Monday, May 13, 2019

LISBON and area

The day we arrived in Lisbon, the weather reminded us of Melbourne:  four seasons in one day.  Starting with gentle sunshine, it quickly dissolved into the liquid variety as we made our way to our guest house in the nearby Bairro Alto (Upper District.)  First, the wind whipped up, cooling us off.  Then, just as we had donned our rain capes, the sun reappeared, heating us up again.  The cobblestone streets, slick with rain, were tricky to maneuver.  Our hosts, Andreia and José, at Ritz and Freud guesthouse, Rua da Paz 1, in the São Bento area, welcomed us and armed us with a map and brochures. We dropped our bags and headed off to explore.  
Electrico #28 on Rua do Poco dos Negros; Tuk-Tuk on R

climbing the steps near Rossio Station

modern white building, EDP Headquarters, "Visions of the Future"
building near Av. da Liberdade, old and new together

Marques de Pombal, Parque Eduardo VII
Pacos do Concelho (town hall), on 45th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, Apr. 25, 1974

Once a fashionable residential area of Lisbon in the 17th C., the Bairro Alto’s origins go back to the 15th C, when expansion grew west of the old walled city.  Today, recent renovations have led to the opening of new restaurants, clubs and trendy shops, but the area still emits its old charm.  We were staying downhill from the Assembleia da Republica (Parliament Buildings), near the Basilica da Estrela.  Like San Francisco, trams are the way to travel the hilly streets, and Electrico #28 ran right by our guest house.  Taking it is like a ride back in time, over hills and medieval streets.  You just need to purchase your Viva Viagem card, and load it with some credit, and you can ride the trams, buses, trains and metro.  The tricky part is, you can’t reload a card until it runs out, so if you want to take a train that costs more than you have on your card, you have to buy another card, for .5€.

We had not spent time in Lisbon for about 14 years, and we noticed a lot of changes, including gentrification and increased tourism.  We mostly stayed away from the more touristy areas and soon found an easier way to navigate by going downhill to the water and along, avoiding climbing up and down.  
A favourite area we revisited, though touristy, was the Alfama, inhabited by the Visigoths as far back as the 5th C.  The Moors gave the district its name and atmosphere; during their occupation, it was an upper-class residential area.  Later it became a working-class neighbourhood, full of tangled alleys (becos and travessas) and steep, twisting stairways.  Alas, we learned, Airbnb has arrived and driven prices up so that Portuguese can’t afford to rent in this district, but there are some old residents still providing a village atmosphere, sitting on chairs outside their doors and even selling tastes of home-made Portuguese cherry liquor, ginja.  
Arco da Rua Augusta, entrance to the Baixa district
The cathedral and Alfama behind us

One of the travessas in the Alfama

from Largo das Portas do Sol, above the Alfama

One popular tourist site is the refurbished warehouse, Time Out Market Lisbon, where you’ll find at least 32 upscale restaurants and bars, as well as vendors selling meat, fish, fruit and flowers.  The stores are around the perimeter with seating in the middle.  You can get authentic Portuguese dishes or foreign ethnic dishes.  It’s located near the Cais do Sodré train station at 24 de Julho @ the Mercado da Ribeira. 

Generally, we preferred to eat at small local places with simple Portuguese fare, usually fish, chicken or pork, cooked in olive oil and garlic, often accompanied by large servings of French fries or rice, sometimes with vegetables on the side.  You can order side salads, and the local wine and beer is cheap.  If you accept the bread basket or dish of olives, you’ll pay a small “cover charge.”  A favourite was Churrasqueira Da Paz at Rua da Paz 80, where you line up for a table in this popular, intimate eatery, rubbing elbows with locals and tourists alike.  We ate there several times, once sharing a table with two Parisian sisters and one’s daughter.  Jim had the ribs, served only on Mondays, and I had the Bacalau, both accompanied by potatoes, and we shared a salad.  With a half-litre of wine and a dish of olives, we paid €16.50, plus tip. 

