Monday, November 24, 2014

Fall Cruises And Spain Trip

     This will be the first in a series of reports of our travels since August 27.   When we travel, we usually do not have good internet access, and not enough time to write reports anyway.  This time, when we got back to Florida for a few days between cruises, I was so sick with a bad cold I acquired on the Oasis, that I did not have the energy to write anything.  So these promised blog posts are very late – sorry.
     On August 27, we put our RV in storage at Kozy Kamper RV in Ft. Lauderdale.  They have a big grassy fenced lot adjacent to the actual RV park, and they charge $106/month for storage.  We were able to park our car right in front of our RV.  Doug White, a cruise friend who lives 6 miles from the RV park picked us up and we stayed overnight with him.  He has a lovely home, and he not only took us out for a delicious dinner, he had a birthday card and cake for me, since the 29th was my 70th birthday. 

     The next day Doug drove us to the port, where we boarded the Vision of the Seas for a short 4 day cruise in the Caribbean.  Other cruise friends, Roger & Martin, Dilia & Amy, and their families, were on that cruise to celebrate Dilia’s 40th birthday.   

   We all dressed up for formal night.

 It was a fun and fast 4 days.
    On Sept. 1 Royal Caribbean provided a bus for us to transfer over to the Oasis of the Seas. 

The 12 day cruise was a transatlantic between Ft. Lauderdale and Barcelona, with one stop in Malaga, Spain.  It was the first time Oasis had cruised over to Europe.  These unique cruises always attract a lot of frequent cruisers, so we had many friends on board.  This picture shows the Boardwalk area, where there was a carousel, some restaurants, and the aquatheater, where the diving and fountain shows were held.   

  This is a picture of our room – we had a balcony cabin overlooking the Boardwalk, which turned out to be very convenient because we could watch the shows from our balcony. 

   Our friends, Marcia & Lawson had a loft suite, and we attended a suite party in their room.  Here they are on their balcony:   

  Other friends, David & Colleen DeForest, have offered to have us stay at their place in Tampa when we get back from our other cruises.

  Sometimes at night, there were fountain shows with music, colored lights, and multiple fountain effects: 

     When our ship arrived in Malaga, we arrived early in the morning, so there wasn’t the big celebration we expected.  It was a lovely day, and Elaine and I walked into town and explored a bit.  Then we joined a free walking tour, which was excellent.  The guides are always good because they don’t make any money unless people tip them at the end.  Malaga is a delightful town, with lots of old, beautiful buildings, ruins of a Roman theater, and a huge castle/fort overlooking the town at the top of a hill.  This picture was taken from a hill in the town during the tour, and it shows how big the ship is compared to the buildings: 

   The ship holds over 5400 people, plus over 2000 crew, so it is really huge.  It had been publicized that the ship was coming and it was the first visit, so when we left, there were thousands of people all over the streets and sidewalks in the port area, and a fire boat proceeded our ship, shooting water jets in the air:   

  Someone on board took a video of our departure, and all the crowds and hoopla, and posted it on You Tube, if you want to see it.  On board, we joined friends at some of the specialty restaurants.  Here we are with Marcia, Lawson, and Lisa, Marcia’s twin eating in the Solarium Bistro: 

  And the last evening we ate in Izumi, the Asian restaurant, with Andrew, Mark, and their friend Beth.

     On Oct. 13th the ship docked and we flew from Barcelona to Alicante, a resort town on the south eastern coast, where our friends Ger and Jeannette de Beus picked us up.  They have a lovely villa in Ciudad Quesada, a nearby town, and they had offered to host us for 4 days.  We even had our own apartment on the second floor of their villa:   

  Most afternoons we had snacks and cocktails by their beautiful pool:  

 One day they took us over to the beach at Torrevieja.

  It was a Sunday, so it was very crowded.  Every evening we went to a different and unique restaurant.  The first night was a local place where there was a flamenco dancer and also a small band and singer.  Another evening we ate at a good Chinese place.  The place we liked best was an Argentinian restaurant at a beach where they knew the owners.

  This picture shows the 4 of us at the table, but behind the guy taking the picture was a gorgeous beach, with a wonderful sunset.  One of the days we drove to a factory where they make a liquor called Cuarenta y Tres (which means 43).  Here we are in the tasting room. 

 Part of the visiting fee (9 euros per person), included a guided tour, plus 2 specialized drinks, one of them a delicious coffee concoction, and another one was a cute one served in a small beer mug with whipped cream on top.  Another day we drove even further away to visit a factory (El Lobo) where they make a nougat product using mostly almonds. 

    It is very famous in Spain and especially popular at Christmas.  Right in the small town where Ger & Jeannette live, there is a wine store called a bodega, where they sell wines right from the barrel into the container you bring, and they are delicious and cheap. 

