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Obidos ~ The Town of the Queens

The Travel-in-Portugal.com website tells us about Obidos’s romantic history that makes it even more endearing: “Perched on a hill rising out of an agricultural plain, Óbidos is one of Portugal’s picturesque gems. From its lofty center, one gazes upon expanses of vineyards speckled with whirling windmills and terracotta-roofed homesteads. Nearer, narrow cobbled streets, lined typically with whitewashed, bougainvillea-draped houses, wind up to the walled interior.

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First remarked upon for its beauty by the 13th century Queen Isabel de Aragon, Óbidos was presented to her as a gift by her romantically inclined husband, King Dinis. Henceforth, princes have offered it down through the ages to their brides.

The castle crowns the town and now houses guests in its luxurious rooms. In past times, however, this was a formidable medieval fortification. It was won back from the Moors in 1148 by the king and his men, apparently disguised as cherry trees, and lovingly restored after extensive damage in the 1755 earthquake.

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 Equally interesting history is attached to the renaissance church, the Church of Santa Maria, where Prince Alfonso V married, in August of 1441, his cousin aged ten and eight respectively.

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The ramparts are traversed through an ornately tiled gateway and few vehicles bother negotiating the ancient streets, making it ideal for mooching around the higgledy piggledy houses and walkways that in spring come alive with a cascading array of brightly colored flowers.

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Local crafts, delicacies and liqueurs abound in the traditional shops that line the main street, including the famed local tipple Ginginha, a sweet brandy liqueur made with local cherries.”

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Stunning, But Not Sunny, Seville

Seville, Spain is one of those beautiful cities you could visit again and again and still not see all you wished to experience! It is a city with a very high “WOW” factor. As but one feature, all of the streets are lined with orange trees (used in Britain to make bitter orange marmalade). Our excursion in Seville focused around four major highlights + a Starbucks where we enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate and shelter from the rain. 

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Palace of San Telmo

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Hotel Alfonso XIII (5 star hotel)

The immense Roman Catholic Saint Mary of the Sea Cathedral, better known as Seville Cathedral, is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third largest church in the world. Built on the site of an ancient Muslim mosque, it was constructed from 1402 – 1506 to “demonstrate the city’s wealth” as a major trading center. The Cathedral is also said to be the final resting place of Christopher Columbus . . . but then there are seven to ten other places in Spain that make the same claim. As you can see by the photos that follow, the exterior is quite ornate with extensive carvings, flying buttresses, towers and ornate doors.

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 Royal Alcazar or Alcazar of Seville is a royal palace that was originally founded as a Moorish fort in 913 and has been expanded or reconstructed many times over the last eleven centuries. Today Alcazar is a magnificent palace, intricately decorated with horseshoe arches, marble columns, and gorgeous, extensive gardens that contain numerous fountains, grottos, and full hedge mazes.

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Plaza de Espana using a Renaissance Revival style of Spanish architecture was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American World’s Fair of 1929. The complex is a huge semi-circular brick building, with a tower at either end (tall enough to be visible around the city) with tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain; tiled fountains; pavilions; brightly colored ceramics; ponds; benches; ornate bridges; paintings; orange trees and flower beds along with numerous buildings constructed for the exhibition.

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Casa Pilatos, an Andalusian palace, served as the permanent residence of the Dukes of Medinaceli and is said to be one of the finest examples of Andalusian architecture of 16th century Seville. However, it is easily missed because its nondescript front blends in with other neighborhood buildings. Although it may be plain on the outside, the opposite is true of the interior with its courtyard, floor-to-ceiling tiled rooms, and the intricate craftsmanship evident throughout. 

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Intricate carved inlaid ceiling 

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Tahiche and Teguise on Lanzarote in the Canaries

In the port city of Arrecife, on Lanzarote, Canary Islands, we visited three very different venues: Tari de Tahiche that houses the work of Cesar Manrique, Teguise, and the piracy fort that overlooks this small city.

Cesar Manrique is known world wide for his contemporary art manifested as paintings, sculpture, murals, and architecture integrated into and adapted to various natural environments. We were able to view a collection of his works housed in Tari de Tahiche. The site was actually his very impressive home that he remodeled into a museum prior to his death in 1992.

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Not only did Manrique build the two-story house on a lava flow from volcanic eruptions (that took place between 1730 and 1736); but also, he literally carved out the basement/lower level from five very large natural volcanic bubbles or lava caves. These bubbles are connected by means of small passageways (painted in black and white) that were bored into the lava flow. The cave in the center of the lower level includes a pool with a free-form stone bridge from one side to the other, a small dance floor, built-in cushioned benches and more, all decorated with abundant plant life.

