Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cruise take five

The next morning we arrived in Cadiz, which is the port city of Seville. We were going to take a tour of Seville, however, the bus trip is 2 hours each way, leaving only a few hours to explore the city. We decided instead to take a walking tour of the port city of Cadiz, which is supposedly the oldest city in Europe. We visited the Plaza de Espana, where the first Spanish constitution was signed in 1812. We visited the cathedral, the central market, and wandered through the long narrow streets. The houses are all made from a very porous brick that is made from the sediment at the waterfront. Therefore, with a close look, one can see sea shells and other oceanic specimins in the brick. The houses are very homogenous. By law, each house is required to have a watch tower for each entry way. For example, a house with 2 doors is required to have 2 watch towers. Again, a response to the prevalent pirates. Another interesting factoid is that the cathedral is one color on its lower half and another color on its upper half. The guide explained that Columbus sailed from Cadiz on his second and fourth voyages to America and a golden age of trade with America followed. Orginally, Seville was the primary port, however, ships needed to travel from Cadiz along a river route inland, which was time consuming. Eventually, the ships just unloaded their goods at Cadiz, making Cadiz the primary port. For a time, Cadiz was one of the wealthiest cities in Spain and could afford the best materials to construct their buildings. The Catherdral therefore started being built with one type of stone in the early 1500s. Halfway through the construction, which lasted over 100 years, trade opened with Asia resulting in America's trade with Cadiz drying up. Cadiz could no longer afford the original stone and therefore built the upper part of the cathedral with lime stone. In dryer months, the stone decays resulting in flakes and small pieces dropping from the ceilings (there are now nets overhead to catch these falling pieces).
After the tour, we made it back onto the ship, had lunch, and spent the afternoon with the kids. It was our last formal dinner - one entry was giant shrimp - I have never seen shrimp as big as these. They only gave two shrimp, but they filled the plate. Another entry was prime rib. Our waiter earned his gratuity by getting us a plate of each - what a good man! The entertainment that night was a night at the opera - we decided to skip it and instead picked out the photos taken by the cruise staff that we wanted to buy. We also listened to some Jazz from one of the live bands playing on the ship.
Our final cruise day was a day at sea. The sea days are absolutely essential for relaxing and recharging the batteries after the shore days where you tend to do a lot of walking around while trying to see as much as possible. So we got a workout in and did some relaxing. In the afternoon, we attended an art auction. We bid on a couple of things, but the prices always got bid up out of our price range. We entered a raffle and Sandy and I each won a piece of artwork. This made me very happy as it compensated for my losses in the casino. In the evening, the dinner was casual, nothing fancy. We woofed down our food so that we could make the early showing of the night's entertainment, an acrobat - the kids loved it of course.
The next day, we got up early and had our last breakfast in the formal dining room. People started departing from the ship shortly after 6AM. We eventually got off around 8AM and headed for the mall near the port as our flight was not departing until the afternoon. We relaxed, the kids got haircuts, we had an early lunch at McDonalds, and then we hopped on the subway headed for the airport. It was a little cumbersome handling all the luggage and the kids, but we had plenty of time and did not feel the need to rush to the airport in a taxi. We made it in plenty of time, had a nice flight back (the kids slept the whole way) and proceeded to reacclamate ourselves to our normal lives.

Cruise take four

After a day at sea, our next stop was Casablanca. Here is a little history before I tell you about our day:
The Berbers were the first inhabitants of Morocco. The Arabs arrived in 682 and a second wave in the early 1700's. They brought with them their language, literature, and art which are still dominant today. It was the Arabs who first formed the conferederation that was to become Morocco - land of the Moors.
By the middle of the 11th century, Morocco had become a great Muslim empire. Between the 11th and 13th centuries that were a series of Berber dynasties, and an age of art and culture ensued. As about this time the Mediterranean powers were making their presence known and occupying some of the coastal regions of North Africa. In fact, the Portuguese occupied Casablanca from 1575 until 1755, and it is to them that it owes its name, "White House".
In 1912 Morocco came under the protectorate of a French/Spanish alliance which continued until 1956 when Mohammed V signed a treaty ending the occupation and claiming sovereignty for Morocco. Mohammed the V was succeeded in 1975 by his son, King Hassan II.
We opted for an afternoon tour of the capital city of Rabat and were not scheduled to see Casablanca's main attraction, the Hassan II Mosque, which is the second largest Mosque in the world.
However, we docked early and fortuntely, the boat was docked close to the Mosque.

