Tag Archives: Silversea

11-12 April 2014. Livorno, Florence, Pisa, Lucca

The Glories of Florence, a Tower in Pisa, and the Rooftops of Lucca

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Livorno is Italy’s second-largest port, after Genoa. It’s a city of some interest itself, although most visitors use it as a gateway to inland gems.[whohit]-Livorno 11Apr-[/whohit]

From Livorno you can easily reach the great city of Florence (Firenze) or see one of the world’s iconic sites, a certain tower in the town of Pisa. Or you can head to beautiful Tuscany, Siena, and Lucca.

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The Terrazza Mascagni along the waterfront in Livorno honors the hometown composer. Photo by Corey Sandler

Livorno, home to about 160,000, is on the Ligurian Sea on the western edge of Tuscany.

Livorno was considered an ideal, or model town during the Italian Renaissance; it is among a relative few Italian towns that was actually planned.

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Not Venice, but the Venice District of Livrorno. Photo by Corey Sandler

At the end of the 17th century it was within fortified town walls—a few still stand—and crossed by navigable canals. The remnants are in Livorno’s Venice district.

This region, and especially Florence and Tuscany were advanced places for language, art, and music. The Italian Renaissance was centered around Florence from the 1400s to the 1700s.

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The Central Market in Livorno. Photo by Corey Sandler

Not coincidentally, it was the home of the Medici family, patrons of many of the great artists of the time.

In Florence, the Basillica di Santa Maria dei Fiori was begun in 1296 and completed in 1436.

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Il Duomo in Florence. Photo by Corey Sandler

Alongside is Giotto’s Tower. And it is topped with Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, one of the world’s largest.

The Medici Chapels are the private sanctuaries of Florence’s most influential family of the Renaissance period.

Michelangelo’s David is the centerpiece of the Florence Academy, the Accademia.

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Deeper within the Accademia, past David, is a storehouse of antiquities that would be the star of most other museums anywhere in the world. Photo by Corey Sandler

David is certainly quite a man, but my favorite part of the Academy lies deep within, kind of like an art museum’s attic. There are shelves of busts and vases, any of which would be a treasure at a lesser museum.

The largest collection of art in Florence, worth a trip all by itself, is the Uffizi Gallery. Built as the offices—the Uffizi—for Florentine magistrates, it became a museum in the 17th century.

By most appraisals, the world’s greatest collection of Italian masterpieces.

And there’s this old bridge, the Ponte Vecchio (which means, old bridge). It’s lined with shops and tourists.

It’s also an easy way to cross over the River Arno to the Oltrarno, (Beyond the Arno) the Left Bank of Florence, the south side of the Arno.

On the Oltrarno is the fabulous Pitti Palace which includes three major museums. The Galleria Palatina is known for its collection of Raphaels. The Museo degli Argenti (The Silver Museum) for its applied art objects. And Boboli Gardens a handsome landscaped garden with a café.

The Pitti Palace is mostly Renaissance in design. The core dates from 1458 and was originally the little town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker.

The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

It’s almost like a private gallery in a great home, featuring Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Pietro da Cortona.

Another of my favorites is Santa Croce, near the Duomo but off the regular tourist beat. It appeals to my preference for unusual mixtures.

The Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world, with sixteen chapels.

Construction replacing an older building was begun in 1294 and completed in 1442. The floorplan is an Egyptian or Tau cross (a symbol of Saint Francis).

And from 1857 to 1863, a neo-Gothic marble façade was added.

The architect was Niccolo Matas from Ancona. He worked a prominent Star of David into the composition.

Presumably he had permission from the Franciscans, and presumably they also knew he was Jewish.

Matas had wanted to be buried at the church, but they couldn’t bend that much. Instead he is buried under the porch and not within the walls.

Inside are crypts for some of the most illustrious Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini.

Okay, so there is this city with a tower. Pisa is on the right bank of the junction of two rivers, the Arno and the Serchio, a city of about 87,500.

There is more to Pisa than just the Leaning Tower: at least 20 other historic churches, palaces, and other sights.

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The Tower and the Baptistry in Pisa. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 1063 admiral Giovanni Orlando, coming to the aid of the Norman king Roger I, took Palermo from the Saracen pirates. The gold treasure he took from the Saracens allowed the Pisans to start the building of their cathedral, campanile or bell tower, and baptistry.

Construction began in 1173. Almost immediately, the tower began leaning to the southeast.

The reason was quickly apparent: an insubstantial foundation on loose and wet soil. It took five years, until 1178, for the tower to reach the third floor.

Then construction was halted for almost a century. The Pisans were unsure how to proceed, and they were distracted by wars with Genoa, Lucca, and Florence.

This was actually a stroke of good luck, since it allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Otherwise, the tower would almost certainly have toppled.

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The Arno at Pisa.Photo by Corey Sandler

In 1272, construction resumed. To try to compensate for the tilt, engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other.

The tower began to lean in the other direction. Because of this, the tower is actually curved, banana-like.

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Within the Baptistry at Pisa. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 1990, after several heart-stopping incidents in which modern instruments showed a sudden shift, the tower was closed to the public. The bells were removed to take some weight off the top, and cables were fastened around the third level and anchored several hundred yards away.

The tower was straightened by 18 inches (45 centimetres), returned to the angle it had held in 1838.

Prior to the restoration, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees. Today the tower tilts 3.99 degrees southwest.

The medieval walled city of Lucca dates from the time of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.

Major sights include the Romanesque Duomo, built in the 13th century;  the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi; and San Michele in Foro.

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Other gems of Pisa including the Piazza Cavalieri. Photos by Corey Sandler

Or you can go to the former Roman forum and sit at a sidewalk café in the circular piazza and feel like a Lucchesian.

While you’re there, listen for the echoes of favorite son Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca in 1858.

 

9 April, 2014: Alghero, Sardinia

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

“Sardinia, which is like nowhere. Sardinia, which has no history, no date, no race, no offering.

“They say neither Romans nor Phoenicians, Greeks nor Arabs ever subdued Sardinia. It lies outside; outside the circuit of civilization.”

Those were the words of D. H. Lawrence in his book, Sea and Sardinia.[whohit]-9APR2014 ALGHERO-[/whohit]

Very evocative.

Not fully true, although it certainly is an unusual place.

Sardinia is part of Italy, while its neighbor Corsica is part of France.

Although: French Corsica is closer to Italy than France. While Italian Sardinia is closer to France (at Corsica) or Tunisia than it is to Italy.

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Preparing for Holy Week in Alghero. Photo by Corey Sandler

Much of the architecture and a bit of the culture is still heavily influenced by the Spanish and the Habsburgs who ruled here for many centuries.

Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. Only Sicily is larger.

Scattered around Sardinia are thousands of megalithic ruins known as nuraghes in Sardinian or nuraghi in Italian. The name is believed to come from an old word meaning heap of stones, or confusingly, a cavity in the earth.

In any case, they are usually located in panoramic or strategic locations; about eight thousand have been cataloged, but perhaps 30,000 once stood.

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The Nurgaghes at Primavera. We know very little about the people who built them, or their purpose. Somehow, though, thousands of them have remained standing, without benefit of cement or mortar. Photos by Corey Sandler

They date from the middle of the Bronze Age (18th-15th centuries BC). Many were in continuous use when Rome entered in the 2nd century BC.

We don’t know much more. They may been used for religious purposes or as military posts, or both. And we know little about what are known as the Nuragic people.

Outside of Alghero is the fortified town of Castelsardo, founded in the 12th century by the Doria family.

The original castle is still there, although modern structures crowd around the base of the hill.

About 20 minutes by car is the limestone headland of Capo Caccia.

The name literally translates as “head hunting”; in context, it’s the hunting lands at the cape.

At its base is one of the local sights-to-see near Alghero, at least for the tourists. Neptune’s Grotto: the Grotta di Nettuno.

The cave was discovered by local fishermen in the 18th century, and named for the Roman god of the sea. Somewhat like the Blue Grotto on the island of Capri, the entrance to Neputne’s Grotto lies only around a meter or three feet above sea level at the foot of the Capo Caccia cliffs.

And for those of you who are fans of bad horror movies, you might want to make a pilgrimage to Neptune’s Grotto to honor a renowned work of cinema.

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Above Neptune’s Grotto at Capo Caccio. Photo by Corey Sandler

In the summer of 1978, the decidedly unclassic film Island of Mutations, was filmed there. The Italian title for the movie was L’isola degli uomini pesce. The Island of the Fish Men. A combination of a horror film, a Western, and a wet t-shirt contest.

The movie’s stars included the American actress Barbara Bach, whose first claim to fame was being the Bond girl in the 1977 James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me.

But her other, enduring claim to fame is her marriage to former Beatle Ringo Starr, at last report still ongoing after 33 years.

 

6 April 2014: Ibiza, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Silversea Silver Wind is making a grand tour of the Balearics: three of the five major islands. We start with Ibiza, the principal town on the island of the same name.

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Approaching Ibiza at sunrise. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Balearic Islands sit offshore of Spain, very attractive in many ways:

Rich and fertile land.[whohit]-6APR2014 IBIZA-[/whohit]

Safe harbors, on the ancient trading routes for long-vanished peoples, as well as for wave upon wave of empire builders including the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Vikings, the Spanish, and the English.

And then right along the watery highway for incoming Islamic tribes, and then for outgoing Crusaders.

And today, close enough for invading holiday makers to hop on a ferry or a flight from the mainland to the beach.

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They party hearty in Ibiza, deep into the night. We arrived on Sunday, the morning after the night before. Photo by Corey Sandler

In the 16th and 17th centuries—under the Habsburg Dynasty—the Spanish Empire was the world’s greatest power. It held dominion over Spain, the Low Countries of Europe, as well as parts of France, Germany, and Italy.