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 The upper level contains large picture windows that provide panoramic views of volcanic lava. Also included are terraces, gardens, and many of Manrique’s work including paintings, wood pieces, and other materials.

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Actually, neither description nor photographs can do justice to the building and surrounding environment designed as a home to be lived in, not as a museum to be visited. It simply has to be experienced.

Next stop was the fortress of Santa Barbara that dates back to the middle 1400’s, when it was built as a defensive watchtower against pirate attacks that plagued Lanzarote during that time. Today, the fortification has been turned into the Piracy Museum that focuses on the “study of piracy in Teguise and international piracy in the Canary Islands.” The fort has a commanding view over the city of Teguise out to the Atlantic ocean.

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The city of Teguise also provided a feast for our eyes, with so many pieces to photograph that were reminiscent of cities long ago.

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Historic Windows and Doors of Las Palmas

The last two Canary Islands we visited are Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. Each is similar to the others, but also different. Nearly half of those who live in the Canary Islands reside in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, making this city the fifth most populous in Spain.

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Las Palmas enjoys a mild climate year round, making this destination pleasant to both live in and visit, attracting millions of tourists each year. One of the sights we enjoyed seeing was the Cathedral of Santa Ana. Gothic, Renaissance, and Neoclassic architectural styles are all present in the current design.

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  The church is located in the historic district that provided us with many opportunities to photograph the different details of the historic buildings.

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La Laguna to Lunar Landscapes

Leaving the port of Santa Cruz on Tenerife Island in the Canaries, we walked fifteen minutes along the tree-lined promenade to catch the tram that whisked us up the mountain to the historic city of La Laguna. The city dates from 1500 and its original layout has remained intact since its construction and it has been a model for many cities in the New World.

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Iglesia de Concepcion tower across from tram station.

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We found the old city to be a picturesque locale to spend a Sunday afternoon exploring.

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Museum of the Arts that features beautiful architectural details

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La Laguna City Hall

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Tree clothes for winter

Steeple bells

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Neighborhood streets

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Our view of the port as we returned to the ship.

Barb opted to visit the countryside.Tenerife is the largest of the seven islands in the Canaries, drawing about five million tourists each year. The island was created volcanically, and is home to the world’s third largest volcano, El Teide, which is 12,270 feet high. This volcano’s most recent eruption was in 1909.

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The foothills of Mt. Teide contain areas covered by pine trees.

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The terrain in other areas appeared as lunarscapes 

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As well as rocks and valleys

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Much of the volcanic rock we saw was surprisingly colorful: black lava, red, and green rocks of various sizes and textures, through which the road was cut.

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An extensive multi-national research facility, located near the top of Mount Teide, is used to study volcanoes and volcanic activity in this area and elsewhere. Through the use of electronic equipment and satellites, researchers have learned to predict volcano eruptions by measuring temperature changes and seismic activity.

 

Volcanoes and Tombstones on Reunion Island

Reunion Island is located in the Indian Ocean, 500 miles east of Madagascar, and is an oversees department (what we might refer to as a state) in France – in fact, all cars display French license plates and their currency is the Euro. Tourism is the major industry of the island with many French and German visitors.

 

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The island‘s culture is definitely French and is kept alive in the many Creole villages. Its cuisine is memorable with Creole foods blending with French, Indian and Chinese sauces.

During our drive up and down mountainsides, we held our breath several times as the huge bus negotiated the steep grades, narrow roads with no shoulders, and hairpin turns.

 

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After a lengthy and picturesque drive, we visited the Reunion National Park, which is in the caldera (collapsed cone) of extinct volcanoes, now a mecca for hikers. While hikers walk the surrounding area, they might imagine traversing the moon as they travel the harsh and stark lava fields.

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The only “active” volcano on the island is Piton de la Fournaise. Although we saw no evidence of its activity, it erupted in1997 and 2007. The last eruption is said to have increased the size of the island by 800 hectares because of build up from the lava flow that spilled into the ocean.

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Lava flow out of the Piton de la Fournaise Volcano

© Richard Bouhet/AFP/Getty Images

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Cooled lava field as it looks today.

When we arrived at the volcano, we had a wonderful view into the caldera from above; but later, the clouds rolled in and our views were obscured. Because the automatic focus on our cameras tried to focus on the moving mist, many of our pictures were totally out of focus.

