OT:True confessions-A cruise to nowhere-17

My wife’s Motorola phone mysteriously died and wouldn’t exhibit any sign of life. Anyhow, while she was having her hair done, I read up on “Motorola Black Screen of Death” and was expectantly able to breathe new life into the bugger.

The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but it sure fell on Valencia. After about four months of nearly rain-free weather, we’ve had downpours which, despite our enjoying our visits to the city in the past had us calling it a “sea-day” and staying aboard. While it also rained a bit on the following day, it wasn’t hard enough to deter us from heading into Cartagena. And on our second attempt on this cruise, Gibraltar’s weather was fortunately flawless and sunny and we look forward to fine weather ahead (we hope).

While our small ship has many advantages compared to most cruise ships, admittedly, its entertainment depends on a guest entertainer most nights, a pop band, a string quartet, four staff singers and two staff dancers (specializing in Argentine tango). The singers/dancers double as those hosting various daytime events. Shortly after we boarded, and the entire entertainment staff came out of COVID quarantine, one of the singers left for home with “long COVID” to be replaced a few weeks later with another singer. This week, one of the singers broke her contract and left to take a job in the Miami production of Evita, significantly reducing the entertainment staff.

But we’re COVID-free, right? Nah – at the same time as the ship has dropped the mandatory mask mandate, I know of four passengers and a crew member who have tested positive for COVID (two whom were negative on quick tests, but positive on PCR tests). So, since three of those carrying the bug are on our trivia team, we’ve asked to be double-swabbed for fast antigen as well as PCR despite being symptomless.

Let’s hope we do better than one of our sister ships which had to pull the plug with 50 simultaneous infections.

While I haven’t paid much attention to racial demographics aboard, they do stand out pretty significantly. (The following is my subjective judgment and may not be 100% accurate). Out of the 260 +/- passengers, one couple is Black, one is mixed Black/Philippine, three are (ethnic) Chinese, one is Indian and two couples are Hispanic. That totals about 16 people. Even allowing for my sort of hand-waving opinion, that still means less than 10% of the passengers are of groups we think of as “minority”. I am not going to speculate on reasons why, in a country where members of non-white demographics are approaching half the population, they make up such a small component of the passenger list on this cruise.

Well, for now at least, the temperature is approaching a sunny 90F/30C degrees in Seville – a welcome change from the last few days of damp, chilly ports. Let’s see what happens as we begin our trip north towards Scandinavia – land of no-tans.

While this week’s travel description, in deference to brevity, does not include Barcelona (we didn’t add much to the chapter as written in my book as we went back to Figueres for much of the time), it is important to note that the T10 transit cards are no longer sharable between multiple people – use the T8 card instead (available on the second screen on the ticket vending machines). On the other hand, the chapter on Seville has had a major facelift, so is included here.

So far, it seems we will be entering the Baltic after all – we’ll see.

Enjoy the week


Figueres, Spain

Our first trip to the Dali Theatre Museum in Figueres was from the port of Rosa was by an inexpensive bus trip. We found the museum funny and imaginative but, unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to finish seeing it before rushing back to the ship.

In 2022, we had an overnight stay on a ship in Barcelona and decided to revisit the museum and finish seeing it. This time the means of transportation was an hour-long high-speed (200 km/hr) train ride which, at about 18 Euros in each direction was much more costly than the bus. We had trouble finishing our payment on the Spanish railways site (www.renfe.com), so bought our tickets on spainrail.com which charged a 5 Euro fee but allowed us to actually pay for the tickets.

I’m not sure who got paid off but, in the last few ports our locations have been pretty good, but in Barcelona it was the optimal one – less than a ten minute walk from the Drassanes Metro station at the base of the Barcelona Rambla for the five station trip on the L3 line to the main Barcelona train station at Sants Estacio. Take the express train to Figuere-Valafant station.

The station in Figueres is about a mile (1.5km) from the museum. You might get lucky and find a cab (about a 13 Euro fare) near the station. Otherwise, you can telephone for one from the station at +34 972-505-043. When you are done in-town and want to return toi the train station, the telephone number to use to call for a cab is +34 972-500-008.

We were not prepared for the crowds the first time we visited or the fact that the museum consists of 23 rooms filled with some of the most entertaining art ever created. Next time we promised that we would buy tickets over the internet in advance (which would have saved us about an hour) – so we did.

Waiting for our turn to enter on our first trip, after finally buying tickets, we “killed time” (bad Dali joke here) in a second Dali museum included in the same ticket price (14 Euro, or 10 Euro for seniors – a Euro cheaper if purchased on-line in advance) which was filled with the extraordinary jewelry designed by Dali. Most of this is “normal” by Dali terms and encrusted with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones. Not one to simply design a piece of “knock dead” jewelry, Dali supplied some with motors, so wings flap, hearts beat, jeweled doors open and so on. When we finally got into the main museum, built out of a large theater, we had only limited time to look at hundreds of paintings and sketches, each of which deserved concentrated attention. Many of the pictures made me laugh or chuckle. There was a huge (about 2 X 3 meters) painting of a naked lady which, when I photographed her, turned into a picture of Abraham Lincoln, dozens of black/white sketches showing unusual creatures, dripping watches and pointillism landscapes.

The day we hit the town in 2022 was Sunday, May 1. Whether because it was a weekly Sunday event or in honor of “Labor Day (May 1), there was a continuous flow of artisan food (cheese, bread, honey, meat, etc. etc.) and hand crafts filling the Rambla and many of the adjacent streets.
A good (very popular) place for an after-museum Astral (local) beer and tapas (small plates of food to share) is Sentits Gastrobar (Rambla, 12).

“Oh well” we said, we’ll try to get back in the future and spend an entire day in the museum – so we did ?.

We got off at the stop before the bus station in Roses (along the nice town beach) as it was a closer walk to the tender dock to get back to the ship.

