This happened in the hotel in Madrid and it happened on board. Really silly, but hard to retrieve from the laundry on the ship, although I eventually did. I had an early cold swim then a hot whirlpool treat and we arrived in Cadiz overnight.  We walked through the town and explored on our own. I didn’t book any tours. I recalled the aria I used to sing called Les Filles de Cadiz, or the girls of Cadiz. If you go to the hyperlink you can hear it. It is a very Spanish/French song and I loved singing it with its intricate rhythms. We just wandered about aimlessly, visited the amphitheater, and then returned to the ship for lunch outside.

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waiting for customers in Cadiz

In the evening we went to a terrific show with Flamenco dancers and it was amazingly professional and entertaining, which is not always the case for these shows on board. There were two men and a woman and we left with spirits lifted, not that they needed lifting, but I danced all the way back to the cabin.

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male dancers of Flamenco

Most days we had a morning routine. I would swim, Charles went to  work out. The pool is mostly cold, but my reward at the end is to jump in the outdoor whirlpool, which is hot and right beside the pool. That day we made a mistake in our choice of places to visit in Portimao in the Algarve, Portugal. We should have gone to the fishing village, which was a bus ride away, but instead we walked into the town, which was described as quaint. We walked and walked looking for the ‘old’ town, but couldn’t find it because it was all old, dilapidated, rundown and smelly. Nothing there to see and we managed to get a bit lost and then headed back to our sanctuary for a nap. I loved lying on the bed with the door to the balcony open and the exquisite view. I adore being on the sea. We don’t lie by the pool on the sun cots unless we can find one in the shade, because I gave up my sun worshipping a long time ago. It’s amazing how skin cancer and the possibility of wrinkled skin are deterrents.

Seabourn has added Thomas Keller restaurants to some of its fleet. Thomas Keller is a renowned extremely successful and very wealthy chef and restaurateur. His French Laundry in Napa put him on the culinary map, and his PR abilities and smart marketing acumen has put his name on restaurants like the one aboard which bears absolutely no resemblance to his stellar three Michelin star resto in Napa that has an intriguing menu, and a very high price tag even for lunch, at over $300.  The food in the restaurant on board is pretty mundane 1970’s sort of fare with steaks and chops and Caesar salad made at the table. It does serve an excellent sole meunière, but good food, not starry. The service was decent; in fact this larger ship of the Seabourn fleet suffered from poor and understaffed service everywhere. We were beginning to notice how much we liked the smaller ship like the Sojourn, or perhaps Seabourn is cutting back? We were not the only passengers that noticed this.

As I have mentioned, we went from port to port as one does on a cruise, but some places are far more entrancing than others, especially in the Mediterranean. Our next stop, Tangier in Morocco, was one of the most exotic and captivating. I had booked a private tour guide through Viator/ found on trip advisor, and we met him just off the ship waiting for us in a large Mercedes. He was a bit uncomfortable as he was putting us with another driver. Seems he had double booked or wanted to have the double bookings. At any rate a delightful young man then transported us around the modern part of Tangier. We went to places called California where the King’s palace was, as well as sumptuous homes, views of mosques and the water, where there were hawkers of many souvenirs. Hercules Caves, another attraction, we did not visit as yours truly is claustrophobic, and a luxurious pet cemetery. Many routes were closed because the king and his friends were golfing. Tangier is an international city that many years ago was a good haven for spies. We didn’t run into any.

at the market in Tangier

However, we did come to see the Medina or old town. It is walled, and contains narrow streets, fountains, palaces and mosques. Many medinas are car-free as there is not enough space in the alleyways for cars to pass, or even people. For this part of our tour we had a new, well-informed tour guide called Badr. He had a terrific sense of humor, and knew his way around because for sure this assortment of confusing alleys was not GPS friendly. You could never find your way in, around, and out, well not easily.

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boy, his cat and a fish 

We walked for hours up and down paths and winding roads, in this walled part of Tangier. We saw the Kasbah which sits atop old Tangier. On Place de la Kasbah was the Dar el-Makhzen, a former sultan’s palace that now houses a history museum. The Kasbah is also the scene of snake charmers, shop vendors, dance troupes, and a three-stringed guitar player with his fez on his head. The view of the ocean is not to be missed. The artist Henri Matisse traveled here in 1912, inspired by his wanderings through this area and picked up many themes that later showed up in much of his art.

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a baker and his oven in Medina of Tangier

We strolled into the market with its fish heads, cow’s heads, chicken heads, bakery goods, and noted that around many quarters were communal taps for water with street cats lounging nearby and young children running about.  The area is a cornucopia of colors, sounds, smells, both good and not so good, and people. Badr had a special addition to the outfit, shorts, in which he arrived. He added a covering that was sheer, and worn over his body, out of respect for his roots. We followed him to a carpet trader and bought some small textiles, no carpets. It was deliriously fascinating and fun. We ate at a typical upstairs restaurant that served way too much food, quite exotic for me, and I had my coke.

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our wonderful tour guide in his cover up
the Jewish quarter in the Arabic centre of Medina

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more shots of Medina

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Afterward back to the pristine and safe ship for dinner again with our new friends, who spend much of their life travelling onboard various ships and sampling many itineraries. Not a bad retirement.

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on board at the bar

I will leave you now with the pungent  spicy aromas of Tangier. More to come in Picasso country, and France.

Please join me on my final leg of this journey.

Riki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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