PORTUGAL

I must admit that we had overlooked Portugal.

At the risk of offending our fabulous Spanish friends, Portugal has become a favorite.  One of the things we loved most about Spain was the Spanish people. Well, we got to tell you the Portuguese are pretty damn special.1821

Our Lisbon Home!

 

At the risk of offending David Letterman here are the top three reasons to fall in love with Portugal:

Number one, the Portuguese speak very good English so it is very easy to travel around Portugal and discover the culture.  So much easier than Spain or Italy as they actually plan to speak English. All of their television and their movies are in English with Portuguese subtitles so from cartoons as a child to drama as an adult they hear English and see the Portuguese subtitle.

Number Two, the Portuguese people are very, very polite and friendly. They seem to love you.

Number Three, it is a beautiful country.

There was an eight day period from the time that our trans Atlantic and Mediterranean cruises ended  until we met up with the four couples who used to be our neighbors in Louisville to do a Viking River Cruise on the Duro River.  We decided to spend these eight days discovering Lisbon.

As we often do, we contracted a VRBO for this period in the old city high on the hill near the Castello St Jorge on narrow winding cobblestone streets that seem centuries old simply because they are.

The next three blogs ( I know that I am way far behind on postings) will be devoted to things that cause us to be new, but hopelessly devoted fans of this small country, poor in many ways but rich in culture and historically prominent in the expansion of Western Europe to the Americas, Africa and Coastal Asia.

Our VRBO home was perfect for our stay in Lisbon. We hired a guide from toursbylocals.com to meet us at the airport , give us a quick orientation to the city, and then to give us lessons on using the trains, busses, ferries, elevators and funiculars that make it easy to move around in this mountainous capital. She helped us convert our IPhone to a Portuguese SIM card, teach us to grocery shop and then transported us to our little palace by the castle.

You may find it odd that we asked for lessons on grocery shopping but we have learned that when you know the proper way to grocery shop you don’t get yelled by little old ladies when you do the wrong thing.

This lesson also taught us about “ice bags”. No one uses ice like Americans; and European countries have woefully inadequate facilities for making ice. Susana, our guide introduced us to those marvelous polypropylene bags that when filled with water and tied off at the top will produce two dozen cocktail sized cubes in about an hour.

We took a supply of these beauties on the next leg of our journey to Italy.

 

 

 

SANTA MARGHERITA LIGURE, ITALY


It is hard to imagine more perfect places than the little towns and villages along the Ligurian Sea in Italy. That stretch from Lerici to Portofino  is simply lovely. The town of Santa Margherita Ligure may just be the loveliest of the lovely.

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We did not even think about getting an excursion here as this is the place to just soak up the culture, find a great place for lunch and “be Italian” for a little while.1725

We found a wonderful place for cappuccino and spent about an hour enjoying the sun while people watching savoring each sip of the fabulous Italian coffee. The cafe was adjacent to a cathedral where we watched a funeral play out seeing the families and friends gather to say goodbye to a loved one.

We strolled through the town, did a little shopping but very little buying as we have no place to stash treasures.

We had a fantastic lunch of grilled squid, fish and vegetables of course with a dry white wine.

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The the squid was grilled to perfection,

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the veggies roasted, it was delightful!

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There was a small  market of the street which i must admit gave me visions of expanding Dalsland Farms to the Italian Rivera.

We took took a ferry past the ship to the neighboring town of Portofino, more expensive, better known but no better.

This was essentially the last stop on our 21 day Atlantic crossing and tour of the Mediterranean Sea. We had one more stop before ending the cruise at Monaco but have been there before and planned a “work day” getting luggage ready for getting off in Barcelona and flying to Lisbon.

It has been fabulous, meeting new folks and old friends along the way. We keep pinching ourselves to made sure we are awake and this not not a dream

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Taking a down day

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When you are traveling as we are not everyday needs to be action packed, loaded with tours and explorations of new and exciting places.

When we got to Civitavecchia (Rome) we chose not to go ashore at all as we had no appetite for the 90 minute if you are lucky bus ride into Rome to fight the thousands of tourists. We have been in Rome and many times Rome is similar to owning a boat; happy when you get there, happy when you leave it.

We took advantage of Christmas presents from our daughter and family to visit the spa on board. The spa was virtually empty and we could relax with massages and nail repair.

We also did some repositioning of clothing among the three suitcases we are now traveling with. We were able to pare down to one duffel bag from two, along with the two medium large suitcases that carry our world for a while.

At this more manageable configuration, we can opt for just walking off the boat at the end of the cruise and not have all the fallderall of putting the bags out the night before and waiting for your number to be called when we get to Barcelona.

we also used the time to edit out many duplicate pictures and delete email that had accumulated this make the camera and IPads much lighter to carry..

 

 

CAGLIARI, SARDINIA ITALY

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Cagliari, Sardinia was a recently added stop on this cruise in place of Tunis, Tunisia due to the recent terrorism there. We had booked a tour there less than two hours before news came out about the German Tourists killed in the museum of antiquities there. Such a shame because that country really needs tourist dollars.

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We walked off the ship and headed up hill as that is where everything is in the old world. Sardinia is a beautiful place but after the almost total lack of trash on the ground in Spain, Italy is different.

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At the top of the hill is always a fort or a church…or both in most cases.

