John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our early sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I would be looking for flags from Portugal, the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores.
We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. Many of our cruises have been in the Caribbean but we have also cruised to Alaska, Australia/New Zealand, the Panama Canal, the Mediterranean/Greek Isles, Scandinavia/Russia, Hawaiian Islands, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, the Far East, the North Atlantic (Greenland/Iceland), parts of the British Isles, the Norwegian Fjords, the Galapagos Islands and the Holy Land/Egypt. We have taken land tours to the Netherlands, Canadian Rockies, Mexico (Cozumel), London, France (several wine regions and Paris), China, Argentina (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Mendoza wine region), Chile (Santiago, several wine regions), Hawaiian Islands (Kauai, Maui, Hawaii) and to many parts of the continental USA.
17 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 3: LISBON, PORTUGAL (8:00AM – 4:30PM)Today was Lisbon (www.visitlisboa.com/Home_UK.aspx?lang=en-GB), a new port for us. Although Princess often docks at the Alcantara Pier (near the Ponte 25 de Abril, which is described as looking somewhat like the Golden Gate Bridge), the “Independence of the Seas” was docked there today. The Celebrity “Eclipse” was docked at the Santa Apolonia pier; we docked at the Jardin do Tabaco. This pier is located midway between the Praca do Comercio and the Santa Apolonia train station, so it is much more convenient than the other two piers for passengers who want to explore the city on their own on foot. The small terminal building appeared to have no services except a rack of city maps and a few brochures. However, the main tourist office (Ask Me Lisboa) is on Praca do Comercio, only about 0.5 mile from the dock. There is also a tourist office in the Santa Apolonia train station.It was a beautiful day, so we decided to visit Sintra (www.cm-sintra.pt/default.aspx), a favorite summer retreat of Portuguese royalty and aristocrats, and save Lisbon proper for the port stop on the next cruise. We walked from the dock to the Praca do Comercio and through the triumphal arch, which commemorates the reconstruction of the city after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of 1755 that killed over 60,000 Lisboans. This arch marks one end of the main shopping street, Rua Augusta. We followed this pedestrianized street, stopping at a bank ATM to add to our cache of euros, to the Rossio train station. We walked right past the station at first because it is cleverly disguised as a palace; the Starbucks should have been a giveaway. Once inside the station, we bought return tickets (4.3 euros pp plus 0.5 euro pp for the required rechargeable travel card) to Sintra and caught the train, which runs every 15 minutes; the ride takes only 40 minutes. (www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g189158-c146578/Lisbon:Portugal:Getting.To.Sintra.html)The Sintra Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape, consists of seven sites plus associated parks, gardens and forests (www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/). There are hiking trails that link all of the sites but our time was limited today. Instead, we took the #434 tourist bus that circles Sintra every 15-20 minutes; a full-day ticket costs 5 euros pp (pay in cash on the bus). We exited the bus at the Moorish Castle, built around the 10th century. Here we could purchase a combination ticket (25 euros pp) to the three sites that we planned to visit: Moorish Castle, Pena Palace and National Palace of Sintra.At the Moorish Castle, it was great fun to scramble along the walls and up the towers for panoramic views of the Sintra Hills, the coastline and the Pena Palace higher up the hill. There are also remains of the medieval inhabitants of the area, such as graves, dwellings and granaries carved into the lava rock. After touring the castle, one can wait for the #434 bus or make the short (about 10 minutes) walk to the entrance to Pena Park. From there, it is an additional 10-minute walk to the Pena Palace itself; for less keen walkers, there is a shuttle from the entrance up to the palace for 2 euros pp. Pena Park is 500 acres filled with plants from all over the world and crisscrossed with paths and trails. We would have liked to wander the park at length but had to keep an eye on the clock to obey the all-aboard deadline.The Pena Palace was built by Don Fernando II, the consort of Queen Maria II, in the middle of the 19th century. The last royal inhabitant was the mother of the last king of Portugal, whose reign ended with the founding of the Republic in 1910. The exterior of the palace is brightly colored in brick red and ocher. The various rooms are lavishly decorated with the painted ceramic tiles (Azulejos) typical of Portugal. Some of the rooms have intricate carvings that cover the walls and ceilings; other rooms are painted in trompe l'oeil to give the same effect. The furnishings were richly carved. Although this was obviously the residence of wealthy people, it did not display the sheer opulence of Windsor Castle. After we finished touring the palace, we were hurrying to catch the #434 when I stepped awkwardly on a cobblestone and twisted my right ankle. There was nothing else to do but soldier on to the last site on the schedule.The National Palace of Sintra is in the historical center of Sintra and is easily recognized by its two white, cone-shaped chimneys. Like the Pena Palace, its use as a royal residence ended in 1910. The original palace was a summer residence of the Moorish sultans and was rebuilt again and again until now the structure is a conglomeration of styles. The rooms feature the gorgeous multicolored Azulejos. A number of the rooms are named for the paintings on the wooden ceilings: swans, magpies, mermaids, galleons. The Stag Room ceiling also features over 70 coats of arms of aristocratic Portuguese families. After touring the palace, we checked out a few of the souvenir shops and I was able to find a Portuguese flag for my collection. We returned to Lisbon on the train with no problems except for a swollen and bruised ankle. We stopped at a Pingo Doce (local food store chain) near the station on Rua 1 Dezembro to check out the Portuguese wine selection. There were a number of wines in the 1-2 euro price range (maybe good, maybe swill);John picked a brand he recognized (9 euros). Then we walked down Rua Augusta to Praca do Comercio, where we stopped at the tourist office on the