Saturday, October 17, 2015

Spain and Portugal: Valencia, Málaga, Sevilla, Lisbon, and Funchal

Oct. 3

Today we began our two-week cruise of Spain and Portugal aboard the Emerald Princess. The cruise allowed us to visit additional cities in Spain as well as Portugal. And, after seven days crossing the Atlantic, we would disembark in Ft. Lauderdale.

After breakfast at the hotel we gathered our luggage and went to the lobby to await our taxi to the port.  

Emerald Princess in Barcelona

Oct. 4

Valencia was our first port. Since we were only in port for ½-day, we opted for a city tour. Although it was Sunday and many of the attractions were closed, there was still plenty to see.

Traditional Dress

We did not get to sample Paella, the traditional rice dish of Valencia, but we did get to drink Horchata, the typical Valencian drink made from almond milk. Very tasty!

Enjoying Horchata in Valencia

Before returning to the ship, we visited the The City of Arts and Sciences, a unique complex devoted to scientific and cultural dissemination.

City of Arts and Sciences

Oct. 5

Málaga is a seaside city on the east side of the Straits of Gibraltar and gateway to Spain’s Costa del Sol. Sugar, citrus, almonds, figs, grapes, olives, and fish are exported from here.

Approaching Málaga
Sunrise in Málaga
Walking to Town

We went on a wonderful, small-group, walk and taste tour. Touring the market and historic old-town, we sampled olives, ham, liqueurs, and gelato.

Walk & Taste Tour
Olive Vendor
Wine Store, Founded in 1840

Oct. 6

Our final port in Spain was Cadiz. From the port we boarded a bus which took us to Sevilla (Seville), Capital of Andalucia. It lies on the Guadalquivir, one of Spain’s longest rivers, with a history that dates back 2000 years.

Upon our arrival in Sevilla, we were divided into smaller groups for a guided walking tour of the city. 

Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Royal Alcazar of Seville
Cathedral Giralda

Tapas Lunch at Cerveceria Giralda

Oct. 7

Today was Jamey’s birthday and she got to enjoy it in Portugal - priceless!

Unfortunately, we sailed though the Strait of Gibraltar in the middle of the night and were unable to see the famous Rock.

Our first port in Portugal was Lisbon and we spent a full-day on a city tour which included the Pena Palace and the towns of Sintra and Estoril.  The Palacio Nacional da Pena was built in the 19th century with Moorish and Gothic features and bright colors. It once served as royalty’s summer home. This area lures the wealthy.

Pena Palace
Pena Palace
Pena Palace

After the tour of Pena Palace, we boarded the bus and headed back down the mountain to the very crowded historical village of Sintra. We found a place for lunch and because there was no seating inside, we ate standing up, outside. Ken went with several others to a port wine tasting while Jamey browsed through the shops.

Sintra Was Crowded With Tourists

The next stop on the tour was scenic Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of the European continent.

Cabo da Roca Lighthouse

That evening, we enjoyed celebrating Jamey's birthday in the Crown Grill, a specialty restaurant aboard the ship.

The Maître d' Wishes Jamey a Happy Birthday

Oct. 8

We sailed away from Lisbon under a clear and sunny sky. After four busy days visiting ports, today, a sea-day, was a welcome change.

Lisbon's Monument to the Discoveries
16th Century Belem Tower

Oct. 9

Funchal, Portugal could very well have been our favorite port, but because of the fog, we didn't see much of it. Located on the island of Madeira, Funchal rises straight up from the sea (5000 feet of mountainous terrain).

Panorama of Funchal

We joined another couple for a private island/wine tour. It was a very rainy day so we wore our rain jackets and carried umbrellas. It was so foggy that we couldn’t see anything from the tops of the cliffs.

Fishing Boats
The Foggy Coastline
Scenic Funchal, Portugal
Funchal Market

A highlight of the tour was a visit to the Henriques and Henriques distillery which has produced the sweet Madeira dessert wine since 1850.

Henriques and Henriques Distillery
Madeira Wine in Casks

Since the weather was not cooperative, we decided to eat a nice lunch at a seaside restaurant, O Barqueiro. We tried the fresh grilled local fish, espada, a long, black and really ugly fish. But it was delicious – mild and buttery and was accompanied by many side dishes of fresh and tasty vegetables.