In Northern Africa, Spain held Morocco and the surrounding area. In the New World, Spain held Louisiana. The Viceroyalty of New Spain included Alta California and all of Mexico and Central America. Plus South America from Venezuela to Peru on the western half of the continent and the Falkland Islands on the eastern side.

In the Caribbean it held the significant islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba.

Oh, and Florida.

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Fortifications of Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler

From 1580 to 1640, in dynastic union with Portugal, it included territories in Malta, Africa, India, the Middle East, Ceylon, and Brazil. A bit later on, the Spanish were as far north as Vancouver and the panhandle of Alaska.

To modern Spain, the Balaeric islands today new gold: from tourists.

From the mainland of Spain at Porto Denia to Ibiza, it is about 75 miles or 120km. On some summer weekends the Balearics seem like a suburb of Valencia…mixed in with jet-setters from around the world.

Ibiza is one of the two western “Pityuses” or “Pine Islands”, along with Formentera. The island’s largest cities are Ibiza Town; in Catalan called Vila d’Eivissa, or simply Vila, as well as Santa Eulària des Riu and Sant Antoni de Portmany.

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The morning light casts a shadow just outside the city walls. Photo by Corey Sandler

Modern Ibiza is very much a party town for the young. But it does have an ancient past.

In 654 BC, Phoenician settlers founded a port they called Ibossim. The Phoenicians—great traders and travelers—had adopted an Egyptian deity, the god of music and dance Bes. The Romans later adjusted the name to “Ebusus.” Ibiza next came under control of Carthage. By 400 BC, Ibiza was a major trader in the Mediterranean with outposts on the nearby, larger Balearic island of Majorca.

Ibiza produced dye, salt, wool, and the very popular fermented fish sauce known as garum, a very, very distant relative of Worcestershire Sauce.

It also supplied some fierce mercenaries who fought for Carthage. Ibiza became part of the Roman Empire but was far enough away from Rome that it was mostly left alone. But after the fall of the Roman empire—and brief rule by the Vandals and then the Byzantines, the island was conquered by the oncoming Islamic tide.

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The view from above, with the walls. Silver Wind was at the dock at lower right. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Moors were on their way to taking Andalusia and much of the Iberian peninsula.

The pushback against the Muslims occurred in many places in many forms. Ibiza, Formentera, and Menorca were invaded by Norwegian king Sigurd I in the spring of 1110 on his crusade to Jerusalem.

Sigurd I was not a minor player: before clearing Ibiza he had conquered Lisbon and returned it to Christian rule.

The island was next conquered by the Roman Catholic King James I of Aragon in 1235.

This was still two-and-a-half centuries before the rise of Spain as a global power in 1492.

Ibiza has been a Spanish possession ever since.

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Within the Museum collection of artist Narcissa Puget Viñas in the old city. Born in Ibiza in 1874, he was an important though lesser-known impressionist. Among his favorite subjects the ancient alleys of the old city of Ibiza. Photos by Corey Sandler

As I said, today Ibiza is party central for many Spaniards and Europeans. The Spanish have been trying for years to make the claim that Ibiza is not just beaches, bars, and bikinis.

Not very successfully. Some call the place, “Gomorrah of the Med.”

If you ask someone about the principal attractions of Ibiza, you’re not likely to hear about great museums, cathedrals, and historical sites.

You are much more likely to hear about Paradis, Amnesia, Privilege, DC-10 and other clubs presenting live acts or DJs featuring techno or dance music.

The peak Gomorrah season runs from about June through September, so we’re a bit early.

In the late 1960s and 70s, Ibiza was considered at the forefront of high fashion.

Today, not so much, although shopping is still a major sporting activity.

Looming over the old city are the massive medieval stone walls of Dalt Vila—a UNESCO World Heritage site—and its Gothic cathedral.

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Inside the Cathedral of Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler

In Sant Antoni de Portmany on the Western coast you can visit a monument called “The Egg.” It was erected in the 1990s in honor of Christopher Columbus.

And thus Ibiza joins the non-exclusive club of places purporting to be his birthplace: Genoa, Corsica, and Sant Antoni among them.

But if he did come here, I’m sure there would be a party in his honor.

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Silver Wind at the dock in Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler.

ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS COPYRIGHT BY COREY SANDLER AND MAY NOT BE COPIED OR OTHERWISE USED WITHOUT PERMISSION. If you would like to purchase a copy of a photo, please contact the author.

 

 

5 April 2014: Barcelona, Spain. Hello and Goodbye.

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Barcelona…except someone who hasn’t been there yet.

Great museums, spectacular architecture, fine food, good people.

Here we bid arrivederci until we meet again, to friends from previous cruises and welcome aboard new friends as we proceed deeper into the Mediterranean.

Silversea Map 2409

Our next voyage, from Barcelona to the Balaeric Islands, Sardinia, Rome, Livorno, and Monte Carlo.

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city, after Madrid, the capital. The metropolitan area is home to about 3.2 million.[whohit]-5APR2014 BARCELONA-[/whohit]

Founded by the Romans, Barcelona became the capital of the Counts of Barcelona, and then one of the most important cities of the Kingdom of Aragon. The town was well established by 15BC when the Romans re-cast the town as a castrum or military camp.

The center of the settlement was on a small hill near the current city hall at Plaça de Sant Jaume. In the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), the Roman grid-plan is still apparent in the street layout and some fragments of the Roman walls have been incorporated into the cathedral.

The city was conquered by the Visigoths in the early fifth century and by the Moors in the early eighth century. Then it was reconquered in 801 by Charlemagne’s son Louis, who made Barcelona the seat of the “Spanish Marches”, (Marca_Hispanica) a buffer zone ruled by the Count of Barcelona.

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Street scenes in resplendent Barcelona. Photos by Corey Sandler

The most famous street in Barcelona is Las Ramblas, or the Promenade. It runs up from the harbor through its historic districts and toward the Cathedral and Sagrada Familia.

The street signs call it La Rambla, the Promenade. But it’s actually a series of linked streets, so it is commonly referred to in the plural, Las Ramblas. The name rambla refers to an ebbing and flowing waterway, derived from the Arabic ‘ramla’ which means ‘sandy riverbed’.

At the base of Las Ramblas, is the Museu Maritim (Maritime Museum) in the drassanes or shipyards where the great Catalonian fleet was constructed. The Columbus Monument, which stands nearly 200 feet tall, is located near the site where Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage to the Americas.

The statue is said to depict Columbus pointing toward the New World with his right hand, a scroll in the left. However, his hand actually points east, which could be a mistake or it could show the direction toward Genoa, where Columbus may or may not have been born.

Each section of La Rambla has a specialty for the street vendors and some of the shops. La Rambla de les Flors is devoted to flower stands. Another section sells birds, monkeys, and pets.

The beautiful Gothic Quarter was the location of the ancient Roman village. It lies to the right of Las Ramblas as you go up from the harbor. Narrow, winding streets are like a labyrinth. El Barri Gòtic is home to the Cathedral of Barcelona, the Catalan government hall, the and l’Ajuntament (the Barcelona city hall).

One of the jewels of Barcelona is its old cathedral, in the Gothic Quarter. The oldest known religious structure on this site was a basilica with three naves built about 343. There may have been a Roman temple on the site even before then. The basilica was destroyed by Moorish invaders about 985.

And then we come to the modern building, Santa Església Catedral Basílica de Barcelona. Begun in 1298, it is certainly has a place on the list of lengthy construction projects: the façade was completed in 1898 and the final spire in 1913.

Barcelona Cathedral (also known as La Seu) is a triumph of Catalan Gothic architecture. Especially notable is the Cappella de Sant Benet behind the altar, with a magnificent 15th-century interpretation of the crucifixion by Bernat Matorell.

The crypt beneath the high altar contains the alabaster sarcophagus of Santa Eulalia, patroness of the cathedral and co-patroness of the city. The virgin daughter of an upper-class Barcelona family, Eulalia was said to have been burned at the stake in 304 by the Romans.

The cathedral’s 14th-century cloister is known as “the loveliest oasis in Barcelona.” Its vaulted galleries overlook a lush garden filled with orange, medlar_(apple-like_fruit), and palm trees surrounding a pond.

The cloister is also home to a gaggle of white geese whose ancestors have lived here for five centuries, a bit unusual for a cathedral. One legend says they represent the virginity of Saint Eulalia or the former splendor of Rome.

Few cities are more imbued with the artistic vision of one man than is Barcelona. The visions, and some of them are a bit strange—were those of Antoni Gaudi, one of the masters of the Modernist or Art Nouveau style.

There are works by Gaudi throughout the city. Most begin with elements of Spanish Gothic, mix in Modernism, and finish off with phantasmagorical flights of fancy.

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La Sagrada Familia, still under construction, one of the wonders of the world. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudi was born in Reus in 1852, the son of a coppersmith. Over his career, Gaudi developed a sensuous, curving, almost surreal design style. With little regard for formal order, he juxtaposed unrelated elements at every turn. It is Gothic architecture, warped by modernism, if you will.

In his youth, Gaudí was sickly and spent much time in isolation. Gaudí was inspired by nature, he says, because: “Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.”

He studied architecture in Barcelona from 1873 to 1877. When he was given his diploma, a school official is said to have wondered if Gaudi was a nut or a genius.

Time will tell, he said.    And it did.

His first major commission was in 1878 for a private residence in Barcelona for the industrialist Manuel Vicens. The basic structure of Casa Vicens is Gothic Revival, but quite unlike the somber black and gray buildings you may associate with that style.

He mixed in Art Nouveau and Moorish elements, and some very flashy ceramic tiles from the factory owned by Vicens. The home—today a private residence—is in the Gràcia district of Barcelona.