square to purchase a 1-day Lisboa Card. These cards include free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as transportation by tram, bus, elevator etc. (See the journal entry below for October 31 for more details.) We planned to use the card during our second Lisbon port call, on the next leg of the cruise.We still had a little time before we had to return to the ship, so we followed part of a walking tour of the Alfama (www.frommers.com/destinations/lisbon/749263), a section of the city that was not destroyed by the earthquake. The Alfama is a warren of narrow streets and stairways that covers the hillside below the Castelo de Sao Jorge. We walked past a couple of old churches, one of which is built over the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua. We made a brief visit to the Se Catedral, which is quite plain for a European cathedral; its claim to fame is the font where St. Anthony was baptized. We continued further uphill to two miradouros (viewpoints) where we could see the white, red tile roofed houses spilling down the hillside to the water. One miradouro was outside the Santa Luzia church, whose exterior featured a blue and white, ceramic tile mural of St. Lucy holding a palm branch in one hand and pair of eyeballs on a plate in the other. Her eyes were plucked out during her martyrdom; thus she is the patron saint of those of us with poor eyesight and those suffering from diseases or disorders of the eyes. The other miradouro, Largas das Portas do Sol, also had nice views. From here, we simply followed the winding streets and stairways in a generally downhill direction until we reached the waterfront.Back at the ship, I iced down my knee, took some aspirin and kept my foot elevated until after the sail away; that helped a little. There were great views of Lisbon as the ship sailed down the Tagus River. After passing under the Ponte 25 Abril, there were views of the Belem section of the city and its major attractions: the Jeronimos Monastery, Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower; we planned to visit those sites on the next leg of the cruise.31 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 17: LISBON, PORTUGAL (MIDNIGHT - 5:00PM)Today the “Crown Princess” was again docked at the Jardin do Tabaco pier. P&O's “Oceana” (formerly the “Ocean Princess”) was docked at the Santa Apolonia pier; the Celebrity “Eclipse” was docked at the Alcantara pier. There was small MSC ship docked upriver from “Oceana”.Today we planned to make good use of the Lisboa Card (www.lisbonlux.com/lisbon/lisboa-card.html) that we bought 2 weeks ago. These cards can be purchased in advance online for a miniscule discount or at any tourist office. The cards include free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as transportation by tram, bus, elevator, funicular and even certain trains. The cards are not very useful to cruisers docking at the Alcantara pier because there is no place within walking distance to redeem the online voucher or purchase the card. Those docking at the Jardin do Tabaco or Santa Apolonia piers can purchase the cards at the Santa Apolonia train station. Our savings with the card were: 24hr travel card (6.5 euros), Jeronimos Monastery/Belem Tower (10 euros), Monument to the Discoveries (30% discount = 1 euro) and Castelo de Sao Jorge (20% discount = 1.5 euros). The 1-day card costs 18.5 euros, so we only saved 0.5 euro. On the other hand, the card was convenient to use as a transportation pass and it allowed us to bypass the long queues at a couple of the attractions.Our first target was the Castelo de Sao Jorge because it opened at 9:00 a.m. We walked along Rua Alfandego and then up Rua da Madalena, looking up each cross street for the free elevators that the port lecturer had mentioned. We saw a sign for the Castelo, so we turned right on Largo do Chao do Loureiro. Continuing in that direction, we found the upper elevator (Elevador Castelo) just inside the entrance of a Pingo Doce supermarket (formerly the old Market Chao do Loureiro). That elevator takes you up to Rua da Costa do Castelo. [NOTE: After we returned home, we learned that entrance for the lower elevator is in a building at 170/178 Rua Fanqueiros, near Rua da Vitoria; the exit is at 147/155 Rua da Madalena in Largo Adelino Amaro da Costa (aka Largo Caldas).]Before the Castelo opened, we had time to walk around the surrounding neighborhood and view the buildings covered with colorful Azulejos. Suddenly we were startled by what sounded like some loud strange car or scooter horn. We looked up and saw a peacock sitting atop a wall and two peahens on a wall across the street; the peacock was making that grating squawk. As we strolled, we saw several groups of children being escorted to school; a few children were dressed in Halloween costumes.The hilltop that Castelo de Sao Jorge (www.castelodesaojorge.pt/?lang=2) commands was probably used as a fortress even before Roman times. The large grounds (which are well-populated with peafowl) include not only the Castelo but also a museum and an archeological site. Just past the entry, there is a large terrace with old cannons and great views of Lisbon. First we walked around the outside of the Castelo, then crossed the bridge over the dry moat and started climbing around on top of the walls and up the towers. Near the Tower of the Cistern, the route along the top of the walls leads to the Archeological Site; this area includes the remains of structures from the Iron Age (7th century BC), from the Moorish Quarter (11th – 12th centuries) and from a palace (15th – 18th centuries).We clambered around for about an hour until the Tower of Ulysses (the legendary founder of Lisbon) opened. This tower formerly held the Royal Archives but now (since 1998) is home to the Camera Obscura. The Camera Obscura is a periscope that projects an image onto a large white table lower in the tower. That offers a 360-degree view of the entire Lisbon area (except where blocked by the other towers of the Castelo). The tour guide gave us a bird's eye view of Lisbon, pointing out all the major sights, cars moving on the streets and bridges and even people touring the Castelo. We finished our tour of the Castelo at the Museum, which contains items uncovered at the Archeological Site.When we exited the Castelo, we caught the #737 minibus that runs back and forth from the Castelo to Praca de Figueira through the steep streets of the Alfama. From the Praca, we caught the #15E tram in the Alges direction to reach the Belem district of Lisbon. The #15E is a modern electric tram; it is supposed to run every 11 minutes and the ride to Belem is only supposed