Day excursions from Lisbon were to Cascais and Estoril, about a 40-45 minute train ride west from Cais do Sodré.  Cascais is a fishing village turned sophisticated holiday destination offering stunning beaches, historic buildings and museums.  Well worth spending a few days if your budget allows for the accommodation, but an easy day-trip from Lisbon.  We cooled off on the beachside walks, west to Boca do Inferno, and east to Estoril, where we caught the train back to Lisbon.  
Palacio Seixes, Cascais

Praia dos Pescadores, Cascais

Casa de Santa Maria

Palacio dos Condes de Castro behind fort lookout

near the fort in Cascais

Boca do Inferno

Another day trip we took was to Sintra, leaving from Rossio Station, just under an hour.  It’s best done early in the morning before the crowds grow too enormous, and probably not on a Sunday unless you want free admission to Pena Palace.  The palace is a long walk, 1 – 1 ½ hours, mostly uphill, but there’s a local bus you can catch from the station.  Cars are not encouraged as roads are narrow and steep and parking is minimal.  We’d had enough climbing and took a Tuk-Tuk back down to the station for a thrill and some local commentary from the driver!  
view of the palace from Palace of Seteis, now a hotel

partial view of Pena Palace

Our last two days were spent at the Millenium Estoril Open Tennis Tournament where we saw some good matches on clay (João Souza, Frances Tiafoe, Jérémy Chardy) and tried to dodge clay dust blowing off the court on the first day. 

On May 1 we headed for London-Gatwick and what turned out to be two nights as our flight the next day was cancelled.  We got to explore the town of Crawley before our 10-hour “rescue flight” with only 39 passengers on the 3rd.  Nice to have lots of room to spread out. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Trans-Atlantic Crossing

After part of a day back in SXM, which we spent swimming and shopping, we re-boarded the Wind Surf for the two-week crossing.  This time there were about 150 passengers, including some of the same people from the Caribbean Cruising.  Now we were not visiting ports, there was lots of time to relax; the pace slowed down considerably!

A few highlights included the deck barbecue; several cooking demos from the chef, as well as the captain and hotel manager, both of whom have cooking experience; "Sail Away" parties; meeting new people at dinner, and always, the food itself.

However, for those of you who can't imagine what there is to do on a two-week crossing, here are some activities available on a typical day:. Dynamic and static stretch, pathway to yoga, walk a mile, knot tying, guest lecturer John Clauson on his father's role in the Cold War, cooking demonstration, trivia, Italian wine tasting, WII games, seminar on back pain solutions, guest choir practice, bridge games, fellow guest lecturer (a child psychologist), afternoon tea, extreme abs, Happy Hour, live music by two groups, evening talk, future cruise presentation, special coffees bar, and more live music and dancing.  Just some of that and eating kept us busy, but we did spend many hours on deck with books, puzzles and newspapers.

Sailing away from SXM a second time

Deck BBQ under the sails

Jim couldn't get too much lobster!
The sailing was fairly smooth, and we were happy there was not a repeat of last year's storm when this ship was hit by several rogue waves which turned over a piano, tore shelves from walls, and sent some passengers across the room out of their beds!  Bravely, some have returned to cross again.

On Good Friday, we arrived at Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, in the Azores for the day.  We joined an excursion on the other side of the Island where we hiked two hours.  At first, fog and rain shuttered the view, but finally a curtain opened and we saw the gorgeous landscape.  This area has seven craters and a picturesque village both called Sete Cidades.  The dazzling blue alpine lakes revealed themselves like jewels set in a lush green setting.

Nicknamed "The Green Island", Sao Miguel's first settlement occurred in 1444 after Prince Henry the Navigator ordered cattle placed ashore.  The fertility of the land, and the island's geographic position as the crossroads of Europe, Africa and America, contributed to a rapidly-expanding economy.  Crops such as oranges (wiped out by disease), tea, tobacco, sugar beet, pineapple and lately, livestock and fishing, made for a prosperous economy.  Islanders who left went for a better life in other parts of Europe or America, which has numerous towns of with citizens of Portuguese descent.



Old house in Sete Cidades where water once went up to the second storey.

There was time after lunch to explore the old capital of Ponta Delgada ("sharp point of land") with its traditional 16th century buildings.