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Silver Wind at the dock in Barcelona; nearby the old port of Barcelona terminal. Photos by Corey Sandler

Parc Güell is a magical mystery tour of a municipal park, another Gaudi wonder. Disneyland for adults, but much more fulfilling. The park, on the hill of el Carmel in the Gràcia district, was built from 1900 to 1914, originally intended to be a housing subdivision, the idea of Count Eusebi Güell­.

The buildings flanking the entrance have fantastical roofs with unusual pinnacles and curves. The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent.

To get just the right curve for the bench surface, Gaudí sat a naked workman in the wet clay.

Casa Milà  was completed in 1912 in the Eixample district as a private house. Nevertheless, it is a wondrously wavy and whimsical creation. One of our favorite places in Barcelona is up on the roof of La Pedrera.The building, the roof and an apartment within are open daily for tours.

I highly recommend it as a way to really get close to the mind and hands of Gaudi. This was a man who could not stand the thought of an undecorated wall or a straight line. Even the arch supports for the roof are works of art.

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Along the waterfront north of the city is the Maremagnum and Barceloneta beach and entertainment district. It’s just another facet of the marvelous city of Barcelona. Photos by Corey Sandler

Casa Milà was mockingly nicknamed La Pedrera (Castalan for “the quarry”), a name it now bears with pride.

Gaudí began his work as a secular architect and artist, but in his later years he devoted his life to the Catholic church. His crowning achievement was—or will be—La Sagrada Família, the Holy Family.

Technically, it is not a cathedral—home to a bishop. Its full name is the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family.

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Details of La Sagrada Familia. Construction is scheduled to be completed, perhaps, in 2026. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudi designed it to have 18 towers: 12 for the apostles, 4 for the evangelists, one for Mary and one for Jesus.

As he began work, his closest family and friends began to die. Gaudi’s pace of work slowed, and he fell on hard times economically.

Work on La Sagrada Familia came to a halt. In 1918, Eusebi Güell, his principal patron, died.

Gaudi became a recluse, concentrating entirely on the church.

He spent the last few years of his life living in its uncompleted crypt. On June 7, 1926 Gaudí was run over by a tram. Because of his ragged clothing and empty pockets, he was taken to a paupers’ hospital in Barcelona. Nobody recognized the injured artist until friends found him the next day.

When they tried to move him to a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying “I belong here among the poor.” He died three days later at age 73. He is buried at La Sagrada Família.

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More art in Barcelona. At left a contemporary salute that echoes a bit of Gaudi. At right, a sculpture from the Franco time of order. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudí was constantly changing his design, and the only existing copy of his last known blueprints was destroyed by anarchists in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War. This has made it very difficult to fully complete the church in the fashion Gaudí intended.

Like many of you I have visited hundreds of cathedrals all over the world, many of them many centuries years old.

Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia may well be the last monumental cathederal to be built, and it is amazing to watch the work underway.

 

3 April 2014: Cartagena and Murcia, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Cartagena is on the Costa Cálida, the Warm Coast of Spain’s Murcia region.

Cartagena is one of Spain’s more historically significant places because of its superb and easily defended naval port.

But Cartagena is less-known than many other coastal cities of Spain. In fact, its distant namesake, Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia, may be much better known.[whohit]-3APR2014 CARTAGENA SPAIN-[/whohit]

Cartagena, Colombia grew as one of the principal Spanish fortresses to hold the treasure taken from South America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

I spent the day about 50 kilometers or 30 miles inland, in the much larger and historically wealthier city of Murcia.

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The Fuensanta Monastery is on a hill overlooking the city of Murcia. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Fuensanta (Holy Spring or Holy Fountain) today serves mostly as the home of the icon of the Virgin Mary that is the patroness of Murcia. As Holy Week approaches, the icon is moved to the Cathedral of Murcia, where we saw it. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Cathedral of Murcia holds pride of place in this city of 450,000. In the principal chapel, we found the icon from the Monastery, preparing for Holy Week. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Near the Cathedral is the Murcia Casino. No slot machines or games of chance: this is an opulent men’s club from the 19th century whose rooms offer a tour around the world. Women have been allowed to join since the 1920s. Photos by Corey Sandler

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If you’re looking to join the Casino, you’ll have to pay an initiation fee and a monthly membership but you won’t get into the club with the recommendation of two elder members–and that is the most difficult credential to obtain. Photos by Corey Sandler

Cartagena, Spain has long been a crossroads of civilizations and navies. It has a fine collection of early 20th century Art Nouveau buildings, intermixed with a spectacular Roman Theatre and remains of Phoenician, Byzantine and Moorish structures.

As far back as the 16th century Cartagena was one of Spain’s most important naval ports. Today it has a contingent of minesweepers and submarines, and a large naval shipyard. The original settlement was called Mastia. About 227 BC, Hasdrubal the Fair established a town at the great harbor. Hasdrubal used the port as launching point for the conquest of Spain.

Roman general Scipio Africanus conquered it in 209 BC. The Romans, from Julius Caesar to Octavian and beyond used Carthago in their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. When the first wave of Islamic tribes came to Hispania—the Umayyad invasion—the port was one of the landing places they used, along with Gibraltar.

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city went into decline.

All the usual suspects tried their hand here. The Vandals (409–425), the Visigoths (425–551 and 624–714), and then the Eastern Romans (551–624), who made it the capital of Spania, the Byzantine Empire’s westernmost province.

The Visigoths returned, but they were displaced by the Muslims in 714. Various Caliphates and Taifas held Cartagena from then until 1245.

It was in that year that King Alfonso X of Castile (Alfonso the Wise) conquered Cartagena, re-establishing Christian rule. In 1296 Cartagena was annexed to the Kingdom of Aragon as the Reconquista focused on the remaining Muslim kingdom, Granada, which fell in 1492.

Cartagena entered a period of decay, because Spain’s colonial activities used ports to the west. It did not fully recover until the 18th century. The Spanish began to use Cartagena as the home of their navy. That also made it a target. In September 1643 the French defeated most of the Spain’s fleet here.

Although there are some ruins from the Carthaginian ages, like the remains of the Punic rampart (built in 227 BC with the foundation of the city) and visible at the Muralla Púnica or Punic Wall museum in town, most of its oldest monuments date from the Roman Empire.

The restored Roman theatre of Carthago Nova was built about 1 BC, and was in use for more than four centuries before being abandoned. The remains were rediscovered in 1988 during a construction project, and in 2008 reopened as a museum.

Other Roman remains include a colonnade, the House of Fortune, the decumanus and the Augusteum. Not far from the Roman Theater are the ruins of the Santa María la Vieja Cathedral, built sometime after the Reconquista—the expulsion of the Muslims, which took place here about 1243.

The cathedral had been built over the upper part of the Roman theatre, recyclying some materials. A decorated floor of a Roman house of the 1st century BC was found in the crypt of the Cathedral.

 

2 April 2014: Melilla, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

We jump now across the Strait of Gibraltar from the Kingdom of Spain to the Kingdom of Morocco.

From Europe to North Africa.

And there we find not one but two pieces of Spain hanging on—against logic and against protest—to the bottom of Morocco. Ceuta and Melilla are the last vestiges of Spanish Colonial rule in northern Morocco.

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The winding alleys of the old city above modern Melilla. At right, Silver Wind can be seen at the dock below. Photos by Corey Sandler

Melilla is on the north coast of Morocco, about twice the size of Gibraltar but still a very small place: about 12 square kilometers or 5 square miles. Ceuta, closer to Casablanca and to Gibraltar on the other side of the strait, is slightly larger. Between them they are home to about 120,000 people.

They have been exclaves of Spain for more than 500 years.

And Madrid insists it will not relinquish control of either.

Gibraltar and Spain’s Ceuta and Melilla are not exactly mirrors of each other, but they are in some ways similar.

Centuries of colonial rule has resulted in communities that are markedly different from the countries to which they are attached.

And in both place politics and nationalism long ago trumped any attempt at logic and diplomacy.

Melilla has a population of nearly 79,000 people, a mix of Christians, Hindus, and Muslims with a small Jewish population.

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The symbol of Melilla is the letter “M” in Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew, and Roman characters. Photo by Corey Sandler

This is Spain, so Spanish is the official language.

But many also speak Tarifit or Rifeño, a Berber dialect of the Riffians.

There’s a bit of French, too, that has leaked across the border from Morocco.

Riffian is a Northern Berber language, spoken by about 4 million mostly Muslim people in North Morocco and nearby Algeria as well as a few tens of thousands in Melilla.

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Old Melilla is on the high ground, overlooking the modern city and port. Photos by Corey Sandler

Northern Morocco and Melilla includes an unusual mix of DNA, including Viking or Nordic lineage. Many Riffians have lighter skin, lighter colored eyes, and other traits that are not common in Africa and different from Sicily, Sardinia, and other parts of southern Europe. Blond hair is relatively common, and red hair also found in higher numbers than might be expected.

Melilla has a history of its own, somewhat different from Morocco and Spain.

It was a Phoenician and later Punic settlement under the name of Rusadir.

From the Greeks it passed to the Romans as a part of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana.

Successive rulers included the Vandals, the Byzantines, and the Visigoths.

As Muslim tribes came to the area and then crossed over to Andalucia in Europe, Melilla became part of the Kingdom of Fez.

Which brings us to the 1490s, when the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon sought to take the city. In 1497, a few years after Spain had ousted the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada—the last Muslim stronghold of Al-Andalus—an invasion force conquered Melilla with little resistance.

But the Muslims in Africa sought to take back the lands they had held in the Magrehb. Melilla was under siege from 1694 to 1696 and again from 1774 to 1775. But Spain held on. The current limits of the Spanish territory around the fortress were fixed by a series of treaties with Morocco in the second half of the 19th century.