to take about 30 minutes. Something was wrong today and we waited over 20 minutes for the tram; we also stopped about 5 minutes for no apparent reason. In any case, it took almost an hour for the packed tram to reach the Jeronimos Monastery stop. We decided to follow the crowd and exit there too.The Jeronimos Monastery (www.mosteiriojeronimos.pt/en/) is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belem. The Monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for Vasco da Gama's successful voyage to India. Both the exterior of the building and the two-level Cloisters are covered with incredibly intricate carvings. The Cloisters alone make the Monastery worth the visit. Another interesting part of the Monastery is the Refectory (dining hall); its walls are lined with Biblical scenes rendered in beautiful painted tiles. There are several famous Portuguese poets entombed in the Monastery or in the adjacent church, Igreja de Santa Maria; Vasco da Gama is entombed in the church. The church is also filled with intricate stonework.From the Monastery, we walked toward the riverfront, through the Praca do Imperial with its Fonte Luminosa in the middle. The fountain was not working but I read that sometimes it is illuminated for an hour-long water show. We found the pedestrian tunnel under the busy highway and train tracks and arrived at the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos)The Monument to the Discoveries (padraodosdescobrimentos.egeac.pt) is designed to resemble the prow of a caravel, the sailing vessel used by the Portuguese explorers during the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. Along each side of the monument is a frieze depicting some of these explorers and other notables of the era. At the prow, where the two friezes meet, is a statue of Prince Henry (Henrique) the Navigator, who encouraged and financed much of this exploration. On the plaza in front of the monument is a compass rose with a map of the world; the routes of major voyages and the dates new lands were discovered are marked on the map. We took the elevator to the viewing platform on the top of the monument for great views of the area.The Tower of Belem (www.mosteiriojeronimos.pt/en/) is the other UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belem. The Tower stands near the spot where the caravels set off on their voyages of discovery. The lower level of the tower has gun ports and breech-loading cannons; the next level has a broad terrace from which other weapons could be fired. There is a very narrow, spiral, stone staircase to the top of the tower. The stairs are so narrow that there are electric signs directing the flow of visitors up and down. This system was only partially effective because some people evidently did not see the signs requesting them to wait their turn; those people wore confused/dismayed expressions when they encountered a long line of people moving in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, we eventually made it to the top of the Tower for more good views and back down again.We left the Tower and took the pedestrian bridge over the highway and train tracks to the Largo da Princesa tram stop. This tactic allowed us to get seats on the #15E tram two stops before the crowded Mosteirio Jeronimos stop. We continued on the #15E tram back to Praca de Figueira; this time the ride took about 45 minutes. One benefit of riding the tram was the opportunity to see many buildings along the route that were covered with the multicolored Azulejos.From Praca de Figueira, we walked to Rua da Santa Justa and the Elevador de Santa Justa. This elevator was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel. The two cars of this black metal tower whisk riders from the Baixa (downtown) to the Bairro Alto (upper town) in 30 seconds. There is a viewing gallery on top of the elevator tower; this gave us our best view of the Castelo de Sao Jorge and of the roofless church next to the elevator.The walkway from the elevator passes alongside and under a buttress of the Igreja do Carmo that was devastated in the 1755 earthquake. This Gothic church has been left in ruins as a symbol and reminder of the quake; today it is part of the Museu Archeologico do Carmo. From here, we walked through the Bairro Alto to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. The views from this large terrace are good but not as good as those from the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa.Our final destination of the day was the Solar do Vinho do Porto (www.ivdp.pt/pagina.asp?idioma=1&codPag=169&), right across the street from the miradouro in the Ludovic Palace. This small tasting room offers comfortable lounge chairs to relax in a bottle-lined room while enjoying a wide variety (supposedly 300 types) of ports by the glass. We tasted five outstanding ports, including a rose, a ruby, two tawny (20 and 40 years old) and a late bottled vintage 1988 colheita. It was sad that we could only spend about 40 minutes here. John felt that we should have come here first and spent the entire day tasting ports.To return to Baixa, we had planned to take the Calcada da Gloria, a funicular that runs between the Bairro Alto and the Praca dos Restauradores; it is just across the street from the Solar. However, the funicular was out of service and we walked down the sidewalk that runs alongside it. As we headed back to the riverfront, we decided to stop at the Pingo Doce on Rua 1 Dezembro to pick up a couple more bottles of wine. When we returned to the cruise terminal, there was a fairly long line but it moved quickly.
09 OCT (SAT) CRUISE DAY 5: LAS PALMAS, GRAN CANARIA, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (8:00AM – 10:30PM)Today we had a nice, long port day in Gran Canaria (www.grancanaria.com/patronato_turismo/EN.283.0.html). Our Cruise Critic friend, Bob (BobTroll) from the UK, had recommended renting a car from Cicar (www.cicar.com/EN/gran-canaria-car-hire) to explore the island. This was an excellent choice because the rental office was right outside the fence from the ship on the Muelle de Santa Catalina Poniente. The office was not open when we arrived shortly before 8 a.m. but an agent arrived about 8:10. Apparently we and a Canadian couple were the only people who had reserved a car in advance. Even with a reservation, all the paperwork had to be written out by hand. It was not clear where the cars were located, so we had to wait until the Canadians finished their paperwork for the agent to show all of us where the cars were parked; that was in a parking garage further down the pier.Once we found the car (a Corsa), we headed off but had a little