Spanish Cruise – Day 3 – Cartagena

The day was mostly cloudy and very windy, especially at the top of Conception Castle (Castillo de la Concepción). We had a long walking tour and it started with the climb to the top of castle on the tallest hill overlooking the harbor. By the time we got there, we were all a bit tired. Fortunately, our tour guide made stops along the way to point out various aspects of the city and to give us short climbing breaks. I recorded a short panoramic movie from the top of the castle. You can hear the guide speaking in the background. You can also see and hear the wind.

The first picture I took on this walking tour was of the Plaza de Toros, an old bull fighting ring built on top of an ancient Roman amphitheater. This building site is now being excavated for archeological artifacts prior to being established as a museum.

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You can see the difference in height between the two pictures. The first was taken at the beginning of our climb and the second was taken about 2/3 of the way to the top of the castle. Surrounding this site is a naval military academy. Cartagena is the home of the Spanish Navy on the Mediterranean.

Also on the way to the top of the castle we encountered several beautiful peacocks. Actually, these birds were heard well before they were seen. They have a very loud call, or screech. Here is a link to a short You Tube video of the sound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MhZPqHeEAQ . And here are two pictures of the birds we saw:

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From the castle, we descended into an archeological area where each succeeding civilization built on top of the preceding one. In one picture, you can see the older Roman theater upon which the Moors built a mosque upon which the Catholics built a church, each using materials from the previous generations.

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Behind the stage on the last picture is a building used to house the performers and their entourages. The shell of the three story building gives some idea of the number of people that could be housed to support performances.

From there we descended further into the city, where we saw many active shops, government buildings and a museum. I took a photo of one of the buildings decorated from the late 19th century to the early 20th century with some beautiful tile work:

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This was followed by a visit to a the museum dedicated to the original wall built in the Punic period (Punic is synonymous with Phoenician) which was the predominant culture in the region prior to the rise of Rome. The wall actually had an inner and and outer wall. In between were rooms that housed the defenders of the city.

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From this city, Hannibal set out with his elephants to attack the Romans.

Also inside the wall is a crypt from the 16th and 17th centuries where skeletal remains of the residences (mostly women from the convent established at that time) can be seen. On the walls are macabre images of death.  Here are two pictures showing the crypt area from a distance and a close up of two of the crypts. Notice the Skeletal art in the first picture:

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After leaving this museum, we strolled past another excavation sight on top of which is the remains of a windmill. This area is being worked currently and will add significantly to our understanding of the rich history in this important shipping port.

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On the way back to our ship, I couldn’t help but snap a picture of the Gran Hotel de Cartagena built between 1907 and 1916. What a beautiful piece of architecture.

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The featured image for this post was a simple street view looking from the port back into the old city with its many shops, cafes, offices, etc. Here it is, one more time:

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Spanish Cruise – Day 2 – Valencia

Valencia was one of my favorite ports on this trip. We saw sooo much in just one day that it is going to be tough to cram it all into this post. But before we get to the pictures and the descriptions, let’s talk about the name Valencia. I learned that the ‘c’ in the word is pronounced as ‘th’, so the name is pronounced Valenthia. We have a daughter named Alicia and we should have been calling her Alithia for the last 36 yeas.  Who knew?

The featured image is of the planetarium built in the park that used to be the river Turia. The river was diverted after the great flood in October of 1957 and a green space was created though the center of the city. The water in front of the planetarium is not the river, but a reflecting pool. When the water is calm and you look from directly in front of the building, everything is reflected perfectly, and the planetarium building looks like a human eye with the planetarium itself being iris.  Here is the picture:

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If you want to see a reflected image, try this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Arts_and_Sciences#/media/File:El_Hemisf%C3%A9rico,_Ciudad_de_las_Artes_y_las_Ciencias,_Valencia,_Espa%C3%B1a,_2014-06-29,_DD_71.JPG   It is absolutely stunning!

Right next door is the science museum pictured below:

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On the other side of the planetarium is the Opera house pictured below. It is called Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia:

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From this awesome start we went to Museu Faller (the Museum of Fire) where the winning statues from each years festival of fire are recreated. Every March, the city builds dozens and dozens of papier-mâché statues that are carried around the city, and on the last night they are all burned in Las Fallas (the fires). Each year, one statue is selected as the best of that year, and a smaller recreation is stored in this museum. Many of the statues are political in nature and the people love to burn them to symbolically get rid of the politicians and the politics. Here are a few examples of the winners from the museum:

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Below is a photo of a poster from the 1945 festival that helps grasp the intent of this annual festival:

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On our way to our next stop, Metropolitan Cathedral–Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia, we went past the Valencia Coliseum that was built in the mid 1800’s to resemble the coliseum in Rome. It was built to house the Valencia bull fights. I snapped a quick picture from the bus that did not turn out too bad:

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Here are a few shots from the Cathedral:

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This was the home of the House of Borgia from where the “Borja’s” moved on to be popes in Rome. Here is a picture of one of the Borgia Popes from the right hand side of the entrance:

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Inside the church is housed what some Catholics think is the actual holy grail. It was too difficult to photograph in the low lighting from a significant distance away. The chalice was last used in a service by Pope Benedict the XVI in July of 2009.