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Modernism on the street and as reflected in the windows of the Spanish Ministry of Defense. Photos by Corey Sandler

Melilla and other parts of Spanish Morocco were used by General Francisco Franco as staging grounds for the Nationalist rebellion in 1936, starting the Spanish Civil War. A statue of Franco—said to be last like it in Spain—is still prominent in Melilla.

Since Melilla is part of Spain, emigrants regularly try crossing the border to stake a claim in the European Union.

Spain has spent a huge amount of money for border fences, crosspoints, and patrols. The Melilla double border fences are six-meters or 20 feet tall. Yet refugees frequently manage to cross it illegally.

Detection wires, tear gas dispensers, radar, and night vision cameras are planned to increase security and prevent illegal immigration.On the day of our visit, we heard warning gunfire and saw low-flying fighter jets above the border.

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A section of the border fence is visible from the ramparts below the old city. Photo by Corey Sandler

There is a similar border fence between Morocco and the other Spanish city at Ceuta.

With the land side now sealed off more securely, refugees have instead been crossing the Mediterranean in ramshackle boats.

They originally started going via the Canary Islands, but patrols increased there too and now they end up landing primarily in Italy—including Lampedusa Island—and Malta.

Although we certainly are welcome in Melilla, tourism is not the heart of the economy. The principal industry is fishing.

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We have our sea legs. Elsewise the tile pavement at Parque Hernandez could have caused a problem. At right, the grand Ministry of Defense. Photos by Corey Sandler

As a prosperous port with a lot of interaction with the mother country, Melilla was built up in the first part of the 20th century with many Modernist structures, the Catalan version of Art Nouveau.

The small exclave is said to have the highest concentration of Modernist works in Spain after Barcelona. Architect Enrique Nieto designed the main Synagogue, the Central Mosque, and various Catholic Churches.

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Some of the Modernist architecture of Melilla. Photos by Corey Sandler

Some of the best Modermismo architecture can be found on calle López Moreno and calle del Rey Juan Carlos.

Melilla has been spoken of as a multicultural exemplar, a small city in Africa with three major religions represented. However, the Christian majority of the past—about 65 percent at one point, has been shrinking—while the number of Muslims has steadily increased to about 45 percent.

Jews, who had lived in Melilla for centuries, were about 20 percent of the population before World War II. Now Jews are less than 5 percent, departed for Israel, South America, and elsewhere. There is also a small, commercially important Hindu community.

Cross-border trade is an important part of the economy of Melilla, even though the border is tightly guarded. Nearly every day, dozens of women pass through the pedestrian-only border crossing at Barrio Chino.

They are known as the Mule Women of Melilla, or more kindly as porteadoras.

As long as a porteadora can physically carry her load, it is classed as personal luggage, so Morocco lets it in duty-free.

The women have the right to visit Melilla because they live in the Moroccan province of Nador. But they are not allowed to reside in the Spanish territory.

Traders in Melilla prepare huge bundles to go to North Africa: second-hand clothing, bolts of fabric, toiletries, and household items. The bales are wrapped in cardboard, cloth and sacking and fastened with tape and rope. A typical load might be 60 kilograms or 132 pounds; some as much as 80 kilos or 172 pounds.

For carrying the bundle across the border, a porteadora might be paid 3 Euros; some make three or four trips before the gates close at midday. This is not small business; one estimate is that the trade is worth about 300 million euros to Melilla.

And now the tradition of women as mules is under threat from unemployed Moroccan men. The women are objecting, but losing that battle.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

1 April 2014: Malaga, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Málaga: its very name brings to mind sweet repose, and sweet wine.

Both are conducive, I suppose, to great art, and it was here that Pablo Picasso was born and it is here that members of his family contributed pieces—some well-known and others quite obscure—to a museum.[whohit]-1APR2014 MALAGA-[/whohit]

Málaga is the capital of the Costa del Sol, the Sun Coast.

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The modern terminal at Malaga frames the handsome city on the hill. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Siesta time along the promenade in Malaga. Photo by Corey Sandler

 

That seems to be a well-deserved nickname: the coast averages about 324 days of sunshine each year, which means we have about a 90 percent chance of sol.

The Costa del Sol is more or less a linear town, stretching from Málaga to Cadiz.

A few blocks inland from the beach is Málaga’s bullring, La Malagueta, built in 1874. It’s a hexa-dec-agon, a building with sixteen sides.

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The bull ring in Malaga, in preparation for a major contest during Holy Week. Photos by Corey Sandler

Some of Spain’s most famous bullfighters have appeared here, including El Cordobés and Manolete. Spanish-style bullfighting usually ends with the killing of the bull in the ring.

Above the bullring in Malaga is the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortification from the 8th to the 11th century. Alcazaba comes from the Arabic al-qasbah, meaning the citadel, and this is the best-preserved example in Spain.

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The Alcazaba of Malaga. Photo by Corey Sandler

Next to the entrance to the Alcazaba are the partially restored ruins of a 2nd century Roman theater. Some of the Roman materials were used in the construction of the Alcazaba. There are two walled enclosures, originally connected to the city’s ramparts, creating a third defensive wall.

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The Roman amphitheatre of Malaga. Photo by Corey Sandler

I mentioned Málaga was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso in 1881, and he is much celebrated here, even though he left town at the age of ten.

The Museo Picasso Málaga is in the old quarter at the foot of Gibralfaro hill, near the Alcazaba and the Roman Theatre.

Picasso once said that he was the world’s greatest collector of Picassos. His family had a few, as well, forming the original core of the museum.

The collection ranges from early academic studies to cubism to his late re-workings of Old Masters.

The museum is in the Palacio de Buenavista, originally built in the 16th century incorporating the remains of a palace from the Nasrid dynasty, the last Arab and Muslim dynasty in Spain.

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Silver Wind seen from above in Malaga. Photo by Corey Sandler

About an hour west of Málaga in the inland hills is Ronda. Ronda was first settled by the early Celts, but what you see today is the result of later Roman and Moorish rulers. Catholic Spain took control of the town in 1485, during the Reconquista.

Ronda is in a very mountainous area about 2,500 feet above sea level (750 meters) (2,500 feet).

The Guadalevín River bisects the city with the steep El Tajo gorge. Three bridges cross El Tajo: the Roman, the Old, and the New.

All of them are old.

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The Arab baths at Ronda. Photo by Corey Sandler

The Puente Romano (the Roman Bridge, also known as the Puente San Miguel), dates from Roman times at least one thousand years ago. The Puente Viejo (“Old Bridge”, also known as the Puente Arabe or “Arab Bridge”) is a mere four centuries old, built in 1616. The Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) was begun in 1751 and took until 1793 to complete. This is the tallest of the bridges, towering 390 feet or 120 meters above the canyon floor.

A chamber beneath the central arch was used as a prison. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939, both sides were alleged to have used the chamber to torture prisoners, killing some by throwing them to the rocks below.

Ernest Hemingway spent many summers in Ronda’s old town quarter, La Ciudad. Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls describes the murder of Nationalist sympathizers early in the Spanish Civil War. Some say Hemingway based the account on killings that took place at the cliffs of El Tajo.

Another frequent visitor was actor and director Orson Welles. About Ronda, Welles said, “A man is not from where he is born, but where he chooses to die.” Welles’ ashes were scattered in the Ronda bull-ring in 1985.

One of Spain’s most spectacular and famous cities is Granada, just under two hours to the northeast of Málaga.

Granada sits at the base of Sierra Nevada mountains, at the confluence of three rivers. The city has been inhabited for thousands of years. The original settlers were perhaps Ibero-Celtics. Then came Phoenicians, Carthagenians, and Greeks.

The heraldic symbol of Granada is the pomegranate: Granada in Spanish.

The city became the capital of a province of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

By the 16th century, Granada took on a Christian and Castilian character, as immigrants came from other parts of the Iberian Peninsula.

Many of the city’s mosques, some of which had been established on the sites of former Christian churches, were converted to Christian uses.

Although many Muslim buildings were destroyed by the Catholics, those that remain represent the most complete group of Moorish domestic architecture in Europe.

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The Alhambra in Granada. Photo by Corey Sandler

The Alhambra, Arabic for “the red one”, or the red fortress, was built in the mid-14th century.

It originally was the residence of the Muslim rulers of Granada and their court.

With the reconquest by the Spaniards, it became a Christian palace. Within the Alhambra, a new palace was erected in 1527 by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.

After falling into disrepair, the Alhambra was “rediscovered” in the 19th century. It is now one of Spain’s major tourist attractions.

It exhibits the country’s most famous Islamic architecture, together with Christian 16th-century and later improvements.

Like a house that has been built, rebuilt, and expanded dozens of times over centuries, the Alhambra is a bit of an architectural mess.

That’s actually one of its charms.

The overall design is chaotic, with some rooms at odd angles to each other and styles abruptly changing at every turn.

Because the Muslims in the original settlement were isolated, the Islamic art here is classical

It does not include more recent styles that arose in the middle east and Africa.

The Alhambra’s westernmost feature is the alcazaba (the citadel).

The rest of the plateau is enclosed by a fortified wall, with thirteen towers, some defensive and some providing vistas for the inhabitants.

After the Christian conquest of the city in 1492, some of the art was covered with whitewash.

The Palacio de Generalife gets its unusual name from the Arabic: Jannat al-’Arif‎, meaning Architect’s Garden.

This was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid sultans of Granada. The palace and gardens were built between 1302 and 1324.

Within is the famous Court of Myrtles and the Patio of the Lions, like something out of Ali Baba.

 

31 March 2014: Gibraltar

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Gibraltar is one of the planet’s odd corners, also one of the most recognizable pieces of geology: The Rock.

