Notes from Puzzle Palace

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Gibraltar, Seville, Portimão

5 May

We have been here before when we did our Berrocal tour of Spain.  At first we thought we would just scoot around the town, but then George found a tour that had some tunnels in it and since we have been on a tunnel kick we thought why not, lets go for it.   

The first part of the tour they drove us to the part of town where you can see Morocco across the way.  From there we returned to the cable car lift and up we went.  Now I’m terrified of heights, but this one didn’t bother me so much because I’d done it before and knew what to expect.  

At the top we walked to the lookout area and listened to the guide ramble on about some stuff.  As I said, we’d been here before.  He then took us over to interact with the monkeys.  Now to be honest, if I hadn’t been here before and had the whole monkey experience, I would have been disappointed.  He sat us along a wall and then just talked and told us not to look at the monkeys because we would frighten them or some such nonsense. We all took a few photos and then returned to the cable car to disembark at the halfway point.  One interesting thing he said was they keep the population to around 230 monkeys.  They don’t cull them, but he never answered what they do if the population gets higher.  He also told us a myth that goes something like "when the monkeys leave Gibraltar it will no longer be a part of the British Empire" In 1942, the population was declining and Churchill had more brought over.  They monkeys were cared for by the British Military until 1991 and if any got sick or injured they were brought to the military hospital and given the same care as enlisted men.  I guess they weren’t considered officer material. 

From here we boarded the bus to go to the tunnels.  Along the way our guide talked a great deal about the plants in the area and the birds.  He’s a real jack of all trades.  George and I opted to walk on ahead to get the view to ourselves for a while.  Today’s excursion was called "City under Siege".  This was new to us and why we decided to do a tour this time around.  How did we miss this place?  This was a real surprise.  This place is absolutely incredible.  I had no idea there were so many tunnels in the rock. Our guide told us they knew of over 200! We were also told there were 3 levels, the top level are those we saw. The middle level is another attraction called the tunnels of WWII and the lowest level are mostly shut off because they were deemed dangerous.  

An interesting note, the tunnels stoped being dug in 1968.  The guide said that was when they finally remembered they still had a tunneling group and finally put an end to it.  Wikipedia tells me otherwise, but I like the thought of forgetting these men and just having them dig.  It reminds me of the soldier who was hiding in the hills of Japan because he didn’t know the war had ended.

From here, we had the "highlight" of the tour: driving across the runway.  Ugh!  It was fun the first time, but once you’ve done it…The excitement that came from the bus when the stop lights came on was palpable.  Sadly, it was just a truck making sure there was no debris on the runway.  We were finally dropped off near the city center and George and I opted for lunch.

We had a nice fish and chips.  I mean we had to while we were here, right?  No mushy peas for me though, I can’t stand the stuff.  While George was placing the order, I ran out and got a small gift for him. Now my curious friend has someone to keep him company on the cruise. 

When we finished, we walked back to the ship and called it a day.  

6 May


When I read our tour itineraries, all of them read 1 hour plus of bus ride.  I didn’t relish this idea, but George and I had only been in Seville once before, and then it was only for a very short time.  In 2019 we took that Berrocal tour of Spain and on a whim went to Sevilla to see a sculpture there.  We hopped a train from Cordoba and when we arrived we jumped in a cab.  We had the driver take us to the gate of the park the sculpture is in, took a photo and returned to the train station.  This time around we actually looked around a bit. 

Imagine my surprise when the ship went right down the rio Guadalquivir to the city!  We were docked just a few minutes from the city center.  This is much more ideal than I had thought it would be.  I had visions of being stuck in yet another container terminal. 

On the first day we were taken to Spanish Square to have a quick-and I mean quick 10 minute look.  What a joke!  We were supposed to have 1/2 an hour but because our guide had been detained at the pier gate that didn’t happen.  This was an interesting area.  Lots of ceramic tiles lined the circular walls and there was an amazing staircase inside.  This was built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exhibitions World’s Fair. The main worlds fair was held in Barcelona that year.  Our guide told us it took only 8 years to build all of the pavilions around the town and the main square, but a bit of searching on the web puts it more like 19.  Sadly, he didn’t tell us much about this area.

From here we went to Alcázar palace.  We all had a good laugh about having castle envy. I do not.  To me it was just over the top and more gaudy than Gaudi.  There were some beautiful tiling patterns inside though, and the Ceiling in the hall of the ambassadors is beautiful.  But I wouldn’t want to live there.  Interestingly enough, the Royal family of Spain does live on the upper floors when they are in Seville.  When we left I had 3 thoughts, they need a new gardener, the pool boy needs to be fired and I wouldn’t want to pay the property taxes.  The gardens were not neat and tidy and there were lots of bare spots and weeds around. The ponds were all murky and filled with algae and the grounds cover over 4 hectares.  The taxes must be astronomical!

We spent the next hour on our own, and George and I opted to find a place to sit and have a beer.  We found a nice little street around the corner and we sat and people watched until it was time to return to the ship.  

7 May


The next morning we chose to go find an escape room. 

I found 3 of them on the same street and we scooted off.  Sadly, all three were closed because of the Feria de Caballo (horse fair).  This is a traditional celebration that we stumbled upon.  It runs form 7 to 14 May. 

