Vol.2, No. 3, Apr. 2009

Text Box: Our Cruise Adventure to the Canary Islands
Rounded Rectangle: THE APERTURE

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Gran Hotel La Florida

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In this edition of the Aperture I want to share my experiences from a trip to Spain and an 11 day cruise to the Canary Islands and Morocco. Kathy and I took the cruise the last two weeks in March with our two daughters, Gwen and Lisa. The cruise was aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship the Brilliance Of The Seas departing from Barcelona, Spain. After departing the port of Barcelona we would be visiting Málaga, Spain, passing through the Straits of Gibraltar to the Atlantic Ocean and the Canary Islands of Lanzarote and Tenerife. We would then reverse course and head for Casablanca, Morocco with our final port of call being Cádiz and Seville, Spain. There are many links shown within the text of the story. Some links will take you to additional information on the port of call or one of the attractions we visited. Other links will take you to photos in my web gallery. Explore the links with a Ctrl Click and enjoy the story.


We arrived in Barcelona, Spain on March 17th after a flight from Los Angeles with a plane change in Amsterdam from United Air Lines to a KLM flight. Our first few days were spent in Barcelona adjusting to the time difference and visiting some of the sights. Barcelona is located in the northeast of Spain on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and is the capitol of the region of Spain called Catalonia (Catalunya). When visiting Barcelona even Spanish speaking people have a hard time as the official language of the region is Catalan. This is evident when you try to read signs that you think would be in Spanish, but aren’t. It was explained to us by a native of Barcelona, who has been living in Los Angeles for 40 years, that you cannot get a job in Barcelona unless you speak Catalan and that school children learn the language as their primary tongue.

Thanks to my daughter, Gwen, we stayed at a great hotel located on a mountain (Mount Tibidabo) just to the north of the city – the Gran Hotel La Florida. The view of Barcelona from the hotel is nothing less than spectacular. (Click Here to see the location of the hotel). It only took about 15 minutes by taxi to get the center of Barcelona and the hotel ran a shuttle into town for its guests.


Two things we learned in Barcelona were the meaning of gaudy and how long it takes to build a cathedral. There are monuments to the architecture of Antoni Gaudí (sounds the same as gaudy) all over the city. Two of the more gaudy of Gaudí’s creations are Palau Güell (Park Güell) and Casa Batlló. The Casa Batlló is situated in central Barcelona on the Passeig de Grácia, the main shopping street in the city. Ignoring the play on words it is really a popular and unique tourist attraction. A must see when in Barcelona.


Park Güell is Gaudí’s version of a planned community for wealthy Barcelonans to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s quite an ornate place that Gaudí designed to blend to the natural environment. The park is crisscrossed with natural stone galleries, ornate walls, statues, fountains and benches covered with ceramic tiles of all colors. This is considered one of Gaudí’s greatest works. You can visit my gallery for more photos of the park.


Another Gaudí work is the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família or Church of the Holy Family. Sagrada Família is a massive, privately-funded Roman Catholic Church that has been under construction in Barcelona since 1882 and is expected to continue until at least 2026.Gaudí spent the last 15 years of his life working on this project and when asked of the extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have remarked, "My client is not in a hurry." After 125 years of construction the church is still a hard hat area that draws over 2.5 million tourists each year.

After 3 full days in Barcelona we boarded our ship, the 90,000 ton Brilliance of the Seas, on March 20th to begin our 11 day cruise to the Canary Islands and Morocco. This was the day we were waiting for as we knew we would be cruising the Mediterranean in a first class luxury hotel. Like most large cruise ships the Brilliance has just about every amenity you could think off. There are ten decks of cabins and suites accommodating 2,500 passengers and 700 crew members. We were in a balcony cabin on deck 9 which afforded us a great view of the sea and the ports we visited. I especially enjoyed the Hollywood Odyssey Lounge on Deck 13 where you could enjoy a drink and a fine cigar while conversing with other guests or utilizing the ships satellite internet connection via the wireless connection in the lounge. This is where I sent back some of each days photos to friends and family. The food aboard is spectacular. You can choose to dine in the main dining room or the large Windjammer Café where you can get just about anything to eat 24/7. One note about the food is that the ship’s galley serves about 15,000 meals each day and that the menus for each day on all the ships in the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line fleet offer the same menu on any given day. The menus are set from the corporate offices in Miami, Florida and are changed every two years. This is a quality assurance measure. The chefs and cooks are trained in preparing these meals and can maintain the same level of quality on all of the ships. In other words if you have a strawberry swirl cheesecake on a cruise in Alaska, you will get the same cheesecake on a cruise in the Aegean. In fact Gwen and Lisa had strawberry swirl cheesecake for desert one night and mentioned that the swirl was not as good as the one they had on a Mexico cruise last year. Later that night the chef sent two enormous portions of the cheesecake to their cabin that was absolutely perfect. That’s known as quality service.