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Silver Wind approaches the dock at Gibraltar. Photo by Corey Sandler

It has a quirky mix of cultures: a British territory clinging to the bottom of the Iberian Peninsula of Spain. To some eyes, the last remaining colony in Europe.[whohit]-31MAR2014 GIBRALTAR-[/whohit]

There a few other places of this sort, including Spain’s exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta on the Moroccan coast not far away. We’re headed to Melilla soon.

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The Rock, from the rock next door. Photo by Corey Sandler

The Strait of Gibraltar is the only natural gap between the Med and the world’s oceans. At its narrowest, the Strait of Gibraltar is only about 13 kilometers (8 miles) wide.

Scientists say about 5 million years ago the two continents were connected here. The Mediterranean Sea was more like a huge lake, and had evaporated into a deep basin much lower than the oceans.

Gibraltar is a very small place: 2.6 square miles or 6.8 square kilometers. About two New York Central Parks, or three Monacos.

The base of the rock is home to about 30,000 people, one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

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Streets and alleys at the base of the Rock in Gibraltar. Photos by Corey Sandler

The narrow isthmus ends at Spain. The Gibraltarians and the British call it a frontier; the Spanish call it a fence.

In Greek mythology, Hercules had to perform 12 labors to please the gods. The tenth labor—the westernmost assignment—took place here.

Hercules had to cross the massive Atlas mountain in North Africa, on his way to the Garden of the Hesperides. Instead of climbing Atlas, Hercules smashed through it by tearing down a pair of mountainous pillars.

The two points marked the limit to the known world. By his action, Hercules opened the Strait of Gibraltar, connecting the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

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The extraordinarily strange airport at Gibraltar. Windston Churchill Avenue crosses the runway, and cars and other vehicles are stopped at a barrier to allow planes to land or take off. Photo by Corey Sandler

One of the pillars was Gibraltar. The other, in various versions, could have been Monte Hacho which overlooks the Spanish exclave of Ceuta in Morocco.

The other suspect: Jabal Musa (Mount Moses) in Morocco.

Where was Hesperides? Some place it in what is now Libya.

Others say the Garden of Hesperides was on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, where our voyage began.

It was across this gap that the Moors—the Muslim tribes—came across to Europe in 711, surrendering al-Andalus in 1491.

In 1501 Gibraltar passed back to the Spanish Crown: Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile.

We jump forward to 1704, when Spain’s great empire was crumbling.

An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar during the War of the Spanish Succession.

And then it was made official—at least to the current satisfaction of the British. In 1713, Gibraltar was ceded to Britain by Spain under the Treaty of Utrecht.

Spain attempted to retake Gibraltar in 1727 and again in 1779, when it entered the American Revolutionary War on the American (or at least the anti-British) side as an ally of France.

Spain helped finance the American effort, and fought against the British in Spanish Louisiana and Central America.

But back in Europe, the Great Siege of Gibraltar was the first and longest Spanish action in the war, from June 24, 1779, to February 7, 1783.

The Franco-Spanish army was as large as 100,000, greatly outnumbering the British. But the British were able to hold out in the fortress. The Rock became an important base for the British Royal Navy.

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Notable residents of The Rock. Photo by Corey Sandler

It played a role in the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s victory against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish in 1805.

Its strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 as it controlled the sea route between the UK and the British Empire east of Suez.

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The Courts of Justice in Gibraltar. Photo by Corey Sandler

Spanish dictator Generalisimo Francisco Franco was no saint; not even close.

But he did not trust Hitler, a feeling that was mutual.

Franco’s reluctance to allow the German Army onto Spanish soil frustrated a German plan to capture The Rock.

The detailed plan for Operation Felix was ready to go, but on March 10, 1941 Hitler instead launched Operation Barbarossa—the invasion of its one-time ally the Soviet Union.

Operation Felix was delayed and ultimately abandoned.

Although it was bombed several times and suffered other privations, the Rock came through the War relatively unscathed.

Inside the Rock of Gibraltar, miles of tunnels were excavated from the limestone. By some measures, there are more miles of road within the Rock than outside.

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact the author.

 

29 and 30 March, 2014: Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

After visits to the islands of Cape Verde, the Canaries, and Madeira, we move back now to mainland Africa: Casablanca in Morocco. And some of us went on a side trip to Rabat, the capital.

From our ship, or from any high point on land, it’s easy to see at a glance the geographic relationship between northern Morocco and Spain.[whohit]-29 and 30MAR2014 AGADIR and CASABLANCA-[/whohit]

The two continents were bridged by land as recently as 5.3 million years ago, a few moments in geological time.

Today only about 9 miles or 14 kilometers separate Africa from Europe.

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A Gnawa musician inside the Kasbah at Rabat. Gnawa is a stirring form of music with a strong rhythm; its roots are in Ghana but nearly the only place it is played is in Morocco. Some believe it gave birth to jazz. Photo by Corey Sandler

Morocco has a population of about 35 million, about the same as Canada.

And you won’t hear this sentence all that often: Morocco and Canada are similar in another context.

The vast majority of the population of Morocco live within about one hundred miles of the coast; in Canada, nearly all of the population is that far from the border with the United States.

Morocco, though, is much smaller.

Only about 172,410 square miles; Canada is 22 times larger.

Casablanca is the largest city and principal port; Rabat is the national capital.

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The King’s Palace in Rabat. Photo by Corey Sandler

When World War II began, North Africa quickly fell under control of Axis powers. Italy moved first, into Ethiopia.

Germany dispatched Field Marshal Erwin Rommel—the Desert Fox—and his Afrikacorps Panzers and they had initial victories in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

And Morocco—a French protectorate—came under the collaborationist Vichy French.

That was the environment under which Rick Blaine (or Humphrey Bogart, if you prefer) operated Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca.

The Allies pushed back in late 1942.

It was decided it was too soon to launch a cross-channel attack from England to France. The British pushed for a second front: against Axis forces in Africa, in what was called Operation Torch.

In addition to forces from the United Kingdom, Operation Torch was the first major operation by Americans.

They sailed directly from the United States, the only instance in World War II where a significant force was loaded in American ports and landed directly on a hostile beach.

The Allies achieved strategic surprise, but the operation was delayed by French forces, who fought back in many locations including Morocco.

Why? French Vichy troops were told by the Germans there would be retribution in France if they failed to fight off the Allied invasion.

But French opposition ended in November. And some 275,000 Germans and Italians surrendered on the Cape Bon Peninsula in Tunisia on May 12, 1943.

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The Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat. Mohammed VI, his grandson, is now on the throne. Photos by Corey Sandler

Once Morocco was under Allied control, it became an important base for air raids on Sicily and France, and also crucial in controlling the choke point of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Before, during, and after World War II, Moroccans did not much like their French overseers. They were denied freedom of speech, assembly, and travel.

Just as happened in other colonies—including Algeria—a nationalist movement rose in Morocco.

On March 2, 1956, after forty-four years of occupation, the Kingdom of Morocco gained independence from France and Spain.

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Inside the ancient Medina of Casablanca, which bears no resemblance to a Tesco or a Safeway or most any other place most of us shop. At right, the apparent losers of camel races, ready for roasting. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Haute couture in the Medina of Casablanca. Photos by Corey Sandler

Spain held on to the Spanish Sahara, to the south and west, until the death of Francisco Franco in 1975. Today that territory is still uncertain.

What is now called the Western Sahara is considered by the United Nations to be a non-self-governing territory.

That is the same status given by the UN to Gibraltar.

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Not-so-haute cuisine in Casablanca. Do they know his name is Colonel Sanders? Photos by Corey Sandler

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

 

26-27 March 2014: Funchal, Madeira

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Cruise Consultant

The Portuguese island of Madeira has beautiful beaches, spectacular mountains, abundant sun, a moderate climate, a toboggan ride with no need of ice or snow, and an airport that makes many pilots reconsider their occupation.

Madeira is part of an archipelago in the north Atlantic Ocean about 522 kilometers or 326 miles north of the Canary Islands.[whohit]-26MAR2014 FUNCHAL MADEIRA-[/whohit]

The archipelago comprises the major part of one of the two Autonomous regions of Portugal; the other is the Azores to the northwest.

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Downtown Funchal, as flowers burst into color for the oncoming Spring. Photos by Corey Sandler

Today, Madeira is a popular year-round resort, drawing about one million tourists per year.

Madeira is currently ranked the second wealthiest region in Portugal, after Lisbon, with a GDP per capita of 104 percent of the European average.

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The Cathedral of Funchal, and the main shopping and dining street. Photos by Corey Sandler

Even before the great expeditions began to use Madeira as a stopping-off point on their way to the New World, it was used in commerce to and from Europe.

Among the sailors who used it as a base was Christopher Columbus who lived for a while with his first wife and child on the lesser island of Porto Santo in Madeira.

As Portugal, and by extension, Madeira began to grow in wealth the island attracted attacks by pirates and privateers. And we’re not just talking about small freelancers.

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Terraced farms high in the hills. Some of the farms grow grapes for sweet Madeira wine. Photo by Corey Sandler

In September of 1566 French corsairs under the command of Bertrand de Montluc departed from Bordeaux with a force of 1200 men, on three main ships and eight support craft. The corsairs landed on Madeira and marched toward Funchal and laid siege to the city, which eventually fell.

The following year, the Portuguese decided to install a better defense, including fortresses and other installations. Better protected, Funchal became an important stop-over for caravels travelling between the Indies and the New World.

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Up in the hills above Funchal, a dramatic landscape with roads not for the faint-of-heart. Photos by Corey Sandler

Just as an aside, in February of 1815, one of the great naval battles of the War of 1812 took place just off the coast of Madeira. The War of 1812 was essentially a re-ignition of the Revolutionary War fought between the American colonies and Great Britain.

