Review of the ports visited during Cruise 2408 from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands to Barcelona, Spain
The review of the cruise on Silver Wind can be found under our posting entitled “West African Wanderings”. What follows is a review of the ports visited on the subsequent cruise from Las Palmas to Barcelona
ARRECIFE LANZAROTE MARCH 25 2014
Leaving Las Palmas at 22.00 on March 24, with some 200 new passengers, we docked in Arrecife promptly at 8.00 am, the capital of Lanzarote since 1852, the following morning.
The earliest records of this city date back only to the 15th century when it was just a small fishing village. Its name derives from the black volcanic reefs where boats could hide from pirate attack. Whilst Arrecife does have a sandy beach, most More
tourists arriving at the airport in Arrecife will make a bee line for Costa Teguise, a purpose built 1970’s tourist resort with about four natural sandy beaches, many hotels and catering for the “British pub” scene with numerous discos and a lively nightlife.
We arrived to a cloudless blue sky but the scene belied the biting cold northerly wind, and we went ashore well wrapped up. In the sheltered sunny areas, the sun was quite warm but in the shaded windy areas in the centre of town it was none too pleasant.
We took the ship’s shuttle into the edge of the town adjacent to Charco de San Gines. This is a really picturesque area, its name translates to “the puddle” and it is situated on the front in Arrecife. There is a car park next to a small lake where colourful boats are moored and is reminiscent of a small Mediterranean fishing village, surrounded by whitewashed buildings and a few restaurants.
Walking beyond here we went into the centre of the town and sat in the square outside the parish church, although it was too cold to linger for long, Arrecife was clean but offered limited features of interest, whilst Wi-Fi opportunities appeared somewhat limited and less than a couple of hours sufficed for our visit.
Church of San Gines (the largest in Arecife) and the square named after it; the church tower does not actually lean but a wide angle lens perspective has caused the distortion!
FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, 26 & 27 MARCH 2014
We docked in Funchal at 12.00, an hour early, where Fred Olsen’s very shabby-looking Boudicca and Mein Schiff 2, ex Celebrity’s Mercury now operated by TUI Cruises since 2011 after a major refit, were already docked.
The long jetty for cruise ships appeared to have been extended since our last visit in 1999. Additionally, the commercial port has relocated to the south of Funchal, and the small ferry that used to take passengers across the bay also appeared to have gone. Despite being docked the closest in towards the centre of Funchal of the three ships, the town was still quite a walk and we availed ourselves of the Silversea shuttle to the centre.
Although very windy out at sea, Funchal was sheltered and warm in the sun. We took a cab up to Reid’s Palace Hotel to reacquaint ourselves with this hotel which we know well, but also to check out the rooms available for a possible stay in the future. Afternoon tea was in full swing on the terrace, which resembled God’s waiting room, being packed with residents of a certain age! Unusually due to the number seated on the terrace, there was an overflow of diners seated in the lounge partaking of Reid’s famous “tea” which now costs 33 Euros per head.
We walked back, downhill, into town and visited some old haunts before partaking of a beer in a café in the main square which offered Wi-Fi.
With an overnight stay in Madeira, we had booked a car with Europcar for the following day. A taxi ride out of the port to the centre of Funchal is a set Euro7.50. The Europcar office, close to Reid’s Hotel, is nearer to the port, but the cab driver tried to charge us Euro10; telling him that he was overcharging us, we only gave him Euro7 for the five-minute trip, which though he was not happy, he accepted.
We had brought our GPS from home and this worked fine for destinations in Madeira. Our tour started with a drive along the excellent airport highway, the runway of which has been extended since our last visit and the infrastructure much improved by large slugs of grant aid from the EU.