     On Oct. 17 we flew to Madrid, where we had booked an apartment for 4 days on  It was a pretty basic place but had everything we needed and was located in a very interesting part of the city called Chueca.  Because it was on the top floor and at the back of the building, it was quiet at night, which we appreciated.  Spaniards are famous for staying out very late at night and also making lots of noise.  I had previously gone online and found a company which offered free walking tours, so the second day we went to the Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) and met up with our tour guide: 

   This used to be one of the city gates in the 15th century but now it is a big plaza with statues and fountains, and pedestrian streets leading to it from other parts of the city. . There are also street performers such as these:   

There were mostly young people from hostels in our group, but it was a great tour and we saw a lot of the city.  Because the guides work for tips, they usually give a very enthusiastic and entertaining tour.  Another major square is the Plaza Mayor.

  It was built during the Habsburg period, but reconstructed in the 1700’s.  Our tour stopped here to have a local beer, and a sandwich of the Iberian ham, which is famous and supposedly everyone loves, but we thought it was very salty.  Madrid is full of very ornate, old buildings with edifices which would cost a fortune if they were built today.  This is the Metropolis Building, which is just an office building, but it was near the hotel where our tour group stayed.   

 Another fabulous building was the Cibele Palace & Fountain, which we seemed to pass often on our walks.  The building is city hall.   

 You can’t see the fountain very well in that picture, so here is a closeup: 

   The fountain depicts the goddess, sitting on a chariot pulled by two lions.  It was built between 1777 and 1782.  Another great place to visit in Madrid is the Royal Palace.

 This palace really reminded us of the one built by Louis XIV at Versailles, because it was built by King Phillip V who grew up in Versailles.  The inside is very ornate and beautiful 

 and is full of collections such as silverware and ceramics.  The current royal family doesn’t live here; it is used for state occasions.  It contains 3418 rooms!!!!  There is also a huge collection of armor.   There is a huge park called El Parque de Retiro, which isn’t far from the other tourist attractions.  It is a delightful place, well used by locals, and especially popular at the very large lake in the center:   

 This crystal palace was also open for visiting and is located in the park as well: 

  There are many famous and interesting museums in Madrid.  One of them was the Reina Sofia, which is the modern art museum  

  and it was free on Sunday, so we went.  This is one of the more interesting exhibits:

  We also learned that the Prado was free most days after 6PM, so we did that too.  There was a huge line but it moved quickly, and because the museum is so huge, once we got in there, it wasn’t even crowded.  A guided tour of the Prado was going to be part of our Spain Tour, with Gate1Travel, but we wanted to go early because there is too much to see in only one visit to that very famous and worthwhile museum. 
     Our guided tour called 11 day Crown of Spain Tour, and given by Gate1 Travel, started on Oct. 21, so we moved from our apartment to the Vincci Capital Hotel.  This was a very nice hotel right on the Gran Via, the main thoroughfare.  The rooms had good soundproofing, so street noise wasn’t a problem.  Here is our room:   

  We also enjoyed having a picnic up on the roof terrace:  

   Gate 1 provided a very good city tour, and the Prado guided tour was excellent – we got so much more out of that visit than we did when we went on our own.  Our group also went to an excellent restaurant together on the first night.
     There were quite a few people on our tour (38), so we had a big bus to haul us from place to place.  Our first stop after Madrid was Toldeo, a UNESCO world heritage city.  First we stopped outside the city for a good view:  

 It was founded by the Romans in 192BC, conquered by the Visigoths in 418 and the Arabs in 711, and eventually the Spaniards got it back in 1085.  There was an important Jewish community here and the old synagogue was interesting to visit. 

 Toledo is famous for iron works such as swords, and armaments, so this scene in a store showed off their wares:  

  The carved figures are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, famous figures made famous by the Spanish author, Cervantes.  Elaine and I walked around on our own a bit and found the ruins of the old Roman baths:

     Leaving Toledo, we saw some windmills on the hillsides along the road: 

   And we passed many, many miles of olive groves, since Spain is the major producer of olive oil and olives in the world.

  This is a picture of our hotel in Cordoba at night:   

  It was located right along a very beautiful pedestrian walking area with fountains, sculptures, flowers, etc. which had formerly been a railroad line into the city.  We had an excellent walking tour of the city the next day.  This is a picture of a scenic courtyard:  

.  This city was the capitol when the Moors (Arabs) were in charge in 1000AD, and there were almost a million inhabitants!  The cathedral is called the Mezquita, and it is huge, having been built in one of the largest mosques in the world.  It has long outer walls and a huge courtyard.

  The most important architectural feature of the Mezquita are the double horseshoe arches, made of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. There are more than a thousand columns in the church. 