difficulty finding our way out of the port. We had both our Garmin (with a European highways chip) and written directions from Google Maps. However, it was early in the morning and we were excited. We ended up going down a bus-only lane past a police station but no one noticed. We had to stop for gas (the car had about 1/8 tank and we were supposed to return it with the same amount) and my limited Spanish was able to extract directions to the highway we wanted. Once we were on the correct highway, the combined intellectual power of two PhDs was eventually able to determine that we were heading in exactly the wrong direction (the ocean was on our left when it should have been on our right). A quick U-turn at the next interchange had us on our way to our first destination, the Pico Bandama.Pico Bandama is a volcanic cone over 1800 feet high. It is not too far from the port and thus is included in some of the cruise ship excursions. Despite our false start leaving the port, we arrived there well before any of the buses from the ship and, more importantly, were on our way to the next site before we had to share the narrow road with them.The next stop was the town of Aguimes, where the Parroquia de San Sebastian is a Historical Cultural Monument. The church is considered one of the best examples of the Canary Islands' neoclassical architecture; it's worth a quick visit. Aguimes is a pretty little town with narrow streets, many of which are one-way and look like someone's patio. We had to circle the town center twice before we managed to find a parking spot in the plaza in front of the church.North of Aguimes lies the Barranco de Guayadeque. The steep walls of this ravine are over 400 meters high in places. In the Canary Islands, gases released during the volcanic eruptions formed large bubbles in the lava. As the lava eroded to form the canyon, these bubbles were revealed as “caves” in the walls of the ravine. The Guanches, the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, excavated the soft lava rock to connect and enlarge those bubbles to create homes, storage facilities and burial chambers. Even today, people living in the canyon may have a home with a modern facade and an interior that is carved into the side of the ravine. The Centro de Interpretacion de Guayadeque (2.5 euros pp) is built this way. The Centro is small but has numerous interesting exhibits that explain the geology and ecology of the ravine as well as the lifestyle and customs of the Guanches.Our little Corsa struggled as it climbed up one side of the ravine on the way to Pico del Pozo de las Nieves, the highest point on Gran Canaria (1949 meters). Near the top, the road forks and there is a reconstructed pozo or “snow fountain.” A pozo is a deep pit where snow and ice were once collected in the winter for use during the summer months. The left fork took us to the viewpoint at Pico de la Gorra; the right fork went to Pico de las Nieves. There were a number of other tourists and a food truck/souvenir stand at the Pico de las Nieves viewpoint. From here we could see two noteworthy rock formations, Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga, and Mount Teide on Tenerife.Roque Nublo is a finger of rock that is a symbol of Gran Canaria. It is also extremely popular. Even though there are one large and two small parking areas, cars still lined the road. We had to drive past the trail head three times before we managed to find a spot to squeeze the Corsa into that was safely off the roadway. From the road, it is a short (about 2 km round trip) hike to the base of the rock at 1590 meters. From here there are good views back to Pico de las Nieves and of Roque Bentayga. Topping out at 1800 meters, Roque Nublo is the second highest point on Gran Canaria.The next high point on our tour was Roque Bentayga; this fairly flat-topped monolith is the third highest point (1412 meters) on Gran Canaria. There were only a few other cars in the parking lot when we arrived; this site is clearly not as popular as Roque Nublo. There is a small archeological museum (free) that was closed; there are good views of Roque Nublo. There is a short (1 km round trip) trail to the base of Roque Bentayga. The trail passes several caves, ceremonial sites used by ancient Canarians and the remains of a defensive wall.Although all of the sites we had visited so far do not appear far apart on a map, we had already been touring almost 7 hours. John had prepared four options from Roque Bentayga ranging from one hour (return directly to the port) to four hours (drive along west coast for more viewpoints). We chose one of the middle options: a visit to the Cenobio de Valeron, the largest pre-Hispanic granary on Gran Canaria.Up until now, the Garmin had been agreeing more or less with the routes recommended by Google Maps. Now however, the Garmin kept insisting that we should take a “shortcut” off the main road. We turned down a street that seemed reasonable at first but quickly turned into tiny streets that ended at a car parked in front of a cinder bock wall. The Garmin kept repeating that we should continue on; apparently it wanted us to push the car aside, smash through the wall and drive down the side of a ravine. We may be stupid but we are not THAT stupid. We went back to the main road and followed it until we started to see signs that directed us to the Cenobio.We finally made it to the Cenobio de Valeron (1.5 euros pp, senior price) about 25 minutes before closing time. The time was adequate because only part of the archeological site is open to the public. Nevertheless, this was an outstanding site and we were pleased that we chose this particular route despite the complaints of the Garmin. The granary was carved from the lava rock over 500 years ago and consists of more than 200 caves arranged in a series of large galleries. These caves were used to store food (mainly cereals and seeds) and to protect it from theft. The site is very well done, with ladders and catwalks that allow a visitor to view the site without disturbing it. There are also some displays that give information about the caves and the lifestyle of the ancient Canarians.From here, it was about a half hour back to the dock. We only had one other heart-stopping moment, when the steering wheel locked and the car would not start. John figured out that the wheels were turned too sharply to the side. After putting the car in neutral and letting it roll forward a bit, the car started up again and we were off back to the pier. It was easier simply to follow the highway signs to the Muelle de Santa Catalina instead of the complicated instructions of the Garmin or Google Maps.