The USS Constitution, one of the first ships of the U.S. Navy and now better known by her nickname of Old Ironsides engaged two smaller British ships, the HMS Cyane and HMS Levant. The American vessel carried 52 guns and 451 men and crippled both British vessels.

None of the three captains had any way of knowing that the War of 1812 had ended three days earlier.

After his wartime service as Prime Minister and before returning to office in 1951, Winston Churchill discovered Madeira for himself. He favored a small fishing village called Câmara de Lobos—Wolf’s Den—about 5 kilometers or 3 miles from Funchal, as a place to paint.

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Camara de Lobos, a favorite setting for painting by Britain’s Winston Churchill. Photo by Corey Sandler

The town has a lovely bay surrounded by banana plantations, vineyards, and other vegetation on the hills. And Churchill generally chose to stay at a hotel called Reid’s Palace. The atmosphere at Reid’s has changed little since the hotel opened in 1891, even though it is now part of the Orient-Express Hotels chain.

If you arrive by boat, as Churchill did for his visit in 1950, a lift carries you up from the hotel’s private bathing pier. In the hotel lobby you can see old photos of British and European elite who came to visit.

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Sea cliffs east of Funchal on Madeira. Photo by Corey Sandler

Now, as I said, Madeira is a generally temperate place. You’re not going to find snow and ice on a groomed toboggan run.

In fact, you’re not even going to find a real toboggan run. Just some twisty-turny streets. With cars and trucks and potholes.

For more than a century, people have used toboggans for the quick way down the hill to Funchal. The Carro do Monte toboggans are made of wicker, with wooden runners.

They are guided—not really driven—by a pair of carreiros, dressed in white with straw hats. They’ve done this before, but you’ve got to marvel at their success rate.

All photos copyright by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. To purchase a copy, please contact the author.

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

 

25 March 2014: Arecife, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

We’re on the first day of a voyage that will visit some of the more intriguing remnants of the great Colonial empires of modern times.

Here where the Mediterranean narrows to meet the Atlantic, nearly every island or port got caught up in war, intrigue, religion, and politics: an unfortunate quartet that often travel together.

Silversea Map 2408

Our scheduled itinerary from Las Palmas to Barcelona

Among the more interesting places on our schedule are a pair of political thumbs-in-the-eye established by and held on to former colonial powers: Gibraltar, a tiny finger of land on the mainland of Spain stubbornly held by Great Britain, and across the strait in Africa, Melilla one of two tiny exclaves of Spain that sit on the coast of Morocco.

The Greek writers and philosophers Herodotus, Plato, and Plutarch described the garden of the Hesperides, a mythic orchard at the far West of the world; that might refer to the Canaries.

Pliny the Elder later wrote of an expedition to the Canary Islands, including reference to an island called Canaria.

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The Fire Mountains in Timanfaya Nationa Park on Lanzarote. Photo by Corey Sandler

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The bus driver’s view climbing the volcanoes of Timanfaya. Photo by Corey Sandler

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The taxi squad for guests seeking even more thrills in the mountains. Photo by Corey Sandler

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My friend Blanco, before we headed into the hills. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 2007, a team from the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a team from the Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain uncovered a prehistoric settlement at El Bebedero that included Roman pottery shards, some pieces of metal, and glass. The artifacts were dated between the first and 4th centuries.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Canary islands were ignored until 999 when Arab tribes came from Africa to an island they called al-Djezir al-Khalida. The Spanish took control of the Canaries in 1479, and very quickly it became a link in the chain from Europe to the New World settlements.

The modern city, with a population of about 142,000, gets its name from the black volcanic reefs near the port and beaches; Arrecife is Spanish for “reef.” Those reefs provided some shelter from rough seas, but equally important some hiding places from pirate attacks at the time the city was founded in the fifteenth century.

Perhaps the most notable Lanzarotean was artist and architect César Manrique, born in 1919 in Arrecife.

In addition to his sometimes playful and colorful modern art, Manrique also had a major influence on planning regulations in Lanzarote.

He worked to limit the size and especially the height of hotels on the island.

Manrique died in a car accident near his home in 1992. The César Manrique Foundation manages his home and raises funds for art on Lanzarote and promotes environmental and civic planning causes including ongoing efforts to block over-development of the island.

At the Manrique home is a collection of work by the artist as well as others, including original sketches by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Manrique also designed a Cactus Garden on the island, integrating volcanic structures with plantings. The garden also includes an old whitewashed mill once used for the processing of “millo” flour, made from maize or wheat.

24 March 2014 Another Voyage Begins: Canary Islands to Barcelona

By Corey Sandler, SIlversea Destination Consultant

We wish safe travels to most of our guests, debarking in Las Palmas, Canary Islands after a trip up the western coast of Africa.

And we say hello to new friends, as we head to Barcelona by way of Gibraltar, Moroccco, Melilla, and the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Menorca, and Ibiza.

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The port at Las Palmas, with Silver Wind reflected in the glass. Photo by Corey Sandler

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A typically quirky bit of Spanish architecture in Las Palmas, and a quixotic name for a coast guard rescue vessel in port. Photos by Corey Sandler

 

23 March 2014: Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

From Cape Verde, we headed north-northeast along the coast of Africa for two days.

Our destination: a service station outside the Pillars of Hercules.

Tenerife is in Las Canarias, the Canary Islands, an autonomous community of Spain and the outermost region of the European Union.

The island is about 300 kilometers or 186 miles off the African coast, and about 1,000 kilometers or 621 miles from Spain’s Iberian Peninsula.

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The Auditorio, a modern landmark of Tenerife. Photos by Corey Sandler

Tenerife made its fortune as a rest stop, a service station in the Atlantic for explorers, conquistadors, and traders headed to the bottom of Africa and around to Asia, or across the Atlantic to the New World.

Tenerife is the largest and most populous of the seven Canary Islands, with about 900,000 inhabitants.

That makes it the most populated island in all of Spain. To that, add about five million visitors per year.

And, though you might think otherwise, Tenerife also has the highest mountain in Spain.

El Teide is taller than any point in the Sierra Nevadas, about 3,718 meters or 12,198 feet above sea level.

Actually, considering that it stands on an island; El Teide is about 7,500 meters or 24,600 feet above the sea floor.

That makes it the third largest volcano in the world, measured from its base.

The only larger volcanoes are far away, on the island of Hawaii: Mauna Kea and the champion Mauna Loa.

Oh, and did I mention it is still active?

To be more precise, dormant. Not dead, just sleeping.

Teide is on the short list of 16 volcanoes that are under special scrutiny because of their history of large, destructive explosions and proximity to large populations.

Also on that list are well-known ticking time bombs like Mount Vesuvius, Etna, Santorini, Mauna Loa, and Rainier and ten others, mostly along the Pacific Rim.

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Tenerife Espacio de Las Artes. Photo by Corey Sandler

Christopher Columbus reported seeing a “great fire in the Orotava Valley” as he sailed past Tenerife on his voyage to discover the New World in 1492.

Skipping past many other conflicts, in the late 18th century Britain and Spain had been fighting each other all around the world as each country’s colonial possessions grew.

War reached the Canary Islands in July of 1797.

On July 25, 1797, Admiral Horatio Nelson launched an attack at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

After a ferocious fight, the Spanish defenders repelled the invaders.

It was in this battle that Horatio Nelson lost his right arm to cannon fire as he was trying to disembark.

He had lost an eye the year before in a battle in Corsica at Calvi.

And in 1805, at the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson would lose his life.

Before his rise to power, Francisco Franco—who had begun to attract unappreciative notice from the Republican government back in Spain—was posted to Tenerife in March 1936.

It was while he was in the islands that Franco agreed to collaborate in the military coup that would result in the Spanish Civil War, and it was launched in the Canaries in July of 1936.

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Everything but the fleas at a Sunday market. Photo by Corey Sandler

19-20 March 2014. Out of Africa: Dakar, Senegal to Cape Verde

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

We flew through the night from east to west, from America to the west shoulder of Africa.

(Just for fun, we endured a snowstorm at Dulles Airport in Washington which deposited about 10 inches or 250cm of snow on the roads, the runways, and our plane. Airplanes full of chatty travelers always go silent when the de-icing trucks arrive before takeoff.)

Once in the air, our high-flying jet was miles above the well-traveled path established five hundred years ago by European explorers and conquerors. Then came the traders: slaves from Africa, finished goods from Europe, gold and sugar and tobacco from the New World.[whohit]-19MAR2014 CAPE VERDE-[/whohit]

Our journey brought us to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, to meet up with Silversea Silver Wind, beginning a trip that will bring us through the Pillars of Hercules past Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean and beyond.

Dakar and Bezeguiche or Palma Island just off-shore was first developed by the Portuguese, but control went back and forth with United Netherlands which renamed the island after a place in The Netherlands, called Goeree-Overflakkee, which quite sensibly was shortened (and put through a French filter) to become Gorée.

Senegal came under the French in 1677, emerging in 1960. It is one of the relatively few, relatively stable governments and economies in Africa but life is still hard-scrabble.

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Our itinerary on Silversea Silver Wind.

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In Dakar, a Presidential guard outside the sprawling palace, a remnant of the French. Another reminder of Colonial times is the ornate railway station; the French and the trains are long gone, but a city of about three million people presses on. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Goree Island, offshore of Dakar, was a major point of departure for slaves from West Africa bound for Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. At right, the Door of No Return, an evocative reminder visited in modern times by world leaders including French President Hollande, America presidents Clinton and Obama, Pope John Paul II, and millions of tourists from both ends of the slavery chain. Photos by Corey Sandler

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On the island of Goree. Photos by Corey Sandler

PRAIA, REPUBLIC OF CABO VERDE

From Dakar, Senegal we sailed nearly due west to Cape Verde, an archipelago about 570 kilometers or 350 miles off Western Africa.

