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What I saw on my vacation…

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This will be the third and last post about my Transatlantic cruise in May aboard the Disney Magic.

We stopped in five ports – Ponta Delgada in the Azores and Lisbon both of which are in Portugal, and Cádiz, Málaga and Ibiza in Spain. We disembarked in Barcelona and were taken straight to the airport so I am not counting that (other than waiting 5 hours to check-in is stupid!)

There wasn’t a lot of information provided about the tours or ports – just the brief description in the brochure/website with the prices. On other cruises I have been on we always had port talks on board and were provided detailed printed information about the ports – history, maps, shopping information, etc. I was really surprized that there was nothing provided on this cruise.

May 20 – Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal

Tour was “Highlights of Ribeira Grande” and the brochure description was “Scenic travel towards the central part of the island to Serra de Agua de Pau and Barrosa Mountain. After a brief photo stop, travel toward the north coast and visit Caldeira Velha monument. Continue to Ribeira Grande for a brief stop before heading to a local farm known for breeding Lusitano horses. Enjoy wine and cheese tasting at the farmhouse and visit the horse stables.”

I had never been to the Azores before so was very excited. I woke up early and saw the lights of the island on the horizon, and was able to watch the ship maneuvering into port and docking – all from my veranda. Pretty cool!

Weather was overcast with a low ceiling so we couldn’t see the tops of the mountains. Which was a shame.  Also hampered the views from the top of the mountains so we couldn’t see the whole island from the top – that was a bit disappointing.  But still was a great tour.

Ponta Delgada is the largest city on the island and Ribeira Grande is the second largest. It is a very beautiful place. We drove through Ponta Delgada and up the caldera to view the largest undeveloped volcanic lake on the island – it was hit and miss whether we would be able to see it due to the clouds, BUT just as we got to the lookout point the cloud opened up enough for us to see it! There were some excellent views of the island on the drive as the clouds would break every now and then.

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We then stopped at the Caldeira Velha Monument – which is a botanical park, not a “monument” as we were thinking it meant. There were hot springs there with public access so lots of people soaking in the pools. It was pretty cool seeing the water boiling up out of the ground, but it did make you think how close we must be to active magma! Lots of very Jurassic Park looking plants.

It is a very pastoral island, lots of agriculture. Their cows are very content – all pastured and clean. They take trucks out to the cows IN THE FIELD to milk them! They supply a huge percentage of dairy products to the mainland, along with tea and other products.

We then arrived in Ribeira Grande which means “Big River”… um, no. It is a creek, barely. But must be the biggest on the island I guess.

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A very picturesque town with old Portuguese buildings but lots of modern touches. A Hybrid Lexus cruised by us and the guy next to me commented he must have turned off his engine to coast down the small street – I pointed out it was a hybrid running on battery. We stopped at as shop selling local liquor and souvenirs.

This island is known as “The Island of Hydrangeas” and they are everywhere – so I bought a fridge magnet in the shape of one.

We then went to a horse farm the bred Lusitano horses and saw some absolutely gorgeous horses! Their stable was beautiful too. The owner explained the history of the breed and how her family got into them. The Lusitano breed is from the same Roman era base stock as the Andalusian and Lipizzaner, and you can see it in the conformation. So beautiful. And they were so calm and friendly, for stallions!

Then they took us to another building and we had a wine and cheese tasting – well, slightly more than a taste of cheese for me! I didn’t try any wine of course. The cheese was really good – six varieties all made there. Some was fresh made just for today! They explained all the processes and features of the wine and cheese.

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Then we went back to Ponta Delgada. I stopped to buy some local tea – which is excellent by the way! It was Orange Pekoe and very smooth and pleasant. Wish I had bought a bigger box now.

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On the tour our guide told us that most of the flora and fauna we see are imports. When the Portuguese first arrived on the island it was mostly low scrub. As the islands are pretty far out in the Atlantic and isolated, the natural migration of things was very sporadic. There are no poisonous insect or animals on the islands, and even mosquitos are very rare.

There used to be orange groves all over but a disease killed off the industry and they diversified into pineapple (they grow it in greenhouses!), dairy, wine and fruit liqueurs, and also wheat and corn, etc. Tourism is just starting to really take off in a big way.

I really enjoyed the day. I’ll add the Azores to the list to possibly visit again sometime.

May 22 – Lisbon, Portugal

I had visited Lisbon before in 1995 when we did our Mediterranean cruise. So I chose a tour outside of Lisbon.

Tour was “Sintra and Casais” and the description was “Travel to Sintra, a 19th century UNESCO World Heritage Site. Have free time for shopping and sightseeing in Sintra’s city centre, and visit the quaint shops and cafes. See the Sintra National Palace (Palácia da Vila), considered the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in Portugal. Drive to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe for a photo stop. Return to the pier passing the towns of Guincho, Cascais and Estoril.” I chose the Adults Only Departure.

