David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Mediterranean Cruise from Barcelona to Morocco, Canary Isl, Madeira, Malaga

Photos: View of Cathedral at Las Palmas, Enjoying lunch in Funchal, Roman theater and Alcazar in Malaga, Cathedral in Malaga, Having a drink in Rick's American Cafe, Mud-walled town of Taroudant with Atlas Mtns behind

On February 5, 2009, we left chilly Nice for a bit more warmth on a cruise on the western Mediterranean and into the Atlantic Ocean. We spent one night in freezing and rainy Barcelona at the Hotel Inglaterra, well situated for exploring the Old Town and for getting around. We spent a day seeing a few things in Barcelona that we had missed on our other visits, particularly Parque Guell with its magical Gaudi designs and the famed Picasso Museum. The next day we took a taxi to the port where we boarded our NCL cruise ship, the Jade; we set sail that evening as we settled in on this huge ship of more than 2,000 passengers. We had dinner in one of the main dining rooms: David had short rib sauce on pasta and I had the grilled salmon.

After a day a sea, we came into port in Casablanca, a city of 4 million, our first visit to Morocco. We were disappointed - there really wasn't much to see except the quite modern Hassan II Mosque. We did find Rick's American Cafe, started only in 2003 by an American who knew that people wanted to see the place famous from "Casablanca" the movie. It's done up very well and we enjoyed a nice drink there; it would be a great place to go for a meal. We had dinner in our Stateroom with some wine we had brought on board (not allowed) - just things we'd brought in from the buffet earlier in the day.
Our speaker on the cruise ship, Dr. Gene Young, explained about Morocco, the land of the "Moors". There are cave paintings from 40,000 years ago in the Atlas Mountains; the Phoenicians were here in the 6th c BC for the salt and crops. The Romans, calling the area "Mauritania", used it as part of their "breadbasket". They were followed by the Vandals and Visigoths. In 716 AD the Islamic Conquest took place, changing the style of the country completely. Because the Koran prohibits art of living things, their art is made up of geometric patterns and calligraphy, hence the beautiful tile work in Islamic buildings and walkways. Morocco was the jumping off point for the conquest of Spain.

From the 1400's on, there was a strong European influence. France was granted autonomy over the country in 1906. During WWI, Morocco sided with the Allies, but their Independence Movement was put down after the war. They finally gained independence in 1956.
Besides the Islamic people, the other population of Morocco is the Berber people who came from Libya in the east. From their name comes the designation of the "Barbary Coast".

We set sail again that evening and came into Agadir the next morning. An "agadir" is a fort-like place to protect the women and children and store valuables during times of attack; the town now, having been totally destroyed in an earthquake, is a modern seaside resort. This was the only place we had arranged to take one of ncl's excursions: a day trip to Taroudant, advertised as a "Little Marrakesh", a mud-walled town with a "souk" (open market). It was somewhat interesting, but really after you've seen one Arab souk you've basically seen them all. We passed by the snow-topped High Atlas Mountains (up to 1800 meters) on the way. On the trip back we stopped to see the goats feeding up in the Argan trees, quite an amazing sight. These trees grow only in this area and the oil, rich in Vitamin E, is used in cosmetics and even on foods by the locals.
Our next port was Las Palmas on the Grand Canary Island. This was a lot larger place than we were expecting, nothing like the charming towns of the Greek Islands that we visited last year. We took a local bus to the Vegueta, a World Heritage Site, where we found the interesting cathedral, the Governor's Palace where Columbus stayed during his voyage to the New WOrld, and Placa Ana where there are statues of dogs (canis) that the Islands are named for. We walked through the pedestrian zone with its pastel colored buildings and then got a bus back to the port area.

The Canaries were the only islands with a native population at the time they were discovered. The population is related to the Berbers. They were enslaved, converted, or killed by the Spaniards. The Portuguese, taking control in the 15th century, used the islands for crops (sugar, wheat), shipping, whalers and fishermen (cod). The islands became a tourist center in the 1800's. Las Palmas is the major port.
The canary bird is native to the Canaries and was named for the islands. They are yellow and brown finches.

Next we arrived at Funchal (meaning "leek"), on Madeira, which we loved from the first moment. The old town is charming. We did a hop-on/hop-0ff bus ride around the town, then got off to see the 15th century Cathedral in the main part of town. But we walked back to Old Town (Cidade Velha) for a wonderful meal of sea bass, local wine (Seical, Porto Muniz, Vinho Branco 2006). Then we sampled some aged Madeira, while sitting under the awning during a rain shower. A really lovely day.

Our next day was again at sea, a warm day that we spent sunning on our balcony. Ate in the buffet for breakfast and lunch. Lazy day.

We landed at Malaga which I thought would not be so interesting as I had been there twice before. But when I'd been there, I had stayed in Fuengirola the first time and Nerja the second. I guess I never really explored Malaga. Arriving by ship is the perfect way, as the ship docks within a 10 minute walk of just about everything you would want to see. We first visited the magnificent Cathedral, called "La Manquita" (the One Armed One) because the south tower is missing its full height: they gave the money to the American Revolution! The pink and blue tinted marble on the exterior is exquisite and inside there is a pink marble altar by Juan de Salazar of the Annunciation.

Next we found the Roman theater that is still under excavation. Above it looms the Alcazar; we climbed up the pathways to explore this Moorish fort with its gardens and fountains. Then we headed over to the new Picasso Museum; Picasso was born here so it is fitting that there is finally a museum dedicated to him, although we thought it wasn't as good as the one in Barcelona. In the basement are the remains of Phoenician walls from the 6th c BC!! We returned to the plaza opposite the Cathedral and ordered a glass of wine, sitting in the sun on this beautiful day.

We spent another lazy day at sea, again sunning ourselves before returning to Nice, which has been so chilly and rainy this winter. We docked at Barcelona, took a couple of buses to the city center and then the airport, and made our way home.