20 OCT (SUN) CRUISE DAY 6: SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (7:00AM – 5:30PM)Today John and I, along with 21 other people from the Cruise Critic roll call, joined a tour organized by Pat (2Canucks). The guide was Patsy Little (firstname.lastname@example.org), who has excellent reviews on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, there was some kind of communication gap between Pat and Patsy; Patsy was waiting with her tour bus right next to the ship but Pat hustled all of us onto the port shuttle bus and all the way out to the main street along the waterfront. By the time this got straightened out, we were more than a half hour behind schedule.Our first activity was a walking tour of San Cristobal de La Laguna. We started in the Plaza del Adelantado with a huge dragon tree in the middle. Dragon trees look a little like a palm tree but are not really trees; they are a type of dracaena. Once a flower forms and dies, the plant grows a triple branch from the scar, so the shape is very distinctive. Also, the sap is dark red and looks like blood. Patsy pointed out a number of other plants growing in the square. Next to the square was a building that was formerly the convent of an order of cloistered nuns. The roof of the convent featured an Arab-style latticed patio where the nuns could enjoy some fresh air without being seen.Much of La Laguna is a pedestrianized area with many Spanish Colonial mansions and palaces. We were able to view the patios in the Bishop's Palace and the History Museum. All the rooms open onto the patio or onto the covered balcony that runs around the second floor. That arrangement kept the house cool in summer and provided a private outside area for the residents. The museum patio had rings in the mouths of carved figures under the balcony eaves; the rings could support a canopy to provide shade for the patio. Our final stop in the town was the market, where all sorts of vegetables, meats, seafood, baked goods and cheeses were on display. A few of us had the time for a short visit to a nearby church, which boasted a beautiful silver altarpiece and silver pulpit.We were supposed to tour the Teide National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) before lunch, so we headed there, stopping at several viewpoints along the way. From some of the viewpoints we could even see the island of Gran Canaria. Because we had started late, we interrupted the tour at this point for a tapas-style lunch at Restaurant Bamby, which has a fine view of the volcano. The lunch (13 euros pp) was served family style. It included bottled water and both white (made from listan blanco grapes) and red (made from listan negro and negramol grapes) wine. We were first served small loaves of bread with a red and a green mojo (spicy sauce). The first dish was an island specialty –- papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes); these are potatoes boiled in heavily-salted water and served in the skin. Next we had a plate of cheese and cold cuts served with a salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and carrots. That was followed by chunks of fried fish, a garbanzo bean stew and a flan-type dessert. Because the group was so large, lunch took much longer than anticipated and we were now over an hour behind schedule. However, the original timetable called for us to be back at the ship two hours before the all aboard time, so there was no reason for concern.Finally we were off to see what John and I most wanted to see: the stark landscape around Mount Teide (3718 meters). Measured from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world (after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in Hawaii) and it is still active. We stopped to view the Roques de Garcia, 1000 meter spires that have eroded to show varicolored layers of volcanic deposits. Although the tour could only allow 15 minutes at this site, John and I had time to hike the short trail to the base of the rocks for some great views.The tour continued on to the interior of Teide's caldera at about 2300 meters altitude. There is a cable car to 3500 meters but reservations must be made far in advance. This tour did not include enough time to take the cable car and, because of the wind conditions, it was not operating today anyway. We drove around and stopped at a number of viewpoints. Before we left the park, we made another pit stop at Restaurant Bamby. Now that the lunch crowd had diminished, the feeders placed around the restaurant's outside deck were attracting a number of the birds now known as canaries. Factoid: The Romans called the islands “Insula Canaria” because of the wild dogs found there and the birds were named after the islands.The route back to the ship passed through the Orotava Valley agricultural region. There were huge banana plantations, divided into sections by stone walls to protect the plants from the wind. Grapevines were trained along a wire only a foot or so above the ground; the vines in a row are braided along the wire to keep them from being whipped about in the wind.Our final stop was to see the black sand beach at Puerto de la Cruz. This is part of the resort area of the island and the waterfront is lined with souvenir shops, eateries and hotels. Apparently no one there thinks of flags as a souvenir; I was told they are given away free at soccer games or I could buy fabric to make one myself. We tried some banana liquor at one of the shops. Pat seemed very anxious about the time but we returned to the ship with 45 minutes to spare. The original size for this group had been set at 12 and I did not know it had grown to 23 until almost the last minute. With such a large group, the price was very reasonable (25 euros pp, not including lunch) but the lunch took a long time to serve and it took extra time to get everyone on and off the bus at photo stops. That, along with the late start, forced Patsy to eliminate the scheduled wine tasting (extra fee) at the Wine Museum. Although this was a disappointment for John and me, about half the group was not interested in tasting any more wine. Nevertheless, Pasty was an excellent tour guide. She is full of interesting information and is very enthusiastic about showing off her island to visitors.