Note: it is important when taking buses to realize that schedules can change more frequently due to traffic conditions than train schedules. Plan accordingly and do not cut things too closely when heading back to a cruise ship.

Valencia, Spain
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
What a lovely town this is. Located strategically on the coast, nearly equidistant from Barcelona and Madrid, Valencia is considered the Spanish gateway to the Mediterranean and is known for its fine beaches.

It was here that El Cid fought against the Moors and where many believe the Holy Grail can be found in the cathedral.

The busy port is about 4 km. from the city center. Smaller ships like ours dock near the terminal, larger ones dock further away at the outside piers. Free shuttles are provided to the cruise terminal. From there on shuttles provided by the ship, (free for our ship, but up to costing $16 round trip for some others), take you to just outside of the old town, from where it is a 5-minute walk to the center, at Plaza de la Reina. Near the city gate across the ridge from the shuttle bus stop is the bus stop for buses #95 and #4 which will take you to La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences) as well as back to the pier when you are done. Uber also works well here.

Substituting the city bus for the ship’s shuttle bus: Right outside the terminal entrance, on the right facing away from the water is a crosswalk with white bars painted in the road. Cross over to the traffic island to find the bus stop. The bus #4 or the #95 takes you from the port to the old part of town (Plaza da la Reina) for 1.50E (the fare is collected by the driver). The validated fare also includes a fare on bus #19 which takes you from town to La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (Placa d’Europa) or, better yet, the bus #95 from the Pont d’Arago. (A Metro line is currently under construction).

A taxi is approx. 15 Euro each way from the ship to the center of town.

Valencia also has a Metro system (http://www.valencia-cityguide.com/images/practical/pdfs/metr…), but it may be of limited usefulness on a day trip here.

Surrounding the Ciutat Vella (Old City) are a series of wide roads following the route of the (now missing, except a few legacy gates) walls. Outside this compact area is the Extramurs area and a wide moat-like park sunk way below city level, crossed by a number of bridges which used to be the course of the Turia River. This park is now the Turia Parkis known as the Culturia, combining the word ‘culture’ and ‘Turia‘ (the name of the river).

After visiting the old part of town you can catch a beach bus to a lovely wide sandy beach for a swim. Take a taxi afterwards back to your ship. (around 10 Euro)

The Valencia Tourist Card is a combined card that offers free public transport and discounts in Museums, leisure activities, shops and restaurants, during 1, 2 or 3 days (and will save you some money if you are doing continuous sightseeing, but like most similar cards, do the math before buying). The free public transport is within Valencia city (zone AB). The establishments that offer discounts on presentation of the Valencia Tourist Card are identified with a sticker. The card is available, in advance and at a discount here: https://www.visitvalencia.com/shop/valencia-tourist-card and tickets (allowing you to cut ahead of the lines) are available at the Tourist Information booth in the town center (ask for senior discounts if appropriate).

The Intramurs (old central city originally surrounded by the walls) is pretty much all pedestrian streets (but still be aware that there is the occasional vehicle trying to force its way through).

Most attractions are around or close to Plaza de la Reina, the central square where the town hall is located (and also the starting point for the hop on/off buses which offer a 1.5 hour tour). There are free English language walking tours starting here at noon each day. The ornate Gothic Basilica of the Virgin (Basílica De La Virgen De Los Desamparados) (free entry), is erected atop the site of a former Roman temple and Muslim mosque and is back-to-back with the Cathedral.

The ancient winding streets of the Barrio del Carmen contain buildings dating to Roman and Arabic times. The Cathedral (6 Euro entry), built between the 13th and 15th century, is primarily Gothic style but contains elements of Baroque and Romanesque architecture (typical of a building which took nearly three centuries to complete).

The 15th century Serrano and Quart towers are part of what was once the wall surrounding the city. UNESCO has recognized the Late Gothic silk exchange (La Lonja de la Seda) as a World Heritage Site. The main railway station Estación Del Norte is built in art deco style.

Covered with ceramics and glass and topped with a parrot, the Mercado Central is one of the most beautiful buildings in Valencia and a masterpiece of modernist architecture. It is incredibly large - maybe the largest in Europe at over a 1,000 stalls. Go early if you want to see the fish and seafood stalls, but other foods are available throughout the day. The quality, variety and reasonable price of the food make one wonder why anyone would shop in the supermarket here. We tried the local horchata drink (made from small peanut type nuts) and assorted pastries and empanadas – all of which were excellent.

The local Velencian food paella, saffroned rice mixed with chicken, sausage and seafood was widely available, but our appetite had been sated by our noshing. The name paella is the word for “frying pan” in Valencian (from Latin patella). The Central Market is closed on Sundays and, while surrounded by a Sunday flea market, there is little there other than fleas. Nearby, on Sundays is the coin and stamp market. If considering a significant purchase, you might want to take a quick peek at what the same item would cost on EBay at home before buying.

Nearby is the Generalitat Palace, a grandiose Gothic building built in 1421 to serve as the seat of the Valencian Autonomous Government.

A new landmark in Valencia, the City of Arts and Sciences, is the largest cultural-educational complex in Europe and combines science and learning in an entertaining manner that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Built on approximately two miles of drained riverbed from the diverted Turia river, this complex is comprised of five distinct buildings linked by a common design concept: L’Oceanogràfic, the largest marine park in Europe; Museu de les Ciències Principe Felipe, a science and technology museum; L’Umbracle, a spectacular covered garden promenade with views of the entire complex; El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, the tallest opera house in the world; L’Hemisfèric, the world-famous building whose design resembles that of an enormous human eye where visitors can enjoy presentations on a giant screen; and Palau de les Arts, a majestic building that not only serves as a multi-hall auditorium, but also as a significant urban landmark for the city of Valencia.

