Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Caribbean Cruising

Windstar calls this "The Perfect Ten" islands cruise.  While I wouldn't call it perfect, it was pretty great.  We were treated royally, as always, by the staff.  There were just over 300 of us aboard, so almost full.  This was our first cruise with this many guests, so there were some lineups for the restaurants, but service was friendly and efficient.  You can book the specialty restaurants, the French-themed Stella Bistro, and the steak oriented Candles, where we often eat.  Jim especially loves the escargot and French onion soup at Stella's.  I have been going to stretch and yoga classes and we've swim at every Port.  The snorkeling hasn't been as good as we hoped, but did see some fish at a couple of spots.

Now to the islands. Montserrat.   A small island where we swam at a black sand beach and a drink on the beach.  Heavy rains while back on ship.

Roseau, Dominica:. We hired a taxi to go to Champagne Beach to snorkel.  Ourdrivertook us through the congested capital with colonial  architecture and bustling marketplace.  This island, like so many others, was discovered by Columbus and fought over by various tribes before becoming an English colony in1805 and becoming independent in 1978. Hurricane Maria's wrath from 2017 is still very evident.

There was a lot of plant growth and turbulence in the water, as well as jelly fish, but we did see some colorful fish as well as the bubbles rising from the bottom that give the beach it's name.

Castries, St. Lucia.  Again, French and English possessed this island, which finally went to the English in 1814.  Independence in 1979.  I went on a short tour by taxi with a few others from the ship, high above the port, to Morne Fortune.  This island was birth place of two Nobel Lauriates.

Mayreau.  Sadly, high seas kept us from going ashore to our beach barbecue.

St. George's, Granada.  A highlight!  Lots of time to explore fort and harbour.  A spice stop and fishing harbour.  Lots of local flavour and English spoken.  Felt very safe.

Bequia, Grenadines.  Small island, beautiful beaches.  Once a source of illicit trading, shipbuilding and turtle fishing.  We walked the Belmont Walkway to Princess Margaret Beach and swam.  Joined by dozens of Italian cruisers with orange towels.

Anse Mitan, Martinique.  Lovely French Island, expensive shops.

Les Saintes, Terre-de-Haut, Guadalupe.  Another French island.  Hiked to fort, the swimming beach.

Gustavia, St. Barth's.  Lovely island.

I will have to add more descriptions and photos later as WIFI is very slow!  Now, off to the beach at SXM for a swim.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

St. Maarten/Martin

Our first visit to the Leeward and Windward Islands, taking a 10-day cruise on the Wind Surf, then another 14 days on a repositioning cruise to Lisbon.  First stop was three days on the divided island (Dutch and French).  We stayed on the Dutch side in Philipsburg, a cruise ship hub, with a visit to Marigot on the French side.  There is no visible border, as vehicles pass seamlessly across, just a flag to tell you are in a new country. 

The Island was last devastated by Hurricane Irma on September 6 and 7, 2017.  The results are still evident, though recovery is happening faster on the Dutch side since the Netherlands Government put more pressure on the insurance companies to settle, or so we were told.  The locals are cheerful and quite friendly, used to fighting adversity.  As they get on a bus, they greet everyone with a cheerful "Good morning" or "Good afternoon!" before sitting down.  There are many minibuses, costing $2 US or 1.5 euros. 

We stayed at Alicia's Inn,  www.aliciasinn.com a newly renovated, quiet inn on Back Street.
Our meals were at The Green House and Antoinnes on the Boardwalk, both excellent venues, where we had local fish and lobster.

Jim meets Capt. Morgan

Lynne is greeted by Johnnie Walker

Yesterday we visited Marigot and Baie Nettle on the French side.  Fort Louis, built by the French in 1789 to protect the harbor warehouse stores of rum, salt, coffee and sugar from British and Dutch pirates, has long been abandoned and lies in ruins.  It was worth the short, steep climb for the views of the bays, the lowlands of the Terres Basses and Simpson Bay Lagoon and across to Anguilla.  We decided to hike what we thought was a short distance to Baie Nettle, but turned into an hour-long slog along a dusty road, finally ending at swimming beach where we were alone to cool off in the warm waters.  The whole area torn up and only now is being rebuilt, so tourists ha e not returned, though some locals live in houses back from the beach.

View from Ft. Louis

Nettle Beach and the bay
So now we're off to the ship and nine more islands: .Little Bay ( Montserrat), Roseau (Dominica), Castries (St. Lucia), Mayreau (Grenadines), St. Georges (Grenada), Bequia, Anse Mitan (Martinique), Les Saintes (Terre-de-Haut), Gustavia (St. Barthelemy) and back to Philipsburg.

Till next time....