21 OCT (MON) CRUISE DAY 7: ARRECIFE, LANZAROTE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (7:00AM – 3:30PM)The next port was Lanzarote (www.turismolanzarote.com/en/) where the ship offered a free shuttle bus between the ship and the Calle Juan de Quesada (near Charco de San Gines). We again rented a car from Cicar (www.cicar.com/EN/lanzarote-car-hire), which has a kiosk in the information center right on the dock (Muelle de los Marmoles). Passengers were not cleared to disembark until 7:40 a.m., which was no problem because the Cicar office did not open until 8 o'clock. We were the third and fourth people off the ship; a British couple, who also were renting from Cicar, beat us. Again the car (a slightly larger Corsa) was 1/8 tank full; the Cicar agent told us that adding 12 liters would be enough to drive all around the island and return it with that same level of fuel. He also told us the car took diesel fuel.This time we only had a little difficulty getting away from the pier. We were a bit confused about whether or not we were on the correct highway because there was a lot of road construction going on and the ramps that the Garmin and Google Maps were directing us to use were being replaced by roundabouts. However, we had to stop for fuel, so we got directions from the attendant. Between her little English and my little Spanish, it became clear that we were indeed on the correct road and even heading in the correct direction. We also learned that the car took unleaded, not diesel. It is a good thing there is a notice about the proper fuel near the gas cap (and that I know “sin plomo” means unleaded)!John was anxious to be off as quickly as possible to our primary destination, Timanfaya National Park, to beat the crowds from the ship's tours. Visitors are not allowed to tour the park in their own vehicles; you must take the 40-minute bus tour that is included in the entrance fee. We arrived at the park entrance 10 minutes before the 9:00 a.m. opening time and were the second car in line. By the time the ticket booth was ready to begin selling tickets (9 euros pp, cash only), there was quite a line of cars behind us.As we arrived at the visitor center for this section of the park, we were directed to a parking space and then to an area where we would be given some demonstrations of the volcanic nature of the area. First, we entered an area that had a hole in the middle that was about 6 feet deep. As we entered, the guide scooped up pebbles from the ground and filled our hands with them so we could feel how hot they were. Next we all gathered around the hole and the guide pushed a dry bush to the bottom. The bush quickly began smoking, then glowing in a few spots and finally it burst into flames. The next demonstration area featured several 6-inch pipes stuck in the ground. When the guide poured a bucket of water into one of the pipes, the water turned to steam in 2 seconds and erupted from the pipe in a geyser-like spout. The guide repeated this several times so we could all get a photo. The last demonstration was outside the restaurant (there is also a gift shop), where you can order food cooked by the heat of the volcano. There is a pit 5 or 6 feet wide and maybe 20 or 30 feet deep. There is a grill over the top of the pit and you can feel the heat coming out. Some potatoes in a pan were set out to bake on the grill but watching potatoes bake is not that exciting. By now, all of us who had arrived on our own were getting impatient to start the bus tour. Six buses from the ship and a number of other tour buses and vans had arrived. Fortunately, those people could tour the park in those vehicles but they all had to get out in order to see the demonstrations. Finally the independent tourists were allowed to board one of the park's tour buses and the tour began about 9:45 a.m.John had read that it is best to sit on the right-hand side of the bus (and we did) but that is not absolutely essential. The bus stops at numerous points of interest along the route, so it is possible to stand up and take photos; no one is allowed off the bus at the photo stops. The tour has taped narration in Spanish, English and German. The specific route through the park was laid out by Cesar Manrique, a famous local artist whose works pepper the island and who designed several other tourist attractions.Timanfaya National Park is a desolate yet beautiful place. Lanzarote is the newest volcanic piece of the Canaries and looks amazingly like the moon. Actually it looks like Hawaii and Iceland in some areas: all lava flows and cinder cones.As we left the park, the entire entry drive was packed with cars and there were even cars parked on the highway waiting to turn into the entrance. We left the park by an alternate route so that we could enjoy different views of the volcanic landscape.Our next destination was the wine area around Geria. This is an amazing place! Each grapevine is planted in a pit and surrounded by a low, semicircular stone wall; both the pit and the wall are to protect the vine from the wind. There are acres and acres of black fields studded with these pits and lighter-colored walls.John had selected the Bodega Stratvs (www.stratvs.com/index.php?lang=en) for a tasting but he did not reserve a tour because he was not sure when we would finish the tour at Timanfaya. When we arrived at the tasting room, however, we learned that we could have a private tour and tasting (12 euros pp) in English if we were willing to wait a short while. We decided to do this even though we knew we might have to omit a site or two later in the afternoon. While we waited, we looked around the tasting and sales room and grounds. There are also two restaurants on site.Our guide, Katja, turned out to be the person John had corresponded with about a tour. She took us to the vineyard, where there was a cross-section of the ground so that we could see the layers of lava ash, soil and rock. The soil is so shallow and the rock so hard that the grapevine roots can only grow sideways, not down. The volcanic ash collects dew and channels it to the plant; there is little rain and no artificial irrigation.The winery building is dug into the hillside and vines are planted on the roof. Inside, the winery is small but uses all the latest wine making technology. Down the center of the winery is a series of huge oaken casks, where some wine is being produced by the solera method, the way sherry is made. In this method, some wine is removed from the cask holding the oldest vintage and bottled, that wine is replaced with wine from cask holding the next oldest vintage and so on. Thus each wine that is bottled contains a fraction from all the previous vintages.After a thorough tour of the winery, we tasted three of the Stratvs wines (accompanied by cheese, bread and cold cuts) and they were terrific. We spent about 1-1/2 hours at Stratvs and decided to buy a bottle of the white Malvasia Seco to bring home with us. Several of the Princess bus tours were going to Mirador del Rio (entry fee), known for its beautiful view of the ocean and nearby islands. Our destination was the nearby Mirador Guinate (free), which has an equally beautiful view but was deserted when we were there. The easiest way to find this viewpoint is to follow the signs to the Parque Tropical in Guinate and continue on that road to the end.We had originally planned to visit Cueva de los Verdes, a 6 km-long lava tube. However tours are not offered on a regular schedule; visitors must wait until a group of 30 accumulates. It was getting late and we thought we might have to wait so long for a group to form that there would not be enough time for the tour. It was now that the Garmin gave out; the cigarette lighter hadn't charged it! Fortunately we could follow the signs to Cueva de los Verdes until we intersected the main highway and we arrived back at the dock with no problems. The Cicar agent was accurate about the amount of gas we would need but it felt odd following his instructions to leave the car unlocked with the key under the seat.