Camacha was our first stop, a pretty village, still half asleep, only a few kilometres east of Funchal. It is famous for its apple festival and also is known as the village of basket makers, and is in fact the centre for Madeira’s willow craft industry. This encompasses the making of furniture, hats, ornaments, kitchen utensils, wine holders and of course... baskets of all sizes and shapes. All in all, over 1000 different articles are on show. The town also has a very unusual church in that it is very modern and seems not to fit in with this particularly typical Madeiran village.
After a brief stop, we set off for Santana, a small village on the north east coast of the island which is characterised by its small thatched triangular houses; these small houses built of natural stone and thatched with straw have served the locals for centuries as stables and dwellings.
Triangular house in Santana
Then we headed south east along the coast, to what turned out to be a no through route to Porto da Cruz, so we had quite a detour. Here there is a small cove with a shingle beach and a small hotel, as well as cafes and restaurants. One of its hidden gems is the old sugar cane factory, which is still operating the same way as it did when it started with sugar production in 1927. It boasts a 26 meter tall tower and when it's working you might even see steam coming out!
Retracing our steps to get back onto the main road, we next headed to Machico, which is near the airport and sports a small beach. This is a relatively large town and, from the historic point of view, is probably the most interesting on the island as it was the landing point of the discoverers of Madeira. Having had no refreshment since breakfast, we stopped off at a café in the square, opposite the parochial church, Igreja Paroquial de Machico, built in the 15th century, and the municipal town hall. As was to be expected, prices for our refreshment were cheap.
From here we set off for Monte, stopping off along the way at the viewing point at Miradouro do Pinaculo for the view across Funchal bay. Monte is a village perched high up in the hills overlooking Funchal, four miles away, and was formerly a health resort for Europe's high society.
Funchal bay, with Silver Wind at anchor, taken from the viewing point at Miradouro do Pinaculo
A cable car now links Monte to Funchal, and it is also from here that you can traverse the two kilometre ride back to Funchal in about ten minutes on the famous toboggan run. Originally a fast means of transport for the villagers of Monte it was inaugurated in 1850, and still continues today but only as a tourist attraction.
From here we drove back to the Europcar office in Funchal. None of the ship’s tours offered what we had done, some of the roads being unsuitable for coaches. We had crossed some spectacular countryside and visited places largely unspoiled by tourism. All this for under Euro80 for the car and fuel!
CASABLANCA, MOROCCO 29 AND 30 MARCH 2014
Originally the 29th March would have seen Silver Wind in Agadir, but due to the adverse weather conditions, it was deemed prudent to make for Casablanca and spend two days at this port instead of just the one.
The price of a ship’s privato for three people was only slightly more than a shore trip, so on the first day we replicated the latter but without the downsides of getting on and off a coach, waiting for late returnees and so forth.
We did an orientation of the Hassan II mosque and a quick photo stop before making the hour-long drive to Azzemour. Along the way it was interesting to observe the new property developments in progress, all pointing to wealth in the country.
The purpose of the visit was to see the old medina, dating in part from the era of Portuguese settlement. It lies at the mouth of the Great Oum er Rbia River and the best view of the town is as one approaches from the Casablanca direction. We began a walking tour, threading the narrow streets, with mainly older women in traditional dress going about their business, when a heavy shower curtailed matters and we hastened back to our car.
From here, the drive to El Jadida took about 20 minutes, and is some 100 kilometres south from Casablanca. The Portuguese built this major fortified town with its ramparts fronting onto the Atlantic Ocean. Today, El Jadida, a world heritage UNESCO site, is old town, new town, with a sizeable modern settlement outside the old city walls. We had limited time available to explore the old part of town, with its typical narrow streets. We did however visit the cistern, where the 10 dirham admission fee payable only in local currency, was a disappointment, perhaps because it is not a patch on the one in Istanbul. One benefit is a reasonable toilet! We did, however, enjoy the parts of the old town that we saw. There were no beggars, no hassle from vendors and the place was cleaner than many places in the UK. We would have welcomed the opportunity to spend longer here.
El Jadida old town
We returned to Casablanca along the fast highway, the trip lasting a little over four hours due to traffic congestion in the city.
