We only waited two days for a military hop from Hawaii to Travis AFB, California. Once we arrived we moved the RV out of storage and directly into the FamCamp. We (mostly Julieann) spent the next two weeks cleaning it up and taking much of the contents into a storage unit I rented. We have a “For Sale” sign on the window, but we’ve only had two bites. I see the problem as (1) the age of the RV (10 years old) is the age banks do not want to finance and (2) I cannot compete with dealership that will finance a RV that they sell. That’s O.K. We’ll just keep the RV “sell ready” (AKA “Mostly empty”), but still take it out whenever we want. I’m toying with the idea of renting it out, but not being collocated with the RV will probably be problematic. Oh well, just another adventure. While at Travis we did get to visit with friends Pat who is local and Al and his wife Nancy from Sacramento.
Time to begin our Spain travel, we drove to Sacramento via a rental car and then flew to LAX. We stayed in a hotel near the airport to rest up for the long flight to Barcelona, Spain which took a total of 16 hours.
A constant irritant for me is how airport vendors take advantage of the TSA rules about what you cannot bring into the terminal and then charge outrageous prices for basic items such as bottled water or sodas once you get through security. These vendors are selling bottled water and soda for around $3.00 when the same item can be purchased for $1.00 or less just about anywhere else outside of the airport. We use to carry an empty bottle through the inspection station and then fill the bottle with cold water from a drinking fountain. This trip we discovered that the airports have actually turned off the “coolers” in the fountains so you have to fill your bottle from the restroom or non-cooled drinking fountain IF you like warm water – UGH!! I posted a little of this on Facebook mainly complaining that the offending airport was LAX, but friend Rob Hunt, a world traveler, said his experiences indicated most airports were doing the same as LAX. I’m not the traveler Rob is, but I know that when we landed at Ireland I purchased THREE bottles of Pepsi for less than $3.00 total and cold water was being sold for one Euro (about $1.08 USD) a bottle.
So, after what should have been a short flight from Dublin to Barcelona, we arrived at our hotel five hours later. This was most definitely the very WORST leg of any trip we've been on. There were around 100 Spanish students, ages in the low teens, returning home from Ireland (I'm guessing there was a sporting event of some kind). These were the most unruly, disrespectful and irritating kids I have even had the misfortune to be around. Screaming at each other across and up/down the aisle, throwing things at each other, six trying to squeeze into the three seats assigned to others, etc. The teachers could not control them and as nice as the Flight Attendants tried to be, they began to lose their tempers. After about an hour of this teenage gangster sitting behind me kicking my seat just for fun I finally told him that the next time he put his foot on my seat he would pull back a stump. Not sure if he understood all that I said, but between my tone and one of his classmates explaining it to him, things in our row were quieter. As we were deplaning all the adults looked at each other with comments and expressions that told the whole story -- what the hell just happened?
Anyhow, the hotel I reserved in Barcelona is great. (Check it out at: http://www.hotelciutatdelprat.com/en )
We took a taxi from the airport and although the meter said "8.50 Euros", the driver charged us $25.00 Euros. According to the hotel desk clerk, that's the standard rate from the airport so just about everyone gets a piece of the tourist pie. I know even when we arrive at the Travis terminal and we need a ride to billeting or the RV storage lot (both over a mile away from the terminal), the taxi driver doesn’t use the meter and charges us a $10.00 flat fee for a ride anywhere on Travis. Also learned during this trip, getting from the Hertz rental outside of Sacramento to the airport I called Uber. This was a 25 mile ride and we were only charged $22.00 (tip included). I'm beginning to like this Uber thing.
Today we returned to the Barcelona airport to fly two hours south to a resort area in and around the city of Malaga. I bought tickets for this short leg via Ryan Air. They are usually the cheapest, but will charge for EVERYTHING including different prices for different seats. They do not charge for a small carryon so we loaded everything we thought we may need into two backpacks and two “purses”. Since we were returning to the same Barcelona hotel in six days they stored our suitcases for us. This hotel also had a complete package that included breakfast and transportation to the ship when the cruise started.
The resort was located in the town of Fuengirola. We flew to Malaga, took a train for another 20 minutes to the town of Fuengirola and then caught a taxi for a short ride to the resort. It all worked out fine.
