We departed our ocean going transport early on Easter Sunday and made our way to our hotel in Barcelona. The hotel, located right on Las Ramblas, was in the heart of the tourist district. This proved to be a good base to wander the city. As our room was not ready, we left our bags and moseyed up Las Ramblas to see what was there. We came across the Hop on Hop off bus and bought a 2 day ticket. That way we could use day one to get the lay of the land and day two to see the major highlights.
The tour allowed us to figure out where various places were, what was walkable versus what wasn’t, and see what things were crowded by mid afternoon. One intriguing area, Montjuic, had a cable car, a castle, a park, the Olympic Stadium, and huge lines by 2 pm. So, we made a plan to be on the early bus and get off there, tomorrow! The plan worked, the cable car line had not really started, and the castle was not yet overrun when we got there the next morning.
We enjoyed a variety of views from the castle and learned that it began as a look out station, but when the city was attacked the defenders were able to quickly fortify it from a land attack and it became a major player in up to, and including the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and World War II.
We took the cable car back down to the station, which is about half way up the mountain, and started to walk the rest of the way down. We entered a park and meandered along various paths, mostly just making sure we were going more down than up.
Our goal was to reach the bottom of the path near a plaza with a large fountain so we could hop in the bus to head back closer to our hotel. As we did that, it became apparent the fountain was really part of a series of water features we would see in our trek down.
We went to see La Segruda Familia, which is the building Gaudy devoted decades of his life to designing, and which continues to be constructed over 100 years after his death. There is a lot going on at the site, both visually and physically. It is worth looking the place up, and I am not up to the task of really explaining. We didn’t take a tour as the crowds were more than we wanted to interact with.
The beautiful weather of the first few days gave way to more cloudy skies and some rain, but we were able to see a fair amount on foot and took a morning to visit the Maritime museum. The museum is housed in a building that had been the Naval ship yard and in continuous use for 600 years. The displays were amazing and the building itself definitely worth the visit.
Each of these beautiful coastal cities likely deserves it’s own post, but since our behavior in each was so similar I worry that folks might get confused about which one they are reading!
We made port in Málaga on the Thursday of Easter week and were warned to be aware of an Easter Procession that might impact how long it would take to make it back. The main procession was scheduled for 5 pm, but folks were already lining up near the port at 9 am, many of the main roads were closed and people were pouring in to the city center as Dan and I began our meandering exploration. We spotted a castle high on a hill overlooking town and headed that direction.
The city was bustling and had a very holiday vibe, even early in the day. We continued to climb on a nicely laid out path with several good places to stop and “enjoy the view” (take a break from the climbing). As we neared the top, we heard a marching band from below and noticed a grouping of boats near where the crowd had been gathering earlier. The many trees lining in the park that went along side the main street kept us from seeing the parade, but is was well attended!
We arrived at the end of the trail and the signs said the castle was a twenty minute climb up the hill. Dan joked that we’d already made a big climb, so we might as well buy the combination ticket to see both the fort and the castle! We spent a fun 40 minutes or so poking around the stone fortifications, parade grounds and in the big hall looking at the armor and uniforms. We also took advantage of the small cafe to enjoy a really good lunch of a queso bocadillo, a small baguette type loaf of really good bread and delicious cheese melted on it.
After out lunch we felt energized enough to head the 20 minutes up hill to the castle! We started looking for the path to take, but it wasn’t very well marked. I took my little tourist map over to the security guard and asked how to get to the castle. She gave me a strange look and I was worried I might have to try in Spanish which wasn’t going to be much of an improvement. Then she pointed down the hill and said we should tour the fort next. Yep, we had no clue which big stone structure was which!
Back down the path we went. Sure was a lot easier than we anticipated! The fort was right in town, surrounded by a bustling neighborhood and overlooking a Roman Theatre archeological site. The Fort actually seemed a bit fancier and more livable than the castle.
During the day we heard and saw a few parrots, including several flying by with branches which seemed pretty big-the nests must be impressive!
Alicante – another hilly walk up to the castle!
We landed in Alicante on Good Friday and there was going to be some big to do at the Cathedral, but apparently no traffic impacting processions.
From the port we could see a hilltop fortification and Dan has a theory about forts which means we usually visit. They always have a good view. So off we went to find a way up the hill. Walking along the beach we saw a large queue of folks taking over the sidewalk near where we thought the path began. Ugh, maybe the castle/fort is too popular. As we approached we found out it was to take the elevators to the castle. We put on our intrepid attitudes and kept walking.
We followed some steep and winding streets, saw some stairs and a few other other tourists obviously trying to do the same as us. Finally one of the other folks started up the steps as if they knew the way so, with a shrug, we followed. The city has a nice park that is really just a well structured path with various plazas and resting places at the switchbacks that delivers you to the castle.