There are many Tapas bars in and around the center, offering a varied choice of small dishes, which you select yourself from those on display. Some offered Basque style as “Pintxo’s”, where all the dishes are the same price and each has a cocktail stick ‘flag’. You pay when finished by counting the number of toothpicks. Good paella is available at Riua Restaurant (opens at 2PM) on del Mar, a street running east from Plaza de la Reina, at Navaro at Carrer de l’Arquegisbe Mayoral,5 (opens at 1PM) and at Valencia Restaurant on Juristas, to the northwest of Plaza de la Reina.

The oldest, most famous, place to sample the typical Valencian drink “horchata” is at Horchateria de Santa Catalina, on Placa de Santa Catalina. The interior walls are decorated with large colorful tiled pictures showing the history of the Horchateria and its drink. It is also available (along with helados – Spain’s version of gelato) at Bertal, Plaza La Reina, 12. Good local pastries are available at Agusti, Plaza Santa Catalina, 7.

Valencia is also famous for its ceramics, including the delicate Lladro creations.

The nearby town of Buñol is known for La Tomatina, an annual tomato fight, which draws crowds to in August. There are also a number of well-preserved Catholic fiestas throughout the year. Semana Santa celebrations in Valencia are considered the most colorful in Spain.

Cartagena, Spain

“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”– Oscar Wilde

(Spanish pronunciation: [karta’xena]; Arabic: Al-Qartajanna ???, Latin: Carthago Nova) is a Spanish city and a major naval station located in the Region of Murcia, by the Mediterranean coast, south-eastern Spain (and there are no drug lords that I know of here – wrong side of the world?).

First a bit of history:
Possessing one of the best harbors in the Western Mediterranean, Cartagena has been inhabited for over two millennia and was founded around 227 BC by Carthage, the nemesis of the Roman Empire, as Qart Hadasht (New City), the same name as the original city of Carthage. The city was strategic to the Roman Empire, when it was known as Carthago Nova (the New Carthage to distinguish it from its mother city) and Carthago Spartaria, capital of the province of Carthaginensis.

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city was occupied successively by the Vandals (409–425), the Visigoths (425–551 and 624–714) and the Byzantine (Eastern) Romans (551–624), who made it the capital of Spania (the Byzantine Empire’s westernmost province). Cartagena was re-conquered by the Visigoths, who held it until the Umayyad Muslim conquest in 714 AD, when it was called Qartayannat-al-Halfa. It was successively ruled for over 500 years by various Muslim administrations including the Umayyad’s (714–756), the Caliphate of Cordova (756–1031), the Taifa of Denia (1031–1076), the Taifa of Saragossa (1076–1081), the Taifa of Tortosa (1081–1092), the Almoravids (1092–1145), the Almohads (1145–1229) and the Taifa of Murcia (1229–1245).

When King Alfonso X of Castile (Alfonso the Wise) conquered Cartagena in 1245, he reestablished Christian rule and the Bishopric of Cartagena. In 1296, Cartagena was annexed to the Kingdom of Aragon as the Reconquista focused on the remaining Muslim kingdom, Granada, which fell in 1492. Cartagena did not fully recover until the 18th century, when it became a leading naval port in the Mediterranean. In 1728, Cartagena became the capital of the Spanish Navy’s Maritime Department of the Mediterranean and the city was heavily fortified with the construction of Concepcion Castle in the place of the former Moorish Kasbah (in what is now Torres Park). It now features a lift which brings you to the terrace roof, providing great views of the city.

Although there are some ruins from the Carthaginian ages, like the remains of the Punic rampart (built in 227 BC with the foundation of the city), most of its oldest monuments date from the time of the Roman. The recently restored 2nd century B.C. Roman theatre of Carthago Nova is prominent and is one of the city landmarks. The Roman Amphitheatre (1st century AD) lies where the now abandoned Bullring was built, but only some of the surrounding walls and part of the rooms under the stands are still visible. The entrance to the amphitheater is through the museum that is situated just opposite the Palacio Consistorial, but we have seen enough amphitheaters this trip to last a while, so we passed on paying to see this one.

The Municipal Archeological Museum (Calle de Santiago Ramon y Caajal 44) contains an important collection of inscriptions and Roman artifacts.

There is currently a construction site where the area of Murcia was located. The local Moors were locked in to this area each night because it was feared they would signal to Barbary Saracen pirates if they could leave the city walls. There is a Punic Wall Interpretation Center (at Calle San Diego, 25) which contains parts of the pre-Roman wall which surrounded the city when it was a colony of Carthage as well as a crypt which dates 1,800 years earlier.

It is a short walk from the pier to the Calle Mayor (the High Street), the major pedestrian and commercial street of the city, full of boutiques and bars with typical “tapas”. It is Sunday and the streets are packed with locals as well as the few hundred passengers from our ship and a couple of thousand passengers from a larger ship docked near ours. The streets are clean, the buildings clean.

We passed occasional locals dressed in Belle Epoch clothing to celebrate the centennial of some significant event in the town. The women carried parasols, wore gloves, bonnets and broad skirts, while the men dressed as dandies and at least one was riding an antique bicycle with a four foot high front wheel. The people look happy and give the impression that this is an affluent city (further supported by the hundreds of spotlessly clean boats docked in the marina).

We zig-zagged through the town heading down Carmen Street and the Puertas de Murcia Street and admiring the Byzantine rampart near the Roman theatre and the Cathedral before heading back down Calle Mayor to admire the Art Nouveau architecture of the town’s buildings (including the City Hall, the Grand Hotel and the Casino). It seems that the wide spaces have been formed by tearing down lots of old buildings – a policy that seems to be continuing. That said, the remaining parts of the town are open, airy and attractive.

If you are a fan of Argentine empanadas (we are), head to Malvon Cartagena (Carre Carmen, 4) for a wide selection of them. For good quality nails and hair treatments, O2 Hair & Nails (Calle Carmen, 72) is a good destination. José Díaz (C. Carmen, 56), a restaurant supply store, is a good place to go for the makings of asiatico – a local coffee/booze concoction. Carmen Street is also lined with boutiques, restaurants and pastry shops. At the far end (from the port) is a Spar supermarket which sells reasonably priced wine, the largest colossal green olives I have ever seen, specialty canned/bottled tuna and so on.