If we had somehow missed Cape Verde and continued west along the same line of latitude, we would have come to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba in the Caribbean.

A long journey: about 2,800 nautical miles, 3,200 land miles, or 5,200 kilometers.

That actually happened many times in the Age of Discovery—not the missing Cape Verde part, but heading west to the New World.

The islands were uninhabited when Portuguese explorers discovered and colonized them in the 15th century as they began to circle Africa and go as far as India.

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In Sidade Velha, the Old City, the still-functioning Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is the oldest Colonial church outside of Europe. Photo by Corey Sandler

In 1462, three decades before Columbus, they established the first significant settlement in Cape Verde.

It was called Ribeira Grande, large river. The port was a stopping place for two great navigators:

Vasco da Gama, in 1497 on his way to India, and Christopher Columbus, in 1498 on his third voyage to the Americas.

After discovery of the Americas, the settlement became an important port for trading slaves from Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone.

Slavery made the port one of the richest cities in the Portuguese realm. And the wealth attracted lured privateers and pirates.

Among them, Sir Francis Drake, who operated under a Letter of Marque from the English crown and twice sacked Ribeira Grande in the 1580s.

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Part of the fortress erected by the Portuguese above Sidade Velha. Photos by Corey Sandler

But while we’re on the subject of east-to-west movement, meteorologists keep a close eye on Cape Verde during the Atlantic hurricane season.

Storms that develop here are usually the largest and most intense because they have plenty of warm open ocean over which to develop before encountering land.

The Republic of Cape Verde is a horseshoe-shaped cluster of 10 volcanic islands, nine of them inhabited.

Geographers divide them into two groups: the Barlavento or Windward Islands (Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, Boa Vista,) and the Sotavento or Leeward Islands, which includes Santiago and its port of Praia, as well as Maio, Fogo, and Brava.

Scientists believe the first volcanic activity was about 125 to 150 million years ago; the islands themselves are a bit younger, about 8 to 20 million years.

Similar to the Hawaiian islands, the Cape Verde islands owe their existence to their location over a hotspot in the earth’s crust: the Cape Verde Rise.

The most recent eruption in the archipelago was at Pico do Fogo in 1995.

On older and now volcanically quiet Santiago, arid slopes give way to sugarcane fields or banana plantations along the base of towering mountains.

The ocean cliffs were formed by catastrophic debris avalanches, from volcanic activity or landslides.

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The Public Market in Praia, the capital of Santiago and the Republic of Cabo Verde. The white disks mixed in with the vegetables are a form of cheese, soaked in brine; think of them as a distant cousin of feta cheese. Photo by Corey Sandler

Santiago, Portuguese for Saint James, is the nation’s largest island and most populous, holding half of the nation’s people.

It is also home to the capital, Praia.

Praia means beach in both Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole.

Cape Verde has few natural resources.

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A Flame Tree in Praia. The tree bears no edible fruit, but its pods are used as percussion instruments in the lively music of the islands. Photo by Corey Sandler

More than 90 percent of all food in Cape Verde is imported.

There is a small wine industry and some export of minerals including pozzolana, a volcanic rock used in cement, and limestone.

Today, much of the economy is based on service industries including tourism; about 20 percent of GDP comes from remittances sent home by expatriates.

No decent person would argue the end of slavery was a bad thing. That said, the decline in the slave trade in the 19th century caused economic distress.

The same occurred at the other end of the line. The Caribbean and South America suffered after they lost essentially free labor.

On the Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, simmering resentment grew to become an independence movement.

Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral, an agricultural engineer born in Guinea-Bissau of Cape Verdean parents, was a leader of the anti-colonial movement in western Africa.

Cape Verde’s boom-and-bust economy led to waves of emigration during expansion to the New World, during decades of neglect that followed the end of the slave trade, and during the difficult early years of independence.

Today these émigrés and their descendants greatly outnumber the domestic population.

By one estimate, there are about 500,000 Cape Verdean immigrants and their descendants living in the United States.

The largest groups are in New England: Massachusetts coastal communities including New Bedford, Brockton, Dorchester, and Pawtucket and East Providence in Rhode Island.

Other significant Cape Verdean populations are about 150,000 in Portugal, plus tens of thousands in Angola, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Senegal.

American whalers from Nantucket and New Bedford first called at the islands in the 1790s. Whaleship captains began hiring Cape Verdeans to augment their crew, and many came to New England with the ships.

So, we have a place that has only four decades as an independent nation.

A place where, as far as we know, humans did not live until about 600 years ago. A place whose residents are mostly mixes of African and European races and cultures.

A place far younger than Africa or Europe or the indigenous populations of the Americas, and just barely older than the European colonies that were established in the New World—many of them with ships, crews, and slaves that passed through Cape Verde.

And we have a place with many more émigrés than current residents.

But there’s something about the place that seems to ingrain itself deeply in Cape Verdeans—those still on the islands and those spread around the world.

There’s a Portuguese word, sodade, that has no direct equivalent in English.

Perhaps the best translation is: “The love that remains after someone is gone.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

29 October 2013: New York, New York

Heading for Home

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

In the dark that precedes dawn’s first light, a distant glow merely hints at the great harbor and city that lays ahead of us.

We picked up a bar pilot at 5:30 in the morning off the coast of Long Island and headed west toward the mouth of the Hudson River.

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Beneath the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge at dawn. Photo by Corey Sandler

Okay, about the job title: a bar pilot is not in charge of delivering the crew to a tavern. The bar pilot is aboard to guide the captain and helmsman across the bar at the mouth of the channel from the sea and through the harbor.

In constant communication with harbor authorities and other vessels, in New York he or she is aboard for about two hours.

Most pilot boats carry a bit of extra hardware in addition to navigation lights: a white round light atop a red one. (Fishing boats carry a red over white.) The old maritime saying is: “white cap, red nose” for pilot boats…with an intimation that in past times pilots might down a bit of booze while waiting for ships to come in. If that was ever true, I seriously doubt the master of a modern ship worth several hundred million dollars would accept a pilot with a wobble.[whohit]-New York 29Oct-[/whohit]

About 6 in the morning we could make out the old boardwalk and some of the landmarks of Coney Island: the parachute jump and the Wonder Wheel. And then we could see the lights of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, the unofficial demarcation of the Hudson River at New York.

Guests began to gather in the Observation Lounge up top and forward on Silver Whisper and on the outside decks. We passed beneath the bridge just after 6:30 a.m., and then ahead of us lay Lower Manhattan: the Hudson River branching off to the left and the East River to the right.

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Lower Manhattan. The Hudson River continues to the left, the East River branches off to the right. Photos by Corey Sandler

Staten Island ferries steamed across the harbor, and faster commuter ferries darted back and forth.

As dawn arrived, we passed abeam of Lady Liberty on our port side. I gave the order from the bridge by telephone down to our ship’s broadcast center: “Now. Loud. Everywhere.” And Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” boomed throughout Silver Whisper.

It was not just the passengers lining the decks. From nearly every opening on the ship, crew leaned out for a glimpse and a photo to send back home.

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The Statue of Liberty at dawn’s early light. Photo by Corey Sandler

We proceeded up the Hudson, alongside the former World Trade Center site. The superstructure of its replacement tower is complete while interior work continues.

About 8 a.m., a tug boat pulled alongside with a second pilot for a short but essential–and daunting–assignment of providing guidance on making a 90-degree turn from the river into the dock along Manhattan’s West Side. Like an airline pilot, the docking pilot is on the spot for a few minutes of high tension at landing.

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The docking pilot comes aboard. Photo by Corey Sandler

Most of our guests and more than a few crew members were ready to debark. For Janice and me, it’s been a two-month odyssey that began in the Baltic and included stops in Sweden, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Germany, England, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and Canada. All told, we’ve been out to sea on four different beautiful Silversea cruise ships for a total of seven months in 2013.

It’s time to head for home. See you in 2014…somewhere. Safe travels.

All text and photos copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy of a photo, please contact me.

 

26 October 2013, Bar Harbor, Maine

Seasons Come and Seasons Go

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Winter is coming to the Maritimes and the New England coast. Yes, it’s just October 26, but the winds have become a bit stiffer and their direction has changed to come from the north.

In Bar Harbor today, some of the shops were preparing to close for the year after our ship departs tonight. It’s a great time to buy a lumberjack’s coat, although they do seem to grow them rather larger around here: I tried on a Triple-X jacket which fit me like a bearskin.

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Silver Whisper’s tenders compete for space with lobster traps in Bar Harbor. Photo by Corey Sandler

The talk around town was of the first seasonal accident: a rural Mainer was rushed to the hospital after getting his fingers between the piston and the mechanism of a log splitter. He seemed to be all right, although quite concerned about how he would continue his stockpiling of wood for the winter.

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The dock, above and below. Photos by Corey Sandler

The day dawned clear and cool, about 42 degrees. By afternoon, it was gray and windy.

By tomorrow, Bar harbor will be mostly empty of those of us who are not from around hey-ah.

All photos and text copyright by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.

 

20 October 2013: Quebec City, Canada

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We’ve been to Quebec City dozens upon dozens of times in winter, spring, summer, and fall. This season on Silver Whisper four times. The girl can’t help it; she’s prettier and more fashionable than Paris or Montreal or just about any other city I can think of.

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Quebec City as winter takes a peek at Autumn. Photos by Corey Sandler

We were here two days ago, and autumn was in full color. We returned today, and there was a hint of the coming winter in the air: a cold wind and a continually changing sky. Gray in the morning, drizzly at noon, a touch of sun in early afternoon punctuated by a perfect rainbow from a passing sky, and wintry clouds at sunset.

In the morning I traveled with guests to the Old Town, aiming my camera at pumpkins and goblins.