   When the Christians reconquered Cordoba in 1236, they built a nave in the mosque so it became the cathedral. 

     Our hotel at the next city, Seville, was another nice one and not far from the city center sights:

This was one of the features of our previous Gate 1 tour which we greatly enjoyed – very nice hotels in good locations.  We have been in Seville before and enjoyed seeing more sights this time, since we had a nice city tour.  The Plaza de Espana,  in Maria Luisa Park, was built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition.  

 Besides the tall towers and large buildings, there are wonderfully colorful tile displays in sections showing off the special features and history of many cities and regions in Spain:

  This one was for Alicante.  The cathedral, which used to be a mosque, is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world and has the longest nave in Europe.  The altar is huge and covered in gold:   

 There is a lot of marble work, and columns, such as this: 

 The Giralda, which used to be a minaret in the old mosque, was converted into a bell tower.  It has ramps going up to the top so officials could ride horseback to the top.  We climbed to the top and this was one of the views of the cathedral roof on the way up: 

  Four of our friends from the tour group, Dory & Paul, Rosalie and Zivi, climbed up with us and someone took our picture at the top: 

  The Alcazar, which used to be a Moorish palace, was started in the 1180’s and took 500 years to build, is one of the most beautiful buildings in Spain. 

  We didn’t have time to explore the inside, but the courtyards and gardens are also supposed to be spectacular.
     Granada is a nice city, but does not have nearly as many attractions as Seville.  The main reason people go there is to see the Alhambra Palace, a UNESCO world heritage site.  It was originally built in 889 and then rebuilt and enlarged by a Moorish emir in the mid-11th century.  When the Moors were evicted from Spain in 1492, it was taken over by a sultan.  In 1527 Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor took it over and greatly enhanced it, but again it fell into disrepair until the 19th century when it was rediscovered and renovated. It is now one of the leading attractions in all of Spain, because of its Islamic architecture. 


There are beautiful gardens as well:

 It is difficult to get tickets to tour this place, and they are timed, so plan accordingly if you go.
     On the drive from Granada to Valencia, we drove through the mountains, with groves of olives, almonds, lemons and oranges.  The terrain was very dry in places and we even saw some cave dwellings. 

  And periodically there were forts and castles built on the tops of hills:  

  Valencia, the 3rd largest city in Spain, is famous for good oranges, but also has a beautiful old city center, cathedral, and many squares.  The cathedral has 3 different styles of gates with the Plaza de la Virgen nearby, which used to be the old Roman Forum.   

  One place our group stopped for a break had this ornate tile entryway:

  One of the unique drinks of this place and the area is horchata, made from almonds, and it was delicious.  A place we were most impressed with was the City of Arts and Sciences.

  The City of Arts and Sciences complex includes five buildings: Hemisferic is an IMAX cinema, the Museo de las Ciencias is a science museum, Oceanographic is a giant marine park or aquarium, the Palau de les Arts is an Opera House and the Agora is a multi-functional space.  These are spread out along a huge park like area which also has gardens, pools, fountains, playgrounds, and is built in the old river bed.  They loved the route of the river to outside the city because of the frequent flooding and damage, and built this complex.  It is amazing!  Because our hotel was right nearby, we walked over there at night and were very impressed with the lights, and reflections: 

     Upon our return to Barcelona, where the tour ended, we had our first heavy rain.  First we checked into our hotel which was right on the Plaza de Espana, and which had this great view:

  Our bus took us on a city tour, and when the first stop was near the Olympic Village on Montjuic hill overlooking the port, and we could see hardly any of it because of the mist and rain, we knew the tour wasn’t going to be good.  When the bus stopped 3 blocks from La Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi cathedral, most of us stayed on the bus.  We had already been there before anyway – and everyone who walked over there got drenched.  When we drove by the Placa Catalunya, there was so much water coming through it that the steps looked like waterfalls!!  Right across the street from our hotel was the old bull ring, which has been converted into a big mall with the entire top floor given over to a variety of restaurants.  

  Our tour group had a last dinner together there.  Luckily, the rain had stopped, because the Magic Fountains show was located right near our hotel, so we went to it (again).  The fountains have computerized shows on weekend nights, with beautiful lights, great music, and different water spout displays – all for free.   

 If you are in Barcelona on a weekend night, don’t miss this!!!  The next day everyone was on their own in the city and it was a beautiful sunny day.  Elaine and I walked around in the center, and did a little shopping for some unique jewelry they make there.  Then we had the last dinner of the tour with our friends, Zivi, Rosalie, Paul & Dory. 

 The next day we flew to Paris to start the next phase of this journey. I will put that in my next report.


1 comment:

Mike said...

Ahhh..lovely place to visit. Thank you for posting! I will definitely go there. Cheers!
trips to rome italy