Since this was a bust and we were out, we opted to do a scoot into the old town again.  It really is a beautiful city.  We took the prerequisite photos of all the normal tourist buildings and then on the advice of a friend went to the Hotel Alfonso XIII. 

We wandered around a bit, but went to the central courtyard for a bite to eat.  George had a beer and I had sherry. This is the staple wine in this area I’ve been told so I thought I’d try it.  If you do, don’t smell it.  It’s what I cook with, and it was hard for me to swallow the first glass.  The second went down better.  

Our meal was ok.  I had the Iberian ham croquettes and George had a wonderful fish platter. The octopus and anchovies were amazing.  I loved the olives too and ate every last one.  

While there, we saw the assistant cruise director Cole and the destinations ambassador Cella and invited them over to have a glass of sherry.  (With my very rusty Spanish, I ordered the whole bottle!).  While talking about puzzles, Cole mentioned that his uncle made puzzle boxes.  He thought the name was Harry McDonald.  George got him to describe the puzzles and we both laughed!  It turns out his uncle is Perry McDaniel!  What a small world.  We had to take a photo just because this is simply uncanny.  It was also Cole’s mother’s (Sherry) birthday so we had a toast of sherry in her honor.  

When the lunch ended, we scooted back to the ship for a game of Tile Rummy with Rod and Merry. That is always good fun.  After George’s nap, it was time for a nice dinner with friends.  Tomorrow is Portugal again.

I’ve commented that Durrës was a garbage can, Turkey was an ashtray, and now I can say that Seville is one massive dung heap.  I could even smell it from the cabin on the ship.  I love the horse drawn carriages, but the stench!  That I could do without.  

8 May

Portimao Portugal

We pulled up alongside a beautiful sandy beach with some amazing rock formations. 

And then went past them.  Our stop was indeed the container terminal I was afraid it would be.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounded.  There is a bus running every 1/2 hour to the town and to the beach.  But none of that matters, we were booked on a tour to go to Mount Foia in the Monchque mountain range. This one has a summit of 2959 feet.  Not too tall right?  

Our excursion was in a Land Rover and when I saw them I knew I might be in trouble.  It was a bumpy ride up the hill. This is George trying to get me over all of my fears and I still don’t like it.  I don’t know what it is with him and high places with very steep cliffs to fall into.  

But it was a beautiful ride.  I squeezed his knee hard because there was no "oh shit!" bar on my side of the vehicle.  At one point, I think I grabbed someone else’s shoulder simply because he was unfortunate enough to be sitting in front of me as I was looking over a very steep drop off and felt the vehicle slide.  It was an exhilarating drive up the mountain with plenty of stops for photographs and some very nice talks on the way about the local flora and fauna.  We were often handed a plant and told to smell it.  George asked about poisonous plants and he reassured us we wouldn’t be given any so everything that was passed around,I tasted.  Lavender, wild saffron, clover, I passed on the eucalyptus.  

We learned all about how they harvest the cork and the respect the people have for the trees.  It was nice to hear that they stop when the tree starts to branch out.  They get their moisture from the top instead of from the roots so if the tree is completely stripped, it will die.  The government regulates how much cork can be taken from the trees and has made it illegal to cut them down.  We also learned that anyone can harvest the cork on the government land.  

When we arrived at the top of the mountain, our guide spoke a bit more about the area and showed us the villages and where our ship was docked.  Had I brought binoculars, I might have seen it. We all noticed a pile of rocks that stood higher than the official high spot.  The guide told us it was dangerous for most people to climb so don’t do it. 

Challenge accepted!  George and I got our inner billy goats out and up we went!  The view was much the same, but we have bragging rights.  

While there we saw a goatherd and his flock. 

Our next stop on the tour was a firewater tasting. This was strong, but didn’t burn going down.  It is made from a local berry that can be found everywhere.  Of course we bought a bottle to take back to the ship with us.  The strong plain version was 48.5%, the honey lemon version we bought was only 24%.  One more country with a liqueur.  Check.  

We also had a honey and  bee pollen tasting.  It was nice, but not something I want to buy.  I realize that the bee pollen is supposed to be a panacea and boost the immune system, but it just isn’t for us.  

We continued on our way and went further down the mountain to a little village where we were brought to an essential oils shop. I walked in and walked out just as quickly.  The cacophony of smells were overwhelming for me.  Instead we wandered around a bit and looked at the price of property there.  Almost every place for sale came with a "ruin".  We began to realize that this means an abandoned building that has been let go.  Pass.  

Just before we returned to the ship we encountered a stork nursery.  Now we've seen many stork nests, but never before have we seen anything like this.  It was truly amazing. 

Upon returning to the ship we took the bus into town to get me another litter of milk to replace the one that curdled when the refrigerator died.  And later grabbed a quick shower on the return to the ship.  

That evening we had an ATW - which now stands for All the Way instead of Around the World - dinner on the pool deck. It was a nice change of pace.  

We sat with Rod and Merry and Owen and Janice-both good friends we’ve met in early days.
The ladies got a fan and the gents all got hats.  The meal started with a glass of sangria for all, then the canapés came.  The foie gras with Iberian ham was the best thing yet.

The food was very very good, the wine flowed freely, and the port was well worth the wait.  All in all it was a very lovely evening.  The night got a bit cold, but they quickly brought us some blankets.  
The distance shots are courtesy of Rod. 

Until next time, Happy Puzzling and Smooth Sailing.

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