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The Island has a beautiful coastline and many miles of beaches, protected by the coral reef that is said to keep the sharks at bay, but shark attacks are on the increase this year.

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The cemetery in St Denis (the Island’s capital) is located very near the ocean and is reminiscent of the cemeteries in New Orleans with the tombs and tombstones placed above ground. It appears as if every square inch of the ground has been used. The engraving on the tombstones indicates the burial of entire families, each person buried at a different time. Most burial plots in the entire cemetery (and there seems to be thousands of plots) are decorated with fresh flowers. As the photos show, some of the flowers are real and in full bloom, either planted in the ground, or cut flowers placed in vases.

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As we rounded a corner in city of Saint Anne, we came upon a church that was quite stunning.

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Anse des Cascades is a beautiful site known for its waterfalls, rocks and large banyon trees.

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One Day and Many Knights in Malta

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(Valletta Malta Panorama (copyright dirk.heldmaier cc-by-sa-3.0 creativecommons.org)

ABBREVIATED HISTORY. In many ways the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem shaped much of Malta’s future. Founded during the Christian Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries, the mission of the Knights was to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to and from the Holy land and to care for the sick. These Knights were drawn from the younger male members of Europe’s aristocratic families, those who were not principal heirs. It was a religious order, with the knights taking vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience. In 1530 Charles V, Emperor of Spain, gave Malta to the Knights, who became known as the Knights of Malta. The order became extremely prestigious and known as a maritime force, as well as a charitable organization that founded and operated several hospitals.

As soon as they arrived in Malta, the knights began to fortify the harbor and then fell into skirmishes with Turkish forces. In 1565 a huge fleet of ships, carrying more than 30,000 laid siege to the island but 700 knights and 8,000 Maltese managed to hold them off. After a great deal of bloodshed on both sides, help arrived from Sicily and the Turks withdrew. The knights were subsequently hailed in Europe as saviors.

But with the fame and power came corruption, and the knights sank into ostentatious ways largely supported by piracy. Napoleon arrived seeking to counter the British influence in the Mediterranean, and the knights, surrendered to him without a fight. But in 1800 the British defeated the French; and in 1814 Malta became part of the British Empire.

Malta was a major naval base during WWII and suffered 5 months of day-and–night bombing raids by the German and Italian navies, leaving 40,000 homes destroyed and the population on the brink of starvation.

In 1947, the island was given a measure of self-government, and gained independence from Britain in 1964, becoming a republic in 1974. In recent decades, the Maltese have achieved considerable prosperity, largely because of tourism. Malta became a member of the EU in May 2004 and adopted the Euro as its national currency in 2008.

Malta has long been an entry point for illegal immigration into Europe from Africa with numbers of illegals skyrocketing in recent years. This remains a divisive local issue, and attitudes are very mixed within the country.

 

OUR EXCURSION. We took the red double-deck, hop-on-hop-off bus on the northern route out to Mdina, former capitol of Malta, nicknamed the “Silent City” from Arabic meaning walled city. Mdina is a beautiful little city (town), perched on a rocky outcrop on the southwestern portion of the island and just the right size for wandering around, knowing we couldn’t get lost as we were inside its walls. The skies were bright blue; it was such a nice way to spend the day.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around the quiet, narrow streets, admiring the charming alleys and the exquisite detail evident in the architecture.

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Approach to Mdina

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Plenty of horse drawn carriages to carry you through the streets of Mdina

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Right away Mary Jane is captured for her mischievous pranks. 

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We then rode to Mosta to see the rotunda Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, completed in 1860 with its impressive interior and history. During World War II a bomb pierced the Church dome and thankfully failed to explode. A replica of the unexploded bomb is housed in the sacristy.

 

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 The Mosta Church from a distance

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Interior of Church of the Assumption of Our Lady (Mosta) (copyright Mstyslav Chernov, cc-by-sa-3.0 creativecommons.org

 

Our final stop was Valletta where we viewed the exterior of St John’s Cathedral, the church associated with the Knights of Malta. The Cathedral is undergoing major renovations at this time, so it was draped in construction cloth.

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 Valletta Malta (copyright yeowatzup cc-by-sa-2.0 creativecommons.org)

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We walked back towards the ship, taking time to enjoy the beautiful park overlooking the port. And to ease the strain on our tired feet, we took the elevator from the park down to the wharf and returned to the ship.