22 OCT (TUE) CRUISE DAY 8: FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL (9:00AM – 4:30 PM)Although the weather had been sunny and mild in the Canary Islands, it was raining when the ship arrived in Madeira (www.visitmadeira.pt/?language=c81e728d9d4c2f636f067f89cc14862c) and the forecast was for worsening weather as the day went on. In actuality, the weather got better during the day, although the clouds stayed with us. The ship offered a shuttle to the Marina Shopping Mall for $5 pp each way for those who wanted to explore Funchal on their own. The “Independence of the Seas” was also in port.John had prearranged a custom tour with Daniel Madeira Taxi (www.danielmadeirataxis.com/cruise-ship-excursions.shtml, 140 euros for a 4-person taxi). We were joined by another couple from the Cruise Critic roll call, John and Janie (boomerone). The ship had docked early due to a medical emergency, so passengers were allowed to disembark a few minutes ahead of schedule. We were hopeful that our driver/guide would arrive earlier than the appointed time of 9:30 a.m., so we scurried down to the pier. Alas, Marcelino (Daniel's cousin) was early but only by 10 minutes. Nevertheless, we were on our way well before the Princess tour buses.Madeira is a fascinating place! There is basically no level spot on the island. Our first stop was Cabo Girao, a high sea cliff. When we arrived, it was clouded over, so Marcelino suggested that we go directly to the Barbeito (www.vinhosbarbeito.com/en.html) winery for our tour and tasting; we could return to the cliff later when the weather might be better. Along the way, Marcelino stopped several times so we could view the terraced fields that seem to take up every square inch of the hillsides.The tour at Barbeito was very different from tours at other wineries. Most wineries are trying to limit oxidation, so the wines are aged under cool conditions. However, the characteristic taste of Madeira wines is due to oxidation, so the wines are fermented in heated tanks and aged under warm conditions; they are also barrel-aged much longer than other wines. The tasting was among the top tastings we have ever done. The shop manager, Leandro, pulled out all the stops; we lost count of the wines he brought out. The ultimate wine we tasted was vintage 1885 (not a typo!); the 1910 vintage was only a baby in comparison. All the wines were fantastic. We bought (could afford) a 10-year old Madeira to bring home.Then it was back to Cabo Girao, where the view was intermittently obscured by clouds. The miradouro is 560 meters above sea level. There is a glass-bottomed viewing platform where you can look straight down to the rocky shoreline. The next stop was Pico dos Barcelos (335 meters) for great views of Funchal.Marcelino stopped at several unofficial overlooks for great views on the way to Eira do Serrado. Eira do Serrado (1000 meters) offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and of Curral das Freiras (Nun's Valley). In the 16th century, the nuns would take refuge in this secluded valley to avoid the pirates who frequently attacked Madeira.Our last stop in the mountains was at Pico do Arieiro (1810 meters), the third highest peak on the island. This is a popular site because it is possible to drive almost to the top of the peak. Today however, it was almost deserted because of the heavy cloud cover; we could only see a little of the storied views. Nevertheless, we climbed the short flight of stairs to the stone marker at the very top of the peak. John had hoped that we could take a short hike here but the trail was closed. We were also starting to run a little short on time because we had spent more time at the winery (with good reason!) than planned.We headed out of the mountains back to Funchal. Marcelino stopped at Terreiro de Luta, where there is a small church dedicated to Our Lady of Peace. There were good views over the port and we could see the “Independence of the Seas” leaving. Further down the slope, Marcelino suggested that we climb to the roof of Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte, the patron saint of Madeira, for more great views. Then we had time for a very short visit to the Monte Municipal Gardens.Just below the terrace of the church is the starting point for Monte's famous toboggan rides. At one time, wine casks were transported in wicker baskets attached to two wooden runners. These days tourists can ride 2 km down the hill in those toboggans, which are steered by two guides dressed in traditional white flannels and straw boaters (20 euros for one person, 30 euros for a couple). BTW the ride goes down regular city streets, so the toboggans share the road with other vehicles; supposedly the toboggans have the ROW when they come to an intersection. John and I were not really interested in doing this but John and Janie were. We got some photos of them in the basket, then took more as we followed them down the hill in the taxi. This ride looked like something that was more fun in theory than in practice.Once we had John and Janie safely back in the taxi, Marcelino gave us a short tour of Funchal on the way back to the ship. At one point, he stopped by a market where I could hop out and buy a Madeira flag. This was a great tour and left us wanting to spend more time in Madeira.
26 OCT (SAT) CRUISE DAY 12 SOUTHAMPTON AND BATH, UK (7:00AM – MIDNIGHT)Our turnaround day dawned dark and rainy –- very, very rainy. We received our new cruise cards last night along with a letter stating that in-transit passengers (1) could leave the ship with the first group disembarking in the morning and (2) would not be required to attend the muster drill before sailing this afternoon. This was tremendously good news because we wanted to make an excursion to Bath. Our Cruise Critic friend, Bob (BobTroll) from the UK, had warned us that, earlier this summer in Southampton, Princess was not allowing in-transit passengers to leave the ship until mid-morning and was requiring them to be back on board an hour before sailing to attend the muster drill. Bob knew that with such a short port day, there would not be enough time to enjoy Bath because off the long (1-1/2 hours each way) train ride. Nevertheless, Bob graciously took the time to provide us with the train schedules for a trip to Bath as well as for two alternative destinations (Salisbury and Winchester) that are closer to the Southampton.We were allowed to leave the ship at 7:05 a.m. By then the rain had stopped, although it would continue on and off all day. We quickly made the short (0.5 mile) walk from the Ocean Terminal, where the “Crown Princess” was docked, to the stop for the free shuttle bus from Ferry Terminal 1 to the Southampton Central Station. We had to wait for the 7:45 a.m. bus but the trip to the train station took less than 10 minutes. Now we were especially glad that we had acquired a PenFed credit card that has the chip-and-PIN technology used throughout Europe. The ticket office was closed and we needed to buy our tickets from a ticket machine. Our other credit cards would not have worked in this machine; however, the PenFed card worked just fine and we soon had return tickets for the 8:10 a.m. train to Bath Spa. There were some delays, so our train arrived late at Southampton Central and was about 20 minutes late arriving in Bath Spa. (Hint: Be sure that you purchase tickets with the “Via Salisbury” option; tickets for trains that go through London cost twice as much.)Our first sight in Bath (visitbath.co.uk) was Bath Abbey (2.5 GBP donation requested, www.bathabbey.org). This is a small Gothic church with gorgeous stained glass windows and fan-vaulted ceilings. We took the Tower Tour (6 GBP pp); there were only three of us on the 10:00 a.m. tour. This 212-step tour climbs up to the ringing chamber (where various machines currently and in the past