Saturday, May 5, 2018


Palma de Mallorca

About 36 hours from the time we awoke on Saturday morning on the ship, we finally arrived in Palma de Mallorca, capital city of the Ballearic Islands, which have been an autonomous region of Spain since 1983. The main language spoken on the island is Catalan (local dialect mallorqui), with Spanish being the other official language.  Fortunately, most people involved in tourism speak Spanish and English at the very least, but are quite multi-lingual.  Palma dates back to the early 13th C. Christian reconquest of the Island from the Moors.

We were very happy to settle into the Hotel Blue Bay in Sant Agustin (https://www.mllhotels.com/it/Blue-Bay-hotel-cala-mayor), about four kilometers from Palma, and not to be taking another flight until it's time to go home.  We had half board, a lovely ocean view and a swimming pool. 

Old town Palma was a bus-ride through windy, hilly streets away.  The first day was sunny and we walked and walked, into the centre where the Palau de l'Almundaina and cathedral dominate, through narrow medieval passages and restful squares (placas), along the old City wall (Dalt Murada) to the old Arab baths, still well preserved.  For our admission to the baths we got to use a bathroom, a real find as there don't seem to be any public facilities available.  The second day, May 1st holiday, the squares were filled........until the skies opened up and everyone made a bee-line for shelter.  We found it (and a bathroom) at McDonalds!  After that places were much less crowded.

Passeig de la Rambla

narrow lane near cathedral

"Lady of Spain"

Palau de l'Almudaina, originally an Islamic fort, later converted to residence for Mallorcan monarchs

artistic tribute to Mallorcan saints

Arab Baths, dating from 12th C.

Palau (L) and Cathedral (R) 

Cathedral (La Seu)

Can Rei, Catalan Art Nouveau building

Plaza Mayor after the deluge


After three days in Palma we boarded the vintage narrow-gauge wooden train to Soller, 27 kms. north, in the Serra de Tramuntana.  www.trendesoller.com  The train has been travelling this route since 1912.

Soller from train above town

The train passes by olive orchards and through 13 tunnels plus a series of bridges and viaducts, stopping for a view of Soller and the mountains before descending, pulling into the 17th century mansion that houses the train station as well as an art collection of Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso.

Picasso's pottery and etchings

breakfast just off the square

Tram to the Port, church spires and train station

"street grunting" in Soller

Our room was near the square, with the church and many restaurants and shops.  The first day we hiked the GR  path around and above town down into Port de Soller  where we enjoyed sangria and tapas by the beach.

We saw many bicis and their riders

Though the second day was rainy it wasn't bad enough to keep us from hiking to a couple of villages nearby:  Biniaraix and Fornalutx (means 'oven light').  Both towns began as Arab Algeria, or farmsteads.  We passed through numerous orange and lemon groves and dry stone walls in the peaceful countryside.

an old wash house, Biniaraix

Biniaraix was originally an Arab alqueria, or farmstead, 2 kms from Soller

Today (Sat. May 5) we picked up our rental car for the drive south to Cala d'Or on the south of the Island.  The weather was very wet as we left, and we'd planned to taxi to the Port, but as it was market day in the square, there was not a taxi to be had.  We backpacked to the bus station a kilometer away and caught the bus to Port de Soller, where we picked up our Yaris rental, then wound our way around the western coast, stopping for lunch in Banyalbufar.   Unfortunately parking was terrible in Deia and Valldemossa, so we didn't stop to explore those towns.  Highway Ma 10 skirted the coast, shrouded with fog and rain, sandwiched between the Serra de Tramuntana and the sea.

outside Deia

west coast Mallorca, near Banyalbufar

Cala d'Or, Southern Mallorca:

The weather improved as we passed through Palma en route to the south coast.  We made our way down quickly but got confused in the maze that is the affordable European package holiday destination of Cala d'Or.  People either know where a hotel is or they don't; addresses don't help.  Prinsotel Alba  (https://www.prinsotel.es/en/hotels-cala-dor/prinsotel-alba.html) is located on Cala Gran, one of six calas (coves) in the area and where many, many large hotels are located.  Ours was lovely and spacious, and we enjoyed the modernity and convenience, easily 5 times as roomy as our room in Soller, for virtually the same price.  We were ready for a kitchen of our own too; it was good not to have to do the "restaurant stroll" in the evening. 

Mallorca has jokingly been referred to as the "17th Federal state of Germany" giving you an idea of where most of the tourists are from.  There is no doubt it is a beautiful resort area but you have to share it with many others.  We did swim in the Mediterranean but it was colder than Vancouver in the summer, not surprising as it was so early in the season.  

Cala Esmeralda

wildflowers in Mondrago Natural Park

Parc Natural de Mondrago

lunch at Pura-Vida, Cala Figuera, where the staff spoke German to us

Porto Cristo

poppy field on the south coast

On our last day, on our way to the airport, we stopped for lunch at La Caricola in the nearby fishing village of Portopetro where I enjoyed calamari and Jim (not so much) rabbit at a table on the water.  And then it was back to  Palma for our Easy Jet flight to London Gatwick and home the next day on Air Transit.