The resort unit I rented for $249 for the week is a one bedroom, 600 sq ft, apartment with a living room equipped with a sofa, chair, table, flat screen TV with cable (but not many English speaking shows), and a DVD/CD player. The kitchen is fully equipped with a dishwasher, clothes washer (no dryer – that’s what the sun is for), microwave, 4 burner stove & oven, small refrigerator and all the "stuff' needed for cooking and eating -- pots/pans, dishes, flatware, etc. A dining room table is located between the living room and kitchen. The bedroom is large with a big closet. The closet also has a safe, all the cleaning equipment (mops, brooms, pails) and a lot of room for clothes. The bathroom is also large and has a Bidet -- something that will take awhile for me to get used to again (had one in our apartment in Korea almost ten year ago).
The unit sits on a hill with a grand view of the Mediterranean Sea right below us. Actually, as all the units are “terraced” and all the patios point to the Mediterranean Sea, we didn’t see any units that had a bad view. The property is comprised of five separate properties under the same company’s umbrella so it’s nice that they supply a free tram/train to take the residents around. On our first day of walking around, I was VERY happy to see the Tram since every street goes up and down numerous hills although it felt that all the hills went one way…..and that was UP.
As I mentioned, our cable TV only has a few English speaking shows so we’re limited to what we watch. I like how the news is reported in Europe with the exception of Pearce Morgan on Good Morning Britain. I never liked him on America’s Got Talent and I don’t like him reporting the news – as HE sees it. I originally thought that he was totally anti American and he constantly reinforces that opinion. Evidently, I’m not the only one not too crazy about him. His co-host was reading some Tweets she received against him so even his own countrymen thinks he needs to find another job.
Unlike American reporters (IMO) European reporters seem to hit on a topic, report it and then leave it, unless the whole show is dedicated to a particular subject. They don’t spend the whole time beating a dead horse like some of our news folks do. O.K., so Trump did so-and-so. You told us. Now, can we move onto to other news? Watching the European news I see that just about every country has some problem or another that appear to be a lot more important than “How does he keep his hair like that?” or “Why did the first lady dare to wear that dress?” There’s also a lot more news out there besides “American” news that may be of interest to us. Such as, how many of us Americans know that Austria has totally shut the door on immigrants/refugees because of the increasing crime wave and they have begun to quickly deport the immigrant criminals? France is in a bigger mess than I knew before and England is really having problems. Who knew that the second strongest party in Britain was 10 seats behind the front runner until the last election that put them only one seat behind which may be an indication that the Brits aren’t too happy with their government? Here’s one that really got me. To combat drug abuse in Britain they have begun giving heroin addicts FREE heroin. Yes, not just clean needles, but a daily supply of heroin. Huh? I’m a drunk --- where’s my free Vodka?
After a very relaxing stay at the resort, we reversed our travel and returned to the hotel in Barcelona for two days. The day of the cruise they drove us right up to the baggage drop off, the last time we saw our bags until they showed up in our cabin later that afternoon. We’ve used Norwegian Cruise Lines before, but I don’t keep track of any “points” I may have so I didn’t know that we had moved up into higher customer category. With the other trips behind us we received some priority processing to get on the ship and bypassed a lot of lines. From the time we dropped off our bags to the time we were sitting in our cabin, total time was less than 30 minutes. I don’t remember ever boarding a ship that quickly. Our room was not ready, as we expected, but we carried our swimming suits and a few other items in our carry -on baggage so we could swim or just soak in the hot tub, have lunch, tour the ship, etc. while they finished getting the ship ready for the approximately 3,000 passengers arriving.
The ship is the standard, good quality we are use to along with the food to satisfy most tastes. In fact, we enjoy the food on the “anytime” buffet so much that we haven’t even used the “fancy” dining rooms yet. (We are booked on this same ship for our next leg so I’m sure we’ll break down and put on a shirt with a collar so we can experience the “big boys” dining room.)
We are actually taking two cruises on the same ship. Part one will be a cruise from Barcelona to Tangier, Morocco; Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain; Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain; Funchal, Portugal; Malaga (Granada) Spain; Alicante, Spain and then back to Barcelona.
