Sunday April 23, 2017

This around-the-world cruise has been a wonderful adventure.  Would I do it again?  No, I am not ready for another four months away from home right now.  There are many on board who have done it several times and, for them, the shipboard life must be a real draw as well as all the ports of call.  But, yes, if I had not just done it I would signup in a heartbeat and I will encourage anyone who asks to give it a try.  So many things to see, so many people to meet, so many different cultures to experience and you unpack once and sleep in the same bed every night.  Only one airplane ride!  I have been part of a Road Scholar group of 75 people from three countries.  You pay the advertised rate and that includes a host/guide to take care of all details, all tipping (even the onboard tipping!), tours at every port, special lectures on sea days, and the camaraderie of fellow travelers.  Walt and I did 29 Elderhostel programs (name changed to Road Scholar awhile ago) all in the U.S. and this is my first international trip with them.  Highly recommend traveling this way!!!!!!

We have discussed favorite places—-not any one stands out as special above all else.  The Panama Canal is a wonder to experience knowing the history behind it; Guatemala and our first taste of persistent street vendors; Nagasaki, Japan because of the bomb dropped there and the way the city has responded; Beijing, China because I met a friend of Kevin’s there and enjoyed sharing the Forbidden City with her;  Petra, Jordan, and the walk through that ancient city; the country of Oman because I had never heard of it before and it is friendly and pretty and the handsome guide gave us personal information in the Muslim Mosque; Honolulu to think about Pearl Harbor again; the children’s ballet class in Shanghai, China;  riding in a taxi in Mumbai, India; the Greek islands and the beautiful white washed houses by the crystal clear blue sea——I am missing every other stop but they were each special in their own way. 

I feel so very privileged to have done this trip—the financial ability, the stamina and energy and general good health, my inquisitiveness, the support of family who all said “Go, Mom!” when  I mentioned it.  Writing a blog–my own log of the journey–has made me keep better records and think about things more thoroughly.  I truly appreciate, and feel complimented by, others interest in following me.  Thank you to each of you, family and friends.   And now it is time to go home!!!!!


Tuesday April 18.  Funchal,on the island of Madeira, Portugal

The island of Madeira is part of Portugal but far removed from the mainland.  It was discovered by the Portuguese only 600 years ago.  This beautiful,mountainous, fertile, small island (15 x 30 miles) is a wonderful stop to complete our around-the-world journey.  There are no swimming beaches (too rocky) and almost no place to walk that isn’t uphill or downhill; flowers and greenery abound absolutely everywhere and the white houses with orange roofs make for a very colorful scene.  Only 250,000 population on the entire island.  These islands are volcanic in origin so the ground is very rich and farming is accomplished in terraces.  Bananas are a big crop and so are grapes–Madeira wine and liqueurs from other fruits are important exports.  Some manufacturing (car parts was mentioned), embroidery work, and wicker are also well known.  Tourism, though, is number 1 income producer. It is a popular vacation spot for Europeans.   I wish it were closer to the U.S. because I would come back frequently.

  The Barbeito winery was our first stop and we sampled two of their four kinds of Madeira wine.  This wine is an after dinner type of wine and, once opened, is good to drink for 10-12 months.

Cabo Girao was our next stop- the highest sea cliff in Europe at 580 meters.  The floor of the overlook is glass so you can look directly down.

We the stopped for a visit in Camara de Lobos, a small fishing village.  So picturesque and colorful.  Winston Churchill often vacationed here and we were shown the balcony where he sat to paint.  The building is now a hotel called – of course- the Churchill!

A highlight of the day was lunch at a restaurant in the old Fort of San Tiago in the old quarters of the city., built in the 17th century.  This was our last lunch together on tour so they planned it special.  Wine, Champaign, or orange juice as we came in; red and/or white wine poured continually throughout lunch and sweet Madeira wine after dessert.  Baked sea bass was the entree served with sautéed vegetables and mashed sweet potatoes, and the dessert was chocolate funnel cake oozing with warm chocolate sauce.  All of this served under a tent of white material to keep us out of the sun.  2 1/2 hour lunches are nice!!!!!