I woke up really early and was able to see the first sight of land from my veranda. So I got dressed and went up to the lounge to watch us entering port. Lisbon is VERY big and the shop cruised under a large bridge on the way to the docks. Was fun to watch (and not my first bridge!) There were two other ships already docked when we pulled up.

I was a little unimpressed with the “tour” as it consisted of the guide dropping us off at the locations – he talked a little on the ride about where we were going, but did not escort us or show us highlights. In the Azores our guide was with us at all times, giving us information and pointing out interesting things.

Sintra was beautiful though, set on the side of a steep hill, the palace was very impressive.

There was also a fortification on the top of the hill but we weren’t given any information about it from the guide – I probably could google it…

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Anyway, it was a very nice place and pleasant to walk around, although VERY congested with tour traffic as there seemed to be a tour bus unloading every 2.3 seconds! There were lots of nice shops – higher class tourist things, locally made crafts, etc. I bought a cork bracelet and a small handmade and painted dish (which has hanging holes so I’ll put it on the wall.)

We then went to Cabo da Roca – the westernmost point of mainland Europe. Great views (if you can get the other million tourists out of your way!) Cliffs and tidal activity was impressive. There was a big monument but trying to get a shot of the text was difficult as people were constantly blocking it to get their own photos. This was just a photo/rest stop. Ended up having to wait for one woman who took 20 minutes more than we were told!

There were lots of flowers – all low shrubby stuff and pretty.

The drive through Cascais was nice – rich resort town, pretty much the same as any other rich resort town on the Mediterranean coast.

We drove through Lisbon a different way than the trip out in the morning and I thought the streetcar was cute. When we got back to the ship we (the Concierge passengers) were invited to party on the Captain’s private deck just below the bridge to have a viewing of our departure from Lisbon’s harbor. There was all sorts of food and drinks, and character visit from Daisy Duck.

May 23 – Cádiz, Spain

Tour was “Seeing Seville” and the description was “Drive to the city of Seville from a guided tour of the 12th century gothic Seville cathedral, the third largest church in Europe, home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Wander through a bevy of winding, narrow cobblestone streets and gaze upon a myriad delightful, whitewashed houses during a walking tour of the Barrio se Santa Cruz. Visit the quaint CallejÓn del Agua and spend some time at the Hosteria del Laurel for a beverage and snack. Have free time to explore the city on your own. Take a scenic drive through Seville before returning to Cadiz.”

The tour didn’t leave the ship until 10:45 and it was a very long day! Great, but long. It was a 1.5 hour drive to Seville from Cádiz.

Seville needs so much more time to be explored! The old section is beautiful – Moorish, Spanish, old Jewish quarter – was very much like Morocco. The main square in the old part has the Alcazar on one side, and the Cathedral on the other which is the largest gothic cathedral in Europe.

The Alcazar was definitely Moorish – it was almost the same as the palaces I toured in Morocco last year! The craftsmen who did the tile work quite probably were the same! The Spanish built on top of the original Moorish palace without altering the original. They liked what was there so just added to it.

It was the same with the Cathedral – they like the mosque building so just converted it. The minaret was used as the bell tower.

The tower of the Cathedral has 35 ramps, not stairs, as the call to prayers happens five times a day so the Imam would ride a horse up to make the call! We could go up if we wanted… I didn’t.

Columbus’ tomb is inside the cathedral – it is only a little bit of him actually as he was buried twice before. They did do DNA testing and it IS him though. Quite a cool tomb – different than others I’ve seen in European cathedrals.

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Part of the tour was going for Tapas – the guide had read a list of choices to us on the bus. But when we got to the restaurant the waiter said no when some asked for things off that list. We got ONE tapas and ONE drink each. Our table got ignored for quite a while, then my plate (was cheese – four slices of a local Parmesan type cheese…) was forgotten and I had to flag down the waiter to ask where mine was. I also asked for bottled water – but the label had so many ingredients on it in Spanish, that I didn’t bother to even open it.  This restaurant was decorated with bulls… not paintings or ornaments, actual bulls mounted on the walls, many, many bulls who died in bullfights. With plaques with the date and killer noted on it.

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After the restaurant our local guide took over and we all were given “whispers” which is the sound system the guides use so you can hear them when they are up the block! She led us around, took us on a tour through the Alcazar and the Cathedral, the Jewish Quarter (the Santa Cruz District) which is against the walls of the Alcazar. After the Cathedral we were on our own.

I went into a couple of shops and bought a painted wood fan and a fridge magnet (my souvenir of choice for this trip). Then I went and sat on the monument steps in the middle of the square to wait to meet with our main guide at 3:45. We then walked to the main street of modern Seville to meet the bus. We drove around a bit to see the gardens and building – which were pavilions from different countries. The Jacaranda trees are stunning! Clouds of deep purple. I tried very hard to get decent photos of them.

