Most recent John Allan Travel Blog

The Spanish Ports
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 Fri 27 Dec ‘13 – day 13   Palma

As had been predicted the ships motion eased considerably as we entered the lee of the Islas Baleares; however up until this point the ship has been bouncing around considerably so sleep had still been hard to come by.

Having finally dropped off in the early hours of the morning I was awoken when the noise of the ships engines died away to virtually nothing, so I switched on the bedside light, checked the time – just after 07:00 hours, and opened a curtain – it’s still dark outside, but as there were lights on the horizon the ship should be alongside as planned at 08:00 hours.

Another short doze was followed by a trip to the laundry to load the washing machine; as I am doing this the Deputy Captain announced the ship was now safely moored at its berth and clearance has been granted by the local authorities for passengers and crew to go ashore.  However I will have to finish the washing and ironing before I can avail myself of the delights of Palma.

The lighthouse was still sending out its beam as the last vestiges of night have not yet dissipated.

It was a bright sunny day with a projected high in the mid 50’s F, so much better than the last couple of days.

Oriana was moored in the commercial port with ferries on adjacent berths loading vehicles and passengers ready to sail to the Spanish mainland.  In the far distance beyond the Cathedral aircraft could be seen taking off and between the Cathedral and the ship was the large marina filled with yachts of all shapes and sizes, as well as a couple of very large ‘gin palaces’.

 

 

 

 

Also in harbour was another cruise ship, the first that one has been in harbour at the same time as Oriana on this cruise.

With the washing and ironing completed and following a small breakfast I made my way to the gangway avoiding the crew who were having one of their regular emergency drill practises.  Today they were simulating a fire down in a machinery space on deck 4 and the theatrical smoke that was being used to make things as realistic as possible had drifted up to the decks above, however the Captain advised that there was nothing to get worried about.

As I walked towards the shuttle bus the crew were now practising the ‘Abandon Ship’ drill so walking in line-a-stern towards their allotted lifeboat while holding on to the lifejacket of the person in front.  It’s all very reassuring.

The shuttle bus took just a few minutes to drive around the marina and dropped us off near the Cathedral and from here it was just a short walk into the city centre..

A couple of my lady dining companions were going to indulge in a little bit of ‘retail therapy’ and this is as good a place as any as all the top international brands have outlets in the main shopping area.

The main streets were crowded with people so I wandered off around some of the back streets where it was much quieter and you could see the café society in action as well as searching out some of the older buildings with their intricate balconies.

Having been here on a number of occasions before and seen the sights, once I had found a kiosk selling today’s English newspapers I headed back to the shuttle bus pick up point.

The fountain in front of the Cathedral was impressive, but certainly not as spectacular as the Jet d’Eau in Geneva, a city where I spent a very pleasant long weekend many years ago.

Back on-board I sat in the sun and read the newspapers then did the Sudoku before passing the papers on to the crew who are always grateful to have something new to read.

As soon as the sun went in the temperature dropped very quickly so it was time to go to Tiffany’s and have my daily cappuccino and do the Individual Quiz.  I got a full house, but so did many other people as today’s questions were fairly easy; however I lost out in the tie-breaker as I didn’t know the exact year that David Steele became leader of the Liberal Party – 1977.

When it was time to sail the Captain announced that the weather overnight during the ships passage to Valencia should be much better than what we had endured over the last couple of days.  The forecast for tomorrow was for clear skies with the temperature even higher than today.

A very pleasant dinner was followed by a couple of drinks in the Crow’s Nest Bar where the Chief Engineer, Executive Purser, Cruise Director and Bar Manager popped in for a quick tipple at the end of their evenings rounds.

 

Sat 28 Dec ‘13 – day 14   Valencia

For the first time since we left Trieste I had a decent night’s sleep as the sea state was benign and so the ship was not pitching and rolling.

I awoke at 07:00 hours when the engine noise decreased; the Chief told me last night that this was when they changed the pitch of the variable propellers as a test just before the ship enters harbour.  Then there was a prolonged period when everything in my cabin was rattling as the ship when astern as it entered the port and then manoeuvred alongside the berth.

I got up to see the final evolutions and having looked at the surroundings realised that my suspicions have been confirmed, I had not been here before so yet another port to tick off the list.  The berth was an extension to the commercial dock and obviously a purpose built construction to attract cruise ships and therefore bring money into the local economy, but as yet it only had a temporary marquee for a terminal building.

It was a spectacular sunrise, but the phrase ‘Red sky in the morning’ came to mind and there was a fresh cool breeze blowing over the open decks.  The stevedores were wearing hard hats plus lifejackets, something that you don’t see in many ports and were using a Land Rover to pull the mooring lines ashore rather than manhandle them.

The ship was soon securely moored with the gangways rigged and I watched the Security Officer carry out his check of the dockside; this is a pretty secure berth as it was completely fenced off and passengers had to exit through the security point before getting to the coaches which are all lined up along the dockside ready for the excursions, or to act as the shuttle buses into the centre of the city.

As the Deputy Captain made his standard arrival announcement I returned to my cabin and got ready for a trip ashore.