The final stop before returning to the ship was at the Park of Santa Catarina with beautiful flowers and a statue of Christopher Columbus.  His first wife was from Madeira and they lived here for several years.  This was an easy day with minimal walking, lovely things to look at all the time, an easy pace, and a good way to end this memorable journey.  Seven days at sea to cross the Atlantic before the absolute end.  Most likely I will write at last one more time.

Sunday April 16. Casablanca, Morocco

Attended an interdenominational church service at 6 a.m. to celebrate Easter.  A good number of people there.  Sunrise wasn’t until the time we were through so it was pretty dark.  I am glad I went and did some celebration of our special Christian holiday but it wasn’t nearly as meaningful or special as if I were with family, friends, and my dear church family. However, in this part of the world that is heavily Muslim it is truly special that Christ can be talked about and his resurrection noticed by those that care.  Of course, there was no indication downtown that this was anything other than an ordinary day; Sunday isn’t even a “day off” so I saw lots of workmen around, particularly in the harbor area.  This is a very big and busy commercial harbor as you can tell by the picture I am sending.  I chose not to go on the group tour today.  I have just seen enough mosques and royal palaces and heard enough history to last me a long time!  Can you tell I am ready to get back home?  I did take the shuttle into town, walked around a bit and came back to the ship for lunch with friends who also did their own thing.  Pictures of the square area I was in but pics taken because of the people—all kinds of dress and ages.  I heard there was a native suq marketplace nearby but I was afraid to wander too far from shuttle bus stand and I remember going to one when Walt and I were here a long time  ago.  Besides, I don’t need to buy anything.  The entertainment last night was a comedian and he was quite good.  Here and in Turkey, he said, if you say “No, I do not want anything, go away” it translates into “I want to buy a carpet”!

Saturday April 15.  Cadiz & Sevilla, Spain

Heavy, heavy fog this morning (zero visibility for quite awhile) delayed our docking for over an hour.  That made our trip in Sevilla more rushed than was comfortable but we managed to see everything planned.  Sevilla is about a 1 1/2 hour bus ride from Cadiz.  Cadiz reportedly is the oldest city in Europe and is a busy port for cruise and container vessels.  Columbus sailed from here and from Sevilla several times.  Sevilla is a big city but our tour concentrated on the old section and narrow streets prevented cars and buses so there was much walking.  The Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.  It was originally built as a Muslim mosque in the 1100s, during the time the Muslims ruled a good portion of this part of Europe.  In 1248, after the “reconquest” of Spain by Ferdinand III, the mosque was consecrated as a cathedral.  During intervening years there has been much construction and the last significant changes were 1825-1928.  Very elaborate art work, statues, windows, chapels,altars, etc.  Columbus’ remains are interred here (picture) but despite the fancy tomb there is only a small urn to remember him by.

We then walked through the Real Alcazar, a large royal residence of long ago and used by rulers of various faiths and country of origin so the designs are varied and different as you walk through.  Mosaic tile in the oldest portions (Arabic/Muslim influence) is beautiful, as are the gardens.

We had time for lunch on our own and then the bus ride back to the ship.  I shared lunch with two friends at a place called Mama Bistro and we had a strawberry salad, prosciutto, and then strawberry gazpacho for dessert.  As we have observed all week, there are thousands of tourists due to Holy Week vacation time.  Tomorrow after the traditional Easter service the first bullfight of the season happens.  Another reason to bring tourists here!  The land area reminds me of Illinois because it is relatively flat with corn fields and wheat and other crops beginning to come up.  I saw irrigation channels as well as above-ground, horse drawn wagons and a few trucks but no tractors today, and there was a large section of wind farm.

