Published: April 4th 2012April 4th 2012
.Portugal to Malta
I have had a cold the last week and haven’t done any writing since the Portuguese sailors left. We did not dock in Portimao, Portugal because of the weather. This port is known as the fair weather port, and the weather was not at all fair. So, instead, we headed for Cadiz, Spain, the port with access to Seville. We took a Cruise Critic Tour to Seville with 16 people on a 30 passenger bus and plenty of room to spread out. Our guide was excellent as we walked to the Alcazar or palace still used by the Queen of Spain when she and the children are in Seville. The building is beautiful and very large. We did not go to the second story, but only to the more public rooms. We then walked to the Cathedral. It had been a mosque at one time and converted and expanded to become the third largest cathedral in the world with St. Peter’s in Rome, and St. Paul’s in London being larger. The decorations had begun for Holy Week and the procession that takes place during that time. After lunch we continued to see the sights of Seville before heading back to Cadiz. A most delightful day.
From Cadiz we headed through the Straits of Gibraltar to the northern tip of the African Continent and to Melilla, (Spanish Morocco) Spain. There is a small portion just north of Morocco owned by Spain. Melilla is crowded with refugees from Algeria and Morocco seeking employment. There are camps for these people as they wait for a chance to cross the border and maybe get to Europe. The problem is that there is high unemployment all over Europe as well. We think 8% is high, what about 25 to 40 % in some of these places in Europe.
We continued into the Mediterranean and crossed back to mainland Spain to Cartagena. Here we took a tour to Caravaca, the 5th
holiest city for the Catholic Church. When we got to the city, we boarded a “train” pulled by a truck like vehicle decked out like an engine. It was small and could maneuver the ancient narrow streets and steep inclines up to the fortress where we had great views of the area. We had a nice lunch before going to a museum and then back to Cartagena and our ship.
Our next port was Sousse, Tunisia, a very different stop. Our guide stressed that the people were Berbers, not Arabs. Because the Revolution was only last year, things are changing and becoming democratic, but the unemployment is over 40%. The country has a young population of educated people leaving the country because they cannot find jobs here. The country depends on tourism and because of restrictions of other countries, tourism is way down. We did not feel afraid at all. The people we met were friendly and were smiling. Bruce thought our guide reminded him of John Travolta and he did, a bit.
Gabes, Tunisia was our next port. I was feeling rotten by then, and stayed aboard the ship while Bruce took the shuttle bus to the souk to do some shopping. I have to tell you that in Sousse I bought three bags of saffron for $10. He started at $35 for one bag, and I thought I was really getting a bargain. Bruce asked the guide what this was, and he said “tourist saffron”. Some saffron, and who knows what else. Not to be outdone, Bruce came back very proud of his purchase for me – an “amber” necklace for only $20. Well, I took one look and gently told him this was plastic, not amber. Let’s hope these are our last mistakes. Watch out! Maybe one of you will be getting an “amber” necklace for Christmas!
From Gabes we sailed to our favorite island, Malta. The sail in was very impressive as we passed fortresses built centuries ago to defend the island from all kinds of invaders. The Knights of St. John were famous for their hospitals, and the Knights Templar for their fighting. The country is made up of three islands and is not far from Sicily so there is a strong Italian influence. The language is Maltese, but English is required as well as a third language of their choice. They are not fond of the French as Napoleon and his brother were not exactly revered here.
We signed up for a two day tour with our cruise critic friends. Cruise Critics is a free web site where one can find other cruisers going on the same cruise. Some people research ports and find independent companies offering tours for smaller groups and often at a lower price than the cruise line tours. Cadiz was our first experience and it was wonderful to have a small group.
The first day of the tour took us to the top of the hill and center of Valletta where we walked through the pedestrian streets that were full of shops and cafes and people enjoying the beautiful spring day. .At one point, I left the group and had tea at one of those cafes and people-watched while the group went on to the Grand Master’s Palace. We then walked to the upper botanical gardens for a view of the harbor and the boats getting ready for the regatta. Boarding the bus again we drove into the countryside where we stopped at the site of an ancient temple, built more than 2000 years ago. There were places for the animal sacrifices and a place to burn the carcass before the feast. Yes, they ate the sacrifices. We had no idea such a place existed. We stopped for lunch at a typical Maltese restaurant. After lunch we went to the city of Mdina, an ancient walled city with narrow streets and historic buildings. We walked to the square which is where the cathedral is located. We were able to go inside and see the windows and beautiful altar. Riding home on the bus, we all expressed how impressed we were, and how we looked forward to the next day –after a nice rest!
Day two began with our great guide, Jane, meeting us on the Island of Gozo after our tender ride from the ship. The bus was ready and we left for a tour of the island and stops in Mgarr and Victoria(Rabat). Day two took us to another even more ancient temple ruins dating back close to 3000 years. It is the oldest temple ruins ever found to this date. It is really unbelievable to see how “advanced” they were when you think about the tools they had, or didn’t have, to build this. The rounded stones used as rollers to move the huge stones are still there. There is so much history here. To give you one example, Homer’s The Odyssey recalls the nymph Calypso, who detained the greek hero Odysseus for seven years as her love prisoner, ruled the forbidding island which csholare have identified as Gozo. How about that! We stopped for lunch and went to a place where they make lace. It is one of three places where they make bobbin lace. There were gorgeous pieces of the lace in table cloths, and everything you can think of. I bought one piece with the Maltese Cross and lace edges to use as a center piece on my table. What I don’t need are more linens! We headed back to the tenders early because our ship was sailing at 3:30 and the tender ride is about 25 minutes. Our two days on Malta and Gozo were most enjoyable and educational, and we would love to return some day. Now it is on to Turkey.