Igreja Matriz de Sao Sebastiao

  City Hall

Portas de Cidade, the city gates

Easter Sunday, April 21:  At sea.  We had some excitement on Easter Sunday when a guest had to be evacuated from the ship by military helicopter, a day and a half out of Lisbon.  He had suffered a broken vertebra in a fall earlier in the voyage and received treatment in Ponta Delgada, and was advised not to go back on the ship.  He was wearing a neck brace but wanted to carry on but his condition worsened.  It took hours for the helicopter to arrive, but the mission was successful, though we all had to stay off the decks.

We docked in Lisbon late Easter Monday, disembarking early the next morning.  More about our week in Lisbon and area next time.

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 had a drink on the beach.  Heavy rains while back on ship.

Roseau, Dominica:. We hired a taxi to go to Champagne Beach to snorkel.  Our driver took 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 turbulence and plant growth in the water, as well as jellyfish, but we did see some colorful fish, as well as the "champagne" bubbles rising from the rocks that give this 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, climbing 2795 feet above the port, to Morne Fortune.  This island was birth place of two Nobel Laureates, Sir Arthur Lewis, an economist, and Derek Walcott, an author.

Stores around central park and bandstand

Market place

Wild ginger
Most of Castries historic buildings were destroyed by fires or flooding, but not so many by hurricanes.

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

St. George's, Granada.   Since we had more time to explore,  we saw more of Grenada than most islands.  From Fort George, we looked down on the Carenage, a working harbour of fishermen.   Lots of local flavour and English spoken.  It's the island of spices, which were present in the Cruise Ship Terminal, a lovely aroma of nutmeg especially.   Felt very safe walking through town, and back to the ship through the Sendall tunnel.  The tourist police presence was reassuring. 

Bequia, Grenadines.  Pronounced Beckway. Once a source of illicit trading, shipbuilding and turtle fishing.  After the Seven Years War in 1763, St. Vincent and the Grenadines were ceded to the British, along with Grenada, Tobago, Dominica and Canada.  In return, France got St. Lucia, Guadalupe and Martinique.

We walked the Belmont Walkway to Princess Margaret Beach, where we were
joined by dozens of Italian cruisers with orange towels.  The swimming was refreshing.

Anse Mitan, Martinique.  Lovely French Island, expensive shops.  Part of the Lesser Antilles.  We pulled in during choppy seas and the tender ride was a bit wild!  Martinique is the birthplace of Empress Josephine.  We immediately felt we were in France, as we wandered the Rue des Bougainvilliers, past boutiques, bistros and the Creole Village, to the ferry marina, where we discoveryed the ferry to the capital, Fort de France, hadn't been running in about three weeks.  There was also a taxi strike that day, narrowing our options.  We decided to have a drink in a bistro and use WIFI!

Les Saintes, Terre-de-Haut, Guadalupe.  Les Saintes are a collection of islands, and Terre-de-Haut is the larger of two inhabited ones.  They were discovered by Columbus, Nov. 4, 1493.  They became French in 1815.  The town of Bourg is picturesque with whitewashed, red roofed houses, populated with descendents of Norman and Breton fishers and boat-builders.   We hiked the steep hill to Fort Napoleon for the view, then made our way to the swimming beach at Baie de Pompierre to cool down.

Sorry, no photos, but goats are everywhere, even at the beach.  Somewhere I have photos of them.

Today was the only time the marina on the ship was open and it was much too rough to swim or snorkel. They must have opened it so they could say they did.

Gustavia, St. Barthelemy.  A destination for the rich and famous.  Many of them had yachts moored in the harbour, including Jimmy Buffett.  Gorgeous setting meets urban flair!  Swam at lovely Shell Beach where there was pretty good snorkeling too.  Spent 20 euros for two drinks to use WIFI when we could have picked it up for free across the street.  We bought some more bottles of French wine to enjoy on board on the next leg of the cruise.

The island has a colorful history, including being a way-station for French pirates plundering Spanish galleons.  It's one of the only islands in the Caribbean without a substantial population of African descent.  Today island laws prohibit mass tourism.  I guess the rich and famous want exclusivity!

No, these are not the yachts!

Lots of shopping in St. Barth's
Our ship is visible to the right of the small island

St. Maarten, day 10.  Back to start the trans-Atlantic crossing April 9.  More on that next time!