Friday, July 29, 2016

On to Málaga

Málaga, similar to Cádiz, is part of the Andalusian region of Spain and is also the capital of a province with the same name.  Málaga is the southernmost large city in Europe and is on the Mediterranean, the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar (through which we sailed overnight) from Cádiz.  It sits on the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun), with a classic Mediterranean climate of hot summers and one of the warmest winters in Europe.

Málaga competes with Seville for the role of Capital of the Costa del Sol and now stands out with an incredible pedestrian center; great restaurants, hotels, museums, and beaches; beautiful landscapes; and fabulous views.  Also the birthplace of Picasso with his works featured in the Museo Picasso Málaga, which opened in 2003.  Now, with about 570,000 people, Málaga has been a major tourist destination since the 1950s.

We exit the ship into the modern port and start our entrance into the city at the busy Plaza de la Marina on the edge of the old town and just off the port.

Modern port facilities

Tourist map

Plaza de la Marina

Narrow streets branch off the plaza, with museums, shops (Laura and Jennifer bought shoes and a dress), restaurants, cafes, and plenty to explore in this modern city.

Walking streets off the plaza

  Jamón (ham) shop

The streets emerge into plazas, where we find new sites and places to explore down every path.

 Great plazas with varied themes

Málaga is one of the oldest cities in the world, founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC, then, similar to Cádiz, ruled by the Romans for over 300 years, during which time the port and Roman amphitheater were constructed.  Conquered by the Moors in the 8th century, Málaga then spent over 800 years under Islamic rule, returning to Christianity in 1487.  The historic center of the city, a short walk from the port, is an open-air museum with remains from Phoenician, Roman, Arabic, and Christian times.

Exiting the streets of the modern town, we follow a road winding up Mount Gibrallfaro, a 130 meter (425 foot) hill to Castillo de Gibralfaro, the ruins of a Moorish castle with sweeping views of the city and the sea.  This hill has been fortified since the 10th century BC and continued as a military base until 1925.  The remains of the ramparts of the castle are nestled in the pine trees and we enjoy the walk up/down and the expansive views from the top.

 Views on the way up to the castle

 Heading up to the castle

 Reaching the base of the ramparts

From the castle, we look down on La Rosaleda Stadium below us, a football (soccer) stadium since 1941, with capacity around 30,000 people.  Wow, the stadium is truly nestled in the buildings of the city.

La Roseleda Stadium

In contrast to the narrow streets of the city and the ruins of the castle above it, the port of Málaga, just below the castle, is modern, inviting, and bustling.  The port handles commercial traffic, cruise boats, and superyachts. The port reported traffic of 127 ships in April 2016 and has moved from principally importing to a current emphasis on exports.  Imports are typically food, agricultural, and cement products, while exports are principally wine, olive oil, fruits and nuts, and dolomite.  Passenger traffic is reported to be over 600 thousand passengers per year, roughly two thirds cruise boats (either starting, stopping, or passing through) and one third local coastal travelers.

 Sights and activities at/near the port

 From the far end of the port, we get a good view of our ship, the Wind Surf, the 310-passenger (210 crew) flagship of Windstar Cruises.  With five masts and seven sails, a fair amount of each trip is spent under sail, whenever the winds are favorable or helpful.

 Wind Surf

The port itself has a lot going on and we admire the varied and gastronomically-attractive menus outside the restaurants, but only stop for drinks before heading back to our ship and back out to sea.

 We try on our octopus outfits on the way out

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

First Stop: Cádiz

Cádiz, in southwestern Spain is about 560 km (350 miles) by car from Lisbon.  On our cruise, it's a little under two days away and we spend a relaxing first day at sea to get there.   Cádiz is the capital of the province of the same name, part of Andalusia, an agricultural region with a strong cultural identity.  Wikipedia notes that much of what we consider "distinctively Spanish are largely or entirely Andalusian in origin. These include flamenco,bullfighting, and certain Moorish-influenced architectural styles."

Cádiz is on a small peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Cádiz and the Atlantic Ocean,  The old town is full of charm, with narrow, winding cobbled streets opening into small squares, while the newer areas are modern and contemporary.  The Phoenicians founded trading posts here in 1100 B.C. and the town (then called Gades) was once a thriving Roman Port.  In the early 16th century, Cádiz was a departure point for journeys to the newly-discovered Americas.  Cadiz is considered by some to be the oldest western city, with a strategic location on the coast dividing Europe and Africa.

Cádiz has a warm tropical Mediterranean climate, with strong maritime influences, keeping the temperatures more moderate than nearby inland areas.

Our ship is docked right at the edge of the city and we walk through the large industrial port area to reach the tiled, shaded paths of the promenade at the end of the peninsula.  The grand avenues, squares, and gardens of this city are just made for strolling around and stroll we do.


 They certainly know how to do a flower pot!

Also, near the harbor is a a fabulous statue by Juan Luis Vasallo, a local sculptor, of a young woman, Gades, looking out to sea.  Cádiz was called Gades in Latin when it was a thriving port and naval base in the Roman Empire.

 Gades peering out to sea

We first walk around the outside of Cádiz, to the fort on the opposite side of the peninsula from the port.

 Walking around the town with the tide out

Reaching the ocean side of  Cádiz, we explore the old fort, Baluarte de la Candelaria, constructed in 1672 to control access to the port.  In modern times, the fort has served as a engineering school and as headquarters for the Portuguese Army's carrier pigeon division.

 Baluarte de la Candelaria

 Continuing on past the fort, the cobblestone walkway offer great views of the city and the sea.

 Walkway along the sea

 Views of the sea

View of the cathedral from the path

As we head back down the other side of the peninsula from the port, it's time to enter the town.  We wander through the narrow streets to the Cathedral and the Plaza de la Cathedral.  The Cathedral has been an imposing site our entire walk, towering over the city from all sides as we wander around the perimeter.  It's just as imposing up close. 

 Streets of the modern city and the old town.

 The Cathedral

The original cathedral was completed in 1260 and destroyed by fire in 1596.  Construction restarted in 1776 and took 116 years, with numerous changes over time, resulting in a structure with a combination of baroque, rococo and neoclassical elements.

Walking back to our ship, we meet the chef and some of the kitchen staff who have been shopping and have found meats and cheeses that they will feature onboard later today (we get to know the chef and, a few days later, he makes us a special dinner of duck confit).

The city of Cádiz is small, with a population of roughly 124,000 people packed into the 4.4 square km (1.7 sq. miles) of the peninsula.  It's a great city for a stroll through the streets and boulevards and to lounge on the unspoiled beaches.

Later that day, as a special treat, Windstar has arranged for the entire ship to travel to see the dancing horses at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art Foundation in Jerez, about 31 km (19 miles) away, along with a visit to a sherry bodega (cellar/winery) for sherry tasting with regional tapas.

The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art preserves the classical traditions of horsemanship, from preparation for international competition to the manufacture and maintenance of leather harnesses.  The facility also has a riding school known for its shows demonstrating riding skills and dancing horses.

 Dancing horses

The show was interesting, but we found the sherry bodega tour and tasting more to our liking.  Sherry can only be made in the province of Cádiz, with the perfect combination of soil and climate.  This fertile region is incredibly beautiful and we enjoy the trip and the visit to one of Spain's best known sherry bodegas, the González Byass Bodega, founded in 1835.

 Andalusian countryside

 Sherry in the cask and ready for tasting

We've had a busy day in Cádiz and head back to the ship for our next adventure.

 The crew welcomes us back on our return