While there is free Wi-Fi in the port, it was pretty pitiful (too slow to be functional) and we ended up stopping at one of the many tapas restaurants for tapas (what else) and Wi-Fi, followed by a stop at a bakery for a couple of pastries for desert.

We stopped at the Museo Militar de Cartagena, Plaza Gral. López Pinto, (free entry, closed on Sunday – but open Monday) to wander through a number of hanger-sized buildings full of mostly post WWII military hardware. This ranges from various artillery pieces and assorted other ordinance to sights, missiles, radar and such. I found the collection fascinating – my wife, not so much ?.

Among other popular sights are the Naval Museum (Museo Naval)-but we have seen a number of these this year, the Barrio del Foro Romano (a fairly typical set of Roman remains including a bath house - but it is no Ephesus)

To be honest, there’s not much to see here, but the town is charming and certainly not a place to be avoided.

Gibraltar, UK
“When you look like your passport photo, it is time to go home” - Erma Bombeck

We awoke to Gibraltar’s harbor and I got a bit of a surprise. When I first saw the Great Pyramid at Giza, my reactions was “Sheesh, that’s big!” despite people telling me that all of my life. I’ve always identified my image of Gibraltar by the monolith displayed on the Prudential Insurance logo, and my first image of “The Rock” was “that’s it?” It was not it is most impressive angle.

The name Gibraltar is the English pronunciation of the Spanish interpretation of the Arabic name meaning “mountain of Tariq.” This strategic location has been populated by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Moors, Spanish, Dutch and finally the British. The town of Gibraltar itself was formed in the 11th century by North African Islamic Moors. The town’s architecture is “British Colonial built on Spanish Colonial built on Moorish”.

Lord Nelson, whose navy protected it during the Great Siege in the late 1700s, is a popular guy and there are several monuments honoring him. Because of the strategic location of the territory, at the narrow passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, it has been used as a fortress for hundreds of years, and the Rock itself is honeycombed with tunnels and has over 30 miles of roads carved into it.

The enormous rock of Gibraltar actually faces Spain and not the Strait of Gibraltar (which explains its wishy-washy appearance when viewed from the ship). This British Crown Colony is geographically an isthmus of Spain (you can walk across the road past the customs guards, but it can be crowded and time consuming). Its location, over the years, has caused lots of irritation for the Spanish government. During his reign, Ferdinand Franco, who served as dictatorial prime minister until the 1970s, tried to force England’s to cede the territory to Spain by closing the border and cutting off telephone communications. The Spanish claimed that, because it is attached to Spain, it should belong to Spain, but the locals have voted twice to stay with Britain as UK citizens. It is said that as long as the Barbary apes, prized by the locals, inhabit Gibraltar, it will remain a British colony.

Prices are marked in the Gibraltar Pound, which is equivalent in value to the British pound sterling. While the UK pounds can be used in Gibraltar, Gibraltarian notes and coins are not legal tender in the UK (so make sure to convert them to UK Pounds before you leave). If purchasing, use a credit card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee rather than buy local currency (though you’ll need pounds to take the local bus).

Cruise ships dock only about 1.5 km, (about a 20-minute mildly uphill walk), to town. There is Free Wi-Fi at the Burger King on the main square. Gibraltar residents speak English and Spanish.

Traveling to the top of the Rock is easy via land tours or a quick cable car trip. At the top is a nature reserve, and along the way, there are always a number of the Barbary macaques (the tailless macaca sylvanus are usually referred to as Barbary apes even though they are monkeys), the only free-living primates in Europe, and the Barbary partridges. Both creatures are unique to Gibraltar. DO NOT FEED THE BLOODY MONKEYS! They will ignore you unless they think you have food, in which case they can become mildly aggressive and grab other items from you (presumably there is a fence they all deal with to get rid of the stuff they grab ?).

Shuttles to town (mostly mini vans - the wait can be long) are offered by the port as well (3 £ one way, 4 £ return), as well as taxi’s which charge 4 £ per person one way. The walk back from “downtown” is about 15 minutes and slightly downhill, with signage to the port, all the way. The main commercial square is “Casemates Square” and the main commercial street is “Main Street” (what else?). To walk back to the ship, head through the triple arches at the western side of the square.

There is also a local bus (UK or local currency only) from near the port to the town center.

Cable cars from the station at the end of Main Street run from 9.30am until 5.45pm to the Upper Rock. A “cable car and apes” ticket costs £13 return if you just want to take the cable car to the top and see the apes. In season, there can be long lines at the cable-car.

A ticket including entrance to St. Michael’s Cave and the Siege Tunnels costs more and will require some walking and climbing.

Alternatively, a ‘Taxi-Tour’ (typically for 8 people in an MPV) will cost £22 for a 1.5 hour tour, including the fees for entry to the Cave, tunnels and upper rock. Taxis will often tell you that the cable car is broken, do not believe them! These tours leave from the cruise terminal.

Gibraltar is less than 7 square kilometers, so most of it can be seen on foot. Bear in mind, though, that some of the roads (especially up to the Upper Rock) are very steep. Taxis will take the strain out of the climbs.

The 1,400-foot-high “rock” is a limestone formation, riddled with as many as 140 caves. Remains were found in St. Michael’s Cave, a fascinating cavern once lived in by Neolithic peoples and visited by early Romans. Nearing the top of the Rock are Princess Caroline’s Battery and the entrance to the Upper Galleries, or the Great Siege Tunnels. There is a new a 71-metre-long suspension bridge across a 50-metre-deep gorge at Anglian Way in the Upper Rock.