Espada, the Black Scabbard Fish
The Espada looks much better on the plate

Oct. 10

Today we departed Funchal and began our transatlantic crossing and seven-days at sea!

On the Open Sea
Sunrise at Sea
Double Rainbow

Oct. 17

The ship arrived in Ft. Lauderdale early in the morning. After disembarking and passing through customs, we picked up our rental car and drove across the state to the familiar calm of our home..... it's time to start planning our next journey

Friday, October 2, 2015

Spain and Portugal: Barcelona, Montserrat & Girona

Sept. 28

Bags packed, we walked to the nearby Puerta del Sol train station and boarded the high-speed train to Barcelona.

Barcelona is located in the autonomous community of Catalonia (one of 17 in Spain). Catalan flags are displayed side by side with Spanish flags and the Catalan language, rather than Spanish, is spoken. Several elections to secede from Spain have failed to get the vote needed, with one occurring just days prior to our arrival.

Barcelona from Montjuïc
View from Hotel Balcony
La Rambla Pedestrian Mall
Entrance to Placa Reial (Royal Plaza)

Our hotel was only steps from the La Boqueria market, a wonderful place to purchase endless varieties of meat, fish, produce, and baked goods. Also, there were many restaurants and cafes.

Sausage Stall in Boqueria Market
Fresh Fruit Smoothies
Mixed Seafood Platter & Proseco

Sept. 29

In the morning, we went on a ½-day tour of Park Guell – Eusebi Guell entrusted his friend, Antoni Gaudi, to create an estate of well-off families on a large piece of property which was in a healthy setting with splendid views over the sea and the Plain of Barcelona. However, many factors made the project unviable and work was halted in 1914. The City of Barcelona acquired the property in 1922 and opened it as a public park. It is a UNESCO site now. You can see Gaudi’s “gaudy” style of architecture here, as well.

Park Guell
Gaudi's Unique Style
Park Guell

In the afternoon, we visited Sagrada Familia, the Holy Family Church. This is Gaudi’s grand masterpiece, begun in 1883 and currently unfinished. The goal is to finish by 2026. It is called the people’s church and all construction is funded by donations. It is notable for its wildly creative, organic architecture and decor inside and out. Some say Antoni Gaudi’s grand masterpiece is quite 'gaudy'.

Sagrada Familia
Architectural Detail of Facade
Church Interior

Sept. 30

Although it was raining, today's first order of business was a trip to the laundromat - we needed clean clothes to continue our journey.

We had nothing scheduled for the afternoon so, outfitted with rain jackets and umbrellas, we walked around Barcelona on our own.

Barcelona Cathedral
Post & Telegraph Building
National Palace

A memorable dinner at Julivert Meu – tomato bread (toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato) and topped with roasted onions and peppers, cheese, olives, and potato. This was just the beginning. We also had a platter of cured meats (ham, Catalan pork sausage, hard pork sausage and salami) and Escalivada (red pepper, eggplant, onion and grilled potato). And, of course, there was wine.  A great place on a rainy evening!

Our Fabulous Meal at Julivert Meu

Oct. 1

Today's excursion was by train and cable car to Montserrat, a mountaintop Benedictine Monastery - home to 30 monks and Catalunya’s most important pilgrimage site for a thousand years. The legend is that the 2400 feet-high mountain was carved by little angels with gold saws. From the train, one must take the cable car or rack railway up to the monastery. For a religious site we thought it was very crowded and overly commercialized.

Cable Car to Montserrat Monastery
Funicular Station
Placa de Santa Maria
Memorial Candles
Overlooking the Valley

Oct. 2

On our final day in Barcelona we rode the train to Girona. Located about 60-miles NE of Barcelona, it’s known for its medieval architecture, walled Old Quarter (Barri Vell) and the Roman remains of the Força Vella fortress

The city is divided by the Riu Onyar; the old medieval walled city on the east side and the newer modern city on the west side. We walked along much of the wall.

Girona and Riu Onyar
View from Wall
Exploring Girona in the Rain
The Girona Wall