Thursday April 13. Barcelona, Spain

There was a walking tour today of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most popular boulevard and tourist shopping mecca  plus a walking tour of La Pedrera, another Gaudi  creation, this time a house.  I chose to do my own “thing” instead.  I rode the ship’s shuttle into town, walked a little bit and people watched a lot, took some pictures, and returned to the ship.  Had a wonderful relaxed day!  One couple left today to return home early; John was getting anxious about things back there and just didn’t care about the lost money or missed stops,  Sandy and I have played cribbage quite a bit and I will miss her.  Another of our group fell and has a sprained ankle.  Five have had to disembark due to illness or injury and two have been less severely injured.  Our leader says our 75 people have more than used up our allotment of medical difficulties and we must stop!   We have only three port stops left –Seville, Spain; Casablanca, Morocca; and Funchal,Portugal–and less than two weeks of sailing time.  Wonder how long it will take me to settle into “real life” again.  I have gotten quite used to being pampered and cared for.

Statue of Columbus in downtown Barcelona

A small sample of the huge crowds everywhere

The waiters serenade when someone has a birthday

Wednesday April 12. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain is the second largest city in Spain with 1.7 million population;  Madrid the capital and largest.  It is a very busy port city and can handle 8 ships in port at once plus ferries that serve nearby islands.  Land-wise it is hemmed in with the sea on one side, mountains on another, and rivers on two sides so the city is densely populated with most buildings being 5-6 stories.  It is a pretty modern city largely due to being host to the 1992 Olympics and facilities built for that event are used today.  In 1929 there was a worldwide expo here and buildings from that are also prominent.  In 2016 there were 4.5 million visitors–a very popular vacation destination–and since this is Holy Week there are thousands and thousands of tourists here now.  Saw one high school group from Canada, another from Italy and there must be people from all over the world here judging by the languages we hear spoken by the many tour guides. As with most European countries there have been numerous rulers of the area.  Franco was a particularly cruel dictator and when he died in 1975 the country celebrated by becoming a democracy and it has been relatively stable and prosperous since then.  In the early 1900s there was an architect/artist here by the name of Antoni Gaudi.  He wasn’t especially well known nor popular during his lifetime (he died in 1926) but in the latter part of the 20th century he has become almost revered by many.  He had a very different style, was ergonomically and ecologically advanced for his time.  Barcelona is home to his church, La Sagrada Familia, which is still  unfinished but under construction–and a park which we visited.  Guell Park was planned to be a community of homes for the wealthy elite; only 3 lots were sold but Gaudi’s work in the surrounding area continued and today it is a popular tourist site and a UNESCO cultural site.  The city really  “hypes” Gaudi’s work and it obviously pays off by bringing visitors here.   His ideas and work are not my style—you make up your mind!

Tuesday April 11. Mallorca, Spain

Our stop today is Palma De Mallorca, Spain.  It is a perfectly lovely day weatherwise with clear blue sky, no wind and spring flowers and trees are blooming.  Mallorca is an island, seemingly totally devoted to tourism.  There are hundreds of sailboats and motorboats in the harbor and today two cruise ships in addition to ours.   It is Holy Week so many, many people around but our guide said that is normal in the summer anyway.   Mykonos was white, Malta was sand colored and Mallorca is all colors and there are tall buildings which we haven’t seen in awhile.  Our tour took us to a small mountain village of Valldemossa.  In the early 1300s there was a “palace” there for the royal family but in 1399 it became a monastery.  Later on it was a private residence but now is a museum dedicated to monastery history.  Frederic Chopin spent nearly a year here and we heard a short concert of some of his work, played on a grand piano in a small hall in the building.  Hadn’t expected that so it was a special bonus for the morning.  The town itself is quite lovely with narrow winding streets made of weathered blonde stone.  In the town of Palma there is a huge cathedral (picture) but I didn’t go in it nor did I spend any time in the town itself.