I dozed off on the ride back to Cádiz – we got back to the port at 6 p.m. which was the time the ship was supposed to be departing! Then there was a massive crowd in the customs building and then a line for the gangplank. It was a chicken coop style gangplank, and steep. I took a couple of steps, tripped and did a face plant on it… hit hard on my knees, both wrists and my head. Sigh.

Long story short – it was a “possible fracture” in my left wrist and bruising on the rest. Dent in my head lasted three days. Their x-ray machine wasn’t high resolution enough to determine if a mark on the bone was a mark or a fracture. So I got splinted for the rest of the trip. Luckily we travel with a pharmacy so I had anti-inflammatories and pain pills.  The Doctor gave me a waiver to use to cancel the shore excursion I had booked for Málaga as we didn’t know what I would be up to doing tomorrow – that meant I would get a full refund.

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May 24 – Málaga, Spain

I went ashore on my own and had a great day. Absolutely beautiful!

When I woke up I was a little stiff but walking was fine (as long as I didn’t actually touch my right knee!) and the wrist wasn’t an issue, it hurt, but the splint protected it. So I took my pills and decided to go ashore and walk around on my own. The shipped was docked RIGHT at the town and the dock was meant for cruise ships so was all laid out for tourists! It all looked gorgeous from my veranda!

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There was a bus to take us up to the town from the ship – it wasn’t super far, maybe a kilometer or two total to the town, so if you wanted you could probably walk easily as it was all sidewalks. I wore my skirt to I wouldn’t be putting pressure on my sore knee with pants.

The bus dropped us under some Jacaranda trees! I had a map of the city, so took a few minutes to try to orient myself. I really love these towns! Málaga is old but modern, clean, wide boulevards, narrow streets, and it all mixes up together really beautifully. I got a little off on the map – thought I was one street over but I figured it out. Everything is very close together.

I walked up a very wide pedestrian boulevard with lots of modern boutiques (posh, not tourist!) and wandered around up little side streets. Then I found the cathedral and town hall square, which finally got me in-sync with the map I had! Even the cobblestones were arranged beautifully here.

I then went to the Roman amphitheatre and climbed up to the top seats. It is right there in the town – I love that about exploring Europe, you can see all eras in a couple of blocks!

I decided to go see the Picasso Museum – he was born here. There was the museum and then further out was his house which was also a museum but I wasn’t sure how far that would turn out to be. The museum was only about a block from the Roman amphitheatre. Entrance was only 7€ which was pretty reasonable. There were twelve galleries and work in all mediums that he worked in! Mostly owned/donated by his family. I used one of those audio guides to go through. I’m not really huge into his work as I don’t “get” cubism, but this museum had all his periods represented. And in person, even the cubist stuff is pretty impressive! The colours and texture are really awe-inspiring. There was a shop so I got a couple of postcards of two of the paintings I really liked, and a fridge magnet.

When I left the museum it was getting very hot out so I decided to head back to the ship. I hadn’t brought a hat with me so didn’t want to add heat stroke to my list of current issues. I poked around the duty-free shops at the terminal but didn’t get anything.

I have to say going out on your own is nice as you don’t necessarily run into crowds when departing or boarding. I was quite happy that I had cancelled the tour I had originally booked.

May 25 – Ibiza, Spain

Went ashore on my own – very long shuttle bus ride and the map that was sitting on the dock on a table was only in Spanish.  A lady on the bus asked where I had got it and I told her it was just there and I happened to notice and took one. No one from the cruise or buses bothered to hand them out. Had a walk around the old town which is mostly converted into bars, restaurants and tacky tourist stores. I bought a fridge magnet at a little shop in a hut right by the shuttle bus stop.

Ibiza is a little, um, less impressive than the other ports. First we were docked way out at a multi-purpose pier (commercial area), the shuttle ride was long and confusing so there was no way to figure out if you could find your own way back, the place wasn’t “clean” – lots of litter and just dusty looking. Where we were dropped at was kinda scuzzy – the buildings along the street didn’t look any older than the 1960-70s. I was pointed over to the other side which was the old town. So I walked across the embankment and explored along the waterfront and up a few streets.

I didn’t bother going up to the castle – I was tired and starting to feel the effects of my fall the other day.

Ibiza is a small island and the place is geared for partying tourists – lots of night clubs and night life. Didn’t see any parks or green areas or public squares in the small part I saw in this town. But I didn’t explore too far away from the shuttle stop to be honest.

We were packing and disembarking in the morning so I was back on board around 3 p.m.

So that is what I saw and did off the ship on this Transatlantic Cruise on the Disney Magic. Overall a really nice trip (not including my trip on the gangplank!)

I would definitely like to see more of the Azores, Seville and Málaga – maybe one day I will take a land tour of the area and spend more time exploring.

 

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