Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spanish Steps in Spain

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

We were in Gibraltar today, albeit for only 6 hours or so. We ate breakfast in the main dining room and watched the harbor slide by as the ship slowly came to the cruise terminal pier. Gibraltar holds a strategic position at the mouth of the Mediterranean and was an important military installation during both World Wars. Think of The Guns of Navaronne without the big explosion at the end.

We watched from our cabin as a refueling barge came alongside. It was actually almost balletic, the barge moving gracefully into position without so much as a nudge. It stayed there until we were ready to cast off just before 5:00 this evening. Incidentally, we are now five hours ahead of the US East Coast. During “standard” time, we would be six hours ahead, but the US starts DST much earlier than the civilized world.

We have been to Gibraltar before, along with several of the upcoming ports [and, of course, the Canary Islands], so we didn’t feel there was any need to taking another tour of “the Rock.” In 2001, we were on a minibus tour which took us all around although we didn’t go into any of the tunnels or caves. We accepted that they were there and had been important in the defense of Gibraltar and the Free World. BTW, Gibraltar is not an island but is physically attached to Spain which would like to re-claim it from the British. One peculiarity of the topography is that the road which connects Gibraltar and Spain, the border so to speak, runs across the main runway of the local airport; traffic has to stop whenever a plane lands or takes off.

On the earlier visit, we also saw where the face of the Rock had been smoothed on one side to facilitate the collection of rain water. At the bottom of this [obviously] slanted hillside there is a trough where the water collects and then is stored to form a primary source of fresh water here. Since this a really just a big rock, there is very little bare earth to absorb rain and provide ground water, aquifers, etc. We have also been entertained and terrorized by the Barbary apes, Europe’s only native monkeys, and felt once was enough.

Instead of taking a tour, then, we walked into town. There is a large pedestrian shopping area about a mile or so from the dock, filled with jewelry stores, electronics shops, alcohol merchants and tobacconists. There are also clothing stores, tchotchke shops and cafes. As one enters through the main gate, there is a large open plaza filled with the milling throng and perhaps a dozen outdoor cafes, each with its own seating area. The whole place reminded us of Old Town Prague without the history, churches or charm; the crowds, of course, were the same.
We wandered around just looking at the people and the displays. We saw a number of our CC members and even bought corn pads for a CCer who had not seen any when she was shopping. In fact that was our only purchase, 3 euros worth of Dr. Scholl’s corn pads. We hope the government of Gibraltar wasn’t counting on us to rescue them! [Actually, we saw a lot of new construction ongoing as we walked to town, apparently more housing, so someone’s economy is still okay.]

We walked back to the ship as the wind picked up and we were a little chilly by the time we arrived. Lunch in the Lido led to the Ocean Bar for afternoon trivia. While MA chatted with Kay and Norm, our partners, D went to the ship’s computers to reconfirm several of the upcoming tours; we have added four CC members to form a new group for the tour out of Lisbon at the end of the Mediterranean section of the cruise after losing Bill and Sharon through miscommunication. Of course with six people going, we will pay less than with just four, so there is a silver lining in the mix-up.

Scott and Karen were off on a wine-tasting so we allowed another trivia player to join us. We didn’t have as good a time as we would have without her, so have vowed “No more Mr. [or Mrs.] Nice Guy” for the rest of the trip. Oh, and we were bridesmaids again. But, it was only luggage tags today, so we didn’t care.

At dinner tonight, we continued last night’s conversation with Toro, our waiter. Toro is from Bali and we were talking about our week on that most beautiful island. We mentioned having eaten at Ku De Ta, a trendy restaurant on the beach, when Toro said, “Oh, my former employer!” Apparently, Toro and his family live about five minutes from the restaurant. We couldn’t remember the names of the other eateries we patronized, so D looked them up on the journal he kept on MA’s laptop. When we mentioned La Lucciola, where we had eaten twice, Toro reminded us that he had mentioned it last night. We told him we had also gone to Mykonos and Trattoria Pizza as well as getting lost looking for the Bali Deli.

We have started a new habit – cappuccino for dessert. It’s just as satisfying and better for us than the usual dessert offerings and is free with dinner. This makes us feel better about the cookies and ice cream at lunch.

After dinner, MA read until lights out; D went to the casino where he lost all of 50 cents at blackjack and tossed away another two dollars in a slot machine. We miss Garfield and Jeannie. D checked for e-mail responses about shore excursions, then he, too, read.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Today we docked, briefly, at Cartagena [Kar-tuh-HAY-nuh], Spain. The operative word is briefly since we docked at 10 a.m. and sailed off before 3 o’clock.

We had no plans for today, again resting up for the field trip onslaught which is fast approaching. We started out for town around 10:15 and were in the pedestrian shopping area by 10:30. We stopped along the way to take pictures: this part of Cartagena is filled with statues and sculptures. Of special interest were two almost life-like figures in bronze[?], one of a sailor struggling to carry his duffel bag down the pedestrian walkway; and the other of an old man sitting on a park bench. They reminded us of works by George Segal [not the actor!] who used to make realistic human figures in papier mache.

We passed lots of sailboats on the way to town; cafes; even a Burger King. It was pleasant walk. We had on long sleeves because it was only 60 F when we got up this morning, but by the time we were halfway through our visit we were so hot that MA had tied her jacket around her waist and D had taken off his sweater. The shopping area itself was far superior to those in Lanzarotte or Gibraltar. Prices were high, we were told by other passengers, but the area was extensive, clean and busy, mostly with locals. The HAL visitors were noticeable, of course, but this was not a tourist area per se like Gibraltar’s. There were quite a few banking and finance offices as well as several real estate offices and several developers, judging from the scale models of apartment blocks in their windows. Of course, there were a few tchotchke shops, but only a few.

There were a number of cafes as well, many with outdoor seating, although the thought of beer at 10:30 didn’t appeal to us. We had a narrow escape from a bakery/cafĂ©, but emerged unscathed. At one point, MA sat and waited while D took pictures of the local Arsenal; the heavily armed naval policeman at the entrance would not allow him to take any pictures through or beyond the gates. We also stopped at a Catholic church on the way back, having passed it earlier on our walk. MA sat in the pews while D took photos of the interior; the exterior was too close to the opposite side of the walkway to take exterior shots, and it wasn’t very attractive anyway. Still, the church was billed as a 17th Century church and parts may have dated back that far. We were especially taken with the side chapel dedicated to St. Rita.

We wandered back to the ship, talking with other passengers along the way. It seems that everywhere we look, we find CCers. It’s amazing how 25 – 30 people can be in so many places at one time.

Lunch and trivia followed [we got whupped good today] and then a trip to check e-mail. D went on line this morning to reserve HO-HO [Hop On -- Hop Off bus] tickets for tomorrow and Saturday and needed to see if there had been any response. In fact, there had, and he spent time filing in even more on-line forms and charging the tickets; now all we have to do is find the hop on point tomorrow. Yes, getting there is half the fun.

We skipped the show again tonight. The performers were the Nat King Cole singer and the whorehouse piano player, an interesting combination, to be sure. Instead, MA read and D played a little blackjack, checked for HOHO follow-up e-mail and posted the blog.

And to all, a guten nacht.

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