Our first stop was Tangier, Morocco. Here is your educational part:
Tangier is a major city in northwestern Morocco. It is located on the Maghreb coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Spartel. It is the capital of the Tanger-Tetouan-Al Hoceima region, as well as the Tangier-Assilah prefecture of Morocco. Found out when we purchased souvenir t-shirts that we are either in Tangier or Tanger, both apparently are acceptable.
The history of Tangier is very rich, due to the historical presence of many civilizations and cultures starting from before the 5th century BC. Between the period of being a strategic Berber town and then a Phoenician trading centre to the independence era around the 1950s, Tangier was a nexus for many cultures. In 1923, it was considered as having international status by foreign colonial powers, and became a destination for many European and American diplomats, spies, writers and businessmen.
The city is currently undergoing rapid development and modernization. Projects include new tourism projects along the bay, a modern business district called Tangier City Center, a new airport terminal and a new football stadium. Tangier's economy is also set to benefit greatly from the new Tanger-Med port.
Tangier was made an international zone in 1923 under the joint administration of France, Spain and Britain under an international convention signed in Paris on 18 December 1923. The International zone of Tangier by 1939 had a population of about 60,000 inhabitants. Spanish troops occupied Tangier on 14 June 1940, the same day Paris fell to the Germans. A diplomatic dispute between Britain and Spain over the latter's abolition of the city's international institutions in November 1940 led to a further guarantee of British rights and a Spanish promise not to fortify the area. The territory was restored to its pre-war status on October 11, 1945. In July 1952 the protecting powers met at Rabat to discuss the Zone's future, agreeing to abolish it. Tangier joined with the rest of Morocco following the restoration of full sovereignty in 1956. Pre-1956 Tangier had a population of 40,000 Muslims, 31,000 Europeans and 15,000 Jews.
Tangier has been reputed as a safe house for international spying activities. Its position during the Cold War and during other spying periods of the 19th and 20th centuries is legendary. Tangier acquired the reputation of a spying and smuggling centre and attracted foreign capital due to political neutrality and commercial liberty at that time. It was via a British bank in Tangier that the Bank of England in 1943 for the first time obtained samples of the high-quality forged British currency produced by the Nazis in "Operation Bernhard".
The Kingdom of Morocco is a sovereign country located in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Geographically, Morocco is characterized by rugged mountainous interior, large tracts of desert, and a lengthy coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Morocco has a population of over 33.8 million and an area 172,410 sq mi. Its capital is Rabat, and the largest city is Casablanca. A historically prominent regional power, Morocco has a history of independence not shared by its neighbors. The Alaouite dynasty, the current ruling dynasty, seized power in 1666. In 1912 Morocco was divided into French and Spanish protectorates, with an international zone in Tangier, and regained its independence in 1956. Moroccan culture is a blend of Arab, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences. Morocco claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara as its Southern Provinces. Morocco annexed the territory in 1975, leading to a guerrilla war with indigenous forces until a cease-fire in 1991. Peace processes have thus far failed to break the political deadlock.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco holds vast executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs. The king can issue decrees called dahirs which have the force of law. He can also dissolve the parliament after consulting the Prime Minister and the president of the Constitutional court.
Morocco's predominant religion is Islam, and the official languages are Arabic and Tamazight. The Moroccan dialect, referred to as Darija, and French are also widely spoken. Morocco is a member of the Arab League, the Union for the Mediterranean, and the African Union. It has the fifth largest economy of Africa.
A Kasbah is a type of medina, or fortress (citadel). It was a place for the local leader to live and a defense when a city was under attack. A kasbah has high walls, usually without windows. Having a kasbah built was a sign of wealth of some families in the city. When colonization started in 1830, in northern Algeria, there were a great number of kasbahs that lasted for more than 100 years.
