Aboard the Noordam
….Leaving Rome behind, Dan and I taxied to Rome’s airport, where we picked up our shuttle provided by Holland America. An hour’s drive to the port area, our shuttle took us through rolling hills and countryside, passing farm land and olive tree orchards, and the occasional nursery filled with colorful flowers. At the port, we boarded the Noordam, our home for the next 17 days. The Noordam is a large ship, with a length of 935 ft, with approximately 1,900 passengers and 620 crew. We located our cabin, got settled in, and became acclimated as to where things were located onboard. There is a large Canadian contingent among the passengers this trip, nearly everyone we have met seems to be from various parts of Canada.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
….Our first port of call was the port of Monte Carlo, the capitol of the tiny principality of Monaco. Because the Noordam is so large, or perhaps because there were several other ships docked in the harbor, we had to tender in, which always takes longer. Looking out from the ship, much of Monte Carlo spreads from the shoreline up a sharp hillside, with modern and picturesque condos, apartments and hotels that look out over the harbor and Mediterranean. It’s pretty hard to miss the huge—and I do mean HUGE, yachts in the harbor, some of them as large as a freighter, owned by sheiks and the very very wealthy. It is very easy to imagine a dream life living in Monte Carlo!
….Monaco is a sovereign state located between the foot of the Southern Alps and the Mediterranean. Initially a Greek settlement, then taken over by the Romans, it was bought by the Genoese in 1297 by the Grimaldi family who still rule as the world’s oldest monarchy. Initially, Charles III was going bankrupt, so in 1878 in order to save himself from bankruptcy, he established the Casino and abolished taxes. Today, Monaco is a tax haven and its residents have the highest per capita income in the world. I heard that one must don formal attire in order to gamble at the Casino. French is the official language, and under the EU, the Euro is the monetary currency now.
….Dan and I walked up a winding roadway more or less following the shoreline as it wound up the steep hillside to where the palace and museum are located. By asking around, we learned there is an alternative to the stairway that goes up the face of the rocky hillside—thankfully, a set of elevators and escalators in the parking garage! The palace itself is large and sprawling, with one section made from stone, probably the original portion– with more modern sections added on to it. Royal guards, much like at the Vatican and in England, stand at attention at the entrances. Shops and kiosks selling the usual souvenirs line the narrow streets with apartments, consulates and a few hotels as well as the museums and cathedral where Princess Grace and Prince Rainer are buried occupy much of this hillside plateau area. There is a stunning view of the primary city below along with the harbor area.
….It is easy to imagine living in this fantasy city/country, being one of the Beautiful People who come here to gamble, relax, and just enjoy what is considered part of the French Riviera.
….Our next port of call was Barcelona, Spain. Part of my ancestral heritage is Spanish. My Dad was never quite sure just where his ancestors originated in Spain, but at one time he thought it might be Barcelona, so I was quite interested in what this city was like. Oh, I wasn’t disappointed! Both Dan and I really love Barcelona and only wished we had more time to fully explore this beautiful modern city that has also managed to grandly incorporate its ancient and historical past. Everywhere we looked, boulevards were lined with graceful trees providing lovely canopies over the streets, ancient buildings compliment the more modern architecture, streets were clean and there was a noticeable LACK of graffiti, making for a simply lovely city. Many of the high rise condos and apartments, regardless of architectural style, have balconies with colorful plants and flowers, along with iron railing, reminding me of New Orleans in the French Quarter.
….Most notable of the architectural styles has to be that of Gaudi. The term “gaudy” comes directly from Gaudi’s architectural style—when something is way way over the top, with every possible doodad, knick knack, bric-a-brac, trim, ornament, embellishment, decoration—we say that it is ‘gaudy’. And after seeing Gaudi’s cathedral and a few of his other buildings, I can certainly understand the term now! Even after many years, the cathedral remains unfinished and large cranes with workmen busily continue work on this mammoth building working from Gaudi’s design.
….Our tour bus took us past the Olympic Village area where the Olympic Games were held a few years ago. After that, we stopped a one of the many pretty parkways within the city for a view of the metropolis below under gray and rain-threatening skies, before heading back to the ship.