Day Three, Sunday March 22nd brought us to the city of Málaga, Spain. Málaga is located on the south coast (Costa del Sol) of Spain in the region known as Andalusia and lies about 90 miles east of the Straits of Gibraltar. Málaga is famous for three things. It is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, Tapas and German songs. There is not much I can say about Picasso except that everywhere you go in Málaga there is some monument or building dedicated to the cubists artist. One interesting item we did learn during our walking tour was that Picasso, and ardent communist had vowed never to return to Spain while Franco was alive. He died two years before the Spanish dictator so he never did return to the country he left in 1939.


During our walking tour of Málaga we stopped at three cafés for Tapas tasting and wine. Tapa means "lid" or "cover" in Spanish. A commonly cited explanation is that an item, be it bread or a flat card, etc., would often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies; at some point it became a habit to top this "cover" with a snack. These were very tasty offerings and after three glasses of wine and some Tapas I did not know if I could make it back to the ship.


Day Four was another “At Sea Day” allowing us to recover from our overdose of Tapas. One of my great disappointments of the cruise is that we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar at night so I did not get to see the famous Prudential Insurance Company logo. I found out that most cruise ships pass these famous Pillars of Hercules in the dark of night so I did not feel slighted, only disappointed. I did, however, catch up on sleep, do some shopping on the ship and play trivia in the Schooner Lounge. I was the odd member of the team called the California Girls comprised of Kathy, Gwen and Lisa. I did not add too much to the team. I think I had the answer to one question, who is buried in Grant’s tomb?


Day Five brought us to the port of Arrecife on the island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Lanzarote, a Spanish island, is the easternmost of the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 125 km off the coast of Africa and 1,000 km from the Iberian Peninsula. Covering 846 km², it stands as the fourth largest of the islands. The island is volcanic in nature and is covered with black volcanic sand. The three more interesting adventures we had while on Lanzarote were the camel ride, tour of the volcano’s caldera and a visit to a Bodega (Spanish for a winery). The camel ride was fun, but very uncomfortable. Unlike the camel I rode in Gaza, where I was alone on the beast, this ride consisted of two platforms on each camel. Our camel, named Riki, was a most uncooperative animal that continually bounced up and down making my backside very uncomfortable. If this was not enough the camel that Gwen and Lisa were riding behind us (named Martín) continually slobbered on my shoulder. I think this is the last camel ride I wish to take.

The trip to Timanfaya National Park and the volcano was interesting. We were able to sample some volcanic sand that was dug up from about 1 foot below the surface and you could barley hold it in your hand as it was very hot. There was a restaurant nearby and the chef was cooking chicken on a grill from the subterranean heat of the volcano. After a stop on the Lanzarote’s Atlantic Coast and a chance to pick up a few souvenirs we visited the Bodega La Geria for some wine tasting. As Lanzarote is a volcanic island and the Northeasterly Trade Winds constantly blow over the island from Africa it is very difficult to grow the vines to produce the wine grapes. The wine growers manage to produce some fairly decent wines by digging a pit in the volcanic sand and planting some grape vines in each pit. They then construct a 3 foot stone wall around each pit to protect the vines from eroding sand. It’s quite a site to see acres of these protected grape vines dotting the island. I found Lanzarote to be a very picturesque island well worth the visit.


Day Six landed us at the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the island of the same name. Tenerife is the largest of the seven Canary Islands. It has an area of 2034 square kilometers, and over 886 thousand inhabitants of which 80% are engaged in the tourism business, which makes it the most populated island of the Canary Islands. Tenerife is probably best known for the 1977 airport disaster in which 583 people lost their lives when a Pan Am 747 collided with a KLM 747 on the runway in foggy conditions. This crash remains the worst aircraft accident in aviation history.