The castle was very crowded, but Dan was right, the views were amazing! There were several buildings still standing and the walls were still very protective!
As we worked our way back to the ship we ran in to a couple from Cornwall in the UK. As we stood chatting they mentioned they had made their way up to the castle the day before. They also had a crowd and the gentleman admitted that he had had his pocket picked while there. He had a good attitude about it though, he had lost some cash and had to cancel a credit card, but he “could still buy a drink” with the Euros left in his pocket. They also recommended the converted convent where they were staying and hoped we got as good a room as they did if we made it back there. Just another one of those lovely, random interactions that add something special to your travels.
Madeira is an island off of the coast of North Africa and is a self governing region of Portugal. It is also a really pretty place. There were spring flowers in bloom and lots of great views, especially if you went up the steep streets. You’ll have to trust me on the views, apparently I enjoyed them so much I didn’t take a photo.
We had several fun retail experiences as we meandered through the streets of the main part of town. We stopped at one shop with lots of souvenirs and an older gentleman sitting near the front. I greeted him with “bom dia” (good morning) and looked around. There was a lot of stuff and most of it was very nice, but we are terrible tourists and seldom buy things. As I left, I said “obrigada!” (Thank you). He then began to tell me something he seemed to think I should know. Alas, I had to admit that my Portugese did not extend much past the meager greetings I had recently offered. He smiled, and told me we should check out the basement where we could taste Madeira, sweet cakes and chocolate. It was pretty early in the day, so we continued on our walk.
As we worked our way through town we found a bustling two story market. Part of the reason it was bustling was there were two cruise ships in town and it was easily accessed from the port. In addition, the Easter holidays were underway so there were a lot of tourists enjoying the beautiful weather. It was a regular market that also catered to tourists and had an eclectic collection of items. One very enterprising salesperson plied us with samples of dried fruit, flowers, and nuts. She was pretty good at her job and we left with a bag of dried hibiscus flowers.
After that, I convinced Dan to head back to the first little shop and try some of the fortified wine named for the island. I have always thought Madeira was a sweet wine, but it is a fortified wine, Port is another example of fortified wine, the fermentation is stopped and more alcohol is added. We got there, selected some postcards and an older woman, I assume the wife of the man from our earlier stop, counted them out and carefully wrote the total on a scrap of paper and pointed me to my friend from earlier. He collected our payment with a smile. We asked if the wine tasting was still happening and he sent us down with his lovely assistant.
She poured us tastes of both sweet and dry Madeira to compare. They were sufficiently enjoyable that we purchased a bottle of the dry. With no idea how to determine what we got, we are assuming it was a pretty middle of the road option. We will likely try some more in the future. There was also Madeira Cake. I asked what is was and the response was “like Christmas cake” which I took to mean fruit cake. I took a little slice and it was pretty yummy and a good fruitcake. It is also known as cane sugar syrup cake we learned later. Yes, we bought some chocolate, yes it was good.
We are taking a cruise ship to Europe. Repositioning cruises can be a bargain and are a fun way get somewhere. We like the slow aspect because it helps you understand how far you’re really going.
Our first port of call was Bermuda. We took the free boat ride from the port to the other end of the Island to see St. George. While we didn’t go up to the fort, we enjoyed walking around the area.
Unfortunately most of the museums here have not resumed regular hours; so I will have to learn about the history of the area, including the role Bermuda played in the US Civil War, some other time. As good a reason to return as any, I guess.
The people here are very nice! As Dan and I walked along a street we got into single file so the car coming at us would have plenty of room as the streets are pretty narrow. Then we realized we were crossing the drive to the lot they wanted to turn into. We gave the “sorry” wave and hustled along. They smiled and told us “you’re fine, have a great day in Bermuda!”
It was an overnight stop so we had a second day to explore the Royal Naval Dockyards which are the cruiseport. It includes an old fort which is now a museum. Learned about how Bermuda was “discovered” and how important it was for the British in maintaining their colonization in the US. Nothing on the Civil War though, so my excuse to return remains, phew!
The fort was built primarily with convict labor as the British were very fond of this source of free labor. Even after outlawing prison labor in the 1850s, the Fort was still used as a prison of some sort through the Boer War which ended in 1902. The display on the use as a prison was very informative and included reports from both the people imprisonered there and the officers in charge. The difference in perspective was stark.
Having the time to travel by ship is one of the things we love about our life! We boarded the NCL Epic today and will spend the next two weeks working our way to Spain! We will be disconnected during most of that time, but the posts will resume once we leave the ship in mid-April!
The divers were able to help with the scourge of Lionfish, a Pacific fish that is invasive in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Cousin Ann has been trained in “culling” them, and takes great delight in protecting the local fish and coral from them. Also, they are yummy! The hotel accepted her haul one day and made ceviche and fritters for us one night!