We therefore ate breakfast, got off the ship and headed for the Mosque. We could see the Mosque from the ship, but it took us about 1/2 hour to walk there. It was worth it - it was one of the most impressive places of worship I have ever seen - larger than St. Peters in Vatican City. Parishoners must wash their feet before prayers and there is a huge open hall in the basement of the mosque with about 100 small fountains for such purpose - just a very impressive structure inside and out. After visiting the Mosque, we walked back through the Medina, which is the old part of town. This is a pedestrian area with open air markets called Souks. In these Souks they sell everything from fake Rolexes to live chickens - it is a wild place.
We finally made it back to the ship, ate lunch, and got ready for our afternoon tour of Rabat.
Rabat is arabic for "tie your horse". The muslim religion came from Saudi Arabia and spread to Spain through Morocco. Rabat is the port city where the muslims came and left from and travel was most often by horse. As such, Rabat is the place where muslims had to "tie their horse" prior to jumping on a boat to Spain. We passed a muslim cemetery - an interesting feature is that the residents are marked by two stones - a head stone as well as a foot stone.
Once in Rabat, we first visited an old fortified section of the city built in the 11th century. It served as a place for travelers to get a comfortable night of sleep (like a hotel). The heavy doors would be closed at night to protect the inhabitants from pirates. The buildings within the fortification are blue and white. Blue represents the Nomads, the original "residents" of this fortified site (after the blue scarf normally worn around their face to protect thm from the harsh wind and sand), and white is the universal color representing everyone.
There are three religions in Morocco - Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. At the top of the minerets of Mosques there are three spheres representing the three religions. Also noteworthy is the flag of Morocco which is a five pointed star against a red backdrop. The points on the star represent the five foundations of the muslim religion: charity to the poor, fasting during Ramadan, making a trip to Mecca once in a lifetime, prayer five times a day, and respect for the other religions mentioned in the Koran (Judaism and Christianity).
We next visited the Mohammed V mosoleum. This mosoleum is said to be the most beautiful in the world after the Taj Mahal in India. In the 11th century, two architects were trying to build the largest mosque in the world. When they died only the columns, minerets, and mosoleum had been constructed. In the 17th century the partially built mosque was destroyed by an earthquake. In 1961 King Hassan II restored the mosque to its original partially completed condition and buried his father and grandfather there.
After the mosoleum, we went to the Royal Palace. There are actually 14 Royal Palaces in Morocco. Most are in Fez, then Marrekech, Rabat, and Casablanca. Interestingly, the current king uses the palace as an office, but does not live there.
We left Rabat and traveled the 1.5 hours back to the ship docked in Casablanca. We got back at 7:15PM and therefore missed the sitdown dinner. We ate in the Windjammer, which is the buffet style restaurant open almost 24 hours per day. The entertainment that night was a night of swing with the royal caribbean singers and dancers - an excellent performance as usual.