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Alhambra ~ “A Crown on the Brow of Granada”

 

The name Alhambra comes from the Arabic root meaning “red or crimson castle.” Moslem analysts speak of the construction of the Alhambra “by the light of torches,” the reflection of which gave the walls their particular coloration.

At the beginning of the 8th century the Moors (Moslems) ruled Granada and created Alhambra for military purposes. It became a fortress, palace, and small city all in one.

The Alhambra became Christian in 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabel) conquered the city of Granada. Later, various structures were built for prominent civilians as well as military garrisons, a church and a Franciscan monastery.

During the 18th century and part of the 19th, the Alhambra fell into neglect, with Spanish criminals and beggars destroying the illusion of this fairy palace of the Moors. As the crowning blow Napoleon’s troops, masters of Granada, from 1808 – 1812, converted the facilities into barracks. The neglect continued until 1870 when the Alhambra was declared a national monument, protected, restored, and cared for. The Alhambra became an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.

Granada is a two and a half hour drive from the port city of Malaga, Spain. Although Granada is a beautiful city, it is said, “Nothing in all of Spain compares to the city’s Muslim-Hispano complex—Alhambra.” The architectural art found in this complex is truly spectacular and can be seen in a number of forms: ruins, walls, towers, detailed mosaics, prism-style cupolas and stone-cast latticework. As a poet once said,

“Life holds no greater affliction

     than that of being blind in Granada.”

Almost every detail suggests grace and sophistication as you can see in the examples below.

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Guardians of Gibralter ~ They Carry No Guns

Gibraltar is a British territory with the look of a London neighborhood. This well known rock is populated with 30,000 full time residents, ninety-five per cent of whom live in apartments.

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Additionally, about 5,000 people come across the African border daily to do household service work. The road leading from Morocco bisects the landing strip of the Gibralter airport, so be on the lookout for low flying planes.

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This landmass of only 3 miles by 1.5 miles is strategically located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean and has been ruled by the Moors, Spanish, and most recently, the British.

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During the mid to late 1700s, British soldiers chiseled tunnels out of solid rock without the advantage of power/electric equipment. Quite an amazing feat!!

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When people leave the town by cable car for views over the Straights of Gibraltar they are met by Barbary Apes that roam freely, no cages for these fortunate, spoiled monkeys. Although they are sometimes said to attack visitors, we found them quite docile, except for the young ones that frolicked around us. Food is actually provided by the government, but the apes tend to be a bit light fingered—one stole a lipstick from our guide on a previous trip. Over the past 350 years, tradition has dictated that as long as the Barbary Apes remain, the British will rule Gibraltar.

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EartH Without Art is EH

Lisbon was a city in ruins on All Souls Day in 1755, as a result of a major earthquake, followed by fire, and then flooded by a tsunami. To see it today is a sight to behold, with beautiful squares, arches, decorative building details and numerous fountains, all nestled among its seven hills and cobblestone streets.

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As the title states EartH without art is EH. Each culture has its own concept of art and artists, and Lisbon is no exception. Increasingly, major cities of the world are giving canvas to the street artists in the form of derelict buildings for their own unique style of graffiti art. Here are a few examples we found in our walks in Lisbon.

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As in any large city, there is plenty of street life to see just walking down the wide avenues with multiple shops to tempt you with their wares

 

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Mary Jane was particularly moved by the shoeshine man on one of the busy streets, looking at the shoes as everyone passed by, wondering if one of them would be his next customer. She was wearing non leather hiking boots, so she was not a suitable candidate, but the juxtaposition between his seat on his polishing box and the chair for a potential customer told a story that she wanted to remember, so she gave him some money for a picture and received in exchange a memory of a man who lives in Lisbon.

 

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Shoeshine man 

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Carolyn didn’t realize that she had chosen a tour for serious birdwatchers. Because she was intent upon viewing the birds through the lens of her camera, she was taken aback by the excited chatter of her tour mates about all the birds they were seeing. From Carolyn’s viewpoint there wasn’t a bird in sight. Eventually, she glimpsed one very small yellow and black bird as it swung back and forth in the wind on a rather large weed, visible one second and behind other weeds and out of sight two seconds later. She also grabbed a quick shot of birds in flight, an old building, and several boats.

 

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 But this tour afforded her an opportunity to see in a different way – through the eyes of the binoculars and telescope made available. Doing so changed her whole perspective, allowing her to enjoy the antics and features of the birds that were outside her camera range, reinforcing that sometimes it is simply better to see through one’s mind’s eye — to “live the experience” — rather than try to capture it through a photo.