We went to dinner at the Jungle Bay Resort one night based on the recommendation of the dive boat team “they have amazing views of the sunset!” That was very true. The meal was good too. We all got the catch of the day and agreed it was a great choice after we enjoyed a cocktail and watched the sun set!
We took a tour up to Trafalger Falls and the Titou Gorge on our last day. The falls are an impressive pair in the National Park and the walk to get to them is lovely!
Titou Gorge is amazing! It is a very narrow Gorge with the falls about 100 meters upriver. To see the falls you swim through the Gorge! Yes, the water starts out pretty chilly, but it is so worth the effort.
And, an underwater photo or two since this was a dive trip.
Part of the sustainability plan for the new blog involves an easier process for posting photos. Most will be from my phone, not Dan’s camera, so sorry about that as he is a much better photographer. He will be providing photos though, so please don’t dispair.
The divers headed out on the first day and enjoyed a fun day underwater. The Fort Young hotel is perfectly situated on the water and the dive boat picked them up at the attached pier! I was able to watch the process from our balcony right above! The afternoon activity was a whale watching trip to try to spy some of the resident sperm whales. After over an hour of fruitless searching my amazing cousin Kelly let out a shout, grabbed her binoculars and got the boat to make a turn. We spotted our first sperm whale, a juvenile. Then, a little bit later, some more spouts were spotted and we came across two adult females. The took in some oxygen and prepared to take a deep dive.
Not to be out done, Dan and I saw some activity to port and we headed that way for a while without seeing any more whale signs. But then we came across a bunch of dolphins feeding on flying fish. There were even some spinner dolphins. They swam and jumped around the boat for quite a while. Then the crew broke out the juice and rum punch! When we reported what we saw to various locals their reaction made it clear we had a great day! Several advised us to purchase lottery tickets!
The next afternoon, we set out on a tour of parts of the island. Dominica is a volcanic island and has several peaks over 4,000 feet. The roads are narrow and take lots of tight turns, they were a British territory and drive on the other side of the road, so always “interesting” driving. We drove out to Scot’s Head to see where the Atlantic and Pacific meet and enjoy the amazing views. We also learned how French Settlers got the English soldiers stationed at a nearby fort drunk and spiked the cannons with sand so French troops from a nearby island could attack and take over.
From there we wound our way up, and up to the rainforest toward Emerald Pool. We left the blue and sunny skies and got a rainy inland walk toward a lovely waterfall. Dan and I, always looking ahead to Adventures, had brought our rain coats but the cousins didn’t. Fortunately there were vendors at the park entrance who were able to supply Ann, Kelly, and Angel with coats to keep them dry.
We headed to Dominica from Miami after dealing with the managed chaos that is the check in for American Airlines. Crazy busy Saturday morning at the airport and the various queues are not well marked. Fortunately we were directed to the international check in before we spent any time in the wrong line. But there was going to be a fair amount of time spent in line!
The line for check in moved pretty well, after the snafu with the luggage conveyor was solved. At about the halfway point, there was some miscommunication between me and a very helpful AA employee or 2 that had us out of line, to another line, and then back to our original spot in the first line. Shocking, I know, that I got us (me) a bit discombobulated, but Dan maintained his equanimity as always.
Anyway, Dan talked me off the stressball cliff, but did have to deal with both “bureaucrat” and “business process” irritation from me. He made the comment “you can’t fix this” at one point. My response: “oh, with enough post it notes and a big enough wall, I am pretty sure I could!” But that was the right release trigger to get me to calm down.
Really though, aside from the minor miscommunication that had little impact on our progress, there were plenty of employees doing a pretty good job herding a large collection of cats through the process.
Our flight was uneventful, the check in processes for both COVID and Customs were painless, and our accommodations are delightful! Looking forward to a great week! More photos and stories to come!
We’re off to Miami for a day before joining some fun folks in Dominica for a week of sun, fun, and scuba for Dan!
Our original flight today is delayed at the originating airport, but the lovely folks at Delta rebooked us to avoid missing our connection or losing bags. We’ll have to transit from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to the Miami Airport because that’s where we booked our hotel, so I am looking forward to figuring that out on the fly!
We’re taking the changes in stride and enjoying the good customer care. Alas, we had been upgraded to first class for the initial flight and the changed booking means we likely won’t even be sitting together. But it’s all good!
The drive to the Abel Tasman region was beautiful as we moved through a beautiful mountain pass with some lovely gorges and great river views. As we came down toward the coast we started seeing signs for orchards, some vineyards and citrus groves. At one point we passed a large field filled with neat rows of tall poles – almost like a field of utility poles, and there were even wires string from top to top. We agreed that it looked like what you would do to grow hops. Sure enough, as we came around a corner, we saw a sign that this was a hop farm and then we came across more established fields, but as it was after the harvest we did not see any hops. This region of New Zealand grows most of the hops apparently. After spending the last few weeks seeing snow capped mountains and glaciers, it was interesting to arrive in a more temperate zone where citrus and kiwi were being harvested.
