Sailing to Spain
In May, 2019, we boarded the Emerald Princess for a 15-day sea voyage, taking us eventually to Barcelona, Spain. The reality is that the sea voyage itself on the re-positioning Atlantic Ocean crossing was the focus of this Great Adventure.
Our long sea days were a supreme, yet simple, pleasure. All that reading material which (at home) we never get around to reading, all those chores which absorb our at-home days; all those dental, medical and pharmacy visits, home and car repair projects – all in another world.
At sea, we relaxed on our balcony, watching the ocean pass, made interesting new friends, were “enriched” by lectures and entertained with movies and Las Vegas quality shows. Although we ate too much, we were at the gym regularly and at the pool, swimming laps. The long sea journey was more important to us than the port calls.
LAND HO!! After a week at sea, we saw birds flying over the ocean (mariners know when birds are sighted at sea, land must not be far away), and later that day, we saw the Azorean volcanic island of Pico, majestically rising some 6,000 feet above the horizon! Our journey continued, and the next morning, we arrived at our first stop – the port and Azorean capital city of Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel.
Marv Feldman and the Emerald Princess in the Azores.
We were warmly welcomed by local friends who gave us a fantastic driving excursion of the stunning emerald green island of Sao Miguel, treated us to a delicious local lunch (no foreign tourists here!) and even organized an interview with a journalist and photographer from Portugal’s oldest newspaper who were eager to hear Marvin’s story from his USAF Azorean posting at Lajes Field nearly 50 years ago.
It was love at first sight – and indeed, this was our first visit to Madeira!
A beautiful, sunny sky awaited us with a breathtaking view from the ship of Madeira’s capital city of Funchal. Our visit was two-fold. Up at dawn and off the ship at first opportunity, we were the only ones in the center of Funchal’s old town on a quiet, Sunday morning. With a small cafe open on a back street, we treated ourselves to delicious coffee and two “pasteis de nata” (our favorite Portuguese tarts) as well as a shot of Madeira (wine) each. While there, many Portuguese military veterans with medals and soldiers with flags passed us, en route to a magnificent church nearby for a special service in honor of the veterans of Portugal’s African wars (e.g. Guinea-Bissau). They showed us photos and invited us to come along, which we did. After that, we explored the magnificent main street, filled with many Sunday market stalls and with dazzling floral displays of every color and description – it was Madeira’s Festival of Flowers!
Marv Feldman with Portuguese vets
In the afternoon, we joined an organized excursion out of town, taking us to various parts of the island. The winding road on which our bus traveled was not for the faint-of-heart (Carole had taken anti-nausea pills, just in case…). The scenery was fabulous, the flowers gorgeous and the steep mountains took our breath away and after a delicious English afternoon tea (scones, jam, cream and Madeira cake) in a mountain top cafe, we continued even higher for more dramatic views before returning to Emerald Princess.
No wonder the rich and famous, high society, politicians and deposed monarchs of the past came here. We were delighted to have experienced lovely Madeira, as they once did.
MOROCCO – CASABLANCA & RABAT
Our next port call was Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city. Dusty, dirty, sprawling, noisy, traffic-choked and rather run-down, although there was a ton of cranes and construction going on, we were not impressed. Indeed, the ship’s excursion director warned us against venturing out on our own.
Carole Feldman at the Royal Tomb Rabat, Morocco
As a result and following her advice, we opted for a ship’s excursion to “the Imperial City of Rabat” – Morocco’s capital, on the coast about 90 KM north of Casablanca. We had been promised a tour of the Royal Palace in Rabat but because our tour departed late from the ship, it was already closed – a great disappointment. We did visit the Royal Tombs of Mohammed V and Hassan II, in lavish marble coffins guarded by soldiers in colorful exotic uniforms, and moved on to the Casbah (Fortress) for sweeping views and discoveries on back alleys (and dozens of stray cats and kittens, too!). A stop for mint tea and Moroccan pastries was a nice, welcome, and relaxing break. Viewing gardens and beaches were, however, not so exciting.
We were happy to return to the comfort of the ship. Next stop – Spain.