Gwen and I decided to take the four-wheel excursion up to Parque Nacional Teide (Teide National Park) to view the 12,000 foot Mt. Teide Volcano. This was a great idea to take an open top Land Rover up to the national park when we left the docks at Santa Cruz. The weather was sunny and the temperature at 70 degrees. Soon we were buzzing along in our Land Rover enjoying the scenery and climbing towards the center of the island. About an hour after we left the docks it was still sunny, but noticeably colder, as we made our first photo stop. Soon after we made a coffee and pit stop and it was cold and overcast. I began to think that this was not a very great idea. We finally reached the park at an elevation of 7,000 feet and it was sunny, but very chilly. The scenery was okay and the geology was great. We were smack dab in the middle of the caldera with a great view of Teide looming 5,000 feet above us. On the two hour trip back to the ship it got colder and began to rain so we were really glad to get back to Brilliance and the Windjammer Café. While Gwen and I were experiencing this four-wheel adventure Kathy and Lisa were enjoying wine tasting and shopping in Santa Cruz.


Day Seven was another At Sea Day, which was well needed. This was the day I took a tour of the galley and was amazed at the food preparation technology used on these ships. The thing that struck me the most was the measures Royal Caribbean takes to insure the safety and quality of the food they serve. They have 150 people serving 15,000 meals each day. This includes the main dining rooms, Windjammer Café, Chops Grill (a steak and chops specialty restaurant), Portofino Restaurant, Colony Club and room service. For ships departing from Barcelona all fresh fruits and vegetables are shipped from Holland and all other food products, including meat and fish, are shipped in from Miami. This applies to all ports of departure with different locations being used for the fresh produce only. All food waste is processed and discharged into the sea in international waters as fish food while all other waste is incinerated on board. They recycle all water and have a full treatment plant on board for processing sewage. These ships are really floating cities.


Day Eight brought us to the neat and tidy port of Casablanca where the scene is dominated by the Hassan II Mosque. Casablanca (Dar-el-Beida) made famous by the movie of the same name is the largest city in Morocco, but not the capital. That honor belongs to Rabat.  Casablanca is a city of over 3.1 million inhabitants that shows both an Arabic (Berber and Moorish) and French face. Almost all of the signs are in Arabic and French.


The major feature of our tour of Casablanca was the Hassan II Mosque with a stroll through the central market and a stop to buy some Moroccan goodies and spices. The Hassan II Mosque took 1,500 workers seven years to build at a cost of one billion dollars. It is the third largest mosque in the world and its minaret rises to 210 meters (689 feet). The interior of the mosque is composed of Italian marble, ceramic tiles, carved wood, Austrian crystal chandeliers and woven Moroccan carpets. The mosque is so large that there are three purification rooms. I guess the Moroccan builders were a little bit quicker than the Spanish guys in Barcelona.


Casablanca is a favorite location for Ridley and Tony Scott’s films. they shot three films here Blackhawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven and Spy Game. Casablanca and Morocco are great locations for filmmakers. The weather is usually very good, there are plenty of available extras and the government is very cooperative. On the other hand the film Casablanca was shot entirely in Hollywood. Rick’s Café is a major tourist stop in Casablanca. The problem is that you cannot get in without a reservation and the name of the café is not true to the film. That name "Rick's Café Américain" belongs to Warner Bros. For more interesting images of Casablanca you can visit my gallery and view images 245 through 307.


During our stop at the Moroccan Cultural Store we ran into some fellows known as Water Sellers. These guys walk around with ornate costumes and hats with goat skin bags filled with water from Lord knows where. They offer passing tourists drinks from little brass cups hanging about their necks. As I did not buy any water from them I can’t comment on the price. They do, however. Offer to pose for photos with the tourists. I paid 2 Euros for a photo of Kathy and the water seller. I figured that paying for the pose was reasonable as they might cut my throat if I didn’t – just kidding. I usually give a small stipend to interesting street people when I take their picture. It’s only fair to compensate them for their cooperation. I think these guys were a bigger tourist attraction than the Cultural Store.