….Cartagena is a city I really liked, as much as I was able to cover on foot, anyhow. Old and ancient, intermixed with the newer and modern, in a nutshell. The city is nestled within a bay that is ringed with mountains, with little vegetation along the mountainsides. As we looked out towards the mountains, there are stone walls with fortress-type buildings that were once protective fortifications in this city’s varied history. Like other parts of Spain, there are remaining remnants of its Roman and Moorish pasts.
….The city’s history is long and rich, a site selected by the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal, Hannibal’s brother-in-law, somewhere around 219 BC. Around 206 BC, the Romans found this port city flourishing with its main export gold and later silver mining in the surrounding region. Because of this, the Goths sacked the city in 425 AD, being restored and improved by the Moors during the Spanish occupation in 1269. Cartagena was a secondary harbor until the Middle Ages, when it was fortified against pirate attacks. It became a major naval base during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 19309, and remains a principle naval base today. The influences of its Roman, Moor and French occupations can be seen throughout the city region.
….As I walked along the boulevard that fans out from the port area, I decided to go beyond the normal ‘tourist’ area in order to get a better feel for the actual city. All around, there are remnants of the city’s varied history, with ancient and old structures back to back with more modern architecture. Pretty planted areas or courtyards here and there, an archway with obvious Roman beginnings coupled with a skyscraper, or an apartment or office building side by side with a several century old building next to it. I walked by a very modern all-glass train station, with an ancient archway at its entrance. Along one main boulevard with palm trees down the center, there was one building with very unique architecture—graceful columns on the ground floor coupled with cement ‘arms’ on the second floor, it was very eclectic, as if the architect couldn’t make up his mind which style to use. I also noticed several ladies in Muslim dress, another indication of this city’s varied heritage.
….I stopped to get some lunch at an interesting restaurant that had outside seating—Tasca Tio Andres–and it was a true ‘find’. I had the most superb fish cake, the best I have ever had in fact. It was deliciously flaky and delicate, with the most wonderfully tasting sauce laced with caramel I think, and the entire dish was magnificent! Also had a wonderfully tasting vegetable dish, along with a drink, all for $7 Euros. After the expensive meals we had in Rome, this was a wonderful surprise! To anyone going to Cartagena, I would whole heartedly recommend this restaurant located along Paseo Alfonso.
….Unfortunately, we were unable to see much of Malaga, as we had a tour that would take us elsewhere—to the city of Granada and a tour of the grand Alhambra.
….Yet Malaga appears to be yet another interesting city. We learned from our tour guide that the harbor area has only recently been developed, with the cruise terminal only being completed 3 months ago. And it is quite modern and has a beauty of its own, well designed with a courtyard and shops inside the terminal with more planned for out in the courtyard area.
….Malaga is situated in the southern part of Spain nestled in a harbor area surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The city was already established when the Phoenicians reached Spain in the early part of the 1100 BC, but no archeological evidence shows a settlement until a millennium later, and is considered part of Andalusia. Trade flourished with Seville and Granada, and in 1492, the Castilians reclaimed the land, with the conversion from mosques to churches. The year 1492 is a very important year in this area’s history—it was under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand’s reign that Christopher Columbus set out on his voyage and returned having ‘discovered’ the Americas. Malaga celebrates this event every year as a holiday, and even their modern highway is named the 92, in honor of this event. In the 1800s, an economic boom occurred, until Napoleon in France seized control with their civil war and his attempt to conquer Europe.
….But on our visit to the area, we left Malaga for a drive through farmland filled with olive trees and small villages, as our destination was the city of Granada and a tour of the grand Alhambra—Spain’s most celebrated and treasured monument. The Alhambra has a rich, varied and interesting history as well, with the Spanish, the Moors, and the French, all occupying it at one time or another. It is a fortress, a castle, a city within itself, housing up to 6,000 occupants at one time or another. Sultans with hundreds of wives lived there, developed the structures and the beautiful gardens, protected their people from invaders from there, and ruled the area.