CADIZ AND ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA, ANDALUCIA
Ahhhh Spain! As our ship docked in the port of Cadiz (so close to Naval Station Rota which we have visited many times), we saw the familiar sights of the Cathedral, the ferry to Rota, etc. We have been to the Andalucia region of Spain countless times (via Space-A air) and know it well; however, there are parts of this wonderful country we have not yet explored.
Marv and Carole Feldman in Arcos de la Frontera, Spain
We decided to go to a town we had always wanted to visit but had not yet done so. The ship offered us an excursion to beautiful Arcos de la Frontera, perched high on a hilltop in the Cadiz Sierras (Mountains), just over an hour from Cadiz. Our exploration gave a rigorous workout to our legs as we climbed steep, cobblestone streets, peeking into narrow alleys filled with white-washed buildings (Arcos is one of the Pueblos Blancos – “White Villages”) and seeing churches and cathedral before stopping at a delightful Parador (traditional hotel) for drinks and tapas. From its terrace balcony, on a superb sunny day, we had splendid bird’s eye views of the plains, farms and river far below. Returning through the familiar Andalucian countryside to our ship, we concluded our day with a refreshing dip in the swimming pool.
No wonder we love Andalucia – our favorite part of Spain!
MALAGA AND MARBELLA (COSTA DEL SOL)
Around midnight, Marvin awoke just as we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, seeing the lights of the British “outpost” as we entered the Mediterranean. Having visited Malaga on the Costa del Sol several times, after we docked there we headed to Marbella, playground of the jet set, for a look-see.
Marvin commented this was (by far) the best shore excursion we have ever had, with a wonderful guide. While the Costa del Sol is very touristy and crammed with thousands of people, luxury cars (e.g. Bentleys, Jaguars, etc.), expensive and exclusive real estate, and high-end designer boutiques, we found it absolutely beautiful, clean and a delight to visit. And, surprisingly, coffee and cake in a lovely cafe, were not expensive.
Dominated by the glitz and glamour of the rich and famous (e.g. the Kings of Morocco and Saudi Arabia, movie stars, etc.), we found it humorous that deeply discounted ALDI supermarket, Burger King and McDonald’s were next to the Saudi King’s palace! (We wondered if the “Sultan” likes Whoppers!) Gorgeous, sleek yachts (mini ocean liners) in the nearby Puerto Banus marina were the norm.
On our last at-sea day (and the last day of our re-positioning voyage), we were warned to “batten down the hatches” for rough seas – the waters were a bit choppy but soon calmed down. In fact, our 15-day voyage was over mostly smooth seas. We said goodbye to new friends, exchanged emails and prepared to disembark the next morning in Barcelona after a most enjoyable experience.
BARCELONA AND GIRONA, CATALONIA
With our sea voyage behind us, it was time to begin the land part of this Great Adventure. We arrived in Barcelona fresh (without jet lag) because our ship gradually changed the clock one hour at a time as we crossed the Atlantic.
The weather was a bit of a shock (cold and rain) after our previous sunny, warm stops of the past week but our heavier jackets were a blessing. Since we had spent some time in Barcelona before, we had a quiet, unstructured arrival day before taking a Sunday train trip to Girona.
Our day excursion to Girona was a joy. It was our first visit to this pretty Catalonian city (population 90,000) – the only negative being that it was choked with throngs of tourists (after all, it was Sunday)! Both of us learned Catalonia’s second-largest Jewish community was here, before the Inquisition. Girona has capitalized on and promoted its Jewish heritage well and we spent most of our time in the wonderful Jewish History Museum in the old Call (Jewish Quarter) with its tangled labyrinth of steep streets. While at the Museum, we happened upon a beautiful concert by the local choral society (where else, but in Europe, can one hear classical music sung perfectly in four different languages?) on a flower-filled patio. In fact, there were gorgeous blooms in nooks and crannies everywhere in conjunction with Girona’s Week of Flowers! Indeed, this was a delightful day excursion – it is why we travel!