The second day in Casablanca started from the ship’s shuttle drop-off point in United Nations Square, where we negotiated a taxi ride to the Hassan II mosque. There are two principal types of cabs, small, mainly red cars that are limited to three people and are supposed to charge a fare based on the meter. The others are larger white or cream cars, usually old Mercedes that can take four, sometimes more, and are more expensive.
Non-Muslims can visit the mosque on days except Friday at 09.00, 10.00, 11.00 and 14.00 on payment of an admission fee, for which Euros are accepted.
We returned by cab to United Nations Square (it is, we are told, about a 20 minute walk) and wandered round the nearby medina.
Returning to the ship for lunch, we came back to UN Square to take the tram (trolley in American parlance) to Ain Diab beach, which is at the end of one of the two tram routes.
Tram stop in United Nations Square, with the medina in the background. On the left are the barriers that permit access and egress from the platform, with a security guard observing the photo being taken!
On both the outward and inward journeys, the trams were full with locals enjoying a day off, on Sunday. Interestingly despite being an Arab country, they have embraced the western weekend, and most shops are now not open on a Sunday. In the past, Sunday was a day of work, with Friday being the day off.
The Casablanca trams started operation in November 2012, the route is 30 km long, with 49 stops, and Y-shaped, and there are further lines planned for the future. The tram stops all appear to be manned, so access to the platform can only be gained by passing through the ticket barrier, which has a member of staff in attendance to assist, especially foreign tourists! The fare is six dirham for a single journey plus one dirham for the rechargeable card; and are bought from self-service machines that only seem to take Moroccan coins, and not Euros. The machines can display instructions in English if a local person is not on hand to assist. The ticket barrier is negotiated by placing the ticket on a touch pad.
Tram frequency is roughly at seven-minute intervals and the vehicles are very modern and air conditioned. The destination of the tram is displayed on its front and on TV monitors on the platform.
The ride to Ain Diab beach took about 30 minutes. Being a Sunday with fine weather, the beach area was very busy with Casablanca residents, the local cafes and vendors doing a brisk trade. We retraced our route to UN Square and caught the ship’s shuttle to Silver Wind.
Ain Diab beach
The areas of Casablanca we visited felt safe, were as clean as anywhere these days and offered a good perspective on a modern, progressive city in an Islamic country.
MALAGA, SPAIN 1 APRIL 2014
We docked early at around 07.00 in Malaga, located in a berth adjacent to the ferry terminal and an easy walk into town. In fact, we were close to the cruise ship shuttle drop-off area for those on large vessels which berth at the end of a long mole, and presumably are charged for the privilege. Some time after our arrival, MSC Orchestra, 92,000 tons and 2,550 passengers, and a Costa ship, even larger, arrived and were located right out at the end of the mole.
Our location was on a new waterfront development, turning left takes one into the town centre of Malaga, whilst turning right took one towards some cafes and retail outlets with apartments and the road along to the lighthouse with the mole beyond. The cruise ship terminal adjacent to our ship generated a free Wi-Fi signal, though at least one of the cafes also had this facility but only for patrons.
A five-minute stroll took us to the edge of Malaga old town, which was largely pedestrianised. We spent several hours exploring and found quite a diversity of shops, some offering expensive clothing and footwear cheek-by-jowl with others selling tourist tat. One shop sold the very expensive Iberico ham and it was fascinating to observe how this was carved into small shavings; the smell inside the shop was magnificent, but the price was more than off-putting!
Back street close to the cathedral in the old town
Some of the architecture was worthy of note, even for someone with no particular interest in the subject. This was especially so for parts of the cathedral. We were told that Malaga is trying to stamp its mark as a cultural centre by expanding the number and type of museums, whilst one can even find traces of the presence of the Phoenicians as well as the remains of the Moorish castle. For an active person, Malaga has a lot to offer.