Here are a few pictures from inside the church:

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I apologize for these low light, long exposure, hand held shots. We were not allowed to use a flash (although many in the group ignored these instructions – quite maddening).

I want to back up just a little. We actually went to the Central Market in Valencia before the cathedral. This covered market in the heart of old town Valencia was just unbelievable. The fresh produce, meats, nuts, cheeses, coffee stands, and fish market were like living in a dream. I wish we had this market nearby.  Here are just a few shots:

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Here is a picture of the dome high over the center of the market:

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Just outside of the central market is the Silk Market, built in the 15th century at the height of Valencia’s trading power in the Mediterranean. Here is the front of the building, which looks like a gothic castle:

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Next is a view from the “Courtyard of Orange Trees” at the heart of the building:

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Above the steps leading up on the left of the picture above is a gargoyle of a sinful lady. The point of the gargoyles is to keep evil out of the building. We will see some additional gargoyles on subsequent days.

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Those steps lead into the Consulate of the Sea (Consulado del Mar) which held the famous Trades Tribunal:

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I hope I am not wearing you out with all of this content. As I said, it was quite a tour. I cannot leave you, however, without showing you some artwork painted on the side of a building outside of the silk market. It is quite striking:

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Famous cabaret actress Rosita Amores is standing in a pan used to cook Valencia’s famous Paella. The painting must be thirty feet high and forty feet wide on the blank side of a small  building.

Finally, here is a picture of the gate on the north side of the city facing toward the heart of Spain. It was part of the wall protecting the city from being sacked:

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All comments are welcome. Let me know if this is too much for one blog entry or if I can fill in any additional information about each city as we go through this travel blog. In any case, I hope you enjoyed Day 2 of our Cruise around Spain.

Spanish Cruise – Day 1 – Barcelona

First I want to tell you how we came to be on this cruise.

My wife and I have been regular cruisers on Holland America Line since 1998 when we took our first cruise to see a total solar eclipse off of the island of Curacao in the Caribbean. We enjoy the old world flavor of the ships’ decor and we love the itineraries available for their smaller size ships. We also enjoy playing black jack in the ships casino each evening. We play on the low stakes tables and play with a fixed amount each evening. If we lose it, we stop. If we win, we use the winnings the next evening.

Anyway, Holland sent us an offer for a free cruise with an inside cabin as a comp for our participation in their Club21 casino program. Well, a free cruise is hard to pass up when it is one of your favorite holiday venues. So we called and booked the cruise on just under two weeks notice and had to make sure we ended our siblings weekend (see that blog post) in a timely fashion so that we had enough time to pack for our vacation.

Getting to Barcelona involved three flights. We left Greensboro, NC about 2:00 PM on Saturday, April 16th and flew the short hop to Charlotte, NC. From there we boarded a plane to Philadelphia, PA and then transferred to a direct flight from Philadelphia to Barcelona, Spain. The only long leg of the journey was the hop over the Atlantic, and believe me when I tell you that this was a cake walk compared to the flights between San Francisco and Sydney last November and December.

We arrived in Barcelona around nine in the morning, went through Spanish immigration, and then got our shuttle bus to the ship. The boarding process was the easiest that we have ever experienced in all of our years of cruising and we were on the ship by noon local time. Of course, our bodies knew that it wasn’t really noon. To them, it was just six in the morning back in North Carolina  and, of course, they had not really had enough sleep on the plane to feel refreshed. So we had lunch, unpacked and then took a short nap before the boat drill at 3:00 pm local time. After the drill, it was back to the stateroom (we had upgraded to a verandah suite for a minimal amount) for a second nap before dinner.

When we woke up to get showered and dressed for dinner, we noticed the beautiful sunset off of our balcony, so I had to get my camera out and snap a few pictures, The result of which I have posted as the feature image. Here it is again:

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We were traveling southwest along the coast of Spain and headed for our first port of Valencia. Unfortunately, we did not spend any time in Barcelona other than the short bus ride from the airport to the ship. I’m sure there is much to see and do in this beautiful city, but alas, we were not going to find out. We were just passing through. This was not the first time. Back in May of 2001 we did a Mediterranean cruise that ended in Barcelona and all we saw of the city was on the bus ride from the ship to the airport. Maybe we can spend some time there on a future European vacation. Time will tell.

We had a quiet evening at dinner as the only occupants at a table for six. There were supposed to be four other people at our table, but they never showed up. We hoped that they would be there the following evening, because we like to meet new people and share experiences over dinner. More about that in a future post.

We spent our usual evening in the casino, and then went to bed early to try to adjust our bodies to this new time zone. It was an uneventful start to our cruise and this was a blessing. Sometimes eventful starts involve complications and we didn’t want any of those.

I’m Back from Spain

My wife and I got back late last night from a seven day cruise around the coastal cities of Spain. It was a wonderful trip, and I have many photos to show and stories to tell about the trip.