ALICANTE (COSTA BLANCA)
A pleasant five-hour train trip south along the stunning Mediterranean coastline brought us to Alicante on the Costa Blanca. Decades ago, Carole had come here when it was quiet and sleepy, but Marvin never had visited. Times changed and the world has certainly discovered this bustling, yet relaxed, gem.
We settled into our luxurious, sleek, ultra-modern, high-tech Airbnb apartment, with sweeping views of the Med and all the comforts of home (and more!) for our four-day stay. Our young hostess greeted us warmly and our Spanish was a big help. A nearby mini-market provided us with breakfast supplies and the bus stop, outside the door, could not have been more convenient. What a great find!
We began our discoveries by taking a local bus around the old town and residential, commercial and industrial areas – an inexpensive (and for us, more enjoyable) approach to “hop-on, hop-off” buses. In Alicante’s center, we took in the Central Market (we always enjoy seeing displays of fresh fish, produce and flowers), explored La Rambla Mendez Nunez (the busy main street), snacked on tapas, enjoyed a marvelous “menu del dia” lunch (for pocket change) and strolled the mosaic-tiled beachfront Paseo Explanada de Espana – what marvelous discoveries!
No trip to Alicante would be complete without a visit to Castillo de Santa Barbara, with sweeping, bird’s eye views over the city and beyond (indeed, the birds were sweeping around us as we took in the vista!). The massive complex (a town within a fortified castle) at a dizzying height, stands tall over Alicante – fortunately, an elevator inside the mountain took us up nearly 1 KM.
When is the journey more enjoyable than the destination? When you go to Benidorm! The one hour plus relaxing coastal tram (light rail) journey was magnificent until we reached the over-developed, over-commercialized, over-crowded resort town of Benidorm – a favorite vacation and retirement spot of the mostly British – which makes us wonder what they will do after BREXIT? While the Mediterranean beach was spectacular, it was overrun by hordes of foreign tourists – obese (shirtless) men and (skimpy bikini-clad) women – all quite elderly! They were “enjoying” their beans on toast but we spotted a back alley restaurant for a delicious “menu of the day” lunch, then made our escape to return to the more tranquil and desirable Alicante.
Bidding farewell to Alicante and the Costa Blanca, we took the high speed, three-hour RENFE ALVIA train north to Madrid where we had the joy of having a wonderful dinner with dear Spanish friends and fabulous lunch next day with other good friends – all of whom we have known for many years. This is the delight of travel!
VaughanTown (English language program for Spaniards) fit in well with our sea voyage to Spain. We gathered for the three-hour bus/coach trip west from Madrid to the Puerto de Gredos resort. This congenial group of various ages and backgrounds had 16 “Anglos” (from the US, England, Australia) but only 10 Spaniards. Both “work” and meal times gave us ample opportunity to chat with and get to know fellow participants. A long walk in mid-program to the village of El Barco de Avila was welcome, considering the copious meals we had been served at our hotel! Weather was magnificent, with snow-capped peaks overlooking our rural setting, cows (with their bells) and horses roaming nearby – a bucolic scene!
Kisses, hugs and exchanges of email addresses at the end of the five-day program were part of an emotional farewell to those with whom we became so close.
As with many of our Great Adventures, getting home can be an adventure in itself. This one was quicker and easier than most but still involved components falling into place.
With our Vaughan Town language program completed, we headed to Madrid for an overnight stay in Spain’s capital. The important Champions League Final football (soccer) game in Madrid was scheduled so the city was in a frenzy, heavy security everywhere, packed with thousands of fans and full of excitement!
The next morning we boarded the RENFE AVE (very high speed) train for Seville with a bus/coach connection to Rota and the US Naval Base. Being on the base felt like we were back in America! Fortunately, after one day, we were able to catch a C-5 flight from Rota to Dover Air Force Base, DE. Clever Carole found a $39 Frontier Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Orlando, so we were off to Florida and, with a rental car, we completed our return journey home to Jacksonville. Whew!
Our 33-day Great Adventure was most enjoyable. As with life, it was the wonderful people with whom we connected that made this gratifying. And we were able to travel less per day the military way™ on our return!
Marv and Carole Feldman – Jacksonville, Florida