Our first stop in the Spanish Canary Islands was Santa Cruz de la Palma, and the island was a real surprise. One of eight islands in the Canary chain, it was one of three we would be visiting this trip on the Regent Explorer. I did not expect the incredibly dramatic rocky landscape, deep gorges, huge caves, lush vegetation, terraced farming or massive banana farming. My photos do not come close to capturing the beauty here.
We began the day with a walk around the charming capital city and checked out the Castillo de Santa Catalina, the only surviving of 9 forts established in the 1500s to protect the island from pirates. These islands were very important ports, and ships from the New World stopped here before proceeding to the European mainland, these islands were very attractive plunder for pirates of the era. The town had walls and was locked up at 9 every night, a practice that continued well into the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry
Madeira looked like it was going to be a beautiful island, so we signed up for a tour from the Regent Explorer that would get us around as much of the island as possible in the one day we had to visit. Boy, were we glad we did. Blessed with an absolutely gorgeous day and, as our guide described, “fresh” cool temperatures, we set off from Funchal to see the western and northern coasts along with the high point and scenes from the interior.
There are no natural beaches on this pile of lava rock, and so the brilliant blue sea and crashing Atlantic waves hit a shore of black rocks and pebbles. Several places we visited had barriers to keep visitors away from vantage points due to aggressive wave action. Our guide was a German native who has spent the last 57 years on the island after marrying a local and raising a family. Her insights and commentary were authentic and very interesting, and I felt we had a good window into what it was like to live on an isolated island (with unreliable air service). She also gave us a very graphic description of how life on the island has evolved, from 10 cars and few hotels when she arrived in the 60s to the thriving tourism industry it is today. As part of Portugal, Madeira’s fortunes have also risen and fallen with changes and political transitions in their home country. Read the rest of this entry
Tangier was a substitute port on this trip. Our stops in Casablanca and Agadir Morocco were canceled due to an Atlantic storm, and this was a sub for one of those days. Can’t say that I’m in any rush to come back here. Although I know you cannot judge a country by one short visit, so let’s all keep that in mind.
I did enjoy our driving route since we saw some of the nicer residential areas, including a ride-by of the Presidents’ summer palace. Our first stop was at Cap Spartel, the 1,000’ seaside outcrop with a lighthouse which is the image most often associated with Tangier. Just below the Cape is the Hercules Grotto, another of the mythological legends attributed to Hercules in this part of the world. Our guide was useless and explained nothing so we hung around and eavesdropped on other guides who were giving some very lively background. I also spent some time unsuccessfully trying to get good pictures of the cats in the Grotto area. Read the rest of this entry
Finally. Got the see this big rock. From our cruise ship, The Regent Explorer, we took a bus for a scenic ride through bull-ranch country and crossed the border into Gibraltar, a British territory.
Upon arrival, you have to pass through both Spanish and British customs, a process that can be tedious, but this day was a breeze. Arrival of an Easy Jet, however, did slow our entry, since the runway crosses Winston Churchill Ave, the main road into town and of course, planes get priority.
Once there, we were on our own but only had 3.5 hours. We decided to forego the gondola to the top and hired a shared tour van that would not only get us to the top, but to the caves and a few other notable scenic points. It turned out to be an excellent choice since winds shut down the gondola later and people were stranded at the top.
Walking down the main commerce street, we met Chris whose family has owned a tour company for several generations, “Official Rock Tours”. This engaging young man, a Gibraltar native, was a great guide and a lively commentator. We went in St. Michael’s Cave, stopped at an area where the famous Barbary Apes (actually macaque monkeys) congregate, enjoyed the views of the town and airport as well as across the straight towards Africa at The Pillars of Hercules. Legend has it that Hercules split the land creating the Straights of Gibraltar.
We enjoyed walking around, and as it turned out, it was the opening day of parliament so there was a big police presence and a bit of additional excitement in the area. We settled on a typically British pub, The Angry Friar, for a Ploughman’s lunch for me and fish & chips for my husband. As entertainment, we watched the guards change duty at the Governor’s residence just a few yards away from our outdoor seats.
BTW, when you leave Gibraltar you do it on foot. You have to cross the border on foot because they search the vehicles looking for cigarettes and liquor that may have been purchased to re-sell at favorable prices in Spain. That would not be proper.
A typically British misty rain started just as we were headed back to find our bus and make our way across the border.