Cruise take three

The feature destination of the cruise is the Canary Islands. There are 7 islands and the cruise ship was stopping at two of them. The islands were settled by the Berbers (also known as the Gaunches) of Northern Africa, a blond haired blue eyed people. The islands got their name, not from canaries, but due to the large dogs (canines) that populated the islands. The Canary Islands were thought to be imaginery and were known originally as the Fortunate Islands. They remained a myth until the middle ages. The first European visitor was Lanzarote Marcello, a Genoese sailor, who colonized the Island of Lanzarote in the early 14th century. By the end of the 15th century the Spanish conquest succeeded in controlling all 7 islands, but not without resistance from the Portuguese who also fought for ownership in the mid 1400s. With the Canaries being the world's most westerly stopping point for, the islands became the last stopping point for the explorations of Christopher Columbus before venturing into the unknown. For the next several centuries, the islands became a bridge between the Old and New World. In the 17-19th centuries, the Canaries experienced economic ups and sowns due to their dependence on various crops. Sugar became the first staple crop but profits declined witht the arrival of cheaper sugar from the West Indies. Grapes became the main crop producing a sweet wine called Malmsey. In the mid 19th centuries through today, bananas and tourism provided a stable economic base.
Lanzarote Known as the island of 100 volcanoes, it actually has over 300 volcanoes. It is only 12 miles wide by 37 miles long. Its landscape is described as lunar - like the US midwest, but with volcanoes all over the place. The landscape completely changes in the north of the island - completely green. The volcanic soil is extremely moist despite receiving almost no rain. The volcanic granules absorb moisture from the trade winds thereby sustaining the vegetation growing on it. The trade winds are very strong - they exist 95 percent of the year. Small stone semi circular walls are built all over the island to protect the plant life from the winds. Cesar Manrique is a local artist whose creations around the island made Lanzarote a tourist destination. We visited one of Manrique's creations - Jameo Del Agua - a cave complex that resulted from volcanic activity now includes a natural concert hall, a subterranean lagoon, a restaurant and museum, all designed by Manrique. Jameo means "hole" and this Jameo is actually a "tube" created from volcanic lava flow. There is a species of crab that lives exclusively in this particular volcanic tube. They are small and bright white. We saw many sitting on rocks in the lagoon. We next visited another one of his creations, Mirador del Rio. This is a a scenic viewing platform at the very northern tip of the island at the top of a cliff overlooking the coastline and the neighboring island of La Graciosa - truly spectacular views. A unique feature of the island is that all houses are white - something mandated by the government. They are also all built in pretty much the same style - the only distinguishing characteristic is the chimney. Our last stop in Lazarote was the old capital ofTeguise. This is the third oldest settlement in Europe. The capital became Arrecife in 1852. San Antonio texas was settled by Canarians.

Tenerife Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and is actually shaped like a duck. Its main attraction is Mt. Teide standing at 12,198ft high, making it the highest point in Spain. The name Tenerife comes from the Gaunches language and means "white mountains". We took a bus tour starting from Santa Cruz de Tenerife to see Las Canadas National Park, home of Mt, Teide. We traveled along the Anaga mountain range, the actual spine of the island, and admired the laurelwood, a vegetable relic from prehistoric times which can be found only in Tenerife. We did not travel up the mountain, but once we reached the park, we stopped at the Roques de Garcia, which provide incredible views of not only the mountain, but also the surrounding area covered by baren volcanic rock and minerals created by millions of years of volcanic activity. It was about a 1.5 hour trip back to the ship. We had a quick lunch, got the kids, and enjoyed the rest of the sunny afternoon on board the ship.

Cruise take two


The next day we were at sea. We went to seminars, played mini golf, ping pong, and went swimming. It was a great day, but the weather was very cool. At night, we had our first formal dinner, followed by evening entertainment- tonight it was a tribute to some of the great broadway shows like Mama Mia, the Producers, etc.

On Easter Sunday, we docked in Malaga. We had seen Malaga before, however, I had forgotten its landscape and main features from our last trip over two years ago. We revisited the birthplace of Picasso, Alcazaba Palace, Gibralfaro Castle, and went to Easter Mass at the Malaga Cathedral. We also viewed the Easter Procession, one of the longest in the world. We ate some lunch back on the ship, got the kids, and had a few hours of family time together. At 4:30 there was a family Easter Egg hunt. It turned out to be more of a scavenger hunt covering the entire ship, but still a lot of fun. We had a casual dinner and hit the evening entertainment - a tribute to Franky Valley and the Four Seasons. It was a great show and Sydney really got into it. Sandy was beat so she hit the sack early. I was not tired, so I stayed up and watched the ship pass through the straight of Gibralter, followed by a little gambling in the casino.

Cruise take one

Our Cruise was departing from Barcelona on Friday. Mario went early to Barcelona to explore. The rest of us went on Thursday, met up with Mario, and explored Barcelona together for a day and a half. We went to the Palace of Music and this time took a tour of the inside - what an amazing musical venue. We also took another look at Parc Gruel as it was raining the last time we came. Finally, we took another look at La Sagrada Familia - this amazingly designed church by Gaudi, which is still under construction, has not changed much since we saw it last year. It was Good Friday and the church was mobed with people, so we were not able to see the inside this time around. The church is supposed to be complete in about 30 years, so we decided to come back and see it with our grand kids.
The first day of the cruise was uneventful - left on time, got settled into our rooms, took a walk around the ship, ate a nice sit down dinner, and saw the evenings entertainment - a magic show - JP did magic shows every night thereafter.