….As we came into Granada, a large city itself, the Sierra Nevada Mountains showed some snow on the higher peaks. Certainly not the high mountain ranges such as those in California and Nevada with the same name, but still, high mountains for this area in Spain. We climbed into the foothills of the mountains to where the Alhambra fortress/castle/city settlement has been for many centuries. The buildings are very definitely Moorish in architecture, with intricate carvings in the marble of geometric designs, also mosaic tiles in various colors and shapes along the walls interiorly. The gardens are beautifully landscaped with roses, impatiens, and other bright flowers amongst the various shrubs and hedges, all perfectly manicured, and shaped in archways leading to quiet ponds and fountains. The UNESCO World Heritage organization has taken over the preservation and overseeing of the Alhambra site. We were so glad to have been able to see this grand area and learn of its history and importance to Spain overall.
Almost without me!
….Following our tour to the Alhambra, at the port terminal I spotted a kiosk with some beautiful Spanish shawls and other items that caught my eye, so stopped to admire and ask about them. I have to admit it, I lost track of the time. When I looked up after making my purchases, there wasn’t a soul around other than the merchants! As the Noordam was set to sail shortly after our tour group returned, I suddenly realized I might be left standing on the dock!! I hurried up the ramp-ways at the port, up the gangway to the ship as the crew welcomed me—by name—back aboard. Embarrassed isn’t strong enough a word to describe my guilty conscience as over the PA system, the Captain announced to one and all we could NOW set sail, all were NOW aboard! Inadvertently, I’d held up the entire ship! When I got back to our cabin, Dan said he had received FOUR calls from the ship office inquiring about my whereabouts! Another story I now have to live down!
….After all the walking we had done at the Alhambra the day before, Dan and I decided to low-key the next day, a decision we kind of regretted later, as our next port, Cadiz, ended up being a very interesting and picturesque city. I would have liked to have had more time to really get a better feel for this beautiful city. Instead, we relaxed aboard the ship that day, trading it for some night life the city had to offer later.
….Cadiz is located on an isthmus or peninsula, nearly completely surrounded by water. It has had a similar history to the other Spanish cities we’ve visited thus far—Phoenicians, Roman, Moorish influences in its architecture and mixed cultures. Cadiz is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest city in Iberia. Some archeologists feel the first Phoenicians established the village by the sea as early as 1100 BC. With each succeeding groups who conquered the then-current inhabitants, they built their structures on top of previous structures or ruined the settlements before them. The houses typically have towers on their roofs, serving as watch towers. The oldest tower that remains was built in 1778, called Torre Tavia, and was part of a palace. At one time there were over 160 of them—most were built in the 18th century when the Conquistadors were bringing gold back to their homeland from the Americas.
….We walked into town, seeing what we could see with our limited walking energy—a grand plaza not far from the port area, with a beautiful monument and fountain, lovely plantings along a main boulevard. I wish we’d had more energy to explore more, as I think this city would be a very interesting place to explore and get to know. Once again we noted how clean the streets were, the mixed architectural styles, the graceful archways and narrow streets.
….After dinner aboard ship, we boarded a coach that drove us around the city at night, with many public buildings all lit up. Our guide told us about the two castles along the shoreline, originally built for protection, now used as exhibition halls and for concerts. There is a botanical garden and park area along the shore that would have been lovely during daylight, with all sorts of different trees that were brought in from South America and other places.
….Our group was taken to La Cava Tavern where they served us a variety of foods—cheeses, meats, a shrimp omelet that was flat like a pancake, some really good tasting yam rolls, small potatoes, as well as serving us beer, wine or sangria. In fact, all the beer, sangria or wine we wanted! After our meal, we were treated to a wonderful flamenco dance troupe that performed various traditional dances, a few songs, and a guitarist playing traditional flamenco music. The intensity, emotion and passion are expressed through the dance, hand movements and body posturing. The rhymic stamping of feet and clapping of hands providing the percussion to the music of the guitar and songs. I can see the similarities of flamenco to the Turkish belly dance, the Greek and Italian folk dances, the gypsy influences. A wonderful performance!
….We both really liked what we had seen of Spain, and definitely would like to return to these beautiful cities to explore each in more depth.
….From Cadiz, the Noordam left Spain and sailed on to Portugal— and beginning our Transatlantic cruise back to the States— (to be continued)