MELILLA SPAIN, 2 APRIL 2014
This is one of two Spanish enclaves in North Africa, the other being Ceuta, and is surrounded on its landward side by Morocco, with three security fences preventing access from the latter. There are constant attempts by illegal immigrants to gain access to this Spanish city, and indeed some appear to have succeeded. However it is becoming increasingly popular with cruise lines as they struggle to find new ports of call.
For a relatively small settlement, the port area and marina are quite extensive. At the small dock entrance near where Silver Wind was moored, local tourist staff gave out Panama-type hats, maps and provided information. They told us about the green ‘train’, which offers a truly extensive tour of Melilla, lasting for 40 minutes, for Euro3. We met some passengers who had just done this and they were effusive in their praise. The train parks just a short walk from the port gates in the direction of the town and, on the day of our visit, departed at 10.00 and 11.00 but not again until 17.00. We were driven up into the old walled citadel and round its streets, along the seafront and all round the main parts of Melilla. The only problem was that the commentary, through one small speaker in each carriage, was inaudible. Save your money on a ship’s tour and go for the green train!
At the end of the tour, we walked into town in search of postcards. The place has a very Spanish feel architecturally and, of course, Spanish is the language spoken and the euro is the local currency, although Arab costumed men and women were much in evidence. The information office did not have postcards but helpfully directed us to a photographic shop which produced its own.
Surprisingly, there was no over-abundance of cafes in the centre. In any event, the weather was cool and fairly cloudy so we walked leisurely back to the ship in under 15 minutes.
Don’t expect too much from Melilla and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a pleasant place, where the fortified old town has been well restored and where the modern town is clean, if a little uninspiring. It was from here that General Franco used this city as a staging ground for his nationalist rebellion in 1936 which started the Spanish Civil War, and there is still a statue to him prominently featured, the only one to survive on Spanish soil!
CARTAGENA, SPAIN 3 APRIL 2014
The cruise ship terminal here is adjacent to the marina and relatively exposed. Certainly on the day of our visit, the wind along the quay nearly blew you over! Holland America’s Noordam was moored behind us.
A short walk outside the port gate, we found the taxis and took an expensive ride to the FEVE railway station, though (perhaps embarrassed at the fare) the driver took us round the corner to see the main RENFE railway station. This is a minor architectural gem, having been designed by a pupil of the famous Spanish architect, Anton Gaudi.
RENFE railway station
The FEVE (a rough translation being rail carriage in Spain by narrow-gauge vehicles) is a State-owned operation and the 11-mile route from Cartagena is the sole surviving FEVE line in southern Spain. It operates a frequent local service at cheap fares (Euro2.70 return to the end of the line) and is well patronised, although mainly by the older generation, both men and women, who probably do not drive. The route weaves through the undulating countryside, which gave us vistas of former activity, both pre-industrial, and vestiges of buildings long since cleared and left to the ravages of nature. The end of the line was Los Nietos, a beach settlement of modern properties. The strong wind and low temperatures deterred us from walking the maybe half a mile to the beach, so we waited until the same little train did the return journey back to Cartagena.
Los Nietos from the FEVE station
We opted to walk back to the ship, not least because it was downhill. The road appeared to be a perimeter route outside the old city, whose walls were on our right. The headwind as we walked was so fierce and this deterred us from venturing out after lunch to explore the town of Cartagena itself.
BARCELONA, SPAIN 4/5 APRIL 2014
Arriving at this turn-round port for an overnight stay on 4 April at 13.00, we were disembarking the following day. The weather was slightly kinder and the temperatures a little higher, but still not what one would expect at this time of the year in Barcelona.
We both know Barcelona well, and whilst it has a great deal to offer for the tourist, from Gaudi’s architecture, the Sagrada Familia, the Guell Palace to Las Ramblas and further afield – Montserrat, unfortunately, we had an appointment with several suitcases. We spent the afternoon packing after 41 days away from home and flew out of Barcelona the next afternoon. Less