The next morning we jumped in the car and headed to the coast and Abel Tasman National Park. The drive took us up and over some more mountains on a windy, narrow road that was made more narrow by a pretty major slip (landslide) that had taken out one side of the road. They were working on the repairs and managing traffic through a several mile long one lane portion. The views on this drive were also amazing and we ended up along the coast to catch our water taxi up to the trailhead we planned to hike that day. This area has pretty big tidal differences, five meters between low and high tide, and the bay has a very long sandy lead up during low tide, about a half a mile. So we loaded into the water taxi in a parking lot and a tractor towed the boat out to the dock and drove across the sand until we were in water deep enough to launch. A number of boats are “moored” in the harbor and they are on sand part of the day. We actually saw this in a couple of places on this trip.
The water taxi trip was a treat, we checked out a number of lovely coastal sites on our way to the various drop of points, and while we were tooling along the drive of the boat suddenly stopped the engines and excitedly announced “little blue penguin” and pointed to the little guy, just swimming along. We always love it when the drivers/tour guides/boat captains get excited about something because it means we are sharing a pretty special experience.
Our hike took us up and down the hills that make up the coastline, with a beautiful view at every turn. We looked down on some pretty spectacular beaches, walked across another fun swing bridge, saw beautiful birds and basically enjoyed a picture perfect hike with fabulous weather, fantastic sights and even a nice conversation with a local who gave us some history and pointers for other things to do in the area.
Farewell Spit is a very long spit that might one day (again) connect the north and south islands. We did not time our visit to match the tide so we were not able to go far our the spit, but we did walk along the beach for a bit and were amazed at the amount of pine needles that accumulate along the beaches. We stopped at several incredibly scenic lookouts as this area has steep mountains and deep valleys which create some dramatic landscape, especially when viewed from the edge. We stopped in the small town of Collingwood for lunch and took a few minutes to go through their historical museum. They had quite the collection of, well, everything. Furniture, rock collections, school notebooks, ration books, weapons, war time medals, kitchen appliances and utensils, books, radios, typewriters, personal grooming equipment, and more. Including someone’s diary from the 1920’s which was easier to read than my current journal. We both observed “they don’t throw anything away here.” It was an interesting glimpse into what life was like there.
After more than a month of staying in small towns around New Zealand we found the mid-sized city of Nelson to be bustling! It is a nice city with a lot of shops and a nice wine shop were an American ex-pat is the owner and very willing to share her knowledge of the region and the wines with us. We enjoyed the tasting there and took back several bottles of local wine. Nelson also claims to be the “craft beer capital of New Zealand” but we must be spoiled by variety and volume of craft breweries back home because while there were a number of breweries and tap rooms, we did not find anything extra special. We found several beers we enjoyed, had one sample of a berry IPA that was undrinkable – really, we each took one sip and set the glass aside – but nothing to blow us away.
From Nelson we headed east to the main winery region, Marlborough, and the town of Blenheim. When we checked in the host offered a suggestion for dinner of the pub a few blocks away – “I love the steak special there, could eat it all the time.” So, guess where we ate? It was a lovely pub with a nice selection of mild beers, Dan enjoyed his steak and I had a nice fish and chips! Before dinner we wandered over to the wine depot, a tasting room in the old rail station. Not only did they carry over 100 wines from New Zealand, most were from the area. The woman helping us took the time to quiz us about what we liked and didn’t like in wine, not just “white or red? Dry or sweet?” but lots of questions before she curated a personalized but self-directed tasting for each of us. The wines we tried were delicious and the experience was fantastic! We tasted a lot of wine and bought a few bottles to enjoy at our leisure!
From Blenheim we headed back down the east coast toward Christchurch along a section of the map that showed no towns, no tourist markings and that no one, not a single person in the i-Sites anywhere we stopped pointed out something to do. In Blenheim, where we specifically asked, we were told there was a place to stop for lunch, but that was it. We were a bit surprised given how much there is to do everywhere else, so with a bit of “what if we pass by something we want to spend more than an hour or so checking out” trepidation, we headed through the area with a reservation at Christchurch. Well, there really isn’t anything along that part of New Zealand. It is lovely country with pretty coastline, but no pull offs, hiking trails, or attractions. We did pass a pink lake and both of us said “that looks like the salt flats in Belize” so I did a quick google and, yes, Marlborough salt is a thing. This area is good for salt evaporation. And growing wine, and grazing sheep, but the road just goes through there. We ran into a fair amount of road construction as they were fixing a road hit hard by several recent earthquakes!