Personal observations – It wasn’t hot during our visit, but when it is I don’t know how comfortable those “man dresses” the guys here wear will be, especially when they also wear those bucket hats. I talked to a few men and they claim that their clothes are very comfortable and they all switch to a much lighter fabric during the summer. Almost everyone speaks Arabic and two or three other languages. The streets are extremely narrow. Our tour bus was the same size as our motor home, but there is NO WAY you would see me trying to drive these streets. The side streets, which are half the size of the “normal” street is loaded with folks trying to give you a “great deal” on leather, pottery, jewelry, etc. I like watching Julieann in action. The seller will start off with “only 35 Euros; today only; one time; special sale”. By the time he finishes chasing her all around the market place, she’s just bought something (that I’m SURE we definitely need) for $5.00 (USD). I saw one vendor trying to sell her, what looked to me, to be a very nice Mumu-type dress for $20.00. I ended up buying two for $15.00.
One other observation that actually includes all the cities and countries we visited --- they don’t seem to tear down any ruins. The ruins, of course, have thousands of year’s history so instead of tearing them down when they’re falling apart, they build another building which will incorporate the ruins into the new building. We took some photos that show this.
Our next stop was Las Palmas, officially Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a city and capital of Gran Canaria Island, in the Canary Islands, off the northwestern coast of Africa. It is the co-capital (jointly with Santa Cruz de Tenerife), the most populous city in the autonomous community of the Canary Islands, and the ninth largest city in Spain. And just to clarify (or confuse) the issue of the naming of these islands; NO, there are NOT named after the bird. Somewhere in the spelling of “Canary” is a reference to a Dog, not a bird. Some say that the islands were named after a dog, but others counter with “they had no dogs in the islands during that time, BUT they did have Seals that locals called Sea Dogs.” Oh well, add that to my bag of “I did not know that.”
Las Palmas is located in the northeastern part of the island of Gran Canaria, about 93 miles off the Moroccan coast in the Atlantic Ocean. It enjoys a very mild and pleasant semi-arid climate highly influenced by the Atlantic, with warm temperatures throughout the year. It has an average annual temperature of 70.3 °F. According to a study carried out by Thomas Whitmore, director of research on climatology at Syracuse University in the U.S., Las Palmas enjoys "the best climate in the world” (what? He never visited Hawaii??)
The city, like most that we visited this trip, was founded in 1478, and considered the de facto (without legal recognition) capital of the Canary Islands until the seventeenth century. It is the home of the Canarian Ministry of Presidency (shared in a four-year term with Santa Cruz de Tenerife), as well as half of the Ministries and Boards of the Canarian Government, and the High Court of Justice of the Canary Islands. It is the judicial and commercial capital of the Canary Islands, and is also home to a large part of the executive power. The city was founded by Juan Rejón on 24 June 1478, with the name "Real de Las Palmas". Rejón was head of the invading Castilian army, which then engaged in war with the locals. In 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored in the port of Las Palmas and spent some time on the island on his first trip to the Americas. He also stopped there on the way back to Spain. In 1595 Francis Drake tried to plunder the town, leading to the Battle of Las Palmas. A Dutch raid under vice-admiral Pieter van der Does in 1599 was only slightly more successful; some of the town was destroyed but the raiders were repelled. Las Palmas' seaport, Puerto de la Luz (known internationally as La Luz port), benefited greatly from the closure of the Suez Canal during the Suez Crisis. Many foreign workers migrated to the city at this time. BTW -- Las Palmas is a sister city of San Antonio, Texas in the United States, which was founded in 1718 by about 25 Canary Islanders. (See? Ain’t that there interesting? Now I KNOW you Texans didn’t know that. O.K., just me )
Personal Observations: None of the islands we visited seem to raise much of their own meat. We saw a few sheep and some cattle, but most of the land was used to grow bananas, tomatoes, potatoes and many different types of fruit. The tiny potatoes are usually boiled and offered as a “snack” along with hard bread and goat cheese. All pair very well with the local wine.
We then stopped at Funchal, Portugal. It is the largest city, the municipal seat and the capital of Portugal's Autonomous Region of Madeira. The city has a population of 111,892 making it the 6th largest city in Portugal, and has been the capital of Madeira for more than five centuries. Because of its high cultural and historical value, Funchal is one of Portugal's main tourist attractions. Owing to its geographic location, the site became an important maritime port, where its productive soils became a focus of new settlers. Its coastal position, the most productive on the island, quickly permitted Funchal to develop an urban core and surpass the populations of other settlements, which slowly gravitated around it. During the second half of the 15th century, the sugar industry expanded significantly along the southern coast making Funchal the most important industrial centre of the industry.