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Colors of Quebec City. Photos by Corey Sandler

Then we went to Montmorency Falls and I leaned out over the rail to photograph the torrent of water tumbling over the edge of the Canadian Shield into the Saint Lawrence.

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Montmorency Falls, Quebec. Photos by Corey Sandler

And then as sun set and the temperature dropped toward freezing, I set up my tripod on the upper deck and recorded the night lights as Silver Whisper set sail east toward the Atlantic Ocean.

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After sunset, the Chateau Frontenac. Photos by Corey Sandler

Tomorrow we sail up the Saguenay River through one of the most spectacular fjords in the world, paying a port call at La Baie.

We’re preparing to head south down the coast of New England and eventually south to the warmth of the Caribbean…but my thoughts will often return to the chilly beauty of Quebec City. The girl can’t help it.

All text and photos copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy of a photo, please contact me.

 

19 October 2013: Montreal, Quebec

Bon Journée, et Bon Voyage

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Silver Whisper sailed into silver-gray Quebec City on Friday.

Quebec is one of the most glorious cities in the world, a mix of the heritage of New France of the 18th century with modern French arts, couture, and cuisine…put through the blender of the Quebecois culture.[whohit]-MONTEAL2 TURNAROUND-[/whohit]

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Silver pumpkins in Quebec City. Photo by Corey Sandler

It rained a bit in the morning, then turned clear and cool in the afternoon. No one seemed to mind getting a bit wet or a bit cold: Quebec City fills us all with warmth.

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Between (Canadian) Thanksgiving and Halloween in Quebec City. Photo by Corey Sandler

Today, we say goodbye to many new and old friends who are disembarking in Montreal. And we say welcome aboard to a new group as we prepare to head back out of the Saint Lawrence.

With this call in Montreal, Silver Whisper begins the final leg of 2013 fall colors tours in New England and the Canadian Maritimes. We are headed back to Quebec City, then up the Saguenay River to La Baie, and on to Charlottetown, Sydney, Halifax, Bar Harbor, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard. We’ll finish up with a grand procession on the Hudson River to the New York Cruise Terminal.

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Our voyage begins again from Montreal, headed to New York. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Food in Montreal is always a treat, although not all cuisine is haute. At left, the line forms in front of Chez Schwartz for smoked brisket on rye. At right, the peculiar Quebec favorite of poutine: french fries, cheese curds, and unidentified brown sauce. I’ll take Schwartz’s anytime. Photos by Corey Sandler

I hope you’ll join me here in the pages of my blog.

Bon Journée , et Bon Voyage: Good Day and Safe Travels.

All text and photos copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.

17 October 2013: the Saguenay River and La Baie, Quebec

The Fabulous Story of the Kingdom of the Saguenay

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

The Rivière Saguenay – the Saguenay River – is one of the major rivers of Quebec, the largest fjord in the province.

Quebec extends nearly 1,200 miles north from the Saint Lawrence to the top of the Ungava Peninsula. I’ve been there: it looks nothing at all like Quebec City or Montreal.[whohit]-FABULEUSE SAGUENAY-[/whohit]

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Silver Whisper at the dock in La Baie, and as seen through a window of the cruise terminal. Photos by Corey Sandler.

The Saguenay drains Lac Saint-Jean in the Laurentian Highlands; that lake is filled by thousands of streams and rivers in the watery north of Quebec. The nation of Canada possesses about 8 percent of the world’s fresh water. Quebec alone has 3 percent of the water reserves.

One of the world’s longest, the Fjord du Saguenay cuts through the Canadian Shield. The huge rocky plateau occupies nearly half of all of the Canada, extending from the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Valley northward to the Arctic Ocean.

The river was an important trade route into the interior for the First Nations people of the area. During the French colonization of the Americas, the Saguenay was a major route for the fur trade.

Few roads connect with the area from the south and east, and only one road connects from the northwest. No roads go north from the area into the wilderness; the last roads north end just a short distance from the city—still within the Lac St-Jean area.

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Cartier arrives in New France. From La Fabuleuse. Photos by Corey Sandler

There are no human settlements due north of Saguenay all the way to the Canadian Arctic islands, except for a few isolated Cree and Inuit villages.

The Kingdom of the Saguenay

Another name for the region, one which was latched upon by the early French explorers . . . looking for riches . . . is the Royaume du Saguenay or the “Kingdom of the Saguenay.”

The grandiose name is either the result of a misunderstanding . . . or a bit of a jest or even a calculated trick put upon the French by the locals.

When the French arrived to colonize New France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they learned from the Algonquins of a legendary kingdom to the north.

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The loggers and the famers arrive in the Kingdom of the Saguenay. From La Fabuleuse. Photos by Corey Sandler

When French explorer Jacques Cartier arrived at Stadacona in 1534, he did not come with a bouquet of flowers and a box of candy.

The key to the Kingdom may lie with Chief Donnacona, the leader of the Iroquois village of Stadacona, at the place now occupied by Quebec City.

Cartier kidnapped two of Donnaconna’s sons and brought them back with him to France. They told Cartier of a place they called Saguenay, populated with blond men who were rich with gold and furs.

We have no reason to assume that Cartier or Donnaconna and his sons believed there really was such a place. But the story served as a golden ticket: it gave Cartier something to sell to the king so that he could make another trip to the New World, and it assured Donnaconna’s sons of a trip back home.

La Fabuleuse Histoire d’un Royaume

Since 1988, a cast of more than a hundred locals presents an astonishing pageant that tells some of the story of the Saguenay region. It is presented in a massive amphitheatre constructed by the town. They’ve also built a handsome dock for cruise ships, and each season the number of ships increases.

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The pageant includes some astounding special effects. Photos by Corey Sandler

On this cruise to La Baie, a rare full-day visit, we were able to attend a performance of La Fabuleuse.

There’s Jacques Cartier, Chief Donnaconna, the Generals Montcalm and Wolfe to stage the battle of the Plains of Abraham, loggers, farmers, capitalists, horses, chickens, geese, a trained pig, barn dancers, flappers, twisters, and hippies.

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Modern times to a grande finale. Photos by Corey Sandler.

It’s not Shakespeare, but the Bard of Avon never put on a show that included explosions, lasers, floodwaters, and a field of grass the sprouts on stage.

It was a fabulous pageant, un grand spectacle.

All text and photos copyright Corey Sandler 2013. If you would to purchase a copy of a photograph, please contact me.

 

14-15 October 2013: Sydney, Nova Scotia and Charlottetown, PEI

Time Travel in the Canadian Maritimes

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

To me, one of the appeals of Sydney, Nova Scotia is that it allows me to time travel back to a time I once knew: the 1950s.

It is one of the only places in North America where I could direct you to a cobbler to have your shoes resoled.Or a seamstress or tailor.[whohit]-SYDNEY-CHARLOTTE-2-[/whohit]

Or old Doc Archibald with his office in an old Victorian behind a white picket fence.

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Sydney, Nova Scotia. The colors of autumn in a place frozen in time. Photo by Corey Sandler

From 1784 to 1820, Sydney was the capital of the British colony of Cape Breton Island. The colony was merged with neighboring Nova Scotia when the British decided to develop the abundant coal fields surrounding Sydney Harbor.

By the early twentieth century Sydney was home to one of the world’s largest steel plants, fed by the coal mines of the Dominion Coal Company. By the late 1960s both coal and steel industries were failing, and were taken over by federal and provincial governments. That lasted until late in 2001 when they could not be sustained any further.

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The cruise terminal in Sydney with Silver Whisper at the dock and a super-sized fiddle along the water. Sydney is one of the centers of Ceilidh, the Celtic-based barn dance centered around that instrument…in a hand-sized version. Photo by Corey Sandler

With apologies to some of my Anglophone Canadian friends, when I speak of this region I use French pronunciations for places like Bras d’Or (the Golden Arm) and Louisbourg.

I do this knowing that for the locals, the same places are often called LEWIS-BURGH and something close to BRASS DOOR.

See my Blog entry of 3 October 2013 for a recent visit to Sydney and Louisbourg as well as some details about Baddeck and Alexander Graham Bell.

Queen Charlotte, the Orphan Anne, and Prince Edward Island

When you think of Stratford-upon-Avon, you think of a certain poet and playwright by the name of William Shakespeare.

We are talking apples and oranges …or jellyfish and lobsters here… but in certain circles around the world…in some of the most unlikely places…Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island is not known for Queen Charlotte, not remembered for the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 that led the way to Canadian Confederation, and not thought of at all for almost anything else…except for the work of a relatively minor author named Lucy Maud Montgomery and a series of novels that begin in 1908 with “Anne of Green Gables.”

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More colors, in a house near the waterfront of Charlottetown, PEI. Photo by Corey Sandler

Anne of Green Gables began as a Canadian bestseller, became an American success, and went on to become an international phenomenon.

For reasons no one hasfully figured out, you are quite likely to find a tour group from Japan…looking for Anne. I think it has to do with the fact that Anne is a girl who is for some about as un-Japanese as possible: feisty, independent, and decked with freckles and braided red hair. They love her in Japan, and come to PEI by the planeload.

I last wrote about Charlottetown in a Blog entry on 2 October 2013.

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A study in angles and colors in Charlotteown. Photo by Corey Sandler

Charlottetown is the capital of Canada’s least-populated province, Prince Edward Island. The city is the country’s smallest provincial capital, with a population of about 35,000. (Canada’s three territories: Nunavut, Yukon, and Northwest Territories have smaller populations, but they are not provinces.)

The town was named in honor of Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III from 1744 to 1818.

Like Sydney, it is a place where time seems frozen.

I spent the day walking Charlottetown with a group of guests as we conducted a photo safari, hunting the colors of Prince Edward Island.

All text and photos copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would to purchase a copy of a photo, please contact me.