There is a system of tunnels carved out of solid limestone. The works were commenced on the 25th May 1782 by the forerunners of the Royal Engineers and today they stand as a monument to their ingenuity and engineering. Stroll through Windsor Gallery, to St. George’s Hall. This is a fascinating experience ignored by most visitors to the Rock. As you leave the Great Siege Tunnels you will see the runway built during the Second World War with rocks hewn out of these and other tunnels inside the Rock. The unique feature of this runway is that a public road runs across it. A tunnel under it is being built, but for now, the traffic has to be stopped on both sides for landings.

A short distance away you will pass by the Moorish Castle built in 1333 by the Moors. From here your tour proceeds to the Gibraltar Museum. Opened on the site of the old Moorish Baths it will amaze you with the enormous amount of artifacts that are on display. There is an optional 15-minute Film show depicting the evolution that has taken place in Gibraltar over the past 200 thousand years.

Beyond the Rock and the handful of museums, the old town of Gibraltar consists of a main street jammed with tiny shops and a handful of famous British chains, such as Marks & Spencer, BHS and Dorothy Perkins. For North Americans, however, there are few bargains. tobacco is probably cheaper aboard the ship, but alcohol may be cheaper in the shops here (if your ship allows you to bring it aboard).

Shops normally open between 9.00 a.m. and 7.30 p.m. during weekdays and half days on Saturdays. Many, but not all, are closed on Sundays

Notes from our ship’s security department: Getting around on the Rock involves a moderate amount of walking over uneven surfaces and there are numerous steps to negotiate (approximately 60 steps). It is not available to wheelchair guests or those guests with mobility concerns. Participants should be in good physical condition. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. When visiting the Rock Apes it is important to keep your possessions close as these are wild animals, but are used to tourists and will steal items from them. Also, it is a bad idea to touch or feed the apes as they can be very aggressive.

Seville, Spain
“Just think of all those women on the Titanic who said, “No, thank you” to dessert that night. And for what?!” - Erma Bombeck
We have had our last “lost hour” time zone change of our eastward Atlantic crossing and have reached deep into mainland – and blistering 100/38 degrees temperatures expected late in the day – so we are getting an early start to beat the ticket line at the Alcazar.

Seville is not located on the coast, but rather a considerable way inland on a river. Only smaller cruise ships (such as ours) can reach Sevilla sailing 60 km up the Guadalquivir River. A new cruise terminal is in place, it is a rather ingenious construction made of sea containers. The terminal is close to the Maria Luisa Park. We picked up the river pilot at 5am and finally docked at about 11:30am.

Sevilla, Andalucía’s largest, most sophisticated city has a population of 1.7 million people and sprawls in every direction from its historic heart. Sevilla has been Andalucía’s center of power and influence since Fernando III of Castilla tossed out the Almohad rulers in 1248. But Fernando left Barrio Santa Cruz intact, and the tangled ancient streets of the Judería still give the feel of being in a medieval city (filled with souvenir shops). While called the “Old Jewish Quarter”, the Jews were expelled in 1492 (over 500 years ago) and the only visible remains of their presence are the Chinese items reflecting the religion for sale in souvenir shops. As the first major city in the heart of Andalucía to return to Spanish hands, Sevilla has a markedly Christian feel. The city is studded with churches and former convents funded by the riches that flowed into the city from its 16th to 18th century trade monopoly with the New World.

The cathedral and the Alcázar anchor one end of the city, with the Barrio de Santa Cruz spreading north from them and Parque María Luisa spreading south.

Sections of Seville were built for the Universal Expositions of 1929 and 1992. The earlier Expo was held throughout Maria Luisa Park, where pavilions such as the enormous Plaza de Espana still dominate the skyline. Adjacent to the park is the Hotel Alfonso XIII, which was constructed as a palace for the king’s family and important guests and it is the place where you can pick up carriage rides through the park. It is best not to walk in the park at night.

Many of Seville’s bridges were built for the second Expo, including the strikingly modern Alamillo Bridge. Crossing it brings you to Santa Cruz, the former Jewish quarter, full of labyrinthine streets connecting squares scented by orange trees.

Due west of the cathedral, heading toward the river, is Arenal, the former ship-building district now dominated by the bullring (the Maestranza) and its adjacent concert hall. The old commercial district expands north of Plaza Nueva and Plaza Santiago. Shopping is anchored by Calles Sierpes and Cuna as they reach north to Plaza de Encarnación.

Three Parallel Shopping streets:

Calle Tetuan is a street lined with shoe stores and world-class stores (Zara, Mango, C&A, etc., etc.)

Calle Sierpes is lined with shops catering to local tastes including shops selling women’s flamenco clothing, men’s riding hats and so on. At both Sierpes, 33 and Sierpes, 79 are branches of Juan Foronda (Blasforn), which specializes in flamenco shawls, fans, mantillas and the like. Sombreros Maquedano (Sierpes, 40) is where you should head if you are looking to impress people with your riding hat. At the north end of the street is Confiteria La Campana (Sierpes, 1), a pastry/coffee shop founded in 1885 which is worth visiting if you have a sweet tooth or just love antique stores.

Calle Cuna is famous for wedding and formal gowns and associated “stuff”

The neighborhood north of Encarnación is called Macarena after the basilica, and stretches to the northern limit of the old city at the remains of the Moorish walls.

West of Sevilla’s old city and across the river, the Barrio de Triana is the old fishermen’s and Gypsy quarter, famed for its bullfighters, flamenco musicians, and ceramics in the North African tradition. The large Isla de Cartuja, north of Triana in the river, was the site of Expo 92 and now holds some museums, performance centers, and an amusement park.

The location of the original bridge across the Guadalquivir River, which meanders through the city before emptying into the Gulf of Cadiz, is guarded the 13th-century Gold Tower, which was originally built to control river traffic and defend the port. The tower later served as a prison, chapel, gunpowder storeroom and museum, its present use.

They say that Ginger Rogers had t do the same dance steps as Fred Astair, but backwards and in high heels. Early in the morning, out captain pirouetted the ship and travelled the last three miles of the passage to our berth in reverse.