We found both here. We also found  great food and cappuccino but then again this is Italy!

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Karen started looking for a leather jacket but I think we may have to wait till we are closer to Milan where the styles are more chic and the prices higher.

By the way, the “g” in Cagliari is silent. Beats me?

 

 

VALENCIA, SPAIN

imageIn April, 2010

Karen and I began our love affair with Spain. While Karen was at the gym one morning leaving me unsupervised and with an Internet connection, I found myself a new job. I had just retired and had promised Karen that we would discuss and jobs/consulting options that arose.

However when a news item popped up on Yahoo.com about a company in Spain that operated an English language immersion operation at a converted 14 th century village about two hours north and east of Madrid, I jumped at the opportunity and applied for a job.

At this conference center in the mountains 17 Spanish executives and educators pay thousands of Euro to spend six days eating, drinking and speaking in English to 17 persons of native English tongue.

Of course I also applied in Karen’s behalf and we were accepted.

The Vaughn Group had bought this village and converted it into the conference center complete with restored cabins rustic on the outside but modern on the inside. All they needed were 17 English speaking folks to join in. Karen and I became two of them and had a fantastic experience getting to know these intelligent, energetic and wonderful Spanish people. We have kept in tough with several, meeting them at their homes in Madrid, Marbella, and in Los Palmas, Gran Canaria.

Valencia gave us a chance to again see Mary Carmen after five years. We again discovered that you never truly lose friends, once you are back with them again the time in between simply melts as you catch up on children, grand children and life.

her husband prepared us a Valencia style paella with champaign and poached pears plus a few strawberries we brought from the market

It was a great visit but the return to the ship got a bit dicey. When we got to the port, we could see our ship but could not find an open road to the pier, all the roads were blocked. Finally Mary Carmen pulled over at an area where some men were docking a ship and after lots of screaming in Spanish the men hopped into their truck and we followed them to our ship arriving 3 minutes before “ALL BOARD”

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Valencia is another beautiful coastal Spanish city.

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We we were supposed to meet Mary Carmen a 1:45 so we spent the morning exploring the city on our own of course finding good places for cappuccino .

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We also discovered a huge farmers market with all kinds of fish, live and dried.

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We we saw live escargot crawling out of their pails,

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Peppers the size of cantaloupes,

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and meats of every kind imagined and even unimaginable.

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a great visit with an old and dear friend in a county we have come to love for its warm and wonderful people.

 

 

CARTAGENA SPAIN

imageImagine a city withimageimage marble sidewalksimageimagewhere they diverted the river from downtown to creat a beautiful park system where the river once ran.

Imagine broad avenues lined with palms and pedestrian only shopping streets that seemingly go for miles. Imagine sidewalk cafes everywhere.

 

Imagine birds building a clay nest the the cornices of a magnificent building.

You have just imagined the beautiful city of Cartagena Spain!

 

 

 

GRENADA AND THE ALHAMBRA

We left the boat in Malaga, Spain as soon as it docked and headed to Grenada and the Alhambra. Grenada was the last of the Moorish Kingdoms in Spain lasting for over 600 years. long enough the have 22 dynasties of Moorish monarchs.

Pictures we will post here cannot begin to express the majesty of this place. Many of the castles inside the Alhambra were destroyedimage image image image image image image image image image image by the retreating armies of Napoleon, but what remains is a must for everyone’s bucket list.

The outside of the castles were very drab but the interiors were extremely ornate. Having come from the deserts of North Africa to a place of bountiful water they built elaborate aqueducts to bring water from the melting snows in the mountains and used this water to grow magnificent gardens within the castles and to grow herbs.

The Moorish Kings were actually quite friendly with a large Jewish community that lived within the walls of the Alhambra. They were their trading partners.  Not always so friendly between themselves…One monarch discovered that his favorite wife was having an affair with one of the princes in another family.  He invited that family to dinner one afternoon and beheaded all 36 males in the family and then destroyed their castle.

 

 

CADIZ SPAIN

Karen and I do not usually take shore excursions offered by the cruise lines because we love to just walk ashore and explore giving us full time to enjoy a new culture and taste the foods, the spices and the ambiance of a new place.image

This was a bit of a departure as there was a chance to see the Royal Equestrian Academy in a practice session. After whetting your appetite with that Bon mit, I must tell you that I am unable to get those darn pictures of these fabulous horses off my camera onto my IPad. Suffice it to say they were magnificent and when we get to a PC I will add them.

The campus of the academy is of course on an old castle with stunning gardens at great expense for the training of only forty students and about 120 fantastic horses including the horses owned by the Spanish military.  This is also home to beautiful storks nesting in the trees and we even saw much smaller versions of the storks being carefully fed by doting parents.

The second part of that shore excursion was to the Tio Pepe winery which is the largest producer of sherry in the world.

image image image imageThe winery was located on a stunningly beautiful campus in the middle of an industrial area about 30 miles north of Cadiz. Thousands of barrels of sherry in process, many signed by famous persons from all over the world who have visited this place.

We had an exceptional guide to explained the sherry making process which is quite different from other wineries we have visited. They use American oak for the barrels and continue to use and re-use the barrels for many years.

Following the tour we did not get a sample of the sherries, we got full wine glasses to two of their most popular. Unfortunately, the taste was just like sherry. Save it for the mushroom soup!!!