The wine culture appeared during early settlement, through the incentives from Henry the Navigator. In the years ahead, “Madeira Wine” was made extremely popular by Christopher Columbus, William Shakespeare and numerous military officers and politicians. Madeira Wine became “the one” to have. But, during the 19th century there were epidemics, aggravating the economy and forcing some to return to sugar plantations. In order to maintain the level of development, many landowners tried to plant new more-resistant castes, but of an inferior quality, in order to support the industry. A few of the notable visitors to the region were Elisabeth, empress of Austria-Hungary, 1837–1898 (who travelled to the island for leisure and health), Charles I of Austria (who was exiled), Emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, 1867–1918, Polish Field Marshal Józef Piłsudski in order to recuperate his health, Winston Churchill (who travelled there on holidays and was known to have painted a few paintings during his visits) and Fulgencio Batista (who stopped over en route to his exile in Spain). The presence of these notable visitors marked a period when Funchal became a center of tourism and therapeutic health. With the formal creation of the Port of Funchal, and later the establishment of the Santa Catarina Airport, Funchal turned into a major international tourist destination supported by a series of hotels and ocean-front residences.
Our next stop was Málaga, capital of the Province of Málaga, in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain had a population of 569,130 in 2015, it is the second-most populous city of Andalusia and the sixth-largest in Spain. The southernmost large city in Europe, it lies on the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) of the Mediterranean, about 62.14 miles east of the Strait of Gibraltar and about 80.78 miles north of Africa. Málaga's history spans about 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. The archaeological remains and monuments from the Phoenician, Roman, Arabic and Christian eras make the historic center of the city an "open museum", displaying its history of nearly 3,000 years. We saw an Arabian castle in Malaga that was built during their hold on this part of the world.
The internationally acclaimed painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, Hebrew poet and Jewish philosopher Solomon Ibn Gabirol and the actor Antonio Banderas were born in Málaga. The magnum opus of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, "Malagueña", is named for the music of this region of Spain. Málaga is the main economic and financial centre of southern Spain, home of the region's largest bank, Unicaja, and the fourth-ranking city in economic activity in Spain behind Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. We arrived back in Barcelona, Spain to end one leg of our Spanish/European tour and begin the second leg.
We are also doing something we haven’t done before. Although we have completed about a dozen cruises, both ocean and river, this is our first “Back to Back” and as usual, I’ve actually learned something…….again. A Back to Back is when you take a cruise ship out, return and then immediately use the same cruise ship for another tour. The tour may have the same stops as the first (but, I don’t know why anyone would want to do that) or the tour could be making different stops than the first. That’s the category we are in. Plus, relying on the travel smarts of my Travel Agent, we are also in the very same cabin. What’s that mean? It means that (1) those (normal people) completing their cruise (no Back to Back) packed their bags and left them in the gangway the night before we dock for a very early morning pickup by the crewmembers and then they had to get off the ship by 0900. (2) Those on a Back to Back, but are changing cabins had to pack their bags their last night and leave them in their room where a cabin attendant moves the bags to the new cabin assignment after cleaning is done. These folks can either leave the ship and return later (wearing a Priority sticker so they don’t need to re-process customs, etc. to re-enter the ship) OR just stay on the ship (out of the cabin while it is being cleaned.) And finally (3) Back to Back staying in the same cabin (us). We didn’t have to do ANYTHING. We slept in while thousands of other passengers scurried around to disembark, got up when we felt like it, had a leisurely breakfast, soaked up some sun and used the Jacuzzi before anyone else got there. Our room will be cleaned and re-stocked, but nothing is packed or moved. Oh yeah, we don’t need to participate in the “Evacuation Drill” because we been there, done that.
Overall, this has been an excellent cruise with plenty to do, plenty (TOO much) to eat and great floor shows. We are looking forward to the second leg of our journey where we’ll visit Italy, France (Julieann, not me), and a few other stops. Thanks for traveling with us.