NOTE: As there are a number of piers stretching over a mile using the name “Muelle de Tablada” along the Avenida de Avandainocer in Puerto Sevilha, if you are at the furthest one from th city center, tell the taxi drivers to drop you at the Puente de las Delicias.

Most of the cruise lines that hit this inland port, including ours, do an “overnight” here which allows you to enjoy the city’s night life, which usually starts late (most restaurants etc. open their doors as late as 10 PM).

Seville has a great public transportation system. The buses and a number of tram lines run frequently and cover the majority of the city in their routes. You can purchase bus cards at many newsstands (but the Metro is only four stops long). Trips cost € 1.40 when bought from the driver. Taxi costs are metered and general run less than 10 Euros.
Plan to walk to see the sights.

Seville’s piece de resistance is its glorious royal palace, the Reales Alcazar, the European part of which dates to 1248, but there are Moorish parts dating back to A.D. 712 when it was built as a fortress for the Moorish caliphs. As the fortress was expanded for over a millennium by successive generations of Moorish and Christian leaders, it acquired a Gothic style superimposed on a Moorish one. Even the portions built for the Christin kings of Spain were frequently built in the ornate Moorish style. There are lavish gardens and fountains attached to the fortress. UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site together with the cathedral and archives within the complex. While Grenada’s Alhambra has a more famous reputation, Seville’s Alcazar and its incredible gardens may actually have the advantage.

We are going to start our day with the 10 minute walk to the Alcazar before the ticket office opens at 9:30am. We got there about 45 minutes before it opened on the theory that it was better to wait while the day was cool than during the increasing heat if we end up at the rear of a long line – and the strategy worked. The cost to enter is € 10, but only € 3 for seniors.

Next to the Alcazar, is the Cathedral and its Giralda bell tower. The Cathedral was built as a masque in the 1100’s by the Moors and he 37 story tall Giralda tower was its minaret. The modification of this structure into a Gothic cathedral, completed in 1568 created a structure is so enormous that it became the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe. The interior is decorated by massive gold and silver covered alters as well as the ornate tomb of Christopher Columbus. All but the last floor of the 37 story climb of the Giralda tower is ramped (the last being stairs). It is quite a climb, but the views from its summit are the best in the city. The cost to enter is € 8, but only € 4 for EU seniors.

Incidentally, poaching impressive holy places from previous religions is not new. The Hagias Sophia Mosque in Istanbul was the most impressive church in Christendom when it was turned into a mosque as the mosques of Seville and Grenada (still called the “Mosquito”) were converted to Roman Catholic cathedrals. The Jewish Temple Mount in Jerusalem sports two of the holiest mosques in Islam and hundreds of former German and Scandinavian Catholic are Protestant (not to mention the Anglican churches which used to be Catholic). There are many other examples.

The 16th-century Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace) sits on 13th-century foundations, with a 17th-century baroque facade of great beauty. Across the street, heading south, to Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, is the Convento de la Encarnación (Convent of the Incarnation) whose origins date from the 1300s, shortly after the Catholic Reconquest of Seville. Part of its architectural nature is the widespread use of the lobed, horseshoe-shape arches and windows traditionally used in mosques.

Behind the Alcazar sits the Archivo de Indias (Archive of the Indies). Originally a commodities exchange (which relocated to Cádiz when that port replaced Seville as the most convenient debarkation point for ships coming from the New World), in 1758 it became the storage location for the financial records and political and cultural archives of anything concerning the development of the Western Hemisphere. Its closets and storerooms contain more than four million files.
Walking west (1/2 block) to Avenida de la Constitución; then turning north, (past the cathedral), the avenida will end in 2 blocks at the ornate Ayuntamiento (Town Hall). Begun in 1527, and enlarged during the 19th century, this is the city’s political showcase.
The town hall’s northeastern facade marks the beginning of Seville’s most famous shopping street, the Calle Sierpes, which stretches north from the Town Hall. Its southern terminus, where you’re standing, was once the site of a debtor’s prison where Miguel de Cervantes was held for several years.

We walked a few blocks towards the bullfight arena and had a traditional (far from fancy, lousy service but fresh, tasty and cheap food) lunch of tapas washed down with glasses of ice-cold gazpacho (the cold tomato/vegetable soup developed in this area of Spain) at Bodeguita Antonio Romero, Calle Antunia Diaz 19. My tapas were a dish of cuttle fish cooked in their own ink and a cutlet of fish and shrimp, while my wife had one of tuna and another of fried mushrooms and eggplant. (The four tapas and two gazpachos came to about 13 Euros).

NOTES: Spaniards are formal people. When entering a restaurant or other establishment always say “Good Morning” (timed as appropriate in afternoon or evening) if you want decent service. Also, when ordering gazpacho, find out if the cold liquid is served as a drink (resembles a tomato shake) or as a soup (a bowl with chopped veggies in the liquid – and my preference).

Despite the above note, I can’t remember a city where the waiters are so universally rude and unhelpful. This extends to tossing a basket with some stale bread on the table – despite our lunch consisting of sandwiches, so that we can be charged for it at the end of the meal and seeming shocked when we refused it (the same stunt was pulled on all tourist tables, but not to locals). It also included arguing when I refused a dish with busted scraps of potato chips and demanded full chips on my plate. Beware of restaurants which do not advertise drink prices on their menu – it’s likely for good reason.

In Sevilla, dinner is usually served between 9 and 11 p.m. (sometimes as late as midnight), leaving significant time between work and dinner. Therefore, locals often go “bar hopping” and eat tapas in the time between finishing work and having dinner.

Despite the above note, I can’t remember a city where the waiters are so universally rude and unhelpful. This extends to tossing a basket with some stale bread on the table – despite our lunch consisting of sandwiches, so that we can be charged for it at the end of the meal and seeming shocked when we refused it (the same stunt was pulled on all tourist tables, but not to locals). It also included arguing when I refused a dish with busted scraps of potato chips and demanded full chips on my plate. Beware of restaurants which do not advertise drink prices on their menu – it’s likely for good reason.