Our final stop in Casablanca before returning to the ship was at the Moroccan Spice Shop. This was supposed to be an educational stop, but it turned out to be more of a sales pitch to purchase spices and oils. They offered spices and oils that were claimed to cure everything from snoring and arthritis to male enhancement. All of these products were said to come from seeds, berries, leaves, roots or flowers growing in Morocco. They even gave several massages with some magic oil to several of the women. They seemed to like is and bought the oil. Yes, I bought some special seeds that when crushed, wrapped in a cloth and inhaled would clear you nasal passages and prevent snoring. No, it was not cocaine. I don’t know if it prevents snoring, but it surely opens your nasal passages. Casablanca was fun, but you really have to watch your wallet or purse. The greeter at the Wal-Mart, Ops, Cultural Store warned me to put my wallet in the zipper pocket of my photography vest.

Day Nine took us to the port of Cádiz, Spain and a day trip to the Andalusia city of Seville. The city of Seville has a population of over 700 thousand in the city proper and a history that dates back to Roman times, complete with an aqueduct. It also has a Starbucks coffee shop about every 200 meters. We arrived about 11:00 am on a rainy morning so our first stop when we got off the bus was at Starbucks for a coffee. As we walked through the city the weather cleared and warmed so it became a good day for walking and photos. There is a passage along the south side of the cathedral that is populated with some of the oddest modern sculptures that you can find. We were in Seville on a Saturday and by 1:00 pm the streets became choked with shoppers and sidewalk merchants, which made photography a bit of a challenge. You can see some of my Seville scenes in images 310 through 382 of my cruise gallery.


By the time we had finished with Seville we were thinking of the packing we had to do and the long flights home. Thankfully Day Ten was an At Sea Day so we could get our mind around the packing issue and start preparing for the trip home in a leisurely manner. This also gave us time to complete the final trivia game. No, the California Girls plus one did not win. The one unpleasant thing we had to do was settle our bill onboard the ship. With the exception of gambling you do not use any cash onboard the ship. Everything is charged to your cabin through a prearranged method of payment done with something called a SetSail Pass. This plastic card is your identification and charge card used for all debarking, embarking, security and charges onboard the ship. So on the last day the purser’s office presents you with your bill for all of the fun you have had.


The next morning we arrived back at the port of Barcelona and were off the ship by 9:30 am. RCCL handles debarking process very efficiently and by 10:15 we Kathy and I were a Taxi heading for the Renaissance Hotel at the Barcelona airport to stay one more night in Barcelona prior to departing at 6:00 am the next morning for Amsterdam and home. Gwen and Lisa were a little better off as they had a 1:00 pm flight out of Barcelona directly to New York and home. This was a great cruise experience and vacation. What made it even more special is that Kathy and I got to share it with Gwen and Lisa. That really made it great! And now through the medium of this newsletter and my photo gallery I can share it with you. You can view my entire photo gallery by Clicking Here for the rest of the images that are not hyperlinked in the story. If you want to see the exact location where many of the photos were taken Click Here to enter my photos on Panoramio and select the Spain and Morocco tags on the right hand side of the page of thumbnails. When you click on a thumbnail the larger image will open with a Google map showing the exact location where the photo was taken. You can zoom in on the map of click the image again to see a full size image. All of my photos were geo tagged with a GPS attached to the camera so the location from where the photo was taken is accurate. If you want to learn more about geo tagging photos see my Blog Entry 11.


We really enjoy the cruising experience and are already planning our next cruise adventure. We are looking at a 15 day cruise from San Diego to Miami along the coast of Mexico and Central America and passing through the Panama Canal. I am especially looking forward the stops in Costa Rica, where I have spent some time during my business career. I love the scenery there and the opportunity for photography and jungle adventures. I hope we can do it in 2010.

Casa Batlló

Pablo Picasso’s Birth Home in Málaga

Single Grape Vine Growing in the Volcanic Soil of Lanzarote

Gwen and I at the First Photo Stop on Our Way to Mt. Teide

Gwen Holding the Big Rock at Teide National Park

Ornate Fountain at the Hassan II Mosque

Children of Casablanca

The Water Sellers of Casablanca

One of the many Starbucks Coffee Shops in Seville

Modern Art in Seville