I want to apologize to my blog followers for the 8-9 day gap in my blog entries, but it is never a good idea to announce publicly that you are going to be away from home for an extended period. You don’t want to invite disaster at home while you are away. I will try to make up for this with a daily blog of each day of the trip.

The featured photo is of our cruise ship the ms Eurodam from Holland America Lines. It was taken from the Castillo de la Conception (the main castle above the port on the highest hill in the city of Cartagena). I will have many more photos and stories about Cartagena when I get to day three of our cruise.

I’m glad to be back home, but I was also glad to have had the opportunity to visit a country so rich in history, beauty, talent, and all around wonderful people.

Siblings and Gigglings

Giggle –

I must apologize to my followers that I have not been posting for the last few days. In the USA, April 10th was National Siblings Day. Not even knowing this, my sister suggested to my brothers and myself that we get together sometime between April 10th and April 14th at my house in North Carolina (because we live in the most central location).

So, everyone agreed and my older brother flew in from Tucson, AZ, my sister and her husband drove down from Connecticut, and my younger brother and his wife flew in from Tampa, Fl. Needless to say, we had an enjoyable visit and now everyone has departed back to their independent lives.

An interesting coincidence occurred. My cousin was cleaning out some old boxes from their attic and ran across a picture of me and my two brothers taken back in the early 1950’s by a studio in the Albany, NY area where we grew up.  He sent the photo to me and it arrived on April 8th. I framed it an put it on display for all of my siblings to see when they arrived. Here is the photo without the title covering up anything:

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Somehow, the photographer got us all smiling and giggling at the same time and got this wonderful picture. I haven’t seen this for probably fifty years. I’m the skinny one in the middle.

For all of you out there that have siblings, I hope you have fond memories of your upbringing and all of the adventures that you shared growing up. We recalled many of those adventures during the last few days and had many laughs and giggles along with a few tears that come with the territory.

I’m afraid there will be another lull in my posts. My wife and I have scheduled a last minute cruise from our favorite cruise line. Holland America offered us a seven day cruise of Spain at an almost unbelievably low price so we decided to take advantage of the offer. This is one of the benefits of retirement.

I am sure my wife and I will have a few more giggles to add to our many fond memories of journeying around the world together. When we get back, I will be posting a travel blog of the journey, hopefully with some great pictures to share.

Have a great day, and don’t forget to have a few giggles and laughs. It makes the day brighter.

Down Under Green

Green –

We are all intimately familiar with the colors in and around where we live. If that happens to be anywhere outside a metropolitan area, then one of the predominant colors we see every day is green. We see lawns, bushes, and trees filled with different shades of green from the chlorophyll in the leaves or needles that so efficiently absorb the sunshine and convert the energy into food for growth.

When we travel, however, the shades of green can be quite different. The farther we travel away from our home environment, the more likely we are to see different shades of green. Take for example, traveling from North Carolina in the USA to Dunedin in New Zealand. It would be hard to travel farther from home than going to the opposite side of the world.

This became very obvious with our first view out of our stateroom cabin when we were sailing into the harbor at Dunedin. The rolling hills were covered in lush green grasses. Gorse was sprinkled haphazardly in the fields on the sides of the hills. Groves of pine trees sprang out of the ground, adding a darker hue that only enhanced the beautiful lush greens of the grasses.

Perhaps this is why we call places far away “exotic”. This may only be a term to describe different from home: different colors; different textures, different shapes, different sizes. The landscape was breathtaking in its different-ness. It sang of new possibilities ahead on our journey of exploration of the lands down under.

With smiles on our faces and a little skip in our step, we prepared for our first of many excursions into this beautiful island country.

Streets – The Servants of Mankind

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When you travel around the world, you see streets. You would have a very hard time getting to see any place that didn’t have streets. How else would you get there? How else would you get around once you were there?

If you really think about it, streets are one of the true hallmarks of civilization. Most were formed as paths for farmers to get their produce to markets in nearby towns. The towns themselves were built around streets to facilitate commerce.

The picture I included is part of the Kronborg Castle complex in Helsingor, Denmark. Notice the cobblestone streets that are so prevalent both in Europe and cities on the eastern seaboard of the US that were colonized by Europeans. How better to keep the mud off of our shoes and to prevent our wagon wheels from sinking into that same mud.

If you want to go back even further in time, visit the excavations in Ephesus, Turkey. There you will see beautiful streets and sidewalks laid down thousands of years ago that have survived the ravages of time very nicely.

Streets are a major part of our everyday life, and we hardly ever notice them. They are simply taken for granted. The exception to that is when we get stuck in our homes because the weather has been so inconsiderate as to dump tons of snow and ice on the streets and they become impassable. Then they are no longer taken for granted. We cannot wait for the snow plows and sanding trucks to come and free us from nature’s bondage.

Once the streets are clear and passable, they slip back into anonymity. If the streets could only talk, imagine how they would complain of their ill treatment as servants of mankind.