The next morning it was quite a bit cooler at about 69/20 degrees and we hired a horse-drawn carriage for a 45-minute ride through Louisa Maria Park and a number of adjacent sites. Despite his waving his ‘Official Tariff” price list, showing the ride was supposed to cost 45 Euros, armed with a bit of advice from a local, we negotiated it to 35 Euros.

We had the driver drop us at the Alcazar, rather than the cruiser terminal to save walking as we were going shopping (hopefully window shopping from my point of view ?). It quickly became clear that there was no point in my looking at shoes as my size 13/48 was laughed at as belonging to Sasquatch.

There are three parallel streets, Tetuan, Sierpes and Cuna are lined with stores, both international and local, including such Spanish chains as Zara and Diagonal. You can easily walk to them from the Alcazar or reach them by taking the #3 bus from the cruise port to “Barqueta” a few blocks away.

The streets terminate in front of a large El Corte Ingles, the giant Spanish department store which sells just about everything you could imagine. That store gives tourists a card (upon request) which gives an additional 10% discount in many of their departments. They are also part of a consortium which, if you spend more than 90 euros, will return part of your VAT/GST tax after you leave the EU (you need to apply for this by getting the form supplied by the store stamped by customs at the last airport or sea-port as you leave the EU). One of the items we were looking for was found in a second El Corte Ingles a couple of blocks from the main one (which specialized in housewares, rather than clothing) a couple of blocks away. All El Corte Ingles provide free high speed Wi-Fi. The number 41 bus takes you from in front of the cruise port to Plaza Magdalene in front of the second El Corte Ingles store.

Stores are typically open from 9:30am-2pm in the mornings and then open again in the afternoon from 5-8pm. El Corte Inglés is open all day from 10am-10pm. The larger stores are often open on Sundays, but most smaller ones are closed on Sunday. Around the Triana market, across the river, there are plenty of ceramics shops.

Our 2022 stay coincided with the Seville Fair – across the river from our ship and within walking distance. The fair traditionally starts two clear weeks after Semana Santa (the Holy Week which ends with the Roman Catholic Easter), in a huge recinto ferial (fairground) in Los Remedios, to the south-west of the city, across the river from our ship’s docking location. The “Real de la Feria”, where the Feria takes place, covers 450,000m2 and includes the amusement park, Calle de Infierno (Hell Street), and over 1,000 casetas (striped tents of varying sizes) in 24 blocks arranged along 15 streets

I got into a conversation with one of the representatives of a group who owned a “modest sized” caseta and he invited me in to look around. The first room was a di ning room with a number of tables, each of which had custom designed fancy chairs, a crystal chandelier, a large antique wall mirror and lots of memorabilia hanging on the walls. The next room held a 10 meter long bar worthy of any establishment in the world. He said that that leased the same location each year, had poured a permanent concrete pad to erect the tent on and had a storage facility where they kept the tent and its furnishings when not in use during the fair.

This event originally started as an annual gathering of horse raisers trading with their customers. The Fair dates back to 1846 when it was originally organized as a livestock fair and the original tents were those the traders stayed in. It only took a year before some of the wealthier purchasers set up fancier casetas of their own and a tradition was born. The displays hit their heights during the 1920’s and it overgrew its original location and was moved to its current fair-grounds in 1973.

This is a week of serious dancing, drinking, eating and socializing, with late nights - or all-nighters - the norm. The sheer extent of the April Fair’s spectacle is extraordinary. From around midday until early evening - especially on Sunday, the first official day - Sevilla society parades around the fairground in carriages or on horseback. For the rest of the week, the streets are full of traffic jams caused by tricked-out carriages, decorated teams of horses and costumed drivers. Many of the women dress in outfits fitting for flamenco dancers, complete with ruffled/fringed long dresses, large shawls and mantillas both at the fair and while walking in the street.

There are also daily bullfights, generally considered the best of the season. Then the eating, drinking and dancing continues into the small hours.

Most of the casetas belong to local families, groups of friends, businesses, clubs, trade associations and political parties. These are private and open only to members and their guests.

There are a number of casetas (less than 20 scattered around the fair) with free entry to the tourist and the general public - two public municipal ones, Fiesta Mayores, and one for each of six districts of Seville. You can also enter the political parties’ ones (PSOE, PP, Partido Andalucista); the trades unions’ (CCOO, UGT, USO); one called La Marimorena which serves vegan food; and the new tourist one.

Inside the tents drinks and tapas are served, from around 1:30pm till early next morning. Each caseta is equipped with a bar, kitchen and sound system or live entertainment playing Sevillanas . This is the official genre of folk music in Seville, which and has its own set dance

The Friday evening Feria bullfight (May, 6th, 2022, 18:30) was held at the Corrida de Toros (bull fight ring) featuring the toreadors: Morante de la Puebla, Juan Ortega, Roca Rey and Núñez del Cuvillo. Tickets are priced by both how close you are sitting to the action as well as whether you are shaded from the sun for the full fight (Sombre), for part of the afternoon (Sombre y Sol) or baking in the afternoon heat for the full time (Sol). There are cushions available to protect your bum. There is a great level of pageantry, but the end for the bulls is inevitable (different from the Portuguese bullfights where the bulls, while maimed and annoyed, are not killed).

Our Saturday night departure is delayed which lets us take advantage of the final day of Feria which ends with a fireworks display over the River Guadalquivir.

Ways to see the city:

There is a good self-guided walking tour of Seville found on www.frommer.com

For those who want free (gratuities only) guided tours, the following web links will be useful:

Reasonably priced tours: https://www.getyourguide.com/seville-l48/?partner_id=C2A6B

The Hop on/off bus makes a rather extensive tour of the highlights of the city. There is a stop very close to the cruise terminal.

For nice views visit the Metropol Parasol. € 3.00

The trip back down the river passed through drawbridges which felt close enough to touch on both sides – fortunately, there was a tugboat astern keeping us aligned.