used to operate the bells are on display) and the bell chamber. It continues to a spot atop the vaulted ceiling (where you can look through a peephole to the nave below) and to another spot behind the clock face. You also go out on the roof of the Abbey for great views of the town and to the balcony in front for views of the Abbey Church Yard. Our young guide, Holly, was very informative and gave us lots of fun facts and anecdotes about the ringing machines, the bells, the clock and the Abbey.We visited the Abbey first because we thought it would be hard to get tickets later for the Tower Tour. However, the primary sight we wanted to see in Bath was the Roman Baths (www.romanbaths.co.uk). Admission to the Roman Baths (12.75 GBP pp, senior price) includes an audioguide. There are also animated exhibits and live actors portraying Romans (think Williamsburg in togas). The Romans built these opulent baths over 2000 years ago and they were built upon and renovated over the following centuries. In the 18th century, Bath was THE place to be for the rich and famous and there were many bathhouses built to accommodate them; there were also “Assembly Rooms” for those who wanted to socialize without getting wet.There are various rooms at each end of the largest pool, the Great Bath: changing rooms, smaller pools of various temperatures and steam rooms. However, this complex was not just for bathing and socializing; it had important religious significance. Adjacent to the baths was a temple dedicated to the healing goddess Sulis Minerva. The water from her Sacred Spring (the only hot spring in the UK) flowed into all of the other pools. Portions of the temple pediment, altar and courtyard have been uncovered. The most impressive find is undoubtedly the gilded head from a statue of Sulis Minerva, which was discovered during the construction of a sewer in 1727. At the end of the tour, there is a fountain where visitors can taste (not awful despite the minerals) and touch the 46C water from the spring. Excavation is ongoing to find more artifacts and reveal more ruins of the baths/temple complex beneath the streets of Bath, so this site will continue to expand and change over time.Bath is also celebrated for its 18th-century Georgian architecture. The two most famous examples are the blocks of identical row houses, the Circus and the Royal Crescent, designed by the John Wood the Elder and the Younger, respectively. After walking past these buildings, we went to see the Pulteney Bridge. This is one of the few bridges in the world that is lined with shops. In fact, it is so completely lined with shops that, from the street, there is no indication at all that you are on a bridge. However, we crossed the bridge and descended to the Riverside Walk along the Avon River. From here it obvious that the Pulteney Bridge is a bridge and there are some nice views of Bath Abbey. We crossed back over the river at North Parade Road and enjoyed some views of the Parade Gardens.From there it was back to the train station for the 1:00 p.m. train to Southampton Central, the free shuttle bus to the ferry terminal and the short walk back to the ship. At 3:00 p.m., there were still a large number of people checking in for the cruise. Fortunately, our in-transit cards let us skip to the head of the long security queue. When we got back to our cabin, we found a letter from the Captain explaining that, because of the impending storm, we would not be departing from Southampton; instead, we would be remaining in port for 1-3 more days. The letter also mentioned that we would be receiving some sort of unspecified compensation. Thus it was likely that our cruise would be changing from 5 port days and 8 sea days to 2 port days and 11 sea days. I emailed to cancel our car rental for Sunday in Le Havre and to alert the wineries in Spain (which we had planned to visit on Tuesday) that we would probably miss our appointments with them.Later in the evening, there was an announcement from the Captain about the weather forecast. Apparently the wind would increase to hurricane force by Sunday night, accompanied by heavy rain; the storm would probably pass out of this area by Monday afternoon. In anticipation of the storm, the ship would be moved from the Ocean Terminal to a more favorable location at the Mayflower Terminal. That way the expected high winds would blow the ship towards the dock instead of away from it. The new terminal is much farther from the city center than the Ocean Terminal, so Princess would be providing a free shuttle bus. The “Independence of the Seas,” however, departed for parts unknown.During the night British Summer Time would be ending, so tonight we set the clocks back an hour to GMT.27 OCT (SUN) CRUISE DAY 13: SOUTHAMPTON, UKToday we were supposed to dock in Le Havre, France, from 7:00 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. John had rented a car and we had planned to drive to Mont St-Michel, with a possible side trip to Bayeux. Instead, we caught the Princess shuttle to the drop-off point on Harbour Parade, opposite the West Quay Shopping Centre. The shuttle was to run continuously from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. We intended to spend 3 or 4 hours in town, then return to the ship before the heavy rain started. As we left the port, we saw that the “Adventure of the Seas” was also docked at the Mayflower Terminal but closer to town.We walked over to the East Park to see the memorial to the “Titanic” engineering officers and the nearby memorial to the “Titanic” musicians. Then we walked across West Park to the SeaCity Museum (www.seacitymuseum.co.uk; 7GBP pp, senior price for museum and special exhibition). The special exhibition showcased works made from cut paper. The paper was found paper or from old maps, books, currency, shopping bags, etc. John and I particularly liked the flock of birds cut from maps and “Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula” by Andrew Singleton, a large composition of black cut out patterns and suspended forms that was inspired by Hubble Telescope images of nebulae. I wondered whether another work, inspired by the 2012 tsunami in Japan, might be a good symbol for this leg of the cruise.Because Southampton was the last port where she docked, the SeaCity Museum naturally has a large “Titanic” exhibit. There are a few artifacts from the passengers and crew but most of the artifacts are from the sister ships of the “Titanic.” An interesting graphic showed the amounts of various necessary provisions (coal, towels, shelled walnuts, oyster forks, celery glasses etc.) superimposed on an outline of the ship. Other good exhibits included a courtroom with audio dramatizations of testimony from the inquiry into the sinking and another that included reminiscences by survivors about the immediate aftermath of the sinking. The remainder of the museum deals with Southampton's history as a port city.After the museum, we walked to the Bargate, the medieval entrance to the city, and climbed some sections and towers of the old city wall. Then we went to the Tesco in the West Quay Retail Park to pick up some inexpensive wine (Buy 3 get 15% off!) for those long sea days ahead. Back at the shuttle pick-up point, we had a short wait to board a bus back to the ship. At the Mayflower Terminal, we were confronted with an immense queue of passengers trying to pass through the security checkpoint. It turned out that only one metal detector and one parcel x-ray machine were available to screen the 900 passengers who had gone ashore. The Port Authority was not expecting to deal with cruise ship passengers on this day which was a Sunday to boot! They eventually found more staff and another x-ray machine and the line moved a little more quickly. Nevertheless, it was over an hour after we stepped off the bus until we stepped onto the ship.