The shuttle bus trip in to the city was the longest that I have experienced for quite some time as we made our way passed the almost obligatory marina and around which the European Grand Prix was held for the first time in 2008.  We then travelled through what was a very soulless looking housing estate before final arriving on the outskirts of what had once been the original city boundaries before the large amount of land reclamation was undertaken.

On the way in we had also passed the futuristic looking Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (the City of Arts and Sciences) a massive complex of buildings that were erected to try and update the image of the city.

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and is the home of paella, the all-in-one rice dish which is probably the most famous Spanish dish.  It is also where Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid, became a national hero after recapturing the city from the Moors in 1094.

The shuttle bus dropped off point was near the Old City and adjacent to the old course of the Rio Turia.  After the river burst its banks on October 14 1957 which resulted in the worst flooding in the city’s history, it was decided that drastic action was needed and so the river was diverted to the west and south of the city in a new artificial channel.  A proposal to turn the old river bed into a motorway was dismissed and instead a 4½ mile long area of sports fields, tennis courts, recreation areas, children’s play grounds and gardens was created and this started the transformation of the city.

 

 

 

 

The Ciutat Vella (Old City) is amaze of cobbled streets and alleyways which were a delight to wander through and the Catedral de Valencia dominates Plaza de la Reina, the city’s main square. Not far away is the art nouveau building of the Mercado CentralThis bustling market was well worth visiting if only to see the wide variety of goods on sale in the many stalls.

 

 

 

 

Outside the market was a shop that sold paella dishes in many sizes and then there was the wine shop with a quirky window display.

After a busy morning wandering around seeing the sights and taking photographs, it was time to sit in the sun outside a café while having a glass of the local (excellent) brew and reading todays English newspapers – my must have daily fix, that is if I can get them.

It was easy to see that this part of Spain has many British residents by the sign outside a bar that was advertising the times of today’s Premiership football matches being shown on satellite TV.  There was also the standard Irish Bar that can be found right around the world selling the famous Liffey water, as Guinness is known in Dublin.

It was then time to return to the ship and sit in the Crow’s Nest Bar while having a soft drink and writing the postcards that I send home from every port.  I was still sitting there when the ship sailed, but as the sun was setting behind the low range of hills to the west of the city, the opportunity to take a decent photo was lost.

As the ship sailed towards our next destination, the lights along the coastline were very visible from the restaurant and this was as full as it had ever been during the cruise.  So after yet another meal was consumed, steak and kidney pudding for my main course, and a nightcap in the Crow’s Nest it was time for bed.

 

Sun 29 Dec ‘13 – day 15   Cartagena

Another day, another port and the second new port of the cruise for me.  Cartagena was situated in a bay which is overlooked by a couple of large hills on top of which are forts, with the city stretching away inland.  Between Oriana’s berth and the town was a small marina, but that was only when compared with others along this coast. As befits one on the countries major Mediterranean naval ports there were a number of ships from the Spanish Navy moored in various locations around the harbour.

The weather was overcast with grey skies but it was hoped that this will improve as the day goes on.

Having completed yet another lot of washing and ironing, I changed and went ashore.  It was just a short walk from the ship passed part of the marina and on to the promenade; this was an attractive stretch along which many of the local population were taking a stroll.

At the entrance to the city itself were part of the old city walls in front of which was a well-kept park.  There was an inflatable series of obstacles around which children were having great fun as they raced each other to the finish which was down a large slide.

There were a number of statues and artefacts depicting the city’s ancient and naval past.

Most of the shops were open even though it was a Sunday and there appeared to be plenty of people inside, but I am not sure whether they were customers or just browsing.

Some of the crew who had shore leave had found the local free Wi-Fi hot-spot.

All the cafes had tables outside and where these were in the sun they were well occupied with locals and passengers from the ship availing themselves of coffee or an alcoholic beverage, usually accompanied with some tapas, or the international dish, a slice of pizza.

This was Mediterranean culture at its best as people were out with family and / or friends and with the intention of enjoying themselves.  This was something that I like as it shows that you do not have to go to excess in order to have a good time.

A large glass of the local beer while sat in the sun reading the newspapers was an excellent way in which to spend some time before strolling back to the ship.

The temperature did not reach the predicted high as there was a cooling breeze which meant that you needed to wear a jumper even when in the sun.  The local population were used to much warmer weather and so many of them were dressed as if they were setting off on a polar expedition.

My cabin was absolutely roasting as the sun had been streaming through the window, so I turned the air-conditioning to cool as the temperature was almost unbearable.

Oriana was the attraction of the day and as she was moored very adjacent to the city crowds of people of all ages had come down to view her and take pictures.  There was still a considerable number of people around when it was time to depart and once the mooring lines have been slipped, the Pilot indicated a zig-zag course between the breakwaters to ensure that Oriana left the harbour without any mishaps.

Once clear of the harbour the Pilot disembarked and the Captain then took the ship further out from land before turning the ship on a course just south of west so that we would parallel the coast all the way to Gibraltar where we are due to be alongside at 08:00 hours tomorrow.

For once we actually have a decent sunset rather than the emergence of gloom.

After dinner I retired to the Crow’s Nest and having finished reading the last of the magazines I bought on-board it was now time to open the pages of the new Dan Brown novel and find out what Robert Langdon was getting up to this time.