Flamenco, which UNESCO recently recognized as part of the World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, is a complex art form incorporating poetry, singing (cante), guitar playing (toque), dance (baile), polyrhythmic hand-clapping (palmas), and finger snapping (pitos) commonly associated with the Andalusian Roma/Gypsies of southern Spain (locally called called Gitanos).

The reason for flamenco’s horrible reputation among Spanish elites during the 19th and 20th centuries was that historically, performances were associated with the ostracized Gypsy (Roma) population in Spain, and they took place in seedy urban areas.

The Catholic Church perceived flamenco as an offshoot of the sort of mass cultural entertainments that led to immodesty, the breakdown of the family, and the weakening of the Patria. But for many progressive intellectuals scorned flamenco—along with its twin scourge, bullfighting — as they were thought to keep Spaniards in a stranglehold of backwardness.

The roots of flamenco seem to lie in the Roma migration from Rajasthan (in northwest India) to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries. These migrants brought with them musical instruments, such as tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets, and an extensive repertoire of songs and dances (as well as the arm, hand, and foot movements which closely resemble those of classical Hindu dance of the Indian subcontinent) developing the unique art form known as flamenco.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the cantos (songs) were the most important component, but afterwards the guitar and dancing were its most important aspects. A dancer can enter an intensely focused, trancelike state of transcendent emotion enhanced by rhythmic hand clapping and encouraging interjections (jaleo) from the audience and fellow performers. While the staccato beats of the dancers’ shoes in syncopated contrast to the clapping of hands is the most obvious target of attention, it is that emotional absorption of some of the dancers, approaching religious rapture in its display which I find most interesting.

Seville is the center of Spain’s flamenco dance culture. There are many Flamenco shows. Some reasonably priced ones with decent shows include:

Tablao Flamenco Los Gallos
Plaza de Santa Cruz, 11, 41004, Sevilla, Spain
Hours Daily at 7:00pm and 8:45pm
Tel: +34 954 216 981
Price: €35

Tablao Flamenco Los Gallos features eight artists (2 guitar players, 3 singers, 1 male dancer, 2 female dancers) in an hour and a quarter long show. The venue is small, seating 25-30 in the audience, so there is no need for sound amplifiers and all the seats are within about seven meters from the stage. The show is varied and professional. While priced higher than most, it offers a longer show, with more performers to a smaller audience than most; providing a more intensive experience than many of its competitors. I found that the performers in their show actually looked like they were enjoying themselves and one female dancer in particular seemed extraordinarily emotionally involved in her presentation. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening in Seville.

Casa de la Guitarra (Mesón del Moro 12) in the Santa Cruz neighborhood
Hours Daily at 7:30pm, 9pm
Transportation Tram: Constitución; Bus: C5
Phone 95/422-40-93
Show duration is 1 hour
Seats 55 people
Prices Adults €18, Children frequently lower
Web site: https://www.flamencoensevilla.com/

Casa de la Guitarra is right in the touristic center of the old Jewish section of the city (Santa Cruz). It is a small, simple room with plastic chairs and rather harsh lighting, but good dancing.

Tablao El Arenal (Rodo 7) in the El Arenal neighborhood
Hours Daily 8–9:30pm, 10–11:30pm
Transportation Tram: Constitución; Bus: C4, C5
Phone 95/421-64-92
Prices: Show plus drink €38, plus tapas €60, plus dinner €72
Web site: http://tablaoelarenal.com/home-en/

It is ideal if you do want to make more of an evening of it and dine while you enjoy the dancing. It is a small, intimate venue, with only 15 or so tables arranged close to the stage. The food is fine, nothing special, but not bad at all. You can choose to go à la carte and dine on steak or fish, go for a selection of tapas, or just pay for the show plus a drink. The flamenco is good—full of emotion and fire, just as it should be. You’ll see more dancers and singers here on stage than at the bare-bones places and it feels a little more like a show.

Tablao Flamenco Almoraima
C. Pagés del Corro, 70
Email: info@salaflamenca-almoraima.com
Show duration is 1 hour
Show is at 7pm
Seats 60 people
Price: €18

Sala Almoraima is situated in the heart Triana, one of Seville’s traditional Roma neighborhoods. Each night they display different flamenco styles in a show featuring four top-level artists. There is no food served here.

La Casa del Flamenco
Calle Ximénez de Enciso, 28 - 41004, Sevilla.
+34 955 029 999
1 hour
Seats 55 people
Price: €20 (discounts for students and children)

La Casa del Flamenco is located in the heart of the Barrio de Santa Cruz. It hosts nightly flamenco shows in the main courtyard of a 15th century former palace. Seating is around three quarters of the patio permitting a close view of the stage. Each night two dancers, a singer and guitarist perform several popular songs and dances, all without microphones or amplifiers for a natural and authentic sound.

Baraka Flamenco Show
C. Pureza, 107
Email: info@barakasalaflamenca.com
Móvil: (+34) 658 821 077.
1 hour
Seats 50 people
Price: €25
Shows at 7pm and 9pm

Baraka Sala Flamenca is located in the heart of the Triana district and does a professional job

Teatro Flamenco Triana
C. Pureza, 76
Email: reservas@teatroflamencotriana.com
Shows: 7:30pm, 9pm
Duration: 1 hour
Seats 100
4 Performers
Cost €25

Teatro Flamenco Triana is a venue in Seville dedicated exclusively to flamenco. The venue is a unique theatre along the banks of the Guadalquivir River in the heart of the Triana district. Its design was inspired by the Seville of the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 and it uses modern A/V technical equipment,


Tapas: Patanchón Bar de Tapas (Mateos Gago, 13) has delicious, mostly seafood, tapas plates at a reasonable price

Seafood: Il Pesciolino (Mateos Gago, 9) is known for seafood and paella (a rice plate made with a variety of seafood, chicken and meats).

Piella: Gusto (C. Alemanes, 23) is known for its paella